Thursday, December 11, 2014

Two Ironman's in 7 weeks

I take my hat off to the serial IM racers out there, because that is no easy feat.  And if that is something that any of you out there are even entertaining, please make sure that your training has physically and mentally prepared you for the “battle”, because a battle it is. 

But let’s back up a bit. My 2014 season goal was to win the age group amateur title in Kona (Kona Race Report), and IM Cozumel was not on the original schedule. I failed to make that happen, and finished 6th. 6th in the world is nothing to be ashamed of, but I was disappointed. I made certain choices during the race, I wanted to get back but such is racing. It was only few hours after I crossed that finish line an Alii’ Drive that I knew I had to get back to Kona in 2015. And that is when IM Cozumel had made its way to the forefront of my mind. My choices were limited, and I was either going to take a big risk and enter an uncharted territory of following up an Ironman with another Ironman in 7 short weeks (IM Cozumel), or I was going to spend the winter riding my bike on the indoor trainer with the heater on full blast, and no fan to try to acclimate to the heat of Texas next May.  I took about 10 days completely off post Kona and then slowly got back into it. After couple of weeks training, the decision was made. 

 One thing that was very clear to me from day 1 post Kona, I was mentally ready to give it a go! I had also felt great physically, and had some great training sessions which indicated I was fully recovered but not ever  following an Ironman race with anything but offseason had left me with some doubt. I was however more confident than doubtful that this was the right decision and all signs were giving me the green light! I paid more attention to how I actually felt during every single training session and adjusted accordingly when necessary. I paid attention to every little detail more than I ever had (recovery/massage/ART/nutrition/hydration), because I was never at any point going to sacrifice my health. And even if I did, my coach wasn’t going to let me.

I left home bright and early on Thanksgiving Thursday, and finally arrived on the island that evening. The last part of the trip involved one rocky (understatement of the year) ferry ride from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel which really started off my “mind over matter” IM Cozumel experience.  The wind was so strong, I am surprised we didn’t reenact Titanic. I am still not sure how I didn’t throw up. When I finally got off the ferry 40 minutes later, I almost blew away!  Bring it wind, bring it!

Friday, and Saturday were spent building the bike (Huge Thank you goes out to Brian Hughes who pretty much put it together for me in record time), registering, and just making sure all systems were go.  I may have still been carrying some residual “off” feeling from the 40 min rollercoaster ride (I mean ferry ride), but it was easy to shove to the back of my mind. 

Seen on one of my two short pre-race rides

Fireball 2.0 ready for its sleepover

Race morning, I was nervous but confident. I was nervous because, I have NEVER backed up an Ironman race with another race, never mind another Ironman. I have always gone straight into the offseason. I was nervous because no matter how hard you train, or how confident you are, Ironman is a very long day where things that are out of your control can go wrong! I was nervous because I didn’t want those 4 or 5 hour long indoor trainer rides in 80 degree temperature, 75% humidity with no fan, followed by long freezing runs go to waste. I was nervous because I really wanted to make the time away from home worth it, and the only thing that was going to make it worth it for me was to come home with that Kona ticket!  

I was confident, because not only did I train hard all year. I was confident because I had some great long post Kona training sessions that proved to me that I was more than recovered from Hawaii! I was confident because I felt very mentally strong. I was confident because I had a new sense of focus that was a direct result of my “failure” in Kona. I was confident and eager to show, I have learned from my mistakes and I just couldn't wait to see what the day would bring. 

Just missing the potatoes in this set up
With Cozumel being a two transition race (T1 and T2 are in separate locations), and the swim start being yet another 2.4 miles away from T1, logistics are a bit of nightmare but race organizers did a great job!  Can you say women’s and men’s specific porta pottys? Probably the one and only place with the mens lines being longer than women’s.  Huge plus on race morning!
THE SWIM:  1:04:20 (21st AG, 94th female overall)
Point to point straight shot, warm, super clear beautiful swim complete with occasional jelly fish stings. For the first time this race also featured a wave start, and although I wasn’t a fan at first, it turned out to be the best thing EVER. Some of the guys may think otherwise, but from a selfish perspective of having a clean race for the amateur females, I would like to think it was the best wave distribution ever!  
The current itself wasn’t as strong as one would think based on how it was advertised (IM Chattanooga by far wins that crown), and I honestly didn’t even feel it until the end of the race.I swam relaxed, strong, pretty straight and mostly alone the entire time. As a result, I would sight more often than I normally would to avoid zigging and zagging. I had to do some navigating around the slower swimmers, but I was able to find my rhythm early on and stick with it.
Before I knew it, I was climbing up the stairs, and running down towards T1. 
T1: 4:29
I moved as fast as possible and didn’t really have any hick ups. Unless of course you count the mouth full of “who knows what” that came up out of nowhere as I was running out of the changing tent towards my bike as one.  For a moment I thought that this may make the rest of the race quite interesting, but I quickly shrugged it off and accounted it to couple of the gulps of salt water I took in by accident during the swim. 
THE BIKE: 5:14:46 (1st AG, fastest female amateur bike split by 15 minutes, and 2nd including pro's)
Having done this race last year, I was ready for a few things. The normal Cozumel conditions consisting of a strong head/cross/tail wind, the sun, the rain and huge draft packs! I was mentally ready to handle it all!  In the days leading up to the race, these signs were plastered absolutely everywhere, so I really couldn’t wait to see if they were actually going to be enforced! 

