(WARNING: LOOOONG!) This year I structured my races around 3 main goals: to qualify for Vegas 70.3 World Championship and finish top-10 there (ideally top 5); to qualify for HyVee 5150 Championship and improve my finish there (last year 13th); and to qualify for the 2012 US Olympic Trials in San Diego in May and enjoy the experience. These goals came in order of priority and in reverse order of time. I had given up ITU racing in my mind a year ago, but I went to Argentina this January for the PATCO Championship largely for the fun of it. After having some success there and learning I was not far off earning Olympic Trials qualification, I decided to go for it. By racing in Mexico in March, I did in fact qualify for the San Diego Trials race in May, but a dose of self-examination gave me enough perspective to admit that having qualified was good enough … I really didn’t have the desire to do the race itself when qualifying for the Olympics was the longest of long-shots. After that decision (late April), I had renewed my focus on Vegas and Hy-Vee and by June had qualified for both. I opted to train for 9 weeks without racing.
Analyzing my 2012 races and prior, I had decided my focus on higher volume (for bike and run) meant that my cycling performance had diminished (I’d gained strength but lost speed). I needed to get back to some of the higher intensity cycling of prior years to regain some power and use the bike to get myself into striking position beginning the run. I structured my training to include a weekly high-intensity ride (Reston Bike Club’s Tuesday night rides are my favorites) and bi-weekly hill repeat workouts (I like Hunter Station, Birdfoot, and Thompson Rd.). I inserted more intensity into my long rides (every 1-2 weeks), as well as including 1-2 hours of warm up prior to a 90-min group ride so I’d be extra fatigued going into the more intense part of the ride. In order to add these harder workouts, something else had to give, so I pulled back on swim volume and intensity (volume went down by 30%, volume at intensity about the same drop). I alternated weeks of a long run or a hard run instead of trying to do some semblance of both weekly. Knowing that both Hy-Vee and Vegas involved “strength runs” where the swift-of-foot would be compromised slightly by the punishing courses and heat, and the “strong-of-will” would be rewarded (even if lacking in foot speed) because of persistence in the face of difficult conditions, I was ok with avoiding focused speed-work on the run. My hope was that the increased bike intensity would carry over to the run, and the decreased swim intensity would not have a huge negative impact since my base was strong.
For the most part, I think the changes worked. At the very least, they helped my confidence on the bike (my swim did suffer a bit)! I went into Hy-Vee very relaxed – so much so that I didn’t even have pre-race butterflies when we lined up. It was a mini family vacation to close out the summer (Brendan brought the kids on Saturday) and a sharpening workout a week before my key race. Unfortunately, my pre-race relaxation worked to my detriment – too little adrenaline to get out for a fast swim start –I was among the stragglers and got out of the water with a pretty big deficit. But on the bike I attacked as best I could through 40k. Though overly conservative on corners, I improved upon last year’s performance (where my cycling intensity was more like 70.3 race pace) and moved up about 8 or 9 places. Once out on the run, I told myself it was a long, hard 10k where a lot could happen, and decided to plug away as consistently as possible instead of going out super hard early only to suffer late. In the 90-degree heat and on the only-up-or-down run course, I did pick people off bit by bit and ended up gaining a few more places, eventually finishing 13th. It was the exact same finishing spot as last year, but in a far deeper field, so I took it as an improvement.
Having suffered last year from improper (inattentive) recovery practices a week before the Vegas race, I learned to create a recovery plan this time around, and Brendan made sure I implemented it. First, I took Enduralytes during the race (even though it was short) to combat the heat (our race in Des Moines started at 1:30pm). Right after the race, I downed a recovery drink and a lot of water. Then I went for a cool down jog/slog for 20 minutes (absent from last year’s post-race activities), ate more, had a shower, a massage, and a chiropractic adjustment. I walked around a bit more and then followed my Monday flight home with another massage Wednesday with Jette Hansen (Old Town Massage Center) and plenty of stretching. I pulled my training back slightly between races compared to last year, as well.
Arriving in Las Vegas on Friday around lunch time, my sister Cathy and I headed straight to Lake Mead (where 35 or so of the race miles take place on the bike). I had assembled my bike while Cathy got the rental car, so I rode and she ran around 1:30pm. In the 103-degree dry heat and fresh off a 5 hour plane ride, I felt pretty miserable, but did enjoy my 11-28 cassette (last year I’d ridden an 11-23 and noted my average cadence was too low). We proceeded to Henderson Multigenerational Center for a tune-up swim, which also felt pretty awful, and I picked up my packet where the expo was held. By the time we finally got to the Ravella (hotel at race site), I was so exhausted I couldn’t imagine racing 36 hours later. I did run into some FeXY friends (good to see you Fabrice, Ken, and Andy!) and felt better once we got cleaned up and had a good dinner.
Race morning, I woke up at 4am and ate 2 salted hard-boiled eggs, 1 cup of oatmeal, a banana with peanut butter, and coffee. I felt extremely groggy despite a decent night’s sleep! At 5:40, I left the hotel to do a very short ride, check in my bike, do a short run, and prep for the race. I lined up to enter the water with some butterflies but not overwhelming nerves – again telling myself that no matter how I felt, I would race on instinct as usual. We got in the water for a 10-minute swim warm up, and I ignored the nervous sensation trying to take over as my goggles kept fogging up. Seeing Brendan, Cathy, and my brother Peter hovering on the rocks above gave me some comfort. I reminded myself that this was a privilege, not an obligation. Self-pity not allowed!!
