World Triathlon Championships Report

First and foremost, I need to thank my ‘village.’ It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to race and travel without one. So huge shouts out to Scott (my amazing sherpa, coach, and husband), my parents, Sandy, Dick, Kathy, Augsburgers, Filipics, and Sangers. They were a tremendous help and I can’t thank them enough! And a big round of applause to my sponsors; Janet Smith-Leet at Sub-5, Runner’s High n Tri, and Village Cyclesport. I also had a huge amount of support from extended family and friends, thank you thank you thank you!!!

At the beginning of the season, my main goal was to place top 5 in my age group at the World Triathlon Championships in Auckland, NZ. (This is a race you have to qualify for by placing in the top 18 in your age group at the USAT National Championships). I knew it would be difficult, but feasible, as I placed 8th in 2009. But, you never know who your competition will be from all the other countries as it can change from year to year depending on if people age up and/or if they improve.

Come mid-season, my goals changed as I’d been having issues with my hip since spring and it wasn’t getting any better. It never hurt during my workouts, but after a few minutes of sitting down, it was not fun. First thing in the morning coming down our stairs was no picnic either. Another issue was my bike. It had been much slower than last year in every race and every workout. We still can’t figure out why, but all signs point to my hip. I’m not for excuses, but I’m realistic. With the way things were going, my goal for top 5 would be quite a stretch. So, I just made the best of everything and did the best I could with really no set goals.

Fast forward to New Zealand. We arrived Thursday evening after a LONG trip via Tokyo with a 6-hour layover, then to Sydney with a 5-hour layover, and finally to Auckland. Our flight was delayed, but we arrived just in time for the pre-race dinner. The food was mediocre, but it’s always fun to see athletes from all the other countries.

The next couple days entailed a all-teams swim on the course and a couple of Team USA rides on the course, the first of which was in the rain and with wind gusts of up to 60mph! There were some big hills and some steep descents with curves and one with a 180 degree turn. I figured if I could survive this, one of the scariest rides I’ve ever done, I’d be fine in the race.

Finally it was Monday, race day and the weather was good, upper 50’s, partly cloudy, and less wind than the other day. I found teammate and Facebook friend Chris Wickard from IN in the transition area and we didn’t stop chatting until a few hours later when our wave started. I normally don’t talk that much prior to a race, but she was a good distraction from my nerves and our long wait.

After we lined up for the swim start on the dock, we sat down and had a couple minutes to wait. During this time we mainly splashed our faces to acclimate to the 58-degree water. Chris cracked a couple funny comments too. We were then told to enter the water keeping one hand on the dock… a few seconds later they started us. I took off feeling pretty good and quickly found I was in the lead, but not by much. The wave was 81 people wide and I was about in the middle with fast girls on either side of me. Soon one pulled ahead so I quickly moved over and drafted off her waist. I felt great and remember thinking how nice it was to draft! 😉 Unfortunately, that didn’t last long as she just kept getting faster and I couldn’t stick with her. So the other girl and I were neck and neck, but about 20 feet apart, for about 1/3 of the race when I simply lost sight of her. We had come upon the wave in front of us so we took different routes passing those athletes, plus the waves were getting pretty big, which made it difficult to see much of anything, let alone the buoys. I couldn’t find a rhythm at this point as the waves would push me some, but just as quickly, the undercurrent would pull me back a little. I finally felt good again on the home stretch. Scott and I both thought I exited the water in 2nd, but the results say 3rd. I was passed running to T1 so maybe the timing mat was after that. It doesn’t matter though.

It was a loooooong run to T1, but I had a decent transition and a good mount onto my bike. Ok, Mare, this is it, let’s get this bike going! My quads were on fire on the first hill and I didn’t even push it that hard as I knew I had to do 5 more! Luckily, I felt better a few minutes later and just stuck to my race plan. Chris passed me during the first 1/3 of the ride, NOT a good sign as she normally doesn’t pass me until right after T2! I knew she either had a great swim or my bike was really suffering. I talked myself into the former. (You can’t always base performance on speed, especially on hilly and/or technical courses). After the turnaround, I was ready to get my groove on since it was pretty flat. But no, the wind had picked up and was in my face! Grrr! I just did the best I could like everyone else. I felt better on the 2nd loop, but girls in my age group kept passing me. Those Kiwi’s and Aussies got me on the hills!

