Wednesday, June 18, 2014

High Cliff Half-Iron

With Draft Cyclery owners before the race!
            This was my only half-iron distance triathlon for the season, and it was also an early season Half being in June.  The never-ending winter frustrated a lot of my early spring preparations for this, and then I raced the two weeks prior to it, making my last long ride and run three weeks out from the race.  Last year I was still doing longer stuff even just a week before my big races, which was a confidence-booster.  I wasn’t sure how this year’s prep would shake out on race day.  High Cliff was also a new course to me, so I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.  My two main goals were to finish under 5 hours again (I went 4:58 and 4:52 last year), and to finish in the top 5 for females.
Courtesy of Andy Wyss Design
            The morning started fairly cold, maybe 50 degrees, but the wind was strong and frigid.  Fortunately the waves on huge Lake Winnebago weren’t too bad.  Apparently it was the best lake conditions they’ve ever had.  Say what?!  I started in Wave 1, and I couldn’t stop shivering/shaking while we waited to start.  As soon as we got going on the swim though, I warmed up.  On the long backstretch of the swim, we looked right into the sun, making sighting quite a lovely task.  My time was right around where I expected, similar to my past half-irons, though it looks a little slow due to the transition mat being at the top of the hill after exiting the water.
            On the bike, we immediately faced the “signature climb” out of High Cliff Park.  After tackling Trinona last weekend, it really didn’t seem like a big deal.  The winds were intense out on the bike though, facing it head-on or from the side for the first half of the ride.  I’d rather face it for the first half than the second.  It really cut into the speed though, and at one point the cross-winds nearly knocked my bike out from under me.  Despite the slower pace, the first half went by surprisingly fast, but the countdown with the last 20 seemed to drag on.  I felt strong on the bike at least, and it was great whenever we had a stretch that the wind was at our backs.  While it can’t make up for the lost time, it sure is a lot more fun when you can go really fast!  Despite hitting my goal watts for the ride (same effort as my Pigman Half), it took me a full 7 minutes longer than it did at Pigman as a result of the winds.  Ouch.
Courtesy of Andy Wyss Design
            Looking at past year’s results from the High Cliff Half-Iron, I knew that I could potentially be the overall female winner if I, at minimum, went sub-5, or closer to a 4:50, depending on who showed up on race day.  I was hopeful that today could be my day, but I didn’t want to let myself get too excited, or put too much pressure on myself.  On the second half of the ride, I went by a man who told me he thought I was the first female he’d seen.  Instantly of course, my hopes go up, though I have a hard time believing it, and I tell myself that there is a woman in front of me I need to catch.  Before I finish the ride, I do pass by another woman, and I have a feeling that she’s probably not the only one in front of me.  The half-iron is an interesting race is that it really has a lot to do with patience.  I felt really strong towards the end of the bike, but I knew I shouldn’t push too hard yet, I needed to save it for the run.  Control the adrenaline.
            I came in off the bike and Andy tells me that I’m in third for women.  THIRD?!  I had a lot of work to do, and I set off on the run.  The first thing we have to do is climb up High Cliff again.  Biking it is one thing – running it is quite another.  This is where things really get interesting.  After ascending the giant hill, there is a two-loop run course on trails through the park.  Please do not get the impression that these are running trails by any means. Rather, these are hiking and horseback riding trails.  There is a section of trail that is on rock – uneven, jagged, ankle-rolling type rock.  Then there are sections that are through the woods and consist of dirt/mud.  There are also sections that are a mowed trail, but I do not mean to liken it to a nice smooth lawn, but it’s almost closer to resembling the unevenness of a hayfield when it gets cut.  It was not a flat run course after the initial climb either.  The trail wound around and went up and down, often in a short, steep fashion.  Sometimes there were rocks or tree roots to be aware of.  You definitely had to watch your footing during the run, and it was a stability test for your hips and ankles.  Yikes. 
Courtesy of Andy Wyss Design
            On the first loop, a gentleman caught up to me and he recognized me from having done the run of the Green Bay Olympic together last year.  Yes, a running buddy!  We ran several miles together and he definitely helped me keep a better pace.  There were portions of the trail that were also quite narrow and forced us to go single-file either because it was that narrow, or we were passing or being passed.  I stayed close to him for as long as I could, and we passed up the woman in second together.  We kept watching for the woman in first, but could never see her.  He got away from me later in the second loop, and I scolded myself.  My best shot at catching the woman in first was to stay up with him.  Every woman I passed I kept hoping was her, but the race numbers told me otherwise.  I finally came to the descent and saw no one on it, meaning I knew I didn’t stand a chance at first place.  Descents like that are not very fun, especially when your legs are in so much pain already.  I crossed the finish line in 4:55:09, and I found out that the woman who beat me was the stellar pro triathlete Jessica Jacobs, who I didn’t stand a chance at catching!  How stellar?  Her best Ironman time is an 8:55:10, which made her just the 13th woman in Ironman history to break nine hours, and the third American woman to ever achieve that feat.  I definitely can’t feel bad about coming in second behind her!

