Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Vineman Highlights & Fun Facts

~Staying in a cool place with cool people makes the whole race experience super awesome. We rented a ‘treehouse’ in Monte Rio which is about 4 miles past the swim start (toward the ocean) and it was in the middle of a redwood forest and it was just great. I stayed with my family and my friend/athlete Kelly. Kelly and I mesh quite well as race weekend travel partners and there’s absolutely nothing I would do differently if I were to do it again.

~The day before the race is commonly a whirlwind and this experience was no different. We really enjoyed the pre-race swim and social hour, but then we had to drive to Windsor to drop our run stuff off then back home to prep our bikes then ride to T1 to drop those… Doesn’t seem like a lot but throw in a solid traffic jam and the fact that my bike prep took some extra time and I don’t know… it felt like rush rush rush! Fun Fact: Athlete friends who mail you their new PowerTap P1 pedals so you can have wattage data on race day are gems (thanks Anne Marie!!). Not-so-fun fact: I still couldn’t walk without limping because my hip was still all locked up. It just seems like not an ideal scenario to be limping when you’re checking your run shoes in for an Ironman the next day.

~I spent a ton of time with a lacrosse ball jammed into my hip pocket on Friday night hoping against hope that a miracle would happen. Shockingly enough, I woke up Saturday morning and my hip pain had disappeared overnight(!?) and I had zero hip pain throughout the whole race. Fast forward 3 days later and I am limping again because its back feeling exactly like it did pre-race. Super weird? But even though I’m scratching my head about it, I’m really thankful that the hip thing wasn’t a problem over the weekend.

~Race morning went smoothly and I have to say I’m a huge fan of the self-seeded rolling start. To be honest, I like a good mass start the best, but self-seed rolling is better than wave starts that put women 40+ at the back. Or stupid systems like Louisville where they go first come first serve… Clear water and clear roads to start the bike… Yes please! I seeded myself right up front in the sub-60min group and it was ideal. Fun Fact: Most everyone who seeded themselves in the group up front had nice wide shoulders. :)

~For the most part the swim was uneventful. I scraped my fingertips on the bottom a fair amount and even though I swore I would NOT stand up and walk any part of the swim, when the water was only about a foot deep I kind of felt like I had no other choice. I don’t swim in my wetsuit enough to be super happy in it so I did find myself wanting to take the wetsuit OFF. I didn’t feel like any magic was happening on that swim but I knew it was fine and well, that’s it. I was hoping to lead my age group out of the water and win the Roka FOTW award, and that happened, so, thumbs up!

~I felt strong to start the bike (doesn’t everyone in an Ironman?) and having power data to look at was reassuring that I was doing the right thing even when girls were storming by me. For the most part it’s a beautiful bike course and I really enjoyed it. I felt my first twinges of cramps after I stopped pedaling while descending Chalk Hill. If I’m honest, I kind of thought that I was screwed. Like, um, how am I going to ride another loop and then do this climb again without completely seizing up?? I didn’t get mad about it though. Instead I just went into management mode and let myself soft-pedal whenever the course allowed it, hoping that giving my muscles intermittent breaks would allow me to not have to end up sitting on the side of the road watching my quads contract uncontrollably. It worked. I had to climb as easy as possible that second loop (and I spoke out loud(!) to my muscles thanking them for hanging in there and doing a good job) which allowed me to get by with only minor twinges- no full on muscle seizures. Fun Fact: saying out loud Thank you legs you did a great job works to prevent cramping.

~I was a complete pussy on downhills and during sections of crappy pavement. Probably what I get for doing the vast majority of my riding inside in the weeks leading up to this race.

~My desire to eat was pretty much zero but I made myself do it, because fueling correctly is a choice. I ate 4x bonk breaker bars and a snickers bar and 5x gels. Yep. All of that. I figure that was ~1750 total cal, which is maybe slightly on the low side but I never felt like I was bonking at all. I drank 4x bottles of Osmo plus waters from aid stations (I’d drink some and pour some over myself so I don’t really know how much water I drank maybe 2-3 bottles total?). Definitely a lot less fluid than I would drink at home but it was also a lot cooler. I think it was enough because I started peeing at ~mile 40 and then on every downhill on the whole second loop, I peed more. I have no problem peeing on my bike. Fun fact: The first time I peed on my bike was 18 years ago! I also took e21 every hour and a few MAP (Master Amino Pattern) tabs. Overall I’m happy enough with how I fueled myself on the day.

~I knew I hadn’t had a stellar ride but whatever- it was fine. I was happy to have had no major mishaps. Honestly I always feel like it’s a minor miracle to make it to T2 with air in both tires and no mechanical issues. With a big sigh of relief I handed my bike off to a volunteer and ran into the T2 tent where I sat down on the ground in a far corner and peed (again) in the grass. Fun fact: Even full of urine, my Coeur Sports tri shorts never chafed me at all!

~Starting the run my legs felt better than I expected them to. I made a point though to hold back and go easy because I’ve done enough of these things to know that OMG it gets hard… So my thought was that I didn’t need to go out of my way to make it get hard because that was just happen all on its own. Sure enough somewhere around mile 8-9 I felt my legs start the twinges again. My #1 goal was to not be forced to walk for long stretches so I knew I needed to avoid the major charlie horse type of cramping. I figured my best bet would be to nip it in the bud when I felt the cramps coming on… So I functioned by taking 5 walking steps every time I felt a twinge. That short amount of time was enough to ‘reset’ myself then I made myself get back to jogging. This is how I managed to get myself up that big hill all 3 times as well… Jog 20 steps, walk 5, jog 20, walk 5, count to 20, count to 5, repeat repeat repeat. (I need to thank Marilyn for teaching me that system last year when I was falling apart during the Louisville marathon- Thanks Marilyn!) 

