Thursday, October 21, 2010

Spectating Kona!

Here’s the Kona spectator’s taken me this long to recover from spectating - that is one tough job!  I have spectated a couple of races before Kona, but spectating training for an Ironman is a completely different animal!
The day started out early.....3:15am.  Troy, Sonja, Sonja’s dad Eric, and I headed down to the Pier - Eric and Troy to get primo seats on the sea wall for the start, Sonja to relax and focus before the big day, and volunteering at the body marking tent for me.  
As I headed into the tent, I was stunned at the 4am turnout of volunteers.  Sure, it is hard to find people to get up that early to do this job, but these people were enthusiastic and ready to go!  I quickly found my table and marking partners, had a meeting with everyone, and then bodymarking opened at 4:45.  Game on.
The athletes trickled in at first and I even wondered if I would actually get to put anyone’s numbers on.  I saw PIC get marked and gave her a hug.  I saw Richard and wished him well.  And then the onslaught of athletes came.  It was a whirlwind and I saw every emotion with these racers.....the calm ones, the athletes so nervous you could just feel it, and everything in between.  I saw the pros come in with the cameras following their every move.  And then it was 6:15 and we were released to go watch the start!
Me and Richard in bodymarking

Bodymarking in action - serious work folks!
Little did I know when I volunteered, a nice little perk is that you get access to the pier including the transition area and a fantastic place to see the swim start.  WOW!  I was able to squeeze in between some people and wait.  The cool/strange thing about the Kona swim start is that they don’t give you a countdown, the last time I heard was 2 minutes to go.  And then all of a sudden, the cannon went off and it was a flurry of swimmers getting going.  I managed to place myself right by the cannon and got a pretty cool picture.
Transition before the start

The swim start

Someone actually rode this bike - it's a fixie!

My specially designed volunteer shirt
The sun was coming up and as I sat on the pier, it was getting hot out.  Let the sweating begin!!  I decided to hang out on the pier to watch the athletes come in from the swim.  I positioned myself right where they would run right by me and right across from PIC’s bike.  Andy Potts was out first and was off!  It was a thrill to have everyone run right by and cheer them on.  I cheered for all my friends and peeps and then transition was almost empty except for the lonely Chrissy bike.  As I headed off the pier, Mike Reilly was getting everyone to cheer for the last swimmer to come in and beat the cut off time of 2:20, it was going to be close.  He read her bio, she had open heart surgeries, a cancer survivor and a couple other horrible ailments, and the clock kept ticking.  Everyone around was yelling, she had all the volunteers on paddleboards around her cheering....but she didn’t make it.  I watched as the official told her she missed the cut-off by 20 seconds, she collapsed on the stairs.  I’m pretty sure everyone witnessing this shed a tear or 2, I know I did - it was heartbreaking.  
It was time to catch up with CV and Ang, hydrate and spend just a couple of minutes off our feet.  It was only 10 and I hadn’t had a proper breakfast or anything to drink - I was headed for a bonk before the athletes were off their bikes!!  A stop at Lava Java took care of that.  The helicopters were now positioned over transition so we positioned ourselves to see the first pros to come by.  They all came and went and we cheered for each and every one of them.  And then the age groupers started coming and we cheered for them too.  Did I mention it was hot??  Sonja appeared and we cheered her, she looked great and even had a smile on her face.  
Macca at mile 1

Everyone say it with me....Norman!!!
Sonja at mile 8
Man, I was getting tired and tired of being on my feet.  I was doing a pretty good job of hydrating thanks to nuun but now where was the bathroom?  This spectating stuff is tough!  The corner of Ali’i and K-something or another was another activity spot with athletes coming down and coming back to head up Palani - around mile 8.  This was the next spectating spot and once again, I kept cheering - it was just too darn exciting!  A bit later, we heard the helicopters and knew the pro men were heading in!!  According to twitter and, Macca and Raelert were head to head battling but when Macca came down the hill he was all alone.  He had put on the afterburners and shot out ahead of Raelert.  He turned the corner onto Ali’i, looked back, and he knew he had won.  He pumped his fist and then ran to the finish.  It was amazing to see his face and his intensity.  Raelert came by just a minute later and then the pro field started trickling in.  Another helicopter alerted us to the pro women coming in....and sure enough there was Mirinda Carfrae rounding the corner onto Ali’i, looking back and then holding her hands to her face with an expression of I did it, I’m going to win Kona!  
It was time for the spectators to fuel again (and recharge the iphone battery) so I headed in for a bit.  We kept watching Sonja’s splits and then figured it was time to go back to our watch spot, plus we wanted to get a picture of an amazing athlete....a guy with prosthetic legs and a missing arm.   Simply Amazing.  We had just headed back up the hill when I saw Sonja (man I love Trakkers green, I can see that color 1/2 mile away!).  She was flying down the hill, I looked at my watch...10:16ish with about a minute to the finish.  Her face was all sorts of emotions and I was nothing short of a proud PIC to see her.  She came to Kona with a plan, she executed that plan, and she beat even her own goals....well done!!  
The spectators job was not done though.  I saw Richard off as he headed up Pulani and I knew he would make the cut-off, he was in good spirits, joking and smiling.  Then I cheered for everyone coming down (love having the name on the bib).  The sun was starting to set when I headed home with Troy and Sonja, showered, refueled and headed back to the finish line.  It was a party there and unbelievable the amount of cheering and support these last finishers had coming down the chute.
Crea, Sonja and me having fun at the finish!

