Sunday, September 24, 2006

Race Report: Redman Half-Ironman Triathlon

What a weekend we’ve had! The 2nd annual Redman Triathlon was on Saturday. I raced the half-ironman distance race, even though I was originally gearing for the full back in May. After I qualified to go to the Best of the US amateur triathlon competition, I decided not to race the full distance, so that I could focus more on improving my run (something I didn’t quite accomplish since I had a sore hamstring for a few weeks leading up to the race). Justin had also originally decided to cut back to the half-ironman, but then he went back to his original plan and committed to the full-ironman. Crazy man.

We both took off of work on Friday to put our feet up and take our time getting all of our stuff ready for the race. Justin’s folks drove over from Arkansas to watch the race, and they came over on Friday afternoon. We took our bikes up to the transition area and went to both the athlete and the volunteer pre-race meeting (I was planning on volunteering after my race was done) Friday evening. It was amazing to see how much the whole race organization had improved in just one year. Everything looked so professional and well-organized, and I got excited about the race the following day. This race would be our last triathlon of the season, and frankly, I think both of us were more looking forward to the rest and relaxation that we were allowing ourselves after the season than we were to actually racing…but we’re both competitors, and at least for me, when I go to pre-race meetings and see the fit-looking people, it’s hard not to regroup and think about what needs to be done to put together a good race. For me, I had decided that this would be the first half-ironman I’ve done where I actually have a decent run. My goal was to simply get to the start of the half-marathon fresh and ready to run well.

Saturday morning came quickly, and we were on our way to the race site by 4:45am. Justin and I each got our transition areas set-up, and then pulled on our wetsuits. The forecast for the day was pretty good – 70’s with low humidity, but with a bit of wind…20-30 mph! Since we’ve gotten accustomed to riding in Oklahoma, we’re used to the wind, so that wasn’t too big of a deal – the temperature, though, was fantastic news. Last year at this race, we both raced the half-ironman distance and were pretty miserable because it was very hot and humid (just thinking of it makes me cringe). The wind was already blowing a bit, so we were expecting a few small waves during the swim. The water level in the lake where the swim was to be held was pretty low, since Oklahoma has had a pretty dry summer, so getting out to water deep enough to swim in was going to require running through shallow water for 100 feet or so, with 400+ other people, when the gun went off. When the gun did go off we all took off, and I was able to get comfortable swimming pretty easily. We swam west first, and with the building northerly wind, there were some pretty good waves rolling across all of us as we battled to the first buoy of the triangle course. Once I made the rounding buoy and headed south, I was pretty much able to surf down the waves and that was pretty fun. I rounded the last buoy and was headed back to the beach with no incident. As I was getting closer to being done with my swim, a swimmer crossed my path…a bit too distinctive, though – it was Justin, swimming right with me! I was a little surprised, considering that his plan was to take the swim “easy”. I veered towards the beach, though, and he started back on his second loop. I came into transition with another woman right next to me. I heard Jeff Kragh announce that we were the 2nd and 3rd women out of the water, so that was pretty good to hear!

I transitioned onto the bike with no incident and took off onto the course – Justin’s dad, Dave, told me I was first woman onto the bike. The bike course was a big 56-mile loop. The first part of the course was into the wind, and it wasn’t too bad. I was passed by a few guys early in the ride, and then I was pretty much by myself for the remainder of the ride. No incidents, and the ride back towards the lake with the wind behind me was nice! I decided during the ride that I was getting hydration easily and that I would not put on my Fuelbelt for the run (it sometimes chafes, and I also didn’t want the extra weight if I thought I could rely on the aid stations alone). I got into transition again, put my running shoes on, grabbed one of my Fuelbelt bottles, and took off on the run. The spectators were great – they lined the shoot where the athletes were coming out of transition to head onto the run course and cheered loudly – it was hard not to head out with a huge grin! The run went really fantastic for me – I took splits at each mile to see the pace I was running at my target heartrate and was really please to see 7:15’s and 7:20’s. I made it to the turnaround and hit my split button because I would soon find out how far ahead of the next woman I was…and sure enough, I had lots of time (more than 10 minutes). What a relief! The last three miles were into a wall of wind and my splits were showing it, but I made it to the finish line thinking that I should try to run like I was a fast runner (even though I felt like I was running in slow motion trying to make headway into the wind). I crossed the line in 4:55:52, a PR for me by a long shot. This was a 46-minute improvement over my performance last year in meltdown conditions, so I was quite pleased with my race!

