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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Syracuse 70.3-Nothing good comes easily, sometimes you've got to fight

   Hard to believe that it's been long enough after Texas for me to have raced again, but after a week off, I was more than ready to jump back into training and start preparing for my next adventures.  First on the schedule was the Syracuse 70.3.  Despite living a mere 1.5 hours from the race site, I'd never actually done the race (although Dave had a couple of times).  After travel and flights and all of that hassle earlier this season, I was very much looking forwards to staying closer to home and being surrounded by tons of friends, family, and teammates out there.  Training-wise, my volume had worked up again, but without much intensity-so, I knew it wasn't going to be my greatest race ever, but I was really, really hoping to make it onto the awards stage for the first time in a 70.3.  With a couple of fairly close together Ironmans coming up, Syracuse would be my last chance for some time.  Unfortunately, in the week leading up to the race, my body started playing tricks on me.  I became completely, totally drained, to the point where I'd have one day of feeling sort of ok, and another where even getting out of bed for a recovery swim was a struggle.  I'd uncharacteristically pulled the plug on my long ride two hours early the weekend beforehand (the first time in well over a year that had happened), and my appetite had completely vanished (probably not a bad thing, but the timing was a bit off).  Still, I started to feel a little bit better by the time the weekend rolled around, so I was as ready as I was going to be to give it what I could.

   The advantage of Syracuse, for me, was geographic-just about as close to a hometown race as I was going to get.  Dave wasn't racing, and my parents, Mary, and numerous friends and fellow local athletes would be out there to support me.  I couldn't ask for much more there, certainly.  I knew the bike course.  The women's field was smaller than what I've seen so far this year, so I was really hoping for my first 70.3 podium as a pro.  The Olympic silver medalist was in the field, as well, which was actually pretty darn cool.  Half of me just wanted to make it onto that awards stand so I could get my picture taken with her.  Anyways, the day before the race consisted of the drive up to Syracuse and the normal bike readying, which I did with our dogs tied to the trailer hitch while Dave rode (they didn't help much.  They were pretty hot).  Everything had a bit of a lower key feel, which was nice.  Soon enough, race morning rolled around, and I was hanging around with QT2 teammate Amanda and getting ready to go!

What to do when you're bored and waiting for your husband to finish riding the day before the race?  Photograph your dogs.  Of course.

The Moose was hot

The Bailey was blank

Just completely blank.  Nothing going on in there.  Simple Bailey.

   With the smaller field, the swim start seemed somehow more relaxed than normal-of course, until the horn went off, and the normal scrum began.  One of my long-time competitors (since my very first tri!), Danielle Ohlson, was in the field for her first pro race.  I knew that in previous years, she's normally been out of the water a minute or two (...or three) ahead of me, so I hoped that maybe with my swim improvements this season that I'd be able to stay on her feet.  Well, that lasted all of 30 seconds initially, until I found myself swimming alone.  The theme of the day started right then and there, though, as I just dug in and pushed on.  I was able to keep Danielle and Molly Roohi in my sights, at least, for the trip out, but just couldn't quite close the gap.  It remained this way as we neared the far turn buoy-or so I thought.  As it turned out, we were sighting off the first buoy after the turn.  Oops.  A hard left and a minute or so later, we were back on course.  After making the turn, I was finally able to bridge the gap to Danielle.  I decided that I'd stay on her feet and catch up with my breath (I'd had to work hard to catch up) along the backstretch, and then if I felt good enough, push again on the way back in to try to bring us home more quickly.  I ended up executing that plan, and exited the water feeling that I'd put in a strong effort (for me)-so, when I saw 34:xx on my watch, I was mildly disappointed, but didn't freak.  Dave assured me that everyone's times were slow as I ran towards T1, and I was quickly over it.

Slow swim?  Just brush it off the shoulder.

