Goodbye Summer

Tomorrow is the last day that the outdoor pool I swim in is open. Even though I never really swam much before, it’s always a sad day because for me it means that summer is really over. I took this video the other night after we finished a swim so you can see how great it is. Jams pumping, rarely crowded, neon lights from the city, 25 meters of awesome.

Goodbye Summer. See you next year.

Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) – A Volunteer Perspective

Last weekend was one of my favorite weekends of the year. In 2006 I ran the GEER 50k as a naive little ultrarunner, coming off a win at the Moonlight Boogie 50 Mile,  who thought that miles were miles and courses were all the same, give or take a few minutes.

And then, 7 very long hours later, I completed the 50K.

It was GEER that taught me the “truth” about ultrarunning while I fell  in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains. Since that year, I have gone back to run (and win!) the 100k in 2008. I now make the annual pilgrimage down to Charlottesville in the last week of September not to run, but to volunteer at the race. I wouldn’t have made it through 2006 (easily one of my worst days) or 2008 (one of my best) without the volunteers.  It is my own contribution to give back to the sport that has given me so much. Oh, and Francesca and Gill (the RD’s) are good friends which is cool too 🙂

Before I tell about the actual race, I should mention that there has been an air of controversy around the concept of UROC, the Ultra Race of Champions, which GEER has morphed into over the past year. Gill and Francesca set out in late winter to create a “superbowl” of ultrarunning. A race where all the best can come – to be treated like the best – and compete against each other on one course. They collected a $10,000 prize purse as extra incentive. And (very importantly) also kept the “regular people” in mind – non-elites were welcome on the course as well (no lottery nonsense). The race would be top-notch all the way around, complete with a video and social media feed live (as well as coverage by throughout the day. Before I get into my own day helping at UROC, I’ll tell you a little bit about my (and Ryan’s) feelings on the controversies. I chose not to speak up until now because I thought it was unfair to pass judgements on a race before it even happens. It is easy to see things on paper and say “this or that is not a good idea” but I think it makes a lot more sense to watch the race play out and see how it works.  After watching everything play out, I’ve taken some time to put some thoughts down about certain things naysayers were saying (in bold), and invited Ryan to do the same  (mine in pink, Ryan in blue):

1. Ultra-marathons are not triathlons. Ultras require shoes, water bottles, socks and food, not bikes that cost thousands of dollars. I believe this point is saying that adding the frills of UROC changes the sport.

You may not have to buy a $5,000 bike, I’ll give you that. But I will also say that the average joe triathlete would not buy that $5k bike, and if they did it would be a one-time investment. Race entry fees to 100 milers now rival that of an Ironman in many cases. Travel fees actually have the potential to be greater in ultrarunning….triathlons are usually held in cities where Econo Lodges and Motel 6’s are cheap options, and airports are nearby. The “cheap option” at a race that starts on trails often means an hour or two of a drive in the morning. And you’re lucky to find a major airport (i.e. cheap ticket options) in the vicinity as well. Many ultrarunners buy Garmins and satellite things that work in the woods == $$. Or they have plenty of materials for camping (tents, stoves, sleeping bags are easily as expensive as a bike) so you can spend a weekend training in the mountains. It turns into a tit-for-tat type scenario, and what it boils down to is that in any sport there will be the gear hounds and the tech-nerds who will spend their money on the latest and greatest. But, even in triathlon, there are the old-school athletes, racing in a speedo on a road bike. You are free to participate in whichever fashion that you wish – isn’t that why we all love the US of A? 🙂

I think the cost of ultra-running is just as much as triathlon, and you’re also looking at more than just dollar amounts.  You’re looking at everything – cost to travel, cost of time, cost on the family. Triathletes and ultra people are weird and are taxing on their family.  You lose an entire weekend to an ultra, no matter what, but in triathlon it’s often just the big ironmans that you lose a whole weekend to.  If you’re comparing ironman in this case to ultra, then this wouldn’t be a factor.  But the point about hotels and airports is dead on, they are almost always in normal places. Ultras are not.

2. Some say that ultrarunning should remain a “fringe sport” where everyone knows everyone and the only prize is a high-five. These arguments allude to the fact that those who race UROC or similar races are sell-outs.

I can see where this is probably a sore subject for those who have been around running ultras for more years than I have even been alive. So, I won’t argue it. But I will ask them to take a step back and be happy for those of us who are able to compete in the sport during this time of exciting change and opportunity.  The older generation of ultrarunning has been great to me and I would be sad if they do not want to partake in the new, up and coming races just because there are some more people coming out, enticed by the money. To feel like my character as a human is being judged because I would like to compete for money is silly. No matter if UROC remains the only race with goals like this – or if 20 more pop up next year – you will still have the fringe of the ultra culture to participate in. There will still be fat-ass races galore, and plenty of weekends filled with 50+ miles in the mountains and nothing else but maybe a handful of people and some jugs of water. If that’s your jam – by all means embrace it. But please, don’t judge those of us who are dreaming bigger than that for the future of the sport.

