Monday, July 13, 2015

IMCDA race report 2015 (all about the heat and nothing about the course)

Race Report: IMCDA
June 28, 2015

Let’s begin with the end: I finished!

It was my 3rd slowest IM out of 4.
My marathon was about an hour and a quarter slower than I’d expected.
My feet were the most painful part of my body.
I was 4th in my AG but separated by only minutes from 2nd and 3rd.
It was, to quote the announcer, the HOTTEST IM he ever announced.
It was the hottest day in recorded history in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
My Garmin thermometer topped out at 107.8 on the second lap of the bike.
It was much hotter than any air I’ve ever been in during my 45 years on this planet.
I hate the heat.

Now, back to the start.

Since early 2015 I’ve been training thoroughly, with minor interruption, quite consistently and with no injury. In that time period I did one running race and one ski race. I swam indoors 2-3 times a week in the masters program. I utilized the snow and did some long ski training. I purchased a Wahoo Kickr and started using Zwift and rode both more volume and intensity than I ever have in my training. Spring found me strong and ready. Since the snow melted and the weather warmed I got five 100+ mile rides in addition to plenty of intensity. I did long running, track workouts, and hill running. I started swimming outdoors and got at least four solid lake swims. I had some promising brick workouts.

I was PRIMED for this event. If you know me, you realize I don’t say this kind of thing often. All of the elements have to align. They ALL were. The excitement was building and after the last big training weekend I smiled and knew I’d made it.

Around 10 days out I checked the weather. Double-checked. 100 degrees it said. What? No way. Impossible. Had to be wrong. This started the overly checking. The only thing that happened while I kept looking time after time was that it got hotter. The forecast rose up to 107 degrees. 107!!! That’s crazy talk. I don’t even know what that feels like. People said weather changes fast in CDA. Well, it didn’t. As a matter of fact that heat wave stayed stuck right there on the weather report with the single hottest day, of course, slated for Ironman Sunday.

One important thing to know about me: hot weather and I disagree. I had a childhood in NH, adolescence in AK, college in VT, a stint in the Rockies and then settled in ME. See? All colder climates. I melt in heat. My physiology just works that way. I sweat a lot, my temperature rises and my central governor responds quickly with a feeling of tiredness. Why did I pick the Coeur d’Alene IM? I wanted to train in cooler weather and RACE in cool, dry weather. It’s my element.

So, this weather report? It was the only thing left that could really go wrong and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

I tried a shortened sauna protocol, but was really too late to be gaining from it.
There were grumblings that the race would be cancelled or shortened. I borrowed an ice hat. I bought cooling sleeves. I listened to advice from coaches and friends about dealing with the heat. I’ve already read everything I could get my hands on last summer when I wanted to try and beat the heat in a 10K. A 10K!! Ha! That’s nothing. Try 140.6 miles in HOT.

We get to CDA. It’s hot. So hot it is oppressive walking to the race venue. The air feels like a sauna. It’s only 90 degrees.

Race day dawns. No cancellation. No words other than, be smart, hydrate, listen to your body. Hmm. Time to race I guess. My mantra is SURVIVE. I’ve had dozens of texts from friends and family. Some are like this: “Carrie, you don’t really need to do this.” Or like this: “Hey, there are other races. Please don’t hurt yourself.” And the email: “I heard they might cancel the race.” What? (Is that optimism I feel?)
Anyway, I tuck into the back third of the front swim corral. I’ve never done a rolling start and I’m kind of looking forward to it. The gun goes, the people move. Into the water and off we go and I’m not doing the freak out panic swim like a sardine thing, but I am strategically finding feet and trying to keep with them. There are people all around me still but it doesn’t have the same madness. I’ve decided to keep this day steady and ‘peaceful’ and so I just make a game of following feet. There are certainly a lot of them to choose from. The first lap just kind of rolls on by, we stand up, run the beach, and lap two begins. This one feels like it goes faster (it doesn’t really) but it’s also HOT, almost uncomfortably so in my wetsuit and I am more than ready to get out of there. I jog up the beach, have to sidestep past a few people, and into the women’s tent where there is literally no one. I have a cadre of volunteers, who practically dress me, spray me with sunscreen and send me on my way. Quickly I’m on the bike and heading off into the unknown.

Confession: I did not preview the course. Yes, I read old race reports and looked at the map and elevations but really that’s nothing like looking at it. So, it’s a bit of an adventure! First part is out by the lake, a few little neighborhood roads and turns, some small hills, nothing too remarkable. The air feels ok now. Dry and warm, but not oppressive. I have a plan to ride closer to my usual pacing in the first loop hoping to catch the ‘cooler’ air, and then drop it down while the heat cranks up. That’s what I do.
Most of this goes fine in the first loop. I’m front loading Gatorade, counting the bottles as I consume, grabbing new ones at every aid station and starting my regular consumption of power bars. I’ve done Osmo preload both the night before and some the morning of the event. I’ve eaten a breakfast that looks more like baby food. I’m stocked! But hey, it’s a hot ironman so it’s eat, drink, pedal, say hi to some people, check out the rather unappealing highway section of the course, observe that the hills seem bigger than I expected and keep at it. Notable things: the motorcycle officials gave me a thumbs up and cheered me on later, one guy from Germany asked me if I was a professional, I made clean bottle swaps except for one, when I got the gatorade, tried to balance it on my arm rest to grab another and empty out an old bottle, and nearly crashed. Otherwise, all good. Second loop, heat is cranking up. Out on the highway I’m imagining a desert. It actually feels like my lungs are burning in some spots. I can’t really remember how many bottles I’ve had. Was that 7? 8? I’m popping some salt and at mile 80 I get to go for the caffeinated power gels which gives the happy lift for the last part of the bike. I coast into town feeling fine. No 80-mile misery. No stomach issues. Sure, hot, but fine. I feel like I’ve just finished a training ride.

