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The race is two days away!

So, of course, I was dreaming about it last night. I was packing all my gear into a large backpacking backpack that I had taken with me to the Peace Corps, and every time I thought I was finished with it, I remembered something else. My race belt! I have to have that. In my dream, I opened the bag and tucked it in, then pulling the drawstring to seal it again and clip every part shut.

Oh no, the Body Glide! Open bag, insert, clip shut.

This continued all night.

Jenny (from Silver Lake, and who will be at Sugar River, too) and I were talking about this before the last race. We both think it would be a good idea to type up a standard list of what we need to bring to a triathlon, then laminate it so that for each race our own personal list of gear is available. Of course, neither of us have done this yet, but it’s a great idea, right?

We were also talking about how we both had the same thought the last time we were setting up our gear the night prior to a race: I really need all of this. It looks like so much, but we really do use each and every piece of equipment or support gear.

My list would look like this:

  • Tri suit
  • Goggles
  • Wetsuit (I bought a wetsuit! More details below)
  • Body Glide
  • Bike
  • Bike shoes
  • 3 water bottles (two for bike –one with nunn and one plain, one for transition and before the race)
  • Helmet
  • Sunglasses
  • Running shoes
  • Socks (yes, I wear socks. I think I always will.)
  • Race belt
  • Hat (this is a new experiment for the run)
  • Sunscreen
  • Hand towel (this is the size I like in transition to dry off my feet and to stand on)
  • Bucket (to carry gear and to sit on in transition when changing shoes – a tip from Jenny and one that really works. It’s way easier on the legs than sitting on the ground and then standing up)
  • Gu (I take one before the race)
  • Luna bar (if I need second breakfast)
  • Fleece (I like to wear this over my tri suit up until the last possible moment to keep warm)
  • Comfortable shoes for before and after, along with socks
  • Bath towel for the car seat on the ride home

I think that’s about it, but of course I’m now looking over and over this list to try to think if I forgot anything. It’s a pretty direct line from dream world into reality in my brain.

Wetsuit:

I have now done one race with a wetsuit and one without. I’m not going to lie — I loved the ease of T1 without having to wrangle out of a wetsuit. However, the extra buoyancy, speed, and ease of swimming with one is, for me, fairly undeniable. There’s no way I can afford buying a new wetsuit, though, and renting one for each race at $40 a pop adds up really quickly, too. So, I took to Craigslist, and I found a used wetsuit, sleeveless (which I prefer), in exactly my size for $50. Josh and I met the seller in a parking lot, I snuck into a store to try it on, and it fit perfectly. This wetsuit is not perfect, as there is some clear use on it, but for now, I think it’s a great solution for where I am as a racer.

I’m going to try it out this Sunday in the Sugar River race, provided it’s not too hot to do so.

Heat:

And speaking of the heat, the weather keeps looking better and better for Sunday. As the day has gotten closer, the predicted highs have come down from the low 90s/high 80s to the low 80s. I think everything’s going to be okay.

I should mention that in the Midwest, the reason we freak out about high 80s is not because we are that winterized and weak in heat. It’s because our summer highs always come along with massive humidity, usually above 95%. That makes our hot temperatures feel muggy and oppressive.

To watch or not to watch:

The other question I’m turning over and over in my mind (are all triathletes obsessive? It seems to me the answer to that is probably yes) is whether or not I should wear a watch on the run in this race. On the one hand, feedback about my pace could be really useful. On the other hand, it’s only a 5K (so I don’t really need to pace myself like I would in a longer race) and without a watch I might be more likely to just push myself as hard as I can instead of holding back.

“Only”

And that’s the other word I want to talk about to close this out. “Only a 5K” I wrote above. And I hate that I wrote that. A 5K is a significant race. All distances are a significant race, because they all require different skills and strategies.

I was talking to a co-worker about my triathlons recently, and she was interested and asking questions. Then she asked, “Are you doing the Ironman this year?”

No, no I am not. Not this year and probably not ever. I felt sort of deflated at the question, as if the racing I was doing, and doing well at, wasn’t good enough.

I know that to a large extent, a question like this is inevitable because the Ironman is probably the most recognizable race in the sport and it’s what most people associate with the sport. But I don’t think I’ll ever do one, and I don’t think that will make me any less speedy on the sprints.

For full disclosure, I do think I’ll do an Olympic distance tri sometime next summer. But I really and truly do not see myself going longer than that. And I don’t think that makes me “only” anything. It just means I’ve found what works for me.

