Getting lucky in December!

Getting lucky these days obviously refers to….the weather. When you’re doing 15+ hours of biking a week, being able to get outside for as many miles as possible is key to sanity.  The other key to sanity: friends!

(cue the Bette Midler)

(For the record, I do actually know every word to that song. Since I was about 10. Thanks, Mom!)

About a month ago I reached out to Leslie. I knew that to help pull me through my December riding miles I needed an “adventure” to look forward to.

“Hey – we live 110 miles from each other. I have a great idea. Let’s ride from your house to my house on one day, then back the next day.”

Leslie quickly agreed, but when we looked at weekends, the only one that worked was one when she was already slated for a half marathon on Sunday. “We could ride Friday/Saturday and then race on Sunday…..”

SOLD!

“The half marathon is only $5”

DOUBLE SOLD!

So, off we went. Thursday night I drove up to NoVA and over Ginger Mango Sangria we finalized our plans and expectations for the day. This makes it sound much more glamorous than it was, probably since everything outside of DC is so #fancy: in reality we were just trying to consume as many calories as humanly possible before the next 3 days would begin.

It wasn’t until pedaling out from Reston on Friday that we realized how truly lucky we were: only wearing booties, knee/arm warmers, a vest and gloves, we were gone! This is December! We could have easily been subject to any of the following: wind, rain, snow, rain and snow, temps below freezing, temps right above freezing with rain and snow, temps below freezing with rain and snow and wind.  While it would have been interesting to see exactly which conditions would have made us pull the plug on this adventure, I was happy not to have to find out!

So happy in fact, that as we cruised off the busy section onto a nice little back road, we just kept cruising along. For about 20 minutes, until I realized that hmmmm, these road names aren’t really following the cut sheet anymore. And then, we hit a dead end. #fail

Luckily this detour was at least scenic, though it was some bonus miles. Between that and a small meltdown and bonus mile situation in Culpepper (80 miles without a lunch stop is not ideal!!), our day was actually pretty good.

Charlottesville came and we refueled, swam, refueled, got massages (thanks Anne for the late night house call!) and got to bed. Luckily all of this happened before we really had time to process the fact that we were still less than halfway through the project!

Saturday was another glorious December riding day. We even managed to not get lost…..too much, at least. And it was determined that the Smash Sakura Sun kit is THE best for being bright and seen on the roads! Siri tends to be helpful but can be a bit overbearing and bossy as a riding partner, actually. We also found a great little pit stop in Culpepper this time around – Knakal’s Bakery. Probably the same place it was in 1960, and it’s amazing. I only ate one boston crème donut, but it was one of the best I’ve ever had.

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We also found a ride souvenir– it was Free Art Friday in Culpepper and this gem was taped to the wall outside the bakery! Is a great little souvenir for the fridge to commemorate our trip.

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There was also creepy-but-amazing sculptures in lawns that we rode by.

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Saturday night was dejavu – refuel, swim, refuel (Afghani food may have been a questionable choice pre-running race!), and recovery boots.

Sunday came and I have to say – this was the most nerve wracking part of the weekend for me! I just didn’t know how the legs would feel and that made me anxious. It definitely helped having Leslie and Nate with me to be like “eh, it will be what it will be, let’s do this!”

The race started and Leslie and I settled into a little pack with another woman for the first few miles. Things not to do/say if you’re a dude and running in the back of a pack of women, or, well, anyone:

-Say “hey you girls are running really fast!”

-Clip our heels. Multiple times.

-Walk, then when we catch you, insert yourself into the middle of the pack surging like a yo-yo.

Oh, and if you’re a dude and you are running with a female friend’s bib, here’s a genius idea: Don’t WIN the women’s race. Or, if you do, tell someone, dammit! While Leslie did have the pleasure of breaking the tape, it was slightly frustrating to have us called as 2-3 for awards instead of 1-2. Mostly because there’s a woman out there somewhere who ran hard and earned her $5 Starbucks prize!! We overheard the guy in the parking lot after, and while I’m sure he’s embarrassed, no one *really* cares – you just should have done the right thing and made it right afterwards. Sigh.

But anyway – WE MADE IT!!!! (well, kind of, there was still some recovery activities later in the day). It was a super fun weekend and trust me, we never lost sight of how lucky we were to have the conditions we did which allowed us to pull it off.

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And of course, I must give a shoutout to the other players involved in helping me get through 235 miles in 2 days on 2 wheels: my Dimond bike, ISM Saddle, and ICE Friction chain. This combo never lets me down and it’s amazing to be able to rely on such good equipment for weekends like this.

