Thursday, August 25, 2016

2016: The Unexpected Year

I haven't written a "year in review" in a few years. It probably seems weird that I'm doing one in August.

Nationals was (in my mind) the end of my tri season. Everything after Nationals is work for 2017.

This year might be the most incredible year that I've ever had because it was full of the unexpected. It was definitely the year that everything started coming together for me.

In order to understand why 2016 was so incredible, you should understand the path that I've taken to get here.

I started triathlon in 2005. From 2005 until 2011, I followed a variety of training plans. I did a couple of races (sometimes just one) a year. We had started our company and were raising two sons. sometimes has a shitstorm waiting for you.  My level of commitment to triathlon was low. I used triathlon, running, swimming, cycling as a means of release: stress relief or time to myself or fill in the blank.

In 2012, I came up with a list of the most ridiculous goals anyone could ever dream up. I never shared these goals with anyone. Sure, I shared the safe goals with people. I've blogged about them. The ginormous goals, I kept to myself.

The easiest way to mediocrity is through setting reasonable goals. My goals were CRAZY and completely unrealistic. I didn't care. Every day, I thought about them. Every day, I visualized reaching those goals. Every day, I went through the feelings and emotions of reaching those goals.

From 1/2012-12/2013, I hired my first coach. Somewhere along the line, I think in 2013, I got my first podium. It was a very small race. There might have been 4 or 5 women in my age group. I podiumed simply because I finished. Needless to say, I was happy to get my first podium.

But, I still had that feeling that I could be so much more. To me a podium is all fine and dandy, but I'm an internally motivated person. I am not motivated by external factors. I want to be my best.

At this point, I had been in triathlon for 8 years.

At the end of 2013, I needed some time off from the sport. I needed to disconnect and figure out what I wanted to do.

We all go through this. This is normal with every sport. We all have times where we need to step away.

I started making changes.

In January 2014, I started working with Coach Liz. As many of you know, I am still with Liz. Although I give her credit for the athlete I am today, I have to give her credit for this one piece of advice. I knew that I needed a break, but SHE was the first person to EVER to say to me, "Take a break. Before we start training, I want you to take X number of weeks off. No training. No thinking about triathlon. Exercise in different ways. Be active. Enjoy life in new and different ways."

I have been with her for 2 years and (almost) 9 months. It has taken me 2 years and 9 months to get where I am now.

The first year with her was what I call a foundation year. We started from scratch. My first year with her, I got my first "1st place AG" win, and I qualified for Nationals. But it wasn't all pixie dust and rainbows. I was learning her system. I was faced with new levels of challenges. By the end of the year, I liked what I saw.

The second year with her, Liz upped the game. I rose to every challenge. This was the next phase. More than ever, we worked on my physical and mental strength. Newsflash.....your mental game isn't about someone telling you how to think differently. It's about learning how to think differently.  It was in my 2nd year, that I realized I had to make more changes if I wanted to reach my goals.

My third year, 2016, was the unexpected year.

In the winter of 2015 and 2016, we had a Super El Nino. I live at 6300ft. Many of you remember I was training for a half marathon. 99.9% of my training was done on a treadmill staring out a window only to see 3 feet of snow. Liz's half marathon training was unlike any I'd done before. (I've done a lot of half marathons).

I PR'd the half marathon.

Right after the half marathon, I asked Liz if we could move into bike training. I felt like the bike was the key to many things, and I never had the opportunity to focus on the bike. I'm strong on the bike. WHAT if we hit the bike hard? Liz listened, and said, "Let's do it."

Over the next few months, we did one bike test a month. My w/kg exploded from 2.85% to 3.4%.  In March, I ran a 5k PR. A long standing PR fell.

I had an April race planned and was chomping at the bit to race when we got the news that the race was cancelled (not the RD's fault).

Back in 2012, I got an umbilical hernia. You can go back and read the entire story if you so desire; it's not really all that interesting. The end result was that I decided to get it fixed this year. Many concerned citizens told me my season was over.

I didn't listen to them. I didn't listen to horror stories.

I listened to my surgeon. I went through surgery. I didn't take any opiates for pain. The day after surgery, my surgeon told me to start walking as soon as possible. I was up and walking.

A few weeks later, I was released to start training again, no restrictions.

As I was sitting in the parking lot of the doctor's office, I called Liz.

"We have 8 weeks. Do you think I can be ready for Boulder 70.3?"

Her response, "Absolutely."

"Ok. Then. Let's do it."

Having 3 weeks off and then 8 weeks to get ready for a 70.3 requires a lot of dedication. Liz warned me that it would take 3-4 weeks just to get back to my old paces.  Dina (nutritionist) gave me recommendations for pre and post surgery; all of which I followed to a T. I then worked with her for my 70.3 training.

Liz put me through the hardest 70.3 training I've ever done. I'd trained with her in 2014 for a 70.3. This training was training on steroids.

The result was a 23 minute PR and with a placing that I could only dream of. THAT day, I realized I could compete at a high level at the 70.3....if I chose to.

