Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Race Report: Mudwater '09

I consider this race to be vindication for last weekend's missed opportunities. Could not have asked for better weather, better atmosphere, or a better performance from myself.
Since my parents missed church last week, I was on my own for this week's festivities. I prepped everything (including breakfast) solo, the house dark. The advantage? I got out at exactly the time I wanted to leave.

Breakfast was peanut butter and toast, by the way.

I got to the lake while it was still mostly dark, just as it should be. There were only a couple dozen people there (not including volunteers), at that point, so I had my pick of parking. Early arrival was a great advantage because there were no assigned rack spaces, so I got my pick of bike racks, too. I chose a spot that was farthest from the swim out, with a straight shot to the bike out.

I went through the normal pre-race rituals--packet pick-up, setting up transition, easy warm-up jog--and by the time I'd gotten through all that, transition was filling up. Mudwater is a great race for locals. There are a few competitors who come from Oklahoma or Missouri, but most live in or around Wichita. This race is in its third year, the field has been limited to 250 participants, and it is really becoming our race. Which is an amazing thing to behold.
First-timers represented about 40% of the field, between the tri and du, and two of those first-timers were my clients! I also met a reader (first time that's ever happened) who was doing her first tri; good work, Stacy (and did I spell that right?)! I cannot put into words my pride at convincing people to do this crazy sport. Always amazes me.
My own feelings leading up to the starting gun (a shotgun, by the way) were of excitement. No nervousness. The brooding energy that I had stored up for a week due to the inclement weather at last week's event was finally harnessed, concentrated. I felt wound up like a slinky at the top of the stairs; just tip me over and away I go!
Swim: 750 m, 14:23 (1:55/100 m); 13/51 F overall
Last year: 15:36
Weather could not have been better. Water temperature was 84 degrees, which is a little warm. But I had no problems with overheating. Last year, we had a beach start; this year, we started in the water. At the shotgun, I dove right in (I'd made sure I was deep enough that I wouldn't have to run or dolphin dive before I started swimming). I tried to surge, tried to get myself out of the anticipated mass of humanity. But after taking several strokes and turning my head to breathe, and beheld (to my amazement) a whole crowd of women who were walking (not running!) through the water. What the hell?! Dive, ladies, dive!

Needless to say, I had clear water for the first part of the swim. I was, however, able to jump on the heels of a few women who were just enough faster than me to be of benefit. I lost them once we caught up to the few stragglers from the wave before us. I felt fast and strong throughout the swim. I gave just enough energy to maximize my time in the water without spending too much energy and suffering later. I dolphin dove to the shore (pretty sure I'm the only one at this race who does that; when I was coming out there were still people walking in to the shallows) and sprinted up the slight incline to transition. In my mind, I was a famous ITU athlete, tall and athletic and strong.

T1: 47 sec; 3/51 F overall
Last year: 35 seconds

Bike: 25 km, 44:53 (20.8 MPH); 6/51 F overall
Last year: 20 km, 38:24 (19.4 MPH)
It wasn't until the beginning of last week that I realized the bike was 25k, not 20k, like I'd expected. But what difference does an extra 5 km make, right?

Coming out of the park was a blast; I sailed past a few of the men, scrambling to get my feet into my shoes. I took the sharp left-hand turn out of the park like a pro--butt to the side, low over the handle bars, upper body relaxed. Right out of the driveway, there's a slight hill (very slight; remember where we are, after all). I powered up it like it wasn't even there. About 5 km into the bike ride, another woman crept by me. As she passed me, I noticed the age on the back of her leg. 47. "No way!" I thought to myself. Not that I don't think a 47-year-old woman should be able to pass me; it's just that I wasn't going to let it happen on that day. I motored by her at the next downhill and spent the rest of the bike course keeping my foot on the figurative accelerator, just daring her to try to pass me again.

I wasn't passed by another woman the whole time.

Like I said before--the weather was perfect. On back side of the bike, we had a little bit of east wind, and I saw my speed drop significantly (no more average speeds in the mid-20s!). It was frustrating, and I was hurting a little bit. I definitely felt like I lost steam on the second half of the bike. I spent a lot of time worrying that I was putting too much into my second leg, and wouldn't have enough energy left to have the kind of run I knew I could put in this year. My calves and hamstrings were tight and cranky, and I've discovered that the bike is both my strength and my weakness--I can put a lot of time into the competition when on two wheels, but I sometimes push too hard and pay the price on the run.

Turning back into the park (a little less than a mile from T2), I dropped gears and started spinning my legs out. Got my feet out of my shoes and had some of the men pass me, but knew that I would re-gain that time in transition.

