Sunday, July 16, 2017

2017 Peachtree Road Race Recap

This year, for the second time, I celebrated Independence Day with 60,000 of my friends with a run down Peachtree Street in Atlanta. The Peachtree Road Race is the world's largest 10K and it is really an experience unlike any other. It brings out everyone I know in the running community in Atlanta and also basically just everyone IN Atlanta. Elite athletes, runners, walkers, and spectators fill the streets and it is a party from start to finish.

I ran the Peachtree Road Race in 2015, which was my first year living in Atlanta. It was a fun experience but it started to downpour in the middle of the race. I ran the second half of the race in soaking rain and thunder and lightning. Half of the start waves were held from beginning because of the weather. It was pretty miserable at the end so rather than meet up with any friends, I just immediately got myself out of Piedmont Park and connected with my family. What made the race super memorable for me in 2015 was that my dad, his wife, and my twin brothers were in Atlanta visiting that weekend and met me at the finish. It was also the race where I had set my 10K PR, which remained my stand alone 10K PR until [spoiler alert] this year's Peachtree Road Race!

2015 PTRR
A few weeks before the race, I set a goal for running this years race to break 50 minutes in the 10K, which would also set a new PR for me. When I unexpectedly hit that goal during the Chattanooga Waterfront Olympic triathlon, I needed to set a new goal for Peachtree.  I set that at running 47-ish minutes and aim to try and run around 7:30 minutes/mile. The weekend before the race, I talked to a training partner of mine, Zach, who had helped me to reach my PR in the Publix Half Marathon and we discussed running together. We'd both hit our Peachtree goals of breaking 50 during Chattanooga Waterfront and simultaneously had to set more aggressive goals for this race.

I was a bit nervous going into the race and the night before was unsure of what I would be able to accomplish. I just didn't feel like I had much in me. Part of that was tiredness from the super busy weekend I had just had - I biked my longest bike ride ever on the Saturday before of 80 miles, then immediately flew to Albany, NY that evening. I arrived late on Saturday night, went to bed, and woke up in the morning to run 10 miles, then changed and went to the wedding which kept me up WAY past my bedtime (believe it or not I managed to stay awake until 3:00 a.m.!) After not enough sleep, I was up in the morning (my body wakes up regardless of what time I go to bed), flew back to Albany, and immediately went to the race expo to pick up my bib. It was a whirlwind but so much fun and I wouldn't change a thing about it. (Wedding pics below, because, why not?)

The downside though was that by Monday evening, I was wiped and just wasn't sure what I would be able to muster up in the morning for the race.

It made me a little more nervous because I'd discussed running with another person too and was unsure how it would go if I wasn't feeling my most race ready. And on top of that, the forecast was predicting a super hot and super humid day. Not the best time to still be dehydrated from flights, drinks, and lack of sleep.

In the morning, I got up and got myself ready for the race, then left my apartment and began my "warm up" by running 1/2 mile-ish down the road to the Marta station. One of the things that is exciting to me about where I now live is that I can take the Marta for these types of events. In the past, my neighborhood was nowhere near a Marta stop, so this was pretty cool to me. I got to the train station and made my way towards Buckhead with the tons and tons of other runners all decked out in red, white and blue on the train.

I actually stayed on the train one stop longer than the mass unload of runners going to the race, getting off a bit later as I planned to meet other runners from ITL for a pre-race photo. Then, we'd all run another mile to the race start as part of the warm up. Some of the group actually turned the race into the end of their long runs in Ironman training and had run up to 12 miles before the start of the Peachtree!! Another one of our teammates was out there, walking the 6.2 miles when she was literally 9 months pregnant. She was scheduled to be induced two days later, but [spoiler alert again] ended up having the baby the very next day. Talk about no excuses! These people push me to work harder than I have before.

After some fun seeing everyone in the morning, I eventually made my way to the start corral. I was in Wave C, which is the same wave that I ran in when I did 2 years ago. For this event, it can be an accomplishment just to achieve getting into Waves A or B as they place you based on time. I have been pretty happy with being in C the past two races and this year my scheduled start time was 7:40 a.m. The way that the race staggers the starts, many waves have finished the race before some of the latter waves even start! Knowing that, and knowing how hot it gets, you can see why people like to get placed earlier. I have heard that if you are in one of the later waves, it is a completely different experience then running in the early ones due to the amount of people on the course, time of day, etc. This year I had the same feeling I did 2 years ago, where I wished I could do the race twice. First, running for time, and then a second time, stopping for food and drinks from spectators, taking pictures, and just enjoying the party!

When Zach and I met in the morning, we both approached each other and said the same exact thing to one another "I don't know how I am feeling for today." We both seemed to be feeling the exact same way, of being really unsure given the elements, but also not wanting to let the other down. We agreed to run together but just see how things go and if we needed to separate because one was feeling good or bad, just adjust as we went. I let him know what my coach had said, which was if wanted a 7:30 average at the end, to aim to be a little under 7:30 in the beginning when it was downhill, expecting to be a bit over 7:30 in the 2nd half where it was harder with the uphill.

We set the plan and were in the start corral. It was really cool to see the massive American flag hanging overhead, the National Anthem, and to see the fly-by of the fighter planes before the start of the race. We got to watch the Elite women start on the big screen TV and I had my pre-race ritual of a little dance party to get loose and warmed up. Another friend we ran with at Publix was with us at the start corral, so it was very similar to our start of the Publix Half Marathon crew!

Once we started the race, the first half mile was a lot of bobbing and weaving around people. Zach is pretty tall so I just did my best to post him and stick behind. We were both in ITL blue shirts, but the challenge with that is that on the 4th of July - so is a third of the other people out there! There are tons of spectators all throughout the course and even from the very start it is a celebration for sure.

We made our way to left side of the road and ran along that side of the road. This is a well supported race with numerous water stops on the 10K route, even starting at the very beginning. I skipped the first ones and just tried to find a steady pace that I could feel comfortable at. However, from the very start, I did not feel good. I was pushing to a point of being a bit too uncomfortable trying to keep with Zach, and trying to run a little under 7:30. I felt tired and it just was harder than I wanted it to be in the very first mile. It just felt way too hard too early.

When we hit the first mile marker we looked to one another and checked in. I said immediately to Zach when he asked how I was doing, "I don't think I have it today. It feels too hard." He suggested we try for another mile and I said sure, but immediately after that started to drop behind. I just couldn't hang at that pace. Zach started to creep ahead little by little and at one point he looked back at me and I sort of gave him the nod to just go, and he turned back and continued on.

For the majority of the next few miles, I could see Zach ahead of me but I didn't have the energy to push harder to stay with as he slowly creeped ahead. I looked at my watch to check my pace as we started the downhills and I was running right exactly at around 7:30. I knew if I was doing that on the downhill, I wouldn't expect to average that throughout the whole race with the tougher back half of the course. But just settled in to do my best for the day. I was a little beat up and disappointed with myself that I couldn't keep up and part of me wanted to just ease up completely and turn the race into a jog. However, once I settled into 7:30 for the next mile or so, I started to feel a lot better and much more comfortable. This pace I could do.

