Thursday, September 27, 2018

Expectations

Today was not the day I had expected it to be. And the race on Sunday isn't going to be the race I had hoped it would be since it will be missing one big, wet, 2.4 mile section of it - which is the swim portion of the Ironman. Due to heavy rain, flooding, and unsafe waters, the decision was announced today that the swim portion of Ironman Chattanooga will be cancelled this year.

It has been a tough one to swallow. And not just because my sore throat came raging back today after spending portions of the day crying. It sucks. I am disappointed. I am really, really disappointed if I am being honest. I love to swim and I had been looking forward to just getting into the water, zoning out, and doing my thing for the past few weeks. It was part of my race plan to use the swim to warm up, focus my mind, and get myself ready for the day ahead.

And more than that, I wanted to have this experience of racing an Ironman. An Ironman made up of swimming, biking, and running. I want to be a part of the group of people - not who have the label of Ironman - but who have experienced the mental and physical challenges it takes to go from one element to the other in these distances.

But that's not what my race day has given me. And that's part of how this works.

When I started training, I did so with the fact in mind that you don't know what will happen on race day. Race day is one day. But training is months and months of sacrifice, hard work, and pushing yourself beyond what you thought your limits were. One friend gave me the advice to try not to get burnt out in training and to focus on what I needed to do in order to get to the start line healthy and in one piece.

While I agree that getting to the start line healthy is the main goal - I had a different mindset. Race day is one day. One day where anything can happen - much of which can be out of your control.

I wanted to do hard, challenging, BIG things during training and wanted to toe the line already feeling accomplished and proud and like a rock star. I knew back in July that doing two 100 mile bike rides back to back on a Saturday and Sunday was not an essential part of training to be able to complete an Ironman.

I knew back in August that doing a Half Ironman distance triathlon on one day followed by an Olympic distance race the next day was not a key component of standard Ironman training.

I knew in the beginning of September that I didn't NEED to have a +8 hour / 140 mile bike day, or complete a total of NINE bike rides of 100 miles or over this summer in order to feel like I could complete the race.

I did those things because I knew that they would make me feel like a complete and total badass before race day even occurred. I did those things because I wanted this entire journey to be about doing things I had never done before, beyond just on race day itself. I did them to challenge myself. To push hard. To go beyond my limits in training, as well as in racing. To take things on with friends, support one another, grow, and become stronger. I did those things because I knew that there would be so much that I might not be able to control on September 30th so I wanted my first Ironman experience to be about more than just that day. I did those things during training because in reality, the journey can be more than the destination.

I'm disappointed. For sure. But I am so proud of myself too. And I am so thankful for the days that have led up to this point. I am so amazed at what my body has accomplished this summer and what my mind has been brave enough to attempt. I am tremendously thankful for the bonds and relationships that this journey has formed.

Will I feel like an Ironman when I cross the finish line on Sunday? I honestly am not sure. I am nervous about that and if this change in the race will change that finish line feeling that I have been craving and visualizing for so long. I am scared about the forever asterisk I will need to put on my first Ironman race experience. But I'll deal with that when I get there.

Tomorrow morning my mom and cousin fly in to come see me. Saturday my boyfriend and many, many friends head to Chattanooga to support me. Sunday I will see the smiling faces of so many people who inspire me and make my life fun and happy throughout the course. These things mean so much more to me than a finish line ever could.

And there are silver linings where ever you look. (1) I am so thankful that I was up in Chattanooga and at the athlete's briefing where the swim cancellation was first announced. It was an incredible shock, but I was able to hear all of the details first hand and be the first to know. I would have been spastic digging around for information if I had heard via Facebook or some other way. (2) With the new time trial type bike start, I'll get to start the ride within minutes of my training buddy, Gerke. We are going to have a blast. (3) Chattanooga Ironman is already unique in that the course is 4 miles longer than the traditional 140.6. - at a total of 144.6 miles. So, even with the swim getting cut - we are still racing MORE than official Ironman distance! (4) We will be a part of something unique. I think this is likely the first 142.2 distance Ironman  EVER - and that is something that is sticker/t-shirt worthy in my opinion! (5) It could be much, much worse. The race was cancelled due to safety. This is small in the grand scheme of things.

And finally, despite the fact that I said "it's only your first once!" ... for (6) in a way, I feel like next year, I will get to have this experience again. My next race will still kind of be my first! I am reminding myself that there is no rush to claim the 140.6 swim-bike-run distance. Ironman is not going anywhere. I can be patient and extend the joys and the rush experience of participating in this sport and reaching new accomplishments for a long time.

So, in recap... not what I thought the day was going to be like when I woke up this morning. But what ever is? Some of the best experiences in life are not what we first expected them to be.

On to Chatt!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

It's only your first once

Well, I am officially in taper and the big part of training is over. My next week and a half is very light, as it should be, and my race is just days away at this point. I can hardly believe it and I get very emotional and sappy when I sit down and really think about it.

The last month or so of training was truly incredible. August and the beginning of September were truly emotional highs and days and weeks I will never forget. As I entered into the last months of training, the last final builds and heavy weeks, the race started to feel real and I started for the first time to truly feel like "I am doing this!"

As the workouts got longer, and the weeks got heavier, I started to hit points that were new territory for me. Coming into this year I had very purposely hit milestones in the years before to get myself to feel ready. I had ridden a century, I had swam 3.1 miles, I had done half Ironmans and I have run marathons before. A lot of what I was doing was not super unfamiliar to me (with the exception of weekends like the double century weekend.)

Then came August. And the weekend after my birthday I hit the milestone of riding my bike "Ironman distance" for the first time of 116 miles (the distance of the Chattanooga bike course.) Labor Day weekend, I did my first 8 hour bike ride on ITL "Big Bike Day" where I rode my bike ONE HUNDRED FORTY MILES in one day. 140 miles! I had to spell that out there because there is no way to capitalize numbers.

I suddenly became so stunningly aware that I would only be hitting these firsts ONE time. Never again will I ride "Ironman distance" for the first time. Never again will I go 8 hours, what feels like an ITL Ironman right of passage, for the first time. I became SO aware and so conscious of this that it made me feel all of the emotions and feel happy and sad and nostalgic and excited and I felt like I was truly living in the moment and enjoying every step and every pedal stroke in this process.

At this point I have run 6 marathons. In a week or so I will have to start saying "I have run 6 standalone marathons" to distinguish my marathon-marathons from Ironman which includes a marathon at the end of the race. (Yes, I am aware how ridiculous this all is. Who does any of this stuff?! Don't people know you can sleep in on weekends?!) But anyways, I have done 6 marathons and each of them are special and wonderful for different reasons. Hitting milestones like going sub-4, getting a huge PR, and even just finishing, are all special and wonderful feelings... but nothing compares to running your first. You can only do your first one time.

It has been years since I ran my first 5K. Yet I can still picture that day so vividly. The training for it, what it felt like, what I did afterwards, who I celebrated with. I can tell you those exact things for each of my "first" races. I'm not a stranger to "firsts" so to say.

So I know! I know how special it was to bike those first 116 miles. I know how special it is going to be on race day and that however many Ironmans I do in the future, this one will stand out.

The long days. The people I trained with and pushed through those long days. The friends and loved ones who have supported me and talked me through all of the ups and downs. These are people that will forever be engrained in the fabric and story of my life. You don't go through an experience like these without that carving a spot for the people along with you into your being forever.

I have been feeling overly sappy and I am okay with that. I would rather feel sappy than anxious and I'm ready for what's to come and the experience of race day. Logistically, still of tons of junk to do (Ironman requires STUFF)! But mentally, I am eager for the day to be here. Taper has been tough and I have started to feel overwhelmed, anxious, tired, and just all the emotions one can possibly feel, but trying to focus on the positives and the feelings of happiness and excitement.

Just before writing this, I reread my blog entry from my first marathon. I wrote that I wore a bracelet during the race that I had bought in Nice, France on my travels before the marathon. It said "Que du bonheur" which means "Only happiness" in French. Only happiness.

That may be my new mantra for the next week. Despite whatever happens, you can only do your first once. Only happiness.


Friday, August 31, 2018

Chattanooga Preview Weekend

This past weekend, in addition to, or maybe as part of, celebrating my birthday, I went up to Chattanooga to preview the bike course of the Ironman. This was something that I wanted to do from the very beginning and is one of the benefits of training for and racing a local Ironman. I talked about it with my coach early on when I signed up and he suggested about 5 weeks out from the race would be good timing to ride the course. I actually liked the idea of it coinciding with my birthday weekend and was happy when it became an official ITL group ride and weekend in Chatt.

