Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Going Pro - part I (as in not going pro)

I was a bit reluctant to write about this, as it seems somewhat presumptuous. But this blog was meant to be open, honest, and a platform for me to share the thoughts of a competitive age grouper…who someday may go pro…maybe...well, when I'm ready...okay, read on:

Last year when I had the race of my life at Ironman Coeur d’Alene, I achieved something that I really had not set out to do – I qualified to apply for my elite license with the USAT, by finishing as the 2nd amateur of the day with a 10:16:02 on a fairly difficult and technical course. I was second to the ever talented Sarah Piampiano who crushed everyone in her first Ironman and is now succeeding at the pro level. I like to mention this whenever possible – faster by association or something. I thought with another year of training and experience I’d be in a position where competing as a professional would be a little less futile and I’d be ready for a “great experience.”

But simply entering some races as a professional isn’t the “great experience” I’m after. If I someday pull the trigger on this dream, I want to be ready for it, as in “100%-of-my-heart-overflowing-with-confidence-not-scared-of-getting-my-ass-handed-to-me" into it.  And right now, I’m not there. I'm certain I'll get my butt kicked, but I'd still like to make sure I'm prepared for it. After a tough early season of training and not the result I wanted at Ironman St. George, I’ve decided to hold off a little longer. When I started the year, I told myself and others that I’d only go pro if I felt like my training was where it needed to be and I had some really breakthrough races. My training is good, not great, and I’d say my races have been kind of “meh.” My eligibility to apply for my elite license expired yesterday June 26, 2012, so I will again need to meet their qualifying standards (though I have been close at "B" races, so I'm optimistic it will happen again). But it's always been my thought that if I can't re-qualify, I don't deserve to go pro.

So, this is part I. Part II can wait and I hope it involves me gushing all over life as a first year pro. I’m not giving up on this goal and I know I need to be patient. But even though the USAT says it’s okay for me to apply for my elite license, I need a few more months (maybe longer) and now another qualifying race before I’m ready. Big thanks to Coach K for supporting me through this decision, yet allowing me to make it on my own. And thank you to my friends and family (and blog readers) who still take a lot of interest in the life of an age grouper. Based on the number of people signing up for Ironman events around the world, I would guess most AG athletes will agree:it’s actually pretty awesome.

Big hugs,

Monday, June 25, 2012

10 years of marathons and my first DNF...

When I signed up for Grandma’s Marathon this year, I did it for sentimental reasons. I wanted to go back to where I started this endurance journey and toed the line of my first marathon as a sprite 20-year-old over a decade ago. I had this idyllic image of breezing from Two Harbors to Duluth like I did in 2002 (perhaps a bit faster than my maiden voyage of 3:36:02), blowing a kiss to my mom at mile 21 on London road like I did 10 years ago and reliving that euphoric feeling I had at my first marathon finish on 6/22/2002 when I knew very little about training and racing.
This was never meant to be an “A” race or even really a “B” or “C” race, just a long training day with a really long, catered run. Still, I had higher hopes than slogging 18 miles and ultimately calling it a day before the finish line and recording my very first DNF. I cruised through the 10k at a typical marathon pace, trying to take it out conservatively and even dialed it back quite a bit before I made it through the 1/2 (7:30 pace, which is usually pretty easy for me). But miles 15, 16, and 17 were much tougher than they should have been. I tried to think of it like an Ironman run, when the fatigue really sets in and you begin to lose the pep in your stride. But as frustration set in, so did logic and I realized struggling through the last 8 miles wouldn’t help my cause and I didn’t need a marathon finish (it would have been #51) to prove anything to myself. So I called it a day and ended up getting a ride back to Canal Park near the finish line.
I’ll admit that I was bummed about the result and even cried (twice) when I told my mom I couldn’t finish, not because I’d disappoint her, but because sometimes I’m extra sentimental around my parents. But I’m not dwelling on this. I realize that I may not be quite as recovered as I thought I was from an exceptionally tough day at Ironman St. George. Just because I made a quick turnaround from Kona to the NYC marathon last fall, doesn't mean all recovery is created equal. If I struggle through 7:30 miles, I’m not ready to hit Ironman training hard, and I shouldn’t be running 20+ miles at a time just yet. So now I’m focusing on a couple more weeks of rest and easier workouts before Ironman training picks up again in July and I can focus on bigger races.
But the race trip wasn’t a total bust by any means. I got to see my parents, hang out with friends on Lake Superior, play golf with my dad on Father’s Day weekend, and catch up with one of my best friends from elementary school at the Mora pool (where we spent nearly every summer day as little kids). I sometimes don't realize how much I get caught up in race results and how training is going and I start to forget there are other important things in life. These other things in life certainly helped me forget about my sub-par day and for that, I am grateful.
Besides that, Grandma’s Marathon is awesome and I’d recommend it to any runner. The Duluth community is one of the friendliest, especially on race weekend. The race is well organized, it’s a great course, and the field is capped to a manageable size to allow for less congestion if you’re gunning for it. And, one of my favorite parts of the race: they have the best finish line food I’ve ever seen at the end of a marathon. Even though I didn’t finish the race, I still made my way to the recovery area to drown my sorrows in the all you can eat buffet of runners’ favorites – strawberries, orange juice, ice cream sandwiches, bagels and peanut butter, potato chips, cookies, bananas, oranges, and I’m sure there was more. As best friend Sydnie likes to call it, it’s my “No Food Left Behind” initiative. I really cannot resist free food at athletic events, even the ones I don't finish apparently.
Looking back, I know I made the right decision. I was thankful my legs weren't pounded for 26.2 miles and the following week included some good workouts. Not every race has a happy ending. Ten years ago I fell in love with the marathon, but over the years it has taught me to keep setting goals and keep moving forward. I'm thankful for all the lessons I've learned through this sport over the past decade and I'm looking forward to many, many more.  