If I were an old-school runner, and I did not want to compete at UROC, then I wouldn’t compete.  But at the end of the day, it is the biggest and best.  You don’t see old-school triathletes saying “I don’t want to go to Hawaii because it’s too competitive”.  EVERYONE wants to go there.  Everyone wants to just be a part of the best.  Ultimately, what is it about an ultra that makes people come back?  Is it the shitty food and medal and belt buckle?  No, it’s the camaraderie.  If I want to go out and run 60 miles tomorrow, I’ll go do it and pat myself on the back.  If you’re really THAT hardcore of an ultra runner, then that’s what you do.  But if you’re an ultra RACER, then you go to a race and compete against others.

Additionally, what UROC is doing is helping attract perhaps people from the road who are fast.  Someone like Mike Wardian, who has qualified for Olympic Trials in the marathon, coming to this event is huge.  People are interested in what he does and want to emulate him.  Look at those Navy kids and how excited they were to get autographs from him and Devon Crosby-Helms.  They probably came because of them.  They were even more accessible than triathletes after the race, and hung out and talked to everyone.  It’s a small community, much smaller than any triathlon. 

3. There will be more “all or nothing” performances at races where money is involved (this wasn’t said in a negative way necessarily, more so an observation).

I would probably agree with this as a possibility. In fact, I was pretty tempted to jump into the race myself since I was fairly confident I could nab a top 5 position due to the lack of depth in the field, and walk away with a check. If I saw that slipping away and wasn’t in the shape to do it, I would have just dropped. After all, I would have rationalized it very easily by recognizing that I never really planned the race into my schedule anyway. No harm, no foul. But, again, I wouldn’t say that this has to be a bad thing. One can argue their perspective on integrity of a person who drops at the loss of a podium spot during the race – but in the end that is all subjective. If bringing money into a race will encourage people to TRY, to toe the line, to start the race, while you may have a few more drops I do believe that the increase in participation will still outweigh that.

4. Why was the women’s field so small?

I was a little confused when I saw this one because…umm…..newsflash…..we run ultras – there’s ALWAYS a small field of women!! But, I needed to back this up. So I took 3 other race (2 which are considered large and notable, 1 which would be more average participation) and crunched some numbers:

 *All data was gathered from

*”elite” female finishers was a subjective call on my part. For Western States, I used the number of women under 23 hours + 1 for a round number, for JFK under 8:30, For Ice Age 50 under 8:30, and UROC number of women finishers registered as Elite.

Western States 100 Mile (2011) JFK 50 Mile (2010) Ice Age 50 Mile (2011) UROC (2011)
# of Finishers 310 1039 222 66
# of Female Finishers 60 232 52 8
# of Female “elite” finishers 12 60 3 4
% of Female Finishers 19.4% 22.3% 23.4% 12.1%
% of Female Finishers “elite” 20.0% 25.9% 5.8% 50.0%

*UROC had a much lower finishing rate, male and female than the compared races.
*UROC was lacking in the overall number of female finishers.
*BUT of the female finishers, UROC blew away the others in having the highest elite-to-non-elite ratio.

Possible conclusions:
*UROC actually did a better job than most other ultras at recruiting female elites! Had the couple other women who were registered but did not start due to injury run the race, it would have been a landslide in this category.
*You cannot project that women shy away from “hype” and are not attracted to highly competitive races with money.
*As the race grows, there does not look to be a problem of attracting women to the course.

My take on this? I honestly believe that a lot of women are (unfortunately) scared. I don’t think that women don’t *want* to do it, but I think that unfortunately a lot of women believe that they shouldn’t want it. And then they don’t race out of fear of judgement/worry. Case in point? One of the female elites had to be basically pushed by her friends into the elite start as the seconds were counting down before the race. Her racing credentials backed up her ability to compete, her friends believed it, but for whatever reason, she didn’t. You didn’t see that with the men – rather, there were dudes salivating at the chance to race elite! And the result? Well, just ask Jon Allen who came in 5th. Believing in his abilities and starting with the elites paid off for him, though his write-up in the iRunFar pre-race men’s preview said “Aside from a fourth at The Bear 100 last year, it’s hard to stack him up against other top ultrarunners.”

I obviously think that women, in general, are just different from men.  It’s no different than triathlon, where elite fields for women are almost always half the size, and much less competitive, than the men’s side.  And the same with running.  It’s just the way it is.  You shouldn’t even have to argue that point.  But, UROC should be commended for at least starting to plant that seed.  Make people WANT to race ANY race where the best of the best will be there.  This will not be accomplished in one year, but the things such as the bags, jackets with their names on it, prize money, etc, will start pulling it together.

