Last week was an awesomely EPIC week of training–one in which I learned a lot more about myself and all the exciting challenges that lie ahead on this journey to Ironman Arizona. The highlight was participating in an Ironman training camp in Tempe over the weekend, on the actual course where the race will take place just 9 weeks from now.
Smile Train and QT2 Systems put this camp together for our team so we could familiarize ourselves with the course, get to know each other and celebrate our fundraising efforts, which will help change the lives of hundreds of kids who have cleft lip and palate. I can’t say enough good things about this phenomenal team and organization. Good people with big hearts, and fierce athletes who find no greater joy than in supporting others and helping them reach their goals.
Let me start at the beginning though. I arrived in Tempe Thursday evening after a loooong, nutty drive (especially navigating through LA during rush hour traffic), just in time to check into the hotel, meet our team leaders, Kristina and Lindsay, then join a small crew participating in a swim-run race called Splash and Dash.
I have to admit, I was not one bit excited about doing this event. I was fried from driving for 9 hours, hungry (the story of my life), and a little nervous, not knowing how serious all these fit looking folks were about this race. It was also too warm for a wetsuit, so I knew I wouldn’t have the buoyancy I’ve come to rely on to keep my hips and legs up when I swim, meaning I’d likely be slower. BUT, it was a spectacular evening, with a harvest moon, and I told myself I had come all the way to Tempe to get the most out of this weekend, so I made myself get my ass in the water. Don’t think. Just go.
And I’m glad I did because it was a great experience. I did the 750m race, which felt just right, especially after doing a hard swim workout the day before. It was especially good practice trying to sight the buoys while swimming straight into the blazing evening sun, and also avoid getting kicked while trying to tuck in behind other swimmers. The water temperature was 80 degrees, a far cry from our chilly ocean, which was delightful. Not to mention, I didn’t think about sharks once. Ha Ha!
Several of my teammates did the 1500m swim and/or the swim and run so I hung out and cheered them on with the rest of the crew. After the Splash and Dash, one of our Smile Train ambassadors, Brian Lewis, drove a few of us to Whole Foods so we could stock our refrigerators for the weekend. Staying at the Marriott Residence Inn, we each had a full kitchen, which made it easy not having to eat out every meal.
After a very long day, I finally ate dinner in my room around 9:00 pm, then spent a couple hours unwinding and organizing all my gear for the next day, eventually turning out the light around midnight (way past my bedtime).
The next morning I dragged myself out of bed at 5 am to eat, have coffee (yes, I brought my beloved French Press), stretch, and get my nutrition ready for our first ride, which would be a 38 mile loop of the Ironman Course. We met at Tempe Town Park at 6:30 and rolled out at 7:00.
It took a little getting used to riding on the roads in Tempe. There are many more cars here going much faster than what I’m accustomed to, and when we turned onto the Beeline Highway, it was like riding on the 101–cars zooming along at 75, debris in the road and not much room for error. What made it all settle into feeling okay was doing this ride with the team, many of whom live here or who have done the race before.
And it was especially awesome having Pam Kallio from TriSports.com riding behind us acting as the “sweeper” in case somebody had an issue. Pam has completed 17 Ironman triathlons and didn’t do her first one until she was 47. When she first started, she said she could barely make it to the end of 25m pool without stopping. She’s quite an inspiration, and more importantly, a really nice human being.
It was a warm and windy ride, which is what I expected, but it felt like it took a looooong time to get to the turnaround point on the Beeline. After we finally reached it and started heading back to town, we were all spread out, with the leaders blazing along at top speed and the rest of us pushing it at our own pace. I was riding near the middle-to-back with Brad, when we heard a siren coming toward us on the opposite side of the highway. I instantly had a sinking feeling in my stomach, and hoped it wasn’t for one of us.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Brad received a message that Misha had crashed. My heart sank. Turns out somehow she hit the rumble strip along the highway and flipped over her aerobars, breaking her collarbone and scraping up her face. Oooweeee oooweeee, ouch. It was bad, but it definitely could have been much worse. And thankfully, Pam was there with her when it happened so she could call for help.
After returning to Tempe Town Park, we ran for an hour along the lake, which is part of the IMAZ run course. Whooo doggy, I was glad I had practiced running in the heat in Palm Springs a short while ago. It definitely takes some getting used to running in 95 degrees, even if it is a dry heat.
After a short lunch break, we all met up again at the Arizona State University rec center for our swim workout. I was happy to be getting into the pool after melting much of the day. Rumor has it that Michael Phelps trained here so I was hoping to channel my inner Phelps while doing laps.
