Monday, September 29, 2014

Reflecting On the Good & What Needs Work

Last week I read a post by Emily about the three things she thought she did well at her first 100 miler and the three things to work on for her next one. When I was reading her post I kept thinking this type of reflection would be a good way to think about my race in a way that may help prepare me for Lake Placid next year. As Emily said in her post, I think it's important to recognize when you did well and what you could improve upon.

First up, what I did well:

1. Pacing.
During training I didn't do that many bricks and essentially no longer bricks. My long runs were also somewhat non-existent. I ended up taking more of a cumulative training approach but come race day was nervous about race execution. After two seasons of racing sprint and Olympic distance races I am still not sure how to pace even those distances. While I may look back on this day after several more 70.3's and realize I could have pushed harder here or there, I think I did a pretty good job at pacing my first attempt at this distance. When I saw what I was averaging on the bike I could have freaked out but instead I listened to how I was feeling and kept plugging away. I finished the run with probably a little more in the tank but definitely not much. I trusted myself and it payed off.

2. Staying mentally strong
As I mentioned in my race report, this was the first race this year where those annoying voices in my head didn't plague my race. I was truly happy the entire race and can honestly say I had no low points. From shivering in the 45 degree temp before the race to climbing the biggest hill on the course  at mile 12, I wanted to be out there. I did not want to the race to be over or to be onto the next leg like I have so many times this season. I credit some of this mental fortuitousness to not putting pressure on myself about this race. My A goal was to break six hours but I would have been okay with a slower time if that was all I had on that day. I realized I was okay with not breaking six hours and it honestly made it a lot easier to actually break the six hours. I was relaxed and focused on execution and enjoyment rather than the clock.

3. Nutrition
I will be the first to say that I struggled a little with my nutrition during training. I tried to mimic my race-day nutrition as much as possible during training but I would often come home from a long ride with almost an entire bottle of nutrition still on my bike. I pretty quickly discovered I don't like eating frequently while biking so instead I focused on taking in nutrient dense fuel. I wrote out a plan and followed it almost to a tee. The one exception would be on the bike. I didn't finish my last bottle because I was afraid to drink more given how much I had to pee. I knew I could potentially hurt my run by neglecting nutrition and hydration, which was part of the reason why I peed on the side of the road. I also took in more solid calories and drank extra after I peed.

Now what I have room for improvement on. To be honest, I'm not sure I would really change much with my execution of this race given my specific preparation. I know I want to try going harder on the bike in my next 70.3 but I wouldn't say I didn't go hard enough this time. So, for this portion I'm going to focus on what I can improve upon in training since that will have a greater effect on how I race.

1. More focused swim training
I'm the first to admit that swimming is my strength in this crazy sport. I have a history as a swimmer and more or less grew up in the pool. What this translates to is having a love-hate relationship with swimming. I go through periods where all I want to do is swim and I contemplate starting to compete again, mixed with periods of little to no swimming at all because I can't stand the thought of spending another minute following the black line. I am one of the lucky ones who can put in less than stellar swim training and still have a decent swim leg during races.

While I've heard that the swim at Rev3 Poconos was a little long, I'm really not all that pleased with my performance. I had some really solid workouts in the pool but when it comes down to it I only did the minimum and the results show that. Sometimes I find it hard to go to the pool when a ride or run would likely be more beneficial but it's almost impossible to do too much in the pool. Swimming will help my overall race and that is what's important. I also know I can push myself a hell of a lot harder in the pool and that is the plan for this off-season. A hard workout in the pool is not going to take me long to recover from and I need to take advantage of that.

This beauty will certainly help

2. Intensity on the bike
Hands down the bike was the part of triathlon I worked on the most this year. I logged more miles in the saddle and started to feel like I could hold my own out there on two wheels. I won't say I wasn't surprised when I found out my biking was still mid to bottom of the pack. I made a ton of improvement this year but when I look back on my training my main focus was solely on logging more miles. I did more rides and longer rides and I'll be doing more rides and longer rides again next year. But where I think I'll make the most improvement is by getting out there and riding hard. This fall I'm going to work on climbing while the weather is still nice before transitioning to shorter harder trainer workouts over the winter.

3. Consistency 
I know after two years of training for triathlons that consistency is going to lead to the greatest improvements. Consistency during the year and consistency year after year. Last year I really didn't start training until May and while that was fine given where I was last spring, I want to take advantage of all my hard earned fitness from this year. I have taken almost two full weeks off since the race and am easing back into light exercise now. Instead of taking the next few months off with little to no exercise I am going to simply dial things back. I don't need to be in peak training all year long but sticking with some training will help things go smoothly when it is time to officially begin ironman training.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rev3 Poconos 70.3 Race Report

I don't even know where to begin. The journey to this finish line was a very emotional one filled with plenty of ups and downs. Going into the weekend I was more nervous than I can remember being before any of my other races. As a former competitive swimmer I was not worried at all about the swim. I spent much of this summer working on becoming a stronger cyclist and I knew I would get through the bike leg. It was the run I was worried about. The long run has always proven to be a struggle for me both mentally and physically and this led to me doing everything I could to avoid long running at all. I did a few 8 mile runs and one 11 miler before the race.

