August 31, 2011 § 10 Comments
I have now had plenty of time to think through what I wanted to say with my IM Louisville race report, and how to say it. But, writer’s block prevails and I am still somewhat at a loss for words. But if I let any more days pass I won’t write anything at all, and that doesn’t quite seem fair to everyone who has given me support as this goal approached. So, I’ll start this story at the end.
On Monday I sat at the awards banquet at the convention center. Never in a million years would I have ever thought that I’d be sitting at a table with not only Ryan and Mike, but also Hillary Biscay and Amanda Balding. These two women proved to me this weekend that if you don’t keep your heart, you can’t play in this sport. I don’t think that either of them would mind me pointing out that they have had some great successes in triathlon, but also have had their share of rough times. They are two women who have seen and experienced so much happen in the years that they have been racing for their goals, that all it took was to look them in the eyes after my finish for them to know how I was feeling without words.
But before I get to my finish, I should probably tell some more about my race. Ryan and I drove out to Louisville from Baltimore on Thursday. The 10 hour drive was actually really easy. The first few hours were spent in a downpour, but after lunch in Charleston, WV and a quick detour in Lexington, KY, we were shocked to find ourselves already in Louisville. I still had a shakeout run to do so Ryan ran with me and we went to check out transition and the river. Everything looked exactly as I remembered 2 years ago, and I was excited to be back. Mike’s plane came in with only a small delay and we were all tucked in Thursday night far and away from the wrath of Hurricane Irene our friends and family on the east coast would be experiencing shortly.
Friday and Saturday were a bit of a blur but I’ll give things in no particular order:
-Lunch with Hillary!
Note: I wore those sunglasses in most spare minutes leading up to the race as on Wednesday I came down with an eye infection. No, I couldn’t just get a stye like most people who get eye infections would and that seems fairly gross but also fairly normal. Instead, I ended up with Blepharitis. Like, seriously?? That sounds like some sort of disease that geese would get in their webbed feet or something. But apparently it is an eye infection that I managed to get in the days leading up to the race.
-Drove the bike course. Here we found out that despite Mike’s age he is actually quite similar to a small child in that if you put him in the back seat of a car and drive around he will fall asleep within minutes. Psyche, we kept him awake for most of the ride at least. But anyway despite the fact I had raced here before, I managed to remember about 2.5% of the bike ride. That percentage would be summed up in me saying “umm….there are flat miles at the beginning and end.” Doing this was a great idea for those who can’t train on an IM course, and definitely was a good refresher for the ride to come.
-My dad came in town! He had so much fun watching me 2 years ago that he was coming back out to offer familial support again this year. It’s always great to have anyone out on the course and he would be there to cheer all of us on which was cool.
-Went to the 4th Street CVS about 55 times. Not only did I need plenty of Gatorade and snacks, but unfortunately my Blepharitis paled in comparison to the sinus infection that Ryan came down with. On Friday he started feeling crappy and by Saturday it was a full blown infection to the max. We tried everything possible from Claritin to Netti Potting to Saline sprays to Dayquil and only got minimal results. His ability to even start the race was in question, but come race morning he bit the bullet and tried to give it a go.
Before I knew it though the fun was over and race morning arrived. Luckily this year I didn’t enter transition that morning to find a flat tire, so I was somewhat relieved already. We got over to the swim start around 6am and quickly realized that it was probably a little later than we would have liked to have arrived. Now, again, my memory is terrible but I know two years ago I got there around the same time (actually probably later because of my bike issues) and didn’t have to wait in that long a line. That leads me to one conclusion: I must have unknowingly cut in line. Sorry to anyone I cut off in 2009! Alas, we took our spots at the end of the line and waited and waited. The pros went off at 6:50, 10 minutes later the age groupers started hopping in and the line began to move. When we finally hit the pier the line stopped again. We heard murmurs that they were pulling someone out of the water, and sadly they were true. We had really no choice but to watch a man who had suffered a heart attack be wheeled by us on a stretcher. Needless to say, it didn’t look good, and I am sad to say that it was confirmed he passed away. Not quite the way you want to get pumped up for your own day, but the race must go on and they started sending us in again. My goal for the swim was really just to swim faster than the painstaking 1:24 I managed in 2009. All I wanted was to prove to myself that I could swim a non-wetsuit race and swim it quickly. The TT start helps the nerves and I was able to get into my own rhythm early on. It felt like it went on forever and ever, but at one point I caught sight of Ryan passing me which buoyed my confidence a little. Despite the fact he basically flew by me (swimming a super fast sub-60 time!!) I knew that I couldn’t lose too much time given what was left. As I came out of the water and saw 1:05 on my watched I tapped it a couple times to make sure it was still ticking, I almost couldn’t believe it! I jogged through T2 still flying high on that swim time and hopped onto the bike. Ahh, time to relax. A little.
