Thursday, September 13, 2012

Vegas 70.3 Worlds: Slow like Turtle, Fast like Hare

Given some time to reflect on the 70.3 World Champs, I can’t help but feel like I’m a bit like a turtle. Maybe this is because I spent a bit of time at the Westin Lake Las Vegas’ outside patio, looking out over the water, admiring the giant turtle fountains spitting out water; cute little guys. While I’ve managed to put together a string of good results the past few seasons, the progression to this point in my career has been extremely steady and consistent. At times frustratingly slow and steady, but, in retrospect, I’d prefer to have had it no other way. It has allowed me to be that much more appreciative to see it all come together as it has.

Sunday's race was an interesting one. Given the week leading up, I tried not to change any of my goals or expectations; but truth be told, that is really tough when your 'master plan' gets the least bit rattled. It just challenges your mental capacity and attitude that much more. I had been out to the Westin Lake Las Vegas in June for a solo mini training camp/bike focus, and I loved the venue. Calm lake swim, hilly and challenging bike course with wide sweeping turns, and a hard hill run; and hot temperatures. There were few things that, if I could hand-pick a course, I would opt to do differently. To top it off, I had the support of my husband Derick, my parents, and my Aunt Sandy and Uncle Del all in attendance. Some of you may know that I'm raising money for Multiple Sclerosis, as it is something very close to me. My Aunt has had MS for 40 years now, and to have her there to watch my race made it all the more special. I just hoped I could put on a good show!

We kicked off right at 6:30, a few minutes behind the pro men. I felt strong from the gun, and managed to separate myself from the mass of women within a few minutes. I could see one woman up ahead and I guessed it to be Jodie Swallow. I could feel a couple people tapping my feet throughout but thankfully they were all nice! It forced me to keep my foot on the gas; when I felt them tap, I’d try to pick it up a bit. It ended up being Leanda Cave and Meredith Kessler; who, like me, aren’t into dogfight swims (to me it’s just wasted energy). I exited about 30-45 seconds behind Jodie with Leanda and Meredith right along with me.

We were onto our bikes after a nice long climb out of T1 and Leanda was right ahead of me. I figured that since last weekend at HyVee we had ridden together most the way, well, we would do that again. Ha! Not if she had anything to do with it! She soon drifted off ahead as we entered Lake Mead Rec Area, and the carrot was gone. I stuck to my plan, tried to stay strong and steady; work the climbs but also get small and fast for the huge descents. I was feeling fairly good, but I was also getting passed here and there. I just tried to stay positive, even though at the turnaround (~mile 24), I could see that the top women had put in a good gap. I thought back to the many long rides I had done out here (back to back 100 mile days) in June and reminded myself that this was only 30 more miles; compared to my training, compared to all the intervals, this was nothing. Foot on the gas, eyes down the road.

I entered T2 with far more of a gap than I would have preferred (about 7-8 minutes) so I knew I had serious work cut out for me on the run. I bombed out of transition while balancing changing my hair (low ponytail to high, my usual, so my visor fits better) and carrying my flask of 4 PowerGels, and it was time to get after it. It was a 3 loop run that is basically either downhill or uphill. I managed to move through the field the first loop, probably moving from 7th into 4th or so. I was feeling incredibly strong out there. Well into the second loop, about mile 8, I managed to pass two women which moved me into 2nd place. I was still feeling great, but at about mile 10 as I started the final long climb, my body started to really feel the effort. I knew my deficit to Leanda was decreasing (I was literally hearing ‘6 min down! 4:30 down! 3:45 down!) but I also knew that I was running as fast as my legs would let me. By the time I reached mile 12, I was told “1:45 down!” I knew that unless Leanda blew up (and she was running downhill, mind you… an unlikely scenario) that I would have to settle for 2nd place. Nonetheless, when I made the final turn downhill for the finish, I gave it all I had in me. I managed to cut the difference to 1 min 19 seconds, and while I wanted nothing more than to be the 70.3 World Champ, I was pretty satisfied to have run myself into 2nd place.

When I came here to train in June, I ran the run course a few times to know what to expect. I am not a huge fan of ‘visualization’, but I would picture myself out there, racing, and I would envision myself with a victory here, on race day, at this venue. It didn’t feel forced; it felt natural; it was something I believed I would do. It’s tough to actually believe and picture yourself as a World Champion. Many of us can ‘say’ we believe we can do it, but to truly buy into it with every ounce of yourself is something totally different; you can’t force that. I truly believed that on this course, in this venue, at this distance, I was 100% capable of winning the World Championships. It didn’t happen on the day, but for some reason, I haven’t walked away disappointed. Every race is its own beast. I dealt with some things going into this one that I’d not expected. While I don’t know if the week leading up to it affected my race, what I do know is that I executed that race, start to finish, to the best of my abilities. I felt good, I had no major mishaps, and I never ever gave up on myself; even when I knew I had 8 minutes to make up. I can honestly say, I don’t know if I had an extra 1 min 19 seconds in my race that day; there is nothing I think I could have done better. When you walk away like that, with no regrets, it’s tough to be anything but satisfied.

