Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Iron Practice Open Water Swim

Since the swim at Santa Rosa 70.3 was cancelled this year, I was short a swim workout this week. It's the final push before I taper for Ironman Wisconsin so every workout matters. I decided to do an open water swim at Gull Park in Foster City on Sunday. It would also give me an opportunity to test out my new sleeveless wetsuit. Since the swim is in a narrow saltwater lagoon lined by houses, I felt very comfortable swimming alone, especially in a wetsuit with a bright orange cap. After doing some research, I saw that swimming out-and-back from Gull Park to the next beach, Marlin Park, would be 1.2 miles. I decided to do it twice. Everything was fine until the return on the second lap. Yes, my wetsuit was chafing, and yes, the wind had created an uphill current on the return. However, I hadn't accounted for disorientation that set in. I had been counting the houses I swam past to pass the time. I was only 12 houses away from the end, when a beach to the left of me completely threw me off-guard (Erckenbrack Park). I hadn't seen it before (I hadn't been looking) and it made me think I had gone completely off-course. I became so confused, I turned around and swam back the way I had come, all the way back to Marlin Park. When I reached the 2nd beach, I was actually somewhat relieved, even though I knew I had to swim an extra mile. At least I knew where I was! As I wearily returned back to the start, I resumed counting houses, refusing to let anything distract me this time. At least, I know I will be able to the swim for my Ironman!

Weirdest Moment of the Day

I was doing an 8-mile trail run at Rancho San Antonio today. About halfway through the run, I noticed a guy with his back turned to me, intently picking apart horse manure with his trekking poles. He would then occasionally hurl it violently to the left. I had to yell, "On your left!" to make sure I didn't get hit with poo.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Favorite Moment of the Day

I went out for a ride today. A fast 20-miler with rolling hills, termed "The Loop" by people that ride in Palo Alto. It's a scenic route through Woodside and Portola Valley that winds through horse country and has access to some of the most scenic, famous climbs (Page Mill, Alpine, Tunitas, Old La Honda, and Kings) in the foothills and redwoods that winds up to Skyline and down to the coast (San Gregorio and Pescadero). I love it because it's only a few miles from my house and it's full of nature and wildlife. I was not to be disappointed today. At about mile 11, I spotted two tawny creatures, blending in with the golden grasses behind the trees. The second animal was unmistakably a deer. But she was craning her head back to stare at the creature behind her, as if waiting for it. Thinking it was a coyote, I actually stopped and got off my bike to get a closer look. The "coyote" began hopping casually towards the deer. Two giant ears unfurled, bouncing with each hop. It was a jack rabbit! Not only that, it almost seemed as if the deer and giant hare were buds. I stared happily at the pair for a few minutes before resuming my ride. That's why I love riding around here.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Ironman Santa Rosa 70.3

It is officially 6 weeks away until Ironman Wisconsin. I'm officially getting nervous. This last weekend, I raced in Santa Rosa 70.3 as practice for my upcoming race. I wanted to test all my equipment, nutrition, fitness, and mental state to see if I was on track. However, it had been 9 years since I raced in a triathlon that long. I was nervous.

There were a lot of effort involved in preparing. I packed on Thursday, drove up on Friday, spent all day checking in and dropping off gear bags before finally arriving at the hotel, exhausted at 5 pm. The bike is a point-to-point 56-mile course from Lake Sonoma to Santa Rosa, a 45 minute car drive away. After athlete check-in, I had to drop my run bag off in T2, then drive up to Lake Sonoma to stage my bike in T1. It was hot--in the 90s--at Lake Sonoma, and I was glad that I would only be swimming there, early in the morning. However, the lake was beautiful--fresh, clear, and cool (73 degrees). I was looking forward to swimming in it. I previewed the swim course, surveying the yellow and orange buoys. The buoys were tightly clustered before the turning right and making a "dog-leg" under the bridge and back. At first, I thought the turn-around was where the first turn was. I slowly realized it kept going, under the bridge, and then kept going some more before turning around. I gulped. I had forgotten how far 1.2 miles looked. And I'm going to have to swim double that at Ironman Wisconsin? I gulped again.