There really isn’t too much to say about the 5 hours and 42 minutes I spent on the bike other than there was a lot of pedaling, and a lot of GUs. The quasi advantage of starting so late was that there was a seemingly endless stream of riders to pinpoint and catch which makes the ride go quickly. Despite having stayed super on top of getting all my calories and hydration, in the second half of the bike my stomach started to feel a bit questionable. Not even like sick from racing, just sick. It became increasingly more noticeable until the final 12 miles where I actually started throwing up whenever I was taking water or food, and I would just swallow it down. Gross, I know, but I was trying my best to keep all the calories in me. As I hopped off the bike it just wasn’t enough and I threw up as I left T2. I tried to just put it in the back of my mind, but something else wasn’t right: I couldn’t run. This is honestly something I have never experienced before to this degree. I would say that both marathons in previous ironmans were tough. But never, in any race of any distance, have I hopped off the bike to find that I couldn’t even run the entire first mile.
In an attempt to stay calm I did some troubleshooting. Would GU stay down? Nope. The Perform drink? Nope. Grapes? Nope. I did my best to stay positive and be patient and just wait for my legs to come back. I wish I could say that I had even one good mile, but that wasn’t the case. In the times when I wasn’t fighting to keep it from coming out my mouth, I was trying to hurry up and get to a porta potty. This went on for 8 miles until I finally saw Ryan as he was running the other direction. Unfortunately, he was having a similar fate on the run. I hit the turnaround and finally Hillary caught me. I had been sitting for a couple minutes so I managed to gather energy to run about 25 meters with her into the aid station. She had positive words for me and I felt terrible she was seeing my demise while trying to race her race, so I did give her word of my great swim and bike at least! “Just finish the race” she told me. Wait, what??? You want me to finish the next 15 miles on an empty stomach – walking???? Absolutely she said. Just finish.
I would be lying if I said I immediately recognized the lesson and value in what she was saying. I still am somewhat sheltered by my ultra mentality – you can’t tell someone to keep going in an ultra when they aren’t eating and keeping anything in. But, this is an Ironman. We have porta pottys a plenty. Water and food every mile. You’re not being sent into the depths of the wilderness alone. And, more importantly, I was having a bad day, but I was still in control of my mind and body (for the most part). In plain words, I was fine. I just wasn’t going to run very fast.
I had a bit of a breakdown when I saw Ryan waiting for me just before the turnaround. I’m not sure if it was just the outpouring of emotion from the amazing race I felt I had let POOF vanish, or just the fact that I realized there was no one else in the world I’d want to suffer through this with. He asked what I wanted to do and I said that Hillary told me I had to finish. So he nodded and said he doesn’t sign up for these races to not finish either, so we’d do it together. And that we did. It was far from pretty but we made quite a team, and we crossed the line in about 12 hours and 15 minutes. I hope, for both of our sake, that is the only time we ever cross a finish line together at a race.
We gathered ourselves and made it to the restaurant where Mike (who had an amazing race – 9:49 in his second IM!! At least one of us was able to get it done that day), Hillary and Amanda were waiting. This is where I got my hugs and was able to decompress. I felt like I had let the world down and I was just plain embarrassed. I had come off the bike in 3rd place in my AG and just felt like I had let it all go. I also couldn’t explain it and had very little to offer other than I just got plain sick and couldn’t run. It wasn’t like I could point to something tangible and say this is what I’ll do different, this is how I’ll change things. And without that tangible thing, there is always going to be a thought lingering, a worry that I will have to fight, that maybe I’m just not cut out to have the race I want to have.
