Thursday, November 24, 2016

Ironman AZ-- round 2!!!

Last year I said this was “one and done.”  I left IMAZ last year feeling satisfied with my effort, with my result, with my training and, despite the awful weather conditions and other unforeseen issues, I was happy with how everything had unfolded.  I felt it went as well as could be expected.  I checked the box off my list.

I went home and promptly began my off-season … I skipped the rest of CX season, rehabilitated and recovered from the IM race and went straight into holiday consumption-mode.  In a short time I found myself gaining 5, then 8 and then TEN pounds from my race day weight!  In sum, I went from Ironman-fit, to *yuck*  I fully embraced my off-season, sprinkling in a spin class and a skate-ski session here or there, along with the occasional snowy day fat bike cruise.  But after training hard for seven months at around 12-20 hours/week – I went from full gas to what felt like full couch potato.  It was the first true off-season I’ve taken since I took up bike racing back in 2002.   That can be good and bad.  

I quickly realized that without another big goal I was going to become very unfit and very unsatisfied with myself.  In January the Dirty Kanza event registration went live.  As a sponsor I didn’t have to contend with the online race to get signed up –before the event filled in just minutes.  But it became official for me in January that –come June –I would be tackling the 200-mile event.  Whew.  

As motivating and inspiring as that was – along with the other events I was adding to my schedule –I couldn’t see anything past July that would keep me hungry.  

And so it was –sometime in January, I ended up signing up for the 2016 Ironman in Arizona...  I found myself thinking… I wonder what I could achieve if the weather conditions were “normal” AZ conditions (i.e. sunny and warm!).  I wonder what I could do with all the lessons I learned – now that I have the training piece nailed down and much of the equipment purchased… I wonder…

Fast forward from January to November and it was time to find out! 

The Tuesday before: Drop bike off with Wesley and ProBikeExpress here in Denver! 

3 days out (Thursday)

So here we are again.  4 days out from race day.  Weather forecast looks dreamy – 80 and sunny, low (ish) winds.  The Tempe Town Lake website reports water temps of 68 (as compared to last year’s weather –high of the day was 55, rainy most of the day, and water temp around 63).  I figure if the day goes just like last year, I’m already going to shave off that 15 minutes I spent in the warming tent! 

This year I’ve got both a short-sleeved and long-sleeved wetsuit along with me.  I’ve got the same bike –no longer a stranger to me (she was pretty new last year).  I’ve got a healthy back and even –calf sleeves – to hopefully combat those calf cramps I had last year.

One thing that’s new/different this year is that second plate and those bonus screws in the clavicle that I picked up back in February when I crashed at Fat Bike Worlds (the toothbrush part is the new plate/screws):

It has shown some signs of fatigue in the longer swims and especially in windy cross winds on the bike.  Which then became an achy issue during the run.  But I’m confident that all the yoga and swims lately have improved its tolerance and that it won’t be an issue. 

Something else that is different for me is that I’m already considering signing up for 2017 IM AZ.  What!?  Yep – round 3 doesn’t even sound awful to me right now.  I’m in a place where I’ve really grown to love and appreciate the training.  Is race day a long, hard, brutal day for the body?  No doubt.  But does it take the race day to make the training happen for the 6 months prior?  Yep. 

Two days ago I dropped my bike and bag off with ProBikeExpress in Denver.  Later today I’ll meet up with the man, Wesley, and collect my gear.  Friday and/or Saturday will include race packet pickup and  - Seriously?!?  Registration for 2017 ;) Saturday will also include dropping my bike off in transition. 

Game day is almost/finally here…. I find myself really excited to see what I’m capable of achieving this year. 
My Goals:
Swim: 1 hour, 15 min
T1: 5 min
Bike: 5 hours, 45 min
T2: 2 min
Run: 4 hours
Total: 11 hours, 7 minutes

I call Scottsdale my 2nd-favorite city (2nd to Golden, of course!) and I DO SO ENJOY landing there and soaking up the sun. Makes my heart so happy.  Shown above holding the sun as I picked up my bike from ProBikeExpress. 

