Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Race Report: Challenge Penticton Full

So, here’s something unexpected. I’m posting my Challenge Penticton race report. Yes, it’s been three and a half months. And one might wonder why bother? Well, because. Because that day was so significant for me. For many reasons. It was about more than “just” the distance. Yes, more than “just” those 225.95 kms traveled. In the same way that the training was about more than the effort in those 580 hours of swimming, biking, running, lifting, and yogaing that lead me to the start line. And while revisiting the blog this last week, and looking back at my Facebook posts from race day, I realize the memories of race day are still pretty vivid. I don’t want to lose that day, so I’m going to try and capture it all here – 3 and a half months late, but here just the same.

When I read my training recap for the week before race day, it brings me right back to that nervous night before. Being withdrawn, in my own head, trying to imagine the day, how it would feel, whether I would rise to meet the challenge. The race morning photos capture well the nervousness I was feeling.
The walk to the start was dark.  I looked out at the lake to try and get a sense of how calm it was, but it was too dark to tell for sure. As we came near the entrance to the transition area, a volunteer told my family they couldn’t continue with me. As it turned out, we weren’t yet in an athletes-only section, and they could have stayed near. I was unprepared to be alone at that point, in the dark, and trying to find my way to the drop point for our special needs bags. But I found the drop off and made my way to my bike where I connected with friends, pumped up my tires, while trying to read the tire pressure in the dark, crossing my fingers that they were just right. After mounting my water bottles, stuffing my bento with Mars Bars and pumping my tires, there was plenty of time to stand around and be nervous. I made nervous chit-chat with friends who were competing, and those who were there supporting… my family nowhere in sight after having been shooed away earlier.  While waiting just outside transition we heard the announcement: non wetsuit swim for the pros.

I had a brief warm-up swim as instructed by my coach, and then stood around waiting for the start, a mass of nervous energy. I was most worried about the swim. But like all races, I just wanted it to start. The worst part of the day is before that start gun goes off, when the negative voices and the self doubt is overwhelming – and there’s nothing you can do. When the gun goes off, and you cross the line, it’s familiar territory. All those training hours. It’s time to get to work.

Challenge was a mass-start and fortunately the field was pretty small so it wasn’t really chaotic. I stayed near the buoy line as instructed by my coach, and settled into a rhythm. I got kicked a few times, had my legs grabbed a few times, but I didn’t let it alter my stroke or my rhythm. Celebrated that there were people swimming around me… even people behind me, and kept swimming. As it turned out, this was the swim of my life. I came out of the water in 1:38:51. I had been targeting 1:45. Thinking 2:00 was more likely. But still worried about the 2:15 cut-off. I swam faster than ever, and straighter than ever before… thinking maybe the course was a little on the long side, since my arguably straight swim came in at 4.23 km.

The only downside to the swim: my inability to multitask. Many times out there, I tried to coax myself to pee! But I couldn’t do it… couldn’t swim and empty my bladder at the same time. I wasn’t about to stop and tread water for the sake of getting this taken care of, finally accepting as I got closer to shore that I was going to have to waste time in transition. And waste time I did. There were only 2 porta-potties between the swim exit and the change tent, and the volunteer manning these johns was warning athletes not to use one of them. Someone’s nervous energy had um, overflowed, or something but the message was clear: you don’t want to go in there. So I waited in line, burning through transition minutes… not knowing how many… just waiting for my turn.

The change tent volunteers were fabulous. As I was taking items one at a time from my T1 bag and deciding what to do with them, a volunteer came and sat with me, grabbed the bag, dumped the contents in front of me, and asked what I need, trying to work through the bag in a logical order, and asking helpful questions like: “Do you need your swim cap?” [yes, it was still on my head] “I don’t think you do.” The run from the change tent to the bike racks seemed frustratingly long… running it in bike shoes anyway! As I rolled my bike across the mount line and prepared to ride, I could hear the announcer: “and here we have one of the last athletes to head out on the bike…” Uh thanks… Again, I didn’t know how much time I had spent in transition with that porta-potty wait, but I was feeling grateful to have the swim behind me, and ready to start the bike.

I loved the ride… well, most of it anyway. I remember feeling pretty great as I made my way along Skaha Lake, climbed up McLean, and road through my favourite section of the course, heading towards OK Falls. I made small talk with other racers as I passed them, thanked the volunteers, and enjoyed the day, the weather, and that I was actually doing it! All those weeks of training, and here it was, race day. And I was doing it! I’d made it past the swim. And the bike was awesome!

That feeling continued through Oliver and as I made my way up Richter Pass. There was a noticeable thinning of the “crowd” after leaving Oliver, as the Half athletes parted ways. Climbing Richter felt effortless. I felt like I was owning the climb, passing several riders, but not feeling like I was pushing too hard. Richter was the first place I would come across a genetically blessed family of 4 whose presence out there was a highlight of the day. I don’t even remember their names except that their oldest daughter’s name was Tessa! As I rode by on Richter, I called out “I love this hill!” and one of them called back “It looks good on you!”