I celebrated my actual birthday last Friday with a long morning swim, getting together all of my gear, and a little after 5:00 p.m. heading up to Chattanooga with Jonathan and his pup, Brooks. We stopped in Rome for a birthday dinner at a dog-friendly rooftop restaurant (Harvest Moon Cafe) and I knew it was going to be a good weekend right from them. It was an awesome night, beautiful weather for a rooftop dinner, yummy food, and I felt super special.



Cupcakes didn't hurt either (Honeymoon Bakery.)


I was nervous to ride the bike course on Saturday. Not because of the distance but because of the anticipation of knowing what it would be like. I can't tell you how many times people have told me positive things about the bike course in Chattanooga. That I would love it and that it would be so much easier than anything I had been riding. It seemed like after every long ride I did where it felt hard or I struggled, someone would tell me, "Well that was way tougher than what you will be doing race day!"

Whenever I have doubted myself or struggled, I had that positive thought in my head. And as much as I love being prepared for things, I felt some anxiety around knowing FOR SURE what the course would be like. I was afraid of doing it and thinking it was hard, feeling weak, or having a bad experience on the preview day. I was scared of how that would affect me mentally in the last weeks leading up to the race if the day went poorly.

Well, spoiler alert: I loved the course. It was a great day and now I am nervous for the OPPOSITE reason... how could race day go BETTER than how I felt/did on the preview day?! It's always something, right? :)

We started bright and early Saturday morning at the St. Elmo Food City, rather than start down at Ross's Landing where the bike course would actually begin. Doing it this way misses out on a few miles of the course coming in and out of the city, but allows us to have more parking space and not have to deal with the heavy traffic later in the day.

It rained a bit as we head from the hotel to the start of the ride, which caused some panic in me, but it cleared up by the time we were loading up and getting ready. Weather was cool and crisp and perfect for a long bike ride. There was a small group of people, all of whom are doing Chattanooga Full, who were riding that day and it was fun to have together for the first time just our little IM Chatt 2018 ITL group. I wish I had taken a picture!

My friend Kevin and I decided to stick together, as we often do on the bike, and we head out feeling pretty strong from the very beginning. We took off easy, and I tried to scan everything around me, remembering everything and take it all in to bank in my memory for race day.

We rode out of town a few miles, then on to the highway. I was expecting things to look familiar from having done the Chattanooga 70.3 twice, but it wasn't exactly registering for me. It felt a little windy on the highway and it did come back to me from the 70.3 that this happened there as well, and got better after getting onto the back roads. I didn't love the road condition on the highway, it felt a bit bumpy to me, but I knew that would get better as well. Pretty soon, we turned to the right and head out on the loop portion of the course. The roads immediately become smoother and you have a great view to your right.

Kevin and I stuck together, with a few others nearby us, chatting and riding and the miles went by quickly. There are very little turns on the Chatt bike course but there is one that came at about 2 hours in. Since we didn't start at the very beginning of the course, I don't know what mile it was for actual race day, but I will use that time as a gauge. It is really the only tough climb on the course. The hill starts pretty gradual and you don't really notice you are climbing, but then gets steeper quickly and you're like, "Huh? Why do I have no momentum to push right now?" and you have to grind a little. We said to one another to make a mental note of where this climb was. All in all, it wasn't terrible though.

At the top, right as you start to gain momentum going downhill, there is a SHARP left turn on to Hog Jowl road. Following the left hand turn, you get onto the back part of the loop and I just loved it. The roads are pretty, there are lots of rollers, and it was a very enjoyable ride. I said to Gerke that it was just as pretty as Lake Logan, but minus feeling like I wanted to die. I felt strong and it was a fun part of the course.

Riding this weekend, we had wonderful SAG support with us and we stopped for the first time around 2.5 hours in. I went to the bathroom in the woods (still not sure what I am going to do on race day!) refilled on bottles, grabbed some snacks, and then was anxious to get moving again. There was a few people in our ride who are much faster than me and we all took out together after regrouping at the SAG stop. To my surprise, Kevin and I were both hanging with the fast crowd pretty well. We weren't immediately behind their wheel, but I was shocked that I felt strong and enjoyed trying to stay on their tail as we made our way in to Chickamauga.

On race day, I know that ITL will have a tent in Chickamauga and it will be a good place to ride through for a boost of energy, so I started to mentally try to visualize the support and the mindset that I would be in on race day. The 70.3 rides through this town as well, so I also knew a bit what to expect as we got closer. One thing I didn't anticipate was Kevin telling me that my back tire looked low, which I confirmed that it was REALLY low when we had to stop at a red light. 

Fortunately, as I mentioned, we had awesome SAG support so it was only a few minutes ahead where I saw Coach Adam's truck parked and I stopped to put air in my tire. It didn't seem like the tube had burst, so we thought maybe we could just manage it throughout the day without the need to fully change the tube mid-ride. With pumped up tires tires, I jumped back on my bike and started to HUSTLE to try and catch back up with my friends.

Coming out of Chickamauga there is a climb, followed by a decent descent. I figured that the fast people would get away on the climb, but I was hoping that I would be able to catch up with Kevin. The fact that I was trying to push hard to catch back up, coinciding with the climb out of Chickamauga, left me pretty out of breathe, but I was determined not to be alone for the rest of the day so probably had my best segment of climbing I ever have in my life. I want to try and channel that on race day to remind myself that I CAN push hard through climbs and still have strength for the rest of the day. I will recover from it. Especially at this section, because the uphill is then rewarded with a nice downhill. I caught up to Gerke as we came out of the downhill from Chickamauga.

From the gas station that you pass while climbing up Chickamauga hills, to the end of the road where you turn left to start your second loop (or right to go back in to Chattanooga) it is about 3.5 miles. I know that pretty well now, but more on that fact later.

I was so glad to have caught back up with Gerke. It took a little bit to register that we were back on the highway and that the left turn we had taken was the official start of our second loop. When I did realize that, it was a bit of an exciting moment. That was it! We had seen all there was to see on the course - and it was all really, really nice!  We were at about 56 miles and it felt good to know that we had seen what there was to see.

The thrill was short lived when I suddenly realized that riding had gotten extra bumpy, and it wasn't because of the not super smooth roads of the highway. I shouted that I was stopping and pulled into a ditch where I confirmed that my back tire was completely flat and needed to be changed. I called Adam in the SAG truck and he said he was on his way over to help me change it, and I started the process of taking off my tire.

I feel pretty confident that I can change the tire on my front wheel on my own, although I have never had to do that. But I was nervous about the back tire. I struggle with the gears and chains and was reluctant to do much until Adam got there. When he did, he shoo-ed Gerke away to keep riding, and helped me change my tire and put the wheel back on. Once we got it situated Adam asked me if it would be okay if he "rode me up" so that I was not riding alone on the highway. Honestly not knowing what that meant, I said "Sure!" and thought he would maybe drive right behind me for a few miles until we turned onto the back roads. Then he started loading my bike onto his rack and told me get into the back of his truck.

Wait, what?

My heart sunk a little as I realized what he meant and reluctantly climbed into the truck. I was really disappointed that I was going to miss riding part of the course, but I didn't feel like there was a better option because I didn't want to just be alone the rest of the day. The next few minutes were TERRIFYING as Adam flew down the road until we caught up to Gerke. The whole time in the truck I just kept thinking to myself, "I should be riding this. I should be riding this." but I tried to stay calm by also appreciating the humor of the fact that I was riding in the back of a pickup truck for the first time in my life, with a helmet and bike shoes on, and wind whipping around me like crazy. Gerke's reaction when we rode by and he saw me in the back of the truck was pretty priceless as well.


I felt like I had my own personal pit crew as we pulled over, grabbed my bike off the truck, and I hopped on, catching back up to my friend and starting to ride again. I am pretty sure the first words out of my mouth as I was back riding and next to Gerke were, "What does your watch say for distance???" I wanted to know how many miles I had missed. The answer was about 5.

I tried to get back in a groove, but not long after I was back to riding did did things get bumpy AGAIN. I stopped, checked again, and confirmed. Another flat.