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With less than a week to go before my next and final race of the year, the one thing bumming me out is the heat. The high today is 95, with a heat index in the 110s. That means no biking to work today and no going for a run outside.

I’m trying not to obsessively check the forecast for Sunday, but when I have, the estimates of the highs are ranging from 86 to 90. Which is really not that bad, comparatively. In a normal summer (i.e., not last summer) Wisconsin really only has one to three weeks of exceptionally hot weather. It’s just bad luck that it happens to be falling on a race week for me.

I know I didn’t hydrate enough in my last race, so I’ve installed a second water bottle cage on my bike, and have been experimenting with a product my husband likes when he goes running, Nunn. They’re little tablets you dissolve in a bottle of water, and they have all the electrolytes and stuff that help with hydration. I like that they don’t waste a plastic bottle and that they don’t taste too sweet. It took me a few sips to get used to the taste, as I usually prefer plain water, but when I took this on a long ride this past weekend, it seemed to really help. I think my plan for Sunday will be to take one plain water bottle and one bottle spiked with Nunn on the bike. I’m also adding a hat on the run.

I keep telling myself that the race starts at 7:30 AM and that it won’t be that hot yet. But I’d be lying if I said the heat wasn’t on my mind. The mental game starts early, and these temperatures are psyching me out.

We may as well all admit that this blog is going to be about nothing but triathlons until the end of this racing season.

Which, coincidentally, is one week from tomorrow. I can’t believe how quickly the summer has gone, but I’ve decided that my third tri of the summer, the Sugar River Triathlon on 9/1, is going to be my last race of this season. I’m both relieved and sad about that. On the one hand, my body is absolutely looking forward to a break. On the other hand, I’m going to miss racing so much until next spring. I keep looking at Devil’s Lake (9/15) and I really, really want to do it, but that would be three races in six weeks, and it just doesn’t seem like a wise idea. I’m already planning out my racing schedule for next summer though. Next year, I’m definitely not going to take a huge chunk of time off between my first race (early June) and my second race (mid-August).

I was out on my bike for a long ride this afternoon. It’s hot here. Really hot, really humid. The final blast of summer before fall settles in for good. The bike path was covered with grasshoppers, and they kept jumping out of the way of my wheels and crashing into me.

Perhaps because of the heat, I was one of the only people on the path, and in the solitude and the motion, the wind and the grasshoppers in my face, and the sun beating on my back, I was so happy. The countryside by my favorite bike path is beautiful, lined with farms full of corn and cows and windmills, and I remembered again why I love what I’m doing. I was so happy, but there was definitely a feeling of melancholy as well. Even though it’s 90 degrees and insanely humid, knowing my last race of the summer is around the corner is also knowing that fall and winter will be here sooner than I think they will, and my beautiful bike will be locked away in storage.

I had intended to write this post about what I learned from my last race and the tactical changes I’m making and am planning to make before next week, but really all I want to say is that in the end, I am so lucky I found this sport and can’t wait to be out on the road again.

In closing here are some views from one of my favorite running routes. I like to bring my phone with me to track my distance, speed, hills, etc, and these are all shots I took by holding the phone up and clicking while still in motion.

You'd think that when you reach that tree you'd be at the top of the hill... You'd be wrong.

You’d think that when you reach that tree you’d be at the top of the hill… You’d be wrong.

This is where the bunnies live.

This is where the bunnies live.

running3

running4

running5

Hello everybody!

So. Yesterday I ran the Silver Lake Triathlon. And I am going to tell you all about it, but first I’d like to comment on my new bike. I got this bike at quite an affordable price from a friend (thank you, Terri!). I ran my last race on a 17-year old mountain bike, and as much as I loved that old bike, it was heavy and not particularly aerodynamic. I was on the hunt for a road bike, and I was in luck.

Look how lightweight my new bike is!

Lighter than air!

Lighter than air!

It surprised me how difficult it was, at first, to get used to my new bike. It seemed like such a simple thing to ride a bike — something I’ve been doing as long as I can remember. But it took at least a few weeks to physically get used to not riding upright. My new road bike (a Cannondale R500T, for those, like me, who enjoy geeking out over these sorts of things) had me riding in a much more bent over position than I was used to. I finished even short rides with a sore neck and shoulders. I felt like a child again, learning to ride a bike for the first time. But when I realized how long I had been with my old bike (the aforementioned 17 years, give or take), it was easier to give myself a break, cross my fingers, and hope I’d be comfortable enough with the new bike to take it to Silver Lake.

