Thursday, October 16, 2014

So when I said "I'm retired", what I meant was... (2014 in review)

Ah yes, fall leaves swirling around outside on this picture perfect, Indian Summer day.

For the most part, my 2014 race season is over, save for a couple of potential short running races I may do including Monster Dash 10 miler, Drumstick 10k and Polar Dash....

Except for a nagging hip and psoas issue, it's been a pretty good year filled with lots of fun races and events.

The capstone was, of course, Ironman Wisconsin.   Finished with a big smile on my face and with time on the clock to spare, while reaching my overarching goal of enjoying the day and taking it all in.  More on that day in a bit.

Before I get there, just a few other thoughts, comments and pics from my 2014 season:

Switching coaches:  After my former coach, Greg Rhodes, moved to Colorado last May, I started to work with Cathy Yndestad.  I can not say enough about working with her.  She knew just how to push me enough but not too much to cause bigger problems with my hip/posas.  I've been lucky to work with a lot of really great coaches over the year and she certainly ranks in the top two.

Race Recaps:
Fargo "1/2" -- May:   My hip was really bad at this point. Psoas issue hadn't been diagnosed yet....  Limited range of motion, choppy and slow gait.  Although I was signed up for the 1/2 marathon, I was lucky to eek out a finish of the 10K.  One of my slowest times for that distance, but got through the event.   Fargo does a bang up job with this race (marathon, 1/2, 10k and 5k.)  Great course, great course support.  Loads of fun.

Liberty Oly: -- early June:  Our spring was cold and wet.  Race day at Liberty was super cold and super wet.  Transition was filled with loads of deep puddles.  Race was delayed by many minutes.   As I stood under a picnic area awning, watching the cold, wet rain fall and listening to the thunder clap, I decided to bag the race.  There was no reason to risk freezing and/or having my bike slip out from under me on wet pavement so early in the season.  I got my bike,  went to my health club and did the race as an indoor event. Didn't freeze; didn't fall on pavement;  didn't get a medal.

ITU Oly - Chicago - late June:  I had high hopes for this race.  At Ironman events, athletes are treated like royalty.  The courses are well marked, great support, great volunteers.  I figured ITU would have to put on an equal caliber event, if not even better!  Not so much.

Frankly, this was the least organized event I've ever done.  From package pickup to finish line, it was uninformed volunteers and officials; badly marked courses; uninforced rules (can't tell you how many times I got passed on the right by hyped-up, watts driven guys).  It was one of the only races where I actually thought that I might not make it out of the water.

The swim course was out and back, only two buoys, only about 3 support boats.  Lots of swimmers crashing in to each other. Not good.  I thought if I got in trouble in the water, no one would know.

To tell you how bad this was, over 20% of the sprint distance field got disqualified because the run course was marked so poorly.   I got through the race but wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

However, trying to end on a high note here, I will say that the highlight of the race was riding the closed bike course on Lower Wacker Drive.  Completely smooth pavement, course protected from wind.  This helped my bike average to over 22 mph for the 24 plus miles.

Timberman Oly -- July:  I love this triathlon.  My friend, Gary Kubat, turned me on to this race a few years ago.  It is smaller in size; the swim is in Sugar Lake (very pretty, very clear); the bike course has just enough hills to keep it interesting; the run can be a little hot and challenging (lots of horseflies).  This year, the weather was cooler and overcast.  There were still some horseflies, but not too many and I didn't cook on the course.  Time was a whopping 25 seconds faster than 2013.

Nice to be able to do this one with Gary and my Ironman friend, Natalie.

Ironman Racine 70.3 - July:  This was my second year doing this race.  In 2013, race morning, Lake Michigan welcomed us with big waves.  This year, the lake was as calm as could be and COLD.  Sixty one degrees.  Neoprene booties and caps were the order of the day.  Swimming in Lake Michigan is really fun, though.  Much clearer than you'd expect.  I like swimming parallel to shore, so you can see spectators the whole time.  Bike course is pretty flat.  Some sections are incredibly bumpy.  Not very scenic.  Just a course where you can hammer out the miles.  I had a very good bike split (about 18 mph).

