Friday, November 12, 2010

Ironman Florida - The Race Report

It was quiet. Eerily so. I could see the wind briskly blowing the branches of the palm trees. I could feel its coolness lifting my hair away from my face. People were bustling around, bundled up against the cold, laden with transition bags, porting bike pumps, sipping water and nervously chattering.

Yet I heard nothing.

I had parted ways with my teammates a few moments back just after stepping out of the elevator on our way to transition. I had a couple bottles of water in my car that I wanted to grab to fill my bike bottles and to drink pre-race. They set off on the 5-minute walk to the race start together and I circled back to my rig, alone.

After retrieving the water, I set out on my solo walk to transition. According to my plan, I had enough time to add a few things to my transition bags, get my tires pumped, fill my water bottles, load my nutrition on my bike, drop off my special needs bags then head on down to the water just in time to see the pros take off on the swim.

As I walked steadily towards the body marking line, my mind was clear. Calm. Absent were the pre-race butterflies that send me to the bathroom at least three times before the race. Gone were the questions and re-thinking of clothes selection. Missing was the buildup of anxiety before the gun goes off.

It was just quiet.

I walked right up to an eagerly awaiting body marking volunteer who was excitedly waving his Sharpie in the air. “Body Marking!” I could see his lips say but I couldn’t tell you what his voice sounded like. He began with an exuberant “Good Morning! It’s gonna be a great day to race! What’s your number?” “Twenty-four Sixty One”, I must’ve said as he began writing on me, turning me this way and that to get both arms and both quads. “This is one of the few times it’s okay for me to ask, how old are you?” he mouthed through a toothy smile. “Thirty-nine”, he heard and etched for the last time a pre-masters number on my calf. “Good luck today!” he smiled, turned, thrust his trusty sharpie into the air, “Body Marking!”

I quietly walked on.

I stopped off at the Bike to Run Transition bag area and deposited my Garmin. It was all charged up, display set for just how I like it, distance in the big spot, pace in the bottom left and everything reset to zero. Check.

I passed by the long line at the bike mechanic tent and saw the stress written on faces of those athletes who arrived in transition that morning only to find some sort of technical issue with their bike. A flat or a seat post that mysteriously went all the way down. Behind that line were two bike guys manning the air compressors, servicing other athletes who just wanted to top it off that morning. On the left, a huge line to two porta potties. I didn’t concern me. I walked on.

I arrived at my bike and gave it the once over. Nothing seemed amiss. All black with a hint of red on the race wheels. The Katana looked ready. Stealth. Fast. I loaded my nutrition bottles and gave the cages an extra squeeze so as to not launch anything on the roads that afternoon. I filled the aero-bottle and dropped in a Nuun and watched it fizz and slowly sail and sink its way to the bottom.

I took it off the rack and walked it over to the air compressor line, it was already down to only one person. The person in front of me was nervously checking and rechecking the pressure of her tire. I could see her squeeze it and look at the bike tech, head tilted to the side as if to say, “are you sure it’s good?” He steadily looked back at the Ironman rookie and simply nodded with one eyebrow lifted…I’m sure thinking, “Listen, honey, it’s fine. I know what I’m doing.” She turned her bike around and ran it back to her transition rack. I pulled up the Katana and exchanged side smiles with the bike tech as he slightly shook his head back and forth.

I returned the Katana to the rack and headed out of transition to drop off my special needs bags. The drop off was about another 1-2 minute walk away from transition. Other athletes were hustling down the road to go drop their bags and freaking out as transition was closing shortly, but I just steadily stepped my way in the silence towards the drop off.

As I approached a volunteer taking bags, he turned towards me after having helped someone else and extended his arms to take my bags. “Twenty-four Sixty-One,” he read off the bag number and then his eyes traveled from my bag to me and gave me the once over. He paused and I could see his lips say, “Wow. You are ready.”

I gave him a single nod, turned and headed back towards transition.

As I walked, in my mind’s eye, I could see me walking. It was like those scenes from Top Gun or Apollo 13 or something were the pilots are walking in slow motion, steadily, calmly towards their planes. Some motivational music playing in the score. Arms confidently swinging, eyes piercing, focused, ready.

At that moment, I realized the quiet was my inner competitor getting into the zone. No fear. No anxiety. No Nervousness. Just quietly gearing up to get the job done today. Yes. Yes, I am ready.

The woman freaking out in transition because she couldn’t find her goggles and screaming at her husband for losing them didn’t faze me.

The folks coming out of the portapotties saying there was no more toilet paper and that you should only go in there if you really, really have to because it wasn’t pretty didn’t faze me.

The volunteers hurriedly rushing athletes out of transition because it was closed didn’t faze me.

It was time to do this thing.

Finally the sounds of the event began creeping in as I heard the announcer start the pros off in the swim. I could hear the waves crashing on the beach, the friends, family, volunteers and supporters all wishing everyone good luck, clapping, cheering, hugging. It was going to be a great race day.

I waded into the water quickly as, oddly enough, the warmest place to be all day would be in the water. Go figure. The air temps that morning were a brisk 41 degrees but the water was in the high 70s. We’d frolicked in the waves the day before so I knew that water felt great. The swells were significantly less than the 4-footers we had experienced in our practice swim, so the little waves we saw on race morning had nothing on me.

I followed my usual starting plan of starting on the far outside – fortunately it was again a counter-clockwise swim and for those of us who breathe only on the left it is PERFECT! I can swim on the outside edge, keep an eye on everyone else and on the buoys. Piece. Of. Cake.

The gun went off and I waited for the crazies to jump out there and start beating each other up, then slipped quietly into the water and started swimming. I felt good in the water. The temp was warm, the waves were minimal and before I knew it, I was quickly into my groove. The salt water/wetsuit combo makes you feel like you are literally just floating on top of the water. It was easy and fast to move through.

The whole drafting thing still escapes me. I tried following some feet that I found, but when I was there I felt like I was going slower than before instead of faster – which is probably true since I came up on their feet, right? Or is that I was actually drafting so the effort felt less – I couldn’t’ figure it out. So, I would pull around them and go on about my merry way.

Touch, pull, roll. Touch, pull, roll. Breathe to the sky. Swim. Swim. Sight the friends. Swim. Swim. Sight the buoy. Passing caps. Stearing clear of the masses. Skirting around the edges. Swim steady. Swim strong.

The water is so clear you can see the bottom a lot of the time. It seems close but when you come up on someone who is stopped and they are treading water, their feet are no where near the bottom. So I was a little bit surprised when I was swimming and during my pull I hit sand! What the? I peek up. Wow. Lap 1, 1.2 miles, done. Nice! I ab crunch my feet under me and stand up. Apparently I was swimming in like two feet of water. I’m sure I looked ridiculous as everyone else was already up walking/running through the water and there I was bodysurfing all the way up the beach. Dork. Oh well. I glance at my watch 0:34 something or nother (my goggles were fogged up already and I really couldn’t see very well). Cool! I jog over the timing mat and head back out to the water and engage my mathlete skills. Ok. So 34 minutes for lap 1. But it will take me another couple of minutes to slog my way through the shallow water and back out for lap number 2 plus the time between when I looked at my watch and actually crossed the mat. So let’s call it 38 minutes. Times two. That’s eight plus eight is sixteen carry the one, three times two is six plus one is seven. That’s seventy-two less sixty equals one twelve. Goal time is one fifteen. I think I’m good here. Let’s get it done!

Back in the water I go. Calm. Confident. Collected.

As the water slid by face stroke after stroke I thought, indigenous marine life? I AM indigenous marine life today. Look at me. Black on black on black. I’m like a seal out here. Gliding effortlessly through the water. Staying on my edge. Being aero…or..hydro..or whatever the heck you should call it. I had plenty of open water and my sighting was on fire. It was SO on target that I literally ran right into the last turn buoy. I bonked my head and air forcefully escaped my lips as I guffawed when I realized I was under a big red floating triangle. I surfaced, breaststroked and giggled my way around the corner wondering how many other athletes saw that. Geez…I try to be so cool sometimes, but really I’m just a dork.

