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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Aquagear.com gear review-Jennie takes on the Finis PT Paddles!


   Recently, I was asked by aquagear.com to check out their site in order to possibly do some reviews on their swimming gear.  I was invited to chose an item to check out, so I headed over to the site to scope out what was available.  

The website was easy to navigate and well-organized, and although I was distracted by some of the more fun items (brightly patterned swim caps and my favorite swim toy ever, fins, for example), I instantly knew what I should look for-Finis PT paddles.  Conveniently, aquagear carried them. 
Evil little suckers
  My history with the Finis PT paddles goes back a year, when Mary first got her hands on my swim technique.  The initial videotaping revealed this:

Yikes
   As in, a missed catch and a total lack of appropriate body rotation (replaced by some weird sidebending motion resulting from my runner-turned-triathlete background).  As soon as Mary saw this, she pulled her (beat up) PT paddles out of her bag, and made me swim a lap with them.  I sputtered a bunch and felt like I was going to drown.  She gave me her (even more beat up) pull buoy, and had me swim another lap.  It probably took me three minutes to make it 50m.  Clearly, adding those was entirely exposing my weaknesses.  The PT (short for “perfect technique”) paddles are designed to take the swimmer’s hands out of the equation, requiring the athlete to use other methods (i.e. an actual catch with the forearm and body rotation-you know, the things I didn’t do at all) to move forward.  They’re designed to somewhat simulate fist swimming-only, they make it impossible to cheat by sort of opening up your hands when you get tired of it (doesn’t everyone do that??).  Aquagear.com offers this description: "PT - standing for "Perfect Technique" - is achieved by literally taking the swimmer's hands out of the equation. The unique curved shape of the PT hand paddles forces water away from the hand, disallowing the hands to "grip" the water. In doing so, the swimmer is forced to adopt innovative strategies for propelling themselves.  These incredible paddles also promote proper arm entry and hip rotation, by emphasizing the "catch" of the armstroke. Also, because these swim paddles work to destabilize the body, the swimmer's core will engage as well."  Of course using them was nearly impossible at first.  I was more than happy to give them back to Mary after that brief experience; she was then more than happy to email me my suggested Christmas list of swimming gear that I should want, with the paddles at the top.  I think I then added them to the Christmas list that I emailed to my family, burying them at the bottom with an internet link and the glowing endorsement of “I’ve been told that I want these”.  Needless to say, no one bought them for me

   Fast forward about six months, and I was starting to feel like I sort of had a catch.  At some point in those months, videotaping revealed that although I felt like I was swimming like this:
Michael Phelps in my own mind

  I really looked like this:
Yikes again.  At least the water in our pool is really clear.
  Again, at one point when I was swimming with Mary, she broke out the dreaded PT paddles, and I again struggled with them.  I’ve determined that I really have no body awareness in the water.  I know what I’m supposed to be doing, but I can’t figure out how to do it-and the more I think about it, the harder it gets.  My arms (especially my right, it seems) still can’t figure out how to move into that high elbow catch position.  The body rotation is especially troublesome-I do rotate a bit to my breathing side (right-but not at the expense of flailing my legs everywhere), but not at all to my non-breathing side (left).  Both these flaws probably also contribute to my nasty right hook whenever I swim in open water, so I became curious to see if the PT paddles could teach me to do automatically what I can’t do consciously-sort of akin to when in the PT clinic I finally physically guide a patient’s limb through the motion I’m trying to get him or her to do with verbal or visual commands.   

   I decided that it was fate to finally cave and try them out for real.  I selected the PT paddles from aquagear.com, and they showed up on my doorstep shortly afterwards.  Luckily, they came at a good time-my time off.  If one thing could make me sort of enthusiastic towards getting back into the water, it would be a new toy (even if it meant making swimming take even more time).  I got back into the pool after my time off, and with no structured workout to do yet, I was free to play around with the paddles.  The paddles were easy to adjust, and with them secured to my hands, I was off.  This time around, it didn’t feel like as much of a drown-fest as it had a year ago, but it was still HARD to move forward.  I concentrated on the feel of what I was doing-I could feel my left elbow popping up towards the surface of the water.  I then turned off the brain, and swam another couple of laps, trying to let my body figure out how to get from one end of the pool to the other most efficiently.  I then tuned back into what was happening, and…was that my right arm, trying to develop a little bit of a catch?  Maybe, just a little bit.  After a few laps, I took the paddles off and swam normally.  The first little plus that I noticed was that suddenly my hands felt like huge paddles, sort of akin to going from swimming normally to swimming with my beloved giant paddles.   Although I was still swimming at my normal remedial pace, I at least felt like I was cruising-never a bad thing! 

