Closing the Chapter, But Not the Book

It’s dark. It is so dark on the Queen K that I am worried about running into people head on as they run towards me, but there aren’t many of them out there now. There is no moon and I am not yet to the hill with the street lamps – the famous “Dave and Mark hill” where they had the Iron War. Spectators are riding their bikes in the opposite direction, looking for friends whose days maybe have not turned out as planned. I am expecting Mark to pop out of the darkness to yell at me. He has been watching the tracker and knows I have been run-walking for miles. I remember 2011 when he appeared along this stretch to try to get me to break 4:00 for the run and salvage some of my pride. I’m slower than that today. Mark isn’t there. I am both relieved and sad.

I am wearing a glowstick, but I refuse to wear it around my neck, instead, clipping it to my race belt so I am less aware of it bouncing around as I run. I once dreamed of finishing this race in the daylight (which requires around an 11-hour finish), but I never have. I will chuck the glowstick in dramatic fashion a mile from the finish and the people who see me do it will cheer.

I get to the final aid station on the Queen K. I have been walking the aid stations for the entire marathon and I’m sure I walked this one, too, although I don’t remember. The volunteers are still offering to spray us with water, but it is dark and not that hot anymore, and I politely decline. A volunteer says to me, “there are a lot of people waiting for you just down the road,” and I almost start crying thinking about Mark, my kids and my sister waiting for me. The thought of keeping them waiting is the thing that has kept me running, at times, for the last hour. I feel badly that I am making them wait. I crest the hill and turn right on Palani, which was filled with people a few hours ago, but is deserted now. Everyone has made their way to the finish.

I turn left on Kuakini and almost make the wrong right turn before Hualalai, but luckily someone tells me before I head the wrong way. I am pretty much on my own and people are walking all over the place and I have forgotten this part of the course.

I turn right on Ali’i. I am running fast now, with solid form. The way I wish I had for the prior 25 miles. I run fast enough to feel like me, but not so fast that I don’t try to take it all in. The things that had hurt enough to make me walk much of the past 6, 13, 24 miles don’t hurt anymore – a strange finish chute phenomenon. I move toward the right side of the road and high five everyone for at least a block. I smile.

38_m-100740304-digital_highres-1369_068880-4540186

We are in the water, the other pink caps and I, and I am holding onto a buoy to save energy, reminding myself that this is the last time I will be cold today. I am nervous about the swim and I hate that. This is my 11th Ironman and I wish I was used to it by now, but I’m not. Mike Reilly is standing on the pier, counting down on the loudspeaker, and I can still hear the drums from the pier and the helicopter overhead. The sunrise was beautiful and it is going to be a clear, hot day.

img_2310

I start on the buoy line but in the back, and that seemed like a great idea until about 200 meters into the swim when all of the people who had started wide merged over and I become completely boxed in. I am nervous because it feels so crowded now and for a few moments, I think I might panic and have to DNF. I try to gain control of my breathing and heart and I pretend I am in our neighborhood pool, swimming masters. The panicky feeling passes and people swim up ahead and I am o.k. for the rest of the swim.

I exit the water and the clock says 1:20, which is a Kona swim PR for me and the same time I swam in the practice race the week before. I feel good.

The bike is a blur of wind, heat, pineapple Skratch, sunburnt legs, and trying not to get too down about the wind, heat and the fact I am in the back of the race. There are no draft packs in my part of the field – it’s too sparse – and I know the big obstacle on the bike won’t really be the wind, but it will be me, and whether I get discouraged and give up before making it back to town.

Amy passes me near Kawaihae and I wish I can stay with her for the company, but she is riding a completely different pace and she disappears up the road. It is not as windy as last time and I ride to and from Hawi in an uneventful way, not feeling too terrible, but it’s the Kona bike, so I am also not feeling great. A couple of aid stations on the Queen K are out of water (this was true for the bike and the run), and this makes me way more unhappy than it should have. The soles of my feet feel like they are on fire – they are inexplicably burning – and I think a lot about pulling to the side to loosen my shoes but I never do.

29_m-100740304-digital_highres-1369_055658-4540177

I decided before the race that I would try to ride my best bike split (if conditions allowed) and I roll into T2 at 6:30, which is nearly 30 minutes better than my disastrous split in 2014, but not quite my best, although I don’t know that at the time. I rode my best bike split in 2011 when I was brand new and not much of a cyclist. It is one of my unsolved Kona mysteries why I have not been able to beat my time from that year despite more experience and training.

I take my time in T2 because there doesn’t seem to be an urgent reason to rush. So far, I have swam and rode pretty much what I expected and now all I have to do is run sub-4:00 and I will have a Kona PR. I’ve joked all week that all I want on this day is to make it to T2. Then it is easy. Or at least that’s how it usually goes. I have done ten Ironmans and only run over 4 hours once, in St. George, and I don’t count that one since I didn’t really train for the race. I have trained for this run. I don’t think it will be a 3:30 day, but 3:45 doesn’t seem out of reach. 4:00 should be a breeze.

I am running up Ali’i. Friends are heading the other direction, spectators soak me with water, and I try to figure out how to solve the problem that my head doesn’t quite feel like it is fully attached. I drink Coke and eat oranges and walk all of the long aid stations and try to find my run legs, but they never come. A stranger gets me running around mile 4 by telling me he will wait right there for me until I turn around and come back. This sounds reassuring so I pick up the pace again. When I am running, I am running well (8s), but I can’t do it for very long. Not even a whole mile. Every time I start running, I get abdominal cramps, and while it is not the worst pain in the world, it is enough to slow me to a walk. My family comes into view around mile 4 and I feel bad that they have to see me struggle.

26_m-100740304-digital_highres-1369_051650-4540174

The guy is still there when I run back by at mile 6-ish and he yells and I smile and it helps for a bit. Someone else yells, “We’ve got a runner in the house!” and that helps me pick up the pace and hold it for a while. Yes, I’m a runner. This is the part I can do. Lots of times, it feels like the only part I can do. My running is the reason I’m here.

