Sunday, July 5, 2015

Ironman Coeur d'Alene: A Race of Attrition

Lake Coeur d'Alene, I love you

People always talk about the "journey" of triathlon being more important than the destination, and I do agree with that.  Let's face it, we come to race and race well.  That's our purpose for being in a particular place with months of training and preparation culminating in this one event.  However, I will say that when both things come together, the experience AROUND the race, and the race itself, it's like winning the lottery.  It doesn't happen that often, so you have to really cherish it when it does.  I went into Ironman Coeur d'Alene with high hopes, as it's generally a cool race which suits my individual needs and a tough bike course, which I really like and enjoy.  Let's be honest, I also really like having a wetsuit swim basically guaranteed, as I'm definitely not a fish like the other girls (i.e. I just try not to be dead last out of the water! ha!).  What became very apparent for this race was that it's Mother Nature who has the upper hand on all of us and, with a prediction of 108 degrees, it was going to be "on the sun."
It took me a few days to come to terms with the weather forecast and adjust to the fact that we probably wouldn't be wearing wetsuits for the swim portion due to our temperature cutoff being lower than the age group racers.  While the weather didn't cooperate at all, the rest of my trip was already coming together amazingly well.  I had a great homestay situation with Charlie Tollin, his wife, Julie, and their family's cabin right on the lake.  It was quiet and serene, allowing me to prepare in peace without the hustle and bustle of town.  I had a couple of rides where I was just seriously loving my life so much, just being in this place with so many nice people.  When I finally accepted the fact that the race was going to be about who could deal with the extreme weather conditions and slow down the least vs. me having some spectacular run where I'd smoke it, I finally got some peace. 

 Charlie and I checking out the beach when I arrived on Tuesday

On Friday, my crew arrived and I knew that, no matter what, I was prepared for anything that could be thrown at me.  I didn't have place or time expectations.  Instead, I just knew I would have to be the best of the best at managing all day long and being flexible.  My coach, Jesse, and my good friend, Linsey, were amazing at keeping me calm and making me laugh.  It was the perfect combination. 

When we lined up for our non-wetsuit swim, I had high hopes of going out hard and hanging with a group.  When the gun sounded, I went as hard as humanly possible and watched the group start to separate right in front of me only to get behind a girl who just let the gap form.  Within 30 seconds, I knew I was going to be swimming with two other slower girls, or by myself.  For awhile I let the other girls pull me around, but I finally gave in around the half way point of the first loop and started hammering away at the front.  The swim seemed to take awhile, but I promised myself if I just kept swimming hard, I'd be thankful.  Getting back to transition and seeing that your bike is the only one left on your rack is always humbling.  No time for negativity!  "Time to get to work!!" I thought!
Photo Credit Sue Hutter

My coach and I had put together a strategy that included going out a touch harder than usual due to the temperatures being relatively cooler (like 80) earlier in the bike.  My legs always take awhile to come around after the swim, so this was a challenge, but I didn't give up on our number goal and the hills climbing out of town finally brought my power up to our target average.  Drink, Drink, Drink!  I thought about it all day long and didn't sip but guzzled the fluid down.  While I hoped to have to pee by the two hour mark, things weren't coming along so easily for this girl with a giant 48-55oz / hour sweat rate, so I knew I had my work cut out for me.  I seemed to be passing a few girls which was keeping me motivated until I downshifted hard on the way back toward town on a steep downhill and proceeded to try and pedal but NOPE, chain was stuck solid.  I calmly looked around, started to slow down and proceeded to pull off the road.  I assessed that the chain had overshot my hardest gear and was now stuck halfway on and halfway off the bottom gear.  I grabbed it and attempted to get it back on but it was hard to budge.  Eventually, I got it.  Now my fingers were totally black with grease, but after running the pedals a couple times to check it and I was back in business!  In the meantime, two girls had flown past me that I had just spent time passing.  UGH!  Onward! 

I seemed to lose a little steam after that and had a little trouble maintaining my power for the rest of the bike.  I was having trouble pushing my numbers back up and my legs were not loving what I was asking.  The temperature was now so hot the wind wasn't even cooling and the pavement seemed to radiate heat going up the hills.  The rest of the bike I spent trying to manage my thoughts and telling myself that drinking and eating were the most important things, not power numbers.  I was completely unaware of my position in the field, but I knew better than to assess anyway.  There was plenty of racing left and I needed to focus on what I could control. 

 LNC getting the shot and cheering!  Best friend ever that day!! 
Photo: Sam Voight
I came into transition with Amber and took the time to pee which I knew was a decent sign that I was not completely dehydrated.  The first few miles of the run were rough.  I didn't feel too sprightly, but I had a bike escort (meaning I was in the top 5).  The picture above is so becoming as I shove a super hot brown banana all over my sweating grimy face.  Ice everywhere was the name of the game to manage the heat and a nice steady, even heart rate.  I didn't look at one mile split for the ENTIRE run.  There was no point in "seeing" what I already knew.  I was running much slower than normal in these conditions, but I had to believe everyone else was too. 

