5/23/15

Challenge Knoxville Half - 56 mile bike


After mounting the bike, I quickly realized that all of us athletes were in for a very wet and rainy bike ride. 

Not familiar with any mile of this bike course, my main goal was to ride as strong as possible. And to define strong, I wanted to feel really good throughout the entire bike. I anticipated low moments which are normal in long distance racing but I wanted a strong sustainable effort. 

As we made our way on a main road and then over an overpass to the other side of the river, I began to become more aware of my "why" as to why I was racing.

For many athletes, training and racing is all about the results on race day. For me, I love the journey. I try to take mental notes of where my fitness is when I start a training journey and then where my fitness is on race day. For Challenge Knoxville, I felt confident and strong on the bike and if someone were to ask me on the bike "why are you racing?" I would proudly respond (with a smile) "because there was a time when I couldn't ride like this!"

I had no power, time or speed goals for the bike. Instead, I did know how I wanted it to feel as I was chasing my nearest competition. After a year of riding in Greenville, I can confidently say that I have greatly improved my strength and skills on the bike ( almost every ride in Greenville, we average around 16.5-17 mph  due to our  hilly terrain and with every 1 hour of riding we do around 1000 feet of climbing). 
I knew that with the rain and the few climbs along with small rolling hills on the course, the "fastest" athlete would be the one who raced smart.

 In years past, I felt like I had the fitness to ride fast but I lacked the necessary skills to ride smart on my race courses. Just a year ago in St. Croix, I remember being very apprehensive on the bike, taking no risks and feeling waves of low energy. One year later and wow, things have really changed for me and my cycling fitness/skills. I made sure to remind myself of how far I have come in 9 years of endurance triathlon racing but more so, the progress I have made in the past year. 
I didn't need any specific watts, speed or finishing time to demonstrate how good I felt on the bike and for me, at Challenge Knoxville, I felt as if I was racing stronger than ever before. 

The night before the race, I changed one of my Garmin 500 interval screens to show the following:
Normalized lap power
Current lap time        3sec power
Cadence                   Lap speed

I didn't care about my overall time, I wasn't wearing a HR monitor so I didn't need HR taking up space on my screen and I didn't care about my overall average power. 

I actually could have rode the entire 56 mile ride without my Garmin but I used my Garmin to "check-in" every 20 minutes. Every 20 minutes (give or take 30-60 seconds) I would hit the lap button so I only "checked-in" in 20 min segments. Karel lapped every 30 minutes.
We do this in every race for it helps to analyze the file after the race but also it gives a better representation of our efforts at specific parts in the race. It's like intervals on race day. It keeps us honest and accountable with our efforts rather than viewing average speed or average power for 56 miles. 

As we made our way to the first climb, I was excited to get out of my saddle for my normal climbing style and stretch my legs as I stood up and pedaled my way over the first climb. Despite the rain and wet roads, I felt very confident descending and taking turns. Again - why was I racing? Because once I was a scared cyclist who lacked good, safe cycling skills to race to my potential and now I was thankful that I never gave up on my quest to be a better cyclist (I owe a lot of that to Karel who, year after year, strengthens my love for cycling. And to electronic shifting......And to my new home - I love riding in Greenville!). 

There were several crashes on the course and it was hard to see so many athletes on the side of the road. I heard a lot of dropped chains as I was riding and saw a few flat tires. I did have one oh-no moment when I was making a right turn and the road pitched-up a bit so as I was turning, I got out of my saddle to power-up the hill and my back wheel kinda slid behind me. Luckily, I didn't go down but it reminded me that everyone out on the course would be experiencing their own struggles, forcing many athletes to ride out of their comfort zones due to the weather and road conditions.

