Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Making lemonade

Lemon Slice

It was raining this morning. Again. So I ground some Coconut Crunch coffee beans, brewed a cup, and waited for motivation in a mug to kick in while scanning the hourly weather report for a gap in the rain showers.

I planned it perfectly; caffeine jitters kicking in just as the sun began to peek through. I had two hours before it was supposed to rain again, so off I went and I was feeling great! So much better than Saturday's 40-mile ride which was completely dispiriting. On that ride, I was frustrated with my bike, frustrated with myself, frustrated with all this training. Frustrated.

But today was great. My bike was smooth, my body felt relaxed. I was home again. Nine minutes into the ride and BANG! It was the sound of a fully inflated balloon being popped with a pin, followed by the high-pitched tinking sound of metal clanging against the underside of my bike before bouncing onto the pavement. A flat tire! I shouted a few unladylike things before unclipping and walking my bike toward a less-busy side street.

I'd only taken a few steps when a car pulled over to the shoulder and a guy started walking toward me asking, "Do you need a ride?" I instinctively took a step back saying, "No, it's okay. I can change it." Sensing my caution, he halted his forward progress and said, "I cycle too. I know what it's like to have to walk your bike and wanted to see if you needed help." Again, I declined his offer and he went on his way. It's too bad society is the way it is. I'd like to send a shout out to that guy to thank him, a passing motorist who was kind enough to stop and offer assistance (he is the only on who did, with the exception of a county sheriff). It is 99.9% likely that he was a totally harmless, decent guy and upstanding citizen who was simply trying to help a cyclist in distress and I appreciate it. But I just can't take that .1% chance that he's secretly some crazed lunatic and I was thankful I was on a busy, main thoroughfare and not on some desolate side street being approached by a strange man.

After he left, I paused to take a look at my injured tire (checking to make sure no offending bits of metal were still present) and realized at once that I would not be changing any tires that day. Or finishing my ride. The piece of road shrapnel was so sharp that it not only sliced through my tube but through my new, tough, Gatorskin tire too. Forty bucks down the drain.

Thankfully, my friend Gretchen was home and willing to save me again, coming to retrieve my sorry stranded butt from the side of the road. I will definitely be treating this woman to lunch for her rescue efforts this season!

The sky was beginning to cloud over, my window of good weather closing. I was feeling frustrated again, a sour taste on my tongue, and decided I would not let this day, or a good caffeine high, go to waste. I had made coffee and was still buzzing from it. Now I would take today's lemons and make lemonade.

Off with the helmet and bike shoes and on with the iPod and Kinvaras. I would run tomorrow's run today. As a rule, I have been trying not to run two days in a row during training, but today would be an exception. I started off fast, burning off my frustration and fretting over how I would "make up" my missed bike ride. Fittingly, the first track on my iPod was Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff" that starts out with "It's just one of those days . . . " Sweet.

At that moment, it began to rain and the sour taste momentarily returned. I screwed my face up at the darkening sky and ran harder. The shrapnel had ruined my ride; this rain would not ruin my run. And then the rain suddenly stopped; like an olive branch being extended down from the sky.

Journey's "Only the Young," Janet's "Alright," Coldplay's "Clocks," Beastie's "Slow Ride," and Selena's "Cumbia Medley" (Hey, don't knock it 'til you've tried it! I'm not a Selena fan but this zippy 8-minute track is part Cancun Cantina, part funky mariachi band and part carnival) kept me moving in the middle.

The weather tested me again when, instead of rain, the sun (a foreign entity these days) broke free of it's captive clouds, sending hot, angry, rays of sunlight down to the ground while the humidity was jacked up to about 80%! But I kept running. And sweating. By now, I was no longer worrying about making up for the "missed" ride--it was only going to be an hour, for Pete's sake! Don't sweat the weekday stuff, remember?--and instead was worrying about how to get my tire fixed in time for Friday's long ride. I have several spare tubes at home, but tires? Not so much. Note to self: call bike shop when you get home. Order spare tires.

