Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Must. Stay. Focused.

Pigman is coming. T-minus 20 days. I need to stop thinking about cyclocross, a possible ride in the Black Hills in September, a marathon in October. FOCUS. I can think about those things in 20 days. Not before then. Right now it's all about riding hills, swimming without a wetsuit, and running in some heat/humidity. Time to smell the bacon.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Going Long – Spirit of Racine Race Report

My first season consisted of 2 sprint triathlons. I survived. In my second season, I dabbled a bit with different distances/race types, doing 4 road races (ranging from 5Ks to a half-marathon), 2 Oly tris, 3 sprint tris and 2 duathlons (one as team with Greyt). I survived in the olys, managed to take home some hardware in a few of the sprints, and DNF’d the half marathon. While it was fun to do all those different races last year and I learned a lot about myself and about racing, it felt a little like I had a multiple personalities. So this season I decided to drop the road races and challenge myself with long course triathlon. I chose my races so that I would do early season sprints to get back into the swing of open water swimming, then I’d go after Hy-Vee again for redemption, and I’d wrap up my season by tackling long course at the Spirit of Racine Half and Big Pig. Up until Hy-Vee, I was scared to death of these last two races on my schedule. There were MANY open water swim workouts where I thought to myself, “I need to drop out of Racine, I cannot swim 1.2 miles”. In fact, I’m pretty sure I said that out loud to Greyt after a swim at Big Creek one time. I thought she was going to beat me when I said that. :D But, I stuck with it and just kept hitting the open water. Then Hy-Vee came. And I found a little bit of confidence. Ok, a lot of confidence. I made that swim my bitch, and all of a sudden, the half became possible.

My week leading up to the race was a hectic one. I haven’t had to travel for work in MONTHS, and wouldn’t you know it, the week before my biggest race, I end up having to travel to Chicago for work. While not the ideal race week, I made the best of it. I spent a lot of time in the car/on the train thinking about the race, then had a great race talk with Coach Jen. After talking to Jen, I started to feel pretty good about what I needed to do to finish the race. Yes, my goal was to FINISH this half distance race, nothing more.

Greyt and I headed up to Racine on Friday so we could get settled and relax on Saturday instead of driving 7 hours in the car the day before the race. As we pulled up to the hotel, the first thing we notice is an outlet mall. WITH AN UNDER ARMOUR FACTORY STORE. Um, did I say relax on Saturday? I meant SHOP!

After a little shopping spree, we headed to the race site for packet pick-up, bike check-in, and a little practice swim. Packet pick-up was pretty uneventful, bike check-in went smoothly, and our practice swim was CHILLY – water temp was 59 degrees! Once we got going, though, it was fine. After the swim we drove part of the bike course , headed to Olive Garden for dinner, picked up our breakfast needs at Walmart/Dunkin’ Donuts (coffee!!!), then back to the hotel to get everything ready for the long day ahead.

Race morning came early – 3:30am! I had a hard time eating my breakfast, I was pretty nervous. Once body marked and in transition I went about my business of setting up my area then headed out for a short warm-up run on the path along the beach. I took a minute to stop and look out over the water where the sun was starting to come up. I was ready to do this. Once back in transition, I found Greyt and we started the long walk down to the swim start. I got in a pretty good warm-up in the water before they ushered us out to start the race. I wasn’t necessarily scared of this swim because I knew that if I had issues and needed to stop, I could pretty much just stand up at any point along the course. We were in pretty shallow water for this swim, so you could touch bottom most of the way. I told myself I would NOT do that unless I absolutely had to…but I think knowing I COULD touch if I had to made me a lot more comfortable going into the swim.

Once our wave was called up to the start area, Greyt and I hugged and wished each other good luck then headed to our preferred starting positions. I on the FAR left away from the masses, and she more in the middle right in the thick of things. The siren sounded and we were off. The water level never went above my knees until right before the buoy so most of the wave ran out to the buoy instead of swimming. Once we got to the buoy though it was game on. I started outside and felt really good. Over the first 1/3 of the swim, I found myself maneuvering around A LOT of people walking/running in the water. It frustrated me at first because they were running just about as fast as I was swimming , but then realized they were wasting a lot more energy than I was so I just did my thing. Eventually I found myself a bit more along the inside buoy line and it was getting pretty shallow. Then my hand hit sand during my stroke. Damn it! So I jumped up on my feet, quickly looked over my shoulder to find open water, and dove back to my left and started swimming again. I stayed calm, relaxed, and just kept swimming buoy to buoy. When I saw the yellow turn buoy, I smiled in the water. Once I rounded the last buoy, the water got shallow very quickly so I stood up and saw Greyt about 10 feet in front of me. I gave her a little shout to let her know I made it. She turned and looked at me and I did a little happy dance in the water. I am pretty sure she rolled her eyes at me. Ha! Anyway…into transition…and out on the bike.

