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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Finale: Greenville Sprint Triathlon Race Report

The 2106 Greenville Sprint means I still have 90 years
to prepare!
My last race of the triathlon season is finally over, and I am soooo happy!  The Greenville Sprint, one of my favorite races of the Set Up SC event series is always a barn burner with all the Greenville triathletes bringing their A games.  I had already played my A game at Lake Logan, so Greenville was more like a D or E race, especially since it fell just one week after Lake Logan.   The only goal I had in mind for this race was to finish.  While I did look at my splits from 2013 to get an idea of where I should be for this race, I didn't think about surpassing any of them.  

Since this was a sprint race which fell right after Logan, I really didn't do anything to prepare for the race.  I swam once, ran twice, and rode my bike the Saturday before the race.  I woke up Sunday morning feeling calm and happy and really enjoyed chatting with everyone before the race.  The mood was relaxed and upbeat since a lot of athletes were also finishing their season with this race.  I did not begin to feel sickly nervous until we had to line up for the swim start.  Then my stomach started doing its usual flip flopping and my heart rate just about went through the roof watching the elites start their swim. When it came time for me to jump in the pool, I felt like I was going to have a panic attack.  If I had to sign up for triathlons based on how anxious I felt before the race, I would never do one.  Luckily, my nerves settle as soon as I start swimming and by the time I cross the finish line, I have all but forgotten how horrible I felt at the start.

Swim: 8:28
Lots of people were diving into the water, but I opted to jump for fear that my goggles would leak.  I should have dove in because my goggles filled up with water immediately, something that has never happened before.  I wear contacts, so this made for some painful and squinty swimming, but I kept my eyes squinted on the black line and made my way down the lanes.  Unfortunately, there were a lot of people who had seeded themselves incorrectly on the swim and I encountered massive pile ups at the first three lane changes.  I felt like I was in a water polo match with all the shoving and colliding that was going on.  Finally, after 200m I found room to swim and I started finding my groove.  I hit the ladder at exactly 8:08 minutes, but had to run to transition giving me a total swim of 8:28, slower than previous times, but considering the congestion, I was pretty happy.

Bike:  46:33
My fastest bike at this race was in 2011 and that was a 44 minute bike split.  I knew I would be no where near that time, but I felt like I should be close to or even under the 49 minute mark which was my split in 2013. I was riding my training wheels and not my race wheels which would slow me down some, but the course is one I was very familiar with and comfortable riding.  Ben, a friend of mine, passed me immediately on the bike and I used him as a chase rabbit for almost all of the bike course.  Every time I wanted to sit up and slack off a little, I thought about Ben getting farther away, so I kept hammering and trying to keep him in my sights.  When I cruised into transition at 46 minutes, I was so happy that Ben had been there for me to chase because I would have never hit that time otherwise. My bike time this year was three minutes faster than 2013, so I was pretty happy to hit 46 min. especially on training wheels.
courtesy of Pace Running

Run:  25:12
Unfortunately, chasing Ben came with a high price.  My legs were not wanting to have any part of the run course.  I had to have a real mental fight with myself to not walk.  Since there were Berea students volunteering out of the course and at aid stations, I had to really fight to smile, act happy, and look like I was running strongly.  As soon as I would pass them, I would feel my shoulders slouch, my feet start to shuffle, and my face turn back to one of pain.  But knowing that Berea students were out on the course kept me motivated and forced me to push through the pain that I was feeling.  When I finally headed down the dirt access road to the finish line, I was suffering, but I knew that my race was almost over so I could endure just a few more minutes.
courtesy of Pace Running

courtesy of Pace Running

My finish time was 1:22 which is my third fastest time at this course.  This made me happy on many levels, but mainly I was happy at my performance having just raced a hard half the week before.  I beat my 2013 time (the last time I raced) by 3 minutes which was also reason to celebrate, and my time was good enough to land me the second place podium spot which is always nice.  I had a pretty solid season this year and plan to work on my weak areas in the off season.  This season was all about transformation, and I feel that I transformed myself into an athlete that in many ways closely mirrored the one I used to be before my cancer diagnosis.  While I am not the same athlete I used to be (and never will be),  being able to hit some of my old times has been both rewarding and fulfilling, and it has given me motivation and drive for next season.  As I transition from triathlon training to running, I plan to keep swimming and biking once a week until the winter months and will then take a complete hiatus to recharge my batteries. I have been incredibly lucky and fortunate to have had such an amazing season and cannot wait to tackle 2017!

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Race Stats:
Swim: 8:28
T1: 1:02
Bike: 46:33
T2: 1:12
Run: 25:12
Total Time:  1:22:25 (2nd in age group, 14th overall)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Chasing the Demon: Lake Logan Half Ironman Race Report

Photo credit:  Joanna Kelly

It's been a year since my 2015 debacle at the Lake Logan Half.  That demon race was one of the most physically painful races I have ever done, and the memory of that agony almost kept me from signing up for it again in 2016.   But being the glutton for punishment that I am, I pulled the trigger and vowed that this year would be A LOT different.  This race would not get the better of me this time.  No, this time, I would conquer this demon and show it who is boss!

Last year, I went into Logan with little training, and I was still recovering from the residual effects of chemo treatments, not to mention the pain from physical scarring that my poor backside and inner thigh were still feeling from my cancer surgery.  All this, combined with severe neuropathy in my feet, made for a long, agonizing day.  I hate it when races get the better or me, and this race definitely had my number, so my goal this year was to conquer the demon by (#1) beating my time from last year and (#2) feel good doing it.