I woke at 4:15, thankful I had a ride to Lake Sonoma and could skip the shuttle from downtown Santa Rosa. I had been gifted an extra hour of sleep thank to my dad, who volunteered to sherpa me at this race. In addition, our hotel was in Healdsburg, only 15 minutes from Lake Sonoma. Unfortunately, the logistics of getting out to Lake Sonoma on race morning were difficult. A 5-mile traffic jam of stopped cars delayed us (yes, stopped). My dad was unable to drop me off at the race start. Instead, they directed all cars into a parking lot about a mile before the start. Then, all of the athletes, family and friends waited in line for a shuttle to T1. The shuttles were unprepared and few and far between. Even though I had left the hotel at 4:45 and arrived in the parking lot by 5:15, it would be until 6:15 (when transition was supposed to close) before I actually got to T1. I was beyond anxious, and the pre-race was, by far (thankfully), the worst part of the race.

A dense, pea-soup fog hung heavily above the water of Lake Sonoma. The race director made the call to shorten the distance from 1.2 miles to half that (1000 meters). I was disappointed but at least I would still get to take swim in the lake and get some training. Then, they delayed the race start until 7, to see if the fog would lift. It did not. Due to safety issues, since lifeguards can't see the swimmers, and swimmers would be unable to see the buoys, at 7 am, an announcement over the loudspeaker decreed that the swim was cancelled. A loud cry of disgust echoed out of transition, alongside a few quietly thankful athletes. I was extremely disappointed. It would be like getting a sundae without the cherry. It just wouldn't be the same. I was also upset that I wouldn't get a chance to swim in Lake Sonoma. It seemed like such a nice place for a swim.

We prepared for a time-trial bike. The pros would go first, one-at-a-time, 10 seconds apart, followed by the age groupers, in numerical order. I was #1304. This could take awhile. I relaxed and decided to make the most of it. All my anxiety was gone (interesting--turns out the swim is what makes me so nervous at these events? Never knew). I went up front and watched the pros prepare for awhile. Gawked at their bikes and equipment. Stared at one of my heroes, Ironman World Champion Miranda Carfrae, who was completely relaxed and all smiles, selflessly letting fans take selfies with her before her big race. Then, I realized I had been staring and my mouth may or may not have been hanging open a little, so I went back to my bike. I chatted up my neighbor athletes incessantly as I sipped on Naked Juice smoothie with OJ and mangos. Delicious! I followed this with a PB&J, banana, and string cheese. When it was time to start, I was relaxed, well nourished and hydrated and had visited the loo 4 times. I was ready.

As I clipped in, I was surprised at how relaxed and happy I felt. It felt like coming home. I hadn't realized how much I had missed racing long-distance triathlons. The half-ironman is such a great distance. You get a solid workout in all 3 sports and still finish in the early afternoon. Shoot, there was still time for wine tasting (not that I did) afterwards!

The bike course was gorgeous and mostly downhill with rollers in between. It rolled through wine country and was extremely scenic. I took in the views of symmetrical rows of grapevines, farms, and oak trees. Occasionally, a resident would stop their work to stop and stare at us, mouths slightly agape. I tried to enjoy myself as we wound our way through Sonoma, like a fast parade of bikes. I felt sorry for the traffic, stopped for miles in the other direction. Tourists were out of their cars, staring in disbelief, waiting for the police to give them the signal to continue their pilgrimage to the many wineries awaiting. I was thankful for the closed bike course and hundreds of volunteers directing us on the course every step of the way. Every turn had been diligently marked, the course was swept of glass, and even the potholes had been outlined with orange tape so we could steer clear.

Despite the impeccable course, some of the roads were bumpy (notorious for Sonoma), and the race became progressively more and more littered with bottles, GUs, and CO2 cartridges. I was lucky and was able to steer clear of all of them, but there were several crashes. Not sure if it was due to hitting a bottle or aggressive riding on a crowded course, but I was thankful not to be one of them. There were even more casualties when it came to bikes, unfortunately, as the course was peppered with sidelined athletes fighting with changing flat tires, most of them tubies.