But, for now, I will continue to lace up my sneakers for my runs, and I’ll continue to get in the pool. I’ll continue to ride my legs off because I am damn proud of that bike split – the 28th fastest time of the day for women! The great thing about this sport is that the training – where you spend 99% of your hours – may be more relentless but it is also more forgiving. Because when you have a bad day no one has to notice. When you don’t hit your intervals you can walk it in, knowing the only price you have to pay is that next week you’ll have to find a new way to try to make it through. Second chances come along constantly in training. Second chances in racing don’t. But if I didn’t race, and I didn’t go all-in when I race, then I wouldn’t be myself. I won’t ever look back and say “maybe I could have biked a 5:55 and done some more damage control to get through the run at least at a jog.” It’s just not me. And so it is okay with me if it is simply going to take some more time to have the race where it all comes together.
In the span of an hour I came across two things that gave me confidence that time and patience is all I’m really in need of. One is Jordan Rapp’s speech he gave after winning IM Canada. As if being a rockstar and super smart human being wasn’t enough, he also has a way with words that can really comfort and inspire . The second, a bit sillier, carries the same message. It’s a cartoon tweeted by @KHESSER (who I raced against last year in Wisconsin and will be racing with at IMAZ coincidentally enough), and the message is simple: sometimes quality takes time.
I didn’t start working with Hillary expecting her to be a miracle worker, although I have to say that 1:05 swim for me is nothing short of an IM miracle! She’s started me on a process and a journey and on Sunday I realized that the best thing I can do is to take this in and learn from it what I can, and use it to better me for races to come. I have a support system that is unmatched and I am confident that in a couple months I will be ready for battle once again 🙂
August 24, 2011 § Leave a comment
“[…] There is a great amount of faith required that the work you have done will be good enough on race day. I remember before the 2008 Olympics, training with Simon, I wondered, “how do we know if he’s ready to win a medal?” I think I realize now that we didn’t know. We just knew that we had done our best to do the best job we could and that the answer to whether that was enough would be answered on race day. […]”
August 23, 2011 § 3 Comments
Definitely not leaving on a jet plane though – Ryan and I are making the 10 hour drive out to Louisville on Thursday, and I couldn’t be more excited! I think this is best evidenced by the fact I literally had my bags packed since last Thursday. This excitement may have also been escalated when I got the news that Coach Hillary is going to be racing as well! I am so pumped she will be out there and it will be calming to know she’ll be out on the course with me!!! Okay, so by “with me” I mean ahead of me, but still 🙂
The first part of the taper is always sleep time. My body welcomes the wave of tiredness that I finally let myself succumb to as I am in bed early and sleep in later than usual because there’s no 5am workout 🙂 The second part of the taper is when I start knocking things off my to-do list. Calls and emails need to be caught up on and I begin to knock out the hours of TV I have left on my DVR. This means many hours of Jimmy Fallon, in which time I have decided my celebrity leg look-alike to be Julia Stiles.
I also now have time to do things like get birthday presents….odds are if your birthday fell between the dates of July 15 – August 15 I got you this:
But if you are lucky enough to have a birthday during taper time I will get you cute things like the Oiselle Ravenna Tank and Lesley Knickers. Let’s hope my sister doesn’t read my blog until after Thursday 🙂
I also have had time to follow the Vuelta and as of yesterday will be able to watch each stage on the USA Pro Cycling Championships on the day it happens, which is pretty cool. Alyssaism: Watching cycling is the next best thing to chamois-time for yourself to improve as a cyclist. That gives me time to also do things like this…
August 19, 2011 § 1 Comment
I’m not one for product reviews but I am compelled to throw in my two cents about this one. About a month ago I saw that my training schedule called for several long days in the saddle. I knew I could handle them, but I also felt that it was time to try to make a change to make my chamois time a little more comfortable. That meant changing up my saddle. This was a hard thing for me to finally take the plunge with, mostly because I just believe that 6-7 hours is going to hurt no matter how you slice it. Even sitting on a couch starts to be uncomfortable after 7 hours!
