Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Ironman Coeur d'Alene Experience

Ah yes, it's the week after the Ironman. My legs are more or less non-functional, so I might as well sit around and blog. Yes, I'm working on writing up my race report - isn't that what everyone does on completion of an Ironman?? But first I wanted to take a little time to talk about the experience of doing this particular race - Ironman Coeur d'Alene. My friend Sharon (here with me in the world's awesomemest M-Dot shirts) has done IMAZ, and I've done IMFL, and both of us agreed that the IMCdA was simply amazing,

To get an idea of why, you have to picture coming down 10 blocks of downtown Coeur d'Alene with both sides of the street lined with cheering throngs of people - you zoom through here on the bike several times and each time it just sends your spirits soaring. You feel like you're in the Tour de France or something. Then of course there's the beautiful scenery - the lake, the rolling hills, the green valleys. Simply spectacular.

The aid stations and on-course support are also terrific. From the Mardis-Gras themed aid station on the run to the bagpipers on the hill of the bike, there was something around every corner to keep you smiling when the race got tough. People in neighborhoods sat out with boom boxes or squirt guns, dance music and entertainment along the way.

Then, the finisher's chute is downright crazy. Those downtown streets have even more people than before, and all of them are going nuts as you run the last eight blocks toward the big Ironman arch. Wow.

Of course, there are also some difficult aspects of this race. The weather in Coeur d'Alene changes by the minute. In the five days we were there, we had everything from chilly to hot, from calm to windy, and from dry to absolutely torrential rain. There was also a big lightning storm thrown in for good effect (fortunately not on race day). The lake was 53 degrees when we got there, but had warmed to the high 50's by race day (I do NOT believe it was 62 as the race officials said - they always lie about stuff like that, and I know what a 62 degree lake feels like!). So you're definitely playing roulette with the weather when you sign up, you might get a scorcher or a freezer or anything in between.

Overall, this race was quite an experience though, and I really enjoyed myself on this course. I'll write up the particulars of how it went for me personally, but I would highly recommend this Ironman to anyone who is looking for a terrific race in a gorgeous location.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cowntdown to Ironman: 12 Hours: Pitfalls and Possibilities

First of all, let me start this post by saying THANK YOU to everyone who has commented, emailed, facebooked, tweeted, or spoken words of support to me through this process. Even if I've never met you "in real life" (whatever THAT is), your kind and encouraging words mean a lot. I will be thinking of the things you've said and when I have to dig deep they will be there, filling my heart up with strength. And Marv, when the time comes to dig deeper, I will remember your pond and I promise I will dig!

12 hours from now I'll be in the transition area, probably waiting in a porta-potty line before crawling into my wetsuit. This week of preparation has flown by, with some added surprises (like some really really horrible food poisoning on Monday) thrown in for good measure.

So, without further ado, here are the things I'm confident about, and the things that I'm worried about. I'll start with the worries and end on a good note because at this point I need all the happy good thoughts I can get.

Things that will keep me up tonight:

- My stomach:  five days out from a round of food poisoning so violent that I'm surprised I actually still HAVE a stomach lining, my stomach still feels a little bruised and touchy. In normal life, real life, that's not a problem. In an Ironman, a bad stomach can become a real problem. In fact, a stomach can yank you out of a race much faster than a cramping hamstring. I am hoping that all will stay down, food and nutrients will be absorbed, and that this won't be an issue that derails my race tomorrow.

- The downhill: My new race wheels are a bit twitchy on the winds and the downhills. Trying them out on the biggest hill of all, I had to brake constantly to keep them in line. I don't know how much of that was due to the winds from the big cars and trucks screaming by, but I"m mighty nervous about it. Especially since the big downhill will be a "no passing zone" on the course, which means all the Type-A fast triathletes behind me will have to go as slow as I'm going down the hill. I don't think they'll be pleased :-(

- The swim start: Nothing new here. I've been nervous as heck about this since I pulled the trigger and signed up for this race (which notoriously has one of the worst swim starts around). My plan: line up in a good spot, go hard for 400 yards, and hope to find clear water by then.