Ok. Back to serious business. Home stretch of the swim now, let’s turn it on a bit. Touch, pull, roll. Glide. Glide. Move aside people. Indigenous Marine Life coming through! Well, ok, maybe I’ll go around you since I really don’t like swimming next to people. But, Eat My Wake! That means you, sir (as I passed a dude) and you sir (as I passed another)…aaaand you sir too! haHA! Swim. A great equalizer between the sexes. YES!

Hopped out of the water, quick glance at the watch – 1:11ish, SCORE! I ran across the mat, was summarily stripped, showered and headed into T1.

After a relatively quick transition aided by an extremely helpful volunteer, I was just about to head out of transition when I heard, “Dionn!” as Holtkamp sat down in the chair next to me. “Hi Lindsay!” Then I thought, oh shit! I said back to her as I quickly began exiting, “Oh crap! I’ve only got a 5-minute head start on the bike from you…GOTTA GO!” Five minutes? FIVE minutes? She will hawk me down before I make the first turn on the bike!

I scampered out of the changing area and through transition where I saw another awesome volunteer already standing with the bike. I swear I could hear the Katana revving up saying, “C’mon! Let’s Go, LET’S GO!!” I’m coming, I’m coming! I willed back to it. I grabbed it up and started click, clacking my way out of transition.

All of a sudden it turned into some sort of Nascar event! People were pulling out into the main walkway with their bikes and cutting people off right and left. Wow..these people are intense today! I thought. And just then a gal goes scittering sideways in her cleats on the concrete and starts careening out of control taking out another cyclist. Arms are flailing, carbon is clanging on the pavement – all that was missing was some smoke. In my ear I heard my pit crew yelling, “Go High, GO HIGH!” I held my breath against the imaginary smoke, squeezed as far left as I could and tippy-toed past the wreckage and came out clear, unscathed and alone on the other side.


And just when I thought I was in the clear….SCREEECH! Full stop at the Mount Line! Really people? You couldn’t walk a little bit more forward past the line to try and get on your bike…which by the way, you are doing a piss poor job at right now. Click, Clack, Tippy-Toe through all these silly folks, I go until I find some open space to hop on. FINALLY – onward to the roads….YO!

After a spirited wave at my cousins, Heather and Heidi at the beginning of the bike course, I knew it was going to be a long, solo ride. Nothing to do but be steady, be aero, eat, drink and be merry. I was ready for the cold – completely bundled up in a fleece head band, full-fingered gloves, arm warmers, short-sleeve T3 bike jersey and the Kevlar-like T3 vest. (I mean nothing gets through this thing…no-thing). I was ready for the wind – hours and hours of pedaling through Austin’s own wind tunnel, Parmer Lane, will get you right where you need to be for this course. I was ready to stay aero. Jack and Drew dialed me in so well on my Katana…even though I’d only had it for a couple of months, we were already melded together. You couldn’t tell where the carbon ended and I began. Just one machine. Working. Driving. All I had to do was fuel it and it would go.

I welcomed the isolation of the single loop course and the demoralizing head wind. Why? Because I had no doubt that I could mentally handle it….others wouldn’t be so fortunate. Mile after mile after mile of limited variations in terrain couple with consistent wind in your face can wear down the unsuspecting. I considered it my advantage.

When the headwinds blew, I streamlined as much as possible with all the little tricks I learned in the wind tunnel testing with Multisports in San Diego. Low, little movement – just the legs going round and round and round…slipping quietly through the wind….imagining the little air streams coming up the front of my bike and arcing smoothly over me…I’m a small profile to you Sir Wind..nothing to see here, nothing to push on, just move a little over me and carry on your way please.

My time goal was 6:15 on the bike and according to my handy dandy tri-calc iPhone App (by Glenda Adams from Maverick Software – if you don’t have it. GET IT.) that meant I needed to average at least 17.92 on the bike. I rounded that to 18 and locked that number in my head. Additionally, even though I was intently focused on my running my own race, I wanted to see how long I could go before a couple people I knew who would be hawking me down, passed me on the bike. So pedal, pedal, pedal. Oval, oval, oval.

A sip of water every mile. A slug of nutrition every 15 minutes. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Rounded mile 56 and the special needs bag aide station. Did a quick inventory. Nope. I’m good here. Mkaythanksbuhbye. Pedal, Pedal, Pedal. Oval, Oval, Oval.

Where the heck is he? I’m not stopping until he passes me, but I’m starting to think I need to hit the restroom. And NO, I’m not peeing on the bike. Yes, I know it is mostly water by now. Yes, I know everyone else does it. I don’t care..unless I’m **this** close to a Kona slot, I’m stopping, getting off this bike and hitting a port-a-pottie. Thank you very much.

Just then I spot him. I see him. He sees me. And even through his shaded glasses, I could tell he was thinking, “Aha! There she is. It’s ON now.” I could see the renewed vigor in each successive pedal stroke. We pointed and nodded at each other as we passed.

Oh shit, I think, now here he really comes. Pedal, Pedal, PEDAL!!

I stayed focused on my speed. Every now and then I’d be in a groove into the wind and look down and see a 16 or 17. CRAP! I need 18…GO GO GO! And I’d pick it up. Whenever I felt a tailwind, I’d pick it up. With this crazy course you never know when it’s going to change on you, so following Sisson’s advice that just seems to work well in any event, “Take the gifts that the course gives you”, I would pick up the intensity and the pace when I felt the wind behind me.

I flipped the U-turn at mile 95 and saw Charles again..only about a mile away. Ninety-five, I thought to myself. I’ll take it. In a few short minutes he was spinning up beside me and I was grinning silly. “Damn! You’re having a helluva race today, girl!” “I know!” I responded giddily. We exchanged a few more pleasantries and he pedaled off….doggedly determined not to let me catch back up to him and any point for the remainder of the day. Hey…whatever I can do to motivate my teammates. 

At the very next aide station, I parked my bike and hit the restroom. Wow. I really DID have to go. Good grief! Of course I felt like I was in there forever and everyone was just cruising by on their bikes like I was standing still…because, well, I was…standing still…or at least sitting still. You know what I mean.

I didn’t even let myself think about the next event of the day until I had turned back into town and was about 12 miles out from transition. Mathlete – ENGAGE! Ok…my total goal time for the race was 12:00:00. That was broken down into Swim – 1:15, T1 - :10, Bike 6:15, T2 - :05, Run 4:15. Since I came out of the water around 1:10 and T1 time was right on, that’s less 5, I’m sitting at 11:55. Quick glance at the watch, estimate remaining time on the bike, I think I’m going to roll in at 6:00, that’s less another 15, that’s 11:40. Suhweet! But still A LOT of time for many, many things to go wrong. I could still get a flat between here and home. But I can change that in 15 no problem. Some other sort of mechanical on the bike – yeesh, I dunno..maybe I’d have to run it in. Argh. Silent prayer to the bike gods. Please, please, please – just keep it together for a few more miles. What’s a few more after I’ve already done 100? Right? Hang in there…let’s go.

Arrived at the dismount line to the raucous sounds of none other than Kitty Kat Katy Dooley who was literally one foot from the line. “DIONN! You are F*ing ROCKING THIS RACE!” I mean how can you not crack a smile? The folks around her were cracking up as well. Her enthusiasm and spirit was infectious and spirited me on to T2.

I dumped my vest, changed my shoes, switched gloves, switched race belts, added my Garmin and extra run nutrition and I was outta there…surely it was less than my budgeted 5 minutes. It felt like it. (Results later show that is was in face a 4:42)

More cheers from my cousins and I was off on the run. WOO HOO!

As usual, the first part of the run felt GREAT! You are just so happy to be off the damn bike you feel like could fly! 4:15 marathon meant a 9:43 pace, but I started out by throwing down sub-9’s. I knew I was probably going to pay for that later…but sometimes, you just can’t help yourself.

On tap, not 26.2 miles, not a marathon, but four 6.5ish mile repeats. I never once thought about the total distance I had to run then. Not. Once. The course was two loops of a simple out and back. I broke that down to the four pieces and just focused on one at a time.

