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.


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.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Double century weekend

Last weekend as part of my training for the Ironman and overall quest to do big things that scare me but make me stronger, I rode double century rides. 100 miles on Saturday and 100 miles on Sunday. About 13 hours on my bike overall between the two days and a huge sense of accomplishment to have completed it! It's a milestone I am pretty proud of.

So how did this come about?

Well, a few weeks ago, I met with my coach Jerome to talk about the next couple months of training. July is a bit of a crazy month for me and I was nervous how I was going to fit everything in. He let me know that we would have a big bike build at the beginning of the month and my goal would be to get in as much biking as I could in the first couple of weeks of July.

I had a good streak going and rode 109 miles on June 23, 103 miles on June 30th, and each day did short easy rides the day after. Then in discussing the weekend of July 7-8, Jerome had mentioned to me that there were organized supported century bike rides on both Saturday and Sunday. The year before he and a few others rode the centuries both days - something that I was very familiar with because I remember hearing about it and thinking that it was such an insane, crazy thing to do. At the time last year, I hadn't even ridden 100 miles before, so the idea of doing it two days in the row seemed next to impossible. Even this year, with a few centuries under my belt, when Jerome tossed the idea around, it seemed crazy!

I committed to riding long both days but I wasn't sure if doing full century rides each day was something I could do. It just didn't seem possible.

Because I wasn't sure if I would actually go for it, I didn't tell many people I had this idea in my head. However, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I became mentally obsessed with it. I knew I wanted to do it and go for the 100 both days. I felt excited about it. Excited and scared and nervous and eager to try it out. I didn't know many people that had done this before so the idea of doing something not many people had thrilled me a little.

So, I started to do what I always do when something scares me, I started to plan for it. I registered for both organized rides and reached out to the people I knew had done it before to get advice. I mentally planned the logistics of what  I would need to do for this to be possible. I thought about sleep, nutrition (before, after and during the rides), recovery from day to day, clothing,  how to protect and preserve my "undercarriage," and which of my bikes I should use for the two rides.

I did everything I thought I could to be prepared and as the weekend got closer I was excited to attempt this. So, how did it?


I am able to work from home on Fridays so I was able to spend some of the day helping to get ready. I prepped my food. I lay out my clothes. I charged my lights. I charged my bike. I put out my water bottles. I made snacks for after the ride. I wrote out a timeline for the morning. And similar to when I rode the Gaps in June, I set out a number of goals for myself for the weekend.

1. Have fun
2. Stay positive and confident
3. Be friendly
4. Take my time
5. Ride 100 miles each day

I ate pasta for dinner on Friday night, even if I didn't truly need it, I liked the idea of carbing up before the big weekend and went to bed early, ready to go for the next day.


Saturday I was planning to ride with a group from ITL, who all were doing an organized ride in Senoia, GA called the Southside Century ride. I treated the day like any normal long bike day, getting up and having breakfast, and driving to the start with plenty of time to get ready. It was the last long ride for the group that is doing Ironman Canada and my friend Michelle's birthday. There was lots of blue at the start and it was a good crew!

As often happens with these rides, we started rolling a few minutes before the official organized ride started. We started out together, chatting and riding easy, but it wasn't long before the group started to thin out and I was in the back per usual, but not by much. I was still right with the group.

UNTIL we went over some railroad tracks right before mile 5 and when I did, EVERYTHING toppled off my bike. My aero bottle, water bottles, flat tire kit, EVERYTHING, went flying. With no other choice, I stopped to collect my things and by the time I did, the group was out of sight. Since we started ahead of the official start, there was nobody behind me either. I was just by myself.

I started to ride again and tried my best to gather my thoughts mentally. Being alone freaked me out. You can do this, I told myself. You can do this century ride today on your own. In fact, I tried to convince myself, it might be better this way because now you can completely go your own pace!

Although I had expected to be separated from ITL for a portion of the day, as everyone going to the ride was much faster than me and not people I expected to wait for me at the aid stops. I didn't think I would be alone so quickly. And I thought there would be plenty of other non-ITL riders around (which is why one of my goals for the weekend was to "be friendly.") Without anyone in front or behind me, I felt so alone and I felt myself getting a bit emotional.

I kept giving myself pep talks, remembering to stay positive, to take my time, and that I could do this.

I kept riding.

At around 10 miles, I saw another cyclist for the first time since I had lost the group. It was someone coming towards me though! I saw pink shoes pedaling in my direction and realized that it was my friend Lauren. I was so happy to see her that I got tears to my eyes as she rode up to me and then stopped and turned around. As we connected and started to ride together I asked her "What's going on? Is everything okay?" I don't know what I was thinking. But she just kept riding next to me and said, "We're doing this together today." and I started to cry a little.

From that mile on, Lauren and I rode the next 90 miles as a team. Just like so many rides we did last year, I chased her up the hills, and she pushed to keep up as I caught her on the downhills. When I was struggling, she encouraged me. And when she needed a boost, I offered it back. We chatted about training and life and relationships and I had the best time riding with her. It seems like such a little thing, but I am not sure how much I can express how much it meant for me to have her turn back and find me and to ride the day together. It was Lauren's last long ride before Ironman Canada and a big training weekend for me, and it was so nice to ride together.

Part of my plan for the weekend was to utilize the rest stops as much as possible. I had brought some of my own food, but I also wanted to use what they had and had written the miles on my arm of where the stops would be. For this ride it was 19, 33, 55, 73, 81, and 95. We stopped at the first aid station so I could refill my bottles, which had emptied when they flew off my bike. We stopped at miles 33 and 55 again, grabbing some snacks of Chex Mix, rice crispies, peanut butter pretzels and using the bathroom. I know at some point I will have to stop relying on these stops during rides, but right now I am enjoying them.

