Despite many of us participating in an individual sport, it's easy to compare times, bodies, races, equipment, etc. to others. My thoughts on this? Race your own race which is 100% based on how you physically and mentally prepared for the race. No one cares how much you weigh and surely, your upcoming race is likely not your last race. If you want to succeed in a sport, focus on your own goals and how you can best achieve them. Through trial and error and recognizing my strengths (and weaknesses), Karel has had a major influence in helping me pick the best races to fit my body, our style of training (train hard, recover harder) as well as my training needs. Thankfully, because of Karel as my coach and my passion for understanding sport nutrition, the physiology of the body during exercise and overall health, it is all finally coming together.
Finishing times or places have nothing to do with the fitness status of an "athlete." If you race strong, consider yourself fit. Show up at a race where everyone is slower than you and you will be considered "fast". You may not PR but if you win your age group or overall, you are considered "fast". Show up to a race and come in last... but PR - how will you react? will you consider yourself SLOW or feel as if you failed? I sure hope not! For if you can train smart, feel confident and be "hungry" to race and execute a good race day plan, well, you will simply have the ability to put your training to the test and will likely have a great race day performance. I'd rather come in last place, give it my all and feel as if I gave it my best possible effort, than win a race without being able to walk away with that itch or fire to keep me going. I love a challenge and I love healthy competition. I love congratulating those who are faster than me and keeping in mind that you can't beat yourself up for being beat. There will always be people faster than you...just like there will alwys be people slower than you. I love learning from past experiences in order to set new goals and to get me out of my comfort zone.
In reflecting on my past performance at the Iron Girl Clearwater half marathon, I realize I did not PR. Here's my take on PR's as it is easy for many athletes to oversee a strong, well-executed performance all because of the idea that if you don't PR, you didn't race well.
I've placed top 10 age group (and top 25 amateur female) in 3 out of 5 Ironman Triathlons. 2 of those have qualified me for the Ironman World Championships and 2 out of my 5 Ironman's were at the Ironman World Championships. My worst placing was 7th in the 25-29 age group at IMKY 2009. I didn't qualify for Kona but I had my best ever time, with a PR of 10:53. This was my 3rd Ironman. My best place was winning the 20-24 age group at IMFL in 2006, with a time of 11 hours. This was my first IM, so I guess it was a PR. Fastforward to 2007, if I would have raced that same race as a 25 year old I would have placed 10th. I wonder how I would have reacted to placing 10th vs 1st with the same time? For sure, in the eyes of many, 10th is a lot worse than winning an age group. In my opinion, getting the starting line of an Ironman is worth celebrating. Finishing is just icing on the cake. Now comes a new way of training and a better understanding of the sport - welcome 2010! In my opinion, my best IM performance occured at IMWI. I placed 4th in the 25-29 age group, went 10:57, qualifed for Kona (with a roll down) and had a strong race from start to finish. Over the years, as we (Karel and I) discovered my strength of climbing and tolerating "challenging" courses, I've learned how to train smart (and not long), discovered how to recover better and embraced the mental component that is required to "race your own race".
But over the years, I have never lost sight of one thing...... I absolutely love and enjoy what I am doing and SO thankful for the body I have. I try so hard to be able to gain something positive from every training session and race and I remind myself that my worst day may be someone's best day. I believe in goal setting and making challenging and practical goals.
Winning a running race has never been one of my short or long term goals. A total surprise to my triathlon "running" legs and to everyone else - I never imagined winning the Iron Girl Clearwater Half Marathon. Without a doubt...I couldn't imagine a better race to win my first ever overall title.
