Saturday, August 23, 2014

Listening to your body: don't fear the days off!

I'll be the first to admit that the title of this post would have been super hypocritical of me to use at this time last year. I admittedly am a pretty stubborn person, and Ryan will tell you that taking days off is extremely hard for me. I just don't like to and feel like a blimp the next day that I return to running (or swimming or biking). I never realized that sometimes mentally you need the rest, too.

The past two weeks since Steelhead have been a whirlwind to say the least.

Over the summer, I always feel a bit jipped in terms of time I get to spend with Ryan. Yes, teaching summer school is 100% my choice (which I never regret as it allows me the chance to build relationships with my struggling students prior to even having them in class!); however, working for PowerBar, Ryan's busiest time of the year is in the summer as well, so teaching a whopping 4 hours Monday through Friday for five weeks really isn't the cause of me not being able to spend time with Ryan (okay, 6.5 hours if you include plan time pre-/post-teaching plus driving, but still, not a lot!).

SO, I told Ryan to find a block of time that he could request off of work and I would be taking him on a vacation to which the destination would remain a mystery until he obtained his boarding pass at the airport. Long story short, when Ryan and I first started dating 7ish years ago, he had told me he always wanted to go to the San Diego Zoo. I've kept that in my mind and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to take him to the place he's always wanted to visit.

With summer school ending on July 18th and school starting on August 20th, we didn't really have many dates to choose from. In terms of work, the only time that Ryan could afford to take off was literally the week before I would start teaching. I cringed at that thought, but kept telling myself how awesome the trip would be.

After some fun celebrations post-Steelhead, we arrived home super late at night on Sunday, August 10. Our flight was at 1pm on Monday, August 11, so it was a pretty quick turnaround...but being the overly anal planner person that I am, I was already packed so that I could make sure to get my working out in prior to driving to O'Hare.

 LOVED the beautiful runs we were able to go on!
 Oh, just swimming in the ocean with leopard sharks and (gross) seals.
 Some of our favorites at the zoo. Silly elephants!
 We did a great job of indulging.
 And ordered some breakfast foods other than omelets...
 Lucky girl to call this guy my husband.
The whole purpose of the trip!

I'll let the pictures do most of the talking, but we absolutely LOVED San Diego. We kind of "let ourselves go" in terms of eating... MyFitnessPal was not used and we just acted like normal 20-somethings enjoying vacation.
Yep. Both bags full. And totally delicious.

Reality kind of set in for us when we returned home at 3:30am on Saturday, August 16. After many flight delays, this wasn't the best case since Ryan had to be at an event at 7am. We were also having photographs taken by the best photographer in the Chicagoland area, Ali Engin, at 10am. I had a 3hour bike ride planned, so headed over early to get 2 of those 3 hours in before the photo shoot.

Ali even noted in his blog recap (where you can see more awesome pics from this shoot!) that we were doing this on a busy schedule, having just arrived home at 3:30am, Ryan having to work, and then both of us going to a wedding at 4pm. It wasn't until I read it on his blog that I realized how busy our day had been. It then should have come as no surprise what happened next...

Wedding time!

After Ryan and I got home from the wedding, he wasn't feeling well. I figured we were both just exhausted from the day so didn't think much of it until he threw up. I crossed my fingers that it wasn't the flu and that I also hadn't caught it... but I wasn't so lucky. The next morning, Ryan and I woke up to ride 100miles, but neither of us made it that far. My stomach caused me to lay in bed in pain for a few hours after our morning coffee/PowerBar pre-ride breakfast. After I finally threw up, I told Ryan I was ready to go do my 100 miles.... if you are thinking in your head is Jacqui crazy? right now, that is totally acceptable and called for. 

The stubborn side of me wanted to get my 100mile ride in since school was starting on Wednesday and pushing the ride off until Monday would cost me a day of school work time. However, the newly found practical side of me realized that this 100-mile ride was kind of a big deal in terms of training, so resting and getting rid of the sickness was kind of important. I'll spare the details, but it was a good choice to rest. My nurse friend Jess told me I likely had food poisoning, not the flu, so that made me feel optimistic that I could get my 100-mile bike in on Monday.

