Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Expectations Released

I've talked before about managing expectations.  I have had a habit of stating a goal for myself but then having an unspoken one hidden away in my mind that really controls me in races.  I may meet my stated goal but then beat myself up because I didn't hit the "real" target I was going for.  In the last year I have been working on letting go of those unstated markers of success.  In Saturday's Wet Dog Sprint Triathlon, I went one step father and let go of any expectations or goals and just simply gave all I had to give on that day for that event.

And, it turned out better than I would have even hoped it could.

Pre Race

I had three athletes participating in this race.  It was a first open water swim tri for one of them, a first ever triathlon for another, and the third was going for a PR.  Because I am training for Iron Man, this was not even a "C" race for me, it was just part of a training day and probably wouldn't have been on my plan if I hadn't already signed up for it and wanted to do it as bad as I did.  (I LOVE this race!)  I had a lot of stress leading up to race day (more on that in a bit) and I had not spent any time working on anything I had wanted to work on for myself (namely practicing getting on and off the bike with my shoes still attached to the pedals).

My main stress prior to race day was that my neck/shoulder pain is coming back.  Before the Medial Branch Ablation I had done back in May, my shoulder was the only thing that hurt.  The doctors kept saying it was a nerve issue originating in my neck but I didn't believe them until the diagnostic block worked and "proved" they were right.  After the initial pain from the procedure wore off I felt like a new person and started training with vigor.  However, in the last few weeks I've had increasing pain in my neck (something I didn't have before, but the doctors said I should have), and in my shoulder.  I've been more than a little worried about it.  I honestly didn't know if I should even try to do this race or not, but I decided if I couldn't do a sprint, I would certainly not be able to keep training for IMLT so I packed my bag the night before and set my alarm.

I woke up with a hive of butterflies in my stomach.  Not only for my own race but even more so for my athletes.  I checked and double checked my bag and hit the road.  I got to the race site and found my athlete who was about to complete her first tri and began trying to calm her down.  I thought she was strangely subdued until she told me she couldn't remember how old she was in order to tell the body markers!  We got to transition and set up, found my other athletes and did a walk through and warm up.

The walk through is something that I dearly love.  The act of going through the motions of what is about to happen calms me down more than anything else.  I get some mantras in place (usually "run, run, run, run"), and it allows me to visualize exactly what it will look like as I am running from the swim to T1 to find my bike and then from the bike to T2 and out to the run.  I think the run through is one of the main things I do on race morning that helps me with smooth transitions.

Second to that is the warm up swim.  I used to not do this, but I can't imagine not doing it now.  It allows me to get a feel for the water--it was incredibly muddy and warm this year!  It also helps me visualize the entry and exit.  As I was going through all these aspects with my athletes I was cementing in my mind all the things I needed to remember for myself.  Namely--let go of expectations you have for yourself.  Just have fun.  Remember you know how to swim, you know how to bike, you know how to run.  Stay calm.  Breathe.

Before we knew it, it was time to get lined up for the start. 


I signed up for this race before I was swimming again so I put a very slow swim time on my entry.  I ended up with a much higher number than any of my athletes.  That was a really good thing because I was able to see all of them enter into the water.  

The one I was most concerned about had never done a triathlon before and had only really learned to swim a few months ago.  She was so scared early on she wouldn't put her face in the water and wouldn't go into the deep end the first couple of times.  I seriously cried as I watched her swim out into that muddy water as if she had been doing it for years!!  At that moment I was able to let go of my worry about her and focus in on my race...just in time for me to hear "GO".  I raced into the water, dove in and started sprinting.

Holy moly...too fast.  But it was like I was on auto pilot and couldn't stop myself.  I was back far enough that I ran into one gal swimming on her back early on, and A LOT of breast strokers.  I was almost out to the turn around point (200m) before I told myself to slow down just a bit because I thought I might vomit!  Then it hit me, "I'm in a race...if I vomit-YAY!"  :D  I told myself I'd rather blow up and know I gave all I had than to slow down out of fear.  My shoulder only reminded me it was there once or twice.  I did listen to it, but as soon as it was okay again, I pushed.

