Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A season of thank you's

It has been a long season beginning with drill work and base building, moving into strength and endurance training, to 5 months of competition. This individual sport has a broader contribution. I simply prepare and compete but I do so with many helping hands.

First and foremost, a thank you to my partner, JB, who supports me 100% in my efforts. She attends each and every one of my races and cheers me on from the sidelines, she takes care of the dogs, and the yard, and the house, and the grocery shopping while I am out swimming, pedaling, or running. She makes sure I have the finest gear, she takes care of game day logistics, she diagnosis my aches, is creative with solutions to mechanical or physical misgivings, and encourages me even though she knows this comes at a price on Saturday and Sunday morning. I can go on with the list but I won't, I'll suffice to say that I could not do this without her--thanks so much JB.

There are many others who are key to my participation. My bike mechanic Ricky who sets aside whatever he is working on when I come into the shop and takes the time to further my mechanical knowledge. My massage therapist Sara who helped duct tape my overuse injuries ensuring I would complete all of my races this year. Our dog walker Daniela who enables me to leave my girl, Della behind knowing she will be loved and cared for. My family and friends who have supported me in my racing.

As I conclude the 2006 racing season, many thanks to all.....and looking forward to Lake Placid next year I welcome you all to stay on board.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Mission Accomplished....really

Cancun Ironman 70.3.....done. (To see my results and photos, enter 130 in the line that says Buscar numero de competidor)

6 hours 38 minutes, a full 20 minutes better than Florida Ironman 70.3. I finished 454 out of a total 773 competitors, 75 out of 138 women, and 8 out of the 22 women in my age group.

Per the usual, I was not pleased with my swim. The day before the race, the water was like glass and as I took my practice swim I anticipated a fast performance the next day. The sea adds such buoyancy, it is like being in a wetsuit. Overnight we got a thunderstorm which created a pretty good breeze on game day and lots of chop. When the pros took off, I noticed one of the guys doing the breast stroke on the way out. I would soon learn why. Many people did not make it to the first buoy. I did, only to turn and go up and down with each swell for the next 1.2 miles. I was concerned that I would be seasick or at least stricken with vertigo when I exited. It took me 51 minutes, a personal worst but it taught me that I am a strong swimmer under the worst conditions and I have potential to be so much faster.

I was swum over by Michellie Jones, the Australian Olympian and a premiere triathlete professional who eventually took the women's crown in Cancun. As I was making my first lap in the swim she swam over me to exit. Usually I get irritated when swum over but instead, seeing that it was a woman, I pushed her forward. Hey Michellie, I gave you two seconds.

I had a spectacular bike, fastest of the year. I finished the bike in 3 hours and 9 minutes. The bike was flat and unshaded. It sucked fluid and salt from my body in the 100 plus degree heat. There was a change in the course that forced us to loop one section 3 times. On the return in each loop there was a fierce head wind that even cut down the pros. Through sheer will to complete it I sturggled to keep my bike between 16-18 mph. The bike portion was the only time in my career when I actually got to ride with the pros--my second Michellie Jones spotting and a peloton of men all drafting off one another. The rules were loosely enforced which meant when the pentolon passed it was safest to stop pedaling as the pack cut over within inches of my front wheel.

The run was unspectacular although better then Florida. I appreciated the aid stations every 1km, they were a life saver in the grueling heat--"hielo, agua" I would shout. As I began to feel quite ill, a guy from CA that I had met offered me a salt tablet. I had never taken one before but I accepted his offer. Instantly the nausea and headache I was battling subsided. I am certain that I would not have finished for another 30 minutes or so without his aid. Note to self, in the heat, I need salt tablets.

All things considered, this was a great race. I met a lot of athletes from all over the world which provided a mental challenge of speaking Spanish in my very exhausted state. I struggled with the dichotomy of riding among the very modest homes of the poorest of the poor in Mexico--many of the bicycles in my company were worth more then these folks will probably earn in 10 years. Still, there they were, children and parents alike, standing on the side of the road cheering us all on. I love Mexico and its people and it was an honor to be there.

