Friday, September 25, 2009

s.o.s. race report - part II

run #1: 4.5 miles

heading out on the first run i didn’t feel as tight as i often do getting off of the bike, then again 30 miles is a bit shorter than i usually ride and i hadn’t pushed too hard on the bike. i let me legs do a bit of settling and started taking in my surroundings.

beginning of run #1

the first couple of miles are a steady up, then you come to cardiac hill and after that it flattens out a bit, but the trail also narrows and you have a few more rocks and tree roots to navigate.

pretty soon into the run laura came up along side of me. it was fun to run together, but i made sure to tell her not to slow herself down to stay with me. she told me to do the same. we stopped at the first aid station and i had some water and gatorade. i wasn’t all that thirsty yet, but i knew stopping at each and every aid station was going to be critical. i am used to doing long races with a fuel belt and being able to drink whenever i want. at SOS aid stations only come every 2-4 miles and you really can’t take anything (other than a gu that you can stick in your shorts) with you because there is nowhere to dispose of anything and no water to wash it down with. i have had a lot of stomach issues in the past and i was concerned about downing large quantities all at once which meant in order to get enough fluids it was even more important that i stop each time.

as laura and i ran along i saw a guy coming toward us, i joked “he’s going the wrong way!” not realizing that it actually was a competitor. he had already come out of the first swim and was starting out on the second run. on the first run you pass the “swim out” from the first swim. you’re actually running alongside lake awosting and you run down and around the end of it, up the other side and it’s at that point that you cross back over the lake (by swimming) and then swim along the side of the lake for a mile and get out where you had just been running before. got that?

here's a visual. run #1, on the left is swim #1 (but starting on the other side)

somewhere after about 3 miles i went a bit ahead of laura. i was feeling really good and wanted to negative split the run (that was my plan for all three). running along the side of the lake i could hear and catch glimpses of people swimming. the lake looked so peaceful.

swim #1: 1.1 mile

if the swim entrance wasn’t manned by a few volunteers you would run right by it. it’s literally a tiny little break between two trees with a steep, narrow opening to a few rocks where you can stand or sit to change your shoes. i did most of my shoe on/offs on my swim time. that first transition took me a loooong time. as i stood there laura showed up, stuck her shoes in her shorts (she had put her swim cap on while running) and plunged in. by the way, she wore shorts not a tri suit, and stuck one shoe down the front and one down the back. each one of us had a different technique.

here's the "swim in". yup, that rock right there.

my first transition to the water was pretty slow, but man oh man was i happy with the swim. the water was cold when i first got in, but it also felt really good after running. as i swam along i thought about all the cramping they had talked about the night before. just before the race started i saw the race director and asked him: “so, what do people do when they get a cramp in the water?” if i was gonna cramp i wanted a plan. he said most people hold on to a kayak and rub it out, but he just focuses on really relaxing the muscles. so as i swam i checked in with my legs. i consciously thought about relaxing the muscles, figured it was a good way to prevent them as well.

as i swam along the side of the lake i really couldn’t tell how far into it i was because there is a bend up ahead, you can’t see around it and i didn’t know how much past it the "swim out” was. but it kind of didn’t matter. i was feeling so strong and good as i swam along. i looked up at the trees each time i took a breath. it was awe inspiring. at one point i got a little chilly. i thought about michelle and what an awesome swimmer she is. i tried to channel her like i had charisa on the bike. i actually made myself laugh because michelle HATES the cold!! as i swam along i noticed someone on my left, i looked over and it was j. we swam together for a few strokes (the water is super clear so we were able to smile at each other in the water just like in the pool) and then he moved ahead just slightly, just enough for me to grab on to his feet. generally holding on to his draft is tough but today i was swimming strong and it was no problem. we exited the water together and got our shoes back on. i noticed a few people sitting off to the side wrapped in mylar blankets. they looked blue and shaken from the water temperature.

run #2: 5.5 miles

as j. and i began to run i knew i had to take it down a notch from what i had been running before the swim. the cold water had cooled my legs off and i could tell that if i pushed an uphill or went too fast my hamstrings would revolt. so i shortened my stride and trusted that they’d warm back up. the first two and half to three miles is pretty much uphill. as i crested the top of a hill where the next aid station was i saw a man ahead yelling out “hey, is that cat coming?” "uhhhh, yeah" (but who the heck was he!?!?) “well you look like you’re doing great and j. says he loves you”. man oh man he’s so good at doing things like that! it totally made me smile and reminded me of all the notes we left each other in our transition and special needs bags during IMLP.

