Ironman Maryland Race Report

I just realized I have been a negligant blog author. I haven’t written anything all year, eek!

Also, advance warning that this post is a bit lengthy. Thanks for your willingness to read this. 😉

On Saturday, October 1st, I raced in my FIRST Ironman – Ironman Maryland – on the Eastern Shore in Cambridge, Maryland. The IM Maryland course is absolutely gorgeous with its marshes and wildlife refuge. The land is basically at sea level… making it a fast, flat course in normal circumstances. That said, in the days leading up to the race, a freak low pressure system hovered over the area and dumped a crazy amount of rain and wind on the town.

Due to the flooding, they had to re-route the bike course the night before the race to avoid 1-2ish miles of 6-10″ flooded streets on Maple Dam Road. The streets were barely passable by car, so there was no way we could ride through on a bike. The new course panned out to be about 100 miles after the reroute.

The morning of the race, everyone was all geared up in wetsuits to start an epic day. I, on the other hand, picked the wrong port-o-potty line, which took 20-30 min to get through, so I was stressing about missing the start. I still had to put my wetsuit on and drop off my morning clothes bag. The gun was supposed to go off at 6:45 and I exited the port-o-potty line around 6:40ish. I had to sprint to drop off my stuff. As I was running, they made the announcement that the swim would be delayed 30 min due to the weather. Phew! It gave me a chance to relax and get my act together. Plus, I was able to meet up with some teammates to chat about our race jitters.

preswim-start

With some of my favorite ladies!

 

30 min later, they announced the swim was cancelled due to the dangerous water conditions (it wasn’t even safe for the kayakers to be out there).

I have to admit, I was pretty bummed that we weren’t able to swim the 2.4 miles, but I knew the race director wouldn’t cancel the swim unless it was very unsafe. Throughout the day, a recurring negative thought kept surfacing that I couldn’t seem to shake … I was truthfully a bit bummed that I wouldn’t be doing a true Ironman distance.

Since they had to get ~2,000 athletes out on the course, we had to do a time trial start starting at 7:50am… One every 3 seconds or so. I was number 629 and went off around 8:25.

Once I went off, I hammered a bit to get around different athletes before settling into a goal wattage pace.

ashley-immd-bike

It’s easy to look happy when you’re just starting!

 

The lack of swim caused a few noticeable differences on the bike leg. First, I was not warmed up AT ALL. Those who ride with me know that I like a good 15-30 min sloooow warm-up before I want to settle into a good pace. I’m not too sure how that may have affected me, but there was no easing into it because I was ready to roll! Second, who knew that swimming could regulate (or eliminate rather) your need to pee on the bike! I felt like I had to go throughout the whole bike ride and went at least once. Ugh.

The bike course was really nice for the most part. It was super fast on the way out. It gave me false confidence as I was averaging 19-20 mph. My watts (power level for non-triathletes) were slightly higher than the plan I was given by coach Kyle for the first half, but I felt great! 😉 (doh! Ironman lesson #1 – always obey your plan). I kept up those watts through the first loop. We had a pretty tough tailwind on the back part of the loop… For a good 10 miles or so. My 19ish pace quickly went down to 16ish with the same level of effort. It also rained a bit on the bike, so my shoes stayed nice and soaked.

As I rolled into the high school for the bike special needs, I saw my family cheering for me, which I didn’t expect. It made me so happy and I felt invincible! I had only gone through 2.25 bottles of Tailwind by that point which was slightly behind schedule, and I went ahead and exchanged them for 3 new bottles. After I rolled out, I started to feel my legs getting cranky and my stomach as well. Over the next 50 miles, my stomach progressively got worse. It was incredibly cramped and painful. I never felt sick… Was just in (what I can only imagine was gas) pain. It got tougher to stay in aero, so I got out quite frequently, which wasn’t ideal with the headwind miles 75ish-90. My watts progressively got lower and the ‘fun’ bike ride wasn’t so fun anymore. I wanted to be done. I hardly drank my new bottles of Tailwind because frankly I just didn’t want anything. My stomach pain distracted me from feeling my legs, but I’m assuming they grew increasingly tired/annoyed as well, which may have also contributed to my decreasing watts.

 

transition

Forcing a smile in transition when I saw my mom. I was NOT happy.

 

Once I got back to transition and dismounted my bike, I could hardly walk. My left hip/leg was not happy and unstable. Luckily, I was able to work out the kinks via walking. My mom and step-dad were waiting by my transition area and were cheering me on. I tried my best to put on a happy, ‘this is fun!! face’.

I grabbed my run bag and made it into the changing tent. Everyone in there was complaining about how tough the bike was. My brain was so foggy, it was tough to process what I needed to do, but I managed to change tops, grab my race belt, visor and tie my shoes. Off to the run I went! Only, I forgot to take off my pesky HR monitor. I HATE wearing that thing when I run haha, so I stuffed it in my back pocket.

run-start

Starting out on the run – likely telling my fam how much my tummy hurt!

