9/28/17

IM CHOO Race Report - 116 mile bike


It took me a few miles to get over the fact that I lost two hours worth of nutrition from my rear two cages - which has never happened before in over 11 years of endurance triathlon racing. Since I was not even 5 miles into the bike, mentally, it really affected me. I was frustrated and I couldn't get my head into a good place. But after realizing that Karel likely had a faster transition than me (nothing good happens in the transition area according to Karel) and I wouldn't be seeing him for the rest of the day, I forced myself to get out of my pity party and put on my Ironman hat and figure out how to overcome this nutrition setback.

With every Ironman, there is something to learn. I often think of the Ironman as a day of decision making. Perhaps this is what makes the Ironman distance so addicting in that every race tests you physically and mentally and you keep wanting to get better with every next race. With my experience and knowledge, I knew that I would need to use on course nutrition (Orange Gatorade), which didn't excite me but it was my best liquid calorie option. I can't think of the last time I had a sip of Gatorade (it's been years) but I forced myself to love it, even though it did not please my taste buds.

Thankfully, it sat ok in my belly so I alternated between my INFINIT bottle (front cage) and rear cage of Gatorade, by sipping a few gulps every 10 minutes. I didn't want to finish my INFINIT bottle before moving on to Gatorade but eventually, I had to rely just on Gatorade until I reached special needs.

For the first 11 miles, the ride was very uneventful for Karel. He felt good on the bike but didn't ride beyond his abilities. With little people around him, he had little traffic on the road to navigate around. From the start of the bike, Karel was riding with one other guy but when they got to the start of the "loop" the guy passed Karel. Another guy passed Karel, riding extremely fast but Karel later caught up to that guy around mile 100. Karel dropped his chain (his fault he said) before the first aid station and he had to get off his bike and unjam it. Karel did not stress but after that point, he lost contact with the guys that were around him so for the rest of the loop, he was riding by himself.

Marni Bike Nutrition:
  • 6 bottles INFINIT Custom mix (2 bottles grape, 2 bottles watermelon, 1 bottle pink lemonade, 1 bottle fruit punch)
  • 1.5 flasks Enervetine caffeinated
  • 1.5ish bottles Gatorade orange
  • Water for sipping/cooling
Karel Bike Nutrition: 
  • 5 bottles - 3 with INFINIT, 2 LEVELEN
  • 4 Hot Shot
  • 1 Enervitene caffeinated
  • 4 Skratch "gummy bears"
  • Bite of blueberr muffin bonk breaker 

After I got over my nutrition mishap, I found myself in a good rhythm. I didn't have any watts or speeds to chase as my focus was on finding an effort that felt good and riding my bike well. Karel and I both like rolling terrain so this course suited us well. We like to get out of the saddle, sit up and change up our position on the bike (and cadence) so we both really enjoyed this bike course. For me, the miles went by really quickly and although I had athletes within my sight on the first loop of the course, it was not packed with cyclists and I was able to settle into my groove. I really enjoyed the scenery and having already rode 30 miles of the course, this helped me mentally break down the miles. I could not believe how good I felt but knowing that I was relying on nutrition that I did not practice with, I didn't take any risks on the bike for the first loop.

When Karel approached special needs, he really enjoyed being the only one to receive all the cheers in Chickamauga. He compared it to a Formula 1 event as the volunteers were ready for him to give him his bottles in his special need bag and then he was on his way. After Karel finished the descend and started the second loop around mile 60, he picked up the effort just a bit, even though this didn't necessarily result in a "faster" loop. Karel mentally wanted the second loop to feel stronger than the first and since he started to see more people, it was fun for him to ride his second loop as the first loop was rather lonely for him.

I was really looking forward to Chickamauga and before I knew it, I was slowing down and pulling over to retrieve my three bottles from special needs. My volunteer helped me put the two bottles in my rear cages and I was so excited to have my INFINIT back on my bike. I couldn't believe it when I made it to mile 60 to start the second loop as I felt like the day was going by so quickly.

Never did I find myself not wanting to be out on my bike. I also found it strange that I never thought about my competition (ladies in my age group). Because of my nutrition mishap with my bottles, this forced me to be very present during my ride, constantly listening to my body and taking care of myself. I didn't find myself with any low moments in the first loop and because I was peeing a few times and not feeling overly hot, I felt like I handled the situation well, although I may have been just a little short on calories than what I planned to consume.

