Monthly Archives: June 2012

6/27/12 Mont Tremblant Recon Report

This is not a race report, this is a recon report for anyone doing the race.  It is how I see it and hopefully will help me or someone else insane enough in the future to try this race.

Without a doubt, Mont-Tremblant is the most gorgeous place I’ve ever been for a race.  It is rivaled only by IM Canada in Penticton.  (I’ve not been to Kona so I may reserve top honors for that one day).  Amazing venue.  The whole French Village in the mountains thing is just awesome.  I would HIGHLY recommend this as a destination for vacation, race or no.

Driving up was a challenge because of traffic near Montreal — a lot of construction.  Driving back was eerily traffic free the entire time.  Sad story was we had two other friends flying up to the race on Friday night.  They had checked their luggage and the flight was cancelled due to the terrible rain storms you had here.  For some reason they couldn’t get their luggage back to be able to drive and there were no flights out on Saturday that would get them to the race venue in time for packet pickup.  So although their bikes made it up there via tribike transport, they missed the race entirely.   So one thing I would say, make sure you pack your race essentials into your carry on and only check what could be replaced by a shopping trip in the village.  Bike shoes, running shoes, and race kit should be with you if you fly.

As soon as you cross the border into Canada, French becomes the language.  At the gas stations or coffee shops do not expect them to speak English.  They know enough to help you but if you can know Bon Jour and S’il vous plait, that will get you further.   They will take American money but will give you change in Canadian.  I just used my Debit card for everything, made it easier.  I just think it is more polite to at least try to speak the language of where you are visiting.  This is NOT the USA and speaking French is the native language.  All signs are in French (without English Translation).  O is for ouest (west) on the highway, etc.  I finally get how serious Quebec is about being their own sovereignty, they don’t make any accomodations for their English speaking citizens — it’s French, like it or leave it.  That said, everyone was super nice.  At the race itself most of the volunteers were French and will assume that you speak French.  As soon as you tell them you speak English they will do their best.  All of the race announcements are made in English and French.  Be prepared for the cheering though, half the time I had no idea what they were saying.  But Allez and Let’s Go were the most popular.  Also they do this weird leaning in toward you and waving their hands in your face their hands in your face like they are saying “hi, do you see me?”  Funny.  Americans just clap.

Reminder that all the markers are in Kilometers NOT Miles.  I had a Garmin on my bike so I was fine to see my mileage there but on the run I had to keep converting K’s to M’s.  That didn’t take too long to get used to but just thought I’d mention it.  They did not have water stations every mile as we are used to, it was more like every 2-3k or every 1.5 miles some places it felt like a long time between water stops.  That could have been my imagination, check the maps.

Swim.  Lake was gorgeous.  When you see the Lake in the afternoon it will look choppy.  Don’t worry.  Both Friday and Saturday afternoon the Lake looked choppy.  Sunday Morning it was like glass.  Now I will say this, we had a wave start which was very roomy.  For Ironman it is going to be a mass start so I think it will have to be similar to Mirror Lake swim Start for Lake Placid.  There is not a ton of beach room to hold that many athletes.  But it’s a big lake so everyone will spread out quickly and the more athletes out there, the better to draft off!  Buoys on your right.  Bummer for me as I breathe left but everyone who breathes right will be happy.

Our course was an out, take a right, take another right and swim back — a big rectangle.  The IM course appears to be the same thing they just lengthen the distances.  Here is the #1 tip I can give you on the swim.  As you are exiting the swim stay right, right, right.  Do not aim directly for the finish arch because you will hit rocks and have to stand up.  This is what happened to me.  The water was only 6 inches deep and I had to run over rocks (I was also following others doing the same).  They kept yelling for us to keep swimming but what they failed to mention is that if we went about 6 feet to our right it was deep enough to swim.

If you look at this swim map and follow the little dotted white line to the finish you will swim right into the rocks.  It looks like the straight line in.  What you need to do as you pass that last buoy sight for the right side of the finish chute and you will be able to swim right up to the end.  I lost a good couple of minutes there.  Take the time to try it out the day before.  They did not have the finish chute up for us the day before.  For your practice swim go to the swim exit not the swim start.  Check out the rocks there.  Worth knowing.

There is a bit of a walk from transition to the swim start so they give you a morning clothes bag.  You can walk to the swim start wearing sweats and shoes and right before you are ready to go in you can put your clothes bag into the numbered rolling garbage cans.  Later, when you finish the race they will have already delivered your morning clothes bag to your transition station and you do not have to go hunt it down.  That was a nice service.

Water temperature was amazing.  71 degrees (other people later tell me they heard 74).  Felt like bath water to me but then again I just came back from Alcatraz where anything over 55 was going to feel good.

The Lake is not deep so when you are coming back in you see right down to the bottom of the lake.  It’s really clear.  Obviously the further out you go you don’t see the bottom but I was still 1/4 mile from shore and I was seeing logs and rocks on the bottom (I would guess the water to be about 8 feet deep?)  And then as you get closer you can REALLY see how close the bottom is but just keep swimming until you can’t swim any more.

They had wetsuit strippers, yeah!  When you get out of the water you have a 300 meter run to T1.  It’s longer than most transition runs.  They put a soft red carpet the entire way.   The entire 300 m. You don’t have to worry about your feet.  But that run is counted in your transition time.

The Bike. I was there with 4 other friends.  3 of them LOVED the bike.  One other gal and I thought it was challenging.  So I think it boils down to how much you like hills.  We all know how I feel about them so I’m going to just give you my perspective but keep in mind one guy that was with us PR’d by 1 minute on the course.  There are no hills on this course any more difficult that what we do on a regular Muffin ride.  But there are a lot of them.

