Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rookie No More!

Photo by: Kevin Koresky/Finishline Multisport
Whew, what a year! What a season! What an experience. It is so hard for me to even recap this year because it really has been a dream come true. When I was nearing graduation from college I sat in the student athlete career services office and was asked "what really makes you happy, what fuels you, what do you want to do?" I responded "I just want to workout for 8 hours a day and get paid for it." I'll never forget this moment. It was one I laughed about then. I still laugh about it, but now I do so with a grin. I pictured myself more as the commercial says "NCAA student athlete, 99% of us go pro in something other than sport." Attorney?!?! Ya, I certainly went pro in something other than sport, but... now, I am an athlete that has pushed my limits, and slowly started to believe this dream IS MY REALITY! I own it, and I am so proud to have shared this with so many friends, families, and sponsors. THAT is what makes this dream one worth fighting for.
My final fight of the season was Ironman Arizona. This would be my 12th triathlon of the season (all but 2 being half or full IM's). To say I packed them in might be an understatement. One too many, possibly, but I'm a fighter and don't walk away until I am officially down for the count.
Race morning was perfect. I woke up, had my oatmeal, banana, PB and Chocolate Mix1 as we made our way to the course. IMAz can bring bitter cold temps, but it wasn't too bad. I pulled out the stretch cords to try to get in a quick warm up before hitting the water. Then at waters edge it was time to offer good luck hugs to so many of my friend racing. I wish I had a picture to capture this- because it is what I've enjoyed most about racing professionally. Outside of the race we really are friends! I want the very best for these girls, and just hope on any given day my best ranks right up there with theirs.
TYR SWIM: Amanda Stevens and I were outfitted in the new TYR Freak of Nature suit. This is for real! Granted I didn't hang with Amanda in the water, but then again few guys can even do that. I mentioned having shoulder pain during Austin70.3 and it really hasn't gone away. I've tried to manage it, but was sincerely worried about it when I woke up race morning. It was throbbing! I started the swim way off to the right and instantly started swimming with another guy. Anytime I left his draft I could feel my shoulder go. So that is where I stayed, it wasn't a good swim by any means but I just had to get through it. This is NOT the approach I should have for the swim and is something that will have to change next year. 54mins is very doable for me, and now I know the importance of swimming near the front. I need to be with these girls if I have any chance at hanging on the bike. I exited in 58 minutes, sub par indeed.
QUARQ + GARMIN + FUJI BIKE: The plan for the bike was to absolutely hammer the first two loops. If this resulted in a fly and die, so be it. Let's just say I didn't execute this strategy. I felt cold and half asleep for the first loop of the bike. I just couldn't get the muscles to fire. I threw down a fruit smoothie power bar, but struggled to swallow and chew it since it was frozen solid. The conditions were by no means hellaciously cold. In fact most would say they were perfect. For me, this is not my perfection and next year I will be finding myself a few ovens to ride through. 
Photo by: Jay Presuhn - Thanks buddy for the pic and cheers!
I tried a few new nutrition strategies. One was to eat a bar right off bat. 220calories down the tube. I backed off the calories in my sports drink (straight GU Brew, without as much carbo pro added) and had a bit more water instead. I went through 4 GU's (400cal), and 2pacs of GU Chomps (360cal). I also tried to grab as many bananas as I could as I flew through the aid stations. Nutrition is something I think Chris and I are going to continue to tweek. This time I actually put down too many calories, and in turn my body had to expend too much energy on digestion instead of forward propulsion.
In terms of power and speed I got stronger with each lap. Weird thing is, with each lap the head winds picked up. Yes, lesson learned- I need to go out HARDER! Erin Spitler and I worked together and hammered our way through he strong headwinds to T2.
NEWTON + SPIBELT RUN: Chris was right there as I ran through T2. He reminded me to just do my thing. Within two miles my feet were on fire. I have been working my way into new orthotics, thanks to Tammy Harbison (Elite Feet Orthotics). I met with her while I was in Texas and she has been "all hands on deck" in terms of helping me figure this problem out. We both think it comes down to the orthotics I've been using in my bike shoes, but her master mind sure did come up with an amazing solution for my running shoes. The pain was bearable, and I know we're on our way to pain free!
This run was tough. I was in no mans land. When I saw Kurt after the first lap I just wanted to know how far to my next competitor. 3 minutes. Bugger. I never felt great on the run. I tried hard to have an out of body run experience, but my body was fighting. My legs started seizing up at the end of the second lap. I was hydrated, I had plenty of calories. My legs were just not-so-happy. Come on legs, just turn over. I focused at one mile at a time. NOT how I ever want to run a marathon!
Photo by: Kevin Koresky
This run was about fighting from within. I wasn't comfortable out there and it was not easy. The fact is, my legs and body was a bit fried from a full season of racing. I knew I wasn't going to run my way up to the money spots, and I knew top 10 was unlikely. I did however know I could run my hardest, earn the beer I would consume later that night, and put together a new PR for me. I could not have pulled out that run without the cheers and encouragement from Kurt and Chris. Guys, thank you. I ran by Chris as I headed into the 3rd loop and just said "well, I can still get an ironman PR." He wasn't quite sure if I said "PR" or "ER" but figured both were possible for me. 
With 2 miles to go I had closed the gap on the three girls ahead of me. Kurt let me know the gap, and I just put my head down and fought. I was close to tears, I was so done! But if I'm going to be out there I mis well fight. I made two passes in the final mile and cruised it in. Done and Dusted! A new ironman PR of 9:50, good enough only for the top 20. 
What an amazing field of athletes out there in Arizona. I knew going into this race it would be one to learn from, and I did. Although it was my fastest time of the year I don't believe it was my best performance. I pushed my limit this year and now I know how to play the game a bit more strategically next season. 
After a quick stop here:                                      before being greeted by my well equipped friends:

