Saturday, October 3, 2015

Ironman Luck

To race ironman at the highest level it takes more than just skill, talent and hard work.  My experience at Ironman Chattanooga confirmed that when it comes down to it, racing a successful Ironman takes a hefty dose of luck!  Or at the very least eliminating any bad luck!

The Wednesday leading up to the race I set out for an easy tempo run and swim. My run workout was simple, smooth, and focused with a few mile repeats on the treadmill to work turn over. I cruised through #1 and all felt easy-peasy, smooth 'n easy. I jumped to the side of the treadmill belt to take a quick 1minute rest. Suddenly my head felt dizzy, and then things went blank. While I don't remember doing so, I am thankful I had the wherewithal to stop the belt and get off the machine. I was walking to sit down when I passed out, dropping to the ground.  Thankfully others were right there to assist me immediately.  I insisted I was fine but those around me told me I was delusional and needed to be checked out.  Moments later, with sirens roaring, I was surrounded by 6 EMS personal. Looking back I appreciate their better to be safe than sorry mentality.  EMS spent time running every test they could perform on site. All tests completely cleared any risk that this was related to my heart. I consulted my doctor and he too felt it was simply the result of going from hero to zero on the treadmill. Jumping off the treadmill quick likely caused a quick pooling of blood to jump from my legs to my head, causing the dizziness.  I have to thank many medical personal who calmed my fears and confirmed that the fainting episode was nothing to worry about. Each and every one of them told me to race as planned.  
Far end of the awesome bike course!
I thought I was in the clear until I woke up Thursday morning and was unable to walk. Both my ankle and knee swelled considerably as a result of the fall. I tried to run and made it  4 second. I couldn't walk without a limp let alone run. 

My beautiful homestay family called every resource they knew to try to get me checked out and race ready.  Their generosity and kind spirit lifted my hopes and reminded me that I never give in without a fight. I spent the next 2 days working on recovering and getting back into the mental game. Thank you Dr. Mark and Chip Clifton for graciously spending time with me. Your expertise and generosity brought me to the starting line believing I'd be ready to put my training to good use.  It was time to believe in ME!
Keeping mood light with endless laughs the day before the race.
A random blow up Ronald with McD no where in sight?!?!? Ok
I woke up race morning with 100% belief that I'd have a great race. The thought of injury or pain never even crossed my mind. I sipped on my cup of java with a huge smile on my face. It was race day! 

I knew the swim would be fast and furious. Due to the assisted current I figured the lead group would hold closer to half ironman effort, and I was right. Thankfully I jumped on their feet and hung on for the ride.  Around the half way point someone moved to the front of the group and picked up the pace. I tried hard to hang on. My self talk: "20 strokes all out, just kidding 20 more, nope they're up'ing the pace again. Must holdddddd on. 40 stroke sprint. Don't give in. Kick harder. You got this, you're in an excellent position." Unfortunately despite the self talk and gritting my teeth the rubber band broke.  From there I swam to the swim exit alone, including a slight detour too far to the left that cost me valuable time.  
 I felt strong once on the bike and was able to hit my power numbers comfortably on the way out of town. I rode alone until around mile 35 and then was caught by a small group.  Our goal for this race was to do what it took to hold on to the girls that came up from behind.  I stayed at the front of the group through the first loop and felt great. I tried to break away on the long descent but was unsuccessful. I then moved to the back of the group just in time for the draft marshals to show up and ding the three of us in the back with draft penalties. Not sure why he didn't get everyone in the group, but that's life.
Around mile 80 my right knee was throbbing. I prayed that it was just aggravated from time on the bike and it would go away once I got out on the run.  I used the 5 minutes in the penalty tent to massage my knee, stretch and mentally get ready to throw down the marathon I knew I was capable of. 
Exiting T2- Let's do this!

