Vineman 70.3 – The First Test, July 14th
When I arrived in wine country a week and a half ago for Vineman 70.3, I literally had NO idea what to expect out of the weekend — and, more specifically, out of myself. It has certainly not been a typical last few months of training for me. While I’ve been able to swim and bike for some time now, there’s been very little structure and very few hard efforts as my knee has continued to recover. Running had been completely non-existent for more than two months until I finally felt strong enough to start easing my way back in the week before Vineman.
I started with a three-mile “run” behind my house that was literally so slow and awkward (and still slightly painful) it could hardly be considered a run, but then worked my way up to 4.5 miles, 5.5, and eventually 7.5 as the week went on. Over the course of those four runs, my steps gradually became less awkward, minimally faster, and less and less painful. I certainly wasn’t my usual self, but I was running again, and loving it, despite the challenge.
In the final days before the race, I made my decision to give it a go. With just four runs under my belt in two-and-a-half months I wasn’t exactly sitting pretty, but having made it through the 7.5-miler without knee pain, I felt confident I’d be able to get through the race without doing further damage or setting back my recovery. I knew I probably couldn’t expect much, but with having missed several races already, I was really itching to get back out there. And hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, right?!
Race Day Arrives!
So I decided my start would be in Guerneville in the Russian River, as it has been for four summers now at either Vineman 140.6 (full Iron-distance) or Vineman 70.3 (half), both of which I’ve come to LOVE! I simply did not want to miss out on this one, as long as I knew I could make it to the finish line. I was surprised at how excited I felt to race triathlon again, despite feeling less than completely prepared. I gave myself no specific pre-race expectations, and sought simply to push as hard as I could in the moment and make it to the finish knowing I’d left it all out there. I told myself in advance that if my knee was hurting on the run, I would walk, or even drop if I had to. But I was going to do the best I could with what my body would allow me.
Fortunately, that ended up being far more than I anticipated. After a solid swim and bike (all things considered), the day was really shaping up nicely heading into the run, and there was some definite potential there with the time on my watch. But I knew the race could go ANY direction from that point depending what my body would give me. I had started to feel pretty tired mid-way through the bike (about miles 30-40) — perhaps because I’ve been spending so much time on my mountain bike and not enough on my TT bike, oops! I backed off a bit, and then was able to pull it back together. But as I approached the run leg, I began to wonder if I’d backed it off a little too much on that bike section, as my energy levels felt surprisingly good. After a ridiculously slow transition in which I was in no real hurry, just focusing on staying relaxed and preparing for the task ahead (BAD move, in hindsight), I took my first few steps onto the run course; the real test of the day!
The Run: 13.1 INCREDIBLE Miles
Those first steps were awkward as usual, but soon enough I began to settle in. And as that settling quickly progressed, I realized I was actually feeling pretty good. Like… really, unanticipated good. At the first mile marker I was shocked to see a split just over 7 minutes — I hadn’t run that fast in months, and didn’t know I was still capable of it. I got worried for a minute that it’d be all downhill from there, but then I told myself to just take it one mile at a time and stay in the moment. The next mile was more of the same, and I felt super relaxed and strong (and no knee pain!), so I told myself to keep rolling and just see how long I could hang on!
By mile 4 I decided I was in this thing for the long haul, and was determined to keep the pace going and not just get through the run, but actually turn in a good time! My body was giving me something special here, and I knew I had to do all I could to take advantage of it. It is truly amazing how our body remembers how to do things we haven’t done in so long, and how much it is capable of when we push it in the right moment. I felt completely in awe of what mine was doing that day, and felt SO blessed and grateful to be in that very moment, doing exactly what I was doing: running, and running fast!
Around miles 8-9 things started to hurt a bit, but I just continued to focus on that gratitude and soaking in the feeling of running again. I was aware of my pace and those around me, but focusing so much more on myself and my body. Miles 10-11 hurt a bit more, and by miles 12-13 the pain threshold was about maxed out. I gave it all I could to push through, and was SO pleased to reach that finish line, for SO MANY reasons! It felt so good, I barely held back the tears (for reals!)… Because I AM BACK!
All Said and Done
It had truly been an incredible day. I’d come in with no real set standards other than to maximize the experience, and I finished with a PR time of 5:04:28. Here’s the breakdown: swim – 31:57; bike 2:44:33; run – 1:41:12 (just 13 seconds slower than last year!). I finished fifth in my age group, and top-30 among all amateur women, in what is probably the most competitive field on my race schedule. Ironically, I ended up missing a slot at the 70.3 World Championships by just a minute-and-a-half (and lost two minutes in transitions to the gal who claimed it — OUCH!!… better pick those up next time). I let myself get bummed out about such a near-miss (and a silly one at that with those horrendous transitions!) for a short time, and then came back to reality and remembered how very blessed I’d been to have the day I had. Worlds wasn’t even remotely on my radar, and I’d just barely missed it after turning in a PR time — what’s there to be bummed about? Nothing! Only MUCH to be grateful for. And I am… so very, very grateful.
