Monday, August 17, 2015

On Not Giving Up... Kawela Triathlon 2015

Last weekend I jumped into a bike race. I'm not really sure why, maybe just for fun and because I thought it would be a good change of pace/effort for me... In reality it was very humbling. Those girls took me to school! Not only did I not have the top end fitness to hang with them, but I also didn't have the cornering on wet roads skill nor the ability to absolutely SMASH it on a downhill like they did. It was like pick an aspect of road cycling that is important (any one!) and that was an aspect of cycling that I would need to develop before trying something like that again. I wasn't very upset about how all that went down because I have a clear understanding about how and why my diesel engine (chug chug chug) works.

Fast forward to this weekend and I had a chance to put my diesel engine to work in a race more in my element. Kawela Tri is the only long distance race we have here on Oahu. It's mostly like a half ironman, except like most races here on Oahu, it disadvantages swimmers. I did it last year and had a decent race coming in 3rdOA. This year the gals who beat me last year weren't on the start list which gave me this little glimmer of hope, like hmmmm... Could I win it this year? I saw a name I recognized- younger gal who comes to visit in the summers. She and I raced once a few years ago in a shorter race and she ran by me like I was standing still so I knew she was a great runner, but we'd never raced long together so I really didn't know how it would go down against her in this kind of event. I have to say, racing on an island can feel a bit monotanous b/c we all know each other and often I can look at a start list and call the outcome before the gun goes off. But the element of this unknown young racer made the whole thing more exciting to me because it was like, can I hold her off? I really didn't know. But I figured we would find out!

The swim in this race isn't a real 70.3 swim because they make us run in the middle of it... At least this year it was longer than last year. It was like 1/2 mile swim, 1/2 mile run back up the beach, repeat 1/2 mile swim, then run back another tenth of a mile in deep sand to the end of 'swim' timing mat. For sure this takes away some of the advantage my swim might normally give me, but it was fine. My total time was about the same as it would have been in a legit 70.3 swim (28:xx) and while I didn't know it at the time, looking back at results I had almost 5' on the next woman. In good news, the Roka speed suit not only works to reduce drag while swimming, but is also comfortable enough to run in when necessary. :)

The bike at this race is point to point 57+ miles so just slightly long, but a lot of it with a tailwind so that sort of cancels out the extra mile+. It goes along the east and north coast roads up to the North Shore and manages to remind us that the City & County need to repave Oahu's roads so badly. I kept complimenting my Cervelo and my Enve wheels for holding up on a course that at times might have been better suited for a fat tire full suspension mountain bike.
My goal for the ride was to stay upright, ideally keep air in my tires, and get myself a decent cushion going into the run. I haven't felt great this past week so my mental goal was to not focus on how I was FEELING, but rather to focus on what I was DOING. I managed to check the box on each of those goals. I don't race with power or data and I think that usually works out ok for me. That ride was about staying aero, trying to not get pissed off at the bumpy roads, not bogging myself down with too big of a gear, eating and drinking appropriately, etc. I did get a bit frustrated when I was stopped at an area where there was road construction and it was a one-lane contra-flow situation. I pulled up at just the wrong time when they had just started letting the other lane go, which meant I was foot on the ground stopped for ~1:20. It was a total luck-of-the-draw type situation so some people might have been stopped longer while some were able to roll right through. I stayed frustrated about that for maybe 3 minutes and then I let it go and kept up with my focus on everything else. I did manage to use my 80 seconds to eat and drink so that was the bright side of that stop.

Not much else to say about the bike other than I felt like I did what I set out to do. I felt like I was riding pretty hard and stronger than last year but my split was about the same (actually it was ~1' slower but subtract for that stop and ride time was about the same 2:37). My biggest issue was that I started with 2 bottles of Osmo but sucked them both down before an hour had even gone by, and after that was stuck with just water, and even the water I picked up didn't last me until the next aid station (there were 3 total aid stations which should have been enough but for me yesterday it wasn't). I was often rationing out my hydration and I was dry for probably 10-15' before the last aid station. So if I could go back and do one thing different on the bike, it would have been to try to get 2x bottles at each aid station vs just 1. Otherwise there's not much I would change about how I executed the bike.

I was thrilled to get off my bike! I didn't rush through T2 like I probably should have, but sort of took my time getting everything sorted and then started off running, immediately noting that holy crap I felt like shit. Refocus Michelle don't focus on how you FEEL focus on what you are DOING so it was just one step in front of the other hands up cadence up chin down drink Osmo, etc. I was feeling twinges of cramping which I haven't felt in forever but I attribute that to the fact that I was drinking water vs Osmo for the last 90+ minutes... I had a bottle of powdered Osmo in T2 that I mixed up as I ran out, and we were allowed "outside assistance" at this race so I had Scott up there ready to give me 2 more bottles of Osmo (one on each lap) so I was looking forward to getting back on track drinking my magic solution that has saved me so many times when it's stupid hot and I'm dying.

