Dear future self,

Standard

I’m writing this to you on the blog so that there are witnesses that can point you back here when you start saying stupid things like “Maybe I should take another shot at Pacific Crest.” You know how you are, right now you are resolved not to put yourself through that madness again. But then a few months will go by and you will start thinking about redemption. A few more months and you’ll forget all of the reasons that you hate that race and put it on your calendar. So, I’m spelling it out for you in front of blog and everyone so that you can make a reasoned and informed decision.

DON’T EVEN THINK OF SIGNING UP FOR THIS RACE UNLESS:

  • You’ve had a chance to train at altitude and/or in the heat.
  • You’ve had an amazing winter of run training
  • You have a surplus of self-esteem/money laying around

SOME OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER:

  • This race is really far away – seven hours of driving far.
  • Sunriver. Enough said
  • The day before the race will be spent driving around and dealing with Sunriver d-bags.
  • There are other good, challenging races that deserve your money more than this one.

Dear readers, thanks for your patience. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming…

Race Report: Pacific Crest

Standard

Where to even start? As mentioned in previous posts, this was technically my second time at this race. But in many ways, it felt like the first time. The weather was different, the bike course was different but I knew about the challenges posed by the altitude and I was familiar with the logistics of the course. So, I had a time goal I wanted to hit (7 hours) which I knew was going to be a challenge and a series of mini-goals (under four hours on the bike course) but for the most part, I was trying to use this race as a diagnostic tool for my race at the end of the season at Grand Columbian. I knew that my lack of sunny weather training was going to hurt me, as I need a few hot training days to get used to them. I was also working really hard on my bike nutrition, especially keeping well-hydrated. I know from experience that the run was going to be miserable if I don’t eat/drink enough on the bike, so I was making that my top priority.

I woke up feeling pretty well-rested. It was freezing cold, which didn’t improve my enthusiasm for the swim. My stomach was full of butterflies, which made eating breakfast a challenge. I drank an Ensure (thanks Ironman training!) and ate a banana and forced myself to eat a cold pancake. My stomach felt nauseous and unhappy. I couldn’t tell if it was just nerves or what, so I sat and tried to breathe and calm down. I prepped the last few things that I needed to take care of and then we loaded the dogs into the car and walked over to the race start. (For the record, not having to deal with the whole bus ride up to the race start is highly worth it… )

Naturally, the place was buzzing with athletes and nervous energy. Per usual, my rack was filled with crazy fit people and I wondered why there couldn’t be just a few flabby and out of shape folks thrown in there for good measure. Because my spot was right next to the fencing, T could hang out with me, which was really nice. I set up my transition area and squeezed myself into the old wetsuit after applying liberal amounts of sunscreen. (Yes, I really did. The same kind I used for Ironman… ) I wanted to get into the water about 30 minutes before my wave went off, so I could fully acclimate before the swim and soon it was time to do just that.

The water was just as cold as I remembered it and I tried to think about the fact that the rest of the race was going to be crazy hot, judging from the bright blue sky overhead. I got in, swam for a little while and then just hung out in the cold water letting my hand cramping subside. Watching the earlier waves go off, it was easier to pick which side I wanted to be on. Before I knew it, it was time to line up and I was feeling pretty good. There weren’t too many folks around me and all of them looked faster than me, so the odds of them breast stroking right away were pretty low. The horn blew and off we went.

The swim:
Goal number one for the swim: start swimming and don’t get distracted/intimidated by the other swimmers around you. For the most part, I did pretty well – there was one place I had to stop and look at the pack in front of me to get my bearings, but I swam pretty consistently otherwise. My arms still didn’t have any power, but my half an hour of cold water paid off with feeling pretty comfortable temperature wise. I kept to the outside of the buoy line and had clear water pretty much throughout. I had to deal with the usual zig-zag swimmer crossing my line, which was annoying but otherwise I was pretty content. Got out of the water and my watch said 46 minutes. Boo. (I swear that swim is long!)

