Sunday, September 2, 2012

Race Lessons

I had a race yesterday.I've been trying to figure out the best way to write my race report.

I struggled with different ideas because I had some weird things happen. I didn't want to write a report that led people to say "Wow, you really *toughed* it out". 

Because I didn't see it as *toughing* it out. I was prepared. Whatever happened on race day, I was prepared to handle it. I felt like the race was a huge success, regardless of the outcome.

I started thinking about what lead to this success. I can tell you that if this race happened 2 years ago, I would have been crying on the bike. I might not have quit physically, but I would have quite mentally. 

How did I get here?

I *know* a lot about triathlon. My first race was in 2005. I KNOW everything. 

But I didn't learn anything until I signed up with Coach.Everything I am about to say, I knew it all. It just took me awhile to learn it.

  1. You need a coach. Trust me on this. When I started doing tri's, I really didn't have the money to hire a coach. I was starting my company. Every bit of cash went into that. I KNOW, money can be a deterrent. Once you sign up, there are a few things you should know.
    • Most coaches offer many different types of training plans for all different budgets. You *can* afford it.  Shop around, talk to other athletes. Find out what they are doing.

    • Don't lie to your coach. Coach is there to help you. If you *complete* workouts that you didn't actually do. That doesn't help you. I admit. There have been weeks that were personally challenging. I looked at my plan, and I just wanted to pretend I got it all done. Instead, I wrote an email to my coach explaining what was going on. I don't miss many workouts. He knows that and understood what I was going through.

    • Don't be embarrassed about your abilities. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Your coach has seen it all and has a recipe for success. When I signed up with my coach, I was running 5ks at around a 12:00 pace. Set your ego aside. You're a team, not competitors. 

    • MOST IMPORTANT: DON'T DOUBT YOUR COACH. Don't add in a workout. Don't skip a workout (because you don't like it). Coach put the workout together based on your abilities. As you improve, your workouts will change too. The first time, he put mile repeats on my plan, I thought "No way. I can't hit that speed." The day came, and I just did the workout. It was THAT day that I realized that he knows me better than I know myself.

    • CUSS, yell out, let it out. This isn't supposed to be easy. Research has shown that people who curse while experiencing pain, can handle MORE pain than someone who doesn't curse. Let your freak flag fly. (Just make sure your coach knows it not directed at him/her. It's a COPING mechanism).
That's the warm fuzzy stuff.

If you found a good coach, you're also going to get a reality check. You're going to find out that you're not unique. You're going to find out that you're not ready for a certain distance.


Yes, you should get along. No, you don't have to be friends. 

You have to respect Coach's knowledge. It goes WAY beyond what you read in Triathlete mag and Lava.

Here's what I learned over the past 9 months.
Coach rule #1: Race often. Race as much as you can. So, I did. The pay-off was yesterday.  

I can't overstate the importance of racing often. At every race, SOMETHING is going to happen. Every race. Racing regularly prepares you for anything. It forces you to become creative. You WILL forget something. How will you handle it? I think this is even more important than learning how to pace because the mental battles are the hardest ones to overcome.

Yesterday's race:

I was late getting to transition because there was some traffic issue. A drive that should have taken me an hour, took me 1:20. When I got to transition, I needed to get set up as quickly as possible, so I would have time to get my warm ups done. 

Coach Rule #2: DO YOUR WARM UPS.

Over the months of practicing different lengths of warm ups, I've learned that I need really long warm up times. Run for almost 30 minutes, swim for that long, the bike, I'm usually go to go around 20 minutes. 

As I was setting up transition, I noticed 2 things very quickly:
1.) I forgot my aero bottle cap.
2.) I forgot my towel.

Well, the towel, no big deal. I've forgotten that many times this year. (Race often).

The aero bottle cap. That's a little bigger issue. It's going to be HOT. I have to have 2 bottles on the bike. Think think think. I could put a bottle in the behind the seat in the bottle cage. It'll work, but it's not ideal for me for a sprint. I want to go fast, and I'm not completely adept at grabbing a bottle from behind me. 

Would a water bottle cap work? No. It's too big.

I look in my bag. There's a swim cap. I bet I can stretch the swim cap over the top of the water bottle. Perfect fit. 

Coach Rule #3: Race Often

Yes, I know. It's rule #1 again. As I mentioned, something will happen at every race. The more you race, the better prepared you will be to handle something. I've dealt with cramping, losing nutrition, poor pacing, forgetting equipment, extreme heat, etc. etc. etc.

Prior to the race starting, I realized that I was getting stomach cramps. They were only mild during swim warm up, and they came out of no where. I've cramped during the run. But at the start of a race? This was new. I otherwise felt fine. I grabbed a gu and a bottle of water and chugged it down. 

It didn't help. I needed more, but my wave was getting ready to start.

The swim was uneventful. Courtney and I swam side by side the whole time. (Uh, sorry if I groped you, but that dude from the previous wave...doing the back float....I couldn't get away from him!)

The cramping was gone during the swim. As soon as I stood to get out of the water, it hit me full force. Really glad, I got the aero bottle thing figured out. I could drink and drink and drink.

As we exited T1, clouds really moved in.

It was no surprise when our 95 degree race start turned into a downpour with really terrible wind. I've done a lot of runs in storms. This was the first time I've ever raced on the bike in such bad conditions.

And I was scared.

And the bike course had been changed, just this week, from 17 miles to 23.6 miles.

