Friday, November 18, 2016

Ironman Miami 70.3 Race Recap

Ironman Miami 70.3 Race Recap

It’s always easier to write a race report for a race where everything clicks. But all races - especially the tough ones - provide an opportunity for growth and are just as important to reflect on. Ironman Miami 70.3 was an incredible experience and a lot of fun, but I definitely feel like I left behind some unfinished business.

First a little background.  Following a half-marathon PR in June at the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon in Duluth (easily one of the best race experiences ever) and the Rochesterfest Road Mile less than a week later (easily one of the worst race experiences ever), I found myself faced with stress fracture number six. 
2 main reasons why Grandma's Half was so great.
Hello old friend.
This time in my fibula and, as usual, on the left side. (Can someone please tell this leg to get it together?) I did the now familiar drill of “focus on rehab, work on the swim and bike, stay as positive as possible” and was pleasantly surprised at how well I coped. It’s no secret I love to run, but being through this before, I knew I’d be able to run again - just not as soon as I would have liked. I had a lot of good things going on in my life this time around too, so taking some time to heal was *slightly* less painful. I also quickly replaced my race plans for the summer with race plans for the fall and set some new and just as exciting goals. Instead of the Door County Half Iron and Olympic Age-Group Nationals, I’d target Ironman Miami 70.3 with an Olympic distance triathlon as a tune-up. A chance to travel to the beach in October? Yes, please. :)


I took a 5:30am flight from MSP to Miami Thursday before the race.  While I like early mornings, the ridiculously early o’clock wake-up call was a bit much.  Ufffff.  
I was able to sleep on the plane for a few hours and arrived in Miami around 11:30am local time.  I took an Uber from the airport to a rented Airbnb condo right downtown and a half a mile from the race venue.  Uber was easy, fast, and cheap and also felt super big-city cool. :) After unpacking, I had plenty of time to take the estimated 25 minute trip to the bike shop where my bike had been shipped and still have time to get to the ocean for a quick open water swim. However, bike shop miscommunication, the weather, and President Obama himself had other plans. The quick 25 minute trip turned into an hour and a half car ride due to a visit by Obama to the city and some serious presidential traffic. Uber stopped being super big-city cool pretty quickly. When I finally got to the shop, I found out they had accidently sent my bike to the race site where it wouldn’t be ready for pick up until the next day.  It had also started raining, so a bike ride was definitely not happening.  And by the time I took another hour and a half Uber trip back to the condo and beach, it was dark and left no time for a swim. Conclusion: impromptu rest day. I rolled with it though. 1. I was exhausted. 2. I took a complete rest day before my last 70.3 and figured it was well placed in the week here. 3. I had all day the next day to get in a ride and swim after a much needed solid night’s rest.  
Miami Traffic
PSA: Despite the bike shop mix-up, is the I paid less than half the price of FedEx to ship my bike and the customer service was stellar. (Thank you Gmail for trolling my inbox and sending me extremely helpful advertisements.)

On Friday, I was reunited with my bike (halleluiah!), swung by the expo to pick up my packet and check out the gear, and enjoyed a nice hot Miami  training ride and calm ocean swim. I checked out a little more of downtown Miami (lots of lights!) and then headed home to await my mom’s arrival. Yay!  Doing cool things in a cool city is even cooler with cool company. <3  
The best race sherpa
New swim skin!
Saturday was filled with pre-race workouts, route previews, and visiting the expo again to address a bike computer that decided to stop working the day before the race. Wonderful... But I rolled with this too. First, I had my Garmin 920XT watch as a back-up, even if having to wear it on my wrist during the bike was less than ideal. Second, I was sure someone at the race expo would be able to help. Turns out, the Garmin guys were all too happy to sell me brand new one! While negotiating an expo Garmin special though, my old computer spontaneously came back to life! Despite the miracle, my mom wisely insisted on getting the new one just in case old-trusty decided to take the day off on race day too. I was already on a first-name basis with the bike shop guys after the delivery issues, so they graciously helped my set up the new computer with my exact preferences. Huge props to these guys! They stood out in the hot sun for 3 days, put together and tuned up thousands of bikes, and still acted liked they enjoyed it. One was a Minnesota native and now we’re Facebook friends. #minnesotaniceforthewin

Best bike friends

Transition set up
Despite the building nerves and minor glitches, I soaked in the experiences of the day as much as I could. The days leading up to a race are filled with so much excitement and so many wishes for good luck that never cease to amaze me.