Ah…the bike. My happy place. I felt really solid right away on the bike, even though I spent a lot of time at the beginning dodging launched water bottles, miscellaneous equipment, and rear mounted bottle cages. Oddly enough, all the cages I saw were the same brand as mine:

We’ll get back to the bottle cage story later. I had three goals on the bike: 1) Nail my nutrition, 2) Keep my cadence around 90 rpms and 3) Ride at about 80%. If I did these three things right, I would come off the bike in good time and be well situated for the run. I nailed #2 and #3…I half nailed #1. I got all my gels in, but failed on the liquid calories by one bottle. I really need to work on drinking more often on the bike. I was saved by the cooler temperatures this time, but that might not be the case at Big Pig. In any case, I rode well and strong the entire way – keeping myself at 80% effort and around 90 rpms. Could I have pushed harder? Maybe. But in the end, I was really happy with my bike.

Coming into T2, the dismount line was at the bottom of a hill. I noticed from the top of the hill that it was really crowded towards the line so I steered over to the right side where I saw one guy just getting off his bike. Figured he’d be outta there before I got there, so I headed his way. Well, apparently he was posing for pictures or adjusting his shorts because he didn’t move. Granted, I probably came in a little too hot, but if he had moved I would have been fine. Needless to say, we had a little collision at the dismount line. Neither of us fell or anything like that. The only casualty was one of his water bottles from his rear cage. It ended up wedged between my aerobars. Nice.

In and out of T2, it was time to run. I felt pretty good coming off the bike, but I kept myself in check so I didn’t start out too fast. My goal was to run the first loop solid, but not over the top, reassess at the halfway point, then either pick it up for the second loop or hold tight. First loop felt pretty decent, I kept hitting my gel as planned and taking water at the water stops. See, I was enjoying the run, I was smiling!

I saw Greyt after the first turn around, about halfway through the first loop. She looked strong. We high fived and kept trucking. At the end of the first loop I saw my sister there cheering me on. I needed that little boost. We hit the hills at the beginning of the second loop and lots of people were walking them. I put my head down and focused on using my arms…I was not walking that hill. Thanks to the lovely race photographer positioned halfway up the hill, you too can share in this moment with me:

I started to hurt with about 4.5- 5 miles to go. The next aid station had flat coke. Remembering something Molly said about nothing better than a shot of flat Coke around mile 67…I grabbed a cup and took a big swig, washed it down with a little water then got moving again. A mile or two later, I saw Greyt again. She gave me another high five and some words of encouragement and I was off to finish. It was right about then that it really hit me. I was going to finish a half iron distance race. After all my struggles with the swim, and all the issues I’ve dealt with this past year, I was going to finish. That was an awesome feeling. It gave me the boost I needed to finish pushing myself through to the end. (It was either that or the Coke!) Coming down through the last stretch, the course was lined with people. I was looking for where my sister was earlier so I could grab my nephew and cross the finish line with him, but unfortunately I didn’t see them. I crossed the finish line and I have to admit, I got a little choked up. I was pretty damn proud of myself. And I was so happy that my sister, brother-in-law and nephew were there to share that moment with me.

After the race, Greyt and I headed down to the water for a post-race ice bath. My feet, ankles and calves were really hurting. We went back up to transition, grabbed our gear, and headed to the car. After dropping our gear at the car, we went back to check out our results. At this point, we had a ballpark idea of what time we finished in, but no confirmation via unofficial race clock or results. Our times weren’t posted yet so we ate a little food, then saw they posted more results. We were ecstatic with our times. We both had great races…well beyond our expectations. Then, they posted the penalty list. I heard someone mention there were over 250 penalties issued so I thought, I’ll just go check to make sure we’re clean. That’s when I saw this:

Yep, #193…that’s me. Big ole 4 min penalty for Abandoned Equipment. See, when I hit about mile 15 on the bike, I reached back to the aforementioned Profile Design Aqua Rack for my bottle of plain water, and instead of getting just the bottle, I ended up with the entire aqua rack in my hand. Yes the entire rack, including both of my bottles. I was like WTF do I do now? I tried riding with it resting on my aerobars between my arms, but the roads were so bumpy it just kept bouncing around everywhere. I decided I needed to save my one bottle of nutrition in case I dropped the damn thing so I sat up, pulled out my nutrition bottle and stuck it in my jersey pocket. Just as I was about to try and re-situate the rack and remaining bottle, I hit a huge bump which sent the rack and bottle flying to the ground. There were other racers all around me, I heard people hit it. I felt awful. So I slowed down thinking I should go back and pick it up. We were on a very narrow section of road and lots of people riding around me and I wasn’t sure how was I going to get stopped to go back and get it. Besides, once I got it what was I going to do with it for the next 40 miles anyway?? So, I just kept riding. And apparently a USAT official was right there because I ended up with the penalty. Which I totally deserve, I know. I just really hope it didn’t cause anyone else behind me problems because it was in the bike lane.