As for now, I struggle to put together an off-season when what I really want to do is continue to train at this pace. In addition, I am dealing with the anticlimatic feeling of pouring so much energy into an event which is now an accomplishment. 10 months to Lake Placid, but it seems so far away.

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11

A year ago today, I was riding my bike and was broadsided by an SUV. I had a stop sign, the SUV had a stop sign. I slowed to clear the intersection and never saw the SUV behind a large bush. The SUV never slowed for the stop sign. It was a month after my Dad had passed and I remember thinking in that split second when I knew I was going to be hit that I was going to see him sooner then I had planned but as the front grill and bumper made contact I remember him saying to me, "not today".

My bike went flying as I went up on to the hood, into the windshield and then out on to the street. I tried to relax and just let the momentum take me where it would but when I hit the ground I immediately jumped up for fear of getting run over. I'm certain that my fitness and my helmet saved me from major injury that day. I had severe bruising on both my legs, and my left hand which was pinched between my grip on the handlebars and the car hurt immensely. The swelling was dramatic and instantaneous. Despite early predictions by the responding medics that I had broken my leg and hand, the end result was all soft tissue injury.

This was a traumatic event that I carry with me every time I clip into my pedals. Just thinking of it brings back the physical pain, a phantom that will likely stay with me for sometime. The positive result is that it changed the way I ride and the way I think about life. That this happened on September 11, 2005 is perhaps no strange coincidence.

On September 11, 2001, JB and I had just returned from a week on Cape Cod. The day before as we were driving through NYC on our way home I yelled at her for driving and staring at the WTC towers. The next morning, on what I remember noting as a beautiful fall day--crisp, comfortable air, not a cloud in the sky--all would contradict that peacefulness I sensed as I walked into my office building in Washington, DC.

Today, I remember the 2,973 people who died in the tragic events that unfolded in NYC, Shanksville, PA, and here at the Pentagon where I ride by on my bike several times a week. I can't stop there. To remember these victims we must also remember the 2,669 U.S. Servicemembers killed in Iraq (plus 233 coalition members), and the 302 U.S. Servicemembers killed in Afghanistan (plus 141 coalition members). I remember them all today.

I am thinking of the family members of those lost, and our Servicemembers on active duty in Iraq (approximately 138,000) and Afghanistan (approximately 18,000) and their families, and especially about my nephew Adam who is serving his second tour. Everyone carries these events and resulting experiences with them, the challenge is to find a way to channel them into something positive.

A shout out to the 4ID.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Worry, what worry?

Race day jitters one week out. As I completed my final brick workout of the year today I'm thinking ahead to race day. By contemplating my worries, I hope to minimize them before Sunday.

The first worry is putting my bike back together while keeping its fine tuned functionality. I boxed up my bike today which went fairly smoothly (except for a puncture wound in my wrist from my hand slipping into my crank while removing my pedals). Rebuilding the bike will be a priority when I get on the ground in Cancun and I will be visiting the mechanics in Ironman village if I have any trouble. They are incredibly overwhelmed as time draws on so early diagnosis of mechanical problems is a high priority.

Nutrition and hydration are my next worries. Making sure I get enough water and proper food--in this case I'll be trying to avoid eating the great Mexican cuisine which as a vegetarian would not help me with my carbohydrates and protein. Not much tofu in Mexico.

Race day worries are next. How will the surf be? Will there be a strong current that I will have to battle? I've swam in the ocean before but it was a bay. The race offers a swim clinic and I will be participating in that to gain confidence for race day.

The bike--I need speed here. I'll get a look at the course via a bus so I know what if any hills I have to deal with. While on the bike, I need to eat and hydrate well and get back to T2 as quickly as possible to avoid getting too hot in the run. I'm a little concerned because I have never ridden by the sea without battling a brutal headwind. There is no mention of this in the race description--it says the course should be fast as you ride by Mayan ruins. I love the ruins of Mexico but I'm suspicious that this is in the description to allure you to the race. I would be less suspicious if they said the course could be subject to crosswinds.

The run--still struggling with the bike run transition in heat over 90 degrees. If it is not too hot, the tranistion for me is fine. If it is hot, it makes me feel like I'm carrying 300 pounds instead of 142.

