Monday, September 1, 2014

Overcoming the post-Ironman sloth

Or motiving the post-Ironman sloth?  How to motivate this guy?  He actually looks pretty content being a sloth.


Since we returned from our road trip at the beginning of August, I planned on using the time before school started wisely and productively.  I would get my shit ready for school AND I would try to rebuild some sort of fitness 'base'.  Today being the first of September, I have to report that I accomplished neither goal.  I should be ready for classes on Wednesday, so that is progress, and last Friday, as I struggled through a very slow and hot run, I decided that I was officially sick of sucking so much - at least at running.  I can tolerate my less-than-stellar physical prowess when it comes to biking and swimming, although yesterday was a major wake-up call in the pool (this is what happens when you take 2 months off from swimming: you get slow).

The lack of schedule has been a treat in some ways, and I was determined that I'd enjoy the freedom that it brought me.  I can't complain because I committed myself to a daily nap, more or less, and a few other activities - reading some excellent books, cooking a few new dishes en casa (we made this pad thai which wasn't like restaurant pad thai but was really good), watching movies rather than TV series, and attempting some form of strength training a few times throughout the month.  

I also realized that it had been over a year since I'd explored any trails around Los Angeles, except for those on which I run, so we took advantage of our mid-week freedom and went on two very different hikes.  The first one was on the west side, just north of Santa Monica, up to Parker Mesa.  We realized, at some point, that we had done this hike years ago but had taken a different approach.  This approach, recommended by ModernHiker.com, was actually much more pleasant because there is a lot of shade at the lower part of the trail which was great for both the ascent and the return.  

Here I am at the top - made it!  It was fun to look out on the coast.

The second hike, Mt. Baden-Powell, represented more of a challenge as the second-highest peak in the Angeles National Forest.  The trailhead is 50 miles east on Angeles Crest Highway, which gave it something of an "adventurous" feel.  While 50 miles isn't technically THAT far, when you're on a windy mountain road, it requires patience.  The bonus was that when we arrived at said trailhead, I couldn't believe that Los Angeles was so close - it felt as though we had truly "gotten away" from the city and even the hamlets in the foothills seemed quite distant.  Baden-Powell is no meandering path - as soon as you step onto the trail, it ascends for about 4 miles and 2800 feet, mainly via switchbacks (someone said that there are 41, but I didn't count).  It was a steady march up for us.  Again, we felt lucky that there was so much shade - the trees offered great cover until the very end, where we finally ascended above treeline and were rewarded with some great views.  
Great views at the top!


Jen, another teacher, accompanied us.  She hiked 110 miles of the John Muir Trail, so she's a badass.

One of the rare shots with Michael and me together!

It was really great to spend some time on the trails at the end of the summer.  With triathlon taking over my life a bit, especially this past year, we've limited our hiking adventures.  These two hikes served as a good reminder that there are so many places to explore or to return to (such as Mt. Baldy!).  

I rounded out the month by finally getting back on my bike this past week.  Not that I pushed myself too much, but it was a good way to be social and active.  Also, I challenged myself to not suck entirely - to try to pass a few people at the Wednesday brick night, and I was successful!

Photo courtesy of California Triathlon - This is the 'before' photo, clearly.  

Eventually, I'd like to return to something that resembles 'training', but I have zero desire to race for the next few months.  A part of me wonders if I should sign up for a race so that I have some sort of a goal to work towards, but I have yet to pull the trigger on that.  I've realized that I am not one of those people who constantly trains - I think I can sustain about 6-7 months of focused training, and then I need a major break for physical and mental reasons.  While "not sucking" serves to motivate me a bit, I would, one of these days, like to get back to the point that running is no longer a painful endeavor and that I'm feeling less sloth-like in the pool and on the bike.  It has been interesting to see how much my strength, speed and endurance have all taken a hit during my two-month-long training hiatus.  No doubt, the more I put off training, the more I'll suffer when I finally recommit.  

So, here's to that training thing.  We started off September on a positive note, getting up early-ish and riding PCH from Malibu north.  It wasn't a long ride by any means, but it felt good to be in the saddle and was the perfect way to end the summer!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The final road-trip round-up!

After 6 weeks away from home, we returned last Sunday - and it's taken me about a week to settle back into "life".  I still have the luxury of a summer schedule, so that did make the week much easier than if I had jumped right back into a rigid routine.

