Doubt, Expectations and Triathlon

Tomorrow I’m racing Pacific Grove. I haven’t done this race since 2010. But, I love it. Love/hate it. Describing the race to people — you swim in giant kelp that wraps itself around your neck, the water is the coldest I’ve ever been in, it was so cold I broke my toe and didn’t notice, the whole race is tons and tons of loops, everyone’s on the bike course in those loops at the same time, it’s a mess, and probably raining — it sounds terrible. But, it’s also a lot of fun.

I set an age group course record there in 2008 (for which there is no report on the internets, because pre-2010 I had a .mac blog and it has since been disappeared, except really it’s still stored on the hard drive of my super old Mac laptop, but not really the same thing). I raced 6′ slower in 2009 for no real reason and cried and cried. And then another 3′ slower than that in 2010 when I did the draft-legal pro race. I don’t think I cried that time. Too tired.

So, what are my expectations for tomorrow?

Somewhere in between my 2008 and my 2010 time. More or less. Maybe. I don’t know. It’s really hard to tell when you’re going to go fast, medium fast or slow. They all feel very similar. See:

Actually the year I went the slowest, but don't I look fast-ish.
Actually the year I went the slowest, but don’t I look fast-ish.
This was the year I went a medium speed.
This was the year I went a medium speed.
And, this was the year I went the fastest.
And, this was the year I went the fastest. Would you have guessed that from the pictures? Probably not. Maybe. Who knows.

It turns out in the year-and-half since I’ve done a triathlon (ok, yes, Tri for Fun like three weeks ago in prep, but it is Tri for FUN), two years since I trained for triathlon and three years since I’ve done this race, I may have forgotten how to do triathlon. Because of a whole mess where Steve is taking the car Saturday, I’m staying at Ilyce’s tonight, we’re driving down Saturday morning, and I’m working at KQED this afternoon, I had to get all my stuff ready last night. It pretty much went like this:

What wheels should I use? I guess I have to change my brake pads for those wheels. Where are the brake pads? But, I don’t have a Power Tap hooked up to my TT bike (I took it off when I thought I was going to sell the bike), so riding a Power Tap wheels is sort of stupid, right? How do I own so many pair of shoes and no triathlon race shoes? Oh, right, because I threw out my K-Swiss ones last year when I decided they were trashed. I guess I could run in my Nike Lunaracers, but I need to change the laces to E-Z-laces so I can slip them on and I don’t have any E-Z-laces. Maybe I can go to the store tomorrow. I guess I need to go to the store to buy some goggles too. My goggles broke. What should I wear to race in anyway? My old race kit is pretty much see-through and dead. Do I need extra swim caps? I forgot a towel. How am I going to fit my clothes for tonight and tomorrow morning in the same small bag? Am I forgetting something?

Clearly, the doubts are growing.

Most of the time, I have a pretty good idea how a race is going to go — unless it’s a distance or an event I’ve never done or I’m winging it (and, also, sometimes crazy shit just happens). But, usually I know where I’m at and I know where the competition is at. I look at courses, past results. I pour over past results, because I want a good understanding of what to expect. Fast? Slow? Long bike? Etc. I know lots of people don’t do this. I know lots of people think it’s bad to put those kinds of expectations on yourself. Lots of people talk about how they just go by feel and only worry about themselves and don’t focus on other’s results. But, I just don’t understand that. How can you ignore the hundreds or thousands of other people? How can you not think about the race before the race? I couldn’t do it. Sure, sometimes, it doesn’t work so well for me. It didn’t work well in the pro fields, my expectations were always too low or off. And, you have to be prepared to adjust mid-race, have different goals, process goals and all that crap. But, sometimes, knowing exactly what I’m going to do works great for me: I WILL run xx time; I WILL beat xx number of people; I WILL put out xx power. I don’t really know how else to do it.

So, I looked at everything last night. And, I still don’t know. I don’t know what to expect tomorrow. I think I know. I’m pretty sure I could guess within 5′ what my time will be. But, I’m still not sure. I’m not sure I remember how to do this. And, the difference in those 5′ is a big difference, all the difference. I’m hoping the body remembers, that two months of triathlon training will have reminded it. I’m hoping the doubts and the expectations will even out . I know what I plan to swim and bike and run. Now, I just hope I can do it.

