Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ironman Cozumel, Afterthoughts...

I posted this the other day, for like an hour, and then took it down. I don't know. I wish I had a super cheery post for you where I just gush about how happy I am that all my hard work paid off and I had the race of my dreams… But that is not this. This is maybe more a lesson about how sometimes hard work can be too much.  And how sometimes it backfires on you and you just feel flat and blah throughout your race day. In good news, I feel like I have a pretty good grip on what the issue was so if my mojo ever comes back I might be able to right the ship. Its true that sometimes you learn the most when things don't go your way. And while I'm trying to find positive things to say, I'll tell you that it never once occurred to me to quit. :) So this is an honest look at how the day went for me anyway and even though it's a lot less fun to write, it's maybe more interesting than reading a race report that goes, "I just felt great and had a super day and am so happy!" Lol. So here you go. :)

Once again I find myself on a long flight home from a disappointing race… my initial thoughts were that I would not bother with a race report on this one b/c these types of race reports are just old and redundant… and I am not one to make up a bunch of excuses… but I know some of my athletes were genuinely curious as to what happened out there on Sunday and I do believe its true that we learn the most when a race doesn't go as anticipated… I'm not going to bore you with the details of a play by play of the day but I will jot down some of my thoughts because I feel like there's definitely something to learn here. Hindsight is 20/20 in this case.

My training in the 12 weeks leading up to the race was really solid. In the 2-3 weeks prior to the race I'd logged some training sessions that would fall under the category of 'Best Ever' and I was stoked, thinking, I'm almost 40 and I am in the best shape of my life! Honestly I thought this was super cool and it gave me more confidence than ever that I was finally going to have my day. I had added a piece of mental training that I have not done before and I can say that was the real saving grace for me. Hey! At least one thing went well! And that's a BIG thing. 

I'd like to say I don't have much to say about the swim- but of course I have a lot to say! My opinion (of course) is/was that it was just LAME of WTC to shorten the swim like that. Yes- the current was legit but it was swimmable for most. Yes- the DNF rate would have been higher and some of the weakest swimmers probably would not have been able to do it, but the vast majority would have been fine and had they let us swim as planned, at the end of the race we'd all be talking proudly about the *epic* swim we survived instead of trying to guess what our 'real' finish times would have been had we had a 'real' swim. Shoot, they could have at least let us go the full 2.4 miles- all they would have had to do is allow us to go 1/4 mile past the finish dock then turn around and do last 1/4 mile into the current to finish up- that solution still would have catered to the lowest common denominator b/c 2+ miles still would have had the strong downstream current and the 'hard' part would have been super short. BUT they continue to send the message to triathletes that there's no need to really prepare for the swim portion of a race because if it looks like there's even a slight possibility (at all) that the swim might pose an actual challenge, they will alter it at the last minute to make sure its as easy as possible. 

Sorry. That sounded bitter I know. I did say I'd be honest though, right?

Fwiw, in case you're wondering, I would have felt similarly had they (for whatever reason) shortened the run to 20 miles because it was windy with rain coming down in sheets. I knew/understood the distances when I signed up, as did everyone else, and I prepared as best I thought I could for the full distance for all 3 legs, and to do so in any conditions, as did everyone else. So I'm not just bitter about the swim because I'm a swimmer, though the consistency with which WTC alters the swim leg leaves me less and less interested in WTC races.

In good news, guess what?? I'm a 38' Ironman swimmer!! Ha! #Lame. In good news, I think I did a pretty good job of letting go of how shitty I felt that whole situation was and immediately moved on mentally. I finished the swim and then completely forgot about it in T1. 

I never felt good at all on the bike. Well, maybe for a bit on the second loop I felt like I had my legs but that was pretty short lived. The whole time it felt like it was just harder than it should have been. I got passed by more people (men and women) than it seemed like I should have (more than normal anyway and given how my training went this was somewhat confusing to me) but I simply was unable to respond. I tried to keep a positive attitude about it- talking nicely to my legs and thanking them for hanging in there even though they really weren't… I've never actually spoken to my muscles so kindly- usually when they're not performing like I think they should, I yell at them… to which they respond by rebelling and completely seizing up on me… effectively stopping me in my tracks. Mental/verbally abusing myself mid-race does not work and I finally understand that (yay me!). So this was a bit of a revelation and a lesson I will take with me going forward. What is that Natalie Merchant song that goes, I want to Thank You Thank you, thank you thank you, thank you thank you…. That was in my head for the entire 3rd lap when my legs were just DONE and I swear the only way I got through it was thanking my muscles for not giving out on me completely.

Side note: If my mojo ever comes back and I decide I want to take on another Ironman, this is my bike course for sure. That flat windy road right along the ocean is pretty much exactly what I train in all the time. Lucky me I know!

I was telling myself to save my energy for the run, but there was just no energy available to save for the run anyway. It was like that really deep well I built/dug while training all year was simply dried up. More on this later… 

I will say this about the bike- it was 100% possible to ride very legally even on this flat course. It also seemed quite obvious to me whether or not athletes were choosing to draft/cheat. Especially on the windy section. I saw a lot of athletes going out of their way to stay legal. (yay athletes riding fairly!) I also saw a lot of blatant wheel suckers in groups.  I saw only one woman cheating (the rest I saw were men)- I saw her not once but TWICE sitting inches from a guy's wheel while they both passed me and rode away… She was in an older age group and ended up with a Kona spot. Again- more on her later…  I only lost my cool once and yelled at one big group (declaring them all f'ing cheaters) so let's call this a success for me. :) In the past I have let this cheating get to me a lot more than I did on Sunday. This time around I pretty much just acknowledged it then let it go.