I would break it out into 5 sections because that’s how it felt to me.  I’m also going to talk in miles not kilometers.  The first six miles from transition to the intersection of 117 I felt I was working.  But I kept telling myself I was warming up and to not freak out that I was climbing a hill already 1/4 mile out of transition.  These are not big hills at all but they are longer than what I feel like doing on a warm up.  If you asked me at the end of the 6 miles if I had a downhill I would have said no but in fact there were two because I rode back up them on the way back.  That first section is passing the golf courses and country clubs.  You end in a downhill and are routed around the back of a store parking lot to enter the highway.  Once you are on 117 heading North you have a wide highway newly paved (some portions are smooth as glass absolutely pristine biking conditions.)  Totally cut off from traffic.  They close the northbound traffic route and you will ride out and back on that.

From mile 6 to about 9 I was really working.  Up, up, up.  Again not steep.  Nothing to remotely get out of the saddle for — nor would you want to, just miles of it.  Nothing that taxed my legs at all.  I was having some breathing difficulties (My own medical issues) but there was nothing here to alarm.  Then you get this huge downhill to feel like a rock star and catch everyone. It’s a big downhill and straight as a pin.  Total cruise.

The really nice thing about this part of the course is that it is straight.  So when you get the big downhills the only thing stopping you is air.  Straight as a pin and perfect road conditions.  It’s quite nice.

Then you get some flats.  Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. You are in the Canadian Mountains and it’s just inspiring.  You get about 3 miles out of basically flat (some little ups and down but you can be in aero this entire time.)  Then you turn around (approx mile 18) and go back the same way.  So 3 more miles of basically flat (more down than up and you can make time here).  Then you climb back up that big downhill (State lineish in size?)  Again, nothing you can’t do in your sleep but nothing to sneeze at either.  It’s the cumulative effect.

The next section is what I would call more technical.  It’s a short out and back about 2 miles out first downhill into a town.  This is going to require you to pay attention.  Opportunity here for people to do stupid things.  They have a bridge section where single-file is required they do not allow you to pass in that section.  The roads narrow and now you have orange cones everywhere.  They are basically now dividing a one-way street (not a highway) for all the cyclists to use.  And you have to make a turn or two.  Then you climb up a short hill and come back down, climb up another hill and you are back to the t-junction of Montee Ryan and 117.  A l ot of cheering in the town.  In total only 4 miles but more technical than any other section so far. And I’m wondering how crowded this is going to be during an IM with no wave starts.  At this point I was really looking forward to some flat but now you have to climb up on Montee Ryan.  Again, these are not steep climbs — not even Harlem Hill steep, Just longer.  This is about patience.

Then you get back to the Transition area and keep going toward the Casino.  This is the last out and back of the loop.  This was the challenging part for me.  You have about 6 1/2 miles or so on the way out of what felt like non-stop climbing to me.  Again, nothing steep, just uphill.  It is rolling though so you do get a couple of breaks.  This is really about mental focus.  There is nothing here that you can’t handle.  You don’t get a lot of momentum on the hills but they are not that big.  About mile 42 is the 12% climb.  I found it hard not because it was it was 12% but because I had been dealing with hills for awhile and was having breathing issues.  If you just had this hill at the beginning you’d think no big deal.  But now you have either been smart and saved your legs or you are hurting.  It is not long and it is a couple of steps so if you do it smartly no problem. I don’t think any of you will have a problem with this.  The name of the game is to take it easy because on loop 2 you will need some legs left.

On this section you are riding through the forest.  It is gorgeous.  River on your right trees everywhere.  Road is winding but riding condition is pristine.  If you can take a moment to take it in, we are talking about some really scenic riding.  I would try to focus on the scenery more than the hills.  It is everything they advertise.

What is going to puzzle you on the way out is you are going to be going down some hills on this part and seeing people coming back going up the hills faster than you are going down them.  Do not let this discourage you.  Your turn is coming.

When you get to the end of this out and back you are going to FLY to the end of the loop.  I know you will think it is impossible because there are hills but there is sooo much momentum and you are basically going down hill I dare you to not shout Woo Hoo (as several people around me were doing.)  It is fast and fun.  The uphills don’t even exist you just fly over them.  Yes the roads curve but the road condition is so perfect that there is nothing to be worried about.  It is a huge payback of about 6 miles of fun easy downhill.   If only downhills could last as long as uphills.  Then you do have one final short uphill at the end but you are refreshed and take it no problem.

And that ends the loop.

There is not an ugly portion of this course.  I would concentrate on breaking it up into sections.  Transition to 117 (6 Miles).  117n out (12 miles).  117N back (12 miles). 117S out (3 miles).  117S back 3 miles), 117 back to Transition (6 Miles), Chemin Duplessis Out (7 miles), Chemin Duplessis Back (7 Miles).  I think knowing how long each section is will help you a lot.

The Run.  The run would have actually been a pretty good run for me.  Not sure if a runner/runner  would like it as much because most of it is really flat and uninspiring.  But I’ll describe it and you decide.  Like the bike, the run is easily broken up into sections.

Part 1.  Transition to town.  Approx 3+ miles?  (They don’t have the mileage markers on their map — might be worth using mapmyrun and mapping it out and matching the water stations up).   This section is up a hill and back down the other side into a town. It’s a decent size hill — Harlem Hillish going clockwise direction.  Nothing too exciting here.  A lot of cheerers at the restaurants.

Part 2. Then they put you on a trail that goes around the lake.  This part would normally have been good for me, not so sure how much real runners like it.  Flat as a pancake but pretty boring — no views just trees on either side.  It’s a trail with that gray grainy stuff.  I don’t know how else to describe it unless you play tennis and it is like a Har-tru court.   Not a lot of shade and it was warm by the time I got out there.  It’s about 2.5 miles out (I believe turn around just past 10 k marker.)   Note to self.  For IM I will be out there in the dark and I would expect a lot of bugs in the woods.  Bug spray in transition.

Part 3. Come back to same place on Lake but instead of going back toward town you keep going.  This part you have to be mentally ready for.  Another out and back on the trail onto the other side of the lake.  And you are ready to get off the trail but not yet.  About 1/2 mile out and 1/2 mile back.  Now you are done.

Part 4. Then you have the climb back to town another 3+ miles.  A good amount of uphills here.  Again, not super steep but long enough to be a bit of a drag.

Part 5. The last mile you go down a hill back past transition area which is nice, then a short climb up in the village (somewhat steep but short) and then downhill into the finish line.