Race outfits ready
Support crew outfit ready

Race Morning

Gorgeous sunrise
While it was nice to have a little extra time for breakfast in the morning, waiting to start in the 17th age-group wave -- an hour after the pros! -- was torturous. By the time I made it to the dock, I could not wait to get going! There was no chance for a swim warm-up :(, but we did get to jump into the bay feet first from about 5 feet up - so fun! The water temperature was 86 the day before and 82 race morning, so I was excited to try out my new pink(!) Roka swim skin and not have to worry about getting out of a wetsuit in T1.  

The Swim
:35:57 Division Rank: 1

Swim start
After a quick prayer, I was off. I kept an eye on most of the girls during the slew of elbows and feet at the start and at the first turn about 300 yards in, I thought there was only one girl still ahead. I made it my mission to find her and her feet. It wouldn’t be easy though. We were starting to come up on the thousands of swimmers ahead and it was too sunny to make out swim cap colors and figure out who was who. But quite unexpectedly, I suddenly had a huge number 32 on someone’s calf right in front of my nose. Nice! The girl in my age group! I was hoping to draft off her the rest of the race, but after we made the next turn, the girl slowed a bit and started to drift away from the buoy line. I had to make the call to veer back on a more straight course and hope I could maintain decent speed without the advantage of a draft. This, along with not getting kicked in the face more than 3 times, became the new goal of the swim. Do all triathletes wear size 16 shoe? A few fat lips later, I spotted my mom on the final stretch down the shore line, smiled, and made my way to the swim exit. T1 was full of energy! A ton of cheering and noise! I sprinted to my bike, where I then very carefully ran to the mount line across wet, slippery concrete tiles trying not to fall on my face.

"Don't get kicked in the face."
I’m glad I didn’t see my final swim time during this. The times were very slow across the board due to a strong current, no wetsuits, and some chop in the water. I guess I was having too much fun and didn’t really notice the conditions, but think I would have had a hard time thinking I was far behind!

The Bike
2:28 Division Rank: 1

The bike course was a super flat, out and back course. The plan was to keep my wattage a bit lower on the way out into the wind and crank it up a bit on the way in when the wind would be to my back. My coach had meticulously calculated what time split he thought I could do with different levels of wattage and I was thankful to have a time goal to think about. But again, starting in a late wave made the bike pretty interesting. It was almost impossible to stay legal while there was a constant stream of bikers ahead of me. I felt like I was in a constant in a pass zone. I did my best to be extremely obvious while making a pass and backing off when being passed. A course officials on a motorcycle road alongside me for a good 5 minutes at one point and no penalties were called, so I was confident I was doing the best I could. With the wind in my face, the first half seemed to take forever, but at the turnaround I got a burst of energy and felt like a new person with the wind at my back. I felt strong and although my wattage was a little shy of the optimal goal #notabiker, I was happy I was still making decent time. I lost half of my last gel at the end of the bike after going over a huge bump and made a gigantic sticky mess on my shorts, but my fluid and nutrition was also going as planned. Coming off the bike, I knew if I had a decent run, I had a chance to give the amatuer women’s course record (4:40) a run for it’s money.  I saw my mom again as I pulled into transition and gave her a big fist pump and cheer.

Feeling strong on the bike

The Run
1:34:33 Division Rank: 1

T2 was a little slow after first running past my spot on the rack, but I grabbed my run gear and was off. I typically come out of T2 a bit fast unintentionally, so I focused on a controlled effort. Unfortunately, my Garmin informed me at mile 1 that I had actually gone about 20 seconds slower than my goal. No worries, I thought, the first mile is always weird, I’ll settle into my pace now. Mile 2 was a little better, but still a bit slow and I wasn’t feeling like I could push much more without a significant amount of effort. Somewhere during mile 3 we hit the causeway for the first time. This was a bridge that went up and over the bay we swam in that we’d eventually go up and down a total of 4 times on the 2 loop run course. My pace for that mile was still a touch slow, but considering the climb I, again, tried not to worry much. 1 climb down, 3 to go. Coming down the causeway was pretty fun though, and each time I told myself I was having fun. By mile 4, my pace hadn’t dropped where I wanted and the fatigue was kicking in quickly. Ugh. The rest of run was a mental game. Holding goal pace was now out the question and I was forced into making the decision to ease off a bit in order to make it to the finish rather than push it and collapse somewhere on the causeway’s hard pavement.
Climbing the causeway

