Skip to content

Too Bad I’m Not Running a Marathon This Year

Today’s training plan called for a two hour run. I set off and kind of let my body determine the pace. At this point in my training, I’m amazed at how I can go through hard weeks of training, start with sore leg muscles, and still settle into a faster run pace than I could have held last year. When I’ve trained for marathons in the past, I would normally take an easy day before my long run. My legs might not always be fresh for the long run, but they were a lot fresher than they often are now this year. But that’s the whole point of Ironman training. When I get to that marathon on November 18, I will have just finished 2.4 miles swimming and 112 miles biking, so you bet my legs will be tired and sore. I’d better be able to still run well with sore and tired legs.

When I set off, my legs were definitely tired from recent workouts. Over the first four miles, I averaged around an 8:40 mile pace. As I was starting mile five, someone just a little faster than me passed me. And I kind of ended up speeding up to stay closer. After a mile and a half, the other runner eventually faded away, but I had been running around an 8:20 mile now, and realized I felt really comfortable there.

I ran just over 14 miles in two hours, holding an average of 8:28/mile. My half marathon time (13.1 miles) was 1:51:10. I ran hard, but definitely not all out, and I wasn’t tapered like I would be for a race. I’ve never actually run a half marathon as a standalone race before, so I don’t have a time to compare that to. But my PR marathon was 4:24:57, in 2010 at the San Francisco Marathon. That course is only moderately hilly (it runs around the city, avoiding the worse of the hills, and after mile 13 is almost flat). Even on a flat course I probably couldn’t have done better than 4:15 that year. Based on my training run today, if I was training for a marathon, I would almost certainly break four hours and set a marathon PR! Oh well, maybe next year.

I was glad that before I left for my run, I went to the grocery store and picked up a couple bags of ice. As soon as I got home, I started the tub filling with cold water for an ice bath. Uncomfortable to get into, but my legs felt better later!

37 days till Ironman Arizona!


Long Training Weekends

We’re at the point where every weekend is a long-training weekend. A long run, a long swim, a long bike. Part of me loves it. I really love the feeling of getting out on the lakefront path and running long distance. Running at my Ironman race pace is almost relaxing (that race pace will not be so relaxing, of course, when I’ve already done 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike, and try to hold the pace for 26.2 miles…). And now that we’re out of summer, the path is not as busy, and I can mentally relax. Because of my long history as a cyclist, I especially love getting out for long distance cycling. By now I’m pretty comfortable on my triathlon bike. And I even sometimes love the swimming. I sometimes feel like I suffer through that, more than the other two, but when I get into the right rhythm, I enjoy that too. Sure, getting myself out for those long workouts is tough. When my legs are sore and I want to sleep, going out for a long run is not always appealing. But once I’m out, I feel great, and I’m glad I’m out.

But part of me sort of hates it (okay, hate is probably too strong a word) and is more than ready for the long training weekends to be done. For one thing, the workouts take a lot of time. And there’s lots of other things I could be doing — including sleeping in! But the workouts also take a toll on the body. Last weekend, I did 13 miles run (at race pace) on Friday, missed the one mile open water swim on Saturday, and then did 100 miles bike on Sunday. This weekend, I did 9 miles run (at  faster than race pace) on Friday, one mile open water swim today (brr, that water was like 64 degrees!), and 50-60 miles bike followed by 5k run tomorrow. Before training for the Ironman, I might have done runs or bike rides that long, but they would be my single long workout of the weekend. It’s really tough to balance the demands of training and the demands of resting. Even getting eight hours of sleep, I sometimes feel tired.

Long weekends like this also mean higher chance of injury. I would guess most people training for an Ironman get at least some minor injuries, even if only overused muscles. On my century ride last weekend, I got really lucky to walk away from a spill off my bike around mile 77. I was looking at the pavement for the orange direction arrows they had spray painted on the road, and got caught off guard by a yellow light at the intersection ahead (it was also an odd-angled intersection, so I couldn’t judge quite how far I had to go to the intersection). As I tried to stop quickly, I got off balance. I got my foot off the pedal and that struck the ground first, taking some of my remaining speed, followed by my right hip and right shoulder. Fortunately, I just got minor cuts and bruises on my hip and almost nothing on my shoulder. I did shred the handlebar tape on my bike and dented the helmet so it should be replaced, but it could have been a lot worse for me and the bike.

The ride was otherwise very good. I was doing the North Shore Century, a ride hosted by the Evanston Bike Club that starts in Evanston, goes north to Kenosha, WI, and returns to Evanston. I rode with my teammates for the first 33 miles, but then they broke off to do the 70 mile route and I continued on for the century (I got sick on our last century, so I was going longer than the rest of my team). I did stop at all the rest stops, but kept them to very short stops. No long, leisurely stops. And my pace felt great. Even after the spill, I held my pace. My strongest bit of riding was actually over the last seven miles. Another guy started drafting off of me (when someone rides very close behind you, to use you as a windbreak and make it easier for themselves). I was irritated at first, even though this wasn’t a race, so there was no official rule against drafting (drafting is allowed in professional cycling races, but not allowed in most triathlons). Who was this guy to draft off of me? I pushed my pace harder. But he stuck to my wheel. But after a mile, I used it to push myself. I even looked over my shoulder and was glad to see him still behind me when I pushed through a yellow light at one point. Most of my day, my average pace was around 18 mph. But over that stretch, I was riding around 21 mph. Exhilarating.

By now I often find myself thinking not “how long until Ironman Arizona?” But “how long until we start to taper?” Once we start to taper, those long weekends go way down. I’ll have more time to do other stuff, to feel like I can reclaim some of my life. And to let my body get fully rested. So that I’m ready for that very long weekend in Arizona.

50 days till Ironman Arizona!

This is What it Takes to Become an Ironman

Those were the words going through my head yesterday evening as we started our run at the same time that the skies opened up and rain poured down on us. I woke up yesterday still moderately sore from the Lake Geneva Triathlon on Saturday. Yes, I could workout. But another rest day would have been so nice.

At noon, I went in to the gym for a crossfit workout. It was short, but a doozie. The WOD, for time, was: 10 Hang Power Cleans (HPC), 2 Back Squats (BS), 8 HPC, 4 BS, 6 HPC, 6 BS, 4 HPC, 8 BS, 2 HPC, 10 BS, for a total of 30 Hang Power Cleans and 30 Back Squats. This was all done with a single bar at 85% of our 1 rep max power clean. (Hang power cleans involve taking the bar from just above the knees to resting on the shoulders, but use mostly legs, hips, and core muscles to get the weight up, not arms.) To transition from the cleans to the back squats, we had to push press the bar up over our head and bring it back down to rest on the back of our shoulders. For me, I did this at 125 pounds. I struggled with the cleans, but I pushed and got through them. I started out doing 3 or 4 at a time and having to put the bar down. By the end I could do 1 or 2 and have to put the bar down. But at least I could get through all my back squats in single sets (if I had to put the bar down on the back squats, I would have to first get it back up to the front of my shoulders, and then push it back over my head, a much bigger deal). I finished in about 9:30, exhausted. I knew my legs were going to hurt later in the day for our run workout.

At 5:30, I left home for our run. The weather report called for thunderstorms over the next several hours, and I could already see the storm clouds forming. The clouds just got more ominous as I biked the couple miles to Montrose Park, where we were doing hill sprints on one of the few hills around (this was a very short hill, the kind I would stand up and sprint over on my bike). It was still dry as I locked up my bike and walked to the top of the hill, but by the time our group was assembled and ready to workout, the rain started. And it quickly went from dry to pouring down pretty hard. We ran around the park (about .6 miles), then sprinted up the hill, jogged down, sprinted back up, then back around the park, for five total laps. Then we did 5 or 6 times just sprinting up the hill. And finally, soaking wet and exhausted, we did three sets of one-minute squat holds (at least we were standing under a tree at this point, partially protected from the rain). By now, I could really feel the crossfit workout in my legs. I always struggle with squat holds. But this time was particularly hard. My legs felt fatigued and ready to give out as soon as I started.

