Thursday, September 8, 2016

IM Boulder: A Coach's Race Report

A bit of time has gone by since IM Boulder and I have read each of my athletes' race reports. It was a challenging race for me personally and professionally and, after some consideration, I realized that it was worth writing a race report from a coach's perspective. I've never actually read one so I'm kind of winging it here. I hope you gain some insight from this telling of the tale. Please apply the appropriate amount of tongue-in-cheek tone when reading this.

The iTri365 team car: the Batwagon
When three of my athletes decided to do IM Boulder, Nate and I decided that it would be a good opportunity for a work related vacation. I like to make it to at least a few races every year because it keeps me connected to the emotions of the day that my athletes feel and, without fail, my athletes are always grateful when I can be there. So we rented a little house, loaded the dogs, 5 bikes, and an astonishing amount of luggage into my VW and headed for Colorado at the beginning of August. When we got there on Monday night, I researched ALL THE PLACES!! I would ride and ride and hike and hike and do some coaching too. It was going to be GREAT!











Rainbow over the Boulder bike course: GOOD OMEN!
Tuesday I rode part of the course. I was short on time as storms had taken out part of the day and I didn't make it as far as I would like but I definitely got a feel for a portion of it. That proved to be helpful in planning race strategy and let me bolster the athletes confidence about the nature of the bike course. My plan was to ride the entire course over the course of the week.


Wednesday. Oh, Wednesday. Nate and I found a sweet, non-technical 15 mile mountain bike loop. We headed out after he was done at work and there were 11 fantastic miles before I misread a bit of trail and faceplanted on a couple of big rocks. The result was a badly broken nose, a shattered elbow, and a large abdominal hematoma (seriously the most painful of the injuries). They put on a temporary cast and I had to wait until I returned to Austin for surgery. Nothing about this was in my plans for the week.
It was an amazing ride... until it wasn't!


We can pretty much fast forward from the ER room to the race... it was bed and drugs and not much else. I walked the dogs with Nate for a few blocks once.

The night before I went over to the house that they had rented and had a private conference with each athlete. For each of them, I had concerns and areas of confidence. We discussed the race strategy, the course, and I tried to plant ideas in their heads that may help them if they got into trouble on race day. The theme of all of it was “problem solve”. Most things that go wrong in a race can be solved or improved with calm, clear headed thinking... the very thing that often seems so out of reach when your brain is a soup of adrenaline and cortisol, and your legs and gut are running the show. I believe in the power of planting suggestions though, and did just that. I focused on choosing words that were simple and catchy enough that they might resonate through all the confusion on race day and actually come to mind in the moment that they are needed. I was a bit tickled to read that each athlete felt like she was going to the principal's office though. That was not my intent. My main interest was to not clutter their heads with other people's instructions and since they each had a different race plan, I didn't want them to start in the ego game of comparing themselves to anyone else. In all, the conferences were a success as they each mentioned remembering my words in the heat of the moment. As a coach, those are the little victories that drive you forward.
The mountains made for a beautiful backdrop on race morning!

Race day. I'm not going to say this day was easy. I was not very comfortable walking because everything was raw and intensely painful. I still wasn't eating well and my energy was is short supply. But you know, a major race holds as much adrenaline at the start for me as it ever did, even though I am no longer racing. That adrenaline helpfully gave me the energy to make it to the swim start without falling over. This was a victory in itself. I looked in vain for my three athletes and though I found their waves in the corrals, I never did pick them out from the sea of neoprene clad athletes who all looked the same in their color coded caps. Chances are I looked right at them and didn't realize it.
Kat partied from one end of the course to the other!

I did connect with our group of supporters and stayed with them to watch the swim exit. It was the first time I had gotten any day of info. Keith told me that Gina was not wearing a wetsuit (what??!!! why didn't I know this?) and was freezing cold at the start of the swim. She had been doing the breast stroke to cope and unable to fall into a good swimming rhythm. The next hour felt like 100 years. Ryan was down at the swim exit and the rest of us were further up the chute. Suddenly Ryan was yelling and running... our first athlete was out of the water. It was Kat. She was rocking and dancing out of the water. She looked relaxed and fantastic. Check. One discipline down and she was one swim closer to being an Ironman!

Cori crushing it!
Cori was next even though she went off in a later wave. Cori! Cori who worked SO HARD on her swim... who had so little confidence... who was so worried... had overtaken parts of the wave in front of her. Gina and Kat are both accomplished swimmers who teach swimming on a regular basis so to see Cori right up there trading punches really made me proud. As Cori running up the ramp, I got a look at her face and she looked good at that point. 

