Thursday, November 27, 2008

I pray that no potential sponsors will read the following photo essay of my IM AZ week. It seems that I am presently incapable of taking any photo opportunity seriously. With a bit of time to kill in the Phoenix airport, I'm trying to think of a cohesive way to recap the previous weeks events. I suppose it started in this very place last Wednesday, when fellow athlete Miranda Aldritt was kind enough to pick me up en route from Borrego Springs and share her homestay with me. With over 90 professional athletes registered for the race, the homestay situation was supersaturated, but I was really lucky that the Norquists had extra space for me and that Miranda so generously shared that space. Miranda did the race in April, so she was incredibly helpful in the days leading to the race in terms of negotiating annoying race logistics.

We trained a bit (including one beautiful evening ride through paradise valley) ate a lot, attended all the requisite meetings, and just when it was time to do nothing else except get nervous, my all-star support team of Phaedra and Shelby showed up. My pre-race mindset was so remarkably different than it has been before any other ironman this season. I knew that I could be strong over the distance, but didn't know how much speed I would have after a lackluster 5 weeks of training since Kona. So I didn't worry about it, and instead I got in a hard-core ab workout laughing hysterically with S&P for hours on end. In addition to the laughing there was a bit of dancing.

I have no idea what to call the following move, though it probably deserves a patent . . .

After a short and restless night's sleep, race morning dawned and it still seemed a bit surreal that I was about to do an Ironman. It really didn't seem like a big deal. The real question was whether Phaedra and Shelby were prepared for the long day of iron-fan duties that awaited them. It was a reasonably chilly, dark morning, but after the heat-related disaster that was Kona, I relished the cooler weather. The water was about 63 degrees and calm. Perfect. Everything went smoothly in transition and then it was time to jump in the water. I got in a decent warm-up, given that we were only allowed in the water 10 minutes before the start and I lined myself up amongst the enormous pro field. It was awesome treading water in the dark below the Mill St Bridge with the Killers playing over the sound system. Linsey had her sea turtle in Kona and I had the Killers in AZ. I finally had the swim that I've been believing myself capable of for the past year. Granted, the conditions were calm and I actually had people to swim with, but I was still psyched when I exited the water in 1:02. A 4 minute swim PR. I'll take it.

Tyler Stewart exited T1 right in front of me, and I figured that if anyone knew how to pace well and ride oneself back into a race, it would be the female world record holder over the distance. I positioned myself about 20 meters back (there was NO WAY I was about to risk a drafting penalty in this race) and followed her lead. It seemed a bit slow at the start, but it always does, and I usually pay the price later in the day. About a quarter of the way through the 1st lap, Tyler had a water bottle cage fly off, so my little pacing plan was derailed while she got some mechanical help.

At that point I figured I'd better hold my pace for the rest of the bike, lest everyone following online shake their heads in disappointment (Manny). That wasn't my real motivation, but it did cross my mind a few times. The bike just got easier throughout the day as the winds that were challenging during the first lap actually died down and changed directions. Also absent were the hoards of age-group men that swarmed around me in Kona. We only had a 10 minute head start, but given that my swim wasn't completely atrocious, I was able to stay ahead of most of the age-groupers and keep a safe distance from all other racers. I almost expected the marshals to motor by and give me a gold star (or a 4 minute advantage?) for playing so gosh darn fairly. It was the same smugness that comes when I cruise by a cop car going under the speed limit. "Aren't I so good officer?" I knew that I had worked my way up the field, but had no idea where I actually was in the standings. At one point I tried to estimate how far behind Joanna Zeiger I was as she biked by in the opposite direction, but the only landmark by which to judge her position was a lone saguaro cactus. Needless to say, I didn't locate the very same cactus on my return. 5:09 bike split - my best ever. Yes, this course is way faster than Coeur d'Alene, but I'm celebrating it nonetheless.

My proudest moment of the race? T2. 55 seconds. I wasn't particularly trying to win that split, but I'm pretty sure it was one of the race's fastest. I credit my new silver Zoot shoes. Without the need to wear socks or tie laces, why dilly dally in the change tent? Ultimately, T2 was the difference between 6th and 7th place, so I won't underestimate the value of Ironman transitions ever again.

The run was scary. I saw S & P just out of transition and they informed me that I was in 8th. As much as it stunk, the Hawaii run was almost easy because I was already doing so terribly that going slowly wasn't going to change a whole lot. The effective difference between a 4:10 and 4:30 run split isn't as great as the difference between a 3:10 and a 3:30. Standing in 8th place (in the money) meant that I couldn't screw up. I was passed in the 1st 4 miles by 2 very quickly moving women, but I decided to stay conservative and hope to pick off a few women in return. Around mile 3, my calves started cramping - not a good sign. I'm not usually a cramper, but the cramps may have been due to some nutritional dealings that I won't go into. Also, the Arizona run course was predominantly on concrete with a few short trail sections, and I've been running almost exclusively on trails for the past 6 weeks. I figured that if I was STILL training for an IM after Kona, then I would do it on my terms, but if I do this race again, I'll certainly do more running on pavement and concrete.

