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Friday, August 26, 2016

Timberman 70.3 race report-carry on

  I made it through another race.  Like all of my other races in the past almost couple of years now (sigh), perhaps the bigger battle was even making it TO the start line.  As I had written about in my last post, between Racine and Timberman, I'd really spent minimal time on the bike thanks to my stupid left knee, and my groin and butt were taking turns in flaring up while awaiting their next round of injections.  As late as 1.5 weeks before the race, I was half looking into plane tickets to head out to Coeur d'Alene to watch Dave race instead.  But, I was instructed that I was still going to be ok to race, and as those last 1.5 weeks progressed, the cortisone injection into my knee seemed to kick in a bit.  I managed to get through a few 2 hour rides, with each one getting slightly less painful than the last, and although my hip (well, mainly butt this time) wasn't great running-wise (although I did hit a 30 mile week for the first time in 2016-not much, but more than I'd done), I could tell that I was going to be able to get it to hold out through the race until the injections this week.  Plus, if nothing else, my decreased land training meant that I began to at least feel a bit sharper in the water, where I'd been struggling and very frustrated for some time.  So, off to Timberman I'd go.  Obviously, I was heading there in a far from ideal situation.  I could probably count on one hand the number of times I'd biked 90min-2hrs in the past four weeks heading in, all on the trainer in the fear that my knee would give out, with no real intensity, and a bunch of 10-12 hour weeks weren't going to do much to get me back into shape.  But, I had no real reason not to race, and I knew that I could at least pursue the elusive smooth day, I was going to go through with it.

   In Dave's absence, I travelled out to Timberman with my mom for a fun little mother/daughter weekend.  This ended up working out very well, as we had fun and it made everything flow much more smoothly (plus, she didn't Sherpa whine like Dave, haha).  When I got in on Friday night, the biggest issue of the weekend came into play-I went to put my front race wheel on my bike, and the brake was rubbing.  I hadn't touched the adjustment on the front brake since Racine, and since my outdoor riding had been limited to one 50 minute ride which ended up with me crying in a yard holding my knee while Dave fetched the car, I'd barely even used the brake.  Why it was off, I don't know.  I probably was a little bit more frustrated over this than I needed to be.  I called Dave and he tried to walk me through some adjustments to no avail.  I spent some time freaking out and throwing minor tantrums about why is this NEVER EVER EVER without incident before deciding that I probably should look into bike shops with actual mechanics to help me.  It then dawned on me that pro triathletes are pretty awesome at helping each other and I was in Amber Ferreira's home territory.  Despite the fact that she was getting ready to go rock her own IM, she was able to direct me towards her bike guy (Ryan) who was working the event, and gave him the heads up on my situation.  Once again, fellow athletes came through for me when I was having a crisis-this sport is the best, thanks Amber!  I got my bike to Ryan as soon as I could the following AM.  Turns out my brake cable was shot, which is entirely a reflection of the wear and tear I've put on the bike without enough TLC throughout the past year or so, but after a couple of adjustments, him and the MC cycle guys were able to still get the brake working perfectly, and also adjust the derailleur that had given me the chain drop issues in Tremblant.  Once my bike was racked all was set to go (albeit slightly later than planned, but that's life), I was able to breathe a sigh of relief and get back to normal pre-race business. 

Sadly, my picture taking game wasn't strong on this trip-I don't have much.  Here's one of the lake the day before the race because it looked nice.  I also took a picture of the Dave port-a-potties and my bike on a rack, but I'm pretty sure everyone's seen those.

  Finally, onto the race!  The swim was non-wetsuit for pros, which was actually ok with me, even as a non-swimmer.  I'm not really sure why, other than maybe the increased time in the pool over the past couple of years and the myriad of swim meets I did, I almost felt more comfortable without a wetsuit on.  I hadn't done a non-wetsuit swim since the cutoff for pros got lowered, but thankfully, the water temp felt comfortable enough to me, as air temps were mild.  Anyways, swimming totally alone in Tremblant hadn't been all that fun, so my main goal was just to avoid that.  When we were sent off, I gave it my best effort, and after the initial scrum cleared, I found myself with another woman.  I planted myself next to her hip and proceeded to just hang on there, feeling like I was putting forth a decent enough effort to stay there.  We passed another woman, who stayed with us, and the swim proceeded.  A couple of times I tried to pull up a bit and see if I could get ahead, but it was pretty clear that those attempts were going to be unsuccessful.  The swim continued to progress uneventfully until we neared the second turn buoy.  The buoy before the second turn buoy was orange after all yellows to that point, and the woman leading me mistook it for the turn buoy and turned there.  I, too, was mildly confused, but was able to see and hear the kayak volunteers shouting at her, and continued on in the correct direction.  I led for a bit before the woman behind me took over; eventually our former leader joined back up.  I ended up getting out of the water in 31:35.  Not fantastic by any means, but it was just a few seconds off of my wetsuit swim in Tremblant, and relatively closer to some of the women in the field who had also raced there, so relatively better.  Plus, I felt a whole lot better getting out of the water.

