Wednesday, May 17, 2017

INAUGURAL IRONMAN SANTA ROSA 70.3

PRE-RACE

Women For Tri Meet-up
This was a very social race for me, as I knew at least 50 people who were racing, including several of my regular training buddies. In addition, my friend Amy who lives in New Jersey came out to race and we drove up to Santa Rosa together. I also co-hosted a Women For Tri meet-up on Friday afternoon. The purpose of the meet-up was to have some of the women racing meet each other and also meet Mirinda (Rinny) Carfrae. Rinny is a three-time Ironman World Champion with another three podiums at the Championships. She is pregnant right now and didn’t race this weekend but was there to support her Husband, Tim O’Donnell, who placed third. We were pleased to get her to come to our meet-up and she graciously answered questions and posed for pictures with many of our female athletes. We also had a variety of door prizes for everyone who attended. Thanks to ROKA, Dixie Devil, and My Soxy Feet for the prizes. 

I made an effort to train a bit on the course in the months leading up to the race, with four bike rides on the course, a couple of swims and one run. This helped me with my mental preparation, made me less nervous and set me up to be able to enjoy some time socializing before the race.

RACE MORNING

This race is a point-to-point race with the Swim in Lake Sonoma, which is about a thirty-five-mile drive from Santa Rosa where the bike-to-run transition, finish line and lodging were. With limited parking at the Lake, they offered Shuttles starting at 4 am for the 6:25 am start. I walked over at 4 am with my friends Liz and Leishia and didn’t have to wait long to get on a bus. This was the point where I was bemoaning signing up for this race, because I do not like getting up before 5 am (more truthfully before 9 am.)

We passed a broken-down bus on the way and thought how lucky we were not to be on that bus. We heard later that they got to the start with 35 minutes to spare. I usually need a full hour to set up stuff at my bike, pump up my tires, change into my wet-suit, hit the porta-potty and line up at the start.

Excited to get started!
THE SWIM

The wind was up and the water was a little choppy, but nothing dramatic. Ironman had decided to change the direction of the swim since it was going to be windy, so the 1.2-mile course was all right hand turns until the final turn back to the boat ramp. I tend to veer left which made me swing a little wider around the buoys than when it is a left-hand turn course. I did avoid getting smacked and run over by swinging a little wide, though it may have added to my swim time of 39:17. That was on the high end of my normal range for a wet suit swim.

SWIM TO BIKE TRANSITION

We exited the swim onto a long boat ramp which led up to a road and then to a long chute that went half way around the transition area. A narrow strip of the concrete boat ramp had been carpeted but not the asphalt road or chute, which had a bunch of tiny loose black rocks. I should have worn booties or left shoes at the top of the carpet because I’m a tender foot. Running up the incline wasn’t a problem for me but the pain and little stone bruises on me feet slowed me down. When I wiped my feet on a little towel I had left in transition it got covered in rocks that had been pressed into the bottom of my feet. Two days later and the bottom of my feet still hurt. Lesson learned/re-learned after my first Escape from Alcatraz: booties or shoes!

Beginning of the bike ride
THE BIKE

The bike course has more climbing than the old Vineman course, but a lot of the climbing is rollers so I found the bike course to be much easier/faster than the previous course. It’s a beautiful ride, if you had any time to look around. I really had to pay attention to the road because the pavement is pretty variable with some really rough sections and pot holes. The only small problem I had on the bike was when at mile 50 I sort of gagged on something caught in my throat and I threw-up (mostly on my right shoulder.) I took a few sips of water and those came right back up. I needed to get some more calories in before I got off the bike, so at 52 miles I started eating a pack of Honey Stinger Chews and was able to keep those down. My stomach never really felt upset. 

I finished the 56-mile ride in 2 hours, 48 minutes and 21 seconds. This was the fastest bike time of my age group and the fastest I’ve ridden in a 70.3/half ironman. I stayed within my planned effort and still finished in record time. I was in first place in my age group at the start of my run.

On the Run
THE RUN

Running is my weakest link in this sport, so I decided to take a little different approach to the run. The plan was to use the first 3 miles to find my running legs after the bike ride, the next 3 miles to push the pace without looking at my watch, the next three miles to try to hold a race pace of 10:45, the next 3 miles repeat 4 minutes pushing hard alternating with 4 minutes easing off. Then to finish it off by giving it everything I had left for the last mile.

Everything was feeling good for the first 6 miles. When it came time to run 3 miles at a 10:45 pace, the best I could muster was an 11:13. That wasn’t so great for me mentally when my goal was 10:45. For the next three-mile section, I slowed down way too much on several of the 4 minutes easing off. Given all that, it was a mostly flat course and I ended up having my second fastest half ironman run of all time.



THE FINISH

Nothing like friends waiting at the finish 
I crossed the finish line to find three of my training partners waiting for me at the finish line in the medals area even though they finished over 20 minutes before me. That was a nice surprise and a ton of fun! I ended up in 8th place of the 81 women who started in my age group with a time of 6 hours and 7 minutes. Only three minutes slower than my fastest half ironman time which I did in 2012.
The highlights of the race were seeing all of at least 50 people I knew out on the race course, coming in first after the fast bike course and having reasonable temperatures and shade on the run. The worst part was having to leave the hotel at 4 am to catch the shuttle to the start. 
Alwayw happy to finish!
Now I have less than three weeks to my favorite race, Hawaii 70.3!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

IRONMAN FLORIDA 2016

Ironman Florida was my second full Ironman this year. After not being able to race Tahoe in 2015, I vowed that I would never put all my eggs in one basket again. 

