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.