So the 1/2 IM run is about 6 miles of pitch flat which is not bad.  But other than that you are going up or down.  Nothing crazy steep but remember your legs will be tired and feeling the hills at the end.  So take the flats as your break.  As I mentioned earlier, we all thought the water stations could have been a little more frequent.  But we could have been tired.

Can’t say enough about the volunteers and the organization.  Was awesome.

That’s my recon for the race.  The more interesting part in separate post.


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6/19/12 Escape from Connecticut

Tuesday.  Still in CT.  I did a 10 mile run + 2 mile walk on Saturday. (Kiss of death stopping at the cafe for extra water and sat down for a second 2 miles away from my car…)  Sunday I did a 60 mile ride (was supposed to be 75 with a 1 hour run afterwards.)  We had a full family get together for Father’s day so I had to cut it short.  I’ll be here in CT helping out until I leave on Friday for Canada. Feverishly trying to finish work for clients.  How do they know I’m leaving town?  In 20 years I have never figured that out but they know….

Trying to dash out for my run before it gets too late. Thought I’d share just one of the wonders of caring for the elderly.  Just one of the many moments that make me laugh.  We all have our versions of challenges.

So now my Dad has a new trick.  He sleeps all day in the chair (I think with one eye open).  My Mom sits down to take a nap and as soon as she shuts her eyes, my Dad gets up and tries to leave the house.  We have no idea where he thinks he is going but he is hell bent out going outside to meet whoever it is he thinks is out there.  Mind you this is the guy in hospice care who needs a walker to get to the kitchen, a wheelchair to go outside and a electric stair lift to get up stairs.  When the nurses are here he’s absolutely helpless.  All night the nurses hold his hand and dash to his every call.  We have six hours in the afternoon when he is not being fawned over.  I’m working upstairs in my office and I hear the front door open.  I dash to the top of the stairs and sure enough, there he is wobbling out the front door.

“Hold on, where do you think you’re going?”  I call from the top of the stairs.  He turns around shocked to see me.   Nabbed.  I see him trying to think as quickly as his 93 year old brain will let him.

“What are you doing up there?”  He asks.

“I’m working up here.”  I say.

He thinks for a minute. “So what are you bothering me down here for?”  he says.

I bite my lip from laughing.

“See this is why Mom gets so upset.  She says you wait until she is sleeping and try to leave the house. Go back to the tv room.”

He artfully changes the subject.  “Come down here and look at Mom.”  He points as if there is something wrong with her.

I freak out something is wrong with my mother and come running downstairs.  Mind you this entire time he is standing on his own two feet in front of the door.

I see my mother napping in front of the tv.  “She’s taking a nap!”  I try hard not to yell.

“As long as you are down here, I’d like a snack please, are there any cookies?

Yep this is my glamorous life in the burbs.

Going for a run.  Pyramid run tonight.  Gotta lock the doors on my way out.


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6/12/12 Escape from Alcatraz

Monday.  Quick, I have to write this report before the sting dies.  Already in less than 24 hours I am starting to feel not so bad about the race.  Let me say in no uncertain terms, this race was really, really hard and I never, ever, ever, EVER want to go back.  That’s what I have been saying since 4 a.m. yesterday morning straight through until this afternoon when those crazy what-if thoughts started creeping in, what if I did the race academy out there if that might help me do it better, what if I did nothing but run hill repeats on a one-foot wide trail for a year, would that help?  What?  Are you crazy?!?!?  STOP, you are never, ever, ever, EVER doing this race EVER again. Period.

I am going to try to document as many details as I can in case I ever have the idea in my head that it wasn’t that bad and I might want to go back.  Note to self:  It was that bad.  You are too old for this kind of nonsense.  Time for tennis and golf.  Knock this crazy stuff off.  James Joyce wrote about his epic novel Finnegan’s Wake “It took me a lifetime to write it, damn well better take them a lifetime to read it.”   So in that spirit, here goes…..

I arrived in San Fran on Friday.  I decided to cut my trip short due to my Dad’s condition so this was going to be a fly in, race, fly out deal.  Literally talking to the nurses before I got on the plane? Okay to go?  Yes okay go.

I have to put a quick plug in for the E train to Air Tran to Jet Blue at JFK.  It was so easy and it only costs $7.50 to get to the airport.  On the San Fran side I took the Bart to Embarcadero ($8.10) and the F Tram to pier 39 ($2.00).  Easy as pie.  Gotta love public Trans and Jet Blue.

I stayed at the Radisson on Fisherman’s Wharf.  Nice medium-budget hotel right in the heart of Fisherman’s wharf and about a 20 minute walk from the hotel to the race start.  But about a 50 minute walk to Sports basement where the Tribike transport had my bike and the first timer tips meeting was held. (Don’t bother going to that they just go over the same things on the website videos and tell you to watch the videos.)  So on Friday I had about 2 hours of walking under my belt.

Included in that walking I had to walk up a hill into Fort Mason park that I was fairly sure I would not be able to get up on my bike.  Already I was panicking.  Race morning I am going to have to ride up this hill to get to the race and everyone is going to see me not be able to do it and I’ll be so embarrassed.  Friday night that’s all I thought about — the hill and the upcoming practice swim they recommended I do.

Saturday morning I got up at 5 a.m. and rode my bike in the dark to practice my route to the race.  I didn’t want to try it in daylight hours and have people see me not make it up the hill.  I know that sounds like the most pathetic thing in the world but I was scared of that hill.  If I was going to fall off I wanted to do it in the privacy of darkness.  This is just a hill to get to the race, not in the race.  All that muss and fuss and it turned out to be nothing.  I made it up fine.  And there it was again, the lesson I keep relearning — it’s never the thing you worry about that comes back to get you.  It’s the thing you didn’t expect or plan for.  It’s like it never rains when you bring your umbrella but you step in dog poop on your way to an interview.

