Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My First Half-Ironman

            This past weekend I finally did my first half-ironman distance race.  There has been a lot of preparation, anticipation, and anxiousness leading up to this.  I had six weeks of focused training, uninterrupted by other races.  My realistic goal was to complete the distance (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run) in 5 hours and 30 minutes.  I thought an attainable goal was 5:15, and someday, I wanted to go under 5 hours.  I had several weeks of running 35-40 miles/week, with my longest run at 11 miles.  I was swimming over 10,000 yards/week, with my longest swim being 4,000 yards.  I had a couple weeks of biking over 170 miles/week, and my longest ride was 76.7 miles.  This race would be my sweat and blood.  It would test my heart, my will, my mindset. 
            My mentality was to be conservative, especially early on.  There is a lot that can happen in over 5 hours of racing, and I wanted to be strategic and careful that I did not bonk on the run.  I was warned to expect that the race could take me closer to 6 hours, especially since it was my first one, and that I should just make sure and set myself up to run well.  What would I be like on the second half of the run?  Would I be my chatty self, or would I be grim?  Would I be walking?  I did not want to have to resort to that, but I have also never hit the wall yet in training where I could not run.  My longest training session was 4:20, what would happen after that?  There is certainly a lot of unknowns.  This could be a long day.
            The weather was near perfect.  It was about 50 degrees at the start, making the wetsuit feel great instead of too hot.  There was a bit of a wind, making the water choppy for a stretch and it had to be dealt with on the bike as well, but I didn’t really even let it enter my mind.  They were just uncontrollable, external factors.  I was just here to do my thing.  The swim was fine.  My goal time was 35 minutes, and I hit it, coming in right where I wanted.  I struggled a bit with the wetsuit and tried to get out of T1 quickly.
The first half of the bike was chilly, but the body doesn’t notice as much when the mind is not fixated on it.  The first miles went by quickly.  At mile 20, there was an aid station.  I should have stopped there at the port-a-potty, but kept going instead.  I have been making it through my long rides just fine, I did not think I needed (or wanted) to get off my bike to stop and go.  I should have stopped at mile 20.  I was in agony waiting for mile marker 32, where the  next aid station was supposed to be.  I quit drinking on the bike for at least a half hour or more, feeling like I was about to explode at any minute.  I looked at the trees alongside the road.  Should I just stop here?  No, I’ll keep going.  Then there came a point at which I thought I might have an accident on the bike, just because I could not contain myself any longer.  The road got bumpy for a stretch, adding to my agony.  Not cool.  Finally I see mile marker 32, but nothing around it!  The aid station was just before mile 33, I pulled over and stumbled off my bike, almost falling over and dashed into the port-a-potty.  Sweet relief.  That was the most painful part of the whole experience that day.  I thought I would be in pain on the run, but nothing else that day compared to this.
I pushed it in on the bike, the miles going by much quicker again now that I had my pit stop.  I wanted my bike time to be under 3 hours, preferably 2:48, but even with the pit stop, I came in around 2:45 (and the course was 1km long due to construction).  By time I hit T2, however, I had to go again.  I rushed through transition, and the port-a-potty at the exit was being used, so I thought I needed to make it to mile 3 before I could go.  Fortunately, there were three at the bottom of run out and I stopped right away.  A bit delayed, but I was finally off and running with 13 miles to go!  I started off at a comfortable pace.  My goal pace was 8 min/mile, but I started out just a bit slower than 7:30/mile.  Should I slow down?  Was this going to make me hit the wall later?  In order to hit my 5:30 goal time, I just needed to be under 10 min/mile, so I figured if I did hit the wall, I could still hit my goal time, especially if my first miles were this fast.  I decided I would risk regret and just keep going based on feel. 
At mile marker 3, I ended up running alongside a man from Wausau who was running a 7:30 pace, and we stuck together.  It was great to have someone to chat with who was going at that pace, and I decided I would try to hang on for as long as I could!  Those miles together actually paced by quite quickly, and I was thankful for the company.  I also don’t know if I would have pushed that pace on my own either, and so I was grateful for that as well.  We hit mile marker 6, and I said, “Well, the first 6 miles were easy!”  His response was, “ Speak for yourself, love.”  It was an out and back run, and on our way back, a man passed by us and told me I was the fifth female.  Could he be right?  I knew the top five got prize money, but I shouldn’t get my hopes up too much.  I needed to hold my position though.