 One mile at a time, I chipped away and my body finally started to feel a bit better like I was able to run a little stronger.  Ice down my Coeur Sports top was a lifesaver!!  Jesse and Linsey were everywhere.  It was a huge help to hear their voices and they let me know I was actually starting to put some time into Katy and, eventually, into Amber which lifted my spirits a bit! 

My right thigh started to get this awesome pock marked edema for some reason and, with each picture, it got worse as the race went on!  Around 13 miles, I finally made the pass to get into third and Amber, in true Amber form, didn't let me go without a fight.  She kept the pressure on for quite some time and I could hear cheers for her just behind me, so I didn't ease up one bit!  I thought about all of the people tracking me, my people, Linsey & Jesse, who there just to see me give it everything I had, my husband who's supported me unconditionally for so many years doing what I love.  More salt, more caffeine, more ice, more Coke.. at every aid station, I threw it all in, thankful that my stomach seemed to be feeling relatively good.  My biggest complaints were my skin feeling like it was on fire and someone beating my legs with a hammer every step. 

I knew I wasn't catching Amanda, but I also became very attached to third and, even though I didn't hear Amber was close, I wasn't taking any chances.  Those last three miles, I drove my body like it was a machine.  People cheered and I was so thankful, but I could barely even look forward, let alone smile and thank them like I wish I could. 
I started driving my arms and driving my body harder and harder while my legs started cramping from heat and exhaustion.  "Just get there" I told myself, "You'll figure the rest out when you cross the line."  That last straight away before the finish took FOREVER!!  I made it over the line not one and second too soon.

I was elated, not about my placing or time, but about the demons I fought all day and that I hadn't given in when I wanted to walk off the course every single mile of 26 miles. 
The celebration was short lived as seconds after crossing, my eyesight started coming in and out and I literally started to hit the deck, wavering around and losing consciousness. I don't remember much after that except that Linsey and Jesse were there and helped the wonderful medical staff to get me to safety.  Thank you to all the volunteers and medical staff who assisted in all of our care that day.  We needed you desperately and would have never made it without you. 

Hats off to Heather Jackson who took home her first Ironman win in smashing style and Amanda Stevens who also had an awesome race and placed second.  Great job to every pro woman as we were all warriors out there and to every single person who finished.  Even those who didn't make it to the line this day, don't give up, your time will come. 

HUGE thank you to Jesse and Linsey for being there with me.  Thank you to my husband, Kyle, who is always there, for me in thick and thin, and supports me unconditionally.  Thanks to my family, friends and everyone who took the time to write a note of encouragement or well wishes after the race!  Thank you to Charlie, Julie, Sonja, Analise and Luke who let me invade your home and shuttled me around to the airport etc.  

Such a special trip I will never ever forget.

Loved my signs at the cabin after the race!  Thanks guys!! 

As always, I couldn't do this without the support of my 2015 sponsors!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Why I’m Not Afraid: Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2015

I’ve spoken to hundreds of athletes over the years through my travels to races, speaking events, camps, conferences and locker rooms.  What I’ve learned is that we all have our own reasons for taking on challenges, training, competing and learning a new athletic skill.  The consistent ones (you know, the ones that race you for the 5am front parking spot) usually have deeply rooted reasoning that has allowed them to develop habits of consistency and dedication to achieve their goals.

One of the many things I find intriguing is how we view the competition aspect of any endeavor.  I love hearing athletes in other parts of the locker room talk about the local upcoming 5k or the adventure race that they’ve finally decided to do and how they frame it in their mind, along with how they describe it to others.  I also find the crowd intriguing who has decided racing in general is just too much pressure and stress, and yet they are still willing to train for 15-20 hours a week, for their own reasons, involving no finish lines.  One group is not better than the other, and each (hopefully) has the benefits of health and emotional well-being to reap from their journey. 
 I, personally, love the competition aspect and would have a hard time preparing the way I do without a chance to test myself.  It gives me great pleasure to compete with myself in training and know what I face there and the areas of improvement will be tested in the same way on race day.  For thousands of years, people have enjoyed pitting themselves against one another and seeing what happened as a result.  I do believe for some of us it’s in our nature.  Were you the kid trying to take the training wheels off so you could race with the other bigger kids down the block?  Were you the one seeing who could hold their breath the longest underwater or swim the fastest to the other end of the swimming pool?  Competitive nature is developed over years and fostered through team sports in high school and then for some in college.  Our toolkits of mental and physical skills are added to slowly and deliberately over time through experiences.  The times when we didn’t take first place were just as important, if not more important, than the times that we did. 

