Saturday, October 6, 2012

The rest of the summer

As is always the case, summer started accelerating sometime around July. I started this post the night before AG Nationals in Burlington, but then my roommates and I felt the need to watch the bike course video, and. . . here we are in October.

I left off after my last race with a hint that I might sneak in an extra sprint for the swim practice. And what a smartypants I turned out to be, because of course the swim on my last scheduled pre-Nationals race was canceled due to high bacteria counts. More on that later.

I did the Witch City Tri in Salem, which had many good things going for it, not least of which was being located about 20 minutes from my good friend Susan's house. I stayed there the night before and hoped some of Susan's All-American running mojo would rub off on me. We took a self-photo, because this is what my x-country teammates and I always do.

I got exactly what I wanted out of this tri: a decently hard swim (in an ocean harbor) so I could practice sighting well and not losing the pack. I swam well, biked so-so (wet course with lots of turns, so mostly I was trying to stay upright), and then ran really well for me. This was my first sprint of the season, so it was nice to see I still had some leg speed. More on that later.

The next weekend was the Greenfield Tri, a local race that was the club championship for the 2nd year in a row. I had nagged and cajoled everyone on my team to do it, so when I came down with some weird pseudo-cold 2 days before, I did not feel bad enough to bail on them. The race course was changed this year to avoid the covered bridge that Hurricane Irene took out, which made both the bike and the run shorter--the run shrank from 7.2 miles (or something like that) to 6.5, and the bike went from over 30 to just under 22.

Now for the bacteria counts: high, so the swim was canceled. Bah. With no swim, who would see my toenails intimidatingly painted with the club logo?

(My teammates, as it turned out, because I took off my shoes to make them all look.) Brief race summary: short 200 meter run to start things off, then the bike felt pretty good, then the run felt good for about 3 miles, then the run didn't feel so good. Here I am finishing up the bike.

Thankfully, no (free) pictures on the run, since they all show pretty much how I was feeling. I managed to hold off my hard-charging teammate Lisa and our hopefully-future-teammate Jess to win the 40-44 AG. Here we are all--I can't help myself--mugging with our prize mugs:

And here's most of my team (I failed to get us all together at one time). We were victorious in the team title, although we didn't know this until afterwards, because after all that nagging and pedantic roster compilation, allegedly USAT-NE didn't get them the trophies or any other information about the team competition. When they finally did figure it out, they didn't even use that @#$%^&*! roster, which was actually a good thing, since we had one teammate who ran but forgot to sign up on it. So yes, our little club is the MA state club champion. Of course I think only 3 teams competed for this--they really need to move it back east, out of our provincial western wilderness. Also to some place that doesn't have to cancel the swim so regularly (grumble, grumble).

A special shoutout to stalwart teammate Joellen, who has been fighting an injury all season, but showed up to cheer like a madwoman (much the way she bikes and runs, come to think of it). The only thing keeping me going on the 2nd half of that run was her cheering from the bike. She lies really well ("You look great!").

After the race I packed up and headed off to Cape Cod to join my family for vacation. The drive down was kind of classic Cape horrible, plus I was feeling sicker by the hour, so by the time I arrived there I had a full on case of laryngitis and general lower respiratory blah. And here I made a decision: if I wanted to get better as quickly as possible to have a hope of pulling out the race of my dreams at Nationals, I needed to stay in bed as much as possible. And I decided not to. I didn't feel horrible, and I wasn't willing to sacrifice our one week of family vacation to try to crack the top half of my age group. That may sound kind of lame, but I was fine with it. So I played with kids, went to the beach, got in a little training (most of which, especially the running, felt horrible), slept a lot, and had a great time.

We were there with Nancy and her family, who have a house about a half mile from where we rented ours. Here are the kids with the view (ocean side) from the end of our lane:

Charlotte looked like a total surfer girl within about 24 hours. I think the blonde hair helps.

