Ironman Chattanooga

"Find out what it is you want, wake up each day and work towards it, and surround yourself with people that think what you’re up to is just as brilliant and beautiful as what they are doing." ‪#‎workhardbebrave‬

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I honestly thought I had a shot at top ten.

Call me crazy—my previous race day performances this year would hardly hint at that, maybe not even suggest that I could crack the top twenty in this deep field. Thorsten certainly didn’t (Thorsten, love your analysis... but love proving you wrong even more!)

I’m getting ahead of myself but to cross the finish line as #12 in 9:41 was amazing and redeeming and a bit shocking, but at the same time—not at all.

It’s validation that I’m on the right track to achieving far more than your standard back-of-pack pro. That despite a kind of rough year—in work, in training/racing, in life, stepping up to race as a professional was not a foolish decision. I didn’t really start my season until May. I was burnt out and bored with training and honestly sinking in a challenging new job that took over far more hours of my life than I really wanted. And then I started working with Brian Stover and I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my triathlon career despite not even knowing really what changed. Maybe I just needed a different perspective, to shake things up—but Chattanooga was validation for one of the hardest decisions I made back earlier this year.

But enough with the sentimentality—I’m going to make this one quick (as far as navel-gazing Ironman race recaps can be...) because this race was awesome but I know I have so much more ahead.

The Swim

I didn’t do a practice swim on Saturday. Big, big mistake.

I brought the goggles I had worn in IMMT but haven’t worn since. I remember during the swim they were so tight I had a headache and bruised eyes so just before the start I loosened them up, just a bit.

Apparently “just a bit” was way too much. They were leaking before the start. I was doomed. The men’s start was totally botched with guys still warming up when the cannon went off so I swam right to the rope and made it my mission not to get left behind. After creeping up and trying not to get swept down river, we were off and I found myself in a solid pack. But I could not see a thing with the goggles partially filled with water.

As long as I sat on feet, I could kind of feel the bubbles but every 200m or so I was stopping to dump out the goggles. Doing this I realized the feet I had been sitting on were not bridging the gap to the even-larger pack ahead. Frustrated, I tried to pull ahead but with my swerving and goggle-fixing, just could not make progress.

Finally, about halfway through the swim, I got so frustrated with the goggle situation, I just ripped them off and tried to stuff them down my swimskin. This would have been perfect in the fresh water—it really didn’t bother my eyes and I could see just fine—but I also ripped off my cap accidentally at the same time. I didn’t want to get DQ’d for littering so it took me a few seconds to find it floating, before grabbing that too and shoving it down my top.

Now I was swimming in no-man’s land, matted hair across the eyes and doing this funky stroke to keep the tendrils of hair from masking my entire face each time I sighted ahead. But I ended up catching one girl in the final stretch and coming out of the water in an okay time but definitely marred by the goggle snafu. I was pissed and charged hard out of the water and into T1.

The Bike

During the Chattanooga bike, I decided I LOVE big professional fields. I was very much in the mix of the race within the first 20 miles of the bike. I came out of the water and was on a mission to make up time and positions. The 116 mile bike was just up my alley—not a hard course, only a few rollers and the extra length played to my bike strength.

I only had company for the first 15 miles or so when I caught up to a female pro who I knew had a legitimate shot at top 5. I took a bit of a gamble and went with her, sitting legally and starting to pass a few folks. Fellow First Bourn friend Kelly flew by in her Timex kit and the other pro went with her but it was beyond my comfort zone so I settled in and enjoyed my own race.

I passed nearly a dozen girls on the bike (the site says 9 but some dropped out, another apparently DQ’d for drafting—FYI I have some good insider gossip about that situation). Most were in the first 50 miles and each time I caught a girl in my sights, I would let out a mini cheer, internal fist-pump and power through for the pass. This was SO MUCH FUN. But soon, sitting in 16th place or so, there was no one else in passing distance. It was very lonely, and didn't see anyone other than the occasional age grouper to pass on the second loop or Devon (apparently doing the "Chattanooga Gran Fondo") flying by me with some great news around mile 80 (“you’ve got a great cushion on the girls behind you”).

