Blue Norther (Surprise!) Duathlon

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After this past weekend’s spring duathlon, it's official - I'm a long distance triathlete. Not that I didn't enjoy the fact that the suffering was over in less than 90-minutes and that I avoided the "well, shoot, guess I’ll just run a marathon now" deep thoughts but quickly learned short and sweet just is not my thing. I really didn't feel like myself until mile two of 5k run #2 of the race and, well, by then the whole race is basically over. Coming off of camp (just shy of 21 hours training across 5 days in Tucson), I felt on fire. Apparently volume really is my friend. Some easy training and then a text on Friday night from Dawn later, I found myself signed up for the Blue Norther duathlon just down the road in Seguin, TX. I packed my bags, went to bed early, said goodbye to my sweet Lucy and hit the road. What I didn’t expect was how laissez-faire a 50-person local race would be! I arrived less than an hour before the race and still was one of the first people there! HPB Teamie Dawn arrived shortly after and we got ready to brave the chilly 42-degree weather.

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I probably could have warmed up more than I did but seemed a little silly for a backyard race. About five minutes before the start, we huddled around the start and were sent off with an unceremonious “go!” And out ahead like a bolt was this tiny little blonde thing that couldn’t have been more than 4-foot-5. I kept waiting for her to fade but she never did. [coincidentally, she and her sister, also competing, were both featured in this New York Times article]. Mile one down in 6:10. Well, let’s see what happens…

I stayed a few seconds behind her and got a good laugh out of some of the middle-aged men trying to draft behind this waif of a girl. Finally she slowed a bit, I surged and I made the pass for the lead, “let’s go!” I told her, “let’s go get that guy up ahead!” A part of me felt terrible for passing her – I was that girl way back when after all – but hope that we could both push each other to a solid run. Knowing I had a speedy 12-year-old on my tail pushed me to a slightly faster 5k than I should have paced for. I'm used to overshooting the swim and bike and holding it together on the run but was curious to see what kind of damage a too-fast first run could actually do.

The bike was okay… first few miles I felt good, then some headwind and lactic acid in the legs later, I could see my watts and pace dropping. I was having trouble holding onto my HIM watts. This is not ideal, I kept thinking to myself. Another woman passed me with three miles to go on the bike and after a few unproductive back-and-forths, I was content to just sit back, relax and wait it out for the run.

SO happy that the bike was over, I rolled into T2 and just kept thinking, “only a 5k, only a 5k!”, which is so much easier mentally than my typical race distances. I shed the Rev3 jacket and gloves I had been wearing, expecting that I would heat up – but that never really happened and then next few miles were pretty chilly and unpleasant. I re-passed the woman for the lead and extended it to a comfortable distance before settling in.

I told myself that I could cruise lap one of the two lap run course and then would hammer it in for the last 1.5-miles of the finish. Well, as time went on and my legs got heavier and heavier, I checked the distance to the girl behind me and decided just to mail it in. Probably not the best but with a swim and a long bike on tap post-race, I kind of wanted to avoid subjecting myself to even more pain than necessary.

I finished, threw on every single piece of clothing I had packed – teeth chattering and shivering bringing back bad memories of last weekend’s Mt. Lemmon experience – and went to cheer Dawn in for her finish (where she yelled something about how crazy cold it was):

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In all, it was a fun day and I was excited to take home overall winner and celebrate Dawn's AG first place -- even if we were just at a teeny local race. If you're in Texas and want a laid-back but still competitive, race to test out early season fitness, this would be it. The course is fast, with a few rollers on the bike out of town before looping back in and the race officials were pretty serious about running it right - helmet checks, bibs had to be in front, worn on the bike, etc. Overall I had a blast and enjoyed getting out there and getting a decent bike/run benchmark in early March. I had debating using my race wheels and Rudy aero-helmet but glad that I used it almost as a bit of a dress rehearsal for my next (hometown!!) race at New Orleans 70.3.

Plus, I officially won my first-ever triathlon "prize purse", an awesome bag of walnuts.

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3M Half Marathon Race Report

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Rest Day! It means I finally have time to catch up and write a little recap of the 3M Marathon held right here in Austin last weekend. Already I'm ready for the 2015 race—super fun, incomparable swag bag and so many Austin locals come out to cheer athletes on. However, I went into this race a little apprehensive: it would be my first big race since nearly dying at Kona, my run training has been okay... but not stellar and lots of work done inside on a treadmill recently instead of getting outside to run. But mainly I was worried about learning to go hard again. It’s something I was not quite sure I’d ever be able to do again after going to the well in October: not sure if I could physically due to the damage done, not sure if mentally I’d be able to let myself ride that edge again.

