Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Tale of Two Tri's: River Rock Youth Tri and RUSH 2011

Triathlon #1: River Rock Youth Triathlon
While Jeff took Samuel and the other scouts on an overnighter in the Tetons last week, I took the other kids to a triathlon. The River Rock Youth Triathlon is now a family tradition (does two years in a row qualify for being a "tradition"? Sure!). Poor Charlotte still has one more year until she is old enough (she's only four now), but that gives her a whole year to train! (Can you imagine a four year old "training"? I was just kidding on that).
Oliver, like last year, zipped across the water with no problem, shed his wetsuit, hopped on his bike for a quick ride, then ran through the course without batting an eye. He's a natural athlete, although he doesn't really care if he finishes fast or not. He did get a little winded on the run, but just for a moment. And by the time he crossed the finish he was hot, sweaty, and oh-so-thirsty. He did great. But the thing that made me proudest was still yet to come, when he went to the rescue of his little sister.
Little sister, Eleanor (age 6), has come a long way. Last year the water was freezing and she still had a huge water phobia, so she skipped the swim and just did the bike (on training wheels) and the run. What a difference a year makes! This year she swam (warmer water and no screaming in fear) and biked (sans training wheels! Woo-hoo!), and (sort of) ran! I'll tell you about it.

Eleanor the Naturalist, Carole the Great, and Oliver the Rescuer: I was worried how she'd respond to open water, so the night before I swam with her in the pond. Race day morning I put her floating swimsuit on her (what are those called? You know, the kind of suit that has foam floats sewn into the body?) and sent her to walk around the pond to the 5-7 year-old race start. That, in itself, was an act of faith because - knowing Eleanor - I wasn't sure she'd actually make it to the starting gate or if she'd get distracted by all the bugs in the grass along the way. Luckily she made it in time.
But then while Eleanor waited for her wave to start, she (while looking for bugs) found a snail shell at the water's edge. Unwilling to abandon her treasure for a mere race, she clung to the shell as she entered the water. Thankfully my friend and neighbor, Carole, was in the water, lifeguarding. Eleanor latched onto Carole, asking Carole to hold her snail shell, and asked if she'd help her across. Carole said she'd be right next to Eleanor, and she just needed to tell her when she wanted help. Apparently as soon as Eleanor's feet couldn't touch anymore (which was like two seconds), she cried out, "Help!". So sweet Carole swam next to Eleanor across the pond, holding Eleanor's shell in one hand while her other hand was under Eleanor's tummy (Ellie could float just fine, she simply needed the "Dumbo's Feather" assurance that someone was there). I watched Eleanor, who was oblivious to anything that had to do with "racing", chatting with Carole (who was grinning) all the way across the swim. When Eleanor got to the other side, she ran out of the water, stopped, turned around and ran back to Carole, who returned the shell while laughing kindly at Eleanor's priorities. I managed to convince Ellie to hand over the shell to me so she could pull off the floaty suit (whatever it's called) and put on shorts and a t-shirt over her regular swimming suit. With shoes and socks and bike helmet on, she was ready to ride.
Eleanor has balked at riding without training wheels for some time. Just within the last month or two she finally agreed to take them off, but hasn't had much practice. So I wondered how she'd do - if she'd crash or give up or whatever - and she surprised me (oh, me of little faith) by doing great.
But then came the run. Eleanor is a great runner. I had no worries about that, until I saw her on the opposite side of the pond, dragging her feet and staring down into the grass. She couldn't have moved any slower without actually coming to a complete stop. Charlotte, by this time, had had it and was cranky. I couldn't drag her around the pond along with the wetsuit and floaty-suit (I'm just going to call it that) and bike helmets (I was trying to put things away). So I watched, feeling rather helpless, as my daughter inched her way along the course, unaware and uncaring at all the kids passing her.
Then I realized Oliver was missing. He'd already finished and had been watching with me, and then he just wasn't there. I looked around for him, then back at Eleanor. Oliver had appeared by his little sister's side (did he apparate?), walking by her side as she told him about her side-ache and as she looked for bugs. Somehow he re-instilled the idea that this was a race and she really ought to run... He tells me he did it by spraying her with his water bottle and she ran away. Whatever. It worked. She was still going slowly, though, but as soon as she was in hearing range I yelled out, "RUN!". She finished, running strong, but indifferent to how she finished, unhappy with the side-ache and wanting to go back to look for grasshoppers.
She did great. She's never been competitive, though, so I'm not sure I see a future for her in races. Oliver was the lifesaver that day. Sometimes we all need someone to squirt a water bottle in our face, I guess.
One of the post-race festivities was a dance competition. I saw a new side of my often-reserved Oliver. He boogied with the best of them, and won! It was a good day. Hopefully next year Sam will be there so all four of our kids will race together. And maybe I can convince Eleanor that she can look for bugs AFTER the race. If I'm lucky.