By doing my first 2016 race in April, at the Ironman North American season opener in Oceanside, it was feeling like a very long season of consistent training and racing by the end of October. We were starting to see some rainy days in Northern California which dampened my motivation a bit. As November approached, I was telling myself to just hang in there for a couple more weeks. I must have been getting a little worn down, as I woke up with a sore throat on Tuesday before the race. We had flights, we had a condo, so we decided to head to Florida and see how my illness progressed. By Friday, the day before the race, the sore throat was gone and I just had a congested chest with a cough. What the hell, last race of 2016 so I would have plenty of time to recover.

I felt OK in the morning, as far as I could tell when getting up at 4 am. I still had a bad cough and a migraine to top it off. Not perfect, but I took a prescription migraine pill with breakfast and away I went.

WHERE IS WALDO?
Swim – The Ironman Florida swim is a two-lap swim in the Gulf, each lap being 1.2 miles. I checked the weather in the morning and noted that there was a small craft advisory in effect until 7 am. The swim start was a self-seeded rolling start, and we lined up by our expected swim finish times. Based on my Ironman Boulder swim finish in August, I seeded myself with the 1:10 swimmers. The wet-suit legal race started on time at 6:45 am. The waves were not big and it was shallow quite a way out from the beach. I wasn’t crazy about having to exit and re-enter the water mid-race, breaking my rhythm and adding to the time.

LONG SHALLOW ENTRY INTO BEAUTIFUL CLEAR WATERS
With the swells (not apparent on the second lap pictured above), my sighting on the first lap was less than stellar. I veered left on the final stretch of the first lap and had to swim back to the right again. The squiggly line on this link shows my erratic first lap. I got hit in the head enough times on the first lap that my swim cap was almost off my head when I got out of the water and it came all the way off during the second lap. 

STILL KIND-A HAD MY SWIM CAP
AFTER THE FIRST LAP
As I was swimming the first lap, I realized I had forgotten to put my computer on my bike and it was in my morning clothes bag which I wouldn’t be able to access after the swim. That, with being sick, waking up with a migraine, and my right glute giving me some pain already during the swim, I wasn’t in the best mental race mode for about 2/3rds of the first lap. I was thinking maybe I wasn’t meant to do this race and hoped there wouldn’t be any major catastrophes. I had a little conversation with myself, in my head, and managed to get my attitude in the right place before the end of the first lap. This is when I started to “race.”

I read after the race that a buoy had moved and swim times were slow, mine was 1:20:57. My Garmin says I swam 4,591 yards (2.6 miles) but those extra yards may have been my zigzag or the run on the beach between laps. Not a good swim time for me but eighth out of the water in my age group.

HEADING INTO T1
Swim to Bike Transition (T1) – I skipped the wet-suit strippers because they were having people lie down in the fine sand and the last thing I wanted on a 112-mile bike ride was sand in my pants. It was a fairly long run up the beach, through the transition area to the changing tents. A volunteer yanked my wet-suit off and got me through the changing tent fairly quickly. Although I didn’t have my bike computer I did have my wrist Garmin 920XT on. I wanted to be able to see my watts during the bike without turning my wrist all of the time, so I took the time to put it on my bike in transition. That took a few minutes of fumbling. Lesson learned – empty my morning bag just like I do my transition bags to not miss anything. (T1 was 10:20, way too long) 

Bike – Ironman Florida is a mostly flat bike course and I stayed in my aerobars almost the entire 112 miles and it was comfortable. I sat up at the aid stations to get water. I changed cadences consciously now and then, stood up a couple of other times at the top of the few rollers. I started feeling more in the groove at 60 miles through the finish. It was very windy on the bike course with significant cross winds in places. I was thankful that I have ridden so often on the Big Island because those experiences helped me with the cross winds. I thought about FEAR, stay focused, efficient, aero and relaxed. My official bike time was 5:40:29.

I definitely didn’t go too hard on the bike. If anything, I probably could have gone harder. Link to my bike file.

Memorable moments:
  1. Turning out of a head wind at about 80 miles and saying “Thank God!” out loud
  2. Seeing the time of 5:01 when I got to 100 miles
  3. Passing a young guy at just over 100 miles who said incredulously “Are you really 58? Wow.”
Bike to Run Transition (T2) – Approaching the dismount line, I got my feet out of my shoes and left them clipped into the pedals. The inner thigh of my right leg cramped as I swung my leg over to get off the bike. It took me longer than I would have liked to get my wrist Garmin off the bike and onto my wrist which was counted in my bike time. I had an otherwise smooth transition with a time of 4:35 (3rd fastest in my AG.)

