Wednesday, October 5, 2011

USAT Age Group Nationals (Olympic Distance) - August 20, 2011 Burlington VT

Competing in the Age Group Nationals was a late decision, mainly motivated by my desire to compete at ITU Worlds 2012 in New Zealand. My VO2 Multisport teammate Charles and I were both thinking about going, but were both put off by the high cost and all the hassle of the trip to Vermont for a race that would last merely a couple hours. A few weeks before the race, the airfare prices came down from incomprehensible $800 to more graspable $500. Coincidentally, USAT added 500 more slots to the previously sold out race around the same time. By traveling together we could save on the hotel costs and bike shipping costs (thanks to Mr. Crampy’s Multisport shop that supplied us with a bike case that fit both of our bikes). We booked our trip and a few weeks later landed in Burlington, VT after a full day of traveling. We arrived at 11pm local time and I was pleasantly surprised that it was warm outside after dark – something I am not used to coming from Seattle.

Friday, the day before the race, was filled with the usual chores. We picked up our registration packets, rode part of the course (hilly but not nearly as bad as the posted profile would lead you to believe), swam in Lake Champlain (perfect temperature and the water much more clear than in murky local lakes!). We enjoyed some crepes for dinner at the Skinny Pancake on the waterfront and were in bed by 10pm.

On Saturday, race day, we woke up at 5:45am and were in the cab to the start by 6:15am. My breakfast was comprised of half a bagel with peanut butter and banana and a small cup of coffee. No need to eat too much before an Olympic tri. It’s refreshing how little you have to worry about for a race of this distance compared to a half ironman or a full ironman. My nutrition for the bike was one 24oz bottle with a couple scoops of GU brew and one vanilla GU gel; no complicated concoctions with multiple different ingredients and no salt to worry about. Fewer items to place in transition: luxuries like socks, hat and flat coke for T2 are not necessary, which minimizes the number of steps in transition.

My wave didn’t start until 8:30 and I was ready to go by 7:30 (when they kicked us out of transition). I had plenty of time to watch the first couple waves go through the swim course. The first guy in M35-39 age group took 20 minutes to swim the course, which struck me as a pretty long time for some of the fastest age groupers in the country. Either the course was a bit long or there was current/chop that made the swim slower. The weather was just about perfect for the race. Water was in the low 70s and the air was in the high 60s at the start. The sun was shining and there was not a hint of potential rain.

Finally, it was time for F25-29 wave to step on the dock by the boat house. Similarly to Lake Stevens start, they have you jump into the water off the dock. You have 4 minutes to warm up on one side of the dock while the previous wave lines up for the start on the other side. As soon as they started we moved over in their place to line up and go in 4 minutes. My plan was to take the swim really easy for the first few buoys so that I could stay relaxed and avoid any chance of a reactive airwaves attack happening again (which cut my race day short at Lake Stevens just six days prior). It’s still a puzzle to me what causes the attacks – not sure if it’s internal factors (stress, fatigue, minor cold) or external (cold water, allergic reaction). I suppose it could be some combination of multiple things. I lined up behind everyone else to avoid the being caught in the swim start chaos. Not sure if that was a wise decision as I had to swim around a bunch of girls despite going at me very easy pace. As I swam past the first three buoys, I realized that the only imminent danger to my finishing the swim course was being run over by the very aggressive swimmers from M25-29 age group that followed us. A couple of them literally swam over me without slowing down their stroke or kick and I got a little bruise on my hip to prove it. Could have been worse – at least I didn’t get kicked in the face, my goggles stayed put and I didn’t swallow a bunch of water. The fact that they caught me about half way through the course despite starting 4 minutes behind helped me realize just how slow I was swimming. I was feeling totally fine – no breathing issues whatsoever, so I picked it up a bit for the second half. One of the turns on the course was sharper than 90 degrees and I got caught with a bunch of people swimming the wrong way for a while before realizing where the next buoy was and correcting. This probably cost me another minute. Arrgh! I didn’t have my watch on in the water so I asked another girl who exited at the same time about our split. She said 28 minutes. Yikes! This was really slow compared to my sub 24 minute swim at Seafair tri. Official results have me at 28:31.