Come the second loop, I found myself along for most of the loop. I had passed several females (and males) and although there were a few riders in front of me, I found myself having a few more low moments over the next 20 miles until I reached the crowds of Chickamauga. I expected the low moments as they are normal in an Ironman so I just focused on riding my bike well, making good decisions with my terrain management and enjoying the beautiful scenery. Not once did I feel tired on the bike or that I wanted the bike ride to be overwith, which was a welcomed feeling, especially since this bike course is 4 miles longer than a typical Ironman of 112 miles. Although the bike course had over 4000 feet of climbing, I didn't find it too difficult but instead, it was a lot of fun and kept me engaged.

Karel was happy that he didn't experience any significant back issues on the bike which allowed him to really enjoy being on his bike. He kept his own rhythm throughout the bike and even when guys would pass him, he didn't let that worry him as he had a lot of confidence in his run. Karel did have a little right quad niggle (on the verge of cramping) on the way back from the 2nd loop on the bike so he had to be careful with his efforts and when getting out of the saddle. Karel passed a group of guys which gave him a little boost of energy and although  two guys passed him back as he got closer to town, he didn't make any unnecessary efforts as he needed to shake out his legs and get ready for the run.

Both Karel and I felt warm on the second loop of the bike so at that point, we both relied on water from the aid stations to cool us down. I had a few hot spots on my right foot on the bike (which felt like blisters) but thankfully they went away in the last few miles of the bike. I kept water on my bike from each aid station on the 2nd loop so that I could take a sip as needed and cool myself down inside my helmet, on my arms/legs and on my face and neck. I peed several times on the bike as I was never able to fully empty my bladder but it was enough to feel comfortable while riding.

As I was making my turn home after the 2nd loop, I was happy to have a guy in front of me to keep in my sights as I was riding several miles back across the GA/TN border. At this point, I knew I was close to being done but still 11 miles back to the transition area so having some company in my view was very welcomed. I was so excited to hear my name as my athlete Thomas passed me on the bike with around 6 miles to go. I made sure not to ease up too much until I was less than 1/2 mile from the transition area and at that point, I stretched out my back, shook out my legs, removed my feet from my cycling shoes and got myself mentally prepared for the run. I was happy to see so many spectators at the dismount line into the transition area and I couldn't believe it that I got off my bike with two of my athletes (Robb and Al)! It was so fun to have four of us in the transition area at the same time, with only Karel out on the run course and the rest of our athletes still on the bike.

After getting off my bike with my barefeet, I ran to my red run gear bag and then into the women's changing tent.

Since I had no idea where I was in my age group for the swim and bike, I thought that now would be a good time to start being a little more competitive, with only the run left for my last-minute Ironman. When I entered the women's changing tent, I was welcomed by over a dozen volunteers and just me in the tent. I ran to the far end of the changing tent and I had a wonderful female volunteer all to myself. As I do in all of my Ironman events, I politely ask the volunteer to help me out however she can. My volunteer took my watch and sunglasses out of the case and put my bib number around my waist. I tried to make my transition as quick as possible and after put on my hat, sunglasses, socks, shoes and hydration belt, I had the volunteer hand me my cooling towel, which I put around my neck as I walked out of the changing tent. I also put on my Garmin as I was walking out of the tent and then began to slowly jog out of the transition to start my 26.2 mile run.

                                              

Not knowing how the legs would feel when I started running, I was pleasantly surprised that I had a bit of pep in my step. I enjoyed the slight downhill before heading up the first hill of the course and I was so excited to see my friend Justine and swimming partner Kristen. I could tell that Justine was excited to see me and after looking at her phone (Ironman tracker app), she looked like she had some important details to give me. As I ran my way up the hill, Justine yelled to me "Marni, you are killing it. You are first in your age group by 16 minutes. You are 9 minutes behind the amateur female leader."

Leader? Why is she telling me about the amateur female leader? I didn't really care about the leader as I was focused on my age group and even with hearing this information from Justine, I didn't process the fact that I was the virtual 2nd place amateur female on the course. After I ran passed Justine and Kristen, it occurred to me that I forgot to ask about Karel (Ironman brain fart). Oh bummer - I guess I would have to wait several more miles before hearing about Karel and his race.