My goal is to win. It probably won’t happen. But, it could. That’s why we race.

The clock is not actually really my time, just fyi. But, yay! Break the tape!
The clock is not actually really my time, just fyi. But, yay! Break the tape!

Boston Marathon 2014: I Signed Up


Well, this morning I signed up for the Boston Marathon 2014. No, I’m not entirely sure I love the race and there are lots of pros and cons, etc. But, it’s hard to feel like I did what I went to do last year and certainly it’s hard to feel like there isn’t unfinished business, like I don’t need to go back. Lots of unresolved issues.

I don’t necessarily even believe in the idea of closure. I’m actually pretty convinced it’s something “the media” made up at one of our media secret meetings where we all decide we’ve got it in for Sarah Palin. Still, every time I had some version of this conversation it just kept adding up, piling up, and pushing me back:

Someone: *super sad voice* Ohhhh, you were at Boston? Wow. How was that?
Me: *stare at them*
Someone: You must have been already finished when everything happened, right?
Me: Well, not exactly, I didn’t finish.
Someone: Oh wow, were you stopped on course?
Me: Um, no. I sort of dropped out before anything happened, unrelatedly.
Someone: *stare at me*

Because I am a failure. Because I couldn’t even finish the race, when I had every advantage to do so, when I could have just been a little tougher, while other people died or had their legs blown off or saved each other just to give me the chance to run it, to create the event and the opportunity. I failed them. And, I know that’s not exactly true, but it’s a little bit true. Who am I to have not finished.

Even the registration form for the race argued with me about the improbability of my experience. It asked: Is this your first Boston Marathon? No. How many Boston Marathons have you completed? 0. “You have entered an impossible value. Please go back and revise your answer to the question.”

Sigh. I am, evidently, an impossible value.

I could say that I signed up for next year because I don’t want “them” to win, but (today, Sept. 11, of all days) I don’t actually really believe that. I don’t think it’s a zero sum game and as long as we insist it is, then it will be. Then, there will always continue to be an us and a them. And, anyway, I don’t really know who “they” are or how “they” didn’t sort of win when we put a major city on lockdown to hunt down one 19-year-old. So, no, I’m not going back to Boston to prove that I’m not afraid and I’m definitely not going back because of a desire to participate in aggressive shows of patriotic fervor. I’m not going back because I can make things better for the people who are still struggling in the aftermath, my presence can’t do that for them (though donations maybe can help). I’m going back because I have a race to finish. I going back not because of the bombing, but in spite of it.

Race Report: Pacific Association Golden Gate Park Cross-Country Open

The Pacific Association races are hard to explain to people. No one knows about them and they’re insanely stupid painfully fast.

The Pacific Association is just the regional section that covers California, etc, of the USA Track and Field national governing body. But, it’s also shorthand for their sanctioned series and races that are stupid hard. “Doing the PA race this weekend?” “Are you kidding? I can’t deal with that shit.” Because, to be an official PA race you have to offer some money — typically small, like $1000 total over three races — and you have to have points for teams. So, it tends to draw athletes who are trying to make money running or who are doing the running bum thing or who are fast enough that regular races aren’t quite exciting, but not quite fast enough to make it on the international circuit or some who actually are making it on the international circuit (ie. at a world or Olympic level) but they live in Northern California so they come out to these races. Also, there are a lot of fast people in Northern California.

Basically, it’s skinny, stupid fast girls and some Olympians.

One time, I convinced my aunt and my best friend from high school to do the PA race in Marin when they were here for our wedding by telling them it was “just like a local 5K.” Which, I suppose, technically was true. It was 5K and it was local. But, we ended up coming in like fourth to last and I probably should have warned them more about what they were getting into.

Right now is cross-country season, so yesterday I did the Golden Gate Park cross-country race. It’s actually the exact same course that the cross-country championship is on in November, which I’ve randomly done like four times, so I more or less knew what I was getting into.

