Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Black Blanket - IM St. George 70.3 Race Report

Jess occupied the solitary gurney when I entered the paramedic vehicle. She cheerfully engaged the three paramedics that monitored her, already well on her way to gaining back her body heat. I, on the other hand, sat quivering in my wet clothes, shaking so violently I was actually embarrassed by all of the involuntary motion. I was quickly wrapped in multiple heated blankets and hot packs placed next to my ribs. One paramedic announced, "we're going to need more blankets and more heating pads." It was quickly obvious to them that there were going to be issues today. They monitored my blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate as I sat shivering. Why wouldn't my body stop shaking.  "I got 91 degrees."  Soon they moved Jess off the gurney and placed me on it and attached four heart rate monitors to me. "Is your heart rate typically low?" Jess consoled me and assured me I'd warm up more quickly on the gurney. 

Outside, the dark clouds hung heavily over the race course and rain fell steadily at an angle. A few moments earlier I was still in the race, still in the elements. A mental and physical battle ensued within me as I considered how hard I'd worked to prepare, how ready I was to race well, how careful I was to keep tabs on the forecast, and yet how deathly cold I was.

We traveled with high expectations to St. George a few days earlier. The days before an epic race are electric and exciting, even a bit exhausting if you're not careful. We arrived mid-day Thursday having left Santa Barbara around 3:00 am. We arrived before our room was ready so we took the opportunity to grab an amazing sandwich and preview the run course. It was a perfect course for me, nothing about it flat, but the hills were friendly and offset by sweeping slopes of recovery. I thought, as we drove, I will really like this course. I had been studying the elevation maps which don't really provide a clear idea of what to expect, so now I saw with my own eyes what we would be up against.

The remainder of that day was filled with a bit of work, a bit of rest and a nice shake out run, a good dinner and solid night's sleep, bringing us to Friday's pre-race chaos.  On Friday we slept in, knowing we'd likely sleep very little that night, and arrived to the Athlete Check-in, late morning. The skies were partly cloudy and it was a nice temperature, a bit breezy. The forecast called for a rainy, stormy day but all was due to settle down to near perfection for Saturday.  We completed check-in and walked the expo while we waited for the mandatory Athlete meeting. It was hot out, sunny and a bit humid and clouds were drawing near.  We arrived back for the meeting and listened as they went through all of the various details of tomorrow's race. The water temperature in the lake was 62 degrees, wet suit legal. There was a mention of a chance of thunderstorms later in the day but nothing beyond that mentioned related to whether. We received all the details related to the two separate transition areas and I made sure I had it all straight in my head. We would be shuttled out to T1 and the race start in the morning, so T2 (which was located at the finish area) had to be set up before we left on the shuttle.  All of our swim and bike gear and any morning and after clothing was to travel with us on the shuttle. 

After the meeting it was time to drive to T1 (about 30 minute drive from the race expo/T2/Finish line) and check in our bikes (mandatory). We drove out and there began a transformation in the weather pattern as a storm blew in and kept blowing. There was no precipitation but the wind was fairly gusty so that it became obvious that we were probably not going to do a short bike ride before racking our bikes. We moved into T1 and located our spot. I noted all of the bikes already racked, were held onto the poles by wedging the pole under the brakes on the handle bars, not racked by the saddle. It was recommended they be racked this way to prevent them from blowing around or away in the gusty wind. Great. We racked them thus. I will note however that there was not enough room on the poles for all the bikes to be racked this way so handle bars were literally overlapping. We studied the Swim In/Bike Out and noted our paths and marked our areas. It was getting late in the day and we still needed to drive the 56 mile bike course.
Red rocks in the area of Snow Canyon

The bike course was hilly but not a slow course. The uphill sections were shorter and steeper while the corresponding downhill sections were more gradual and longer. The farther along we drove the more I realized how awesome the course was and again my heart filled with hope for a good race. The course featured a final climb through Snow Canyon that via the elevation map looked long, steep and difficult. To our amazement as we drove that section, it was very tame compared to what we were used to and on which we trained. And after that final climb came the closing 10 miles of downhill. Ah, I was feeling so excited and ready!!

Race morning: Both transitions were set up. T2 (mostly consisting of my running shoes and a few accessories) were kept bagged up because there was a chance that rain might come through. T1 was more involved and I fussed for a while getting that all set up. It was cold out, colder than was forecast, and it was a bit windy. There wasn't supposed to be any wind today. I assumed this would all dissipate in a few hours. There was no swim warm up allowed. I feel very strongly that allowing athletes to warm up in the water should not only be allowed but should be mandatory. I jogged around to stay warm but eventually had to get the wet suit on and step in line to make my way to my wave start. Even with my wet suit on I was cold and kept socks on and a sweatshirt until the last moment. My wave then entered the water to swim a few strokes to our starting line. The water felt cold and I didn't have much time to acclimate before the horn sounded.

Waves went off with only 3 minutes between each, so it was not far into the swim that we began catching the slower swimmers from the previous wave, and in fact ended up catching swimmers from at least 3 waves ahead of us. There was nothing but a sea of caps in front of me, pink, silver, yellow. At no point did I ever have clean water or a clear path and multiple times had to stop swimming to get around a crowd in my way. I tried to remain calm and did what I needed to do to get around but in doing so I swam farther than I should have and eventually swung wide, away from the buoy line just to have some open water. Even that did not work very well. As I finally neared the swim finish I realized I was still cold. That was unexpected and slightly alarming. I usually warm up nicely in the swim, even in cold water. I exited up the ramp amidst a flood of other athletes, feeling slightly frustrated but staying calm. In transition I realized my fingers weren't working very well. I clumsily got my socks and shoes on, helmet and glasses too. None of it went quickly. It was cold, I was cold and it was now beginning to rain. The wind was still present. I grabbed my bike and headed out. Once on the bike I began to shiver. I was trying to get myself settled on the bike and settled into a pace. Bikes were all around me and ahead of me. My jaw grew tight, almost as if it were locked and ached with a searing pain. I realized I was in a full body shiver and getting colder. The rain was cold, my feet were now soaked, and the wind was hitting from the side. The pain in my jaw intensified causing a harsh headache. I began to feel nauseous. I kept my mind engaged trying to mentally correct my physical situation. I analyzed everything and everyone. No one around me had extra clothing, everyone was wet. The dropped water bottles that littered the road indicated people were unable to hold onto their bottles. I reached for mine simply to see if I could hold onto it and found I had incredible difficulty just pulling it out of he holder. I tried my nutrition bottle in the back of my bike and could not pull it out. I didn't have enough control in my hands and fingers to pull them out. I thought to myself I need to begin warming up soon. I can't continue on like this.

The rain continued or quite possibly had stopped and then started again. To be honest I can't remember. A crash occurred just behind me. I heard a woman's panicked cry and then heard the crash. I glanced back and saw some bikes tumble. I wasn't sure how many were involved. This was unsettling but didn't surprise me. There were just so many athletes crowded together and no one seemed overly stable. It seemed all of the rules were cast aside. Many were not riding single file nor keeping proper gaps between them and others. There were riders on the far left side (blocking) so that it was not possible to pass them correctly. It seemed to me chaotic so a crash was almost inevitable. My focus then reverted back to my own personal situation. I kept shaking my head trying to loosen the pain in my jaw and wondered how long I could tolerate this. At this point I was no longer racing. I didn't have the ability to push any power into my peddles and was drifting along with the current of other riders. I passed some, some passed me but no one else seemed to be in distress. I was in distress. Why was I the only one in distress? I vaguely remember passing through the first aid station 10 miles into the bike. I began spending time coasting because the faster I went the colder I got. I no longer wanted to have any forward motion. The quivering in my body grew more violent. I couldn't shift my gears nor pull against by brakes with my fingers. I could do so only if I clumsily used the palm of my hand. Around 15 miles into the bike I spotted the emergency vehicles and police officers up ahead. I didn't decide to stop as I approached but instead passed by them. It was then that I made the decision to stop. I made sure I was clear of other riders, pulled to the left, and rolled to a stop. Unclipped. Hung my head. Cried. Walked my bike back to the police officer waiting to help. All the other athletes pushed on. I stopped. I kept thinking "why?". Why couldn't I handle it? 