Stay tuned for my race report from our 26.2 mile run.....

9/27/17

IM CHOO Race Recap - Pre-race + 2.4 mile swim



Karel and I arrived in Chattanooga on Tues evening so that we could settle (back) into the city before race day on Sunday. As I mentioned in a previous post, I registered for IM Choo about 10 days out from race day as it was my comeback race from my fainting incident on race day morning at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. While a half IM may have made more sense since my season was focused on half IM distance racing, the idea of racing an Ironman made me excited to want to race again. Although I did not plan to race an Ironman this year and didn't focus my training on preparing me for an Ironman until 2018, I felt calm, confident and excited to participate in my 12th Ironman in Chattanooga. Seeing that Karel directed all of his training and energy to Chatty as his key race to try to win his age group and qualify for Kona, I fueled off his race day readiness. Plus, being out on the course with my athletes had me even more excited for the race. Karel had a tremendous amount of confidence in me that I would do well on this course, especially in the heat. Karel always jokes with me that he can wake me up any day and I will be ready for an Ironmn - all joking aside, my body has great aerobic capacity and with my sport nutrition knowledge, I seem to favor the Ironman distance. Although an extreme event, we both really enjoy the Ironman distance simply because it requires a lot of mental strength, decision making and being comfortable with being uncomfortable and while we may not be the fastest triathletes out there, we both feel we have finally figured out how to successfully train and race for 140.6 (or 144.6) miles. Knowing that I was arriving to the race healthy, fresh and hungry to race, I didn't overthink the distance, I didn't focus on the competition and just thought of it as an awesome opportunity to do what I love all day with my awesome body.

                             

We rented a beautiful house (Airbnb) just 2 miles from downtown which was perfect for us to have plenty of room (and a fully stocked kitchen). I brought a lot of food with us but we also made a few grocery trips to keep our fridge stocked with food. With so many Trimarnis racing IM Choo, we designated our house as the "team house" for anyone to stop by and hang out.


The house was also the spot for our team pizza/pasta party and pre-race meeting on Friday evening, which also served as Karel's birthday celebration on 9/22 (41 years old!).

                                         

It was great to share the house with our two first timers Elizabeth and Thomas. Elizabeth gave us a nice zen vibe as she was relaxed and excited for the big day, whereas Thomas gave us no shortage of laughs and good energy all week long. We had a lot of funny moments in our house which kept us all in great spirits all week long.


Our fridge was stocked with lots of food and we had no shortage of snacks and local bakery eats. To be honest, the feel in our house was relaxed and excited versus anxious and nervous, which made it easy to eat and sleep on the days leading up the race. I was averaging about 8-8.5 hours of sleep each night on race week, whereas Karel was getting about 9 hours.


I don't think I have ever eaten so much food over 4 days but I kept reminding myself to fuel-up for the big day and that it was OK to be a little uncomfortable in the belly. We fueled before and after every workout and used liquid sport nutrition for every workout (no matter how short the workout). We focused on the early hours of each day to enjoy bigger meals and frequent snacks to allow plenty of time for digestion as the day went on and kept the afternoon snack/dinner light and easy to digest. I made sure to salt my food and to stay well hydrated as the weather was predicting upper 80's for the race day high. Karel and I never let our body image affect what and when we eat as we maintain a healthy relationship with food so that food can fuel our body for 144.6 miles. As usual, our diet has no food restrictions or rules so it provides us with a lot of freedom to eat what feels right in the moment, knowing that most of what we eat going into an Ironman is well practiced and familiar.


For training on race week, we stayed very active and sharp to rev the system. We made sure not to overdo it on race week but not be too lazy as the body needed to wake-up for the big day. Here is what our training looked like on race week:                        


Monday - AM Swim (~3000 yards for me, ~1800 for Karel)
Tuesday - AM Brick (~75 minute bike + 20-25 min run)


Wednesday - AM Swim at Chatty YMCA (~3000 yards), Late afternoon run on the run course to the swim start and back (~35-40 minutes).

                         

Thursday - Bike on the back part of the bike course (90 minutes, ~30 miles) 

                         
Friday- AM open water swim (~20 minutes), followed by a bike on the back side of the run course (30 minutes for me and 80 minutes for Karel - he rode a bit longer). PM Karel went for a 25 min run.

