How a relaxed early season race led to a 70.3 PR!
I call Challenge Maine on August 31st an “early season” race because it fell two weeks into my build phase for Ironman Arizona. I planned my season this year to do two Ironman’s 6 months apart with a full rest period in between with the focus on long-term progression. I decided to do 3 “B” or tune-up races for Arizona after not racing at all before Texas. I started my base phase for Arizona at the beginning of June and didn’t exactly have the summer of my life for various reasons. Needless to say my training took a huge hit and I felt like I was going through the motions without much progress (sometimes a side effect of a true base phase for me anyways!)
I decided to put my efforts into a bike specific block which was both humbling riding with some pretty impressive roadies but also very enlightening and achieved my purpose of just feeling more comfortable on two wheels. I made some mechanical changes that made a huge difference and after Luc gave me a 1 on 1 bike-handling clinic I was able to bike with no hands and more importantly corner without braking. My comfort level on the bike increased 10 fold.
Swimming on the other hand seems to have gone downstream….literally. When I was focusing on biking I swam and ran twice a week a piece 25 minutes each. My run can get away with this and I found that the biking even improved my run without any effort. I spent some time open water, which allowed me to feel more comfortable out there and work on my sighting (not my best attribute!) When I first swam open water in training and was startled by the lack of timing chip…..i knew it was something I needed to do more regularly! Alas open water increased my comfort but did the opposite to my speed….
All things considered, I start to make a turn around in my personal life about 3 weeks before Challenge Maine and my training finally felt like things were clicking. I finally felt relaxed going into the race and made my mind up to go into to have fun, learn what I needed to work on for the remainder of the season and call that a success.
As always nothing like a little pre-race hotel drama to keep you on your toes. We arrived (Mumager, Sammy the Shi-tzu and I) at the hotel in Old Orchard Beach on Friday afternoon. I went to check in only to find out our reservation was only Saturday and Sunday (likely a user error on this one!) After succumbing to an outrageous rate for the “ocean view” room for Friday I heard on the loud speaker “Can you please confirm the lady in the blue Chevy equinox with a dog is a guest?” I told the man at the desk that this was my Mum who was waiting for me to check in. He gave me a blank stare, “We aren’t pet friendly until labor day” and as I look up see his massive “No refunds” sign. Ouch. After some back and forth I managed to get my money back.
If you know Sammy you know his diet is almost as high maintenance as mine…almost. He has a concoction of poached chicken, sweet potato and pumpkin, which means he needs a kitchen to prepare his Sammy burgers! After calling around looking for the magic combo of kitchen and pet friendly, found one! Sadly I then sent us to the wrong address where the hotel did not have a kitchen, we ended up staying there AND the hotel I was on the phone with. 4 hotels in 3 nights…ouch.
Saturday morning we woke up, moved hotels…again…..and then headed back to Old Orchard Beach for the expo. The best part about half ironmans is the ease of the set up, if you’ve ever done a full ironman you know the 2-3 days of prep necessary. We were in an out of this one in under an hour! The only hiccup was a change of my registration from a male to female….minor details!
Sunday morning my alarm went off at 3:30 and I leaped out of bed for my 3 hours prior to race start breakfast. This also allows for ample time to get ready slowly and not start the roller coaster of adrenaline any earlier than necessary. After breakfast I sat down to do my 10-minute meditation. This was something I started over the summer and without doubt attributes to my race day success. Some of the tips I have learnt about being present, visualizing what you want to happen and approaching obstacles as random acts instead of “just another thing to add to the list.” Typically I visualize the race, how will I feel, what will I do, how will I react. This morning I just cleared my head and emptied it off all the other thoughts and worries I had.
Mumager, Sammy and I headed down to the swim start and I set up my transition station. It was nice for once to have my own bike pump and be the one helping other people to pump their tires and check their gears. I just switched from Garmin to Quarg power meter and knowing that would work was a huge relief as well!
The water temperature pleasantly surprised me at 64 when I was expecting the 50’s! It was my first time doing a running start into the water. My legs wanted to sprint when the gun went off and get ahead of the stronger swimmers but my head reminded me that spiking my heart rate that early in the race was a recipe for disaster.