People ask me all of the time if I’m afraid to compete as a professional triathlete.  Certainly, fear of failure or disappointing myself or others must be greater at this level of a larger stage where what occurs might be a bit more on display.  The true answer is that while I may have a passing moment of “What if this doesn’t go well?” the overwhelming sentiment is that it’s a great opportunity and honor to compete at any level and I’ve earned my spot at this particular one.  When I was in college walking onto a Division one cross-country team (which I really had no business being on), I got the nickname “Rudy” because I knew this was a once in a lifetime chance and I wasn’t going to waste a second of it being afraid of the consequences of not performing.  Every time I performed under the weight of that pressure I became a little stronger and a little better at handling the mental aspects that allowed me to succeed.  Those mental skills are essential to any athlete wishing to continue to improve and excel at their sport and there’s only one way to get them, get your butt on that starting line or into the match and learn.

There are a few key phrases I have used at any given time to help me as I come face to face with the inevitable moments where it hurts so badly that I want to pull the plug and walk off the side of the course.  If you don’t have a strategy for meeting these moments then the fear before the race can get the best of you.  You can waste time and energy that is vital to your performance worrying about how you’ll handle these instances.  As with anything, preparation for all aspects is key.  

“Lean In”

You’ve probably heard this one before, but for some reason these two little words are incredibly powerful.  I’ve used them at some of the most pivotal times in my career knowing that so many good things were on the other side of that pain and that there was only one way to truly find out what they were.  Sure, it hurt, it hurt like hell.  The alternative of not going in 110% was scarier than what would happen if I did.  The alternative meant always having to ask “What if?” That wasn’t a question I wanted to ask after my time as an athlete was over.  The more I leaned, the better the results got, and the more I learned to deal with being uncomfortable.  My muscles screamed, my body baked in the sun as my temperature rose and somehow I’d get another inch out of myself that I didn’t know was there previously.  I’d recall the workouts where I’d leaned in fully, despite my reservations, and hit my wattage goal or ran a split I thought was virtually unachievable. Those moments gave me confidence in the process and trusting that if I did what was asked, it would be worth it.  This phrase has now become one of my go-to answers to mile 18 through 26.2 of the Ironman marathon.  Simple, yet effective (because I’ve found my mind is fairly fragile at that point and can’t handle anything too complex). 

Here I am doing a little learning on a 2 x 15 min interval set last week in prep for the race!

“Not Today”

Another two-word zinger phrase that really helps me take things to the next level.  I like this saying for multiple reasons.  I like that it calls us to rise to the occasion if things aren’t going as we planned.  During any event, things are bound to not play out the way our mind’s eye had hoped.  We can either wallow in the “Why is this happening to me?” place, or we can rise above and find a way through.  Today is the day we’ve waited for, race day.  There are days when we can be off our game in training, but on this day we must be at our very best.  There’s no room for negativity and doubt.  I use this phrase when visualizing certain areas of my race, specifically the swim start since it’s an area that is critical to making the decision to hang on no matter what the pace and go to the dark place in order to make the break away with a group.  My visualization centers around a gap forming and me looking ahead, knowing the girls who I want to be with are right there, four feet in front of me.  So, the difference between swimming well, with others, vs. swimming 2.4 miles by myself is a choice and it’s happening right here, right now.  On other days I may let them go or not be able to make it, but “Not Today!” Today make a choice and I choose to do whatever it takes to make that group.  It’s helped me achieve another level on multiple occasions when there’s been a moment that I could accept what was given to me or I could find another way.  

Having a strategy to deal with the mental aspects of race day is what helps me to not fear the race or be afraid of the outcomes.  Having the support of my husband, family and friends, regardless of how the race goes is also a big piece of what allows me to step up to the line confident in my abilities.  We have to know that we are more than a result on a piece of paper and whatever lesson we need to learn will be revealed in good time if the outcome isn’t the one that was desired.  Therefore, there are no real consequences.  Luckily, this isn’t a Medieval times or Game of Thrones type of situation where the loser has to lose their head or be banished to a far away land.  Sure, I’ll be disappointed as all get out, but I’ll know that if I did everything I could, then it was worth it to see what happened and there will be another opportunity to achieve the result I was looking to attain down the line.  In addition, everything I take away can be passed on to my athletes and others looking to excel in the sport.  I won't be doing this forever, and it's important to think of the bigger picture knowing that it's not just about me.  No one will remember what place I came in this weekend in three years, but they'll remember the way I made them feel, helped them to grow or inspired them along their way. Those things make me who I am today and trump every trophy or dollar of prize money.  That’s the sign of a healthy, resilient athlete that loves the sport and the process more than the accolades that come with it.  

Thank you in advance to my sponsors who have supported me through thick and thin,

my husband who will be running an amazing charity event, Camo Cares, this weekend, my family, friends and local support crew, specifically, my coach Jesse and the one and only Linsey Corbin who will be out in full force on Sunday! 

Follow along on starting at 5:30am Pacific time and look for good things from #38!  I have a lot of faith that however the day turns out, I’ll give it my absolute best and consider it a huge gift to be doing what I love all day long.