I had told the newby to make sure she swam up as far as she could possibly go.  Too many people get to where they can feel the beach and then they try to run in the rest of the way.  But that will have them running in waste high water most of the time.  If you swim as far as you possibly can (by pulling your arm up by your body instead of trying to make a full swim stroke), you will be in mid-shin level, or at most lower knee high water.  This will allow you a much faster exit.  I was genuinely surprised to see people popping up out of the water with a good 20m to go to the beach.  I got in as close as I could and then jumped out....and seriously thought I would be sick.  Auto pilot kicked back on, "start running, take your goggles off, take your cap off, run/run/run..."

This race includes a good bit of transition in the swim time but I stopped my watch as soon as I finished swimming so I could see my actual swim time.  ((Watch time was 8:21; official race swim time 9:16, 6 out of 20 for my age group.))


Last year I had very fast transitions.  As I was running to get my bike I was focused on what I needed to do as usual.  As I was heading out on my bike I was thinking, "that was quite possibly the longest transition I've ever had".  

I was wrong.

I will say I didn't practice this year other than one time at the transition clinic I gave...and I didn't do what I really wanted to do in this race (start with my shoes attached).  Even T1 time was :46, good enough for first in my age group, tied for 5th for all women.  


I haven't been riding my tri bike this year.  Riding in aero seems to put a lot of pressure on my shoulder and does NOT feel good.  But, this was a race.  No way I was going to do this on my road bike.  Not only that it was only 9 miles.  Also, I just bought some new-to-me Zipp 404s that I was darn sure going to try out!

As I was running out of transition I was starting to beat myself up for not having my shoes attached....and then I had to remember the words I had spoken earlier--"let go of all that self talk and focus on the task at hand.  Not staying focused only robs you of energy".  So I hopped on my bike and heard Eric say, "ride it like you stole it"...and I was off, set to do just that.

Almost immediately there was a guy riding beside another rider, blocking.  Here's the thing, this is a very beginner-friendly triathlon.  This means there are a lot of participants who don't know the rules and don't have a clue that you can't ride alongside another athlete, but instead must pass them and get back over to the right.  So I started calling out, "PASS!!!  PASS!!!" which worked like a charm.  To which I quickly followed by, "On your left!!"

Now, let me be quick to say...I went in the water fairly far back (more than half way) and I have a fast bike so it stands to reason I would be passing people...but this is the first race I have not been passed on the bike by even one person.  Again, I started telling myself, "well, that's because you were so darn slow in the water" but, again, I reminded myself to let go of all of that and FOCUS!  I focused on keeping my upper body relaxed, breathing, and mainly on my pedal stroke.  All the things I talk about in Spin class played on a loop in my mind, keeping my mind and body in the racing state I wanted it to be in.

I realized my watch had not done what I set it to do, so I had no idea how fast I was going and no idea what mile I was on.  I kept telling myself it was NINE miles and that I should hammer it the whole time and give it all I had.  About that time I was coming up on a familiar racing kit.  I wasn't sure who it was but I knew I wanted to pass this girl whoever she was, so I called out, "on your left" and as I got around her I heard, "hey, you aren't supposed to pass me!" from a friend.  As soon as I realized who it was I knew I had to bring my A game the rest of the time because I did NOT want her to be able to pass me back...and I knew she could and she would if given the chance.

As I was headed back to the transition area, I saw another rider in front of me who I could tell was riding fairly slowly and I started to visualize passing her when a stinking stupid car pulled out in between us!!  He slowed way down to give her space, but she was going slower than I was so now I was blocked by a car I could not get around.  I had to put on my brakes and slow way down to keep from rear-ending him.  Thankfully, about 250 yards or so before the dismount line a cop stopped the car and I had enough room to go around it on the right.  Just as I was getting stopped, my friend pulled up beside me and hopped of her bike in front of me.  Darn!!  ((To be fair, I knew she would have me on the run because she is a MUCH faster runner than I am, but I was hoping to at least run out in front of her.))

My bike time ended up being 26:23 (a 21.2 average-my fastest average on any race ever...that bike and those wheels were a good investment!).  That time was good enough for 2nd in my age group.