Transition. My family is cheering. That makes me happy. I’m in no rush. I shuffle into the tent and in a more leisurely than usual way, change into running shoes, get the once again very helpful volunteers to fill my hat with ice, and to dump water on my head. My banana has literally rotted in my bag while it sat in transition. It went from bright yellow to brown thanks to the heat. It is like a cooked banana inside. I collect myself and off I go. I realize that I haven’t peed at all. That’s not good. I’m able to hit the port-o-pot and go, but it’s not much and that concerns me. Anyway, I start the run. First mile, 8:35 pace and my heart rate is at threshold. Yes, threshold. I feel like I’m sprinting! I make it to aid station #1 and I stop. I walk through, new ice in sleeves, ice in shirt, ice in hat, water all over body, eat salt. Some new salt company gives me this little tube of salt and tells me to put my thumb over the end, shake it, put the salt inside my cheek- twice every aid station. I try one and it dumps out all over my hand. I’m a salty mess. I keep going. There aren’t that many people out there yet, and enough are walking that I do some too. The big hill just appears and the guy in front of me walks up, and I walk up. I feel like I’m in some reality show.
The bulk of the run can be summed up briefly: Shuffle walk jog to aid stations, dump as much ice and water on myself as possible, drink some Gatorade, continue. Go through every hose, be sprayed by water guns, take every single opportunity to get cooled. I had ice in my hat all day. Volunteers at every stop added more. I wasn’t thinking ‘fast’, I was thinking finish. Every time I jogged my heart rate shot up. Even walking it never went below 125.

Through all of this my head was clear. I laughed at jokes. I chatted with people. On the second lap my calves began to cramp. I must have been delirious because it was the most painful thing and I had to walk each time to get them to stop as they were within one millisecond of seizing up. I could see the muscle bulging through the skin. There was nothing I could do but walk, try to relax them and keep at it. Like I said, ice, water, walk, jog, cramp, ice, water, clif bloks, salt tabs, water… I don’t know. In the second lap I have no idea what I ate. I had so much salt. I had Clif bloks. My whole plan was blown. It was a march to finish.

A note on volunteers and people on the course: they MADE the day. I mean they were out there in the heat too and happy as ever. I had so much ice and water dumped on me, sprinklers to run through, hoses squirting me that I went from wet to starting to dry to wet again. I’m convinced all of that saved me.

When I hit the part to turn off for the finish it was suddenly an empty street. One guy was a little in front of me. His hamstring was cramping. I watched him run, stop, grab his hamstring, hobble, run, repeat… I made an enormous effort to run the last 8 blocks and through the finish. My calves were threatening revolt, but I did it. The finish line was like a mirage in the distance. I started to smile because in some hilarious way, I’d overcome my own personal kryptonite to succeed. I crossed that line, celebrated the moment and went around to see my family.

I can’t eat right after races. They do a number on my digestive system. I walked out to the grass and sat down with my kids and Tom. I was almost in disbelief. Happy, but crazed. As I sat there soaking in the moment, a sudden nausea swept in. Powerful. SO powerful. I was going to… yup. I started heaving into the grass and lo and behold there was a lot of orange Gatorade with lumps of Clif blok. I couldn’t stop though- someone went and got a medic who walked me to the medical tent where I sat, shaking, sipping ice water by a giant fan and trying not to heave again. I was in good company. The place was starting to take in lots of vomiting, shaking, dehydrated people. I cooled a bit and hobbled back, found my family and somehow made it back to the hotel, which was right next to the finish line. So much for the next 12 hours. I was so sick I could not eat but kept sipping water, slowly, trying to rehydrate. The nausea lingered for three days!

Oh, and my feet. I’d never ever been in a race where so much water was dumped on me. Melting ice means wet feet for almost 5 hours. They were trashed. Every toenail hurt. The bottoms of my feet were in agony. Lesson learned. Better socks and different shoes in hot, long races.

So, I’m not disappointed in my performance. Upon reflection, I’m pleased. I’ve never, ever in 25 years of endurance racing, dropped out of a race. I was prepared to do so during IMCDA but I didn’t. My swim was good, my bike was good, and my run was a lesson in perseverance and cooling.

When I learned, after the race, that I was fourth in my AG, my attitude changed a bit. After two Kona qualifiers that I turned down, I planned to take this one and the top 3 went. Only minutes separated me from 2 and 3. Could I have made up minutes on that run? Probably. On the other hand, my goal for the day was to survive, so at no time was I even thinking about my overall time. I had no idea how long I’d even been racing. Still, missing a spot, in the hottest IM ever for the heat hating northerner was a little hard to take.

The silver lining of the race was that I have reconfirmed that just about everything is possible. I did not really know that I could even function at this temperature, and yet, I did. I got through mild delirium, the only cramps I’ve ever had racing (in my life), ruining my feet and 108 degrees of HOT.

So after that day, we drove to Montana and went hiking in Glacier National Park. That puts it all into perspective. After 3 days the little aches and pains were gone and other than my pathetically painful blisters and toenails, I was good.

Tiny space for thanks here, because no Ironman finisher is an island. Maine may have some inhospitable weather for triathlon training, but it also has some of the greatest people. I had the best swimmers to help me train in the pool and the lake (thanks Cheryl and Cape Masters), some amazing cyclists to keep me hammering away on the streets (thanks to Dawn Patrol including Ted who kindly let me drag him on some early season long rides and my Zwift companions from all over the world and right here in Maine), and some of the fastest female runners in the state (much appreciation to Erin and Mary for kicking my ass up Mountain Road and reminding me that the amount I run is really nothing when compared to them). I also thank my longtime coach and colleague Kurt Perham of PBM Coaching who always reminds me to keep my head in the right place and tells it like it is 100% of the time. Thanks to my family for letting this ironman dictate a family vacation, and then being the greatest supporters on race day. Finally, thanks to Skratch Labs who appointed me as a Taste Agent meaning I get to consume delicious things while I bike and run. The raspberry energy chews rule!