I’ve done two-a-day workouts before training for the Ironman, but not quite as often. And I’ll admit, in the past I would have been more likely to skip my second workout if I was already tired and it was going to rain hard. But I knew I had to workout. We’re two months from the Ironman, time to really push the training. This is where it really counts. And this is what it takes. No excuses, no missing workouts. Honestly, once I’m started in any workout, it’s not that bad. Even when it’s pouring rain and I’m exhausted. It’s just the push to get myself out the door that’s hard. That’s when I ask myself “remind me why I’m doing this…” I can’t wait to hear those words late in the day on November 18, “You are an Ironman.”

61 Days Till Ironman Arizona.

Lake Geneva Race Report

Yesterday’s race day started with probably my earliest wake up call ever for a race (for a former collegiate rower, that’s saying a lot — although I guess that depends how you count my marathon that started at midnight). I had to get up at 2:30 AM! That was the tradeoff for sleeping at home and not paying for a hotel. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, is about 80 miles from Chicago. Fortunately, the race had organized a packet pickup in Chicago on the Thursday before the race, a god-send for all of those athletes in Chicago who were doing the race and wanted to just make a long day-trip of it. After packing my bike into the car, I was pulling out on the road by 3:30. Google maps said the trip could take 2 hours, but fortunately I could make good time on the highways at that hour. I pulled into the race parking lot just after 5. Plenty of time to get my transition area setup by the time transition closed at 6:00.

It was really cold when I got there, probably just below 50 degrees. At least it was supposed to warm up later. The bike racks in transition were pretty cool. Instead of the classic bars to hang the bike by the seat from, they had individual racks that held each bike by the tire, with everyone’s spot specifically marked. Not only no fighting for a space, but no fighting other athletes who might try to take more room than they should! As I was slowly setting my stuff up, I overheard another athlete asking a friend if he had body glide. His friend didn’t, but I offered to let him use mine. Maybe that will get me good race karma? Around 5:45, I finally had my gear set and finally shed off my sweats to face the cold air. Normally I wait to pull on my wetsuit until right before the race, since you can quickly overheat in a wetsuit on land. Today I pulled it on immediately after my quick bathroom pit-stop. I needed the warmth! They were distributing time chips on race morning, so I had to wait in a long line for that. (What a log-jam, I don’t know why they didn’t just distribute those along with our packets, like most races do!)

And then we all got to stand around on the beach and wait for the fog to clear over the water. We watched the sun rise and all shuffled around trying to keep warm. The announcer kept telling us they expected to be able to get started soon. They wanted to make sure the lifeguards could see us in the water. At least the delay meant it would be a little warmer by the time we got out of the water. After what seemed like forever, but was really closer to 40 minutes, they finally announced that we were going to be able to start. The fog had cleared enough to go. I reminded myself that my goal was consistency on the swim and then to push as hard as I could on the bike and run. I had been sick most of the week (see my last post about that). I felt healthy now, but wasn’t sure how I was going to do.

The water felt nice and warm after standing around in cold air for so long. What a relief. And then we were off. I settled into a nice rhythm, but my goggles kept filling with water. I had to keep stopping to empty them. A couple times I tried adjusting them. I’ve had goggle problems off and on, so I’ll need to play with them some more to try to resolve that before the Ironman! Except for the goggle issues, my pace felt decent. I was able to keep pace with several other athletes swimming around me, which was nice (of course, I specifically started at the back of the pack, so I was keeping pace with the slower swimmers, but that’s fine). I didn’t feel like I was tiring at all towards the end. I did have a couple sighting issues, but overall did okay with that. I finished the swim in 44:13. Not quite as fast as I hoped, but that pace would put me finishing the Ironman swim in 1:54:00, 26 minutes to spare on the cutoff. I might be one of the slower swimmers out there, but considering I couldn’t swim further than 25 yards non-stop in January, I’ve made tons of progress!

My first transition was really slow (6:01). I still need to work on that a lot. I put a honey stinger gel in my tri jersey to consume as I exit the water, but I forgot about that until I was back in transition, so that took some extra time. Then I struggled with my wetsuit. And then I struggled to pull arm warmers up my wet arms (at least I hope I won’t have that issue in Arizona, where it should be warm enough to not need those!). I also can do better at streamlining my process of pulling on socks, shoes, garmin, sunglasses, and gloves. Considering the cold threw my transition process off a bit, I guess my transition time wasn’t that bad. And I haven’t emphasized transition time in my training as much because I’m training for a longer race where it’s less important.

I felt really good on the bike. About 1/2 mile out of transition was a long uphill (by long I mean maybe 1/3-1/2 mile, so not really that long) where I pushed past many other athletes. Then the course settled into a pattern of rolling hills. Enough hills to not be a fast course, but none so bad to seriously impede cycling. The “olympic / intermediate” distance that I was doing had a 28 mile bike instead of the actual olympic distance of about 25 miles. I felt more comfortable staying in aero for most of this race. And on the uphills, I pushed hard, around 85-90% effort. I always felt like I had power left to push when uphills came, so I was pacing well. My nutrition plan also seemed to work well. I had half a clif bar at 20 minutes, the other half at 50 minutes, and a honey stinger energy gel at 80 minutes, near the end of the bike. A lot of the course was on beautiful back country roads, and save for the occasional athlete that rode in the way of traffic, it was a very good race.

Towards the last third of the bike course, the intermediate course met back up with the sprint course, but now all the sprint distance athletes were out on the course as well. So there was more bike traffic, more people cycling much slower, and more traffic, but for the most part people made room for faster cyclists. I miscalculated the distance to the end of the bike and was surprised when it came up about half a mile sooner than I expected. I let myself slow down quickly as I glided towards the finish and unstrapped my feet from my bike shoes, pulling my feet out of my shoes. I thought I had my feet securely on top of my shoes, but as I started to pedal the last bit to the finish, one of my shoes knocked the ground hard and nearly knocked me off my bike. Fortunately the shoe stuck on the cleat, so I didn’t need to stop to grab a shoe! At the dismount line, I hopped off my bike, leaving my shoes attached to the pedals, and ran back to my rack space. I finished the bike in 1:27:49, with an average speed around 19 mph. Slightly slower than my average speed in the Chicago Triathlon a few weeks ago, but on a much more challenging course. I’ll take it. My second transition time was also a lot better at 2:37. Still over a minute slower than the top athletes, but part of that is because I put patella braces on for my run, which takes some extra time.

First thing after leaving transition on the run, I stopped at the line of port-a-pottys. I had been needing that for the last several miles of the bike and there was no way I would make it through the run without! Once back running, the course almost immediately started up hill. There were several challenging hills on the run. I just kept reminding myself: hips forward, core firm, shoulders relaxed, cadence up. My slowest half mile was at a 9:55 mile pace, but most of the run I was going a lot faster. My average, including the time to stop for the toilet, was an 8:37 mile pace. I was just 20 seconds slower than in the Chicago triathlon, but on a much more challenging run course!

