Archive for June, 2008

IM France–Tres Bien

June 27, 2008

This is one of the approximately 3 French phrases I picked up last week while in Nice for IM France; it means “very good”. But, from start to finish, everything about my trip to France, including the race, was better than very good–it was amazing! For a first long day back in the office, a 5th place finish and Kona spot was a welcome reward!

The second I stepped off the plane in France, I was met at the airport by my homestay host and contact at Aquasphere, Lindsay, who whisked me away to her gorgeous villa in the hills just South of Nice. As an added bonus, her husband, Simon, is an avid cyclist who not only took me on guided rides of the course, but also drove me around the entire course so I could preview it before the race. Oh yeah, did I mention he is also a gourmet chef?! The meals were so good that I started joking that it must be a conspiracy plan to fatten me up that he’d designed with Alexadra Louison, the adorable and very tiny French pixie who won last year’s race; ) With that sort of 5 star treatment, the days flew by, and before I knew it, it was time for race day.

I had a lot of both nervous energy and excitement heading into this race. Fortunately, I had Coach Paul to keep me in check with a smart race plan, full of process (or pr-O-cess, as the Canadians say) goals. Rather than focusing on times, places, or Hawaii slots–the outcomes by which we all usually judge races, my objectives were based around things that I could totally control. Things like finding a good draft on the swim (big guys that don’t kick), not letting myself go above certain HR zones on the climbs, maintaining good run technique (elbows in, shoulders forward–no more flauntin’ the goods), and staying on top of nutrition and hydration. My mantra for the race was: “conservative, smart, and strong”.

Conservative–Because, in terms of timing, this was maybe a little early. . .I knew I was not the fittest I’ve ever been. Yet. I was looking for a solid day, one which I could learn from, gain fitness and confidence for races later in the season. This meant that I needed to stay in control, rather than going for an earth shattering performance. Big Picture.

Smart–Because it’s important to control what you can control & eliminating mistakes–proper pacing, nutrition, equipment.

Strong–Because a good day depends on staying tough out there from start to finish.  And, anything can happen in Ironman!

I went in with the attitude that if I followed the plan, checked off all of the objective goals we’d identified, then the day would play out how it was supposed to. So, on race morning, I headed to the water nervous, but with a huge smile–just a big day of training.

The swim start was rough–this year there were 1,000 more competitors then when I raced two years ago. While I was glad to have so many friends out there (I consider anyone helping me get to that swim finish a buddy; ), it made for rough going, especially for the first 1,000 yards. I got dunked, kicked, and at one point, someone even grabbed my hand like they were giving a handshake before pulling me under. Brutal. I just zenned out as best I could, reminding myself that we were all just trying to get to that swim exit!

I got out just in front of Laurent Jalabert, the former Tour d’ France rider. . .trust me, it didn’t take him long to fly by me like I was standing still. Even the motorcade seemed to be having difficulty keeping up! Luckily, I was cruising along myself, mostly passing lots of people, occassionally being passed, but keeping things totally under control. After the first flat and fast 10k, the climbing began. I knew we had 21 km of almost constant climbing, some parts steeper than others, but always up. I watched some of the guys take off, I love climbing, love working, and multiple times had to resist the urge to push it. I was checking my HR constantly, keeping it right where it was supposed to be, not taking any chances.

Although I have many IM races left to do, I can’t imagine a more spectacular bike course. We climbed through beautiful historic villages, getting amazing crowd support the entire way. At mile 70, we reached the highest point on the course, and I was feeling good, but pleased about the fact that we had some serious downhill coming.  For a triathlon course, this one is quite technical. If you’re planning on racing this one, 2 words of advice: Road Bike!  My Orbea Diva handled the screaming downhills & hairpin turns no problem, and before I knew it I was back to sea level, cruising back to town along the Promenade d’ Anglais with views of the Mediterranean.

I came off the bike feeling solid, but definitely not fresh. It was quite hot, and even though I’d been conservative on the ride, as my friend Dean put it, “there’s no way to do that ride easy”. I set off on a very controlled pace, with a four loop out and back course there were plenty of spectators and opportunities to see other athletes. I  finished the first two loops feeling  great energy -wise, but the quads were definitely starting to go.  At  the start of the third loop, the legs  were no longer starting to go, they’d  went. . .  By  the last 5k, I  was running with a gait not unlike what I imagine P am Reed looks like in the last few miles of Badwater: )

After last year’s struggles with chronic fatigue, crossing the finish line of this race will always remain one of my happiest moments.  While I know there is a lot of work still to be done, this race was a great stepping stone for me.  I owe many thanks to Andy, my family, friends, and sponsors–K-Swiss, Aquasphere, Vida Tea, LifeSport, Orbea, TechnoSweat, B&L, Clif Bar–thank you all for your love & support.


Palomar Mountain

June 14, 2008

This past weekend was the last big weekend of training before Ironman, and I wanted to make it a good one! Instructions on my training plan read long ride with 2.5 hours of tempo on rolling hills to long climbs—find something that simulates the course. The IM France course is nothing if it’s not hilly; after the first 10k, it heads straight into over an hours worth of steady climb. Hilly is not actually the right word–it’s more like mountainous. Rolling hills and our usual climbs were not going to suffice. There was only one ride that was going to make me feel like I was out on that IM France course, and that was Palomar–all 5500 ft of it. After a failed attempt to talk my riding partners into it (it’s ok, guys, you’re forgiven. . .), I split off and headed inland.

