Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Are We There Yet?

Somewhere between training and racing this is a place called tapering.

A place where you find yourself cage pacing back and forth in a series of shorter than usual workouts with an appetite larger than usual while you incessantly think to yourself…


Not yet.  Less than 2 weeks.  According to Inigo Mujika (who wrote a scintillating book on peaking and tapering), it takes approximately 14 to 28 days to fully shake out fatigue and create the physiological (and psychological) changes that accompany tapering.  During this time you can expect to feel grumpy, punchy, fussy, tired, hungry, fat, heavy, slow … you get the point.  If you really want to know what happens when tapering, ask the spouse of any Ironman triathlete.  I’ll ask Chris on your behalf:

You’re punchy and in a bad mood.

Right on schedule with tapering. 

Last week, I spent most of Monday through Thursday recovering from my last big workouts.  Big as in a 115 mile ride, a 3 mile run followed the next day by a 25 mile ride and a nearly 22 mile run.  As you can imagine, during the last 5 miles of my long run my legs felt roughly 1 gel away from…death.  Monday was bad.  Tuesday was worse.  By Wednesday I was still having trouble walking.  Long runs after childbirth leave me walking around like I’ve been riding a horse all morning, feet splayed and knees bent. 

I looked like a geriatric cowboy. 

After those peak workouts, I had a peak moment of parenting.  Max had gotten hold of Boss’ kibble, was putting it in his mouth then spitting it back out piece by piece on to the floor and Boss was there eating it.  Tired from training, all I could do is sit there and think to myself: at least I don’t have to clean it up!

By Friday, though, I started to feel human again.  The fog was lifting.  This process of shedding fatigue to arrive at a race not only fit but fresh enough to properly use that fitness is the art of tapering.

People keep asking me if I’m ready.  I got the same questions in the final weeks before having a baby.  Like baby, is one ever truly ready for an Ironman?  You know that no matter how much you plan, no matter how many hours it took to write that birth/race plan and what your doula/couch says, baby/race day will come out the way it wants to.    

Racing an Ironman is very much an unknown and that's what I enjoy most about it.  You have to be in the moment and ready to respond.  It is like a test of everything you've ever learned from training and in racing.  Can you execute your fuel plan, can you troubleshoot it, your stomach is sloshy - now what, it's headwind - now what.  It requires constant attention and action.  That's what makes it so exciting to me.    

Soon enough it will all be real and I'll be treading water around 7 am next Saturday.  NEXT Saturday!?!  How did THAT happen.  Until then, I'll just continue to taper and tell Kurt I'm bored of tapering.  I think this is called "waiting".  And resisting the 1000 temptations that seem to be popping up everywhere.  Why is it that when you can’t have something, you crave it the most?  We went to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday.  I swear every vendor was selling cider doughnuts, pumpkin bread, crumb cake or taffy apples – all staring directly at me.  I found myself craving beer.   I don’t even drink beer.  I want wine, I want ice cream.  Of course the novelty of all of these things will wear off in 1 week post-ironman but during that week it is safe to say I will fall off the wagon.  Hard.  And I’m taking all 4 wheels with me. 

With all of the extra time that I have while  tapering I decided to sneak in some secret heat acclimation training. I started in the dry sauna.  Our gym’s sauna is kept at a comfortable 184 degrees.  I brought my iPhone, a few towels and made a little nest on the bench.  When I hit the 20 minute mark, I thought I was all hard core.  Then the girl in there with me – wrapped in a head and body towel – goes into plank position.  While reading.  Folks, we’ve got an overachiever here.  I met her with another 20 minutes of determination to sit there.  And sweat.  A large man joined us and started doing tricep dips off the bench from a squatted position.  He’s either a Cross-Fitter or about to give birth in the corner. I sweated it out for 40 minutes.  The girl was still laying there – fully toweled and reading.  I waved my white sweaty towel.  I give up.  But only because it’s dinner time and I left my husband at home with 2 small children (we didn’t have another, we were just watching one).

The next day I was determined to go 50 minutes.  Brought some magazines, electrolytes and even more towels.  A sign on the door reads: OUT OF ORDER.  Only one other option: the steam room.