I did a little happy dance but was still deeply concerned about Gina. Last up the ramp was Gina. She looked cold and stiff. My worry didn't abate much when I saw her. Even though she clearly had her game face on, it looked like that swim took a lot out of her. I really wished I could get inside her head right then but of course, that can't happen. We screamed and cheered and made sure she knew she was not alone out there. Really, that is all you can do. Once she passed us, we circled to the backside of T1 to see her off on the bike. Heading out on the bike, she looked better. She had her game face on. Her husband and I agreed that she looked solidly determined. She was also moving better. She no longer looked totally frozen. I relaxed a bit. I got to breathe a sigh of relief as all three athletes had successfully departed on their bikes and there was nothing more to do but wait. We had made it through the first set of challenges. I say we because when you coach an athlete through a race like this with months and months of preparation, you are also very invested in the race by the end.

Gina pushing through a very tough swim.


At this point, the pain and nausea caught up to me. The bus ride back from the swim start to downtown felt like a form of torture. After conferring with the crew as to where they would be and how we would regroup, I went back to the house to pass out for a while.

A couple of hours later, after a nap, I mustered some resolve (took more drugs) and headed back out to find my three intrepid souls on the bike course. But before we would do that, we would find all the traffic in Boulder. We turned down a road headed for the “flux capacitor” (a central spot on the course) where the Cobb Mobb tent and a chair was waiting.... and turn right into a parking lot.... no, actually it was a bit of road construction on the road that all the race traffic was shunted onto. It was full stop. After debating the best way to sit in traffic with Nate for about 15 minutes, my phone rang. I looked at my phone.  Ryan. Uh-oh.

“Gina is on her way to the medical tent”

What?! CRAP!! Honey! Turn the car around. We have to get to the med tent now. It's at the finish like. Nate is Batman when it comes to impromptu U-turns and in moments we were speeding off in that direction. The Batwagon whined a diesel-toned objection as we headed back to the same parking garage we had used that morning in a big hurry. There was no way I was going to let her pull out of that race through the med tent and not have me there. I needed to know what was wrong but I needed more for her to not be alone right then.

It was a few blocks of walking and my hematoma (nicknamed the edema baby because a more accurate description was too disgusting to be funny) whined with every step. I felt like a hot mess. Right then, my front zip sports bra, the only thing I could get on over the cast, decided to let fly. By the time I arrived at the Med tent, I had redefined “hot mess”. The security guard had mercy and gave me permission to use the oversized port-o-john so that Nate could help me get... reorganized. Right before heading into the P-o-J, I found Gina coming out of the Med tent. She looked disappointed but largely okay. If nothing else, my predicament provided her with a much needed laugh. We whisked off to the P-o-J, got me sorted, and I stepped out, trying to regain a little dignity and put my coach's hat on before addressing my athlete.
No, No.  No P-o-J pics.
Look at these nice windmills.

We chatted for a few minutes. She had ultimately succumbed to the effects of the cold water a little more than halfway through the bike. I felt so badly for her. Something as simple as a wetsuit, one detail out of place, had robbed her of her day. Her head was in as good a place as I could have asked for.... she wanted another shot. (Fast Forward a few weeks... Gina is a renewed athlete with a focus and single mindedness that I had not seen in her previously. She will get her second chance and I really believe she will nail that race to the wall.) She headed home to change and eat and would meet us at the Cobb tent later.

We knew that the traffic was likely just as bad now as it had been earlier and we decided to walk. The edema baby eventually stopped whining with each step and the walk, while exhausting, felt good. About halfway there, we saw Kat towards the end of the bike leg. I screamed and yelled to get her attention. It worked but I had no idea if she registered that it was me. It was all I could hope for from an athlete at that point. She looked good, strong, and relaxed. She was smiling and was nicely down in aero (YES!). I put another check in the box and kept walking. Kat was doing great.

When we finally got to the tent, I was wrung out but the excitement was overwhelming. Many of the Cobb Mobb crew, friends and acquaintances, were already out on the run course. So was Cori. It wasn't long before she came through the first time. She looked tired but not unexpectedly so. I sat and relaxed waiting for her to pass by again. I don't remember which pass it was that she came through clearly unhappy. The next pass she was in tears. I have never wished I could run so badly in my life. I wanted to pace her for a bit and talk her through this. I call these moments course demons. They lie in wait for everyone. Sooner or later they catch you. Maybe not this race, maybe not the next, but sooner or later, IM tests everyone. They had caught Cori today.