   I alternated a few more laps with/without the paddles, and tried to concentrate on what I felt my arms doing with the paddles on so that I could translate it into a better stroke once I took the paddles off.  I was able to notice some subtle difference as I went along, as well as some shortcomings.  My right arm was trying to reach out a little farther and my elbow was trying to stay a bit higher, but the muscle pulling I felt indicated that I have some flexibility issues to deal with!  Towards the end of the swim, I felt confident enough in my PT paddling ability to take away my kick while using them.   Before that point, I still hadn’t really become aware of any body rotation developing.  Once I had the pull buoy between my legs, though, I almost immediately could feel myself rolling side to side as I swam along.  This was a revelation to me-one of those so, THIS is what it’s supposed to be like! moments.  I was disproportionately excited.  I locked in the feeling for a few more laps, and then tried pulling without the paddles.  The body rotation stayed.  With the buoy out, though, it started to become more of an unnatural struggle again.  Still, I was able to periodically “remind” myself by putting the paddles back on for a few laps.

   Overall, my initial reaction to the PT paddles was encouraging.  I can see why Mary had been pushing them on me, as they do seem to help address some of the form issues I have that simply thinking about hasn’t been able to solve.  Do I suddenly have perfect freestyle form?  Of course not-not even close.  The paddles aren’t a cure-all, but after swimming with them on and off for the past week, I can see how they’re going to assist me.  Like any other pool “toy”, they’re not necessarily a cure-all, but another very useful tool that, with proper application and use, will help me (hopefully) inch those swim times down bit by bit.  I could see them being used effectively between hard sets in long workouts in order to remind myself of some good form points as I become more fatigued, or during recovery days.  Recently, my coaches and I discussed using the recovery days in the pool to concentrate more on form/drill work rather than just straight swimming-the PT paddles will likely fit in perfectly there.  Overall, early on they seem like they’re helping to help me move my swim form from “conscious incompetence” (I know what I’m doing wrong, but can’t correct it) towards “conscious competence” (I can do what I’m supposed to be doing, but I have to think about it).  With time and further PT paddle use, I’m encouraged that this can become more automatic.  At the very least, I’ll continue to feel like superwoman when I take them off and swim with actual use of my hands!  I’d recommend giving them a try (this says a lot, coming from someone that rarely speaks good of anything pool-related).  Thanks again to aquagear.com for letting me try them out, check out their website for all sorts of other neat toys (and sweet swim caps)!  
My seasonal favorite aquagear cap offering.  Penguins would also make me like the pool more!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Want vs. need (and the season of thanks)

  Although I haven't been participating in it, the "Today I'm thankful for..." posts that some of my facebook friends have been putting up every day have been heartening to me, amidst the myriads of complaints about politics and such.  Because really, I'm thankful for a lot, and I have it pretty darn good.  Us triathletes as a whole, well, we're pretty well-off, if demographic data tells us anything.  I don't know the exact data, but we make a bunch more than the general population.  Yes, we work hard at our day jobs, but we also have enough time and energy outside of them to devote to our love of the sport.  We can afford to ride fancy bikes, we swim in expensive wetsuits, we shell out several hundred dollars each year for shoes to run in and engineered sugar to eat.   And race entry and travel fees?  That's another story.  As a result of all of this, I celebrate when my bank account holds more than a paycheck in it at any given time.  

   Still, I consider myself very, very fortunate.  I have everything I need in life.  We live in a perfectly nice house, in a neighborhood where we can forget to put the garage door down at night and nothing happens (cough, last night, cough).  Our cars are 5 or 6 years old, but they get us to point A to point B reliably, and even if something happened, we could get them repaired without going into debt.  We have a couple of dogs that we can afford to take proper care of, and we never have to worry about coming up with money for our next meal.  We can go out to eat every now and then, and if I want to buy the berries in the grocery store even if they're not on sale, well, I buy them.  We both were able to get into college, get scholarships, and earn graduate degrees, which led to good careers.  Sure, I have loan payments, but I've able to make them religiously the past three years.  We had beautiful wedding a few years ago, and I wear a rock on my finger that's worth...a lot (Dave had to outbid his brothers, I kid you not)...around every day without thinking twice about it.  I have practically every piece of triathlon-related gear I could want, and I have the time and ability to put it to use.  I've worked hard in my life to get all of this; however, I was fortunate enough to be raised in a supportive, loving, stable household that provided all of my basic needs and supported my every move, allowing me to have nothing to worry about other than doing my best in school and sports.  I also was lucky enough to be born with natural intelligence (I know that sounds completely conceited, but let's face it, I was one of those freaks that would ace standardized tests with little preparation starting at a young age), and some athletic ability.

