Monday, July 20, 2015

Magic in Montauk

Yesterday morning I went out to Montauk for the 20th Montauk Lighthouse Sprint Triathlon.  This is one race that I don't hesitate to sign up for every year.  I missed two years due to racing Ironman Lake Placid, but I was back this year. My last triathlon was in June at the Patriot Half but since then I've raced pretty much every weekend (running and swimming).  I was eager to do this race.

I picked up my race packet during the week and got my stuff ready Saturday afternoon.  This season I've put words or themes on my bike for each race. For Montauk, I wanted to get aggressive. I wanted that race where I just went hard from start to finish.  So I went to a great source of inspiration, a friend Sam Cila, and this single word echoed in my head:


On Sunday, Wingman and I got up at ass'o'clock to make the trek out to Montauk.  The race has two different transition areas so he drops me off at the lower transition so I can setup my bike and get ready for the start, then he heads up to the upper transition to setup my run gear.  He leaves the car there and takes the spectator bus back down to meet me at the swim start.  Like every year/race, I am grateful for his help!!

In transition I had the good fortune of being on the same rack as a woman I knew from my previous job, Erin.  She's an amazing runner and it was good to catch up again.  We made the 1/2 mile walk down the beach to the swim start.  Oddly enough, I was unusually clam before the start, as if I was just going out for a swim workout. I was reunited with the Wingman before the start.  He wished me luck and I went into the water.  I wished Erin good luck and swam to the start buoy.

The water was perfect!  We had a little chop to deal with, but once you found the rhythm of the water, it was easy to swim fast through it. Each stroke felt powerful for me. I was really moving through the water with ease.  I noticed after a couple of hundred yards that if I went another 10-15 feet out into the ocean (we swim parallel to the shore line) that the water had less swells, but I had a rhythm and opted to stay put.  I didn't feel like I was being slowed down so I stuck with my plan.  I was at the mid-point buoy before I realized it.  I was also catching the guys in the swim wave ahead of me.  I counted how many more buoys to go and hammered the rest of the swim. I don't think my cadence picked up, but for sure my pull/stroke got stronger. 

I made the last turn and approached the beach.  I was able to stand up easily and make a run for it up the beach. I peeked at my watch when I exited the water and noticed my time was ~3 min faster than I've ever swam at Montauk.  But the timing mat was further up the beach so I had to run hard to actually record a fast swim time.  Once up the beach I striped the rest of my wetsuit and made my way out on the bike.

 Leaving transition, heading out on the bike

There was no wind which was good and bad.  The good news was no headwind to slow me down, the bad was no tailwind to take some of the load off me.  This ride was going to be all up to me, which is how I wanted it.  I stood up and powered out of the turn to get started.  I just hammered down East Lake Drive to head to Montauk Highway.  This course is fairly flat for the 1st ~9 miles so I knew I had to work to maintain my pace. I was passing riders on the road.  I didn't want to get caught settling into someone elses pace. I was on a mission to bury myself today.

Once I got onto Montauk Highway I headed west towards West Lake Drive. Again, I stood to power through the turn and not lose speed.  I raced along the highway and then headed north along West Lake towards Gosman's.  There's a loop down there where you turn around and head back up to the highway. This was my make-or-break moment. I knew I was riding well, but I couldn't let up.  The course was about to get a little harder.  There is one big climb and a smaller climb behind it, but first was the false flat. I kept shifting my gears to help keep me spinning.  Before I knew it I was at the climb.  It didn't look as intimidating as years past. This time I opted to "attack" the hill and I stood to power up it.  Once over the top, I flew down the other side. I opted to not pedal and I tucked low to not lose speed.  I used the momentum to carry me up the next hill, then flew down the other side. 

Now I was in the home stretch leading to the run.  I kept my effort level up all the way to the bike dismount.  When I got off the bike, I remembered Wingman's description of where my stuff was laid out in transition.  I found my run gear and started running before I even crossed the timing mat. I had to find my run legs.

Start of the run

The first half of this run is hard.  It's slightly uphill and that's always a challenge as you are just starting out a run.  But I knew I had to keep going hard. I made my way into Camp Hero and was looking for people to chase.  I wasn't worried about being passed, but I wanted to be sure I was giving it everything I had.  I wanted to be very uncomfortable as I ran. When I made it to the halfway mark, I was running side by side with someone.  Again I thought "Can she handle as much pain as me?" and then I put in a surge.  Out of fear of being caught I couldn't let up, I had to keep up my "attack" and finish.  Before I knew it, I was getting closer to the finish.  I passed the 2.5 mile sign and noticed someone ahead of me that started in the swim wave ahead of me.  I knew if I kept him in my sights, I would actually finish faster than him. He started 3 min ahead of me, but when I was doing some quick race math and calculating how long it took me to get to landmarks he passed I knew that unless I was walking, I would post a faster time.

I exited the Camp and made my way to the lighthouse.  This course just throws one last punch at you to finish:

Finish line is up the hill

I gave a few fist pumps towards the Wingman before the final turn as I knew I was having a fantastic race.  I crossed the finish line with no regrets this day.  In each event, I got stronger/faster.  My bike power numbers went up as the ride went on.  I was able to negative split the run (went faster as the run went on).  I was thinking near the end of the run how everything seemed to click for me.  I've had good races, but I've never felt like I've executed  all 3 disciplines well.  This was the first race in a looooong time where I can truly be happy with how I performed.  I was firing on all cylinders today.  I PR'd this race by 2min 36 sec, which for a sprint is a nice time difference.
I'm happy to have finally had that near perfect race.  It doesn't come along often, but when it does, it's like magic!  It gives me a nice confidence boost heading into my training for my last two races of the season.  And confidence is something I was sorely lacking this season.