Back to the thoughts I had going in about this not being a real Ironman, my mind wasn’t in the best place going into the run. I didn’t want to run 26.2 miles for no reason. That said, I had an amazing cheer (and support) squad of family and friends who made the trip to Maryland and I didn’t want to disappoint them. They were my main motivation for going out to run!

OMG my stomach pain only intensified as I started running. Not to be TMI but I tried going to the bathroom at each of the first 3 aid stations to see if that was the issue and nope! Ugh. I had no desire to drink my nutrition so I poured it out. Instead, I tried water, coke, Gatorade and a gel here and there because I knew I needed calories due to not taking in much on the bike. I did my best to run and then walk through the aid stations and that worked for a bit.

Right when I got to the second turn-around in downtown Cambridge, my stomach started to get unbearably painful. Nothing seemed to help, but I kept trucking along. I passed the BASE salt station and tried salt as a last option and nope, no relief. I felt so helpless.

 

fake-happy

Faking enthusiasm is a must when your family & friends are cheering loudly

Shortly after, I ran by the transition area and came across massive flooding on the course due to the high tide. We had to walk through it for a good 50-100 foot stretch… Shoes and all. The water actually felt good on my feet. I forgot to mention that the ball of my right foot felt blister-y at mile 2-3 on the run and I even took off my shoe to see if there was a pebble. There wasn’t, so I put it back on. It bothered me as I continued to run, but my stomach distracted my brain from that annoyance. 

run-course-flood

View of the flooded streets

After walking through the flood, I decided to walk and not run anymore. I started to cry because I was so disappointed, and I didn’t know if something was seriously wrong with my stomach. I also had been contemplating quitting. My family and friends saw me once – that’s enough, right? I started to wonder where I could turn my timing chip in and never could quite figure it out. As I continued to make forward progress, I got quite a few “chin up!” and “keep going!” cheers as I walked/cried. A few asked what was wrong and when I said I had stomach cramps, they enthusiastically offered me salt.

Then at some point, my Endorphin Fitness teammate, Cheryl Shaw, came up to me and asked what was wrong. I seriously started to sob/ugly cry as I explained. She walked with me a bit and calmed me down (thanks Cheryl!!). Shortly after, the EF team coach, Parker, rolled up on his bike. He asked me what was going on, and when I told him, he recommended I cut out sugar completely and only take in water and pretzels.

Right when Parker was talking to me, this random racer standing in someone’s yard asked me if I had water in my handheld flask. She wanted to rinse her hands. I poured water on her hands from a foot or two above. When I looked down, I saw a HUGE (and I mean HUGE!) light brown pile below her. She was like ‘you don’t even want to know what happened.’ Talk about traumatizing. Poor thing. I thought to myself – with that much poop, how could she have not had to use the bathroom before the race?  She later ran past me, thanking me for the water. That experience made me think, “it could always be worse!”

Back to Parker’s advice… I took it and that seemed to help. Nature called and I finally had to go to the bathroom!! After a pit stop, I felt a bit better after and continued to walk.

 

emily-and-ash-2

Running with Emily, my savior

It was at that point that another EF teammate, Emily came up to me and walked for a bit. She was following a 4 minute run and 1 minute walk plan. When it was time for her to run again, she went ahead and I started to convince myself that maybe I should give running a shot again. I would be completely miserable if I walked the rest of the marathon due to how LONG it would take. So, I started to run and felt ok. My stomach pain was still there, but it wasn’t nearly as intense. I caught up to her and asked if I could hang with her. I’m so happy she said yes!! It was the push I needed to get through the rest of the race. We ran/walked her interval plan through the next loop. I saw my family closer to the turn-around and they could tell I was in chipper spirits.

 

 

emily-ash-flood

Trudging through the flood

Another thing worth noting is that the flooding on the run course only got worse. There wasn’t just the flood in transition, there was now also 2 additional flooded spots near downtown Cambridge that we’d pass twice per loop. They were long stretches of flooded streets with mid-calf deep water. You couldn’t really run because it would’ve expended so much extra energy. I heard that a LOT of racers were upset by this water. I imagine if I was feeling good and was having a great race, I’d likely be annoyed too. However, in my state, I enjoyed it. It was a nice excuse to walk and frankly, the cold, salty water soothed my hurt and blistered foot. Needless to say, we didn’t have dry shoes or socks throughout the entire race!

 

Once Emily and I started the third loop, we were both struggling. For me, everything hurt – now that the pain in my stomach subsided a bit, I started to feel other pains more intensely. The ball of my right foot was killing me and I was definitely walking/running on the outside of my right foot. That caused the outside of my right calf to ache pretty intensely due to the strain. My hamstrings felt like they’d seize up on occasion. The bone of Emily’s foot was killing her, and she didn’t want to cause unnecessary damage. So, we decided to walk once we got through transition. It was fine by me as my race plan and goal were already completely demolished. I’m sure I could’ve mustered up some extra oomph to run, but what was the point at this stage in the race? I’m sure it took us forever to get back for the last turn-around downtown before the finish line.

