Friday, June 16, 2017

Ultraman Australia Part 2: Filling in the Gaps

These are a few of the questions people have asked about my Ultraman (UM) experience.  They are in no particular order.  And if you missed the Smashfest Diaries Q/A you can catch up HERE.

How much open water swim training did you do?

Does Ironman California 70.3 in April count as training?  I don't do open water swim training.  I am a confident swimmer and generally don't have problems being in open water.  I race well in open water because I am competitive.  But if I swim in open water outside of competition I'm rather lazy.  So I feel that putting in serious work in the pool prepares me better for race conditions.

Do you wish you had done a 10k swim in the ocean prior to UM?

Sure, having some ocean swimming under my belt would probably have made me faster in those conditions.  But I live in the desert.  The nearest ocean is 6 hours away and it's not feasible for me to make that drive frequently for training purposes.  And in reality, by the time we hit the point in training where it would have been beneficial (ie: the final 8 weeks) I was too exhausted for it to have been considered safe for me to drive 6 hours in a car by myself.

Swimming in the ocean doesn't bother me.  Yes, it's much different than a lake/ river, but I've swum ocean races before and felt confident, strong, safe, etc.  I wasn't overly worried about the swim.

How did pool training prepare you to swim that distance?

Well, we did a lot of long hard interval workouts.  And just like for IM distance, my 10k swim sets were basically swum right on the time that I wanted to hold for UM.  I was getting out of the pool after 10k in 2:38-2:42 so I felt that was going to be my ballpark.  I was hoping for anything under 2:45.

I had plenty of 4-5k swims, but my weekly long swims were what really got me ready.  I remember my first 7k interval swim and I got out of the pool and my arms were shaking it was that difficult.  I thought, if I feel like this after 7k, how the heck am I going to feel after 10k?  But Hillary knows what she's doing and we built up to hard 10k swims every other week.  I definitely felt prepared and ready for the swim.

Here's the deal... In running, everyone's familiar with intervals, and tempo runs, and long runs, and race pace runs.  It's no different swimming-- you have sprint swims, tempo swims, long strength building swims, and race pace swims.  When I train for IM, I have 4k race pace swims that are something like 30 x 100 yards on 1:25.  These swims give me so much anxiety because on a good day I'm getting 2-3 seconds rest.  On a bad day I'm touching the wall and pushing off.  But you do this over and over and over and you make all the intervals and you realize, ok, I really CAN hold this pace for 2.4 miles.  Ultraman swim training was very similar only a lot more band only and longer sets on short rest... like 15 x 300 meters on 4:40 as the mainset in a 7500 meter swim.

** And just to clear up any confusion, I have access to both yard and meter pools and depending on the time of day and how long the swim will take determines which pool I use.  :)

What was your key prep for the swim?

I was averaging 20-23k per week in the pool, with a hard 10k swim every other week.  I think the combination of volume and the long, hard swims prepared me perfectly for the swim.  The only thing I will do differently is eat more during the swim next time around.  I was fine during the swim leg, but when I got on the bike I was hungry for the first 2 hours and felt like I was playing catch up.

What did your training look like?

I was averaging 20-24 hours per week training.  Each week was different as far as the type of workouts but there were a lot of IM to Half IM power intervals on the bike.  Hard trainer rides with short intervals.  Group rides each week with a couple of sustained uphill chases.  3 hours became the new 90 min easy recovery ride.  And then there were some back to back long rides and long rides followed by long progression runs.  There were a couple of 50k runs- one on trails, and one on road.  There were some trail runs and interval runs and treadmill runs-- both long and faster than race pace.  Swimming consisted of both hard interval swims and long, strength building sets.

What was key prep for the run?

Well, I think the most important run training I did were the 50k runs and the long progression runs at the end of a hard block of training.  I got to a point in training where I felt so tired all the time, but I could go out and run and hold my pace forever.  I felt so strong.  I really think the years of endurance training and then the specific work we were doing allowed me to feel so good throughout.  I have never worked so hard in training, and loved training so much as I did in the last 12 weeks before the race.  Seeing what my body was capable of was amazing and felt so rewarding.  I kept thinking, if I come off of this, absorb, and gain fitness from the race, Ironman is going to feel so easy.

How did you prepare for big training days?

Just like any big Ironman training day.  I tried to have my bottles filled the night before, nutrition packed.  Gear laid out.  Make sure everything on my bike was ready to go- no unexpected flat tires, all my tools where they needed to be.  Follow my nutrition plan so that I was properly fueled, hydrated.  And then make sure I get a good night's rest.  I had a couple of big workouts that I had SAG support for, so I made sure we had all the food and drinks prepped and ready to go into the cooler.  Made sure there was gas in the car, and a detailed map for my support person.

What was your nutrition like in training?

I have been working with Katie of OWN Nutrition for about 18 months now.  So daily nutrition is pretty dialed in.  She writes my plan every week and I follow it.  Lots of big salads.  That's what I craved.  Near the end I did get a little tired of eating all the time-- chewing just became so exhausting so we added some more smoothies into the mix.  Lots of greens and fruit, nut butter, chia seeds, etc packed into the NutriBullet.

During training the only thing I did different from IM training was take in solids on the bike.  In UM having solid foods on day 1 and 2 goes a long way toward helping the body sustain and last through the stress of all 3 days.  So in training I switched to things I would use on course-- Clif bars, etc.  For the swim and run I stuck with gels since that was what I'd use on race day.

Did you change your shoes during the run?

No.  I wore shoes that fit my feet well, are the right size, and are comfortable.  So I never felt the need to change shoes.

What did you do for sun protection?

I use Coppertone Sport spf 50.  I know there are a lot of "better" sunscreens that probably have less chemicals or whatever.  But I've tried others, and this one lasts all day with one application.  I live in the desert and wear sunscreen all year round, all day long.  This works for me.   My crew did surprise me with lime green zinc oxide lip balm.  #limegreenismysignaturecolor  And I wore the RFA aero suit on day 1, and my Lemmon Lime Aero top on day 2 which provide excellent sun coverage.

What was your nutrition like during the race?