- The knee: I haven't run in a month. I have been a good girl. I have seen my Physical Therapist and followed her orders. I have done pool running, stretching, and rolling. Whatever my knee gives me at the start of the run will be what I get. I just want it to be enough to finish feeling good. 

Things I feel good about:

My swim: My swimming has been feeling AWESOME lately. I have felt fast, and strong, and comfortable. The water will be cold (54 this morning) but I've been swimming in cold water and I can do this. Other than anxiety about the mosh pit effect of the start, I feel that I will have a good swim.

My bike: I think I have a good handle on bike pacing. I paced my last Ironman bike well, and came off the bike feeling great. My goal is to do the same. For the first hour or so, it will feel incredibly easy, a walk in the park. I will not get amped up hammering up hills. I will do the right thing.

The run: Although yes, I've had the knee problem to contend with, I feel peaceful about the run. It's out of my control. If I can run and run well, I will concentrate on my pacing plan which I practiced a lot. If not and I have to do a lot of walking, that's what I will do. I will run as much as possible and it will be what it will be.

My goals:

I don't really have a time goal for this race, although I would be quite happy to come in under 13 hours. If all goes well - stomach behaves, knee behaves, I pace myself well, that is definitely doable. Because I have so many unknowns, it could also be a much longer day for me out there. Four weeks ago I had more ambitious goals. But I've had to release that like a red balloon on a string and watch it float away. In a way, it's freeing. Since I no longer know what I can do, I no longer have something to whip myself with into a state of anxiety. I feel much calmer about this Ironman than I did at the last one. I have nothing to prove to anyone, and I plan on enjoying the day as much as I can out there.

My predictions:

Swim: Somewhere around an hour, give or take a few
T1: Hopefully well under 10 minutes this time!
Bike: 6:45-ish if all goes well and no unexpected disasters ensue
T2: Again, under 10 minutes
Run: Who the heck knows? Fastest I could possibly run according to predictions in online calculators puts me at 4:35. Probably closer to 5:00. If it gets hot, my stomach shuts down, or my knee goes wonky, it could be 6 or 7 hours.

1:00 + :10 + 6:45 + :10 + 5:00 would be 13:05. If it goes better than that, hooray for me. If it goes worse, it'll be what it'll be. You can track me online on the Ironman Tracker:

I'm race number 679. Keep the good thoughts coming, pray for an uneventful and safe day for me, and for all the athletes on the course, and I'll see you on the other side of the finish line!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Countdown to Ironman, Week 1: It's Go Time

Whatever is in my body's fitness bank has been deposited, nothing more can be added now. Now it's all about the details - thinking over my race execution, preparing myself mentally, getting together the gear, nutrition, hydration, sunscreen, and everything else I'll need to have a successful day.

I'm in my taper, which means that my body is taking all of that work that I put it through, and using rest to convert it to sheer power and endurance. At least that's how I think of it in my mind. Tapering used to make me crazy and fidgety, but now I just enjoy the feeling of gathering power in my muscles and in my mind.

I don't ask that everything go perfectly (although that would be nice). I simply pray that I am ready for whatever the day has to offer me, and that I may take the time to enjoy the race, the other participants, and the ability that I have to move my body 140.6 miles.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Countdown to Ironman, WEEK 2 (!!!): Lists, lists, more lists

Ironman is about nothing if not Gear. You would think it wouldn't be that different from an ordinary triathlon, which takes a small mountain of gear. But you would be wrong. It takes a large mountain of gear.

For instance, in a regular triathlon (even half-Ironman), you can get away with one stick of Glide (that stuff that makes sure your wetsuit doesn't rub on your neck and your arms and legs don't chafe in the run). But for the Ironman, I'm packing 5 of them (3 regular size, 2 mini). Why? I need one to do my neck, legs, and arms before the swim start. That has to go in my "warm clothes" bag (stuff I'll use before the swim but will have to leave behind - remember, nothing is allowed in the transition area that's not in an official bag or on your bike).