I reach Palani and don’t even try to run it. Jack walks next to me, trying to get me to run. I start running at the top and he is there with me, keeping pace in his flip flops. I tell him it might take me a while to reach the finish and he says, “I know.”

img_2320

Out on the Queen K there is a breeze and even though there are no spectators, I am happy to be out there and away from the swamp of Ali’i Drive. Somehow I make it to the Energy Lab and, once again, the sun is setting. I see Amy at the turn and she says I am going to catch her but I never do. I make a few friends out there as I pass people running and then they catch me when I walk and we walk together. I tell my new friends that it doesn’t matter that we are walking because “we get to enjoy the course longer.” Some laugh and some don’t. Everyone is consumed with their own struggle and by now, we all are struggling.

We fly home the next day and I know it will be a while before I come back, if ever. In the past, I always felt like I wanted another chance to be “good,” but I have a way of setting the bar so high that I can never reach it and I am not sure why I can’t just be satisfied to have been there, part of the show, and this makes me feel guilty, but it’s just how I am.

It is 48 hours after the race and I am back at my desk, trying to determine if I have dropped any balls over the past few weeks trying to get ready for the race. I wanted to see if I could work full time, be a mom, and race Kona. I was able to do all of that, but some things had to give this year and the choices I made revealed themselves out on the race course. It was too much, but also not enough, and I certainly didn’t train hard enough for the day, but I also don’t regret the other ways I spent my time.

We have so many wonderful family memories from our trips here, especially this one. We swam with mantas (well, some of us did), rode in a helicopter over the volcano, saw the waterfalls near Hilo, hiked the Pololu Valley, saw a reef shark, drove up to the Mauna Kea Visitor’s Center, enjoyed sunrises over Hualalai and sunsets into the Pacific.

If it weren’t for the lure of this place, and this race, I wouldn’t have been to so many other cool places and met so many great people. Thanks to my real family, my triathlon family, my Coeur family, and everyone who has been there throughout this journey.

Mahalo,

Jen

image-1

Advertisements

Finding the Joy

When I first stated doing Ironman, I was newly unemployed with kids who had just started going to school full-time. I had time on my hands and wanted to try something new, something other than running. I didn’t care how I placed or what the time on the clock was. I was just so proud to get out there and conquer my swim fears and hopefully finish with a fast run split.

That lasted for one season.

Then I decided to get more “serious.” I hired a coach, followed a plan, and started the quest to see just how much I could improve. And in just five years, I went from newbie to vet, from novice to Kona, from not knowing much about triathlon to a ten-time Ironman.

Along the way, I’ve realized that triathlon has given me a lot – fitness, friends, confidence, new experiences, to name a few. But I also started to realize it couldn’t give me everything that I was looking for. It couldn’t substitute for voids in other areas of my life the way I thought it might. That’s why sometimes even after having a great day in training or on the race course, I didn’t always feel fulfilled in the way that I wanted. Something that started out fun and new had become just another area in my life where I felt like I didn’t always measure up.

Last year I was pretty sure I was going to stop doing Ironman in 2016. With nothing left to prove to myself and no real desire to put in more work than I had been doing, I felt like I had reached the end of my journey in the sport. But then, as I like to say, the tri gods had other plans.

I embarked on the world’s longest off-season, which has included tons of organizing and purging of junk, a home renovation project, and many days on the slopes with my husband and kids.

I’ve done a bunch of running since December when I thought I might try to run 100 days in a row – I made it 22 until I got sick and skipped two days – but the runs have been mostly slow and short. There have been zero bikes or swims.

I’ve spent some time this off season (yes, I’m still in the off season) wondering what I want from triathlon and what it can realistically give me. And the conclusion I’ve reached is that all I really want this season is to regain my fitness and have some fun. I want it to feel more like it did when I was new and less like a job or something I am doing out of a hard-to-define sense of obligation.

It’s easy to forget when you immerse yourself in our world, but if you step back and think about it, it’s a pretty amazing thing to accomplish, covering 140.6 miles all in one day, oftentimes in less than ideal weather or on challenging terrain. It’s special. I’ve needed some time away to remember that.

So my wish for 2016 is this: I hope to continue the quest to find fulfillment and joy outside of sport. And if I make some progress on that, I hope to allow myself to approach my training and racing with the joy and wonder of someone just discovering it.

If you have recently felt like our sport is not bringing you joy, I challenge you to ask yourself what you are trying to get out of Ironman and if you are asking for more than the sport can deliver. If so, you can do what I’m doing and try to figure out how and why other areas of your life are lacking and hopefully find a way to stay in triathlon that makes you feel good about yourself. That’s what I hope to do.

I am not quite ready to delve back into a training plan just yet, and if I believe what social media says, it feels like I’m the only one. But I hope when I am ready to return to more structured training, I will have an appreciation and renewed drive to face the 2016 season and be my best. Or if not the best, then to have a smile on my face and continue to enjoy this privilege we call Ironman.

Gratuitous ski pics since that’s mostly what I’ve been up to lately

The Biggest of the Big Days: Ironman Louisville Race Report

This is the story of what happens when you race all out, from gun to finish, without worrying about time, placement, slots, or whether you might have to walk the whole marathon. You just race with your heart and head, keep your wits about you, don’t make any mistakes (well, not many mistakes), and have a little luck on your side.

Backing up for a minute, I never had my sights set on this race, but when I got shut out of Arizona registration last fall, it seemed like a good alternative. It was in the fall, which I like, and it was wetsuit-legal, which is practically a must for me. Beyond that, I didn’t give the course too much thought.

I don’t want to bury the following info about Louisville at the end (in case people get bored and stop reading by then). Louisville – the course and the town – exceeded all of my expectations. There are towns that host Ironman, and then there are towns that are proud of their Ironman. Louisville is definitely in the second category. Everyone I encountered all weekend, from the residents, to the other racers, to the outstanding volunteers, was exceedingly polite. This race is popular with many first timers, and their excitement was contagious. There is a lot to do and see in the area, and the course is pretty phenomenal across the board. The Ohio River is much less gross than everyone had made it out to be. The bike is scenic and honest. The run is on roads with not a single step of bike path. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Back to the race…

My plan for this race was pretty simple. I knew I would have to not panic in the swim, ride super hard on the bike, and then run as close to 3:30 as possible. I have a good history of making it through the swim and running fast, but the bike felt like a huge, gaping unknown. I didn’t feel like I had biked very well at the one and only race I did this year before IMLou, and once I saw the course by car on Friday, I felt pretty nervous about it.