I’m also practicing looking like a stupid fast skinny runner girl by wearing tiny spandex shorts for races. My logic is that if I wear tiny spandex shorts maybe people will assume I’m fast and then they will become discouraged and stop trying to drop me as hard. In Steve’s bike races they always work extra hard to drop the guy who doesn’t have shaved legs. So, my logic is not as shitty as you thought at first. But, I’m not 100% sure it worked.

And, yes, that is Tupac the Cat trying to lick the dirt off my legs.

The race pretty much went like this: I ran 6:15 miles for the first two miles and thought I was going to die. I still got passed. Then, I ran like 6:40s for the second two miles + change and also still got passed, but managed to pass a couple people who were running slower than 6:40 miles.

The course is two loops that are, in theory, each two miles. But, if all the GPS watches that were beeping at the mile markers are any indication it’s more like 4.2 miles total. It starts on a long open downhill field and then a long, wide-ish downhill trail for about a half-mile. People go hard. You tell yourself you’re not going to go too hard, but you sort of have to, because after that it turns sharply into single-track and you start running through bushes and over logs and in sand. My mantra for the first mile was: “Oh, fuck, I am not prepared for this.” Because, well, I wasn’t. Physically, mentally, or emotionally. It was painful, really painful and I felt like I was full-on sprinting, except, you know, for FOUR MILES.

My mantra for the second mile was: “I’m not going to make it through a second lap.” In the second mile, I sort of lost contact with the girl from my team who I’d been running with. She got a couple steps ahead of me and I never quite re-connected.

The second lap wasn’t quite as bad, but that may just be because I slowed down. Evidently, you have to keep running hard the whole time. I started to work my way back up to the girl from my team, was almost right on her shoulder, and then she pulled away again. A couple of girls from other teams passed me and I would go with them and then lose them and then they passed her and she’d go with them and then lose them. My mantra for the second lap (miles 2-3.5) was more or less: “Well, really, what’s the point?”

You can see I’m working on the whole positive thinking thing.

But, really, when you’re 30-something out of 140-something women and there’s not a whole ton riding on this race, it’s hard to care much if you run 27:00 or 27:20. And, when it’s cross-country, it’s hard to get too worked up about pace. I mean, you DID just jump over a log. So, I had one of my existential race crises, but in the scheme of those, it wasn’t my worst.

The last half-mile I tried to stay with a woman who passed me, tried to pick it up and fight the last hill and descent, but she got a few steps on me and I figured, everyone sprints the last quarter-mile, of course she’ll sprint, you won’t be able to catch her. But, I did. I pulled her back in the last 50m. And I ran a 27:23.

Aren’t you supposed to take glamorous shots of your legs/shoes all the time.

I thought I had run a 27:08 or so back in November, so I was eh about my time yesterday. But, it turns out I ran a 28:08 in November, which was still a minute faster than I ran it in November 2011 (when I fell in the mud twice and then opted to ‘jog’ it in). And, it’s like minutes and minutes faster than when Justin and I randomly did this race during school back in 2005. So, improvement?

It was also a good race-seal breaker to remember that running fast is painful and to keep it together when it does hurt (which I mean, really, I did much better than I used to). And, I must have run hard because the rest of the day my stomach had that painful empty feeling that no matter how much I ate wouldn’t go away. Usually, that only happens with longer races.

Can You Buy Event Participant Insurance for an Ironman?

In a word: No.

Who’s to blame for that? WTC or Active or Allianz — depending on who you ask.

Despite the fact that last fall Active unveiled a much ballyhooed race registration insurance program for all races on its platform, it does not appear to be possible to buy it for World Triathlon Corporation (commonly known as Ironman Co.) Ironman events. That is to say: I don’t know if you can buy it for Ironman-distance events put on by other race organizers and some people have reported success buying it for WTC’s 70.3 and 5150 races. But, when I tried to purchase the insurance for IM Coeur d’Alene, it was not possible.