 

2016’s a-coming!

In order to race a lot of full distances a year, I have to get started early! That means my 2016 season training has most definitely ramped up. I get asked a lot how I pick my races now that I race professionally. From where it falls on the calendar, to the type of swim or bike course, to historical competition, all these factors come into play as I concoct my race season. But, if I had to combine all of these smaller factors into one big theme for the year, it would be: I’ll race like it’s my job.

Because, it is.

All about that suntan!

I am pretty sure it appears I only pick races that are great vacation spots. At first glance, it probably seems that way. And yes, getting to go to these amazing places all over the world I’d never travel to otherwise IS a HUGE perk of the job. But, I certainly don’t pick them based on vacation spots. Mostly because, it’s not a vacation! Friends and family have learned many times over the hard way that even for a Sherpa, it’s not a vacation 🙂 Days pre-race are spent with feet up and out of the sun, early bed times and getting work settled so I can leave things to be for a day or two around the race. Days spent post-race are usually traveling home! The budget runs out pretty quick, and often you’re at the mercy of the cheapest plane flight schedule. I do try to make the most of the 1-2 days post-race, especially if Ed is there with me or if friends are racing too. But, that unfortunately happens less often than anyone would like.

“It must be so nice to travel and stay at races for free!”

That’s something I hear quite a bit from people when they find out what I do. Ummm…..so where should I send my travel expense report from last season for reimbursement? 🙂 At some level, yes, the top handful of pros are getting travel and accommodation stipends. Maybe a small appearance fee here and there. But in general, you’re absolutely paying out of pocket, for the whole kit and caboodle. Remember that whole Slowtwitch drama the other week where the Bahrain 70.3 Race Director said no women were going despite being paid travel and accommodation? Well, he meant to say something more like “I would pay for a few select women to come race, and they are not able to come race.” Just to be sure, I asked for it, and sure enough, was told no. Womp womp.

Often though, there are the opportunities for a homestay, and I am still doing those whenever possible. Not only have I met some of my favorite people in the world through homestays, but it really helps financially during some extended trips abroad. Plus, traveling solo can be a bit lonely at times, so it’s great to have a friend and/or family to be a part of for a little bit. I love homestays!

“Well then, how do you decide where to race?

Hillary summed it up best for me recently as I struggled between some race choices. It’s always SO tempting to head to a race that might not be the ideal course for you if it is a bit cheaper or closer. But she said something that will definitely stick in my brain for awhile:

I should be racing courses that we think I can win one day.

This was a good wake up call for me – encouraging that we think there are some races out there I have a shot at winning 🙂 But, also a good reminder that this is my job. I didn’t always want to go on the business trips I had to in the corporate world, but I did, because, well, work. Same thing applies here. So, what’s a course I can win? Lake/River swim. Tough bike. Variable conditions. Basically: a survival of the fittest type of course.

I’m super pleased with how the first month back to training has been going for me. I’ve been on the pool deck at 7am, six days a week, getting the job done. I’m starting to feel that fitness creep in, and more excited than ever for 2016. Which is good, because I’ll be racing before I know it, kicking off the season with Challenge Wanaka!

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Pic from www.newzealand.com…..Again, I swear I’m not just picking the best vacation spots…..

 

Choose your own adventure!

When the offseason rolls around, I usually have something up my sleeve. A race, an adventure……..something that doesn’t involve me racing a triathlon! Two years ago it was going for my 5th finish at the JFK 50 mile. Last year it was crewing for Julie at Ultraman, and running an open-marathon PR to once and for all break through that 3:30!

This year, we had in the works a one day Rim2Rim2Rim adventure in the Grand Canyon.

 

These adventures are: amazing, inspiring, renewing, and……exhausting! But I love them because even if you’re at races with friends, you’re still pretty focused on yourself and your own race. You certainly don’t get to spend 15 hours straight with your bffs. And believe me, you don’t know quality time until you’re hiking for hours in the dark up the side of the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I’m pretty sure everyone else out there that night was listening to our convo and very worried about the state of the four women up ahead 🙂

So…..how do I pick my adventures? First, if you’re working with a coach, it’s ALWAYS a good idea to loop them in on the discussion. Often what might sound exciting will also be working against your main goals that you’re working towards. That’s not good. The timing of when to fit these in is quite important. I can do a 50 mile when it’s in November, giving me plenty of time to recover before building for the next season. I can do a hard marathon in January when my focus for the year is going to be a run-focus. But I couldn’t do a 50 mile in March, right before my season starts. Or, going for a marathon PR in May or September wouldn’t work as well either. Hillary helps me figure out where to place these adventures to fit well with training. And sometimes the adventures do fit well within the season – like our epic bike rides.

