Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Muy caliente! Theme of the day at Ironman Los Cabos 2015

Well, hello blog! I've been neglecting you... I guess I have book-ended my season on the blog by writing about Oceanside and then finishing up with my last race of the season, Ironman Los Cabos, and skipping everything in the middle! That's not because there wasn't anything to say... in fact, I've been on a fact-finding, problem-solving mission all season.

If you checked in this time last year, I'd just gone through a series of blood tests to reveal I was "hormonally depleted". Unfortunately, it takes a while to build back one's hormone levels and iron levels, let alone feel fit! It hasn't been a straightforward path either... I was on track in late March and early April but I didn't realize that I hadn't been absorbing the iron I was taking very well so by mid-July (Vineman) I was back to being slightly anemic and struggling to run at anything approaching what I would consider race pace. Thankfully, my doctor diagnosed the problem quickly, suggested a different iron supplement that got me back on track... I bounced back enough to take an AG win and third overall amateur in PR time at a local Olympic race (Santa Cruz). I even managed 6x 7:30min miles in a row!

Ironman Los Cabos had been on my radar ever since they announced the move from March to late October... It had all the attributes that I was looking for to try and qualify for my 5th Ironman Hawaii... Easy travel from San Francisco, ability to qualify almost a year in advance, wetsuit swim, challenging bike course, fairly flat run and high temperatures forecast in the low 80s. Of course, what looks good on paper doesn't always pan out in reality. The reality for this particular race was temperatures in the mid 90s and water temperature of 82f making it a non-wetsuit swim. This was not playing to my perceived strengths. However, I did remind myself that, as an experienced athlete (my 11th Ironman), I was prepared to handle whatever the day threw at me and my mantra would be to #prevail.

Downtown San Jose El Cabo
Dinner at Flora Farms a few nights pre-race

Fun to be racing with so many girlfriends - Barb, Rachel, Pia, Tatiana and Laura.

It was my first experience of a rolling swim start and I ran down the beach into the water into the surf alongside my friend and bike phenom, Pia Scaroni. Of course, right as we hit the water's edge, a breaker hit so I waited briefly to time the next wave (note to self: should probably practice these surf beach starts a little more). Thereafter, the swim was a bit of a cluster. It was 400 meters to the first turn buoy and as I got close, the pack I was swimming with started veering left, whereas, the buoy was over to the right. A paddle-boarder was yelling something but I couldn't make it out... not wanting to cut the course, I continued on my path to the turn buoy. Next thing I see is a jetski dragging the buoy back to it's rightful spot ~150meters back to my left! That was just the first of three buoys that became detached during the course of the swim causing my swim to be quite the zig-zag! I was seriously expecting my swim time to register as 1hr 20mins or more as it felt like I had been in the choppy water forever, so I was shocked to see a swim time of 1:06, a PR for me and in a swimskin no less! Was it short… nope. Garmin has me swimming over 4,000m. We did have a current assist on the way in, but that is balanced by swimming into the chop on the way out.  Net result is that I think my swimming has improved a lot by working with Matt Dixon and swimming 4,000yards+ 3 times a week with a great crew of lane-mates. Thank you lane 3!

Once on the bike, I noticed the heat immediately as we climbed out of Palmilla beach and onto the highway. I felt crappy for the first 30+ miles and I even stopped to check whether my rear tire was flat. My watts were lower than I had planned and it seemed that people (including a few other women) were flying by me. While my alter ego inner voice was telling me to just quit now, it was not going to be a good day, I knew better than to judge myself during the first few hours of racing. It was merely a bad patch and I hoped that I would come around.

The course has two out and back sections to make an L-shaped course that you repeat twice. The first leg of the L is an out and back to Cabo San Lucas from San Jose El Cabo on a rolling highway. There was a slight headwind on the way out and a tailwind on the way back, which made the return trip feel particularly hot. The second leg of the L is a big climb and descent to and from the airport. As I hit this section, my legs had started to come around and I was feeling much better, perhaps aided by some occasional cloud cover. However, I also made a course error, missing the turnaround adding a couple of minutes to my time on the bike (d’oh!) so that made me a little frustrated too! I had seen that Sonja Wieck wasn’t too far ahead so it lifted my spirits a little to see a familiar face that I could work on catching. It took me all of the airport section and the outward-bound leg to Cabo San Lucas to catch up to Sonja. I felt great on this stretch and my watts were on target and I was in a happy place. However, hitting the turnaround in Cabo for a second time and heading back to San Jose, the tailwind and the accompanying heat hit me again. By this time, I was riding with Sonja and we tag teamed this section at legal distance, along with an Argentine rider who refused to leave Sonja’s wheel… he was stuck like glue! The pattern of how I was feeling repeated itself and as we hit the airport section, my legs started to feel better. I gapped Sonja on the hill but was still losing time to Pia, who was way ahead at the front of the race with a scooter and camera escort!