So onto the marathon… Going in to this race I really did believe I was ready to finally have the breakthrough marathon my training had indicated I could have. And even when I started running and my quads felt like absolute mince meat I still believed I could turn it around. I was telling myself all sorts of really positive things like You are the kind of runner who runs well when you're tired. You are the kind of runner who runs well off the bike. You are the kind of runner who runs faster as you go… etc. All that good stuff. The whole time. AND, I stuck to my plan of high-fiving every little kid I saw. I smiled. I cheered for and high-fived my athletes as we passed. I danced through aid stations where they were playing fun music… and even though I wasn't floating like a butterfly like Katy Perry sang, I put my hands up and belted out the chorus anyway when I heard that song blaring. It was like a 'Fake it til you make it' scenario, except I never really made it! I did not look at my watch b/c I could feel that I was not moving very quickly but I was doing everything in my power to avoid getting pissed at myself and I knew seeing splits or times would not help my cause so I simply just did not look. Even when the drafting/cheating older woman from the bike leg was running on my shoulder, off and on from mile 7 until I finally dropped her for good at mile 21, I avoided calling her out for the way she rode, instead opting to keep my energy as positive as I could. (This is a HUGE win for me OMG if you even knew how annoyed I would have typically been as she was asking me if we could work together so I could help her 'move along' because she was 'leading her age group'… Um, sorry cheating woman, you might need me but I don't need you...) I thought about that picture I posted on Facebook about Never Giving Up. And for once, I feel like mentally I did not cave. I guess my point with all this is that my issue out there on Sunday was not my head, like I think it has been in the past. On Sunday, the problem was my body, not my mind.

Really, this was the best mindset I've ever had during an Ironman Marathon. Yet it was my slowest one in probably 7-8 years. What gives!?? Like I said earlier, hindsight is 20/20 and my gut is saying there were several issues, the biggest one possibly being that my 'taper' was not a 'taper'… It was more of a steep drop off where I went from big/hard training for weeks on end to next to nothing during race week… and my body did not react well to that at all. In hindsight, it seems it went into complete shut down mode (and still has not come out!). Doing next to nothing in race week can be a good strategy but I think it depends on where you're coming from- if/when coming directly off a big/hard training block, it doesn't work. Also, as much as I freakin' HATE this excuse, I got my period on the Monday after the race and historically, training/racing long during that phase of my cycle has never been good for me. But since this is like the 5th Ironman I've done where I got my period the next day, I should be used to this by now. It's like my curse or something.

2013 will go down in my head as the year I had the best training of my life. It was also go down as the year I had my worst races (Cabo, Honu, Vegas, Cozumel). It took me a while to figure it out, but I'm pretty confident I know what the issue is now. And as much as I hate to admit it, I'm now physically and mentally fried. I do like to analyze these things and put the pieces of the puzzle together to try to figure it all out, and in this case I have to just be bluntly honest with myself. You know, after Vegas I cried. A lot. I was so confused and just really did not understand what went wrong. That was hard. This is not hard. This time I am not confused. This time I did not cry. And I know what I am going to do going forward. I will start by taking as much time as I feel I want/need completely off. I won't even have to force myself to rest this time around. My mojo is currently completely gone and my desire to swim bike or run is currently completely zero. I had to learn the lesson the hard way for sure, but I learned it! (Note: 8 days later body and mind are still in shut down mode… I still have no desire to swimbikerun at all!)

In good news, my athletes did awesome this past weekend! This was a huge saving grace for me and since I know the training/taper they did vs the training/taper I did, their race performances also really helped me understand my own. Once again, Nalani led the age group women out of the water (fwiw, she would have absolutely annihilated the whole field had that swim been legit and on the normal course)… then she went on to have her best ever bike and run splits, finishing up with a negative split on that marathon, smiling the whole time. Nick and Tiffany are two of the most awesome and positive people I've ever met- they were both first-timers out there and they both also had amazing days… Nick managed himself really well all day which resulted in a negative split during the marathon (with a smile!) and Tiffany balled tears of joy for the whole last mile. xoxo. And then Ramona managed a PR of almost an hour even though she stopped to change 3 flats on the bike! How's that for tenacity?! Those 4 athletes made me smile for sure, and their performances solidify what my gut is telling me… 


Damie said...

I am glad you posted a RR, because as your friend, I love keeping up with your journey- the glamorous and unglamorous. I know we have to have it both ways. There is no way we would truly appreciate the highs of success if we never had bad days/months/years. When you do make this all click, it will be worth it and feel so amazing. I think you can bank 2013 and cash it out next year. The work is there. xoxoxoxoxoxo

mtanner said...

"Those 4 athletes made me smile for sure, and their performances solidify what my gut is telling me… " Hope it was that you are pretty DAMN good coach :) It's in you Michelle!

czechchick15 said...

I am not a swimmer, but I also wished they kept the swim 2.4 miles. I practiced swimming against the current in the pool tied to the stinking blocks ;) Being worried that people are too tired after swimming over 2 miles with the current so they can't swim against it for short period of time is BS! DON'T sign up for an Ironman! I also couldn't agree more with the blatant cheating on the bike! I personally dragged many many many dudes around the island and I actually took the time to find some pics in the lost and found section of the pictures, and plan on mentioning all of that and more in my blog! Mostly dudes, but there were def a few females hidden in the middle of these packs! Sad but true! Cheaters will always be cheaters!

Kris said...

All of this really resonates with me so thank you for posting it. I love that you post it all, the good the bad and the ugly, so please continue to do so. Really impressed with how you didn't let your mind get to you with the drafters etc. I feel like I had the same kind of 2013 as you. Hoping we're both leaving it behind and crushing 2014. :)