~I never looked at my watch during the run. I knew my best bet was to try to keep myself from getting mad/frustrated and my best bet for that was to 1) fuel enough to keep my brain functioning, and 2) focus only on managing myself in the moment I was in. I’ve learned from experience that any excess emotion (excited, frustrated, mad, etc) results in immediate and massive/painful debilitating cramping so I was actively trying to avoid emotion. I think if there’s one thing I’m most proud of about this race, it’s that I managed to do this. It’s for sure the best I’ve ever done in an Ironman as far as not getting mad when I wasn’t doing as well as I was hoping.

~I managed to get down 5 gels during the marathon, which was a huge feat! The first 3 went down pretty easy. The last 2 were forced and took me quite some time to finish (like I’d hold the gel in my hand and just take tiny sips of it every few minutes). I like Honey Stinger gels the best but after I went through my personal stash I took Clif Shots from the aid stations and yikes those things are THICK. Yuck. But again, fueling correctly is a choice so I gagged them down. I never had any stomach issues but I chewed a few Tums anyway. Continued with my e21 every hour and a few MAP tabs at various points as well. Water and Coke at aid stations and I grabbed a Base salt container thing and licked my thumb with that a few times as well. 

~As I (finally!) got close to the finish line I started to get excited and that’s when the most severe cramping came on. It’s happened in Kona and in Cabo before- I get close to the finish and I start to get excited and try to pick up the pace a bit and BAM! Cramp! So I’m less than a quarter mile away from the finish on Saturday and I’m bent over trying to stretch out my adductor which had decided it was all done even attempting to function for the day… Spectators are trying to tell me the finish is RIGHT THERE(!) and I’m like I KNOW(!) but I seriously couldn't move. It kinda sucks that I can’t even let myself get excited or be really happy until after I cross the line but I knew I had to hold off any emotions so I was telling myself to just relax and stay calm and one foot in front of the other just get there, etc. Not-so-fun Fact: Vineman has a really long finish shoot and for like 1/2 mile everyone is telling you “It’s right around the corner!” but they’re all lying because there’s always another corner to run around.

~I distinctly remember how mad I was about what I felt was a shitty performance at Louisville last year and I know I pretty much ruined the whole race experience for everyone because I just endlessly bitched about it all afterward. I actively made a choice before this race that no matter what I was NOT going to act like that this time. And I didn’t! So while I wasn’t even remotely stoked about finishing in 11:35, I smiled and let it go and congratulated my friends and athletes who were finishing and thanked my parents and husband and daughter for being there and sat around and drank beer and exchanged race stories and just generally enjoyed the whole finish area.

Final Thoughts:

~I don’t know why my muscles don’t seem to function during Ironman races? Instinctively my first thought is that I just didn’t train enough (wasn’t strong enough) and while this may be true in part, I know there are a lot of athletes who train less and their legs function better. That said, I think most of the girls who finished ahead of me on Saturday train longer. I really don’t think my issue is/was fueling or hydration or electrolytes or anything like that. I feel like I did all of that pretty much the very best I could all day. Not-so-Fun Fact: My quads hurt so much during that run that I didn't even know I had this blister until I took my shoes off.

~I’m sort of glad I experimented with the shorter but more frequent and higher intensity indoor bike training. I think it was good in a lot of ways, but it’s not a substitute for long outdoor riding so if I could go back and do it again I would ride longer outside more often. I think I would also do more long/extended downhill running.

~I wonder how much of my muscle dysfunction is due to my brain expecting muscle dysfunction because of all the times in the past when my muscles have not functioned during long races? Like, I want to believe that my muscles will work solidly for all 11 hours but it’s like realistically they never actually have so how can I make myself believe that?? I don’t know.
~So what's next? Honestly, I don't know. After Louisville I swore no more Ironmans. I definitely had the thought during this one that I wasn't sure if I wanted to try it again. But I finished and thought that maybe, under the right conditions, I would come back. And if I were to try it again, I would come back to this race without hesitation. I genuinely did love the whole trip and we got to see family and friends and athletes and if not for triathlon I wouldn't be here right now so the thought of hanging it up doesn't sit well. That said, I'm not sure I'd want to coach myself through another one. I've really liked coaching myself this year(!), but I also really like having a coach. My issue with hiring another one is mostly that the thought of going through the learning curve with a new coach is daunting. I'd really like to work with a coach who genuinely wants to work with me (I think this is imperative in a coaching relationship!) If I work with one who doesn't already know me then he/she would have to want to take the time to get to know me and how I tick, because I think coaching a masters female who has been doing this for 20+ years is different than coaching someone who is newer at it all... I was telling someone after the race that what I'd really like is if there's an experienced coach out there who has sort of followed along with what I've been doing and thinks to him or herself If only I could get my hands on her I could help her I'm sure of it... This is probably a long shot but what the hell I'll throw it out there anyway... If you're that coach and you think you can help me, shoot me a note and lets start a conversation...


Gaz L said...

Terrific report, Michelle. Thanks for sharing!

JB said...

Have you considered Liz Waterstraat? She might be a little busy right now with the birth of her 3rd child but I know Jen Harrison (another masters female) is coached by her.

Lfrob said...

Great report and what an amazing race! I am not sure if what you are describing is cramping or some other muscle dysfunction but there seems to be a lot of discussion about a new product, hotshot. If you haven't heard about it, you may want to check it out at
I've listened to a few different podcasts with athletes, including triathletes, that have used it and they seem to be having great success with it. Just a thought :)