I'm leaving the res, make the turn on to the main road, and the rain hits. It's really coming down. For the most part, the first few miles are uphill. 

Coach Rule #4: Take the first 1-4 miles easy on the bike.

Under normal circumstances, I would go hard from the start of the bike. I thought back a few months ago. I remembered what I had learned from to pace. It's raining. I've never raced in the rain. Take it slow. Learn how to handle your bike in the rain. 

Today will not be a PR. Safety first. But, it will be the best that I can give today.

Coach Rule #5: Adapt to the environment.

After about 4 miles, I started feeling pretty good riding in the rain. I thought I could pick up the speed. 

So, I did.

We turned on to Nevada. The rain was down to a drizzle. The road seemed mostly dry here. THANK GOODNESS.

Then, the wind hit. I have NEVER ridden in a crosswind like that. 

I read once that in a drunk driving accident, the reason the drunk driver usually has fewer injuries is because they are unaware of what is happening and therefore, they don't tense up.  On the other hand, the victims see the accident and tense up.

I could no longer be aero. I couldn't control my bike. I could barely control my bike upright. But I was tense. I knew that I wouldn't be able to react quickly if I was tight. I focused on loosening up my shoulders and arms.

Coach Rule #6: Focus

I stared straight ahead. Normally in a race, I like to choose a rider ahead of me and calculate how long it will take for me to pass them. 

Today, it was all about safety. I see the riders ahead of me getting pushed around by the wind. All I could think about was that we were all in this together.  We all need to get through this, safely.

(You might want to skip this next section because it contains TMI).

I'd been on my bike for about 20 minutes. I needed to take in my nutrition.

As soon as I took a drink, it came right back up.

On the other hand, with the wind, I'm REALLY glad I came up with an aero bottle lid. There was NO WAY, I could take one hand off my bars and reach backward. (RACE OFTEN)

But throwing up, that's not good. Over the course of the bike. I tried 4 or 5 times to get my fuel in. Water was fine, but that was it. 

Water it is. I will deal with the run when I get there. I can ride with the cramps.

Coach Rule #7: One event at a time.

We finally get to turn.

I tell you, I was NEVER so happy to ride into a headwind, even a headwind that has you riding uphill.

Coach Rule #8: DO your drill work.

I've done drill work in the past, but I always did it half-ass. I never committed to it until this year. 

High cadence work. One Legged drills. DO THEM. 

Basic cycling info: cycling is about the legs, not the feet. It's about going in a circle, not top and bottom of a pedal stroke. If you know what I'm talking about, that sentence will make perfect sense. If you haven't gotten there yet, it won't. I know because it didn't make sense to me until this year.

Like I said, I know everything about triathlon, but I didn't learn anything until this year.

Headwind. Uphill. The best strategy that I could employ: drop the gear and spin fast. If I mash, I won't be able to run.

The last, maybe 4 miles were pretty uneventful. The wind wasn't as bad. I wasn't sure if I was on a flat or a slight incline. I looked at my garmin, I realized that I had averaged 20mph. With 4ish miles left, I set a goal to do whatever I had to, in order to maintain that 20mph. I hadn't seen another woman in my AG. I had no idea where they were. But I had a feeling that if I could maintain 20, I might be able to be first.

I pulled into T2. That's when I noticed, there were no other bikes on my rack. I might have just gotten my first, FIRST on the bike. 

"If you're not first, you're last"--Talledega Nights

I hopped off the bike. My right leg seized up. #&$(@(*&%$&#*! It hurt. I didn't have any luck keeping nutrition down on the bike, but I was going to force it down now. I grabbed a bottle of water and GU. I chugged both down and started running.

On the run, the cramps were by far the worst. As soon as I started running, I knew that it would not be a PR, but it didn't matter. I was going to keep running. I wasn't going to walk. I knew cramps can hurt. I know they can be debilitating, but I wasn't there yet. (RACE OFTEN). I had really bad cramps during a super hot race early in the season. Fortunately, yesterday's race had aid stations all over the place. At every station, I grabbed two cups of water and walked.

I saw Courtney hit the turnaround. She smiled and said something. I think I grunted and grimaced back. And that's how friendships are born...a few grunts and grimaces. 

By the time I got to the 2nd mile, I was running like Forrest Gump when he had the braces on his legs, but I was so focused on running that I didn't feel it so much. I didn't notice other runners. I didn't see the finish line coming up.

I kept thinking "This is it. Your last tri of the season." I don't know why it felt so epic this year. Maybe it's because in the past, my *last tri* was also my 2nd tri of the season. 

I've had PR's at every single race this year. That's unbelievable to me. 
On a day that, in the past, would have caused me so much stress, I was calm and focused.

It's not that I OVERCAME or CONQUERED or anything like that. I was just prepared. Whatever the day handed me, I was ready for it. It's going to rain? Fine. I'll slow down. Wind? Ok. I can relax and spin. Cramps. No big deal. Just keep moving forward.

You might think I'm crazy. This might have been my most successful race of the year. 

What's next?

I head into my off season now. I have two goals that I know I will hit next year. I want to go sub :30 in the 5k (of a tri), and I want to hit an avg speed of 23mph on the bike during either a sprint or an olympic race. I'm very close to both of those.

I think it was a good thing for me to end the year with a race that was not a PR. 


Because now I'm biting at the bit to hit those goals, and I have all off season to get there. 

As my Mike says, "Next year, you're going to be a handful."