A Very Busy Month: 3 Race Reports in 1

I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun – even if you’re working your butt off along the way.

Since Wildflower on May 5th, I’ve competed in three races, and been quite pleased with all of them, and exceptionally pleased with one stand-out performance.

I’ve also put in some incredibly tough training weeks during this time, alternating the focus between strength and intensity. After a couple weeks of challenging strength-oriented uphill running and muscle tension work on my bike, I headed straight into an intensity block that involved 11 (hard!) intensity sessions in 14 days, one of which was my most recent race. It was some really hard work, but lots of progress was made, and the results were evident, which is always so rewarding. And in some ways, it actually felt great to be able to really push myself workout after workout. But alas, recovery week has arrived, and I must say I am enjoying it! One of the biggest benefits is I’ve got time to catch up on work, and of course to write. So, here’s a recap of my performances over the past few weeks. (Be warned: It’s lengthy!! But, if you’re bored, or just really interested, read on my friends!)

Folsom International Triathlon

A few hours after Wildflower, I packed up shop, headed for home and, after lots of time to reflect on what went well/what didn’t/how to improve in my future performances, turned my focus to what lay ahead. I had an Olympic distance triathlon scheduled the following Sunday at Folsom Lake in Granite Bay, and I was super excited to get out there and give it another go. I knew I had a great performance in me, just waiting to get out, but that I had a lot to prove after my last race. I was determined to do better, and show myself I could fulfill my potential.

This would be a “training” race, however, so I was set to train right on through race day, with no taper. This was totally fine by me, as I actually really enjoy going into races feeling the affects of the work I’ve been putting in, and with no major expectations other than to take advantage of the chance to push my limits, and continue getting better. Both of those things were accomplished at the Folsom Lake International Triathlon on May 12th.

As I mentioned, I was excited for this race, and was really looking forward to having a good time on a great day in an area I knew and loved. This really sums up my approach: to make the most of a great day, yet another opportunity to test myself, and to rise to my own challenge. I knew this was a pretty tough course, so no PR would be likely, but I was determined to get as darn close as possible. I had no idea whatsoever of who all was in the field, but I told myself that while I am always gunning for that top OA spot, I needed to really focus on my own race, and putting everything together like I knew I could. As race time approached, I was feeling surprisingly good, and super psyched!

Onto the swim… I went out hard from the get-go, knowing this is what I need to do in order to start bringing down my swim time, which has been “pretty good” all year, but just not great. I worked on keeping the tempo up and really keeping my foot on the gas, and felt like I was having pretty good success… I was in a good rhythm, charging hard, and in the front of the pack. What I soon realized I wasn’t having much success with, however, was my navigation. As I worked my way down the first stretch, I realized I’d gotten quite a bit off course, and was swimming a terrible line way out to the side of the buoy. I tried to cut back in as quickly as possible, turning up the tempo, and eventually got back on track and around the buoy, but certainly had lost some time to the extra distance and effort.

Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there. Not sure what my issue was with this race, but I had a super hard time seeing where I needed to go. On the next segment of the swim, I was in a hurry to make up the time I’d lost. I knew the next turn-around buoy was white, so I set my sets, found my direction, and charged hard! Sight checks indicated I was still headed straight for the white spot ahead. But after some time, I realized it was a bit strange that there was literally NO one around me. Surely I must have been catching some of the slower men from the prior start waves…?! Panicked, I quickly looked around and saw other pink-capped women from my wave swimming on by me, WAY off to the left, right next to the orange sighting buoys. Huh? I could have sworn I was headed straight for the white buoy! I stopped, treaded water and took off my goggles so I could really get my bearings. Sure enough, I learned that I had actually been heading straight for the volunteer kayaker in the bright white tee shirt, and not the white buoy. I was WAY off course. Woops!

I was flustered and frustrated, knowing I’d lost significant, valuable time, and likely several places. But all I could do was get myself back on course and to the swim-out as quickly as possible. Eventually I worked my way back – so that’s where all the other swimmers were! — and put in a hard charge on the final straightaway. I passed several swimmers in those last minutes into the finish, including some pink caps who’d gotten ahead during my detour, but I had a feeling I was still way off pace, and way behind the leading women. As it turns out, when I came out the water, I checked my watch and was absolutely shocked to see it read just over 25 minutes. Much better than expected given my navigation issues! I was also told I was the second woman out. This too was a pleasant surprise – despite some terrible experiences on the swim, I was actually still in this thing!!! (Never, ever, ever give up!) I knew, however, that I had my work cut out for me, as I was more than 2 minutes out of the lead (ouch!), and there could easily be super strong riders behind me. But I also knew I was going to do everything in my power to ensure this would be my day to turn in a stellar ride, and carry that through to a stellar run.