Triathlon #2 RUSH Triathlon (Sprint Distance)
I've been in a training slump off and on all summer. My goal over the last few years - the goal that kept me running - was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I qualified last September and promptly lost all desire to race. I still run because I just like running, but I'm not as motivated. And sometimes I get a little too excited, go a little too far or too fast, and suffer a mild case of burnout. Last week that mild case turned a little more severe than usual, and I was not happy. I knew I had a triathlon coming up and I had absolutely no desire to do it or train for it. I lost my appetite (the slump), lost a few pounds (bad timing - I need the energy reserves for racing!), and lost motivation (nothing like being apathetic to ruin a race). With four days until race day, I was seriously considering withdrawing.
Then my friend Cris came to my rescue. She dropped off a frosted, candy- and caramel-topped chocolate cupcake from the local cupcake shop to cheer me up. I thought about divvying it up between my kids and just taking a nibble, and I tried saving half of it for Jeff, but I ended up eating the whole entire thing all by myself. All of it. In less than an hour. During that hour, Jeff stopped in for a moment from work and I told him I'd saved half for him. He asked why I got the cupcake, and I told him Cris brought it because I'd been kind of down. "You have?" he asked, bewildered at the news. Yup. I have. Jeff isn't around very much so he wasn't aware that anything was amiss. (And I'm not going to text him, "Hey, I'm in a slump, bring me a cupcake"...but maybe I should.) Jeff told me to eat the whole thing - which is what I secretly was hoping he'd say.
So I did. Right then and there I polished it off.
And it was just what I needed.
I think it was the combination of friendship (thank you, Cris!), calories (I lose my appetite when I'm stressed or down), and love (it really did take a lot of love from Jeff to surrender that second half to me) - oh, and chocolate (the great cure-all) - that made the difference.
Over the next couple of days I took myself out on a bike ride, joined my friend Janeese for a great swim (she was letting me beat her, and I told her a few pointers Carole had given me - and then on race day Janeese finished the swim 2 minutes faster than me. I hope the pointers were what made the difference because it'd be fun to take credit for her fast swim :) Naw, she's just a great over-all athlete), and then I took my kids out on to the running trail so I could practice on it while they (read: Eleanor) looked for bugs.
I knew I wasn't as fit and fast as I could've been, but by Friday night I'd come to terms with it and realized that this wasn't a race for me to win. It was - as I talked with Carole, Janeese, and Cris - simply a race for fun. If it isn't fun, then what's the point? (Okay, sometimes a race has a point other than fun - like just to see how well you can do - but I wasn't prepared for that, so I switched gears and goals from "Fast" to "Fun").
And I had fun. It really was a great race. I made sure I was fueled properly (a green smoothie made of spinach, berries, soy milk, Greek Yogurt, Agave nectar, Protein powder) for my 5am breakfast, Hammer Race Caps Supreme supplements, Sports Legs, Electrolytes on board, and by 7 am had consumed nearly an entire Zipvit gel (our new favorite energy gel - it's smooth and gentle on the innards). I had everything set out to make this a successful race. I had my tri suit on under my wetsuit, ear plugs (the cold water gives me vertigo otherwise), anti-fog solution on my goggles, my swim cap, cheap flip-flops to get me to the start through the weeds, and ibuprofen in me. At my first transition, I had my sunglasses waiting in my helmet, my water bottle and a second bottle with Hammer gel and Fizz (mixed with water), my arm warmers if needed, and my race belt. I had a towel to stand on and an extra towel just in case. At my second transition I slung a towel over my spot, with my running shoes, running cap and a Hammer flask underneath (I always get dried out in the middle of the dirt trail on the run). I was so ready. (As an aside, I had consumed enough calories and taken enough energy supplements to see me through the entire day yesterday and most of today without needing much more to eat. Maybe I'll go a little easier next time - but at least I had plenty of energy for the race and for the entire day!)
The Olympic distance racers started an hour before us Sprint distance racers. So I got to watch with my friend Natalie as some of our friends started the Olympic swim. Natalie is a Boston Marathoner runner/qualifier several times over and is the nicest person you could ever know. These triathletes are such good, real, amazing, and kind people! Our friend Lana was in the Olympic distance race - she's actually come to my house to give me swimming lessons - and she is probably the strongest swimmer I've ever met. She's amazing and very very very patient with me and with my over-adoring Eleanor (Ellie loves her). We also cheered on our friend Mike (my husband bikes with Mike sometimes) who ultimately won the Olympic distance flat-out with minutes to spare. (He's on his way to the World Championship Half-Ironman competition this fall). I stood with Mike's son Nathan (he's 12) who was waiting to start the Sprint race, too. Nathan and my Samuel are friends and run on the cross-country team together, which is not a good thing because now Samuel thinks he'd like to try the RUSH also and his mom (me) is not too keen on that... It's hard to let my kids grow up!