Palm trees with the causeway in the background

As we went out for the second loop, I was fighting the thought that the pavement didn’t look so hard at all. The water stops were crowded and I collided with more than one person, but I grabbed as much water and ice as I could. It wasn’t unbearably hot (high of 81-82 degrees), but staying cool was still a challenge. The course had little to no shade and, most disappointingly, had very little crowd support to pull from. I love hearing cheers and seeing signs, but fans only lined the first and last mile of the 6 mile loop, so the rest felt pretty lonely. I held ice cubes, I looked at the words ‘gratitude’ and ‘believe’ written on my wrists, I smiled when I saw my mom, I repeated mantas: “This is hard, but I can do it.” “I love running.” “I love racing.” “I’m so lucky to be here.” “Just stay with that guy.” Mostly, I put one foot in front of the other, counting down the miles to go. My pace continued to slow and my hopes of a strong finish was slipping away. I didn’t see any women in my age group, but my observance of others wasn’t the most focused either. With tears of disappointment as I entered the final chute, I couldn’t wait to collapse into the volunteers’ arms.

Start of the run: still smiling.
End of the run: not still smiling.
What had happened? I went into the race thinking I had a pretty good gauge of what I was capable of and had at least one or two confidence-boosting swim, bike, and run sessions. My nutrition plan went well; no cramps, no GI distress. We were cautious with my run training, but weren’t we always? Also, the run is always my favorite! I felt like I had let it down. More disappointingly, I felt like I had let down the dedications I had set for important people in my life for each mile of the run. Thinking of them was difficult and I didn’t feel like I did them justice either.

But, here is what I know. Seeing my mom after I left the med tent (and getting to experience losing my lunch after a race for the first time -- due almost entirely to disappointment rather than fatigue), helped me immediately reframe the experience. Pride radiated from her face. “Do you know how well you did, Dani? I’m so proud of you.” SO MUCH SUPPORT.

I was stunned I managed to win my age group and take 2nd overall amateur female (4:43:35: results). I was also beyond grateful I met my main goal of securing a slot in the 70.3 World Championships September 7th, 2017 in Chattanooga, TN. Not every race is going to be a course record or personal best, but there are always lessons to be learned. I’m glad I eased back a bit to secure a finish. It was frustrating, but I think it was the wise choice. I’m hoping to work on the frustration a little more too though and remember that a ‘fixed mindset’ isn’t helpful when the human body is anything but predictable at times.

Also, every text, message, note, smile, word of encouragement and congratulations truly makes me appreciate how lucky I am to even be able to test my limits. I get to swim, bike, and run to my heart’s content every day and live my life surrounded my amazing friends and family. About 10 minutes after I finished the race, I wanted nothing more to get back out there and redo the run right then and there. This lasted about  2 minutes when I tried to climb the stairs back to the condo (#ouch), but I know I’m capable of more. Every training block becomes more enjoyable: more friends made, more little goals met, more knowledge gained. I’ve been able to balance more life stuff with training than ever before and know I’m capable of more here too.
Nice hardware

Securing my 70.3 World's slot

In the end, a fire has definitely been lit and 2017 will be a year for the record books. It will be hard work and will likely hurt at times, but one of my favorite Oiselle runner’s quotes seems like a pretty good mantra for the upcoming season.

See you at the finish line!

Huge thanks to my genius coach Joe, TerraLoco for gearing me up, the amazing swimmers and coach Tom Walsh with the Orca’s Masters Swim group who push me and make me laugh every day, and to all of my friends and family. Whether it is joining me for a run, ride, swim, or even an aqua-jog; the best part of the sport is getting to connect with those I love the most. <3

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Falls Duathlon 2016 Race Recap

Falls Duathlon 2016 Race Recap

Hey there! Just popping in to do a quick recap of a quick and fun race last weekend!  There are always good stories that come out of races and this one definitely had a few highlights!