Jess made way for me to lay on the gurney and shortly after that, three more shivering athletes entered the paramedic vehicle. The entering woman simply said "F*** that." The men quivered as I had been and said "I just can't stop shaking." I remained on the gurney and Jess let me know that her support crew was coming to pick her up and they could bring me to the finish area. I was grateful as I had no other options to get back. By the time her crew arrived, maybe 40 minutes later I was warmer and in better condition. Her crew got my bike loaded on their bike rack. I grabbed my helmet, glasses and soaked shoes and socks and exited the warm van back into the nasty elements. I began to shiver again. Their SUV was blasting heat and they actually had heated seats. I sat down into the warm seat and a black blanket was handed to me. "Here Cindy, wrap up, keep warm. I want you to keep this blanket."
I was dropped off at the finish line, still soaked, still cold but at least now wrapped in the black blanket. My head hung low. I passed by a woman and she asked me if I was in a relay. I explained. She approached me and stood close to me and looked me directly in the eyes. She said "Don't let this get to you. You made the right decision today. I can see you are a strong athlete. You have opportunities ahead. Don't let this define you." She had similar experiences in the past and had gained wisdom. Every word she said was exactly what I needed. She spoke with me for a long while. She may very well have been an angel. For me she surely was.

I made my way toward the expo and in doing so passed by the finish area. A race volunteer ran up to me and took my timing chip as I walked along. My story was clear from my dejected posture. Rain began to fall again and I slipped under a tent. Still wet, still cold, trying not to let this define me. I was then able to get to my "morning bag" which had all my dry clothes. I changed out of my wet stuff and remained wrapped in my black blanket while I searched for a sheltered place from which to watch those finishing the bike. John, I thought, was still out on the course and I waited a long while for him to roll in. During that time I processed the morning. I watched athletes come in on their bikes. All of these people got through it, why couldn't I? This recurring "why" was potentially damaging to my psyche. I found a limitation within me that I was unable to break through. I felt like the elements beat me. I was angry. I was sad. I thought about the 4 month training cycle I'd completed, and the precise taper that preceded the race. Every piece carefully put in place. I even tried to be prepared for the weather. But it was not predictable. It was supposed to be warmer, no wind, and a chance of scattered showers later on. I pondered how much money we spent to make the trip. And all the while I was watching 100's of athletes reach T2. Another type of black blanket fell upon me in those moments. A dark and ugly cloud in my mind.

John, as it turns out, also had to drop and eventually we found each other. We came to discover that while many athletes did stay in and complete, many did not. 30% of my age group was a DNF including the defending champion and the second place finisher from the year before. Many of the pros had to drop out. Depending on the timing, not everyone faced the exact same conditions and so many got out ahead of the rain on the bike and had a better chance of warming up. Some had extra clothing that helped, some had extra body fat that helped. Everyone's story was a bit different. 

Before we headed home on Sunday, I ran most of the run course. I made some kind of peace with it all and it wasn't long before I was able to look forward. I began making a list of all of the positives that came out of this experience. I survived. I am not stupid enough to kill myself for a race. I didn't crash or hurt myself. My bike got a nice bath. I learned some lessons. 

I will keep the black blanket. Maybe there will be a time I can pass it forward. It sits now as a symbol of warmth, of caring, of hope. Jess said, keep it Cindy. I want you to have it. Jess had to stop that day too. She understands. The black blanket took away the cold and replaced it with hope. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Thrill Ride - No Turning Back!

Years ago I visited Disney World and talked one of my sons into riding the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster (featuring Aerosmith) with me. I have long loved thrill rides but not all of them. I usually need to see the whole ride, watch it for a while before deciding whether I feel it would be fun versus flat out terrifying. I would need to see all the loops, twists, turns, drops, upside-down sections, and determine the speed of the ride. I would also judge by the screams whether I could personally handle the ride.  So here we were standing outside the entrance to the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, reading the warnings among which was stated "this is a high speed thrill ride" followed by the Do Not's. Do not ride if you have heart, back or neck issues, or high blood pressure. Do not ride if you are pregnant. Do not ride if you have claustrophobia, etc....  It features an extremely fast acceleration from 0 to very fast within seconds. This roller coaster is housed inside a building so I couldn't study it ahead of time. All I knew was it was the newest ride and was all the rage and I thought it sounded cool, and it had a very long wait. But I had to make the decision to ride it or not without really knowing what I was getting into. And again, thankfully at least one of my young sons was gutsy enough to try it with me.

So we stepped into line and began the slow movement inside of the building, spending a couple of hours inching around the winding path within. Along the way there were glimpses of what was in store and Aerosmith rock blasted around us. I looked around to see who else was in line. Were they normal people or crazy people? Were there young kids? Was anyone panicking as we got closer? I became bored at the wait, and then would be pushed into an adrenaline rush when we made quick progress forward. At times I eyed the exit signs along the way and kept in mind I could bail if I needed to. I tried to imagine what the actual coaster seating would look like. Would I feel secure? I reminded myself that I would most likely not die which was slightly comforting.

The anticipation and apprehension grew stronger as we neared the end of the line. I had been reminded 15 times that this is a high speed thrill ride and that the high speed part started immediately. I like loops, twists, going upside down, but I am not a fan of super high speed. I finally got close enough to see the roller coaster start and finish location and I studies the demeanor of the people getting off the ride. Were they staggering? Was their hair standing on end? Were they smiling? Was anyone saying "let's go stand in line 2 more hours so we can do this again?"  I began to feel just a little panicked and looked to my nine year old son for reassurance.  A moment ago I was pretty sure I'd survive this ride but now I wasn't so sure.  Sweaty palms, quick glances to the "last chance" exit. The room was dark, full of people and I still couldn't see the actual ride. All I could see were people shot off into the darkness like a bullet, with their screams quickly fading. And Aerosmith Rock all around me. Steven Tyler was scary enough. Did I really want to do this?

Soon it was our turn to board. I was attempting deep breathing techniques to calm myself and project some type of facade of confidence. Hey, this was going to be fun ... not. I hadn't stepped into the coaster yet. There was still time to bail. Bail, don't bail, bail, don't bail. Once they strap me in if I freak out it would look very bad ... note to self "don't embarrass your son." I stepped in, the cage came down over my shoulders. There was no getting out of this now ... and that was a very bad feeling. Heart pounding. What's going to happen next? How fast are we about to go? WHEN will we go? Will it be dark? Will I be able to see where I'm going? And then we shot off into some cylindrical tube full of lights. I don't think I breathed for about 3 minutes.

That which I just described is the exact feeling I get when I'm lined up for a wave start in an Ironman 70.3. Every bit of what I described above happens to me as I move closer to my race start. It's a thrill ride. I'm about to be strapped into this ride and no turning back.

Next Saturday (May 7th) is the next thrill ride. The Ironman 70.3 St. George. I'm already beginning to feel panicked. But this time I think I will feel something else besides panic. This time I think I will also feel excitement, eagerness, confidence. With the help of some very wonderful people, I am prepared for the depths of pain I will be facing.  I am injury free and have had 4 solid months of focused preparation, countless epic workouts, high intensity efforts. I've tested my nutrition plan several times. I've studied the St. George course and have trained specifically to prepare for the challenges of it. When I stand amidst my wave of competition, I will be able to look around and know I did everything possible to prepare and probably more than most others, maybe more than all others. Besides preparation, the only other factors are talent and execution. I can't determine my abilities compared to others' abilities but as far as execution. I knew the plan. Everything has been thought out, including plan B's if needed. It's still going to be a little scary but for the first time ever, I am doing a triathlon as a triathlete instead of as a runner. It seems an intricate balance to become a well rounded triathlete and this will be the first test to see if we've struck the right balance.

