This was my third year returning to Coeur D'Alene for Ironman 70.3 CDA and it was by far my best year and somewhat of a little breakthrough for me. I made about a 14 min improvement over last year's time and almost 20 minutes from my first race here in 2016.
The reason for my breakthrough?? Well, a lot of consistent, hard work, but also finally making the move to lower elevation. I have spoken a tad bit about the struggles I had living at altitude (7,000 feet in Flagstaff, AZ) over the past few years and now that I am living at a much lower elevation (~2300 feet) in Tucson, AZ I have confirmed that being at altitude was just NOT for me.
Many believe that living and training at altitude will make you stronger and thus faster... I would argue the exact opposite. It can definitely be used as a training stimulus in small doses (4-6 weeks at a time), but I feel long-term can really break you down. I grew up at about 4500 feet elevation in Reno, NV (so fairly high). I ran track and cross country in high school and would say I was a decent runner, but never quite good enough. I did not compete as a runner in college and had pretty much left endurance sports behind me until I discovered my passion for triathlon several years later. I did my first race in 2005 before starting dental school in Seattle, WA. It was during my years in dental school that I realized I was a little stronger of a runner than I had previously realized. At the time, I assumed I just must be stronger, both physically and mentally, than I was as a teenager. After all, I was taking just a wee bit better care of myself as an adult than as a teenager. (I was no longer a 90 pound waif who considered Taco Bell and candy bars a proper meal.)
It wasn't until I left Seattle and moved to Flagstaff, AZ that I slowly watched my strength as a runner slip away and realized that the speed I had found in Seattle was largely in part due to being at sea level. I THRIVED at sea level, finding runner's highs on MOST of my runs. In Flagstaff, running (and everything for that matter) was a struggle. I know many people don't understand the phenomenon of a "runner's high", but I can promise you it does exist & is probably the number one reason I do what I do. I absolutely LOVE training. Endorphins are my drug of choice. If you were to tell me I could never race again, I'd be okay with that as long as I could still train. The rush I get from training, and the way my body feels when I have finished a tough workout are next to none.
Unfortunately, living in Flagstaff, those highs disappeared. Within one year of training and racing there I was severely burned out both mentally and physically and I actually quit the sport of triathlon for about two years. The problem was, I had already seen and experienced the potential athlete I could be and it wasn't something I could easily forget. It was as though I was trapped inside of a body that no longer wanted to cooperate. I just wasn't ready yet to throw in the towel and so in 2013 I began to train and race again. But, in spite of trying a new coach and some different training methods my run and my swim were only getting slower.
In December of 2017, after 9 years living in Flagstaff, we made the move to Tucson, AZ. Almost immediately I felt better and to my surprise I was not only starting to gain back some of the speed I'd lost in my run, but I was also seeing the improvements come through in my swim and bike as well. Most importantly, I was rediscovering my joy for the sport and tapping into the athlete I knew I could be. I also no longer needed to sleep 10-11 hours per night to feel rested and was finding that I seemed to be recovering more quickly and was able to put a little more muscle back on my frame.
I spent all winter training hard trying to regain some of my speed. I was hesitant to race early because I did not want to interrupt the gains I had been making. Yes, I know that racing can be a way to gain more fitness and make some breakthroughs, but there has to be some tapering before a race and recovering following a race in order to not overdo it and I did not want to interrupt the upward trajectory I was on.
I was trying not to place too much pressure on myself but I went into CDA knowing what I was capable of and really hoping that some of the gains I had made over the winter would shine through. I'm happy to say they did. I had some time goals for the swim. bike and run and for all three disciplines I was able to fall within my goals. I didn't hit the top end of those goals, but nonetheless I was within range and had a major improvement over where I was at this point last year.
And with that INCREDIBLY LONG introduction I guess it's time to move on to the race...
SWIM- 29:18 (1:23/100 yd pace)- My watch clocked a 29:06 for 2146 yards which works out to a 1:21 per 100 yard pace. Why the difference? The official time includes a short run up the beach to cross a timing mat and is for a 2100 yard swim which means the course was either off by a bit or I didn't swim a straight line which is pretty likely when you are trying to navigate around other swimmers.
