Category Archives: Race Results

4/30/12 The Wall of Testosterone

Monday.  Completed my 6th race at St. Anthony’s yesterday.  30 minutes slower (3:53) than my best result (3:25) but I’m okay with how I did because I felt good, I worked hard, I started to remember how to do these triathlons, I had fun, I met one of my idols, I got to hang with my friend Melissa, had a nice visit with my friend Marlie after the race and today I feel okay.  Of course I wish I could have ended with a better posted result but as we know not all victories are measured on the clock.

Flew down on Friday, got settled into my B&B, did a few errands, had dinner and before I knew it, time for bed.  I think arriving on Friday was a good choice.

Saturday I went for a short run when I got up.  Got sidetracked in cheering for the little 7 year olds doing the meek and mighty.  They are so cute I couldn’t help myself.

I tried out my new long-sleeved wetsuit (Promotion brand).  I like it but I really don’t like wetsuits.  But as wetsuits go this one was okay.  Lots of movement in the shoulders and no pulling on my arms.  It’s acceptable but I think I need more practice in it before I race in it. Training camp in May will provide that. The wetsuit test was really for Alcatraz in June.  I had no intention of wearing a wetsuit at St. A’s the water temp ended up being 73 degrees and that was perfect temp for me and no westsuit needed.  But Alcatraz is going to be cold and I’m a little nervous about my asthma and the cold so long-sleeved wetsuit needed. Swam for about 15 minutes with wet suit and another 15 without.  Water was amazing!

I picked up my bike, went for a 20 minute ride just to make sure everything was working and racked my bike in transition.  Melissa and I went to Prima for dinner downtown, we both LOVED it and will go back again.

Race morning Melissa and I got up 5 a.m.  For breakfast I had a protein shake, and one piece of bread with earth balance spread.  I also drank a bottle of Infinit (my custom sports drink).  All together about 550 calories.  That was more than enough — I didn’t need the bread.  I couldn’t eat my banana.  For next time I’ll know protein shake and bottle of infinite would be enough — maybe do the banana instead of the bread.  But morning calories I think were just right and I made sure to hydrate a lot the two days prior to the race.  I think I did that all right.

I made one executive decision that was probably not the smartest.  I felt my tires in transition and I decided to not pump them.  They felt just right to me and I had tested my bike out the day before and they felt okay.  I just didn’t want to muck around too much with my bike.  A little voice just told me to leave her alone so I did. I was afraid of the rising heat temps and that maybe they would explode (happened to me in Disney 1/2 IM).  In retrospect I probably should have pumped the tires more — might have given me a smidge more speed.  But sometimes you just go with your gut.  They felt fine during the race.  I did not feel like I was riding on low tires.

Got my transition set up in a jiff and Melissa and I headed down to the swim start.

The big news at St. A’s is that they have changed the swim course.  Instead of swimming from the pier out and counter clock wise to Vinoy Park, you swim from a northern beach and swim clockwise down to Vinoy Park.  It looked to me that we would be swimming against the current most of the time but the water seemed calm enough that it wouldn’t matter.

Also new for the swim is it is an in-water start.  Because the water is so shallow to about 75 meters out into the bay, each wave (group of athletes) entered the corral and then walked out to the start in the water.  When the gun goes off athletes would start swimming from the water instead of running in from the beach as in previous years.  I liked the new start much better.  Seemed less chaotic.

My wave was one of the earliest.  I went off at 7:05 with the women over 60 and the Athena women (over 150 pounds).  I was so excited to see Sister Madonna Buder was there to swim in my wave.  Nobody was announcing her name or making the big hulabaloo they made in Canada that she was in the race.  I actually got a chance to walk up and meet her in person (I’ve been to hear her speak.)  82 years old, full-time nun, part-time triathlete, multi-time Ironman.  I really admire her spirit and love for the sport.  It made my day to be able to speak to her.

I was happy to get an early start.  In past years I’ve had to wait as much as 2 1/2 hours for my wave start and that is grueling.  But with every give there is a take and my one draw back is that after my small wave of maybe 20 women in pink caps, came the Men.  Rough guestimate from the results but approximately 400 men swam past me in the race. I’m not making that up, about 400 man swam past me in the 44 minutes I was out there.  The next group of women would not be in the water until an hour after me so I knew there would be no women coming up behind me. That meant anyone who swam 5, 10 or 15 minutes faster than me would be swimming over me and past me.  Rough peruse of the results showed 400 men did that.  Males swimmers are not quite as polite as female. I knew I had two choices, swim wide and let them pass me or swim my regular line and be prepared to be kicked and pushed.  I decided to hold my line and if they were going to swim past me I was going to try to catch a draft.  Yes I got knocked around a couple of times (one big wallop to the head), but for the most part as long as I swam straight, they didn’t bother me.  Maybe that was a mistake to stay in the fray, but I think it was good experience.

Of everything, I was disappointed in my swim result.  I felt that I was swimming with a decent effort the entire time.  I didn’t stop, pause, go too far off course and yet I was six minutes slower than my predicted time.  It took me 44 minutes instead of my predicted 38.  I’m still not exactly sure why.  I did feel there was some resistance and chop as we took the left turn out to sea but I thought for sure the draft I would get would make up for it.  This was no lake swim for sure but I really didn’t feel I was swimming that slowly.  Not sure if I will ever figure that one out but that was about six minutes of my overall 30 minute overage.  My recent pool swim times have been just about the same, no big difference there.  Just a mystery.

I had a decent transition onto my bike.  I didn’t bother with things like socks or gloves.  3 minutes and change is pretty good for me in transition.

One note.  My doctor gave me a new inhaler on Thursday.  WHAT A DIFFERENCE!   Normally I get out of the water and spend the entire time on the biking coughing and most of the run wheezing.  NONE of that.  It was amazing.  My lungs were clear, clear, clear.  Even better than my old inhaler (which was expired).  The new one really seems to work great. AND, I didn’t spend the next 24 hours coughing either (which is usually what happens after a big workout of breathing deeply.) Very pleased with that.

The bike.  Yep, for me it all boils down to the bike.  One thing I do wish I had done was have a bike tune up.  Tina (my bike) has not had a tune up since 2010 and I know both she and I would benefit from one.  I just didn’t have time before I went down.  I also didn’t have time to even clean her up.  I took her right from my 80 mile ride on Saturday to the bike shop for shipping.  At the bike shop they said I needed to get my hub fixed and it was time for a new chain.  None of that would have a huge impact on my performance but maybe a little.

Although I had a tremendous fun on the bike — St. Anthony’s is all about how I like to ride, get into Aero, big chain ring and pump, I was over ten minutes slower than my best. I only averaged 17.1 mph. I’ve averaged 19 mph in the past. That actually made up a big chunk of my total-time overage.

I made sure to set a minimum cadence of 82 (82 seems to be my natural cadence and if I shoot for 90 I often end up 82 or higher).  I seemed to be at 85-87 every time I looked down at my cadence.  I was pleased with that.

Weather was perfect.

I did my bike nutrition right.  One bottle of Infinite and one bottle of plain water (remembering my lesson from my workouts in NJ several weeks ago when I drank too much Infinite without plain water and got stomach issues.)

The biggest difference this year for me was I usually spend the bike portion of the race passing people. I am usually one of the last waves and I just pick people off one by one.  This was different. It was a wall of men passing me.  I really couldn’t believe it.  It was bizarre. These were all the men left who had not passed me in the swim. It was their turn to pass me on the bike. Anytime I wanted to pass someone there were five guys on my left passing me.  I didn’t find anyone to pass until mile 10 (which was a weird feeling).  Just swarms of guys and the race officials were out in full force looking to give penalties.  I didn’t even bother doing my sit up and look innocent “not me drafting sir.”  Even when I was going 19 mph they were just swooshing by me.  I saw maybe two women ahead (out and back) and I think about 3 women did pass me (you mean I was faster than someone on the swim? or they just took a long time in transition).  Other than that it was just me and this wall of testosterone.  I was not so sure I liked this early wave start.  I do better when I have someone to hunt down.  I lost a lot of time on the turns because these guys were just crazy — they would just cut everyone off (not just me). But I kept focusing on a good cadence and every once in awhile I tried to get out of my comfort zone.   But I started to think that the weather was pretty nice, if I didn’t kill my legs I might actually have a run come out of me.

The run. The first couple of miles I just took my time warming up and getting used to the heat.  It was hot but it wasn’t humid so I was okay. And that inhaler was really working! I was actually able to get myself up to running 4 minutes, walking 1 and dumping a lot of water on my head at the water stops.  Several people commented on how I was one of the few women out there.  “I said I know it’s weird.”  It wasn’t until about mile 3 when I started to see more women flying past me.  Around mile 4 Sister Madonna Bruder passed me and I yelled out her name.  She lifted her arms as if flying — the flying nun.  She was pretty skippy if you ask me.  It was mile 5 and 6 that I found really hard.  No shade and the sun was just beating down.  I had to drop to a 2 minute run 1 minute walk.  It was just too hot and I could feel my heart rate going through the roof.  Despite that I still felt good.  I wasn’t in pain, I just didn’t want to have a heart attack or anything.  My mantra became, “I am strong and I am grateful.”  I saw ambulances ahead toward the finish line.  Turns out some guy had a heart attack just as he turned into the final finish shoot.  Apparently he grabbed his heart yelled out “oh crap” and went down.  I heard they were able to revive him and got him to an ambulance.  I’ve heard no other updates.

I was so grateful to be done.  I had no knee pain, no lung problems, no shooting pains in my butt, no hamstring problems — one calf cramp on the swim but it was short and at the end. Pain-wise, might have been one of my top pain-free races. I was happy. If had started even an hour later I’m not sure I would have had a “happy race.”  But I felt I had an even pressure on myself throughout the entire race.  Could have pushed harder?  Sure.  But this was not my A race.  This was a warm-up for me.  A chance to dust off the old triathlon skills.  Work out the kinks and be ready for the bigger races coming up.  Most of all it was a chance for me to have a race feeling good.  No dizziness, no hallucinations, no country music in my head, no pulling over into a coma, just a good even race from which I would recover and keep on going.  And that I had.  And for that I am grateful.

Namaste

I’m a huge fan of Sister Madonna Buder Turns out she published a book in 2010. How did I not know that? I just ordered it, will read and review. It’s called “The Grace to Race.” And here’s a cute article about her with a few of her pearls

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Filed under Blogroll, Olympic Triathlons, Race Results, st. anthony's

3/12/12 Sarasota

Monday.  Well I finished the Sarasota Half.  I will say I had a very good time and I recorded probably my slowest 1/2 marathon time (or darn close) but I was close to what I planned.  I wanted to do a jog/walk and keep it under 15 minute miles which I calculated to be 3 hours and 15 minutes.  My official time was 3 hours 16 minutes 22 seconds which turned out to be a 14:58 pace.  On target, although not exactly how I thought I would get there.

I chose this race to come do a race with my friend Melissa who moved down to Sarasota from NYC some years ago.  Melissa and I did our very first triathlon together in 2003 and we’ve been best of buddies since.  We’ve done a bunch of races together even, including our epic trip to Alaska for the midnight half marathon and visit to Denali.  Though she is a fastie fast, I overlook that because she is also kind, nice and supportive.  This race would also be a good training run for me and help me acclimate to the weather next month for St. Anthony’s.  So I hopped Jet Blue (nice airline) and my brother put me up at his fancy club where he is a member and I would never get to stay otherwise.

I wasn’t worried about this race because I wasn’t racing it.  My goal was time on my feet, feel good at the end (no bonking, no dizziness, no pulling over into a coma, no imaginary conversations with Country Singers.)  I would say I met all the criteria.  Above all else, the fact that I can do this without feeling dizzy makes me very happy.  Racing will come soon enough.

The Sarasota Half Marathon is a very well run and friendly race.  No pretense here.  Cheers for the fastie fasts ( a nice flat course if you want to PR tho warm) and plenty of cheers and water for the walkers.  A totally walker-friendly course.  Plenty of water.

One tiny drawback is that it fell on Daylight Savings time.  So the 7 am start was a body clock of 6 am and I like to be up 2 hours before a race so 5 am was my 4 am).  I flew in the day before which maybe next time I would give myself one extra day to get a good night’s sleep but it was only  a half marathon and I wasn’t trying to “race” it so day before was just fine.

