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! :)


Bre said...

What a fun trip!! Those pics are gorgeous and it looks like amazing riding...totally jealous of all that lovely riding!
I appreciate that long bike rides scare you, I thought I was alone on long rides terrifying me for the same reasons! It's unnerving to realize that you are totally alone and in unknown place if something happens.
Love the lessons, and the pics look like the trip was fabulous!

Kelly H Williamson said...

hey chica, thanks! it was a fun trip. yep, gotta admit our 'fears' no matter how silly they may seem. :) glad you enjoyed the read. take care of you!