Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Soma Half-Ironman Race Report

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
--Martin Luther King, Jr.

This weekend was a whirlwind. In a nutshell, I had a blast! I trained 24 weeks for my second half-ironman. I chose Soma because it a) was in Tempe and would be good preparation for Ironman Arizona (which will be my first) in April and b) landed on the weekend of my 30th birthday. What better way to celebrate turning 30? I had been nervous and stressed out race week due to the fires and my tweaked ankle, and was worried about the heat wave in Tempe. Once I decided to just concentrate on finishing and having a good experience instead of having a peak performance, I relaxed and began to look forward to race day.

Pre-Race Nerves:
Countless San Diegans (many from Tri Club San Diego TCSD) made the long trek out to Tempe this weekend to race. I had met many of them after organizing a training group to prepare for this race, which was a very rewarding experience since I now have so many new friends! A group of training buddies, Jason and I caravaned out to the desert on Friday. As soon as I had a chance to breathe the fresh air and stretch my legs in Tempe, I felt good. Fresh, alert and energized. I guess the fires from last week had been affecting my health more than I realized.

southern Arizona--a hot, barren desert of emptiness

part of our caravan, on the road to AZ

Saturday, after we had all attended to our Ps and Qs (bike check-in, packet pick-up, athletes' meeting), we went for a dip in the lake. Tempe was experiencing a heat wave, which we were all trying not to think about, and it was a very sweaty, panting, drawn-out ordeal pulling on the wetsuit for a practice swim Saturday afternoon in mid-90-degree desert heat. Although the Tempe Town Lake is dirty, brown and murky, it was a refreshing retreat to jump into the cool, 68-degree water and escape from the sweltering heat for a moment. We swam about 700 meters (with lots of stops to sight and visualize the course) before hopping out. The dip gave me an extra boost of energy and confidence I needed--between my foot and the fires, it was the first workout I'd had all week! Quite the taper.

Afterwards, I discovered Bob Babbitt and his wife standing by my swim bag! Since the Challenged Athlete's Foundation (CAF) Half Ironman in La Jolla had been cancelled that weekend due to the San Diego fires, he had driven to Tempe to do the half ironman (Bob's one of the founders of CAF). In case you don't already know, Bob Babbitt, one of the godfathers of triathlon, is a legend. Today, he is the editor of Competitor magazine and also produces Competitor Radio, interviewing all the triathlon greats of the world (just a few of the things he does). In a nutshell, he's awesome. I love how he just, on a whim, what the hell, decided to race an impromptu half-ironman one weekend, and at age 52 and under extreme heat, still came in under 6 hours! Sheesh! Anyway, I had seen him at many TCSD events but had always been too starry-eyed to say hello. Since he was standing over my bag, I decided this was my chance. I walked over and introduced myself. They were fabulous. I can't believe how nice they were! His wife even recognized me on the run (as she flew by) and gave me a shout out to "the Birthday Girl." How cool is that?

Our group met that evening for dinner at a delicious pizza joint (Oregano's). Someone had tipped the waitress off about my birthday, and she brought me the most delicious warm, melting, enormous chocolate chip cookie loaded with vanilla ice cream after dinner. Everyone sang "Happy Birthday."

part of our dinner group
from left to right: Alex, Michelle, Hoss, me, Boston Bob's wife, Boston Bob, Russ and Jason (front and center)

Michelle, Russ, and Hoss

Alex, Bob's wife, and Boston Bob (who turned 65 on race morning, has run 5 Boston marathons, and beat me in SOMA--he's my hero!)

Earlier that day, I had been eyeing a rockin' transition bag at the expo. My friends had convinced me not to buy it, saying it was cheaper for me to make the purchase at a store in San Diego. I was easily convinced and hadn't given it another thought. After dinner, I found a package with my name on it in the backseat of the SUV. I unwrapped it, discovering the very transition bag I had been drooling over at the expo. All my friends/training buddies had gone in on the bag when I wasn't looking at the expo! I loaded up the bag that night, tucking the card all my friends had signed into the front pocket for good luck. Talk about awesome friends!

I felt nervous but ready. Being surrounded by great friends was invaluable. We all had the same mentality about the upcoming race, and it was relaxing to hang out with this charismatic group. I thought it would make me nervous or disrupt my race plan to hang out with others since I had done most of my previous races solo but it was actually a great comfort. I ate when they ate, slept when they did, and we even made Whole Foods and Walgreens field trips together to purchase our pre-race breakfast and odds and ends transition needs (spray on sunblock, chapstick, flashlight, helium balloons). Not only did it relax me, but hanging out with these guys was super fun. I laughed so hard at our stupid jokes, my insides hurt! Good ab workout!

As expected, I had a hard time getting to sleep that night. My bike was polished and lubed (I had finally gotten all the ash wiped off from the fires), and my new transition bag had been neatly packed. I was ready to go. I played relaxing music from my "meditative" playlist and laid on my back, visualizing each part of my body relaxing. I meditated on the race the following morning, playing out each scene in detail--arriving in transition, laying my necessities out on my towel in order, getting into the water... Towel? Towel? Wait a minute! I hadn't packed a towel! I leaped out of bed and hastily threw a hotel towel into my transition bag. Phew! Guess those visualization techniques really work! Afterwards, I practiced deep breathing and relaxing meditation until I was able to fall asleep--not an easy task. All I had to do was think about all the great friends I had and how much they cared about me, and I relaxed, feeling blanketed in comforting warmth. It was a full moon, on my 30th birthday weekend. I felt like the universe had opened up and was working in my favor, filling me with positive energy. This allowed me to get a solid 5-6 hours of sleep. Not too shabby.

Race Morning:
The wake up call I had ordered at 4:15 am never came. Luckily, Jason woke me up at 4:30. That could have been a disaster. I hastily dressed (tri sports bra and tri shorts (thanks to my handy-dandy new ergonomic bike seat, I can do the whole distance in tri shorts!), fastened my timing chip to my ankle (and safety pinned the velcro strap so it wouldn't come off by accident), and forced breakfast (banana and 3/4 of a Luna bar) down (difficult--anxious stomach due to pre-race nerves). The reserved hotel shuttle promised to us at 5:30 to the race site (a mile away) also fell through at the last minute. (Oh, and also, the hot water heater at the hotel broke Monday morning. A little FYI--the Best Western Inn at Tempe Town Lake stinks! Don't stay there!) This could have been a disaster but Jason was there to save the day. He drove all of us to the race site that morning and dropped us off. Jason was a life saver this weekend. I don't know how we would have gotten through it without him. Thanks, hon!

Transition Prep:
We all marched into the transition area silently, our gear loaded on our backs, the tension thick in the early morning darkness. I felt like we were preparing for battle. We hugged each other and wished us good luck and marched on to our bikes, waiting for us in our designated racks.

I tied my Happy Birthday Sponge Bob Square Pants ("This is the best day ever!") balloon to the transition rack to mark my spot. The balloon put a smile on my face. I laid out my stuff in an organized fashion from front to back. I placed my bike helmet on my aero bars, straps open, ready to go on my head. I put my brand-new cycling Oakley sunglasses (made for small faces; my birthday present to myself) in the helmet. My race belt and number went on top of my helmet. I laid my TCSD bike jersey on my bike seat, pockets loaded with Cliff blocks, a Cliff bar, salt tablets, and a spare tube. My flat kit (another tube, tire levers, and 2 CO2 cartridges) was ready to go, crammed into a tiny bike bag under the seat. I placed my 2 frozen water bottles, containing Carbo Pro (200 cals each) and electrolytes in the bottle cages and open bike shoes (with a liberal layer of baby powder on the insoles; no socks necessary) on the front of the towel. Behind the bike shoes, sat my running shoes (also laden with baby powder), with loosened laces (I don't like Quick Ties for long races) and running socks (necessary) on top. My CA 70.3 visor (with a light, mesh top--perfect for filling with ice) sat on top of my socks and shoes. I also had my TCSD sleeveless racing top ready to go for the run (cooler than the bike jersey), with a packet of Lemon Lime Cliff Blocks (yummy) in the pocket. Behind this, I placed a small cooler. Inside, my fuel belt with 4 bottles containing frozen water, electrolytes, and a pinch of Carbo Pro waited inside, along with 2 industrial ice blocks to keep my bottles cool until the run. I grabbed my wetsuit, cap, goggles and ear plugs and left the transition to make my Port-a-Potty run. Afterwards, I dashed back into transition, minutes before it closed, hastily stuffing a tampon in my running top. Yup. My period had started. When it rains, it pours, I guess.