Run – I was pretty overexcited when I passed my husband at the start of the run and he told me I was in second place after the bike. I didn’t feel like I was running hard or trying to push it on the way to the first turnaround. The first 7 miles were in the 11:30 minutes per mile range (which was my target) and I thought OK you can do this, but even with the same (or harder feeling) effort my pace started to drop off. I got a cramp in my inner thigh again at 7 miles, took two salt tabs, and kept running. The cramp resolved pretty quickly but my pace dropped to ~12 minute miles. Learning from my husband that I was in third place at the halfway mark of the marathon, motivated me to work hard and hang onto a podium spot.

My stomach started getting upset at 17 miles. I had been eating a gel every half hour so I skipped the next one. My pace slowed even more at about 19 miles and I was feeling uncomfortable. I finally broke down and did a port-a-potty stop at 22 miles. I felt better after that, stomach wise, but I wasn’t able to speed my pace back up significantly.

I took 2 salt tabs every hour and water at every aid station. I also carried a flask of water with me to drink when I ate a gel. At the 4th through 8th aid stations I also took Gatorade then later switched to coke and water. After 22 miles I switched to broth. I think it was the Gatorade that upset my stomach, but I’m not sure. My quads were starting to feel sore at 22 miles. My glute was hurting though the whole run but I was able to just ignore it.

Run time 5:3, which was not good enough to hang on to that podium spot. Run file link

KNEW THIS WAS MY FASTEST IRONMAN.
HAPPY ENDING TO AN AWESOME 2016!
Finish - Total time 12:47:48, my fastest Ironman. First time under 13 hours. Eighth place in my age group. This was my second time at Ironman Florida. I did my first Ironman here in 2004 and the conditions were perfect. This year was windier and warmer and I’m 12 years older. Apparently experience trumps youth as I bested my previous time by 47 minutes. No matter what time you finish, nothing compares to crossing that Ironman finish line!

Recovery - I’m glad I went ahead and raced even if I felt miserable for quite a few days afterwards. I had a total relapse on sickness, with a horrendous cough, achy body and completely lost my voice. I have an appointment with a sports medicine doc to figure out what is going on with my glute and I have PT scheduled. Two weeks after the race, I’m mostly recovered. I’ve ridden my bike a couple of times just because I wanted to. Training resumes tomorrow and my next half ironman in 25 weeks.

Thanks to: my coach Chris Hauth for a great 2016 season (http://www.aimpcoaching.com/) , Shift-SF (http://www.shift-sf.com/) for all those early mornings of productive bike training, My Soxy Feet (http://www.mysoxyfeet.com/) for keeping my feet comfy, colorful and cheerful, and to Pierce Footwear (http://piercefootwear.com/) for fast bike-to-run transitions and light feet.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

IRONMAN 70.3 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS 2016


I was determined this year to qualify for and race at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships “70.3 Worlds” in Mooloolaba, Australia. I managed to get a slot at my first 70.3 of the season which was in April in Oceanside, California. I planned my race schedule around the chance of qualifying, with 70.3 Worlds coming four weeks after Ironman Boulder and nine weeks before Ironman Florida.

PREPARATION

Never having had a race so soon after an Ironman, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my body. My coach gave me two days completely off and then started me back into training. I had three “easy” days and then took another day off. The second week I was back at it with a 15-hour training week, then an 11 -hour training week, then a travel and taper week. The first two weeks after Boulder I was just plain tired. I took a nap everyday mainly because I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. 

The travel to Australia didn’t take that much out of me and the change in time zone worked in my favor as it was easy to go to bed early and get up early. The Ironman 70.3 World Championships are a little bit like a mini-Kona. There were activities everyday starting on Wednesday. I still had some workouts to do, so I paced myself and only took part in the 1000-meter swim race and the Parade of Nations. We also took an afternoon and drove about 45 minutes up the coast to Noosa for a short hike and Koala sighting. Driving on the left was a little bit harrowing the first day. My friend Nicky (also racing) drove me to scout out the most confusing and challenging part of the bike course. By race day, I felt rested and had no problem getting up at 4 AM to eat, walk to the transition area, get my tires pumped up, bottles and food on my bike and out of transition by 6 AM. 

The goal for this race was to enjoy the atmosphere at Worlds, experience Australia and have fun!



OCEAN SWIM

Entering the water with women over 55,
 to swim to the start.
The water had been rough for the two days before the race, but was perfect on race day. The swim start was in waves by age groups about five minutes apart with the women 55+ starting at 6:55 in the middle of waves of the men. The first wave (male professionals) went at 5:15 am and the final wave at 8:20 am. We corralled up, one wave at a time and were let into the water with enough time to swim out to the deep water starting line. The race course was a long rectangle with a swim into shore at the end. My plan was to swim hard the entire time. I focused on swimming fast for the first leg, fast arm turnover after the first turn and strong pulling with hard kicking after the second turn.  

Happy to be here and doing this!

I don’t know how many women were in my wave but we spread out nicely once the swim got going. I was only overtaken by a few men from the next wave just before I was finished. Overall it was a very civilized and fast swim for me, swimming the 1.2 miles in 35 minutes and 30 seconds. I was in 17th place when I exited the water. Especially with a good swim, 17th place is not as high up as I am used to, but this was a field of the best in the world from over 80 countries.



