Monday, May 28, 2012

IMSG 2012 Race Report

Apologies for taking so long to write this race report. I somewhat unplugged from triathlon post-race and struggled whether or not to write about all the details of just how slow and tough of a day it was at Ironman St. George 2012.

Let me start off by saying, I absolutely love Ironman training. There is something about a 6 hour ride on tired legs followed by an hour run that, although difficult, pumps the endorphins, encourages, and fulfills me. My training for Ironman St. George basically began in January after a post-Kona offseason. My coach had me ready to race, but I will admit the 4 months leading up to race day certainly lacked some of the “fun” workouts I’ve had in the past when training for a later season race. I didn’t have the Friday morning lake swims followed by coffee with my teammates. There were no track workouts in shorts and sports bras. And I rarely had a long ride without my rain bike and multiple layers of clothing. I knew this would be the case training in Seattle for a race in early May. And perhaps in the end it was only fitting to have some of my toughest training parlay into the absolute toughest racing conditions I’ve ever seen. And so it goes, my 2012 Ironman St. George race report:

Race morning went off without a hitch. David, Adam, and I were shuttled out to Sand Hallow and I made sure to have adequate sunscreen, air in my tires, nutrition on my bike, and pumped up confidence from my coach and teammates. I was calmer than I have been in the past and ready to do some work. By the time teammate Joanna and I got into Sand Hallow Reservoir, the water was also calmer than it had been in the past. It looked like it was going to be a great swim.

SWIM: I positioned myself aggressively, ready to put up with whatever punching and wrestling of an Ironman swim start to get that swim PR that I had set my eyes on. I lined up a couple rows back in line with the buoys and swam hard when the gun went off –50 strokes as hard as I could and then settled onto some quicker feet. It was a great start for me and I thought I was in a good spot. Near the first buoy I could feel waves and thought it might be boat traffic. When I made the first turn, however, everything changed. It wasn’t boat traffic at all; it was fully fledged whitecaps and fairly big swells. Sighting after the first turn became increasingly difficult and all the athletes spread out. I tried my best to remain calm, but definitely went from trying to swim a big PR to not finish with a personal worst. Finally, finally! I was headed to the swim exit and popped out of the water in 1:21:14 (shockingly in 5th for my age group). T1 was quick and I felt a little better when I noticed so many bikes and gear bags in transition; already the day was looking tough on everyone.

Completely calm swim start

Choppy waters mid-swim
 YouTube clip from AtoZion swim coverage:

BIKE: During the swim, I kept thinking "just get on the bike...I know it will be tough, but get on the bike, that's your thing." Well, the bike was harder than the swim. My immediate thought at mile 1 was "Kona winds." It was a constant grind and struggle to stay upright the entire way. The bike course in St. George was a ~20 mile stretch from the swim to town and then two 45 mile loops. The first 20 miles are relatively flat, a net descent, and one of the faster sections on the course. When I got to mile 20 I was averaging 17.7mph and knew things would only get slower. They did, of course. I hit the halfway mark in something ridiculously slow, then got a little break and could ride in my big ring on the long descent back to town before starting the second loop. The second loop was a little less windy, but not much. I finished the bike in 6:43...only about an hour longer than planned. So, um, yeah.

Mile 1: The wind already reminds
me of Hawi...this is not good.
It honestly didn’t even feel like I was racing on the bike; it felt like I was just holding on. I do my best work when I can attack a hill, quickly recover, and attack again. I could do this all day; it reminds me of my cross country ski days and the technique we used in getting up and down hills all over northern Minnesota. I don’t think I necessarily do my best work when it’s a constant grind for hours, like it was in St. George or like it is in parts of Kona. It was a very tough ride and I hope I never have to spend that much time in my small ring ever again!!