For this year's race, I trained pretty heavily all summer.  I felt like I had a good, solid base, and my race times were pretty much where I thought they should be at this point in the season.  Everything seemed to be falling into place.

Race shirt
Race morning arrived early and the weather looked like it was going to be cooperative with overcast skies and starting temps in the low 70s.  Even the water temperature was cooperating which made all the wetsuit lovers very happy.    I love racing, but I absolutely detest the night before and morning of a race.  I feel sick, anxious, fearful, and doubtful about my training.   It's a horrible combination, but as soon as the gun goes off, it all dissipates into the water, and I feel strangely calm and relaxed.  This wasn't so much the case for this race, though, as my nerves were still a little jittery in the swim.  I felt good swimming, but I didn't feel effortless and I remember feeling like I had been swimming a really long time (not a good sign).  When I finally emerged from the swim, 39 minutes later (three minutes slower than last year), I knew that this was NOT the way I wanted to start my race.  I hurried to my bike and headed out for a 56 mile ride.

Swimmers coming in. Photo Credit:  Jenn Arends

Coming out of the water in my twelve year old wetsuit!
Photo credit:  Nicole Rambsey

Photo Credit:  Nicole Ramsbey

The bike ride at Logan is fun, but also challenging.  It has some hills and false flats, but some great descents as well.  The first 25 miles are awesome, but then the climbing begins and a really long climb around mile 40-41 will tear your legs off if you are not ready for it.  The hardest thing for me on the bike during any race is riding conservatively.  I have to remind myself that there is still a run section to do after the bike, so I can't just go wide open. The problem was determining just how hard to go without overdoing it.   In the past, I had this figured out pretty well, but with everything that has happened with me the past two years, especially with my feet, I feel like I am starting from scratch.  So I rode this bike course fairly restrained.  I allowed myself to hammer the flats and downhills, but I really tried to save my legs on the hills.  I also forced myself to slow down in order to take in nutrition and fluids.  What was really remarkable about the bike at this year's race was how much better I felt than last year.  By the time I finished the bike last year, I was having back and leg pain, my feet were numb and painful, and I wanted to quit.  This year, I felt pretty strong and most importantly, I was HAPPY!  I actually enjoyed the bike course and although I was glad to be done, I felt like I could have ridden a lot longer.

Finishing the bike
Photo Credit:  Jenn Arends

When I started the run, I felt pretty comfortable.  I was hurting, but not any more than I should be hurting at this point in a half.  I was running a slower pace than I had in training, but this was to be expected in the run portion of a half.  I wanted to run steady and consistent, so I trudged my way up the first three miles (mainly uphill) and tried to improve my pace on the downhill portion on the next three miles.  Since this is a two loop course, I knew I would have to do the three mile uphill portion twice, and I was not looking forward to it.  When I started the second loop, I was pretty happy with the way things were shaping up.  At the pace I was going, I would take almost 20 minutes off my run time from last year.  This motivated me and around mile 8, I decided I would walk the aid station in order to drink more.  Big mistake.  As soon as I stopped running, my body took this to mean that I was done for the day.  It was already feeling cantankerous and my legs seemed to just shut down.  When I started back running, I immediately got stitches in both sides (maybe I drank too much at the aid station?) and had to walk again.  I got really angry with myself for walking.  I was watching my time slip through my fingers, and I was furious.   I cussed the race for all it was worth and swore I would never do it again.  My body was obviously not cut out for half racing anymore.  This walk/run battle ensued all the way to the 10 mile mark and then I forced myself to run without stopping for the next mile.  At mile 11, I walked again and then managed to run all the way to mile 12.  Mile 12-13 was a major battle.  I kept telling myself that I was almost done with the race, so I could suck it up for ten more minutes, but my body kept fighting back.  I wanted to cry, but was too mad.  I was able to run the last quarter mile to the finish line and finally crossed the line in a time of 6:34.   My first words to Regina when I finished was "F*@& this race!"  I was upset with my performance.  I felt like I had crumbled under the pressure.  The demon wasn't conquered; I had simply chased it for 70.3 miles.

Wondering what I am doing by signing up for this race
Photo Credit:  Nicole Ramsbey

Feeling good for loop one on the run

It is always easy in hindsight to feel like you could have gone harder or could have done something differently in a race, and I start doing this as soon as the race is over.   I had beat my time from last year by 18 minutes of which I was pretty proud, but I wasn't all that happy because I felt that I should have bested it by much more.  I was satisfied with my race, but dissatisfied with it as well.   I am my own worst critic, and usually find more to criticize in a race than praise.  However, after talking with some friends and taking a few days to reflect, I tried to look at my performance in a different light. Instead of thinking about all the things my body didn't want to do or couldn't do, I thought about all the things I asked my body to do that it DID do.  I asked my lungs, legs, and arms to swim 1.2 miles, and they happily obliged.  I asked my legs after having a gracilis muscle cut out from my inner thigh that has left my leg permanently misshapen and scarred to power me up and down hills for 56 miles, and they obliged.  I asked my numb, tingly neuropathic feet to carry me for 13.1 miles, and they obliged.  I asked my body to push itself to its limits for 70.3 miles with just one kidney, with my colon having been rerouted, and with my posterior having been hacked on and cut up before doctors tried to stitch me back together.  And my body obliged.  I could list a lot of things that I wish had gone differently in this race in regards to my performance, but when I look at it how far I have come, and the racing possibilities that the future holds, I end up looking at this race in a completely different way.   I gave this race my best, and at the end of the day, that is all I can hope for.   Lake Logan continues to be that elusive demon triathlon that haunts me, but that just makes me want to work that much harder at conquering it in the future.  One day, I will write a race report for this race and will call it "Conquering the Demon."