OK, until next time!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Race Report: the drama of AG Nats 2014

Race Report: USAT AG Nationals Miluakee, WI August 2014 “America’s Dairyland”
(This recounting is all about me, my injury and my flat tire so don’t read it for course descriptions. That is a different race report.)

Carrie McCusker
PBM Coaching #coach #athlete

This story starts a few weeks before the race, at the last regular game of the ultimate summer league season in Cumberland. Long story short, lots of covering someone who loved to cut, and post-game noting that my left achilles and calf felt tweaked. This was quite concerning because as I’d been saying every time I showed up to play ultimate, “I am in really, really good shape right now so I can NOT get hurt”. Well, I was hurt. A little. So I iced it and rubbed it and decided that I’d just be ‘careful’. Two days later was the summer league tournament so after a 50 mile ride, I headed up to lace the cleats for the last time. I stayed smart, played moderately, nothing stupid. It was sore, but I adjusted my stride a little and kept at it. When the games ended I decided I was ok, it was going to heal, I’d be fine. Now, two weeks from race date and one week from local big 10K race date, I had a week of swimming, biking and just a little bit of running, including an evening of 400s on the track. Again, the achilles hurt when I started but felt better running. It hurt a lot after though, so I iced and hoped for the best. Included in the week was a ‘streaker’ party. Anyone who ran all 16 B2Bs and was signed up to run again was invited. We all joked how we would crawl the 10K if needed. I didn’t recognize this as foreshadowing.

My goal for the 10K was to go around a 6:50 pace. I’d been on a long road to getting some run speed back and was feeling great. 6:50 is not near a PR for the course, but it would be totally adequate if I reached that goal. I thought I could do it, and I had a plan that included picking up speed on the long downhill to mile 4.5. Everything was going as expected until I got to about 3.5, just at the start of the downhill when my left achilles and calf just seized up. In 30 years of racing I’d never had anything happen in a race and this one presented a mental conundrum. Should I stop? I had an important race the next weekend. But I had to finish, it was my 17th, the streak needed to live! I tried running on the heel, the side of the foot, the toe, hopping, jogging…nothing worked. The pain was intense. So I just kept going, at a slower jog, every step a sharp pain. I stopped pushing off the toe at all and it helped a little, enough that I could keep going forward. The whole time I was having these mental battles with myself. I crossed the finish line and went straight to the medical tent. Ice. Hobble. Get a ride home.

Now I had one week to my A race and I couldn’t walk on my left foot. I elevated. Iced. Arranged a series of visits with my PT and extraordinary friend Tim Davoren. I had three days before I flew out to do therapy. Tim did everything including bruising my entire calf, taping, ultrasound, scraping, reminding me of my mortality… To summarize this time with Tim, he did everything anyone could ever do to try and help me be able to shuffle the 10K of nationals. He even helped me pick two strategies for my stride that I should NOT do because I should NOT even be using it, but since he knows me better, he said they MIGHT work.

A note about me: I am stubborn. I know, hard to believe. Pain makes me want to go. If things get difficult, I get more focused. I am apt to work around an injury. Ask the doc’s at OA about cutting big breathing/sweat holes in my large cast when I badly fractured my radius. I tested a swim, it felt ok. I just couldn’t push off the wall. I tested a ride, easy spinning, and it felt ok. That was it. We had tickets, we had a Midwest road trip planned. Our kids were flying to MN for youth ultimate Nationals while we were flying to Milwaukee for triathlon, and then we would drive to watch their second day of play. I was going. Whether or not I could finish remained to be seen.

There are something like 3700 people at Nationals. It’s a scene. It’s a city. It takes a lot of walking to take care of getting your stuff, racking your bike, checking out the venue. I limped through it. Friday worked out well. The lines were not terrible, I was able to check in and get out to swim the course during the practice swim. The water was warm, the course was contained, I felt very good. I saw that there was a steep somewhat slippery ramp exit with a long, paved path to transition. That was concerning with my injury. I found my rack. It required quite a bit of barefoot jogging to get to. I racked my bike and we left the scene to go chill out, eat, ice the foot.

Race morning was easy. Short course racing doesn’t stress me out. Long course does, because I have to think about all of the fueling and hydration and what ifs. Short course is simple, you go, you hydrate a bit, you crank. The only worry I had was my achilles/calf. When I woke up I made a mental note that this was it. I had to test the leg. I put on some warm up running shoes and did a little dynamic warm up in my hotel room before heading out to the race venue. There was no more time to dwell on what-ifs. I got right in transition, set out my gear including socks (gasp) which I had to give myself a firm talking to about wearing because I knew the shoes I was wearing (heavy, cushiony) would rip my feet apart, and pumped up my tires. I used the little crack pipe as they called it to access the valve in my disc wheel. It was a little finicky but it seemed like I got the appropriate amount of air into the tire. (remember later, I did not get enough air!) We walked a little distance from the crazy scene and there were grassy stretches of lawn so I did a set of jogging/strides. I pushed the foot a little and it was ok. Of course this was a 10 second stride on grass, but still. I blocked out anything negative, pain, etc. and got ready to go race.

The weather was perfect. Sunny. Not too hot. I checked out the competition in my wave. At Nationals there is a lot! As is my custom, I got in the front section of the pack entering the corral and headed down onto the docks.

Nationals are fun because there are so many other women that are thinking along the same lines that I am. They want to crank. It was a ittle bit of a drag to stand there and know that I wasn’t going to be able to really go all out, but hey, I was there so it was what it was. The dj was playing tunes from the era of the athlete wave about to go. We got some Led Zeppelin which was decent. Then, a minute before the wave start they played this ominous sounding music that made you think of a horror movie, right before something bad happens. We sort of laughed, everyone found their spots and with the boom of the cannon we were off.