I would see them again several times throughout the day… along the rollers, nearing the top of the Yellow Lake climb, on the run course, and then again at the finish line. A beautiful family from Kelowna, radiating positive energy, coming out to cheer on strangers through a very, very long day.

After Richter came the rollers, and I found myself riding at a great pace along them. I spent a lot of time in aero during the race – something I’d done precious little of during training – and enjoying the speed boost it gave me. And this is where I think I made one of my race day errors. My nutrition plan for the day called for a mix of Carbopro, Clif bars, and a Mars bar on the out and back. I had planned them so that I wouldn’t be eating solids right before climbs, and would alternate water and carbopro as a result. I was riding faster than anticipated and had made adjustments when I got to Oliver. Eating a Clif bar earlier than planned, drinking water instead of Carbopro. My Garmin was set to chirp at me every 10 minutes on the bike to remind me to drink. Unfortunately, when I was on the rollers, I continually ignored the chirp, not wanting to lose momentum by coming out of aero to reach for a bottle. I kept telling myself I’d drink on the next climb when I’d be coming out of aero anyway. And then the climb would come, and there’d be someone riding it slower than me, and I’d use the opportunity to pass them instead.

As I approached the Cawston out and back, the wind picked up and it started to rain. This was perhaps the only portion of the bike course that I didn’t love. I was beginning to tire, I knew I still had a lot of riding to do, and the weather was lousy! I was also beginning to do the math on my calories and water and knew I was in trouble. When I got to my special needs bag at the turnaround, I drank the Red Bull in it, left everything else, and continued on. I grabbed a bottle of water at the water station Gina was working, and started making my way to Yellow Lake. Other riders were beginning to slow down at this point, and there was a lot of riders to pass, the mood of everyone seeming a little less jubilant than earlier in the day.

My race plan had called for a pit stop at the Cawston turnaround (if I needed it), otherwise at the top of Yellow Lake. In my long training rides, this was usually the point mileage wise, were my body demanded it. But not today. This was probably when it dawned on me that I had screwed up my nutrition plan. I had intended to take in 1500-1700 calories by the time I got off the bike, and consume about 3 litres of fluids. When I got off the bike, I’d taken in 800-900 calories and just 1.5 litres of fluids, with a good third or more of the fluids taken on after Yellow Lake.

I had been worried about the ride down the switchbacks to Penticton… because I suck on the downhills but with a lane closed to traffic, I just relaxed and tried to enjoy the ride down. It was nothing short of fabulous. And perhaps a little terrifying with the cross wind. At least that was the remark of a rider who caught up to me at the bottom!

I can honestly say that when I got off the bike, I have never wanted to run a marathon less.  I was happy to get off the bike, but the prospect of a marathon? I felt pretty awful. Not awful in the spent muscles, low energy sense, but awful in a nausea-think-I’m-going-to-throw-up-maybe-I-could-just-lie-down-for-a-while sense. No time for that though… there was a marathon to run.

I ran out the first km, then stopped to use a porta-potty. One of the volunteers at the aid station said I looked like I needed a gel so I grabbed one, and kept running. My sweet Tessa was waiting on the course as I ran back past our hotel, and I went in for a hug, grateful to see her, soak up some love, try and draw some positive energy. I didn’t want to run this marathon. I wasn’t about to quit, but I had just over 40 kms left to run, and I didn’t know how I was going to pull it off. Andrew approached with a smile of encouragement and I remember saying: “I don’t feel good”. But I continued on, focusing on finding my stride and settling in, knowing a slow shuffle was better than a walk.

About 20 minutes or so after grabbing the gel, I thought I’d better take it in. I knew I was underfueled getting off the bike and that I couldn’t run the marathon on empty. I took the gel and my stomach cramped almost immediately. I kept running. I was carrying a hand-held water bottle with GU Brew in it, and tried to sip from it, but found I couldn’t tolerate the sweet liquid. As I ran, it felt like it weighed 40 lbs. I tossed the bottle at an aid station, tucking the bottle holder into my tri-top pocket… and kept running.

While I tried to get my GI issues under control, I tried to get in as much water as I could, and not attempt to take in any calories. I walked through every aid station and took a cup of water, and a baggy of ice cubes, filling the bra of my tri-top with ice… by now it was HOT, with no reprieve from the sun as we ran along Skaha. I still wrestled with stomach cramps, visiting several porta-potties, but I was able to keep going. A shuffle of a run, walking the aid stations, and eventually the hill leading out towards OK Falls. It was through this section that I saw Dan and then Taimi, feeling encouraged to see them both.

