Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mid-Season Blues

I’ve been through this triathlon season cycle enough times to know that there will be times when the highs are really high and the lows can get low. And it seems like there is a period during the season when we all experience some mid-season blues. They aren’t to be confused with the post-season funk, pre-season anxiety, or the injury sulk. Based on the amount of whining (well warranted for some, in my opinion…) on social media, I’m not the only one. Some people get down when they are overwhelmed with training, but I find I struggle the most when I’m just past post-race and a little out of shape. And I noticed this happened in past years, as well. I’ve been a bit grumpy for a while, and I definitely saw it yesterday with certain frustrations.
Frustrations from work, frustrations from family, frustrations from the boyfriend, girlfriends, body aches, frustrations from not having a long, awesome bike ride in over a month, frustrations from a choppy swim that morning and gross lettuce in my Trader Joe’s salad – you name it, I had it! Normal Cathleen would look at this list and realize I have a good job, parents, although not entirely healthy, complete present, a boyfriend I love, wonderful girlfriends, outdoor yoga that evening to give me a good stretch, long rides coming up next month, glassy swims on other days, and snacks to enjoy the rest of the day. But I wasn’t being normal. I was being irrational and sulking in my mid-season blues and pondering my life’s trajectory and hoping for a sign that my life is ticking along at a steady progression instead of waiting for the next best thing or something that will catch me up to others my same age. (Not that I want to be married with kids right now or anything, but ya know sometimes those little rug rats are pretty cute. And I just start to wonder who said it was okay to start having kids now that we’re in our 30s…typical stuff).
I understand that sometimes in sports you need to get a little out of shape to come back stronger. And when your friends have different racing schedules, they are going to have fuller weeks during certain times of the year. There’s no need for workout envy; training goes in cycles. And even though it’s summer and you’re healthy and you feel like you should be living life to the fullest, sometimes the fullest you can muster on a Saturday morning is a lake swim, the Oiselle sample sale, washing your car, and a three hour nap (my last Saturday – for the record, I ran an 8k that night and came in 7th!). My fitness will come back when it’s time to start building again and I can take solace in knowing I’m not digging myself into a training hole with my three hour naps. But this routine, or lack of routine, is so unlike me that it sometimes gets me a little down.
So, I wanted to use this tiny space on the Internet to tell myself (and my handful of readers) that:

Before I turn this post into a Mike Reilly tagline talking about how the one thing I can control is my attitude while "Teenage Wasteland" fades out (Ironman athletes, you know what I'm talking about) I’m packing up the car and heading up to Penticton, British Columbia. My best friend Sydnie and I are crewing for two of our teammates racing Ultraman. I’m determined to get out of this rut and a long weekend away feels like the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Granted, this trip has been planned for weeks, but in a way I feel like I’m adjusting my sails and doing something different. I hope that any of you struggling with some of the season’s lows are able to acknowledge it, figure out what you need to do to resolve it, and sail on.

Loads of Heart,

Thursday, July 25, 2013

2013 Part 2

When it came to ski trips my grandfather had this theory: “You can’t end one without planning the next.” I like to apply the same rule when it comes to races or race vacations. I think this partly explains why I’ve never taken much of a lounge-y vacation. That and the fact that I was single for the better part of my 20s and had a weird thing about vacationing solo. Basically, I’ve never hopped on a plane with a suitcase full of swimsuits, sandals, and tank tops, unless I was also packing swim-bike-run gear too or visiting family. For the most part, I’m totally fine with it; there will come a day when I leave the gear at home (and probably miss it). Packing my s/b/r gear on most vacations has become a web of more and more race vacations, strictly applying my grandfather’s rule above.

Appropriately named Discovery Park in Seattle

Before I packed up my bike in Coeur d’Alene and turned down my spot to Kona, I knew precisely what I’d be racing over the next few months. It goes something like this:

Seafair 8k – this sucker is going to hurt. I realize it will take less time than half of my Ironman swim, but I will push the pace from the first stride and hope there is some speed buried under the long course training I’ve focused on all year. Besides, it's a local race and a chance to see where I stack up with Seattle's speedsters.