Fifteen minutes before the race began, I got in the water. After opening the neck of my wetsuit so water could rush in, I walked back on the shore to let the water flow out of the arms and legs. This lets the wetsuit settle and fit itself to you. I had to do it a couple of times before I felt it was all set. Then back in the water for a ten minute swim to get used to the cold, get my breathing rhythm, and convince my brain that although I felt like I was being constricted, my lungs were still able to breathe (being out of breath while open-water swimming in a tight wetsuit can cause anxiety attacks if you're not prepared!).
I positioned myself off to the side next to Carole, away from the pod of swimmers, to avoid being kicked in the face, pummeled, and swum over (this has happened to me in the past and it isn't fun). I saw Janeese near the front of the pack, which is where she stayed the whole race. She did great. Finally 8:05 a.m. came (the men started at 8:00) and the race began.
I reminded myself as I started the swim that I was doing this for fun. So I settled into my rhythm and thought about my form as I swam around the edge of the lake. It's supposed to be a half-mile swim, but when I mapped it out it was actually a little more (like .65). I remembered to sight every few strokes - which is kind of hard when you're swimming into the morning sun - and was careful to stay close to the buoys.
The thing I like about a good swim is finding the "flow". You don't chat with fellow swimmers, you don't even really watch them - you can be in a lake full of people but when you're swimming you're in your own little world. Isolated from the feeling of competition (hard to feel like overtaking someone when you're not aware they're even there), and covered by a clear blue sky and surrounded by a tree-lined shore with rippling water in between, you can find yourself removed from the cares of the world, even in a race. And then when you let yourself glide through the water with the movement of your body propelling you through, you get a glimpse of what if must feel like to fly, or to swim like a fish. It truly is both invigorating and relaxing at the same time. Like last year, I wanted the swim to last longer. I was having fun.
I ran out of the water, got my wetsuit pulled off, and ran to my bike, waving to Carole who had been out of the water a full minute before me and was already leaving the transition. She is such a fast swimmer (and you should know she has 11 kids and is 12 years older than me and is my hero). I wish I knew my transition times, but the race company didn't post them. I felt calm and quick, though, so I think I did okay as I pulled on socks and bike shoes, put on my cool sunglasses (see my previous post for more on my cool sunglasses), snapped on my helmet and ran out of the transition to the pavement where I could mount the bike. I was warmed up enough from the swim that I didn't need to wear arm warmers.
The bike course isn't easy, and I had to gear down several times to make it up the long, steep hills. I started passing people on the hills, but by the time I got to the flat on top, I was pretty much in a dead space. It was an odd feeling to know I was in a race but to hardly see anyone around. I couldn't gauge how fast I was going compared to other people, but that was good. It took away the temptation to race people and let me focus on just racing myself. I watched my bike computer and adjusted my speeds based on what I knew I could comfortably do. Speeds ranged from 9mph (on the uphills) to 30 mph (on the downhills) and I averaged around 17mph. I passed a volunteer who was waving people on and he shouted out to me, "Cool glasses!" That was the first thing I told Oliver when I saw him at the end of the race (once again, you have to see my previous post to understand why that is significant. Oliver - your mom is not too old to have cool glasses! :) Really!).
At T2, I was most surprised that my legs switched from bike muscles to running muscles so quickly. I'd done some drills this summer to train my muscles to do that, since the last few triathlons I've been pretty uncomfortable for the first several minutes of the run. I ran my bike to the rack, switched to running shoes, took off my helmet and put on my hat, grabbed my flask and was off.
I wasn't running fast - I could probably use a lot more drills ("bricks") - but I wasn't miserable. It was just a few moments before my muscles really relaxed out of bike-mode and I was able to get into a comfy running pace. I still wasn't fast, but that was by choice. I knew what was coming and I wanted to be prepared. Just as I was leaving the run my friend Tony was finishing his run. Right behind him was my friend KJ. Those two took 2nd and 3rd overall for the Sprint race. Amazing.
