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Thursday, October 25, 2012

I am ready, I am fine

  The frustration had started to end about an hour ago, when after several weeks of numbers that just weren't quite there, a body that didn't feel quite right, a mind that had started to race and question and doubt-I'm not in Placid shape.  I haven't biked as much.  My power numbers are lower, my run paces aren't any better, my swimming has been hit or miss-and yesterday was a big 'miss'-I finally had a ride that went right, that felt right, that just was...right.  And a relief.  But that was only the first test of the day.  The next one, which really represented my last pre-Florida test, was occurring right then and there, on the West Irondequoit track, in the form of my third and final bout of 3xmile repeats-not too terrible on paper, but at max effort on short rest, tough nonetheless.  Two weeks ago, I'd struggled mightily.  Last week had been better, but I'd still been slower as a whole than I'd been in my build into Placid, plus, I'd hit the track fresh, no biking beforehand.  This week, this workout, came with a little bit of a vengeance, my last chance to shut the voices in my head up.

  So here I was, underneath the overcast skies.  The morning was both damp and cool, a paradox that led to a sweat-soaked shirt but arms that felt heavy with cold.  Usually, high school gym classes populated the adjacent field, but the wet morning had kept them indoors.  To my right, I could see into the elementary school library (always makes me miss my younger years) but outdoors, I was alone with the track-even the seagulls were absent.  400m into my first repeat, I'd already felt better than I had in the previous weeks.  800m into the second, I realized I still felt...ok (a feeling that ended shortly afterwards).  I hit them both in the same solid time, better than what I'd been seeing, right on par with before Placid.  Soon enough, I was staring down the face of #3, challenging myself to what I hadn't been able to do in previous attempts at the workout-make #3 the fastest of them all.  In the scheme of my fitness, in implications for Florida, that second or two wouldn't make or break me-far from it.  But in the realm of my mind, it just...did.  1:30 rest was up before my breathing had even slowed, and I was pressing the button on my watch, setting off to defeat the demons.

  Four easy laps.  I thought back to an indoor track workout in college; we were down to our final 1000m repeat.  Five easy laps, Vicki had told us.  I knew that easy didn't really mean easy; it meant a thousand different other things-strong, relaxed, light, fast, smooth, conquerable.  And the mantra had stuck, even though I knew those outdoor laps were twice as long as those indoor laps-but maybe I could fool myself.  200m in.  A check of the watch assures me that I'm still on.  Already it's getting hard.  I make it to 400.  86 seconds.  Right on again.  It occurs to me that I've now had 3/4 of a good workout.  Well, that's not a bad day, even if I were to stop now.  No-don't think that.  This last 1/4 is what seals the deal.  3 easy laps.  I get to 600m.  1000m to go.  10x100-time to count down.  Make it around the turn.  Nine.  Working down the straightaway, I'm approaching the halfway point.  I think back to another college story.  I had 1000m to go in my workout, and I was saying how I really didn't want to do it, Vicki had told us.  My brother (I think-it was a few years ago) just looked at me and said, '1000?  That's like, 3min, Vick.  What's 3min of running?  Well, for my non-15min 5k running self, those 3min of running are more like that last 800.  Still, what's 3 minutes of running?  My spin instructor's voice plays into my head-you can do anything for 3 minutes.  I hit 800m.  2:52.  Still on.

  I continue to press.  Seven.  Working down the backstretch, I hit the low point of every repeat-starting to tighten and tie up, but still so far to go.  I think back to the library, and wonder if anyone would see me if I just collapsed.  Six.  Just one more time past all of this.  Five.  Halfway through that 10x100 countdown.  I push the straightaway into the final lap.  4:17...4:18.  That fastest last mile, it's in my reach, but it's going to hurt, it's going to burn, I've got to dig.  I'm counting down by 50s now.  300 to go-just over a minute of running.  250.  200-sh--, am I going to make this?  150.  30 seconds.  100 to go.  I'm gasping for air, my legs are burning, I'm in absolute misery.  I take myself ahead in time ten days.  The finisher's arch is there, I'm running down a straightaway not yet seen, this time I'm not going to let anything run away from me or past me.  The pain blinders are on, my vision is reduced to a tunnel, I can see my water bottle in the distance, thrown by the line that I know represents stopping.  There has to be less than 10 seconds left now, right?  Count down, and you'll be there.  I count down.  Four...three...two...one...  My thumb fumbles onto the stop button on my watch, I stagger a couple steps, and look down.  5:42.  By one second, I did it.  Maybe my body's known it all along, but it took that one lousy second to convince my mind that I'm there.  I bend over, hands on knees, not caring what I must look like to the kids in the library, before gathering myself, slowly walking off the track, and heading out to cool down.