The bike course was absolutely beautiful, winding through the open foothill roads that I do so many of my long training rides on. It was fun being familiar with the course, and knowing when certain sections (particularly hills!) were approaching. I rode hard, and felt incredibly strong. I knew I’d likely get passed in the first bit of the race, as I heard the announcer call out the name of a super biker coming out of the water in third as I rode out of transition. Sure enough, Joanne came flying by me, and just like that I dropped down to third place. I was determined to keep her in my sights as long as possible, and I think this proved to be a huge advantage, as I had a fast-moving target in front of me to not only push me, but serve as a great guide for working the various types of terrain. I matched her efforts from an increasing distance behind for as long as I could, but gradually lost sight of her. Nonetheless, I knew I was having a great bike. I needed to not let up, as I felt confident I could regain my spot on the run if I could keep from losing too much time here. I pushed hard into T2, once again feeling like my riding was at a whole new level, and feeling super stoked! I completed the bike leg in 1:11 and change– quite a good pace for me, considering it was a hillier course. Determined not to have another bonking experience, I ate and drank diligently on the bike, so I headed onto the run feeling good!

Not from the race, but from another ride around the area this spring. Absolutely gorgeous plants and flowers all around!

I knew I could run myself back up into second place if I could stay strong, but that I’d have to give it everything I had. I had a feeling first place was pretty far out of reach, but never out of the question, so I kept it in the back of my mind. One step at a time! I set off at a quick but steady pace, knowing I needed to go for it, as I had some ground to make up, but that I had plenty of time to do it. I knocked off a couple fast miles and then was able to see second place in my view. I focused on gradually reeling her in. When the time came, at about mile 3.5, I made a decisive move. She hung on like glue for a bit, but I forced myself to keep the foot on the gas, and broke away by about mile 4, but was feeling tired! I told myself to go, go, go, and not look back! Somewhere in the fifth mile, the pain really started to set in, and while I was doing everything I could to hold on, it got worse.

I told myself I had to tough it out, and I did, but that last mile-and-a-half was not without some serious hypoxic breathing, groaning and moaning. I was desperate for that finish line! My body was on full throttle; over the limit, but I refused to let up, too afraid of what would happen if I did! I needed to finish this thing off. Fortunately, I grunted my way to the finish just in time, and then promptly fell to the ground, gasping for air, and completely, utterly exhausted. I knew my body was seriously beyond discomfort, so it was no surprise when I literally could not get up from the ground. Fortunately, some amazing TBF racing volunteers quickly came to my rescue, helping me rise to my feet, as I continued gasping for breath. My legs felt unbelievably weak, nearly collapsing even with the extra support. With the combination of the heat, a tough run course with some super steep hills, and my absolute refusal to give in, I had REALLY put myself in the hurt locker. I knew the heat had taken its toll, as I felt completely dehydrated, and literally drank cup after cup as I sat in the med tent.

The good news was, while I undoubtedly slowed my pace in the final mile, I’d made it to the line, retained my spot as 2nd overall female, and still turned in the second-fastest run split of the day, not far off the pace of the leader (who turned out to be fellow Truckee athlete and serious studette Shannon Rahlves). I sat in the med tent for several minutes, totally covered in ice. Eventually my core temperature came back down, and my body stated to rejuvenate enough for the med personnel to release me (thank you SO much for all your help!!).

Overall, I was really pleased with this performance and thought it was a definite step in the right direction. However, I’m still concerned with my need to figure out how to deal with the heat. This is something I am going to continue working on diligently. For now, I am glad I made it through, and thankful the experience is over. I suppose if what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, than I’m certainly a tougher cookie after that one!

Bay to Breakers

The day after Folsom International, I started not feeling so hot. I took it easy and hoped I’d feel better the next day, but sure enough, day two simply confirmed that I was definitely sick. Much to my dismay, I had to forego several of the great training sessions on my schedule and replace them with rest, sleep and comida. I realize that “normal” people might question my sanity, but I really was quite disappointed. Yet, I knew I had to do the right thing for my body. After several days of rest and rejuvenation, I started feeling on the rise again. I had already signed up for the Bay to Breakers 12km running race down in the city, and was planning to go stay with my sister and make a weekend out of it. By Friday, I was feeling just good enough to justify making the trip, but wasn’t totally sure whether or not I would race. But when I woke up in San Francisco on Saturday, I was feeling even better (though, admittedly, still not 100 percent), so I decided it was a go. I had a lovely dinner at my sister’s restaurant, waited for her to get off of work, and then we hit the sack in preparation for a VERY early morning. I was so excited that my sister was also taking part in the race! The plan was for me to finish and then jog/walk/hobble back along the side of the course until I found Kaci, and then run with her for a bit. She and her friend Kate were not racing the event, but rather running for the pleasure of participating (as many do in the B2B).