Again, as I headed into T2, I felt like I was running through mud.  I was fighting the upset over not taking my feet out of my shoes (especially since I had to slow down anyway for that stinking stupid car!), and fighting upset that I didn't practice like I should have.  It seemed like it took me forever to put on my socks (something I said I wasn't going to wear this year when I did this race last time, but when I tried it without them, there was a spot on the shoe that rubbed my foot so I decided socks were better than a blister).  I released all of that, took off my helmet, grabbed my race belt and water bottle and headed out....just in front of my friend.  T2 time was :54, good enough for 5th out of 20 in my age group.


I have been doing longish bike rides followed by 20 minute runs.  Those runs have been at a faster pace than my usual stand alone run pace, and faster than my pace the previous two years doing this race.  I didn't know what this day would bring given the swim and power I tried to lay out on the bike...not to mention how my neck/shoulder had been feeling leading up to this race.  I took a deep breath and told myself to just run.

Since my watch wasn't cooperating, I didn't have any idea what my pace was and since this course isn't marked, there was no way for me to know how much farther I had to go.  All I knew was that I wanted to give my best.

I know I didn't run as fast as I could go because I was chatting it up a bit in the beginning...but when I caught myself, I pressed on the gas.  My friend passed me very early on.  My first thought was to attempt to keep her in sight, but I knew that would be a mistake because she is MUCH faster than I am (even on my very best day).  The one thing I really didn't want to do was to blow up.  I think if my mind got to me during this race at all, it was on the run.  I automatically tell myself I can't run "that fast" so I don't honestly know what I could have done if I wasn't scared of failure.  But, I can say that I did all I could do on that day in that frame of mind.

When I got close to the finish line I put on the gas and pushed in with what I had left.  ((Run time 27:37, 8:54 pace.  Not a 5K PR but certainly faster than any 5K in a triathlon!  This was a solid run which put me at 7/20 for my age group.))


So, take a look at that...6th on the swim and 7th on the run but still 2nd overall.  The bike and the transitions edged me out this time.  Funny story...I didn't have any idea when I finished "how" I had done in terms of time.  I couldn't remember what I had done it in last year and I wasn't able to look at my paces on my watch.  I was able to look at overall results, but not age group results so I didn't know where I stood.  Friends were asking how I felt about how I did and I told them for once I really felt good about a race, even without the benefit of comparisons.  (This is huge for me!)  So as I was looking at the age group times, trying to see how far off third place I might have been, I saw the 3rd place time was 1:05:??.  I thought, "Hey, wait a minute, something is wrong...I thought my time was 1:04:something."  Then it hit me and I looked at the 2nd place to see MY NAME!!!!!  I squealed with delight and then had to call my husband in tears to tell him the news!

By the way, this is about a 6 minute PR over last year...I'll take it! :D

(I will have to say, it didn't take me long to think, "well, maybe this year there was only about 5 people in my age group racing..."  ...some habits take longer than others to break!!)

After the race, I got to go ride my bike longer (not as long as my plan called for because there were some other issues that came up).  I know this was a sprint and I'm training for a race that is about 128 miles longer than this one, but this was a huge boost to my confidence level.  The fact that I am training for endurance and still did this well in a sprint distance is super.

FYI...from this moment it's roughly 59 days and 12 hours until the cannon will sound to begin my Iron Man...and right now I'm excited.  Not nervous.  That's really good thing.  I'm releasing expectations every day and the weight it's taking off my mind is palpable. 

Thanks for stopping in, come again soon!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


I have a new inspiration in the world of triathlon and she is only 11 years old.  Her nickname for this blog is "Churchill" (since I will most likely refer to her over and over again at the very least until I get back from Lake Tahoe).

Allow me to explain.  She is obviously not a balding WC Fields look alike.  She's a kid who completely embodied Churchill's quote, "Never, ever give up*" at Huntsville's first ever youth and junior triathlon recently.  (*That quote is stated in various ways but that's the essence).

I met Churchill at the KidsTri clinic I did prior to the race.  She looks like the swimmer I already knew her to be from talking with her mother.  She has an infectious smile that can melt icebergs and is much taller and prettier than she should be at 11.  She listened intently to the various tips I was doling out and she even laughed at my goofy jokes.  She said she was looking forward to the race.