My first time racing in the 30-34 age group!

I met Jason outside the transition area as he snapped some photos and helped calm me down. I nursed a bottle of Gatorade and tried to down more of the Luna bar to no avail. I stuffed myself into my wetsuit, at which point, I immediately had to go to the bathroom again. Of course. Murphy's Law. Afterwards, I practiced deep breathing to calm my stomach down. I was officially nervous as the first half-ironman waves set off. I kissed Jason goodbye and lined up with my wave.
Note to self--Gatorade makes finicky stomach feel downright icky!

me before the swim, managing a nervous smile.

me and Hoss before the swim

The Swim:
We all jumped into the water minutes before the gun went off. I had planned on getting in a little earlier than that but as the shock of the chilly water flooded my wetsuit, I was glad I had waited. The 68-degrees that had been so refreshing in the heat of the afternoon the day before was now a cruel, electrifying jolt in the cool early morning dawn. I swam a few strokes, checking to make sure my goggles didn't leak. I set my watch and looked ahead. All systems go. Then, the gun went off.

We all started swimming. Knowing I was in the 2nd to last wave and there wouldn't be too many people behind me, I had seeded myself to the inside, which I usually avoid and relinquish to the faster swimmers. Today, I wanted to try and swim a tighter line. The only buoys set up were the ones at the start and turn-arounds (not the promised "tons of buoys every 100 meters"). I was only a little thrown; however, since I've practiced swimming and sighting in the ocean so much. I mentally broke the distance down into 4x500s since there was a big buoy I had to pass at each of these points and I had practiced that exercise in the pool. Breaking it down into pieces helped a lot.

I focused on relaxing and falling into an easy rhythm for the first 500, using it as a warm-up. It as going to be a long day. Now was not the time to rush. Today would be all about pacing. Although the Tempe Town Lake was dirty and murky (I couldn't even see my hand in front of my face), I felt fast and quick since there are 0 waves. I glided easily through the water in my wetsuit. I hadn't swam in my wetsuit since July and had forgotten how much it helped.

I couldn't believe how quickly the first 500 passed. Fell into a nice rhythm for the 2nd 500, counting strokes and switching sides every 10 strokes, sighting as I switched. I zig-zagged slightly every now and then, but nothing too extreme. Still need some work on that. Passed another buoy and decided to pick up the speed a little for my 3rd 500. Occasionally, I bumped into another swimmer; it was so hard to see and difficult to avoid contact! I swam straight into a "floater," lifted my head up, used the opportunity to sight, and swam on. I imagined feeling "power" during the pull of my stroke and felt myself surging through the water. At which point, I bumped into another swimmer. No worries. Swam around, counted a few strokes and fell back into my rhythm.

At the 2nd (and final) turn-around, a got a swift elbow to the back of the head. Ouch! The pain was brief and again, I focused on returning to a rhythm. During the final 500, I noticed my stomach was feeling a bit weird. Jostling around a bit. Stupid pre-race Gatorade. No more of that! I slowed up a bit for the final 500 so my stomach could relax. I had been prepared for complaints from my stomach and was ready to handle it. I knew my stomach was going to be my handicap today. I used it as my body's mainframe feedback system--my stomach was relaying information about how my body was feeling. My stomach had decided to be my body's pace setter.

I reached the end of the swim and knowing it would be difficult to heave myself onto the steep steps leading out of the lake, I stuck my arms straight up, allowing a volunteer to hoist me out of the water. Glanced at my watch. It read--45 minutes. That's 5 minutes better than CA 70.3! A PR for me! I was stoked. My hard work and all the masters classes had paid off. Plus I felt good.

(all smiles after my PR swim)

I peeled the top half of my wetsuit off and trotted over to the strippers, plopping onto my butt to allow them to swiftly peel off the bottom half. I had never used strippers before and had an amused smile on my face as I trotted across the mats towards my bike. The announcer boomed through the loudspeakers, "She's all smiles folks. That's what we like to see."
Russ--running into T1--he doesn't need a stripper!

Hoss--running into T1. Unfortunately, he crashed on the 1st lap, badly injuring his shoulder and wrecking his bike, unable to continue. Poor guy. He stayed on the sidelines the rest of the race, cheering us on with an amazingly positive attitude, his shoulder bandaged with saran wrap and a bag of melted ice water! He's a rock star!

Boston Bob--out of the water and into T1. Happy Birthday, Bob!

me--trotting into T1 after utilizing the strippers (I needed two).

At this point, I realized I was in pretty good spirits. I didn't rush in transition. I felt calm, relaxed and confident. Squeezed into my bike jersey, clipped on my race belt (with the number upside-down, I was to discover later), put on my sunglasses, helmet and shoes, and trotted Torch off to the mounting line. I had to readjust my shoe before I mounted because it was pinching my foot. One spectator kept yelling at me to hurry up: "Let's go! Just get on and go! Don't wait. Just go!" I wanted to tell her to calm down and shut up but chose to ignore her instead. Sometimes, spectators can get a little overexuberant, don't you think? I clipped in and was off.

out of T1, suited up and ready to go on Torch, my sleek race steed.

The Bike:
The bike course was 3 laps around downtown Tempe--very flat and smooth roads. I was coasting at 18 mph on the first lap, even though I felt I was being conservative. I had delusions of grandeur that I could push the pace on each lap (little did I know the wind and heat would begin to undo me). I also got to see many friends and training buddies on the course since it was 3 laps and had several turn-arounds, which was really fun.

Since my stomach was still fussing at me, I popped a Pepcid that I had thoughtfully dropped into my salt tablet baggie. This would prove to be a lifesaver since it would enable me to force down my nutrition later on as the heat rose. The bike lane was very narrow and very crowded since many of the athletes racing the Olympic distance were still riding (on the same course). Since it was my first lap, I took it easy and road cautiously, avoiding the cones and "Keep Right" road signs jutting into our lanes (to keep cars off the bike course). I almost hit one of the signs a few times, veering at the last minute just in time. Several people actually collided with these signs, I later learned, resulting in many injuries, wrecked bikes and DNFs, including my poor friend, Hoss, who is now dealing with a nasty shoulder injury. He actually cheered us on from the sidelines, injury be damned, the entire time, until we all crossed the finish line! Talk about a class act!

As I began my 2nd lap, the heat started to pick up, as did the 20 mph wind, which was a full-on headwind during the eastbound 7-mile strech on Rio Salado. I struggled to keep Torch at 16 mph and focused on keeping an even pedal stroke. "I hate wind. Wind sucks," I thought to myself. Another voice said, "The wind isn't good or bad. It's just there. And you are just here, passing through the wind." Where did this come from? Thank you, Miss Philosophy! The impromptu zen thoughts helped a lot.

On the 3rd lap, I began to struggle a bit. The wind was taking its toll and the heat was steadily rising, sucking the energy from me. A lot of debris had begun to collect in the bike lane and I had to be vigilant as I swerved in and out of fallen water bottles, tubes, CO2 cartridges, and GU packets.

I was also having a hard time getting my calories down. I had drank all the calories in my bottles (400) and had grabbed an extra water bottle from an aid station for hydration so fluid-wise, I was okay. But it had been really hard to get the Blocks down. I had no appetite. It was the heat. I had forced down 2 Blocks each lap, 1 at each end. I swallowed each one like a pill, chewing only minimally. Nothing tasted good. After, I soft-pedaled for a few minutes until my stomach decided to accept it, at which point, my stomach was actually mollified by the food.

