Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Three Things I Learned in Vegas

I’ve never been one to jump much on the idea of ‘training trips’. We re-locate for about 6 weeks each summer to Colorado, but that is simply because the oppressive summers make it very difficult to put in the ‘big’ miles for Ironman. The majority of the year, living in Austin, I’m in a perfect location to do all I need to do for my job. Sure it gets hot, so I start my rides or runs early, or move a run indoors to the treadmill. I swim with one of the best Masters teams in the country (though I may be a little biased). The cycling may entail a lot of stop and go at times, but you deal with it. I figure no place is perfect; you do the best with what you’ve got. And of course, it is where my husband and my ‘kids’ (dog and cat) are. Given all the travel I do for racing, I’d just as well be at home as much as I can.

That said, Derick and I agreed that after Rev 3 Quassy, it would be nice for me to escape the heat a bit and get in a good little ‘cycling block’ (something else I had never done). So after a few rest days, I was off to Henderson, Nevada. Why Henderson? It is the site of Vegas 70.3 World Champs in September, and an opportunity came up whereby I could stay at the Westin Lake Las Vegas, right where the swim takes place and the bike starts. I made my plans and began to tirelessly research the road riding in Henderson. It seemed to be an amazing place to ride a bike, but going there alone, and planning to ride 90-100 miles a day for a week straight definitely was a little bit daunting. I tried to embrace the adventure and realized that while it may be a little lonely at times, I’d be keeping myself busy enough (and tired enough) to be able to savor the solo downtime. (I later realized that I would not be escaping the heat at all, just exchanging hot and humid for hot and dry!). 

Returning from the trip, I can look back and realize that the goal was accomplished. I don’t talk much about my training, but this was a great week in Henderson. I ended up riding 500 miles over 5 days (with 2 rest days) and I also logged my longest ride to date, 120 miles, which took me all the way out to Overton, NV (with 110 of those miles being on the same road!). Swimming and running were sprinkled in there a bit but the focus was cycling, and while I may not have crushed all these rides, I did them and I can take a lot of confidence in this. There is something very empowering about going somewhere that you know no one, and riding roads you have never seen before; I was by no means camping in a foreign country, but the trip carried some uncertainties and it felt good to embrace them. 

Which brings me to the purpose of my post, “The Three Things I Learned in Vegas”. Yes I was technically in Henderson, but ‘Vegas’ sounds better. Surely I learned more than just three things, but when you have countless hours with you and the thoughts in your head, you find certain thoughts keep coming back to you. So off we go. 

1) Do what scares you. What scares me? Long bike rides. Yeah, strange isn’t it? It has been something that has always intimidated me, ever since I started triathlon. Think about it. Only on a long bike ride can you pedal your way to 50, 60+ miles from your original spot. A lot can happen out there. Flat tires, mechanicals, etc; but what has always scared me most about long rides is the bonk. Bonking on a long ride is far more dangerous than a swim bonk or a run bonk (of which I don’t think I have ever encountered either one).  A bonk on a long ride results in suddenly feeling dizzy, light-headed, and usually comes on strong very quickly. It is the lack of focus it brings that really freaks me out. I don’t like not being in control, and that feeling is very scary when it’s just you at the helm on two very skinny tires often going 15-25+ mph. I guess you could say the fear of the bonk is why I am pretty good at downing calories on rides, 200-300 per hour, and up to 400 per hour on the bike in an Ironman. I have always been a bit afraid of huge rides (100+ miles) and I’ve often been known to stick closer to home in case I need to bail. I think this trip showed me that I can do these, even on tired legs; I was able to tackle the 120 miler on my 2nd to last day there, albeit after a rest day, and while it was a little scary to head out to a town I’d never been to, with literally 40 miles between fuel stops, I did it. That feels good. To recognize what your fears are, no matter if they seem silly or legit, will allow you to accept them, and then work to tackle them. Empowering!