                                      
Saturday - Bike + run (~55-75 minute bike followed by a 10-15 min jog)

                           

On Thursday we checked in and attended the athlete briefing.



The energy on Saturday morning was building as we did our pre-race warm-up.

                                          
Elizabeth, Thomas and I headed out together whereas Karel did his own thing. As we rode downtown to start our ride from the transition area, the final pieces of the race venue were getting set-up and it was exciting to know that we only had one more sleep until race day.





Although this was my 12th Ironman (and an unexpected one), I still get that feeling in my belly as if I am racing an Ironman for the first time.

                             


After our morning workout, it was time for a big carb-rich breakfast before repacking our gear bags for check-in. We rode our bikes downtown to the transition area around 12:30pm (with our gear bags in a backpack) and completed the check-in process before 1:30pm.

For anyone who has never done an Ironman, you drop off your gear bags (Bike gear and Run gear) and your bike on Saturday and bring your special needs bags (bike and run) on Sunday. You can access your bags on race day morning if you need to add/remove anything so you don't have to bring your nutrition until race day morning.



Since Thomas and Elizabeth had family in town, Karel and I walked the 2 miles back to the house before spending the rest of the day resting and getting our last minute things (ex. bottles) ready for the race. It was hot outside so mentally, Karel and I were preparing for a challenging day of racing, requiring a lot of staying in the moment and taking care of ourselves to prevent overheating and dehydration. We provided our athletes with a lot of tips and suggestions to help with race day execution as we have a lot of experience racing in the heat in Kona, as well as racing on challenging Ironman courses.

I was so excited to have my athlete/great friend Justine in town for the race to cheer us on. She flew in on Saturday afternoon from Delaware so that she could share the race experience with us and the rest of our team (14 other Trimarnis). Justine gives a great amount of positive energy so her company was awesome to be around.

It was early to bed for us on Saturday (around 7:30pm in bed) and surprisingly, I slept really well before my 3:45am alarm. You better believe that I took my time getting out of bed on Sunday morning and Karel had a watchful eye on me all morning. To be honest, I felt completely normal on race day morning, unlike two weekends ago when I felt a bit off in the 24 hours before the race. I woke up a little nervous but also very excited. I was mostly feeling anxious to get the race started. Karel had his techno music jamming in the kitchen on his iPad and as we all at our pre-race meals:

Karel: 2 cups coffee, 2 scoops Osmo pre-load in water, oatmeal, butter, raspberries, syrup. 1 piece Challah bread + butter and jam.

Marni: 1 cup coffee, 1 scoop Osmo pre-load in water, 4 small homemade pancakes (made ahead of time), loaded with syrup, a little peanut butter and a hardboiled egg.

Karel and I went for a quick jog outside around 4:50am outside (each on our own) to get the system going and to help with one last bathroom trip before we left the house.

We left around 5:15am and arrived to the parking garage by 5:30am. We brought our bottles (bike special need bottles were frozen, same with run flasks), bike pump and morning clothes bags to the transition area.

Not knowing if I would see Elizabeth and Thomas again that morning, I wished them both the best of luck and told them to enjoy their first Ironman experience. A day full of unknowns but with every spectator and volunteer keeping them going to the finish line.

Karel and I were on the same side of the transition area (by the fence, closest to the water) so it was easy for us to find each other. After handing off our special needs bags (Karel and I both used them for bike and run with extra bottles and flasks), I walked over to my bike and put my 3 sport nutrition bottles on my bike (INFINIT custom formula - each with a different flavor: grape for hour one, watermelon for hour two and pink lemonade with 50mg of caffeine for hour three). I also placed my bike computer on my bike and waited for Karel to pump up  my tires. We then walked over to our gear bags and I placed my extra nutrition in my bike bag as I didn't want it sitting overnight outside (a squeezy Hot Shot bottle of 1.5 Enervitene cheerpack with caffeine, a Hammer coin container of MAP aminos-2 per each hour, and 1 package of Skratch chews, opened for easy grabbing). I then walked over to my run gear bag and placed my two frozen hydration flasks (each flask with 120 calories of EFS pro cucumber flavor) into my hydration belt.