I had other fish to fry. Remember those BIG goals from 2012? I was focused on reaching them. I wouldn't reach those goals by jumping on a bandwagon. I would only reach those goals by following my plan, my own path.

After Boulder, we went full bore into training for Nationals. I told Liz that I needed/wanted to do a sprint before Nationals, so I could get some sprint practice in.

At the last minute, I signed up for Tri Boulder.

I came in 2nd with a huge bike and run PR.

Up next was Nationals, and all know how that played out. I came in 26th at Nationals with PRs all over the place. This was the first glimpse I ever had that those big scary goals could become a reality.

After Nationals, Liz and I talked. For the first time ever, I shared the BIG scary goals from 2012. Not all of them, I felt that was premature. I shared two of them with Liz. She didn't hesitate. She didn't stutter.

She said, "LET'S DO IT."

I went home and told Mr. Tea. He said, "Wow. I had no idea. Those are some big goals. No goal is worth it if it isn't big."

Nationals is over. Liz and I set a plan for the coming months.  Like back in Jan, I had ideas of my own and asked her, "What if we do this.....?"

Unlike January this time, she said, "No. We're going to stick with our plan". (Well, she said it in her LIZ way). That's what great coaches do. They tell you what you need to hear; not what you want to hear. Athletes can get ahead of themselves. It's up to a Coach to know when to say "No" and when to say, "Yes.".

We are now working on our two year plan.

I'm not the same person I was +2.5 years ago. I'm out to crush every single one of those big goals I set for myself back in 2012.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Race Report: AG Nationals Sprint 2016

"When it's your time, YOU WILL SHINE."

Two days ago, I didn't think I'd be racing Nationals. Mr. Tea had a major health scare that turned into a minor one. Minor in comparison to what we originally thought. He was unable to exercise; unable to travel and was on medications. It left me and emotional mess and exhausted.

Now, I'm sitting at the awards ceremony, blinking back tears. I was finally able to release the emotion of the week and the race.

And that's when I saw this.....

I officially lost it.

I arrived in Omaha late Friday night. I was an empty shell. 

On Saturday, my goal was to shake off the week. Get to the race site, fully immerse myself in triathlon. On a normal basis, I don't like being around triathletes or talking about it.....I prefer to separate myself from the sport. 

For some people, triathlon is a lifestyle.

For me, it's something I like to do.

The difference is subtle but important, and it starts with an attitude toward a sport that can fully encompass someone. 

On Saturday, triathlon was my saving grace. I watched the swim starts. I cheered on the multitude on Multisport Mastery athletes. I so badly needed to clear my head and focus on my race.

As the day went on, I started thinking, "I'm going to have a great day."

I repeated that all day long.

At one point, I laid down in the grass, and I visualized my race. "It's just me and the yellow buoy. It's just me and the next buoy. It's me and my bike. It's me and Black Betty taking on the hills, cruising up, flying down. It's me pushing through pain. It's me running. Holding my pace. Giving it everything I can. It's me and the finish."

On race morning, I sat on the deck waiting for the signal to jump in the water. I stared at the yellow turn buoy. "It's just me and the buoy."

Because there was a long gap between the previous swim wave and mine, we had plenty of time to talk before the swim. But I had checked out mentally, my mind kept playing the record, "It's just me."

The heartbeat started.

The horn blared.

And it was just me and the buoy. I've never been in the zone before, not like this. I just swam.

I got out of the water. I didn't think. I sprinted up the hill and into transition.

 I grabbed Black Betty, and we took off running.

On the bike, it was all me. I only used my garmin to keep me honest. (For those of you who are numbers people. I averaged 21.8 mph the first half of the bike. For the entire bike, I averaged 22.5mph and an NP of 178....or 20 watts below my FTP. My best effort to date. MY BEST.) I didn't back down on the hills. No holding back. I blasted up hills at over 300 watts. THANK YOU Coach Liz for all those 500 watt intervals that made this quite bearable. I flew down the back side. I went from 22nd place to 12th place just on the bike.

At the turn around a guy said to me, "That's some suffering."

As I passed him, I thought, "Pain yes. Suffering. No. Pain is pain. Suffering is a choice."

My legs were burning. My breathing labored. I was grunting and growling. I had sweat running down my forehead into my eyes and down my nose. My hands were sweaty. 

But, I didn't think of all that. 

It was just me and Black Betty doing what we do best. 

With 2 miles left, I saw two women. They were both in my ag and wearing TEAM USA kits. 

At THAT moment, I had one goal. No matter how much it hurt. No matter what my watts went to....I WAS GOING TO PASS THEM.

The race was on. I blew past the first. 

I blew past the second.

I knew they would catch me on the run.

But for that ONE moment. I realized that I could compete at this level.

I hit the dismount and took off running as fast as I could. I was sprinting with my bike, knowing Team USA was probably 1 or 2 minutes behind me.

Racked my bike. Had problems getting my shoes on.

I took off RUNNING. 

The first 1.55 miles, I race an 8:50 pace. For the entire race, I averaged 8:59. 

