Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Toughman NM: 1.2 mi swim, 56 mi bike, 13.1 mi run


Okay, I admit, this is terrible.

After my first Olympic triathlon this June (City of Lakes), I continued training for Toughman NM. Toughman is a half Ironman distance race with a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run (a half marathon): 70.3 miles of moving under your own body's power. Down at Cochiti Lake in between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, it was as local as a race with an open water swim could get for us. I got to sleep in my own bed and swim in the lake I trained in (five whole times! Twice without panic attacks!), so it had all the makings of a great race.

I tapered at sea level, in Washington for my sister's wedding, so I was a little worried about losing my altitude acclimatization. My parents' town is just as hilly (or more) as Los Alamos, so my workouts were perfect in that respect. (My other sister arranged for me to borrow a bike from her REI coworker, which my parents drove home for me, and bride sister let me borrow her car to get to a pool. I couldn't ask for a more supportive family!) Coming home, there was an air alert issued due to smoke from the WA/OR/CA fires, suggesting caution when performing outdoor activity, so that was a little worrisome, too. 

Naturally, I was overly dramatic the night before and composed a triathlete's blessing:

May the Lord bless you and keep you,
May your swim be panic free in still waters,
May your bike be flat-tire free over smooth roads,

and may your run be crawl-free through a cool rain.

May the wind be ever at your back and a smile ever on your lips, 
for tomorrow, WE RIDE!!

I packed early on Saturday and sat around, nervous, excited, and pretty much in denial about the whole thing. Surprisingly, I was able to sleep pretty well from 8:30pm until 3:15am, when I jumped out of bed, fed all the confused fluffies, and zipped off to pick up Katie. Katie volunteered for the race  for the ten or so hours we were at Cochiti and then drove my exhausted self home after buying me ice cream. She is a KEEPER.

We arrived before sunrise and I discovered something to add to future triathlon packing lists: a headlamp. There were a couple streetlights, but transition was dark. Friends' headlamps and our cell phones' flashlight apps helped the setup.

Scotty is always ready for adventure.

One of my favorite things about Toughman was how many people from the LA tri scene were there: Liz, Lani, Lori,  Tony, Heather, Tad, Diane, Mike E, Karen, Frank, Steve, Mark, Mike H, Scott...I think I got them all?? It was especially nice having Liz and Lani only a couple transition spots away--yay friends!!

Tony! He sold me my first pair of cycling shoes and pedals for $20 and I used them all season!!

Lani got 1st in her (our) age group!!

Heather rocked the bike portion for a relay team!!

Liz got 2nd overall female!! She is so fast!!

After getting all set up and putting on sunscreen and stuffing myself into my wetsuit, I had butterflies in my tummy. I was so excited, but worried about panicking on the swim and getting flat tires on the bike and...well, I wasn't worried about the run. Being around my friends helped. Heather, Tad, and Katie took most of the following pictures and live-updated to Facebook all day, which was a blast to find out when I got to my car HOURS later!!

Thanks for the photobomb, sir.

THE SWIM: 1.2+ miles in 54:34

(My watch said I swam 1.36 miles, actually. [Everyone else's measured long, too.])
Map from my Garmin watch: I swam fairly straight!

The swim started in the water, so after the men swam off at 6:30am, the women and team swimmers made our way out to the dock for our 6:40am start time.

I'm somewheeeeere, oooout theeeere...

I was nervous, but then I saw Diane in the water, and she's such a calming presence. THEN, I noticed Heather and Tad on the dock (they were going to bike and run legs of the relay)!



I'm the second head from the bottom. We're so colorful.

Breeeathe. (I'm in the center.) That yellow buoy in the background was the third in the rectangular course.

GO TIME! (I'm the second from the bottom, starting my stroke.)

Swim like little fishies!

Looking back on the boat ramp where I was going to exit in almost an hour.