2) There is no time for emotion when racing. Where on earth would I have come up with this one? I was there training, not racing. On my final day, I opted to head to the run course and run two loops of it (just under 9 miles); first loop steady, second loop ‘hard’. I am not really one for ‘visualization’, however since I was out there, I tried to play out the various scenarios that Vegas 70.3 may hold. I always love the run segment of races, and this course really hands it to you; you are either going up, or down; albeit gradual hills, they are hills nonetheless. I was finishing up the final stretch, a long downhill segment, and I was thinking ‘what if you are winning right now come race day? How cool would that be?’ then I thought ‘or maybe you’re trying to catch someone up ahead, right there; you can see her but she’s running strong, and so are you; damnit it hurts and I can’t go any faster!…’ or maybe it would be ‘you’re holding steady Kelly but she’s right there behind you. Keep on the gas, only ½ more mile…’ I then remembered back a few years when I used to often wave or smile at my parents mid-race, feeling like a rockstar, only to crumble minutes later and come hobbling home. I came to the realization that, when racing, there is no time for emotion (at least for myself). The minute that emotion starts to creep into your race, I have found a few things can happen. Excitement can get the best of you and you start to think about ‘the finish’, when it’s not yet there; you get ahead of yourself. Another thing that can happen from too much emotion is feeling sorry for yourself, which never does us any good, in any circumstance, much less in a race when we’re physically, mentally and emotionally pushing ourselves. Now don’t me wrong, it is not a bad thing to remind yourself how hard you’ve worked and you’re not going to let this one get away from you… but the ultimate focus has to remain process-oriented. Nutrition, pacing, hydration…one step in front of the other, one mile at a time…are you going hard enough? Can you go harder? Should you dial it back? Long and the short of it is, if there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that if you have a big goal for a race, you’re best served by trying to maintain a focus the entire race; as we all know, it’s not over until you cross that finish line (or at the very least, you can see it within your sights!). It’s good to be reminded of this.  

3) Learn to spend time alone. In college, I used to love to go out to dinner solo. My place of choice was Texas Roadhouse. I would walk in and hop up to the bar where I’d order a peach margarita, eat peanuts and then order a huge grilled chicken salad. I’d watch people; I may chat w/ a bartender; and I even made friends with a cute little old man, who came in even more frequently than I did (shocking); he even had his own coffee mug at the bar. One day, I came in and I found out that he rarely came to the bar anymore because he had ‘met a lady’; that was good news. I would look forward to these solo dinner outings. My friends told me “Kelly, you shouldn’t do that; it looks like you just want to hook up.” I’d say “Really? Because I am wearing jeans or a long denim skirt, or some hippy looking skirt. I don’t really exude that vibe.” Maybe I enjoy the fact that it’s something that you are ‘not supposed to do’, but in my opinion, why not? It’s refreshing to sit down in a public place and just be with yourself; watch people. It’s good for the soul. 

In Henderson, my days looked something like this:  Wake up at 4:45, eat breakfast, drink coffee, and head out the door at 5:30. The next 5-7 hours were spent on my bike. I wasn’t totally solo, I had my musical friends in my right ear; but predominantly, it was just me and my thoughts. And for some odd reason, I really never got bored. If anything, I’d get bored moreso in my hotel room at times; but even then, I would come back, lay down on the floor and recover for about 10 minutes, eat, then sit in my Recovery Pump boots on the bed with mindless TV in the background; check up on emails; drink more coffee. I may read my book. Call someone. But all in all, it was pretty peaceful. If I started to go stir crazy or I had an easy day to ensue, I’d venture ‘out of room’ to one of the restaurants and have a beer, order food, and read my book along with more people watching. Point being… racing triathlons (especially those in the range of 4-17 hours in duration) is not a terribly exciting, stimulating endeavor. It’s a hell of a lot of time with you, yourself and your own head. It is a very valuable thing to be comfortable spending that time with yourself, knowing what kinds of thoughts may come up; and with regards to training (or racing),  knowing how to combat the negative ones. No matter what happens in life, you always have ‘you’ (we’re kind of stuck with ourselves) so you better know how to be comfortable with that person. 

So that wraps up the Three Things I Learned in Vegas. Here are a few pictures of my trip, including the amazing lake where I finished most of my days, some of the food I enjoyed and many of the endless roads I bonded with. I will admit, while it was a great trip, it’s good to be home! I missed my husband, my cat and dog, and of course the Mexican food. Some things I’m not willing to give up for long!

Swim Venue (Lake Las Vegas)
Road out of Overton, Nevada
Burger night (& a beer)
Laundry Day <roughing it!>
Salad & Pasta night (& a beer)
Rode with a camelbak every day
View from Goodsprings, an old ghost town

Northshore Road; we did a lot of bonding
View from Boulder City, 'The City that Built Hoover Dam'   
Packing up & enjoying a Tenaya Creek IPA - After 500 miles I earned it! :)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Active MSers Feature: Alain Virlouvet

In continuing with my fundraising efforts through Can Do Multiple Sclerosis , I have reached out to the ActiveMSers community to receive various stories of individuals who are living with, and staying active despite of, multiple sclerosis. I have received so many incredible stories of people who are deciding to take action to live the best life they possibly can; so thank you to all of you who have submitted your stories, I will continue to post them in the coming months.