5. The course.

There has been a lot of discussion about the amount of road miles on the course. Again, to each their own. Not a single course in the history of race courses is going to be everyone’s favorite. I do believe that for a real championship, it should test the skills and abilities across the spectrum. The UROC course does just that, which is why I think the course is a great one.

We always invite other opinions so feel free to comment with your thoughts! And be sure to check out Ryan’s blog where he is always discussing something a little controversial (like his recent entry on the rising cost of racing, found here.)

Now that you know my opinion on those matters, I’ll tell you my story of the weekend. But first here’s a joke:

What do you call it when a giraffe swallows a toy jet?

We left Baltimore around 4 pm. I actually left work a little early with the intention of beating traffic. Unfortunately Baltimore was facing a flash flood that day and it took about 5 hours to get down to Wintergreen.  We met up with Francesca and Gill, grabbed a snack at The Edge (the latenight menu consists mostly of Nachos and Chicken and Waffles – who would have thought), and climbed up our tiny little steps (literally, they were the tiniest steps ever) to the loft where we would be staying for the weekend. And by staying, I mean hopefully grabbing more than a few hours of sleep over the next 48 hours.

After about 4 hours of sleep, we headed out to the start line to be ready for the runners as they came in. Ryan and I loaded my car with our aid station goodies, assisted with packet pickup (there is also a 50K and half-marathon, with a total of about 300 runners for the day) and fielded many questions for the nervous athletes. We watched the elite start, then the rest of the field take off, then we headed out ourselves for Sherando Lake. Our aid station would be hit twice by the runners, at 17.5 and then again a mile later after they looped the lake. This actually made it fairly complicated as we had to communicate that to them, as well as which direction to run (clockwise), and make sure they knew where to go after the loop (right where they came from). The 6 hours of aid station-ing flew by in a mix of bottles, sweat and grubby fingers grabbing at the PB&J’s. Ryan was impressive with his skills – you’d be surprised how many people I’ve had help me out before that made me wish I was alone! It isn’t as easy as it looks to run a smooth operation at an aid station.

It was neat to see the iRunFar crew come through, and I did my best to get in all the camera shots I could but I still haven’t found myself in the race videos 🙂 After the sweepers came through we re-packed the car (much lighter this time!) and headed back to the start/finish. For the next 12 hours we helped out with various finish line duties. Also included in these were running out to make sure the infamous turn that Mike Wardian missed was marked – it was, but we made it a million times more clear just in case, as well as glow-sticking the last few miles of the race once the sun set.  But the best part is always just being there to hand out a medal and hear some race stories from the finishers. After seeing how everyone was faring early in the race, it’s neat to see the “after” version of the runner. It also was really cool to be getting the live twitter updates from those out on the course and be able to watch the race unfold digitally through the videos. Seeing the elites come in was also pretty neat as usually I am stuck out there somewhere behind them still on the course 🙂

As Ryan learned, helping to put on an ultra can be just as taxing as it can be to compete. Just after the 17 hour mark hit, we were pretty much zombies and headed back to the condo to rest. A few hours of sleep later we were back up and on the road to get back to Baltimore – but not before a stop in C-ville to show of Christian’s Pizza and show him the great 64 University Way where I lived for 2 years! All in all, it was a great weekend and another superb Bad to the Bone event. I am looking forward already to helping out at  Bel Monte 50 mile this spring!

Fire in my Freezer

I wanted to write this blog post as a Public Service Announcement to help others who may encounter this situation. Last night, I encountered a monster in the refrigerator. It was kind of like this scene from Ghostbusters:

Actually, I have never seen Ghostbusters (I know, I know…) but everyone at work told me my story was reminiscent of that.

Here is what happened:

Last night I opened the freezer as I was getting my dinner supplies ready and I hear a HISSSSSSS. Hmm, I think. So I bend down and look into the freezer. I can see through some grates in the back of it that there  is a glowing orange coming from the back part – the glowing orange that is like embers on a campfire one forgot to snuff out.

Me: “umm, guys, I think there’s a fire in the freezer!”

Carly: “There is not a fire in the freezer.”

Me: “No really, there’s a fire in the freezer.”

(Carly and Ryan come take a look)

Carly: “Okay, so we might have a fire in the freezer.”

(Carly and I begin to giggle)

Ryan: “Girls this is not a time for giggling.”

We unplugged the freezer, I called my dad and we began to google. Within a matter of minutes we determined that this was in fact not a fire in the freezer, but rather the defrost cycle of the freezer kicking on. Apparently I have just never been hanging out around the freezer when this happened before. If you would like to see a thread to a post my dad made about the issue  click here. You can see that “Gary” was helpful in pointing out the same solution we all had a hunch about.

