Saturday, July 24, 2010

Lemonade in the Riptide: 2010 Chattanooga Olympic Triathlon

 If you lack the iron and the fuzz to take control of your own life, if you insist on leaving your fate to the gods, then the gods will repay your weakness by having a grin or two at your expense. Should you fail to pilot your own ship, don't be surprised at what inappropriate port you find yourself docked. . .  The price of self-destiny is never cheap, and in certain situations it is unthinkable. But to achieve the marvelous, it is precisely the unthinkable that must be thought.
from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

 Okay, before you read any further do me a favor, go pee. While you're at it get yourself a beer, water, some vittles, put on some good tunes. . .   Heck, maybe get yourself some Adderall. . .

I'll wait.

Go, but come back.


Seriously, get comfortable--pretty sure this is going to be long. Such is the case when one doesn't update their blog for 3 months.


So that quote at the beginning? It has long taken up space in my head. But the past few months I've taken a risk and just let it go. I've been tired of struggling-- trying to force destiny's hand. And that was when I realized  that I was like a swimmer, no unfortunately not a Dara Torres phenom but rather one who ignored the warnings signs, red flags and found that I was  a swimmer caught in a rip current.

Here's what Wikapedia has to say about a swimmer caught in a rip current:
A swimmer caught in a rip current should not attempt to swim back to shore directly against the rip. This risks exhaustion and drowning. A rip does not pull a swimmer under water; it carries the swimmer away from the shore in a narrow channel of water. The rip is like a treadmill which the swimmer needs to step off. The swimmer should remain calm and swim parallel to the shore until out of the current.  . .
A swimmer in a strong rip, who is unable to swim away from it, should relax and calmly float or tread water to conserve energy. Eventually the rip will lose strength, and the swimmer can swim at a leisurely pace, in a direction away from the rip but back to shore. . .

Like the panicked swimmer it took me awhile to realize  that maybe I should just "relax" and go with the flow. And well, that is where the lemonade part comes into play. . .

I got thirsty.

What?  With all that struggling and thrashing about in the strong rip.  . .

Okay,  I know, I know, horribly cliche and really, if we are being literal, I think lemonade would be pretty terrible mixed in with all that salt water I'd surely be swallowing if I was caught in a real live riptide; not this metaphorical one that I'm being spun about in. Nevertheless, I am sure you get the implication that I am just trying to make the best of the situation.

So yeah, in case you haven't figured it out the running,  the running which is near, dear and self defining of who I see myself as,  has betrayed me. It just hasn't been working out. Injury this and injury that, allergy, asthma, sinus infection  has all made me run slower and the slower I became the weaker I felt physically, mentally.  It was like hitting the wall in a marathon. I ate the paste and I don't even remember having the paste, ya know?  I had lost my religion--and believe me, I tried to cling to it like a PFD but it was about as useful to me as deflated water wings.

 I had to let it go.

I had start over.

 So I got myself a new bike and have tried to learn to love the bike; to be good on the bike. And well, that last part hasn't worked out so awesomely  but I do love to ride my bike.

 I even  found my way back to the pool thanks to Steph's Friday 5am House of Swim Pain. Okay, so I am the only one who calls it that. Steph, always with the positive spin, calls it "Fun Flipperless Fridays". In this case, I really don't think I am the pessimist though; just the realist. But whichever, her Friday swim plans and her camaraderie had me in the pool for at least an hour each week good for 2 or so miles of hard swimming.

And yes, of course, I have still been running. But it hasn't been the same. It is most definitely not the marathon training that I love; that I have been logging for the past 4 years. So no more weekly 20 mile runs and definitely no 50, 60 or 70 miles per week. I have been logging 30 miles most weeks and the occasional,  40 mile week has happened but then some weeks I barely come in over 20 miles.  . .

Sigh, it is what it is. I am chill. I am relaxing. Enjoying my lemonade. My pink sweet sweet lemonade . . .