The first mile of the run is up hill but I worked hard to try to find my rhythm. My Garmin lapped at mile two and I told myself it was time to react and get moving. My knee hurt pretty bad, but I didn't feel I was doing any damage, so on I went.  By mile 4 my pace didn't change. Frustrating to say the least!  Now, the pain was real, but my mind was convinced I could still pull something out once we got to the hills. Unfortunately once over the bridge my knee started to give out (similar to the feeling of i.t. band syndrome).  When I saw coach Tim and Jesse around mile 13 the tears started streaming.  I was very ready to pull off the best race yet. I nailed my nutrition. I got down to race weight just in the nick of time (and worked very hard to get there). Sitting on a grassy front yard crying to my coach was NOT the way I envisioned my day ending. 
My face says it all: Pain

Tim and I agreed that it wasn't worth hobbling to the finish line. My day was done. What I was doing out there was not running. I am not one to quit but I wasn't willing to risk an actual injury to finish out of the top 10.
The run course in Chattanooga is electric. The streets are lined with people cheering, partying and enjoying the race atmosphere. I wanted so bad to return their energy with a strong marathon. I eventually wiped my tears, put on a smile and walked back to the finish line thanking each and every volunteer I passed. 

Shockingly I wasn't completely depressed in the hours and days that followed. I know I did all I could with my lack of luck! That said, I am sick of these obstacles getting in the way of strong race performances.  My training this season is proof that I have a very strong ironman in me! I hope I can hold onto my fitness, clean up a few details, and absolutely smash an Ironman before calling it quits for the season. I will make the final decision in the coming weeks. I plan to listen to my body and let it be my guide.  If I have one more Ironman in me this season my body, mind, and heart will tell me so. 
Many thanks to Rick and Katie for showing me what Chattanooga hospitality is all about! You never stopped supporting me and believing in me. Once strangers, and now friends for life...this is what I love most about this journey! Rick, it's time for you to discard those flip flops and get your running shoes ready for the 70.3 world champs in 2017!
Many thanks to the 4,000+ volunteers that put their heart into this race!  The energy was non stop, and certainly helped me dig deep and really take myself as far as I possibly could on the day.
There were some great take aways from the day: 
1) Swim: I finally got out with the uber swimmers and held on well beyond the first 200-500m. Next time I need to stay there for 2.4 miles! 
2) Bike: I took risks on the bike and they paid off. Had the course been 112 miles this would of been a new bike PR (sub 5:15). 
3) Run: hmmmm, no positives to be had from this performance...other than the fact that I enjoyed the atmosphere and energy from all the spectators/volunteers. 
Luck surely wasn't on my side leading into this race, but it will only fuel my fire for that day when everything clicks and magic ensues! 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Pinch Me - Ironman Australia

This pretty much sums up my feelings as race day approaches!
-photo credit for ALL images on this post: Darrell Nash/Nashyspix
Yes, it was a very good day when I landed in Port Macquarie. The entire town embraces Ironman and truly pulls out all the stops to put on a tremendous race. There is simply a difference between racing an inaugural race and one that's been around for thirty years. The race crew and volunteers turned this little Australian town into an absolutely magical place. Leading this crew was my amazing homestay. Darrell picked me up from the airport and from then on I received nothing less than their red carpet treatment. So, before I get into the race report I must give a heart felt thank-you and bravo to them!

Darrell Nash/aka: Nashy has a killer photography and framing business. He was incredibly gracious with his time both leading up to the race and during. It is with great honor, to his work product, that I provide my race report mostly through his lens.
Despite the monsoon rains that started five days before race day, I really enjoyed training in Port Mac during the lead up to the race. I was feeling better than I had any other day since IM Taiwan, and believed I was capable of pulling off a dominating race. My head and heart was in it!
Photo by: Darrell Nash:
During our recon of the bike course we stopped for an impromptu photo shoot. I surely wasn't "model ready" in terms of hair, make-up, etc. but Nashy knows how to capture a great shot. 
Photo by: Darrell Nash:
The scenery certainly doesn't disappoint here! The photo backdrop below overlooks the southern tip of the bike course. I enjoyed looking out at the course with nothing short of complete anticipation! 
Photo Credit: Darrell Nash:
Before the race I had the opportunity to speak to kids at a local elementary school. It was the highlight of my trip! Let me tell you, the questions these kiddos asked had me laughing for days! I told them their job was to make me smile during the marathon. Despite my frustrations out on the run course these kids lit me up. I have already forgotten my spits and race time, but this experience will remain embedded in my heart forever. THIS is what it's all about! 