After my test ride I decided to go for my test swim.  I wanted to do it early in the morning while it was the same temperature out.  There is a place called Aquatic park at the end of the pier where you can go swimming and all the athletes were out trying out the water.  I am going to say in no uncertain terms I almost died.  I walked into that water and tried to splash it on my face.  I got in and quickly realized ‘I can’t do this.’  It was ice water.   They said the water temp was 51 degrees.  It felt like 30.  For five minutes I kept trying to put my face in the water but I couldn’t do it.  I tried breast stroking but I was so cold I couldn’t take it.  That’s it, this race is over before it starts.  I quit.  Finally I was able to take 3 regular strokes and then 3 breast strokes.  Then I did 4 of each.  Then I did 10 regular strokes.  I’m shivering writing about it.  My goal had been to stay in the water for 20 minutes.  I lasted 10 and got out.  I did end up swimming 19 strokes (which is what it takes me to get to the end of my pool).  My face finally did go numb from the cold but my toes were actually hurting they were so cold.  Not good, not good, not good. There were other athletes out there some bemoaning the cold, others seeming like they do it all the time.   Most people had the cold weather swim cap.  I just used the double latex swim cap method.  There was one guy out there swimming in speedo shorts.  No wetsuit.  It took me all day to warm my toes, they never really got over it.  I was panicking.  I couldn’t do 20 minutes that morning, how was I going to do 1 hour the next day?

Breakfast on Fisherman’s wharf trying to decide what to do.  On top of my failed practice swim, I was all freaked out about jumping off the boat.  What if I land on someone?  What if someone lands on me?  What if my heart stops?  They gave us a big lecture at the athletes meeting that nobody should be out there without doctor’s consent.  I was wondering how many other people hadn’t told their doctor.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  In the video I saw some people jumping on top of each other.  My friend and faithful reader Chris said “instead of looking for the one person who gets hit on the head, how about looking at how many people don’t get hit on the head?”  (paraphrasing)  It was like a light bulb going off.  Of course, I used to think that way all the time.  Odds are with me.  All these people can’t be that much better than me (well actually, yes they can).  They are all probably just as frightened as I am (that does appear to be true.)

I thought long and hard about whether or not I could do the swim and actually survive.  Finally I decided I had no choice. I had paid a lot of money to enter the race.  I paid for a hotel and airfare.  This would be a once in a lifetime opportunity so I better come up with some way of talking myself into it.  I decided to adopt the mantra of “it wasn’t that bad.”  It really WAS that bad but I just kept lying to myself saying it over and over again “it wasn’t that bad” hoping that the subliminal message might sink in.  After 15 text messages to my friend the Manhattan Mermaid — there must be something I can put on my face to stop that feeling like someone is freezing off the skin of my face.  We agreed on vaseline.  I found a product at the expo that was a zinc cream (clear) that was really thick and the saleswoman said it wouldn’t come off in the water.  I bought that and some aquafor and some vaseline and some a&d ointment.  I would test them all in my sink and see which one held up better.  The zinc cream and aquafor won.  I would put both of those on my face, hands and feet.  Here is the cream that I can now heartily recommend Kinesys Earthkind and it’s 10 bucks cheaper on Amazon than it was at the expo…

Race morning.  I couldn’t sleep.  I had set my alarm for 4 a.m. but I was up at 3 a.m. (EST still in my system).  I was so nervous.  I have not been this nervous about a swim since my very first triathlon in 2003 when I finally stood on the beach as saw what a 1 mile swim looked like.  I thought I might die then, I was sure I was going to die now.  And when I say die, I mean literally die like I was regretting not sending backup files to my clients.  I was so nervous I couldn’t eat.  Yes, THAT’s how nervous I was.  My stomach was queasy and I hadn’t left the hotel room.  I decided to bring my breakfast with me to transition and just eat as I went.  I had an Odwalla Vanilla Al’Mondo Super Protein — my go-to race morning breakfast drink that I have been drinking now since 2010.  2 servings in the little bottle giving me 380 calories.  Plus 1 banana approx 100 calories.  I had a bagel with me but I can’t get that down on race mornings anymore so I just left it.  (I used to be able to eat anything in the mornings but not any more).  Then I had 1 bottle of Infinit formula to drink while waiting for the bus to the boat and that was another 300 calories for a total of about 780 calories.  I think this is where my problem begins.  I used to get in a lot more calories than that when I could handle a bagel with almond butter.   I think going forward I need to drink two Odwalla drinks and get that morning caloric intake over 1,000 calories.  I also don’t think I took in enough calories the day before.  I found an awesome salad bar and I was so excited about it that I had a huge salad and a baked potato with a ton of veggies at 2 p.m. and I was so full I didn’t eat dinner.  I think I should have maybe drank some more calories for dinner.  I don’t think I ate enough.  It’s a theory.

I packed everything into my little backpack (including wetsuit, three pairs of shoes and assorted paraphanalia and extra water bottles).  I impressed myself with how much I crammed into that little backpack.  WITH the now heavy backpack on my back I still made it up that hill in Fort Mason park in the dark at 4 a.m. and I have to say I was really so surprised that I could do it.  (And there was nobody besides me on the hill so I could have walked it and nobody would have known.)

The trick with this race is you have two transition spots.  First when you get out of the water you have to have a bag there with a pair of shoes, a small towel and a small bottle of water because you are going to run 3/4 of a mile to the main transition area.   You drop off that bag the day before.  Race morning you rack your bike and set up your regular bike and run transition areas.

Transition is normal setup up.  Find your spot, rack your bike, put your stuff in order.  5 minutes.  From transition you board a bus that is going to take you to Pier 63 which is a big parking lot where everyone stands around while waiting to board the boat.  I left the hotel at 4 a.m., I was in transition by 4:20, with waiting around for bike pump etc., I was on the bus by 4:45 and at the pier by 5 a.m.   The boat would not leave the pier until 6:30 and the race would not start until 7:30.  So from wake up until actual jump into the water for me was going to be be 4 1/2 hours.  That’s a long time.