I felt good most of the day, just trying to take it easy. I fueled and rode, remembering that I had the next day to think about as well. There was a section from miles 55-75 of the ride that was climb after climb. I worked to try and take them easy and Lauren would get ahead of me a bit as she is stronger on climbs even when I am pushing hard. I told her she could keep going if she needed to, but she insisted on staying with me. She is a good friend.

The roads were bumpy, which was unsettling to ride on, and there was NOBODY else out there. It was an organized ride so I would have thought there would be more people on the road, but I feel like we only came across a handful of them. It was a quiet day and we made a comment that it felt suiting that this was the area of Georgia where they filmed the Walking Dead. It felt like it was just Lauren and I out on this thing the two of us. Despite getting rained on for a small portion, the weather was nice, there was pretty scenery, the volunteers were fantastic and so friendly and nice, but overall, it was not my favorite course. It felt very isolated and I wasn't a fan of the bumpy roads.

At one point towards the end, we had to wait quite a while to cross a main road, and then shortly after we went through a section of unpaved road. Having unpaved road on an organized bike ride seemed totally odd to us both, so we stopped to review a map and the cue sheets to confirm that we were on the right path, which we were. I also dropped my chain once, which was a small pause for me to fix it (I was proud of myself because for the first time I put it back on all by myself!) Otherwise, we kept moving during the second half of the ride, skipping the aid stops at both miles 73 and 95.

We came into the finish at 102 miles, ready to be done. Coming in to the finish, I didn't do what I normally do and leisurely hang about. I had a plan of what I wanted to do after the first day's ride. I wanted to get out of the sun as soon as possible, eat the food I brought for myself, and change out of sweaty clothes. I only said hi to the people who were still around briefly before beginning what I considered part of my recovery for the next day. However, I did pause for a few pictures. I wanted to document this weekend.

Also, they had a nice little photo op set up available so I made use of that for sure!

At this ride, there was a building we could go into in the finish, so although I didn't leave right away, I did get out of the sun and into the AC. I hung around after changing to chat with some friends and get a massage from the post-ride masseuse they had! I lay down for about 10 minutes and had her work on my neck and shoulders. It was really awesome that they offered that, because I had earlier been thinking about potentially getting a massage in between the two bike rides.

This weekend I didn't make any plans to try and see friends, my boyfriend was out of town, and the whole thing was just about me and what I needed to do to accomplish this goal.

After going home and cleaning up, I took myself out for dinner to get a burger and some french fries and tried to work on my mental approach for the next day. At some point in the evening I started to get freaked out a bit and negative thoughts and doubts crept into my mind. Could I really ride 100 miles again the next day? Only really strong, fast, more advanced people do something like this right? There's a reason why more riders that are my speed and level don't do this, right? Who do I think I am?

Even though I was feeling good about how the day first day had gone and everything was going according to plan, I started to feel scared. I got some reassuring words from friends, boyfriend and coach and then was in bed by 9:30 p.m. to get ready to get up and do the same thing the next day.


Sunday morning, I woke up and did my normal Saturday routine to get ready for biking. Sunscreen, cereal, fill my bottles, etc. I told myself mentally, "It's Saturday. You're just going out for your normal Saturday ride."

I head out to Roswell and parked with ease, feeling thankful that I had done the ride once before and knew where to go. I also was a bit taken aback because what had slipped my mind was just how many people come out for this ride! There were cyclists everywhere you looked. Even before I got there, as soon as I was on the highway, there were tons of cars with bikes on the back of their vehicles heading in the same direction I was.

After checking in and getting set up on my bike, I met up with my friends Phil, Alyssa and Peter, who were all doing the ride as well. I waited as long as possible before actually hoisting myself onto the seat of my bike - one of my bigger fears about finishing these two days of riding was how my uh "seat" would hold up. I have been having some issues feeling comfortable the days after my long rides and wasn't sure how this back-to-back long rides would go.

We got together and lined up for the start of the route at about 7:00 a.m. There are TONS of people that do this ride and we were about as far back in the line of thousands of people as you could be. Probably not the best place to start, but all of us were going into the bike ride with just one goal - to finish it - so we weren't necessarily concerned at the time about our placement in the group start.

The first 10 miles of the GA 400 ride are slooooow. They are PACKED with people were you are literally just crawling along trying to balance on your bike so that you don't topple over. There are a lot of inexperienced riders who don't know cycling etiquette or how to control their own bike that well. I saw many people topple over, stop in the middle of a long line of cyclists causing people behind them to swerve, or even someone with a helmet on backwards. It's a bit of a zoo, so the first 10 miles the main goal is really just to stay safe and moving forward, navigating through and around the traffic of cyclists. (Where's Waldo points to those that can see me tucked into that pack of cyclists right in the middle!)

What makes this ride so popular is that for a section of about 2 miles you get to ride on the GA 400, a major highway throughout Georgia. It is a pretty cool thing to ride your bike on a highway and that gimmicky aspect of it brings out a lot of people to just do one of the shorter ride options (such as the 10 mile route!) in order to have that experience. I think anything that prompts people to be active is a cool thing, but it does make it challenging in those early miles.

Our group of Phil, Alyssa, Peter and I had previously agreed that we would stop at every rest stop along the route. There were aid stops at miles 9, 26, 34, 49, 64, 79 and 92. When we got to mile 9 it was total chaos and we had all been pretty much just coasting for the first 9 miles navigating around people, so we just said let's keep going and rode past.

