Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Into The Wind: The 2012 Other Half Marathon

 I'm happy to share a classic Freddy Jones Band tune to accompany the blog today from the Chicago band's eponymously named album. 

 Over the weekend, The Other Half Marathon, a rite of autumn-for me, anyway-came to pass. This was the first half marathon I ever completed, back in 2007. Then, I initially set a goal of simply finishing the race. As training went on, I set a goal of a sub-2 hour finish, squeaking in just under that mark. Moab, and this race in particular, are special to me. I've completed The Other Half every year since then except for 2008, when my first marathon was scheduled within a week of the race. Besides being my first, this was also the site of my best half (2010) where I ran a time that qualified me for guaranteed entry into the New York City Marathon, and my worst half (2011) where I just had one of those days when nothing went right. You could say I've had a lot of experiences-positive experiences, learning experiences, on the race course from the Dewey Bridge to Sorrel River Ranch. 

 When race weekend arrived for the 2012 edition of The Other Half, my base was as strong and balanced as it had probably ever been since starting to run. The speed work, trail work, hills, long runs, recovery runs, and some cross training to boot have been yielding consistently good results for me this fall. In taking on new challenges and dropping self-imposed boundaries, I've been able to do a lot of things I didn't think I could do in the past. 

 Running has also been my rock and my strength as of late. Though I hesitate to bring it up, I can't NOT mention anymore that I am in the midst of a lot of big changes in my life. There's no pretty way to say it. My marriage is coming to an end, and it's a sucky, emotional experience for everyone in my family. Some days are good, but a lot of the time, I've felt awful. Focusing on my children, and on my running are always two bright spots that can bring me up from a low point. My two big challenges for this weekend were to a)bounce back from a very poor 2011 race, and b)tune out any negative emotions and outside stress. If anything, I needed to draw strength and resolve from those personal challenges to get through the race, and channel that energy positively. I needed to focus solely on trusting my training and translating that into the best race I could run on Sunday. It sounds weird but I had no pressure on me, and all the pressure in the world at the same time. 

 Before even leaving town, messages starting coming in from friends already in Moab. Every year, the race program features some sort of article or runner profile, and this year, I was honored to be the subject, with a piece about my running journey, and the way The Other Half and Moab races have been woven into the history. I'd done a phone interview with the writer about a month prior but hadn't read it yet; still, it was quite humbling to hear the positive feedback and comments. Even though blogging is a public forum, I am an outgoing introvert deep down, so to be "out there" in the program and have people identify with the weight loss and fitness journey was a strange-feeling yet very cool thing.

 I was staying with a group of friends that included both first-time Other Half-ers and racers contending for the very top spots in the race, and the energy within our group was great the night prior. Everyone was excited, joking, being silly, and having a good time with one another, and everyone fed off that energy. I decided, while walking around with Angela (a first-time Other Halfer) and Kristin (a first-timer halfer) that we needed mood rings from a gift shop on the main drag. Realizing I was serious and they weren't going to get out of the store without a mood ring, they relented and we left with cheap rings on our fingers that constantly changed color. Moving on to dinner, we met with about a dozen friends at our now traditional pre-race haunt, Miguel's Baja Grill. Later, it was a soak in the outdoor hot tub at our place, a "racey" pedicure for my toes, and a few bangs of the Grand Junction gong, which was here for our entertainment and good mojo for the race. I have to say that each of the people in my company that evening have been tremendously positive influences on me lately, whether they know it or not.  Being able to laugh and joke was a huge win tonight.

I did not sleep awesomely, but did sleep that night. It was rather warm outside when I walked out to do a temperature check very early in the morning. Usually, one could count on it being pretty chilly pre-race, but this was not bad at all. I walked around with my camera and checked out the early scene. This was a place that felt so familiar and good, with the sun rising over the red cliffs, casting long shadows of runners moving about.

When it was time to strip off layers and throw my gear bag in the truck, I stopped taking pictures and got in a good warmup. Moving down to the bridge for the start, there was a bit of a delay. As it turns out, there had been a snafu with one of the buses to the start, and I was starting to get antsy and shiver. Soon, though, that bus arrived, and I blocked everything out of my mind but my own race. I hopped around to stay warm, and focused on staying loose. When the starting gun went off, I had nothing in my head but a resolve to run this whole race like I meant it, and not back off or give up if I started feeling bad or like it wasn't my day. It was time to run MY race and find my pace.

The Garmin I'd received as a top GOTR fundraiser several months prior had decided to crash on me shortly before the race, and I thought about going sans watch, but in the end borrowed one from a friend just to be able to check my time at key points during the race, and look at data later. After hitting "start," I stayed true to my plan and settled in to a short stride/high cadence that was now muscle memory after nearly a year of speed work. The 1:40 pace group leader was ahead of me and I was having a hard time keeping up, which seemed weird. I soon realized that he was going MUCH faster than a 1:40 pace, and felt pretty good about being able to keep him in my sights. I relaxed and moved down the road, with my friends Ilana and Ernie running nearby. 

Coming around a bend, I got a long, wide view of the curving road. Off in the distance, I could see Kenyon Neuman, who was here trying to break the course record, a tiny dot already far down the road. A minute or two later, I could see a small white speck-our friend Marty, running solidly second, with nobody else near him. Then, I focused back and assessed my running. I felt good. Not bulletproof, but I suppose feeling bulletproof would mean I wasn't working hard enough. 

Continuing down the road, I took a peek at my watch each time in beeped to let me know another mile had passed. I got through the first 5 miles on what was well under a 1:40 finish time pace, and stayed disciplined to a "run the mile you're in" approach. Taking time to look around here and there, I marveled at the beauty of this place. A whirring noise in the distance got louder and louder; it was a small airplane, zipping close to the river and red cliffs. It was cool and kind of took my breath away to see it zooming up and down along the river, circling and doing tricks. I'm not sure if it was legal for the pilot to be flying like that, but it was pretty spectacular.

