Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Non-training Half Ironman Race Prep

I've been writing for the past million and a half weeks all the training preparation that I have been doing to get ready, but there's also a lot that's been going on that doesn't have to do with my physical body, believe it or not. Some has to do with gear, some has to do with mental prep, and some has to do with all the details of race weekend. I've learned that there's actually quite a bit that goes into racing when you get to the Ironman level in terms of prep and needed equipment and knowledge and planning. It's been a journey in itself to tackle all of this prep.

It started with buying my bike last year. At the end of May last year I purchased a road bike for the first time in my life, which was a long time coming. I bought a bike that was lighter, more comfortable, and meant for riding long distances on the road. A couple months after buying the bike, I upgraded to the clip in pedals, and began practicing clipping in on my rides. Learning how to clip in and out involved a lot of tipping over on my bike, but I soooort of have the hang of it now.

The other new gear I needed for this race was a wetsuit. The day of a triathlon, the temperature is taken in the body of water where the swim is taking place, and if the race is below a certain temperature (I think 76) than the race is deemed "wetsuit legal." If the temperature is above, wetsuits are not allowed. I had personally never owned or worn a wet suit before for any reason and wanted to have one for this race, since I had heard that they can help you be a bit faster by making you more buoyant in the water. I used a website called and rented one, paying a little extra to have it for 2 extra weeks before the race. ,

When it arrived in the mail, I immediately tried it on to see if it fit (it did) and it came the same day as some of my race nutrition from Amazon, so I felt like a real triathlete in my fancy getup and special endurance sport nutrition.

My next step was to actually test the wetsuit in the water, and not just in my living room. I took it to the pool where I normally swim and my first trial went pretty well, except that it felt like it was choking me around my neck. I was told to try pulling it up more the next time I put it on to relieve some pressure on my neck. It felt good though and I could immediately tell that it felt like it gave me an advantage.

The next test for the ol' wetsuit was in an open water swim, with my race day outfit underneat. I have personally never done open water swims as part of triathlon training - unless I am on vacation and an open water swim is my only option. I first had to do some research with friends as to where to go to swim around Atlanta. I wore my EXACT race day outfit under the wetsuit (in the pool I had worn a bathing suit underneath) and tested it out in the lake and felt awesome. I didn't feel claustrophobic in my neck and I even tucked in the long string thing that is on the back of the wetsuit to help zip and unzip it (it had been a little annoying in the pool.) I also tested out taking the wetsuit off, because I had a vision in my mind of race day pulling the wetsuit down and pulling my shorts off. Wetsuit success. I stayed clothed.

I also worked on my nutrition plan throughout training. Both what to eat in the mornings before workouts and also during workouts. I was recommended by a friend who is a triathlon coach to just continue with my marathon nutrition if I felt like it worked well for me. I did like my marathon but also the idea of eating Gu Chomps over and over for 7 hours turned me off so I wanted to try something else to add into the mix. I decided on Stinger Waffles because a) they sell them at every bike store so they seem legit and b) I tried a sample of some of them at a race expo one time and they are delicious.

I've tested them out during bike rides and really enjoyed eating them and they sat well with me, so there's my scientific way of adding something new to my triathlon nutrition plan. During the race I plan to eat some of these, some Gu Chomps, salt tabs, Gatorade and water during the bike. Then Gu Chomps, Gatorade and water during the run.

Another thing I needed to figure out was the logistics of eating on the bike.  Until a month or so ago, I wasn't sure where I was supposed to put all this food. When I bought the bike, I had bought a little satchel thing you attach under the seat, where I keep my phone, keys, and flat tire kit when I ride. However, it didn't fit all the food I need and also wasn't accessible during the ride. Is this why people wear those fancy bike shirts with pockets all over? I wasn't sure. But I asked around and ended up purchasing another little satchel thing that I now have at the front of my bike by the handlebars that I can stash my food in. In this picture of my bike, you see both the satchel thing in the front and in the back.

Training for this race involved a number of financial investments for me. I bought new goggles since my old ones tended to fog up easily and I like the idea of having a spare pair. After trying a few different ones and returning them, I ended up purchasing these Roka F2 Goggles in Light Vermilion after reading about them in an Active Triathlete product review. I really like them.

I recently purchased new sport sunglasses as well, which was long overdue. I've been wearing big goofy sunglasses that I got for free during bike rides for the past year. However, they sort of suck because they would always leave a gap when I would have my head tilted down and my helmet on during the bike. I finally upgraded to some real sporty glasses, which made me feel pretty official as an athlete now (although I did resist the urge to buy some of the Ironman branded glasses, which I learned are a thing that exist.)

