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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Hate/Love

    I have no idea what's going to happen in three weeks.  I've seen the tentative pro list; there's the usual mix of a handful of women who I know will beat me, another handful who will probably beat me, and a whole bunch that I should be pretty competitive with.  Basically, I could fall within a wide range of places, but that's beyond my control and not something I'm going to obsess over (perhaps, finally, a sign of triathlon/racing maturity?).  I'll hopefully swim under 1:05, but I'm not going to let it ruin my day if I don't.  Swimming is weird.  I'll hopefully have the kind of ride that reflects the increased volume and intensity that I've been putting in over the past couple of months, but I also could end up changing a flat by the side of the road (which I'm not exactly speedy at).  I'll hopefully throw down the run I feel that these legs have in them, but I also could end up having the sort of gut-it-out fest I did in Florida last fall.  Anyways, regardless of what goes down in the Ironman, here's what I do know: that I've taken my body and my mind to places during this past training block that I wouldn't have believed existed before getting the first couple of Ironmans under my belt. 

   They're those deep, dark places (and I'm not just talking about the trainer in the basement).  Places where time can be a friend or an enemy, where I can bargain myself to just take it minute by minute, but where a minute seems just so tantalizingly long.  Places where I don't know what's going on outside of my little realm of pain anymore, and I just have ceased to care.  Places where I'm questioning the "why" of it all with every fiber of my being-I could be outside in the yard, I could be laying on the couch, I could be actually getting around to the laundry that's everywhere, and remember when I was "just" a runner and a long workout was an hour and a half?  Places that I swear I hate visiting while I'm there, and yet the second I leave, I realize that...I actually love it.  It's something I've lost the ability to explain, but that all endurance athletes somehow understand.  I recognize how many people have had the opportunity to take themselves there taken away from them, and I refuse to let myself forget this.  I'm down to my last day of overload (basically, two weeks of killer training-this time around, proceeded by another big week) tomorrow.  I spent five hours on my bike today cajoling and bargaining myself to just make it through the next half an hour, up the next hill.  My body just wasn't having any of what I wanted it to do.  At one point, I was imagining myself laying on a mattress, flying back to the car, sort of Aladdin on his magic carpet style.  But, because this A. wouldn't get me to the finish line in Texas any more quickly and B. is physically impossible.  So I kept on pedalling, even if the numbers weren't great and the pace was slow, because I trust, I know that some day, somehow, it'll all be worth it.

   And now?  My body is just sore everywhere.  I'm sprawled on the couch in my Normatecs, not accomplishing much of anything.  The laundry is still exploded all over the bedroom.  The lawn is starting to look a little overgrown.  A whole bunch of nothing else got accomplished today (well, I did clean the toilet this morning).  Did I mention that everything is sore?  But I love this feeling.  The day after Placid, when I could barely walk was somehow awesome.  Way back during my senior year of college when I was injured and redshirting and not really training, I guess you could say that I had more of what's considered "fun".  But for me, training and racing and exercise and accomplishment just enrich "fun" for me (especially if it makes my whole body hurt)-that brief little experience with a "normal" life was all it took for me to realize that.  When in San Juan, Dave and I were watching some 20-somethings on a "real" vacation, laughing and screwing around by the pool and sipping their drinks.  We chatted for a bit, and both realized...we just weren't jealous of them anymore.  At that time, it was post-race, and we were just sitting on lounge chairs, reading and eating mangoes (and in Dave's case, drinking a couple of beers).  And in that moment, I was 100% happy and relaxed.  Sure, I could go to San Juan and sit in a lounge chair reading and eating mangoes without getting up at 4:30am to turn myself inside out for 4.5 hours beforehand, and I'd still enjoy myself-but it'd be without that deeper sense of...something, that something that we torture ourselves day in and day out to achieve, that something that we're willing to push ourselves to the absolute brink to get to. 

