Friday, March 29, 2013

Ironman Cabo: I love this sport!

Okay, so it's been years since I blogged.  I have been writing race reports after every major race for years, but they're typically for me and Nick, my coach, only.  I realize that I have things to share that others may be interested in, so here is an abbreviated version of my full race report for the world to read (gulp!!). 

I wrote this about 4 days after Ironman Cabo - March 17.  I glad I waited a few days, as my emotions were different every 6 hours. Here's my race breakdown.

Why Cabo?
Tyson and I decided to sign up for IM Cabo before we signed up and raced IM Louisville in August of 2012.  During the Louisville run, I swore off ironman distance racing. I felt quite a bit of pressure to qualify for Kona during that race, and after losing my Kona slot by 22 seconds,  I was a bit overwhelmed and confused about why I was racing.

Fast forward 7 months to Cabo.  We arrived on Thursday late afternoon.  This race was quite a logistical challenge.  Race HQ in one location, the swim start/T1 in another location, T2/the finish in another location, tri transport in another location, the pre-race dinner in another location and awards in yet another location.  And, it seemed that most racers didn't have a car.  The main road through town is heavy with traffic and riding around on your bike in Mexico isn't the best idea.  Other than this, I have to say the race production was perfect. Race day support was wonderful. The local people were very supportive of the race and inquisitive of the athletes and the disciplines.  The promoter did a great job with the course, the food/water support, and all other aspects. Everyone I asked had a great experience.

The swim beach start was difficult, and there were many concerns with the hills, the wind and the heat on the bike course.  I heard several age group elite athletes refer to the bike course as harder than Kona.  And their times confirmed it...

Pre-race
I didn't come to this race feeling prepared.  The winter weather and dark winter mornings (and my wimpy behavior related to it) kept me from getting on the bike as often as I should have for an ironman. I came here feeling fairly run and swim prepared, although I had an unknown knee injury that snuck up the month prior that kept me from running for a couple of weeks. But, I felt that my run fitness was there. Ragnar Ultra, a couple half marathons and some trail running did me right.

We went to the pre-race dinner on Friday night at a beach club literally a couple blocks from our hotel.  Very well done with dinner, mexican dance entertainment. The food was great - lots of salad toppings, dried seeds. Yum.  We sat with Joszef and Erika (who ended up being 3rd male and female winner, respectively).  And the event promoter announced that there were only 1333 participants in the race - this is half a regular IM. Wow!  This was going to be exciting.

We pre-swam the starting swim area the day before the race. Water was smooth, and it seemed like a pretty basic ocean swim.

Tattoo race numbers were available for 100 pesos and in hindsight I wish we had done the tats.  They looked cool :)  My nerves were raging Thurs-Fri after I found out there would likely be 4 slots in my AG. I calmed down a bit on Saturday once we started checking in and getting things prepped.

I have a no meat policy 24 hours prior to race morning.  The less "stuff" in my intestines the day prior, the better. This has treated me well and I plan to keep this policy up. We had a kitchen in our place, as is my preference when I travel to a race. This worked out well.

Bike/Bag checkin on Saturday
Due to no parking and only being able to fit one bike in our car at a time, bike checkin was a bit of a hassle. Tyson dropped me and my bike off and went back for his bike, as I waited for him.  The T1 area was gorgeous. Sunrise view, and a short walk to swim start. Numbers were assigned based on your registration date, so Tyson and I were 321 and 322, which was pretty cool. The downside is you couldn't tell what age group people were in by their race number, and by the end of the day, most race ages had worn off people's legs.  We left our bikes and bike transition bags in their spot, and the red run bags were left by our bikes and (hopefully!) picked up later and delivered to T2.

Race Morning
On race morning, we got up at 4:15 am, and met two other couples in the hotel lobby to cab to the race start together. Perfectly uneventful race morning.... I was pretty calm. Got there, checked tire pressure, game on.

The Swim Start
We stood on the beach and watched the crowd gather for the beach start. I took gels 45 and 15 minutes before start time. The water was a bit choppy, and the beached crowd seemed a bit overwhelming, but I had a strange confidence.  Gun goes off and it's a race to the water line.  Little did I realize this was going to be a fight for life.  I get into the water, and arms and feet are flailing all around me. As soon as we hit the deep water, a huge wave comes in and pushes the entire group back to shore! OMG! Get back out there.... I couldn't put my head in due to feet ahead of me, and I couldn't get a stroke in.  I stopped to regain my composure, only to be popped in the head by hands behind me. Then we get wapped by a second wave!  I'm doggie paddling in place trying not to get slammed by others.  After drinking a gallon of water,  I hear the paddleboard person asking if anyone needs help, and I almost raise my hand.  I take in more salt water and decide I can fight through it.  At this point, I'm just trying to keep my head above water. I turn around to backstroke for a few strokes, and my foot hits a guy in the head - he pulls up to look at me and I am so embarrassed by the backstroke that I turn around and tell myself this is not acceptable.