When my injuries really started to get me down my friend Doug,( yep Steph's husband), told me to just do "little runs". So that is what I have been doing. It is crazy that some weeks I run all 7 days but still only total out at 25 miles. When I run 50+ miles per week I never run 7 days a week, heck, I've done 50 miles on just 4 days of running. See, see how I have lost my religion?

See how a person might think they are drowning when first faced with that?

No, well then that is probably because you don't have an insane love/addiction/passion for running. This is not to say less of you, but you just need to  Madlib it where I say run/running and insert your love/addiction/passion and I think you'll understand. If not? Well,  I guess you lead a sad soulless existence and are just a shell of a person who has no worries because you don't float or sink: you just blow around in the world like the empty husk you are. . .

It is what it is. . .

But never mind you, this is about me!

And  I got my sinking head above water, finally. Currently I am floating along and I can see the shore again-- still going parallel to it for certain but once again; land is in sight and a little closer than it was a few months ago.

Of course, with all my new found cycling, little bit of swimming and little bit of running I figured I better sign up for a triathlon. I am a girl who is most motivated by having a reason to workout. Not getting fat and getting to fit into a bikini definitely  helps some but it doesn't urge me the same way as when I have a race to train for. I begin to see the race as a test and I don't want to the fail test. That is, ultimately how I operate. I only care when it matters. So I have to make it matter. And, more specifically, I don't want to embarrass myself. (You know like I did in the other two triathlons I did. See here and here )  Just having a race on my calendar instantly gives me the self discipline I naturally lack. But most importantly  it also gives me a reason to tell people who aren't into endurance events why I run/bike/swim as much as I do.

In May I picked the Chattanooga Waterfront Olympic Triathlon. I picked this triathlon for many reasons. There is, despite surface appearances, method to my madness. First, I wanted to try the Olympic distance. In the past I have compared myself to Goldilocks  so it should be no surprise that I felt the sprint triathlon was too small, the half ironman too big and well, I thought, the Olympic distance might be just right.

I settled on Chattanooga because the swim is in a river with this supposed great current but most important it had a time trial start, wet suits are illegal ( which nice since I don't own one),  a dock start (no creepy lake bottom), is in a river (no scary ocean creatures), and is point to point (no navigation issues). The bike  is hilly-- which I happen to prefer since I ride solely in hilly places-- and since I don't have a tri bike I would be at less of a disadvantage. Last the run, I was told, is flat. On a hot, humid day after swimming 1600 meters and riding 26 miles I am just better off without having to endure the extra torture of a rolling run course. Also, I like Chattanooga. The Chickamauga marathon that is right outside of Chattanooga had been a great race for me and remains one of my most favorite marathon experiences. The way I saw it? Chattanooga had good Nat Chi written all over it.

Ryan and I squirreled the kids away and drove up on Saturday for the race. We stopped in Chicamauga to take a short easy ride.

It was funny but as much as I know I loved that marathon most of the park was new to me, pretty, but new. Obviously I need to run that marathon again.

We made it to Chattanooga, picked up my packet, checked into the hotel and met some friends for dinner:
My friend Caroline and me. You might recognize Caroline from my blog post about GA ING. She ran the half.
I ♥ her.

Katie, Amy and Jerry. Part of the NAMC and my frequent riding friends.

Me and my friend Lisa. She is awesome.

Steve, Ryan and Jay. I ride Tuesday night Roswell ride with Steve and Jay. We do the extra loop.

Brian and Ryan. Brian is a high school friend of Ryan's who lives on Lookout Mountain. 
We stopped by after dinner to have a beer with him and his wife Beth. I first met them a year after Ryan and I started dating at a Halloween party at their house. Ryan was Batman and I was the Tooth fairy. Good times. Always.

Me and Beth.