My dad and the sign my step mom made for me on the course

Numbers at a Glance:

                                 2015                                                                  2016
Swim:                      36:52                                                                 39:49
T1:                             4:29                                                                   3:19
Bike:                        3:26:59                                                              3:17:54
T2:                             2:52                                                                    2:23
Run:                         2:41:20                                                              2:31:21
Total Time:              6:52                                                                     6:34

Special thanks to all my friends and fellow competitors who cheered for me during this long, long day.  I am lucky to have such a great crew who support me regardless of how I perform.  Also thanks to my parents for surprising me out on the course and making my day.  Thanks to Rev3, Powerbar, SBR, and Wattie Ink for being the best sponsors EVER.  And of course, thanks to Chris for always holding down the fort at home, so I can chase my dreams and sometimes catch them.

Next up:  Greenville Sprint!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I Can't Do Math: Swamp Rabbit Sprint Triathlon Race Report

Long time, no blog!  My last post was way back in May, so let me give a quick update about my summer training.

I raced Middle Tyger Sprint Triathlon the first weekend in June, but you may have noticed I never wrote a race report.  Since this was my third race in three weeks, and it fell on the last week of school, I was certainly tired leading up to this race, but it was my heart, not my body that was having difficulty.  On June 3rd, I learned of the deaths of two strong, wonderful women.  One of these deaths was due to cancer, and while it was not completely unexpected it still knocked the wind out of me because it was the mother of one of my closest and dearest friends.  When I think of Anne, I think of kindness, selflessness, but most notably, I think of grace.  Anne Hembree was a beautiful person inside and out, and her passing still hurts.  The second loss was that of Cristina Lindsey.  Cristina excelled at everything she did: triathlons, cycling, equestrian events, motorcross, you name it.  She was vivacious, fun, and full of energy.  Her death took me completely by surprise, and I still can't believe that she is gone.

I raced that Saturday, but certainly wasn't feeling celebratory, and the race itself was a bit of a blur.  Needless to say the words just wouldn't come when it came time to type up a race report, and as time kept slipping further and further away, I opted just not to write one.


So what have I been doing since June?  Training, of course!  Regina is competing in an IM in September, and since she was so great about training with me for my IM last year, I thought I would repay the favor.  And what a difference a year makes!  Last year when I was training for Chatty, I really struggled.  Struggled isn't even the right word....suffered is a more apt word for it.  Clearly, my body was not recovered from a year of surgery and chemo, and I pushed myself way too hard.   Now a year later, I can tell a huge difference in my fitness.  Now, long rides don't make me cry, and long runs don't result in me spending the rest of the day in bed.  Instead, I feel pretty damn good afterwards.  I do notice that I tire more quickly and stay fatigued longer than I used to before cancer, but for the most part, I feel almost like my old self.  I have done several 50-70 miles rides on the bike, and while I don't plan on doing any 80-100 milers, I do plan on keeping my long distance rides around 60+ miles.    And while I am slowly getting back my running speed, my feet continue to give me fits.  Compression socks are the best solution to keeping my neuropathy at bay, but the summer heat and humidity makes it nearly impossible to wear knee high compression sleeves for long distance runs.  I am making noticeable gains, but having numb feet really makes training difficult and frustrating at times.  I was scheduled to race Rev3 Williamsburg on July 9, but some scheduling/personal issues made that race impossible, so I was happy to be able to race a local race at Furman University the following weekend.

Swamp Rabbit Race Report

I have only raced this race one time and that was way back in 2012.  Since this race was on my hometurf and training grounds, I wasn't too stressed out about pre race preparations.  I had already raced four other races this season, so I felt fairly confident about where I was fitness-wise, so this race was mainly about simulating race conditions in order to prep me for my 70.3 in August.  I had a heavy training week the week of the race,  with a hard and humid 15 mile run done on Wednesday,  so I had no expectations other than to finish feeling good.  This race caters to my strengths, as the swim is super short (250yd) and the bike is long and hilly (16.5mi), but I know that anything can happen on race day.  I managed to get a good night's sleep and woke up feeling relaxed and well rested.  Since this is a local race, there were lots of local triathletes I knew who were racing and I spent much of the time before the race race chatting. This is also a big race for newbies, and I love seeing all the new faces at this race.  Triathlon is a sport that continues to grow, and I love that Greenville is able to host so many triathlon races.

Being the early bird that I am, I was the first one racked on my row in transition!

Ready to head inside to start the swim!

Swim: 5:49
This is a 250 swim, with athletes swimming up and down in the same lane for every lane except the first and last lanes.  This certainly seemed easy enough in theory.  I lined up for the start, hit the water, and took off.  Everything was going first.  When I got to the lanes where athletes were coming in both directions, I noticed that people were swimming towards me, on my side.  This seemed odd.  After I collided with about four people, I stopped swimming and looked around completely confused.  Was I swimming on the wrong side of the lane?  Had I ducked under a lane line that I shouldn't have?  What was going on?  I glanced at my Garmin and noticed that I was 25 yards off what I should have.  This confused me even more.  Had I missed a length?  Was I going the wrong way?  Would I be disqualified for cutting the course?  How could I cut the course when I was swimming up and down each lane?  Rattled and terribly confused I continued swimming wondering how I could have gotten pointed in the wrong direction on a pool swim.  I decided that when I got to the final lane I would look at my Garmin.  If I was still short, I would swim back up the lane (even though swimmers were getting out at the bottom of the lane) and get out on the other end to make up for my "missing" length.  I did not want to cheat the course, cheat other athletes, or cheat myself.  Sure enough, when I hit the last lane my Garmin showed me 25 yards short.  I swam back up the lane despite everyone screaming at me to stop and got out at the other end of the pool.  When lifeguards swarmed me, I explained that I somehow had missed a length and wanted to be honest with my distance.  This entire fiasco cost me almost 60 seconds since I had to then run an extra 25 yards to get to the swim door exit.  I was completely aggravated, and kept replaying the swim over and over in my mind as I headed into transition.
We exited that building behind me and then had
to run up this hill to get to transition!