Back to my nutrition – I continued my pretzel fueling strategy (2-3 or as much as my mouth could handle per aid station). Suddenly, they offered chicken broth on the course, and I was in heaven! It hit the spot and I was frankly bummed when some aid stations didn’t offer it. That said, I believe I was SEVERELY under-nourished during the race. I’m not sure how/if that contributed to my late-marathon struggles, but I’m sure it did.

 

finishing

Almost Done!!

The flooding had started to subside downtown (since it was past high tide) as we rounded out our last loop. What we lacked in flood, we made up for in rain as it started to DOWNPOUR. I felt so bad for my friends and family who were out there waiting on us. Emily and I made our last loop around the bar area turnaround (which was HILARIOUS BTW!) and started to run into the finish. Cheryl actually caught up with us, and the 3 of us ran it in. It really was such an incredible experience. I was SO excited knowing the pain would shortly be over. I also got emotional because I seriously thought I would quit so many times into the marathon. The announcer said my name (along with the others) and then said ‘you are an Ironman!’ As I crossed the finish line, I started to cry. I couldn’t believe it. It was also so incredible crossing the line with my teammates who helped me through.

 

 

immd-finish

Ashley Gibbs – You are an IRONMAN! The finish line experience was incredible

 

Escape from Alcatraz Race Report

NOTE: This post has been a work in progress! I’ve had so much to say and couldn’t finish it in one sitting, so it’s been updated in pieces. Needless to say – that’s why it’s 3 months late!!

On Friday, June 5th, Brian and flew out to San Francisco. We arrived early (~11AM west coast time), which gave us most of Friday to explore San Fran a bit. We stayed at the Hotel Majestic, which was located in Pacific Heights – about 2 miles from the race site in Marina Green.  After grabbing brunch at a delicious local spot called Sweet Maple, we walked over to Marina Green (little did we know how much that walk would bother our calves and feet – holy hills!!). The race crew was setting up for Sunday’s race and to be honest, there was so much energy in the air (in anticipation).

EFA Friday Bay View
In 2 days I will be swimming in this! 

EFA Friday Runway
Previewing the finishing chute 

We decided it would be best to stay on east coast time.  Transition will open at 4AM, which essentially is 7AM EST. 7AM won’t result in crazy sleep deprivation. We sacrificed eating at yummy San Fran restaurants by eating from Whole Foods’ salad bar both Friday and Saturday nights – at 4PM.

Since the bike course was only 18 miles and super technical with intense climbs, descents and sharp turns, it didn’t make sense to ship my Tri bike to San Fran. It’s really pricy and it’s not like I’d be in the aero position for very long. I decided to just rent a road bike from a local bike shop, City Cycle.

Let me tell you that they were AMAZING and super helpful. We swung by first thing Saturday AM to pick up our bikes. For $100, I got to race on a sweet Trek Madone 4.7 – it was so smooth and lightweight. They set me up on the bike and added my pedals and saddle.

After picking up our bikes we rode over to the Marina Green park to pick up our race numbers and swag. There was a LONG line, so we went directly over to the race merchandise tent. Since I was so excited about the race, I went a little overboard! I bought a hat, visor, t-shirt, towel, coffee mug and a sweatshirt (ha!).

EFA Sat Hat Podium
Sporting my new Escape hat 

Afterwards, the line to get our race stuff took about an hour or so. It was mainly b/c you have to sign your life away in forms. Luckily, the folks at Normatec had their recovery boots out for use, so I took advantage of it after getting my packet. That 15-20 minutes helped my legs immensely, particularly after walking so much around the San Francisco hills.  I really, really want to buy some, but the price is just too much.

After that, the pros were holding a meet and greet session, so I walked over to meet some of the most inspiring pros and had them sign an EFA poster for me. It was surreal!

EFA Pro Poster

Ok, so on to the race! Sunday morning, we woke up around 3:45/4AM and got our stuff together. We rode our bike to the race site, which was interesting due to some crazy straight-up (what felt like) 90 degree hills. It was super fun to ride the streets of San Fran with no cars, though. We got to transition around 4:30. Right away, I saw Andy Potts setting up. He was focused and in the zone – so cool.

EFA Race Morning Bike In Out
You can feel the excitement in transition 

I found my way over to my transition spot and got set up.

EFA My Transition

Around 5:30AM, Brian and I boarded a bus, which took us over to Pier 3 by the Ferry Building (near the Oakland Bay Bridge). I waited to eat my breakfast (refrigerated Whole Foods oatmeal and hard boiled eggs) while on the bus.

The “Hornblower” boat was waiting for all 2,000 of us to board. It wasn’t taking off until 6:30, so we had some time to hang out – mainly wait in the Porto-Potty line. I had packed my wetsuit, 2 swim caps, Blue Seventy booties to keep my feet warm, googles, water and a banana for a snack. I went ahead and put on the bottom part of my wetsuit, but left the top off to keep cool. We left our “warm” clothes in a bag that we’d retrieve after the race.

