Superior Man Triathlon race review

This weekend my husband and I did something crazy and drove over 800 miles for me to take part in my first ever “real” tri. I say “real” because I had done a super sprint distance once before but the swim was in a pool and I rode on my big heavy touring bike so I am not sure I could count that as a real effort. According to my training plan I had to do a 70.3 race this month and Superiorman was cheaper than the alternatives of Michigan Titanium or TriBavaria so even though we didn’t own a car at the time we decided we would take a nice trip up to Duluth Minnesota so that I could do the race there. This race was probably the best possible choice for my first long distance (according to my training plan 70.3 is a “mid-distance” race but take it from me… its definitely long!).

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I was pretty happy to see my husband supporting me when I reached the 63 mile mark.

Before I write anything else, I am going to document the fact that I am not, nor have I ever been, a competitive cyclist or swimmer…  I am merely a runner who did a bit of commuting by bike and swam outside a few times and decided that was enough to make her a triathlete. So bearing that in mind I can proudly say that I came in in a respectable 6hrs and 30 minutes putting me in 111/153 athletes and 5/8 in my age category. Could I have come in a bit quicker? Probably. Will I do another 70.3 to test this theory? Definitely. And am I embarrassed to have been beaten by almost 75% of people on the course? Absolutely not!

By doing this race I gained so much more than just a position on a results table, I learned a tonne about what works and what doesn’t, and what I need to change on race day, and I will gladly share my experiences here.

 

  1. Don’t let a bad leg ruin your whole race. Here I mean leg as in segment, section, discipline, whatever you want to call it. Superior Man Tri has one of the coolest race starts of any race… they ship you out into Duluth Harbour on the Vista Fleet boats, then two by two you jump off into Lake Superior and your race begins. I was feeling pretty nervous on the boat ride out… we were all faffing around with our wetsuits, consuming last minute pre-race snacks (I went with a chai flavoured Gu gel and it was delicious), and queueing for the onboard toilets, then 20 mins later it was time to begin! Jumping off the boat was no problem at all… its probably only a metre drop from the boat to the water, and I was cheered on by one of the volunteers who had told me earlier that 20 (my race number) was his favourite number. Entering that water was a great feeling, it wasn’t too cold and I managed to get away quickly, also I was extremely lucky that my new Aquasphere goggles that I had only tested by shoving my face in the hotel sink didn’t leak or fog (10/10 for Aquasphere… would highly recommend). About half way into the swim disaster struck and I got severe cramp in my left leg… After shouting and swearing and splashing around for a bit I reassured the safety marshal in his kayak that I was good and got back on my way. During the whole swim course I didn’t look at my watch once, but when I got out and it was showing close to an hour, and a distance of almost 1.75 miles I was pretty annoyed at myself. Sighting has never been my strongest skill, in fact its common for my fellow tri-club members to spot me swimming perpendicular to our route over the lake but an extra half mile seems like a lot even for me… and I knew that the pain in my leg from the cramp was going to stay with me for the whole race (it turns out they measured the course wrong and it actually was that long but I didn’t know that at the time!).
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    I’m probably in there somewhere…

    I got on my bike in an awful mood and my heart was pounding from the moment I set off. I kept running it through in my head.. Why did I swim so far out of the course? Why did I freak out when people kept grabbing my legs in the swim and give myself cramp (not necessarily true but it probably did have something to do with it)? It took me a good 5 miles of riding to distract myself from my awful swim and the pain in my calf and start enjoying the ride for what it was. I sang songs in my head to keep me going and I actually ended up having the ride of my life, a whopping 2mph faster than I normally cycle (even though it still brought me in at 123rd place). Anyway the main point of this is that once I dropped the anger I was feeling about the swim my life because a whole lot more pleasant!