This time Gerke just kept riding because he knew the drill at this point and I called Adam again and let him know. His reaction was the same as mine, which included a few expletives. He said he'd be right over to me but that we needed to get another tube. We quickly had a whole pit crew working for me and within minutes, Adam and other SAG, David, were with me and working to change my tire again. Jonathan and my friend Karen, were also moments away from finding me on the course, and showed up just as we finished changing the tire. I felt very special for all the support, but also bad that I was taking up so much time of all the SAG vehicles. And of course, frustrated that I was again, not riding my bike when I should be.

While changing it this time, Adam found what was causing the issue, and he felt confident that from that point on I would be good. I hopped in the car with Jonathan and Karen, while Adam took my bike and "rode me up" again to find Kevin on the route. I was in a MOOD at this point. I was so frustrated at all the time I was spending in cars, when I should be out riding my bike. I felt like I was missing out on what was supposed to be my preview of the course and I started thinking in my mind if I should change my plans for Sunday, to be able to ride the course again, since I was missing so much.

We did another pit stop when we reached Kevin, and this time before I even asked, he let me know what his watch said for distance. And I was about 10 miles behind.

I got back to riding right before the big climb before you turn to the back part of the loop. In reality, the parts on the course that I missed was best case scenario. I had ridden that part of the course before on the 70.3 and I didn't miss any of the more challenging or complex parts of the course. I was relieved by that and happy that I got to do the climb again. One of the few times in my life I was happy to be able to ride up a hill I think! Adam had let us know before we drove off that he would be stopping with everyone for a SAG stop right after the left turn onto Hog Jowl, but that we should keep riding through it.

I followed his instructions, even though everyone was there stopped and I really wanted to socialize, but also really wanted to catch up on the distance I had missed. I turned my frustration into energy and tried to push through the rollers on the back half as best I could. I knew up ahead there was one of the other few turns on the course, a sharp right, that I had noted to be careful of on the first time around because there were some pot holes and gravel right by it. I figured if I rode fast enough to that turn, then I could loop back and try to make up some additional mileage.

So I pushed through, feeling strong, getting to the turn, and looping back. I rode until I saw everyone coming, and turned back around after Gerke passed me. Apparently he had missed the memo and stopped at the SAG, so when I finally caught up to him and I shouted "Yay! We are reunited!"

The momentum of the day and adrenaline was still with me and I felt comfortable riding harder than I usually do, at a pace a little bit out of my comfort zone, but still not killing myself. Gerke knows me well enough that he saw that in me and before I even said anything else he commented, "Don't worry about me. I am good. If you want to keep hauling ass, go for it." Part of me wanted to stick to the plan to stay together, but I had a small fire lit in me and I wanted to see what I could do. I also did really want to get ahead, so that I could loop back and make up some of the distance. I had in the back of my head as a goal for the day to try to get to 116 miles and I knew that I needed to keep doing what I was doing if that was going to be at all possible.

I was riding by myself now and felt strong all the way through back to Chickamauga. I was eating my potatoes, pistachio bars, water, Gatorade, and salt. I also ate a Chocolate Chip Clif Bar and a Stinger Honey Waffle as well. Everything was just ticking and feeling good the way it was supposed to at this point. I hit a red light in Chickamauga, the same one where we had noticed the flat at the first loop, and turned back. I quickly realized that Chickamauga was not a good place to loop back because of the traffic and got stuck trying to cross the road. Then, when Gerke and a few others in our group did come through, they stopped at a SAG vehicle, so I just decided to keep going.

My second time out of Chickamauga without the adrenaline of trying to chase someone and more miles on my legs, the hills felt a bit tougher. I tried to make a mental note of how long it was and what point I needed to focus on as being the top. I pushed to the top, then down the decent, trying to remember where I could maintain speed and where there were a few bumps to watch out for. Then came back out to the end of the road, where this time, we were all planning to turn right to head back in.

Adam was parked there and I let him know that I wasn't ready to go back in yet and wanted to loop back to make up the distance. He said "Might as well, we are going to be out here until the last rider comes in and there are some people a ways back." I was right around 90 miles and on track to ride my fastest century ride yet and wanted to see how fast I could do it in. Adam had signaled me to head back up towards Chickamauga when he responded... Whereas, I was hoping to go out onto the highway, where it was flatter. Although logically it didn't make any sense since there was more traffic at this time of day and no SAG vehicles out there. So I head back the way I had come.

Up. The. Hills.

As I climbed back up the descent I had just come down, Gerke passed me going down. I felt kind of badass climbing up this route. And was also anxious about my watch. I wanted to keep going fast so that I could set a good record for my fastest century, but I was just crawling up this hill! I knew that I would have the descent back down to make up for it though.


I rode back towards Chickamauga, until I hit the gas station on the way in to town, where a police blockade had been set up since I rode through there last. I didn't feel like dealing with that, so I turned back, which made for about 7 miles round trip. When I returned to the end of the road, Adam was gone, but Jonathan and Karen there. I told them I wanted to keep riding, and not just to try to get to 100, but to get to 116. I still had that in my mind, despite having had to catch up some miles. They let me know it was 6 miles back to the Food City from the turn, filled up my Gatorade bottle, and I head back towards Chickamauga, letting them know I wanted to do the 7-mile section two more times.

I hit 100 miles at 5:44:33 - my fastest century yet, and a big jump from the week before when I had gone sub-6:00 for the first time, riding in 5:57:12. I was excited and with that feeling of having accomplished something for the day, I decided to scrap the idea of climbing these hills 2 more times and decided to turn back in after this section.

I was proud of myself for doing that repeat in and out of Chickamauga, adding a tough 14 miles to my day. It is always good to have good practice climbing, and I was excited to have had the extra practice on the descent as well. In total, I did it 4 times on Saturday, so I got pretty good at understanding where I needed to slow down and where I could build speed, all of which will help me during the race. You can see my elevation profile below, with the one major climb on the course being the highest peak you see twice. Then the one climb coming out of Chickamauga in the very middle and again 3 times at the end.


At 102.7 miles I turned right onto the highway and head back in to Food City. Eventually the highway turns into a road into the city and leads you right to where we had parked the cars. When I got to the stop light where I would have turned into the parking lot my watch read 109 miles.


I paused for a minute thinking through what I wanted to do. I knew that my friends were all waiting at the parking lot. I knew that I had ridden a significant amount for the day. I knew I hit some big milestones with my fast century, and that I had already made up the distance that I had missed from getting "ridden up." It had gotten hot out and I was feeling tired, but I also knew I was way too close to 116 to stop now.

I pulled out my phone and texted Jonathan that I was going back out. I turned off the highway onto a side road. I wanted to go out 3.5 miles then turn back and it felt like it took FOREVER. Those were the longest 3.5 miles of the day. The road was super bumpy and I started to get worried that I would get another flat, but I just kept going. I was so close. I turned back as soon as I hit 112.5 on my watch and made my way back to Food City, finally stopping my watch for the day at 116.52 miles, 6:39:03 hours of riding, and an average speed of 17.5 MPH!!!!


Honestly, I could barely believe that I had ridden that fast. That was the best ride I have done this year by a long shot. I had one four hour ride back in July that I averaged 17.8 mph but every other training ride is usually in the mid-16s. With this being so much longer and faster than my usual, I was thrilled. I don't usually like to post my speeds and times, since it is all different and relative for everyone and speed is not usually what it is about for me. But this was just exciting to me. If I did that on race day, I would have been thrilled! And now, frankly, I'm a little nervous to see if I can even repeat that!

When I finished, every other rider had already stopped and I was the last one to pull in to the parking lot. I didn't really realize it but I had ended up going further than anyone else, despite my flat tires. I was so so happy with my day and mostly so proud of myself for pushing through. I turned the momentum from what could have been a frustrating day into a positive one and it was such a fun training day all around.

Early in the season, my friends and I all did the Up the Creek bike ride and it was another day similar to this one. It was fun, I felt good, I got stronger as the day went on, it was a beautiful course. Everything just came together. I've been riding my bike enough to know that not every day is like that, so you have to appreciate the ones that are. I thought of that early season ride that was such a high, and now this late in the season ride giving me the same feeling and I was really happy to still be able to have that this far into training.

I am so thankful that my preview ride of Chattanooga was a good day. It made me excited and eager for the race and I am really looking forward to seeing what that day brings.

The rest of the weekend in Chatt was great. I was certainly tired after the ride, but I didn't feel destroyed. We went back to the hotel, where I showered and rested, and gave some cuddles to my other SAG support, Brooks, who had gotten to come hang out with us on the bike course while Jonathan was supporting. I looked through the pictures from the day, and just stared at my metrics, feeling so proud and happy.


