Monday, October 21, 2013

Aquabike Nationals-- Rev3 South Carolina

Balloons Over Anderson, pic by Rev3 teammate Jen
1800+ miles.  30+ hours of driving within an 80 hour period.  Worth it?  Oh yes. 

Though I signed up for this race last year after I found out it was USAT Aquabike Nationals, travel plans were slow to come together.  Throughout the year I leaned on a few Wisconsin triathletes to come race with me, but for various reasons things fell through with each.  Within a couple of weeks of the race it became clear that it was going to be a solo mission, and I was left to decide the best way to get there.  Fly?  Rental car?  Yes, I have 3 bikes and no car... I know.  Cue luck/ serendipity/ good friends.  Ben was on his way to Hawaii for the week and graciously lent me his "blue toaster" to use while he was gone.

I'm certainly a gal who enjoys a road trip, and I've driven several impressive/borderline stupid trips before, including: 1.) 10 hours straight to Kansas for a sprint tri, but at least I had one other along to chat with, and  2) 12 hours straight, solo, during the night, to Rapid City for work.  I mapped out a route, but the more I thought about it, the dumber it sounded to drive 14 hours straight by myself so soon before a big race.  I have family in Ohio, and it would only be an extra half hour out of the way to stop there.  Perfect.  I was able to get a few hours of sleep, but had to be up early to finish the drive and get into Anderson by midday.  I finished the trip without any major problems, but was still a bit zombielike by the time I rolled into the Anderson Civic Center, the site of the race expo.

Here you go, Ben.  I couldn't figure out how to get any hot air balloons in the frame, though.

The afternoon was frenzied as I tried to condense all of my normal race prep activities.  I was tired and kind of out of it mentally.  I did make it just in time for the first athlete meeting though (whew!), checked in, and said hi to a few teammates.  Anderson is a two transition race, so the swim and T1 were at a separate location about 3 miles away.  I headed over there hoping to have time for a quick shake-out ride and splash around before checking my bike in and heading to the Rev3 team/staff dinner at 6.  Ahh, the best laid plans.  I managed to flat the latex tube inside my rear tire half an hour into the ride, and ended up on the side of the road unable to get my valve extender to work with the spare tube I had on me.  A Good Samaritan fellow racer named Morgan spotted me and stopped to help, and ended up giving me a ride back to transition.  Morgan, if by some chance you come across this blog- thank you, thank you, again.  The triathlon community is full of wonderful people.  I drove back to the expo to buy a new tube, then back to T1, and by that time only had time to check-in my bike if I was going to make it to dinner on time.  So much for swimming or driving the bike course.  Attempt 1 to wheel it in- forgot its number sticker.  D'oh.  Trotted it over to transition again, said goodbye to my little buddy, and I was off.

At Rev3 South Carolina both the Glow Run and the Rev3 staff/ Team Rev3 dinner were on Saturday night instead of Friday, so at last I was able to do both!  There was a pretty good showing of team members at this race, and it was great to catch up.  Kristin and I had fun chatting during the glow "run" (jog, since I was racing the next day... and we'd both just eaten Mexican food...).  The run course wrapped around the Balloons Over Anderson festival, a pretty cool weekend-long hot air balloon and carnival event.

Team Rev3 members post-dinner!

With a race the next morning, we couldn't stick around the post run festivities (fireworks, movie, popcorn) for long.  I was staying the night with Rev3 teammates Chloe, Kristin, and Heidi.  The four of us got all of our things together for the next day while following the Kona pro race and our friends with the online coverage.  I think I amused my roommates with my routine- emptying everything out of all of my bags and re-packing them to make sure everything would be where I needed it- but it's just one of those things that makes me feel more at ease before a race.  Triathlon has so much more gear involved than other sports, and I didn't want to take the chance of misplacing anything I needed.  I wouldn't be running, but I still had shoes to drop off at T2 so I could cross the finish line when I was done, I had certain things I wanted at the car after the race, and I obviously had swim and bike gear to bring with me to T1, as well as a few things to use before the race (an extra water bottle and PowerGel, sunscreen, etc.).  The race was going to be around 3 hours long...