It has almost been a dream season for me (…it isn’t over yet!). I set out with big goals and with competitive races on my schedule, dating all the way back to February with Panama 70.3. Some people look at my schedule and think it’s ‘too much’, but I plan what I know I can handle and after 10 years of racing as a professional, I know myself pretty well. I like to race good competition as much as I can, but I also try to respect my body and give it the R&R that I know it needs. To me, this ‘Triple Crown’ thing really isn’t that big of a deal… I hadn’t raced in 8 weeks when HyVee approached, so I was fully ready to get back at it! I think that we can gain so much fitness from racing, given that we recover and rest afterwards. So that’s what I am now doing… trying to give my body the rest it needs so that I can be ready for the big one, Kona, in just 4+ weeks. It’s all the easier to get that ‘rest’ when you have blips like a slightly bum heel or a cold that hits after a race (both of which I’ve had)! In any case, while I have raced a lot of shorter races this season, I am very excited at what is around the corner. Ironman still holds a lot of unknowns for me personally. I’ve never really performed like I think I am capable of at this distance. So it’ll be fun to challenge myself on the most tried and true proving ground there is in our sport. But for now, I will enjoy the feeling of the 2nd place at 70.3 World Champs to cap off what has been a great year thus far.

I have to give a huge thank you to those who have been instrumental in my success’ this season: Derick, my husband and coach; he supports me when I need it but also knows how to get me to do things I don’t think are possible. My parents who are probably shocked their 34-year old daughter is ‘still an athlete’, just as she was 20 years ago, but are never anything but supportive. My Aunt and Uncle for coming out to Vegas to cheer me on. And my sponsors: Memorial Hermann, Zoot, Quintana Roo, PowerBar, Reynolds, Durata Training, Recovery Pump, Road ID, ISM, Vision, Katalyst Multisport, Jack & Adams, Giro, BMW of Austin, SRM, Oakley, Go with the Flo Acupuncture, Hill Country Running, Advanced Rehab and my newest sponsor, The Westin Lake Las Vegas.

I’ve had a few people call me ‘inspiring’. I don’t know if we ever really consider ourselves worthy of such a compliment; inspiring is when people overcome the impossible, they have every odd stacked against them and they somehow succeed; I don’t feel like I have had to leap too many hurdles in my life. But when I step back and take a look at my own career and progression through the sport, in my opinion I have just stubbornly clawed my way up the ladder. There have been times I’ve wanted to throw the towel in, thinking there’s no way that my cycling would ever make me competitive with the best. But just as often I’ve said to myself, “Why the hell not? With persistence, hard work and visible progression, there’s no reason you can’t get to that level.” Pardon the cliché nature of this statement, but if my success’ can inspire just one person to believe in themselves a bit more, or decide that there is nothing to lose by chasing a dream or a goal, then every success I achieve becomes multiple times more meaningful. With that said, aim high, my friends. There’s a lot to be gained, especially if you’re not afraid to fail.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

HyVee 5150 Champs: It Takes an Army

It’s no secret that I have had my eye on the final part of my season all year long. The overall plan was to start early, knock out the necessary points, and gain fitness from the first half of my season. We then shut it down in the heat of summer, head to Colorado and focus, undistracted, on training 2 months. I love to race, but this allowed me to shut off, put in some volume and also get that fire in my belly again to compete. The big racing push would include three Championship events: HyVee 5150, Vegas 70.3 and Kona. Call me greedy, but my goal is always to win! Maybe not all, but at least one! Thus far, however, I am pleased with the first two results, especially given an unexpected ‘glitch’ at HyVee. In short, I was 6th at HyVee. In long, here is how it unfolded.

I’ve been excited to do HyVee ever since I put it on my schedule late 2011. I train for 70.3 and Ironman, but I try to keep in touch with the shorter speed here and there. I trust in my ability to race well in both Olympic distance events and Ironman. I headed to HyVee after having been down from altitude for 1 week, and really doing mostly 70.3 and Ironman focused training in Colorado. I knew it would be fast and furious (especially on the swim) but I was anxious to throw myself into the mix and see how I measured up against some of the best in the world at this distance; fully knowing that it could go great or I could get it handed to me.

I liked the feeling of Des Moines from the moment we arrived. It felt like a mellow town, easy to navigate, low key, not too busy. I guess I’m just a small town Indiana girl at heart; but I always feel relaxed arriving in a town like this to compete. It was a treat to have Derick and my parents all there, and I felt fairly relaxed going into it, knowing this was not ‘the’ focus race for my year; moreso a good stepping stone for what was to come.

This race organization spares NOTHING. Top notch, first class everything; they go above and beyond to make you feel like they are truly glad you’re here in Des Moines for their event. Before the swim, all 30 women lined up with an ‘escort’ carrying our country’s flag. Incredible! We marched down to the pontoon for the dive start, and after fireworks went off, took our spots, and awaited the gun. Off we went for the 2-loop swim. I gave it all I had from the gun, but watch a few women drift off into the distance, trying to stay within myself. We exited after 750 meters, ran down the pontoon and dove in for the second loop. That heart rate jolt was a bit of of a shock! I felt a bit better as I settled into the second half, but found myself counting my strokes at the end. My mind was definitely drifting! I’m a very steady swimmer and I knew I was going as fast as I could. Upon exiting, I got to try out my new Zoot speedsuit, which unzips by simply tearing it apart; worked like a charm and no cord to deal with! Smooth as butter. I was about 1 minute down from the leaders; not ideal, but I didn’t let it rattle me.