Karel was in Jax because he had to work on Saturday so I headed down to Clearwater after I worked on Fri, to speak at the Iron Girl pre-race dinner event. Around 6:30pm, I had dinner with my parents (and Campy). I enjoyed a home-cooked meal of mashed sweet potatoes (my favorite pre-race meal, for the past 7 years) topped with cinnamon and chopped pistachios with a selection of green (asparagus, broccoli and bok choy) topped with a little feta cheese and quinoa topped with raisins. YUM! I went to bed around 9:30pm and was up early at 4:25am. As the coffee was brewing, I put a piece of whole wheat bread in the toaster and Campy took me on an early morning walk around the block. I prepared my gel flask of 2 Hammer huckleberry gels mixed with 3/4 flask-filled of water and 2 sport bottles of water (1 mixed with strawberry heed, 1 scoop). I quickly prepared my pre-race meal of 1 slice toast w/ smear of Smuckers peanut butter and a few slices (1/2 small) banana and topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon. I poured my coffee into a mug and hit the road for my 45 min trip to clearwater. I arrived to the parking garage around 5:45pm. Just enough time to get a good spot in the garage for with a split start (half marathon at 7am and 5K at 7:30), those who were racing later had to search a bit harder for parking spots - I highly recommend arriving to races early in the case of a split start or just to eliminate unneeded stress.
I kept my Oakley jacket on as I warmed up around downtown. Just like in training, I like to run continuously for 10 miles or a mile and then walk for a few minutes just to shake out the legs. It is an easy way to get the endorphins going without feeling fatigue or questioning fitness for the morning workout (or race). I did about 30 min of jog, walk, stretch, walk, jog, etc. and went to the restroom afteward. I was feeling really good and I felt a similar feeling that was welcomed before Kona in Oct....I was HUNGRY to race. I felt this energy just building up inside of me and my legs (and mind) were ready to run. Around 6:35pm, I jogged/walked down the block to coachman park. As I was heading to the starting line, I made sure to reflect on my race day strategy of monitoring my HR and being smart with the course. With a lot of turns, 2 big bridges and foreful winds anticipated for the later part of the race, I knew th 1800 women who had registered for the half marathon would have an eventful race day experience. My goal....race smart. I wasn't concerned that I haven't ran more than 10 miles since the Donna Half marathon in Feb because my focus is on my upcoming half ironman in Macon, GA on June 2nd (with set up events). My training is very specific to intervals, pacing and HR and because of that, I knew I was able to execute a good race. It's not about covering miles but what you put into the miles and how you recover from them. Covering up my triathlete tan-lines, I wore my 110% play harder , tri shorts,
my CEP compression socks ,
and wore my favorite Oakley's - my commit Oakley women shades
I kept myself moving at the front of the starting line and kept a positive "can do" attitude despite looking around at the other girls - who looked really serious. I wonder if I look serious at the start of a race? I spotted my athlete James who snapped a quick pic of me at the start and said hello to a few other familiar races in the crowd. The race venue was unbelievable for the start...over 4000 women (and their family and friends) all ready to conquer the bridges and reach their respective finishing line after 13.1 or 5K. Nearing close to 7am, I made sure my garmin was ready and with some positive words by Judy (President of Iron Girl) she then gave the 3,2,1 countdown. GO!!!!
Off we went...right up a steep, short hill to let the legs know it is time to race (thank goodness for a long easy warm-up!). Within the first 200 yards of the race, I could see a bunch of long legs running up the hill in front of me. Soon after making a left on the first of many turns, I found myself in 2nd place. I felt very smooth and by the 2nd corner, I was in first. UMMMMM.....what's going on here? I looked at my garmin to make sure I was sticking to my plane of keeping my HR around 160 and not starting out too fast. For in training and triathlons, I feel good around 3-4 miles. In a running race, I always seem to go out too fast so I made sure to hold my pace between 6:35-6:50 min/miles. Following the motorcycle, I stayed in my own zone and just focused on my own thing. I didn't consider the thought (or even toy around with the thought) of winning the race so without looking behind me (which was hard...I really wanted to!) I just kept on running. I felt really good and by mile 4, I was still in the lead.
Never in this position before, I remembered all the times watching the pro triathletes at Kona, running behind the motorcycle, thinking "wow - I bet that is the best feeling in the world and a total endorphin boost". As I was nearing my 5, I looked behind me and far back but still within sight, I could see the 2nd plac girl, running strong like she was on a mission. At this point, I turned the corner after climbing a series of short gradual inclines and declines throughout neighborhoods (this course was anything but flat) and when I was out of her sight, I walked for 5 seconds. I needed a breather but I didn't want her to think I needed to "rest" as she likely doesn't know that walking is part of my pacing and racing strategy.