Despite plugging away at my bike training for several years now, it still feels like a weakness, and I knew that to stay in the race on Sunday, I would have to take a risk on the bike. Vince and I rely a lot on power and heart rate metrics in training, but after talking to Michelle Simmons at our Team Coeur gathering on Thursday night and hearing how she didn’t race with data, I started to get an idea: maybe I wouldn’t race with any data either? Not even a watch! This idea started to gel in my head and I was actually really excited about it. No power numbers to shame me during my ride, no heart rate to keep track of. By Saturday night, I decided it would be throwing the race away to ignore my data, so I decided to have it available, but let my instincts dictate the ride.

The swim. Holy crap was I nervous about the swim. I had completed exactly one open water swim since last October (Harvest Moon), and I hadn’t felt like that had gone very well. I not-so-secretly hoped the swim would be cancelled due to the water quality issue, but by the beginning of race week, it was looking like it was a go. They let us in the water for one practice swim on Saturday morning, and I decided to take advantage of it, not wanting my first dip in the Ohio River to be on Sunday morning. That all went o.k., but I wasn’t feeling great about the swim and it was consuming a lot of my pre-race thoughts.

IMG_0267

Ohio River – no worse than the Boulder Res

A cool thing happened on Saturday after I checked in my bike. I was killing time at the Expo before going to the airport to pick up Mark, and I decided to spend a little time sitting in some Normatec boots at the Normatec tent. Towards the end of my session, a man and woman ran over to the tent to sit in the boots. The woman was wearing an Ironman Boulder shirt and I asked her who had done the race. She said she had, and we started chatting about all things Boulder and Colorado. Some things she said started to ring a bell, and I asked her her name. She said “Ovetta Sampson,” and I realized she was the subject of an interesting profile in the most recent issue of Swimmer Magazine (the free mag you get for being a COMSA member). I can’t find an online link to the article, but the gist is that Ovetta, who grew up, in her words, “a poor, black girl on the South Side of Chicago,” had overcome some fears of open water to become an avid open water swimmer and triathlete who now coaches other women who were once like her – not the most likely triathletes, but embracing the sport. She did a TED talk in Chicago about “Making the Impossible Possible,” in which she tells the story of how she got into triathlon.

I was so interested that I remember looking her up on Twitter because I wanted to make a connection to this cool woman, and here she was sitting next to me at the Expo, chatting about swimming. Right before I left, I asked her for one open water tip she could give me for race day. She thought for a second and said, “long and strong. Long and strong, all day long.”

Long and strong all day long

I loved it.

We said goodbye and I went to get Mark, and my mood was ten times better. For the first time since arriving in Louisville, I actually felt excited and happy. Mark and I chatted about my race plan Saturday night, and he reiterated that I had to ride hard to stay in the race and we talked about shooting for a 5:50 bike. Then I would have to run like hell, but that part I thought I could manage.

I slept great Saturday night and my stomach wasn’t upset in the morning like it sometimes is on race day from the nerves. I got in the hotel elevator and my Coeur teammate Michaela was there (we hadn’t planned to meet). Everything at transition was smooth and when I lined up for the swim – in the longest line I have ever been a part of – I met two really cool women who immediately felt like friends. Thanks Jeannine from Louisville – you and your friends were great to hang with!.

The gun went off and we started to move towards the dock. A few minutes before jumping into the water, I spotted Ovetta and I was super happy to see her smiling face again. We yelled “long and strong!” at each other and a few minutes later – I think it took me about 13 minutes from the gun to when I entered the water – I jumped in.

The Louisville swim start is really unique. Apart from the time trial start off of two docks, the swim starts in a narrow canal with an island on the left and the shore on the right. The island creates some protection from the current, so there’s nice calm water and not the usual mess of bodies. I was actually enjoying it a little. I was a bit confused on the way back about where the final turn buoy was and If I was on course or not, and I spent some time wishing I had studied the course map a little better and wishing that I had worn goggles with more tint since I breathe left and was looking into the sun with each stroke.

I exited the water with hoards of other racers, got my bag, flew through the change tent, saw Ovetta again right outside the tent, then I got out on my bike with no issues.

Since I had started at least halfway back in the swim line, I had a lot of people to weave through during the first 20 miles. I was able to pass people pretty easily and I knew I was pushing really hard, but it seemed more important to try to get some clear road.

I glanced down at my Garmin to look at my heart rate, and it was super high, but that is standard for me starting out on the bike, so I wasn’t too concerned. My watts were an issue though. They were reading under 100, which, even for me, seemed freakishly low. It became clear early on that the power tap was not working properly, but rather than disappointment, I actually felt a big sense of relief. I could now ride by feel – just like I had wanted to!

Mark was on the side of the road on a climb on the early out and back part and he told me I had swam 1:10, which was shocking since it hadn’t felt that clean (I had popped my head up a lot to check for buoys and the line). I started realizing that maybe I was having a good day.

The Louisville bike course requires a lot of focus and concentration. You have to keep looking ahead on the descents to get into the right gear for the climbs and I was focused on maximizing my speed on the flats and descents and trying not to drop my chain or do anything stupid on the climbs. Almost everything you read says not to pay attention to speed and time in an Ironman, but those were the metrics I was using – speed and time. I went through the halfway point in a time I would be happy to ride for a 70.3, so that started to make me nervous that maybe I was overbiking, but I wasn’t about to back off, having decided early in the ride that I had nothing to lose. I didn’t want any regrets about not riding hard enough.

The last part of the ride is a flattish stretch back to town, and there was a headwind on this section, but living in Colorado and being used to some wind, I didn’t really think the wind was a big deal. Through all of the flatter sections, I focused on holding my aero position and making myself low and small, like Mat Steinmetz showed me back in January.

I’ll quickly note that I have never passed so many guys in a race riding expensive bikes and a rear disc who were sitting up on the bullhorns. Guys, if you are riding a super bike worth more than my old SUV and you are sitting up on the bullhorns in a race, you need a better bike fit. Or you need to spend more time staying aero in training. Something.

