Monday, August 18, 2014

The backstory to Lake Stevens 70.3... and the race report!

As I noted in my Vineman 70.3 race report, I've been feeling "off" all season... in fact, in spite of some *lucky* podium appearances, I've been off ~5-10% in training and racing since mid-February.

One morning I was running with my coach, Matt Dixon, talking through the fatigue I was feeling and how badly training and racing were going and how I seemed not to be able to handle a workload and volume that would have been considered easy for me last year.
- Swimming further than 75yards left me feeling like I was breathing through a straw
- Riding would start off okay but I would tire quickly... after an hour or two
- Running 9min/mi pace would feel uncomfortable and not "easy" like it should feel

I would have occasional good sessions, but mostly I was going through the motions of the workouts, failing to hit some very basic metrics that should come easy to me, and I was making zero progress. In one 20min bike test, I went backwards by 20w! Matt and I brainstormed all the usual stuff: recovery, sleep, nutrition, stress, anemia. I went back through my workout logs from the past 5 years, to make sure that I wasn't delusional that I can push more watts and run faster than my current paces. I saw my GP for several blood tests but nothing was showing up as irregular. Not happy with the feedback, I went in and saw another GP in my practice. The second doctor prescribed an inhaler to see if that would help - some days I would feel a little better and other days I would go back to feeling awful. I also consulted with two different sports medicine specialists but no one had any ideas... in health terms, no longer being able to run 8min/mi or faster definitely falls in the #firstworldproblem category...

Two weeks ago, Blanco and I went to Tahoe for a long weekend and on the Friday, the two of us did my favorite ride, a loop around Lake Tahoe. I started off okay but started to feel tired pretty quickly. By the time we stopped in South Lake Tahoe to refill our bottles after 2+ hours of riding, I burst into tears, sobbing because I didn't recognize my own body. I've been doing triathlon for 13 years, I've learned to know my body pretty well, and this just "wasn't the body I know".
View from our little cabin on Donner Lake
The next day, we met up with some friends to ride another of my favorite Tahoe rides... Yuba Pass and Gold Lakes. I rode up to Yuba Pass with what should have been relatively easy power for me and yet I still felt awful... I described the sensations to my friend, Galyn, and she thought it might be some sort of allergic reaction as she had felt quite similar about 4 years ago.

Yuba Pass with Galyn
Galyn recommended her allergist and I called and arranged an appointment as soon as possible. I met with Dr. Vadim Kvitash the following week and he explained the process... blood tests, 3 sets of skin tests, spirometer test and a physical exam... and it would take several weeks and he wouldn't be able to tell me much before he had examined and reviewed all of the above. I wanted answers quickly... this was not going to be quick... sigh! On my second visit, last Tuesday, I let Dr. Kvitash know that I was feeling particularly bad and had really struggled on what should have been an easy taper run. He asked me if I breathe through my nose when I run... yes... then he inspected my nasal passages and commented that they are extremely swollen and he's surprised I can breathe at all! He recommended a couple of over-the-counter nasal sprays (Afrin and Naso-Cort) and sent me on my way. That evening, Blanco asked how the appointment had gone and I shared that I felt better just sitting on the couch than I had in a while. I really had forgotten how it felt to breathe in deeply and take in oxygen...

The next several days, I was using the Afrin/Naso-Cort daily as the doctor prescribed and was beginning to feel better in my workouts, though with the race a couple of days away, none of the workouts were real stressors so it was hard to judge if there was an improvement. I hated to think this way, but there was a lot of pressure riding on the run at Lake Stevens to see if I could feel/sense any improvements relative to recent training and racing. I was nervous... I just want my old self back... to enjoy training, to reap the benefits of training and not to feel like I'm just wearing myself down.

If you've never done the Lake Stevens 70.3, you should know that the swim is quite delightful due to the presence of the rowing lines a couple of feet under the water, guiding you along the entire course. No sighting required. Of course, on race day when you're one of the last waves to go, sighting is required to navigate around some of the 1,000+ athletes that started ahead of you. I felt good in the water, swimming efficiently at a good but not hard effort, carefully navigating around the multi-colored caps of the prior waves. I came out of the water in 33:26, my fastest swim of the year and 8th in the AG out of the water. Once on the bike, I knew I was in for a long ride as Lake Stevens is probably the most challenging course I've done on the 70.3 circuit. The first 40 miles don't seem hilly but for some reason, the course rides slow. And the last 16 miles are hilly for sure so you might think you're on track for a great split but your speed will slow during the last miles. I felt like I rode fairly conservatively and definitely backed off in the second half, knowing that I desperately wanted a decent run, if possible, though knowing that I wasn't really in control over what happened on the run.

The sun came out to greet me as I hit T2 and the results tracker indicated that I had ridden from 8th place to 2nd place. 13.1 miles stood between me and a hug from Blanco so I set about the run course with mixed feeling of hope and apprehension. This was my 4th time at Lake Stevens and so I know the run course relatively well... a challenging start with some hills but overall not too bad. I ran the first four miles in sub 8min/mi pace... that's better than any training run I have done since February! Admittedly, I slowed down from thereon to 8:30 pace and dilly-dallied a little too much at aid stations, but I felt like I was running again, even racing! I completed the run in 1:49, slow for me on this course, but my best run of the year! I crossed the line in 5th place for my age-group, 10mins off my usual time on this course but happy that I felt like I was actually racing and not just surviving.

It's now less than three weeks to Mont-Tremblant 70.3 Worlds so I don't have high hopes for much change in my fitness between now and then but I am hoping I've made some progress with my health issues and regained some confidence. Tomorrow is my 3rd appointment with Dr. Kvitash so I'm looking forward to sharing my experience of the last week and getting his thoughts... we still need to figure out WHAT is causing the allergic reaction... my guess is that it's the JCC pool as I always feel worse after swimming there... but I need to remain open to other information.

Post-race with fellow Betty, Nancy Clarke
Blanco came 4th in his age-group and picked up a slot to 70.3 Worlds in Austria in 2015.
Post-race chillaxing lakeside, waiting for awards
Pro Betty, Erin Spitler came 3rd overall with a smoking fast run, so it was great to meet Erin and get a photo with the three racing Betty's on the day.
Nancy, Erin and myself waiting for awards.

It was also awesome to hang out post-race with members of our favorite men's triathlon team, EveryManJack!
Dorothy, Ollie, Dana, Brian, Jordan, Rich

Finally, I was psyched that I scheduled a Monday morning flight so Rich and I could have a Seattle date night, checking out a new restaurant.
Champagne on the house to toast our racing - Lark restaurant.

Last dessert before Mont-Tremblant!