  2. Make sure you are wearing your gear correctly. When I got out of the swim I realised I hadn’t zipped my wetsuit up.. it was just velcroed at the top. Did that make a difference to my swim? Maybe, maybe not but I will never really know. Then I limped to my bike got on and got riding without stopping to check my trisuit was correctly positioned.. Trisuits have padding for a reason and although I am no expert I don’t think that it should be anywhere near your belly button. Several times during the ride I had to “adjust myself” but it was almost impossible to change the position of my suit while I was clipped into my bike travelling at up to 18mph. Had I just made sure before I got on that the legs hadn’t twisted in my rapid de-wetsuiting my ride would have been a whole lot more comfortable.
  3. Make sure you eat on the bike because its unlikely you can do it on the run. Okay so I didn’t exactly get to test this theory because the food that I had saved for the run portion (1/3 of a cheese and turkey sandwich and two pop tarts) didn’t survive the journey. The sandwich fell out of my pocket in the first mile and the pop tarts got sweaty and dissolved, not that I would have eaten them if they hadnt dissolved but maybe I shouldn’t have opened the packet before I set off! However the sandwiches and pop tarts I had on the ride worked an absolute treat… I only took one gel on the ride vs 4 on the run… I really hope on 140.6 race day I don’t rely on gels quite so much but anything you can get in to fuel your body is helpful!
  4. Don’t rely on race stations for water. Every time I run without my camelback I say to myself that I will never run without it again…  and then I forget this personal agreement and set off on a long run with nothing. I should have learned during the London Marathon that aid stations every mile or so is just not enough when its hot but I didn’t and set off for the run portion without any liquid of my own. The aid stations on the course we spaced almost a mile apart with a range of 0.8 to 1.25 miles but in the 70+ temperatures and coming from a 56 mile ride I really needed some extra hydration. For the full ironman I am going to look into getting a race vest as I take both of my camelbacks on my ride, one filled with water and one filled with gatorade. I really think its worth an extra pee stop or two to keep yourself fully hydrated in the heat.
  5. Other general non-race specific things. As well as my insight into racing and all of the things I need to prepare for in my full ironman, I also learned a lot about myself and what works for me. Firstly I can now safely say that I have found my fuelling sources and it’s sandwiches, pop tarts, and gatorade. Secondly I can definitely cycle faster than I thought I could, and I proved that with an 18mph ride with my club in the week, although I will need to get much faster if I am going to ever be competitive in long distance tris. Finally, 70.3 is my comfortable race distance. I am pretty
    onfident that I will finish the full ironman but I will undoubtably hate almost every minute of
    it and I will most likely never do another. 70.3 is just the right about of work and training to fit in with my lifestyle and I look forward to embracing it as my new favourite distance.

 

This was a bit of a long one but I am going to try a series of shorter posts this week to get me back on track with my training for the big one, Louisville ironman, in October this year. If you have made it this far I can promise that next weeks posts will be a breeze!

 

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The moment I officially became a half iron woman! 

 

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Catching up

Its been nearly 3 and a half months since I last blogged… mostly because I have just been so busy! It turns out that training for an ironman takes a lot of time, and when you combine it with a reasonable amount of weight training there is really very little time for anything else! So where am I now? Well I am just under 4 weeks from my first half iron distance triathlon, and 11 weeks from the full. Seeing it written there in black and white makes it feel very real!

Surprisingly I actually feel like I will be ready for the 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile ride, and 13.1 mile run that is waiting for me in Duluth Minnesota when I take on Superior man on August 24th, but the full distance still feels way beyond me at the moment. All triathletes have their strengths and its no secret that I am really a runner in triathletes clothing, however recently something weird has been happening and I have started getting faster and stronger on the bike… unfortunately that seems to be at the expense of my run times, and I seem to be averaging around 10 minute miles at the moment. Now this could be because its hot and humid in Ann Arbor at the moment, but this weekend I had an epiphany that to speed up by times what I really need to do is TAKE A REST DAY! Ive been training 7 days a week for about 3 months now so its not surprising that I was heading towards a crash. So my resolution this week is to take it a bit easier, have at least one rest day, and take at least two yoga classes. Then I can test the fruits of my labour at parkrun on Saturday morning and see if my 5km time improves!

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Ill check in next week and write something about how my little rest experiment went but thats all I have for now… worth waiting 3 and a half months for I am sure you will agree!