T2: 30 sec; 6/51 F overall
Last year: 49 sec
Nailed the flying dismount like a pro, but then had so much speed that I overshot my rack space by a few feet and had to run back towards it. Still, pretty damn fast, don't you think?

Run: 5 km, 26:24 (8:29/mile); 22/51 F overall
Last year: 31:05
This was the highlight of the race. Not because I'm super fast, mind you; this is my weakest leg, relative to the rest of the women's field. But because it's just so much better than last year. That's a minute and a half faster per mile than what I was doing last year. I am totally happy with and excited about the progress I've made this year in the run. My biking and swimming times are better, but not that much better than last year's. But my run? My run has improved in leaps and bounds.

My one point of contention with myself came in the last quarter mile or so. I was within sight of the finish line, and a big clydesdale came clomping past me. He works out at my gym; I see him around all the time. He was at IMKS. He was running just a little bit faster than me. I tucked in behind him, his huge frame in the foreground, the finish line behind. I stayed with him for maybe 50 yards, and then he started to pull away. And I decided that it hurt too bad, he was too fast, and I let him go.

I shouldn't have let him go. I could have kept that speed for another 300-400 m. I could do anything for another 300-400 m. It's only a few minutes in time. I can suffer for a few minutes in time. So looking back, that's my one disappointment. I should have followed him in to the finish instead of letting him go.

But other than that, I thought I was very willing and able to accept the pain that should come in a sprint tri. I determined early in the bike that I would go to that place of intensity and focus, and felt like I was actually able to do it this time.

The best part, as always, is the last few yards before the finish. I come closer and closer, the crowd getting nearer and the end within reach; I always think, "I'm not going to be able to do it, this time; I don't have enough left for a strong kick." And every time, usually in the last 20-40 meters, I find that I do have enough left. The exhaustion of all the miles leading up to that point falls away, and I find myself capable of anything.

I love that feeling.

Final: 1:26:58
Last year: 1:26:31 (with 5 km less on the bike)
Two years ago, I was looking at the results from Shawnee Mission and trying to decide how well I could realistically do, if I were able to achieve what I considered to be my potential. I looked at times from previous finishers. I looked at the overall. I looked at the age groups. And I decided that if I could swim at a 2:00/100 m pace (which I knew I could) and bike at 20 MPH (which I was sure I could) and work my way down to an 8:30/mile pace on the run (which I thought was possible) . . .

I could potentially work my way in to the top ten overall women.

Take a look at the times above, and then check it out.

2nd place F 20-24 (of 6, minus Bridget Ballard, the overall women's winner)
7th F overall (out of 51, not including the duathlon babes)

So there you have it. It didn't happen at Shawnee Mission (which, admittedly, is a much more competitive race than Wichita's favorite tri), but who's to say that I couldn't have done similarly well on that course on that day? I think I have it in me.

Of course I have my sights set lower, now. Because theoretically, I'm sure I could swim a 1:45/100. And bike 22 MPH. And run sub-8:00 . . .

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Losing Momentum

I can't seem to get excited about this weekend's race.

I'm not excited about training or about getting gear together. There is no fire under my ass to beat last year's time, or to set a PR, or even to do well.

The Shawnee Mission race was supposed to be part of a very planned, very deliberate peak. And it didn't happen. And now my whole peak is messed up.

That's all, though; the race was canceled, sometimes that happens, and it's over. I'm not upset about it. I'm not too down about it. I just know, on some level, that my season is pretty much over because of it.

Oh, I've still got a couple races on the schedule. This weekend is Mudwater, our very own local race in the muddy, mutant-catfish-infested waters of Lake Afton. I'm planning to do the Derby Rock 'n' Route sprint in August, which will give me an end-of-season benchmark relative to Emporia (it's the same distance, although not the same course). And I'm registered for the Redman sprint, hoping to win some team points for USAT team nationals. And I'm wanting to do an Ultramax 50 in Paola with my tri partner in crime (Shawnee Mission was supposed to be our race!).

But the hardcore training that is specifically directed towards a racing peak is done, now. Main season is over. The races from here on out are just for fun. Which isn't to say that I won't try hard or do well or even place/win. But I'm not going to be focusing all of my training on it.

That said, I will still be training, but I'm shifting my focus. The cyclocross season is coming up quick, and I want to kick some serious ass this year! So I'm hoping to get in a lot more miles on the bike, go back to base-building, and work on getting the power in my legs that I didn't seem to have in my first attempt at bike racing. I'm relegating swimming and cycling to the realms of crosstraining (along with DDR--at which I'm a rock star--and tennis, which is a good way for me to completely humiliate myself in public). I'd like to do another half-marathon this fall, but I haven't really looked at any races seriously.

