Monday, June 30, 2014

Ironman Coeur d'Alene - I finished!

There is plenty more to say, but like Mike Reilly announced when I crossed the finish line last night, "Kristina Bell of Pasadena, CA - YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!

Here I am - Happy and exhausted!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Training recap - Ironman Coeur d'Alene

Just a few more days of taper, and then race day - in less than one week!  I'm still not too restless or anxious, although I did wake up yesterday thinking "Holy shit, what if the date of the race is today and NOT next Sunday!".  I knew that was a ridiculous thought, but I opened up the web page with some nervousness, afraid that I would see under the "Live" tab: Coeur d'Alene.  Ack!  Fortunately, that did not come to pass, it IS the 29th, so I will continue to wait.

I realize that Sunday is the BIG event, and perhaps it's premature to reflect on training before the race, but there is something of value to think about this process separate from race performance.  I don't know how race day will go, and while I did not have a flawless training program (what would that mean, anyway?), I would describe it as "solid" and consistent, especially in April and May.  I wish that I could say that I loved every moment of training, but that would be complete BS, because there were plenty of low points when I was tired, cranky, lonely or frustrated or some combination of all of those.  However, I did enjoy seeing or feeling myself get stronger in the pool, on the bike, on the run.  While this progress rarely followed a linear trajectory, having those "aha!" moments reinforced that my sense that the training was working and that I was moving towards this ironman goal.  There were also so many milestones, small and also more significant, that boosted my confidence along the way.  Even though I have a few "I wish that I had done X" thoughts (which maybe I'll enumerate just for fun), on the whole, I followed a consistent training plan and hit about 90% of my workouts.  That's an A- and is good enough for me!

As I've mentioned, signing up for this event back in August last year freaked me out so much that I wanted to throw up after I hit the 'send' button (not sure if it was the price tag or the idea that I was now committed to this IM thing).  Fortunately, I let things settle before my thoughts really turned to training.  The beginning of the school year, as usual, trashed any sort of training schedule that I might have followed, so I waited until October before I began to reestablish my base from the summer, and then in November, I committed more fully to swim/bike/run, but without a specific plan.  I also figured out my coaching/training situation for IM in November, which came as a huge relief, and I began working with Beth in December, but training was low-key until February.  Starting then was great, as I felt mentally ready and excited to be focused about training, even though I had to deal with a quad injury.  In a way, being out of my running game for a few weeks was a good experience.  I wanted to freak out, I often thought that I would be walking the entire marathon (and I still might), but I was able to focus on the swim and bike and I learned that you can maintain some run fitness on the elliptical.  I owe Beth and Dr. Choy, the ART guy here in Pasadena, many many thanks for their patience and for dealing with my crazy thoughts.  Okay, she dealt with my crazy doubts, and he kept working on my body and encouraging me to keep running a bit further and a bit further, until finally I was back at it!

It's strange to say that I had a favorite month of training, but I loved March - the volume went up, but it still felt manageable, plus I was running again which came as a huge relief and also a source of fun and enjoyment.  I probably went slightly overboard with events in March (I had the Desert Tri, the Solvang Metric Century, and the Malibu Canyon Half-Century), but each event was different and gave me more experience on the bike or swim/bike/running without much pressure - I gained confidence and built up endurance.  May was the month of the BIG BUILD, which logically would have been the greatest challenge, but I struggled more in April.  I think (know) that much of the struggle had to do with the training/work/life balance, plus Wildflower was looming and I didn't feel as strong as thought that I *should* be.  The struggles in April did reap dividends in May, as I felt stronger on the bike and stayed healthy for the longer runs that I had to put in.