I kept watching our pace and overall time and I knew if I kept it up I could go close to 5 hours.  He told me to pick it up if I wanted.  I did slightly, and he still kept up with me.  We passed another woman.  Did this put me in 4th?  Surely I was at least top 5 by now.  I didn’t think I needed to pay attention to placement, after all, this was my first half.  How could I expect this to be going so well?!  Then we had about 3 miles left and he told me that if I wanted under 5 hours, I should push hard the last 10 minutes or so.  I picked up my pace then and ended up leaving him behind.  The last miles alone felt like they took a lot longer, as I kept glancing at the time and trying to figure out how close I could get.  Could I push it hard enough in the end to make it under 5? 
I had a mile left and I was booking it.  I was hungry for it.  I came into the last section and kept glancing at my watch.  A slight downhill before the ascent to the finish line.  I charged the hill and crossed the finish in 4:58:51.  Unbelievable.  I had the 4th fastest time for females, and got a piece of the prize money.  What a perfect day!  It was about 70 degrees for the run, with times of shade and sun.  I had stuck to my nutrition plan for the race, but with such cool weather, it didn’t fully get tested.  I felt great for the entire race (except for that whole bathroom fiasco).  My half-marathon time was actually a PR from the one I ran last fall as well.  Simply unbelievable.  Now that I have my first half under my belt, I’m thinking I set my own standards too high with a sub 5 hour race, hitting my “someday goal” right off the bat.  This is what I had been training for though.  This was my sweat and blood.  This was my heart.  And cheering for me on the side was my husband, my mom, and my little 5-month-old baby girl, wearing her “tri, mommy, tri” onesie.  A perfect day indeed.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sleep & Recovery

            Some parents get up really early to get in a workout before the kids (or the rest of the world for that matter) wake up for the day.  That is something I did not foresee myself doing.  Baya had been pretty good about trying to sleep through the night since she was about 2 months old, through about 4 months of age anyway.  There were still nights where she wouldn’t make it and got up once, though that was becoming less frequent.  We had many days that started at 5 or 6am though, and I was not having a workout completed by that time of day!  Plus, when she sleeps at night, that is my only chance for sleep.  I have yet to take a nap since she was born, not for lack of trying, but just for lack of being able to fall asleep.
Well, for a while there, I joined those crazy, early-morning, workout mothers!  I was so used to getting up, that I would wake up by 5:30 or 6 anyway, and she was starting to sleep in until after 6am.  I would get up, pump, and leave a ready bottle for my husband to get up with her while I headed down to the trainer, or out for a run.  She got so she was sleeping through the night regularly, so that it was rare when she would get up during the night.  You must find or create opportunities wherever you can, right?
That was working for a short stretch anyway, until she was about 4 months old.  She got a cold, though the only evidence was a runny nose (I can handle that for a first cold!)  For over a week straight she got up during the night, and suddenly I could no longer handle getting up early anymore then.  I needed any sleep she would give me (and she often still got up early as well).  On top of it, this was happening during my build period, when my training load was at its biggest.  My body was exhausted for sure and craved the recovery that is found during sleep.
Sometimes we underestimate the importance of sleep.  I keep reading about how it is an essential part of recovery, in order for our bodies to absorb the work load and fully reap the benefits.  Drats.  Sleep has always been important to me (just ask my husband), but the more stress we put on our bodies with an increased training load makes it even more important.  For those that can easily take naps, you have a great tool to take advantage of.  Meanwhile, I sleep when I can at night and keep hammering on during the day.  Take what you get and make the most of it I guess.