Because of the time trial start, the course was crowded, but I also had the opportunity to race with my age group. I had been training hills, and it showed. I passed a lot of people on the hills. I could feel my competitiveness set in, particularly when a rude cyclist would pass me, or someone with a number in my age group written on their calf. What constitutes as rude? Passing in a no passing zone, when the rest of us have to slow down. Don't worry, I chased her down.

I rolled into T2 feeling fresh and ready to run. I had stay hydrated, using water and salt pills (1 an hour). I had eaten solid foods, including a bar, 6 Cliff Bloks, and trail mix (my favorite). I couldn't believe how quickly the bike was over. Had it really been 56 miles already? It had felt like a long Olympic. I knocked it out in a little over 3 hours. Score! The training has been paying off.

The temperature had begun to increase as I set out on the run. I had to pee but really didn't want to wait in line at the port-a-potties, so I gutted it out until the aid station at mile 1, where there was no line. I found a comfortable pace and settled in along the creekside trail. It was nice to be on a shaded trail with some packed gravel (yay! less pavement!) but the course was absurdly crowded as we navigated a 2-loop, out-and-back course. Plus, runners were going in both directions on a trail wide enough for 2 people, but not 4. There were many competitive runners passing and darting into oncoming "traffic". It was quite crowded, and we were all getting tired and less coordinated.

I enjoyed the aid stations and imbibed every 2  miles or so, taking in coke, gatorade, pretzels and bananas. I splashed water on my head and drank my own water out of my FuelBelt. I was thankful for my own supply, allowing me the freedom and independence to indulge on hydration whenever I wanted. I passed a lot of people at aid stations. I was able to zone out and even lost a mile between 4 and 5. Thinking I was only between 3 and 4, I rejoiced when the mile 5 sign appeared. It was like being given a free mile. I ran with no GPS, no heart rate monitor, not even a watch. I was only focused on enjoying myself and loved the freedom.

Halfway on the second loop, fatigue set in. It felt like I had a pebble in my shoe, but I didn't want to stop. It didn't seem to be slowing me down but it was uncomfortable. I did a mental note--how painful was it? Only a 3 or 4. I decided to keep going. Oddly enough, it disappeared after another mile. So odd how pain ebbs and flows.

At the turn-around for the second loop, I kept an eye out for my dad. I kept hearing my name, "Looking strong, Rachel!" "Go, Rachel!" Confused, I looked around. "Dad?" I had forgotten my name was printed on my bib.

Miles 7-10 were the toughest. I focused on zoning out, but it felt like the miles were getting longer apart. I wiped my forehead. It felt dry and crusty. I realized it had been at least 90 minutes since I'd had a salt pill. I popped one and chased it with water. Ten minutes later, the fatigue was gone. It's amazing how your body talks to you in strange little ways.

Mile 10 came and went. I saw a spectator with a Wisconsin sweatshirt. "Go Badgers!" I shouted.
"Go Bucky!" he replied.
My right hip began giving me trouble. It had started earlier but the pain was getting noticeably worse. I broke down and took 2 Advil. At the next aid station, I drank some more Coke. Twenty minutes later, I felt great. I passed by mile 11 and could feel the adrenaline begin to build, making me tremble. I was going to finish this thing.

At mile 12, I began speaking positive mantras aloud to myself and anyone who could listen. "Almost there! We can do this!" I started running faster. I started passing other athletes. With only half a mile to go, my pace increased even more. "Only 2 laps around the track," I told myself. The crowd of spectators thickened, and they cheered us on, injecting me with energy. My name was printed on my bib, and they were screaming my name, "Go, Rachel, go!" I ran faster. I saw an athlete ahead with the number 43 written on her left calf. She was running strong. I wanted to catch her. "Great job!" I told her as passed. "You too!" she called back. I was sprinting. My breath was coming quick and loud. I was going for broke. There was no slowing down now. I entered the chute. The crowd was going nuts, feeding off my sprint, and their enthusiasm only fueled me more. I picked up the pace. I spotted a guy in front of me, doing his best to finish strong at a hobbling gait. A female spectator screamed, "Get him!" So I did. I burst across the finish, feeling victorious but unable to speak. A medical volunteer grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me in the eye, asking "Are you okay?" I nodded and gasped a yes. I may have barely been able to breathe, dripping with sweat, and red-faced but I was bursting with happiness. I had a great race and finished strong. On Wisconsin!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge

After a much needed recovery week, we woke up at 4 am to do the Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge, 100 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing. How crazy to wake up earlier than during the work week only to suffer all day. I felt groggy and sluggish as we started, probably because I had taken too many rest days during the week. The first 30 miles, I felt sleepy and sluggish, not wanting to drink or eat. I had to pee a lot, which I couldn't figure out. I felt like I was in a fog. I worried I would feel like this all day. 