Unfortunately, I had a much harder time getting down salt tablets (Thermolyte). I had taken 2, at different points in the race but my stomach had revolted dangerously each time the capsule broke open in my gut. Luckily, my water also had electrolytes so I was okay but I'll definitely have to work on an alternative for Ironman Arizona. All in all, I managed to consume 800 calories, which warded off bonking (since the heat forced a pretty slow pace, I wasn't using up a ton of glycogen). However, let me just say, force-feeding sucks!

By this point, I had given up trying to negative split each lap and instead, focused on keeping an even pace. Even though my 2nd and 3rd lap was slower than my 1st, each lap felt (perceived effort) progressively harder. My mantra for the day was, "Deal with the cards you're given." This really helped. I knew I couldn't control the wind or the heat. I knew both were affecting me (especially the brutal, intense heat, which no one could have anticipated). I knew if I was going to finish, I would have to listen to my body and pace myself.

As I coasted into transition, Alex caught up to me. He was having a bad day and had suffered through not 1, but 2 flats. Relentlessly, he had pushed on, after changing each one (tubulars). He said, "I've accepted I'm not going to PR today. Let's just finish and do the run together." I happily accepted his offer. However, I warned him I would be several minutes since I had a requisite date with the Port-a-Potty. "No problem," he replied. I found him waiting for me outside T2, like an angel. It felt like joining a friend for a training run. He was bummed about his bike ride. I told him the universe was in my favor because it was my birthday, and I needed his support for the run. His bad luck had become my good fortune. He just gave me a weird look. However, despite his misfortune on the bike, Alex had a great attitude.

The Run:

The heat was ridiculous. The high was 96 degrees that day, despite the fact that previous years had been cloudy and low 80s. Plus, we were beginning our run at 11:30 am. Who does that? Despite this obstacle, we fell into a nice rhythm and felt we were running conservatively at 10 min/mile, which under normal circumstances, would have been very conservative. Again, delusions of grandeur like sugarplum fairies, popped into my head, as I thought about doing the 2-loops of the run in a negative-split fashion.

I had been so worried about my foot/ankle but I didn't feel a thing. Alex and I chatted happily under the oppressive heat, blissfully unaware in our flood of endorphins. Other suffering runners on the course clustered around us, eager for our entertaining conversations. We all gave each other words of encouragement, urging each other on, bonding in the face of a common, great enemy, persevering despite the obstacles in front of us.

(still feeling good on the first lap)

The aid stations at each mile were heaven-sent oases, at which point, I could walk, drink ice-cold water, pour water on my head, and dump cups of ice down my sports bra. This allowed Alex and I to cool off a little, resuming our slow but steady pace. The ice in my sports bra rattled; I was Mariachi Girl! The simplest of things were like gold to us--cold water and ice--precious. I told Alex that the ice at the aid station could be a performance enhancing drug.
"I think ice is a real drug actually," he replied.
"No, I mean the ice cubes!"
"I know. But there's also ice. Like crystal meth."
"Oh. Yeah, then we could run until our hearts exploded," I joked.
Another runner commented as we passed by, "You seem to know a lot about the subject," he laughed. The conversations I seem to have on tough runs are very strange.

"We're crazy. Why do we do this to ourselves?" Alex asked me on the first loop.
"Because we can experience things few people in the world get to experience. We challenge ourselves and it seems impossible to reach our goals. Then we reach that goal, and it is so rewarding," I replied, letting Miss Philosophy spew from my head out my mouth. I don't know where this statement came from but internally, I was like, "Yea! That's right!" and it kept me going.

The first loop came and went, and we managed to run all 6.5 miles in a solid, steady rhythm. At the end of the first loop, several TCSD'ers stood by and cheered us on, giving us a much-needed energy boost.

Alex and I completing our 1st lap of the run.

Shortly after, my GI started to seize up and I made a mad dash to the Port-a-Potty. Alex patiently waited at the aid station a few hundred yards away, cooling off with ice and water. I caught up to him and we jogged off again. Our pace was slowing noticeably. My stomach was dangerously upset. I had developed runs on the run. Ha! At this point, I pulled out my little baggie grabbed 1/2 an Immodium from my secret stash and popped it in my mouth.
"Need anything?" I asked Alex.
"No. You're carrying a little pharmacy in there!" he replied. I was lucky. Knowing my stomach had been acting funky but wanting to avoid as much medication as possible, I had planned ahead and packed wisely. Turned out, I had to pull out all the stops for this one. About 10 minutes later, my gut stopped spasming.

Five minutes after that, I started feeling naseous instead. At about mile 7, we were running 11 minute miles. There was no shade. No grass. Not even a cloud. Just cement and waves of heat emanating off the sidewalk. We passed a tall cactus. "We're not a cactus. We shouldn't be out here," Alex commented. I nodded in agreement. The heat was wearing on both of us. The stretch between miles 7 and 9 were the toughest. We fell into an ominous silence, the thick heat pressing in around us like a fog. We were on a death march. I was beginning to feel a bit overly existential.

"How are you feeling?" Alex asked me, bringing me back from the brink.
"I feel nothing," I replied, robotically. I was too tired to feel anything.
"Nothing?" he asked. "Isn't that what psychopaths feel?" I smiled. He had rescued me. I was back in my happy place again, as if a little protective cloud had burst up around me, shielding me from the heat.

A few minutes later, my stomach lurched warningly. I was reminded of that famous Ironman quote, "If you start to feel good during an Ironman, don't worry. You'll get over it." Even though it was a half, I definitely understood this quote during this race.
"I feel pukey," I said.
"Let's walk,"Alex suggested. I didn't argue. It was mile 9. 4 more miles seemed like a lot.
"How's your foot?" he asked.
"It just started hurting a little. Not too bad. Stomach's worse." I replied. The foot was holding up well, in fact. I was more worried about losing the contents of my stomach, which in 96-degree heat, would mean I would pretty much have to shut it down. The last thing I needed was to further dehydrate myself.

As I had anticipated, my stomach was the commanding general, front and center. I had been drinking at each aid station; the cool, icy water was like a magic elixir but it was too hot for my stomach to empty. My skin tasted like a salt lick. I was losing water fast in the dry, desert heat, and all of my blood was in my periphery, working hard to cool me down. There wasn't enough blood left in my gut to absorb the fluid it held, and it was sloshing with each footstep. If I continued running, I would overheat until I dropped, like a dry engine. Walking was like heaven. It felt soooo good. Alex was kind enough to walk with me. I told him to go on, not to let me hold him back, but he refused. We were in this together.

Alex's stomach wasn't feeling so hot either but at least he could burp. I couldn't. Each time he burped, I looked at him with envy. "I'm jealous! I wish I could burp!" I commented. He gave me a weird look. After several minutes of walking, I was able to burp. Alex would burp, then I would burp. It was contagious, like yawning. It was also a wonderful reward, making my tummy feel so much better. I have never looked forward to burping so much in my life. The small things in life that are so easily taken for granted...funny how in a triathlon, modesty and shame go right out the window. Bodily functions take precedence, no one bothers to cover them up, and no one else cares. I could have been naked on that 2nd lap of the run, and I couldn't have cared. Everyone's sweaty, covered in grime, and odiferous and it doesn't matter. It's inconsequential. All that matters is getting to the finish.

About half-a-mile later, Alex coaxed me into a shuffle. Reluctantly, I tried. It worked. Shuffling was much more efficient than walking. We walked-shuffled for awhile. I had no shame, no pride. I would shuffle like an old, crippled woman if that's what it was going to take. My stomach was able to empty, my body cooled off, and we were able to resume running. By mile 10.5 I felt 100% better. I couldn't believe it. It seemed so simple. My body had just needed to cool down! We began running again--slowly--but steadily and rhythmically. It would get us there.