Okay, so I was more than a little cranky getting back to the hotel as late as we did and had more than a few words for Mr. Drunky. I tried, in vain, to explain that this was the Natalie Show, not the Ryan Show. Lost. Telling you. Lost.on.him. He would see though just how early 4:50 am was gonna come and just how not quiet I was gonna be.


Of course I got up before the alarm went off, before the other alarm went off and before the hotel wake up call came. I had exactly 2 minutes to spare to shut down all those noises. And I am sure a courteous wife would have done those things.

I had gotten my things together the night before and Drunky had filled my water bottles and who knows what else so I just had to eat, shower and get dressed. Our hotel was not next to the start but was still close enough to ride. 

It was 6 am when we left the hotel. It was dark, the sun not yet up, and the air was still, thick with humidity. Ugh, I thought. It is going to be hot and sticky. But it would be that way for everyone. We rode the several blocks through downtown Chattanooga to the race area by the waterfront. The ride there was littered with triathletes in various stages of dress and burdened with their gear. Even before I reached transition I felt out of my league.

I was intimidated by all the hardcore athletes and their hardcore tri gear as I approached the body marking tent and transition area. I suddenly, out of no where, found myself singing in my head a song long forgotten from my youth. I changed the lyrics a little and the tune stayed with me all day. Especially on the bike when I would hear what I thought was a train coming up behind me but no, it was not a train. It would be some dude on time trial bike with the goofy looking aero helmet and solid wheels. They'd pass me like I was going backwards and  I'd wave, smile and sing . . .
Hey Kids!
One of these athletes is not like the others,
One of these athletes just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which one is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

Did you guess which athlete was not like the others?
Did you guess which one just doesn't belong?
If you guessed Natalie
is not like the others,
Then you're absolutely...right! 

Things to entertain myself. 

Picture of my rack in transition area the day before. Ryan has one of those wheel things that he uses to measure lawns. We got it out and determined that my rack was indeed the very center rack equally far from all entrances and exits!

Race day though I was happy to discover that when I found my smack in the middle rack that it was across from Lisa!  I changed my set up like 15 times and ultimately decided it really didn't matter and that I was over thinking the whole thing. Here is one version. It don't think this is what I ultimately decided on though.

After setting up and being body marked I told Ryan to go back to the hotel and do whatever. Chattanooga has a time trial start and they stagger you by age group and then seed you within your age group with your predicted swim time.  I am in the 30-39 age group and I submitted, I think, 25 minutes for estimated swim time. Not sure how I came up with 25 minutes but I had done a 1000 meter time trial in 16 and change so I guessed 25 minutes would be about right. The unfortunate thing for me about the time trial start is that my age group was the second to last to start. I didn't really process this fully until race day when Lisa laid it out for me in plain terms when I kept being anxious to get on the bus to go the swim start. Why? She said.  The race starts at 7:30 but your group probably isn't going to get started until 8:30, maybe 9.  I calculated in my head as we walked barefoot around Chattanooga that meant I would probably get to be running around 10:30-11 am. Uh, so not awesomeness.

We got on the bus sometime around 7:30. True to her word Lisa and I waited forever in a hot field. I entertained myself by going potty a bazillion times, complaining about how hot I was and how much I wanted a shower and then doing some yoga poses. Sitting still, quietly mediating before a race? Yeah, not me.

Finally, and I have no idea what time it was but probably 8:45, I was in line for my swim start. I wasn't nervous, anxious or anything. Just ready to get on with it.

I was in line according to my number, sandwiched between woman 841 and  woman 843. The drill was jump off the dock into the water, swim up 10 feet, tread water until they say your number and then you commenced swimming.

 I heard 842 and I started swimming and finally began my race!
Quick aside, I had no idea of time, pace, mph heart rate-- nothing-- the whole race. I went "naked". No watch, Garmin, bike computer, heart rate monitor etc. It was all based on perceived effort and pacing myself accordingly. My goal was under 3 hours and thinking ideally best case scenario would be 2:45. I figured 25+ minutes for the swim. 1:30 for the bike and 48 minutes for the run. Transition time making up the rest. My main goal though was to not go so hard on the bike that I had a miserable run. I did not want a sufferfest. I wanted a good race.
I was slightly dismayed that the water was warm. I like cold water to swim in. My swim was pretty uneventful initially. I was passing lots of people. Which either meant I was kicking ass or more likely, the people I was passing had ambitiously seeded themselves.