After our trip to Canada, we then, in a not-so-logical-geographical-manner, headed west to Seattle and Bellingham to visit friends and family.  Our visit to Seattle was seriously laid-back, consisting of nothing but eating, drinking, sleeping, reading, and hanging out with good friends.  While the trip to Canada was pretty awesome, I wouldn't describe it as "relaxing" (traveling with my parents never falls into that category!).  We did explore just a bit - visiting the Ballard Locks, in part because of the great blue herons that were nesting there (more on the herons at the Locks).

Fun picture of the Locks working; not a great photo of Michael

After Seattle, we headed north to Bellingham.  The last time we visited B-ham was 2 years ago in June.  Let me say that July is a much better time to visit this part of the world!  This was also a relaxing stay, although my cousin did have some plans for us!  First of all, we went to an outdoor concert the day we arrived and saw the March Fourth Marching Band which was a fantastic way to spend our evening - the band was GREAT!  It was definitely more than a band with people on stilts that were dancing and performing for the crowd.  We also spent time on the water - my cousin and I went for an open water swim at Lake Padden, and we were able to enjoy sunsets and even kayaked for an afternoon.  

Here I am with my cousin.

Michael and I enjoying the sunset

After our WA state visit, it was time for Colorado!  So, we trekked back to Idaho and then south - driving through Utah and Wyoming before hitting I-25 south to Colorado, where we spent time in Boulder and Breckenridge.  In Boulder, we tried to be a bit more active than we had been in WA, running low miles at slow speeds and biking, stuck on the wheels of faster cyclists.  It was rough getting my legs and lungs moving again, especially at altitude, but probably good for me!  I can't say that I was back in any sort of "training" mode since plenty of nights had elements of this:


We rounded out our Colorado visit with a trip to Breckenridge to see my aunt and uncle - it is definitely part of our summer tradition at this point since we've visited them the past 3-4 summers there.  The weather thwarted our plans to hike Mt. Quandary, one of the easier 14-ers, but we finally managed to make it to Mohawk Lake, a hike that was rained out when we attempted it 2 years ago.  We made it to lower Mohawk Lake last time, but this year we climbed to the upper lake - definitely worth the final push as it offered a beautiful lake, alpine meadows and dramatic granite 'walls'.



For the final leg of our trip, we headed to the San Francisco Bay area for a friend's wedding in Marin.  There was a bicycle theme, since the bride and groom are both really into biking:

Also, their dog was the ring-bearer!  In addition to the wedding festivities, we spent the morning at Point Reyes and found a dog-friendly beach that was a great little walk for all of us.
Gus and I at Limantour Beach

Finally, we head back home last Sunday - I don't think I've ever been so ready to return to our humble abode as I was last Sunday.  We felt really lucky that we had the opportunity to be on the road for so long and to see so many friends and family members and visit wonderful places, some new to us and others old, familiar haunts.  But, it also made me appreciate returning to my space and my bed!

Monday, July 21, 2014

On the road 2014 - Banff and the Calgary Stampede

Greetings from Boulder, CO!  It is HOT, HOT, HOT, but we are still enjoying our time in Colorado and, in general, visiting friends and family, seeing new places and returning to familiar and favorite haunts.  I admit that a part of me looked forward to a massive road trip as a way to avoid post-Ironman blues.  While the travels kept that particular malaise at bay for a while, I think that the "what is next" thoughts have started to creep in and unsettle me a bit.  More on that later...

For now, a quick recap of our travels between Coeur d'Alene and Boulder, which, I should add, have not followed any logical path from a geographical standpoint as we headed north to Canada and then back west to Seattle and Bellingham and then east again to Colorado.  If we were to retrace our steps on a map, it would look like a big tangled up ball of yarn.  Despite the lack of logic geographically, timing-wise it worked.

Our first post-IM stop was Banff, Canada where we spent 3 much-too-short days.  To be honest, Banff was never on my list of places that I *had* to visit, but now that I've been there, I can only hope that I'll return one of these days.  We spent our first full day there, July 1st (which was Canada Day) trying to recover from a long day of either racing or spectating followed up by a long day of driving.  It was nice to sleep in, relax, watch the World Cup, and sleep some more.  I finally felt hydrated enough to enjoy some champagne too!