   While running up to T1, I switched over my Garmin screen, and immediately noticed that my heart rate was sky high, and I couldn't quite get my legs to move or my chest to stop heaving.  I managed not to lose quite as much time as usual in transition (maybe 10 seconds to my normal 20-30), and headed out onto the bike course.  Along the first stretch, I immediately began having trouble getting my power up anywhere in the neighborhood of my target.  Heck, I was having trouble getting it above my Ironman wattage.  Meanwhile, my HR was quite out of control.  I told myself that I'd be fine once I started climbing.  That only lasted until I actually started climbing-instead of trying to stay under a wattage cap, I was still sitting way under the low end of my target.  Well, nothing left to do but keep working and hope that the legs would come around.  In the meantime, Danielle had taken off to crush the bike course.  I began to just focus on keeping Molly in my sights, figuring that at least seeing someone would be better than trying to fight through a day when I wasn't feeling that strong alone.  I had a lot of doubts during the first 12 miles of climbing-what was I doing out there?  I wasn't ready to race an half yet, I hadn't done anything with any sort of intensity.  I'd been way off all week, just not feeling right-should I really be racing?  I thought about stopping a few times in there, until I realized that would be ridiculous.  Weirdly enough, I started thinking of other blogs that I've read for inspiration, ones where my fellow pro women have talked about pressing on even when races aren't going as planned.  I've been spoiled so far this season-two 70.3 PRs, five (nearly six) PRs on individual race legs-so I was overdue to deal with a tough day, I was overdue to face some adversity out there.  And so I readjusted my wattage goal and just kept on pedaling.

   After finally making it up all the climbs, I was relieved to hit the first real descents on the course around mile 15-that was until I tried to shift into my highest gear and my pedals locked up.  Not ideal.  I was using Dave's rear disc, which had a different sized cassette on it.  I'd given it a test run on Friday, realized I couldn't get it into the highest gear, and then gotten a rear derailleur transition on Sunday morning.  Genius.  I did a quick assessment of the situation, and realized I'd have to hop off to fix something.  It took me a second to figure out that I'd dropped the chain to the outside of the cassette-luckily a quick fix.  According to my Garmin, I lost 47 seconds in the process.  A little bit of a bummer given the final results, but, hey, that's a bike for you.  They're not perfect, and given that in nearly four years of racing tris, that was the first time I've had to dismount during a bike leg, I can't really complain.  I continued to wait for the legs to come around, but it was becoming increasingly clear to me that they just weren't going to, so I'd have to do what I could.  I still wasn't seeing any other women, which normally doesn't bother me, but that day it was becoming sort of discouraging, and I had it in my head that I was probably biking more slowly than everyone else, even though that wasn't really the case. 

   I concentrated on getting in fluids, as the morning was warming up.  Unfortunately, I made a key mistake on the day at mile 25-I wasn't paying attention, and suddenly I was upon an aide station.  I was almost to the end of my aero bottle, but I hadn't refilled it with the bottle in my downtube yet, and I didn't have time to before reaching the aide station.  I thought that I could make it to the next aide station on that bottle, but within a few miles, realized I'd made a mistake.  By the time I reached the next bottle handoff at mile 40, I'd been without fluid for a solid 20min and was just very physically thirsty.  By then, it had turned hot, and after waking up drenched in sweat for some unbeknownst reason the night before, I'd likely started the race in a hole.  I grabbed what I could at the last aide station, but it likely was too little, too late.  On the plus side, I'd at least made it to the main downhill portion of the ride.  I briefly passed Molly beforehand, but she whizzed back past me as soon as we started to descend.  Because I wasn't gaining any time on watts, I ended up deciding to try taking the descents a bit more aggressively than my usual remedial style, and managed not to lose too much ground.  In fact, the one bright spot of that entire (somewhat miserable) ride was that I'd hit my highest bike speed ever-46mph.  I really have no desire to ever go faster than that, but I feel sort of awesome about myself that once, just once, I managed to top 45.  Anyways.
Likely hating everything, but at least the disc looks sweet
   I had mixed feelings rolling into T2.  I was thrilled to get off the darn bike, given that I'd been a lousy engine (it wasn't you, bike, it was me), but I was a bit concerned about the impending run.  Mostly, I was hot.  And thirsty.  Really freaking thirsty.  And my stomach was beginning to mutiny against me.  It'd been 50min or so since my last gel, and I really wasn't too keen on the idea of putting anything other than water into my mouth at that time.  I decided that I'd take the run out conservatively and rob the first aide station of whatever I could.  I did just that, giving my family and Mary a nice, morose report of how awful I felt and how crappy my power had been in order to lower any expectations of me on the run.  I still had hope that my legs would come around, but again, they refused.  My first few miles were pretty terrible, as in, slower than my normal easy pace terrible.  Finally, after taking what seemed like 92 cups of everything that was offered and 48 sponges at the second aide station, as well as choking down half a gel (I tried a shot block earlier on-it ended up getting spit out on the road), I sort of felt like maybe things were coming around a bit-just in time to get to the massive run course hill.  My main goal on that thing was simply not to walk.  Mostly, this was because I'd spent my fair share of time trash talking Dave for doing so last year.  I was successful in this goal, even though at times, walking probably would have been faster than the painful run climb thing I was doing.  Oh well.
Leaving T1, looking like I want to cry.  That's about accurate here.
   Shortly after coming back down (I finally hit a mile under 7:00, thanks to like, 300ft of elevation loss.  Woo.), I managed to reel in Danielle, who was running very strong.  Up to seventh.  I figured I'd probably stay there, since that was my designated 70.3 spot.  A short time later, though, another pro woman was walking, and I moved into 6th.  After that, I thought that maybe my first 70.3 podium would be within my reach.  As I turned to finish up the first lap and start the second, a funny thing started to happen.  I began to feel sort of human again, probably thanks to the fact that I was taking the aide stations very slowly and just trying to get in as much fluid (and an occasional salt tab, my hands were doing weird cramping things) as humanly possible.  The local crowd support started to lift me up, as well.  Courtney Wheeler offered me her first "perfect thing said at the perfect time" piece of wisdom of the day-"everyone's hurting up there".  Misery loves company, so that actually inspired me.  As I started the second lap, Suzanne Serpico was suddenly in my sights, then I was suddenly ahead of her and in fifth.  I was scared, though, because Danielle still looked strong and I had Amanda behind me, who's capable of outrunning me.  Once back out onto the main road, Courtney offered me her next awesome piece of race wisdom-"they're all hurting, and you're moving faster than anyone who's come out here yet".  I began to look ahead, hoping to hunt down another woman to get myself an insurance spot.  My pace actually began to quicken a bit, and it was a huge relief to finally being seeing sub-7's on the garmin.