    And so, my relationship with training can sometimes be hate/love.  I don't clip into my pedals for every ride and outwardly proclaim that I'm having the time of my life, because often, I'm struggling and panting, my quads are burning as I try to keep up with Dave, and my sweat is burning my eyes.  Yet, at some point, some love comes out of it all.  I've had those moments at the end of long rides where fatigue takes over and I just start tearing up, because I've gone so freaking far, but look at what my body is still letting me do!  Or sometimes it's when I've gotten through the hilly part of my favorite long run route and back onto the flat area at the end, and a mile split that I'm particularly pleased with flashes across the Garmin.  Or, reluctantly, I'll admit that there's those days in the pool where I'll glance up at the clock 200y into an interval, and realize that...today it's working.  It's those days here and there where it just feels smooth, strong, good.  These are the moments where I know that all of the times I've just been toughing it out are paying off on a smaller, day-to-day basis. 

   Of course, on the bigger level, the love is what happens at the finish line-not just at Ironmans, but that line always represents a little something extra.  It seems a bit crazy, that I'm preparing myself to dig down through the depths of everything in me for hours on end in order to experience the fleeting moments of emotion that come with running down the finishing straight, crossing a line, and being handed a medal, a t shirt, and a hat.  Yet, we all have something that makes us come alive, that in the end is somehow, in some small way, always worth it.  While I might not love every second of training while it's happening, I end up loving it after it's done, and in time, even if for some reason it doesn't happen in Texas, I will love some result of sooner or later.  With that, I have one more day of overload, and then, while it won't quite get easy yet, it'll get easier.  I'm fully prepared to go somewhere deep and dark tomorrow, but I know that when it's all over, I'll be all that much more satisfied of a person for it. 

 
 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Messing with Texas-Galveston 70.3 Race Report


                Just a short three weeks after racing at San Juan, Dave and I were back at it again in Galveston this past weekend, returning to the scene of my first foray into the pro field-and what a difference a year can make.  While that last statement certainly held true performance-wise, it actually means more beyond that, in terms of changes in my mental approach and outlook towards racing professionally.  Last year, Galveston was the US Pro 70.3 championship race, and it of course had the overriding Lance hype (about that…), so it certainly wasn’t some low-key situation to be in, either.  I still remember sitting in that first pro meeting next to Kim Schwabenbauer, practically clinging to my new teammate and fellow first-race pro, trying to hide how intimidated I was and out of place I felt at the time.  Luckily, I think we’ve both come a long way since then (although, I still do sort of find the pro meetings intimidating-something about looking around at the stars of our sport still gets me).  Anyways, the race went well enough the next day.  I finished towards the back of the field, but never regretted my decision to take the pro card afterwards, finishing with a 34min swim, 2:36 bike, and 1:25 for a 4:40 total.  The overall time ended up haunting me a bit, as I didn’t race on a course that gave me a legitimate chance at sneaking under 4:40 again until the Poconos in late September.  

                Anyways, fast forward to this year, and although I didn’t outwardly admit it to anyone other than Dave or Mary, I was itching to sneak under the 4:30 mark for the first time.  Again, the way my race schedule is arranged, I may not get another good shot at it for some time, so it was Galveston or bust.  I generally don’t like making time goals, as they can be so influenced by course and weather conditions, but I knew the course, and provided that the heat and wind weren’t anything too freakish, I felt comfortable keeping time in the back of my head.  The trip down and lead up to the race went smoothly-almost too smoothly for Dave and I.  We somehow managed to be early to everything (including the airport on the way there, quite a stark contrast to our normal sprint to the gate moves.  After the San Juan pre-race debacles, this was quite a welcome change.  Also a welcome change was the weather-much cooler than last year, uncharacteristically so for Galveston, especially in the days leading up to the race.  Race day was predicted to be a bit warmer, with temperatures in the low to mid 70’s, but still a far cry from the heat of San Juan.  The winds were about average for the area, somewhere in the 10-20mph range-breezy, but nothing too crazy.  Overall, conditions seemed good for a fast day.  