Coming off the bike, I was ready to run. I knew it would feel easier than biking those hills. Off I went with a HUGE crowd the first ½ mile or so. There is no better feeling! Spectators can really make a difference even if they are rooting for other athletes. This was also a 2-loop course and although my legs felt ok, my voices began to chatter. In brutal honesty, here are some of the thoughts that crossed my mind: 1) This is awesome, I’m at the World Championships! 2) This sucks! Why am I putting myself through all this pain! 3) Retirement sounds really good! Maybe I’ll just have a ‘normal’ life. 4) Stop it! Race girl, you feel good, you can do it! 5) Yep, this is definitely my last race, ever! 6) Shut up! HTFU! (Harden the f up)! (Sorry mom). 7) Why are there so many turns? 8) You’re representing the USA, don’t disappoint! 9) You’re lucky you’re physically able to do this, savor it! 10) At the finish line; I’m done!!! That was freaking hard! Thank goodness that’s over! 11) When is my next race???

Yep, it’s all true!

Results: 3rd out of the water, 20th in my age group with a very slow time (for me). But in talking to many athletes afterwards, most were 15-20 minutes off their ‘usual’ times so that made me feel better as I was that much off too. It just reiterates that you can’t always base results on times. Sometimes you can do everything right and it still won’t be your day. That’s the hardest part about being an athlete, especially when you know throughout the season you followed your training plan 99.9%, you ate well, you rested well, you never tweaked a workout, you only missed 3 workouts since March, you believed in your coach’s plan, etc. You can’t control everything, but you focus on what you can control and make the best of that and I did. Although I am not happy with my race, I am content knowing I can look back and not have changed a thing, no regrets. In the end, I had great experience, I met some great people, I have my health and a wonderful family, and I was fortunate enough to race at the World Championships! How can I not be grateful!?!

Here you can find some race pics: World Championships

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The Good Day – Chicago Marathon 2012 Race Report

The Chicago Marathon 2012 was my 3rd marathon. Back in January of 2009 I’d run my first at the Phoenix Marathon, finishing in 3:28 and realizing that (1) marathons were very hard on me physically, and (2) I need to put “qualify for the Boston marathon” on my bucket list. I endeavored to figure out how to manage the former and target the latter by running the Chicago Marathon in 2010, thinking that the 3:20:59 or under qualifying time I needed was challenging, but attainable. October 2010 arrived, and so did a heat wave, with temps in the 80’s on race day, and that race and my qualifying attempt went right out the window as I limped home in 3:37. Just to add insult to injury, the Boston Athletic Association soon thereafter lowered the qualifying standards by 6 minutes for my age group – meaning that going forwarded I would need a 3:14:59 to qualify.

Fast forward to January, 2012. I signed up for Chicago again. Same goal in mind, same determination to qualify, but humbled and realistic in knowing that this goal was a stretch goal for me, and something that may take more work and effort that I could put together in the 9 months leading up to the race. Since Phoenix in 2009, I’d focused entirely on running, put the triathlon bike on mothballs, hung up the swim goggles, and slowly but surely rode the roller coaster of committed single-sport focus: nagging injury after nagging injury, accompanied by slowly improving times across all the lesser (5k, 10k, half-marathon) distances. I loved the simplicity of “just running,” and started to figure out how best to manage all those nagging injuries. Since the start of this year I put in 1049 miles of training, started my marathon focus in May and averaged 50+ miles a week since July. I PR’ed my 5k and 10k in September, so I was feeling good, but I still knew a 3:15 was right out on the very edge of possible, and I would need the stars to align come race day to even get close to that BQ time.

Race day this past Sunday dawned crisp and cold with temps in the 40s but not much wind at all at the start. I’d been a little under the weather in the week leading up to the race, but I woke up feeling the best I had in days. I downed a PowerBar, half a bagel and some peanut butter and drove down to the Loop and parked in the same garage off Monroe we use for Symphony parking…so things felt nice and familiar. I walked to the bag drop area where I hit the porta pottie, dumped my bag and headed over to the B corral with plenty of time to spare. I had on a thick plastic garbage bag and nylon pants that I ditched a few minutes prior to the start, and under that shorts, a short-sleeve shirt, arm warmers, and a long-sleeve shirt that I planned to ditch once I got going and warmed up. I also had gloves and a winter hat and my baseball-style running hat, but went with the baseball hat right away and shoved the winter hat in my pocket.