And of course, the most important rule of off season adventuring….always plan the next one before this one is over! We have plenty more up our sleeves 🙂

Beach to Battleship – Last Call for 2015!

After spending 2 weeks in Kona with activities that centered around being on my feet in the heat for 8 hours/day, and another that involved drinking beer and running, I was nervous coming home that week because I knew it was a quick turnaround to Beach2Battleship 140.6. After winning the event last year, there was no question that I would be competing again to try to defend that win. But there was certainly some anxiety as I questioned my ability to bounce back after that trip to race well. And, Kona trip aside, having 4 iron distance races in 8 weeks was an experiment in itself. This was one of the first times where racing definitely felt like a job. There was a large part of me that didn’t quite feel like getting up on Saturday to work. But, it was an opportunity for a paycheck and for more experience racing the distance – there was no way around that.

One of the reasons I was excited for the race was that it was going to be a reunion with friends! In 2014, I had a great experience with my home stay in Atlantic City and was definitely bummed not to be able to head back this year and see them. But, where there’s a will, there’s a way. My AC friends decided to take matters into their own hands and just pick another race to get together at – B2B it was! So, Ed and I joined Jeff and his wife, along with Tom and Eric (our AC hosts) in Wrightsville Beach. We had a sweet house rented right near T1 and the start, and were luckily given a great few days to spend at the beach weather-wise.

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I was also able to reunite with my B2B homestay last year and join them for their annual B2B pre-race dinner. After it brought me good luck last year, there was no way I’d miss that!!

Race morning came and we were greeted with warmer temperatures than last year, making the pre-race wait much more comfortable. Jeff’s wife was not racing, and having her help shuttle us to T1, then the start, also made my morning much more relaxed. I didn’t have to be up hours ahead of time to get to the shuttle buses, etc. In fact, I think my alarm was set in the 5’s – unheard of and very civilized!

The mass start set us off, which meant that I would be unsure of where the competition is for most of the day. The wind was picking up a little and offered some choppy water in the middle of the swim to work (slightly) against the current. Despite the chop though, swim times were as always quite fast and I came in around 48 minutes. I grabbed my Dimond and set off on the 112 mile ride. I had gotten myself in the mindset before the race that I was 10 hours away: 10 hours away from putting my feet up. From food. From the offseason. I could do anything for 10 hours, right?! However, when 5 of those 10 hours are going to be spent on a bike, it’s a little hard to convince yourself that it’s just a little bike ride. I did notice better road conditions than last year, and I was able to hold my power well when I wasn’t around people to help push me. I actually felt pretty good coming off of the ride, pleased not to have to TT 112 miles again for a few months.

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The run began, and pretty much how every race since Copenhagen has been – I felt…..fine. Not great, but not terrible. Just fine. I wasn’t so far off a target pace, but it also wasn’t coming easy. Luckily, at this point it’s become a strength of mine to run through that, and I began just clicking the miles off. I had a peek at where the other women were on the out-and-back, and with about 10-15 minutes separating us, I knew I just had to continue running hard because I’d never know what happens. 10-15 minutes can be made up if someone hits a wall at mile 20, so I just had to do my thing and see what happens.

With favorable weather and a good run course, no one was hitting the wall, and my 3:26 marathon –  the fastest female run of the day! – secured my 3rd place finish. It was also a really nice surprise to have some family out on the course – I hadn’t seen my Uncle in years and he was a champion cheering section for me during the entire run!! I know it’s hard to believe but despite the hurt, I was actually having some fun out there 🙂

After the race, it was certainly time for celebration. First I celebrated over beers and burgers with Melissa, who interviewed me for TRS Radio (check that out here!).  Our group then continued the celebration back at our beach house, and then again the next morning with some Donuts (these were amazing) and several plates of food at the awards ceremony!

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One thing was for sure: I was ready for a break after this one. I am planning to kick off the 2016 season fairly early, so right after this we shut things down and I took relaxing to the next level. Of course, my off season plans always include some crazy adventure, but with this many races in the last 2 months, my fitness for that was not in question.

Of course, a huge part of the reason I was able to race those 4 Ironmans in 8 weeks: my sponsors. Especially Smashfest Queen and Dimond bikes – you guys helped make this happen. And to Hillary, who believed in me and helped me get through all of this without any pity parties or breakdowns, thank you, thank you! I cannot wait to see what 2016 will bring.