                Race morning, we kept up the earliness trend, and I arrived on the start dock in time for a good swim warm up.  The cool weather leading up to the race meant that the water temperature was coming in at 65 degrees.  That was fine by me, but I still wasn’t looking forward to the initial jump in.  Neither was the rest of the women’s field, apparently, as we all just sort of stood on the dock for a few minutes, looking around and waiting for someone else to be the first one into the water, while the men all jumped in and started swimming around.  It was fairly entertaining.  Anyways, we eventually all ponied up and jumped in, and soon enough were lined up between the start buoys.  I still can’t say that I don’t look forward to being done with the swim, but I no longer find myself filled with a sense of impending doom at the start line.  I positioned myself in the mix, just behind the front line, and participated in the inevitable drift forward that we always do in the last 30 seconds before the gun goes off.  I thought back to last year, when my thoughts were something along the lines of “what are they all doing?  I’m going to stay back behind the buoys!”-needless to say, I was dropped before the swim even started.  A year later, though, I’ve come to realize that my attitude towards the swim has totally changed.  As an age grouper, when I would have had women to swim with, I instead did my best to completely avoid all contact, choosing to line up to the far right of whatever swim I did so that no one would be on my breathing side, never utilizing the benefit of the draft.  My goals for the swim were generally to get my own space to swim in, and just get through it, because I figured I’d suck anyways.  Last year, I likely wasn’t fast enough to make packs anyways, but I also used this as my excuse to not even try to get into the mix at the start.  This year, though, I’ve at least gained enough swim ability to convince myself that although there’s not too many of them, there are some women out there that I should be able to swim with.  As a result, I’ve sort of come to enjoy putting myself out there at the swim start.

                The gun went off, and I did just that, sprinting my arms off, making myself love the scrum of arms and legs and inevitable body contact.  I gulped some water, my goggles got hit, my legs got grabbed-and I survived.  Soon enough, I found myself in a nice group of 5-6 women, which pretty much describes the rest of the swim.  I did my best to keep my face in bubbles (and was slightly more successful at not being a constant foot tickler).  I felt…fine throughout, strong and relaxed.  I kept finding myself to the right of the group.  During the swim, I thought that I was the one drifting everywhere, but afterwards Stephanie confirmed that she thought that the group was weaving a bit.  At different points, both of us had independently tried to break off and swim straight, but had realized that we were just working harder to travel at the same speed, and had merged back in.  The last stretch of the swim passed by quickly, and I exited the water in 31:45 with more women than I’d ever managed to stay with before.  Although it was a few seconds slower than my San Juan swim, I was still happy with it, as it represented over a 2min improvement from last year’s 34:0x, and it solidified to me that hopefully my days of 33min swims are a thing of the history.  Most importantly, it represented to me that I’m finally getting over myself and learning how to actually compete in the water, rather than just survive until I can get onto dry land.

                My T1 was its normal horrificness (time to work on those…seriously.  Even just the simple things, like getting my wetsuit down before taking off my goggles and cap so my hands are free would help), but I made it out onto the bike eventually, still a good 30-45 seconds after the swim group had gotten out there (ugh).  Something seemed off with my Garmin, though.  Instead of displaying power, lap power, and cadence, the display was showing dashes.  Hmm.  It took a second, but I realized that my quarq wasn’t reading.  I had messed around with its magnet, trying to re-tape it to my bike to make sure it was secure the day before, and hadn’t bothered to check on it race morning.  Idiot!  While this was registering with me, one of my bottles went flying off my bike within the first half mile of the ride.  I had to laugh-off to a flying start!  I did momentarily freak out a bit (I pace primarily on power, what would I do?  How would I tell if I was having a good ride or not?), but then my inner voice of reason took over.  I was freaking racing.  I’d done it plenty of times before I had a power meter, I know what it’s supposed to feel like by now-hard.  I still had heart rate and mph and time and distance.  I was mostly concerned that not having power numbers might allow me to slack a bit, so I buckled down from the start, just trying to keep my heart rate above 160.  Two of the women I’d come out of the water with, Stephanie and Natascha, were ahead (they’d dropped me in transition…ugh to me), so I also tried to just keep them in my sights, knowing that both are very strong cyclists.  Since returning from San Juan, we’ve utilized the part time work thing to basically glue me to my bike for longer, more intense bike sessions, so I was certainly eager to see if the work was paying off yet.