I got off the bike after 5:45 and as I came out of transition, the crowds told me that I was in 3rd place overall for the women. There was zero shade on the first 4 mile out and back section in town… the sun was high in the sky and not a cloud to be seen, just as we had had for the past few days in Cabo. Staying cool was my number one priority so each aid station (approx. every km) I dumped at least two cups of ice cold water on my head. For the first run lap, I ate a Clif Blok with water each mile and ran through the aid stations barely slowing enough to grab cups of water. Sonja and one other person passed me but it was generally men around me. Lap two was equally hot and as I came through town again and saw friends, Barb and her boyfriend Rod, I whined that I wasn’t even halfway through the run. Of course, they dismissed my whines and told me I looked great and just needed to keep moving forwards… as good friends do! They also told me that Blanco was winning his AG which helped boost my mood.

My pace was slowing rapidly… I kept lap one under 9min/mi pace but lap two was sliding closer to 10min/mi pace. I had seen that third place in my AG, Alana Kennedy-Nasser (whom I met at the start of the race and Pia had mentioned to me that she was a great runner), was a good 20mins behind me during lap one but I hadn’t seen her since. My mind vacillated between wanting to just be over and done and stopping on the side of the road and knowing that I was still in second place and a Kona slot was on the line.

Lap three required complete mental focus for me… I wanted to quit but I was so deep into the race and still in second place that I had no good reason to quit besides being tired. Heck, "tired" is never a good reason to quit! With daylight savings time, the sun had set as I neared the end of lap 3 and while I appreciated the cooler conditions, my body was struggling to maintain 11min/mi pace. So slow! At the final turnaround with a mile or so to go, I noticed several women behind me but I was no longer sure what lap they were on. I also had still not seen Alana. Regardless, seeing women running close to me was enough of a mental kick up the arse to rally my pace as much as possible and get to that finish line pronto. I managed an 8 min last mile and crossed the line in 11hrs 23mins and was announced as 6th overall female. Good "note to self" that even though I thought I was pushing, there’s definitely more in me… I need to take that thought with me into races next season.

After crossing the finish line, I was sitting having my chip removed when Alana crossed the line and came through the finish chute. I overheard her husband tell her she had finished in 2nd place. I knew that Pia had won the AG, so did that mean that I had placed third? I wondered if the rolling start had put her ahead of me… though we were close together at the start line so that that didn’t necessarily make sense. Shoot... 3rd place was likely not a Kona slot :(

A sweet Mexican man, Antonio, was helping me navigate the finish area and assist me through the "behind the scenes" maze of massage, food, finisher t-shirts and medical when Blanco found me and confirmed that he had won his age-group but that he didn’t know my placing. I told him that I was 6th overall and that I must have placed third, feeling slightly despondent as I figured there would only be two Kona slots. We collected our bikes and gear and wandered over to a bar to regroup with Barb and Rod. Rod was kind enough to lend me his phone so I could review the results… I was marked down as a DNF… which made no sense. WTF??? I briefly wondered if my extra excursion on the bike had triggered something but I had actually ridden an extra half-mile so again that couldn’t be an issue?!? When we finally got back to our condo and I could access my phone, I found Michael Lovato’s email address (pure luck that I had it and he was announcing the race here in Cabo) and shot him a quick note to ask who I should reach out to about the DNF. Thankfully, Michael responded very quickly to confirm that the timing team had me down as finished and that the results would reflect my 2nd place just as soon as the servers refreshed. Phew! That was about an hour of stress that I could have done without but I’m glad it all got resolved in the end!

With 40 Kona slots and the biggest female age-group, W40-44, I figured we would have two slots but I didn’t want to celebrate until it was confirmed the following day. With Blanco’s age-group win and my second place, we did indeed both qualify for Kona and Team Blanco will be toeing the line at the 2016 Ironman World Championships in Hawaii! A slot from W65-69 also rolled down to W40-44 so Alana got a well deserved slot, especially since we finished so close together.

Hello off-season!

Pia on top of the podium, me in 2nd and Alana in 3rd #Kona16

Official confirmation of Kona 2016

Blanco crushed his AG (again!) winning by over 20mins!

Team Blanco bringing home the trophies!