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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rotorua Half Ironman Race Report - December 14, 2013

Pre Race
After spending a week in Dunedin on the south island of New Zealand, I flew to Auckland on the 12th and met Mark on his arrival from Alaska. We spent the night in Auckland and hit the road for Rotorua after a leisurely start our day and a fairly lengthy quest for breakfast. 

The drive to Rotorua was about 3 hours and went fairly quickly since we were in a new country and driving on the opposite side of the road. The scenery was lovely, with green rolling hills pocked with sheep and cows.

We arrived in Rotorua in the early afternoon and were quickly greeted with the famous aroma of the place. Rotorua is one of the geothermal “hot spots” in NZ and therefore basically smells like farts. Farts everywhere, all the time…though there are definite areas of more intense fart smell than others. I guess that means there are fart refugia. I imagine that Rotoruans get used to it and maybe enjoy the excuse to pass gas at will without getting called out on it. But for those of us who don’t perpetually live with sulfur in the air, it can be quite distracting at times.

We checked into the hotel and then grabbed a bite to eat before heading back to the hotel for race check-in. It was obviously going to be a laid back affair, as there was no one checking you were who you said you were and the race packets were laid out on the floor in one of the hotel conference rooms. After “checking in” I decided to go chat with the race director since I had traded some emails with him before about coming from Alaska. He was a big guy with an obvious charisma, but he did take perhaps a bit too much pleasure in telling everyone how hard the race was and how you will meet your demons, etc. Then he told him that I really fucked up by not allowing time in our itinerary to stay for the after party. Good times ahead.

Mark and I then drove to the race start and I did a quite 30 minute workout (20 mins bike/10 min run) with some pick ups thrown in, while he went for a run as well.  The location was gorgeous, but after rendezvousing at the car we both were realizing how difficult this course really could be. Too late now!

Back to the hotel where I fussed with my gear, while we continuously excused the other of breaking wind. It was quickly getting late, so we went off to find dinner. I had a lovely salad and Mark a pizza and some local brew. I was DYING to be done racing so I could let me usually strict diet go for the rest of our trip. I did some last minute fussing, then set the alarm for 3:30 because the bloody race start time was 6:25 and it was first come, first served on bike racking.

Setting up transition
3:30 came fast, and while I slept ok, I did not sleep long enough this night or the night before so was pretty heavy with fatigue. Thank god for pre race nerves to get me going.  I hid in the bathroom while I ate a sweet potato, one packet of almond butter and a scoop of protein powder and prepped my nutrition, so that Mark could keep sleeping. 

At the race venue now, there was a layer of fog rising off the lake and the skies were beginning to show their bright blue. It was going to be a warm one! I found a reasonably good spot in the racks and went about setting up transition.  I did some light stretching and then went out and jogged for about 10 minutes. With 30 minutes until race start, I began sipping on a packet of chocolate UCAN as my final shot of prerace nutrition. Then it was into the wetsuit and the dreaded anticipation that builds as the race start slowly crawls nearer.

The Swim – the course was two 1K loops in stunning Blue Lake, so slightly longer than a traditional 1.9K half swim. The water was cool, but comfortable and very clear. It was really nice. I tried to find some feet to grab on to and I was successful for brief periods at a time but was never really able to stick with anyone in particular.  I felt good, but perhaps too relaxed. I navigated well and the first lap went quite fast. The second lap seemed to go slower but I had a relatively even split. 
Out of the water!

T1 – My bike was a fair bit away from the swim exit and I had to run up a grassy hill.  My wetsuit came off quite easily until it got stuck on my right ankle. I couldn’t straighten my foot without my calf cramping, so I struggled with that for a bit before just ripping the damned thing off.

The Bike – In my research for this race, all I kept hearing was how hilly and difficult the course was. I left transition not entirely sure what was ahead of me, except for the hills that we had encountered on the way the race start. They weren’t any worse than what I rode at home, so while I wasn’t overly concerned, I did feel like I needed to ride fairly conservatively since I really did not know what I would face across the entire 56 mi course. The course was really quite stunning and afforded some spectacular views. I tried to ride strong but also make sure I was enjoying myself and appreciating the opportunity. There were hills. There were lots of hills. But they weren’t overwhelming or endless and I felt pretty good with how I was handling them. I had mixed three packets of UCAN into a single water bottle and the plan was to take 1/3 of the bottle (~one packet) every 75 minutes starting about 15 minutes into the ride. I stuck to the plan and felt just fine. I sipped water (with NUUN) as needed. It was warm, but the course offered quite a lot of shade and some big rain clouds rolled in the latter half of the ride, so I kept my temperature in check.  Coming into transition, I wondered if I should have ridden harder. 
3:26:32 (includes T1&T2)
T2 – Nothing to report here. Helmet to hat, change shoes, and strap on fuel belt. Done.