 The Falls Duathlon in Cannon Falls had been on my radar for the last couple of months, but I held off registering early due to the inevitably variable and sometimes dicey weather this time of year.  I had heard reports of rain, wind, and even sleet at this race and for a warm weather-loving girl -- this sounded miserable! Running in the wet and cold? Tolerable. But biking? No thanks!  However, the weatherman predicted the rain would hold off the morning of the race and in a stroke of luck, I found out a few days before that several friends were planning on going, including RBM!  Fantastic!  With no pressure to win (with RBM there is no competition!), I thought it’d be a lot of fun to see some friends and see what my legs could do in a short race!  And in even better luck -- my mom, sister, and two nephews could make it to come spectate!  Having them stay with me the night before and being able to look for them on the course always makes the whole experience that much better. #nighttimecuddlesforthewin

 The 2 mile run,14 mile bike, 3 mile run course was intimidating.  While I had some pace goals in mind, I knew that with these shorter distances there would be no chances to ‘get comfortable’ and it would be a push the whole way! Not to mention I was going to have to try to keep up with the predicted competition!  RBM (a machine of a pro) and Jenn S. (a nationally well-decorated duathlete soon to be pro) would be no one to mess with!

Race Morning

 With a forecast of 40-45 degrees and clouds, I made a last minute purchase of knee warmers and was happy not be be chilly at all while setting up - a great buy!  After chatting with friends and other competitors setting up in transition (and drinking my good luck beet juice), we were off to the start line before I knew it.
RBM, Peter, me, and Dale excited to start!

Run 1

 The first mile clicked by a bit faster than I was expecting, but I was feeling pretty good. Nevertheless, I was fine with slowing slightly the second mile and was happy entering transition not too far behind RBM and the lead guys still in sight.

Clearing having a horrible time.

The Bike

 The out and back bike course had us battling the wind on the way out and flying in on the way back!  I tried to keep RBM and Peter in my sights, but could tell they were gaining on me, so I settled for holding my own going back and forth with another male (wearing wildly colored shorts on a road bike -- I was not going to let this guy get me!). The cooler temps were making my hands a bit stiff and it was getting hard to shift toward the end, but I managed to push the right buttons my Garmin (barely) and came off the bike still the second female. I knew Jenn S. wasn’t too far behind, so it was time to hold that lead on the last run!  
Bike Start

Transition 2

 Unfortunately, this is where the most excitement happened.  All I needed to do was simply remove my sunglasses and helmet and get my run shoes on.  It turns out; however, numb fingers do not function normally (or at all) and I spent almost the next two minutes! trying to unclip my chinstrap and get my helmet off!  This may not sound like a long time, but when you’re standing completely still fumbling with competitors flying by, it feels like an eternity!  My mom’s cheer progression mirrored the growing frustration and hilarity of the situation perfectly: “Way to go, Ruth’s only 2 minutes ahead!”... “You’re ok, take a deep breath and pinch!”... “Can you pull the whole thing off over your head?”...  “Geez! Just run with it on!!!”  Finally, a life-saving spectator yelled at a volunteer in the transition area to help, and after a quick snap, I was free and took off just in time to see Jenn S. come flying in off her bike!
"Get this thing off me."

Run 2

 I flew out of transition trying not to swear too loudly and slapped a high-five to my nicely mittened sister and nephews (not jealous at all...).  My goal was to hold the best pace I could knowing it would be over shortly.  I had fun seeing how the race was unfolding in the front of me thanks to the out and back course and being able to watch everyone at the turnaround.  RBM was flying and not surprisingly picking off all the boys and I got a good shout of encouragement to “push it” by Peter - and I needed it!  I was a little tentative given how my legs felt in my last ‘my legs tried to fall off’ run in Texas, but I was able to manage negative splits and had some juice to kick it into the finish.  
I <3 Running.
 Crossing the finish line and rehashing the details of the race was a blast and I was ecstatic to set a female amateur course record.  Mostly I was happy with a strong finish and to gain a little confidence back.  I’m excited for my upcoming season and am hoping to continue having the time of my life.  Even when things get hard, I remember how much I truly love pushing myself and seeing what it brings.