Half the weekend at Grandma's, half the weekend at home

Sunday, June 17, 2012

2011 Ironman CDA - one year later

I did this race and wrote my report before I had a blog, so I'm sharing it with cyberspace now. Ironman CdA holds a special place in my heart - it was my first Ironman and I was lucky to win my age group there twice. I'm bummed not to be racing there this year, but am sending out lots of positive energy to all the 2012 competitors. Best of luck and enjoy!

“Believe in yourself, know yourself, deny yourself, and be humble.” I came across this quote somewhere over the past couple years and have since read it nearly every single training day. It’s easy to get caught up in the pressure of being a competitive athlete, even as an age grouper, and it’s something that has affected me quite significantly this year. But I feel like I’ve remained grounded, meanwhile keeping my focus, drive, and confidence in check in order to perform well. And so it goes; my 2011 Ironman Coeur d’Alene race report.

As I came off an incredible season in 2010, I knew I had some sights to set my eyes upon if I wanted to keep such a good thing going.  I was on a really great streak of hitting goals from January through April. I was three for three: 1) a sub 3:15 marathon - check 3:05 in AZ; 2) a sub 1:30 half marathon – check 1:26 at Mercer Island; and 3) sub 5 hour ½ Iron – check 4:59 in Oceanside. Still, the big goals for the year included a big PR in Coeur d’Alene, finishing near the top of the women’s field, and another trip to Kona.

June 24, 2011 – I drove over Friday morning, just like every other year. I realize this is a little on the later side, but I like to be able to sleep in my own bed race week and I don’t like getting caught up in the Ironman hype too early. Besides, all I needed to do was keep my feet up and relax. Friday was spent picking up my race number - #109, an interview from IronmanLive (my first athlete interview – they wanted to talk to the AG winners from 2010), and the athlete welcome banquet.