Soon, we started climbing Alba, a 4-mile climb with an average of 10% but sections of 15%+. The cobwebs were shaken off, and I had to concentrate. Sweat dripped off my nose. I was suffering, and all of a sudden, I felt awake and refreshed. Very strange. We climbed all the way to the lunch stop. 

After lunch, we enjoyed a nice descent down Bonny Doon to the coast. I didn't enjoy it that much, however, knowing we were doomed to climb it back up later on. The coast was flat and cool, and I was warmed up and enjoying myself. 

Then, we began climbing up Bonny Doon, Smith Grade, and Empire Grade, a steady 8-mile climb. I felt grumpy and began to feel tired. The aid station was heaven, and I stuffed myself with zucchini bread. The rest of the ride was much easier, with a nice descent into downtown Santa Cruz before a tiresome climb back up into UC-Santa Cruz. This ride felt much easier than the one I had done 9 years prior. Hopefully, that will set me up nicely for Ironman Santa Rosa 70.3 this weekend and IM WI 6 weeks from now. We're getting close!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Recovery Week

I was scheduled for a 3rd week of Build (bike-focused) training before my next recovery week. But towards the end of the week, my aggressive workout schedule began to play it's toll. Maybe I was still recovering from the 13-mile, hilly trail run in 90-degree weather. Or the 109-mile ride up Mt. Hamilton, Mines Road loop in 100-degrees the following day. The 2-mile open-water swim? Doing weights, swimming, biking, and running in 1-day? Olympic bricks. Regardless, I had been nailing my workouts.

When I woke up hungry Friday morning, only rising to eat before falling back to bed, exhausted, I knew I needed an unscheduled day off. Something did not feel right with my body--pure exhaustion. I slept all day. Saturday, I went on a lackluster 16-mile run on flat trails. I took an ice bath and a nap, hydrated, ate well, and tried to recover after. I even stretched.

Sunday, we drove to the base of Mt. Hamilton. The plan was a 74-mile out-and-back up Mt. Hamilton to the Junction on Mines Road, and then back. The frontside, my style of climbing, was an 18-mile climb with an average of 3-4% grade. The backside of Mt. Hamilton is 6-7 miles with an average of 8-10% grade. The temperature was predicted to be between 96-100-degrees with the peak during the final climb up Hamilton.

As we set out, my spirits were high. I had done this ride, but longer the weekend before. I was sleepy, sure, but that was because we had awoken at 6 am. But I was sure the cobwebs would wear off after an 8-15 mile warm-up, as they always do. Eventually, I started feeling better and settled into climbing.

About mile 12-14, fatigue started to set in. I ate, drank, took a salt pill, slowed down and waited. The fatigue increased with the heat and by mile 15, doom crept in. This was not how I felt the previous weekend. My speed was half what it had been, as were my spirits. I began to absolutely dread the long haul out to the Junction on Mines Road. I knew climbing the backside of Hamilton would probably require walking. And a nap. A nap. Oh, a nap. The urge to pull off in the shade and lay down for 20 minutes, or an hour or two, became overwhelming. Getting to the top of Hamilton, usually challenging but confidence-building, was almost impossible this day.
Juneau recovering after one of our runs.

At the top, I raided the vending machines, downed a Coke, and sat in the air conditioned lobby of the Lick Observatory. I happily decided to go back to the car. Immediately, my spirits rose. There was no need to push myself on this day. I had nailed enough key workouts throughout the last 2 weeks that 1 climb up Hamilton would be enough.

