Monday, March 26, 2012

Memorial Hermann IM Texas Womens Preview Camp - RECAP!

This past weekend was the first ‘official’ Memorial Hermann Ironman Texas Women’s Preview Camp. It went off without a hitch; the weather cooperated for us beautifully and the staff and campers were all enthusiastic and excited to be there. It was a nice intimate feel, and all of the women received a lot of one-on-one attention; no questions went unanswered over the 3 days, which was just what we were going for! I just wanted to re-cap the weekend so that all of you ladies racing Ironman Texas can know what you missed out on! :) (There's always next year!)

Off for a run

Thursday: Derick and I arrived at about 4:30pm to The Woodlands, and we had an informal dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, Berryhill Baja Grill. We all enjoyed some Mexican food and a relaxed evening for the campers to meet the Memorial Hermann Human Performance Team including Terry Dupler (Exercise Physiologist), Penny Wilson (Registered Dietician), Kim Gandler (Biomechanist), Anthony Falsone (Strength & Conditioning Specialist) and Rebekah Palaian (Licensed Massage Therapist). After a good meal, everyone headed back to the host hotel (Courtyard Mariott) to relax for the busy few days ahead. One great part of this camp was that everyone stayed at the same hotel, and we had a designated meeting room for seminars, meals, recovery room, etc. The campers were able to get some much needed R&R between sessions in a convenient and time-efficient manner.

Friday: Breakfast was from 7-8AM (every day they had bagels, fruit, yogurt, coffee, etc.) and Penny spoke on nutrition during/after breakfast. Penny is extremely knowledgable but what impresses me most is, Penny does not hop on the bandwagon of the ever-changing fads and ‘myths’ in the world of nutrition and sports nutrition. She is very educated, level-headed and takes a practical, straight-forward approach to the concept of ‘eating for performance’. She filled their heads with useful information and after the chat, it was time for a short run. We headed out at about 9AM and I headed up a run session on the IM Texas course (which was a short ½ mile or so from our hotel) focusing on pacing. I simply had the ladies run out 15 minutes steady, with the goal of coming back slightly faster. I think this is a simple but critical concept that is so important (and often overlooked) for Ironman racing. Once back at the hotel, I spent about 45 minutes talking through the IM Texas swim course and also discussing swim race tactics, approaches, mental strategies, and key bits of information that may help them come race day. The women had a couple hours of downtime until our 1pm-4pm Bike Skills & Transitions clinic. This is where my husband Derick stepped in, as he led the bike skills clinic in a grassy field by the IM Texas swim start, which included things such as ‘slow pedaling’, riding with a buddy (touching shoulders, etc), picking up a water bottle while riding (off the ground; we had a 100% success rate!) and finally a game of tag. Needless to say, every one of the women were much more comfortable and confident in their bike handling skills on the long ride the next day. I spent some time explaining Ironman transitions and also ‘regular’ transitions, and we finally headed back to the hotel for some rest before the evening seminar. Dinner was catered in (lasagna, salad, veggies, bread) and Anthony Falsone talked to the women about Strength & Conditioning, but triathlon-specific; mostly focusing on basic core exercises useful to us as well as the value of foam rolling and injury prevention.

Transition practice

Saturday: Another early day, breakfast was from 6:30-7:30 and the cars loaded up at 7:30 sharp to take the women out to start their 95 mile ride on the Ironman Texas course. They were rolling by about 8:15 (Derick and I went out on our own ride today, as I had raced San Juan 70.3 the previous weekend and had IM Texas 70.3 the following, so had to do some of ‘my own’ training as well!) and they all knocked out the entire 95 miles, while vastly sticking together as a group. There were two aid stations at about miles 30 and 60, so they were able to stock up on all they needed, and there was also a sag vehicle and a mechanic car out with them as they rode. A few women ran off the bike, but with Ironman Texas 70.3 the following weekend, this was dependent upon what they needed to do for their own training; no one was ‘forced’ to run off the bike. By 3pm, they were back to the hotel, good and tired! They all got short massages from Rebekah, the massage therapist, and were also able to spend as much time as they needed on the foam rollers, get snacks, drinks and such to re-fuel for the next day. Dinner this evening was chicken, veggies, salad, and rosemary potatoes. Terry Dupler and Kim Gandler spoke this evening on lactate threshold testing (the value of it, why it is done, what it means) and running biomechanics (the importance of good shoes, the pros/cons of lightweight minimalist shoes, etc) as they fielded questions from the women. I have to say, it was good to see the women enjoying a glass of wine or a cold beer this evening with their meals…they all earned it! Some people hung around and chatted a bit more while others headed off for bed. (Again the convenience of ‘bed’ being ‘down the hallway’ was such a treat!)