I took in gels on the swim-- 400 cal total with 2 bottles of water (in 2 hours 42 minutes).  Next time I'll double that.  I took in about 300 calories per hour on the bike on day 1, and pretty close to that on day 2.  Mostly solid foods- Clif bars, PB&J, Pringles, Girl Scout cookies (not joking), and chicken noodle soup.  And then I had Coke, Red Bull and espresso poured over ice **angels singing from above**

On the run I had Honey Stinger gels every 20 minutes.  I also had a bottle with my BASE salt concoction every half marathon.  And I drank some Coke and chicken broth along with lots of water.

What goes on in your head?

Mostly I'm thinking about the race.  What do I need now?  How am I feeling?  Sometimes I sang songs in my head.  There's really so much going on all the time that you're not just lost in thought.

What did you do to prepare mentally?

I can't say I did anything specific in this area.  My training is such that just the act of surviving it builds a certain degree of mental toughness.  That's how it should be.  Your training is what should give you confidence for race day.  There were definitely workouts that gave me anxiety when I saw them on my schedule.  And when you complete them and it's not a big deal, you put that in the bank.

How did you house your crew?

As soon as I received my invitation to Ultraman Australia I was on their website checking everything out.  One of their sponsors is the Macquarie Lodge Apartments so I hopped on their website.  I got a 3 bedroom apartment at a really great rate and it was absolutely perfect.  Our entire crew was able to stay together-- we could cook and eat together and when I was relaxing at night I could be on the couch while they were eating at the dinner table and we could go over the plan for the next day.  We had access to a pool, a balcony, laundry facilities, and 2 full bathrooms.  The living quarters were very spacious.  I highly recommend the Macquarie Lodge Apartments for anyone considering Ultraman or just a holiday in Noosa!

How did you set up for each day?

My crew captain, Chris, was responsible for making sure the van was packed and organized each day.  So prior to day 1 we removed some of the seats in the van to make space, got Dan's bike (which was my spare for the race) situated in the back, and then loaded the cooler and all the bags.  Heidi was in charge of my nutrition/ hydration so she had everything organized and knew where everything was at.  We had a separate bag for tools/ gear, a bag with sunscreen/ medical supplies, and bags with food/ drinks, etc.  They were very organized.

At the end of each stage, one of them would take the van to fill up with gas, stock up on anything we might be running low on (water/ ice/ etc) and then clean out all the garbage.  Then they'd make sure everything was organized and ready to go into the van for the next day.  Heidi made all the PBJs.  She divided the Pringles into 100 calorie ziplock bags.  Same with the Girl Scout cookies.  She had everything organized so that she would know exactly how many calories she handed to me, and when I handed back any wrappers/ etc, she knew where I was at intake-wise.  She kept detailed notes which I'm so thankful for because I will use those to help me train and plan for the next time around.

What was the hardest part?

That's tough to say.  I definitely think physically the run was the hardest, but I also was pretty content running with my crew all day long.... and I've already blocked out a majority of the pain from my mind.  Mentally the bike on day 1 was hard because I felt so terrible and it was still so early in the race.  I had to not think about how far I had left to go because I might not have made it off the bike on day 1.

What was your favorite part?

Day 2!!!  Hands down the 170 mile bike ride was my favorite.  I've never been more proud of race execution (outside of IMAZ 2015) as I was on that day.  I worked so hard on day 2.  The course was beautiful and hilly and completely amazing.  To stay focused on ONE thing, literally biking as hard as I could, for 9 hours-- it was a thing of beauty.  And to be surrounded and cheered for by my crew for the entire time... it's really difficult to describe how special this race is...

Was it harder than you expected?

Actually, it was easier.  I think after having crewed at Ultraman Canada I had an up close and personal glimpse of what it takes to survive this type of race.  My teammate went to depths on the run that I never came close to in the 3 days.  In my head, I was fully prepared to do what he did on day 3 to make it in under the cutoff time and in reality, my race went very smoothly.  I was never tested the way that he was.  It gave me a new appreciation for what he was able to do that day, and that week.  I am proud of my race.  I know I can do better, but I think for a first experience it was everything I wanted and more.

Did you get to do any sight-seeing?

Well, in my opinion the best way to see a place is on foot.  So I felt like I really did get to experience the areas we were in (Port Macquarie and Noosa/ Sunshine Coast).  But no, we didn't do touristy things.  My step-daughter graduated from high school a week after my race finished so we didn't have extra time to stay and travel around.  I've been to Australia before and traveled quite a bit so I was ok with just focusing on what we came to do.

Did you lose speed training for such a long distance?

No, not that I have seen.  Hillary warned me that I might not feel as sharp on some of my bike interval workouts (half IM and IM watts), and there was definitely a couple of weeks in April where I struggled to hit the numbers.  But I wasn't off by much and within 2 weeks my body adapted and I had my power back.  And since coming back and recovering from the race I feel stronger than ever.

How was recovery?

Recovery was awesome.  I basically swam every day while we were still in Australia.  Once we got back home I started biking and running a little bit-- like 20 minutes running and an hour biking, along with swimming.  I had about 3 weeks of active recovery, 1-2 days off per week with very easy training on the other days.  My body came around very nicely and by the time we started to do a bit of work I was ready for it.  Mentally and physically I felt recovered and ready to start training again.

Do you want to do another one?

100% yes.  I really believe I was made for this race.  My body handles the training well.  I LOVE the training.  I felt like I thrived during the race and remained strong throughout.  And I know I can do better the next time around.  My plan is to apply for the Ultraman World Championship in 2018.  As much as I'd love to go this year, I think I'd like the time to save up some money and do it right (spend a few days on the island!) and also just allow myself the time to prepare a little better.  Now that we know where my weaknesses are we can work on them in training.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Ultraman Australia Part 1: Race Recap

Ultraman Australia is in the rear view.  It seems so surreal.  The event that I've looked forward to for 4 years or 9 months depending on how you look at it is in the books.  I was holding off on writing about it because I wanted to be able to share pictures taken by the official photographer.  Barry from Eyes Wide Open Images is a gem and his photos are amazing!

Hillary asked the women of Team SFQ to interview me for the Smashfest Diaries.  You can read that interview here.  I think they did a good job of covering the basics.  Training, sleep, travel, nutrition.  

