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Friday, September 14, 2012

Muskoka-the good, the bad, and the ugly!

  Before I get to the race report, I just wanted to share some info on an important event to come-the Heather Boyum Memorial Iron Angel Run/Walk to be held on October 14 at 7:45am.  The event will benefit Heather's children's educational fund, and I encourage everyone who is available to participate or donate.  More information on this event can be found here.  Thank you!

  This past weekend brought on my next 70.3(ish) adventure, as Dave and I took off from work a couple hours early on Friday and headed north of the border to compete in the Muskoka Ironman 70.3.  I hadn’t done a 70.3 in over three months, so I was ready to get going on the second portion of my season, and Dave was hoping to finally capture a Vegas slot (for 2013, of course).  The prerace happenings started off with an uneventful drive up (during which it took me a bit to realize that the gas prices were in liters, and the road distance signs were in kilometers).  We crashed in a free Residence Inn (thanks, Dave’s hotel points!) Friday night, loaded up on their pretty awesome continental breakfast spread the next morning, and then headed up to the race site (after Dave screwed around with his bike a bunch, as per usual).  After check in and a brief swim and jog (despite the pouring rain, the cool temperatures were an absolute gift!), I insisted that we drive a loop of the bike course, so we met up with Welby and went on a little jaunt of the loop.  The technical portions, which probably constituted the first and last 20k (in my book, at least) did concern me, especially given that my prescribed wattage target seemed optimistically high, but I reassured myself that it’d be a good opportunity to push the boundaries of my bike handling comfort zone a bit, and that I could make up some time on the less technical, more open sections of road.

Massive hotel room bed.  It was awesome.  I could sprawl out, and didn't have to touch Dave.

The children's book stories of our Hansen lives, found in a Canadian supermarket.
  Saturday evening, Dave and I met up with our fantastic hosts Lowell and Katharine (I’d met them when we all helped present material at a course in Buffalo last May), who graciously cooked for us, let us crash for the night, offered some insight into the race, and even had some sweet dogs to make us feel like home.  The 8am race start time meant that our Sunday morning started at our normal wake up time, and the prerace routine went off normally.  A cold morning greeted us; my car thermometer had read 45, and even a short jog didn’t warm me up much.  Still, the sky was (thankfully) clear, the water temperature was reading in the low 70s, and overall, the morning promised to warm up to a comfortably cool level, so I wasn’t concerned about being cold during the race, especially after the cold, damp weather we’d raced in at Mooseman.  Before the race, I found myself chatting with fellow pro and LP podium finisher Kelly Fillnow about swim strategies, we decided we’d try to swim together.  She’d outswam me by a few minutes in Placid, so I was unsure if I’d be able to hang with her, but I figured I’d do my best to try!

Totally random, but apparently Canadian milk comes in bags. And it costs a lot. 
See?  Sweet dog.  Juno helped us feel at home Sunday morning! (Plus, she can run...a lot.)

  The swim course was sort of a modified point-to-point rectangle, with the buoys on the right (yeah!  My breathing side!).  The cold air and warm water temperatures created a foggy cloud off the water, somewhat obscuring the buoys from view in the morning sun.  I made sure to count the buoys (three out, one across, four back, and a couple in) prior to the start, in order to have some idea where to turn, given that I do possess the capability to get lost on the swim.  Soon enough (after I was announced as second place at Lake Placid-there’s actually something to say about me now), we were off, and after the initial froth and sprint, I found myself alone again, gasping for air because I’d legitimately tried to stay on feet for once.  Darn!  Well, nothing to do but continue onward, which I did.  After recollecting myself and getting my breath back, I finally managed to make my way back to Kelly by the first turn buoy.  For the first time, well, ever, I then managed to force myself to stay in her draft (thank you!!) for the majority of the rest of the swim (even when we made the last turn and both stopped because neither of us could spot the next buoy at first, I wasn’t kidding about getting lost on swims).  I felt like I had pushed on the swim, so I wasn’t too thrilled when I exited the water, and saw 36:15 on my watch.  Then, I saw that my garmin had read the distance as over 2300 yards (and I knew that I hadn’t deviated majorly from the course).  Still.  Ugh.  The swim frustrations continue.

  I used the long uphill run to transition to recollect myself (even though my heart rate was probably higher at that point than it was throughout the rest of the race), performed my normal crappy transition, non-flying mounted my bike in a semi-coordinated fashion for once, and took off on the bike course.  The first part of the course was one of those technical sections, and we started climbing off the bat-no time to settle in and get comfortable, for sure!  I passed a couple of pro women in the early miles, but that was it for females-my company for the rest of the ride would be the occasional age group male who passed me.  I tend to be a bit bolder on the bike when I can see others (i.e. if they’re not crashing from taking that turn at that speed, then neither will I); unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for most of the ride, so it was up to me to coerce myself to just stay aero a little bit longer, brake on the downhills and curves in the road a little bit less, and remember that I was in a race, that a year ago, I had thrown my bike fears into the wind in order to get myself to the point where I was starting in that pro wave.  It was still far from perfect, of course-there was braking, there was sitting up down hills, there was my old friend half aero, there was some questionable shifting, there was a little swerving here and there when unzipping and retrieving from the bento box (I miss you, taped on gels), there was certainly lost time-but it was far better than it would have been at any point in the past.  And, while there was some degree of tentativeness at times, there wasn’t abject fear-any time I felt like I was crossing the line between pushing the boundaries and losing control, I was able to pull myself back into control.  I also managed to do something-twice-that I’d never been able to do before, which was to get my chain back onto my little ring after it jammed while shifting (my chain also hasn’t been too keen on moving from little to big rings, as evidenced by the fact that I basically had to be in one specific back chain ring in order to get the darn thing to move…might be time for a new one). 

