Monday, July 28, 2008
While riding the Ironman loop Sunday, I stumbled upon this outside of Cross Plains in front of a farmhouse:
With that kind of support, how could you NOT finish the ride with a smile on your face?
Saturday, July 26, 2008
It is also so ironic that the person I stopped to help, Alili, is also coached by my coach ELF, AND we are both Michigan State Spartans. Yes, Spartans not Badgers. We didn't know it at the time but isn't it just a small, crazy world? I was glad to hear she finished the bike too. It sounds like it was a challenging day for both of us out there.
I've been ramping back up the training this week and I'm pleased to say it's going well. No recent stomach pain and my Dr. and I talk again next week. I'm back on course and have a 6 hour ride tomorrow followed by a huge 18+ hour week. It's time to get this train on the track...
Today my friend Johanna competed in the Castle Rock Triathlon up near Friendship, WI so Valencia and I got up early to head there and cheer her on. It was an extremely well run tri, with lots of first-timers which always makes it fun. There is a certain buzz in the air when the race has a lot of newbies. It's almost like the air is electric with a soup of nervousness, excitement, and anticipation. There was a lot of pre-race talk all around us like "Do I keep the buoys on the left or right? Where will I run out of the water? Where does the bike start go off?"
Here's a pic of Johanna and her husband Brian before the start.
Johanna was totally prepared and had a very strong race. Her goal was to beat her time from her first tri at Lake Mills in June, and she may have done it. We don't know for sure what her final time is, but it's close. She came in around 1:30. She had a technical situation on the bike course with her chain but she overcame it and bounced back as quickly as she could. Even though this is her first year, she is already kicking butt on all 3 disciplines. She even whizzed through transition in less time than I have ever gone! (Some people tell me that's actually not difficult to do based on my dilly-dallying tendencies) And another cool part? They were handing out medals at the end. I love medals. Some sprint tris don't hand them out and I think that's a shame. The t-shirt is nice, but at the end of the day the hardware represents such a sense of accomplishment and victory. Every race medal has a story.
After the tri, V and I did an open water swim in Castle Rock Lake which was fun because the water was warm and challenging because it was choppy. We were out there for 45 minutes trying not to get clipped by boats or jet skis and even though the water was green, we still had a good time. At least until we changed out of our suits and realized the green film was traveling with us...that was a little gross but easily rectified with a quick sponge bath.
On the way home we stopped in Wisconsin Dells for lunch then stopped to check out the missing Lake Delton. It was crazy to stand where a lake had once been. If you weren't following the story, Lake Delton basically disappeared during the flood season which is putting a serious strain on the tourist economy of the Dells. As we looked out into the empty mud field, Valencia was speechless. It was eerie and sad.
That's the week in a nutshell. I'm feeling recovered and ready for this next push to IMWI. 6 more weeks...
Sunday, July 20, 2008
The day had other plans for me.
On Saturday when I arrived I went straight to registration and packet pick-up. The expo was sharing a space with a fishing expo, so it was interesting...but packet pick-up was smooth and I jumped back in the car to drop my bike off at transition. I found Valencia just before she went into the lake for a quick swim, then again after. She reported that the water was cold -56 degrees - and the chop was crazy. I headed down to the water. Fog had settled into the beach and it was both eerie and beautiful at the same time. It was hard to see the buoys except for the 2 closest to shore and Lake Michigan was not happy. As the waves crashed into the shore I knew I had to get out there and swim. Experiences like this make you tougher, I told myself. I threw on my wetsuit and at the lifeguard's advice, I picked up a buddy to swim with. Maria and I finally stopped shaking long enough to swim from the first buoy to the second, and back. My feet hurt. My face hurt. After 20 minutes I got out and wrapped myself into a towel. It was not as scary as I thought it would be and with a proper warm-up in the morning, totally doable. But my stomach was aching and had been since Friday night. I hoped it was getting better. I drove back to the hotel before grabbing some dinner at Famous Dave's BBQ.
During the night my stomach ached on and off. I took some ibuprofen and went to bed.
The alarm went off at 4:20 and I practically jumped out of bed. Unlike other early morning wake-up calls, I woke up hungry and while the coffee was brewing I made a bagel with peanut butter and nutella and inhaled it. 15 minutes later I was on the road, sipping coffee and thinking it was a great day to race.
