and other thoughts...

and other thoughts...

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

In Between

Hello out there! Long time since I've written...

Lately, the lion's share of my days have been spent in the garden. My public life centers around my kids, my coaching and my training.  But my heart is divided. Okay, it's not divided on my family... :) Ha! They are still number one. But training and racing no longer rank as my top obsessions outside of my family.  Training has fallen to a distance second and racing, once my number one obsession, doesn't even make the list.

How did this happen?

Before I discuss THAT, here are some pictures from my garden:

I will label these pictures "Small Successes"--.
I've had a lot of fails this spring, but some things have gone well!  My garden is tucked away at the end of a cul-de-sac, so no one see it. This is tragic, in my opinion, so I am going to victimize you (my invisible reader--there must be at least one of you out there? maybe not) with pictures.

Looking onto the vegetable garden. Not much up yet except the peas.

 Lupine and Bearded Iris by our little pond

 A tulip called "Parrot"

 Earlier this spring, main perennial bed

 Entryway garden

 The dogwood in bloom (pink, top) and Chica photobombing my pictures, as usual.

 Pansy grown from seed.

A messy bed by a dogwood--but I love the cheerful Johnny Jump-Ups.

 Purple iris and peony

Yellow flag by the pond.

 A new bed in the front of the  house

 Beets coming up in the vegetable garden


 More peas

 Tomatoes look a little scraggly right now, but they will get stronger

 Green pole beans just sprouting

Catmint and foxglove by the trampoline
 New stones for a path (and a downed chair by the trampoline. Very classy.) :)

Okay... back to writing. Thanks for indulging my need to post pictures of my work.

Here's what's going on with training and racing:

I went to Tucson with Andy about in early March. We had fun, rode bikes. On a trail run I was attacked by a vicious jumping cholla. (That's a kind of cactus.) I brushed against it, and it hurled little cactus balls at me that lodged in my bare skin up and down my legs and arms! Actually, it was kind of horrible.

In April I ran the Boston Marathon. I hadn't trained well for it. I've had problems with anemia this winter, and also a big problem with my right knee, which is arthritic. I arrived at the starting line unsure and underprepared and with the hope of simply re-qualifying for next year. This is not to say I planned to sandbag. I never plan to sandbag. It's not in my nature.

Anyway. It was a warm day. I didn't feel good right from the start. Still, I gutted it out right until the end. I've years of practice gutting races out. That is basically what Ironman is--one big gutting it out session. So I got through the race. I didn't smile until I finished, though. It was no "Chrissie smiles" type of race for me.

And I've thought about that a lot.
I didn't smile until the end.

I enjoyed hanging with my running buddies before the race.
I enjoyed getting beers with Andy and my running buddies after the race.
But I did not enjoy the race itself.

And that fact supplies sad, true, real information for me.
Things have shifted. The hunger is no longer hunger. I've proved myself so many times now that there is nothing left I care to prove.

I started training and racing triathlon in 2007. I had such a great time those first few years. I was deeply entrenched in the tri community in New England and I reached my tentacles all over the world with my blog. I couldn't get enough! Over the years many of the people I trained with in triathlon have left the scene and moved onto other things. Ironman racing seems to be like that: most people become obsessed for a few years, but then become tired. Ironman training and racing requires all of you.  When you are mired in it--so deeply focused on it that nothing exists outside of it--it's hard to imagine ever wanting to give it up. But eventually, most people do. Even greats like age grouper Sonja Wieck (just read her retirement post), or Bree Wee (doing ultra running now), or Chrissy Wellington (cutest little daughter!) eventually move on.  I still know some people who train and race and still love it. But most of the people I know have shifted--some completely out of sport--some to a different sport.

Anyway, it's been ten years, and I understand no that I no longer want to give all of me over to triathlon. All this spring this thought made me feel profoundly sad. But I think I'm feeling okay about it now. Luckily I still really do love training. I just don't want to spend every waking moment doing it. The dots on my Strava account have become smaller and smaller this spring, but I still have a dot each day! I had a great Ironman at Maryland last fall, and I think that's all I had left on the IM racing front.  I signed up to race Kona this year, but I'm not going to compete. It may be that my love for training that much and racing that distance will come back in time. Or not. I just don't know. I am hoping to travel with my family to Hawaii in December instead. I still really really want to hang out with the sea turtles.

I've been reading the blog of man named Brian. He writes about hybridizing daylilies from his farm near London, Kentucky.  I'm not positive, but I believe Brian is about my age. I don't know anything about him other than that, and the fact that he grows and hybridizes daylilies and raises and studies rare chickens. He's either private about his personal life, or, more likely, he doesn't see the point in wasting blog space on it. He wants to reach people like me--people interested in hybridizing daylilies, and he believes we are out there.

And... I am out there. But where are the other people he's writing for?  I don't know where or how to look for them. I'm not sure they care about being found. Or, maybe, they all know each other and have big daylily parties. Probably the latter.

I have over 400 cultivars of daylily in my garden. I made a few crosses last year and this summer I plan to make many, many more. I love hybridizing the way I loved IM training. Anyway... I need to find these people like Brian.  I need to take a trip to Kentucky or Florida so I can talk shop. It's harder to find people who hybridize daylilies than it is to find triathletes. Imagine that!