I made it to the seeded start corral with plenty of time to spare, so I got in a really good warm-up, plus some hang-out time to really scope things out and soak it all in. I knew I couldn’t expect much out of myself in terms of performance given the week I was coming off of, but I figured I’d just do my best with what my body had to offer that day. If nothing else, this would be a really good hard workout to add to the books and hopefully make me stronger. And besides, this race really is all about the experience, which is truly one-of-a-kind. I’ve done this race twice before, but still found myself in awe of the whole spectacle of the event itself.

Runners for miles!

During the race, I felt okay, but not great – about as I expected. I ran hard and tried to make the most of what my body could produce that day, but my legs just didn’t have the speed and “oomph” needed to really churn out those fast miles. I finished the race in 53:07, good enough for a top-50 finish among nearly 12,000 female registrants, and just over a minute behind my PR on the same course, which I actually felt quite satisfied with. In all honesty, this exceeded my expectations. While it is always disappointing not to see improvement in your times year-after-year, I knew I had to give myself a break today. And I knew I’d done everything I could. Chalk it up as another race experience in the bag! Now it was on the next mission: find my sister!

Kaci/Kate Love!

While the B2B race seems just semi-crazy from the front, it only gets increasingly unique as the pack extends. With roughly 25,000 registered participants and many more people lining the streets and jumping in along the course, it is one wild experience. I saw crazy costumes, NO costumes (yes, that means total nudity), very serious runners and very unserious walkers. Eventually I found my sister and her friend Kate among the crowd. They were definitely among the un-serious, but for my sister who is not much of a runner, just doing the race was actually quite a big accomplishment, and I was super proud of her. While she was able to run most of the race with a little walking mixed in, the pace was leisurely and the goal was simply to soak in the whole experience. I turned back and joined Kaci and Kate for a bit along the course, immersed in the crowds and taking it all in – what a scene! I broke off shortly before the finish and cheered my sister on through the line. I was so happy for her when she crossed it!

What I will definitely remember and treasure about this day is having the experience of it to share with my sister. While we did not race together, we were both out there putting our hearts into the same thing, and for me that was really special. We shared lots of laughs and memories as we slowly made our way back along the course toward home, after a quick dip in the ocean down at the beach near the finish. What a day! For me this race has always been more about the experience than anything else, and that is certainly how it was again this year. The results may be remembered, but the day itself undoubtedly will be. Big thanks to my sister for sharing in this wonderful memory, and congrats on your accomplishment!

LUNA bars at Athleta during post-race shopping time! YUM!

Reservoir Triathlon

Last week, after a lovely weekend off for a friend’s wedding in Minnesota, I headed down to Morgan Hill for Threshold Racing ‘s Reservoir Olympic Distance Triathlon. This is a challenging, but super scenic and fun race that I’d done last year, so I was really excited to be able to have a measure of comparison for myself. That being said, I really wasn’t expecting a ton in terms of performance, as this race fell smack-dab in the middle of my two intensity weeks, and I’d done four intensity sessions in the six days leading in.  But, regardless of the lead-in, racing is always a chance to push your body out of its comfort zone and see what you can do there, and that I did expect from myself, no matter how I was feeling or performing. So mentally, I came in with an open mind, positive thoughts, ready to give it my all, and ready to rock!

Luckily, Aug and I found a fantastic campsite literally two miles from the start of the race, so it was a super easy race morning and I got to transition with more time to spare than I ever have. I got a great spot, and was able to take my time setting up. I felt super relaxed, and exceptionally excited to race. I was really looking forward to a fun day! In the back of my head, of course, I wanted the overall win, but I just let that thought hang out there, and not come to the forefront. I stayed focused on controlling and doing my absolute best with all the elements of my own race. There was a sprint tri that began before the Olympic distance, so I got to see some of those competitors – many of them first-timers – racing as I warmed up. This got me super psyched up, and was a great reminder of why I love the true spirit of triathlon!

I was again shocked at how good my legs actually felt during warm-up, but tried not to think about it too much and jinx myself before the start. Eventually it came time to head down to the Uvas reservoir, and I was happy to see the water was literally the perfect temperature at 69 degrees, — a huge relief, as last year this race took place April 1st and the temp was about 58. It felt great! My wave of ladies got lined up and took off. I had some issues with my navigation again and got a little off line down to the buoy, but nothing compared to Folsom! I still need to figure this out, however, as it’s all valuable time and energy wasted. I swam hard and felt like I was near the front, but really couldn’t tell. As it turned out, I exited the water in sixth place, again swimming in the 25-minute range. I’m a bit frustrated that my swim doesn’t seem to be getting any faster so far this year, but have to note that it does seem to be getting more efficient, on the plus side, and has certainly been remarkably consistent (25 minutes and change in every Olympic distance this year).