I’m used to getting hacked in the swim. I got hacked. Here is the evidence:

That’s me, just about in the center looking like I’m squeezed out from the two people slightly in front of me and on my sides, because I was! They converged and I had nowhere to go.

It was ok, I just chilled out with some feet in front and got in the groove. Soon I was at the ramp and hobbling up and onto the path. It felt like I was jogging, a little crooked, but I knew this was the plan so I just let it unwind. I made it to the bike without any terrible pain and I was off.

The bike was uneventful at first. The course, after leaving the main area, is boring. The roads are flat and there is a neighborhood with very little to look at that seems to go on for a while. The rest is a lane of a major highway. I was passing people like crazy and I wasn’t really cranking. In retrospect, it seems there was potential to go harder. Anyway, on I went until somewhere around mile 21- pop- ssssss- my back tire was flat. I’d literally hit a tiny divet. What? This is where the mental game got interesting. First it was swearing and shock. There was the lamentation that this was not fair- here I was with an injury and now a flat? There was this desire for it to just go away. Then there was the process of trying to figure out what to do while berating myself for not carrying a tube. It went something like, “Stupid. Why didn’t you just carry a tube? Because, it’s a new wheel and it would take me 20 min to change. You don’t know that! You never tried! Yea, but who cares, it would be long enough that my time would be so bad what would be the point. Maybe someone can loan me a tube. Yea right, would YOU loan someone in a tube in the last few miles of the nationals bike course? No….”
At this point I start watching people flying by me while I soft pedaled. I kind of asked a guy if I could have his tube and of course he didn’t even look at me. I was invisible. People were at Nationals! So then I kept pedaling and started to think maybe I could just keep going carefully and make it back. That was a long couple of miles wondering if something bad was going to happen or if I’d make it. There was one big climb up the bridge with a spectacular view of Lake Michigan, and then a descent down the other side and into transition. I could see the tents in the distance. Maybe I could make it! I rolled the final stretch, there was one right hand turn and I felt my back wheel slide against the pavement but I caught myself, jumped off and headed into transition. A guy saw me right before dismounting and yelled, “You have a flat!” Um, yea, right you are.

Anyway, transition was fine, I pulled on the granny shoes and set off at a very painful gait. Now since writing this report , I’ve raced again on the bum leg. The achilles still hurts. But in my recent race I felt fantastic- great energy even though my gait was affected. At Nationals, I felt terrible. Breathing was bad. It was all a struggle. The shoes felt heavy. My stride was gone to hell. I just kept going. I mean that was it, keep going; 6.2 miles of wondering if I’d pull something, end up walking, severely damage myself. The exciting moment was seeing Tom after mile 1 and telling him about my flat. It was too crazy. I had a flat! I’ve never had a flat in a race and it had to happen here! Argh.

I hate to say it but some strong women in my AG passed me in that last 2 miles of misery. A lot of them actually. There was nothing to be done about it. So when I came down the final stretch and crossed the finish line, I was just in awe that a week after a somewhat crippling injury, there was a finisher's medal around my neck. We laughed it off. I was just happy to have been able to finish.

That’s not really true though. I was pissed that I got a flat and quite frankly, racing at the nationals when you could be playing with the big dogs but instead have an injury, sucks. I made the best of it, took my spot to Chicago Worlds in 2015, but none of it was easy. I told myself I’d be happy to finish. But I really wasn’t entirely. I didn’t like being 15th.

OK, that’s not a pleasant sounding ending. I WAS happy to be done. The spot to Chicago was a thumbs up. My main man and I were off to drink a margarita and road trip to MN, and the sun was out. My ankle was the size of a grapefruit and squishy with fluid and I didn’t care.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Racing: 70.3, Texas Style

Austin 70.3 Race Report October 27, 2013 I signed up for the Austin 70.3 6 weeks before race date. The good (not) folks at the Miami 70.3 can be thanked for this as they refused my deferral from 2012 because I hadn’t signed papers they never gave me. Anyway, bitterness aside it was actually exciting to be heading to a new place. Reports on Austin were great, it seemed like everyone who had been, loved it and anyone who hadn’t wanted to go. We stayed downtown in Austin at a hotel the race organizers recommended, the W Hotel. It was the only one on the list that wasn’t out by the airport. The hotel was fab, so I was happy with the decision. Unfortunately, the race venue was about 30 min away at Decker Lake, through the ranchy lands of Texas. The distance wasn’t the problem, it was traffic that slowed the flow. Apparently the popularity of Austin is leading to some issues with the infrastructure. More than once I used the GPS to plot a course around the main routes to get to my destination. That brings me to race morning. The reviews of the race suggest you go early because there are only a couple of roads that lead to the parking/finish area, so while parking is plentiful, getting there is not easy. In the dark of the morning, our route took us “the back way”. It was smooth sailing until we discovered they were blocking every other route to the start, forcing cars to take one way in. We were early enough, and it was dark so we went around one barrier, my driver dropped me off right at the start area and he went off to join the flow of cars to the shuttle/finish/parking. I had plenty of time to look over my bike, load up my water bottles, hit the head and stand around. I was texting Tom, who was stuck in a massive line of cars trying to get to the parking area. Swimming was not allowed due to darkness with the late sunrise, so I just hung out and waited. The shuttles were dropping people off there was a flow of athletes coming in waves to the transition area to get settled. As race time drew closer the announcers began reminding people the transition area would be closing. It became obvious that many, many athletes were still arriving on shuttles. Word from some was that they waited over an hour in traffic to get to the race site. It was really disappointing to listen to the annoyance of transition area staff. They almost did not let in the last load of athletes because it was ‘closed’. Finally a decision was made to delay the race 15 minutes so that everyone could get in to their bikes quickly. I felt really bad for those athletes arriving late. It wasn’t their fault. Come to find out, someone in the traffic control area had blocked too many roads, so all the cars were stuck on one route making it impossible for people to get to the shuttle. At no point did it seem like the race organizers were showing any remorse or responsibility for this, and I know, if I’d been sitting in that traffic I would’ve been out of my mind. The stress level would’ve been so amped I don’t know how I could’ve raced well.