Looking back, this has been such a positive experience, no matter what happens on Sunday.  First of all, I learned tons by working with a coach.  I'd never followed much of a specific plan for training, and I really enjoyed the structure and the variety that Beth built into my weekly or monthly schedule.  While I still had plenty of flexibility within the plan, it was a slow build that allowed me to stay healthy and get stronger and the variety ensured that I wasn't bored and that I didn't get injured.  Having a coach also made me feel accountable to my Training Peaks account (and maybe a bit obsessive).  Also, I did not talk a lot about IM training at work or socially or even with CalTri, the group with which I infrequently train - I really used Beth as my main source of information which kept out a lot of noise.  Finally, she was great about guiding me through being injured, plus the build, the peak weeks, and different races and events, and she has often been more confident about my abilities than I.

While there were many moments (especially in April and May), when I did not want to wake up at 5:00 am during the week for a swim or trainer ride or on a Saturday or Sunday for a long ride, I certainly feel that those early mornings have been worth it.  I often told myself that I alone made the choice to sign up for an ironman and I now had to do everything that I could to get to the start and finish line.  Somehow, this sort of reasoning worked for me and did, more often than not, motivate me.  Before my training really kicked in, I expected to be more social for my long rides, but I ended up riding the majority of them solo, which had its own benefits (like having to change tires on my own).  At times it was hard to be so much in my head, but that was another aspect of training that I enjoyed - the solitude of training which gave me time to think and just 'be'.  This wasn't the best year for me work-wise (not that it was a "bad" year, just not a great year), and I recognize that IM training often served as a refuge for me, a place where I could see progress and where I learned to push myself.

Despite the moments of "I-don't-want-to-get-up", I never felt that this training totally took over my life.  In May, Beth emailed me my schedule and said that I should tell Mike that I'd see him in July (she was joking!).  I know that I said 'no' to a lot of school/work commitments due to IM training (didn't go the musical for the first time in 9 years; missed a class retreat; skipped out on a pre-graduation happy hour...), but maintaining some sort of social life WAS a priority to me.  Nor did I give up alcohol or gluten.  I really took the attitude that this training was one aspect of my life, an interest that enriched my life and, in many ways, kept me physically and mentally sharp, but Ironman and triathlon certainly did not define my life.

So, with race day approaching, I will be happy to find myself at the start line with the sense that I trained and tapered well.  I know that anything can happen during a race, and I'm trying to steel myself for that, but I hope that I'll be able to remember the positives from training.  I think back on my first open water swim years ago when I almost hyperventilated, and this past week, I hit Hermosa Beach and Malibu for my final open water practice swims of the week, and just couldn't believe how amazing it was to swim in the Pacific Ocean.  As I swam, I took in the long expanse of water on one side and the beach on the other, the sun rising up..  I'll think about the great rides I've experienced (suffering and all) and the places that I've seen on my bike in the LA area and beyond, rides I would have never done without the pressure of the Ironman.  And how sweet it's been to stay healthy for the run.  I feel really lucky and grateful that I've had the experience to train - and now, it's almost time to race!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Taper time!

Peak week officially ended today, and I am so excited about the taper (at this point)!  I know, a lot of people complain about tapering and the madness that it can induce.  To be honest, this might be the first time that I've followed a solid training plan and been able to fully appreciate a taper, so the taper crazies may yet come my way.  I know that it's early days yet to be excited about stepping back from training, but I think that I'll be busy enough preparing for our trip and also doing the usual beginning-of-summer-things like getting a haircut, going to the dentist, meeting friends for lunch, and taking care of a few loose ends from the end-of-the-school-year so I shouldn't go too nuts.  Additionally, a friend who has completed multiple IM races gave me advice that I loved to hear: "Sleep.  A lot."

As for peak week, it ended up being more hours than I would have expected, mainly thanks to a long brick workout on Monday and a crazy long ride yesterday.  Throughout my weekly training plan, the word "last" peppered the descriptions of the workouts, and that helped me get through each workout and also really commit to each one.   Friday, I clocked in my last really long swim, and while swimming 4,000 yards still challenges me, I remember a few weeks ago how I wanted to take a nap immediately after a 4,000 yard swim.  Now, I think that I might, just maybe, be able to go on a ride and then run a bit after that.  Ha!