The run was an out and back course, which meant I passed my teammates as I headed out and they headed towards the finish line. I felt really strong and consistent on the first half, so as I turned around I knew I should have a good run back. It was mostly uphill out, which meant no more climbing. Of course, running downhill is pretty hard on the legs. All the volunteers kept saying “it’s all downhill from here” and I wanted to scream at them “downhill is not always easier!” Actually, at least half the course was flat, and another good chunk was on mild hills, so it was a challenging course, but it wasn’t all hill.

Thankfully it had warmed up during the race to the mid 70s. I was a little warm at the very end of the bike, and comfortable without the arm warmers by the run. Relaxing post-race is much better when it’s warm and sunny out! I grabbed some energy bar samples to snack on while we waited for the last team member to finish, then everyone on my team packed up our stuff and headed back to the cars. We tried driving into Lake Geneva to get a team meal, but traffic was insane and there was no way we were going to all find parking. But we found a grill just outside town where we could at least get some bar food and all relax and talk about the race. And then eventually it was back on the road to head home. The drive took probably 45 minutes longer on the way home when I had to face actual traffic! By the time I got home around 4:45, I was exhausted but happy after a good day.

Overall, I’m very happy with my race, especially considering I was sick earlier in the week and just back to working out. But some lessons learned from this race. I need to work out my goggle issues most importantly. I got through the swim okay, but that took too much time. I also need to remember to think about length and consistency when I’m swimming. My swim speed feels pretty good when I think abou that. If I just think about speed, I get rushed and choppy, and off balance, and end up slow and just spending energy. I also need to spend more time visualizing my transitions and actually practicing them. As I’ve noted before, I’m not terribly concerned with this. For the Ironman, taking a little more time to pull on all the appropriate gear makes sense for a non-elite athlete like me. Still, I can streamline it a little more. I also felt really good on this run, I think partially because I was really focusing on my form. I need to keep that mental focus there, because I know good form makes me faster with less energy spent. And my nutrition plan worked well, but I need to think about what exactly I’m doing for the Ironman.

63 days till Ironman Arizona!

Big Shoulders 5k Race Report, and Training Stupid

Last weekend was the Big Shoulders 5k Swim (3.1 miles). For me, this event was almost as intimidating as the Ironman itself. Really, in some senses, this event was even more terrifying than the Ironman itself. Big Shoulders entailed swimming two 2.5 k laps in Lake Michigan. At least I was familiar with the water. The race was at Ohio Street Beach (in Chicago), where I do all of my open water swim training. Normally I swim a half mile stretch parallel to shore (see aerial photo to right, I swim the stretch closest to the foreground). One leg of the Big Shoulders course paralelled this course I normally swim. But normally I’m 10-20 feet from shore. For Big Shoulders we were maybe 50-80 feet off shore. At least this actually put us out of the worse of the waves.

My swimming has been improving consistently, so leading up to this race I was excited and nervous. I knew that this race would be the best test of my race pacing: am I on track to be able to swim the 2.4 miles for Ironman Arizona within the 2 hour 20 minute cutoff? I really don’t care what my swim time for Arizona, as long as it is in that cutoff. But in the week before Big Shoulders, we got some thunderstorms. The day before the race, the forecast called for all the thunderstorms to clear and for race day to be sunny and air temperatures actually a bit cold (low 60s). Good news, except that the forecast also included a 15 mph wind, and potential for 2 foot waves in the lake. The night before the race, Paul (who was also swimming it with me) asked if I thought they would call the race off. I said no, I don’t think so. And much as I would be relieved if they did, I really didn’t want them to. I needed to push myself to go through with this.

Race morning we biked down to the beach by 6:30 AM. As promised, it was sunny and cold. I was wearing a sweatshirt for the first time in months. We checked in and got our swim caps and gear. Like most other people there for the race, we stood around on the beach, delaying shedding our final layers because of the cold. The water was around 75 degrees, so the water would actually be warmer than the air! This was definitely a swimmer’s race. The non-wetsuit division was much larger than the wetsuit division. I could barely imagine doing that distance in perfectly calm water without a wetsuit. Forget even trying that distance in water like that without a wetsuit! I would guess that most of the people in the wetsuit division were triathletes like me, using this race for training.

After a very brief course talk where they gave us some helpful landmarks to use as sight guides, we were ready to race. I was in the first of 5 or 6 heats (after the elites of course). As we started, I realized one definite advantage to being one of the slowest people is it makes sighting easier. I could just look at all the swimmers ahead of me and not need to try to see the orange buoy in the distance. That first leg, headed North East (see map at left) was the most difficult for sighting. For the other two legs we were swimming towards large buildings on shore that worked well to sight. For that first leg, there was open water beyond the buoys, so no good markers. The buoy was a huge 8 foot triangle, but when that triangle is almost a half mile away and you’re in choppy water, that buoy can be difficult to see. I struggled a lot with my goggles over the first 15 minutes, as they kept filling with water. But eventually I got them readjusted right. And I felt like I was holding a decent pace for myself. I knew most people were passing me, but that was okay. The second leg was the longest: the wind was coming from the northwest, and we were swimming right into it. That leg seemed to stretch on forever. But I kept up a consistent pace, never stopping to rest, and getting ever more comfortable with my ability to sight and keep my swimming rhythm. The final leg benefited from waves and wind pushing us back towards shore. Sighting and breathing was still not easy, but at least it made for a faster swim!

Of course, by the time I was getting towards the end of the first lap, most people at that part of the course were finishing their swim. Almost everyone else had already started their second laps. As I rounded the triangle buoy to start my second lap, I was confronted by an open expanse of water. I saw occasional swimmers, but they were few and far between. I was much more on my own than I was the first lap. I wondered if I should just cut it short and do the 2.5k course. But I pushed on. I knew this was my one and only chance to prove that I could swim the Ironman distance, I needed that practice. I also had a headache starting. I’ve swam in much worse waves, these were more like very strong swells than actual waves. But they were bad enough to throw me around, and bad enough I was taking a lot of water up my nose. As I continued on that first leg of my second lap, I could feel my pace slowing a bit. My arms were tired. And I saw other swimmers less frequently. I was so relieved to turn the corner and start the second leg. But that second leg stretched on forever. It seemed to take twice as long as the first time I did it. And I also began to feel like the life guards were following me in, like I had a personal escort. I knew I had to be close to the last one in the water. Oh well, I would just keep going. Turning that last corner to start the final leg was a huge relief. Almost there. And then I was finally close enough to shore to read the banner that said “Finish.” And I kept swimming. And finally I could touch the ground. As I staggered to shore, disoriented and dizzy, I could hear the crowd cheering. I was done!

I finished in 2:45:43. I wasn’t quite last, but close to it (in a field of triathletes I would also be at the slow end of the field, but not skewed quite so bad to the end). But I did it! And if I hold that pace over the Ironman distance, I will finish in about 2 hours 10 minutes. Yes! And of course, I know my pace was slowing substantially over the last lap of my swim, so my average pace should be better for the Ironman. Probably more important, in Arizona I won’t face the same waves and chop in the water. That was what I really struggled with. My head was rolling for hours after I got home. But I just kept smiling all day. I had proved I could do the Ironman swim in the time needed. And now I’ve done the distance required in all three disciplines on their own.

On Sunday, the morning after my 5k swim, my team was doing a century bike ride (the Harmon Hundred in Wisconsin). I had to get up before 5 AM. We had to start riding by 8 am, but had an hour and a half drive there, plus registration time. I had a bit of nausea when I woke up, but I just thought it was from rolling in the rough water on Saturday. I pushed it aside in my mind. I had a ride to do. I assumed the nausea would dissipate as I went through my day. And indeed, on the drive up to Wisconsin, it wasn’t too bad. I was vaguely aware of it, but no real problem. So I didn’t say anything as we got our bikes ready in the parking lot. I told myself I had pushed through worse, I could do this.