I didn’t have an exact strategy going in but I knew I would be good for ten miles of run/walking.  I thought I would start out with a mile walkwarmup until I woke up and found it HOT and HUMID.  I was actually shocked.  It was cool and breezy when I went to bed and I woke up to a sauna.  No way could I run in this weather.  I could barely breathe.  I quickly changed my strategy to a walk plan and hoped that I wouldn’t pass out.

The first 5 miles of this race are up and over two bridges around St. Armand’s circle and back over the two bridges. The rest of the course would be flat.  The incline on the bridges was not that tough.  I got into a powerwalk right from the start and was surprised to be passing all the walkers.  I looked at my watch and I was doing an even 15 minute mile which is not even my fastest power walk (I can do an even 14 minute mile power walk but not the crazy 11 minute mile power walks I see some people do.)

I had to jog a few times to get past blocks of walkers and find a spot.  Coming down the first bridge my legs started running on their own and I reprimanded them that I was in no shape to be running in this heat and the last thing I wanted was a heart attack so early in the season.  Down the second bridge I said okay, you can run but when you hit the flats you have to walk.  It’s just too hot.  I was actually having fun because I was passing all the walkers and thought this might become my new sport — until white tshirt lady passed me.

There was nothing descript about white t shirt lady.  She was about 5′ 6″, wearing a loose long white tshirt over baggy shorts, short black hair.  She didn’t even have a logo on her tshirt.  I think it might have even been, gasp, cotton.  For 30 minutes into the race I’ve done nothing but pass walkers and this woman cruises by me effortlessly.  She’s not even pumping her arms.  She doesn’t have the official power walk waddle happening.  She’s just walking like she is going to the post office and quietly cruising by everyone.  I’m doing the big arm pump, my best hip swing that I see all the race walkers doing, imagining my new career as a professional race walker and she is sailing by me like I’m a palm tree.  Harumph.  I try to follow her foot fall.  It doesn’t seem that fast but darn it if I can’t keep it going.  It must be her stride is shorter.  So I shorten my stride and try to keep up.  Nope I’m losing her.  I resort to the only thing I can think of, I run to catch up to her.  I’m out of breath fast. I’m keeping my eye on you lady.  I have to run to catch up with her.  But I can’t maintain that.  She is walking a  12 minute mile and that would be my race pace.  I can’t race this, I’m not in shape.  I have to let her go.  But when I look up we have covered 5 miles.

The sun rises and we are back on flat land.  As we turn the corner the sun has risen and we are met with an ocean breeze.  The temperature has dropped at least 15 degrees.  It was, dare I say it?  Lovely running weather.  It was shaded, cool and flat.  Darn it!@!!  Even I am going to have run this .  Sigh.  I searched for any excuse but there was none.  So I started doing my regular run/walk and now my legs were warmed up and I was feeling pretty good. I kept that going for about 4 miles until the shade ended and then I started walking in the sun and getting quickly overheated.  (St. Anthony’s here I come next month).  In the shade I recovered and would do a run/walk.  I have a band of about 20 people who were doing the exact same thing.  For the last 3-4 miles it was all the same people, power walking, recovery walking, jogging when we could.  I’d pass them, they’d pass me.  We started smiling at one another.  Then we started encouraging one another.  We started working with one another.  It started to get hot.  One person would start jogging and we’d all start.  Then we’d all walk.  We had a big group all kind of spread out over the equivalent of a city block.  Faces fading then reappearing.

The last mile was hot.  No shade.  No breeze but now we were just sailing on get-er-done juice.  I adopted some 62 year old woman who seemed in fantastic shape except for the knee wraps. (Or did she adopt me?)  She’s super friendly and had been my exact pace for 2 miles.  We walked the same pace and ran the same pace.  She encouraged me and I encouraged her.  We made a good team.  We saw my friend Melissa at the 12.5 mile marker and she started yelling at me to run harder.  I told her she had to run with me and yell at me if she wanted me to run.  I told her she was being too nice.  But there was the finish line and I was done.  I wasn’t hurting.  I wasn’t in pain.  It was, dare I say?  Somewhat enjoyable?

Although I wasn’t tired from the race I had a lot of mental fatigue from life stress and I chilled on the beach until it rained and then did a few errands.  I felt terribly guilty all afternoon that I didn’t feel like I had run a half marathon (probably because I didn’t).  I thought I should have felt sorer.

Back in NYC, before I came down, I had booked some tennis.  I’m staying at Long Boat Key Club.  This area is known as Tennis Land.  Bolleteri tennis camp which produced all the great tennis players is up the road.  The Colony is a famous tennis resort as well (on the same stretch.)  Back in 2005 I had visited my folks here and got a tremendous workout from some touring pros.  So I booked some sessions.

I woke up the morning with a sore butt.  I guess all that power walking used some different muscles.  Now I feel like I did a half marathon.  My quads are a little tired but my butt is REALLY sore.  I now have to get dressed and be on the court at 8 a.m for a literal ass kicking.  I am going to be so embarrassed.  I’m supposed to be a good tennis player.  As I hobble onto the court  I’m going to be humiliated.  And then I get to repeat that joy tomorrow and wednesday as well (but by then my butt shouldn’t still hurt so I should be okay)  I can already tell you what is going to happen.  They are going to tell me I have to get low to the ball.  I’m going to tell them my butt hurts and I can’t bend my legs.  Then they are going to make me do squats to warm up my legs and then I’m going to cry.

Oh and then I have to an open water swim and a do a bike.  This is training camp.  But a really pretty one. Pass the Aleve please.

Namaste

This is view from my fancy room thanks to my generous brother.  Nicest race accomodations I’ve ever had.  And btw, you can see your toes in that water.

Me and Melissa before the race start, one of many similar pictures from Florida, Memphis, Alaska, we’ve been all over the place racing together.  I’ll put together a Connie and Melissa photo montage one of these days:

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Filed under Blogroll, Half Marathons, Race Results

3/5/12 Top of the Rock

Sunday.  Well I finished!  66 flights of stairs up to the top of Rockefeller Center. My 2012 season is underway!  As usual, what I thought would happen didn’t.  I thought I would fly through the first 30 flights no problem and then be crawling up the last 36.   So my strategy was to do the opposite, start slow and finish fast. I had a great hill workout (in the gym) on Thursday and really noticed the difference in my overall strength.  I thought it might happen again this morning, I would come out pumped and ready to hit the stairs and then peter out.  It didn’t work quite that way.

I had very little sleep.  Okay no sleep, but I kept reminding myself that didn’t matter for one day — I would nap later.  I was nervous that I would be doing the stairs with crowds of people around me.  It wasn’t like that at all.  It was a staggered start.  First there were waves of about 150 people (our wave went off at 6:45) and then they sent each of us off every 5 seconds or so.  So there was nobody crowded around me.  The stairs were wide but the stairs were not even.  Some flights had bigger landings.  Some flights seemed to have more stairs.  I got into a zone quickly. For most of the climb, I was alone.  Great volunteers at each landing clapping and cheering which was nice.  I didn’t get grumpy as I sometimes do when I’m suffering and someone is a little too cheery.  I was able to maintain a smile.

I thought the first 30 would really be no problem.  I have been doing the stairmaster at the gym, climbing the stairs in my building.  Squats are my friend. I was sure the first 30 flights would seem okay.  But this morning my legs felt dead right out of the box.  (I had a 15 minute walk over and a few stretches).  The first flight I thought “I’m in trouble. Flight 1 is hard, what are numbers 26, 36, 46, 56 and 66 going to feel like?”  But it didn’t get worse, it just stayed that hard the entire time. I was slow — slower than I have been in my own building.  My legs were heavy and I was tired.  But my legs were working.  Quads, quads, quads. One in front of the other.  I got into a even, slow pace and just kept going. I felt I had plenty of room on the stairs and I did not feel pressure to go faster or slower. I was definitely breathing hard.  Could I have gone a little faster?  Yes, but I really didn’t know how I would feel at the end so I was saving up.  Turns out that would be my pace for the entire climb.

Several duos passed me only to reappear again at the water stops.  There were two stops where you could get water.  I didn’t stop.  I just kept plodding along.  Some who passed me earlier passed me again.  Then the same thing happened at the second water stop. This was because they were stopping at the water stops but I just kept going.  I really didn’t think it was going to take me more than 30 minutes so I figured I could do without water for that long.

I did slow down on a couple of the landings just to catch my breath and let my heart rate lower a bit and then I was able to resume.  In retrospect I probably could have just maintained the higher heart rate but I’m still testing that out and figured better safe than sorry.   I still don’t know how much I can really push.  The next thing I knew I heard the screaming and I was at the top.  I don’t remember much of the last 20 flights.  I just went into a zone.  But I felt the same effort at the end as I did at the begin.  Labored.

But here is why I really do feel good about the climb.  This was my 2012 kick off event and I did okay.  Yes I would have liked to have been faster (26 minutes), but no matter what my time was I would have thought I would have liked to have been faster. I said I wanted to be under 30 minutes and I was under 30 minutes.   Unlike 2010 and 2011 which were just one bad event after another, filled with races I had no business doing.  Today I had no dizziness.  I did not feel like I was going to faint or have to pull over and slip into a coma.  My lungs were working appropriately hard.  They were not burning, just working.  My heart rate felt at the appropriate effort — beating hard but not in my throat and not feeling like it was going to come out of my chest.  My knees did not hurt.  I did not have a single cramp.  If this is my first event of the season and my physical responses at the remaining events are all appropriate to my effort I am going to be very happy.  I feel all my medications are at the right dosage.  I feel all my energy levels are appropriate for my level of fitness at this time and place.  For this I am extremely grateful.

And here is the biggest reason I feel good about this climb.  I’ve raised over $2,100 so far and hoping to reach $2,500 by April 4th when they close the donations page.  I still have a few people who have said they will donate and I have a matching corporate donation coming. My heart is made lighter by the generosity of my friends. Not just in their reaching down into their pockets but also in their reaching out and sharing their own stories of MS.  I was drawn to this event by the challenge but became more determined by the cause.  I had four people in particular for whom I was climbing.  My very first childhood friend Robbin and her mother both diagnosed with MS.  My friend Cass who has been suffering with MS for years and has fought so valiantly to stay strong while both of her sons were also diagnosed with other debilitating diseases.  And my teammate Nacho who fought with MS is now leading this team of athletes to the top.  But then people started donating and telling me about their family members lost to MS, their friends and family still suffering from the disease.  I had no idea so many people I knew were being effected by this disease.  But this event gave a voice to all these people to speak and say “me too, let’s do something about it.”  Now I was climbing in honor of a longer list, children of friends, Uncles,  Fathers, cousins, training partners and neighbors.

As the donations and stories started to pour in, my heart became a little overwhelmed.   On February 29th (Leap Day), I ended up being the number one fundraiser for the event on that single day and they gave me four tickets to the top of the Rock, which I will use as incentive for another fundraiser.  And then I found out that I may actually make the “elite” list of top 66 fundraisers.  They honor the top 66 fundraisers the following year by putting their names on the different floors and give them other acknowledgements.  As I was passing the thirtieth floor it had my former teammate Bec’s name up there as being one of the top 66 fundraisers last year.  I would be really honored to make the top 66 and how cool would it be if my name is on the wall next year and I get them to print “RUMBLE” for my friends who are running?  But I have to wait to see how everyone’s fundraising pans out.  Of course that would mean I have to go back next year but that would be a great goal!  Raise more money and be faster?  Dare I even think it?

There were a lot of people with MS at the event in crutches and wheelchairs thanking everyone.  As I was about to leave a guy in yellow volunteer shirt sat in his wheelchair with a huge smile on his face — simply beaming. He looked me right in the eyes, with grateful acknowledgement and said “Thank you.”  I was really struck by his total appreciation while he sat in his wheelchair not able to participate as a climber.  I said “no problem” of course but all I could think was, No thank you, I got more out of this than I gave and next year I will try to make sure it is the other way around.

And to top it all off?  I still went out and ran 7 miles toward my Ironman training.  It was supposed to be 10 but it got cold and I’m old and sometimes you just have to say that was a good day and have some steamed dumplings with your friend.

Next stop on the comeback tour:  Sarasota Half Marathon.  Not racing it, just seeing if I can finish 13.1 doing a run/walk without fading.

Namaste

My fundraising page stays open for another couple of weeks.  This is the link to the page http://main.nationalmssociety.org/site/TR?px=1772148&fr_id=17407&pg=personal.