Right around 3 miles at this course, the gradual downhill turns into uphill. They call this Cardiac Hill as it is right around Piedmont Hospital and it is a doozy. I saw my friend Tisha on the course cheering, just as I was about to head up the hill and it was so great to see her. With so many of my friends on the course running, there weren't a lot of people I knew to actually look for as spectators. It was a fun and needed surprise to spot Tisha on the route! I also love that someone managed to get this photo of the moments when I made eye contact with her and went in for a high five.

I've always had a love-hate relationship with race photos. Okay, well, maybe it has been more of a hate relationship with photos. I am not a cute runner. I very rarely find a photo of myself running that I think is flattering. When the proofs come out I usually cringe clicking through the photos, most especially the ones that are captured on the down stroke of the stride when gravity and impact is just not doing pretty things to the body.

However, I have come to appreciate race photos and pictures of me running because I now focus on how strong I look or how proud I was of that moment. Is the picture below flattering of me? Absolutely not. Do I love it? Absolutely I do. I love how exhausted yet happy my face looks and how excited I am to see a friend along the course. To me it is the definition of what a well timed high five can do for you and the boost of adrenaline it can bring in a tough moment. I'm sweaty. My hair is a mess. But I know looking at it that in the moment, I was flying. I appreciate race photos and love this one in particular.

As I passed Tisha and hit the hills, I maintained my pace as best as possible - or more importantly, worked to maintain my effort level. Having run this route many times I know that there is sort of a double hill you've got to get through. You think it's done, but then it's not done. I prepared for that. And I also enjoyed the inspiration along the course. In the middle of the, you run past the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where they had many of their patients there for rehabilitation out on the route in their wheelchairs cheering and there is NO WAY that you can run by that and not get a bit choked up and push a little harder up that hill.

I regretted that I was all the way on the left side of the route and cut across the street in order to get high fives. However, with all the people on the route it would have been tough and a lot of energy. I definitely was soaking it all in though, especially after having met people over the past year who have benefit from the Shepherd Center. There was a small group of push assist athletes that were competing that morning so I was thinking of all of them as well as I ran up Cardiac Hill.

Once you get to the top, you get a little bit of relief and then the hills continue. I knew once to the 4 mile mark, I could mentally push through for 2 more miles. This part of the course I have run so many times on morning runs from Atlantic Station, it felt so comfortable to me and I knew the elevation and the turns really well. By the time I got to 17th street, I was counting down block by block, landmark by landmark, and bump by bump in the road.

Besides Tisha I had only seen one other spectator I knew along the route, which was Coach Adam, who I saw for a split second as he yelled my name. Right somewhere around this point, another thing happened, as I was getting into Midtown. By this point I had lost sight of Zach completely but I heard my name called and turned to my right where I saw Zach, heading through one of the water stations. Apparently I had caught back up to him and was passing him through this section, continuing on!

It was a tough moment for me because I had one of those split second, "What do I do?" thoughts and moments when I saw him. I was feeling good and still pushing, feeling adrenaline knowing I was through the hills and wanting to maintain it. But I also wanted to stop and check with him and see how he was doing. And even MORE SO, I wanted him to come into the finish with me. Just the week prior, my friend Rahul had encouraged me to stick with him through to the finish, which meant so much. And Zach himself had done that for me, pacing and supporting me through the finish of the Publix Half Marathon!

With some hesitation, I waved to him and kept moving, he was on the other side of the race course and at this point I was in a bit of a zone pushing myself mentally to the finish. I still feel bad about this even writing it up now. I wish I had been able to repay the favor and am not sure if I did the right thing in continuing on.

As I mentioned, when I hit 17th street, I counted down the blocks one by one to get to 10th street where it would then just be the final stretch to the finish. I checked my pace a few times and saw I was slowing into the 8s so I had no idea where my time would land but was working to give what ever last kick I had at the end. The section on 10th Street seemed to go on forever. It is deceptively long, and I had to sustain that last kick for a while. I remember seeing the sign that marked 6 miles and thought to myself, "Really!? It's not the finish yet?"

From the years before, I remembered that the finish line is just a little bit further than you think it is going to be, and true enough this year was the same. I finished out of breath and extremely hot and extremely sloshy, drenched in sweat from the tough race and hot and humid day.

When I finished I met up with friends and got to chat about everyone's races. I could literally wring my shorts out they were so drenched in liquid from the race. I would like to think it was from dumping some water on myself on the course, but mostly it was just lots of sweat. Most people I spoke to were really happy with their races, a few other PRs to go around, but nobody that I spoke to necessarily hit their exact goal for the day. Everyone was in good spirits though and it was fun to catch up with people at the designated meeting point.

I was really happy with my time and my new PR of 48:22 in the 10K. I finished 71 / 3196 in my age group and 418 / 27785 for women competing -- numbers which I think are incredibly cool as well. 418 out of 27785?! What the what?! That seems nutty! When I looked at my data from the run afterwards, my coach pointed out that my HR had gotten really high in that first mile, so me adjusting and pulling back the pace was really a smart move. I ran my mile splits at 7:15 / 7:32 / 7:29 / 8:09 / 8:00 / 7:42 and finished the last bit after 6 miles a 6:45 pace. My finish time is something I am proud of, but I was also more proud of myself that I finished the race with the thought, "I think I could do better and improve that even more."

For some people, you might think that having that thought is a negative thing. That I wasn't allowing myself to be proud of my current accomplishment, that it indicates a deeper problem that one accomplishment is never good enough and that I am addicted to the chase. However, for me, it indicates a sign of growing strength and confidence in myself and my abilities.

In the past when I have done really well in a race, I have had the thought, "That was just a fluke. I have no idea how I did that. I don't think I could ever run that time ever again." or "Welp. That was it. Might as well retire now. I have just done the best I have ever and will ever be able to do." I doubt the numbers and I assume there was some sort of error in timing that is just waiting to be announced. To be honest, I felt and feel that way a little bit about how I did in the Chattanooga Half Ironman from May. I am scared to do another half distance race, because I don't know that I could do any better than I did that day!

But for this race, the fact I finished with a new PR and thought about wanting to do even better, indicates owning my current time. No fluke. No potential timing error. No need to declare retirement in the 10K. I ran a 48:22 on a hot day and tough course because I have been working for it. And I think if I keep working, I could do even better. And I want to!