RUN: The run felt like the only real “race” part of the day. I felt like I could finally settle in and tried pacing myself evenly enough to be strong at the finish. I saw Adam, Kainoa, and Laurie on the first loop and still felt good. The second loop I began to slow down until I saw Coach K on the course. She told me I was one of the stronger looking female runners on the course and I felt like I couldn’t let her down. But then reality set in and it came in the form of tired legs from being on the bike for so long. My 7:50 miles turned into 8s, then 9s, then 10s, then some walking and choking down chicken broth before jogging again. I was passed by a girl with “29” on her leg, but after seeing her race number I realized she was in my age group and let out a stream of expletives. I noticed another girl creeping up behind me, so at mile 25 I kicked it into full gear and cranked out a 7:10 (it was downhill, mind you). Alas, the finish line with a 3:50 marathon. I had a personal worst swim and bike, so was a bit relieved not to have my worst run. Far from a personal best, but silver linings, right?

Still smiling...must be early on the run
I finished the day in with a new personal worst - 11:58:54, approximately 10 minutes slower than my first Ironman when I trained without a coach and didn’t know the importance of aero anything. I don't know how big the swells were (maybe up to 3-4 feet) or exactly how strong the wind was (30-40mph?), but it was absolutely my toughest day of racing. In "normal" conditions, I’d like to believe I would have finished 60-90 minutes faster. It was hard on everyone and I was shocked to find out that my lackluster sub-12 finish put me near the top 100 finishers (men, women, pros, and amateurs) for the day. I realize this is a much different field, but for a funny comparison - in Kona last year over a thousand people finished under 11 hours. And now I'm still shaking my head that a day of "personal worsts" still put me in 2nd for my age group. It was unlike any other race and knocked me out so hard that it really didn't even feel like a "race" in terms of strategy, pacing, and focus that I'm used to applying in Ironman.

Headed to the finish a bit later than originally planned

Post-race: After meeting up with Kainoa, Laurie, David, and Adam, I stuffed my face with pizza, coke, chocolate milk, and french fries. I then made the obligatory friend and family phone calls, took a beer shower, lied around for a while, went to Denny's for some pretty disgusting greasy food (and hilarious people watching) before heading to the finish line to cheer for the midnight finishers. The finish line scene at midnight always puts a smile on my face and makes me appreciate this sport I'm committed to.

I guess you need to be tall to win this AG - nice work 30-34'ers!

Sunday morning we attended the awards ceremony and Kona roll down before driving to Las Vegas. I earned my spot to Kona (there were 3 in my AG), but begrudgingly declined. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be, especially knowing my teammate and “Ironman big brother” Aaron Burby would be racing this year. But I know my body can’t handle an “A” race in September (Ironman Wisconsin) and Kona in October. Sunday afternoon/evening we lounged by the pool at The Venetian, went out to dinner, had some cocktails, and hung out on the strip. It was a fun ending to a tough race weekend.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed about my race. Getting passed by a girl in my AG within the last 5 miles of the marathon was not what I set out to do. But then I have to remind myself how I was getting pummeled in the water while coughing up parts of Sand Hallow Reservoir or how my only chance on the bike was to remain in my small ring much longer than I wanted while hoping to break 7 hours. I definitely have mixed emotions about this race. Due to the tough conditions, it’s hard for me to gauge they type of improvement since my last Ironman. Since I’m somewhat obsessed with numbers, I’d give almost anything to know what my final result would have been in normal conditions. (yeah, yeah a Powertap, which I’ve yet to invest in, would give me data, but still a normal day wouldn't put me out on the bike course for close to 7 hours). But I guess that’s what keeps things interesting?

Some races have perfect endings, Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2010 and 2011 come to mind, and others leave you with a new appreciation for your own grit and stores of mental toughness. I’m bummed that I didn’t reach my pacing or placing goals, but there are no excuses; it was a very hard day and A LOT of girls were faster than me. Beyond that my other goals, like always, were to remain tough and take pride in my racing. I can wholeheartedly say the 2012 Ironman St. George will forever be a day where I met these goals and went beyond them.