Race Day

For an aquabike race like this (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike) I ideally would have wanted to get a solid warm up on the bike, then a good swim.  With all bikes being checked in the day before the race, it wasn't possible to take the bike back out on the road in the morning.  My second choice would have been to bring a trainer into transition and ride inside there- I've seen a few pros do this at other Rev3 races.  But with two transitions, that wasn't an option either: I would have had to bring the trainer on the athlete bus with me in addition to my other bags, plus the race wouldn't be able to transport it back to the finish area for me.  So instead I got to T2 in the morning and started with a run warm up sequence and  squats to get my leg muscles firing, then dropped off my shoes and visor at my transition spot and boarded one of the athlete buses to T1 with my swim and bike gear.  As I set up my spot, I noticed that my front water bottle was leaking from the bottom.  I didn't have a way to fix it or bring another bottle with me, so I would have to make do with one good water bottle on my bike frame and just drink quickly from the front bottle each time I filled it on the course.  Once I was finally satisfied that everything was set up on my bike the way I wanted it, I found some teammates and hung out for a while to try to calm my nerves.  Then it was time to drop off my dry clothes bag and go remind myself how to swim!

I was starting in wave 3 of the day at 8 a.m., ten minutes behind wave 1.  Wave 1 contained the Half Rev men under age 40, wave 2 was men 40-55, and my wave was a mix of men 55+, all relays, and all of the Half Aquabike participants.  The swim course was fun: we started on one side of a peninsula and did a big loop around it to finish on the other side.  I figured the start might be aggressive, so I started in the second line of athletes instead of the front.  My start was clean and I found someone to follow for the first few hundred meters.  After the second turn we started catching the orange caps of the  second wave, and I navigated my own way through the chaos.  I felt strong and in control. Eventually I started catching some green caps of wave 1 swimmers as well, but I tried to focus on keeping my stroke smooth and my effort high.  I tend to perform well in open water compared to swimmers of the same level in the pool, and I think that's mainly due to being able to maintain concentration in the second half of the swim leg.  I was hoping for a sub 29 minute split here, and was a little bit off of that.  The swim is always the hardest split to compare race to race.  Times seemed a little slow across the board here, and weaving through athletes probably slowed me down a bit, but I'm happy with how I felt in the swim regardless of the time itself.
Split: 30:29

One thing I definitely did not do well was put my wetsuit into the transition bag quickly.  This is not something I've practiced since it is only done at races with two transitions, but it might be worth taking the time to figure out the best way to do it since I had trouble!  As I ran out barefoot with my bike I heard someone say "First female," but I was skeptical...
Split: 1:11
transition 1
This bike course was "lollipop" design, with one giant loop, a short jaunt on the same roads around T1, and then a few more roads continuing past there to T2 (my finish).  With 3 speed bumps along the road out of the park, it wasn't possible to build much speed right away.  I hit the button to start my bike computer after the second bump, but as I exited the park and looked down, I saw that the computer was off.  I hit it again and saw a flash of numbers, then nothing.  Confused, I did it a third time and caught the empty battery icon out of the corner of my eye.  No.  I remembered looking at its cord the night before and figuring it didn't need charging, but I didn't verify.  I'd had plans for what power I wanted to put out on different parts of the course, but now I'd be doing it entirely on feel.  My pacing plan, since I didn't have to run, had been to do the first half at the effort I usually bike at in Olympic distance races, then try to bring it up in the second half and make sure I was completely exhausted by the time I got to the dismount line.  For the Aquabike our finish times were taken at the entrance to transition 2, so I would need to get off my bike and run about 4 steps at the end.  Trying to sprint into the dismount area would be dangerous, so I didn't want to have anything extra left.
With the way the starting waves were structured, I found myself around a lot of riders of similar ability level right away, and it was interesting.  Since I didn't have power numbers to rein me in on the first part of the course, I revised my plan to try to bring up the effort a little bit every 10 miles, and take it easy on the climbs in the first half of the race.  I was surrounded by men and it was hard not to absorb their pacing, but I figured based on what I'd seen at other long races that a lot of them were probably climbing too hard.  I ended up around a bunch of guys that were hard to shake: they'd fly by me up the hills, and I'd gradually pull them back on the flatter sections and descents.  I was careful to follow the non-drafting rules, though it was frustrating to have to sit up and slow down a few times for people.  I'm used to being on my own most of the time at races when the women start together- the women's amateur field isn't usually deep enough to get bunched up.  My sympathies to those of you who deal with this all the time!