The second loop was also bad with the open course. On the fast descent I got stuck braking behind an 18-wheeler and was slowly watching the lead I had established over the chase pack behind me disintegrate. There were other times, like biking through the town, where I was slowed to a creep as traffic backed up behind slower athletes ahead. An official even motioned for me to pass on the left, oncoming lane to get around them, which I felt very uncomfortable about. I loved this bike course but the traffic situation really made for an unfair bike depending on what scenario you ran into. I probably lost about 5-minutes total on the second loop due to these shenanigans.

The Run

I got off the bike and out of T2 in 13th or so place. I was in SUCH a good mood. Normally I’m in the hurt box and uncommunicative for most of the Ironman marathon but in this case I was joking with people around me and with spectators. I saw Dynamo coach Matthew Rose and after he cheered, I yelled to him, “you’re not going to stalk me on your bike again, are you?”, a nod to last October when he yelled at Erin and me and pushed us to some great last few miles of the Kona run.

And then it was just down to business. I ate more than I’ve ever eaten in a race and pounded way more Red Bull and Cokes than my heart and stomach probably appreciated. My splits were scary even, even on the hills on the North side of the river (talk about brutal!) and even headed through my second loop. Just tick ‘em off, keep them under 8-minutes, I kept telling myself.

With four miles to go, the quads started shutting down. I eased up a tiny bit, knowing I had a pretty decent lead but then still caught a few more female pros. I counted places as I moved up each time, silent dance party as I knocked them off.

With two miles to go, one of the QT2 coaches rolled up on his bike (SERIOUSLY PEOPLE?!) and started yelling at his athlete to go with me. Without looking over my shoulder, I assumed it was a female pro and so put on the burners. I was able to outkick the athlete who turned out to be an age group male and end up with a very speedy finish. Side note: one of these days these sprint finishes will be for the podium or paycheck and it’s nice to know that I can always whip out a sprint at the end of a ten-hour day.

I crossed the line, not exactly knowing my time or place, but ecstatic. Finally, a race indicative of my ability and hard work! I am especially proud of that 3:25 marathon, though even more excited to keep bringing that down. I went hard, but not to the well, for Ironman Chattanooga so excited to see how far I can go in 2016 now that I have a new benchmark and goals as a new member of the sub-10 club.

I might have not been able to walk normally (from the race/dancing) or speak normally (from all the cheering) for the week after Chattanooga, but it was worth every second. I couldn’t have asked for a better day. <3 2016, I'm coming for you!

"Don’t talk about wanting to be, just be it.”

I’ve been big into podcasts lately. Great for traveling, good for catching snippets between drives to the pool or coffee shop, free and easy to download. One of my favorites—mostly a legacy of being introduced to “The State” back in high school—has been Michael Ian Black’s podcast, “How to Be Amazing”. He hasn't recorded many shows but one of the episodes I happened to listen to on the plane en route to Mont Tremblant was one with Kevin Smith, writer and producer of Clerks and Mallrats, among other films. He is the absolute last thing you would imagine when triathlon comes to mind (overweight, writes films about slackers, filthy mouth, etc, etc) but somehow his “best advice” ever received would resonate as I went into and raced Ironman Mont Tremblant as my second pro Ironman race.

How To Be Amazing—#5 Kevin Smith

In it, Kevin Smith recounts a conversation he had with his sister before he enrolled in (and later dropped out of) film school to embark on his film career, telling her, “I think I want to be a filmmaker.”

She goes, “great, be a filmmaker.”

“That’s what I’m talking about!”

But she repeats herself, “No, be a filmmaker. Just be a filmmaker. You talk about wanting to be a filmmaker, Kevin—be a filmmaker. Right now. Like, in your head and heart you are a filmmaker, you just haven’t made a film yet. But don’t talk about wanting to be, just be it.”

I’ve spent the last few months qualifying my professional status,

  • using “air quotes” when describing my "pro" career*
  • clarifying that I’m a struggling newbie*
  • that I still have a full-time job and can’t commit to full-time professional training*
  • that triathlon does not have a cat system similar to cycling and so it’s either step up semi-prematurely or continue squashing the amateur ranks*

Not excuses, really, but asterisks.

