Saturday, May 2, 2009

napa valley half iron race report

wow. i don't even know where to start. for those of you on facebook and twitter you know from my most awesome sherpas, j. and molly, that it was a cold, wet, rainy day today in napa. here's the low-down from my end ...

i'll start right off with t.m.i. and tell you that i have a long and painful history of not being able to "do my business" before racing. it's led to more gastric distress and blown races than i care to remember. not because i do a "jen harrison" (sorry, jen i couldn't resist) ... i don't get the runs like a lot of folks, but my stomach stops processing calories and i wind up with a stomach the size of a pregnant woman ... carrying twins! and, like at lake placid, i keep ducking into port o' potties certain that THIS time it will happen because it sure feels like it, but always "no dice".

as some of you also know, i've been on a no wheat, gluten, soy or dairy diet for a month or so . this diet was done partly in an effort to figure out some of my racing digestive issues.

so this morning you can imagine my disappointment when we left the hotel without anything being "different". but, hopefully you can also imagine my elation when we got to transition and suddenly "doh! i gotta go" and i did. : ) my season opener was already being kicked off with a p.r.

so, to the race ... well, actually ... to the day before the race. j. and i came up late thursday night so i could preview the course on friday. holy hilliness!! my friend who had done the race had said that it was hilly, but i never got a good sense for just HOW hilly. the race had posted an elevation map, but it was all pulled and squeezed and i knew it wasn't quite accurate. basically what i saw yesterday was that the first 30 miles of the bike were HILLY, then about 10 miles of some super nice straightaways and a couple of rollers and then 10 miles of HILLY and then 6 miles of rollers. ouch!

the run is an out-and-back-out-and-back. and ooooh, it looked tough. no one hill was THAT big, but it was basically a series of three hills, with somewhat corresponding downhills that you did 4 times. it looked like tough work. not un-doable and probably somewhat fun as a stand alone, but i knew each one would get exponentially harder.

the swim is a self-seeded start of about 100 swimmers per wave. fastest swimmers going first. this also meant co-ed. i had initially thought i'd start in the second wave, but when liz and i discussed it we actually decided that the back of the first wave would be better for me. i don't like a lot of people around me when i swim and this was probably my best shot at "clean" water. also, i get super duper nervous before races and waiting to get in the water would probably just make that worse. best i just get to the shore, get in and go without a lot of thinking about it.

the swim was my best swim ever!!! i don't know if it is my best half IM swim time because it was super short, but i felt super. i had NO problems breathing, i felt long and strong, my sighting was seamless. i came out of the water in 27:20, but i can pretty much guarantee you that, barring any other short swims, that will be the fastest swim time i will ever see at a half ironman race. i don't care, i'll take it. and most of all i'll take the fantastic experience of a good swim. i would have been happy to have had the swim distance it was supposed to be because i felt that good!

when i got out of the water it was already raining. i was going to throw on arm warmers, but i ran by a guy struggling to get his on and i thought 'i'd rather spend the time putting on gloves (damn that's hard to do when you are wet) since my hands get super cold and numb'.

i settled in for the first 20 minutes on the bike, just like i had planned. i started to pick it up around 25 min. in and about 8 min. later was thinking 'wow, i feel so super bouncy and like there is no resistance'. oh shoot, i suddenly remembered what that feeling was. it had been a looong time since i had felt it. a flat. yup.

my rear tire was totally flat. i pulled off the road and did what i needed to do and like a good girl was sure to run my hand along the inside of the tire to see if anything was stuck in it. i found the eensyest, teensyest piece of wire stuck in it. the thing was so fine i couldn't pull it out with my fingers. i pressed it enough from the other side to be able to pull it out with my teeth! finally the tire was fixed, but the wheel didn't seem to want to go back on. i fiddled with this and that and finally got it back on and started back up.

i rode past j. and molly about 200 meters later. i was at total peace with the fact that i had just lost about 15 minutes. it's funny, those are the things that i worry about ahead of time, but when it actually does happen i seem to be calm and collected about it. a few hilly miles later i knew something was wrong with my bike. i just wasn't getting the kind of speed i should have been. i got off the bike again and apparently the back brake had shifted to one side and was rubbing. i pushed and pulled on it. spun my wheel around and got back on. a mile or so later, same thing. this time i pushed and pulled harder and finally decided to open up the doohickey that brings the brake pads out to the side and left it that way. i was nervous to make that call because of the intense rain and tricky road i knew i had ahead, but i was also sick of doinking around with the thing.

at miles 13 i felt a little hamstring twinge and decided i would rather hold up a little on my efforts on the bike in order to make it through the run. i've had some nerve stuff in my back and it seems to effect my hamstrings and calves so i was sure to keep lifting my tuchus off the saddle and made sure i was engaging my core so that i wasn't pulling on my low back.