Getting ready to really suffer

The Run
– I made a quick potty spot so that I could get into my run feeling light and fresh. I ran first half mile or so and felt pretty good and thought that if I maintained this pace, I would end up with a descent time for the day.  Unfortunately, I had two big things working against me. First of all, it was getting quite warm now. The rain clouds had all together disappeared, making for an increasingly hot afternoon.  Secondly, there was the course. After that first half mile on the road, the course cut into the trails that wrap around Blue and a neighboring lake. The up and downs were constant and mostly in direct sun.  My pace quickly slowed to less than ideal and I knew I was in for it.  So, fairly early in the run I knew this leg was going to a mental battle and my goal switched from finishing as near to 6:00 to not making it my worst finish time ever. I stuck to my nutrition plan and continued taking one packet of UCAN every 75 minutes. I never felt like I was out of energy or poorly fueled. I just felt like I was running up rocky hills in the heat. The course contained no distance markers so I had no idea where I was. Since my pace was off and I wasn’t sure how accurate the swim or bike leg had bin, I was pretty lost as to how far I’d come or how far I had left to go. I asked volunteers whenever I saw them and literally got a different answer EVERY single time. Now you might say, well that’s because they were at different spots along the course. Well, of course. But that’s not that I mean. I would ask one guy and he would tell me I was at 10K, while the next guy would tell me the same or some number that would make no sense if the previous guy had been right. The worst was when I was told I had only a few K to go, when I actually had twice that. While I knew that the report had to be crap because of where I was on the clock, that part of my brain that just wanted to be done wanted to believe it so, so bad. After a bit, I rounded a bend and saw the finish line…oh my god, maybe he wasn’t lying! And then I saw it…the dreaded arrow separating the first lap from the final lap. Nuts! Another 5K lap for me.  This final stretch (which marked the end of your first lap or the end of the race) was the only flat part of the course and it was through sand. Insult to injury! I did my best to smile and wave to Mark and went out for my final lap. It seemed to last an eternity and I distracted myself by counting my steps and also looking for Hobbits.  I began taking coke at the limited aid stations, not because I needed it but because it was cold and just sounded good. I finally rounded the bend and saw the beach marking the way home. Whew! Mark was waiting with an ice-cold “beersie”!  Though it was the NZ equivalent of Budweiser, it was fucking delicious.
Tinal: 6:29:40
Other thoughts
Going into this race, I actually felt very good physically. My training had all gone quite well and I was laying out some pretty decent training paces for me. However, having started my 2013 triathlon season in February, I was really beginning to feel mentally burned out. I’m certain that came into play on race day.

While I had a decent swim, I’m realizing that I am afraid of going too hard on the swim and hold back far too much. My pool times predict swim splits that are a few minutes faster than I have been able to hit so far. While I realize that open water swimming is a different beast, I still think I need to work on this aspect of my training.

I took a wrong turn on the bike, which I recognized quickly but still involved some back tracking. I also dropped my chain twice. Also, NZ roads are pretty crappy. They aren’t full of potholes but they are paved with that very rough asphalt which rattles your entirely body and undoubtedly increases rolling resistance and slows you down. While none of these cost me hugely, they definitely contributed to a slower bike split than I could have posted on this course.

I initially thought I could have pushed it harder on the bike leg, but facing that run leg would have been much worse than it was, so I’m glad I held back a little. My mistake was that I was overly concerned with the difficulty of the bike leg and did not focus enough on the run course.  As I said, the run was the most difficult I have encountered. The heat of the day (it reached near 80) was especially difficult for me since it’s winter in Alaska! I also found myself with a side stitch that I wrestled with for about a half hour. Oh…and there was the bloody nose.
Best crap beer ever!

I would not change anything with my nutrition plan. It seemed to do well for me and I plan to continue with the metabolically efficient (fat adapted/low carb) approach to training and racing.

The race as a whole was a very laid back affair, which has it’s benefits and drawbacks. The lack of distance markers on the course was quite frustrating and nutrition was very limited, only water and coke available all day. And while that beersie was nothing short of amazing at the finish line, there was nothing else! Not even water or bananas. That is a huge offense in my book. That said the race was fun, safe, a bloody good challenge and absolutely breathtaking. I always show disdain for athletes that bring a camera along on race day, but there were several times I wish I had one.