The weather was about perfect. Sunny and low 60s. Just cool enough that I wanted my arm warmers on, but so comfortable. Over the first 15 miles I was doing pretty well. My stomach grumbled at me a little, but it seemed like it was just going to stay mild discomfort. I got split off from my group when we were all trying to cross a stop light. No big deal, we would meet back up at the first rest stop. Too bad I missed a marked turn (many riders missed this turn) and rode an extra couple miles. I was in a large group of cyclists that all kind of realized at the same time we must be off route. We all eventually figured out our way back to the route. Unfortunately, around this time the nausea was getting worse. Still not bad enough to impact my riding, but bad enough to make me more uncomfortable. I rolled into the rest stop after the rest of my team had been there for a bit. They asked what happened and laughed when I said I added extra miles.

At the rest station, I mentioned my growing nausea. I forced myself to eat half a banana and half a small bagel because I knew I needed some calories, but food was not that appetizing. My teammates reminded me to keep drinking water. My teammates asked if I should just stop. I said I thought I could push through, but I would pay attention to it. Five miles past the reststop, my coach stopped our group and again checked in with me to see how I was doing. I could still turn around and just head back to the rest stop. I told her I was uncomfortable, but wanted to push on. I was very tempted to stop, but I convinced myself that that was just the voice of convenience telling me to stop. I can be tempted to stop even if I’m fully healthy. If I could push to 75 miles, I would make it back to the car without needing sag support. I knew I probably wasn’t going to make the full 100 planned. So we pushed on. But within minutes, my stomach clamped up, the nausea got much worse. I wished I had said I was going to turn around. My teammates disappeared into the distance (we had agreed we would meet up again at rest stops). For several miles I could see them ahead of me, but eventually they were gone. My pace had slowed substantially as I struggled on. I knew we were on a 25 mile loop that would take us back to the first rest stop. As I pushed on, I started telling myself “one more mile, one more mile.”

By the time I rolled back into the rest stop, I felt miserable. I knew I had cycled much further than I should have for how I felt. I knew I wasn’t getting any benefit from this. I was just making myself miserable. I found my teammates almost immediately. My coach asked how I felt and I just mumbled “miserable.” Before she could suggest I should quit there, I said I was done and would get sag support to take me back to the car. She readily agreed that was best. I just sat for a good 30 minutes, letting my stomach settle at least a little. But eventually got a ride back the 25 miles to the car. I wasn’t looking forward to driving myself back to Chicago with how I felt, but at least I was glad I had driven myself this time: I didn’t have to wait for my teammates to finish the ride!

When I finally got home, exhausted, I found that I also had a 101.9 fever. I don’t know if I had the fever in the morning, but I’m guessing by the time I finished on the bike, I must have had the fever. That explains why I was so miserable. I spent the next two and a half days mostly on the couch, resting, recovering, and eating food I normally don’t eat or limit: ginger ale, bread, rice, clif bars (it might not be good for me, but it’s a lot easier on the stomach!). In retrospect, I really should have called in sick that morning and not started the ride at all. Trying to push through that was not doing anything for me. It was just making me miserable. At least I expect to be healthy again for my olympic distance triathlon this weekend!

67 days till Ironman Arizona!

Training Update, Cycling in Denver

I’m racing the Chicago Triathlon tomorrow, but based on my training schedule this week you wouldn’t know it. This is the first time in recent memory that I’m not tapering at all leading up to a race. It will be interesting to see how it goes; I’m excited actually. I think the last time I did a race without tapering was leading up to early season races for crew in undergrad, when we couldn’t afford the time off from training. On Wednesday this week, I did a hard crossfit workout followed later in the day by long hard intervals on the bike (on the trainer). My legs felt like cinder blocks. Thursday I did an hour run, holding a faster pace than I could have on fresh legs at the beginning of our training. Yesterday, I biked and swam. And today I did another Crossfit workout. I would like to beat my time from the last time I did the Chicago Triathlon, back in 2008, but I should be able to do that even very tired. I’m a much better swimmer now, better at my transitions, and a much stronger runner. But really I have three primary goals tomorrow, and a personal record is not one of them: (1) have fun with Paul, the friend who first got me into triathlons and marathons, and is doing this race with me; (2) get in good open water swim practice in actual race day conditions, and see how my swim times are looking; and (3) work on my mental approach to race-day and transitions. Even if I physically will not be at peak performance, I can push as hard as I am able to tomorrow, and that requires the same mental discipline as if I was fully rested.

Late last week into Monday of this week, I was in Denver for a conference. While there, I skipped out on my conference for a day to go for a long bike ride in the mountains. And I really want to blog about that bike ride. It was amazing, and made me really wish I could spend more time in Denver, training, visiting, exploring, and maybe just living. I got to Denver on a Wednesday and specifically waited until Saturday for my long ride, so that I had some time to acclimate to the altitude. I also went for a run and a swim in the days before my bike ride. Saturday morning I had to present at the conference first thing, but as soon as I was done, raced back to my hotel room and then on to the bike shop. I was set with my rental bike by 11:30 and had until 7 pm to return the bike. The bike shop employee recommended a couple routes (I have learned that it’s much easier to find good routes by asking at the local bike shop than by searching online), I took a map, and off I went (here’s a link to where I mapped my route from my gps data). The first 20 miles were fairly easy, heading west out of the city and towards the mountains. Some very mild climbing, but not much.

At first I did not see many other cyclists. Lots of people on bikes, getting around, riding casually. And I must say, Denver drivers definitely seem to respect bikes! Yay! But not other serious cyclists. But as I got further from the city, I saw more and more serious cyclists. At mile 20, I rolled past the Coors plant and into Golden, Colorado. By now I was seeing lots of other cyclists. The bike shop employee gave me specific directions to Golden, but then only some ideas from there. And the map only went as far as Golden. But I knew Lookout Mountain was supposed to be nearby, and I had heard good things about that route. I could see the Rockies rising straight ahead, out of town, so I knew I was at the foot of some climbing. I asked some cyclists stopped at a traffic light about Lookout Mountain. One of them said it was “epic” and gave me directions. After a quick stop for a water refill at a gas station, I was on my way. A quarter mile later I was starting up the mountain. The next six miles was a consistent grade, around 5%, climbing almost 1700 feet. From there, it leveled out a little to a 2-3% grade for another few miles, climbing over 2000 feet total. As I wound back and forth up the mountain, I had incredible views of the valley below, all the way to Denver. I saw mountains and forest all around. And above, at the top of the peak, I saw hang gliders perched in mid-air.

I was pleasantly surprised that I could hold a strong consistent pace, despite the altitude. I was going 8-10 mph up the mountain, never stopping until I was at the top. And I felt like I could just keep going. I was tempted to stop at the turnouts, to just stare at the valley below, to enjoy the incredible views. But I wanted to see if I could push all the way up more. At the top, I was 25 miles into my trip. I wanted to go 60-80, so I had to decide what next. I chatted with another local cyclist who was impressed that someone from Chicago was (a) riding while on vacation and (b) riding up the mountains despite coming from flat land. She suggested I keep following Lookout Mountain road on, which would eventually lead to the freeway, where cyclists were allowed, and if I followed it far enough all the way to the continental divide. (I’ve cycled up to the continental divide once before, and would love to do it again, but that will have to wait for another trip.) So on I trekked. Lookout Mountain Road continued up and down, through mountain and forest, past small shops that looked like they would be great places to stop if I was in tourist mode.