   Too many people don't have all that.  Whenever there's something I want (say, a disc wheel, or a bathroom remodel with a jacuzzi tub), but can't afford, I have to remind myself of this fact.  I never had to work during the school year (my parents actually wouldn't even allow it-my job was to focus on my academics), I never had to worry about crime in my neighborhood, I never had to watch unrest in my home, I never wondered why Santa brought everyone else what they wanted but not me, I never had anything but a well-rounded meal packed into my lunchbox or put on the table in front of me at night (even if I was an ungrateful little snob at times, whining about how long I had to wait for dinner or how much I hated steak.  I do still hate steak and think that my childhood would have been fine without it, but that's completely besides the point).  My house was never washed away by a hurricane.  

   So where am I going with all this?  Well, I'm thankful for a lot.  I'm thankful for my family and my friends.  I'm thankful for our jobs and our ability to have to the opportunity to participate in such a great sport with such great people.  I'm thankful to have been given this gift of triathlon talent, that's allowed me to rise to a level I never could have dreamed of several years ago.  I know there's thousands of others out there working their butts off who won't necessarily be able to get the results that I have, so I feel that it's my duty to make the most of what I've been given-just as it was always my duty to make the most of my brain throughout my school days.  Mostly, I'm thankful that my needs have always been met, so I can even think about my wants.  As the holiday season comes upon us, I hope that everyone can think of what they have and what they can give.  $20 to me might represent a meal out some week-a luxury I can certainly go without; $20 shoved into Salvation Army cans could make a difference in the life of someone else.  I remember seeing a mother and son coming up our street when I was loading my overly expensive bike onto the back of my car before heading up to Lake Placid in July.  They were picking through recycling bins, looking for anything they might be able to return.  When they reached our house, I told them to wait, and ran into the garage to grab the bag of returnables that we'd been accumulating.  It was a simple gesture on my part, something that cost me nothing (not shockingly, Dave and I are bad about remembering to take back bottles and cans), but the two of them were so intensely grateful that I couldn't help but get a lift myself, despite my feelings of guilt over the value of the gear I was loading into my car at the time.  What had I done in life that's allowed me to have so much, yet has given these two other fellow human beings so little?  How could they be so grateful to me, bless me when they were doing what they needed to to survive, while I was doing what I wanted to do?  It reaffirmed in me that there's some basic goodness in all people, and that we should spend less time judging, and more time giving and helping if we're so able.  So, I hope that all of us that have our needs met can keep this in mind.  Don't complain if something comes up that might take away from a want, because it's just that-a want.  If we get to the point of taking care of our wants, then we're the lucky ones.         

The hard lives of our dogs.  They're clearly onto their wants!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Ironman Florida-the report!

         Hard to believe, but my rookie pro 2012 season wrapped up over this past weekend at Ironman Florida.  At some point, I’ll summarize the season as a whole, the lessons I’ve learned, and where I go from here, but for now, I’ll get to the race report!  Although I was a little nervous that my pre-race rituals would be a little compressed (I was heading down Thursday morning for the Saturday race; my bike wouldn’t be arriving until Thursday night with Dave), I ended up having plenty of time to take care of everything.  QT2 male pro Tim Tapply and I drove into Panama City Beach together on Thursday morning and hit up the pro meeting, check in, and some practice swimming.  I then had plenty of time to purchase a few last minute items at the expo, meet fellow Rochesterian (and former patient!) Monica for some dinner, and buy the groceries I'd need before picking Dave up on Thursday.  Friday, I was finished with breakfast (pancakes...mmm...), bike setup, and gear bag packing early on, and I had the rest of the day to sit in some shade on the beach while Dave swam, followed by relaxing on my butt all afternoon.  Life was good.  
The gulf-much more enjoyable to look at than swim in


The Kestrel, racked and ready!
          Heading into the race, I had my wattage and heart rate targets and my race plan, and I had in mind what I hoped they would translate to time-wise (sub-1:10 swim, 5:10 bike, 3:05-3:10 run, overall sub-9:30).  But, I never like to fixate only on time or place, because I know that too many other factors beyond my control play into those factors, so I was only planning on executing what I could.  As the week progressed, so did the weather forecast...towards higher and higher temperatures and humidity levels.  This would have been fine three months ago, when I had been acclimated to those types of conditions, but after several months of comfortable runs with temperatures in the 50's, I was a bit nervous about what would happen when temperatures hit the low 80's, with heat indices in the mid-80's-IMFL was known for freezing cold morning temperatures and comfortable humidity levels that time of year, after all.  I hoped that the long trainer rides I'd done would have helped me keep some semblance of heat acclimation in my system from the summer, loaded some salt tabs into my race gear, and told myself that by focusing on heart rate rather than pace on the run, I'd be fine-the time would be whatever it was, no need to obsess.  Secondary to the heat, my other concern heading into the race was the water conditions.  Tim and I had swam a bit on Thursday afternoon, when the gulf featured some powerful breakers towards the shore-maybe only 100m of them, but still enough to strike a little panic into me as I struggled to get through them.  One little voice in my head convinced that I was going to swim 1:20 because I had to go in and out of that twice with the two loop swim; the other one was trying to shut that up, telling me that it might not be that bad on race morning, and then again, even if it was...guess what, I'd just gotten through the breakers, so it could be done.

