Sunday, May 9, 2010

Cougar 1: False River 3 ...I'm finally on the score board!

Things finally seem to be turning around these past three weeks! I have had some good but tough training that seems to have prepared me for these last two sprint races that I have participated in. The focus lately in training has been on increasing my intensity, strength, and speed. There have been some tough bricks, some tough swims, and some long, fast, hard and hot runs. I have been sticking to the training plan and it seems to really be paying off.

This weekend I participated in Louisiana Tri, an open water sprint triathlon held at False River (my old nemesis). This is probably the first tri that I have not obsessed about in the week leading up to it. I'm not sure if it was because I was busy and tired, or that I just managed to keep my anxiety at bay. I will admit that it did start to creep in around Friday, especially when I learned the swim would not be wetsuit legal (meaning I would be losing the comfort of my floaty neoprene). I had not been in open water this year without my wetsuit. I did my best blocking out negative thoughts and whenever I thought about the race I would repeat to myself my race mantra/instructions which was to focus solely on "blast the swim". I had other goals in mind, but decided to just follow my coach's directions and not worry about the rest of the race, and just give it all to the water.

Race Report:

Lizzard and I decided to get to transition super early since we knew that Linda ("FreeBird") was planning on departing Baton Rouge by 5:15 am. As she is our senior team member, we follow her discretion in matters of race strategy and planning when Coach is not around. There was actually quite a bit of grace in getting to transition before it was even set up...there was definitely no rush to get our gear organized, there were no lines to the Pot-O-Gold, and it was too dark to see the water thus reducing any anxiety that might come over me by driving in and seeing white-caps crashing up to the shore.

As the sun came up, the athletes began to arrive. The sky was overcast and it was windy ~ chilly almost. The water appeared relatively calm which was a huge relief. We explored the transition area and the in/outs, and talked to the race director and volunteers to get tips on the course and a good lay of the land. FreeBird and Ann H. showed up and our FitBird team was complete for this race.

Their were three waves to the swim start, which entered at the boat landing by Satterfield's restaurant. Between each wave there was a three minute gap. The first two waves were the men and the last was all the women and relay members. The course was an 800 yd swim set out in a triangle formation, with three orange buoys marking the turns, around which we swam clockwise.
An aerial view of my swim

Unlike the 70.3 race just a short time ago, this time I waited in my wave with my teammates which was rather comforting. And this time I remembered my timing chip. I positioned myself in the center/right of the pack so I would have people to sight off of. When we entered the water, there was no running like there was in New Orleans. It was an immediate "get in and swim". I started a second or two after the racers in front of me so I could let out one last breath of anxiety. Once in, the pack took on a life of its own and there was a lot of kicking and jostling for space. It took nearly to the first buoy, about 150 yds, before I felt like I had room of my own and was not climbing over someone or being climbed over. That first part of the swim was the most difficult as my adrenalin was racing and I had to fight my brain to ignore the other swimmers who were trying to get a good position.

Occasionally I would see FreeBird or Lizzard off to my side. It was comforting to know they were close. At one point I was afraid that Lizzard might be holding back intentionally to make sure I was doing okay, but then I realized that she was stuck in the pack too. I had to fight the urge to flip over onto my back many times. I wanted to swim this race freestyle the entire way. I had practiced other strokes in the pool during training this week, and it reinforced to me what I fool I was in New Orleans trying to side stroke, breast stroke, and back stroke 1.2 miles. Freestyle may require putting your face in the water, but it is the least fatiguing stroke. In the pool I was wiped just side stroking 2 laps. What was I thinking? No wonder I was done for before I ever got onto the bike in New Orleans.

So, around the buoy I went on my stomach. This was the long stretch. I found who I thought was FreeBird and kept her in my sites and tried to match her pace. I had trouble sighting and staying in a straight line, so I wasted a bit of energy popping up every so often to see where I was going. My breathing turned into a one breath per stroke pattern and I worried that I would exhaust myself that way. I tried to correct it but couldn't maintain a three to one pattern. At least the water was comfortable and surprisingly I didn't miss my wetsuit like I thought I would.

Ann H., First Female Out Of The Water 
Last turn and heading to shore. I'm starting to get optimistic that not only will I finish the swim freestyle, but I might even be able to claim that I "blasted" it. I felt fast. Clumsy and awkward, but I still felt aggressive with my stroke and fast. I knew in the pool I could hold around 4 minutes for 200 yds so I figured best case scenario I could finish it in 16 minutes. Last year at Meat Pie I swam 800 in 20 minutes and part of that was on my back. So going into the swim I was hoping for 18. I felt at this point I might even have beaten that.