Main goal here were to be through the second loop of the park before it got dark. From what I’d heard, it was just really tough, mentally, to be way out there and the far end of the loop, in the park, in the dark. I didn’t want to carry a blinkie things (although I had a great one from Kathleen – thanks Kathleen!!). I didn’t think I would finish in daylight, but I knew I could be headed home when the sun set.

The run was uneventful. Just really getting business done at the end of the day. A few hiccups here and there. Beginning with for some reason being completely UNABLE to swallow a thermolyte pill. Again, I must’ve been a humorous sight. I threw one pill in, chased it with some water and quickly began chocking and spitting everything out when my throat just closed up and refused to allow anything but liquid to pass through.

I’m sputtering into my hand because I can lose the water, but I didn’t want to lose the pill. Yea, I had extras, but I was already starting to cramp up and knew I was going to have to break into my emergency stash of salt before it was all said and done.

So now I’m through the aid station, running, holding a soggy thermolyte capsule in my hand. Great. Now what, D? Think, think, think. Ok, next aid station, I’ll grab some coke. Swallowing pills with carbonated drinks is always easier. No problem. Ok. Here we go.

I run along, awkwardly holding this quickly disintegrating pill in my hand through the next mile. “Water! Water!” The volunteer yells. I shake my head and move on. “Gatorade! Powerade!” Wait…I thought it was called something else this year…something Ironman branded..what was it again…. “Coke!” breaks through my mental conversation. Oh shit. Coke. Yes, Coke is what I need. I swerve over, grab the little Dixie cup of caffeinated carbonated goodness, throw the pill in my mouth and chase it down with some coke. Choke. Sputter. Squeeze. Get down. GET DOWN THERE DAMN IT! Cough. Ugh…barely got that one done. How the hell am I supposed to get another? My throat clenched at the mere though.

Great. Just great. I’m cramping in mile 2 and can’t even get these damn pills down. NOW WHAT?

Don’t panic. Don’t panic. I grab a Clif Shot Block and start munching on those while running to the next aid station. Ok. Something always goes awry in Ironman. The trick is figuring out how to fix it. So let’s fix it. Ok. Ok. Calming. Regrouping. Think.

Oh snap! I got it! I roll on to the next aid station. I wait until I hear “Gatorade!” Grab a cup. I put the edge of the cup in my teeth to hold the cup while I walk because I need to hands to take the thermolyte capsule, pull it apart and dump it into the drink. Brilliant! Of course that pesky wind was still at it AND I was holding a cup with my teeth, so naturally I was breathing out of my nose and as soon as I popped the capsule apart, powder blew right up my nose.

Great. Now I’m snorting Thermolytes. Well, I guess that’s one way to get them down. And oh, by the way, they don’t really dissolve either. So now I’m half-snorting, half-shooting thermolytes to get them in. And this is mile 4. Yay. No really, yay.

It wasn’t pretty but between the shot blocks, Gatorade/Powerade/Ironman-ade, snorting and shooting thermolytes, I kept the cramps at bay. I finished my full loop, checked the watch…total elapsed time read 9:30. Sweet! I’ve got 13.1 miles to go. I can put together a 2-hour half marathon, right? Sure!! Let’s go!

Um, yea, not so much. It became clear that I was going to be through the park before dark, so that was good, but I really started slowing down. Miles 20-22 were exceptionally slow. I only walked during the aid stations but I certainly took my time doing it.

Checked in with the Mathlete. Ok. We are 4 miles out. The sticker on the car does not say 136.6. It says 140.6. There is still work to be done here, Dionn. Get your head out of your ass and let’s get moving. This is where you find out if you’ve got guts or not. Do you? Well, do you?

Yes, I replied faintly. What? I can’t hear you? YES! Ok! Let’s do this. Here we go. Let’s Gu up and get going. Dig. Deep. Dig. Deep. I chanted over and over with each footfall of the right foot. Dig. Deep. Dig. Deep.

I went from running 11-somethings to 10-somethings and decided to be happy with that as long as I didn’t walk another step. Not one more walking step. NO WALKING IN THE LAST 4 MILES! I could hear myself saying. Ok, we’re moving, we’re moving!

Coming back on those last few miles, I finally allowed myself to reflect on the work that had been done that day. Over 11 hours of hard, dedicated, focused work. I nailed my paces for the most part and basically just got shit done. At this rate, I was actually going to break 12-hours for my Ironman! Yea, I choked up and cried a little, but then I just started smiling. I’m gonna what? Break 12 hours. I’m gonna WHAT? BREAK TWELVE HOURS! WOO HOO!! That’s right. Uh huh. Oh yea!

The last two miles or so have tons of fans and supporters. Everybody was yelling and giving me high fives. Saying I looked strong and had a good pace. It felt good. It felt damn good. It had been a crazy year of training. Intense. Focused. Yet surrounded by so many other obligations that it was hard to believe I’d somehow managed to squeeze it all in. But somehow, I found a way. The hours and hours on the trainer on Fridays. Getting up and running on Saturday mornings before a full day of Pop Warner football. Eating lunches in the car between swim practice and picking up the kids from school. Early mornings. Late nights. Split shifts. All of it…coming together in this very moment.

I rounded the corner where the turnaround was and headed into the finishers chute. I could hear the announcer saying other people’s names and finishing with “You. Are. An. Ironman!” The roar of the crowd coming closer and closer while my smile kept getting bigger and bigger.

I looked up into the stadium and saw my cousins jumping and waving wildly for me. I wave back and mouthed, “I did it! I DID IT!!!”

Finally, under and through the Finish Line, grinning ridiculously. No tears this year…instead a loud “WOO HOO” and a “YES!!”…maybe even a fist pump or two, I don’t quite remember. I was so excited, not to finish, but to set out and do what I needed to do. Like a machine. Just set the dial to the desired number, add fuel and press Go. Boom!


Ironman #2. Check!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Halfmax National Championships - The Race Report

Race Instensity. That’s been the gauntlet tossed down to me by Coach Maurice this year. He claimed last year I did a lot of “participating” at races…which I did, because let’s face it, I love to race. The anxiety, the excitement, the adrenaline, the nervousness, the pressure, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat…or cramps..or both – all of it, what’s not to love?? (Regardless of what you might hear me say at T-3 minutes until my wave starts in the water…at which point you might only hear “Why the hell am I doing this again? What was I thinking??)

Part of getting to Race Intense for me has been Focus. And that meant limiting the number of races I was going to do. At the beginning of the season, Coach Mo and I sat down and I watched as he summarily crossed several races off my 2010 season. He let me keep a couple of my favorites (The Rookie and Jack’s Generic) that I could “train through and participate in” and I voluntarily punted a few that continually give me angst (CapTex, Austin Tri). This left me with just 3 races to focus on…Boston Marathon, USAT Long Course National Championships and Ironman Florida. Not a bad selection in my book, so I agreed to the plan.

As you know, Boston went well for me (3:32:57) – just missing my 3:30 goal by a smidge…but more importantly I proved to myself and my coaches that I could be race intense. (If you missed that recap, you can read it here on my blog, The Boston Marathon Race Report). I was determined to bring that same intensity out to HalfMax. I started my wearing all my National Championship and Worlds gear during the week leading up to the race. I even changed my profile picture on facebook to my Worlds Finishing shot. I wanted to get my head in the game and be ready to be intense. Here’s how it went down…..

I knew other athletes were feeling the pressure of this National Championship and Worlds qualifying race as much as I was, when I walked onto my connecting flight out of Atlanta to Myrtle Beach and was summarily eyeballed by a female athlete. As I watched her eyes travel from my Ironman logo’d visor, to my Mdot necklace, across my T3 t-shirt, down to my Brooks Ghost 3s and back up again to my face (Note to the guys: yes, we can tell when anyone is checking us out – don’t think we don’t see exactly what you are focusing on…you aren’t that good), she says to me “How old are you? I need to know if I should just take you out now while you’re on the plane or later…” There were lots of laughs from surrounding athletes as she had voiced what we were all thinking about each other: “Is he/she in my age group? Do I need to worry?”