          Race morning went smoothly.  I reached transition plenty early, and had plenty of time to set up and get ready without additional stress.  My bike was coated in moisture from the air, as it was already 67 degrees at 5:30am, and the air was thick with humidity.  Life felt a bit surreal as I finished the last minute bike preparation just across the transition aisle from Rinny and Meredith Kessler, listening to two of the big names of the sport, women I admire and look up to discuss why exactly their bikes were soaking wet and how they maintain some aspect of femininity in the midst of the grossness of Ironman.  A few age groupers here and there were stopping at the end of our aisle to snap paparazzi shots of the two of them; I had to laugh to myself that I'd end up being the random chick in the corner.  After chatting with a few QT2'ers in the bathroom line, I was off to the swim start, somehow feeling nervous and calm at the same time.  The water wasn't calm; the breakers were there again, although not quite as strong as they had been on Thursday.  I used the few minutes I had to warm up to practice working my way through them, which ended up being a good call, as the first wave that hit my face knocked my goggles loose.  I moved the strap underneath my cap, got to the smoother water, and then swam back in.  I'd be ok.  
All lined up. "Gosh, I love swimming," I thought.  Wait...
Never having done a beach start before, I wasn't entirely sure how it'd go.  The pro men started five minutes beforehand, and then we were up next.  I stood among 20 other women, ankle-deep in the water, and took a few last deep breaths.  The starter sent us off, and I followed the lead of the other women, getting through the breakers and out into the open ocean.  The excitement of the start didn't give me much time to obsess over it, and as I began to swim, I was somewhat pleased and surprised to find myself amongst others.  I laughed a little bit to myself as we hit the first buoy-it was farther than I'd swam with people in Placid.  Score!  As we swam away from shore, the water shifted into rolling swells.  I actually found them easier to deal with than chop, as I could swim/breathe normally, but just with a fun little up/down action the entire time.  On the first trip out, I could feel fingers brushing against my feet-someone was actually with me, I'd take it!  The swells did make sighting a little difficult, as I always managed to decide to look up when I was at the bottom of one.  As a result, despite the fact that the current was pushing from right to left, I still found myself to the far right, next to a kayaker once I got within a couple of buoys of the turn buoy.  I redirected, and this turned out to be a blessing in disguise-as I swam diagonally toward the first buoy, I saw two women swimming in a line near it.  I put in a surge, caught up to the feet, and settled in.  As we turned towards shore, the swells were in our favor.  I felt smooth and in control, just telling myself to stay on the feet and use the draft as best as I could (even though I’m sure the fact that I kept brushing the feet/calves was getting irritating after a while).  Mentally, this was huge.  Swimming 2.4 miles completely alone, in last place in Placid had just seemed so defeating.  The swim had dragged on forever, and I spent most of it battling negative thoughts.  When swimming with others, the buoys passed quickly, my brain was shut off, and I was just…going. 


Heading back into the water for lap 2.  This picture cracks me up, as I look as if I'm in no hurry whatsoever to get back into the water.
We exited the water at the end of the first loop, I saw 33:4x on the Garmin, and I heard the announcer call out the names of the other women in my swim group.  The first loop time was solid for me, requiring far less effort than previous half IM swims of the same pace (ha), and I was in the company of some the women that I’d had the well, maybe on a good day I’ll have a chance to stick with them about.  I was having the kind of race swim I’d been waiting for all season, and I knew it.  We re-entered the water, got past the breakers again, and I positioned myself second in line this time, still on feet.  I told myself to stay on them on the way out into the swells, and then move ahead if I was still feeling good on the way back.  Some of the age groupers were passing us by this point, but far fewer than I’d dealt with in Placid.  I stuck to my plan, taking over the lead on the way back in, even spotting decently, trying to use the age grouper packs to spur me along.  Finally, I emerged from the water, hitting the beach in 1:09:11.  The time was only 47 seconds faster than Placid, but the effort was a huge improvement, given that the swim conditions there had been akin to a giant pool, and the Florida time included fighting breakers, a beach run, and currents.  Plus, I wasn’t last out of the water-I’d made it out of there ahead of five other pro women, even if it was by a narrow margin in most cases.  Still, the mental boost of still seeing other bikes on the rack as I made my way through transition was welcome.  Although I still have a long way to go, I think I might have cracked a smile in T1 for the first time all season.
See?  Smiling out of T1!
                   
