Friday, July 31, 2009

Six Days to Recover

Six days. I've given myself only six days to recover from an oly-distance tri before racing the Steelhead IM 70.3 this weekend. I don't know why six days seems like too short a time - most of us runners have raced multiple times in one weekend in our younger days. Maybe it's because the Steelhead race is a BIG one AND a qualifier for the 70.3 World Championship in November. Six days of recovery doesn't seem like enough time to do my best. It could very well be a disaster in the making (and by definition, then, I must take on the challenge).

But the tri season this year has felt like a desperation exercise for me ever since Ironman Coeur d'Alene in June. Finding races taking entries that don't conflict with events at work has been a challenge. So here I find myself robbing my body of needed recovery time in order to lend meaning to my triathlon season before it ends.

The only way to approach the race cram is to learn something from the experience. Will I be able to push my 44-year-old body through 13.1 miles after a hard 56-mile bike? Tomorrow I will know the answer. I have high hopes after last year's two half-iron distance races only eight days apart. Surprisingly, my run in the second one was five minutes faster. But that was eight days of recovery. And I was one-year younger. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Return of the Killer Instinct (Pittsburgh Tri Race Report)

Somewhere along the line, I lost it. My killer instinct. Who knows whether it was from age or from my bike accident? It was already gone before I returned to racing last year. I no longer possessed the ability to kick into 5th gear to win a race. But I wasn't mourning. I'm 44 years old -- I certainly don't expect to win races anymore. These days, I don't even expect to win my age group. I have become content to travel to races and enjoy the experience.

Most of you who know me are probably thinking "WHAT? Who is SHE kidding?" But, yes, after Ironman CDA, my killer instinct seemed long gone, dead and buried. Until yesterday in Pittsburgh. Yesterday in Pittsburgh, I found it. And I yanked it up from the depths to win the overall women's race in the Pittsburgh Triathlon.

The Pittsburgh Tri is one of my favorite races. Because I love Pittsburgh. I love the culture, the museums, the restaurants, the overall setting of the city -- the beautiful city at the "Y" of the three rivers, surrounded by bridges and small mountains. I look forward to this race every year because I get to see Pittsburgh again.

The story for me this year was "the chase." Sure, there are many stories that could be written about this race: the bike course is brutal (a 40K in two loops of 6 miles uphill and 6 miles down in the HOV lane of I-279); the 10K run is flat but slow because it's on a dirt trail; the weather is usually hot, humid and often rains (this year it rained on the bike course); and the first leg of the 1500M swim is upstream (this year, against a stronger-than-usual current in the Allegheny River). But for me this year, the race came down to the last two miles.

In those last two miles of the run, my killer instinct returned to its full former glory. After putting in my fastest swim and bike times ever in Pittsburgh, I found myself about 1.5 minutes behind the women's leader. I knew this because my husband Jim yelled it out -- he also conveniently left out the fact that the woman in front of me was a fast runner. I already knew she was a fast biker because she passed me on the second loop uphill like I was standing still. Usually people who pass me like that can be reeled in quickly on the run, but not this one. By the time I even got a glimpse of her, we were almost to the 3-mile turnaround, and I had all but given up hope to defend last year's victory. I was running relaxed but fast, and I had begun doubting my ability to hold the pace. Unfortunately, I didn't even know what pace I was running due to lack of mile markers.

The only thing I had going for me was that the leader did not know I was closing in. That all changed at the turnaround when she saw me about 10-15 seconds behind. Whether she was running scared at that point, I'll never know - it was ME who was beginning to fall apart. My mind started the questioning:
  • Was 5 weeks enough time to recover from an ironman?
  • What's the big deal if I finish second?
  • Is it time to accept the inevitable? (that at my age I won't be winning any races)
  • How can I expect to hold this pace even if I pass her?
  • If I do catch her, how will I feel when I die and she passes me at the finish line?
All the while, I was making gains, and in the midst of the questioning, I found myself right on her shoulder with about two miles to go. I had to make a quick decision: pass her now and hang on for dear life? or hang behind and try to pass her with about a half-mile to go? (risking that she might also surge in the last minutes of the race?) There was one thing I was sure of - I couldn't continue the mental gymnastics.

