Sweat from the Heart: Coach Bree’s blog on training, racing and life.
First triathlon of the 2015 season in the books. What a great season opener! I’m proud of every race that I do, regardless of my performance, but this race was extra special to me. While I wanted to podium – and I am so happy that I did – I really wanted to go sub 5 hours. I have had the sub 5 hour goal for years. I wanted to do it last year, but fell short at Ironman 70.3 Worlds due to an IT band injury. I was going into this season injury free and hoped I could accomplish my goal! I knew I could do it as my training proved I was ready, but It would come down to race day execution and nutrition. If I played my cards right, it was going to happen. It was the last 4 miles of the run that I realized I was going to PR. And I played my cards right, I did it. 4:49:19!
My mantra for this race was “grateful.” This was decided before the weather ended up cooperating on race day. I have to have mantras going into every race. They help keep me grounded when I lose focus and become completely lost during the race. Yes, there are moments where you are just existing. You forget what you came to do, what you’re doing, and it’s like you’re floating along in pain. Then when you remember your mantra (whatever it may be) it wakes you up, brings you back to reality, and is the slap in the face you need to keep going. I had many of those “back to reality” moments on race day.
The wind is expected in New Orleans. I knew it going into the race. I purposely rode in windy conditions during training to be prepared for it. But in the moment, when you’re really hurting, all you want to do is complain about how bad the wind is. Bad thoughts don’t equate to a positive outcome. So when I wanted to complain about how bad the 20 mile per hour headwind the last 11 miles of the bike course, when your legs are already tired, I told myself to be grateful. To be grateful for my health, for my strong legs, for the fact the bike course could have been windy AND wet from rain, etc. It helped. I picked my watts back up and pushed to the end. And on the run, I have never run in 20 mile per hour headwinds for 6.55 miles. That sucked. A lot. And the heat, I felt the sun burning my skin. I started to complain, but then I remembered my mantra. I need to be grateful it wasn’t raining. That the day ended up being a triathlon, not the feared duathlon. It helped. I kept on running.
Not only did my mantra work, but living moment by moment helped as well. I lived in each discipline. I focused on just the swim. Not the bike and run that would soon follow. When I got onto the bike, I focused on being present in the moment, staying in my power zones. I focused on each 30 minute segment and focused on my nutrition. On the run, I lived in each mile. Anything beyond a mile and I lost focus. Living in each moment and my mantra of gratefulness worked! I suggest you pick one for your next race!
Before I get into specifics of my race report, I do want to make a shout-out to the man who man it happen – yes, God, but I’m talking about my husband – Jeff. He would pick up Cora from school most days so I could train, or get in a longer afternoon workout. He watched Cora on the weekends so I could train. Without a supportive husband who has let me pursue my triathlon passion, this would not be possible. Same with my mom, my dad and aunt Karen. They watched Cora on the weekends as well which allowed me the opportunity to coach my team and also get in a workout. And the night before the race when I had a mini panic attack in the hotel room, I messaged Lexa and Crystal and they talked some sense into me, gave me amazing advice and got me back on track. A million thank yous for your advice! It helped and I used it all on race day!!! I have a wonderful village. They rock! There are not enough thank yous in the world!
Okay, race report time!
This race was full of “firsts.” First half Ironman of the 2015 season, first race with a power meter, first race using a new nutrition plan, first race choosing to use a speedsuit over a wetsuit, first race where I had sips of coffee, not cups of coffee for breakfast, first race deciding to wear a hand-held water bottle. With all these firsts, there was a good chance something would fail. I was most nervous about my nutrition plan.
The swim course is a zigzag shape in a small marina. Swim out straight, 45 degree right turn around a buoy, swim diagonal, 45 degree left turn around a buoy, swim straight, a 90 degree right turn and swim straight to the finish. Those were some tight buoy turns. I tried a new approach going around buoys and I was able to dart through swimmers and get out of the packs. On right turns, I kept my right arm out and swam with my left arm (think one arm drill) and was able to take the turn tight and my right arm also helped to protect my face from feet and arms. That was the most efficient I have ever taken buoys. I would highly recommend you try it!
Since January, I went from swimming 3 or 4 times per week, to 1, sometimes 2 swims per week. The plan was to spend more time cycling than swimming. My strength is swimming, my weakness has been the bike. With my decrease in pool hours per week, I could feel my rhythm was off and as a result, my swim times decreased by about 5 seconds per 100yd. It made swim workouts harder than they needed to be, but the tradeoff was worth it. I was getting faster and faster on the bike and my swim fitness wasn’t affected too much. In triathlon the swim is a fraction of what the other two disciplines are. And I was worried the swim on race day would suck, but it didn’t. The biggest thing I noticed was that I didn’t have “extra gears” to switch into. For example, I wasn’t able to hold onto the two blue cap girls that took off. I tried to draft off them, but they were too fast. I just told myself, swim your race and get on that bike!