Alas, no fires (or monsters for that matter) in the freezer.

Recovery week!

Post-Vegas Coach Hillary gave me some reprieve in the form of a recovery week.  I actually have no problem not doing any workouts, or next to nothing at least. I did some stuff when I felt like it, but when I didn’t want to do it – I didn’t! There are plenty of times ahead when the going will get tough and I will have to talk myself into some workouts. Why not put some money in my sleep and social banks now to make those valuable weeks a little bit easier?? I am nearing the final day now, so I thought I’d discuss some of the many things I have done in my week off:

-Got some new suits! Seeing as the next couple weeks are “swim camp,” I think I will be happy I got myself some new cute TYR suits for pool time. Somehow my outdoor pool is staying open until OCTOBER 2nd – CRAZY! – so, I will be enjoying the last of my outdoor swimming time for the year. With my new suits I needed another $4 to get free shipping from, so I got one of those TYR Sham-Wowish towels. It is by no means  a “new” item on the market, but I still think it’s….weird. I know I had seen these when I was a kid, and I definitely remember the magical quality it has when it can absorb so much water and be dry with just a squeeze. But what I didn’t remember was how dry and stiff it gets when it’s dry. It just doesn’t seem practical to carry around this cardboard fake towel that you have to dunk into water to make into a real towel. I don’t know, maybe I haven’t fully thought it through. But it is cool for pretending I’m a diver.

-I made another video! Since I had no workout plans this weekend, I was pumped to tag along with Carly and Emily’s long run. Only I rode my bike for 14 of the 2o miles and entertained them with a Jeopardy-esque game along the way:

-In my 4th consecutive weekend of travel, I found myself in Philly last weekend with Ryan to spectate the Philly Distance Run. It was a super special last day as a 29-year-old for him as he ran a PR, and it was really cool to have a weekend off to just be the support team. You can read about his race on his blog here!

-Carly and I have gone into business so stay tuned to the blog as we will be debuting the Carlyssa Energy Bars soon. I don’t want to get your hopes up too high….but they are pretty much the best thing ever.

-Exchanged some fun e-mails with my dad. When he came to watch IM Louisville, I somehow ended up in a competition with him over who can have the most twitter followers. Needless to say, it’s one month in, and I am crushing the competition. But, he’s trying, and I have to give him that. He even humbled himself enough to ask me what a “poundtag” was 🙂 haha. But the majority of our emails lately have been like this:

From: Dad

Subj: 3 Followers!

Message: I have 3 Followers!

From: Me

Subj: re: 3 Followers!

Message: Cool, dad! Also, can you help me out and pick up my Army 10 miler packet for me on your way home from work in a few weeks?

(one week later)

From: Dad

Subj: I’m up to 5 Followers! Working on it….

Message: (there was nothing else in the e-mail)

From: Me

Subj: re: I’m up to 5 Followers! Working on it…

Message: Very cool dad! One a week….in 4 years you will have as many as me! (jk I didn’t say that. But it would have been good if I thought of it 8 hours ago) Anyway, are you able to pick up the Army 10 packet? That will be a huge help!

(10 minutes later)

From: Dad

Subj: Fwd: Enter Now for your chance to win!

Message: (forwarded message from Ticketmaster about Train tickets)

From: Me

Subj: re: Fwd: Enter Now for your chance to win!


(5 minutes later)

From: Dad

Subj: Packet pickup

Message: I will put it on my calendar.

Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas: Rolling the Dice

After 2 days of hanging out with Dave and Jennie at the fabulous Green Valley Ranch in Henderson, NV, it was go time! I had managed to keep myself mostly on east coast (best coast!) time so the 4:30 am wake-up was not terrible at all. Jennie and I hopped out of the car and left Dave to go find parking so we could check in with our gear bags and double check our bikes. Everything was in working order, so I made the gametime decision to tape flat-fixing stuff to my top tube. Initially I wasn’t going to for some reason – maybe the urge to gamble being in Vegas and all; but, my worries got the best of me and I borrowed a spare cartridge from Jennie and taped it on. We shared a moment of silence with the world to recognize 9/11 and it was an emotional moment as all of the hustle and bustle stopped, and for one minute the race was pushed to the back of our minds as we remembered that same day ten years ago.

Nonetheless, the show must go on. The swim was a wave start, with the pro men starting at 6:30. That gave me an entire hour and twenty minutes to sit on the dirt and think about the day. Not only that – but we were lined up in our swim waves. What do you get when you put fifty nervous twenty something year old girls together in a 10×10 ft space? Well, does anyone out there remember this game that used to come with computers where you’d start out with one ball and had to successfully “build” walls around it to trap it in smaller and smaller spaces? Then each level there would be one more ball to trap? Until eventually you had a bunch of balls bouncing around in a small square – pewww pewww pchuewwww (that’s the sound effect). That is what it was like. If there was ever a time where I wish I used an iPod, this was it! I generally try to steer clear of strangers before races (well, I try to never talk to strangers, don’t worry mom!) because the nerves of everyone else really freaks me out. I think I spent a decent amount of this time with my neutral face on. I’ve always been told my neutral face looks a little angry so I’m pretty sure this scared anyone from trying to make too much friendly conversation with me, and I was able to just remain in my own thoughts.