St. George here we come, along with several other Santa Barbara athletes. This will be the ultimate EPIC thrill ride!!  A chance to chase dreams. Never stop dreaming and never stop chasing!

On the eve of this race, I again want to thank the following amazing people! My husband John who doubles as my swim coach and he is the best at both! Fred Maggiore who has selflessly shared from his wealth of experience and has guided my entire training plan. My preparedness is a direct result of all he has done. Nash Jimenez who has been my running inspiration and guide and gives me (and many others) a reason to give it my all. My many training partners and teammates: Desa Mandarino, Jen Brown, Lynelle Paulick, Tabitha Elwood, Doug Moore, Jim Adams, Chris Latham, Bob Kitson, Crystal Martin, Dave (Spaulding and Adornetto), Poul Jorgensen, James Kantrim, Joe Sullivan, Christie McDonald, Renaud Gonthier and Laurence (the French people), and many others. 
Thank you to the Santa Barbara Triathlon Club and all of the amazing community, support and encouragement that comes from this club, and for Santa Barbara Running Company, De Soto Sport Triathlon Company, and Rabbit Running apparel (Rabbit clothing officially launched April 2016 and I am blessed to be a first supporter and user of the apparel as a member of the Founder's Club. My newest Rabbit outfit is pictured above), for equipping me with the right clothing for all aspects of triathlon. Hazards Cycling (Bruce and everyone!) who has my bike well fitted to me and tuned up, ready to go as fast as I can drive it. And Dr. Ernie Ferrel (Ferrel Chiropractics) who has helped keep me injury free and works out the issues that crop up.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Double Brick

I've learned a lot during this cycle of triathlon training. I'd thought I was adequately familiar with the tri-geek lingo and "different than how I typically train as a runner" training methods and workouts, but this whole Double Brick thing is actually something I'd not heard of until just a few months ago. I am very familiar with a Brick workout (single brick), which is simply a bike workout with a run to follow. I'm pretty sure they call that a "Brick" because B=Bike, R=Run and ick= ... well need I say more? They are icky (and tough) combo workouts.  They can be done using various distance combos, the longer the ickier.  But a Double Brick? Ew, why?

So this idea of doing a double brick, which of course is a combo workout of Bike, Run, Bike again (are you kidding me?), Run again (double icky), was a little tough to wrap my mind around.  Fred introduced me to the knowledge that I'd be doing this workout toward the end of the training cycle for the upcoming St. George Half Ironman, and of course it will be repeated in the future during the final weeks prior to the World Championships, so I knew this thing was coming.  The fact that it is a double brick wasn't actually the worst (I mean best?) part. It was the fact that the total mileage on the bike would equal race distance, and the total mileage on the run would also be pretty close to race distance, both done at race effort, essentially making this workout a true test of current conditioning, current mental stamina, a chance to try out my current nutrition plan, and it was sure to flat out kick my butt. I'm not a fan of doing a half Ironman a month before I'm actually doing a half Ironman.  The workout doesn't include the swim (thank goodness there's at least one mercy).

The Double Brick needs to be placed very precisely into the overall training program.  The race date is May 7th, so this workout needed to hit about 5 weeks prior. Unfortunately for me, 5 weeks before the race I was entered to do the Carlsbad 5000 (running race) - our beloved CBad. At first I had my heart set on doing CBad, but with some persuasion I saw how important it was for me to let go a little bit more of my competitive runner self, and embrace my inner triathlete. I agreed to forego CBad, but we already had our hotel and travel plans secured, and John, Desa, Nash, Lynelle, Jill and a few other Santa Barbara folks were competing so I still wanted to travel down to watch it. I decided to do my Double Brick down there, which of course worked out great because I used to live in North San Diego County so I was familiar with great cycling and running routes. I felt a tinge of disappointment to have to make this change, but it lasted like 2 seconds and then I quickly knew it was the correct decision.  

On April 1, John and I traveled down the coast by train, with all of our triathlon stuff crammed into a backpack. This included specific clothing, food for the pre-workout breakfast and "during the workout" food and bottles filled with UCAN and electrolyte charged water, all of the special equipment, shoes, gadgets, and really the list goes on. My backpack was a bit on the pudgy side, kind of heavy. And then of course we had our bikes. Why take the train? Because we were going for ultimate epicness. It was great to just stretch out and relax (coming home was another story because oops, it was the end of Spring Break and Amtrak overbooked - we sat on the floor for the first part of the trip). The train takes a bit longer but the benefits are worth it.
Train Ride down to Carlsbad
We arrived late Friday night (just after midnight) and the workout was planned for Saturday morning. I received instructions to make this workout as close to how I planned to do the race as possible which meant starting out Saturday morning with my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I also brought my De Soto two piece trisuit. I had pre-mixed my workout nutrition and had my bike tires pumped up before leaving home.  I had pre-determined my bike course using Map My Ride and every leg of the brick needed to start and stop at our hotel room which was coastal, in the south end of Carlsbad Village.  My runs would take me down the coast and back.

I was almost as nervous for this workout as I am for a race. So much of the nervousness related to competition has to do with how much pain you know you'll have to endure. This one, I knew, was a new level of challenge. It was unprecedented as far as the amount of distance I would cover (in a workout) and the amount of time it would take. The other odd variable is that I didn't know how it would feel to do the first bike and run and then have to get back on the bike and do it again. I'd only ever done a single brick. I had expectations of what I wanted to achieve regarding paces and I didn't know if I could hold out for the full distance and hold it all together. That was a big unknown but of course that's why you do these types of workouts. You have to find your limits and in order to do that you have to place a challenge before yourself that is bigger than you.  

I had three main goals:

  1. Race Effort all the way. As I'll explain in a moment, I selected the courses to resemble conditions I will encounter in St. George. In a word: hilly.  So I wasn't sure what pace I'd hold on the bike but was fairly dialed in with what I'd hoped to hold on the run. On the bike I wanted my effort level to be high, measured primarily by my heart rate.  On the run I wanted to be as close to 7:00 minute pace as I could get without blowing myself up. So my run needed to be manageable seeing as how I'd have to do it twice.
  2. Have success with my nutrition plan= Do not bonk.
  3. I wanted my second run to be the same pace as my first run. In other words, I wanted to hold it together all the way to the end and if I could have that kind of pacing and consistency, that would speak a lot to race readiness.

Workout course and distances: 

The Bike loops: I mapped out a bike loop that was supposed to be around 28 miles with a considerable amount of climbing (totaling 3500 feet of climbing over the course of two loops). My calculation for the bike loop was a little too long (I discovered this on my first loop) so I adjusted the distance slightly on the second loop.  First bike loop was 31.5 miles, the second loop was adjusted down to 25 miles.  Total bike mileage = 56.7 miles

The Run loops: The run calculations were easy. I ran a total of 6 miles per loop (South on the Coast Highway) - out and back on rolling hills. This was a stretch along the coastline that I used to run regularly when I lived down there. It never disappointments. If I hadn't been so focused and somewhat in pain, I'd have enjoyed the scenery even more. Total run mileage =12 miles

Double Brick: 31.5 mile bike, transition to run, 6 mile run, transition back to bike, 25 mile bike, transition to run, 6 mile run.  Total time of actual movement: 4:45

Paces: The first loop of the bike was a little stronger at 17.5 mph amidst untimely stoplights and some extra climbing. First run - 6 miles at 7:04 pace. The second bike loop was 17.3 mph but with a stiffer headwind. Second run - same exact 6 miles at 7:04 pace. I'm wasn't exactly happy with the mph on the bike but with so many interruptions and a headwind, it was respectable enough for a training effort which was mimicking race effort. I was thrilled with the run paces.