After a little rest, we head out to meet friends for dinner at Urban Stack, a burger place I love, and then went over to go see the bicycle crit that was going on. I had never been to a crit before, and frankly didn't even know what it was, but we got to watch the end of the Pro Women's race. It consisted of doing loops along the 1 kilometer course blocked off in Downtown Chatt, over and over and over again for an hour. There was strategy to the ride as it is a team sport, and also winners given for best time on specific loops throughout the ride. It was so cool to watch and something I had never seen before!


In between the pro men and women crit racing, there was a one mile road race on the crit course titled the "Magnum Mile." That morning, there had been a 5K in Chattanooga that Jonathan and a few others from ITL participated in. It was a 5K in memory of Cameron Bean, a professional runner who had been hit and killed by a car three years earlier in Chattanooga. Cam was the college roommate of one of our ITL coaches, so it was meaningful to him and to our group to have runners at the morning 5K. That evening, the top 25 men and top 25 women from the 5K competed in a mile race under the lights during the crit. It was super cool to watch Coach Patrick compete and to see the speed on these men and women. Given that Cam was a professional runner and had many friends in that crowd... the 5K and mile bring out some fast runners!


On Sunday morning, I got up and did a 2 hour run in downtown Chatt. The run course for the Ironman is a 2 loop course and I was tempted to run a single loop of it, but instead, I just explored specific parts of the course, most importantly checking out the areas that I had had never been on. The run course for the full Ironman is very similar to the run course for the half. You run out of transition, up onto the highway for a bit, then turn on to the bike path that runs parallel but along the river. For the full, you just run further out on the highway and the bike path. I have done all of this before in other runs or races in Chatt.


The part I explored was when you cross over Veteran's bridge, for the 70.3 you do an almost immediate U-Turn and then cross over another bridge. Whereas for the full, you stay on the other side of the river for a few more miles, running through a few neighborhoods and along a golf course. I had never seen this part of the course and it is where the majority of the hills are on the route.

Some of the hills are challenging, but all doable, and it is so so pretty.



I am really glad that I ran the course and explored the parts I didn't know. I know that come race day it will be so helpful to be able to talk myself through those portions of the route.

During the run, I worked on my race day mental prep for myself a bit. First, when I was on that back section of the course, a few times while running the hills the little voice in the back of my head started saying to me, "You should just walk this. Come race day, you will probably walk this hill, so might as well do it now."

This is a voice I have been hearing quite a bit on my runs lately, which is new to me. Somehow the little evil voice in my head has become convinced that I am going to walk during the race and that this fact is inevitable. And maybe it is, who knows! But, I don't want to go into the Ironman with that idea in my mind. I want to go in with confidence and with the mindset that I am treating it like a RUN and not a run/walk. If I have to adjust due to circumstances on the day, so be it, but I am going into it that I am getting off the bike and RUNNING a marathon!

On my run I told that little voice to shut up and that I was not going to be walking on race day. That I was strong. And steady. And that I was going to be running then and I would be running now.

I also purposely did two loops of the two bridges. The first time I ran over the foot bridge heading back to Downtown Chatt, I mentally imagined myself on race day, coming over that bridge for the first time and heading out on my second loop of the run. What will be going through my head? How will I be feeling? What will I need to be telling myself? Will I see friends? Will I stop at special needs around the corner? I imagined myself going through this scenario on my first loop back over the bridge.


On the second loop back over the bridge, I imagined that it was race day and I was coming back over for the second time. This time turning to the left as I rounded the corner off the bridge, down the hill and to the finish. What will be going through my head? How will I be feeling? What will I need to be telling myself? Will I see friends? I pictured this scenario that I have pictured so many times. What the sounds, the lights, the feeling will be like. I ran down the hill towards what will be the red carpet, but this morning was just an empty street.

I imagined what it will be like the next time I was running here, just a few weeks away. It gives me chills to just think about. Tomorrow is officially September and officially race month. I can't believe it!

30 days!

Friday, August 24, 2018

31 Things That Happened in my 31st Year

Well, today is my birthday and I turn the ripe old age of 32! As far as birthdays go, 32 isn't too exciting. It is not any sort of milestone, I am not aging up, I'm just marking another year forward. My thoughts about my birthday seem to change every year, just as I do as a person. This year, my birthday brought with it some feelings of sadness, but also overall happiness and sense of peace with my life. Life is good. I have wonderful people in my life, hobbies and passions that excite me, a job that challenges me, and opportunities to learn every single day.

To celebrate my birthday today, I decided to put together a little list of 31 things that happened in my 31st year. They were things that marked this year as special and unique for me and I had fun putting this together!

#1 - I traveled to 1 new country this year, checking Poland off my list. I explored a bit on my own, learned more about the history, and got to drink some Polish vodka and try local food with some coworkers who were kind enough to show me the town.

#2 - I traveled outside of the U.S. to a number of that weren't necessarily brand new countries, but still amazing experiences. I went back to Mexico, to Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, and most recently, to Canada and an entirely new part of Canada in B.C.

#3 - I cooked my first whole bird - a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner!! Roasting a whole chicken was something that was on my "30 things to do before turning 30" list that I never got to. And this year, being my 3rd year hosting Thanksgiving dinner for my friends, I decided to take on the challenge and roast the turkey myself (in other years I bought turkey from Honey Baked.) I was SO nervous about it, made my friend Janet come over extra early to help, followed the NY Times instructions word for word, and I have to say - it was a really fun experience and I was so glad with how it came out!


#4 - I marched in the Atlanta Pride Parade! This was something that I always wanted to do. Although I have attended Pride festivals and attended parades in the past, I never actually participated in it. This year, GE had a group marching in the parade and I was happy to be able to represent as an ally and show up for support. It was a really fun (and sweaty) day with a lot of emotions for me to be a part of it.


#5 - I exceeded my expectations and ran faster than I thought possible at the Berlin Marathon. That race may just have been the race of my life. It was so well executed on my part. So fun. And I will never forget the feeling of crossing that line and seeing my time. Everything about that race was a dream for me. From the actually getting in to Berlin itself, to how well training went, to the day of... it was a perfect marathon experience and I learned so much about what I am capable of.

#6 - I started dating Jonathan. I don't like to talk about my dating life too much on the blog, but I will just say that I started dating someone that for the first time I WANT to talk about here. It has definitely been a memorable part of my 31st year!


#7 - I lost two grandparents. Growing up can be really, really hard sometimes. And this fact of life that people age and eventually leave us on this earth is one that I am still trying to figure out how to deal with. I wrote about the loss of my grandmother, but what I never mentioned was that also in March my father's father passed away as well. I have been so lucky to have grandparents in my life for so long and I appreciate that, but it is also so hard for me to accept that I only have one grandparent left.

#8 - I chased a big goal. At the age of 31, I allowed myself to dream big. I set a huge, scary, hard to vocalize goal for myself and I went after it. Hard. I gave training for a BQ everything I had and I am really proud of myself for pushing through what was definitely the hardest mental and emotional training cycle I have ever gone through.

#9 - I failed. And I don't mean that to be negative and down on myself. But I didn't reach that big goal. And that's okay and that was a learning experience for me. Year after year I had been crushing goals I set for myself and it is a part of life to miss sometimes. I was due for it and I have grown from it. You only have the opportunity to fail if you are reaching for something that is hard. Which is what this was for me.

#10 - I added something new to my race/endurance bucket list as I have started to become introduced to, learn more about, become interested in ultramarathons. I definitely think it is something I have on a "someday" list for myself. It is not a coincidence that learning about ultras came at the same time as number 6 on my list :)

#11 - I paid off my student loans! Praise be. I have been working years to pay these down and just before my birthday I made my last payment. While I am fortunate (and thankful) that my loans have not been so much of a burden as many others I know, I am still so happy to have this done with.

#12 - For the first times, I ate at The Varsity in Atlanta, I ate at Chic-Fil-A, AND tried Waffle House! These all may have a bit to do with number 6 as well, or me just becoming more of a Southerner, but I somehow had managed to avoid all of them in my first 3 years in Atlanta. Waffle House was fun for the idea of it, The Varsity's onion rings are unreal, and Chic Fil A I still have mixed feelings on. The food is good for sure, but I try to avoid fast food and this still falls under the fast food category for me. And I really feel conflicted with some of the things that their CEO supports. I made a personal pledge to donate money to GLBTA groups every time I ate there ($20/visit) and so far I have made $100 in donations!