I like that I am able to see a future for myself in running, that my mind is starting to settle into accepting where I am in my running accomplishments, that I believe improvements are out there, and that I am able to vocalize these goals. These are huge mental gains for me and I am really proud of this year's Peachtree Road Race!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Chattanooga Waterfront Olympic Triathlon Race Recap

Sunday, June 25, I returned to what is apparently my favorite city to race in, Chattanooga, and competed in an Olympic distance triathlon - the Chattanooga Waterfront. I signed up for this race a couple weeks before when I was in Raleigh cheering on friends who were competing in a 70.3 race. I wanted to have another triathlon on my calendar and this was one I had heard good things about and had a good group of friends that were planning to attend. Plus, my friend Kevin offered to buy ice cream to get people to sign up. And there's not much I wouldn't do for ice cream!

I had talked it over with my coach and we built it into my schedule - with the understanding that it wouldn't be something that I really tapered for and would be essentially just a part of training. That was fine with me because I am getting to the point of all eyes on Berlin. The goal was to have a fun, no pressure race, and weekend away with friends. I ended up getting all of that and then some!

The Saturday morning before the race while I was still in Atlanta, as I finished up my workout for that day, I started to realize that although it was a no pressure, fun race, I still needed to prepare a bit and work to get my mind right. I didn't want to make the same mistake as the weekend before (when I rode the Gaps) and go into something unprepared. I did some research online about the race, the course, and what to expect.

Chattanooga Waterfront consisted of a 1.5 km swim downstream in the Tennessee River (same place I swam the past 2 years at the Chattanooga 70.3), 40 km bike ride that consisted of 2-loops out-and-back, and a 10km out-and-back run. It was a new course from years prior so I didn't have any friends to give me guidance but looking online, it seemed like a lot of the route I was actually quite familiar with due to the other races I had done there. On the way up to Chattanooga I talked to my coach and we put together a plan for the race as well. This distance is now the distance of triathlon that I am least familiar with, only ever having done one Olympic distance race, whereas I have done 3 Half Ironmans now and many sprint triathlons.  I was a little unsure of how to pace or what to expect - and essentially I decided to treat it like a longer sprint in a way. I felt comfortable with how we discussed executing and after arriving and checking out the transition areas, I felt ready to go.

I drove up on Saturday afternoon, arriving in Chattanooga around 4:30 p.m. and going straight to race check in. Although an Olympic distance race, the organizers provide the option of dropping off your bike the night before at your transition area and I opted to do that, not wanting to have to worry about my bike in the morning. Check-in went smoothly and I spent some time walking back and forth from my bike area to the various transition entrances and exits.

This race was one of the most organized and detail-oriented races I have ever done. The rows were in alphabetical order with words associated to them and I was in row "Goggles." When checking in, you got swim caps and sticker numbers for your swim cap, bike stickers, extra stickers, race number tattoos, and a great soft t-shirt. I don't usually comment about this stuff around races, but I really felt like the organizers of this race did an exceptional job putting on the event.

After checking in for the race, I stopped and checked in at my hotel, which was the same hotel that I stayed at for the 70.3 with my mom and Brick just a few weeks prior. I had really like it, it was convenient, and very spacious since I was sharing a room with 3 other people. Plus, they give you candy at check-in, so what could be bad about that?

I met up with the ITL group at 5:30 p.m. in Whole Foods for the pre-race meal and was able to connect with everyone else that was in town for the race and talk about goals and plans for the day. Since the 70.3 in Chattanooga, the river has warmed up and this race was not wet suit legal. Swimming without a wet suit is what I am more used to than not, so that didn't concern me, but for some of my friends, it was their first time swimming without that - which can be really challenging if you aren't used to it. It was nice to be able to talk with everyone and I really like the Whole Foods dinner tradition.

We added a new pit stop / tradition of going out for ice cream following Whole Foods. To be honest, I was a little nervous about whether or not it was a good idea but I reminded myself that this was a no pressure, fun race so dove right in with two scoops in a waffle cone and sprinkles. Kevin was buying so why not go all out, right? :)

Back at my hotel room, my friends and I head to bed pretty early without first some chitchat and stretching and foam rolling and prepping for the morning. I decided that this race would be a good opportunity to try something different with my nutrition so I decided to try Nuun sport. I have been drinking Nuun regularly with their regular electrolyte replacement drink and enjoy it so tried one of their sport drinks. I made up my water bottles and put together the rest of my nutrition before heading to bed.

We were up early and head over to the transition area, where I set up my things, walked the entrance/exit a few more times and then met up at the ITL tent. It was a gorgeous morning and I was excited to be there.

Next to the tent was a set of porta-potties which I knew I would need to use but eventually abandoned the line to run over and be in the group picture I saw happening in the distance. This is what we call priorities.

Instead, after walking over to the swim start (there was a bus available but we decided to walk the almost mile there) I immediately jumped into line for the bathroom with some of my friends... which we ended up standing in until immediately before we needed to start the race. There definitely were not enough bathrooms and the lines were barely creeping along. Slow lines give time for pre race pics though. And we did get there eventually!

I dropped my flip flips with friends and went to get in line for the swim. This swim start was unlike any other one that I had done before. The numbers that you were assigned as your bib would be the number that you were to enter the water and start the race. We had to submit swim times ahead of the race, and they used that to place us, trying to put the faster swimmers in the front. I couldn't remember what I put as my swim time but I was placed at 307, whereas other swimmers about my speed were seeded further ahead. I really didn't think about placement too much - there's no point in it - and it seemed like I was in the middle of the pack, which was fine with me. It was funny to see where everyone ended up though. One of our teammates was 5 and others were way in the back. My friend Lauren had boosted her time a bit when she entered it so she was actually number 67. We joked that maybe if we were lucky, our timing would work out well that I would catch up to her in the swim and we could then bike together.

They had us file one by one in line and then walk down the end of the dock and hop into the water and hang on. A race official would count to 3 between each person and every individual had their own personal start. We got in the water on the left side of the river, which was the same side that we would exit on. The last two races I had done here, we had to swim across, but this one was literally just straight down.

The swim: 21:35 (5/27 in AG)
Past result - 32:52 in last Olympic race (1500 m lake swim)

I enjoyed the start of this race and once I was off, I just got into a rhythm and kept swimming. It had dawned on me that I was going to be swimming for longer in this race than I did in my half ironman. I thought that was sort of funny and just tried to settle in. I knew I was going to be swimming a 5K in a couple of weeks and was starting to get a little nervous for that so used this as practice a bit. In swim practice, I hadn't been able to get into a groove very much lately so I just wanted to find that place of happy swimming without thinking.

As soon as I started going, my first thought was "Woah - this must be why people tell you to buy your tri kits so tight!" This was the first race I had done in 2 years without a wet suit and the first time wearing this kit in the water without a wet suit. I tend to buy my tri kits a little bit bigger because I hate feeling like I am sausaged and squeezed into them, but my top was balloon-ing out and picking up SO much water. It was distracting at first and I actually felt like my chest was falling out of my suit but eventually I just made a mental note to consider a speed suit and put it out of my mind.