They started calling for everyone to board the boat around 6:15-6:20, so we got on. It was already incredibly packed with racers. There were 2 floors within the boat swarmed with athletes.

EFA Boat

Brian and I went upstairs and found some open space in the stairwell. We had to calm our nerves and chill out for the hour boat ride over to Alcatraz Island. The only excitement we experienced was one of the volunteers by the stairwell who had to constantly tell people they couldn’t go upstairs to use the 3rd floor bathroom – VIPs only! A few snuck in and it was a great distraction from nerves.

All of a sudden the countdown was upon us – 10 minutes until go time! Brian and I made our way down to the first floor packed full of athletes. I think someone sang/played the national anthem. A race director also gave a little speech, but I can’t remember it for the life of me! Nerves! I do remember, though, that they told us the water temperature was a balmy 60 degrees. We all rejoiced because 60 degress was SO much better than the mid to low 50s that we were expecting.

All of a sudden felt a little panicked. I wasn’t sure where to sight! Would I get lost? Luckily, someone had a print out (left on the floor) that explicitly told you were to sight, so I studied that.

The pros were lined up on the deck ready to jump at 7:30AM. Shortly after they jumped, the crowd of athletes started moving towards 1 of 2 doors to jump. It was hard to believe that within 6-8 minutes, all 2,000 of us athletes would have jumped off of the boat. Brian and I decided to go out the door to the left of the boat and shortly discovered we were among the last to jump somehow. Others must have been more aggressive about pushing towards the front.

As we got closer, I started to get really excited. It was that edging-up-the-roller-coaster feeling. I could hear the beeps from the timing mat get louder and louder as I got closer. My swim cap was on. My goggles were on my head. My booties were securely under my wetsuit. My timing chip was fastened around my left ankle. My Garmin was set on “triathlon” and I had acquired my GPS satellites. I was ready.

The person in front of me jumped and then it was my turn! Oh the excitment! Brian and I jumped off the boat at the same time. There’s no going back now! I plunged into the water.

EFA Swim Jump! Copy
*&%#!!!! Ice Cold!! Holy slap to the face of cold pain.

The platform on the boat was about 5 feet above the water, so once I jumped, I went under pretty far. I started to worry that someone was going to jump on top of me, but I was safe. After collecting myself for a few seconds, I started to swim. It was a shock to the system. I had not swam in salt water in who knows how many years. It tasted disgusting! The water felt so cold that I was having a hard time swimming and breathing. I popped my head up and saw Brian. He made me float on my back for a minute and take in the scenery. Alcatraz Island was right beside us. It was gorgeous in all of its criminal glory. I quickly remembered how lucky I was to be able to “escape” by swimming across the San Fran bay. Not many will do it.

EFA Alcatraz View

So, onward I went. I located Fort Mason and sighted against it. The current was SO strong. As much as I swam, I felt like I made no progress to get closer to shore. I would look up to sight and would have to redirect myself back to Fort Story. As I swam, I started to warm up and didn’t feel the ice cold water on my face and hands anymore. It felt refreshing instead. At one point, I came across a guy waving/yelling for help (b/c of a cramp), so some other racers and I tried to help him by yelling as well. I got closer to the kayak and told him to go get the guy (good deed of the day).

I kept swimming, sighting and redirecting. I tried to keep my stroke smooth and steady. They warned against breathing on your right side because of the wake possibly hitting your face; however, I didn’t have any problems with it. I’m just not comfortable breathing on my left side.

My goggles were foggy and when I looked around me, I felt alone – I couldn’t see anyone nearby. I started to get a little negative thinking that I was among the last and would be pulled in by a boat b/c of the time limit. After a while, I decided to lift my goggles when I was swimming to look around (since I couldn’t see). Sure enough – there were plenty of people around me. Yay! I wasn’t lost at sea. 🙂

EFA Swimmers

I again reminded myself of how cool this was – to be swimming in the Bay, knowing there were sharks below me hanging out. I tried to savor every minute of it as it would be over before I knew it.

Sure enough, it was! I eventually saw the beach and sighted/swam towards it. I got to the beach and the announcer said to look behind me and see everyone who was still swimming. Looking at my time online (~45 minutes), I was among the back 1/3, but that’s ok! I made it. 🙂

EFA Swim Exit
Not me – Just a good pic of what the swim exit looked like 

There was a mini-transition area right around the bend from the beach, where you could put on shoes to run the 3/4 of a mile up to the main transition area. I decided to forego this in favor of running in my booties (basically barefoot). It saved about 4-5 minutes I think. I ran up the hill and it really wasn’t bad. I realized that I run on the balls of my feet when running barefoot on concrete b/c otherwise it would be too much impact to my body if I ran flat-footed. Interesting observation! There were SO many people cheering everywhere – it was so energizing.

As I was running into transition, I heard the announcer say Mattie Reed’s race ended due to a blown tire out on the bike. Bummer for him. I quickly raced to my transition area and took off the rest of my wetsuit. It was a struggle, likely because I had dried off quite a bit during the run. I tried to quickly put on my warm socks (it was ~60ish degrees outside), bike shoes, helmet and sunglasses and ran with my bike towards the mount line. Luckily my transition spot was near the bike in/out, so I didn’t have to run too long.