TRANSITION #1

Off to a good start, with a quick swim!
I wish I had an aerial photo of the transition area. It was extremely long and narrow, at least 3 city blocks long. I jogged through the sand to the start of the transition area, grabbed my bike transition bag, ran to the chairs, got my wetsuit off, socks, helmet, and sunglasses on, grabbed my bike shoes and ran to my bike, which was way at the other end of the bike transition. Getting through the bike transition and onto my bike took me over eight minutes which is not very quick.


BIKE

The 56-mile bike course was totally closed to traffic, which was great! After exiting transition there were a few rollers until we turned onto a highway. The highway section was pretty flat. I was by myself most of the time on the highway, except when I would get passed by packs of men who were drafting. This is against the rules, but at least I wasn’t seeing any women in the packs. I was told by someone after the race that he saw a lot of drafting by groups of women who must have started later than I did. It is a shame that people feel the need to cheat. Several times I saw the referees drive up to packs of men who had just passed me, but they couldn’t tell who was passing who or how long they had been together. I didn’t see any penalties given, but I did see several men in the penalty tents when I rode by them. 


Out on the highway.

Getting into the hills.
After we did an out-and-back on the highway we headed into the hilly part of the course. I’m really glad I took the time to check-out this portion of the bike course ahead of time. There were two loops, really a loop within a loop and around 45 experienced racers somehow missed a loop and were disqualified. It would be pretty heart-breaking to get to the end of the bike course and see on your bike computer that you hadn’t ridden 56 miles. They also threw in a hill here at about 37 miles that had three stair steps. The first two steps were 11 and 12 percent grades and the last one was 18 to 20%. I really could have done without that portion. The race started to bunch up there and it was a little crazy. Relieved to have the loops and the hills behind me, it was eight to ten miles to the finish with a few rollers and a head wind.

My bike time of 3:05, was a decent time for me, but not stellar.  I had moved into 29th place.

TRANSITION 2

I got my feet out of my bike shoes before dismounting and ran what was just about the entire length of the transition area with my helmet on until I racked my bike. Then we had to grab our bags and go down a significant set of stairs (set up just for the race) to an area where I sat in a chair to put my run shoes on, stuff my helmet in the transition bag, putting on my race belt and visor as I left the transition area. I was more efficient with this transition, taking just under six minutes.

RUN

Oh the run...We headed right uphill on the run, not super steep but fairly long. My right piriformis and top of hamstring were super tight and not wanting to run. The downhill side wasn’t as long as the uphill and it felt great for as long as it lasted, then onto the flats. I liked the run course which was also closed to traffic and had a view of the ocean for most of the course. It was two loops, so we went up and over the hill four times. I got passed by my friend in my age group, Rose, before I hit the first turnaround. I was expecting her to pass me on the run, just like she did in Kona, but was hoping it would be a little later. I also saw two of the other GGTC members who were racing as they passed me on the run. I didn’t’ have a terrible run but not a great one either. For perspective, this was my 20th half ironman race and it was my fifth fastest run, but 12 minutes off my personal best. With a time of two hours and 32 minutes, in this world class field, I dropped into 45th place. 





In the end, I’m happy to have had the opportunity to race at the World Championships, happy to visit Australia and I had a fun day. Mission accomplished!


Friday, August 19, 2016

REDEMPTION RACE - IRONMAN BOULDER 2016

I'm almost the only one who looks happy to get this started.

The first goal I set for Ironman Boulder was to get to the starting line healthy and ready to race. The last couple of days before the race, I couldn’t help thinking about what happened before Ironman Lake Tahoe last year and cross my fingers that I wouldn’t be sidelined by some other bizarre incident. When I look at the pictures from the swim start, it is obvious that I was just happy to be starting the race.



Let's get this party started :-) 
Swim
The race had a rolling start and people seeded themselves according to what time they thought they would take to complete the 2.4-mile swim. It was overcast and the water was a calm 72 degrees. The swim course was an open rectangle that could be broken down into three legs and I was able to execute my simple plan. Take the first leg controlled but not easy, go faster on the second leg with high arm turnover and stay focused on powerful pulls with more glide with a strong kick on the third leg. I had a fairly easy time sighting the buoys and felt that I minimized zig-zagging. Exiting the water, I saw the race clock said 1:13. I wasn’t sure what time I started based on the rolling start but something less than 1:13 was a great swim for me. It was a good move to wear the new ROKA Maverick X wet-suit which I had purchased a few days before the race. My swim time was a new record for me at one hour and eleven minutes (1:11:45.)
The buoys mark the final leg of the swim course.

Out of water and quickly into transition.
I went through the long transition area pretty quickly (5:51.) I used the wet-suit strippers, put on my socks, shoes, a head band, helmet and sunglasses in the changing tent with the help of a dedicated volunteer. I stuffed my food into my pockets while I was running to the bike. I saw my friend and training partner, Leishia (who came to Boulder to support me) as I was running my bike up the hill to the mount line and she told me I was in 2nd place out of the water. Very encouraging!