Gotta love those Scottsdale sunsets! 

3 days out-Friday
I went at things too hardcore yesterday – after arriving in town, I got really busy running errands, fixing up some stuff at the condo, shopping for food and all around did a TERRIBLE job of resting or sitting.  So – today, I opted to stay mostly off emails and stop making to-do lists, and instead to ride my cruiser bike from Scottsdale down to Tempe to the Ironman village to attend the racers’ meeting.  This ended up being over an hour on the cruiser bike but I took my time.  Sun + flip-flops + cruiser bike with basket = Megan is a happy girl.  

Yesterday I picked up my packet before the crowds got big and yes –I did pre-emptively sign up for 2017.  (I’ve lost my damn mind).

Today – I attended the riders’ meeting and cruised around a bit more, grabbed lunch in Tempe, and then scooted back home to take a nap and chill by the pool.  A short run and quick spin on the TT bike to make sure it all worked wrapped up the day –as did packing up my race bags, putting all the bottles and snacks on my bike, and setting things out for Saturday. 

Capped off the day hanging with the two best bike transporters in the business:
Wesley of ProBikeExpress and Kevin of the Cycle Chauffeur ...
man do these guys have some stories of life on the road!!  

One more sunset shot!

Day before- Saturday
Saturday’s goal was to participate in the practice swim in the morning and then drop my bike and bags off in transition (they stay there over night –it’s a bit unsettling but these folks are pros). 

After consulting with several folks whose opinions I respected, I opted to wear my long-sleeved wetsuit.  Recalling how cold I got last year, and the water temps this year ranging from 65-67, I decided it was worth it, despite the extra effort it takes to move my shoulders in the sleeves.  I wore it during the practice swim and was honestly surprised at how strong and at-ease I felt.  It was a short 15-minute swim loop but I left the water feeling cautiously optimistic. 

I dropped off my bike and gear bags and called it a day.  The work was done –at this point one must trust the many months of training and just focus on rest.  I enjoyed a healthy, relaxing dinner and set my alarm for 4am Sunday morning. 

They say the night-before-the-night-before is the sleep that really counts, and I don’t disagree. The night-before sleep is garbage.  For me- it’s not nerves, but worrying about missing my alarm or oversleeping that kills me.  I knew it would be a restless night and I was right.  This is why plentiful rest in the days leading up to the race is so critical. 

Sunday –race day!
I woke at 4am, ate breakfast and drove over to the race site by 5am.  Parked, walked to transition, put a few things in my gear bags, checked my bike and tire pressures, and was satisfied with the state of affairs.  I then had an hour to kill –so I wandered around for a bit taking photos and then I just sat.  Sitting still with a big day ahead is hard, but I tried to relax and just zone out.  

My morning-of photos:

Morning-of photos and pro-race swim start pics by Jeff Krause:
Age group athletes lined up -I'm in there in the 1:20 section ;) 

The pro men swim start

It was still nice and dark by the time we all lined up in our respective swim time areas.

**This is when several lessons I learned last year came into play:
-bring throwaway sandals so I wasn’t standing barefoot on concrete for 40 minutes and didn’t start the swim with frozen feet
-Bring a thermal swim cap for under the plastic swim cap to keep the head warm
-Bring a GU to suck down some sugar before the long swim. 
-Carry a water bottle to sip so my mouth didn’t get so dang dry during the swim.  (Big lessons that made a big difference this year). 

Check, check, check and check.  Ear plugs in, and once again found women sticking together for moral support as we stood there lined up waiting to get started.  So awesome, that woman – power.  I have no idea what the ratio of men: women was, but there were a LOT of green caps as compared to pink.  I loved that the women flocked together and seemed really intent on us boosting one another’s morale. 