But what really matters at Ultraman is the people.  The stories.  The (mostly cool) shit that happens.  These are the things that I want to remember.

We arrived in Sydney after our long haul flight and immediately hopped into a car and drove, on the wrong side of the road, to Port Macquarie, roughly 5 hours away.  I was travel-drunk and so out of my element on the left side of the road in a big city.  I've driven in a lot of big cities-- I'd compare it to San Francisco-- crowded, lots of traffic in a relatively small area, with a lot of "stuff" going on around such that you have to really pay attention to where you want to exit.  After about an hour in Sydney traffic we hit the highway it was pretty smooth sailing.

We stopped at a gas station because I was in desperate need of coffee and a few calories to get me till lunch.  Guys, gas station coffee in Australia is better than Starbucks.  Not even kidding.  I really wanted to hit up a cafe and maybe grab a muffin.  But after an hour we realized that was not going to be possible and settled for a gas station.  I was completely expecting Circle K coffee.  What I got was an amazing cup of coffee from an espresso machine.  Seriously.  And this was only the beginning of our coffee adventures down under.

Photo credit:  Heidi Videto

Anyhoo-- we stayed in Port Mac for a few days, DB raced IM there.  I mostly rode my bike, drank coffee, and walked to the aquatic center every day for my swim sesh in the 50 meter pool.  On IM day, I ran while he was swimming and found the coolest little park.  One minute I'm in the city, the next I'm lost on a boardwalk (trail run?) in a jungle with bats screeching from the trees above my head.  So completely awesome.

The day after IM, we drove up the coast to Kingscliff.  We stayed in a beautiful little resort hoping for one relaxing day poolside before chaos ensued... and it was pouring rain from the moment we arrived.  We suffered through a freezing dip in the pool and then ordered drinks and soaked instead in our bathtub built for two.  The next morning we packed up again and headed north to Brisbane to pick up my crew team who had flown in on the long haul overnight from LA.

Photo credit:  Heidi Videto

Once in Noosa all of our energy was focused on getting ready for the big weekend ahead.  We got the kayak reserved, did a little practice swim/ paddle, did a few bike rides, hit up the local aquatic center.  Ultraman is all about tradition and Dayle (aka: mother hen), the assistant race director, prepared us well for how the week was going to go and what to expect.  She encouraged us to get to know the other crews prior to race day because once the race starts it's harder to meet people.  I took the time at registration to talk to as many people as I could.  I met the mom of the youngest competitor.  She was crewing for her son (how awesome is that!).  I met Dee, the eventual women's champion.  I met Pip Holland, the winner of the inaugural Ultraman Australia, who was helping on the medical team that week.  Pip and I had exchanged messages prior to my arrival in Australia and she gave me some very helpful pointers.

From here on out, I'm going to just tell you stories.  They may not flow seamlessly like a normal "race report" but these are the things I want to remember, the stories that were important to me.  Later, in another post, I'll share the most common questions I've gotten along with the answers.  So if you have anything you're dying to know please comment below!

Day 1:  10k swim + 90 mile bike

Photo credit:  Chris Blick

As soon as my feet hit the water all my nerves disappeared.  I was ready to get the day started and as I swam out to the start buoy I prepared my mind for the task ahead.

Photo credit:  Eyes Wide Open Images

The water was choppier than I expected.  I didn't anticipate smooth sailing, but I had hoped for the glassy calm of the bay from the pictures of Ultramans past.  I felt good for about 1500 meters, then we rounded the first turn buoy and headed back into choppier waters.  About 2000 in, I swam headfirst into another swimmer.  Our heads didn't collide thankfully, but we sort of intertwined arms and came up above the water in what was almost an embrace.  I think we were both caught a little off guard and it took a second for me to get my rhythm back.  Rather than be upset by it, I took our *hug* as a sign of encouragement and silently wished my fellow athlete well in the rest of his swim as I continued mine.

Photo credit:  Eyes Wide Open Images

Marsha kept the kayak even with my line of sight so that every time I breathed to her side I saw her smiling and nodding at me encouragingly.  On our planned schedule she would wave my water bottle at me and I'd stop to take in my fuel.  Around 5k in we made another turn and I saw her starting to work hard to propel the kayak.  In my head I thought, Wow, I must be swimming really strong!  In reality, she was having to work hard just to move the kayak against the current, but feeling like I was doing really well was a huge mental boost at that point in the race.

Photo credit:  Eyes Wide Open Images

When we neared the shore toward the end of the swim I could see her signaling to the crew on land and she was smiling and cheering me on.  I swam the final couple hundred yards to shore without her by my side as she navigated the kayak over the swells.  When I stood up, Dan was there to usher me under the timing banner.  I turned and saw Marsha on shore and ran over to hug her first.  She had seamlessly, beautifully, successfully led me to my goal swim time which was sub 2:45.

Photo credit:  Laura Wright

I felt less than great during the first day's bike ride.  I was hungry for the first two hours and was eating every 15 minutes to try to catch up from the 10k swim.  In training when I swim 10k, I usually proceed to breakfast immediately and down about 1000 calories.  For some reason I didn't take into consideration that I was going to be feeling this hungry... and still have to keep moving forward on my bike.  Next time around I'll double my swim calories.

Photo credit:  Laura Wright

I also felt a bit of vertigo, like how after you feel getting off a week long cruise?  Your feet are on solid ground but your brain is still rollin' with the ocean?  It was pretty mild but it definitely made me feel less than spectacular.  Day 1 was rolling hills.  Lots of them.  And steep ones.  I didn't spend much time in my aero bars.  Partly because I didn't feel great, and partly because of the climbing.  Either way, I was happy to roll into the finish first female after just over 8 hours of swimming and biking.

Photo credit:  Laura Wright

I got through medical checks, and waited in line for massage.  Heidi hitched a ride back to the apartment with Laura to start prepping dinner.  Heidi was in charge of all my nutrition for the entire week-- both on the race course and post race-- as well as feeding the crew.  She made big family style dinners for them and I had a huge bowl of rice with tamari sauce, avocado and eggs.  I assured my crew I'd feel better on day 2.  I knew the vertigo would resolve itself after a good night's rest.