Fifteen minutes after getting to the mount line (bike skills), I'm off!
With the swim behind me, I set off on the bike.  I knew my wattage target, and I was hoping that it would translate into a sub-5:10ish ride, although time is never a primary metric that I use to judge my biking.  I’d try for my wattage, make sure to hit my nutrition on the rapidly warming morning, and see what happened.  The forecasted winds for the morning were light and variable, so I knew that it could be a fast day on the flat (understatement!) course.  One of my main concerns heading into the day was bike packs that were known to form on the course.  I wanted to ride clean; I wanted to know what I could do-a fast but non-cleanly achieved time would mean nothing to me.  Being a weaker female pro swimmer, I knew I’d be starting off with some competitive male age groupers, and I worried that I’d get caught up early on.  Sure enough, I found myself going back and forth with a group of men.  At first, they were riding as individuals, so I would pass and move ahead.  Soon enough, though, the distance between them became shorter and shorter, meaning that I’d have to either spike my wattage to grind past the pace line, or soft pedal while they all passed me.  Another pro woman was in the same scenario as me, and it was almost as if we could feel each other's frustration as we exchanged encouragement.  Still within the first five miles, I sucked it up and decided not to ruin my entire day by spiking my power so much early on, and I slowed up to let them all pass me.  The group them rode away, and I settled in and continued on with my day, taking solace in the fact that I’d know what I was capable of legally.  Although I’m a competitor, I’ll never let it come at the expense of playing by the rules.  If others don’t feel the same way then…so be it.  Nothing I could do about that-plus, I wasn't competing against age group men, I was competing to be the best that I could be.  After that, the ride continued uneventfully.  I concentrated on downing Perform early on and hitting all the bottle handoffs (the fear aspect of them continued to decrease throughout, too!)-sure enough, the warmer temperatures meant that I was easily finishing off a bottle between every stop. 

Those earlier miles almost seemed like the hardest ones-I was alone, the terrain was unchanging, my wattage near the lower end of my target zone.  I shut off my mind, and just continued on, knowing that the ~13min/5 mile splits showing up on my Garmin meant that my early pace was pretty quick for me.  Around mile 35, when I was pondering the fact that I hadn’t even reach the 1/3 point yet, I thought of Heather, and let emotion and sadness wash through me.  I felt some guilt, as well, knowing that I still had this opportunity, that it was a gift, and that my fatigue was pretty freaking insignificant in the scheme of the world’s problems and inequities.  I came out on the other side with a renewed sense of strength and purpose, dedicating myself to completing this Ironman for those who never would get the chance, giving a quick glance upward and instantly feeling less alone.  At that point, the caffeinated gels I had started into began to give me a bit of a boost, and a few solitary age group men passed me here and there, offering encouragement and telling me that I looked strong.  I found a renewed sense of happiness in what I was doing at that point, the kind I often get on training runs but don’t so often feel on rides.  I used it to smile for the volunteers and thank anyone and everyone along the race course in those middle miles.  In long races, I always find myself reading signs, as well, and the ones that lined the road shortly after the forty mile mark offered up some comic relief-starting with “Ever wish you’d taken up bowling?” (good question) and finishing with “Is your junk numb yet?” (I don’t know if I have “junk”, persay, but numbness would be a welcome option…).
Look!  A bike smile!
I reached the halfway mark in ~2:26, as in, a ridiculous amount faster than any previous 70.3 ride in my life.  I figured that a. the wind I couldn’t figure out to that point had actually been a tailwind the entire time, and the second half of the ride was going to be awful; b. I was going to bite it later on, big time; or c. that I was just having a good ride on a fast day.  I hoped for c.  I was also getting hot, and added in grabbing water to dump all over myself at every aide station into my race plan.  I at least sort of felt an urge to pee at this point, though, which was a step above where I’d been in Placid hydration-wise.  The urge didn’t lead to execution (which would later haunt my comfort levels a bit on the run), but at least it gives me something else to work on in future Ironmans, I suppose.  My power levels began to rise a bit towards the upper levels of my zone, and all was well.  I could feel my energy levels and strength building as the ride progressed, and I began to have to tell myself to back off a bit, to keep calm and steady until mile 80-90 or so, when I could begin a push towards T2.  I’d had the occasional pack pass me here and there, and I hadn’t let it get to my at that point, because they’d continued on, and I’d been able to keep on with my ride unobstructed.  This changed somewhere around mile 75, though, when a larger pack (of not all males this time, unfortunately) started to come by.  I was sitting up, braking, soft pedaling, but it just kept coming.  As they passed, I was seeing wattage numbers ~2/3 of what I had been riding, indicating to me how much of an advantage they were gaining.  I had to slow to a near crawl to get and stay a legal distance behind them at times.  Finally, once they were all past, a motorcycle pulled up.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t an official one, but it could have been mistaken for one.  This led to further disarray, as the peloton sort of began to dissolve a bit, meaning that some riders were slowing down, some were staying together, and I was stuck off the back.  I passed one man who was riding off the back as well, and commented to him that I hoped the motorcycle was up there breaking things.  “I know”, he replied, “they’ve been like that all day.”  I maybe spent 5-10 minutes or so in that position, watching my heart rate and power plummet, becoming increasingly frustrated as I had just felt like I was really getting into the ride.  The saving grace came in the form of an aide station.  I took the time to slow way down, grab my Perform, grab my water to spray over myself, and let the pack ride away.  By the time I got to the other side, they had put distance on me, and I was able to continue on my way.  Shortly thereafter; I saw a motorcycle with the official markings on it ride past me, by the next out and back, the pack was dissipated, and I actually began to pick off some of the others here and there. 