This is a picture of me and some of my teammates from Team Nacho.  They have all trained with me for Ironman as well.   Endurance sports — the gift that keeps on giving!!

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8/9/10 Wild West Wowie

Monday.  Well all I can say is Wow, Wow, Wow.  Just got back from doing the Wild West Relay in Colorado this weekend and I feel like I have been gone for a month.  So much to process.  Some really hard parts, some really ugly parts, some really fun parts, a lot of love and a TON of adventure.   This weekend will remain one of those top adventures in my memory.

It all started because my friend Stella was turning 40 and she wanted to do something fabulous.  She came up with the idea of getting some friends together to do this relay.  I have to say I was really surprised when she included me in the original guest list.  Sure we’ve had a lot of fun training and doing races and stuff but this was a team race and let’s face it, I’m the back of the back of the pack.  Add onto that the fact that I’m still struggling with my health, I had to admit I didn’t think I was the best candidate for the job.  But she insisted that it was going to be for fun (I’ve heard that before).  I think I was the first person who had their flight booked for Colorado.

Stella was super supportive and gave me first pick which legs of the race I wanted to do.  I chose the runner position that added up to the “easiest” rank.  One hard, one medium and one easy.  I know enough now to know that “easiest” rarely means “easy” in races.  C’mon, we are running across the Colorado mountains, what part was going to be “easy?”   We had 12 people on our team.  11 really fast people and me.  Even though I knew everyone and they were all the nicest people in the world I couldn’t shake the knowledge that I was really out of my league.  Who knew that when our coaches say “It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun” that it actually can be fun?

So we started on Thursday.  A bunch of us arrived in Denver about the same time and Stella told us to dress for some afternoon fun.  I thought she meant shopping (a common interest we enjoy).   She meant mountain climbing.  The real kind of mountain climbing with harnesses and everything!!  First thing we did was hike up to the mountain where everyone would strap on a harness and attempt to climb the face of a huge rock (boulder?  cliff? I don’t know what you call it.)  Stella’s brother is an experienced climber and teaches climbing so he was there to give advice and make sure nobody fell.  There was no way in this life time you were going to get me to do that.  I thought the hike up (rocky mountain path) was plenty for me and I had fun watching the others strap in and try to climb up.   It looked hard and challenging and not for me thank you very much.  I have a short list of things I just never have to do in my life and rock climbing is one of the items on that list.  Maybe some day.  Nah, never mind, maybe never.

Once the rest of the team arrived we all headed to the hotel to get checked in and get some sleep because we were starting to race at 7 a.m.  This was a relay race which meant we had 12 people divided into 2 vans (A & B).  The first van would go first with six runners.  One runner at a time would get out and run their “leg.”  Their van would drive ahead to the next exchange spot where the runner would hand off the little yellow Livestrong wrist band to the next runner.  While van A was doing their legs, Van B with the other six runners went to the grocery store and got some supplies and then headed ahead to exchange area number 6 where the runners in Van B would take over the running job and the Van A runners would find food and drive ahead.

This entire event took an enormous amount of planning and our fearless birthday girl left no detail unturned.  Our schedules and to-do lists were all laid out for us in little folders and personal bags filled with amazing goodies.  Best swag bag ever!!!  She had everything covered for us from stainless steel water bottles to body glide and sunscreen to snacks and shampoo! To top it all off she had designed an amazing team running shirt for each of us with little figures of each of us running up the mountain.  It was the cutest thing EVER.  The whole planning of the event was just over the top.

I was runner number 11.  To say that I was nervous was an understatement.  I was so worried I was going to let the team down and ruin Stella’s birthday.  The first six runners had blown through our predicted times.  They were something like 45 minutes ahead of schedule despite the heat and fact that only about 4 people on the team were acclimated to the altitude.  (It’s harder to breathe in the mountains).  I was glad we were ahead of schedule (because that meant I could use some of that time to make sure I made the cutoff for our team.)    But then I was worried that I might jeopardize our team doing well.  There was also the focus factor.  In a regular race when you are running for your own result you don’t have everyone sitting there waiting just for you.    All of my recent runs had a been a crap shoot — some okay, some terrible, none great.  Now all these fastie fasts who were blowing through the course would be sitting around for yours slowly.  To say I was nervous was an understatement.

The scenery was just amazing.  Everyone in the van kept laughing at me because I kept exclaiming “look everyone, look at that, we’re in COLORADO!”  One direction was more beautiful than the next.  Majestic was all I could think.  Our friend Eric said it best when he said “the sky is just bigger out here.”  I know exactly what he meant.   Everything was wide open for miles with more mountains everywhere we looked.  Breathtaking.  Like driving through a painting.

Stella passed mile 40 during her run.  Everyone (all the runners and supporters) came out to mile 40 to cheer her up and “over the hill” to celebrate her birthday.   They made a huge sign and we all stood and cheered to welcome her into her 40’s.  Great fun.  Great spirit.  A lot of love out there.  She seemed happy (when she wasn’t thinking about the pain of the hill she was running up and over.)  We were all so very happy for her.  What a great way to celebrate.  Not much time for festivities.  We had to get ahead to the next exchange to get ready for the next runner.

When we got to the exchange where I would take off running I was not happy to see that I had to start out running uphill.  (Okay, now that the race is over I see that is a funny statement because MOST of the race was uphill).  Everyone coming in was commenting on the increasing temperature and it was getting hot.  My first leg was to be 4.8 miles and was labeled “Hard” by the race directors.  (Race legs were labeled, Easy, Medium, Hard and Very Hard.)  The description was “through the foothills past mountain homes and ranches.”  My elevation gain was only 759 BUT I was starting at 7,747 feet and climbing to 8,270 feet.  That was altitude that I had never run in.

Sun was out but in the distance were some rain clouds.  My friend and assistant coach Dennis was there and asked me if I wanted to bring a rain jacket.  I said no because even if it rained it was hot enough out that I wouldn’t get cold.  I would be fine getting a little wet.  The clouds  were on the horizon so I wasn’t too worried about it.  I was wearing dry fit fabrics and I had a spare shirt and shorts in the van (we only carried what we needed for the race in the van, the rest of our clothes and stuff were in a truck that we would get at the end.)  Besides, it’s not like I’ve never run in the rain before (talk about an understatement!)

Within 5 minutes I was out of breath running up the hill.  It wasn’t even steep, I was just huffing and puffing.  I was very nervous and attributing most of my being out of breath to that.  Even though everyone kept saying “don’t be nervous, we don’t care how fast you go” I didn’t want to be the one to bring everyone down.  Within five more minutes the sky was dark.  Within ten minutes it was raining — hard.  It was like someone threw a blanket over my head.  It was Lake Placid 2008 deluge all over again.  In five seconds I was soaked from head to toe. The van came back to check on me.  I gave them the high sign.  I’m okay, wet but okay, they took off to wait for me at the next exchange point.

There was a wide patch of dirt path next to the asphalt road.  I had chosen to run on the dirt over the road figuring it would be easier on my knees and it had been nice until the rain turned it into an instant mud slide.  Within a five minutes there was about 2 inches of water on the ground making the dirt muddy and unrunnable.  I think this is what they mean by flash flood.

Then I started to feel a little pin pricks on my arm.  More on my face.  Then I felt them on my chest through my shirt.  Then pricks all over my body.  What the heck?  I’m looking at the rain and realize it’s not rain.  It’s ice.  What?!?!?  It’s a freaking hail storm.  Pelting me with these tiny little ice rocks.  It didn’t hurt that much it was just like someone was taking tiny little darts and throwing them at me.  I can’t say it was exactly pleasant either. I was more worried about the thunder I heard rumbling in the distance.  I remember in the race book they said in case of lightning to jump into any active van or get out of the storm.

I had to laugh.  I mean really laugh.  I looked up at the heavens and said once again “you have a really sick sense of humor.”  Wasn’t it enough that I was nervous about this?  Wasn’t it enough that my health has been iffy this year and I didn’t even know if I could do this leg on my best day?  You want me to run through a freakin’ hail storm at 7,500 feet altitude UPHILL?  The combination struck me as so ridiculous that I just had to laugh.  And then that’s when something really strange happened.  I relaxed.  I realized there was no point fighting the universe.  What’s that quote?  “Man plans and God laughs?” No matter how bad you think you have it, there is always more it can toss at you.

I guess because I laughed and then relaxed and then I got a little downhill I was actually able to start running better.  The rain was coming down hard and the hail was pummeling me.  Cars were pulling over to wait out the storm.  It was absolutely, 100% ridiculous.  You couldn’t make this stuff up.   I just kept trucking.  Now I hit another uphill and I got up it without stopping!  Okay Universe, this is how you want to play it?  BRING IT!!  I’m not stopping and I’m going to finish this leg no matter what you throw out here.  The harder it rained and hailed, the harder I ran and the more I was smiling.

That’s when it hit me.  Not the ice, the message.  The Universe wasn’t trying to punish me, it was trying to show me something.  I wasn’t fainting, I wasn’t exhausted, I wasn’t weak.  It was throwing all of this at me and I was still doing it.  I got it.  I got it.  I am strong enough again.  I can do this.  The rain was not a punishment, it was a blessing.  The hail was not to trying to weaken me, it was to show me how much of my endurance I had reclaimed.  This was huge!  All of a sudden every little ice prick was welcomed.  I get it. I understand.  I opened my arms and welcomed it all and lifted my face to the sky.  Then I got pummeled with a billion little bits of ice and put my head back down.

The van came back to check on me again.  They cracked the windows an inch and asked if I was okay.  I was overwhelmed with the message from the universe and I just yelled back to them “I wouldn’t have it any other way!”  They gave me some cheers and kept going.  I meant what I said.  I really wouldn’t have had it any way.  I’m sure they just thought I was a nut ball but how do you explain to people that one of the reasons I do these adventures is because out there in the hail storm I found a little piece of myself that was lost a long time ago.  I’m running the planet to pick up my pieces.

The last mile of my 4.8 miles was too steep for me to run. I had to power walk it.  But I was keeping up with two runners ahead of me who were jogging it.  I was just doing the best I could.  I was determined. During the mile the rain disappeared and the sun slowly came out.  By the time I hit the exchange point everyone was cheering me in and there wasn’t a drop of rain in the sky.   It was like the hail storm never happened.  The only proof was me wringing out my running skirt and having a gallon of water come pouring out.

I changed out of my soaked clothes and we kept on going.  Each runner doing their bit and enduring their tortures because the course was just filled with them.

When our group finished our six legs we drove ahead to the next van exchange spot.  Stella had rented two cabins for us to crash in while we waited for the other group to arrive.  We got there at 7 p.m. grabbed a little food and fell asleep until 10:30 when we got up and started hustling cause the other group were blazing through their leg and we were ahead of schedule.  11 p.m. they came in looking for beds and showers and we were back in the van and running again through the night.

Race rules stated any women running in the dark at night could have someone run with her.  I chose Dennis to run with me.  He’s a good friend and a coach and he knows I don’t run fast.  Plus he’s an ultra runner now and ultra runners don’t mind doing run/walks.  People who run shorter distances don’t usually go for the run/walk but I figured he’d be used to it since he was training to run 100 difficult miles solo in two weeks time.  2:30 a.m. and it was my turn to go.  Dennis and I put on our headlamps and headed out into the dark to run my second leg which was 4.9 miles and labeled “moderate”  Flat with some rolling hills. Total elevation gain was only 361 ft and we had actually dropped to under 7,934 elevation which is still ridiculously high.

I demonstrated to Dennis my running system of stopping, sipping, smiling and scootching (see previous blog post).  We stuck to a 4 minute run 1 minute walk unless we started going up a hill when I couldn’t breath any more.  It kind of felt like someone was squeezing my lungs.  I didn’t need a heart rate monitor to tell me when I had to stop — lack of oxygen did that just fine.   It was great having Dennis with me.  Only one runner passed us in the hour we were out there  and if he hadn’t run with me I would have been in the dark all by myself.  It wasn’t as epic as my first leg but I was grateful that I was able to do it and keep going.  It was really kind of cool running in the Colorado night.  The moon was spooky cool and there were so many stars out it felt like you could put out your hand and grab one.