  Race-execution wise, Mary and Jesse had set my pre-race wattage target in the 205-210ish range.  Personally, I thought they were a bit nuts, given I’d have a bunch of zeroes in there from the aforementioned technical stuff, the best I’d managed to pull in a 70.3 was 196 in NOLA, and because I was at the end of a build week.  But, no time like the present to go for it, I supposed.  After the post-Placid mini-break, I’d recouped my bike numbers within a couple of weeks, and 200 did represent some sort of mythical barrier in my mind.  Within the first 5-10 miles, I was feeling surprisingly strong, though, and found that with a hard but not unreasonable effort, I was hitting my target.  I continued to push throughout the middle portions of the bike, still remembering to keep myself under control on the uphills and use my smaller gears to sort of save my legs on the grueling course, simultaneously cursing (darn you, Mary Eggers!) the fact that I’d been given what I thought was a very lofty target to hit, yet relishing the burn in my quads that was accompanying chipping away at it.  The first ~25mi of the ride seemed to crawl by, but after that, the miles (or kilometers, we were in Canada, after all) began to tick away more quickly.  I have to admit, was rather enjoying the metric system markers-not only were the 5k markers passing by more quickly than the 5mi laps on my Garmin (yes, I realize that there were more of them, but still), but converting kilometers to go into miles to go gave me something to entertain myself with (thank you, years of cross country, track, and road racing in the metric system!).  At 94k, the bike course was ~2.5mi long, but I had been aware of this heading in, so I was mentally prepared to be on the bike just a bit longer than normal.  

   When I hit the 75k mark, I began to push a bit more to the finish, just to see if I could bring the wattage up at all heading towards T2.  I felt as if I was walking (riding?) a very fine line in terms of what I was doing to myself with the run still to come, as I had been pushing pretty darn hard on legs that hadn’t exactly been rested heading in, but Mary had pointed out to me that we hadn’t been able to kill my run yet, and that it was time to try to push that boundary just a hair.  Plus, I knew ahead of time that the run was going to be a total crapshoot anyways-other than the Rochester tri, the last couple of miles of my long run the previous weekend when I’d just gotten fed up with a solid month of slowing down to a trot to stay in my zone one, and 25 glorious minutes of zone two at the end of my run the previous Wednesday, I’d done virtually no hard run training (and by hard run training, I mean running under 7:00 pace) since Placid.  So, I figured that I might as well hammer a little on the way in on the bike; who the heck knew what would happen after that.  As I was finishing up my bike, I saw several of the other pro women already well onto their runs, so I knew I’d have some major ground to make up.  Finally, I was off my bike and into transition.  My bike split came out to 2:51, which I was ok enough with, given the extra distance and the terrain that more or less highlighted all of my weaknesses, with a wattage of 207-a fair amount higher than what I’ve been able to hold in previous 70.3s, and another step in the right direction.

  Admittedly, I was in no great rush in T2; I was feeling pretty shot, and the other pro women were so far ahead of me that I wasn’t exactly filled with confidence that I’d be able to chase anyone down, anyways.  The rolling hills of the bike course continued onto the run; my one mental pick-me-up was the knowledge that the second half of the run was a net downhill.  The first couple miles of the run felt, in a word, awful.  I was supposed to start off at a heart rate of 170, which normally isn’t too difficult for me.  But, the cool temperatures combined with the fatigue in my legs was making the low 160’s feel like a battle in the early stages.  I briefly questioned the whole idea of the half Ironman at the end of a build week, but again told myself to shut up, and carried onwards.  My mile splits for those first two miles were in the 6:30-6:40 range; for whatever reason, my brain wasn’t functioning correctly, and I was running a horrible pace, even accounting for the hills.  Shortly after that, though, I finally felt myself perk up a bit.  I was at least passing a few of the age group men who had gotten ahead of me on the bike (one of them called me “brother”, or something along those lines, as I passed him, apologized profusely for the gender mistake, told me I didn’t look like a man, and then said he was relieved that I wasn’t in his AG, all pretty entertaining).  My splits were up and down, but then again, so was the terrain of the course.  Around mile 5, for the first time in 60+ miles of racing, I finally saw another pro woman up ahead.  I managed to catch and pull ahead of her shortly after the turnaround, but I didn’t really think that I had a chance at anyone else.  Still, I began to try to use the downhill miles to make up some time, and pressed on.
Here we find "the ugly"-one of the worst run pictures of me, probably ever. I'm eating Clif blocks....which means that this was taken in the first couple of minutes of the run.  Goes to show how great I felt getting off that bike.
  The non-functioning brain continued for a few more miles; I still was hoping that I’d be able to hang on for a sub-1:30 run.  Finally around mile 9, it occurred to me that I was making much better time than that, and I began to will myself through the rest of the race.  Sure, I was a little tired heading in, and never truly found my running legs, but the difference between my run and my swim (and, to a lesser degree, bike) is that I’m not afraid to push even with those feelings-after so many years of competing, I know I don’t need to feel great to run well.  During the second half of the run, we turned onto a windy, up and down path through some woods, during which, for the most part, I was completely alone (a couple of times, I questioned if I was even on course anymore).  As I began to near the end of that seemingly never-ending section, I finally spotted another pro women, and managed to make the pass as we exited back onto the road. 