Heading out on the Bike

I took off on the bike. Normally I feel a little rocky because I’m still getting my feet from the swim; however, the 3/4 mile run to transition helped shake off those cobwebs. I felt pretty good and ready to go. The first 2 miles were flat, which was a welcome sight. Then, we made a sharp turn and went up into the Presidio. Granny gear was in place! Unfortunately, Brian and I didn’t drive the race course (mainly because we didn’t rent a car), so I had no idea what to expect next.

EFA Bike 1

There was a LOT of climbing! My bike felt smooth, so I just kept my legs spinning. One of the coolest things about the race was seeing the pros coming back in on the bike. They were going up a fairly steep hill, so it looked like they were riding about the pace of us age groupers. 😉 It was definitely motivational.

For the rest of the bike course, there was a pretty steady climb up until ~mile 5-6 when we entered Lincoln Park. We descended pretty dramatically – I had to hit the breaks quite a bit b/c the roads were quite curvy  and a bit scary. It then evened out heading into Golden Gate Park. The elevation map shows the climbing resuming coming out of the park, but I don’t remember it being anything too major. I really tried to make up some speed here – it was actually quite fun!

Descending in Fog

The BIGGEST climb of the day was right at mile 12. It was one of those San Fran hills. I managed to pedal up the first part until it evened out, but then came the shocker, crazy grade of a hill. It was short and punchy, but totally intimidating. At first glance, I decided I would just walk it. Save the legs for later! I honestly didn’t mind because I was also nervous that I might not make forward progress. I hadn’t practiced on a hill that steep before.

EFA elevationgraph2015

After that, things evened out and we continued back towards Marina Green. Around this point, I saw Brian heading out and told him he was in for some recovery for a few miles. We climbed a bit more and then finally, I could coast back down towards town. I managed to pick up some speed at the end. Over the course of the ride, I got more comfortable on my bike, which definitely helped. Oh and it’s probably worth noting that I hate 2 PowerBar gels along the ride. Also, I’m sure it would have been a beautiful, scenic ride, but the fog was still rather dense, so you couldn’t see anything over towards the water.

EFA Bike 2

You could feel the energy of the crowd coming back into transition. There is nothing like it! I dismounted my bike and ran back towards my transition area. I quickly put on my run shoes, belt, visor, gels and headed out.

I’m not a huge fan of running – particularly not in the hot and humid weather – and I just have to say that this run was BY FAR my most favorite run leg of a race ever. It felt perfect and my legs felt great – likely because I couldn’t really hammer it on the bike (I only averaged around 14 mph, crazy!!). By now, the fog had lifted and the views were spectacular! We ran on a trail towards Golden Gate Bridge. It was SO fun.

EFA Run 1

After passing the bridge, we started to run uphill a bit heading towards Baker Beach. There were quite a bit of stairs – possibly 2-3 different sets and uphill road climbs. Once we approached Baker Beach, there was a swift descend down into the beach. I let my legs rip! It was probably not great for my legs or knees, but I was flying down that hill. Baker Beach was incredible – sooo pretty! We had to run through pretty dense sand until you got closer to the water where it was packed down. We ran to the left until we came across an aid station at the turn-around where I took a gel.

I steadily ran back towards the other side of the beach where I approached the infamous sand ladder. It was as tough as they said it was, yet really fun. I grabbed a hold of the rope and climbed up step by step. My legs BURNED about half way up and I had to take quickly little breaks here and there. From what I remember the sand ladder was about 400 feet of climbing. A TV station was broadcasting from the top half of the ladder, so we got to say hello as we went.

AG Sand Ladder 2 copy

At the top, I regrouped and got the feeling back in my legs and started to run again. It was a nice downhill from here on out.

EFA Sand Ladder
Made it to the top of the Sand Ladder! 

We ran back down all of those stairs that we previously climbed. At that point, I came across Brian who was just starting off on his run. He tried to get me to stop and hang out, but I didn’t want to for 2 reasons: I was feeling GREAT and having a great race – I had to keep going. I was also in a single file line going down the stairs and I would mess people behind me up.

I kept cruising back towards the finish line. I felt great and was actually smiling through most of the run (that never happens). I ran past Golden Gate Bridge and onto the trail through Crissy Field. My pace was still consistent and good.

EFA Run 3

I eventually rounded the bend to come into finish shoot (which was amazing BTW). The crowd was cheering loud and eventually I made it in. I felt GREAT!

EFA DONE!jpg

I averaged around a 10:40 pace, which accounts for all of those stairs and the sand ladder – I was quite happy with my run. Overall, my final time was ~3 hours and 30 minutes, which was MUCH better than I had estimated. I had officially “escaped from Alcatraz” and had the medal to prove it. 😉

EFA Medal!