I found the course very manageable - there were long stretches of road to settle into a rhythm (in the aero bars) and there were no packs of riders drafting off one another. I love racing smaller races because there is no worries about large packs passing an athlete. The vibe was all around positive and Challenge did an exceptional job marking the course. For the half there were pink arrows all over the course and triangles to note rough patches of road. The road conditions (minus the rain) were great as the roads were very smooth (a lot of our country roads in Greenville are bumpy!) and the views were beautiful. Lots of farm land with mountain views. I made sure to say hi to all the animals who were out - especially the cute little calf that was watching us ride by in his pasture. 

I found myself playing car and mouse with a few guys for much of the ride (one of which was the husband of previous pre-built athlete of mine, Kara - her hubby Brian was riding really strong). 

I was passed by two very strong female riders somewhere around 18-25 miles. 

I tried to keep the two girls in my view for most of the ride, for as much as I could without chasing too hard (I needed to make sure I had some running legs off the bike). 

As I made the left hand turn, heading toward the first turn around, I spotted Karel, doing his thing, riding super strong. I yelled "GO Karel!" and he gave me a semi-wave back (fingers lifted off his aero bars). It made me happy to see him and like usual, it was an instant endorphin boost. 
Karel ended up riding the first 30 min incredibly strong before settling into his rhythm but still managed a very consistent and fast ride. When we talked about the race after the ride, we both said we felt so strong and this was an awesome course and we can't wait to race it again next year. 

As I was nearing the turn around, I looked on the other side of the road to see if I could count what place I was in. It was hard to know 100% but I spotted Amy (who was first AG athlete) and then I spotted the two girls that I was trying to stay close to ahead of me.

4th place overall amateur female athlete was a tough situation, mentally, to be in. I found myself wondering if I would be passed by any more girls or if I would even be able to catch these girls on the run to achieve my top 3 overall amateur goal.

But then I stopped thinking and starting acting. I reminded myself "why" I race - to see if what may look impossible is actually possible. 

I couldn't believe how good my legs felt throughout the entire ride and even though my power was lower than I imagined it to be based on my riding in Greenville, it didn't really bother me because the feeling that I was experiencing was reassuring that my fitness was in a good place. I actually felt the best that I have ever felt in a half IM swim and bike and as the miles ticked by, I began to find myself enjoying this race more and more! 
I have put 100% trust into my training plan this season and I really believed that I could run strong off the bike.

However, believing and achieving are easier said than done.

For most of the ride, I stayed focused on what I needed to do on the bike to set myself up for a good run. I made sure to be deligent with my liquid calories and I sipped my primary bottle (on my down tube of my frame) every 10 min (2-3 sips) starting from 20 min on the bike. I would rotate the bottles so that I always had my primary bottle in the down tube. I did not stop at any aid stations for water. If it was a bit more hot and sunny, I would have used water for sipping/cooling. 
I managed to get down a wafer, despite not enjoying solid food when I ride - but it has worked well in training (our riding is so taxing that I have to consume a lot more nutrition than I use to consume in FL each hour) so I wanted to try it on race day. 
I consumed around ~1100 calories on the bike and 3 x 24 ounce bottles of fluid.

As I was nearing the second turn around, I felt like I was gaining some ground on the three girls ahead of me but still wasn't able to pass any of them. 

Gloria has taught me well to not jump ahead in my thoughts so I didn't think about the run but instead, just focused on the last 10 miles or so of the bike. 

We had one more long climb to go and I found myself passing several athletes (including one of the girls ahead of me) near the top of the climb. However, I was then passed by several athletes in that group that I was staying close to (legally drafting) as I needed to pee (really badly) and just didn't want to hold it in on the run (especially while wearing a fuel belt). 

I had to slow down a lot to relieve my bladder and I ended up losing at least a minute from the other group. It was a solo ride back to the transition area with no other athletes around me and the girls ahead of me were long gone (with Amy way far ahead - I didn't want to assume anything but I didn't put pressure on myself to catch her). 

I turned on my Garmin 910 with around 1 mile to go so it would be all set (satellite found) for the run. 

