Monday, August 3, 2009

New neighbors and lots of racing

I’m sitting in a mostly peaceful backyard in Skaha, British Columbia with no training to do and no internet. Both are a little strange. But I’ve been excessively delinquent in the blogosphere, so I’m going to attempt to recap my last 6 races before the inevitable IM Canada race report. I worry that it will be a novelette of sorts, but I’m going to colo(u)r (I’m in Canada, after all) each race report so as the facilitate the jumping in between races of interest. The legend is as follows:

Red = Vancouver International ½ IM – July 12
Blue = Xterra Bozeman Wild Horse Creek – July 26
Green = Troika ½ Ironman – August 2
Purple = Coeur d’Alene Scenic Challenge (Olympic) – August 8
Orange = Hulaman ½ IM – August 16

I’m going to start on a tangent (is that possible?) by mentioning that a few weeks ago, when I was up before dawn getting ready for a race, I noticed two juvenile skunks playing in the backyard. They were so feisty and cute that I nearly let my oatmeal boil over while watching them. Oatmeal lovers will understand the potential for disaster here. I forgot about the skunklets until that evening, when Aaron saw them running around again and then darting under the shed – their apparent home.

I know that certain neighbors would immediately call any number of exterminators whose numbers they likely have on hand, but I really like skunks (especially little ones) and I don’t even think they smell too badly. My only experience to the contrary was the time that my mom and I accidentally captured a skunk in a Sherman trap while trying to instead catch a feral cat that had left me with numerous stitches in my lower lip. A humane society official told us that spraying the skunk with a hose would make its tail so heavy that it wouldn’t be able to raise it to spray. Let my official record state that spraying a skunk with a hose does not, in fact, incapacitate it. Instead, it makes the skunk really eager to spray. That particular skunk musk was a little intense. Nonetheless, these little guys are welcome. I certainly have no use for the underside of our shed, and I’m glad they’ve found one.

At this point it may appear as though I’ve been spending way too much time staring at the backyard and not enough time doing blog-worthy things, i.e. training and racing. Such an assertion wouldn’t be too far off. I really do spend an inordinate amount of time watering my plants and making sure every last weed is plucked from my meager veggie garden. But there has been racing aplenty and below I will attempt to summarize it in as unboring a fashion as possible.

July 12: Vancouver International ½ Ironman.

I had wanted to do this race for a while. The course gets rave reviews, there was a purse at stake, and it was to be the precursor for Lifesport pro camp in Victoria – a not-to-be-missed training extravaganza. Sure, it was only 3 weeks after IM Coeur d’Alene, but I felt lively and I seriously wanted something to break up the post-IM feeling of sloth and chubbiness. Silly, I know, but Ironmans can have that effect on a person. This person remedies those feelings by doing more races, though a psychiatrist might be a more fitting solution.

One of the nicer aspects of the Vancouver race experience was being put up by Lifesport coach Mark Shorter and his wife Cara in beautiful North Vancouver. My “roomie” was teammate Magali Tisseyre, who, it turns out, is good for a load of laughs. It also turns out that she is very good at triathlons. A swell combination indeed.

I just have to briefly explain (because it’s one of the few pictures that I actually took while away) that we accosted and seized the keys of an outstandingly drunk driver while previewing the bike course the day before the race. I actually had very little to do with the whole ordeal except to shout things like “holy cow!” while Mark was on the phone with the cops and we were following said driver as he swerved into medians, losing bits of his car along the way. Now you know the rest of the story, but really I just think it’s funny that Magali actually looks like a bit of a heroin addict in trouble with the authorities in this photo. And Mark may well be pretending not to know her.

ANYWAY, the race itself was a bit of a disaster. The swim was decent because it was a mass start and I found myself in a solid group of swimmers. For the first time ever, I was kicked in the face, but it wasn’t as bad as everyone makes is out to be. Thanks Sam J My biking legs weren’t as trashed from Ironman as I feared they might be, and I did enjoy segments of the course, but the run was a WHOLE different story. The first 5km were okay, and then I descended into survival mode. I struggled to stay below my full ironman run pace for the entire 2nd half of the run. In the end, I finished 4th and discouraged. It was the perfect way to start training camp.

