Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My Bucket-List!

Nelson Mandela Bay - host to the Ironman S.A. Swim course
South Africa was truly one dreamy experience after another. Ironman...freaking...South Africa! Oh the places this sport has taken me. Unlike most professional athletes who have the flexibility for endless travel I have to be a bit more selective and strategic with my racing. This was my first international racing experience (Mexico and Canada don't count ;-) ). My time in South Africa was about so much more than just a race! I'll recap my race, and then let pictures tell the story of the rest of this tremendous experience....
Port Elizabeth is a truely magical place. Beautiful sights and anazingly kind people!
I've now had time to digest and look back not only on the race and travel experience but also my lead up to it. So much goes into the making of a well executed (or disastrous) race. The whole picture must be properly analyzed! My lead up to the race was a bit stressful. It wasn't just one thing, but some mounting health issues that had me completely stressed. Scott and I sincerely believed that once I got on the flight to South Africa I'd be fine. The stress would fade away, and my body and mide would take over. This is exactly how I felt after my 28 hour traveling voyage. I embraced the week with my eyes WIDE open, loving every second. I forgot about all the things that had me stressed and looked ahead with confidence.
Upon arrival I was warmly greeted by our pro athlete liason for the event. It is little things like this that really does help us out. Thank you Wendy for everything! My amazing homestay was ready and waiting to drive me around the bike course. They immediately made sure I felt at home and comfortable with my surroundings. Johan, Angelique and their beautiful son, Dylon will always hold a special place in my heart! By the time race day approached I had swam, biked and run the course many times. I felt at home. I felt confident. I felt relaxed. I felt ready!

Congratulations Jessie on your AMAZING WIN! Wishing you many more!
TYR Swim:  To summarize the swim I'd say: crazy! We had swell, current, and chop to contend with. The conditions were definitely challenging! I have to however pause for another big thank you. The race director not only listened to our suggestion for offering a separate pro start, but actually made the change. One week before the race they moved the pro swim start up 15 minutes. As a whole, the professional field simply wants a fair, unencumbered race! Slowly but surely changes are being made to ensure this. So, thank you to Paul and his team for making this last minute adjustment!

Back to the swim....once through the surf I found myself with a large group of approximately 10 people. I tried to look around, and after seeing mostly guys I felt confident in how my day was starting out.
Months ago Scott made a few changes to my swim workouts, asking that I simply trust him to see if this would help improve my open water swimming. For the first time I not only got out with the pack but fought to stay there. I had the ability to surge, and get physical when necessary. I knew super-stud swimmers like Dede and Jodi would be out before me, but I needed to be in the trailing pack. After the first loop we exited the water and I took a quick scan of who I was with. I couldn't see a group ahead but knew through the chop and surf there had to be another group out on the horizon. The second loop was more of the same. One wave would throw me back from the feet of the 2 guys leading our group, then the next would place me back into that sweet-spot for drafting. Girls to my right smacked me silly, but I held my ground. Finally, a swim to be proud of! I exited the water as part of a large chase pack. "You're in this girl, now gooo gooooo goooooo!"
I've been in this exact spot many times over the last few months of training. I've executed both mentally and phyically. Now is the time that matters. The opportunity is NOW:

Scott, Vision, TYR Bike: This is going to be short and sweet. I just didn't have "it." There was absolutely nothing in my legs to give. My heart rate appeared to be within normal levels, but my power was simply awful. Power numbers like that wouldn't even amount to a good training day! After the race Scott asked if I lost it mentally and gave up. Answer: no! I kept telling myself I wasn't out of it, I just had to forge ahead and keep fighting. I looked down at the DWIT on the band of my shorts and reminded myself that the race was far from over. "Do What It Takes Caroline. Hurt more!" I tried to improve my power and speed on each of the 3 loops... to no avail. My nutrition was fine, and quite yummy thanks to Clif products! As athletes we want to be able to pinpoint it and say exactly what went wrong. However, there are simply times when we just don't have a concrete explanation. My training leading up to this race was solid. Scott gave me all the tools I needed to excel. I answered his tests and proved a lot to myself. Sadly, my race day execution was NOT going to plan.
Oakley, TYR Run: Keep believing! I took off out of T-2 knowing the deficit was great. I had to stay in this mentally and simply give myself a shot. I clipped off the first 3 miles in sub-7minute pace but this was short lived. Yes, muscles and former aches/pains hurt but this wasn't the problem. I'd been running on empty for 6 hours and nothing was changing. The crowd support was awesome! I even had people from San Diego out on the course cheering for me- complete with the singing of Sweet Caroline. Ummmm, awesome!  My Africaan family was right there on every loop, and wouldn't let me quick.
Believe me, I thought about pulling the plug over and over! I tried to absorb the cheers, and with it resumed my goal marathon pace. I'd fail again. Why was this happening?!?!?! By the time I got to the last 4 miles I was in tears and had walked several times. With 2 miles to go a few age group athletes encouraged me and I started to plot along again. When I passed the crowd for the last time I was completely depleated. I couldn't think straight and by the sound of those cheering me on I was no longer running straight either. My day ended long before I was willing to accept, but hour after hour I kept moving forward. This was my worst ironman performance in many years...but somehow I finished.
I laid in the medical tent, unable to open my eyes. I don't know what happened but I was not ok! Once released from medical I only made it 3 step before complete strangers embraced me, asked if I was ok, and made sure I got home safely. Hours later I was pretty mad at myself for finishing. I wondered how much damage was done. I wondered how I would pick myself and get back on track. The following morning I woke up determined to put the race behind me, embrace South Africa, and worry about race analysis once I returned home. Honestly, I don't have a lot of concrete answers, but am already back to quality training. It's April, and the 2013 North American racing season is still upon us. In the words of coach Scott: "If excelling at this sport was easy people like you wouldn't do it."
The following days after the race were completely amazing. Images from the East Cape:

Rest assured I enjoyed this opportunity, and am fueled for the road ahead. I'm back to my mad dash of running from workout, to work, to bed. I'm thankful to all those who help me keep on keeping on, and believing I have what it takes.  I WILL DO WHAT IT TAKES!  Reflection done, moving forward...