Possibly the hardest part of climbing Palomar is getting there. Forget about the hills along the way that usually counted for our long climbs, the heat because you’re heading straight inland, and the cattle grates perfectly positioned in the shade so that you don’t see them until the last split second. Forget about them, because the really harry part about Palomar is the narrow casino lined road that brings you to the base of the South Grade. Between the large buses hauling packs of gamblers to the casinos, and–even scarier–the cars leaving the casino parking lots mid morning, driven by people whom you suspect probably SHOULD be riding one of those large buses, it is a dicey stretch.

But, finally, I arrive at the bottom. After a quick (longer than Bree’s 45 second sushi stop last week, but as fast by my standards) stop at the store to refill water bottles, I was ready to face the challenge. Someone told me once that Chris Horner’s record is 52 minutes, so I knew I had well over an hour of climbing in store. Up and up and up. The road stretched on forever, steadily upwards with lots of switchbacks. I settled into a good rhythm, feeling the burn and accepting the pain of the climb. Pretending I was on the Ironman race course, I pictured the crazy French spectators and their chants: “Allez, allez, allez!!”. I pass the 3,000 ft marker, still feeling good and strong, HR in the right zone. I keep climbing. It starts getting hard, and somewhere along the way, I convince myself that I must have missed the 4,000 ft marker. . .only to see it about 5 minutes later. Argh!! The day’s workout is just as much mental as physical, I remind myself, and refocus on keeping the pedals turning. Finally, finally, I see the 5,000 ft marker, and know that the end is (almost) within sight.

I am rewarded with amazing views as well as an awesome technical descent. . .and some Hot Tamales, my favorite candy, from the corner store down below.

As my friend, Greg—a pro bike racer for the last 50 years (ok, not quite, but close) and who rides more miles in SD each year than I likely will in my entire lifetime—put it, “I remember each and every one of my Palomar rides”. Now I have one more Palomar memory to add to the bank: )


June 3, 2008

This weekend in Boise I chalked up the first, and hopefully last, DNF of my triathlon career.    I also may have set some sort of record for the earliest drop out in a race, since the problem came about 10 strokes into the swim. . .apparently, this is about as far as I’m comfortable swimming at race pace without oxygen, which was the scenario I found myself in on Sunday in the snow-melt filled Lucky Peak reservoir.     

All week we had been hearing reports of how cold the water would be.  I’d heard everything from 47 degrees, and speculation that race organizers would change it to a duathlon, to an “almost 60” at the pre-race meeting.  The real water temp was probably somewhere in between. I knew it would be chilly, but was more worried about being cold on the bike than any impact it might have on the swim. 

Yet, within a few seconds of the start cannon, I was stopped dead in the water, head up, gasping for air that wouldn’t come–it was as though I had an elephant on my chest and bronchioles superglued shut.  My lungs simply would not expand.  Trying again, I put my head down and attempted to swim.  Three strokes later, same thing.  After what seemed like an eternity of hyperventilating, while treading water in place, and surrounded by an army of concerned sea kayakers, I got things under control and set out after the pack.   “Even with a bad swim, I can make something out of this,” I reasoned.  No dice.  Every two minutes or so, I’d experience a repeat occurence, prompting the kayaker (who at this point had become my personal escort as I limped around the course) to ask if I wanted a ride into shore.   

The only thing keeping me in the frigid water was the knowledge that I probably wouldn’t be allowed to get my bike if I accepted a ride.  Besides, my appendages were all frozen by this point, anyway.  I finished the swim, but handed in my chip.  Although I’m used to racing from behind, Lance Armstrong would have had a hard time making up this defecit.  With an Ironman on the horizon, I knew the best thing I could do at this point was to make a good training day of it, which I accomplished with a hard bike ride, followed by my own 2.5 hour run back out along the bike course to cheer on the other competitors. 

Although I didn’t necessarily need to travel all the way to Boise for this sort of training day, I appreciated the opportunity to get to know so many friendly Boisians and other athletes–including my awesome homestay family–the Markleys, as well as Jody, Tom, and Bart, Dan, Poppa Regensburg, Joe, and many others.  Congrats to all of you who DID manage to brave the cold water! 

After a little research, here are a few tips on cold water swimming:

1.  Do whatever you can to warm up your core temp before getting in the water.  A pre-race jog and/or warm clothes.

2.  Neoprene caps.  These are more thermal than double capping, but that also helps (a little).

3.  Ear plugs and vaseline on the back of hands and other exposed surfaces (feet & face)

3.  Get in gradually, if possible.  The cold water shock symptoms (hyperventilation, increased blood pressure) improves after 3-5 minutes, so use the warm up.

4.  Relax.  Anticipate some shortness of breath at first, If it continues to happen during a race, try some backstroke. 

5.  Acclimation does occur, so swim in water of similar temperatures when possible.

If your bored, a little more info on cold water shock. . .It’s from a kayaking magazine, but still interesting.