Nutrition: Breakfast= Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat bread. On bike: 1 bottle of UCAN (three scoops) and 1 bottle of water with Nuun electrolyte. Refilled this bottle when transitioning into the second bike loop. 1 powercrunch bar at the end of the second bike and finally a gel flask for the final run which contained a thick mixture of UCAN (1 scoop).

Considering all of the planning, panicking, preparation, goal setting, and outcome. This workout was 100% successful. The two highlights were that I didn't bonk, and the two runs were identical in pace. Even if I squeezed out every drip of hope I'd ever hoped for anything, I could hardly hope for those two runs to align as they did. And to complete that amount of work and effort without bonking (and that includes the time in transitions which dragged the overall time to be over 5 hours) was a huge accomplishment. I have been searching for a nutrition plan that would work well for me and I think I've got it dialed in. There is very little sugar in anything that I consumed. In fact the only sugar was the 5 grams in the powercrunch bar. Everything else was complex carbohydrates or non-caloric electrolyte. UCAN is designed to stabilize blood sugar which allows your body to tap into other energy sources (stored fat) and because of this, it is important to avoid consuming sugar. I felt energetic the whole time though I'm not going to "sugar coat" the reality. It was the hardest workout I'd ever done. And it came at the end of a hard week which included other unprecedented efforts. I was fatigued to begin with so there was a great mental challenge in this one. I felt like I was out there literally all day long.

Very fast diners. Look at their dinner choices!
Saturday night I ate a lot at a really cool Italian restaurant next to a table full of World elite runner!

And then Sunday came and I got to watch CBad and it was awesome!! I had a Slurpee with John and Desa and met Bernard Lagat who'd just lowered his Master's World Record! Oh, and we had a pizza from Pizza Port and found an amazing Acai bowl. 

Bernard Lagat. Wow!

It's done and behind me now, a notation in my training log, but the benefit of it will carry me forward with a new level of confidence. I am nearing the end of this training cycle now. The final weeks play out like this:

  • April 2 - Epic Double Brick (completed)
  • April 10 - Final Epic run (long warm up, 4 x 2 mile repeats on hilly Mountain Drive) (actually did this this morning with two amazing running partners Jen and Desa, so this one too is complete)
  • April 16 - Final Epic long bike (brick - which means I get to run after the long bike) which will be up HW 33
  • Then comes the taper
I'd mentioned the Epic workouts of triathlon in a previous post (click HERE to read). I must reiterate how valuable these workouts are and how they've built over the past 4 months so to the point that I am good and ready for that taper to begin. 

And as mentioned before, I have an important list of people to continue to thank because this is not a solo effort and if I were trying to do this alone, I be no where close to where I am right now. I again want to thank John for coaching my swim, training with me and for being the most amazing and encouraging husband I could ever hope for. And thank you to Nash for coaching and guiding my running training, and thank you to Fred for the overall training plan and building me carefully toward the World Championships, along with all of the cycling training and advice and for being a training partner. And then there's Desa, Jen and Lynelle who have trained along side me, joined me for some of the hardest workouts and did them with me, pushing, pulling, encouraging, believing and so much more. And I have the pleasure of training with several other of the most amazing athletes as well (swim lane buddies, and cycling buddies). 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

From Runner to Triathlete - Transformation Almost Complete

In the movie A League of Their Own, there's a dialogue between two characters (Tom Hanks and Gina Davis) that resonated with me long ago and frequently comes to mind. The film is about the All-Women Baseball league that formed during World War II, and Dottie (played by Gina Davis) was one of the star athletes, and Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) was the coach. Dottie decided to (try and) walk away from the sport when her wounded husband returned from battle.  To her coach she says, "It just got too hard." Jimmy (Tom) replies with one of my favorite movie lines, "It's supposed to be hard.  If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard ... is what makes it great."  

Triathlon training is full of epic workouts. Workouts that are meant to push the body beyond comfort, beyond expectation, beyond current fitness.  Big workouts that simulate race stress and conditions. Workouts that not everyone can do. Great ... Hard workouts.  When I look over my weekly schedule, the epic ones stand out. Just reading the description about the set increases my heart rate. If I have to ask the question, "Can I do this?", I know it's an epic one. I'm not training to complete, I'm training to compete and I know how much it hurts in the middle of the race. I don't want to back off when the pain hits. It will be these epic workouts that carry me through with power and energy, and will get me to the finish line ahead of my competitors. Within these workouts I will learn what I'm capable of and how to give myself a chance to accomplish something ... great.

Over the past 4-6 months, I've been working hard to transition from runner to triathlete. There are many reasons why this has been a very difficult task and I still struggle with letting go of certain strengths and advantages in order to gain other strengths and advantages that will make me (hopefully) a great triathlete. But I've had expert advice to rely on and incredible support and understanding when it comes to my headstrong grip on running. Epic triathlon specific workouts have been the key. As I swing high above the ground afraid to let go of the vine called Running in order to reach out and grab the vine called Triathlon, fearing I may fall completely, a transformation has been occurring. I am about to fully embrace the sport of triathlon.

Here are 3 transformational steps I've taken:

  1. Data Gadgets - My bike is equipped with an awesome power meter and I regularly train with a heart rate monitor now. It has been hard for me to learn how to pace myself on the bike and I have too many times erred on the "too easy of a pace" side of things and have had to learn how to ride hard and understand how long I can hold a given pace.  Along with the addition of the power meter, Fred has had me do Functional Power Threshold tests to determine how hard I can ride maxed out for an hour. This forms my base for training paces and this step alone has made a huge difference. The heart rate monitor is less of a tool for me than it is an interesting indicator. Through almost 40 years of training as a runner I've learned to know my body and my run paces based on feel but the monitor helps me on the bike and I can see how bike efforts and run efforts match and differ. 
  2. Equipment - I want to be clear regarding how I feel about gaining time or advantage because of equipment. This has been one of my sticking points in the past. I didn't want the aero-helmet or special race wheels, or even an aero bike frame. I wanted my time and performance to be pure and based on physical training, ability and mental strength. Over the years I have grown aggravated that I would end up realistically racing with many noted disadvantages. I'd line up with women of similar ability and get beat, not because they were better or stronger, but because they had the stupid equipment. I resisted for a long while, much because I raced with a runner's mentality (which means I am a minimalist when it comes to equipment). I have more recently decided that I no longer want to race with all these disadvantages. I have equipped myself with an aero-helmet, and recently found a great set of used race wheels on Ebay. This of course is more evidence that I've morphed to some extent into a triathlete and while I still feel that training, ability and mental strength are the real keys, at least I am able to compete on a level playing field again. 
    Zipp Wheelset with cool green decals.
  3. The accomplishment of epic workouts that are getting more epic each week! In preparation for the two Ironman 70.3 races (the first of which is in May), I have done several 4 - 5 hour workouts (bike/run combos). To help me with these workouts, I've also had incredible training partners. Here's something else that has been a huge key. I have a coach, Fred Maggiore, who not only writes these workouts but often does them with me. I really haven't got enough words of thanks and gratitude to express how much it has meant to me to have these experiences with other athletes. A few weeks ago we did a 70+ mile ride (around Lake Casitas starting out toward Ventura first, then coming back on the 150 - which I consider to be "Around the lake in reverse direction"), followed by a 30 minute run at tempo pace. Dr. Greg Gaitan weathered that ride with me (high winds that day) and Fred also joined for a solid portion of the ride. A week ago we increased bike mileage by doing a 75 mile ride around Lake Casitas but also looped around Ojai. This ride was then accompanied by a 40 minute hard run off the bike which ended up totaling over 5 hours. Mike Desmond and Fred did this workout (the bike portion) with me. I flatted on this one, making me even more grateful that I hadn't had to do it solo. 
    Photo credit to Mike Desmond who was obsessed with capturing this awesome telephone pole.
    And this weekend we rode Figueroa Mountain and Happy Canyon in Santa Ynez amidst lush green fields and wild flowers. The ride wasn't as long (this is the recovery week) but had 4700 feet of climbing. Riding buddies on this one again included Mike Desmond and Fred, and also James Kantrim. 
    Happy Canyon en route to Fig Mountain

