Sunday, September 28, 2014

Team RWB Tri Camp 2014 - Year 3

After returning from racing in Galveston, it was time to put final preparations on the 2014 Team Red, White and Blue Triathlon Camp. This year was the third year of the camp and would be the biggest yet.

On Thursday, April 10th, the athletes began to arrive. This year there would be 41 athletes and lots of volunteers. This year we moved the entire camp to Lake Pflugerville so that we wouldn’t have to worry about driving across town in rush hour traffic. The locale was perfect, but for the first time, the weather didn’t really cooperate. The wind was extremely strong (and would stay that way for the entire weekend) and the temps were cooler than normal for April.

As everyone arrived at the lake, we made sure those that needed to be fit to their bikes were taken care of and gave the athletes their “goody bags” full of gear. We fed the athletes a steak dinner and had a short round of introductions before transporting everyone back to the hotels. We had a few glitches with paperwork, etc. but finally managed to get everything taken care of and set for the night.

Friday morning our awesome van drivers picked up the athletes and had them at the lake for the bike skills clinic. This is always a fun time as some of the athletes have never been clipped into their pedals. Even the more experienced athletes fall sometimes. And everyone learns something. After the bike, the athletes got ready to swim and had a great swim clinic. Then it was time for a much needed lunch. After lunch was a run clinic, short run and then a functional fitness session. A lot gets squeezed into each day, so the athletes are always ready for a shower and nice dinner.

Saturday started out with a group ride. Since the athletes would be doing a mock tri on Sunday, the group ride Saturday was on the route. I was asked to lead one of the groups and it’s always awesome to see the teamwork, the encouragement and the fun had by the athletes. Back at the lake it was time for another swim. And let me tell you, these athletes were getting a true lesson in swimming. The wind had the lake making small white caps. If these athletes could swim in this, they will be fine at any race. After lunch and a short nutrition clinic, it was back to the hotel for showers before dinner.

The Saturday night dinner is a special one. Attendees are asked to bring an item that means something to them. During the first two days, these folks form bonds and learn about one another. They see strengths and characteristics in others that they appreciate. At dinner, they have the opportunity to express that to the others by sharing their special items. It is a VERY emotional time. As a volunteer, I just sit back and watch, but this year, Jamie surprised me. He was one of our athletes the first year and stayed at our house with us. He became part of the family. He raced with me at Galveston and then came back to stay at the house and volunteer at camp. At the Saturday night dinner, he presented me with a shadowbox of pictures from camp, pictures of him at races, and……his Ironman Florida medal. Unbelievable. That’s the kind of bond that gets formed at these camps.

Sunday morning was the icing on the cake, though. This was the first year we were actually putting the athletes through a mock tri so that they could put it all together. We had transition set up, we body marked them, we put them in waves, and off they went. It was so awesome to see them put into place all that they had learned throughout the weekend. There were many who were doing their first triathlon ever and it was exciting to see them cross that finish line. Each athlete also got a finisher medal. The first of many, I’m sure.

We had lunch brought in, debriefed about the race, packed bikes in boxes to be shipped home and wrapped everything up at the lake. Then we headed back to a gym near the hotel where I was lucky enough to lead the athletes through a yoga session. It was nice to see so many of them enjoying the stretching and relaxing after the race.

After a yoga and a shower, it was off to the final dinner. The final dinner is presented as a roundtable with the pros and a few awards are presented. Another emotional night. The bonds that are formed during the weekend are incredibly strong and it’s awesome to know that these veterans go home knowing they have a support group – one that includes the pros. It doesn’t get any better than that.

I am honored to be a part of the group and to be a part of the third triathlon camp. The coach, the volunteers, the pros, the athletes all make it a highlight of my year.

Long Overdue 2014 Galveston 70.3 Race Report

Originally when I got signed up for this race, it was not about me. Well, I guess it’s always a little about the person racing – wanting to stay active, be competitive, set a new PR, or whatever. But this year was more about being there to support a friend. There is a group of us who train and race together and one of the group had attempted Galveston as a first Half-Ironman last year. Some things happened and aid stations were closed before she got there (still within the time limit) and nutrition issues ultimately impacted her and ended her race. She was going to go back this year to try again and several of us were going to race “with” her for support.