Party at midnight!
Finally, it was midnight and I’m pretty sure Sonja had more energy than I did.  I was exhausted and she’s the one who raced.  This spectating job is tough stuff so be sure to be extra kind and loving to your supporters when you race!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Kona Day 1

Thanks to the Willis/Wieck clan, I am staying at this sweet house up mauka (the hill) near the airport.  It has a pool and hot tub and all the pool toys a kid (Annie) could ask for.  I really miss my kiddos especially when I see a Hawaiian Shave Ice stand - we have some bribes - and can’t wait to see them on Sunday.  Lucky for me though, Annie freely gives out awesome kid hugs!!
Thursday in Kona was amazing as I’m sure today (Friday) will be and Saturday and Sunday.  I started off the day nice and early thanks to a 4-hour time change and by 7:15, Son and I were at the PIER!!!  With almost every other athlete!!  It was nuts.  At the advice of CV, we swam away from the crowds so as not to get swam over.  I didn’t understand at first why no one swimming was looking up to see where they were going....until we started to swim and immediately I saw fishies.  It then became a “snorkel” swim checking out all the cool things under water.  I instructed Son to stay on my feet so that I could guide her through the chaos and hopefully not get her run over.  As race day gets closer, I think her race brain has taken over some of her smart brain so I have stepped in to help her make good decisions!!  Should I dive into the pool?  NO NO NO
Don't ask what we were talking about....
Happy Swimmers!
Swimming down

Anywho, we saw the coffee boat and decided to head over there.  I drank the coffee and we shared a breakfast cookie.  Look how clear the water is!!  As much as we wanted to keep playing in the water, we had a race to get to.......the underpants run!!  This is a Kona tradition (for how many years is unclear to me) but basically is was started to “discourage” athletes to wear inappropriate training gear around when not in Speedos in Safeway.  This was so much fun, check out these pics.  About 500 people took part and I giggled my way through it.
OK, what are we supposed to compress in this?
The Zoot Team
With local pro super stud triathlete and super blogger Bree Wee
Mmmmm, coffee boat
Mmmmm, coffee!
The rest of my day was spent on the bike.  I rode from Waikoloa Beach to Hawi and back and a little further.  All told about 70 miles of the famous or infamous (depending on the year you did it I suppose) Kona course.  The way up to Hawi was great.  Hot. Hot. Hot. But was tough and I had to keep my heart rate in check but I really enjoyed the climb up.  I stopped to refill my bottles at the turnaround and then FLEW out of town - I was going 35 mph (and not spinning out yee haw) - until the crosswinds started.  And that was kinda scary.  I was white-knuckling my aero bars and even came out a few times because you just didn’t know which way they were going to come from next.  My bottles were dry by Kawaihae so I stopped again.  The winds were pretty fierce on the Queen K back and I was hot, salty, sweaty, tired, and really just kind of bored with the desolate landscape and lava.  So I made the rescue call for PIC to pick me up.  
And that folks pretty much sums up Thursday in Kona.  Next up?  That’s right....Friday!!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Kona Bound

