Sunday, November 30, 2014

Down for the Count

This was my office for week one of the off season.
In comparison to the length of the "season" my time off is incredibly short.  That said when you go from training 25+ hours a week to ZERO, three weeks is closer to eternity.  QT2 athletes get very serious about the off season. It isn't a time to swim, bike, run, jog as you want. It is a time to do none of this - not easy, not light, not at all. Get the drift?! I know the body needs serious time to heel but I certainly created havoc for Tim. No matter how many times I begged to go for an easy jog the answer was always the same: "no." I never got an explanation, just a "no" or sometimes he'd spice things up with a longer "absolutely not" response.

For the first week it was very easy to chillax. Following Ironman my brother and I took off for Cumbuco.  Cumbuco is a very small beach community with fierce trade winds that draws in kite surfers from near and far. Besides one post race recovery float (how could I resist - check out the pool/scenery at our hotel) the entire week was dedicated to making sure the beach chairs didn't fly away.

I am very appreciative for my time in Cumbuco, as it allowed me to experience Brazil outside of Fortaleza.  There were several more "is this for real" moments, but by weeks end we were no longer taken back by the sights and sounds that are Brazil! I mean it isn't every day you seen painted donkeys on the beach, or chilling next to the market.

After playing Ironman sherpa for a week it was fun watching Matthew surf in the open ocean - it is after all where he feels most alive.

Despite the 30+ hours of taxi's, flights & trains I was ready to get home by weeks end. United States of America, you sure are a wonderful place to call home!

I had two more weeks to get fat and out of shape.  I fought Tim over and over but he was there to remind me that my body gave me 3 Ironmans in 7 months. So like-it-or-not it was time to repair and rejuvenate.  As Thanksgiving neared I finally got Tim to crack and let me run a turkey trot Thanksgiving morning. I drove down to San Jose to toe the line in the Silicon Valley Elite 5k road race. I warned the race director that my performance would be ugly, and even if I was still fit I had no business racing professional runners who specialize in races with a duration of under 15minutes.  They insisted I join them so I jumped on it, swallowed my pride, and gave it my all. Yippee, I was after all finally running again.
My performance was just as pathetic as anticipated but I loved every second of it. These girls are the real deal!  Thank you to the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and race director Carl. From the second we arrived Wednesday evening they rolled out the red carpet. (If only Ironman showed this kind of love towards their professionals).   This short 3.1 miles hurt like hell. After a short cool down it was back to the couch for a few more days.

My time off made me realize how many hours there actually are in a day! It isn't easy for me to kick back and chill, but it sure is nice to have energy and not feel like I'm part zombie.  I offer you 10 things that are different during the off season:

1) I read more over the last 3 weeks than I have all year;
2) Slept in until 8 or 9am every morning! That's 4 hours longer than normal. If only we could stock pile sleep;
3) Stayed up past 9pm. (maybe this is why #2 was possible);
4) I finally unpacked boxes from my move 2+ years ago and turned my second bedroom into a bedroom/office instead of a large storage closet;
5) Shopped in real stores. Amazon is my savior, but it sure is nice to actually see what I am buying before it shows up at my doorstep;
6) Found time for arts & crafts and baking fun things I never would of indulged in while trying to make race weight. Who am I?!?!
7) Ate a normal volume of food - as in 3 meals a day instead of 8;
8) I had enough energy to walk across the grocery store parking lot vs circling 10 times waiting for the closest possible place to park;
9) Enjoyed daily coffee and wine dates with friends. Let me tell you, I soaked this up, and enjoyed time to just relax without rushing off the my next workout or work....all the while thinking "so this is what normal people do;" and
10) I found time to update my blog twice in one week!

With that's it's time to get back to work. Tomorrow my 2015 season begins. Goals are set. Time to DWIT (do what it takes) to reach them!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