The gun went off at 7:30 and I got to the start line a minute and a half later, and off we went. The first mile is hard because you go through the lower Wacker tunnel, so my Garmin is not reading and giving me an accurate pace, I didn’t have any feel for how I am pacing, and it’s a little congested and squirrely up through the first turn at .7 miles. My goal pace was 7:26 and I knew I needed to start there and stay there if I was to have any chance…but I went through the first mile at 7:43 and was instantly freaked because even though I wanted to avoid the classic mistake of going out too fast, I hadn’t meant to go out that slowly. I put the hammer down a bit and went through miles 2-5 averaging 7:13’s. I’d started at the back of the corral, and worked up past the 3:25 and 3:20 pace groups until I was right up behind the 3:15 pace group, where I had planned to stay. I did not want to run with them (too crowded) but wanted to run behind them with them in sight. I felt amazing. I was working hard but it felt easy.

High 5's all around!

My cheering section was supposed to be at mile 3, but I missed them (we had a little miscommunication on which side of the road to look for them on). I had another sluggish mile at 7:37 as we wound through Lincoln Park, but rebounded again at 7:18 and 7:21 through to mile 8 when I did see Mary and the girls and the rest of the crew. Big cheers and big smiles…and it gave me a chance to ditch my gloves and winter hat.

Mile 18

At this point I knew I was about 30 seconds ahead of my goal pace, and I knew I should try and conserve and hold back some, but instead I surged myself up past the 3:15 pace group by a little bit – it was a big group and they were slowing and surging around the aid stations – and it was annoying me so I decided to move ahead and try to stay ahead. I was taking Gatorade and water at every aid station, but my gut was cramping a bit and I was starting to feel a little flat so took a gel at mile 12, and passed the half-way point at 1:36:44. Perfect. I was up to 45 seconds ahead now. I clicked off the next 5 miles right at 7:24 pace – steady as she goes and about 2 seconds per mile ahead of where I needed to be. I saw the cheering section again at mile 18. I took another gel.

People have asked what I thought about for those miles.

What I was thinking was “I feel amazing, but I can’t possibly keep this pace, just make it to the next mile marker and hang on as long as you can.” Passing half way is a big step because you can then start counting down the remaining miles and mentally that is a boost. At mile 20 I hit Chinatown with its surge of enthusiasm, and shortly thereafter the doldrums before the final turn north onto Michigan Avenue at mile 23 ½ . I knew that whole last stretch would be into the wind that was strengthening out of the north and that I would need to have something left in the tank in order to stay on-track and not give back the now 1:20 cushion I had built up. I was waiting for the wheels to come off at any time, but I always felt like I had a little something left in the tank…an extra gear I could go to if I needed to.

Mile 24

But I was starting to believe…and starting to think it was all possible, and while my legs were now feeling the effects, and I was sore and tired…that mattered less as I realized that with now only 2 miles to go, no matter what, I was not going to let this opportunity slip through my fingers.I saw the cheering section for the last time at mile 24. I ditched the arm warmers, and their yelling and enthusiasm washed over me.

I tried to tuck in and draft off of other runners around me to save energy, but did start giving back a few seconds per mile from 24-26.

Finally, off in the distance, I could see the giant American flag that they hang over the course at the final right-hand turn at mile 26. It seemed like it took a day to run that last stretch up to the turn. I kept looking up at the flag and the looking to see where the buildings on the right ended to gauge where the turn was…hoping it would just hurry up and get to me. After the turn you hit the only hill on the course. It’s only 200 meters long and really not that steep, or long, and it is stretch of road I’d tackled in other races many times before and I knew it was a final hurdle that would not be my undoing. The crowds were thick and loud and I reached the top and saw the 200 meters to go sign and took the final left-hand turn to the finish.