My run was typical for this year.  Slow, ploddy, bad gait.  But, I got through it and had some fun. Despite being a bit lame, I beat my 2013 time by 9:00 plus minutes.

My Ironman buddy, Mark Loken, also did this race.  We had some fun hanging out in transition prior to the race and he pointed out all the really spendy bikes.  We drooled a lot.

Madison Open Water Swim - August:  While the weekend itself was sort of a FUBAR mess, the event was fun.  This is another race that I really enjoy doing.   I love being in Madison; I love swimming in Lake Monona.  I have great memories of this race from years past.  Had a good, smooth swim and a PR time.  How bad can that be?

Ironman Wisconsin - September:  Ahhhh.  Ironman.  There is just something about it.  Not just the race, but the whole training thing; the lead up, the build up.  The DAY.

I spent at least one weekend in Madison from May through August training on the course.   Those famous hills on the bike course never really got much easier, but I knew them inside and out.  When to shift, when to push it a little, when to look up and appreciate the scenery.

I learned from 2012 that the trick (for me) is to have race day feel as "normal" as possible.  Doing so many training rides and runs on the course, I knew what to expect at every turn.

All year, I had told myself that this would more than likely be my last Ironman.  I've got the heart and the endurance, but the reality is that I'm getting older and slower.  That 17 hour cut off looms large....

So for this -- my swan song -- I just needed to control the controllables and let go of the rest.

A major uncontrollable is always the weather.  It turned out to be a PERFECT day.  Clear, cool, no wind.

Setting up in transition on race morning, things just all sort of fell in to place.  The sunrise was unbelievably beautiful.  Dark blue end-of-night sky set off by bright orange band bringing up the sun.

Once I was set up, Warren and I headed to my "secret spot" -- a place inside Monona Terrace that not many people know about.  It is quiet and calm, unlike the chaos of the main floor where the thousands of other athletes are hanging out.  (For me, I need a little calm and quiet before this event.  Otherwise I get too sucked in to too much and it is very draining to me.)  We sat until it was time to get in to my wetsuit and then I headed to the water.

I tried a new strategy this year for the swim.  In years past, I've queued up closer to shore and then angle to the first buoy.  This year, I swam out so I was even with the buoy line.  This was a much easier strategy to get me to the inside of the buoy line, where there are less people and an "easier" swim.

The first turn buoy is known as the "moo buoy".  You are supposed to pop your head out of the water and moo loudly.   Not everyone does this.  I do.  I LOVE the moo buoy.   I mooed, and mooed and mooed.  And then I went on.

Swim was done, wet suit stripped off; in and out of transition and the bike ride began.

A controlable -- although a tricky one --is nutrition.  That went as smoothly as it could for race day.  I have a watch that I can program to beep to remind me to eat and to drink.  On the bike, it reminded me every 15 minutes to drink and every 20 minutes to have a little bite to eat.

I was right on schedule for the first 56 miles.  I got to Special Needs and knew there was no risk in me not meeting the bike cut off, so I decided to embrace the day and to really just take it all in.  I got off my bike, I got my turkey sandwich out of my Special Needs bag and took my sweet time eating it (a full 10 minutes).

Another rider came in to Special Needs and the volunteers couldn't find his bag.  I happily shared the extra food I had in my bag with him and then got on my bike and pedaled away.

Warren found me at the top of Timber Lane on both loops.  (He found a golf course near by so he could spend some time swinging a club and still timed it perfectly to cheer me on....)

I made it in to transition with plenty of time, got changed and got out on to the run course.

My plan all along was to do a walk/run.  As per usual, I walked more than I probably should have the first several miles, but finally got in to a little bit of a groove.  I knew that I'd have no appetite for food, but happily drank Coke and chicken broth.