"Attack!" will be my theme for the rest of the season............

Me and the Wingman 
(I'm thrilled that I don't have any post race cankles)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Mid Season Break

A few weeks back, I raced in MA at the Patriot Half Ironman.  This was one of two big races on my calendar for this season.  I went into the season with the goal of getting faster at 'shorter' distances.  I had a great buildup until May, then a host of small issues started eating away at me.  My power meter started acting up and it really took a toll on my confidence and training. I wasn't sure what was wrong with it, but after a trip to the bike shop and some reading up on the manual, I was able to sort it out. A few weeks before my race, I was able to get accurate training data again.

Unfortunately I rolled into my race a little under the weather.  I had some sinus issue that plagued me a few days before the race and it left me tired and fatigued which isn't ideal heading into the one race you plan your whole winter/spring around.  But I got to the starting line and gave it the best I could that day.  My training partner-in-crime Christa was also competing at the same race. My goal was to stay in her zip code during the race.  We were fortunate enough to start in the same wave. 

I highly recommend this race to anyone looking for a half iron distance. This race company knocks it out of the park.  They keep the race small (including the entry fee).  The bike course is one of the most beautiful I've ever ridden.  I will definitely go back and do this race again.

As far as my race execution goes, I met my goal time ranges for the swim and bike.  But, typical me, my run fell short.  Part of it was being under the weather, but most of it was mental.  I really need to work on this aspect of my racing.  I could tell during the run that I was losing focus and was letting my mind wander a bit. When that happens, all hell can break lose.  My mind is like a small child, you need to keep it under control, otherwise it will run amok.

I managed to hold it together and finish 2nd in my division, but I was no where near the 1st place woman.  Even on a great day, there was no way I could have come close.  I did get a PR by nearly 3 minutes, but it wasn't what I was hoping for when I was planning this race earlier in the year.  After the race I sat in my hotel room analyzing my race and figuring out what do I need to do to improve myself.  Let me tell you, that was major soul searching going on that night.

Once I returned to LI from the race, I took 2 weeks off of any structured training. I basically took myself off the grid from my coach (with her blessing) and her group just to find myself again.  My training consisted of "what do I want to do today?"  Some days it was biking, others was running and occasionally swimming. I even had days of not doing anything. And that was OK.  I really needed time away from it all to recover mentally.

One thing I did notice leading up to my race was that I missed riding my bike.  On my way to work, I would see people on their road bikes riding.  I missed my road bike.  After Patriot I put the tri bike away and only got on my road bike.  I found pure joy in just getting out and riding my bike.  I could care less about how many miles I rode or how many watts I was producing.  I just rode.  I let the road and my mood dictate my route for the day. I took some roads that I haven't been on in years. And I loved it.  Wingman dusted off his bike and we took a few rides together.  It was nice to not worry about a workout.

I took some time to catch up on some reading as well.  I stumbled upon an article about racing and pain.  Not the pain from injury that makes you stop running, but the pain you feel when you are going all out and your body is screaming to ease up.  I was thinking back to my racing and training this year and realized that I was backing off at times when the pain was creeping up.  I vowed to change that going into the 2nd half of this season.  Last weekend I competed in the Run Around the Lake in Ronkonkoma.  It's a 4 mile hilly run that I haven't done in a few years.  I was excited to get back to it.  It was my first run since the Patriot Half.  The weather was nearly perfect for the race, overcast with mild humidity.  My goal was to run this race hard and not back off at mile 3 when you begin the climb heading back to the lake.  I did slow up a bit at this point, but that was more an issue with my race fitness (lack of intensity training) and not a mental block.  I fared well (4th in my AG) despite my lack of speed work in weeks.  I missed a PR by ~20 seconds.

This past weekend I ran a 5K in Oakdale (super flat course) and my goal was to see how long I could run when it really started to hurt.  When the gun went off, I went out a little too fast (seems to be my signature move these days) but was able to settle into a hard pace.  I knew I'd be passed by people, but I wanted to pass a few as well.  The course was super flat which meant I didn't have to worry about a hill to slow me down.  I would eye someone ahead of me and try to reel them in.  When I got alongside someone, I would think "Can they possibly handle as much pain as I can?" and then I'd complete the pass.  Completing a pass doesn't mean letting up. You have to keep going and put some distance between and not give them a chance to come back.  I did this with each runner I approached.  I lost track of how many people I passed, but my thought was the same each time.  I actually felt strong with each foot strike as I ran.  It was almost effortless at times.

In the end, I missed a PR by 21 seconds.  At first I was a little upset, but then again I realized that I haven't done any specific speed work in weeks (except for the 4 mile race the prior weekend) so I really couldn't be too upset.  But I am trying to develop more mental skill for racing and this race gave me a great starting point.

My being 'off the grid' ends today.  I start training for the 2nd half of my season this week.  I'm looking forward to training again.  The next few months we are mixing things up and trying some different workouts to get me ready for Augusta 70.3 at the end of September.  I'm tired of racing near the 'back of the pack'.  I want to start moving up to the 'middle of the pack' and feel like I belong with the group .  I want to compete, not 'participate', in the next few races.  I know I won't be winning any races and that's OK.  I'm not built for that.  But I will be putting all the pieces in place to help bridge that gap to the 'middle' group. 

Let the pain & suffering begin