   For once in my life, I managed to transition somewhat less remedially than normal, and exited around the same time as the women I had swam alongside, even clipping in without standing there for 3 minutes (not really, but it feels that way).  Due to my lack of outdoor riding thanks to the cranky knee heading in, I was admittedly quite nervous about descending, bike handling, etc.  But, once on the road, I was fine.  With the exception of a few brief stretches, the roads were in great condition, and winds were calm.  Due to my limited bike training heading in and my lack of confidence on a variety of levels, I didn't really have any major pacing targets in mind.  Jesse had shot out a power number earlier in the week when discussing whether or not my knee could handle riding it for 2.5 hours, and I naturally just pointed out that I'd be unlikely to ride that high anyways, given I'd biked exactly 0 minutes at it in the past month.  Well, lo and behold, once on the road I was kind of maintaining it, so, well, I decided that I'd just keep that gig up as long as I could.  My HR was pegged at what I know is a sustainable 70.3 level, so I just went with it.  I'd dip lower on descents and bring it up on climbs, but my main goal on the descents was just to stay upright and controlled enough to not freak, so I was happy enough to be successful on those accounts there. 

   Once I turned out onto the longer, flattish highway stretch, the ride progressed uneventfully.  Pedal, fuel, keep numbers where I wanted them.  I was feeling better than I had in previous races about my ability to stay relatively even and get the numbers where I wanted them, even though it was taking effort.  Mind over matter.  Other than a few twinges on some of the steeper climbs, my knee was quiet.  If nothing else, I finally felt like I was riding somewhat happily.  Even my dreaded bottle handling went relatively ok for me-the cooler (than what I had raced in this year) temperatures meant that I was able to get away with three bottles for the whole ride, so two refills and one handoff.  A couple of gradual climbs on smooth road meant that the refills went without major freak outs, and although the handoff was totally remedial, the volunteers (who must have sensed my deer in headlights look) actually encouraged me after success.  I like encouragement for what should be simple tasks when they're kind of harder than they should be for me.  Anyways, every time tech support drove past me, I internally smiled a bit, grateful that I wasn't having to flag them down for something.

   After the gloriously uneventful highway stretch, I turned back onto the hillier final ten or so miles of the course and set towards the bike finish.  I knew I had a couple of longer descents before then, and decided that I really had no great desire to bomb down them (not that this is anything different than normal)-I'd made it farther into a race without incident than I had at every single race I've done since 2013 except IM Chattanooga, so I was pretty keen on just keeping things that way.  I distracted myself from fear on the sketchiest descent simply by trying to execute the bike pee that had been brewing since the first hour (unsuccessful-one of many skills that's rusty).  The average power was dropping a bit on the downhills, but that was ok enough by me.  Somewhere in there (I think possibly because of the pee distraction), I did manage to neglect to put my bike back into big ring after a climb.  Oops.  I'm not entirely sure how long I pulled this trick, but I got passed a couple of times like I was standing still while thinking I was spinning out in my highest gear before realizing my mistake.  Well, I'd lost some power and a bit of time, but really, in the realm of the bike issues I've had of late, this I'd take that.  Once I was actually applying pressure through the pedals again, I was somewhere around mile 53, so although I put a little time back into one of the women who had passed me, it certainly wasn't worth burning matches with just a few minutes left to try to get ahead again.  I rolled into T2 just happy to have finally, finally made it through a bike leg without having to get off my bike for something.  I love my QR from the fit to the handling, so I was thrilled to have gotten the dumb luck issues out of the way before the race.  Well done, trusty bike.