The swim was the best I've ever had! I had zero panic attacks. My mind stayed quiet and focused on my breathing and stroke. I positioned myself near the back and outside of the pack of females, so I wasn't jostled too much. As it was a two-loop course, I was overtaken by the men, but again, no major punching, kicking, or splashing. And I passed two guys myself!! Woohoo! 

Curtis Gillen Photography

I started to get super antsy in the last couple hundred meters and was so happy to get out of the water. Trying to walk up the slippery boat ramp, I almost pulled a volunteer into the water, I was so dizzy and disoriented. 

So disoriented.

OH RIGHT. I should start undressing as I go!

T1 took 2:44. I still felt dizzy, but I was READY TO RIDE. As I left transition, I saw Katie! She caught me doing my dizzy-in-bike-shoes waddle.

Walking is difficult.

THE BIKE: 56 miles in 3:57:33

We had a flat, straight shoot out of transition in which to mount and make sure we were in the smallest gear, so we could slowly conquer The Wall.

I am currently so thrilled to be biking!
The Wall is that first steep climb in the elevation profile below. It was not easy. 

Oh this elevation profile. 
The first out-and-back of the Y-shaped course was great. I enjoyed it: the scenery varied, cyclists were all around, and while it was mostly uphill out, it was very manageable. The turn-around at mile 13 came quickly. The only concerns: my behind started hurting at mile 10 and my left hand started going numb around then, too. MILE TEN IS REALLY EARLY, GUYS.

All of my good feelings died on the second prong of the Y. From the apex of the Y (intersection of NM 22 and NM 16) to I-25, it was uphill WITH. A. HEADWIND. And sometimes a CROSSWIND. For EIGHT miles (with my sore behind and numb hand), I hated cycling and I hated triathlons. Seeing so many friends on the out-and-back was encouraging, though! After almost being blown off the overpass (not really), conditions and mood improved a bit. The wind was a little better, and we got some relief in the form of a few descents. Soon, though, I despaired of ever finding the turn around, and then almost cried when I did see it. Hallelujah!!

Coming back from the turn around, especially after crossing I-25, was AMAZING. I loved cycling and I loved triathlons (eight hours can contain many conflicting emotions). The downhill with tailwind totally rocked and I flew so fast! 

I forgot about the hill heading back up to the lake, but I conquered that slowly and surely. With some serious braking, I also survived biking down the Wall and turning sharply back into transition.

My behind was beyond thrilled to dismount.

T2 took 3:44 and was fine, except that my left hand was completely useless and couldn't grip my shoelaces. (I'm going to get my bike fitted professionally before next season and see what can be done.) I also forgot to reapply sunscreen, so that became fun.

THE RUN: 13.1 miles in 2:54:32

It was such a relief to get to the run! I swam and biked under the times I predicted, so I was sure to be well within the cutoff time. I walked up the Wall to keep my heart rate under control and get a breather, and focused on pushing myself while still enjoying myself. I had a FANTASTIC time on the run! 

Oh Northern New Mexico. What would you be without hills? We gotta love you.

After a little jaunt through a campground, we went off into the town of Cochiti Lake. Katie had been reassigned to an intersection on the run, where she got to stop traffic (the power almost went to her head) and make sure we Turned Left.

The neighborhoods were my favorite part of the run. Several people were in their driveways cheering. One adorable old man was handing out water from a cooler. And the best part? Two separate houses were hosing runners off. HOSING US OFF! The ice-cold drenching was fortifying and beyond refreshing.

Soon, after waving to Katie once more, I headed off on the three-mile, mostly uphill road to nowhere. I maintained a cheery mood (I don't know how, but I'll take it), but it was not pleasant. Zero shade, hot sun, and straight stretches of pavement are not ideal.

Also, and this is my one major race-organization complaint: there were NO BATHROOMS. Multiple people discussed this and none of us saw any. I had to go while on the bike, but figured I would wait for the promised potties on the run (I should've stopped at the ones in the transition area). By this time, everyone had been on the course for over five or six hours. We, um, dealt with it in the desert brush, and thank heavens no one encountered some of our native wildlife while doing it.