Our strange conversations continued. I guess the endorphin levels were rocketing, buffering us from the extreme conditions. It was surreal. I felt as if I was dreaming. Oddly enough, I was still in good spirits. I knew I was going to finish and that was all that mattered. I never had a doubt. Plus, how could I not be in a good mood with such good company? The camaraderie fueled me forward. At one point, Alex said something about Bilbo Baggins (we were discussing Lord of the Rings) but it almost came out as "Dildo Baggins". I giggled hysterically. My knee buckled, threatening to give out. For some reason, it was really funny. I almost slapped Alex.
"Don't do that!" I exclaimed.
"I'm going to fall down convulsing in seizures if you make me laugh." My body could only do one thing at a time. Apparently laughing and running were mutally exclusive activities.

Feeling the excitement during the final mile, we urged on runners around us as we passed them.
"We have to earn this one! It's not just going to give it to us," I commented. Sensing the end was near, faltering runners, picked up their pace. We tried to as well but the futile adrenaline surging through my veins had nothing left to work with. At least I was running and lucid. We crossed the grass to reach the finishing chute. Our friends, including Hoss, injured shoulder and all, lined the path, cheering us on. I was exuberant. "It's a bit warm today, eh?" I asked them. They all chuckled. I can't believe how good I felt. I could even make jokes!

As Alex and I entered the chute, I felt as if I was in a drunken stupor. "I love you, man!" I told him. We gave each other a big hug as we ran down to the finish line. I crossed the finish and threw my hands up into the air. I had finished. Not only that, but I had raced smart. I felt pretty good. I hadn't bonked, I had energy, and I hadn't needed the medical tent--on a day in which I easily could have ended up in the hospital.

Russ finishing the run, looking strong (Michelle finished before him but she was too fast for the camera!).

Alex and I, picking up the pace for the final 100 meters to the finish.

When I got back to San Diego, I e-mailed TCSD to thank everyone for their support in Tempe. Bob Babbitt e-mailed me back:

It was awesome see all of you guys and gals in AZ for the Sufferfest……Always nice to work on my tan with friends……..


How cool is that? I will be saving this e-mail! It was one of the best birthdays ever!

"There's no thrill in easy sailing ... but there IS satisfaction that's mighty sweet to take, when you reach a destination that you thought you'd never make."

Results (but who's counting?):
Total Time: 06:48:04 (Too hot for a PR that day. Hey, at least I was under 7!)
Swim: 46:02 (a HIM swim PR--yipee!)
T1: 3:15
Bike: 3:11:24 (17.6 mph; a HIM bike PR--yipee again!)
T2: 3:17
Run: 2:44:07 (12:32 min/mi; I've never run that slowly in my life! a new record! Clearly, this was a death march.)

Random Race Tips I Learned from Soma (for everday mortals):
1. Surround yourself with friends that make you feel good about yourself (applies to times outside of racing too). Distance yourself from those who make you feel anxious.
2. Use visualization techniques in detail to picture race day from start to finish, exactly as you want it to go. Focus on feeling positive and surrounding yourself with positive energy. Use relaxation techniques when you get nervous (deep breathing, meditation).
3. Never underestimate the power of positive thinking. Use a mantra, if that helps. Mine for this race was "Race with the cards your dealt with."
4. Have a backup goal. I wanted to PR but knew this wouldn't be possible in the heat. My backup goal was to finish and have a good time. I aced that goal!
5. Be prepared. Carrying odds and ends like Pepcid, spare tubes, spray-on sunblock, and chapstick can be godsends. It's a long day, and it's not going to be easy. Every little aid can help. A lot.
6. Don't beat yourself up when the going gets tough. Expect that it will be tough. Do allow yourself to be energized when friends and strangers cheer you on from the sidelines (or from other athletes on the course).
7. Break the race into pieces. It makes it digestible. A 2000 meter swim is 4x500. I focused on each lap of the 3-lap, 56-mile bike course. I focused on each mile of the run--getting to each aid station.
8. Race smart. Listen to your body. If I had pushed too hard, I would have never finished in that heat. Focus on pacing yourself, no matter how slowly. Every foot forward is one foot closer to the finish line.

Transition Odds & Ends:
(besides the obvious, e.g.--towel, bike, helmet, sunglasses, bike shoes, running shoes, race belt, water bottles; these other things come in handy!)
1. Visor--really helps keep the sun off. Use one with a light, mesh top--you can put ice inside, which will actually keep you cooler (I know, counterintutive).
2. Baby powder--liberally to bike shoes and running shoes/socks to help ward off blisters.
3. Scissors--comes in handy if they forget to undo the zip ties holding your bike on the rack; also helpful for trimming race numbers down to size.
4. Electrical tape and zip ties--strap stuff to your bike; resecure the wire of your bike computer; many uses.
5. Permanent black magic marker--in case your number smears after applying sunblock; or skip the body marking, save time, and do it yourself!
6. Helium balloon--to mark your spot with; makes finding your bike a cinch; also puts a smile on your face if you choose a fun one.
7. Cooler with industrial ice packs--keep your running bottles cool; it's going to be a long day; no fun with warm water bottles!
8. Screwdriver and Hex wrenches--in case something loosens up on your bike before you start; remember to check the cleats on your bike shoes.
9. Tummy meds--if you have a sensitive stomach like I do, some Pepcid, Tums, or Immodium can mean the difference between a fun race and a miserable DNF.
10. Spray-on, sweat-proof, water-proof sunblock. Use it. T1 and T2. Get a little one and stick it in your pocket. It will save you and prevent you from further dehydration.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Game/Flame On!

"A true champion knows how to overcome doubts and manage those doubts and turn them into motivation."
Misty Hyman - Olympic gold medalist in 200-meter butterfly at 2000 Sydney Games

This weekend is the Soma Half-Ironman, which I have been pouring my heart and soul into for the last 6 months of arduous training. My training plan went flawlessly; I felt great going into my taper....

Then the fires started. It's funny how priorities change. A week ago if you asked what was foremost on my mind, I would have replied, "Soma." Hands-down. This week? Fire. Soma became a distant after-thought as I planned to evacuate and stayed close to Jason, the bunnies, and the tv set.

My obstacles:

1. The Fire: The fire, hands-down, has had the largest negative impact. First, we were afraid for our lives and our home. Now, I am recovering from the overwhelming stress of living through a disaster. Needless to say, I haven't slept well all week. The air quality is poor, and being trapped indoors has been making me a little stir-crazy. To be honest, with the way things were earlier in the week, I seriously doubted I would be able to race this weekend. It was the furthest thing from my mind.

Overcoming the Fire:
First and foremost, I'm so thankful that we are safe and able to remain in our home. We've been spared much of the grief that many San Diegans are going through right now. The fact that I can still even fathom going to Tempe this weekend is amazing. A gift. That's most important. Almost as if I'm meant to go...

In addition, the forced rest may pay off on race day. I've been trying to keep lose with a little extra Yoga. In addition, since my IBS flared up, I have been focusing on my nutrition--eating healthy and drinking lots of tea and water. Maybe the IBS isn't such a bad thing since it forces me to eat healthy?

2. My Ankle/Foot: 10 days ago, during my last trail run in Rose Canyon (10/14), I must have stepped wrong on a rock or something. I don't remember anything happening (or hurting) but I woke up with significant lateral foot pain. I didn't think it was significant until it persisted throughout the week and worsened after a short, 3-mile treadmill run on Thursday. At this point, I realized I had tweaked my foot. I know I have weak ankles and high arches but I don't remember doing anything or even feeling anything. I was incredibly frustrated last weekend...

After a little on-line research, my symptoms are most consistent with peroneal tendonitis, which is a tendon that runs down the outside of the lower leg, wraps around the ankle, and attaches to the outside of the 5th metatarsal (pinkie toe). This is the same tendon you injure when you sprain your ankle. It hurts when I stand, walk or run. However, my ankle is also tender to the touch.