While Halfmax is no Clearwater, the opportunity to represent the USA at an international event is a pretty big deal, in my book. The super fast kids might not agree, but especially after having done it once (Worlds in Perth, Australia last October) – it is a really amazing event and the closest I’ll probably ever get to doing something Olympic-like and racing for my country. And next year’s Worlds will be here, on our home soil in Las Vegas, Nevada. We will be the host country. How cool is that?!?! And it appeared that I wasn’t the only one thinking that way.

We arrived on Thursday and began the usual checking in and checking out of the race course. Charles claims this was our first mistake of the trip. That’s because when we went to check out the water – it was brown and absolutely disgusting. And I swim at the Ski Ranch!!! This “water” was worse than the overgrown with vegetation hot tub known as Decker, way worse than the mud and goat-poop laden waters of the Ski Ranch….and exponentially worse than the murky, gurky, dead body holding waters of Town Lake. I mean this stuff was G-ross.

Then to compound matters, we then heard folks discussing the Alligators, snakes and bull sharks that were common to the Intercoastal Waterway where we’d be swimming. Excuse me, the what?!! You’ve got to be freakin’ kidding me. GATORS!?!?! As if I don’t have enough anxiety over swim starts as it is…you’re telling me not only will I have to watch out for competitors elbows and feet…but ALLIGATORS!

Not only that, the swim start was to be right off the dock in the marina. Oh, did I mention that it was the Gas Dock? Yes, that’s right. The gas dock. You could clearly see the swirly circles on the water’s surface reflecting the light and smell the fumes in the air --- and that was from the top of the dock! Charles and I exchanged glances of “omg. They can’t be serious”. We decided to walk along the dock to the end where the swim course popped out of the marina and into the waterway, hoping, praying that the water would clear up…or something. We walked silently, save our sneakered footsteps upon the wood and a long exhalation of nervous breath from Charles as our anxiety grew instead of lessened.

The water quality did not improve. Nor did our spirits.

I said, “We’ve got two days. Maybe this is from all that rain they just had. The tide will come in and out and clear it up. Right?” Charles just gave me a look back like, “yea – right” and then said, “It’s going to take a miracle to clean up this water.” Indeed, I thought. A miracle.

The rest of pre-race time went pleasantly uneventful as we got a chance to mingle with some old racing friends and make some new ones – everyone nervous and commiserating about the state of the water. The good news was the water was definitely wetsuit legal – like that would help keep some of that nasty water off our bodies or something…ugh.

We discussed our race goals and plans. I was thinking 5:30. Here’s how I got there. 35 minute swim. Just under 3 hours on the bike. And just under 2 hours for the run. I’ve gone right at 3 hours on the bike at Longhorn. This course was much flatter than Longhorn, but wind was going to be a significant factor. I haven’t gone under 2 hours on the run in a half iron before. However, I’m coming off my strongest running season yet and I’m thinking that is possible. Charles put on his Coach hat and firmly told me that there is NO REASON why I shouldn’t go under 5:20 not including my transition times. Naturally I looked at him like he was crazy. He glared back at me like, “What…did I studder?” 5:20? I’m not sure where I’d shave some time. “You should be running a 1:45” he said. “My fastest standalone time is a 1:43.” I replied. “You should run a 1:45” he repeated. “Did you not hear me? My best STANDALONE half marathon is 1:43! How on earth can I run that after busting my ass in the water and on the bike for over 3.5 hours first?” He simply said, “You can do it.” I dunno, I thought to myself. That seems crazy. But maybe, just maybe…and the little seed was planted….but it will take something heroic.

Later that evening I got a note from Coach Maurice that said, “You are going to be great tomorrow…The best part is that you don’t need to put on a Superman cape…or be a hero…you just need to be Dionn! Just be you and you’ll do great…It’s when people try to perform outside their means, is when things don’t go well. Go be Dionn….Go be great!”

Yea…I thought to myself. Nothing heroic….I just need to be Dionn. I recalled Sisson’s words to me once, “You, Dionn, are a gamer. You show up on race day and make things happen. That’s just what you do.” That’s right. I AM a gamer. I DO show up on race day! I will be intense. I will dig deep. I will not quit. I will find a way. Somehow…and the seed sprouted and began to grow….

Race morning dawned, a little overcast and breezy, but otherwise perfect for racing. My balcony at the host hotel overlooked the swim exit and transition and I watched folks streaming into transition with headlamps, gear bags…and apparently even some guy pulling a cooler? (What was he going to be doing in transition? Tailgating?!) I figured I would only need my standard 1-hour in transition and just chilled out in my room, watching, waiting, focusing, going to the bathroom and getting my game face on until it 1-hour before transition closed.

I visualized not the murky waters and alligators, but instead a strong, smooth stroke propelling me swiftly and efficiently through the masses and the water. Touch, pull, roll….touch, pull, roll. Like a sailboat, speeding on its edge. Elbow high, strong lat pull….glide. Swim like Elizabeth, smooth and fast. I saw myself on my new Katana, dialed into my fit by Jack and Drew, seemingly one with my bike – black on black on black…you won’t be able to tell where the bike ends and where I begin…we are just one. A machine. And then on to the run. I am strong. I am light of foot. I am swift. I am fast. Finding the perfect balance between my naturally loping gait, a quick turn over and the rhythmic breathing that settles me into my pace and turns my run into a dance. Sisson calls me a dancer who runs. I will make that work for me. I will dance my way to the finish. I can do this. I will do this. Here we go.

I went down to transition and began setting up my gear in my regular way. Chatting with my neighbors, trying to keep calm and light. The water still concerned me…I didn’t sleep well thinking about it. Just then over the PA comes the announcement, “All athletes please come to the truck for a very important announcement. ALL ATHLETES!” Charles and I exchanged glances….this can’t be good. Or can it?

After a long introduction about how they’ve done everything they could, explored every possibility, they have decided to cancel the swim due to unsafe levels of eColi bacteria in the waterway due to the rain and run off. I looked at Charles, took a step back away from him and said, “From your mouth to His ears…how did you do that?” Charles was literally beaming from ear to ear! He was so excited! He asked for a miracle and got one…wasn’t quite what we were thinking it would be…but hell, we’ll take it!

The mood in transition was instantly elevated. The majority of folks where happy…except for the stud swimmers, of course. There was one girl who looked like she was about to cry. I could understand that…there went her 15 minute advantage over a very tough group of competitors. Now this was race was going to be for the cyclists and runners. I figured I would be in the middle of the pack on the swim, so I was calling it a wash for me…except I would edge it a little more on the positive side because the instant relief of stress and concern over the water conditions was invigorating! I said to myself, oh now it’s ON people. I could see some other athletes really getting thrown by the change. But one thing I know for sure…something weird ALWAYS happens on race day. You have to be prepared for whatever happens and go with the change. You can’t let not having “perfect” race conditions or “perfect” race prep or anything else throw you from your end goal. Yes, you may have to change your plan a bit, but you’ve just got to roll with it. I knew I was capable of that and perhaps some of my competitors might not be. Advantage: Dionn.

They decided to do the start with everyone randomly (not by age group) lined up at the swim exit and then they were going to let one person at a time go every 3 seconds and do a time trial start. So you’d get everything except a swim time. T1, Bike, T2, and the run. The bad part of this was that there would be no way to know where you stood in your age group since everyone was going off at different times. The good part of this was that there would be no way to know where you stood in your age group since everyone was going off at different times.  What that meant to me was, “Dionn – you have to race YOUR race. Not anyone else’s. You know what YOU need to do and do it. You won’t know what everyone else is doing…all you can do is focus on what YOU are doing.” It was time to just go be me.

I found fellow age grouper and Austinite Lorena Devlyn who I know is faster than me and got in line just behind her. I told her she was going to be my rabbit today. (I know I was supposed to be racing my own race, but it always helps to have some to chase to keep you focused and on task!) Charles jumped in behind me.