After a nutty couple of days - why oh why is life so hectic just to try and get out of town?? - and a month filled with family travels, I am finally on my way to Hawaii.  I am excited to say the least!  Kona is the first stop.  I will be training with my coach, stalking watching the amazing athletes that Ironman has attracted to the island, volunteering, and spectating a race that I’ve only witnessed on NBC.  
My bike has made this trip with me so I will get to experience the infamous Kona trade winds myself which I am sure will make me appreciate the race that much more.  I plan on swimming to the buoy on the horizon you can’t even see from Dig Me Beach (as long as someone swims with me!!!) .  And I’m sure there will be some running along the way.  I can’t wait to get my toes in the sand.
If you are competing on Saturday, I’ll be body marking!!! And, I’ve been training for the last month to be a professional spectator, running around with a camera and a live Twitter feed in incredibly hot temperatures yelling out “Go Get ‘em” and “Today’s your Day” and “Run her down Sonja”  to random people on the street with limited nutrition and an empty water bottle.  I have also been practicing my cowbell moves.  But I think I’ll stay away from the tried and not so true “Lookin’ good”, cuz really....who looks good (other than Chrissie and Crowie) towards the end of an Ironman??!!
I have many friends out here competing on Saturday as well as an athlete (who you can read about here) and I’m thrilled I will be able to witness their races.  I am ready to be inspired and I know I will be. I will feel the nervousness and anticipation of the starting horn and watch the race get under way.  I will celebrate as I watch my friends cross the finish line and cheer the midnight athlete to the finish line.  This will be awesome.  
If you know anyone competing on Saturday and want me to keep an eye out for them - let me know (Twitter:  @michelleford6p) or drop me a comment....I’ll do my best:)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Nationals Race Report

So, as you can tell, this Nationals experience started out a bit differently than I had anticipated.  It was definintely the race I wanted to do well at but had to come to terms that I would not be at my best.  Friday morning me and my roomies (Tyler, Beth and John) got up, put our bikes together, and went for a little ride down to the race venue.  It was the first semblance of exercise I had since Tuesday.  I was still in pain though it was getting better.  If this injury had happened last week? I would have been just fine.  If the race had been Monday or Tuesday?  I would have been much much better.  I felt decent on the bike and had a glimmer of hope.  The river looked fairly inviting so Beth and I decided to jump in (she jumped, I gingerly made my way in).  Ohhhhh, it felt good!  Well, like dirty cool bath water but it felt good.  My stroke was fine except if I over-rotated to the left I had the sharp pain in my hip.  OK, let’s not breathe on that side.  Fine.  I stayed in a bit longer and watched some of the pro field warm-up.  From there we rode the run course and as the temperature soared we headed back to the hotel.  

How many bikes and people can you fit in one hotel room?
 Gettin' ready
I repeat, I did NOT eat the Krispy Kreme.  John and Tyler??
The Nationals Crew

The rest of the day was mellow with packet pick-up and checking our bikes in.  A good dinner at Olive Garden and it was bedtime.  I fell asleep right away - before 9 and slept well!  Saturday morning I was stiff.  But I was planning on at least starting the race.  Beth and I went for our usual warm-up jog and I felt horrible.  I was so stiff and uncomfortable and well, still in pain.  I looked at Beth and told her I didn’t think I would finish....and yes, big tears once again.  I told her my exit plan.....if I finish the bike I would run to the first aid station and make the call.  But I would give myself that first mile.  She asked me if it was a pride thing?  If I couldn’t finish in the top 30 was that why I would DNF?  The answer was no, I just felt horrible, I didn’t care where I placed,  I just wanted to race and I was concerned with my run form so off that I would injure myself even further or come up with a brand new injury and I didn’t want that to happen.  I took a deep breath and accepted that would probably be the outcome.  