I looked around a lot and after doing some research I thought that the ISM Adamo Saddle looked the most appealing to me. The shape simply looked like it would take a lot of the pressure out of the area where I generally found myself shifting around to get – and keep – comfortable. I read a lot of reviews and most people seemed to love it. So I turned to E-Bay (note – also a great place to find new and cheap cycling jerseys!) and found an online retailer that was selling the saddle for a good price. The saddle arrived in a few days, just in time for a trainer sesh. I put it on and adjusted it and on the trainer everything felt great. I wasn’t 100% sold on it yet, but the comfort factor was definitely there.
Saturday came before I knew it and I didn’t get a chance to get outside with the saddle before my long ride. Oh well, I thought – no better way than to break in a new saddle than 100 miles, right? If I could go back in time to that moment, I would, and I would slap myself. What was I thinking?!?! The ride that day first involved me riding about 8 miles up to meet the rest of the group. When I got there, OJ looked at my saddle and was like “whoa, that’s a really steep saddle angle, is that comfortable?” immediately I got defensive, but I also got the idea in my head that it wasn’t comfortable.
I spent the next 20 miles feeling like I was falling forward off my bike. How I didn’t notice this before I have no clue. Luckily a water stop was ahead and I had my allen wrench in hand for this very issue. Now I was on edge though and nervous that riding on the saddle was a huge mistake, so any help offered by the boys was not well received. I changed what I thought needed changing and got back on the bike. I made it about 5 miles this time before asking for another stop to readjust. Luckily the guys were being patient and didn’t mind the pit stop. Finally I did essentially what they had been telling me from the start, and got back on the bike. Ah, this works.
I have now ridden about 500 miles in the saddle. I’m extremely happy with my decision to go with ISM, but as you can tell it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Here are my words of advice for this saddle:
-Do some short rides outside with it before planning anything long. The fit of this is unique and takes some getting used to which is probably best achieved through a few small adjustments.
-Don’t throw out the chamois butter just because you got an ISM saddle. While this saddle does appear to reduce the occurence of my saddle sores, they are most definitely still there. I have found though with plenty of chamois butter and this saddle combined, my SS are much better.
-It’s going to get worse before it gets better. My sit bones took some getting used to with this saddle, and it wasn’t until I bruised them and let them heal that I can sit completely pain free. Was it worth it? yes. But it’s a process!
August 17, 2011 § 4 Comments
This past weekend 6 of us – me, Ryan, Pat, Mike, Ben, and Andy headed down to Luray, VA to race the Luray International Triathlon and then get in some good training on Sunday. I have mentioned before that this weekend in particular is one of my favorites. For one thing, it would be my third time at this event and it is one that I really enjoy. The course is tough, the competition is strong, and David Glover does a great job as RD. The other part of the weekend I love is Luray itself. Nestled on the side of the Shenandoah National Park, with Skyline Drive just a few miles away, there are mountains and trails and woods all over. I nominated myself to find us a cabin again this year, and, well, if you know me you would know that I really like being out in the middle of nowhere. We stayed at the Blue Ridge Getaway, in Rileyville and it was absolutely gorgeous. The only catch was that it was a steep drive up a Jeep road to get there – and seeing as I had the only car with 4WD that meant a lot of the party would make a few trips hiking up and down the road with bikes and other important items, like beer and watermelon. But once you were up there, it was definitely worth it.
Friday night Ryan cooked up a pasta dinner that we enjoyed out on the deck before calling it a night. Oh, but not before I managed to miss the bear walking through our backyard! As luck would have it, in the five minutes where I grabbed Ben and asked him to help me as I turned my car around on the steep road, we missed it. Oh well. We made the drive to the race site in the morning, where I was pleased to find out that the water had cooled down a little to 78.5. A much better result than the 89 degrees of NJ a few weeks back!! Right from the gun I felt good on the swim. My placement was right – I knew I was with the lead group and had even found some feet to swim on. That didn’t last past the first couple buoys, but by then we had caught the other waves and people were everywhere anyway. I came out of the water in 26:30 (2 minutes faster than last year) and headed into the long T1. Helping make this transition even longer was me just getting confused. Luckily, when I checked in that morning that had written my race number on my hand (as if I couldn’t read it on my shoulders), and I literally had to look down to remember what my number was. Oh yeah, I thought, and headed to that rack.