The coaches separated us into lanes based on our projected IMAZ swim finish times. The 1 -1:20 hour finishers were in the first three lanes on the far right, with the rest of scattered throughout the lanes. Christine and Carol shared a lane to my left and I shared a lane with Colin, a a funny, self-deprecating guy who I thoroughly enjoyed. We got along swimmingly as we knocked out our workout–or more accurately, “suffered through our workout.” Our legs were both cramping from dehydration, as were many others, so there were several moments of mid-stroke Iron agony. All-in-all though, it was a great day of training.
I was happy to call it a wrap and to have also gotten several technique pointers from our other coach, Tim Snow, who not surprisingly, noticed several things I could improve upon. I could immediately feel a difference and hope the changes he suggested become ingrained into my swimming psyche so this swimming thing starts to feel more and more natural.
After another brief break, we met in a conference room and listened to presentations about ways to gain speed by Pam from TriSports.com, and about nutrition and pacing from Coach Brad. Fueling has been a challenge for me as I seem to be perpetually hungry on the bike, so this was especially helpful. Brad has done multiple Ironman races and just completed the Leadville 100 endurance run so he’s figured out a few nutritional strategies that he shared with us.
First off, he said, “Only sports drinks on the bike–no water,” explaining the reason we were all cramping in the pool today was because we were dehydrated and didn’t have enough sodium. Sports drinks solve many of those problems, but if you also drink water, it dilutes it so you’re back to square one.
The other thing that surprised me was that he recommended not eating any protein as it’s hard to break down and would most likely contribute to GI problems during the marathon. Good to know, as I was intentionally trying to add protein to my bike nutrition to see if it helped with my hunger. Instead, he recommended eating energy gels every 15-30 minutes and a PowerBar or two along the way. I chuckled when he said the surest way to spend a lot of time in the porta potties is to have mixed nuts, peanutbutter and ClifBars on the ride, which have lots of protein, fat and fiber. Those were the exact things I brought with me to training camp!
I have to admit, I was a tiny bit skeptical about the sports drink only/energy gel plan, but the next day I decided to try his system, and it actually worked well. Sipping sports drinks every 10-15 minutes and consuming gels every 15-30 minutes with a couple bars along the way kept me going for 5 hours on the bike with very little hunger. And my calves never cramped.
The hardest part of of our second day of riding was when our team had another scary crash. It happened just a short time after we set out on our long ride. We were all cruising together, with the faster pack up ahead, all of us facing straight into the blinding early morning sun, when someone hit a large rock or some other debris in the road, which caused him to bang into another rider, who in turn knocked into somebody else, who then flipped over his tri bars. It left the team reeling, but everyone stayed calm, directed traffic around our injured teammate, and tried to attend to the other two who were banged up while we waited for the paramedic unit to arrive. This crash involved another broken collarbone, three broken ribs and a possible a collapsed lung. Ugh. Our hearts are heavy for our fellow teammate whose Ironman dream is now on hold.😦
Needless to say, we were all shaky, especially this newbie who knows how much her family worries about her every time she’s on the road. One of our team leaders, Brian, did something that made all the difference. First, he insisted that we move the group out of the way to give the medical team more room to work, then he made us continue on the ride. At the first stop light he turned around, looked straight at me and said, “Okay, everybody all right? Now shake it off.” It was the exact terse command I needed to get my head back in the game and focus so it didn’t happen to me or anybody else.
The shoulder of the Beeline Highway was filled with even more debris than the day before, perhaps from the wind, including broken tiles, sticks, glass and an entire tree branch, which made navigating tricky at times. Throw in drivers who had pulled off on the side, then pulled out again without looking, we had a recipe for a not-so-relaxing ride. The team goal was to do two laps on the highway before finishing back at Tempe Town Park, but my coach, Matt, wanted me to get in 75 miles, which meant I’d be doing 3 loops.
After refueling at the SAG wagon one last time, I set out solo on my third loop while everyone else headed back to Tempe Town Park to start their run. The entire day I was hyper-focused and often repeated to myself, “Don’t f%#k up. Don’t f%#k up.” I’d been working too hard all year to get to this point to let a lapse in focus end this journey.
Thankfully I didn’t get a flat when I was out there on my own. Many of my teammates did, including Colin, who got 4 flats. As I rode back in to Tempe Town Park where the rest of the team was finishing up their runs, I discovered that I actually did get a flat too, but it didn’t deflate until I got back safe and sound at the park. How lucky is that?