T1:
I wheezed my way back to my spot to see a largely empty rack (stupid fast people!) I got out of my wetsuit pretty quickly and struggled into my bike gear. T was right there to pick up my stuff so we didn’t have to deal with that on the other end. Unfortunately, my wetsuit removal stopped my watch timer, so I have no idea how long the transition was – somewhere around five minutes from start to finish. (I still need to work on that, but it’s an improvement over the seven plus minutes of last time.) I bid farewell to T and ran with Slim to the mount line and we were off!

Bike:
I knew the first five miles were flat/slightly downhill, so I got down into aero and let my legs get some blood flowing. I felt pretty good and was looking forward to eating the pancake with almond butter I’d shoved in my pocket at transition. Unfortunately, before I had a chance it fell out of my pocket and onto the highway. (Saddy face) I still had my special Infinit sports drink mixture, some gels and a cliff bar, so I wasn’t hurting for calories. I started on the Infinit & water, as I knew the swim had started the dehydrating process. My pacing plan was to take the first 25 miles pretty easy, survive the 15 miles with the climbs in them and then hammer the last section on the downhill. I knew I’d have to stop at the first aid station to deal with some feminine issues (TMI alert: why do I always seem to have my period when I race?) so I was prepared for that, but otherwise I was trying to keep moving.

I focused on keeping my legs spinning easily and admired the beauty of the bike course. I tried not to look at my speedometer and just let the miles roll by. I did my usual math game with the bike course “mile 10: you’re a sixth of the way done.” “mile 15: you’re a quarter of the way there… ” (I rounded up to 60, since the course is 58 miles and it’s easier to divide… ) There was one bad spot where I dropped my chain in such a way that it ended up sideways next to the crank and I couldn’t get it to budge. I struggled with it for a few minutes and prayed that I wasn’t out of the race because of something so stupid. Finally, it loosened and I got the chain back on and we were off again. I made it to the first aid station to take care of business, apply more sunscreen and refill my water. I was amazed at the number of cyclists who didn’t need water at the 18 mile mark. That seemed impossible to me, but who am I to judge?

Entering the climbing section, it was every bit as bad as I thought it would be. There were sections that just felt like forever and it was crazy hot. I’d look longingly at the snowbanks on the side of the road and fantasize about laying down in them. I refilled my water and tried to keep to my Infinit/gel eating plans and was largely feeling pretty good, all things considered. Finally, we made it to the last of the climbs and I was feeling fully discouraged about making my time goal. I had about 16 miles to ride and something like 45 minutes to do it in. Not looking very likely. Except I’d forgotten exactly how downhill the rest of the course was – I spent about five miles going an average of 30 miles an hour. That made up some time (and was really, really fun! Scary, but fun!) I flew through the rest of the course, alternating between not having to pedal at all and pedaling but going 25 miles an hour. There were a few inconsequential hills toward the end, but with all the momentum from the downhills, they were no big deal. I flew into T2 with a ride time of 3:46. I knew with the stops it was going to be close, but I still thought I’d made my goal of sub-four hour bike ride.

T2:
It was crazy hot and I struggled into my Coolwing sleeves, not having worn them in forever. I poured some water on my head and sleeves and took a little bit of time trying to cool off. I knew my 7 hour goal was out the window and that time spent here was worth paving the way for a good run leg. Finally, I set off feeling pleasantly surprised that I could run right off the bat. Not that it was easy, but my legs were like “Yeah, sure… if you insist… ) There is a steep downhill then a few up hills right off the bat and I walked those to get things rolling. My plan was to run as much as I could and if need be find a run/walk rhythm to get me through.

Run:
Physically, I was feeling pretty good. My legs felt okay. I didn’t have the usual side-stitches/stomach pain that had been plaguing my triathlon run legs. My stomach was a little sloshy, so I was a little worried about that, but it didn’t seem major. Mentally, was a whole other story. The heat was really getting in my head. I couldn’t find a zone that I could just run. I kept stopping to walk and was really fighting the demons. I was sad that I wasn’t going to make my goal and bummed that I’m so slow and just generally in a bad head space. The first aid station I stopped at had ice, which was awesome. I dumped some down my shirt and that lifted my spirits somewhat.