Eager wet-suit stripper volunteers!
Bike

One gauge of how I was doing after the swim is
how many bikes are still in their racks.
The 112-mile bike course was basically one mini-loop followed by a larger loop which we did twice. The first little loop started out fairly flat with two stair stepped climbs. It was overcast and cool through the first little loop and the first larger loop. The larger loop had some long gradual ups and downs, not rollers. The steepest climb was at mile 37 on the first big loop, where I got passed by one of the top nationally ranked women in my age group. She said some encouraging words as she whizzed past me. I knew at that point that I had dropped into third place. (She eventually dropped out of the race during the run.)

At 56 miles I had been riding less than 3 hours and thought wow, I might get this done under 6 hours, but then thought I should not get ahead of myself as anything can happen. Just stay in the moment. It’s not just about the bike so don’t over-do it just to have a fast bike split and then not be able to run a marathon. As I got nearer the bike finish I was pretty excited to see I would indeed have a sub-six-hour bike ride. My final time was 5:50:09, my fastest time for 112 miles.






Out on the larger loop of the bike course.
I consumed approximately 1300 calories, all in solid food, on the bike and drank 4 bottles of water with electrolytes (Nuun and Osmo) and over three bottles of plain water. It did get hot and sunny on the second larger bike loop and was 93 degrees when I got off the bike.

The bike dismount line was very far from where they took the bike from me. I got out of my shoes before the dismount and jogged the bike in, leaving my shoes clipped into my pedals. It wasn’t a very fast run but probably faster than I could have done in my cleats on concrete. I ran through transition picking up my bag and ran into the changing tent. I grabbed some Vaseline from the table in the tent, put it under my timing chip strap. While a volunteer put sunscreen on my shoulders, I took a full water bottle (with Nuun in it) from my transition bag, put on my shoes, grabbed my number belt (with gels in its pouch) and visor and put them on as I was running out of transition. I had a fast transition time of 5:53, especially given how far we had to run pushing our bikes.

Run

I started out thinking OK, I could run faster but will keep it contained and comfortable. The first two miles felt great, then I started to get hot and uncomfortable even with pouring ice water on my head and putting ice in my bra and down my back. The run consisted of two-loops in a Y shape. The up-side of this is that Dennis and Leishia positioned themselves where the three legs of the Y came together, so I saw them several times and got encouragement. My overall feeling about the run is that it was pretty brutal; hot and entirely on concrete. I just kept running slowly one foot in front of the other. When I saw them on the first loop, I was in fourth place. By the second loop I was just struggling to keep running and not walk. 


 I didn’t have any stomach issues or cramping. I ate a gel every 30 mins (110 cals) and two salt tabs every hour. With 8 miles to go, Leishia told me I was in fifth place and thought I had a chance to catch 4th place. She said everyone was slowing down and “now it’s all you! You have been working all year for this” so keep running and get it done. She knew exactly what to say to motivate me. I really wanted to catch 4th and I absolutely did not want to get passed and let a podium spot slip away. She was wise not to tell me that I had something like a 40-minute lead on 6th place and was being pretty optimistic that I could catch the 4th place woman, but anything can happen near the end of 140.6 miles at 5,200 feet of elevation in the heat and sun. 

At the last turnaround, they were handing out glow-stick necklaces to people who were on their first loop. I was elated to know that I only had a mile and a half to go, mostly downhill and I would be finishing before it got dark. My sixth Ironman and my first finish in the daylight! I took a little time running down the finish chute to high-five spectators, enjoying the adrenaline rush of the finish and hearing the Voice of Ironman (Mike Riley) announce my name and call me an Ironman. 

Final time, and Ironman personal best: 13:14:08. Age group 5th place.
There is nothing like it, every finisher is treated like they won the entire race! Then, to my pleasant surprise, there was Leishia behind the finish line to put the medal around my neck.  

Post Race:


With the rush of adrenaline, I wasn’t sure how I was physically at the finish. None of the finish line food appealed to me and I was afraid of cramping if I laid down for a massage so Leishia agreed to come to our hotel and “celebrate.” Dennis and I walked a short distance to where he had parked and I had to lift my legs with my hands to get them in the car. It seemed that my hamstrings were not responding to my brain. I also started shivering uncontrollably. The hotel was less than 15 minutes away. As we were walking into the hotel lobby, I realized we had forgotten to pick up my bike and bags. That is a first! Pretty out-of-it! Usually I’m preoccupied with the thought I need to get my bike. I texted Leishia and she was able to swing back by the transition area and pick up my bike and bags, as Dennis didn’t want to leave me alone. After a hot shower, some food and drink (they had beer, I had ginger ale) and wrapped in a warm blanket, the shivering stopped and we sat around, satisfied, recounting the day’s events. 

Fifth place female 55-59.
Photo credits: Dennis Bettencourt and Leishia Woolwine

Thursday, June 9, 2016

WHO SAYS GETTING OLDER SLOWS YOU DOWN?

On my eighth running of Ironman 70.3 Hawai’i (Honu), I had my fastest finish; Almost a full hour faster than my finish eight years ago. Every race is different with its own challenges, but the way one trains and eats has a pretty big impact, especially with age. I’ve made three big changes since my first race here including: seeing a nutritionist, hiring a knowledgeable coach, and being more consistent with my training throughout the year (except for that little six-week bump in the road in late September.) Any one of these on its own can bring about a boost in performance.

