Sunday, July 16, 2006

Camp Pendleton International Tri--Race Report

In a nutshell, a very satisfying and exhausting weekend overall.

The night before:
Very relaxing. I didn't plan any exercise and it was very liberating. I did crosswords until I got sleepy and went to bed. Then, of course, I couldn't sleep. Figures. What was on my mind? It wasn't the race. It was racing about lab--all this buried anxiety--am I working hard enough, am I good enough, etc., etc. I have some big experiments coming up and things have been busier but it's sort of the lull before the storm so I just have all this pent-up anxiety to work through. I actually got up and started reading science papers, which was good in 2 ways. First, I was working so it addressed my guilt and anxiety. Second, nothing puts me to sleep better than an old-fashioned scientific paper. Finally fell into a light, fitful sleep at about 2 a.m. Better than nothing.

Woke up with the alarm at 5:30 a.m. Is this waking up stuff actually getting easier? Felt pretty good considering lack of sleep. Why is it I can wake up early for weekend group workouts and races but not for work? Uh-oh. Supress rising guilt...supress rising guilt...focus on race. Okay, I'm back. I felt surprisingly not nervous. Then, I got nervous about not feeling nervous enough. Nerves. Gotta love 'em.

I've gotten in the bad habit of not packing the night before. Surprisingly, it doesn't take me more than 10 minutes to put the stuff in my race bag, and I pack less stuff so it's worked out well. Still, it helps to pack the night before. Jason got up to come with me (to support me for the 3rd race in a row--what a saint). I zipped up to Pendleton in about 30 minutes. Gotta stop thinking it's okay to go 90 mph on the interstate. But it's so nice not to deal with traffic on I-5! (Coming back, Jason drove and dealt with more than an hour's backup of beach traffic while I slept soundly on the passenger side.)

Race check-in was also nice and uneventful. I saw lots of people I've met at previous races and club workouts. So wonderful to have people to talk to in order to quell nerves. Everyone was very laid-back and friendly. The heat was starting to climb. Unfortunately, the first wave didn't go until 8:30 a.m. My wave didn't go until 9 a.m. We were the 2nd to last wave too, which I hate because it always makes me feel like I'm dead-last, even though I'm not. It's a bad place to be mentally. However, my goal was just to finish and not need an IV at the end!

I made my way down to the hidden ocean basin where the swim was held. I waded in up to my waist and splashed around. The water was colder than I thought it would be. Mid-60s. Afterall, the ocean had been 74 degrees the weekend before. I had done the Carlsbad race sans wetsuit and had loved it so much, I wanted to do it again. I feel so free without a wetsuit, and the wetsuit hasn't helped my swim times at all. Plus, the wetsuit seems to restrict my arms a lot, and since my upper body strength is a limiter for me (right now), my arms seem to get way more tired with the wetsuit. Plus, it was going to be so hot. Would I really need the wetsuit? Of course, most others opted for their wetsuit but everyone else seems to like their wetsuit a lot more than me. I thought I could have done it without a wetsuit but chickened out at the last second and struggled to get it on, feeling like a stuffed sausage afterwards. In retrospect, I think I would have been fine without. Oh, well. Live and learn.

I played in the water and waited and waited as the other waves went off. I And waited. I hate the waiting before the gun goes off the most. I wanted to go. I was ready. As I waited, I watched the others negotiate the swim course. It was really confusing and disorienting to me, and I hadn't even started yet. The buoys didn't seem to be in a straight line. We swam out to a far buoy at a weird angle, turned around, and swam back following the buoys in more of a straight line, continuing past the beginning into a hidden section of the basin before turning and heading back. I felt like a snake swimming a serpentine. It would have helped to have better buoy placement.

Swim--Slow like a Tortoise:
We lined up, the horn blew, and we were off. Finally! I took off with the group, this time at the front, unlike most other races I've done, and since I'm pretty slow, had no problem settling into a pace. Plus, I was surrounded by other swimmers which helped in 2 ways--drafting and sighting. As the swimmers spread out, I drifted towards the back (everyone else was so fast), and I had to sight a lot more. I found it difficult to do the bilateral breathing I normally do in the pool since I wanted to see the buoys, which were on my left. Every time I switched to my right, I felt isolated and a little panicky. I have to work on that. Turning at the first buoy was no problem. I felt comfortable and relaxed, albeit a little restricted by the wetsuit. Then it seemed everyone started passing me. Mentally, this deflated me quite a bit. Especially, when the final wave behind me started to pass me as well. They were all just incredible swimmers. I focused on keeping a good pace and even, steady breathing and found my happy place. I also found several swimmers in the wave behind me to draft off of, which was an immense help. This was the first race that I really was able to use that strategy, and it really helped conserve energy. The swim kept going and going. It seemed to last forever. This was by far, my longest swim in a race. 1500 meters is a lot longer than 1000 m, and even though I had been practicing the distance, I just haven't put in enough hours in the water. Plus, I'm used to long and slow, which feels inadequate in a race setting, when I just want to go. By the end, I felt deflated and frustrated as well as fatigued. It seemed I was among the last people out of the water. Later, Jason would tell me I wasn't last in the swim, which made me feel better. I was surprised at how much the swim had taken out of me. I hadn't expected that. For the first time in a race, I felt moments of doubt and worry about how the rest would go.