T1 was pretty quick and efficient: took off the top of the wetsuit while running to my bike, slipped off the bottom of the wetsuit at my bike without much effort. Helmet, glasses and bike shoes on, grabbed my bike, out of transition in 1:31. Pretty good given that the run through transition was quite long.

Struggled with clipping in my pedals a bit more than I’d like – the cleats got muddy running through transition. Must learn the art of flying mount and dismount for next year if I want to focus on shorter distances! Once I was clipped in and pedaling, I had no trouble getting up into my target power range – my goal was to ride at around 200 watts. The course had a bunch of rollers, a few steep climbs but nothing prolonged – piece of cake for anyone training in Seattle area. I only had to get out of my saddle once. I passed a bunch of girls in my AG and was overall very pleased with my ride. My time was 1:08, 9th best in my age group.

I had to be careful racking my bike in T2 because the transition spots were so tight and the 2 bikes next to mine were already racked. Other than that, it was a quick transition – helmet and cycling shoes off, running shoes one, grabbed my Garmin and was out in 1:02.

Felt good at the start of the run, though the first mile started with a very steep quarter mile long hill. I took it steady up the hill and noted a girl in my AG who passed me going up significantly faster. As we went over the top of the hill, I let my legs go and got my pace down to my target pace of sub 6:30s pretty quick. In retrospective, I should have been going faster on that section since it was a slight downhill, but I was running as fast as I could maintain. I kept passing lots of folks including a few women in my age group. I did get passed by a few guys and a very fast 48 year old woman. I tried to hang with her but she must have been holding 6:15s and that was too fast for me. Around mile 2.5 I did pass the girl who passed me on the hill (I’d been steadily gaining on her ever since we reached the top of the hill). The last 3 miles were flat and I slowed down to 6:50s as soon as I hit the flat trail. I didn’t feel like I was running that slow so I thought my Garmin was acting up because we were surrounded by trees. I realized soon enough that my Garmin mile splits were right on with the course markers, so the problem was with my legs and not my Garmin. I tried to push a bit harder and get down to 6:30s again, but it wasn’t happening. I was fine holding 6:50s though and still passing girls in my AG. I got passed by one 25 year old (former collegiate runner who I’d met the day before) – she ended up splitting a 38 minute 10K, so no wonder she passed me as if I were standing still. With half a mile to go I heard that someone was gaining on me and running very closely at almost the same pace. I didn’t look back but I had a feeling it was my hill runner who passed me early on and whom I passed back at mile 2. I sped up for the last 800 and so did she. She passed me just as we entered the long finishing chute, but I put in a solid sprint to the finish line and ended up outsplitting her by 2 seconds and passing a couple more folks in the process. My final run time was 41:30 (6:44 pace) and my total time was 2:21:03. I was a bit slower than my sub 2:20 goal, but I was pretty happy with my overall time given my extremely slow swim and sub-optimal run. I finished 20th in F25-29 age group (out of 85).

After crossing the finish line I felt a little bit like I was going to collapse and/or puke (that sprint in the end really pushed me). I was fine after sitting down and pouring some cold water on myself though. I was anxious to find out whether I qualified for the ITU Worlds 2012 in New Zealand. As I am turning 30 next year, I had to qualify against the 30-34 age group. Those who finish in top 18 of the age group qualify for the worlds and if any of the top 18 give up their slot, the slots will roll down as far as 25th place. After careful evaluation of the results list, I realized that I was in 18th place in the 2012-adjusted 30-34 age group which meant I was the last person to get a legitimate slot in that age group. Success! All the hassle and the expense of the trip were worth it. New Zealand – here I come!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ironman Coeur D'Alene 2011 Race Report

I have come a long way as an athlete since my first Ironman (Coeur D’Alene 2009). My 2010 season was focused on the half ironman distance. I completed five races of that distance including Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater Florida. With the help of my friend Mark who acted as my informal coach last year, I significantly improved in all three disciplines, with the most gains made in cycling, which resulted in a 4:42 half ironman personal record.

Going into 2011 season with Ironman Coeur D’Alene as my main race, I knew I had to step up my game if I were to qualify for Kona again. Given how competitive my age group has become, an accidental Kona slot was not about to happen again as it did in 2009. I joined the VO2 Multisport Elite team and started working with Ben Bigglestone as my coach. It was definitely a huge advantage to be part of a team. Even though I had training buddies in the past, being part of a multisport team provided more opportunities for training with faster athletes which made me push harder. Compared to my training in previous years, I put in a lot more of my bike miles on the CompuTrainer at the VO2 Performance Center. I also did a lot more structured speed work in all three disciplines than ever before.

