Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Race Report

I'm back. I survived. In fact I did more than survive, I had fun! And I kicked ass! Race day went something like this.
Pre-Race: I didn't sleep at all the night before, but I knew I wouldn't and it doesn't really matter. I was already well rested and the race day energy makes it so you don't notice any lack of sleep. I got out of bed at 4:30 AM as planned, had my smoothie, started hydrating, my Sweetie loaded the bike and his camera. We got on the road by 5:40 AM, 10 minutes later than planned. Despite leaving behind schedule I was surprisingly calm. Really! I never once felt like puking. Once at the site my Sweetie topped off the air in my tires. We must have looked like we knew what we were doing because the girl parked to the left of us asked me if I could tell her where her helmet and bike numbers were supposed to go. And the girl parked to the right of us asked my Sweetie if he would pump up her tires also. I remembered that this is one of the reasons I like to do this - the camaraderie - suddenly you have 400 and something new best friends and you're all in this together, sort of. I got my body marked, the volunteer got a little artistic working the numbers in around my tattoos. It was open racking, and I was able to get a really sweet spot on the end of a rack. It pays to get there early. I got set up, walked the transition area, picked up my timing chip, ate a banana, stood in line for the porta-potty and spent the rest of the pre-race minutes on the beach. I did my warm-up swim. I told myself the big-fat lie that there wasn't any fish in the lake, and even though I knew it was a big fat lie I chose to believe it. I shared this with my Sweetie and a few other spectators. They were highly amused, and I remembered that this is why I do this, it's fun, and I love chattin' it up with strangers.

The Swim: The swim was a real bitch. I did everything I planned, I lined up in front and I swam out hard. Trouble is there was a small gaggle of other ladies with the exact same plan, and we were all pretty evenly matched. Somehow the 5 of us managed to swim the entire distance in a scrum. I got kicked in the face once, hard. I never found my little piece of water. The whole 300 meters was a scrum. I studied the swim results and there were 5 of us who came out of the water within 4 seconds of each other. Yep, it sucked, mostly. There is no way to improve on this, to train harder for that, it's just one of those race day variables that's out of your control. You deal with it. And the goats, did I mention there were three goats living on the island in the lake. Pre-race I thought they were kinda cute, at about the half way point of the swim I had the thought that the water I was swimming in was brackish, murky, and smelling of sulfur because of those goats. I put that thought right out of my mind. Official swim time: 7:55 - not as fast as I wanted, but I was ranked 9th in my age group and I caught some of the "green cap" people in the wave before mine. I'd write home about that. And I didn't freak out - this is why I do this, I am reminded that sometimes you have to just deal with the stuff that's out of your control.

T1: I got my cap and goggles off just as soon as I got out of the water. I knew right where my bike was. Everything going as planned. Except the stitch in my side. You could hardly call my movement from the water's edge, through the parking lot, and to my transition area a jog, it was more like a gimp, but with a few deep breaths the stitch surrendered. For some unknown reason I couldn't get my shoe on - I verbally abused the shoe. And it too surrendered. Perfect. Helmet, sunglasses, never mind the gloves, I'm off! Official T1 Time: 3:08 - A little slow but I remembered where to bike exit was and got there.

The Bike: The first hill. It wasn't really as steep as I had remembered from my scouting trip, it was long. Really really long. I had left my bike on the small chain ring, with room to move down to the granny gear. It worked, I was able to spin up that first hill. I didn't get off my bike and walk it up the hill, although I saw a few that did, and it's not a bad strategy, I would not have been above walking up that hill if I had needed to, but I didn't need to. Once I crested that hill I rode hard, and smart. I went fast. I remembered to drink my sport drink. I remembered to call out "on your left" and "thank you" to everyone I passed. I congratulated and encouraged everyone who passed me. Really, every single one, I'm competitive, but nice. I felt sincerely bad for the girl with a flat, and the ladies with the really heavy mountain bikes. The back half of the course wasn't that bad, it was rolling, gravity was indeed on my side. Those training rides paid off. The last mile is all downhill, and I did indeed fly. I glanced at my computer once and it said 32 mph. I don't think I've ever gone that fast on my bike. I felt fearless. I felt like a super hero. It was fun. Official bike time: 44:52 - right where I wanted to be. I made up some time and was back on track for my goal. That's a great feeling. Could I have gone faster...? Probably. Could I have been more aggressive...? Probably. And that encourages me for next time.