Kona From the Other Side

I admit, I have the best job in the world when spending 10 days in Hawaii is considered a work trip. If I ever say otherwise, you have permission to send me hate mail!! But seriously, work and play was all intermixed here with the activities (okay, the beer mile was more play than work……okay it was all play.) so I will recap some of the highlights below:

Expo

If you needed me from 8-5 during the week, I would have been at the Smashfest Queen booth! While I’ve had some experience with “expo life” at Bad to the Bone events in the past, this would take it to another level as a multi-day experience. Of course there’s no one else I’d rather share in these days with than the Smash women – Hillary, Cameron and I rocked the days. #boom

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Beer Mile

There’s not too much to say here – I would just watch the recap video for yourself here! Clearly this should be a goal race for all non-Kona racing athletes. Seriously though, really fun time, and a root beer division for those who want that. All good fun!

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The “other” race….

Turns out, there was this other event going on that week too – who would have thought? It was actually really great for me to see the World Championships unfold, as I watched from the sidelines. While I have raced there twice as an amateur, I know all too well that the pro race is drastically different from the age group side of racing. After watching the race this year, I think that is especially true in Kona! It was really eye-opening for me to see the race unfold as it happened. To feel how much hotter it is out on the Queen K when the pros are running (compared to when I was out running as an age grouper). To see how much the swim dynamic is changed with a pack of 40 women as opposed to thousands. To see the bike dynamics, again vastly different when the numbers dwindle in the pro packs and there aren’t thousands of age groupers around you. All good stuff to keep in the vault!

Equally Ambitious

The last of the work related business was putting on a TriEqual event: Equally Ambitious. EA was a thought that we had a few months back. After going back and forth with WTC so many times trying to get #50womentokona we distracted ourselves from the temporary insanity with some discussion on how to make more women turn pro. If more women are doing triathlon (something we are trying to help through Equally Inspiring), in theory eventually more women will be eligible for a pro license. And if more women accept that license and race in the pro field, with an equal number of male and female pros (or at least close!) there would be no way to argue that equality in Kona shouldn’t happen.

Of course, that line of thought is extremely optimistic, and quite long term, but hey – channeling energy to something positive was definitely helpful to me through the year while we continue to fight for #50womentokona.

Equally Ambitious is a program that we hope to evolve into a mentorship program, or series, where current professional females are accessible to elite amateur females. They can hear how the women made the decision to race pro, what that life really is like, and ask them, well, anything they want – from sponsorship to struggles of the lifestyle. As someone who recently lived through the “pre-pro–>rookie pro” years, I know that there are A LOT of questions and concerns that go on in this time. I have been fortunate that my coach not only went through the same stuff, but has a huge network of others that she’s introduced me to help me through; others are not that lucky. But there’s no reason that they shouldn’t have access to answers, especially if it will help inspire them to take racing to the next level! And thus, Equally Ambitious was born. As we tested the waters in Kona, there are no doubts we will continue this program.

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All aboard! IM Chattanooga!

I suppose I should probably write a race report for one Ironman before it’s time for the next, huh? About 3 weeks ago I set out to IM Chattanooga. Ed and I were able to head down there on Thursday, making the 7 hour drive bearble and plenty of time to relax and get ready for the race. I had never been to Chattanooga before so it was cool to see the city. Plenty of great spots for good food right along the river, it was great! I also had time to catch up with the DVC (Dimond Van Chris) who installed the new ICE friction chain on my Dimond Bike. Something about “6 free watts” is what goes with this chain……I’ll take that any day!

Pre-race was also fun because I was able to catch up with 3 of my TeamHPB athletes who were racing. Stephanie would be tackling her first full distance, Whiting ready to tackle one at sea level, and Leah would race her second. It’s always fun to me to have my athletes in one spot and get to really take in how amazing each person is – all at very different places in life and sport, but we’re all together cheering one another on and working towards the same goal. Such a unique thing to be a part of and for that I am quite thankful!

Race morning came early – staying about 20 minutes from transition, plus a point to point swim makes the logistics of the day a little longer. Or, at least it did for me because I get nervous never having walked through the process before, I end up being quite early for it all!! But, better early than late for a race day, that is for sure! Especially this time since I had to change a flat in the morning. Thanks to the mechanics on site who made that easy!

The swim was not only point to point, but we’d be swimming down current. The start was a bit hectic with the current at the start, but before I knew it we were off and swimming. For the first time in a swim, I felt totally in control and aware of what was going on. I’ve worked on my swim *a lot* since South Africa, and it’s beginning to pay off immensely. I saw the lead pack break, followed by a chase pack, and I worked my butt off to stay with that chase pack. We slowly broke away from the gaggle of people behind us (with over 35 women racing it was a huge field!) and I was able to settle in with 3 others to make our way down the river. While I say “settled in” let me assure you – I was swimming my butt off. Any time I took my foot off the gas I felt them pull away, and evidenced by my rosie cheeks in this pic here as I exited the water, I was working!!