My advice, when you get to the pier, just get on the boat.  You leave the clothes that you are wearing in another numbered bag that you leave before you get on the boat.  It wasn’t that cold out.  People didn’t want to put their wetsuits on yet so they were hanging in the parking lot so they could dump their clothes at the last minute.  If I was to give any advice I would say, wear an old tshirt (ala NYC Marathon) and be prepared to just leave it on the boat.  I saw people in there with blankets and hats and full outfits on.  I don’t think you need to go that far but an old tshirt would be fine.

The boat is big and there are two decks for the regular athletes (the pros and celebs go to the third floor).  The young guns go to the first floor and I went to the second floor with the “mature” athletes.  Basically you just find a spot on the carpeted floor and chill out until the boat leaves (about 6:45).  People were sleeping, stretching out, chatting nervously.  For some reason, seeing how nervous everyone else was made me a little calmer.   All the first timers were nervous — bad ass guys and women alike.  You could tell some people were really nervous as they just sat and stared out into space.  I laid down and shut my eyes.  I had my westuit on to my waist (just following what other people did.)  I stared with longing at all the people with the blue seventy booties.  I didn’t have booties but I had two swim caps so I wrapped a swim cap around each of my feet — it seemed to work.  One of the pieces of advice they gave us was to keep your hands and feet wrapped and as warm as you could until water time, that would help them in the cold water.  I wore gloves until I got on the boat.  Had I known how many people were going to leave stuff on the boat, I would have worn stuff on.  It also turns out that you could leave a bag on the boat but you wouldn’t get it back until 2 p.m. (who cares?) But I went minimalist so what I wore onto the boat was coming with me into the water.

Finally it was time for the start.  The energy on the boat was just crazy.  Everyone whooping and hollering and yelling.  The testosterone in the room was palpable.  There were definitely women on the boat, I didn’t feel like a minority but there seemed to be A LOT of men.  I don’t know the ratio.  I actually don’t want to go onto the website and look at my results or get stats because I’ll be nauseous.  But I wouldn’t mind knowing the ratio of men to women.  It felt like 3 men to every woman.  But everyone was nice and respectful.  There were no jerks the entire race.  I might say this was the nicest group of athletes I’ve ever competed with.  Everyone who passed me was supportive and cheering and literally 50 people high-fived me on the out and backs.  Back to the swim.

You can go out one of several doors.  I wanted to go to the left because that would be the closest to where I wanted to sight for.  (They give you tons of advice on where to sight and how to tackle the current.  I read everything, I watched the videos, I totally understood what I was supposed to do.  Apparently that did not help.)   I put my goggles on my face and then I pulled out my Aquafor goop and put it on everywhere my skin was exposed.  (I already had a layer of the Kinesys ointment on my face and took THREE shots off my inhaler before getting on the boat).  Everyone was heading for the door I wanted to go out.  The door further away from where I wanted to go, not so many people going out that door.  The race people started yelling for us to go out the other less crowded door.  I had to make a decision, go out the door closer to where I wanted to go with the crowd or to the other door where I would have to swim an extra pool length to get to where I wanted to go but less crowded.  I went for the less crowded mostly because they were yelling at us to use that door.

So the big moment.  The moment of jumping off the boat.  The moment I was so scared of.  Honestly it happened so fast that I barely noticed it.  As soon as you step on the mat they are yelling at you “Go, Go, Go” and I just jumped.   I tried to remember to get my arms out (I think I did) and to scissor kick (I think I did) but I still went under the water for what seemed like a million years but was really only one second.  And I just started swimming wildly to get out of the way.  When I finally looked up to see where I was, I was away from the boat and had plenty of room around me and saw the buildings I was looking for and all I could think was ‘OMG, they are so far away.’   I was not cold at all.  Seriously I don’t know if it was the difference in water temp (They said it was 51 degrees in my practice swim and they said it was 55 degrees on race morning) or if all the goop and crap I had on my face, hands and feet was working, but I was not cold.  I was okay.  I was not shocked by the cold.  It was a miracle.  I was just swimming.  And here, once again I am retaught the same lesson I keep learning over and over again — it’s never the thing that you are worried about that gets you.  All that time spent worrying about jumping off the boat and the water temperature.  Wasted time.  What I should have been worried about was the current.  But not sure how worrying about that would have helped me.

They had told us in the briefing that if they thought we were in trouble they were going to reposition us and that we would not be disqualified if they repositioned us but we would be disqualified if we argued with them.  I was working really hard.  I was driving and pulling harder that I have ever done but I knew I was going nowhere.  Every time I looked up it seemed like I was going nowhere.  I could feel the current holding me back.  I was in an endless pool.   About 20 minutes of swimming and I knew I wasn’t going to make it.  I had the strength to keep swimming I just wasn’t going anywhere.  Next thing I know a jetski was next to me and yelling “you three, I need you three to hold onto the back of the jetski, I have to reposition you, you are trapped in the current.”  So two guys and I had to climb onto the back of the jetski and he drove us to another spot and dumped us.  Quite frankly I don’t think he did us any service, I was now off the line of where I wanted to go.  But I just kept swimming, swimming, swimming.  I knew there was a 1 hour cutoff and there was no way I was going to make it.  Finally I did see the shore but I couldn’t get to the swim exit.  A kyacker pulled up and said, stop trying to swim to the exit, you have to swim to the beach and run back.  Oh Lo, I overshot the exit!!!  I had studied so hard on how NOT to do that but I was off line and maybe that was the penalty for being repositioned.  I swam to shore and had to run back down the beach to the exit (lots of rocks in my way.)  But I was not alone by a long shot.  I would say there were about 30 of us running along the beach trying to get back to the swim exit.  Who knows how many before us.  But it was not the fast swim I had been promised….

I looked at my watch when I hit the beach, it said 1:07, that was over the cutoff but they didn’t pull me from the water or stop me so I just kept going.  There seemed to be people exiting with me.  I was already exhausted.  That was 1:07 (less the 1 minute of being repositioned) of the hardest swimming I have ever done.  I honestly don’t know why I can’t do these ocean swims.  Lake swims, fine, but why can’t I cut through current and other people can?  One kayaker said to me “you are swimming about 2 knots slower than the current is pulling you.”  Really how fast is a knot?  How do I swim faster knots? I was doing everything I have every been taught to do.  I was driving, rotating, keep my arms out front, pulling all the way through. I tried shortening my stroke, lengthening my stroke, kicking.  I had no further technique to apply to the task.  I need ocean swimming help.  Lakes, no problem I drive and go.  But I am just not strong enough to battle through current.