Anyway, that's what I'm up to. The Shawnee Mission debacle siphoned my momentum, but I'm okay with it. Time for something new. What has everyone else been doing?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Race Report: Shawnee Mission '09

I experienced something at this race that I've never experienced before.


Yes, Shawnee Mission was completely and decidedly rained out. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it. There was thunder and lightning that made me regret being outside, and this is coming from a Kansan who has experienced lightning and thunder and softball sized hail and tornado threats and snow gales the likes of which most coastal Americans will never see. And I'm not really interested in risking my life to do a race, even if it is one of the most highly-anticipated races on my schedule. The cancelation was a good call.

But it sure sucks.

And the worst part is that this is totally a momentum buster, season-wise. I was supposed to have two peak weekends, back to back. Now I only have one. Bummer.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pre-Race: Shawnee Mission '09

I haven't been very good about updating lately, have I? My apologies. Haven't felt up to writing, I guess. Not that I'm too busy, really . . . just have nothing to say.
Coming up on my fourth running of the Shawnee Mission Triathlon. It was the first race I ever did (and finished next-to-last), and so it's a special time in my race schedule, every year. I don't have concrete goals for this race, except that I want to be faster than last year. I have expectations: I expect that I'll be able to beat my swim, bike, and run times from last year. I expect that I'll have a better sense of how much energy to reserve for the run; I expect that I'll move up in the rankings, this year.
But the most important expectation is that I will enjoy myself more. Last year, about this time, I was starting to get really, really burnt out. I've guarded myself pretty well against that this time, I think. I've learned lessons from the last few years that have made this season go so much smoother--I think the most important one was having a "big-deal" kind of race, then taking a little time off immediately after to mentally recharge and refocus. That time off after IM KS has really made a difference in my training, this past month. I feel like I've been able to sharpen myself, and have held onto that objective in almost every workout. It's enabled me to have more of a sense of purpose.
This time last year, I wrote time goals for myself. But for now I'll just write the previous times I posted on this course and tell you that this year I will be much, much faster.
Swim: 1000 m in 22:29 (2:14/100 m)
Bike: 18 mi in 1:00:14 (18 MPH)
Run: 4.5 mi in 46:44 (10:23/mi)
Total: 2:12:12 (28/58, 2nd F 20-24)
I'm excited; I think I can do well. I look forward to giving a good report.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Race Report: Derby Firecracker 4 Mile

For the first time ever, I placed at a running race.

The Derby Firecracker run is an old race; this year was its 28th iteration. The field is varied, with fewer than normal bigshots (prize money is only $25, and the food is better at some of the other local races this weekend), more than the normal amount of high school cross country runners, and a whole bunch of regular joes (and janes). Lining up around the start, I recognized very few people. You know how you get used to seeing certain regulars at every race? They weren't at this one. It was sort of disconcerting, like racing in a different city. Which I technically was, I suppose; Derby and Wichita are close, but they're definitely distinct entities (for now).

Morning dawned cool and cloudy, with the sun fighting to break through a bank of clouds rolling in from the south. Wichita was probably in the clear, but Derby is as far south as Clearwater, almost, so I figured we'd be dealing with some weather. It started sprinkling on us on the drive over, and by the time everyone was lined up for the start, we had a gentle downpour. But it was a soft, pleasant rain, and it was by far preferable to the 100* temperatures we've had the past two weeks.

The gun went off about 5 minutes late, and the field began its gentle surge forward. I was running with my iPod, but more as a stopwatch than for the music (I sent my Polar in yesterday to have it serviced, so I've been running without chrono or heart rate). But (silly me) I started the music playing without prepping the stopwatch. So I crossed the start line with iPod in hand, trying to start the timer function and looking (I'm sure) like an absolute tool. I hate it when I look like one of *those* runners--you know, the ones who can't do anything without headphones in their ears.

My dad was with me for this race (I bought him the entry as a Fathers' Day gift, because the race shirt was cool), and we started together. But it didn't take me long to jackrabbit away from him, dodging in and out of slower runners and looking for open ground. For some reason, I always seem to start races right in front of one big pack but right behind the other one. It's like I'm right in between two different levels of runners. Don't care much, if it means I get to run free from elbows and the clomping of other runners' feet.

