Monday, September 13, 2010


Shhhhh.  Want to know a secret?  Well, shhh, and I'll tell you about my race on 9/11. 

Before the Race

When you prepare for a whole season for a big triathlon, as I prepared for the Patriot's Half Ironman this year, by race day you are a bundle of nerves.  Most people pick out a "mantra" that calms them down.  I wasn't sure what my mantra would be for the Patriot's Half. 

I did know I'd be lucky, though, because the fortune cookie I had after finishing my PF Chang's Singapore Street noodles the night before the race said so.  And it had some "Lucky Numbers," which reminded me of my 7 weeks in Hong Kong doing a project for Philip Morris.  Whenever you bought something in the big stores in Hong Kong (and I bought a lot of good stuff), you'd get a receipt and a Lucky Number.  With the Lucky Number, you'd go to a counter where ladies repeated "lucky number! lucky number!"  Every number was a lucky number.  If you handed over your lucky number, you'd get a prize of some sort.  All sorts of different things.  It made you want to keep coming back for more, so you could get more prizes.  Anyway

The night before the race, I got all kinds of lucky numbers.  The noodles were a great pre-race meal, and it was gratifying to know that on race day, I'd be lucky!  I hoped that it would be good luck!

There was some thing special, too, about doing this race, the Patriots race, on the anniversary of 9/11.
On 9/11/01, I calmly rose at dawn to get into the office early because I had a closing the next day and many hours of work to do before the closing could occur.  But in the quiet morning, I got several hours of solid work done and felt good about what I'd accomplish for the day.  Then someone came and told me to come look at the TV, and the whole world changed.

On 9/11/10, I rose before dawn with butterflies in my stomach and thought about the race ahead of me.  My friend Lilo had told me to hold the butterflies in my hand till the race finish and then to let them go and fly away.  What an image!

Holly, Beth, Dale and I left the hotel at 5:00 am for the race site, where we were told to park in a large hay field.  We unloaded our gear and took turns pumping our bike tires with air, using Holly's truck lights to see what we were doing.  I pumped my back tire fine, and then started on the front one. 

Shhhhhh   Shhhhh   Shhhhh   The air was coming out, but not going in.  Clearly Ariel had a flat.  I would have to change her tire tube before the race start.  Now I was nervous.  In theory I can change a bike tire tube, but it could take me a LONG time.  At these races, there are bike mechanics on hand to help with things, and I decided to have an expert change my tire tube.  But the line was too long!  I began to panic.  I took a deep breath and quieted my mind.  Then I knew what my mantra would be:  shhhh shhhh shhhh 

Then it came to me: Coach Tyler was not racing, but he was planning to drive from Richmond to see us start and through the swim.  I called him on my blackberry, and said he was on his way and would help with the tire.  So I set up my transition, and I realized I forgot my visor!  Running a half marathon without a visor--yikes!  I remembered to remain calm--shhhhh.   I recalled some $5 visors for sale at the registration tent.  I had no money, but Holly had mentioned she had some cash.  "Holly, do you have any cash?"  She replied, "I only have $5."  LUCKY!  Is there any tax?  I found the visor and handed the man the fiver.  "Thank you and good luck on the race!" he said, with no mention of tax.  Whew!  With 15 minutes to spare before transition closed, Coach Tyler arrived, and boy was I glad to see him.  He deftly changed Ariel's tire tube, and announced that the problem was the valve stem, which meant that there was nothing inherently wrong with the tire, no glass hidden there likely to cause a second flat.  LUCKY! 

My Goals for the Race

Patriots would be my second race of this distance, 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, and 13.1 mile run. Last year, I raced Augusta, and finished in 7:30:39. The swim at Augusta, though, was downstream in a rushing river.  I completed the Augusta swim in 33:55, but I expected the swim at Patriots to take an hour because there was no downstream current to carry me.  If my cycling and running had not improved, therefore, my Patriots time would be close to 8 hours.  But, I knew I had improved.  So, I figured that if I cycled and/or ran faster, I could make up that extra 30 minutes needed for the swim, and still come in under 7:30.  That was goal one, to beat last year's time despite the harder swim.  And, shhhhhh, I had a secret goal, a stretch goal, to finish in fewer than 7 hours.