Coming back to town in the final 10 miles, I started to let off the gas a tiny bit and tried to gauge if my legs were going to be there for the run. I hit the run course feeling not quite as peppy as I would have liked. Mark was near our hotel at about the 2 mile mark, and he yelled to me that I was in 10th place off the bike (it was actually 12th) and I knew I had already passed some of those girls in the first few miles. I started to settle in, and the entire run became a crisis management situation where I was running o.k., but felt like things could turn south at any moment. I alternated water and coke with some oranges, which is pretty much the sum total of my nutrition for the run. Less is more for me as far as eating on the run.

Running through downtown at the end of lap 1 was a big boost because there were tons of spectators and I felt like I was holding the pace pretty well. Mark claims he told me at this point that he thought I was in second place, but my memory of that is foggy, and I can honestly say that I was less focused on picking people off than just running my race and seeing how it turned out.

Lap 2 was a lot more crowded with all of the people who were on lap 1. By this time, my quads had started screaming at me with a pain I hadn’t experienced since my first marathon back in 1996. I tried to block out the pain and just focus on my form and my running cues (chin down, shoulders down, hips forward), and it was a mile-by-mile, aid station-to-aid station progression. That’s how I have to do it. Thinking of anything more than the next mile is too much to handle.

IMG_0297

Thanks to teammate Jacqueline Brill for the action shots!

Mark was unexpectedly on the course at mile 22 by Churchill Downs. He was yelling that he thought I was in second (the time trial start made it impossible to know for sure), and he was screaming “only four more miles! Only four more miles!” It was fun to see him so excited, and I was happy to be running well since one of my fears in having him come to the race was that I wouldn’t race well, and we would both feel like it had been a waste of time and money for him to be there. The truth was, I got a huge boost from seeing him on the bike and run course, and I don’t think I would have had the same day or result without the encouragement he gave me.

After he yelled to me at mile 23, he took off down the sidewalk, running towards the finish, and because the course is so flat, I could see him, trekking along in his loafers about 100 yards ahead of me. He later told me he tried to get our car out of the hotel lot, but because we were right on the course, he couldn’t move the car, so he had someone from the hotel drive him out on the course. After getting out there, his phone died and he couldn’t take Uber back to the finish, like he originally planned. So he ran back. On the sidewalk. In his loafers.

The finish line on Fourth Street in Louisville is really loud and festive – one of the best I have seen. Once the line came into sight, I trucked to the finish, crossed making the Coeur heart with my hands for the video and camera (sadly, none of those pictures turned out well), and tried not to cry too much from the pain I was in.

Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Brill

There was all kinds of uncertainty after the finish about my placement. The tracker had me in first, but because of the time trial start, it was theoretically possible that someone who started later could have a better time and I wouldn’t have passed her on the course. That didn’t happen and after about an hour, it started to sink in that I had won my age group, something I had dreamed of doing, but which hadn’t seemed like a possibility, given my state of mind all year, which seems like a topic for a separate post.

IMG_0301

I cut off the bottom: 10:36:50-ish

Even though I told a lot of people this would be my last Ironman for a while, I knew when they called my name at slot allocation, I wouldn’t be able to resist the chance to race in Hawaii again. The fact that Kona is a year away makes it a lot easier to think about, and I am excited and grateful to have the chance to compete with the best in the world for a third time, including a lot of friends this time around.

IMG_0290

Much thanks to my Coeur Sports family and the teammates who were with me in Louisville. I loved meeting all of you and sharing the weekend. Thanks to Nuun Hydration for always supporting me and keeping me hydrated. Special thanks to my swim coaches and lane mates from Elite Multisport Coaching (no, this does not mean I will lead the lane). Thank you to Vince Matteo for your guidance and wisdom in coaching me to a result that once seemed like a crazy dream.

Huge, special thanks to my partner in sport and life for going above and beyond on race day. I will take you to the Waipo’o Valley next October as a thank you.

IMG_8907

Mark’s happy place

Some introspection and a look ahead to 2015

After stringing together five triathlon racing seasons without much break in between, I decided to take a BIG break after Kona. The kind of break I had been dreaming about for a while. I took such a long break (I am actually still taking it), that I wasn’t sure I would ever do another workout again. It felt so good to do what I wanted, when I wanted and let go of the things that had become a mental drain – like riding the trainer or swimming. Instead, I’ve been running (or walking) around the neighborhood with the dog sans watch or heart rate monitor. That’s about it. Part of me feels like I have gotten accustomed to being “lazy,” but part of me also realizes that this break was necessary if I want to push myself hard again next season.

I sometimes joke that I don’t know why I do triathlon because I don’t really like to swim or bike. The truth is, while I don’t like some aspects of the individual sports, I love racing Ironman and trying to put together all of the pieces of the puzzle of swim/bike/run on race day. But once you have raced 140.6 once, twice, nine times, you have to ask yourself, “what keeps me coming back to this?” Something keeps me signing up for race after race after race, but what is it? Why do I feel like I have to keep doing it?

I thought about that question a lot this fall. It didn’t take an advanced degree in psychology for me to figure out part of the reason I kept training for Ironman after Ironman. Ironman training takes quite a bit of mental and physical energy. So much energy that I didn’t have time to think about many other things in my life. And that was the point. When I was exhausted from training or planning the next season, I didn’t have time to focus on the things I preferred not to focus on. These were smallish things (“my storeroom and closet are a mess”) and big things (“I’m worried about my kids”). I knew after my big race was over that I would have time to think about the other, non-triathlon things in my life, and I wasn’t looking forward to that. But this time around, it felt like it was time to face some of these things. It was, literally and figuratively, time to get my house in order. While I was out training for nine Ironmans, a few things fell by the wayside and slipped through the cracks. It was time to address them, or at least let them into my head and try to process some of those thoughts.

In that way, this off-season has been hard not just from the standpoint of the “post race blues,” but the letting of things back into my head that I have shoved deep down for several years. It was time to face issues about whether I should be doing more with my career (yes), and think long and hard about whether I am doing the best job I can parenting my kids (probably not). I tried to expand my shrunken circle a bit and make time to see friends and do some non-training related activities with Mark (still working on that one as Mark doesn’t believe in an off-season). I cleaned out the closet, the storeroom, the kids’ rooms, and most of the drawers and cabinets in the house. I got rid of all of the junk.