Ten miles in, I passed a girl in Dynamo kit.  That's the team female pro Haley Chura swims with, so I wasn't too surprised that this great swimmer was apparently on the team too.  I didn't know if there were any other women still up the road (after all, that spectator had apparently missed this one), so I kept riding like I was chasing someone.  Throughout the middle of the ride, I was... I was chasing everyone.  The field spread out, so I was on my own much more, but I tried to keep slowly picking off the people in front of me while sticking to my pacing strategy.  At 30 miles I got a special "hey, I'm over halfway" kind of excitement and picked it up considerably for the next 10 miles... maybe a little bit too much. 

There were 3 aid stations on the bike course, at 15, 30, and 45 miles.  I got water at each and poured it in the front bottle, but the leaking was noticeable.  I drank as much as I comfortably could after each aid station before the water ran out, but I wasn't getting quite as much as I wanted overall.  I also realized that my normal bike food for a half distance race (PowerBar Gel Blasts) was too solid for my more aggressive aquabike pacing... should've stuck exclusively to gels.  Lesson learned.  By the time I got to mile 45 my legs hurt pretty badly, and my stomach felt like it was holding a lot of fuel that wasn't being absorbed. I told myself that there was only half an hour to go, and kept using the people in front as motivation.  This is what you wanted to happen.  The last half hour of a half distance race is always painful, but it was novel to experience that on the bike instead of the run.  I caught teammate Josh around mile 50 and gave him a cheer, hoping he remembered that I had nothing to hold back for at that point (he was doing the entire half, not the aquabike).  During the last few miles it felt like my legs were shredding apart, and I pushed harder, just wanting it to be over faster.  Finally I heard the noise of the expo and made the turn into the Civic Center grounds, got off the bike and shuffled my way the last few steps into transition.  DONE.

Split: 2:40:18, Total: 3:11:58

what a beautiful, beautiful sign
It was strange to slowly hobble my way through transition with my bike while people were running by.  I got to my spot and tried to stand there and take off my cycling shoes.  My legs wobbled and I had to brace myself on the bike to stop myself from falling over.  Interesting.  Finally I got both running shoes on, put on my visor as I walked the rest of the way through transition, and jubilantly jogged the opposite way most people were going- right around the corner to the finish chute to get my t-shirt and finisher medal! 

Post Race

One of the best things about traveling by myself was the freedom to make my own schedule.  I was in no hurry to get back on the road after the long trip down, so I enjoyed a few hours at the race cheering people in, attending the awards ceremony (found out I won the Aquabike!), and running around chatting with friends.  After a quick break to take a shower and sit in Ryan's NormaTec boots, I met up with other Team Rev3 members and Rev3 staff to cheer in the final finisher of the day- a Rev3 tradition! After grabbing some dinner with Ryan and Anthony it was time to hit the road again.  Another great weekend with the Rev3 family-- can't wait until next year!

