Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

IM (IM!! IM!!!!) Mont Tremblant race report-Tenacity, persistence, heart

  Prior to all of the regional championship Ironmans this year, Witsup put together some awesome race previews of all of the entered women, emailing us some brief questions.  When in Australia, I answered mine, and then promptly fell asleep on the couch and woke up to my GI system.  One of the questions asked of us was to describe our strengths as triathletes in three words.  My response to that question was what's titled here-tenacity, persistence, heart.  I'd like to think that I was at least sort of accurate, and that I had these qualities in me even before the debacle down under, when I had to regroup and move forward once again.  If nothing else, I thought those three words many, many times during IM Mont Tremblant.

  A few weeks before the race, I had said to Dave, I have a feeling about this one.  I feel like it's going to be the one that actually happens.  It just felt right.  I'd originally gone off the planned course in Tremblant all those years ago, something that had indirectly led to everything that followed.  I was supposed to race there after my fractures, but then I found out that I needed hip surgery, and watched on crutches.  I'd done my first 70.3 back there.  So, I don't know.  For once, I had a good premonition about a race, although I was still freaking wary about it actually happening right until the start.  All of race week, I *might* have been a bit neurotic.  I was fortunate enough that our annual family vacation aligned with race week, so I was able to enjoy some R&R on Cape Cod with my family prior to heading up to Tremblant, which kept me calmer.  Relatively.  As far as how my body felt, I really wasn't feeling too peppy.  Swimming and running were going well enough, but biking in particular felt forced, and I was having difficulty wrapping my mind around the length of an IM.  I also *might* have been a pain in the ass about how I felt.  Maybe.  But, from any sort of injury perspective, I was sound, and I wasn't running a fever and spending the week moving from couch to bathroom, so...winning.  Dave and I headed up to Tremblant on Thursday, and all of the pre-race stuff went as smoothly as it can go, really.  I counted down the days and had my fair share of chills as things became increasingly real.

Scenes from Tremblants past

More scenes from Tremblants past...so nice to be reunited with this crew (plus one!) once again.

And from this year!  I got to do a Breakfast with Bob.  He was awesome, and it was all kinds of fun.
Putting stickers on my bike.  Side note, dropping off that run gear bag was one of many things that made me cry a little before the race, just because I really, really hoped that I'd get far enough in the race to see it again.

  Race morning, I happily woke up to no catastrophes (and coffee...mmm...caffeine).  Making it to the start mostly went fine.  The water temp had stayed below the wetsuit cutoff for pros (72 degree water on a 60ish degree morning without a wetsuit would have sucked).  I suited up, squeezed in a warm up, and did my best to chat and stay as calm as I could until we were off, managing to keep my focus on the immediate task at hand.  The cannon sounded, and we were off in the normal scrum of the swim start.  As per usual, I was fairly lackluster, but I eventually made my way to sharing the lead of a small group of women and plugged away, managing to sight halfway decently and not smash into anything. Since I can actually see the face of my watch in the water, I had made the decision to use it for once in the water in order to keep some focus and accountability, because I know I tend to drift off into the land of the lackadaisical without numbers in my face while swimming.  Plus, just having some idea of how long I'd been in the water and how I was doing made the swim mentally easier.  We were holding a little over 1:30/100y pace, which was ok enough, although I'd been hoping to be a tad faster.  But, I had a long day ahead and was putting in an honest effort.  The AGers began to pass us before the first turn buoy.  After making the second turn onto the final long stretch, I started to employ my normal swim strategy when getting caught by the rolling start from behind-put in a bit of a surge when being passed to get a brief draft, then settle in again until the next pack came past.  I lost track of the other women I was with, but overall this worked out well enough, and eventually I managed to hang in with a pack for the final ~500m or so.  I got out of the water a tad over 64min.  I'd been hoping to be more in the 62-63min range, but I knew that based on where I've been at in the pool, anything under 65 would be fair enough, and still one of my better IM swims despite rustiness at the distance.  Onwards.

Getting suited up, hoping that I wouldn't have to stop and crap during the race, because getting the one piece back on over wet skin would be hard.  More on that one later.

Dave stole my hat.
Pulling my normal, "maybe if I sprint this long run to transition, it'll make up for my lack of swim skills" move.

  Happy to have the first (albeit shortest) portion of my day done, I enjoyed the cheers on the long run into the transition tent.  After an uneventful and fairly unremedial T1 (didn't get lost trying to find my bike-always a plus), I set off on the bike course.  The early stages of the bike ended up proving to be frustrating, and I found myself in a lousy head space for multiple reasons. The flat legs and forcing it I'd been experiencing in training on the bike heading in were carrying over to race day, and that left me sort of upset about the idea of having to feel like that for 5+ hours.  I was sitting mostly a few watts below my power target, and was pretty cranky about how hard even that felt.  But, even more difficult to deal with was the interference between us and the top age group men.  Five minutes really just isn't a large enough buffer.  I know part of this is on me and my swim ability (or lack thereof), but alternating between burning more matches than I wanted to in order to surge around groups and sitting up and soft pedaling to drop back after getting passed continued well into the ride, even after I had moved myself up several places.  Brooke and I went back and forth several times during the first loop, and we shared similar frustrations.  Anyways.  Given that I was in a mood over how I felt to begin with, I eventually just backed off, and hoped that maybe caffeine layering might help as the ride went on.  I also kept having to pee, and spent a good portion of the first lap feeling uncomfortable waiting to reach a descent for that reason, too.  On the positive side, at least I was hydrated, and I was making my way up through the pro women's field steadily.
Exiting T2.  This is my, "I'm about to ride my bike further outdoors than I have since I turned 30 almost 3 years ago" face.  It's a variation of my normal resting face, where people ask me what I'm confused or concerned about.