   T2...well, my bubble about my relatively ok T1 got burst there.  Since I hadn't managed the successful bike pee, I pulled the "pretend I'm sitting in the grass pretending to put on my shoes but really I'm hiding that I'm peeing" move.  This was priority over helmet removal.  So was putting on my race belt and starting towards the run out.  Halfway there, I realized I probably didn't need the helmet anymore.  Or maybe I did.  I turned back to return it to my bike, but not before I was spotted by the race announcer.  I was already laughing at myself as he called me out-welcomed comic relief for sure!  I then proceeded to get lost trying to find the run out.  I finally managed to figure it out and get out of there as the announcer pointed out that he was glad I figured out I wouldn't need my helmet on the run.  Thankfully, apparently laughing at myself is a great distraction from my normal thoughts of holy geez running feels freaking awful and I want to lay down coming out of T2.  I mean, I still didn't feel great, but I also didn't feel like I was walking or like I was so close to passing out that I couldn't comprehend running a half marathon, so there was that.  I smiled for the people cheering for me and relayed the helmet story to Becky as I ran past, because I knew that would be right up her alley.  This time around, the off the bike leg finding was happening at ~6:45 pace rather than ~20sec/mile slower than that, so the first couple of miles were slightly more encouraging than they've been.  Nothing was cramping yet, either.  After that, I don't remember a ton from the first loop.  Gradually, I was reeling in the woman who had entered T2 slightly ahead of me and exited a whole lot further ahead of me, but based on where I was at the turnaround, I could tell I wasn't really putting any time into anyone else.  No matter, nothing to do but continue on.  I exchanged encouragement with Chris as he lapped me, on his way to the podium.  The course was sort of gently rolling so I knew splits weren't going to be completely even, so I concentrated on keeping the HR climbing a bit and just did my best to keep the miles under 7:00 pace, my baby step goal.

Picture of me running out of T2, courtesy of Nick Gough.  Notice that my helmet has now been removed-although, a small part of me does sort of wish that someone had captured those moments in transition on film for my own bemusement.

   Shortly before the end of the first lap, I managed to pull in a couple of women, but correctly figured that any forward movement in the field would end there.  I still felt decent enough, though, and smiled for my cheering squad to break my normal race pain face.  I don't remember too much of the second lap, other than snippets here and there-occasional weird left hand cramping that never progressed beyond there, mile splits still holding up, thinking I felt ok, thinking I didn't feel ok, and wondering why it was taking me so long to get to the turnaround again.  I went into coke survival mode, and tried to spot friends and teammates for a quick attempted (not always successful) smile, trying to convince myself that I was ok still, and appreciating the cheers and boosts even if I was rather unresponsive in return.  Around miles 9-10, I started to calculate what I would need to do to sneak under 1:30, a time I once took for granted.  Keep it under 7:00.  Mile 10 was under.  Mile 11 broke even.  Mile 12 was over, but that was up and 13 was down.  I spent the last couple of miles hating life in the best possible way, putting what I had into it, hating it but at the same time, remembering my last few miles of Racine, how my body had just shut down.  Despite the painstakingly long minutes, I harbored some gratitude that at least my increased effort seemed to result in some sort of increased speed from my body.  I had seen at the turnaround that I wasn't all that far ahead of one of the women who I had passed earlier, and even though it didn't really matter for much place-wise, I knew that psyche-wise, holding someone off would be nice.  As the final mile progressed, I could tell that the park just looked too tauntingly far away for the course to be 13.1 garmin miles, and I didn't have enough cushion between garmin miles and real miles for the sub-1:30.  I still wanted it over with as quickly as I could, though, and I got myself to the finish while watching 4:40 juuust pass me by, too-not that that was anything I'd had in mind, because I don't put a ton of stock in times, but being just over something is always sort of a bummer (thanks, T2).  But, overall, I was relieved to be done, and just glad to have gotten from start to finish feeling like I had remembered how to race and get the most out of myself, without any major calamities (just a few entertaining moments of stupidity).

