And I Learned

TWO major takeaways

Let’s get the excuses out of the way. Was the water cold? Oh yes. Was I cramping and disoriented on the second half? Yes. Did any of that add up to 30 minutes slower than my worst time over that distance? NO WAY!

First, focus: In retrospect I had sort of approached the swim as get through it and to the bike. My swim during the Ironman was ineffective and inconsistent. At some points, I would get my pull and rhythm going well and then lose it again. Towards the finish, with absolutely no idea I was even close to the cutoff, I was thinking ahead to transition and the bike – while swimming. What would have made the difference? Focus, focus, focus. Make every stroke count. If one is off, work hard to correct it right away. Find a sighting point on the shore so as not to have to look for a buoy in the water. Think next hundred yards, next buoy, nothing beyond that. I KNOW this, and usually apply it pretty well. Not this time.

Second, coaching: I really need a strong coached swim program. Have I been doing practices? Of course. With the team and a coach? Of course. However, in team practices, there was little observation/coaching correction. With that being the case, why didn’t I look for more? Well, I had a really full training program overall. And there is a loyalty to the overall program and its integrated approach to tri’s. Also, because I’ve worked and worked on swimming pretty much without results, in the back of my mind was also the thought of how much can I really improve on this, and will it really matter anyway since the swim is the shortest part of the triathlon. How wrong could I have been!

Looking at more specific swim coaching, there’s an outstanding program here in town that several of my team mates have been using – and every one of them has improved a lot in their swim. Guess what I’ll be doing ASAP! I’ll need to integrate this with the rest of the coaching, but that will have to be worked together.

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I blew it

Sunday morning, Ironman race day finally here! This is what we’ve all been working towards since last fall. The water temperature has dropped sharply in the past few days, 55 degrees at race start time.

Everyone starts from the beach, a mass start of 2500 athletes. Lots of kicking, swimming over, not sure what is going on, then settled into my swim. As I finished the first 1.2 mile lap, I asked ‘How’s my time” as I crossed the timing mat. The guy looked at his watch, didn’t give me a specific but said ‘plenty of time’.

Second lap – bad calf cramping, had to mostly trail my legs on the outbound portion. I was also getting really disoriented, stopping completely to check where buoys were. Towards the end, lots of kayaks and boards around me – I’m popping up to see if there is a problem and they say just keep going. I had no idea that they were warning me that I was close to the swim cutoff time.

As I got out, the official stopped me and turned me around to see the clock 2:21:20, one minute and 20 seconds past the cutoff. Took away my timing chip – I’m disqualified. Even worse – they announced my name and that I had missed the cutoff and there are 1000 people cheering as I cross the beach totally devastated. I know it was meant well, but was absolutely awful, and a moment that I will relive cringing for a long time.

How could I not make the swim cutoff? I’ve done this 2.4 mile distance in the pool at 1 hour 45 minutes and in the James River, with cross currents, in 1:50. Could I have picked up a minute and a half somewhere in the 2.4 miles? Of course I could. How utterly stupid – and devastating. Eight months of training, preparation, planning – gone in one floundering mess, not even getting on the bike. All of those 80, 90, 100+ mile bikes, and the running- 18, 20, 22 miles – for nothing.

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Ironman Race Week

Staying in the “team house” just two blocks from the race start and expo. What a great way to really soak up the whole Ironman atmosphere and experience! Walking around the site, seeing others practicing, the expo and changing tents being set up – it’s a thrill.
We had lots of opportunity to talk through the upcoming race, segment by segment, reviewing the course, reassurances from the coach that we’re more ready than most of the people out there; feeling nervous but excited.

After travel on Tuesday, we did a practice swim early Wednesday. With water temps in the upper 50’s, I tried the long sleeved wetsuit that was given to me ages ago and never used (I usually wear a sleeveless wetsuit) It fit fine; I was pretty comfortable having full range of motion in the water. Diving into the water was a screaming huge shock but after a few minutes felt okay. I will have to watch out for chafing on the neck, maybe cover part of the Velcro with tape.
We did another shorter practice swim on Friday, which went okay. The water seemed a little warmer; hope that holds. However the lake was choppy and windy; swallowed a lot of lake water trying to breathe and to sight.