Initially my goal was to set a new PR on the course. Over time, things happened, life got in the way and things changed. The friend has some issues in her life and decided that with all the stress going on she had not trained enough and would not race. When she does attempt a half-ironman again, she wants to enjoy the training and be prepared. The rest of us were still in. Although I have to admit that some of my training then shifted focus.

Then, the week before the race, another friend’s grandmother passed away. The funeral would be the weekend of the race, so she was out. There were still several of us racing, so it was time to get in race mode.

After arriving in Galveston Friday, a few of us met up Saturday morning for a short bike ride. We wanted to make sure the bikes were working properly after the drive to Galveston and check out the weather. The wind is ALWAYS a factor in Galveston. It’s just a matter of how much wind and which direction it blows. The short ride wasn’t bad, but there was definitely a tailwind on the way out and a headwind on the way back in. If the wind stayed like this it would be a nice ride out during the race, but a brutal ride back in. Not to mention the fact that it was much colder than normal and there was about a 90% chance of storms (not just rain, but storms) on race day.

After the ride and cleaning up, we headed to packet pick-up to get our stuff and then grabbed some lunch. We then gathered the bikes and headed back to drop them off in transition. We all gathered for an early pasta dinner where the main topic of conversation was “what will the weather be like tomorrow” and “what will happen with the race”?

After making sure everything was ready for the morning, it was time for bed. I fully expected to be woken up in the middle of the night by storms, but I don’t remember hearing anything. I guess in my mind I was kind of preparing for a cancelled race. When I woke up the next morning, the first thing I did was look outside to see what the weather was doing. It wasn’t raining, but the streets did look a little wet. Guess it’s time to get ready and head to the race site.

It had been really windy and yucky all weekend and one of the first things my friend Jaime said about the weather race morning was, “this is not sexy”. And it wasn’t. Three of us had traveled to the race site together. We got there early, so we sat in the car for a while to stay dry and warm. We guessed what they would do, as the forecast still called for severe thunderstorms. In thunder and lightning, they will cancel a swim. We were worried about the bike as well. What if we got 20 miles out and the thunderstorm hit? There is really no shelter out on the course and if you are 20 miles out, that means you have 20 miles to get back in. How would they clear the bike course in case of lightning? We managed to convince ourselves that the officials needed to cancel the swim and bike and just make the race a half marathon.

After watching more and more people head to transition and the clock tick closer to race time, we decided to head to transition ourselves. One of our other friends was only a few spaces from me on the rack. I set up my stuff, went to the bathroom, came back and never saw her or her stuff. I was worried that she had decided to not race. By the time I left transition, I still hadn’t seen her.

Then we ran into a couple more of our friends. One is going to do IMAZ this year as his first Ironman and was using this race to gage his fitness. He had also been battling a cold or sinus infection of sorts. He said he had not slept at all the night before and could not stop coughing. He didn’t think he could race. After some back and forth, he made the tough decision to turn in his chip and not race.

All of this and the dark, menacing clouds, and I will admit that this was the first time in my racing career that I have seriously thought about not starting myself. I do not like being on the bike in rain or with wet roads, especially when the wind is as strong as it was. But, if the race officials were going to let the race continue, then I guess I would at least attempt it.

We walked over closer to the race start and watched as the pros went off. And then the age groupers started to go. Right away, people were being pulled from the water. Their race was over. I still didn’t feel great about racing, but if everyone else was going to, then so was I.

And then we saw another friend and fellow Team RWB athlete from Houston. And while we were talking to him, Coach Derick walked up. Coach Derick isn’t really my coach, but he’s the coach for the Team RWB triathlon camp and he is pro-triathlete Kelly Williamson’s husband and coach. He talked to us for a bit and gave us a few tips. He had obviously been watching the weather so he could prepare Kelly that morning and he shared with us what he probably shared with her. He gave some great advice for getting through the swim in the windy, wavy conditions, and he gave me some advice for the bike. Being that my bike is really light and I’m small myself, I get blown around pretty easily. His advice helped calm me down.