Race Day: 
The rain finally let up a few hours before the start and we absolutely lucked out with weather on race day.  (PS: I learned that in Australia they say "lucked in" to express being lucky, whereby "lucked out" means unlucky. Seems more logical than our reasoning). 
After a solid warm up (yes the fear of bull sharks entered my mind while out there solo), hugs with friends/competitors, a few adjustments and prayers full of thanks I was ready to rock.
2XU/ Pre-race:
Left: I swear I can never get my timing chip on right the first time. Quick adjustment before go time.
Top: good luck hug with Christy Sym. Great to have you back healthy and racing again my friend!
Bottom: Legend, former champion, and rockstar gal Lisa Bentley returned to celebrate the race's 30th anniversary.  
ROKA: The water was incredibly disgusting (and likely polluted) from all the rain, but no complaints here- I was thankful to be out there. I got out in front quick and then faded a bit before hitting the stairs that we had to go up and order (twice). 

From this point on I just sat in with the chase group and remained there through the rest of the swim. Nothing exceptional, but was in a fine place as we set out on the bike. 
Check out that clean water!?!?
Specialized: I tried to stick to my race plan for the first 30 miles. Unlike in Taiwan I was able to get my heart rate and power on track. I felt I was riding well and pushing hard. I reacted well to people as they came by and things seemed to be clicking by just fine.
The course is two loops with some good rollers and one steep short climb. I made the final turn around at the far end of the course and started to feel the effects of the poor road quality. I was warned about the rough road and trained on similarly surfaced roads in Noosa. The chip seal and rough ride certainly takes it's tole and with 1+ hour to go my legs and gluts were on fire! 
Thankfully the Cobb fifty-five saddle kept saddle comfort in order.
 With 20miles to go my stomach started to rumble. I was ahead of my fluid needs so slowed consumption through the duration of the bike. You can see in my face (and bloated stomach) that things were not all smiles over the closing miles.
Overall my feelings about the bike are abysmal. I was riding very well a month+ out from race day but since leaving for Taiwan my output was sub-par. I am determined to make things click on the bike when race day rolls around...sadly it just wasn't happening here. 

Brooks: The three loop run course is fairly flat with only one slight climb on each loop. The first loop proved most difficult for my stomach. Sadly I was in and out of the port-o-potties. "Shut up stomach, what is your deal?" Digestion problems are not typically an issue for me.
After the first 10k things started to improve a bit and I was able to put together a decent pace. Michele Wu caught me and I sat on her shoulder for almost a full loop. The pace honestly felt too slow, but I figured the top 3 had too much of a gap on me so I had to secure my position. With five miles to go I got ahead of Wu at an aid station and before I knew it had put in three minutes on her. I was feeling better over the last 10k than I had in hours. My typical run pace and cadence started to click...better late than never?? 
I remember telling myself that if I could hang on to 5th this would be a finish to be proud of.  I was humbled and reminded how grueling this race is and the roller coaster of emotions that comes with Ironman racing. I had big goals for this race, but in the end fifth it shall be. Indeed I am proud to have made it to this electric finish line!
It was sad that this Australian adventure had to come to an end. I am so thankful for the time I spent in this beautiful country. I met some absolutely amazing people during this journey and will forever hold them in my heart. I can't thank the Nash family enough for your hospitality and friendship. 
...and with that it was back to reality...

Friday, May 22, 2015

THE Land Down Under. Australia Part I

The sport of triathlon has brought countless amazing Aussie's into my life. They truly are some of the most warm and inviting soles of whom I'm fortunate enough to have as close friends...I mean mates.  I feel incredibly blessed that 2015 was the year I got to spend 3+ weeks touring the land down under.

Ironman Taiwan didn't go as planned, but I didn't blink twice...I had another great opportunity standing in front of me. I left Taiwan and headed straight to Noosa, a quaint beach community 1 hour north of Brisbane. Noosa is the home to many of triathlons legends, both past and present.
During the 10+ days I spent in Noosa I spent as much time resting as possible. Eat, train, sleep- that's the dream, right?!?!? Oh no wait, it's the life of most other pro triathletes - aka: my competition. Time to embrace the opportunity!
While I was riding high and completely content in the moment, the emotional and physical tole of recent life events started to get the best of me.  I found myself dragging through training sessions, and unable to hit training metrics that should have been easy.  Looking back I think I only had one good ride and one good run while I was there. Coach Tim was back home scratching his head and asking "why?" Meanwhile I just kept sleeping and trying to get everything aligned for the race ahead. 

