Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Success lies upon a continuum

Sometimes, you learn a lot from your success's.  But, most of the time, you learn a lot more from your failures.

I've learned a lot about myself, about who I am, through racing.  I use the skills I've acquired in my training and racing in all aspects of my life.  I know how to push myself, and how to work hard; and this has benefited me in all facets of life.

In my training and racing [education, job, life] there's been a lot of ups lately.  There's also been some downs.  And I've learned so much already.

In the two week's between May 19th and June 3rd, I ran the gauntlet.

On May 19th I competed in my largest Olympic distance Triathlon ever.  The Columbia Triathlon in Columbia, MD.  It's the largest race of it's kind in the Mid-Atlantic, and one of the largest on the East Coast.  It was an "A" race for me originally; however after being sick and unable to train for nearly 3 weeks, I had let it go as a PR race.  I also let all the stress of performing at 101% go.  When I decided it didn't matter, it suddenly became a lot more fun.  And it paid off.

The details are important, but I won't go into them here (but they are here).  I had a PR swim and would have had a PR bike if it was regulation length (the course is 41k not 40k) despite the intense topography (for a triathlon).  The run...I need to run more.  I wasn't prepared for the difficult course, I've done virtually no speed work, and I run 10 miles a week.  So it's no surprise I had one of the worst 10k times I've ever had.  Or, it isn't now looking back.

However, even with the sub-par run, I got 90th of a sold out 2400 athletes.  I also got 7th in my age category of 79.  It's my best result I've ever had (yes, I've done better, but not at as big a venue).  I qualified for USAT Age Group Nationals and the Hi-Vee 5150 National Championships.

For a race in May, I was very pleased.  There's always room for improvement, and I learned what I need to work on for August and The National Championships.  I need to run more, and work on some quality.

Then, only 6 days later, I competed in ABRA's Tour of Tucker County.  If you know anything of Appalachian cycling, you know this race.  Period.  It's the most brutal, terrifying, road race in the mid atlantic, and it's been voted top 10 hardest in the nation.  3500ft of climbing, in 34 miles.

I'm not a climber.  Further, I'm not a climber, and I wasn't recovered.  These two things in combination lead to disaster.  Disaster.  I hung in for the first climb, I didn't see the group go around the final corner, but I was there- I was hanging tough to the top.

But that was it.  My power dropped...I started to get down on myself...and my motivation was gone...I remember feeling it leave me.  Like the lights went out, and everything went into tones of grey.  I was there, but I was somewhere else.  It hurt; but I don't really remember much of it.  My team mates were all gone...the masters had gone- the juniors had gone.  2 women had caught me.  I had already used up all my gels (all 6), and drank all my electrolyte drink.  The final climb was one of the hardest things I've ever done.  It was as hard physically as it was mentally.  I failed.  I failed, and I was struggling to just finish.

But I did finish.  A dissappointing 44th.  But not last.  When I got back to the car- I'm man enough to say it- I was practically in tears from low blood sugar and dehydration.  I was shaking.  It was 85 degrees and I had goosebumps.  My ears were ringing.  Bonking is a light-hearted fun feeling compared to were I was for about five minutes.  Thank God for my Honey Stinger Gels and my Raw Revolution bars.  That's not a plug; that's a fact.

Lessons I learned?  I can't recover from an Olympic triathlon in week.  I need more calories than I even thought was possible when I'm in this state (like...more than 1000 even in a 2.5hr race).

And I learned I can go much deeper into the abyss than I thought was possible.  I was there; I could almost see the river Styx.

And, even when I slip into the dark, scary places- the places you only know if you've got to the limit- I can over come.  I can finish.  I will finish.  There is something very powerful about that.  I will carry that with me.

The rest of that week I just laid low.  Did some recovery workouts, and tried to get back in the right state of mind.  By the end of the week I was much more positive feeling.

I carried this into the weekend.  Yes, only 7 days later, I went at it again.  This time, at the small (200+ people) Rocky Gap Triathlon.  It's a fun race.  And I REALLY wanted to have fun again!  With only a 1/4 mile swim, a 8.5 mile bike, and a 5k run it's a snap: 50mins of intensity, and it's over.

Details aren't necessary again.  I was 2nd out of the water, 2nd off the bike (Teammate Derek C passed me at about mile 3 of the bike), and 2nd in the run.  I cramped severely (calves this time) at the turn around on the bike, so didn't have the greatest time.  Horrible cross winds also didn't help.  There was a horrible debacle on the run- they had sent Derek off on a different run course than the rest of us, and some people only ran 2 miles, some ran 2.5, I ran 2.75 and Derek ran 3.5.  After arguing with the RD for several minutes, we got the finish order figured out.  Finish times...well no idea really- faster than last year, but since the swim was longer this year and the run was shorter, I don't really know how to compare it.  I was 2nd overall though, and Derek and I beat all other racers by at least 3 minutes.  He got 1st.

It was not my best race; but I was happy to have another good finish.  I ate a ton of pizza, drank gallons of Camelbak Elixir, and just tried to rest.

The next day was The Fort Classic road race.  The next day!  It's a "flat" course, and although I was sore and tired- I was optimistic.  I hadn't forgot the lesson I had learned at the Tour of Tucker.  I had found the truly dark place, and I know how deep it lies- and I was ready to push to the borders again.  Especially for my team.  AND I didn't feel that bad.  Sore, but not super fatigued...

The race went great!  Yes, I did too much work on the front.  Yes, I wasted energy doing silly things.  Yes, I didn't know the course well enough, and got dropped within a 1/4 of a mile from the finish (I did get pack time though!).  But I also did a lot of great things.  I blocked for my team mates.  I shut down potential moves.  I stayed with the attack on the final climb.  I out sprinted the final guy in the peloton to clinch 25th place and the final point!  It was really fun, and the course is perfect for me.  I can't wait until next year!

And with that, I learned again:  Success lies upon a continuum.  Columbia was a success because I exceeded my goal, and did really great.  Tour of Tucker was a disaster success, in a very very different way, because I crept to the edge of what was possible and came back- now I know, much more clearly, where that border is.  Rocky Gap was a success because I did well, even when I didn't do very well- a PR isn't always necessary to enjoy yourself.  Finally, The Fort Classic was a great success because I learned that I can race back to back, and still hang.  It also showed that my fitness is growing, and boosted my confidence in road cycling a lot.

After all the racing this spring, I took a break.  3 Triathlons and 4 cycling racing and my highest volume week of all time meant that I could take a little break and prepare myself for what's to come: a sprinkling of about 10 more races, including my first ever Hilly Billy, my first ever Stage Race (Tour of the Valley), USAT Nationals, and later Savageman Triathlon.

Here's a picture from my break: a 4 day back country camping and surf-fishing (my other love) on Fire Island (New York, NY).  I want to mention my Swiftwicks- I brought them for the 2 mile hike in along the beach, and I couldn't be happier.  Despite the sand, my 75 pound pack, and the 75 pound beach cart I was pulling (dragging) along, my feet stayed dry and blister free.  I love them!!!

Anyways, it was one of the best trips of my life, and I caught a couple fish of a life time.  Now, I'm refreshed and ready to go back to training.  Bring on the Hilly Billy!

The treasured Striped Bass: 35", 20lb estimated.  The fish of a lifetime!

Over 50" wide, and weighed over 40lbs!  Took me 1/2 hour to get to the beach!