As I descended 18-miles back to the car, I felt relaxed and relieved. I knew I had made the right decision. In addition, I knew I needed a recovery week. Previous experience shows that my body prefers 2 weeks on-1 week off, as opposed to the usually prescribed 3-to-1. Figuring out how to adjust training to meet the demands of your body is key. And I would adjust this week, instead of being a slave to the training plan.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

What a difference a month makes.

I have 8 weeks to go until Ironman Wisconsin. Training is intense but going well.

Garter snake from 13-mile Wunderlich run last weekend.

There are ups and downs, but overall, I feel strong and healthy. I've had some great key workouts, including the Rodeo Valley 30K Trail Run in the Marin Headlands at the end of June. I also nailed a 109-mile bike up Mt. Hamilton and back to Livermore on Mines Road last weekend in 100-degree heat. This was redemption for me since when I did it 1 month ago, I almost didn't finish. I felt like a different person the second time. Fast, powerful, and mentally tough. What a difference a month makes.

Pics from Marin Headlands Run:

At the end of this week, exhaustion set in. Friday, all I wanted to do was sleep. I was scheduled for a swim, run, and weights. I ended up scratching all workouts (guiltily) and sleeping all day. I woke up only to eat. Instead of dwelling on it, I woke up this morning and resumed the workout on the docket for the day: 16 mile trail run. I chose the Crystal Springs Trail, since I had never done it before. I started in Edgewood Park. It was 80 degrees, sunny, and most of the trail was exposed, but not hot. I had plenty of fuel, water, and salt pills. Heavily armed, I set out. I felt a little bored the first few miles, but the Western fence lizards darting underfoot kept me occupied as I dance over them. I counted them to keep me occupied (25 by the end).

The trail snaked along Canada road, littered with cyclists and triathletes zooming back and forth. A deep sapphire blue lake emerged--Crystal Springs Reservoir. A police siren blared in the distance, immediately matched with a cacophony of off-key sirens blaring from the reeds and bushes by the foot of the reservoir (off limits for people). My first thought was rowdy teenagers, instantly replaced with clarity: coyotes. I stopped and peered into the bushes. They were so close. It sounded like there were dozens of them. Despite the raucous, I saw nothing.

By the time I had reached mile 4, my mind began to empty, my feet turned onto autopilot, and I felt I was in a dream. A brush touched my arm. Was that poison oak? Afterall, it was everywhere, glistening with oil and bright red with early fall colors. Another vine patted my ear. I turned to identify the perp--it was indeed poison oak. Shoot! Now, all I could think about was not touching anything and showering in TecNu when I got home.

I continued running along the reservoir, laughing at the stop-and-go traffic piled along Hwy 92, waiting to get to the coast. Then, I almost ran headfirst into a thicket of poison oak. The trail just ended onto the Highway. Later, closer inspection of the map would show that the connector between this segment of the trail and the north end has yet to be finished. Drat! I would be short 3 miles. Grumbling, I turned and headed back.

Along the return path, I took a detour into the Pulgas Water Temple, a strange park with pristine lawns and a swimming pool-length monument that leads up to tall, ornate, cement columns and lots of steps. No trails. Well, there might be, but they are all fenced off. There were, however, bathrooms and water.

A little further down the trail, I turned into another park, Filoli, to see what it was about. Apparently, it's a historic garden and house that required admission. I ended up running on the service road to the nature center, catching a glimpse of a family of wild turkeys, hurriedly whisking their young across the path and away from my very suspicious camera. As I continued running back on the trail, I spotted a small family of deer, grazing like cattle in the dry, golden fields of Filoli (I doubt they paid admission).

After mile 12, my pace slowed and my hips began to ache. Aches and pains began to rotate between toes, IT bands, knees, and hips. I no longer had delusions of grandeur of fitting in a swim that afternoon. I laughed at the absurdity and ignorance of that earlier idea. The only swimming I'd be doing would be in an ice bath. However, I was careful not to admonish my slow pace, happy to still be running.

I reentered Edgewood Park and took the long way back to the parking lot to make up the 3 miles I still needed. I couldn't believe how much the familiar trails, normally with fast downhills, hurt and slowly crawled by. I reached the parking lot at 15.89 miles and kept running to the road until my watch buzzed at 16. Finally, I could walk and stretch. Let the recovery begin.