By mile 80, it was becoming increasingly clear to me that I stood a chance of biking sub-5, something that had been my long shot pipe dream heading into the race.  I remembered discussing with Dave after one long ride what it’d take to get there.  He seemed to think I could do it; as usual, I had my reservations.  But, it was a fast bike day (to put it mildly), and I was doing my best to cash in on the conditions.    I began to build the effort throughout the last 20-25 miles, moving up a couple of places and finishing with some of my higher power numbers of the day.  By the time I hit the final few miles along the beach, I knew I had the mythical sub-5 split within my grasp.  I felt great at this point, and took some time to soak in the surroundings, spectators, and experience; I smiled at anyone I saw around.  I saw 4:53 on my garmin when I hit T2, smiled a bit to myself, gladly handed off my sticky mess of a bike, and took off toward the changing areas.  The volunteers dumped out my bag and helped me try to sort of organize all of the nutrition I’d thrown in there, as I jammed gels into my top and chomps into my belt pouch.  I joked about being terrible at transitions as they asked me what I needed; they replied that I was “way up there”.  I smiled, thanked them, and took off towards the run exit. 

One thing was clear as I went out the run exit-it was HOT.  I flashed Dave a smile as I ran past, thrilled with my bike effort, but already feeling a bit nervous about what was ahead.  I never feel great when coming off the bike, and this was no exception.  “Take SALT!”, Dave had screamed at me; I figured this was a relayed message from Mary, and I decided that it might be a good idea.  I settled right into my HR range immediately in the first couple of miles, which wasn’t hard given the heat and humidity, but I wasn’t entirely comfortable.  I just felt off, like I was barely moving, even though I was hitting 6:45-6:50s in the first few miles.  You’re fine, I tried to convince myself, you’re running your freaking open marathon pace right now.  You’re fine.  The woman who eventually would school us all on the run and make her way up to third came flying past me within the first mile, which put me in the unfamiliar position of getting passed, but I brushed it off and moved up a position myself.  I remembered being revived by a gel in the early miles of Placid, but I’d taken one in with less than five minutes to go on the bike, so I didn’t think I should be having any issues there.  So, when I couldn’t shake the feelings of weakness and settle into the run (especially since I’d been feeling fantastic in my run training heading in), I made the decision to go for the salt tabs, something I’d never actually tried before-I actually really suck at swallowing pills in normal situations, so I wasn’t sure how well that was going to go down mid-race.  It took a couple of walk steps (a small sacrifice), but luckily, I was somehow better at pill-taking while moving than I am otherwise.  The advantage then might have been mental, but I thought I started to feel a little better, although it never drifted into the “good” range-I knew I’d have a battle ahead, even as I managed a small smile for Dave at mile 5. 