Unlike the Senoia ride or some of the other organized rides I have been doing lately, this route takes you through a lot of main roads and city roads that aren't completely shut down. This means that you are at the mercy of stopping for car traffic, red lights, etc. The route is very well marked and in these earlier miles through the city streets there are still lots and lots of riders out, so you do tend to feel pretty safe though. It is still just hard to get into a groove because there are a number of turns, clipping in and clipping out to stop and wait at traffic lights, and navigating all the other groups of riders out there. We were moving pretty slowly through the miles but the good thing was that my "seat" was getting a good break when I would have to stop now and then.

We kept moving and riding until we got to Mile 22 aid stop. I had needed to use the bathroom since before the start but everywhere the lines for the bathroom were so long. This stop was no different, but I needed to use it here! I chatted while in line, was feeling strong and confident, thinking "Almost a quart of the way through. I got this." I texted Jonathan, which is not something I usually do in the middle of the ride, but wanted the encouragement this day. Also the rest stop had a buffet of all his favorite foods with brown sugar cinnamon Pop-tarts and Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches.

The next stop was relatively close and we kept moving forward, nothing super eventful happening. I got to mile 34, where I knew my friend Kristin was going to be there volunteering. I felt happy to have someone to see and chat with, I still felt really good and was confident with how the day was going. One of my friends upon giving me advice told me that I would be surprised at how good I felt - and I was feeling good!

We rolled out of Mile 34 aid station and not too long after that there was the moment of truth split off, where the 62 mile route went one way and the 100 mile went another. Not that there was any question at this point - but we passed the split off and were committed for 100.

I swear, as soon as we passed that point, I felt like I hit a wall. I went from feeling strong to feeling miserable. We were hitting what felt like hill after hill after hill and I felt like I had nothing in me. The wind started to pick up a bit and I felt like it was blowing me backwards. I started to really struggle mentally and physically, feeling exhausted.

It happened so suddenly that I was all of a sudden in a bad place. Everything hurt. I felt like there was no relief from the hills and the wind. All I was doing was counting down the miles until I got to 49, but at the same time I just kept thinking... even when I get there we won't even be halfway done?! My friends all got ahead of me and I felt like I was just dragging. I didn't think I was going to be able to finish the whole ride feeling this way. I started to get scared and doubt myself quite a bit. I wanted to cry.

During one of the climbs, I caught up to a guy who had been in my sight for a bit and I had been slowly gaining on. As I rode past, I was too out of breath and too much in a negative space to even say anything to the rider but then I heard, "Is that Katie?"

I answered a bit abruptly saying "It's Katelyn." ... because a) was in bad place b) was climbing c) I didn't actually think I knew anyone out here! But as I turned out it was a running friend of mine, Jerome (not my coach), who I had last seen when I was in Berlin for the marathon! I've seen via Facebook and Instagram that he has been getting more into cycling but was still new to it and thought he was such a badass for being out there on this tough course riding the century as a new rider!

It seemed like the miles CRAWLED by as I got myself to Mile 49 aid stop and I immediately got off my bike, used the bathroom, and went over to grab some food. This was a lot point for me in the course and I was in a mood and needed to get some sugar or calories in me or something. I nearly had a face off with the man who was running the aid station because he was standing IN FRONT of the table, blocking my view of what they had to offer, and then insisting that he pick up the food off the table for me and hand it to me. I am all for sanitary precautions, but I am not going to touch every one of the mini PB and J squares before selecting my own! I can pick up the individual sandwich off the table myself, thank you very much.

I snapped at him a bit and was fumbling to figure out what I wanted to eat and he asked if I needed medical. I told him, "No! I just need calories." and had him give me a few of the sandwiches and snacks. I also ate some of my own snacks that I had brought, pulling out a reserve of sour cherry gummy candies that seemed to do the trick and perked me up a bit.

I was hoping that I would get a mental boost after we left the aid station and I was past the 50 mile half way point - knowing that I just had to get myself home from that point forward. The fact that we weren't even halfway there was so demoralizing to me.

Right before we rolled out from the aid station though, the friend I had passed on the climb, Jerome came in and we chatted a minute. I don't know much about his story, but I do know that over the past couple of years he has been recovering from cancer and working to regain his running and fitness capabilities one mile at a time. This also reminded me of my friend, mentor and role model, Nancy, who is currently undergoing surgeries and treatments to regain her health. I thought of my friend Kelly P who passed away a few years ago, who last told me to "run for her" before a quick and tragic fight for cancer.

As we rolled out from mile marker 49, and I struggled with the thought of completing 51 more miles, I reminded myself that I GET to do these things. I am healthy and able enough to be out here pushing my limits and testing myself, riding my bike on a sunny summer day. I get to do this. Nobody is forcing me. I have the privilege to have the means and health and I reminded myself that no matter how much I am hurting there are people out there sick, injured, (and at this I smiled a little when the thought hit me) or tapering that would love to be doing what I am doing right now.

This perked me up again and I kept pushing, before I knew it, arriving at Mile 63 aid station. Everyone at this stop felt a bit social and people were chatting. There was one girl, Isabelle, who I had now been seeing at a few of these different rides. Just the day before, in Senoia, she had been volunteering at an aid station and introduced herself, having recognized me from the Velo City Century bike ride we'd done earlier that year, where she had been volunteering as well. She said that she loved seeing female cyclists out and commented, how many have you done this year?! Three? Four?

When I saw her the day before, I hadn't mentioned I was doing another century the next day, so she was so surprised to see me out, this time she was riding herself. Her comments to me that I was badass and how impressed she was that I was doing double centuries gave me a bit of a boost and from there out I was NOT humble in conversation with the other riders at the stops!!