Mounting skillz.  Or not so much.

   Eventually, I made my way back into the village area to begin the hilly out and back on Chemin Duplessis.  I began looking for Dave, but his genius plan of biking somewhere on the course to find me hadn't worked out.  This probably was for the better, though.  At that point I was trying to convince myself that the bike feeling hard wasn't a reason to quit, and I had mentally prepared myself to read him the riot act about how I felt like crap and wasn't tapered enough and I had told Jesse a million times that week that my bike legs weren't going to recover for the race and it didn't matter that I had moved up a bunch and was riding ok because I wasn't going to be able to hold it.  But, I never saw him, and instead Kim passed me with some words of encouragement.  Well, ok.  That actually helped.  I shut off my own brain, and decided to see how long I could stay with her.  It didn't last long, but every now and then I caught a glimpse of her red kit ahead, and it brought me back to some sort of comfort zone, given we'd been in similar positions many moons ago.  Navigating the steeper hills on that portion of the course also distracted me from my pity party, and they also helped to finally spread the race more and give me some space to settle in and even out my effort.  I wasn't thrilled with my time on the first lap, knowing I'd biked 5:11 on that course 4 years ago, and I also wasn't thrilled with how I felt at that point in the race, but just knowing I was halfway through the bike helped.

Kyle got a bike shot!  I pretty much just look not amused at life here, because I wasn't.

   Finally, once back out onto the long highway stretch, somewhere in the 65-70 mile range, things began to turn around.  Caffeine was kicking in, my bladder was calming down, my legs were starting to forget about the earlier surging and match burning, my power was holding fairly steady close to where I wanted it, I felt like I was making decent time, I moved up a few more places, and mentally, I could wrap my head around how long I had left on the bike.  Approaching the far turnaround, I had moved up to fifth, and it didn't really seem like I was losing any significant time to the leaders, which was encouraging.  At that point in the race, given who was ahead of me, I just hoped that I'd be able to maintain that position, as it had seemed like my best case scenario placing upon seeing the start list.  I started to actually sort of enjoy myself, smiling for spectators and taking in the fact that I was FINALLY doing a freaking ironman, and I was pretty darn deep into the bike and feeling ok.  I focused on fluids and nutrition, breathing a small sigh of relief with each successful bottle refill-something I'm again comfortable with, but being in a full again, it still gave me a bit of pause, just because.  I saw Dave before heading out onto the last out and back on Duplessis, giving him a better report along the lines of "this hasn't felt great, but I'm getting through it and I'm ok".  I kind of enjoyed the hills that time around, and soon enough hit T2 with my computer reading 5:05, six minutes faster than a few years ago.  Well, ok, I'd definitely take that!

   As per usual, I took my sweet ass time in T2 before heading out onto the run course, where a bike escort waited.  I had no idea that top 5 got bike escorts, so I was pretty pumped (especially because he proved to be awesome and rallied people to cheer for me), and had a brief little emotional moment over the fact that after all this time, I was about to have the chance to run a marathon.  That was quickly replaced by the realization that I felt ROUGH.  Plus, my HR monitor kept sliding down (why hadn't I tucked it into my sports bra adequately that morning??).  I saw Dave somewhere in there, and informed him I felt like crap.  But, after a couple of miles, my legs started to settle in, and by the time I hit the bike path a few miles in, I was cruising in the 6:45-6:50ish range pretty comfortably, with my HR right where it should have been.  I spent the out and back on the path in my happy place, actually somewhat enjoying myself for once.  Somewhere in the 10-12 mile range, I began to slow up a bit and running definitely started to feel harder, but at that point I was still making an effort to be responsive to cheers and smile, because it does lift me up.  The Tremblant run course support is always fantastic, and I had plenty of people I knew out there in the crowd and on the course adding a more personal feel to it, as well.  I started to get reports (mostly from Kyle and Dave) that I was putting time into the leaders, but I figured that Kim would outrun me, and Lauren, Rachel, and Magali all just seemed too far ahead and are all incredible athletes, so I doubted I'd end up seeing them.  Plus, I was pretty content with my fifth place at the time, things were starting to hurt more and more, and my GI system system was heading back towards the threatening range.


During my early happy miles still.  I'm not sure when the lead bikers became lead bikers again vs bikers that sat behind us, but I appreciated it.  




Heading out maybe?  Definitely first loop.  I look too happy.

I guess I looked happy occasionally out there.  I don't remember running along a lake, though.  Totally oblivious.