The rest of the first 7 miles or so were spent doing whatever I could to stay cool and trying to get nutrition in.  My stomach was already feeling not-so-great, and I was doubting my ability to make it through the next few hours or running.  This time around, it wasn’t the crampy muscular fatigue that I’d fought in Placid, it was more of the whole body, systemic, sapped, sluggish, I can’t move feeling that’s distinct to running in the humidity for me.  My low point probably came around mile 8-9, when my pace first slipped over 7:00, and I felt like I was just going to continue to fall apart throughout.  I don’t want to be walking that last 10k with a HR of 90, was all I could think to myself.  It was at this point that I ran past Dave again; he’s got some great video where he asks me if I’m feeling ok, and I simply responded with “no”.  It was regroup time, and I knew it.  I didn't panic, I allowed my heart rate to drop a bit, I decided not to worry too much about the pace, and my focus shifted into getting in as much as I could.  I didn’t exactly know what my body wanted, so I tried to give it some of whatever it might have needed-salt, another gel, Perform, coke, water, sponges, ice everywhere.  I began to regroup a bit around mile 12; when I passed Dave again, he said I looked a bit better.  Just make it to the second lap, I willed myself.  I tried to count what place I was in as I neared the turnaround, but lost track-I think I was somewhere in the vicinity of 10th, but I was unsure.  I grabbed my Fuelbelt from my special needs bag, made the turn, and headed back out for lap #2.  A mile in, what Dave said was music to my ears: They’re all slowing down, Jennie.  You’re not slowing down as much as some of them are.  I ran past the stripper house (yes, there was a stripper house on the run course-they were the best!) again, and tried to let them amuse me again. 

Survive.  Make it to the way back.  You can tough out the way back.  I knew the gel I’d taken at mile 12 would be my last of the day.  I was done being able to eat my bloks, I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to stomach, as I was fighting to keep anything in.  I turned to coke and water, and I at least still had enough wits to recognize that I needed to at least supplement that with salt tabs.  The next 10 miles followed a predictable pattern-I’d hit an aide station, take in whatever fluid I could get my hands on, dose myself with ice/sponges/water/etc, and feel better for a few minutes.  Then, I’d start to feel worse again, and would convince myself to just make it to the next aide station.  I’d tell myself that I could walk the aide stations, even though I stopped allowing myself to as the run progressed-it was a coping mechanism more than anything.  The volunteers were amazing; one man even ran back up to me to get me a sponge after we’d flubbed the handoff-you don’t get that every day, and when your existence is reduced to the brief moment of relief that smearing an ice-soaked sponge over yourself provides, you appreciate every gesture you get.  My pace had rapidly slid from the early 6:45-6:50s of the first seven miles to ~7:15-7:30 by mile 11-12, but luckily, that was where the slide ended, and I was holding that pace through mile 23, even though that entire time was a stream of momentary highs (and, by highs, I only mean “sort of okay’s”) and momentary lows.  I only remember snippets of that time; in a way, I think that was my body’s coping mechanism-shut out the bad, forget the bad, or else you’ll never come back.  My HR dipped slightly mid-run, but I was able to bring it up slightly as I headed toward the final few miles, and I became more confident that I was going to at least survive.
Plodding along...

 I moved up six places during that run (meaning I passed seven women, because Ashley had passed me), but aside from the first pass, I couldn’t tell you where or when the passes occurred-I was just so zoned in to making it through.  The other QT2’ers on the course were out there cheering and supporting me, telling me that I looked strong, even though I was feeling anything but.  I tried to manage smiles as I passed, I tried to fake it best I could, I tried to return the support, even though I’m sure I wasn’t totally successful at all that as my brain began to fog over more and more.  I again thought of Heather a few times during there-Heather strong.  I made it to 10k to go.  How many 10ks have I run before?  Tons.  5k to go.  8 min miles was all it would take to beat my Placid marathon split.  It wasn’t going to be the 3:05ish I’d been hoping for, but I also hadn’t been expecting a day as oppressive as the one I was dealing with.  Just keep running.  The last three miles turned into an absolute slog, as my pace (according to my Garmin, screw those IM tracker splits!) suddenly slowed from 7:20-7:30 to 7:50ish for the final few miles.  I didn’t care anymore, though-by that point, I was dumping Perform from my Fuelbelt over my head, because I wanted something to cool myself off and I didn’t want to have a full bottle around my waist anymore, and I accidentally grabbed a cup of chicken broth, thinking it was coke (gross!!).  The last two miles are an entire blur in my mind-I remember Wheeler telling me no one was behind me and to just make it in, I remember counting down every last tenth of a mile, and I remember thinking that the “2nd lap” sign meant that I should go that way if I was on my second lap, and I ran about 10m the wrong way before I realized that I should have been going straight to finish-absolutely brutal.  I was fighting tooth and nail to keep those mile splits under 8:00; the garmin told me that I was successful at that, at least.  I think I slapped one high five on my way in, but I was too close to the edge to do anything but get myself across the line.  Even though I knew the garmin always reads short, I had bargained with myself that I’d be close enough when it read 26.2 that I’d be fine to push to that point.  Well, this resulted in the last .2 pushing me to the very brink of what I could handle.  When the finish line came into sight, I also saw 3:10 on my watch, and began to pour whatever I had left into the straight, just because it was important to me to run just a tad bit faster than in Placid.  Finally, I made it across the line.  In true runner fashion, I stopped my watch, took a couple of steps towards Dave, and did what I’d been wanting to do for the entire marathon-I lowered myself down into a heap on the ground and laid there while Dave handed me my medal and tried to tell me that I had nabbed sixth; despite the fact that I really hadn’t been paying attention to what place I was in the entire run, I still somehow knew that I was really seventh, though (thanks for getting the hopes up, Dave).  I allowed the volunteers to give me a wheelchair lift over towards the medical tent, where I insisted I was fine, and I transferred into a chair, basking in the exhaustion and hurt that somehow felt so good.  
Done!  Stop the watch!!
The initial aftermath of the race was a bit rough.  I removed my shoes right away, revealing that my poor feet were chewed up and covered in blood blisters-tasty.  I began to freeze and swelter at the same time as I was soaked in all sorts of grossness, and I hobbled around on my sore feet to find my morning clothes bags.  After changing into dry clothes and putting on flip flops, I was happier.  Dave and I went to the finish for a bit and cheered in some finishers until I began to feel sort of shaky and nauseous.  The walk back wasn't pretty, and neither was the rest of the night-I'd wanted to get back to watch the midnight finishers, but my body was on shut down mode, and I couldn't get out of bed without being hit by immediate chills (along with other details that shall go undescribed...).  We ended up listening to the calls through our open balcony door and watching online, which would have to suffice.