Yes, I finally got my hands in those mittens.
Best spectators ever!
*Note 1: Although I was gaining ground on him during the last the run, the wildly colored shorts guy must have retained his finger dexterity and didn’t waste precious minutes in transition, out-doing me by a mere 8 seconds in the end.  Hoping we cross paths for some redemption soon!  

*Note 2: Bananas and a Costco-sized jar of peanut butter should be served after every race. Thank you Final Stretch and Gear West for superb refueling! :)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ironman 70.3 Texas Race Recap

Practicing Gratitude

Trying to summarize a race shortly after it’s done is still a little like looking at trees instead of the forest.  It’s hard to step back and see how it fits into the big picture, but it’s also the best time to document all the tiny fun details that are often too quickly forgotten! I’ve had several days now to reflect, but I’m sure I’ll still be learning from the experience for a while.  

Going into the race I was feeling optimistic, but knew my training wasn’t exactly where I wanted it to be. A rather annoying ‘niggle’ near my 4th metatarsal about a month before the race had me sidelined from running for almost two weeks and didn’t allow for much running at all once I was back on it. Although it was a minor blip in the long run, here I was going to be another race coming off an injury. At least it wasn’t new territory!
I arrived in Galveston Wednesday afternoon and was picked up from the airport by my dad who had decided to blend race spectating with a road trip and drove from Iowa to Texas with my mom the day before (and making bike transport a LOT less stressful!). My sister Jenna also joined us Friday and we had a blast exploring the city the next few days mini-golfing, checking out good seafood restaurants, going on a dolphin boat tour, and of course doing lots of race course previewing and weather forecasting.  
Race Day Nails!
Don't worry, the margaritas weren't mine :)
Athletes weren’t allowed to train in the bay where the race would be held prior to race day, so my open water swim practice took place on a few different beaches. And as open water swims usual do, these involved a lot of adventure! No other athletes were spotted, so I got cozy with a few pelicans and (one fishing line)fishing lines and on a particularly windy day had way too much fun giving my mom a minor heart attack while fighting some pretty decent whitecaps. Overall, the salt water wasn’t bad, I was able to reacquaint myself with feeling like a stuffed sausage in my wetsuit, and got out with a nice layer of green slim I was told clung to my face like a green beard! (Times you're glad no one snapped a picture. #supercute)

The 10 minute stuffing process.
My friend the pelican.

A pre-race ride to get a sense of the whipping winds was definitely helpful! Thursday’s ride, that included some VO2 max intervals I’m so fond of (insert sarcasm here ;) ), actually went better than expected, but on my transition run was completed half bent over with an extremely annoying (and painful) side-stitch and some weird foot and hamstring pain. I chalked it up to the unaccustomed heat, some dehydration, and the expected ‘I feel like crap’ taper week training. Thankfully, this reversed when Saturday’s ride felt a little rough and the run felt amazing, so all was right with the world again! #cyclingnovice #firstarunner

I also biked the run course more than a few times to try to make sense of the 35 different twists and turns and varying road/gravel/grass (seriously!) terrain and wondered if I should have packed my trail shoes and compass! I did some quick transition practice with Jenna serving as a bike rack and fell in love with my new race belt (elastic fuel loops, zipper pocket, and bib hooks all in one!). I was ready to go!

Race Morning

My expert race sherpa/best show-mom ever and I arrived early to transition, so I had plenty of time to get set up, drink some coffee, choke down some beet juice (would rather eat the equivalent 6 beets), and make the mandatory port-a-potty stop (phew...). After a near panic attack when my mom and I got split up minutes before the race, we miraculously found each other by the water (another phew... and exchanged a good luck hug and prayer. Then I made my way on the pier and into the calm(!) bay water.

Lining up at the start.