Oh, going back to that thought of being behind the motorcycle- it is the coolest feeling ever...but it doesn't make the effort any easier!! I grabbed water for cooling at every aid station and sipped on my gel flask at mile 1.5, 2 and every mile thereafter. Perform (power bar) was on the course and being able to tolerate that, I relied on the perform for electrolytes to aid in muscle contractions/relaxation and replenishing. I am not a big sweater but my effort was intense enough to need the electrolytes and extra carbohydrates. Thankfully, the Hammer gels have branch chain amino acids in them so that would help with my focus and energy during the entire race.
Running past mile 5, it started to get tough. I really wanted to walk more in the aid stations but I was able to control my pace by slowing to a jog at every aid station and just walking as needed. Knowing that the first of two bridges was coming around mile 9ish, I made sure to pace myself because I really wanted to use my "strength" of climbing to my advantage. I figured at this point (in playing out the race in my head on Sat), I would be passing girls up the bridge. But after passing mile 6 of the run and still in the lead, I realized that I needed to somewhat conserve my effort so that I wouldn't blow myself up. I received so much energy from people along the course.
This was one of the most beautiful courses I have ever ran and familiar to me from living in Dunedin when I was dating Karel, I welcomed some familiar scenery...despite the winds picking up! The wind was starting to blow and in reviewing the weathr the morning of the race, I knew I was going to get some headwind up the Bellair bridge and then somewhat side wind on the long stretch until the Sand Key Bridge. And to top it off, straight headwind for the last 1/2 mile until the finish. That's ok - you can't beat the wind and in living in Jacksonville, I train in it all the time. I don't let the wind steal my energy so I just use it to my advantage. I may be short but I am strong....keep it going!
Errr....so the bridge is coming in less than 2 miles and I see the motorcycle guy weaving in and out on the road. Ok, thanks Mr. pacer.....I suppose I am running too slow for you?? I did find some energy to pick up my pace within each aid station so as I got closer to the bridge, I finally started to feel good. A slight decline before the bridge and up,up, up I went. I felt amazing up the bridge and just jogged my way up with a fast and short cadence. At the top I turned around and couldn't see anyone in my view. I slowed to a jog and then ran the best I could down the bridge.
At this point, I was nearing mile 10 and having an incredibly hard time breathing. I tried adjusting my HR monitor and sport bra- no luck. I made sure to exhale fully and realized that my only limitor right now was respiratory. I was surprised that my legs were not burning (sore and achy but not filled with lactic acid) but I suppose that with my pacing strategy and monitoring my HR, I was not accumulating lactic acid and even with labored breathing, I was still able to expire CO2 (yes - I really do think like this while I am racing :) I smiled at the girl scouts who were handing out cookies at the aid station. Before making my last turn before the last long straightaway before Sand Key, I did it... I stopped, walked and looked behind me....here she comes!!! I grabbed a sip of sport drink, took a swig of my gel and just started running with a body that was giving up. Heart rate was controlled, pace was steady....I was recognizing something that we all know about...
The body-mind connection.
Between miles 10-12, I was in battle with my mind and body. Body was saying "hey, let's just have fun. Just slow down, let her pass you and celebrate your first ever top 3 finish". Mind was thinking otherwise "You have the chance to come in 1st..win the whole race! You have absolutely no idea what this will feel like as this has never been something you have set your mind to. You are racing strong, don't give up. You want this".
So here I am questioning in my head "Will the glory of winning this race outweigh the pain I am feeling right now? I looked behind me and with her less than 150 yards behind me...I just slowed down to a jog for 10 seconds (counted outloud as I was running) and just gave it whatever I had until the bridge.
Still racing smart, I monitored my HR and relied on my mind. For if the mind is strong, the body will respond. I figured that if I didn't give up my effort and she passed me it would be much more deserving of a finish than just giving up and just hanging on for 2nd. Nearing the Sand Key bridge, I could hear more cheers from the crowd. I was smiling as a sign of thank you for cheering for me and for taking my picture but I was also listening closely for those cheers of "you are so close to her, go get her!"