The 2nd Glide will go in my T1 bag, to be used before the bike. The third (a mini) goes in the Bike Special Needs bag, just in case. Fourth is in the T2 bag for use under arms before the run. Then I'll stick a mini in the back of my tri top just in case I encounter chafing on the run. Because of the length of the day and the complexity of having all of your stuff in separate bags, you often need duplicate gear in different places.

You also just need MORE. More food, more drink mix, more sunscreen, more Glide, more spare tubes, more cooling clothes if it's hot, more warming clothes if it's cold. So I've got lists and lists and lists of gear that I need to make sure I own, buy, or borrow, and then pack. At least this time I'm driving, which reduces the complexity of stuffing this all into a suitcase.

With more gear comes more anxiety - what if I forget something? Of course, that's what the piranhas... erm... vendors at the Athlete Village are for: to charge you double or triple for that stupid little thing that's sitting back at home on your bedroom floor or hanging in your closet.

Luckily, since I'm the mom of the busiest kids in the planet, I have no time for panic or anxiety. So I'll just have to make do with general levels of stress and hope for the best.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Swim Coach: Shadow Play and Ninja Hand Entry

Hand Entry: It seems like such a fiddly little detail of your swimming stroke. Why worry about what your hand looks like going into the water? After all, it's the stroke part that counts, right? Some swimmers will even point out pros and Olympians who have seemingly terrible hand entry (like Janet Evans with her infamous windmill stroke) as rationale for not improving their own hand entry.

But the truth is, it matters where your hand ends up in the water, because that's where your stroke begins. Even if the hand entry of a top-knotch swimmer looks terrible, chances are that it is instantly corrected upon entry into the water. Indeed if you play a video of Janet Evans and hit pause just milliseconds after her hand entry, you'll see that her hand instantly assumes the correct position to begin her stroke.

Just in case you're not Olympics material and can't miraculously position your hand perfectly after a terrible hand entry, it makes sense to get it right the first time.

So what is right? You want your hand to be smooth and relaxed during the recovery (out of the water) part of the stroke, but once it begins to enter the water, it needs to engage and become first a gliding, then a stroking machine. You want your fingers spread slightly, but not too far. If you cup them too tightly together, you'll miss out on a bit of extra surface area, and you'll run the risk of your hands getting fatigued from too much muscle strain holding the fingers close. If you spread the fingers too much, water will slip through them. A light spread will create a web-like effect, thus increasing the area of your stroking surface.

Additionally, it's a good idea to enter your hand in a neutral position. Some swimmers enter thumb-down, or pinky-down, but this just means they have to fiddle around under the water to get into a good stroking position, or worse: they start stroking with their hand in the wrong position. If your elbow remains higher than the hand as the hand enters the water, it should glide in like a ninja, smooth and silent. If you drop the elbow at the end, or carry a flat-armed entry, you will hear a big splashing or popping sound, and then the first action your hand and arm are taking is to press water down, or sideways. Neither of these is good, you only want to press water in one direction: behind you.

I like to use a nice sunny day with my outdoor pool to get a good idea of what my hand is doing when it enters the water. I can see the shadow of my hand and arm on the bottom of the pool. I can tell if it is making a huge splash, or if its carrying lots of bubbles and turbulence into the water with it. I can also watch the way the ripples move away from my hand and arm - if they're moving in front of me, I'm pushing the water forwards instead of backwards, which is never a good thing. Using tools like mirrors, shadows, and video to see what our own bodies are doing in the water gives us good feedback about how to change for the better.

And to visualize exactly what it should look like, I watch this video at least once a week (yes, you heard me), and you should too!