So, my blog, once funny and alive and the IronMatron, is now .... Ultra Gardening. So you might not want to read it anymore. That's okay. No one has to read it. Like Brian, I might just keep writing anyway! But if you are reading, I thank you for stopping by.

Let me ask you this: Do you know anyone other than me who collects and hybridizes daylilies? Probably not. But if you do, let me know.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Uterine Alzheimer's is a Real Thing

For the last few years I've only been writing after major races. Those posts are easy to write: I came, I experienced, I conquered. I am the IronMatron. Hear me roar!


Lately there hasn't been a lot of roaring. Lots of resting. Not so much roaring.

You know how when you think about things like placing in your age group or qualifying for Boston or for Kona or whatever... you think... Man, I am going to just kick ass when I get to the ______ age group. Those times are so slow! I just have to outlast everyone!

But then you get to said age group and you think... Well, hello younger age groups! You think you're so awesome right now? Try to compete with Uterine Alzheimer's (or whatever aging ailment you have started to encounter)! That's right! You try that, you stinking young people! 

You might wonder: Uterine Alzheimer's? Never heard of it! That would be because I coined that term. It should be a true medical term, though. Those people who are on that downhill skid into menopause, or those who have already arrived there, will know what I'm talking about.  What happened, at least in my case, is that my uterus has begun to suffer from dementia. Or maybe it's my hormones? or both. For the last few months my uterus has woken each day and said, Humph! No baby! Let's shed this lining! and the next day... Humph! No baby! Let's shed this lining.  and the next day... Humph! No baby! Let's shed this lining. Like Groundhog Day. My uterus just can't move beyond the no baby thing. I talk to it: Right! There's no baby! and now.... you start the cycle all over again! Remember? Remember little uterus? But no matter how much I try to reason with it, it still just says, Humph! No baby... Let's shed this lining! It befuddles me that there is anymore lining to shed... but apparently, there is a limitless amount. So, in short, I've been bleeding a lot. For many moons. For many, many, many moons. My uterus can't remember how it's supposed to respond after the realization that there is no baby.  It's stuck.

This is not uncommon I'm told.  My body made three babies and now my uterus is tired and ready for retirement. Unfortunately, it's not going gently into this good night. It's lost its uterine mind.
For you men reading this, you lucky f-ckers.
Excuse my language. I'm sure you have other ailments that befuddle you as you age--like hair loss. or or low T, or a big Joe. Maybe those problems are worse than Uterine Alzheimer's. I don't know.

I went to the doctor about a month ago because I just wasn't feeling myself. I was tired. I couldn't run longer than a few miles without stopping to walk. I thought it might be Lyme Disease, or a thyroid problem. I didn't connect the dots. My blood work came back and drum rolllllll, it was that I was iron deficient.  Not just a little bit deficient. Like a lot deficient. I've actually always had Ferritin numbers around 9 or 10--so very low. But low iron itself isn't a true problem until it starts to affect your RBC count. In my case, the low iron become super super low, and my RBC count dropped into the anemic range.

My PC doctor told me to start taking iron tablets.
But, I told her, you told me that like 500 years ago! I already take three a day. THREE.

So she sent me to a hematologist. And to my gynecologist. And now I'm on the road to be all fixed up! Hopefully. (Except I'm still on that road to the BIG M, of course.)

On Monday and Friday next week I'm getting iron infusions. This isn't the same as blood transfusions. I'm receiving no blood. I asked if I could maybe get a transfusion--maybe get some really good, RBC rich blood with a little EPO in it? That would be sweet! But they said no. Jerks. My blood has to make its very own red blood cells, and it will do that, supposedly, if fed Ferumoxytol intravenously.

My next post, I hope, will be on how I am now Super Iron Matron with Super Iron-Filled Blood. I'll keep you posted.
If you have experienced any of this, I'd love to hear from you. It's been an interesting experience. I've learned that one can swim and bike using not so much O2, but that running is very, very hard when you are anemic. It's like running at altitude--or trying to run through a huge bonk.

I'm so privileged. I'm able to be concerned with whether or not I have enough iron in my blood to train for big endurance events that mean nothing and make no difference in this frightening, unstable, confusing time in our country.
I don't want to talk politics. So that's all I will say about that. I'm so blessed in my privilege.

Big Hugs to all of you out there. I just made a group on Strava for those training for the IMWC, so if you are doing so, will you join it? If you are on Strava, but not training for the IMWC, will you join it anyway? :)

Monday, November 7, 2016

IM Maryland Race Report

It's been five weeks since I raced in Maryland.

Consequently I don't remember the experience as clearly as I once did. I find doing an Ironman is a bit like having a baby. After awhile you forget how unbelievably, horrifically, overwhelmingly difficult it was, and you start to fantasize about the glory of doing another one. Ironman amnesia!

Anyway, five weeks out from the race what I primarily remember about IM Maryland is this:

and I didn't even qualify on roll down! I just QUALIFIED!
Qualifying outright has always been a goal. It just hasn't been a goal I thought I actually might achieve.  I finished 2nd in my age group. I'm still pretty giddy about it! Here I am signing up for Kona the morning after the race.

