Monday, October 19, 2015

Ironman 70.3 Arizona: Part I: Lessons Learned

We'll start with the finish.  Or, lack thereof.  

I did not finish this 70.3 mile race.  I did cover 64 miles (meaning got the 1.2 mile swim, the 56 mile bike and 6.55 miles of the 1/2 marathon (which, I recently found out was really measured at 13.6 miles. so I covered 6.8 miles), but could not pull it together to finish this one out.

As the last outdoor tri for 2015,  this was disappointing and embarrassing, but I did learn a lot from this race that I can take with me in to 2016 and beyond.  

I had gone to watch Ironman Arizona last year to watch my 2015 coach, Cathy Yndestad and my friend, Mark Loken, do the race. The venue looked interesting and very different from Ironman Wisconsin's course.  I was toying with the idea of doing "one more Ironman" in 2016 and was thinking that a flatter bike course would be more forgiving on my ailing hip.  When Ironman announced it had taken over the former Soma tri, I signed up for this new 70.3 race the day registration opened.  

I thought this would be a perfect way to try some things that I've never done before:  shipping my bike to a race location; traveling more than 400 miles for a triathlon; swimming in notoriously cold Tempe Town Lake.  I also thought that, since I've finished a number of 1/2 iron distance tris before, that this would be a distance that would be "easy" to cover.  

The day turned out differently than I had thought it would.  Some of the reasons were out of my control.  But, if I'm being totally honest here, there was a lot in my control in both what I did and didn't do in the months leading up to the race which impacted yesterday's results.  

Lessons Learned:  
  • You can't fake your way through a 1/2 iron distance tri.
  • Training Plans and Coaches are worth every penny you pay for them. (At least the good ones are.)
  • Practice on the bike you are going to ride.  
  • Do some open water swimming with and without a wet suit.
  • The strongest muscle you have is the one in your head.
Let's start with the obvious:  You get the race you train for:  After finishing IM WI last year, I wanted this year to be fun and easy.  I did a lot of races, but mostly sprints and a couple of Olys.  I had a lot of fun doing some new things, like covering 70 miles on the second day of Iowa's Ragbrai; going back to SuperiorMan for its 41.5 mile event, and running the Looney Challenge (comprised of running the Twin Cities Marathon weekend's 5K, 10K on Saturday and then the 10 Miler on Sunday.)  I was able to finish all of these events without a doing a lot work to get through them.  However, I really did not spend a lot of time "in training" this year.  I may have worked out more frequently and regularly than the average person, but there is no way I can say, with a straight face, that I spent my summer "in training".  

Self coaching is not the best plan for me:   I didn't really swim with a Masters group this year; I didn't have a formal relationship with a Coach, I certainly didn't follow any thing remotely like a training plan.  I did a little work with a group out of LifetimeFitness, but I did that mostly for the social aspect, not for the actual training.  I thought, since I had covered the distances for the 70.3, I'd be okay.  I didn't string any of them together in any meaningful way in training, and that came back to bite me yesterday in a big way.   

I need to be held accountable.  I need someone to tell me what to do, when to do it and then to either bust my chops for not doing it or to congratulate me when I do do it.  In other words, I need a Coach.

Train on the bike you are going to ride:  Outside of races, I spent the bulk of the year riding my road bike.  I should have spent a lot more time riding my tri bike.  Both my position and my saddle are very different one bike to the other.  It is also very different being in aero versus up on the hoods.  I did do a few longer rides on my tri bike as IM 70.3 AZ approached, but in retrospect, probably not enough time.  My tush was quite accustomed to longer miles on my cushier road bike saddle.  Less so on the tri bike's Cobb.

Practice Open Water Swimming both with and without a wet suit:   All the tris I did this year had been wet suit legal.  I also wore a wet suit for all the OWS practice swims I did during the summer.  I love the extra buoyancy and the sense of security the suit gives me.  (If/when I have to tread water before a race, or adjust my goggles or pee, I basically go vertical and can bob like a cork.  No energy, no muss, no fuss....).  

Tempe Town Lake is known for being cold, even though it is in the desert.  The thought of the race being wet suit questionable never even entered my mind. A few days before leaving for Arizona, I happened to see a post on the event's Facebook page. Someone was questioning whether the swim would happen at all, given all the rain Tempe has been having.  (The lake is part of a reservoir and, apparently, after heavy rains, catches storm water run off, increasing changes of unsafe E coli levels.).  Another person responded that E coli wasn't an issue, but the warm lake temps could make the race wet suit illegal.  