#13 - I fell in love with and saw Hamilton!!! It was soooo good!!!

#14 - I signed up for and started training for my first Ironman. You didn't think I was going to leave this off my list, did you?!?

#15 - I was able to build my relationship more with my niece and nephews as they have gotten older, more interactive, and easier to do things like FaceTime. Jack and Bridgie are coming up on 4 and Tommy is coming up on 2 (but he is also a baby genius and the most smartest 2 year old on the planet.) I love that I can talk to them on FaceTime and have a full conversation, they remember things we did together and are learning me more, even from afar - which makes being an aunt so much fun. I just love them so much!

#16 - I went to the REAL Oktoberfest in Germany!! Ever since I first traveled to Munich (or maybe it was the first time I had beer...) I have had it on my bucket list to attend Oktoberfest in Germany. This year following the Berlin Marathon, I did, wearing lederhosen and all. It was uhhh-mazing and such a fun, cool experience. Bucket list item checked!


#17 - Made pasta from scratch! Another item missed on my 30 before 30 list, but Brick and I got it done this year. I need to find more time and energy to do this regularly (okay, for list, special occasions maybe) because it was such a sense of accomplishment and so yummy!

#18 - Experienced some of the joys of owning a dog. Okay, so this one DEFINITELY correlates with number 6. Because with spending time with Jonathan, has come spending time with his dog, Brooks. I have never been a dog owner and never really a dog person. It has been an adjustment for me at first, but Brooks is the happiest sweetest dog. I swear she is always smiling, always wants cuddles, and gets us out of the house walking around and exploring. I see how much loyalty dogs have, how much joy they bring, and how stinking smart they are as well. It has been fun to have a pup in my life a little bit.


#19 - I was featured in my first podcast! This is just a little silly one, as my friend Troy asked me to participate in his podcast he was just starting... but it was fun to have someone ask me questions about my life, be recorded, and be a part of this process. I liked it!

#20 - I did not worry about my psoriasis. For the entire age of 31, I didn't have to stress or worry or think about psoriasis. I was on my medication regularly. I have gotten better at giving myself the shots. And the whole issue was just a total non-issue for the first time in so long. It has been a blessing!

#21 - I hit 10 years with my company. Milestones are fun and this was a big one! Starting at GE at the age of 21, reaching this at 31 is a no brainer. But 10 years - wow! I got to order a gift off a random website and I ordered a Polaroid camera that came without film and I haven't been able to find the film I need yet. So, so far it's been a great 10 year work-versary gift I selected!

#22 - I learned how to knit! During the 10 days that I spent sitting at the hospital with my grandmother, my Aunt Polly taught me how to knit. I quickly became OBSESSED and bought a bunch of yarn and looms, and began knitting hats like crazy. I found a hospice center that I could donate them to, and then set my sights on blankets. I made quite a few, but have since lagged a bit. The blankets take longer to make and longer to see progress so it is a little less satisfying than just whipping out a hat in a few sittings. But, I have the skill now!! Knitting became a thing at age 31.


#23 - I attended my first real college football game at the University of Alabama!! This was on my "living in the South" bucket list and loved going out to Alabama to see a game. It felt like a cultural experience. ROLL TIDE!


#24 - I started racing my marathons in shorts. Okay, okay, I may be stretching a little here but this was a big thing for me! I did both my marathons this year in shorts, whereas before, I was way too self conscious. This is a sign of me becoming more confident with myself as a person and as a runner.

#25 - I joined the West Georgia Track Club! (Hey number 6!) I have loved expanding my network of running communities in Georgia and have met so many wonderful people through this group. They are one of the most supportive running organizations I have seen and LOVE what they bring and do for their small community in Carrollton. I may be biased, but I think this organization is pretty incredible and I am proud to be a member and wear the gear.

#26 - I went through a donut phase. Yeah, this happened. I don't know where it came from but I suddenly became OBSESSED with donuts! I had to stop myself from getting a donut near daily from Revolution Donuts down the road from me. I started following on Instagram and obsessing over every donut place in Atlanta. When I traveled, I researched all the best donut places and made us go to them. I just was HOOKED on donuts this year! Lately, I feel like I have been growing out of my donut phase. Or maybe I have just eaten so many of them that I am less enticed? I don't know, but I am glad I can go into Revolution Donuts or stop at Dunkin without an urge/need to get a donut any more!

#27 - I saw more of Georgia. Throughout 31, I was able to get out explore more of Georgia outside of Atlanta. Part of that was from spending more time in Carrollton, but also running a marathons and half marathons in different parts of Georga, running and riding in the mountains of North Georgia, and doing organized century rides that took me over miles and miles (and miles and miles) of different parts of the state. I definitely saw SO much more of Georgia than I had in other years!

#28 - I became a manager and started growing a team at work. Although I had the title of "manager
 for a few years, this was the first year I truly was managing someone and am in the process of expanding my team now. As I grow my career and get older, I love having the opportunity to work directly with people young in career. They are hungry, eager, driven, smarter than me in so many ways, and it has been a fun experience at work to become a manager.

#29 - I started re-watching all of the past seasons of Friends. Friends has always been my favorite TV show. I was obsessed with it in high school and I used to watch the DVDs over and over with my roommate in college. However, I really haven't watched a lot of the episodes as a real live adult. It is so fun to relive all the episodes and also totally see them in a different light as a person with a job, apartment, dating, relationships, etc. Friends as a 31 year old has been a totally different experience than Friends as a 14 year old! (And now a 32 year old, since I still have a couple seasons left!)

#30 -  The age of 31 was the year I wore my Yak Trax while running IN ATLANTA. Who knows if we will have more years of snowstorms in Atlanta or if I will live in the South long enough to see it if it does happen, so if not - this was the year of Yak Trax in Atlanta! I can't say I lived here during the ice storm that caused people to sleep in their offices. But I will put this on my claim to fame from here out in Atlanta weather horror stories!

#31 - This year I really started to think about purchasing a home. And let me emphasize I literally JUST mean to THINK about it. But it is something that comes across my mind and that I am considering for the future. I put this on the list because it is a distinct change for me. I always thought I would live in apartments, not "settle down" and not have to add "house stuff" to the list of things that I have to do on the weekends. Not gonna lie, I do love that I just call someone when there is a leak or the AC is broken or something needs to be fixed, and they come and do it, and there is no cost to me. But I have been thinking about a house. I have been thinking the future. This year of life was the first time that I've seen the appeal in these things and to me - that is noteworthy!

So, that's my quick summary for the day of things that happened and marked year 31 as year 31 for me. Things that I can look back and wonder "How old was I when I ran the Berlin Marathon? How old was I when I first wanted to buy a house? How old was I when I cooked for real, for real, my first Thanksgiving turkey? Oh yeah! I was 31!"

I'm excited to see what 32 has in store and am thankful for the days, health, and opportunity I have to make it the best it can be. Cheers and happy birthday to me!


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Ironman dreams... and nightmares

Well, I officially had my first Ironman nightmare two nights ago. I dreamt I was in Chattanooga, trying to prepare my transition bags and special needs bags, yet nothing I needed was anywhere in sight. I couldn’t find any of my gear or the things that I was supposed to have for the race and was in a sheer panic. I woke up sweating, jolting awake.

I think that this is some sort of milestone in Ironman training.

I hit another last week too. I'd been warned of this by some friends. But I woke up in the middle of the night HUNGRY and couldn’t fall back asleep without getting up to have a snack. Middle of the night snack time has become a thing for this level of hunger I have been on!

I'm at the point of training where everything is new. The volume is new. The tiredness is new. I'm starting to be in the real thick of it as far as training goes and the next few weeks are going to be a doozy.

On the list of new things, this past weekend I did my first brick (run immediately after a bike) after a 100 mile bike ride. I have never run after a ride this long before. On Saturday I had a 6 hour ride, which got me almost exactly to 100 miles. Running did not feel great!

Although this was my 6th century this year, of the first five, all but one were special organized rides with built in stops and the other was ITL Big Bike Day… which came with snacks, a SAG, and random chip breaks throughout the day. This was my first normal day 6 hour ride, eating only the nutrition I had brought with me for the day, and with very few stop breaks. It was my first time breaking 6 hours in a century ride this year, hitting 100 miles at 5:57:12.

It was exhausting.

Following the ride, I threw my bike onto the back of my car (and “threw” is a pretty good word… I was so happy to be off that thing!), put on my sneakers and hit the road.