Running through the University of Wisconsin campus (and by my old dorm, a couple old apartments, though Camp Randall,  by Memorial Union and up/down State Street) is always a nostalgic time for me. Lots and lots of memories from my college days.

My darkest spot came as I was coming in for the 1/2 way turn.  I was doing math calculations in my head to try to figure out if I was going to finish on time,and I wasn't so sure.  At this point in to the race, you are tired and a bit fuzzy mentally.

Like a beacon of light, there was my coach.  She got up, cheered me on, gave me a little pep talk and I mentally turned a corner.  I knew I could pull a finish off.

Got to run Special Needs and got to the lemonade I had put in my bag.  Drinking that was like a magic elixir. Sweet and tart.  Sugary but not coca-cola.  Perfect.

Trotted out for the second and last loop.  Warren found me at mile 14.  He, too, gave me a little pep talk and I just trotted off.  I actually picked up my pace for a few miles and then, at mile 23 with lots of time to get to the finish, I decided to just walk it in.  I wanted to open up my senses and my memory to just take it all in:  the sights (full moon), the sounds (cheering crowds); the feeling (pinched baby toe, happy to be getting to the finish).

When I finished in 2012, it was a total blur.  I don't remember Mike Reilly calling my name or telling me that I was an Ironman.

This year, I made it a priority to really take in the finish line.  The crowds, the high fives, seeing the Finish Line banner and listening for Mike.  Not only did I hear him loud and clear, I got to shake his hand.  It was great.

After finishing the race, I posted on Facebook, that I was now retired from 140.6.

Well..... it didn't take long and I rescinded my retirement.  I'll toe the Ironman line again.  Not at Madison, though.  Oh, I'll go ride that course for "fun".   But I think I'll need to tackle a flatter bike course.  I'm thinking about Ironman Arizona, Florida or Louisville for 2016.

Looney Challenge -- October:  The last race for me was the Looney Challenge:  This is part of the Twin Cities Marathon weekend.  The event consists of running the 10k and 5k on marathon weekend Saturday followed with the TC 10 mile run on Sunday.  Signing up for the Looney guarantees a spot in to the 10 mile race.  Otherwise, you take your chances trying to get in to that very popular race via the lottery.

Warren and I signed up for the Looney last spring...Warren ended up having a golf tournament pop up for the same day as the 10 miler, so we both did the 5 and 10K events and then I did the 10 miler on my own.

My pace was slow for each of the events, but still and all, had a blast.  (I'd taken a fall off the bike a week before misjudging a curb in the road.  Landed squarely on the "bad" hip, which re triggered some issues).

On the agenda for the rest of 2014:  The plan is to heal up my hip and psoas and to work on getting my run pace back.  Warren and I will be spending some time doing strength training and yoga.  Oh, yeah.  And catching up on some sleep and bad t.v.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Call me a weenie if you must....

Best laid plans and all....

Woke up last Saturday morning at 4:00 am to rain.  Not drizzle.  Rain.  And thunder.

Nothing like a thunderstorm on race day.  The only thing better is a cold, windy rainstorm, which we had.  Trifecta!

The ever hopeful optimistic I am, I still packed up and headed out to Lake Rebecca.  Storm had to blow over sometime, right?

It did!

As I got to the venue, the rain stopped.  It was still cold and windy, but at least the rain had stopped.  But what a difference a couple weeks of rain makes.

My friend, Teresa, and I had done a preview ride on the course a couple weeks prior to race day.   The river that runs parallel of part of the bike course had been high, but not THIS high.  Two weeks prior, the transition area was grassy and dry.  Race day,  huge, two-inch deep water-filled puddles dotted the transition area.

Still, I got body marked, set up transition and went down to the lake for a look.  I bumped in t my friend, Shaun, who was also racing the Oly.   He came with me to inspect the lake..... Despite the lousy weather, the lake was calm and warm.  It's the small victories....

We wandered back to transition when BOOM.   Thunder.  FLASH.  Lightening.  Pitter, patter.  Rain.

