Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"Off Season"

Well, after two weeks of r&r after Ironman, Hawaii, I finally started to move my lazy butt this week. The race definitely took a hard toll on my body and I know that those two weeks, if not more, were the right prescription. But, after being in such great shape for months, and having the daily routine of multitasking everyday life with training, it's hard to fall back into absolute nothingness and pure school work.
Mentally, I was beginning to worry about getting used to not working out, and seeing (or at least feeling) like you're turning into play dough after all that hard work is not comforting haha.

Anyhow, I had heard of post-Ironman depression so wrote out my goals for 2008 well before the race. This was good and bad. Good in that it provided something to look forward to after IM, but bad in that after 4-5 days of rest and feeling human again, I was dying to kick start my training.

It was sad to have Hawaii be over. For me, the great journey that I was so lucky to experience leading up to the race, was the greatest loss of all. As well, this Monday I heard from Heather about my request to have her continue coaching me for the coming season. Unfortunately, she is really busy with other jobs and her own training and racing- something that I totally understand and respect. So, this added to my sadness, but my desperation to find a coach a.s.a.p. who was willing and has the skills to help me fulfill my aspiration in triathlon, made me move quickly and efficiently without dwelling on what I cannot control.

I went into deep thought for hours in my house wondering who I could contact that would match Heather's incredible experience, care, and attention to me during my training. I did not want to pay an online program as most, if not all, are generic schedules and as well, I knew I needed someone who could monitor my training constantly and in detail.

So, I arrived at Ahmed Zaher's door. Ahmed is an extremely well recognized coach in Texas, as well as around the nation. I knew him since I started triathlon but never sought his help 1) because I thought he was too busy with other clients and 2) because, as many of us often do, I didn't think what I had in my own backyard was the best- I thought I needed to seek the big names in the industry in order to get good coaching.

After going to his house, a lost mess that I was, we went over everything that has happened in my triathlon life thus far, and have set new plans/goals for my future. As such, I will take this next season and focus on shorter races (running, du's, swim meets, olys, sprints) to gain speed, strategy, and mental toughness. Though I had planned to do this for 2008, I will now continue on this path for a good 4-5 more years, hoping to develop into a solid ITU athlete.

I love the Ironman distance, but for that reason I think it's smart to put that on hold and save my body so that when I do return to Ironman I can achieve what I aspire to in that field.

Well, it's Halloween today, and I'm off to celebrate.
Just thought I'd update as I slowly begin my off season training.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

IM Kona 2007

Saturday, October 13, 2007, the day I had been dreaming about for over a year had arrived… After completing my first triathlon in May 2006, I entered every local race over my summer vacation. Triathlon had filled the void that had been left after I quit tennis- a sport that had been a part of me since I could walk and yell “match point”. My desire to be a professional athlete was shut down as my burnt out body and stressed out mind refused to rally another ball.

This new sport revived my motivation by its challenge, and success came quick as I dedicated myself more and more. In September, I decided to attempt a half-Ironman. I went out simply wishing to finish and upon doing so the next step became racing my next half with the intent to win. I knew that if I put the training in, the desired result was possible. So, the race of choice was the Hawaii 70.3 in June 2007.

Dreams of participating in the Kona World Championships started to creep in as I imagined myself the winner. Through each day of training, rest, and recovery leading up to the 70.3, the thought of toeing the line in Kona became so vivid that it was as if I had made it a reality before it even occurred.

I strongly believe that when we set our minds on something and put in the effort we can achieve anything. So, it happened for me- I won my age group in June and was headed toward the most prestigious race in the sport! Had I not qualified for Kona, I would not have done an Ironman this year. In fact, I would not have done an Ironman until I qualified. I wanted Hawaii to be my first experience simply because it’s the only one that not anyone can enter. I love to compete, and more importantly, I love to compete against the best.

My training for Kona was one of fairy tales. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to be given the opportunity to train for my first Ironman with the greatest names in the sport in the region where triathlon was born. Two days after returning from the half in Hawaii, I made my way to Encinitas, California where I spent the entire summer- until late August.

As part of my preparation for the Hawaii Half, I had contacted Heather Fuhr in November of 2006 in hopes of truly getting the best help to reach my goals. She agreed to my request and at exactly the right time, my dad was able to get me sponsored by his friend’s company, Protexa, so I could make the trip during my Spring Break.