   After the race,  I spent a little bit of time at the race site, chatting with my mother and friends.  I was certainly happy to have had a day where everything had gone smoothly, and I had felt like I had finally been in race mode.  My nerve level (high enough to indicate that I cared) heading in, my ability to control the controllables (nutrition, etc) and have the confidence to maintain pace and execute appropriately, and my willingness to put myself to the limit to chase a run time (even though it proved unsuccessful) were all steps forward for me.  From start to finish, I had 100% been in a good mental place.  I raced happy and enjoyed it, even when I was mentally tapping into the deep dark places that I now have to spur myself along when the normal sucky hard parts inevitably came.  What I'm not all that thrilled about is just where my fitness level is at the moment.  I just want to be better, plain and simple, but I've been met with frustration after frustration as my body keeps fighting back at me, preventing me from being able to do the work required to get to where I want to be.  Some of this is certainly on me-although it's not something that I like to obsess over, because I've had struggles throughout my entire running career over how I view myself with it, I'm the first to admit that my current body comp is high enough to be a large (pun maybe intended) limiter on my run.  Sure, low training volume doesn't help, but my self-control could be better, and beating myself up over it only adds to the problem.  But, even with that, when despite all of the work I've done to try to get and stay healthy, things like the knee pop up and the hip gets cranky, I can't help but to feel a full range of sometimes less than helpful, but very real emotions.  I miss weekend hammerfests shelling myself and walking (or laying on the couch) away stronger.  But, I can only take things one day at a time, continuing to troubleshoot and put my best foot forward despite what my body may have to say.

Speaking of feet, I at least managed to gross them up pretty good out there.  I already lost a couple of toenails, and I had to paint some skin before getting my eyebrows waxed today, because the my eyebrow waxer also does pedicures, and I'm always concerned she'd be horrified if she saw my feet in their native state.

   In the days after the race, I also let comparison (having one of the slower run times in the field repeatedly doesn't make me happy) and something rather juvenile that happened (or, more accurately didn't happen) steal some of my joy of the positives unnecessarily.  I began to judge myself negatively because my outcome wasn't brag-worthy, rather than focus on all of the myriad of positives that came from the weekend.  Feelings of inadequacy and insecurities about being an outsider ruled me for a bit, and I retreated into myself.  In the time since, though, I've had to remind myself that although the peaks of my triumphs right now are much lower than they once were, I'm starting from deep in the valley, rather than on level ground.  So, I'm climbing further, even though I'm not ending up as high above the ground as I was a few years ago, and I have to take the positives from this.  Maybe I'm not standing on stages holding pieces of metal, but so many have taken time to make me know that I'm worth more than that as an athlete, and as a person.  I don't even know how many people took a minute or two to tell me that they were glad, inspired to even see me out there, regardless of my time or place, and to me, that's even more valuable than a piece of metal on a shelf (not too helpful to my bank account, but that's ok too).

   So, the journey continues down the totally uncertain road.  Despite my excitement with how my knee felt during the race, it became clear to me a couple of days later that I'm far from out of those woods, and I'm not entirely sure what's going to happen there.  I just had the injections I had done to the former fracture areas in my butt and groin (that helped to get me started again earlier this summer) repeated in the hopes that I'll get another few good months out of them.  I'm mostly hoping that the butt pain will become quiet again, as that was what had taken me out at the peak of my training last winter-the groin pain, while not pleasant, has for the most part been train-throughable.  So we'll see.  For now, my focus is getting these things under control again best I can, trying to maximize my fitness while doing so, and doing my best to keep my emotions and thoughts in check in the meantime.  As much as I sometimes try to look at how far I am from where I was at my peak, I can also look back and see that actually, I have come pretty far from my lowest points, too.  It's admittedly hard to see sometimes when the pain is there and real still, but just because I'm not where I thought I'd be a year ago doesn't mean that I'm not incredibly grateful and happy to be able to at least race to my fullest current fitness still.  Timberman was a step forward on several levels for me, and although I'm still dealing with some things orthopedically, I can take those positives with me.

  So, to wrap this up, thanks again to those who have gone above and beyond to continue to support and back me through the bad and the good, and who celebrate the small things with me while caring for me regardless.  Special thanks on this trip to my mom, for being a fantastically accommodating and agreeable race sherpa as I dragged her through all of my race shenanigans and perfect travel partner.  I appreciate every kind comment I receive, and I can say that I've been carried along many, many times.  Let the fight continue.

It's national dog day, so, puppies!!  They're carrying on, too.



  1. Attagirl!! Keep the spirits up and the negative self talk in check. You can do this!!

  2. My dear Jennie, after watching all you've gone through the past 1.5 years and wishing I could fix everything (like I could when you were little), it was wonderful to see you finish your race whole and happy. But for me the best part was spending such a fun mom/daughter weekend with you laughing and talking about so much. It was really special. And you're right, we were perfect travel partners. I would be happy to sherpa for you any time again! Love and hugs always, Mom