Crew Ultraman Canada - I like to refer to my friend John Bergen as my Ironman big brother. He's given me great advice over the years and has been someone I've looked up to as a mentor. His wise words have helped me through many races and seasons and inspired me to be a stronger athlete. When he asked if I'd be interested in being on his crew for Ultraman Canada, I just had to say YES! He won the race in 2011 and I'm excited to be there to support him the first weekend in August. Most of my help will come on the final day, as I expect to pace him for 20+ miles of his double marathon. The race is up on part of the Challenge Penticton (former Ironman Canada) course and I'm also excited for a weekend spent with friends and other athletes giving back to the triathlon community. Besides the Okanagan region in British Columbia is beautiful and there will be some opportunities to check out the course on my own (and decide if its something I'd some day like to do).

Mora 1/2 Marathon - Where it all began - the tiny town of Mora, MN! The birthplace of my running obsession and the birthplace of…me. This run course goes by the hospital where I was born, my dad’s dental office, my church, my elementary school, the pool where I took swimming lessons, the hockey rinks where I learned to skate, my best friend’s house, my parents’ house, the tennis courts where I played countless matches, the Nordic Center and trails where I had XC ski meets, my high school, Main Street, and Mora Park. This was also a good excuse to visit home.
Hood to Coast - the weekend of the year! This race needs no introduction. I've been on the same team since 2009 and it's always challenging and fun. It brings me back to my runner roots and gives me a good ab workout from all the laughs. I'm on a co-ed team with some fast girls and REALLY fast guys (like 2:20 to 2:30s marathon guys). Our team name is Puke & Rally! As you can tell, we don't take ourselves too seriously. At the same time, I always feel this deep sense of team pride and want to run my absolute best.

From left: race tradition heel clicks after leg 3, our 2011 team, Sunday shake out run/hobble on the beach
Black Diamond 1/2 Ironman - a local half Iron that I haven't raced since 2008. It's nice a low-key, yet a chance for me to try and put together a strong race. It will be a good chance to see where my swim and bike fitness is in the middle of the second half of my season. It's also nice that I can sleep in my own bed, pick up my packet that morning (the race starts at 9am), and hopefully convince a few friends to join me.

Austin 70.3 - If all goes well for training, this will be my second half of the season "A" race (sorry Puke & Rally). I've never been to Austin and I've heard some really great things about the city. Plus, the race looks competitive and should be a good time to gauge any improvement at the 70.3 distance.

As you can see, no tropical paradise and no big city fancy marathon. Perhaps I’m foolish for traveling to Mora, MN versus the Kona coast. But I’m excited about this schedule that has some new and old locations. I’m spicing it up a little, so that I can start planning the next one.

Keeping On,

PS - in other news, it's been really funny and also a little frustrating to have a lot of people question what I'm doing the rest of the season. Some direct quotes have included, "so, are you still working out?" and "what are you going to do with your time since you're not racing Kona?" There IS life after Ironman and just because I didn't take my Kona slot does not mean I'm giving up on triathlon or hanging it up for the season. I understand most people are just curious and caring more than anything else. So, I just wanted to get that off my chest. I think my reasons for not racing Kona are really good ones that will improve me both as an athlete and as a person.

Monday, July 8, 2013

IM CdA 2013 Race Report

Coeur d’Alene has been a lot of firsts for me:
2008: first Ironman
2009: first time I made an Ironman podium
2010: first time I won my Age Group and first time I qualified for Kona
2011: first time I qualified for a pro license
2013 (spoiler alert): first time I finished as the top amateur in ANY race
Pre-race tradition: zip from Coach K
I signed up for Ironman Coeur d’Alene after a somewhat disappointing Ironman Wisconsin last fall. It wasn’t for any specific placing; I wanted some redemption at the distance and also wanted to take a crack at earning my way back to the big island. I got my Kona slot, but through the course of training and having the race that I did, I decided not to take it. Still, I gained so much more throughout this “Ironman journey” than I thought I would. I feel like the past six months I’ve regained confidence, fitness, and health that were somewhat lacking at the end of 2012. I feel like a real runner again and I’m fueling better for optimal training. The hard workouts, sacrifices, and challenges overcome taught me lessons in priorities and made me fall in love with this sport all over again, even if it means taking a little break from the full Ironman distance for a while.
I drove over to CdA on Thursday night after work and stayed with my friend Kara, her sister Helen, and her dad Cecil. Friday was a rest day that was spent sleeping in, picking up my race number and transition bags, and also attending the super cheesy (but I like it) athlete banquet (besides, free food with other athletes and friends - it's a no brainer, in my opinion). Saturday morning was spent as a quick swim, bike, and run to test the waters, check out gears, and shake out the legs. Sydnie, Gerry, and Graeme traveled over from Seattle to join the fun and help me with any Sherpa duties. Overall, it was pretty much the same routine I’ve had the past 4 times I’ve done CdA. I like to keep things consistent, even getting as anal retentive as trying to wear the same kit the day before for my swim, bike, run. It gets a little nuts (like wearing the same t-shirt on the travel day), but it puts my mind at ease and makes it feel like something I can control. Saturday afternoon I checked in my gear, did a walk through of transition, and ate an early dinner in downtown CdA with my friends before going to bed.