Yesterday, I especially needed the push to get up at 5:00 am after a much later night than expected, but if I hadn't committed to the ride, I probably would have stayed in bed for at least another hour and done a different ride.  However, I somehow managed to get out of bed and head out on one of California Triathlon's "Epic Rides" for 2014, meeting up at 6:30 am!  Despite not feeling 100% (so bad of me to have a late night!) and feeling quite nervous about the ride, it was well-worth all of the suffering.  And suffering there was, as we climbed the Angeles Crest Highway until it hit Highway 39, when we (or I) had a not-so-speedy descent.  The ride was pretty amazing, especially the first half, and I felt good on the climb.  I also tried to take in as much of the scenery as I could - I'd never even driven that far on the 2, so it was a real treat to experience it on the bike and to appreciate the wildflowers, yucca and amazing views.  There was some car traffic, but as we climbed higher and higher, that really thinned out, and I loved the sense of remoteness as I pedaled along on my bike.

Here we are climbing - it was a beautiful day for a ride!  Yes, I'm overdressed which was fine for the first part of the ride, and then I shed my layers.

And at the summit of the climb - looking forward to the descent.

I definitely slowed down at the end, and as I meandered thru one community after another for the last 15-20 miles, I took it easy with the stop signs, stop lights and traffic.  The last thing I wanted was an accident 2 weeks before IMCA.  I finally finished the ride in over 7 hours, with 90 miles and about 9,000 feet of climbing.  Even though this was shorter than the 112 miles I'll tackle in Coeur d'Alene, I think that this ride was harder than what I'll confront there.  Or so I hope!  

Today, then, I tackled the last long run with 4 1-mile intervals at a faster pace.  My legs were sluggish when I started out the run, but they loosened up, and the intervals actually felt pretty good.  I was so happy that it was the last run AND that I was able to run!  During so many of these longer runs, I've thought back to February/March when I could barely run a few miles without pain and when I envisioned myself walking the entire ironman marathon.  While I still might end up walking some or even most of the marathon, I've tried to appreciate the solid training runs that I've been able to experience and, quite often, enjoy.

One other random note - I haven't had a super crazy appetite, except for yesterday after the ride when I felt like this:
And I devoured almost everything in sight.

I acknowledge that this week would have felt far more unmanageable had I been working, so my summer schedule probably helped me avoid a total peak-week-meltdown.  Instead, it was a nice culmination of training (wait, maybe that is the race?), and while I wasn't speedy on the ride yesterday nor on the run today, I felt pretty good, all things considered!  Even a month ago, I think that I would have questioned whether I could put in the time and/or distance that I managed to cover this week, so all of this training has been an interesting experience, surprising me time and again, usually in a positive way!  Going into the IM training process, my biggest fear was getting injured and not being able to put in the miles, especially on the run, so I've been thankful to end the major build and peak weeks feeling tired but healthy.  

And now - here's to resting, getting in some recovery time, and prepping for the race!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

20 years is a long time!

This past weekend, I traveled to the East Coast for my 20th college reunion - crazy!  I kept asking myself the rhetorical question "How did this happen?".  Jeez, 20 years seems like a very long time to have graduated from college.  The list of personal, national and international events that have occurred since then is fairly lengthy. 

When my alma mater first contacted me about the reunion, I had my doubts about going.  I'd conveniently skipped the 5th, 10th and 15th, partly because, for the first decade of post-college life, weddings and other events seemed to bring classmates back together, so I could catch up with people and hear about their careers, families and interests.  That era seems to have passed now that people are having and raising kids, an event that does not call for friends to meet up.  I've seen some friends a few times in this past decade, but, to be honest, I haven't stayed in touch with people very well, even with the ever-growing abundance of social media that connects everyone.  Maybe I was curious to see how 20 years had changed my classmates and Davidson, but mainly I thought that it would be a fun weekend and that I shouldn't miss it. 