I was passing people immediately in the water. I enjoy the chase so I found that a bit motivating to be continuing to just swim past person after person. I tried not to swim too hard, mentally reminding myself that I wanted to try and go hard on the bike and run and trying to remind myself that this wasn't a goal race for me. I just stayed steady and practiced my sighting and staying in a rhythm and trying to get in the zone. I would lock eyes buoy after buoy and just keep making my way down the river and under the 3 bridges.

For some reason, I guess because I was more lax about this race, I found myself continuing to crane my neck around and look for people I know. Or if I swam up next to someone, I was trying to check out their kit if I knew them. I knew Lauren was nervous about the swim and was trying to keep an eye out for her in case I did come across her. I didn't see anyone I knew in the water and eventually tried to focus on just keeping my head down and straight because my neck was bothering me a bit. I don't know why I was just looking around at everything! Even the side of the river, I was sort of checking out and eyeing. I have swam there so many times I recognized the buildings and bridges as gauges of how far I had left. It was the first time I used non-buoy landmarks to sight!

Portions of the swim I felt like I was by myself and nobody was around me, then I would swim through waves of larger groups of people. I kept passing people and swam over a few people a couple times. I could tell the current was moving pretty strong and at one of the buoys could really feel it pushing me. I swam over a guy and even when I tried to move around him, could feel the current pushing me. That was the first time I have ever experienced that!

After the 3rd bridge I started to push a little harder in my pace and put some effort behind my stroke. I tried to focus as best as possible as swimming right into the exit. As I got closer I could see the ITL tent on the lawn which was pretty fun, and used that and other buildings to help guide where I needed to go. I swam as much as I could into the exit, not stopping until my hands hit the ladder to climb out.

T1: 2:10 (8th in AG)

When in the water, I had practiced visualizing what I needed to do in transition. I lost my sunglasses in Chattanooga for the 70.3 so I just had 3 things to think about - Socks. Shoes. Helmet. Grab my bike. Go.

Running out of the water, I heard lots of people yelling my name but didn't look up at them too much because you needed to climb a set of stairs and the last thing I wanted was to trip. I did notice my friend Phil was there cheering, which was awesome! I was so surprised to see him! I am pretty sure this picture was taken the moment that I saw Phil on the side in his crutches cheering for me.

I shouted to the group asking if Lauren had come out yet. I heard Krystle's voice yell back that she had and I was happy knowing that my friend had made it out of the water (not that I had any doubt!) I also knew she was ahead of me somewhere and I wondered if there was any way that I could catch her.

Due to practicing walking the entrance and looking for row "Goggles" I found my bike pretty easily. My HR didn't seem high or anything and I felt good. However, as I was putting on my socks and shoes bent over, I reminded myself not to go up too fast as I had gotten lightheaded in my last race. I didn't have any problems and after Socks. Shoes. Helmet... it was time to go!

The Bike: 1:13:47 for 40 km, average 20 mph (7th in my AG)
Past results: 1:23:09 in last Olympic - 22 miles at 15.8 mph)

As soon as you started out on the bike course there was a first stretch of uphill. This bike course actually starts off where the run course starts on the Chattanooga 70.3 so it is a stretch I am really familiar with. The course was two loops of an out-and-back stretch on the highway, straight with no turns except for the really tight U-turns to turn around at each point.

After the short uphill stretch at the beginning, the course was relatively flat. From the beginning I didn't feel very well. My legs felt tired and I was pushing but just didn't feel strong and I felt tired. My legs felt tired from the start.

I reminded myself that it didn't really matter, that this race was just for fun and I decided to just settle in on the bike and keep pushing hard with the idea in my mind that I wanted to try and catch my friend Lauren. I thought it would be fun to bike with her and had no idea how far ahead she was, but decided to just push and see what happened. I also decided to focus on trying to spot and say hello to my friends. The good thing about an out-and-back course is that although boring, you get to see people!

The bike course was really populated and I felt like I needed to continuously pay attention to going around people, passing people, merging, avoiding the cones, etc. We were riding in the middle lane on the road, so there were orange cones to our right and then traffic driving by. A few times I drifted too far to the right with people passing and had to avoid the cones. It kept things interesting on an otherwise boring route.

I started shouting hello to everyone I saw that I knew and saying thank you to all of the volunteers. I didn't look at my watch or pay attention to my speed or anything like that.  I saw Lauren a bit before my turn first turnaround and she was enough far ahead of me and we are close enough in speed that I knew it would be super difficult to catch her. I took the sharp left turn to turn around as best I could and kept pushing on my way back.

It was easily to mentally break this route into four 10km sections since the course itself was actually broken up into those sections. On the way back the first time, I started to leap frog back and forth with an older guy in a neon aero helmet and we just kept going back and forth making comments to one another. It was fun and motivating and that latest for the entire return back and then outer portion of the next lap. I think it really helped me to keep myself pushing.

This race I had decided to try new nutrition, which I did with Nuun Active stuff. It felt fine but was a bit salty so had to drink water with it too. I had a hard time remembering to even take in nutrition because there was never a time I felt like I was coasting on the bike. Given that it was a relatively flat course, my legs were cranking the entire time and I never wanted to ease up to be able to sit up in my seat and pull out my water bottle. I thought to myself that it would be cool when I eventually get a tri bike and hydration set up that I could drink while in aero.

The second turn around was even harder because after making the sharp turn to head back on your 2nd loop you had to manage the uphill section having just had to completely lose momentum. At this point I allowed myself to stand on the bike a bit and get to the top of the hill and then settled back in to aero and playing leapfrog with my friend in the neon aero helmet.

It was a bit scary because there were two crashes on the course. One happened with the cyclist right in the middle of the road so the ambulance and medical professionals were all around and the rest of the racers had to be routed around her. One of my friends was fixing a flat tire on the side of the road, and I felt bad for him, knowing that it can mess up an otherwise really good race. I had shouted if he was okay and he said yes. I felt horrible for the person who was in the accident but also breathed a sigh of relief when I saw it was not someone I knew.

Once we turned again for the last segment back in, my aero helmet friend zipped ahead and I just pushed as much as I could to get to the finish. I looked down at my watch on the way back in, checking to see how I was doing and the first time I looked down I saw that my time was at 55-something minutes and my bike distance was around 18.5 miles. Wait, what? I had to do a double take at that and thought to myself, holy crap, I could hit 20 miles in an hour. I kept pedaling, watching my watch click away and when I hit 20 miles and was just barely under an hour of riding time I literally said out loud "holy shit!" I'd just ridden at least an hour at 20mph!

I finished up the ride, trying to not slow down until the last minute, hopped off my bike and ran into transition. I had no idea if I maintained the 20mph for the whole ride but was thrilled that I saw that for the first hour.

T2: 1:10 (7th in my AG)

I immediately saw my friend Kevin who had done the sprint hanging in transition which was sort of fun! I wish I had cheerleaders in transition at every race. I threw my bike on the rack, switched out my bike shoes for my sneakers, opting not to change my socks, took off my helmet (forgetting to do this is a fear of mine), tried to put on my race belt, fumbled with it and it fell, tried again, grabbed my visor, and started to run towards the exit.