I arrived at 5:20 and immediately set up transition. I was ready to go. Then the race was delayed due to fog. And delayed again. Finally at 7:15 we were promised an 8am start time so we started walking down the beach to the start. It's a point to point swim, and when we arrived near the start Valencia and I put vaseline on our faces and feet (it's supposed to help against the cold) and got into the water. Our wave went off at 8:30, so we got in and out of the water a few times to do as much as we could to suppress the shock of the first few strokes of our swim.
Our wave was combined with another and it looked like at least 100 people were going off with us. By far the biggest wave I had ever been in which culminated in total chaos when we started swimming. I was hit so many times I lost count. One woman alone must've hit me 10 times before finally finding her own path to swim. I was starting to get irritated, but I can only hope she didn't realize she kept smacking me. Since the water was shallow, many people stopped swimming and started walking along the bottom. That made it even harder to find a good line to swim in - some feet were on the bottom, some kicking in front of my face...chaos!
About 1/2 way through the swim my stomach started hurting worse than before. I tried to ignore it and finished the swim with no problem. It went by quicker than I thought it would. I took my wetsuit off in the water this time which was great - much easier than waiting until transition. Johanna and Brian were cheering as I ran up into T1 as well as V's friends Kevin and Dexter.
I got out of transition as quickly as I could and just after I mounted my bike I knew something was wrong. My stomach suddenly became a ball of angry fire. The pain was sharp and the road was bumpy. Cracks were spaced out about every 8-10 feet and they seemed to go on forever.
I gritted my teeth. Each bump in the road felt like a personal attack. Waves of nausea were pouring over me, making me slightly dizzy. I cried silent tears on and off for the first 10 miles. The pain eclipsed everything around me. I gripped my bars as hard as I could to stay on the bike. It took every ounce of mental toughness I could muster to not turn the bike around and go back to transition. All I wanted to do was put the bike down, lay on the side of road, and close my eyes. Anything to make the pain stop.
In the meantime, I popped 3 advil and hoped for the best. An hour into the ride, the stomach pain wasn't constant anymore but any movement outside of my current position on the bike caused it to come back. I pushed on. The pros were passing me on the left side of the road, heading back into town for T2. A few smiled at me as I pedaled along. Maybe they could see the pain on my face or maybe they were just being friendly. Their riding seemed flawless and effortless and I used the mental image to keep me going.
I got passed...a lot. My average speed hovered around 14 mph. Ironically, my legs felt great. Well-rested and ready to go. Each time I tried to push the speed up a little my stomach revolted so I piped down again. All I could think was - don't stop. Push through. Keep moving forward, this may pass. In another hour you could feel like yourself again.
The beautifully flat course, strong spectator support, and lack of wind provided a stark contrast to the island of pain and disappointment I was on. I felt like everyone around me was having their best race, and I was stuck walking the thin line between knowing when to throw in the towel and powering past the pain.
At mile 39 I made the call. I would make it back to T2 and pack it in. Although I was suffering, I knew in my heart that I could make it through the half marathon if I really wanted to. I can do the distance and if I was forced to - I could walk the majority of it. I just didn't think that was a good idea. I wanted to be smart about this - it was time to admit today was not my day, and if I reserved a little energy now I might be able to bounce back quicker and make it up in training.
I looked at my computer and realized my ride would come in at around the 4 hour mark. I put my head down and stared at the road as I kept pedaling. I tried to take my mind off the race itself and think more about what I was supposed to learn from today. There was a lesson here, I just had to find it.
What I finally came up with is this: I learned from High Cliff that I could go the distance of the half ironman. I'm learning from my training that I can go the distance of ironman. I learned from Racine that I can push through pain. When I wanted to turn the bike around, I didn't.
At mile 43 I passed a woman (yes, I actually passed someone) who asked me if we were the last 2 people on the course. I wasn't sure, but it really felt like it. It was a ghost town. At mile 44, I rolled up on a woman sniffling on the side of the road, holding a wheel in her hand with the entire contents of her tool bag spread out around her. I asked her if she needed some help. She sniffled a few times and her voice was quiet and frustrated..."Do you know how to put a tire back on?"
I dismounted and put her tire back on, showed her how to use her CO2 cartridge, then tried to help her get the back wheel on her bike. She had taken out the whole skewer and the springs were twisted - by now another rider rolled up and helped get the springs straight. She was so grateful - it made my day a lot better. She even said "I hope I didn't ruin your race"...I told her it was ruined a long time ago. She mentioned she was doing the aquathon - swim then bike, then done. I thought to myself - that's kind of what I'm doing today too. An aquathon sounds a lot better than a DNF.