I finished my race a bit after noon, so I had a while to wait for Justin to finish his race. I cleaned up as best as I could with a hose and put on my neon-yellow volunteer shirt to go help out where I could. Justin came in off the bike at around 1:45pm, and I was able to talk to him a little when he was in transition. He asked how my race went and told me he was doing good. He looked really strong coming in and pretty comfortable as he took off on the run. The next guy came in 20 minutes after him, and then the third guy came in after another 10 more minutes. Justin’s lead seemed like a lot, but a marathon is a long race and anything can really happen. He came back around in 1:45 (15 minutes ahead of his goal pace-time), and other than a skirmish to try and get his special needs run bag, he looked comfortable and strong. The next part of the wait until the finish was by far the longest. Now and then, Jeff Kragh would announce where the leader was, but I didn’t know if the 2nd and 3rd place guys were closing in on him or not. Finally, we saw him coming towards the finish line, and when he finally crossed the line, he dropped to his knees (out of happiness/joy/relief/too much emotion…who knows!). He was definitely emotional, and it was impossible not to be teary-eyed seeing him. I walked him over to the med tent and sat with him for the next two hours as they gave him 3.5 bags of fluid. He finished his first ironman-distance race in 10:24 and won it, on top of everything!

It was fantastic to be able to share this special day for both of us with family and friends. A reporter from the Oklahoman called us to get an interview, and the article was in the paper today.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Race Report: Best of the US Triathlon

What a fantastic weekend! We left Oklahoma on Thursday, stopped in NW Arkansas to switch vehicles and pick up Justin’s folks, and took off for Excelsior, Minnesota, for Saturday’s Best of the U.S. Amateur Triathlon Championships. We finally arrived after approximately 15 hours of driving (ugh…), and had some time to check out the race site, drive the run and bike courses, and look around town a bit before the pre-race meeting. We met up with Daniel, his mom, and his grandma at the race site as he was about to go ride the course. At the pre-race meeting, the race organizers, Jerry McNeal and Trudy Marshall, really started pouring on the “make you feel special” sauce – we were given temporary tattoos of the numbers for our body marking, temporary tattoos with the BOUS logo, temporary tattoos with our state flags, as well as our own little state flag to wave during the “parade of athletes” that was supposed to take place later. We sat through an informative meeting and then everyone drove to the race site for the expo and “parade of athletes”. The “parade” was more of a general introduction of the two athletes from each state (Jerry is the “voice of triathlon” in the area, and he did his homework on each athlete!), but it was pretty fun (maybe a little cheesy, but in a good way!).

The next morning, we woke up to rain and wind…a lot of wind (20-30 mph). We arrived at transition with plenty of time to get ready. It was windy and rather cool…overcast with light rain that fell off and on during the early morning. I got to see Justin start his race (there was a sprint that started an hour before the BOUS race) and come in from the swim before I headed over to the beach for my start. Daniel and I commiserated on the temperature of the water (“70 degrees” was way too optimistic – it felt more like 35!). Our swim course would take us away from the beach and then have us take a right turn and swim into the wind (and ever-increasing waves). The race director came down to the beach and made several last minute announcements (one of which would severely impact 39 athletes later…), including that we needed to get going NOW because the buoys were moving. He sent the guys off, and then one minute later, the women all took off. My swim was fine. The waves were surprisingly high and very choppy, so it was difficult to stay on course and see the buoys over the waves. Needless to say, I was well hydrated by the time I reached the shore. My feet were numb, but I managed to shuffle into transition and get out onto the bike. Justin had finished and was yelling at me that I was “right on plan” (I was thinking, “What the heck did that mean? Why wasn’t he telling me how many women were ahead of me?”). I took off on the bike into the 30 mph southerly and was pretty happy that we train in windy conditions fairly regularly here in Oklahoma. Several times along the first leg straight into the wind, a gust would hit, and I would be pretty impressed at how the wind affected the bike. The bike course was a two loop (one loop of 15 miles, one loop of 10 miles) course on good roads, although the course was not closed to traffic. I had a good bike ride, hitting my heart rate targets with no problems and took off on the run onto a super-flat, fast course. The run had been a concern of mine, though, as the last two weeks, I had been nursing a strained hamstring and have not been able to get in key workouts while I was trying to let it heal properly (thanks so much, Norman, for all of the help!). I had no pain or discomfort, but my legs only went one speed. Several women passed me on the run; from my perspective, I thought they looked like cheetahs! I was pretty happy to finish as the eighth woman in a PR time of 2:15:11 for a fairly accurate Olympic-distance course, although I found out later that I was one of 39 athletes who missed the last swim buoy, so I was assessed a 2-minute penalty. I had been 7th out of the water, and at one time was 2nd overall on the bike, but wasn’t as competitive on the run. But, it was still a good race for me, all in all.