Anyway, race start finally rolled around. The weather was wonderfully overcast and cool. A thunderstorm had slid away over the early morning hours. I did 15 min of jogging and hill repeats on an empty road by the race area. I was warm, ready. The women in my wave lined up, we got into the water (warm-ish) and I took front row ON the start line buoy. Prime position. No fear. A duck swam right in front of us pre-start, which was sort of surreal. Then the cannon sounded and we were off. Immediately I felt great. How often can I say that? It’s like everything was perfectly lubed, nothing hurt, air went in and out smoothly. My arms felt light, I had great purchase on the water with each pull, my lungs were full with plenty of O2. The woman who lined up next to me was in a sleeveless suit as were many others, but it made it easy to spot her and her blue cap so I just kept swimming hard, keeping her in sight. It was easy to go until we started catching other waves, which happened quickly, and it took a bit of weaving and dodging to navigate the throngs. Still I maintained a mostly direct line to the right of the buoys. They have a lot of buoys at this race, which is GREAT. I came out of the water with sleeveless suit woman and we ran up the long grassy incline to transition. The wetsuit strippers rocked. I had 2, one got the sleeve over my Garmin and the other made sure my chip was under and they yanked that thing off so fast. I was grateful. Another note, race officials warned about ‘goatheads’, spiky burrs that apparently pop tires all the time. Rain earlier in the morning meant they were knocked onto the ground. They also warned about your feet- one burr in your foot means a bad race day. So, I jogged gingerly up that slope, hoping…. into the slightly muddy transition area (no shoes on pedals unless you are a pro), pulled on my helmet and shoes, threw my bike over my shoulder (don’t roll it until the road) and off I went. Sleeveless woman was right by me in the racks, so I saw I beat her out of transition. I suppose we looked a bit like a cyclocross race at that point. All good and fine until I realized that the mud in my cleats wasn’t coming free and my shoes wouldn’t clip into the pedals. While I rolled, kept reaching down and pulling on them with my fingers, banged them on the pedals and finally the right one clicked in. The left one wouldn’t, I kept riding and periodically trying to pull mud out. I was quite dirty. Finally it went in. Shortly after I saw a person with a hose spraying people’s feet. That might have been wiser a little earlier. Anyway, time to get in the zone. The roads felt a little slippery so I did a reality check (Carrie, you don’t know what roads are like in Texas, this feels slippery, slow down). I took the corners carefully at first. Later I heard the slick roads took out some pros, there were some ripped suits and bloody road rash to be seen on the run. I remained unscathed.

Notables from the ride: I was using a new Nathan aero bottle. I couldn’t fit my Garmin on its’ bracket so I kept in on my wrist. It bumped the bottle and switched to transition just around 4 miles in, so I had to reset the entire watch, put it on bike mode, and just left it there for the rest of the race. The roads were rough. Texas uses chipseal on some of the surfaces. This can only be explained as the kind of bumpy that rattles your brain, neck and water bottle. My bottle ejected itself from the aero bracket once (caught) and then the whole bracket popped off (saved). I’ve since returned the Nathan bottle with some suggestions for improvement. Due to that bottle, I assume I drank around 2 full bottles of Powerbar Perform but who knows, because there was fluid spraying from the bottle on the bumps. In hindsight, I did not pee for 8 hours, so that means…..? I tried to enjoy the ride. Similar to the effortless nature the swim, my legs felt like air, I could pedal harder, it didn’t matter. The course is NOT hilly like they say, rather it does roll a little bit but with an overall elevation gain of around 700 feet you can understand there is no serious climbing. I probably got off the aerobars once or twice very briefly. That’s a lot of bumpy, aero riding. I looked for cattle, none. I looked for cacti, 2. I saw no sunflowers. I saw one flash flood area with a measurement sign that went up to 8 feet. Yikes. I watched one guy cheat worse than I’ve ever seen anyone cheat, he drafted off another guy forever. I watched them on the long, flat roads for a long time, he just floated back there. That pissed me off. By around half way I’d passed most people since I was the 4th wave. I passed two pro women. I was alone fairly often. It wasn’t bad, just not particularly exciting, but that was ok. No flats, no problems other than the water bottle. I was happy to come into the transition area and get on with the run.

Imagine transition 2 as you’d imagine Texas big. With around 2300 people in this race, the second transition area stretched out very, very far. I knew roughly where I’d hung my bag the day before but now visualize a long rack with bags that all look the same and a slightly light headed person who just swam and biked clunking along in bike shoes on pavement. There was no one in the area. Literally. Well, one other guy by me found his bag. I wandered down feeling like it was a dream. I started counting down the numbers on the rack. I needed an identifying mark, but it was just bag after bag. Finally I found where my bag should be, sort of, there was some old numbering too, but I pulled open the bag on my number and it wasn’t mine! Panic. Luckily mine had just been slid a little, and finally, I found it. Stuffing my helmet and shoes in the bag I put on my socks, (biked barefoot- too muddy and warm) and shoes, race belt and visor and stuffed some salt pills into the leg of my shorts. Off I went. Now my legs did not feel light and fresh. My high hamstrings felt like they were pulled tight. My stride was short. Mentally, the thought of three laps of this treeless, slightly humid course was bringing me down. All the pros were on the course when I started, lap two. I had no data from my Garmin so my plan was just to run how I felt. I do that anyway, so it didn’t really matter although early on I would’ve liked to see what that was coming out as. I felt very slow, and in retrospect I was not very slow at first, so if I could’ve seen that data it would’ve helped. I pulled my Rev 3 visor down low and just went to that blank place where it is possible not to think about the fact that there is 13 miles of this ahead and ran. I took salt, did the combo of sports drink, water on the head at the aid stations, added in some coke at mile 8, and ate my Clif Bloks as I went. My legs were just not zippy in any way. It’s ok. They were moving. By lap three, (HOORAY!) the course was packed. It’s a funny course, part of it on the trails by the lake, the rest on open road. The hilly climb back to the finish area sucks but at least all the people are there to cheer. When I climbed the last time, I was slow. At that point part of me didn’t care, I had no sense of whether someone else was near me. I was just going. It was so crowded and of course some people walked. It was different than when I was out there with the pros, whose performance inspired me to go faster. I got to the split for lap/finish and entered a wide, empty run. NO ONE was there. All alone I ran, I looked back over my shoulder and no one! So, I enjoyed it. No rush. The race ends INSIDE a stadium. They open the big door and have people run in. Novelty I suppose, but it was so empty because I was rather early so it felt a little hollow. A handful of people cheered, I crossed the line, and that was the day.