So, IM Maryland.
The days leading it up to it sucked.
Because the days leading up to any IM suck! (In my opinion...)

Feel free to skip this whole prologue.
The next few paragraph are me blathering about gratitude, or lack of it, and feeling grouchy and anxious the days before a big race.
I know I should be all smiley and like, I felt grateful, and confident, and ready to race. But I didn't, and in truth I never feel that way as I get near to a big race. What I feel is tremendous anxiety that morphs, as the day nears, into a powerful dread. I do believe there is worth in telling yourself you feel good, full of gratitude and confident before a race. If you are good at tricking yourself, you might even believe it. But that isn't easy. In fact, I find it impossible. The only gratitude I could muster was for Andy, who spent the punishing pre-race week with me. God bless that man. The week before IM Maryland I was an anxious, overwrought, brooding wreck.

So here is some truth:
(still blathering, fyi)

Leading up to a race I think a lot about how I want to do well in order to honor the inordinate amount of time and energy I spent simply getting to the starting line.
I don't pretend that I'm racing for some greater good or to make my family proud or to prove that anything is possible or whatever. I race because I need a home for my drive. I race because I like to feel accomplished and strong. I race because I love to work really hard at something and then get the prize of feeling self worth when I achieve more than I thought I could.
None of my effort is altruistic, and so in the days leading up to the race I feel the heavy weight of that fact. I've enslaved myself to the demon of self improvement, I've blown off friends in service to my training, I've gone to bed early instead of hanging with my husband,  I've made my father-in-law drive the kids to school so that I can go to Masters swim practice and I've shirked taking the dogs for long walks so I can get in an extra mile when running. etc etc etc... The list goes on and on.  I choose to spend a lot of time on triathlon, and that time is time taken away from other things I like to do and from the people I love. The reward for all this is the satisfaction of having a race in which I kick ass.

And so the dread and pressure.
 Make it worth it. Don't disappoint yourself. Do. not. suck. Kick ass.

Thinking about executing a KICK ASS race--anticipating it--is torture. You desperately want it to be race morning--to be in that water and have the gun go off--and yet you also want time to just stop because it's coming so fast! I hate the days before the race so much that sometimes I contemplate giving up racing just so I don't have to experience them.

Okay, I'm finally done.

*race report starts here*

The days leading up tot he race were damp, gray and really, really windy. They made my dread even more visceral. I remember biking in the gray, windy mist the day before the race and thinking God, it feels like the end of the world is coming. Cue creepy music. Seriously ominous.

Then it was race morning. Andy, who had been so patient with me all week, dropped me off at transition. The weather was dark, windy and cold. Rain sputtered. I was lonely, wet and my teeth were chattering. There were deep, unavoidable puddles everywhere and a lot of ankle deep mud. My sneakers were soaking wet. If none of this sounds very fun, that's because it wasn't! I kept trying to think, BE HAPPY. BE GRATEFUL. BE KICK ASS.
But inside my brain the voices were more like... BE HAPPY. this sucks. BE GRATEFUL. fuck you. BE KICK ASS. this sucks. fuck you. this sucks. fuck you.

While my voices fought with one another I did all that stuff you do in the morning before a big race: nervously chatted with others, went to the bathroom a million times, pumped my tires. I put on my wetsuit early so I could get warm. I peed a bunch in my wetsuit. Then I went to the swim start. Where I waited. and waited and waited. They delayed the swim. They delayed it more. Then more.

I  met some new friends as I waited. There were some guys from Florida sitting in the grassy patch of mud, and I sat down with them. We sat there in the spitting rain, curling our toes into the mud and we joked about how the swim would be canceled, not really believing it would be canceled.
And then they canceled it.
There would be a time trial bike start by number.

I learned later they canceled the swim because the wind was blowing hard in one direction, and the current was going in the other. They thought swimmers would get stuck and make no forward progress. Probably this was right... but I was extremely bummed anyway. First, I thought about the hours and hours I had spent swimming leading up to the race, preparing for it. Damn! Then I thought about how I was gunning for a Kona slot, and how without the swim my chances of earning one were much smaller. Double Damn! I am not an incredible swimmer, but I am a very solid swimmer. I finish at the top of my age group in most triathlons in the swim, and this gives me a head start on the bike, which is my weakest leg. Without that head start I knew my chances of getting Kona were slim.

Anyway, it was time to readjust! this sucks.  I could do this! fucking fuck. I took off my dry wetsuit (dry except for the huge amount of peeing I had done in it since putting it on) and immediately I was freezing. It was still sputtering rain and the wind made it so cold. At one point a few nice women racked near me noticed I was blue in the lips and shaking violently. They were bigger women--or bigger than me, anyway... and they offered to sandwich me in a hug! And I said yes! That helped get me warm for real. They hugged me for like 10 minutes. No lie. I love those women. Sometimes things happen that reaffirm your love and faith in people. I finally felt the gratitude I wanted so badly to truly feel. That long, long, hug--being sandwiched between two women bigger than me who could make me warm--I was damn grateful for that.