An Adventure for the Ages - Ironman Fortaleza

This post simply can't do justice to my recent trip to Fortaleza Brazil.  It was an experience for the memory books & quite the adventure, that's for sure!
Professional athletes have different criteria for choosing races than age groupers. ,The first two criteria I look at is race timing and predicted conditions. Fortaleza promised many conditions that typically play in my favor: non-wetsuit rough swim, extremely hot and windy bike, and brutally hot run. The timing of this race gave me enough time to get in a few solid training blocks after IM Louisville, and enabled me to finish my season before late November (which then opens up early season racing options for 2015).
One thing my brother and I do not have in common is our
tendency for adventurous eating. While Matthew sampled the
local cuisine pre-race I stuck to cooking at home &
fresh coconut water every chance I got. 
I knew what I was signing up for when I entered this first year race. So...let me first set the scene: Fortaleza has a population of 3.5 million (= significant traffic) with a per capita income equivalent to $6,000 US dollars.  Now do you think this combination leads to a society ready and waiting for Ironman athletes to take over their roads?  Another key element is that I don't speak Portuguese.  In short, I knew I had to pack my patience and brace myself for what could very well turn out to be a complete "shit show."  This approach turned out to not only be beneficial but vital!
Downtown Fortaleza
The week leading into the race was relaxing and calm. I owe much of this to my rock star bro. It is easy to get frustrated when you can't speak the language, don't know your way around, and question your safety within your surroundings. Having him there was incredibly helpful at navigating the logistics leading up to the race.
Don't let the calm water behind me fool you.
That only lasted for about 200m.

I thankfully linked up with (english speaking) Luciano at Barcellos Sports (bike shop).  He took me out to drive the bike course so I was better prepared for race day.  I tried not to be nervous when he told me that his car was equipped with bullet proof glass. My response: "wait a second. I certainly won't have bullet proof protection around me when I'm out there on Sunday." I'm all about expecting the unexpected, but..... I left this exchange out of any conversations I had with my parents pre-race.

Due to the extreme wind and heat the race started at 5:50 for the professionals and 6am for age groupers. Thankfully I adjusted to the time change quick and was ready to roll.

Swim:  The swim was the most vicious I've ever done.  Current, swells and constant chop.   I got off the line well and fought to hang with the guys surrounding me. After the first 200m we were out into the open ocean.  The instructions were to swim out to a "boat" since they weren't able to keep a buoy in place that far out on the course. Once there I severely questioned whether we had gone off course. This said "boat" was more like a piece of wood with a stick coming out of the middle, holding a piece of cloth (the sail).  We made the left turn in search of one more turn buoy before heading back to safety.  While out in the vast open ocean I realized there was no other sign of life out there. No kayaks, no paddle boarders, nothing - just us amongst the elements...hoping to survive (yes this sounds dramatic, but talk to anyone who did this race and they'll agree).  The middle of the swim was about staying calm and not letting mind run away from me.

ROKA definitely impressed me. I  swam better than ever this year &
capped it off will a killer swim in Brazil. 
I lost feet and was swimming alone towards the swim exit.  It felt like I was in the water for 1:10 not :52!  I was absolutely clueless where I was in relation to the other girls.  I jumped on my bike and heard Matthew yell:  "2nd, less than 2 minutes down." I knew it was swimming superstar Haley Chura ahead of me, but couldn't believe I kept the gap so close.  Rock on!

Bike: The bike course took us through town before making our way to a 4 lane divided road. Imagine riding through New York City with only an orange cone every 100 yards separating you from impatient crazy drivers.   We completed 2 loops there before heading back into town. The wind was howling from the beginning, but I'd been training in strong winds in the weeks prior so felt right at home. My heart rate monitor wasn't working so I relied on my power and perceived effort to guide me.  Not ideal. Stay calm.  I felt comfortable (thanks to a recent change to the Cobb Fifty Five saddle!) and strong.  I sat in 2nd until Mette Moe passed me around mile 30.  Matthew was out there yelling at me (and my American cohorts of course).  I have to admit that at times my mind wandered to the fact that he was driving amongst this mayhem.  It was great to see him periodically and know he was still alive.
Thanks Kevin Brooks for finalizing my look with a sweet
CLIF Bar custom helmet!
We were told at the pro meeting that we shouldn't worry about traffic because there wasn't much traffic on Sundays.  Well, I sure hope they have a differing opinion now.  Instead of giving bikes one side of the divided road and cars the other they had us riding on the left/inside lanes and cars on the right/outside lanes.  Traffic was bumper to bumper, often swerving in and out of the designated bike lanes.  20 police officers and an orange cone every 100 yards just wasn't cutting it.  You can't blame the locals for their frustration. I really think the City just isn't equipped to (safely) put on an Ironman and there wasn't enough time to educate the community about what was to come.  I have to believe that Ironman sold Latin Sports the license but no one from IM went out to examine the race site. There is no way anyone with an ounce of sanity would believe this was a good idea. (Yes, I thought about leaving this out of my report, but I'm always one to state the truth! I have a lot of patience for new races, and all the hurdles race directors have to jump through but not providing a safe bike course is something I have zero patience for).  There were areas with unavoidable broken glass and shredded water bottles (from being run over by cars after discarded by the athletes).  Despite having to slam my breaks and scream bloody murder no less than 6 times I never lost my cool or let the chaos affect my performance. It really was pure comedy! I point all this out not to complain, but to display how essential it is to expect the unexpected and stay calm no matter what.  I was prepared for this. Maybe I couldn't really imagine the exact obstacles and dangers we faced, but I was ready for anything that came my way.  I was calm the entire ride and had a level of focus and execution I haven't had in the past. It was great to later see my power file confirmed this. Whoop whoop.
At mile 60 I saw that teammate and friend Jessie was moving through the field and closing in. I  held her off until around mile 95 and rolled into T2 in 4th.  I flew through transition with complete confidence that this would be MY race.