Among all places, found in the women's bathroom at registration/expo
I wasn’t a fan of the swim wave start, as I really feel mass starts are part of the true IM experience, but I also had a bad taste left in my mouth from Mt. Tremblant worlds and the short 3 min gap separating each wave, which was also the case here. However as I mentioned before, sending all females first with the exception of the 50+AG  males was probably the best thing that could have happened– at least for me. The draft packs/pelotons from last year were non-existent, and I pretty much had a clear road the entire time!  I did most of my passing in the first loop of the 3-loop course, and was able to keep my head down, and the pedal to the metal the entire time without any distractions.  I can’t speak to what happened behind me, but from where I was in the race, I saw the least amount of drafting if any at all. I can only wish every single race was like this! Kudos to race organizers for changing it up, and trying to make the race more legal hopefully for all of us.

My plan going into the race was conservative given the short little race I did just 7 weeks prior. Conservative meaning riding around 70-72%. I had mixed feelings about the plan with bike being my strength, but by race day I was 100% committed. Keeping these numbers slightly lower would hopefully mean a faster run split, which is something I have yet to be able to do in an IM but know  I can do.
With potato's in tow
I stuck to my numbers on the first 2 loops, and even had to hold myself back from going too hard. You can see my power file here (Bike Power File) Pedal to the metal the entire time except for coasting through aid stations, during pee breaks, and the twisty turns through town. 

Making my way through town 
Aero was the name of the game
I was following my slightly updated fueling plan, which was working like a charm, until the last 20 miles or so of the bike. Remember the little “incident” from T1? This time I was able to keep everything down, but just started to feel slightly nauseous. The thought of another bottle of Gatorade was making me sick, but guzzling down the water seemed to do the trick. The thought of how am I going to run a marathon feeling like this had most certainly entered my mind, but as quickly as it appeared, it disappeared! The power of positive thinking had returned in an instant. I had made the choice to back of power in the last 10 miles of the race, and tried to get this “nauseous” feeling under control. I was still moving fast, flying by whoever was in sight, and with the exception of Gatorade my nutrition was staying down. Another crisis averted.
113.5 miles later I was dismounting the bike and running into a very empty T2 ready to run.
T2: 1:23
The privilege of being in the T2 alone is lots of attention. Too bad I didn't enjoy it for long. I was out of there quick. Thank you volunteers! 
THE RUN: 3:33:46 (1st AG, 8th fastest amateur run) 
Going into the race, I really wanted to run well and I wanted to leave it all out there. Running out of T2 into the streets of Cozumel was awesome because the crowd support is absolutely unbelievable. However it also makes you run faster by default. I made that mistake last year and I most certainly did not want to repeat it. Enough with letting my pace drop into the 9 or 10 min paces – I can’t run that slow in training so I really didn’t want to do it in a race!
The sun was out and it was hot, but I was ready for that. The course on the first loop was very empty, which made me feel like one of the pro’s. I had the aid stations all to myself, and getting a ton of attention. Plenty of ice, water, coke (in this case pepsi), you name it they had it. I was able to stay right on pace and my targeted HR the entire first loop (8 miles), and was feeling GREAT! I also felt this great in Kona, until I didn’t. 

Mile 7ish - everything is better with a smile!
The goal was to keep the same pace for loop #2, but that all came to a halt quickly at mile 10. The “nauseous” feeling from the bike had returned, and my pace right along with my HR started to drop slowly but surely with each mile. I am fairly new to running with heart rate, but I have never watched my heart rate get lower and lower with each mile like it was happening here. To the contrary, given the conditions, I was pretty sure I may see my heart rate higher than I normally would have for my IM pace. I thankfully continued to be able to keep my nutrition down and just kept focusing on one mile at a time. I didn’t look ahead, I didn’t have the countdown going, I wasn’t hating life, I wasn’t wondering why I do this, and I wasn’t swearing of ironman like I have in every single one of my other IM races.
All my energy was going into keeping it together one mile at a time, and not letting my pace slip any further. The nauseous feeling would come and go but I was so focused on forward progress, that that became secondary. By mile 19 my legs really started to hurt, and my HR was lower than I have ever seen it.  It was that “hey, what do you want from us, we just did this 7 weeks ago” deal. It was now really mind over matter, but where before I would have slowed down and pondered the “why” am I doing this, or how many miles I left, I was able to stay in the moment, and keep pushing. 
You can see my Run File here and how I had to fight for every single mile after mile 10. 
Come mile 24, I started to pick up the pace, and come the last 1.2 I laid it all out. Every fiber in my body was quite possibly screaming to stop, but for the first time in an IM, my head didn’t get in the way. 

Mile 25/26 - focusing on bringing it home 

Rounding the last corner toward the finish line

Steps away from the finish line and the smile is back

 I couldn't be happier with my day. Mission Accomplished! 
The second I stopped, I realized the pain I was in, but I was quite possibly the happiest human alive on the entire island of Cozumel!
Ouch but oh so worth it! 
I still didn’t run as fast as I know I can and will, but I had mentally and physically put together the race I was looking for.
I got my Kona ticket, finished 1st AG (30-34), 2nd Overall Amateur, and 8th Overall including a very descent professional field. I ran a marathon PR of 3:33:45, and broke 10 hours with an official time of 9:58:44. More importantly I stayed focused and in the moment every single second of this race not once doubting or figuring out "why". 

With that my 2014 is in the books, and although I had failed to reach a few goals of mine, I had learned and grown more than ever, which is something that wouldn't have happened had I not come short. 
I can't say enough to my supporters near, and far and my sponsors that allow me to chase my dreams. In no particular order: Landry's BicyclePowerBarE3 TrainingEC3D SportsBlueSeventyCastelliRacePakBeet It. THANK YOU! 
And now, it's offseason time and time to put together the 2015 Race Schedule which will be highlighted with my 3rd IM Kona World Championships next October. 

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