Long story short, Encinitas and the people there had me at hello. Had it not been for the wonderful care and coaching I received from Heather, there is no way I could have had such an incredible race in Kona. As well, from the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank Kristin and Dan Mayer for welcoming me into their home and putting up with my “teenage stubbornness” and “know-it-all-ness” ;) Three other amazing people that helped get me to that finish line through their advice, training, and support- Roch Frey, Paula Newby Fraser, and Chris Huxley, I cannot thank ya’ll enough!!

It’s hard to explain what it feels like to be involved in something for such a short period of time and suddenly be immersed into its core. Before beginning the training for Kona, I repeatedly told myself that I could and should treat this race as a long training day and learn as much as possible from it. Every experienced Ironman triathlete that I spoke to gave me the same counsel. But, no, my subconscious would not accept this no matter how hard I tried to pound in that I had no pressure and was a true beginner in triathlon. After all, I was going into a race with the best 18-24 year olds in the world of Half Ironmans and Ironmans (whichever distance granted them the slot). I wanted to compete, to go into the race as I had always entered every tennis match since elementary school- treating it like war and as such, sacrificing all I could give.

Of course, the primary objective was to have fun and finish. Yet, simultaneously I aspired to go for it and have my best possible race. My idea of an enjoyable Ironman consisted of digging as deep as possible and pushing through as much pain as I could handle so as not to collapse and cross the line with nothing left. It would not have been fun for me to feel good and take it slow. That would actually have made for a disappointment and much regret bringing post race thoughts of “woulda, shoulda, coulda”.

Well, now it’s over, the 2007 Hawaii Ironman is a thing of the past and as I sit here back home in Dallas, facing the reality of being a student with much make-up work and longer interning hours to come for the off-season, I’m happy to say that I have no regrets. I raced with all the passion and competitiveness that defines me as an athlete out of respect for that Island, the race, the other participants, and my family and friends that got me there strong.

I arrived to Hawaii Thursday the 4th to be there well before the race. Every waking moment I spent in Lava Java meeting the coolest people and eating enormous quantities of excellent food! Yum!! In fact, I will attribute the energy I had going into the race not only to my really good taper, but to the 20+ Lava Java milk shakes that I drank before Saturday.

The Most Memorable Day of My Life: A detailed account of IM Kona

Green and Orange caps all around, a river of spectators, cameramen, race officials, legends like Mark Allen, hundreds of volunteers, the cool tropical morning breeze, the smell of ocean as it breaks into the sandy pier, and that knotted stomach feeling you get before riding that infamous rollercoaster that’s been taunting you since you were little...ahhh, race morning!!

I knew I was in for the ride of my life, but how many ups and downs it would hold, how I would feel during them and handle them, and how I would emerge at the end…these were a mystery. I was confident in my training, both mental and physical. I was prepared to face moments when my body would be begging me to stop or take it easy, and looked forward to discovering just how long I could set these aside.

“No expectations of time or placement” I said to myself as we walked into the water. “Not from yourself or from anyone else. But absolutely expect to give everything you have, it’s one day. All the training, the decision of going from pre-law student to hopeful triathlete, the incredible things that have come into your life in one year…you will not just finish, but race like a contender, and leave it all on the course!”

I lined up a bit to the left, looked at my watch- 6:57. “Two to three more minutes” I thought. No, not the case, “BOOM” the cannon went off. I pictured the helicopter view by which I had seen the mass swim start for hundreds of days on you tube videos, and now I was in that blender of bodies. Thankfully, I wasn’t getting hit and this smooth swim continued to the turnaround. After, I guess everyone was just anxious about being on their way back that they became a bit more aggressive haha. But, all in all I have nothing to complain about. The swim was great and, being the first leg of the race, nothing hurt and my energy was still on full.

T1- I can’t understand lollygagging in transition, it’s a gift to your competition. After visualizing my transitions every day since my arrival in Hawaii a week before the race, it was time to execute. I was lucky to have the last bib number and as a result, my gear bags were at the side racks at the very end- no thinking needed.

Now the bike! Yes!!! Off to Hawi. I switched my plan to riding based on perceived effort as opposed to HR values. I just went as hard as I knew I could sustain for that distance. One thing I discovered in training is I can read my body well as far as how much it has left and how long that will last. This is especially true in a race where I try to get my mind to tell my body how it feels and not the other way around. In the first 30 miles I ended up getting rid of my speed magnet on my front wheel. Something was making a tapping noise as if hitting my spokes, so I stopped three times until finally I pulled it out. Ironically, that didn’t solve the problem and the tapping continued- great! Haha. At least it forced me to only focus on cadence and not have the mph flashing at me.