Endless gratitude to my supporters that make this entire journey worth while. TYR has been with me from the beginning! Scott and Vision couple to put me on the fastest racing machine out there. I'm out to prove it ;-) My Plasma fits like a glove. Thank you Craig Upton for all of your work in getting me fit and sharing your wealth of knowledge with me. Clif is a new sponsor this year, and without them I might have starved during my time over seas. Their products are crucial to keeping me fueled in my go-go-go life. I loved my matching Oakley's, and the fact that their sales support breast cancer. A BIG special thank you to Betty Designs's Kristin Mayer. Girl, I lost count of the compliments and cheers my race kit received! I don't know how I would of kept up my training through the dark/cold winter months had it not been for the ridiculously awesome Renaissance Club Sport facility only 1/4mi from my house! Thank you for sharing your amazing talent with me.To the medical personal (Dr. Hubbard, Dr. Matock and Dr. Ross) who saw me on a daily basis leading up to the race - please know how thankful I am to have you in my court!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Silver Lining - San Juan70.3

Life has been beyond crazy since getting back from San Juan a few weeks ago! However, I am a few hours away from my departure for South Africa and couldn't start this (LONG) journey before touching on the last one. My trip to San Juan was short and sweet....as is the theme for me when I travel to 70.3 races. Minimize my time away from home/work/training; get there, race, get outta town.  I choose the race for it's potential to closely simulate the looming in South Africa: warm, windy, and beautiful! The race itself did not go as I had hoped, but I am 999% happy in my decision to start of my race season there.
The swim course is simply EPIC! The swim course itself is reason enough to rank this race as one of my absolute favorites: clean, clear and warm water with limited surf or current. I went into the race a bit skeptical about how I'd hold up through the swim. 8 days before the race, while out on a trail run, I rolled my ankle. Through my jamming music I heard a momentary earth stopping snap. I hobbled 3 miles back to my car refusing to admit what just happened. Thankfully it was only a sprain.
I quickly learned that you can not swim fast without any ankle flexibility. Here was how things looked a week out from race day:heloooooo cankle!

It is crazy that of the 3 disciplines I was most worried about how my bum ankle would effect the swim. I felt like I was pulling a tug boat behind me, but each day saw great improvements. When the gun went off my mind went blank and off I went.
Any thought of injury or disability was gone as my 2013 season was officially under way. The swim was a one loop in this protected, ocean fed lagoon. I certainly wasn't able to swim up to par and exited the water about 3 minutes down from the leaders.
Once on the bike I knew the next 2+ hours would be my chance to prove (to myself) that the training I put in this winter on the bike is paying off.  I've certainly put in a lot of DWIT trainer sessions this winter. The bike course is flat with increasing winds throughout the day. My legs felt tired, but my power was finally holding where I wanted it to. I went into this race tired, but needing to work on a few mental exercises to prepare me for the race season ahead. I am LOVING my new Scott Plasma. I changed a few things with my positioning this year and within a few short weeks on this new ride already know it was a necessary part of the equation. Overall I am happy with the bike and confident in where I'm at and how things are progressing!
I hit the run course with a little uncertainty in terms of how my ankle would feel. I did not feel racing on it would do any damage in terms of my upcoming race in South Africa, so went for it. I felt great for 3 miles and was holding pace with the male pro's who were out on their 2nd (of 2) loops.  Michael Lovato had raced here in years past and warned me of the portions of the course with suspect footing. Around 3.5miles in you hit a downhill portion with cobble stones. I took the hill slow, and at the bottom of it started feeling some pretty severe pain. That was pretty much the beginning of the end for my day. By the end of lap one I was one unhappy camper. I questioned throwing in the towel, but knew I wasn't the only women out there battling her inner demons. Linsey Corbin suffered some technical issues on the bike. Both Mirinda Carfrae and Caitlin Snow suffered bike crashes. Lesley Smith came down with a bad cold the morning of the race. Things happen, and together we were out there finishing what we started...despite the good, the bad, and the UGLY! There were a lot of ugly moments for me out on the run/walk course, but I am beyond thankful that I experienced this here so I could adapt before Ironman! This indeed was the HUGE silver lining in my not so glorious day.
I couldn't let any more time go by without getting out a quick race report and plug for this race. The city of San Juan was tremendously welcoming and supportive! I have nothing but applauds for the race director, race officials, and volunteers. BRAVO! I am in love with this race, and am happy to see more warm weather early season race- keep 'em coming. 
I'm a few hours from departure on my flight to South Africa. I'll be tweeting away (@ckgregory) and can't wait to share this experience with each of you who are sharing this journey with me. I have been training HARD for a good 10-12 weeks now (with little breaks) and simply can't wait for a little RNR, taper, and Ironman fun!
I'm pretty sure no one else in this airport holds a candle to my packed food bag I'm hauling along! That's all I have time for...so let the travel begin!