I wore a speedsuit for the swim and was glad of the risky decision I made. I lost buoyancy, but I gained comfort. Last year I bought an Xterra speedsuit (for non-wetsuit legal swims) and immediately fell in love with it. I decided to wear it on race day at NOLA (even though it was a wetsuit legal swim), and I’m pretty sure I was the only one, but knowing that I overheat in a nanosecond, and I always feel suffocated in a wetsuits, I was confident I was making the right decision. Turns out, I made the right decision!
I sprinted the last 100 yards to wake up my legs to get ready to run into T1. I ran as fast as I could on a wet carpet, barefoot, trying to take off my swim cap and goggles, and unzip my speedsuit. All those swim/run bricks in training paid off!
I sat down to pee while I put on my helmet and grabbed my nutrition. I tried to do it standing up, but it didn’t work. I envisioned my towel being my toilet. It worked. Ah! Relief!
I couldn’t wait to get on my bike to see what I could do! I have to say this was my favorite part of the whole race! Normally, I just hold on as best I can on the bike leg. It’s never been my strength, but it’s quickly becoming a strength. When I was at Ironman 70.3 Worlds last year, I was getting passed left and right. I felt like an old lady driving a car 45 miles per hour on the highway while everyone one else was either doing the speed limit or speeding. I have always felt that way on the bike. But every race, I would remind myself that cycling wasn’t my strength *yet* and to keep doing the best I could. But NOLA was a different day! At NOLA, I was the driver speeding!
My bike fitness changed for the better (better than I could have ever imagined) when I got a power meter. Thank you Bicycle Heaven for convincing me I needed one! Once I got the power meter, it told me what I had, and hadn’t, been doing on the bike. I wasn’t pushing hard enough on hard training days and wasn’t going easy enough on easy rides. It has truly been a game changer. When I raced with it, I loved it even more. Let me explain…
56 miles is a long distance when you’re trying to go fast. It’s hard to stay focused the entire distance. My coach gave me a “power ceiling” for the first 35 miles. I was not to go above that number. So for 35 miles I had something to focus on – to push steady watts and stay conservative. On hills, I noticed my watts increase above my ceiling, so I shifted into an easier gear and watched the numbers decrease. This saved precious energy. When I would think I needed to get around an athlete, but noticed my watts increase significantly above my ceiling, I backed off and didn’t make the pass. This also saved precious energy. And when I lost focus and almost forgot what I was doing, I would look down and see my power numbers were dropping, and it would be the slap in the face I needed to pick it back up again. And on the last 11 miles when my speed dropped significantly in the 20 mph headwind, and my first thought was that I sucked, but my power numbers were telling me otherwise, I knew then I was doing everything right and that I didn’t suck. My power meter kept me honest and accountable. I am completely in love with it. I don’t know how I raced without one for so long. I blogged about my power meter here
On the drive home the perfect analogy came to me. I put the car on cruise control and drove steady. But an annoying truck next to me would speed up and pass me, to later slow down and I pass him. This went on for miles. And he wasn’t the only vehicle to do this. I got better gas mileage because I was driving steady, and the other vehicles were wasting gas with speeding up and slowing down. This is so true in racing. Speeding up and slowing down repeatedly wastes energy! And that wasted energy negatively affects your run. A power meter is like your cruise control. If you pay close attention to it, it forces you to stay within your own parameters, to ride steady, and sets you up for a solid run. If you don’t have a power meter, you really need to get one. Seriously.
The bike course was not easy. We had a tailwind in the beginning (in which you don’t want to kill it), but after that it was all cross-winds and headwinds. I felt strong. I was passing people left and right. I was passing dudes and that felt amazing. I felt like a badass. All those “hard, please kill me, I can’t pedal anymore, my legs will fall off” workouts paid off. I never once flinched or yelled “shit!” in the wind (a standard last season).