Please check out my personal fundraising efforts through Can Do MS. My goal is $10K by October; we are almost halfway there, every little bit helps! Please spread the word.

Here is Alain Virlouvet's story. Alain happens to be a fellow Texan! He lives near Austin in the town of Brenham, which is the the hometown of Bluebell Ice Cream. I have to say, my husband and I definitely support the economy of his town through our ice cream consumption! A big thank you to Alain for allowing us to read his personal story, and best of luck to him with the MS 150 Bike San Antonio this October. In Alain's words:

"Thank you for helping the MS cause.  Here is my story that I hope will help in your fund raising efforts.

    In 2009 at the age of 62 and out of nowhere, I started experiencing extreme fatigue, vertigo, dizziness, balance issues and that tight constricting feeling in the mid-section of my body that is known as the “MS hug”.  Finally, after 4 months of seeing different doctors and all the tests, I was diagnosed with Relapsing/Remitting MS and started treatment on Betaseron.  One year on Betaseron resulted in elevated liver levels so my medication was changed in late 2010 to Copaxone, and I have done quite well on this medication.

    It took me about a year to accept and adjust to my new life.  I decided to help myself as much as possible to slow down this monster MS.  I had been doing yoga and meditation for some years and have continued both as I’m certain they are a big help.  I was walking every day, but that became laborious and not much fun, so a year ago I started riding my bike.  And to my surprise I found that I felt absolutely no handicap while riding my bike.  So I had found my new love!  I am now riding about 80-100 miles per week and last October I did my first MS 150 in San Antonio.  I plan to do it again this year and will try to do the 100 mile course.

    Since I’ve been riding I have seen an improvement with fatigue, cognition fog, dizziness and just overall wellness.  I feel that I’m lucky (if you can say that about an MS patient) in that my diagnosis came later in my life.  Each MS patient’s progression and symptoms are different, but I like to believe that with my Copaxone treatment in addition to the yoga, meditation, vitamin D, vegetarian diet and regular cycling have helped at the least to keep me stable and possibly may even be slowing down the progression.

I hope this has helped and again your support of MS patients is deeply appreciated.

I wish you all the best with your races.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rev 3 Quassy: Some Days are Diamonds, Some Days are Stone

If there is one 'fear' that I have before any race, it is the unknown of if my body will give me what I want it to on the day. Nerves I can deal with. Anxiety will always be there. I know I prepare the best I can, do all the right things, take adequate rest, and stay off my legs the day prior...but despite all these things, there is always that question mark of, even though I know I am 'ready', will the legs be there when I need them? As with nerves, I try to push this worry aside since it is out of my control, and most times it is a non-issue. This past weekend, unfortunately, it was 'the' issue.

I went into Rev 3 Quassy rested. I dialed the training back just a bit more than my previous races, as I knew this would be the most quality field I had yet raced, not to mention the largest prize purse and the most challenging course thus far for 2012. I did all the things I knew I needed to do. We arrived Friday, and awoke Saturday to a cool rainy day, perfect for a long sleep in and not too much activity. All seemed on par, except for little bit of a talking stomach. I skipped breakfast (also due to the fact that we slept until 9am, a full 11 hours of sleep!), did a light swim at the hotel pool and had my breakfast for lunch; probably not ideal, but not a big deal. At the pro meeting, I felt tired. I recall shutting my eyes a few times. Not totally like me. Dinner was at a local Italian place, and I picked at my pasta dish. Again, not like me; even if my appetite wanes, I eat. It's fuel and I know I need it. I got back to our room at 7 and was in bed and asleep by 7:30. Again not like me. I tried to write it off as my body just needed rest and I'd feel great come race morning; but, I'd be lying if I didn't say that I knew this was atypical. I love to race, and I get very excited to race. This didn't seem quite normal.

I woke up, ate my usual breakfast, and laid back down at 5am. (We were set to leave then and I am pretty anal when it comes to race morning arrival). I was just so damn tired. But again; nothing major was happening. A gurgly stomach, a lack of appetite and some fatigue. Big deal. We headed out the door, it was a beautiful cool morning and the sun was about to rise. This is an incredible locale to race; hilly, green, and a clear clean lake to swim in; my favorite. But the energy was just not there and it was pissing me off to say the least.