The last 100 yds were tough. I lost sight of FreeBird, and my sighting got more erratic. I was tired but tried to keep myself calm as I could hear my breathing get harder. I could see the shore but couldn't seem to get it to come close fast enough. Unlike New Orleans, I couldn't put my feet down early and walk it in. I had to swim all the way onto the boat ramp before I could stand. But I did. And it felt good to finish and meet my swim goal.

I struggled a bit coming out of the water and had to walk/jog into transition. I went right to my bike and unracked it after donning my helmet and shoes. I had no cheerleaders at this race except for my teammate's husbands, but I heard a few "Go Coug"s and it pumped me up. The mount for the bike was at the base of a steep hill, so I ran my bike to the top and then mounted.

I love my bike. I may not be the fastest or the strongest rider, but I love when I feel fast and strong. Hitting the first part of the road I was quick. I easily got into the low 20's and started passing a few of the cyclists that had me on the swim. Then the road turned and the crosswinds hit. The speed dropped quickly into the mid teens. But unlike New Orleans I was able to rally and push through it. The wind died down and I pushed hard when I had the chance. The roads were terrible and I wondered if cycling in states where the infrastructure is a priority is dramatically different. It wasn't long before I heard a "Hi Janie" and saw FreeBird whizz past me going at least in the low to mid 20's. I was confused because I assumed all my FitBird teammates were ahead of me out of the water, but somehow I must have pulled out just a short time before her. I was encouraged that my swim might be even better than I originally thought, knowing that FreeBird always gets out before me. No matter, back to focusing on the bike.

Even with her helmet on backwards initially, FreeBird manages to fly by me just minutes later

Susan Hayden getting FreeBird turned around (literally)
I may have to rename Lizzard "Chrissie Wellington" because I find she is always smiling. She just ran up a flight of stairs out of T2.
I hit the turn around and quickly discover that the worst of the winds are now coming straight at me. I glance to the side and see that the river has some whitecaps and I think how grateful I am that I am not swimming through them. I focus on a blue shirt up ahead that I am convinced is Lizzard and I make her my rabbit. It takes me a while but I catch up to her and realize it is not her. Bummed that I can't harass a stranger I choose to pass instead. I play leap frog for a while with a male rider, and we laugh that neither of us can maintain our lead for very long before switching places. He pulls ahead one last time before we get to the dismount, but I burn him in transition and he acknowledges it. Under a minute into my running shoes and I'm off.

Unfortunately Lizzard was tied up the last mile with calf pain that took her out of the "running"
I hate to admit it, but all the brick work I've been doing lately has really paid off. I bound up the steps onto the road and wait for my heartrate to get wild on me and it doesn't happen. I manage to slip into a good steady pace, although my strides are short. I make it without rest to the first water stop and then walk the station to get some fluids. After the second mile I start to feel cramps in my shins and try to push through but stop every so often to walk. Finally I see Lizzard ahead and give it some effort to catch up. She has had to stop and walk due to injuring her calf, but she is in good spirits. I catch a breath with her but she encourages me to push on and be there when she finishes. I manage to walk/jog the final half mile to the finish. Total time: 2:00:37

The best part of it all is that I actually place 3rd in my age group. I finished slower than I had hoped, but was satisfied considering most of my goals were met. I survived the swim with a time of about 22 minutes. I was surprised I was that slow, but decided it's just too hard to determine my speed when I'm in a race. I'm not sure if I can take credit for "blasting" the swim, but I did finish freestyle without panicking. I'm happy with it.

My bike time was a little over an hour with an average of around 17 mph. Satisfied. My run pace was 9:44 which surprised me considering I had to add in a little walk here and there. My hope was to keep it under 9:30, but I knew I didn't meet that when I had to walk. I was happy that I got close though.

Linda "FreeBird" Adams, Ann H., "Coug"
Overall, the FitBird Team rocked. Freebird and Ann H. placed first in their age groups. Lizzard had a great race but had to "walk it out" the last mile due to her calf. But in true Lizzard fashion she managed to dance it in through the finish shute. Got to love the attitude.
The Lizzard "walking it in"... ok, she danced it in FitBird style

So things are looking up. I finally get to claim a victory against that damn river. I can't say I enjoyed the swim. I never do. I want so badly to love it. But I don't. And I still don't know that I'm ready to take on a longer distance again. Yet...

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