The heat was still an oppressive presence. My run/walk segments became more like walk/run segments and the mile markers were just crawling by. I knew that the course was only going to get hotter and more exposed and I was more and more wanting to just quit. Not because I didn’t think I could finish, I knew that I could. I just didn’t want another long, arduous half-marathon leg to my credit. I’ve done that in every half ironman I’ve done. There was no point. Finally, I got to the mile four aid station and lingered for a minute trying to decide what to do. A volunteer asked me if I was okay and I blurted out “I think I want to quit.” and promptly started crying. She looked at me for a moment with that expression you give the mentally ill and said “Of course you do.” (Which even at the time, I thought was funny.)

Aftermath:
Once I made the call, I knew it was the right thing to do, even though it sucked. The volunteers were all really nice. They tried to cheer me up and called a shuttle to take me back to the finish line. There was a time in my life where quitting a race felt like the worst thing in the world. Like a failure of epic proportions. This time, while it didn’t feel good, it felt like a strategic decision. Live to fight another day and all that good stuff. I know those are cliches and all that, but that’s how it felt at the time. I kept up a brave face through the shuttle ride back to the finish line, making small talk with the driver and trying not to barf. I turned in my timing chip and went to the athletes tent for some water and some fruit. I sat in the tent eating watermelon and listening to the faster people’s war stories. I was in a weird head space and wandered over to the pre-agreed meeting spot to wait for T.

I was still about half an hour earlier than my best possible finishing time, so I sat in the shade on the ground and waited. Miraculously, a few minutes later T walked past. He was surprised to see me, naturally and knew immediately that something had gone wrong. Which of course prompted some more crying. All of my brave talk and reasons flew right out the window with the words “I quit.” But as I explained what had happened, he agreed with my rationale. We walked to the car and went to gather up my stuff from the transition area. It was nice to pretend to be one of the fast people who were already done. When I got to my bike spot, a woman was just coming in from the bike and getting ready to head out on the run. I was torn between admiration for her pluck and sheer horror that she was willing to spend that long on this race.

We headed to the hotel we’d reserved in Bend. I was looking forward to a shower, some pizza and some trashy television. I knew I’d gotten a bit sunburned, but had no idea how bad it was and over the course of the evening, it got more and more pronounced until it looked like the picture in the earlier post. The combo of the altitude and the direct sunshine really does a number on you. I was grateful that I put my Coolwing sleeves on for the run, or who knows how much worse it would have been.

Moving forward:
I know this is a really long post and I’ll wrap it up soon, I promise. I learned a lot from this race and I’m hoping it will pay off for future races. I’m already constructing plans for how to address some of the things that went wrong. I’ll definitely be doing more long brick workouts and testing out my nutrition more thoroughly. I’m also going to add more run mileage to the overall training plan. I also need to start working on mental toughness and figuring out how to pull myself out of the mental death-spiral.

My next race on the calendar is a sprint, so I’m looking forward to switching gears to short/fast for a week or two. It’ll be nice to shake things up. Plus, it will be T’s first race in four years, so it will be fun to have him toeing the line.

Before and after

Standard

I am still working on my race report post, but in the meantime here’s a little teaser pictorial. Before:

And after:

Yeah…

Sneak preview

Standard

We left the campground to drive to Sunriver via the bike course. One of things I like about this race is the point to point bike course. It makes things complicated logistically, as you have to stuff all of your first transition area crap into a bag and figure out what you’re going to want for the second transition well in advance but there’s something deeply satisfying about riding from one place to another. It makes you feel like you accomplished something.

I was glad to finally see the bike course, as I was a bit concerned about the section that basically goes through a mountain pass and is about ten miles of steady climbing, according to the elevation profile. The first 20 miles or so was rolling but nothing too terrible and the scenery is really stunning. There were at least ten places I wanted to pull the car over to take pictures, but at that rate we’d never get to packet pick-up and this post would be a million years long. We did stop to take a picture of T and his lake:

And let the dogs play in the snow. (Yes, we’re up that high!)