I gave her a quick hug and told her to put one foot in front of the other. I knew she would get through it if she leveled her considerable determination at it. Ryan took off after her and I could do nothing but wait. I chatted with Clay (the race winner) a bit about the challenges of the course and speculated about what went wrong. But of course speculation is useless. It's just a thing you can do when you really can't do anything to help. The next time she came through, eyes were dry and she had her game face back on. She looked grim but she was going to finish... and finish with a huge PR. I knew we had some issues to address and was mentally taking notes for the conversation I knew needed to happen later on.

We watched her pass by the final times. Gina showed back up and proved her quality as an athlete and a team player. She set her own disappointment aside and cheered for her friends. We talked a bit about future plans and that resolve I mentioned was already showing. It was clear to me that she was still in the game.
Gina and her husband enjoying the perks of the location.

Kat was out on the run course and from appearances, making sure that everyone within a mile radius was having as much fun as she was. She wasn't setting any land speed records but she was putting in respectable, even splits. As much as you can ever make this assumption, I was pretty sure she had this in the bag. It was time to head back to the finish and wait for Cori.

I had not been able to eat all day and once we arrived at the finish, I was nearly passing out. Nate ran to a nearby store and returned with a smoothie and some juice. He started to force feed me so that I didn't fall victim to a course demon. In what was literally the longest group of minutes I have ever endured, I stood near the finish and waited for Cori. Finally after what felt like 200 years, Ryan came running up and said Cori was 5K out, holding steady, and gaining on some other athletes that we knew were out ahead of her. Course demons or not, she was making this race her B***h! When she did run down that chute, I was beyond proud of her.

Cori was dehydrated. The problems had been hydration and nutrition. Her gut had rebelled and she had been unable to take in the necessary nutrition. That was why she had fallen apart on the run. It's common for athletes to struggle with this at altitude and she was no exception. She went to the medical tent for an IV and after waiting a bit, Nate and I gave in to hunger and headed to find food.

We found a quiet Japanese restaurant where I was served rice with chopsticks. With my right arm in a cast, that was a cruel joke. I did secure a fork and managed to get some rice and miso soup into my angry belly. Revived we headed back to the finish and hooked back up with the crew. Kat should be bringing it home any minute.

When Kat finally came across the line, it was a celebration. She rocked her way across that line and found us shortly. The emotions that came flooding out of her son, Carson, were incredible to see. She had worked so hard. She had struggled against the idea that this goal was beyond her. She had gotten up early, stayed up late, fought back insecurities, beaten back her tendency to stay injured through correct work and consistency... and she had set an amazing example for her son to see. I remembered when my father ran the Western States 100 in 1980 and how that show of fortitude shaped my adult life.  I think Carson has been given a great gift.
Kat, YOU are an IRONMAN!

Hugs were given and the day was done. I was overdue for some self care (drugs!) and sleep.

This day, this week, was an exercise in managing unexpected disappointments. It was also a chance to be there for people I care about and see my work with my athletes through to race day. It represented, for me, my coaching career. Not every race will be perfect but you make the best of the bad times and go as hard as you can when it's good. With my own racing once again shunted to the back burner, it reaffirmed that I am in the right line of work. I learned, I grew, and I saw my athletes do the same.
Kat, Cori, Gina... iTri365 could not be more proud!

People often ask me why they need a coach. Personally, I am inclined to rattle on about training principles, numbers, science, etc. All that is so true but when someone spends all day thinking about how to make you better and then conveys those thoughts to you in the form of a training plan, you are going to reap the benefits. But it also matters when someone else cares about your success and works towards that end. Objectivity is probably the most powerful thing a coach has to offer. I know, since my athletes all mentioned remembering some piece of advice I gave them out on course, that being there helped them to succeed. Even Gina, who did not finish, made a wise choice and pulled out before endangering her health because she was thinking clearly... because she was recalling the advice I had given her about what to do if the wheels fall off. Gina will race again...  Smarter, stronger, and even more ready than she was in Boulder. Cori PR'd by an hour. She's hungry for the podium. Then info I took away from that race will get digested and end up as ideas to conquer her nutrition issues and make her even faster. She will build on this performance rather than starting back at ground zero the next time she decides to do a race because she has focus and direction rather than just being burned out. Kat had never been able to string together a reasonable amount of time without an injury. We micromanaged her rest, recovery, stress, nutrition, and workload every day and she did it. She came across that line and owned that race. She went to the start pain free. She trained pain free. She succeeded and learned what she has to do to get the consistency necessary to take herself to the next level. All of that? Its the product of objectivity and accountability.  ALL OF THIS... this was my finish line.
Boulder, CO... until next time.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Difference Between Life and Time Travel

I want to talk about progress.  And backsliding.  And how that is all a part of the process.