The cannons went off and gradually we all made our way into the water.  That moment is surreal –hard to describe … the day ahead is long and a bit overwhelming.  But at the same time, in the context of the bigger picture and all that’s going on in our lives and in our world – how frigging lucky are we that we can pay these entry fees, afford this expensive equipment, and spend a day swimming, riding and running… How truly blessed can a person be to have those options!?!  These were my thoughts as I entered the water.  You are so blessed and so lucky, Megan.”  Not only that –but I’d made it to the start without an injury, without getting sick during travel, without any mechanical issues and without any real stress hanging over me.  THAT is positively miraculous –ask any athlete, it’s rare.

Plus- the weather was changing and looked positively perfect.  Temps were lower than expected, with cloud cover now instead of sun, and rain predicted for the evening (guys- I am 3/3 races in Phx that had rain –that is statistically improbable for a city that doesn’t get rain!).  Most importantly, the wind looked to be low –a headwind on the bike leg out, with a tailwind pushing us back to Tempe on each of the 3 laps. 

The way out went by really fast.  A couple checks of my watch made me happy.  At the turn and shortly after it felt like things actually got more congested- I think perhaps we were fighting a slight wind/wake, I’m not sure … or as people grew tired they began to swim in a less organized fashion.  All I know is that in a sea of 2400 athletes, I kept finding myself near the 2 guys who were problematic for me – I wasn’t fast enough to pull away and they were picking the lines I wanted.  I could feel my own fatigue begin to creep in as we got to about 500 yards out.  I was ready to get on my bike… I couldn’t wait. 

Finally out of the water VERY close to goal time –and feeling SO much better than last year –not hypothermic!!!  No warming tent needed!  Let’s do this!

(Photos and videos below by Jeff Krause- so awesome to have a friend from Denver out on course snapping pics and videos for me to share in my blog! )

Running into T1 from the swim

I took my time getting my wetsuit off, grabbed my bag, made my way into T1 – dried off with my towel, pulled on my cycling jersey (with pockets pre-loaded with snacks), helmet and shoes and sunglasses on and away I went as the volunteers grabbed my bike off the rack and handed it to me.  We mounted among hundreds of spectators and away I went...

Off on the bike leg
So awesome of my friends from Chino Grinder to make a sign and come out to cheer! 

The bike leg was nothing short of miraculous for me.  I was consciously holding back to settle in and wanted to keep my back happy so I avoided really pushing with any power. I started snacking, drinking, focused on staying aero especially into the headwind, and found myself passing lots of racers.  Lots.  It felt really really good.  The miles ticked off and about halfway through I allowed myself for the first time to truly acknowledge what a good day I was having and to give myself a bit of hope that it was going to be a tremendous day.  I prayed for no flat tires.  I thanked my back for staying happy and cooperative.  Half way when I grabbed my special needs bag, I pulled out the full size PAYDAY candy bar I’d purchased and began inhaling it.  It tasted SO.GOOD. All the sugary stuff was getting old – this snack absolutely hit the spot.  Nutrition was spot on and so was hydration.  No stomach issues… It was so smooth. 

And 5:30 later, I was off my bike and donning my running shoes –feeling really no worse for the wear.  I’d averaged over 20mph for 112 miles –something I’d never done at home on my own, and I’d managed an overall power average I’d never seen for that many miles.  I was ahead of schedule/my time goal…  I really truly thought it was becoming a magical race day.  But what did the run hold in store?? I was so worried my good luck would run out. 

On the run, I grabbed my special needs bag right away, which contained another PAYDAY bar, Peanut Butter Snickers bar, and 4 ibuprofen.  I popped the ibuprofen right away (my right knee was really unhappy by the end of the bike leg) and stuck the PAYDAY in my back pocket.  I started nibbling on the Snickers right away – it sounded really good to me and small bites were perfect… I looked down down at my watch repeatedly to my avg speed was under 9 minute miles – and I was astounded at how good I felt.  When were the wheels going to fall off??  This was a faster pace than I had ever managed in training runs …  instead of feeling worried I felt amazing.  I could not wipe the giant grin off my face.  Seeing friends out on course cheering helped a lot, and running through the corrals of team tents and spectators gave me wings.  (They do a really smart thing at the Ironman events which is to put the racers’ names on our race numbers, so people are cheering for us by name.  =HUGE for the morale).