My first glimpse of how I was actually doing as far as the overall race was concerned came when I was about a mile and a half into the run and I saw Carly coming at me headed to the first turn-around. At this race there are 5x u-turns so we would have adequate time to see each other and watch the gap shorten... Prior to the race starting I sort of guessed that maybe I'd need ~13' cushion in T2 and then I would need to run well in order to hold off anyone who's actually running. Carly is like this little whippet runner girl and when I saw her I sort of guessed my cushion was more like ~11' and I didn't truly think that would be enough. Especially given how I was feeling...
That first lap was really bad. Like, one of the worst feelings running I've had in quite some time. I battled with myself so much in my head like I can't do this. I've had that feeling so many times before and it sucks in a race when you talk yourself out of being able to perform up to your abilities. Honestly during that first lap of the run I was jogging like 4 minutes then walking for a bit then forcing myself back to slogging again and it all just felt so ugly and it was like here we go again another race where Michelle squanders away her lead because she can't run... This time though I did a (little) better job of keeping myself together and even though I was just in survival mode, I was really trying to get myself to NOT give up and NOT be a quitter. Focus on what you are DOING Michelle so it was just a matter of guzzling down as much Osmo as I could (4 bottles would have been better than the 3 I had but 3 was better than none!). I was trying desperately to keep myself cool (it was hot #understatement) grabbing ice at the aid station and dumping it in my top and in my shorts and holding it in my hands and chewing it and what else can I do with ice?!
Being able to take Osmo from Scott was a lifesaver.

So the run continued on it was this long out/back back and forth. Just straightforward suffering.
I could see Carly after every turn-around and she was getting closer but not nearly as quickly as I'd anticipated. So ok, she must be suffering too. By the time the second lap came around I was feeling a bit better- not great but I wasn't stopping as much and was able to get into a better groove (the Osmo was kicking in!) and after I turned around at mile 9.5ish I was shocked to see that I still had maybe 4' or so on Carly. I wasn't taking splits- I never looked at my watch during the run because I KNEW that what I would see would just piss me off and I didn't want to get pissed at myself I just wanted to keep moving forward best I could each moment... So I was never taking splits, but I could just see that while the gap was coming down, it was still a gap and it was at that point where I decided to RACE. I had the thought like Ok maybe she will catch me but it won't be because I gave it to her... I figured 4' with 4 miles to go and she's running like a minute/mile faster than me it's going to come down to the wire this is going to get ugly...

I've had so many past experiences where I was leading a race only to get caught in the last little bit. Ironman CdA 2011 I led my age group all day until mile 25 when I got passed. Boulder 70.3 in 2012 I led my AG until a gal sprinted by me in the last 100 meters. Lanikai tri a few years ago Sandy got me right at the line for 3rd OA... This story of me getting passed right at the end has been so common place. And it's not like getting 2nd at a big event is anything to be ashamed about but it's more like I just wanted to change that old story where I don't truly fight to hang on to my lead. If I get beat by someone who is faster than me, fine. But if I get beat because I didn't give it everything I had, that sucks.

So at the final turn around just after mile 12ish I was almost afraid to see what the gap was... Turns out, it was more than a minute and it was at that point where I was like ok I am NOT going to let this slip away now!!! Yet I ran that last mile so scared she was coming... and she was... but I got to the line with 40 seconds to spare. I will say, that last mile or so was one of the most painful miles I've ever run. But it was worth it!

Mostly this was about re-writing the story in my head about how I tend to give up when I feel like crap. This might have been the first time in my life where I hung as tough as I did when I felt that way. Yesterday wasn't a physical breakthrough but it might have been the biggest metal breakthrough I've ever had. I want to thank Carly for pushing me the way she did. It was awesome to really have a RACE and I'm trying to recruit her as a training partner for her remaining time here on Oahu. :)

After the race Krista wanted to know why I felt so bad running... my reply...

I have to say one of the best parts was texting Marilyn afterward and telling her that I didn't give up. She's tried so hard to pound it into my head that I need to COMMIT ALL THE WAY TO THE FINISH LINE at these races and her voice was in my head during that last mile for sure. I appreciate all the support coming from her and it's finally starting to click in.