Lifesport training camp – 13-20 July:

I am proud to report that, after getting off to a slow start, I put all of my bad-ass triathlete teammates to shame . . . in croquet. Beyond that one opportunity for total sporting domination, I didn’t have a whole lot to give. Camp was a challenge, both physically and mentally. I was dealing with a level of fatigue and burnout that was actually quite novel to me, but camp did prove what camps always tend to prove – every time I think I can’t climb one more hill or complete one more interval, I can. Ultimately, I am so thankful for my coach and my teammates, and my awesome homestays Dewain (pictured below – don’t ask), and Judy.
Heather lakeside on our solo ride after we got dropped by the group before we even started. It was fun to catch up though.

After camp I headed back to Spokane for a week of solo training before another “just for fun” race. The drive was a little scenic.

Xterra Bozeman Wild Horse Creek – 26 July:

I’m not exactly sure what compelled me to climb aboard a mountain bike again after the Righteous Richland debacle, but I was eager to take a road trip, and where better to go than Bozeman, MT. After all, my sister lives there, as do good friends of Aaron. The race venue was gorgeous. Hyalite canyon is a must visit location for anyone fond of mountain scenery. I hadn’t taken the altitude into account, however (~7000 ft), and the first few strokes of my swim warm-up proved to be a preview of the gasping that would ensue for the rest of the day.

The race officials said that the water temperature was 55 degrees, and it did seem chilly, but not that bad. Surprisingly, the swim went just fine. I had a crummy start, and ended up having to swim around a lot of people after the first buoy. Nonetheless, once I found clean water and committed myself to breathing every two strokes, it was super-easy. I was the first woman out of the water. Miraculous.

The problem with being the first woman out of the water in an Xterra race, is that it meant that I spent the next 30 minutes pulling off to the side of the very technical single track to let people pass. I didn’t want to be “that person” who holds everyone up, and since I didn’t have a whole lot invested in the event, I was happy to let some outstanding mountain bikers pass me by. The first 4-5 miles were ridiculously difficult for me – roots, rocks, mud, and steep pitches. I’m a road biker, that’s my excuse. I remember thinking that there was no way I could do 16 miles of that. Then, there was a 1 mile section of dirt road followed by a long climb up a fire road, and I passed nearly everyone back. I couldn’t believe how casually people were rolling along the “easy” parts.

I felt like I had a pretty good lead over the other women at the top of the climb, and I would only have to just down the other side. But it wasn’t that easy. The climb hadn’t been technical, but the descent was. Not only was it very steep, but it was rocky and the lightweight wheels on my borrowed mountain bike were getting tossed around by the uneven terrain. It was very disconcerting, and I really didn’t want to get hurt and thereby sabotage the rest of my triathlon season. So I did a lot of pulling over and letting people pass again. The woman who eventually won was going absolutely gangbusters down that descent. She was one gutsy gal!

Even with my granny-like timidity (now I’m just waiting to be sent a youtube video of some kick-ass granny mountain biker), I ended up sliding out around a corner on the descent. I wasn’t going very fast, but I fell hard on some sharp rocks and it hurt! My hip throbbed the most, but I knew that my shoulder and knee were probably the most damaged. My foot was still clipped in when my knee hit the rocks and there was a scary twist in addition to the impact that made me want to cry. I felt it start to swell and I took a few moments to indulge my “what am I doing here?” self pity. But I still had to get down the mountain, so I got back on the bike for loop number two.

Loop two unfolded in essentially the same way. I rode past everyone on the non-technical climb and got annihilated on the descent. Just as I was about to reach the corner where I had fallen on the first loop, I found Aaron on the side of the trail walking his bike. He had flatted and hadn’t brought any spares and was in a pretty foul mood. I tossed him my spares bag and carried on. It’s pretty cool to be able to genuinely assist another competitor during a race, but it’s especially rewarding when he’s your fiancé.

My knee had swollen a bit more by the time I got to the run, and the impact of running was uncomfortable. But running on trails is WAY more fun than biking on trails. I was so much happier to have my legs in contact with the ground. It was a two loop run, and I happily ran along with no expectations over the relentlessly hilly course. At the turnaround for the 2nd loop my sister told me that I could “catch her.” I assumed that she was referring to crazy brave mountain biker woman, but my lungs could only take in so much oxygen on the climbs, so my overall effort in the chase was limited. In the end, I lost by 1 minute. I got a little frustrated thinking about all the time I spent dinking around on the mountain bike course, but had to remind myself that it was a “for fun” race and that was the mentality that I adhered to during the race.