I am no longer wearing that wristband, by the way!

I fully expected that I would come down with some sort of a cold or infection the week after the race, but I ended up being the only one of us who did NOT get sick.  With my parents not feeling great, Michael and I explored the Ice Fields Parkway on Wednesday.  It claims to be one of the most scenic drives in the world, and that might be true - the scenery was amazing - towering mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, alpine lakes, peaks and valleys that seemed to go on forever.  

Hanging out with Gus

One of the many amazing lakes we saw

Glaciers!

This makes me feel pretty insignificant in the world.

And on Thursday, with my parents well-rested and feeling a bit better, we explored Lake Louise, which is super touristy by the lake, but once you get on a trail and leave the hotel and the shops behind, it offers some good hiking and is well-worth it.  There are several good hiking options - a short stroll to an all-day excursion, but we wanted something in-between, so we opted for a hike up to Lake Agnes, where there is a tea house.  Again, this is a very popular hike, but even with a relatively late start time (around 9:00 am), we didn't find the trail too crowded.  
Lake Louise

On the trail to Lake Agnes

Exploring around Lake Agnes

We then drove some of the Icefields Parkway again, just so that my parents could take in the amazing views.
Lots of oohs and aahs.

Finally, on Friday, we packed up all of our stuff and headed to Calgary for the Calgary Stampede.  When we started to plan this trip, my mother mentioned the fact that she had always wanted to go to the Stampede.  Well, how could we not go, being so close and the dates working out?  So, we 'stampeded', which apparently is a verb in Calgary.  I knew almost nothing of the Stampede beforehand and had zero expectations.  All I knew was that it was a rodeo - the largest in North America.  There are tons of activities, most of which we missed, but the rodeo was well-worth the trip.  I have been to a rodeo before, and while it's not really my 'thing', this one was very entertaining.  While I'd love to return to Banff and explore more of that area, I'm not sure that I need to go back to the Stampede.  Still, it was a fun experience to share with my parents, and it closed out a week full of surprises and new experiences for all of us!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ironman CdA Wrap-up (post-race, recovery and other odds and ends)

This is the FINAL Ironman blab from me, I swear!  With over two weeks since I crossed the finish line, I've had time to "process" the experience - and to recover from it.  No easy feat there, I might add.

Post-Race:
While I mentioned in the race recap that so much of the race is a blur (seriously), I do remember crossing the finishing line and feeling happy and relieved that I accomplished my goal!  But, when I stopped running, realization that my body hurt SO MUCH quickly set in.  While I ran the marathon just fine, apparently I couldn't walk without pain.  After getting the race swag (t-shirt, medal, cap), I hobbled over to the food area where there was a nice buffet - pizza, sandwiches, chocolate milk, cookies.  Sadly, none of it appealed to me.  I took a bite of pizza and could barely swallow it.  Feeling extremely cheated by my inability to stomach the food, I ended up drinking more chicken broth and a sprite.  So much for a post-race food fest, something that I had looked forward to during most of the run.

The other thought I had crossing the finish line was "How the hell will I meet up with Michael and my parents?".  Fortunately, my mother's tendency to wear flamboyant colors (being from Texas and all) solved that problem - I easily spotted her red fleece and pink jacket. So, we reunited quite soon, and there was a lot of chatter from them and from me.  It had been a long day for all of us!

I actually think that my dad is smiling more than I am here.

As much as a part of me wanted to see more finishers cross, I was exhausted and ready to return to the hotel room and sleep.  We returned to the hotel room, but sleep did not come - a combination of being too keyed up and of being so sore that every time I moved, something new hurt (I know that I'm making a big deal out of how freakin' sore I was, but I heard someone on the course saying "The only thing that doesn't hurt are my earlobes and fingernails" and I totally agreed with that statement).

Recovery:
The day after the race, we packed up all of our stuff and headed north to Canada where we all (parents, Michael and I and Gus, our dog) spent a few days in the Canadian Rockies.  Spending 7 hours in the car on Monday probably wasn't the best way to recover, but it couldn't be helped, and once we arrived in Banff and got settled, we all relaxed - finally!  I felt pretty 'fragile' and super dehydrated until Tuesday or Wednesday following the race, but managed a short little hike on Wednesday and then a longer hike on Thursday.

Views from our drive up to Banff

My mom and I posing.