Am I disappointed that I didn’t post a better time? Of course! But I never intended this race to be a PR event. I knew the course was going to be challenging and it was far harder than I had expected. While I have tackled more difficult bike courses, they have often been followed by much less punishing runs than what Rotorua laid out. I’ve never faced a tougher bike/run combo. In fairness, I was warned. I also wanted this race to be more about the experience of racing in New Zealand, an opportunity I felt so very fortunate to have. 

As always, I am grateful for my epic support team. Mark, the long-time sufferer as the race director called him, was once again always where he needed to be, did what he needed to do and made me feel like a super star. Coach Lisa Keller got me through another season of triathlon feeling good about the sport, a couple of PRs and no DNFs! Coach Regina Hammond of helped me dial in some finer aspects of my metabolic efficiency approach and gave me confidence in my daily and race day nutrition. I always grateful to for the privilege of racing on the store’s team and for the advice and support of my fellow teammates. Finally I want to thank Mike Wall, a local who offered a home for my tri gear during the rest of our time in NZ. Here’s to 2014!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Subaru Vancouver International Half Iron Triathlon Race Report

Subaru Vancouver International Half Iron Triathlon
July 14, 2013

Race start was 6:30, so I set the alarm for 4:15 so we could eat at least two hours before. Ugh, who feels like eating at 4:15 in the morning? (We here refers to myself and one of my best pals, Heather. Heather has her own story to tell, so I’ll leave it to her but wanted to at least clarify the “we.”.  I had half a sweet potato, one packet of almond butter, two hard-boiled eggs and half a packet of UCAN.

We arrived at the race site at about 5:30 and we started putting together our transition areas. Transition was very, very crowded and you really had very little space for yourself.  Transition area on race morning is always a very intense place to be. There is so much nervous energy that if you weren’t feeling any pre-race jitters spending time in transition will certainly bring them on.

With 30 minutes until race time, I downed a packet of UCAN, 5 master amino pattern (MAP) caps and 3 PreRace caps. Then we went to stand in line for the john.  Got my business done with about 10 minutes to spare until race start but still had to put my wetsuit on.  If you haven’t used TriSlide yet, that stuff is nothing short of amazing.  Helps your wetsuit go on like nobody’s business and helps with chaffing too. Smooth like butta baby!

We made our way to the race start at about 6:27. We only had enough time to run in the water and do about 10 strokes. I would have liked more time to warm up but that’s just how it was going. At least that little dip took away the element of surprise as far as the water temp was concerned. The water actually felt quite nice compared to the frigid waters of Kodiak.  The water looked like it had a bit of chop to it, but nothing too intimidating.

One more photograph and a quick good luck from the fam and the horn sounded!

The Swim
The swim was two loops where you actually get out and cross a timing mat between loops. Holy crap! This was by far the most physical swim I have ever been through. And I started in the back of the pack. I had intended to start mid pack to the side, but my late arrival on the start line kept that from happening. Once things got going, I don’t think it would have matter where you were. I got punched three times in the eye and once in the jaw. One punch made my goggle suck into my eye, which wasn’t particularly enjoyable.
I felt pretty good but wasn't really able to find space for myself or any toes to follow. The water clarity wasn’t great and people kept punching me in the eye.  I was aiming for a 36 minute swim and was through the first lap in 18:37. Not as good as I hoped, but not too far off the mark.  Run around the marker, cross the mat and back in the water for round two! Ding, ding! The field had spread out somewhat, but it was still a battle royale.  I tried to find some space and push with bursts of speed. The second lap definitely felt better, but I wasn’t tracking as well as I usually do. Only later did I realize that there was a wicked current and that everyone was having a hell of a time staying on course.  I’m not sure if the fact that I didn’t think about the current is a good thing or a bad thing. Oy!  When I hit the beach, I was glad to be out of the slug fest. My swim was just over 38 minutes. Like I said I was hoping for 36. While I’m a little disappointed with the 38+, if I take into consideration the current and the brutality, I have to be somewhat satisfied.
Time: 38:16

The transition from the beach to transition was a few hundred yards through the sand, which isn’t very friendly after slogging it out in the ocean for 1.2 miles. I had a hard time finding my bike too because the numbering system was totally jacked. I finally found my bike with the help of a volunteer and then went about stripping my wetsuit. One foot was caught in my suit! Damn it!! The nicest and most neighborly triathlete of all saw me struggling and ripped the suit the rest of the way off. How amazing is that?! Seriously! I’m so humbled when stuff like that happens. Whoever you are, THANK YOU!
Time: 3:42