The Run: 49:15 (11th in my AG)
(56:18 in last Olympic)

Before I even get into how I felt during the run - let me just mention the age group rankings for a minute. I felt so happy with my run following this race, and heck, I still do. I am super proud of it! This run had been a PR for me, not just in an Olympic distance triathlon, but in any standalone 10K ever! YET, I finished 11th in my age group! For every transition and the bike I was 7th or 8th, then I was 5th in the swim - yet in the run, even with it being a PR and something to me that shouted "This girl is fast!" I dropped down to 11. That tells me that there are some super speedy runners out there in my age group! My coach confirmed for me that Olympic distance races usually bring out strong swimmers and runners, since there is a smaller proportion of biking and that made sense to me. But yeah - some fast runners in this race!!

My plan for this run was to try and hang in the low 8s for my pace for the first 3 miles and then try to pick it up and give it all I had on the last 3. It was a relatively flat course yet again and I started out settling into a pace in the first mile like my coach advised. When I looked down at my watch it said 7:30-ish so I told myself to ease back just a little bit and then lock it in, which was what I did. The next couple times I looked at my watch it said 8:06 and wanted to stay right there.

I started seeing some of my faster teammates returning in from their run. Gordy, Chris, etc. and it made me so proud to be wearing the same kit as sone of these super fast people. I loved being able to cheer them on as a way to say to everyone around me "I know them!" and also push them on in their last stretches of their race.

This course continued to be super well organized with lots of water stations, Gatorade, ice, cold towels, etc. The weather was perfect and overcast and not too hot so I passed on the ice and cold towels on my way out, grabbing water and eating some Gu and taking some salt when I could. I didn't want to get overconfident given the good weather and knew I needed to maintain nutrition even though the weather was making me feel better than normal. I will say it over and over, I REALLY lucked out with good weather on races this year!

I passed one teammate, saw Coach Adam, and got to high five another all right in a row. Every time this happened it was a boost of adrenaline. There was a short hill around 2.5 miles, I passed my friend Lauren, which was so fun to cheer for her, and I hit the turnaround ready to push the last miles back in. It is such a game changer to have friends on the course. I honestly cannot tell you how much it made me smile to see Lauren on the run course after having tried to chase her all around on the bike. I was so happy and proud of her for making it through the first two parts of the race and now be in her element on the run, and I loved the out-and-back nature of this course for these reasons of being able to see my teammates and friends.

At the turnaround I told myself to hold steady until I got through the hill that I'd had to run through earlier. Steady through the hill, then I would try to turn it on.

I made it to the top and worked to push my pace. I saw Coach Adam again and he asked me how I was doing - I was surprised when I said out loud "I'm doing good!" and actually felt and meant it. I felt strong and was still firing at this point. He told me to leave it all out there, and it gave me another little burst.

Coming back through I grabbed a cold towel this time and I kept taking nutrition even though I didn't have much left. Even if it was just mental I didn't want to drop.  I had looked at my watch when I hit the 5K mark and knew that I was on pace to run close to 50 minutes if I could stay on top of it. I was close to having a PR in the 5K in the first half of the race!

With a mile left, I checked my watch again and knew I was close but I was also starting to hurt more. I made a couple short turns on the course and knew I was on the home stretch back in to the finish. I started to hear someone come up behind me and I turned and looked and saw my friend Rahul. He runs with us at track workouts and on the trails sometimes and is one of the nicest people around. I'd seen him on the bike course fixing his flat earlier and was so impressed that he had gotten through that and was now smoking it on the run!

He started to pass me and got a little ahead of me but looked back then with a nod of his head and motion with his hand, signaled for me to keep going and stick with him. I did my best to kick it up another notch and keep pushing into the finish. It was definitely giving all I had at this point to keep with him.

The last .2 miles turned into a sprint (at least for me!) and we ran through the Atlanta Triathlon Club cheer squad together and then through to the finish. It was such a cool way to finish a race and I was so grateful for him to pick me up like that and carry me through the final stretch of the race. I finished in 49:15, breaking 50 minutes on a 10K for the first time - a goal that I had had for myself in my standalone 10K I had coming up the next week! It hadn't even been a thought to try and do that on this race so I was amazed when I saw it! My mile splits on the run were 8:03 / 8:07 / 8:09 / 8:13 / 7:42 / 7:53 -- right in line with the plan I had tried to aim for. But there's no doubt that my last mile would have been a lot slower if it weren't for Rahul at the end pulling me into the finish with him!


I always doubt my watch (which is really doubting myself... something I am working on) and even though I saw my speed and time on my watch, after finishing, I immediately went to get in line to get the official print out of my times. And only then was it official what my watch said - 20mph on the bike and a sub-50 10K. Holy cow!

This race was never meant to be a goal race for me, yet the progress that I have been making and the work that I have put in showed up in the form of two major milestones. I was shocked at the sub-50 10K after having swam and biked. It was a surprise - a very pleasant one - and I think some of this progress is finally starting to sink in a bit. I am stronger than I realize. I am capable of more than I realize. My body is doing things that my mind hasn't yet computed it is able to. But it is starting to sink in that maybe I just need to figure out the right way to push myself. I'm proud of this race, the fun weekend I had with friends, and the milestones that it represented.

I can't wait to keep pushing and breaking new boundaries for myself!

Following the race we hung out a bit with the ITL crew before heading back to the hotel to pack up. The race itself was such a fun weekend away. Even without the milestones on the bike and in the run, I just had such a good time getting out of town with my friends and teammates at a low pressure event. It was nice to be way more relaxed and just enjoy everyone's company, eat ice cream, talk more, and get to know even more people in the group better.

I really like this one picture from after the race because it just feels chaotic and random, but it just feels like a photo that depicts real life to me. People talking, playing with the kids, walking around, waiting, etc. I don't know. I might be weird but I like pictures sometimes that are the outtakes to the photos we were intending to take. We don't always keep the outtakes nowadays with smart phones where we can delete everything that we don't deem to be perfect. But sometimes the candid pictures tell a story in the way that the posed ones don't and this picture just makes me smile with all that's going on in it and the little stories it tells.

Following the hotel checkout we returned for awards because some super speedy ITLers were able to take home awards, which is awesome! I snagged a couple photos of the placement from this race because I enjoyed being able to look at it from my last Olympic recap so wanted to have it included here. I now have my next race recap to work on (Peachtree Road Race!) so going to wrap up for here and have a great evening!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

My first Gaps ride - a lesson in anxiety

This past weekend I went on one of the toughest bike rides I have done yet. For the first time, I got out to what is referred to as "The Gaps" which is a series of six climbs or "Gaps" in the mountains in North Georgia. Going into the weekend, I really didn't know anything about the Gaps besides that it was a super challenging place to go ride your bike up and down mountains - and, in my mind, it felt like you weren't a real triathlete or cyclists in the area unless you have ridden the Gaps. I've seen SO many pictures and stories of people riding the Gaps and I really wanted to be a part of it and experience it for myself.