Photo credit:  Laura Wright

Day 2:  170 mile bike

We rolled out in peloton formation at the start of day 2 with a police escort for the first 8-10k.  I was under the impression that when the lead out vehicle left us, we would immediately resume non-drafting position.   That didn't happen, and instead everyone was sort of jostling for position and still riding in a draft.  I mostly wanted to keep the first 2 girls in sight, and I wanted to move up to keep an eye on them, but I also wanted to ride legal distance.  Eventually, my frustration got the better of me and since I had been pushing less than 100 watts sitting in this pack (which is super easy pace for me) I found myself passing everyone and taking the lead for a short time.  Being out front I was able to get into my aero bars and ride my pace and not worry about what was happening behind me.  After several miles the stronger men began passing me, and by this time everyone was riding legally so I could just keep doing what I was doing and let them go by me.

The first 50k was a no-crew zone.  It was quiet and the sun was just beginning to come up as we rode through some beautiful country side.  Before we made it out of this stretch, there was one more bit of chaos.  An athlete in front of me hit a pot hole in the road and went down hard.  He fractured several ribs and his clavicle.  I didn't witness the crash, but about a dozen of us rode up on the scene fairly quickly.  There were a couple of vehicles behind us and we waved them forward and asked them to call the paramedics.  They assured us they would take care of him and told us to continue riding.  We rolled out and once again had to jockey a bit for position.  Everyone was a little bit shaken up and riding a little more conservatively for a few miles.

Photo credit:  Running Paparazzi 

I was somewhat relieved to be out of the first 50k and back with support teams.  We settled into a routine of leap-frogging, fueling and hydrating.  I felt really good.  Strong.  My watts after the 50k were a bit higher than I was planning but I felt good and decided to just go with it.  There was plenty of climbing on day 2, about 10,000 feet total gain, but I found myself able to ride comfortably in my aero bars for a majority of the day sitting up only to climb the steeper/ longer ascents.

Around 100k in I went through a low patch.  Calories were fine, I just felt a little blah.  At about 150k I suffered a puncture and when I tried to change my tire I realized that it was lacerated and unlikely to hold air for any length of time.  Thankfully, there was another crew across the street.  They ran over to help me and when we figured out I needed a new tire they gave me their spare wheel.  This is what Ultraman is all about, right there.  This is the Kokua... the help.  They didn't even give it a second thought.  I needed a wheel and they provided.  I was so grateful for their help as my crew didn't intend to drive the short out-n-back where my flat occurred.

I lost 7 minutes on the side of the road and got passed by several men and the next woman, Dee.  This snapped me out of my funk as I had to get working again to get back in the race.  I stayed on top of fluids/ calories and kept my head down and my power up.  A while later, maybe 170k, I passed Dee on one of the bigger hills.  She had some mechanical issues with her bike on day 1 and had to do a few last minute fixes and I think she was left with a less than ideal cassette for climbing.  

Photo credit:  Running Paparazzi 

From that point on, I knew we were close together as I saw her crew leap frogging me the rest of the day.  At 200k in I was feeling really good, better than I should have felt at that effort level, and I asked Chris what the women's bike course record was.  He did some research and a few miles later he reported back to me.  I knew that it would be close, but it was totally doable.  Chasing the record fueled my fire, and also gave my crew a huge boost.  9 hours is a really REALLY long day in the car and having something to work for, and look forward to, gave them a much needed spark.

I was back and forth with Dee once more and by the time we rolled into town I had enough of a lead that I thought I could hold the win.  The finish line was actually about a half mile from the staging area -- they didn't want us racing through the busiest section of traffic.  I crossed the line, shouted out my race number and immediately burst into tears.  I was overwhelmed with joy, pride, and exhaustion.  Racing 170 miles over 9 hours with such intense focus and determination took everything I had physically and mentally.

Photo credit:  Laura Wright

Dee crossed the finish line 27 seconds behind me.  When we got off our bikes we hugged and celebrated the fact that we broke the previous course record by 12 minutes.  Technically the day 2 bike course record is mine, but there is no way I could have ridden that hard without Dee pushing me to my very best.  And I am so excited to watch this woman (who was mere seconds off the Ultraman world record after all 3 days) in her future adventures.  She is a beast with the a heart of gold.

Photo credit:  Laura Wright

Dee and I after stage 2.

Day 2 was by far my favorite of the three days.  The thing I loved about this race comes down to 3 things:

1.  I was never alone.  Even though I'm the one pedaling 170 miles, my crew was with me every step of the way.  Seeing them, and interacting with them, even if it was just to exchange bottles and fuel, was such a need boost to my spirit.  Unlike Ironman, where you can be surrounded by 2000 people but feel completely alone because it's every man for himself/ herself.  Ultraman really is a team event.

2.  I had no less than 6 crews, other than my own, cheering for me by name all day long.  It wasn't always the same crews as we separated out on the road and passed or got passed by others.  But the Ultraman Ohana was alive and well on course through the entire event.  In the photo below you can see my crew (in lime green) along with at least 2 other crews cheering for the rider that's passing by.

Photo credit:  Eyes Wide Open Images

3.  It was fun to push myself through a ride of that distance.  For the final 100k I thought at any minute I could blow up and things could go south very quickly.  But I didn't and in the process I shattered any preconceived ideas about what I was capable of.  I am excited to capitalize on this new level of fitness and mental toughness.

Day 3:  52.4 mile run

The run was tough.  I knew it would be, and I thought if there was a day I would be up against the time limit it would be day 3.  Unlike my experience in Canada where we literally never took our eyes off of Barry, in Australia we were running on paved paths that often weaved through parks and we could be several miles without vehicle support.  So I basically had a pacer with me from mile 1 on.

Photo credit:  Eyes Wide Open Images

Marsha, Dan, and Chris each took an hour at a time to get me through the first marathon.  Coming back from the turn around we got a little lost and added on some #bonusmiles.  At that point I got a bit discouraged.  I asked Heidi to jump in and run a little bit with me and she obliged.