It was weird just kind of standing in line, chatting and waiting our turn. I experienced none of the “oh my god, what am I doing here and why am I doing this?” that I usually get at the swim start. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find my race intensity again. But when the starter looked at me and said simply, “Go ahead” I took off towards the first timing mat with a huge smile. I turned back to Charles who was still in line and said, “Hey look! I’m racing!”. I turned the corner, hit the mat and saw Natasha standing on the sidelines already cheering, “GO Dionn! You’re looking strong!” and giggled a bit until Charles came zooming by me…. “C’mon!” he yelled, “We’re racing!”. Dang, I thought, he’s already got 6 seconds on me! Let’s pick up the pace sister and off into transition I went.

I popped out on my bike already about 15 seconds behind Lorena…she had a faster transition time…and I said to myself, “ok…let’s just keep her in sight” and we started out on Loop 1. My goal was to average 19-20 mph. That should get me in under 3, right? 20 x 3 = 60. 60>56. Yes, ok..good. Let’s go.

The bike course was kind of an H-shape. The bad news was that there was going to be a decent headwind for part of it. The good news was that we got to flip right around and have it as an awesome tail wind.

When I first encountered the straightaway with the wind, I thought “Good thing I ride Parmer a lot”. I hunkered down and became on with my bike. I imagined the air sliding over the top of me knowing that I can get pretty damn aero. I used all the tricks I learned in the wind tunnel testing in San Diego a couple years ago and focused my energy on my legs. At the first turn around, I had forgotten to look for Lorena coming the other way, so I had no idea how far ahead of me she was. I had averaged about 16 into the wind, so I figured I need to go at least 24mph going the other way with the wind to him my 20, right?

The whole course was relatively flat with some low rollers thrown in, and with the wind at your back on some of those you could really fly. I heard Sisson’s voice say “Use the gifts the course gives you.” At the time he was talking about the last 3 miles of the 3M course, but it made perfect sense to me here. I’ve got the wind at my back and a slight downhill = Hammer Time. I turned up the juice and cranked the cranks. 24-25 across that same stretch. Suhweet! I did the same on the next quarter of the H. I approached the end of the first lap showing around 1:25 on my watch. Ok, D – you are right on pace to go sub-3. Second lap, same thing…let’s go.

Around the turn around I went and shot out for my second lap.

I knew some people were starting to get demoralized by the wind. It was constant and unforgiving and you just had to push your way through it…and that can really wear you down. But not me. I’m on my new fancy aero bike in my swanky aggressive aero position with awesome wheels I borrowed from Nancy, I’m gonna slice right through this stuff.

I spun my way through the headwind, beginning to pass people who were slogging. And yes, I looked at their ages on the leg. The only ones I cared about were the 39-43 women. I’d pass someone and say to myself “Good job Dionn..but that doesn’t count for shit” when they weren’t in my AG. When I was passed, I would check the age. On most I’d look and say in my head “have a great race! Go rock it! Cause you don’t have a spot that I want.” I did get passed by 3 or 4 in my age group. They were moving really fast and there was no way in hell I could keep up. “Race your race, Dionn. Not theirs, yours. There’s still the run and you are a runner. Well a dancer who runs, but still, you can run!” So I let them go.

As I heading towards the first turn, I started watching the riders coming back the other way. Where oh where is she? Is she that far ahead of me already, dang! And then I saw her! Moving quick and fast with the wind at her back. Wow, she looked strong. It seemed like forever until I finally made the turn around and I had forgotten to check my watch when I saw Lorena to figure out how far exactly she was ahead of me. Rats. Oh well, let’s work the tailwind/downhill – this is our best chance to make up some ground. Right here. Right now. Go!

I hit the turn and jumped on the cranks. “Drop the heel for more power” I heard in my head. That I could do. And then I remembered hearing Charles ask me “don’t you let your heels rise naturally?” when I complained of my ankles getting tight when I rode. “No I don’t…I’m too busy trying to get my heels down!” So then I tried letting my heels come up towards the top of the stroke, pushing my foot forward towards the front tire THEN dropping the heels. I tried this and saw my speed go 24…25…26…27! Hey! That really works! Hot damn! I started hauling with renewed vigor.

Approaching the next turn around I saw Lorena again…this time not as far from the U-turn. Aha…I’m gaining on her! There were two more little sections with turnarounds….let’s see if I can close this gap.

My nutrition was dead on. I wasn’t hungry or thirsty and everything was going down on schedule. I had energy so I continued getting after it.

Turn number 3 of 4 on the last loop. There she is! I saw her. She saw me. It was on. I had closed about 85% of the gap. I’ll get her on this last straight away. I made the turn and started after her. My perception was that she picked up the pace even more after she saw how close I was, but I was determined to catch her before we got into transition. I cranked into a bigger gear and started mashing my way towards her. No, it wasn’t the 92 cadence spin I was supposed to be aiming for…it was probably closer to 82…but I didn’t care. I was closing in. I could see her getting closer and closer to me. Oh, I’ve got this now. The numbers on her race bib where becoming more clear. I was starting to see the details in her braided pony tail that was streaming behind her, like a rope pulling me closer and closer. A momentary concern passed through me as I started thinking about the run and whether or not I was going to pay for this effort later…but I said, to hell with it…I’ll deal with that when the time comes.

I turned the pedals as hard as I could and came up behind her about a half a mile before we hit transition. I stayed a legal distance behind her as we pulled into transition. She gave me some words of encouragement and let me know I made her keep her pace honest, no slacking. I looked at my watch. 2:45, it said. Under 3 hours! CHECK! Chasing Lorena, I negative split the second loop and picked up 5 more minutes! Score! I thanked her for being my rabbit and we headed out on the run together.

I considered hanging with her on the run, but after the first half mile I looked at my watch and it said 7:50s, I eased off. I didn’t want to crater on the run after nailing my bike goal so nicely.

I settled in around what felt like MGP, and it wavered between 8 and 8:20s for the most part. The run was steady. I really had to hit the potty though…but I knew the first couple pit stops would have lines and stuff and I didn’t want to waste time so I made a promise to myself to hold on until closer to half way.

All the post-spin bricks were paying off. My legs didn’t feel heavy or anything and the miles clicked by quickly. A few folks passed me….but I did a LOT of passing on the run. I picked of several in my AG as well. As I would pass I would think, “I’ll take your spot at worlds……aaaannnnddd yours too…thank you very much!” or “That’s right…I’m a 3-time Boston Marathon qualifier….take THAT! haHA!” and chug steadily on by. After I passed one person, I would scan ahead for the next. A, Always. B, Be. C, Closing. Always be Closing. A, Always. B, Be. C, Closing. Always be closing. I’d chant my way through the miles and people.

I did stop at mile 6 to hit the bathroom and felt amazingly better. Wow…I really DID have to go!

A small snafu came at mile 7 when I was supposed to take my thermolytes. For whatever reason, I could not swallow any pills right then. I’m sure I was a humorous sight. There I am, throwing pills in my mouth, following with water and then coughing and sputtering while I spit everything out of my mouth but trying to catch the pills so I could try it again. What the hell? Can nothing just go as planned? I tried again. Instant gag reflex…I almost hurled. OYE! I need that salt!

Visions of my last few mile crampfest at Boston started entering my thoughts. Shit…no repeats of that please! I started feeling the tingles in my calves…which I’m sure was all in my head. Oh crap, now what D. You can’t cramp your way to a sub 2:00 run.

Then I remember my stash of Clif shot blocks in my pocket. In case of emergency, tear package! And I did! Slammed one in each cheek and started to work on those.

I’m not even sure if they have same amount of electrolytes as thermolyte pills, but I figured it was better than nothing! I followed that with Gatorade at the next two aid stations for good measure. That seemed to stem the cramping tide and I carried on.

As I made the last turn on the run that would send me in the direction of the finish line once and for all I was just over 2 miles out and my watch read around 1:30. Mental math time…ok, so I can definitely do 2 miles in 30, right? If I go 8:00s I should get in under 1:50, right? Uh…yes…I think so. (Why is math so hard during a race?)

Ok…let’s find me some 8:00s. I buckled down, lengthened my stride and got to work. I was passing walkers and I was passing runners. No walking in the last two miles, people! I shouted mentally to them. We are so close! Find a way! Find. A. Way!