So I headed into the pro meeting feeling insecure, like I did not belong in this stacked field of athletes—that I was there for the early start, the special racks, the (unearned) prestige and the free bottle of wine. We took a group photo of all the competing pros and I squeezed into the crowded photo, all too aware that I didn’t exactly fit the mold of the 50-something other lithe 40-hour/week training machines covered in gear emblazoned with sponsor logos gathered around me. In my mind I was just a slowpoke, full-time software consultant and part-time triathlon hobbyist pretending to fit in.

I have to admit though—regardless of whether I belonged or not, the bottle of wine was in fact pretty clutch. ;)

This feeling would continue through until halfway on the bike, when for the very first time ever I felt like I had an actual impact and tactics in a professional race—that I was somehow a player and not just fodder hanging on for dear life at the tail end of the pack.

But we’ll get back to that. And let's also pause to appreciate how beautiful the Ironman Mont Tremblant course truly is—a joy to race on!

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The days leading up to the race were absolutely terrible. I made the miserable mistake of flying out of Greenville, SC at 5:45am the Thursday before the race. Wednesday night I had one final spin on my Blue before coming home to break down and pack the bike to fly with my in my Ruster bag. This was indeed a rookie mistake.

I had not flown with my bike since the March training trip to Tucson. Somehow in that time the headset had been compromised and I could not separate it to pull the front fork off of the frame. I started the bike packing process around 7:30pm. At 11:30pm, after breaking down crying on the floor of my kitchen and using way too much force on a way too-expensive bike than I ever care to admit, I pretty much risked breaking my bike in order to just get it packed. I finished packing and got to bed at 1am—only to wake up 2 hours later to drive down to Greenville for my early morning flight.

I got to Greenville 90 minutes south with the help of close to 2 gallons of coffee and yet my bad luck continued, with my flight delayed 4 more hours. Between the lack of sleep and the stress and coffee-fueled paranoia, I was seriously considering not racing—I had reached DEFCON1. Thankfully I got a teeny amount of sleep on the plane, the OCD Sherpa and my mom picked me up in Montreal, we finally made it to Tremblant much later than anticipated and the bike maintenance crew at the expo were able to rig a temporary solution for my headset.

I can’t say I got much sleep from there, as the condo we were staying did not have A/C and with the Canadian heatwave heating up the upstairs loft where I was sleeping, I ended up sleeping a restless 3 or so hours the night before the race on the couch in the living room (not much better either, inside temps still hovering in the low 80s, according to my Garmin). All I could think to myself as I walked down to the race start was, “oh god, I hope I don’t fall asleep on the bike like I did at Norseman.”

The Swim

Nothing much to say here except the swim may be the one thing I love most about racing in the pro ranks. Sure, it can be a bit lonely at times—but also a lot less violent—and if you’re smart about it, you can hitch a tow for most of the race with plenty of female pros being half-decent at pacing. Sadly, I am not quite there yet. I stuck on the feet of another woman for the first third of the course but then lost steam and lost contact. I’m not sure when she pulled away but I spent the rest of the one-loop course moseying along by myself.

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I also got interviewed by the live camera pre-start, in which I might have been one of the most awkward moments ever as I didn't realize it was actually live. Here I am, #56, enjoying the spacious beach start we get to enjoy versus the washing machine of larger starts.

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The Bike

Like I mentioned in my 10-seconds of fame on the Ironman camera, I was just excited to get on the bike and soak up the challenging Tremblant bike course. I honestly have never had such a controlled and solid ride in a race. I loved the open roads, little interference from starting at the front of the pack and this route could not have any smoother roads.

I was also wearing my new Castelli T1: Stealth which did wonders for keeping my back protected (first time ever not roasted at the end of an Ironman!) and hopefully gaining some free speed in the process. A lot of you have asked me about it and yes, I LOVED it, yes, I wore it on the swim under my wetsuit, yes, it kept me cool and semi-sun-protected and yes happy to chat with you about it if you have any questions!