finally at around mile 30 i was able to pick it up and was riding more like the rider that i know i am. i felt strong and powerful and was yee-haaaing as i went. it was piss pouring rain and the wind was so dang cold, but i was happy. i think i was the happiest i've ever been during a race. funny, considering the fact that for the first 30 miles i had technical issues and was scared out of my mind on the descents. it was so wet, the roads were all messed up and it was kind of hard to see with all the water on my sunglasses, yet i was still happy. at mile 40 the fear of something bad happening had completely lifted. i knew i was going to make it unscathed.

i was racing napa to qualify for SOS in sept. i had to do a 50 min. swim, a 4 hour bike and a 2:10 run. the swim i knew wouldn't be a problem, the bike i also was 99% sure wouldn't be an issue (though i did have a slight doubt after previewing it yesterday!). the run, well i knew my run ability was definitely able to get me in under 2:10, but it was a matter of what would happen with my nutrition this time around.

so back to the bike ... funny thing is, that after my flat i never looked at my watch again until mile 50. at first i wasn't conscious of it and then when i realized i hadn't looked at it, i decided not to. i was having such a great time and i didn't want to take that away if it turned out i was unhappy with the time i saw. i knew i was giving it my best for what i had and how the conditions were so there wasn't anything more that i could really do. at mile 50 i looked at it and was so happy to see that i was at 3:17:00. i knew i'd make the bike qualifying time i needed and i was also pleased that that meant if i subtracted the time for flat and mechanicals that i was actually riding a pretty strong ride on a tough course! final bike time was 3:40:18.

those last 6 miles seemed sorta endless. it was another challenging section of rollers. but finally i was back in. i was s-o-a-k-e-d. i don't think i'll warm up and dry out for months! i had my race debut of taking my feet out of my shoes while still on the bike. j. has been wanting me to learn and i practiced a couple of times on the sly and i was psyched to give him a little show. : )

out on the run ... the run out is a long, steep, little road that serve as the car entry into the park and it HURT off of the bike. the plan was for me to "settle in" for the first three miles and much like the settling in i did on the bike, i was grateful for it. i couldn't have pushed that section and it was mentally great for me to not attach to the pain i felt being how it would be for the whole run because i was able to keep telling myself "you're just settling in here".

i won't lie, the run hurt. my heart rate was never very high ... it wasn't the huffing and puffing kind of hurt that i am used to ... it was just a grindy, ouch kind of hurt deep in my legs and feet. i just hung in there. i thought of all the tough runs i did during training, that really helped. i kept telling myself "turn over, turn over, turn over", "you're strong", "cruise, cruise, cruise". i shortened my stride on the uphills, i looked at the downhills as "free speed", i never got outside of myself. i came in to the halfway turn around in 58 minutes. i was thrilled with that. i knew i would have to fall off A LOT to miss my qualifying time, but i also knew that things can and do sometimes unravel very quickly. so i stayed in myself. i stayed in control. i did what i needed to do to get it done and that meant thinking positively, keeping my form, not thinking about the time (i stopped looking at my watch after the turn around) focusing on each little task at hand ... this uphill, that downhill, this tangent, that sip of water, this hit of gu.

there were times i slowed down and times where i picked it up. i'm not sure how much i actually modulated the pace, but it didn't matter. i came into that last mile and half feeling strong, but also feeling ready to be done. i hit the finish line in 1:59:27, more than enough time to qualify for SOS and actually a PR on the run for the half ironman distance. this is only my third half IM, so i think i have faster in me and it gives me something to work for ... but on this day at this race ... i couldn't be happier with it.

oh and that pesky digestion problem? it did not rear it's ugly head today!!! woo hoo!!! no big pregnant belly for me, leaving me walking with nothing but side stitches and belches. i think it's probably a combination of the new diet as well as the temperature. hot weather kills both my pace and digestion and to date, most of the races where i have had stomach problems have been hot ones.

without a doubt this was my best race, mentally. i feel like i did everything to help myself along. i made some judgment calls both mechanically and nutritionally. i stuck with my plan. i didn't beat up on myself, but i never slacked off. all of that, for me, is success. i've gone faster at the overall distance, but i've never been as satisfied with the outcome. that, for me, is HUGE progress.

at the end of the race a man who i had kept pace with for my first 6 miles and his last 6 came up to me and said "i just want to say, you had the best attitude out there today. you were so positive and encouraging to everyone you passed and you definitely helped me when i was having a hard time (man, he didn't LOOK like he was having a hard time, but i guess it's all relative). it was so gratifying to hear him say what he did. if i can be the athlete i want to be (though of course we all want to go faster, but you know what i mean) at the same time as i am being the human being i want to be ... heck, i've lived a good day, raced a good race and am proud.

i have to thank molly and j. for standing out in some of the most miserable conditions today. i don't know how they did it. their constant twitter and facebook updates were a treat to read post-race and seeing everyone's comments made me feel great.

we had a scrumptious dinner with molly and soon we'll be hitting the hay in order to get up tomorrow and do it all over again for her while she races. i can't wait to cheer her on and see her rock her race!!