The swim was down river. A straight shot under bridges. You'd think I couldn't mess this up. But as I was swimming I began to feel that maybe I was in the wrong place. I am a fairly straight swimmer so when I left the dock I just headed straight down the river. I would count 50 strokes and look up. After awhile I realized that there were a lot of swimmers to my right, more to the middle of the river, closer to the giant buoys and bride columns. I kept my position that was closer to shore line but worry set it. What if I was swimming in the wrong place? What if that is where the current is? What if I get disqualified? This last thought made me decide that I should swim over to the mass group that was more in the middle of the river. So I began cutting diagonally over to the middle.

This proved a bad choice. There was no current and worse there was a mass of people--some of  whom were doing breast stroke.  The water was choppier there too. But I stayed since going back would cost more time and make me swim extra.  So I fought my way through swimmers. I feel like I passed lots of people and didn't notice if people passed me. I am sure they did but I didn't see it.

Finally I was at the dock. I was told someone would pull me out. But that didn't happen. What did happen was that I hit my knee on some metal. I remember it stinging but it was go go go and I ran up the steps ripping my cap and goggles off. I looked up the hill/steps and saw Lisa running up towards transition. Voice in my head said "Catch her!".

I ran into transition right behind Lisa which was good because it helped me find my rack easily. I just went one over from her. I doused my feet in water, dried them on the towel as I put my helmet and sun glasses on, I put socks, bike shoes on and grabbed my bike and headed out to the course.
No mistakes!

Lisa was faster and was already gone but I caught up to her quickly. I was really excited that we were out on the bike course together. I caught her as the course turned onto the highway. She yelled at me that I was gonna get a penalty if I didn't pass her. I asked what if I ride here next you? Can't we just chat? No!!She yelled.  You'll get a penalty for that too! Well, boo, that's no fun!

For the first several miles I played leap frog with Lisa: me passing her on the up hill and her passing me back on the downhill. Actually, the only time I passed people was on the up hill. Then, I would get passed on the downhill by the same people. Sigh. I am not, despite popular belief, using my brakes on the downhill. Who the hell is slow on the downhill? Me! That's right. Sing the song: One of these cyclists is not like the others .  . .

I think somewhere around mile 6 or so I passed Lisa and she didn't pass me back again. It was somewhere around here that Kraig came up on me and said "Good job Natalie!" and then blew past me like I wasn't moving. Here is Kraig (right) with Jay (left). Kraig has gotten so fast on the bike. He is now in a group all by himself on the Tuesday night ride.It called the K group and no one can catch him.
Kriag was the last person I saw on the bike that I knew. By the time I got to 10 miles I was already bored. The course is out and back, mostly on the highway. While the scenery from the highway is attractive you are still riding on a 4 lane divided highway. The bike course had two of the four lanes on each side of the median. This meant though that we had to ride to the right--which was to the left of car traffic--near the cars instead of the median. It was weird having cars on my right side when I am use to them being on my left. This made me very uncomfortable and I would find myself drifting over towards the median, away from car traffic. This is a no no since that is the passing zone and if you ride in it you can get a penalty. I was very worried about getting a penalty. It is 2 minutes for each one and I couldn't afford to spare any minutes. Also, I don't like to get in trouble.

I was very focused on following the rules and also worried about getting a flat. So I felt like I was holding my breath the whole ride, which of course I wasn't but that is how I felt with all my concerns. Odd that on the swim, where I did actually hold my breath, I felt very relaxed about things. Well, except the part about possibly swimming in the wrong area .. .