Tahoe Trail 100, July 20th
The next weekend (last weekend), I got this crazy idea on Friday to jump into the Tahoe Trail 100 on Saturday. The Tahoe Trail 100 is a 100 km mountain bike race that is a qualifier for the Leadville 100 (a 100 mile mountain bike race held in August in Leadville, CO). Once again I had pretty much no idea what to expect of myself. I’ve never ridden my mountain bike that long, and can’t say I’d really prepared myself too particularly for the task. But, I’ve been having a blast on my mountain bike this summer, so I’ve been getting in a lot of riding time and getting lots of new experiences with some of the racing I’ve jumped into since the crash. It’s all been a ton of fun, and this was no exception.
It ended up being a great experience for me, and went extremely well! The majority of the race was on fire roads so I felt like I was able to push pretty hard throughout the duration, even with a considerable amount of climbing on the course. Probably the most challenging aspect was trying to navigate the course while surrounded by so many people (more specifically, men who seemed a bit too aggressive out there in my opinion). There were 500 riders that all started together, so it was a little nuts, particularly on the first lap. I stayed focused on my own race and effort, and tried to push the pace as much as I could over the 62 miles. I felt surprisingly strong for a long time, until about mile 54 or so, when the final long climb of the race began. Those last 8 miles were pretty much brutal, and I was borderline miserable/desperate. But thankfully my legs had just enough juice to get me to the finish without losing too much time, and I was beyond stoked to cross the line as 4th woman overall, and 1st in my age group, with a time of 5:15:46.
I was utterly exhausted when I made it there, but after consuming about 4 bottles of fluids in maybe 10 minutes, I slowly began to feel a little better (the potato chips helped too!). I was thrilled that Rebecca Rusch, the women’s champion (and multi-time Leadville champ and all-around bad-ass) was there at the finish to congratulate me and see if I needed anything — what a class act and wonderful person! I just wish I could have been a bit more animated in my responses. Thanks Rebecca, from a now fully-functioning me! 🙂
By winning my age group I’d earned a coveted Leadville spot, which I accepted but deferred to 2014. Guess I’ve got some work to do on the distance mountain biking front before next August. 100 miles all above 10,000 feet…?! I’m overwhelmed just thinking about it, but I’ve got some time to prepare. All in all, this was a super fun and successful experience for me, and I’m really excited to delve a little deeper into the realm of endurance mountain biking now that I’ve scratched the surface.
I could not be more thankful for the past two weekends. They’ve brought more than I could have imagined in these past few months as I felt like I got further and further behind. They have shown me that patience, perseverance and positivity really do pay off if you give them a chance, and that we really are capable of so much more than we think sometimes. They have shown me how amazing our bodies really are if we treat them right. They have also shown me that I am ready to move forward (with some caution, and hopefully plenty of intelligence) in my training, which is AMAZING news! While I’m pleased to be where I’m at right now, I’ve still got a lot of work ahead. But most importantly, these last two weekends have shown me how incredibly lucky I am to be back to doing what I love, and to have received the unbelievable support and encouragement I have from those around me these past few months. I am in awe of the many wonderful people in my life, and you have lifted me up and carried me through in ways you are probably not even aware of. THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart!
As I move forward with the season, I’ve had to take a good, careful look at my schedule and determine what makes the most sense for me at this point, with the goals I have for the remainder of the year. As such, I (reluctantly) decided earlier this week that I would not be racing the full Vineman (140.6) this weekend, as my knee is still not 100 percent, and far from ready for that distance right now. I’ve done this race for three years now, and it is a huge highlight for me. Needless to say, I was disappointed to let it go, but I knew it was the right, and responsible, thing to do. I know it would almost certainly have been an ugly 26.2 miles on the run, and could potentially set back my recovery if not do further damage. With Ironman Lake Tahoe (a 2014 Kona qualifier) coming up in September and Xterra World Champs in October, I simply cannot risk that. These are my biggest events of the season, and I remain focused on getting back to 100 percent — and hopefully beyond — by that time.
So no full Vineman for me this year. But I will be doing the Donner Lake Triathlon right here in Truckee on Sunday instead!I’d scheduled work appointments near the race for Thursday and Friday thinking I’d be staying through Sunday for Vineman, so I still headed down there Thursday morning. I was worried I’d feel extremely disappointed being so near the race scene and knowing I wasn’t participating. But when I headed out for a ride yesterday morning, much of which was on the course itself, as I took in the spectacular wine country views and perfect cool morning air, all of my disappointment just melted away. There I was, among some of the most gorgeous scenery in existence, doing one of my favorite things in the world. And once again I found myself unable to feel anything but happy… and so very, very grateful.