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You start with a short little climb out of town and onto the main highway heading out of the resort of Mont Tremblant. I love love love this road—I did two years ago and did again this year. It’s pretty fast with a few big climbs that really play to my strengths. As I was on the side of the road fixing a rubbing brake in the first five miles, I was passed by one female pro but after getting back on and getting into a rhythm, I could tell that I was making up some time on a pack of females riding ahead of me based on some of the turn-arounds— I was having a solid ride and hitting my plan and targets–I felt nothing short of amazing.

Once turning off the main drag, you then head through the small town of St. Jovite (where they were playing the Beach Boys both times, silly Canadians) but are welcomed with lots of cheers and “Allez Allez!!” for a final boost before you head to the hardest part of the course, a six mile incredibly steep and punchy section, with grades up to 14% where a number of amateurs actually walked their bikes up it was so steep—but of course I loved this section even more since it felt like my backyard playground in Asheville.

Rinse, repeat—there you have it, an Ironman bike!

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But in all reality, I felt stronger as the day went on, despite being a bit behind on my calories. I chased and then passed a few female pros as the day went on and edged my way closer to the money, with a 5:16 and the 10th fastest female bike split of the race. Compared to barely hanging on and losing time at Ironman Arizona last fall, I actually felt like a contender. I got off my bike and gave a cheer and fist pump running through T2 as they announced my name and that I was from Asheville, North Carolina!

The Run

I started the run holding back and feeling good. But then the rolling hills and the heat took their toll. I honestly had gone into this thinking I was capable of throwing down a 3:25-3:26 based on how my run training had been going. No way to sugar coat it but I was pretty disappointed with how my run turned out, even with the 104* heat index and a tough run course slowing things down.

As I came through after the first loop, I got the “good job, Mag!” from the parents but I could tell they were (poorly) hiding their concern at how I wasn't handling the heat. I was going through every aid station and taking in as much ice, fluid and coke as possible but still struggling to cope, per usual.

As I slowed a bit on the run, I lost a few of the places I had picked up at the end of the bike and faded to 13th in the first half of the marathon, a place I would hold onto through to the finish. It was interesting being in the race for once, perceived as a potential threat, as I realized a pro girl behind me was getting splits off of me and that I was doing the mental math of whether I could catch or hold off certain other competitors.

With two miles to go at the end of the marathon, my dad actually ran alongside me and started asking me, “do you know who I am? What is your name? What is my name?” as has become custom when I apparently look terrible in hot conditions. Clearly things were ugly. It’s frustrating to have to deal with this checking of my mental facilities again and again after the Kona incident but guess it’s better safe than sorry!

I came through the finish chute, all smiles—so incredibly close to hitting my goal of breaking 10 hours but coming up just a few minutes short. Looking back, 13th and less than 10 minutes out of the money isn't all too shabby given the year I've been through. I actually celebrated in the chute a bit before going over to the grass to manage the fetal position for about 30-minutes, then walking solo halfway back to the condo, stopping to puke in the bushes for about 10 minutes, waving off medical in the process and then finally making it back alive.

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While it wasn’t my strongest run and certainly not the race I was capable of executing, I was happy for sticking to the plan as best as possible and setting a new Ironman PR in the process. Huge thanks to my coach Brian for setting me up for success, though I know he prepped me to have a much better race than I did—I'm excited to see what the next race holds as a result. In the end I also came away from this race with a renewed excitement for training and the next race around the corner.

The day after the race I went out riding my bike and saw a few other professionals out stretching the legs, being “pro”. I smiled to myself and thought, “okay, maybe despite all my doubts, I do still belong.” After Ironman Mont Tremblant, my mentality has shifted. I no longer want to be a professional triathlete. I am a professional triathlete. And I’m no longer taking steps toward acting more like one, but am being one instead.

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So with that said and with my legs still semi-fresh from my slow run at IMMT, I am excited to say that I’m gearing up for round #2 of 2015 in just a few weeks at Ironman Chattanooga—here. we. go!

Racing Local!