Where the peroneus brevis tendon attaches to the bony "knob" on the outside of the foot (5th metatarsal) is exactly where my pain resonates when I walk or run.

Overcoming my Ankle: I immediately began the R.I.C.E. process (rest, ice, compression, elevation) along with taking ibuprofen (which I had to stop because it was upsetting my stomach). In addition, I resolved not to run again until race day. Swimming and biking do not seem to affect it. The good news is that after a week of icing and rest, it feels much better. There is still some pain but instead of being a 6-7 when I walk, it is now a 1-2 (on a scale of 1-10).

I have decided to go ahead and do the race despite the injured ankle. I know I can get through the swim and bike and at least 3 miles of the run. Hopefully, it will hold up. I will probably now just rest and ice it until race morning. I've already made an appt. with a podiatrist to fix the damage after the race. I will probably need 6 weeks of no running after the race to allow it to heal after Sunday but I'm hoping I can still do weights, bike and swim. Thankfully, this is my last race of the season!

Some useful articles on peroneal tendonitis:


3. Race Conditions: Finally, it looks like this weekend will be brutal. The high is supposed to be 95 degrees in Tempe on Sunday. My wave starts last, and I anticipate I will be starting my run around noon. Ugh. In addition, a westerdly wind from the Pacific is expected to blow the smoke from San Diego back to Arizona, making the air conditions in Tempe poor. So much for escaping the nasty air!

Overcoming Weather: I will drink lots of water and be armed with salt tablets. I will gauge my intensity and back off if needed. However, I can't control the weather. If that's what I'm up against, so be it. You know what they say--when the going get tough...and I plan on being tough.

My Secret Weapon--My inner drive
I have to admit, my attitude has been a bit down. I woke up this morning lacking my usual heart, enthusiasm, and inner fire about this weekend's race. Today, after receiving all the e-mails from friends (who knew I was okay first and foremost) wishing me luck this weekend, I found new-found strength. Maybe this race (and the path to the start line) wasn't supposed to be easy. Maybe these are the challenges I have to overcome to gain strength and wisdom from this experience. I have a new perspective on what this race means to me now, and it's much more than before all this.

In addition, it's my 30th birthday on Saturday! This is my birthday race. It's the only one I get, and I'm not going to let anyone or anything, even the worst fire in California history, get in the way of a wonderful, milestone birthday. Afterall, my birthday will happen on Saturday, no matter what.

Now, the tables have turned. I'm going to Tempe this weekend to race a half-ironman. I can't wait. It's still an "A" race--I've trained too hard to let that go completely. But instead of being anxious, nervous, and all worked up, I'm excited. I'm looking forward to getting out of San Diego for a mini-vacation and taking my mind off the disaster area that I now live in. It's put an entirely different perspective on the race. Now, my performance is less of an issue in my mind. I just want to have a fun and enjoyable experience, form start to finish. Game on! Flame on!

"The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."
--Thomas Paine

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fire in San Diego

We are safe. Thank you so much for your concern. We've been very fortunate. And the worst of it seems to be over. At least, the fires aren't spreading as rapidly. We live in an area close to the coast that is just far enough away to be out of danger.

On Sunday morning, we went to the coast for our weekly long run. I had decided to bail on the run because my foot has been bothering me (more on that later) so I've been trying to rest it and let it heal before the big race on Sunday. I was planning on swimming but it was high tide, and the waves were enormous. An omen? Jason and my friends convinced me not to go in. I reluctantly agreed. After breakfast, as if on cue, the Santa Ana winds the meteorologists had been predicting picked up. Hot, dry, arid winds gusted from the desert as far west as the ocean. Definitely a bad omen.

Arriving home in the afternoon, we saw the news about the Harris Fire, which had been burning since 9:30 that morning. A new fire, the Witch Creek Fire, had just started. We get wildfires at this time of year normally; they usually are far away in very rural areas and don't affect us. I wasn't concerned. I laid down to take a nap.

When we woke up, I sniffed groggily. Ugh. Something smelled bad. Like burnt ash. Was someone BBQing? Didn't they know they weren't supposed to BBQ in Santa Ana conditions because of the red flag fire danger? We closed the windows and turned the air on. When we turned the news on again, I couldn't believe how quickly the fires were spreading. The winds on the coast were gusting up to 30 mph, which means that in the desert, they were much worse. Reports said the winds out east were up to 80 mph, reaching hurricane-like conditions. Some firefighters had been injured due to the horizontal flames.

We didn't see the sun set that night because a thick cloud of ash and smoke had settled around our apartment. Everything was gray and hazy. The air was unbelievably hot--in the 90s--partly due to the Santa Anas, and partly due to the fires. The wind was so strong branches were being snapped off trees. We finally turned the news off at midnight and tried to sleep. Large branches on the tree outside scraped against our window with the force of the desert wind, rasping against the glass like fingernails against a chalkboard and sending shivers down my spine. I don't know if it was a nightmare about the fire or the wailing sound of the tree branch that woke me up but I was jarred awake at 2:00 am.

Jason, who had been unable to sleep, was in the living room glued to the tv. He said they had evacuated Ramona and Poway and that the fire was entering San Diego in the Rancho Bernardo area. I couldn't believe it. I bike in that area all the time. I just did the Tour de Poway a few short weeks ago. Not only that, but after consulting a map, we could see the fire had spread 40 miles west, over halfway to the coast, in less than 1 day. With no hope of the winds dying down for at least another 24 hours, the firefighters simply couldn't get the air support in to battle the flames. We began discussing an evacuation plan.

When I woke up, I knew I wouldn't see the sun that day. It felt like we had entered Dante's 5th ring. The sky was dark gray and hazy, creating a thick, muffled atmosphere. Ash fell out of the sky like snow. I heard that the fire had crossed I-15 in some places, and they had evacuated Rancho Santa Fe. Our places of work were closed, the mayor asked us all to stay home and shortly thereafter, the governor issued a state of emergency. I watched a fireman on the news explain how there was very little they could do except to evacuate people until the winds died down. There were some news predictions that the fire might reach the coast. Since I-15 and I-8 was closed, the only main artery still open to get out of San Diego was I-5. There was fire south of us all the way to the border. There was fire east of us. West was the ocean. And there was fire northeast of us moving west. I felt trapped. We decided to play it safe, pack up, and voluntarily evacuate.

Since we were being conservative, I tried to pretend it was a little get-away vacation. However, I was charged with adrenaline. It felt good to take action, rather than sit around, waiting for the fire to come. I packed an overnight bag with toiletries, a bunny bag, a bag full of important documents (tax returns, passports, birth certificates, photo albums, diaries, etc.), and my transition bag with all my race gear. We loaded up the car, stuffed to the gills and drove north with the bunnies in the back seat, and Torch, my tri bike, strapped to the bike rack on the trunk.

Avoiding the congestion on I-5, we stayed on Pacific Coast Highway. I had believed the smoke and ash had been bad near our apartment. I was wrong. As we entered Del Mar and Solana Beach, the air became thick and black ash, embers, and smoke. Even with the windows closed, it was hard to breathe and my eyes watered. Many people were wearing goggles and masks, especially if they were outside. The ocean was slick, glassy and brown, poisoned by the smokey haze. We had entered another universe. Maybe we had stepped into Mordor from Lord of the Rings. We were surrounded by trailers full of livestock--horses, cows, llamas, goats. I was disgusted at the sight of a guy trying to pawn air filters for $10 a pop on the side of the road. Way to take advantage of other people's nightmares for your own personal gain, buddy. We got on the 5 in Carlsbad and had a pretty easy commute north to San Clemente, just north of the Camp Pendleton Marine Base. The sky was blue and clear, and I could see the sun. I felt safe.

traffic on I-5 headed into Orange County to escape the fires

We checked into our hotel, exhausted. A 50 minute drive had just taken us 3 hours. Luckily, we had reserved our room that morning. The hotel (and all those around) had no vacancies, much to the dismay of the other evacuees lining up in the office. Unfortunately, there was more fire to worry about. There were fires in Orange County, Riverside County, and Los Angeles County. We still couldn't really drive north or east without hitting more flames. If we had to move again, our only option would be to catch a ferry to Catalina Island and lay low there for a few days. Luckily, the winds weren't as strong up north, and the firefighters were having a much better time getting the fires under control. I slept fitfully and woke up with a stiff neck from sleeping on a cheap hotel bed but was relieved to see that the fires hadn't spread towards the hotel during the night. On the other hand, I hated not being able to get much info on the fires in San Diego. I felt so cut off. We met several other evacuees at the hotel, also accompanied by their pets and exchanged tired smiles.