As I said before, I have been seeing massive gains in the pool. I have found some great training partners and have an absolutely amazing facility to train at at the University of Arizona. (Those of you that follow me on Instagram have seen the amazing facility I get to use. I am absolutely IN LOVE with the place and still pinch myself that I get to train there). I've been swimming 5-6 days every week and doing between about 19-22k per week. I have LOVED every minute of it. I do not have a swim background and was in fact terrified of the water as a child. I was the only one of my three sisters to not have swim lessons as I refused to get in the pool and refused to put my head under the water. In fact, I can remember even as a teen I would not put my face directly into a stream of water (i.e.; the shower- I would instead cup the water in my hands and then splash my face with it). At about 24 years old I decided it was time to get over my fear and learn to swim. I took a swim class at the University of Nevada Reno where I did my undergrad studies. I am a bit of a perfectionist so, as with everything, once I decided to commit to swimming, I went ALL IN! I can remember going to Barnes & Nobles searching for books on how to swim properly. The class I was taking was called "Swim for Fitness" so we weren't actually being coached or being taught how to swim. Instead, we were just getting into a lane and swimming back and forth for the allotted time. I quickly found myself frustrated at how inefficient I seemed to be in the pool. I wanted to be better. I would hide between the book shelves reading books I couldn't afford to buy sucking up any information I could gain to become a better swimmer. I later was able to borrow some VHS videos (Yes, I did say VHS!) made by the American Red Cross that taught the 4 different swim strokes. I can remember being in my parent's basement laying across a bar stool trying to imitate the video to learn the strokes.
And so, this is how I learned to swim. It has been years and years of continuing to teach myself to swim. Thank GOD for the internet. Now, instead of trying to read how to swim I can actually watch video after video of people teaching correct swim technique. And yes, this is what I do. I am always revisiting my stroke to see where I can improve to get faster as there is ALWAYS room for improvement.
My times in the pool over this winter were giving me the confidence I could hold a 1:20-1:21 pace (& maybe even a 1:18 on a really good day), but swimming in a pool can be very different from swimming in an open body of water so I was still unsure how the swim would go. During the race I continued to just try to check in with myself... "Are you going as hard as you can go?" To which the answer was usually "No" and so I just continued to focus on a high turnover and a strong kick.
Overall, I'm super happy with my time as it's my fastest 70.3 swim to date. I'm confident I can get this time into the 28's and eventually even the 27's.
BIKE- 2:33:07 (22.02 mph)
The bike is the area where I've probably made the least gains as I put a large emphasis on my swim and run over the winter. I actually brought my bike volume WAY DOWN choosing instead to focus on quality over quantity. I was only riding 3 days per week and never more than 6-6.5 hours per week. BUT, the work was quality and I focused on pushing the power that I know I need to push to be with the best of them.
I also got a new bike, new aero helmet and a disc cover for my rear wheel. I am the type of person who wants a fair, even playing field & I thrive off of getting the most out of my body (my own engine). Unfortunately, in the sport of triathlon, equipment can make a massive difference especially on the bike where "aero is everything". This sport is RIDICULOUSLY expensive and I HATE spending money on "speed". But, Matt helped me to realize that a lot of my effort and hard work can be lost if I'm not using the right equipment. I have been using the same not-so-aero helmet now for 5-7 years and have had the same bike for about 5 years as well and have never raced with a disc wheel.
Since I'm looking to take my game to the next level, it was definitely time to make some changes and I'm glad I did. I had the fastest female amateur bike split of the day. I was hoping for a little faster time but am pleased with my time for the day. I know where I can make the improvements and with a 3 min improvement over last year on a somewhat windy day I will take it.
I'm also pleased to say that I didn't have to deal with too much drafting this time around. Now with the rolling starts and a strong swim, I am coming out of the water pretty early which means a course that is not yet crowded. With the exception of the beginning miles on the bike I was mostly alone once we hit the hills. It was actually nice because most of the people I was seeing after the turnaround were the pros and while many say racing as a pro is "lonely" I much prefer it. I cannot handle the large groups of age groupers drafting. It gives me MAJOR anxiety because I want no part of it and I end up sitting up and dropping my power to avoid a drafting penalty which can really mess up your race. By probably about 20 miles into the bike I had caught all of the age-group women that had come out of the swim before me and before the turnaround I was already catching some of the pro females who had started the race about 15 minutes before me.