We ended up walking and ducking waves for about 200 yards, which proved to be to my advantage as a weak swimmer! Once we got past the waves we settled in, it was nice to be in a small group of just girls in my age group. I was able to really relax, get into a groove and just accepted my swim time would be slow but to save my gas for the bike where I had put my energy this training cycle.
We made the turnaround and I kept my sight on the giant Ferris wheel. Watching Shark Week the night before a race might have been my secret to swimming faster! But I came out of the water in 37:10, 1 minute faster than my best time. I decided to strip my wetsuit (another one of my personal difficulties) as soon as I got out of the water so I could make a solid run to transition, which was quite far away done the boardwalk.
This was the first triathlon my Dad had ever seen me do and I saw him at the corner as I ran past. He snapped a great picture of me coming past with the Striiv logo on my side. One of my sponsors this year is a company he has been working with for a few years which has a fantastic fitness-tracking device and just released an option with heart rate. Knowing your resting heart rate is a foolproof way to track stress and this is a great tool for doing so.
Mumager was waiting at transition and I tried to make it as smooth was possible. I got on my bike and for the first time in my triathlon career I felt comfortable. I felt raring to go and confident instead of pedaling tentatively worried about what could go wrong. I was off! I couldn’t have asked for a better bike ride, my goal average heart rate was 144, and I hit that perfectly. I was more confident descending and made up time from a series of rollers that were on course. I was comfortable in my aero position and didn’t slow down to eat or drink at all.
I came off the bike in 2:51, which was about a minute PR, nothing too significant, but my best time on this course was with an elevation of 600ft, this course was 1700ft. Not being the best climber or descender in the world, I took this as a personal success and sped through transition.
I took off on the run and my legs felt great. I had appropriately dialed in using my glutes and hamstrings on the bike leaving my quads ready to rock. I took off on the first half conservatively, in hindsight too much so, but I wanted to keep my heart rate around 150 going out knowing that I could hold that for days. Having not doing a 70.3 triathlon in over a year I wasn’t dialed into my pacing and effort for 13.1 miles. The run was gorgeous and the first couple of miles led out to a trail and the remainder of the run was an out and back on a gravel type trail. This made the run a bit slower but really helped the recovery.
Once I reached the turn around I knew I had the gas to push it and ramped up the heart rate to 160 and finally 170 as I took the turn on the final 5K on the run. The last 3 miles of any triathlon are always my favorite, my time to shine. I passed about 10-15 women in that last section and felt really strong as I came into the finish line, not sure if I had PR’ed or not.
I ended up finishing in 5:22, which was a 2 minutes PR from Eagleman about 14 months ago, once of the best races of my life. After I crossed the finish line I was handed a soaking wet towel (which was later given to Sammy to cool him off from his spectating efforts!) and a giant lobster…..yum!
After a tumultuous summer this was just the race I needed to get my confidence going and focus towards Arizona in November. I looked back at my notes from Texas about what I needed to work on: comfort open water, comfort on the bike, and I feel I have nailed those. Writing this now two weeks post race I have 9 weeks to go until Arizona, with one more tune up race in Montauk in October. Next on the list is to focus on some pool swimming, fine-tuning the stroke with lots of drills and some speed work. That and dialing in sustaining aero for the flat course that Arizona is!
I recently purchased a Lokai bracelet. The theory behind this “balance” bracelet is that there is some mud from the Dead Sea and water from Mount Everest, which balances the highs and lows we feel in life. The message is “Sometimes your on top of the world, stay humble. Sometimes you’ve hit a low, stay hopeful.” This is such a powerful message to me. As an athlete you live for the high moments, and when everything is clicking you feel on top of the world, invincible. Unfortunately in order to feel that extreme high you also have to endure extreme lows, when everything seems to be going wrong. This bracelet helped me through some of the low’s of the hardships over the summer and remember that what goes up must come down and vica versa. Keep your head up, focus on the goal, do the right things and everything will fall into place, it’s just the law of the universe!