One of my awesome teammates, Michael MacGregor, offered to change it for me, and after riding 75 miles and running in the blistering heat, I didn’t argue. Thank you Michael! Did I mention how supportive all our teammates are? Michael works with the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) and changes flats all the time for those who can’t, so he had this done in the time it would have taken me to get my back wheel off my bike.
Here are a couple snaps from my run. I didn’t take many because I knew when I was getting chills in the heat, it was time to get back to home base.
After my run, I was mooooore than ready to be back at the hotel and out of the heat, but I still had to pick up my race packet for the Tempe LifeTime Tri, which I was doing the next day, along with several of my teammates. Packet pick-up was right in the park, so it wasn’t a huge deal. It just required standing in long lines with no shade. Eventually, I got my race packet, went to the mandatory athlete meeting, picked up another spare tube at the expo, and racked my bike before walking back to the hotel.
As you can see from all the bikes, this tri was much bigger than any I had ever done, so it gave me a taste of what IMAZ will be like in November, which will have 2,800-3,000 athletes.
After hoofing it back to the hotel, stopping briefly to pick up a sandwich along the way, I showered and put my feet up for a bit before meeting the team for a presentation from the IMAZ race director, Judy Stowers. Smile Train had organized a private Q & A session with her so we could get all the information we wanted before the race. This definitely made it feel real. Can hardly wait! She reassured us that the bike course would be clear of debris and also closed to traffic on race day.
Then it was another evening of organizing gear, mixing up bottles of hydration and packing everything up to check out in the morning (no rest for the weary!). Once again, it was a late night, and another insanely early morning. This time 4:00 am. Transition opened at 4:45, but since my bike was already racked, I didn’t arrive until 5:30.
I was relaxed about this race (as much as one can be) because I was doing it as a training run rather than an all-out pedal to the metal race. After riding 113 miles over the previous two days, I wasn’t sure how my body would hold up, but I knew it would be fun to see.
And indeed it was! The swim start was unlike any I’d ever done. Each wave jumped off the steps into the lake and swam 50-100 m to the starting buoys where we tread water until the horn went off. I heard many ladies joking that they were already exhausted before it started. I was happy to have a little warm-up, but was also glad when we finally got going.
I have to say, my swim was less than stellar (ok, it pretty much sucked–ha ha), but it was mostly because I was super hungry the whole time. I had run out of my usual pre-race/training breakfast food at the hotel and didn’t have time to go to the store, so I simply had half a banana and a yogurt and hoped for the best. Bad call. I was also completely out of energy gels and the expo didn’t sell any (really?). Nothing like starting a race depleted.
Photo credit: Misha Osborne
I was happy to be out of the water, but it was soooo good for me to do this race, and be in the jostle of swimmers once again and experience swimming completely blind into the sun, as that’s what it will be like during IMAZ. I will be figuring out tinted goggles for November, that’s for sure.
On the bike I was sucking down as much Tailwind sports drink as I could to get some calories in me, and also chomping on some Honey Stingers, which helped tremendously. I never really had my legs on the bike though, but I had fun trying to push them to work harder while I cheered on people who looked like they were doing their first tri and others who looked like they were struggling. I also held back a tiny bit, trying to work on pacing so I had something left for the run.
As I headed out on my second loop, I saw my teammate Christine standing on the sidewalk with a volunteer. She had another flat. Argh. I got a flat too, but thankfully, it didn’t happen until I finished the bike portion and pulled back into transition. I don’t know how I lucked out two days in a row, but I’ll take it.
Surprisingly, my legs felt good on the run. Heat was the biggest challenge. I carried my Tailwind and BASE salts and powered along though, passing lots of people along the way. Since I wasn’t “race racing” I also took the time to make a pitstop at a porta potty so my bladder wouldn’t explode after all I drank on the bike, and I also stopped at aid stations and poured several cups of water over my head and put ice down my jogbra and shirt. It made all the difference.
Needless to say, I was happy to have this one in the books. It was the perfect ending to an inspiring weekend.
Happily whooped, having ridden 138 miles, run 15 miles and swam 2.5 miles in 3 days. Life is good. Next time it will all be in one day!
And then it was time to pack up and drive all the way back home. So long Tempe…until November!