When Heidi took over pacing from Dan I was in my lowest point.  I cried a little, feeling like I was letting everyone down because I couldn't hold onto my pace.  She let me have my moment and then made me laugh by swearing at me in her Boston accent.  Those few miles with her were my favorite of the day.  She took my mind off what I was doing and we actually picked up the pace a bit.

Photo credit:  Eyes Wide Open Images

Chris and Marsha rotated in for a couple more rounds of pacing.  I retired from triathlon at least 4 times during the second marathon.  Marsha and I dreamed up our next venture.  We were going to do arts and crafts and sell them.  Cause why wouldn't people want to buy our shit, right?  We were going to have a little shop, and not do anything physical, just do crafts.  I don't even know how to do crafts.  Like, what's even involved in that?  You just make random shit?  I don't know.  But we were convinced this was our next path in life.

Photo credit:  Eyes Wide Open Images

Chris and I talked about the most random topics related to current issues in our society, reality television and all manner of inappropriate topics, none of which will be revealed here because #whathappensatultramanstaysatultraman  :)  It was a lot of fun and got my mind off of the pain for the most part.  Basically we solved all of the worlds problems soooo...  #chrisforpresident

Dan ran with me the final 4 miles or so.  As planned, I swapped out my visor for my FindingAloha hat when the crew departed us to head to the finish line.  I got a little choked up knowing that we were nearly finished.  When we hit the beach for the last half mile, everyone was there.  The entire crew and cheer squad.  We ran across the beach and up the last few meters of sand which was a struggle after 52 miles... but I was still smiling.

Photo credit:  Eyes Wide Open Images

And just like that, our journey was over.  It's really difficult to put into words everything that Ultraman is and how it impacts you.

The experience this time around was definitely different from the crewing experience.  As an athlete it's much more selfish.  Everything revolves around making sure you're fed and hydrated.  Making sure you're resting when you should be resting.  Making sure your bike is washed and the van is cleaned out and packed for the next day.  But there is also something incredibly beautiful and humbling about being so vulnerable.  About having to ask for help and being entirely dependent on others for your needs.  Being at your most physically depleted and having this team of people never shy away from lifting you up.

These last few weeks as I've reflected on Ultraman I've been filled with gratitude so deep I often don't know how to express it.  Thank you is just not enough.  For one week we were more than family.  We laughed until we cried.  We shared highs and lows enough for a lifetime.  We are changed by this experience and even though we parted ways in LAX, we will always be bonded by this adventure.  We will always have Ultraman Australia 2017.

Photo credit:  Eyes Wide Open Images

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Ultraman Training: Finding Aloha in the Uncomfortable

I have started this post about a dozen times.  And a dozen times I've been interrupted, and then more exciting things happen so I delete and start over.  And it's been a month since my last update.  If I tried to explain everything that has happened in that 30 day time period I guarantee you would not believe me.  I'll run through some highlights.

1.  DAYS after my last post, we went to camp.

Our annual Team HPB training camp takes place over a long weekend in March.  During this weekend we smash ourselves and encourage our teammates to do the same.  This year going into camp with a decent amount of fitness I thought, Oh, I'll just breeze through the 100 mile bike ride and 10k swim no problem.  And compared to past years I did "breeze" through them.  But Hillary always manages to make the workouts challenging testing both my pride and my confidence.

For example, I've been swimming loads of yards for weeks now.  10k is really not a big deal.  BUT she made it a big deal by assigning me intervals that I can't hit.  Like 30 x 100 on 1:30, as 75 free/ 25 stroke (alternating back/ breast / fly).  Free no problem.  All those other strokes?  Forgedaboudit.  Or a kick set on 2:00.  (I SUCK at kicking).  But I did survive the swim.  And I was stronger for challenging myself through it.

A little post 10k swim selfie.

My favorite day ended up being our annual team race up Mt. Lemmon.  We divide into groups based on predicted finish time and then when your group hits the base of the climb it's game on.  We were instructed to race up the hill.  So in my little group of 6 or 8, we got to mile 0, I lapped out and gave them about 20 seconds to get moving and when no one did I surged from the back and took off.

First ones to the Cookie Cabin!!  #allthefood

About a mile later, Coach Alyssa had pulled Lauren up to my wheel and deposited her there.  We were instructed to keep the pressure on, work together and alternate miles.  We rode together until somewhere around mile 10 and when I went to take the lead Lauren fell off the back.  Only I didn't realize it so I kept going... talking to myself this whole time.  At some point when I don't get a response, I glance back and see that she's gone.  I'm by myself.

So I continued to hammer the pace stopping only briefly to refill water at Windy Point.  I lapped out at the top of the climb, 3W shy of my all time best, and 3 minutes shy of my PR.

Top of Gates Pass with my Team HPB roomie, Alli!

2.  The day after run.

Camp ends on Monday with a long trail run.  It's more of an adventure run because inevitably you get lost in the desert and 14 miles ends up taking 3 hours.  It's tradition to meet for margaritas on Monday night at the JW Marriott and celebrate the fact that you survived.  After lunch on Monday everyone checks their training plans for the next day to coordinate meeting up for the 2-3k recovery swim.  Everyone's looking at their smartphones and deciding which flavor of margarita they're going to get drunk on.  Meanwhile I am looking at my smartphone and a single tear rolls down my face.

Lost in the desert.  #adventurerun

My plan says this:  12- mile build on river path as 3 easy-3 steady- 3 stronger-3 very strong.
this is not about being fast -it is about doing the best you can on tired legs #ultramantraining

Immediately I am feeling sorry for myself.  Where's my easy recovery swim?  Maybe camp was supposed to feel easy and I don't need recovery?  Then why don't I feel like it was easy??

It was a slippery slope and needless to say there were no margaritas for me that night.  My husband drank a few margaritas to numb his tired body, but opted to retire to our casita early with me so that he could sherpa my run the next morning.