the aid station was up top there.

the next few miles wind downhill quite a bit. i tried to let gravity take me and enjoy the break from the hills. i talked briefly with a man in his 50’s who had done ironman lake placid at the end of july, ironman canada a month later and now, just two weeks after that was doing SOS. hijole! he seemed happy to be out there, but also like he was fading a bit as he said “have a good run!” and dropped back.

for the most part i was on my own the rest of the time. i could see a few people ahead of me every now and again and one woman passed me as we were getting close to the second swim. i put my ear plugs in as i was running figuring it was one thing i could do to cut down on the time it took me to get in the water. i was further away from the swim in than i thought and running with the ear plugs in was a strange sensation, it amplified my breathing and cut all the other noise out. it was sort of like what you hear when you are scuba diving. it was meditative. suddenly there was an uphill and it showed me that my lower half was really starting to get tight. i didn’t have quite the push i needed to run it as i’d like. i could hear people shouting and i knew i was close to the next swim.

swim #2: .5 mile (but based on time i'd say .6)

this time i was much faster with my cap donning, shoe removal, etc. i was in the water and off! there is a buoy line that runs across all of lake minnewaska, so as long as i stayed with it on my side i really didn’t need to worry much about sighting.

swim in #2

man, i felt GREAT! i passed a few people and then found myself in a group of about 4 people, all going slower than i wanted to. there was a man in the front along the line, then two women next to each other and then another woman behind them. i’d have to swing pretty wide to get around the two who were swimming side by side and because there were three bodies in a row, with quite a bit of space between them, i’d have to do it for quite a distance. i didn’t want to work that hard so when i saw a little gap between the two women i just swam my way right through them.

because we’re all so strung out through the race without a lot of interaction, i felt like i was being kind of aggressive, but then i remembered, it’s a race for chrissake, you do what you need to do (maintaining sportsman like conduct) to get to the finish line first. if this were a mass swim start you wouldn’t think twice about claiming your space.

aerial view of lake minnewaska

and so i went. easy peasy i passed them all and kept going. my swimming felt bionic (please note that my swimming and bionic have never been used in the same sentence!). as i neared the end of the second swim i thought about my brother and emily. i knew they were going to be at the swim out and i got all giddy inside. i started wondering if they could see me at that point. i was excited to tell them what a great time i was having.

exiting swim #2. you can see how i transported my shoes.

there was more food and fluid at the swim out and i stopped for a while to fuel up. i knew i had another 8 miles ahead of me and i wanted to be sure i took in enough calories.

fueling after swim #2

i could hear nick and emily shouting my name from above as i sucked down a gel. i felt great! finally i was up the hill and where they were standing. they both ran with me a bit, shouting and cheering. telling me j. was just a few minutes ahead.

nick cheering me on to the start of run #3

starting out on run #3

other than aid stations you really don’t see anyone out there on the course except the occasional racer or mountain climber, it's actually a beautiful thing, but seeing nick and emily was energizing to say the least!

next up ... run #3, swim #3, run #4 ...


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

trust, patience, payoff!

during my coaching certification class this past weekend, we watched this video. everyone was ooohing and ahhhing at dave wottle's unbelievable "kick" at the end.

turns out he ran almost exact 200 meter splits (26 seconds and change) throughout the entire race. he went into the race knowing what he needed to run and he never wavered from that, even when it meant he was behind. just like a car that gets better gas mileage going at a steady rate he was able able to win by remaining steady, and trusting his training, as his competitors accelerated and decelerated.

what a great lesson!