One benefit of racing the same race year after year is it can be used to gauge fitness and/or progress. Making Honu my repeat race ensures a Hawaiian vacation every year. This post is a recap of my race on June 4, 2016.

The race doesn’t just start when the cannon goes off, there are the small things in the week leading up
There is that darn upside 
down race #
to the race which can impact the day. This year I didn’t give myself the 10 days of hot climate adjusting here in Kona before the race as I have in years past. I did however make sure I was well hydrated in the days leading up to the race, and used OSMO preload the night before the race and in the morning with breakfast to ensure my electrolyte levels were sufficient. I’ve also trained myself to eat about 700 calories for breakfast on race day, which can be difficult at 4:30 am, quite a bit earlier than this retiree usually gets up in the morning.

The night before the race after eating a rather tasty meal of brown rice and grilled chicken (prepared by my husband,) my friend Leslie and I put on our race number tattoos before we went to bed. I put one on my right arm first and she pointed out that it was upside down. She was correct, but arguably from my angle looking down my arm it was right side up. I managed to get the second one on correctly and went to bed hoping the race would not turn into a comedy of errors.

The race swim start was broken up into waves, separated by gender and ages, with each wave having a different color swim cap. Several waves of men started, then women under 40 followed by my wave of women 40 and older. The course was a counter clockwise irregular rectangle with a deep water start. By the time I got through the second turn, I was swimming through all of the colors of swim caps that left before me. The Honu swim is in beautiful, warm, clear water at Hapuna Beach. On the back stretch of the swim I felt a cramp in my left foot, which I ignored and it resolved. The water was so warm, I was hot and wished I could have removed my swim cap. After the last turn I got a cramp in my right foot which went away fairly quickly. I did a good job of navigating this course and stayed close to the buoys, sighting ahead every six breaths.

After exiting the water, I ran easily enough in the deep sand that I wasn’t out of breath when I got to the paved path leading to the transition area. I was then able to run uphill all of the way to my bike which was racked at the top of the hill close to the bike exit. My swim time for the 1.2 miles was 37:47 and I didn’t know that I was in third place in my age group after the swim. One drawback of this race is the first-come-first-serve racking of the bikes in the transition area. When age groups are not all racked together it’s impossible to tell where you stand versus your competitors when you get out of the swim.

Early in the bike, at the turnaround on the Queen K,
to head up to Hawi.
Once on the Queen K Hwy, I quickly caught up with one of my training partners, Mary Kate. We rode the course just like we train. She dropped me like a hot potato on the climbs and I passed her on the downhills. Our bike splits ended up being less than two minutes apart and it was fun continually seeing her out there as well as several other friends who raced this year. The stand out feature of this bike ride was the lack of wind! Usually the cross winds are brutal and it’s a challenge to keep from being blown sideways. The bike is where I cut the 15 minutes off of my previous times in this race. I was amazed when I was dismounting my bike with a time of 2:49 for the 56 miles. I was in second place in my age group after the bike, but didn’t know it. If we had assigned racks together it would have been obvious that not many of my age group competitors had completed the bike portion of the race. Even though it shouldn’t make a difference, this knowledge MIGHT have made me more willing to suffer and push myself more on the run.


Running on the squishy grass.


The expressions on these guys faces show what a
 suffer-fest the run is.
If you have read any of my previous posts about this race you will know that every year during the run, I have sworn I will never do this race again. Due to the lack of wind, this year the run was even hotter than any of the years I have raced here. This year I changed my outlook and swore I will keep coming back to this race until I have a decent run. Half of the 13.1 miles are on spongy golf course grass, the other half on concrete and asphalt. The run terrain is a little crazy with short steep hills, slanted grassy areas and it is almost impossible to get into any sort of good rhythm when running on the golf course portion. There is no shade on the course unless you count running through hot stifling tunnels to cross under the roads as shade. The run course was changed this year from a single loop to two shorter loops. In the race briefing it was described as taking a pro triathlete about five minutes longer than the previous course. It ended up being my third fastest run here and two minutes faster than last year. I carried a wide mouthed water bottle and poured a cup of ice in it at each aid station. I frequently poured ice water on my head and body to try to bring my heart rate down. I ended up with a run time of 2:37:38. I moved from 2nd place to 6th place during the run. As usual, this is where more work needs to be done!



Happy that run was over  with!
Better than the free beer at
 the end of the race.

Many factors affect the outcome on a given day, but it appears that I am getting faster with age. 

I’m definitely not slowing down! 

There may have been more goats on the run course than racers!
(All photos courtesy of Dennis Bettencourt Photography)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

ROAD TO RECOVERY AFTER MAJOR ABDOMINAL SURGERY

After my open abdominal surgery to repair a hole in my stomach, I really didn’t know what to expect as far as the recovery process. Now that I have put myself to the test by racing a half ironman six months after surgery, I can really gauge how the recovery went.

My doctor and the nurses repeatedly commented about what great shape I was in so I was hoping my recovery would be faster than the average Jo(sephine.) My surgeon also repeatedly warned me not to strain or lift anything heavier than 15 pounds for six weeks after surgery or I would be right back in for a hernia repair. That idea scared me into compliance. She said she wanted me to walk and she encouraged swimming once the incision healed. She didn’t give me any guidance on biking or running other than don’t rush it. I was hoping I was in such great shape that the six weeks wouldn’t apply to me. HAH!