After the 100-mile bike on Monday, I had a run following and it was amazing! I closed the last mile in a 5:55, so that indicated to both myself and Coach Jen that we were back in business and it truly was just food poisoning on Sunday. Unfortunately, the rest of the week would be very chaotic and break down my body more than ever. With teacher institute day on Wednesday and students on Thursday and Friday, I came home Friday night congested, with a sore throat, and simply exhausted.

Getting back to the whole reason for this post, Coach Jen has taught me the importance of listening to my body. I texted her bright and early this morning to let her know I was still congested, so it likely wasn't the pool's fault. She reminded me that taking a day to refresh is sometimes necessary, especially with the craziness of school starting back up for me this week. 

Even if you feel like you are superman/woman, the importance of resting cannot be stressed enough. The mind is an incredibly powerful tool: on my 100-mile bike ride, I was likely dehydrated given what my Sunday was spent doing. I know how it feels leading up to passing out, and I felt that a few times during my ride, but mentally reminded myself that drinking my fluids and eating my food would keep my body fueled and help get me through this. Outcome: I rode these 100-miles at a better speed and cadence than my last long ride. 

That being said, it is critical that we allow our minds to have breaks as well. Regardless of what you are training for, having rest days is so important so that you feel excited about what you are training for. So often, we go on auto-pilot and just stick to our training plans. This 100% described me up until this current cycle of training. I have taken more days off and "gone with the flow" more often than I ever have in my life. So far, I think I can say the results kind of speak pretty positively to the whole taking time off concept. 

Rest days, regardless of planned or not, can absolutely benefit any athlete in their long-term goals. Pushing our bodies mentally and physically is exhausting; recognizing that with a day off allows our bodies to rebuild and refocus. Adaptations to the training and improvement in performance can occur when you let your body recover properly. Plus, many injuries come from overuse, so having a day of rest can be good in terms of preventing overuse injuries. 

Rest days allow our bodies to repair, rebuild and strengthen the muscles that physically power us through our workouts. Our bodies can replenish energy stores and repair damaged tissues. Not having this time can eventually lead to overuse injuries as the body is not getting the chance to ever fully repair those damaged tissues or replenish those energy stores. 

Rest days also allow our minds to appreciate the hard work that goes into the training so that we do not risk burning out. Our minds are so powerful, but we must train them properly so that our goals can be challenging yet possible. Rest days help us refocus our minds and rebuild our bodies. 

And on that note, I'm off to ride 110miles... kidding (though that does sound much more appealing than creating lessons!).

With the school year starting, I'm hoping to blog a few times each month still (mainly because I have received some incredible feedback, so thanks to those people!). Next blog will be recapping the HyVee 5150 US Championships race to take place on August 31st. Totally out of my comfort zone racing an Olympic tri versus an Ironman or 70.3, but sometimes you have to get out of that comfort zone and just compete!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Steelhead 70.3 Recap

Coming into Steelhead, I felt much more confident than I had been going into Muncie. In my head, I was confident going into Muncie, but I didn’t really articulate that to anyone since I wasn’t sure how I’d really fare after taking off so much time (March 30 – June 12) to focus on just running. I wasn’t even sure my run would go as well as it usually does, despite focusing on only running for the past few months, because I hadn’t been biking (or swimming) much at all.

I have sent Coach Jen SO many emails to learn more about the training she’s having me do. I’ve come up with thoughts in my head, sent her questions, and she has been phenomenal about telling me the what we are doing and why. One of my main goals of working with Jen for Kona was to improve on the swim. At Kona 2013, I was happy with my run and bike, but kind of annoyed with my swim. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either, so I made sure to let Jen know that I want to shave 10 minutes or so off of my Kona swim for 2014.

We have also been working a LOT on my bike. My cadence is horrible (I’m a “grinder” versus “spinner,” which leaves most people with super tired legs come run time), so Jen has had me really focusing on that. It did help at Steelhead compared to Muncie, but I most definitely have a lot of work to still put in on the bike since that’s where I can make up the most amount of time.