After we were done with our bags, we walked over toward the buses to shuttle us to the swim start. We made a quick stop at the port-o-potty once more before boarding the bus.

Karel and I listened to our music while riding the 2 miles to the swim start. I was feeling a little short of breath but this time it was all nervous/excited energy. Karel was also feeling the same way as we were both anxious and ready to get things going. The waiting was tough as we arrive to the swim start around 6:15am and had over an hour before the race started.

To keep us occupied, we hung around some of our athletes so that we could all feed off each other's positive energy. You never know what type of energy another athlete will give you as you are waiting for the start of the race as it's no fun to be around negative energy. Thankfully, our athletes are always positive and energetic.

I didn't want to stay seated the entire time so I found myself getting up to jog a few times, while also laying down and listening to my music. The time went by pretty fast and to keep my blood sugar up, I sipped in 1 scoop Clif hydration (cran razz) in a plastic throw away bottle. I didn't consume any solid food before the race after my pre-race meal whereas Karel sipped on a little Infinit MUD and ate a banana. He also took in one Enervitene sport gel (he calls it "that slimy thing").

At 7:20am, I put on my swimskin, cap and goggles and swapped my running shoes for my sandals. By 7:30am, we found ourselves slowly moving along the path as we made our way to the swim start.
Karel and I discussed starting the swim together so we stayed close together after we turned in our morning clothes bags right before the dock. I spotted Mike Reilley and gave him a double high five, which made me smile and I immediately felt the nervous go away as I was filled with excitement that our Ironman day was about to start.


After crossing the timing mat, I jumped into the water with Karel jumping right behind me. Our plan was to swim near the middle of the river, while swimming as straight as possible. This was an interesting swim as we not only had a downstream current but we also had to navigate our way through a winding river. The swim was wetsuit optional since it was 77 degrees so anyone who wore a wetsuit would not be eligible for awards or a Kona slot. The water felt extremely comfortable, especially since it was in the mid 60's for the race start.


I used the first two buoys to find my rhythm and Karel had no problem staying on my feet. By the 2nd buoy, I picked up the pace to a stronger effort and Karel said it was tough for him to stay on my feet as it felt like his half Ironman effort. Although Karel and I didn't plan to intentionally swim the entire swim together, I was so happy to see that Karel could kinda keep up with me as he has improved so much in the swim. Of course, I say that only because I beat him out of the water - if he would have beaten me, I would have been a little upset ;)

I could tell that we were moving fast despite not wearing a watch in the water. A few times I felt like I was very off course but as the river bent around an island, I found myself back on course. I wasn't sure if Karel was behind me for the swim so every now and then I would breath and look back to see if I could spot Karel's arms as I know his swimming style. A few times I had other guys on my feet and Karel would say to himself "hey guys - those are my wife's feet and they are for me!"

Karel said that he wasn't able to stay with right with me but he could keep my pink cap in his sight as I was about 15-20 feet ahead of him. Karel thought it was so cool to be passing so many people in the swim and it was a great confidence booster for both of us to start the day off with such a speedy swim. To be honest, it didn't feel like 2.4 miles so the current really helped us exit the water feeling fresh.

As I made my way under the last bridge and swam in between the two red buoys, toward the swim exit stairs, I wasn't sure if Karel was still with me but I had no time to look for him as I sprinted my way up the stairs, along the path and up the ramp and to my gear bags.

I wasn't sure of my swim time but it felt fast so that gave me a burst of energy for the bike. I felt really good and was excited to get on my bike for 116 miles of country road, farm-viewing riding.

The changing tent and transition area was a little packed since Karel and I didn't get into the water until around 7:43 (13 minutes after the swim start due to the rolling start). As a faster open water swimmer, I am use to being alone or with a few ladies in the women's tent so it was actually really nice to be around so many other female athletes. The volunteers were great and the lady who was helping me made it quick for me to be in and out of the changing tent. I asked her to put my nutrition in my pockets as I put on my CompressSport calf sleeves and then my Lazer helmet. Since my bike was near the front of the transition area, I decided to carry my cycling shoes with me and put them on at my bike.

When I got to my bike, I powered on my Garmin bike computer before putting on my shoes and then checked my tires (I always do that before I leave transition area) and then rolled my bike to the mount line. I heard a few cheers from the spectators saying my name and I couldn't wait to get back from my bike ride to see more familiar faces.