The horn went off and I got out hard, right behind the leaders. Within a few hundred yards, I knew I wasn’t going to stay on their feet (I’m among the faster swimmers at many 70.3 races, but I’m never the fastest), and I settled into my own groove in the all-too-familiar place between packs. I told myself to enjoy it, the swim was the warm up, I was doing fine, and to keep up my stroke rate. Pete (my swim coach) would be proud that I kept that part on the forefront of my mind. I was relieved when finally I could see the yellow exit buoys. During the longish run through T-1, I heard the announcer name several racers behind me and could tell the gap was smaller than I would’ve liked, but I had a gap, and Brendan had yelled that places 2-3-4 were under 2 minutes up the road.
Once on the long climb out of the park, I could feel that my body was doing better than last year at that point. I had drank nearly all of my bottles (I carried about 85 ounces with me, 360 calories worth of Roctane drink) and had eaten my 3 gels (all in one flask mixed with water), unlike last year when I was too intense to do any of it. I had not been passed since mile 3 (except for the blue girl), but had passed a few people since then, and I was in about 6th place. Once out of the park, with about 15 miles to go, I saw my family (with brother Peter holding funny signs, as is his practice – I laughed as I passed his “Go dog, Go!” sign and Brendan and Cathy didn’t even realize it was me… but then I laughed again when they drove by me cheering a minute later).
I made the turn from Lake Mead Parkway to Warm Springs Rd. with a smile on my face – last year at that point the wheels had come off and I knew it. This year, I told myself it was the beginning of the race (and Brendan yelled virtually the same words as he went by)! I was thirsty and dry-mouthed by about mile 40, so at the last aid station I decided to grab a bottle. Unfortunately, try 1 was unsuccessful so I tried 3 more times, and dropped or missed the attempt every time. Dang it!! Oh well, I thought, I’ll just drink a lot when I start running. I passed blue girl for the final time and charged hard for the net-uphill final 15 miles of the race. No way am I going to get passed by a train and let my average power fall by 40 watts like last year, I thought. And I didn’t! I got away from her for once and for all, and seeing a couple of black spots in the distance, my new goal was to catch them. How disappointing it was to roll up on them and find that they were men!! So I entered T-2 in 5th place, and feeling decent, ready to run hard.
I got out well on the run, but I wouldn’t let myself look at my mile split after the downhill first mile, knowing that last year it was my one and only good split of the day. I decided I would split the watch every 5k but not look at it, so that was what I did. (I have since erased the splits without looking at them). Peter’s next sign amused me: “Charge it, Margaret!” (he never calls me Margaret, but it was fitting…) and I was trying to charge. I was so thirsty that at every water stop I took at least 3 cups of water. Spilling much of it on myself helped keep me cool, but did little for my hydration. I was holding pretty steady in 5th place for a bit until Kelly (Williamson) came by (eventually to run herself into 2nd place, not unusual) and I knew I couldn’t go with her. I just told myself to keep plugging away. On lap 2, Peter’s sign “Where’s the beef?” took my mind off the growing difficulty of lifting my legs. About then, though, my familiar side stitch appeared, so I did my best to control my breathing and blow it out. It didn’t want to go away, so I tried to ignore it and instead think about reeling in the current #5 (who was no longer Kelly since she’d moved to 4th).
The nice thing about loop courses is that you can see where other people are, so I could tell I was gaining on #5 (and Brendan and Cathy told me too). I pushed past her with about a lap to go, but at that point my own wheels were falling off. I was still so thirsty, and I felt like my legs were bricks. Peter’s next sign “Cookies at the finish line” made me wonder if I even wanted cookies. How could I not want cookies? The down-hills almost felt more difficult than the ups (this course is either down or up at all times). I told myself to just hang on, I could hold on to 5th, but with about 2 miles to go, another one passed me. OK, 6th is not so bad, I thought (as Brendan yelled to keep her in sight and get back on her… no, don’t you see I can’t do that?!?!?)… I made the final climb and got to the turnaround when another one passed me. OH NO, now what do I do? Just keep going, just keep going. At this point I’d probably slowed by at least a minute per mile, and on the downhill that should not happen, but yet another one passed me before it was all said and done…
So going into the chute, I was in 9th place, with nothing left. Crossing the finish line was a mix of RELIEF, disappointment (how could I lose 3 places in 2 miles!?!?) and THIRST. I drank 2 bottles of water, a bottle of PowerBar Perform, 2 cartons of chocolate milk, and one more bottle of water as I walked the 50 meters through our recovery tent. Brendan was with me, making sure I was ok, when I told him it was time to sit down… then lie down on the concrete. He said I should not do such a thing – should I go to the medical tent instead? No, I’m fine, I just feel so bloated. (Uh, DUH!??! You just drank 64 ounces in about 90 seconds?!). I just need to lie down, just for a minute.
No, then you need to go to the medical tent. No, nothing’s wrong, I’m just so thirsty but I’m so bloated. You need an I.V. NO! I need to lie down. You need to go do the medical tent. OK FINE let’s go. So we went. They tried to put an I.V. in, but I was shivering with cold in that air conditioned tent (despite the 103 degree air outside) and my veins had shriveled to nothing. So the I.V. came back out. Youch that hurt, can you please take it out? I just need to lie here. Brendan tells me it was half an hour. I thought it was about 5 minutes. But eventually I felt better and was ready to get out of there! So out we went.