So, I made plans back in April - buying a ticket and getting a hotel room - and forgot about planning until about a week before leaving, when I rented a car.  Taking the red-eye, I packed on Thursday afternoon, we spent Thursday afternoon/evening hanging around Venice Beach before I caught my plane from LAX.
The Venice Canals are always fun and worthy of a quick picture!

As for the reunion, I'm not sure what I expected.  As I said, I was curious about seeing people and places.  I did reconnect with old friends which was awesome, and it's funny because there people that I remember thinking "I know I didn't like you in college, but it doesn't matter anymore.".  That was the most significant thought I had regarding people.  That and the regret that I feel about not staying in better touch.  The other thought was that we looked pretty good but we were no longer young and hip! I saw the younger reunion groups and they were definitely that - younger!  My final thought from the night - what a lot of lawyers!  That was definitely one of the most popular career tracks that people seemed to follow post-college. 

I definitely did not feel overly nostalgic for life in college.  I did pass by dorms I once called home and walked through the main classroom building, Chambers, but much of my wanderings around campus made me wonder about how much had changed (so many new buildings! A coffee shop on campus!) and how much had stayed the same (traditional red brick buildings, nice green expanses of lawns).  Coming from CA, the biggest shock was how green everything was!  I mean literally GREEN, not eco or environmental, but lush, verdant plants and trees.  That was my first thought when the plane flew into Charlotte.  

Other than seeing friends, the highlight of the weekend was a nice run from the college campus to what is known as the "Lake Campus", a trek that would have been unthinkable on foot when I was in college but made for a perfect Saturday morning long run.  I was a bit skeptical about the road situation (would a car hit me?  would a dog attack me?), but people were quite courteous, and I really enjoyed the run.  There was an organized bike ride happening, which would have also been totally unthinkable when I was in college in that area, so it was fun to look at the bikes and wish that I'd brought shoes and pedals and rented a bike for the morning! 

Saturday night was the final shin-dig, for me at least, and we even took a class picture.  I think about 25% of our class was there - definitely a small group, but it's a small school! I'm on the front row talking to someone - nice shot of me with my head completely turned around.  The most interesting thing about the evening was "experiencing" the reunion speaker - our former dean of students who ended up insulting pretty much everyone there thanks to his sexist, classist and racist remarks.  It was impressive to see someone just crash and burn that spectacularly in person.  (It's not funny at all, but wow! It gave us something to talk about!)

This trip was so brief that I was back in LA by noon on Sunday, and it almost seemed surreal that I had woken up in North Carolina hours ago.  Upon my return, someone asked if I'd had any major revelations on this trip, and I bluntly said that I did not.  Which is true, but I certainly did feel the passage of time and the paradox that people and places change but also stay the same.  I also think that this is a better school than when I attended, and not just academically but in terms of the programs the school offers and the students that it attracts.  In a way, I wish that I could return to college, only because I think that I could "do it" better - meaning, hindsight is 20/20.  I would take different classes, be more active in other aspects of college life, perhaps I would drink and study a bit less (both of which I did quite a bit).

Then again, I'm pretty happy with where I am, so maybe I wouldn't change a thing?  I do know this - I'm happy that I went to college but I'm even happier that I'm not IN college anymore!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

May - a month of milestones

We're well into June, or so it seems (okay, it's only the 5th, but I feel that I'm behind in terms of enjoying my month!).  June 1st officially marked the 4 week countdown to Ironman CdA, and I was much less freaked out than I thought that I would be - probably because I was exhausted from the Ojai Century the day before and then my Sunday long run.  And then I had to put on a cap and gown and look academic for graduation on Sunday night.

