Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A Long Summary of the Summer...

I’ve fallen off the wagon when it comes to writing race reports. I still believe they’re super valuable, and going back to read your immediate full and honest thoughts about how a race went down can provide valuable insight into how to do things better next time… What did you do well? What would you change if you could go back and do it again? Those are my two favorite questions… So I suppose I’ll take some time to answer those questions here for myself, and I might even publish this if it seems like others could gain some insight from it as well. I can be pretty introspective and honest with myself when I want to be, and that’s probably the best way to approach writing down your thoughts, if your goal is to learn from your own experiences.

I never wrote about Honu. I take that back- I did write about Honu but just for myself and I didn’t publish it. Mostly b/c it was so negative and I don’t like to come across as Negative Nelly. But the reality was that that race was one of the most disappointing race experiences I’ve ever had- but that’s just about me personally. My athletes had done so well there… It was a balancing act for sure in trying to manage how to feel so genuinely happy for them(!) while at the same time processing my own experience. 2 months later I’m more at peace with the whole thing. When I found out that my front brake had been rubbing on the bike, all of a sudden things became more clear to me and at least I had an understanding of what the problem was. Until I saw my brake touching the rim of my front wheel (after the race was all said and done), I simply could not reconcile the slowest ever bike split with how great and strong I felt while I was riding. I mean, I’ve been at this for a very long time and I know what it feels like to feel awesome and strong while riding a bike! It was such a mindfuck though to feel like I did that day but then end up with a split that was solidly 10min slower than I would have expected based on how I felt… I completely let that split get to my head (convincing myself that even on my very best day I’m just “slow” now- “slow” is relative, I know). I consequently completely gave up on myself out there on that run which is 100% my own fault and I hate that I responded that way, but that’s how I responded and it sucked and I don’t want to do that to myself again. This sport is supposed to be fun but spending 2+ hours mentally beating yourself up about how much you suck has a way of robbing you of a lot of joy. Just saying.

So about Honu… What did I do well? I did a lot of things well! I trained/prepped really well. I figured out a hydration/fueling formula that works for me (no cramping!!). Both of those things are huge wins!  What would I change if I could go back and do it again? I’d double check my brakes. :) I’d like to say I’d figure out a way to stay positive during the run after feeling like I “failed” on the bike, but I’m not sure I know exactly how I’d go about doing that. That’s not an easy thing for me, though I do think that continued meditation practice might help with it. I’ve been using that ‘Headspace’ app and I really like it and I think it’s helping me get my head right and I think if there’s something that I should prioritize in the next year, it’s that.

Anyway, I made some changes after that race experience- mostly just trying to take some of the pressure off… It’s 100% just pressure I put on myself- my own expectations- maybe they’re too high? Unrealistic? I don’t know. But putting pressure on yourself to do well but then not living up to your own expectations is hard and my response was essentially to lower my expectations. Was that the best response? I don’t know. But its the route I took. I’ve actually taken that route a lot in my life… I can think of several examples in different areas of my life where my response to a repeatedly disappointing situation has been to simply lower my expectations. It works to some degree b/c when your expectations are low, you tend to end up feeling less disappointed… You’re easier to please. Friend or family member constantly disappointing you? Lower your expectations of them. Then you just end up feeling pleasantly surprised if they do anything at all that is nice or whatever. That’s just one example. And like I said, I don’t know if its the “right" route to take but I do know that having super high expectations of myself and everyone around me has very often set me up for big disappointment. When I instead just go with the flow and let things play out as they do, I tend to feel happier overall.

Moving on! So I went to Ohio to race the 70.3 and then figured I’d stay for Age Group Nationals which happened to also be in Cleveland. With the races being 2 weeks apart, and having athletes I work with at both races, and having my parents living right there, it sort of seemed like a no brainer.
All of my meals while I was in Delaware for the 70.3 were at Bob Evans. True Story.