I know, I know, it’s about time! I haven’t raced a ton this year as I was dealing with coming out from under the cloud of racing four Ironman races in six months the second half of last year. It was fun while it lasted, but turns out I was just punching my ticket on the express train to burn-out city. More recently I have shifted focus to rediscovering the love of training and made sure to hit up a few local races while at it. 

Two of those have been stunners, the Enka Sprint and, more recently, the Lake Logan Olympic triathlon. Both are super hilly, local Carolina races.  There was also a ridiculous "underground" tri that involved some kayaking. More on that below.

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Lake Logan Olympic 

This might have been risky one week out from my first big race of the season at Ironman Mont Tremblant, but the experience alone was worth it! I wanted to race the half last season but it was the same weekend as Norseman so I decided I would have to wait until this year to test it out. And, even better, it just so happened that the Olympic race included a pretty generous prize purse for overall finishes. Decision made, it would be the perfect tune-up for IMMT! 

I drove over with my coach Brian, who is in town in Asheville for part of the summer and was tagging along to spectate. On that note:

Pros of having your coach in town: someone to kick your ass on bike rides

Cons of having your coach in town: someone to kick your ass on bike rides

Just kidding, it's been awesome. We've also gone to the pool to do some stroke review and with a few minor recommendations, the lightbulb is *finally* clicking on my wonky right catch. One of these days I’ll have a race split that matches the swim ability I know I have… I blame my stupid volleyball swing/training for messing with my years spent youth swimming. 

But we showed up to the race and I had not brought my USAT card since I usually pull it up online. Turns out there is not a single bar of service in the Lake Logan area so I was frenetically trying to pull it up (fruitless), running wayyyy back to my car parked over a half-mile away to get the $12 and then barely racking, making it to the start line and getting my wetsuit on before the gun went off—talk about a warm-up! I was dripping sweat before the thing already began. 

(Supposedly, there were emails that went out about the lack of cell service but I went back and combed through my inbox and spam folder and was unable to find anything from Set-Up Events. Apparently I was not the only athlete who had to deal with one-particularly snippy and power hungry check-in person. Yes, rules are rules, but you don’t have to aggressively berate someone for assuming there would be basic cell phone service when said athletes were not otherwise notified. a-HEM.) 

But I had a decent swim, trying to stay with the main pack but zig-zagging off course numerous times along the first few buoys before giving up and sitting in on what turned out to be the feet of the lead female. She pulled me along and we came into and out of transition together, me hot on her heels. 

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This photo was actually from the Enka Sprint but love it. 

T1: worst mounting skills ever, end of story. 

Also there are few things more terrifying than your coach saying very zen-like as you’re pedaling out of T1, “have a nice ride.” Okay, Mr. Miyagi. 

The bike was great: if you like some good punchy climbs along a very scenic route, this is the course for you. Some might call it a quad-burner but it reminded me very much of my regular weekday ride.

Within the first mile or so I made the pass to move into first and cruised along without too much problem, though did have to deal with a little back and forth with a guy who was insistent on passing me. With each pass, I would watch my watts decrease and speed slow as I dropped to a legal distance—only to overtake him shortly after. This was frustrating but I eventually passed him and never saw him again somewhere after mile 18-20 on the bike.

And then the run! I was super happy with the run, though I almost wish I hadn’t gone into cruise mode with just over two miles to go. Part of me wish I had pushed it to get in the low 44 range for the (slightly long) 10K run but then again I’m happy to keep the tank slightly full for this weekend’s Ironman adventure. 

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It was three miles gradual uphill, followed by a screaming return trip. On that note, I now know where "@ChrissieSmiles" gets her twitter name—racing is fun when you’re crushing the lead and feeling in control!! I was all smiles as I flew my way back down to the finish on pretty sustainable effort giving the descent and decision to “shut it down” and conserve. 

I couldn’t be happier with a 2:12—what, what!! And am curious to see what I could have done if really gunning for it or really pushed the whole day. And I thought I was a long-course only kind of gal… I just might have to sign up for another one of these shorties :) 

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Enka Sprint

This is an AWESOME asheville race if you ever get the chance—if only this lake was available for swimming to non-residents, I would be out there all the time! Great swim, though very much redlining the entire way as I swam with a big pack of guys in our Open Wave. 