As I was nearing the transition area, I saw the two girls ahead of me already leaving transition area and I was not even dismounting my bike. 
Game on!

I turned off my computer as I was dismounting my bike and jogged my bike into the transition area (I was the 2nd rack). I smiled at my mom (and Campy) who were sitting on the sidewalk between the transition area and run course. Although this course was not spectator friendly (aside from the swim and run finish), I was really happy to see some familiar faces. 

After racking my bike, I removed my cycling shoes and put on my very wet Brooks Pure Flow 4 run shoes. I put on my Nathan 2-flask Hydration belt and then as I was about to start running, I grabbed my dad's corvette had, dumped out the puddle of water inside it and put it on my head (oh - I put my Oakley RPM sunglasses on around mile 30 of the bike and kept them on for therun - although I didn't need them in the rain/cloudy weather on the bike, there was a lot of debris on the road and I didn't want anything to get into my eyes). 
I put my race belt on as I was running out of transition and started my Garmin. 

I immediately spotted my friend Ed as he was finishing the Olympic and he gave me the biggest smile and we gave each other a high-five. Another "why" as to why I love racing - seeing other athletes on the course who all love doing amazing things with their bodies!

I smiled at my mom (and Campy - who either wanted to run with me or chase the other athletes) and started my 13.1 mile run. 

13.1 miles to finally understand "why" I still love racing triathlons. 




Karel (in the background) running his way out of transition. 


Yay - legs feel good! Thank you body!
(Thanks mom for the great pics!)


Stay tuned for my 13.1 mile run race recap.

Bike stats: 

Marni:
2:46 (20.18 mph average)
1st fastest AG bike time
4th fastest female amateur bike time
Karel:
2:29 (22.52 mph average)
3rd fastest AG bike time
11th fastest male amateur bike time




5/21/15

Challenge Knoxville Half - 1.2 mile swim


As we were walking toward the transition area around 5:50am, I felt sprinkles of rain falling from the sky. From what I heard from other athletes, there was a chance of rain that morning. 

The atmosphere at the Challenge Family Knoxville event was all positive - you could just feel the energy. The transition area was not massive and there were plenty of potties for athletes to use without long lines. I really enjoy the lower-key events and seeing all the athletes that come from all different backgrounds and fitness levels. 

When we entered the transition area, I helped Karel pump up his disc wheel (it's a two person job for one person - me- to hold the extender valve inside the disc wheel opening and the other person-Karel-pumps) and then I headed toward my bike in the far end (bike out) of the transition area. 

I laid out my gear on my pink Oakley towel. 
I placed my Brooks Pure Flow 4 shoes on the right of my towel with my dad's Corvette hat behind the shoes. With this being my first triathlon in a long time racing with a hydration belt, I wasn't quite sure how to lay out my race belt and hydration belt but figured that I could grab my race belt (with bib number) and run with it out of T2 so I placed my race belt on the towel and then placed my hydration belt on top. I had 2 x 10 ounce flasks filled with sport nutrition (which I sat up so they wouldn't leak) and then in the pocket, a gel and sleeve of Clif blocks (cut in half for easy access) just in case I needed/wanted it on the run.
To the left of my run shoes, I had my cycling shoes and socks and Oakley RPM sunglasses and a wafer (180 calories) for the ride. I wore my compression sleeves under my wetsuit. 

Prior to laying out my transition area, I put my three bottles (each with 300 calories) in my bike cages (two on the frame and the other in the right rear cage). I had my spare tubular, CO2 and bike levers in a cut-in-half water bottle in the left rear cage. My primary bottle to grab is in my down tube of my frame but I am also very comfortable grabbing my right rear bottle when I am aero (although I typically drink sitting up). 

I put my Garmin 500 on my bike (reset and charged) and put on my Garmin 910 on my wrist. 