My legs were definitely tired, burning and heavy, but I kept going. I was so close to my goals. There was no way in hell I was going to make Team USA if I didn’t do my job first. And that was to go sub 3 on the bike and sub 2 on the run. Everything else is out of my control. But I can’t expect to get a chance to be on the team unless I do my job FIRST. Must. Finish. Strong.

I pounded through the last miles and came through the finish line to find a smiling but smug Coach Charles standing there. He pointed to his watch and pointed to me and said, “I told you you could do it!”. I simply smiled back. Damn, sometimes I hate it when other people are right and I’m wrong. But this time, I’ll take it!

Rough estimates had me at 2:45 on the bike and 1:50 on the run. Not counting transitions…that’s 4:30ish. Even if I had a terrible swim, I would come in under 5:30 in a regular half iron. SCORE! I was so excited!!

Final results posted and my times were:

T1: 1:49

Bike: 2:45:11 (20.3mph)

T2: 1:24

Run: 1:49:10 (8:20)

Total Time: 4:38:05

Hell yes!! Throw in an average/good swim of 35 minutes and that would be around a 5:15. What what?! WOOT!!!! That’s shaving almost 30 minutes of my best half iron time. (Yes, yes, my efforts on the bike and run might not have been as strong if I had to swim first…but just play along for a moment, will you? I am!)

I was extremely proud of my effort. I did what I set out to do and nailed my goals. Now some might say that I didn’t set them as aggressively as I could have (and you know who you are!), but I am very happy with this direction my training and racing has gone.

Final age group results put me at 20th in the 35-39 year old division. Team USA spots go to the top 20. HOWEVER, I will age up next year, so for 2011 Worlds, in order to qualify I need to be in the top 20 in the 40-44 age group.

So, we have to look at all the 39 years who were faster than me (5) who will be aging up and all the 44 year olds who will be aging out of the 40-44 group THEN see where I sit in the 40-44.

Rough calculations put me at 16th in the 40-44 after the age up process…and that means another spot on Team USA! WOO HOO!

This is unofficial until I get the email from USAT….so let’s keep our fingers crossed for the next few days while they work it out.

Regardless – I’m super happy with this performance and I’m going to take that with me to Florida. IMFL. Bring it on!!!!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Boston Marathon 2010 - Race Report

The Boston Marathon 2010

3:32:57. If you want to know more, read on…but make sure you are seated comfortably….you know how I can get with my race reports….


Sometimes a race is more than just a run. It seemed to be a common theme this year in my circle. And what better stage than the 114th running of the Boston Marathon.

At the beginning of my marathon training season this year (which began about 10 days after my Triathlon season ended), I’m not even sure I had a specific training goal…as in a goal pace for the race. I just went in knowing that I would be doing a lot of running.

Last year, I had to balance my running within my Ironman training and while I successfully completed both my first Boston Marathon (with a 3-minute PR and requalifying for 2010) and my first Ironman (just over 14 hours), I knew I hadn’t given each race its all out best effort. But that wasn’t my goal that year. My goals that year were to get there, get it done and have an absolute blast while doing it. And, boy, did I! 

However, Coach Maurice aptly put it, last year, I “participated”. This year…..this year was the year to “race”. That meant giving each race its own time, space and attention to train. And more importantly, Intensity on race day. He even went through my 2010 Tri Race calendar and crossed off races that I had planned on doing. I had already signed up for the Gulf Coast 70.3 as a GREAT practice for IMFL. The only problem was that it was 3 weeks after Boston. Mo said, “No way. You will spend time tri training for that race instead of focusing on Boston. And then you will run Boston with that 70.3 in the back of your head saying, ‘I can’t blow up – I have another race coming soon’ and you won’t give it your all.” Clearly, he knows me too well. Criss-Cross – off the list. Boston. Boston. Boston.

I had some early wins in the Team Rogue training process. Training runs where I kept up with Nedra and Ruth on shorter runs, staying shoulder to shoulder with Cindy Schlandt during strides, and keeping up with Chuck Duvall and Amy Anderson on some early long runs. They may not seem like big deals, but it got the wheels turning… hey..I’m hanging with kids who went 3:30 last year….could I do a 3:30 this year? And there it was…the little seed. Planted.

But seriously…3:30? That’s like 8 minute miles. For twenty-six point two miles.

That’s a long way to go at that speed for me. Especially considering my last year’s PR was 3:42… an 8:24/m pace. Shave twenty-four secs per mile…for twenty-six miles point two miles? Immediately the chant begins: BE AGGRESSIVE. B-E AGGRESSIVE. B-E A-GG-R-E-SS-I-V-E!

And with some convincing from instigator friends, the hunt began. I started training with the 3:30 pace group with Team Rogue. I had some good days and I had some bad days…but most days, I was keeping up. Mind you, it was BARELY keeping up, but keeping up nonetheless.

But as race day approached, I began to realize that it wasn’t going to be a physical challenge….it was going to be a mental one. This race was going to be more about what was going on in my head and in my heart than anything my legs were doing. I just wasn’t confident that I was physically capable of pulling it off. I’m not a runner….as Sisson so aptly puts it, I’m a dancer who runs…. I’m an accidental Boston qualifier, a poser. Sooner or later, I was going to be exposed for that…and this season might be it.

As many of you know from my FB statuses, I was needing A LOT of affirmation from you all. I held on to every positive workout I had. I looked at the pictures of my garmin that showed paces that started with 6s and 5s (albeit for super short distances – but I was needing every little bit of positivity I could find). I honestly had serious, SERIOUS doubts that I could pull it off. And yea, I was fishing for reinforcement and y’all didn’t disappoint. You kept feeding my positive vibes, telling me I could do it, reminding me of all the hard work and training I’d put in. I knew as my friends, y’all would back me on whatever crazy endeavor I said I wanted to do…and would do so exuberantly. Coach Sisson…on the other hand…he’s a straight shooter. He will tell you exactly how it is.

In fact, I was so nervous that my goal was such a stretch and that he wouldn’t agree to it, I was too scared to even talk to him about my final race plan. Everybody else had ironed and finalized their mile by mile plan with him…but I didn’t. I was way too scared. Scared he was going to say, No way. Give up that dream. It’s not going to happen. You aren’t that fast. I didn’t tell him what my plan was…until the night before.

And as I suspected, I did not get the RAH RAH, You are totally gonna crush it, pat on the back, you’ve got this thing, no worries kid, type of speech that my friends gave me. He said, “This is a big goal for you. You are going to have to have a really really good race and have lots of things go right to get it. But you know what? You have your plan, now go execute it. You’re a gamer. Somehow you bring it on game day. You have a plan and you follow it. That’s what you do.” I knew he didn’t want to completely rain on my parade, but I could tell….he had serious, serious and realistic doubts. He’s no bullshitter.

I walked away from that conversation thinking, I knew it. He doesn’t think I can do it. Why do I think I could possibly do it? But I AM a gamer. There’s definitely something different about race day conditions for me when I’m there to race and not just participate. I’m a performer…Give me a stage, or a spotlight, or some screaming fans…and baby, it’s On! I think that’s one of the reasons I love racing in my team kits. Gives me that performance-level super suit feeling. Race days aren’t every day training days. You suit up special for race day because race day performance is special.

I mulled over my talk with Sisson during our last team dinner. Listening in on everyone’s conversations around me, but circling, circling in my head. I was so nervous, I didn’t even have a beer! Can I? Should I go for it? Is it too aggressive? Will I show up on race day? Am I physically capable of pulling this off? Am I mentally capable? This is WAY out of my comfort zone here and I had lots and lots of doubts.

I leaned over to Mike, “Sisson doesn’t think I can do it.” “What?” he replied. “He doesn’t think I can go 3:30.” Mike: “Yes, you can. Trust your training. You can do it. I know it.” I mulled it over some more. Maybe Sisson is trying some of his Jedi mind tricks…throwing down a challenge, because you know I’m always down for a challenge. Some of his athletes need the Rah Rah speech, maybe I need the “Oh yea? Then prove it to me” speech.