Saturday, September 19, 2009

a word from our sponsors:

we interrupt this regularly scheduled blog writing (and highly anticipated race reporting) to attend a three day usat coaching certification course.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

s.o.s. race report - part I

in 2007, j. and his sister laura raced 'survival of the shawangunks' (SOS). i was j.’s crew person and i spectated from as many spots as i could. the race takes place in the shawangunk mountains of new paltz, NY and finishes on the grounds of mohonk mountain house. as a kid my father used to take me, my brother and sister hiking there so the surroundings were so familiar and wonderful to revisit. i thought it would be a phenomenal race to do, but at the same time i couldn't imagine signing up for it! i was intimidated. but as has been the case with most of my racing (first marathon, duathlon worlds, ironman) i told myself "thank you for sharing" and went ahead and did it anyway!

watching in 2007, i was in awe of j. and laura’s ability to navigate this race – an 8 stage triathlon that begins with a 30 mile bike (with a significant 5 mile climb at the end), a 4.5 mile run with a hill called “cardiac hill”, a 1.1 mile swim in the most gorgeous lake ever, a 5.5 mile run that starts with 2.5 miles of up, up, up to the top of a hill that looks out over all of the hudson valley, another .5 mile swim, then an 8 mile run with another named hill, “godzilla”, another .5 mile swim in mohonk house’s lake and finally a .7 mile (1000’ straight up) run to another overlook of the hudson valley. the SOS finish line at skytop might just be the most memorable finish line out there.

the race only has one transition area; when you first get off the bike. the start line is 30 miles away so you have to have a crew person go to the transition area with your run and swim gear while you are riding. once you get there, they take your bike from you and lead you to your spot so you can get your running shoes, goggles, swim cap, etc. you can pretty much do this race however you want (wetsuit, dry bag for shoes, etc.) just so long as you finish with whatever you start with. so if you want to use a wetsuit on the swims, it means you are also running with it for 18.7 miles. believe it or not, people do it! you also see people with dry bags around their waists that they put their shoes in and then drag behind them on the swim.

when i first decided to do the race i thought i would do what i saw one man do in 2007 which was to have a dry bag, put my shoes in it, add some air and stick it between my legs like a pull buoy. i thought it would be great to have dry shoes and since swimming is my weakness (and i feel like a rock start when i use a pull buoy) it would be a great help.

as training went along i thought about it more and more and decided to forgo the dry bag, for a couple of reasons. the main one being though that i thought in the end i would feel like i hadn’t really “done” the race. it’s totally legit to use one, but i have a nasty little habit of discounting my accomplishments, so i didn’t want to give myself any ammunition. i was going to do this one on the “natch”.

training for the race was interesting. there aren’t many lakes in southern california and no trails that come directly off of the ocean. so training wasn’t going to include a lot of exact race simulation. luckily i had a trip planned to illinois to visit my coach, liz, and while i was there i was able to do a swim/run/swim. j. and i also went out to santa clarita for a day of run/swim/run/swim/run/swim. it was BLAZING hot that day, but a good opportunity to get a sense for how it would go.

lake castaic

it was 104 degrees that day

man, do the hills look dry!

i was shocked at how tired my arms felt coming off of the runs and into the swims, so learning that was great mental prep. i also had the chance to try out my gear -- swimming with my shoes stuffed down the back of my one piece tri suit, running with wet shoes, deciding if i would swim with my socks on or off (answer was on, but they had to be thin and tight).

while i was with liz in chicago we made some changes to my swim stroke that i think proved invaluable in the end. thank goodness that trip came when it did. back in los angeles, j. and i did a few more race simulations though they were in the pool and on the roads, for the most part. i did do quite a bit of training in the ocean, but honestly until late in the summer it was pretty cool in the pacific for non-wetsuit swimming and in the weeks before the race we were having some seriously rocky conditions. my training had been going so well i didn’t want to undermine my confidence with some aborted swim attempts or to reignite my open water swimming fears so i chose to use the pool and trust that the training was sufficient for what i’d be doing on race day.

the week before the race i flew back east and spent some time with my brother nick and his girlfriend emily out in montauk. the time i spent out there with them was the perfect way for me to go into a race. i wasn’t even thinking about the fact that i had a race coming up, i was just having so much fun and relaxing. they are both super active people and training for the NY marathon so they completely understood, respected and supported the training that i needed to do while i was there. emily patiently sat on the shore of a rocky bay and watched me while i swam in unfamiliar waters. i was nervous out there alone and she understood and supported me, waving to me each time i’d stop and look around. i swear, for a half an hour the woman never took her eyes off of me! there were lots of other logistics we needed to work with/around while i was there and having them both be so willing to make it work was a huge gift.