My friend Tricia, who now lives in San Fran, came to the finish line to cheer me in – she’s the best!! I met up with her and her husband right after I finished.

EFA Tricia

Overall, it was one of the best experiences ever. I’d do it again in a heartbeat if I didn’t want to do other races or take other vacations instead.

EFA A & B Medals

A-Not-So-Great-Race, Race Reflections

Today was the first triathlon race of the 2015 season. The Smithfield Sprint located in (you named it) Smithfield, VA. Despite our crazy, cold VA weather this winter, I was feeling pretty confident about my race today. I had 2 great time trials (bike and run) under my belt from the week before and knew that my fitness was in a good place.

Normally the weather for this race is nice and cool. Today it was HOT and full on sun. The race started off well – I was extremely happy with my swim split (results are not posted yet, so can’t 100% confirm). I passed 5 people and never got held up. I felt strong, smooth and steady.

After I finished the swim, everything else quickly went downhill. In the spirit of living and learning, I wanted to document some race reflections while they were fresh on my mind…

Disable “energy saving mode” on my Garmin before a race.

  • I was super pumped to race with my new Garmin 920 and try out the triathlon feature. Little did I know that, while I was overwhelmed with nerves right before the swim, my Garmin switched back to the watch mode. No swim or T1 was recorded and I had to fool with a bit on the bike to start recording data.

Pool swims are not fun if you can’t start in the top 10%.

  • VTS/MTS used some sort of weird bell-curve swim seeding, which everyone complained about. I will admit I am pretty spoiled by typically being able to start towards the front. The hour and a half wait threw me off quite a bit.

A 10AM race start time is usually a solid play for a cool, April race, but not so cool when we get a heat wave. Holy hotness!

Starting the race at lunch time made me want to eat lunch.

  • Given the above 2 bullets, starting at 11:30 confused my hunger signals. We had to be there by 9 to get our packet and get set up in transition before it closed. I tried to gradually eat my breakfast on the ride down, but frankly I think my body knew it was time for lunch (and hungry again).

Study the bike route.

  • Even if I’ve raced the course before, still study it. With my Garmin debauchery, I was distracted from racing and missed (the not very well marked I must add) first turn on the course. While I thought it was VERY odd I didn’t see anyone in front of or behind me for a few miles, I kept plugging along b/c people were coming back in the opposite direction. It wasn’t until I saw Brian who started his swim 3 minutes back, that I realized I messed up.

Hot, sunny, non-shaded races are not my thing – nor will they ever be.

Bricks are good, very good.

  • I did very little leading up this race. It would’ve helped.

Negative thoughts won the day!

  • Particularly, after my race blew up. Multiple negative thoughts stayed with me throughout the whole run, which likely contributed to a very disappointing run split. I had high hopes that I would’ve gotten a run PR given my recent run focus. Sigh.

Here’s to hoping the next race goes down a bit smoother!

Fighting a Funk

I’m not sure how often this happens to others, if at all, but I definitely fall victim to the funk. A funk that not only happens with life in general, but more specifically, also with getting my butt out of bed to workout.

It’s the kind of funk that’s brought on by a lack of immediate races or goals. I completed my half marathon back in November, and ever since, it’s been way too easy to talk myself out of a workout. Rationalizations include: it doesn’t really matter, I deserve a break, I need to get stuff done, I’m want to eat NOW, etc. It also doesn’t help that it’s FREEZING outside and daylight is hard to come by. Thanks Seasonal Affective Disorder – way to be a double whammy. Come to think about it, my body was used to being outside a LOT in the Spring through Fall. There was no chance of a vitamin D deficiency. Now, I’m cooped up inside all day and hardly see the light of day.

I see other athletes’ statuses on social media and envy their go-getter-always-get-my-workout-in-plus-some attitude. How do they stay motivated in the winter? Do their bodies not reject this weather and lack of daylight? Are they way more into this hobby than I will ever be (and I feel like I’m into it)?

REV3 Finisher Photo
Happy, Motivated Times! 

Seriously though, today is yet another day of a skipped workout. I’m laying in bed typing this. What’s even more concerning is that I don’t care that I haven’t been diligent about working out. Is this a natural off season malady or is it just me? It’s perplexing because I want to kick ass in 2015. I want to continue to improve and get more competitive. At the same time, it just doesn’t feel real right now. It’s so far away – heck, another year away.

This issue makes me think about a book I read, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. It’s a book about behavioral economics and why are brains toy with us in strange ways (a recommended read BTW). Chapter 7 is called “the problem of procrastination and self-control – why we can’t make ourselves do what we want to do.” Immediate gratification almost always wins against our plans for dieting, saving money, exercising, etc.

I bet I could apply some of the principles in this book to overcoming my bad behavior; however, perhaps it’s OK to have a few weeks of slacking off. Perhaps in January I will feel super refreshed and will want to come back and kick each workout’s ass. One can only hope!

I’m curious to learn more about how others cope with this issue. How do your fight your workout funk? If you know of any blogs or articles that speak to this issue specifically, please let me know. I’d love to read them!