At I-70, I paused at the on-ramp, pretty sure I could enter but wanting some confirmation. I chatted with a motorist who was pulled over with mechanical problems. She confirmed that, yes, I could go on the freeway there. And yes, if I followed it 20-30 miles, it would reach the Continental Divide at some 11,000+ feet altitude. As I got ready to leave, she said “I think you’re all crazy, I admire you, but I think you’re crazy.” I just laughed and agreed, yes, we are crazy. Then around mile 32 on my day, I had to get off the freeway. And the side road went sharply down while the freeway continued up. Oops. Oh well, the side road was through a breathtaking stretch of forest and mountain, and the road was almost desserted so I could enjoy it all to myself. Amazing! Inspiring! This was why I was out there. I dropped three miles, to 35 on the day, and decided I’d better turn around. This would put me at 70 total. Enough, right? The descent must not have been as steep as I thought, because I pushed back up the climb pretty handily.

The ride back down Lookout Mountain was one of the best parts of the day (and probably why that other cyclist described the mountain as epic). There were cutbacks on this descent, but not as many and not as sharp as on my descents in California. And the descent averaged around 5% grade, never above 10%, unlike the much steeper descents I had in California. Translation, I still had to use my brakes, but I was not riding them the whole time. I could get some good speed and really enjoy the descent. I did stop at a couple turnouts on my way down to enjoy the view. I had earned it.

I got back to Golden a bit earlier than I expected, and knew I only had 20 miles left to the bike shop. I guess when I turned around I could have calculated in how much quicker the ride back would be. I stopped at the gas station first to refill my almost empty water and get another clif bar. Then I tacked on a couple miles up another side road, that would have eventually led me to Boulder, CO. Finally, I decided to head back to Denver. I said goodbye to Golden and to the mountains. I enjoyed my stay and would love to return some day. It was a good thing I didn’t push my time. I got a flat on my way back, which cost me some time (at least I’m getting better at changing those). And then when I got into downtown Denver, I got all turned around a couple times. I got into downtown around 6:10, but by the time I figured out my way to the bike shop, it was 6:50. Barely made it before they closed! Whew! I was exhausted, my clothes, face, and arms streaked in salt (oddly enough, I never felt dehydrated even though my water intake was the same or even slightly lower than in Chicago), but I felt amazing. I bought two clif builder bars so I’d have something to munch on before dinner and called a cab. I’m sure I was a sight to see when I walked into the hotel lobby: wearing bike shoes, shorts, and tri jersey, clothes dirty with chain grease, sweat, and road debris, and obviously tired. But all well worth it. Overall, I rode 75 miles, 5700 feet of climbing, about 5:20:00 on the bike (7 hours real time).

After that ride I can see why people enjoy altitude training. Yes, I’m sure the altitude helped expand my cardio workout. But it was also just an amazing place to train.

85 days till Ironman Arizona.

Dealing with the Unexpected

As triathletes, we sometimes like to think of our training and racing schedules as inviolate. We will do these workouts. We will finish these races. What could be more important than a major race? Why would we skip a race after spending months in training? But sometimes life happens, and we will miss a race. It’s frustrating, it sucks. But when it happens, we need to be able to deal with it and move on. I guess you could say this blog post is part of my process of dealing with it and moving on.

I was supposed to race in the Dairyland Udder Half Ironman distance triathlon this past weekend. It was one of three long-distance triathlons I’m doing this year (the Racine Half Ironman and Ironman Arizona are the other two). It was probably the least important of the three, but it was still a really big deal, both as a race unto itself and as a part of my preparation for Arizona. It was one of only two chances I would have to really test myself on a long-distance race before Arizona. I mean, sure, I’ll do really long training bike rides and runs, but there’s just something different about a race mentality. And shorter triathlons don’t include the same elements of pacing and nutrition. I registered for this race months ago. My team’s training plan was built to include the race as a key building block. And after the Racine Half Ironman, I knew I could do the distance, but I also knew there were some key pacing strategies I could work on. This was going to be my second chance to tweak my race approach. I was excited. I was ready. I was going to love this race.

And then the Monday before the race, my husband’s grandma passed away. I had been introduced to her before, but I barely knew her. I wanted to think that I might still be able to do my race and support my husband. But I knew when it came down to it, that supporting my husband and his family was more important than my race. The first thing I told him was I’ll cancel my race if you want me there. Even as we began making plans to fly to San Diego, the inevitable questions came up in my mind — “Can I do my race and still make it out to San Diego? Can I fit in both?” But the wake was going to be Friday and Saturday, and the funeral Monday. My race was on Saturday. No, I could not do both.

Even though I knew I wanted to go to San Diego, to support my husband, to be there for his family, I couldn’t help that feeling of frustration, of it’s not fair. I felt almost guilty, but it was there. Yes, I was frustrated that I was going to miss this race. Life sucks sometimes. As we packed our bags late Thursday night, I at least put my running shoes and clothes in my bag to see if I could get in a couple workouts while in San Diego.

Fortunately, all of my frustration disappeared as soon as we were in San Diego. We were on the same flight as Jeremy’s brother, and Jeremy’s mom met us all at the airport. The services were all beautiful and touching, and it was clear this was where I needed to be. I knew many of Jeremy’s aunts, uncles, and cousins who were there, and they were all very glad to see me there. And, most importantly, I knew it was very important to Jeremy that I was there. I knew how much it meant to him. Jeremy’s brother and mom both recognized the sacrifice I made, skipping a big race, and were very thankful for my presence. Even though I didn’t really know Jeremy’s grandma, I felt included in the family.

At least I was able to get in a few workouts. There was a hill right behind our hotel, and on Saturday I did hill sprints on it (6 x sprint .21 miles up at 4.5% grade, easy jog down). Sunday I went to Balboa Park (a big park in downtown San Diego) with the family and did a 6 mile run there while everyone hung out at a Filipino cultural festival. And Sunday I did more hill sprints (this time 8 x .13 miles up at 7.5% grade, easy jog down, followed by squat holds). Not the same as if I did my triathlon, but something. I also brought my swimsuit and goggles, but the hotel pool was small and always had kids in it. Sunday night we joined a bunch of Jeremy’s cousins for a big bonfire on Fiesta Island in San Diego bay — I told Jeremy if we lived in San Diego, I would be rowing in the channel right by Fiesta Island and cycle on Fiesta Island for training. I was also reminded of how much Filipino sweets are a weakness for me. I don’t have a huge sweet tooth, so normally I have no problem skipping dessert. American desserts are overpoweringly sweet to me. But Filipino sweets are more fruit and rice based, a little sweet but nothing like American ones. And I like them a lot more!

As we headed back home to Chicago, some of my frustration and anger returned. Not at Jeremy. I’m glad I could be there to support him. I’m glad I could be a part of the family. I’m grateful that the family wanted me there. I count my blessings that they value our relationship enough that it was important to them that I was there. Just lingering frustration at missing my race. And I guess I need to remind myself that it’s okay for me to feel frustrated and upset. I don’t need to feel guilty about that frustration, as if somehow my frustration should go away just because skipping my race was the right thing to do. I mean, really, if I wasn’t at least a little frustrated and upset, I would have to question why I was training so hard. I spent months preparing for that race. And sure, maybe I wasn’t training only for that race. But that race was a big deal. Lost registration fee aside (though that also sucks), I had physically spent months training for the race and I was emotionally heavily invested in it.

Since being back in Chicago, the frustration is fading. I remember how touching the wake and funeral was; I forget about the race I missed. I focus on why I went to San Diego, and how meaningful it was to be there, instead of thinking about what I could have done if I stayed for my race. Not a time for the “what ifs.” I know I wanted to go to San Diego. I’m glad I did. And that’s that. I’m back to my normal training plan. Missing that race seems like a big deal right now, but in the scheme of things, I know it’s not really going to have a huge impact on my ability to finish Ironman Arizona. We’re still months away from the race. I still have a lot of time to build endurance. I’ll be ready.