I have never, ever been in the steam room.  I don’t fully understand what goes on in there mostly because through the glass door all I can see is something steamy.  I know you can’t read, can’t shave and can’t sit in there naked.  I decide to risk being caught by the Gym Popo and….brought in a magazine. Come on, did you really think I would sit in there naked?  That place is as clean as licking the inside of my cycling shoe. 

The first 5 minutes were tolerable once I got past the fact that it smelled like I was sitting right next to a giant pile of used socks like a high school boys locker room.  I was speed-reading the latest issue of Lava while the pages were literally melting in my hands.  About 10 minutes into it, I almost broke unposted but assumed rule #4 of the steam room: never take a crap in it.  As a giant surge of steam comes blowing out from a hole in the wall for 30 seconds straight, I nearly shit myself.  I told myself to keep breathing and actually put the magazine in front of my face to keep stop the steam coming full speed at me.  There went another few pages of the magazine.  I’ve never suffocated but I think this is how it feels.  I lasted 20 minutes before I needed a break.  Stood outside the room to cool off and then went back in for another 10 minutes.  I drove home and my face was still red. 

Tomorrow I have one final moderately long ride with a short run.  The forecast tells me I might be on the trainer. I’ve been riding the trainer without a fan and to really kick things up a notch, I might ride tomorrow in my wetsuit and fleece balaclava.  Laugh at me all you want but I’m racing on a volcanic island.  I might just put my trainer in front of the oven.  On broil. 

Speaking of that island – we leave in less than a week and there will be 11 of us on the plane.  If you have any tips for how to survive a 9 hour flight with 3 children under age 3, we are listening.  Aside from: don’t, ear plugs, get a seat reassignment, wine and Benadryl.  Can you tell, I am bringing an entire Waterstraat entourage.  Now that Normann is retired there is plenty of room on the island for an entourage.  Why not Waterstraats?  Someone will be wheeling my bike along Alii Drive and we’ll all be wearing matching shirts and talking a foreign language – which is a mixture of English, baby talk, Tagalog and Spanish.  If you hear us and don’t understand us, it’s because we’re talking about you.

The race will be exciting.  So will the entire week with my family.  But perhaps most exciting?  After the race I’ve decided to make a change.  I’ve given this a lot of thought.  Something is missing in my life and it’s time to make some change

I’ve decided … to become addicted to coffee again.

And with that, I’ll let you talk amongst yourselves while I go back to tapering.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What Happens In Vegas...

This past weekend, I competed in the 70.3 World Championship.

Let me start by saying how wrong it felt to arrive in Vegas for…racing.  I love Vegas for all of its sinfully unabashed overindulgence; a place you go to drink, eat, spend and live in excess.  It starts the moment you get on to the plane – a jet full of on-their-way-to-drunken chatter, the lights that jump out of the dark desert as you come in for the landing, the freakshow at the airport where you’ll see everyone from high rollers to hillbillies.  Give yourself 24 hours in Vegas and you’ll get a lifetime of memories.  It doesn’t take more than that.

Alas I went to Vegas for none of that.  No buffets  No gambling.  No watching old people wheel their oxygen tanks from slot to slot while smoking cigarettes.  *sigh*  We flew in late Thursday night, myself and Kara – an athlete, friend, training partner whom I can convince to ride 90 miles with me at any time.  Thursday night we stayed with Stef, one of my first athletes, so good to finally meet her in person.  The next morning we had breakfast at The Coffee Cup, a place featured on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives.  Dining with a giant picture of Guy Fieri hanging on the wall behind me was a little, well, off the hook. 

Thursday was a day filled with about 1000 u-turns as we navigated our way around the streets of Henderson.  We saw every highway once, twice – oh, about three dozen times and learned to tell direction by either “towards the Fiesta” or “past the Whole Foods”.  By the way, I’d say the Whole Foods in Henderson probably had their best week of sales ever.  The store was completely overrun by compression gear and out of bananas.  I overheard the woman restocking the salad bar saying oh my, they are eating all of my noodles.  Our bad. 