When your wave is on deck, they put you in the water and you have to tread water for 10 minutes. Not terrible since the water was 80 degrees, but still who wants to tread water for more than they have to before a race? So I found a rock and perched my little self up there waiting for my wave to start. The lake is fairly narrow, and despite my wave not being huge, the start was still one of the rougher ones I have ever experienced. But after about 200 meters I finally had some open water. When I hit the turnaround and starting coming back in my arms began to die. This was hint number one to me that today was going to be a lesson in energy management. I came out of the water and began the long run up and around the lake over to transition where the volunteers were great and before I knew it I was climbing the switchback out of transition and mounting my bike.

The first 40 miles of the bike course are an out and back around Lake Meade. It really is a gorgeous area, and the biking is spectacular. Long, low grade climbs and similar descents forced you to pedal hard the entire time. It is definitely the type of course that you would have an advantage on having ridden it beforehand. My initial plan in this race was going to be to go all out on the bike and try to throw down a solid bike split. This was quickly forgone after about 20 miles when I confirmed to myself that yes, energy management was the name of the game. I felt “fine.” But, when you race, fine isn’t the adjective you’re hoping for. And, I didn’t want to put myself into a hole that I wouldn’t be able to dig myself out of later. So, I relaxed. The good news is that I can still climb faster than most even when I’m keeping my heart rate low. I lost some good time on the descents, but I was still having fun flying down them.  Once you get back to Lake Las Vegas you head straight to Henderson. The rest of the ride is flat-ish, until there’s a nice slow 6 mile climb up to T2. When we drove this portion of the course it didn’t feel that bad, but definitely leave some gas in the tank to make it back strong!

As I headed out onto the run there were two conflicting thoughts in my head. One was “thank god my legs feel better than at Louisville.” The other: “what the heck, my stomach feels like Louisville.” The first mile is downhill and as soon as I hit the turnaround to start the 2 mile uphill (yes, you read that right), I was slowed to a walk. I was overwhelmed by everything – the emotions, the frustration, the feeling of wanting to puke, and all of the people around me – the course was really really crowded on my first loop.

I  gathered my thoughts as I walked, taking water and forcing in some GU.  I began to get over myself a little bit and stop having a pity party enough to remind myself that hey – most of these people running by me had not completed a full Ironman 2 weeks before. And, after all, Hillary and I agreed when I accepted this slot that it was nothing more than a roll of the dice, a day to have fun. By then I was at the top of the hill and had 2 miles of downhill to keep eating and shakeout the legs. This time on the uphill I was able to continue to run, albeit a bit slower. And then it was time for my last loop. As I hit the final mile mark, I realized that I had just about 8 minutes to get in under 5:30, so I hit my NOS button and managed to go under an 8 minute pace to finish in 5:29:25.

I would be remiss, however, to not point out another story of the day. Jennie finished the race in 4:46:26, winning the 25-29 age group by FIFTEEN MINUTES. She came out of the water in 32nd, proceeded to have the fastest women’s amateur bike split of the day to propel her into 2nd, and then ran an amazing 1:27 to win. She is a force to be reckoned with people and I hope you keep your eyes open for the amazing results she is going to produce in the next couple years!

All in all, this was a GREAT event….truly a World Championship. Crowd support was fantastic, the course was hard, and the post race banquet was a good time. But…will I sign up for a half-ironman next year, when it’s scheduled just 2 weeks after an IM? I won’t rule it out, but I will make myself read this again before signing up!

IM 70.3 World Championships, Pre-Race

You know you’re in the desert when your boogers are weird.  Like, seriously, my nose can’t be any dryer.

Like boogers, logistics of this race are a little weird. Take for instance that the practice swim this morning was from 6:30 to 8:30am at Lake Las Vegas/T1. But, you couldn’t rack your bike until 12 noon. I can’t imagine anyone having 3.5 hours of training to get through to kill time out there. And other than the lake, it is seriously a ghost town out there. So then you have to come back to your hotel kill some time, and then eventually head back out there.