The highlights of my training season leading up to the big race were the Coeur D’Alene training camp with the team (we swam over 7000 yards, biked over 200 miles and ran over 30 miles on race course in 4 days), and the Wild Flower Long Course triathlon (I finished first in my age group and fifth amateur female). Having completed a handful of race rehearsal workouts in the months before the race, I felt in the best shape of my life, both physically and mentally, when the race week came upon us.

June 22 – I arrived in Coeur D’Alene 4 days before the race along with my best Ironman training and traveling buddy, Rebecca. We rented a house about a mile from the start along with another Ironbabe, Carly and her husband Kevin. Unfortunately, Carly got in a bike accident ten days before the race, so she had to settle for being the best spectator in the world for the weekend instead of a speedy competitor.

June 23 – on Thursday morning, I went over my race plan with Ben. We made a couple adjustments to the nutrition plan and finalized the start position for the swim, but otherwise my plan looked good. Later in the afternoon, Rebecca and I picked up our registration packets and did a quick swim in the lake. The water was cold, but totally bearable – comparable to Lake Sammamish where I have been doing all my training swims. That afternoon I got all the race bags ready to go – T1, bike special needs, T2 and run special needs. We finished Thursday off with a delicious pasta dinner at Tony’s with Ben and his wife Cindy.

June 24 – on Friday, a bunch of VO2 folks met up for a swim at 7am and I noticed that the water got noticeably colder compared to Thursday afternoon. It was rather weird given that it had been warm and dry for the 24 hours prior. As we learned later, some melt water had been released into the lake which brought down the temperature a few degrees. I wish they could wait till after the Ironman to release the melt water, but I guess the world does not revolve around Ironman. After our second breakfast, Rebecca and I drove to the north end of the course to spin our bikes. I wanted to make sure that I felt comfortable descending down the big hills with my disc wheel. It was no problem at all, so I confirmed my decision to ride with the disc on Sunday. Friday night was spent in the company of teammates at Joe Silvernale’s house on the lake where he and family treated us to a delicious pasta meal.

June 25 – Saturday morning, I went through one last mini race rehearsal: 15 minute swim, 30 minute ride and 10 minute run, all very easy. The water got a little bit warmer after 24 hours of warm weather, though it was still not at the same level as it was on Thursday. My bike felt fantastic and my legs felt loose on the run – everything was shaping up for a good race the following day. Later Saturday afternoon, I checked in my bike and transition bags, and prepared my race day nutrition bottles. A group of Seattle triathlon girlfriends came over for dinner (we started calling it the “tri sorority”). We ate a boatload of pasta and salad and had some good laughs. It was a perfect way to relieve some of the pressure of the big day ahead. I headed to bed at 9pm.

June 26 – Race Day! I woke up at 3:30 and first things first made some coffee, oatmeal and a toasted bagel with Nutella. It was tough to get the food down so early, plus I still felt so full from the night before. It took me over 30 minutes to finish eating. After that I took a quick hot shower, put a layer of sunscreen and anti-chafe cream on, put my race kit and timing chip on. Per Ben’s advice I wore a bunch of layers over top until it was time to get into my wetsuit, also a beanie and gloves and made myself some hot GU Brew (tastes like cold medicine – yum!) These measures were intended to help me stay warm as long as possible to minimize the impact of swimming in the freezing lake (reports of water temperature on race day ranged between 53 and 56 degrees F).

We were out the door at 5am and in transition by 5:15. I dropped off my special needs bags, got body marked, double checked my transition bags, put my bottles on my bike and pumped up the tires. Time always flies by so fast on race morning. The pros were about to start and it was time for me to warm up. I did a 10 minute jog – just enough to warm up my whole body and got into my wetsuit. I forgot how long it takes to get to the beach because everyone has to funnel through the timing mat. It was 6:35 when I headed to the start, but so did about 2000 other Ironmen-to-be. I ran into Graeme and Rebecca in the crowd, so at least I had company. It took us 10-15 minutes to actually get to the beach. Rebecca and I have a tradition of a scream-off before starting an Ironman. We couldn’t miss out on that, but because of the time constraints we had to do it in the crowd while waiting for our turn to cross the timing mat. I am sure people around us appreciated two women screaming at the top of their lungs for 30 seconds. Finally I got to my intended swim start location – about half-way to the right of the buoy line, at the front. At this point, it was less than 10 minutes till the start, so I could not get into the water to do a quick swim warm-up as I intended. I got my feet in, then sat down in the water, put my face in and blew some bubbles and got a bunch of cold water into my wetsuit so that it wouldn’t be such a shock when I had to jump in.