I ended up finding the feet of a really big guy and just sat in and enjoyed the tow. (This is becoming a theme, isn’t it—yeah for smart swimming, finally!) I came up out of the water and sprinted towards the bike, being a sprint and all. As I turned the corner on the mat up to the tennis courts where transition was set up, I TOTALLY ate it! Full body wipe out, limbs flying, f-bombs dropped. Shocked, I picked myself up and kept on going but that was certainly a surprise. Definitely more stiff the next day from the tumble than the race itself…

This race was all about hammering it in—I think the first sprint I've done since living in DC back in 2012. I went all out on the bike, happy to stave off getting passed by Heath for the first few miles and tried to keep the guys in sight as we navigated the very cruel hills in the area; this is a very TOUGH course, let me tell you. At some point another female passed me and I did my best to keep her in my sights. 

It got a little frustrating because she was a little hesitant on the descents so I felt like I was losing so much time braking and unable to get around her since it was such a winding course and open to cars. Another guy actually tried to pass and she moved left surprisingly and he wiped out on a bridge, trying to avoid the collision—that sucked, but a decent heads up that I should be on high alert. 

We went back and forth a bit but she came into T2 before me and we headed out on the run. Let me tell you, a 5K is SHORT in a triathlon. I couldn’t get my watch started so first half mile I just focused on staying on her feet on the run. I caught my breath a little bit and realized I had a lot more to give so I put in a surge and just went all in for the pass and the lead. 

The run course is also no joke: a good portion of it is on a rolling dirt trail around the lake you just swam in, with a section that sends you up through a seriously steep neighborhood. That crushed my spirits a little bit and felt myself dying a little bit as I pushed to the finish. But managed to hold onto the lead and come in for a strong finish and 1st female, 13th overall, very happy with a little bit of novelty redline racing. 

Even Fuuurrrrther Back

Nothing much to say about this except it was a run—paddle—bike—run event... talk about something different! I used my old whitewater kayak which made things.... interesting and WAY WAY tough. I was happy hammering the short bike and then was semi-happy with a fast and hard run on our normal local Asheville route. Totally ridiculous to be doing a race that involved a kayak, let alone a silly little Pyranha playboat:

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But even through the ridiculousness, the awesome local Asheville camaraderie really made the event, the "Underground Asheville Tri", a total winner:

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Next Up! 

So I haven’t raced long course since my disaster of a race at Knoxville in May so I’m excited to see what unfolds at Tremblant. I had two 100-mile bikes on severely hilly routes (both over 10K in elevation) that were done pretty much at race pace that were successfully and I’ve been super happy with my running, so we’ll see how it all comes together on Sunday! I’ll be #56 if you want to follow along.

p.s. I'm not sure why the photos on this post are fuzzy (aside from some from my needs-to-be-replaced-ASAP iPhone5) but gonna go ahead and put it out into the universe.

Boone Gran Fondo

I ventured over to the Linville Gorge area this past weekend some of the best riding in the area. The Gran Fondo National Championship series was in town in Boone, North Carolina, home to App State! I'm two weeks out from Ironman Mont Tremblant and after six hour solo ride after six hour solo ride, I was really looking forward to having a little company out on the roads for my final hurrah on two wheels before taper time. And I couldn't ask for a better ride and route at 97 miles and 10,700+ feet of climbing, it was a good way to cap off the last two very serious weeks of training. I went into it with kind of dead legs and pretty sure the last 10 miles did me in. If you want a good challenge and gorgeous scenery, I highly recommend it!

The only thing I will gripe about is the weird way they do overall timing, and why I would not race this, only use it as a training ride. The overall time you do for the 100-miles is irrelevant, they only capture timed segments within the 100-miles, ranging from four to eight miles, with the last timed segment ending around 70-miles. Technically, you could finish the ride at 70 and sag home and still place first overall. The goody-two-shoes-always-play-by-the-rules in me hates this.