The weird things continued at the bike check in, where you had to wait in line in the hot sun for what felt like forever (probably 15 minutes) to get into transition. The hold up was because they had people surveying each athlete about what kind of bike they had, components, aero bars, wheel sets, etc. First of all – how the heck am I supposed to know this? I ride my bike. I can even fix my bike sometimes. My bike is named Delia (psyche, it’s not, but that feels like a good name!). But I couldn’t tell you the dimensions and specifications of things. Needless to say my “ummms” and blank looks were not received as proper answers to their questions. So, I took to making answers up. Component? Shimano Flintstone Pro. Aero bars? Profile Design Ferrar-ish. Tires? Specialized Awesomes. What you haven’t heard of these? Pssshhh clearly you don’t know bikes.

Then you descend down into T1 and there is literally a lineup of dudes sitting in tailgating chairs with umbrellas to shade themselves holding clipboards. As you walk by them they are (I think) tallying more of your bike specs. I, however, assumed they were giving us ratings on how cute and pretty we were so I made sure to give them my best swagger.

Also weird: T1. Here’s a pic:

See the tiny little tent on the left side of the pic? That’s the swim exit. Then you get to run all the way around the lake to the right side where T1 is set up. I didn’t snag a shot of the T1 exit, but let’s just say, you know it’s a good hill when there’s a switchback! I think the spectators will get some good laughs watching us run our bikes up that thing.

But once I am out of transition I think my fun will begin. I drove the bike course today (note: by driving the bike course I mean that Jennie and I actually drove on roads that are near the bike course. We got back to the hotel and found out that we were not in fact on the correct path. Whoops!) and I’m pretty pumped to tackle it tomorrow.

And the run? Well, we’ll see. I still have no idea what my legs will do tomorrow on the bike or the run, so mostly I am hoping to get in a solid effort and have some fun. After all, it is Vegas, baby!

Next stop: Vegas please!

"Gonna sell my car and go to Vegas
'Cause somebody told me
That's where dreams would be
Gonna sell my car and go to Vegas
Finally see my name upon the Palace marquis"

-Sara Bareilles, Vegas

So, apparently 2 whole weeks have flown by and once again I find myself packing up and heading out for a race! This time I am hopping on a plane out to Vegas for the IM 70.3 World Championships. And I'm definitely looking forward to what I could experience here. To get myself in the mood, my friend has told me to listen to a podcast called Talk About Las Vegas so I have a better understanding of the place I'm visiting. This will definitely help me to take my mind off the race, even if it's only for a little while. Two years ago I was able to qualify for Clearwater, and I think that it was a very different experience than what I anticipate seeing out in Vegas. Clearwater was a huge party. It was the last race of the season for everyone, it was a flat, fast and easy course in favorable conditions. Most people appeared to be on vacation first, and came to race second.

Moving the race to Vegas - a very challenging course - and up to September, means that people are right in the middle of their racing season. Many pros - and potentially many age groupers as well! - will be using this as a last tune up effort for Kona in 4 weeks. While I have no doubt there will be a quite a party afterwards, I do believe the atmosphere will be business first, play second.

Regardless, I am excited to get out there and see what my legs have in them 2 weeks after an Ironman. As I rode with Ryan last week he pointed out that this is the first time I've ever gotten back into the pool, and back onto a bike, within any sort of reasonable time of an Ironman. Let's see what I can do!

IM Louisville in video and pictures…

I used a lot of words to describe IM Louisville in my last post. Now I’ll use some videos and pictures:
Compression socks and Noosas - I'm officially a tri nerd.
Definitely not a photoshopped pic of Hillary and me. Nope, not one bit.
Hillary and Maik kept watch over my hotel room before the race 🙂

I handle pre-race nerves fairly well. That being said, the morning of the race I am pretty high strung and set on doing things my way. This often means talking as little as possible to others, demonstrated by this video taken by my dad the morning of the race.  I was not a happy camper as the only words out of my mouth are “please don’t film me” (see below). Now it’s good for a laugh though.

Umm I hope you got your tickets for the gun show.
Aww, we're on a date. Also known as the worst date ever. Haha 🙂
Stopping to play in my Oiselle Roga shorts at the WVU track on the way home!

Two out of three: IM Louisville

I have now had plenty of time to think through what I wanted to say with my IM Louisville race report, and how to say it. But, writer’s block prevails and I am still somewhat at a loss for words. But if I let any more days pass I won’t write anything at all, and that doesn’t quite seem fair to everyone who has given me support as this goal approached. So, I’ll start this story at the end.

On Monday I sat at the awards banquet at the convention center. Never in a million years would I have ever thought that I’d be sitting at a table with not only Ryan and Mike, but also Hillary Biscay and Amanda Balding. These two women proved to me this weekend that if you don’t keep your heart, you can’t play in this sport. I don’t think that either of them would mind me pointing out that they have had some great successes in triathlon, but also have had their share of rough times. They are two women who have seen and experienced so much happen in the years that they have been racing for their goals, that all it took was to look them in the eyes after my finish for them to know how I was feeling without words.

