Monday, August 17, 2009

Shifts and Celebrations!!!!!!

Utah Half Iron Distance Race Report
1.2 mile swim**, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run

** Swim cut in half due to high winds.

[all photos by Tony Taylor]

It astounds me how circumstances have a way of converging to give us the exact experience that we are supposed to have. This is what happened for me at the Utah Half iron distance race on August 15, 2009.

I've never had so many ups and downs during a race and never have they been so profound. In many ways this is the hardest race I've ever done.

Glenn and I before the start:

Pre Race

Normally Provo, Utah is in the low 90s with a bit of humidity this time of year. So I don't think anyone expected the weather we got. When we got up it was a moderate breeze. By the time the swim start came around, the breeze had grown to ugly, almost squall like conditions, blowing one of the swim markers across the harbor.

The swim start was delayed. Ah yes. The only other time I've experienced a significant race delay: Silverman! For the same reason. Wind and chop. Chop and wind. The water didn't look that bad actually but they could not secure the rampant swim marker. According to Glenn they did not have the right equipment for those conditions. Since the water is usually glass flat and calm this time of year, you can't really blame them.

Everyone seemed to be taking the delay in stride. I passed some of the time talking with a fellow athlete named Klause, who we had met the day before. This was Klaus's first half iron!

Here we are during the delay. Some other awesome gal gave Klause her hoodie to wear because it was actually chilly out.

After about 45 minutes the race director announced that we had a short "window" during which we would only swim one loop of the 1.2 mile course instead of two. The wind and weather were supposed to get worse. He urged anyone who did not want to swim to not swim but said he did not believe in canceling swims. Thank goodness! Yay, we were starting!


The men went off and five or so minutes later we got the go ahead.

The first few minutes were okay but the water felt strange. The chop was like nothing I had swum in before. Glenn said later that was because we were swimming directly into a stiff headwind -- 20-30 knots. After a few moments of being tossed around in a way that felt foreign to me I panicked.

I bobbed upright and looked around for a boat, a kayak, anything. Nothing was near me. I flagged a kayak and it looked like he was trying to get to me. I wanted OUT of the water NOW. But he either could not get to me or hadn't really seen me so after awhile I gave up and pressed on.

This happened three more times before I reached the turnaround. One time another girl near me asked if I was okay and I told her yes. Each time it happened a few deep breaths helped the situation and I knew I was okay. By now I have the experience to handle this type of thing. I never needed rescuing. I was glad there were no boats near me or I would have left the water.

32 minutes later I was being helped up the slimy boat ramp by some volunteers.

SO, the swim was sucky in a way but I'm glad I have that experience now. I could not have cared less about my time -- in fact I forgot to start my watch before we started. This race was not about time. Well it sort of was but in the end it was not. PERSPECTIVE!

I like this photo from the website so I "lifted" it to put here:

Swim: 32:23 for approximately .6 miles

Transition seemed to take forever but I didn't care. This being only my second half iron, I was determined not to miss anything.

Tony captured this great shot of me leaving transition.

T1 time: 04:38


Ahh the bike. I have such a love/hate relationship with the bike. Ever ride angry? Well I have. On this day, on this course.

I wasn't sure what to expect from 56 miles of FLAT course but I had a very specific plan, straight from Coach: keep cadence at 85-90 at all times and stay in zones 2-3. Follow nutrition plan. Got it. And I did that. The entire ride.

The first 10 miles or so were good. The course was well marked and there was a porta potty at a construction site a few miles out from transition. I reference this because there were no porta potties whatsoever on the bike course itself. I knew the one at the construction site was there from our course preview. Not wanting to disrupt my transition rhythm I waited until I reached it to make a pit stop. It was clean and well stocked. Score!

As I was leaving the porta potty one of the girls who came out of the water after me came by and passed. Since we were riding at about the same pace I followed her, staying an appropriate distance back. A drafter I am NOT. I don't even know how to draft on the bike.

After awhile another girl passed, saying she had gotten lost. Yikes that had to suck! She was riding a faster pace and soon was gone. As the miles went by the gal who passed me at the porta potty increased her lead and I was pretty sure I was riding in last place. This is when things started to turn ugly in my head.

As the course went from Provo out to farm country, the wind increased. Every turn seemed to have a new headwind. No, wait, crosswind! Honestly I didn't mind it too much. It wasn't hot and I have a lot of wind training under my belt. While I was following my race plan closely, once athletes started passing, coming the other way on this out and back course, my mood and mindset went downhill.

I felt self conscious about being last. In fact I felt 100% mortified.

There is nothing wrong with being last!

Sure I believed this intellectually but my emotions told an entirely different story. Apparently, for me, there was something wrong with being last!

Although I had planned to stay in the moment and stay positive, I found myself really just getting angry. Some of the athletes that passed me coming the other way said "good job" and this just pissed me off even more. Who did they think they were, talking down to me like that!