May was filled with somewhat major events for me, in terms of training.  Not to measure every aspect of my life in relation to IM training, but I started the month with a great race experience at Wildflower and then capped it off with the Ojai Century.  It's strange because when I first saw some of the weeks in May, I thought that the bigger training volume would kick my ass, but once I got into the training, it didn't seem that terrible.  There were moments when I felt more 'aware' of the volume and more aware of the fact that I was doing more than I really thought I could, and occasionally my motivation waned and I missed a workout or two or cut some short (there was that really hot week in mid-May when temperatures hit over 100).  Most of the time, though, the longer runs, rides and swims seemed like a natural part of a process.  There are times when I wonder if I'm training "enough" in comparison to other people, but I remind myself that this training load has kept me quite healthy (knock on wood), with the exception of February's quad issue and my body has held up so much better than I had feared when I signed up for this experience/event.  I've definitely made some 'life' choices that did not align perfectly with the triathlon training stars, but going out on occasion with friends to drink margaritas, agreeing to be a chaperone on the annual senior class trip, well, these experiences were important to me.  

I confess that I don't actually think too much about the actual IM race at this point, but at times I try to visualize parts of it, and I did have a moment of panic after my first 4,000 yard swim left me completely exhausted and that was without a bike/run afterwards!  At the same time, it has been exciting to reach that 4,000 yard marker, to bike 100 miles and to run 18.5 miles.  The training has also surprised me in many ways.  First of all, the 18.5 mile run felt great compared to a 16.5 run the week before, during which my main focus was to not bonk (a good lesson for me - run with either more fuel or enough money to buy something!).  Also, this week, seeing 5x5 minute intervals at a 10k pace, thinking that there was no way that I'd ever be able to hit those, and then seeing that I can still hit faster paces - that made my day!  Not that it's all gone that way.  The trainer is still my nemesis - I think that I've developed a mental block that makes me hate that apparatus and liken it to a medieval torture device.  Still, after spending the month of April away from it and feeling that I'd lost bike fitness, I knew that I needed to get back on it in May.  And I do enjoy the payback, those moments when I find that I can push my legs a bit more on that 100 mile ride when I hit some nice easy rollers.

I still have plenty of hard work to do in the next few weeks, and I need to keep myself healthy and injury-free, but I enjoyed much of the "build" in May and I'm looking forward to the next few weeks, ticking off the last long ride, last long brick, last long swim...  And then, looking to the big day which will be here in about 24 days now!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Ojai Valley Century - Hitting 100

Finally, 100 miles on the bike!  When I signed up for Ironman (back in August!), I knew that I wanted to hit 100 before the race - preferably a few more miles over the 100-mile marker, but I would content myself with that milestone.  May was the month of going long, as training ramped up, and I found a century that worked with my schedule - the Ojai Valley Century.  Perfect!  I would be ready to go on May 24 to ride, ride, ride.  There plenty of reasons to be excited about this ride.  First of all, it was in a beautiful setting - Ojai, CA, which many people describe as Shangri-la.  Also, it had multiple options - I opted for the more challenging century, and Michael would tackle the metric century.  Also, the rides looked great with a nice mix of climbing and some speedy flats, mountains and also the CA coast.

Not a bad place to ride!  Source

One small issue - the ride was NOT last Saturday, May 24, like I had thought and planned but this past Saturday, May 31.  Oops!  Fortunately, I discovered my gaff well before we got up to Ojai on the 24th - that would have been quite a comedy of errors.  We planned to leave early Saturday morning, and after looking at the website numerous times, I finally noticed the date at around 4:00 pm Friday afternoon on the 23rd.  While I was quite frustrated with myself for screwing up something so obvious, we were able to adjust.

Sooooo, Friday afternoon, I returned from the annual multi-day, end-of-the-year camping trip with kids (a good trip but not relaxing), picked up my final exams to grade, and then I prepped for Saturday's ride!  The prep mainly involved water bottles and food, but I also double checked supplies of tubes, CO2 cartridges, sunscreen, chapstick and other random items.  