By now, Ilana had pulled ahead of me but I could still see her. Ernie and I seemed to keep leapfrogging, and that 1:40 pace group leader kept getting way ahead, stopping and jogging in place. I carried no water bottles but instead took a cup at each aid station of Gatorade or water, pouring off the top, and then sloshing the rest into my mouth. There had been a woman or two who passed me in the first few miles but I was now passing back a few men and women. It wasn't so much blazing a trail as outlasting people who started too fast or were having trouble as we entered the second half of the race. Coming into the 7th mile and beginning of the hills, I was ready to get to work, and kind of happy to see the hills. Running flat routes is its own challenge, and despite the pain of some of the climbs, the rhythm of the hills, and constant up and down can be a good thing. I got a little speed on the gentle downhill before the climb, tucked my head, and just kept moving. I could feel some wind now, but didn't think it would last. 

Cresting the top of the hill, I could feel that the wind was not going to let up. It was whistling loudly in my ears, almost taunting me. I remembered the year prior when I almost quit in the hills-well, that wasn't going to happen today. I was pissed at the wind-didn't it know I was going to run sub-1:40 today? I felt like I was working twice as hard now to move half the speed I was in the first seven miles. Bullshit. I wasn't going to be done in by the wind today. Some woman kept leapfrogging me and it fired me up. I worked to stay with her on the next hill climb. When the downhill came, I flew. Oh, man, did it hurt. I wasn't sure if I would have anything left in my legs by the end but I needed to race hard all the way through no matter what. On one of the uphills, I climbed with Ernie but then he said something in the wind that I couldn't quite hear, and I pulled ahead. I expected he'd leapfrog back up but that was the last time I saw him during the race.

Now came one of the toughest stretches of the race. The course still had roll but much was uphill. And that wind! I thought of the scene in Forrest Gump with Lieutenant Dan on the shrimp boat in the storm...the one where he "made his piece with God." I knew I'd slowed down but I wasn't going to let that wind ruin my race. I was going to use it to fire myself up and get kind of angry, and turn that anger into energy. I turned and could see my shadow running-I tried to pull up use good, strong, fluid form, and checked the shadow. I wouldn't say I was winning against the wind but I wasn't letting it defeat me today. Soon, I could see the Taiko Dan drummers on the horizon. I couldn't really hear them, though. That wind was just too fierce. I broke the course up into smaller sections, focusing on getting to the next sign or next divot in the road. Then, I'd reached the drummers. As one racer did to the mountains at the Imogene Pass Run, I looked at the drummers and gave them a Namaste and small bow, as I ran past, thanking them for sharing their musical gifts with us today.

Then-finally! I could bomb downhill a bit, and start that long, horseshoe-shaped stretch toward the finish. My legs were super noodley now, and my strongest suit as a runner-fast downhill road running-was not there. This was all mental game now, and I went to the arms to try to swing and get some additional forward momentum. I briefly checked my time, knowing that based on past experiences here, I was right on the cusp of a possible age group award, probably fighting for that third spot on the podium. I couldn't let up any and remained singularly focused on an effort that would get me on the podium. My body wanted to quit; instead I told it to shut up and keep moving by keeping my eyes on fence post after fence post, accelerating to one and then moving through to the next, never looking all the way down the road. The wind was pretty nasty and I don't remember it ever feeling this hard to run at the end of the race. I wasn't going to hit sub-1:40 today but my effort and intensity was everything I could have wished for at this point. There was nothing in my brain but RUN...RUN...RUN....finish strong! 

Making the turn into Sorrel River Ranch, I found it harder and harder to move forward but fought the fade. I saw Marty, who had probably been done for about 20 minutes, alongside the course, and he yelled "C'mon! Push, girl!" as I ran past. I fought to put out everything I had left in me and lay it all out on the course. I passed a sign that said "800 meters to go;" usually, this wouldn't bother me that much, but today it was not nice to see that sign.  Lots of people dotted the finish chute now, and I fed off the cheers, plowing through the late race fatigue.

Continuing along the chute and curving toward the finish, I poured it on. I heard a familar "Ka-RAH!" and recognized the voice as Marty's dad Ed. He's a staple at all the races in our city and region, always cheering for and supporting all of us runners. Today, he had two kids racing, with daughter Rochelle running her very first half (I'd see her come in later, looking wonderfully chill and happy despite the wind). Hearing that cheer was a great added boost and I let it carry me closer to the finish. 

Soon, I heard the finish line announcer calling me out by name and mentioning my appearance in the race program. I didn't realize 'til later that it was Kathaleen, wife of Jeff, who routinely does the finish line call but was out of town this week. She sounded like an old pro, reading off names and times quickly, and announcing where runners were from, or other little details. The time clock said 1:42 and I threw myself toward it with everything I had left, crossing the finish line in a time of 1:42:41. It wasn't a grand slam but more of a hard-fought home run in challenging conditions. That was everything I had today, and now it was a matter of waiting for results to see if it was good enough to place. Soon, the results started going up on a wall near the finish area and I went to look with anticipation. I knew I was on the bubble, and checking the results, I learned it had not burst on me today. I'd finished 3rd out of 177 in my age group, and 16th woman overall. This was a hard-fought effort from start to finish, and one of the best feeling awards to receive ever.

The day was a mixed bag of results for my friends. Some had rough days and others had amazing races, yet everybody seemed to take away the satisfaction of just being out there to do this race in a beautiful place, even though the conditions were challenging. The leaves would blow. The 3.1 beer flowed. Smiles and hugs abounded. 