Friday, in the house, we worked through making lists together on what needs to be in each supply bag during the race. All but one of us are ‘newbies’, first Ironman race. It goes kind of like this – At T1 (first transition), what do we need to switch from the swim to the bike – helmet and bike shoes of course, but also towel, socks, bike shorts, jersey, dry sports bra, anti chafe cream, gel for nutrition, jacket or arm warmers, gloves, – checklists definitely needed. Then there are special needs bags, each with your race number, to pick up half way through the bike and then halfway through the run – mostly nutrition and electrolytes. Lots of planning, organization, prep, all to assure a smooth race for supplies and nutrition – now we just need to get out and do it.

Saturday, time to check bags in. Now we’re getting serious. Am I sure that I have what I need for each point in the race? How do I find my gear? The answer to the second is that the volunteers get it for you – just yell out your number as you come into the transition area and they’ll bring it to you. Multiply that group of volunteers many times for those on the course, in the changing tents, at the water/aid stations on the bike and on the run – it takes 3,000 volunteers to run this race – actually more than the number of athletes. It’s a huge logistical challenge that Ironman and the CDA community do extremely well.

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Finding the best groups to benefit

The key setup decision once I had committed to doing the three Trifecta triathlons was what organizations to have as beneficiaries. With a focus on advocacy, education and research, I found three outstanding organizations to work with. Your donations, whether on line or by check, come in directly to a 501c3 organization to then be distributed out to the other two.
One of the benefitting organizations is the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, and here’s why. I think of OCNA, www.ovariancancer.org as my Triple A group. What is that about?

ADVOCACY The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance is on the front line of advocacy in gaining and sustaining support for funding for ovarian cancer. This is critically important for us, as ovarian cancer doesn’t have a huge base of survivors like breast cancer. The advocacy isn’t just with Congress; it extends to wherever there are opportunities for funding, or threats to continuation. Within the ovarian cancer community, we rely on OCNA to be our eyes and ears, alerting us to important news.

AWARENESS of symptoms and risk factors. When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer 3c 10 years ago, there was no consensus on symptoms; this was considered the ‘silent’ disease. Today, we have knowledge of common symptoms, but MUST get the word out to women and doctors. OCNA is in the front line of this work, both with advocacy speakers and the medical students’ program Survivors Teaching Students.

ACTIVE SUPPORT I already knew about OCNA’s great conferences – I went to one the year after my treatment and came away incredibly motivated, excited and upbeat. What I wasn’t aware of was Inspire, an online community that is the most amazingly responsive and caring forum I have ever come across.

There is one additional consideration which is important for anyone considering donations – the Charity Navigator rating (www.charitynavigator.org) , looking at the effectiveness of charitable organizations. OCNA has an outstanding four star rating here, the top of the scale.

The icing on the cake? When I contacted OCNA, everyone there was supportive, enthusiastic, open to my (rather unconventional) approach and willing to help spread the word. My thanks to all!

In later posts, I’ll tell you more about Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation and the Joan Grossmann Fegely foundation. These are equally important and impressive organizations, each with a different focus.

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Saying no to my coach

We just finished up a three week very challenging workout build, with each week requiring longer bike rides (90 miles in the Shenandoah mountains last weekend) and longer runs (23 miles last week).

On the 14th (next weekend) I’m doing a half iron distance race (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run), the Kinetic Half.

This past weekend’s schedule called for a 60 mile bike and 12 mile run. Even though reduced distances, this was really daunting to me. It didn’t come from just not feeling like doing the workouts; it was truly accumulated fatigue.

I talked to my coach about it being too much. The discussion went like this: Me “I’m going to go into the Kinetic Half race too tired; I need rest”. Michael “Sure we’ve been on a tough build, but the distances this weekend are cut back enough, and Kinetic is not a priority race for you” Me “I need to have a good enough experience at Kinetic to build confidence moving toward the Ironman”. Michael “The schedule allows enough rest”. I could have brought up the 29 year-old coaching a 60 year old issue but know from the past that that’s a total dead end, not believed.