Sunset over the gulf (Sunday night!)


This post wouldn't have been complete if I'd left this gem out 
Overall...the race was a success.  My swim reflected exactly what had been going on in the pool heading into the race-I'd been working consistently hard, and seeing modest improvements.  To see them translated into small improvements in the open water was the encouragement I'll need heading into the swim focus that awaits me after my brief off-season is over.  My bike was easily my best of the season, as well.  It felt good, it was fast, and it was on a new level for me in terms of its competitiveness within the field.  I feel that I still have room to grow on the bike-I know my volumes aren't near what many women do-so this prospect excites me for next year.  My run wasn't as fast as I'd been hoping for based upon my paces heading in, but the conditions weren't going to be conductive to that.  Part of this was my own fault, too, and I knew it-I knew that it could still be hot down there in November, so I should have been layering myself up here and there and sweating it out.  Still, I was pleased that I'd been able to fight out a split slightly faster than Placid (even if the course should have been faster).  Jesse told me afterwards that I'd "run too fast in Placid" anyways, and I do feel that it was more important for my psyche and confidence to know I can still hang on and run decently after riding well, rather than knowing I can run well after riding sort of ok.  Sure, it hurt a little to once again finish just off the podium-this now makes three consecutive races in which I've been within 3.5 minutes and 1-2 places-but as 28 year old first year pro (with a full-time job off the race course), perspective tells me I don't need to be there yet.  Plus, how better to head into the off-season than satisfied with two good race efforts, but hungry for more?  The race lineup for Florida had some ridiculously fast women in it, and when you lose out on the last podium finish to someone with two iron-distance race victories under her belt this year, well, there's no harm in that.  In fact, you pinch yourself a little that you're even within striking distance, that you managed to sneak into the top-10 against those women.  Three days into my off-season, I'm already itching to get back at it.  I want the kid gloves to come off, I want to see if there's another level I can get myself to.  I know I have some decisions to make in the coming months, and I'm excited to see what may come.
Picture from our balcony, Monday am.  Where was this calm water on Saturday?
Of course, no race report would be complete without me expressing my gratitude for everyone out there who follows me and supports me throughout any of my journeys, whether it be good luck messages beforehand, congrats after, tracking, cheering, etc.  I couldn't do this alone.  The support I receive somehow turns this strikingly individual sport into one in which I'm never alone.  Family, friends, teammates, everyone-you all rock (and yes Dave, this includes you-I owe you one for your race sherpa duties this past weekend, as well as for touching my bike after that race.  At least I didn't pee on it).  I can't say enough about the contributions that Mary, Jesse, and everyone at QT2 has made to my season and my career-I have no idea what would have happened this season without them, and I don't want to know.  Thanks to all of you for believing in me more than I believed in myself at many points, and for knowing when to push me, and, more importantly, when to hold me back.  Ironically, it was when I turned one eye towards the future that my present improved.  Also, thank you to Powerbar for their fueling support, NormaTec, Kestrel, and Woolsports.  For now, I'll focus on the rest of 2012 (I love the holidays, at some point I might just have to post some pictures of our house after I Griswold it out), and still keep looking towards 2013!  Thank you everyone! 


I figured I'd close out this report with this awesome picture of a pigeon that felt it necessary to land on the rail of our balcony within 3 feet of me.  This was not zoomed in at all.  Birds are weird.