I mean, don't hate the player, hate the game but you had a lot of riders sand-bagging the non-timed segments. The overall winning team that won $1000 was on the side of the road with a mechanical for 20-minutes. I finished nearly an hour earlier than some of the girls that placed ahead of me in the timed segments. I totally get handing out primes for segments but the overall seems silly. Okay, end rant.

So I ignored the rules of the game in the name of getting in a good training day and hit it hard all day. Only problem was on the first timed segment I thought I could still maybe hit these and ended up with a good 20-minutes in the 300w average range during the first ten miles, which made the rest of the ride considerably harder. Note to self for IMMT: don't be an idiot, like this! ;)

But I met some great people to ride with and draft off of in the second half and then eat pizza with while swapping war stories after the ride, including my new friend Mike from Wisconsin who also came down for the Hot Doggett a few weeks back. There's just simply nothing like North Carolina riding!

There were also some hilarious moments, like a black lab mix running alongside a pack of 7-8 riders for literally close to two miles. He was running next us, not trying to nip but just tongue out, happy as a could be having company for his morning run. Then there were some not-so-hilarious moments, like the 8 total dogs that chased us, not so happy and trying to bite. Four of them were Jack Russell Terriers, which are fast little buggers! I'm a dog lover but I had no qualms about squirting a little guy with water after he kept making advances on my ankles.

The race then closes with a brutal climb back up to Boone. I was in my easiest gear and about to fall over as I grinded my way up one of the hardest climbs I've ever done, passing a guy walking his bike. I almost always assume these long races end with a downhill of some kind back to the start so this was a bit demoralizing but good finish to the day.

Oh yeah, they also had the best chocolate chip cookies ever at the aid stations. With the heat, they tasted fresh out of the oven. If you're okay with the sprint segments, I would highly recommend this race for some great riding in a beautiful area. I think I'm still partial to the Hot Doggett 100 race that was held a few weeks earlier in the Mars Hill, NC area closer to Asheville but this one was also top-notch.

But even with the weird timing, I ended up 3rd in my 18-39 age group for the timed sections, a great training day and managed to score a Rudy helmet at the pretty sweet raffle they held during the award ceremony for all finishers. Breaking even on the entry fee for a cute helmet and setting some close-to-record power numbers two weeks out from an A race after a brutal past few weeks of record training? Sure, I'll take it!

Happy Riding, y'all! Depending on taper, there may be a few more posts in the coming days about some past races, changes I've made and things I've been excited to share but was just too exhausted/busy/focusing on the things I need to focus on to do so! Less than two weeks to Mont Tremblant—oh my gosh!!

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

A few weeks ago, on my mid-week ride leading up to Challenge Knoxville, I was riding home after a great 40-mile ride when a kid flagged me down. He was probably no older than seventeen or eighteen and walking along the highway I was riding. He asked if he could borrow my phone since his truck had broken down and was walking home. I pulled over, watched a bit anxiously as he dialed a friend and asked for a lift. “Hey, good luck,” I told him as I started to push off. He shouted after me. “Oh don’t you worry! I don’t need no luck—things always work out for me!”

I laughed and pedaled away.

I kind of understood. The past few years, things always seemed to fall into place. I went into races under-trained or feeling junky and then always pulled off a solid race. I’d tell a fellow racing friend that I was worried going into a race and she’d reply “oh, you always say that and then you always do great.” And oddly enough I would. I spent the weeks leading up to Coeur d’Alene last year driving across the South numerous times (ATX > NOLA > ATX > NOLA > NC > NOLA > ATX) and skipping training sessions as I said goodbye to my grandmother and yet pulled off a great race. Training was hit or miss going into Kona 2014 after wrecking myself at Norseman weeks earlier—and yet somehow I did okay. Luck has always tended to be on my side.

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Not more than 10 minutes after leaving the kid walking on the side of the road, I was still pedaling home and an old pick-up truck came roaring down the hill after me. The skinny kid from earlier leaned out the rear window and yelled at me, “I tollllld you I had luck!!!” I gave him a fist pump in return and laughed, shaking my head.