After what seemed like hours we lined up according to number, and we were sent off at 10 second intervals. The numbers ahead of me consisted of women. All women. When I first got onto the bike and started passing people I felt as if I were in an all female race! It was a bit strange, as I have never actually competed in an all female race. Once on the bike I started to get warm again, but it did take awhile. I had put on a thin sweatshirt before the start because I was shaking so violently from the cold I thought I might not be able to balance on the bike once I got on it.

Exhibit A: The sweatshirt--not designed for racing--and certainly not something I had planned to wear racing. Note the blue lips--and this was taken a least a half hour into the bike  I'm not lying when I say I was really, really, cold.

For the first 10 miles or so I focused on nothing except getting warm. My inner voices joined together in a chant that went something like, Must get warm. Must get warm. chatter chatter. Must get warm. I don't even think I looked at my bike computer for the first 30 minutes. I was just so cold. I realize now I was mostly likely hypothermic. Actually, I realized it then. My brain was fuzzy and I was on autopilot. MUST GET WARM.

The bike course was stunningly flat. It was, however, annoying windy. I mostly spent the first part of the bike passing women and telling myself not to fight the wind. Every once in a while a woman would pace me, and I would take note of her. My age group? I had studied the entry list and I knew exactly which women I had to worry about. I also knew that most of the women who might beat me overall would slaughter me on the bike--so I counted the women who passed me and told myself I had to pass each of those women back on the run.  As I warmed up, I started to believe I could do it. I just needed to pull it together and focus.

I stopped at Special Needs because I finally felt warm enough to take off my sweatshirt. I also needed to grab some bottles and fix the center bolt on my cassette-which appeared to be unscrewing itself as I rode. I pulled up and started screaming my number. For some reason I was getting no response from the volunteers (or so it seemed to my addled brain) and I began to panic, screaming my number more and more loudly. (I'm sure those volunteers loved me! Gratitude!) Finally a volunteer handed me my bag, but by then I was in such a tizzy that I forgot to screw back in that bolt!

Still, I was no longer blue, no longer shaking, and I was ready to ride! (56 miles into the bike I was ready to ride. Awesome!) I just needed the bolt not to completely unscrew itself...

Then it started to pour.

There was enough flooding on the bike course so that it had to be re-routed. In this picture you can see the water inching close to the roadway. A few hours after this photo was taken, this part of the course became completely flooded out.

This is not me, but this is the bike course a few hours later.

It poured for a lot of the second loop, but I had warmed enough and I was working hard enough that I didn't get super cold again. Phew! I played cat and mouse with a few people on the bike,and I re-passed a few of the women who had passed me earlier in the race.  About a half hour after I had stopped at special needs I looked down at my cassette and that pesky BOLT WAS GONE. Just gone!
But my bike was still working... so maybe it was okay? I began to pray. Please don't fall apart on me little cassette! Please just hold on! 
People often ask whether I get bored being on the bike riding for such long stretches. In practice, yes. In a race? Never. Why? Because the voices in my head scream at me the whole time! On this ride the voices went something like: Damn rain, Damn woman! I'll get you back on the run! Eat. How many bottles have I had? Drink. Drink now. Keep to your watts. No! Don't fight the wind! Pass that loser! Eat. Damn rain. Your cadence is too low. Drink! and so on.

By the time I rolled into the bike finish I was so relieved. No, the ride had not been stellar. BUT IT WAS OVER! And I hadn't over-ridden it, and my cassette was still intact, and I was no longer cold. I could do this!

I saw Andy as I got off the bike. Great ride, Mary! You got this! Of course, it hadn't been a great ride and he knew that, but what else was he going to say? Shitty ride, Mar! You better find those run legs fast!!

It's okay that he didn't say that. I already knew what I had to do. I had to run--and I had to run well from beginning of that marathon to the end. It was cool, I wasn't too tired, I had trained for this, and I needed to GET IT DONE. My confidence was back.

I stormed through transition and started the run. I felt great!
And then I realized I had to take a dump.
Like immediately.
That moment.
Like if I didn't find a port-a-john in 30 seconds I was definitely going to shit myself.


At the end of mile 2 I saw a set of port-a-johns and I beelined for them.
I had made it!

And then....
I waited.
Apparently my body was like, Hey! Awesome! You found a toilet. Grab a magazine, sweetie. It's time to chill out... 
After what seemed like five minutes the urge came back. (TMI... sorry!)
How much time did I lose?

I've decided that the results in any given race should read something like this:

Mary Holt-Wilson. Run. 3:40:27***

What does an asterisk mean here you ask?
You look to the bottom of the results and see:

* denotes a person who had to stop on the run to take a shit.
** denotes a person who had to stop on the run to take a shit and it took more than a minute.
*** denotes a person who had to stop on the run to take a shit and it took like FIVE FUCKING MINUTES.

Don't you think they should include such info?
Because... really. I ran faster than that damn 3:40.

Anyway, onward.

I felt much better after my stop.
I began clipping off 8:10 miles, which was my target pace. I felt strong and I was passing people. I could do this.