Patrick was still a little cautious about the surf, but eventually he caught on.

And actually, caution was totally warranted, given that a week after we left, there was a 12-foot shark spotted 5 feet off shore at high tide just one beach north of this one.

Speaking of sharks, longtime fans are, I know, wondering what happened to the whale shark. I think the original version underwent catastrophic deflation, but never fear, there is a replacement, shown here lounging by Nancy's husband.

Not shown is "Icy the Seal," our family's purchase to supplement the supply of cute but pretty much totally worthless (because they are very hard to stay on) pond toys. The flat rafts are much better for lounging, and also for racing (Nancy crushed me in a floaty raft race, drawing on her years of lifeguarding experience plus actual athletic ability). We also did a really big puzzle on the rainy day.

Way too soon, vacation came to an end. But soon it was time to head up to Burlington for AG Nationals, a vacation of another kind. I felt OK by the time I made the trip, but my training had been pretty crappy, and I still hadn't had a good run. So my goal was simply to have a good swim. Last year my swim there was abysmal, and I felt like I needed to redeem that.

I drove up Thursday and met up with teammate Lisa, who was doing the sprint the next day. Here we are checking out transition Thursday night.

The next day my coach and her partner drove up, so I met them for the bike check-in. Martha is kind of a triathlon celebrity, so it was hard for her to walk anywhere without getting stopped by old friends and competitors. But it turns out even a former pro can get stymied trying to figure out what to do with all those race numbers.

We tried to take a picture of ourselves with Lake Champlain in the background, with mixed results.

We had an exciting evening of watching the video of the bike course, followed by sleeping until Martha's alarm, still set from a triathlon the week before, woke us up at 4. Twice, because she had earplugs in and didn't hear it, and our real alarms were set for 5.

As any follower of triathlon news will know, conditions the morning of the race were very windy. Lake Champlain was choppier than any water I've ever swum in, but I was oddly calm about it. We all now know that, very sadly, a competitor died during the swim; while I knew (because Lisa and her daughters told me while I was waiting around for my wave) that someone had been taken away in an ambulance, I didn't know until much later that he had died. To state the obvious, something like that makes any concerns about how one's race did or didn't go so well seem just as trivial as they are.

Back to trivial: I got in the water for my swim and was sort of interested by how much I was bobbing up and down while I treaded water at the start, but I figured while this would slow me down, I could manage it. And I did--my swim was faster than last year, when conditions were much calmer, and when I got out there were still some other bikes on the rack. I felt calm and focused during the whole swim. My time comes out to 1:50/100 yds, and while I think I'm a 1:40 swimmer in calm water, that seems totally reasonable to me in those conditions.

I got out of town on the bike without incident, was feeling pretty good, and then just as I made the turn onto the interstate, I hit some rough pavement and then felt like I slowed down. For about a mile I thought I had a flat, and I was close to getting off and checking, but then I told myself if I had a flat, it would feel more dramatic than that, so I just kept going. I worked hard, but on every little uphill (and there are a lot on this course--it's very rolly, no big climbs), I felt like I lost momentum fast. I just kept plugging away, though, and despite the much windier conditions than last year, I came back into transition only a minute slower than last year, when I had one of my best bikes ever.

I took off conservatively on the run, given my issues in the preceding two weeks, and I felt pretty good. I picked it up as much as I could for the last two miles, finished hard, and ended up a good two minutes slower on the run than last year, which seemed about right. And then I went into transition to get my bike and found that the "flat" was actually my brake shifting against the rear wheel, which wouldn't even spin a full revolution. So I had just biked nearly 20 mph for 40K with all but about 3 miles against the extra resistance of my brake. Awesome.

Lisa and her girls, who had cheered relentlessly during the race, met up with me afterwards. Her younger daughter was fascinated with both the bike and the aero helmet, which Lisa herself has not yet given into (though she should).