I started chatting with a group of men, who were complaining about being sore and wanting to be finished and get a massage. I casually mentioned, "Yeah - the bike ride that I did yesterday had a masseuse at the end, it was great!" To which I gladly answered their inquiry of how far I had ridden the day before, letting them know this was my second century for the weekend. Everyone seemed so impressed and I am not going to lie, I loved that attention and recognition and used it to carry me forward.

Leaving station at mile 63, I told myself that pretty soon I would be in the home stretch. I was almost to the point where I was almost there! I always get such a boost from the "almost there" adrenaline, whether it is running or cycling, so this little trick of being "almost there" to "almost there" is something I do quite often. Right out of the aid station though, there was a TERRIBLE super steep incline that knocks you out since your legs are still tight from having stopped and you don't have much momentum built up. I nearly had to walk up it and was so thankful I made it over with toppling off my bike.

The next few miles were sort of crappy roads with narrow, winding, bumpy roads, with trees casting shadows that made it really hard to see if the dark spot in the road was a shadow or a pot hole. It was a tough section, ride-ability wise (is that a word?) and was thankful when the roads opened up and cleared out a bit more. I almost ran off the road at one point trying to navigate traffic, other riders, hills, and a giant pot hole. I felt like my comprehension was sort of dipping a bit as I got fatigued and popped some salt tabs and drank some water to keep myself going. Taking in more salt when I felt my head start to get a little loopy.

At mile 79 I used the bathroom again, grabbed some salty Chex Mix like snacks, and at this point, just wanted to get home. There were lots of cyclists sitting in the shade, taking long breaks, etc. but I just wanted to get to the finish. My friend Phil, who was the only other person doing the double century this weekend, was right on the same page with me. Our other friends were starting to drop off a bit, dealing with fatigue issues of their own, needing to stop more frequently. We all decided to split up at this point and just to get in to the finish. There was one more rest stop at Mile 92 but we made the decision at 79 to skip it and just get home.

The GA 400 century ride, which starts off slow and friendly to amateur or newbie cyclists, is a really challenging ride when you get into the longer distances. You aren't out in back country roads for a lot of the route, having to navigate small shoulders, traffic on the roads, and some pretty steep climbs. Up until that point in addition to the climb coming out of the rest stop, there had been a few other pretty steep inclines that are just pure grinders where you're huffing and puffing and wishing you had more gears on your bike. For the first time ever, I had to stand up on my bike to get myself up some of the hills because I just didn't have enough power or momentum to get through them sitting down.

We knew that in the last 20 minutes of the ride, there were still quite a few hills to navigate as well. Particularly, the three climbs affectionately called "the three sisters." Now, I had done the metric century of this organized ride two years prior, and on that day, had done the three sisters. I remember that I was able to get up them fine two years prior when I was a FAR more inexperienced cyclists so I actually did not feel too nervous about them. I figured I would handle them as I had been handling everything else this day... just take them slowly, take my time, and never stop freaking pedaling!

As we rolled out of the aid station at around mile 80, all of a sudden Phil and I saw a blue ITL shirt going the opposite direction and riding a bike towards us. As he got closer, we realized that it was our friend Clayton, who lives in the area, and had decided to come out riding the course to see if he would come across anyone he knew! He stumbled upon Phil and I, and turned back around, helping pace and ride us through the next 10 mile section. Having done this route the year before and also living in these neighborhoods, Clayton knew the area really well and he was such a huge help as we rode our way through the "three sisters" - shouting out to me in advance to let me know when they were coming and giving me feedback on the ride. It was SO nice to have some fresh energy and Clayton was such a boost for miles 80-90 as we rode through the last neighborhoods.

(See me way behind Clayton climbing up that hill in the picture above?? Getting a little further up the hill in the picture below!)

The sisters were tough, and the miles surrounding the sisters are no easier. You get a break from finishing a big climb by having a bunch of other mini climbs all around it. There are a number of hills that very well could be "sisters" themselves in my opinion, but it would be one heck of a family I guess, so it's just left as "three" big climbs through the end of this ride. I was proud of myself for continuing to ride strong through these climbs and as expected, the adrenaline of being "almost there" was pushing me forward as well. I did have to wind back and forth a couple times to get myself up the hills, but I made it and was still smiling.

After you making it through the three sisters, Phil and I rode through the aid station at mile 92 as planned. The final miles take you through downtown Roswell, along a really cute road called Canton Street that I have eaten at and hung out at a few times before.

At this point, the ride is mentally challenging because you feel SO close and that the end is near, but you are riding through very populated city roads and you have to take it slow and easy. There is foot and car traffic, heavily populated roads with street lights, and narrow roads with little to no shoulder. It is a slow finish, as it was a slow start, but for different reasons.

The majority of the day we had really ideal weather for riding bikes as well, with cooler temps in the morning and cloud coverage. However, at this point in early afternoon the sun was hot and high in the sky and these last miles went by slowly. We missed a turn at one point and had to stop and backtrack a bit. We'd gotten into the zone a little too much and were unable to recognize and navigate the turn fast enough.

There were a few more climbs at the very finish, because of course, and the "Finish" shoot that they had set up and the parking lot with our cars was eventually in sight!

However, there was one small snag. And that was that my watch only read 98.5 miles. We were slightly short.

I had warned Phil of this earlier as we'd gotten close to the finish. I wanted my darn watch to say 100 before I could feel complete about this accomplishment for the weekend. I had let him know - if we're short - I am going to keep riding! And I was true to that, riding PAST the finish, continuing down some of the access roads, trying to get that additional 1.5 miles. Phil followed, eventually making a U-turn and returning to the finish line with my watch ticking to 100 just before. We crossed the finish with my watch at 100.12 miles.