The first half marathon absolutely FLEW by.  For comparison- I finished it in 2 hours, which was TWENTY MINUTES faster than my run in the half-ironman two months ago.  What the !!?!!?  And I was feeling good- no side aches, good energy, legs strong, calves happy …  (last year, 6 miles in, both of my calves/Achilles locked up on me –calf sleeves are the BOMB!).

Once into the final 13-mile stretch I had to acknowledge the tweaks in my right calf and my inner thighs, as the knees and hips grew achy.  Look – this is just part of the deal, right – these are to be expected.  I found myself not willing to slow down just because of some normal discomforts.  I didn’t feel I was causing myself harm and just had to keep plugging away.  I couldn’t believe how much I felt like RACING the run as opposed to just getting through it.  My pace slowed somewhat, but never approached the 10min/mile pace I’d succumbed to last year.  There was no need for walking, except to grab a bite or drink in the aid stations.  My stomach was still completely a-ok.  My optimism continued, as now I could almost taste a finish far faster than last year.  I began to ask people the time, and realized I would maybe be able to pull off an 11-hour finish.  Absolutely unthinkable and yet –it was happening.  The sun was setting, it was beginning to lightly sprinkle. 

I stayed on top of my fluids, stopping and walking a bit more at the aid stations to get in water, coke, Gatorade, pretzels –whatever sounded good.  My legs grew really unhappy… especially jogging down the couple of downhill grades that was not fun.  But my spirits remained high.  I knew friends were tracking me online, and I became fixated on that finish time. 

When it came down to the final 3 miles, I really tried to push with all that I had.  I wasn’t exactly sure what time I’d entered the water so I wasn’t sure exactly what the clock time would read, but I knew I was close to being an hour faster than last year.

With the mile to go mark I kicked in as much as I could and looked around me to try and ensure I’d have the finishing chute to myself – above all, I wanted to savor that moment alone.  As I rounded the bend I went for it and heard my name and I was ALL SMILES and I thought about how I’d felt last year when I finished and I became so emotional and cried- and this year it was just pure elation.  Pure joy.  No sorrow- no sadness.   Celebration and satisfaction.  I turned around to see the clock time behind me and couldn’t believe it – I’d gone close to 11 hours – and a full hour faster than last year. 

Jeff the friend/photographer extraordinaire at the finish! 
I had my finishers photo taken, grabbed a bite to eat and then walked back to transition to grab my bags and bike.  There I was able to retrieve my cell phone and absorbed fully all of the love from friends and family who’d been tracking me online and who’d sent me many incredible congratulatory texts.  It was amazing.  My phone just kept blowing up with love all night, and I felt the most amazing sense of making my people proud.  It was the best.  Simply the best. 

The night wrapped up with a couple celebratory beers and then a well deserved shower and bed.  There isn’t much sleeping when the body is that wrecked.  But I tried my hardest.

Monday -
I woke the morning after happy and sated.  And excited for things to come.  I’m excited to map out a season I can work hard on, and goals that inspire me, and it will culminate again with this event next year.  At the awards ceremony today I learned that the woman who finished 4th in my AG was 40 minutes ahead of me.  That’s a lot – but also, not a lot.  It is possible.  And maybe that means someday, Kona is possible. 

I’m also really happy to be back in a place where I can push my body to actually perform – not simply cooperate.  The fact that my back felt so good coming into this weekend and felt good race day made all the difference. 

I flew home Monday night to find my friends/teammates had decorated my house - how truly special!!!