I thought about whether there are more dreams to achieve in triathlon and whether I should l find something new to do with my time. I decided the answers to those questions were “yes” and “maybe.”

So, I head into 2015 with a slightly different perspective on things. Without the Kona qualifying goal, I can focus on what I really want from the sport and what fits into my life and our family. The old pressure has been lifted (I think), but new goals have been set, both inside and outside of sport.

Another development for 2015 that I’m excited to announce is that I will be racing on Team Coeur as an ambassador for Coeur Sports! I couldn’t be more excited to join this talented and inspiring group of women. When I thought about what I was missing in my tri life, I decided it was the camaraderie and support of other active women. In my day-to-day life, I don’t have too many friends who are involved in triathlon, although more are giving it a go, which is fun to see. I also train by myself about 90% of the time. Those factors make life kind of lonely sometimes, and I decided that this year, I wanted to be part of a community. I had a pretty good idea I would find this family as a member of Team Coeur, a company that seems to be much more interested in growing the sport and encouraging women’s participation in sport than just making stylish clothes. When I read Coeur’s blog, I found myself agreeing with a lot of what they had to say about the hot issues in the tri world right now, and I loved the way the team members all supported each other’s racing. I’m also impressed by the quality of the clothes, which are all designed and made in the USA.

logo

I am also back for another season as a Nuun Ambassador, which is lucky because I drink so.much.Nuun.

Many thanks to Kompetitive Edge for seeing me through three seasons and helping me develop from a newbie to a more seasoned racer. I’ll always be grateful for the support I received from Jared, Ryan, Brandon, Drew and Rich. Always support your local tri shop, folks!

I hope everyone who is taking an off-season enjoys it as much as I have and arrives in 2015 fully recharged and ready to rock. That is what I am hoping for myself. Have a great holiday season!

Ironman World Championship Race Report

There are two types of athletes in Kona: those going for a certain time or age group placement and…everyone else. I’m in the second group. Because I know that I can’t be competitive at the World Championship, I came up with some different goals for the day. I wanted to beat my splits from 2011, which, when I qualified for this event back in August seemed like a given. I also wanted to finish in the daylight, which would have required an 11:06 finish. More than those goals, what I wanted most was to take in the experience and treat it as a once-in-a-lifetime event in case I never found my way back. I wanted to enjoy the views on the bike course, stop and take a picture with my family on the run course, and go back to the finish line for the midnight finish. Some of those goals were accomplished and some weren’t.

While I would like to just talk about the run, since it’s the only part of the day I really excelled at and it contains my happiest memories, triathlon is comprised of three sports, and the run was preceded by a swim and a very long bike.

The Swim 

Once everything was situated, I headed over to the start right near the arch to wait for the age group men to start their race. I saw friend and occasional training partner Michelle Yost a few times that morning and we found ourselves together again waiting to enter to water. We reminded ourselves that even though it was going to be hard, the hard conditions affect everyone, and lots of people would love have the chance to experience what we knew was going to be a hard day in Kona. You know how on tv when they show the athletes before the start and everyone looks very somber? It’s like that in real life. There isn’t much joking around before the Kona swim.

Waiting to enter the water is the worst part for me, but once we entered, I was calm. I swam over the the left side (which is the outside), near the TYR floaty thing and a few rows back. The gun went off and we got moving. Although I had people all around, we seemed to all be swimming around the same pace and I was pretty comfortable right from the beginning. One of the things I usually dislike about open water swimming is that I feel like I have to interrupt my stroke to sight a lot, but in Kona, the water is so clear that it’s much easier to see feet, so I only sighted a few times throughout the swim and that was mostly just to see how far away I was from the turn and the finish.

The water was a little choppy, but it didn’t feel harder than when I raced in 2011, and I actually thought I was having a really strong swim. I was on feet the entire time and even managed to get around people and find new, faster feet on several occassions. After the turn, I started passing some of the slower men who had started 10 minutes before the women. The swim seemed to take forever, but that’s always the case for me. Eventually I reached the stairs and saw the clock at the exit. It was close to 1:30, and I was shocked. In 2011 I had swam 1:26 and I never dreamed I would be slower than that this year since I have so much more experience and am a much better swimmer now.

Obligatory swim exit pic

Obligatory swim exit pic

I got my bag and ran into the change tent where my awesome volunteer assured me the swim was slow this year and “everyone is unhappy with their time.” That made me feel better and I decided to try to let it go, although I spent some mental energy on the bike wondering if the clock at the finish was still set to the pro time and I had actually swam really well. It wasn’t and I didn’t.

Swim Time: 1:28

The Bike

Here’s the part I wish I could tell differently. I wish I could give some explanation for why I it took me close to 7 hours to ride the bike course in Kona, but the truth is, that’s just how long it took. In all of my thoughts prior to this race, it never occurred to me that I might spend almost 7 hours on the bike. The thought never entered my mind. In 2011, I rode 6:25 and I am a much better rider now. Yes, it was very windy on race day and I am particularly terrible in the wind, but the wind affected everyone and it did not take everyone 7 hours to finish the bike. I am half-expecting to get my bike back from Tribike Transport and find the rear brake rubbing the way it was for Boulder 70.3, but it seems more likely that a challenging day like the one we had on race day cracks open my weakness on the bike much more than a calm day. Lots of room for improvement here, obviously.

Back to the race itself…

Things were pretty much clicking along as planned, but then around the time we passed Waikoloa, the wind turned on as if someone had flipped a switch. All of the sudden, we were riding into the wind much, much earlier than I had planned. Near the left turn to Kawaihae, a woman rode up next to me and we exchanged sympathies about the wind. Then she said, “I hope we make the bike cutoff.” I was immediately alarmed. I didn’t even know what the bike cutoff was, and didn’t think we would miss it even with a 7-hour bike split, but her comment got in my head and threw me off for a while.

0813_051643

Cringe-worthy, but I like the backdrop!