After this amazing emotional high of a day, it's been a busy return back to life of being a mom and trying to get through each day, and find good things in each day. Family and friends for whom I'm grateful, and blessed to have in in my life. My running, and what it does to keep me together physically, and mentally. This beautiful region of the country where I'm blessed to live. There's a lot of uncertainty in my road ahead and it scares me to death. At times I've felt like a failure. A lot of times. I know I have to keep moving ahead, though, and try to do so as positively as possible, even when every fiber of my being wants to cry, yell, or just stay in bed. There's nothing good to be gained from that-for me, for my family, or anyone else. Am I "faking it until I make it" in some sense? Yes, absolutely. And I know there will be lots of times when I'll feel like I've got the fiercest of gale force winds pushing me back. In the end, though, I WILL make it. One way or another, I will get there.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

All The Other Chicks With the Pumped Up Kicks: A Weekend Wrap-Up

This week, after the mayhem and excitement of the big triathlon week, I resumed what looked like one of my best running weeks in a long time, hitting all my regular workouts, and additionally made it in to yoga for the third Monday in a row. Heated power yoga is something that had been largely absent from my summer fitness routine but always provided me with good core stability, balance, and flexibility. Additionally, it's a good outlet for purging any daily stress, turning my mind and body to mush by the end, and I haven't met a person there who wasn't pretty cool. Getting back in that environment has kept me feeling fresh, and motivated to work hard.

As the weekend approached, our weekly running club e-mail came out with reminders for all the upcoming week's events. Turned out there was a 5K on Saturday morning, something new that a couple of local churches were putting on to benefit Colorado Discover Ability, a pretty sweet group that helps people with disabilities get out to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities like skiing, snowboarding, rafting, and climbing. They were serving a full breakfast after the race, too. I hadn't heard anything about the race until then but was totally down with supporting CDA, and consuming mass quantities of food. I was a little tired following a the triathlon and a good training week, so I didn't commit one way or another.

Getting up on Saturday, I was focused pretty intently on my coffee, being a slug, and tracking friends at other various races online. I decided, for that reason, that I needed to get up and go do something, so the 5K was on. Heading down to a local park in a cool drizzle, a little tired and not mega-motivated, I thought hmmm, maybe I should've stayed home but I'm here and committed now. 

There hadn't been much publicity on this race so the crowd was pretty small. That said, they'd succeeded in getting out a variety of people of differing abilities. Looking around, it was strange that I did not see any of the men who could regularly be found in the top-10 at any given local race. Odd, but there have been a number of races on the local schedule recently, and some bigger fall races coming up for lots of people. I didn't know a lot of the people here (also unusual), though, so I knew anything could happen. When it was time to line up, another tall gal I remembered from races a few years ago toed the line near the front with me, and we took off up the road a few moments later.

Right away, I was in the lead. Weird! And right away, I was on a steady uphill. I shut up that part of my brain that started asking "WHY are we doing this, again?" and just trying to establish a good rhythm. As I was doing this, Annie, that tall runner chick, moved past me. She got about ten feet ahead but I increased my cadence and didn't let her pull any further away. Getting to the top of the first hill, it was pretty cool to see the older women working the aid station by the church where we'd finish, and get that positive energy back from them when they saw two ladies coming past one and two. 

Turning the corner, we got a break from the hill, and I felt a bit more settled. I pushed, and although Annie still was ahead of me, I was able to kick it enough to not let her pull far away. Every time I kicked, though, she'd take it up more and I just wasn't catching up to her. 

Turning downhill, which is usually my forte, I realized I was racing someone who was sort of identical-tall, longer-legged, and able to hammer with a high cadence. She actually widened our gap slightly here even though I think I was starting to pick up my pace. I stayed on pace, though, and didn't let her slip away totally. Taking several twists and turns through a local 'hood, we came back to that hill climb we'd run at the beginning, where we'd go uphill and then turn at the church for the finish. 

Moving up the hill, I finally started making up some ground. I didn't know what kind of finisher she was but was now nearly right behind her as we reached the top of the last hill. As we rounded the final corner, I prepared to make my move but she wasn't rolling over and dying for me, rounding smack in the center of the  curve with not enough room to pass on the inside. So, I took the longer, harder, outside pass and just ran like hell. I thought for sure she'd kick it up and we'd be racing hard to the finish but that was sort of the end of it. I made a clean break, and lengthened all the way out to what wound up looking like about a 14 second overall win-a first for me-at 21:35. Would that time normally even win the ladies division at a race? No. You race whomever shows up, though, and I was happy to log the win, get my speed on for the day, and enjoy straight up, all-out racing with another lady.

The next day, I was feeling especially tired, but it was shaping up to be a beautiful Sunday. I needed a long run to continue preparation for the Rim Rock Marathon, and the Run To Whitewater was an ideal opportunity that would provide a good challenge, and change of pace from regular long runs on the Colorado National Monument. My friend Cheryl is running Rim Rock as her very first marathon, and I'd told her I'd thought this would be a good training opportunity for her too. So, we set about our musical cars routine early, driving out to Whitewater, leaving my car, and riding back to the Bangs Canyon staging area in her truck. While there'd been a huge crowd here the year before, this freebie club run seemed to be back to its typical dozen-or-so runner rate. This was perfect. I was tired from the day before but there's a great benefit to be gained from back-to-back hard runs, as I've learned over the past few years. I planned to "race" this with Cheryl most of the way, at "training run plus" pace, as I like to call it. 