   The second loop of the run, the mental games started in full force.  I told myself to just get through the hills in the village, settle on the path on the out and back, and fight towards the end.  With 12 miles to go, I tried to think of it as three more 30 minute runs, and 30 minute runs are doable.  I was getting more and more splits from spectators that didn't seem to add up, because I didn't think that it was possible I had gotten closer to those in front of me, as I still didn't see anyone and I was definitely slowing up myself.  Somewhere around the 18-19 mile range, I started to feel all kinds of awful.  It made sense, as I was surpassing both the distance of the longest run I'd done in the past 3 years, and the length of the longest training days I'd also done in that time.  I couldn't really tell what my body wanted, so I tried to get down one final gel and some caffeinated salt pills-anything to revive myself.  As we approached the turnaround, I saw Rachel in the lead, Kim up to second, and then some confusion ensued-after seeing none of the women ahead of me on the run all day, two bike escorts were there, Magali popped out of a port a potty just as I ran past, seconds later I passed Lauren, we hit the turnaround, and then I had the third place bike escort leading me.  I had a little bit of a wait, what just happened, how am I in 3rd now?? moment, followed by pretty much straight fear-I felt really, really rough, I was slowing down, and I was sure that I'd only made the passes because of bathroom breaks.  I thought that Lauren and Magali passing me back was imminent.  An IM media motorcycle was in front of me, and I almost wanted it gone, because I was so unsure of what was going to happen still.

   Mile 20 was my slowest yet, and then just before mile 21, I realized that my GI system wasn't going to hold out, either.  Honestly, I wasn't all that surprised, given I'd sort of felt it coming the whole run, and between the issues after the fibroid removal last winter and the fact I don't think things had every totally reset after whatever happened in Australia, I'd been a bit worried about that heading into the race.  I was barely hanging onto a podium spot and didn't want to give up any time (especially knowing I had to get a tight, wet one piece down and up), but I had to do what I had to do, ducked into a port a potty, and managed to be in and out in under 90 seconds.  I fully expected to have been passed when I emerged, but somehow, the 3rd place cyclist was still waiting outside the door when I emerged.  Well, that was sort of encouraging, given that with the stop, I'd just dropped a nearly 9min mile 21.  I hoped that I'd feel better after that, but that didn't work out-about half a mile later, I had another first, as kind of out of nowhere I found myself turning my head to the side and barfing out some liquid.  Although I HATE throwing up more than anything, it somehow wasn't that bad in a race.  And then it dawned on me that I was again disappointed that I didn't feel better post-purge.  I sort of debated what to do-I was running in third, but my body was starting to really, really unravel.  On one had, I felt super nauseous, weak, crampy, and thirsty, borderline like I was going to pass out, and I didn't know if I'd be able to finish if I couldn't get anything in for the final five miles.  On the other hand, I was freaking running in third, and in a position I've spent the better part of the past nearly 3 years dreaming of being in.  I can't lie, I also REALLY wanted to get to do a sweet podium celebration.
Now in third.  We'll keep this one from a distance, because I'm sure what's going on with me behind the cyclist doesn't look so hot.

I look like I'm trying not to poop.  Because I was.

And thaaaat's more like it.  Classic.

  So, I went into major troubleshooting mode.  I decided that first and foremost, I had to make sure that I could finish.  At that time, I was actually having some moments where I wondered if I was going to make it, or if I was just going to end up passed out on the side of the course.  I slowed down, and just told myself to keep running and not pay attention to pace.  Mile 22-23 was my slowest of the day, as I tried to figure out what I could do without losing anything else from my system.  I skipped an aide station, but managed to get some water in at the next one.  Shortly after mile 23, I was getting reports that I was about a minute up on fourth.  I again reassessed-I couldn't give back more than 20 seconds/mile, which meant that I definitely couldn't keep slowing down.  At the same time, the dizziness and weakness were increasing to a pretty concerning level, but I was regaining trust in my stomach.  So, I downed another couple hits of pepsi at the next aide station, forced myself to at least kind of run up the hills, and tried to use the energy of the crowds as much as I could.  Finally, with just over 2 miles to go, my body came around as much as it could at that point in the day, and, pretty attached to 3rd, I was able to put myself into the pain locker because of effort, vs having my body put me in the pain locker because it was unraveling out of my control, if that makes any sense.  I dug in and counted down, remembering that injured past Jennie would have punched whiny race Jennie in the face if she backed down because it was hard.  My pace recovered slightly, and a quick glance back when running around the special needs area just before heading back through the village towards the finish revealed no one breathing down my neck.  I relaxed slightly, and did my best to soak up enthusiastic cheers from the spectators that lined both sides of the final half mile.
Successfully held my bowels and the contents of my stomach for the final ~40min!!  Yes!!

It had been a while.  That's all.  Mike Reilly later referred to me as one of the happiest IM finishers out there, and that also made me happy.  I'll never take one of these finishes for granted again!