Talking with Universal Sports
They did not use any of this footage, still cool to be inverviewed
And I did NOT tell my coach this prior to race day, but as I was leaving the athlete banquet on Friday night I randomly ran into some friends from Seattle who were staying on Lake CDA for a bachelor party. They convinced me to go out with them since I was “the only girl who had even stopped to talk to them yet.” So instead of heading back to my hotel to tuck myself into bed early, I made a quick appearance at the IronHorse (a very classy establishment) in downtown Coeur d’Alene. Tom, Kyle, Anthony, Jared, Jake, Mark, Justin, you guys are hilarious and that ONE beer seemed to be the proper amount of carbo loading.
Crashing a bachelor party with old co-workers from my public accounting days
June 25, 2011 – Saturday morning I swam with my team, biked to make sure my Cervelo was in working order, and ran easy to shake out the legs. It was great to see my teammates and friends from other teams out there getting ready for the main event; I love the buzz of race weekend. The rest of the day was spent organizing my transition bags, checking in my bike, keeping my feet up, walking around the expo, and being consoled by my friends when I had a small breakdown thinking about the race day pressure I was putting on myself. Sydnie, Tesia, Alicia, and Jenny, thank you girls for being my Iron-sherpas and keeping me positive all weekend long. Saturday evening Lilia, Rebecca, and Carly invited us over for a pre-race carbo load. Thank you for the delicious meal, relaxed setting, and all the laughs with World’s best “triathlon sorority.”

Some of Seattle's fastest TriBabes :)
June 26, 2011- RACE DAY!! I was up at 4am to start pounding down the calories. I ate a peanut butter sandwich in the darkness of the hotel room and then dozed in and out of sleep before getting out of bed at 4:30 to finish my breakfast and get ready. Everything was efficiently set out and my friends and I headed into town around 5:15 to get this thing started. I went through the pre-race motions of body marking, setting my Garmin, a bathroom stop, and pumping up the tires. It was pretty cool to be lined up in transition next to two friends – Rebecca and Lilia and close to the pros. I also got filmed by the IronmanLive camera crew when I was setting things up on my bike. I have no idea if they’ll use any of this coverage when they show Ironman CDA on Universal Sports, but it still made me feel pretty special. After exiting transition, I met up with my coach and team for some final words of advice and few tears before heading out for my long workout. Thank you to Hallie, Kainoa, and Laurie for keeping things real and pumping me full of confidence to perform at my best. I don’t know why I get so emotional before these big races. I guess it’s because I work so hard and they mean so much to me.

Actual Coverage from Universal Sports
I don't think it's possible to get any less of my face
Swim – I walked down to the swim start with Robin to get in a good warm-up and get used to the 56 degree water. (At least, I was told it was 56 degrees; I also heard rumors of 53 or 54. Either way, damn cold.) But, they weren’t allowing us to warm-up. At about 6:50, they let us get in about 15 yards out. I took maybe 20 strokes to check my goggles and get (friggin freezing, ice cold) water in my wetsuit. Finally after what felt like forever, a few minutes of audible teeth chattering, and couple knee buckling shivers, the cannon fired and we were off. I felt like I had a horrible swim start. We were all clustered up and I didn’t get in a real rhythm until after the second buoy. I ran onto the beach after the first loop, caught a glimpse of the clock and saw 0:34:xx. This was about the pace I was expecting. The second loop was still chilly, but about the same pace. I popped out of the water in 1:10:49. I know I still have some room to improve here, but this was a new swim PR for me and within the range (the high end) Kainoa mapped out in my race plan.

T1 – I ran out of the water feeling a little confused, but eventually made my way to the wetsuit strippers, bike bags, changing tent, and then over to my bike. I had a prime spot at the end of the rack and close to the bike mount. My swim-bike transition took 3 minutes and 7 seconds.

Bike – Last year was when I really proved to myself that I was a good cyclist, and this year I knew I was a lot stronger. My goal for the bike was to ride around 5:25. I started out steady, but fast, focusing on getting 250-300 calories per hour in the form of PowerBar Perform, chocolate PowerBars stuck on my bike (the girls from Saturday night know this story), and energy gel. My goal was to negative split the bike, but I was just having too much fun riding fast. I came through the half at 2:39:50 and knew I had to ride conservatively for the next 56 miles if I wanted to put together a solid run. The second half wasn’t the prettiest and I even made a rookie shifting error, causing me to drop my chain on one of the hills, but I kept things in check and kept repeating my mantra for the day, “don’t give up and don’t let up.” It was something Kainoa and I talked about during my pre-race meeting and part of her pep talk that morning. I didn’t get passed by any women and I’ll admit it; it was awesome to pass so many guys! I finished the bike in 5:26:56, which is a 20.55 mph pace, and a new bike PR. But the best part was that I was leading my age group by over 12 minutes and in 2nd place of all the female amateurs.