The crowd spreads out a little more and I try to put my head into the water again, but I can't breathe.  I'm hyperventilating.  What is going on?! I try again to just relax.  Breathe.  Teri, breathe.  Relax. Forget about going under 1:15, lets just try to survive this.  By now, we are 2 buoys in, or 400m.  I literally don't know if I'm going to make it any further. I have lost a good 5-10 minutes. Somehow, I push on.

I struggle through until the turn.  I couldn't put my head into the water for more than one stroke.  After the turn, it was still crowded.  I swam out away from the buoys until I got some space. Imagine doubling the number of participants??!  Okay, Teri, two strokes between breaths... Okay three strokes... Finally! I was 1500m in, and finally able to stretch out a stroke.  At this point, any time under 1:30 will be a miracle.  I kept thinking about how the swimmers who started in the front made out on this one.  If you don't have to deal with all the mess, you're fine! Why didn't I get up there in the front of the line? I am sure I swam too far out from the buoys, but I was all alone and I was happy.  Okay, now do what you know.  Long lengths, catch water, twist your torso, full strokes. Repeat. Frank will be proud... I look up every 10-15 strokes.  The swells are large enough that I can't always see where I am.   I always take in water on the swim, so in an ocean swim (which I have only done once - at Kona), I take in a bit of salt too - so I didn't need to worry about salt tabs or eating salt on the bike.  I am covered!! This was my positive spin on the situation :)

At the turn home, I'm feeling okay.  Stretching out.  Go, go.  After a long while, I look up and see the transition area.  A guy tries to run me over, and he bumps my watch and I think he hit the lap button, sending my watch into T1 mode.  I look down and see my time - 1:14 with at least 5 minutes to go. Oh well.  Here I am. I push through to the end.  Out of the water, stumble, stand up, look at watch. 1:22.  Thank God!

1:23.02 official swim time
585th OA
120th female

T1
Up the steps and into transition.  They gave us bags of water that you bite into to open.  I wasn't sure if the water was drinkable, so i used it to rinse off the salt water.  Grab my transition bag, into the tent, sit down.  A gal helps me strip my wetsuit.  Shoes, helmet, bars into pockets, sunglasses, and I'm off.  It was a long transition due to the run up the steps and through the sand.

4:03 - official T1 time

Bike
I had preset my bike into the small ring, as we would be heading uphill from the start, and on a rocky surface.  Okay, Teri, game face.  I have no idea at this point if everyone had a bad swim, or if its just me.  But the swim is over,  it's bike go time.

This is the part of the race where I determined in advance that I would relax.  My coach Nick and I decided I should hover in the 147-152 HR range.  I hadn't been able to get my HR up on my long rides, and I'd had power meter issues, so I wasn't using power for the race. Right out of the gate, my HR was up in the high 160s.  I know that this is fine for the first few miles as I settle in.  I get out onto the main stretch of road between San Jose and San Lucas - this stretch is about 15 miles of good road - rolling hills, but a great stretch. I settle in, but my HR is still in the mid 160s.  I'm passing people all over the place, but I feel like I'm holding back.  This course is 2 big loops, so I am scoping out the road for the next loop.  I take in some water to get the salt taste out.  Impossible! I eat my first gel, and try to be methodical about taking in 100 calories every 20-30 minutes.  I train well with food and I know what my body needs.  I drank pretty regularly, and had to use the bathroom 3-4 times during the bike. I would moderate my water based on my need to go to the bathroom. I went through only 3 Nuun tabs on the ride.  Less than usual but I could tell I didn't need it.

We turn around in San Lucas, and at about this time, I had my first teary moment.  I love this race.  I love the sport. I love riding my bike. I love that I have the ability to do this. I love that Tyson and I do it together.  I love it. All of it. I have debated giving it up, as the lifestyle is demanding.  But I love it.  And I'm good at it! Why would I remove moments like this from my life?