Getting started, the legs were a bit jello-y but there was really no pressure today to hammer like this was my goal race for the year. The leaves were turning lovely golden, orange and red shades, and we runners were really the only ones out there. We kept it going down the first steady downhill of slickrock and then began the first good climb, running some and hiking other sections. Cheryl meandered a bit ahead but a few miles in we kind of evened out and continued to run mostly together for quite some time, kind of flip-flopping the lead several times. We had a gorgeous backdrop of autumn leaves and panoramic views of Western Colorado as we made our way toward Whitewater, and navigated well along the way, not missing any turns.

Not missing any turns, that is, until we got to a closed gate. Confused, we looked at it and couldn't figure out how we lost the trail, and ran down the length of fence to which it was attached. Soon, I realized that we just needed to go through the gate, and that it was confusing because it had been open the year prior. Stepping through the gate, things looked familiar again. We'd wasted a good five minutes on that detour but were now back on track.

Now, we were getting some nice downhill. This course is sort of like Rim Rock in that way, with a lot of climb in the beginning and a lot of descent to finish. It was kind of rocky but my feet seemed to be holding up fine. We passed our one course volunteer who offered us water and snacks, but kept going. When we hit the sign that said "Two Miles To Go! Pizza!" I have never seen anyone take off as fast as Cheryl did. That kick wasn't happening for me today but I accelerated up what I could, moving toward that pizza.

At one mile to go, there was a sign that said "One Mile! Beer!" Okay, NOW we're talking. While this is advertised as "self-supported," and you're told to take care of yourself, the race directors do a nice job of having good directions to start, and food and beverage at the finish. The fun part at this race is that you crest a hill where those in the finish area spot you before you spot them, and then get to drop and switch back down to them. I came around the last curve, heard them whooping, and could see that Cheryl had just crossed into the lot where the finish was located. Two minutes later, I was in the lot too, in a total of 3:21. This was about 20 minutes faster than the year prior. Not bad on tired legs and not watching the clock. Probably the best part of this run was the post-race hang, catching up with people I don't see all the time, and even learning that Conrad, one of the people who puts on this race, has run all the major 100 mile races...Hardrock, Leadville, and even went to Western States for his honeymoon with his race-director wife Kim. You think you know the people in your running community pretty well, and then get to hang out and realize there's even more cool stuff that folks don't necessarily talk about every day.

There was one glitch for the mission; while I was in the finish area, some mean old bee sat on my finger and stung me, the first time in my life I've experienced a bee sting. Man, that hurt like a bitch. My brother had some pretty severe childhood allergies, including severe anaphalaxis to bee stings, requiring a two-year series of allergy vaccinations. Believe it or not, I had NEVER in my life been stung by a bee before this day at age 39, and after I yelped from the sting, I had a moment of panic, not knowing if I too had the same genetic makeup that would cause a severe reaction to the sting. Without even thinking about it, Cheryl and Kim flew into action, Kim holding my finger, and Cheryl using a knife (no tweezers handy) to scrape out the stinger. Before I knew it, it was out. There was no water immediately handy-just gatorade and beer. So, then, Kim made a compound of beer and dirt, and then mashed it onto my finger to help draw out poison. Brilliant, and it felt better already. I didn't know Kim that well before Sunday, but I can tell you she's above and beyond good people. You never know when you might need someone to form a compounding pharmacy at the side of a trail. A few days later, that bee sting site feels fine, though I've been advised that it's the second sting for which I should be prepared, and watch carefully for any reaction.

Now, I'm in the week before The Other Half. It's a special race to me, full of beauty, and without making any deep, literal life comparisons, has been full of ups and downs. I ran my first, best, and worst half marathons here. I'm not sure what this year will bring, but I'm as open and optimistic as I've ever been to the good possibilities, and committing to the work that'll bring me to the finish.

**In a postscript to the "Matt" in my age group at the triathlon: received an email from the race director shortly after publishing last week's blog, informing me that they'd found an error in the results that had moved me into third place in my age group, and would thus be mailing an award out to me. I wasn't going to ask for it, so it's icing that they took the time to let me know they'd corrected results and would be sending the hardware, even giving me my choice of gecko (there are brightly colored geckos on all the plaques in a variety of different color palates). It should arrive in the mail shortly.**

Monday, October 8, 2012

Jump Into The Water: The Desert's Edge Triathlon

I can think of no better song than Jump Into The Water, by Emmet Swimming, from my hometown(ish) Fairfax, Virginia, to accompany the culmination of my crash course in triathlons-the inaugural Desert's Edge Olympic and Sprint Triathlons. Besides the literal interpretation, the music builds to a frenzied climax the way my pre-race energy did, then dives right into a raucous explosion of hard driving rock. It's not a pretty sounding song but it's got a lot of underlying energy. 

 A triathlon was never in my plans for 2012. On the ever changing road of life, a bunch of factors came into play that changed my plans. At the year-ending Winter Sun 10K last year, there was this woman, Angela, who came over to me at the post-race awards. She'd spotted the rowdy and enthusiastic group of us from Grand Junction, and we chatted for a few minutes. She was a new runner and interested in joining in on our fledgling weekly speed workout group, with the disclaimer that "I'm new and slow!," that anxiety that a lot of us have felt as new runners that we're not "ready" to go out with the "real" runners yet. I promised that we were a fun, all paces, all-comers kind of group and that we'd love to have her there if she wanted to come. 

 A week or so later, Angela showed up, and quickly became one of the most regular attendees, making steady progress in speed and endurance through winter and spring. When it came time for the Imogene Pass Run to open, it was obvious that she wanted to sign up but had that hesitation again. Several of us talked it up and encouraged her to enter, and I did my best enabling job to make sure she joined in on our midnight run-and-registration party. At several point in training and just prior to the race, I am pretty sure I was on her naughty list. Her race went off swimmingly, though, getting over the mountain in a terrific time, and not doing any permanent bodily harm in the process. 