I fell like I was not as aggressive as I could have been on the bike but I figured that was okay. It was going to be hot on the run so there was no need to totally cook the legs before then. At least that is what I told myself every time I had to encourage myself to NOT chase down every girl that passed me--and there were a lot. I don't care if the boys pass me in a race but I don't like it when the girls do.

The miles passed very slowly. It was the longest 26 miles I have ever ridden. This is not true at all. In fact it might actually be the fastest but it felt like an eternity. I was however, grateful that with each mile marker I passed it meant I was almost done with the bike and still hadn't flatted.

Sometime around mile 20 I remember riding up a hill and was looking down. My eye caught what I thought was red Gatorade dripping down my right leg. Didn't really register it until I reached for my bottle of Gu Brew and as I finished it off I  realized it wasn't red but purplish. So looked back at my leg and realized it wasn't GU but was blood coming from my knee that had dripped down the front of my shin. Huh? I puzzled over it and touched my knee. There was a small cut and the bone was tender.  Then I  vaguely remembered that I had hit my knee when I exited my swim so that must of been when it happened. My knee wasn't urting while I was riding but I wondered if it would prove an issue when it came time to run.  I hoped not. Then I tried to remember the last time I had a tetanus shot. So many things to worry about to keep me distracted! I am starting to think that triathlons might be too ADD even for me.

Finally I made it to transition and was so happy for my uneventful bike. I loosened my shoes as I approached the dismount line so I could just slip out of them. It was sort of congested going in and I couldn't run with my bike and then I went down the wrong rack. Curses! A mistake! I panicked a little but quickly found my rack, put my bike up, remembered this time to take off my helmet, got my shoes on, number on and ran out of transition.

Yay running!

I heard someone yell my name as I ran out of transition but no idea who it was. I started out slow, at least it felt slow. It was hot, sunny, and so humid it sucked my breath out of me. But I plodded along and I just focused on keeping my breathing even. I told myself when I settled in I could pick up the pace. All things considered I was feeling pretty good. I was passing lots of people and only got passed by a handful of men. I got passed by no women on the entire run.

In the first mile you run up a small hill and then come to some stairs. People had mentioned these to me but I didn't really think too much about it. Running up them proved difficult. My ankle felt weak so I decided I would just walk. Most people were so it was hard to pass anyway. I guess I lost some time here but that is okay.

I think it was in the 2nd mile someone gave me a towel that was soaked in ice water. I took it and wrapped it around my neck. It did help and I kept it for the whole run until the final mile because in case there was finish line pictures I didn't want one of me with a white towel around my neck. Even though it didn't clash with my pink, white and black ensemble I figured it wouldn't make for a flattering photo. People. Yes, these are the intimate thoughts of a vain woman.

I can't say I was loving the run. I did like getting to see my friends on the out and back and high fiving as we passed. That was the highlight. And I was doing okay but as I approached mile 3 I realized the feeling good and picking up the place plan wasn't going to happen. And this is when I started making the deals with myself: Okay, at the 5k point if you are feeling really gross you can walk the aid station. But then I would make it to the 5k point and I would assess that I was okay and I would say make it to the 4 mile. And the so on and so on. Each time I would make it to my determined cop out point only to be able to maintain.

By the 4th mile I started getting the chills. I have had this happen before in training and in races and I know that isn't the best sign as far as heat exhaustion goes. However, I have had chills before and been fine. I told myself I was okay and did a self assessment: hands not too swollen--I could still move my ring, breathing is okay, no cramps and I was still sweating. At the aid stations I started taking 2 waters: one to drink and one to dump on my towel--keeping it cold. This worked pretty well. Still couldn't run faster and still didn't feel awesome but it was near 90 degrees and I had swam a mile and ridden 26 miles so awesome was not really in my expectations. I did feel like I was knocking on hell's door I was still safely on the other side of it.