Things have continued to become more challenging.  Our family has been in the midst of some big changes.  My husband got a new job; we sold our house and was looking for a new one.  Unable to find a home we were certain about, we ended up renting for the time being.  After my husband moved to start his new job, Baya and I stayed behind for two weeks while I finished with my job.  We camped in our house for the first week (empty of all furniture and things), and stayed with friends for the second week.  During this time (the final weeks of my build period), Baya then starting getting up TWICE a night.  Are you kidding me?!  How are we going backwards with this?!?  Since our reunion with my husband, she still continues to wake up twice during the night.  Thankfully, he has been taking one of the shifts, now that we are all back together.  Press onward, fellow mothers.
A good thing about having gotten into the routine of waking up early though is that I feel it better prepares me for waking up early on race day.  A 5am wake-up time just isn’t nearly as depressing as it used to be, and I can fall asleep easier at an earlier time at night as well.  I’ve learned to function quite well at early times of the day.  Four days until the biggest race of my life thus far.  I was once warned before having Baya, “Overall you may need to brace yourself for some frustration with logistics and just claw and scratch your way to your first HIM, remembering along the way that it is a worthy accomplishment, and that it will set the stage for a new life of parenthood balanced with endurance multi-sport training.  Both long term projects.”  I have greatly exceeded my expectations of how much training (and even the level of training) that I’ve been able to do in preparation for this new distance, but sometimes I also think that “claw and scratch” may be right on.  Well, here we go!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Advantage of the Disadvantage

            I used to feel like people who had a history in at least one of the sports of triathlon were at an advantage over those of us who did not.  Someone who was once a distance runner or a swimmer should have an edge over those who weren’t (meaning me).  My sports history?  Volleyball was my focus for 6 years until I graduated high school.  I was in track in high school as well, and while I tried almost every event, I never found anything that I was really any good at.  That is until I went on to college and pole vaulted, which was my focus for the next 5 years as I competed at the DII collegiate level.  I graduated college and still had a competitive side of me that needed its fix.
Too bad this doesn't apply to triathlons...
            Thus I entered the world of triathlon.  I could swim.  I could bike.  I could run.  None of it was really fast or anything, but I could do it, so why not?  The summer after I graduated from college (2010), I began getting ready for my first triathlon.  I did a few lake swims to get ready for that portion.  Now, let me explain my history with swimming.  I took swim lessons when I was young, but swimming for me basically consisted of the side stroke.  I could side stroke all day long, and that’s what I did for my first year of triathlons.  And I could do pretty well with it too, compared to other non-swimmers anyway...
            Then there was the bike.  Well, everyone has got to start somewhere.  I started with a one-speed, pedal-backwards-to-brake kind of bike, with the big ol’ tires and seat.  I should also say that I got the bike when I was about 10, but I at least no longer had a bell, basket, or klinkers on it.  I figured if I did a few 12-14 mile rides with that thing, then I would be set for the 16 miles I needed to cover in the race.  Fortunately I was able to borrow a road bike for the race itself.  Not supposed to try anything new for a race?  I think it was ok in this case.
            Now the run.  Back in high school, my sophomore year I ran the mile at meets.  That does not mean I was ever good at it by any means.  But that was my extent of my competitive distance running experience.  Occasionally I would do a 2-3 mile run I guess, but that’s just nothing impressive when the pace was probably 10 minutes/mile.  I started running that summer, and it was fun to see how quickly my times could drop.  Look at me, I can run 2 miles at a sub 8 pace! 
Everything was exciting.  My point is, that I did not have a standard to hold myself to.   Those with a cross country background, or whatever it may be, have a previous standard of what they should be able to do.  When you have nothing for a background, you just keep getting better and better!  Sure, I was getting beat by those with more triathlon experience, or those with a running background, or well, a lot of people anyway.  But I was able to beat myself every time, and that was exciting enough for me in order to get hooked.  When you have a low standard (or  none at all) for yourself, it is a lot easier to surpass the expectations you hold.  You are not chasing down previous standards and finding yourself falling short.  It’s hard to be disappointed when you come from nothing at all.  It also means that I had a lot more work to do in order to make up for all of the time that others had put into becoming fast swimmers or runners.  That’s alright, I can handle a little hard work.  So don't be intimidated by a triathlon just because you don't have a background of distance running or swimming.  After all, maybe you have the advantage!