Bike:  52:45
The bike course for this race was 16.5 miles long and it covered rolling hills in TR that I was pretty familiar with.  I was still pretty jacked up with adrenaline from my swim debacle, so I was able to pick off several riders immediately.  I found myself chasing a Hub athlete, Ben, who was the perfect chase rabbit.  I was able to over take him a couple times, but he would eventually catch me and overtake me in return.  Each time he would pass me, I would try to keep him in my sights, but eventually he hit the nitrous button and left me in the dust.  I could barely see him as a speck in the distance. but this motivated me to keep pushing hard for the rest of the ride.  I rolled back into Furman in 52 minutes, the same time I had back in 2012.  This was pretty exciting because I was probably in the best shape of my life in 2012.  Coming anywhere close to my 2012 splits was gratifying to say the least, especially after the hell I had been through the past two years.

Run:  26:11
I started the run with heavy legs.  I immediately began to chastise myself for chasing Ben so hard.  I knew better than to blow myself up on the bike when there was still a run portion left, but what was done was done, so I tried to suck it up and make the most out of things.  The run course covers a section of Furman that I run several times a week, so I knew every hill, turn, and sidewalk crack along the way.  This played to my advantage as I knew exactly where to push and where to pull back.  I was shocked when I glanced at my watch and saw I was running an 8:22 mile.  It definitely felt a lot slower than that, and I wondered if I was reading my watch correctly.  Since I clearly had trouble counting laps in the pool, perhaps I couldn't calculate my pace either.  I kept going and finally hit the turn around.  The mile and a half back to Furman was a blur.  I really pushed myself to pick up the pace, but there were a couple hills at the end that just drained me.  I managed to hold onto an 8:26 pace as I cruised into the finish line.

Total Finish Time:  1:26.32

10 seconds off of second place, but the blame is completely on me.

After catching my breath, looking at my splits, and replaying the swim portion of the race over in my mind (for about the 50th time), I made several conclusions:  1).  I can't do math or count, apparently.  For whatever reason the four men I collided with were on the wrong side of the swim lane.  Maybe they were passing each other or maybe they didn't see me coming towards them, but I did not cut the swim course short.  Instead I swam an extra 25 yards! There was no way I cut under a lane line (you only went under lane lines at one end of the pool and I hit all of those) as I finished behind the woman who started in front of me and I would have finished in front of her had I cut a lane.  Since we jumped in the lane to start our swims, my Garmin didn't register the first 25 yards, hence the distance appearing to be short and confusing me more (like I said, I can't do math).  All of this is on me, and I am okay with it.  I would rather swim extra yards than not complete the required distance. This has given me and all my friends a lot to laugh about, but what can I say, I'm an overachiever.  2).  While I did place in my age group, I was 10 seconds behind the second place female.  Had I not swum the extra 25 yards, I would have easily taken second place.  This stung at first, but again, all the blame falls on me, so I am okay with third. 3).  Most importantly, I had the exact same finish time as I did in 2012.  Even with the extra 25 yards!  This is perhaps the most astounding revelation of the day because not only did I hit the same finish time, but my run split in 2016 was actually faster than 2012!  This is HUGE considering the difficulties I have been having with my running.  Needless to say, I was over the moon with my performance, especially coming off a heavy training week with no rest.

My third place award.

This race was a major confidence booster because Lake Logan 70.3 is rapidly approaching.  Last year when I raced Lake Logan, I cried at the finish line and questioned whether I could ever do any sort of long distance racing again.  The pain I felt at that race was so intense that I seriously debated not signing up this year.  The bike course is insanely hilly which is bad enough, but the run was where I fell apart last year.  However, I don't like having demons that haunt me, and Lake Logan is a big, ugly demon that I want to permanently vanquish, so I signed up.  I am in way better shape than I was a year ago and Tri the Swamp Rabbit reinforced this.  The next couple weeks will be heavy training followed by a week taper and then it's showtime.  I am still incredibly anxious and fearful of doing this race due to the pain I felt last year, but I am ready to give it all I have.  This race will be my "final exam" for the tri season, so I am hopeful that all the "studying" I have been doing will pay off!

Until next time, don't forget to be awesome!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"Just a Sprint"....Caine Halter Triathlon Race Report

A lot of times when people hear that I am doing a triathlon race the upcoming weekend, they ask me this question:  "So you're doing a full triathlon?" Because I don't know if they are asking if I am going to do the entire race or if I am doing an iron distance race, my usual response to this question is "Yes, I am doing a (insert the distance) triathlon."  I have noticed however, that any time I say I am doing a sprint triathlon as opposed to longer distances, people seem to be a bit disappointed or deflated. They respond back by saying, "Oh, so it's just a sprint," or "Oh, so you're just doing the sprint distance." What is worse is that sometimes I even find myself saying something similar to this to people beforehand so they don't have to say it first:  "Yes, I have a race this weekend, but it's just a sprint."