The Swim

The swim sounds simple:  Swim from the shore straight out to a yellow buoy and turn left, then swim parallel to the shore (more or less downstream) to another yellow buoy, then turn left and head straight into shore.  I was in the fifth wave so I had the advantage of watching the men and younger women start ahead of me.  Coach Tyler was on shore, and he told several of us to be sure to swim to the right of where we wanted to go because the current was carrying the swimmers, even the strong swimmers, to the left of the first turn buoy.  The last thing you want to do is to get out where the buoy is supposed to be and discover that you have to swim upstream to get around it.    I took this advice, and swam wide.  Most everyone else headed straight to the buoy.  Every few strokes, I would peek up to see the buoy, and I was glad I was banking right, because the current was carrying me closer to it, and carrying others far away from it.  When I got to it, dozens of people had gone to far left and were swimming back toward it to round it.  I rounded it wide to avoid the mayhem and began to swim parallel to the shore.  Before I knew it, likedy-split, I saw, and rounded, the second yellow buoy.  Now my job was to swim to the shore. 

I looked up and I was LOST.  Part of the problem was that the shore was not straight.  Part of the problem was that the sun shone brightly in my eyes.  Part of the problem was, I saw swimmers, but I couldn't tell if they were coming or going.  Moreover, they had not been good guides earlier in the swim, so maybe they were going the wrong way.  I started to panic, but remembered "shhhhhh."  I would get through this.  A woman in a kayak said, "swim toward the light."  I swam toward the blinding sun.  Soon, however, I realized that this was not the "light" to which she referred.  I asked someone on the boat, "where is the exit?"  He said, "see the strobe light?"  Strobe light?  No!  "See the yellow balloon man?"  I saw this balloon blowing in the distance and headed toward it.  Soon, though, I was lost again.  I asked directions again, and realized that to exit I had to swim very far to the left.  I headed that way and sighed at how far it looked.  But at least I was going the right direction now.

While I was still far from shore, my hands began to touch the sandy bottom of the river.  Just a few weeks ago, I had learned to "dolphin dive," and I knew I had to use this technique because running too far in water would wear me out.  Dolphining consists of grabbing the sand with your fists, pulling your feet up to your hands under the water, and then doing an arch with your arms and diving forward in the water.  Coach Michael had taught us this technique and after watching me attempt it a few times observed that "belly floppin' might not be ideal."  I replied, "indeed, it's called the 'dolphin,' not 'the big fat whale'!"  By race day, I was no longer imitating Willy, but I felt a bit more like a frog, or--dare I say a toad--than a dolphin.  I contemplated walking the rest of the way, but I saw Coach Tyler waiting on the shore and kept it up.  Finally it was too shallow to dolphin, and I stood and began to run out of the water.  "I think I swam two miles!" I shouted to Tyler, and he replied, "You are not alone!" 

As I came ashore, I unzipped my wetsuit and pulled it off my shoulders and arms.  Coach Michael teaches you to take your goggles and swim cap off and put them in your wetsuit sleeve, but my goggles are prescription and cannot be removed till I am close enough to my bike to see my sunglasses.  So I kept my goggles on and ran.  Then, I stopped, pulled my wetsuit off completely, and threw it over my shoulder for the remainder of the (long) transition run.  I was pleased that my compression sleeves (knee socks that start below the knee and end above the ankles) remained in place.

The Bike

Back in transition, I found Ariel with my helmet and sunglasses on her handlebars.  I took off my goggles and swim cap and replaced them with the sunglasses and helmet.  I grabbed Ariel and threw my wetsuit over the rack in her place.  My shoes were attached to the pedals, so I continued to run, barefoot, out of transition, pushing Ariel by the seat.  After the mount line, I put my hands on Ariel's handlebars and jumped on her seat.  I found the shoes, right side up--LUCKY-- and pedalled with my feet atop the shoes.  I knew there was a long flat stretch, so I took my time in riding while grabbing my right shoe by the toe, placing my foot inside, and then closing the velcro.  Then the same for the left shoe.  I was in and I was off! 