T2: Bike racked. Helmet off. No gloves to worry about. Drink some water. I'm off. Wait! My belt, turn around run back, get the damn belt. Go! Thank goodness I remembered, I'm not sure but I think that could have been a DQ. I'll have to check the USAT Rule Book. Official time: 1:06 - that's right, despite having almost forgotten my belt I was ahead of my goal.

The Run: Most of my favorite moments in the race happened during the run. First, the oldest athlete was a 70 year old woman who was doing her first triathlon with her daughter. I saw them early on in the run, the mom was race walking and daughter was a few paces ahead, telling her she "looked great" she was "doing a great job". Mom replied with "I've got this race in the bag, I can do this!" I loved her! And I thought hell yes! And I congratulated her on job well done. This course isn't a great one for spectators, except at the beach and the finish line. This means there are no fans to cheer you through the bulk of the run. But, it's an out and back course and so those on the way back encourage those on the way out. It's the camaraderie thing again, and I love that. It took a little longer then I wanted for my legs to stop feeling like rubber and the evil stitch was back so I took the first mile a little easy. I admit it seemed a little daunting. I took water at the turn around, and thanked all the volunteers. And then I decided I needed something to get me going - I challenged myself to pass the lady just in front of me, according to her body marking she was 52 years old. And then I went after the next one, her calf said she was 48 years old. And then the next one, and the next one, and I went after a few that were a little younger. I still got passed by some, and I still took the energy to encourage those on the way out, but I spent that second mile trying to pick off runners and make a note of their age as I did. Before I knew it there it was, the turn off the road up to the home stretch. This is where it gets really, really thrilling - this is where you can see the finish line, and you know in your heart that you've earned the finish. This is where there are lots of fans and spectators cheering you on and congratulating you on a strong finish and you know in your heart you deserve it. This is where I spotted the calf of the girl just ahead of me, she was 22 years old, and this is where I got competitive and made up my mind I could take her. And I did. And it was awesome. Official run time: 22:04.

I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face. I got my finisher's medal from a perfect volunteer. I got my ice towel and my bottle of water from two other perfect volunteers. Official total race time: 1:19:07. That's exactly in between my "It was a great day, I had fun, and I can be really proud of this time" Goal and my "I kicked ass!" Goal. I was 11th (out of 50) in my age group, and that seemed beyond my wildest dreams.

Post-Race: I did everything I said I would do, I found my Sweetie, I re-hydrated, I stretched, I consumed some calories. I basked in the glory of the day. I congratulated other finishers. I cheered for those still coming across the finish line. I ate up all the congratulations from complete strangers without hesitation. It was fun.

And I remembered why I do this. I do this for the camaraderie. I do this because it's thrilling. I do this because I can and I'm proud of that. I do this because it reminds me to take stuff as it comes. I do this because it feels good to be 40 years old and be healthy and strong enough, I'm grateful for that. I do this because anybody can, but most don't, and that sets me apart, just a little. But mostly I do this because it's fun.

What's next? Something completely new and different - The Rock N Roll San Antonio 1/2 Marathon. The training program has already started, I've sort of fudged the first three weeks of training to make it fit with the triathlon. It will be the thrill of doing something for the first time, which is an extra special kind of thrill. And next season I'll do another triathlon, in fact I'd love to travel to Minneapolis and do the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon again, but this time do the Olympic Distance. And later this week - the knit results of race week.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Race Plan without Goals...?

Last night I dreamed I forgot my bike on my way to the Triathlon. This morning I practiced my transitions on the back porch. (Did I mention "nervous energy" in my previous post?)

I realized I published The Race Plan without including The Goals. All Race Plans include goals. Perhaps I left them out of the previous post on purpose, it takes courage to let others in on your goals - what if you don't achieve them? Everyone will know. And perhaps I'm flattering myself to think that there even is an "everyone". Well, in the spirit of not being such a scared-y cat, (and secretly telling myself no one reads this blog anyway) I've decided to go ahead and make public The Goals.

I learned from my friend and neighbor (who sometimes reads my blog, I think, so Thanks!) the nifty little trick of setting a couple of different goals, it gives you some flexibility with your performance, and it can help to stave off any disappointment if things just don't go your way. I've got three sets of goals for this race - the first is the "things just didn't go my way"goal. Next is the "It was a great day, I had fun, and I can be really proud of these times" goal. And finally there's the "I kicked ass!" goals. Keep in mind "kicking ass!" is relative, it's about putting in a great effort and pushing yourself up to your limits, but not beyond them.