London Marathon 2018

Incase you missed me telling anyone who would listen… I ran the London marathon on Sunday. It was my first world major, and happened to be the hottest London marathon on record, so to be able to say I finished is a massive achievement. In the end it took me 4hrs and 7mins or there abouts to cross the finish line, and although its a considerable chunk of time slower than I wanted to be I don’t regret taking my time at all, and I am sure you are all dying to know if my trainers held up… they did! And to be honest they were the LEAST of my worries on Sunday.

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All smiles at the finish line when I saw my friends from my running club!

 

Despite the time it took me and the horrendously hot conditions I actually had a lovely run, and its true what they say about the supporters making London what it is because without them I wouldn’t have been able to finish. From the lady handing out ice-pops at mile 5 and the spectator who went in his bag to hand me a bottle of iced-water when I had accidentally dropped my own to the people who were shouting and cheering the whole way, those guys made the run possible.

Since Sunday lots of people have said to me that they would love to do the marathon “one day”. To those people I say just do it! The training is long and difficult (and in some cases very, very cold!) but as long as you can commit to a couple of hours a week for a long slow run then absolutely anybody can run/walk/jog a marathon. I have always known this, but the conditions in London this weekend really proved that to me. Its not about how fast you can go its about keeping yourself moving and getting over that line. So to the 2hr finishers to the 8hr finishers CONGRATULATIONS, you all have my upmost respect!!!

So what did I learn from this weekends run?

1. Having your name on your shirt can be both a help and a hindrance. I chose not to have my name on my shirt (because I hadnt decided on my outfit until the last minute), and there were times when I was struggling and I thought it would have helped to have people shouting my name. In Barcelona last year my name was on my number and I really found it was a huge boost hearing “Vamoose Stephanie” at regular intervals, but there were also times this weekend when I wanted to tell people to just leave the poor participants alone and let them walk!!

2. Energy drinks make you thirstier, and don’t really help on a hot day. I usually partake in a gatorade or two when I am running, but this weekend the Lucozade stations really were a nightmare because they were there in place of water stations, and believe me when I say that we all needed water!

3. Respecting the conditions is key. I saw so many people passing out or falling down at the side of the road, and every time I did I slowed down just a little bit more. This weekend I walked more than I have ever had to walk in a race, and I am not ashamed of that in the slightest. There are always other marathons to try for a better time… you just have to get to the end of this one first!

4. Don’t underestimate the power of a tempo run. I had missed my tempo runs due to my triathlon and weight training, and its not something I would recommend for anyone hoping to get in a certain time. I am sure that I would still have been a lot slower that the 3:30 I really wanted this weekend even if I had put in the faster runs, but I think they would have helped me keep my speed up a little bit more!

5. Runners are the best! On Sunday I saw people handing out suncream, sharing water, linking arms with struggling participants, and just generally being there to help each other. The running community really comes together at events like this and everyone is there to support each other.

 

Maranoia

I am now just over a week away from London marathon, and of course the maranoia has kicked in. My particular form of pre-marathon freak out seems to be around my shoes. I do a lot of cross training in my running shoes, I know that I shouldn’t, and I do own “proper” bike shoes, but the clips on them aren’t compatible with a spin bike, and I changed my pedals when I arrived in Ann Arbor because I was scared of skidding on the ice or falling down a pothole and not being able to unclip quick enough to avoid disaster, (also my bike shoes don’t have a whole lot of room for extra pairs of socks which are an essential requirement for cycling in Michigan in the winter). And aside from spinning I sometimes run to the gym and don’t want to take my gym shoes or they won’t fit in my bag usually because I have packed too much food, so yeah if in doubt I default to my runners. All of this is really just to say that despite being just over a year old my running shoes have seen better days.

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Ruined shoes or extra-ventilation?

The rational part of me knows that they still have miles left in them, and they are super comfortable, so the best course of action is to wear them for the marathon then invest in a new pair for my next sporting endeavor. However, approaching a marathon turns us all into crazy people, and there is a part of me that is worried that the hole in the toe of my shoe is going tear and reduce my trainers to flip-flops mid-marathon, or that the wear-and-tear is going to cause me to develop some sort of horrific injury, and that what I really need to do is buy new shoes and wear them constantly to break them in over the next 9 days. Of course I am not going to do this, but I do remember feeling exactly the same way before Barcelona about the predecessors to these shoes (although they were DEFINITELY in a better state than mine are now).