montauk point

sunset at ditch plains

me, my brother and iphone

while i was there i got to spectate a race they were doing. both nick and emily ran 10k PRs and i was so psyched i could be there. it was a beautiful course on country roads and i'd love to run it sometime!

my bad-ass brother running a 10k PR and yes, those are vibrams he's wearing!

emily stylishly cruising along to her 10 PR as well!!

on wednesday i headed over to new paltz. j. was flying into the city and we were meeting at his sister’s house (she lives 10 minutes from the race start). having so much time to acclimate to the humidity and to get on east coast time was probably the smartest decision i have ever made. i get really nervous before i race and controlling my environment (or at least thinking i do) becomes paramount. i like my pre-race life, the way i like it … clean eating, lots of resting, as few logistics as possible, not a lot of socializing and a complete avoidance of any potential sickness causing germs.

i knew going into the race that i wouldn’t have the level of control that i would if it were just me racing. we were staying at laura’s, there were lots of family members coming in to spectate, not a lot of cars to go around and kids to tend to. they have a wonderful life, but it’s much different from the one i am used to. when we arrived it turned out that her youngest was sick. you’ve never seen me hightail it to the stop-and-shop for a basketful of antibacterial products faster. ha! i love her kids, i really do so of course i felt badly that she was sick, but it also set in motion my worries. i had lots of talks with myself about the things that i can control and the things that i can’t. those conversations usually work for about the length of time that it takes for me to have them.

on top of the little muffin getting sick, j.’s mom, who was going to come to the race and take care of the girls, had gotten sick so stayed at home in florida. this left us with two working parents, one sick child, j. heading off to pennsylvania to visit his grandmother and … yup, me to babysit the sick one. i was happy to spend the time with her and to help out the family, but got a little dizzy from the lack of oxygen due to limiting my breathing around her. i am, of course, laughing at myself. all worrying aside, it all turned out just fine!

the night before the race they have a big pre-race meeting. it’s a tradition for past “survivors” to wear their shirts. there are presentations from the coordinators of each section of the race, there’s a slide show of past years, etc. now mind you only 150 athletes are allowed to participate in this race and all have to qualify through a half or full ironman, but as we sat there i marveled at what seemed like hundreds of very fit athletes striding by. BUT it had a very mellow vibe. sort of a small town, grassroots feel even though the race is a big event to produce.

pre-race meeting, looking like i'm ready to hurl

we chatted a little with the race director and then settled in to listen to the information about the race. as i sat there i thought i might leap out of my skin. they were talking about the water temperatures. the lakes were all coming in at 67-68 degrees. they talked about cramping in the water like it was a forgone conclusion … but no one was saying what to do when you cramp!!.

the days leading up to the race were autumn crisp. i took a walk on part of the course and i was really chilly in a hoodie and a jacket. it was windy and the skies were really dark and then it poured rain. the forecast for sunday was mid-70’s and beautiful, but as my nose ran and i couldn’t get the chill out of my bones it was hard to imagine that was possible.

j. and i biked the first run on mountain bikes -- it's the only way you can preview any of the course. we couldn't really preview any more of it as it would have zapped a lot of energy from our legs to have ridden the whole thing. i had ridden each run leg back in 2007, so i had a pretty decent idea of what the hills were like on the run.

a few days before - a very dark, cold and choppy lake #1

bundled up in four colorful layers to preview the run course

at the pre-race meeting the race director said to laura, “if you’ve got a shortie wetsuit, wear it!” none of us had one. gulp. i couldn’t imagine three lake swims in 67 degree water, shoot sometimes my hands and feet go numb while swimming in an indoor pool!!

we woke up sunday morning, or i should say “got out of bed” as there had been zero sleeping for me and it was humid and a lot warmer than it had been on previous mornings. yeah!!! we had packed everything up overnight yet somehow my race chip had gone missing. i had a moment of feeling sick to my stomach as i dialed my poor brother (it was 5:30am!!) to see if it had somehow gotten into my transition bag. no dice. i tore everything apart and with no luck finally decided that they must deal with situations like this at the race all the time, right? they’ll have another one at the start. as we were leaving jeff’s brother-in-law found the chip on top of the baby jogger in the garage! don’t ask, i still have no idea how it got there.

