Wednesday, October 28, 2009

suck it up

Yep, "suck it up" is what Pete McCall from ACE said is the key to pushing through exertional pain. And I really have to agree for the most part. I'm definitely one of those in the "harden up" camp. But lately I've been very mental about the whole "it's 90% mental you can do it" thing. Yes, I agree, most people could push a lot harder than they do in exercise and even racing. Maybe that 10% is the most important part though.

I've really pushed through some exertional pain in races. The most poignant example that comes to my mind was IMFL last year when I thought I was about to just collapse from the exertional pain and lack of motor coordination at mile 21ish of the marathon. I even said, 'I can't do this anymore.' Luckily Friend said, 'but you are doing this,' and that was enough motivation for another 5 miles. At that point I could've started walking and most likely lost a good 15 minutes or so, minimum, and in addition, probably my slot. So the point is, I think I understand how to push through.

But a few weeks ago in Kona, it was actually a strike to my confidence to hear that it's all mental. If it's all mental but I can't for the life of me make my legs run, what is that saying about my mental fortitude? I have no more? I left it on the Queen K? It baked to a crisp along with my brain around Kawaihae? I could've even dropped it on the ocean floor a mile from the pier. Normally I can use my finely tuned ability to suck it up. Not the case that day.

Now I wonder if I used it all up. If it's gone for good. Maybe I have to find it or train it again. For now though, there's no need to harden up. I'm not running in the rain if I don't have to. Cold? No riding for me. Just plain don't feel like it? The only thing I'll be sucking up is that margarita on the rocks, a little salt, please.

Monday, October 19, 2009


***Side note: I found this article by Lee Gruenfeld that I thought was SO good. Worth a read.

I better go ahead and write all this down before I forget all of the details I don't repeat every day to those I haven't seen since the race. Some of those details would include "hot, really hot, never again, 95 miles on the bike, never been so hot, and fun trip afterwards."

But let me start at the beginning. I was so excited to have Laura and Jonathan and Steve and Jeremy come with me for this adventure. Jeremy wasn't to get in town until Thursday evening, so he had to miss some of the morning festivities -- most importantly, the Underpants Run. It's hard to describe the sight of 200 adults running through town in various tighty whitey fashions. You may want to look up some YouTube videos to get the full effect. Since Elvises can be found just about anywhere you look, we Memphians had to get a picture with them. This is our most famous picture; it was featured on Slowtwitch. I guess it helps that Bob Babbit is an Elvis.

The rest of Thursday and Friday were spent drinking coffee, swimming, and watching people shop. There was a little race prep thrown in there and some time off my feet. The pineapple flavored Gu packet in my sportsbra below? That actually got taped to my bike and eaten during the race.

Next thing I knew it was race morning, I was ready to go, sunscreened, body glided, suited up, relaxed, and modeling the blueseventy pointzero3.

My personal Ironsherpas, who are experts at embarrassing sign-making, made these awesome posters, which helped me find them every time I emerged from transition. The signs plus Jeremy's height made them particularly easy to find.

The swim was the usual non-wetsuit swim for me. Besides someone's elbow to my jaw, which caused me to bite my tongue, there wasn't much physical contact involved. Thank goodness. I think I took it a little too easy on the way out, following some steady feet the whole way. At the second turn, the one going back home, I checked the watch to find 46 minutes had already ticked by. Liz had just told me that the second half is always slower, but I couldn't let that happen this time. I swam back in 39 minutes, passing dozens of people and feeling pretty good about it. Now I just need to swim like that the whole race... and do a 1:20.. well whatever. I'm sticking to wetsuit races.

The wind was really calm on the bike, even for those of us who got a late start. I was optimistic, even through Hawi, where the usual headwinds pound you as you weave up that endless hill at 8 mph. I think I started consciously noticing the heat about that time. I was riding in the shoulder whenever there was the smallest bit of shade. It totaled about 50 yards, but it was a heavenly 50 yards. Gary told me later that it was 95F in Hawi by 9:30 a.m. I'd never stopped at special needs there, but I did this time. Liz told me to. I ate a sandwich and poured some water over my head. The next 5 miles are the best 5 miles. Downhill, tailwind, over halfway through the bike. The crosswinds were starting to pick up, which makes downhill descents a little slower and a little less fun. I usually had at least one hand on my bars for stability, and I was extra careful at the edges of the huge rocks where you can get a surprise gust.