  By that point, I was within 5k of the finish, and I had realized that a 1:25 run was within my reach, which I felt would be surprisingly solid for me on that day.  That alone was enough to get my butt into gear, despite how much I was hurting.  As I neared in on the 19k mark (yeah metric!), pro Miranda began to come into view.  The two of us had shared a couple of podiums together as AGers last year, both making the jump to the pro field this year.  She’d put a huge margin on me in the swim, and has been running very well this year, so I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to catch her at that point-it initially seemed like I was going to run out of real estate (and gas).  No big deal, I’d told myself; you’re still going to have a good run, the placement makes no difference, you hate having to kick, she’s led you all day, she always been a gracious, supportive competitor and she deserves it.  But I remembered what Mary had told me in an email heading into the race-you don’t give up.  Well, she’s right.  As much as I try to bargain myself that it’s ok if I let up a bit, the little fight to the finish, no matter what, voice always wins out.  Even though we were within a mile to go, and I had over 100m to make up, I grasped at whatever I had left in me and chipped away at the lead.  I was running out of space, though, and was barely able to move up a couple of the short hills towards the end.  But then, with about half a mile to go and the turn towards the finish around the resort parking lot in view, I had managed to put myself within striking distance.  I made the pass just before we made the turn, and continued the push around the parking lot, all the while wondering where the heck the finish line actually was.  I held my position and finished with that 1:25 run, good enough to move me up to seventh place overall, aka, the same place I’ve come in in my last two 70.3s.  Sigh. 

  As a whole, I was satisfied enough with the day-minus that whole swimming thing.  I ended up finishing just over a minute out of sixth, just over two minutes out of fifth (and the podium), and just over three minutes out of fourth-all of which were well within the swim margins.  Visions of how many places I’d lost due to my crappy swim at nationals last year danced through my mind.  So, it’s not true that the swim doesn’t matter in a HIM or IM-it does if you relatively suck a lot at it.  This continues to frustrate me to some degree, especially because I’d put tenfold more effort into my swim training than my run training before the race, yet I’d still managed to pull off a pretty darn good run, but had lost the podium by the time I exited the water.  I know that I’m currently capable of more than I’ve showed in the water in races this season, but I also know that it’s not a ton more-it’s going to take work, I’m not going to magically come out of the water in 29min in the Poconos.  I’ll start with 32.  Mentally, spending over 60 miles of racing without so much as seeing another pro woman just kind of sucks, to put it bluntly.  I know from trying to stay with Dave in training that I ride better when I can see others (half of that has to do with bike handling), so swim improvements will become a huge priority in the offseason.  Biking, it’s coming.  Mostly, I was just proud of myself for not giving up at any point during the day.  My body hadn’t totally been there-a little rusty, simultaneously a little tired and a little out of shape (put down the spoon, Hansen), and just lacking overall sharpness-but I’d rekindled the fire within myself, to some degree.  Better yet, Dave and Welby both got themselves up onto the podium and snagged the Vegas slots they’ve been chasing all year-finally a breakthrough for both of them!
What happens in Vegas...the wife will still find out about.
  Next, I have the Poconos 70.3 planned.  The course still looks challenging, but not nearly as much so as Muskoka (as hard as it was, though, the area is beautiful, and it's definitely one of those races that made me feel a little tougher for surviving).  I’ve made it through a few tough swim sets this week, and should actually be going into the race a bit more rested.  I’m still looking for a 70.3 where it all comes together this season, so…we’ll see!  Thanks as always to QT2, Kestrel, PowerbarWoolsports, and of course, all of my family, friends, and supporters!


  1. Swim-maybe it will be like running. hear all the time. I'm working really hard but it's not showing in the results..then poof! A big pr. I guess well see.....Hammer down!

  2. don't be so hard on yourself with your swim! You are making great gains all around. That will come. Have faith and patience that it will. Your are doing so well :)Keep your head up. Tell Dave the Hatfield's say congrats on his Vegas slot and his GREAT season!