Start of the bike-captured in the exact moment when I realized my powermeter wasn't reading.  I look a little lost-but at least I have a sweet new Rudy Project helmet!
                And after that, the bike became, well, uneventful.  I was actually cooler out on the long, straight out and back than I’ve been during the vast majority of my heat acclimation rides, thanks to the steady wind and semi-comfortable temperatures.  As a result, I was working pretty darn hard the whole way to keep my heart rate up.  Last year, the wind had been more of a headwind on the way out and tailwind on the way back.  This year, I felt like I had a pure crosswind coming perpendicularly at me on the way out, but based upon my speed (24+mph), I was figuring we must have had some sort of a tailwind mixed in there.  Finally, I got close enough to the turnaround that I began to see other riders coming the other way-luckily, this occurred much closer to the actual turn than it had last year!  I hit the turn at 1:10:xx, hoping I’d have a good chance at taking down my San Juan bike PR.  As I suspected, we’d had a bit of a tailwind on the way out, but not enough of one to slow down the return trip to any hugely significant degree-my 5 mile splits were coming in ~30-45s slower, so I knew I had a good shot at a good time.  In the absence of power, I used this as motivation.  I also managed to pass a few women in the later miles, always good for a boost of energy, even though I was hurting pretty badly by that point and REALLY wanted to get off the seawall.  Really, all I wanted to do at a certain point was make a turn.  Finally, I turned off the seawall to finish the last couple of miles of the course, knowing I had a good PR locked up if I stayed on two wheels.  I then promptly almost flew off the road at the next turn (out of practice), but saved face, stayed up, and navigated the airfield portion (which involved following randomly placed traffic cones, as I couldn’t see anyone else at that point) into transition, rolling in with a 2:24 bike split, good enough for the 5th best split among the women-definitely my best bike placement in a 70.3 to date.  My Quintana Roo CDO.1 continues to prove itself as a worthy ride-I think we're making a pretty decent team so far!
Finally!  I'm doing something other than riding in a straight line!

How's my position?

My terrible, terrible pathetic little dismounting skills
                After that bike, I took a bit longer in transition than I should have.  As I took off towards the run out, my running legs thankfully sort of seemed to be there for me.  With a quick glance up at the clock and some quick math as I exited onto the run course, I knew that I just needed a 1:28 run to break the elusive 4:30 mark.  This meant that I just had to run marginally faster than I had for my two hour, hilly run the previous weekend-aka, I just needed to not completely implode upon myself.  Jesse’s wife Chrissie was there cheering her head off, so I tried to flash her a smile and channeled some energy.  My first mile didn’t feel great, as per usual, but my pace was solid and I actually was able to settle in quite quickly.  Soon enough, I reached the rare race state of feeling great on the first lap of the three loop run course, even hitting a couple of miles in sub-6:10 (that used to be a good open 10k pace for me..?).  I managed to smile a bit more than normal, even.  The second lap began to get a bit rougher, but by that point, the course was starting to fill in with teammates, who continually provided a pick-me-up just when needed.  Not surprisingly, I fell off the sub-6:10 pace pretty quickly, but settled into a steady diet of 6:15-6:20ish miles.  I knew that I had a good run going, and that I could slow down substantially and still finish under 4:30 overall-but I didn’t want to.  Why not see how far under I could make it?  I’d run 1:25 the year before, which had been a best for me at the time, and although I’d ridden harder this year, I still wanted to beat that.
It's all fun and games when you've been running for less than 2 minutes
                Miles 8-9 were the normal journey of “this is getting real”.  I had moved up a bit in the earlier stages of the run, but on the last lap I found myself really starting to close in on some of the other women, making a couple more passes.  As I approached mile 11, I was really beginning to run out of gas, but was past the point of caring.  I caught up to Stephanie shortly thereafter, who told me to “go Jennie-get her…get them both” as I ran past.  I tried to say something encouraging in return, but only managed to grunt a bit.  I could see one of the women that she was referring to just ahead of me, but that was it at that time.  I caught the first woman at the next u-turn with about a mile left, who turned out to be Heather Leiggi.  Remembering our sprint finish at the Poconos last year, I didn’t want to leave anything to the end-she is tough-so I made a concerted effort to bear down and put in a little distance.  In doing so, I eventually began to see another woman once I got inside of the final mile.  By that time, I had shifted in to full-out survival mode (could I run a 1:22??), and was breathing like I was giving birth.  Sexy.  I gave it what I had, but (despite the requisite random man telling me that I could get her despite my labor breathing), just didn’t have enough left in the tank.  Still, I crossed the line in 4:23, a huge PR, and I had in fact run that 1:22, just seconds slower than my fastest half marathon ever in NOLA last year, where the bike had been shortened.  I’d take it!  I shared a hug with the woman in front of me (who turned out to be Sara Gross, a 2012 Kona qualifier-I was stoked to be in that kind of company), waited mere seconds for Steph to finish, and hung out at the line to chat with other teammates and racers.  A few minutes later (but overall 1min behind me), Dave came in with his own PR-on his 30th birthday, nonetheless.  Of course, I couldn’t let him regain family seniority on the birthday premise alone!
Things are starting to suck.  At least I had the presence of mind to fashionably accessorize with sponges.