Kara brought along about 10 of her friends and family so we stayed in a house that was something straight out of Keeping Up With the Kardashians with a hot tub, pool, waterfall, view of the mountains, one of those fancy “rain” showers.  Unfortunately, we stayed in the “casita” which is really Spanish for the small hut where those who can have no fun in Vegas will stay for peace and quiet while everyone else eats full fat muffins and drinks Jack and Cokes. 

The race took place at Lake Las Vegas, a beautiful oasis set against the burnt red mountains.  The day before the race, we did a short run then went for a swim.  For safety reasons, we had to wear our timing chips into the water and then were only permitted to swim one-way 650 meter loop - no shortcuts.  The lake was what you’d expect from a body of water that bakes in the 100+ degree desert all year long – warm and a bit smelly.  Later in the day, we checked in our bikes at transition along with our bike and run gear bags. 

The days before the race I felt ok but not GREAT.  I can always tell when I’m coming into form – it’s a feeling of fitness and freshness that almost jumps out of your body.  Kurt gave me a few days to rest into the race but warned me that Kona was the big picture.  This was just a stop along the way.  The sign of a good taper is that you feel fat, sassy and achy.  My legs felt good – almost too good, I always feel fat but I definitely wasn’t sassy enough. 

Race morning was early – transition closed at 6 am and my wave went off at 7:20.  The temperature was actually cool and I found myself wishing I had a jacket.  I was hoping for a desert scorcher but it never happened.  I came to Vegas to burn, baby, BURN!  The sun was out for most of the race but it never felt warm.  Dry heat is definitely milder than the heat we have in the Midwest.  The dewpoint on race day was 37, I ran all summer with a dewpoint of around 77.  That’s like the difference between eating dry toast or smothering it in a stick of butter.   

I set up my nutrition on my bike and then we all sat in our respective waves on some carpet laid along the top of the lake.  The water was 80 degrees so I shoehorned myself into my speedsuit then tried not to exhale for fear I would bust the zipper off again.  I felt like the morning moved fast – each time a group got into the water, our entire wave would have to move up so the whole morning we just would move, stop and then stand around with the other competitors.  Either a great way to make friends or psyche yourself out. 

The woman wearing full make up complete with berry colored lipstick was totally psyching me out.  I guess everyone has their own idea of what it means to put on their game face.  Sidenote: I saw her in Whole Foods after the race and she still had on the lipstick.  

Before I knew it, I was standing by the ramp that led into the water.  At 10 minutes to go, they let us into the water to warm up and once in – we had to stay in.  That meant treading water for 10 minutes.  Some athletes were hanging by one arm off the wall under the bridge.  I swam around a little, then hung, then swam up to the start line. 

I chose to start right next to the right buoy.  It seemed like the most obvious place to swim yet I was mostly alone.  We got a one minute warning and then the horn blew.  This had to be one of my favorite swims ever in racing.  The waves were very well spread out so we had plenty of space in the water.  I had a super clean line and about 500 yards into the swim found a set of feet and I knew exactly who they belonged too.  I recognized the Mark Allen Online uniform and knew it was Kelly, a competitor in my age group who had been talked up as one of those to watch in F35-39.  I got right on her feet and enjoyed the ride.

I exited the swim with a few girls from my age group then began the long run to transition.  It was a point to point swim (sort of, more like a point – turnaround – to point) so we had about a 400 meter run to transition on carpet and then slippery grass.  Once into transition, I grabbed my bike gear bag, headed into the changing tent, a quick grab of what I needed then got to my bike before heading up the hill out of transition.

The bike starts out with a long climb.  I resisted the urge to gun it and instead just climbed it knowing that if I blew myself in the first10 minutes I might hate myself in the next 2+ hours.  The first few miles were fairly flat then we turned into Lake Mead.  Let me press the pause button here: I was expecting epic hilly, leg churning, pieces of my quads flying off steep inclines that wouldn’t relent for 3+_ hours.  This was not the case.  While it was hilly, it was just a series of long gradual uphills followed by long fast downhills.  In fact, I felt like I descended more than I climbed.  I spent most of the time geared out, tucked and watching men fly by me.  The scenery while climbing, however, was spectacular.  The background looks a lot like Kona – expect turn black lava into reddish brown in the desert.  