I had a 30 minute run, which is not long as far as running goes, but felt like a long brick... especially when nobody else who had ridden that day was running afterwards! I was solo for my run. Those 30 minutes were a struggle and it took everything I had to get it done without walking, finishing feeling so drained. I sat in my car for a while, the last one in the Sosobee Cycling Park lot, and cried. Not a big sobbing cry, but I suddenly found myself so emotional and tears were streaming. This thing I am working towards, requires so much of my physical, mental and emotional strength on a day to day basis it is unreal.

Doing this is hard. Training is hard. It is fun! But man, is it hard. I woke up at 5:10 that morning to be out of the house at 5:40, drive an hour up to Cartersville for wheels down at 7, pushed and pulled through 6 hours of riding time... much of which was spent by myself at the back of the pack trying so hard to stay positive and just to maintain my own pace when everyone was so much faster and further ahead than me, followed by a post ride run, and another hour and half drive back to Carrollton.

Oh, and my workout that was so hard and draining? Barely a fraction of what I need to do on race day. How is possible that I need to ride my bike about an hour more, and then not just run for 30 minutes, but run a FULL marathon? It feels so overwhelming and so daunting to think about.

But back to where I started this post and my first Ironman nightmare. Well great I thought, now this race is infiltrating my sleep time! I mean, it’s always been greatly reducing my AMOUNT of sleep time given the early mornings and all the crazy things we do with time to fit in training. But now WHILE I am sleeping, Ironman is taking over there too?? Man!

Impacting my nighttime sleep with nightmares is a new thing. But I can’t tell you how many times a week I think I dream, well, daydream, about race day. It's an almost constant lately. I think about how I’ll feel. What that experience will be like. What emotions and thoughts will go through my head. It's almost always where my thought fall back to in quiet moments lately.

While I’m swimming I picture myself hopping into the river in Chattanooga, navigating around others and drafting where I can, I imagine swimming past the buoys and all my friends and family’s phones buzzing telling them that I have exited the swim and am headed to T1. As I change my clothes in the locker room at the gym after practice, I try to figure out for the millionth time if I want to do a full change or wear a tri kit for the entire day.

I picture myself on the bike. How I’ll feel. If it’ll be a good day or one of those days where I just don’t feel well on the bike and my legs don't want to move. I hope for a good day. As I drive to work I mentally walk myself through the scenario of what I will do if I get a flat tire. I remind myself of all the things that could go wrong but the various ways that I'll get through them. I think of my favorite days of biking throughout training. The moments I should channel. And I rethink my plan of snacks to have (more commonly known as "nutrition") and what special treats I want to put in special needs.

And as I am walking around... the office, into my apartment building, around the grocery store, etc. with my legs tired from whatever workout I did that morning, I think about my run. How will I feel? How much will I be able to run? How much will I be able to walk? Will I eat that chicken broth that they have along the course? Will I get to see my friends who are coming to cheer? I imagine myself running past my family, my friend, my coach, Jonathan. I think about all the times in past races I have seen my people. I smile to myself thinking how I will probably put on a good face as I run past family as I have in the past, but complain when I see Jerome. I think about everyone I just spectated in Canada and the people who looked to be having the happiest times on the run course and the people who were struggling. Which one will I be?

But more than anything else, I picture myself running through that finishers shoot. That red carpet. With cheering fans on either side, music blasting, and an announcer calling my name. Will it be light outside still? Will it be dark out? Will I cry? Will I be so focused that I run straight through or stop to hug my family and friends? More than anything, I picture that moment in my mind over and over.

In the tough moments. In the middle of the challenging workouts. When I am tired. When I am hungry. When I am scared of what race day will be like. I think of that moment. Because I will get there. No matter what, I will get there.

40 days away!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Vacation and double race weekend

The first weekend of August was another big weekend in the journey towards Ironman and in my build up towards Chattanooga. In the categories of tough training, fun times with friends, and new experiences... Lake Logan weekend was all of the above.

Lake Logan Multisport Festival is a "local" non-Ironman branded series of triathlons and multi-sport events that take place over a Saturday and Sunday in Canton, North Carolina. Over the past couple of years I have heard people talk about Lake Logan but have never done any of them. This year, early on when planning out my summer and training schedule for Chattanooga, I signed up for the Lake Logan Half Ironman. It would be my first non-Ironman branded race of this distance and my only 70.3 before Chattanooga. With the encouragement from my coach, I ALSO signed up for the Olympic or International distance race. The Half Ironman on Saturday and the International distance race on Sunday. Which is over the course of the weekend about 2.1 miles of swimming, 78 miles of biking, and 19.3 miles of running.

I signed up for them early on in my training, and then didn't think that much else about them. It is actually quite bizarre to me that I didn't think about these races all that much, considering how big each one of my three previous Half Ironmans have been in my life.

I guess as my mileage on the bike increased, the double race weekend didn't seem that much. It was "only" 78 miles of biking over two days, which is something that became quite common, if not a shorter ride, in a normal weekend. Swimming has never been a thing to cause me much concern or drain me energy wise, and given the volume I have run in previous training cycles, this all seemed doable.

In addition, I had two weeks of vacation right before Lake Logan weekend to keep my mind occupied with planning, logistics, and mental energy. In my mind, my vacation weeks would probably be lighter and I would be nice and tapered going into race weekend.

Oh vacation! Leading up to Lake Logan I had a whirlwind of a few weeks. I left on Thursday, July 19th and flew up to New  Hampshire, for my annual family vacation. It was a really fun and relaxing few days, as always, and although I got in a couple good runs and short open water swims - BUT training was not my focus at this time. I skipped a workout or two and traded that time with sitting around and chatting, having a couple beers, and filling up on all normal Ballerini family vacation treats... pasta, pizza, candy, fudge, ice cream, and verrrrry little fruits and vegetables or even water for that matter. If you're a longtime reader and curious about the family music video... I think this year's was a good one!


I flew back to Atlanta on Wednesday, July 25, in the morning and went into the office to work for a bit, went on a 2.5 hour bike ride out and back on the Silver Comet, unpacked, did laundry, repacked, and then flew out again on Thursday morning, July 26.

The next leg of my vacation was to Whistler, Canada to watch my friends compete in Ironman Canada, then on to Vancouver and Seattle. I had planned this to be my major vacation of the year, so despite the fact that I was traveling for a fitness-related activity (hello, Ironman!) and with all my regular training partners and some of the coaches... I still was in vacation mode. I again, ended up missing a couple workouts, and the ones that I got in, just felt terrible. At this point I felt like the travel, unhealthy eating, poor sleep, time zone change, and lack of hydration was catching up to me. Every run I went on felt like a major struggle, I was moving slowly, and I just lacked energy. Sharing beds and rooms with other people did not help much, the small (3 hour) time zone change still had impact, and it was also just hot hot hot. My training was not stellar while in Canada and Seattle. [You can check out a video from that trip here though!]

I flew home on Thursday, August 2nd and arrived in Atlanta in the evening, went to the grocery store, unpacked, did laundry, Friday morning went to my Masters swim workout, went into the office for a bit, then repacked and head out on the 3ish hour drive to North Carolina with my friend Joni at around 1:00 p.m. Another extremely busy and extremely tight turnaround.


One of the fun things about the weekend was that I was going up with friends. It was another trip away, as well as races. A bunch of us rented a house and there was a small group planning to race on both Saturday and Sunday.

We went out to dinner on Friday night once we arrived. We had less time than expected to get settled, and then struggled to get seated at the restaurant where we'd made a reservation. As I was catching up with people, I already started to feel a little anxious because I learned that over the past couple of weeks, people's plans had changed due to various reasons. Of the 5 us going up to race that I thought were doing both days, 3 of them were returning home on Saturday. And of the 5 of us in the house, I was the only one that was doing the run of the Half Ironman on Saturday.

You see, Lake Logan has the option to do an aquabike, which is just the swim and bike portion of the triathlon. So on Friday evening, as we ate dinner and got ready for the next day, I had a really difficult time getting my mindset right that I was going to be doing a Half Ironman the next day since everyone around me was only planning out one transition and didn't have 2ish hours of running involved in their day. Plus, I just hadn't done much mentally to get myself there either.

I started realizing that although I had been training for one, I hadn't actually done a triathlon in over a year. I hadn't put on my wet suit since Chattanooga Half the May before. The swim had been shortened that day, so I hadn't even done a full 70.3 in two years! How do I set up transition again? What parts of my body do I need to put Glide on so I don't chafe? How much nutrition and fluids do I need for 56 miles on bike then 13 miles on foot?