I absolutely loved my time in Noosa. Every ride was a new adventure to spot Koalas and kangaroos.  After the first few rides I started to focus more on the power versus simply searching for Koalas and Kangaroos. My surroundings were breathtaking indeed.

Many sunsets spent doing TRX at the beach
Love Australia - where long course is the norm!

 The weather was spectacular the entire time I was there. The birds sang every morning to wake me up to get my training day started. I enjoyed the time spent with Mel and Jared and am so appreciative of their amazing hospitality! Thanks mate!
Afternoon coffee with Mel and Jared
1mi open water swim race on the beach
where 70.3 worlds will be in 2016

Training was pretty off, but I tried not to let it get to me. Instead I rested when my body craved rest and pushed when I was able to. On my last day there we drove down to Mooloolaba for a 1 mile ocean race. I knew the Aussies were amazing ocean swimmers and enjoyed seeing their ocean skills first hand. The kids race was beyond adorable! Their love for the ocean is contagious. I had a strong race and felt things might just be ticking in perfect time for the real race the following weekend. Time to head to Port Macquarie. Ironman #18 awaits...and this time I was surely going to find that finish line!

Up next: Port Macquarie and Ironman Australia race report. All part of my journey! Thanks for reading.  Cheers to you.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Relish In The Moment...Despite The Odds

The past month has truly been a dream come true.  While it didn't start out that way I did my best to turn it into everything it could be. Here's the story...and the deep-down-honest back story.

When I first conceived the idea of racing Ironman Taiwan and Ironman Australia three weeks apart I am not sure I really thought it would happen.  It was more a figment of my imagination.  Time, money, logistics, work, training for back to back early season ironmans - it all needed to be accounted for and factored into the equation. After returning from our QT2 pro training camp in Florida I wasn't sure the fitness piece of the equation was accounted for. I needed a few solid signs to make me believe I was (2x) race ready.  During my final training block things really started to click. With the flick of a switch my heart began to sing and I knew it was time to commit to my first attempt at back to back Ironmans.

The original plan was to fly over to Taiwan, back to San Francisco, and then over to Australia 2 weeks later. However after considering the tole this would take on my body (time changes), and discussing things with my coworkers we decided I would head straight from Taiwan to Australia and work out of our offices there. The puzzle was coming together and with it my mental state turned from self doubt to complete confidence and excitement. Up until now the idea of training and racing over in Australia was only a dream. I was so excited that the packing and planning started two weeks out from my travel day.  My spare bedroom turned into piles of cloths, tri gear, and (an insane amount of) food.

After completing my final training block I just needed to get through the work week, by day, and find a way to fit all of those piles into my suitcase and bike bag, by night. The thing is, life has a way of always keeping us on our toes, keeping us guessing, and testing our character.  I walked into the office Monday morning knowing I had a mountain of work awaiting me. My body was exhausted, but I couldn't let that get in the way of what my mind had to accomplish before jet setting.
I hadn't settled into my work day too long before a strange buzz began around the office. One by one employees were given the "thank you for your service, let me show you the door" speech. You could hear a pin drop in the office. Those remaining stared blankly at each other. We were suppose to be celebrating the acquisition of two new companies. "What the H.E.L.L is going on?"  I wasn't first, so when the text message came through asking me to head up to the executive suites I knew what was coming...I was next.  I've never been part of a large lay off before. Accela was very different than the law firms I've worked for in the past.  Together we built this product and company from the ground up. My co-workers were true friends of mine. This is simply part of the process and casualties that come with acquisitions. It's all part of the game when working in hyper growth software industry. However this didn't make me feel any better. I was quite simply devastated.

I called my parents, but couldn't even get the words out of my mouth. My high and excitement for the races and travel ahead came crashing down. In the matter of five minutes I went from cloud nine to red lined. I didn't care one ounce about triathlon. I cared about my friends who were out of work. I cared about my career and my next steps. Yes, this career is the one that is first and foremost in my life. It only takes a second to remind me what is truly important in life. Sorry, triathlon I love you with all my hear, all my sole, and every single tiny muscle fiber....but you aren't the be-all-end-all for me. You aren't my whole life. As "Lunch Money Louis" sings "I've got [law school debt] bills, I've gotta pay"..."I got [triathlete hangry] mouths I gotta feed."