Foam Rolling

Rebekah Palaian working massage

Kim Gandler talking Biomechanics

Sunday: The women were pretty much on their own today for their long run, as they all had different workouts on their schedules; but most ran in the range of 2-2.5 hrs, all on the Ironman Texas run course. The staff had marked the entire course with orange arrows (taped to the sidewalk) and also set up an aid station about halfway through, so the women had some support out there but were able to run their own pace. We returned to the hotel (and I grabbed a quick ice bath) and we all met for lunch (an amazing spread of make your own sandwiches complete with salad, coleslaw, chips, and the best chocolate chip cookies you could imagine!). We did a final little ‘wrap up’ session out on the porch in the warm Texas sun. Everyone was freezing in the A/C inside the hotel. Guess that bodes well for them for Ironman Texas eh?!

Aid Station Volunteers

All in all, the camp could not have gone better. The women left there with smiles on their faces, a little fatigue in their bodies, some good color in their faces thanks to the sunshine we had, but all super stoked to have seen the bike course and with the confidence that knew what to expect come race day. We had a few who had raced it in 2011 (or who had done an Ironman) and they were able to help those who were in for their first full distance race. I was just most impressed with how much these women were able to walk away with in terms of knowledge gained; the overall goal of this camp was two-fold: 1) Give them a preview for Ironman Texas and allow them to know what to expect, but also 2) Help educate them on anything and everything “Ironman” and triathlon; hopefully, no questions went unanswered. I feel confident that they walked away with both of these things, a lot of ‘swag’ thanks to Memorial Hermann, Road ID, Recovery Pump, and Zoot, and a few new friends as well! All in all, not a bad way to spend the weekend.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

San Juan 70.3 - A Repeat!

I once had a coach who believed in me more than I (at the time) believed in myself. She would throw out these lofty goals, and I’d laugh and think ‘what world are you living in…I’m really not that good’. At the end of the season, she had been right…I’d achieved precisely what she had claimed I would. It seemed a little insignificant at the time (or rather just irony with a little luck), but it’s something I now reflect on often and it’s made me realize that one key to being successful is truly believing that you’re always a little better than what you’ve done in the past. I’ve also found that the naysayers motivate me a bit…while success can breed pressure (if we let it), there are always critics and I seem to thrive on not only success but those various challenges and unexpected elements that each and every race presents.

So for the second year in a row, Derick and I were off to San Juan 70.3. It really wasn’t a question as to if I would return to try to defend the title from 2011, but it helped matters that the timing in the season was absolutely perfect. The race itself was incredible last year, especially for an inaugural event. It was convenient for the athlete (hotel right at the race site), a beautiful race course but moreso the people of San Juan are second to none in terms of friendliness. I was glad I had done Panama, as it seemed to help alleviate those ‘first season’ nerves that I felt much more heavily there. We arrived Friday which was on the tail end of when I like to get there, but I knew that training (especially riding) was difficult in the city so I figured it would be nice to be at home, in my routine, as long as possible. Travel went well and we were at our hotel, eating a fantastic dinner and relaxing in San Juan by Friday evening.

Saturday was filled with the usual sleep in, a short swim and since I couldn’t ride, a 10 min light jog, breakfast, relaxing in the morning then a few commitments in the afternoon. I can’t stress enough how seamless this all was given that the pro panel, meeting, etc were all just downstairs! A huge thank you to Arturo and Alejandro, the Race Directors, for making the setup so incredible for all us athletes; it helps to minimize those pre-race stressors. We had an early dinner, my usual light beer (a Peroni!), and were up in our room relaxing by 7pm. I found it interesting just HOW relaxed I seemed. I was asleep by ~ 9:30 and actually woke up at 10:45 and I’d had a dream, sleeping so hard that I thought it was the morning! To top it off, I woke up again at 3:30 am and thought “Sweet, another 30 minutes” and was out again until 4 am. Pretty atypical! But I figured it was a good sign, just so that I could get into race mode in the next few hours.

The race kicked off promptly at 6:50 for the men and 6:55 for the women. Nina Kraft who always swims well took it out quickly while myself and a few other women tried to latch onto her speed. Luckily we were able to and while I like to find my own swimming space, it seemed that we were all about on the same pace (a small pack of 4 of us). I would have loved to of gotten up front and done a bit of work, but I knew the effort to get around people to do so was not worth it, so I just sat in and found myself in a nice little draft from the other three. It was a great water temp, well marked course and soon enough we were nearing the exit ramp and onto the very long run to transition… maybe 400 meters or so. I actually liked this, because it’s always a little dizzy’ing to stand up and go right to the bike. I made it to the stadium, grabbed the bike and was first out of T1, ready to tackle the flat but expected to be windy bike course.