But before I get to my finish, I should probably tell some more about my race. Ryan and I drove out to Louisville from Baltimore on Thursday. The 10 hour drive was actually really easy. The first few hours were spent in a downpour, but after lunch in Charleston, WV and a quick detour in Lexington, KY, we were shocked to find ourselves already in Louisville. I still had a shakeout run to do so Ryan ran with me and we went to check out transition and the river. Everything looked exactly as I remembered 2 years ago, and I was excited to be back. Mike’s plane came in with only a small delay and we were all tucked in Thursday night far and away from the wrath of Hurricane Irene our friends and family on the east coast would be experiencing shortly.

Friday and Saturday were a bit of a blur but I’ll give things in no particular order:

-Lunch with Hillary!

Note: I wore those sunglasses in most spare minutes leading up to the race as on Wednesday I came down with an eye infection. No, I couldn’t just get a stye like most people who get eye infections would and that seems fairly gross but also fairly normal. Instead, I ended up with Blepharitis. Like, seriously?? That sounds like some sort of disease that geese would get in their webbed feet or something. But apparently it is an eye infection that I managed to get in the days leading up to the race.

-Drove the bike course. Here we found out that despite Mike’s age he is actually quite similar to a small child in that if you put him in the back seat of a car and drive around he will fall asleep within minutes. Psyche, we kept him awake for most of the ride at least. But anyway despite the fact I had raced here before, I managed to remember about 2.5% of the bike ride. That percentage would be summed up in me saying “umm….there are flat miles at the beginning and end.” Doing this was a great idea for those who can’t train on an IM course, and definitely was a good refresher for the ride to come.

-My dad came in town! He had so much fun watching me 2 years ago that he was coming back out to offer familial support again this year. It’s always great to have anyone out on the course and he would be there to cheer all of us on which was cool.

-Went to the 4th Street CVS about 55 times. Not only did I need plenty of Gatorade and snacks, but unfortunately my Blepharitis paled in comparison to the sinus infection that Ryan came down with. On Friday he started feeling crappy and by Saturday it was a full blown infection to the max. We tried everything possible from Claritin to Netti Potting to Saline sprays to Dayquil and only got minimal results. His ability to even start the race was in question, but come race morning he bit the bullet and tried to give it a go.

Before I knew it though the fun was over and race morning arrived. Luckily this year I didn’t enter transition that morning to find a flat tire, so I was somewhat relieved already. We got over to the swim start around 6am and quickly realized that it was probably a little later than we would have liked to have arrived. Now, again, my memory is terrible but I know two years ago I got there around the same time (actually probably later because of my bike issues) and didn’t have to wait in that long a line. That leads me to one conclusion: I must have unknowingly cut in line. Sorry to anyone I cut off in 2009! Alas, we took our spots at the end of the line and waited and waited. The pros went off at 6:50, 10 minutes later the age groupers started hopping in and the line began to move. When we finally hit the pier the line stopped again. We heard murmurs that they were pulling someone out of the water, and sadly they were true. We had really no choice but to watch a man who had suffered a heart attack be wheeled by us on a stretcher. Needless to say, it didn’t look good, and I am sad to say that it was confirmed he passed away. Not quite the way you want to get pumped up for your own day, but the race must go on and they started sending us in again. My goal for the swim was really just to swim faster than the painstaking 1:24 I managed in 2009. All I wanted was to prove to myself that I could swim a non-wetsuit race and swim it quickly. The TT start helps the nerves and I was able to get into my own rhythm early on. It felt like it went on forever and ever, but at one point I caught sight of Ryan passing me which buoyed my confidence a little. Despite the fact he basically flew by me (swimming a super fast sub-60 time!!) I knew that I couldn’t lose too much time given what was left. As I came out of the water and saw 1:05 on my watched I tapped it a couple times to make sure it was still ticking, I almost couldn’t believe it! I jogged through T2 still flying high on that swim time and hopped onto the bike. Ahh, time to relax. A little.

There really isn’t too much to say about the 5 hours and 42 minutes I spent on the bike other than there was a lot of pedaling, and a lot of GUs. The quasi advantage of starting so late was that there was a seemingly endless stream of riders to pinpoint and catch which makes the ride go quickly. Despite having stayed super on top of getting all my calories and hydration, in the second half of the bike my stomach started to feel a bit questionable. Not even like sick from racing, just sick. It became increasingly more noticeable until the final 12 miles where I actually started throwing up whenever I was taking water or food, and I would just swallow it down. Gross, I know, but I was trying my best to keep all the calories in me. As I hopped off the bike it just wasn’t enough and I threw up as I left T2. I tried to just put it in the back of my mind, but something else wasn’t right: I couldn’t run. This is honestly something I have never experienced before to this degree. I would say that both marathons in previous ironmans were tough. But never, in any race of any distance, have I hopped off the bike to find that I couldn’t even run the entire first mile.