I didn't sleep super well the Friday night and my alarm went off way too early for my liking, but alas, we all head over to the race start from our house.

Now, it's important to mention that I wasn't technically planning to "race" these two races. At least not in the sense that I had raced Chattanooga the year before or any of my half Ironmans in the past. In talking with my coach on Friday afternoon on the drive to Lake Logan, he told me to take each day at "Ironman effort." Given that I've never actually done an Ironman, I wasn't entirely sure how to handle that, but I figured the gist of it. Steady, hard, but not all out. Something I could maintain for longer than a Half Ironman or Olympic distance. Not to finish each day completely all out.

Setting up transition was surprisingly like riding a bike (ha!) and it all came back to me pretty simply. I set up my area and squeezed into my wet suit, then head over to the start. This race warns you that the swim, which finishes by swimming through an underpass/bridge thing, gets very cold towards the finish. "Very cold" water to people in the South is different than what I consider to be very cold, so it did not concern me that much as people talked about it. Plus, the temperature change was supposedly just at the very end, so I didn't think too much of it. Using a wet suit in a lake, in the South, in August, seemed funny to me on its own.

After having to make a small correction with my swim cap color to get me into the right wave of swimmers, when they called our wave over and said we could hop into the water if we wanted to, I happily jumped right in with no concerns.


But OH MY GOSH. That water was the coldest water I have EVER been in, in my life. I immediately regretted jumping into the freezing water early and was SO wishing that I had a wet suit with sleeves. I tried to paddle around and warm up and get used to the water, but it just was not happening. There were 3 minutes until they told our wave to go and I was so terrified to put my face in the water.

When they told us to, and I put my face in and started to go... it hurt. The water hurt my face and gave me an instant brain freeze. I forced myself to just keep going and said it would get better as I got moving but it was hard to breathe and tightened your chest it was so cold, even with the wet suit.

I struggled with sighting a bit and had to stop and tread water a couple of times to re-orient myself. I tried to draft off of people but could never get caught behind others. I started catching the men who had been in the wave before me, tried to follow swimmers who seemed to look strong, and just focused on keeping my face down and swimming steady. The water did warm up a bit the further out you got, but after turning the furthest buoys and heading back in, the water got colder and colder again.

As I neared the bridge I was scared for how much colder it could possibly get and swam my frozen self to the dock as best I could. I hauled myself out on my own, and head into transition, stripping my wet suit as I did. I took my time in transition, thinking "Ironman effort, right??" and got my bike, heading out on the course, which I knew was a big hill to start.

56 miles didn't seem super intimidating given the long rides I had been doing before I went away. But I underestimated. I felt like junk the entire bike ride and I really struggled on the ride. The first 20 miles I had to go to the bathroom so badly and I thought that was what was causing me to feel uncomfortable, but even after stopping and using the porta potty, I still could barely move my legs and I felt SO uncomfortable on the saddle.

There's no need to rehash every mile. But I did not feel good. I struggled to stay positive and wanted to cry. I looked around and took in the beautiful mountains around me, tried to stay in the moment, and focus on things going well and the beauty around me... but I just wanted to be done. There were some terrible hills from miles 40-45 and they just completely zonked me. I was crawling up them. The last hill to return to the finish, I thought I might fall off my bike and was tempted to walk. I didn't understand how this possibly felt so terrible, when I had felt so strong a few weeks before. I tried to remind myself of all the tough things I had done on my bike in the past, like riding the 3 Sisters in Roswell at mile 180ish of a 200 mile weekend. But it didn't help. How was it at all possible I could do THAT but not this? 

I struggled into T2, wanting to quit, and feeling so down that I had lost all my bike fitness during my 2 weeks off from riding. My coach was there, telling me to just forget the numbers, I was doing great, and to just have fun. Him being there was such a huge help to me. I don't know if I could have done it if he weren't there. I knew all my friends were now all done and just hanging out (they all passed me on the bike, after starting in a later swim wave for the aqua-bike.) I knew I probably didn't NEED to do the full run, since at one point my coach and I discussed me just doing the aqua-bike as well. I considered asking him if I could stop or just doing one loop. But I knew that on the official results that would be a DNF and that's not something I wanted. Especially coming right back from Ironman Canada, where a number of my friends ended the day with a DNF after months of training their hearts out. Weather conditions and a tough day just shut down some of their bodies and I felt for them so badly. When I thought of that, there was no way I was taking a DNF on the official record books when my body was still moving but it was just my mind that wasn't in it.

So, I did what I could and I ran-walked the half marathon. "Ironman effort, right?" I figured that meant I could walk some, since I imagine I likely will on race day. So I walked some of the aid stops, I used the bathroom, and I took small 1-1:30 minute walk breaks at some points. It was a two loop course with 3ish miles uphill, 3ish miles downhill, two times through.

As I came in towards the finish I saw my coach, my friends, my boyfriend, all around cheering for me, and although I was not happy with how the day was going and felt disappointed in myself, that put the biggest smile on my face.


I was so happy to be done and happy to have a medal to take away with me for the day. Medals don't always mean a ton to me for races that are not goal races. But this one was important because it represented that I didn't take the DNF or drop down to aqua-bike or anything like that, even though I wanted to.

We hung around the finish a bit, took some pictures, drank some water, walked, etc. But then like the weekend of my double centuries, I knew that what I did immediately after one day would impact the next day, so I opted out of the post race beer, post race snacks, and ate my rice cakes and peanut butter and then went back to get out of the sun.


At the house, we showered and hung around a bit, which was really nice to just be off my feet. Tightness started to settle in from the day and my coach had advised me to be sure I stretched a lot and drank a lot of water (which, Jonathan was very good at helping to enforce.) I also was dealing with some major chafing issues. Turns out I did NOT remember all the places to put on body glide when wearing my wet suit and I ended up with some really bad chafing on my underarms right below my armpit. I had realized it was rubbing while I was swimming, but what could I do? As soon as I got on my bike it was hugely painful and continued to be throughout both the bike and the run. I asked every aid station on the run for vaseline but none of them had it so I just suffered through, rubbing more and more as my arms swung. The shower I took back at the house was pretty terrible and I tried my best afterwards to lube up with any form of anti-chafe anyone in the house had.

We went out for an early dinner, then the remaining people around, which was just myself, Jonathan and our friend Michelle, went back to the house for a quick hot tub dip. I was totally dreading the next day. It was such a mental trick thinking that I had to set my alarm for 4:30 AGAIN, drive to the same place AGAIN, I had to set up transition and squeeze into the wet suit AGAIN, get back in that darn cold water and deal with how uncomfortable I was on the bike yet AGAIN. It was painful to think about.

I texted my coach from the hot tub asking him to please, please tell me again all of the benefits and things I would gain by doing another triathlon the next day would be. I felt so tight, so tired, and just overall drained. I told him I didn't think I could do it.

He wrote back telling me that we both knew I could do the race the next day (aka, stop being such a brat) and that yes, it would suck and I would be tight and tired during the race. But that was the point. The point was that it was going to suck and to find a good pace when that suck happens. It wasn't to go fast but to find that zone amidst the hurt. AND that I would be surprised at how much my body could handle.

I went to bed with another 4:30 a.m. alarm set for the next day, and got up to do the same routine over again - putting more body glide on this time than the day before! My friend Michelle, along with Jonathan and I, head over to the start together - me doing my best to try and feign ignorance and pretend I didn't know how cold the water was going to be. It was the first time in my life I was dreading the swim portion of a triathlon! We got to the start, got transition set up, squeezed back into my wet suit, and went over to the race start.


I actually got into the water even earlier than the day before, hoping to acclimate myself a little. I waded around a bit before the wave start, and then once we were officially underway just went out and tried to keep my head down and swim. With International distance triathlons, the swim is barely any shorter than a Half Ironman it feels - .9 mile swim this day vs. 1.2 miles the day before. I did a slightly better job of sighting than the day before, but still feel like I didn't stick too close to the markers and probably got in some extra yardage. I was worried that my chafing under my arms would hurt but luckily, it didn't seem too noticeable once I was swimming. I felt tired and sore though, my whole body and arms felt tired and achey - a feeling I have never really had while swimming in a triathlon before.


I got myself back towards the bridge, up and out of the water, and jogged into transition. Again, taking my time - maybe even more so this time - knowing how uncomfortable I had been on the bike the day before and not wanting to get that suffering started. Now that I was out of the cold water, the bike was what I had to get through next.