I grabbed my wetsuit and went back towards the lake to wait out the rain in the bathroom (also has the private stall where I can get in to my wetsuit.  No one really needs to watch that.)

While I was suiting up, another woman came in to the bathroom.  She told me they had just announced a 30 minute rain delay.

"Perfect", I thought.

Once in the suit, I went back up to transition.  It was raining harder now.  I sat with other racers and volunteers under protection of the pavilion and just watched it rain.  And rain. And rain.

The more it rained, the less I wanted to do the race.  Wet roads are slippery roads.  The last thing I needed/wanted was to crash.  The wind and cold temps were not getting any better.  It was in the mid 50's.   I don't mind the rain if it is warm.  But I really hate being cold and wet.  I also have Raynaud's syndrome, which means if my hands get too cold, I lose circulation in some of my finger tips.  This typically is only a problem in the winter.  This kind of cold, wet weather would have been an issue last Saturday for sure.

Thirty minutes went by and no announcement to start the race.  Just more rain.

I pulled the plug at that point and turned in my chip.    I got my things out of transition and made the long, humiliating walk back to my car.  Walked by another friend, Julia, who was sitting in her car.  She rolled down her window and we chatted for a minute.  She wasn't sure what she was going to do.... said that radar was looking ugly.  (She decided to stick it out and raced.  Had a great day out on the course.  Go Julia!)

It wasn't a total loss, however.  I drove from the race venue to my health club and did an indoor version of the triathlon, swimming in the pool, riding a stationary bike and running the track.

No medal, but no road rash, no frozen hands, no season opener.  But, did the distance and stayed safe.

The race finally did happen.  Numbers were way down.  Lots of folks didn't show up;  about 70 of us pulled out once we were there....

Next up, the ITU Oly in Chicago.  Let's hope for better weather.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Here goes nuthin'

Every year, it's been the same.  Triathlon season comes and it goes by in the blink of an eye.  Every October, event registrations start opening up for the next year.   Who is first in line?  Me.  By the end of the year, I pretty much have my race schedule nailed down and paid for.   Then, the waiting begins until Triathlon season.

Last year was not different.  By December 31st, I had registered for most of what I plan to race in 2014.  Money was spent; dates and hotels were secured; all I had to do was wait patiently.

I just needed to keep my base up and get through the winter so I could race Tri U Mah, Fargo 1/2 Marathon, Liberty half, the ITU Oly, Timberman oly, Racine 70.3, Point to LaPoint swim and, the biggie, Ironman Wisconsin.  Then, fall fun, my husband and I signed to run the Twin Cities Marathon's TC Loony Challenge, which is doing the 5K and 10K on October 4th and then the TC 10 Miler on October 5th. 

Why would I think anything would break the pattern?

Enter:  Winterpalooza. 

It was the coldest winter in decades across the country.  Minneapolis had an unprecedented 60 days BELOW zero last winter.  Usually, we can brace ourselves for the normal week or two in January.  Last year, pretty much mid-December though February the mercury refused to go above zero degrees.  (We did have an odd warm day, but mostly, we were frozen solid.)

I started a new job last October and, as a new employee, was not able to take any vacation time for the first 90 days. This meant that my husband and I were stuck in Minneapolis for the winter with no relief.

What did I do?

Instead of making friends with the gym and the trainer, I reintroduced myself to the couch.  And snacks.  Lots and lots of snacks. 

It was also the winter that ended my long streak of being mostly injury free.  For all the years I've spent swimming, biking and running, I have managed to stay healthy.

I had the first hints of trouble training for and running New York Marathon last year.  My husband and I ran the race together.  He was feeling good and running strong.  I did okay up about mile 15   and then my right hip started to bug me.  Nothing terrible, just that nagging ickiness.  I ended up having to stretch it out more than once, which slowed us way down.

My husband (The Trooper), stayed with me the whole time, even though he could have had a much faster finish time. 