The run had been re-routed because of flooding, but unfortunately, the re-routing still had us running in flooded areas. There were, I believe, 5 stretches of knee deep water that lasted from a tenth of a mile to a quarter mile. The course wove back and forth over these stretches 5 different times. So yes, we spent miles and miles of this race trying to get through water that was at best ankle deep, and at worst knee deep.

 Side Note: This is a picture of John Young trying to run through a stretch of water. Many New England triathletes might recognize him.  He has dwarfism. He is the first person with dwarfism to finish an Ironman! It was really cool to be on the course while he was.

Once I hit the first stretch of water I knew my run would be a bit slower than I had projected. On the plus side, though, I noted that most people were walking through the water. If I could just try to run through all of it, would I have an advantage?

The parts of the course that weren't flooded were awesome, of course. For one thing, I felt good not being slowed down by water! But also, the course was flat and the weather was cool. I divided the run into 6 mile sections in my brain, and tried to focus on keeping each mile below 8:10 pace.

The road was great when it was not flooded!

I thought it possible that at one point I would crumble and start to slow. But I didn't. I kept thinking, NOT THIS MILE. This mile I am still strong. And I stayed that way! I passed three women who I knew were contenders--women I had cyber-stalked before the race and who I knew would be women I'd have to really race. I could do this. How many women were still ahead of me?

The last mile seemed to last forever. I had slowed a bit, but not much, and I just wanted to see that finish line so so so badly! I could hear the announcer--I knew I was close, and I knew that I was very close to hitting my goal time--a 3:45.

And I did it! Over course, I'm not looking particularly glamorous in this photo, but it does show my triumph! The fastest IM marathon I had run to that point had been 4:01. This was a 3:40--and it had included taking a shit and the flooding! I couldn't believe it!

Two steps after this picture was taken I suddenly felt violently ill and dry heaved on the spot. The I dry heaved again. Then a volunteer led me to a trash can and I booted big time.
Still, I was smiling as I booted.

After throwing up I hobbled over to have my picture taken:

I found Andy and he was happy for me. The thing is--I know that my IM racing is mine. People are happy for me when I do well, but it's sort of an abstraction for most people I think. Oh good ! You did well! Then they move on. (I'm not resentful about this! Really! It's the way we are as humans. You know? This is MY thing--etc). Anyway, Andy hugged me and you know? I KNEW he was genuinely, truly, bottom of  his heart so happy for me. Do you know how good that feels? He knew how much it meant to me, and he felt happiness for me. It was pretty cool. He's a very good egg. Gratitude.

I knew I had finished pretty high up in my age group given the number of women I had passed. But I didn't know if I had finished top two. When I finished the results read I was first, but because of the time trial start, it was impossible to know whether I was actually first or not.  Later on, I learned I was second. I had finished ahead of all of the women I had deemed a threat, but another woman had entered the race at the last minute--and so she wasn't on my radar. Because she entered so late they gave her a number in the 2000s, even though our age group was in the 800s. Because of the TT start, she finished well after me, but her overall time was much faster than mine. Still, I beat her in the marathon. :) I still can't believe it. I really can't. No more dread. That hard work really did result in a great performance for me. I did kick ass!

This is not a great picture, but you can see here my competitors, all of whom, except for the winner, Hilary, I had identified and cyber-stalked before the race. From the left, Merle, me, Hilary (the winner) and Florence. Missing is Kim Ashworth, a FB friend, fellow New Englander and killer runner who was also most definitely a woman I knew would be a contender! Kim kicked ass, too, obviously! 

The end.
Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Recap of Rev3 OOB Half. I know... I'm 2 months behind.

So, I may be a little behind in my race recap reporting. Sorry about that. I know you all get on Facebook every day and just hope that this is FINALLY the day that I, Mary, will have updated my blog. Well, that day has come! The waiting is over.
Unless you stop waiting a few years ago when I stopped writing at all consistently. In that case, well, SURPRISE! Here I am! Remember me?

I have three truly exciting things on which to report: Rev3 OOB, IM Maryland, and my trip to Kona to sherpa Ange in the IMWC. Today I will only get to the first of these three. I had ambition to write about all three in one post, but then I got real.

In late August I completed my third half IM of the season--the REV 3 Old Orchard Beach Half. The race takes place in OOB, Maine, about 1 mile from where I live in the summer--so it's a bit of a necessity that I do either the Oly or the half distance every year.

Here's how the race went:

I had a great swim, a super lame bike in which I missed a turn and rode into a ditch, and a very solid run.

Sadly, I don't remember the day with a crystal clear lens. The bike, especially, is a bit foggy around the edges. This is not because I was dehydrated or inebriated or- ated of any kind at at any point during the race. The race just happened a long time ago now and I'm getting older...memory ain't what it used to be, etc.