Jumped on the bike and got ready to roll. My goal here was to go hard for the first loop and then in the second loop keep up the intensity but try to keep my cadence up as much as possible to keep my legs spinning and ready to run. I had done my homework and knew my competition, and knew that as long as I had good running legs left I had a shot at the podium. This bike course has a lot of climbing, which suits me, so I just settled in and went for it. Because it was a two-loop course I felt like I was passing a lot of people but it was tough to tell who was in front of and behind me. There is one final climb before a descent into the transition area, so I took that time to get some more water, GU and salt in me before the run. As I entered the park I was told I was in second place, then I saw the lead female heading out on the run and knew I needed to keep her within at least 3 minutes if I wanted any sort of shot at running her down. Came off the bike in a whopping 1:14:56, about 10 minutes faster than last year! The thought of her ahead propelled me through T2 pretty quickly and out onto the run I went.
The run course would deviate from prior years; this year instead of 2 loops, it would be one out and back. What I didn’t know was that the extended 1.5 miles of the “out” portion was a gravel road. Luckily, my ultrarunning days of miles and miles of gravel roads prepared me for this and I think I fared well on the terrain. I could tell some others were not so fortunate. (Note: I also always race in flat-trainers….also known as Flainers. I essentially wear my trainers down until, in my head, I believe that they are now flats. I believe this because 1. I have never actually owned flats, so I am able to convince myself of this and 2. I can’t keep buying that many shoes so I have to figure out some way to recycle them! I realize this is absurd. And I realize most people will tell me I’m hurting my feet. And it is, but I haven’t, so I’ll probably continue doing this until I finally swallow my pride and buy a pair of flats. BUT my point is that the soles of these shoes were very well suited to the gravel, as opposed to Mike who had to stop and pick rocks out of the bottom of his fancy-pants flats!)
But, back to the run. The good part about having many friends racing is that there is a lot of motivation out on the course. One by one I saw them as they were on their way home and they all gave me some words of encouragement. And by words of encouragement, they mostly all raised their eyebrows and told me to get moving, because the girl in first was going hard. I hit the turnaround and was able to calculate that I had made up time, but I was still about 90 seconds back. Would it be enough? Unfortunately right after the turnaround is a big hill, which sucked some of the life out of me. So, I wasn’t able to make much more of a gain on the way in, but I did finish the run in 46:33 – another 2 minute improvement from last year!
My final time was 2:30:48, 2nd of 201 females. This is easily one of the best races I have had in the sport. I felt in control of each discipline, and for the first time I hit the run and was ready to run someone down – not just look back and hope I didn’t get caught. It also felt good to be hanging with girls who consider this distance their specialty – and giving them a run for their money. I wasn’t the only one who picked up some wine-themed hardware though (pictures to come) and the group of us packed up and headed back to the cabin.
Saturday afternoon brought burgers, corn husking, and Justin Bieber. I took a nap but that still didn’t keep me from getting to sleep early Saturday as we had a big day on Sunday. I had one more long ride to get in (though it was allowed to be easy). We had talked about getting out to Skyline Drive to ride for quite some time, and finally were able to make it happen. Keeping it easy was actually the toughest part of the day as a 4 mile climb up to Skyline was the start of the day! Since I was always a bit back from the boys, on one of the stops I attempted to enlighten them on another Alyssaism…if you ride slower, you’ll get faster. Needless to say, they didn’t buy it, haha. From there you’ll still find a lot of climbing but the road conditions, and the small amount of traffic – not to mention the views – make it a great ride! It would be really cool to go back and just ride that as a workout.