I think the nagging ickiness conspired with the couch and snacks so that by February, I had a lot of hip pain and a very, very limited range of motion when trying to lift my right leg.  Sometimes I had to think long and hard about whether or not I could lift it high enough to get up a stair

This was a big and unexpected surprise, which I tried to ignore for a long time.  ("It will go away... I just know it!").

My base training was very sparse.  (Did I tell you the couch called my name every night?  It wooed me.)  I kept "active", but mostly walking to and from the fridge.

It didn't help that my long-time coach had some life events of his own.  His medical student girlfriend got through her studies and was placed out of state for her residency.  He was busy concentrating on moving so I, and my love affair with the couch and snacks, were able to slip under the radar for a long time.

Finally, last February, I had to face the reality.  My hip was not getting better.  If I was going to do Ironman, training would start soon and there was not way I could fake it across the finish line. 

I finally made an appointment with Tria Orthopaedic Center.  They have a great reputation and work with a lot of athletes -- pro and amateur.   I met with a nice (young) lady doctor, who is also an endurance athlete.  I told her that I didn't care if they had to hold me together with duct tape, I just wanted to be able to finish Ironman   She promised me I could.   I love her.

X-rays indicated some hip arthritis (WHAT?).  Again, a huge surprise.  In my head, I am 35.  In my joints and muscles, I'm in my mid-50s.  Dagnabbit. 

The hip arthritis wasn't so bad as to stop me from being able to stay active, but it, along with the combo of snacks, winter, the couch and the cold, my glutes, groin, SI joint and all of the "stuff" in that area, just seized up and every thing failed.  At once.

So, I've been working on trying to get better with physical therapy, chiropractic work, stretching, ice, heat and compression.  The good news is that, after 3 months, I am much, much, MUCH better.  I don't think about climbing stairs any more.  I can actually swing my leg over the bike again (as opposed to lifting it, resting it on the stem and then hoisting it over to the other side, which is what I did for most of January and February).  I don't wake up in the middle of the night anymore in so much pain I can hardly stand it. 

The bad news is that, I'm still not at 100%.  I have a definite limp, which is much more noticeable when I'm tired.  I can swim just fine; I can bike just fine.  It is the running that is a problem.  My gait is very short and choppy.  My pace has sunk like a stone.  Some days I run fine with no after issues.  Other days, I run and the hip nags for a few hours after.

Ironman training happens over many, many weeks.  In theory, for a September race, people start training in earnest in February.  The fact that I'm trying to rehab while training for a 140.6 mile race maybe slowing down the recovery. 

But, will I stopNo.   Why?  Because I'm determined (translate to stubborn).  And, because I am cheap.  I have a lot of green skin in the game, having registered -- and paid for -- all those races last January.   Why leave money on the table?

What HAS happened has been:
  • A pullback from some of the races.   I wasn't ready for Fargo 1/2, so dropped that down to the 10K.  (Slowest 10K I've run in my entire life).  I am doing better and don't want to push it yet, so dropped from the half at Liberty to the Oly distance.  Lake Superior reported ice on the lake as late as last week.  I do not need to swim 2.4 miles in a slushy, so I've dropped Point to LaPoint this year.  (Also happens to be an Ironman Wisconsin camp that weekend that my training buddies are going to, so wanted to spend time there with them).
  • A new coach.  Sometimes you just gotta switch things up.  I moved on to a new coach and things have been going great.  She is on top of me if I start to slack.   This is what I need -- especially since the couch is always beckoning.
  • An agreement with myself.  Although I want to do well at each race, I am really looking at each one as a training day helping me prepare for Ironman.   My primary goal is to do everything in my power to get to September 7th as healthy and prepared as I can possibly be so I can cross that finish line before midnight.

Tomorrow is my first summer race -- Liberty Oly.   Wish me luck!

Here goes nuthin'.....

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ten Years of Tri U Mah

I'm going to take you back a bit.  To July, 2004 as a matter of fact.  One of my good running buddies, Marcia Lee, had entered the LifeTime Fitness triathlon as part of a relay team.  Her daughter would swim; her son would bike and she would run.