At this point, I started my way up the steep Sand Key causeway (I have done dozens of bridge bike repeaters on in the past when dating Karel - never running up it before, I was thinking I'd rather be biking) and the wind was pushing me to the side. It was a forceful wind blowing at me but I stayed focused and found my way at the top and tried to gather my breath down the bridge. I noticed an arrow pointing right...err, but the finish is to the left....how many more turns do I have to take??!?!?! Making the turn to the right, I made my last look behind me, she was making her way down the bridge and at that point, I made up my mind that I was winning this race.
I shut off every muscle that was aching (more like tuned it out) and gave it every last ounce of energy that I had. For I had already imagined my 30-min runs off the bike, running with Campy and long, steady intervals to get me to mile 12. What did I think about for that last 1.1 miles? Karel. He suffers in racing more than I could ever imagine. For in cycling, your best day means nothing if someone is having a better day. On Sunday, I was having my best day ever and with that, I ran like I had a huge target on my back. In the last 1/2 mile, I was nearing the finish in the parking lot in front of Clearwater beach. I could see the white caps on the ocean and with the wind blowing right at my face, the clouds were starting to darken and the rain was starting to sprinkle from the sky.
Hearing the cheers from the crowd, I was filled with this energy that I have never had before. I stuck my hand in the sky and spotted my dad who came outside the Hyatt hotel (he had an optometry conference...which he was late for so he could take a few pics of me) to see me finish top 10 - haha, well, that is what I told him I was hoping for! The motorcycle started honking and the cheers were super loud.
People were taking pics and screaming for me...OMG - ME, I am about to win the 2012 Iron Girl Clearwater Half Marathon!!! Ok, forget that I am a triathlete - I am about to win a running race!!
As I was nearing the finish line tape, the announcer said my name, which was followed by "5x Ironman finisher and Iron Girl nutritionist". I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch and fell reight to my knees.
My body was done.
And at that moment, I learned a new lesson.
No matter how bad you are hurting during a race, you have to find a way to make your mind stronger than your body. It is never easy. NEVER. But that finish line - it makes it all worth it. And eventually, you will feel better...and will want to do it all over again.
Stats from the race: (from my 405 Garmin)
Pace: 7:03 min/mile
Average HR: 159 bpm
Mile 1: 6:40 (148bpm)
Mile 2: 6:39 (157bpm)
Mile 3: 6:44 (159bpm)
Mile 4: 6:44 (161bpm)
Mile 5: 7:05 (162bpm)
Mile 6: 7:01 (159bpm)
Mile 7: 7:02 (161bpm)
Mile 8: 7:37 (159bpm) - bellair causeway
9: 7:15 (160bpm)
Mile 10: 7:13 (161bpm)
Mile 11: 7:14 (162bpm)
Mile 12: 7:25 (162bpm) - Sand Key Causeway
Mile 13: 7:08 (165bpm)
Mile .25: 6:46 (168bpm)
A big thank you to James for driving me to my car so I didn't have to stand and wait for the Trolley in the pouring rain. To Judy for putting on a top-notch event series and for allowing me to be the official dieititan for Iron Girl. If you ever have the chance to do an Iron Girl race (ladies), I highly recommend one of their events!! For the guys, volunteer!! The volunteers were unbelievable at this race as were the crowds and the city of Clearwater. To Fitful , for a yummy post-race "meal"! To Oakley, 110% and Hammer - quality training with quality products. Thank you for allowing me to be an ambassador for your brands. To my parents, athletes, friends and family for all the kind words - absolutely so heart-felt, I can't thank you all enough from every sore muscle of my body (speaking of which, my quads are killing me!) To Karel for inspiring me and for coaching me to a new level of fitness with every season. Love you. I hope you enjoy the pics, courtesy of Finisherpix.com (which I will be ordering some pics for sure!), James and my dad.
Also - a BIG thank you to the girls who chassed me down and refused to give up. You made me work really really hard! I have now experienced a new level of toughness and couldn't be more proud that it was because of strong, confident women who refuse to say "I Can't".
Keep on performing beautifully!
Congrats to all Iron Girl finishers - I am loving reading the comments on the Iron Girl Facebook page - I recommend everyone head over there and be inspired by the comments/feedback on the race.