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We moved through T1 quite quickly as well, and were out on the roads in no time at all. Unfortunately, despite riding well out of my comfort zone I still wasn’t able to hang with the women I swam with. I settled in and ready to just ride on my own for the day. Around mile 30, I was caught by some of the other women and that made for some good help to push through the middle section. However, with 5 women in relatively close proximity, plus 2 age group men slotting in between us, it wasn’t easy riding at all as I was constantly on guard to try to keep the proper distance between bikes. Not surprisingly, with a ref that was riding alongside us for a bit, he eventually hit 4 of us with a drafting penalty. Always frustrating but arguing will get you nowhere, so I stopped at the next penalty tent. After 5 minutes it was off again, and I rode the final 36 miles in to town.

At this point I wasn’t quite sure of my position, but I did know there were quite a few women ahead and that I had work to do! Nothing about this run felt great, and certainly nothing felt smooth! But, mind over matter and luckily I had still fueled well to keep myself rational. This meant that while I felt terrible,  was able to still see my paces on the watch and understand that I was doing just fine. It was just going to feel crappy for 3.5 hours.

The hills on the run course and the humidity certainly had taken a toll and I began picking people off. While I started the run feeling blah and ended feeling blah, it never actually got much worse. So I was able to run my way into 16th place, once again breaking 10 hours. For 3 in 5 weeks….yes, I’ll take it!

And the other ladies had great days as well. Whiting came out with a solid run PR, Stephanie persevered through crazy bike issues to finish strong AND with a run time that bests many of her standalone marathons, and Leah won the 18-24 age group, securing a spot to Kona next year!!

So proud of these women!!

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“Don’t throw yourself a party just yet”

….These were the words Hillary told me as I was chatting with her just prior to my travel back home from France. The underlying reminder to me here was that yes – we just accomplished a HUGE milestone for us as a coach/athlete combo. We nailed it. But, this was a gentle reminder that my season wasn’t quite over yet.

After this trip I spent a week doing one thing: Sleeping. I kid you not. I slept 10-12 hours easy every night. Took 90 minute naps in the middle of the day. And still felt exhausted! About a week after coming home though I started to feel a light at the end of the tunnel and, while I’m still having NO issue sleeping well through the night, I’ve been able to get back to some real workouts and see how the bod would respond.

I’m happy to report so far so good and it looks like all systems are go for IM Chattanooga at the end of the month! I’m super excited for this because I will also get to spend time with 3 of my athletes and share the course with them on the 27th!

I’ve had a lot of questions since the double about how it was done. I touched on one of the biggest points above: sleep! Not only for recovery, but it was SUPER important that I prioritized getting full nights of sleep during the training cycle as well. This was tough sometimes. When things get busy, I absolutely hate letting myself sleep in, which some days could mean that I was starting my training day at 9am. Just thinking about that gives me anxiety now as I LOVE the 6am-10am period for knocking out a training session and some work before the world is really awake. But, learning to shift things back a bit was absolutely necessary, and reminding myself that sleep is an important part of this job (lucky me!!) was necessary.

FOOD! Eating was also key here. I was most certainly lean and fit for these races but I definitely was not the leanest I’ve ever been for a race. In fact, going into Vichy I felt quite puffy as I fought off the post-race water retention from Copenhagen. I didn’t get on the scale much during training unless I was concerned weight was too low. When you train like a maniac you also have to eat like one too, and just one day where I didn’t get enough calories in would set me back in training for the next 2 days. I learned my lesson quick there, and made a constant effort to be fueling up. There was no counting calories, just a constant effort to eat all. The. Time.

Massage. I also stepped up my massage game for this training block. It’s important to realize that just when you go pro suddenly your body isn’t immune to feeling the effects of training! I still wake up and take my first steps like an 80 year old woman. And I still would be grimacing after sessions to do things like bend down to pick up my keys when I dropped them. The body certainly takes a beating during this build. But I am lucky to have found Anne Pike who has worked wonders for my recovery with her massage skillz. A weekly massage, whenever humanly possible, was added into the routine. All of my little tweaks and pulls that seemed to incessantly bug me last season miraculously went away, and despite all the hard work I was still able to head into each day strong and confident that my body was holding up well.

I plan to continue to focus on these 3 as I get ready for Chattanooga!

An American in Vichy: Part II of the Double!