Two things I learned to love on the Toughman run: sponges filled with ice-cold water and Coke. The mostly flat Coke gave me a little kick, and the sponges were so refreshing. I took 1-2 at every stop--squeezed one down my shirt and one on top of my head and I was good to go!

Finally, I reached the turn around at mile 8. Three wonderful paramedics promised that I could indeed head back, and I made a new friend who was as ecstatic as I was. She and I would pass each other a few times over the next few miles (our walking breaks weren't synced, usually), until I slowly started to pull away. The last I heard from her was a "GET MOVING NOW!!!" as I walked just a tad too long, and that motivated me to push through to the final crazy leg of the race...the trail run?!?!

On pace for 2:45 or so run, I forgot that this was Toughman NM: would you like a trail run at mile 68.5 of your half Ironman?

They told us it was going to be "primitive" from about mile 11-12.5. We assumed perhaps gravel or a packed dirt road? It was, until around mile 11.5 or 12, gravel turned to sand, and a nice man at the final aid station told me to, "watch for rattlesnakes and don't trip on the little cacti, and just follow the cones through the bushes!!" By the time I went through (I was well in the back of the pack), there was a mostly discernible trail...but it didn't start out as anything but orange cones amongst scrub. I just had to laugh about it. I'm thankful I didn't twist an ankle, because if my footing is questionable when I'm alert, you should see me when I've been working out in the sunshine for seven and a half hours.

FINALLY, I emerged from the wilderness back at the campground, and another paramedic (their constant presence was reassuring) told me that I was almost there!

Then I hit the top of the Wall, and it was ALL DOWNHILL FROM THERE!! I was worried, again, for my footing/joints running down the steep incline, but I WAS SO CLOSE!!!

Just a sharp turn and a hard sprint to the finish line and I WAS DONE!! I COULDN'T BELIEVE IT!!! 

TOUGHMAN! Note my forthcoming treat on the right. (Curtis Gillen Photography)

Someone handed me my Toughman pint glass with an Otter Pop and my medal stuck inside!

 NBD, just finished 70.3 miles. (Curtis Gillen Photography)

 "Ma'am, are you ok? Are you sure you're ok?" "Yes, gimme my Otter Pop, I'll be fantastic." (Curtis Gillen Photography)

 Liz, Lani, and Katie appeared and hugged me! Then I got super dizzy... Sitting in the shade and eating more Otter Pops fixed me right up.


I had guessed 8+/-0.5 hours, so theory agrees with experiment. This put me in the middle third of my age group, which made me pretty darn happy for my first half IM.

The race photographer had a photo booth set up at the finish, which was pretty fun.

Katie! My favorite volunteer!!

No GPS watch of mine has ever registered soooo many miles.

I couldn't eat much solid food, even though I needed calories. My poor tummy was in such an angry state. I drank water and Gatorade and managed a small bag of Cheetos on the ride back to Santa Fe. Katie and I stopped for Thai, because Pad Thai sounded great, but then tummy said NOPE after a few bites. (I devoured it at 9pm.)

We tried something else. That Baskin Robbins Oreo Malt Shake went down VERY nicely.
SEE MY SUNBURN???? Just take a minute and reapply sunscreen in transition, ok?

Finally home, I took a bubble bath, ate my Pad Thai, pulled on my compression socks, and put up my feet, per Liz's suggestion.

Toughman NM had sweet swag, including my very first trucker hat and a cute t-shirt:

The medal is one of my favorites. I adore our New Mexico flag and am so glad it was included.

Muffin says, "whoa, you got a lot of Toughman stuff!"

What hurt next day? Every muscle except my facial ones. Plus my sunburnt skin, which included my nose, so I guess even my face hurt.