I tossed and turned Saturday night and woke up Sunday morning not feeling super awesome, but ready to get this $h*t done. That was kind of my motto for the past month. I wasn’t really going crazy about how I’d place, but I wanted to beat the crap out of the distance and leave everything I could out on the course. I choked down my breakfast, sprayed down the SPF, and Sydnie dropped me off near the start. I dropped off my special needs bags, got body marked, and then finished setting up my bike – air in the tires (thank you to the girl from SF who let me borrow her pump), chocolate PowerBars on the top tube, Garmin turned on to Multisport mode. I then made my way to the honey buckets before meeting up with my coach and team. I wasn't feeling that feeling that great and wanted one more stop at the bathroom. Kara told me about the flush toilets at the back of the park with no line. I headed over there and puked up half my breakfast. "Puke & Rally" is the name of my Hood to Coast team, so I figured that's what I had to do.  

Hugs from my friends, final words of advice from my coach, and a kiss from my boyfriend (after rinsing out my mouth), and I was headed to the swim start. I walked down with Kara and we got in a good warm-up. We even had enough space and time to practice a beach start. I saw my friend Derek and chatted with him a bit, noting the nice conditions, as we looked at the American flag draped along the pole. No wind and good temps would make for a quick day! After the National Anthem, the athletes were directed to line up for the swim.
I was skeptical of the new Ironman swim start, but actually very, very impressed with how smoothly things went. The athletes I lined up with seemed to be in the correct start position, as the folks I chatted with were hoping to swim within the same range as me. After the starting gun, there was a steady stream and I would guess it took me about 2 minutes to cross the timing mat and get into the water. I ran a few steps and took a (I’m sure less than graceful) dive and immediately there was open water. It wasn't the cluster I remember from past IM CdA swim starts and the warmer lake temperature this year was equally nice. My swim loops were pretty even in terms of time and I had a good, not great, swim coming out of the water in 1:07:07…chipping away from the old days of being a brand new triathlete. I made a few errors in the water allowing myself to get blocked in and not making a move to swim around people, but overall it was a good swim. But still, lots of work to do in the pool! T1 was quick and I was on my bike 3 minutes and 22 seconds later.
Super graceful on the mount
It was a GORGEOUS day to be on the bike. Coeur d’Alene is a beautiful town and challenging bike courses and awesome landscapes keep me coming back! The plan was the ride steady and strong all day and to keep within a range of power zones. I was also conscious, like always, of getting the proper number of calories, hydration, and salt per hour in order to get off and run strong. I set my Garmin to go off every 15 minutes as a reminder to eat and try to get in around 300 calories/hour. Since I’m not a strong swimmer, I have to rely on my “swim and catch up” race plan and with Ironman it can be 112 miles of trying to make as many passes as I can. If I’m able to do that effectively, it makes for a frigging awesome bike ride. Lap 1 was strong and fast and I passed a lot of people, but it was also really crowded. It didn’t feel like I was making tons of progress in moving up, because there were still so many riders out there. After making my way through town on the second loop and heading out for the last 36 mile out and back, I got a sense of where I was and that I was moving up to the front of the field. And man, I was HAVING FUN! I never felt tapped out or tired, just strong and cautious the entire ride. Looking back, there was one climb towards the end that I wish I would have focused on more and ridden harder, but other than that it was a pretty great ride. I finished the bike in 5:28:44, which I believe was the second fastest amateur bike split of the day.