Loving the bike
T2 – Since I was only the 2nd female age grouper to come through transition and the 7th woman overall, the volunteers in the women’s changing tent were eager to help. They had my run bag ready as I unclipped my helmet and kicked off my bike shoes, they helped me with my socks and run shoes as I grabbed my visor and water flask to run out of T2 in 58 seconds! Yep, this is pretty nerdy, but I am very proud of my quick transitions. I was the second fastest age grouper (2nd only to my ex-boyfriend- dang!) and 9th overall. Julie Dibens and Tom Evans should really start listening to me. :-)

Run – My goal for the run was 3:30 – 3:35 and I tried to ease into it as best I could. My long training runs for the past couple months have been in the 6:50 – 7:05 range and I was trying to start around an 8:15 pace for the first couple miles. But I couldn’t hold back. I was running 7:20s and I felt like the only way to slow down would be to walk. So I just focused on a light feet and told myself to relax. But I also tried to soak it in a little. As I ran through downtown I heard the announcer say, “And one of our faster women just started the run.” It’s hard to believe he was talking about me. But my favorite cheer of the day was from Michael Vanderhyde, “you chicked a lot of boys out there today!” It was true; out of the 1,605 male age group finishers, only 84 finished in front of me.

Headed out for lap 2 on the run
After a few miles my pacing finally evened out and I was averaging around 7:55/mile at the half. I’d walk through the water stops to get enough fluids and took energy gels every 5 miles, exactly according to plan. I would entertain myself with grade school math, “if you run the last five miles at a 10 minute pace, you’d finish in this time or if you run the last 4 in 12 minute miles you’d finish in this time…” Then I’d say to myself, “but why would you run a 12 minute mile?...” My run legs stayed strong up and down the hills and I never ran anything slower than a 9 minute mile, even on the steepest part of the run course. “Don’t give up and don’t let up.” kept repeating in my mind and the miles ticked away. “Don’t give up and don’t let up.” Thank you, thank you, thank you to the Seattle triathlon teams: PauoleSport, VO2 Multisport, and TN Multisport for all the cheers along the way. There was no letting up with so many Seattle triathletes on the course, both racing and supporting!

I turned the corner onto Sherman and knew my race went exactly according to plan! My splits were within seconds of my expectations and I had kept my position in my age group, despite some very stiff competition. I wasn’t able to chase down the 1st place amateur, but was very happy to finish second. I’ve never felt so strong at the end of an Ironman. That moment made every early alarm clock, tough workout, missed happy hour, cold bike ride, and rainy run completely worth it. I soaked it all in blowing kisses to my friends and choking back tears of joy. I crossed the finish line and wrapped my arms around the first volunteer I could find (worth watching in a video clip here), which is probably my very favorite racing tradition. 

Headed down Sherman - watch the guy in black

I felt great and knew the next 24 hours would be a celebration. Sydnie, Ben, and Nina met me at the finish line, until I eventually moved on to the food tent where I was able to choke down some chicken broth and then on to the massage tent to work out some of the aches throughout my body, and then back to the food tent for pizza. After a much needed beer and shower, I was back on the course cheering for my PauoleSport teammates. Lisa, Robin, Kathryn, Cindy, and Judy, we are all going to Kona and I couldn’t be happier. You ladies continue to inspire me as you dominate the women’s 40, 50, and 60 age groups. Amazing.

My teammates and I headed to Kona
The rest of the night was spent with friends drinking beer and eating pub food until the final finishers were taking their turn down Sherman. This is the first time I’ve been able to see an Ironman finish line at midnight. It’s an incredible scene and I’d highly recommend it. Knowing how much work it takes to get through an Ironman, I was inspired by everyone – from the husband and wife couple to the 4 friends who had trained and finished together to the 70-year-old man. There are many facets of this sport and I am very lucky to be part of it.