Fortunately the rest of the evening was filled with positive messages, calls and texts from my inner circle. Supporting me, cheering me, calming me, energizing me and most of all believing in me. And by the time I went to bed….I believed in me too.

Race morning was surprisingly uneventful. I was nervous…but the good kind of nervous. The kind of nervous that you can morph into a powerful energy and use. It felt good. It felt invigorating. I felt alive. I felt ready.

We got through all of the logistics of getting ourselves to the club buses that then took us to the start. It’s kind of weird riding in a bus for what seems like over an hour and think, ok – now just run back the way you came. Team Rogue took up a lot of the first bus. It was good to have everyone around. Everyone was feeling pumped and ready to roll. We’d all been through some bad ass training together and now it was time to prove that it works.

I was one of the few Team Roguers that were in the second wave, so I hung out on the bus after all the wave 1 folks left, hit the restroom a final time and made my way to the starting line. I was in corral 17. Just three back from the start of wave 2. A good place to be….but it was crowded. 3:45 qualifying time must be popular!

I was loaded with all my nutrition, my paceband and garmin on my left wrist (auto pause off, virtual running partner on 8:01/m pace, autolap ON), my faithful timex on my right (that would keep track of chip time in case something screwy happened with my garmin and GPS..I wanted to make sure I knew what the running clock was at all times.)

Overall race plan was this:

Miles 1-5: Get in. Get going. Find your groove. Bank a little time, but not a lot.

Miles 6-16: Ten miles of exposition-type rollers. You can do these in your sleep.

Miles 17-21: Warm up is over. Time for some hill work.

Miles 22-26.2: Close. Leave Nothing on the course.

And we were off! I was a little nervous in Mile 1 because my plan called for banking 8 secs each mile for the first 8, so I could have those for the hills. So that meant 7:53/M pace. But everyone in that corral was running closer to 3:45 (8:25/M) pace. I had to weave and go around folks..and it was making me nervous. And rightfully so. Mile 1 came…8:05. Shit. Shit. Shit. I need to find some open space and find my groove. Move people. MOVE. Anything I feel before mile 5 doesn’t count for shit. I know I need 5-7 miles before I start to feel like an actual runner, but I need to get moving here.

Miles 2-4, I made up some time per my plan by going 7:42, 7:46, 7:47. Ok…I’m back on pace where I should be. Phew.

Mile 5. Oops…relaxed a little too much 8:05. Plus dealt with throwing down a Gu. That always slows me down a bit. Dang it. Get back after it D. You’ve only got bankable miles through Mile 8…then its steady MGP time. Get there.

Miles 6-7 went 7:51 and 7:53. Ok…back on pace. Good. Toss down some thermolytes.

Mile 8. Dang it. Again with the too much relaxing. F*ck! 8:08. No problem. Miles 9-16 are supposed to be steady MGP, but I feel good at just sub 8’s, so I’ll get there. Here we go:

Mile 9-16 went steadily by. I didn’t take as much notice of my surroundings as last year. I could hear all the fans yelling and screaming, but they were really just ambient noise this day. My inner dialog was cranked up to 11! My splits went: 7:58, 8:00, 8:04 (oops), 7:59, 7:56, 8:07 (battled getting my Gu down and then getting through the water stop and trying to actually get some water in my body instead of up my nose…nice, D, you look like a freakin’ rookie out here trying to get water..sheesh…how embarrassing. Focus. FOCUS!), 8:11, 8:06.

And then the real dialog began.

Bing, BING, Bing. Attention. Attention. May I have your attention please. We are now entering the hill phase of this workout. Please fasten your seatbelts and put your tray tables in their full upright and locked position. The warm up is officially over. Please prepare to WORK.

Ok, D. Here we go. We have a 10-mile run workout that starts now. 5 miles of hills. 5 miles of closing. You are a little bit behind pace, but not too much. We have one goal at this point. Get through the hills and give yourself a chance to close. That’s it. You don’t have to crush them, just do them. All we need is a chance to close. Just the opportunity. You are a closer. That’s what you do. You close. We just need to get in a position to give ourselves a chance to do what we do best. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just a chance. Let’s do this thing.

Mile 17 – 8:21 (shit. 10 seconds slower than what I wanted. C’mon D.)

Mile 18 – 8:15 (better. Plan said 8:16. Good)

Mile 19 – 8:01 (plan was 8:05. Getting close)

Mile 20 – 8:21 (plan was 8:15. Still having trouble navigating water stops. Dang it. I’m running with a damn bottle next year. F*ck it.)

Mile 21 – 8:32 Heartbreak Hill. Even though I was passing people right and left, my plan said 8:21. Dang it.

Bing, BING, Bing. Attention. Attention. May I have your attention please. You are now leaving the hill phase of this workout. Congratulations. Now go kick some ass.

I came out of the hills feeling good. Yea, my quads were a little tight, but my spirit was awesome. I looked around and saw the agony and defeat on some other runners faces and thought, not me. Not this day. I’m fixin to close the bad boy out right here. Let’s do this thing. WOO HOO!

I had fire and I was ready to go. I’d lost a little time in the hills and sub 3:30 was probably out. But I still felt very confident about 3:30:59. I was ready to get back to 7:50s and lower. I’m a closer. That’s what I do. And now it was time to close.

But then I felt it. That little f*cking tingling whisper in the back of the calf. What? WHAT? You have got to be kidding me! I take a quick glance down at my race belt. Nope…didn’t miss taking any nutrition or thermolytes along the way. I drank TONS of water (even inhaled some through my nose for good measure). My belly wasn’t sloshing or anything. WHY? WHY? I do NOT have time for CRAMPS!!

I started into the emergency stash of Thermolytes….please lord let these get there in time. I switched to Gatorade at the water stops. But to no avail…the tingling was getting stronger and more frequent.

God Dammit! I had just been watching a special on Apollo 13 the earlier in the week and I felt like that command center. Ok, we’ve had an explosion with our main thrusters…we need to switch to auxiliary power systems to guide the ship back safely. Shut down the calves STAT! (I knew Mike would cringe at that word and I smirked through the pain). Re-route all systems. GO GO GO!! We only have a few seconds to shut those down before they explode and crank up the other systems so we don’t lose time. Move it, people. MOVE IT!

So instead of using my calves, I switched to running, one-legged cycling drill style…..all hip flexor, no calf, no foot. I was flat footed and loud as I kept pounding the pavement. I could hear what Amy’s response would’ve been (“quiet feet Dionn, quiet feet!) …but I had no choice. I did not, could not stop for cramps.

Miles 22 and 23 went 8:11 and 8:18 as I battled, willed, begged, pleaded, emplored by calves to not cramp up. Please, please, please. I just need a few more miles. You can do this. Stay with me. Stay with me!! Ugh. I was cramping even earlier than last year. Last year hit me at mile 24 and barely made it those last two miles…now I’ve got to keep it together for four????? F*CK!

Going into mile 24, I felt like I’d mastered my no calf/no foot running style and started to pick up the pace. Little circles with the hip flexor. Circle, circle, circle. Just picking up the foot. And putting it back down. Pick it up. Put it down. 8:05. Better. But I think we’ve missed our window of landing on the moon. Now our job is to return everyone home safely to Earth. Pick it up, put it down. If we have the wrong entry trajectory, we will simply burn up entering Earth’s atmosphere. We need to focus on getting in and getting in safely. No hot dogging. Mile 25 – 8:06.

I was definitely bummed as I didn’t get my chance to close….and I was really, really ready to hammer it home. I said to hell with it, we’ve got 1.2 to go…let’s push it just a little bit more. I pushed and cramped and pushed and cramped my way down to 8:00. I knew I was resembling those video clips of runners hobbling down the final stretch…dragging a cramped and locked appendage towards that finish line. The last 200 meters or so I limped, hobbled, ran at a 7:50 pace. Crossed the finish line, clicked my watch and could barely read the 3:32:xx. Damn it. So close. So. Close.

I hobbled through the finishing chute and each time I stopped to pick up whatever goody they were handing out (water, blanket, goodie bag, medal, dry clothes bag), snipers shot me in the back of my legs and full throttle cramps seized my calves. It took me a few moments to get going each time but I managed.

