Monday, September 30, 2013

Ironman 70.3 Augusta

I signed up for this race right before the Raleigh 70.3 so I wouldn't talk myself out of it, and over the last few weeks I was reconsidering the soundness of that decision.  But registration for Ironman events is not cheap, so there was no way I could justify bailing and last week's Olympic made me feel a lot more confident that I could at least get through it.  With the current-assisted swim and hopes of not completely blowing up on the run as I did in Raleigh, my goal was a 15-minute PR/sub-5:45.  If all went perfectly, I thought I might even have a shot at 5:30.

We headed down to Augusta on Friday night and checked into our hotel around 11pm.  Saturday morning I slept in until after 7, which is unheard of for me, and then headed down to packet pickup around 11.   Check-in and packet pick up went smoothly, and we seemed to have just beat the crowd.  From there we drove down to the start area to drop off my bike, and then we just had a relaxing afternoon watching football at the hotel, packing up my gear, and studying course maps.

I didn't sleep much at all on Saturday night, and finally got up well before my 5:00 alarm.  Showered, had a balance bar and some coffee, put on my race tattoos and lots of glide, and headed down to the race a little after 6.  We got there about 20 minutes later, and I set up my stuff for the bike and run.  With about 3500 people registered for the race, transition was a zoo and we all had very little space to work with, but it was a great atmosphere.

Transition closed at 7:15 and the race started at 7:30, but my wave wasn't until 8:52 so I had a bit of time to wait around.  We drove up to the start and found a spot on the bridge to watch the first waves get underway.

I'd thought Monte would just drop me off and then head back to the hotel to get some more sleep, but we were able to find a parking spot near the start so he waited with me until it was time to line up for my swim.  It was great that he was there, because that's the time when I really start to get nervous!

Wave 21 lined up around 8:30, and gradually made our way to the dock.  They didn't split my age group my last name, so we were the largest of the swim waves (185).  It was by far the largest swim start I've done, but I found a spot on the dock off to the side and in the back, so I figured it wouldn't make much of a difference.  8:52 and it was time to go!  I waited for the women ahead of me to jump in and move a bit, and then hopped in.  The water temp was 68, so it was a little chilly but not bad with the wetsuit.  Somehow I found myself behind a few people who were kicking like crazy, so I did the breast stroke for a bit and searched out some space.  I maneuvered to a less crowded spot and it was pretty smooth sailing from then on in.  Swimming with the current was great - when I would breathe to the right I could see the shoreline and could tell I was moving along a lot faster than usual!  I was passed by some men in the wave behind me, but stuck to the outside and it wasn't nearly as washing-machine-like as I'd anticipated.  Before I knew it, I could see the exit buoy, and the swim was over.

It was a bit of a way up to transition, and several people around me were walking, so I did the same and took off the top half of my wetsuit.  There were wetsuit shuckers at the entrance to the transition area, and they did a great job of getting it off quickly.  From there I jogged over to my rack, threw on my bike shoes, helmet, sunglasses and garmin, and then made the long jog from my end of transition to the bike out.  My bike is often all alone at T1, because most of the field has already left.  But to my surprise, there were still several bikes on my rack.  I wasn't last!  Woohoo!  As I started my watch, I saw that the time was 9:26.  WHAT?!!?  I knew I had a stronger swim than Raleigh, and I knew that the current would make it a much faster swim, but leaving transition in 34 minutes was way beyond my expectations.

The bike course has basically three different parts - miles 1-17 are mostly flat, 18-40 are hills, and the rest is mostly downhill.  My goal was to finish in under three hours, so the goal pace was 18.7 miles per hour, or about 3:13 per mile.  Because of the course profile, the plan was to put in a steady effort on the flat section, take it relatively easy on the climbs to keep my heart rate and effort level from skyrocketing, and then push the downhill section to the end.  The bike was crowded the entire way and there were a few sharp turns, so my primary focus was on the road and the people around me, so I have no idea what the course was actually like scenery-wise.  I went by the 10 mile marker with exactly 30 minutes on my watch, and worried that though I felt comfortable, 20 mph might not be the best strategy to set myself up for a good run, so I dialed it back a little.  I tried to eat either a small piece of bonk breaker or honey stinger chew every 10-15 minutes, and pretty steadily sipped on Gatorade perform, refilling on the fly at two of the three aid stations.  That nutrition/hydration strategy and my pacing plan seemed to be working out pretty well and I felt great!  Other than staying focused on the road and other cyclists, my thoughts were pretty much limited to two things: race time math (if I stay at this pace I could easily have a shot at 5:30 - that wasn't a crazy thought after all!) and please do not get a flat tire... please do not get a flat tire...  Thankfully I did not get a flat tire, and made it to T2 without incident and feeling great.  Final bike time: 2:56 (19.1 mph).  

I jogged my bike all the way back through the transition area (I should have measured the distance - it was pretty far), changed my shoes, and was out of T2 in 3:20.