I hopped onto my QR Illicito, threw on my new Giro Selector helmet (which I’m a huge fan of) and tried to bike like hell. We had a 4 loop course and it was a lot hillier than I had expected. I knew it would be technical with many turns, but it was also a lot of shifting and a LOT of punching high end power. I felt strong but definitely a bit out of my element; that intensity is so different than what my bike focus has been. I managed to hold my position more or less throughout the bike, passed a couple of girls, got passed by a few. I actually lost a few (4) spokes halfway into the bike when a competitor made a pass so close to my right that something on her bike (perhaps the skewer) ran up against my front wheel. I heard the noises, and when I looked down I could see something was off with the spokes. My Reynolds 46 front wheel seemed to still ride fairly true, but upon standing I could see it wobbling. For one thing, it pissed me off, which is never a bad thing…I tend to do well in this state. J But it also made me nervous with the technical course that the wheel could be a bit unstable. I was so thankful to finally finish up the bike knowing I had finished it in one piece. It was truly impressive that my Reynolds 46 wheel held up and still carried on safely with 4 broken spokes!

When I made the final turn to dismount, the line jumped up on me, a bad mistake I had made (completely my own fault) in that I didn’t realize the dismount line was THAT quick after the final turn. They had firmly emphasized being completely OFF your bike by that line with the huge primes. The good thing was I had a stellar dismount! The bad thing was I landed so hard on my left heel that after throwing on my Zoot Ultra Race shoes, running out of T2 I had an indescribable pain in my foot and up my entire lower leg. I literally hobbled, then stopped and shook my foot out. I decided if I could continue to run ‘normally’, I would carry on. If not then I would have to quit, knowing what races I had to come. These moments can be so tough as an athlete; do you pull out to be ‘safe’ or do you grit your teeth and suck it up? I began to run and it seemed the pain went away, so while I knew something was not entirely right in there, I decided ‘game on’ and began to put together the best 10k I had in me. I managed to go from 14th to 6th over the course of the 4 loop, 10 km course. Quite a good result given where I had started. The bad part was I could barely walk after I finished. I definitely wanted to be in the Top 5, but I my concern over my foot overshadowed that and I was pleased with the result. I enjoyed the evening with my family but a fun dinner out became pizza and beer in the room, along with icing and elevating my foot.

It made for an incredibly stressful next few days. Derick got me crutches at Walmart that I used the next day to get home, simply because any weight on my left foot was horribly painful. Nothing like leaving a race on crutches! I had an MRI on Tuesday which showed thankfully no damage to the bone or the plantar fascia, only inflammation and fluid in the heel. At this point, I had to make the decision about Vegas. I told myself it there was no real damage to my foot, I would still race. I pushed my departure back to Friday, as I needed all the time I could get in Austin getting acupuncture, massage, and seeing another doctor for a second opinion. Thursday before Vegas, I was still nervous and stressed out about even heading to the race. I was assured (as much as a doc can ‘assure’ anything) that he really felt like with ice, anti-inflammatories, and rest until Sunday, no further damage would be done. SO…I decided to head to Vegas despite a bit of skepticism, and hope that it came around by Sunday.

It was not the week I had anticipated going into what was one of my biggest focus’ of the year, but having been in this sport for so long, I’ve come to realize this is part of it. I could have been worse off, and I had to mentally realize that the lack of running all week had not hurt me in anyway; if anything, the forced rest had probably been good. I had a few doubts but as the weekend approached, I tried to push them out of my mind, knowing I had the fitness and I simply had to try to ignore any potential foot pain on Sunday. Yet again, a lesson in ‘shit happens, it’s how you deal with it’! If you’ve not had things like this happen, you haven’t been in the sport long enough, because they will. I knew it was up to me how I chose to deal with this; take myself out of the race from the start, or forget about it and go in with a focus as if it had never happened. I tried my best to do the latter.

I cannot thank enough the ‘army’ who helped me out during this tough week. My husband Derick (and of course my mom!) who were just there for me in the ups and downs; Kim Mullen, a chiropractor and friend who initially assessed me; Kendal Jacobson my massage therapist; Jack Murray of Jack & Adams reached out to get me in touch with a podiatrist; AJ Zelinski of Advanced Rehab; Karen Smith who paid me a home visit to do acupuncture; Aaron Brougher and Reynolds who came through with a new front wheel; James Balentine at Jack & Adams to get the wheel glued up. The community we have found in Austin is truly unparalleled. Additionally thanks to my sponsors for their constant support. It was time to stop feeling sorry for myself, put on my game face and get after it; despite any doubts I may have had, I was stoked at the opportunity to toe the line in Vegas and give it my all.