I had to miss the last group ride that my training group did so this past weekend was my first time going. Despite the fact that I don't have any real goal triathlons on my schedule for the year, one of my goals for the season is to continue to get stronger on the bike. I want to become a better cyclist and keep trying new things, pushing myself, and getting stronger and faster on the bike. I was excited for the group ride to the Gaps and looking forward to my first time attempting this ride. I had gotten my first taste of riding in the mountains when I did one climb during the 3 State 3 Mountain bike ride in May, which was tough, but doable. I expected similar going to the Gaps.

In TrainingPeaks, where my coach gives me my workouts, for Saturday he had just written "Bike at Gaps" and that was really it. I knew from talking to others that some people had 4:00 hours of riding planned vs. 5:00 hours or 6:00 hours. Because of this, I assumed that it would be similar to any of our group bike rides and there would be options of how far I could go or how many Gaps to ride. I figured I would just figure it out depending on how I was feeling. I really had no idea what to expect.

Going into the ride, I was looking forward to it and mostly was nervous about the logistics of getting out there and back, which took my mind off of worrying about what exactly would happen at the ride in the days leading up to it. Maybe there was a bit of naiveness in me as well. I just wanted to be doing what everyone else was doing and was just excited to get out there and give this Gaps thing a go. So I didn't mental prep much.

The night before as I started to pack my bag and plan out the day, I started to realize how unprepared I was. I talked to my coach and spoke with a few friends but I didn't really articulate well what I was thinking or ask the right questions. But then I couldn't fall asleep feeling uneasy and anxious about the whole thing.

I drove up to the Gaps with my coach and two other athletes that he trained who are both doing Ironman Lake Placid. They have all been doing a lot of climbing in preparation and I knew had all ridden at the Gaps recently. It was early super early while we were in the car and my nerves were still with me, but I wasn't in major freakout mode or anything. Based on our conversation in the car, I still had in my head that I would be able to choose how far or how long I would be able to ride - and then I could hang out for a while as others finished longer rides! I also knew that my coach likes to stay with the newer people and had heard only the best things about the support he gave others their first times riding at the Gaps. I sort of figured that I would be with him or nearby to him throughout the day to be able to ask questions. And due to our how group usually does rides in general, I assumed we'd all be together.

We got up to the meeting point and all started gathering our gear together and getting ready. It seemed like it was going to be a beautiful day and it was a bit chilly when we arrived which is great when you are about to start a long bike ride. Jerome knew that I wanted to document my first Gaps ride and we'd even stopped to take a picture, I was feeling nervous but not really anxious.

For me, anxious and nervous are different things. I have struggled with anxiety my whole life. I remember being a little kid and feeling anxious and not knowing what it was and being afraid to tell anyone - I was anxious about being anxious even! Throughout college and the years after college, I struggled with anxiety and panic attacks. My worst ever panic attack took place a few years after college on my birthday that actually ended with me leaving work in an ambulance. It was awful and I was out of work for a week with anxiety unable to leave the house. I spent many years on medication for my anxiety and it's been something that I continue to work through as an adult.

I react differently to anxiety vs. nerves. If, for example, I am nervous about a big presentation for work - I will seek out advice and guidance and practice and prep. Whereas if I am feeling anxious - it hits me physically and I am more apt to retreat, withdraw, become really quiet, and cry.

In recent years I have become much better about managing my anxiety and honestly, sports have been a huge part of that. I do not have panic attacks in the same way, I no longer take medication for anxiety, I have become so much better at managing it and working through anxiety when it comes along but sometimes it is still a struggle.

So return to the bike ride. As we arrived at the ride, I was feeling nervous with a mix of a little bit of anxiety, which probably caused me to be quieter than I usually am. In hindsight, I also realize how much I didn't even know to ask. I could have used the car ride to ask things that would have made my day go by differently but I didn't even know the questions to ask.

Part of me also did not want to be too needy. I was riding up with two people who were doing Lake Placid, who this training ride was for! I felt like I was very much tagging along. My big triathlon race is past, so I felt like I needed to give other people their time to get support and coaching and just be quiet.

When we were all ready to head out, we got together to have the route explained a bit. Not knowing what any of the Gaps were named or what they meant, the overview of where we would be riding did not mean much to me. I had no idea the names or distances or levels of intensity of each of these so it began to overwhelm me a bit as we walked through what we'd be doing.

It also hit me that we were all going to be riding the same thing - there were no options for shorter rides and we'd all be going the same route! My anxiety definitely started to creep up a bit more because I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. How long, how far. I knew nothing. Just that we were doing 5 Gaps and I didn't even know what that meant.

I had planned to stick together on the ride with my friend Lauren who I have a lot of fun with and our paces are around the same. We also have similar mindsets around a lot of things and I was really thankful that she had suggested we ride together, even though she is stronger than me on climbs.

The first of the climbs was pretty uneventful. Lauren and I stuck together and for a portion of it were with a few other girls we ride with, which made it fun, and I got to the top feeling pretty good.  Lauren got ahead of me on the climb as expected but then I caught her on the downhill. The descent didn't bother me at all either, I enjoyed it, but was careful to brake and take the turns very easy. When we got to the bottom, I said to Lauren that I didn't think it was too bad and asked if all of them were like that. She said no. Definitely not.

Our next climb was a bit more challenging, made more difficult by the fact that for a portion of it we were unsure of where we were going. I am so used to riding marked routes and places familiar to me, so the idea of getting lost hasn't been a big concern of mine recently. Our group usually rides by looping back at different points so I am very rarely alone on the bike. However, for a large stretch, Lauren and I were just by ourselves. When I heard of people riding the Gaps before, it seemed like they are usually somewhat together. I felt SO alone being out there and not seeing anyone in front or behind us. We were happy to have the fact we were going in the right direction confirmed by our coach Adam driving by in the support truck.

I was glad that we hadn't made the decision to back because we were already started up the second climb. It began a bit more gradual than the first but got more intense. Some of the other riders in our group turned back, which was amazing since we hadn't seen anyone in a while. Again, Lauren got ahead of me on the climb, but then at the top the group was all waiting and we regrouped. I was thankful for the ability to pause, take a break, refill my water and Gatorade bottles, and have something to eat. I was already feeling hungry and starting to worry that I wasn't going to have enough food with me. These climbs were tiring and at this point I was 1:30 hours in but running through my nutrition. Not having any idea how we long we'd be out there, I wasn't even sure if I had brought enough.

As we made our way up the second climb, I started to lose my head a bit. How long is this climb going to last? Why are we all so spread out? How come nobody gave us better information of what the route is? How hard are these hills going to get? What do I even expect for the rest of the day? How long are we even going to be out here? If I eat through all my food right now am I going to be screwed?