Training for a Half Marathon

Last year, I ran my first ever 1/2 Marathon and trained with the Sportsbackers Novice Training Team. I managed to get a time of ~2 hours and 18 minutes, which is about a 10:35ish pace on average.  Knowing that I have always been a sloooow runner, I felt like this time was very reasonable for 13.1 miles.

That said, a few things didn’t go as smoothly:

  • I came down with a cold a few days leading up to the race and didn’t feel 100%
  • The novice team had very few long runs in the double digits and my body wasn’t prepared. I started breaking down around mile 10 – my legs hurt terribly
  • I had no nutrition strategy – I carried gummy bears with me but hardly ate them b/c they were so cold. Bonking was a definite a factor as well

Now, let’s proceed to 2014!

Coming off of a great Tri season, I knew I needed to focus on my run. My biking had improved considerably – to where I was very competitive with others. My swim was decent enough, but my run speed was definitely NOT competitive. I was able to place in my age group in 2 local sprints, but if I was competing in a larger event, there’s just no way I would place. Most average 23-24 minutes on the 5K. I was averaging 29-30 minutes – eek!

After my last sprint of the year (the Pink Power), I decided to focus 100% on running.

  • I sacrificed bike and swim practice to get in extra, quality runs during the week.
  • I decided to train with the Intermediate Sportsbackers training team, so i could get more volume in during the week. One of my good friends decided to sign up as well, which helped tremendously! I went to every early morning long run b/c I didn’t want to leave her hanging. She also pushed my pace. If I ran on my own, I likely would’ve run a 10:15-10:30 pace. We were averaging 9:35-9:50 paces – even on the longer runs!
  • I attended track practice every week (work allowing) and attempted to run the intervals faster than my set speed
  • I focused on eating better
  • I made an effort to strength train
  • I foam rolled and stretched
  • I bought a Garmin Food Pod, so I could keep track of my running cadence and try to increase it
  • I kept detailed logs of each run: my pace/the weather/how I felt/etc.

In the process, I also created a new habit with the Sunday long runs. I was SO refreshing to have X amount of miles done before 9AM! I could relax at home, drink coffee, catch up on my personal emails and watch football. It felt fantastic.

My initial goal upon signing was to break 2 hours and 15 minutes. My stretch goal was to break 2 hours and 10 minutes. However, over the course of the season, I started to think the 2 hours and 10 minutes “stretch” goal was very realistic. In fact, I set a new stretch goal: 2 hours and 5 minutes.

About two to three weeks before the half, I started to feel incredibly strong. It was really easy to run. I wasn’t worried about whether I would make it, but more so about how fast I could go. I actually started to enjoy running.

I am proud to say that I completed the Richmond Half Marathon with a time of 2 hours 6 minutes and 27 seconds. I was SO close to my stretch goal – the one I never thought I could achieve. Around mile 9, a pesky side cramp (that I had throughout the race) turned into a debilitating one to where I could barely walk. I took a gel, tried to breathe deeply and stretch it out and ~ a minute later took off running again. If I hadn’t had that cramp, I very well could have reached my goal.

I actually feel like a runner now. PROGRESS!!!!! 🙂

2014 Race Season Reflections

Well, I have completed my 4th triathlon season… 2 of which (the latest 2) I have been more seriously dedicated. This year closes out my time in the 30-34 age group and am looking forward to seeing what lies ahead in the 35-39 one. I still have an “A” running race head of me – the Richmond Half Marathon, so I’m not quite done yet. However, I think it’s about time to reflect on the triathlon part of the season.

I completed 5 triathlon races in 2014: one 70.3/Half-Iron, one Olympic and 3 Sprints. Clearly, I chose my races based on how well the logos color-coordinated. 😛 (kidding – complete coincidence)

2014 Race Season

I also completed the Monument Avenue 10K (running race) back in March and soon to be completed Richmond Half Marathon that takes place Nov 15th.

To start, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on some of my accomplishments:

  • I felt like a completely different person when training/racing this spring compared to a year ago – much stronger and faster. PROGRESS!!
  • During our team (Endorphin Fitness) banquet back in winter, I was awarded the “2013 Breakthrough Athlete for Group Coaching” award. I was given this award because I had a “breakthrough of the mind” vs. a particular  performance breakthrough.  For more context/background on this, please read my previous post.
  • I got my first podium in a race!! (Actually 2). I got 2nd place in my age group (30-34) at both the RTC Sprint (out of 17 racing) and the Pink Power (out of 35). I was beyond ecstatic!
  • I completed my first 70.3/Half-Iron distance race (Musselman 70.3). The swim and bike weren’t too bad, but the run killed me! I can’t wait for redemption.
  • My weekends were largely spent training. I completed many LONG bike rides (50-75 miles) on Saturdays with teammates and friends.
  • I was even more diligent about attending practices/getting my workouts in
  • I decided to divert my attention to more of a running focus from Aug – November. More to come on how that turns out!

Accomplishments don’t mean much in isolation. Here are some valuable lessons I’ve learned over the course of the year.