Why do we minimize and undervalue sprints?  Is it because they are so short?  Because so many newbies/first timers compete in them?  Because we think we don't work as hard during them?  Because they are usually smaller, local races that "serious" triathletes don't waste their time on?   

Since deciding to step back from iron distance racing for a while, I have returned to the short course scene of triathlon, and I realize how much I have missed this distance.  Iron distance training is tough, make no doubt about it, but I have always joked that I enjoyed it because in iron distance races I have an excuse to go slow, both in training and in racing.  Slow and steady wins the race, or at least that is the philosophy that has always worked for me in iron distance racing. When I am racing an iron distance race my heart rate doesn't go through the roof, I don't have to run as hard as I possibly can (why, I can even walk if I need to!), and I don't bike like I am trying to rip my legs off.  But sprint and Olympic distance races are not like that.  In a sprint you have to go all out...the.entire.time.  Your heart rate doesn't come down until you cross the finish line.  You do try to rip your legs off while riding your bike.  You are full blast, anaerobic, fast twitch muscle activated, wide open.  And for a girl like me whose spirit animal is a turtle, believe me, it hurts.  Big time.  But change is essential to growth, and since I wanted to transform myself into a better athlete this season, I thought that some shorter distance races might be the thing I needed to kick myself into a higher gear.

Caine Halter Sprint Triathlon is in downtown Greenville and almost every triathlete who lives in this area has raced it at one time or another.  Well, everyone it seems except me.  But that was all about to change as I decided that doing a sprint one week after Knoxville Oly seemed like a good idea.  I spent most of the week recovering from Knoxville, so my workouts were slim and ugly.  My body takes a lot longer to recover now, and my body certainly wasn't liking doing workouts so soon after a hard race.  Saturday morning proved to be gorgeous and I woke up feeling pretty relaxed and calm. Having a race in your own neck of the woods and being able to sleep in your own bed definitely alleviates a bit of the nervousness that you get racing on unknown terrain in an unknown town.   I set up transition and got to chat with lots of people I knew (another perk for doing a local race) and waited for the swim start.  

Not so sure I want to do this after
waiting in line for ten minutes.
Swim:  7:06
The swim was 300 meters in the outdoor pool which was cool, but waiting in line for your turn is excruciating.  Your brain really starts to second guess your training...and your swim time...and whether your goggles will stay put when you jump in the water.  You just stand there hoping that you put the correct time in and that the people in front and behind you also put in the correct swim time.  And then suddenly it was my turn, and I was swimming like hell.  I am so used to swimming long, slow distance in the pool that swimming 300 yards as hard as I could felt like my arms were going to fall off.  Luckily, it was over fairly quickly, and I exited the pool in 5:00.  However, the run to transition from the pool was a long one with a switchback and my feet just won't cooperate if I am not wearing shoes that give me traction.  The grass was slick and the pavement rough and painful, so I had to really take my time navigating my way down to transition.  I think this was perhaps the only time of the race that I got to catch my breath.  My actual transition time was shorter than the time it took me to get from the swim exit to transition!

Bike:  29:51
The bike is a three loop course that has just enough hills to make me happy.  Being able to climb definitely helped me pass a lot of people and the downhills gave me enough time to let me recover.  I didn't think I would like the bike course initially since it was three loops and I was worried about all the people I might encounter, but I really enjoyed it.  This was definitely not my fastest bike time ever, but I rode as hard as I could and felt a lot better than I did the previous weekend at Knoxville.  I rolled back into transition, traded my bike shoes for my running sneaks and headed out for the run.

Run:  24:16
This run is advertised as being on the Swamp Rabbit Trail which means that it is mainly flat.  However, getting to the SRT involved start out the run with a long switchback hill.  Uggghh.  My heart rate was already sky high from the swim and bike and running uphill made me feel like I was going to vomit.  Finally, I reached some flat land and got to settle into my pace.  The SRT was super nice because it offered a lot of shade, and my parents were waiting near the 1.5 mile marker which was definitely a boost of adrenaline.  I hit the turn around and started smelling the barn.  My run splits were actually negative on this race (thanks to the switchback hill at the beginning), and I was really starting to find my stride.  I was hurting from pushing so hard, but I was also all smiles to be done.  My final time was 1:03, good enough for second in my age group.  The woman who won my age group also won the entire race, so I was happy to know that there was nothing I could have done differently that would have changed my age group placing.  It was fabulous to have my dad and stepmom there at the race and of course, seeing so many of my Greenville peeps (shout out to Team Hub) cheering and racing definitely made this race a good one.  

Nearing the turn around

Heading back to the finish line!

Thanks, Dave for the finisher pic!
Final thoughts:
Sprints are hard.  Really hard.  Yes, it was only an hour and I normally train for an hour or more pretty much every day, but going as hard as you can for an hour straight is super tough.  It is definitely different from long distance races, and I am beginning to enjoy this distance more and more.  Anyone who says that sprint races are "just a sprint" has clearly never truly raced one.   It has been good for me to change things up a bit this season; I am appreciating the sport more because I am really having to focus on my speed and I have a newfound respect for people who excel at this distance.  I am certainly not built for shorter distance races, so getting out of my comfort zone has been a worthy endeavor.    I have one more race this weekend that is also a sprint, so I am curious to see how doing three back to back races affects my performance.  Two years ago, I was leaving the hospital after having a tumor removed that resulted in my intestines being rerouted and my gracilis muscle being cut from my right thigh.  To think that I would be racing triathlon practically every weekend and hitting the same times I was hitting pre cancer is almost too incredible for me to process.  It has been quite the journey.