My "things just really didn't go my way" goal is pretty general - I just want to be done before the awards ceremony starts, that gives me just under 2 hours. I don't even care if I'm dead last, that could be funny if I have a sense of humor about it, I want the finisher's medal. And I don't want to fall off my bike.

The "It was a great day..." Goals are more specific, and I think realistic, although you never know for sure until you try, they look like this - Swim 1:15/50 meters, finishing the swim in 7.5 minutes. Bike at an average speed of 13 MPH which means finishing the bike leg in 51 minutes. Run 10:50 miles or finish the run in 21:40. With T1 at 2:30 and T2 at 1:30 my total time would be 1 hour and 24 minutes.

The "I kick ass" Goals look like this - swim 1:00/50 meters which gets me out of the water in 6 minutes. I've beat this time in the pool by 7 seconds more than once, but this isn't the pool, it's a scrum of bodies in open water. Bike at an average speed of 16 MPH which would mean finishing the ride in 42 minutes, hard and aggressive, but possible. Run a 10:20 Mile or finish the run in 20 minutes 40 seconds, this is lofty, I'm not that fast, especially running off the bike. With the same T1 and T2 times I'd be across the finish line in 1 hour 13 minutes.

There, I've done it, I've made public The Goals. All I need to do now is hit the "publish post" button. Until next week...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Race Week - The Race Plan

It's race week - on Sunday July 27th I'll be partaking in the Rouge Women's Triathlon - and that means this week is race week, and that means lots and lots of nervous energy. This is not my first triathlon, nor is it my longest, but it is the first one in three years and that's a heck of a long time when we're talking athletics. In fact it's a whole new age group. I'll be racing with the "40 somethings" this time. This is a "super sprint" triathlon - 300 meter swim, 11.1 mile bike, and 2 mile run.

Despite the fact that I've done this before, I still get really nervous during the week leading up to an event. In some ways it's the kind of nervous energy that's generated when you're really looking forward to something. It's the anticipation and it's the waiting - you've worked really hard, you've put in the hours, you've taken care of yourself, you've prepped all your gear, and now you wait for the big day to be here. But it's also just plain, good old fashion, butterflies in the stomach, gee I hope I don't fall off my bike in front of all those people, nerves.

So what to do with all the nervous energy? Hopefully lots of knitting. The knitting keeps my hands busy, and calms the spirit, while leaving the mind free to think about the race. Which is good, because when it's race week the race is pretty much all I can think about. I'm pretty good at not letting this become obsessive worry, and at staving off any negativity or self-doubt. But in order to do this I have to focus my thoughts on something constructive, and that something constructive is The Race Plan. All smart athletes have a Race Plan. I may be old and slow, but I'm still smart. I have a Race Plan and I'm spending this week knitting and going over it in my mind a hundred trillion times.

I figured if I was going to be going over The Race Plan a hundred trillion times I may as well write about it. So here it is, although a few of the details have been edited to save space and spare you from any of the gross stuff.

Pre-Race: Arrive at the race site at least an hour and a half before the start. This will mean being on the road and out the door by 5:30 AM. First thing to do is get my body marked. Then I find my rack, top off the air in my tires and rack my bike. Set up my transition area. Keep my swim cap and my goggles in hand. Lay out my shoes, with the laces loose, socks on top of shoes, gloves inside helmet, sunglasses, and race belt ready. One bottle of fluids on the bike, and an extra bottle for before the start and available if I decide I need to do the run with water. Once my transition area is set up, I need to walk the transition area from where I come in from the swim, count the racks so I can find my bike. Walk from my rack to the bike exit, and from the bike return to my rack. Finally walk from my rack to the run start. It's good to know where you're going, it can keep you from getting frantic. Apply another, extra layer of sunscreen. Visit the bathroom. All the while hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Remind myself the nerves and the butterflies stop once I start.

The Swim: I'm a strong swimmer, and this swim is short. For many triathletes this is the part they dread, and they will be wanting to just get through it. The swim start is always a little weird, it's hectic, and crowded, you can't see a thing, and swimming in open water is completely different then swimming in a pool. The swim start can be scary. I won't freak out. I'll line up towards the front and swim hard for the first 50 yards, to get out of the crowd. Then I'll find my rhythm and settle into my pace. Remember swim cap and goggles off as soon as I leave the water, and remember where your bike is.

T1: Get geared up in this order - socks, shoes, gloves, helmet, sunglasses. Remember where the bike exit is and get there. Remind myself to drink fluids on the bike. Remind myself this is fun.