12 mile progression run on tried legs.  #ultramanstrong

We got up early to hit the river path.  My first 2 miles were slow and stiff.  10:45, and 10:30 respectively.  And then the stiffness and soreness from 5 days of camp just melted away and each mile was progressively faster.  I tried to keep them in groups of 3 as I was instructed.  My second 3 miles were closer to 945.  My 3rd set of 3 was around 9 or just under.  My last 3 miles?  824, 813, 735.  Those miles were faster than my progression run after the Mt. Lemmon ride.  And the best part was I felt fantastic by the end.  Like I could run forever.  Tired + Strong= Happy Place

And I still got to do my recovery swim later that afternoon.

3.  THE Ultraman Planning meeting!

After my run along the river path I sat down with Hillary for a 2 hour planning session.  We talked about everything pertaining to Ultraman.  Logistics.  Race strategy.  Nutrition.  Crew strategy.  Clothing options.  Anything and everything that might be important.  We made lists.  We looked at course profiles online.  We went over it all.  I felt a lot better about everything afterwards because I actually had a plan in place.  Hillary also reviewed the calendar for the next 6 weeks and we discussed where we could put all my final BIG workouts so I have a plan in place.

Hillary looks very excited about my impending suffering.

4.  The Lemmon Double.

A mere 5 days later I found myself back in Tucson, this time to tackle the Mt. Lemmon double.  Hillary had a second camp taking place and she thought it would be a good idea for me to climb the mountain twice with some SAG support in place.

I woke up that morning to a 3 am alarm and felt like my brain had been peeled out of dreamland.  You know that feeling when you wake up after a night of drinking and you're not hungover, but actually still drunk?  That's how I felt.  Only there was no drinking involved.  I felt dizzy.  And weak.  And slightly nauseated.  I am 100% certain it was a combination of being slightly dehydrated and calorically deprived from the day before.

The whole way to Tucson I blasted Avril Lavigne and Ana Nallick, while pounding calories and caffeine in hopes that I would wake up.  I parked at Le Buzz and took off on my bike in the early morning darkness.  There was no one in sight.  It was quiet and peaceful and watching the sun rise over the mountain, casting light over the varied terrain was spectacular.

Unfortunately I didn't appreciate my surroundings for long, and soon I was in survival mode.  I felt like dirt.  I drank my bottles filled with the usual calories, and ate some food but nothing was helping.  I cried.  A lot.  But I kept going.  After what seemed like an eternity I made it to the top of the main climb.  I pulled into the Palisades Visitor Center parking lot.  I got off my bicycle and sat down on the curb.  And I cried.  I cried believing that I was not going to do the second lap.  I was going to descend the mountain, go back to my car, and drive home with my tail between my legs.  I ate some more calories, dried my face, and started down.

As luck would have it, Hillary's group was only at mile 1 of the climb when I passed on my way down. I shouted over "this is not happening" and she responded "yes it is. You're fine". I stopped at the bottom of the climb, cried some more, took off my winter descending gear, ate some more and turned my bike around to head back up. It was quite possibly the hardest decision I've ever made. My car was 4 (flat) miles away. My pillow and bed were a 2 hour drive away. And I turned around for another 5 hours on the mountain.
Smiling because I finally caught up with SAG on lap 2!

I started catching the slower riders within a couple of miles and SAG passed me at around mile 3 and my friend Lauren yelled some encouragement out the window-- I immediately burst into tears. I stopped for SAG at mile 6 and basically cried the entire time I was eating/ refilling water.  

After my second trip up I pretty much looked like a zombie.
And then I got back on my bike and kept pedaling uphill. My second lap was much stronger than my first. Having company was such a boost and I forced myself to take in calories every 20 minutes. I made it to the top and sat like a zombie while everyone slowly arrived.

Pit stop with Team HPB teammate, Colleen.

When it was time to go, Hillary biked with me to the top of the climb out and then I descended alone. By the time I finished I was crying again, but not because I was feeling bad, but because I actually finished the ride when everything in me wanted to quit. Physically I've done way worse workouts/ races... but mentally-- major demons were conquered.

Here is what I learned. It is 100% mental. All of it. I was convinced that I had contracted the flu and that's why I felt so shitty on the first lap. I felt dizzy, weak, completely miserable. That ALL went away when I had calories in me and company on the road.

Mt. Lemmon Double:  second time up.

These are the instructions I told my crew that night after eating an entire pizza and sitting on the sofa for an hour:    No matter how many times I tell you I'm finished, I'm not finished. You can let me cry as long as I keep going. Tears felt like the only response my body had after a certain point. Please do not be afraid if I cry. Everything else felt like autopilot. Second lap up, I literally felt like a robot, programmed to do only what HPB told me to do. I had no feelings or emotions other than hunger/ thirst.

I know I am in very capable hands in 5 weeks.  I have tried to share as much of this journey with my crew as possible so that not only do they feel more a part of it, but they also know what I've been through.  And at mile 150 when I still have more than an hour to go on day 2, and 12 hours on day 3, they can remind me of The Lemmon Double.  

5.  Swimming with my paddler.

A few weeks ago we got an email from the assistant race director.  They "strongly encouraged" us to have one of our own crew members be our paddler during the swim.  Of course I immediately have a panic attack because a) I live in the desert b) none of my crew kayaks c) we are less than 7 weeks from race day.  I simultaneously messaged my entire crew/ cheer squad on our private FB page and emailed the assistant RD.  After a few hours, and many, many emails (Thank you, Dayle!!!) I finally came to the decision to do a test run with one of my cheer squad members.  

Marsha is one of my closest friends and when everyone was commenting on my post with "this is not ideal, but we'll do it" type of response she sent me a private text message explaining her background on the water, her comfort level, and her desire to be my kayaker.  Instantly I felt calmed by her confidence.  We set up a date to borrow a kayak from my colleague and take a practice run in Saguaro Lake.  

We were made for each other.  She tested my ability to follow the kayak by steering this way and that way.  I never had to pick up my head once because I could just breathe to my right and she was right there.  I could adjust my position based on how close I was to the kayak and didn't have to worry at all about where I was going.  I ended up swimming about 3/4 mile farther than I should have because I was just in my zen place.  

1 paddler + 1 swimmer + 1 kayak= fun morning on the lake!

And so ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce my 4th and final crew member, promoted from cheer captain!!  (Blog interview coming!!)

6.  10k is the new 5k.