We had one more runner in our van to finish before we could pull over into the Sage Meadow and park the van and take a nap while we waited for the other van to catch up to us for exchange.  The Sage meadow was amazing.  It was a huge field filled with wild sage.  Some people thought the smell was overwhelming but I just loved it.  I couldn’t get enough of the smell.  A couple of people pulled out sleeping bags and some were sprawled out in the van.  I couldn’t sleep a wink.  I was wide awake so I went for a nice long walk with Suzanne, an old teammate.  We walked and talked through the sage meadow and I just loved it, I could have walked for days but we figured we should save some of our strength.  I was having some difficulty breathing — coughing a little too much and I had to borrow Suzanne’s inhaler.  I didn’t bring mine because frankly I hadn’t needed it in so long.  I pack it every time and I never use it.  This time I forgot to pack it.  No worries Suzanne let me use hers a couple of times.  It seemed to help a little.

I wish I could have slept. I  kept trying but I just couldn’t get into REM.  I was feeling fatigued and hungry.  We didn’t have any real food.  We were now all living off of  snacks that Stella had provided in the van.  We had a cooler and I should have bought more stuff to put in it when we stopped at Whole Foods the day before.  I’ll know better for next time.  I didn’t want another pretzel or peanut butter cracker.  A church group came out and had set up a griddle in the field and were selling pancakes.  That didn’t look too appetizing to me.

I saw Lynne my friend who did MDS with me and she’ll be doing Leadville with Dennis.  She’s a nurse and I told her about needing the inhaler.  She said not to worry, people in her van were sucking on their inhalers and that pretty much everyone out there was having difficulty breathing.  A lot of headaches going around too.  I had popped about 6 tylenol in the last 24 hours.

The first group had started to slow down on their runs.  I heard they were struggling now too.  Steep mountain passes, a couple were throwing up.  We were getting into really rough territory but they were all gutting it out.  The hard part about this race is not just the running, the terrain and the altitude.  It’s also the waiting and the lack of sleep and dying for a real meal and a bed.  Oh yeah, and the need for oxygen.  But through all of that, everyone seems in a really good mood.   It was strange.  Nobody was getting cranky.  Still lots of laughter when the van is moving.  Everyone was chipping in and doing whatever little thing they could to help one another.  It really was a great group of people and I felt very blessed to be included.

As the day wore on I was getting more and more tired and hungry.  We were driving up rabbit ear’s pass (the Continental Divide) and we watched Dennis run up this most difficult leg of the run like it was a Sunday jog. It might have been the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  A really great runner is like a dancer — graceful and smooth and flowing.  I resolved that I would become a hill runner this fall.  To be able to do that — to run up a mountain without having to stop and to run faster than I could ever sprint downhill (he ran the entire Mountain pass in sub 8 minute miles!)  this one vision stands out for me.  How a human being could do that boggles my mind.  Some people are born to do this. The rest of us…. well… we try.

Finally it was time for my last leg.  I just wanted it to be over.  I was exhausted.  It was 1:30 in the afternoon.  We had started at 7 a.m. the day before.  I was beyond needing sleep.  I needed food, sleep, a shower, a conk on the head.  I wasn’t worried about my last leg.  It was labeled “easy” and it was going downhill from about 7,000 feet to 6,764 feet.  Downhill I can do downhill.  Let’s just get this sucker over with.

Of course I had to go up a little hill before I could go down.  I was sucking for air immediately.  The sun was fierce.  There was no humidity so I couldn’t really tell the temperature.  Maybe 90?  I was breathing hard right out of the box.  I was tired but sleep-deprived tired not systemically-sick tired.  Just keep going 4.3 miles you can do this. 4.3 miles is NOTHING.  But I couldn’t.  I couldn’t breath.  The air would not come in.  I would stop and walk and I still couldn’t breath.  There was zero shade.  I was out on a road with not a tree in sight.  Just telephone polls.  I could barely even run downhill.  Unbelievable.  Then I saw the telephone polls.  Okay just run 2 telephone polls and walk one.  Within steps it felt like someone had put a plastic bag over my head.  I was gasping for air.  This was not good.

I saw the van waiting for me to check on me.  They offered me more water.  I took it.  I had drunk almost a full bottle in 2 miles.  2 miles and I needed assistance?  Oh wow.  I had dumped a little on my head because I thought I was over heating.  “I can’t breathe” I told Jasmine, one of our support runners.  “It’s okay, just walk.”  “I can’t breathe walking either.”  I said.  “So I might as well just suck it up and get it done.”   I kept trying to run.  One foot felt like a mile.  I was sucking for air so hard it was like doing an ab workout.

Finally the finish line in sight.  I see Suzanne.  I motion that I need the inhaler.  Windpipe was closing.  I’m wheezing.  I cannot breath.  I pass off the band to David who takes it to run the final leg in.  I need air. Someone give me air.  Suzanne comes running up with her inhaler.  I take three puffs.  In a minute I can breathe again.  I will NEVER, never, never, NEVER go to a race of any distance without my inhaler again.  Over the next 24 hours so many people tell me they take their inhaler even if they don’t think they’ll need it.  I’ll make sure I have it for Canada.  If I bring it, I probably won’t need it.

We finished around 3:30 with an overall pace of 9:30.  I didn’t even stop to calculate how my slow running had brought down the team average.  I really don’t think it mattered.  We were all happy to be finished and it was a successful weekend all around.  Now it was time to party and celebrate Stella’s birthday the way most people celebrate with a glass of champagne and piece of birthday cake.

Everyone was so excited to get back to the hotel to shower and order some real food.  I broke my “fast” and had a couple of beers.  There was no question we all deserved it.

It was an amazing weekend.  From the incredible vistas, the great people, the amazing organization by Stella, the well-wishers and obvious love everyone had for her was so heart-warming.  Not a single bad-apple in the barrel.  The race was an amazing experience and for as hard as it was I would absolutely go back and do it again.  I am blessed to be able to do these adventures and to share with such incredible people.

Now onto Canada.  Maybe a nap first.

Namaste

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8/2/10 The Climb

Monday.  Wow, what a workout I got yesterday.  I’m coming to realize these Connecticut events are no joke.  Yesterday I did the Tour of the Litchfiled Hills (on my bike).  I hereby promise to take it seriously for now on when I see the word hill in the name of a road or an event.

This was a bike tour, not a bike race.  There was no time limit (I know because I asked 20 times).  That said, there were no lightweights out at 7 a.m . for the 100 miler.  They had a 100 mile, 75 mile, 50 mile, 30 mile and 12 mile version.  This year was the first year that they added the 100 mile and I guess the 75 miler already had its reputation.  I am not “in” with these Connecticut athletes so I don’t get the word from the street like I do in NYC about races.  (Bu this was a tour not a race.)

It turns out the start was only 14 miles from my house in CT which made it nice and easy to get there in the morning.  I stopped to get a cup of coffee feeling I would need it for  along day of cycling.

When I pulled into the parking lot it was a familiar sight of a bunch of really fit looking cyclists and mostly men.  There were a maybe 100 guys and I saw about 2 or 3 women in the bunch.  The early start was for the 100 miler only.  The shorter distances would start later.

For some reason I was determined to hold onto my cup of coffee.  I had my tribike Tina with me.  I had thought of bringing my road bike that I just had fixed up but I was doing this as a training ride so I wanted to bring my tri bike with the water bottles and nutrition I would be using for the race.  I was not going to be taking anything from the aid stations except water.

I rode my bike out of the parking lot holding my coffee cup in the air with my left hand and navigating my bike with my right.  I managed to get my bike up on the sidewalk and found I had to make a sharp 90 degree turn to the right with no room for rounding.  I held onto my coffee cup and my determination as I went over on my bike in the least dignified manner imaginable.  What an entrance.  In front of 100+ serious riders I show up and fall off my bike while basically standing still.  And my coffee spilled to boot.  Obviously when our coaches give us bike handling skills clinics they should have included cornering sharp turns with aerobars while holding a coffee cup in the air.

I picked myself up and got back on the bike.  Somehow I had managed to twist my seat about 45 degrees.  I got off AGAIN.  I tried to move the seat and it wouldn’t budge. That made me nervous.  I didn’t even fall that hard.  It was more like a roll over and plop.  They had a mechanic there who fixed my seat and pumped my tires.   Of course now I was late.  I had to register really fast and get to the start line.

It was a tour but they started us all at a start line and shouted “GO!”   Then everyone dashed off like it was a sprint.  I was left at the starting line by myself trying to clip in.  I get on my bike and realize that my left brake lever is bent.  Hmm, I’m worried now that the integrity of my handlebars was compromised but I played with the brake and it seemed okay.  I got off my bike and inspected the brake action and it seemed fine.  Okay, I’ll give it a try.  My seat was ever so slightly off kilter.  Not enough for me to bother to go back and have him adjust.  It looked straight it just didn’t feel the same.  Okay cock-eyed seat, bent brake handle.  I’m ready to go do my 100 miles!! Woo hoo!!  I took off.

I actually caught the group very quickly.  They had all sprinted off only to be stopped a big intersection.  I was relieved to think that I would have company.  Ha!  First 3 miles out of town were a climb.  Everyone left me in the dust.  It was just me and some weird guy on a hybrid.  He was following me up the hill.  Drafting, how rude!  On the first descent I lost him and never saw him again.  Then it was just me, me and me.  Pedalling away.  Really?  100 people and all of them are that fast?  This was going to be a long day.  I was at mile 5 and noticed I was still going uphill.

I felt no pep, no zip.  I was ready for yet another debacle.  Here we go.  I’ll be feeling sick anytime soon.  I’m getting tired of all this.  Climb, climb, climb.  Geesh, is it my imagination or are there a lot of hills here?

At about mile 18 or 19 the weirdest thing happened.  All of a sudden I didn’t feel so bad.  I was actually able to get into aero for a mile and I was, gasp, actually pedalling.  Like really pedalling!  I did a quick inventory.  Do you feel dizzy?  Nope?  nauseous?  Nope.  Tired?  Nope.  How’s the stomach?  Fine.  Remember by mile 30 in Rhode Island I was ready to pull over for a coma so I was watching for the signs.

What goes up must come down.  Now I was warmed up and pedalling and then there was this huge downhill.  I mean huge as in long.  That was the one thing about this route.  All the climbs were long but so were the descents.  I finally saw another woman out there.  She was trying to catch up with her husband.  They were both wearing the black Toga bike kits.  (I was incognito wearing an old Flatlanders team shirt from the MS tour).  When she finally caught up to him she tucked in behind him and he pulledher  up the next hill.  I was a little jealous but I knew I was out there to do my own work and drafting wasn’t allowed in Canada so I did not join their little pace line.  (But I really wanted to).

Before I knew it I was at mile 25 the first aid station.  I pulled up, topped off water and kept going.  Apparently this caught the attention of some of the riders who were at the aid station.  More than one comment about my not taking a rest stop.  I wasn’t sure why they were even stopping.  It was only 25 miles for goodness sakes. At mile 50 I was going to refill my powders but I had no intention of stopping for any rest during the 100 miles.  This was a training ride for me.

The same groups of guys would pass me.  First they passed me after then rest stop.  Then there was a particularly scenic point where they all pulled over for pictures I guess.  Then they passed me again.   I just kept trudging along.  Up, up, up hill. Down, down, down hill.  There were no flats.  And the uphills were all long, like a mile. Then the downhill were the same, about a mile. Only problem is I was going 9 mph up the hill and then 30 mph down the hill. So the uphills were lasting a lot longer than the downhills.  Of course, every time they passed me, the guys had to say something.  They were nice enough but did you have to say “keep up the good work” every time you passed me?  C’mon.

Then we hit my Million Dollar Moment.  It was my best moment of the entire ride.  As I was cresting yet another long climb the same group of guys passed me for a third time.  (They were taking a lot of breaks I guess.)  But now they were passing me at the crest of the hill.  I wanted to warn them that they better go fast down the hill but I just kept my mouth shut.  I thought it would be more fun to surprise them when we got to the bottom and have them find me right there with them. It was a long descent.  About a mile or so and I could have bolted by them with effort  but we were going a good 30+ mph so that was just fine with me.  As we got to the bottom there were big signs.  50 and 75 milers go to the right.  100 milers go to the left.  I saw Mr. and Mrs. Toga go to the right.  I just assumed the 4 guys would be going to the left.  I was shocked when we split.  I yelled out “HEY GUYS?  WHERE ARE  YOU GOING?”  I put up my hand in question and pointed to the 100 miler sign.  In unison, unrehearsed, jaws dropped, they all turned to see me right on their tails but splitting off to the 100 miles.  They all let out a low groan of “whooooaaaa.”    It made my freakin’ day.

