Friday, September 2, 2016

Ironman Coeur d'Alene: Finding Aloha before the Big Aloha!!

Two weekends ago I broke my longest non-racing streak since 2012 at Ironman Coeur d'Alene, my first Ironman since November!!  9 very long months.

I bring this up because in the last few months I've had so. many. people. question why I would be racing Ironman CDA so close to Kona (7 weeks apart).  I completely understand why most people would opt not to do this, and as I've discussed with my coach in the past- when I share my dreams and plans openly I leave myself open for judgement.  And I'm 100% OK with that.  I think more than anything, it's an opportunity for me to share the whys and hows of racing Ironman.

In the past 3 years my racing schedule has looked like this (not including any half iron distance races, olys, sprints, trail races, ultramarathons, or running races of any sort.... of which I included plenty in between!)

2013:  IM Texas--5 weeks-- IM CDA -- 13 weeks-- IM Lake Tahoe--8 weeks--IM AZ.
2014:  IM Texas--16 weeks--IM Wisconsin--10 weeks-- IM AZ.
2015:  IM Texas--10 weeks--IM Lake Placid--8 weeks--IM Lake Tahoe--8 weeks-- IM AZ.

And here's the thing, since I have started working with Hillary in January 2014, I've had good races and I've had not so good races.  I've been really, really fit for some races, and so-so fit for others.  We have built my plans with all of these races in mind and even squeezed in IM Lake Tahoe at the last minute last year when I had a really good race at Placid and we wanted to build on that fitness some more before IM AZ.  Not every race is an "A" race, but we try to use EVERY race to build fitness and confidence.  I've never regretted a single race I've done, have learned something in every race I've done, and have continued to grow as an athlete.

I LOVE to race.  I'm not an athlete that could sit on the sidelines holding all my cards for ONE race.  A) I would be bored out of my mind and B) putting all my eggs in one basket I think I would be limiting myself and would end up disappointed if it didn't go exactly as I wanted.  By racing often I'm never out of practice and if I have a not so great race, it's fine because there is always the next one.

The other thing is that in the past 2.5 years since hiring Hillary I have recovered better and faster than I ever did before.  And none of that is on me... I'm just getting older... it is everything to do with her and how brilliant she is at incorporating recovery into our programs.  Keep in mind, as my #bff pointed out, I am OCD and do exactly as I'm told.  Never more.  And never less.  I give my best effort every day.  If I am told to go easy, I go easy.  If I am told to go hard, I go hard.  So I do take some responsibility for that aspect.  There's no more guilt about missing a key session and trying to make it up somewhere, doubling up or working extra hard the next day.  My training schedule is written with my life in mind so there's no need to miss any workouts.

But back to Kona.  Here's something you probably don't know unless you've followed me for a while.  The very first time my husband raced Kona (2009) I took my bike to train while we were there.  I was getting ready for IMAZ.  I did my long ride on the course and when I finished what was at the time the hardest ride I've ever done (which was ridiculous considering I only made it 75 miles)... I declared that I never wanted to race in Hawaii.  To say it terrified me was an understatement.  I was bonked, dehydrated, and an absolute hot mess after a miserable ride.

Two years later, I felt differently.  I had grown and changed and thought, maybe I could actually do it and survive.  And 2 years after that I was actively pursuing qualification.

Despite the growth and confidence I've built over the last 4 years, Kona has remained this enigma that seemed, seems still, very surreal.  For me, coming out of IM AZ last year, I knew that I didn't want Kona to be my first race of the season.  I need that first race to remind my body of how much it hurts, and make any last minute adjustments to my nutrition / hydration plan and to get mentally prepared for the big day.  I know it sounds crazy, but my confidence comes from racing (good, bad or otherwise) and learning from those experiences.

I endure more pain (physical and emotional) in training than in a race, and every one of those training sessions is vital to my success.  But it's the race experience that allows me to utilize my training, to put it to the test, and see where I stack up against my competition.  Race day is the icing.  The reward.

IM CDA was the absolute perfect tune up race for me, completely by chance.  I watched the weather leading up to race day so I would know how to pack.  10 days out the forecast was 70s and sunny.  Then the forecast started to heat up, and there was some concern for rain.  As it turned out, it was warm, but not hot.  I never saw the final weather report for that day, but my guess is it didn't get warmer than 83 degrees.  A forest fire started west of town and blocked the sun on my 3rd loop of the run, which actually caused the temps to drop a little so it never reached the expected high for the day.

But it was windy as fuck.  The wind on the second loop of the bike was unreal.  I was having flashbacks to St. George 2012.  And I honestly think this was worse than 2012, but I was prepared for it so it didn't hit me the same way.  There were times I felt like I was going backwards.  And yet, no one was passing me.  "They" always say, everyone is dealing with the same conditions so you can't let them get the better of you, and this was the perfect example.  No matter how shitty I felt on the bike, I was still out front.  Every once in a while some dude would go by me.  And then I would be alone for miles at a time.

The wind is my kryptonite and definitely the thing I've feared most about Kona.  Being able to push my watts on this day, and come off the bike feeling decent was huge for me.  It gave me the confidence to stop thinking about "just getting to the finish line" on October 8.  I know now that I will be OK.  I can stick to my plan, execute my race and have the day that I've worked so hard for.