            Minnesota Tri News wrote about High Cliff - “One of our region's most challenging halves--only two women, one a first-tier pro (Jessica Jacob's won Ironman Wisconsin and Ironman Florida in 2011. Her time at Florida was 8:55), broke five hours on that cool, windy morning.”  I was that second woman!  I wish I could have pulled off a PR time, but this course was not a fast one by any means.  Jacobs referred to it as “an a**-kicking.”  Pretty accurate I must say.  I definitely think I am capable of a much faster time, but I will have to wait until next year to prove it.  It’s important to always stay hungry for the next one. ;)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Trinona - Battle of the Bluff

I didn’t read the course description until the week before the race (I just looked at the distance, date, and location basically).  Then I read I had to bike up the bluff…BIKE UP THE BLUFF?!  I think I had a heart attack.  All my former plans for this being a fast race were thrown out the window, and my expectations were greatly adjusted.  The night before the race, Andy and I drove up the bike route up the bluff, stopping at the Scenic Overlook (which wasn’t even all the way up).  Looking down from the Overlook was gorgeous, but the hill climb was terrifyingly steep. And long. Garvin Heights was featured as one of Bicycling magazine’s “Top 100 Climbs” in the U.S. The road climbs 540 feet over 1.2 miles with a grade of 9.2%.  Now that sounds like just a lot of numbers, but let me tell you, whatever you are picturing, in reality, it is much worse, and longer, and steeper. 
Courtesy of Andy Wyss Design
Once you get to the top, it flattens out with just some rolling hills for the next few miles before you turn and begin the descent back down the bluff.  What goes up, must come back down.  We were warned to use extreme caution for the descent, and to make sure our brakes were working properly.  The descent was considered highly technical due to the steepness and curves.  The road was also open to vehicles, so we’d have to be on our guard.  As we drove down it, I noted there were some tight curves.  Would I coast the whole thing?  Would I need to use my brakes?  I hoped not.  Normally I am aggressive on downhills and consider it a strength, so if it was the case where I needed to back off and even use my brakes, it would take a lot away from my ride.  Originally I wanted a fast bike ride at this race, but now I hoped for a good swim and run, and to survive the ride.
            We woke up to perfect weather. The elite waves were started in masses first, and then it was a two-person time trial start by age group waves.  This was nice in the sense that it wasn’t a huge mass start, or even big waves of people to have to try and swim over or through.  I didn’t like it in the sense that you could not tell where you truly were in position to everyone else.  This would prove to be important later on.  In a write-up regarding the race, it was stated that the swim appeared to be slightly long.  I hope this was true because as I exited the water, I saw my swim time was much slower than I anticipated it should be, and it was a bit disheartening.  Nothing to dwell on though, I had the bluff to bike up! 
Courtesy of Andy Wyss Design
We first had to do an out and bike portion that used the sprint’s bike route, before we split off for the bluff.  For some reason, I had anticipated that this portion would be fairly flat, or straight, and it was neither.  It seemed every time there was a downhill, it was followed by a curve, or a tight turn, making me slow down and brake way too much for my liking.  Then we split off to go up the bluff and immediately it was full-out climbing mode.  Right away I had to shift into my easiest gear.  This was going to take a while.  And it did – over 9 minutes to cover that 1.2 miles, to be a little more precise.  The fastest woman (who also blew the old course record out of the water) climbed it about 2 minutes faster than me.  I was not racing the ascent by any means though.  I was surviving.  I was actually surprised at how quickly it seemed to pass, since in my mind I was convinced that it would literally take FOREVER to reach the top. 
Elevation & speed graph downloaded from the ride.
This was the warning on the race website: “Risks are inherent in this sport, but Life Time Tri Trinona's unique terrain demands a higher level of discretion while tackling the bike portion. While the signature ascent up Garvin Heights is challenging to say the least, extreme caution must be exercised when descending the bluff on Gilmore Valley Road. Tight turns, extreme downhill grade and narrow shoulders prohibit you from aggressively attacking this portion of the course. Please ensure your brakes are functioning properly prior to the race — you will need them.”  It took so long to reach the fun of the race – the descent, as we had several miles between the ascent and descent.  Then it happened, and as soon as it did, I saw the woman ahead of me already coasting.  Should I stop pedaling already?  I decided to keep going, the first curve looked manageable with a little more speed.  I passed by her, and the exhilaration of the descent started in.  I don’t think I ever touched my brakes and I probably pedaled for almost half of it.  It was thrilling.  If there hadn’t been so many curves, I would have pushed the speed more, as I didn’t even quite hit 40mph!  Andy set up a GoPro camera on my bike for this race – check out the footage from the descent!