And what a great bike ride!  I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day: after the summer of heat, the temperature was moderate and the humidity was low.  The Patriot's bike course is not a hilly course, but a fast course with just a few modest hills.  I felt great, and focused on making sure I ate and drank appropriately, so I wouldn't get too hungry and lose energy.  I felt so lucky, and I heard the Chinese ladies' voices: "Lucky number! lucky number!" 

There were three bottle exchanges on the bike ride.  Only water was being offered at the first one, so I rode past it without stopping.  At the second stop, I missed the chance to throw my bottle away, but I took a bottle of Heed and refilled the nearly empty water bottle on my aero bars and drank deeply from the Heed bottle, and tossed it away.  Good; more than enough for the rest of the ride, particularly if I took another Heed at the last stop.  The third stop was supposed to be at mile 45, so I looked for this.  At mile 42, I saw a group of volunteers with flags.  Was there a turn?  I thought it was straight on.  I asked "which way?" and they said "straight."  Then I realized--this was the water stop.  No Heed for Amy.  Oops.  Good thing I still had plenty of Gatorade and Heed on the bike. 

By this time, with 14 miles to go, my right hip (top of my IT band actually) was getting tight and sore. I stood up a few times to stretch.  I thought "oh, nothing a little 13.1 mile run won't cure!"  HA HA HA.  I am so lucky!

Before I knew it, I was headed back into transition (T2) and I undid the velcro on my shoes, removed my bare feet, placed them on top of my shoes and kept pedalling.  I slowed near the dismount line and put my leg over the seat.  Not graceful, but I did it!  I pushed Ariel by her seat back to her rack, and racked her on top of my wetsuit.  I removed my helmet and put on my socks, in which I had put lots of talcum powder, and my shoes with the elastic laces.  I grabbed my visor, race belt and fuel belt, and headed out on the run, putting these items on as I ran. 

The Run.

Out of transition, someone offered me water and Heed, but I declined and concentrated on getting into a running rhythm.  My goal for the run was to walk only while taking in fluids at the water stops, and to run steadily the remainder of the time.  And I felt pretty good as I started.  The run course was a two loop course, so fairly quickly I saw my speedier teammates.  I didn't see Coach Michael, who finished second overall.  I suspect he was finished with the whole race before I started my 13.1 mile run.  But he had an advantage--he started in an earlier wave than I did.  : )  But soon enough I saw Whitney (who would take 1st in her age group) and many other teammates, most on their second loop as I rounded the first loop. And, several times, I saw a man who carried a large American flag as he ran.  "Thank you!" I said to him.  It was a fitting tribute to those who have served our country in the military, as my husband did in Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  Patriots.

Although there was some sun, most of the course was on tree-lined trails.  This was a very good thing because I noticed that I was a lobster.  I had planned to use a spray on sunscreen that morning, but in my haste with the flat tire, I forgot.  LOBSTER!   Nothing to do, though, but to try to run in the shade.  Whenever my energy flagged, I would see a red uniform ahead of me, headed the opposite direction, and I would pick up the pace to meet a teammate.  I started on the second loop and passed Holly going the other way.  "Are you on your second loop?" she asked.  "I'm jealous," she said as I nodded.  But she was not very far behind.  I saw Beth, who said, "my goggles snapped off my head!"  Whoah.  Not so lucky.  But she was still going.

At the turn around for the second loop, with only about 4 miles to go, a volunteer offered "a Double Espresso Hammer Gel?  It's like Starbucks!"  I was running next to a man who looked like he'd lost his last friend, and I said, "I'll have one, and I'll buy one for him too!"  We each took the gels, tore off the tops and downed them.  YUCK!   For future reference, if you tell everyone you like Starbucks, but secretly you think it's a little bitter, then you do not want to try Double Espresso Hammer Gel.  Stick to your Folgers.  But I will say, it perked me up.  And the man I'd treated to the medicine perked up too.  I shouted, "Hey, aren't we LUCKY?" 

The rest of the run seemed easy.  I know that seems weird to say, but soon I only had 3.1 miles left, and I began to say, "I've got this in the bag.  I've got it.  I've got it."  When a young woman at the next stop said, "You got it!" I realized I was talking out loud.  Shhhhhh! 

As I rounded the corner to the finish line, I felt great.  I heard my name as I came in and saw Coach Michael and many teammates cheering.  I let go of the butterflies and the finish was beautiful!  I did it!  LUCKY!!