At mile 51 a little girl was cheering at the side of the road and she shouted "Way to go! I hope you WIN!"
That totally cracked me up. Didn't she see the 2,000 people who came before me? It was so cute.
Finally I was within 2 miles of transition. The road was bumpy and my stomach still hurt, but I could see the runners now. The traffic had taken over the bike lane because most people were on the run course, so a police officer on a mountain bike led me to transition. My very own police escort!
When I came to transition, the volunteers were congratulating me & one told me I looked great - a blatant lie but I appreciated the thought behind it. I saw Johanna and she looked worried, "How are you doing? Are you ok?"
"No", my voice cracked, "I think I'm done today." And my eyes filled with tears.
I walked my bike to its spot and since the racks were totally full, I had to squeeze it in. I slowly bent over to take off my timing chip and just sort of hung there for a minute. It was hard to turn it in. I still believed it was the right choice, but I didn't want to be a quitter. I had to keep my mind on the bigger picture. This day just wasn't my day.
Johanna, Brian, and I found some shade and waited for Valencia, who was rocking the course. She came in from the run about 30 minutes later, with a sub 6 hour time. She looked strong and said she felt great. I was so happy for her! It was her first half ironman and she is so ready for September. She is such a strong athlete it is inspiring to watch her accomplish one milestone after another.
I drove home and spent the evening resting while wrestling with my emotions about the day. I admit I haven't sorted through them all yet. While I don't regret my decision to abandon the race, it hurts to realize I had to walk away. I have little time to focus on it though. This week I start ramping up toward an 18+hr training schedule next week. I need to look ahead and focus on the end game. Maybe that's part of the lesson too - what's done is done. We only have time to move forward and not look behind. Since this isn't the first stomach pain I've had recently, my Dr. has scheduled testing for me this week. I'll just keep moving forward in the meantime.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Racine will be an interesting race for me. I'm starting to get the butterflies in my stomach just thinking about it, despite promising myself that this time all energy will be directed at the race and not the pre-race jitters. I want to do well - not necessarily in my age group, but just for me. I want to be better than High Cliff, maybe even shave some time off, and recover faster. I've worked hard over the last month and I'd like to see it pay off this Sunday.
My strategy for the race is still a work in progress, but overall I want to do 4 things better than last time:
1) Swim my pace and not worry about the people bumping into me or swimming past me. I paused a lot at High Cliff because I was distracted by everything around me. This time I want to put my head down, find a rhythm, and keep moving forward.
2) Get the heck out of transition as quickly as possible. Seriously, with the amount of time I seem to spend in transition I could knit you a holiday sweater or write my life's story. It's ridiculous and I need to streamline the process to keep moving!
3) Push myself on the bike. Get the mph up and keep them up. I'd love to see 16 mph avg on the bike. I would celebrate with champagne & bon-bons if I can get it up over 17. And if I got it up over 18? Well, everyone gets a new car! Kidding...
4) Keep it together on the run. If I have to walk, adapt to a consistent run/walk strategy. If I am running well, try to keep a consistent pace. I tend to get lost a little on the run...mind wanders, feet start slowing down...I lose awareness. I need to stay focused and get to that finish line.
It will be a good day - I'm optimistic. My husband is coming out to sherpa, as well as our friends Johanna and Brian, so it will be fun to have familiar, friendly faces on the course.
Beyond that, for folks with their sights on IMWI, Lake Monona is still "unswimmable". The mowers have been out there getting the water weeds under control, but as far as I've heard the lake is not cleared for humans. Rumor has it we may not be able to swim in there until Ironman...Let's hope we're not the first ones in there post-sewage spill. Yuck.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Last week Valencia invited a bunch of people to come ride a loop of the Ironman course with us. 1 loop is roughly 40 miles. It's where all the big climbs are, and pardon my language, but I affectionately call the hills on the loop "the 4 bitches of Ironman". It makes me feel better to know I've smacked them down as I go. In the race I need to do the loop twice, but that doesn't make 8 - it just means I have to smack them down twice. Like one of those video games where the evil opponent keeps coming back from the dead and you have to kill them again.
I had 6:00 of ride time on the plan so even though the group was meeting at 9 am, I was out on the course at just a few minutes after 6 am. I wanted to get 1 loop in before the group ride. After a night of storms and heavy rain, miraculously the skies were calm and the wind was friendly when I started out. There was no traffic and as I started passing farms I actually heard a rooster crow. I think he was a little tardy - the "sun" came up an hour before, but it was funny nonetheless.