More of a grimace than smile at this point.
Run: I started the run with a water bottle that was frozen when I dropped it off pre-race.  Sadly it was now reaching it's boiling point so I discarded it.  Although I got my heart rate back for portions of the bike it never clicked on during the run. Time to run by effort and pace.  Usually I have to relax and hold myself back through the opening miles. This wasn't the case and quickly I had reason for concern. Half way through the run I gave in to my stomach discomfort and made a few quick stops to relieve myself.  I prayed this would turn things around, and willed myself to put in a solid effort to try to narrow the gap.  It didn't help that aid stations were way too far apart considering the heat and intensity of the sun (2k).  While I never felt dehydration I found myself constantly craving more fluids to cool my core temperature.
The conditions were brutally PERFECT for me. Heat, humidity, no cloud coverage, and some wind mixed in there. Sadly my legs never came around.  Every fiber of my being wanted to get back on the podium. Sadly not a single fiber was willing to fire in order to get me there.  Matthew was there giving me splits and trying hard to motivate me. He was all over that course. Eventually I confessed to him that my only goal was to make it to the finish.  26.2 miles sure is a long way to run when every single second is a battle of wills.  I finished 5th and soon after collapsed.  I gave it everything!

The day did not end as I had hoped it would. I was fit, strong and ready for this race. The reality is somethings we fall flat despite not having any real answers for it.  This is part of Ironman racing, and the reality is we only get a few shots every year to put all of our hard work to use.
Matthew and I escaped the city and spent the rest of the week on the beaches of Cumbuco so he could enjoy what he really came for: the kite surfing.  I spent this time searching for the positive take aways from my race - and there were many.  For the first time I was in a position to compete off the bike.  I was possessed with focus and execution on the bike that was vastly different from any prior races.  Coach Tim was quick to remind me where we were one year ago.  I'm back in the mix and have a lot to look forward to next season. Most importantly, I BELIEVE in myself now more than ever!  and this, my friends, is huge.
Ironman Fortaleza Champion: Haley Chura. HECK YES!
She absolutely crushed this race from beginning to end.
Inspiring & Impressive! So stoked for you my friend!
Brazil was quite the adventure and something I wouldn't take back for anything. The race had it's faults but I made the most of everything that came my way.  Thank you Brazil for my craziest race experience to date! I now know I can handle anything that comes my way on race day.
Standing on stage with friends, teammates, incredible athletes and amazing
women is something I will NEVER take for granted. 
I'm now in the thick of my off season! When I say "off" I mean off. Nada. Nothing. Zero athletic activity.  I'm 2 weeks in and have one more week to sit on my butt. It is not easy and I'd do anything to go for a run but know once I start the season it's game on! So, sit I shall.
Congratulations to everyone who completed IM Fortaleza. It was brutal out there.
2014 is a season I am ridiculously thankful for! I'd say the 2014 season is one to smile about. When it comes to my excitement for the year ahead, I think this picture sums it up.
All laughs and smiles from that podium. We earned it! 
To my sponsors who supported me all year I am beyond grateful! You make this sport about so much more than myself, and in turn motivate me to dig deeper, find faster, and believe!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ironman Louisville - Running to the Podium