I split up the drive on the way home too, and decided to sleep in, see Ohio in the daylight, and spend more than a couple of minutes with my aunt!  If you find ever find yourself in Oxford and need a place to stay, check out Presidio Pines--  then you can see these guys too:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Out with a Bang: Rev3 Branson

I came into this season in an interesting place.  For the first time in years, I didn't have a big "A race" in mind. I wanted to perform well at the Olympic and Half distances and had quite a few "process" goals for the year, but that was it.  I'm a big believer in keeping things flexible and doing what motivates you, and there was no single event that I wanted to qualify for, etc.  I kind of had in mind from the beginning that it would be a building year.  Some of this was probably the need for a mental break after my borderline-obsession with Ironman Wisconsin last year (which went very well and turned into one of those sobs-of-joy-at-the finish-line type races, despite the fact that I didn't end up with a Kona spot.  I was not a blogger yet, but my coach wrote a good recap of my race on his blog here).  Anyway, our plan this year had an early season peak and an extended peak for my end-of-season tris: Iowa's Best Dam Triathlon (MWCTC  Championships) and the Half Rev at Rev3 Branson.

I enjoyed rocking the Team Rev3 tats with the UW kit for IBDT!  Justin Torner Photography got some cool shots.

At this point, some of you might notice that I never published a race report for IBDT.  And I don't plan to.  My approach to blogging is a lot like racing: I do it when I feel inspired to, when I feel passionate about it.  I need an angle, some broader perspective than just a play-by-play race recap.  As with any Badger road trip it was a really fun weekend, but the race itself was unremarkable for me. So-so non-wetsuit swim, pretty fast bike with a few stupid mistakes, and a run that started off well but faded to the point that it ended up only 30 seconds faster than in the previous year's race (which was 1 week post ironman).  The brightest spots were that I nailed the mount and dismount I had been practicing all week (woot!). I came away with the collegiate female win, which was my primary point in making the trip, but I left with a fire in my belly for Branson.

With Branson, a number of factors collided that made me strangely (for me) at ease in the the lead-up to the race.  I mentioned the fact that I wasn't really viewing it as an A race.  One of my goals at the beginning of the season was to break 5 hours in a half this year.  I have been close now many times-- Door County 2010: 5:01:49, Racine 2011- 5:01:49 (NOT A TYPO, I went the same time down to the second!), High Cliff 2012- 5:00:12, Oceanside 2013- 5:01:43.  However, I knew going in that Branson would not be the course to do that on, unless I turned into Wonder Woman overnight (the winning female pro in 2012 went 4:57), so I didn't feel any pressure about that. I'd also already hit a long-shot goal for the year by pro qualifying at Rev3 Dells, so that wasn't an issue either.  I was just excited to race, and that pretty much blocked out everything else.

home away from home for the weekend

I made the trip down to Missouri with Badger teammate Simon, who was racing the Olympic Rev in the collegiate division, and Milwaukee-area tri friend Pete, who was also racing the Half Rev.  The drive went quickly, and our hotel was pretty entertaining and Branson-esque.  Saturday was a busy day with the official practice swim, packet-pick-up at T2, easy ride and bike drop off at T1, and a quick drive of the bike course.  As usual I was dealing with a few minor crises (this time, some foot pain that kept me out of running the second half of the week, and a painful insect sting on our shake-out bike ride) but I tried to focus on managing the things I could control and hoped for the best in the morning!

green screen fun at the race expo!
5 a.m. rolled around quickly, and it was chilly (mid-40s) but we were pretty well prepared.  All of the week's little niggles melted away.  We parked at T2 and dropped off our run gear, then were able to board one of the Branson Ducks right away (no line!) to shuttle us to the swim start.  It was pretty much as stress-free as a two transition race can be.  There was space to warm up in the water while the earlier waves went off, which was great since the 76* water felt much nicer than the air did, and my sleeveless blueseventy wetsuit was perfect.  The air-water temperatures and humidity were working together to create a fog layer right at water level, though, and even during my warm up I could tell that it was going to make things interesting...