In case you’re wondering what the week looked like before Tempe, here’s a peek at my schedule:
Monday: Strength, Run 45 minutes
Tuesday: Bike 2 hours
Wednesday: Swim 3500y
Thursday: Drive to Tempe (9 hours), Swim race 750 M
Friday: Bike 38 miles, Run 6.2 miles, Swim 1900y
Saturday: Bike 75 miles, Run 3 miles
Sunday: Race Tempe Triathlon (Olympic/International Distance–Swim 1500m, Bike 25.08 miles, Run 6.11 miles). Drive home.
Here are a few snaps from earlier in the week:
Monday I was running a little low on energy, most likely from my century ride a couple days prior. It was also a gray, dreary day (so unusual for SB), which made me want to curl up with a book and cup of coffee. Instead, I forced myself to do some strength work at home as Killer Kate was out of town. I did all the usual planks, squats, push-ups yadda yadda and a few bridges, bird dogs and bicep and tricep curls. Nothing big, but at least it was something.
It took me until 6:30 pm to finally drag my butt out the door for my run. I rarely ever run in the evening because it’s not my thing, and it’s also usually dinner and homework time, but now that my daughter has a late ballet class on Mondays, I have the option to dilly dally all day if I want (not sure that’s a good thing). Once again, I ran along East Beach and on the soft grass of Chase Palm Park. It definitely felt like summer was over.
Tuesday’s ride was a 2-hour jaunt from my house through Hope Ranch, up Cliff Drive, then to Padero Lane and back. Short and Sweet.
After my swim workout on Wednesday, I spent the day packing for Arizona. The amount of stuff I took was ridiculous, but because I was driving, I didn’t even bother being critical and paring it down. I had the whole car to myself so when in doubt, I just threw it all in with my bike.
I set out at the crack of dawn on Thursday morning…and you know the rest of the story.
I think one of the reasons this training camp felt so empowering is because it stretched me in so many new ways. I don’t know about you, but I always feels good trying new things, pushing hard and seeing how I fare. Not knowing a soul, driving solo, doing all the training, getting very little sleep for days on end, racing, then driving all the way home the same day…it all added to a weekend of growth and epic fun.
So now we’re getting down to the real deal here. IMAZ is exactly two months away. Now I can visualize it all and taste the delicious challenge that lies ahead, knowing how difficult it will be to accomplish, and how exhilarating it will be to cross the finish line. I can hardly wait for race day to arrive.
Thanks for all your phenomenal support along the way, dear peeps!
PS: As always, if you missed any of my previous posts about Ironman training, you can click on the links below:
Kicking off My Journey to Ironman Arizona
Week One of Ironman Training: Believe
Week Two of Ironman Training: The Power of Friends
Week Three of Ironman Training: I Think I Can
Week Four of Ironman Training: Progress
Week Five of Ironman Training: Wind at my Back (and Front) and Peeps by My Side
Week Six of Ironman Training: Baking a Cake
Week Seven of Ironman Training: Courage
Week Eight of Ironman Training: It’s All About the Base
OMG, You did WHAT?! (AKA Sleep Deprivation + Training = Embarrassing Moments)
Week Nine of Ironman Training: Growing Pains
Week Ten of Ironman Training: Trust
Week 11 of Ironman Training: Speedbumps and Breakthroughs
Week 12 of Ironman Training: A Bundle of Sticks Can’t Be Broken
Week 13 of Ironman Training: Spring!
Week 14 of Ironman Training: Rollercoaster
Week 15 and 16 of Ironman Training: Staying Happy and Healthy
Week 17 and 18 Ironman Training: Inspiration and Purple Rain
Weeks 19 through 21 of Ironman Training: Transitions
Week 22 and 23 of Ironman Training: Holy Epicness…Julie Moss
Week 24 of Ironman Training: Consistency is the Key
Week 25 of Ironman Training: Embracing New Challenges
Week 26 of Ironman Training: Hills, They’re What’s for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
Week 27 of Ironman Training: Taking This Show on the Road (Tri-cation!)
Week 27 of Ironman Training: High Altitude Tri-cation
Week 27 of Ironman Training: High Altitude Fun Continues
Week 28 of Ironman Training: Rocky Mountain High
Week 28 of Ironman Training: Finishing Aspen Strong
Week 29 and 30 of Ironman Training: Rollercoasters, Crazies, and Comebacks
Week 31 of Ironman Training: New Heights
Week 32 of Ironman Training: 100 Days to Go
Week 33 of Ironman Training: The Art of Recovery and Balance
Week 34 of Ironman Training: The Magic of Firsts
Week 35 of Ironman Training:Chasing the M-Dot with Toughness Training
Week 36 of Ironman Training: Miles of Opportunities