I could not have been happier to get off my bike that day and to be through this challenging weekend! We had done it!

Phil and I took some celebratory photos, checked out the finishers area, and sort of stood around wondering "What now?" Our friends were still out riding and the food that they had didn't look quite that appetizing (pasta - that had been sitting out all day.) There was music playing and lots of people sitting under the canopy tents at tables they'd set up, but although my legs were aching, I just did not want to be sitting down right away. My "seat" was aching more. Managing that was one of the more challenging parts of the ride that day, with the bumpy roads, getting on and off my bike at stop lights, etc. reminding me over and over how uncomfortable I was. I did NOT want to sit down.

After seeing some of the other people come in that I had been riding with, including many of the people who I had been "casually" letting know I had ridden back-to-back centuries, I got out of the sun and head home. I ate my snack of rice cakes and peanut butter, had drank a Diet Coke at the finish, and decided it was time to get cleaned up.

I spent the rest of the evening relaxing, eating food, and not worrying about any of the dishes around my apartment or mess of things laying around. Usually I hate to have clutter and dishes and I unpack my biking things right away, putting them where they need to go and doing laundry, etc. But I just let it all be for this day. I relaxed on the couch, looked through pictures, and was just overall so happy and so proud of what I had accomplished.

I pushed myself to do something that weeks before I didn't think I was capable of. I had an awesome time, creating memories and bonding with my training partners and friends. I tested my limits and faced fears, working to build confidence and strength. I am so thankful to the people that rode with me both days, to my coach and my boyfriend. I'll never forget this weekend and how it felt.

This is what Ironman training is all about.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A weekend trip home and Ironman training

This past weekend I was home for a few days in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, as my family did a delayed burial for my grandmother who had passed in December. The winter was cold and dreary and we wanted to wait for a beautiful spring/summer day, which we had this past weekend. We all miss her so much and she would have loved that everyone was together, laughing, swimming, eating, and playing with kittens. It was the perfect day to honor her and it felt like she was there with us in some way. We love you Gram.

As I get further along in Ironman training, traveling poses some challenges - especially on the weekends - as I am away from my bike and can't get in long rides when I am away. This past weekend was one of those weekends. It was a trip that I wasn't going to miss, and that I also wasn't going to compromise to try and borrow/rent a bike and go out on my own. The weekend was about family and getting to spend as much time with my family as possible.

So how does that work with training?

Well, it starts for me with strong communication with my coach. Weeks in advance I let him know my dates of travel and had that built into my schedule and marked on my TrainingPeaks as soon as I knew the dates and had flights book. He then builds my schedule around that. The weekends leading up to my trip had long, challenging bike rides built into them. I rode the Gaps two weeks before, and followed that up with a 5:00 hour bike ride on Saturday the 9th. Everyone else that was riding that Saturday had 3-4 hours on their schedule and a number of people asked me why I had that extra hour!

It was a long, hot day for me and I ended up riding the furthest I have ever gone on an unsupported ride. The long rides I have done have had built in rest stops every 10-15 miles (that I have taken advantage of!) or even ITL-supported SAG vehicles. On this day, there wasn't even an official ITL group ride, I just went out with my friends to ride bikes for 83 long miles. Knowing I had about an hour longer than everyone else, I started early and got in 30 minutes before we planned to meet, tried to keep moving as much as possible even when we stopped to regroup, and then kept going at the end of the ride when everyone else stopped for the day.

I followed that 5:00 hour ride with a 20 minute run, leaving me as the last person from our group in the parking lot for the day. Hot, sweaty, tired, but feeling really proud of myself.

And that bike ride wasn't even the only challenging portion of that week! Leading up to the 5:00 hour ride, I had actually ridden my bike 1:30 hours the day before and had a number of challenging swims and runs built in. Enough so, that I had my first mini-breakdown of Ironman training, where I got into bed at 8:30 feeling overwhelmed and completely exhausted from training, work and life commitments that left me needing to disengage from communication and conversation for a bit (despite the fact that I had driven an hour to go see my boyfriend, and then immediately after running and ice cream decided I needed alone time and shut down.)

The day after my long ride, I had a 2:00 hour run scheduled. I took it nice and easy, getting in 12 miles. I started at 6:30 a.m. to do an hour on my own and Jonathan joined me for the second hour of my run. Going at what must have been a turtle's pace for him, he stuck with me and helped keep me distracted.

The week stayed full after that, going right into long swims, track and an insane amount of lunges, and long trainer rides throughout the week before hopping on a plane Thursday night to head home. When I tell you that literally sitting down to go to the bathroom was ridiculously painful, I am not even joking. My legs were so sore from lunges on Tuesday, that when I saw my trainer ride on Wednesday evening included getting off the bike and doing squats in between intervals, I thought my legs were going to buckle just reading that.

My priority for going home was seeing family.

When I go to New Hampshire, I always stay at my mom's house. And every time I am there, I have the same challenge. I arrive around midnight, and then my mom leaves for work at 6:30 a.m. the next morning. Unless I am renting a car, I have to coordinate if I am going to get up SUPER early and have little sleep but get a workout in before my mom leaves so she can bring me to my sister's. OR I can wait until my sister has the chance throughout her day of managing her flock of babies to come get me. Or I can just hang around at my mom's house all day by myself.