Nice view of Bachelor:

The road I would be riding tomorrow:

After that it was more climbing and then down into Sunriver, which is a town/village/resort area that I am not a fan of. It’s very crowded, hot and filled with obnoxious people. (To be clear: all of the actual Sunriver residents that I’ve met who volunteer for the race are fantastic. It’s the tourists that this area attracts that I don’t enjoy.) We were struggling to find a shady spot for the dogs and almost got into a fight with some douche in a Porsche over the one we finally did find. T was nice enough to handle that situation so that I didn’t have to. (The Porsche guy doesn’t know it, but he really lucked out there… )

After a very hot trip to the packet pick-up followed by an overpriced ice cream cone reward, we headed over to the transition area to set up for tomorrow. There were signs leading to the parking for the transition area, which very helpfully stopped right before the actual parking, leaving us to guess at where they wanted us to park. We lucked into a shady spot across the street and walked up to set up. It was very nice to get this done ahead of time and I pretty much had my choice of spots. One last stop to get a cold Diet Coke to attempt to stem the tide of grumpiness and we were heading back to camp.

When we got back, the wind had picked up substantially. (Booooo… ) I still had to drop my bike off at the first transition area and the dogs could use a walk, so we decided to get those things taken care of first and then have some relaxing time (which had definitely been lacking today… ) It was pretty calm at the transition area, all things considered. We saw a few folks riding out on the road, but it was pretty chill. Here’s Slim Shady, chilling at his spot:

And a calm look at what was going to be chaos tomorrow:

Afterward, we headed back to our campsite, noting that the wind was completely blocked on the other side of the campground. Actually, pretty much every where else than our site and the few sites around it. (D’oh!) I chilled for a little while in the tent with my book while T puttered around the campsite. The wind was still in full force as I built a fire and we started dinner prep. Dinner was baked potatoes and salmon cooked with veggies in tinfoil packets. It’s a tried and true camp favorite, except the wind was making it tough to find a spot in the fire that would consistently cook the potatoes. After an hour, they were still hard as rocks (and from experience, I knew that you could, in fact, overcook a baked potato)

Neither T or I were in the mood to deal with the wind and the difficulties in cooking were not helping. I sat by the fire and sulked for a while. The packets seemed to be cooking all right and when we opened one of the potatoes – it wasn’t burned and did seem to be cooking, just really slowly. We stuck the potatoes back in the fire and I resumed sulking. The wind was just relentless. We finally pulled the packets off and decided to make the best of the partially cooked potatoes. (Luckily, the potatoes were ginourmous, so even with parts being undercooked, there was still plenty of cooked part.) And the salmon in the packets was delicious. We huddled at our little picnic table in the wind and tried to make the best of it, but the mood was grim.

To make matters worse, the campsite to our left had their dogs off-leash and every so often they would wander near our site and send Wally into a frenzy of barking. Finally, I had a totally immature fussing tantrum and T was kind enough to send me into the tent with the dogs while he did the dishes. (He’s pretty much the best husband ever.) Getting out of the wind was sweeter than the s’mores I was giving up. (Seattle peeps, stay tuned for a “thwarted s’mores” party announcement in the near future… ) After that it was pretty uneventful. The dogs crashed. I read my book for a while and then it was time for bed. It was hard to believe I had to race tomorrow…

The water temp is “brrr”

Standard

***I’m stealing the title of this post from my friend Jenn and her quoting of the Bellingham sprint tri’s pre-race materials.***

We had a lot to get done today before the race tomorrow, but we slept in and then made a nice big breakfast of pancakes and bacon. (Oh yeah!) Then we headed over to the other side of the campground to get a swim in before too many folks showed up. (The transition technically didn’t open until noon, so we were hoping it wouldn’t be too crowded before then.) Because we didn’t want to leave the dogs unattended at the campground and needed to drive down to the race check in anyway, we loaded them into the car and drove the 1/4 to the other side of the campground. (Apparently, the theme of this weekend is driving… )

The campground was pretty big and we were at the other end where it was mostly fishermen and older folks, so it was a huge change to be in “Triathlete Land” so suddenly. They had everything pretty much set up, including some buoys out in the lake for a practice course.