The bike is usually a total blur for me, but one moment that stands out is when I was descending from Hawi (on the bullhorns, of course) and I passed Maria Simone, another one of Vince’s athletes, who was racing her first Kona. I had the pleasure of spending time with Maria and her husband John, who was also racing, at the Slowtwitch party earlier in the week and I felt like we all hit it off. By the time I was headed back from Hawi, the majority of the field was already well on their way to T2 or even out on the run course, so it was a bit desolate. I realized I was primarily riding near the older athletes in the field, which was inspirational to witness, but at the same time made me feel bad that I was so far back. Seeing Maria twice on the bike and exchanging a few words gave me a much-needed lift.

Maria, John and I at the Slowtwitch party

Me, John and Maria at the Slowtwitch party

A final word about Hawi. Even though this part of the course lived up to its legendary reputation for windy conditions on race day, I think it’s the most beautiful part of the bike because of the great ocean views. Even though I was struggling a bit mentally and physically at this point (I had thought about dropping out of the race in Hawi because the bike was so hard for me), I tried to look at the ocean and remember that I was lucky enough to have the chance to race in paradise and, oh yeah, I was supposed to be having fun!

Having fun (sort of)

Having fun (sort of)

Bike Time: 6:57

T2: 

When I finally arrived at T2, I told my bike catcher that it was one of the happiest moments of my life and that is pretty much true. For the first time in 9 Ironmans, I had decided to put a full change of clothes into my T2 bag. While packing my gear, Mark had said “what would you wear if you were running a marathon?” So, rather than face 26.2 miles in my soggy tri kit, I put on a new top, running shorts and I was off and running.

The Run

Although it was not part of the plan to be on the bike for as long as I was, I had planned to bike a little more conservatively in order to set myself up for a fast run. I thought I could run around the same time I had run in Boulder and maybe even a little better. I hit mile 1 in 7:22, but shortly after I settled into a 7:30 pace, which I held all the way up and back on Ali’i.

You have to understand how strange this was for where I was at in the race. No one around me was running this fast and the spectators were cheering me on like crazy. The louder they yelled, the faster I ran, and the more the momentum built. I no longer cared that I had swam almost 1:30 and biked almost 7. I decided I was going to be the first person in the history of Kona to put together a 7-hour bike and a 3:30 run. I have no idea if that is actually true, but it was all I had left to salvage my pride in the race and I was determined to go after it. The miles clicked off and I ran through the aid stations like I was running a stand-alone marathon. The great part about it being late in the day is that it was no longer hot. There was cloud cover and a light rain.

Having actual fun

Having actual fun

I knew my family would be at the 5 mile mark and shortly before the turn, I spotted Mark and Jack on the side of the road. They didn’t know what shape they were going to find me in at that point or what had been going on, so they didn’t say much as they tried to assess how I was doing. Further up the road, I saw my sister with Kendall and I stopped for a moment to say hi and get that picture I had promised myself.

After the race, my sister told me that they debated for a long time what to say when I finally reached the turn around on Ali’i, knowing that I was probably not having my best day. They decided on “You’re doing it!” which became our slogan for the rest of the vacation.

Mile 5 with Kendall

Mile 5 with Kendall

I ran back through town, lifted by the crowds. I charged up Palani and Mark was at the top, having made it just in time to see me again before I headed out on the Queen K. I think he was sort of shocked at how well I was holding it together and, frankly, I was, too. Anything can happen in the Ironman run, but I was feeling good and going for it.

0813_062869

The Energy Lab, hyped so much on TV as being so hard, is one of my favorite parts of the run course. By the time I got there, the sun was setting and a volunteer handed me a glowstick. There was a helicopter hovering overhead shooting the sunset. One of the aid stations had my favorite Ironman run snack, green grapes, and I grabbed a whole bunch and ran along like that, glowstick in one hand (it was annoying around my neck so I just carried it), grapes in the other, enjoying the view. Just before the exit to the Energy Lab, the Newton run screen played the video Kendall and Mark had made for me at the Expo and I laughed and cried at the same time.

Back out on the Queen K, it started to get dark. I had some company for a few miles as a guy and I matched strides for a while until he pulled ahead, the only athlete to pass me on the run. When I look back on this race, one of the images that will stay with me forever is charging up the Queen K in the dark, with no one to chase or run with, not gunning for a slot, or a time or a podium position, but just running hard because it felt like all I really had on the day.

As I rounded the corner back out onto Palini and down the hill, I chucked my glowstick at the final aid station and started kicking towards the finish. I ran along the right side of the road, high fiving everyone in sight to share and celebrate the moment.

This is actually from midnight finish, but it was the same view for me

This photo is from midnight finish, but it was the same view for me

I turned right on Ali’i and tried to take it in. I heard my family shouting and I peeked behind to make sure no one was right behind me. Then I attempted a finish line jump, which didn’t come out that great, but is still sort of funny.

Run Time: 3:32

Final time: 12:08

Not that it matters, but I feel compelled to mention the time on the clock is from the men's start

As I said on Facebook, I may be back again and I may not, but I have no regrets about the race. O.k. That’s baloney. I actually wish I had biked better, but hindsight is 20/20 and if I had to choose between a 6:30 bike and a 3:30 run, I would take the 3:30 run any day. Although I would like to think I am better than the time on the clock at the finish, that was as good as I was on the day. Sure, I dream of going back and finally getting my daylight finish, but I also realize that there may be other things out there for me, other dreams that need fulfilling.

To the friends back home, the new friends I met in Kona, and the friends who follow online, thank you for your unwavering support and encouragement. Everyone who does this sport is an inspiration to me, whether you are an age group champion or a midnight finisher. Thanks also to my coach, Vince Matteo, for helping me get here to begin with. And last but not least, a huge thanks to my family, for always believing in and supporting me. None of this would be worth it to me if they were not right by my side.

IMG_8855

What I’m Bringing to Kona

I leave for the Big Island in three days and although I haven’t packed yet, I have a good idea of what I’m bringing along. As I get my gear organized (in carry on luggage only!), I thought I would share the essentials on my packing list for the Ironman World Championships and my Hawaiian vacation afterwards:

My bike! I ride a Quintana Roo Illicito with a Zipp 404/808 wheelset with powertap. I don’t have to pack this item because it is already on its way to the Big Island with TriBike Transport. TriBike Transport is a large expense, but it was worth it for this race because I am traveling out a few days ahead of my bike mechanic husband and our travel arrangements are complicated, involving two flights per leg and an overnight in Los Angeles on the way back. When I factored in the bike fees for my separate flights, it wasn’t much more to use TriBike Transport and, best of all, it is hassle free! Huge thanks to my shop, KompetitiveEdge, for getting it tuned and race-ready.