The point of this whole post is that its totally normal to start worrying about silly things like this before a big race (and big doesn’t mean long it means whatever is big to you). We all have our own way of turning our nervous energy into an imaginary problem, but the only thing that is important is to just ignore it. Even as I was writing this post I had a thought in the back of my mind that maybe 9 days is enough to break in some new shoes but now that its here in black and white that I will be running the marathon in my battered Saucony’s I am committed to doing what I know is the most sensible thing, even though I could very easily tell myself otherwise.

Lessons learned

Today my schedule contained my last long run before London… 22 miles! I had been looking forward to putting in this run all week, and getting my number pick-up details through on Friday made me feel super motivated to go out and put the miles in so today should have been great… but instead it was AWFUL, and I only have myself to blame. I really messed up today for four main reasons, and all of them were entirely my fault.

  1. I had Ice-cream for dinner on Saturday. I have been on a really strict diet all week half trying to build up my carb sensitivity and half because I decided I had gained a bit of weight since I arrived in the US and I could do with losing a few pounds before I come back to London and see all my friends. Like they are going to see me and be like “Oh my gosh look what a heifer she is!”. NEWSFLASH STEPH: NOBODY CARES WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE!
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    NOT A GOOD PRE-RUN DINNER.

    So now I have told myself this important bit of information, I am going to go back to Saturday night. So my normally when I am craving carbs a quick check of my Fitbit or the MyFitnessPal app tells me I’m in a ridiculous calorie deficit and I make myself a couple of slices of toast or grab some fruit. This weekend I had lost my Fitbit charger and it was completely dead so I had to trust my instinct… and my instinct told me I must be pretty much starving to death and could eat what I wanted for tea which turned out to be a GIANT bowl of cereal topped with ice-cream and cookies, followed by a full packet of Mike and Ikes which are supposed to be 4 servings per packet. Now I know there can be some confusion about what to eat the night before a race but I am pretty sure this isn’t it, and as a result I woke up feeling awful this morning. Me and one of my best friends have done some runs severely hung over, and on very little sleep (Yes DJY I’m referring to you)… but this was way worse!

  2. I wore regular thin trainer socks. I run in a pair of battered up Sauconys and they are super comfortable, and genuinely not worn out despite looking like they are nearly at the end of their shelf life… but like all good running shoes they are slightly bigger than my regular shoe size (this was on the advice of Running experts in the shop), and the reason for that is so that you can wear a nice comfortable pair of thick running socks, of which I own several pairs, but for some reason decided not to wear today. This resulted in foot rolling about my normally cloud like footwear like a child wearing their parents shoes.. and 10 miles in my toes were blistered and sore and I genuinely wanted to stop. Why didn’t I wear proper socks? Because I wasn’t planning on doing a white wash this week. Seriously, I own about 10 pairs of running socks, I could have gone a week with them sitting in the wash basket.
  3. I didn’t have enough sleep. This one was only partly my fault as I had a Skype meeting at 9:30am but I am following an online program to improve my sleep quality and have read about keeping the same wake-up time every day so I set my alarm for 5am as I do every week day and figured 3hrs 20mins would be enough time to get back. Firstly, I should have just arranged my meeting for another day incase I felt like I wanted longer in bed.. but like I said earlier, I am an idiot. Secondly, this getting up at the same time thing is great IF you go to bed at the same time, which I generally don’t on a weekend… I’ll say it again I. am. an. idiot.
  4. I decided to skip the gels and fuel up with Peeps. What are peeps I hear you ask? They are the quintessential american easter treat, and they are basically marshmallows covered in that really gritty candy floss style sugar. Actual scientists get paid to develop gels to improve athletic performance and endurance but clearly since its easter marshmallows will be just as good ‘cos I said so right? WRONG. Why didn’t I just take a gel for back up incase my wonderful idea of marshmallows for my race fuel failed? You guessed it… IDIOT!
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NOT THE SAME THING!!!!

There were loads of other factors that ruined my run today like the cold/wind and my lack of a proper route due to it being dark when I set off but if I had properly taken control of all of the things I have listed I probably would have gotten through those 22 miles instead of coming up short at 17, two of which were 10:30+ minute miles.