This ride gets a thumbs up!
At T2 I hopped off my bike, grabbed my bag from a volunteer and did a quick shoe change in the women's change tent as the ladies handed me my visor and strapped my race belt on me. In 1:55 I was out of transition and on the run course. Oh, Ironman run, you humble us all. Even on our strongest days, you take our legs, chew them up, and spit them out to run 13 more miles. I've thought a lot about this year's run, as it was challenging, frustrating, defeating, and ultimately rewarding. But a lot of my feelings are because of what happened with the competition.

As I started the run, there was one girl (#131) who left T2 just a few seconds in front of me. Unlike 2011 when I heard the announcers say I was in second place, this year I was unaware exactly where I was off the bike. After hearing some cheers from the crowd, I quickly learned I was in third. Third off the bike was a good spot. I trusted myself on the run and knew that if I ran MY race, I could put down a very competitive time. I also knew there were some fast girls coming up behind me, like Sarah Graves (from Montana who has done well on the 70.3 circuit and is also a marathon Olympic trials veteran. In a stand alone marathon, she would absolutely crush me.) By mile 6, I passed one girl who looked strong enough, but not super quick (she would end up finishing 4th in my AG and also would end up getting my Kona slot) and I could see #131 was about 45 seconds ahead at the turnaround (mile 6.5).

Lap 1 feeling good- running my pace, feeling strong

By mile 10, I could see #131 and knew it was my chance to take the lead. What crossed my mind was: do I run MY race or do I go for it and take the lead? I freaking went for it. There are a lot of unknowns in life and in my Ironman demented brain, I decided that I'd rather have that experience of running out in front and losing it than never going for it. I thought of my dad watching the results online and how it would make him light up, if I could take the lead. And I thought of my mom's strength and what she has passed on to me. At that point, we were running around 7:40 miles and I really should have been running 7:50s or 7:55s. I just kept thinking that I'd easily drop #131, but I could see her out of the corner of my eye at some of the turns. I kept telling myself, just stay in front through town, you have a lot of fans out there and it will be a big boost to you if she hears your friends cheering for you. I heard them and got a good boost, but unfortunately it wasn't enough to last me through the finish. By mile 16, she passed me back. I put in a couple surges to get ahead, but it wasn't enough. She dropped me easily as I continued my Ironman slog.

Lap 2 pain train - just.hang.on - some excellent run form here...yeah right!
Miles 18 and 19 were especially tough and there were a lot of swear words going back and forth in my brain. I tried not to beat myself up for making a move at mile 10; it was the right thing to do. I think if I had more energy at that point, there would have been tears. My nutrition was right on, but my legs were shot from going out hard. Finally, I hit the turnaround and was headed back to town. The last 6 miles weren't pretty, but I can assure you I was working freaking hard for those 8:30 pace (er...perhaps slower) miles. I held on long enough to not let any other girls pass me. Right before I took my final left turn onto Sherman, I saw Laurie, Sydnie, and Kainoa who all looked proud and happy. I made my turn and headed for the finish line. I tried to soak it in a little, as I was proud of my fight and pleased with my race. As I reached the finish line I put my hands over my heart in memory of the victims from Boston as Mike Reilly called me an Ironman. I finished my run in 3:35:40, which was a bit slower than I had hoped, but still good enough for the 4th fastest amateur run. My total finish time was 10:16:48, which was 46 seconds off my PR from 2011.

Smiling in this photo
Minutes later, after getting my finish line hug and getting help from the generous volunteers (including my friend Courtney who was catching), Sydnie, Gerry, Graeme, Adam, and Jenn were near the finish line to congratulate me. It was great having them there. Eventually I made my way to the athlete recovery area to sit down in a lawn chair while I had some chicken soup and called my dad to give him a short play-by-play. I then ate some pizza and chatted with a few other athletes (like Anabel) before meeting up with my friends.

But wait there's more!

My friends and I were hanging out in the grass waiting to pick up my bike when Sydnie got a text message from Kainoa saying that the results changed and the girl (#131) who finished a few minutes ahead of me was no longer listed. I had moved up from 2nd to 1st. The only possible explanation was a disqualification, but it was all a bit mysterious why she'd run so hard if something had happened on the bike. Or maybe something happened and she didn't know? It was all very confusing and I wasn't even sure of my place until the next day when I saw the official results at the Kona roll down table. I asked what happened and was told #131 was DQ'd, but the person at the table also didn't know why. It wasn't until I emailed Race Information (because I don't ever want to make that same mistake) that I got my answer. They informed me: "that the infractions were multiple drafting violations, earning a red card, but the DQ was for not going to the penalty tent."