Warm water?  I looked up the water temp online and it was in the mid 70's.  Glad I checked this out before traveling because I ended up packing both a wet suit and a swim skin.  Race morning, the water was 78 degrees.  The race officials made the event 'wet suit optional'.  If a racer chose to wear a wet suit, they would move to a "new" final wave, regardless of which heat they should be racing in.  Racers in that last wave would still have to make the 11:20 am cut off of starting the 3rd bike loop.  

Although I was already one of the final waves for the day, I did not want to sit out any additional time and risk maybe not making the bike cut off, so I opted to not wear the wet suit and wore the skin instead. (In retrospect, the cut off for the last loop was a non issue for me.  I was well on my way on that last loop at 11:20 am....)

On the one hand, the skin was perfect because the water temp was great.  Had I wore the wet suit, I would have overheated.  On the other hand, I had not done any open water swimming without a wet suit in a long time.  The swimming part was easy, but waiting treading water waiting for the race to start was a little tiring; stopping to adjust my goggles and to pee, there was no bobbing.  It was more floundering.  

The water was pretty choppy and I got swallowed more of the lake that I wanted to.  I also had a couple of close encounters with other swimmers that, had I been in a wet suit, would not have rattled me.  Without the suit, I went under unexpectedly, which caused me to be a little uncomfortable. 

I got through the swim, but all it all, it was not nearly as enjoyable as other swims.  I felt more like I practiced water survival skills....

Head Muscle:  Ahhh yes.  My brain.  All things being equal yesterday, it was my brain that caused me my biggest issues.  I knew I had not done the training I should have.  But that was also the case with the Looney Challenge and I managed to get through those three races, AND did the 10 miler with a knot in both my glute and posas.  The big difference was the conversation I had with myself about those races.  For Looney, my focus was on getting the races done, no matter what.  

For IM 70.3 AZ, the negative thoughts started early -- in the swim, which felt like it went on forever.  I felt mostly good on the bike, although my tush was screaming during that last loop and it got mentally tiring riding in to the wind, which had picked up quite a bit.  I may have gotten behind on my nutrition a bit too, which never helps the thinking pattern.  

When I got back in to T2, I thought I had plenty of time to cover the miles of the run.  The course seemed pretty straight forward: two pretty flat loops around sections of Tempe Town Lake.  I started the run at 12:30 pm; the sun broke out and it was hot and humid.  I struggled from the get-go to get my legs to run.  I just did. not. want. to.  Period.  

I can be very stubborn and headstrong.  Sometimes this works very well for me.  Other times, this does not.  This was one of those times.  I tried a few tricks in hopes to turn things around.  I picked places out on the course and said "I'll start running there".  I'd get to that place and then find another place that looked better.  Finally, I just gave in and said "Screw it.  I'm walking'.  

That would have been fine until the detour.

The Race Organizers had to make a modification to the run course, due to a tragic accident (independent of the race) the night before.  This modification added another 4/10s to the total course (not a big number), but the actual change to the course made a big difference psychological to me.

I was walking on the Rural Road bridge and could see other racers on the path on the south side of the lake.  It looked like they came off the bridge, took a left, went away from the race site for about a few hundred yards and then turned to loop back to the site and the start of the second loop or the finish line.

I looked at my watch and thought that I had enough time to get through the second loop before the race cut off.  I was feeling pretty good.

When I got off the bridge, and took the turn to the left, I realized that the turn around was not a couple hundred yards ahead of me, but rather more than 1/2 a mile ahead of me.

That realization took any and all of the wind right out of my sails and my brain said "Game over. Get to the start of the second loop, but you are probably out of time to complete the second loop."

I got to the start of the second loop and Warren was there waiting for me.  I told him that I was done.  He tired to get me to start the second loop, but I knew I wasn't going to run it (or any of it) and with less than 90 minutes to the cut off, it was highly unlikely that I would make the cutoff. 

Had I been able to get my head right, I may have been able to get myself on that second loop and to push to meet the 90 minute deadline.  

But yesterday, for whatever reason, when I was done, I was done.

No matter what I tried to tell myself made a difference.  Internal conversation points included including "You spent a boatload of money to ship your bike here and to travel here to DNF", "You will never live down the embarrassment of not finishing." "You've done this a million times.  Get your stuff together.".  "You want that hat and medal".  Nothing made a difference.  

I'm not sure why I struggle with this so much.  Why sometimes I can right the ship and push forward and other times, I just can't / won't.  

I'll be pondering this for the next few days in order to come up with my next post:  Ironman 70.3 Arizona:  Part II: Putting Those Lessons to Work.

Check back in a few days as I come up with my Action Plan.