Thirty-five minutes into my 50-minute run, and my left knee started testing me too; complaining about being asked to deliver two days in a row. Yesterday's 4.5-mile run on loose gravel, some hills, sidewalks and cambered streets left my knee feeling gritty and stiff today. (Lemonade, lemonade, lemonade.) Focus, adjust form, carry on. Chi! Then Tom Petty's "Runnin' Down a Dream" was in my ears, reminding me why I'm doing all this to myself in the first place!

At 43 minutes, the outer edge of my left heel began hurting in a way that struck fear into my heart and that was that. The run was over and I walked the remaining 7 minutes home, where I immediately stretched, iced and am now feeling fine and looking forward to an easy workout day tomorrow: with my lemonade run under my belt, I will only have to swim. And maybe, this unexpected extended break from cycling (5 days) is just what I need to get me fully recovered from Savage and properly back in the saddle again. (Lemonade, lemonade, lemonade!)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Savageman Half Iron Man 2011

Are You Savage Enough?

I've been asking myself this question for weeks.

To complete a Half Iron Man is a goal I've been working toward for a while. I'd planned to tackle this 70.3-mile triathlon in 2010, but a metatarsal stress fracture forced me to downgrade to Aquavelo.

This year, I have even bigger fish to fry, with the Cozumel Iron Man looming in November. I've never cycled more than 60 miles or run more than 16, yet I am training to complete 140.6-mile race (2.4 swim, 112 bike, 26 run). It is the ultimate goal; a bucket list item and an absolute challenge, both mentally and physically.

But first, the Half Iron Man.

The Savageman Half Iron Man is not just any Half Iron Man. In 2010, it made Triathlete Magazine's 100 Best Races list and ranked first as the hardest triathlon in the world!

I had three goals going into this year's race:
1) To get a brick
2) To finish the race
3) To not get injured

I managed two out of three.

My husband and I arrived in the Deep Creek Lake area of Garrett County Maryland at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon and headed directly to the chamber of commerce,, for packet pickup. After pausing to admire what was once a live black bear, we collected the envelopes containing our race numbers, our timing chips, and our swag bags, which included a pair of cycling gloves, a Hammer Gel, samples of Hammer Recoverite and Eucerin SPF cream. (All proceeds from this race support melanoma research.)

Next, it was off to check in to our lodging for the weekend, a lovely mountain cottage we found on the VRBO website:

My father-in-law also was in town to compete in the international distance triathlon, so the three of us headed to my favorite place in town for dinner, The Mountain State Brewing Company,, which has the most delicious flat bread pizzas and an excellent selection of brews in a ski-lodge atmosphere.

On Saturday, while my father-in-law was off winning his division in the int'l race, my husband and I set out to drive our 56-mile bike course, which race management guarantees is the most scenic and savage there is:

"The SavageMan 70.0 Triathlon bike course is the crown jewel of the SavageMan Triathlon Festival. The bike course is truly beautiful as it travels on remote and scenic Garrett County roads and through Deep Creek State Park, Savage River State Forest, and New Germany State Parks. And the bike course is truly Savage as it rides alongside the scenic Savage River, scales the vaunted Westernport Wall, and summits the most savage climb in all of triathlon, Big Savage Mountain. The SavageMan 70.0 Triathlon bike course is the most beautiful and most savage triathlon bike course in the world, guaranteed. If, after finishing the SavageMan 70.0 Triathlon, you feel you have previously completed a similar distance race that is more scenic and more savage, race management will refund your entry fee complete with a profound apology."

According to the Savageman website:

"The bike course includes over 6,000 feet of climbing with both long gradual climbs and short, steep pitches. While the first 18 and final 10 miles are mostly downhill or flat, all athletes should be forewarned that the climbing in the middle 30 miles is savage and relentless. All participants, no matter how strong, should consider a 27 tooth cassette or compact cranks. Average to weaker cyclists should consider compact cranks or a triple front chainring or risk walking their bike."