Also of note, a week before race day I woke up with a nasty cold making it nearly impossible to breathe out of my nose at all. I scrapped my original taper plan in favor of extra rest and doing only what my body felt up to. I was worried it would hurt my race but in the end I knew it was better to do too little than too much. Luckily by Thursday the cold was almost gone and I was starting to feel better about the race. My workouts were still major suckfests but at least I was feeling somewhat healthy again.

Friday afternoon my mom and I made the 2.5 hour drive up to the Poconos. Even though the race wasn't until Sunday I wanted a chance to settle in and check things out instead of spending Saturday rushed trying to get everything done. We stayed at the host hotel, which was also the site of the expo, T2 and the finish. We took advantage of the beautiful weather on Friday to drive the last 7 or so miles of the bike course. Rev3 advertised this course as having a technical last 12 miles so I wanted to see just how technical we were talking. Luckily it wasn't anything too bad.

The plan on Saturday was to pick up my packet, head over to T1 to rack my bike and do a practice swim, and then come back to the hotel and relax. Unfortunately Saturday was a complete washout. It started raining around 10am and didn't stop until 8pm. It made for a pretty gross day. After racking my bike and swimming I was pretty freezing. The water was around 70 degree which wouldn't be so bad with no wetsuit except it was really cold out of the water too.

The highlight of Saturday was the "worst wetsuit" contest. Rev3 and Blueseventy host a contest and award the winner of the worst wetsuit a brand new blueseventy wetsuit. As someone who doesn't even have a wetsuit I was all about this contest. I threw on an old two-piece kayaking wetsuit that's a few sizes too small and stood outside in the pouring rain to win myself my very first wetsuit. Thank you Rev3 and blueseventy!

Race morning started with a 4:57am wakeup call, followed by scarfing down a bowl of oatmeal, getting tatted up, and bundling up for the 45 degree morning. I quickly set up T2 and hopped on the bus to head to the swim start. I don't remember being that cold leaving T2 but when I got off the bus at the swim start I was pretty chilly. While just about everything with this race was great, there was not enough time for athletes to set up T1 by the time the busses got there. The race was not planned to start until 7:00 with the women's wave going off at 7:10 but they made us line up at the water at 6:40. Needless to say we all stood there freezing for 20-30 minutes.

Swim (1.2 miles) 
The women's wave went off right on time at 7:10. In order to avoid some of the chaos that seems to be inevitable during the first few minutes of the swim I lined up in the second row. I realized during the practice swim that while I can handle the contact of the swim start, I really do better doing my own thing. I let the first row of women claw at each other before swimming around and passing a bunch of them. I focused on swimming a steady and even pace, and just getting from one buoy to the next.

Maybe 1/3 of the way through I found another woman to draft off of and just clung to her. Whenever she would gain any distance on me I surged to catch back up to not lose her. I knew it was going to be a long day so I didn't want to really push the swim but I also didn't want to lose my feet. During the last quarter of the swim I struggled with catching up to the two waves in front of me. It was like a losing battle trying to navigate the shallow waters coming into the finish without running over some of the slower swimmers. On the other hand, it did feel pretty good to chick so many men.

Swim- 32:21 / 1:41/100m / 1st AG / 7th female
T1- 3:54

Nutrition: gluten free oatmeal at 5:15, mango naked smoothie at 6:30

Bike (56 miles)
Getting out of the water was pretty brutal. The air had not warmed up in the thirty minutes I was in the water, and now I was soaking wet. T1 took quite some time between the quarter mile run from the lake and my fingers being too cold to put on my arm warmers.

The first five miles of the bike were almost completely downhill, filled with a few scary curves. I drove this part of the course on Saturday so I knew exactly what to expect but I still was scared. I was scared about my bike handling skills but I think what I was really scared of was that I didn't do enough. Enough long rides, enough hilly rides, enough bricks. Enough, enough, enough. I spent the first mile or so settling into the bike and getting adjusted to the cold temps.

It was about a mile in that the switch in my mind was flipped and I entered race mode. During most of my races last year my mind stayed quiet and let my body do what it had spent so many hours training to do. This year my mind has refused to stay quiet. I was constantly questioning myself and my ability to race competitively. I was not nice to myself and my performances suffered because of it. On Sunday, my mind was quiet. It was like those ever-annoying voices in my head were making up for terrorizing me so much throughout the rest of the season.

In typical triathlete race report fashion, the bike leg has all become a blur. I remember almost all of the course but only bits and pieces of what went through my mind during those 56 miles. I remember being in awe of how gorgeous the course was, with a river on one side and a mountain on the other. I remember being giddy about how much fun I was having during the entire ride. I remember not being even slightly frustrated with how many people passed me. I was racing my own race and nobody else mattered. I remember having to pee for the last twenty miles, not being able to go while riding or find a porta-potty, and inevitably going on the side of the road in plain view of all the cars and athletes that went by.