Since my goal was to race the competition for an overall placing, I made the decision before the race that I was not going to let numbers or my gadgets control my race. I was going to feel my way through the race and chase my nearest competition. With years of experience training with gadgets, I know what I want an effort to feel like in a 70.3 mile event and what is most realistic for a strong overall performance. Being honest with myself when I race (and not letting my ego take over) is a helpful strategy so that I do not find myself racing another athlete's race plan.

I decided to not turn on my Garmin 910 for the swim so I put the sleeve of m wetsuit over my watch on my wrist and didn't turn it on until the run (it was set to run mode for when I turned it on in the last mile of the bike).

After Karel set-up his transition area, he came over to pump up my tubular tires with just enough pressure for the wet roads. We each made a stop at the potty once more and then with my old run shoes on, I did a few pick-ups outside the transition area. We then put on our wetsuits (and sunscreen and body glide) and put our morning clothes in our transition bags and headed to the swim start (about a 5-10 minute walk). 

As the light rain was falling, I told Karel that I should have put my run shoes in a large zip-lock bag. I was really upset at myself for not doing this (as I tell my athletes to do this for IM races in their transition bags if there is a chance for rain) and it was all that I thought about while walking to the swim start. I had plenty of time to go back but for some reason I didn't. I tried to come up with reasons why I didn't need to go back, like my socks would be wet so it wouldn't matter or my feet are small so my shoes wouldn't be that wet (I know, so silly) but next time, I am going to put my shoes in a zip lock baggy just to be safe. I didn't worry about my bike since it didn't get wet over night (otherwise it would need some extra lube on the chain). 



As we were waiting for our swim waves after the pros started, we spotted my mom and Campy. Campy was not happy about the rain but he was a great trooper as a spectator. My mom took some great pics (below) and managed to take care of Campy.... she deserves a medal for being out there all day in the rain!
I love my Xterra wetsuit - so comfortable! Karel is still getting use to the wetsuit "feeling". 



Karel's wave started at 7:03 with an in-the-water start. 



Karel had an amazing swim time but he did experience a bit of anxiety in his wetsuit as soon as he got into the water. It's kinda hit or miss with Karel when he feels really uncomfortable in his wetsuit as a non-swimmer (just learned to swim 3 years ago). He said that for the first 10 minutes or so, he vowed to never do another triathlon ever again and he was really struggling to breath in his wetsuit. However, he managed to settle into a rhythm and he even said he broke away from a pack that he was swimming with so all things considered, Karel managed to have a great swim despite a major obstacle to overcome when he started his race. Even though Karel is crazy fast, he still deals with issues that many other athletes experience. The same is true for me....just because you are experienced, it doesn't mean that you don't learn new things or make mistakes on race day. 


My wave started at 7:15am and I positioned myself behind Amy K who was a D1 swimmer and fellow First Bourn ambassador (She also won the amateur female race so I guess you could say she was my greatest competition looking back). I wanted to see if I could hang with her as I knew she was a fierce competition and super strong athlete (and super nice girl). 


It was really nice to be in the water (in a wetsuit) as the water was very comfortable (around 73 degrees). I was able to do some warm-up strokes to adjust my wetsuit and to loosen up. 




When the gun went off, Amy shot out of her cannon (or it looked like it!) because she was long gone and there was no way I could hang. I managed to stay with a small pack of female (pink cap) athletes until the first turn buoy and continued to settle into a nice rhythm with my stroke. With so much ankle strap/band work, I really felt good in the open water - really feeling every catch and pull-through. 



However, after looking at my time of 30:30 and Karel's time of 32:28, I either took it too easy on the swim or I really need to step-up my swim game. Karel's goal is to someday beat me in the swim (even if it's just once) and my goal is for Karel to never beat me in the swim.
We have a very loving relationship but there has to be a little competition to spice things up in our marriage. :)
I'm thinking that it's all going to go down in Kona in October after Karel gets a few more months of swim training to see if he can beat me for 2.4 miles. 