   I wasn't sure what I'd feel as I veered to the left towards the finish, but when I saw the finish line approaching, relief and joy dominated.  The 9.5 hours that preceded it had been a tiny blip compared to the years that came beforehand.  As per usual me, my reaction was what it was-an unrehearsed and unadulterated, wearing heart on my sleeve sort of deal.  My emotions in that moment were exactly why I never questioned why I continued to try to get back through setback after setback and chronic pain over these past few years.  I kept trying because as hard as it was to believe at some points, as far off as it seemed, some small part of me kept clinging to a little bit of unrelenting faith that a race like that was possible, and if I could make it happen, I'd feel a sense of fulfillment beyond what I'd felt from racing ever before.  And that was precisely what happened out there.  Joining Rachel and Kim on the podium was an absolute dream.  I could not respect either woman more, not just as athletes but as class acts in the sport, and as examples of balancing motherhood and triathlon success-something that in my "I can barely handle myself" stages of training, I can't even imagine.  I was honored to have been part of such an exciting, quality pro women's race, too, even if the last few miles of the run were a bigger struggle than I remembered.  Running into third and holding on brought me to some of the darkest places I've ever been in a race, and I wouldn't have had it any other way.  At the time, I can't say I loved holding on for dear life, but now, a week later, I'm so glad that yeah, it wasn't a perfect day, and that I was never safe in those final miles.  Kudos to the women in that race.  Afterwards, I read some comments on how the end of our race was interesting to track, as well as some about the character of the women involved, and being included in that, to me, meant more than any compliments on speed or the like.
It's amazing how quickly the pain changes to joy, really.

We've shared a lot in this sport through the years, and to come back and yet again race within minutes of each other and bring out the best in each other after years away meant everything.

Smiles on smiles

Honored to be on this podium.  I was pretty happy with third here, because I didn't have to climb a higher step.  Side note: those flowers still look great.  I got really sad that they were going to get seized when our car got randomly searched at the border, but they let me keep them.  Crisis averted.

    Afterwards, when interviewed, Bob Babbitt had asked me if I had moments where I thought my Ironman career might be over.  In retrospect, I'm not even entirely sure if I know the answer to that.  I think that the best answer is probably that I feared that it could be, but did my best to believe that it wasn't.  I also feared that I was making a huge life decision mistake by continuing to attempt to pursue triathlon as a portion of my current career.  Let's face it.  I went to college on full academic scholarship and walked onto the cross country team, I was a 4.0 student, I have a doctorate, I've worked as a physical therapist for eight years now, I have an undergraduate degree in exercise science that lends itself nicely into coaching.  And yet, three years ago I made the decision to change jobs, cut back on my hours as a PT, and go more into triathlon.  Then, six months later, I ended up working through nearly two years of no triathlon income, and a whole lot of medical expenses.  Life has realities, and at times it became very, very hard to justify what I was doing, especially when watching my husband work his butt off supporting us while training for IMs-and I'll be honest that this was a source of strain on our relationship on more than one occasion.  Plain and simple, I felt bad many, many times.  Guilt over what I was doing with my life was real-besides the lack of return on investment, I wasn't contributing much to society.  I never wanted to move on (yet, obviously being a pro triathlete won't last forever), I wanted to get back, but I certainly feared that I might be forced to change my direction.
Mexican monkey literally on my head, figuratively on my back.
My last IM finisherpix...the Mexican hospital where it all started

   Additionally, in my nearly 3 years away from IM racing, I watched the women's field become increasing faster and deeper.  Women moving up in distance, sub-3:05 marathons, sub-9 hour days abounded, and I legitimately doubted that I'd ever be able to be competitive again, especially with a post-injury changed body that might not be able to handle as much as it once did.  Back a few years ago, my normal training volume was around 22-25 hours/week, with peak weeks in the 28-30 hour range.  Even heading into Tremblant, I hovered in the 18-21 hour range, peaking around 24 hours, and I had more than one weekend where I had to take a mulligan and move long sessions up a day, because my durability just from a fitness perspective couldn't handle it.  Not that I've ever been that great at 70.3s to begin with, but last year I finished in pretty distant positions on many occasions.  All these things added up to many times where I doubted my adequacy as a triathlete.  Did I deserve the privileges of only working a few days a week, having time to train while my husband worked, having one of the top coaches of the world despite mediocre results?  Would I ever be able to hack it in a deeper field than ever before?  Were my past good seasons flukes?  Was I old and washed up?  Should I maybe use my brain more?

   When it came down to it, though, I loved triathlon.  I was never ready to give up on triathlon.  I wanted to give others going through hard times hope.  I was going to fight for this weird old sport of exercising a lot.  So, that finish line in Tremblant represented so much more to me than just a personal vendetta to finish up IM #10.  It represented validation, relief, and a clearing of the clouds of doubt that have been hanging over me for years.  I had others tell me that it was good to see me back in the IM field, and I took that to heart as well.  I have plenty of work left to do, I know that.  One result doesn't suddenly change that I was away for a while, I'm in a sport that requires years upon years of work and dedication, each race, week, day, training session, repetition is another battle, and I still have to prove it to myself that I'm worthy.  But, for the first time in nearly three years, I don't have to worry that this body can still compete in Ironmans at a high level.  It did.  When it comes down to it, I'm absolutely one of the lucky ones, because I got the chance.  In a way, that race marked the end of a chapter of my life, and the start of a new one.  Now, it's up to me to keep at it, and, with any luck (ha...) write a better next one.  It's funny-in some way, the strength I gained in the 9 IMs I finished before my crash helped me through my injury time, but at the same time, what I learned about tenacity, persistence, and heart during that injury time was what got me through the tenth finish.