The bike was four laps around the UBC campus. Each loops started with a descent ascent from the beach to the campus. The hill wasn’t terribly steep, but it was long (~1.5 miles). The good news is that it came at the start of the lap, but the news you had to climb it four frickin’ times. My goal on the bike was to get as close to the 3 hour mark as possible and over an 18 MPH pace. After the climb, the course was mostly false flats so you are either killing it and thinking you are an uberbiker or struggling and thinking WTF? My nutrition plan was three packets of UCAN on the bike in my bottle, taking one packet (1/3 bottle) every 75 minutes or so with the last dose as close to the end of the bike as possible. I also took another 5 MAP caps and 2 PreRace at the 2:00 mark. I also have Nuun in two water bottles for a total of three bottles on my bike. There were no mile markers on the bike, which I found pretty annoying but I guess with a four lap course it would be tough to mark. The first lap was fine. I felt good and was enjoying myself. The second and third laps got very crowded very quickly as the oly and sprint athletes joined the mix. Whatever.  Overall my pace was staying over 18 MPH, so I was pleased. There were a few sections that were narrow due to open roads and were designated as no passing zones. While it was frustrating to get caught behind slower cyclists during these sections, I obeyed the no passing rule. Do you know how super annoying it was when other people didn’t think these rules applied to them and went ahead and passed anyway? I was so irritated. There were several occasions when I would have liked to pass and would have had a better bike split to show from it, but didn’t. Of course there were not course marshals around when this was happening so it all went unchecked. Oh well…race your own race I guess.  I finally climbed the hill for the fourth and final time. I didn't think that a four-lap course would bother me that much, but I was pretty over the course by the final lap. Most of the field had spread out considerably by then and the shorter distance athletes were done, so it was pretty empty for the most part. The best part about that big hill at the start of the loop? You get the finish going down that same hill, which gives you a nice spin out of your legs and a burst of speed.  Just before going down for the final time, I downed the last third of my UCAN bottle and starting mentally preparing for the run.
Time: 3:04:12

Not much to report here. It went smooth and relatively easy. My only issue here was that it was crowded and other athletes were not always very considerate of those entering and exiting.
Time: 1:40

The run was two loops around Jerico park and passed the finish/transition area. I felt pretty good going into the run and found my rhythm pretty quickly. I took 5 more MAP caps and 2 more PreRace to get me through the rest of the day.  The biggest issue I had on the run was race math.  Race math (i.e. trying to calculate pace and finish time when you are fatigued and dehydrated) is a very difficult discipline. You know what makes it more difficult? Race math in a different country. Kilometers are not miles and, therefore, race math is infinitely more challenging. I gave up at about kilo 2. The first half of the loop was mostly shaded but had a few hills, while the second half of the loops was flat was completely in the sun. Pick your poison. I made it through the first loop and saw my amazing support crew and told them I’d see them soon! I took my last packet of UCAN and prepared myself to finish strong. I struggling a bit on the hills in the second lap, my biggest problem being that the bottoms of my feet hurt and the heat getting to me a bit. Going into the final half of the last lap, I knew I was going to be just fine. After the final turn on the run (marking about 2.5 kilos to go), I turned up my pace a bit to try to make up a bit of time I lost on the hills. That last UCAN did its job and I felt strong going into the final stretch. While I didn’t really have a good idea of my split (see previous comment on race math), I knew that my overall race time was good and that made me happy! Coming into the final 100 yards, a guy was just ahead of me. I really didn’t want him to ruin my finisher photo, so I blew by him and finished all by myself! Booyah!
Run: 1:53: 21
Total: 5:41:10 PR!! Previous best was 5:52:40

Overall thoughts:
With a PR it’s hard not to be pleased; I had a good race and felt I executed well.  I do think I am capable of swimming  sub 36 minutes, but not with the conditions on the day. This was my first race in my new TYR Hurricane Cat 5 wetsuit. That thing is a work of heart and I loved it! It fit great and the placement of rubber thicknesses works well for me. A very nice wetsuit indeed. While my bike split was only a PR by a little more than a minute, my previous best was on a pancake flat course giving that one minute a bit more weight in this race. I'm happiest with my run on the day. It’s the first time in a half race that I didn’t implode and felt (relatively) strong throughout. I lost some time in the middle miles, but was able to rally and push my pace for the last couple of miles.