 Now, Angela was a swimmer in high school. Not just any swimmer-a bona fide, badass swimmer. She qualified for something called "Zones," which is where all the best regional young swimmers go to compete. Her initial foray into running was actually to return to swimming and do a triathlon, and a few months ago, she did complete her first.

 I'm not sure when it happened, but at some point she declared that "since you made me do Imogene, you owe me a few triathlons." It was out there, and I decided hey, that's fair and reasonable. And, as it turns out, there are a LOT of people in our group of friends and in the extended community who do triathlons, from sprint and Olympic distances right up to Ironman races. I always swore I'd NEVER do one of these things-there was too much gear and equipment, and I just wasn't going to tackle learning all the little tiny things on my own. 

 And, that's where said friends and community come into play.

 I think the first thing I said about this possible triathlon was "great...but small problem. I don't have a bike. Or a wetsuit. Or any of the other thingies you need. And I haven't been on a road bike since 1983." Excuses Club-meet your president. But the friends intervened. 

 First, I was just in the pool with Angela, our friend Cheryl, and a few others on a weekly basis at the Colorado Mesa University pool. It's a great facility, and soon I went from not being able to swim more than a lap without getting winded to being able to go back and forth slowly a few times, and eventually could swim 1000-1500 meters in practice with some intervals thrown in. I didn't have anything for open water swimming, and that's when my friend Randee stepped in and offered me her wetsuit, and some great tips on how to get in and out of it, and some shoes for clipping in on a road bike. Oh, did I say road bike? 

I didn't have one of those either. And me, gear, and trying to use it? That terrified me. At least, on a swim, it's mostly just me. The bike was a whole 'nuther ballgame. Enter Marty, and his collection of bikes, gear, and good, solid experience and ability to break down how to use the stuff. He loaned me an older workhorse bike that rode smoothly and had good components, got everything adjusted to my height, and then we went to work and making me a cyclist. 

 I couldn't even clip in at first, and was terrified to just ride around quiet downtown streets. Soon, though, I got more comfortable on the bike, and no question of mine was ever deemed stupid. The bike was a little glitchy with shifting gears sometimes, though, and I surprisingly, I was most nervous about this, and not the swim, in the week leading up to the Desert's Edge triathlon. I'd done two open water swims-one time on the course with Angela, Cheryl, and other ladies, and another one at Snook's Bottom, a cold, murky, stinky lake with Angela and our friend Tom Ela, a regular in all things outdoors in our town. The bike ride was worrying me more than anything else. And then, there was that run. I had a lot of people tell me "you'll be fine, and you'll pass us on the run anyway." 

Well, I've never run competitively with a swim and bike ride prior, so I was in no way convinced that I would be passing anyone. For better or worse, though, I worked as hard as I could and tried to absorb as much as I could about all things triathlon. Sitting with a tablefull of triathlete/runners at a recent wedding, it was oddly reassuring to hear that people get kicked, pulled, grabbed, et cetera, in the swim, and that if I was really worried about it, it wasn't a bad idea to hang back and let everyone in my wave get going, then get in behind them. And that the bike, and clipping in, would just get easier with practice. 

 After a week of being super nervy, and more worried about a race than I ever had been, race weekend came. The bike had been particularly tempermental on a Saturday "easy" ride with Angela, and this did not help my nerves at all. I picked up my packet, and later that evening, came out to her place in Fruita, which is very close to Highline Lake. I didn't even know what to do with half the numbers and stickers in my packet, but she showed me how one went on my bike, one could go somewhere on my helmet, and one would be for the run, which I attached to a number belt that Randee loaned me. I had a towel layout cheat sheet for all my necessary items in transition (the area where you rack your bike, lay out your needed race gear, and switch from one sport to the next), and I seemed to be mostly set. 

 The unknown was just getting to me, though. I went to bed, slept a few hours, and then was wide awake at 3am. I never was able to make it back to sleep. We left early so that we could set up in a decent spot, and then hang without rushing. We got our stuff set up pretty easily, and soon a number of local friends were arriving. We're normally quite warm here on the Western Slope in October, but a cold front had moved in. Though the water was still warm, a "no swim" option had been made available for those who did not want to get wet. I was incredulous; it seemed like a joke at first. It was never even a tempting option, as nervous as I was. I was here to finish a triathlon...not bail on one portion. Soon, things were close to being underway. 

I hung out with one of my former day care families-Steph, Dave, and their daughters-watching the Olympic waves start. Soon, we were on deck. Dave left with his wave, and then Steph and I were in the water for the last wave-the "old, slow, and female" sprint wave. I did a few strokes out and back, and the water wasn't terrible. Soon, it was time. The starter counted us down, and off we went. Holy crap. Never in a million years did I think I'd be in a lake in October in a wetsuit, on purpose. 

 As the swim began, I remembered my plan to ease in to each sport, and not let adrenaline eat me alive. I just focused on a smooth stroke, breathing, and occasionally "sighting" the huge green buoy that marked the sprint course. The first time I practiced in open water, I did have a moment of near-freakout, being unable to see in the green/black waters, and realizing, shit, this is open water. I'd calmed myself that day by turning over to the backstroke, slowing down, and breathing, and just knowing that option was available made it so that I didn't have to go to it. 