Short hike along the Icefields Parkway

Although traveling with my parents post-race wasn't the most relaxing way to recover (ha ha - understatement there!), it was great to explore a new area and to share something more than the IM experience with them.  It also forced me to get out and be a bit more active than I probably would have been otherwise, and I think that the low-key walking/hiking did help my muscles remember that they could function.  

My body is finally coming around - I've actually gone on a short and slow run 2 days in a row (yesterday and today), and I went swimming last week.  Biking is supposedly the easiest on the body, and we have plans to get in some saddle time this week and next in Boulder, CO.  

Final thoughts about IM CdA:
First of all, I'm really happy that I signed up for this race - the idea had been floating around in my head since I finished Boulder 70.3 in 2012, an idea that appealed to me but was also terrifying!  While it was "my" goal, I also appreciated the support of friends and, of course, Michael.  He encouraged me to sign up, then he encouraged me to get a coach, bikes with me on quite a few occasions, and he often encouraged me to get out the door to train, telling me (quite rightly) that I'd feel better after my ride/run/swim.  A friend from work often swam with me in the mornings and evenings, and sharing a lane with her humbled me every single time, but it was great to have the motivation.  While I didn't train a ton with the tri group, California Triathlon, I've enjoyed being a part of that group, and I've learned a ton from different members which helped me with my training and while I was out there on the course.  Finally, I know that I've mentioned time and again how much I enjoyed working with Beth, who pushed me just enough to have a strong race but didn't let me overdo it.  It was a luxury, in many ways, to work with a coach, but I was glad that I made that investment, and I learned so much from her and from the training plans that she gave me.

A few random details about equipment/fueling/other odds and ends:
  • I know that I was tempted on more than one occasion to invest in a new bike (so bright! so shiny! looks so fast!), but I am glad that stuck with Sunshine, my still-new-to-me Trek Madone which is a great bike.  The decision to add aero-bars was great, and I like the fact that I have another position for riding, even if I don't ride aero as much as an expert.  I wasn't the fastest cyclist out there, but I passed people who had nicer bikes and there were plenty of people with older or heavier bikes who passed me.
  • Fueling/hydration had been a bit of an issue at Boulder 70.3 and Vineman 70.3, but I felt that I really nailed it down at Wildflower this year, so I was hopefully that I'd manage to keep on top of my fueling and hydration.  I ate a good breakfast, ate some Honey Stinger chews before the swim, and then tried to settle in during the first hour of the bike and eat and drink.  However, the long climb into the headwind made it difficult to eat and drink on as regular a basis as I would have liked.  I hoped to eat 2 Bonkbreakers, 2 Uncrustables, 3 Honeystinger chew packs and then enjoy some oreos and corn nuts from my bike Special Needs bag, but I ended up not eating one of the uncrustables and only eating the corn nuts (they were pretty awesome though!).  As for hydration, I had 2 bottles on the bike - one of Osmo (yes, everyone raves about it and I am a convert), one of gatorade and I had more Osmo to mix with water and another bottle of gatorade at Special Needs.  Again, I opted out of that second bottle of Gatorade and stuck to Osmo and water for the last part of the bike ride.  I was really worried that I'd bonk on the run, but I think that I can handle going a little lighter on fuel rather than eating too many calories.  Still, having to go to the bathroom multiple times (some were legit stops and others were precautionary) was no fun.  I did have some immodium on me, so I popped one of those early in the run.  I don't know if I really needed to do so or if it helped, but I lived with that decision.
  • What would I change? Obviously I'd like to have had speedier transition times, especially T1.  Also, thinking about hydration, I stuck with old-fashioned bottles, but it would been nice to have an aero bottle with a straw.  Finally, I've heard so many great things about the ISM saddles, and I'd love to be just a bit more comfortable on long rides and would be open to trying a different seat.

FINALLY, the overall race experience - I know that there is a debate about race branding, and a part of me hates that the Ironman Corporation has such a monopoly on the 140.6 and 70.3 distances.  I certainly welcome other races and other brands that can compete with the I-dot races.  That said, I appreciated how well-oiled the Ironman machine is and the experience that it delivered on race day.  It's a long day out there, so it was nice to not have to think about a lot of the details.  Also, I've mentioned the volunteers before, but they seriously make the race experience so special for the participants.  From people helping me undress and dress, to volunteers who held my bike for me, to all of the aid stations scattered throughout the race - the volunteers were awesome! 