99 Days till Ironman Arizona! (oooh, just realized that puts us just under 100 days…)

Stretching… And Other Good Habits

Before getting into this post, I want to share a story from my run yesterday morning. I had an hour run on the training schedule, and the night before laid out my run gear and checked the weather report. Partially cloudy and relatively mild temperatures. Great. I got up, used the restroom, had my gu and water, pulled on my run gear, and glanced out the window before going. Heavy clouds and wet ground. I briefly checked the weather report again. Isolated thunderstorms, but mostly passed, with the chance of storms going down quickly over the next 30 minutes. Okay, I figured I should be okay. Three minutes into my run and the clouds opened up and sheets of rain started coming down. Great. At first I stood under an awning for a couple minutes. Maybe it would stop. It lightened up a little to a moderate but steady rain, but showed no signs of stopping. So I took a deep breath and continued with my run.

And actually, within a minute, I was grinning and loving it. It can be liberating to be out running in the rain like that. It’s just this feeling of being connected to the world, of not trying to shelter myself in my cocoon. I often find myself more aware of my senses when I’m working out in the rain. I feel the rain, the wind, the air on my skin. I pay attention to the sounds and smells around me more. I don’t retreat into my music quite as much. I look at the cars on Lake Shore Drive, and I smile to myself. I know most of those drivers are thinking “that crazy runner got caught in the rain.” But honestly, I’d rather be out on that path running than stuck in my car driving. And when the sun came out later in my run, I enjoyed it that much more (too bad there was no rainbow, I looked for one).

So on to the point of this post. Stretching. It’s one of those good habits that we all know we should do if we workout a lot, but few of us actually take the time for. Stretching plays an important role in recovery. It becomes more important as my training load increases. But it’s easy to short-change. It’s easy to think “I have an hour to workout,” and then spend that full hour working out, and at the end think “I would stretch if I had time, but I’m out of time now.” I’ve definitely fallen into this trap myself. Back when I worked out a “big-box gym,” I constantly did this. I thought I should stretch, and then took all my workout time working out. And had no time left to stretch.

With how much time I spend training for the Ironman it would be really easy to fall into this. Yesterday, I got home from my hour run and wanted to get to work. But before that, I planned to take an ice bath to help with recovery, and had to prepare breakfast (food is also important in recovery). Stretching would add another 6 or 7 minutes before I even got in my door. This morning, I went for a mile swim and then a couple hours later did a crossfit workout, and still had to bike home from crossfit. Stretching would take more time before I got on my bike to head home.

For me, the best way to overcome this trap has been to really work on thinking of stretching as part of the workout. It’s a critical part of the workout. It’s just like warming up. I would never run intervals at the track or do a crossfit WOD without first warming up. I know I can’t skip the warmup. And likewise, I know stretching is a critical part of recovery. And as I’ve blogged about before, training = work + recovery. Recovery is part of training! So when I plan how long I need for my run, I know I’m going to spend a little extra time at the end stretching. When I plan how long I’ll be at crossfit, I know I’m going to spend some time stretching.

I almost never stretch before a workout. That might be important for gymnasts, but for the sports I do (and for most athletes), a light warmup is more important than stretching. And I don’t stretch after every single workout. But I stretch after more than half of my workouts. Sometimes it’s quick, maybe just my hamstrings and hip flexors, just 3 or 4 minutes. Other times I take a long time. After my run yesterday I just stretched my hamstrings, quads, and calves. But after crossfit today, I stretched my hamstrings, hip flexors, groin, calves, and rolled out my IT bands (the IT bands are muscles and connective tissue running along the outside of your leg from your hip towards your knee; when they get tight, they can contribute to knee, hip, and back pain).

Stretching is like so many of those other little things we always mean to get to, but often don’t seem to quite finish. The last little bit of cleaning that would really make things sparkle. Taking notes on the article I just read, so that I can reference them later instead of re-reading the article when I need to cite it. When I’m cleaning my home office, getting the last of the loose papers on my desk put away so I have a clean work surface and am more efficient. Organizing photos into books so that we can look at them easily later, instead of just knowing they’re somewhere in a box or saved on a hard drive. Some of those things maybe don’t really need to get done. It’s fine if I don’t actually get my condo sparkling clean. But some of them, we know would really benefit us if we did. When I have loose paper on my desk, I know I would more efficient if I cleaned it. And so maybe we need to prioritize them. Not leave them to chance, not leave them to “if I have time…”

113 days till Ironman Arizona!

Training and Recovery

This week I’m working on recovery from the Racine Half Ironman and transitioning back into my normal training schedule. As athletes we sometimes get contradictory messages. We need to keep up a constant training program to achieve our goals. But we also need to be sure to make time for recovery. These messages can seem to tear in different directions, and for many athletes it is easy to forget the recovery part. This is really the same as the rest of our lives. In society today, we have constant pressure to work longer and harder. To be the best. And yet we also want to relax, to stop and smell the roses, to take time off and vacation.

Earlier this week, our coach was encouraging us to “keep the pressure on.” That is, don’t let ourselves just coast and go easy on workouts, don’t let ourselves just skip workouts, don’t let ourselves give up on our goals. At the same time, we were talking about how much time I should be taking off to recover. On Tuesday, when my resting heart rate was 16 beats above normal, my coach reminded me to be sure I took enough time off for my body to recover.

So how do we reconcile these goals? While it will always be a challenge to strike exactly the right balance, for me it helps to think of “keeping the pressure on” as being about remaining focused on training — but understanding training means work and recovery. Training = work + recovery. Skipping a workout when I could be there or showing up for a workout but just going through the motions without trying is not keeping the pressure on. But choosing to skip a workout because my body needs rest, or choosing to show up for a workout but take it a little easier because I’m recovering is different. That can be keeping the pressure on. That’s a deliberate, focused training choice.

If I waited until I felt 100% recovered from Racine, I would have taken a large chunk of time away from my training. A couple days off for recovery was good, but I need to keep training as well. Post-Arizona in November, I may very well take a week or even two weeks mostly off from working out and really let my body fully recover. This is sort of like life. Shorter weekends off and longer vacations are both important, but we can’t take a longer vacation every time we’re tired. We need to keep the pressure on. Sometimes more rest might be the right thing. But sometimes more rest will feel good in the short run but isn’t really what we need in the long run.

Recovery is a deliberate process. As soon as I finished the race in Racine, I gladly took a bag of ice from the medical tent and left it on my neck and shoulders until completely melted to begin cooling myself down. I drank water. And within 20 minutes I was in the food tent, refueling my body. As soon as I got home that evening, I took an ice bath for my legs. And I knew I would be taking Monday off. Initially I had planned to get back into our training plan on Tuesday. Tuesday just called for a swim. But I woke up and my resting heart rate was 56 — 14-16 beats above my normal — and legs were a bit more sore than Monday (that’s typical for delayed onset muscle soreness for the muscles to be more sore two days later). So I took Tuesday off as well.