T1--Everything starts to get better:
The run from the basin to the transition area took forever. It was about 400 meters or more. Luckily, I had been prepared for this so I just jogged and jogged as I went. I actually felt my heart rate and breathing start to come down as I jogged, which surprised me after the hard swim. The jogging seemed to help relax me and loosen me up. I had no problem finding my bike since it was one of the last ones there. I didn't even dry my feet. My transition times are definitely getting quicker!

Bike--Bluebell was flying!
Luckily, my feelings of doubt and worry were unfounded. I took my time the first 3 miles, letting my legs warm up and settle down on the bike. I started to feel better and better. The bike is quickly becoming my favorite phase. I feel so free! Don't get me wrong, I love the run too, but it's a lot harder because it's at the end. And I love swimming too but the bike--well, it's just better. I was able to mentally coach myself and put the swim behind me.
"You did fine. A lot better than you think. Now you know what to work on. It's over. Focus. Focus. Don't worry about it. You can do this. You feel great."
My mental coaching helped a lot, and I began to feel relaxed. I found that happy place. After negotiating some hills, I settled into a 17.4 mph avg. pace, which has been pretty standard for me in races lately (an improvement over last year!), and slowly began picking some people off.

I sipped diluted Gatorade as much as I could as the sun beat down on me unforgivingly. Later this would turn into my first ever sunburn (okay 2nd--but worse than my first--although still very mild) on my shoulders. How do people deal with that? I mean, sunblock doesn't last very long after a swim! I couldn't believe how great I felt after such a deflating swim. My fears and worries were left behind.

Unfortunately, I began gulping instead of sipping the wonderful liquid around mile 16 of the bike. I was so thirsty! It was HOT--around 85 degrees or so (hot for San Diego). My stomach began to complain as the liquid sloshed around. I relized I had drank the contents of almost the entire bottle, which I never do. I usually drink no more than 1/3 to 1/2 of it (on my longest rides). I began to feel weird. Not quite right. Did I have to go to the bathroom? I couldn't tell, which was weird. Usually you know. I felt verrrrry bloated. I immediately STOPPED drinking and spent the last 6 miles in the hoods instead of the drops trying to stretch out my torso a little bit and get more comfortable. It also didn't help that I had my period, which just seemed to amplify every stomach pain, every cramp, and my sore ass. Guys--you don't realize what a handicap this is on race day!!!

The last 5 miles of the 25 mile ride seemed to take forever due to my discomfort. Luckily, I had taken Zantac (antacid) and a pre-emptive Immodium that morning, and I think that was my saving grace. However, little pangs of doubt started to creep in again. Would I be walking this run? Would I be able to even do the run at all?

Run--Feeling Strong Again:
As soon as I got my running shoes on and started jogging, I started to feel better. I think I had stopped drinking just in time. Plus, I could change positions and stretch up instead of being hunched over the bike. I took a cup of water at the first station, and dumped it over my head to cool off, still too wary of liquid in my gut to drink it. After 5 minutes, my legs seemed to feel fresh and light, and I settled into an easy, floating pace. The long runs I've been doing really paid off here! I began passing people left and right. Because it was a 2-lap course, I got to see a lot of other people. Many of them waved and smiled and cheered me on. I actually recognized some of them! They knew my name! That's such a pick-me-up in a race! Right before my 2nd lap, a handsome, tall guy runs up and asks, "Are you Rachel?"
"Yeah," I reply.
"Seamonster." We shake hands. It was SO awesome to actually meet one of my fellow bloggers. That has never happened before. It was way cool. We chatted briefly before parting ways--he to finish, and me to do my blasted 2nd lap.