I of course debated starting or not, but the decision is much tougher to make when you have no viable 'excuse'. I was not violently ill, I just didn't feel quite right. Really, who can not toe the line because of that? To me, that was an awful reason. We won't always feel great on race day and we all know we can still have great performances. When the gun goes off, I go into a mode that I simply cannot find otherwise. I just tried to roll with it. The swim kicked off and I managed to get right into the lead along with Laurel Wassner, and we swam great together; truly my favorite kind of swim in a clear lake surrounded by lush green trees. Picture perfect! I tried to take momentum from the fact that she and I were leading the swim; maybe this would turn out to be a great day and surprise me a bit.

Onto the bike and it was cold! A 50+ degree morning meant chilly temps to start the bike, but I tried to appreciate the fact that I was out here doing what I loved and work harder to warm up. There is not much warming up on this course, as you are hit with the big hills right off the bat. I hammered up them only to get passed by a few women in the first few miles. No big deal, I'll come around, I told myself. About 1 hour into the bike, I realized that there was no coming around. I was taking a bit less calories because I was worried the stomach may go south. I started to push them more mid-way, but there was nothing in the tank. I realized that it was going to be a day like this; a day like I had imagined was going to happen, but I had 'hoped' wouldn't. By mile 20 I wanted it to end. By mile 30, I'd moved further back. Each time I got passed, there was no desire (or ability) to try to keep that woman in sight. It pissed me off, but I knew there was nothing I could do; today the body was just not giving me what I wanted.

The end of the bike could not come soon enough, and when it did, I had moved well back through most of the field, after exiting the water first. I felt extremely dejected and I knew I was at least 10 minutes behind the lead women. I figured what did I have to lose; hell, go for the best run split! Maybe that would feel good. Off I went like a bat out of hell, and did what I could to make up any time possible. I passed Derick at about mile 10 or 11 and I recall saying "how far up?" and he said "to the lead?" and I said "to anyone!" That right there about says it all! I just wanted to claw my way back, but I'd be damned if I quit. It was the easy thing to do, and my body had wanted to for the past 50 miles of the race. I ran and I ran and I ran, and when it hurt, I tried to run harder. The rhythm felt decent, but I knew that no matter how hard or fast I ran, I'd likely not be in the mix today. I finished in for 6th place, and I cannot tell you how much harder that 6th place was for me to get than any of the wins I have managed this season.

I've had a few comments from people like "ah, we all have shit races." It's true. I have told myself, that's life. Life isn't easy, it isn't fair and you sure as hell cannot win them all. But that doesn't mean that it didn't upset me. I thought I was being too hard on myself, but Derick wisely pointed out, "Kelly you are upset because this means something to you...that is OK..." The frustrating part for me was that some of the best 70.3 women were here, and I wanted nothing more than to see how I measured up against them; toe to toe. How did I measure up? They spanked me, hard. That stings. But, after a few days, I have come to realize, I feel as though in a strange way, I needed this race. I knew that it could be ugly, and it was, but isn't that racing? Every time we step up, we put ourselves on the line. We'll either succeed brilliantly, or we'll fail miserably  (or of course fall somewhere in between). That is part of it. It is nerve-wracking, it's scary, and especially if we have doubts, it's even more daunting. But how do we learn how deep we can dig if we quit or even fail to start? I knew if I had pulled out just because 'I had doubts', I would never be able to forgive myself. So, I stepped up, and I got it handed to me; but that was all I had, on the day, period. And I had no choice but to accept it and move forward. You have two choices: you can let a crap result define you, or you can let it motivate you. I am trying to do the latter.

I've said it numerous times. The mental fortitude it takes to finish on these days is exponentially greater than on the days you win, no matter how hard you have to dig on those days! When you feel good, you have're pushing and your body is letting are in that zone, even if it hurts like hell. On these days, you go through mental battles constantly "I want to quit. But I can't quit. But my result will be shit. But that's ok, you're human. But people expect me to win. But that's not realistic all the time. But I want to win, I am here to win. No, I am here to give it my best" etc etc. If not for days like this, we'd never realize how great it is when it all comes together. I gave it all I had, and for that, I am proud of the effort. On this day, it was all Mirinda, Heather Wurtele and Angela, who were all stellar; they deserved the podium and fought hard for it. Thank you the hard-working Rev 3 crew, who put on an awesome event as they always do; to my sponsors and Derick, who both support me endlessly through the ups and downs, and my mom who allowed me to cry my eyes out to her post-race (we can only do that to our moms, right?!). I think I have learned more about myself from this race than I have any race thus far this season. So on that note, let's raise a beer to the character-building races!

Thanks for reading, see y'all in Muncie.