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...