I slowly started passing people on the run. Every time I passed a lady I thought, "Wow, you must be a great swimmer and cyclist - you passed me on the swim and/or on the bike." I'm so impressed with these athletes. Every one of them has their own battles and their own obstacles, and I know every one of them has put some serious effort into getting ready for the triathlon. How some people find the time or the motivation - or stay motivated - is beyond me. How they can not only start but also finish is always inspiring.
The Great Dirt Hill was looming before me. Looking up into it, I saw people staggering up in a semi-run, or walking, or just simply stopping. It is a challenge to run that hill. I've been on it enough to know I can run it fast and have absolutely nothing left in me, or I can take it slower and finish strong.
It was a smart move for me to take it slower at the beginning. The two tracks are deep and full of hot, soft, powdery dirt. It's like running in hot flour up a steep hill lined with thorny thistles that scrape your leg. With the sun beating down and reflecting off the dirt, it was a tough run. I knew the heat would be an issue since I always train in the early morning, which is why I made sure to have on sunglasses and my running cap. If the world looks a little darker and the brim blocks the sun, it somehow tricks my body into thinking it's not as hot as it really is.
As I neared the top of the hill, I knew what was left of it and of me, so I sped up, didn't stop at the top, turned down the paved road, and slowed again a bit - but didn't stop - until I caught my breath. Part-way down the road I was able to pick up the speed again and started passing more people. I always hate passing people because I know how disheartening it can be and I don't want them to be discouraged. I tried to cheer on people I passed (something like "we're almost done" - hopefully not too irritating, but still hoping to alleviate the sting).
Less than a half mile from the finish I saw my family waiting for me on the sidewalk. Talk about motivating! Seeing my husband and kids waiting, watching, and cheering for me was the sweetest feeling of the whole race - even better than the flow of the swim, the speed of the bike, and the satisfaction of the run. "Go, Mommy, go!" rang in my ears as I entered the final quarter mile of the race. The race ends at the Junior High track, with the last part actually run on the track. At the gate to the track I saw my mom and dad and brother Don also waiting for me, taking pictures (they weren't very flattering) and yelling for me. That was cool. A few friends lining the race course also cheered for me (thank you, guys!), which makes me want to go to every race and cheer on everybody there - it's just plain nice to have the support!
I ran directly behind a lady who I decided was my unsuspecting pacer. She was going at a good clip and I was pretty sure she wouldn't let me pass her (and I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to, anyway). I figured if she heard me breathing down her neck (not literally) she wouldn't slow down, and that I would keep myself with her so I wouldn't slow down. Kind of a symbiotic relationship, I guess. I kept her going, she kept me going (I'm not really sure I kept her going, but it made me feel valuable to think so).
As fun as the whole thing was, it was a relief to round the final edge of the track and see the finish line not far ahead. At the last minute, a guy (I think he was actually Natalie's brother) sped past me, which was fine. I had passed him as we entered the track, but he'd been in front of me most of the race so he really deserved to be in front of me at the end.
So when I finished, I was happy. It was a fun swim, a fun bike, and a fun run, and I felt strong and elated instead of spent and discouraged. There was a brief moment when I felt a little deflated (when I saw my time compared to everyone else) and I knew I could have done it faster. But, I realized, if I'd pushed much harder I wouldn't have had as much fun. And, after all, that was my goal this time.
Janeese greeted me at the end - she's a madwoman! That girl has a special gene that switches on when she's racing (my friends Jennica and Cris both have that mutant gene, too. I want one.). She speeds through like it's nothing! Janeese came in second overall (the gal that finished first beat the old course record by a whopping 9 minutes, was wearing a Wisconsin state Swim Team jersey - and probably doesn't have four kids...). I can't really tell from the race results what my place was (it looks like one of the finishers was a male but is in the female category). I though I was 8th overall, but maybe I was 10th or 11th. I did get first place for my age group and my friend Natalie got 3rd in our age. She'd pretty much taken the entire summer off after her Boston Marathon this past April (and had finished that Marathon in a qualifying time for next year's Boston!), so she wasn't expecting much - but lo and behold she did great without even training! Some people are so gifted and, unlike me, can just get out and go like it's nothing. Not me, nope. I have to train my reluctant body to even get to the point of considering doing a race!
The nice thing about yesterday's race was that it was fun because I ran (and swam and biked) my own race at my own pace just for the sake of doing it. First place in my age was an unexpected bonus.