NameLocation"Savage" CategoryLengthAvg GradeMax Grade
Toothpick0.5 mi4th Savagery0.25 mi9%16%
Westernport18.5 miHors Savage1.2 mi12%31%
Big Savage Mtn23.4 mi1st Savagery2.4 mi6%21%
Savage River State Forest30.0 mi4th Savagery2.8 mi4%7%
McAndrews Hill32.8 mi2nd Savagery0.6 mi9%19%
Otto Lane35.1 mi2nd Savagery0.6 mi8%17%
Killer Miller38.1 miHors Savage1.3 mi8%22%
Maynardier Ridge43.8 mi3rd Savagery0.25 mi12%23%

As we drove along the course to take in the vistas and review the "lay of the land," we stopped to admire some of the more creative "motivational" signs. My favorite, which I didn't get a picture of, had a pair of googly eyes and read: "I see crazy people" followed by the triathlon logo:
Next, it was off to the race venue, Deep Creek Lake State Park,, to rack our bikes before hitting Brenda's Pizzeria for a big, carb-loading, pasta dinner.

Photo photo

Completely stuffed, especially after the double chocolate cake for dessert, it was back to the cabin to pack our gear bags and hit the sack.

Sunday. 5 AM on race morning and the day dawned cold and overcast with temps in the mid-40's and a high forecast in the low 50s. Brrrr. Breakfast, coffee, and we were off at 6:45 AM to Deep Creek Lake State Park,,
to set up transition and get body markings.

Bundled up in the transition area pre-race.
The Swim:

There were 4 waves of swimmers departing 7 minutes apart. I, along with all other women, was in the first wave with the pros, elites, Clydesdales and relays. This, I realized later, was because out of 390 participants, only 50 were women! The remaining three swim waves were comprised of all men. The temperature of the lake varied between 62 and 64 degrees; a full 20 degrees warmer than the air. All in all, the swim went well, though I had trouble finding enough "space" to pick a line and stick to it. The resulting bit of zig-zagging did not do my swim time any favors and I swam one minute slower this year than I swam the same course last year.

Swim Results (1.2-miles): 37:05. Division Rank: 4th/12

Tranquil and sunny after the Tri: Signature Swan buoy marking the final turn of the swim.

I was not especially cold before the swim and was definitely not cold during the swim but, let me tell you, getting out of the lake and being hit with temps in the 40's was a shock! As soon as I crossed into the transition area and peeled off my wetsuit, my body was quaking with cold, arms and legs covered in goosebumps. It's hard enough to pull on layers of clothes, such as arm warmers and gloves, when you're wet but even more impossible when your whole body is shaking. As a result, my T1 time also suffered and was 1:11 slower than my time last year.

T1 results: 7:53. Division rank: 9/12. (Ugh!)

The Bike:

There is nothing, nothing!, that can prepare you for the savagery that is the bike course at Savageman. It is the bike leg that primarily earns the race its reputation as "the hardest triathlon in the world!" When I exited T1, clad in Gore-Tex gloves, arm warmers, two shirts and a thick jacket, my legs were still shaking so badly that I could only get one foot clipped in to the cleat. This presented a problem in that there is an immediate climb out of transition and I was unable to turn over the pedals with only one foot. After 3 failed attempts to successfully clip in, I ended up walking my bike to the top of the short hill. So lame. (But I wasn't alone!) By the time I'd crested "Toothpick" (the first of 8 "savage hills") my rate was at a humiliating low of 9.0!

Despite the shivering cold, I managed to pull myself together and increase my average rate to almost 19 during the long, shady, and sometimes treacherous 18.5-mile descent into Westernport. Last year, as I approached the vaunted Wall, I totally psyched myself out and did not make give it my best effort to make it to the top. I was intimidated by the crowd, the cracks in the pavement, the grade, the other cyclists, and the fact that I was already out of my saddle after the first block. I also didn't want to get hurt. So when my turnover became precariously slow, I unclipped. Total cop-out. But not this year.