 Moving toward the first buoy, I was lightly kicked, touched, and pulled a few times. It really wasn't bad, though, and people seemed to be making slight adjustments and shifts. Nobody kicked me in the face, or anything else really bad. The square shape of the swim course made it easy for me to get into a rhythm, and just periodically look up to sight that buoy. Rounding the first corner, I realized that I was NOT doing this for 100% fun and no competitiveness. I could see other swimmers when I took a breath, and tried to pull through more with my arms, and increase my stroke cadence. The water felt good and the sun was out. I started thinking ahead to the bike a bit but reminded myself to just focus on what I was doing now. After swimming the length of the square course, we came to a buoy where we'd swim left and back to shore. I'd managed to keep a nice, straight line, and I was glad we'd spent time weekly swimming laps at CMU. There was a muscle memory from that which kept me from swimming wildly off-course.

 Heading back to the shoreline, I knew we were supposed to look for the blue arch, but I couldn't see ANYTHING. The sun was rising and pretty much blinding us, so I was just following other swimmers in to shore. Finally, through my goggles, I could see swimmers starting to stand up ahead of me, and anticipated doing that myself. My badass triathlete/swimmer friend Cheryl C. had told me to kick those legs some before leaving the water to wake them up, and I did that. Coming out of the water, I also followed Randee's advice to begin zipping out of the wetsuit, and by the time I reached my towel and bike, I had it peeled halfway off. Now, here came my greatest challenge-getting out of a really wet wetsuit with cold hands and fingers. Sitting on the ground, I started peeling out. I got one leg off pretty easily, but then managed to double up the wetsuit on my left foot, all jammed up because that's where my timing chip was strapped. My cold fingers couldn't move it over that thing. Oh, man, I felt like an idiot. What was I going to do now? 

 Before I could get too panicky, I decided to try different approaches to getting it off.I managed to get the whole wetsuit to about the ankle, and then just decided I'd give it a short, strong pull with all I could to peel it off inside out. I gave it a good yank, and off it came! Phew. Now, my original plan was to put on tights for the ride. I put a lightweight tech shirt on my upper body and realized I didn't want to waste any more time. I threw on a lightweight cap, my running gloves, and shoes, leaving the tights behind. Unracking the bike, I trotted it up and out of transition, mounted, and started riding. I hoped that hadn't been a stupid move to abandon my tights plan. 

 Once I clipped in (and I did it relatively quickly-yay!), I started pedaling, remembering what I'd been told about keeping a high cadence, and anticipating when I would need to shift gears. Then, I tried to do my first shift into a harder gear. Crap. It was sticking JUST like it had the day before. Rather than panicking, I tried using one finger to hold the part of the gear used when shifting to an easier gear, and using another to force the inner lever to make it shift. It worked!!! Oh, man. I was so relieved now, and glad that I'd figured out how to deal with this bike's sometimes temperamental nature. I gathered some speed and headed toward the first big hill. The one I'd fallen on just a week or so prior. 

 Remembering that word "anticipation," I shifted into one of the easiest gears as I hit the bottom of the downhill and started to climb uphill. Keeping the cadence high was something that felt fairly natural, in part due to my running. I realized, though, as I neared the top of the hill, that I might not be in a low enough gear. I was NOT going to fall today, though, and made myself power through the last little bit, reaching the crest in the hill without a fall. Ecstatic to be over this first hurdle, I settled into a rhythm and headed off down the road. I was pushing whenever I could, but was definitely not attacking. There was a delicate balance between wanting to race hard, and just lacking the experience on this bike, and on a bike in general, that kept me from doing this leg all-out. I tried to balance this by really hammering the flatter sections where I didn't fear crashing by going too fast on a downhill, or falling/struggling with gear shifting on an uphill. Soon, we were back to the last big hill on the course. 

 Before we even turned toward it, I had that A my mind. I reached the bottom of the hill, shifted to an easy gear, and started climbing. People were all over the place, shifting back and forth on their bikes, or struggling in gears too hard for this hill. I kept my cadence high in this easy gear, and passed nearly everyone this time. It felt good, and despite the weird grip I needed to use to switch into a harder gear, I was able to get it done and ride out the bike course, pulling into the dismount area, where I saw my friend Shannon who had worked water safety on the swim. 

 Now, it was time for MY thing-the run. I got the bike racked quickly this time, pulled off the shoes and put on my running shoes. For a split second I thought about pulling my tech shirt off but decided to waste no more time in transition after my way-too-long first transition. Once the helmet was off, I headed out of transition, waking up the legs for the one part of this thing where I had any sort of experience.

 As I exited transition, I was aware that my body had never, ever felt this weird at the start of a run. My legs had this disconnected, woobly feeling-they were moving, and moving decently, but I had no control over them. I was pretty sure I was going to pitch forward onto my face any time. And they were TIRED. Wow. I wasn't wearing a watch and had no idea what my pace was, but I was sure it wasn't fast. Still, I was passing people from the get-go, so I trusted that this was good. Going back to that "settle in to it" mindset, I tried to bring some control to my run with some high cadence/short stride action. This was a gently rolling gravel trail, but even the little baby downhills felt like they might take me out in the first mile. Stuff I'd normally just run down sent me into windmilling arms in order to stay upright. Still, though-I WAS passing people! I was thrilled. I was in my element and so I just went as aggressively all-out as I could pull out of myself. 

Here and there, I'd be passed by members of the USAF, CSU, and other men's tri relay teams. Besides those guys, I passed every other runner I encountered. Coming into the last stretch for home, I was really tired but put on my best race face for a strong finish. There was a short, downhill stretch of road near the end of mile three, then a jump back onto the gravel trail and a short, steep climb up to the dam, a flat stretch leading up to the finish. A woman with a shirt from a Denver-area tri group said "Oh my GOD," and I knew right then that I needed to beat her. As we reached the flat, I moved up to her, then on past. She said "good job" or something like that but I didn't have energy to respond. 