I love swimming and I'm always anxious to see what type of long swims I have coming my way.  The 10k I've been doing lately looks like this:

Warm up: 1500 (specific set but not relevant to this post...)
5 times through this main set:
5 x 100 @ 1:25, 
500 swim for time
500 PBB cruise (so not totally easy, but not race pace)
Cool down:  1000 (specific set)

What I love is that even when I'm at 8k, I can hit my 100s on 1:25 no problem, and my 500s for time were on a 1:22 pace.  That is the benefit of Ultraman training.  During IM training, a 30 x 100 on 1:25 would have put me on the couch for 2 hours.  Now, it's like, whatever, I've been through worse.   I love these long, challenging sets.  I will be a little sad when Ultraman is over.  I might beg to do a 10k once a month just for fun.  :)

7.  Oceanside 70.3

The week of Oceanside we backed off the training just a touch to try to rest my legs for the race.  Even up to race morning I just didn't feel like I had much to give.  I texted my #bff and told her "I don't want to race today.  I want to stay in bed.  I am racing.  I just wanted to say how I really feel."  To which she responded with "LOL!"  Not exactly the sympathy I was looking for.  

I went through the whole pre-race routine and by the time we lined up for the swim start I was like, whatever, it'll be a short training day.  The swim was nothing special, but when I got onto my bike I felt so. fucking. strong.  Ridiculous strong.  Ultraman strong.

Representing Smash-Dimond:  we are STRONG!

I was pushing higher watts than I've ever been able to before in a 70.3, but yet never felt like I was going to blow up.  I could just keep going forever.  My legs were burning, for sure, but it's that tired + strong feeling that you probably only understand if you're doing the kind of training that would push your legs into that zone.  I can imagine it's what a ultrarunner feels like when he lines up for a half marathon.  It is the best feeling ever and if I wasn't so tired right now I might entertain the idea of another Ultraman in my future.  I LOVE this training.  I am eating it up.

Back to Oceanside.  When I got off my bike I had no idea what my run legs were going to look like.  But it was more of the same.  I felt SO STRONG.  I clicked off the first couple of miles a little too fast (like usual) and then settled into my planned pace for the run.  And I just stayed there.  It was amazing.  I've never felt like this in a race before.  I've had good races before but never a race where I was doing this well and felt so comfortable being so uncomfortable.  Ultraman training has definitely taken the ability to suffer to an entirely different level.  And it is so exciting.  

Photo courtesy of @tpspates :  Oceanside run course.

With the rolling start it was about an hour before I finally believed that I had actually won my age group.  There could always be someone who starts 20 minutes behind me in the swim and races faster.  So I waited and waited and the little number 1 next to my name on the Ironman tracker didn't change!!  I've been on the podium in Oceanside before, in 4th and in 2nd.  But this was my first ever age group win!  

And the best part about it was how great my body felt in the days after the race.  There was no soreness.  I was tired, like sleepy tired, but no measurable fatigue.  And when I did my first 30 minute jog a couple days later there was no requisite 10 minutes for my legs to feel like they weren't filled with lead.  I just felt normal.  Like I was going for an easy run.  My body is absorbing, recovering, and adapting, over and over, and it feels amazing.  

Photo courtesy of @smashfestqueen :  Our Smash-Dimond Team kits!!! LOVE!

8.  The final countdown.
Before I go, I want to share the second half of the interview that was recorded by Renee Hodges of Foundation Physical Therapy.  She and several of her athletes were racing in Oceanside last weekend too!  Always great to see them out on course working hard!  Click HERE to open the video!  The first half was shared in my last post-- so scroll down if you missed it and you can find the link there.  

I have 35 days left before I am lined up on the beach in Noosa ready to swim 10km, bike 420 km, and run 84.3 km.  I have 24 days before I board my flight.  I have 3 LONG rides left to do, one trip to the Grand Canyon, and one 50km training run.  I am trying to savor every single day because the time is slipping by so quickly.  It seems like just yesterday that I was nervously submitting my application to the Ultraman Australia team, when in reality it was 9 months ago.... (before Kona!)  And I know that if I blink my crew and I will be sitting at the awards banquet on May 16th and it will all be over.  I am excited and terrified, and hopeful, and grateful, and tired, and strong, and ready.  I am ready to be part of the Ultraman Ohana.  I am ready to do work, Kokua, to give everything that I have and all of my heart to this adventure that lies ahead of me.  I am ready to find my Aloha on the eastern coast of Australia.    


Monday, March 6, 2017

Putting the HOW into Ironman Training

There's a lot that goes into being able to train and race Ironman.  I've had some questions over the last few months and I thought it would be fun to talk about the HOW.  How do I make it all work?  Where does the money come from?  Logistically, how do I manage to race multiple times per year?  The why is the easy part.  The how is the meat and potatoes.

1.  Time management.

Each of us chooses how to spend our time.  Regardless of if you compete in triathlon or not, each of us has 24 hours every day to allocate to the things that are important to us.  In theory how you spend your time should reflect your priorities.  For me, outside of my job (which is not necessarily MY priority, but definitely a necessity), training is priority number 1.

For the last 5 years I've worked a full time job with 4 long shifts per week.  So the days I worked were longer - 11 hour shifts.  And I own a small business.  So on my "off" days, I am spending anywhere from 6-12 hours per week at my small business, mostly behind the scenes taking care of bills, payroll, paperwork.  As of January 1, I decided to go part time.  Mostly because I was burned out at work.  After 17 years in the field, I found I was lacking the compassion and emotional energy needed for me to be good at my job.  By stepping back, I feel so much less stress and have started looking forward to coming to work again.  I'm not sure if I will go back to full time at some point.  Time will tell.  But for now, I am enjoying a little extra time at Cadence (my small business) and a little more free time for recovery.

I miss out on a lot of the social things.  Dinners, parties, etc, that take place after 7 pm.  And because we choose to travel and race, there's not a lot of extra money for eating out, shopping, entertainment.  I don't like the word "sacrifice" because it implies that I'm giving up something that I want and other than time with friends, I really don't care about all the other stuff I'm missing out on.