How was work, since it was Monday? Difficult, because besides the soreness, the poor air quality/questionable lake water gave me the sniffles, plus exhaustion, plus fuzzy brain...but I made it there by 8am and would love a gold star.

Would you do it again? Oh yes. I'm already thinking about next year's 70.3s and have lined up a real coach that I will pay to answer my ten million questions, instead of relying on the patience of my friends. My completely wonderful and supportive friends!

So what about a full Ironman? In theory, I want to do a 140.6 before I'm 40…but I need a whole lot more race-pain amnesia before I'll commit. 

How do you feel now? I still can't believe it's over and I DID IT.  It was brutal, but I never thought about quitting. I hated chunks of it, but overall, I loved the experience and am so proud that I finished strong and happy.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

City of Lakes Olympic Triathlon: June 27, 2015

After my first foray into triathlons last year with the Los Alamos sprint triathlon and the Las Campanas Compadres super sprint triathlon (read here), I wanted to do another one because a) I had such a blast, b) I wanted to try a tri with an open water swim, and c) I wanted to build up to a tri with my favorite running distances. Thus, I set my sights on the City of Lakes Triathlon: an Olympic distance with a lake swim only a couple hours away from home.


Swimming is easily the hardest of the three sports for me. So, I took a few lessons from a swim coach (who gave me drills I initially loved and soon hated), I participated in a couple of clinics--one pool and one lake--by our local triathlon club (the Triatomics), and I took an open water swim clinic put on by a club from Albuquerque. The first time I swam in my new wetsuit in Cochiti Lake, it was pretty awful. I'd put my face in the water and start freestyle, and I'd freak out, unable to catch my breath or convince myself that I was breathing, despite the tight wetsuit. I also couldn't sight properly (or see a thing in the murky water), so disoriented and stressed, I zigzagged all over and tired myself out quickly. Almost immediately in the second clinic, though, I felt better. Everyone keeps saying it just takes time to get used open water swimming, and I'm slowly believing them. 

Biking was a challenge early this year, too, as I put on clipless pedals and had some special moments getting used to clipping in and out. I am thrilled to report that I have only fallen over ONCE, though, and it was only a couple of weeks ago, well after I got completely (too) comfortable in them. In the fall and winter, I attended a spin class at the lab's wellness center, which helped immensely with my cardio, strength, and speed. Friends and I biked the Los Alamos to White Rock Loop for the first time and started a new friendly (mostly female) cycling group along the way, too!

Running is fantastic! Slower than I'd like, but not slow enough to get me to do speed work this schedule, so there we go.

For strength training, I've been going to a core class at the wellness center, as well as continuing MMA/Jeet Kune Do (though I backed off on that). 

Race Weekend!!

Santa Rosa is over two hours away, so I took my Friday off to drive down there, pick up my race packet, and check out the course. 

The Olympic swim leg was two loops of this beautiful little lake (the sprint was just one loop):

The water was clear, I saw wee fish, and I heard it was pretty shallow the whole way. I was not worried.

I didn't preview the entire bike course, but it was, again, two loops of the sprint course:
Definitely easier than anything in Los Alamos.

I drove most of the running route, which was fairly confusing--we repeated the stretch along Reilly road twice (or four times, depending on how you count): up, down, up, down. "Keep track and make sure you do the right amount!!" One of my transition buddies forgot to do it twice and had to repeat it after the final little out-and-back. :)

So much flatter than any six miles I can find here.
We ended at the beautiful Blue Hole. The tradition is to jump in after the race. I was super excited for this, especially as it was supposed to be sunny and in the 80s.

My longstanding pre-race tradition is to set everything out, repack, and eat pasta. Santa Rosa's restaurant selections were, as far as I could ascertain: New Mexican, greasy diner, and pizza. I decided to go with pizza and breadsticks, and regretted not packing more food along with the bagels and bananas I brought for breakfast.  Ah well, live and learn to not expect a simple Italian restaurant everywhere you go! I spent the evening knitting a baby blanket for my forthcoming niece and watching BBC America's marathon of Star Trek: TNG. So basically, it was amazing.

