Thursday, September 27, 2012

...and I'm BACK in the GAME!

Thank you to Chris Barnes for this and all pictures within this post!
Good morning Branson! As the sun peaked over the hills of "crazy town" (my self proclaimed name for Branson, Mo), I couldn't wait to toe the line, dive into the water, and get back to the very thing that makes me feel most alive: RACING!  My last race was almost 4 months ago. I've been chomping at the bit/dying to get back out there. This race offered me the opportunity to get my heart back into the game. Lay it out there, have fun, and remember why I love this sport so much!

Race weekend started with an eventful Frontier flight from Denver. The flight (like last year) was loaded with most of the pro field.  It was awesome to reunite with some great friends.  Together we shared MANY laugh as we geared up for Sunday's show down. Dinner that night, on the Branson Landing, included a standing ovation when (very randomly!) Whitney Houston's voice started playing over the loud speakers and we were entertained with a water and fire show. Only in Crazy Town! I think I can speak for the entire pro field in saying that we loved the town, volunteers, atmosphere and race! Unique indeed...
Race morning was cold. I have been trying to figure out a way to conquor my inability to jump off the line and hang with the top swimmers. I've included more race morning simulations in my training as I work on creative ways to warm-up. During swim workouts it takes me over 1,000m to feel like I loosen up and can really get after things.  We rarely have that much time in the water before the gun goes off.  Stretch cordz haven't really worked for me as a pre-race warm-up, so at least once a week I run15-20minutes before jumping in the pool. I then dive in and sprint from the get-go. I'm not sure if this is the answer, but I arrived at the race site bundled from head to toe and headed our for a quick run. By the end I was sweating and felt my engine was ready.
Into the water (me on the right, Nina on the left) we go. I lined up right next to her and was ready to challenge myself to HANG ON!
And we're off. Yowsers, I hung onto Nina's feet with all my might. After about 300m I faded a little, but fought back. Can't breath, heart racing, uncomfortable, TOO BAD! "Be tough Caroline, you do this all the time in pracitce. Now is when it counts. Fight!" Back onto her feet. The pace was still high. She surged. I faded. I held onto a strong rhythem but lost contact. However, this time I didn't back off. 20 strokes hard, 20 strokes harder. I fought back. I thought of my weekly 10x400 workout. "Just swim like that Caroline and you can catch up. Try! Don't give up. Keep your head in it." Around the first buoy, 30m back. It was 450m to the next buoy and I was determined to catch her. Jenny caught up to me, and we worked together until the next buoy. I still hadn't reconnected to Nina's draft, but knew a quick turn around the second turn buoy and I'd have her. Score - just like that and I was back in the game. I sat right in the draft and almost pinched myself. I have crazy respect for Nina -she's a very consistent and speedy swimmer! Nina, Jenny and I all exited the water together (even though the swim splits say otherwise). I was told that our race leader- super dooper fast swimmer Tammi Richie- was a minute up. I entered transition in 4th....
and exited transition in second. One thing I always do well is transition. No B.S'ing around. In, out, thank you mam. I brought back Richie's lead in a jiffy and within 1 minute on the bike I was into the lead. Leading on the bike is not exactly a place I find myself very often. Nina was about 1 minute back.  I felt cold, stiff, cold, and cold (oops did I mention that?)
The bike cours is AMAZING! Huge climbs and descents that even I can fearlessly fly down. The climbing helped warm me up, however what goes up...must go down.  Frozen again. I relinguished the lead to Jenny a few miles up the road, before we entered the portion of the course that is closed to traffic. A group of cars got between her and I. This caused me to drop back more than I would of liked and suddenly it was as if they were "out of sight, out of mind." This isn't to say that it is anyone's fault but my own. I had the choice to stay in the game or drop off the pace and I chose the latter. That choice had it's consequences.
The Branson bike throws almost 5,000 feet of climbing in your face! The majority of the course is closed to traffic- offering us 2 lanes in each direction to race fair AND safe. I've heard rumblings that the race contract was not renewed, and this really saddens me. I wish more courses out there mimicked this one. Safety first, and this course provides that.
I think I finally came around until mile 30.  I rode blind. no power nor heart rate. Where other girls are coming off months and months of dedicated training, I am only about 6-8 weeks of significant training in the legs. It showed. My bike split was slower than last year, and last year I raced IM Wisconsin the week before. I learned that I have to go with the lead girls and hang on. Once I'm off on my own I drift too far and I can't keep leaving this much for the run.
I exited T2 on a mission (as per-the-usual). I didn't know how far out of the lead I was at this point. When I approached Jenny, and then Nina, I got a time check on them. I was over 10 minutes back. I needed to try to hang around 6:15 pace to have a shot. Head down, work hard. My leg turn over felt great. The run course was 3 loops and I was able to get time checks on all the girls at the far side of each loop.  As I started my second loop I checked in on my average pace: 6:20. I knew this wouldn't cut it. I dug deeper, and continued to fight.
Months and months away from running hasn't hurt me as bad as I thought it might. I felt ok, especially considering the fatigue in the legs from the tough bike course. As I passed Jenny and Nina I took another time check. I was making up ground, but not enough. I'd have to speed up and they'd have to slow down. Thing is, when you're about to win your first race you find an inner strength- and Jenny did just that. She came into the race questioning her run but found a power and speed to hang on. HUGE props to her for that!!!  Ultimately the run came down to positioining. I was too far off from 2nd and knew I could hold off the girls in 4th and 5th. So I stayed put and tried to run my own race. I've learned never to give up or settle, because anything can happen out on the run course.
In my last post I promised I would smile out on the run course if indeed my foot pain was gone. I wiped the grimice from my face (because I was so mad with how poorly I biked) as I remembered that I have finally overcome a huge hurddle. For the first time in 2 years I raced without forefoot pain. I can't believe it!
One thing I try to reiterate with other athletes is the need to didgest a race, learn from it, and then move on. Dwelling on the past doesn't help us in the future. Professional athlets have no choice but to become good at this. So....
3 positives from Branson: 1) I finally overcame a huge mental block in regards to my swim. I got out with the fast girls, fought the whole time, and was rewarded kindly.  2) Happy feet are fast feet. I've finally tackled this endless mystery! 3) I returned to the podium. Enough said.
1 negative: my bike split. Problem will soon be addressed as I am using the prize money from this race to buy a Computrainer!

I was a bit overwhelmed with just how happy I was out there. I love to race, to test myself and dream big. Every race is a learning experience, and this one was no different! Things are lining up well for a very strong 2013 season. I have some honest (and very painful) work to do, but this is something I welcome with open arms.
Thank you TYR for your continued support and belief in me. One step closer to living by our slogan of "always in front." Vision and FSA thank you for my amazing wheels and components. I love my bike set up and the ease of shifting was essential out on that course. Scott for a bike that I absolutely adore and continue to admire! My Garmin computers provided accurate information I needed out on the bike and run course. Gu and FRS were my go to nutrition: bike: 4 GU's, one Roctane GU drink, and 3 FRS soft chews to get me past the low moments. Run: 1 package of GU strawberry chomps.  Big time congrats to Jenny Fletcher on her first win on the Ironman circuit; and to Nina Craft for throwing down a gutsy race!

Happy training and racing to all! and a special good luck to those preparing for the big dance in Kona.