After a few weeks riding and a few minor tune ups and adjustments, I was feeling good. Which led me to my next challenge: clipping in. I hadn’t planned to start clipping in until much later in my triathlon racing, but the bike came with clipless pedals and I didn’t really want to pay to switch them out, so I figured I’d give it a try. Everyone told me that I would fall over the first time, but I didn’t want to believe it, so I sat on the bike in our apartment and practiced clipping my feet in and out over and over again.

So when the big day came and Josh and I went out to the parking lot to try, I thought for sure I was ready. I put on my helmet, just in case, and Josh turned his back for five seconds to throw a bag of trash in the dumpster. In those five seconds, I thought, “I can do this,” clipped my feet in, and instantaneously fell over.

Luckily, the shoes unclipped themselves moments before I hit the ground, and I skittered to a stop, my limbs splayed like a fawn on ice. From there, it was a matter of practice and some kind advice from a concerned neighbor who saw me struggling and knew what she was talking about, and after riding to and from work clipped in a few times, I decided to try it in the race.

Silver Lake:

Silver Lake is located in beautiful Portage, Wisconsin, where my grandmother used to live. I was happy to be running this race with the woman who inspired me to start triathlons in the first place, my friend Jenny. We’ve known each other since we played softball together in high school. I watched Jenny run an Olympic distance triathlon in Verona back in 2010, and I was blown away. The endurance, the grit, and the athleticism she displayed inspired me and ever since that time, I wanted to do one myself. Now, three years later, I finally learned to swim and we were racing together.

See? I told you the cat wanted to come to the race.

See? I told you the cat wanted to come to the race.

Jenny picked Josh and me up at 5:45 AM to drive up to Portage and get to transition near the opening time. There were no assigned spots in transition, and I have a hard time running in my bike shoes, so I wanted to be close to the bike exit. We were among the first to arrive and found a nice, easy to find spot very close to the bike exit on the back row. Best of all, Jenny brought a minivan so we didn’t have to mess with the bike rack at all! I also made sure to give Josh my ID and left the rest of my wallet at home. There would be no lost wallet drama this time.

Driving 45 minutes to the race site brought up an unexpected complications as far as breakfast was concerned. My first race had been ten minutes from my house, so I was able to eat my oatmeal with peanut butter much closer to the start of the race than this time. I actually felt my stomach rumbling after we’d set up our transition areas and gotten our bodies marked. Luckily, I had brought some Luna bars along, and supplemented my first 5:30 AM breakfast with a 7:15 AM second breakfast. Both last race and this race, I also took a Gu about half an hour before the swim. I have no idea if it’s necessary or not (I do have an idea about how gross it tastes), but with my  thyroid condition, when I get hungry I get ultra starving and the idea of an extra easy-to-digest, easy-on-the-stomach 200 calories before a massive exertion is perhaps as much psychological fuel as it is physical.

Proof that it was early: this was a photo I tried to take of the lake before the race.

Proof that it was early: this was a photo I tried to take of the lake before the race.

I was also excited to see a former co-worker (author of the fabulous blog Momma Says the F Word (which you should all read if you like good writing and humor) who was there for her first tri. We even had matching tri suits! (Yes, I really like purple. A lot.)

My support crew. He found coffee!

My support crew. He found coffee!

Enough with the build-up already. Let’s talk race!

The swim:

I was terrified for the swim. The lake was flat, clear, and calm as could be. The water temperature was perfect. But I was still traumatized from my first swim in Lake Mendota and I had done exactly zero open water swimming since the last race. This was due partially to dumbness, partially to fear, and partially to logistics.

However, I put myself at the front and outside of the pack. This is because I finished my last swim in third place in my group, and part of the terror was running into so many people as I worked my way through the pack. I know I’m a relatively fast swimmer; I just hate doing it in open water. In this race, we were turning clockwise, so I put myself in the front row, on the far left. I might have had to swim more meters, but hopefully I wouldn’t run into too many other women.

The air horn went off, we ran in, and I was immediately passed by about 15 competitors. Oops.