Monday, June 04, 2012

Countdown to Ironman, Week 3: Race Rehearsal #2

It's almost Go-time here, and so far all is well. My knee seems to be better, though still sore. This week was a big one for training, with yesterday's 7-hour race rehearsal. Just like with RR #1, the idea was to try to nail things like pacing and nutrition so that on race day there's no surprises.

So how did it go? It sucked. It utterly and totally sucked. There were no major suckages - no bad falls, no flat tires, no snow storm. But there were so many minor suckages (see photo of pavement I was riding on, for instance!) that it added up to one big bad long day of Suck. Luckily, the motto of the day is "Embrace the Suck", so as I grumbled my way along, making deals with myself like "If you don't call Wayne to come pick you up right this instant, you can grab some ice cream on the way home" (I did neither, thankfully), I tried to believe that getting through this day would make me stronger in the Ironman to come.

So what went right? All the important stuff went right. Pacing was good. I rode 112 miles with 4800 feet of climbing. My intention was to nail the pacing on the climbs, keeping my heart rate in the Z1 to low-Z2 zone for most of it (for those of you not conversant with heart rate zones, for me that means keeping it under 143 beats per minute. That means going easier on the hills than I normally do, and it felt weird. Since I was wearing everything I'll wear in the race, that means I was all kitted out with my dorky Pointy Helmet of Speed on. So crawling along up the hills, I was really hoping I didn't get passed by the Granny Brigade on mountainbikes or something, it would just be too humiliating. Luck was with me (sort of), the day was too crappy and cold for anyone who is not totally Stoopid or Bat Shit Insane to be out on a bike. Obviously, I fall into one or both of those categories.

Nutrition was good for the most part. I worked my new drink bottle systems (Torhans and Speedfil) and took along a 6-hour mixture of Infinit, which is basically like sugary salty sludge, washing it down with water. I also used some Bonk Breaker bars, which they'll have on the course. The one thing I didn't have with me was anything with CAFFEINE, which as it turns out, I desperately needed. So I stopped at this little roadside store. I wish I'd thought to take a photo of the interior because the shelves were so empty that I thought they were going out of business. As it turns out, they're just on such tough times that they're having trouble ordering inventory. They literally did not have Coke. No Pepsi. Can you imagine a convenience store without these things? I felt so bad for them. They had one Dr. Pepper on the shelf and that was it! So I became a Pepper and glugged 10 oz. just for the caffeine.

Now, what went wrong? Did I mention the weather? How can this be June?? I am having the worst luck training for a June 24 Ironman in the crappiest spring that Oregon has ever brought forth. Actually, an 83 year old lady told me the other day that she had seen one worse spring, probably 50 years ago or so. But this is pretty bad. Rainy. Cold. Bleh. I got chilled down and couldn't seem to warm up much, even on the climbs, which were considerable.

Then there was the pavement. I haven't done this particular ride in several years, and boy howdy the pavement has gone downhill since then. Part of it, which used to be nice pavement, has now been chip-sealed with what looked to be 3/4- gravel. It's basically like riding down a gravel road with a thin layer of baked tar on top. And I remember a good bit of the road being through this lovely forest, but there's a lot of logging going on there right now, and most of it is now clearcuts and stumps. The same trucks that kindly took away the forest also took chunks out of the roads, leaving them looking like the photo above. Later in the ride, I was looking forward to a good chunk of miles on a rails-to-trails bike path, but again the pavement there was far worse than it has been in years past, with tree roots pushing up ridges of asphalt, some of which were big enough to launch me, BMX style, into the air. Kindly, someone had spray painted most of these so at least you could see them coming.

The bottom line was that for much of the ride, I couldn't get above 14 - 16 mph due to road surfaces, which made this ride SO MUCH LONGER than I thought it would be. Combined with the craptastic weather, and three days of poor sleep beforehand, it felt like one giant 7-hour bonkfest with constant vigilance for potholes and tree roots, and chatter from the bad pavement thrown in. By the time I got home, I was utterly and totally depleted. But... I did it. And I am stronger for it. At least that's what I'm telling myself.