I should probably begin by going back to my other post where I touched on my (somewhat) purposeful lack of preparation for certain things about this trip. In that post, the philosophy of winging it was great. Mostly due to a local homestay (thanks again Helle!!) and the fact that pretty much everyone spoke at least some English (willingly so!), the philosophy of just figuring some things out as I went, worked out quite well.

In France, it turns out, this was much more difficult. Having spent no other time in France, I can’t speak for the entire country, but in Vichy, there is very little English spoken. And when it is used, it’s probably not in an effort to help an American traveler. That made being an American in Vichy very difficult at times! While it would be much easier for me if the residents were to take an Effortless English Club course, the lack of English spoken did give a truly authentic French feel to the place.

The extent of my French includes: Hello, Goodbye, please, Do you speak English, and a few other tidbits I have picked up in life, most likely due to the fact I have the entire soundtrack of Les Miserables memorized, and, I used to act out Beauty and the Beast a lot with my sister when we were young.

So, needless to say, if someone wasn’t able – and willing – to speak English with me, we got nowhere quite quickly. Lucky for me I did have some help. Lucy had offered to take me in for the week and be my travel buddy which was much appreciated. Lucy had a much better background in French….and, had the sense to bring a pocket travel book to translate a few things! Both of these were very helpful. Still – the fact that I was able to fly into a tiny little airport, rent a car (manual!), drive to Vichy (with tolls!) successfully confirms my belief that I’d be the most money Amazing Race partner in the history of the world.

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You know you’ll be friends when you arrive with cats on your PJ shirts!

We had a great little apartment right along the river, also on the run course. The town itself is known for being a relaxing place – spas, the river activities, etc. So, it was nice to have this as the second race where I didn’t feel the urge to go out exploring a huge city. I could just hunker down and focus on eating, recovery, and watching BBC news (our only English channel!).

The other difference with this race was that I had 3 other American guys racing as well. Steve, Chris, and AJ who I met out there were familiar faces at the pro briefing and we quickly bonded to get through some of the pre-race logistics. While Steve and I both live in Charlottesville, so we knew each other, it’s always fun to me how quickly you can bond with some of the other pros. There’s just something about the shared experiences that brings you together. Everyone has their story of language mishaps. Losing a bike in luggage. A funny homestay. Immediately it seems, it’s like old friends getting together. I think beyond the spoken stories – the unspoken understanding of what you’re all going through, is what carries the bond. The understanding that this person has also traveled just about every mode of transportation possible to get to this city. They’ve figured out a way to swim and cycle in every town along the way. They’ve slept in a bed that’s not their own for weeks. They travel alone because, well, when it’s this glamorous for one, how can you possibly bring along your significant other? And the understanding that we do it all for the chance that maybe, just maybe, Sunday will be our day.

Whatever it is, it’s pretty cool. And I was super grateful to have others out there to chat with (in English, whew) and just be able to relax around.

One of my favorite elements of Vichy was the swimming pool we had access too – a 50 meter outdoor pool that was up on top of a hill overlooking the city. Seriously insane. Apparently Michael Phelps has been there, yada yada. With the aluminium bottom I was able to tan not only my back while I swam, but also I swear it tanned my front in the reflection. Two birds – one stone. Amazing. I was swimming quite a bit in the week as that was my main way to get true aerobic sets in as I tried to recover from Copenhagen.

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Lucy and I did get in a couple spins to preview the course a bit which was great. AND Cadence Running Company friends, Jacqueline and Gordon, helped me out by driving me around the course. The course is very French! Technical stuff through these little villages, riding through sunflower fields (unfortunately sunflowers a bit past their prime), it was exactly what you’d want riding in France to be like. Well, unless you would prefer the French mountains, in which case you’d get none of that on this course 🙂

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Race day came and water temperature was, naturally, .2 degrees below the cutoff, which, by the French rules is a bit higher than the rules in other Ironmans at 24 degrees C. Despite heating up quite a bit, I felt good in the water and was swimming with a couple other women through the first loop. We did an “Australian Exit” (Do the aussies do this often?) by exiting the water and then diving (!!!) off the dock back in for loop 2. My dive was beautiful. Just saying.

Onto the bike and it was actually quite crowded from the start with age groupers. After the first 10k I was settled in at 5th place, and was feeling pretty good. I made the pass into 4th just prior to the end of the first loop, and rode the high of that for…..about 5 miles. And then the legs started to work…..10 more miles. More Work. Little by little it became WOrk. Then WORk. And then, the last 25 miles were solid WORK. But, despite feeling like I was headed way south, I knew things were still okay (still reeling in plenty of AG men who blew up! ) so I just kept pushing on. I will say, I was pretty grateful to be on the Dimond. The roads weren’t terrible but they certainly weren’t smooth like butter and I’m always happy to be riding a beam bike in those conditions!