Hiking in Tahoe after my three week check-up.
In the first three weeks I really felt best flat on my back, but I spent a good part of the day sitting up and doing little things around the house. I also watched a whole lot of Netflix. I took what felt like a significant walk/hike at least once a week in the first five weeks, ranging from 1.6 miles to 3 miles. It took five weeks for my incision to heal enough to get into the pool. On one hand it felt great to be swimming again but on the other hand I was concerned because the pressure it took to pull through the stroke caused a lot of pain along my incision line. Anxious to get back at it after five weeks off, encouraged by the swim and not feeling good enough to run, I thought I would enjoy working out on the elliptical machine. It felt great to get my heart rate up and really sweat, so I did a 55-minute workout. That was a mistake since it isn’t a motion that I normally do and I overdid it time wise. I could barely walk for the next five days as my calves were killing me. Not to be deterred by sore calves, the following day I did an indoor cycling class at Shift using very low resistance for 90 minutes. The cycling did help get some of the lactate acid out of my legs. It helped some but I had to take the next four days off!  That was a little reality check for me.

Mid way through the sixth week I started back on a regular daily training schedule, albeit much shorter hours and distances than prior to the surgery. I started back to running with run walks: 10 mins walking 5 mins jogging x’s 2 and increased the jog intervals each run. Every evening after a training day I had quite a bit of pain around my incision line as my stomach stretched out when I went from sitting to standing or laying down. I also had pain along the incision for the first 15 minutes or so of swimming with each pull of the swim stroke but it would subside after I got warmed up. I did my first straight jog seven weeks after surgery for 45 minutes and it felt OK. I also did a two-hour easy outdoor bike ride which lifted my spirits and made me finally feel like I was going to get over this and eventually get back to normal.

Matt, David and me on our last day riding the CA coast.
My first big challenge was a bike ride from San Francisco to Santa Monica in January, 17 weeks after my surgery, about 3 months after I started training again. I rode 440 miles in four days and did much better on the ride than I did in 2014. I only had pain around my incision on the third night after riding 117 miles with 9,700 feet of climbing that day. My legs were achy most nights. My surgeon told me I could take non-steroidal anti-inflammatories up to twice a month but I vowed not to take them. I did cave in on two nights of the coast ride and took Advil with food. To date those are the only times I’ve taken any since my surgery.



Hot Chocolate Run - January in SF

Just for fun, I ran a 15K race a couple of weeks after the coast ride. My pace was a full minute per mile slower than the previous year on the same course which was a little discouraging, but at least I could run the distance without further injury.

At the finish of the Surf City half.
My next test of fitness was a really fun event where I joined a high school friend of mine (class of 1976) for her first half marathon. The race was in Huntington Beach where we used to spend our summer days, back in high school. I thought that I should be able to run 10 minute miles, but my training wasn’t indicating that I would be capable of that pace over 13.1 miles. I ended up running 10:06 minutes per mile average, which was not a personal record but a good sign that I was getting my fitness back. 

I had signed up for the Napa Valley Marathon which would be a month after the half marathon, but my coach nixed it and I readily went along with that decision because I agreed with him that I wasn’t ready to run 26.2 miles. Besides, odd as it sounds, I would much rather save my marathon running for Ironman races.

It was a long six and a half months after major abdominal surgery when I stepped up to the water’s edge for a half ironman. I had trained for five months and other than a weaker core I felt very much back to normal. My primary goal for 2016 was to qualify to race at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships and this Ironman 70.3 California at Oceanside was going to be my first shot at qualification.

This was the first time I have raced at Oceanside. My race plan (briefly) was to go for it on the 1.2 mile swim, hold back the first third of the 56 mile bike ride, ride harder than I thought I should for the second third of the bike and then strong high cadence effort on the last third. I was supposed to break the 13.1 mile run into fourths and run each one harder than the previous. I executed the swim with a time of 40 minutes, which was about normal for me. I followed the plan on the bike and had a bike split PR at 2 hours and 56 minutes. I started out too fast on the run and it didn’t go according to plan but it was still my second fastest half ironman run at 2 hours and 24 minutes.

I’m happy that my recovery plan has gone better than I expected. I’m ecstatic that my performance at my first half ironman of the year was good enough to earn a slot for the 70.3 World Championship race in Mooloolaba Australia. There is still a lot of work to do to strengthen my core and I’ve finally started to concentrate a little more on that objective. I don’t know if I’ll ever get all the scar tissue broken up or if my core strength will return to normal.  However, I’m looking forward to a busy race schedule, which in part was spurred by getting skunked on Ironman Lake Tahoe last year.