I looked at my run time and was amazed.  It was the fastest I have ever run a half marathon.  I guess it helps me to warm up with a swim and a bike ride!  And, after a little rest, I looked up my results.

The Results.

My official time for Patriots was 6:59:03.  I was thrilled because I made my stretch goal of completing it in under 7 hours, despite the longer swim.  Here are the splits:

Swim  59:12 (pretty good considering I figured it would take an hour under the best conditions, and then I got lost!)
T1       4:49
Bike  3:23:28
T2      1:58
Run   2:29:29

Yipee!  That's it for me and triathlons this year.  My next athletic event is the Marine Corps Marathon, on Halloween.  I hope to sport a Purple Head of Hair for that event.  You can help that happen by donating to my Team in Training site.  Help cure cancer!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hills, Spills and Thrills--and PURPLE HAIR

Since I last wrote, it's been nothing but hills, spills and thrills.  Oh, and some purple hair! This report is another Moby Dick, so for those of you who like to skip the whaling chapters, I will give you the cliff notes:

• Spills, Part One. I took a SPILL off my bike because I clipped out wrong. I fought back tears.  Should have listened to Brother Ben!

• Hills, Part One. I went to Wintergreen to climb HILLS--huge mountains, actually--and feared SPILLS for not being able to clip out. On the big hill, I had to stop riding my bike and get in the truck. I cried.

• Thrills, Part One. What a difference a climb on a huge mountain makes. The next week, I was THRILLED that God flattened out Goochland with a large iron. But really he flattened out hills in my mind. I grinned like a monkey. Maybe there was a tear of joy.

• Spills, Part Two. The next day, I, Captain Slappy, tripped while running and SPILLED splat onto the sidewalk. I stood up and felt okay, but everyone who saw me pointed at me in HORROR. A homeless lady (I am told she was an angel from God, but it was a good disguise) took a clean paper towel I had and dabbed my bleeding hands and knees with it. A lovely thought, but the angel had a lot of dirt on her hands, so the clean towel quickly became the filthy towel. Despite her kind ministrations, the front of my knee ballooned up to the size of a Florida orange. Later, as I stood at the doctor's office with the orange on my knee and blood oozing out of the other knee, I said, "Holly, how can I do that race next week with my hands all scraped up?

• Hills, Part Two and Thrills, Part Two. I bought $250 worth of bandages during the week, trying to find some that would cover my wounds during the race and stay on. Several promised to remain on for four days during which you could bathe. These came off during the practice swim prior to the race about four seconds after they got wet. Oh, well, I raced anyway, careful not to allow the Clydesdales to kick me in the knee, which was still the size of a goose egg. There was a giant Hill on the bike course, and contemplating it before the race made me want to throw up. But once I got there, I knew I could do it. I had to go around a woman who abruptly abandoned her bike right in front of me on the hill. That would have been me if I'd done the race in the spring. But on this day, I crested the hill and shouted a whoop! What a THRILL!

Future Thrills: I have two races coming up--Patriots Half Ironman on September 11th, and Marine Corps Marathon on October 31st. I have raised over $3000 and put a streak of purple in my hair. I'd like to dye the whole head purple for the Marathon, which I will do if I raise $5000 towards the goal of curing cancer. You can help me by making a donation to my TNT site. If you already have done so, THANK YOU!!

Now for the Moby Dick:

Spills, Part One.  The Clips
I should have listened to my little brother.  A little over two years ago, Ariel came into my life and I learned to clip into and out of bike pedals.  To get out, I would turn my heels in as though I were wearing Dorothy's ruby red slippers.  "There is no place like home."  Ben told me to go the other way, pigeon toed.  "What you are doing is dangerous, Amy."  Ah, but what do little brothers know?

Turns out, Ben was right!  I learned this on a hot Tuesday morning as we practiced climbing hills in preparation for a trip to Wintergreen.  We stopped halfway up a hill to listen to Coach Tyler's instructions.  I stopped, clipped out, hit my spoke with my heel, and toppled over in a circle of cyclists.  For whatever odd reason, it was a circle of male cyclist--I was the only woman--so I tried not to cry.  I spent the rest of the week icing my leg and researching how to clip.   I met with Coach Dave to relearn this basic bike skill.  I found I could only clip out properly at the bottom of the pedal cycle--I do not have enough leg strength, or torque--to do it on the top.  I felt barely competent by the time I had to go, and I most feared clipping out while going up a hill.  What if I wasn't in the right place?  Would I roll back down the hill?  Someone told me not to worry, that you would fall over before rolling down the hill.  Thanks!