My number one fan, dear ol' Dad!

Until next time, 
Don't forget to be awesome!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Seeking Balance: Rev3 Knoxville Race Report

"Balance is necessary in life and in triathlon.  Triathlon should not, and cannot, consume your life.  Triathlon training should complement your life, not control it.  It should ultimately enhance all the other aspects of your life- family, friends, social life, work, and career."  
~Ian Stokell

A friend of mine shared this quotation on Facebook a couple weeks ago (taken from an article by Ian Stokell) , and it really resonated with me.  I have written about the need for balance in my blog before, but seeing this pop up on my FB news feed felt like much needed reassurance.  I have been thinking a lot about balance these past couple months.  Jumping back into the tri race scene so soon after chemo was a lot like a race itself.  I felt like I was on some sort of deadline, that I had to try and regain the year I had missed, that I had to prove something to myself, that I needed to make leaps and gains in everything I had lost, and of course, the inadvertent pressure you feel when everyone you know is training his/her ass off.   I was burning the wick at both ends last year, and in retrospect I realize I was lacking balance.  In my desperate attempt to prove to cancer that it couldn't control my life, I let triathlon control my life.  I traded one extreme for another.

After reevaluating everything in the off season, I decided I wanted this season to be about transformation and my growth as an athlete.  I wanted to become a better athlete in areas that I struggled with last season (mainly the run),  but I realized that this could also be an all consuming obsession if I let it. I know that if I really wanted to transform myself into the best athlete I can be, then I need to do a lot serious training.  But I also know that I want to spend time doing other things in my life, like spending time with my friends and loved ones, taking vacations, or just sleeping in past 5am.  So it is a sort of tug of war that I play, with one part of me wanting to train like crazy and the other part of me reminding myself that triathlon is not everything.  On some days one side wins, and on other days the other side wins.  And I am okay with that.  At this point in my life I am no longer willing to make triathlon my everything.  I have learned that there are far more important things in my life than just training and racing, but I have also learned that there can be time in my life for training and racing, too; it's just a matter of achieving balance.

Needless to say, my training has been dialed back considerably in volume and intensity, especially since we are nearing the end of school and final exams.  I try and do something almost every day, but if I don't make it one day, I don't sweat it.  I have been able to hit most of my long rides on the weekends, but there were several weekends when I had to do a quick trainer ride instead.  No big deal.  My runs have been fairly consistent, but on days when I feel sluggish, I bag the workout or throw in some walk breaks.  My swimming is down to about 2 days a week and consists anywhere between 1,500-2,500 continuous at an easy pace.  I still want to challenge myself and become a better athlete, but I refuse to sacrifice everything in exchange for it. So it was with this new attitude that I found myself heading up the mountain to Knoxville for my first Olympic and first Rev3 event of the year.

I was completely solo this trip and I got a rather late start because I was watching Jesse Thomas win IM Lanzarote (his second IM win in only his second IM race).  I did a little shopping at the Rev3 expo (check out the Rev3 store for some cool gear!), and visited with some Rev3 peeps and checked my bike in.  Then I headed back to the room to rest.  I had a killer headache and felt a little off, so I just wanted to lie down and rest.  I ordered room service which was delicious, but pretty much went to bed at 7pm because my head hurt so badly.  Luckily, the next morning, my headache was gone, so I headed down to transition to visit with my Rev3 teammates before the race.  My new Wattie Ink kit fit like a glove and it was great to be able to chat with my teammates who were also racing the Olympic.  I still felt a little off, but I chalked it up to prerace nerves.
pre race organizing

Sweet swag included a visor and race shirt
Swim: 32:38
With the exception of the sun being in my eyes on the upstream portion of the swim, I felt okay. It felt like I was out there forever, but it always seems that way for me on the swim.   My swim time was actually better than the last two years here.  I wore my sleeveless wetsuit which is the wetsuit I prefer, so I may have been more comfortable on the swim, but considering the little time I have spent in the pool, I am pretty happy with my swim time.  I was in the final wave of the race which made me worry that I might be the very last person out of the swim, but this was not the case although it certainly seemed that way during the swim.  I pretty much walked all the way to transition because I was feeling a little fatigued, but just assumed I had overexerted myself on the swim.

Bike:  1:29
My bike seemed happier to stay in transition
Heading into race week, I didn't do any bike rides.  I was simply too tired or too busy to fit one in.  This didn't worry me since the bike is my strongest discipline.  The bike course of this race starts out flat for about half a mile and then you climb up an exit ramp which is pretty long and steep.  As soon as I hit the exit ramp, I knew something was wrong.  I simply had no legs and no gas in the tank. I was immediately alarmed that I was spinning with so much effort and getting so little results.  I assumed that I just needed to get some fuel in me and get my heart rate down and everything would be okay, but I never seemed to find my groove.  I felt sluggish and tired and really hated being on the bike.  I still cannot put my finger on why I suffered on the bike.  Was it the headache the day before?  Was I coming down with something?  Was my brake rubbing my rear tire?  Did I go too hard on the swim?  Was there something else wrong with me that I don't know about (having cancer makes you paranoid anytime you feel the least bit odd)?  I realized that I was probably just having a bad day, so I decided to just suck it up and get through the race. I would ride like I felt and just take it easy on the hills.  I was extremely glad to see transition and noticed that my bike time was the slowest bike I have ever had at Knoxville and that included riding in a downpour and 55 degree temps!   Oh well, such is life.