Nutrition on the bike: I had a bottle of UCAN protein (3 scoops) and I added some salt to it, a bottle of UCAN hydration (3 scoops) with salt in that as well, and water in my hydration bladder in the downtube of my Specialized Shiv bike (this triathlon bike is incredible!). I alternated sips between the two UCAN bottles about every 20 minutes. I got sucked into and stuck in a draft pack at the second aid station, so I missed a water hand-up (I was NOT happy!). At mile 40, I was out of water and praying there would be one more aid station. Thank God at mile 45 there was another aid station or I would have been screwed. I was so thirsty. I downed that entire bottle of water the last 11 miles. I felt I fueled as best I could on the bike. I am loving the UCAN. I never felt any peaks and valleys that I got from my other nutrition products.
As I was approaching the dismount line, I took my feet out of my cycling shoes, and ran off barefoot. I also took my helmet off as I was running in with my bike. I am working on speeding up my transitions, so I am all about time saving. I sat down, peed again while I was putting on my run shoes, popped up and took off running!
My goal for the run was to run a 7:40/mile pace. What I hoped to hit was 7:20/mile (my training proved I was capable). When I saw 8:30/mile on my Garmin and I was hurting, I knew it was going to be a looooooooooooooooong run. It was very hot. It was very windy. I was having my doubts. I told myself to wait after the first mile to assess. Mile 1 down and I was not feeling better. My hope for a sub 5 hour began to fade. I was giving up. Then I had to almost slap myself and say, “really Bree, you’re going give up on your goal on the run?! You’ve made it this far, RUN!!! Gut it OUT!!!” So I listened to my inner voice and ran. My feet began to cramp (who knew that you could cramp in your feet while running) so at that point I knew I needed to take in some salt. I brought Himalayan salt in a TicTac container, and chugged some of it. In minutes I felt better. My pace picked up a little bit. Minutes later, the cramps came back, so I chugged it again. That second time was a charm. The cramps went away and never came back. I took the salt every 20 or so minutes. I suggest you carry salt with you on your run – when you feel a cramp – take some.
I carried a hand-held hydration bottle with me. This proved to be a smart decision. I was able to bypass the clustered aid station out of T2 (saving precious time) and was able to sip on water between aid stations. I don’t think I could have run as well as I did in that heat and humidity if I was having to wait every mile for water. I had it on demand. I suggest you try this in your next Half or Full Ironman.
The first 6.55 miles of the run was into a 20 mph headwind. It was brutal. My original plan of breaking down the race as a “4 mile/3 mile/3 mile /2 mile/1 mile” run plan became a “survive every mile” run plan. At the turnaround point, I was 7 minutes ahead of my pre-calculated race plan to go sub 5 hours. But my run time was slower than what I projected, so I didn’t truly know if I would make it. My brain couldn’t do math and I was just trying to hold on. On the way back, the tailwind didn’t help much. The heat was cooking us and they were running out of ice at the aid stations. Coming back was harder in my opinion. But with 4 miles to go, I realized I had a chance at a sub 4:50 finish. It would require I pick up the pace and gut it out even more. I figured I should give it a chance, so I would run as fast as I could until I felt like I was going to pass out and then would have to let up on the pace. This speed up/slow down was on repeat until the last mile, in which I could see the finish line area up ahead, and to keep me focused, I kept my eyes glued to it. A quick peek at my watch and I saw 4:49:00 and with the finish line just meters away, I knew I was going to meet my goal! And I did! Tears would have flown down my face if I wasn’t so dehydrated!
I didn’t know that I got 3rd AG. I was just happy that I met my time goal. When I went to the transition area to get my phone, I saw that my FB had blown up with messages of people tracking me and letting me know I got 3rd. Thank you ALL so much. I am so grateful for your love and support. Thanks for your words of encouragement and well wishes. I have wonderful friends and family! Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
And lastly, as many of you have been asking, yes I qualified for Ironman 70.3 Worlds (yay!!!), but no, I didn’t take the slot. We have some BIG and EXCITING things happening in our family soon, so I want to be ready and prepared for what God brings this year. But I can say that me declining the slot blessed the 4th place girl. She was so happy!!! Practically running up to get her slot. I know that feeling. I had it last year. She’s going to enjoy every moment! Ironman 70.3 Worlds is incredible!!!
So back to training! I have more goals to accomplish!!! If you have a race coming up and want to run anything by me, feel free to shoot me a message! email@example.com.
Oh, I can add this, if your race is going to be hot and humid (like Ironman 70.3 Texas and IMTX) you need to be fueling up on electrolytes the days before the race. I highly recommend the Emergen-C packets. I took two packets a day for 4 days before the race. I believe it helped me. I drank too much water in the days leading up to IMAZ and I flushed out my electrolytes and paid for it with cramps on race day. I got wiser this time around and didn’t make that same mistake. If you’re racing this weekend at Galveston or in a month at IMTX, buy these! They work!!!