This year, I started having significant breathing issues.  I have dealt with asthma for a long time but it seemed like it was getting worse... and changing.  It eventually became clear that I was aspirating my stomach contents when I exercised.  This explained how I could be fine for the first 40 minutes.  It explained why I could never eat or drink easily in a training setting or just before.  This explained how some of my "asthma attacks" seemed more like choking and less like wheezing.  I have had GERD since I was a kid and now it had finally come home to roost.  There is a post or twelve worth of commentary on all of the things happening to try to bring that under control.  But that is not what this post is about.  It is about the side effect of one of the medications and its effect on my life.  And what that really means in the bigger picture.

Years ago I was REALLY overweight.  I've posted about this so you may already know that.  I lost weight while I was in martial arts training through diet and exercise.  I made a lot of mistakes (that post is a different post too) but got about 70 lbs off.  Then I blew out my knee really badly and ended up having to take an enormous amount of time off and never was able to resume my sport.  I slipped into a period of low activity and gained 50 lbs back.  I felt like a failure.  I slipped.  I felt like I went backwards to that heavier place and time.



Then I found triathlon and cycling and I got active again.  When the weight began to come off, the diet followed easily.  I lost the 50 plus 25 more.  But then I started getting sick and getting hurt because I wasn't actually fueling my body correctly.  I worked with a couple dietitians and under their guidance I put about 15 lbs back on.  Then I was the fastest I had ever been.  That was a magical period where I was the right weight, gaining power, fueling my workouts, and responding to training.

But I thought I was too fat so I went on a diet.  And gained 10 more lbs.  Ummm... howzatwork?  Again, I felt like I was failing but this time I did not see myself as a failure.  That is a pretty critical difference and the beginning of a really important shift.

Then I started trying to develop myself as a sprinter and focused more on performance and forgot about the weight for a while.  My weight leveled off and I got super strong.  I valued something higher than being "skinny" and began to see the advantage in the unique way that I am made.


Then this year happened and I got sick.  And then the breathing issues started happening.  I don't know what triggered what.. I only know where it got me.  It got me on a medication that can make it really easy to gain weight.  So I did.  I'm at a weight and size that I am uncomfortable with.  And I am trying my best to avoid feeling guilty or allowing it to erode my sense of myself as an athlete.  I'm not allowing myself to feel like a failure.

I'm at a weird place in the journey.  That is all.

Fluctuations happen.  They are normal.  What isn't healthy is feeling like the sky is falling because you've had a "backslide".  Why do we look at it like that anyhow?  I haven't gone backwards.  I am heavier because of the state of my health and activity right now.  I have not gone back in time.  I am not younger.  I am not driving the car I was driving when I was 245 lbs.  I am not wearing the same clothes I was wearing when I was 190.  I have not lost life experience.  Nope.  None of that.  Fluctuations, even big ones, are a part of life.  They are not failures or a reversal of achievement (I still did that thing, even if it seems more removed now) or a trip back in time to an earlier incarnation of me.

I will not allow this....

...to become this...

...and especially not THIS!

This is still a part of moving forward and if I choose to go forward more conscious and disciplined with my eating, I will gain less or lose more than if I don't.  Getting active again will be an incremental process as I heal.  The only consequence of some weight gain is that I will return to racing form a little later.  Some days that matters to me enough to really fight it.  (The medication increases appetite- it's given to anorexics to help them gain weight- so it can be a little maddening sometimes.  It makes me feel really hungry, really frequently.)  Other days, I really just don't want to feel insanely hungry and it is more important to me to be comfortable than 5 lbs lighter.  It was a helpful realization that the hunger was an artifice.  I am neither starving nor am I insane.   I am just here... now... not failing... and not traveling in time.

If I want to weigh less, I know what to do.  If I want to be fast again, I know what to do.  I also know that I am not in the best position to chase down those results right now and that will also change.  Or maybe it won't and I will fall madly in love with some other way of expressing myself.  No matter what, I'll go forward to do it because life is a one way trip.

Maybe your "backslide" is weight.  Maybe it is fitness.  Maybe it is financial.  WHATEVER it is, unless you have found a way to travel through time, you did not go backwards... SO STOP BEATING YOURSELF UP!!  You are here, now, and only have your present and future actions to affect change.  You know what to do.