Well folks, it seems like my good luck has passed. The past few months have been somewhat of a rollercoaster, between awesome running PRs—both distance and time—to start the year, followed by some stagnant training and then a sucker-punch as I was knocked down for three weeks from the worst round of flu/fevers/chills I've ever experienced.

Each day as I get further away from my two sub-par races at New Orleans 70.3 and Challenge Knoxville, I seem less and less interested in providing any recap of either race. BUT—something we don't always see day-to-day is the sheer amount of hard work and struggle and set-backs that go into any success. I know I'm guilty of this at times with Insta and Facebook, showing happy cycling photos or picture perfect sunsets from my favorite loops, consciously choosing to not show the photo where I'm really sitting on a curb, throwing myself a pity party as I eat a half-melted Snickers bar.

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This filtered life seems to be a very common theme in the self-indulgent world of triathlon. Lots of smiley faces and fist-pumps, lots of "BOOM! hit my watts" posts, lots of high-fiving and navel-gazing and back-patting. In contrast, there have been a few posts lately that challenge this trend, that I've honestly found very refreshing.

World Champion Pete Jacobs on "Why I Struggle". Elizabeth Rich on "I Quit". Reading a throwback post by Beth Gerdes on tackling St. George two years ago, before she knew how much she'd be crushing her competition only two years and a baby later.

I look to this specific quote by Beth as inspiration:

When a wheel is "out of true" and you try to ride your bike, the wheel wobbles from side to side, usually rubbing the brakes and slowing you down. In order to fix it, you need someone with some knowledge- a bike mechanic or such, to spend some time "truing" the wheel to get it back into alignment. The whole bike is not broken, you just need to take some TLC and careful adjustments to fix it.

My race at St. George 70.3 is reminding me that my life is a little "out of true" right now. My alignment is off. I know this. And so, when I raced on Saturday, and placed 24th, I was still happy to get out there and compete with the very best in the world and place in the top 25. Was it a top 10 finish in a stacked field? No. Was it indicative of the fitness I've had before in triathlon or my fitness in the future? No. Was it a good current "state of the union" address of my current fitness? YES. And for that, I can walk away from the race content to have given my best on that day, and ready to move forward.

The reality is inspiring. I'm ready to move forward too.

The struggle to keep things light and shiny continues to be tempting but after the story of Madison Holleran hit a little too close to home (she was also a Penn athlete, someone who struggled with [self-imposed] expectations regarding performance, both in athletics and the classroom), I thought it was time to share a bit of the #lifeunfiltered as well. This might be helpful for anyone struggling through a plateau, much like myself.

Bottom line is even before getting deathly sick, I was struggling with training. Among work priorities and life's distractions, it just wasn't fun. I lost my ability to totally smash myself, maybe as a result of trying to do just that on too frequent of a basis. I was digging myself into a hole, always tired—and from not that much activity. I resented training for taking up too much of my time and for not giving me the joy that it used to bring. I had to keep reminding myself that I'm still relatively new to triathlon, with only four seasons total under my belt and only two at the Ironman distance, and that despite my elite card, this is a HOBBY at the end of the day—albeit a super intense one. Bottom line, I knew something had to change and it was just going to require taking a deep breath and stepping off of that cliff from the familiar into the uncertain. For me, the "uncertain" meant a shift in training back to the basics.

Now, less than a few weeks into a slightly different routine, already I feel myself on the upswing, physically and emotionally. I may not be doing monster sets on the track or teetering the edge of accidentally making myself black-out on the treadmill but I'm running slower and longer and then the "slow" is getting faster and day by day I'm finding myself feeling a bit more like my old self, loving every moment—both in racing and the training.  Yeah, maybe it's actually more boring—but I feel better and oddly enough the peaks and valleys are slowly getting smoothed out as I find consistency.

This all gives me some hope. Maybe in two years, I too can link back to this after making the podium in a top regional race and laugh at how far I've come.

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So here it is, a quick and dirty of the last few months, that I'll be sharing across my next few posts (links to be added across next day or two):

The Good: Early Season Racing & Awesome Sponsors

The Bad: New Orleans 70.3

The Ugly: Challenge Knoxville