    The view from the top of Fig Mountain

As final proof to myself that I am close to fully morphed, I decided to forego the upcoming Carlsbad 5000 which I was planning to race. It interferes with the big epic workout planned for this weekend so I decided to omit the race and make sure and hit that planned Double Brick instead. The 5000 meter race would have fed my competitive nature but would be of little value in preparing for a 5 hour triathlon. The Double Brick however will be a key workout in which I will simulate race effort over 4.5 hours and will allow me to test myself, push my fitness and endurance to a new level and provide the opportunity to again test my nutrition plan for the race. This brick will be comprised of a 30 mile bike ride followed by a 6 mile run (both hilly), followed by another 30 mile bike ride and then another 6 mile run (both hilly). This will be a little over 3 hours of cycling and 1 1/2 hours of running - similar to the race time/distances. A workout that will push me physically, mentally and nutritionally. And this one will be done solo. I believe this signifies the letting go of the Running vine and grabbing hold of the Triathlon vine, and in the transition ... I didn't fall to the ground. 

It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard ... is what makes it great.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Gemina and Beef Jerky

What the heck kind of title is that for a blog?  I'm sitting here writing, using my unpublished novel, tucked away in a folder, as my mousepad.  It is day 3 of daylight savings time.  I'm pretty sure I am somehow sleep deprived because of it - let's not get started on how I hate changing the clock in the Spring, and how it has health implications for everyone.  The point is Gemina and Beef Jerky.  Here they are:

Gemina with beef jerky
Gemina is a stuffed replica of "the crooked-necked giraffe" who lived at the Santa Barbara Zoo until her death in 2008.  I can never remember her name and am not sure the proper pronunciation so I renamed her Jemima.  Like Aunt Jemima.  She comes to track practice most weeks and sits just inside the first lane on the curve.  She is our team Kenyan and good luck charm.  She watches us - kind of from a sideways slanted view, and sends us fast vibes and helps us dream of pancakes with lots and lots of syrup.

Jemima is pictured today with a package of Beef Jerky.  Why?  I have no idea.  Probably something having to do with her inner conflict - am I a vegetarian, am I a carnivore, omnivore, vegan????  Not really.  The common denominator is simply that these are both gifts to me from a dear friend and teammate.  She gave me the giraffe many moons ago and from there Jemima became the team mascot.  And today she gave me the beef jerky.  Our teammate quietly gives gifts 100% of the time.  It could be a physical gift such as these. Sometimes it's a secret gift as she slips away to "use the restroom" during a team dinner at Eurekas, and then Boom, miraculously the waitress lets us know our bill has been taken care of.  Sometimes it's a gift of words and encouragement.  Sometimes it's a promise to be there when we need her.  I arrived at the track extra early this morning because my workout required more time to warm up.  I started doing my laps in the Westmont darkness (I remind you it is now DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME) by myself and every time I went around the far corner, the darkest corner which borders the scary forest, I thought of the Mountain Lion sightings they had right in that area the year before.  My teammate told me - "next time you have to do an early warm up, you call me and I will be there with you, no matter how early." That's just who she is.

That is the theme of today's blog - the giving nature of the wonderful people around me. Here's a couple of them right here:
Nash and Desa.  Photo credit: Lynelle Paulick
I had a challenging workout assigned to me today.  It was a tempo interval workout that would require me to do repeats of 1.5 miles. I had a pace in mind that I needed to hit (of course a bit faster than coach prescribed).  John (hubby and #1 Wonderful, giving person in my life) ran the first three intervals with me and we fell beautifully into the correct pace together. The rhythm of our feet in unison, John's very loud breathing (which makes it hard to hear my quiet breathing, so that works nicely), looping past our other teamies (they did a different workout so this in no way implies we were lapping them), was the creation of a magical workout.  After a few sets, my mind no longer focused on the work we were doing, but rather the art in it.  Nash joined me for (most of) interval #4 and allowed me to continue with this experience.  It was a sacrifice for him to do this because he had already completed his speed workout. He tacked this extra interval on because I asked for help.  In the end, it was a 12.5 mile workout done completely on the track. I am certain I've never run that many miles on a track before but not only is that what happened today, I loved it.  I loved it because it was done with wonderful, giving, positive people.  Half asleep from DLS imposed sleep deprivation, yes. Trying not to run into each in the dark, yes. Thank goodness for those white lines on the track.

On a side note - the beef jerky was a fun little gift because we had a lot of discussion this week about diet. I have a background in Nutrition, with a Bachelor's degree from Nevada (UNR). And I work for FDN Inc. (which stands for Functional Diagnostic Nutrition®). I usually don't assert my nutritional opinions on others but if asked I'm happy to tell you my take on nutrition, and happy to explain the principles I follow regarding my own diet. I also will provide unsolicited advice if I am concerned about someone I care about. So our dietary discussion this week focused on the importance of meat in the diet, especially an athlete's diet. Here's my opinion about meat (definition of meat = the flesh of any animal): eat it. Well let me just put it this way, because I know there is a growing trend of meatless diets, and I don't mean to step on any of those toes. I eat meat (you don't have to if you don't want to, but I do. I won't judge you if you don't, and you won't judge me because I do) - just like in the old, old days when we learned to eat a balanced meal, I have that chunk of meat on my plate along with the other representatives of the Macro-nutrients. I also make sure I consume meat before a long bike ride (usually salmon or sardines). Because of my type of metabolism (fast oxidizer for those who are familiar with Metabolic Typing®), protein is very important in keeping me fueled. I ultimately consume less Calories overall (the correct amount of Calories) on my high protein diet because I feel full with less food. Protein also helps by body repair and recover and gives me an overall feeling of health and wellness. I take in my protein via food, not supplements, shakes, mixes or powders (except when I take in food during training or competition when real food isn't practical). The best source of protein is meat, not only because it contains all of the essential amino acids, but also because there are many other nutrients contained therein. I am sure there are countless revelations yet to be uncovered regarding nutrients in food, and the combination of nutrients in their naturally occurring state and how they affect processes in the body. To be healthy, the rule is everything in moderation, not "some things in over-abundance and some things completely restricted" (except in cases where there is an allergy or sensitivity/intolerance of course, and probably donuts and carbonated beverage should be completely restricted). Dietary trends come and go and they are not harmless. Eat wisely, use logic, don't let someone else choose for you or influence you, educate yourself, and most importantly, eat to win.  To be clear, I don't follow any specifically labeled diet (such as Paleo). I simply eat without putting too much thought into it.

So that's the story behind the beef jerky.

Gemina (Jemima) = wonderful giving people
Beef jerky = Eat meat

Have a great week and good luck adjusting to the time change. I clearly haven't yet.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

USATF Masters National 8K Road Championships - Brea, CA 2/28/16

During our course preview the day before the race, I had a profound thought.  I shared it with my teammate Lynelle as we coasted into the Brea Mall parking lot.  "Lynelle, there are two ways we could feel at the end of the race.  We could finish, feeling empowered and in control of our own destiny, or we can finish feeling defeated, without a care about our destiny, focused only on crossing the line so we can just be done.  The key to how we feel at the end will be based on how smart we run at the beginning."  