I can’t explain exactly why this made me so happy.  Maybe because I felt like everyone was just passing me all the time and I felt like I wanted to say to people, “you know I’m not a beginner.  I can do this.  I may be slow but I have done a ride or two in my life.”  Maybe it was growing up with all boys and knowing exactly what a slap to their egos this was.  Or maybe I’m just totally immature and felt like sticking my tongue out and saying na, na, na.  Okay it was the last one.

But now my company was gone and I was climbing again.  And climbing.  Hmmm…  this is strange.  This doesn’t seem to be ending.  Two very nice guys passed me.  (They had passed me earlier but must have stopped for a  long time at the rest stop or something.)  I was so releived to see them.  “Hey guys when you get to the next rest stop will you let them know that I’m still out here?”  I was worried that nobody would know that I was out there riding.  We exchanged names and they said they would let them know but they thought there were people still behind us.  Really?  I couldn’t imagine who but I felt better.

Then I had my magic moment.  If splitting from the guys was my million dollar moment, this moment was worth even more to me.  I’m climbing and climbing and climbing.  There is no end in sight.  It long but it was not crazy steep. It just required spinning.  All of a sudden I was aware of my legs.  Oh, my, God.  They are working!  They are spinning effortlessly up this long, long road.  I’m relaxed and comfortable.  My legs are spinning perfectly.  Even distribution of effort, even pedal stroke.  Then I swear I heard my legs say to me “relax, we got this.”  What? What?  “You heard us, sit back and relax, we got this.  Have a smoke.  Chill out.  We can do this.”  The was a total disconnect between my upper body which was doing absolutely nothing.  It was totally relaxed and calm.  My lower body was in this amazingly strange zone.  It was surreal.  It was…. dare I even think it?  Cycling!   I had to break down and respond “Listen, don’t get me wrong, I’m totally thrilled you are here and doing this, but I have one question to ask?   WHERE THE HECK HAVE YOU BEEN ALL SEASON?”  These were my old cycling legs.  Where had they been?  I hadn’t seen them in years.  They didn’t give me an answer but I heard a lot of disgruntled muttering back and forth.  I swear one of them was speaking in Spanish so I couldn’t really understand what they were saying.

When I finally got to the top there was a rest stop but it was only 44 miles.  I saw one of the SAG wagon guys,  I told him to not forget about me.  He told me there were 20 people behind me and not to worry and I was doing great.  I found this unbelievable.  Either they had started late or they just never left the rest stop.   I asked him about the last climb.  How long was that last climb?  It seemed to go on forever.  Ready for this?  Four and a half miles!!!!  Yes 4.5 miles long of straight climb and no flattening out.  And guess who did that effortlessly?  Yep. ME!!!!  Shut up!!  I know!!  I couldn’t believe it!!   Then the SAG man and the Rest stop man started to argue about whether or not that was the hardest climb.  Well she still has to do the climb out of the covered bridge.  Yeah that’s steeper but that’s not as long.  Just be careful going down into the covered bridge the road is really choppy.  They could have told me I had to climb Mt. Everest and I wouldn’t have cared.  I just climbed 4.5 miles of hill without stopping.  Richter’s pass in Canada was 6.5 but has two breaks in there.  Maybe I would be able to do it afterall?

More uphills and downhills.  Two gals passed me.  One wearing an AG shirt the other all in pink.  They were nice enough.  They passed me as I was doing a standing climb (one of the few — none of the climbs were so steep it was more like you couldn’t sit up any longer and you just had to get up out of your saddle to stretch).  I kept them in sight for awhile but then I was struggling, struggling, struggling.  I couldn’ t believe how hard it was.  I guess I had really wiped out my legs on the 4.5 mile climb.  This climb was uphill for about 2 miles bump, bump, bump.  When I finally got to the top and started to pedal faster before a downhill I saw I was already in my big chain ring.  Oh my God, no wonder that almost killed me.  I climbed two miles in my big chain ring?  I think I was maybe bonking a little because I cannot believe I did not figure that out.

The 66 mile water station was not there.  I have to say that was really not cool.  Big sign saying rest stop and there was no rest stop.  I needed water and found a building with an outside faucet and helped myself.  I was hoping for a gas station or something were I could get more.  I passed the two gals. They had pulled over to a farm to get water.  At least it wasn’t just me.  There had been no water stop at mile 66.

I found a gas station.  Yeah!  I filled up with nice ice cold water and went to the bathroom.  The two girls must have passed me while I was in there.  I had been taking my Infinit powder and gels.  I wanted to stick to just what I would use in Canada and see  how it worked.  Back on the road.  Soon I would hit 80 miles and I would be almost home.  Woo Hoo!!  Beautiful day.  I was keeping pretty much to my original goal of 25 miles every 2 hours including breaks.  So far I was pretty much on target.  I hit 75 miles and I was 6:06 in.  Okay, not fast but not bad either.

Mile 80, mile 80!!  I distinctly remember looking at the elevation map from the website and the last 20 miles were all downhill.  I couldn’ t wait.  I started to book.  As one of our coaches likes to say “You can smell the barn.”   Only in this case I could really smell the barn I was riding through Landsomething or other farm.  Stinky.  One of the guys earlier had made a  “Dairy-Air” joke — there were a lot of farms on this route.  I was ready to bring it home.  Any second now.   I’m sure right after this hill it will be all downhill.  Starting, right, what the heck?

No downhill.  More uphill.  I’m getting tired.  My feet are starting to burn.  Never had that before, trying out the new socks I had liked on the run.  Not going to cut it for the bike.  Then a sign.  COL du Tour of Litchfield 6 miles and some feet.  What?  What the heck is COL mean?  Center of Litchfield?  I know it can’t be the end because this is a 100 mile ride and I’m only at 81 or so.  I keep pedalling waiting for my downhill.  It is not coming.  More up, more up.  Good gravy.  I’m getting exhausted.  These stupid signs every mile or so.  I can’t wait until I find out what happens in 3 more miles and some feet.  I pass two cyclists sitting on a town bench taking a breather “There is water here if you need.”  Another rest stop?  First they don’t have any now they are every five miles.  “Keep going”  she says. “My coach says the slowest will be the fastest.”   I have no idea what that means but I’m pretty sure it is insulting and her coach is an idiot.  I ask her what does COL mean on these signs.  “Oh it’s some reference to the tour de France, I think it’s how far you have to get to the top.”  The top?  I’m supposed to be on a descent.  “You just have to go up one, no two, oh wait a minute I think it is 3 or so more hills and you’ll be at the top.”  Her companion is very sour faced.  I keep going.

I finally get to the top and the sign says “Summit.”  There is no view, what kind of summit is this?  Just a lot more trees everywhere.  I feel very ripped off that I did not get 20 miles of descent.  I just want to be finished.  That was the longest 6 miles of my life.  I thought I would be done.  I have ten miles to go and I’m at 8 hours.

Finally I start to get some downhills.  I try to get into aero whenver I can.  There has been little opportunity all day.  My hands hurt.  My but hurts from the seam in my shorts (first time I have worn these shorts before, I suspect the 1/8 degree difference in my bike seat.)

Mile 95 another freakin rest stop.  Some guy is walking his bike.  He’s wearing big baggy shorts.  I don’t need to ask him why he is walking.  I ask him if he wants to get back on and ride the last 5 miles in with me. He told me he was doing the 50 miler.  He gets on and rides to the rest stop.  I have to keep going.  I say to the rest stop people “You may be giving me 10 miles of downhill but I’m not forgetting the other 90!!!)  They yell “Only 6 more miles.”  I’m at 95 on my odometer.  What’s with the extra mile?  (Every inch is counting.)

I make it to the finish and at 101 miles.  There are only 3 volunteers left.  Everyone is packed up and gone home.  Really?  Where’s the big party?  I guess that had been going on all afternoon for the people who did the shorter distances.  It was 3:30.  I took 8 1/2 hours to do this ride.  And I was okay with that.  5 tiny breaks for water or bathroom.  It was hard.   The last 20 miles were ridiculously slow — even the downhill because I had no zip.  I thanked them for my tshirt and headed home.  STARVING.

Note to self that when I get off bike in Canada a sandwich in my transition bag might not be a bad idea.

First order of business was looking up the elevation and comparing to Canada.  If it’s the same I’m screwed.  Climbing  for this ride was 7,345 feet of to an elevation of about 1,500 feet. Click here for link. http://ridewithgps.com/routes/131286 IM Canada is less than 2,000 feet of climbing.  http://www.ironman.ca/bike.html but ends at a higher elevation.  I’m hoping that 2/3 less actual climbing will translate into a bit of an easier bike.  No way could I have run a marathon yesterday.

I read more carefully and I see yes, in fact it is only the last 10 miles that are downhill, not 20.  Lesson learned the hard way.

All in all I am very proud of myself for doing that ride.  I got there, I rode, I didn’t quit.  I didn’t bonk (that much).  I didn’t get nauseous, dizzy or comatose.  I did my nutrition ala Canada.   I think I did a good job.  It was hard, hard, hard,  But I am superwoman, yes, I am.  Yes, she is.

Namaste

I really can’t stand the fact that Miley Cyrus recorded this song but the lyrics are really great and appropriate.  Just pretend Tom Petty is singing it.

I can almost see it
That dream I am dreaming
But there’s a voice inside my head saying
“You’ll never reach it”

Every step I’m taking
Every move I make feels
Lost with no direction
My faith is shaking

But I gotta keep trying
Gotta keep my head held high

There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be a uphill battle
Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose

Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side
It’s the climb

The struggles I’m facing
The chances I’m taking
Sometimes might knock me down
But no, I’m not breaking

I may not know it
But these are the moments that
I’m gonna remember most, yeah
Just gotta keep going

And I, I got to be strong
Just keep pushing on

‘Cause there’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be a uphill battle
Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose

Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side
It’s the climb, yeah!

There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Somebody’s gonna have to lose

Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side
It’s the climb, yeah!

Keep on moving, keep climbing
Keep the faith, baby
It’s all about, it’s all about the climb
Keep the faith, keep your faith, whoa

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7/12/10 Providence

Tuesday.  Whoops, guess I am a little bit of a slacker since my last post was about Tupper Lake Half Ironman and this post is about Rhode Island half Ironman.  Either I’m not posting enough or I’m racing too much….  You can decide.

I am going to approach this report a little differently.  First I’m going to talk about all the good things that happened.

  1. I got to meet Karen Smyers.
  2. I did not cry.
  3. I had two great friends there to cheer for me and peel me off the ground at the end.
  4. Fellow competitors pulled me through and were great.
  5. I got to meet Karen Smyers.

To be fair I have to underline that I went into this race as a training day NOT as a race.  Repeat, this was supposed to be a training day.   That said, I think we all know that is baloney because once the gun goes off you are racing. You can’t help it.  You look at the time, you worry about how you are doing.  This is why I wanted to do this race in the first place.  I knew I needed more pressure from somewhere.  I needed something to be not so kind and understanding.  Something to push me to work even harder.  I let Tupper Lake be all about the emotion of my one year out, blah, de blah and I’m okay with that.  It was a door I had to walk through — emotions that I had to process.  I get that.  But now that was all over and I needed to work even harder.  I needed the pressure of a long workout where I couldn’t back out.  Nothing better than a point to point half Ironman for no escape route!

I thought of this training day as one of the elements required to turn a lump of coal into a diamond.  Coal needs a lot of high heat and high pressure to become transformed and I figured Rhode Island might provide the necessary ingredients to help continue the transformation I started in October.  The three races I have done this year have been very hard for me.  I feel weaker in every discipline including discipline itself.   My idea was to add a little more pressure to my natural lumpiness and end up a more brilliant gem in the end.  Yeah, nice idea….  Nature takes a long time to turn a lump of coal into something brilliant — why I thought it was going to happen in a year is beyond me.  (Even writing that I have to think, how can a year NOT be enough time?)

I was lucky enough to spend the week out at my brother’s house near the race start (another advantage to doing this race is I have familial accommodations very near by).  I figured I would use it as a training week.  My own version of camp.  I asked my friend the Mermaid Queen to come out with me and help me swim and hang out.  I didn’t do any super crazy workouts during the week.  Wednesday easy 90 run/walk and a short swim.  Thursday easy peasy spin on bike plus short swim.  Friday 1 hour run/plus short swim.  Just enough to keep the muscles going and to work a little on my ocean water swimming.