So if you don't have one of these....

...Or one of these...
then you probably didn't go backwards!

I'm not the weight I want to be.  I am not at the fitness I want to be.  None of these things are permanent and keeping my head in a good place is the quickest way to the state of affairs I desire.  The most important thing is realizing that all of it is a part of the journey and none of it is the only thing that matters about me.  Each day will be another step and I will travel in a particular direction.  My choices and actions will determine if they take me closer to my current goals or towards some other heading.  Look forward and look up.  It's good advice when running or on a bike and in life in general.


I will ride my bike down this road as soon as I am able.



Tuesday, November 3, 2015

2015: The Year of YOU'D BETTER LIKE CHANGE, DUCK!!


From the 380 mile first date
...and theme of the year 2015

I posted exactly three times in 2014 and this will be my first in 2015.  Change has been the "reason for the season" since I last posted regularly.  This year was so difficult that I mostly felt the need for privacy.  But now I want to share because I see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I see that this road is going some where amazing.

So. Much. Change.

This year has brought so much change.

It actually started in November of last year when I met a wonderful man who was as fast on a bicycle as he was intelligent.  We went on a 380 mile ride that had 18,000' of climbing and many miles of dirt roads because... how better to get to know someone than to be pushed to your breaking point in their company? :/
From the tour with Mr Fastandawesome


In December, the love-sick Duck went mountain biking with said fast and intelligent man, henceforth know as Mr Fastandawesome.  Because I'm not so savvy in the skills department, I toppled over at the entrance to a rock garden and accidentally put my hand out.  I tore a tendon in my arm which took me out of work for a while.  I was also diagnosed with advanced arthritis.  This news came at the same time as a call from a friend offering me an opportunity to get involved with a triathlon/endurance start up that would grow into a coaching and timing/events company.  I said yes.  What did I have to lose?  The next thing I knew I was being trained and prepped to start coaching athletes.  I lined up a mentor and before I knew it, I had my first athletes.
iTri365.com :my new professional home.

My new professional colleagues

Then in January, my vaccinated self contracted whooping cough.  That had me laid out for two months.  If you have ever had whooping cough, then you know.  If you have not, it is hard to imagine how sick it makes you.

In March, I traveled to Mississippi for work and aside from one little blip in my health that sent me to the ER, I managed to stay pretty healthy.  While I was there had some very cool rides on the beach.  I was able to get some wonderful photos from that trip.  Upon returning, I went to my first stage race with my new team.  We did well.  Despite still being weak from the illness, I placed 2nd in the time trial, won the road race, and was 4th in the GC.  The team put 4 people in the top 5 of the GC and won each individual stage with a different person.  It was a great day to wear green!

Winning the sprint to win the road race at Corsicana
HTRWW!!

In April, I became sick during a stage race and had to withdraw in the final stage.  The next day, my beloved dog Wilbur was killed in an accident.  That night, my illness turned into a kidney/UTI infection and landed me in the hospital.  That was a weekend that took some time to recover from.  Meanwhile, the man I met had become a cornerstone of my life and cared for me and loved me through this terrible time.

Good Bye Little Man... I'll miss you forever.

In May, I was able to do start working a bit more but I was plagued by repeated asthma attacks.  It was getting terribly out of control.  I raced a few times in a local crit and on the track.  I had mixed result ranging from being very competitive to getting dropped immediately, depending on the state of my breathing on any given day.  My ability to train steadily declined and so did my fitness.  In the last 4 weeks leading up to the state TT where I hoped to defend my title, I was so ill that I was averaging about three hours a week.

The TX state championship finally arrived in June.  I finished the ITT mid pack with a sad time several minutes slower than the previous year.  The next day was the TTT and I was terrified that my body would betray me and I would let my team down.  But I held on.  We finished as a team and won the title.  I was a state champion for the second year in a row, but this time as a member of the winning team.... FRESH racing!

FRESH Racing on the podium!! TTT win!