It occurred to me that I had experienced both on this very course.  In 2014 I was in top condition physically and mentally and settled on a pacing strategy that would prove to work out perfectly.  I went out 10 seconds slower than my intended overall pace and was able to make it up in the last two miles.  With a tangible clarity I still recall how I felt in the closing miles, picking off runners, dropping my time down enough to finish with a 5:30 mile, I had everything in control.  I wasn't challenged by any females at the end but I knew if I had been, I would have had one more gear if I needed it.  So that was that year.

Last year, 2015, was entirely the opposite.  I was mending from an injury, lacking confidence, unsure of my game plan because I just didn't know what pace I could realistically hold.  I went out too fast, struggled in the middle miles, and just didn't have much for the finish. That year I did have females to race against at the end and I remember, again with tangible clarity, feeling like I didn't care if they beat me, I didn't care how fast I was going, I just didn't care about anything except crossing the line so I could finally stop running.  I had no control over myself, no extra gear.  

Same course, same me, two completely different finishes.  I wondered how it would go this year.  It was good that this thought happened upon me the day before the race, and good that I verbalized it to Lynelle because it reminded me how important it is to run smart, set the right expectations, and hold to the right pace.  I didn't want to finish this one feeling like I did last year.

The Brea 8K has been host to the USATF Masters 8K Road Championships for the past 3 years and with any luck, they will agree to allow the SoCal Association to bid for another 3 years.  I have my fingers crossed.  Being that this might be the last time this national championship happens so close to home and on such a perfect course, we simply would not have missed it for the world.  We formed a women's 40+ team (me, Desa Mandarino, Jen Brown and Lynelle Paulick), and a men's 50+ team (John Abrami, Jim Adams, Richard Konoske) and we had three individual runners, Nash Jimenez, Ricky Ho and Larry Brooks. The team competition is fierce against the many LA teams, so also against teams that travel many miles to compete.  Our ladies were hopeful that we'd podium but felt it was a long shot to even hope for 1st or 2nd (which were the $ places).  But even when you feel there is no hope, there always is.

Here's how it all played out.  The whole group stayed at a hotel located right at the race start (same place we have stayed the previous years).  Race time on Sunday was 7:30 am, so we gathered (most of us anyway) at 6:15 am to go for our warm up. The air was thick with fog and getting foggier, but the temperature was clean and crisp and no wind.  The chill and moisture was refreshing and mixed with my nerves to energize me.  I don'the recall feeling extremely nervous but what I do know is that I was looking forward to running hard.  That is NEVER something I look forward to.  What was in that fog anyway?  We had a nice 3 mile warm up and arrived back to the hotel in time to change into our Rabbit uniforms and racing flats.  I packed a few things in a small backpack intending to place it near the start so I had it handy post-race.

One by one, we all made our way to the starting area to do our pre-race drills and strides. By now the 200+ masters runners littered the area, everyone doing everything they could to get their bodies ready to run hard.  This is the time when nerves begin to set in.  It doesn't help that a few things went wrong at this point.  Our 4 woman team looked for the uniform check in at the start (where they said it would be) but no one was checking teams at the starting line.  I learned that the other three ladies were waiting for me at the USATF tent as that apparently is where the check actually was. By the time I ran over there, the check in person had left and we were then told to go to the starting line to check in.  We were just a few minutes before start and were desperately just trying to check in and the stress level rose just a bit.  On our scamper back up to the starting line, John informed me that my little backpack had been confiscated by security as it was considered suspicious.  The police had been called and somehow or another my little backpack was put in jail. I get it.  I know why that happened but it was just another unsettling thing to add to our "check in" difficulty.  In the end, we never did find the person with whom to check in and had to let that go.  It was a frustrating distraction.  

The National Anthem was performed live and we settled into our spot a few layers in behind the finish line.  Heart pounding, eyes wide.  The fog remained heavy and I put my sunglasses up on my head, hoping to use them later.  At some point the horn sounded unexpectedly.  I missed the "runners to your mark" part.  So reaction time was a little slow but I realized it took everyone by surprise, sigh.  Old people.

My game plan was once again to go out 10 seconds slower than my intended race pace which meant going through the first mile in around 6:15.  The first mile was nice and smooth. Oddly there were some runners breathing so hard I wondered if they were going to make it 800 meters.  I am certain they didn't bother warming up and went out way too fast for their fitness level.  Both are huge mistakes and I wondered how seasoned masters runners could be so foolish. The fact that I was mentally analyzing these things meant that I was relaxed and in a comfortable place.  I spent time analyzing everyone around me. I looked up the road to see who was ahead of me and saw Nash. He tends to go out faster than me so this was a good situation and I locked eyes on him.  I listened to the breathing around me, and I listened to my own breathing.  I scanned my body from top to bottom to take inventory of everything.  I felt great.  I had energy, I was running off my toes, feeling power in my stride and was very comfortable with the pace.  I came through the first mile in 6:08 which was faster than I planned but considering how I felt, I was elated.  I kept my eyes locked on Nash and I tried to settle my pace a bit.  Being that the course is always fluctuating up and down, has a long hill in the middle but a lot of downhill in the final two miles, it is very difficult to get the pace right at first.  I didn't have an expectation of where I should be at each mile but I knew I needed to remain conservative and trust by body to have it at the end.  The second mile, which sloped down and then sloped up, felt great to me but I noted that Nash was a little farther ahead.  This mile had slowed to 6:23 and in my mind that was fine because that evened it out to the 6:15 pace I had intended.  The third mile is where the hill is and is the slowest mile.  It was in this mile that I spotted a blond runner in a pink uniform.  This was Tania from the Janes Elite team and she represented the opportunity to begin to dream just a little bit.  She is the first runner on the Janes Elite team which was the defending champions.  She also is in my age group and tends to run extremely tough.  Having her in my sights going into the third mile was both surprising and exhilarating.  She was still many yards ahead of me but I had a target.  When I hit a hill, I really want it to be over as soon as possible so on this one I tried to increase the exertion a bit and passed a few women (and men) in the process.  I fully expected to pass several women as I went out conservatively, so it felt good to already begin picking them off.  But blond/pink was still up ahead, although I had picked up some time on her.  At the top of the hill, I moved my glasses in place (the fog was dissipating), took several strides to get my breathing and effort level back under control and was stilling picking up time on her.  We passed the 5K mark and turned the corner to head back down the hill. I no longer paid any attention to my time or my watch.  I'm pretty sure I didn't look at it again and that was because it didn't matter.  All that mattered was that I catch my girl and give our team a chance to accomplish something great and unexpected.  We had less than two miles to go and I went into tactical mode (similar to how I ran the recent XC race - if you missed that race report, read about it HERE).  It was at this point that I somehow got one leg on the wrong side of the "caution tape" that lined the course.  How did that happen?  I was running while straddling this yellow tape wondering how I was going to get this straightened out.  I had to almost stop to swing my leg back over and lost some ground, and was just a bit frazzled.  I had to quickly regroup and refocus, pick up the pace and continue with the pursuit. Shortly thereafter, I caught blond/pink but I spent some time on her heels before I decided to pass her. I knew she would surge as I passed so I wanted to be sure I had an answer. I made the pass, she made an audible noise of frustration and tried to surge. I also surged and made a definitive pass and kept my pace strong. It occurred to me that today I am in control of the outcome of this race. We had just over a mile to go and now I focused again on Nash who was a few yards ahead of me. 