According to my math, I figured I could run a 9 minute mile and hit my secret/unlikely/wishful thinking goal of 5:30.  The key to this would be not dying.  And one of the keys to that would be not going out too fast... I felt great then, and running 13 miles doesn't seem that far to me anymore, but I did learn my lesson in Raleigh and was determined to keep it under control.  The course is a two lap zig zag back and forth across downtown Augusta, and my goal was to average about an 8 minute mile and finish the run in 1:45.  As usual, it was a struggle to slow down my legs getting off of the bike, but with conscious effort I hit the first mile marker at 7:37.  Still too fast... remember Raleigh! Slow down!  The next few miles were in the 7:40s and 7:50s.  It was starting to get warm and most of the run was in full sun, so my plan was to keep the pace there, but walk through the aid stations long enough to throw some ice in my trisuit and drink a bit of gatorade, which would hopefully average out to 8-ish.  

Thanks to the back and forth layout of the course, I was able to see Monte several times, which is always a good boost.  It was also nice because mentally I thought, "just a couple of miles and then you turn around and come back; just a couple of miles and then you start lap 2," and so on.  The plan was working perfectly, and I went through mile 9 in 1:11:25, averaging about 7:57.  And then with about 4 miles to go, my stomach decided to stop cooperating.  I started burping up gatorade and feared I was going to throw up on an innocent spectator, and went from feeling great to being harshly reminded that half-iron triathlons are not supposed to be easy.  I was hot, my stomach was unhappy, and my speed was plummeting; but other than through the aid stations (where I dumped ice water on my head and ate some ice chips), I did not stop or walk, and continued to pass people, though at a much slower rate.  Midway through the run, I realized I could potentially break 5:20, and I could see that going out the window, but I was determined to at least get as close to that number as possible.  There was one girl with a 34 on her leg who I'd gone back and forth with a few times on the bike, and she ran by me with about a half mile to go.  When she passed me on the bike, I thought she looked like she was working really hard while I was feeling pretty comfortable.  When she passed me on the run, she was definitely working really hard again, and I was just shuffling along.  She put a little gap on me and I was going to just let her go, but when we turned the corner and could see the finish line, I thought "No!  Do not be such a wuss... you've been out here for 5 and a half hours and you can see the finish line.  Now GO!"  And so I did.  I didn't think I had much left in me, but I put in a solid sprint (or at least what felt like a sprint and was far faster than the people around me) to catch and pass the girl in my age group.  I crossed the finish line and thought I was going to lose my gatorade, but thankfully that didn't happen.  Final run time: 1:46:09; Final race time: 5:20:45.

The woman behind me is the one who inspired my kick

The first timing mat was off - run 1 and run 6 were not that fast

Thrilled to end the season with a 38-minute PR and ready to focus on running for a bit!  Cheers to fall racing!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Ramseur Lake Olympic Triathlon

Olympic distance races are definitely not made for me.  The swim is the largest percentage of the race of any distance, and as a weak swimmer, the 40K bike and 10K run just don't give me enough time to make up ground.  Because of that, I had no intention of racing this distance again, at least not any time soon.  But a few weeks ago, had a few free entries available to members and I thought it would be good practice a week out from Augusta, so I decided that if I could race without having to pay for it, I would do it.  One free entry later, I had this race on my calendar.  

My swim training has not been going.  Not "not going well"... just not going at all.  I'd so much rather run with my friends than swim, and with my neighborhood pool closing and the very inconvenient Duke pool hours, I have only been in the water 4 times this month.   Coupled with my already less than impressive swim skills, I was pretty nervous going into this.  Fortunately, the plan was just to race at or around my goal paces for next week, so there wasn't a ton of pressure, other than to not drown.

I made the hour drive out to Ramseur, arrived just after 7 am, picked up my packet, set up transition, went through the porta-potty line, and then it was time for pre-race instructions.  Fortunately, the water was the calmest of any open water swim I've done and the weather was perfect (60s and cloudy), which helped my nerves a bit.

The swim is a two lap loop, and the men went out 4 minutes before the women.  The race was small to begin with, and with the men starting in a separate wave and a number of people going with the run-bike-run duathlon option, the women's swim start was not hectic at all.  I started to the back and off to the outside, waited a few seconds after the horn, and then was off.  Before we even made it to the first buoy, I was all by myself.  While this is good in terms of comfort level, it is discouraging to think about the entire field being so far ahead already.  I just reminded myself that this was a training exercise, focused on some of the tips that Alison gave me earlier in the week, and tried to keep my energy expenditures to a minimum.  About half way through the first lap, I passed a couple of men, and felt a little better because I wouldn't be the very last person out of the water.  The swim seemed to take forever, and based on conversations with some other athletes after the race, I think it was a little long.  Nonetheless, I was not thrilled to get to my bike and see that over 40 minutes had passed already... which is a really long time, even for me!  On a positive note, it was easy to find my bike and I had plenty of space to get out of my wetsuit and put on my bike gear!  