In the last uphill I came upon a dude leaning against a tree loudly vomiting his insides out.God, how I wished for head phones. As I started up the hill I told myself :you are not him you are fine you are fine. But just as I reached the crest of the hill I started to have that swimming head feeling and I took it down to walk when I reached the top of the hill. I counted to 20 and started back running and I was fine. Nothing got better but it didn't get any worse.

I found myself back at the stairs, this time running down them and then jumping on the road. The end is near! The end is near! As I came down the hill I could see the finish line and right before it I saw the NAMC tent. I high fived Courtney (Kriag's wife) and then ran under the finish line cheering for myself.

And I was happy! I had had a good race! A solid triathlon where I swam, biked and RAN!
My friend Tiffany took the above picture. It is right before the finish line. I love how strong I look, not defeated and certainly not fast, but I look solid. I look like I am maintaining. And well, considering the past few months? That is pretty huge for me. I'll gratefully take it.

After I finished I went to the NAMC tent to see if Ryan was there. He wasn't. They all asked me how I had done, what my time was and I had no idea. All I could say is that it was a good race. I felt good about it. I have to admit that at that moment it was nice that I could say that and wasn't allowing the numbers on a clock to define my experience it.

However, time--as we all know way too well-- it does matter. After a bit of chatting and Ryan not showing up I asked Courtney what time it was. 11:25!! I had to hurry if I wanted a shower. Check out from my hotel was at noon.

I bolted off to transition hoping to find Ryan on my way but at least to get my phone to call him to come pick me up and in my mind whisk me to the hotel so I could take a lightening fast shower. I found Ryan just as I was getting in the ridiculous long line to get back into transition.

We have to hurry I told him! I need a shower! I have 30 minutes until check out!

But alas my hopes of shiny and clean were all in vain. Ryan had checked out of the hotel already. So then what ensued was an adult tantrum in the parking garage while I cussed Ryan out for depriving me of my shower. To punish him I stripped down butt ass naked next to his truck and poured water all over myself and dried off using two of his t shirts. That should show him!

After a costume change, a beer and some continued bitching I did get over myself. Ryan and I went back to the race area and got the 2 free beers my race had earned me. I went to check the results and while not complete  with swim, bike and run times I saw my final time: 2:45:10!

How the hell is that for some pacing?!

I was already feeling good about my race but that just made it better. Sure it would have been awesome if I had been faster but I met my A goal.  I really couldn't have asked for more (I mean, of course I do but you know.)

Here is me super drunk, dirty and all smiles with Lisa while we wait for a table at The Terminal.

It took awhile for the final results and I am sure it has been a bit tortuous for you numbers people to have waited this long for the time when that was all you came here seeking:

Final time: 2:45:10 11/55 in Age group. Puts me top 20% which the top 33%  of each age group qualifies for the regional championships in September. So that is cool. I am not going but you know how I like it when I qualify.

Swim:  24:02/1600m /1:28per 100yd pace   5th in age group. Might have been faster if I hadn't been such a spaz and swam all over the place.

Transition1: 2:42

Bike: 1:24: 05/ 26 miles/ 18.57 mph  15th in age group. Sigh.

Transition2: 2:39

Run: 51:44/8:19 avg pace    5th in age group. Little disappointing there but I did the best I could given the conditions.

Not fastest or the most fabulous, I know. I am happy with it though.  I have been floundering for awhile now but I think I am ready to swim up on the shore and hit the ground running again.  

As always, thanks for reading!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Pedal with a Purpose

Okay, so I promise to blog a post about my most recent race but first I must pimp out the Pedal with a Purpose ride. I won't blah blah you with all the details, you can click here and read them for yourself, see the 6 mile, 32 mile, 62 mile and 105 mile routes and then you can click on the link and sign up! So please do. Price increase will go up after July 18th!

And stay tuned for more boring stories where I talk mostly about myself and the ways I torture myself running, swimming, cycling and harassing my children, family and friends.
Hope to see you out there!