The finish line at midnight
Greg LeMond said, "It never gets easier, you just go faster." I believe this is true, but I also think it gets a lot harder. Part of me would like to go back to my days of being new to the sport with the delusional naiveté of what it takes to train hard and race well. My workouts this year were much tougher than a year ago, but it’s been really fun to see the improvement and I’m excited to see where I can go from here. It also takes an emotional toll. I feel like I put more heart and guts into every race I do. I have Kainoa to thank for whipping me into shape, even though I still think she’s slowly trying to kill me with every update to Training Peaks. And, I also have some really great people in my life who can pick me up when I’m down and support me through the hours and hours and HOURS of training and recovery. I have no intention of leaving this sport anytime soon. I have goals of competing at a level where I can be the best I can be (for right now, it’s not the pro level). BUT, I also have other goals and priorities in life. So, thank you to all the people who have put up with me over the past few months and allowed me to be a mediocre friend, sister, or daughter and still supported me the entire way. I couldn’t do this sport alone and I appreciate it more than you know.

Big, sweaty, salty finish line hugs to you all!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

(98) Days of Summer

It’s no secret one of my favorite movies is “(500) Days of Summer.” Coincidentally (I promise) my crush on Tom Hansen began shortly after a break up last May and I have been known to watch this movie multiple times a month (okay week) regardless of my super exciting love life (sarcasm). So, I’ll pretty much jump at any chance to make a 500DoS reference. This is a weak attempt, but here I go.This year there are 98 days from Memorial Day until Labor Day and here is a list of goals and things I’m looking forward to this season.

1.   Grow edible plants on my patio – this has been a goal for some time now. About a month ago, I picked up starter kits (the one for carrots and lettuce was geared toward kids ages 8-14) and gave it a go. Currently dill is in the lead and about to be put into a grown-up pot. I’m secretly cheering for cilantro, so I can throw myself a Mexican fiesta! I will update at the end of summer.

2.   Try 2 new recipes a month – preferably with herbs and veggies from number 1. “I’m stalking…I mean I’m starving.”

3.   Make days off true days off – this means don’t try and “make up” any workouts missed or stay out late doing non-triathlon things. It’s meant to be a rest day, so I must rest – feet up, stress free, clear the mind and recharge.

4.   Play tennis and golf - two of my sports in high school were “country club sports” or ones I can play the rest of my life. Sidebar: tiny Mora, MN doesn’t scream “country club” in the slightest. It might scream small town, meth lab, or teen pregnancy, but not country club. (No offense, Mora, I still love you…just happy I don’t live there anymore and like many, clung to sports rather than small town riffraff). Anyway, I need to brush up on my tennis and golf skills before I head to Minnesota for the Knutson Family Reunion in July. It's gonna be awesome.

5. Clean out my closet and bike storage space – I have no need for the grocery bags full of old race shirts or bike tubes. I just need to find a place that will recycle my punctured bike tubes. After some summer cleaning, I’d like to restock my wardrobe with some cute workout clothes from brands like Oiselle.

6. Maintain gallery of photos in the kitchen – we live in a world of Facebook and Instagram, but rarely do we print and share photos. Like I always say, “I only hang out with good looking people,” so I need to make sure I keep the photos up to date. So smile pretty, my friends. You can expect more printed photos this year.

**Yes it annoys me that I can't figure out how to indent 5 and 6 like the others. (shakes fist)

7.   Spend tons of time in Eastern WA – best friend Sydnie has a house (it’s her dad’s) in Orondo, WA. It’s just east of Lake Chelan on the Columbia River. It is the perfect training center for triathletes. Our routine revolves around workouts and eating. Everything else just falls into place.

Riding in Eastern WA

8.   Spectate at least 1 race – Over the years I’ve had so many friends cheering for me on the sidelines. I feel like I do a crappy job at giving back from this angle due to my own racing and training schedule. So this year I’m blocking out July 15th to cheer for my teammates and friends at Lake Stevens 70.3. Double cowbell even.

9.   Do something very Pacific Northwest: I haven’t decided what this is yet. Last year I spent a weekend in the San Juan Islands for my friends’ wedding and went to the Hood Canal for a bachelorette party. I’m thinking of biking up Hurricane Ridge or something else on the Olympic peninsula.

10. Besides all this, I’m loving my summer training rituals: Friday morning lake swims, sweaty runs, long bike rides wearing sunglasses, races, training camps, running relays, easy rides in Seattle after work, and lots of laughs.

I encourage you to make a list of your own. In the end, perhaps your expectations won’t align with reality, but it’s fun to plan and fun to dream. Don’t forget the sunscreen. Happy Summer!