One of the best parts about local races like this is that you know a ton of people at the aid stations and at the finish line and many of the athletes you're suffering with. That makes the finish area quite fun as well! Scott brought up a cooler full of Black Butte Porters and have to say WOW those really hit the spot after 5+ hours of hard hot racing. Then of course standing around and hearing everyone's stories after was really fun! Have to give a shout out to Coeur Sports for making such awesome custom kits for TeamBSC... Heidi and I got to be matchy matchy today! And here's a little fun fact... 3 of the top 6OA gals in the race were wearing Coeur Sports kits. #GetOne #BestKits

And of course I'm super proud of how my team performed on Saturday as well! Kevin won his AG and was 5thOA, Heidi won her AG and was 6thOA, Matthew (not pictured) placed 3rd in his AG in his first ever half ironman, and Zach finished saying he felt strongest at mile 11! (Who says that?!) TeamBSC in the house!!
Mahalo to Raul and Hina for taking on the challenge of putting on a race like this on Oahu! It's not an easy task but they pulled it off in a great way and it's appreciated by us all. :)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

2015 North Shore Swim Series!

Ok well I didn't manage to blog about each of the summer swims this year, but here's a little summary of all five of them together as a whole. :)
I totally look forward to these swims every summer. This was my 10th summer here on Oahu and my 10th time doing most of the swims. I've missed a few here and there over the years but I think only when I've been off island... For the most part, if there's an ocean swim race going on up at the North Shore, I'll be there!

Some people take these swims quite seriously and are really racing to WIN. Most us aren't that serious about them though. I'd say the vast majority of people who do these swims do them because it's a super fun thing to do every other Saturday morning during the summer. We swim as fast as we can on the day, of course, but we don't go up on the alternate weekends and recon the courses or anything. If you want to win, taking that extra step is a really good idea because a lot of the results can be affected by strategy. These aren't pool or lake swims! We're navigating point to point courses, sometimes without many (any?) buoys, usually either with or against a current, often also diving under head high white water breaking waves, always in awesome crystal clear water... This is like adventure swimming at its absolute best.

One little note- it always shocks me that more local triathletes don't take advantage of this opportunity to improve their open water swim skills. Here's an environment that is legitimately challenging yet with adequate safety measures given the 600-700+ other swimmers and lifeguards on duty. There are some triathletes who show up at these races but not nearly as many as one would think. I don't really get it? Here's an absolutely perfect chance to hone in on open water swim racing skills. I encourage all my local athletes to enter the whole series, because the more you put yourself out there in these types of scenarios, the more skilled and confident you'll become as a swimmer! All of these swims, maybe with the exception of #2, are more challenging than any triathlon swim... so if you can do these, triathlon swims become complete no-brainers. I just think it's interesting that more local triathletes do not take advantage of these opportunities.

Anyway, swim #1 was about a mile point to point from Sunset to Pipeline. (2ndAG; 56thOA)

It's supposed to be a mile but finish times always make it seem like it's longer than that. This year there was some legit surf to contend with pretty much along the whole way. I quite like swimming through surf but on this day I was pretty convinced that the faster line would be to stay outside the surf and just swim head down hard. So that was my strategy... Head down flat out HARD swimming. And I got my ass kicked! Too funny. I really felt like I swam quite well at this race but I wasn't even on the same results page as some of my peers who I normally swim near... Turned out staying inside and getting pummeled was the faster route on that day and I missed the boat. Such is life. I had a blast though. Really it was one of the most FUN finishes I've ever had to any swim race because I just body surfed it in on this giant wave that I otherwise never would have been brave enough to take!

Two weeks later we all showed up again to race a much more straightforward course. Waimea Bay is a 1.2 mile triangle swim around the bay and usually there's not much surf or current to contend with in the bay. (1stAG; 46thOA)

The biggest challenge at this race could have been that the far turn is actually navigating between two giant black rocks... In reality the biggest challenge for the women was that we started 5' behind the men and that gap just wasn't enough at all for some of us who swam near the front of the women's pack. We asked for 10' gap but it was too late to change this year. Hopefully next year they will make that change and give us a full 10'. At this race I felt like I swam as well as I could have given the obstacle course of men I had to swim around/through. I was pretty stoked to come away with the AG win! I tend to get top 3 in my age group at most of these races but seems like there's almost always someone faster so in years past I have rarely gotten that top spot. To be fair, there are a ton of really fast swimmers who come out and do these races. In triathlon people think I'm a 'fast' swimmer but when I'm up against real swimmers, like in these races, it's humbling.

The best part about this race was that Scott and Moana came up and we all hung out at the beach for the rest of the morning. It was a gorgeous day and the water was super warm and nice and it really couldn't have been any better!