It was bitter sweet arriving in Louisville knowing this would be the last year that professionals would lead off the race into the Ohio River. I've commented several times on this blog about how captivated I was by this race last year. This year was no different.  Thankfully, this year I crossed the finish line with a smile (or was that a grimace?) and feelings of hope and jubilation. Yes, I collapsed again, but this year I picked myself back up and walked through the finishers corral thanking volunteers as they offered their heart felt congratulations.  This race held a lot of meaning for me so it is important that I start this post with a sincere Thank you to the town, volunteers, and all the athletes that make Ironman Louisville so special!
Photo Credit for this and all below goes to my AMAZING
homestay Marcia Seiler. What a fam! Thank you.
The pro's start before sun rise, so it's  still fairly dark. After clearing the island to the left (just under 1 mile in) I lifted my head and could no longer see Nina and Kate who were ahead of me. I looked longer and a volunteer kayaker told me to turn left. I wasn't thinking, I was just trying to swim to catch back onto their feet. Left I went. Something didn't seem right. Where were they, I couldn't see anything ahead of me. Soon it all made sense as 2 kayakers approached me to say "you're completely off course." ARGH! How could I have done this. I was redirected back to the turn buoy, and after a good 4-5 minutes rounded the buoy. I was furious. That was enough to get me to kick harder than I ever do in an Ironman swim, and keep the turnover higher than I thought I could. This was not the start I was hoping for. I've never gone off course in a swim before, why now!!! I back tracked for several minutes, wishing I could kick myself at this point instead of the water.  I exited the swim in fourth, with significantly too much room between me and Nina, Kate and Jackie. Get over it, it's a long day. Ride harder CG, let's GO!
When I saw Tim around mile 35 he asked how things were responding. "Awful" I told him. "Heart rate is high/on but I can't keep my power up." He reminded me to clear all of the negativity out of my head and keep fighting. Build!
By mile 60 two other pro women had caught me. It felt easy to stay with them, and that was our game plan. If someone comes by me, stop looking at the numbers and go with them! The only girl that got away from me completely was Molly. This had to be our strategy if I had any chance of achieving my goals on the day.
Tim was all over that course! Dude, you rule!
Throughout the bike I felt better and better. Stronger and stronger. The power started to come around, and my speed continued to increase. If only I rode the way I did over the last 40 miles from the beginning. I never felt hot/over heated on the bike, but this is because I stayed on top of my hydration: water over my head, sports drink/Clif bloks/gels down the hatch.
My bike nutrition was spot on: 12 bottles of Ironman Perform drink, 7 gels (5 caffeinated), 1 sleeve of Clif Bloks, and 2 Envirokidz bars (gluten free & super easy to digest).
Wow, such an improvement in my aero position this year!
My inner thoughts as I smashed a banana into my mouth and ran into T2: do not give up, your favorite 3 hours are yet to come. 9th off the bike, and time to work....time to chop wood!
 Things were heating up as I exited T2. It was time to keep everything together. Time to balance the sense of urgency I usually feel coming off the bike with the patience any marathon demands. I settled into my goal pace for the first two miles and was ecstatic to see my heart rate was under 155 beats (the max I was allowed to see on the day). I was free to fly as long as that heart rate stayed down and showed I wasn't taking on too much heat. Temps were well into the 90's with humidity matching at over 90%. I knew things would get ugly for many out on the run course and sure enough they did.
Within 5 miles I moved into 6th. Ahhhh, into the money. Tim was at the run turn around asking me how I felt. My response: holding 7:20's like clock work, heart rate is under 155, feeling good. Having him out there was simply epic! For 10 months we've been working like mad, and finally it was time to bring it to life. I've put an awful lot of trust into the QT2 methodology, and was ready to see where it would get me.
At mile 8 he reported that no one was anywhere close to matching my pace. Honestly I didn't believe him, I felt great and was ready to go faster. Surely those up the road were throwing down equal splits?!?!  The first 4 athletes I passed are all girls I feel blessed to call my friends: Cindy, Amy, Heather and then around mile 9 I made the pass to move into 5th. I was sincerely sad and shocked to see Kate had relinquished the lead and was struggling. A quick high five (yup, she's one classy chic!) and I welcomed the sight of a lead cyclist.  I wasn't afforded the opportunity to enjoy his company before Tim yelled out "we don't like this cyclist, we want a new one. Find fourth."