I had a fabulous time in Burlington--I glommed onto Lisa and her family for dinner that night, cheered on Lisa in the sprint the next morning, then invited myself along for their family lunch as well.

Back to Massachusetts, where I worked out my anger at myself for neglecting to fully solve the bike-brake problem (various versions of this have been plaguing me for the last 2 years) by jumping in my club time trial the Tuesday after Nationals. I lowered my PR on that course by over a minute (on a ~13 mile course), and I surprised myself by fighting hard in the last two miles to re-pass three men who had caught me from behind. I credit the PR to them, because I rode kind of out of my mind in the last mile, even though I realized that just by catching me they'd already all beaten me. And also two of them are over 60.

Perhaps more productively, I went back to Fitwerx with my bike, and with some help from Parlee who had sent over new brake attachment parts (and actually a new brake--apparently I was not the only person to realize this brake was sucky and horrible), they fixed it up on short notice.

And finally--this is starting to get too long even for me--I took my bike, its new brake and myself up to Maine for the Pumpkinman sprint. I wanted to do well (last year I was sleep deprived and sort of lame there), and mostly I wanted bike redemption. My swim was good--not quite as fast as last year, when all I wanted was swim redemption, but faster than two years ago. I think I was the 5th woman out of my wave (and thanks to the race director for not sticking the 40-44 women last, the only time this year for me!), and apparently I had moved up to 3rd in the AG by the time I got out of T1. My bike was a PR on that course, and it felt great. I was breathing like Darth Vader the whole way, which was my plan. A woman in my AG passed me early on, and although she looked scary fast (she was so aero I couldn't see her head from the back), I kept her in sight, and eventually I passed her back. And then she passed me. And then I think I passed her again. And so on. . . .

Not long before the one significant climb on that course I got passed by both the woman from my AG and a woman from the wave behind us. This new woman had USA on her butt, and she looked very fast--she said something nice and chipper as she went by. But I did something totally unlike me--I said to myself, "I'm going to pass them both back on the climb." I normally do not think of myself as a climber--I feel too big and oaflike, and climbing, you know, hurts. But I got up a head of steam and barreled right past them both, and what do you know--the woman from my AG never caught me again. USA butt woman did, and she graciously said, "Nice climbing--you didn't even look like you were trying!" To which I replied, "Trust me, I was!" only I was still well above my ventilatory threshold so it probably came out as "Mmphhwumf."

My run sort of sucked, to be honest--I was cruising along (I think--no mile markers on this course) for about the first 1.5 miles, and then my legs checked out. I could see a woman ahead of me, I knew she was from my wave, and I was slowly catching her, but in the end I could not reel her in. She finished less than 20 seconds ahead of me for first in our AG (technically 2nd, but first overall was from our AG and got bumped up).

My overall time was faster than last year but still not quite as fast as two years ago, which I think still clearly ranks as my best race ever. That nice leg speed I found at Witch City? I think I biked it right out of my legs this time--there I was well under 7-minute pace, and here I couldn't pull my average even down to 7's. Looking at both my Olympic and sprint results this summer, I have to say, my run endurance is just not there when I really bike as hard as I should. I ran fast at Witch City because I loafed a little on the bike. I understand there's a tradeoff here, but I think I had it right at Pumpkinman--I think I made up more on the bike than I lost on the run, and I just need to get stronger so I can bike like that and run better as well.

But mostly I'm just so happy that I feel like I finally raced on the bike. I had strategy, I had the guts to keep someone who passed me in striking distance, and I just felt the whole time like I had a shot at beating people--even fast people--on the bike. It's taken me a long time to get there, so not a bad way to end the season.

The other lesson I learned: when I focus mentally on one portion of a race, to the point that I visualize it beforehand, think about it in the days leading up the race, have a specific plan for execution, then stick to that plan--well, that portion of the race goes really well. So the obvious thing to work on, it would seem, is teaching my brain to do this for ALL portions of the race. That should be possible, right?