To be honest, I'm pretty sure I left a part of myself out on the Queen K. Looking back now, I realize it has taken me some time to admit to it, but training is not where it once was. The pain doesn't come quite as easily these days; I have to work harder to summon it. My personal goal last Sunday was to push that comfort zone--without overstepping it--and rediscover my love for the masochistic.

The morning of the race, I felt great. It was a nice low-40 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. When the gun went off, it just clicked and off we went. Tacking onto the 1:30 pace group wasn't in the plan but I was feeling good and, what the heck, ready to throw caution to the wind. Mile 1 down, 6:52, mile 2, 6:38... early I knew these splits were putting me in over my head but figured I might as well gut it out and see what happened.

I was also in my brand new Pearl Izumi N2s. The day before the race I ran in my current pair and realized that due to all my treadmilling recently, I had no idea how worn down they were—but when moving from the cushioned treadmill belt to the unforgiving pavement, it felt like I was smacking my heels with each step. So against all advice from Runner's World, I went out and bought a new pair of the same brand I had been running in to wear on race day. Spoiler alert: everything turned out fine, no blisters. Either I'm an anomaly for the "nothing new on race day" rule, or Pearls are just that awesome—up to you.

Things trekked along smoothly until mile nine or so when I could feel the pavement doing damage on my quads and fatigue settling into the legs. Mile eleven I started to feel a slight pain in my chest and slowed down—was this another heart attack, like I had at Kona, or just cramping from going too hard? Which side of the chest did the heart even sit? I thought about the pledge allegiance... okay, right hand over the heart, I *think* I'm okay.

The course continued to slope downward for the last three miles and I let gravity do the work, lengthening the stride and speeding up my turnover. Mile twelve I wondered whether I was dehydrated and mentally there so I started quizzing myself: mother's name? father's name? current president? alphabet backwards? The last one was out of my comfort zone so stuck instead to counting down from 100, hoping that would give me enough clues into how "all there" I was.

A few girls passed me in the last mile. Normally, I'd fight back. Today, I didn't really care. No Kona spots at stake, no Age Group rankings. It was kind of nice, actually. I turned the corner and brought it in the last quarter mile at a semi-comfortable pace. I crossed the line right around 1:31:40.It was a new PR and I'm happy with it but know there's still serious progress to be done. In a weird way this race let me know that A) I'm baaaaack and B) provide the right push to really get after it in my day-to-day training. This weekend was a great reminder that decent training can only take you so far and that it's the little things that really count. Here's to pushing it to the edge, cleaning up nutrition and acing recovery in the next few weeks before my next race, the Austin Half-Marathon.

This weekend also reminded me how FAST a half-marathon will feel when you've gotten yourself used to five- and ten-hour days. Little-to-no prep, no gear bags, no transition, done and done in no time!

Good luck to anyone else preparing for or racing in a spring road race! I know it's a nice change of pace from the normal long-course triathlon and a great way to mix up the standard swim/bike/run. It was also a great excuse to add another local medal to the growing collection:

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For anyone looking for a fun half-marathon around Austin, this would be it! I'll have to check back after the Austin Half next month but so far this is probably my favorite. And not just because I swooned hard for the awesome swag bag.

 

Norseman Prep

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It has begun. Well, not for me, necessarily, but for my parents. Of course my Norseman training is already in progress but plenty of other milestones to focus on leading up to the August race. My parents, however, have decided to make it their mission to be my race day sherpas. I secretly think my mom is just using it as motivation to get herself back in shape but, hey, I'm not complaining.

After two years of me racing solo, they first came to see me in Mont Tremblant and then again in Kona - and I absolutely loved having them there for support.

Case in point: Mom cheering from the road (dad taking photos):

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It turns out that the only way I can get them to come to races is if it's in a spectacular location so the minute they heard "Norway", they were all for it.

The day after Christmas we went for a family jog, Luckily I had an easy run on tap after a hard eleven the day before (Christmas run!) and got to tag along with my parents. We started out with a mile of walking and then did about 2.5-miles at 9:20-9:30 pace. Let me tell you, my mom was CHARGING ahead. My dad and I were chatting for the first mile or so but then he got quiet and so then I decided to be the cheerleader/comic relief from the back for the second half, yelling out Garmin paces, mile splits and motivational nonsense. We finished our 2.5 miles and then I continued on to finish my easy jog while they walked it in for cool-down.