Anyway, here's what I remember:

My friend Anne was there. She is an uber awesome amazing triathlete, and she is MY FAVORITE PERSON to draft off of in the swim because she is faster than me, but not so much faster that I can't stay on her feet. This probably makes me a reprehensible person. She's my friend, and yet when I see her at a race I get all hyper excited because maybe I can find her feet and latch on! (Sorry, Anne. I'm terrible.) Anyway. We ran into the water, I splashed around a bit, and then I found her... and I followed her lovely feet from the first salty wave to the end of the swim. We stumbled out of the water together, and in the ultimate show of unfairness, I stumbled out JUST before her, by like a second. Actually, I remember now that what really happened was that I stayed on her feet the whole swim until I caught a wave at the tail end of it and rode that wave in. (It might be a slight advantage that I swim in this stretch of ocean and ride its waves every summer.) Anyway, this is why I am a bit in front of her here. So right. I know what you think of me. But I did have a great swim! I was first in our AG! (I know, I know...)

Here I am coming out of the water. Anne is right behind me in the pink cap.

Anyway. Anne was having none of this. She saw me, and (probably) disgusted, she turned on the jets, and put a minute on me just running into transition. Actually, I think she was probably out of transition and on her bike before I even got to transition. Anne is a better swimmer than me. She is also better at transitioning fast (obviously) than me. Finally, she is a better cyclist than me. Actually, she's a way way wayyyyyyyyy better  cyclist than me. So I had had my fun. I knew I wouldn't see her again until she passed me coming the other direction, finishing the run as I started it. Okay, maybe she wouldn't be that far ahead, but you get the picture.

I'm not sure, but it might be I'm not a badass like Anne (or the other trillion female badasses on the bike I know, like Carrie, Ange, Michelle S, Rebecca P, and OMG I could go on and on) because of attitude.

Exhibit A:
Anne coming out of transition on the bike:

Exhibit B:
Mary coming out of transition on the bike:

Hmmm. I don't know... Who do you think will win? It's definitely a toss up here.

So, one of my goals for next season is to get strong and get badass on the bike. Also, I plan to never smile again in any race picture ever and I plan to stay in aero every second of every ride, and also I plan to get my bike all pimped out so it's actually super aero and not a big mess like it is now.  I will never be strong on the bike like Carrie, Anne and Ange--I get that--but I would like to be MORE BADASS than I am now... which is to say, not badass at all.

Okay, I digress.

In addition to not being a badass on the bike even on a good day, I was not feeling it on this particular ride. The OOB course is also the place in which I train like every day in the summer, so it felt like I was just on a training ride with 1,000 of my best buddies as opposed to in a race. Unfortunately, my 1,000 best buddies kept leaving me in the dust.  I swear I passed no one and I got passed one trillion times. I just had no umph.  In retrospect, I think my bike problem stemmed from the fact that at that point in the season I was five weeks out from IM Maryland. My training for the weeks leading up to the race had been pretty intense, and though I did rest a good four days before the race, it wasn't enough to get my legs back. I could feel fatigue in my quads from the first pedal stroke, and my mojo was MIA. This was most apparent to me when at a sharp left-hand turn, a turn I have made on like every training ride ever, I spaced out, missed the turn, and rode into a grassy ditch. I didn't fall. I just ... rode into a ditch. Did I panic? No. I was like... hmmm. I just rode into a ditch. I pulled myself out, and then proceeded to try to pull the grass from my chain and cassette. Racers rode past me, probably chuckling, like, WTF, she just rode into a ditch! And since I didn't actually fall, I had no war wounds and I couldn't cry and be all like, I crashed! OMG! Nope. I just had grass in my shorts and bike grease on my calves. Awesome.

Later in the ride I saw Alina and Andy, who had come out to support me in the race. Andy had been taking pictures of cyclists all day so that when I got there he would be all practiced and get an AWESOME shot of me. He was down on the ground and all professional looking, so racers thought he was a race photographer and they smiled at him! For example:

The second girl is totally smiling for the camera. All I want to say is this: Lose the losers number 371! WTF--people have no shame in drafting-land. Really? Ride your own damn race you cheaters.
(My turn to be disgusted? But drafting in the swim is legal!! ;)

So, anyway.
Finally, FINALLY I turned the corner and Alina could flash her awesome sign!!

Unfortunately, I was not go-go-going fast. Sigh.

Anyway, they saw me, and then Andy got in there and got the picture!! Woot!

JK. Andy took like 100 awesome pictures. This one cracked me up.

I finished the bike in fine, but very slowwwwwww style. I finished so deep in the bike results I couldn't even find myself later on when I went to look. Argh.

One advantage of my slow bike turned out to be that it allowed me to run well. I felt AWESOME when I finally got onto the run course. It was hot and humid, but I was running people down right and left and feeling like I was all that. This lasted until about mile 8, and probably would have lasted the whole run if I had just taken a gel at mile 8 like I was supposed to do. It wasn't even that bad after mile 8. It just didn't feel as awesomely smooth as it had before mile 8.

On a side note, here's something WEIRD. My number belt went under my tri top and was up around my waist, and I didn't even know this! I had some chafing when I finished, but I never freaking noticed that my scratchy, paper race number and my belt were completely up and under my shirt, by my bra. Seriously?

This is about mile 5. Note-- my face when I don't know I'm being photographed. Also note my crumply belly--paper number scratching away beneath my shirt. I'm hot!

 and, here's my face when I realize I am being photographed. All smiles, baby!