Okay now on shore.  I had packed a long sleeved shirt (Sons of Anarchy shirt!) in my swim to bike transition bag based on the previous day’s temps.  Didn’t need it but I threw it on just in case.   I was immediately aware that it was warmer out than it had been the day before.  But it was comfortable temp.  I had some water shoes (not running shoes) in my bag.  I rinsed my feet, put on my shoes and started running to transition.  This is the part that kills me every time.  How come I can run 3/4 of a mile to transition without stopping but when I do my regular running I have to run/walk?  It’s like my legs know how to race and I don’t.  They just take over and start running.  They did the same thing at Lake Placid when I said I was going to walk to transition.  They just start running on their own.  Is it adrenaline?  I don’t know that’s a puzzler.

I get to transition and find my spot pretty easily (they tell us to note the houses across from our bikes) I have my road bike (Betty my Felt) with me.  I haven’t ridden this bike in about four months except for the previous day’s test ride.  I’m aware that I’m tired already.  I take a few extra seconds in transition to determine if I even want to continue on.  I confirm that No, I do not want to continue on but once again my body defies my mind.  My mind is staying, stop, stop, you’re done.  And my hands are picking up a gel and throwing into my mouth and throwing on my bike shoes (no socks) and then next thing I know my legs are running out of transition.  My mind is yelling Stop! Stop!  You shouldn’t do this.  My legs are on auto-pilot.  My legs start pedalling.  My mind says “fine, but I’m NOT racing!”

I think if I have one piece of advice it would have been to drive the bike course beforehand.  I really no idea what as coming.  I read the description but that doesn’t really tell you the story.  The entire I was thinking what is coming next?  This hill has to end sometime right?

It starts out flat for about 2 miles which is good to get your heart rate recovered.  As I was approaching a turn I looked to my left and saw that people were climbing, a tough switch-back and by total luck I saw that and shifted to my granny gear before I turned.  They warned you once you made the turn, they needed to warn you BEFORE you got to the turn. Other people were not that lucky and got caught.  One gal that had barelled past me out of transition was now walking her bike up this climb.  I thought to myself Oh Man if I had to be walking in the first two miles I would quit.  The climb was long but not so steep. I had done much worse in New Jersey and Vermont.  It felt like I was climbing for well over a mile.

And that’s pretty much how the bike went.  Either straight up or straight down.  There was very little flat.  No opportunity for hunkering down and just pedalling.  This was not a bike course made for me.  And I was aware that I was totally exhausted.  I had not energy but my legs were fine.  My muscles were doing the work and they were not strained.  My cardio seemed fine.  I just had no energy.  I couldn’t race it all.  I was just in survival mode.

On the way out on the course I saw the returning cyclists trying to race down the hills four across each one screaming at the other “LEFT, LEFT.”  I was thinking no way did I want to be in that mess.  One thing the race director had said that stuck with me was “It’s easy to pass on the downhills, if you are that good, pass on the uphills.”  I was passing people on the uphills but it was mostly people walking their bikes up the hills.   I really didn’t have much struggle with the hills but a couple of the descents made me nervous about having to climb back up them.  The temperature was quite nice (warm enough I did not need arm warmers) cool enough that I did not feel any sun burning into me.  Basically you ride up to the Legion of Honor memorial, down the other side, and ride back up.  Every descent had a sharp turn. I  was not riding fast at all.  I didn’t know the course and just didn’t care to kill myself.  I was NOT racing, I was just finishing.

I was aware that I was close to the bike cutoff and felt a little bad that I would probably not make the bike cutoff. Oh well, that will suck but that’s life.  A guy rides up next to me and starts chatting about the course, he’s done it before.  I ask if we will make the cutoff, “Oh yeah, 15 minutes and 5 miles to go and it’s all down hill.”   Chapstick.  I’m going to have to do the run.  I tell him to go first because it is easier for me if I can see someone making the turns ahead of me.  This blind turning stuff was too much.  I drink one bottle of Infinit on the ride (300 calories).  Plus some clear water from the course.

I make it back to transition.  I look hopefully at all the officials.  Anyone want to pull me off?  Tell me I didn’t make the cutoff?  Nope, everybody just clapping and cheering, “Great Job.” Oh crap, I’m going to have to run.  I put on my running shoes and head out.  I’m exhausted.  I have my water bottle with another dose of Infinit (300 calories) and another dose of the powder for the run back.

Okay the run.   Stupidly ridiculous.  Just ridiculous.  One more time.  Ridiculous.  You start out with about 2 miles of okay flat but it’s crowded.  All but maybe 100 of the 2,000 athletes are returning as I’m going out.  I try to run with two other gals that exited at the same time but we can only run single file and I’m annoyed it’s so crowded I let them go and start doing a run/walk.  Prima Dona mode “I need my space.”  LOL, everyone else can run single-file for miles but not me.  Here’s the one thing I noticed.  So many of the fastie fasts were cheering me on.  They were finishing and instead of looking at me like I can’t believe she is just starting the run, they were all slapping me high fives and telling me “keep going, the turn around is worth it.”  There was something really genuine about their cheering.  It was not patronizing as all like so often “great job” can seem.  It was a feeling of kinship, like “we’re suffering too and we know what you are going through.”

I stopped at the first rest stop and waited for the bathroom.  I wasn’t racing, normally I would not stop and wait for a bathroom line and just keep going looking for another but I truly didn’t care about my time.  I knew I was going to be climbing soon.  Then there was a long staircase.  I was confused, were these the sand stairs already?  I thought those were mile 5.  Nope, confirmed one of the runners coming down, ‘you are going to think these stairs are the easiest thing you’ve done all day when you get to the real sand stairs.’  Gulp, thanks a rot.  Climb the stair case and wind through some kind of garden.  Uphill, uphill, uphill.