I still don't have an easy answer as to the "why" for doing an Ironman (or iron-distance race), but I know that I like a challenge, and it was a great experience to have this big, scary, personal goal.  Every year, I have to submit professional goals and work towards those, and it was satisfying to have such a big goal on a personal level.  In some ways, I think that this is how my mid-life crisis is manifesting itself, and that is certainly a possibility, but I don't think that it's a negative manifestation.  I've learned how to push myself, I've developed greater confidence in my abilities swimming, biking and running but also in other aspects of my life.  Finally, triathlon, not just Ironman, has added a texture to my life that keeps me from being too complacent, too satisfied, and has allowed me to explore and to find different adventures.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Ironman Coeur d'Alene - Bike and Run


The bike
Once I exited the swim, I experienced the joy of wetsuit strippers and then easily found my bag for T1 and headed to the women’s changing tent.  What a scene!  A volunteer directed me to a chair where "my" volunteer helped me out (I hope to say more about the volunteers at some point – they may have been one of the BEST things from an organizational and emotional standpoint about the entire day).  I planned on a full change of clothes and am still glad that I made that decision because I wanted to be comfortable on the bike.  I have NO idea what I was doing in transition for 16 minutes however!  Of all the parts of the day, that is the only one where I can say “I wish I could do X differently”.  But, I also think that I took a long time because I was pretty cold coming out of the water and I wanted to collect my thoughts and make sure that I had everything before I set out on the bike.  So, 16 minutes later, I was finally ready to ride!

FINALLY getting my bike from transition!

 Michael and I had driven the bike course on Friday, and I had ridden the shorter segment on Saturday morning, so I was somewhat familiar with it.  The course is basically 2 segments – one shorter one and then a longer one, both out-and-backs that we repeated.  On another day, I think that I would enjoy the course, you know, if I were riding 112 miles just for fun!  As I started the bike leg, I was still happy that I had survived the swim and moved on, so I really did not think much about the reality of riding 112 miles.  I broke it up mentally, knowing that I’d be good for 56 miles (a half-iron distance), and then I’d hit special needs and then it would be a mere 60 miles more or so after that.  My pie-in-the-sky goal was sub-6:50, possible on an ideal day.  Sunday, however, was not that day!

Riding along the lake

The first 16 miles or so were pretty fun – they took us through town, which was really great with all of the spectators lining the streets and cheering for us, and then we rode along the lake – this was mainly flat with a few easy rollers.  The real work began around mile 18 or so when we started the first real climb, into a headwind.  If I had thought about the bike course during the swim, I would have confronted the reality of a windy ride, but I pushed that thought away whenever it crept up, telling myself to focus on the bike when I got to the bike.  Well, I got the bike, and the wind was brutal for one section – basically, miles 20-40 or so.  I just put my head down and tried to stay steady, but I did worry about two things:  a. getting enough food and drink - it is hard for me to take in calories in those conditions; b. what if we had a head wind coming back into town too?! 

Once we hit the turnaround and there was a nice tailwind (duh), I settled in and tried to get in calories, hydrate, keep a faster pace and enjoy this part of the course!  Riding back through town, I saw my ‘spectating crew’, which was a nice surprise and really lifted my spirits.  At that point, I also knew that my sub-7 goal was definitely out-of-reach, but I decided to focus on finishing the second lap as strong as I could. 
Coming back through town.

As we headed back towards Highway 95 (the windy section) I couldn’t decide if was better to be completely ignorant about the headwind or not.  I was dreading the next 20 or so miles, and apparently I was not the only one since, as we made the turn onto 95, the guy in front of me said “This is the road that leads to hell!”.  Okay, glad I’m not alone in my suffering.  Fortunately, I knew that we just had to reach the turnaround, and I told myself that I could get through 20 miles, even 20 hilly and windy miles, and it helped to see the mile markers pass, even if they passed slowly!  I focused on how I was feeling and, again, I told myself that the most important thing was to finish the bike with energy for the run.  I also told myself that once we hit the turnaround, it would be an easy cruise back into town – 20 miles with a tailwind, mainly downhill, just get to the turnaround.  Finally, I told myself to be grateful that, while I was slow on the bike, I was pretty strong on hills, so that worked in my favor.  My other moment of gratitude and empathy came when I saw a guy in front of me pull over the first lap, get off his bike and start rubbing his calf – well, that guy was still pulled over on the second lap.  I saw him on the second climb, and it made my heart break a little for him.  It also reminded me that, as brutal as the wind felt (or was), I was lucky to be out there.   Once we hit mile 100, I did start to count down the miles – okay, less than 10, less than 8, less than 5…  After a final climb, we were back in town and cruising to T2 in 7:27:35. 
I did get comments that I was smiling - I don't think too many people did.