I haven’t decided whether to just accept it as a bad run and start my taper based on last weeks 20 miler, or if to try again in the week and make sure I put in the full 22. On one hand I was definitely better trained at this point in my prep for Barcelona, but on the other hand I went into Barcelona having never completed a marathon so maybe the experience is worth more than the miles? One thing is for sure though I will be properly fuelled, wearing good socks and well rested on marathon day either way!

 

Buoy Drama

In my head I had been picturing my ironman swim as a semi-leisurely couple of laps of the lake and I was focussing my training on making sure I could manage the distance comfortably… this weekends swim session made me realise just how wrong I was.

I was really excited about a proper swimming lesson with a coach and was hoping to learn some new techniques.. I am not a brilliant swimmer so I need all of the help I can get! We got in the water and ran through a couple of cool drills to learn about drifting and picking up our speed (you’d be surprised how hard it is to swim with your eyes closed  in the middle of a length and still keep on breathing!) and then it was time for the swim around the buoy challenge. During my time swimming around the dock in London and also at the Blue Lagoon I had never had much problem swimming around a buoy, I never really learned to sight I just followed everyone else, and I couldn’t front crawl at the time so it wasn’t really a problem. However when there are 20+ people in a 25 yard pool all swimming for the same point it is very different to a cruise around the dock. There were arms, legs, and feet EVERYWHERE. I was swallowing water, coughing and spluttering, and making up new swimming stokes left right and centre.

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The calm before the storm

This was definitely a wake-up call for me because I had never thought about the beginning of the swim when it is frantic and stressful like that… and after a few times of the drill I think I learned how to deal with that situation as a slower swimmer so here are my top tips (that I gained from the guys at Parker Performance):

  1. Practice freestyle swimming with your head out of the water. It will give you a HUGE advantage if you find yourself stuck in a situation like that.
  2. Dont panic. If you need to switch to breast stroke for a few strokes to get your breath back just do it and pick back up when you feel ready.
  3. You can apologise all you want but nobody can hear you so you’d be better off saving your breath
  4. Definitely practice being in this environment before you consider racing. If I hadn’t experienced this session and it had happened on race day I am not sure I could have pulled it back.

Next week I am focussing primarily on running as the marathon approaches but hopefully I will also be able to get another ride and a couple of swims in. I know for a fact I will be alternating between heads up and heads down sets because it really is a crucial skill to master.

To Hell and back (almost)

This week was a funny old one… Ive not been in the pool once due to a hip injury I have been struggling with for a while now, I missed my long run again due to said injury (although it was only supposed to be a fast half and I’ve given up on speed now remember), and then I almost missed my brick but decided at the last minute to just go out and do it. This week I was supposed to do a 56 mile bike ride and a 10km run so I looked at the map and found a place called Hell, Michigan, that was about 25 miles away and set off on my way. Spoiler alert… I didn’t make it to Hell, but thats because google maps tried sending me on a dirt road for the last 3 miles and my little road bike just wasn’t built for that kind of surface.

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Mentally however, I probably came closer than 3 miles to Hell. On the face of it it was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, and it was almost warm enough for shorts… but (and I didn’t realise this until I was a couple of miles into my journey) it was also extremely windy which makes for less than ideal cycling conditions, and I found myself asking “why am I doing this?”. At first I didn’t have an answer, I don’t have anything to prove to myself anyone by doing an Iron man and I certainly wasn’t enjoying the ride, but then I hit the Border-to-Border trail. The B2B will be a 35 mile bike/walking trail connecting the county I am now living in when it is eventually completed. Right now there are only sections complete, one of which is in Ann Arbor but yesterday I discovered another in Huron Mills Metropark. This trail was a bit like Richmond park but with less deer and more water, and it was BEAUTIFUL. It was here that I realised that if I wasn’t training, I wouldn’t have discovered this hidden gem just 10-15 miles from my home, and I came to the conclusion that I am doing this because I can. Will I do another full Iron distance triathlon? Probably not… the training is just too time consuming, but I will finish this one, and that is all that counts.