Very quickly I hit the massage table and because there wasn’t a long line, I got a fantastic rub down that I think took the edge off my calves, neck, back and hamstrings. I won my AG by around 6 minutes. I was 10th amateur female. I beat a few pros. All good. Really, the reason I am most happy with this race is that I worked hard to get there. I started the season hurt, I struggled with plantar fasciitis (I still have it), my stride was rough. In July I had an ultimate Frisbee fall that left me with a concussion and a back injury that had me in the ER. Coming back from all of this required a dedicated focus. It was really, really hard at first. Everything hurt. I dotted the “i”’s and crossed the “t”’s . I dropped to race weight. I pushed through some really hard workouts that were not always what I wanted to see. Runs where I couldn’t hit the pace. Rides where I felt the lack of summer riding. Swimming when it hurt to push off the wall because of my back injury. I signed up for a few running races and tris to make myself go to that place of pain, whether or not I liked the result of the race. I kept a good attitude. Methodically I stuck with it, I didn’t quit.

Others deserve thanks. I did the work, but I would not have without them. My long time coach Kurt who among other things, at key moments put up workouts that I didn’t think I could even do- which helped carry me through that patch from injury to fitness. Colleen Monroe, chiropractor to the stars, sent me off for x-rays and talked sense into me when I was concussed, saved me from a drawn out injury. The boys who bike with me, well there is no way I go out for a 60 mile ride or an early morning interval workout without that motivation. Thanks to Jeanette and the masters program at the Kiwanis pool and my swim buddies who show up to suffer gloriously. And Eric and my Cape masters pals, to suck chlorinated air and crack ourselves up for the last few weeks of my swim training. Of course the runners too, super fast Erin dragging me up to run with Joanie and the fastest women, where all I can do is hope to hang on the back and survive. I loved all of this. To me it is what makes sport great. We have ups and downs but we persevere. To be as low as you can be, hurt, out of shape, daunted by the tasks ahead, and to step by step, obliterate the obstacles that are keeping you down. The results aren’t always exactly what we want, but the journey that takes us there is of as much relevance as our success as the end.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

White Mountain Classic 30K January 26, 2013

The day of the race rolled around after a week of COLD temperatures. It promised to stay chilly with temperatures reading '0' as I headed into the Mt. Washington Valley. The morning began inauspiciously with a searing headache that seemed to have haunted me off and on through nearly three weeks of being 'sick'. I medicated with a gigantic cup of coffee sipped over the course of my drive to Jackson. I have come to these decision points with racing in particular, where I make the decision to do it despite what I could call legitimate excuses, and then put on blinders and block out any negative thoughts or questions. It was a good way to start this particular day because somewhere in my muddled brain I put the drive at around 1:25 which is about 30 minutes UNDER actual even driving like an insane person down mostly empty roads. My adrenalin fired up as the clock ticked away and I zoomed along. Pulling into Jackson just shy of 9am gave me enough time to get my bib, hit the bathroom, pull on my ski boots and head out. The guys at BNS had already waxed my skis with some mixture of magic powder topped with binder and Universal kick wax which they thought would work. I trust them, so I decided it would work. It had to, because there was no time to go messing with it. Donning my puffy coat, I stripped down to my racing tights, wore the fat lobster mitts and a Smartwool neck warmer and took my insulated bottle of warm Powerbar Perform over to the golf course start area. The announcer was chatting away and people were in various states of preparation. It was cold! But the sun was out and there was no wind which was a definite improvement over other years. I had about 5 minutes to 'test' my skis and felt I was already warm because of the sweat I'd worked up driving there. Warming up seems to be no problem for me; I can be at full tilt in a very short period of time.
The course was a fun one. Start with a loop and a half around the golf course letting everyone sort themselves out a bit, cross the road, then meander through the golf course a bit more and head into the woods for the rather lengthy and steep climb up the Eagle Mountain fields. At the top, one more road crossing and then 3 laps that consisted of some rather vigorous ups and downs on the Wave (serious stuff) and a mega amount of double poling all around the fields finishing with a steep little climb towards the Eagle Mountain House and then down for a repeat.
I lined up in the front third not wanted to repeat the experience of a few weeks back when I raced a 5K skate with the college women on the Wave and I politely slowed down and let so much of the pack in front of me that it necessitated herring bone for nearly 1kilometer. I didn't want to get stuck, but I also didn't want to get run over because the key point here is that I had not been on my classic skis for TWO YEARS, which marked the last time I did this race. That is probably not good training, right? Here's the funny thing, this happens every year. And somehow, I go out and bust my ass and finish somewhere in the top 4-7. Every time. And the thing is, nordic skiers generally SKI a lot. I look at the people around me and they are from Vermont and the mountains of NH and they are coaching skiing or training on snow... But I swim, bike and run with occasional strength thrown in. This year I did actually skate ski four times before the race including one race, so I guess that was an improvement. The gun went off and it was the usual mass mayhem of people double poling, tracks reduce and athletes are left on the edge or jumping into the track in front of someone else. It was a polite start though, patience ruled, so everything went off well. Minus a little side stepping and a few jerky spots it was no time before we crossed the road and headed towards the climb that always hurts more than any other part of the course. I had to hit it with a little 'V' because I was slipping a tiny bit and about half way up the first hill noticed that I was sucking mega wind and I could feel the cold sear of it in my lungs. Ouch. We worked pretty hard up the hills and with great happiness saw the road crossing and at that point I went into my deep breath, relax, time to go mode. The first lap was solid. I worked it hard, the uphills of the Wave were rough and a V run was required in spots. Luckily my pro downhill/cornering skills are quite useful on the technical nature of the loop and also, I'd done the loop three times when I was in Jackson a few weeks back to race. My skis felt really fast and light and so all was well. Passed through the feed station two times before heading back into a second lap. Drinking with big mitts is hard, so I didn't bother yet. Second lap, settle. Seemed all good, climbing, tucking, working. Back into the fields, double pole madness, skipped the drink again and headed back up for the last mega climb. This is where arm fatigue became a factor. My triceps were crying. Every time my ski slipped out behind me I jammed the poles in for traction. It required a re-focus on core, clearing my mind and pulling my hips forward to keep from kicking out the back. On the third lap I was passing slower people who were on their earlier laps and as I side stepped one guy I just caught an edge and fell forward. My arms went out in front and I landed in push-up position and felt my arms scream. I almost couldn't push myself back up. This is somewhat humorous as it is happening... the voice in my head is going on about how stupid that was and how maybe if I trained some I wouldn't be having this problem. Anyway, I did get up and kept going but fatigue was there, no doubt. I did grab a drink the next time through the aid station and it was almost hot and felt so good going down. Addressing nutrition on these longer efforts would make sense. Eating anything while out in the cold and moving forward seems impossible. A friend showed me GU all over her front after the race, apparently she tried to eat it and had minimal luck. Last part of the golf course, there I was double poling as hard as I could. Snaking behind me I could see a few guys, one from Maine who I knew, and I just didn't want them to catch me so I kept at it. The last time up the nasty hill to the Eagle Mountain House required a rather deep dig into my Self, but after that big DOWN, tuck and finally the Lap/Fin sign- always my favorite to turn to the fin side and say good bye. There were still a few K left, but they involved some scary down hills (the ones we had to come up first) and did I snowplow down one of them? Yes I did. A few seconds of that is better than falling. Emerging onto the golf course I put whatever was left in the tank and flew on over to the finish. 1:44:54. The first Maine Nordic finisher, first in my AG and 7th woman overall. The young people win. I think they train too. As always, Nordic skiing rocks. It's all about being super smart and reading the terrain, maximizing glide and technique, breathing deep and just pulling every ounce of muscular power and endurance from your body. That said, I was useless the rest of the day. Sign of good race.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ironman Mont Tremblant 2012