I knew going into this project that this run was going to be what could make or break it all. I learned a few things during these next 26.2 miles:

-The French don’t like ice. That makes running a marathon in 95 degree F heat quite a bit more difficult than it needs to be.

-The French don’t like littering. Perhaps this is my “American”ness, coming out, but typically I am under the impression that the aid station rules are that it’s not littering as long as your cup is dropped within the bounds of the station. You make a best attempt at throwing it in (or at least towards!) the trash can, but as long as you do that: golden. Well, imagine my surprise when a referee stepped out in front of me as I’m running out of the water stop, shook her finger at me and held up a pencil to a pad of paper as if to say “I’m writing down your number for a penalty you litterbug.”

So, I ran back, picked the cup up (among probably 10 others on the ground, I should mention), and threw it out. Ok? I asked? She kind of nodded. Jeez.

Jacqueline and Gordon were also out on the run course giving me a few updates. This was super helpful in keeping me motivated as I heard that things were changing ahead of me. While the women ahead had a decent gap – you just never know.

You just never know. And that thought is what I hung on to for about 16 miles of that run, some of the most painful (albeit definitely not the slowest) miles I’ve run in a marathon. That thought is what got me to the finish line with another sub-10 and a 4th place finish. I was absolutely thrilled!

It was farily surreal – I’m not sure what I expected to feel after finishing the double. The nerves and the buildup to these 2 weeks was by far more stressful than one race, and I think that the relief of not just one good race – but 2 – really did just feel THAT much better. I made myself believe for quite some time that I could do this and I could do it well. But……you just never know. Until you do know. And then, it feels. So. Good.

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With Chris Sweet, 10th MPRO and 1st American!
With Chris Sweet, 10th MPRO and 1st American!

I can’t thank Hillary enough for her patience with me over the last, oh, 4.5 years to get me ready to do this one 🙂 It’s been a LONG time in the making. It was definitely a special thing to be able to carry the torch and continue the foundation for the double that she has done so well!!

This is Not a Tea Party

It seems fitting today that as I was preparing my things for tomorrow’s race I came across my finisher’s medal from last weekend. On the back of the medal it says, “This is not a tea party.”

You can read the story behind this saying on the medals here. While I think some of the story gets lost in translation, I could really appreciate the meaning behind this.

There is something very beautiful, I have always believed, to challenge yourself, move your own borders. The beauty of it is the irrationality in the project. Sport inner soul is not healthy. It is all about drama, testing of own courage. – Jørgen Leth

The irrationality in the project – that may be what best describes the back-to-back IM project: irrational. To most, at least. I am lucky that I have surrounded myself by people just as irrational as myself, and who have supported this idea, and paved the way for me both in racing it and training for it, to make me the best prepared I am for what is to come tomorrow.

I am also quite lucky to have sponsors behind me supporting me in this project, answering my crazy skype calls and emails at all hours of the day and night, setting me up with other English speaking friends here (lifesaver), and making sure I’m best equipped to face tomorrow. Smashfest Queen, Dimond Bikes, Powerbar, Cadence Running Company, ISM Saddles, The Right Stuff – you guys are great, thank you!

And now, the million dollar question of course! How am I feeling? Well, I feel no better, no worse than last week at this time. And last week turned out pretty darn good.

Double time! Part I

Wow. I can not believe that the first week of this adventure has wrapped up and I’m into week 2 already! It’s been a whirlwind. After this first race I am already so glad I had made the decision to come over to Europe to race. With 15 Ironmans under my belt, it can be difficult to find ways to spice them up too much. When you go to the same destinations for a race that you’ve been to before, the comfort factor of knowing the ropes is nice, but, it’s easy to settle in and lose some of the adventure that is such a pivotal part of the Ironman experience.

Well, for anyone who is feeling that way, let me assure you: the adventure awaits in Europe 🙂

I’m also so grateful that triathlon gives me a purpose for all these crazy travels. Perhaps it’s a bit naïve or even selfish that I am able to travel to Europe without even a dictionary for language translation in my pocket, but not figuring it all out ahead of time is part of the adventure for me. Similarly to my epic bike trips with Leslie and Hillary – I like to figure out just enough so I’ll be safe and get to where I need to go. But, I want to figure the rest out as I go. This trip I actually attempted to be more prepared than usual by changing some money in the US airport. Turns out though, Euros aren’t used in Denmark. That’s what I get for trying to be prepared!