Thankfully my brother wasn't there - otherwise it would have been a half-mile easy with mom and dad and then us two kids gutting it out for a sprint finish back to the house... trust me, it's happened before on a "friendly" jog.

But this little run has me feeling good about my sherpas getting in Norseman shape along with me. Now if only I can escape to North Carolina with them this summer - the road up to their house is about 2-miles long and nearly as steep as Mt. Gaustatoppen. I could imagine some loooong hill workouts would be good for the heart and legs.

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Getting the Confidence Back

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I've been back training for a few weeks now, but definitely holding back a bit: slower paces, wimpy swim times, just off my game. In fact, on harder swim sets, I have a loop playing through my mind where I flip turn, black out and start to drown—a weird fear that means my training has suffered some as a result. Last week, however, was a bit of a turning point. Mike, from my favorite shop Jack & Adams and a 2012 Kona Inspired athlete invited me on a little morning run last Thursday.

While the six-person crew all started together, we pretty quickly splintered into two separate groups and it was clear which one I was going to end up running in (hint: the slower one). But for the first mile or so, it was a bit of a "pinch me" moment... not every day do you later look at your Strava feed and see this :)

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Let me tell you, he was looking FAST.

Getting to chase a legend (regardless of doping status) will certainly push you so I ended up with a semi-respectable 5 miles—something I was especially happy with given the time I took off. This was the kick in the pants I needed to transition into a great week of training, including a swim set where I hit a number of 200s right around a "magic" number for me, a long ride where my legs finally felt like they got their mojo back and a tough run with enough hill repeats to have me doubled over at the top of each climb.

All in time for.... DRUM ROLL PLEASE.... my second shot at the infamous HPB 100x100 set! It's currently scheduled for New Year's Eve and just the right way to send off 2013 with a bang!

How is everyone's return from off-season looking? I find that it takes about 2-3 weeks of consistent training until I feel like myself again - good reminder to stick to it after coming back after a break!

Drive, Passion, Suffering

This weekend featured lots of training and suffering and with that came bonus recovery time on the couch, during which I happened to catch two documentaries about life as an athlete worth sharing. The first is "Crash Reel", the story of former professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce. It chronicles his rise to snowboarding fame leading up to the 2010 Winter Olympics and battles with Shaun White as they redefine the limits of the half-pipe. It goes on to capture his 2009 crash just weeks before the Vancouver Olympics, resulting traumatic brain injury and the day-to-day of how he copes with those life-altering changes. I'd be lying if I said I didn't cry through a good portion of the movie. It's not online but I think HBO may be re-airing soon. I'd keep your eye on for this one—definitely worth watching. Plus, the soundtrack is killer and the cinematography reminiscent of a Warren Miller video.

The faint of heart should be careful in the final few moments though, as the director takes you through a super-cut of essentially the worst crashes in extreme sports history, questioning the fuzzy limits of extreme sports—and what are we risking by trying to expand those boundaries? Having suffered enough flashbacks of my own bike crash, I actually closed my eyes through most of this, after cringing through the first few shots. Don't worry though, the preview is (mostly) safe:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ho9WCHAviyc]

The second is the story of Dirk Bockel leading up to last year's Kona race. Excellent storytelling, killer soundtrack as well. Similar to the KP documentary, it shows how consuming a life-long goal can be for certain athletes. For Kevin, it was the Vancouver Olympics. For Dirk, it was Kona.

Maybe I was tainted from watching the KP documentary but I found the contrast between the two athletes and how they approached the task at hand to be intriguing. Most noticeably, just months after being in a coma and dealing with TBI, Kevin was itching to get back onto the board and back into professional snowboarding—despite the grief of his family, including (in a particularly poignant moment) his older brother who has Down Syndrome who begs him not to re-attempt the trick that nearly killed him. For Dirk, slipping off the podium at the Abu Dhabi triathlon during the run or dealing with a broken hand at last year's Kona was an almost a welcome 'excuse' for him to take the gas off the pedal. Both (somewhat) misguided, but fascinating nonetheless.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/72841394]

 

Both documentaries feature the intertwined ideas of passion and suffering and how these athletes think, train and live. Overall, these two documentaries provide interesting insight into the troubled minds of two high caliber athletes as they attempt to out-train, outperform and out-innovate their competitors.

As Shaun White describes in "Crash Reel",

“I don’t sometimes like what I’m doing. I do it because I need the satisfaction and the fulfillment to make me feel better about myself, like I’ve achieved some new level that I never dreamed of. We make cars faster. We make trains faster. We innovate. We do that. It’s just what we do.”