A round of thanks:

Adam and David – Prior to this trip, I didn’t know you guys well, but after a few off color jokes and discussions from our favorite energy gels to the number of bathroom stops on race morning (3), I knew we’d be fast friends. You were the best travel buddies. So when’s our next race trip?

Laurie Kutter – Mother Kutter, you surprised me with a trip to come watch this race; you are so sneaky. Thank you for all the great pictures. And like always, thank you for being such a wonderful supporter and friend.

Coach K – Thank you, Kainoa, for getting me to the start line fit, focused, and injury-free. And thank you for flying to St. George for this race. I’m looking forward to the “fun” workouts you have planned for me this summer.

My friends, family, and teammates – thank you for putting up with me all winter and spring, my bouts of crabbiness after long, cold, wet days on the bike aren’t easy on anyone. Thank you for all the kind messages before and after the race. And mostly, thank you for your kindness each and every day.
The 2012 race season is certainly not over. After some much needed recovery, I am looking forward to setting new goals, hours of training, and fun workouts as I prepare for Ironman Wisconsin in September.
Coach K pumping me full of confidence
And we're the 3 best friends...
Kainoa & Laurie - best fans ever!
Much calmer waters at The Venetian

Enjoying our post-race celebration

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Visualization: A Lesson from my Dad

If I had to train at peak volumes, stay extremely rested with good sleep, pack for an Ironman trip, tie up loose ends at work, and spend some time visualizing for race day, my head would implode and I’d never reach the start line. Luckily, my workouts have been a piece of cake lately, there’s been no need to get up too early, and I’ve taken advantage of those luxurious moments by keeping my feet up sitting on my balcony, my couch, or my friends’ dock. And during this time, I’ve been able to think a lot about race day.

Visualization has always been an important part of my athletic success. Throughout my years of junior golf and well into college, I was taught to visualize the shot I wanted to hit. Yes, golf was my main athletic focus from age 12-22, though toward the end it started to fade as I decided I liked running better. Don't tell my dad or my college golf coach; I digress. I remember being pretty young (probably 9 or 10) and my dad teaching me this lesson: “What do you do if I tell you not to think about pink elephants? You’ll think about pink elephants! Instead of thinking ‘don’t hit the ball in the water’ which will probably make you hit the ball in the water, think of hitting your ball on the green. Picture what you want to do.” That sort of positive thinking helped me win several golf tournaments over the years.
Before I’d tee off, I’d picture myself hitting my drive into the fairway. But I’d be really specific – I wouldn’t just look at the big green fairway, I’d focus on what side of the fairway, clearing the bunker, just past that dead patch of grass, over that mound, left of the 150 steak or wherever it was that would set me up for a good second shot. I can still picture shots I’d want to hit on some of my old courses. If I was on the green and had a long putt, I’d read the break and visualize my ball rolling into the hole. And if it was a short putt, I’d see my ball hit dead center into the bottom of the cup.

So again for the next few days, I will spend some time being very specific visualizing my race. From where I’m going to line up for the swim, getting from one buoy to the next, exiting the water, the quick motions in T1 (shoes, race belt, GU flask, helmet, glasses), mounting my bike, specific parts of the bike course, dismounting my bike, getting through T2 quickly, every single turn on the run course, and all the way through to the finish line. The first year I qualified for Kona, I didn’t tell people this, but I pictured myself on the podium winning my age group. And guess what happened? Within a mile of the run, I was in first place (the memory of my coach telling me this still gives me chills)! I won my age group by 9 minutes and got to walk up to the top of the podium just like I imagined.

I’m not saying this works out so successfully every time, but it does help. Envisioning race day and how I want it to turn out has also helped alleviate some pre-race anxiety. Granted, I know there are things I cannot predict, but I feel confident in my experience and training to be adequately prepared on Saturday.

Best of luck to everyone racing this weekend! Take a few moments this week to focus on the positive and then let it all unfold on your big day. Dream on.

Picturing my next Ironman finish using images from CdA 2011
I'm the one in orange and yes, I passed that guy.