I have also been extremely lucky this trip to have perhaps the best homestay once again! Helle has been amazing at showing me all that Copenhagen has to offer – from a local’s perspective of course. Last week I was able to join her in her morning routines of running to a beach off-the-beaten-path where she jumps in for a morning swim. I was able to eat dinner at some great local spots with her help for the translating too! Of course, there have been the typical woes here and there where I’ve found myself lost and confused, being given a sandwich when I thought I ordered anything but a sandwich. Or riding around in circles as I try to get to a certain spot. Or just staring blankly at someone who did not speak English and apparently could not understand my charades acting out what I tried say. Nothing serious though and before I knew it I felt quite comfortable getting myself around here.

Being in a new country and a race venue I haven’t raced before means there were a lot of logistics to figure out. It has been a long time since I’ve been “stressed” about a race. Making sure I will be on time, finding the right bus to places, etc – all of this left me with the least amount of sleep I have had on a pre-race night in quite some time. While I had it all figured out on paper, the worry factor was definitely there. But, as things do, it all worked out well and I was at the race on time, feeling good. Of course though, it couldn’t go off without any snafu – as I pulled my wetsuit on, I tore a ginormous hole along one seam in the shoulder. OOPS. The way it ripped, I decided it wouldn’t affect the integrity of the suit much at all, so I opted not to tear the whole thing off for a “one-sleeved” effect. Instead, I just tried to hide behind the other girls as they photographed the start – I didn’t want to be the bum pro with a hole! Dead giveaway I wasn’t a swimmer though.

Race morning was also quite windy which was somewhat different than my other days in Copenhagen so far – though, definitely normal for Copenhagen in general. By the time we rounded the swim course, the buoys for the return had been blown around quite a bit leaving us with a bit more navigation that I think we wanted! The canal you swim in is quite shallow and very nice – it would be a great swim for a first timer, that’s for sure. I felt like this swim took FOR-EV-ER and would have bet my life I swam about a 1:10 — but I knew I was with at least one other pro female, and then when I saw 1:00 on the watch as I got out I was floored. Just goes to show how much you can be in your own head!!

I headed into transition – unlike in North America, there were no volunteers to help you change. Luckily for me, I was still able to get my bike shoes and helmet on all by myself!

Onto the bike! This allegedly “flat” course first takes you through the city with many technical twists and turns, but it definitely keeps it interesting. As we hit the coast, we felt that heavy crosswind that had been present at the swim. And onto the lollipop loop—well, anyone who says this is flat is most certainly wrong! It is fast since it’s just hills and they are definitely rollers, but this is no flat course! I loved every turn keeping things interesting, with just the right amount of climbing to give you a break from the strict aero position. As the second loop started, so did the masses of age group men flying by – I was pleased to see all the marshals out doing their absolute best – especially the ones who pulled over a pack of no less than 25 men who had BLOWN by me. C’mon guys!

There are great crowds on the bike course as well, and between them and the cobblestone sections it truly felt like the ultimate #Eurostyle riding experience. So much fun.

I had been passed by one other FPRO early in the ride, and had yet to see another, until finally, at mile 100 I caught someone in view! Whew. My power was good all ride so I knew that for me, this was an okay day on the bike – but I had no sense of where that was leaving me in the field, and I like to know at least some of that before the run.

I headed into the changing tent. Wait a minute…Apparently #Eurostyle is also a joint Male & Female tent! Cue the American blushing. Ha! No, they did have cubicles for people actually changing, but you can imagine how many men were taking time to go in there. Perhaps this helped me quicken my T2?

The run…..ah, the run! Weaving through the center of Copenhagen, crowds to what seemed like 10 people deep at the heart of the course – this, my friends, is a spectacular run. I was so pleasantly surprised to see how good my legs felt as well, meaning I could take in all the crowds on the first 2 loops and really soak in all that was there. By the second half, I was working for it, but it was one of those “I have a good feeling about this” types of days and I never doubted my ability to get it done. I also dearly appreciated the “U-S-A!” cheers I heard during those laps.

Coming into the chute it’s been awhile since I’ve had a smile like that on my face at the finish. I knew I nailed it and did what I had to do for part I of the double. A strong day of racing, a paycheck!, and all in tact for the week still ahead.

I was also so thankful to have planned a few of my extra in-between days in Copenhagen as there was much more to see and do: Christiania, dinner at Paper Island, a canal tour by boat, Tivoli, and of course the cat café! You can check out my pics from this adventure on Instagram (@agodesky) or my Facebook Album here!

More from France soon!! 🙂