I do want to note that Daniel had the most AMAZING breakthrough race – he was third out of the water even though he did the full swim course (the top two guys missed the last buoy, and a lot of folks followed them…but not Daniel). Daniel’s bike was awesome, but his run was absolutely phenomenal. Justin had the opportunity to watch everything, and he said that Daniel simply looked amazing as he took off out of transition onto the run course. It turns out that Daniel PRed the 10k by only about 6 minutes!!! Something clicked for him, and he ran a 34:xx! He ended up 6th overall for the guys in a pretty impressive field. His was a fantastic performance, and he definitely needs to be working closely with USAT, because he’s going places in triathlon if he keeps this up!

Daniel and I both received really nice individual awards for being top ten finishers, as well as a lovely Waterford crystal vase for each of us for being the fifth place team (I don’t even want to go back and figure out if my penalty cost us a place or two, but I might later when I really want to get annoyed at myself). We were both pretty happy with the day, but it was obvious that some of the other competitors were upset about the swim course penalty.

I can’t say enough good things about the race organization overall, though, and hope that I’ve communicated what a neat experience I had. This is the second year that BOUS has run, and while they’re still ironing out some logistics, it is definitely on its way to being a premier championship race.

Thanks so much to Tri-OKC for the support provided for this race – I was so happy to be able to attend for Oklahoma, and based on Daniel’s perpetual smile, I think he was, too!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Coach Justin

How did I get so lucky as to have someone as great as Justin is for my partner in life? He is a lot of things to me, but recently, he’s been a fantastic coach, despite all of my many inadequacies…

I’ve been dealing with a strained hamstring that has affected the past week and a half of training. I’ve been trying to be conservative and actually took four days off from running, but I’ve been driving myself crazy about it because running wasn’t going great right before the time off. I’ve been a bit concerned about an upcoming race – I really wanted to be dialed in and feeling fast, and I’m not exactly there because of this injury. Justin interprets my moods pretty well and generally knows exactly what to say. Here are some examples of things where he is simply an amazing coach that I really should be paying 20% of my annual income for:

1. This morning Chris finishes her first run in several days and is secretly disappointed that the time is not faster because it actually felt pretty good. Coach Justin appears to sense her mood and reminds her that the time is actually quite good because Haley (one of our dogs…the other one wouldn’t get out of bed this morning) had to take a shit and we had to scoop and bag it.
2. After the run, Chris asks Coach Justin if he’d be up for transition practice tonight, and he tells her that he would rather watch her and see if he can help her by pointing out anything that he might see.
3. After a shower, Chris diligently wraps her leg with the compression ice pack that our good friend and physical therapist, Norman, has loaned her. She laments (this is only the 442nd time this has crossed her mind in the last week) that it’s too bad that she’s not been doing speedwork because she really was hoping to be able to run well this weekend. Coach Justin hits a home run with her by telling her that many of the great race performances have been done by athletes who were dealing with injuries leading up to raceday and had been forced to rest. He points to Joan Benoit Samuelson and her Olympic win and also says he has heard of others whose name he can’t recall.
4. During breakfast this morning, conversation switches to Coach Justin telling Chris that he spent some time during our run this morning thinking of things he was going to yell at her when she races on Saturday. He says the thoughts give him goosebumps. Chris gets teary inside when he tells her and then teary again as she writes this.
5. Finally, Coach Justin tells her that she needs to be confident in her abilities. Chris asks Coach Justin why he’s never had a confidence problem, and he just shrugs as though she had just asked him why his hair is not hot pink. Chris makes mental note that her on/off confidence might simply be a decision she has to make (to turn the confidence switch to “on”).

How lucky am I? All this plus a million other things that he does (including lots of help with bike maintenance stuff!). And to think that even this morning I gave him a hard time for not looking for things very well (“Honey, where is my race belt? I can’t find them in your bag” “They’re there! Stop looking like a guy!” “I can’t find my tri-shorts” “In the drawer” “Didn’t see them” “They’re there!”). I feel bad about that. I think I need to give him a million “Find it for me without giving me a hard time” passes (Chris makes mental note of this...maybe she better write it in her PDA so she doesn't forget).

He’s an amazing guy, and I’m so fortunate.