My amazing homestay, Marcia Seiler captured the look that summarized my entire marathon. The photo on the left shows me asking (everyone and anyone) "how far to the next girl." Once again the age group athletes were amazing and cheered me on like crazy. Mile 14 I saw Tim again. One loop to go, and my question for him now was: "when can I stop ignoring my heart rate and just go." I was shocked to hear him say "NOW! Go CG." Here I was trying to practice patience, and he wants me to take off like I was shot out of a cannon. Ok then, let's do this. Having a strong coach/athlete relationship enabled Tim to analyze more than my words, but my tone and deep rooted desire. 4th place lead cyclist, where are you?! At some point I knew things would start to hurt, and hurt bad. By mile 18 I was holding pace, but it certainly became a lot more difficult.  Pain was setting in. Time for the mental toughness to take over.
I made the pass into 4th before the turnaround. Home stretch, 7miles to go. Molly was now only three minutes up the road. I could see her, and within a half mile I cut the gap down to under 90 seconds. Another quarter mile and it was 20 seconds. If the excitement in Tim's voice didn't keep me motivated nothing would. Time to turn things inside out. By mile 23 I moved into the last podium spot, but nothing was easy any more. My quads were on fire and my energy was running low. "Tim, I'm cracking!" His response: "Hell no you're not. We don't crack. GO GO GO."
I looked like a bag lady raiding a grocery store as I tore through each aid station (accidentally throwing coke on my face instead of water at one point, oops). Yes, even I thought it was beyond hot out there. Folks, Kona wouldn't hold a candle to this heat & humidity combo!
2 miles to go and I was still 3 minutes out of second. It looked like my rampage through the field was coming to a close. All that was left to do was find that finish line.
Sheer joy broke out on my face as I cruised towards the line. I don't even remember the finish last year because my feet and legs hurt so bad. Don't get me wrong, my legs were killing again this year but it was the expected Ironman pain, not that of injury and limited training volume. It was time to enjoy the moment, and relish in my return to racing.
I didn't admit to many outside of my inner circle that I came to Ironman Louisville to become an Ironman Champion. This didn't happen.  I was beat by faster girls who put together more impressive days than I. That said, I've come pretty darn far from where I was a year ago. I'm healthy and just starting to realize my potential. In order to get there we've (coaches and myself) always said that I must create a "new normal." I had to go out there and prove to myself, more than anyone else, what I am capable of. If I could do this, and only once I did this, would I be able to elevate my training to a point where my ultimate potential will shine.  I'd say posting the fastest female run split by a substantial margin, with few of the male pro's out clocking me, did just that. We have ourselves our new normal Tim - so let the journey continue.

It takes a village to race at this level. I don't take the support I get from sponsors, coaches, medical personal, friends, and family for granted. I'm not closing out this race report offering thanks because that's what is customary to do, I do so because this race was an exhibition of their talent and expertise. I was just the one living it out. Without you I would never have seen the day where I'd stand on an Ironman Podium (my previous best was 4th). This one's for you!
Great sharing the podium with these fierce ladies. Thanks for making me WORK!
Congrats (left to right) AmyJavens, Molly Roohi, (me), and Jackie Arendt.
(note: known dopers do not receive photo credit or praise for winning)
Photo Credit: Chris Hutchens
Tim Snow - there are no words. The QT2 coaches have a method to their madness, and invest themselves in their athletes. Thank you so much for driving 20+ hours to come watch us race. Sharing the day with you made this race pretty darn memorable. I am thankful to be part of the QT2 pro team.  This and all future success is my thank you for your endless commitment.
Chris Daprato, Curtis Cramblatt and Christopher Matock: Each of you played a tremendous role in helping me get over my injuries of the past. You are all masters of your trade and that 26.2 miles of fierce running was a tribute to just that.
Lucy Grace- You've proven that getting through a chronic sports injury is not all about the physical components. I believe, now more than ever, that the mind must work in conjunction with the body.  Thank you for working with me on improving my mental game and my inner voice out there on the course!
My Village! I'm so blessed!
Efforts are underway to try to keep the pro race at IM Louisville next year through private funding (contact me if you have an interest in helping). I don't know if WTC will have anything to do with this, but it is absolutely humbling and inspiring to see the reaction from those outside the professional field.  I'll certainly take this energy and emotion as fuel to power me towards my next starting line!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Since my last post I've poured everything I have into preparing for my next Ironman. Los Cabos gave me the mental fortitude to forge ahead believing this is exactly where I should be and what I should be doing. It's only human to allow bits of that endless mind chatter, often full of self doubt, to creep in when battling through injury.  While Ironman Los Cabos answered many of the questions I had about my future in the sport, it left some unanswered. Driven by hope and unfulfilled aspirations a new  optimism and excitement took over.
It was hard for me to sit down and write race reports about all the races I've done since Los Cabos.  I live for racing! However the past few months each race was simply a building block towards the fitness we were building for late season racing. we are. 1.5 weeks away from an Ironman that captured my heart last year.  There is something special about this race. Something deep inside my body and mind that has fueled me for the past year.  12 sleeps!! I can't wait to unleash once the cannon blows.
Lost of history at this race!
Love ya Molina!
Here is a quick recap of what I've been up to in my lead up to Ironman Louisville:

Wildflower Triathlon is a race I haven't done in years. I absolutely adore the Cal Tri organization and was excited to get out there and race again after Cabo. Tim tried to prepare me mentally for what would unfold on the race course. Despite his efforts and daily doses of honesty  I wasn't prepared for what ensued.  I was devastated after this race. I wanted to improve upon the past! Tim on the other hand figured this is exactly how things would go. Now that I look back I could care less - I mean what can you really expect when race prep included a stop at the gym, before driving down to the race site, to complete a strength session that included leg pressing 400+ lbs.
Photo Credit: Paige Dunn, Fuel Media Collective
Next up was a bucket list race: Escape from Alcatraz.  If someone wanted to put together a race requiring me to tackle my biggest race weaknesses this would be it. Top two on that list: 1) short race distance, 2) cold (I don't know that I can even prioritize these. They might tie for #1). Shockingly neither of these prevented me from actually enjoying the race experience. It really is a race like none other, and to compete amongst the stacked pro field was an honor.

Somehow we all got a clean start despite diving in on top of
each other.  Red arrow points towards me.
I have a lot of development to go if I ever dream of racing this distance...thankfully I don't. Bucket list race - check.

Next, it was off to Texas for Buffalo Springs70.3. I have a lot of great memories from this race, but it's been 7 years since I last raced there. WOW how time flies! The race still holds onto the grass roots feeling that few Ironman branded races have anymore. Mike and Marty (race directors) put on quite a show once again! The conditions made for a tough battle. Temps soared while the wind howled and threw all of us around. I've never had windy conditions affect a run like it did here. Overall I was surprised that my race didn't go better.  I swam ok, biked horrendously awful, and left quite a bit to be desired out on the run course. I returned home very discouraged and in search of answers.
Photo Credit: Paige Dunn, Fuel Media Collective
There wasn't time to dwell on the past. I immediately got back to work putting in a strong training block before Vineman70.3, two weeks later. I can't tell you how many texts, calls and emails I sent to Tim telling him that I didn't want to race Vineman.  Talk about "out of the ordinary!" I always want to race.  Tim has really kept the reigns tight and limited my travel and racing this year.  I just wanted to keep training hard and skip this one, but he demanded I shut up and put up. Off to Vineman I went.
Once there I put on a smile and was instantly reminded why this is one of my all time favorite races. Much to my surprise I put together a decent day and certainly improved upon where the chips fell just 2 weeks prior. I picked an unfortunate line for the swim, and could feel my arms burning from the beginning. One too many 6k training sessions in the weeks prior perhaps? I rode the bike blind, going by feel only. Things seemed to be clicking better than they had in Texas. Then, I finally had a strong run, and with it my confidence and spark were back.
A post race interview with Freeplay Magazine here. (Thanks guys for chatting with me and continuing to support me through the ups and downs).
While Vineman was by no means magical, it was a step in the right direction. This was all I longed for as my journey towards the next Ironman drew a bit closer.
With one giant training block still to go I decided to go visit my brother in his beautiful new home up in Bend, OR. Not to let the secret out of the bag, but this was hands down the best place I've ever trained! I can't thank you enough Matthew for playing host as I swam, biked and ran myself silly. While I struggle to forgive him for leaving me in San Francisco, I can't deny the beauty of Bend!
Enjoying a nice escort for my ROKA open water swims. 

Mental thought when I snapped this pic: gratitude! 

What a difference a clean, smooth operating
machine makes! Matthew, you're hired!

The amount of Clif nutrition I went through was astonishing! 
The aftermath of my QT2 Ironman overload training block. 
There you have it. That is where I've been, and what I've been up to. Ironman is a race that demands absolute heart, grit and determination.  The training is relentless, and nothing happens over night. It's been 4.5 months since my last Ironman. I can't wait to get to Louisville next week and take in the inspiring race course crowds and support. Despite an epically trying day there last year I the IM community pushed me to the finish line. It left a profound mark on my spirit, so hopefully this year I can actually give 'em a something cheer about.
It's all about the journey...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Validación en México