IMG_8102

My road helmet: I am not going for podium spot or placement in Kona. Instead, I am trying to set myself up to run well. After some internal debate, I decided I might improve my odds of making that happen if I can stay cool on the bike. If it is good enough for past world champions (Crowie, Chrissy), it is good enough for me.

(imagine a pic here of an LG road helmet. I’m too lazy to walk down to the garage to grab it and take a pic)

Lots of Nuun: I’m a Nuun Ambassador, but I would drink it even if I wasn’t because I love turning a plain, ol’ glass of water into a tasty serving of electrolytes with no added sugar or calories. I’ll drink a lot of Nuun on my long flight to Hawaii and I’ll drink it daily once I get there to make sure I am fully hydrated and my electrolytes are topped off.

IMG_8713

Race nutrition: I use several products on the bike. Osmo in my bottles and Picky Bars, Honey Stinger chews, and Bonk Breakers to eat. I know it seems like a lot of different products, but I find I can take in more calories if I mix it up a little instead of sticking to one thing. Luckily, Bonk Breakers are also served on the course, so I don’t have to worry about running out of my preferred fuel.

IMG_8710

Loads of electronics: My birthday is about one week after we return from Hawaii, but I received an early birthday present from my family – a new MacBook Air! I love my old 2008 MacBook, but the battery is shot and I can’t use it to watch movies on the plane because the battery dies after about an hour. I am excited to bring my new MacBook Air instead. I am also bringing my nice SLR camera, which I almost never use because it is heavy, but it takes awesome pics, and my Kindle, which I cannot live without.

IMG_8709

Planet Sun sunscreen: I burn easily and have a family history of melanoma. The last time I raced in Kona, I had the outline of my tri kit on my back for the entire winter. Several people turned me on to Planet Sun and I have been using it successfully with no burns for my long training days and races. Since I am packing entirely in carry on luggage, I bought several travel sizes to take with so I don’t have to hunt for Planet Sun once I get to Kona.

Does your sunscreen company send you personalized notes?

Does your sunscreen company send you personalized notes?

Oakley sunnies: aviators for hanging out, Commit for racing, and Miss Conduct when I am feeling sassy.

IMG_8708

Betty Design bikinis: I am not a SoCal surfer girl, but wearing Betty Designs makes me feel like I am! I always get tons of compliments on the skulls.

IMG_8712

My trucker hat collection: yes, I am on the trucker hat bandwagon, although I will probably race in a visor instead. I like to think I look like my tri-crush Bree Wee in a trucker, but in reality, I think I look more like Mike Myers in Wayne’s World. That doesn’t stop me though.

kua 056

mike-meyers-waynes-world-watn-red-carpet-movie-photo-GC

Family cheer shirts: last time I raced in Kona, I made the kids custom shirts, so naturally, they wanted shirts this year, too. I ordered from Custom Ink for the first time and I would not hesitate to use this company again. Very easy to create your design and great customer service. The only glitch was they would not let me print the word “Ironman” on my shirts because of trademark issues. I decided that we all know what “Kona” means in the triathlon world and “Hawaii 140.6 triathlon” sounded too silly.

IMG_8711

I look forward to getting all of this stuff in my suitcase, getting over to Big Island, and letting the fun begin!

Ironman Boulder Race Report

With a little extra time on my hands this week, I thought I would tell more about how race day unfolded. I find the usual race reports a little dull and prefer to tell stories about things that happened on the course. So, if you came by looking for all of the info such as the details of my pre-race routine – what time we got to the High School, how much I ate, how long the lines were at the porta potties – you are probably going to be a little disappointed. Sorry!

Swim – Time 1:13 (I always scroll down immediately to read someone’s time, so I will save you the trouble)

I don’t have much explanation for how I shaved 3 minutes off my Ironman PR and swam better than anyone expected. I can tell you that I have continued to work in the pool, went to long course masters a few times, and did a practice 2-mile race in the Rez two weeks before the race. Beyond that, I am as mystified and amazed as anyone else.

I was unsure what the swim would be like with the new rolling start procedure. It ended up feeling like a normal day at a 70.3 as far as the congestion in the water, without the added element of swimming over the slower swimmers or getting swum over by the faster people. I’m a fan. I can also tell you that I pretty much stuck to the buoy line, tried to draft when possible, and swam in a full-sleeved wetsuit.

Bike – Time 5:40

Out on the bike, I immediately noticed my heart rate was sky high. Scary high. I ignored it and assumed it would calm down within 20-30 min, but it took a full 90 minutes at least for me to see a heart rate that seemed more normal for me for Ironman. I’m not sure what the story was with the high heart rate other than the adrenaline of the day, and possibly the fact that I may have taken it out a little bit hot. I didn’t know my swim time since I don’t wear a watch in the water, but I realized fairly quickly that it was probably pretty decent (for me) since I was getting passed on the bike by people who I assumed were much better swimmers.

Lots of people went by me in the first half. It felt like the whole race was passing me by – mostly dudes – but quite a few of them came back to me after mile 80 or so.

I had a mental shift from “just doing my thing” to “hey, I might actually do something here today” around mile 60. That’s when I saw Sonja on the side of the road cheering and she told me that I had been 12th out of the water and was making up ground quickly. I felt great at that point, so I got to work riding hard.

Happy to see Sonja at mile 60

Happy to see Sonja at mile 60 – photo courtesy of Sonja Wieck

The rest of the ride was uneventful until I arrived at T2. I knew from watching the awesome pre-race videos from the Race Director that the dismount line was on the east side of the high school, but we were supposed to run with our bikes along the back of the school, across a bridge, and onto the track where the T2 bags were located. Honestly, not the greatest set-up I have seen. I have never tried to master mounting and dismounting with my shoes clipped in, so my only options were to run in my bike shoes, or stop, take them off and run in my socks. I went with option two and ran to the track in my socks with shoes in one hand and bike in the other. I didn’t have issues with burning my feet on the track while getting my T2 bag, but apparently a lot of other people did. I’m confident they will come up with a fix for that next year.