I point out the difference here, lest for a MOMENT you believe I am actually all happy when I race. I'm not. I'm in hell-- a hell in which I wonder Why TF I race and wonder if I will die if I take one more step. Really. In the second picture I look like I just LOVEEEEEE the fact that I have 8 miles to go and I'm running in pee-soaked shorts and I'm a sweaty mess with a number belt riding up by my boobs. Yep. I'm sure.

I am, however, always, truly happy at the end of a race. Why? BECAUSE IT'S OVER!  And when it's over I instantly forget how I planned to give up racing forever just five minutes earlier. Insanity.

In this race I ran myself from like 500th place to 3rd in my AG and 10th woman overall. I'm super proud of that--except maybe I shouldn't be proud because I had to run myself up from like 500th place because my bike sucked so bad. This race actually foreshadows the race I would do in five weeks--Ironman Maryland--where I had a very mediocre bike and a really solid run.
It's not a bad way to race.
I just want more.
Of course I do!

Okay, more later.
And thank you to Alina and Andy for running all over the course to cheer me on, and to Andy for taking all of these awesome pics! (I even love that one on the bike... ;)And to Ange for being my loyal, supportive, awesome, smart, friend and coach.

In closing, here is a picture of the sun setting in Ocean Park, just a mile down the road from the race site. Love that place. Miss that place.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

2016 Casco Bay Swim/Run Report

So... this happened last weekend!

I first learned of the Casco Bay Islands Swim/Run in early January. I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of it. I love the Casco Bay Islands, having grown up in nearby Cape Elizabeth, and the thought of swimming to and running across each island sounded incredibly cool.

I thought about who might be willing to be my partner in the event, and soon after I asked my friend Carrie (super triathlete and fellow Cape Eliabether) if she had any interest in applying with me to get in.  She said yes! So, we applied. We found out in March that we had be selected to compete. And then ... well, then we had to start figuring out what the race required and what kind of training we needed to do to get it done.

Carrie and me before the race

I knew we'd be doing about 4 miles of open water, ocean swimming in Casco Bay (ME), and we'd be swimming from island to island to do so. I also knew we were supposed to run across each of the seven islands to which we'd swim. What I hadn't really processed was how this might happen. Casco Bay is ... cold. We'd need wetsuits. But I couldn't imagine doing 10 miles of running in a wetsuit? Also, we couldn't run in bare feet, so we'd need sneakers. Did we carry them? Swim in them?

The answer was to get a shortie wetsuit with detachable sleeves and a pair of "swim/run" shoes. Carrie actually wore a full wetsuit, but I was worried I'd overheat when running.  I purchased an Orca Core shortie (for those reading this who are contemplating their on swim/run adventure) and I loved it.  It's very comfortable, and it did keep me warm in the ocean water of Maine--which is saying something! For shoes I chose a pair of swim/run shoes made by ASICS.  They were great in that they were comfortable and light in the water. BUT, they were not great in terms of traction--which I really needed the to be when scrambling on slippery rocks. I'm not sure I'd recommend them.

We learned that pull buoys and paddles were allowed, but that we'd have to carry them while running, if we chose to use them. I'm faster with paddles, so I wanted to use them. Carrie ended up really disliking using paddles, though. (Sorry, Carrie!) We also used pull buoys that attached to a belt around around waists, which were then attached by bungee cord elastic to our thighs. I liked the buoys because it made it easier to swim with sneakers. We also learned we needed to be tethered together for the race!

This, at first, seemed nightmarish to me, but it ended up being actually quite useful.  You can see here that we are holding paddles and that we are tethered together. You also have to carry this swim safety buoy. Carrie, because she is incredibly kind and generous and a goddess, held the thing the whole way. You can't see our pull buoys in this picture, but they are attached to our right legs.

On race morning most athletes had to take the ferry from Portland to Chebeague Island where the race began. I was lucky--and didn't have to do this. Carrie and Tom, her husband, have a little boat, and they drove us to Chebeague so we wouldn't have to crowd onto the ferry. Alina came, too.
Here's Alina on the boat:

Alina's and Carrie's friend Cheryl also came. She took a ton of awesome pictures, many of which I have used for this post. Thank you, Cheryl!

Here's a picture of the ferry coming to Chebeague, cutting through the fog.

On the way over I began to get nervous. The thing about doing a race in a team is that you really don't want to let your teammate down. Carrie is an amazing athlete, and I did worry I wouldn't keep up and she might get frustrated with me. Also, I was nervous about running in my wetsuit. The practice runs I had done with it on were HOT HOT HOT.

We pulled up to the dock at Chebeague and went to line up with the other racers. The second picture is Cheryl's. I pulled the aerial shot from New Wave Swim Buoy's FB site. They have some great pictures of the event. Also, they supplied the racers with their safety buoys--which also held the timing device.

After the fog lifted a bit, they sent us on our way. I was relieved to finally start the race. Because Carrie and I didn't warm up before the race, the first mile was ROUGH. I was breathing like I might have a heart attack, and I'm sure Carrie wondered if I wouldn't expire right in front of her. After about a mile, though, I found my rhythm and my breathing became a bit more even and less haggard and labored. I was just feeling ready to really run when we hit sand, and I could see where we were to enter the water for our first swim, from Big Chebeague to Little Chebeague.