Initially I felt really sorry for #131 thinking she had made a mistake unknowingly that cost her the race. But after getting clarification, I just felt frustrated for her lack of sportsmanship that directly affected my race. I realize I have the world's tiniest violin playing for me as I bitch about my Ironman run that resulted in a first place finish. But it DID change my race execution. Had I known that the girl in front of me would eventually get disqualified, I wouldn't have pushed the pace mid-race. I would have put up the blinders and run according to my race plan. I still don't regret making the move that I did, I'm just disappointed that my feelings of defeat as I finished in second place were because of someone's disrespect for the rules and good sportsmanship.

There were good lessons that I learned from day 1 of Ironman training through race day, and there will be fond memories from my first amateur win. After turning down my Kona spot a couple weeks ago, I've had some time to reflect and I still believe it was the right decision. I need some time before I get fired up for my next Ironman and there are things I need to work on to get faster. Thank you to everyone who supported me on race day - in person and from afar. I've been lucky to be matched with some great sponsors: Oiselle, Nuun Hydration, BlueSeventy, and Seattle Performance Medicine who keep me outfitted, hydrated, and healthy. I have a wonderful coach and team who challenge me with workouts and inspire me to keep racing. And I've been blessed with family and friends who support me no matter what, put up with my training, eating, and sleeping schedules, and teach me to never, ever give up. I love you all.
Until the next one,

So happy in this picture! 1st AG and 1st Amateur Female! Dream come true!
2nd place is my friend Julie. She and I have been training together since Lake Stevens 70.3 in 2006
Other random thoughts:
A note to future IM participants: never try to be first in line at packet pick-up. Kara and I went at noon on Friday with no lines. And they told us the people who showed up at 10am (when it opened) had an hour wait.

Puking up half your breakfast isn’t always a bad sign. I felt 10x better after a final stop at the bathroom.
Mad props to the bike course marshals for keeping the riders honest. Although it’s hard to get in a rhythm at mile 80 when you’re paranoid about drafting penalties, it makes for a fair race. And they even gave me a thumbs-up when I made a strong, strategic 4-person pass uphill. It was nice not to see any packs or trains out there on the bike course.
At mile 3 of the run there was a sign that said: “think about the reasons you run.” The first time I passed it, I was all emotional. The second time I passed it (mile 15), I paid zero attention. I couldn’t spare any extra emotion. All my feelings were going into the pain throughout my body.  
Two years ago I had a 57 second T2, but they moved transition around this year and I had to run farther around the basketball hoops. This year I made my way onto the run course in 1:55 (I needed that minute to PR!).

I talked to my mom after the race and told her about the 1st/2nd place confusion. A week later once things got straightened out, she asked me: "so were you like REALLY the first place female for amateurs?" Yes, mom, really I was.

I passed my friend Geoff and his friend around mile 70 on the bike. He later said that he told his friend: "See that girl up there in the orange? That's my friend Cathleen. She's gonna win it, she's killin it today." Thanks for the vote of confidence, Geoff. It was great training with you this year.

One of the ladies who swims Masters in my lane asked me about my race and if I got a Kona spot. I told her I got one, but I didn't take it. Her response was: "so you are normal!" I'm still not quite sure what she meant, but I took it as a compliment.

In 2005 I paced my friend Lori during a marathon and we bought yellow ribbons in support of her friend Andrea who was battling pancreatic cancer. (We also accomplished a lifetime goal of running a race in a sports bra.) On June 10, 2013, Andrea lost her long, courageous fight with cancer. This year on race day, I wore that yellow ribbon from 2005 for Lori and Andrea. I'm quite certain it brought me strength.

I was so happy I packed extra tubes of nuun! Monday morning, I drank 3 water bottles of Lemonade and Cherry Limeade with double tabs, as it was the only thing that sounded good for food or drink.

It's super tempting to sign up for CdA 2014, but I'm going to wait a few months to see how the rest of my summer training goes.