There are many worries that I have and many strategies that I use to combat them. When the gun goes off, I am in the moment. I swim buoy to buoy, I ride and run mile to mile. The countdown to the gun continues.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Poop Scoop

Often while riding, I return covered in debris. Typically in the form of mud, sometimes bird-doo, dead worms, road dust etc. Today I was on a trail shared by horses...now you know where this is going. I inadvertently rode through a dried Saratoga Chip otherwise known as horse manure--oh for those days of long full fenders. This reminded me of an incident from childhood that caused me to laugh in fond remembrance.

My folks purchased a pop-up trailer when we were kids and we were avid campers. I think we all enjoyed being outdoors and having some freedom to roam the campgrounds, freedom that we didn't normally enjoy at home. On one such trip, we were driving down a country road on a sunny day on our way to Keuka Lake State Park--one of our favorite spots. We did not have air conditioning (in fact I don't recall that my folks had AC in a car until we all left home) so nature's air conditioning was being fully employed--ie. all of our windows were down.

We were passing a farm and the honey-dew wagon (as my parents called it) had just crossed the road. An oncoming car, hit the fresh manure and saturated us. It was all over the car, all over the camper, and I believe on some of our clothing. That it was not in anybody's teeth was amazing. Not to be deterred we landed in downtown Penn Yan and went straight to a car wash. We washed the stink away, but the memory lives on as I was reminded today.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

That old anticlimatic feeling

A friend of mine just finished her first half-marathon. She experienced that same training eupohoria that anyone new to endurance sports feels. Every week in training as the miles go higher and higher there is a new accomplishment--"8 miles, that's the farthest I've run in my lifetime". A few weeks later, "10 miles, that's the farthest I've run in my lifetime", and so on.

She asked me what drives me to compete, particularly in the long-course events. I had to break the news to her. We spend months training for these incredible distances that most people would not even consider. Every week there is a new achievement and we glow in its accomplishment. Eventually, comes race day, and for most of us this is the penultimate accomplishment but where is the glow? There is no greater feeling then crossing the finish line in an event and particularly one where at the beginning you are not sure that you will ever see. However, after you cross that line everything that comes afterward is anticlimatic. Unless you have your next challenge or race in the near future, you are lost after crossing the finish line.

On September 17, when I cross the finish line in Cancun I know what is waiting for me. I have no other events this year and while I look forward to the rest, recovery, and rebuild, I will face that sense of loss and sadness. Getting there is indeed more than half the fun.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

T minus 14 days

I'm within two weeks now of my final triathlon of the year, the Cancun Ironman 70.3. I am strong but tired and eager to take time off after the event.

This week, my regular pool has been closed for maintenance so I swim at a city pool close to our house. They have a masters swim program there with some of the best swimmers that I have seen, including this long-lean guy swimming next to me that covered 25 meters in about 9 strokes. He looked as if he was born in the water. I watched with great envy.

The masters coach approached me after my swim and gave me advice on my stroke. He thinks my entry is short and it is slowing me down. I'll take any advice that speeds up my time in the water. Although normally I would not make any changes this close to the race, I could not wait to get back in the pool to put his advice to work.

The stroke feels different, and as my coach says, different is usually good. I think it feels a little faster and from a physics standpoint it makes more sense. The masters coach was watching my stroke but made no further comment. Either he was otherwise occupied or he just had no comment. I'll continue to work with the stroke in my remaining practices.

My bike has had a few mechanical issues, even the bike is tired from this long season. First, it was shifting horribly and I thought it needed a minor adjustment. As it turned out it needed a $200 overhaul. Then last week my arm pad on the aero bars brokeoff mid-ride. It took a week for the part to come in and my mechanic had to do a little jury rigging to get it to work. Today, on my long ride, the tape on my handle bars completely came off. My bike probably has about 10,000 miles logged on it over the last three years and will be retired as my racing bike this year. Somehow it senses the need.

Ah, the off-season will be so sweet....but first, 70.3 miles of Mexican terrain calls my name.