Sweden 70.3 and Finland 70.3 and Now I’m Home

Maybe the light is different in Europe. Maybe it’s the bathroom mirrors. But at one point during the two weeks in Finland and Sweden, during the blur of hotels and Airbnbs and rooms, I looked up and thought, “Man, I aged. I looked older.”

That’s not a metaphor. That actually happened.

There is this thing that happens at races, where we have the same conversation every time, the ‘how long should we keep at this, what am I doing with my life’ conversation. Often it’s with other pros I’ve just met, sometimes ones I’ve never met before, and they had a bad race or I had a bad race or they’ve been wondering if it’s time to quit or we’re all wondering what comes next or maybe we’re just shooting the shit. It’s something about our speed, the middle-of-the-pack speed, where even if you’ve never met each other, you know each other. Where there are maybe only 100-200 other girls in the world who you don’t have to explain your life to, who are going through the same things.

I spent a lot of time on my own in Finland and Sweden, just by nature of the solo trip. And the whole thing maybe got a little more self-reflective than was absolutely necessary. But what are you gonna do.

finland - start of bike

After I got to Finland, I fell asleep and I woke up at a totally normal time, and then my body gave up trying to figure out what was going on. The 24-hour daylight knocked me flat on my ass. Literally. I kept having to lay down I was so dizzy and nauseous. That’s a less than ideal way to race, but I didn’t get a say in the subject.

The race started at 4 p.m. and I was still napping at noon. Ultimately, I ended up 9th out of 9 (sigh), but given that all I wanted to do was lay down and sleep during the bike, I was actually pleasantly surprised with how it turned out. After wanting to simply take a nap, after crashing on the dismount, after crying slightly, I was closing at the finish, hard, and missed by three seconds in the chute, ended up a little over a minute out of 6th and a couple minutes out of 5th. It wasn’t awful, though it wasn’t good either.

Yes, apparently blood was dripping down my knee during the run:

Finland - run

Eight days later, Sweden 70.3 went better. Sorta. I ended up 9th again, but in a much more competitive field.

I actually biked like I know how to ride a bike, close to my best 70.3 watts, maybe tied with. Which required constant focus on the long descents, minute by minute it’d be so easy to just zone out and still be going fast down the long gentle hills, but not fast enough. And then I ran strong, a couple of minutes off the winner (who is also the Olympic silver medalist). But I never was able to close the gap from my terrible swim. And, oh man, I swam *terrible.* Girls who got out of the water with me the weekend before in Finland, put three minutes on me in Sweden. Three minutes is a lot of minutes out of 30. Three minutes is a lot slower to get in one week.

I still don’t really know what happened. I think I was dragging a little; I have no pick-up right now, no sprint speed with all the fatigue. And I think sometimes these things just happen. And you try to fix the issues it could be, and don’t worry about the issues you can’t fix, and move on and swim faster next time.

But it was pretty awful in the moment. Pretty awful to know I’d come all this way and I’d fucked up. Because I knew. I knew I had swum insanely bad and that I was all by myself, out of the race. I knew when you spend the whole race alone you end up losing exponential time, since you lose any benefit from being anywhere near anyone on the bike. That all my effort and all my watts would still cost me more minutes back here by myself. I knew it, but instead I kept thinking, “It was probably slow for everyone; I’m sure the whole group is just around the corner up ahead.” And then I ate a gel and I got on with it.

And there was a point maybe an hour in, where I was all alone still, biking through the Swedish countryside, and I thought, “Well, I’ve already spent most of this trip by myself anyway.”

I’d like to have some point here, some lesson or takeaway, some kicker on the end of an essay, but I just watched Hannah Gadsby’s ‘Nanette’ comedy special and I’m not feeling in the mood to wrap things up in a punchline. So here’s the best I’ve got:

During the first loop of the run in Finland, since I’d given up on a good race and was simply trying to get through the thing with a strong effort, I started high-fiving small children. Because why the hell not; they were so excited about it and it certainly wasn’t slowing me down. And then I started to have fun, and then I started to realize I wasn’t running badly at all and I was closing on the girls ahead of me, and then I started to realize I was *really* closing, and then I picked it up and picked it up until I was sprinting through the final kilometer. And I ran out of room. But what if I had believed a little earlier?