By Wednesday my resting heart rate was down to 45. A bit elevated, but not as much. My legs were still more sore than usual, but recovering. My left hamstring was particularly tight and calves still hurt, but no acute pain anywhere. Even though I was still recovering, I decided that getting back to training was going to do more for me than another day of rest. We had intervals on the bike that day (hard / easy intervals, riding indoors on the trainer) and later a crossfit workout. I could definitely do the bike, even if I wouldn’t be able to go quite as hard as normal. And after the bike I would asses for crossfit. As expected, I was a bit below my normal threshold on the bike. I pushed for what I could do that day, but did not try to reach my normal threshold. I also did the crossfit workout knowing I might be slower than I normally would have been. After crossfit, I spent a long time rolling out my hamstrings, calves, and IT bands (rolling over one of those foam rollers, very slowly, stopping at pressure points to let the muscle relax and work out knots in the muscle — the stopping at pressure points is the critical part, this should not be a fast motion).

The rest of the week I’ll keep an eye on my recovery. I should be able to do most of the remaining workouts this week, but if I need to, I can always cut one out or take it easy. Keeping the pressure on, right now, means making sure I’m balancing my recovery needs with my work needs so that I can continue to make progress.

122 Days till Ironman Arizona.

Racine Half Ironman: Race Report

Before I get into my race report, I want to take a moment to thank my husband. Even if he doesn’t really understand what drives me to compete, and frankly would be happy if I didn’t spend so much time training, he knows being an athlete is important to me and he does his best to support me in his own way. And he’s my inspiration when I’m out there. When I was on that long lonely swim, I thought about him, and “took some strokes to make Jeremy proud.” When I was spinning along on the bike, I was singing some of his favorite songs in my head. And when I was really struggling from mile 8 on the run, I was thinking about how proud I would be to share my success with him — but I just had to cross the finish line first.

Overall, I’m very happy with my results. As to be expected after my first triathlon in four years, there are areas for improvement. But I could not have completed this race six months ago, and I finished yesterday. My race results: Swim (1.2 miles), 50:54. Swim-to-bike transition, 8:01. Bike (56 miles), 3:07:50. Bike-to-run transition, 7:59. Run (13.1 miles), 2:24:35. Overall time, 6:39:19. Division ranking (how I compared to other men 25-29), overall 119/167; swim 141/167; bike 133/167; run 119/167. I’m not that concerned with my ranking, I’m just including it because I’m amused that I ranked better on the run than the bike. I lost my pacing on the run, but that tells me even though I could have done some things better on pacing, relative to everyone else I didn’t do too bad.

I drove up with two other athletes from my gym who were also doing their first Half Ironman’s. They had both done shorter Tris earlier this year, so had some experience I didn’t. But we all shared common jitters of our first Half distance events. At athlete check-in, they had a race merchandise tent. I debated buying something, but decided I can’t afford much gear and I’d rather wait for Arizona! We then headed over to transition to set up our bikes. It turned out I was pretty close to one of the other guys from my car. It was threatening thunderstorms that night, so we found grocery bags to at least cover our bike seats so they wouldn’t be soaked in the morning (as it turned out, it didn’t rain). We complained about the inconvenience of needing to store our bikes outdoors over night, but in the morning we were very glad to not have to worry about dealing with getting our bikes to the course. We joined two other athletes from our gym for a pre-race dinner at Olive Garden. We were back to the hotel and in bed by 9:30, after laying our stuff out for the morning.

I slept very light. I think I managed to get 2-3 hours solid sleep, and the rest kind of drifting in and out of awake. We were planning to wake up at 4:30, but all kind of woke up around 4:15. Fortunately I felt no fatigue. I had gotten good sleep the two nights before which was critical. It took me forever the night before to get ready, as I double and triple checked that everything was in place. But I was glad that in the morning it meant I could just grab everything and not have to think about it. I did almost forget a water bottle with my carb-protein drink in the fridge.

We left the hotel by 5:05 AM and parked near the race course around 5:35. We were to transition by 5:45 and had until 6:30 to be out of transition. First stop, body marking (they write your race number on your arm and age on your leg in permanent marker). Then plenty of time to set up our gear by the racks. They had numbered spots for each bike at this race, so at least there was no fighting for “prime” spots, unlike many races. But they did not give us much room. I set up my area how I had practice. Only what I needed up front, my bag with extras back under my bike out of the way (extra tubes, extra food, my sandals, extra socks, other “just in case” gear that I probably wouldn’t need). After getting my transition area set up and taking a final bathroom pitstop, I met up with the other guys from my gym so we could make our way over to the start.

Above: Pre-race, on our way from transition to the start line. Left to right: John, Nick, Andy, Bob, Me.

The swim start was about a mile up the beach from the transition. The swim course went out from shore 75 yards, then turned and went parallel to shore one-way back to transition, and then turned into transition. Like many beginners there, I was glad that (as expected) the water was cold enough to be wetsuit legal. I was in one of the first waves to start, at 7:23. Some of the other guys I was with wouldn’t start for almost an hour. I watched the pros start (they went first at 7 AM) and had a packet of gu to top off my energy. A little after they started, it was time to pull my wetsuit on and get ready for my swim. I wore my wetsuit over my bike bib shorts, triathlon jersey, and calf compression sleeves. That way I could just peel the wetsuit off after the swim and have my clothes on for the rest of the race. I lost my goggles in my last practice swim before the race, so I was wearing new goggles. As the announcer called my wave to the start line, the butterflies formed in my stomach. I had been so busy all morning I hadn’t had time to think: am I really about to do this? Can I really get through this? Fortunately that thought didn’t last long. We lined up at the water’s edge, and at the signal we were off, running into the water.

I stayed on the outside of the group as we swam towards the buoys. I didn’t worry about my swim speed, just trying to relax and get a consistent breathing rhythm going. Within a minute of starting I was feeling pretty comfortable. I was back in the same relaxed rhythm I had been able to hit in practice. I was slower than most other people out there, but that didn’t matter. I probably made my swim slightly longer by staying to the outside, but I’d rather swim a little longer and not fight with the fast swimmers pushing on the inside. I had swam almost this distance in practice, but it somehow felt longer in a straight line than as an out-and-back. I only stopped once during the swim to adjust a goggle filling with water. The water was calm and there was little current, and we were swimming south so with me breathing on my right I always was looking to shore.

As I was approaching the turn back to shore, I began thinking about transition. “Remember,” I told myself, “transition is part of the race.” You are going to move through this. I knew my swim felt solid, but I was still pleasantly surprised to look at the race clock and see 1 hour, 13 minutes in. I started 23 minutes into the race, so that meant my swim was only 50 minutes. Faster than I expected to cover that distance! (And, importantly, at that pace I will comfortably finish the Ironman swim within the 2 hour 20 minute time cap). When the water was shallow enough, I stood up and started running towards shore. As I ran, I took off my swim cap and goggles, and peeled off the arms of my wetsuit, leaving the swim cap and goggles inside one arm. I grabbed a clif bar out of my back pocket and ate 2/3 of it as I ran up the beach. On the way into transition, I walked through the water pools they had to rinse sand off. Then stopped for the wetsuit strippers to help me take my wetsuit off, and immediately after for sunscreen applicators to put sunscreen on my arms and neck. I was having a problem with my right contact from the water that leaked into my goggle, so I took a minute or two wiping it with a towel. Fortunately I got it back in position and it was fine the rest of the race. I also took time to put on fresh socks (the pros race sockless), bike gloves, and a wrist brace on my right wrist. I carried my bike shoes to the mount line because the speedplay cleats I have don’t do well when you walk on them. My transition was slower than I hoped for, but at least I mentally stayed in the race the whole time. I can probably make this a little more efficient, but for me, it’s worth the time for socks and sunscreen at this distance (a shorter race I might consider going without).