   Anyways.  That's enough analytical BS!  Post-race, I had an absolute blast getting to do podium celebrations and champagne sprays, even though my unskilled version was more of a dump.  I got burgers and fries (kind of) with Dave, and then spent the rest of the night watching Dirty Dancing while snacking and gimping around, wonderfully sore.  At various points, I internally complained about things like the chafed post-race shower, the continued stomach woes, and the difficulty of moving from sit to stand, until I had various realizations that my last few IM attempts had involved tank tops adhered to road rash covering half my torso, stomach woes all of race week that finished my race before it started, and using a stool as a crutch to get from the couch to the bathroom in Mexico.  So, life is good.  It's been a combination of recovery and starting to get back to work this week, with new goals and hopes for the future, now that the Mexican monkey is off my back.

Rachel schooled us with champagne skills.  Champagne was probably the cleanest fluid I had on me at that point.  IM is seriously gross, but that's ok.

And yay awards!

   This has gone on long enough, so I'll awkwardly wrap up with a whole bunch of thank yous, even though that alone could take up another post!  HUGE thanks to everyone who cheered for me in person or tracked me, sent me messages and comments and likes, and good vibes.  I read and appreciated them all, even if I might not have replied like I wanted to!  Thanks to Kelly, for doing a kick ass job with our dogs and house while we were away.  Many thanks to Chris, Erika, and everyone at Big Sexy Racing and Ownway apparel-sharing a course with Chris was a huge boost, and being on the team has been awesome this year.  Thanks to our team sponsors for playing a giant role in getting me to the finish line as comfortably and quickly as possible-Zone3 for the swim gear, Quintana Roo for the bike and for always standing by me, Ice Friction (special shout out for shipping a freshly iced chain to Tremblant!), Kask, Lake cycling, Reynold's wheels,  Ruby's lube, F2C nutrition, Bonk Breaker, Hiball energy, and Juice Performer.  No doubts I've had access to some of the best products out there this year, and it's showed.  Thanks to the pro women out there, who inspired me to give my best not only on that day, but day in and day out.  I'm so lucky to be a part of a sport where we're competitors, but also supportive of and respectful towards each other-there are just so many flat out nice women that are in triathlon, period  And, of course, thanks to my parents, family, and closest friends, who have dealt with me day in and day out through a lot of stuff, to say the least.  To Jesse, who somehow weathered one ridiculously long heck of a storm of a human being with steadfast patience and belief.  And finally, to Dave, for being my partner in crime, my rock, and my biggest supporter who has made all of this possible.  Onward.  :)

And finally, dogs, because, dogs.  Happy because they had such great care while we were gone!  And because they're cute.  And Dave has a treat.



Sunday, July 30, 2017

Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past-Musselman race report

Where to start here?  When we got home from Australia, I wrote about it, and then I moved on fairly well, in my (potentially uneducated) opinion.  I’d run through the full gamut of emotions in the week before the race and during it that by the time I got home, I was just glad to be home, and I did my best to leave what happened there, there.  While I’m a believer (by now) that feeling feelings is necessary and not denying that tough times are tough, even if it’s just a silly sport and other people have it worse, at some point, perspective has to kick in that yeah, it is actually just a silly sport, and it really could be worse.  Plus, what good was dwelling going to do for me?  I could live in the past and make myself miserable, or I could put it behind me and forge ahead.  I’ve seen what dwelling and self-pity look like, and I didn’t want that to be me.  So, onto the next goal it was-Musselman.

   Since this race report is going to be stupid long, I feel like some background on my relationship with Musselman is a good thing to mention here.  In 2010, I raced it as my first 70.3.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and I had no inkling that I might be decent at it.  I shocked myself with a 1:30 run, which brought me up to second place, way beyond my expectations.  In 2011, I decided that I wanted to come back and see if I could challenge for the win, and maybe go after the 1:28 run course record.  On a 92 degree day, I did pull off the win, but fell just short of the run record with a 1:29.  I said I’d be back in my post-race interview, and I really did mean it.  Then, a week later, I signed up for Placid, and spent my next couple of years racing IMs around that time instead.  In 2015, Musselman would have worked into my schedule, but the labral tear ended that idea.  Since I was already registered but couldn’t run, I dropped to the aquabike, and finished just short of the bike course record (not that it would have counted anyways), and in an overall time that led me to believe with a decent run, I could maybe take a crack at the overall course record, too.  Last year, I just wasn’t fit enough to go after these goals, and opted for the Racine debacle instead.  So, that brings me to this year.  I thought that going after any of those 3 records (bike, run, and overall) would be a good way for me to move on past the disappointment of Cairns.  I registered while still in Australia.
Sharing pictures of my old MM bike setups makes me happy.  2010's sideways "aero" bottle, camelbak, clip on aerobars I didn't use..the best.