The "hot section" in my mind is just before you reach Kawaihae when you've got a windless uphill. I worked on passing that girl who kept passing me on the downhills. I overtook her just before the turn back onto the Queen K. It's the little successes that keep you going. More little successes came the last 35 miles back into town. For the (slow swimming) late starters/slow riders (i.e. me), the headwinds pick up a lot here. We were so lucky to have more of a cross-head and at times even a crosswind. I must've gotten into a little tailwind somewhere out there -- I saw my speedometer exceed 20 again at some point.

The aid stations were every 5 miles for most of the course. Each time I'd take a Gatorade to fill the profile bottle, plus a bottle of water to pour over my head and back. Half of the water would go into the cage for later. 'Later' came about 2 miles after the first pour. I was getting so hot it felt like my cheeks were on fire. At 95 miles I felt my temperature getting out of control, so I stopped at that aid station while I poured bottle after bottle either down my throat or over my head. The helpful volunteer lady tried to sympathize by saying, 'I guess you have a little headwind out there.' I snorted water out my nose and she followed up with, 'It probably feels like more than a little when you're riding your bike into it.' I finally got back to transition where the sherpas were worrying about me because I was so slow. Glad they didn't voice that at the time. I gave up my bike to the catchers and made a clumsy attempt at jogging. It was a failed attempt, so I walked the entire pier to the tent and changed. The cold towel they draped on me was almost shockingly cold, but helped cool me down some. The sweet young girl helping me out was making me chat with her and I must've mentioned that I really didn't feel like running. She said, "Like NObody can do this. But you're doing this!" And that did it. Fresh motivation.

I jogged out toward the chute where I saw Laura, Jonathan, and Jeremy. The picture makes it look like I'm smiling. Actually, I'm saying, "I don't want to do this anymore."
But I did it. A few minutes of running, then somebody would stomp on my chest and I'd have to walk. Somehow Liz would only catch me walking. I swore to her that I was actually running some! She told me to at least walk like I have somewhere to be. That was when I saw her the first time and stopped dead in my tracks to talk. Jeremy came to run with me for a few miles on Ali'i and we were later joined by Jonathan and Laura. They were the best running buddies. What seemed like an unsustainably fast pace to me was the most slow boring jog for them. I tried to joke to Liz that I figured out I could run as long as I didn't run "fast." Nobody laughed. If I got faster than a 10-11 min pace, I couldn't breathe or control my legs anymore. My patient ironsherpas went all the way out to the Energy Lab and waited until I re-emerged to run me back home. At first my poor brain thought I'd get in trouble for having 3 pacers on the course with me. Later it occurred to me that nobody cares when they're helping you break 14 hours. We ran, stopped, walked, ran, etc. through the beautiful sunset and into the very dark night.

The last mile they left me to "enjoy" by myself. I want to thank the Ironman people for placing a timing mat one mile out from the finish. Now I know that the blazing fast pace I recorded was a 10:10. I found the finishing stretch down Ali'i to be a little less enjoyable than the 3 previous ones. I think the excitement of getting to compete in the world championship has worn off. I feel a bit defeated. My past 3 races have improved quite a bit each time. I thought I was learning; I thought I would beat it some day.

My conclusion is that some people just don't have the right physiology (plus training has a bit to do with it -- thank you mild Memphis summer) to do hot races. I've done some reading on heatstroke and fatigue on The Science of Sport. Your body will do everything it can to stop you from exercise if you're heading toward injury or death. You simply have a failure of muscle activation. Did you know your pacing strategy (whether conscious or subconscious, or a mixture of the two) will adjust for this in advance? So on a hot day, when your heat storage is greater than your heat loss, your body slows you right down. Read about it here. My body's pretty smart. Not competitive, apparently, but smart.

So I'm glad I tried again. I'm not afraid of failure; I've failed many times. There's no winning without taking risks.

The crime is not to avoid failure, the crime is to not give triumph a chance. –H. Weldon

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


My first thought when I saw my bib number was, "Please don't let that be my time!" Then it occurred to me that it's not the WORST time possible, and anything is possible on that course. I'm going in with more confidence than usual thanks to Liz's excellent coaching the past 2 years, so I'm quite sure I will be well under 16:42.

I'm this close to getting on that plane. My bike has been shipped, and according to the FedEx tracking, it's in... Memphis... still... yeah... But it's FedEx! It'll get there. My bags are.. well, not quite packed. But I've started a list! My nails are ready to go, however. Fingernails and toenails have both been painted with a shade to coordinate with my hot pink underpants. For the Underpants Run, people!

I still need to print my itinerary, load up on cash, and pack my bikinis and flip flops. The rest will take care of itself. So, until then! Aloha!