At the same time this awful anger was building up inside of me the sky grew so dark I had to remove my sunglasses. Then the wind picked up again and the stinging rain started. And a few hailstones.

Now, while this weather sucked (to be sure) and I found it incredibly ironic that the ONLY other time I've ridden in rain in my entire life was at Silverman, the weather was incidental to what was going on in my mind. Everyone faces the same weather. Only I had to face the demons that decided to show up to ruin my ride.

I reached the turnaround, in last place and felt like the whole world was taunting me. Tony and Glenn were out there in our Suburban and at one point I put on the brakes intending to pull over and ask them to take me to transition. What made me change my mind and keep going I have no idea. I spent the next few miles regretting that decision and hoping they would stop again or I would get pulled from the course.

The last LAST straw came when I realized a police officer was following me out of farm country. It took a few minutes to figure out: HEY! They always follow the LAST ONE.





My thoughts turned to the run and I decided there was no way I was going to run. I was too angry, too stressed, I was last, it just wasn't going to happen!

And when, for a few brief moments before hitting transition I thought I had gotten lost (I hadn't) I swore I was going to strangle the race director for inadequate signage (it was adequate).

So why would I write all of this negative stuff here on my blog? Because it happened and I'm being honest about it. Because I refuse to sugar coat things. Because this is a really great example of how putting too much pressure on oneself can lead to ugliness in the mind, when objectively I had a great ride (for me) that I would have been proud to log into training peaks had it been a training ride.

Had this been a training ride it would be a great ride for me to build on to get stronger, faster, more confident . . . . Oh wait, I'm still doing it, even now, nearly two weeks later.

Correction: It IS a great ride for me to build on. :-)

For those few hours though, all I could see it as was I am last, I suck, I hate everyone out here, this completely blows.

Bike time: 04:05:08 -- PR at this distance!


So, as you can imagine, I was seething coming into T2. It was completely deserted, so much so that Glenn and Tony walked right in with me and Glenn took my bike and racked it. Without thinking (this is key) I went through the motions of transitioning into my run gear, having absolutely NO intention to run.

I told Glenn that there really was no reason for me to go on.

"Why?" He asked.

I had no answer. Therefore I had to run.

Just f*cking great!

Tony recognized the photo op.

Then some kind words from a fellow Las Vegas triathlete really helped to shift the awful space my head was in. Pierre, from the Las Vegas Tri Club came into transition having just finished (he did a 4:30 or something in that neighborhood). He looked at me and said "hey I recognize you." And he did. From last years Silverman Volunteer dinner where Tony and I sat next to him, his wife and their daughters and talked.

It took only a few seconds for him to figure out my predicament and he said something to the effect of "just keep going, you'll get there."

Great. Here I go, with tons of enthusiasm (NOT).

T2: 03:59

The Run

The moment I picked my feet up and started running everything changed.


It was astounding really. I don't think I've ever experienced anything quite like it.

Legs felt fresh, body felt loose and ready to run, I fell into a rhythm immediately and felt like I had found my Happy Place.

All of the stigma I had attached to being last while on the bike fell away and I wanted to smile and enjoy myself. So that's what I did! Glenn rode alongside me for a few minutes on his mountain bike and the first loop of the two loop course seemed to fly by.

And, it didn't take long to figure out that there was a handful of folks only a few minutes ahead of me -- since I no longer cared about being last this was a nice BONUS. We high fived and said encouraging words to each other during the multiple out and back trails that made up the two loops.

I loved this run course! Completely flat, partly along the water, nice shaded areas. And thanks to the storm, that by now had blown over and given way to sun, it still was not hot. Which was good because I had forgotten my salt tabs in transition (only nutrition mistake the whole race).

The first 8 miles were great, the next 2 were pretty good, and the last three were hard. Yeah they sucked. I would be lying if I said that I didn't struggle (and cry some) those last three miles. But it wasn't because I was second to last (one guy was behind me now) it was just that "I need to be done now" feeling.

And my pace, I must say, was quite a bit slower than I would have liked. But my run suffered the most in my training leading up to this race. At times my heart wasn't in it, so I got what I put into it and it's fine. Overall, my time here seriously does not reflect what I'm capable of. And that's okay. For now. :-)

I am to this day so grateful to have shifted into a good place in my head again!!!

Run time: 2:58:32

Here I am finishing:

And here I am a few seconds later:

Total time: 07:44:41

If I had to do this race over again I would change nothing.

I was well trained, well prepared, followed my race plan, executed a solid race, and got a PR!!

My attitude on the bike? Of course I'm tempted to say I would change that. But had I not been in that dark angry place (which is not altogether a strange place for me -- I used to spend tons more time there than I do now), I would never have experienced that huge, instantaneous shift into the run. Seriously, I wouldn't trade that.

The willingness to follow through + great support (Glenn, Tony and Pierre) = Awesomeness!!!!!!!

I love this sport. So much.