The other nice thing about being a slow swimmer is that the entire field is in front of you, providing a great opportunity to chase people down.  Early into the bike leg, I passed quite a few women and even some men, and for the most part was feeling pretty strong.  The bike course was an out and back on country roads, with few turns and some moderate hills.  Other than quite a bit of gravelly asphalt, being chased by a dog, and a hydration bottle malfunction, the ride went pretty well.  The goal was to stay in the 18-19mph range, which is my target for Augusta (I would need to average 18.7 to get in under 3 hours).  At one hour, I had gone 18.6 miles, so I was pleased with my pacing.  It wasn't exactly leisurely but other than a few climbs, I never really felt like I went outside of my comfort zone.  That said, I was ready to be done by the end and next week I'll still have 30 miles to go, so I am not sure if that goal is reasonable and we'll see what happens...

The second transition went pretty well, and I headed out on the run.  At the Raleigh race, it took me nearly two hours to finish the run, so in Augusta I would be thrilled with anything around an 8-minute mile.  If everything goes perfectly, I'd love to average something in the 7:50s, so I tried to stick to that pace.  The first half mile went by in about 3:40, so I really worked to make myself slow down, which is pretty strange for a race, but I'm hoping it will pay off next week.  Due to some last-minute course changes, the run was a strange double out and back which included a total of 4 U-turns.  It was hard to tell if the people coming toward me were on their first or second lap, so despite doubling back on the field multiple times, I really had no idea where I was in the standings.  But everyone seemed to be working hard and I felt like I was just beyond a jog, so I figured they had to be ahead of me.  That, and knowing that I have to run 12 miles tomorrow, made it easier to stick to my pace plan, and I ran most of the miles in the 7:45-7:50 range.  Once I could see the finish line, I picked it up a bit and finished in 2:42-something.  Not a great time, but not far off the plan and I felt great, so I was pleased.  

After changing and loading up all my gear, I headed back to the finish area thinking that even though I didn't have a great time, it was a small race so I may have won an age group award.  I checked the posted results and was shocked to see my name at the top of the page in the overall winners list!  Somehow I'd passed all but one of the women to finish second overall.  It didn't make my time faster, but was certainly a nice surprise.  And as icing on the cake (or pie, as it turned out), there were cash prizes for the top three overall as well as a beautiful apple pie from the orchard down the street!  The orchard had also provided the age group awards (apple crisp for 1st, apple sauce for 2nd, and apple butter for 3rd), and I would definitely consider this race again solely because of that :)  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Magnificent Mile 2013

I love the set up of the course, the fact that they run the men's and women's races separately, and the fact that a mile is over quickly, so signing up for a third consecutive year a few months ago was a given.  However, as race day approached, I seriously considered bailing.  I've been doing a reasonable amount of volume in preparation for my upcoming 70.3, but have really been struggling with tempo runs and speed work.  Basically, I have just felt tired, on the verge of overtraining, and slow... none of which bode well for running a fast mile.  But a number of my friends/teammates were running, there was promise of beer afterward, and the consensus on my facebook poll was that I should run anyway, so off to Raleigh I went.  

My strategy for the race was to try to keep Caren and Ellen in sight.  Chasing Caren worked out pretty well for me last year, and despite starting off a bit too slowly I was able to run a PR of 5:52.  My goals for the day were (1) sub-6, (2) PR, (3) sub 5:50.  To meet my top goal, I knew I would have to run each quarter in about 87 seconds, which would put me at 5:48.  Last year I started too slowly in fear of going out too fast, so this time I was sure to push myself right from the start, and I came through the first quarter in 84 seconds.  The second and third quarters include the turns around the Capitol, and ticked off in 88 and 91 respectively.  Somewhere in that third quarter Ellen passed me and I should have tried to go with her, but I worried about dying on that last stretch to the finish.  I also lost focus a bit when it started to feel pretty tough.  I guess those are both just mental things that I'll have to work on, and hopefully not fade so much in that stretch next year.  As we made the turn toward the finish, I finally talked myself into speeding up again and finished up with an 85.  Definitely not the consistent 87's I was shooting for, but I finished in 5:48, so I guess it's all the same in the end!  Despite a huge amount of self-doubt before the race and a bit of a lapse in the middle, I managed to run my goal time and was fairly pleased with the race.  My goal for next year will be to maintain focus the entire time and not feel like I saved too much for the finish, but for now, it's a PR and I'll take it.  To really put the icing on the cake, my friends all had great races, many ran PRs, Allie set a new state record for masters, the Bull City Track Club women won the team title, and we all wrapped up the afternoon with celebratory drinks at the Flying Saucer.  All in all, a really good day, and I am definitely glad my friends did not let me talk myself out of even trying!  

Monday, September 2, 2013


It was a decent month for running, but I'd give myself at best a B- for biking and a giant red F for swimming.  With less than a month until the Augusta 70.3, I really have a lot of work to do.  At this point I'm hoping that the river current will be enough to get me through the swim.   Then it will be the same plan as in Raleigh... just try to catch people.  Hopefully this time I won't blow up on the run and can end my 2013 triathlon season on a good note. T-minus four weeks!!

Swim: 3.25 miles, 2:02
Bike: 210.6 miles (plus some time on the trainer), 16:29:03
Run: 159.2 miles, 21:26:52