Onto the race: Ryan and I drove to Benton Harbor, MI, on Friday morning to arrive in time for the 2-6pm expo. I worked the PowerBar tent with Ryan and enjoyed talking to the triathletes, especially since there were a lot of first timers. The only real downfall of this race is the lodging options: there aren’t many good, not overpriced options in the area, so we drove quite a way to get to our hotel (30+ miles).

 1981: the year Jeff and Linda Aubert met... perfect race bib!
 Just having a little snack post-expo work day.
 Can't wait for Kona's Village!
Ate here when we did this race 5 years ago!

Saturday, we left our hotel and arrived at the expo by 9am. I worked with Ryan for a little bit before taking a 10minute dip in the 64-degree Lake Michigan water. It was beautiful, I could see my hands in front of me, but MAN was it cold! I knew from my swim to expect a potentially strong current in my face the next day. I continued my pre-race routine with a 30-minute bike that left me wondering if my biking legs were still at home. Luckily, my 30-minute run with 3x2minute @ 6:20pace pickups felt really easy, so my confidence was still high at the end of the day.

Ryan’s best friend John and his girlfriend Brittany arrived around noon and the three of us eventually left to hit up Biggby, the coffee shop nearby. Brittany was racing her first ever 70.3, so we tried to keep out of the sun and hydrate as well as we could. When Ryan got done working the expo at 5pm, we headed to The Library Pub for some venison burger….only to find out that the online menu is not updated and they no longer sell venison burgers. I settled for a beer and regular burger, and it definitely hit the spot (although the cheese curds might have done that as well). We were all asleep by 9:30pm in anticipation for our exciting race the next day.

 We pretty much made the local Biggby our home.
Gotta have that burger and beer pre-race meal!

Race morning came bright and early at 3:50am (2:50 Chicago time!). We packed up our stuff and drove the 30+ miles to Benton Harbor. As one of the first arrivals, we were able to get good parking spots and just hang out for a little bit… and sip our Dunkin Donuts coffee. I’m pretty sure that’ll be a new race day routine because I felt ready to go come 7:28am!

Nutrition: I ate my banana and PBJ PowerBar at 4:30am and drank my large Dunkin by 5:50am to make sure no bathroom issues would arise. I did make sure to eat another ½ of a PBJ bar around 7am to make sure I had some quick fuel in my stomach before the swim.

We pumped our tires, filled our bottles with nutrition, and headed over to transition. After making sure everything was set up in transition, we began the lovely 1.2mile trek to the other end of the beach, where the swim would start. As we were walking, we saw the eventual female pro winner, Cait Snow, literally swim probably a ½ mile to the start of the race. She won by quite a bit, so maybe that’ll also be part of my new pre-race routine (who are we kidding…swimming more? Me?!?!).

Pre-race setup

Coach Jen had me tell her my goals for this race, and I had three pretty simple ones. (1) win my 25-29 age group, (2) place first overall female amateur, (3) sub-4:40. I knew goal (1) was doable based on previous years results, but it is always nice to set a goal that you are 100% confident you can achieve. Goal (2) would be possible if I could get close to goal (3). I knew to go sub-4:40, I’d have to be under 40minutes on the swim, around 2:35 on the bike, and under 1:25 on the run… all things in which I was confident I could do. 2:35 on the bike had been my goal at Muncie, and would have happened if I did not stop for my bathroom break. Muncie and Steelhead are supposed to be pretty similar bike courses, so I set the same 2:35 goal. The run I remembered from when I competed in Steelhead a few years back, and I was confident that it was slightly easier than Muncie so sub-1:25 was doable.

The swim—
36:25 (1:53/100m)
311th overall/71st female/15th female 25-29

I was surprisingly confident going into the swim. Despite knowing the current would be against us, I knew my swim was so much better than at Muncie after having my best ever swim at Lake in the Hills on Wednesday. I was averaging 1:3x pace for my 2.5 miles of swimming, which is beyond good for me.

I positioned myself near the front of the females 25-29, but a row behind the males 18-24 (we were all starting at the same time). I always take the inside and go as close to the buoys as possible, and today was no exception. It was strange to me to have the inside pretty much to myself until we hit the first turn buoy. I knew we would then have 8 yellow and 7 orange buoys to pass before hitting the final turn buoy to head back into shore.