My schedule for the rest of 2016 is:
Ironman 70.3 Hawaii – June 4th
Ironman Boulder – August 7th
Ironman 70.3 World Championships – September 4th
Ironman Florida – November 5th


Thursday, February 4, 2016

SIDELINED FOR A MAJOR RACE
Checked in an all ready to put my training to the test!
Race ready in Hawai'i 
My focus for 2015 was Ironman Lake Tahoe (IMLT) in September. I retired from my 30+ year career with the Environmental Protection Agency at the end of 2014 and put my heart and soul into training for this race with my eye on a second qualification for the Ironman World Championships in Kona. I spent a month in Kona in the spring training for and racing Ironman Hawaii 70.3 while enjoying the freedom of retirement. After quite a bit of research on how much time it takes to fully adjust to altitude before a race, I moved up to Squaw Valley six weeks before Ironman Lake Tahoe. I had a fantastic time, fully focused on training and enjoying what felt like a summer vacation after 30 years of foggy summers in San Francisco. I had a variety of training buddies coming and going from North Tahoe which was really fun. Outside of training I spent time cooking and focusing on good nutrition as well as doing a little hiking.


Just before the start of the Donner Lake Half Ironman
I had a great race in July at the challenging Donner Lake Half Ironman starting at 6000 feet of elevation with over 5000 feet of climbing during the 56 miles on the bike. In August I had the pleasure swimming the length of Donner Lake (2.7 miles) with the Sierra Nevada Masters without having to worry about boat traffic. My swims were all either in the clear, clean waters of Donner Lake or Lake Tahoe. I paddle boarded (SUP) for the first time, rode around Lake Tahoe a couple of times, hung out at Wild Cherries Coffee Shop, listened to music in the village at Squaw Valley and trained on the Ironman Lake Tahoe course until I knew every bump and crack in the pavement. 

Summer fun 


Wednesday before Sunday’s race I started to feel nauseous, but completed my last bike ride and feeling better I went out to dinner with friends who were also going to race. I got sick during the night and in the morning thought “stomach flu, I should be fine by Sunday.” I went to registration, picked up my materials, did some iron-shopping, and had race day wheels put on my bike. It was my 26th wedding anniversary and my husband joined me in Tahoe that afternoon, but we cancelled our dinner reservations because I wasn’t feeling well.

Around 3 am I woke up, took a sip of water, and excruciating stomach pain commenced. Woke up my husband who called 911 because I was moaning in pain (he says I was screaming.) It turned out that a small, eraser sized ulcer had perforated my stomach and the pain was being caused by air in my abdomen. By 5 am I was undergoing 3 hours of emergency surgery which started laparoscopically but ended with a long incision from my zyphoid process to about an inch above my belly button. I spent race day on morphine and wasn’t coherent enough to track the progress of my friends who were racing.  I was released from the hospital on the 6th day and was told I’d have to endure six weeks of down time.

Many of my friends have commented on how well I dealt with the disappointment of not being able to race after so much time an energy expended preparing for this one event. It has been four months and I’ve spent some time thinking about how I dealt with the emotional side of the disappointment of missing what turned out to be the final Ironman Lake Tahoe, the setback in my fitness and starting my road to recovery.

Sure, I had the gamut of emotions and questions: Why couldn’t this have waited until a week after the
So ready for IMLT, less than a week to go.
race? Thankfully it didn’t happen during the race. If it had happened during the swim, I probably would have died. Looking at the times and my previous performance at this race, before they made the bike course easier, I was sure I would have won my age group and secured a Kona slot. BUT – you have to make it to the starting line for any of that to count. I did allow myself to feel and experience the disappointment that I felt but it wasn’t overwhelming.

The biggest factor in limiting my disappointment after nine months of focus on this one event is that I enjoyed, loved, and reveled in the process. Not that I didn’t have disappointing training days or weeks where I felt completely shelled, doubted my ability and cursed my coach for giving me so much work. I learned that it is truly about the journey. My grit, metal and physical strength was really tested by putting in the hours and the efforts needed to be fully prepared. Race day is just the icing on the cake, the journey is what really counts.

One of my top notch care givers at Tahoe
Forest Hospital. No wheelchairs for
five time Ironman finishers :-) 
Secondly, there is nothing like a life threatening condition to make me appreciate the life that I have. I felt grateful for the support of my, family, friends and coach along with the opportunity to be involved in such an emotionally rewarding sport. I am grateful for the excellent care I received at the Tahoe Forest Hospital, in Truckee, from my surgeon and nurses. They had so much empathy for the fact that I missed the race and they made me feel like a rock star for being a multiple Ironman finisher. Several of them volunteered in the medical tent at the race and witnessed what it can take to complete an Ironman (or not complete an Ironman.)

One of the factors in successful Ironman racing is that you learn to deal with the adversity which is inevitable during a race. There are so many: getting clobbered on the swim, goggles knocked off, swimming off course, bike flats and mechanical problems, cold, heat, stomach problems, aches and pains, trips and falls on the run, etc. You deal with each one as well as you can and just keep moving forward to the best of your ability. I called upon this mental focus and training, dealt with my setback and put my eyes toward the process of moving forward. I also focused on appreciating the time to do the things I don’t have time for when in full training mode, like going out to brunch, going to the movies and reading.

As said by Olympic Gymnast McKayla Maroney: “Looking back isn’t going to help you. Moving forward is the thing you have to do.”
Three weeks after surgery, getting out for a hike was
challenging and up-lifting. 
Next up: The Road to Recovery (after major abdominal surgery)