Hills, Part One, Wintergreen
That weekend, we found ourselves in Wintergreen, where we were to ride 50 miles, but Coach Michael said the hills would make it "equivalent to 75 miles."  As we warmed up and talked about climibing skills, I began to shake.  It was warm, but I was shaking as though it were December.  "Are you all right?" said Coach Tyler.  "No," I replied.  I was afraid of the hills.  Really deathly afraid. 

Our first task was to head down Wintergreen Hill.  It was steep and curvy.  As we descended, Ariel shouted "WHEEEEEE!" and I did too.  Tyler had warned us not to ride the brakes the whole time because this would cause our tires to burn.  I noticed helpful signs, such as "HILL" and "USE A LOW GEAR TO SAVE YOUR BRAKES."  I used my brakes on the straight parts, and released them on each turn.  The hill kept going.  After a while, my hands were so tired I wondered if I could keep squeezing the brakes!  I resolved to use the "GRIP MASTER" I keep in my desk drawer at work to make my hands stronger.

I think the downhills were my favorite part of the weekend, but the scenery was beautiful, too, as we travelled through some flat ground, and then the rolling foothills of the mountain.  I knew, though, that we approached Crabtree Falls.  The climb up this hill is incredible.  It starts with small climbs that level off every so often.  What follows are steeper and longer climbs that "level" off every so often to what you thought were big climbs until you saw the bigger climbs.  At each climb, I worried whether I could make it to the next level spot.  If not, I was not sure I could clip out without falling.  The fear of falling with my feet clipped in gripped me.  Coach Renee was close by.  "I can't do it any more," I announced.  And she would say, "Just try this one more."  And I did.  But eventually, I clipped out at a flattish place and begged her to go ahead and send "the Truck."  I walked some, climbed a bit more, and cried.  Finally Guy showed up in the truck, and I wiped my tears as we loaded my bike and rode up the remaining hill.  It continued just as steeply for several miles more.  We passed my teammates in the third pace group, which we had dubbed "Team Zebra."  (The faster groups were far ahead of us.)  Everyone on Team Zebra walked a bit of the Crabtree Falls climb to the store. 

Soon after the store, we began the remainder of our ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Coach Sallee announced that the hills there were merely "rolling" and we'd enjoy the ride.  Let me tell you: Rolling Hills on the Blue Ridge are HILLS!  But after the humiliation of getting off the bike at Crabtree Falls, I was determined not to walk on a "rolling hill."  After climbing a particularly tough one, huffing and puffing, Coach Michael passed in the truck and shouted, "Great Job!  That was the last hill!"  I believed Michael and said "Praise God, Hallelujah." And then I climbed up two or three things. I don't know what they were, but they did a good job of pretending to be hills.

Thrills, Part One. God's Iron

God must learned from my experience at Wintergreen that I don't mind hills, so long as they are not steep or long.  The weekend after Wintergreen, we rode 64 miles on a regular route that we take most Saturdays in Goochland County, outside Richmond.  Normally it feels hilly.  I remember in the spring huffing and puffing up some preliminary hills and being rescued by Coach Phil, who let me draft off him to catch up to the group.  But after Wintergreen, the experience was different.  It was as though God had gotten busy with his iron and flattened out Goochland.  He figured I wanted no hills, and flatly eliminated all the things I used to think were horrible hills out there. Goochland is not flat, mind you; apparently God used Coach Michael's definition of hills during his ironing binge.  Everything out there for 65 miles was no hillier than the things that followed Michael's report of "no more hills."  After all the hard work, to bound easily up these hills, er.. things, was a THRILL.

Spills, Part Two.  Captain Slappy.

Various coaches have told me I run like Bozo the Clown.  I prefer to think of myself as Captain Slappy.  I don't "heel strike," which is the number one no-no of running.  I land on the balls of my feet, but with a vengance.  If you run beside me you will hear, "slap, slap, slap, slap."  It's a regular rythm.