Little did she know what was in store for her that day.

This race was broken down into three divisions, Guppy, Junior and Senior.  Because of some race permit issues, we were forced to start the Guppies off at 10am, which meant the Seniors (Churchill's division) wouldn't race until MUCH later in the already hot day.  This was a reverse triathlon; Seniors would run a mile and a half, bike five miles and then jump in the pool to swim 150 yards.

I didn't see Churchill come in from the run, but I do know she was certainly not the last one out on her bike.  After many of the bikers had come in, we started trying to assess who was still out on the course (by counting the number of bikes missing in transition).  When we got down to just two or three I started trying to find out who was still out there.  When the second to last little triathlete came in on her bike I realized the only one left was Churchill.  I couldn't understand what had happened, because this little girl certainly looked the part of a full on athlete.  I was told the sweepers were with her and that her mom was on her way out on a borrowed bike to ride in with her.

As I saw her coming in with her entourage of cheerleaders I immediately saw the bike was pretty small for her tall frame.  And then I saw her TWO FLAT TIRES!!!

In case you've never had the experience of riding on flat tires, I found a video someone shot who apparently thought it was cool to do this (amazing how you can find videos of anything on youtube!).  Notice how the bike wheel is very unstable.  (FYI, riding on flat tires can be dangerous and can ruin your wheel so don't try this at home.) 

Also, if you've never ridden on flat (or almost flat) tires, you don't realize how HARD it is to pedal.  Holy Peace Sign Churchill!!  No wonder this poor girl was last in on the bike.   When she was coming into transition, someone said, "hey, run her in to the pool".  She was HOT and TIRED and probably a bit disoriented.  The volunteers who had helped every other child get to where they needed to be had already abandoned their posts.

Little did I know how fast this kid could run!!  Once she got her shoes off and grabbed up her goggles, she was sprinting to the pool like she was running from a bear!!  I had to take off my hat and throw my legs into racing mode in order to stay in front of her!

I expected her to shoot off in the pool pretty fast since she is a swimmer first and foremost.  I also expected her to slow down a bit from being worn out after the run and the flat-tire ride.  I didn't time her laps, but I did watch the whole thing, and I think she actually sped up!!  She was FLYING through the water like a dang dolphin!  Not only that, she was bilateral breathing with perfect form!  ((When I get tired I have to resort to breathing every stroke on one side...not this kid!))

I had made it clear to the kids who came to the clinic that their race ended when they touched the wall on their last lap of the swim.  There was a "finish line" but that was for show, not for timing purposes.  To top off this amazing swim, Churchill did a deck up and trotted across the finish as if she had just won the race--smiling from ear to ear as she had been the whole time!!  I was tearing up at least as much as her own family.

I waited until a bit later to gush over her.  I told her she had just experienced a character building race.  When she didn't know what on earth I meant by that, I explained.  Most every adult I know would have quit.  Without the ability to fix the flats, it would have been the end of their race.  But this was Churhill's first triathlon.  She was unwilling to be thwarted in her her determination.  More than that, after running 1.5 miles in the sweltering heat and riding 5 miles (on, did I mention, FLAT TIRES?!) she finished STRONG and SMILING!  I went on to tell her how unbelievably proud I was of her.  I told her our character is not what we do but who we are as a person and that she is incredibly strong in that department.

Since that race I have had several challenging training opportunities and have done one 5K race (I'll write about some of those experiences in more detail soon).  Each time I have thought about Churchill.  The look of determination on her face, the way she raced through transition and sliced through the water to finish in what she already knew would be dead last place.  She could have given up at any point in time.  No one would have thought less of her for doing so.  She could have jogged to the pool, she could have finished her first triathlon the way I did--doing the backstroke the whole way!!  She could have finished with a tear in her eye and a pout on her face giving all the reasons she didn't do "well".  Instead, she was smiling from ear to ear and that smile has stuck with me...and will be with me as I cross the finish line on September 22nd after swimming 2.4 miles, biking (on well pumped tires) 112 miles and after running 26.2 miles.  I intend to put a picture of Churchill (the real girl, not the balding bowtie wearing man) in my special needs bag to remind me to:  
Victory is not determined by our place in the race results...