I didn't socialize too much at the top of the second climb. I confided in a couple of people that I was feeling anxious but beyond that didn't talk much as I didn't want to cry. Even when my coach, Jerome, asked me how I was doing, I gave a sort of flippant answer. I knew he could tell that was not how I really felt but we also didn't really get into it.

The decent of the second Gap was really fun. I tried to take my mind off of my negative feelings by enjoying the downhill as much as possible. I let myself go fast and reached my fastest speed of the day at one point (possibly ever) hitting 40 mph on the bike according to my watch. I knew I was getting a lead on Lauren which I felt bad about though. Once the descent leveled out, I tried to slow down to let Lauren catch and I considered stopping.  However, it turned out to not be too long before I was climbing our 3rd Gap and I was going slow NOT on purpose. 

Lauren and others passed me on the uphill of the 3rd Gap, which I later learned is called Unicoi. The first was Wolf Pen and the second was Jack's Gap. While climbing, my frustration around my lack of knowledge of how long the climbs would be started to build and build. It was tough, people were passing me, and I had no idea how long it was going to last. The unknown of the whole thing made me feel very anxious and I started to cry.

I do much better when I have a plan. I like to know what to expect as much as possible in life, but also in this sport, because it is something that I tend to feel very unconfident in. So being prepared makes me feel better. I did the same Half Ironman a 2nd time specifically so that I would know what to expect. I study course maps for major races and write myself mental notes of where the hills or tough stretches are going to be so I know how to pace and plan.

Knowing what to expect helps me to mentally talk myself through the tough parts. I plan out what my mantras will be and break up the course into pieces by chunks of time or distance. Even when I don't know an exact route, everything I do is always with a set distance or time and I am able to use that as a way to self talk and motivate myself. "Only 1 hour left" or "More than half way through the distance - just have to get myself home." Or I tell myself "If you can just get through this one section of hills, the rest will be fine." 

For this ride, I had no idea how to self talk my way through the really difficult climbs because I had NO IDEA. I didn't know long each of the Gaps were. I didn't know how much distance was in between them. If the next one coming would be longer or steeper than the last. I didn't know if I would be out riding my bike for 4:00 hours or 6:00 hours. I didn't know how many miles we would be covering in total or what the total elevation gain would be. I didn't know ANYTHING and this lack of knowledge was building and building my anxiety, even during the ride. Which was what led me to be crying on my bike.

A couple of the guys turned around at the top, which I appreciated when people turned back, not only for the company and support, because I knew that when I started seeing people coming back I must be somewhat close to the top.  One of them asked how I was doing and when I said I was feeling anxious because of the unknown, he replied it was good training because you don't know what you will happen on race day. But I disagreed! I do know what to expect for races! 56 miles! And they publish the elevation maps! I can prepare for that!

I felt so unprepared mentally for what was going to come. And plus, riding the Gaps was hard! It was tiring! My energy was going to keeping my legs moving, not holding back tears. I was scared for how much harder it was going to get and I had no idea how to mentally prepare myself. 

At the top of Unicoi I went up to Lauren and I started to cry again. I was embarrassed but I was just really feeling so anxious and didn't know what to do. I didn't want anyone to see me so I stuck just with her and explained how I was feeling. She was so calm and understanding, letting me know that she felt the same exact way the first time she rode here. She suggested calling over Jerome but I told her not to. I didn't want him to see me crying. I was embarrassed as well that I was breaking down as the ITL motto is "Be tough." And as I mentioned, when I feel anxious, I tend to withdraw and shut down vs. seek out help.

I worked to get myself together and then started the descent down. Again, wanting to distract myself from how I was feeling, I went fast which gave me an adrenaline boost. I just wanted to out-bike the way I was feeling. I knew when I got to the bottom that I had gotten down faster than Lauren. I was mentally in a rough spot and was retreating into my own anxiousness. I kept going, but Lauren caught up to me after a little and the first thing she said was "Man, I've been busting my butt to catch up to you. You could use the brakes on the downhill you know!" 

This made me smile and woke me up from my funk. In addition to making me laugh, she also made me realize that I was not alone. Even though I was having a rough day, she still wanted to ride with me and and was fighting to catch up with me when I wasn't being a very good friend by giving anything back in support. 

The next portion of the ride was fun and enjoyable with Lauren. Before we'd taken off from Unicoi, one of the coaches said that it would be 1:30-ish hours of rollers before the next Gap. This wasn't exactly the level of detail that I wanted, but it was something. It was still tough and we joked the rollers felt more like "mini Gaps" but we laughed and talked through it. I was so thankful to have her to ride with. There were some beautiful stretches of smooth road and it couldn't have come at a better time for me mentally.

Lauren and I stuck right together, even getting some company for a bit when one of the guys turned back for us. We rode for a bit on a stretch of busier road as well, which distracted from thinking about being tired or anxious of what was to come because I was really concentrating on being in the moment and staying safe. There were some really rude drivers out there and we got honked at multiple times by trucks and sped past by people in flashy cars flying by.

After a good amount of road that allowed me to regain myself a bit, we started the climb up the 4th Gap. Lauren got ahead of me right away and I paused towards the beginning to refill my water. Our coach Adam, who was driving around all day supporting us, was stopped and asked if I wanted any water. I did, because I was continuing to fly through all of my nutrition and liquid. He said to stop for water if I needed it because this was a "long climb." I tried to take water on the move, but couldn't, so paused to refill my water, dump some on me (it was hot at this point!) and then settled in for a climb that I now knew to be "the long one." After stopping, it took me a number of tries to get going on my bike as starting a bike ride uphill is always difficult. I was happy I could even get the momentum to get going again at all. 

Finally I was moving again and just started to climb, climb, climb. I was in a better mental state than I was up the last one, if I am being honest. Knowing at the bare minimum that it was "long" allowed me to settle into that a bit mentally. I also realized that I was strong enough to switch around the gears at some points. I didn't need to always be in my lowest gear and by using my gears more, even if just switching to the 2nd to lowest gear for a tiny bit of time when the elevation changed or when rounding a corner, it helped break things up. Lauren and another woman ride were in my far distant view so I tried to keep them there! I thought at one point in time I was making gains on them but it was never enough. I was just climbing and climbing and climbing for what felt like forever. 

This was a pretty windy stretch of road and there were a good amount of cars driving by, but even scarier were the motorcyclists who would rev their engines and scare the crap out of me as I was just riding by myself.

It felt like this thing went on forever and although I knew it was long, I was starting to get very tired of it at the end and it was really wearing on me. I was nervous I wouldn't be able to make it at some points. One other guy in our group, I did catch on the climb, as he was taking breaks every here and there. I knew I wouldn't be able to start if I stopped, so just continuing on was the only option but I was getting weary. Very weary. As I turned a couple corners and saw that there was still just more climbing, I may have cursed out loud a few times.