The route then includes 20 miles back to San Juan, and 12 miles up the airport toll road which has been closed off to all traffic. Gorgeous brand new road.  Again, my HR is still in the low 160s, but I'm comfortable so I let it go. When I say 12 miles up, I mean it. UP hill.  I keep asking myself how I'm going to feel in 60 miles when I'm right here again.  I always do a check-in: "okay, you're at mile 35, you've got about 75 more.  How does that feel?" If I feel good about 75 more miles, I keep up the pace.  If I start to feel overwhelmed By the thought of the remaining distance,  I pull back a little and rest. I kept it in check, despite riding at a higher HR than my plan.

The fans were amazing on this course.  They lined the street between San Jose and San Lucas.  The few days prior to the race, there were lots of questions from locals about Ironman. How impressive we are to race, how much training did we do, how much does a bike cost, etc.  We made lots of friends in these conversations.  The community is very excited about supporting the race.

The airport road included some pretty serious climbing, and it turns out we had the wind at our back on the ride to the airport, up the hills, then wind in your face riding back into town, and what a chore.  I note that these hills are going to be tough on the second lap.  I was a bit nervous, as the airport road back would be the last 12 miles of the course.

I kept going back and forth with a gal in my age group in brown bike shorts. I initially caught her around mile 30, and she would blow by me and be gone for 10 miles, then I'd catch her again and she would disappear behind me for 30 minutes.  This went on until around mile 90, and then I never saw her again.  I kept passing gals in my AG in the later stages of the bike.  And they all looked like strong runners.  More and more of them.  I couldn't believe how many strong gals are out here in my AG. They put run fear in me for sure.... I was sizing them all up for run power.

The last stretch into the wind down from the airport was brutal.  Wind from the side was blowing riders all over the place.  I tucked in and was so happy to be riding my Rolf race wheels.  I felt pity for all those racers with discs. I passed people leaning sideways into the wind like they were standing still.  Post-race, there was much talk about how difficult the bike course was.  No one could pre-ride the stretch to the airport (no bikes allowed), and it took everyone by surprise. The wind, the heat (which never bothered me), the hills.  It was crazy.  Looks like over 6800 in total climbing.  I made a point out of pushing downhill and taking it easy uphill, yet still passing people the entire time. I definitely could have gone harder, but the ironman race is won on the run, and I know this.  I wanted to go under 3:40 on the run, so holding back made sense.  I had conversations with several guys on the course about how slow our times were going to be, and it was definitely a theme. I really held back the last 5 miles.... I was pulling at my pedals rather than pushing, trying to save my run legs.

Bike time: 5:49.28
222nd OA
38th female


T2
Off the bike, grab my run bag, into change tent, change shoes, and off.  T2 was a fast one. There was only one other gal in transition with me.

1:57 - official T2 time

Run
At the start of the run, I looked at my overall time. 7:20. My goal at this stage was under 7 hours, and to be able to pull out a race PR (10:47 is my current PR from Canada in 2011).  I was in the exact same spot in Kona in 2011... 7:20 off the bike. At 7:20, I need a 3:40 marathon to break 11 hours. And, I wanted to get in a Boston qualifying marathon in my ironman so I would have the option of racing Boston in 2014 without running a individual marathon. This goal was also 3:40.  Awesome, I thought. 3:40 will meet 2 personal goals of mine, so lets go get it.

I felt great immediately off the bike. My first 2 miles were around 7:30 pace. I knew an 8:00 pace would get me a 3:30, and an 8:15 would get me around 3:35. I try not to look at my Garmin off the bike because I prefer to go off feel when I'm feeling good.  I am unsure if running hard in the first couple of miles harms me, but I felt great and I went with it.  Then that thing that always happens set in: I felt like hell from about mile 3-9. I had 3 cups of soda and a half banana around mile 8 and it pepped me up. This intake hurt my stomach a bit, but the boost was worth it. My average pace was down below 8:25 by now and my Boston/11 hour IM goal was crushed.

There are many turnarounds and areas where you can see the field before and behind you on this course.  This helped me realize I would hold my place, but I think it also made me lazy.  I passed several gals, and was only passed by one girl in my age group, and another at the finish line who looked younger than me.  One of the struggles I have on the run is that I feel like I'm pushing as hard as possible but it's more of a mental struggle to keep going than a physical struggle.  Often, I'll drop my arms and pick up the cadence and feel great for a couple miles.  Then I fall into a slog again, and the cycle happens all over.  I struggle pushing it hard for the distance required. In the IM races I've completed, I find that my run is more successful when there are fewer loops or less of an opportunity to survey the field. I'm better on an out and back than I am in a multi loop or a serpentine type of race.  I also prefer some terrain... When I have to conquer hills, or mix up the terrain, I perform better.  Interesting.