I felt pretty good on the bike. I was aiming for 18 mph, with 20 mph as my cap. My final speed was 17.9 mph, right on target. But that includes many faster miles at 20 mph, and slower miles when there were light hills or when I was rolling through aid stations and such. Critically, my pace remained pretty consistent throughout the bike (expected fluctuation aside). I tried to keep myself at 75% effort. I knew I had to conserve energy for the run. I was tempted to push hard up the hills, given my recent hard rides in the mountains, but I held back and took it easy. My practice in the aero bars paid off. For straight aways, that position is becoming more comfortable than sitting upright.

I also handled the aid stations okay. You ride through the aid stations and grab water, sports drink, gu, energy bars, and bananas from volunteers. As I approached the first station, I tossed my old water bottle (I had one nice bottle on my bike with spiz, the carb-protein drink I use, I would keep that bottle the whole race; the night before the race we got 24 oz disposable water bottles to put on our bikes, like the ones they would be handing out on course). I got one water bottle from the first volunteer and put it in a water bottle holder. But I just missed grabbing a second bottle like I planned, so I grabbed a bottle of sports drink. I don’t like the sports drink, but I wanted two bottles of fluid. Then I saw that they had another line of fluids further down the aid station, so I tried to get a second bottle of water. But in the process of trying to get the second bottle on my bike, I bobbled both it and the sports drink and lost them both. Oh well. At least I was pretty sure I had enough fluid to make the next station, so I just kept riding. I had also installed an aero drink bottle on my bike in the week before the race. This is a water bottle that sits between the handlebars and has a straw sticking up from it. When I’m leaning over on the aero bars, the straw is right by my mouth, making it easy to keep drinking. The aero water bottle has a mesh top, so I could squeeze water into it on the go, and also add my electrolyte tables to it. I had prepared an almond-butter sandwich for the bike and had that in a little bag right behind my handlebars on top of the top tube. I ate about 1/3 of that every hour on the bike.

As I approached the end of the bike, I knew my stomach felt a little fuller than ideal. If I was staying on the bike, I’d be fine, but I can process more food on the bike. I was a little worried for the run. I was doing okay, but just a little off. At least I felt hydrated and did not feel like my salt levels were low. I had been taking in lots of electrolytes. My first lesson for transition two is that I should work on taking my feet out of my bike shoes while I’m still on the bike (I can loosen them by undoing a spring, so can do that on the bike), and then leaving the bike shoes clipped into the bike when I get off. I ended up running in my bike shoes even though I didn’t want to run on my bike shoes. My second transition was definitely slower than hoped. I did take time to change socks and put fresh body glide on the soles of my feet. I’ve been having problems with blisters on the soles of my feet on long runs, so with how much my feet were sweating in that heat, the extra time was worth minimizing the chance of blisters. I also spent a couple minutes trying to change the sports mode on my GPS watch. The watch uses a touch-sensitive panel that works great at rest, but works really poorly when I’m sweaty and wet. Lesson learned: I should just let the GPS watch treat the whole race as one workout and worry about separating out events later at home. Don’t waste time playing with it. I also got fresh sunscreen on my arms on the way out of transition.

By now it was just before noon and probably in the mid-80s and humid (the high for the day was 87). I still felt like I had energy, but my legs felt lightly fatigued and I could tell the heat would be a problem. My stomach was also a little tight. I hoped I could run through it, but I wasn’t sure. My target was 9-10 minutes per mile. I was at the lower end of that target for the first three miles, slowing to the upper end of that target for the next three miles, and then slowing further. Aid stations were about every mile, so I started out running between stations and walking at stations. I drank water at every station, dumped ice water on my head, dumped ice in my cap and down the front and back of my jersey, and squeezed cold sponges on my shoulders. Since I was trying to let my stomach settle, I only had water the first two aid stations. Three miles in I finally had a gu, and also a salt stick cap (I brought those along in a plastic bag in my jersey). The halfway point of the run is at the finish line: it’s two laps, so on your first lap you run almost to the line and then have to turn around! I still felt strong at that point.

But then around mile 8 I bonked. Over the next mile, I went from running all but the aid stations to mostly walking. Bonking is when your muscles run out of glycogen (basically sugar) to supply them. I had been consuming enough calories, but probably too many of them were in solid form, so my stomach couldn’t process them fast enough. So now my body didn’t have energy, and my stomach was too full. Oops! Over the rest of the race, I still had a lot of water at aid stations, but I also had some defizzed cola (sounds gross, but when you just need quick sugar in the bloodstream, it’s really good), sports drink, pretzels (mmm, salt!), gu, and a banana. Around mile 10, I began to partially recover from my bonk. My stomach was beginning to process the gunk in it and I was getting some sugars back to the muscles. I was able to run again, but then my stomach cramped up really tight. And that made it harder to run than the bonk. So I walked another mile. Then finally by mile 11 I was feeling better. I was able to run most of the last two miles, except for a little bit when my right foot cramped up pretty bad at the ball of the foot. Fortunately that resolved itself fairly quickly. Overall, my run pace was 11:02 minutes per mile. So actually not that far off of my 9-10 minute mile target. And even if I did better on my nutrition strategy, racing in that heat for that distance is always going to be really tough.

Going down that finisher’s chute was incredible. Hearing them call my name out, seeing the blue Ironman finish line, crossing the line, getting the medal right past the line. And then they also gave us Ironman 70.3 Racine workout hats. I was glad I didn’t buy a hat the day before! This one was better than any that were on sale, and it was “free.” I walked right past the chip-return station, and fortunately a volunteer grabbed me and said “let me take your chip off.” I did remember to tell her that it was my own ankle strap and not the race-provided one, so I got that back. As I continued walking down the post-finish line chute in that post-race daze, a medical volunteer looked at me and asked if I needed any medical help. I asked if she could give mental help. She laughed and said sure, but like Lucy from Peanuts, she’d have to charge five cents.

I walked over to transition to take off my shoes and get my sandals. I drank two bottles of water. I walked around dazed looking for my teammates — both those that did the race with me, and a few of the other Ironman group who cycled up from Chicago to Racine to watch us. After walking around dazed for a bit, I decided I needed food and could find them later. I went to the food tent and got bananas, oranges, potato chips, a veggie sub, a bagel and peanut butter. Carbs, potassium, sodium, protein. Then I went and sat down. I didn’t even notice I had sat down 15 feet from my teammates, but they were behind me. As I was finishing my first round of food, and feeling partially recovered, I saw my teammates. I turned my chair around and joined them. Two of our teammates were still out on the course, so I just sat and relaxed, talking some, but mostly just kinda sitting. I got another peanut butter and two more veggie subs and more water. By the time the other guys from my gym finished I was feeling partially human.

Above: me post-race, after finding my teammates

Eventually we made our way back to get our bikes and gear and on to the cars to head home. My calves cramped up when I took my compression sleeves off. When I finally got home, I decided to go buy three bags of ice and take an ice bath. So glad I did that. My legs felt so much better after that ice bath. Still really sore, but not cramping and no direct pain. I had some friends over for a movie and pizza. Pizza is completely off my diet, but that night I wanted pizza, and post-race I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted! I was back to my diet today.

As I said, overall, I’m very happy with my results. This reassures me that our training plan is working. I was fine on the swim, even though I’m not spending a ton of time in the water. I felt good on most of the race. And I had the power I needed for the race. I’m also really glad I did this race, even though I was the only one from my Ironman group who did it. The whole group is doing the Dairyland Udder Half triathlon in three weeks, which is the same distance, but is not an official Ironman event. By doing Racine, I got to experience an event with the same general race setup as Arizona (even though half the distance). This is especially nice for the same aid station setups as Arizona (in terms of how aid stations work, what products they will have). After how much I hurt from Racine, part of me asks why I’m doing Arizona. But I also loved it, and more than anything am looking forward to Arizona!

125 days till Ironman Arizona.