The inaugural Ironman Mont Tremblant fell on August 19 this year. I signed up last year with the desire to figure out what sort of nutritional changes I could make to be coherent through the last half of the marathon. My training this season was different than in the past. I had less quantity and much more quality. I think I can safely say I did very little fluff along the way. Having done two Ironman races in the past the newbie effect was gone. I knew I could finish it and the key was figuring out how to go faster, and perhaps more importantly, to effectively fuel. Race morning dawned clear and chilly at 47 degrees. My friend Alison and I planned to head to transition at 5am, get marked, stock our bikes and then head back to our rooms for stretching, bathroom, final prep- and then to make our way to the swim start at 6:15am. All of this went well. I loaded my three bike bottles with Powerbar Perform, pumped my tires with a borrowed pump (a little sketchy), got marked and headed back. There is something so simple about the Ironman distance race as everything is already there, packed and organized. At least that is the plan. At 6:15am after I stretched and chomped on a powerbar, we met back in the lobby to walk to the race start. We were in a massive flow of people down the road. It was insane. My adrenalin was starting to pump and I did my weave and duck and we wound our way to the beach, zipped up the suits, and went up to toe the water's edge. Having never done a beach start in an Ironman, I will admit now that I was petrified of what might happen when 2600 people charged into the lake on foot and dropped to horizontal. So that I didn't have to find out, we stayed in the front. The crowd was crazy! The military did a low flyover in an F16 for the start of the Pro wave. It was awesome. And then they did it again for the AG wave and we were off. I swam as fast as I could for about 50 strokes. People were all around me instantly. I found myself on male feet with no way to go around so several times I just chilled out and swam- telling myself that wasting energy to go around would be stupid. This went on nearly the entire way out to the turn buoy of this one lap course. I stayed a little wide on the buoy but it was all fine. Around the back side of the course and then around the next turn and I was on my way home. I felt rested and pumped so I played a little game, started passing people, catching feet, floating for a bit, passing a little more, until the end was in sight. It got very shallow so we had to stand up and run the last section. I was looking at the clock and seeing that I was in the 1:02 range, but the run through the water to the mat took long enough that I was just over 1:03. I was good with it- a PR even with the running in and out of the water. The jog up the chute to the transition area was long- but carpeted. Also crowded with people. The people lining the sides were insane. It was so loud and spectators were going crazy- I couldn't help but to smile and enjoy the run up. Once in the tent there was plenty of room. Volunteers grabbed my bag and actually put my socks on my wet feet and then my shoes. I probably should've done that myself, but I was buckling up my helmet and sticking nutrition in my pockets. Jogged out to my bike rack, couldn't find where it was, the racks near my bike were FULL which indicated that I was one of the early women in my AG out of the water (I was in the largest age group), and I took my bike and headed out onto the course. The course is awesome. It is made up of two out and back stretches which at first sounds a little boring, but not at all. The first section is all highway. An entire lane is closed down, the roads are well paved and wide. I did find that for much of that first section I had to do some coasting because frankly, many people ride like idiots. There were guys passing on my right, guys passing on my left then slowing a lot, guys riding in little packs... I saw a lot of motorcycles but not any violations being handed out. It was great when the first big hill came up on the return trip. It is very long and significant. That broke up the packs and I was finally able to start riding my own race. Could I have ridden this first 40 miles faster? Probably. But it would've been a lot of pounding pedals to escape reckless riders. I knew just about all of these guys were going to drop soon. There was one woman too, in pink compression calf sleeves who kept on passing me and had the worst pedal stroke. It was annoying, but I let her go a few times too and once we hit the big hills, I never saw her again. Anyway, after the highway you get this cute little excursion into a town which has a quaint main street you cycle down, then up this rather painful little hill, around a little lollipop and back through town. Apparently this was added because the town wanted the race to come through. It's a diversion and helps break up the 112 miles, so it's ok. After that you're on the hilly trip back toward the start. Of course you have to turn off and head out to the most difficult part of the course an out and back with some very serious climbs. As a person who loves to climb, I thought it was great but admittedly I was also loving my granny cassette that I put on for the race. I rode it all comfortably, nearly all in the saddle and enjoyed some free speed on the downhills. It's a bit like a rollercoaster so if you enjoy up and down over flat, it's the perfect course. And do it all again! Second time was great for me. I had the course just about to myself and rode exactly as I pleased and enjoyed lots of peace and quiet and eating and drinking. And the nutrition