The Ohio 70.3 race was ok. I didn’t have huge expectations of myself going into it, but my training had shown glimpses of good form so the door was open in my mind that I might put together a decent race. And I guess I’d call it decent. It wasn’t my best day but it also wasn’t my worst so… Ok. What did I do well? I didn’t mentally give up on myself, even when I physically didn’t exactly feel good (this is a big win!). And I repeated my fueling/hydration plan from Honu and confirmed to myself that my cramping situation is possible to control (again- no cramps!). I’ve shared in private with some people what I’ve done to fix things for myself, and I can’t say that what I'm doing is the thing that would work for everyone b/c I think we are all different... But for me, cramp prevention is apparently about loading with magnesium and potassium all the time, and then sodium loading immediately prior to the race. I have to be in the right physiological state at the start line (prioritizing hydration and electrolytes) b/c if I’m not there at the start, digging myself out of the hole has proven to be, well, impossible. I almost never drink plain water anymore (when training/racing anyway). My sweat rate is ridiculously high (I’ve calculated that I regularly lose 5lbs/hour in Hawaii, which is a huge challenge to manage when I’m going long), so this is still an area of focus for me, but at least I'm starting to really understand my own physiology here and understanding the root causes of issues is always the first step to fixing/managing them.

What would I change if I could go back and do that one again? I’d have gone into the swim with a more aggressive mindset. I took my swim for granted at that race and just sort of swam in la la land and didn’t feel like I was RACING and that’s disappointing to look back on. Other than that, I sort of feel like I did the best I could with what I had that day. There were some things about the race that were super frustrating but out of my control, so I can’t really put those things into the category of ‘what would I change if I could go back and do it again?’… but I feel its worth a mention to note that drafters suck. I saw so much intentional drafting out there that day… WAY worse than last year and I’d say that had to do with the self-seeded rolling start. Last year with age group waves, ability levels were spread out all over the course… that makes things challenging in a way b/c there ends up being so much passing and being passed going on throughout the race and at times that can be unsafe. I had high hopes that a self seeded rolling start would be way better, but the way it actually played out was that it put people of fairly like ability all together on the bike course, which provided ample opportunity for people to draft and it was disappointing to see how many athletes (and top ones at that) opted to go that route. There was enough space on the road to ride legally, but many chose to not ride legally. I heard some athletes after the race talk about how they just ‘got caught up in a pack’ and I was like NO YOU DO NOT JUST GET CAUGHT UP IN A PACK. The way it works, per the rules, is that when someone passes you, its your responsibility to ease up and let the gap form so you are not in the draft zone. If you continue to push your race power after you’ve been passed and then you’re in the draft zone behind the rider in front of you, THAT IS CHEATING. Is it frustrating to have to sit up and slow down to get out of a draft zone? You bet. Is there another option? I mean, I guess the option would be train more and get stronger so you don’t get passed as much.

My bike split was ~6min slower this year vs last year and I’d attribute a lot of that to the amount of times I eased up not the gas so I would not be in the draft zone of someone who’d passed me. Last year I never really had to do that b/c my AG wave started in the back so it was me doing most of the passing vs being the one getting passed. That race dynamic made a bigger difference than I’d anticipated. Last word on this though- I just have to say it- watching the ‘leaders’ of our sport blatantly choosing to cheat/draft was flat out disheartening. I called it out some when I saw it b/c I feel like since the race officials weren’t being strict about it, maybe some peer pressure would work? I did impact a young gal (24yo, AWA athlete) who I'd watched cheat for probably 10 miles- I’d passed her around mile 5 then she came and passed me back around mile 25, sitting on the wheel of 2 guys… I sat back and watched long enough to see how blatant she was being about it… At one point she slowed to grab a bottle at an aid station and I could not help myself as I rode back by… I just said DRAFTING IS CHEATING. Interestingly, she pulled back up next to me and told me that I was right and that she would try to do a better job leaving space between herself and riders ahead of her. So maybe I made an impact on one person. Others though, including some top women whose names I know (and I used to have respect for) rode by in groups with no shame. I just want those athletes to know that WE SEE YOU. Respect level plummets for those athletes, and if they’re wearing a recognizable team kit, I have to say, I lose respect for the company/team they ride for as well. I don’t really know how to solve the drafting problem in triathlon… Race officials seem to do a piss poor job of it. Race directors finding ways spreading athletes out on the course is for sure part of the solution. But the bulk of it might really come from peer pressure. Anyone with any self respect (I’d think!) would want others to respect them as well so maybe if as a community we continue to be vocal about this issue and let athletes know that WE HAVE NO RESPECT FOR YOU WHEN WE SEE YOU CHEATING, AND WE SEE YOU might be the best route here? 