And, so, that whole week in between I believed. I believed I could hold my own and all the training was there. I believed, even when I fell off the group a few minutes into the swim, that I’d simply re-catch them, and I believed I was making up time on the bike, and I believed I’d reel girls in on the run. The fact that I was super wrong is beside the point.

(Top photo: Ironman Finland)

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Whistler 70.3 and the Lessons of This Year

This year, this season, has been important for me. I’ve needed it to prove to myself that Wisconsin, which seemed to come out of nowhere, wasn’t a fluke. I needed this year to build a consistent base of actual training, to make sure I could sustain the load without getting hurt. I needed to see what I could do and I needed to see if there was a glimmer of more potential on the horizon, more reason to keep at it. Because if not, that’s fine and it’s been fun, but then this is sort of it.

So this year’s been all about progress, constant incremental progress. Mostly, that’s been easy. Not easy in the day-in, day-out work, but easy to count on the workouts getting faster. The PRs have come, again and again. Every single race has been a personal best. That’s easy to do when you have so much room for improvement. But I also knew these leaps and bounds wouldn’t last. At some point, I wouldn’t be able to PR a 5K during a random training block anymore. And that’d be fine, because it’d mean I’d picked all the low-hanging fruit. But it’d also mean that all that’s left is the chiseling of small constant incremental progress.

I raced Whistler 70.3 last weekend because I wanted to race one more half before Kona (and I won’t be doing Australia since I screwed that up). It was a good race, a solid race. 2nd woman, 4:48 on a slow course on a tough day. It was also the first race this year that hasn’t been definitively obviously better than the one before it. This may not be obvious to everyone else — courses are different, times are different, competition is different — but it’s been obvious to me. Still. Whistler wasn’t obviously better, but it was slightly better, better enough. Constant progress.

When things started to go really south in the last two miles, when I was swallowing down vomit and covered in urine — so much urine — I kept thinking about all the halves I’ve tried in the past and failed, all the times things went really south in the last four or five miles and I shuffle-walked it in. I started having flashbacks to the underprepared death slog that was the last six miles of Ironman Canada on this same course two year ago. And then I thought: I am not that athlete anymore.

So, instead, I ran as fast as I could, which wasn’t as fast as  I wanted, and did what I needed to do to hang onto second. And then I ran all the way through the damn timing mats (learning! progress!) before I was carted to the med tent to dry-heave bile for a little while.

I had wanted to win. I had wanted to run a sub-1:30. I had wanted to kill it and go into focused Kona training confident that I’m prepared. But that’s not what happened. We don’t always get the lessons we want, I guess, but I got one I needed. I am not the athlete I used to be; I can hang tough. I am getting better, bit by bit. Progress. Constant tiny progress.

Here are some other random notes and bits from Whistler, which may be one of my favorite places if not my favorite race:

  • Caps no longer stay on my head for the whole swim. Almost every race I either have to stop to pull it down or let it slowly slide off. I dunno if my head got bigger or the caps have gotten shittier.Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 5.39.16 PM
  • Rolling swim starts are stupid. A race is a race. If it’s not, then it’s just a random assortment of people completing an arbitrary distance. (A guy tried to argue with me about this the day after, something about how ‘if I really looked at the history of triathlon…’ And, well, you do not want to argue with me the day after a race. I literally said, to this person I had never met before, “No, that’s stupid, you’re wrong.”)
  • At one point, after I swam past all these people, I thought, “Maybe I did something weird, took a wrong turn, and don’t remember it because I blacked out.”
  • I ended up totally by myself for a long time in the swim. Eventually, I saw a guy behind me, so I slowed down to let him go by and then sat on his feet like it was the end of my race. This is how I know I’m getting better at swimming. I used to think that when swimmers said things like ‘and then I let him go by and sat on his feet,’ they had to be lying, because there was no way anyone could be that on top of things during a swim.
  • When the eventual winner and another girl went by me about 8 miles into the bike, I actually tried to go with them, which I never do. Sure, I dropped my chain and lost them when we merged with the Ironman racers, and then I went back to my regular ‘just keep pushing your own pace.’ And it probably wouldn’t have worked out great anyway, if I had stayed with them, since I ended up getting 6 minutes put on me by the winner. But at least I’m trying, at least I’m starting to respond to the race when it goes by me, at least I’m starting to think I belong.