As an old lady of 41, I had the awesome starting wave of third to 8:12.  It was gonna be a hot one in Tuscaloosa - 90+ degrees and 90%+ humidity.  Yeah!!  My wave got in the water (dumbass here decided to dive in....stupid is as stupid does....that hurt) and soon enough we had our hands on the dock and the horn went off.  I was right off the front and felt smooth and strong.  I couldn’t use my legs too much but I could bi-lateral breathe - another improvement.  A couple of girls were in front of me and I was swimming side by side with another in my wave.  Really nothing unusual about the swim this year.  They kept the dam closed and the current was manageable.  There was a bit of chop on the back side of the swim but I felt good.  I could feel the strength in my swim and was very thankful for that.  As I approached the swim exit, I reminded myself that I would not sprint up to transition as normal but would be much more conservative to avoid tripping or anything that might jar my back.  As I jogged up at a snails pace, someone yelled that I was third pink cap!!!  And I heard cheering from our awesome support section of John, Priscilla and Michele.  
Swim:  22:52
T1:  Yeah, this was a bit slow at 2:08 but honestly, I couldn’t really bend down to get the swimskin off my feet.  I finally got out of the darn thing and got out of transition....but running with my bike was not a pretty sight.  Oh well.  Let’s get on with this thing.  
Legs were creaky from the get-go and I was messing around with my watch because I had somehow hit a wrong button and had nothing on my screen.  I know, just leave it but I was in my aeros fixing it.  I got into my groove and noticed right off that it was pretty crowded on the course - but that’s what you get on a 2-lap course and you are almost in the last wave.  I had to do lots of navigating and passing but once the cobwebs cleared out of my legs I felt good and strong.  And, I didn’t feel my back.  At all.  YEAH!!  So, I decided to just hammer the thing as best I could since I probably wasn’t going to finish.  But one step at a time.  One mile at a time, let’s get the bike done.  The course is pretty straightforward, somewhat flat with a couple of good hills.  And a couple of good downhills!  Thanks to my new cassette there was NO spinning out on the downhills and I know I made up some time there.  I was flying!!!  With about 6 miles left my back decided to let me know it was still around and unhappy.  Whatever.  I kept pushing!  I knew I was doing well and I knew that no one from my age group had passed me.  Boo Yah!  I did a rather ungraceful dismount and realized I was horribly stiff still and "jogged" slowly again in transition.  
1:03:43 23.6mph ave
What can I say about T2?  Other than there was only one bike on the rack!!!  I was 2nd in off the bike!  Total bummer I wasn’t going to finish.
Wow.  Coming out of transition was a lesson in ungracefulness.  I was stiff, my shoulders were up near my ears, and I was straight-legged.  Relax.  Relax.  Just do what you can right now.  Decision time in a bit.  I got into a “slow” pace but a decent rythem and turnover.  I just had absolutely no range in my stride.  About 6 minutes in I decided that the pain wasn’t too bad and I saw the aid station approaching.  What to do what to do what to do.  Then I realized that I was hurting but I didn’t think I was too compromised.  I hit the first mile at an 8 min pace and decided that I could keep that pace and that I wanted whatever the finishing prize was.  The pain was manageable.  I grabbed water and went on my way. 2 girls from my age group had already passed me and I was OK with it.  There was nothing I could do.  But I was going to finish.  The uphills were tough, I slowed to a very slow shuffle.  The flats I felt better.  The downhills were tough too.  
Tyler had started 9 minutes before me and I told him if I saw him on the run I would be the happiest girl in the world.  Because it would mean that I was running and that I was going to finish.  I saw Tyler right around 3 miles!!!  I started to smile!!  And I gave him a nice smack on the behind as I passed him (sorry Anne:). Tyler wasn’t having the best of days but he was pushing on.  I was more than halfway done.  And I had gotten a teeny tiny bit faster.  Not much, but a bit.  As soon as we turned around to get to the finish, I felt the sun and heat.  Wow.  It was a sauna!  I kept looking for the shady parts but I was fine.  I told the kids at the aid station to just dump the water on me.  I had 1 mile to go.  My quads were tightening up and I was hoping to not cramp.  But then there it was the finish shoot!!  I high-fived Priscilla and Michele and finished with a huge smile.  I had no idea where I had finished but I thought I might have managed top 10.  
Happy to be finishing!
I immediately got some ice and put it on my back and got in line to get my official results.  He handed me my sheet and I could not believe what I saw.  7th place in my age group.  And a 5 minute PR.  Holy Moly.  And I broke 2:20 in an Oly.  And qualified to represent Team USA at Worlds in China.  Truly shocked and pleased.  
A special thank you to Tyler and Michael for pushing me to get on the plane.  Without them I would have been sitting on my couch Saturday morning feeling sorry for myself.  Instead, I raced (and finished) Nationals.  
Chillaxin' after the race
Tasty celebration dinner!

Another huge thank you to mix1 and Justin's Nut Butta for fueling me pre-race, First Endurance for keeping me hydrated during the race, Dr. Ken at Active Care for un-breaking me and encouraging me to race, and Saucony for my great green and stinky (they didn't come to me stinky) Fastwitch shoes.  (In full disclaimer mode, I am sponsored by these companies and I have been using their products/services because they make products that I believe in, otherwise I wouldn't use them!) And thanks to Sydney for letting me borrow her aero helmet and super speedy TYR Sayonara swimskin.  

How am I doing a week later?  Pretty good, almost completely back to normal.  There are certain movements that still cause me some pain.  But I’m good.  I’m almost recovered.  And wanna know something really funny/interesting?  I didn’t even notice the silly PF foot during the race!!!