Neither Karel or I felt a current in the water but it was a smooth swim with several red buoys to help with sighting. I wish there would have been one more sighting buoy toward the swim exit as we had to swim at an angle and with the falling rain and dark skies it was hard to see the swim exit. 

After getting out of the water (by pushing up on a ledge - no stairs) we ran up a ramp and through a boathouse and then dodging puddles, across the street into the transition area. 



I smiled at my mom (and Campy) when I spotted them as I was running toward my bike. I was beginning to come up with a few reasons as to "why" I was racing and the first thing I thought of was how special it was that my mom and other spectators and volunteers were out there supporting all of us athletes. Although we as athletes never say it, the day is really all about us and what we are doing on the race course.....but we (athletes) all know that we couldn't do what we do, without the help of our friends/family and volunteers who are out there cheering us on. My second "why" was the amazing Challenge Family team who put on this event for us to do something amazing with our trained bodies. So much goes into planning and putting on a race and it reminded me that I choose to be an athlete...not an exerciser. Swimming, biking and running makes me feel great but what feels even better is putting all that hard work in training to good use on race day. 



When I got to my bike, I put on wet cycling shoes and my wet Giro Attack helmet and decided to put my Oakley shades in my tri suit rear pocket until the rain stopped (if I had clear shades, I would have worn them as I was fearful of debris getting into my eyes - my dad would not be happy that I rode without sunglasses for half the bike). I grabbed my wafer (which was a bit soggy as I had opened it up ahead of time for easy chomping) and put it in my other tri suit rear pocket. I was not aware of my swim time and it really didn't matter to me because my only goal for the race was to chase my nearest competition.
I started my Garmin 500 bike computer as I was rolling my bike out of transition and then mounted at the mount line and off I went for 56 very wet and rainy miles. 


Stay tuned for my 56 mile bike race recap.

Marni:
Swim time: 30:30, 6th fastest female amateur swim, 2nd AG swim

Karel:
Swim time: 32:28, 42th fastest amateur swim, 8th AG swim

Challenge Knoxville half - Pre-race part 2

Speaking of food, friends and traveling......

My friend and athlete Kelsey and her husband traveled from Maine to visit us in Greenville and to race in Challenge Knoxville (Kelsey raced the half aquabike). We enjoyed a delicious pizza from Mellow Mushroom on Friday evening (take-out) at our home.


It's a ritual for me to have pizza and salad two nights before a half and full Ironman. If anything is going to make me feel relaxed, it's going to be a piece of pizza in my belly. Yum!

On Saturday morning, Kelsey and I did an hour spin to wake-up our legs since we both were tapering for this race. I did my normal active recovery week two weeks out and then a bit of intensity (with lower volume) on race week. After the ride, Campy joined me for a 10 min run off the bike. I had no choice but to do a few pick-ups as Campy loves to run fast but gets distracted very easily.
It was a beautiful morning and enjoyed wearing my Oakley Women RPM shades. 

After breakfast (eggs and oatmeal w/ fruit, syrup and milk), we packed up and my mom came over around 10am. We all hit the road (in two cars) around 10:30am to make our 2:45 hour drive toward Knoxville. 


The drive was absolutely beautiful with so many mountains to drive through. We packed plenty of food for our trip and I enjoyed a delicious PB and fig jam waffle sandwich with some pretzels and plenty of water. 


We stayed at the Holiday Inn in downtown Knoxville, which was a real treat for us to be so close (less than a 10 min walk to the race finish/expo and 20 min to the transition area). Also, the hotel was pet-friendly (only $25 a night) and everyone who worked at the hotel was so incredibly nice. There was no fridge/microwave in our hotel but we had plenty of ice for our coolers and downstairs had a toaster and microwave by the cafe. 