After the ride we packed up and headed back to Baltimore, where we lucked out and missed the torrential rains that had been in the area. All in all, this was the perfect way to enter my taper mode. Now it’s time to relax and get everything set for next Thursday when Ryan and I roll out to Louisville!
August 12, 2011 § 1 Comment
I was going to do a QOTD for some inspiration prior to the weekend, but when I got to searching I decided to post on something that is way more than just a quote. On July 31, Jennifer Pharr Davis broke the record for the best time traveling the length of the Appalachian Trail. Jennifer’s time of 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes bests any other time set by a male or female, by over a day. She averaged just about 47 miles a day.
For 46 days.
I consider myself an endurance athlete. Part of that is that I thrive on consistency, on the tough days, on days when all I can do is shake my head and look at the (now faded) reminder I wrote to myself on my bathroom mirror to “Get Tough.” I need long days of hard efforts to break me down and build me back up. To get me ready for the races that will require more time than a day of “regular” work for me. But that consistency is something I still struggle with. It’s a funny thing. On one hand, I like hard day after hard day, because I get into a routine and I just….do. Not much thinking, just doing. On the other hand though, day after day builds up until eventually it overflows. The overflow may come in the form of a negative attitude. It may come out as being stressed about what I’m going to wear that day. It may come out in tears because I am stuck in traffic (crazy, right?!).
I can only relate to the most minor of the struggles that Jennifer had to endure to complete this, and I can honestly say I am in complete awe of her. The Appalachian Trail is a beautiful and breaktaking place. My self-proclaimed favorite spot in the world can be found on that trail. But even then, 46 days of attacking the trail to get as far as you can within each hour, just seems unfathomable.
I hope to find within myself some of the strength that Jennifer has as I continue to pursue my own AT this year – the ironman 🙂
You can read about Jennifer’s record breaking run on her blog here. The entries were documented by her husband, Brew, and are really thorough and a fantastic look into the highs and lows of such a feat. I would recommend finding time to sit down and start at the beginning – you won’t regret it!
In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.
August 9, 2011 § Leave a comment
The tough stop blogging 😦 I do apologize for my lack of blogging as of late – but I hope you understand that my peak training weeks + the murphy’s law of work being busy these weeks + attempting to maintain some sort of sanity leaves me far far away from my computer in the evenings when I’d blog. In an effort to keep you up to date I have compiled a miscellaneous list of thoughts and awesomeness for your reading pleasure….
-I love unexpected sources of water. Two of these happen to fall on rides we frequent in the Baltimore area. The first, the Leone Family Spring is located about 50 miles away. The water is always super cold and super fresh. When we went by on Saturday, there was a poster advertising an escaped goat. He looked pretty much like what you’d expect a goat to look like, so if you’re in the Glen Rock area and see a wandering goat, you can get a reward for returning it!
My other fav unexpected water source is on Bellemore Road. At the top of a mile long steep climb, a family on the road keeps this fountain running. It’s not really cold, but water is water and it may be just what you need to get you the final 7.5 miles home to the city.
– I ride with dudes a lot, and its awesome. Despite the times I want to tell them to slow down. Despite the times it’s rainy and their tire juice sprays all over me for miles and miles. Despite the times I have to deal with them farting in my face as I sit on their wheel. Having guys that allow me to tag along and draft (aka “audit”) their rides has made me the cyclist that I am becoming!
-I ordered some Picky Bars today, and I’m quite excited for them to arrive!
-One of my favorite races of the year is this weekend – the Luray International Triathlon. Ryan and I first did this race back in ’08…I placed in my age group and recieved a wine glass. Then last year I did the sprint and the olympic distance and received a wine glass for my place in both of those, and another for doing the double weekend! I hope to continue the tradition this year. We have a cabin for the weekend and will be doing our respective rides on Skyline Drive on Sunday, so if you have any tips or inside info on Skyline (food, water, which direction is best) please leave it in the comments! We will be entering from the Luray area. I am hoping for some great weather and great views as a cabin in the mountains is heaven for me!
-Amelia Bedelia loves to knock over cups. They are usually full. It is not funny.