Concrete is very hard. By 13 miles my legs were completely shattered, but I had a constant internal dialogue going on. It was really exciting. It went something like this: "left foot right food left foot right foot . . . " Yep. My energy levels were fantastic, but my legs were like rubber. There were plenty of times that I wanted to slow down, but I reminded myself of all of the kick-ass training sessions I had back in August. That training didn't make itself evident in Kona as I had intended it to, but I had still done it. Those rides and runs happened so long ago that it was easy forget that I had in fact worked hard for this race (because I certainly didn't do so during the 6 week Kona - AZ interlude). With a few miles to go, people were telling me that I was only 1 minute behind the girl in front and that I was gaining. Oh great. So I had to speed up a bit and ended up catching her at the very place where she had passed me in the 1st loop. It turns out that it was the 24 year-old's 1st ever IM, so I imagine she'll be a real force when she figures out how to pace a little better.

The finish happened rather abruptly and that was that. Not a culmination of a season specifically focused on this race nor a life-changing event, but a solidly executed IM, a paycheck, and certain evidence of progress in the sport. As much as I know that bad races happen, Kona shattered me a little, and Arizona was the necessary antidote. I'm excited about having a productive off-season now, whereas before I just wanted an off-season. I have some real ideas about what I need to do to get better results next year, but before this race I thought maybe I'd need to start all over again in square one with a brutally honest self-assessment. I could go on, but in the end it was a worthwhile experience that I shared with two of my most wonderful friends and a vast support network following online. I never expected so many people to care about my progress, but I'm touched by everyone who does.

Now for the fun part - a 3 day post-IM road trip with Shelby through Northern Arizona and to the Grand Canyon. 1st stop, Sedona.

Not bad . . .

Pretty awesome actually. Unfortunately, Sedona was a little out of our price range, so we headed farther afield to Flagstaff. Flagstaff is a decidedly cool town, and at 8000 ft, I found myself gasping for air when I tried to hold a conversation and walk at the same time. Strenuous stuff, I know. To bring myself further back to reality, I tried to jog across a busy street in Flagstaff to avoid oncoming cars. I was completely incapable of even one running step and a brilliant idea occurred to me. A true test of IM fitness would involve stopping every racer with one mile left in the marathon and force them to run the last mile 24 hours later. I'm quite sure that I would have finished well behind where I did.

I have never, ever, ever been so sore. It made for some interesting Grand Canyon adventures. Instead of an epic decent deep into the canyon, Shelby and I had to content ourselves with a gentle rim walk. Even thought the rim walk paralleled the road, it wasn't without some seriously technical sections. The following picture shows a particularly gnarly section and the deftness with which I descended it by going backwards. Sign me up for Everest please.

It turns out that Shelby and I both hate posing for pictures solo so we resorted to taking cryptic shots of one another. Shelby enjoying a beer at the canyon's edgeShelby snagging an uber-flattering shot of me laughing at something (probably a fart joke)....

Finally, we decided to set up a self timer shot, but getting me from camera to scenic spot in 12 seconds proved to be a challenge and Shelby was too short to set up the camera in the tree. Does it look like she's trying to save me from going over the edge or trying to throw me over here?

If you want to read an eloquent and genuine recap of visiting the Grand Canyon, see Liz Fedofsky's blog ( ). If you want to see why Shelby and I kept yelling "Bobby . . . Cindy" over the canyon edge, watch the following Youtube video and then Shelby's brother's special edit here.
Actually, I can't seem to load the video in mind. . . Keep watching this space and I'll work on it. It's really funny, I promise.
p.s. Shelby was actually carrying around an empty RedBull can, not a beer. A beer would have been funnier though.

Monday, November 24, 2008

quick update

I woke up at 5:30 after 4 hours of sleep to eat a leftover burrito in bed and still haven't managed to get back to sleep. 6th place in IM Arizona yesterday (9:45:59), which was way better than I had expected with a pro field so large and deep. Can something be better than expected when you have no expectations to begin with? Regardless, it was certainly better than I deserved, given the fervency with which I didn't train for this one. I suppose going in to a race fat and happy is often better than going in overtrained and tired. I also think that my mental status was greatly improved by the presence of my elfin support crew, Phaedra and Shelby. I spent Saturday laughing so hard that I was worried about becoming dehydrated due to tearage. That resulted in my thinking about and being anxious about the race on maybe 2 brief occasions. I'll go into details later, but just want to thank everyone who sent txts and e-mails of support and congratulations. Now it's off to the Grand Canyon. Che emozionante!