Swim – 1:13:28, 21 in AG, 624 overall

The start was a mess as expected. I was able to put my face in and start swimming free style fairly early, but there were definitely a lot of people that I had to get around as well as those who wanted to pass me so I was swimming in a very “protective” way – arms wide to protect my head and kicking hard to minimize the number of swimmers who would attempt swimming over me. It got a little better 300-400 yards in, but it still stayed very crowded the entire way. My plan was to swim diagonally towards the first turn buoy. I think I ended up swimming a little bit wide because the farther right I was the less people there were, but overall my navigation wasn’t bad.

The temperature of the water was a major concern for me going into the race since I DNF-ed at Oceanside earlier in the season due to a reactive airway attack in the swim caused by cold water. I have since swum thousands of yards in Lake Sammamish and Lake Washington in freezing temps, so I was starting Coeur d’Alene with a bit more tolerance built up. I was also playing mental games with myself to help distract my mind from the cold water and relax: I counted my strokes and pretended that I was in Hawaii and saw a sea turtle every 10th stroke, a dolphin every 100th stroke and an espresso boat every 1000th stroke (those who have been to the Kona during the Ironman know the espresso boat I am referring to :-)). This might sound silly, but it seemed to do the trick. I was swimming relatively well and definitely avoided any complications that cold water could have caused.

As I stepped onto the beach after the first lap I saw 36 minutes and change on the clock. This was slower than I was hoping for, but to be honest, I was just happy to be swimming without issues. The second lap was very similar to the first lap. It never got less crowded and I was never able to catch a good draft. I just swam along trying to protect my space and imagining the swimmers around were dolphins and sea turtles. I got out of the water at 1:13:28, so my splits were pretty even unlike 2 years ago when I slowed down by 3 minutes on the second lap. Slower then I hoped for, but it was still within the acceptable swim goal range.

T1 – 4:54

I felt great coming out of the water – no dizziness, no stomach bloating. Of course, I was cold, but not hypothermic. I started running fast as soon as I stepped onto the sand and was able to take off the top half of my wetsuit before I got to the wetsuit strippers. The bottom part of the wetsuit was off 10 seconds later and I ran to grab my T1 bag and into the tent. This is where things got a little slower. My plan was to wear arm warmers because I knew I’d be freezing coming out of the water and the air would still be pretty cold for the first hour. In retrospective, I would have been ok without the arm warmers, but I didn’t know it at the time. I dried my arms with a towel, but even having done that, it was hard to pull the arm warmers onto my moist skin with my freezing hands. I had a very helpful volunteer who helped me with the task, but it still took over a minute to complete. The rest of the steps went a bit faster: I put my socks and cycling shoes on, a little sunscreen on my face while my terrific volunteer applied some on my shoulders, sunglasses and helmet went on and finally it was just the race belt left. My plan was to put it on while I ran to my bike, but my volunteer beat me to it and she was putting it on for me. Really thankful for her help, but for some reason it seemed like putting that race belt on took her forever. Next time I may have to be a little more assertive and just grab it from them and run to the bike. I found the bike without issues (since it was on the first non-pro rack right at the exit out of the transition), ran out and mounted it smoothly – I did a lot better at getting up to speed than at the Issaquah Sprint when it took me 30 seconds to mount my bike.

Bike – 5:43:30 – 5 in AG, 377 overall

Ben calculated that I should target low 160s for my watts for the ride. I had no intention of riding any harder until at least after the turnaround at mile 90 on the second lap if I felt really great. The effort felt pretty easy for the first lap. I made sure I stayed under 190 watts on the hills and kept pedaling strong after getting over the top and onto the descent. There were a lot of people who would get out of their saddle and pass me on the hills, but would stop pedaling as soon as they reached the top and I would pass them going a lot faster on the descents. We kept leapfrogging each other like that throughout the hills on the first lap, but then most of those riders disappeared on the second lap. They must have ridden way too hard and faded. I made that mistake myself in 2009. Thankfully, I learned how to race a little smarter since then.