I am happy to report there was less panic this time. I still found myself surprised to see the water was green (really? What was I expecting?), and at first I was breathing every stroke to the right, jazzed on the adrenaline of the beginning of the race, the bodies surrounding me, and the blast that had started us. But this time, instead of freaking out and forgetting what was happening, I thought to myself, “You’re just full of adrenaline and you’re a good swimmer. Calm down, slow your breathing.” So I did! (Can you believe that?) I switched to breathing every third stroke, like I usually do, and tried to commit to freestyle.

By the first buoy, though, I was ready for a break, so I flipped onto my back. Swimming between the first and second buoy, I backstroked the whole way, and I was thrilled to be next to a woman who was swimming freestyle, going about the same speed as me, and lifting up her head every so often to check where she was going. I didn’t even feel like I had to turn to look, but just kept myself parallel to her and thanked my lucky triathlon stars that she was there as a guide. After the race, I found out this woman was Jenny (we all look alike with the same caps and goggles). She knew it was me, of course. (“Who else would be swimming the backstroke in a triathlon?”)

At the second buoy, I switched back to freestyle and brought it home. I almost slipped on the weird mossy rocks coming out of the water, but they had volunteers there to give a steady hand on the slippery surface (thank you, volunteer man). I finished my swim in 7:55, 43 seconds faster than last time. Of course, it’s not an exact measurement, because the transition areas were different distances from the water, but still, definitely an improvement. I was fifth out of the water in my age group.

T-1:

This transition was easier than last time, as I didn’t have to get out of a wetsuit. I did have to run in my cycling shoes, but with the support of the bike, and with a small distance to run, that was not as much of a problem as I had feared. I zoomed in and out of T-1 in 1:31.

The bike:

I had an embarrassingly difficult time clipping in once I was over the line out of the transition area. Part of this was the knowledge of the athletes behind me and the volunteers and spectators watching me. But part of it was also my wobbly legs from having just swum a quarter of a mile without a wetsuit, and that was something I hadn’t anticipated. It probably only took me a few seconds to get clipped in and on my way, but it felt like forever.

The bike was six miles longer than my last race, and it was hard. I hadn’t anticipated this, because I looked at maps of the course ahead of time and it looked really flat except for one hill. But the road was not great for cycling. We started on a highway, and there were cracks and potholes that I thought were going to derail my wheels. All the things I drive over in my car every day without a thought were painful and scary on a bike. Then when we got out to the county road, everything was smooth, but it was this sort of packed gravel that felt like it was constantly slowing my momentum. I felt like I had to work for every ounce of speed and could never let up.

The bike was when I started talking to myself. “Don’t think about it,” I said. “Just keep going,” I said. I sometimes said weird, non-sensical things that I can’t remember, and I do have a clear recollection of laughing at myself and then looking around to see if anyone had heard me. I’m pretty sure I sounded insane. I forced myself to keep drinking water and passed a lot of people. I was only passed by one woman, right at the beginning, and even though I was trying I never saw her again and never caught her. This was a big change from the last race when everyone in the world passed me on the bike.

The bike was an out and back, and I was happy to see Jenny and my former co-worker on the course. We waved at each other and I kept pedaling.

During the bike, my allergies from the lake started kicking in. I know I’m allergic to fresh-water algae, and I had expected this would be a problem. But on the first race, it didn’t really affect me at all, probably because it was in early June and the algae hadn’t had a chance to bloom. But on this race, it was mid-August and the lake was much smaller, so there were plenty of allergens. With nothing else to do, I blew my nose into my hand repeatedly and wiped it on my tri suit. I apologize to anyone who is grossed out by that, but one of the things I love about racing is that I can be elemental. I can be full of grossness and pain and not worry about it for once in my life. It’s a chance for me to leave things all out there and not over analyze every little thing. In a weird and painful way, it’s really freeing from the anxieties that hold me back in the real world. Yeah, I’m going to blow my nose into my hand and wipe it all over my clothes because you know what? That’s what I need to do right now, and my racing is more important than being a polite woman. Rawr.

I finished the 16-mile bike in 51:11, at an average pace of 18.8 mph. This was a huge improvement over my last race, when my bike was an average of 14.2 mph. Technology! Looking at the results online, I only see three women in my age group who finished faster than me.

T-2:

This was a change from last time, because now I had to switch from cycling shoes to running shoes. I do have a hope of eventually being able to leave my shoes on my bike, but that’s going to take some serious parking lot practice and I was dealing with enough new stuff in this race. Luckily, I had a quick shoe change and finished T-2 in 1:06.