This year I didn't focus on anything except my pedaling and when I hit the Wall, I tucked my head and charged--full sprint. I gave it everything I had. But despite my efforts, on one of the downstrokes, I lost purchase. I believe my heel may have twisted a bit and the downward force caused my foot to pop right out of the cleat, upsetting the balance and pitching my front wheel to the left. I fell forward and to the right of my bike, chewing up my lower leg on the teeth. I did not get my brick.

Wall wound

I was disappointed I did not conquer the Wall, but proud of my effort. I didn't give up and I went down fighting. I've since learned that only about half of all participants successfully make it up the Wall and, in 2010, of those who did, only 15 or so were women. This year, Dave Scott, 6-time Kona World Champion did not make it up the Wall, the steepest climb in all of Triathlon:

Street Closed - Only Savages May Pass
"Welcome to Westernport! Check your pride at the door. The Westernport Wall is the steepest climb in all of road triathlon. At just four street blocks the Westernport Wall is not particularly long, but it starts steep and gets steeper, culminating in a final block on a stretch of road so steep that it has long been closed to traffic.

With its poor pavement, an average grade of 25% and a max pitch of 31%, successfully getting up the final block of the Westernport Wall takes a bit of skill, a bit of luck, and a lot of True Savage determination! All savages who conquer the Wall without putting a foot down receive a special "Brick In The Wall" prize. Those savages who choose not to tackle the closed block have the option to take a slightly longer, more humane route around the block.

"The Westernport Wall takes no prisoners and respects no pedigree. The Westernport Wall has laid claim to many victims, and not just your everyday triathletes. Multiple Ironman pro podium finishers, including a second place finisher at the Hawaii Ironman World Championships, have attempted the Wall and had to unclip and walk to the top."

Just Another Brick In The Wall
"While the Westernport Wall may have claimed many victims in the SavageMan 70.0 Triathlon, many Savages have attempted and conquered the Wall as well. And those solo participants who clear the Wall without unclipping and walking and go on to complete the SavageMan 70.0 Triathlon are rewarded with triathlon immortality: personally engraved bricks laid in the Wall for future Savage triathletes to ride over and perhaps fall onto."

Bricks in the Wall

After the Wall, I made a stop at the clothing drop to shed my jacket and gloves "before the climbing begins in earnest" as the race promoters say. The Westernport Wall is just the beginning of the climb over the Continental Divide over Big Savage Mountain, which is 7.1-miles long with a gain of 1950 feet in elevation and pitches in excess of 20%:

Big Savage Mountain - Triathlon's Most Savage Climb
"Step aside, "The Beast" of St. Croix, there is a new toughest climb in all of triathlon and it is SavageMan's Big Savage Mountain. At 7.1 miles long with 1950' of elevation gain including extended pitches in excess of 20%, Big Savage Mountain lives up to its name. It is Big and it is Savage.

Starting in Westernport, Md, at 900 feet the low point of Garrett County, riders are immediately presented with the steep and daunting climb through and out of town, culminating in the 31% Westernport Wall for those who choose to attempt the direct route straight up. The Westernport Wall, however, is just the start of the long, hard climb over the Continental Divide at Big Savage Mountain. The first mile out of Westernport gains over 700 feet at an average grade of 13%. Unlike "The Beast" of St. Croix, which descends after it's 600 foot climb, Big Savage Mountain keeps climbing, although much more gently for another 5 miles. As the summit nears, Big Savage Mountain does not go gently as the final mile is nearly as savage as the first with the final pinnacle nearing 20% grade and summitting at 2850 feet.

Big Savage Mountain is the arguably the toughest climb in all of triathlon, but riders are rewarded for their efforts with breathtaking rural vistas, and, of course, what goes up must come down....