This trip was so short that none of these things were going to be an option for me, so instead, I planned ahead and brought my hiking backpack. Why? So that on Friday morning I could incorporate seeing family into my workout, and threw some clothes and flip-flops and snacks (duh... I didn't know what my sister would have at her house!) into my bag and head out on foot from my Mom's to my sisters. In reality, it was just a bit over 8 miles, which is a normal run for me, but it felt so fun and funny to run the distance from one place to another and make my training functional. Thinking of seeing my little niece and nephews was honestly really amazing motivation and I had a very strong run for myself on Friday. Despite wearing a backpack for the first time ever while running and tackling a hilly back half of the route.

Saturday I planned to have off from training in order to totally devote to family and the reason I had flown up, as it was the day of my grandmother's burial. But then back on Sunday, I had another run on the schedule for 1:30 hours.

As we got off the highway at my mom's exit in New Hampshire around 10:00 p.m. driving back from Massachusetts, we saw a sign tacked to a poll advertising road closures for the "Ribfest 5 Miler" road race. I looked up the run online, and did a little research to learn that it was a little over 4 miles from my mom's house and right around 11:00 p.m. (an hour before online registration closed) I signed up for the run the next morning!

One of the things I am trying to focus on with this training is fun. And although I wasn't going to race the race, incorporating an organized 5 mile route into my run sounded like a top more fun than spending 1:30 hours on the same roads that I have been running every time I go home for the past few years. Roads that I got really tired of running back in December when I was home for 2 weeks in the heart of marathon training.

I left my mom's around 7:30 a.m. and ran the 4.2 miles to the start of the race, checked in, then continued to run around until my watch hit 5 miles. I ran into some people that I knew at the race, got an awesome race T-shirt, and was impressed with the size and number of people that were out at this Ribfest 5 mile race!

We started at 9:00 a.m. and I loved the energy and atmosphere of this race! The route was an out-and-back on some of the roads I had just run on to get there, it was unshaded and hot, but there was music, aid stations, lots of energy, and some beautiful neighborhoods. Out-and-back routes can be fun as well because you get to look at and cheer for other runners. I felt comfortable and happy and pushed the pace a bit, but also stayed in control as I knew this was supposed to be an "easy" run day and not a day to race.

The best part was that my mom came out to cheer and meet me at the finish line, which, absolutely made for a much better running day than what I would have otherwise done! I felt strong, I actually had a great run for me (I guess this is what it is like to run on legs not tired from biking!?) and did I mention I really liked the shirt I got?? It was an all around successful run that is now super memorable for me.

I flew back to Atlanta on Monday morning and was back to training regularly on Tuesday. Sometimes I stress over feeling like I need to be tied to my bike and have to sacrifice life things for training. And it is true, many times you do. But I am really thankful to have a coach who encourages me to book the trips I want to book telling me "we'll figure it out." I am thankful to have a super supportive boyfriend who helps me through my freak-outs and encourages me to take the time I need to do things, even if it means less time together. I am thankful for my family and mom who help me build my hobbies into our schedule, come out to cheer for and take pictures of me on the side of a hot highway in the summer heat. And I am thankful for all my community in this sport who help make it so much fun, even when I am tired and exhausted.

Ironman Chattanooga is 14 weeks away!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Return to the Gaps

Last year one of the more challenging days of training throughout the summer and a day that had an entire blog post dedicated to it was my first ride at the Gaps. As a quick recap, the Gaps are a series of climbs in the North Georgia mountains that are frequented by cyclists and triathletes in Atlanta. Biking in the Gaps means a lot of beautiful scenery, gorgeous views, curvy roads, and long climbs UP mountains with fast, sometimes scary descents down afterwards.

Last year when I went, it was a challenging day for me physically, but also mentally, as I struggled with anxiety throughout the day, cried multiple days, and left the Gaps feeling a bit defeated. The Gaps had gotten the better of me on that day.

I knew that returning to the Gaps was something that I needed to do. I wanted that revenge on the mountains and wanted to prove myself there. But I had also been putting it off a bit as well.

I wanted to feel strong when I went back and wanted it to be a positive experience. I went last year in mid-June after having been biking regularly since the beginning of the year. This year, it wasn't until the end of April that I really started spending time on my bike. And although I did ramp up quickly and have had some strong rides, I haven't really felt that I have been in great biking shape. When going to the Gaps has come up in conversation this year, I've put it off as something to do later in the summer when I was feeling stronger on the bike.

Last week, in a group chat with other ITL athletes that I am a part of, it came up that the group ride was going to be taking place in the Gaps that weekend. I immediately started to panic a little and told myself, maybe we aren't actually going this weekend and I can put it off for longer. It came from pretty reliable sources... but I still went to my coach to confirm that I'd be going. So I started shooting text messages to him.

"Are we going to the Gaps this weekend??"
"Am I ready for that??"
"Do you want me to be biking in the mountains??"
"Do you think I can do it??"
"Really though, do you think I can do it??"

Yeah, I am a fun athlete to coach.

In addition to all of the questions for confirmation and reassurance, I also let him know that if we were going, I wanted to have an actual discussion about the overall approach to the day. When he confirmed we were going, I first went back and re-read my blog post from last year. I recalled a few things that I didn't remember before and I knew the questions to ask. I prepared a list and talked with Jerome about what the day would be like. One of the things that was important that I remembered from reading my blog from last year was that although the climbs were hard - I could do them - that my challenges from the day were a lot mental. I knew the things that I needed to do to prepare myself mentally and after talking through all my questions with my coach, I felt ready to return to the Gaps.