More uphill, I would say about 2 miles of straight uphill.  Maybe a little more.  Dumping out onto a winding unpaved trail.  Portions of this were not wide enough for two people to run side by side but it’s an out and back so I found myself moving to the side and waiting to let returning runners pass.  How did they do it when there were hundreds of runners going out and back?  That must have been a mess.  They must have all been very skinny.  There would be no way for them to pass one another.  Just ants marching in two lines, one out and one back.

Then you weave your way down the mountain to the beach.  I see many people looking fatigued and walking up as I make my way down.  The cheers and high fives are replaced with looks of exhaustion and bad posture.

I make it down to the beach and now I have to run across the beach to the end.  A race official is there and tells me to ignore the signs that say stay left and come down to the water’s edge where the sand is more packed.  Thank God he tells me this because the sand is so deep I’m just tired.  My legs feel fine though.  They just keep working even though my mind has no energy.

Here’s the part I am really impressed with the EfA staff.  When I get to the end of the beach there is an aid station.  Fully manned, I would say 15 volunteers still at the aid station waiting for little ole me to get there.  Two gals come across the sand with water for me.  I tell them I will get them on the way back (that will be past the half way point and I want to refill my powder.)  That was something that they didn’t just leave me out there all by myself.

Now I have to run back to the other end of the beach to reach the infamous sand stairs.  This is hard.  The beach is full of sun bathers and kids.  The sand is deep so you have to stay near the packed sand.  I get hit by a wave because I wasn’t looking.  Great.  And then I get to the sand stairs, more officials still there (I’m really impressed that they are there.)  Now I see the sand stairs.  Ugh.

Here’s the thing.  If you were going to the beach and did nothing else that day, you really wouldn’t think the sand stairs were all that hard.   People use them all the time as an entry and exit to the beach.   Yes there are 400 of them but they are not that high.  But after swimming 1.5 miles in the current, biking 18 hilly miles and now running 2 miles uphill and running back and forth across the beach, these stairs are long and high.  Your legs are heavy and I’m just so fatigued that I take the stairs ten at a time and pause for ten seconds.  Then I graduate to 20 at a time and pause.  Then I just keep going.  Slow, slow, slow.  Just keep moving. The stairs are actually logs and in between them is sand.  There is a metal rope and pillons that you can use to pull yourself up.  I use them.  I think I could have done better on these if I had more energy.  At the top there is more sand, no stairs, just plod through it.  My legs were fine, it was energy.  There are more staff at the top of the sand stairs.  More congrats.  I’m feeling like a poser.

Then you are back on trail but you are going uphill for about 1/2 mile? Maybe a little more?  Who cares at this point it’s just ridiculous.  This is the point where you get the spectacular view.  It is beautiful looking over the ocean and mountain flowers all around.  This is the view that everyone says makes the climb worthwhile.  Nyeh, I don’t think so.  By fluke I had my camera in my jersey pocket and I didn’t even take it out.  “There must be pictures online somewhere I can’t be bothered to try to take a picture.”  There are cars on the road next to the trail and traffic is all backed up (probably due to the race).  Some cars honk and drivers yell to me “great job!”  I’m thinking really?  It’s just me out here. I’m 3rd to last (seeing only those two gals on the beach behind me.)  I hit the top and start running and now ALL the cars are honking because they see me start running, which of course means I can’t stop until I’m out of their sight.  I see a racer coming up the hill (he has yet to descend to the beach) I’m thinking God love you.  But I guess this means I’m 4th to last.  And there is another water station, this one manned by one guy but he’s still there.  I have to give them credit.

Now I start weaving my way down the mountain.  I’m actually shocked that my legs are running at all but they seem okay.  Tourists everywhere.  Very crowded. I make it down to the flatland there is another water station.  Fully manned — still about 15 volunteers there. I’m shocked.  This is 2 miles from the finish and they have all these people out here waiting for the last 4 people?  That’s impressive.

Now I just have to run 2 miles.  It’s crowded with just people out for walks with kids and dogs.  Lots of of people.  I’m just plugging along.  I have turned my watch on for 1 minute intervals.  Just run 1 minute walk 1 minute.

People seem to know what I’m doing out there and are very supportive.  “You’re doing it! Congratulations.”  I’m feeling awful about my abysmal performance.  Nobody seems to care but me.  I didn’t have anything in me to race.

I’m figuring by this time the finish line is all pulled down.  I see volunteers dismantling the course.  But as I pull into the finisher chute the music starts blaring and the announcer is announcing my name over the loud speaker.  There are about 15 volunteers cheering at the finish and there are photographers and people with medals.  I’m so surprised to see these people still there.  I think I’m long past the cut off.  I see 5:52 on the clock.  I had hope for 4:15.  I am WAY over my hoped for projection time.  But I am really impressed with the staff that they kept the course open for me and the finish line with all the same music and cheers as the fastie fasts (the fastie fasts had a thousand people cheering and I had 15 but they were still there!)  So for that I want to say that I am truly impressed with the staff of EfA.

After the race I had to gather all my crap and walk back to my hotel.  I was tired but I was moving.  It was interesting to start hearing other people’s comments about the race.  Everyone was talking about how tough it was.  I ran into one gal who is doing Lake Placid in a few weeks.  “I don’t even call this a race” she said.  “I’m a good runner and I just call this an event, not a race.”  Her husband was one of the guys I passed on the bike but then he passed me on the run.  We promised to meet up in Lake Placid.  She made me feel better about just finishing even though I didn’t really race it.

At the airport I over heard several different people talking about the race.  They all seemed like the young fast guns and I was surprised to hear them say how hard they thought it was.  You mean it wasn’t just me?  You mean everyone thinks this was hard?  Hmm…. I’ll think about that.

So I’m glad that I didn’t DNF.  (So far this year I haven’t DNF’d anything which does make me happy.)  I think more recon on the bike and run course would have helped so I truly understood what I was getting into.  More calories.  I have to practice that this weekend.  See if I can take in two drinks.