The middle lap (of 3) is better.  I am settling in, and the miles are going by more quickly. I saw Tyson for the first time on my second lap, and he was in such great spirits that it helped. I remember when I hit mile 13- thank God. The next 5-8 flew by, and next thing you know, I'm on the last lap.  I slap the hands of the kids at the finish line/lap turnaround area. Tearing up. The beach road stretch on the last lap felt good.  When I ran by the Specialized bike store, pumping out a Katy Perry mix, I teared up.  "Here I am, having a pretty good race on a really hard day - passing people on the run, and I am almost done! I LOVE THIS RACE!" I thought.  I teared up and it impacted my ability to breathe for a couple of minutes.  Get it together! I love those moments.  This is why I race. It feels right.

I stopped to use the bathroom around mile 22, and I realized I should have stopped sooner rather than holding it. A bit later, I went across the bridge over to a back and forth section of the run course and wondered if I was going to make it without walking. This is the part of the run race where I want to walk more than any other time.  I am under 3 miles from the finish, and I am losing it. I walk a few steps.... And a guy runs up beside me and says "we are less thank 2 miles out. You can't walk now."  I know he's right. I walk a few more steps anyway. I pick it up and run again, and in about 3 minutes, I run up to him, walking. "We are now 1.5 miles from the finish.  You can't walk now!" I say.  He keeps walking.  I don't see him again until an hour or so after the race when he comes up to me and thanks me for the motivation.  He has no idea that he was my motivation in the last couple of miles.  This is one of the things I love about ironman, and why I always talk to people during the race.  I get motivation from the strangest places, and I always hope I can spread it around as well.  I got passed at the finish line by a gal in a younger age group, but I held my own pretty well.

Run time: 3:47:36
Final time: 11:06.06
29th female
143rd OA

Post race
I didn't even consider that I could have placed in my AG when I crossed the line. My swim was slow, and my OA time was slow.  As I sat waiting for a massage, I chatted with a few others only to find out that everyone was sizing up the course as the toughest one they'd done, even related to Kona. The gal next to me was an hour off her expected time of 10 hours. I got to my phone maybe an hour later to find out from Nick that I ended up 3rd in my AG.  We were told pre-race that there would be 4 slots in my AG.  Wow, really? This made me pretty confident, and perhaps overly confident, in getting a Kona slot.

At the Kona slot meeting at 4pm next afternoon, I found out that another gal was moved into my AG ahead of me, and that there were only 2 slots to be given, so I was not going to get it.  Then, in the roll down meeting, my AG ended up with another slot, going to the gal they moved over ahead of me.  Not meant to be......

Learnings
1-I could have pushed the bike more in the last 20 miles, and I should have. I don't believe it would have had any impact on my run.  Frankly, I think I could have taken 10-15 minutes off my bike time before it hurt me. I am best on hilly courses.
2-I need mental work on my run.  I was capable of more, but my mental stamina on the run wears down before my physical stamina.  I know this because I was not sore on Monday after the race. I should have been.
3-I need more open water swimming, to improve my sighting. I need open water racing to improve my early race calmness.
4-I am an efficient at the transition.
5-I rode at a higher heart rate than I thought I could manage, and my general bike fitness pulled me through. I think that training in the winter kept my HR lower, and that racing in the warmer climate brought my HR up. I have a good understanding for what feels "right" for my body in a race, and I should go with it.
6-I need to study the first few miles of my body during an ironman run a bit more - I tend to be quite a bit faster off the bike for the first 2-4 miles.  Does this hurt my run? Is it okay? I need more research in this area.

What now? Debating.  Do I race another IM in 2013 to try again for the coveted Kona slot while my fitness is high? Do I take a break and focus on shorter local races? Do I sign up for a 70.3 race or 2 and try to qualify for 70.3 Worlds? Undecided at this time.  I know this.... I love ironman.  I had so much fun in this race. It's ridiculous.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing all of this. You made me tear up talking about the guy motivating you and vice versa. I LOVE that about this sport. You're so honest and incredibly talented. Can't wait for what the future holds.

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  2. Thanks for sharing...

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  3. Hey, Lady. I really enjoyed reading this. I miss you do much and hate I can't be a part of your life in these things, but so glad ibcsn learn the details this way. I so admire your strength, fortitude and overall spirit. You've always been such a motivator to me and this was truly motivating. You have so many gifts and I'm so proud of you!!

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