The waves were enough to make a sea sick person vomit (luckily, I don’t get any sort of motion sickness). I tried my 50hard/50”easy” strategy but the waves kept lifting me up and throwing me down that it was even hard to focus on that in my head. I truly was not expecting to see a good time on my watch, but just kept reminding myself that everyone was doing the same swim! It was kind of nice to continue to pass a bunch of people who had started before me, but it also made me a little nervous for their well-being since I can’t imagine having such choppy waters for my first 70.3.

When I got out of the water, Ryan’s dad was cheering for me and asking for my time. I looked at my wrist and saw 36:xx…WHAT?!?! I swam my guts out in Muncie and swam 37:xx, so to see a low 36 about caused me to faint.

Transition 1—2:49
For T1, we ran through the sand and off to my bike. Despite registering over a month in advance, I still somehow was not placed in my age group so my rack was way at the end. I passed a ton of people just by simply running up through the sand versus walking. I quickly grabbed my bike, said a few “excuse me’s” to the people walking their bikes out of transition, was about to mount and noticed a familiar face. Brittany was hopping on her bike at the same time as me! Reason number five million why I love this girl: as I’m moving my bike to mount it, she pulls hers slightly ahead of mine and says, “YES! I’m beating Jacqui Giuliano!!” Anyone who can have that much fun during their first 70.3 is a rockstar in my book.

2:38:15 (21.23mph)
285th overall/26th female/3rd female 25-29

I was pretty focused on making sure to watch my power on the bike. My average watts from Muncie were WAY lower than what they should be for the 70.3 distance. While the whole stopping to go to the bathroom thing probably influenced it a little bit, my watts were still significantly lower than what my power test shows I am capable of. My big goal here was to hit my watts.

My 25-29 age group was the last female age group to start the race, so I focused on playing “catch the girls in front of me” rather than being annoyed at having to constantly weave in and out of riders on the bike. The first half of the bike was pretty challenging since not only was I weaving in and out, but the wind was at my face and some of the roads weren’t the best. I just kept staying positive and reminding myself that the way back would be much easier. Just before mile 20, I was finishing a climb uphill and a hand hit my butt. I was a little nervous another rider was getting close to me…and then realized it was simply Ryan giving me a good luck tap. I made sure to note where I was at 28 miles (halfway), 1:22, thanks to my Garmin bike computer, but even that was pretty discouraging since I really was hoping to be 2:35 on the bike.

At around mile 25, I had the urge to pee, just like I had at Muncie. I did practice this over the past four weeks because I am not going to let something as silly as this cost me a good race. When the time came at mile 25, I could not relax enough to actually go. Part of it was the bumpy roads, part of it was frustration with my low watts/high effort…but I knew if I didn’t get myself to go within the next few miles, I’d be suffering for the second half of the bike.

I finally relaxed enough around mile 30 to be able to pee just a little bit. This helped me pick up my watts and pass some riders. I wasn’t able to totally empty my bladder until just after mile 40 despite multiple tries, so I knew my watts and speed would be much lower with all of my constant attempts. As gross as this might be, it is part of the race and I am going to continue to work on it so that come Kona, I can get the most out of my legs on the bike.

 Just chompin' some gel blasts.
Beginning...not happy!

The last 15 miles flew by and my watts were great. I would look down at my Garmin and see over 25mph and just beam with excitement. When I raced Steelhead a few years back, it was only my second 70.3 ever and I was much more timid on the bike. It was raining, and I remember braking during the “downhills” even, and the on course photographer got a nice picture of me laughing at my memory.

Nutrition: I packed my gel bottle with 9 vanilla PowerGels, 2 scoops of Perform and water. I only finished half with my bathroom issue. I drank my aero bottle (full of water) to probably consume two full bottles, which was one less than at Muncie. Finally, I ate a PBJ PowerBar and one bag of Gel Blasts to obtain my bike nutrition.