^ hey look, I'm running
Our wave start was a beach start, and I was able to line up just where I liked- on the front and to the inside- in hopes of avoiding the fray.  I found myself following some fast feet for the first 400m or so.  Quickly I noticed that I could see the candy-corn-like orange and yellow Olympic turn buoys just fine (great), but not the red buoys that signaled the Half Rev turns. My stroke felt good, and it seemed like the people in front were veering off course (at least, if the red buoy was where it seemed like it should be) so I left the person in front of me in hopes of swimming a straighter line.  But after a little while I realized I was lost in the fog: I had passed the Olympic turn buoy, but I couldn't see the Half one yet.  After failing to sight it a few times in a row, I did a few breaststroke strokes to take a better look around.  Nope.  My only choice was to keep following the path of the swimmers I was catching from earlier waves until I saw the buoy myself.  This  continued throughout the swim, and I completely lost momentum.  It was hard to trust the people in front of me, and I know I was swimming much too tentatively.  This is definitely something I need to work on. Slowing down wasn't helping- I needed to trust that I was going the right way, and periodically check for appearing buoys.  I might try out a different colored goggle tint in the future as well.  Finally I hit sand and started running, and heard RD Eric yell that my speedy Rev3 teammate Maggie was up just ahead.  I charged up the steep path as quickly as I could manage, did a solid bike mount (yay!) and set off in pursuit.  Split: 30:57


The first two miles were very decidedly uphill, and my legs felt good but I tried not to get too excited.  The next ones were more gradual, and I slowly reined Maggie in and gave her a cheer as I passed.  It was fun to glance around and remember running the same road a couple of years ago. At about 6 miles we popped out onto our playground for the day, the Ozark Mountain High Road.  The Half Rev athletes had about two and a half laps on there before turning off towards Branson Landing.  The entire multi-lane High Road was completely closed to traffic for us, so crowding was never an issue, and there were 5 opportunities to get fluids at aid stations on course, which was great.  This whole middle section of the bike course was filled with long slow climbs followed by open sweeping downhills.  Normally I'm not a big fan of hills, but the fun of carrying high speeds through the descents just about made up for all of the climbing.  My ride data shows that I went over 40 mph 16 times during the Branson bike.  Crazy!  The climbs weren't too steep, so you could get into a rhythm and grind them out.   

great bike course photo by

I tried to stay as steady as possible on the climbs, and use them as chances to eat, drink, and move around.  Coach Bill and I had discussed power goals for the flats (ha!) and power ceilings for the climbs in the week before the race, but I ended up climbing a little bit above what we had discussed.  It allowed me to ride at a more comfortable cadence, and since my legs felt strong it seemed like the smartest thing to do.  I was getting plenty of rest of the downhills, and I knew from hilly rides earlier in the summer that I could climb hard repeatedly without destroying my legs.  I feel like I'm getting better at identifying different types of pain and what they mean for me.  My legs hurt for most of the bike ride, but I still had plenty of power, and that was the important part.  This is the kind of situation when I appreciated having power data as an independent measure of how hard I was working.  Without it, I probably would have backed off to make sure I wasn't  killing myself before a half marathon. Still, I was a little nervous turning off the High Road that I'd done too much. With 9 miles to go, I looked down and realized that on most other half courses I'd be getting off the bike around then.  From my scouring of previous years' results, 3:00 seemed like a competitive amateur bike split, and would be in the mix with the back half of the female pros.  So that was a smaller goal for the race, and I knew I could get close if I stayed focused.

in the zone on the High Road

The final miles down to Branson Landing were really fun and mostly downhill.  There was a screaming fast descent at mile 53 on James Epps Rd.--  I was grateful that the RD intelligently routed us up around the corner and through a wide turnaround to run out some speed instead of having us making a tight left into the park right at the bottom of the hill.  The path through the park was narrow and twisty, and I was all alone so I was momentarily concerned that I missed a turn.  Soon enough, though, I found myself at the exit and ready for the last hill- a sharp little kick that was actually the steepest section on the course (ouch!).  I was really glad I knew it was coming, because I probably would've dropped my chain otherwise.  My wind-chilled feet made for a less than graceful flying dismount, but oh well.  Split: 3:01:48 (gah!)