Run – Time 3:41

One of my big goals in Ironman is to run a 3:30 marathon, something I fully believe I am capable of. I thought I had a great shot in Boulder because of the flatter bike and run, but I was only about 5 or 6 miles into the run when I realized a 3:30 was probably not in the cards for me. It was in the mid-80s by that time, and the run course – which is 100% on bike paths – didn’t have many flat spots. Having biked harder than I had planned on, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to hold myself together and was legitimately concerned things might turn south at any given moment. On the other hand, I feel like I don’t have a ton of talents in this world, but running well off the bike, in the heat, is one of them.

My bike nutrition plan is pretty specific, but my run nutrition is much less so. I can run a stand-alone marathon on just 1 gel – but at some point on the first lap, I realized I was going to need some calories and started considering what to eat. Nothing seemed appealing. My stomach felt ok, but it was one of those times when I felt like the slightest wrong move could cause me big problems. I settled on orange slices, water, and an occasional handful of grapes. I tried to hold off on Coke as long as possible because I worried about energy highs and lows, but I was already into the Coke by the halfway point.

Lap 1 is when I realized I had not done a perfect job with my course recon and had failed to preview the biggest hill on the course, an overpass on Pearl Parkway on the northeast side. This was an out-and-back section, so we were treated to that hill 4 times with the fourth time occurring after mile 20. Pro triathlete Tim Don was on the side of the path cheering on this side of the course, and I remember thinking it was funny that Tim Don was cheering for me instead of the other way around. I tried to think of something clever to say to him when we headed back. I ended up yelling something that I am too embarrassed to repeat here, but which made him laugh, so that was a fun moment. Sadly, he was gone by lap 2.

Lap 1 was harder than lap 2. There was still so much running to do and I honestly wasn’t sure how things were going to turn out. I was holding a solid pace, but it was definitely hard and I was having to use all of my mental tricks to make it through. In the run, I try to give myself a lot of positive self-talk, and toward the end of lap 1, when I was feeling hot and struggling a bit, a thought popped into my head – “it was hot like this in Cozumel and you ran well.” Yes! It was true. Cozumel remains my fastest IM run and it was a hot race. That thought sustained me for a while. I knew from Sonja that I was in 8th place out of T2, but at this point in the race, people’s body marking had worn off, and I didn’t know what was what.

Around mile 16, Sonja was right about where she had been on lap 1 and she gave me the low-down: “Jen, you are in 4th place and 3rd is about 90 seconds up. You are running 30 seconds faster per mile. Go get her!”  She told me who I was looking for, and not long after, I made the pass and knew it would be for good. Now I was in 3rd place(!), but still doing damage-control by walking all of the aid stations and I still had to get up and over the Big Hill two more times. Luckily, that all went pretty well, and by the time I passed back through town again, I was just hoping the race would end soon and I could stop running.

0770_067655

Doing the hard work with my race face on

If you were out there and cheered for me, I apologize if I didn’t acknowledge you. I tried to wave to friends and acknowledge some cheers with a point or a head-nod, but this was hard work for me and I had to to focus exclusively on the task at hand. I wish I was happy-race-face girl, but that’s just not me.

I had seen Mark on all of the out-and-backs. He was ahead, but not by a lot. Back through town the second time, Sonja told me he was just up ahead, and I knew I would catch him. Some people have asked if he was mad or if he cared that I beat him and I want to clarify that the answer to both is NO. Even though I used to think he was sometimes competing with me and used to feel like we were racing each other in workouts, I realized this summer that he doesn’t care if he is ahead of me or not, so I started not caring either. He is 100% supportive of me and understands the goals I have, although it may bug him a tiny bit that I don’t have to work quite as hard at it as he does. I have said many times that if you were to combine Mark’s work ethic with my ability, you would have one kick-ass athlete. My success in Boulder was his success too, and we were thrilled to be at the finish at almost the exact same time to celebrate together. Also, he let me ride our new 404/808 Zipps with power tap, and if that is not a selfless act of love, I’m not sure what is.

That said, no, it did not occur to me to slow down to run in the last 1.5 miles with Mark. I am always trying to run one of the fastest run splits of the day, and I was trying to do that in Boulder. On Pearl Street with the finish line in sight, I considered whether I might pull off an amazing finish line jump, which I don’t usually do, but it looks really good in photos. I couldn’t do it. The best I could do was smile, wave my arms like a lunatic, and high five a few strangers.

Time: 10:43:33 – 3rd AG; 12th OA (PR)

0770_073345

My finish line catcher served her purpose and dragged me away from the line as I kept repeating that I just needed to sit down. The finish area was pretty empty and they let me sit there and wait for Mark. The photo we took at the backdrop in the chute was not cute, but we had Ryan of Kompetitive Edge take this one later.

Mark's shirt was a crowd-pleaser

Mark’s shirt was a crowd-pleaser

I need to say a few more words about Sonja and what she did for me last Sunday. When Sonja first starting coaching in 2011, I was one of her first athletes. When we parted ways in 2012 (I may also be the first person she fired), she told me she would always have my back and support me, even if she wasn’t my coach. True to her word, we have remained friends and occassionally train together. When I have something hard on the schedule that I really want to nail, I know I can call her up and she will try to be there for me if she can. She had five athletes she was supporting in Boulder, so I did not assume she would be focusing on me, but I sort of knew in the back of my head that if I was lucky enough to be “hunting” on the run, she would probably help me out by giving me placement info. It’s possible I might have executed the same race without all of the info Sonja provided, but there is no doubt having her there was a huge help. I am extremely grateful for her support on race day and all of the companionship leading up to it. Hopefully I can repay the favor some day.

A last thanks goes to the littles. At the risk of sounding in my last post like I was some sort of supermom whose kids didn’t even notice her training all summer, please know that my kids spent quite a few hours sitting on the pool deck, entertaining themselves while I rode the trainer, and even accompanying me on some brick runs (after a bit of begging on my part).

Ironman is our lifestyle and it is pretty much all they know, but I am grateful to have the support of the kids in the long months leading up to a big race. I can’t wait to make more memories in Hawaii with these two.

IMG_3824