Pack, fly to Taipai,  2  days in Taipai
before heading south to the race site in Kenting
So those who follow my training and race journey know I obviously did make it to Taiwan, and from there Australia.  It wouldn't have happened without my adoring family and closest friends.  The days between the lay off and departing CA were anything but easy. I prayed every second of every day that God would tell me if I was intended to travel to Taiwan and/or Australia. I have to thank some very special training partners who sat and prayed with me after finishing our weekly 10x400m swim set.  This act of kindness and unselfishness truly made my heart start believing I could get on that plane in two days time.  To my friends who came over to pack my bags for me and drive me to the airport, you rock! I spent the next 3+ weeks thanking each of you for the experiences.  It made sure to embrace these experiences with a "clear eyes, full heart, can't lose" mentality.

Pack up. Ship out. One job... Ironman racing was it.  Once in Taiwan I was greeted by the a member of the Cobb Cycling family, Winston Tam and fam.  I am absolutely positive there couldn't of been a better welcoming after the week I just went through. I hadn't slept much and on the way to the airport threw my back out trying to load my (way) over weight bag into the car.  After a few days settling into the time and climate change in Taipai I packed up again and jumped on the train to Kenting (far south end of Taiwan).

The race organization pulled out all the stops to welcome the professional athletes. I greatly enjoyed some much needed days of relaxation at the Howard Beach Hotel (pictured on left). By race day I was ready to rumble. Let the past sit in the past. Time to live in the present.  The race itself was quite the experience. I have now learned you have to expect the unexpected when it comes to racing first year races especially when they're in a second/third world country.  I'd survived IM Fortaleza for heaven's sake. I would be just fine with whatever came my way here in Taiwan. The course was no joke! Wow, it is the craziest ironman bike course I've ever raced. Narrow roads, plenty of climbs followed by winding descents, and more three legged stray dogs than you an count. Hold on TIGHT! Let's do this...
The swim was a very sub par performance for me. I lost the feet of the front two, and found myself pulling four of the male pros for the rest of the swim.

Once on the bike I fought through the very hilly first half of the course. While the course spiked I did anything but. By all measures (heart race, power, perceived effort) I was flat.  Furthermore my aching back wasn't really enjoying all of the climbing.  Once into the final 60 miles my legs decided to join the party and I finally was hitting AND holding my target power numbers. The last 60 miles was a three loop section close to transition. I built each loop and entered T2 feeling confident for the run.

Sadly the run went backwards. It just never came around. I assessed things and realized that even if I threw down a great closing 10k I wouldn't of been happy with my finish. With that I decided to call it quits. 6 miles away from the finish my heart was already in Australia. I don't walk off an Ironman course - that isn't who I am! But I also didn't come to Taiwan to finish 5th or 6th. It was time to cut my looses and regroup for the next opportunity in 3 weeks time.

I don't always air my "dirty laundry" via blog posts. However this is what makes me real. This is why I can relate to the challenges so many of you face on your way to your Ironman starting line.  We all have obstacles in our lives and carry so much on our shoulders. Once the gun went off I know I gave it my all.  While it wasn't the race I was searching for, Taiwan truly allowed me to relish in THIS moment. THIS challenge. THIS opportunity!  The memories leave me without regret. I have a deep appreciation that God's love drove me to fly across the world with my eyes wide open.    I mean where else would you see signs like this:

Really? Good to know!
A huge thank you to Winston Tam, Margaret Wang and their adorable son Wesley! Your hospitality truly made my time in Taiwan so special. Thank you Judy and Greg for all the memories of our beyond crazy course preview via Taiwanese taxi.  That 3 hour car ride will keep me laughing for years to come. Thank you Shiang Tsao and your unbelievable Ironman staff for easing the stress of traveling solo half way across the world to a non-English speaking race destination. You were amazing! To my sponsors who acted more like family that ever, you own a piece of my heart.

It's all about the journey!  This was far from the end of this journey. Stay tuned for chapter 2: Ironman Australia.