There is a picture in my head…a finish to this race I had played out in my mind endlessly since the 2010 Chicago Marathon. This visualization has 2 versions. In version 1 it is a picture of me turning that corner and staring down the finish straight to the finish line and then glancing down to my watch. And that watch would read 3:15:00. And I would know that I had come up short, and that on that day it was simply not meant to be. I would live to fight another day, but on that day, I had not been able to reach what I was seeking.

In version 2, it is a picture of me turning that corner and staring down the finish straight to the finish line and then glancing down to my watch. And that watch would read 3:14:00. And I would know that if I sprinted from there I would be able to cross that finish line in 50 seconds and the dream would be realized.

But on October 7, 2012, as I reached the top of the hill and took that turn, and saw that finish line, and looked at that watch, it did not read 3:15:00, it did not read 3:14:10…it read 3:13:03 and I finally knew for certain that the stars had aligned for me that day and that something I barely though possible was going to be a reality. As I passed the grandstands I fumbled to take my headphones out so I could hear the crowds and crossed the finish line in 3:13:53. Mission accomplished.

I was in disbelief, elated, just completely blown away. I always thought I could get that BQ time, but I really this would be the year to get me half-way there. I’d run a 3:20 or so, and build on this next year and try again. But a 15 minute PR? It might be possible, but I’d need the perfect race. It just turns out I had the perfect race.

My garmin file is here. Ignore the HR line – I threw my HR strap off at mile 2. It was just making me mental.

I also charted out my pace relative to my goal and have pasted that in below.

Pace Graph

The weather helped. It was cold – mostly cloudy – not too windy. If it had been hot this probably would not have been possible. What else made the difference? It was a combination of dozens of little things. I hadn’t missed a training run all summer. Not one. I hadn’t made every time interval  (just go back and read about my Bad Day) but I had put in every ounce I had into every mile. I ran in rain. I ran in storms. I ran in the middle of the night with a failing headlamp. I ran in heat…and this summer that heat was often unrelenting. I took care of my body. I did over half my miles (including 80% of my runs over 14 miles) on traiIs to soften the pounding on my legs (if you ever want to know anything about the Des Plaines River Trail – I know every inch of it from Chicago to Gurnee). I wore compression socks almost every night. I got fitted into better shoes (thanks Pom!). I ate better, and in the last week before the race I ruthlessly cut down my diet to drop another 2 pounds, knowing that I could save nearly a minute of time over the 26.2 miles per pound lost. I trained with the nutrition that I knew they’d have on the course. I stretched…I foam-rolled…a iced…I soaked…I ice bathed…and my plantar fasciitis, tight IT bands, ankle tendonitis, and hamstring strain that have forever haunted me instead slowly faded away.

I’m not an amazing physical specimen. I’m not a natural-born runner. I needed all those little things to add up to one special day…and they did.

Success!Hugs

All summer Mary and the twins put up with all this running, and the ridiculous logistics of trying to manage her training schedule, my schedule, and the kids’ schedule – but it was their encouragement and support that I thought of most during those 26.2 miles and provided endless inspiration.

On race day the cheering section was amazing: Mary, Sarah, Courtney, my mom, my sister Allison and her family (Josh, Nolan, Andrew), Aly Sander and Matt, and Mary’s cousin Martha. I felt blessed and inspired to have them out there for me cheering me on. It makes a difference to be able see and feel that support.

So it’s on to Boston, but I’m waiting until 2014. 2013 is too close. Now I’m off to find some other items for the bucket list…and also to check the results page one more time, because I keep going there and staring at it…not believing that it all really happened.

Results

Weekend whirlwind!

Sarah and Court are 5 1/2 and we finally decided to take them to our alma mater, the University of Illinois, to attend a football game. I was really looking forward to the weekend as I knew it would be incredibly nostalgic for me.  You see, my dad graduated from here too and starting early on, my parents introduced us (my brother and me) to the fascinating world of tailgating.  They would dress us up in orange and blue from head to toe and I loved it.  I can even recall being decked out in an orange and blue stripped sweater and socks, with blue corduroy shorts, and penny loafers.  Yep, I was cool!  😉  But what I looked forward to most from these weekends was hanging out with the Schmidt’s and Browns.  (The patriarchs were fraternity brothers of my dads and Cathryn Schmidt, to this day, remains one of my very dear friends).