Remember back to the days when Oceanside70.3 was known as "Ralphs? Racing there meant staring your season very early. Or if you wanted to kick off your season with an early Ironman, Cour D'Alene had your name all over it.  How things have changed. With the constant addition of more international racing comes the opportunity to race earlier, and earlier.  After a significant amount of time off last year I really wanted to start off the 2014 season with an early Ironman. That said, Tim and I were in agreement (even though he had to remind me of this almost daily) that Ironman Los Cabos was simply about execution. It was time to crawl into a bubble, and race my own race.  This would serve as a stepping block to my season, and nothing more.  That isn't to say that I didn't put a LOT into my preparation- it was just limited due to the significant (and very worthy) time I took off last year.  Ultimately, the entire point of this race was to realize I can race again.  Ironman Los Cabos was just as much about the mental exercise as it was physical.
An absolutely beautiful day for an Ironman! 
I took full advantage of the early sunlight and ability to get in a lengthy warm up.  By the time we lined up I was very ready for the splash and dash to come.  I've been working really hard on my swim! While it's never been a weakness of mine, I surely haven't been swimming up to my potential. It was unacceptable and I've been determined to change this.  I never thought I'd love swimming at 5am as much as have this winter, but thanks to some amazing training partners these freezing -and very dark- mornings have been my favorite sessions over the past few months. I owe so much to Paul and the Terrapins swim squad.  Love these kids!  I've paid the piper, and it was time for things to fruition on race day!
Our last training session before I left for Mexico.
Thank you Coach Paul for adopting me into your clan!
The women's pro field was glittered with great swimmers. Time to test myself.
There was a lot of uncertainty amongst the pro's for the swim course.
We spent the 3 minutes before the start trying to figure out where the
1st turn buoy was. Collectively we decided to just aim for the rising sun.  
Countdown to the 2014 Race season. Tres.... Dos... Uno.... VAMANOS!
Let's DO THIS! 
ROKA Swim: Name of the game for me: get off the line! I fought for position, and without panic (finally) won the fight.  My heart rate soared, but I was ready for it. I've visualized and mentally worked through this moment countless times over the last few months.  I know if I can get out with the front pack I can hang for 2.4 miles.  I had zero visibility of the first turn buoy but could see the ever so speedy Hailey Chura about 15 meters ahead. I put my head down and fought to try to catch back up before the turn. "Turnover, turnover, turnover" I reminded myself. When we hit the turn buoy I had closed the gap to about 10m.  I gave a quick look to see that I had 3 girls hanging onto my feet. This was the last time I did so. "Focus on yourself CG. No one else matters. Do what YOU need to do."  I again tried to sprint 20 strokes to see if I could close in on Hailey and Katy Blakemore. No luck.  Just then I was joined by Carrie Lester on my right.  We swam stroke for stroke for the next 1.5mi+. It was nice to have company at the front of the chase pack so I could enjoy a bit of the draft.

The swim course wasn't "self explanatory" nor marked according to Ironman standards (buoy color or shape differences between the straight sight buoys and turn buoys). I took one wrong turn and just like that was off on my own. "Don't settle CG. Attack. Now. Do what it takes!"  I immediately put in a sprint to get back with Carrie. Yes, the fitness was there and I knew I was swimming strong. Props to her for some spectacular sighting! I tucked in on her feet to get a short deprive before we headed for the shore. I exited to hear I was 4 minutes down on Hailey. Success! The clock read :52.  While both Tim and I feel I can swim faster, we were happy with task #1 of the day.
PS: I can't help but add that my ROKA suit is without a doubt the best suit I've ever worn. The difference in flexibility and floatation is huge!
Locked and Loaded!
Scott, Vision Bike: I jumped onto the bike with excitement and confidence. I immediately started my QT2 fueling and created the tunnel vision I needed to execute my race plan.  The race plan provided by Tim is by far the most detailed I've had. Every single mile of the 140.6 course was accounted for.  There was room for decision making, but ultimately came down to executing what my training said I was ready for. I struggled a bit to get my heart rate and power up, but never panicked. I had mentally gone over every imaginable situation and developed a strategy for dealing with it.

