Thursday, August 20, 2015

Challenge Poconos (DNF)

When I signed up for this race, this was the description of the bike course:
This is a point to point course, so all those descents don't necessarily have an ascent associated with them.
Sounds good!  Unfortunately, a week or so before the race, they published the athlete guide which made mention of some changes, notably the swim location had changed, thus changing a good portion of the bike course (no longer point to point).  Hmm... there weren't many details and the website still read "gently rolling out and back ride".  OK.. not sure about this, and the elevation and course maps on the website hadn't changed, so no way to really know.  Nothing I can do about it now though, I'm committed.
Jon and I drove up to the Poconos on Saturday morning and straight to the race site.  Right away I saw Jen M and Kate who had attended the earlier athlete briefing.  Apparently they spoke of hills... uhh, wha???  Kate said that she drove the first 4 miles of the course, and indeed it seemed hilly with a big hill around mile 3.  Immediately I started freaking out about the bike portion of the race.  I went through check-in, racked the bike, and headed to Kalahari resort.  I hadn't realized how far away the resort was from the race area, and so Jon and I decided to skip the team dinner and just relax at the hotel restaurant.  Sweeney arrived at some point after I went to bed, not that I slept very well at all, thinking about those hills....

There were no complaints about the early wake-up time, even after I shifted our departure time up 30 minutes because I forgot to take air out of my tires and was worried about them popping overnight.  I wanted time to deal with that, just in case.  Of course when we arrived at the race site, my tires were fine and fog had delayed the start of the race for 15 minutes.  Oh well, better safe than sorry!  I had a few more conversations with people about the hills on the bike course and I was dreading that more than anything.  It was all I could think about. 
And we're off!
I waded into the water when it was time for my wave to start.  It actually dropped off quicker than I thought and we had to really work at treading water to keep from floating backwards down the river.  Too bad we were swimming upstream to start!  There was definitely a current.  Luckily there wasn't too much kicking and grabbing as we all started swimming, and the water was cool and clear.  I immediately felt some chaffing on my neck but tried not to think about it as I watched the rocks and mussel shells on the bottom of the river.  Shame on me for not knowing how many buoys we had to go past until the turn.  I kept thinking the next one would be it, but then saw everyone continue forward.  It was definitely hard swimming against the current.
Once we turned and crossed the river, we started swimming downstream.  This was so much easier!  The vegetation was significant though, and we were swimming through masses of seaweed and underwater forests.  Every stroke resulted in a ton of stuff hanging from my arms and stuck to my legs.  Yuck!  I could see the swim out section and had two buoys to go.  I looked at my watch.. 40 minutes.. oh well, no way I'm going to make it to the end in only 10 minutes, so I guess I'd have to settle for a 50+ minute swim.  I started thinking about that bike course again and wondering if I should slow down to put off the inevitable.  I was not excited to be done with that swim, but I climbed out of the river and started the long trek back to transition.  I saw Jon and Sweeney along the path taking pictures and cheering, and then I noticed I'd forgotten to hit the lap button of my watch.  It said 51 minutes, so maybe I did come in right around 50?  Jon told me later that indeed, my time was 49:40, so yay!

I was pretty efficient in transition, not wasting any time (like I'd wanted to) putting on my shoes, gloves, sunglasses and helmet.  7:42 isn't great, but did include the long walk from the water before I even got to transition.  Ready or not, it was time to start that bike ride, starting with a short but steep hill just to get out of the beach area and onto the main bike course.  I could tell this was going to be a long day.....
The first couple miles had some rollers and then I started up a pretty significant hill (in my opinion) and really had to crank it out to make it to the top.  The road pavement was equally as bad as the elevation.  Very, very rough roads.  I glanced at the mileage on my Garmin and it read 2.8.  Hmm.. this must be the hill that Kate was talking about.  Maybe it will get better now........
Nope!  I barely completed that thought when we were climbing again.  Only this one was so much steeper, and with the turns, I couldn't even see the top.  All I could see were there tons of people walking their bikes.  I didn't want to walk, not yet, but I ran out of gears and just couldn't go forward anymore.  I fell off my bike, right onto my knee.  I started having an asthma or panic attack (not really sure the difference), was dizzy and had to sit down.  As I sat on the side of the road, I saw 4 more people fall off their bikes.  I thought about quitting right there, but finally got myself together and walked the rest of the way up the hill.  It just HAD to get better now, right?
One of the few hills I actually made it up without walking!
Nope!  Another hill.  More people walking.  More people falling off their bikes.  I made it halfway (maybe a third-way?) up and got off my bike.  I walked to the top, put my bike against the wooden side railing and sat down.  I was done.  I could see the next hill already and just couldn't fathom 56 miles of this.  I didn't want to quit, but there was no way I could go on.  Less than 5 minutes later, another girl, who I now know as Amanda, joined me.  She was done too.  Many others stopped and chatted with us, taking a break and trying to convince themselves they should continue.  We encouraged them, and I even offered my inhaler to another girl struggling to breath. 