So, anyway, all in all, I had a FANTASTIC first long course race. I’m looking forward to Big Pig on August 16. It’s going to be a completely different race and I’m anxious to see how I fare in water you can’t run in, on a hilly-ass bike course, and in mid-August Iowa heat and humidity. The more I think about it, though, the more I kinda like this long course thing. :)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Gaining Momentum - Hy-Vee Triathlon Recap

I think this picture pretty much says it all:

I could have flatted on the bike and death marched my way through the run, and I still would have been out of my mind excited on Sunday. I had a minor little freak out right at the beginning as 145 of my closest female friends aged 30-39 thrashed around at the start, but I quickly got over it and started swimming...and just kept swimming. THE ENTIRE WAY. And did I mention this swim was NOT wetsuit legal? That's right folks, I swam .9 miles in open water without a wetsuit, without stopping to hold onto a buoy or flip on my back to calm myself down. That was a huge victory for me. Huge. Somewhere along this 2.5 year journey I've managed to become a swimmer. Not a fast swimmer, by any means, but a swimmer nonetheless. I owe a lot of thanks to Greyt for that...she's been by my side the entire way, encouraging me, listening to my freak outs, and going out to practice with me whenever I have needed. Without her, I'm not sure I would have made it to this point. And thanks to Coach Jen as well...for all the workouts, the pep talks, and believing in me. And, Laura, of course...thank you for supporting this crazy addiction of mine and for being there Sunday all over the course. Ok, enough with the Oscar acceptance speech...

Carrying the excitement of that swim with me through the entire race, I had just an awesome day. I really had fun out there racing. I can honestly say it's probably the first time I've really enjoyed the entire experience. My bike felt really good, strong. I had a few minor hiccups in the last 1/3 of the bike, like a bit of a queasy stomach and some slight cramping in my calves, but nothing that made me slow down. The issues with my calves did cause a charlie horse in my left calf in T2, but I sat down and got it worked out before heading out on the run.

The run was fabulous. I allowed myself to take it easy at the beginning to make sure my calf wasn't going to flare up and just to settle into the run. I was surprised at how good I felt. I usually don't feel that great starting out on the run. My HR and breathing was in check, I was ready to have a good run. I think it helped that there were no mile markers on the course. I just kept running and pushing as I felt I could. I handled the first big hill well...remembered coach's instructions to shorten up the stride and use my arms. I can't even believe how much using your arms helps. WOW. So many people were walking up that first hill. About three weeks ago, I probably would have been one of them, but my training has really been coming around and I was ready for this course. Down the hill, turn the corner, and there's the turnaround. Over halfway at that point, and I still felt great. Just after the turnaround I saw Greyt. She was running strong, just like she has been. I yelled across the street that she better get moving so she can catch me and spank my ass as she runs by. I fully believed she would do that because she has been running so well lately. But, then again, I didn't really anticipate what happened next. I'm not sure if it was the gel I took at the beginning of the run or if I just somehow caught a second wind in all the excitement, but I found another gear on the run. I charged up the two remaining hills, passing a ton of people along the way. Then it was all downhill to the finish.

There is NOTHING quite like turning into the finish at the Hy-Vee triathlon. They do it right. You come around the corner and the course is just lined with people. Then you turn one more time and it opens up to this huge grandstand area that is FILLED with cheering spectators. And, the blue carpet. Oh that sweet blue carpet. Such a surreal experience. And to top it off, as I was running for the finish line I see this hand sticking out from the crowd in front of me and I heard "Go, Kris!", I looked up just in time to see my Mom and Dad standing there grinning ear to ear and my Dad with his hand out for a high five. That was just the best.

This was right before I saw Mom and Dad. Pushing hard to the finish!

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend. I got to watch the ITU women's race on Saturday, had a great race on Sunday morning, then got to hang around and watch the new ITU Team event on Sunday afternoon. That was so cool to watch. I'll post some pictures from that in another blog. Got some up close and personal pictures of all the stars in action. I'll leave you with a couple pictures of some really cool people I met this weekend:

Katie Weaver

Hunter Kemper (he signed my helmet!!)