Things now really suck.  If only there was audio of my breathing pattern to accompany this beauty.

Reminding Dave of my family seniority, and of how he was a mere minute behind me.  Happy birthday, Dave!  Your wife is only going to rub a little bit of salt in an open wound! (Or, as we discussed when in CVS fetching band aids for our ruined feet, pour a little Bactine on it.)
                Because Galveston was a QT2 team race, we then got to enjoy time with the old man husband (he's 30! weird!) and teammates while cheering on those in later waves.  Overall, the team rocked it, with multiple podium finishes and AG wins.  I love spending time with these people-there’s just something about spending time with supportive, like-minded individuals.  As a whole, the day represented another step forward for me.  I’d fallen short of my San Juan swim time, but had still competed and gotten myself into some sort of mix.  My bike was especially encouraging.  I’ve been putting in more time on the saddle lately (ouch), so I was glad to see it pay off placement-wise, especially given that my main pacing metric was missing.  I’m starting to feel like maybe these legs have more biking power in them than I’d originally thought, and my mindset is slowly shifting from “don’t lose too much more ground before T2” to “start to make up some ground and set yourself up to use your run”.  And despite biking pretty darn hard, I actually ended up running a bit faster than I’d been hoping for-I figured 1:24ish would be solid, so a 1:22 was a bit of a boost.  One negative about the race is that my transition times were absolutely horrid.  I might have been able to gain another position had I been a bit faster during them (who knows for sure), and I had been dangerously close to running out of real estate for my final few passes.  I guess I can’t really use the “it’s a long race, they don’t matter too much” excuse anymore-because it has the potential to really cost me.  So, my next goal is to at least get my feet out of the shoes before T2 (we’ll start small).  And when it comes down to it, somewhere in the course of the past year, a 70.3 has stopped really seeming all that long to me.  I can now spend the entire distance alternating between feeling somewhat uncomfortable to really uncomfortable.  A 70.3 bike feels like a hammerfest the entire time; at best, I’ll get a small window of feeling sort of comfortable for miles 2-5 of the run.  I guess this represents progress, in some weird sort of way, although it would be nice to get my body as used to biking as it is to running someday.
This picture cracks me up, because we're all doing different totally random things in it.  Whatever Amanda and I are looking at on our phones is apparently completely fascinating.

Team shot-I love this group!
                With that, it’s hard to believe that in five short weeks, I’ll be heading back down to Texas for my first Ironman of the season.  With the lack of cooperation from the weather up here, I’ve had a little bit of trouble feeling like I’m really going to be prepared, but I’ve got some pretty big weeks ahead of me, and I’m starting to get excited to build upon my first couple of races of the season and give it a go in a full for the first time of the year.  The field should be strong and stacked, so it’ll be a nice, low-pressure environment for me personally to see what I can do.  Again, thanks to my family, friends, and supporters who share my journey with me and offer me encouragement and support!  And thanks to Mary and QT2 for the continued expert coaching and guidance (and to all of my teammates who were cheering from both near and far last weekend), Quintana Roo for the ride that continues to prove itself as a speedy machine, Rudy Project for the extremely comfortable, cool, light, fast, and, of course, pretty new helmet, Normatec for keeping my legs as fresh as they can be for the work I've been asking out of them, and Powerbar for keeping me fueled.  Everything's bigger down in Texas, so let's hope that Ironman performances follow that trend!
A dog on bike boxes in a moving car.  We did clear a spot for her.  She wanted to ride on the bike boxes instead.

And a dog on Dave's lap.  Look at my focus on the face of distraction.