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  • I finally successfully peed on the bike. I have never done this. Of course, the only reason I was able to finally pee on the bike is because I really needed to pee. I thought it’d be subtle. It was not. And because this was on a long downhill, basically there was suddenly a massive torrent of urine, which hit my wheel and sprayed everywhere. I don’t think the people behind me were too happy either.
  • I do not usually pee on the bike, because I do not usually pee in races period. Everyone’s different, but if I get my nutrition right I don’t pee in races shorter than an Ironman. The fact that I peed in my wetsuit warming up before the race was rare enough. Then I peed everywhere on the bike. Then I started having to pee again by the end of the bike. This was concerning. This meant I had screwed something up, and things were going to get nasty sooner or later. I troubleshooted, downed some gels, but…
  • By halfway through the run I had to pee again. It, too, was not subtle. There was pee everywhere. It settled in my shoes as I ran. And I wear Hokas, which meant that I was basically wearing urine-soaked sponges tied to my feet. You could hear them squish with every step.
  • Things went south. I hadn’t taken in enough electrolytes or calories, especially in the hours and day before the race, too much water. But I kept running. And people kept cheering for me. There are lots of downsides to being a woman in sports, etc, but one upside: People love to cheer for you. They love seeing women near the front. And people really love to cheer for me. They’re so excited I haven’t passed out yet. I look like I’m going to die! But I haven’t died! I get a lot of: “You’re doing it!” And I am, I am doing it.

Galveston 70.3: A Race Report

I didn’t really have anything to say about this race right after it happened because I didn’t want to think any more about it. Or rather I was thinking about it a lot, but trying not to. And I was trying to let my brain recharge and rebuild, and the internet is not conducive to that.

But also: there isn’t a ton to say. There’s a reason when pros write race reports that are basically ‘I just didn’t have it today’ it’s SUPER boring to read. Because that may be fascinating to the person in the race but it’s boring to everyone else. So here’s my boring race report: I didn’t have it, and it was fiiiine I guess overall, but I’m 100% putting out paces and efforts in training that made me very, almost irrationally, disappointed with my race.

We started as the first age group, six minutes behind the pro women, which made for a tough (but informative) day. My swim was solid. I got on the bike. And then I saw six people the whole ride — four of whom were 40-44 men passing me in the last 10 miles as I had a meltdown. Or, rather, I saw all the people in the later age groups headed out as I was headed back, but I only passed or was passed by six. For all that this race is supposed to be a fast draft fest, my race was lonely as fuck. I did OK on the way out, into the crazy wind, but then I fell apart on the way back. My watts were Ironman numbers, and unfortunately this was a half-Ironman. I was not dealing well with the crosswind and was sitting super weird on my bike trying to stay low or something. I dunno what I did, but my seat was digging into my hamstrings to the point that it was debilitatingly hard to pedal. Whatever. I just wanted off my bike and none, NONE, of the mental tricks I’ve taught myself were working.

I still knew it might come back to me while I ran around a parking lot for 13.1 miles. But it didn’t really. Lap 1 was not great but good enough. Lap 2 I was so hot I wasn’t sure if I was going to pass out before or after the finish line. Lap 3 the only thing that kept me moving as I shoved ice down everything was that a 44-yo woman on her first lap passed me and I figured I really should stay with her.