He helped give me an understanding of what I could expect in the route. We talked through the names of the various Gaps, the distances, and the times it might take me to climb them. Talking to him made me feel much better and turn my nerves into a bit of excitement. Before going to bed on Friday night, I put together a last minute list of my goals for the next day, which simply consisted of:
  • Ride mindfully and be in the moment
  • Practice good nutrition
  • Don't pay attention to the numbers
  • Have fun
  • Smile a lot (a last minute add by my coach!)
I went to bed feeling ready but a bit excited.

The plan was to be wheels down at 7:15 a.m. and it was an hour and a half -ish drive. I arrived around 6:45 and was surprised that we just sort of basically parked on the side of the road. I recognized portions of the drive there, so things were looking familiar, but parking on the side of the road was new. I got my bike ready and chatted with friends, greased up my bike chain, and waited to get started.

One of the things that I had discussed with my coach the night before was which of my bikes I should bring to the Gaps - my road bike or my triathlon bike. I was a little nervous to bring my tri bike because I can feel a distinct difference in climbing on my road bike vs. my triathlon bike. And I definitely feel more comfortable and stronger on the road bike. My coach advised me to bring that one then and said it was far enough away from my race that we could go back to the Gaps with my tri bike sometime and for today, he was okay with me choosing comfort. I also am not racing such a hilly route, so I don't need to be doing that much climbing on my tri bike.

At 7:15 we were rolling - with the plan to do the loop that Jerome and I discussed the night before, which consisted of 3 Gaps - Neels, Wolf Pen, then Woody's Gap. As we head out someone told me that from where we were starting to the top of Neels was exactly 13 miles. Having that target in mind made me feel really good.

I stuck with my friend Kevin, who is also training for his first Ironman in Chattanooga with me. We agreed on a plan of "slow and steady" for the day and went into Neels Gap feeling positive, with our friend Joni riding at a much easier pace than she needed to, in order to stick with us on the climbs. I was so thankful to have Joni there with us as she chatted away on the entire climb up Neels, which helped take my mind off of how long we were going and helped keep me at a comfortable and conversational pace. Slow and steady.

I recognized points along the route from last year, and at this point in the day traffic passing by wasn't too bad. When we did this climb the year before it was later in the day and lots of cars and motorcycles were zipping by us which had frightened me. Aside from a few idiots who honked at us and drove by obnoxiously, the roads were pretty clear.

I felt comfortable climbing. There were a few points where I got out of breathe, but then settled back in. I used my gears whenever I could, but otherwise just kept pedaling in my lowest one. Slow and steady. As we got closer to the top, or I guess after we had been riding a while (since I didn't know where the top was), I started looking at my watch, trying to see how far away we were from reaching 13 miles. I also knew we were getting somewhat close as people started to loop back for us multiple times and pass our little group pedaling away. I CHOSE not to allow the people looping back or the fact that we were the last ones in the group let me feel bad. Just kept going my pace and having fun talking to my friends. Thank goodness Joni was there. Slow and steady as we climbed.

Eventually we made it to the top of Neels! I felt relieved. I had done it. And it wasn't too terrible. Neels was the climb last year that had broken me a bit and what I was most nervous about going into today. It was our 4th climb out of 5 last year and I was exhausted and started crying when I got to the top. My coach had made me take a picture with the view in the background amidst my tears because he knew it would mean something to me later, so I went back and took a picture while people had snacks and went to the rest room, regrouping at the top of Neels.

June 2018
June 2017

At the top of Neels I started to eat some of my snacks, possibly overeating a bit since it was still early in the ride. But I had brought yummy snacks for the occasion, and the year before I had gotten hungry early in the ride, so did not want that to happen again. We had a SAG vehicle, but it was mostly just holding extra things for the group that was riding 6 hours (I had 4) so everything I had brought was stuffed into my baggie on my bike.

The descent down Neels was fun - I don't mind the descents that much, whereas I know a number of people are terrified of them. I just hold onto my brakes and take it easy but also enjoying the reward of not having to pedal after a long climb. We rode passed Vogel State Park - which is where I had been back in March when we supported/crewed Jonathan's friend at the Georgia Death Race ultra-marathon. It made me feel even more comfortable with the day to be able to remind myself that I wasn't in totally unfamiliar territory - I was becoming more familiar with and accustomed to the mountains of North Georgia. I was an old pro at this area of the state! ... Although in reality I do not know my way around whatsoever, it was something I told myself to help feel more comfortable, which it did.

The next Gap started at the bottom of the descent of Neels. Wolf Pen is a 3 mile climb, which feels short after doing Neels right beforehand, which is 7 or 8. But it is a bit steeper. I had been feeling good tackling the one that seemed most scary to me going into the day, but came back to reality a bit because Wolf Pen is still challenging. Joni stuck with me again, back of the pack, and I just kept my own pace and focused on what I was doing. Slow and steady.

We chatted more and I tried to stay in the moment, observing the beautiful views, waterfalls, trees, and skyline that poked through. It was a really gorgeous day out and aside from getting a bit chilly on some of the downhills, I felt very comfortable temperature wise.

I checked my watch throughout the climb up Wolf Pen, knowing to expect about 3 miles. It helped me to have that to plan for and definitely relied on that quite a bit. We made it to the top and found the group up there waiting, a few people having turned to loop back. We regrouped there, filling up our water bottles from our amazingly helpful SAG vehicle, took some pictures, and then continued on.

The next Gap was Woody Gap. I knew it was really short, but it was also the only one on this route that I had not done before and was not sure what to expect. We rode over, regrouping at a gas station before getting into the climb, and then regrouping again at the top of Woody. The climb there really wasn't bad at all! It was the first one that I did on my own, and I thought back to my goals for the day of "not paying attention to the numbers" and set the mini-goal for myself to not look at my watch and check how far I had gone up the climb at all. I just wanted to ride until I got to the top - which I did! Slow and steady.