The run:
While my bike-to-run transition was pitiful too (7 minutes plus some change), it doesn't bother me nearly as much as T1.  I did a full-on-change, sacrificing a speedy transition for comfort on the run.  In the transition area, I had tried to see where I was time-wise (could I still finish under 14 hours?), but mentally I couldn't do the math.  Total brain fail there.  So, I told myself to not worry about the swim and bike legs - they were over, I survived them, and now all I had to do was run a marathon. Starting the run, my legs felt pretty good, and it was a boost to see my parents, Michael and family friends as I started the run portion.

The plan going into the run, as crazy as it sounded to me, was to stick to 9-minute miles.  Beth encouraged me to visualize a 4-hour marathon and told me “I really think that this is possible for you”.  Like the bike portion, I couldn’t think about running 26.2 miles, a feat that I hadn’t accomplished in almost 18 years, so I focused on getting to certain parts of the course and being as consistent as I could. 

The run course, like the bike, was beautiful, and I reminded myself of my good fortune to be in a beautiful part of the world.  I worried about going out too hard or too slow, so I stuck to my plan and tried to nail those 9-minute miles, even with frequent bathroom breaks thanks to some stomach issues.  To be honest, the run at this point is a bit of a blur – I just told myself to keep moving, a bit like the Little Engine That Could, and I seemed to keep a steady pace.  It didn’t feel fast to me, but at times I had to rein myself in when I saw an 8 on my Garmin.  At the end of mile 6 or so, there is a nice hill that you run up and run down, hit the turn around and then run back up and down – I had planned to walk it, but I decided that I’d run as much as I could.  So, I did!  I had ups and downs during the first lap and probably stopped in the bathroom at least 5 times, but I held that steady pace.  Around mile 11, we were heading back into town, and I totally got a second wind and decided that maybe the rest of the marathon would be easy.  While that was not the case, I ran through town, saw my parents and Michael and gave them a big smile, and then headed back out for the final 13.1 miles. 
Still smiling at the half-way point.

 As I started the second half, I knew that this was where things could really go south, but I wanted to keep moving forward.  I told myself to get to mile 20 - that was my goal once I got through town.  The bathroom breaks continued, and I also quit taking in any nutrition/hydration except for cola, chicken broth, some water, and pretzels.  Yep, that was my fueling for the final 14-16 miles, but it worked.  Somehow, repeating “turn-o-ver, turn-o-ver” to myself, counting my steps in groups of ten, and thinking about the finish line all helped me continue to move forward.  I hit the big hill around mile 19 or so, and while I slowed down going up it this time, I kept pushing forward – up the hill, down the hill and then only 6 more miles to go!  A 10k – how many 10ks have I done?  My favorite distance?  Yes, I could do this! 

I was incredibly happy and thankful during those last miles, as I counted them down to 5, to 4, and as I did the math – 50 more minutes, now 40 more minutes – and it bolstered my confidence that I would finish strong!  When I hit the final miles, I told myself “No more walking!” and I really tried to push it, even running up the final small hills into town, and then turning onto Sherman Ave – wow, what an experience!  The crowds line the street and cheer on all the participants – it is just fantastic! In the days leading up to the race, so many people told me to take in the experience.  It’s crazy because so much of it still seems like a dream, and yet, running those final blocks, I felt as though all of my energy focused on this one goal – running across the finish line.  I saw my parents and Michael again, waved, and then headed towards the finish line, which was amazing.  I will say this - an Ironman finish really does make you feel like a champion, no matter what your time is.  People are lined up, cheering for you, and it is an incredible moment.

Running towards the finish line

At the finish!