I finished in 4:43 and was a hot mess. Sitting under the med canopy (not quite a tent) every other one of the girls around me said it was also tough and windy and miserable and hot for them too. So I figured we all were suffering and I felt OK about that. And then 15 minutes later I started crying. And I kept crying randomly all afternoon and evening. I cried in the Denver airport after I stupidly had to leave straight from the race, as I dizzyingly nauseously looked for food during my stupid layover on the stupidest flight decision I have ever made. I cried the next day when a police officer turned me around at an intersection because the road was closed. Basically, I cried a lot. So, no, it’s not exactly a mystery that I was clearly a little in a hole, a little emotionally and mentally and physically beat up. I mean, for fucks sake, I literally thought at one point during the run, “Why am I even spending so much time training if I’m just going to suck like this? Why the fuck have I been wasting my time? I’m a joke.” And then, because I’ve grown enough as an athlete that I didn’t just quit at that point, I thought, “I think my brain is fried. If I get through this, it really needs a break.”

People have given me a lot of pep talks. And, I get that it was still a solid race, a PR, I dealt with it and we figured out some issues (like don’t race an 11-speed cassette on your 10-speed bike, which honestly worked fine enough; it’s not like that’s what was holding me back). But I also know that Hillary probably summed it up best when I did my first hard workout since the race on Tuesday, she said, “These were great, more like your normal files instead of whatever the fuck that was in Galveston.” Which is now how we’re referring to the experience. Whatever the fuck that was in Galveston.

70.3 World Championship Predicitons

Tomorrow is the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Mont Tremblant. The race has really evolved in the last few years from a Kona knock-off to a genuine championships, especially now that you have Olympic athletes meeting with Ironman athletes. I’ll actually be riding my bike in the morning, so I can’t follow the livestream of the race. Hopefully, everyone who loves to live-tweet things as they watch them on TV will live-tweet something I actually want to know about and can’t see on TV.

Here’s who I’m sort of rooting for and think could come out on top tomorrow, though there are certainly a handful of people who could win. Which makes it exciting. (If you want more details, the Slowtwitch men’s and women’s previews are totally in-depth.)

Men: Javier Gomez – it’d be sort of awesome to see him come back after the ITU World Championship win and prove he is the BEST AT EVERYTHING

Women: Meredith Kessler – gotta root for the local (when I lived in the Bay Area) girl, who always stops to talk to me at swimming, especially since it’s been great to see her get stupid fast over the last few years

Auburn World’s Toughest Half: Race Report

I’m kind of pissed off right now and writing this pretty in the immediate, so it is what it is — ie. not super peppy triathlon.

Short summary: I biked like I’ve forgotten how. I’m worried I might have forgotten how. It was so bad that I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to finish the bike when I was only 1/3 of the way through it. Then, as I was coasting into T2 angry and miserable and wanting to throw up/piss myself, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t finish the run and would pass out somewhere and be eaten by rattlesnakes. But, I did finish. Right afterward, I was happy about this. ‘Go me. I kept it together enough, even after everything sucked so hard, that I still passed some people on the run. Yay. This has to be good for Ironman practice.’ However, the results say that I REALLY sucked on the bike and the only reason I passed anyone on the run was because I was so far back. Ugh. Ugh.

Long version: At least I swam good.

I swam a 30:50 (which included running forever through shin-deep muck at the end; stupid drought), which is not really a very impressive time, but I came out of the water so close behind the front two women — one of whom I know is a very fast swimmer — that I actually passed them in T1. So: win.

The thing about World’s Toughest Half is that it’s really tough and hilly. That’s fine. I was (sorta) prepared for this. I mean I didn’t actually look at a course map, but in theory I understood the concept. For the first 40′ or so I felt pretty good. I was racing off heartrate for the second race ever — Wildflower being the first — and I don’t think I understand it. I don’t know. My plan was to keep my HR in the low-mid-150s. That seems about right for what would usually be my half pace (170 watts). I don’t know. For the first 40′ my HR was right in the 150s and I was eating and drinking and powering up the hills and I felt good/ok. Two girls passed me early, but I did a mental check: ‘Should I go with them? No, not this early.’ And, then on one of the downhills my HR went down and it didn’t come back up as much. And, then, more and more. I simply couldn’t keep my HR up and it kept dropping further. I could barely keep it in the 140s at times. And I felt awful. By an hour in, I felt really awful. Was my HR down because I was going easier? I couldn’t tell. Sometimes, yes, I was definitely going easier. Sometimes, I’d stand and go as hard as I could and my HR’d go up to a whopping 148. Sometimes, I’d go harder and it’d go down. I tried to remember how halves are supposed to feel, but I couldn’t remember. It seemed like I was going as hard as I could (for this distance), but my legs simply had no power. But, maybe I don’t know what hard is anymore? The course is constantly up or down and on the ups I was almost going backward. On the downs, I was terrified of crashing.