I stayed on top of my all-liquid nutrition – drank calories every 20 minutes targeting 250 calories an hour and drank water every 10 minutes targeting a bottle an hour. I also had lots of sodium in my calorie bottles and took additional salt stick capsules every hour. I had no stomach issues or cramping throughout the ride. It was all happening according to plan.

I hit the halfway point at 2:51 which was right on track for a 5:40 and change ride split. I had no trouble maintaining my target watts on the second lap. In fact, my legs felt so good that I was really tempted to ride harder, but I remembered my pre-race chat with Ben about how some people feel good and ride 5-10 watts above the target thinking they can do it and end up bonking on the run. Near the bike turn around at mile 90 my teammate Kara passed me. I expected her to be way ahead of me by now, so I asked her if she got a flat. She sure did. Poor Kara had mechanical issues in her last Ironman too which cost her a Kona slot back then. She seemed to be in good spirits though and was riding extremely strong. Shortly after that, I saw a deer cross the road. Thankfully, no cyclist or deer were hurt. Finally, when I was 10-12 miles from the finish and still feeling fantastic, I allowed myself to ride a little bit harder – up to 170 watts. This helped me maintain my average speed the same in the increased winds. I finished the ride in 5:43:30. Just like the swim it was on the higher end of my target time, but I was happy with it and happy to feel so fresh at the start of the run.

T2 – 1:12

I made eye contact with a volunteer and handed my bike to him after I smoothly dismounted. I took off my helmet while running to my bag, grabbed my T2 bag and ran into the change tent. I practiced the motions the day before and everything went smooth just like I planned: swapped the cycling shoes with running shoes, put on my visor, and grabbed my Garmin, a nuun container filled with salt stick and a small bottle of Coke. I dealt with putting my Garmin on and the salt away on the run. Really happy with the transition! I beat Julie Diebens and was almost as fast as Craig Alexander :-)

Run – 3:27:15 – 1 in AG, fastest amateur female

I started drinking my flat Coke as I ran out of transition. My legs were happy to be finally running and refused to go any slower than 7:15-7:20, I had to force myself to slow down. Running through town I heard a lot of people cheering me on. I failed to see who it was specifically, but it was awesome to hear my name. I clocked the first mile at 7:31 – still a bit fast, but pretty close to my goal pace. Running through the VO2 Multisport inspiration station was absolutely epic. Thank you everyone who came out to support us – you can’t even imagine how much it helped! I started experiencing a bit of cramping coming on pretty early on the run – in my calves and my quads. It wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t expecting for it to happen until the second lap, so I got a bit concerned. I managed to control it by downing a bunch of salt stick capsules. As I turned onto Lake Coeur d’Alene drive, I saw Gerry flying towards me. It was so exciting to see him leading the amateur field and looking strong! I took it easy up the hill, let my legs fly down the hill and to the turnaround. The grade on the back side of the hill wasn’t nearly as bad, so I didn’t think that having to go all the way over the hill made the course significantly slower as many feared. Coming back through the inspiration station Ben confirmed that I was third in my age group which I already knew.

I kept on top of my nutrition plan perfectly and didn’t have any stomach issues. Two years ago I ate way too much at the beginning of the run and had to stop taking in calories which eventually led to bonking. This year I had a more precise plan. I had a PowerBar gel every 30 minutes, lots of water, Coke and bananas. I was also taking about 2-3 salt stick capsules an hour while they lasted.

The second lap was very tough mentally and physically. I wasn’t my normal self – I usually like to cheer everyone on and give high fives to spectators, but on this day I was very focused on putting one leg in front of the other for the last 13 miles. I didn’t even see or hear a lot of my friends and fellow racers who ran by and shouted my name. I felt like my legs were on the verge of cramping badly the entire time. I ran out of salt capsules with 7 or 8 miles to go, so I added an occasional sip of PowerBar Perform into the mix along with Coke and water to help put off the cramping. It seemed to do the trick. Thankfully, my muscles never got to a complete spasm but it was certainly close, especially on the uphill and the downhill. Lesson learned – I should have taken more salt on the bike (I was probably getting about 600-700mg per hour, next time I will aim for 800mg in similar conditions).