Soon enough if was time to start walking down the pier. At this point, there were three of us together and in the same age group, so that helped as well. But once we jumped in the water, it was just me and my race.

As the horn sounded for our wave to start I tried to keep Derick’s advice in my head. At this point I had convinced myself that there would be no PR today and that I didn’t care about time. I just wanted to finish without injury.

The swim out was tough. Swimming into the wind and the waves and really beat you up. But I did what Derick said and tried to draft when I could so that someone else would be doing the majority of the work. I just swam a nice easy stroke and didn’t try to fight it too much.

Pretty soon I was passing some different color caps. You could tell that people were uncomfortable in those conditions and having a hard time. But I just kept swimming. Each buoy I passed was getting me closer to the finish. And then people from the wave behind me started passing me. I knew the young, fast guys were a few waves behind and fully expected them to swim right over me.

By the time I made the final turn back to shore I was so ready to be out of the water. I now had the wind and waves at my back and picked up the effort. I just wanted out. As I got closer to the swim exit I noticed something I don’t ever recall before. Usually at the end of a swim, there are a few different colored swim caps. Maybe for the wave ahead and behind you. But NEVER in all my races had I seen so many different colors together at the end. I can’t tell you how many swimmers from how many waves converged on the finish together. It was very interesting.

As usual, I swam until my hand hit bottom and then I stood up. Back on solid ground. And I took a peak at my watch fully expecting to see one of the worse times I’ve had. But I didn’t. What I saw actually surprised me and I wondered if it was really true. I couldn’t remember at the time, but I thought it might actually be a better time than the last time I did this race. How could that be? I didn’t have time to figure it out. I just started unzipping my wetsuit and headed to the wetsuit strippers.

Out of my wetsuit, I was freezing. I don’t like being cold, but cold AND wet makes me miserable. I had anticipated this and didn’t want to be cold on the bike, so I took my time in transition to put on arm warmers and a cycling jacket. I did not want to use all my energy on the bike trying to stay warm and figured I’d rather be a little warm than freeze. Besides, I could always stop to shed the jacket if I needed, because my focus was not on time today.

I set out on the bike glad that the storms had held off so far, but being very aware that the roads were a little bit wet. I had my sunglasses on at first, but they fogged up and it was so overcast that I couldn’t really see well with them anyway, so I took them off and stuffed them in my top. I settled in to a nice pace. Based on my speed and feel, it seemed like there was a bit of a tailwind on the way out. I wanted to go fairly fast, but I knew I would need to save some energy to fight the wind on the way back.

As usual, a little ways in and I had to pee. I knew if I didn’t stop, I would suffer, so I decided to make a quick pit stop. I’ve gotten pretty quick about getting in and out and soon was back on the road. And that’s when Brad passed me. Brad is a top age-grouper (could be pro) with Team RWB. He had been a few swim waves behind me and I actually figured he would pass me in the swim. As he went by he gave me words of encouragement, which meant a lot to me at that point. Brad is always in contention for a podium spot, so the fact that he encouraged me during HIS race was awesome. I returned the favor and off he went.

Since Galveston is an out and back bike course, I always glance at the other side to see if I recognize anyone on their trip back in. I knew Jaime was in front of me because his swim wave went off about half an hour before mine, but I also knew several others were behind me. I felt a few sprinkles at one point, but just kept praying that the rain would hold off until I got to the run.

As I got close to the bridge at the pass, I became more cautious. The roads around the bridge aren’t that great (that’s where another friend crashed one year and ended up in the hospital) and the wind going over the bridge always is a challenge for me. But I knew that not far after that bridge was the turnaround. I just had to get there and I’d be halfway done.

I made it over the bridge. I made it to the turnaround. I made my turn VERY slowly so I wouldn’t crash. And then I started heading back. And I noticed something. It didn’t seem as hard as I expected and it actually seemed like the wind might have shifted. Derick had said that morning that it might and I think he was right. I would take it as long as I had it.