This "triathlon" thing was sort of a puzzle to me.  I didn't quite get how the whole thing fit together, how you'd have energy enough to finish the dang thing, and, oh yeah:  the swim.  The D R E A D E D swim in a L A K E.  With other people.  And fish. 

I'd done plenty of road races up until this point.  Every thing from 5Ks to marathons.  Didn't do them fast, but finished them.  Through them, I had found a great bunch of friends and had certainly challenged myself in ways I never thought possible.  But triathlon?  You'd have to be crazy to do one of those, right?

I wandered down to Lake Nokomis and got sucked right in by the triathlon sirens.  I watched the race and by the time my friend crossed the finish line, I was hooked.  I wanted to try my hand at this swim, bike and run thing.  I wanted it bad.

One tiny problem though: I couldn't really swim.  Oh, I could dog paddle with the best of 'em.  I did a lot of "splashy, splashy" in the pool if I was on vacation somewhere, but swim?  For several hundred yards?  And in a lake where I couldn't easily touch the bottom or get to the side wall if I got in trouble?  Not so much.

But the seed was planted and triathlon became a goal.  I started swimming.  To make it to 100 yards I'd break up the four lengths by doing freestyle, then backstroke, then breaststroke, then side stroke.  Then I'd have to catch my breath for a bit.  Then I'd do it again.  And again, and again.  

I finally figured out that I could benefit from some swim lessons and found David Cameron, Total Immersion guru, who helped me become more efficient in the water.  Sayonara, back, breast and side strokes.  Now, it was freestyle all the way.

By the end of 2004, I felt confident that I could sign up for a triathlon in 2005, but which one? 

Enter:  Tri U Mah

Tri U Mah, an indoor triathlon hosted by the University of Minnesota, debuted in February 2005.   Slightly different than other triathlons, which have a stated race distance that participants cover, Tri U Mah breaks its race up in to 30 minute swim, bike and run segments with 10 minute transitions between swim/bike and bike/run.  Participants cover as much distance as they can during the time blocks and winners are determined by the total distance covered.

The venue is terrific -- the University of Minnesota Rec Center.  Participants get to swim in a great pool AND have the lane all to themselves.  After the swim, participants transition to a stationary (spin) bike, and then finish up by running on the treadmill.   Volunteers are pretty peppy and very helpful.  The swag is always great.  (Good shirt; sometimes a bag; lots of yummy post race snacks). 

It was the PERFECT first time triathlon for me.  I signed up for the race, was nervous as hell when I started and beaming, beaming, BEAMING when I was finished.  I've done the race each and every year since 2005, making my 2014 race the first of my 10th year of triathlon. My, how times flies....

The race has become the 'season opener ritual" for me and several of my friends.  We find it to be the perfect reminder that outdoor season is coming for sure and it is time to get back to training. 

I fell in love with triathlon that February and haven't looked back since.

After that, I moved on to outdoor tris and conquered my fear of open water swimming (OWS). (Candidly, the OWS thing took me a long time to embrace.  It really wasn't until I did a training swim with my coach, Greg Rhodes, at Lake Ann Park in 2009, that I let go of my OWS fear.  He got me over it by tricking me.  At the beginning of a practice swim, he told me that, if I made it from one side of the lake to the other, I could walk back to our starting point.   Greg, who is a terrific swimmer, took off in the water.  I hemmed, hawed;  I adjusted my goggles a million times.  I stopped to bob for a bit.  I finally got over to the other side and was going to get out to walk back when he said "Oh, no.  You are swimming back and you aren't going to stop.  You can do this".  And I did.)

Sprints led to Olys, which led to half-irons, which led to Ironman.  Took me three times to cross that finish line at Wisconsin, but I did.  And I'll do it one more time this year in September.
So, thank you, Tri U Mah, for giving me something to look forward to each February.  See you in 2015.