The Branson run course is 3 laps (more like 2.9 laps) and pretty much as flat as I could hope for.  It's lovely.  From T2 we ran right through the middle of the Branson Landing shopping center, along the river to a big loop turnaround in Sunset Park, then all the way past transition along the water to a quick out and back in North Beach Park.  Like the bike course, the run was incredibly well-supported, with 14 aid stations in 13 miles.  And I appreciated every single one of them.

In my pre-race meeting with Bill we'd decided I should go out at about 7:30 pace if I felt good, or about 8s if I was having trouble getting my legs to come around.  Well, as I headed out of transition my legs felt GREAT-- like all the bike did was warm them up for the run.  What?!  My excitement combined with the rush of heading through the crowds at the shopping center caused me to take it out hot.  I came through 1 mile and hit my watch: 7:01, crap.  I tried to convince myself to simmer down.  Mile 2: 7:06. Double crap. Even if I was having an awesome day, that was probably not going to be sustainable.  Attempt #2 to back off: 7:22.  Ok.  I tried to hold it there.

The day had slowly been warming up and the sun was shining brightly.  I had taken a few salt tablets on the bike, and packed some for the run even though they would be on course.  I tried to stay on top of cooling myself and fueling: at each aid station I dumped water on myself and grabbed a drink, and  make sure I was taking in calories and salt regularly. Around mile 6 I started getting toasty, and running wasn't as easy.  I focused on my cadence and kept an eye on my splits.  It was great to see Sharpie and my Rev3 teammates and other friends around the course: every time I ran into one of them it was a pick-me-up.  The third quarter of the run is always so mental.  I grabbed cola, which is always a nice treat in races.  I chased people.  I'd been keeping tabs on where Maggie was, and I could see that she was slowing pulling time back.  She is a solid runner who's had a few fantastic races this year, so I couldn't afford to ease up at all.  Since we were now mixed in with Olympic racers and doing multiple laps, I couldn't tell where anyone else was.  I made an effort to pick things up at the start of the third lap, but it cost me.  My lower body was tightening up. At mile 10 I found myself above 8:00/mi pace for the first time in the race.  Nooo.  At that point I realized the aid stations had ice, and shoved a bunch down my top.  Mile 11.  My left IT band felt like a rock.  HOLD IT TOGETHER, SUMMER.  I imagined ticking off every tenth of a mile.  Past 12 miles, a woman came floating by me looking impossibly fresh.  It was the final kick in the butt I needed.  I fought to stay on her heels, and was delighted when she continued straight as I veered left towards the finish.  I got an enthusiastic greeting from Rev3 announcer Sean English and couldn't help but grin as I crossed the line.  Split: 1:39:59 (!)

Time: 5:15:14, 1st OA amateur female, 11th OA female

Whoa.  I am very, very happy with the way this race went, and as such, it will definitely be my last triathlon this season.  It was my first time breaking 1:40 in a 70.3 run (by the skin of my teeth! but still!), when at the start of 2013 I hadn't cracked 1:50. To do it off of a difficult bike ride is icing on the cake. It would have still been the slowest run in the women's pro field by a couple of minutes, but at least I'm moving in the right direction.  1:40 was a big mental barrier.  Maybe by the end of next year I'll be able to take my run out in 7s and actually hold them.  Time will tell... 

My travel buddies turned in solid races too, with Simon winning the Olympic overall and Pete placing in the top part of the amateur field in the half.  It was also great to see some of my collegiate friends down at the race, too- they always make things more fun.  And of course the Rev3 family was out in full force!  It was a great trip.

Rev3 girls represent

This weekend I have my final real race of the year- USAT Aquabike Nationals at Rev3 South Carolina in Anderson, SC.  I referred to this as the "dessert of my triathlon season" to a friend recently, and it totally is.  A 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride, and I'm done.  I signed up for it last year even before I made it onto the Rev3 team.  For once I get to go out and leave it all on the bike, without worrying what it will do to my run.  In the second half of that bike ride, the gloves are coming off, and the claws are coming out.

I can't wait.