At OK Falls, what a blessing to have Gina’s friendly face and words of encouragement, delivering me my special needs bag. Truly running on empty at this point, I knew if I could even walk the rest of the way back, I’d finish, I’d make the cut-off, but it wouldn’t be the race I wanted. I choked back a Red Bull… disgusting but I have to admit, good advice from my coach… and grabbed the Ziploc bag of dried fruit I’d put in there as a treat, and I started to make my way back to Penticton.
I think at this point I had taken in enough water at the aid stations to recover from the nausea and gastro-issues I’d suffered through on the first part of the run, and I was able to tolerate the dried fruit. I nibbled at it from time to time, and picked up my pace… remembering a shuffle is better than a walk, not wanting to be a part of the “death march”. The second half of the run was much better than the first… better hydrated, some calories, and a reprieve from the heat, I found a pace and was able to settle in.

When I got to the 39 km aid station, I was offered beer… yes, beer! I’d been having a talk with myself at various points on the run, thinking about what I wanted when I finished… coffee, no a beer, no coffee, no a beer. I’ll tell you, that beer at the aid station, few things have gone down as easy!

Through the last few kms, it gets pretty lonely. It seems like most of the athletes that you’re going to pass, you already have, and there weren’t a lot of spectators. It was dark, quiet... lots of time to think… reflect on the training, the day, the challenges.  When I set out on this journey, I’d been focused on the 17-hour cut-off. I worried about not making it in time. About still being out on course when the fireworks went off at midnight… like my own personal Hunger Games! When I hired my coach, he said quite confidently that I would finish in under 15 hours. I knew how long my swim had taken, how long my bike had taken, how long the run was taking but I had no idea how long my transitions were. Still, I was pretty sure I was under 15 hours. Not sure how much under… but under.

At the beginning of the day while chatting with friends pre-race, I had confessed that I had tucked a lip gloss inside the pocket of my water bottle holder so that I could apply lip gloss before coming in to the finish. One of my friends laughed and assured me that I would not remember that I had it, nor would I care what I looked like. Au contraire! As I approached the finish, and spectators started to line the street, I grabbed my lip gloss from my pocket and tried to put it on while running… a lost cause. So I stopped, applied my lip gloss, tucked it in my pocket, straightened my outfit and my race number, and ran in to the finish. Andrew saw me stop short of the red carpet and believed I was overwhelmed and having a cry… nope, just getting ready for that finish photo!

Running down the red carpet towards the finish is a moment I’ll never forget. I remember hearing a thunderous banging noise as I ran toward the tape. It took me a moment to realize what it was… spectators, learning over the fencing, banging their arms against the signs. It was amazing. I looked up and saw the time on the clock: 14:15. I was elated. Can you tell?

After the race, we stuck around for an hour or so, waiting to see how friends were doing, chatting about the race. The finish line spread offered little for vegans… “I can get you a white bun with condiments” Andrew offered. Pass. After an hour or so, we headed back to the hotel… climbing the stairs to our room – a painful obstacle! Back in the room, I celebrated with a beer, leftover pasta from two nights earlier, and a bag of Snapeas, then went to bed listening to the fireworks. I do regret not heading out to sit on the beach in front of our hotel, watching the fireworks, and toasting the experience with some champagne. At the time though, there was no way I was going to go down and up a flight of stairs!

I slept for about an hour, then woke up, in a world of hurt. I’d have traded my finisher’s medal for an Advil at that point! Adrenaline kept me from getting back to sleep, so I tried to lay absolutely still – because every time I moved, multiple things hurt – and spent some time on Facebook, reliving the day through Andrew’s pictures and comments from friends. Imagine my surprise to read that a friend had watched my pre-finish lip gloss application on the live stream! LOL

When I watched my finish line video, I can hear the announcer say something along the lines of: “Congratulations Karin. You met the Challenge today. And folks, not only did Karin meet the challenge but she has lost more than 120 lbs” [little cheer goes up from the crowd] “Karin, you are an inspiration.” But you know what he doesn’t say? He doesn’t say “you ARE an Ironman”. Now logically, I think what was said should mean a heck of a lot more than what wasn’t said but… I still need to hear it.

So 2015… IMC. Yes, it needs to be done. When I told my coach, he said sub-13 was possible. I corrected him… “you mean sub-14”. “No, sub-13.” Well… we’ll see.  31 weeks and 5 days… 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Race Report: Deception Pass 25K Trail Run

So, yes. A race report. Sure, I’ll acknowledge that I’ve posted nothing, zip, nada, zilch since my September catch-up of my Challenge Penticton training, which ended with the promise of another post recapping what is by far, the most [insert pretty much any positive adjective here] race of my short racing life. And then crickets. Well, I don’t know what to say – except that well, here I am 3 months later, poised to write a race report for a different race. My bad.