Danni said...

This is an awesome report Stef. I totally understand the "self pressure" thing you talk about; and I am guilty of it too.
You rocked it; you overcame your own HEAD; and that is HUGE.

Marit C-L said...

GREAT job Stefanie!

Okay - even during training rides when I'm with other people and in LAST, I will occasionally beat myself up. But you are so right when you say that its all about perception - we can STILL enjoy ourselves...thank you for sharing this... that takes guts! :)

But you STILL did it !!! WONDERFUL!!! And a pr on the bike - yea!

I know that feeling during the last few miles of the run... :) Glad that you made it! Congratulations for getting through a tough race and learning from the experience! Awesome!

Kevin said...

What a great race report. It took alot for you to conquer your own self doubt and finish that race. If ever you should feel that doubt again, just think back to this race and how it felt afterwards that you pushed through it

Molly said...

Stef!!! Awesome, inspirational, wonderful race report! You conquered those inner demons and that means a lot. You should be VERY proud!

ShirleyPerly said...

What a wonderful race report!!! I was worried that the race hadn't gone well for you having heard about the tough weather conditions and not heard an update from you soon after the race. Instead, you had your first honest-to-goodness rough water swim experience, got your fastest bike split and squashed more of those nasty DNF demons and landed a PR.


ShirleyPerly said...

PS - Not just the DNF demons, but also the DFL demons too. You ROCK!!

Unknown said...

Awesome race report. I'm glad you shared the icky thoughts from the bike. I have been last on the bike course (oly distance is my longest) and I remember all those thoughts about how much I suck going through my head and also a shirt to "I can do this" on the run. So I could relate. From a shorter race though. I don't know that I'll ever attempt 70.3. YOU ROCK!!!!!

Unknown said...

p.s congrats on the PR!!

You've come a long way!!!

Wes said...

Great race report, Stef! and thanks for being honest. We all go through that during races, and some of us are more honest with ourselves (and others) than not.

The minute I start getting scared in a swim or hurting in a ride, I tell myself, I love this shit. I smile, and I keep repeating it over and over again. This is why having an arsenal of positive thoughts is so important.

We are all so proud of you Stef. I bet after that swim, you are ready to brave the English Channel :-)

Well done!!!

Stefanie said...

Stef you did awesome. I am so thankful that you posted the bad thoughts too because I have totally been there.

Often on group rides I am dead last and my poor husband who is much faster than I am hangs back with me and has to listen to me beat myself up. It definitaly makes for a sout ride. What I fail to recognize is that even in dead last I am still rocking out at 16mph and setting new PRs weekly.

Keep on moving forward. This race will show you just how dedicated you are to the sport and how much you can achieve. Congrats!

ADC said...

Great race report. you did so well. Will I see you at Silverman this year? :)

Kelly said...

Great report Stef!! You have come so far. Remember when we first met and you had only finished 1 swim in a race? Now you have finished 2 brutal swims! Did you ever think you would come this far!!

BTW...we tease RBR about that fact if she shows up for a race, the weather is going to be an issue, well my friend, you might be heading into this category as well :-)

Alisa said...

Way to perservere through a rough start and finish strong with a PR to boot.

Weather conditions can really determine a race. You pushed through a rough rough swim and onto an equally hard bike to finishing with a solid run!

I've been last before, also in a race with less than optimal weather conditions. While it sucks it also made me appreciate my support crew, my husband, who did something similar to what Glenn did. It makes all the difference!

GREAT JOB be proud of yourself.

Alisa said...

I've been reading back through some of your old posts. How long have you been doing tri's? I've done ONE and I LOVED it and would like to try a longer one next summer. I'm thinking maybe a couple more sprints and tyring an Olympic and maybe Half Iron next summer. Is that insane?
Do you have a favorite plan?

M said...

Oh holy heck.

That was SOME race report - the entire time I read it, I was thinking, "Okay, this is where I would drop, here is where I would quit."

And you NEVER did.

I am stunned at the miserable weather conditions, and how incredible it was that you just gutted the whole thing out. Just about all of us have had those days, but you kept at it. You overcame the toughest aspect of this sport - the mental game - to cross that line.

Absolutely fantastic, Steph. What a fantastic report. Such an incredible finish!

The Stretch Doc said...

Stef you totally freakn are AWESOME!!

I am so Proud of you and no matter what you didnt stop! That takes more Heart than anything and you my Friend, have HEART!

Great recap!


Alili said...

I am so proud to be your imaginary friend. Simply AWESOME Stef!!

Calyx Meredith said...

Someday you're going to show up for a half iron and the weather is going to be so perfect it freaks you out. :D Tremendous job pushing through what you had to. Congrats on the PR! I know I'm late reading your RR - having known the bare bones, I was waiting for a time when I could really savor the details - but it was the perfect thing for me today! Thanks for being real and sharing what it's really like out there for you. You are so inspiring!