Besides the fact that my legs were dead and my heart was sluggish and I felt awful, the other major problem was that there were lots of steep descents that went into sharp sketchy turns or long curvy descents that seemed gradual but suddenly would turn inward — and there was no warning when these were coming. There weren’t signs leading up to the sharp turns; there were volunteers at some of them but they were often stationed too late to know in advance or were preoccupied with manning traffic, etc. The roads were also open and full of cars. Some of the roads were incredibly busy actually. And, after a number of close calls and seeing someone almost get hit by a car, I got really nervous. REALLY nervous. I can not crash again right now. You know what happens when you get really nervous in a race that has lots and lots of long steep descents? You lose a lot of time. I was basically sitting up and braking constantly.

For about two or two-and-a-half hours, I was pretty sure I wasn’t doing as awful as I felt. And, I felt awful. I hate races where you’re basically by yourself and miserable. It’s hard to bring the race game face — whatever race game face I had today, which wasn’t much. Then, the last hour, I was actually definitely doing as awful as I felt. I just stopped even caring. I felt terrible. I’m not going to crash myself out in this stupid race. This race is stupid. All these people are stupid. Biking is stupid. I lost my race number stickers. I lost a water bottle of the back of the bike. I went straight through an intersection I should have turned at and had to flip around. I spilled so much gel that it congealed all my other gels packets together. My left knee and my right hip hurt on my bike. My whole bike started rattling on a downhill and I coasted trying to figure it out for a few miles — worried about crashing. I lost all motivation. One women, who only rode about 6′ faster than me, made up 2′ and put another 3′ on me in about the last 7 miles. I was over it. I was done. And, I really really really had to pee for the last hour. I was actually mildly pleasantly surprised that I finished the ride in 3:34, since I thought I had bombed out so hard that it might have been four hours before I could get off my stupid bike.

For a decent amount of time while biking I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to finish the bike. I knew I had to run when I got there — that was the whole point of doing such a long hard race: to practice finishing strong when things suck and are long and shitty — but, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to finish running. So, I told myself: ‘You’re just going out for a run, a nice long trail run. You go for runs all the time.’ And, that’s what I did. I wasn’t racing. I didn’t care. I was just out for a run on the hilly, rocky trails. A girl passed me in about the first mile and said if I needed to get by to pass her back just to let her know, and I said, ‘Yeah, no, that’s not going to be a problem. Definitely not going to happen.’ Sounds like the right attitude.

After walking alone up a long steep road in the sun, I suddenly was on an out-and-back section and it turned out there were people somewhat right ahead of me. And, I wasn’t sucking (too much in comparison). And, also, I was probably going to finish. So, then, I tried to start trying. I passed one girl. I gained on another. I told myself that was good enough, you got close to her, way to go Kelly, you’re not actually going to catch her. But, with less than a half-mile to go, she was right ahead of me. I decided I had to go for it and kicked hard (while trying not to throw up). I went from running like 8:45s to 6:00 pace and freaked everyone out. Perhaps I should have done that the whole time.

The results suggest I biked really really shitty, like 28′ slower than the fastest girls, and then ran pretty slowly too. That was definitely a shitty race.

Obviously, I don’t know why I’ve been biking well in training and not in races. I suspect I’m struggling to remember what race hard is. I also think I haven’t been able to find that race game face, the extra difference between caring when someone passes you and not caring. And, I’ve been having a hard time with heart rate and recovery. There’s been some workouts lately where I’ve headed out and simply couldn’t get my heartrate above 125. It may just be that my heart is crazy, which is true. But, I also definitely didn’t give myself enough time to do nothing after smashing my face in. The accident really fucked me up and my body’s been struggling to recover. It’s been an up and down battle. More down. But, I got through today and that’s something at least.