My body was telling me differently. I often use the phrase ‘listen to your body, not your buddy’ referring to the tendency to push ourselves too hard to be part of the group, to keep up, ignoring injury or a nagging problem that we then make worse. In this case, it was listen to your body, not your coach (no rhyme, but whatever).

Saturday, I started the bike with a big group doing a pre-ride for a short triathlon. Easy pace, fun ride. Finished that and peeled off with a couple of team mates doing a longer ride but not a killer pace. With the company, I slogged through the 60 miler okay, then came home and crashed for a couple of hours. One down.

On Sunday, the schedule said 12 miles. I did the 7-mile course with Amy and Holly. Amy is on a recovery regimen, doing a 9 minute run, 1 minute walk. Ahh, how we looked forward to those one minute walk bits – why did they always come AFTER the hill? At the end of the 7 miles, Holly was headed out for the additional five and said ‘come on Dorothy, we both have five more to do yet’. Remember my comment listen to your body, not your buddy? I did, and simply said “No, I’m done for today” – with a pang of guilt for leaving Holly to run alone. I stayed back, enjoyed a wonderful breakfast and chat with my buddies, waited for Holly to cheer her in. And oh, did I feel better physically. Right decision, for rest and for being in control, setting limits again.

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Tackling mountains – in more ways than one

All smiling, before we started up the mountain

When I get a pit of the stomach reaction to something I am considering taking on, it’s usually an indicator that I need to face and conquer that situation. I had exactly that reaction to the Endorphin Fitness Wintergreen Training Camp weekend announcement. “Camp” is in the Shenandoah mountains, and over three days includes long, tough bikes, long hard runs and open water swims with coaches there to teach and encourage and lots of support from teammates.

Mountains are a big challenge for me. On the bike I struggle with the climbs. Also, because I don’t have right hand grip capability and am doing my front braking by pushing back with my wrist, I have an overly big concern on speed, staying in control. On runs, the hills conquer me more often that I conquer the hills. I decided my gut reaction to the camp description was a perfect “go do this” signal.

We started with a lake swim on Friday afternoon. This was less than brilliant – only my second time in open water this year, it felt really sloppy and slow. It just doesn’t feel right at all at this point. But a good coaching session and an hour swim help.

Before the swim, I had done an 8 mile run. Because of my Ironman training schedule, I needed to get in 22 miles. So, after swimming, I set off for the rest of the run, on my own. This became a most interesting experience heading down some back roads with bubba types hangin’ out on their porches, hunting dogs yowling at me from their pens – and then came the fun part with some very steep hills on a gravel road through a quite remote area. My security – I knew that one of the coaches was waiting for me at the end and would come locate me if I didn’t get there by a reasonable time. I actually ended up doing 23 miles all in. Even though I walked the steepest parts, it was a strong run overall. First hurdle down – I can stay with the really long run, even in mountains.

The big challenge came on Saturday – 90 miles of biking with the first part being a climb from the valley floor up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. There were a lot of points where I felt “I just can’t make that next rise”, but my friends and a coach were there and that somehow kept me pushing. I kept going back to my own mantra of “The Next Hundred Yards”. I spent a lot of time in my very easiest gear, grinding it out. All in, we did over 4500 feet vertical climb. Second hurdle down – I really can make it through a long, tough climb.

The next part of the Saturday ride was 40 miles up on the Blue Ridge Parkway, with long climbs and descents. I was braking to my ‘comfort zone’ on the descents, with Coach Camille hanging with me. There is a story here, and I learned something very interesting. On Saturday, I had left my Garmin (GPS with speed indicator) back at the house. I wasn’t too concerned, figuring that my teammates would have the mileage and other details.

On Sunday, we biked 25 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway, part of the same route as Saturday. This time I had my Garmin, and here’s what I discovered. When I had been braking on Saturday, feeling that I was getting too fast to control, I was slowing at around 20 mph. How ridiculous – I know from lots of riding in the past that I’m perfectly comfortable riding well above that, able to brake, in control. How interesting that I need the ‘reassurance’ of being able to see my speed to let er rip. What a joy! Great ride!!