When I hit the bridge again, it seemed like the wind had gotten a little stronger. The bridge really isn’t that high at all (remember, it’s Galveston), but it’s like it’s in a wind tunnel and you are totally exposed. I came up out of aero and grabbed the hoods to help stabilize the bike. And over and over and over I repeated to myself “focus”. There were a few water bottles on the ground because they had been launched from rear cages and I didn’t want to get caught in a wind gust, hit a bottle and crash. People riding by me must have thought I was some crazy women talking to herself. But I knew if I got off that bridge I would be ok. And finally, the bridge ended.

As I got closer back to town, I glanced at the time. Was that right? It seemed like if I kept up my pace, I might actually set a PR at least on the bike portion of the race. How could that be on a day when the weather conditions were so horrible? But it was true, and that gave me that extra dose of motivation to finish strong.

I was really happy to be back at transition and off the bike (almost as happy as I am to get off the bike during an Ironman). I was on solid ground on my own two feet now and I didn’t care if it rained or not now. I know I get hotter on the run that I do on the bike, so I shed the layers, put my shoes and a visor on (just in case the rain came) and headed out for the last 13.1 miles.

The Galveston run course is a multiple loop course, so you can see people on the course who are way in front or behind you. As soon as I entered the course from transition I hear some more words of encouragement. I look, and once again it’s Brad. He, of course, flew past me, no doubt on his last lap while I started my first. But again, it was a big pick me up.

That’s one of the nice things about racing for a team. I don’t think it really matters which team, but when you wear a team kit, people support you whether they know you personally or not. And those words of encouragement go a long way. They go even further when they come from a pro, or something who in theory could be a pro.

Once again, with no real time goal today I just settled into a comfortable pace. The course is three loops, so each loop is around 4 miles. For some reason the first loop seemed to fly by. I had run every step and felt good, so I convinced myself I’d run at least half of the course before walking if I needed to. I saw the friend who had decided not to race along with a couple other friends who were there for support. By the time I got around to them on my second lap, others who had been racing behind me were on the course and they were telling me how far ahead they were so I could chase them. Even if they weren’t up ahead, they were giving me a rabbit to chase and it worked.

Soon enough I was finishing the second lap and about to start the third lap. And I hadn’t felt the need to walk at all. At this point with only about 4 miles left, I wasn’t going to start now. I made it a new goal to run the entire 13.1 miles, even if it was a slow run. I did, at some point, pass most of people in our group and I saw Jaime as he was finishing up his last loop. By this point, Brad had also finished and was out looking for his wife and gave me a high-five as I ran past him. Brad, if you read this, thanks for all the encouragement on the course!

The ironic thing is that the run course takes you right past the swim start. Those waters that were so wavy and unpleasant this morning were smooth as ice at this point. That was so not fair. But the third time I passed that water I knew I was almost done. I put it into high gear and put a big grin on my face.

From starting the morning not sure if I wanted to race or not to finishing in what I saw on my watch to be an overall PR was just amazing. It goes to show you that sometimes you have the best races when there is no pressure on you. Had I gone in this morning with pressure on myself to set a PR, it might not have happened. But when I didn’t have the pressure and just listened to my body, it happened naturally. I could not have been happier with how the day turned out. The anticipated rain never came and I did in fact set a new PR!

Swim: 42:35 T1: 5:27 (slow!!!!) Bike: 3:11:27 for an average of 17.55 (I did the out in 1:31:25 for a 18:38 pace and the back in 1:40:02 for a 16.79 pace) T2: 4:00 Run: 2:06:56 for a 9:41 pace (this is only about 11 minutes off my Half Marathon PR)

Total Time: 6:10:25

I was 45/127 in my age group; 297/748 in the females; and 1356/2329 overall.

Looking back, I’m glad I decided to race!

Galveston results: 2010 S: 50:29 T1: 3:20 B: 3:22:06 T2: 2:09 R: 2:13:08 Total: 6:31:02 2012 S: 44:29 T1: 3:25 B: 3:20:25 T2: 2:14 R: 2:14:22 Total: 6:24:55 2014 S: 42:35 T1: 5:27 B: 3:11:27 T2: 4:00 R: 2:06:56 Total: 6:10:25

Pretty interesting comparison for the three years I’ve done this race. Now I just need to cut about 11 minutes from my time so I can be under 6 hours!