In an interview with Slowtwitch, Active explained that the when athletes registered for races on Active’s system, they would have the option of purchasing a $7 insurance plan through Allianz insurance. This was something Allianz and Active were providing — NOT the race organizer. If the athlete then had to pull out before the race and never started, they could make a claim — and would have to go through a normal claim process like with any insurance — and get their registration money back. Obviously, for a $670 Ironman (once you pay the extra “convenience fees” from Active) that you have to register for nearly a year in advance, this is a deal. Active told Slowtwitch at the time that it would be available for all races and that, basically, they were counting on a lot of people paying the $7 for smaller, cheaper races and that it would balance out. They explicitly said, at the time, that it WAS available for Ironman races.

Now, not so much.

Checking around it seems that some people were able to purchase the insurance when they registered for Ironmans right after it was announced. But, then that stopped.

When I registered for IM CDA, the insurance wasn’t an option in the registration process. So, I called Allianz to purchase it directly. The Allianz rep told me it was only a product offered through Active, so I needed to call Active. He transferred me.

The woman at Active told me if it wasn’t an option in the registration process online, then that meant that the race organizer (in this case: WTC) wasn’t offering it. If the race organizer hadn’t decided to provide this option, then I couldn’t buy it directly through Active. (Which, on a side point, doesn’t even make any sense, because it’s an Active/Allianz insurance product that has nothing to do with the race organizer. The race organizer carries no risk for the product or cost, so why shouldn’t you be able to purchase it directly.)

The Active rep then said that no Ironman races offer the insurance option, because of a policy of USAT. I said you mean WTC, because USAT is USA Triathlon and why would a national governing body have a policy that doesn’t allow athletes to insure their most high-risk race registrations?

And, she said, nope, USAT has a policy.

Um, ok. Phone call ended.

Then, I emailed WTC/the race organizers and asked them. I got a perfectly nice email back that said:

We are not mandating that type of insurance for our events, but I am sure you are more than welcome to purchase it through Active if you want their coverage.

So, right. Obviously, I emailed them back saying that wasn’t exactly what Active had said. But, I haven’t gotten a response.

The more I think about it, the more it makes no sense. In theory, Allianz and Active are third-party providers. Their plan, all along, was to sell insurance, take on that risk, and make money. The race organizer gets the registrations either way; they don’t have to offer the refunds. It seems the options for what happened then are limited: Either Allianz and Active realized they weren’t going to make money on Ironman races, so they came up with a fake policy. But, why couldn’t they have just charged more for Ironmans and then the business model would make sense again and most people would pay $40 to insure that expensive a race? Or, USAT really banned them from selling it, which, I dunno, doesn’t seem logical. Or, WTC, which does a whole LOT of business with Active, basically came up with a policy and told them that was not going to be an option for their races. I don’t know why they’d do that, but I do know WTC signs a whole lot of contracts with vendors and cities and hotels and every part of the experience that they can sell you, so it seems like they must have some reason up their sleeve?

Have you been able to buy registration insurance for a race?

What Bike Racing Is Like…

Mostly, bike racing is really pretty much like this article. But, for the spectators and at the not exactly US Pro Challenge level, it also is a lot of standing on the side of roads in the middle of nowhere. Specifically, here:

Sort of by Challenge, CA?
Sort of by Challenge, CA?

Steve went around in a big circle for 4.5 hours and he went in those circles faster than everyone but two people. This meant that I sat in the “feed zone” for 4.5 hours and handed him water bottles. By “feed zone,” the race organizers meant a patch of dirt on the side of a road where they can put a few crates of water bottles that were discarded at the last weekend’s race and then refilled. This is called “Neutral Water.” It was handed out to cyclists by a weathered 50-year-old man and a soon-to-be-weathered 15-year-old girl, both of whom chain-smoked the entire time.

The Feed Zone.

I handed Steve his bottles. And, then I went for a run down the side of the road in between two of the laps — since it was taking them over an hour to do each 33-mile loops, what with the heat and the hills. I, however, didn’t quite think about the heat and the hills until I started running. At first, 20′ out easy was fine, then what was supposed to be 17′ tempo back turned into only 14′ + walk/shuffle. Which is basically almost the same thing.