Once we were able to receive news of the fires in San Diego, by Tuesday night, we felt it was safe enough to return home. The winds have died down and the firefighters are able to more effectively fight the fires. They are still only 5-10% contained but they aren't spreading as rapidly, and we are not in immediate danger, nor are we in a projected path of any of the fires. Jason looked at me as we were driving home and asked, "What do you think it will look like when we get home." I just shuddered.

Currently, over 500,000 people have been evacuated, and 200,000 acres have burned, destroying over 1,000 homes in its path. Luckily, due to the excellent organizational skills of city and government officials, almost everyone has been able to evacuate in a timely fashion so there have been few fatalities.

We have never been so happy to be home, the bunnies included. We're tired but eager to try and get back into a normal routine. I can't believe how exhausted I am! The air is still hazy and smokey, and it is not recommended to go outside. There is ash all over our balcony and also on Torch from riding on the back of the car but that can all be cleaned up. I know this catastrophe is far from over but at least, we get to sleep in our own bed tonight. I think I will sleep tonight.

Below are some images of the Witch Creek Fire:

satellite image of smoke blowing west into the Pacific from all the SoCal fires

Before I collapse, I just wanted to share what I've learned from this experience and go over evacuation procedures for everyone so that when the unexpected comes, you have a plan:

Emergency plan:
1. Before an emergency happens, have a plan. Have a detailed plan. Go over it with your family. Where will you go? What will you bring? How will you get there? Are there steps you need to take now, before an emergency comes (having certain things packed and ready to go, storing batteries, flashlights, radios, blankets water, non-perishable food, and first aid kit in a handy place).
2. As soon as you have notice that you may need to evacuate, pack. Pack way in advance.
3. When in doubt, evacuate. It is much better to leave when you can than realize, too late, you're trapped. Get as much information as you can and take maps and a radio with you so you're evacuation route is safe. If you plan on staying in a hotel, reserve a room early. They will fill up.
4. Keep in touch with the news and follow instructions. Don't go home until you know it is safe.
5. The most important thing is to stay calm and think rationally.

What to bring:
1. overnight bag with clothes and toiletries
2. pets in carriers along with their food, bowls for water, medication, and other provisions for housing
3. important documents (already in a folder, ready to be packed) including, passports, birth certificates, car titles, insurance papers, etc.
4. things that can't be replaced (photo albums, home videos, diaries, external hard drive)
5. other expensive or hard to replace items that are easily packed (fine jewelry (or a tri bike?), for instance)
6. important medications
7. if you have time, a few small items that you could do without but will make you feel more comfortable (I brought my iPod, a Harry Potter book, and my camera)

all photos courtesy of the San Diego Union Tribune

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Taper Time

This pic says it all. Does Taz know the art of the taper, or what? He's even meditating about riding the bike and everything!

Race day inches closer and closer. I thought I'd review the art of the taper. Too many athletes don't believe in taper. I think this is a huge mistake. After putting in months and months of training, it seems criminal not to allow your body to rest, recover and reap the many rewards of all the hard work. Arriving at the start line without tapering is a sure way to cause injury, burn-out, or at the least, a poor performance.

Many athletes refuse to taper because they are terrified they will lose all their fitness in just a few short weeks. However, there is hard science and physiological data behind tapering. Triathlon coach gurus, such as Joe Friel and Paul Huddle , have time and time again advocated a well-timed taper. It works. On the contrary to losing fitness, your body is allowed to peak and actually make fitness gains. During the final weeks before a race, you will not make any more fitness gains but you can make yourself more tired. Remember--it takes 10 days to see the results from any single workout.

The key is to shorten the duration and volume of your training but increase the intensity. In a 3 week taper, drop the volume to 70% of your training in the first week, 50% in the 2nd, and 25% in the 3rd. Remember, this is only a guideline. Now is the time to listen to your body. If you feel tired or stale for any of your workouts, skip it. The key is to feel fresh and ready for each workout.

1. The longer the race, the longer a taper.
Typically about 1 week for an A sprint race or 5-10K running race. 2 weeks for an Olympic race. 3 for half-Ironman and 4 for full Ironman.
2. Work on speed when volume is cut.
This is the perfect time to hit the track!
3. Practice nutrition and transitions.
4. Be religious about recovery.
That means stretching, Yoga, massage, good quality and volume of sleep and excellent nutrition.
5. Meditate.
Picture how you want everything to go on race day. Be as detailed as possible.
6. When in doubt, skip it or go easy.

Some Disclaimers:
Another reason people hate to taper is because it makes you feel like crap. This is normal. Resist the urge to go out and log in big miles. The sluggishness you feel is not your body losing fitness but rather the tail-end of fatigue kicking in from all the big volume. Remember, fatigue trails training volume. Expect to feel tired, cranky and sluggish the first 5-7 days of your taper. Resist the overwhelming urge to gorge on junk food. Allow your body to recover and be patient with yourself. I call this phase 1 of the taper--the "hang over" stage. Phase 2 is the "jitter" phase. Now you're rested but you're still reducing training volume. So you're full of energy and driving everyone around you nuts. This is also normal. Resist the urge with all your might to go out on a killer 100-mile bike ride. You are ready. Stick to your plan. You might experience some insomnia during this stage. Try to stick to your usual sleep schedule. This is a perfect time to focus on all those things you've been neglecting during training--family, work, other hobbies, social life--remember these things? Oh, yeah. Try to regain the balance in your life you had before you were bit by the tri bug. Phase 3 is the "just right" phase. You will still have pre-race anxiety but, if everything is according to plan, you feel fresh and fast for your workouts. You feel recharged and will arrive on the start line with a "Bring It" attitude. Go get 'em!

Some helpful tapering articles:

AFC Race Photo

from America's Finest City Half-Marathon back in August.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ironman Excitement and Typical Taper Blules

"For here on in, it really gets grim. For 99% of the people still left a this point, they're possessed with one thing: finishing. They're saying to themselves, 'If I can be standing at the finish, I've won.' And they're right. But for the gifted few, for our 1% that are still competing; that are still racing. They're more than standing. They're wondering, 'Can I catch that guy up there? What about the guys behind me? Are they going to get me? Are they coming on me? Are they picking up on me? Can I get him?' Because let me tell you something. This is it. The last hour of this triathlon. On the pavement at 110 degrees. That's when we're going to find out who the hell the Ironman really is."
--Mark Allen
Sound Byte from Competitor Radio

Wasn't Kona exciting this weekend? Mark Allen is right--there is something magical about the island. I just wanted to be there--as an observer. Maybe next year? I could feel the electricity in the air all the way in San Diego. I can't believe the upset--so many of the favorites dropped out because of crashes or medical problems. Yea for the underdogs! Both winners were first-timers.

"The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender."
- Vince Lombardi

This quote hit home for me because I'm having such a hard time tapering. A body in motion wants to stay in motion--Newton's Law of Inertia. My taper is going as planned. At least, I have all the symptoms of a good taper--anxiety, jitteriness, grouchiness, depression. I'm driving everyone around me crazy. This is all normal. Am I feeling mighty or superhuman yet? In flashes--sparks--moments.