The best part of the day was sharing it with those who have been part of this entire journey. A quick shower in the parking lot and I was off to celebrate. This might be my best accomplishment of the day: a full meal, cheesecake and 2 huge beers. Yes, this did lead to bad muscle spasms later that night, but it was worth it! I've come a long way this year and am beyond grateful God pushed me through this door. It wasn't easy, and came at a price. But I know I will always look back at this as an experience I wouldn't give it up for anything!
 Thanks is never enough. But to my sponsors: TYR, Garmin, Newton, Fuji, Quarq, Nytro, GU, TrainingPeaks. You all allow me to compete at this level. You've believed in me from the beginning and I am so thankful for every ounce of encouragement you've provided along the way. Your support is what fuels me to want more from myself. 
AIMP Coaching- It is Chris that reminds me where I've come from and where WE will go from here. Thanks for never saying no when I asked to race more... and more ;-) and for helping me learn from each and every one of these experiences. To be part of your group of athletes is an honor.  Many athletes search for years to find a coach that is the perfect match for them, I've found him in year one. Here's to 2012! (and a little R&R before then?!?!?!)
Kurt: A huge and special thanks to you for pushing me to give the pro thing a try. You've been an unbelievable support for me since the beginning and it was great having you out there in Arizona! Sherpa of the year for sure. Huge gratitude  ...even if you did take my bike away from me after ;-) 
Sim:  Oh Simone, where do I start. You are a true gem! The best!! Thank you for all your massage work, and your friendship. Thank you for every story you've shared of your time as an athlete and for encouraging me to believe I belong doing just this.  Mateeeee, you've become an amazing friend and I feel so fortunate to have shared this year with you!
Everyone who followed and commented on FB, Twitter and blog world. I don't take a single word of encouragement or congratulations for granted. We can't always be together for every race, but I feel your presence as I tick off the miles on race day. 

I'd like to say that I'll do a great job with blog updating over the coming month, but honestly it might be easier to catch me on twitter: ckgregory. Quick, to the point and full of pics.
Happy Holidays and thank you for being part of my journey as a professional athlete!