   Still, I ran the long stretch down Apulia without seeing anyone else.  After working my way up the hill (still didn't walk!) and towards the turnaround again, I could tell that I had a chance at Dede, and that Molly was starting to come back to me a bit.  I finally found a little something in me that I didn't think I'd had that day, and pulled in Dede after making my way back down.  Fourth, with just about three miles to go.  I continued to hit the gas, and spent the next couple of miles getting closer and closer to Molly.  Did I have enough room to get her?  By that point, I was very much struggling, though.  The heat and lack of fluid on the day was getting to me.  My hand was occasionally contorting into weird shapes, and I had a couple of calf twinges that gave me a couple of "crap, am I going to end up laying by the side of the road?" moments.  As we made it back to the park, Heather appeared, as well.  I gave it what I could over the last half a mile or so, but I'd burned quite a few matches just getting myself within striking range, and at closest maybe got within 10-15 meters of Molly before just running out of gas.  My heart rate was spiking to 10k levels by then.  I stumbled through the final stretch and finished in a very hard-fought fourth place, just six seconds out of third and 22 seconds out of second.  Overall, though, an extremely tough, honest race at the end, and the better women on the day came out on top.  I'd left everything I had in the tank out there, and if I hadn't had Molly to chase the entire day, I probably would have given up much sooner.
My beautiful finishing face.  I'd like to point out the lack of sponges here, though.  Despite a tough day, I still remembered to remove them prior to the finish.  There's a victory in every race.

A close up view of my finishing face, just in case any modeling agents are reading this
In case anyone was getting too worried that I'd changed my finish look drastically with the lack of sponges, I still went with the same Garmin-stopping pose

   All in all, I ended up pleased with the day (although, thunderstorms ended up cancelling the awards ceremony, which was kind of a bummer-there went my chance to stand on a podium with an Olympic silver medalist and feel awesome!).  I was pleased not because I'd had some fantastic race, but more because I hadn't had a fantastic race, yet had managed to persevere, continue on, and place well despite my physical self wanting nothing of it.  All in all, money in the bank for Placid.  I felt better when I found out that I'd still managed to pull off the fourth fastest bike split, even with the stop (perhaps a testament to better bike skills?), and when I saw how much ground I'd made up over the second half of the run time-wise.  The local crowd support was awesome, and it was great as always to have my family and Mary there.   Once again, thanks to QT2 systems and our fabulous sponsors who helped get me to that line, including Quintana Roo, Powerbar, and Pearl Izumi.  And a HUGE thanks to my family, friends, and supporters, particularly those who offered me any sort of encouragement out there-I was certainly needing it!  Assuming all goes as planned, next stop will be a return to Lake Placid; even though I'm deep in the throes of training fatigue right now, the excitement is building!          

This is what I felt like doing for most of the race

Pet friendly bed?