This is also where I gained confidence in drawing the line, setting limits. At the end of the ride on the Blue Ridge, there was an extremely steep descent down Reed’s Gap to get back to the Wintergreen entry gate. I quite simply knew that this was a stupid risk for me, and sagged back (meaning rode in the truck). In this group, everyone totally respects other’s judgments on limits with absolutely no pressure to try something that’s beyond what you should do. As a matter of fact, Coach Michael told me later that he would have urged my not to do that segment if I hadn’t already made that call. What a great feeling to have the fabulous ride up on the Blue Ridge, make a sensible decision on sagging down off the gap and, oh yes, then run back UP to the house location.

When Michael talked to the team Friday evening, he said the weekend was a time to stretch limits, learn about yourself and reach levels that you didn’t think you could do. I didn’t really buy into a lot of this, but he was absolutely right. I know that there is nothing at Coeur d’Alene or even in the Vegas race in the fall that is as tough as the biking we did. I have a much better confidence in what I can accomplish, stretching limits.

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First 2011 triathlon – Reactions, Reality check and Rest of the story

Saturday marked what seems like the ‘real’ beginning of my Trifecta preparation – my first triathlon of the year, Rumpus in Bumpass, great name! To explain, the closest town is Bumpass Virginia.
First, my reactions as I did the race:
Swim, 0.9 miles: My swim seemed to take forever – WHERE is that next buoy?? Finally I finished up and staggered out of the water – not from tiredness, but from numb feet and some balance issues trying to get my legs under me, literally and figuratively.
Transition - which means getting to where your bike is racked, get the wetsuit off, helmet on, out of the transition area and onto the bike. This took way too long, over twice my normal time.
Bike: 25 miles – I just seemed to struggle to get my pace up and maintain at the level I thought I should be at. Mentally discouraging.
Run: 10 k, 6.1 miles Here’s where the ‘head games’ took over. I did the first half roughly on the pace I wanted, and then struggled through the second half – dropping drastically on pace, slower by the mile.

Now, the reality check:
Swim: Instead of 0.9 miles, the swim was 1.1 miles. This was the first open water swim I had done since last September, and my first time using the wetsuit since way earlier last year. The water was not just cold, it was also very choppy. In spite of all that, my time was close to my average for that distance; not slow at all.
Transition: I had my shoes and other gear covered with plastic bags because of heavy rain when we were setting up – had to untangle that. Then, getting out of the wetsuit with numb hands was a challenge; getting a long-sleeve shirt on over wet skin – in other words, I was handling tough and unusual conditions.
Bike: It was VERY windy, and EVERYONE had longer than normal times. I was only slightly off of my target; excellent time considering conditions.
Run: In spite of everything, I was 10 minutes faster on the run than when I did this same race two years ago.

The “Rest of the Story” – I was second in my age group!

Remember, every dollar counts!

As I train and do prep races, my accountability goes way beyond myself to others impacted by ovarian cancer – patients, survivors, families, friends – and to changing the grim statistics of this disease. I need your help to make this Trifecta series a success, and to make a difference for others in the future.

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Training hazard – Chihuahua?

How is it that I get into an injury not even remotely related to triathlon training? How do you get bitten – on the face – by a very small dog? Yes, I accomplished that unusual feat yesterday.
I was just doing an abs exercise, inside a training facility. However, a ‘visiting’, Chihuahua owned by a trainer, was wandering around. As I got ready to do a plank position exercise (like position for pushup but on elbows), he suddenly attacked with no warning. Picture the situation, at that point I am exactly at the dog’s face height, so he bit at eye level. I was VERY lucky, though you wouldn’t know it to look at my face today. While I’ll be explaining a very ugly and spreading shiner for a while, no damage.
I need a better story on this – bitten by a chihuaha on the face??? Any suggestions?

All of my training is focused on the Triathlon Triumph Trifecta, raising funds for ovarian cancer research and awareness. Can you help me on this? It will only be successful with YOUR help.