I love our race shirt!

Trusty steed Scotty is all ready to go!

Race morning dawned bright and early and I jumped up excited and determined. I downed some terrible hotel coffee, ate my own bagel and banana with some hotel peanut butter, packed my transition bag, loaded Scotty, and headed to transition, where it poured.

The only time I've worn this schnazzy bike rain jacket.


Despite the rain and chilly conditions, the lake was 79F: thus, it was not wetsuit legal after all. I had only practiced open water swimming in a wetsuit, though, and wanted the extra buoyancy. As the penalty for wearing one was only "you can't place in your age group," and not disqualification, I (and a bunch of others) decided to wear it anyway. Placing in my age group is definitely not a possibility at this point! A couple ladies near my transition spot put theirs on, too, so we bonded over needing our security blankets.

Official race photo of squeezing myself into my wetsuit.

Lookin' like a weird bug, ready to swim!

I knew that warming up a bit would help me settle into the swim faster, so I did a couple of short laps in the little lagoon set aside for us. The water was certainly warm, but I just felt comfortable in it. Not too hot. I felt great. Relaxed. Ready. 

My wave (women 31-34 + another age group of women [I'm 30, but USAT rules and my birthday combine so that I always race a year ahead]) was called, and we trudged into the waist-deep lake. The bottom was squishy, and there was much whining. I still felt great. Relaxed. Ready. 

Soon, there was a countdown…and we were OFF!

City of Lakes Triathlon: SWIM. 1500 m 00:43 45:58 pace
This was a lesson in perseverance, and trying to pray for a quiet mind instead of swearing like a sailor. As soon as my wave started, I panicked and couldn't catch my breath. I'd put my face in, flail about, completely lose my mind, and have to breast stroke so I could breathe. The kayakers kept asking if I was ok, especially as I graduated to needing to completely stop moving and just tread water/float in my security blanket (which was also suddenly SO CONSTRICTIVE GET IT OFF).

I seriously considered a) quitting completely, b) quitting after the first loop and doing the Oly bike and run anyway, even though I'd be DQ'ed, and c) quitting after the first loop and dropping to the sprint. But I was really looking forward to the bike and run (DARN IT I WAS MORE THAN PREPARED FOR THE BIKE AND RUN), and 3/4 of the way around the first loop, something clicked, and I finished the second loop with only one more little episode (by one of the kayakers who checked on me the first loop, which was embarrassing). I was second-to-the-last out of the water, but I wasn't the slowest swimmer overall thanks to the earlier waves! I have never been SO HAPPY to get out of a lake. 

City of Lakes Triathlon: BIKE. 25 mi  01:35  15.8mph pace

The bike was a beautiful two laps of a country road with nicely rolling hills. So much flatter than home! I passed a ton of people and nobody passed me, making up for my swim. I enjoyed myself so much! Before I knew it, I was back in transition and ready for the final leg.
Smile, you're done swimming!

City of Lakes Triathlon: RUN. 6.2 mi  01:09  11:08 pace
The run felt super good. Santa Rosa is 3000' lower than Los Alamos, and the run was a billion times flatter than here, so it was awesome. I passed several people there, too, and only got passed by one gal. Once I finished that up-down-up-down stretch, I had one obnoxious hill in the last quarter mile or so. I was powering up and realized I could walk faster than I was running, so I did. After the turn around, I flew down to the finish line, where I got to jump in the cold, cold Blue Hole!! 

Post-race and post-Blue Hole plunge!

First Olympic tri, with some panic:

Post-race refueling:
banana from the finish line (they didn't provide much)
leftover pizza in my hotel (woohoo late checkout!)
Jurassic Smash Blizzard (absolutely incredible)

Amount of stiffness encountered after the two-hour drive home:
All the stiffness

Next race:
Toughman NM--hello, half Ironman!