That was my last race of the year.  I decided to take an indefinite amount of time off to heal and address my issues.  Over the summer, it became clear that my breathing issues were linked to stomach issues that I had made a lifetime career out of ignoring.  The stomach issues were likely reaching a crescendo because of the NSAID therapy I was doing for the arthritis.  I began to pursue answers in that direction as my health reached an all time low.  In the meantime, the coaching business was growing like a weed.  I found myself with more and more clients as my athletes racked up more and more podiums.  The business, iTri365, was a thing... a real thing... and I was starting to believe I had found my purpose.  I was also coming to believe that my ability to make a living braiding had finally reached its end.  I hurt too much, was too sick, and was no longer interested in leaving the wonderful man that I had met to wander around the country from show to show like a vagabond.

itri365 TRIBE!! 
During the month of July, Mr Fastandawesome and I took a vacation.  Like all things this year, the vacation was themed "Get As Far From The Comfort Zone As Possible"!  In other words, he took me to the top of the world!
Mt. Assiniboine


Top o' the Nub


August came and my break from braiding and change in approach to my health started showing some improvement.  Mr Fastandawesome raced the Leadville MTB 100 and I found some glimmers of my old self running crew for him.  It was an amazing experience!!  I found a bit of love and a bit of skill developing as I kept returning to the trails.  But my breathing was still bad and I was very weak.  Still, I figured I had to start back somewhere and I knew what it would take to come through it.  Fitness is no mystery.  It's simply a process.

Mr Fastandawesome being, well, fast and awesome!


In September, after we returned to Austin, I started riding a bit on the road and began a program of light running.  I continued to work with a GI specialist and we started considering a possible surgical fix.  That involved a series of tests to determine if I was a good candidate.  I made up my mind that I would take whatever time I needed and return to health... and racing... next season.  Since my deductible was now paid, I decided to also have my shoulder looked at since I had been dealing with pain and reduced range of motion for years.

I wanted to try the new S5 as the change in the geometry looked promising for me.  I borrowed a bike from the local shop and took it for a spin.  I went to the Veloway to test it in a safe place, free of cars.  As I rolled into the first turn during my warmup, the front tire exploded and I went down.

Hard.

Ambulance ride hard.

Trauma ward hard.

I had shattered my eye socket and ruined my shoulder.  48 hours later I was in surgery having my face put back together.  My shoulder would not require surgery... or rather the MRI revealed so much arthritis that surgery would have a poor prognosis.  I also had ruptured my bicep tendon and torn my labrum. Not to mention lost a lot of blood.

Ouch.


I have been coming to terms with certain uncertainties.  I don't know if my vision will ever be normal again.  I may never regain feeling in my face.  I have some scars.  My shoulder injuries will take 6 months to heal to a state of pain-most-of-the-time.

SPROUT!!!!!
I have arthritis in my hands, shoulder, knees, neck.... I will live with pain for the rest of my life.  I have scars, nerve damage, and plates in my face.  And I have met the most wonderful man I have ever known and he has stood by me through these difficulties unflinchingly.  I will never be able to make a living working with horses again.   And I have a great new job that I love.  Wilbur is gone.   And I am raising a delightful puppy named Sprout.  For every black cloud, there is more than a silver lining... there is a wide open door to the future.  I have seen my old life fall away and a new one that is better than I ever imagined growing in its place.

I have no regrets.  I keep looking forward and that is where I will go with this blog.

Where ever I go from here, I don't go alone.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Post From The Summit Of Mt Crazy.

"Oh, The Places You'll Go!"... Cervelo style!
I have really had a tough time lately dealing with the fact that I tried a different approach to diet and it did not work... I gained weight.  I gained some muscle (actually about 5 lbs of muscle) but I also increased my body fat percentage by 4%.  It was a gain that unravelled a years worth of hard work and I ended up feeling like a failure.  I felt so fat that I was a mini trauma every time I walked by a mirror.  Never mind that I was time trialing like a beast (the thing that I was training for and where I was seeing results), my climbing got worse (the thing that I was not training for) and that was suddenly the only thing that mattered.  I allowed my entire sense of self worth to fall off a cliff.

My OH-SO-RATIONAL response to it was to flip out and stop eating enough to support my job related activity and training. It was the 6 year old daughter of another braider that offered a jolt.  She made me a card for my birthday and it had a big picture of me on it.  She depicted me as a normal person... not the fat person I was seeing in the mirror.  Since that ACTUALLY came as a shock and I realized that I had definitely summited Mt Crazy again and was flying my flag from the top.  Yes, I gained some weight. Yes, it hurt my climbing. No, it did not spell the end of my ability to ride a bike or turn me into the slothful behemoth that I was imagining.  Maybe I could let myself off the hook a little and allow a little sanity to break through the clouds.  Time to head back down to base camp.

Sometimes the reality check comes from surprising places.
Nothing quite like seeing yourself through 6-year-old eyes.