piece. I had set my Garmin alerts to remind me when to eat. And now I admit my biggest error. I set the alert wrong. It was going off to often. Suffice it to say I'd eaten everything minus one gel by 80 miles. I wasn't worried, I had extra in my pockets, but I was ill. My stomach felt disgusting and full. I had to back off for awhile which was also fine, but I did back off on my fluid intake which was actually essential as I was counting on my sodium from that source. I probably came up about 48oz short in the end. I was sort of laughing at myself out there once I figured out what had happened. The key for me was that my head was clear, my energy was solid, I was just a little, um, fat. Still, rode it all well until near the final turnaround when after a day of very 'gentle' shifting (my chain had been falling off the outside occasionally) my chain dropped off the outside!! I was rather irritated but hopped off, got all greasy and put the sucker back on and headed off again. That was my only mechanical issue. Probably about 1 minute worth of time lost. The ride back on that last stretch is absolutely fun plus you get to crank past all those athletes just riding up the big hills and feel smug and accomplished. I zipped into transition, volunteers grabbed my bike, I left my shoes on the pedals and started to 'jog' to the tent. My legs felt horrid. I'd been dealing with a significant hamstring problem so I was worried, but this felt more like hip flexors and tight hips with just a little bit of hamstring play right off the bike. I hobble jogged into the tent, popped on the running shoes I should not have worn (too new), grabbed a banana and set off. Quick pitstop, ate the banana and tried to ease the legs into the run. The first miles have hill- and I was hitting around 8:45 which was about a minute slower per mile than I'd hoped, but I just had to let the legs do what they could do. Very soon I noticed my head felt a tiny bit light so I popped some clif blocks. My fingers were tingling. This made me nervous. I pulled salt from my pocket and popped two at the first water stop. I drank at every stop- powerbar perform until around mile 20 when I added in Coke. I really drank some too. I felt better throughout the run, but my legs were definitely NOT planning on doing anything other than a rather pathetic plod along. At some points I focussed on picking up my knees and that helped but the hamstring was a little rough and that whole side was landing on the ground at a funny angle and I knew blisters were forming on those toes. Anyway, the key for me on the run was just to keep running and drinking and eating so I did. I had a plan to eat my shots every two miles and I did. The tingling in my fingers abated a bit and then would come back but it never got out of control and I kept my head clear the whole time. Going uphill was slow going, but again, kept up the run. So, I ran a 3:54 which in the end is a PR for me on the IM course and I am kind of amazed. The run course is forgiving in that you run about half of it on an old railway bed that is made up of some sort of hardpack gravel. Perfect surface and flat. Aid stations were stocked, volunteers in droves and plenty of stuff to go around. Because it is out and back twice you see people the whole time. I saw the pros go by. On my second lap many people were starting their first lap. That doesn't always work in my favor because they are often going slower so I have to keep on myself not to slow down too. The very end of the run is up a hill and then down a cobblestone path through town and it was totally cool and people were yelling like crazy making everyone feel like rockstars and I threw my hands in the air, saw my time of 10:39 and thought how the hell did I do that? A PR of over 30 minutes without ever digging deep into a pain cave and with actually ENJOYING the day. Two volunteers took me out of the finish area, I was a tiny bit wobbly and they handed me off to a young medic who was over the top kind and did not leave my side until she was totally sure I was OK, which I was, so I headed out to find my crew. The only downside to the day was my gut but this is nothing new for me. I can't eat for a long time after events like this. I'm always curious how people are sitting around eating pizza right after they race. I went back to my hotel, showered, started taking in water and put my feet up for a bit. A couple hours later I was better and went out to have a small amount of food, still not really hungry, and watch the midnight finishers. Totally rocking down there, we had a great time. Slept well that night, woke up the next morning and started eating non-stop for about 12 hours- raw and grilled vegetables, sushi, potato chips... weird things I was craving which I tend to just go with. And then the drive home. In summary: Do this race! Amazing in every, volunteers, party, location, course... The only thing that sucked was the dinner/meeting on Friday which I'd never do again as it took hours and hours and had to be in French and English and the food was minimal and poor and by the time they got to the info part, we were all zoned out. So, skip the dinner unless you've never been to an IM and you want to watch the same promo videos they show at every one. Two cool things at the meeting- the drummers- sweet! and this guy who did the 'original' Ironman in his cut-off denim shorts 34 years ago. And he raced on Sunday- 16 hours! He was great. I finished 3rd in my AG- only 2 minutes behind second (yes, easily could've made that up on bike) and 10 minutes off first. More than met my expectations. And perhaps most importantly, I really enjoyed the day.