First few days of my taper, I was very fatigued and enjoyed the rest. However, my schedule got messed up and I missed some planned, easy workouts. By Friday, I was freaking out.

Friday was great. I had a terrific workout in the pool. My left shoulder has been aching a bit. I had the swim coach evaluate me. He said I looked nice and balanced. I think I tweaked it last week when I got a little exuberant with the speed work. I just have to back off and focus on technique and let it heal. Plus, I've been swimming 2000-2500 meters instead of 3000 meters when I'm in the pool.

Friday evening, I went for a much-needed bike ride with a friend on the coast. Before I knew what had happened, we had knocked back 30 miles, including the Torrey Pines hill, and I felt great.

Later that night, the side effects of the flu shot I had gotten earlier in the day kicked in. I've never had the flu but they were shooting us up for free at work, and my coworkers peer-pressured me into it. 5 minutes later, I couldn't figure why I couldn't move my arm. My shoulder hurt so badly! That night, I felt exhausted. I went to bed early and woke up with a headache and sore throat. Turns out, the flu shot makes you feel like you have the flu. So your body thinks its sick even though it isn't. Really, what's the difference?

I had planned on doing a sprint club race that morning in Mission Bay. I was really excited and had packed my bag, frozen my water bottle and set my alarm. I woke up at 4:45 am and dragged myself from my weird interleukin-induced coma sleep only to discover it was raining. I stood on my balcony, staring at the wet ground in front of me, trying to shake the haze of my flu-like symptoms (exhaustion, headache, aches, sore throat, etc). Hmmm. I feel like sh*t. My immune system is overloaded with heat-inactivated virus right now. Plus, with the steady drizzle, I could just imagine the run-off contaminating the already nasty water in Mission Bay--crawling with parasitic amoebas, pathogenic viruses (much like the one that caused Jason to be bedridden for 8 weeks), hepatitis, bacteria, etc. Combine that with slick pavement and the thought of risking poor Torch's all carbon frame around that treacherous course made me shudder. I made an executive decision...and went back to bed.

I slept all day, only to be woken by the taunting texts of my crazy friends who raced and wanted to make sure that I knew they had done it while I had "whimped" out. Okay, if you call whimping out not wanting to get a disease that could take me out of my last "A" race of the season. Or wreck and end up in the hospital. Sure, fine. I'm a whimp. See you on the start line. If you make it that far...

I'm discovering I need a lot of alone time during my taper weeks. I need to distance myself from my tri friends so as not to let their thoughts, plans, and well-intended but misinformed advice get in the way with my inner coach. I can't believe how many triathletes out there don't taper! Tsk, tsk. I know my body well. I know I benefit from rest and recovery. Now, I need to focus on myself. I need to be alone with my own thoughts and ideas.

It gets a little chaotic at times. I have a lot going on. I'm turning 30 in a few weeks. It's a milestone and I'm using this time to reflect on how I want the next decade to go. I'm writing a fellowship in lab, which is very overwhelming while continuing to get preliminary data at the same time. The taper has produced an energy and spark of creativity that I had almost forgotten was there. With that comes waves of emotion mixed with highs and lows normally blunted with exhaustive amounts of training. Jason and the bunnies have been instrumental in keeping me calm and happy during this down-time. Down-time I'm just not used to.

I had a delightful 8 mile trail run in Rose Canyon yesterday. It felt very refreshing. I saw flowers, lizards, bunnies, and falcons as well as beautifully crimson-colored poison oak. I realized, after running 8, I still had 2 to go to get home. My other option was to climb down the canyon, cross the creek and RR tracks, climb up the other side of the canyon and be home. I decided to forge my own trail "adventure racing" style. It was really fun. As I was winding through brush and jumping down into the creek bed, and then rock climbing up the other side of the ravine, I had brilliant flashes of feeling superhuman. When I returned, Jason looked at me with raised eyebrows, "What happened to you?" he asked, pulling bits of twigs and leaves from my hair. Another superhuman moment.

This morning, after dropping my bike at B&L for a tune-up, I drove to lab along the coast so I could see the ocean. For some reason, I had the urge to take the scenic route. Just as I was crusing down the hill towards the Torrey Pines State Beach, where the ocean view is particularly spectacular, I saw 7 elusive black fins disappear under the water. I blinked. It must be my imagination. Maybe they were surfers. All of a sudden, 1 of the dolphins leaped out of the water, displaying amazing airs above ground before gracefully diving beneath the waves. As if on cue, the other 6 dolphins began displaying their acrobatics too, not to be outdone. They were like aquatic ballerinas! It was definitely a good omen. I have nothing to worry about.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Taper Time

After 20 weeks of solid training, I am more than ready for my 3-week taper. As I'm ramping up my sleeping, Yoga and massage, I am also reflecting on how my training has gone this time around. My first half-ironman was at the end of March--California 70.3. I remember feeling run-down and overtrained and going into the race with a sinus infection, which became chronic post-race. I have to say, at a glance, I feel stronger this time around. I feel more healthy and better adapted to the training volume I expected of my body. Let's look at the numbers and see what they have to say:

Average Time per Week:

Top: Training for Soma (current)
Bottom: Training for CA 70.3 (previous)

Analysis: almost identical with an avg of 2 hours swimming, 4 hours biking, and 2.5 hours running per week (total 8.5). The ratios are spot on with the most volume in biking, then running, then swimming.

Total Time by Week:

Top: Soma HIM Training
Bottom: CA 70.3 Training

Analysis: Both are very similar. However, this time around, the total number of weeks is less, which explains why I feel more fresh this time around. I remember feeling burnt out and unable to sustain the volume expected of me at the end of the training plan for CA 70.3. Also, I ramped up more slowly this time around. In addition, I was able to finish strong into my taper, whereas, I trailed off, feeling sick and overtrained last time. Seems like my total time was slightly lower than last time, which also may explain why I feel fresh (12-13 hours max this time vs 14-15 hours max last time).

Top: Soma HIM Training
Bottom: CA 70.3 Training

Analysis: Should reflect similar trend to total weekly time. Again, I kept the total volume a little bit lower this time but was able to sustain it through the end. Therefore, I was able to hit 140 miles my last week, whereas I had trouble reaching 100 for my final push previously.

Top: SOMA HIM Training
Bottom: CA 70.3 Training

Biking (red) is similar in both with peaks around 6 hours (note again final push for SOMA is much better than before). Run (purple for SOMA and turquoise for CA 70.3) is also very similar with peak volume at about 4 hours. Swimming (which I have noticed vast improvements this time around) is definitely up with average around 3 hrs/week (vs 2 last time). All in all, I feel my running has stayed the same, while my biking and swimming have improved, thanks to more hills on the bike and more time in the pool.

The biggest difference seems to be the end of the training plan into my taper. I feel that I finished much more strongly this time around. Last time, my training plan was too long and drawn out, which forced me to peak early. I am hoping that I timed my peak perfectly this time around. Time will tell!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Tour de Poway

This weekend was tough. The 12-mile run on Saturday through Penasquitos Canyon really fatigued me. Trail running is always hard and the temperature extremes of the chilly morning contrasted with the rising desert heat of the afternoon really did me in.

Then, the Tour de Poway on Sunday was killer. We did the 62-mile ride with 3,000 feet of climbing. They weren't kidding! This ride was windy, hot and hilly.
When we started, we were all shivering, resisting layers because we knew we had a lot of climbing to do, and we knew the temperatures were going to shoot up. When we started, it was in the low 50s. We ended in the upper 80s. The heat was carried in on the dry, desert Santa Ana winds, which pick up this time of year.
We got the first 1,800 feet over with in the first 7 miles, which was nice because it was still cool. I wasn't warmed up when we hit the grade up Poway and struggled to find a rhythm. It was nice to ride in a pack of other riders. I listened to one guy brag about how he was friends with Floyd Landis and had almost gotten him to come on the ride. I was so impressed that I was agape in awe as I dropped him up the grade. I could tell they were all in a lot of pain too, which kind of justified my own private hell. Once I found a rhythm, I was fine. I slowly climbed to the top, staying within my base zone.