Transition 2—3:16 (yikes!)
I knew my T2 time would be rather slow since I stopped here to go to the bathroom. I was very quick to put my bike on the rack and change into my shoes, grab my race belt and gels, but if I was going to have a strong run, I knew I needed to pee.

1:23:53 (6:24/mile pace)
Fastest female amateur split, 2nd to overall female pro winner Cait Snow
86th place overall/7th gender (6 pros beat me)/1st overall amateur female

My favorite part! I remembered a lot of this course since I had used part of it for a 20mile run one year when Ryan competed in this race. Just before you reach the 1-mile mark, there is a giant hill. I didn’t let that faze me and ran through the first mile in a 6:21. I knew right then that this might just be my day to PR. Going sub-4:40 was out of the picture with my slower bike time, but setting a new PR was still an achievable goal if I could maintain the 6:20 pace.

Miles 2 and 3 had some downhill to them, which helped push me to 6:14 and 6:07. After mile 3, you go into the Whirlpool campus area where you wind through a paved path, so I knew this mile would be a little slow.

Chicago photographer Ali Engin was here grabbing pictures of the pros, and sprinted across when he spotted me (the female pros were finishing their second loop since they had started about 30 minutes before me). He caught the best photo I have ever seen of myself running before, so just him pulling out his camera helped me to push hard on this mile (6:20).

Mile 5 consisted of exiting the campus (6:26) to go up a decent sized hill, which my body somewhat handled in a 6:32 (mile 6). We then split to either go back to the finish or head on to lap 2.

Mile 7 (6:24) and mile 8 (6:23) were similar to 2 and 3 in that they had flat or downhill portions. However, this time around, they were much more crowded so weaving while running fast was not as fun as it was on the bike!

Miles 9 (6:32) and 10 (6:35) were through the Whirlpool campus and mile 11 took us up that lovely hill again (6:41). I actually was caught off guard when I saw the mile 11 sign, since I was only thinking I was approaching mile 10! Bonus!!

I saw John around this point and he was cheering like crazy, so I just took off and really pushed the last two miles. I knew it would be downhill until the end and that there were still a few girls in sight that I could pass to potentially be the first female amateur to cross the line overall. Mile 12 flew by in a 6:16.

The last mile is one I am really proud of. There were no more girls to catch in front of me (minus one who looked super far out of sight), and I was going to have to really dig deep if I wanted to PR. My watch was not displaying the seconds at this point, so I knew my time would be under 4:45 (always a goal) but if I was to be under my PR of 4:44:38, I would really have to suffer during this last mile.

5:56. A guy that I had passed before the mile 12 aide station was gunning for me, so he was absolutely the motivation that I needed to push myself to a sub-6 final mile. I also inched closer and closer to the girl who I had thought was not within striking distance. I felt sort of bad that I would be sprinting past her right at the finish line, but I also worked really hard to potentially PR and was going to make sure I did everything I could to cross that line with a new PR.

Literally giving it everything I had

4:44:38. Yep. You read that right. SAME EXACT TIME as Muncie. To the second. I closed the last 0.1mile in a 5:32 pace, so I’m pretty sure I gave it everything I could.

While I did not come away with my sub-4:40 or new PR goal, I was ecstatic to hear from Ryan that not only was I the first overall female amateur, but both he and I placed 7th overall including the pros (meaning our performances beat some of the PROS!). I firmly believe in setting multiple goals, because each day we race is a day that we can challenge ourselves. There are things out of our control, or things we need to practice to help us get better, that will influence our race day performance, so having multiple goals leaves you feeling accomplished yet hungry for the next attempt.

 Both of us finished 7th overall including Pros! How crazy!!!
 Much deserved frozen chip something!
 THIS is our size of coffee!
Top women of the day!

 Women 25-29
SO proud!
 RyBelles was DELICIOUS!
 Congrats to the newest 70.3 conquerer, Brittany!!!
What's a post-race celebration without ice cream (and candy)?!?

My next attempt is the HyVee 5150 Olympic distance triathlon on August 31 in Iowa. Last year, my aero water bottle launched itself multiple times, contributing to my crappy attitude and poor overall race. This year, only positive thoughts and confidence will be going through my head during my last race before KONA!