  For that workout, mission accomplished-because it's not just about what happens on November 3rd.  It's about every small victory along the way.  It's about every repeat that's nailed, it's about every effort that's completed, even on the days when the body isn't there.  I'll have times in Florida where it'll feel smooth and easy, and I'll have times when I'm in misery, but I've dealt with them all in training, and I've taught myself to be comfortable with the uncomfortable; we all have.  So for now, I'll put those miles in my mental bank, and begin to taper the effort and trust in my training, in all forms.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Poconos 70.3-save the best for last!

  Just three weeks after Muskoka, which included a couple very solid weeks of training across the board, Dave and I were off to the Poconos, for the Poconos 70.3.  This would be my last 70.3 of the year, and Dave's last tri of the season, so I was hoping to end up with something solid.  Heading into the year, even knowing that the vast variability of 70.3 courses and conditions does make time somewhat irrelevant, I still had wanted to break 4:40 at some point this year.  I then kicked off the season with a 4:40:22 at Texas...rats.  I thought I'd have a shot at another flat, fast course in New Orleans, but of course the swim cancellation and bike shortening there ended that (not that I minded having the race custom made to my run strength).  After that, I moved onto a couple of slow courses in the middle of build weeks, so...wasn't about to happen.  But, I figured that I'd finally have a shot this weekend-after all, the bike course featured a nice downhill over the first four miles that we wouldn't have to climb again, and while there were hills the rest of the way, nothing was too crazy.  Plus, Saturday was my birthday (28!  Over the hill!), so I thought maybe some good karma would come out of that.  Ever since middle school, I've always had some sort of cross country meet or road race near my birthday, and historically I've run some of my better races on that weekend.  Also, despite the fact that none of my 70.3s have been bad this year, I still hadn't felt like I'd really been able to put together three legs that I was entirely satisfied with.  So, come Sunday, it'd be game on!

  Dave and I headed out on Friday.  One very nice part about this race is that his grandparents live in the area, so we got to visit/stay with them (it's been quite some time since we've gotten to see them); his father and stepmom also came out to see us and them.  I enjoyed the Hansen family time, since we don't get as much as of it as we'd like.  My birthday started out with the best part of race eve in the form of pancakes, and then turned into the typical pre-race craziness, accentuated by the fact that this race featured separate check in areas and all sorts of other logistics.  Race morning the craziness continued.  I couldn't find my HR monitor for a bit, then the process of driving to the shuttle area, parking, waiting for a bus, and getting to the race site all took longer than I had anticipated.  Luckily, Jessie was on our bus, which calmed me about the whole time crunch a bit.  Still, we pulled up to the race site just before 6:30 for our 7:00am start...perfect.  I power walked to transition, dumped Perform into my bottles, and then basically threw my bike at Dave (who wasn't starting until 7:40ish) with instructions to top off the tires while I put my wetsuit on in record time.  As it turned out, the race start would get delayed a bit, as a few buses had missed a turn, and weren't there yet.  But, I was still in the world's longest port-a-potty line when my wave was getting told to head down to the water, so I ended up being the jerk that cuts the entire line (thank you to the nice men at the front of the line who let me in, telling me I looked "panicked"!).  My warm up then consisted of gingerly jogging barefooted down to the swim start-not what we had planned on, but the morning's rush had gotten my heart rate up.  When I got to the water's edge, I was actually a bit relieved to see that no one was being let into the water for a swim warm up-therefore, I hadn't missed out on anything due to my faulty planning.  I could finally take a deep breath and get myself collected!