 Right then I saw Dave, who provided some good cheer and "it's just down that way and up the hill!" encouragement. Heading down, I could hear someone creeping up and passing-it was that tri-team lady. Oh, hell no. I'd gone from this being a "fun, learning experience" to being ready to knock myself out to make sure I crossed the finish line in front of that lady. I kicked hard and got ALMOST back up to her, but didn't quite catch her. Still, it made for an excellent RACE (not "fun experience just to do it") finish, and I crossed feeling like I'd given all I had with the tools I had today. Nearly immediately after finishing, the timing booth staffer nearby asked if I wanted my time card. SWEET! Yes, let's have a look at that baby. I'd just raced purely on feel, and had no idea what any of my times looked like. 

It broke down like this: 

 Total time: 1:37:53 

Swim time: 17:05, 58th overall in swim, 
Bike Time: 50:59, 89th overall in bike
, Run Time: 24:22, 26th overall (and 5th in gender).
 T1 (Transition 1): 4:03. T2: 1:26.
 Overall Place: 52 out of 142.
 Overall Female: 17th out of 87.
 Age group: 4th out of 6 (yep, way small. And all women in this age group were in the top third of overall rankings)

 In an interesting twist, when I checked results earlier today, I noticed that there was a "Matt" in the age group results. As it turned out, my age group was VERY small, with most competitors originally registered opting out, or taking the "duathlon" option due to the cold temperatures. When I looked up my results just now for the blog post, I see that "Matt" has been removed from the results, and that I in fact finished third, and not fourth in my tiny age group! It may be a podium by default in a small age group, but it's kind of exciting, twenty-four hours removed from the event. The awards at this race were pretty sweet...plaques with colorful lizards on them. 

I'm kind of indecisive on what to do regarding that situation-I'd really like one of those pretty plaques since it appears I did finish third, and not fourth as I thought at first. Still, I'm happy enough knowing I took the challenge seriously in the short time I was actively training, and gave everything I had as far as my knowledge, resources and experience yesterday. And I was thrilled to be in the top quarter when matched up against all women.

 So, am I going to do this again? Right after, I was thinking no way, that was way too hard. I honestly don't know which was harder-the last five miles at the Desert RATS 50-miler, or the 5K at the end of the Desert's Edge Sprint Triathlon. But there's something about the thought that went into this, the planning and strategizing, wanting to tighten up and fix mistakes and weak areas, and become more aggressive on my strengths, that is very, very enticing. And, as Angela has said, I owe her at least several triathlons for Imogene, which was, after all, 17.1 miles and about four-ish hours on average. So, for no other reason, I WILL be a woman of my word and plan on the Highline Hustle, or some other area sprint triathlon next spring. 

 In all, it was also a fabulous experience that reminds me what great people we have in our local athletic community, and how supportive the triathlon people I know from other parts of the country are as well. When I said "I can't do a tri, I don't have the "stuff," and don't know how to use or do the "stuff" anyway," I was amazed at how eagerly and freely the support, training advice, gear, motivation, kicks in the butt, and reassuring words were offered. I've tried to do that as a runner, because I remember being new and scared, and not knowing a thing. And I don't think there is any way I would have followed through or had such a great first time triathlon experience without a lot of people who played a part in giving me the confidence and tools to do this. So, that's awesome. And why I love this kind of thing more than anything. Given the enthusiasm people had for getting me started, I know I'm on to kind of a special thing. My first love is still running, but I do see more triathlons in the future. Growth only occurs outside the box, and this weekend it was way outside the box, down the road, and in the water on a chilly October day.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

I Want To Ride My Bicycle: More Tri (Cramming) Training

I don't believe in Peter Pan, Frankenstein or Superman, but all I want to do is bicycle.

So, I still haven't chickened out on this sprint triathlon (yet). And now I'm five days away from the darn thing, so it's looking like I will see this ̶s̶t̶u̶p̶i̶d̶, ̶f̶o̶o̶l̶h̶a̶r̶d̶y̶ exciting adventure through very soon. Following another good session in the pool, I made a point to get on that bike that I hadn't really spent much time on just yet. With two pairs of borrowed shoes made specially for clipping in on a road bike, I freaked out just a little bit when I tried clipping in with one pair, and just could not make the left shoe clip into the pedal. After a good ten minutes of trying unsuccessfully with the first pair (a womens shoe that did fit my foot, more or less), I finally decided to go back to the mens shoes I'd used on my test ride, which are too wide and a little too long. Lo and behold, these clipped in easily the first time I tried. Relieved, I decided I'd just go with these, and plan on some pretty hefty socks for tri day. I took that bike for a spin around the neighborhood, and while I didn't feel awesome, it was something.

Oh, and that running thing! No, I definitely haven't given up that first love, and this weekend brought one of the best races of the year around these parts, the Anna Banana 5K. After two speed work sessions (one of which I arrived at very late, didn't warm up enough, and had to bail from early due to a screaming hammy), some swimming, a bike ride, and a couple of regular runs, I was, in hindsight, not very well rested for the race. I'd hoped to run sub-21 at this race, given that my last 5K, the Monument Downhill, was a PR 20:08 race. The second I started, though, I could tell the legs just weren't fresh and springy. 

Thank goodness for speed work, though. The 22:03 I ran was nowhere near what I'd hoped to do, but it did help carry me through when I felt really tired, even passing a few runners in the last mile. I was well down the overall female ranks at 8th woman, but on the upside, I got to exit the 30-39 age group at this race this year with a win. My friends Laetitia and Angela, who regularly run Wednesday night speed group, came in second and third,

 and other friends from the group dominated the age group and overall ranks. We were all pretty pleased with our ceramic bananas, the commemorative medals handmade by the Fruita Monument High School art department for the event. 