The course carried us out of High Park (ground zero for the race), up and down a couple of short, gentle hills (in Kansas, these are mountains, you know), and out onto the main roads. The course had a surprising number of ups and downs, all of them long and gentle. At one point. the ground had been dug up in preparation for a driveway, but the race directors did tell us that the sidewalk was out before the race, so we were all expecting it. Shoes got a little bit muddy is all.

Hit the first mile marker in 7:56, according to my iPod, although I figure I can add about 15 seconds to that. My race plan was to hold back a little on the first mile, then open it up for the last three. Usually, in 4 mile races, I find myself wishing it were a 5k at around the 3 mile mark. Figured if I didn't really start racing until mile 1, maybe I could stave that off. When I looked at my split, I was a little wary. But I kicked it up another gear anyway. By this time, it had stopped raining, I had just turned out of the wind, and I was running on a slight uphill. I started to feel a little bit too warm.

At mile 2, there was water. I grabbed a cup without slowing down and sloshed as much of it as I could into my mouth. More of it went on my body than in my body, but I was already wet, so it didn't matter much. I was starting to pull back other runners, one by one, and feeling really good about the pace I set. Hit the 2 mile marker in 7:18, although I didn't check it at the time.

Mile 3 took forever. It wound through a couple of subdivisions, twisting and turning through streets and past cul-de-sacs. I kept turning corners, thinking I'd surely see the mile 3 marker around the next bend. I started to suspect that the course was mismeasured, and mile 3 was extra long. About this time, a big guy--tall and stacked--and I were trading places. I passed him, he passed me. I tucked in behind him to let him block the wind (we were actually running fast enough that I could tell a difference drafting off of him!), and he moved to the side to let me pass. We had a brief conversation about how he made a much better wind block than I did (poor guy was a good foot taller than me). He was hurting, and finally dropped back for good. About the same time, I ran up on a girl who's shirt said "Obsessed: a word lazy people use to describe the dedicated." She was running at a good clip, and it took quite a bit of effort to pass her, but I did. About that time, a good song ("Perfect Situation," by Weezer) came on, and I picked up my cadence a bit and dropped her. Finally passed the 3 mile marker in 9:37. Yeah, I really think the course was mismarked.

Mile 4 hurt physically, but was a cinch in my head. I just told myself, "I can do anything for one more mile," and got 'er done. I passed two thirty-somethings in running skirts (the same kind of uber-fit-but-not-particularly-competitive women who frequent my cycling classes) and made it my goal not to let them pass me. Whenever I heard their footsteps (and chatter) coming up behind me, I picked up my pace.

The "Obsessed" girl re-passed me, but she was fading, and I saw that I could catch her if I wanted to. At this point, we were back in High Park and climbing the final hill; after cresting that ridge, it was a 200 m downhill to the finish line. I surged slightly and drew up even with her as we topped the slope. "C'mon," I said, "it's all downhill from here. You've got enough for one more surge, don't you?" And I started picking it up. She said, "I don't know. I'm spent!" but she kept pace with me, step for step. I pushed her a little more, and she responded. "I'm gonna puke!" she said. "No you're not!" I replied. "Not until you get across that line! You're a strong runner! Finish strong!" And with that we crossed the finish line, her right in front of me.

Coming through the bevy of volunteers at the finish line, I felt energized. I'd seen the clock at the finish line--33 minutes, it said. My goal for this race was 34 minutes (8:30 pace), and I'd done a step better. The "Obsessed" girl high-fived me and thanked me for the encouragement; that felt great. As I exited the finish area, I passed a table where a volunteer said, "All women, stop and see me!" She asked my age group. I said, "20 to 24." And she handed me a silver medal! My first ever medal (not including finishers' medals) at a running event!

I headed back up the road to watch for my dad coming over that final hill. About 5 minutes later, I saw him, and fell into step with him. "It's all downhill from here," I told him. "How about a little push to the end?" He started striding out, taking advantage of the downhill and matching my pace as I accelerated. He crossed in 42:21 (unofficial), feeling tired but having thoroughly enjoyed his Fathers' Day gift. We munched on watermelon, oranges, and cookies. The Derby Runners' Club makes great cookies; they're famous for them. That is apparently the highlight of the Derby Not for Wimps 10-miler.

This race was a ton of fun. Besides the fact that I placed (!), it has a friendly, local feel. There's not the super-competitive atmosphere that I've experienced at some other local races (Easter Sun Run), nor is it overly laid-back, with a bunch of children, walkers, and stroller-pushing parents (Wichita Turkey Trot). The field is good-sized without being too big. The course is interesting, challening, and unique for this area because of the moderate hilliness.

Oh, and did I mention that I got second place in my age group?!