Unfortunately, Saturdays game had an 11am start time and we couldn’t leave until that morning, so not much tailgating for us.  We arrived around 10:15am so only had time to walk by some cool parties and, of course for the girls, to play in a bouncy house for a few minutes. I’ll wrap this part up quickly and just say the game and experience for the girls was much fun.  The results of the game were another story.  Regardless, we will always bleed orange and blue.

Game over, more driving ensues, but only to Danville.  Not a place with much to do, but Sarah and Court love any place which has a pool. So within minutes of checking into our hotel, they were fully chlorinated. And with Scott there too, I finally had some time to indulge in a book poolside, yay!   After oodles of swimming, we had a hankering for some grub and we choose the best restaurant in town, Subway. The place was a bit dicey so we opted to take the food and have a picnic in our hotel room.  While cleaning up and getting prepped for the race, my bike called out to me and inquired why I had neglected it that day.  Holy cow!  I actually forgot to work out!!!  AND, my coach was with me all day too so apparently he forgot too!  Well, that was a first!  Being asleep by 9pm was also a first.

Having only signed up for the Boilermaker tri about a week ago, under the coaches directive, I had no idea what to expect except that it would have a large collegiate contingent. I didn’t even look at the course map until I arrived at the race, which I did about an hour before the gun went off.  There was a long line for packet pick-up and by the time I got mine, they were out of caps.   I found this odd since the race was small and I was pre-registered. No biggie though as I got to do a little advertising wearing my Bradbury Fitness cap. 😉

I had been dreaming of a race with low temps all season and I certainly got it.  Though it surprised me some as the race had a late start time of 9am. It was still cold then, especially for the spectators as the very long, and sharp, grass (it was a field) all around the transition area was wet and cold, so all their shoes and jeans quickly became that way too.  It was quite a walk to the race start so many of the athletes were complaining about not just about the cold, but walking on so much prickly grass as well.

The moments prior to the start were refreshing though.  Collegiate athletes were doing their team cheers, which was fun to witness. Some of them even became earworms during my ride, which made me feel a bit younger.  That was not the case at the race start though!  I felt OLD there, thankfully there was a good group of us in the last wave, the 40+ers.  Off we went and within 2 minutes I caught someone from the wave 2.  After that, I spent the entire swim, which was about 300 yards short, weaving in, out, and around the vast majority, if not all of wave 2, and most of wave 1. Yea!

Up a slippery hill into T1, found my spot, and then fell while attempting to take off my wetsuit.  I actually giggled and just kept at it.  The bike leg was fun, pretty, and windy.  The first girl I passed had an Illinois race kit so I said, ‘ Go Illini,’ as I went by…no response.  Oh well.  This bike was more fun for me than most races as I was actually picking off a lot of people and only 3 men passed me.

A good dismount into T2 and off I ran.  I felt ok, but as usual, it took a good mile+ to get into a groove. Then I felt really good!  Have you ever heard me say that about a run???  Yep, it’s pretty rare. (Maybe it’s because I actually forgot to work out Saturday, another first)!  Anyway, as usual, I didn’t wear a watch as it messes with my head so I had no clue as to my pace or mileage. Typically I know the latter as most courses have mileage markers every mile. Not here, not one mile marker!  So after running in, around, back, and forth in a brand new residential area, I headed back onto the main road and could see the finish line.  A volunteer cheered me on and said I was almost done.  So as I made my turn to the finish, other volunteers were directing me to run past it, go around the lake, and continue the last 2 miles. What!?!  I thought it seemed short to finish, but 2 more miles?!?  See what I get for not studying the race course?  Bad me!  I really wouldn’t have minded it as much except those last 2 were mainly on grass and uneven terrain.  I was a bit disheartened as I knew I had a great run in me, one of me best, but I also knew I needed to be a bit cautious and not injure myself with Worlds 3 weeks away.  So, the best part about approaching the finish line this time? My awesome sherpa, Sarah, and Court were there cheering me on and once again, the girls got to run with me the last 25 yards or so. I LOVE that!!!

Results: good swim, best bike of the season, and sound run.  1st overall female!  There is orange and blue in my blood baby!  😉

Now it’s off to cheer for Scott as he’s running in the Chicago Marathon tomorrow!  Go Scott Go!

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