I mean, SO much better in 2011...or not.  Slightly sideways double aero bottle, neverreach, crooked helmet, and at least a tri bike, although I was hit or miss on riding in the bars.  Oh well.
On the run in 2010.  I'm smiling because the guy in front of me definitely hulk flexed for the photographer, and I was in a good mood because I was running a lot faster than anticipated, so I laughed.  Still remember this.


With my 2011 stuff.  Such a baby still.
   But, this isn’t to say it was all smooth sailing, dive head first into training, crushing it type living.  Whatever disease I (we) had just did NOT want to go away.  Lower GI symptoms, horrible reflux, a lack of appetite, uncharacteristic food aversions, etc all continued, with the worst really just being crushing weakness.  I had several rounds of blood work and (still totally grossed out by this) stool tests to look for every GI disease on the planet, but nothing came back positive, which was sort of frustrating.  I wanted to get back into training and not lose all of my IM fitness, but it definitely wasn’t happening early on.  Race week, I had done absolutely nothing.  The first week back in the US, I think I managed to get in all of maybe 3-4 hours of what amounted to moving while feeling really, really bad.  The week after that, maybe 9 hours of jogging, feeble spinning, and slapping water happened.  After that, I did manage to soldier through twice that volume, albeit forced and rough.  Finally, after four ugly weeks, I began to feel better, and my last week of real training and the taper week heading into Musselman went ok enough.  Still, my fitness seemed suspect.  My swim sort of came around to its normal mediocrity (low bar) race week, and my run lost the least, but my bike numbers…ew.  Horrid.  I tried to let go of the self-induced pressure on records and placement, as the women’s field was extremely strong with several ladies I have the utmost respect for this year, and all I could control was my effort and execution on the day. 

I did get to sneak in the local town July 4 10k in there!  It was actually a decent run and sort of the turning point to feeling a little bit ok again.  Plus, I got to pose with an alpaca afterwards.  Jennie likes animals.

So, two days before the race, I did absolutely have to give the micro mussel, a ridiculously fun super sprint where adults ride tricycles and big wheels a shot!  The aero helmet was clearly necessary.  It was a blast, although riding my nephew's big wheels was a LOT harder than it sounded.  Photo courtesy Dan Bell photography.

Killer dismount skills.  As an aside, I *might* have missed some bike training the week afterwards because my old medial knee pain kicked up.  Ummm....

But, I mean, I got to run across the finish line with the Bailey!! Look how happy the Bailey is.  That was the best.
  Race morning, I was somehow more nervous that I’d been for any race in quite some time.  It was almost the blessing and the curse of the local race-no hiding if it didn’t go well!  Thankfully, prep went smoothly enough.  I was in the second wave, which was nice.  Although I was taking my sweet time and missed my chance to warm up swim, I’d gotten in a jog, and the water temp was fairly warm but still wetsuit legal for a non-pro race, so no huge deal.  My experience with non-pro races has been that the first few hundred meters aren’t as stupid of a straight sprint for position, and then things thin out fairly quickly, anyways.  For a pro, I’m a pretty lousy swimmer, but in the general realm of triathletes who also didn’t take up swimming until adulthood, I’m not terrible, and can generally sort of hold my own.  This ended up being the case-I didn’t kill myself at the start, and found myself doing my own thing by the first turn buoy. 

  This ended up not necessarily being a good thing.  I had a bit of trouble sighting after the first buoy, and ended up swimming head first into a kayak that was perpendicular to the race course, for whatever reason.  OOPS.  The kayaker apologized, and then told me, “well, you’re way off course”, which…not really.  I was maybe like 10 yards wide.  Oh well.  My eye socket was stinging, but I decided I was fine, collected myself, rejoined the race course, and carried on.  Once around the second turn buoy, the combination of some goggle fogging and sun glare meant that I really couldn’t tell where I was going.  I breaststroked a bit to try to find some buoys and even tried slowing down so the woman who kept smashing into my feet when I did so would take the lead, but neither of those plans worked out.  So, by that point, I was passing some of the men in the wave ahead of me, and I just made sure that I could sort of see people on either side of me until I got into the canal.  Once in the canal, the rest of the swim was uneventful, although I was a bit flustered from the earlier snafus, and ready to get out of the water.  I didn’t feel like I had swam great otherwise, so when I got out of the water and saw that I was somehow right around 30min, a decent 70.3 swim for me (and was in the top 5 of my wave, go figure), I considered it a small miracle and zipped through transition. 

Since I don't have any swim pictures, here's the puffy gash above my eye from smashing into the kayak. #sopro
   The start of the bike actually felt decent.  My recent experiences with outdoor riding had been the misery of Chattanooga, where I had nothing, and a horrible long ride over the course the previous weekend, so feeling good on a bike just wasn’t something I’d encountered recently.  My power goal was thus a low bar, as I’ve been pretty frustrated trying to hit numbers that I couldn’t in some of my previous races.  I was easily over it, so keeping things in check was a nice change.  I had to surge a bit the first 15-20 miles to get around some of the solo AG men ahead of me, but overall I was very, very pleased with how clean everyone was riding around me at that point.  Familiarity with the course felt like an advantage.  Soon enough, I was getting reports that I was the second female.  I knew Kait would build a baller lead on me out of the water, so I was right where I wanted to be.  I had to back things off a bit about 15-20 miles into the ride when my stomach started having some issues handling nutrition (a concern heading in, given things hadn’t 100% reset yet), but I switched over to liquids and gels, and overall felt pretty in control.