Despite feeling rather banged up and having a worrisome shoulder condition (sprained biceps tendon, it turned out), it was a really fun trip. I love when Aaron and I get to race together, and we got to spend the rest of a beautiful Bozeman afternoon hanging out with the Kalinowskis. It basically involved a lot of swinging, watermelon, and chickens. Then I got to grab lunch with my sister, her boyfriend, and her new kitten Spike. Spike is SO cute; the photos just don’t do him justice. Ultimately, we were treated to a classic Montanan thunderstorm – a perfect weekend.

The next few days of training were pretty rough, as swimming was compromised by my shoulder, and running was compromised by my knee. I could tell that both were improving though, so I tried not to get too anxious about it. Then I got hit by a car while riding home from work. It was my first such incident, and the driver was very apologetic. It made me not hate her, even though she is a VERY lousy driver. I’m tempted to put her name on the blog, since she never actually returned my phone calls after the incident (I wasn’t clever enough to get insurance information or call the police at the time of impact), but I don’t really believe in vigilante justice.

I’m actually really, really lucky because I had a split second to react, which lessened the impact. Also, because I was riding home from work, I was wearing a backpack and that cushioned me when I endoed. I considered calling the cops after the fact, but like the shoulder and knee, I could tell that my injuries were going to heal sufficiently with a bit of time. The sore neck and coccyx were to be expected, and they got better within a week. The most lingering malady was curious – my xiphoid process. I have no idea how one injures a xiphoid process by getting hit by a car, but it was 2 full weeks before I could do any core work again.

The xiphoid couldn’t keep me from doing my very favorite race the following weekend though – our local half ironman, the Troika. Troika was my first ever half ironman, and I learned a thing or two about running 13.1 miles on exposed asphalt in 97 degrees. It’s never very fun, and Troika invariably delivers in this regard. Actually, last year was the exception – it was only about 82, if I remember correctly. This year, the forecast was a nice even 100 degrees. My training was going miserably, and I didn’t know if I was just exhausted or if the incessant July heat was undermining my run sessions. I was surprised to be dreading the race. Even the day before, when everyone stopped into work to pick up their race packets, I regretted signing up. Packet pick-up is usually the peak of pre-race excitement, and I was flagging. I think it was the number 100 that loomed and the knowledge of how horribly exposed and miserable that run course can be.

But I went. Buddy Rick picked me up for the whatever consecutive week of racing at way too early an hour. I wasn’t as organized as I should probably have been, and I was probably way too social in transition before the race (someone had to stay busy informing all of her friends that wetsuits were a ridiculous idea on such a hot day). In the end, I didn’t convince anyone to join me in the wetsuitless brigade (flotilla?), but I personally enjoyed the single half hour of the entire day that I did not spend sweating profusely. My swim time (32:07) was a bit demoralizing and I entered T1 feeling unmotivated and distracted. That may be why I lost track of my race number. I ran out of the transition area, realized it was missing, laid my bike on the ground, took off my timing chip, and ran back into transition to look for it. I couldn’t find it, so I pleaded with the officials to not disqualify me. What I hadn’t considered was that in laying my bike on its side, I had allowed all of the water to spill out of my aero bottle, leaving me with a few sips until the aid station at mile 26. Brilliant.

The motivation didn’t really come. I saw Manny cheering on the side of the road around mile 20 and it occurred to me. “I am having the laziest race of my life,” I proclaimed to him. I do love the Troika bike course, so tooling along well below ordinary race effort was kind of nice. It had the added benefit of keeping my legs feeling fresh and light. The short, steep hills in the last few miles of the course that were historically tough for me felt like nothing.

I had two goals for the race. The first was to not completely melt on the run, and the second was to beat my T2 time from last year – 17 seconds. Unfortunately, my numberless status led to some confusion in the volunteers procuring the proper gear bag, so I didn’t meet my goal. In fact, it took me nearly twice as long to get through T2 this year. I did meet my run goal though. The second I started running, I felt fantastic. It was hot, but perhaps after 4 weeks of dealing with July, I was finally acclimated. One hundred degrees is nothing that a cupful of ice in the sports bra can’t combat. I saw loads of friends heading the opposite way on the out-and-back run (local races rock) and pretty much just had a jolly time. It was my 3rd Troika win, but truly, my best ever Troika because I managed a negative split on the run for the first time.

Afterwards, I got to hang out in the medical tent with the awesome B&B crew and Aaron, who I coerced into spending the day volunteering there. It was actually pretty fun, especially given that they had ample amount of ice and fans.