Not knowing if Karel was behind me or in front of me, I switched my mind from swimming to cycling as I clipped in, started my bike computer as I rolled my way out of the transition area to start my 116 mile bike ride.

The first few miles of the bike course are in city streets as we make our way toward the Georgia state line. We go over a few bumpy patches of roads, make a few turns and cross a few railroad tracks. I made sure to press down my bike bottles in my rear cages before and after every bump or railroad crossing but when I got to the 2nd railroad crossing, I must have hit something hard (or too fast) and it shot my two rear nutrition bottles out of the cages. NOOOOO!!! I was so upset as I looked behind me and saw the lids popped off and nutrition emptying from the bottles. Some guy next to me said the worst thing possible in that moment to me, "I hope you only had water in those bottles." Thanks dude.

Stay tuned for our 116 mile race report.......


9/26/17

Ironman Chattanooga - quick recap


After our last race of every season, Karel and I like to reflect on the previous season and set new realistic and bold goals for the next season. Rather than overanalyzing single race results and critiquing every detail of every race, we like to focus on the season as a whole so that we can do a better job of training and racing smarter for the next season.

Over the past 11 years of endurance triathlon racing (five for Karel), we have learned to let go of expectations, assuming that the only way to reach a goal is to perfectly follow a plan or to avoid setbacks all together. This doesn't mean that we don't set big goals for ourselves but rather, we recognize that accomplishing a goal requires going with the flow of life and staying in the moment on race day.

Life transitions, whether it's an injury, fainting and smashing your face on the floor on race day morning or balancing training during a stressful period at work, can cause a significant amount of stress, making it difficult to stay focused and committed to your training and racing goals. But we are not ones for excuses.

As age group triathletes, our swimbikerun lifestyle is a hobby. Although we are passionate about the sport of triathlon and triathlon enriches our life and connects us with like-minded, inspiring individuals, we have learned that there are plenty of setbacks, obstacles and changes in our way as we try to successfully integrate training into our life. Therefore, rather than training and racing with one clear path, we have learned to adjust to everything that comes our way.

Over this past season, we have experienced unexpected great results and unwanted setbacks. But with every change, we became stronger, more confident and better prepared for what comes next in our training journey. Because most setbacks are neither desired or expected, Karel and I have learned to never give up on goals just because the plan doesn't go as planned. And while a hard work ethic, a healthy lifestyle and dedication to training paves the way to race day accomplishments, never do we expect our triathlon journey to be smooth and easy.

Whereas Karel set a high goal of winning his age group and qualifying for Kona at Ironman Chattanooga, my season ended on a very low note as I blacked out on race day morning of the Ironman 70.3 World Championship, which resulted in my first DNS and a very empty feeling in my heart after the race.

When Karel suggested for me to register for Ironman Chattanooga (Foundation entry as the general entry was closed) and participate in the race with 14 of our athletes, it just felt right. It was almost like it was meant to be for me to register for Ironman Chattanooga just 10 days out from race day, without spending my season focusing on training and racing the Ironman distance. I arrived excited and grateful for the opportunity and all day, I raced with a smile. Karel raced confident all day and never doubted his ability to accomplish his big goal.

It's hard to summarize all of the thoughts and feelings that Karel and I have right now after completing Ironman Chattanooga. Honestly, I am still in shock over what happened during and after 144.6 miles of racing.

While I try to gather the right descriptions to describe this exciting race experience, I will leave you with our race results. Thank you for all of the cheers, support and positive vibes over the past two weeks and especially on race day.

Karel: 9:20.55, 1st AG (40-44), 2nd amateur, 3rd overall, Kona qualified (accepted slot)
Swim (2.4 miles): 47:05

T1: 3:08
Bike (116 miles): 5:08.14
T2: 2:40
Run (26.2 miles): 3:19.52

Marni: 10:28.50, 1st AG (35-39). 1st amateur female. 10th overall female, Kona qualified (declined slot)
Swim: 47.00
T1: 4:12
Bike: 5:33.23 T2: 3:00
Run: 4:01.18

And congrats to all 14 of our athletes who started and finished Ironman Chattanooga!! It was extremely special to share the course with our Trimarni athletes!