After about six weeks of cutting my diet way back, I have gotten a little momentum in getting the pounds back off but I'm could do without getting sick, dizzy spells, and terrible fatigue.  I have enlisted the help of a friend, Susan of The Endurance Zone, who knows a little something about nutrition.  Rumor has it she even advises athletes on nutrition for a living. With her help, I am trying to get myself on a program that keeps supports my training without creating any big excesses.  I've over-corrected and need to level off again but at least I feel like I am back in control of the situation.

The good news is that I am back in Michigan and Little C has finally gotten his Bluff Rd photo opp.  Every one of my bikes has gotten to pose at the overlook on the Old Mission Peninsula. The Ninja Bike still needs his chance but this time I was riding with a friend and I finally got MY photo by the post!!

The photo spot! Little C takes his turn!

Me too!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Time Trial Season: A Third Place Streak And The State Championship

After getting off to a bumpy start in road and criterium racing, I shifted my focus to time trialing until the Texas State Championship. Time trialing is definitely a comfort zone coming out of triathlon and it was a relief to throw myself in that direction for a while.  I decided to do as many of the Tyler 4 mile TTs as possible, one of the IronHaus 40K series, and then the State Championship.  Each TT gave me an opportunity to dial in technique, equipment, and pacing for the big race.
The Ninja Bike wearing race wheels for the first time!! SUPER SEXY!
Thank you to my tireless and patient coach, Brian, for the hookup.

A rain date gave me an extra racing opportunity and I was able to attend three of the Tyler 4 Mile series.  This is a race that I have done several times before... in fact, it was my first time trial ever.  It's a fast course with no turns. Just put your head down and hammer in a single direction for 4 miles.  If the wind is right, like it was the first time I ever raced it, you can see some stupid fast times.  Since that day, despite being faster overall, I had never been able to touch my initial time of 7:41.  This year, like last year, the wind was not a hindrance but not really helpful either... mostly gentle crosswinds with a slight push, particularly in the first of the three.

The first one went off (it was actually the second in the series but the first that I did this year) and it was the first time running it with a change in the locations of the start and finish lines.  I took the Ninja Bike (my trusty Cervelo P4) out and proceed to hammer like a damn fool.  It looked to me like I was on track to BLOW my old PR out of the water... right up until I saw the flagger near the old finish line and in my hypoxic state decided that I was done.  I sat up and coasted for a while.  Something didn't seem quite right and I started soft pedaling.  THEN I saw the real finish line.  OH CRAP!! I never really made it back up to speed and my PR effort was shot and I finished in 8:05.62.  I did finish well, first woman and third overall, not far behind a VERY fast couple of guys who are nearly untouchable in this race.

COOL! Third place!


The next race, however, I rode to the proper finish line and finished in 7:35.92.  PR shattered!! YES! The placings were the same.  First woman, third overall.

Oh, huh. Third place.

In the final race of the series for me (there is actually 5 of them), I shaved a few more seconds off bringing my time down to 7:32.65.  Still first woman, third overall and at this point my consistency had become a running joke!

SERIOUSLY?!!! THIRD PLACE AGAIN??

I rolled out to IronHaus in San Antonio the next Saturday.  This was my trial run for everything, including the way I wanted to handle the travel.  I went to San Antonio the day before and stayed in an inexpensive room that I had booked online.  OOF! That was a misstep. The hotel and it's neighborhood were SCARY! I had left Wilbur home with a neighbor looking in on him and missed his company badly, especially his bark if someone tried to come near the room.  I woke up several times with nightmares, though I am not sure if they were related, and so I didn't sleep well.  I was a ball of nerves when I headed to the race course.

My good luck charm!

I realized that I have only ever done 40K as a part of a triathlon, and only a handful of times at that.  Pacing was going to be tricky.  After the start, I headed off like I was on fire and very quickly reminded myself that 40K was a LOT farther than 4 miles.  I keep telling myself "easy as she goes, it's a long way." Why I am invaded by colloquialisms during races, I have no idea, but there you have it and it worked.  I slightly underpaced and had a big kick left for the finish.  That was good because at the turnaround, I saw that the really fast woman that had started 1 minute behind me was, well, right behind me! In the end, I ended up third (again!! It was becoming a theme for the season!) behind some higher category women who's abilities command enough respect that I couldn't be anything but proud to finish in that company. I turned in a 61:31 (a 24.24 mph average) and was extremely happy with the effort, especially considering I felt that there was little room for improvement for the big race the following week.

I am doomed to third place.

The following Saturday was the State TT.  I felt a lot of pressure to do well as a lot of people were talking like I had already won it.  I knew anything could happen on race day and NEVER to get cocky about your chances for the top spot.