Run:  54:59
Since my bike was so disastrous I knew I was in for a long, long day.  However, when I started the run, I realized that my legs were actually turning over pretty fast.  I glanced at my pace and saw that I was running an 8:38 mile which is pretty good for me post cancer.  I figured I would blow up shortly, so thought I was just quit worrying about my pace and just run.  When I hit mile two and saw an 8:48 pace pop up, I began to wonder if perhaps the slow bike had kept me from trashing my legs.  Normally on the bike, I go all out and of course have nothing left for the run.  But this time I seemed to have fresh legs.  Maybe it was all the time I have spent working on my run, maybe it was going easier on the bike, maybe it was a combination of both.  Whatever the case, I decided to capitalize on it and I put my head down and started to really focus on chiseling out some of the time I had lost on the bike.  Sub three hours has always been my goal for this race, but I knew I wouldn't be hitting that today.  However, I realized that not hitting my goal shouldn't be a reason for me not to give it my all.   It hurt, but I managed to keep my run pace to 8:48 all the way until mile 5.  The final mile back to the finish line was hard.  It was in a headwind, and had a couple twisty turns and hills, so I started slipping on my pace.  I crossed the line in 3:01 and landed fourth in my age group out of fifteen women and thirty-third out of one hundred and seven total women.

Of course I had been shooting for a sub 3 hour race, but I can't be upset with a 3:01.  Considering the amount of time I had invested in training for this race, I am pretty happy, actually.  I am still a bit frustrated over my oddly slow bike time, but there is no sense in dwelling on it.  While I didn't hit my goal time, I did manage to PR this race by a minute which is definitely a plus that I didn't realize until I looked at my old race results the next day.  When thinking about balance and this race, I feel like I performed exactly like I should have given the amount of time and effort I put into training.  Yes, I could have had a better day if I had trained more consistently and more aggressively, but I don't have the time or energy to do that at the moment.  Once school gets out for the summer I will have more time to devote to training, but right now balancing my health, job, and family life takes most of my time.  I don't want to go to extremes with my training because other areas of my life suffer; I am trying to find that perfect balance and if that means my race times are not the fastest, then so be it.  I had a pretty solid race overall, and I am happy with the way things turned out at the end of the day.

I have a couple back to back races in the next couple weeks which will definitely test my ability to perform at a high level with so little recovery time.  At the moment I have been so fatigued from Knoxville that training has pretty much been non existent this week, so this weekend's race should be pretty interesting!

Until next time,
Don't forget to be awesome!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

In a Corral Far, Far Away: Disney's Dark Side Half Marathon Race Report

Talk about an epic weekend!

We made it!

In 1977, Star Wars opened in select theaters across the country.  From a beeping droid, to a hairy Wookie, to a dark caped figure that seemed more machine than man, this simple tale about the hero's journey became a world wide obsession.  Almost four decades later, that obsession is still in full swing thanks in part to the collective efforts of Disney and JJ Abrams.  With a new movie shattering every previous box office record and another film currently in production, Star Wars continues to leave its imprint on our culture and for a complete fangirl like me, I couldn't be happier.

From the moment I saw those famous opening words scrolling up the screen thirty-eight years ago, I was hooked.  My love for Star Wars defined my childhood and helped shape me as an adult.  I have incorporated the movie into my 9th grade curriculum, named my pets after characters, have read Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth multiple times, and use Yoda quotations as rules to live by.  I am without shame a complete and total Star Wars nerd.

When you get your bib, you know it is real!
So when I heard that Disney was creating a Star Wars themed half marathon at their theme park in Florida, I knew I had to go.  I talked to Chris about the possibility and the expense and since he is just as big a Star Wars nerd as I am, he suggested I go for it.  While we had both been to Disneyland (California) multiple times, neither of us had been to Hollywood Studios and the park had just opened a Star Wars themed section.  Registration was in January, and I was so fearful of something happening that might prevent me from going that I didn't tell anyone but my very close friends that I got in.  This was a chance for me to combine Star Wars and running,  two things I loved, and I refused to let myself think about it or get excited about it for fear that I would jinx it.  It wasn't until we actually got to Disney that I realized this was really happening and then I may or may not have started crying.

Chris and I flew in Thursday night and since the race was on Sunday, we had two days to cover four parks.  We quite literally hit the ground running Friday morning and covered Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom in 14 hours.  That's 14 hours on our feet running all over the park, waiting in line, and being slung and jarred on a variety of rides.  It was like doing an Ironman.  About eight hours into our adventure, my lower back began locking up, the same thing that happened in IM Chattanooga on the run.  I was in considerable pain by the time we got back to our room and promptly began freaking out about my race on Sunday.  Chris had to remind me that I was here to have FUN and not race, so I tried to calm down and put it out of my mind.  Saturday morning arrived and we hit Hollywood Studios including all the Star Wars attractions.  We saw artifacts from the films, got to shop all things Star Wars, and even got to see characters.  I felt like I was 5 years old.  Seeing a Stormtrooper, even though I knew it was simply an employee wearing a costume, was still beyond amazing because they looked EXACTLY like they did in the movies.  Chris and I looked like a couple of groupies running around trying to get pictures of and with characters.  My back was still killing me, and I had a super early day of running ahead of me, so I called it a day at 4pm and headed back to the room to put my feet up.  Chris hit Epcot and Animal Kingdom again and rode roller coasters and played until 9:00.
Aerosmith Roller Coaster.  We had a blast!

Jawa, Boba Fett, and Stormtrooper, oh my!

Chewy was not thrilled with my Boba Fett hat and he covered
up the stormtrooper on Chris's shirt.  

Kylo and Vader looking sinister

Luke's lightsaber, the game console from the Millenium Falcon (let the Wookie win!),
an At-at, and me on a speeder.  