From the start on the bike, I punched it pretty hard. Having come off a less than stellar bike in Panama, I had been doing some work especially in the TT position on the bike and I knew that if I wanted to go for a win, I had to bike well today, especially with the strong cyclists in this race. I also put electrical tape over my SRM so that I could not see any numbers. I like to think that I don’t get too caught up in seeing it, however, I think those numbers get in my head more than I’d like to admit so I told myself to just race, go hard, and find that edge right from the start on the bike. Needless to say, IT WORKED for me and I’ll without a doubt be doing this moreso in future races! I was able to maintain the lead on the bike through about mile 25 or 30 at which point Linsey Corbin passed me, which did not surprise me, as she’s a great cyclist. I tried to keep her in sight but that was only for a few miles, and when she disappeared, I just tried to keep on the gas and minimize the time that she was putting on me. We hit a bit of headwind coming back into T2, however it turned out to be a fairly calm day on the bike; I probably could have used my Reynolds RZR 92 front wheel, but I played it safe with the 46 (and 92 rear) and I am glad I did as it is still a super fast setup I felt strong throughout the entire bike 56 miles.

I was pretty happy to enter transition as I was tired of cycling by that point. I was ready to run (in my new Zoot Ultra TT5’s!), but as I dismounted I could feel the legs were pretty heavy; definitely heavier than they felt in Panama. But I told myself “You’re supposed to be tired, everyone else is too; just find a rhythm, stay relaxed and dial it in”.

As I left the stadium, I was told I had about a 2 minute deficit, which got me excited as I felt confident about being able to close that gap. That said, it’s a race, and ANYTHING can happen… so I try to never think too far ahead, get too excited or even slightly think about finishing until I hit that final mile on the run. I started out and noticed that WOW the legs were not too spunky! But they had felt this way from the start, even in the swim, just a bit ‘heavy’ so I just kept on keeping on, tried to put it out of my mind; this is racing, I should be tired.
I headed out on the hilly and very scenic run course, up onto the cobblestone hill at about mile 2, down the cobbles onto the fort by mile 3 and started to relax a bit. I managed to move into first right at about mile 4, and Linsey respectfully offered some nice words of encouragement to which I think I responded, “good job Lins, this is brutal…” and tried to keep my head down and just keep the pace steady. For some reason, this run course felt quite a bit tougher this year than it did in 2011! Maybe it is because I knew what to expect, it’s hilly and definitely challenging and of course very warm. I came through transition at the halfway point, got a bit excited and then tried to again calm myself remembering I still had 30+ more minutes of work to do. On the second loop I saw Tim heading in with a few miles to go and he had a solid lead, and I thought “Damn, if he wins and repeats then the pressure is really on me!” Then I laughed at the absurdity of my thought and just kept on running.

I finally hit those final miles, and by about Mile 12, I knew I had this yet I tried to keep on as strong a pace as I could through the finish. I heard some awesome cheers as I entered the crowds, one being “You have this, now relax and enjoy it.” I think a smile was plastered on my face from that point on, as I ran over the bridge and down the final hill into the finish. Whew! A sigh of relief and what a feeling! A huge crowd to welcome me and the satisfaction of knowing I defended a big title, something I have never done!

Emotions got me a bit at the finish line during a brief interview. While I knew that I was ‘capable’ of this performance, there are so many unknowns and it just felt great to know that I had put it all together, with three solid segments today, to make this win a reality; while not letting that ‘pressure’ get to me of being the defending champion. I knew that the key was for me to ride strong and to see that I still had that run in me despite pushing harder on the bike so much reaffirms that I am doing the right things right now; in training, in my head and when I am executing out on the race course. I also acknowledged many times pre-race that this was a new day, and when we toe the line, it’s anyone’s game… history doesn’t care about today’s race. It’s all about who is the strongest on the day, and that is what makes it all so exciting.

I felt like this was only possible by the incredible support system I have, first and foremost my husband Derick who sees how hard I work day in day out when no one is looking and no one cares! The people of San Juan are so welcoming that it just makes you happy to be there; a huge thank you to the race organization and all the volunteers. Thanks to Arturo and Alejandro for all of their endless hard work to put together San Juan for the second year in a row; everyone should do this race. Thanks to my sponsors Memorial Hermann, Zoot, Quintana Roo, PowerBar, Reynolds, Recovery Pump, Jack & Adams, Road ID, ISM, Durata Training, Katalyst Multisport, Vision, Oakley, Giro, Hill Country Running, Go with the Flo Acupuncture, and Advanced Rehab. I’d also like to mention that this race fell on National MS Awareness Week as it did last year, and I am happy to be able to donate a portion of my winnings to the National MS Society in helping out this very important cause, as well as the organization ActiveMSers. If you or someone you know has MS or has recently been diagnosed, please check out as this is an incredible community of people living with MS and fighting to stay active and not let it get the best of them; they are doing great things.

While I have Galveston 70.3 in just two weeks, I am going to try to let myself savor, enjoy and appreciate this victory. Life is so short and we never know what tomorrow will bring. I feel lucky to be able to get out there and compete; challenging myself and my limits each and every time. Until the next one, train safe and have fun.

…..and Michelle Blessing, thanks for believing in me, even when I was just a flailing first year pro!