I was really tired all week and I forgot some of my vitamins so we made an emergency run to the store to stock up.  Not sure it helped.  I was feeling systemically weak but I was also trying to convince myself that I would suddenly be brilliant on Sunday.  I actually thought I felt okay on Saturday and though I didn’t sleep that many hours I really did feel rested.

The general idea of the race is you start in Narragansett, RI with the 1.2 mile swim.  Then you ride your bike 56 miles to Providence.  And then you finish with a 13 mile run in Providence.  The logistics require you go drive to Providence and drop off your run gear the day before so it will be there when you get off your bike during the race.  You then drive back to Narragansett and drop off your bike.  Major pain in the buttola.  Many athletes stay in Providence and do the reverse commute.   For me, Saturday was drive to Providence, register and leave off run bag.  Back home to pack my other transition bags.  I did a very half-hearted packing job.  I didn’t have a single gel with me.  I just brought my Infinit.  I figured I could just get gels on the course.  I apologized to my bike for not taking it in for a tune up.  It’s just a training day,  it’s just a training day I kept saying.

Race morning.  Of course I miscalculated how long it would take to get to the race. It was one road with 1,500 athletes and families trying to get to the beach.  My friends G&D were driving me and I think I gave them a little heart attack when I yelped when I saw a cyclist ride by with the name “SMYERS” printed across her butt.  Oh My God!!  I think that was Karen Smyers!!  I didn’t know she racing.  She is my number one inspiration for getting through the last year.  She is a professional triathlete known for overcoming several obstacles including a bike crash that left her with broken bones and punctured lung as well as having the same Thyroid condition I had.

As it turns out my bike rack was right next to her bike rack — only about 20 bikes separated us.  I thought it would be bad form to go up to her as she was getting prepared to race but then I thought, how often does an opportunity like this come up?  I swallowed my pride and went up to her and excusing myself said “I just had to let you know that you were my number one inspiration for getting through this past year.  I had the same diagnosis and treatment as you and I looked to you to be my role model to get through it.”   She was so nice and thanked me for telling her.  I told her “Two weeks ago was my one year anniversary and I did a half Ironman and today I’m doing a second and you were my inspiration to get through it all.”  She looked at me with a little concern.  For a fleeting second,  I thought she was raising her hand to my head to take my temperature, instead she asked with true concern “how are you feeling?”  I told her pretty good, just not as strong yet but I still look to her as my role model.  (Of course I thought it was funny noting she is soooo tiny as I said that.)  She said “that’s exactly how I got through it, I had a role model I looked to and I just kept going.”  Then I decided that I should probably leave her alone since we both had to start our race and it really wasn’t cool to bother someone right before the race.   She could have been a real jerk about it but she wasn’t.   It was only a minute but it was a huge moment for me.  It was a sign!!  (Wait a minute, my pink cap at IMLP was a sign too, right?  Better not read too much into these signs…)

I went back to my transition station thinking “I can’t believe I met Karen Smyers.  I can’t believe I actually talked to her.  Face to face.”  It’s not often you get to meet someone who had such a big influence.  When I first got diagnosed I was really devastated.  But when read about Karen Smyers and how she went back to racing and made it into the Triathlon Hall of Fame after having the exact same surgery and treatment that I had, I was so hopeful.  I read everything I could about her.  Every interview, every article.  If she could do it, I would try.

My wave went off third.  Right after Karen’s.  She was probably half way to Providence by the time I got out of the water.  I can’t really explain what happened during my swim.  It was an ocean swim, out to sea and back.  On the way out I kept sighting every 8 strokes.  And by the end of 8 strokes I had drifted so far off course it wasn’t even funny.  I would shuffle my way back in.  Then the tide would take me out again.  I just couldn’t stay close to the buoys.  At one point I thought “I think you are actually supposed to have some muscles to swim, this isn’t working.”  I tried everything but out to sea I went.

On the way back I felt it was taking a really long time.  I usually feel that about 3/4 way through the swim and that’s when I know I’m going to end up at 48 minutes or so.  Unfortunately I had just started the return and had a long fight back.  Two other gals from my wave were fighting me the entire time.  I spent too much time trying to get away from them.   I should have been meaner and kicked back but I just couldn’t do that (particularly since I wasn’t sure it wasn’t actually my fault and not theirs).  My wetsuit felt fine (which frankly amazes me every time), I was practicing all the things we worked on earlier in the week — not crossing my arms, head down — I just was going nowhere.  Even the last little bit to get into shore seemed to take forever.   When I got out of the water my watch said 58 minutes.  I almost had a heart attack.  I think that was my longest swim ever!!  Extra kick in the pants when I later read one gal’s report and she said it was a “nice swim.”  I guess I am just weak…  I did laugh though to see one of the gals from my wave’s time was exactly the same as mine.  So we were duking it out from the beginning.

Coach Mermaid Queen was there cheering when I got out of the water.  I felt bad that I didn’t swim better but I couldn’t really feel bad because I didn’t know what I did wrong!  They had three baby pools to run through to clean off your feet and wetsuit strippers which is always a very nice touch.  I had two gals who had my wetsuit off before I could even get my butt on the ground and then they both grabbed my arms and I was up and into transition in one second.  That could have easily been 5 minutes that day.

On the bike and immediately I was aware I had no zip.  I had a big breakfast trying desperately to eat 800 calories but I fell short.  I didn’t have my Odawalla protein drink with me and for now on that will not be an acceptable omission from any training day or race.   I didn’t kill myself in the swim so that wasn’t it.   I just couldn’t get going.  I had driven the course the day before and was convinced it was flat.  Now it just seemed a constant little uphill and then more hills and hills.  They were all little hills but where were the flats?  I was drinking my Infinit formula and just trying to keep a good cadence going.  I concentrated on nothing less than 90 rpm and found myself living in my small chain ring.  Ugh… that’s not a good sign. I shifted between my big chainring and my small chainring more than I have ever done in any other ride.  I was also aware of the non-stop parade of other competitors passing me like I was standing still. I thought I felt headwind but then I thought maybe I was imagining it.  Can we start over please?

Other interesting note was the number of penalties being handed out for people drafting (staying too close behind a rider) or blocking (riding next to another rider and making it hard for other people to pass).   They were passing out penalties right and left right out of the gate.  They had told us 3 penalties and you would be disqualified.  I hugged the side of the road to stay out of everyone’s way and just kept pedaling.  I am pretty sure I have never seen so many penalties being handed out but then again I am usually starting 45 minutes behind all of these guys and not before them.

After mile 30 there were some real downhills but too late.  But by then I was really starting to fade.  Something wasn’t right but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I was taking in all my calories but I just felt weak, weak, weak.  Oh no, was it happening again?  Was I slipping backwards?  I’m just weak.  I can’t work any harder.

Mile 40 my stomach starts to spasm.  Cramps.  It hurts.  I’m exhausted and tired.  I want to quit.  I have never wanted to quit a bike ride so badly.  I could have pulled over to the side of the road and just laid down and gone to sleep.  This was that old, terrible, exhausted feeling.  I’m screwed.  I have to quit.  I can’t do this.  Get me out of here.  You can’t quit.  Karen Smyers is here.  You can’t quit on the day you meet Karen Smyers!!!  I have to quit.  I can’t even pedal.

Then we hit a hill.  A real hill.  Not the beast or anything.  Maybe like State Line hill.  Nothing terrible but now it’s late in the race and I passed tired 10 miles earlier.  I start climbing.  Oh no.  I see two guys walking their bikes up the hill.  Don’t look, don’t look.  If you look at them it is the kiss of death.  You’ll think you can get off your bike too.  I  have to get off.  I’m exhausted.  I can’t pedal.  You have done hundreds of bigger hills than this.  This is not a big hill.  Then all of a sudden this booming voice comes into my ears “YOU WILL NOT STOP PEDALING.  YOU WILL GET UP THIS HILL!”  I look up and there is some crazy lunatic guy dressed in red, white and blue with red, white and blue face paint on screaming like a drill master.  “DO NOT STOP, I SWEAR TO YOU YOU CAN SEE PROVIDENCE AT THE TOP OF THIS HILL.”   Then a guy is riding right behind me going “come on, kill this hill, come on, you can do this, come on.”  Then the gal in front of me starts yelling “we have this, we have this.”  It’s not even that big of a hill (or maybe it was, but I felt it shouldn’t have felt that hard) but we were all grunting and encouraging one another.  Oh God, I will have to dig down into my soul to find this one.  But it’s that crazy guy’s voice that is pulling me up the hill.  Okay, okay, I can do this. I gulp as I pass the two guys walking their bikes.

I get to the top and of course painted-face man lied.  Not even close to seeing Providence.  But it wasn’t hilly any more.  Now my stomach is spasming.  I want to puke but there is nothing to puke.  It’s just cramping.  Okay, once you get to Providence you can DNF.  Just get to Providence.  If you stop here, no telling how or when you will get home.  Besides your friends are waiting for you in Providence you have to get there and you will just go out to lunch and call it a day.  The roads become really choppy and I think downright dangerous in some spots.  I barely missed some spots that would have easily caught my wheel and sent me spinning.  I was surprised I did not see more casualties but then again there had been plenty of time for an ambulance to sweep in and remove them before I even got there.

Then my other voice chimed in.  What the heck are you talking about?  You are going to get off this bike, slap the biggest Natascha Badmann smile on your face and put your running shoes on.  I don’t care how sick or tired you feel.  You go until you fall over or pass out.  Now shut up and pedal.  Oh God, oh God, okay I will just put on my running shoes.  Slap a smile… Yeah… How do I smile?

When I finally made it to T2 (bike to run transition) it was almost 4 hours.  The longest bike ride in any of my half Ironmans.  I have to go back and look but it might have been longer than my Disney half when I had 3 flats during the bike…  It was a nightmare.  And  now the nightmare was getting worse.  Where were the clouds and thunderstorms they had predicted?  All I see is blue skies and sun….  It’s hot already….  I’m screwed.  I search the skies for a sign of a cloud but there are only a few white puffy ones far away from the sun.  “It’s just you and me kiddo” I hear the sun say with a sneer.

I take my water bottle (only has powder no water yet because I dropped it off yesterday) and head towards the only official looking guy I see.  He is standing near the run exit and I say, “I don’t feel well, I think I need to stop.  Where do I turn in my number?”  He tells me he is not sure and to ask the guy at the next table it is just up the road a bit.  He points in a direction I don’t want to go.  I don’t know what to do but my feet move anyway and now I’m on the official run course and everyone is cheering.  I start running to get away from everyone.  It feels like little gnomes are punching me in the stomach.  Please just let me out of here.  My feet are continuing on without the permission of my head.

I get to the first water station.  Finally some water.  I can’t drink.  I can’t eat.  Just take water with you.  Pour water on your head, start now.  It’s hot.  I take sponges and put them in my shirt. I can’t even take a sip of water my stomach hurts.

All I can think is when do I duck out?  Mile 1?  Mile 6?  What do I do?  I can’t do this.  I can’t do this.  I am exhausted.  I can’t get any nutrition or hydration in.  My stomach hurts.  I am M.I.S.E.R.A.B.L.E.  And then I hit the three tier hill.  You must be kidding me.  It’s a ridiculous hill in three sections.  Very steep.  Similar to Hook Mountain Suicide Hill.  Nobody is running it.  Two really fast fit guys pass me.  All of a sudden one turns around and looks me square in the face.  “You can do this.  Keep going.”  I am a little taken aback why he would say anything to me.  I think I might have been mumbling or stumbling or something.  Then I said out loud to nobody “what mile can I get out of here?”  Some guy is right in my ear saying ” you can get out at the end, c’mon just keep going you can do this.”  But I knew I couldn’t.  I still couldn’t take a sip of anything.  Little gnomes having their punching practice.

Then I see this Austrian or German guy who I ran into the day before.  He had been wearing a Rev 3 hat so I stopped and talked to him about the race.  I had told him how hard I thought Rev 3 it was.  He had agreed.  Now he sees me and yells to me “You, I know you!  Rev 3!  C’mon you can do this!!”  I’m walking and must be looking very pathetic.  How do I escape?