About an hour in I was rolling through some puddles and all I could hear was "squish...squish...squish". I looked down and in disbelief I was staring at my first flat.
I have been waiting for this moment for months. I was so convinced I would have my first flat on the day of the event and I would be standing on the side of the road taking an hour to try to remember how to change the tube. I was so relieved it was going to happen now so I could have an experience to fall back on.
I pulled off the road, unzipped my seatpost bag and pulled out my tire levers, CO2, spare tube (that I just asked Valencia to pick up for me on Friday when she went to the LBS), and my printed directions on how to do it. Yes, directions. I needed guidance.
It took me forever to get the tire off the rim. I left a lot of curse words on that country road. Meanwhile an older guy in a red Mustang pulled up alongside me and asked me if I needed any help. It was a kind gesture but I was still uncomfortable. It was 7am, I was completely alone on the road, and there wasn't a farm house or a person around for at least a mile. As a woman I try to always be aware of my surroundings. It's just so ingrained in my psyche. If I know I am in a rather helpless position I quickly think through possible escape routes. It's so unfortunate that these are the things I think about when someone may be just trying to help, but defense mechanisms are not something you can just turn on or off. I thanked him for stopping, convinced him I had what I needed, and he drove off.
It took 23 minutes but I got the flat changed. When I thought the tire was full of air, I accidentally discharged the rest of my CO2 instead of locking it and saving it for later. Or course when I got back on the bike, the front tire needed more air. More cursing. I finished the miles to Mt Horeb and waited for someone to come by with a pump at the Kwik Trip. Fortunately about 10 minutes later a guy pulled up with a bike rack on the back of his car so I took a chance. I asked him if he had a pump and after some digging through his trunk full of spare clothes and other travel essentials, he did. I had him pegged as a mountain biker and sure enough, I was right. We reworked the pump for my valve and he helped fill the tire up. I was back on the road.
Instead of finishing the loop because I had lost so much time with the flat, I did a double-back to Verona to meet up with the group ride. What a day! I couldn't believe we had so many folks show up to ride with us. There were 6 guys of varying levels of bike fitness. Boyd and Zach had just purchased their road bikes earlier in the spring. Our friend Pete doesn't have a road bike yet so he rode his hybrid/commuter bike. Believe me, he worked hard on the course with that bike but he never gave up. He rode the entire thing and even though it was difficult for him to gain momentum and keep up with the rest of us, he finished it with a smile on his face. That was amazing.
There were issues of course. I had another tire issue on the back that our friend Bill changed for me in about 5 minutes. (I took mental notes) Our pal Tom flatted twice too. At the end of the 40 miles everyone was happy but in a different level of pain/fatigue. I told Pete at lunch afterward - it doesn't matter how many times I ride the course, it still hurts every time. It just takes less time to recover from it as the training goes on.
Two of our friends, Heather and Alesia, came out to support the ride with ice cold water, Gatorade, and bananas. They met up with us in Mt Horeb and again after the Timber Lane climb. It was so awesome for them to spend their Saturday morning with us and their vehicle was such a welcome sight every time! I am just overwhelmed at how supportive and generous our friends are.
Alesia took a few pics of the group that I will try to post tomorrow.
Now I start heading into the taper for Racine. It's been a tough 2 weeks of training and the taper sounds really good to me!
Friday, July 11, 2008
I had a 1:30 run on the schedule.
I loved my treadmill this winter. I loved that no matter how many feet of snow we had or how far into the single digits the temperature dove to, I could always go down into the basement and run. It was the most ironic sense of freedom...
Since March I've been pretty dead set against the treadmill however. Come to think of it, since May I've been pretty dead set against the pool too. Once you get a taste of real freedom (running outside/swimming in the lake) you just don't want to go back to being a hamster on a wheel. At least not for me. I've tasted real freedom and dammit, I want more of it.
So last night I found myself on the horns of a dilemma (don't you just love that one? what does that even mean?). The radar called for more rain, more t-storm action. Yet being on the treadmill for 1:30 sounded way worse than any thunderstorm I've been caught in to-date.
I decided to take my chances and run outside.
And let me tell you - this was one of the most beautiful runs I've ever had. The skies broke into a calm blue just in time for a fire red sunset over Lake Mendota. I wish I had taken my camera with me, especially in the spirit of trying to put more pics on my blog, because it was just incredible.