I also realized recently that people seem to think that I train WAY more than I actually do.  For Ironman training, I averaged 12-15 hours per week.  Maybe in peak week I would top out at 18.  Maybe.  And an easy week might be more like 6-8 hours.  Granted, I was working 50 hours a week and really, there's no time for more than that... but even if there was, I'm not sure I would have been assigned more.  We'll see when I go back to "just Ironman training."  (Ha!!)

Having stepped back in my profession, and begun the bulk of Ultraman training I've been a little closer to the 20 hour per week mark.  With Ultraman there HAS to be long bike rides and very long swims.  I never rode 6 hour in one session before an Ironman.  Well, at Ultraman there's a good chance I'm going to be on the bike between 10-12 hours on day 2, so I better prepare for that in training.  And I have to swim 10k in the ocean.  So instead of topping out at 5k for Ironman prep, I am doing a weekly long swim between 7-8k, and soon there'll be a weekly 10k swim.

I'm not going to pretend that I have some amazing formula for work/ life balance.  But I will say that I am blessed beyond belief that my husband enjoys this sport as much as I do.  So it never crosses our minds that we are spending "too much time training."  We make it work because we want to.  And I've found that when you WANT something, amazingly enough you're a lot more willing to make it happen.

Couples who play together, stay together.

2.  Money

Guys.  I don't have kids.  This may be the biggest factor in my being able to train and race triathlon.  Truthfully, I am winning the no-kids lottery here.  Kids are expensive.  I am selfish.  I would much rather spend my money on myself.  Don't worry, that's not why I didn't have kids.  It's a lot more complicated than that but the bottom line is, it's a choice.  One that 100% of people have to make at some point in their lives.  I'm just glad I realized it early enough in my life to take preventive measures.

I'm not rich by any stretch.  In fact, we are well below the median income for Ironman participants.  But my husband and I live in a house that we like.  We ride bikes that we chose.  We travel to races that we want to go to.  We can afford good food- with a lot of organic options.  We don't go out to dinner often.  We don't really spend money on entertainment.  We don't have car payments or credit card debt.  We don't have student loans.  We have an in-case-of-emergency savings account.  We have a retirement account.  And from what I've been told, I can't take it with me when I'm gone so I don't mind enjoying life a little while I'm here.

3.  Habit

We started in the sport of triathlon 12 years ago.  WOW.  That seems like forever!  For reals, that's almost 1/3 of my life.  During the last 12 years we have formed patterns and habits that make training routine.  It's part of our day just like eating and sleeping and going to work.

On a side note, there are certainly a lot of excuses.  A lot of seemingly valid reasons why we shouldn't / couldn't get our training done.  But because we WANT to do it, there are no excuses.  My alarm sounds at some version of 4 am (sometimes 330, sometimes 445) but there is never a morning when I hit the snooze button.  Or decide I'll do my workout "later" (because we all know later never happens).  It's habit.  It's routine.  It's not always easy or pleasant to get up at 4 am, but having a routine makes it so much easier.

One of the differences with Ultraman training is that I'm doing a lot more split sessions.  Meaning one workout in the morning, with a mandatory 4-6 hour break before a second afternoon session.  I will admit that I am very much a morning person and as easy as it is for me to get out of bed at 4 am, it is sometimes equally difficult to get out the door for round two.  Especially if it's something I don't particularly love, like a treadmill run.  In the morning I don't give it a second thought.  In the afternoon, I have to look beyond motivation to get it done.

Nailing an afternoon session with a little help from my better half.

4.  Logistics

Travel logistics present a nightmare for a lot of people.  Over the last few years we've routinely done 3-4 Ironman events per year.  That means traveling to places like Panama City Beach, Lake Placid, and Coeur D'Alene.  We minimize our hotel costs as much as possible by doing research well in advance of when we need to make a reservation.  We try to split costs with friends when the opportunity arises.  And I married someone who is as Type A as I am, so I don't feel stressed about making all these arrangements.  He is so much more on top of it than I am, sometimes.  We have a good system.  I take care of flight/ car rental and he works on hotel.  There's a lot of communication in there but we never get two months out from race day and realize no one has made plans.

Also, along with logistics (and money!), there are a lot of "rewards" credit cards available now that will cover flights and other travel arrangements.  We have two credit cards that we use for business so we accumulate points very quickly.  In the last 4 years we've maybe had to pay for 2 flights which saves a TON of money.  Obviously not everyone has a small business that has purchasing power, but we all have monthly spending that could be working for us.

Update on Ultraman

We are now 67 days from the start of Ultraman!  I had my biggest training week to date last week with 224 miles on the bike, 39 miles running, and 22k in the pool.  It always amazes me how the body absorbs and adapts to the work that is being consistently done.  After my 50k I had a couple of weeks where my run legs were just a little blah.  Ironically, it was after a couple of hard bike sessions that the run legs came around.  My body was absorbing the work that had been done, it has adapted, and now we can take it to the next level.  Baby steps.

I am feeling less terrified of surviving Ultraman and more confident that I will be able to achieve this dream.  Later this week we're off to our annual Team HPB training camp.  Last year I was pretty much dead last in every bike ride.  I am hopeful that the work I've done so far this year will help me to be able to hang in a little bit longer.  And I'm super excited to get onto Mt. Lemmon and see what I can do!

Also I want to share Part 1 of an interview that was done with Renee Hodges of Foundation Physical Therapy.  We sat down in January to chat and she shared the first half of our conversation on Foundation's Facebook page.  Nothing life shattering, just a little more about my background.  I have always believed that if I can do this sport, and THRIVE in this sport, anyone can.

And if you are interested in taking YOUR training to a new level, I am coaching under Hillary Biscay on Team HPB!!  I have been working with several athletes for the last 8 months or so, and as of January, I am officially part of the Team HPB coaching staff.  Feel free to contact Hillary directly for information or comment on this post and I can get in touch with you directly.  You don't have to be winning races, you just have to be committed to the process of getting the best out of yourself.  We work around all kinds of work schedules, family commitments, etc.  And as I mentioned above, don't let the name scare you away.  Each athlete is individual and not everyone shares the same volume of training.  I want to help my athletes in their journey of #findingaloha... whatever that looks like for them.