Enter, my killer instinct. I decided I would force my hand now and pass her with only one goal: to end the race. I wanted HER to throw in the towel - to give up chasing me, thinking I couldn't be caught. I mustered up my strength and made my move. She tried to go with me. I accelerated and she dropped back. I never looked back. I didn't want to give any indication that I was feeling the exhaustion. I was now running on pure desire. I wanted the win, and I was willing to work for it. Just one more chance to cross that finish line as first overall woman. Lord knows, every chance I get could be the last. My gamble worked, and I won by more than a minute. It also turned out to be my fastest time ever in the Pittsburgh Tri, a race I've done 5 times. And, although the race was small and I only beat a handful of women, I'll take it. And I'm glad it was in Pittsburgh. Because I LOVE Pittsburgh. And they also have the coolest trophies. (View the full results.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

This is What I do when I'm not Training

Many of you may know that I work in a Zoo marketing department. And as many of you have noted, I don't fit the marketing "mold." The closest I had ever come to marketing was in marketing & communications, and before my current position, I was a web applications developer at a university. It could have been a disaster in the making.

My Zoo job description started out as website updating, sending email newsletters, writing press releases and assisting (and managing) Zoo events and media opportunities. When I took the job, I was terrified of the second half of that sentence (the event and media stuff). I saw my goal as a way out of a boring going-nowhere programming job and a way into finally using my web skills -- graphics, design, writing, programming, etc. -- at an organization that can change the world for the better. I never thought I would launch a whole new career.

I now find myself doing things I never thought I'd do. Filming and editing and photographing behind the scenes at the Zoo. I meet the most amazing people who dedicate their lives to caring for and learning about animals -- to save them, not to exploit them. I also get to fuel my love for the ever-expanding web by maintaining the Zoo's presence in many social media outlets. What's better than loving your job and getting paid to share it with the world??

And believe it or not, I have survived a disaster or two while doing these things. I've broken a rib slipping on ice, been bitten by a domestic cat, and ... well actually, that's it. All of my own doing (would you expect anything less from the disaster magnet?)

The realization came the other day. I was in a boat on a lake going to film with the keeper of our summer lemur exhibit - on an island. I could pretend I was in Madagascar filming on location. Until the lemurs saw us and gathered on the shore... anticipating their morning feeding. So, well, it wasn't REALLY in the wild. It was EVEN BETTER -- and I can't wait to share it.

Here are a few lemur photos I took with my still camera - awesome animals. If you ever get to see them in the wild, don't pass up the opportunity:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Speed and the Macho Syndrome

I took a full week off from training following Ironman Coeur d'Alene on June 21. But as a masochist with OCD and an inferiority complex, I signed up for two races: an Olympic distance tri in Pittsburgh at the end of July and a half-ironman one week later. It forced me to get back into training after the ironman. It took about two weeks before my calves stopped feeling like cement on the run, but my biking and swimming came around much quicker. In fact, my biking seems to have gone to a whole new level.

When my bike got back from Coeur d'Alene, courtesy of TriBike Transport, I decided I needed a change. Although I was never a speed demon, biking had become boring and stagnant -- and it showed in IM CDA. Without the luxury to buy a decked-out carbon fiber bike, I made a less-expensive upgrade: Speedplay pedals and new bike shoes (actually, old never-worn shoes that I won in the Chicago Tri in 2002). How will that help? I don't know, it just seems like "what the fast people use." And we all know that new shoes make us faster, right?

My first few recovery rides were on the trainer so I had no idea how fast I was going and I don't have a power meter. But my first road ride on a familiar course was a surprise -- it was consistently 1-2 mph faster overall than the last time I rode it, pre-ironman. The kicker was that I wasn't trying to go faster, it just happened. Since ironman, all my rides are faster, I feel stronger and I can push myself harder both mentally and physically. Jim theorizes that it's the rest. We'll see in a few weeks if it pays off in a race.

Which brings me to my other point. I've regained the killer instinct. During yesterday's long ride, I saw ahead of me someone wearing the jersey of a local bike shop tri team. I chased him down, said "hello," and passed him like he was standing still. I never looked back. When I stopped at the red light at the next intersection, he was right behind me, possibly drafting -- I had no idea he was there. He said nothing to me and just sailed through the red light like I didn't exist. I call this the "macho syndrome." It's not the first time it's happened to me. I constantly come upon male cyclists who HATE to be passed by women. It happens on the road. It happens in races. In triathlons, when someone passes you, you must drop back out of the draft zone before you attempt to repass. Macho guys just continue to race you. After you've legally overtaken them. But it's not just the "racing" behavior. It's also the attitude. The unfriendliness. Why don't I see this behavior in swimming and running? What is it about cycling that triggers the macho syndrome? And, how many stories have my male friends told me about how they "took on" drivers who were taunting them while riding? Is it the wheels? Do motorcyclists act the same way? It's a mystery to me, but I will say this: the greatest feeling is to pass one of these guys on the run in a race. You KNOW who you are.

(photo by Julie Gauvreau)