I managed to gain a spot in transition and headed onto the bike in fifth place. The bike course is fairly challenging and quite technical, but absolutely beautiful, and super fun riding. I knew my time from last year, so I was really motivated to see how much I could best it by. During the ride, I focused intently on my pedal strokes – keeping them efficient, maintaining a high tempo and applying power when appropriate. Once again, my riding felt really good. In fact, it felt awesome! I was definitely reaping the benefits of all of the ride-specific training I’ve been putting in, and I was stoked! I was so stoked, actually, and having so much fun, that at one point on one of the flats, I just couldn’t help myself and let out a big “Whoooo!” I was truly having a blast! I always feel like this is the mark of a really exceptional race is when you can honestly say you are having fun. Yes, you are pushing hard, and of course it hurts, but overall your body is feeling good, doing what you need it to do, and you feel very present, and just so happy to be out there! This was definitely the feeling for me here, and so I knew that if I could hold onto it, I was in for a really good day.

The ride seemed to fly by even despite the hills in the later half of the course, and before I knew it I was into T2, and into fourth place (I’d passed two gals on the bike, but been passed by one super speedy woman who was the eventual race winner). I checked my watch to see that I’d beat my bike time from last year by more than four minutes. Psyched! And now it was onto the run, my favorite part, and I was feeling good, and totally ready to rock it! Even though I’d gone hard on the bike, I felt like I still had really good energy left, and my legs felt totally alive. I took off at what I knew was a quick pace, but was still shocked to see how fast my first couple mile-splits were, well under 7 minutes. I wasn’t sure if I should panic and slow down, but I realized that I was still feeling good, so I just kept it going. I knew this could be a fast run for me, as my run split from this course last year was my triathlon PR heading into this event, and I’d be turning in some really strong run workouts lately. So, I made it my goal as I was running to beat that time and set a new PR! I was also determined to turn in the fastest run split of the day.

I was so focused on my own race and how I was doing in terms of time that I didn’t even realize I was running up on third place until I was right behind her. I still felt great, so I went on by and just tried to keep the tempo up. When I got to the turn-around, I was still feeling snappy, and knew I was on my way to turning in a good one, if I could just hold on! I also got a split that I was making up big time ground on 1st and 2nd place, but I honestly did not shift my focus there. I just told myself to keep running my race, to keep this pace up, and see where that would take me. In that moment, that was definitely the best approach for me. Heading home, I knew I had a solid lead over fourth place, so I was pretty secure in my podium spot. I knew I was gaining on the two leaders, but I knew it was a lot to ask to make up all that ground in just a couple of miles. So, while of course I did my best to run them down, that was not what was driving me to keep pushing. I stayed very calm, and focused only on my watch, my own running, and my own attempt to turn in a fast time, to not back down, and to have the race I knew I could have. After mile 4, the hurt finally started to set in, but I did not let it manifest itself into something bigger in my mind. I simply kept my legs moving. I was told again and again that I was still getting closer to second place (which was now the former leader), but for some reason I felt like I still had a ways to go to close the gap. I zoned in on my one mission: get to that finish line as fast as you can, and do not let up! I did slow down in a bit in those final two miles, but not by much. I was able to maintain a sub-7-minute pace on each of them. I gave it everything I had in the final push to the finish, and crossed the line in third place, just 25 seconds out off second. I could not have been more pleased!!

In the end, I ran a 42:45, my fastest run time yet in an Olympic distance tri, and good enough to earn the run preem of a GC for a free pair of running shoes! Wahoo — Thanks Threshold Racing! My total race time was 2:24:01, over six minutes faster than my time here last year! It was also probably the best I’ve felt on my bike yet, in addition to having such an incredible experience on the run, so needless to say, I was psyched. This was definitely a breakthrough performance for me. I finally felt like I was able to put everything together at the pace I am capable of (minus the still somewhat lack-luster swim, but I’m working on that!). I’d say this is up there was one of my top performances of my career. No med tent visit this time either, and not even a collapse at the line, but certainly not for lack of effort! The temperature was quite mild, so I’m sure that helped a lot, but I know the training is too! It was super rewarding to have such a great performance on a day when I least expected it, and I guess it goes to show the value of keeping an open mind, and never ruling yourself out! It is also thrilling to see the hard work start to pay off, and feel like new levels are being reached. I know I still have lots more work to put in, and hopefully a lot more progress to make, because I’m definitely not done yet!

Overall podium gals!
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