The only downside about this race (there were 5K, 10K, and half races on separate days.  People who raced different combinations of the three got extra medals and shirts.  I was pretty jealous of the Millenium Falcon and Tai Fighter medals) was that the races needed to be finished before the parks opened.  This meant that the half began at 5:00am.  That is earlier than an Ironman start!  Shuttle buses to the parks began at 2:30, so I got up at 2:00am which is earlier than I would get up for an Ironman.  Chris wisely opted to stay in bed since the only thing I would be doing was sitting in a corral and would instead meet me at the finish line.  I am not sure how many corrals there were total, but I was assigned corral E.  I was a little frustrated at this, but you had to submit a half time from the previous year as proof of your race time.  Since I had just finished chemo last year all my half times were 20-30 minutes slower than what they should be, so instead of being put in corral A or B like I wanted, I was stuck in corral E.  Talk about a corral far, far away!  Although the race began at 5:00, my corral didn't begin until almost 5:20.  There were almost 18,000 people racing the half (almost 30,000 racers for the entire weekend), so when the fireworks signaled my corral's start, congestion was a huge issue.   Add to this darkness and that much of the race course had varied surfaces (concrete, asphalt, brick, stone, dirt, mulch) on narrow walkways meant I spent most of my time looking down.  I felt like I was playing a game of Frogger.  I would pass a couple people on my left, have to jump to the right to miss someone else, have to bob back to the left to avoid someone else, only to get flattened when the person in front of me stops running and starts walking.  There was absolutely no way to find a steady rhythm or pace when we were in the parks.  When we left one park, we were able to spread out on the highway somewhat, but as soon as we entered another park, the same thing would happen.  I tried to hold between an 8:45 to 9:00 pace, but it was virtually impossible to hit anything steady.  I had decided when I registered that this race would be for enjoyment only and not for competition, but it was hard to get my head out of that competition mindset once the race had started and  I knew a clock was running.  I fought a nonstop battle with myself over giving it all I had or backing off and enjoying the sights.  I decided I would push the entire 13 miles and whatever pace I ended up with was fine with me.  If that meant a 9 minute pace or a 11 minute pace, I would be happy regardless.

Course map
The race went by fairly fast because in addition to paying attention to where you were stepping, there was a lot to be distracted by.   Speakers set up every .25 mile had Star Wars music blasting the entire race, huge movie projectors set up on the highways played pivotal scenes from the trilogies, and Star Wars characters were on the sides of the roads posing for pictures.  People would just jump off the course and get in line to snap a picture with Chewbacca and would then jump back on the course to continue the race.  I didn't have my camera, so there was no temptation for me here, but it was hard to pass by R2D2 and not want to go hug him.  There were people decked out from head to toe in Star Wars costumes and the Disney employees were great cheerleaders.  There were even minor characters from the movies cheering runners on as they winded their way through the parks.  I took a high five from one of the Sand People.

While my back seemed to have forgotten the pain it was in the days before, my quads did not. Usually before a big race, you try to stay off your feet, take time to hydrate, and rest.  I did none of that leading into this race; in fact, I spent almost 24 hours on my feet in the 48 hours leading up to the race and my quads had decided that enough was enough.  By the time I reached mile 11 (gravel!) my legs were screaming.  While the course was mainly flat, my quads felt like I had run up a mountain.  Finally, I saw the finish line up ahead and tried to kick it into nitro.  Completely out of gas, I ended up coasting into the finish line, happy but in considerable pain, but being able to hang that medal around my neck made me feel like Luke getting his medal at the end of Episode IV.  I was in tears.  Literally.

This shows you how much weaving I
had to do to maneuver!

Once I met up with Chris, we headed over to the characters who were posing for pictures with finishers.  This was about too much for me to bear.  I was overwhelmed with fangirl emotion.  Jabba, Boba Fett, Darth Maul, Vader, Capt. Phasma, Stormtroopers, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.  While I was unable to get a picture with Vader because the lines were simply too long and my legs way too tired, I did get some great pictures with other villains, including my fave, Boba Fett!  And just like that, my fabulous Star Wars weekend came to an end and we flew back to Greenville and reality.

Unfortunately, I did not have my slave girl outfit.

I love me some Stormtroopers!

Darth Maul was all about showing me how to pose

Don't worry, Han.  That carbonite will preserve you
nicely until you can be rescued.  

My finish time was 2;05.  While I would have loved to have gotten under 2 hours, my bobbing and weaving added extra distance and the toll of two days of park hopping kept me from having any sort of fresh legs, but I was pretty happy nevertheless.  I placed 75th in my age group out of 1,750 other women.  Out of 10,000+ women, I placed 448, so this wasn't too shabby either, but what was more important was that I got to fulfill a childhood dream of becoming part of the Star Wars universe. Yes, this young Padawan got to feel the Force, and it was EPIC.  The weekend was also a great lesson in reminding me about the things that really matter:  1.) When I think about where I was healthwise two years ago, I am almost in disbelief how far I have come.  I am lucky that my health continues to improve and that I continue to get stronger.  2.) I got to spend some quality time with my boyfriend away from all the stresses of everyday life in a magical place where we got to pretend we were kids again.  We got to play, laugh, and do things that we never thought we would get to do.  Together.  3.) And I got to participate in a fabulous and fun race while being surrounded by people who equally (if not more than) share my love of Star Wars. Getting to experience this race in its inaugural year is an experience I will never forget.   Thank you, Disney for reminding me what it is like to be a kid again!

May the Force be with you!