If you clink on this link it will take you to a drone video of us starting the swim to Little Chebeague. The video was taken from New Wave Swim Buoy's FB page.

For the first swim I led and Carrie got right behind me to draft. We had planned it so we would take turns leading. It is really amazing how little work you have to do when you position yourself RIGHT behind someone.  We figured it made sense to switch back and forth as opposed to having us both do the work while swimming side by side.
Here I am leading:
Carrie sited frequently and tried to get me to go in a straight line. This didn't work so well. The current was pulling me to the left, and also I'm stronger on my left side, so we kept veering left!

The run on Little Chebeague was quite short, but Carrie and I passed quite a few teams. I was realzing that our running was our strength. There were a lot of real swimmers competing. By "real" swimmers I mean those people who swim Masters/swam in college--and otherwise consider swimming their main gig. Carrie and I are competent swimmers for sure--but we are triathletes more than anything. Anyway. This was a swimmer's race--in which said swimmers had to do some running. I'm used to competing with cyclists and runners who have to do a bit of swimming. There is a difference.

Our next swim was from Little Chebeague to Long Island. I drafted Carrie for this swim. Drafting, I realized, made me feel helpless. I just floated along and got chilly. I think if I were to do this race again I'd swim next to my partner--event though that's less efficient. I just didn't like having Carrie do the work while I flip-flopped behind her.
Here is Carrie leading the swim:

The run on Long was not really memorable. We ran fast. I was tired, but happy to be running. I wasn't too hot--which was awesome. The swimming made me cold enough so it took a mile of running to warm up--and most of the runs weren't much longer than a mile! The next swim was from Long Island, across a stretch called Shark Cove. I led this. Here is a drone video of the racers getting in the water off of Long. I also took this  from the Swim Buoy FB page.

Our next stop was Vail Island. Vail is uninhabited, small, and all rocks. This is where things got a bit nasty for me. I have really poor balance. I am terrified of going quickly across loose, slippery rock. The rock on the upper part of Vail, normally mostly dry, was wet because as soon as we got to Vail it started to pour. I slipped and cut my hand. Then I slipped and cut my knee. I became increasingly panicky and upset. Carrie was awesome with me--taking my head and pulling me along. Literally, in all of the pictures on Vail Carrie is tugging me along. I was SLOW! (Sorry, Carrie.) We lost a huge amount of time on the rocks. I couldn't wait for this part of the race to be over.

The entry back into the water off of Vail Was also a bit of nightmare. It was slippery! I took this picture from Slowtwitch:

It was also at this point that I got all tangled up in seaweed! These two women are not Carrie and me, but the picture DOES show how crazy the seaweed tangles got:

On our swim from Vail to back to Long I definitely carried several pounds of seaweed. It was everywhere and got tangled in our suits, belts, and paddles.

We had a short run on Long again before jumping into the water for the longest swim of the race, from Long Island to Peaks Island. This swim felt like it took forever, mostly because Carrie led the swim, and I just floated behind her. I got colder and colder and felt guiltier and guiltier that Carrie was doing all the work. We finally hit the beach (there was a beach!) and started the longest run of the race, on Peaks. The run starts out on road, but soon veers onto trail. This trail is TRAIL... as in very narrow path in long grass, sticks, trunks, slippery rocks, and slimy wood planks covering mud. Carrie was amazing and led us seamlessly through the thick of it. We passed several different pairs on the trail, and then when we got onto the paved road again we passed people in droves. I felt very strong on this run--and also thrilled to be passing people who had passed us on the rocks and in the swim.

After finishing the run on Peaks I had in my mind we were all but done. We had three short swims and two short runs to go.

Oh, the naivete.

The swims were against the current and they were incredibly slow and difficult. Carrie's shoulders were killing her from using the paddles, so I led the final swims. I was happy about this because it did allow me to stay warm and allowed me to feel like I was working for the team. But oh.... swimming in place! It just took forever! Additionally, the second run was not a run, but another evil rock scramble! I whimpered as we made our way slowly around House Island.

 I thought this structure must be a remnant of WWII, but Carrie says it's Fort Scrammel, built in 1808! I must admit I did not notice its coolness as I ran around it. Mostly I was cursing because I was convinced I was going to fall and break my neck on the rocks.

Once done scrambling on House Island we got back in the water and finished up. We entered the water with two other women pairs. BOY did I want to beat them! I worked so damn hard on that swim... and I kept up! But in the end they both finished just ahead of us. One pair finished a minute ahead of us, the other just two seconds. They were both much, much younger than us, of course. ;) That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

We finished 10th for women pairs and 33rd overall out of about 120 teams. Given how sucky I was crawling on those rocks, I'm pretty proud of us!

A week out from the race I can say I loved the experience. Next time, if I am able to get into the race again, I will use very grippy shoes, though, so the rock scrambling isn't so terrifying. I highly recommend this race if you love to swim in the open water. You spend more time in water than on land for sure. The running is manageable and there isn't that much of it.

I want to think Carrie, my incredible, patient partner in this race, and also Tom, her husband for the ferrying, and to Alina for coming out to support me! Love you guys!!