As opposed to these bad boys I was wearing before:

A road bike, clip in pedals, bike shoes, wetsuit rental, lots of Stinger Waffles, lots of Gu Chomps, lots of Gatorade Endurance, satches for the front and back of my bike, goggles, sunglasses... and what else have I purchased? Air pump, water bottle holders, bike gloves, fancy bike riding top (just one!), bike trainer, mat to put my trainer on so my neighbor doesn't yell at me, lots of post training coffees (does that count as official training investments?), membership at a gym with access to a pool and Master's swim workouts, and probably much more that I am not thinking of.

I've also been doing my best to learn as much as possible. I have mentioned before but I have a number of friends who have been doing this triathlon thing for years and have been giving me lots of advice and encouragement throughout this process. Without these people to go to with all my stupid training and gear questions, I would have been very lost in this process. Earon, Kristin, Kathi, Jeremy, and Katie - you all have been my go-to's for so much information!

Oh, and seriously, the people at Atlanta Cycling, my local bike shop, have been incredible. They put on group rides that I have joined, like the two evening rides and the Saturday silk sheets ride - where the group leaders rode beside me the entire time giving me pointers and helping make me more comfortable on the roads. Twice now I have brought my bike in to the shop and they have helped me with various things free of charge. The day my bike broke when I went to ride, and also this past weekend, which I will get to in a minute. But seriously, as a marketing person - Atlanta Cycling in Vinings in Atlanta, does it right. They have incredible customer service, knowledgeable and nice staff, and they build a community around road bikers in the city by hosting these great group rides that start at their store during the week.

A few weeks ago I also attended an official Chattanooga Race Prep information session.  It was put on by a local triathlon group called ITL Training. They had a session with a pro triathlete who gave advice about race week prep, nutrition, and mental prep, all specific towards the Chattanooga race. This was extremely helpful and I was really glad that I went.

I have also been listening to the Triathlete Training Podcast hosted by Eric Schwartz, former pro cycler and triathlete. I listened to a TON of these during my road trip from Atlanta to Rhode Island in December and have continued to listen to them when I do long runs from time to time. I especially find helpful the ones where he interviews people doing their first 70.3 races. It is actually where I learned about the site where I rented my wetsuit from, so it has been a great resource.

As if all of this wasn't enough, one thing that I also practiced this past weekend was how to change a flat tire on my bike. I have never learned how to change a flat tire. I have always just made sure to have a fully charged cell phone with me and figured that I would learn on the spot via YouTube if I ever found myself in need of changing a flat while out on a ride. However, during the actual race, cell phones are prohibited. So if I were to get a flat tire, if I were to pull out a YouTube video, I would get disqualified, which is not something I am aiming to do. Although I have been lucky enough to never have any problems with flats, on Saturday night (exciting life) I pulled the front tire off my bike and deflated it, to take a stab at learning how to change it. Well, let me just say, it is way freaking harder than any of the YouTube videos show it to be. And I know, because I watched pretty much all the videos. It took me forever, I got super frustrated, almost gave up, but eventually got it back together but was pretty sure I broke everything.

On Sunday, I brought my bike over to Atlanta Cycling to have them look at the tire and make sure I didn't break it. The technicians there were SO nice, and took the tire apart again with me, gave me a lesson in fixing it and some tips to make it easier. Then checked my chain to see if it was worn, cleaned and greased it, and helped me to learn how to put everything back together again. Before carrying my bike back out to my car for me (all for free.) They were great and made me feel so much better. I still hope to heck that I don't have to experience changing a flat for the first time during the race on Sunday though!

And aside from all this physical stuff and gear, to prep for the race, I have been visualizing it. Especially as unexpected things have happened during training like feeling terrible, my watch not starting, or rain - I have been prepping myself with, "How would I handle this on race day?"

How will I feel at the start and what will I do? What will I tell myself during the first portion of the swim when it is upstream? What will I do if I get kicked in the face during the swim? If my googles fog up or fall off? I then try and picture myself coming out of the water during the swim and approaching the transition. I imagine how I will feel and how I will mentally break up the bike portion. How I will remind myself that the race doesn't start until the run. I think about what I will do when people are passing me and I feel discouraged.  About what will happen in my watch dies in the middle of the race (a likely possibility)? I think about how good it will feel to get off the bike and to start running. But how I will need to hold back my pace. And how it will get harder and harder and harder to keep my legs moving on the run and how I will have to use everything I have to fight through. I think of all these things.

As well as where I want to eat dinner the night of the race. And how good beer and burger is going to taste.

And final week of race prep has included all the endurance sport basics. I am focusing on hydration (water! more water! bathroom! more water!), eating healthy and adding in carbs this week, being as stress free as possible, getting to bed early, stretching and foam rolling, and making final visits to what I now refer to as my "dream team" of body specialists - the chiropractor and sports masseuse.

I feel like I have covered every item here and this post is now a long one. But it has been a long journey and I am exhausted just typing all of this up. Hopefully this gives you a little idea of how much this race has consumed my mind. I can't wait for it all to come together!

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