But here I am, dear reader(s), ready to wax poetically, about my first 25K trail race: the Deception Pass 25K.

Now, I’m no trail runner. My only real trail race has been leg 5 of Meet Your Maker in 2013. I ran a 12K leg, and loved it! I signed up for this race based on loving that experience, loving the breathtaking scenery at the Whidbey Island Marathon in April of this year, and a little peer pressure. And by a little peer pressure, I mean a friend shared on Facebook that she had registered and said “join me!” Ummm, OK!

So for the last 2 months or so, I’ve been hitting the trails for my weekend long run, appreciating the importance of picking up my feet when I run, coming to terms with the fact that I suck as much running downhill as I do riding downhill, and trying hard not to compare my slow pace on the road with my ultra-slow pace on the trail. 45 minute 5K anyone? Based on that average pace on the trail, I set my goal for race day at < 3:45… And that’s what I pinned up on my office bulletin boards to visualize my goal… set against a backdrop of the beautiful, panic-inducing Deception Pass Bridge… < 3:45. But trail pace is so dependent on the trail itself, so a few days before race day, I looked up last year’s results and checked the median time for women in my age group: 3:26:something. OK, that’s the goal, get under that.

In the weeks leading up to race day, the weather had offered everything. Freezing cold with a bit of snow. 22-32km/hr winds (a treat when we did our recon run 2 weeks prior). Unseasonably warm. Wet beyond belief. Take your pick! I packed [almost] everything clean from my running drawer. Race morning weather forecast was pretty moderate, nothing that would prove a performance factor… about 7 degrees, 9 km/hr winds, and 0-2% POP. I opted for no hat. Not cold enough for a toque. No need for a ball cap if there’s no rain. I love running hatless. And it rained for a while… just to prove a point I think.

So the race itself. Well this setting is beautiful. Really spectacularly beautiful. It’s a shame you have to spend so much time focusing on where to land your next step because it affords you few opportunities to look up and just take it all in. The view from Rosario Head was my favourite. Stunning! Just stunning!

Before the race started, we were all warned that the storms in the days prior to the race had made things slippery – and to heed the caution signs (Caution, slippery! Caution, cliff!) ...and basically to be nice to one another. People seemed to take this advice to heart – which I found a little frustrating! The race starts with a climb up a relatively steep hill, on the road. I ran all the way up, rounded the corner, to make my way back down, on the single track trail instead of the road, only to find that after running to the top, we were now walking single file for the first stretch of downhill. Argh! The single track offered no room for moving around anyone, and with the pre-race advice, and being a good Canadian girl, I just stayed on the heels of the person in front of me and waited until the first opportunity to get some space to pass. This is a pattern that repeated itself through the first 10 km or so. With lots of single track, and lots of lollipops, congestion was an issue. It wasn’t until I was through the aid stations that I really felt like, for most (but not all) of the rest of the race, I was running at my pace, and not the pace allowed by the person in front of me.

The panic-inducing bridge... don't look down, don't look down, don't look down...
The trail itself was fun. Not as technical as Buntzen but you certainly needed to watch your footing, and lots of rolling terrain with some really good climbs, and a lot of downed trees to navigate. I felt like all those hill workouts were paying off, running much of the climbs (unless negated by the crowd in front). On the Pass Lake Loop, I ran about half of the climb before stopping and walking because it was so slippery and mucky, seizing the opportunity to get down a gel. I ran most of the first part of the climb up Goose Rock Summit, then after the downhill switchbacks, when it got really steep, I was relegated to walking. But walking with gusto, I powered past a ton of people in front of me. And despite my general suckiness on the downhill, up until the last descent, I’d only been passed once – and coming down from Goose Rock, I had about 6 folks pass me. I overtook 5 of them later on one of the easy climbs in the last 5K.

I finished tired, feeling spent, and in a disappointing 3:27:14. 27th out of 60 in my age group this year. A friend sent an encouraging text after that I should be pleased to finish in the top half given this was my first real foray into the trails. Unfortunately – with the exception of Challenge – this missing of my time goal by just enough to demonstrate I have the ability to meet it is a disappointing trend this year. I don’t know if it’s poor pacing or an inability to suffer out there that’s behind it, but it’s annoying as hell, and something I need to address in 2015.

Canadian Water Station!
Despite being disappointed in my performance, and needing to strategize better on a single-track course, I really enjoyed this race. Rainshadow puts on a great event. And they've got great volunteers & spectators making the day fun. 

I enjoyed the beer at the finish (and then enjoyed again… and again), and that they had some vegan munchies.

I’m looking forward to running another Rainshadow event, although hearing some of the chatter out there, I have to wonder if Yakima was the right race choice to bridge Napa and IMC!

Next up: AIK’s Generation Run 5K on New Year’s Day.