In an attempt to stay calm I did some troubleshooting. Would GU stay down? Nope. The Perform drink? Nope. Grapes? Nope. I did my best to stay positive and be patient and just wait for my legs to come back. I wish I could say that I had even one good mile, but that wasn’t the case. In the times when I wasn’t fighting to keep it from coming out my mouth, I was trying to hurry up and get to a porta potty. This went on for 8 miles until I finally saw Ryan as he was running the other direction. Unfortunately, he was having a similar fate on the run. I hit the turnaround and finally Hillary caught me. I had been sitting for a couple minutes so I managed to gather energy to run about 25 meters with her into the aid station. She had positive words for me and I felt terrible she was seeing my demise while trying to race her race, so I did give her word of my great swim and bike at least! “Just finish the race” she told me. Wait, what??? You want me to finish the next 15 miles on an empty stomach – walking???? Absolutely she said. Just finish.

I would be lying if I said I immediately recognized the lesson and value in what she was saying. I still am somewhat sheltered by my ultra mentality – you can’t tell someone to keep going in an ultra when they aren’t eating and keeping anything in. But, this is an Ironman. We have porta pottys a plenty. It is pretty safe to say that if ever you need to rent a porta potty louisville is the place to be. We even have water and food every mile. You’re not being sent into the depths of the wilderness alone. And, more importantly, I was having a bad day, but I was still in control of my mind and body (for the most part). In plain words, I was fine. I just wasn’t going to run very fast.

I had a bit of a breakdown when I saw Ryan waiting for me just before the turnaround. I’m not sure if it was just the outpouring of emotion from the amazing race I felt I had let POOF vanish, or just the fact that I realized there was no one else in the world I’d want to suffer through this with. He asked what I wanted to do and I said that Hillary told me I had to finish. So he nodded and said he doesn’t sign up for these races to not finish either, so we’d do it together. And that we did. It was far from pretty but we made quite a team, and we crossed the line in about 12 hours and 15 minutes. I hope, for both of our sake, that is the only time we ever cross a finish line together at a race.

We gathered ourselves and made it to the restaurant where Mike (who had an amazing race – 9:49 in his second IM!! At least one of us was able to get it done that day), Hillary and Amanda were waiting. This is where I got my hugs and was able to decompress. I felt like I had let the world down and I was just plain embarrassed. I had come off the bike in 3rd place in my AG and just felt like I had let it all go. I also couldn’t explain it and had very little to offer other than I just got plain sick and couldn’t run. It wasn’t like I could point to something tangible and say this is what I’ll do different, this is how I’ll change things. And without that tangible thing, there is always going to be a thought lingering, a worry that I will have to fight, that maybe I’m just not cut out to have the race I want to have.

But, for now, I will continue to lace up my sneakers for my runs, and I’ll continue to get in the pool. I’ll continue to ride my legs off because I am damn proud of that bike split – the 28th fastest time of the day for women! The great thing about this sport is that the training – where you spend 99% of your hours – may be more relentless but it is also more forgiving. Because when you have a bad day no one has to notice. When you don’t hit your intervals you can walk it in, knowing the only price you have to pay is that next week you’ll have to find a new way to try to make it through. Second chances come along constantly in training. Second chances in racing don’t. But if I didn’t race, and I didn’t go all-in when I race, then I wouldn’t be myself. I won’t ever look back and say “maybe I could have biked a 5:55 and done some more damage control to get through the run at least at a jog.” It’s just not me. And so it is okay with me if it is simply going to take some more time to have the race where it all comes together.

In the span of an hour I came across two things that gave me confidence that time and patience is all I’m really in need of. One is Jordan Rapp’s speech he gave after winning IM Canada. As if being a rockstar and super smart human being wasn’t enough, he also has a way with words that can really comfort and inspire . The second, a bit sillier, carries the same message. It’s a cartoon tweeted by @KHESSER (who I raced against last year in Wisconsin and will be racing with at IMAZ coincidentally enough), and the message is simple: sometimes quality takes time.

I didn’t start working with Hillary expecting her to be a miracle worker, although I have to say that 1:05 swim for me is nothing short of an IM miracle! She’s started me on a process and a journey and on Sunday I realized that the best thing I can do is to take this in and learn from it what I can, and use it to better me for races to come. I have a support system that is unmatched and I am confident that in a couple months I will be ready for battle once again 🙂


“[…] There is a great amount of faith required that the work you have done will be good enough on race day. I remember before the 2008 Olympics, training with Simon, I wondered, “how do we know if he’s ready to win a medal?” I think I realize now that we didn’t know. We just knew that we had done our best to do the best job we could and that the answer to whether that was enough would be answered on race day. […]”

-A comment made by Jordan Rapp on Paulo Sousa’s blog post “The Song of the Sirens