Are You Savage Enough to Ravage Big Savage?
The Westernport Wall and the subsequent climb over Big Savage Mountain will challenge any cyclist no matter how accomplished, but any cyclist with adequate gears and adequate patience can handle the climb. It is recommended that strong cyclists have a 25 tooth rear cog, and a minimum of 23. Average cyclists should have a 27 tooth cog, and weaker cyclists should have a triple front chainring or compact cranks. Any athlete with adequate gears and adequate patience can complete the SavageMan 70.0 Triathlon bike course, and indeed, those athletes with more patience are sure to enjoy the day the most. The Westernport Wall and the climb over Big Savage Mountain is a stunningly beautiful stretch of road and an exhilarating experience unique to all of triathlon. It takes a true Savage to Ravage Big Savage!"

I'd been battling a chest cold in the week leading up to the race and now, as I began the extreme effort of making my way up Big Savage Mountain, my lungs were in full and complete protest. I coughed and hacked and wheezed and spit, fighting to get a full breath of air into my compromised lungs, and doing a pretty good Darth Vader imitation with each attempted inhalation. Fellow cyclists regularly and kindly asked me if I was okay and if I wanted "an Enduralyte for my throat?" As I struggled up the mountain, I realized the effort required felt much greater this year than the year before, due only in part to the chest cold. The other part had to do with my training. In 2010, I was focused solely on this race and did numerous long rides with hill repeats to prepare. Strength training was also a part of my conditioning last year, the squats and lunges adding strength to my legs.

This year, however, my focus is long-range; my sights are set on the Iron Man in Cozumel in November and my training has been designed appropriately, with the emphasis on longer rides and runs, and minus the strength training. It would all add up to a slower ride this year at Savageman.

Motivational signage on Otto Lane

From Big Savage Mountain, it was on to Savage River State Forest, McAndrews Hill, and Otto Lane before finally hitting Killer Miller.

"Thank You, Sir. May I Have Another?"

"Westernport? Whatever.

Big Savage Mountain? Please.

Welcome to Killer Miller. Strategically located at the 40 mile mark, Killer Miller is the final epic climb of the day and is the culmination of the most savage 23 miles in the sport of triathlon.

At 1.3 miles and an average of only 8%, the specs of Killer Miller underwhelm the savage reality of the beast. The first 0.6 miles of the climb shoot seemingly straight up at an unfair pitch, forgoing switchbacks to head straight up the hillside at an average of 13% with stretches over 20% before leveling out to a more gradual summit.

Cyclists should be sure to take stock of their surrounding as the rural farm views and mountaintop vista are simply stunning. Whether it's the steep pitch or the remarkable views, Killer Miller is sure to take your breath away!"

"Why do SavageMan? This is why!"

I must admit; I really didn't get to appreciate much of the scenery during this climb. Thankfully, I was able to enjoy the view from the comfort of my car the day prior when we drove the course:

Killer Miller Motivation

Last year, a woman clad in a devil costume followed me up Killer Miller, banging the end of her pitchfork into the ground as she shouted words of encouragement such as "don't you stop!" and "don't you let this hill beat you!" Similarly, though a lot less dramatically, a beer-toting guy from the Team Z triathlon club, kept pace with me this year, uttering practical entreaties like "one foot and then the other," "knees to chest," and "you've got this." I can't tell you how much it means and how much it helps to have someone spur you on and push you to your limits at that point in the game. Sometimes I wonder if I would have made it up Killer Miller either year without my personal cheerleaders by my side. I am ever-grateful for those volunteers on Killer Miller!

Short but steep, Maynardier Ridge, at .25 miles and a max grade of 23%, is the last of the eight killer hills and from there, it's just a little over 11 miles back to the state park. Last year, as an Aquavelo participant, my race was complete when I pulled up to T2 with a bike time of 4:03:44 and a total time of 4:46:32. I was so happy to be finished. This year was a different story.

Lacking the power and speed I had going into the 2010 Savageman, I finished the bike with a time of 4:17:07 (a rate .8 slower than in 2010) and a total cum time of 5:02:03.

Bike results (55.7 miles): 4:17:07. Division rank: 6/12.
Cum time results (at the end of the bike): Division rank: 6/12.