I’m glad I was able to get up all the hills on the bike.  I’m glad I didn’t start crying.  I simply realized that I was over my head in this race and to just finish truly was an accomplishment for me.

And to Any Potts who finished in 2 hours I have to say, you are a freak of nature and I salute you.


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6/5/12 Leap of Faith

Tuesday.  When we were kids we used to jump off boulders up in the woods for fun.  There was one in particular that we named “big rock” (we were so creative).  I remember the first time I jumped off that rock.  It was Fall, I was young, really young, under ten years old, maybe 8?  Maybe 7?  Big rock was “the meeting place” all the boys would meet there and once it was decided who were cowboys and who were Indians or whatever the game of the days was, they would jump off the side of the boulder and start running in the woods.  I never jumped, I would climb down the safe side.  They never made me jump but one day I wanted to jump.

I remember the big pile of welcoming leaves below me.  I thought they would cushion my fall.  When the boys saw I was ready to finally jump they all yelled encouraging words “it’s easy!”  “it won’t hurt!”  “land in the leaves!”  “c’mon, you can do it.”  I was truly paralyzed with fear looking down from what seemed so high up (I don’t even think it was 12 feet but at the time it seemed so high!)

I remember the moment I let go.  I remember telling myself to just give in, don’t think just fall.  Whatever happens happens.  I was prepared for it to hurt but I was hoping the piles of leaves would soften the blow.  And then that moment came when I just closed my eyes and leapt.  More a lean then a jump.  More of a letting go than pushing off.  I’d like to say it was a moment of bravery but really what I learned to do was shut off.  I learned to click off my brain and just go.  I learned how to blank out.

I remember landing in the leaves.  I landed on my left side.  And it hurt.  Not hurt like breaking your leg (because nothing was broken) it was just a hard fall.  The leaves looked like they would soften the blow but they did nothing.  Thereafter, every week I had to jump off that rock because now I’d proven I could do it and to not do it would be even more of a chicken move than never jumping at all.  And every week I had to jump knowing it was going to hurt.  I learned to perfect the blank out.  Exhale, just let go.  If anyone wants to understand why I do what I do and why I keep going for these crazy challenges it’s because of the rock.  It’s because 45+ years ago I learned the power of exhaling and letting go and the absolute high you get when you stand up and realize that you did it and you didn’t die after all.  To find out that you are actually stronger than you ever dared believe that you could be and sometimes you can let go and it’s okay.  (And sometimes you can let go and break your scapula and puncture a lung too.)

I was thinking about all of that this morning as I am facing my upcoming race at Alcatraz.  I’m really nervous about jumping off the boat into the 52 degree water.  I’m scared of the moment of impact, the shock of the cold.  I’m also scared I will jump on someone’s head.  I’m also scared someone will jump on my head.  I know I’m going to do it.  I know I’m going to exhale and let go and I know it’s going to hurt.  I’m just prepping for that fall.

I was also thinking of something my mother used to say when we did something stupid when following our friends’ leads.  “So if all your friends jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do it too?”  As if the obvious answer was “of course not, Ma, I would be smart enough to stay put.”  But the reality?  Nah, I’d probably jump too.  Knowing my mother, she’d probably jump as well.

There is a quote by John Burroughs that gets passed around a lot “Leap and the Net will Appear.”   Someone gave me a magnet with that saying printed on it.  Eventually I took the magnet down because I didn’t believe it.  Really?  What net?  What does that really mean?  Is that just some kind of blind faith that everything will be alright no matter what stupid thing you decide to do?  I don’t buy that.  I think it should say “Leap and it will probably hurt but chances are you will get up and keep on going.”  You weigh the risks and rewards and if you really want something and the only way to get it is to leap but you know it might hurt, exhale and let go.  The net may or may not appear.  Yes that’s the magnet I want to make up: “Leap and the Net Might Appear.  Might Not.  Good Luck.”

Throughout life we are all constantly taking these leaps of faith.  Not just in our sports but in our relationships, our jobs, our decisions about our health.  Nobody knows the real outcome.  Nobody knows if we will succeed or not.  But if you don’t exhale and let go, if you don’t blank out and just leap, you are just stuck on that big rock, looking down and wondering what life would be like if you had the courage.  And that feeling hurts far more than the hard ground underneath.

Training was light and easy this past week.  Real recovery week.  I did go out to do the Century ride up in CT but opted for the 60 mile version.  I felt 100% capable of doing the 100 but just knowing that made it okay that I didn’t have to do it.  What would that prove?  Not much.  Had a beautiful ride and learned a ton of new roads to ride.

Decent endurance swim yesterday but didn’t get my run in.  Team bike Harlem Hill repeats this a.m., high cadence, cardio.  I only got 9 in, one guy lapped me twice, three others lapped me once.  The rest of the team didn’t pass me so that was okay.  Coach gave me a nod and “you did a good job” which made me happy.  Though not the point of the workout, I wish I could have been a little faster.

Yearly checkup with my surgeon this morning.  He sticks the camera down my nose and throat and looks for any signs of problems.  He seemed pleased this time.  He gave me a “good job” too.  He said we just have to keep closely monitoring my lymph nodes and keep going for my blood tests every three months (seriously? every three months?  yep.)  He told me not to worry about the antibodies number.  Yes they should be to zero but as long as they are not making big jumps up they may stick around for a long time.  Depending on how strong my immune system is they might just be on patrol for a while until they figure out there is nothing there for them to be defending against.  That made me feel better.  I could just have a really strong immune system.  I have a lot of soldiers ready for battle even if the enemy isn’t coming.  I can handle that.  So between him, my endo and my primary care I’m still a doctor every couple of months for awhile but I feel fine and I am going by how I feel.  I understand that they are all just being cautious not reacting to anything.

Packing and planning for Alcatraz.  Praying my dad stays stable enough for me to actually go.  My strategy these days is to just proceed as if everything is alright and when it’s not, it’s not.    We can’t sit around and wait.  Life keeps moving and if you don’t jump, you’ll just be stuck on the rock.


Here is the video that I am not compulsively watching:


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