The next day, I ran like Captain Slappy, tripped over a lip in the sidewalk and SPILLED splat onto the sidewalk. I stood up and felt okay, but everyone who saw me pointed at me in HORROR. A homeless lady--a friend told me she was an angel sent from God--took a clean paper towel I had and dabbed my bleeding hands and knees with it. A lovely thought, but the angel had a lot of dirt on her hands, so the clean towel quickly became the filthy towel. Despite her kind ministrations, the front of my knee ballooned up to the size of a Florida orange. Later, as I stood at the doctor's office with the orange on my knee and blood oozing out of the other knee, I said, "Holly, how can I do that race next week with my hands all scraped up?

Hills, Part Two and Thrills, Part Two, Luray

The week following my spill on the sidewalk was the Luray International Triathlon. I was recovering from my wounds and wondering if I should race. Would it be prudent? And then my teammate Eric said that there was a hill at the end of the bike route that he called a “DOOZY”! I told him this announcement made me want to puke. I shouldn't race!  Then I couldn’t decide if I was considering pulling out of the race because of my wounds or because of my fear. I decided to travel to Luray and race. I was determined to defeat the hill.

When I got to the swim portion of the race, I had a new concern that delayed my fear of that hill. My knee was still swollen the size of an apricot (down from the original navel orange size that occurred when I fell down). The eight dollar bandages that my friend Lenora had recommended to me became parachutes during the practice swim and had to be removed. And then I learned that I was in a later wave, along with the Clydesdales. Really big dudes. When I saw them, I forgot about the hills for a bit and worried whether one of the big dudes might take me out with a breast stroke frog kick to my leg. That would scuttle any opportunity for me to try getting up Puke Hill. So there was to be no drafting in the swim, I tell you.

Kelly Hadiaris, on the other hand, had no such worries. She went off in an earlier, fitter wave. I'm pretty sure she did some drafting. And you would have too. You can see evidence that she was obviously drafting in the photo, attached. Teammate Brenda snapped this when Kelly emerged from the water. Brenda deserves an award for this photograph, I do believe. You feel like you're right there, now don't you?

Kelly calls the photo "every racer deserves an entourage.” Kelly can call this photo whatever she pleases, but I call it a Chippendale's party. Look at her, Dirty Dancing out of the water with none other than Patrick Swayze!

But just so you know, I had a little party myself. I think there's a picture of me dirty dancing out of the Lake Luray too. Looks just like Kelly's photo, except my dirty dancing partner is Chris Farley.  Can't seem to find the photo to post here; you'll just have to trust me.

Now, children, if you are too young to get the cultural reference, you can thank somebody for you tube and watch the Saturday Night Live skit to which I refer. Here you go:

More Thrills and Hills, I prefer no more Spills!
Coming up next on my calender is the Patriots Half Ironman on September 11th.  A patriotic race for an important day for our country.  It's a 1.2 mile swim in the James River in Williamsburg, followed by a 56 mile bike ride and then a half marathon run (13.1 miles).  So, 70.3 miles altogether.  We previewed the whole course over two days last weekend.  I was helped tremendously by drafting off the back of Coach Tyler's bike during the training ride--I won't have that crutch during the actual race.  I am hoping to beat my Augusta Half time, which was 7 hours and 31 minutes.  The swim will be slower for sure because Augusta's swim was downstream.  A log could have swum that fast, frankly.  I swam Augusta's 1.2 miles in about 30 minutes, whereas the Patriots swim will be closer to an hour.  So I will need to cut the bike and run time by 30 minutes just to match my Augusta time.  Yet I really do hope I can beat it.
After Patriots, I will focus on running with the Marine Corps Marathon coming up at the end of October.  Marine Corps Marathon features a large hill at the very end of the run.  So hills remain in my future!
Purple Hair
As you know, part of my motivation for doing all this is that I'm raising funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  I have raised over $3000 so far, so I previewed the purple look recently at Allyson's hair salon.  Take a look at the photos. I really want to paint the whole head purple, though, which is what I'll do if I raise $5000.  If you have contributed already, thank you very much!  If you want to contribute but have been procrastinating, now is the time!  Just click on the link to my fundraising website, and the rest is easy!