Coach Dan and I made an agreement when I was in Victoria. He didn’t want me to race six consecutive weekends in a row, but I did. So I conceded and we removed the Coeur d’Alene Scenic Challenge from the race schedule. He loaded me up with training all week after Troika, and it would seem logical that 60-odd miles of running would take the edge off of my desire to race. Unfortunately, it didn’t, so two days before the Coeur d’Alene race, I pleaded with my poor coach, who ultimately conceded.

Dan even let me race knowing that I looked like this. Not the result of a mountain bike crash nor a bike/car collision. Rather, it was a paper wasp who had my number. Running is very strange with one eye shut.

Much better by day 3 . . .

I love the Coeur d’Alene Scenic Challenge. The bike leg is really challenging, as it consists primarily of a sustained climb with an awesomely fun, fast descent. After my experience of seriously under biking in Troika, and thus feeling good on the run, I decided to take a similar approach to the bike in Cd’A. Especially on the climb, I really backed of, but I don’t truthfully know how much more I had in me, given the week’s training. The real hilarity of this race is that it was super cold and windy. Six days after racing a half ironman 30 miles away in 100 degrees, I was on my bike and shivering with numb feet. My bike computer went flying off at bottom of the long descent, so I didn’t know how my time was stacking up to previous years, but I was a little disappointed to see after the fact that it was 2 minutes slower than the year before. Sure, I had trained harder in the previous week, conditions were a bit tougher with the wind, and last year I spent most of the bike chasing Annie and Ali Fitch, but I retrospectively don’t think that my under biking strategy was appropriate for an Olympic distance race. Race and learn, race and learn.

The run was a non-event really. My legs felt a tad dissociated from my body and 6.35 miles felt ridiculously short after the half 6 days prior. But I wanted to have a good time and that I did. Like Troika, the course is an out and back so I pretty much got to see the entire Inland Northwest triathlon crowd racing and there were smiles all around. It was a good training day, and I made a point of thanking Coach for letting me do it.

I think that Dan perhaps didn’t want me to race every weekend because races increase the chance of injury. Indeed, when Annie, her mom, and I went huckleberry picking the next day, my calves were feeling ominously tight when we scrambled up hillsides. It was strange because I hadn’t even run very fast. My attempt at a fartlek run the following day was a non-event, and I started to get worried and coerced my co-worker into giving me a calf massage in exchange for GUs. A race much more important than my prior 3 was on tap for the next weekend, and I was worried.

Nonetheless, I packed up the Subaru the next weekend and headed down the Columbia River gorge to Portland, trusting that a fully compressed day in the car would set my calves straight. If nothing else, I figured that the weekend would make for a fun reunion with my Midd friend Kitt, who I shared an apartment with in Italy during our junior year. Kitt is in naturopathy school in Portland and she suggested heavy doses of magnesium and calcium in addition to some additional herbs that I had to turn down because I had no idea what they were. WADA scares me. After meeting up with some other pro athletes, the race director, and some local Ironhead club athletes for dinner, I navigated through SW Portland to find Kitt. It did turn out to be a fun reunion. We hit the Portland farmers market and scored some awesome fresh produce, we made Tuscan ribollita, went for a beautiful walk up some paths along the river and watched some corny old movies. And I raced the Hulaman half IM the next day.

The Hulaman was a lot of fun for me. The swim in Hagg Lake was gorgeous, but it was impossible to see the buoys on the far end of the course from shore because of the glare on the water. I sat on another athlete’s feet for the first 2/3 of the swim though, so I never actually had to do any of the navigating into the sun. I don’t think that the swim course was particularly short, given that I came out of the water with athletes who usually swim faster than I, and I swam a 28:30. That’s good for me! I got onto my bike in T1 only to realize that my front brake was rubbing even though I had checked it meticulously before the race. I wasn’t able to straighten the calipers out, so I just opened up the brake. Naturally, I forgot that my front brake was so loose on the first lap around Hagg Lake when I had to make a turn at the bottom of a descent. Ooops – good thing it wasn’t the rear brake that I had left open!

I loved biking around Hagg Lake. It’s constantly rolling, and while the hills aren’t particularly grueling, it is always going up or down. We biked around the lake 2.5 times before heading north to Forest Grove. I didn’t love that section as much. The gently rolling, surrounding farmland was scenic, but the chip was rough, the headwind incessant, and it was LONELY. I had no idea whether I was gaining on the girls ahead or whether I was losing time to those behind, so I plugged away at an intensity that was somewhere in between my normal ½ bike pace and my relaxed Troika pace. The pace with the headwind was admittedly demoralizing, but I knew that the other girls were fighting the same elements.