   Much of the middle part of the bike passed without incident, leaving me just generally being in a fairly good mood.  I started getting reports from spectators that I was maybe a couple minutes off the lead, so I figured I was making up some ground.  I had to make one move up a hill to break away from a male ego, but otherwise, all good.  Watching my splits pop up, I figured the bike course record was safe.  I was making decent time, but it seemed like I’d come in just under 2:35.  Good enough, I’d thought.  Kait was riding strongly ahead of me, so I felt fortunate enough to be able to pass her for the lead just before 40 miles.  After that point, I decided that I just wanted to get through the rougher road in Sampson state park without incident, and then see if I could do something I haven’t been able to do in a race in ages-bring my HR and power up a bit the final 10 miles, rather than watch it drop.  The park was fine, and once onto the smooth road, I told myself that I just had another hard half an hour to go-something I’ve done many times feeling worse.  I was completely alone at that point, couldn’t even see any other racers, so it almost became a solo TT. 
Bike shot!  Sooo, just gonna go out on a limb here and say that maaaaaybe, just maybe, some improvements have been made throughout the years with that setup.  Courtesy Dan Bell photography.
   I still didn’t think I had a chance at the record until I got into the final 8-10 miles, and realized that my speed was higher than expected.  When we’d ridden the course the previous weekend, that section had been straight into a nasty headwind, so the slight tailwind of race day was obviously a huge difference.  I had a mental dialog with myself at that point-play it safe, don’t bust my legs, come in a little above the bike course record, and then get after it on the run, or go for it?  What if I tried and failed?  It took about 30 seconds for my “screw it, I’ve got a chance at this, and I’m going to go down trying” voice to kick in.  After enough disappointments in the sport, what did I have to lose?  I pressed with whatever I had left in my bike legs, with a whole lot of panting and grunting, and just willed the last few turns to come as quickly as possible.  I got back into the part a few minutes under the record, pulled off my very non-pro dismount with my bike computer reading 2:28, and tried to sprint in bike shoes across uneven ground pushing my bike to the transition mat, knowing it had taken me a bit to get from transition to the mount line and started before I’d started my garmin.  When it still read 2:28 as I stopped it (actual official time 2:29), I figured I’d definitely come in under the previous 2:31 record.  This, to me, was a huge win on the day.  I’d come into the race with zero confidence in my biking abilities based on my recent training and racing, and came out having met a goal I’d pretty much given up on, and the knowledge that I could make myself hurt late in the bike and execute a ride again.

   My T2 was about as skilled as my swim-I’d made the decision on a hot, humid run earlier in the week that I’d wear my two piece kit, getting myself the option to take off the top and run in a sports bra if race day got hot, which it did.  Now, I’ve always been pretty damn self-conscious of my stomach, and I’ve never had chiseled abs.  After a couple of abdominal surgeries in the off season, my belly button is a patchwork job, and I get major issues with bloating.  But hey, it’s a freaking triathlon, not a bikini contest.  Everyone can wear whatever the heck makes them comfortable (and is still sort of decent).  It’s not like spandex makes that much of a difference, anyways.  So, sports bra it was, and I didn’t regret the choice at all.  Anyways, soapbox aside, I’d practiced taking off the stop, but getting wet tight sleeves over wet elbows was a different story, and I fumbled around getting stuck in it #sopro.  Once on the run course, as expected, I didn’t feel really all that great after pushing the end of the ride.  No big deal.  I didn’t know how much of a lead I had, but I was through transition and onto the run course without any other women coming through, which was good-there were several strong ladies in the field I knew I’d have to hold off.

   While I had sort of given up on the bike and overall course records heading in, I still admittedly did hope for the run course record, as my running had been going pretty decently, at least.  I needed 6:40 pace.  With the tough hills in the middle of the course, I figured I’d have to build a bit of a cushion early on, in the flat portions.  Well, that didn’t work out so well.  I just couldn’t get into the run-I’m not sure if it was the bike effort, or the heat playing a role as I went from getting off the bike through the first couple of miles without really getting a chance to cool myself much.  After my second mile split popped up slower than I would have liked, I really just went into troubleshooting mode-don’t look at the splits, cool at aide stations, keep things controlled, read what my body needed.  I passed one man in the first mile or so of the run, then again spent the first half completely alone, running along sidewalks and roads and feeling sort of like I was on a long run.  Systemically and leg-wise, the slogginess never really went away.  I was overall ok-still smiling and interacting when I did see people I knew out there-but just was kind of flat.  Up until the main hill on the course around miles 7-8, the dirt/rock Barracks Rd, I was actually behind the pace I had set back in 2011.