I am so thankful for Amanda's company as it took the race over 2 hours to come pick us up!!  2 hours!!  We saw people on their way out and again on their way back.  Linda passed us twice, and on her return trip we asked her to please mention to someone back at transition that we were waiting.  She'd be the 4th or 5th person to alert the race that we were there.  Several other athletes told us they'd reported to volunteers that we were waiting for a ride.  Even the final racer who was a Challenge employee passed us and made a phone call to ask someone to come get us, but nobody ever showed.  Weird that there were no SAG vehicles at all that passed us. 
Yeah, it doesn't really look that bad (although it IS a little worse than the photo shows)...
It actually doesn't really hurt much either, but a battle wound is a battle wound!
The logistics for this race were a little odd also.  There was no parking past 8:30am at Smithfield Beach, which is where transition was located.  There were also no shuttles for non-athletes between Smithfield Beach and the finish line/expo.  This means spectators could drive to Smithfield beach to watch the swim and bike start, but then had to move their cars and just sit at the finish line until their athletes finished.  In many cases, that's upwards of 7 hours of doing nothing!!  Jon and Sweeney were surprised to see me wandering around the expo so early, but they should consider themselves lucky that I didn't finish that race!
We stuck around for awhile and cheered on the finishers of the Olympic distance race.  Then we went on a driving tour of that bike course.  I had to down-shift the gears in the car to make it up those hills!  My biggest gripe about this event is that they never warned us about the bike course.  Most of the people I talked to signed up with the same impression that I had, that this was going to be a gently rolling course.  I understand it's not their fault they had to change the course at the last minute, but the lack of communication absolutely was their fault.  Not knowing about these hills until the day before played with my mind and I psyched myself out, especially since I have been training for IMMD's flat course.  There was no way to prepare for this based upon the description on the website, that even now doesn't accurately describe the course.

I found this comment in someone else's race report and I think it captures it perfectly.  Case and point, I would never sign up for Savageman:
[I'd] rate the race and Challenge higher if they we're transparent about the course and didn't make changes after most athletes registered. The aid stations and volunteers were great.  If you look at Savageman they we're always upfront about the course. You knew what to expect. Challenge Pocono ought to take a cue.
The three of us together got pretty dang close to the top of this chute!
But... moving on.  "Finishing" the event that early meant that we got back to the resort a lot earlier than expected, and with me a lot less sore than expected.  We spent the next day and a half lounging around at the water park at Kahalari, frozen drinks in the hot (warm) tub swim up bar, lazy river, water slides.  That part was fun.  I'm really happy Jon and Sweeney were both able to come up to Poconos and hang out. 

I have very mixed feelings on not finishing this race.  On one hand, finishing would have given me a nice confidence boost for Ironman.... maybe.... would a 9+ hour finish really have helped in the long run?  I do feel like maybe I gave up too soon, but I was miserable.  Physically I think I could have done it - Kate later told me that after the first 5ish miles, it wasn't so bad - but I psyched myself out mentally.  I missed out on the long ride and long run that day.  I should have just turned in my chip and done the half marathon anyway, but I didn't think of that.  The worst part is that there is no chance to redeem myself before Ironman in October.  That's going to stick with me, I think.

...and who knew I could develop such a long race report for a race that ended for me at mile 4.3 of the bike!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

just plugging along

"Your body will argue that there is no justifiable reason to continue. Your only recourse is to call on your spirit, which fortunately functions independently of logic."
- Tim Noakes
To kick start July, I did my longest ride ever.  80 miles!  I'd had enough of all the hills and decided to do this one on my own, starting in Shirlington and riding the W&OD trail all the way out to Purcellville and back.  I also got my first Ironman training injury, around mile 60 of this ride:
This HURT!  It was a long 20 miles back to the car!
The next morning, it poured rain on Paula and me as we did our long run and crossed 3 states -- started in Virginia, ran through Georgetown in DC, and then up the Capital Crescent trail and into Maryland:
The picture does not do justice to how wet we were!
One week later, I did my new longest ride ever, my first century!  100 miles!  And I ended up with my second training injury:
No idea how I hurt myself - it didn't hurt - I had to be told I was bleeding.
Sometimes we did our long runs in the evening after work -- a makeup run after skipping it the previous weekend -- oops.  That might have been a lesson learned based upon how sore I was on Friday at the office.  People stared at me using my stick roller on my calves and ice pack on my ankle all day!  I did this run with Paula, but only took a selfie as I finished a few minutes ahead of her.  I was pleased with this performance, being able to go under 15 min/mi while doing 2 min run + 1 min walk intervals:
Holy blisters!  Luckily none of them hurt, just make my feet look disgusting.
We also ran in very HOT weather!  This was a mid-week run and I opted to skip the team's Power Run that was on the schedule (1 mile run + 10 min boot camp circuit, repeat 3 times) for a shaded trail run with Jessie, Eileen and Henry.  It was still ridiculously hot though:
This was the one time I forgot my Garmin... luckily I had my phone, but it's WEIRD running without my Garmin!
I drove down to Cambridge with my team to ride the Ironman Maryland course.  Of course it was another hot day!  It was supposed to be a 110 mile ride, 2 laps of 45 miles each plus 1 additional 20 mile loop.  I only made it the 2 loops of 45 miles.  One of my teammates, Adele, talked to me and told me I needed to listen to my body, that I seemed dehydrated and done.  I'd wanted to do triple digits though, so I climbed back on and set out for an out-and-back.  About a mile and a half down the road, I realized that my will to be off that bike was greater than my will to do triple digits.  So, 93 miles it was.  I don't regret it:
Love how they label the one hill of the course :-)
And that wraps up July.  Plugging along, plugging along.... I've actually biked over 1100 miles so far this year, by far the most bike mileage I've ever done (In 2014, I was just under 700 miles for the year).
It's hard to believe there's less than 2 months to go.  I'm not sure if that excites me or terrifies me...  one more month of hard work and then taper!