And at the awards, it was very cool to see Janeese, Jill and her parents (her dad is a crazy-fast cyclist), my old teacher and friend Scott, Natalie, Lana, Jennica and her brother, KJ, Tony, Carole and her son Steve (who, by the way, finished this as his first tri and finished first in his age and 8th overall! Some people...and some people's kids! So talented!), Mike, Nathan, and sons of our neighbors, and so many other people out racing together and having fun. Kind of like good ol' fashioned community field days or something. It was really gratifying (and not surprising) to see Mike win because Mike is the kind of person you just want to be the winner. He's humble and encouraging and happy doing the sport. As his wife Jeni says, he's an addict! If you're going to have an addiction, might as well make it a good one and then spread the bug (he's one of the two people I blame for getting Jeff back into cycling - and I love that he's doing it because it makes him (and thus me) happy).
Happy trails, everyone.


  1. Oh, Steph! Those two races are the best races I've heard about all summer. Seriously, you just wrote about why anyone should ever do any race--to have fun, to be outside, and to do something HARD. I'm so proud of you AND your amazing kids! Whahooooeeeee! What a summer!

  2. yeah family running fun. the perfect way to have happy healthy children is to put them in your family

  3. Thanks, ladies! Mary - thanks for the green smoothie inspiration! I didn't have OJ so Vanilla Soy Milk it was. And it was yummy! Nancy (and Mary!) - since you're part of the family, you're stuck having happy healthy kids, too. :)

  4. awesome entry, steph! well done on racing for FUN and doing so well! i got a little choked up wishing i was there to cheer as well! keep on doing what you do and being such a generous, humble racer!

  5. Steph, so glad your race went well. I like that you say you did it for fun. However, I do know my sister and my sister's idea of fun is generally to push herself even when she shouldn't be. You're pretty tough. Eat more fats so you can be like your brother.

    Way proud of you though. Great work, not just the race but mostly all the time you put in to train and stay in shape. Great example.

    I love how you feel when you pass people. The truth is that really is how you feel. You would rather everyone finish together rather than anyone have to get passed. You are nice all the way to your core.