Numerous people had told me that by mile 80 you’ll want to toss your bike into a ditch. But, I was having a ball!! It went by like a 2-3 hour training ride. I kept using beats of my favorite songs in my head and convincing myself I was unstoppable…whatever, it worked. No where in the bike did I feel bad, I had so much adrenaline it was awesome!! Also, I was pleased to find that I could stay aero the entire windy section of the bike course. After riding Hawi the Sunday before the race and feeling pretty windy conditions to the point where I death-gripped my bars, I admit I was a bit cautious when approaching that section race day. One unique thing about the bike is I got stung by a bee on my right shoulder somewhere between miles 40-45. I flicked off the little sucker and managed to get the stinger out. Thankfully it got my upper body ;)

T2- I get off my bike and my legs…haha…they felt like gelatin. But running through the racks and into the tent was enough to get rid of that weird feeling. When I put on my shoes and hit the road there was no doubt I would finish- not a chance left of getting elbowed and drowning, no mechanical issues or flats could arise- it was just my head and my legs.

I started my timer and my mental plan for the marathon was very simple “let’s go, 26.2 miles as hard as you possibly can!”. I would try to save some until reaching the top of Palani and then running as strong as I could to the finish. But first, I had to reach a port-a-potty, I waited pretty much the entire ride to use the restroom and passed the ones in transition (a 4-5 min transition vs. a 2.5 one? you get the point). So when I found one at just past mile 1, immediately I went in. Ok, so now my legs would feel sluggish the first 3-4 miles, I knew this from training. I had to make sure I was getting my calories and sodium in and all would be good. Problem! Just before mile 3- my salt tabs? Gone. I had them in an M&M container and when I tried to pour 2 into my mouth, they all came flying down on the pavement. No way was I going to stop and pick up 20 or so tablets. So without thought I tossed the empty container into the bushes.

I was now left with my flask of carbo pro 1200 holding 300 calories, the other flask I would pick up at special needs. Funny thing is, in the 70.3 race back in June same thing happened with my salt tabs so I actually chuckled a bit when they fell again. From now on I will never carry tablets and only rely on powergels- lesson learned. My taste buds can only handle a certain amount of sweetness so for that reason I chose carbo pro for the run after gels and Gatorade the whole bike ride. But, I took one tiny sip of that carbo pro after dropping the tabs and eeeewww. No thanks. Especially without the sodium, pure carbo pro would mean I probably wouldn’t make it much farther in the race.

So, I remember Heather had mentioned that coke can be a savior. Now was the time to take the risk of running on coke. I had no other alternative and coke sounded very satisfying. Bye Bye to the carbo pro- to the trashcan it went. It was mile 4 or 5 and from then on, it would be coke and water at every aid station and a miraculous 2 salt tabs I would actually pick up from the ground at just before mile 15 out of desperation. I’m glad I don’t sweat much and that my childhood was spent in New Braunfels, Texas at Newk’s Tennis Ranch playing in the heat of the summer sun at 100 degrees with 80+% humidity all day. Thus, I only experienced slight chills when starting out on the Queen K but was able to do without much sodium quite well.

The marathon felt great….that is until mile 20. Here the slightest incline felt like a mountain hehe. What I experienced cannot be described as pain. I had heard of the notorious quad pains in the latter parts of the marathon. Nope, for me it began to be more exhaustion. This actually made me very happy since I knew that when I crossed the line my tank would be on absolute empty.

The most devastatingly painful part of the entire day?? The walk to the medical tent and the attempt to sit down in a chair. It was better to lie down in the “beds” they had and ice my legs. About 20 minutes later I “walked” out and found my mom and my brother, got my finishers medal and shirt, and waited for a golf cart ride back to the condo because no force on earth would convince me to try and walk back.

I’ve replayed the video of me crossing the finish line over 100 times accompanied with the words “Congratulations Tatiana, you are an Ironman!”. However, the reality of this has yet to hit me. I still cannot believe I accomplished everything I set out to do in such a short period of time. Last year, I couldn’t hold say an 8:30 pace in a sprint race. I bought my tri-bike in June and before had ridden a road bike no more than 5 times outside of my first race in May. Four years ago, I hated running even a mile, thought swimming more than 6 laps was tiring, not to mention boring. Moral of the story: impossible is only what we allow it to be.