When I came into T2, I found out that I was 7 minutes behind Amy and 4 behind Kelly. That was a little more time than I had planned to lose, so I focused on staying ahead of Sam. I kept the pace on the out and back run fairly conservative, so as to be able to respond to any challenge. I was about a mile behind both Kelly and Amy at the turn and about 3 minutes ahead of Sam. So I decided to stay below 6:30 min/miles. I didn’t think that Sam would have sub 6’s in her so soon after Lake Placid, but this is also the girl who placed 2nd in Clearwater a few weeks after placing 2nd in Kona, so I didn’t rest easy until I crossed the finish line in 3rd.

It was great to see fellow Zooter Kelly Couch race so well and to catch up with former Zoot Ultra teammate Amy Marsh after the race. It was a superbly laid back, relaxed post-race atmosphere, complete with a Luau. I met several solid personalities and left the race in a very good mood. It was a nice confidence booster going into Canada, a beautiful day, and a well run event. A paycheck never hurts either.

And now I’m listening to some horrific music whilst I pilfer internet in the Penticton Safeway with Katya and Mark. I have to say, regardless of how the race goes tomorrow (I know only that it will be HOT), it’s been a fun time hanging out with these two all week.


Sue said...

Great stories, I wish i would have been hm to see the CdA Tri race..and I did see the twitters on
Portland!!!..great racing season and I wish we were up in Canada to cheer you one...make it a great day and race fast!!
Sue, Chloe & Peter

Spokane Al said...

It is great to get caught up on your recent races and is always nice to see you heading back in while I am on the outward portion during local races.

I am sure you are in the midst of a great IM Canada race and this very moment and will look forward to following your progress.

P.S. I did need to Google xiphoid process and now I know - it sounds painful.

Roger Thompson said...

Finally! I was about to send you an email telling you that it was about time to do an update. But I also know you have a few things going on.

I really admire the fact that you get out there and do all kinds of races...that's pretty cool. I thought that one day I might ride Mt bikes with you, but you actually seem to hard core for me. You have scratches and stuff on your hardcore.

Amazing race at IM Canada. It was a fun one to follow on line and from random pieces I got from people up there. Very impressive.

Hope the tail end of your season ends as well as it has been going. Your willingness to work and test yourself in a variety of arenas is very admirable. Nice work.


BreeWee said...

Happy BIrthday and AMAZING race, I am so happy for you, I hope you got a slot and I will get to see you in Kona, I miss ya mucho!

Recover well.

Ben said...

Nice race Haley! Did you get a Kona slot?

Matt said...

great string of races haley! Impressive results as well! Bummed I didnt make it up to CA to see you rock that course! Nice work!

CDATri said...

Haley - YOU ROCK!!! Way to go at IMC yesterday - Shaun and I were cheering you on all day... on to the big dance in Kona. Wish we could be there again this year to cheer for you but we'll be sending you on N Idaho Good Vibes. WAY TO GO!! Suzanne & Shaun

Anonymous said...

HALEY!!!! YOU STUD!!!! I just came across your blog and it rocks! Thanks for all the fun and invigorating stories about your life and tri world! I loved catching up on it....Happy Marriage weekend too! !!!! YAYYYYY!!! I'm so excited for you! I can't believe you were in Bozeman and I missed you! Your sister doesn't have an extra bedroom does she? haha, just kidding. I just got a job in Bozeman and will be commuting there three days a week...looking for a studio maybe for the winter to stay over one or two nights a week....depending on weather. That'd be so awesome to meet up with you in MT sometime! I raced the short course at Hyalite last year and i loved it! (yes i'm the crazy downhill ski racer that flew down that descent! would've annhilated me on the climb tho!) I loved running on those roots and trails too! Alas, we were in Minnesota at that time this year so I missed it. I did a few races this year and had a lot of fun. AWESOME job at Canada! You are so amazing and inspiring....and for being such an awesome athlete, you are a great writer too! Haha. Let's keep in touch, email me at and say hi to Annie for me if you are training with her! I think I still have yoru phone number in my phone too! Texts! GOOD LUCK and have a blast in KONA!!! ROCK ON SISTA!!! ~ Laura (morin) Holien