I was passing a few women in my age group but also getting passed.  I’ve never been passed that much and the speed at which I was being passed – I could not even respond!  Instead, I focused on what I could control: me and my plan.  Ride my race, ride within my power limits and get ready to run down as many as I can.  The bike went by quickly.  There was one hill that was challenging but I felt out of gears only once for about 30 seconds (I used 12-25).  Once outside of Lake Mead, the course turned towards Henderson. This part felt flat, fast and narrow.  There was also a lot of drafting.  Ironically, the race came to this venue to avoid drafting.  I just think it’s the nature of triathlon now.  It’s competitive, it’s different.   

The run course (located about 15 miles away from Lake Las Vegas) was like a Figure 8 which you completed 3 times, situated around some shopping centers.  Not exactly scenic but easily filled with spectators.  It was also very crowded.  With 1500 runners on a 3 loop course I felt like I was running around or into someone constantly – especially at the aid stations.  I may have been responsible for knocking a few cups of Perform or Coke into a volunteer – and I apologize! 

The first mile was mostly flat and downhill.  I had no idea what position I came in off the bike but I assumed somewhere around 15th in my age group.  I took off at a zippy pace – my legs felt great and I figured I would make up as much time as possible on the downhills because then the course went uphill for about 2 miles.  It wasn’t steep – just gradual and enough to slow you down by 30 to 60 seconds per mile.  I was hoping the day would cook my competition but the temperatures were far too mild and the course was far too shaded for that.  

I was picking off women in my age group little by little though it was hard to tell where I was.  I caught sight of Jessie coming back the other way, and I assumed she was leading my age group since she was talked up as one of the women to watch in F35-39.  From there, I counted that I was either 5 or 6 places behind her.  The day before, I looked in the race guide and noticed that all the women in my age group were between numbers 1041 and 1137 – this was probably the most useful thing I did because I could see race numbers as women ran towards me and you can’t count on looking at calves these days when a lot of people wear compression socks!    

My pace was fairly consistent though I got slow going up the last 2 miles uphill.  I didn’t know who I was chasing or where they were I just kept telling myself – what if she is the difference between the podium or not, what if she’s right up there.  It was right within the last mile where I saw 3 women in my age group clear as day coming down the other way within about 2 minutes of me.  Unfortunately, I was running out of run course.  

I crossed the line, Kara met me and told me I was 7th in my age group.  My instant reply was something like – dammit, I wanted to be top 5.  I was less than 2 minutes off the top 5, and over the course of 5 hours, that isn’t that much.  Maybe if it was hotter, maybe if I was more rested, maybe if I had quicker transitions – I could come up with a dozen ways I could have easily gotten those 117 seconds back but at the end of the race, I didn’t do it.  When you show up at a world championship, you have to be ready to turn yourself inside out for it.   

After the race, we went to Whole Foods (again), Kara fed me her secret glycogen replenishment mix and we did some wine tasting.  Nothing spells awesome recovery like sipping Pinot Noir wearing your still wet race kit and calf sleeves.  I spent the rest of the evening online, incessantly tracking my athletes and the Well-Fit athletes at Ironman Wisconsin.  I tracked them until Keith sent me the email at 11:40 pm CST telling me that every one of them made it across the finish line.   

The 6 am flight out of Vegas wasn’t much fun for me but I imagine even worse for the group of women sitting on the floor who declared “of course we’re still drunk!”  The next time I leave Vegas, that’s going to be me!  On the plane while everyone else slept off whatever they did for the weekend, I thought about my race.  For every race, I list out 2 things: what worked and what needs work.  Even if you’re disappointed, always take time to review what you did well.  And then before your next race, go back and review what needed work so you don’t repeat it.  I’m disappointed that I didn’t perform up to podium level but at the same time this was my highest placement ever at a world championship. I set very high expectations of myself and sometimes have to be reminded that to be among the top 10 in the world is good enough – for now.  

And now, I get a few days to rest before I jump back into the final hurrah of Ironman training!  Less than 4 weeks to go until Kona where I get to put myself against the top women in my age group in the world.  Fired up?  You bet.  Ready to put on my game face?  Don’t expect me to show up at the start line with Cover Girl Temptress lip color but do expect me to be slightly foaming from the mouth.