Many things entered my mind in this last mile.  First, I began to fantasize about the possibility of beating this unbeatable team.  I wondered if there was any other woman in my age group ahead of me. I had just passed the defending champion.  I had no other goals ahead of me. It mattered not to me if I caught Nash (I figure if I repeat this to myself enough I'll finally believe it).  I figured we both must be having outstanding races. Was he winning his age group?  I thoroughly enjoyed that last mile. I felt good. There was no way I was going to be caught. I thought of my teammates and how they were doing, and where they were in reference to the other Janes Elite team runners.  I passed a few struggling men, came around the few final turns and ran the final stretch. The only, I mean ONLY disappointment I felt that day was the time on the clock as I approached. With all that I'd just experienced I figured my time would be decent and within my expectation. It wasn't. It was (in my mind) slow. I crossed the line feeling like I had more in the tank but having accomplished all I really needed to.  It is not like me to finish with more to give. I quickly tucked this away to be pondered later.  Just a few seconds after I finished, Jen, having run a remarkable race, came across the line, also beating blond/pink.  My mind began to race, processing all of this.  Two of us finished before Janes Elite's top runner finished.  Jen and I (and Nash) high five'd or hugged or something (I can't really remember) and Nash began yelling for Desa.  Desa was coming in and without even being aware of it, everything was resting on her shoulders. Desa finished ahead of Jane's third runner and as we huddled in fatigue, the possibility begin to bloom in our minds. Did we just win this thing?  We yelled for our remaining runners, Lynelle and the guys.  I felt so many emotions at this point.  Elation mixed with disappointment.  Elation quickly won over.  The Janes girls grouped together and it seemed they were figuring it out pretty quick.  With an occasional glance our way, they realized they might have just got beat by some Rabbits.  

We made our way over to the expo and to the results.  I found out there was another in my age group ahead of me so I was second. Another slight disappointment but why dwell? Nash was also second but to someone he highly respected. He seemed okay with the outcome which allowed me to feel the same.  Lynelle also podiumed with a third.  She had a superb race and well deserved.  Larry Brooks also secured a second place age group finish. Santa Barbara just made a statement. However, there were no team results posted so we simply didn't know how we placed.  As we cooled down we hoped, we dreamed, we anticipated.

Team results were finally posted and it was official.  Santa Barbara Running and Racing women's 40+ team won.  Janes Elite Racing was second.  Cal Coast A team was third.  I tried to remain mature in my reaction but I felt like I was in high school again, the day we eeked out our 4th straight state championship title.  I felt giddy and excited. And I said it out loud.  We are National Champions.  Oh that felt so good.

Well wouldn't you know it that somewhere between the posting of the team results and the awards ceremony, things got messed up.  When the winners were announced they had Jane's in third, Santa Barbara in second (what?) and Cal Coast in first.  Seriously?  We sat there in our chairs, unable to rise to the podium because we were utterly confused.  They proceeded to hand out the first and third place awards.  Janes collected the first place award and Cal Coast the third place award (because they at least figured out that everything was announced wrong) but we remained seated.  I was waiting to speak with the official as soon as they were done.  It did end up getting corrected and everyone was exceedingly gracious. The Janes representative handed us the first place award and collected their second place stuff.  Coach Nash spoke directly to the race director to make sure the official results were correct, etc... We are assuming all of that will be officially corrected as there was (a little) money earned. So we didn't get that wonderful pleasure of going before the crowd to get the recognition but no matter.  Everyone was wonderful and we held many conversations of congratulations, and got our team photos taken.

Thank you Desa, Jen and Lynelle for doing so well, running with your heart, forming a bond that will always exist. This was a true team experience and you all mean everything to me.  I have tremendous respect for you and your courage to believe.  Many people count themselves out of something this big before ever giving it a shot. You are not like that.

Thank you John for encouraging me, training with me, doing these wonderful things together. Without you it would be meaningless.   Thank you Nash for pulling great people together and putting so much of who you are into us.  You are the greatest runner I've ever met. You have taught me so much. I thought I knew it all but I didn't.  And you race with us. Thank you Fred for the training plan that although aimed at some big triathlons, is giving me the fitness and confidence I need. I feel so blessed by every one of you and am truly grateful. Congratulations Ricky on your first Master's competition. You have now discovered that masters runners remain strong and fast.  These days no one concedes to age and science.  We continue to prove you can still run fast after 40.

Next up is Carlsbad 5000 in April and then from there, the Ironman 70.3 in St. George in May.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

2016 USATF Cross Country National Championships - Race Report

On the starting line of every major race in my memory, the same thought crosses my mind. "Why do I do this to myself?  Why am I here? I could be sleeping or sitting with a nice Americano, but no, I drag my butt to this spot. Why?"  And at the finish line of those same major races comes this thought: "Oh.  That's why."  Take a chance.  Do what is scary or out of your comfort zone.  Take a risk.  See what happens.  What if?

When something really matters and you feel like your whole being is on the line, you get nervous and begin to ask all of the "why's". 

Here's a "What If?" story. We traveled last week to Bend, OR with about 14 other Santa Barbara runners to complete in the XC national championship. "We" being myself and John, Coach Nash, my masters women teammates Desa Mandarino and Lynelle Paulick, the members of the open women's team - Lauren Capone, Jill Deering, Dani Moreno and Natalie McClure, and the masters men - Rusty Snow, Todd Booth, Jim Adams, Mike Swan, Marcelo Mejia, Steve Harding and Micks Purnell. There were Santa Barbarians all over the place.  It was, in a word, EPIC.

All I knew about Bend, OR prior to this trip, was that it had a really hard cross country course.  The course (in similar configuration) was used for the 2013 USATF National Club Championships and just from the little bit of video footage and the times posted, we knew it was a tough one.  But not having a full visual is always difficult.  You just have to train for every possible condition - hills, mud, snow, thick grass, soggy grass, clumps of crab grass, wood chips, rocks, steep up, steep down, sideways sloping fairways, freezing temperatures, rain, creek crossings.  Basically that is cross country in a big nutshell.

So we did a bulk of our preparation in the dark on grass surfaces (littered with palm tree obstacles many of which I narrowly missed colliding with) in the coldest temperatures Santa Barbara could muster, and miles and miles and miles of Romero Canyon.  Not only were the Romero climbs important but so were the descents.  We had at least one fairly significant blustery rainstorm worked into the mix which we thought was fairly laughable to try and train through.  We had to run 1200 meter intervals into some kind of insane wind, into rain so hard we could barely keep our eyes open (that was one of the times I had close calls with palm trees).  I turned to Lynelle that morning and said, "See what I mean about cross country?  It's all about snot, tears and blood.  No sweat involved."

We did our weeks and weeks of training, hoping we were coming close to the right kind of preparation and the tension began to build in the final weeks before the race.  I was anxious to preview the course so that I could have more realistic panic instead of just imagined panic.  

We arrived early Friday morning (the day before Race Day) - 1:00 am'ish, slept as much as possible, and then our small gang of housemates loaded up our nerves and our spikes and went to packet pick up and onto the course.  I noted that travel to the course, which was, as usual, on a golf course, was uphill.  This was not a good sign.  It also wasn't helpful that Todd, who'd been to the course already, said, "It's tough. It has two big hills."  Um, it's a 2000 meter loop with two big hills.  In other words what you're saying is the whole thing is uphill.  Breath, just take deep calming breaths.  It can't all be uphill. It's a loop.  There has to be some down stuff somewhere.

We arrived.  It was windy and cloudy, and kind of cold.  We walked over to the area of the start and stood near the starting line looking up the course.  The key word here is "UP" the course.  It starts with a gruesome, nasty hill (which I will call hill #1).  Not just a hill, but a messy, choppy, wood chippy, twisting hill of uneven grass, strewn with an occasional ground level, mostly buried boulder (upon which spikes don't work very well).  You look at this hill and you just puzzle over it and scratch your head.  Why?