   The water temperature was fairly chilly, and a 64 degree, misty lake greeted us.  I hadn't swam in water that chilly all season, and as we were ushered into the water, I was initially greeted with that shocking, take your breath away type reaction that occurs with diving into water at that temperature.  After a few strokes, though, I was accustomed to the chill, and was more focused on the fact that I couldn't even see where the first buoy (or, "tetrahedron", as the swim director had been calling them at the pro meeting-don't ask me why this was so entertaining to me) was through the mist.  If there was ever going to be a time to stay with people, then, I figured that this was it.  Male and female pros started together (the male field was large), so I took my normal position towards the back as we started.  The washing machine distanced itself from me within the first few yards (one advantage to being a sucky swimmer), but I did find myself with Jessie and another woman as soon as the mayhem cleared a bit.  I had lost Jessie almost immediately at the start of the Placid swim, and then she had gone on to have an even better swim in Mont Tremblant, so I was happy to be with her at that point.  I stayed on the two of them until we reached the first turn buoy (or tetrahedron...it's basically my new favorite word).  By that point, the mist had cleared, and I was actually able to spot a bit.  That was around the point where I started to realize that I was actually, well, feeling good in the water-for me, a foreign concept.  I'd been bound and determined to stay focused and force myself to hurt a bit throughout the swim, for once, so I moved ahead of Jessie and pushed my way up to the other woman.  I worked to stay in her draft zone, willing myself not to lose her foot.  Once we got a little bit past halfway through (or so, I don't entirely remember), I moved ahead of her, taking over the leading duties.  We stayed this way until the final turn buoy (this one was not a tetrahedron, I thought), at which point I could not for the life of me see where the swim out exit was.  I basically stopped briefly in the water, at which point she moved ahead of me.  I finally spotted the exit, jumped back on her feet, and stayed there until we exited the water.  I was panting and sort of dazed as I made my way up the exit, so although I knew that the swim had been short, I also knew it'd been my best 70.3 swim of the season in terms of effort and focus throughout.  As it would turn out, I was generally ~1min closer to some of the women in the field than I normally am. so at this point, I'll take it.  One small step at a time is all I'm asking for in the water, after all.

   My T1 wasn't terrible (probably helped out by the fact that I don't tend to get too cold when racing, so I opted against adding any layers), and I was quickly out onto the bike course.  We'd driven the course on Saturday, so I knew it started out with a fast descent, moved into a nice, flattish, out and back section, and then proceeded into 30 miles of some roly poly, sometimes twisty and technical stuff, with some roughish road conditions in there at times (we got to bike across a sinkhole they'd created a ramp into and out of-good stuff!).  After Muskoka (and some of my recent rides), I was feeling a bit more confident in my ability to handle this type of course, though, and just wanted to attack it a bit, hopefully improving upon my wattage from Muskoka in my semi-rested state.  I rode the first downhill in a slightly more skilled fashion than normal, only lightly feathering the brakes a couple of times, pedaling through most of it.  As a result, I finally broke the 40mph barrier on the bike (43.2!  Not bad for the girl that used to brake over 30!).  With the downhill, my power started out a bit lower, but that was expected.  I passed one woman on the out and back (and, as expected, Jessie passed me), but for the most part, I was alone as I worked my way through.  The easy terrain was giving me little to think about other than the fact that my quads were burning, and my seat felt low.  I'd committed the cardinal triathlon sin of screwing with my equipment and changing out my saddle earlier in the week (thanks to Brian at Fastsplits for getting that Cobb out, and Dave for the birthday present!  My girl areas appreciate it), and I'd been screwing around with the tilt of it, trying to get it right.  Less than 20 miles in, I began to feel really scrunched, like I was being pitched forward against my pedals, and the effort required to keep my power up was really hurting.  I cursed myself for tilting the seat down, until I looked down and realized that the seat was at practically a 30 degree angle from vertical.  Well, that wasn't good.  I knew I hadn't set it up that poorly.  Way to not tighten the screw well enough, Jennie.  I played around with what to do-stop at the upcoming aide station and see if anyone happened to have an allen wrench?  Try to flag down the sag wagon?  Just keep going?  I reached down between my legs, grabbed the nose of the seat, and yanked up.  It moved up-and sort of stayed.  Success!  My legs instantly felt better once they were at a more normal length, and I was able to continue on.  Of course, the seat kept slipping forward, meaning that I had to continue on with the periodic adjustments, meaning that I regularly looked like I was violently adjusting myself throughout the ride.  Classy.  The worst consequence of this, though, was that it led to a somewhat full bladder throughout the run...