While I just missed my 4-hour marathon, I slipped under the finish line with a run time of 4:11:55!  I thought that my ‘goal’ time of 13-14 hours was shot after my swim and my bike (and slow transitions), so I'm proud of myself for not dwelling on those times.  I just focused on each part of the day as it came to me.  This tactic helped me out on the run, when I just kept moving forward, and I realized at some point on the run that I could actually finish within my ‘goal’ time.  I know that there is a bigger picture to all of this and that a time, a number, shouldn’t determine the sense of pride, satisfaction and the emotion that one feels when crossing a finish line, but I was damn happy to finish in 13:31:50!

While I experienced plenty of physical discomfort and much frustration at different times during the day, IMCDA taught me so much – throughout the day, I found myself humbled and filled with gratitude.  Just like the training, race day surprised me – not because of the course or the conditions, but because of the physical and emotional pain and joy that people experienced and the fact that pure luck sometimes comes into play.  I don’t know how to summarize or neatly conclude this experience.  So many people say that an Ironman changes you forever, and I have yet to sift through that, but it gave me the chance to work toward a big goal, to push myself, to learn about myself and my limits.  Ultimately, it was an amazing experience and, a week later, I'm still grateful that I made it to the finish line on a strong and positive note, and I'm so thankful for the people in my life who supported me and for the many volunteers and spectators on race day who helped make it such a great experience.

The ubiquitous post-race finishing photo

Friday, July 4, 2014

IM Coeur d'Alene - Pre-race and swim


Ironman Coeur d’Alene marked a long and challenging day, but also one of the most rewarding!  It might be impossible for me to avoid clich├ęs in this ‘report’, since thousands and thousands of people have previously competed or participated in IM events and we all share similar experiences of swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 and running 26.2.  However, this is my little corner of the universe where I get to navel-gaze, so here’s my Ironman CDA story!  
(It's going to take a while and I decided to break it up, but I'll try to be some what succinct)

One of the many reasons that I chose IMCDA was for the location and the timing, both of which meant that we could include this event as a part of a great summer road trip.  I loved that idea - not making the race the only focus of a trip but rolling it into something else.  That said, when we left Pasadena fairly early Tuesday morning and drove up I-5, my thoughts were squarely focused on Ironman and that experience.  The drive up to Coeur d'Alene was not speedy as we stopped along the way - in Klamath Falls, OR and then Leavenworth, WA (the former was along the way but we did make a diversion to visit family friends in Leavenworth).

Scenes from the road in Klamath Falls, somewhere in Oregon, and Gus, clearly enjoying the trip.





We finally rolled into Coeur d'Alene on Thursday night, but could not fully appreciate the Ironman "scene" until Friday.  There were tons of pre-race activities, processes and requirements, and I was glad that we arrived Thursday night.  Even with that somewhat early arrival, I wouldn’t describe Friday and Saturday as “relaxing”, but I did try to take it easy and avoid too much unnecessary activity.  A friend gave me good advice beforehand – “Go to the expo on Friday and then avoid all the alpha-types for the rest of the weekend”.  I say that this was good advice because every time I saw some really bad-ass looking person with an I-dot tattoo, I would freak out a bit and question my sanity AND my ability.  

At the same time, I was so excited about the fact that this was finally, really happening - HOLY CRAP - this was it!  While much of the experience still felt (and feels) a bit dreamlike to me, there were moments of sharp clarity.  One of my major check-in moments was a practice swim on Friday morning.  It was grey, overcast, chilly and a bit damp, but I told myself that I *had* to get into the lake on Friday to test out the waters.  Signing up for this race, the swim leg made me pretty anxious because I knew that it could cold and rough.  I didn't spend tons of time in the water on Friday morning, but once I stepped into the lake, I knew that I could handle the water temps and that was a huge relief.  It was a choppy swim, but I still felt comfortable in the lake.  Okay, practice swim on Friday - check!


After that, much of the day seemed to be hurry-up-and-wait, but it gave us time to drink some coffee, check out the expo, for me to get some free ART (active release therapy), to check out the expo again, and finally to check into the race!

Ah - Ironman Village - like Disneyland for triathletes!

Gus - Looking a bit grumpy about everything.

Downtown Coeur d'Alene!

Obviously I can't compare this race venue to others, but I loved that the entire focus of the town, for this particular weekend, was Ironman.  We stayed at the Day's Inn which was very convenient, and it seemed as though the entire hotel was geared to Ironman participants and/or spectators, which I'm sure was true of other hotels too.