okay here we go ...

the bike:

the race starts on the bike. there are age group waves, just like the swim start of a “regular” triathlon and they go off every minute after the starting whoop, whoops. so there we are all lined up and i’m kinda quakin’ in my sidi’s not sure that i’ll be able to clip in and steer my bike straight when my wave goes off.

backing up a few days, i got an email from my friend steven telling me that he had reconnected with an old high school friend on facebook and that, crazy coincidence, she and her husband were doing SOS. what are the chances, he said, that out of 150 people racing he knew 4 of them!! he had sent me an email telling me what she’d be wearing, but honestly i was so preoccupied with making sure that i was breathing on race morning that i completely forgot to look for her.

just before our wave went a woman rolled up next to me, i glanced over (black one piece with green piping) … “andrea?” yup, it was steven’s friend. we chatted for a second, but again it was that awkward “i’m so nervous this is a nice distraction but i’m not paying any attention to what either of us is saying” kind of chit-chat.

when our wave started the six or seven women in front of me immediately blasted off into a tight pack. now mind you even though this race is “different” it is still USAT sanctioned and the same rules apply. meaning, no drafting! at the pre-race meeting they had said that it was hard to enforce that rule within the first 5 miles or so since we all start together, but honestly when i saw the group of women in my age group jump on each others wheels i knew i just couldn’t do it.

i probably lost myself a few places with that decision, but i feel really strongly about sticking to the rules. it's one thing if you really can’t avoid it, and there were a couple of times on some hills where it was a bit tough, but i knew that it was well within my power to not grab a wheel and so i let them go. that really was the first defining act of “racing my own race” and i’m so glad i set that tone right at the start because i think it served me well throughout the entire race. future waves came by later on like they were in a team time trial. i thought that was a damn shame and didn’t mind one bit passing those folks later in the race as we cranked up the 5 mile climb. that climb, by the way, was a little more steep and challenging than i had thought. i kept it in an easy gear and just spun, spun, spun up it.

the bike course was out of this world. it was 7am and there was the most phenomenal golden light blanketing the hudson valley, along with thin layers of fog hugging the farmland. we rode by horses, cows, rows and rows of sunflowers. went through tiny little towns that i feel like i ought to call hamlets just because they were so dang cute. i even passed a huge gnome with a plaque under it that read “World’s Largest Garden Gnome”. i smiled and said out loud “hey, charisa (facebook, triathlete, blogger friend who loves garden gnomes) thanks for coming out” and then i pictured her face (she has the world’s best smile) and thought about how positive and talented she is. i tried to channel her energy and it actually worked! i felt totally inspired and sorta giddy.

from the get-go this race was something different than they usually are for me. i felt a calm and lack of racing “grrrrr”. this wasn’t a bad thing. i was 100% in it, i felt passionate about it, i wanted to do my best, but i also didn’t want to miss a moment of it to the tunnel vision that i can sometimes get due to a singular focus of fast, fast, fast, (don’t drown, don’t crash), finish line, finish line, finish line!!

the bike had some great straightaways and rollers where i was able to hold 23-24mph and just be in a comfortable groove with the perfect gearing. i said "hello" or "good job" or some such thing to everyone i passed. i thanked the volunteers and the cops. i smiled BIG. i loved the bike. j. started in a wave 1 minute after me and at about mile 9.5 he came along side of me and asked “are you okay, honey?” and then he passed by. oops, maybe i was slacking? i hadn’t thought so, but they way he said it sounded like i should have been further along. about a half mile later i passed him back and we didn’t see each other again until toward the end of the 1st swim.

at about mile 28 i passed laura and knew that meant we’d be running together for at least the first leg. as i came around a bend and looked up a little rise i could hear thunderous clapping and cheering. i couldn’t see any people yet, but i knew i was close to the bike hand off.

finishing up the bike

moments later i was entering transition and being cheered on by my brother, emily and j’s family. nick took my bike and lead me to my transition set up. they had gotten us a rockin’ space and done an amazing job laying everything out just as i had shown them. LOVE that.

i was pretty quick with the switch to running shoes and grabbing goggles and swim cap. took a bite of a banana, a swig of water and was off for the rest of the adventure …

next up, run #1.


Saturday, September 12, 2009