So off we went to begin to jog the loop.  By the way, this type of cross country racing involves 2000 meter loops so everything we were now seeing and feeling would happen over and over and over (and maybe a few more "over's") again.  Keeping this in mind, we shuffled over the swamp, across the wood chips, and up the nasty hill.  Almost in unison we said, "geez, so glad we spent all the time running Romero."  Talk about luck.  We somehow managed to train ourselves perfectly.  The hill finally ended and we got to have a very special and fun downhill section which curved around into the next hill.  Hill #2 was totally different than hill #1.  Hill #2 started off with some fun muddy, messy, rocky dirt which finally popped up back onto the rough grass.  Unfortunately that was just the beginning of hill #2. It continued on and began to slope sideways so that you run up a hill but one foot is lower than the other because the hill also goes sideways.  And this lasts FOREVER.  It finally rounds a corner to the right, still climbing and then the sideways slope shifts to the other side.  And still climbs until we reach the happy tree.  The happy tree means hill #2 is almost done.  Of course it has to be a false summit and where you think you should be going down, somehow you're still climbing.  But finally it does shift to a downhill and this one is nice and long. We cross a slushy "what the heck is this" section and then comes King's Cliff.  King's Cliff is a sharp descent - short and NOT sweet.  Then you finish off the loop, round the lower bend and begin to head through the transition into your next loop - which, need I even say it, means you are now at hill #1 again.  So that thing haunted my dreams that night.  For the Master's women it was 3 loops of hell, for the Master's men, 4 loops and for the Open women, 5 loops of nasty.

Race Day - Master's Women were first up so the three of us warmed up, claimed our Warming Tent and hit the port-a-potties 15 times, while Nash and John napped in the car (which Nash insisted we park as near to the start as possible, meaning we parked basically illegally and pretty much ON the course).  The temperature race morning was bordering between 'manageable with only a tank top', and 'requiring full coverage.'  We each settled on what we thought we could handle, put on our spikes and went to the start.  John and Nash decided their nap was done so they came out and grabbed our coats.  Yes, I kept my Patagonia down coat on me practically until the gun went off.  Nash and John actually did more than just grab our coats. They offered encouragement and Nash drilled it into our heads at least 14 times - "Doooon't go out too fast."  We stretched, we jogged, we strided, we jumped up and down and finally we were called to the line.  This is when I went into my start line melt down of why's.  And then the gun went off and suddenly, who cares why.  We raced.

Photo by Todd or Skyler Booth
A quick synopsis because this is already getting a bit on the long side.  The one runner whom I knew from other competitions went out fast and separated herself.  I was content to let her do that because I was not going to blow this.  Too fast of a start on Mr. Nasty hill #1 could be a race ender.  The rest of the field was conservative so this made it easy to stay mellow.  I settled into second place and soon after, a woman in a white hat settled on my shoulder.  Up and down, around and through we went and loop #1 was in the history books. The lead runner
had a 30 second lead and I was in a clear battle for my second place position with a woman also in my age group and a member of the other scoring team against whom we were contending. Hence, this is why she settled on my shoulder.  She figured the race between she and I would perhaps determine a couple of medals and prize money.  My hope was that I would
Photo by Todd or Skyler Booth
come off of each loop totally stoked to get right into the next one and this is in fact how I felt.  So we moved into loop #2, starting again with hill #1.  I studied my shoulder buddy.  She was making me do the work. She drafted off me into the headwind and she was getting on my nerves.  I noted that she struggled on the hills and then caught and sometimes passed me on the downhills.  It went exactly the same in loop #2. She stayed mostly on my shoulder, and we actually gained some seconds on the lead woman. I decided to be thankful for my shoulder buddy.  We had now created a nice gap between ourselves and those behind us
Photo by Todd or Skyler Booth
so she was my only concern.  Coming down the hill on loop #2, she pulled ahead on King's Cliff but I eventually worked back to her on the more even ground.  We rounded the bend and were now looking at our final loop.  I love the final loop of any race. With every challenge you complete you can finally say, "ha, that's the last time I have to go up that hill, or over that mud, or whatever."  My shoulder buddy definitely struggled on the final round of hill #1 but she stubbornly stayed close and got back on my shoulder on the downhill.  This time though, I wasn't going to do all the work.  I slowed down so much she had no option but to pass me and I latched on to her shoulder as we came to hill #2 and the soon arrival of the headwind.  She was struggling at
Photo by Todd or Sklyer Booth
this point so I begin to recover as I stayed behind her using much less energy than I had been.  We popped up from the muddy rocky part and onto the slanted section.  I decided at some point in that section that I didn't feel like hanging on her shoulder anymore and I moved passed her, still on the hill, and I did so purposefully because I knew she was struggling on the hills.  I quickly dropped her this time and she had no response. I still felt great and I got to the happy tree with enough of a gap that I could no longer hear her anywhere behind me.  The last section was the final 800 meters downhill and I picked up my pace.  At this point, had I been within range, I would have set
Photo by Todd or Skyler Booth
my sights on the lead runner but she had at least 20 seconds on me.  I ran that last section imaging that my shoulder buddy was catching me (which she wasn't), rounded the final bend and ran the slope up to the finish line.  I placed 2nd, and about 24 seconds ahead of her. Therefore I won my age group (the lead woman was in younger age group) and positioned our team ahead of the other team at that point.  As soon as I crossed the finish line and got to double over and breath for a good long time, the same old answer to the tortured Why's
Photo by Todd or Skyler Booth
came screaming into my head.  THIS is why you do what you do.  I turned to wait for my teammates and watched for the opposing team scoring runners. Soon Desa arrived, third in our age group.  That meant two of our team crossed and only one of theirs crossed.  Just as we anticipated, Lynelle would be the key.  Desa and I watched and the remaining two women on the other team finished but just on their tail was our Lynelle.  She crossed and crumbled as her
Photo by Todd or Skyler Booth
legs gave out.  Clearly she gave it all and then some.  In the end we won by 1 point. If any one of us had lost a place to another scoring runner our team wouldn't have won. National championship medals and victories are not easy to come by. They are cherished no matter what the situation. We were elated and giddy, and pretty much freaked out.  Tears came.  It was EPIC.

We then watched our guys run!  We bounced all over the course cheering like mad people. All of the sudden that nasty course wasn't so nasty after all. We just
Photo by Todd or Skyler Booth
kicked its butt.  The guys ran just as brave and amidst a heavy and talented field of competitors, the 40+ team placed 2nd. Rusty won his age group and was 5th overall.  Marcelo ran incredibly even though he was horribly sick.  Mike had almost no sleep and ran well. Nash was 2nd in his age group.  The 50+ guys didn't have a full team but they all ran well.  We had an amazing showing at this race. Finally our Open women competed, doing their 5 loops.  They were so fun to watch and made it look easy. Jill ran strong even though she also was sick.  Dani, Lauren and Natalie placed solidly and made us all proud.  The women were adorn in Rabbit race kits.
Photo by Todd or Skyler Booth

It was a beautiful journey.  This story and our experiences are why I like to do things way out of my comfort zone.  It's scary, you might fall flat, but just maybe, maybe something magical will happen.  If you don't try, you leave no opportunity for the magical moments to surprise you.  I think Bend is a magical place.  Thank you John for journeying with me in everything. Thank you Nash for the hard, in your face advice, and for making us do Romero 15 times.  Thank you Desa and Lynelle for running with your hearts and winning the championship. Thank you Fred for the deep conditioning and mental toughness of the triathlon training that also added to this accomplishment.  Thank you Billy and Gi for supporting your super woman and for the photos. Thank you Todd and Skyler for more photos.  Thank you Rabbit for the racing kits, which we were so proud to wear. And thank you Santa Barbara Running for sponsoring our team.  Thank you to all who cheered on site and in thought. 
Photo by Todd or Skyler Booth