  • I LOVE my Felt DA4 triathlon bike! Seriously, why did I not invest in one a year or two ago? It’s super fast, smooth and comfortable.
  • A retro-fitted aero/tri fit on a road bike did not work well for me. After switching to the DA4, I no longer had any lower back aches and pains that I did when riding on my road bike. I felt like a new person!
  • Time on the bike really does make you faster
  • Only running 2-3 times a week does not translate into stellar running legs (of the triathlon) – at least for me
  • Similarly to the above bullet, I HAVE to find groups to run my long runs with – otherwise, I procrastinate, run late in the day, run slower than I would if with a group and often talk myself into a shorter run
  • I can get by with only swimming 1, sometimes 2 times a week
  • I seriously need to incorporate more strength sessions into my weekly routine
  • When biking a lot like I did the past season, I should have gotten a massage (or two or one every 2 weeks!!). I didn’t get any this past year and my hips/left leg were ALL out of whack after Musselman. I had pain radiating down in my inner shin/ankle. Consistently foam rolling would likely also help – which I also didn’t do that often. Also, a yoga session here and there would be helpful.
  • My body fat % is not ideal for racing – I’d like to shave off a good 4-5 points (very big stretch goal).
  • I need to improve my race/training nutrition strategies; I already struggle on the run and need all of the help I can get. Bonking should not be a reason why I have a sub-par run.

All in all, I am really happy with this tri season. I learned a lot and am continuing to improve. I am very jazzed about 2015 and am hopeful I will continue to improve in speed and strength. Now, I just have to figure out what races I will do. 😛

What have you learned? I’m always interested in hearing others’ experiences!

“Break on through to the Other Side”

During our team (Endorphin Fitness) banquet back in winter, I was awarded the “2013 Breakthrough Athlete for Group Coaching” award. To be honest, I was completely caught off guard when the coach called my name.

Breakthrough Award

Here’s a little back story…Many other athletes had incredible years – some placing in every single race. I, on the other hand, had traditionally been more of a mid-packer. When I started training with the group, I was fine with that. I had come to terms with the fact that I was slow and likely will always be slow. I had always been more of a “fast twitch” athlete – one who excels with hand-eye coordination, quick agility, ability to think and react on the spot, etc. Endurance had NEVER been my thing. I was always the first to get winded when playing basketball. I ran cross country one season as a way to help build endurance… of course, I was one of the slowest runners!

In fact, I had no real motivation to train for triathlons other than I was trying to lose weight and get toned. Signing up for a race gave me a goal to keep going. I was completely satisfied with that. I didn’t need any special equipment (other than my Garmin 910XT) because I didn’t think I’d ever be able to compete.

Then, over the course of the 2013 triathlon season, my mindset started to change. Seeing my teammates podium in their age group seemed to slowly wear off on me. It made me want to try harder and do better.

I had one of my worst races ever at the RTC Sprint Triathlon that year (mid April). I became incredibly winded on the swim and just couldn’t seem to catch my breath during the rest of the race. My cycling speed was incredibly slow. Racers kept passing me – saying the sympathetic “good job!” When I finished that race, I felt like a flame had ignited. My performance was so lackluster that I never wanted to experience that again.

With my first Olympic (REV3 Williamsburg) quickly approaching, I knew I had to kick my training up a gear or two.  I made a point to attend as many practices as possible with my work schedule. I stuck to my weekend workouts as best as I could. When the race was upon me, I felt ready.

My mom and sister came down to cheer me on and their energy helped tremendously! The swim was extra rough that morning, but I made it through swimmingly (pun intended!). I felt incredible on the bike. I was expecting a time of ~1:30 and I finished up in ~1:17. I did OK on the run – finished in little over an hour – but to be honest, the run just isn’t my strong suit. I finished and completed my first Olympic! And… I knew I wanted to do another one.

REV3 Pic

My next race was a local “women only” sprint triathlon here in Richmond 2 months down the road. I felt like I had a good shot of doing well with the way my training was going. I remember approaching my coach and asking for tips on how to improve and get a faster time. My mindset had shifted – I wanted to compete. The competitive team sport athlete in me had emerged. It was actually quite empowering. When you move away from exercising just to lose weight (to only be continuously frustrated when it doesn’t happen) to exercising for progress, it becomes SO much more fun and exciting.

I ended up placing in the top 20 at the Pink Power Sprint. Unfortunately, I was 4th in my age group, BUT I wasn’t discouraged. Instead, I had my mind set on getting a podium in 2014.

Fam Pink Power
W
ith my mom and sister who also completed the Pink Power 

Fam 2 Pink Power
P
ost race celebrations!

Circling back to the “Breakthrough Athlete” award … while I was incredibly surprised when Coach Kyle called me name, I was also very honored. I didn’t have the podiums or the credentials, but he recognized the pretty dramatic shift that occurred within me that year. He called it a “breakthrough of the mind.” This award gave me extra motivation to train harder and prove myself worthy of it.