Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hyvee: Final US Olympic Selection Race

The trip to Des Moines couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Monday before the race, I just completed a huge week of training and was exhausted. For once, I didn’t want to fight Siri when the schedule had an easier week of pre-race tune-ups and recovery. But the race came at a bad time for Des Moines. There was flooding downtown at the race site and in various areas around the city. Many residents across Iowa and the Midwest were all dealing with flooding and much bigger issues than a triathlon. The race organizers deserve a tremendous kudos for working around the clock to find a new race venue and working hard to ensure that the race was a triathlon not a duathlon. I wasn’t too keen on doing a duathlon after my experience last year so was considering skipping the event until mid-week when the triathlon option was 50-50 and am so happy that I decided to race. And having the race be a triathlon made it easier for USAT since this race would be determining the final member of the Olympic team. I was out of the running for the team but was just excited to be there and see it all unfold for the women and men still in contention.
On Thursday, I flew into Kansas City and drove up to Des Moines not only was the price right, but it also gave me a chance for a quick visit with my Kansas cousins and aunt after the race. The only downside was the 3 hour drive through some areas; it reminded me of my Alabama drive earlier this year. I was very fortunate to get a home stay in Des Moines. My host family was amazing, and I really enjoyed getting to spend time with them and appreciate their kind hospitality. The new race site in West Des Moines was great especially considering the organizers found and designed it in less than 2 weeks. All the athletes that I talked to were so impressed with the new course and event set-up; the volunteers and race crew deserve a huge round of applause.
Friday and Saturday were uneventful just some training on the course, the race meeting, and lots of down time for stretching and relaxing. The night before the race I had a completely outrageous dream where I was in 2nd place in the swim way ahead of the front pack; this is not a likely scenario in real life. But I took it as a positive sign better than the dream where I miss the race start or forget my goggles. The race morning was beautiful not a cloud in the sky warm but not hot and a decent breeze to keep things interesting on the bike. The late start, 1:30pm for us, is tough as there are too many hours in the morning that need to be filled up before heading down to the start. Finally, race time came.
The swim was rough considering there were only 31 women in the field; I had a very aggressive person hitting me each stroke and sending me off to the left for the entire first leg. Luckily, I was able to escape her around the first buoy. The rest of the swim went okay but I finished the swim at the back of the front pack making it hard for myself to catch the front group of swimmers on the bike. In the transition, things were going great until a girl mounted right in front of me and about 20 meters before the mount line. In her defense the mount line was not clearly marked and none of the race officials were showing us where to mount. In my shock, I almost ran right into her but managed to veer off my course and came to a dead stop waiting for her to stop wobbling. I cried out but none of the officials even seemed concerned that she mounted in transition but that is racing for you. Once on the bike, I missed the girls that exited the water with me and was dismayed to see that a front pack coalesced very fast maybe a half mile into the bike; once a big group forms it isn’t as easy to catch them. I paid for my poor transition and rode the first 6 laps of the bike course solo trying desperately to catch the front pack. I was 30 seconds down the first lap and narrowed the gap on the 2nd , 3rd laps only to see it grow larger again on the 4th and 5th . Then during the 6th lap, I made up a ton of time and caught the girls at the end of the lap. It was such a huge relief to finally be with the front pack, but the damage was done . I could tell that my legs were fried from the 34K time trial. I tried to recover a bit during the last two laps on the bike and surged to the front on the last lap to be ready for any breakaways knowing that my fried legs wouldn’t respond as well as fresh ones. When I started the run, I felt exhausted immediately. I tried to focus on my cadence and do my best. I managed to hold on and felt stronger during the second half of the run. Unfortunately, I was passed just before the finish by two surging athletes and didn’t have a response; I was 12th but was only 8 seconds out of 9th as we all crossed the line within seconds of one another. Overall I was very pleased as 12th is my best world cup finish ever but definitely know that I can improve my run especially if I don’t have to time trial almost all the bike.
And it was very exciting to see Sarah Haskins and Hunter Kemper win the last two spots on the US Olympic team. They are both such talented athletes and will do an amazing job representing the US. I can’t wait to watch the games this summer and cheer on all the athletes that I know and have raced against.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