My plan for a slow start on the bike was to start taking caffeine 40minutes earlier than planned. This got things rolling again, and I could tell I was starting to reel in a few of the girls who rode away from me in the early miles.
Approximately 80minutes into the bike, while flying down one of the hills, I hit a monstrous hole in the road. Bam. Crack. "oh crap, what just happened." Suddenly I felt like I was sitting a foot lower than I should be. My saddle had completely tilted forward and felt like it was barely hanging onto the rails. Keep calm. While I didn't exactly have a preset plan for dealing with this particular mechanical problem I knew all I needed was an allen wrench. I tried to wave down several mopeds but they either didn't have tools, or didn't speak English. "Allen wrench"-despite my infamous stories from passing 4th semester Spanish at UofM I had no clue how to say that in Spanish (money well spent mom and dad!).  Keep calm. After 30miles of hovering over my saddle without being able to really sit on more than a mm of it, I decided I might just have to ride the rest of the way like this. Trying to flag down mechanical assistance was only causing stress and slowing me down. I never considered stopping. The only option seemed to keep riding sans saddle.
Finally around mile 70 word had spread that the girl in bright pink/teal needed tools. I stopped and adjusted my saddle. Garmin says I spent 11 minutes not moving trying to resolve things.  I didn't focus on the time I lost with the debacle, but instead focused on what I could control.  Staying in the NOW is one of the hardest parts of racing, but there is tremendous gains to be made in mastering this (while I'm not even close to a master at this it is something I work on daily). "Head down girl. Pick it up. Power. Speed. Heart rate. Up, Up, UP!" At the last turn-around the splits I was getting on the girls ahead showed I was making up ground. At least I wasn't going backwards anymore.
Nutrition is a large piece of the puzzle for every athlete tackling Ironman racing. QT2 Systems treats nutrition as the important element that it is, and I applaud them for this. My Clif powered plan worked and kept me on track to execute the 26.2 miles to come.  I tried to limit the amount of Gatorade I needed from the course (it lacks sufficient sodium for hot races) and therefore relied on Speedfil standard on my drop tube and A4 on my aero bars to execute our plan to perfection. 10 bottles of sports drink, a new record for me.

Moment of Truth Garmin Run: Going into the race Tim and I talked about my limited durability and run fitness. I struggled (up until about 12 hours before the race) to accept this. When given all out runs (5k, mile repeats, hard 4miles at end of long run) I proved I can run fast.  I love running fast! I miss running fast! After constant mental drilling Tim finally convinced me that a few months of run training wasn't enough to power me to a new run PR. Yes, again (and again) he reminded of our goal and agreement for this race: prove you can race pain free and without limitations.  TRUST!

As is typically the case for me I ran well off the bike. My patience was tested early.  There were several out and backs along the  3 loop course allowing me to get splits on those ahead of me. Within the first lap I had passed 2 girls and was closing on others.  I stuck strictly to our nutrition plan, all the while willing myself closer to the back half when I could start drinking Coke.  My stride felt strong, and turn over was well over 90rpm.  I threw as many cups of water as I could over my head and was able to keep my heart rate from soaring with the mercury in the thermometer.

Tim's bit of advice for the later part of the run was harsh, but also very honest: "Caroline, you aren't fit to run a full marathon right now. You need to trick yourself by power walking a few aid stations." I wanted nothing to do with this concept, but he knew best.  Trust and patience were tested again. I gave myself to mile 16 before I'd power walk a few steps at every other aid station.  Sure enough around mile 17 my quads began rejecting the idea of 9 more miles.  I passed Mackenzie Madison and with it picked up a little more confidence. It's been a long time since I've run a marathon like this.  Top 10 is within reach. Keep digging! My legs were throbbing, but my feet were a-ok!  The pain I felt was almost a sick sense of pleasure for me.  You see, there is a difference between the natural pain that comes from Ironman racing and the pain I've endured in the past several IM attempts. This I could deal with.

When I passed mile 20 I wondered if I could pull off a sub 3:20 run split. I visioned our training camp, and all the physical and mental pain we battled through there. I imagined being done with a training day and then getting the call from Jesse that we had a surprise 10k race.  Just when I thought I was done and couldn't do another workout, I would and could pull off a strong 10k. "Get after it Caroline. You're finally able to race again, and you will race every single last step of this course. 10k in 3- 2- 1...."
Close a 3-4 minute gap and I could pick off 2 more girls. Come on legs.  I wanted to get closer to 7:00 miles more than anything, but sadly the legs just didn't have it in them. I pushed as hard as I could. I left everything out there! I crossed the line thinking I finished 10th, but later found out I was one spot shy. That didn't matter. That wasn't my focus. This day was about a much larger vision! Mission accomplished. My eyes welled up with contentment, and finally a smile made it's way to my face. I AM BACK!

I can't thank Tim enough for his helping hand in bringing me back from the dead. Together we've clawed our way out of the (deep) trenches. Passion can preserver, as can persistence. Our QT2 training camp played a big part in this race, so definitely have to commend and thank my teammates and coaches. Mad props to our Champion on the day, and teamy Linsey Corbin. You continue to amaze. Congratulations!
Top left: Haley Chura and I found a killer spot for a pre-race swim.
Top rt: LC bring home the bacon in dominating form!

To my sponsors: thank you from the bottom of my heart. It takes
character, commitment, and loyalty to see deep into my heart and provide
unwavering support despite the obstacles that stood before me. I am blessed to
be on this journey and
can't wait to bring these brands to the top of the podium.