Mostly, I remember telling myself over and over to be smart. This was not the race to experiment with going balls to the wall on the bike and seeing if I blow up on the run. Be smart about pacing. Be smart about nutrition. Stay in the present and be smart. This mantra came in handy during the last ~8 miles, which featured one decent climb before heading to T2 on some seriously windy roads. Be smart about pacing up the hill. Be smart about going around blind curves. Be smart about hitting the never-ending potholes.

Bike- 3:15:15 / 17.21 mph / 1st AG / 36th female
T2- 1:33

Nutrition: blueberry Pro bar, smooth caffeinated Picky Bar, 4 clif shot bloks, 1 bottle Osmo nutrition active, 1.5 bottles raspberry Skratch labs. (~750 kcals)

Run (13.1 miles)
Coming off the bike into T2 I realized that my fingers were swollen. As in I had no knuckles. I had a minor panic that something was wrong but was more concerned with finishing the race. Any medical issues will have to wait until after this 13.1 mile run. I said a quick hello to my mom, hit the porta-potty, and was off running.

This was the part of the race I was most nervous for. When friends would ask me in the days leading up to the race how I was feeling I would tell them I was confident about the swim and the bike but pretty nervous about the run. I had no idea what kind of pace I could expect to hold so I set my sights on running 10:00 min/miles. I knew I had biked faster than expected and had a cushion for breaking the 6-hour mark.

I tried to pay attention to how my legs were feeling to determine how this run was going to go. I was careful to hold back during the first mile since I have a tendency to take off a little too quickly. When I was passed by someone I let them go because this was not the time to try anything. Be smart. I was cautious the first few miles, not knowing how my body would be feeling at mile 10. I was so scared of bonking that I think I held back a little too much.

The majority of the run was uneventful in the way that means that you're doing everything correctly. I had no GI issues or cramping. Every 5K I checked in with myself and if I was still feeling good I gave myself permission to pick up the pace a little. Looking back at my splits I don't think I was actually running any faster but I never slowed down so we'll call that success.

The course was an out and back, with the first and last ~3 miles on that same hilly windy road we biked on, with the middle miles on a really beautiful flat gravel trail. My plan for the run was essentially easy during the first 5k, pick it up on the trail, survive the hills on the way back. I pretty much stuck to this plan except when I exited the trail I still felt good enough to push harder. The one big hill on the way back to the hotel was defeating but the rest of that 5K was surprisingly not as hard as I was expecting.

It was during these final 3 miles that I was passed for the first time by someone I knew I wouldn't be repassing. These miles were also where I started to take a risk. I knew I was close enough to the finish line to chance really pushing it. With each mile that ticked my I could feel myself getting stronger, knowing the finish line was getting closer and closer.

Run- 2:01:54 / 9:18 pace / 2nd AG / 31st female

Nutrition: 1 bottle Osmo nutrition active, GU roctane, PowerBar gel, water from last few aid stations (~275 kcals)

Overall 5:54:58 / 1st AG / 24th female

Crossing that finish line I experienced what everyone told me would happen after crossing the finish line of my first marathon. I felt changed, as cliche and cheesy as it sounds. Despite so many strong races and hard-earned finish lines, I haven't felt like I pushed myself and earned that finishers chute quite like I did on Sunday. I am proud of this entire race, which is something I rarely ever say. And while I will be taking a much needed break to catch up with friends and finish out my senior year of college, I am excited for 2015 and Ironman Lake Placid in a whole new way.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

One Week tip Race Day!

Today marks one week until the race I've been training for since May. If you had asked me yesterday how I was feeling heading into race week I would have said something like "feeling really good about the swim, excited for the bike, and nervous for the run." Right now is a different story. I woke up this morning with the beginning of a head cold, full of congestion, fatigue and a pounding headache. I have my fingers crossed that with some rest and a lot of vitamin C I can get to the start line on Sunday healthy and ready to race.

Aside from this little snafu things have been going swimmingly. I had a few great weeks of training and was feeling confident about putting together a solid race on September 14. Since I've been a bad blogger and neglected to post my weekly training recaps I'll catch you up to speed now.

August 11-17
Monday- 19.86 miles of easy biking
Tuesday- yoga
Wednesday- 1500 yd swim
Thursday- rest
Friday- strength
Saturday- rest
Sunday- rest

August 18-24
Monday- run, bike, run brick of 4.15 mile run, 37.31 miles biking, 3.85 mile run
Tuesday- 2500 yd swim, strength
Wednesday- rest
Thursday- yoga, 6.25 mile run
Friday- 18 miles biking, strength
Saturday- 2500 yd swim
Sunday- Keystone State Sprint Triathlon

August 25-31
Monday- 20.7 mile recovery bike ride
Tuesday- 3.26 mile recovery run, yoga
Wednesday- strength
Thursday- 25.3 miles biking
Friday- 3200 yd swim
Saturday- 7 mile run + 4.1 mile run
Sunday- 57.2 mile bike, 2.1 mile t-run, 2800 yd swim

September 1-7
Monday- 30 miles biking
Tuesday- 4000 yd swim
Wednesday- 11 mile run
Thursday- 3400 yd swim
Friday- rest
Saturday- 3000 yd swim, 4.07 mile run
Sunday- 39.8 miles biking