No Escaping Alcatraz for Me

Another year of disappointment at Alcatraz....last year I had a hematoma in my piriformis(aka butt) four days before the race that made it impossible for me to run.....this year I managed to cross-thread one of my bike pedals. It was just plain bad luck as I have put my pedals on my bike at least 100+ times, yet the one and only time I ever cross thread the pedal was for this race. I even biked on the pedals the day before the race for about 40 minutes and didn't notice a thing.
Sadly, the race was going great up until the pedal left my bike! I had a good swim and was the second woman out of the water only a few seconds behind Linda Gallo. Once on the bike, I charged to the lead and was winning until about 7 miles in when climbing out of the saddle my entire pedal still clipped into the shoe came out of the crank. After laying on the ground in shock for a few moments, I quickly got up and wanted to continue. The first problem was the pedal still stuck on my shoe. Some race officials helped me to take off my shoe and after a few minutes of tugging we finally got the pedal off the cleat. Then, I tried to screw the pedal into my crank, as I wanted to get back on the bike ASAP thinking I might still have a shot at the top ten. The pedal would not go back into the crank...I tried for ten minutes, a race official tried for ten minutes, another official tried, a volunteer tried, a random guy on the side of the race course tried, another random dude tried, I tried again....eventually we realized the the crank was stripped. But on the positive side, at first it appeared that I had trashed another front wheel but after fixing the skewer the wheel was fine. On the side of the road, I watched all the elite women pass me heading out on the bike course. Then about 20 minutes later watched them all pass me heading back on the bike course. After waiting on the side of the road for about an hour, I decided to one leg pedal back the start after pedaling and walking my bike up the hill back towards transition for a mile. I ran into the bike mechanic (funny how the race officials never mentioned that there was a mechanic up the road). The mechanic was able to use a tool to force the pedal back into the crank; he warned me that this would really ruin my crank but at that point I didn't care. After a brief debate in my head, I turned around and started back out on the bike course to complete the race. After losing an hour standing on the bike course, I knew my chances of placing were nil. But I love the Alcatraz course, wasn't hurt from my fall, and most of the field had already gone by me so the course wasn't too packed. I tried to use the race as a workout, enjoy every moment, and have fun racing when nothing is on the line. The run was a bit of challenge as the course is mainly single track so would sprint past slower runners then I would have to tuck in to avoid a head-on collision with an oncoming runner to wait for another gap in oncoming traffic to pass the next group of runners. It was frustrating but as I was no longer running for any place or prize money I wanted to be considerate of all the other athletes. So, I cooled my heels many times waiting for a gap and was forced to walk or jog very slowly before I could run again. The one highpoint is that I did log the fastest women's time up the sand ladder. When I finished the race, I saw Siri at the finish line and just burst into tears. All my emotions from the day just spilled out at the moment...all my disappointment and frustration at being in the lead and having it taken from me by a pointless bike mechanical error. But I am very glad that I was able to finish the race and was proud that I didn't quit. It was nice to at least finish the race this year....and it made me hungry to come back next year and go for it again. And next year I can guarantee that my pedals won't be cross-threaded.
And a special thanks to Jeff for flying out to cheer me on in the race. Sadly, he ended up having to cheer me up after the race instead. But Jeff and I did assuage my sorrows with some retail therapy at the sports basement and a delicious lunch before he headed home.

Madrid Pictures....

Scottish Cats Meet Madrid

My trip to Madrid was a blast. The city was beautiful with amazing architecture that obviously made it through WWI and II without being destroyed and has been restored meticulously. We stayed right across the street from the royal palace and gardens. The little bit of time we spent exploring the city just made me really want to go back on a "real" vacation. Not only did I love the city, but I have a great travel companion, Jenna, and really enjoyed spending time with the rest of the US contingent.
The race site was in a park in downtown Madrid; it was so rural considering its in the middle of the city. There were a few women of the night working in the park as Jenna and I saw on Thursday night during our jog but they were gone by race day. I loved the race course; the bike was challenging with a decent hill on each of the 8 laps, and the run was flat and shaded. The only bummer was that the water temperature was just under the cutoff so it was a wetsuit swim. This makes the swim much more intense as the differentiation between the slower and faster swimmers is less pronounced.
I had some nerves and only sleep a few hours the night before the race. The race didn't start as planned. I had a good swim and then right before the first buoy I was dunked by another competitor just as I was taking a breath. As a result, I started hyperventilating and stopped dead in the water trying to regain my composure. Even though I only stopped for @ 10 seconds, a sea of other swimmers swept past me. When I finally started to swim again...tentatively, I had lost the front pack and to fight my way back the rest of the first lap and second lap. Unfortunately, I didn't make up all the time I lost and started the bike in no-man's land. I biked hard to catch the front pack and after 2.5 laps finally caught the group and was able to relax and recover a bit. By that time there had already been a breakaway of 4 from the front pack so I was upset that missed the opportunity to be among those girls. I rode with the pack and during the last lap launched a small breakaway to get into transition with a small lead over the rest of the pack. I headed out of transition ahead of most of the pack and felt good right away on the run. For once, my turnover felt great and everything flowed. I felt great until the last 3K on the run and then my legs started to cramp and even my arms were cramping. I backed off a bit since the main goal was simply to finish in the top 20. I finished in 17th and was the first American finisher. I was very happy with my finish especially considering how the day started on the swim. And I know that with some nutrition adjustments I can stop cramps in the future. The only bummer is that Jenna took a spill on the bike at the bottom of the hill when she was going balls to the wall to catch the front pack. But on the plus side, we all had a great time at the post-race party.