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.