The Swim

Being a ‘the more warm-up the better’ kind of athlete, I was disappointed there was no pre-race swim warm-up, but being able to jump off the pier into the deep water made up for it a little bit (so fun!). The original plan to go out fast and find a good lead pack had been reconsidered in favor of slowly building into my cruise speed due to no warm-up. After two gut busting and failed ‘sprint then settle’ swim workouts the previous few weeks, this was definitely more my style. However, I didn’t want to miss a good opportunity to get out front, so I figured I’d see how I felt. And in true open water zoo-like fashion; the crowded, hectic start basically threw all plans out the window. Women were going in all directions, but finally after making the first turn about 700 meters in, I found a nice pair of feet to follow! The pace felt like I could have gone a bit harder, but I couldn’t see anyone else ahead, so I decided not to waste energy by going out ahead on my own and settled in for some play time in the water and for what I thought was a second place swim finish. (I also made sure to thank the women afterwards for pulling me along/apologize for hitting her feet about a million times). At the exit, I was excited to get peeled by a wetsuit stripper, but ended up laughing hysterically after I got drug across about 10 feet of grass before several volunteers had to grab each of my limbs as I hung in the air to finally get me out! (Times you wish someone snapped a picture.)
Having too much fun.

The Bike

Once on the bike, I quickly passed the female who came out of the water ahead of me (and did get quickly peeled) and was surprised to also pass another. Apparently there was another woman out of the water way before the rest of us! From there on, I was able to keep my cadence at above 80 rpm (for once!), but was a little disappointed at my lower than targeted power output. I yelled at my legs to ‘get going!’ a few times and just hoped I wasn’t losing too much time. I was also very thankful for an uncrowded course with few penalty worries and not getting blown around by the wind too terribly.
Coming into transition.

The Run

Coming off the bike, my legs were a little more tired than expected, but I was excited to start my favorite part of the day - the running! I had decided to dedicate each mile of the run to special people in my life and was looking forward to spending each mile practicing some much deserved gratitude for each of them. These gratitudes turned out to be my saving grace on what ended up being an extremely difficult run. There were three loops on the course and the first went by pretty quickly. I felt mostly comfortable at my targeted pace and focused on picking off a few of the pro females ahead of me. I grabbed water, ice, and cold sponges from each aid station; but somewhere along the second loop, my pace began to slow and my legs felt pretty heavy. By the last loop, I still forced myself to smile as much as possible to the cheering crowd and my family who were holding ridiculous signs (this always lightens the mood), but I was definitely throwing in a few fierce grimaces too. A million thoughts run through your mind when things get tough. “Come on legs. Pick up the pace. Just a little more effort. Only 4,3,2,1 miles to go. You got this.” My pace was slowing quickly, but given how dead my legs felt, I was actually surprised the splits didn’t read slower! It was almost amusing how my legs, and even arms, had gone completely numb and on the last slight incline about 1.5 miles to go, I’m convinced my legs tried to fall off altogether! I somehow forced them into moving forward and every ounce of effort was placed on reaching the finish line and refocusing on my mile dedications. “How thankful am I for Joe and Ann? I can’t wait to call my nephews at the finish. Come on Dad, let’s ‘give ‘em hell’! My mom is my biggest support. Do it for Grandpa Ray, I know he’s watching.”

My gratitudes.
The run.

Coming down the finishing chute, there was no final kick and in tears of relief/exhaustion/disappointment, I managed to find one last smile and throw up my hands to make it under the final arch and immediately collapse into several volunteers.
Half smile/half grimace.
Zoom in on the look on my face on this one!

Lessons Learned

In the words of my coach, you can only ask for doing your best on any given day. So here is what I know. Did I give it my all? I think so. Although the slowed run pace and tough finish were disappointing and a few tears were shed, I was brought back to reality very quickly with that fact that I finished extremely well and better than I had expected. I’ll continue working on getting my run back where I’d like it to be (and good news this is my favorite thing to do!) and tweaking my nutrition plan a bit. But most importantly, I’ll continue staying grateful. This is what I’m most proud of. Yes, I was happy with the results given what I consider a very rookie status, but staying focused on why I race was even more of a success. I race not only because I love doing everything to reach my full potential, but I also race to practice gratitude for all the blessings in my life. I’ve come a long way in a short amount of time and I am so thankful for so many things: my health, my family, my faith, my friends, and the opportunity to give it my all. These are what make it all the pain and time (and even aqua jogging) all worth it. Most days, I truly feel like I’m living the dream. :)

(Bonus lesson learned for Jenna: Sunscreen.)

Providing a few laughs.

Best support crew ever.