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Swimming in Circles

In an earlier post, I promised to explain “swimming in circles”. Here’s the story – As a child, I started my swimming by nearly drowning, swimming in circles. No, not a metaphor, I mean literally. Why? Because of a birth defect, my right arm is two inches shorter than my left, with limited wrist function and no hand grip capability. Actually, when I was born, my parents were told that I would likely have little or no use of my right arm. They just never told me or cautioned me; they let me try everything, figuring it all out as I went along. Nothing like having two older brothers to try and keep up with.

Then we got to swimming. At age 5, I could paddle around and was really proud of “I can swim!”. I was pulling with normal strength in both arms. One day, at Lake Michigan, I was ‘swimming’ in shallow water, with my mother sitting close by on the beach. Somehow I got over my depth, swimming in circles and never getting back to shallow. By the time my mother realized what was happening, I was going under. I give huge credit to my parents for what happened next. They could so easily have yanked me out and made it clear that you can’t do that, don’t ever go into the water again. Instead, they yanked me out – and put me in a swimming class. Of course, no swim instructor could tell me how to adapt my stroke; I just had to figure that part out. Funny, that kind of laid the groundwork for the way I approach things – figure it out, get it done, so what if no one can totally explain how.
To this day, I have no idea how I adapt my stroke so that I’m swimming straight. I must say when I had to learn to swim (reasonably) straight in open water for triathlons it was a big (re)-learning experience with a lot of work involved.
One last note – I would bet that even at age five, if my parents had tried to tell me “no” on swimming, my response would have been a very determined (aka stubborn) “don’t tell me I can’t”. More on that later.

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BREAKTHROUGH

Shamrock Half marathon; final turn to the finish

I’ve never met a target time on a running race. Not once. My coach, Michael, keeps saying ‘I know you can do this’. What’s in the way? My body, my brain, and the struggle of a race, that’s all.
March 20, the Shamrock Half Marathon, first race of 2011. Coach Michael’s briefing ‘I want you to target 10:30 minutes per mile pace. I know you can do faster, but you need to achieve a target to build your confidence’. I was pretty okay with this. On our team Ning board, I had posted a target to finish in 2 hrs 15 minutes, just over 10:15 pace (minutes per mile). Just maybe I’ll finally….
Mile 1 Started too fast (per usual) 9:30 mile. Great way to wreck a race. This time (new for me) I had a GPS watch so I knew my pace exactly. Mile 2; backed it down a bit; still fast but I was feeling pretty comfortable 9:50 – hmm….. Mile 3; 9:45 pace, still feeling okay. Is this a trend?? Mile 7 – passed two of my teammates who are ALWAYS faster than I am. Kept chugging, checking mile to mile pace, and sort of ‘checking in’ with my body to be sure I could keep it up. Mile 11 to the end – real struggle, but not giving it up now!
I never have the chance to shock my coach; after the race, walked into the huge finish line tent and showed Michael my watch – he looked, then grabbed it and shouted WHAT??!!! I had beaten his target, my target and my prior best time (by 20 minutes), finishing in 2hrs 7min, a 9:38 pace. It was a great day; definitely time to celebrate!

There are thousands of participants in The Shamrock half. Given that, and prior results, it never occurred to me to look at ranking. It was three days later when one of my teammates told me I had finished third in my age group. Wow! I was absolutely amazed.

So, what was different? Training had been going pretty well, but that had happened before without ‘showing up’ in race results. I had dropped a few pounds with guidance from a dietician (dropping fat, not lean tissue). A factor, yes, but not the real story. The Real Story? One mile at a time. No big expectations. No focusing on ‘shoulds’. No comparisons of ‘better than’ or ‘worse than’. I set a goal, but didn’t get hung up on it; checked on each mile, not really thinking about before or after that. When the going got really tough, I would simply not give up, knowing that I was through almost the entire race. Toughed out the last bit, beating the ‘I need to walk’ gremlin rather than letting it take hold.

For me, truly a breakthrough.

Now I can feel I’m really making progress on the Trifecta. Remember, I can only do this with your help. Please take a moment, click through and contribute to support this effort. Think about anyone around you who has been touched by ovarian cancer – and know that I’m doing the Trifecta in honor of them.

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