Sixth out of twelve. That's not so bad. I'd fallen two spots since the swim but, still, pretty respectable, and I rallied going in to T2 with a time of 2:39 and another 4th place ranking.

T2 Results: 2:39. Division rank: 4/12

The Run.

This is where it gets really ugly for me.

"The SavageMan 70.0 Triathlon run course is a scenic 13.1 mile double loop course that runs along the shores of Deep Creek Lake, through the expansive State Park campgrounds, and along lakeside roads. Eleven of the 13.1 miles are on paved roads with the remainder on smooth gravel roads.

While not as savage as the bike course, the SavageMan 70.0 Triathlon run course is far from easy with tough hills through the campground and a challenging climb to the turnaround on the Thayerville Fire Tower Road."

The first time I remember injuring my feet was in the spring of 2008 when I was training for my first half marathon. The race date was fast approaching and so, having only run 7 miles the weekend before, I decided I needed to get more distance under my belt and ran 11 miles. My foot was pretty sore after increasing my mileage too quickly, but I went on to run the half with no problems. I enjoyed it so much that I signed up for another half marathon in the fall, a race in which I set a PR and was left with such a runner's high that I immediately set my sights on my next challenge: a metric marathon in December. I reasoned, "I am already running 13 miles, why not try for 16?" While training for the metric, the bottom of my feet began to feel "stretched" to the point that, with each foot strike, I wanted to curl my toes under to protect my soles from that unpleasant stretching sensation.

Icy conditions caused the metric race to be cancelled, so I dialed back my training and made plans to run the spring half marathon again. About a month before the race, I participated in a 10-mile supported training run on the course and ran my fastest time ever! Afterward a friend and I went for coffee and, when it was time to leave, I stood up and literally could not put my heels on the floor; my feet felt like they would tear if I even tried. In agony, I tiptoed my way back to the car and wondered what on earth I had done to myself? I'd never even heard of plantar fasciitis (PF).

Thus began my nearly two-year battle with PF. I deferred the half marathon and, instead, embarked on two months of physical therapy and began wearing a special sock at night and insoles in all of my shoes. After two months, the therapist sent me on my way to continue my rehab on my own with a series of stretches.

That season, I hobbled may way through two sprint triathlons that I was already registered for and the Savageman international before beginning my self-imposed period of "no running." For two months my running shoes grew dust and still no improvement in my feet. They ached if I stood on them for "long" periods of time, such as the time it took to cook dinner or do the grocery shopping. In the mornings, my feet still cried out when they first hit the floor.

In desperation, I turned to acupuncture and, ultimately, it was the key to my recovery. After eight weeks of intense treatments, I began running again. Only, this time, I was taking a new approach and, based on the reading and research I'd done during my rehab, decided to switch to barefoot-style running. I bought my first pair of Vibram Five Fingers (VFFs) and slowly began to retrain by body and strengthen my feet and legs to run differently after 20 years of running the "wrong" way. It was a challenging and frustrating process. My first setback came in the form of ankle tendonitis so, once again, I had to rest, reevaluate, and start from scratch.

Finally, I was "off and running" and loving my new shoes when, bam! First race of the season and, while I set a PR on my 5K run, I also ended up with a fractured metatarsal. Benched again, and forced to abandon my 2010 quest for the Savageman Half Iron Man and downgrade to the Aquavelo division.

Rethinking my strategy, I decided that the VFFs were good for short, steady form runs, and for general usage for walking and hiking to keep my feet muscles strong, but not necessarily the best option for distance or speed runs. For those, I decided I needed a little more padding--not arch support or raised heels, but a little more cushioning under the ball of the foot to absorb some of the impact. I was learning to run the way my body was meant to run, but our ancestors did not run on concrete!

I went to a running store and, two hours later, after a treadmill test and trying on a dozen pairs of shoes, walked out with a pair of Saucony Kinvara minimalist shoes. I also read Chi Running. This book, which has educated me on the "correct" way to run, combined with finding the right shoes and the right method of healing, is what ultimately helped me to overcome PF.