T and I began the fun-filled process of stuffing ourselves into wetsuits, while a family of small children made a game of braving as much of the cold water as they could before squealing and running back up the boat ramp. Good times! I decided to swim with T to the first buoy so I could acclimate to the freezing cold water. (I have this weird thing that happens in really cold water where my wrist or hand get these shooting pains making it very hard to swim. I’ve learned that once I’ve been in the water for a while, they go away.)

Luckily, I brought my camera along to document the fun as T was not having a good time swimming to the buoy. After a few iterations of “Isn’t that close enough?” I’m proud to present the evidence of T’s triumph. Closing in on it:

And he made it:

After that, I headed out on my own to swim around the rest of buoys. It was nice to have an opportunity to take a few picture of what I’d be seeing tomorrow. I remember this mountain from last time as one of the points I like to use to keep myself swimming in a relatively straight line:

It wasn’t the best swim in the world, my arms felt frozen and like they didn’t have any power in them. But I just focused on how I’d handle it in the race tomorrow and tried to keep things moving along smoothly. I did appreciate them having the buoys out, it was very helpful to have a practice run at the course and get a feel for where the wind was going to be and find landmarks to sight. Before I knew it, I was heading back to the boat ramp to find a huge gang of folks from Team in Training. I love the mission of TNT, I’m just not so in love with the attitude of some of the folks that participate. I don’t know if it’s that they are in a big group and are some what intimidated by the whole tri scene, but they tend to ignore everyone else around them and get absorbed in their own thing. So, walking up a boat ramp with frozen feet while negotiating a huge chattering group that is actively ignoring you is a bit… shall we say, annoying?

Oh well, it was time to get dried off and head out for the next part of the day. Before we left, we hit the campsite for some snacks and to drop off the wetsuits. You know triathletes are in your camp when:

Camp antics

Standard

As we were setting up our camp, we started noticing a bit of a breeze coming off the water. Not really thinking anything of it, we proceeded to unload the car and get everything set up. (In literary circles, that right there is foreshadowing… ) It was looking pretty nice when all was said and done:

And look at the view from our tent! Ridiculous!

After getting everything unpacked, we decided to let the dogs have a little beach/swimming time:

View of unknown but lovely snow-capped mountain in the distance:

The water was FREEZING! And since this was the same lake I’d be swimming in for the race, I was a bit nervous about it. We took the dogs on a long walk to let them dry off and get the last of the car ride pent up energy out. After we got back, T decided to try swimming in the lake, because he is a.) insane and b.) nervous about his upcoming race in mid-July and general lack of swimming fitness. I settled into a comfy camp chair with the dogs and watched him wrestle with the desire to swim vs. remain frost-bite free.

Indecision is lovely in silhouette, isn’t it?

The wind had been steadily picking up all afternoon and we were concerned that it was not a good sign of things to come. But it settled down when the sun set, then a huge chorus of frogs started up. It was a very picturesque scene to roast marshmallows and generally relax.

Road trip redux

Standard

After two action-packed days where I tried to work remotely amidst the ex-husbands, dogs, crappy wireless connection and other assorted chaos at Susan’s house, it was time to hit the road again. Susan generously swapped cars with us, giving us a much better way to convey the bicycles/camping stuff and the dogs much more room. Behold:

And look, roof rack:

Smokey Joe called shotgun while we were packing the car:

Leaving Wally with the backseat:

They are convinced that if they get in the car as early as possible, then we can’t possibly leave them behind… This time their master plan worked, and they didn’t get left behind with Susan. Finally, the boy was finished loading all of our stuff into the car and we were ready to hit the road:

The drive from Salem to our campground was lovely with pretty forests to drive through, but long because it’s almost nothing but two-lane highway. We stopped in Sisters to have a little lunch at this awesome local spot:

Seriously, how can you not stop at a place like this? Plus, we’d been there for ice cream once before and knew it was yummy. While we sat on the sunny back patio, waiting for our food to arrive, I snapped this picture of bustling downtown Sisters:

Oh yeah! Once properly fueled, we were on the road for another hour and a half or so before we finally made it to our lovely campground. We were very pleasantly surprised to arrive at our site – a huge space with a gorgeous view of the lake:

So far, this trip was off to a pretty good start!