I remedied my mistake from the previous week and made sure that Wilbur could come.  Honestly, his presence has become a very steadying force for me and I was grateful for it the night before.  As I warmed up for the state TT, something that I miscalculated and hadn't really left enough time to do, I was doing long loops on the road near the start.  I was making my final turn and suddenly, the wheels shot out from under me and I was on the ground. I jumped up and did a quick check of the bike, put the chain back on, looked at the time... 8:15... my start time was 8:19:30.  I hopped back on the bike and headed down the road one more time to make sure everything was working.  I arrived at the start at 8:19:00 by my garmin.  Fortunately, it was 60 seconds behind official time because my chain fell off again.  I got back on my bike with 30 seconds to spare.

Completely unsuspecting here.

And the next thing I knew I was off!  The first thing I realized was that I was in far too big of a gear.  I struggled to push the pedals.  Once I got rolling, it felt better.  I love that part of the race and it helps me to find a good rhythm so I went ahead and let myself roll on that a bit to get my head in the game and off the crash.  I clicked down a couple more gears, then settled into the aerobars.  That is standard procedure for me and as soon as I am down, I back the gear off a couple of clicks until it feels good.

I pulled the shifter.

NOTHING.

No response.  No tension.  It was like it wasn't even attached.  I was confused.  I had just been able to shift down the cassette into this MONSTER gear I was now struggling to push. I pulled up again.

NADA.

The reality started to dawn on my.  I had 40K ahead of me, the first 10 miles would be into a headwind, the next few miles has some gentle hills, and the finish was uphill.. and I was STUCK in a big sprinting gear.

My brain went through some serious gymnastics.  I can't even begin to chronicle the myriad of thought running around in my head at that moment.  I tried the shifter a few more times to be sure (something I did many more times before the finish in a desperate hope for a miracle) but knew it was hopeless.  It was totally dead.

Then I did something that I am really proud of.  I made the decision to find out how much my legs really had in them.  I knew I could push this gear as long as I didn't let my speed and cadence drop too much.  I came up with a plan.  I thought that I might be able to shift into my small chainring and possible move into a smaller cog if I needed to.  I had that as an exit strategy so I would ride this thing like I was on a track bike, using cadence and shrugging into a more aerodynamic position to mimic having gears.  And I was going to ride this gear like I planned to be there.  NO slow mashing or rocking in the saddle.  Tight, strong, fast.  At least until burned through all of my matches and died completely.  Maybe by then I would have put enough time into the rest of the racers to stay on that podium.  Nothing I could do was going to make this 40K hurt less and I had already tossed the quitting idea out.  I was still there to win that thing.

I'm not going to wax poetic about how much it hurt. It hurt a LOT. As much as I was afraid it might.  I did reach that point where I really wanted that exit strategy.  I had managed to rationalize that if I could get just a little relief, I could totally spin home on my little ring fast enough.  I even pushed down on the left shifter to signal a switch to my small chainring.  Too bad that shift was useless too.  I was in so much pain that I was begging for my way out but too bad.  I was stuck with what I had ALL THE WAY TO THE END.  So I just kept hammering.

Ya know, cycling is finding funny way to teach me that my limits aren't what I think they are.  My time was 63:04.33.  Disappointing after the previous weeks performance but under the circumstances, not bad.  No matter what else happened (and it took hours to find out as results came in very slowly), I was happy with the way I had handled myself.

Another great part to the day was the people.  Almost all of my racing and training up until this point has been a solo venture, a lonely experience.  After a long drought, I have met some really great friends in this sport and found myself surrounded on that day by friends from both Austin and Tyler.  It was possibly the best part of the entire day.  I wouldn't have traded that for all my gears!!  It was the best feeling in the world!
LOOK! Something other than THIRD PLACE!

But as it turned out, that effort was good enough to win.  I had pedaled my broken bike all the way to the top of the podium and after the podium pictures, as we were stepping down, I heard the announcer say "Meet your new Cat 4 State Champion, Lora Popolizio".  I didn't realize anyone was still taking pictures as I did a little fist pump and mutter "f**k yeah" under my breath.  It was a good moment and a great way to break a third place streak!
The look on my face tells the whole story.

Seriously, a giant thank you to Coach Brian who is the reason I had the legs I needed to pull that bit of ridiculousness off.  Talk about overkill! I cannot express enough how happy I am to finally, at long last, put a championship race on the calendar... and not only make it to the start... BUT WIN!

Now back to the road bike and time to get that part right too.

And there you have it.