Then, for the last half mile....something amazing happened. A woman who had been on my shoulder the entire time started picking up the pace. She passed me.


I think I might have said that out loud.

I started running. I started sprinting. I thought for sure I saw death looking me in the eye.

I wasn't going to give up. I started going harder. She ran harder. OH GOD I HAVE TO HOLD ON.

Running harder than I ever thought possible. We crossed the finish line and collapsed.

My time: 1:23:55.2
Hers: 1:23:55.5

I ran the last half mile at a 5:43 pace. If it wasn't for her, I never would have run that hard.

This gave me an all time 5k PR of 27:14 or so. (I kept forgetting to hit the lap button on my garmin).

I wrote about times and power and paces in this post. 

But I didn't know ANY of this during the race. 

When I crossed the finish line, I had NO idea what my 5k time was. I didn't know I PRd the run. I didn't know I PRd the bike.

The woman "catcher" at the finish line, held me up. She yelled at someone to get me ice and a towel. Someone else gave me a bottle of water. Another person put a medal around my neck.

Once recovered, I went over to check the results. I was 27th. Last year, I was 72nd. I never even checked my paces or times. 

I went over to get my gear bags and turned on the phone.

I had messages from Liz and Mr. Tea. I broke down. Liz was genuinely happy for me. She had 10 athletes who had podiumed or made Team USA.....and here she was SCREAMING AT ME via TEXT. I've never seen her so excited.


I was in disbelief. 

I age up.

7 woman in the 50-54 category were aging up.

With roll down, I could make TEAM USA.

From there it was a mad scramble. I had to get packed at my hotel. I left my bike at the race site and jumped on the shuttle. I showered, packed and had to be out of there at noon. I left the hotel at 11:55.

I drove back to the site, packed up and had to be at the convention center at 1pm.

I walked into the meeting room at 1pm....only to find out that I won't know for at least a week and possibly until the draft legal sprint races in a couple of months.

I got home at 9pm.

Only then did I find out that I PRd in every way possible. 

After the drive home....and feeling like I was hauling ass all day long, it's starting to hit me. I'm only now processing what I accomplished.

When I started with Liz, I put myself on a 5 year plan to get to Nationals.

In 2014, my first year with her....I qualified for Nationals.

My first Nationals race was 2015. After that,  I put myself on a 5 year plan to make TEAM USA. I just missed that THIS year later. 

Liz and I talked late last night.

We have a plan for the next two years. 

That plan starts today.

UP NEXT: Chicago.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The return of SST

Two months after starting with Coach Liz, back in Feb 2014, I had a 5k race.  After the race, I was frustrated with myself. 

I was mad. I wrote in my notes to Liz, "I should be faster than I am. What's wrong with me?"

She told me I was, "steady state Sally, afraid to bust out."

When she said that, I was mad. I took a few days to respond. Then, I realized that she was right. THAT feedback was what I wanted and needed. THAT is exactly why I hired her. 

Over the next 2.5 years, I worked to get rid of steady state Sally. 

I put everything into my bike and run.

I never did it with my swim. I work at my swim. I go to masters. My swim has improved dramatically since I started with my new coach.

But I always knew I could "get by" on my swim. Why swim hard if I'm going to be first or second out of the water? I didn't actually think that way. If I can swim at pretty fast pace without much effort and be first out of the water, why apply myself?

Liz and I have been talking about my swim lately. On several occasions, she has told me that I'm not swimming to my fitness and strength. In other news, my swim Coach has also been mentioning that I'm not really going all out at masters. I'll get a two body length lead on the other swimmers in my lane. Instead of expanding my lead....I just sort of sit back and hold it.

Blah blah blah....noise....noise...noise...noise.

I justified it in my head. "Oh. I'm going plenty fast. That's good enough."

But was it?

I did a swim TT in open water, without a wetsuit today. 

Something finally clicked in me. Was I catching and passing people? Yes. Did I go hard? Absolutely not. Did I even feel it? No.

It came crashing down on me. I'm steady state Sally on the swim, and I've always been that way.

It's time to get rid of that bitch once and for all.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The strong

I did it.

Today, I accomplished something that I didn't know I could.

I had a mishmash of running intervals.

A couple of weeks ago, Liz told me that she was going to find new ways to challenge me. When I saw what was on my plan for today. I thought, "Ok. I can do that."

Then, I realized it was multiple sets of those intervals.

There was a time I would be nervous about a workout like this. I was nervous because I knew I couldn't do it. I suffered more disappointments that successes. For awhile, I went through a dark time with the sport.

Now, I'm still nervous. I still procrastinate before stepping out the door. Once I step out that door, there's no turning back. 

I get nervous. I'm afraid. I'm afraid because I know I will do it. I will excel. Every week, I blow away my pace goals, but it hurts like hell doing it.

Why do I do it? My goals are worth fighting for. They are WORTH going through the pain and discomfort. 

Not giving it my all in training up on my goals.....well, that hurts more than anything.

For all those times when I felt strong showed up today.