Saturday morning was more of the same - wake up, go for a short run, go for a short swim (choppy again), then do a short bike ride and then try to rest and relax for most of the day.  My parents also arrived on Saturday, and it was all new for them - they'd never experienced any triathlon before, and suddenly they found themselves in pre-Ironman race frenzy/craziness.  It was definitely an education for them (what's a transition?  Body marking? A gu? How much do some of these bikes cost?!).  With some anxiety, I dropped off my bike and my transition bags on Saturday afternoon. I worried that I had forgotten something, but I also felt lighter - mentally and physically - once I had taken SO MUCH GEAR to check in.  After an early dinner, I was in bed by 9:30 and excited about Sunday.

Race Day - The swim:
In the previous days, I latched onto the idea that I would sleep through my alarm and arrive at the race too late to participate, but that did not happen on Sunday morning - fortunately!  I did keep thinking to myself that it was so strange to be as calm as I was, but I decided that I'd just embrace the fact that I felt okay about tackling this event.  It was a gorgeous morning, which really helped my nerves, and having dropped most of my gear on Saturday, it was one of the easiest mornings I've experienced in my triathlon "career".  

Michael, my parents and I drove to town together, but I had to deal with a few things, so I went to the transition area on my own.  At that moment, entering that sea of bikes, I tried to take in the scene: the people who were milling around, the volunteers, the participants waiting in line, getting ready, talking, being quiet...  It was the moment when everything came into focus, and I felt a bit emotional, but in a really great way.  In my little transition area, the women were so positive - giving each other support, laughing and joking, talking about whether it was our first time or not (there were a lot of us first-timers!), and I did what I could to help out by letting someone borrow my bike pump.  I was out of the transition area well before the pros took off, meeting up with my parents and Michael to wait and wait and wait.

Pre-race fun!

In the cage - Transition!

Lake Coeur d'Alene

The calm before the suiting up.

Before the Male Pro start, we found a little patch where we could see the pro men and pro women start at 6:00 and 6:05.  It was fun to focus on something else and I even stayed around to watch Andy Potts exit the water from his first lap - jeez he's fast, but I finally suited up (wetsuit, earplugs, goggles, caps, not nearly enough body glide on my neck…), hugged everyone and headed to the swim start!

As people familiar with Ironman know, last year brought a new “swim start initiative” to some of the IM races, IMCDA 2013 being the inaugural event.  Instead of the mass, washing-machine start, it’s a wave start.  Everyone has his/her own opinion about this change, but after Sunday, I am a fan of the start.  In my opinion, the swim start was nearly as rough as some others that I’ve experienced, and I’m fine with that!  Yes, there was some contact, I did get kicked in the face once and hit on the head and grabbed, but there seemed to be plenty of room to maneuver.   Also, the CdA swim is one of the most straight-forward swims I’ve done – it’s a rectangle and, also as part of the swim initiative (I think), they have TONS of buoys which helps with sighting. 

In an ideal world, I had hoped for a sub-1:20 swim.  I knew that this was possible, but that it would depend on many things, mainly on the conditions of the swim.  Let’s just say that the lake conditions were less than ideal.  The lake was ‘warm’ in comparison to other years, but it was choppy, just like my Friday and Saturday practice swims were.  Thanks to these, the chop didn’t come as a surprise, fortunately, but whoa it was rough!  As I swam along, I figured that I could toss my “goal” time out the window, but I told myself that it was a long day and that this was only the beginning of that day, so I shouldn’t worry too much about it.  I kept these thoughts in mind as I swam along, sometimes passing people, finding that plenty of people passed me, but also cruising along behind people on occasion as I tried to save some energy by drafting a bit.  While the swim was rough and the waves knocked me around a bit, I felt comfortable in the water, even though I didn't feel fast.  I did, at one point, think to myself:  “If I ever do another one of these [you know, an ironman race], I will be a stronger swimmer because this sucks!”  As I finished the second loop and exited, I glanced at the clock and realized that I'd come in just under 1:30 - 1:27:35, to be exact.   

A bit off my 'goal time' but I decided that I would look at the bright side - it could have been worse.  I had survived the swim, I didn’t feel exhausted, and I had a new open water swim distance record for myself!  These were all positives, so now I'd move on to the bike!