I have always said that Ironman Coeur d'Alene is my favorite race and I think this still holds true.  It was my 20th Ironman finish, and 20% of those finishes have been at CDA!  The venue is beautiful.  The bike course is challenging, yet rewards those who have worked hard in training and remain fearless in execution.  And the run course is well supported and beautiful.

I didn't have a perfect day at CDA.  In my post race analysis with the boss, we discussed my struggles: I was STARVING all day long-- which has never happened to me before.  I didn't change anything in my pre-race diet and build up.  In the past I've struggled fueling on the bike but I've never gotten on my bike at mile 1 and been like, geez I'm hungry!  Hillary felt that it was most likely just bad timing with some normal hormone fluctuations.  So actually, until I cleaned up my diet, I hadn't had a regular cycle in quite some time.  Since working with Katie at OWN Nutrition for the last 6 months, I've actually seen some progress in this area-- which though inconvenient is a really, really good thing. When you deprive your body of nutrients, regardless of how many calories worth of cookies you're eating, you can set yourself up for loss of bone density and injury.

Good news is this likely won't be a problem in Hawaii (thank goodness it's 7 weeks and not 8!!).  And by keeping better tabs on my fluctuations we can pinpoint when this is likely to occur and be prepared.  In any case, I was pounding calories all day long and still felt hungry, and this eventually caused my second lap of the run to be significantly slower.  However, I was able to recover and actually have a very successful 3rd lap and a strong finish.  I've NEVER come back from calorie depletion before!!  Typically when it occurs, which used to be all the time before we started focusing on it, I'm done.  I think part of my success was because I recognized my hunger immediately and was diligent about taking in as much as I could to try to stave off the bonk as long as possible.  So I was pretty happy overall about how things played out.  Yes, I would have loved to have been on the podium (I was 6th), but the lessons I learned and the takeaways for October were a small sacrifice for the places I lost.

You've probably heard the term "racing into shape" and that was my plan for 2016.  I started the year with Oceanside after about 2 weeks of triathlon training under my belt, and have continued to gain fitness through each race.  Our target since November last year has been IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP!  I am prepared to arrive on the starting line in peak shape for the year!

THANK YOU to our good friend, Jeff, who cheered us on all day, took some awesome pics and helped pull me out of my bonk on lap 2 of the run!  Enjoy a little photo collage from our adventures in CDA!

Race morning.  Photo credit:  Jeff Wruble

2 Lap swim course.  Photo credit:  Jeff Wruble

Not afraid of leading a few green caps.  (aka: men).  Photo credit:  Jeff Wruble

Bike course!  Super scenic.  

Focused determination.

For 2 miles I was "2nd Place Female" with my own bike lead!!  First time ever!

Run course hurt box.  Photo credit:  Jeff Wruble

Finishing lap 2 with a friend!

Finish line!!  I'm always as happy as the very first time!  #findingaloha

Hugging LP -- crushing her age group in 3rd place!  Photo credit:  Jeff Wruble

Finish #20!! 

Racing with my better half never gets old.  Photo credit:  Jeff Wruble

Revealing the softer side if #findingkona.  Photo credit:  Jeff Wruble

I feel like the final photo deserves a bit more of an explanation.  I am terrified of heights.  When I was in college, I visited my boyfriend at his summer job and he took me up to the roof via a ladder.  I got up there OK, but then panic set in and I couldn't get back on the ladder to come down.  It's not that I avoided situations that put me at height.  I love roller coasters.  I've been rappelling.  

In grad school my sister and I visited an amusement park and we went on this reverse- bungee- jumping thing where they strap you into a harness, pull you backwards and up very, very high.  You pull the "rip cord" at the top and you free fall till the tension of the line catches you and then you swing back and forth.  When they started pulling us upwards, I grabbed hold of the attendant and would not let go.  He had to pry my fingers off his arm.  In the video you can hear me screaming the entire time we were being raised which felt like forever.  The second my sister pulled the rip cord -- silence.  It was exhilarating, terrifying, enlightening.  

It's like watching a scary movie.  I hate them but I love to watch them.  It's the kind of fear that draws you in.  

I spent our last evening in CDA with my husband and 2 other friends.  We ate a lot, and drank a little and somewhere along the way we decided we were going to go swimming.  And then our friend who is local to CDA suggested cliff jumping.  I was all in.  Leading the way down the trail.  Let's do this.  And then I stepped out onto the edge of the rock.... and absolutely froze.  

I stood at the top for what felt like an eternity, my heart racing. I went through a lot of thoughts but finally settled on "the water is my home, it will catch me." And I jumped. So glad I did. All worthwhile ventures take a leap of faith.
The moment I jumped.  #findingaloha

Lastly I wanted to share an article written by my coach.  You can find it by clicking HERE.  The article is titled "Top 5 Defining Characteristics of our Kona Team".  She is referring to Team HPB, which is the group of athletes coached by Hillary, Alyssa, and two other very talented professionals.  This year we have 10 athletes (out of about 40) who qualified and will be racing the Ironman World Championships.  I could not be more proud to be on this team of dedicated, hard working individuals and am so excited to represent in Hawaii.  I hope that some of these characteristics are evident in my daily pursuit of #findingkona.


Anonymous said...

Great blogpost!
Looking forward to reading your post Kona RR :)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Congrats on your Kona spot....I have been trying to get there since the 80s. Only problem is that I have to work full time. Retiring in May though. One question- did you (do you) work and how do you afford the gear, travel and hiring a coach. I live on teacher's pay and cannot for the life of me figure out how people afford all these races and trips. Any advice?