The plan was to do marathon pace (7:00-7:10) on the way back. The first mile in 6:54 felt hard/ok. Then, I hit the kind of long rolling hills on an exposed hot road that don’t seem like a thing in a car, but are crippling when running. So, I made one of those deals that you make when a workout is going from good painful to if I pass out I hope someone will find me painful. I promised myself if I hit the second mile under 7:00, then I could stop. I hit 6:59 and started walking.

After I grabbed some water, I jogged the other direction for 10′ just to cooldown. But, then I turned around and realized I had just run downhill for 10′ in the sun.

The run back turned into a jog turned into a shuffle turned into a walk. The street sign I was aiming for up ahead kept moving farther away and, well, also it kept sort of moving. Sweat was dripping off my hair. The only reason I kept heading forward was because I was very worried I might not make it back to the feed zone before Steve did. I just barely made it and then poured some ice down my sports bra. By then, all the other wives and girlfriends and dads had left and it was just me and the chain smokers waiting.

They were 100% convinced I was insane. Though it’s also possible they didn’t even realize I had been sitting right next to them the whole time, because at one point the girl said, “Oh my god, that’s crazy, is there a running race going on too.”

Race Report: Marin Miracle Mile

First thing out of the way, I definitely 100% lost to Clara by like 20″. And, yes, she is definitely very pregnant:

Spectators in the background best part of the picture. From Pam Wendall
Spectators in the background are best part of the picture. And, no, there are no photos of me. I, evidently, did not attract the same attention. From Pam Wendall

Second thing: This was probably the first I’ve been sort of disappointed in a race during the whole on-off-training-not-training-just-see-how-it-goes thing. Typically, low expectations mean you’re pretty pleased with whatever happens. And, typically, I’m a better racer than trainer, so I tend to bring it when it matters. But, not today.

I started the day by bike leading the five mile race. It turns out it is significantly harder than I realized to bike while looking backwards. Then, I was freezing, so I changed clothes and shoes and started jogging even though I had over an hour to my mile heat (Open Women, what). Warming up really only made me feel tired and shitty, so after like a dozen strides I gave up on the idea that my legs would come around and committed fully to freaking out about how much this was going to suck.

The race always has a high-quality field — 4:00 milers in the men’s and very sub-5:00 in the women’s — but it was bigger this year. The Open Women’s race was over 40 girls, nearly all of whom run a 5:20 mile. So, it was what it was. The start is slightly downhill with two quick right turns and it was all elbows and trying not to fall and sprinting and thinking ‘hey this isn’t too bad maybe’ when we went through the 400m at 78″.

Then, we started heading up the false flat and through the crowds. Everyone was cheering and I heard quite a few ‘Go Kelly’s and I tried. I did. But, right before I hit the 800m in 2:42 (which, yes, is slowing down) I started to slide off the back of the group. There were a whole lot of girls who were going to run between 5:05 and 5:30 — and some who were going to run faster. And I just couldn’t hang on to them.

Then, the hill really kicked up and I slowed and slowed. I thought I was barely moving. To a degree, I think I did stop moving; I stopped fighting. It hurt enough; how much more did I want it to hurt? How much more could it? (Turns out, a lot.) But finally I hit the turn-around and passed a girl. I passed someone! And I could see the finish way down at the other end of downtown and you think ‘if I just pump my arms hard enough I can make this go by quicker.’

Then, I passed 1200m in 4:14. Is that good? Can I still go 5:30-something? Did I slow down? Probably, I thought, but the math was fuzzy.

People were screaming at me. I think Steve was there. I got the sense there might be a girl behind me. I was pretty sure my form was terrible and I looked like a dying cow — in orange shorts — but no one passed me. I was also 100% fucking positive I was going to run 5:30-something. About which I would be pretty happy with my race, you know, given everything. Finally, FINALLY, the finish line was there and I could see the clock. 5:40?!? WHAT?

I crossed the line in 5:42. But, I, um, apparently sat up a little early, because my official time says 5:46. Which, you know, I’m pretty sure I’ve run that pace within longer races.

Ah well. Race #1 back done.