Mama Simmons said...

YAY! Sounds like you had an awesome day, Cat! Congrats on the good atttitude- that's so key in ending up with a successful race.

You are one brave woman to be *happy* riding in cold rain like that!

When is sos? Do a blog post about that bc some of us don't know what that race is all about. ;)

Danni said...

Amazing Job Cat!!! Way to overcome every little curve ball that course threw you!!! It was super fun to "follow" you through J's and Molly's updates!
Congrats on an outstanding seson opener!

Amy Beth Kloner said...

Hey Cat! Congratulations!!!! I am most impressed with your mechanical skills on the bike. I would not be so calm. BTW, I think it's funny that you called that thing a "doohicky"-- I don't know bike part names, either. Funny.
Great job in tough conditions. Rest up!

Marit Chrislock-Lauterbach said...

Bravo Cat - simply amazing! I am so proud of you... you did incredibly. :) I love the comments about a positive mental attitude - when things COULD have been bad, you were upbeat...and it made all the difference. That's something that not a lot of people know how to do - so bravo to you!!!

Okay - I feel the same way about the GI stuff.... It happened to me once during a race... (Gulf Coast Half IM in 2007), and it took about 7 miles for my gut to clear. Those were the most painful 7 miles of my entire life. Ouch! I can sympathize... Also - standing up on the bike and engaging the core... I do it to. Way to go!!!

Awesome work out there Cat!!! Congratulations on a fantastic race AND the SOS!!!!! :) :) :)

Nate says GREAT JOB!

D said...

Nice work out there, but I'm still not convinced that picture of a person on the bike is you!
I'm finally starting to get motivated for training... a little late though, hey? hah!

Charisa said...

You did so awesome and with all that rain, flats, etc and you were so calm and collected! Great job!

Pedergraham said...

Yay! Congrats on your race and I hope you have better weather today for spectating.

Beth said...

GREAT job Cat!!! It was so great reading the updates throughout the day and knowing you were doing so well out there. You had so much to overcome!! Bad weather, MECHANICALS (oh dear...), and a very tough course but it sounds like your head was in the game 100%. So happy for you. The start of a great season!!

Molly said...

Awesome race report! I'm so excited for you! It was wonderful to be there to see you race!!!!

Jennifer Harrison said...

AMAZING CAT! yes, I love FB for this - updates all the time!! Great thanks for the updates M and J.....Congrats, Cat! YOU DESERVED THIS!

Stef said...

Thanks for the detailed report Cat! After reading the FB updates I was inspired. After reading this, well . . . VERY INSPIRED doesn't really cover it.

Calm and grace under pressure -- so amazing to be able to do that and then still meet your goal of qualifying for SOS!!!

So many CONGRATULATIONS!! Enjoy recovery and savor this race and the feelings you came away with. Powerful!!


E.L.F. said...

I cannot tell you how excited I was to watch your race unfold. This is a NEW Cat. This is the Cat I knew was in there and just needed something to pull it out. I don't know what that something is specifically but we found let's keep it and keep working towards the next big thing. Until then, eat junk food for a week and ignore me. You've earned a rest!!!!

Josh said...

Fantastic job out there! And a great report - so much fun to read!
Maybe you should start looking for rainy races!

Roo said...

YAY! I'm so glad to hear the diet worked. I know it's been a pain sticking to it!

By the way- I think you're a really great human! (and athlete too)

IAN said...

NICE WORK CAT!! You overcame some adversity and did it with what reads like a smile on your face. Really happy to hear you enjoyed the race to the degree you did. Awesome.

Runner Leana said...

Congratulations on a fantastic race and qualifying for SOS! Nice job on being so cool headed while changing the flat too.

griffin said...

great job cat! and great reporting on it too. a pleasure to read. lots of love.

ADC said...

Hey great race - well done. And you have to let me in on the new nutrition secret as I always seem to suffer from same digestive issues.

Shan said...

Loved the RR! Great work at Napa Half :-D

Jennifer Cunnane said...

Great job!!! That race is a doozy isn't it? All those continuous hills, and you were able to continue on despite a flat! Great job setting a PR!