   About halfway through the ride, I caught up to Jacqui, but after that, I was on my own.  That was when the mental game began-keep the power up, stay in aero-extra watts don't mean extra speed if your jumping up at every little curve-this is a race, navigate this hill, navigate this turn, eat, drink, adjust the seat, stay focused.  I knew I had a shot at my best 70.3 bike split.  Around mile 40, when I was beginning to really feel it, I passed a street that a volunteer was stationed at.  She stood up and began motioning to a car that had pulled out behind me to move into left lane, out of the lane that had been shut down for the race.  I interpreted this as her telling me to turn, slammed on the brakes, and hung a left onto the side street, which emptied out onto the street I'd been on in a Y shape, yelling out, "wait...turn?" to the volunteer.  She was consulting with the car, and didn't notice that I'd turned.  I repeated myself "am I supposed to turn here??"  She noticed me then, and instructed me that no, I was supposed to go straight, she was telling the car to move over.  Crap!  I u-turned my way back up the hill (in some huge gear, as I'd been descending before the wrong turn), and continued on.  I probably only lost ~30 seconds in the whole ordeal, and just hoped that it wouldn't come into play later in the race, thinking of my close finish a few weekends ago.  Oh well; nothing I could do at that point but finish out the bike strong-I was still on pace for that bike split pr at least, and was hitting good power.  The rest of the ride passed uneventfully, and I was pleased and relieved to roll into T2 in solid for me 2:34, tacking on a few more watts from Muskoka.  I'd only lost 2-3 minutes on the women ahead of me, as well, so I was at least in a position where my run might bring me close.

   Exiting T2, I was pleasantly surprised to find my running legs were there right off the bat.  Systemically, though, I just wasn't feeling all that hot-I felt a bit light headed and weak.  I sucked down a gel immediately and pounded fluids at the first couple of aide stations, which thankfully brought me back to life by mile 3.  At that point, I was able to bring my HR up to my goal range, and I spotted another woman up ahead, which always brings a jolt of energy.  I reeled her in, banking on the knowledge that the out and back course would turn into a net downhill on the way back in (although, it wasn't as steady of a downhill as the course elevation map suggested!).  As I got closer and closer to the turnaround, I began to look out for the rest of the field on their return trip, just to have an idea of where I stood, and if I had a shot to move up any further.  Race winner Tenille passed, but after that, there was a gap, then came everyone else within a few minutes of each other.  I was sitting in eighth at that point, and rapidly pulling in seventh.  After making that pass, I began to concentrate more on getting in what I needed at the aide stations to keep the waning energy levels up.  Just before ten miles in, I saw Miranda again, way up the road.  I began to use the traffic cones to assess my deficit.  40 seconds back, next check 24, next check 20, gradually getting closer.  I caught her somewhere around mile 11, and at that point was hurting pretty badly and was just hoping to build some sort of a lead to finish sixth.  Spectators began telling me I was fifth, but I didn't think that was right, knowing that Tenille might just have been far enough out front that she was missed.  When I passed Miranda, though, she called out to me, "go get her Jennie!  She's right up there!  40 seconds up!".  I was too gassed to respond to her, and I wasn't sure what she was referring to, until I saw another woman way up ahead in the distance.

  That's when the run began to get extra real for me (my HR graph shows a nice jump right at that point).  I might miss out on the podium, but I didn't plan on going down without a fight, regardless of what I felt like at that point.  Might as well see if I could, instead of spend the next few weeks wondering if I could have.  I began to really grind it out.  By mile 12, I was within a few meters, and could see that I was closing in on Heather Leiggi.  With ~1200m left, I was on her heels-but she wasn't giving up in the least.  In fact, she was gaining momentum.  We continued to run that way until we were ~600m from the line, at which point I moved ahead ever so slightly, and ever so briefly.  Within seconds, she was ahead of me again.  I poured my everything I had into staying with her as we approached the final turn towards the long straightaway to the finish, but once we made the turn, I just didn't have it.  I'd pushed too long and too hard to catch up to her, and was had been redlining it for the past 10 minutes or so.  My legs began to seize up, 800m race style, on the final straight, and Heather was just the stronger athlete there.  According to my garmin, I ran the last .3 miles of that race at 5k pr pace...olf.  