I ran through one of my favorite neighborhoods in Madison, University Heights, with its stately old homes covered in ivy perched on crazy landscaped hills. Then I turned a corner toward Camp Randall (UW Football Stadium) and the light was hitting it in such a way it looked like a beacon of pride for the entire campus. I continued through campus past the summer ghost town of academic buildings like engineering and chemistry, before heading toward Lake Mendota where the water looked like glass except for the tiny wake of mother ducks leading their new babies around the pier.
I climbed up Bascom Hill to get a sweeping view of the sunset and the lake before descending back into rows of dorms that hug the shore. Then through the west campus, the track & field complex where a meet was going on, and out past the new American Family Children's Hospital before heading home.
I arrived home with 1:45 on my Garmin and a smile on my face. I felt so relaxed and so happy to be a part of this great city. There is so much to discover, so much to see...
And to think I almost missed it by opting for the treadmill and a 13 inch TV.
Monday, July 7, 2008
Mr. Ironmin and I covered 109 miles on the bike yesterday. It was super hot (91 degrees) and windy (10-20 mph) and I wish I would've been better equipped to handle both. In an attempt to "even out" the farmer's tan on my arms, I think I now have a beautiful rich red color that makes any sort of tan line a moot point. And the wind...well - I blame the wind for everything that is wrong in my training. It just sucks. I was shooting for an average of 15 mph and squeezed out a 13.7 mph average speed. And it hurt. It took every ounce of energy I could muster to get the 13.7, which only made me even more frustrated. Mr. Ironmin kept his cool, even when I was cranky and tired. We stopped 3 times for water & potty breaks and the day just seemed long...we were out on the course for about 8:30 and almost 8 of that was pure saddle time.
When you're out on the bike that long it becomes your entire day. And just like a normal day, there are ups and downs. On the IMWI course there are a lot of ups and downs. It's more than just the terrain though. There are moments of sheer joy when the scenery grabs me by the soul and reminds me that there is a world so much bigger than me. I look out on the rolling fields with farms sprinkled throughout and I think about how much I don't know in life. Like farming. I don't know how to run a farm. I don't know how to raise livestock or work the soil. And I'm in awe of those who do. Farms always intrigue me. I stare at all of the machinery and wonder how it all comes together...
There are moments of intense pain. Physical pain when I turn a corner directly into a headwind that feels like an invisible wall pushing against my bike, trying to keep me from moving forward. The pain that comes searing into my legs when I am grinding up a steep hill and it feels like the bike is either going to snap in half from the pressure of my pedaling or I am going to start rolling backward. The physical pain ends though. It's the mental pain that is the worst. The negative thoughts that find their way back into my head just when I think I pushed them out.
"It's too hot to ride. The wind is too strong. Only 15 minutes have passed and I need to be out here for how long?!"
And it gets worse.
"What are you doing? You will never make the bike cut-off. You're not getting any better. You need another year to train."
The thoughts are painful and overcoming them can be even more painful because it means I have to face my demons and chase them down...all while remembering to eat on the :15s and :45s, take a salt tab every hour, drink every 5 minutes, and keep my miles per hour up. It's a lot to do on the bike, which I think is the only thing that saves me from the demons. Sometimes I just need to be distracted.
"Time to eat again! Oh...what was I just thinking about? Hmmmm...can't remember....ooooh look at the pretty farm."
For the most part, the long day ends in a satisfying conclusion. Demons were chased down to some degree because I stayed on the bike through it all. Legs are sore, skin is burnt, some goals were achieved and some were not...but overall it's a good way to spend the day. And a cold beer at the end of it tastes so much better than after any other day.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
It was cool to have some downtime to chat up my new friends, learn about their training, and get some valuable advice from their experiences. I hope to get to hang with these folks again - I really enjoyed their company and being with other people training for long course makes me feel like less of a freak. Sometimes it's just nice to be able to talk about Ironman training with someone who doesn't end their sentences with "You are so crazy!" You know, kindred spirits and all that.
On the nutrition front, let me just say -
As if my co-workers don't think I'm weird enough, showing up at a meeting downing a gel will pretty much put them over the edge.
Just wait 'til I roll in to work in my spandex shorts. Because really, when I look at my closet in the morning to get ready for work I think it would just be so easy if I could go to work in my work-out clothes. I have lots of pretty color combinations and it would take 2 minutes to get dressed. No ironing and let's be honest - matching is not mandatory either.
Maybe someday when I'M in charge.