RUN- 1:34:26 (7:10 min/mi)
As I touched upon before, the run is where I felt I had lost the most speed living at high altitude. When I first started racing the run was my strength. I was an average swimmer and biker, but I could always chase the girls down in front of me on the run. And let me tell you, chasing those bitches down is sure to give you a runner's high!!
To go from being one of the strongest runners in the field to one of the weaker runners was a hard pill to swallow. Going into a run knowing you are about to run down some of your competition is always enough fuel for the fire. I went from being the chaser to the "chasee" and this was just plain awful. In long-course racing your mindset is EVERYTHING and being continually passed doesn't do much for the mind game especially at the end of a race when you need it the most. While I am still not back to the speed I had while living in Seattle, I was still able to make a significant gain over last year with an 8+ min improvement or about 40 seconds per mile. I WILL TAKE IT!
I was definitely NOT having a runner's high during the race and I was cramping during the ENTIRE run (my quads were SCREAMING at me), BUT I was in a good mental state not allowing anything else to enter my mind but moving forward as quickly as I could. Coming off the bike as the first female amateur overall meant the race was mine to lose. I was able to hang on for the first 7.5 miles or so but my legs just wouldn't give me anything more on the day and I was eventually passed. But, I'm happy to say I was able to hang on for 2nd overall amateur and first place age group.
When the race was over I had to keep walking for about 1 hour before the cramping would subside. I knew if I attempted to sit I would likely never move again. And just like last year, I went straight down to the fountains to play. Errr... okay, shower. Remember that whole #vanlife thing?? Well, yes, leading up to the race we were living in the van on the streets of CDA so showers were at a minimum (unless you consider bathing in a lake a shower??).
The fountains were just a tad bit chilly. Cold showers is something you must get used to in #vanlife
So what's next? This weekend I will race Canada 70.3 on July 29th in Whistler. I'm super pumped because I have never been to Whistler and am looking forward to visiting what I hear is an absolutely beautiful town.
We have been living out of the van since CDA and have spent most of our time in Seattle where I have been doing everything I can to make the most of my training while back at sea level. I'm happy to say things have gone incredibly well and I have been rewarded with MANY runner's highs. I've been putting in some pretty high mileage run weeks and my run speed is really coming along. I just wish I could stay a bit longer to get a little more out of my body before heading back to HOT Tucson. BUT, I can't complain. It's been a great few weeks of training and I've been swimming open water pretty much EVERYday. And since Tucson has NO water for open-water swimming this has been really good training for me.
And so, for now, that's all I have to say. Okay, well I have a lot to say about a lot of things, but I will end this already-too-long blog with this... I think most of us live our lives trying to stay in a "safe" place. I know it sounds so cliché, but if there is one thing I have learned over these past few years it is that I must BELIEVE in myself, I must follow MY dreams, I must NEVER let what anyone else has to say about me get me down and I must CHASE what I want in this life because comfort zones don't get you very far and staying STUCK in the same place because you are afraid of change is just plain SILLY. If you want something, GO AFTER IT!! Stop making excuses for why you can't have what you want or why you can't become the person you really want to be. Push through your discomfort. Push through your fears because what you will find on the other side can be pretty incredible. You only get one shot at this life so make the most of it. And when you're feeling down... put on some of your favorite music, SING LOUD and throw yourself a good ol' DANCE PARTY. Works EVERY time!!
I had yet another reminder of this one week before my race when I was informed that another friend of mine had passed away (that makes three all under the age of 40 y.o. in less than one year). She was mountain biking in Tahoe and passed away from an existing, but undiagnosed heart condition. I have thought about this quite a lot. I'm sure many think "if only".. If only we knew about her heart condition. BUT, when I think of Katy, I think of a girl who was an athlete; a girl who loved being in the outdoors, a girl who loved to play. If she had known she had this heart condition and that had limited her ability to play and be an athlete I think she would not have been living the life she wanted to live. I think Katy left this world doing exactly what she wanted to be doing. Her life was definitely cut WAY TOO SHORT & I am incredibly sad for her family and her husband who she was about to spend her 1st anniversary with, but in the least, she died doing something she loved and I think that perhaps that's maybe all that matters.
"Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me." -- Carol Burnett
Until next time,