Giving it my all down the stretch...pretty.
   Even though it did suck to miss out on the podium by a mere 4 seconds in a sprint finish, I honestly wasn't overly disappointed.  Mentally, I think I'd been stronger in that final mile than I've been even in some races where I'd come out on top.  It'd been mind over matter for every last second of that time, and I'd wanted it-badly.  At no point in those final couple of miles had I not been pushing it to the max of my ability; at no point had I allowed myself to give up; sometimes, someone else just has that much more than you, and there's no shame in that.  Hats off to Heather for having that extra gear, I'm still impressed she was able to fight like that, and I haven't run that hard at the very end of a race that long, well, probably ever.  I could complain about that bike course mix-up and how it cost me, but in reality, given how Heather responded to my challenge, that'd be a hypothetical cop out and would discredit her, because there's no guarantee that the result would have been any different if I'd caught up to her at mile 11.5 instead of mile 12.  Plus, there were so many other areas in the race where I could have gained a few seconds based on my own stupid mistakes-stopping at that last turn buoy on the swim, failing to tighten down my seat enough so I had to continually adjust it, etc, etc.  A race is a race; things happen, and it's always a matter of keeping your head in the game and carrying on-playing the "if only" game can only drive you nuts.  Plus, being so close might just have planted a little demon in the back of my head that will spur me on a bit heading into my highest volume, hardest training weeks before Florida-so I'll think of the placement as a blessing in disguise.

  At the end of the day, I walked away with a 7min 70.3 pr of 4:33:25.  Most importantly, I could finally look back at the race and say that, for the first time in a half iron this year, all three legs had come together for me.  Although the swim time was irrelevant (as much as I'd love to pretend that I'm suddenly a sub-30 swimmer, I'm totally not), I hadn't pulled my normal lollygagging crap in the water in which I spend half the time thinking about how much I hate swimming and the other half of the time thinking about the upcoming bike (Mary was just happy I didn't include "swimming" and some obscenity in the same post race text).  The swim had been as much of a mental step forward as a physical one.  I'd stayed in the moment, felt good, pushed hard, and as a result, had lost slightly less time to the rest of the field than normal.  It's still too much, but it's getting closer to an amount that I might just be able to make up on the run.  My bike had been better, as well.  I'd hit the 210 wattage target, and I'd met my own personal goal of attacking the terrain (to a safe degree, of course).  I'd be lying if I denied that the negative thoughts weren't creeping in when I was out there alone on that bike course, hurting a bit, but for the most part, I'd been able to shut them out.  As a result, my biking is also inching just a bit closer to the rest of the field.  Unlike swimming, where I just hope to be adequate someday, I want to be, well, good on the bike.  In many of my previous races this season (Placid excluded), I've felt that my issues with the technical aspects of biking were preventing me from being able to fully take advantage of my physical biking abilities.  At the Poconos, though, I really didn't feel like that was the case.  I wouldn't consider this a course that necessarily played into my strengths, but I also didn't feel like I had any major weaknesses in bike handling or position holding me back to any great degree.  I was ~2-3min back from the women ahead of me, which is just where my fitness is right now, and with continued work and consistency, it finally seems surmountable.  And for that run?  Well, it wasn't my best split this season, but it wasn't the easiest course.  I was happy to take the run split title, given the quality of the women in the field, and I had poured everything I had into it.

Post race smiles!  Shocker that a random person on the street asked me for the time. How'd he know I'd know it? Was it the two watched on my right arm, and the cell phone in my hand?
  Post-race, we enjoyed some good times (and birthday cake-coolest grandparents-in-law ever!) with Dave's grandparents before heading back to Rochester.  I'm now looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead, known as my IM overload weeks.  I can see Florida looming on the horizon, and honestly, I can't wait.  Upon resuming training after Placid, I don't know if another Ironman seemed like the most appealing prospect, but after Sunday's race, I'm starting to get the itch again.  My last couple of races have built upon each other, so I can only hope to continue to carry the trend into Florida.  The next five weeks promise to crawl by, and I'll be taking it one day, one hour, one training session at a time.  Until then, continued thanks to my family, friends, and supporters!  Thank you QT2 for continuing me on the right track, Powerbarridecarbon.comWoolsports, Kestrel, and Normatec, as well!

Staying with family=bringing one of our mutts.  Despite leaving her a little cove in the back of my hatchback, she still ended up making her way up so she was standing on Dave's wheelbag and laying on top of the Normatec boots.