Courtesy of Andy Wyss Design
            Any hills I encountered after this point felt brutal on my legs though, and I just wanted to be back at transition.  The first mile of the run felt pretty tough, but I knew that they should loosen up after that and I could pick up my pace then.  They did and I began to push each mile a little harder.  My goal was to make top 5 overall for females, but since it was an out-and-back run, I started counting the women ahead of me and got to 10 before I hit the turn-around.  I didn’t know if some of them were from relays though, or if some I could catch time-wise if they started the swim far enough ahead of me.  We merged with the sprint runners and it became even less clear as to who I needed to catch, so I just chased whoever was in front of me.  The finish line finally came into sight and I kicked it in to the finish for a 10K PR time and broke the tape!  (Okay, they put the tape up for everybody, but it was still fun.)
Courtesy of Andy Wyss Design
            I didn’t know how I placed until the awards ceremony.  I took 2nd in my age group, just 6 seconds behind 1st place in my age group!  Drats!  I checked the results for how I did overall for females and discovered I was 6th overall, with my fellow age group winner just 6 seconds ahead of me for the 5th place finish.  I was so close to hitting top 5, but I had no idea where others were in correlation to me, and I never saw her out on the course.  It happens I guess; it was still a good day overall.  It was neat to be part of a race of such high caliber.  Everything was very well run and well done.  The competition was also some of the toughest I’ve been up against.  This was the first of the Minnesota Life Time Tri Series that I’ll be doing.  I’m definitely excited for my other big races this summer!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Racing for Milk & What It Means to Me

            June is Dairy Month.  Growing up, that meant there might be ice cream treats at the bank.  It is much more than that though.  It is celebrating dairy farmers, who work EVERY day, long hours, dawn ‘til dusk, providing a living for their families, and food for America: milk, cheeses, yogurt, butter, ice cream, etc.  As delicious and healthy as dairy is, it is the people behind it all, the farmers, who deserve to be honored and recognized.
Little farm girl at heart!
            If a farmer wants a day off, they must pay someone else to keep things running on the farm.  As my dad always said, “The cows aren’t going to milk themselves.”  Farming involves a lot of manual labor, and there are many aspects to the job: milking, feeding (from bottle to the calves, to silage and grain to the cows), breeding, giving shots, dehorning; there’s always stuff to be fixed, barns and pens to be cleaned, machinery to be worked on.  The fields need to be plowed, rocks picked, disked, fertilized, planted, sprayed, cut, raked, baled, chopped, combined, or swathed.  If you make big bales, then they need to be removed and stored.  Small bales need to be loaded and unloaded, and someone has to be in the hot, humid, and stuffy haymow stacking them.  We filled chopper boxes and emptied them into silos, which required watching it unload to make sure it doesn’t plug.  If it does, then you have to climb it and unplug it, and/or clean out the chute.  You must keep up with the chopper though in supplying them with empty boxes.
            The days could be longer than the sun in the summer sometimes, but while the work was hard and long, there was also pride and satisfaction in it.  You could see the fields that were now bare, until the next crop was ready to be harvested.  The silos and haymows were filling.  Amongst all the demands of fieldwork, the cows still needed to be milked, and the animals still all fed, bedded, and put out to pasture.  Fences needed to be mended and we would take a hand scythe to the weeds growing up into the electric fence lines.  There was always work to be done.
            The pastures, fields, and farmlands will always be home to me.  Ours was a small family dairy farm, and I learned how to do everything.  My Dad sold the cows last summer, and it makes it a little sadder visiting home now.  The milk pump and washer you don’t hear running every morning and night.  The pasture is grown tall with weeds.  Things sit empty and idle.  The farmer in you never really dies.  You’ll always have a deep love, appreciation, and respect of the land, fields, the outdoors, and the animals – you’ll always know what it feels like to put in a hard day’s work, long after the farm is done being run.
            I am truly honored to race for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.  I don’t just race for milk though, when I wear my kit with the Refuel logo, I’m racing for all the farmers and their families, for all their long days of endless, hard work, who puts the milk and dairy products on our tables.  So raise a glass of chocolate milk: cheers to them!  You can join in the fun this month by attending TOAD (Tour of America’sDairyland) events or even Dairy Breakfasts.  Find out what is happening around you for these Dairy Days of Summer!  The Win with Chocolate Milk Team will also be serving samples of chocolate milk at the Fond du Lac (6/27) and Wauwatosa (6/29) events for TOAD.  Stop on by to grab a sample and some swag!  Let’s celebrate dairy; let’s celebrate our farmers!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Green Bay Triathlon - Kickin' Off the Season!