The run:

Oh my God. This was so painful. The first fifty meters out of transition hurt in a way that I don’t know how to describe. Hurt like my legs were being stabbed by 5 million bees with shivs. Hurt like the sun was burning my hair off.  Hurt like I wanted nothing more than to stop. I seriously considered walking, but I knew that if I stopped moving, I was never going to start again, and I saw a woman in front of me who I was pretty sure was in my age group and I really, really wanted to catch her.

I passed a man who was walking and I said to him as I ran by, “Just keep moving; you’ll loosen up eventually.” I felt like a stud giving advice and encouragement as if I knew what I was talking about in my second race, but he just groaned in response, so who knows.

I kept telling myself that if I could make it to the first mile marker, I’d be okay. Things would loosen up. I talked to myself the whole run, out loud most of the time. I thought about how when I finished, I would cry. “But that’s at the end, don’t think about that now,” I said out loud. I wondered when I’d get to the first water station. “It’ll be there when you need it,” I said.

And just at the moment that I noticed my legs weren’t cramping anymore, I ran by the one mile marker. It’s amazing to me how that happens like clockwork. At this point in the last race, I felt like I could cruise and just enjoy the running (yes, I know how that sounds). This time, although I was excited to see the water station, I still felt like I was just shuffling my feet barely off the ground. My legs felt a lot better and weren’t so cramped, but they still felt heavy, like they were coated in wet cement.

As an aside, Silver Lake organizers, I thought this was a well-organized and well-run event, but two quick suggestions: put the trashcan further away from the water station (give us a chance to drink before we throw our cups!) and add one more water station, maybe at the turn around. That would have helped immensely.

When I got to the turnaround, I audibly said, “Thank God, it’s half over,” and when I passed the woman in front of me, she said, “You’ll make it, keep going.” I appreciated that so much, I can’t even say. On the way back, I saw the guy who had been walking out of T-2, and he was running (fast, too!) and I saw Jenny and we high-fived (or at least that’s how I remember it). Later, after the race, she commented that I looked like I was running at a fast pace, but it felt like I was slogging and barely moving. I started feeling a crust of salt around my mouth and knew that I hadn’t drunk enough water. I passed the aid station again on the way back and shouted, “Gatorade please!” The volunteers abided and held out a cup of blue flavor. The hydration and electrolytes really did help, but I refused to relinquish my paper cup at the too-close trash can, instead sipping as I ran until I felt better. When I passed a man cheering everyone on, I asked him to throw it out for me and he said, “Yes! Throw it on the ground!” So I did, without having to feel guilty about littering someone’s lawn. I realized the woman I had wanted to catch was long gone ahead of me, and that was hard. I had seen her for two miles, but I just couldn’t make myself catch her. Very frustrating.

There was one steep hill to run up before the finish, and I swore the entire way up it, audibly dropping f-bombs and s-bombs, and all the letter bombs. I felt so, so crappy, thirsty and hot and just all around not good. But the only person between me and the finish line was an old man, and there was no way I was going to let him cross in front of me, so I turned my legs up and pushed past him, even high-fiving a young girl on the side of the road as I did so.

Immediately over the finish line someone put a bottle of gloriously cold water into my hand and I looked around for a medical tent, because I was pretty sure I was never going to breathe again. I was making a terrifying goose noise every time I inhaled, turning heads (none of whom offered to help, but whatever). Josh found me and as soon as I saw him I started crying. I felt like I couldn’t breathe (and I couldn’t without making that honking/rasping/gasping noise) but I couldn’t find the medical tent and it was too hard to look. Josh made me keep walking, and we walked up and down the street for ten minutes, passing a man who was (I think?) washing a suitcase with a hose in his driveway and staring at us, and as my breathing slowed I started feeling awesome and hungry. We returned to watch Jenny finish strong and then I ate a banana and checked the results.

I was shocked at my run time, a PR for me: 24:46. I had felt like I wasn’t moving at all, when really I was running 8-minute miles (when I usually run 9:30 miles). No wonder I couldn’t breathe! My total time was 1:26:26, which put me as the 13th female overall and 5th in my apparently quite competitive age group of 30-39.

At the risk of sounding self-important, I am so, so proud of what I accomplished in this race. I swam without panicking. I biked clipped in without falling over. I PR-ed my run. It was a painful race that required a lot of self talk to get through, but I’m proud of my time and of my finishing place.

Next up: Sugar River, 9/1/13. Here we go.

No burger tastes as good as the one after a race.

No burger tastes as good as the one after a race.