Race #3 is usually the wildest race of the series. It's a 1.6(ish) mile point to point course from Chun's Beach to Waimea Bay. (2ndAG; 25thOA)

This one is often against some current, against some wind chop, and just generally not the easiest to navigate. But it was a mass start which is super! It's for sure one of my favorites. Funny though this year we had some weird storm going on somewhere in the Pacific that was affecting our weather and it was a random light wind day with some drizzling rain. Light wind usually means calm ocean and I don't know, I think I just figured it would be flatter/calmer than normal. To be honest, I didn't give it much thought. I should have had a heads up though because even trying to swim out to the start line I was having a really hard time... ducking under wave after wave and hardly making any progress at all over some shallow reef. Eventually I made my way to the start line but without much time to think or strategize... Horn sounded and we were off and I just sort of swam hard and tried to stay around people near me. It was weird though I felt like I just wasn't swimming strong at all during this one... like I couldn't get a good grip on the water. I should have known it was against the current from the start. Then I ended up in some giant breaking waves and I'm sure I was uttering expletives out loud as over and over I was just getting pummeled by big waves! It felt like I couldn't make my way through them, but of course eventually after diving under like 6-7x I finally did. I remember thinking that I wish I had been more mentally prepared for psycho conditions like that because in all honesty these are the conditions where relatively I can gain an advantage on many others... I'm frustrated that I allowed myself to be caught off guard on this one and wasn't mentally prepped for full battle! That said, eventually I figured out that if I was having a hard time getting through this course, most others would be as well, so I turned my brain around and made myself BUCK UP. <Just Keep Swimming> Needless to say everyone's times on this day were WAY slower than most years and I heard later that there were a bunch of rescues which doesn't surprise me at all. Funny thing though, those of us who ended up getting pummeled on the inside (I ended up inside accidentally not on purpose!) ended up swimming relatively faster than those who took the calmer outside line, so this was sort of like making up for that first race where I did it wrong. Apparently the theme of this years races was that taking the white water beating on the inside is the faster line.

So on we go to race #4! Lani's to Haleiwa 1.9 mile point to point... (1stAG; 36thOA)

I took the lessons from the earlier races here and opted to stay the inside line on purpose, even though there were some decent waves breaking along our route. The good news about this one was that we were swimming west, and I breathe right, so I could see the waves before they were going to smash over my head! Perfect. I just watched for them to come and dove under before the waves had a chance to roll me over. In all honesty there weren't too many of those today just a few in a specific shallow reef area. I wish I could say I swam well at this one but I just felt off. I could blame Ironman training for leaving me with some excess fatigue, and that might be a valid excuse, but it's still an excuse. I don't know though, I was swimming in a big pack with several other gals who looked like they could have been in my age group and we all exited the water together and I didn't contest the run up the beach just jogged it up with no competitive grit. Looking back that always disappoints me but at the time I just didn't care. Turns out those gals weren't in my age group, so I ended up winning my age group, but knowing how I didn't fight at the finish left me with a bit of a hollow feeling. It did turn out to be quite a nice day though and I really have nothing to complain about- just my own rising level of fatigue setting in that's all.

So finally that leaves us with the 5th and final swim of the series... Pipeline to Waimea 2.3(ish) miles point to point. (1stAG; 14thOA)

This last race is always my favorite. Maybe because it's the longest one? My goal going into this one was to feel proud of my effort at the end... I wanted to avoid feeling like I did after the last swim where I felt like I didn't really give it a good RACE effort. Once again I opted for the inside line- so far inside in fact that at one point a lifeguard paddled up and directed me to go out so I wouldn't end up in water too shallow. #whoops The whole time though I kept checking in with myself and asking if my effort was one that would make me happy later and every time the answer was a resounding YES. I was really working on the upper limit of my ability right from the start and I never let up which was just great! In the last ~20' or so I merged with a guy and worked hard to stay on his feet all the way into the last bay. Then, remembering how I felt last time after I didn't fight for the finish, I just buried myself in the last 300M swimming beside this guy stroke for stroke feeling like I might just puke stay on it Michelle don't give this away... In the end he beat me up the beach BUT it wasn't for lack of trying on my part! Funny too after I got done panting, I realized it had been my friend Mike that I was racing, so we had a good laugh about the max effort there at the end. Without a doubt the effort and execution of this day was the best I'd done all summer so I was quite proud of myself for finally putting one together where I wouldn't change a thing if I could. That's probably the best feeling one could have at the end of any race! 
Men and Women 40-44 Podium

Big Mahalo to Chris (race director) as well as all of the sponsors who make this race series possible for us. Summer just wouldn't be summer without these swims!

Ocean racing isn't over for me yet though... There's a 5K up on the North Shore coming up next month then the Double Roughwater 7K this fall as well... Can't wait!