I decided to write about my struggle with PF in this post to shed some light on my frame of mind going into the run at Savageman this year. This race was my one-year anniversary of injury-free running since changing my form and switching to the Kinvaras. Before this race, the last time I ran 13 miles was a training run for the metric marathon in November 2008; nearly three years prior. The fact that I had finally healed from PF and was running without injury is what led my husband and I to sign up for the full Iron Man this year. But PF is a chronic injury (often referred to as the "vampire bite" of running injuries) and it haunts me; I constantly fear the return of the telltale stretching in my fascia or burning in my heels.

Which brings me to my second and third goals for this race: to finish, and to not injure myself. The worst thing I could imagine was to push myself to the point of injury in this race and not be able to train for or compete in the Iron Man.

So, when my knee began to flare up (from a minor injury a month prior) in mile 2, I slowed down and reevaluated my form. I decided to walk every aid station and every substantial hill, up or down, (which, at Savageman, covers the majority of the course). When I passed mile 7 I knew I would finish, but my feet started to feel sore and it scared the daylights out of me, so I slowed down even more and walked more too. I was sooo happy to see that finish line, and be able to run across it too!

Here I come . . . . . . and there I go. Finished at last!

In the end, I finished the "run" in 2:45:25 seconds, with an awe-inspiring 12:37 pace. In my division for the run, I crawled in at 10th/12, dropping my overall division standing from 6th to 8th. (Once upon a time, my half marathon PR, pre-injury, was 1:56:16, an 8:53 pace.)

Run Results: (13.1 miles) 2:45:25. Division rank: 10th/12

After the race, the "output" resulting from my coughing fits and vain attempts to clear my lungs was coming up a little pinkish, so my husband required that I pay a visit to the medical tent before leaving the venue. It was determined that I had bronchitis and if my symptoms persisted or got worse I should see a doctor to rule out pneumonia. Hmmm.

So, do I wish I could have had a stronger run and finished with a better overall time? You bet! But it would have been a mistake to push myself to the point of injury and ruin my chance to compete in Cozumel. (And having bronchitis probably didn't help either!) My finish time for Savageman, my first Half Iron Man, was 7:50:06. That's a heck of a long time to be racing, but I hear the experience will have me well-prepared to tackle the full Iron in two months.

Final Results: Savageman Half Iron Man (70.3 miles): 7:50:06. Division rank: 8th/12.

After working up enough energy to shower, my husband and I headed to the Santa Fe Grill
for a celebration dinner:

When I finally crawled into bed that night, I slept for 11 hours!

The next day, my quads were sore, but my feet felt A-okay! For me, that's the best outcome I could have wished for! We packed our bags, leaving our lovely mountain cabin behind, but taking our Savage experience and memories with us. It was time to hit the road and head home, but not before stopping for fuel:

PS--Here is where I will pause to give a shout out to my husband for his super-Savage race! He took 20 minutes off his time from last year and also made it up the Wall for the second year in a row, finishing 4th in his division of 50+ guys. You rock!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cycling in the Rain's photostream

Cycling in the rain is a whole different game, requiring extra caution and care. But, you may sometimes race in the rain, so getting some experience with it is important.

In July 2010, I had quite the experience, indeed.

My husband and I traveled to Perryville, Maryland for an international distance triathlon and it rained the whole way there. We set up transition in the pouring rain, trying in vain to cover our gear with trash bags.

Before the start of the race, there was thunder and visibility over the water was poor. A decision was made to forgo the swim and, instead, change the race to a duathlon; a run, bike, run. I was prepared to run five miles that day, not eight. A few weeks prior I had injured my foot during a race and, though I didn't know it yet, I actually had a fractured metatarsal.

Many people went home. Thinking that was lame, we decided to tough it out. At the horn, I hobbled along as best I could, trying to stay in the soggy grass to minimize the sharp pain in my foot. I'm pretty sure I finished the "run" dead last in my division, possibly last overall.