I don’t know. Maybe I need to go back and lower my expectations of people so I’m less disappointed in what I see on these race courses.

A final note about that 70.3 in Ohio- the weekend was FUN! I genuinely enjoyed it, mostly b/c I got to hang out with 3 of my athletes (Tia, Jen, Brian) and they are all just really cool and I found myself laughing a ton… and they all raced really well and the vibe with them was just good. Being a part of the Coeur team makes these races really fun too. I mean, essentially I went to that race alone but had so many friends and teammates on the course that I never felt alone, and it was just really great all around. Delaware is a great little town to host a race like that.

So that brings us to Age Group Nationals! (I guess I could separate these out into multiple blog posts but I doubt I’ll do that)… I think I did an AG Nationals race way back in like 1996 in California, but back then it was way less of  big deal and not nearly as competitive. I mean, it was technically “Nationals” but in every respect it was just a regular Olympic Distance race. So I’d consider this to be my first ‘real’ AG Nationals experience. And it was an experience!

My thoughts in summary:

~Racing in a city- like the downtown area of a city- is not at all my favorite. I guess I'm just old school when it comes to stuff like this, but I think of a race like Muncie, that's out in the middle of nowhere, and that, to me, feels like triathlon. Just a group of crazy people who find a quiet spot with a decent lake to swim bike and run and see how fast they can do it... perfect! In a city, on the other hand, you're driving around in circles lost while Siri constantly redirects you but you can't turn there b/c of the one way street and then you finally get near your destination but can't find a place to park then you finally do but oh wait that'll be $9. It was definitely confirmed for me last weekend that I am a Country Mouse and if I have to pay $9 to park my car somewhere, I'm out. 

~Also, no thanks to bike courses that go through construction areas.

~I was extremely impressed with the caliber of athletes competing in Cleveland. I mean, it's Nationals, so duh, of course there will be fast athletes there but whoa the depth of the field was impressive. It wasn't just a few athletes who were really fast, it was A LOT of athletes who were really fast. My superpower has never been about being fast, so I def got my ass kicked at that race, but in general I'd say it was good to see how many very fast athletes were are out there. And in every age group! I feel like for sure the general trend is that you have to just be ridiculously strong and fast these days to be near the top of your AG at any big race. It's clear that athletes and coaches are figuring out the best way to train and prepare and fuel and hydrate and execute and power meters and smart trainers are very likely helping in this regard. I'm totally going to age myself here but lets just say that back in the 90s we were all just winging it and we made a lot more mistakes than the athletes are making now. Knowledge is power!

~When they canceled the swim at the last minute for the sprint race on Sunday, I immediately lost interest in racing. I suspect there were a few people who judged me for that decision to just turn in my chip, but whatever. I've done races before where the swim was canceled last minute and we ran first instead of swimming and I just didn't enjoy it at all. I'm too old to do things I don't enjoy. I enjoy triathlons! If I enjoyed duathlons, I'd enter them! I feel like runners who don't like swimming should enter more duathlons vs enter triathlons hoping that the swim will just be canceled.  I made a joke on Twitter to that effect...
~The main reason I even went to Nationals was b/c I get to work with Carly and she is an amazing athlete who is not only physically talented but has the work ethic and drive to back up her talent... Getting to play a part in her successes has been amazing for me. So my weekend there was really about her. She raced really well in Cleveland and landed herself 3rd on Saturday in the Olympic Distance race and then backed it up with a 2nd place in the sprint duathlon the next day. Since I opted to not race on Sunday I was able to stand on the run course and yell out splits at her which is super fun, especially when you get to bark out stuff like "YOU'RE 3RD... 20" BEHIND FIRST... EVERY SECOND COUNTS STAY ON THE GAS!" And then later, "YOU'RE SECOND! KEEP IT UP!"

When I think back on all my racing this year, if I'm honest, the coaching part has been more enjoyable for me than the racing part. I keep saying that I'm nearing the end of my time as a triathlete... but then I go and enter more races so who knows if I'll ever really stop being a triathlete. But one thing I know for sure... I have no plans to stop coaching. Working with athletes and helping them get the most of of themselves is pure joy for me!

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