I was reminded by my coach to have fun as I head out on the bike, but I immediately felt like junk again. I worked to stay positive and just get myself through it. Right away I started being passed on the bike (story of my life in triathlon.) Part of me felt a little proud when guys would pass me - which made me feel like - Ha! I at least swam faster than you! But when females my wave start passing me at my crawling pace, I felt like yelling after them "I did the half yesterday too! Just so you know!"

The course was much less climbing than the day before, thank goodness, and they didn't have the terrible section, just the big hill to get back into transition. I kept myself going through that, and felt much better on it than I did the day before (I guess 20ish less miles and a lot less elevation makes it feel a bit better on the legs!) I still came in to T2 feeling pretty down though and immediately whined to my coach as I got off my bike, "I feel like I lost ALL my bike fitness!"


It was fun getting to see Jonathan at the transition of one of my triathlons for the first time, he was taking pictures and that forced smiles on my face each time. I changed into my sneakers and head out on the run, anxious to just get the weekend over with. I was tired and my body was achey, but I started running. Just one loop of the 3 mile up, 3 mile down course to get through today. I could do this! I ran the first mile and walked an aid station during the 2nd mile, grabbing some water. I also walked from mile 2.0 to 2.1 and then told myself to screw this walking and just get the day over with. I ran the remaining 4 miles with negative splits (it was downhill the last 3 miles, so don't be too impressed) and was so thankful for the high fives and cheers from my friends as I finished. As I rounded the corner into the finisher shoot I got two words from my coach of, "Great weekend." I wasn't just finishing an International Distance triathlon, I was finishing a big training weekend.



Finishing the race, I felt really happy to be done. I felt proud of myself for completing this weekend when I doubted myself so many times and I was happy that I had run those last 4 miles of the run. It was a good feeling to get those two days under my belt and it was much harder than I anticipated. I wanted to stop so many times, and I am sure there is a lot of people that probably wouldn't have blamed me for it, but I kept going more than once thinking about my friends in Canada and their toughness that kept me going.

I had no desire to hang around this day so I immediately went and gathered together my things out of transition, packed up, and we all started to head to the car. Lake Logan weekend was a wrap.



As the adrenaline and immediate proudness from finishing wore off, I started to reflect more about the weekend and how it had gone. I had very different feelings and mixed emotions finishing this "double weekend" of racing than I did finishing my other "double weekend" of two century rides. I had been ecstatic after that weekend in early July. It had been something I was really scared of and a massive accomplishment. In comparison, after this big "double" weekend, I just felt really down.

Looking at my times, I felt disappointed. My race times were slower than when I first started doing triathlons at all. Comparing Lake Logan Half to Chattanooga Half the year before, was laughable. Even comparing the times to pre-coaching and pre-ITL, when I was riding a road bike with no aero bars, my times were slower.

After a year and half of busting my butt to get faster on the bike and the run, I was looking at my results wondering, "What happened? How can I tell myself this is progress? How can I not be disappointed with slower times? How should I be happy with this?" I went from building speed and power into my run for over a year with grueling training plans...  to being excited to have run 4 miles in a row without stopping. And have just one of those miles be under 9:00 min/mile. It felt silly to me when I stopped to think about the times to be happy about what I had just done.

In addition, looking through pictures, I felt unfit. I did not like how I looked (or had felt) in my tri kit that weekend. I didn't feel confident and I cringed at most of the pictures of me. It feels a little shameful to admit that since I want to be proud of my body for being strong and having endurance, but when I looked at pics all I saw were the rolls and that made me upset.

Logically, I know all the things to tell myself and all the things that my coach, a friend, a boyfriend, anyone would and did tell me following the weekend. First, that it was a difficult and impressive thing that I had done. It was a lot of stress on the body and many people would have likely opted to do less. I didn't, and I should be proud. And as far as comparing times to last year... it's not comparable. To start, I wasn't even "racing" these races. I wasn't peaking for them or prepping for them like I did any of the Half Ironmans I had done in the past. The course was much harder. I haven't been focused on speed this training cycle either. And I had JUST come back from 2 weeks of travel, poor eating, hydration, sleep, and time zone changes. These and so many other reasons make it just silly to compare my performance that weekend to anything in my past, but I couldn't help myself. I wished that I felt better about it, but I couldn't get there.

I also felt so tired and achey, worse than I had felt after the back-to-back century rides. I struggled to understand why I was feeling so sore when the total mileage was less and my intensity wasn't even that high for these triathlons. My mind was in a bad place and it was a lot of work to dig myself out of it.

I learned a lot from this weekend. First, I under estimated what it would be like. I got a bit cocky from having done some tough things earlier in the month and didn't think I needed to prep or prepare in the ways that I usually do for races. I didn't eat, sleep, or hydrate at all properly. I went into it, expecting it to not be as challenging as it was and I got my butt kicked.

That being said, I had a week or so of being mopey about the races and am moving on, knowing what I need to focus on and learning a lot from how I felt going into a race unprepared. I am ready to conquer the next 7ish weeks of training for Chattanooga. I have no time in my schedule to feel down on myself, just opportunity to get ready.

Coming out of that weekend, I know that I don't want to go into a race day ever again feeling like I have any regrets or thoughts of things I could have, would have, or should have done to be prepared. I want to have NO REGRETS on September 30th of how I spent these last two months of training. Not just in terms of completing the actual training and workouts, but in getting enough rest, in eating well, and being the best version of myself. Over the past couple of years I haven't just been busting my ass to become faster, but I have busted my ass to train like an athlete and to consider myself an athlete. It is what I forgot about going into Lake Logan and what I am focused on now. No more coulda, woulda, shouldas. No regrets in these last weeks of training. It is go time.

All in all, I had a great weekend in Lake Logan with my friends and my boyfriend. I loved that both Jonathan and I could get in a great weekend of training while going away together with friends. I love how supportive he is of me and that he isn't afraid to give me a hug at the end of a race when I am the grossest, sweatiest version of Katelyn there is. It was great that he was able to be at a triathlon with me for the first time, meet and spend more time with the broader triathlon community, and have more practice being my race day "sherpa" prior to Chattanooga.


I loved that I was able to spend this weekend with some of the people I have been putting in a lot of training hours with and who I will be racing with on September 30th. At the beginning of the summer we joked that we'd all be doing a lot of bonding this summer, and this weekend was one of those. Michelle, who did the aqua-bike AND the Olympic distance race, which is incredibly badass - not only did both races, but PODIUMed both days (very humbly I might add!) She was so supportive and positive about my weekend and her encouragement was so incredible. I am so thankful she was racing both days as well and I couldn't have done it without her.


I was also beyond appreciative and grateful for my coach and his support throughout the weekend. I had no idea that he was planning to be at both races but seeing him before, during, and after each one of the races made me feel so much more comfortable. At least if he was signing me up for this craziness, he was there to see me through it, right?? He really is such a supportive part of this journey for me and deals with a lot of my craziness, anxieties and near constant questions always with a smile (old pic below, because apparently we didn't take one!)


The course was absolutely beautiful. I loved the scenery of the Smoky Mountains and multiple times when just driving around, I couldn't stop myself from just commenting on how pretty it all was. It was really fun to race in a new place, with new scenery, and my first non-Ironman branded race. In addition to the medal from the Half, I came away with TWO new pairs of red triathlon themed PJ pants, TWO t-shirts, a pair of too big socks, and lots of fun memories from the weekend.

I knew at the beginning of the season that not every weekend or every training day would be the best. It's only natural. It is the tough weekends we learn and grow from and that make the end result worth it. It's the ones we don't feel good, but have to keep going, that make us stronger. Lake Logan weekend was hard mentally and physically, but I am thankful to have had that kick in the butt going into my final stretch of training. Thank you to everyone who said something positive to me about this weekend - you have no idea how much it meant. Can't wait to crush the last 7 weeks of training.

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Also, and an FYI for my future self who will probably be curious what my times were and for anyone who was interested themselves. Here are the results for the 2018 Lake Logan Half Ironman and the 2018 Lake Logan International distance triathlon. I finished in 6:31:34 and was 5/9 in my AG in the Half Ironman with a 35:49 swim, 3:34:29 bike, and 2:14:29 run. For the International, I finished in 3:00:48 and 8/11 in my AG. My swim was 28:18 (2nd in my AG!), bike was 1:25:55, and run was 1:00:38.