This was the first race I’d done completely using UCAN after going the low carb/metabolically efficient route several months ago. I have to say that my energy definitely felt more consistent throughout the day and I never felt like I was bonking. I also did not have any GI issues, pre, during OR post-race.  I completed the race using only 5 packets of UCAN, including the serving I took 30 minutes before the race. That’s only about 600 calories for a sub 6-hour effort.  Nice, right? I’m looking forward to continue to tweak this approach and really dial it in.

As for the race itself, I don’t think I’d do it again. It was a beautiful setting and the race was obviously well run and supported. But I didn’t like having to do four laps on the bike and didn’t appreciate the congestion created by having three distances going on at the same time. There were some confusing turn-arounds that apparently resulted in more than one crash on the day. I’m all for having multiple distances being run at the same time and I don’t have a solution to the congestion problem, but that’s why I’m not a race director and can bitch about it as a racer.  I’m not sure that they were prepared for the number of competitors they had on the day either. When I went through registration, they had already run out of women’s shirts “quite some time ago.” I also heard from another finisher that they ran out of medals. Both are lame and inexcusable in my book. And seriously…fewer than 10 port-o-potties in transition? Just not going to work. Ever.  But, I want to give kudos to the aid stations on the run. I went though one and was pretty pissed when I was told they were out of cups and were squirting water into people’s mouths from water bottles. Really?! Come on! BUT…by the time I hit this same station on the way back, they had restocked the cups, so have to give them credit for solving the problem quickly.
As always, I have many thanks to give. While triathlon is an individual sport, completing a race cannot be done alone. First of all, thanks to my coach, Lisa Keller of Multisport Training of Alaska, for creating another wicked block of training and putting up with my questions, second guessing and type-A requirement of details. Buckets of love go to my parents, Pete and Patty, who supported me through yet another race. They’ve put up with a lot of early mornings, bad and edgy moods, hours of boredom and lots of inhospitable weather to watch me and ring their cowbell. Not once have they considered not attending a race. A big thanks to my pals, Betsy and Heather, who just plain get it. And of course, I am grateful to my husband, Mark who shows unbelievable patience with my training in this selfish and time consuming sport. He hates it, but loves me and that’s why he makes the sacrifice. I was honored to be racing for They have offered great gear and athlete support and I am proud to be a team member. I also want to give a shout out to the goods and gear I used on the day; TYR, Newton Running, Cervelo, Fuel Belt, TheTriShop Loius Garneau kit, Nuun and UCAN!

Next up…Taupo Half in New Zealand?!?!?!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

It was over before it began...

As I'm sure you are all aware, the 2012 NYC Marathon was canceled yesterday among growing controversy and concern.  While I am clearly upset, I agree with the decision to 100%. As the marathon approached and the state of devastation remained, I admit to a growing internal battle as to if this race should be held. Like many others, I was reassured by the words of Mayor Bloomberg that the marathon was not diverting resources and would serves as a unifying event for the city. As my post yesterday indicated, I justified the race as an opportunity to show the resilience of the human spirit. I truly did believe that the race would bring a bit of joy and a much needed distraction. Clearly this was not the case and I believe the right decision has been made. Aside from my obvious disappointment at not getting to run, I am mostly angry about the inexplicably bad timing of the announcement. Clearly the race should have been canceled on Tuesday morning and not Friday when the vast majority of the field had arrived. I incurred a fairly significant expense to get here, but I'm sure it pales in comparison to what others have faced. Every runner has a story about why they are running and what this race meant to him or her. Each story is equally important and the cancellation will be felt for a long time to come.  I actually consider myself one of the lucky ones because of my own beautiful family that lives here and I can enjoy spending time with them in the coming days. 

I choose to move forward and not dwell on what might have been. What's done is done and everyone needs to refocus their energy to restoring New York and New Jersey. Tomorrow, what would have been marathon Sunday, I will join fellow marathoners on a run through Staten Island where we will run while distributing much needed relief items. I hope this will provide a source of much needed goodwill between the running community and the city of New York.

Many of my friends and family donated to Team Continuum as a part of my marathon journey. With their help I raised over $5,500 in support of this amazing and worthwhile cause.  I, and Team CAN, are extremely grateful for this support. To honor these pledges and my commitment to running 26.2 for Team CAN (and for my own sanity), I have decided to run the Las Vegas Marathon on December 2nd. While this race clearly does not have the history, prestige or "magic" of NYC, it will have to suffice as a suitable replacement.  

Thank you all again for your continued support and well wishes. My heart is full.