Dammit. Dammit. Dammit. I missed it. GRRRRR!!!! Tears welled up in my eyes. Last year I cried for entirely different reasons. This time it was from disappointment. And now I’m crying in the finishers shoot. Medical asked me if I needed help. I said No. I can’t believe I couldn’t pull together 2 minutes…..2 freakin little minutes over the course of 3 and a half hours! Seriously, D…how lame is that! DAMMIT! I mean we are talking, what, 3 seconds of every minute. There…in just that long to think that statement, I could’ve run faster and made 3:30. GRRRRRR!!! UGH! All that hard work…and to miss it, by two minutes. Dammit.

But then my iPhone started pinging and vibrating. Text message after text message. Facebook alert after Facebook alert started rolling in.

“You did it!”

“Way to rock it!”

“Helluva PR!”

“I’m so proud of you!!”

“You are my inspiration!”

And I was like…hey, wait a minute….yea…maybe it wasn’t such a bad race afterall. I DID take 10 minutes off my time from last year. I did requalify. I posted a quick status on FB to which more responses came pouring in. And with each one, I began to feel better and better about the race. As I continued the couple blocks walk through the finish line and back to the hotel, I felt better and better with each step. (Although my calves still felt like shit). And by the time I got to my room and through a quick shower, I was excited.

I joined the rest of the team in the bar, got HUGE hugs and congrats from my teammates. And also a very heartfelt hug and “I am so proud of you” from Coach Sisson. Who honestly stated, “I didn’t think you could do it. I wasn’t sure if you had it in you…here (pointing to my heart), but you did. And you did it! Now we know what’s possible…when you believe. And now you believe it. And I believe it too.”

A few moments later I got a text from Coach Maurice: “You are a BAD ASS!! Welcome to racing! You know how to do it!!” To which I responded, “Was that enough race intensity to start the season?” “You put a big “!” after Intensity.”

We continued to celebrate into the late night, rehashing our journeys mile by mile and step by step. Everyone had personal struggles, both physically and mentally, that they had to overcome to get to the starting line and down to the finish. There were cheers and tears, laughter and libations as we toasted well into the night.

It’s been a fantastic journey…one I couldn’t have done without so many of you. My sincerest thanks to my family for their unwavering commitment and putting up with my crazy schedule, my friends for your words of encouragement and support, my teammates for dragging me around runs and urging me to test my limits, my coaches for their wisdom, plans, critiques and comments. This 3:32 is every bit yours as it is mine…for without you…all of you….it would not be.

And now..get ready, people. I’ve got a taste of racing…and guess what… I LIKE IT! I’m going sub-3:30 next year. Boston 2011. Who’s in?!?!?!?

Monday, March 29, 2010

I get knocked down...but I get up Again!!

(Written Saturday 3/27)
This morning's run with Team Rogue was the final race prep before we head out to Boston in a short 3 weeks. Innocuously called "Race Prep #2", last year this same workout was called "The Soul Buster". And let me tell you, last year it Busted My Soul completely. I didn't hit any of my paces and couldn't even finish the workout. In short, it kicked my ass.

This year, I wanted some redemption. I've had a good week of running...somehow managing to put down 52 miles of running between Saturday and Thursday -- all on the correct paces and feeling pretty damn good about it. Not overly confident, but pretty good.

Today's workout was:

Miles 1-4: warm up

5-8: Marathon Goal Pace (8:01)

9-12: Marathon Goal Pace (8:01)

13-19: Recovery pace (some of that "recovery" on friendly roads called Redbud & Stratford!WTF!)

20-21: Marathon Goal Pace

22-23: Half Marathon Goal Pace (7:36)

24-25: 10K pace (7:11)

26-27: Cool down

Yea. There are no typos up there.

The 3:30 Train of Amadora, Paul and I chased Mrs. Speedy Nedra during our MGP miles and averaged 8:02! I'll take it!! We then put on some climbing gear and headed off to summit -- I mean, we "recovered" by tackling Redbud, Stratford and then some town lake trail action to get us back to the track for the closing section.

I was still feeling really good about the day so far. A SIGNIFICANT contrast to last year when I came (almost) crawling into the track after not even hitting my 8:34/M paces at any point.

But I was definitely feeling winded going into Mile 20. We headed off for our 2-miles at MGP and averaged 8:05. Not quite where I wanted to be, but close. Then came the 2-miles at half marathon pace. Legs were really starting to talk to me and I got through the first of those miles at 7:49. But the next mile, the wheels started coming off...well, not the physical ones -- the mental ones. I was just barely hanging on 400 by 400 and started slowing down. I came in after the second mile at 8:03.

At this point mentally I was like "That's it. I'm done. There's no way I can crank out 10k pace right now. I'm fried!!" I hit STOP on my Garmin and looked at Sisson and said, "That's all I've got Coach." He replied, "Walk a lap and then we'll talk about it."

I reluctantly started walking. The 3:30 Train had rolled through the station and I wasn't on it anymore. Dammit! Just then, Michael Wedel walked up next to me (Who had already finished his 26 miles) and started talking. I have no idea what he said during the first 200...but if you've ever run with Michael, that boy can just talk for hours and keep you entertained. It's awesome.

As we approached straightaway of that 400, I turned to Michael and said, "Sisson's not going to let me stop, is he?" Michael responded, "No fucking way." "Fine, let's go then." So we started running.

By the time I got to the 400m line, the remaining Team Roguers starting cheering and Sisson yells," I KNEW you weren't done! I KNEW IT! Alright, get it going Dionn. C'mon you can do it!!"

So we kept running....only 7 laps...if I could just make it around 7 laps....I can pull together 7 laps...yes, 7 laps I can do.

Michael stayed just a bit ahead of me, urging me just a bit faster at every turn and every straightaway. I had forgotten to start my watch again, but every lap I would take a peak. The first number I saw was 8:22. Ok, D -- let's get that number down just a bit on this lap. Next peak, 8:1x...I couldn't tell if it was an 11 or a 13...but I thought, who cares, we're getting faster.

Before you knew it, we'd clicked off one mile. Ok, D -- 1 mile to go. 4 little bitty laps around this freakin' track. You can do that. You can pull it together for one mile. Just one little mile.

We started the next 400 with Sisson cheering, "Let's Go Di-onn! clap--clap--clap,clap,clap!" The rest of the Roguers joined in. "Let's Go Di-onn! clap--clap--clap,clap,clap!"

C' a cheerleader, how can you NOT get fired up by that. HELLO!! We picked it up a little more.

4 laps to go turned to 3 laps to go. Starting the last 200, Michael says "we've only got one more to go after this." One more after this, I thought. Yes, I can do one more after this...let's close this bastard out! We picked up the pace.

The final 400 came and I'm not sure if I was just so excited to be almost done or what, but we started seriously cruising...I stretched out the stride and let if fly and came in the last 100 meters doing 7:05(ish -- according to Michael)!!!!


I wanted to puke or cry....or possibly both. But instead I just smiled and gave high fives to all the Team Roguers and supporters!! Sisson gave me two fist bumps and a pat on the back and said, "This workout owns you in your head for some reason. But now we know, if you get down -- you CAN get back up again!"

And he's right. There are going to be many, MANY times in races -- marathons and tri's alike -- where you are mentally just done. But I feel better knowing this year, I can at least get back up and keep going. If I need to take a lap or a couple 100 meters to regroup...fine. It doesn't have to mean the end -- like it did last year. Regroup, Refocus, Re-energize and get going!

Did I nail all of my paces with ease? No. But I was a whole hell of a lot closer this year with an even bigger stretch goal.

Did I fall apart mentally? Yes. BUT, I was able to pull it back together and keep going.

So, I give myself a B+ for the workout for nailing the MGP sets on the road, choosing the hill route and actually finishing the damn workout this time!

I would also like to award, Michael my Team Rogue MVP. Thanks for being an awesome friend and somehow cranking out more miles after you crushed your own. Dublin Dr. Peppers are on me, my friend.