Then the most bizarre thing happens.  At mile 4 my stomach stops cramping.  Just like that.  The spasms just stop.  The gnomes put down the boxing gloves.  It’s a miracle.   Poof.  I can finally take a sip of my drink.  Oh my God.  It just stopped.  It had been spasming and cramping since mile 40 of the bike and then it just stopped.  I drank some more.  It’s okay.  I can’t believe it.  I try to run.  Err – nope contraction — Stomach cramp.  Okay, okay, I was just testing the boundaries.  I can do a fast walk/slide but I can’t do anything to jostle.  But if I can drink and eat, I can walk.  I keep experimenting.  I tried to eat a gu.  Couldn’t do it.    Immediate spasms.  Okay water seems okay.  I take a banana.  No problem.  That goes down.  Okay, okay, let’s work with this.  Walk as fast as you can.  See if you can slip in a jog here and there.  Ice, ice and more ice at every water station.  It’s so hot.  Half a banana.  Just eat the bananas.  I stop and let them pour water down my back, over my head, down my shirt at every stop.  They give me sponges. They give me bananas.  Every single volunteer is so nice.  It’s mile 5 and I don’t think I am going to die any more.  Now I don’t have an excuse.  Now I HAVE to keep going because I am not in miserable pain but I’m exhausted at this point.  Okay God, if they will give me enough time I will walk to the finish.  It’s not what I want but if I am being honest it’s what I can do — so I have to, right?  As long as the little gnomes don’t punch my stomach, I can crawl.

Every one is so nice.  Saying encouraging things even though all I can do is walk.  I must look pathetic.  The heat is unbearable.  I’m too far in to quit.  I can’t quit at this point.  My friend Gerry comes out to find me.  I tell him to go find out what the cut off is.  I don’t want to keep going if I won’t make the cutoff.   He comes back telling me I have plenty of time.  Okay.  I’m walking this and stopping for a full ice bath at every station but I’m going to do it. Not what I had planned at all.  On top of this I had to endure a woman running past me saying “Oh my God, you’re 51?  You are AMAZING!  I hope I can be doing this at 51!”  I wanted to smack her.  Since when is 51 old?  She runs past me with a 31 emblazoned on her calf.  Where’s my cane?  I want to smack her.  51 is not AMAZING, it is not INSPIRING.  You just worry about your own race you whipper snapper you.  Three different people tell me I’m an inspiration to them.  Ten people ask me if this is my first half Ironman.  I must look pathetic.  I HATE when people tell me I inspire them because it means I look unlikely to be able to do it.  I hate that.

They say on the website  “Amica Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island, with more than 1,200 competitors at the start line, saw pleasant conditions at the start and water temperature at 69.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Finishers were greeted with
sunny skies and temperatures in the low to mid 80s.”  Mid 80’s my foot.  I looked up the temperature from weather underground and it said the high temperature in Providence was 90. I wish I could say it was humid too, but really it wasn’t.  But there was just no shade until you went under overpasses.  The three tier hill did have shade, but otherwise there was a lot of sun.

I want to say one thing about the support for this race.  Every single aide station was stocked to the full with food, coke, pretzels, gels, cookies, potato chips (I couldn’t even eat a single potato chip — that’s how much my stomach hurt!).  Every station was stocked with tons of water and ice right up until the end.  If you wanted an entire gallon of water on your head they would do it.  I was putting a cup of ice down my back and one down my shirt and one on my head every station.  Even after 8 hours they had ice and sponges and I never heard the words “sorry we are out of that” once from anyone.  The last aide station I hit had just as many people as it had when I started and just as much food, ice, and water and more important — cheering.  That was truly impressive.  As a back of the packer we are often left without the ice or sponges and even, I’m sorry to say, water.  But not this race.  They had everything.  And every single volunteer was smiling and encouraging.  It really helped.

I finally finished in what I think is my longest half Ironman to date just shy of 9 hours.  I am the LAST woman in my age group to finish (I think there were six who didn’t finish….).   Un-freakin-believable.  This?  This was the race where I meet Karen Smyers and this is what I do?  I thought Tupper Lake was bad, this was, was, a lump of coal in my stocking.  This wasn’t even a really hard course — I should have smoked that bike course.  It wasn’t even close to a Rev 3 course (though the 3 tier hill was pretty bad).   I know it was a training day but I’m not exactly sure what I just trained for. Refereeing Gnome boxing? Ice packing?

So right now I have to do a lot of thinking.  I’m not sure if I should do Ironman Canada.  I’m not sure I am physically strong enough.  I am sure if I had another six months of training I could do it, but right now, I’m not sure.  Based on the times in Providence I wouldn’t make the cutoff.  Even my times from Tupper would make it very close.   I haven’t had a single good race yet this year.  If anything it started off bad with St. A’s and has been going downhill since.   One might say “oh, c’mon, you just did a half Ironman two weeks ago.”  To which I respond “yeah but that stunk, and I’m going to have to do double that distance in one day in six weeks so I should be able to to do two mediocre half ironmans two weeks apart.”  I really feel I should have been able to do this.  Well mayyyybe there were extenuating circumstances.

I’m not ready to throw in the towel quite yet.   I woke up Monday morning to find I got a serious surprise attack of my period ten days early.  I’m thinking that might have had something to do with all the cramping and fatigue.  I’m a little concerned as to why that would happen but at least it gives me a reason.  Today my leg muscles are tight which actually makes me happy.  I figure if my butt hurts it actually got a workout.  I’m going to keep on going but where I will end up remains to be seen.

I have a big and important doctor’s appointment on Thursday where I will get everything tested upside down and twice.  This will be a very important day.  It’s my 3 month check up.  A lot of blodd to draw.  All my counts of everything will be tested and we will see if the antibodies are going down. I will see if I am still anemic and if my Vitamin D levels are finally normal (how could they NOT be with all the vitamin D I have been injesting and the amount of sun I get?)  We will also be discussing the dates for my hopefully final round of radiocative iodine treatment which is due now but they will hold off until after Ironman.

I have my own Lake Placid training camp in two weeks where I will test my mettle yet again. I will reevaluate then.  Or I can just go and muddle through Canada anyway.  After all, it’s paid for and what if there is some miracle and I pull it out?  Worst case I just get a nice vacation in the Canadian mountains.  Then I can just retire.  Ah, retirement, doesn’t that sound grand?  Tai Chi, Tennis, Yoga, Lunches, Shopping…. It sounds like a dream…. And then maybe the Gobi Desert.

Namaste

My training camp headquarters for the week.

Me and my swim coach the Mermaid Queen.

Karen Smyers and rainbows and I STILL don’t have a good race…. er training day.

My morning rock meditation seat.

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6/28/10 Tupperwhere?

Monday.  Well it’s done.  I guess you could say goal set goal met but in retrospect I needed to set a few more goals.  I finished my 1/2 Ironman 1 week shy of my 1 year anniversary of my surgery.    As usual so many lessons to be learned in there and I am sooo very grateful for coaches and friends who helped me process all of those lessons.

It really started for me on Thursday with bike practice.  I was feeling okay and showed up to  find none of my regular riding buddies were there.  None of the gals in the next group were there either.  So I had to ride with the semi-fast gals.  I got dropped quickly.  God’s way of saying “don’t get all full of yourself, you may feel good, doesn’t mean you are fast.”

On my second loop I was kind of slogging up a hill all by myself, not really paying attention to what I was doing.  We were doing intervals on the flatter parts so I was kind of taking it easy going up the hill and not paying attention to my method.  Then a gal I know remotely from old TNT days (she was a swim coach and a college national triathlete star) rode by with some guy.  They were in aero pedaling up the hill.  As she passed me she pulled out one arm and gave me the peace sign to acknowledge me.  She didn’t say anything because she was working hard and the two of them just blew up the hill.  I watched her feet.  Tick, tick, tick.  Then I looked at mine, slog, slog, slog.  I realized how inefficient and lazy my pedalling was.  I tried to follow her as long as I could, tick, tick, tick.  I get it.  Her pedal stroke was beautiful.  Then she was gone.  But the pedal stroke was stamped in my brain.

Next day packed and off to Tupper Lake for my first 1/2 Ironman since 2008 and since being sick last year.  I wasn’t nervous because I’ve done this race twice before.  I knew exactly what I was in for.  I knew all the hills and all the problem spots.  I knew it was going to hurt it was just a matter of how much.  I was ready to rumble and do my very best.  I have been feeling good for months, no excuses.  I realized I have an amazing capacity for turning off my brain when it comes to fear of pending danger (and then later I can’t shut it off when in danger).  I refused to think about what was about to happen.  Just have to get to the race start.  That’s all you have to do.  Shut your eyes and jump.

I shared a cabin with a great group of gals.  All very calm and no drama and extremely low-maintenance.  Just what the doctor ordered.  Very light, good stories, nice dinner out talking about what races we want to do what wines we were going to drink after which races.  All very good vibes.  Great energy.  This was how these weekends were supposed to be, good friends, good conversations and go do a race for fun.   I was really glad to be around them.  I got a decent night’s sleep.  We didn’t have to get up at the crack of stupid because we were only 2 miles from the race start and we rode our bikes there.  All good.

The swim.  To be honest I’m a little stumped.  I thought I did great.  I really practiced my sighting.  Following my left breathing arm (careful to be pointing it towards my target).  I was rotating, I was catching, I was driving my arm through.  I had to sight every 8 strokes and I was a little off but I quickly adjusted for the pull and I thought I was fine.  Felt my swim out was pretty fast, across I felt it slow and on the way back in I felt really slow because all of the relayers were passing me.  I tried to catch a draft off of them whenever I could but they were too fast.  I felt comfortable.  My wetsuit felt fine again as it did in Rev 3 (which still amazes me that suit will even zip up — thank God for rubber.)  So imagine my surprise when I hit the beach and my watch already said 49 minutes which was 1 minute slower than 2008 when I had a broken scapula that had prevented me from practicing for most of the season.  I thought about it for quite a bit afterward and the only thing I can come up with is my turnover is too slow.  I’ll start working on a little faster turnover and see what happens then.

All in all I truly enjoyed the swim.  I just love being out there.  I think it is the coolest thing to be able to swim 1.2 miles across a lake.  Not that many people get to do that and I get a big kick out of it like I’m a ten year old.  That also might be part of my problem is that I start having such a good time I forget that it is a race and I don’t race the swim. But then again how much could I really take off my swim?  5 minutes?  And is it worth being tired for that?

The bike.  The bike, the bike, the bike.  If you know me, you know that for me it IS all about the bike.  My swim is always my swim, my run is a total crap shoot and not in my control most of the time, but my bike is MY bike and I control that.  I know every pedal stroke and I know if I am doing my best and if I am working hard.  Plus I know the Tupper Lake bike course, it is perfectly suited for my riding style.  Plus I have two years of really accurate data to look at.  I have two years of riding the bike what I thought was perfectly both times –2007 and I did it in 3:13 with 100% satisfaction and 2008 when I did it in 2:59 with 100% satisfaction.  It’s rare to be able to go into a race with great benchmarks.  (I was conveniently ignoring the fact that I had bike bench marks for St. Anthony’s too but that was all the way back in April and I now had several months of training while feeling really good under my belt.)  I knew there was no way I was going to break 3 hours but I thought there was no reason I shouldn’t break 3:15.  I should be at least that strong.

The weather was perfect.  Slightly overcast, not too hot, not too cold.  Didn’t need to wear arm warmers.  Felt good.   I was aware that I wasn’t working that hard right out of the gate but I’m pretty sure that had always been my strategy.  Just get the cadence going until the big hill out of town and then start to race.  By mile 10 I was in full racing form.  I had the tick, tick, tick going.  I kept visualizing that gal from Thursday.  I was doing my nutrition right.  I felt good.  I was starting to pass people.  I wasn’t over gearing at all.  Any time I felt pressure on my legs I backed off one gear and upped the cadence, tick, tick, tick.  I was doing what I love to do more than anything else.  Open road, rolling hills, me and my bike.  This is why I do triathlons.  I just love riding like that.  I was really aware that there were fewer people to pick off than previous years.  I had to wait until well past mile 10 to start finding some victims to hunt down.  In previous years I remember there being more people around me and more victims.  I started to find them and pick them off.  It was just fun, plain old fun.  I really thought I was doing well.  Then I hit the turnaround point.  My watch read 1:45.  Gulp.  Gasp.  Wha???  How could that be?  That would mean a th-th-th-three th-th-th-irty bike.  That couldn’t be.  There is no way.