A pre-5:00 AM wake-up call came early, but I managed to get out of bed without the snooze button.  After coffee and breakfast and loading up the car, we were on the road before 6:00 am and arrived in Ojai between 7:15-7:30.  Because I participate in more 'races' than organized bike rides, it always fascinates me how relaxed the atmosphere is for a ride.  Mind you, I'm not trying to win anything, and rarely do I get an early start, so it is probably a different experience for the more serious cyclists.  We finally pushed off around 8:10, staying together for the first mile.  After that, Michael followed the metric ride, and I began the long, slow climb up Highway 33.  It was a beautiful ride and not too hot at that point.  I must have been one of the last people to hit the road (or so it seemed) because I felt as though I was totally alone, with the exception of two cyclists behind me.  I knew that our first aid stop was around mile 14-something, so I assumed that the climb would end there, but not so!  It ended a mile beyond the aid station, so I kept trucking along.  I don't know how people stop a mile before a climb ends - I just want to get to the summit!  Well, I finally got to our turn-around point and documented the experience:

Seriously, I'm happy to be here!  Don't I look cheery?

After that, we retraced our route.  So, rather than 12 miles climbing, we had a 12 miles descent - now that was fun!  And I even passed a few people!  After that out-and-back, we headed west to the ocean. We had another challenging climb before hitting the coast and cruising along Highway 1/101.  I briefly stuck onto a group's wheel, but then they pulled over which was a bummer - I had hoped to cruise to our lunch area with them.  I tried to stay focused on that stretch and keep a high cadence, catching the occasional glimpse of surfers in the water.  After a quick bite to eat at mile 60 in Ventura (sponsored by my favorite store, Patagonia), I continued on with the ride.  By that point, I had caught up with enough people that I no longer felt alone.  We continued further south and then took a left, heading east - passing the fields in Oxnard and a lovely auto plaza and then through residential areas and then more fields.  At that point, I wasn't quite on a guy's wheel, but he was being a good leader and taking care of me, signaling and gesturing to let me know what was up ahead.  Once we caught up with another group, he took off!  I felt great about my pace until mile 83 when I HAD ANOTHER FLAT! That was the first one of the day but jeez, I'm so tired of them!  I was close enough to the final SAG stop that I aired up the tire and cruised to the stop where I did some of the work and then a SAG volunteer got to work on the tire!  I was a little nervous that I had a slow leak in the tire and not the tube, so I worried that I wouldn't finish the final 15 or so miles.  Fortunately, the tire stayed plenty inflated, allowing me to finish out the ride - one long push before cruising down into Ojai Valley for the finish.  I did start to feel new aches and pains around the 90 mile mark, but I also knew that the final 8 miles were downhill or relatively flat, so I kept chugging along until I returned to the start!  I was still just a bit short of the 100 mile mark, but after a few loops around the "city" blocks, the Garmin clicked over to three digits.  Woo-hoo!  I was DONE!  The ride advertised 5,300 elevation gain for the century that I did (there are 2 century options), but I thought that there was a bit more than that.  I don't always trust my Garmin, but it confirmed my suspicions, clocking around 6,400 feet of elevation gain.  Either way, that was a good training ride for Coeur d'Alene!

Michael had finished earlier, obviously, but had waited for me to eat (I don't know if I would have waited for him...).  I initially inhaled the food, but then slowed down and couldn't quite finish my ice cream.  Overall, I would give the food on this ride 5 out of 5 stars - I tried to stick to my "nutrition" for most of the ride, but there was an abundance of fresh fruit at all of the stops, and I did enjoy the lunch break at mile 60, quickly eating half a sandwich, some pretzels and taking oreos for the road.  One of the stops had popsicles too!  And the post-race food was excellent and servings generous.

In addition to the SAG stops/food - also stocked with sunscreen - I would recommend this ride for other reasons.  First of all, there are lots of options with varied terrain.  Again, Michael did the metric century, and he really enjoyed his ride.  The final plus of the ride is that it is a good community event.  While it was a smaller event than the Solvang Ride I did in March, the support on the course was great.

I'm not sure if an ironman is in my future in 2015, but I definitely plan on doing this ride again - along with Solvang!  I'm looking forward to experiencing these rides without the pressure of "ironman training".  I have a hunch that it will be a different experience - not better, not worse, just different.