I was still in third after making the final turnaround at mile 20ish. I knew that the total number of Kona slots was reduced compared to previous years, so I had a feeling that our age group would only get two slots (compared to three in prior years). I was very motivated to gain one more position. I’d been steadily gaining on Sam (who was in second place and was putting together a very solid Ironman debut race despite having a tough run). Strangely enough, I don’t actually remember the moment when I passed her. At some point I just knew that I was ahead. According to her, it happened when she was in the bathroom, so I guess it makes sense that I don’t remember actually passing her on the course. I must have been pretty out of it myself. One last pass through the inspiration station – everyone cheered so loudly, it made me pick it up a little for the last mile. I made it up the last hill and onto the Sherman Ave. I saw Alicia, Teshia and Sydnie as they were shouting “Go Lilia” on the last corner. The last half a mile was euphoric. The crowd was roaring. I saw 10:30 on the clock as I approached the finish line chute, which was my goal finishing time. I didn’t have any energy left for high fives or a finish line dance or a jump, I was just so happy to finish and not have to run any more. I really feel like I gave it all on that run.

After getting my finisher’s medal and t-shirt, I proceeded into the recovery area where I ran into Cathleen and Graeme who both finished recently. I learned that I was third amateur woman overall which made me really happy. I was still full from all the calories on the course, so pizza didn’t sound appealing. I had a few orange slices and went to get my free massage and followed that by soaking in the lake.

Carly and Kevin helped me bring my bike and gear bags to the car and drove me to the house. I took the much needed long shower and we went to grab some Mexican food. For some reason, I always crave greasy Mexican food with lots of sour cream and cheese after long races. My fish tacos were delicious as was my Margarita. Later we met up with Cathleen, Sydnie, Jenny, Adam and Sam for celebration beers at a local pub. We followed that up with watching the last finishers come through the chute until midnight. It was quite a party – always so much fun to see the huge smiles on the athletes’ faces as they cross the finish line.

I slept like a rock that night until 6am when I woke up, feeling like I fell off a tall mountain, to go to the Ironman store. The finisher’s merchandise becomes available at 7am and there’s usually a quarter-mile line to get into the store well before the doors open. I am normally not that into covering myself with the M-dot logo merchandise, but I figured who knows if I will ever do this race again, so I treated myself to a really cute K-Swiss finisher’s jacket. I claimed my Kona slot at the registration area, picked up my special needs bags (which I didn’t end up using during the race), and had some coffee with Ben and Cindy at the Bakery by the Lake. I finally gorged myself with a gigantic cinnamon bun which I’ve been eyeing since Thursday.

It was a great day for Seattle at the awards banquet. Lots of athletes from Seattle area teams were represented on the podium and were headed to Kona for the World Championship. In our age group alone, we had Cathleen, myself and Sam on the women’s side and Gerry Marvin on the men’s side.

The magic triathlon weekend had come to an end. All that was left was a long drive to Seattle with an obligatory stop for Mexican food. I am really grateful to all the fantastic people in my life that made this race such a great experience. I am very thankful to my brilliant and supportive coach Ben Bigglestone, who made me a stronger athlete both physically and mentally. Huge thanks to all my fellow VO2 athletes. It was incredible to share the day with you whether you were racing or cheering after all the hours of training spent together throughout the cold winter and spring. Special shout outs go to Rebecca Fink, Gerry Marvin, Graeme Roche, Kara Nielsen and Daniel Tomko. Big kudos to my housemates Carly and Kevin Tu, Tri, Daniel and Reid, who made the pre-race craziness manageable. Carly was also the loudest and most inspiring supporter on the course :-) I want thank the extremely talented competitors in my age group who keep me reaching for new heights every year. Cathleen and Sam – if I wasn’t scared to death of racing both of you, I probably wouldn’t be able to stay as focused during the training season and put together such a good day in Coeur D’Alene ;-) Last but not least, I am blessed to have an extremely supportive family and boyfriend. Unfortunately, neither my Mom nor Kevin were able to make it to Coeur D’Alene this year, but both of them were there in spirit. Looking forward to having them both in Kona! Aloha!