  Then, up Barracks, things began to shift a bit.  I didn’t necessarily feel much better, but I started to catch a few men, and once up, my mile split popped up far faster than what I had done in the past.  I didn’t know my total race time, but I saw that I still had a good chance for a sub-1:30 run, which probably would put me close to the course record?  Who knew.  All I knew was that I had a few downhill miles to get some speed up.  I took advantage of that, and then the course rejoined where many were heading out for their first few miles.  That alone was an instant boost-I saw many familiar faces, and the town had come alive with cheering and support.  It was almost a combination of double awesome-personal cheers from friends in the sport, and community support for being the first woman through.  I think I even *might* have smiled a few times in the later stages of a 70.3 run.  Go figure.  Sort of like the bike, I got to the 10 mile point, saw my time, and realized that wait a minute, mayyybe I did have a shot at that previously given up on course record.  It would take about a 20min 5k, or just over.  I knew I could run hard for 20min.  So that’s what I set out to do.
My paper cover model shot.  That Hansen is so hot right now.  No, literally I was probably hot.  Note there is a sponge.  While my bike setup might look more legit, some #sopro things never change, at least.
   The last couple of miles of that race along the lakeshore, well, I remembered how to really, truly, let go and get myself into the deep again.  I’m not one for formal race visualizations and stuff like that necessarily, but my mind drifts during training sessions (and when walking the dogs in the woods, admittedly-very philosophical), but I will admit that my mind had gone to that exact scenario from time to time-running along Seneca lake, with a narrow margin of time left to reach a goal seven years in the making, one that just had never worked out with timing and health and my years of IM pursuits.  After Australia, I had vowed to myself that if I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be in that position, I’d tap into all of that bullshit and go down swinging, because for the love of everything, even resilient athletes need a freaking bone every now and then.  So there I was, in that exact scenario.  Usually, I spend the last couple of miles of a race counting down the distance, trying to hang on, slightly on the defense.  That day, though, was different.  Race director Rich had joined me on the bike at that point, and my internal dialog was entirely focused on challenging myself to see what I had-find out what’s left in there.  Dig.  Go faster.  Move!  I had something left in me, and I was loving getting it out.  I thought about Mary waiting to announce me in, knowing that she had seen something in the clueless kid there six years ago, and had reached out and transformed my life as an athlete.  I knew my parents and Dave were waiting (and our dogs), and would be excited to see me come in.  Half a mile from the finish, I ran past the place I had sat and cheered in 2012, the last place I had seen Heather alive, when she had, in typical Heather fashion, wished me good luck in Placid the next weekend despite being half a mile from finishing her own major goal.  That was the final kicker I needed.

   I had maybe wanted to enjoy the final stretch, but I saw the clock, I saw my run time, and I heard Mary calling me in, so I just threw myself in until I got across the timing mat.  After that, it was game over on letting the lid off my emotions.  No, I mean, it’s not like I won an IM or something, but those 3 course records had become personal to me as time had gone on, I hadn’t woken up that morning feeling like it would happen, but then it did.   After every disappointment and thwarted IM attempt, I’ve coped in part by telling myself that I would eventually see a reason, there would eventually be some sort of personal triumph that would be a million times more meaningful than it would have otherwise, I just didn’t know it yet.  Keeping this faith has been hard, really, really hard at times, but some small part of me has held on no matter what has gone on.  So, accomplishing some goals several years in the making was no small deal to me personally, and that was that.
Finish line feelings and stuff like that. :)

Sometimes we look loving and stuff.  Touching Christmas card material right here probably, because the chances of a nice picture of us not in spandex are low.

More spandex-clad Hansens

I felt like an outtake picture with some awesome people here was necessary.  Gorgeous.

Dave didn't listen to me about how running up a mountain in Colorado was a bad idea so he couldn't run and had to aquabike, but at least he won.  Let me point out that I swam faster than he did, though.  This hasn't happened in years. #suckitdave #heracedmeinthepoolwarmuptwodayslater #maleego #sobruised 

Yay women's podium!!

With Kait!  Who crushed the swim course record like a boss!

UB alum pic!!  Tim was second in the men's race.  Good day for the old Bull pride! #ubbelieve
   I probably should wrap this up at some point, though!  I can’t even describe how touched I was by all of the comments, congrats, and kind words I received regarding this race.  The support was absolutely amazing.  Special thanks to my normal squad who stands by me no matter what-Dave, Jesse, my parents, etc.  Also need to throw out a thanks to Kelly and Stephanie for their assistance with our canines over the weekend, and for being generally awesome!  Also thanks to our BSR team sponsors who played a huge role on helping me make the most of myself on the day- Zone3, Reynolds, Ice Friction, Kask, Lake cycling, Ruby's lube, Hiball energy, F2C nutrition, Juice performer, Bonk Breaker.  For now, it's time to wrap up some more hard training, attempt to stay in one piece (easier said than done), and keep literally every part of me crossed that maybe I can make that IM thing happen in a few weeks in Tremblant!!  I know better than to count on it, but here's to eternal hope.

After taking the group selfie with Tim, Dave accidentally took a selfie.  Naturally, he's talking.  At least it's sort of artistic with the sky.

Then he handed me back my phone, and I accidentally took a self.  Naturally, I look confused and concerned. #restingconfusedface #restingconcernedface

The dogs did not take a selfie, but since Dave and I did pretty much in our natural states, here they are in their natural states-Bailey rolling in something, and Moose smelling something.