           What a great weekend!  It was nice to see Draft Cyclery at the expo at packet pick-up.  While they have provided me with biking and triathlon apparel, they also took care of having my racing kits printed on with my sponsors’ logos - and it looks sharp!  It continues to be an honor to race for Draft Cyclery, because I know I can trust that with them, I will get to experience training and racing in high quality gear.  The last thing I want to worry about when training, and especially racing, is how my apparel will hold up or stay in place!
Courtesy of Andy Wyss Design
Green Bay has always been a fun race for me.  Two years ago, I did my first Olympic distance at this one, and last year, this was the first triathlon I won as the overall female.  With it being the first Sunday of June, it also serves as a great kick-off race for the season.  Last year it was a high of 40 degrees and windy.  Talk about cold when you start off with a swim and race in a tank and shorts.  Fortunately, despite it being a long-lasting winter (have I mentioned that in enough posts yet?), it has suddenly become summer and the forecast was in the 60’s during race time.  I was only slightly nervous about the chance of passing thunderstorms, and I tried not to let the morning sprinkles as we loaded up and drove over bother me. 
I set up my transition area and warmed up.  As we got in the water to warm up for the swim, it suddenly down-poured.  It didn’t last long before quitting completely, but we’d have to race in wet shoes for sure.  We got lined up, and someone saw lightening, and the start was delayed for a bit.  I momentarily became nervous that they might cancel the race.  Thankfully, we got the clearance to start and we were off!  This swim consists of a lot of dolphin diving due to it being a mostly shallow, man-made swimming area.  My time was only slightly slower than last year.  Fine with me  - on to the bike! 
This year, the bike was longer due to construction.  It was 29 miles last year, and this year it was about 30.3.  Around mile 12, I passed a guy who was peeing on his bike.  I avoided eye contact as I went by.  First time I witnessed that, and let me tell you, don't think you can do it secretly!  Somehow I managed to cut 3 minutes off of my bike split on this longer course.  I was pushing hard.  It hit me on the run though this time.  The run course was also altered slightly and was longer than last year, so it is not an exact comparable.  I struggled on top of that, and ended up over 2 minutes slower with my run time.  Last year I had found a buddy to run with, but this year I ran in almost complete isolation.  I did manage to run down two men, but the conversations were short as I passed and continued on my own.
This year was also different in that I have never put in so many miles at this point in the season.  I am ready for my half-iron in two weeks, so while I am also less prepared on the speed end, I definitely have a lot of endurance.  I wanted this race to serve as some speed work in getting ready for Life Time Trinona (Olympic distance) next weekend (since there will be some elite competition there) and then my half.  I mostly wanted to focus on the bike as well, see what kind of watts I could sustain for 30 miles and ride fast.  While I was disappointed in my run, I was pleased with my bike split, and I feel like I overall accomplished what I set out to do at this race. 
Despite the course being longer, I was able to beat my overall time from last year as well!  I finished first for females, having my first repeat victory!  I had a comfortable 16-minute lead on the second place woman even.  Meanwhile, my husband ran the 10K again this year.  While his time wasn’t quite what he was hoping, he was the overall winner!  Nice job, Andy!  I have a lot of tough races this summer, but it sure was fun to start off with a double victory!