Eventually, I saw the most glorious sight of one of the ITL riders coming back down. One of the girls who was doing this ride for the second day in a row (!!!) had turned around at where I was and rode with me for a bit, asking how I was doing. I told her miserable and she distracted me for a bit talking about plans for the evening and telling me I was almost there. I was so thankful for her to come back right at the point where I was starting to really crack. The distraction was just what I needed to finish it off and get to the top of that thing. Right as we got over the crest, she said to me "Great job! You've done 4 of the 5, now you've got just one left!" After brief excitement of getting to the top, I was right back to thinking I had no idea how I was going to do another one!

I hung out at the top of this Gap, which I now know is called Neel's Gap and is a bit under an 8 mile climb that I think took me a little under an hour. AN HOUR. An HOUR of straight climbing. Shit. Lauren let me know she had nothing left to give for support because she was struggling too.

At this point I dove into the snacks in our support truck, eating a ton of potato chips, my second Clif bar, and also refilling water and Gatorade. We waited at the top until everyone made it up there and my coach Jerome arrived with the last person. He asked me again how I was doing and I started to cry again. I let him know I was struggling and how the unknown was getting to me. He let me know that he wished he'd known earlier because he could have let me know what the climbs would be like. He said that there was only one more left and it was just a short 3 mile climb and assured me I would be able to do it. I said I didn't know I could and he told me again that yes, I could do it.

He also did something that really means a lot to me looking back. The whole time going into this ride, I had the picture in my head I wanted to take. I had seen everyone's pictures from the Gaps and I wanted my own. Beautiful scenery. Looking accomplished and strong. Standing proudly next to my bike. I wanted that victory photo!

I was feeling not very victorious, not accomplished, or strong, but more weak and broken and tired and embarrassed at the top of Neel's. But Jerome made me go over and made me take a picture in front of the scenery. He knew it was important to me and insisted it happen. It is basically the most awkward photo of all time but I am glad that I have it and it meant so much to me that Jerome knew it was important to me, as silly as it was, and insisted it happen.

Oh, and yeah, I didn't mention that our helmet hair was pretty much out of this world. I think the sight of Jerome's helmet head mohawk made my smile a little more real in this one.

By the time we finished talking, the majority of the group had taken off, so I got directions and hopped on my bike to descend. I tried to go fast, wanting to catch up to Lauren and the group if possible, but also being careful and not reckless. I knew I was tired at this point and there were still a lot of cars and motorcycles.

When I started the last climb, I had a different mentality than the earlier ones. I knew it was the last one, which helped. And I knew that it was only 3 miles. Having that knowledge helped me SO much. It is just 3 miles, I told myself. I looked at my watch a number of times and seeing the progress and telling myself how little I had left helped me to keep pushing. I enjoyed the waterfalls and trees and scenery around me because it really was beautiful and I was tempted to stop and take another picture. However my desire to be done beat out my desire for a photo. This last Gap was called Wolf Pen. Our first climb of the day had been coming up the other side of this one.

I was so thankful when I made it to the top and wanted to badly to be done. I had in my mind that I would be able to just descend and then coast from the bottom back to where we had parked but unfortunately I was a little bit off in that. It was still about 7 more miles and I was so ready for it to end. I started getting nervous that I had gone the wrong way but finally made it back. The anxiety of not knowing where I was going or what was going on stuck with me all the way until the very end of that ride.

It was a long day and I immediately climbed off my bike and collapsed on the ground when I arrived back. It was what I had been wanting to do ALL day long. I ended the ride at 71.59 miles, which is just shy of my longest bike ride distance wise ever (which is 75 miles).  It was 5:24 hours in the saddle though, which is my longest bike ride time wise by about 34 minutes. It was tough - both physically and mentally.

I don't know why the unknown gives me such anxiety. It is something that I struggle with in all areas of life. My managers know about me - if you want to guarantee I will be unproductive for hours and go totally crazy just put a meeting on my calendar with a vague subject line like "Discussion."  I will then get nothing done because I will not be able to think about anything else besides what that could mean. Dating is a struggle for me because that time in between text messages and the unknown of what someone else is thinking really makes it so I can't sleep at night. "We need to talk" messages make me feel like I can't breathe. I just struggle with uncertainty - which, I know, there is a lot of in life - not just in triathlon.

Technology in many ways is helpful because it takes away some of that unknown. For me, traffic is much more bearable when I can pull up Google Maps and see that traffic will clear up in a couple of miles versus just sitting in a long line of cars inching forward wondering "Am I going to be stuck in this for the entire rest of my trip!?!" Weather forecasts give you a pretty good idea of when a storm is going to blow through. Even when watching TV on demand on Hulu, the commercial breaks come with a little timer so that you know how much longer you have to sit through the commercials and if you have time to run to the bathroom or grab a snack. In many things, you have clarity with the duration or length of annoying things nowadays!

Saturday was a huge struggle because I did not know when the bad part was going to be over. It's not a new to me form of anxiety, but it was particularly challenging that day. It was a really good reminder for me that I need to keep working at managing this.  I think that one way that I can do that is to practice planning for the unknown. Plan to not have a plan essentially. I kept wishing that I knew more and feeling frustrated that I didn't know what the route or ride would be like and never did I just accept that I didn't know, and work through it.

I also think I can focus more on asking for help earlier versus letting the anxiety overwhelm me and retreat back. I understand that a lot of unknowns you simply can't control - if you are sick or injured you don't know how long it will be until you are better. If your flight is delayed you might not know when it will be back on track. However, this day could have been an avoided anxiety for myself had I asked for help earlier. Jerome or others could have told me the information if I had been more direct about what I needed and had I asked. I was embarrassed and not wanting to bother others and feeling like I was being a nuisance. I was stubborn.

And a final thing I can work on is mindfulness and being in the moment. Not worrying about what is to come as much and just thinking about where I was and the company I was with. Yes, for endurance sports it is really helpful to know how far you are going so that you can pace yourself. But I should have been better about staying in the moment. I will continue to work on that more in the future. At the time I couldn't get myself to focus on the positive when my anxiety had taken over, but there is always positive out there so I need to get back in the practice of managing through that.

It was a challenging day on Saturday. I think I knew I could do the ride all along, but I just felt so anxious it was so hard. I am glad I did it. I learned a lot through the ride and it was humbling to struggle with anxiety again after doing well with it for a long time. I am also so, so thankful that I have ITL in my life and a group of people who make me WANT to do these hard things! There were about 20 people riding in the mountains and Adam, one of the coaches, spent his whole weekend driving hundreds of miles around to make sure we had water, food, and were all safe on the road. I am so appreciative that I have these things available to me in my life and the coaches do all that they do for us as athletes.

Honestly, I can't wait to ride the Gaps again and have a better day. I still feel like I need to conquer it and I know that I can. I will get that victory photo!