Upon returning to the mud pit that was the transition area, I dumped puddles of water out of my shoes and picked my way carefully through the muck to start the bike leg (several people lost their shoes in the swampy mess.)

Ahh. My bike feels like home to me and I easily began to make up for lost time, streaking past people who were exercising caution on the wet roads. The rain didn't bother me; I'd had many training rides in the rain and zoomed along the course with ease.

That is, until I entered one of the known treacherous zones and everything changed. I had raced this course before and knew the road. Even in good conditions, there was one particular hairpin turn that was at the bottom of a steep descent. I'd seen cyclist crash on this turn and end up crumpled in the ditch. The lucky ones suffered only scratches and bruises, but some left via ambulance. And this was on a dry day.

As I approached this hazardous hill I reigned in my speed. But it wasn't enough. Too little, too late. I had sorely underestimated this road in the rain. With my brakes engaged I began to hydroplane out of control. If I eased up on the brakes I was going too fast to make the sharp turn on the slippery surface. I tried a combination of squeezing and releasing the brakes but every time I braked I slipped sideways. Suddenly I was skidding by the the ditch, where several other cyclists were already lying in a wet heap, and I was absolutely, completely, 100 percent, out of control. Hydroplaning this way and that, I crossed the double yellow line toward oncoming traffic and then back again toward the ditch. I don't think I was breathing. I might not even have been looking. It is very possible my eyes were squeezed shut by then and I was simply waiting for the impact, and the pain. But it didn't come.

Somehow, to this day I don't know how, I stayed upright on my bike as it careened recklessly through inches of standing water. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life. And I've never fully recovered. I'm certainly not the cycling daredevil I once was. I'm still trying to re-grow my backbone.

After surviving that terrifying slip-n-slide ride and making it back to the transition mud pit, it was off for more running (walking). That sopping wet day amounted to eight miles of walking/running on a broken foot, a near-catastrophic bike ride, and everything covered in an inch of mud. I can tell you we were the ones looking pretty lame standing in that aftermath. The smart athletes were probably the ones who went home that day.

But the experience changed me and I learned from it. I have an all-new respect for what it's like to be out of control on a bike speeding downhill at nearly 40 mph. It took me a long time to let loose on hills again, even on dry roads, and I still tense up a bit heading into steep turns and descents.

The recent, exorbitant amount of rainfall we've received has brought that hydroplaning experience back to the forefront of my mind, and I have exercised care and caution as I've cycled in the rain this week.

On Tuesday, I made it safely through 20 miles of hill repeats and steep descents on wet roads only to have my front tire sink into a hidden crack on the way home that sent me arse over teakettle off my bike and headfirst onto the sidewalk just two houses away from my driveway. It happened so quickly I didn't have time to react, which is probably a good thing--cyclists tend to fracture arms and wrists and separate shoulders when they reach out to break their falls.

Today, I climbed back into the saddle to give it another go and, unlike Tuesday's cold and windy deluge, I was lucky to catch a small window of time when the heavens were relatively still, with only a warm, misty rain falling during most of the ride. But the streets were saturated and debris-covered, demanding my full attention and respect.

So, train safe and be smart out there, especially in subpar conditions. When it's raining, remember these key things:

1) Standing water is a hydroplaning hazard for cyclists as well as motorists.
2) Wet leaves are very slippery.
3) What appears to be a harmless puddle could actually be a deep pothole in disguise.
4) Reign in your speed and leave extra time for braking and turning.

And then get on out there and ride because, no matter what, it's still better to cycle in the rain than sit on a trainer!

Cue showtune music:

I'm cyclin' in the rain

Just cyclin' in the rain

What a glorious feelin'

I'm happy again.

I'm laughing at clouds

So dark up above

The sun's in my heart

And I'm ready to do what I love.

Let the stromy clouds chase

Everyone from the place

Come on with the rain

I've a smile on my face

I speed down the lane

With a happy refrain

Just cyclin'

Cyclin' in the rain