After we unloaded the car and settled into our hotel room, we snacked a little and then headed down to the race expo. Campy enjoyed sniffing all around and checking out the pre-race vibe. We spotted Trimarni athlete and Challenge Volunteer coordinator Tracy and a few other friends. It was nice to see so many familiar faces. 


Campy also enjoyed his royal treatment - lots of butt rubs!



Not sure if you remember Ed from previous blog posts but when we raced IMWI, Ed and his wife opened up their home to me and Karel for a wonderful homestay for 6 days. Ed is an amazing athlete, cancer survivor and wonderful person. It was so great to see him and race with him (he raced the olympic and received an award for his age group!)


The check-in was super smooth and I started to get a little more excited (and feel more race-ready) after going through the motions of checking in. I really do love the pre-race vibe on the day before a race - being around all the athletes at the athlete meeting and registration, getting my stuff together and checking-in my bike -  the entire process of getting ready for a race started to remind me why I really love being a triathlete. 

The swag was awesome from Challenge and they really made us feel like family. 

Along with the hoodie sweatshirt, temporary tattoo numbers and drawstring bag, I just loved this handwritten note that we all received. 


We attended the athlete briefing at 4pm and then checked-in our bikes. The transition area was about 1/4 mile from the expo (which was also the race finish). 


Campy learned a lot at the athlete briefing like learning that he was allowed to run across the finish line with his mommy or daddy. However, we didn't tell Campy that he would be running across the finish line because he would be hanging out with his grandma and his mommy and daddy were racing. 


Karel and I rode our bikes to the transition area on the run path and then checked in our bikes. We just loved the added touch of seeing our names on the floor bike holders. There was a chance for rain on Sunday but I didn't really check the weather much so I didn't really stress about my bike getting wet. 


My bike was near the bike out and Karel's bike was near the run out. 


After we racked our bikes, Karel and I walked down to the swim start (across the street). The buoy's were set-up so it was nice to be able to make mental notes of the swim course. 


We then made our way back to the hotel and then time for dinner!


Rather than eating out at a restaurant, we found a Whole Foods just 6 miles away. Karel and I usually head to a grocery store the day before a race and "make" dinner in our hotel room with a microwave but this time, we opted for pre-made dishes. 

Kelsey, her husband, my mom, Karel and I all shopped the salad bar area and we all ended up with great options for dinner. I had mushrooms, eggplant, tofu, rice, sweet potatoes and chickpea salad.
Karel and my mom shared a rotisserie chicken.  Karel stayed back in the room because he was a bit tired from the drive and then he worked on my friend's bike (Katie Thomas who races pro) and plus we needed a Campy sitter so I got Karel a few sides - mashed potatoes and rice. 


We all ate in our rooms which was nice to be in comfy clothes, in bed. Karel and I watched the Tour of California on the computer while my mom watched TV. After we ate, Karel and I went through the course maps and by 9:30pm, it was time for lights-out. 

I didn't sleep very well which is not like me. Normally I can sleep straight through the night the night before a race but I guess something was on my mind. But then again, I did have a furry little one snuggled super close to me under the covers all night. Every time I moved, Campy moved so that he was always touching me. Love this little guy. 


At 4:30am, it was time to get up!
First it was time for tummy rubs and then Campy and I took a walk outside (which was actually a very calm way to start the morning - it was so peaceful and quite outside at 4:45am).
I brought our electric kettle so we heated water and made instant Nescafe coffee (and mixed with organic milk in travel coffee mugs) and by 5:30am, we were eating our pre-race meal.

Karel had a bagel with butter and jam and some of a yogurt drink (Bolthouse) and I had a rice cake dressed-up with lots of maple syrup, peanut butter, cinnamon, raisins and a banana.

We filled our sport bottles and Nathan hydration flasks with cold water (we poured our sport drink powder into our bottles the night before the race), made sure we had everything in our transition bags and around 5:45am, Karel and I walked down to the transition area. 
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Stay tuned for the rest of the pre-race recap and 1.2 mile swim.