After the citizen race, we took in the high school races, which are a real treat if you've never seen a high school cross country meet. The course is very spectator friendly, and we walked around to various points on the course, catching runners coming and going before they came blazing into the finish.

Angela (remember, my friend who said I owed her a few triathlons for talking her into Imogene Pass) and I had already been tentatively planning on a REAL ride on my bike, out on the tri course, later that afternoon. Angela's been my tri-training superhero friend, coaching through all the finer points of swimming (both for good form and endurance, and being prepared for open water), and I was anxious to get in the ride. Hanging out and talking with friends while watching the high school races, there were others who thought it was a great day for a ride too, and I was more than excited to have more people telling my noob ass what to do with that bike. I was getting more comfortable with the open water swim, but the whole gears, shifting, clipping and all that? Still not super comfortable. So, a few hours later, we regrouped out on the country roads in Fruita, Colorado.

When we got started, I wasn't really sure how this would play out, and this was another case of having to fight out of my comfort zone and be okay with being the noob with very limited experience on a bicycle. It was a gorgeous afternoon, though, so I just tried telling myself that I'd be missing out if I didn't take this chance to ride with some truly very patient and instructive friends who weren't expecting to race like Lance Armstrong on a truckload of steroids today. My friends could all clip in without looking down or thinking about it, but I had to clip in on one side, get rolling, and then look down to see what I was doing. All right...I was in! Woot! Mission accomplished.

Oh, wait. Not really. We hit the first big downhill, and I got through that, but then the hill climb started. And the whole gear-shifty-thingy is just not natural to me. What happened next, and despite my rock star of a helper/coach/friend Marty saying it was his fault for not noticing I was in the totally wrong gear for a climb-let's be clear, *I* did not have myself in the right gear. It was way too high of a gear, and when I took his suggestion to stand up to get up the hill, I couldn't push through and fell over sideways, thumping onto the ground on what I later figured out was my butt, since I didn't scrape myself up anywhere else. 

In that instant, I was pissed off, frustrated, angry and ready to just turn around, go back to the car, and say screw this crap. After a superpause on the ground for a few seconds, I started picking myself back up, and Marty said "Sorry,I didn't tell you what to do there, let's go back down and try it again." He rode down and I took my time collecting myself, and rode back down the hill. I'm not a quitter. I wasn't going to let myself bow out after one fall. The mental re-set button had been hit, and I was ready to take another swing at the hill, taking in suggestions on what to do, and more aware that I needed to anticipate changes in terrain.

This time, I understood where I was supposed to be, gear wise, and had those wheels spinning loosely and easily. Well, not easily. This hill was still kind of a bitch but now that I had it in the right gear, I could pedal and keep those wheels moving. When I finally got to the top of the hill, my friends Angela, Laetitia and Josh were clapping for me for making it up. I almost felt like a schmuck for a second but I know they didn't mind and that it was motivational and not "Hey! You FINALLY made it up the hill, you dope." Continuing along the course, I tended to be the last one in the group but I wasn't terribly far off, so this chilled me out some. I asked at one point if I'd be the last one in on the bike, and they all told me, emphatically, that NO, I wouldn't. As the ride went on, I was able to chat (a little bit, anyway) with my friends without fear of falling off. When the final big downhill and uphill came, I was kind of able to get into the thrill of going down really fast on a bike. Well, not really fast by REAL triathlete standards. Fast for me, though. It felt pretty excellent to have the sunshine on my face and wind in my hair (that which was sticking out from my bike helmet...we're safety first, people). Making it back to the car, I even decided to go back and practice that last hill one more time for good measure. I didn't die on the bike, despite my best early attempt.

With just a few days left, I am going to spend a little more time swimming and getting on the bike, but I am planning on one or two good days of total rest prior to next Sunday's tri. It's still pretty scary to know I've got three different sports in one event, and the following video posted by a friend, Jeff, who is an Ironman? I'm not sure if I should laugh or run for my life.

 Okay, it's pretty funny, and at a recent wedding of a runner/triathlete friend, it actually chilled me out to hear a couple of Ironmen in attendance confirming that yes, people will kick the crap out of you, pull on you, swim over you/under you in the swim, but it'll all be good. I like to be able to anticipate stuff, even if it's getting punched in the face or yanked underwater. 

With other stuff coming up on the running horizon, like the Rim Rock Marathon in November (#4 for me!), I also had to get in a long run this weekend, and did so with my friend Cheryl, who will be running the race as her first marathon. Now, the shoe goes on the other foot here. This race is old hat for me, and I am not in that place of worrying that I can finish it, nor do I have any doubts that Cheryl will have trouble finishing. In fact, I fully expect her to rock it. This is her first, though, so she's got that anxious energy at work. It's just pretty cool to have this extended group of friends who support and talk one another through stuff, give pointers, or a friendly kick in the butt when it's needed. She wasn't feeling great near the end of the run in the heat, but she made it through and logged that time on the feet. It was the end of a challenging weekend of racing and training, and yeah, there was some contact with pavement, but I'd say it was a successful one on the whole.

I'll fully admit that there's this big chicken in me who totally wants to bail on the tri. There's a huge fear of the unknown at work, and that I am NOT master of this domain. All growth happens outside the comfort zone, though. Plus, I know I'll be kicking myself if I skip it/waste my money, and SO glad I did it afterward, no matter how slow my time. So, for now, I'm trusting that I've got a good basic fitness level and working knowledge of how to go from point A by the water to point B at the tri finish. And it's that process of getting out of the comfort zone-learning by experience and sometimes failure-that will allow me to get it done.