Over the next 5 miles as we made our way through Ramona, I took it easy as the Santa Ana winds from the desert picked up, blowing us with hot, dry head winds. I laughed when a large tumbleweed blew across the road. I felt as if we had dropped in the middle of an old-fashioned western film. We rode through lots of farmland on smooth roads with little traffic. I really loved seeing all the horses, cows and even bison at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center .
We stopped and regrouped at the first aid station. The friends I was riding with asked if I was alright. I shrugged them off but I knew I was feeling kind of off. I felt sluggish, tired and run-down. I think part of it had to do with the fact that this was the final workout before my taper, and I was just run-down, period. Also, my stomach hadn't been feeling great, and I'd had a hard time with nutrition and hydration. I knew my glycogen stores were somewhat depleted. However, I also knew I felt well enough to get through the ride as long as I didn't push too hard.
In line for the Port-a-Potty, I listened to a big guy on his cell phone to his wife almost break down in tears. He was upset that everyone was passing him, and it had taken a long time to get up the Poway grade. The hills were taking more out of it then he had expected, and he wasn't sure if he was going to make it. All of us in line turned to him and offered him words of encouragment. "Dude, you're fine. Hang in there. You can do it!" We patted him on the back and handed him some cliff bars and gus. He called his wife back a few minutes later and said he was feeling pretty good now and thought he could finish the ride. I may have been feeling sluggish but I knew I felt better than that!
We started off again, and one of the guys in our group promptly ran over some glass and flatted. No one else but me saw this so the rest of our group rode off. I stayed with him as he changed his tire. I know how much it sucks to be stuck alone on the side of the road. After 10 minutes, we were off. We sprinted off as hard as we could hold it for the next 15 miles, hoping we could catch the rest of the group. We zipped down Highland Valley Road, careening through some very dangerous, twisty, narrow descents. Not smart. At one point, I hit 40 mph. We hooted and hollered. It was fun.
Later, I received a voice mail that one guy in the very front of our group had ridden his brand spankin' new Cervelo P3C off a cliff at this point, flipping over his handlebars, cracking his helmet, and tearing his AC. Of course, he still finished the ride--with one pedal. I found all this out later and gave him a good diatribe. He still hadn't gone to the ER at this point so after much shouting and yelling, I shamed him to the hospital, where he was promptly attended to. Luckily, his torn AC is his only injuy (and broken pedal is his bike's only injury). It could have been so much worse.
We stopped at the next aid station, looking for our group but they weren't there. We rode on. My friend was a much stronger cyclist so sluggish or no, I was pushing. He pulled me through much of it. The hills kept hitting us. One after another. He would zip to the top and wait for me as I slowly crawled up each one. He was very encouraging, which I needed. It's hard when you feel off and are going so slowly. I could feel each hill drain me a little more.
The turns weren't marked at all, and since I hate being lost, had fortunately
memorized the map the night before. This came in handy since many relied on me for directions. (Quick Tip: If you want company on rides, just memorize the route. You'll become the new ride favorite very quickly. Also, it doesn't matter how slow you are; the fast riders have to wait for you to figure out where to go next!)
We struggled along the 78, a highway with narrow shoulders and lots of traffic. The only nice thing about this route was we got to ride by the Wild Animal Park, one of my favorite places in the whole world. Finally, we reached I-15, which I had been dreading; I hate riding on the interstate. It sounds awful but in San Diego, there are a few sections on our interstates where cyclists are allowed. We rode along as quickly as we could. Finally, we arrived at the final aid station, where we found the rest of our group.
The final 15 miles were tough but since we were all together, I could ride a little more slowly; I wasn't "racing" to catch up anymore. There were more hills; they never seemed to stop. Thankfully, everyone else seemed to be suffering at least as much as I. At mile 60, I joked that I was bonking. I actually felt pretty good because I knew I was going to make it.
We finally reached the end, and I was disappointed that all the drinks and food cost extra. Exhausted, sore, hungry, hot and tired, I was cranky. Why had I plopped down $50? For some chalk marks on the roads I couldn't read and a couple of warm orange slices? C'mon! I refused to pay extra and promptly drove to the nearest Einstein's for some coffee, bagel and lox.
All in all, it was a great ride. Perfect for my last long, training ride before SOMA. I know the ride on race day will be easier. I got this one in the bag. Time for taper!
P.S. Really sucks about the Chicago Marathon this weekend! I hope next year's has better weather because I'm signing up. Anyone else?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Rockin' Friday Swim

I was planning on swimming a mile in the Cove so I drove over Friday after work. I found a place to park straight away, a bad sign, since it's usually packed, forcing me to park a mile away. The weather had been chilly and windy with gusts up to 30 mph. I had a sinking feeling the water would be rough. I got out of the car and walked to the path overlooking the Cove. I gasped. There were whitecaps stretching all the way west to the horizon. A few die-hard swimmers lurched back and forth as they were tousled up and down with the enormous swells. It was high tide and the waves crashed up on the tops of the rocks where the cormorants roost. I could imagine all the bacteria from the bird poop flooding the water as the waves washed it off the rocks. The Cove, which is normally laden with snorkelers and calm and clear, had an empty beach, and the water was frothy with tumultuous waves. I remembered forcing myself to swim a mile in conditions like these about a year ago, returning to shore extremely seasick and having swallowed a ton of water. I got sick from swallowing all the nasty stuff washed off the rocks and spent the next few days hovered over the toilet, emptying all contents of stomach. I looked wistfully at the water once more, got back into my car, and promptly drove to the pool.

A couple of years ago, I would have just driven home. The thought crossed my mind. I gave myself the option. "I'm tired. It's Friday. I have a big weekend ahead of me. It would be perfectly okay to go home and rest." Then I thought, "I've only swum once this week. Let's just go and see how I feel. I'll be happier afterwards. Swimming is not that taxing on the body." And I realized I wanted to swim.

Even the pool seemed cool the first 10 minutes. I guess it's just that time of year. I started with a nice warm-up of 3x150s--free-back-breast (50 each). Adjusted my goggles and did a test 50 free. Then, I started my 4x500s. This is great practice for a Half-Ironman distance swim. I decided to do them descending, trying to do each one a little faster. The first 500m, I took it real easy. On the odd 50s, I swam bilaterally. The whole time I focused on form. 2nd set, I tried to swim at moderate pace. However, I counted strokes on the even 50s, trying to elongate my stroke, think about form and subtract a stroke from each progressive even 50. 3rd set, I swam bilaterally on the odd 50s again, trying to swim a moderate pace. The final 500 meters, I let the lead out and decided to see how fast I could go. Afterwards, I swam an easy 200 meters cool-down. I couldn't believe how quickly the time went! It was a fantastic swim. The water felt slippery, and I felt I was cutting through the water. I wanted more! I also have found it's easier to swim fast, if you can maintain it, because you are positioned higher on the water.

Here's the break-down:
Set 1: 10:50
Set 2: 10:45
Set 3: 10:35
Set 4: 8:45!!!

I have NEVER swum that fast before. Normally, my race pace for a 500 meter swim is about 10 minutes. However, I have been concentrating so much on base pace and technique, I haven't been working on speed much at all. I decided to just let 'er rip on that last set. I couldn't believe I could maintain such a high intensity for all 10 laps. But it felt awesome! My technique has improved and my strength and endurance have increased as well. I've been fighting the hardest for this, so I was extremely stoked after.

I enjoyed a soak in the hot tub afterwards. It was one of the most awesome swims I've had in a loong time.

Woke up this morning and enjoyed a nice, very slow 12 mile run in Penasquitos Canyon. I was tired, and it was hard. I got it done. Last long run before the half-ironman. I can accept that. Tomorrow is my last long ride before the race--Tour de Poway--metric century.