The top of Woody has one of the prettiest views. I recognized that we had actually stopped there when driving through the year before and I had taken pictures at the top of Woody. I took some more with friends and was honestly just feeling really happy and really good about the day. I had just ridden the 3 Gap route and was still feeling strong. My goals and my approach to the day all seemed to be working for me... except maybe trying to focus on nutrition. At this point I was shoving Cape Cod potato chips into my mouth with no shame. I wasn't getting hungry though and was going through water, so I felt happy with that.

When we finished the 3-Gap route, we were at about 2.5 hours into the ride. Our coach, Adam, suggested that we stay together as a group for a bit longer before splitting up (people were trying to ride a range of 4-6 hours.) He suggested we turn around and descend down Woody the way we had just climbed and turn down a road that we don't usually ride down but, he said, "is really nice, shaded, and a pretty ride!" He told us to descend, then keep going straight until we got to a big country store that we wouldn't miss, and then turn around and go back. He thought it would add about an hour to the ride.

It sounded good to all of us so we turned and rode down Woody the way that we came up, and continued down the road that Adam mentioned... and when I say continued "down" the road... I literally mean DOWN. After the descent down Woody, we kept going a bit and then continued to go downhill for mile after mile. It was a pretty road and it was a shaded road, as Adam has mentioned, but he had NOT mentioned that it was straight downhill! Which meant this out-and-back add on to our ride, was also going to be taking us UP this road.

There were some pretty steep seeming sections and I was cursing Adam in my head the whole ride down, wondering when it would level out or when this big country store would appear.

Eventually I started seeing people come back up, so I knew the end was in sight. I reached the store and with a few of my friends said to one another, "What in the world did we just ride down!?" and complained a minute... but then did what we had no other choice to do, but ride back up.

As we started up, at first I was grumpy. Why did he have to make the last hour and a half so hard?! He hadn't even given us any warning! I felt frustrated and annoyed, but then all of a sudden the voice of one of my friends who I had asked for advice the day before came into my mind. She had told me to go into the day knowing it would be hard, BUT that this was just one step on my way to becoming an Ironman.

All of a sudden I felt like I had a bit of clarity and remembering that advice started to give me perspective. I told myself, don't be mad because this is hard - you KNEW this was going to be hard. You are here because of that. The reason that you are doing this is BECAUSE it is hard. To get stronger. You signed up for an Ironman to do something challenging. And not just on the day of the race, but in the months of training beforehand. I stopped being mad at the fact that we'd gone a way that was "hard", turned my mindset around, and just rode my bike up that hill. Slow and steady.

Adam passed me on the way up and I said to him, "How is this not a named Gap!?" and he said, "It is! It is Skeenah Gap!" ... I have never heard of this Gap and it is not one of the 6 that people talk about, but I felt a little validated that I wasn't making up that it was a big climb! When I looked at my elevation profile at the end, it confirmed that I wasn't making it up either.

I hadn't tracked on my watch how long we had been going downhill so I wasn't sure how long I had to climb up it, but I just kept going. I stayed focused and kept in the moment and just pedaled away. When I got to what I thought might be the top, I even did something I never thought I would do -- I turned back around. Turning back around was scary because I wasn't sure how much climbing it would add. But it was also scary because it meant that when I got to my friend who I was turning back for, I would have to stop riding, turn around, and then start riding on an uphill. That made me nervous, but I did it.

I turned back down Skeenah Gap until I got to my friend and helped encourage him up the last of the climb, and we made our way to where the rest of the ITL group was waiting at a gas station by the bottom of Woody. At this point, I was still feeling SO happy and was really proud of myself. Not for how fast I climbed or anything - but because I was still having fun and still happy. I had gone through a huge mental challenge with the unexpected part of the route throwing me for a loop, but I was able to find a mental place where I was strong and get through it with a positive attitude.

Even though we still had one more Gap to ride up, Woody again, I felt victorious. There was music playing at the gas station and I was smiling and dancing (and eating more chips.)

The group split up at this point and the 4 hour crew head back up Woody and towards the cars, while the people with longer rides head off on a different route. Woody Gap seemed longer this second time climbing up it, but I continued with not looking at my watch at all and just staying in the moment, riding until I could see the top.

Once we all go there and regrouped, we started downhill. I knew it was a long descent, very twisty, on a smooth newly paved road that would literally dump us right back at our cars. It was a 5 mile downhill that although was a bit scary, was also extremely pretty (I had to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes on the road.) I was back at my car with my watch at exactly 4:05 on a 4:00 hour ride planned. Pretty darn perfect.

My elevation for the day was 5104 feet of climbing, over 4:05 hours riding and 50.3 miles. For perspective, Ironman Chattanooga, what I am training for, has 4808 feet of climbing over 116 miles.

I never tried to push the pace. I told myself over and over "slow and steady." I laughed and had fun with my friends. I encouraged other people and accepted support when I needed it as well. I reversed bad self talk in the moment. When the ride went unscripted, I faced my fears. I was mindful and focused on the present. I had fun. And I smiled a lot.

It was a good day and I really feel like on this day, I conquered the Gaps. Not because I was faster or rode further or stronger than last year but because I embraced the toughness and I used it to make me stronger. Understanding what the day at the Gaps was going to be like was really key for me. I felt so much more comfortable having a sense of what it would be like. But even when it came to a part of the day where I did not know what was happening, I turned my attitude around and found the right mental self talk to get me through it. One more step on my journey to becoming an Ironman.

Looking forward to more tough things to come.