By this time, it was 11 a.m., and temps were near 90. It felt more like a nuisance to me than anything. After 5 years in St. Louis, I can deal with heat. Plus, my body seems to tolerate it fairly well. I've learned to recognize my heart rate begeins to sky rocket and slow down. Usually, my stomach will begin to cramp up, and that's the first sign the heat is getting to me. My motto for running on hot days? Slow down, slow down, then slow down some more. I walked through the 2nd station and sipped the delicious water. I was so thirsty! I took a 2nd cup and dumped it on my head. The marines volunteering were great. They were cheering us all on and were very motivating. They took extra cups and sloshed it on my as I ran by. One guy had a hose, and I would slow down as I passed him to get doused. This helped a lot. I was soaked by the end. When there was a breeze, I felt wonderful. I felt like I could just keep going and going. Like a gazelle. Then, we would get between some buildings, and there would be absolutely no air circulation. It was like being in a sauna. The heat radiated off the pavement. I felt like I was baking. Slow down, slow down. Water station. Walk. Sip 1 cup. Dump 2nd cup over head. There was 1 steep hill we had to traverse. Of course, it was a 2-lap course so we got to do it twice. Goodie! I actually walked the middle of the hill. I've never done this before. I could feel my heart rate soar as I started jogging up it. The heat was unbearable. I remember thinking, "Pace yourself. It's just not worth it." And I would walk. It helped a lot. I love how I'm learning how to listen to my body and when to hold back as well as when to push it. When I had about 1.5 miles left to go, I did a mental check. Everything felt great. I started to pick up the pace. Met up with a girl and we cheered each other on towards the finish. Turns out, we had met at a race earlier in the season. She remembered my name! It was so nice to have someone I knew to run with. We chatted as we ran. Then, my stomach started bothering me. Ugh. Nothing too bad but I had to shut up and slow down. She ran on ahead. Only 1/2 mile left to go. My knees started bothering me. Guess I was starting to fall apart. I saw the chute and picked up the pace. It felt so incredible to cross that finish line!

Jason was right there, handing me a cup of water and an orange. Yum. He told me the heat had gotten to some people and one guy had to be carted off near the finish because of heat exhaustion. He had started shaking and spasming, kind of like what you might see at the end of an IM (remember that Gatorade commercial?). I felt happy not to need the ambulance! I did feel a bit disoriented and delirious, however. One Marine asked if I felt alright, which surprised me. Didn't think I felt that bad! I started chatting with people I knew--that's the best part. Unfortunately, my stomach started cramping up, and I realized my body needed ac, water, food, and sleep...ASAP. Damn. I had wanted to stay and chat more! We packed up and headed out. I saw several guys napping in the shade provided by their car...on the ground. That sucks! There was barely any shade there. That's when I realized I wasn't the only one needing some ac, sleep, food, and water. The body wants what it wants!

I've been recovering very nicely. Knees have been kind of achy. Time for a fresh pair of shoes! Ate and slept most of the afternoon. However, was able to dress up and go out for dinner and a movie that night. Then, this morning, dragged myeslf out of bed with Jason for an early low-tide beach run with the running group. We went 10 miles!!! I thought it would be impossible after yesterday bit I was really looking forward to it this morning. Knees actually felt okay! Love running on the sand! We were able to maintain a solid 9 min/mile pace. It felt relaxing and easy. There was a nice breeze, and becasue we left at 7 a.m., it wasn't too hot yet. Afterwards, I stripped down to my sports bra and shorts and plunged into the ocean for a gentle, refreshing swim. That's an awesome benefit to beach runs!!! The rest of the day has been sleeping and eating. Right now, I'm due for some nice, gentle R&R. Especially after the beating my body has taken. All I can say is that it's amazing what the body can do!

Post-Race Results and Analysis:
Total Time: 3:07:41
(Split times not official)
Swim (1500 m): ~33 min (ugh)
Bike (25 mi): ~1:28
Run (10K): ~57 min
What to work on:
Swim: Swim endurance and speed (duh). I feel like I can swim forever but I have no speed. I need more time in the water, that's all. Easy to do! Also, need to work on upper body strength since arms seem to get tired pretty easily.
Bike: Maintain what I have. I've improved here so I just want to keep doing what I'm doing. I've noticed hills have gotten a lot easier for me. Must be all the horrendous hills around here. Yipee!
Run: I'm really happy with the strong base I've built. The long runs and 1/2 marathon training have really helped. However, my times are about 1 min/mile slower than I used to be so I know I can go faster. Incorporating some fartleks and track workouts will help this.
Overall: I'm really happy and satisfied. I've handled a big race load surprisingly well. Now, it's time to back off a bit and enjoy the training a bit more. I'm looking forward to some easy-going training sessions. I've gotten a lot out of the races I've done and learned a ton. Plus, I'm having a blast!


Anonymous said...

Isn't this a cool race?

Thanks for the kind words and it was nice (and yes, completely surreal) to meet you out in the middle of the race course as well. Btw, you totally smoked me on the run :-) When you took off ahead, I was still on my first lap!

That run from the swim finish to T1 is really long and counts as part of your swim time. Your swim time doesn't sound that slow and your overall time is pretty awesome... many minutes faster than me :-)

Congrats on finishing an olympic distance!!

Anonymous said...

Woo Hoo! Great report!

Congrats on a great race, despite your mid-race worries.

Don't worry about the swim speed. I guarantee it will improve now that you have the distance down.

Chris said...

Great race! Way to push through despite those stomach problems.

Best of luck with your on going training. :)

Barb said...

Congratulations on your Olympic distance race! What a nice experience "running into" a fellow blogger out on the course!

I am totally impressed with your mile long ocean swim! Way to go Girl!!!

Jack said...

Great race, great report - great way to push through. Just great!