The Bike: I scoped out the course a few weeks ago and got myself totally freaked out about the hills on the bike course. I've been riding hills ever since, I need to remind myself I've gone longer and harder on those training rides, I've done it before I can do it again. This course starts with a steep climb. My strategy is to have left my bike in a low gear, and to just spin up this first hill. I will remind myself that no matter how much it hurts, I've got 5.5 miles of downhill and flats after this first hill which will be plenty of time to catch my breath, take some fluids, and get my legs back. Go fast. The back half of the course gets hilly again, but it's pretty rolling so gravity is on my side. Remind myself I've gone harder and longer. Remind myself it's almost over. Say "hello" to all the volunteers and shout "nice job" to everyone who passes me. I'll fly down the last hill and give my legs a rest.

T2: Rack my bike - helmet off, gloves off, sunglasses on, go. I'll put my race belt on while moving towards the run start. I'm riding in my running shoes so this transition should be quick. Remind myself to breath.

The Run: It will be hot by now, and there is no shade, but I've been training in the heat, and this is Texas after all, so just go. The run is short. I recently learned something called "the Ironman Shuffle" you lean just slightly forward from your core and let momentum get you started on the run, your feet will just have to keep up, I'll do this until the rubbery feeling goes away. This is a fairly rolling run course, if I use my arms to power up the hills, I can use gravity to pick up speed going down them. Remind myself to stay light on my feet. Remind myself to breath. Smile. Take water at the turn around and thank the volunteers. This run is short so I can go a little harder. I'll hold my head up, cross the finish line, raise my arms in victory, and smile.

Post-Race: I will keep moving, I'll find my Sweetie, get some fluids, find some shade, and celebrate. Enjoy the camaraderie and revel in the glory for awhile before I load up the bike and pack up the gear. Remind myself I can nap if I want to when I get home. Remind myself it was fun.

I'll be back next week with The Race Report and some knitting to share.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Altered Vintage Postcards

I've been thrifting a lot lately and some of my favorite finds have been vintage postcards. Mostly there from the 1950's and 1960's, and I've been lucky about finding ones that have never been used and that are pretty pristine.

Cleaning Up City Hall - Altered Vintage Postcard

I've been using them as backgrounds for collage elements. All of my collage bits of paper and ephemeral are also vintage and of the some era.

Swimming Beach - Altered Vintage Postcard

It's been a lot of fun, mostly tongue in check humor, and a touch of irony. After I alter the postcards I seal them with a protective acrylic finish, low gloss to preserve the vintage look. You can find these altered postcards in my Blue Valentine Etsy Shop. Oh, and there's lots more to come.

Highway 101 - Altered Vintage Postcard

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Holy Crap! Long TIme No Post

Pendants made from collaged vintage Domino

How does it happen? You log in to blog and realize it's been over a month since your last post. How it happens, at least in part, is two trips to Minneapolis to celebrate weddings and graduations. Tons of hours spent on the road and in the pool training for another triathlon. And lots and lots of life's little details like lawns to mow, plants to grow, and dogs to walk. None of it the stuff worthy of a blog post, and yet I just managed to include them.

There's also been time for crafting, although there never seems to be enough. It's the great unsolved puzzle in my life, and I'm sure in lots of my readers' lives: Where do you find the time to craft?

"Cleaning Up City Hall" - Altered Vintage Postcard

The work with paper has continued to involve lots of collage - right now the x-acto and glue are more fun than the press and ink, so I'll stay with it until I get the urge to print. It's a funny thing about me, I can't just stick with one thing - I can't just run so I bike and swim also, and viola it's the makings of a triathlon. Like wise I can't just print, I sometimes would rather collage or sew some bindings. I don't just knit, I also full my knitting, needle felt, and now I'm learn to weave (more on that in future post). The variety keeps me sane. I think... Either that or it makes me crazy. I guess that's the other unsolved puzzle in my life.

"Highway 101" - Altered Vintage Postcard

Back to the work with paper... I've been altering some vintage postcards that I found at my favorite thrift store. I've also been collaging on old game pieces, mostly vintage domino and old wooden nickels, also thrifted. I've been using them to make some really fun pendants. Some have been listed in my Etsy shop, and some will be listed soon.

I'll share some knitting news and the learning to weave in a future post soon. But right now I've left my bike on the porch so I can get in a ride after I write a blog post, and before I sit down at the loom... Crazy? Sane? And when will I walk the dogs?