I started to convince myself that the return trip would be faster.  There must have been more uphills on the way out.  I put on my logic blinders and refused to think about the fact that it is an out and back.  In order to end up at the same place whatever you go up you must go down — out and back has the same up and down.  I crossed the mat at 3:31 according to my watch.  I felt a lump in my throat.  I worked hard.  I did the absolute best I could do, I still felt good but there it was.  There was this number in front of me.  This big huge number quantifying everything at last.  All season you’ve known you were slower.  You’ve been feeling it, saying it but now here it was.  The real data.  Nothing to argue with, nothing to justify.  You are 20% slower.  There it is said.  This voice in my head said very loudly “Well, now we know.  Now we KNOW.” Still disbelief.

I quickly tried to recalibrate the race.  Okay how can I break 7:30?  Let’s see 3:30 for the bike, 50 for the swim, two transitions that’s 4:30, oh God you are going to have to break 3 hours on your half marathon.  Impossible.  You have to do it.  I can’t do it.  It’s tupper lake.  There’s mile 3.  That alone will kill me.  But it was over cast and there was no heat, no sun out, not hard to breathe so maybe, just maybe there would be a chance. You can do it. Just try.

I felt okay coming out of transition onto the run.  I was actually surprised.  As I exited the transition onto the run, a girl from our team was crossing the finish line.  She won the race for the women.  Amazing.  But I had a lot of work left to do and so I set out.

Here is where I think I failed.  I didn’t have a plan for the run.  I knew I was going to have to walk so I just figured I would run as much as I could and walk when I had to.  This has to stop now.  I’ve been going back and forth in my head about timed walks vs. opportunistic walks (i.e. walks when you need to vs. a strict walk only during timed breaks).  I went with opportunistic which unfortunately I think lead me to be too opportunistic. Opportunistic gives me too many outs.

Up until mile 3 I did okay.  Met a nice guy from Canada who ran with me for a mile and told me all about the Ironman Canada course and tried to give me a running lesson.  Uh okay yeah, thanks for the advice.  I walked up the hill on mile 3.  Darn, I thought I might be strong enough this year to make it up.  Nope, not even close.

Miles 3-8 were my worst.  I had a nice clip going on the downhills but on the flats I just had a hard time keeping my head in it.  I was well aware of my reduced strength.  I wasn’t bonking at all.  Much too much walking.

Food-wise I was doing an alternate of one gel at a water station and then half a banana at the next.  My doctor had suggested trying staged calories and I think it worked.  I took my new buffered Iron the night before so no stabbing pains in the a.m.  I started with 6 oz of soy protein shake when I woke up at 5:30 with my morning pills.  Then at 6:15 I ate a bowl of granola and blue berries with soy milk.  Brought a banana with me to race and had that at 7 right before the race start with a 5-hour energy shot.  That was about 900 calories before I got in the water and no stomach pain.  1,200 calories out on the bike which great for me.  Perfect.

On the run I was doing about 3 gels an hour + 1/2 banana every other aid station.  The banana really helped keep the gels from making me nauseous.  I think bananas are the most perfect food.  I did not run with Infinite which might have been a better alternative.  I didn’t feel like carrying my fuel but that might have been a better idea.  Too many gels are hard to get down.

A race is not complete without my visits from Angels, Demons and Wind Spirits.  This time I got all of that WITH Carrie Underwood of all people.  (Believe me, I can’t stand Carrie Underwood and the fact that I ran 5 miles with her in my head was more than annoying.)  It went something like this.

Passing through the woods around mile 7.  This is where I tripped over some roots in ’07.  I was being extra cautious but something hitting dirt makes my feet move so I was starting pick it up a little.   That’s about when I started to doubt whether I could finish without harming myself.  I actually thought “I think I might be killing myself by doing this.”  Ah melodrama!!  Wouldn’t be one of my races without it.  That’s when voice jumped in “of course you can do this, just one step at a time.”   But this was different from previous years.  There was nobody out there with me as far as I could see.  I would turn around and look back and there was nobody.  I couldn’t see anybody in front of me at all.  It was weird.  In past years I had company all the way up to the finish line.  But now it was just me and the voices in my head.  The drama was brewing.

I wonder if I have an athletic guardian angel?  I mean who gets me through these ridiculous events?  “Yah think?”  I hear a voice in my head?  “Of course you have a guardian angel, duh.”  Really?  Well why aren’t you helping me be faster then?  Why am I struggling so?  Why do I think I’m going to die?  “Just keep going, stop thinking so much.”  I kept trying to run but my head was getting in the way and that’s when that stupid song from Carrie Underwood popped into my head “Jesus take the wheel.”  Instead of Jesus I was singing “AthleticGuardianAngel take the wheel.”  I was thinking back to Lisa Smith Batchen and running in Avon, CT and how I got she didn’t want to have to think any more.  Someone else drive for awhile.  Someone else do the thinking.  So I just said Guardian Angel I’m too tired to think any more, you think.  And I just kind of zoned out, hummed that tune and that was my best running of the whole race.  From about mile 8 to 11 I had a nice little tick, tick, tick going.  Just me, my guardian angel and Carrie Underwood singing.

I ran through a neighborhood with a bunch of boys on bikes looking to be pains in the necks.  I heard one of them yell “hey there’s a runner, let’s go ride with her.”  A pack of 13 year old boy troublemakers on bikes, all I needed.   There was absolutely not a soul around to look to for assistance.    They rode up kind of circling around me on their bikes.  I growled  “you better have some music with you or sing something or don’t ride next to me.”   It was so funny.  Two of the boys rode away.  The third he took out his cell phone and put on some music I could barely make out and he held his cell phone up and rode his bike next to me.  He was so earnest I had to laugh.  He was really just trying to help.  He rode about a two city blocks next to me one hand up with his cell phone and the other on the handlebar while I was jogging until we hit the rest stop and I said “okay you stay here now, thanks.”  He had a smile on his face like he had done something good and it still brings a little tear to my eye when I think about how in two seconds that kid turned from a little troublemaker to a little troubadour….

Then I got a bunch of winds swirling around me.  I always think of the desert when winds were swirling around me and how joyful they were trying to push me to the finish.  These weren’t the same winds.  These  seemed all confused.  “What’s she doing?” “I don’t know”  “How do we help her?”  “You do something”, “No you do something.”  Hey you are terrible wind spirits!!  Get your acts together, you are not helping me at all!!  AthleticGuardianAngel take the wheel.  All that was missing were some dancing Indians.  I’m thinking too much.  I don’t know how to shut off my brain.  Everything is brewing, brewing.

And then I hit mile 12.  A woman had passed me about a mile past and she was just ahead and I knew I should be able to catch her but I didn’t want to.  I was trying to pinpoint what I was feeling.  Fear (weird),  emotional but not happy or sad it was something else.  Something was trying to come up from really deep down inside and I didn’t know what it was.  The woman at the mile marker was handing me some water.  “Is this really mile 12 or just another fake mile marker I ask?” I am fully stopped taking a half a banana.   I had long passed the hopes of breaking 7 1/2 hours and now was seriously doubting whether or not I could break 8.  It seemed unreal to me.  8 hours?  I’m all the way back to an 8 hour 1/2 Ironman?  Really?  But the numbers don’t lie and this is the most perfect day you could have asked for.  If it had even one inch of sun I would have had to have quit.

There was something rumbling deep down inside of me and it wasn’t a bad gel or anything.  It was some kind of emotion.  Oh my God, I think I’m going to start crying.  Don’t cry, don’t cry.  This whole year was flooding back to me and I was thinking of Central Park and having to hold onto tree branches on my runs and River Road and having to pull over because the George Washington Bridge was dancing.  And my Dad being sick and my Mom’s hand wrapped in bandages and moving furniture and being in quarantine and not being able to drive and all kinds of weird images coming up.  This is important, this is a big deal, I don’t know exactly why but it is a big deal and I’m fighting these tears and this huge lump in my throat.   If you cry you will never get to the end.

There is a little hill, a bump really, right before you make a turn.  I just ran as hard as I could up the hill to fend off the tears.  If I run as hard as I can I won’t think about the crying.  I think it is amazing that I can actually run up this hill now.  I turn and now it is downhill.  I round the bend and there is a cop ready to stop traffic and he sees me.  He puts up his hands to stop the traffic and he’s just too far away and I stop to walk and I put up my hand to tell him don’t hold the traffic I can’t get there.  And then he bellows like something in the deepest drill sergeant voice I have ever heard in my life from about 100 yards away “ROOOOUUUUUUNNN!”  It shocked me.  Oh my God.  Did he just bark an order at me?  And I started to run.  I was scared of him.  He didn’t say another word.  He didn’t say good job or anything.  I think I was just holding up his traffic.  I kept running and the volunteer in the yellow shirt was laughing.  “I don’t know where I am supposed to go” I say to him.  Follow the orange arrows on the ground.  Now the cop has me too scared to stop running.  I don’t see the finish line.  I  see some guy standing in the grass telling me good job and then I hear the voices calling me.  My teammates see me before I see them. I follow the voices and then I see the finish line and I’m just thinking don’t cry, you won’t be able to breathe, don’t cry.  But that thing so deep down inside of me wants to roar and say “I am so mad that everything had to be so hard.”  It wasn’t that I was happy to finish the 1/2 Ironman it was that I was mad at how hard it had to be to get back here.  And I was mad that I was not even back to where I was in 2007 yet.  It was so hard, it was so damn hard.  And it was all just so unfair.

So now here it is I have the medal and I have the finish line but it doesn’t feel settled.  Something is just not settled.  I can’t figure out exactly what it is.  But that number 3:30 just keeps flashing in my head.  I think the honest to God truth of it is, even though I kept saying out loud that I understood I was slower and I had things like my time trials in Central Park to tell me the same thing, in my heart of hearts I thought Tupper Lake was going to be my friend and I was going to come out and pull out some kind of miracle on the bike course and then, then everything would be even.  I would have fought back and won.  But instead I fought back and I fell just a little short.  I didn’t lose, but I fell a little short.  I just couldn’t understand why?  I worked hard.  Final time 7:54.  Yeah, yeah, I know I’m supposed to feel happy that I finished and that I didn’t quit but why does it feel like stabbing pains as the knife goes through my heart?

Then next day I went to do a recovery ride.  Ran into coach Shifu who told me I didn’t have to go do the standard regular loop.  Do it in reverse, go explore, find some roads you don’t know.  Go past the coffee shop. What a great idea.  The idea of doing another loop of Lake Placid bike course was nothing short of sticking salt in wounds.  But adventure?  Exploration?  I’m always up for that!  I didn’t need any more jaunts down memory lane.   I definitely didn’t need to go down that six mile descent.  So I headed out the opposite way.  Kind of meandering down some of the side roads in Lake Placid, eventually heading back down the bears and out to Wilmington.  My legs were hurting and I was just thanking my coach in my head because if I had had to climb out of Lake Placid I might have killed myself, instead I got to pedal downhill and warm up a little.  Just me.  No Angels or Carrie Underwood or Wind Spirits.  Just me and my muscles.

Then as always, my friend Jac pops out of nowhere in Lake Placid. I hear an Australian Accent “hey there.”   And we ride and chat like old, old times.   She’s out to ride in another direction.  I tell her I’m going to find the coffee shop and then I’m going to explore a little of Whiteface and see what else is out there.  We ride into Wilmington together and stop at the coffee shop and sit out on the swings for a few minutes while sipping the coffee.   I  tell her how disappointed I am with my lack of strength.  It’s not my performance because I couldn’t have ridden any better.  That is all I have and I am sad about it.  She sips on her tea and thinks a second and then says (I paraphrase) “you know, if you had done a 3:15 or better, it would have all gone away in that instant.  You wouldn’t have had to acknowledge everything you have been through.  But now you have to face it and deal with it.  It’s real and now you know and you can move on.”    It was the strangest thing.  As soon as she said that everything became crystal clear to me.  I literally felt this huge weight lift off my shoulders.  I got it.  I understood.  She was exactly right.  It made sense.  If I had done a 3:13 the slate would have been wiped clean and 2009 would just disappear.  But it can’t disappear.  I have to face it. I’m not just starting over from then.  I’m starting over from now.  Okay, I get it.  I finally, finally get it and now I can move on.

Next race, July 11th, Rhode Island 1/2 Ironman.  I’m already a little excited.  I think I can do better.  More planning, less brain chatter.

Namaste

June 27, 2010 1/2 Ironman

June 30th, 2009

June 30th, 2009 Escape from Roosevelt Hospital

And just in case you haven’t had the privilege of being haunted by Carrie Underwood…

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