Last weekend I had the chance to race my first 70.3 event put on by IRONMAN. Last year I had a unique look at how one of these events is run as I represented a vendor who was a partner to IRONMAN. I was able to see the entire event, from the start of the expo to the end of the event, when the very last finisher crossed the line. And let me tell you - those athletes who are staggering in at 8:29:13 at 5pm when 90% of the racers are already showered and off to their post-race dinners - those athletes are the toughest of them all. It's remarkable that an athlete can complete the distance in 3 hours and 40 minutes. It's beyond incredible that someone out there is trying just as hard as that athlete who can finish under 4 hours, and they're doing it for TWICE as long. Those people are the biggest winners of the day if you ask me. I'm always trying to get things done as quickly as possible so the pain can stop. They have to suffer for longer than I can ever imagine. It's something to be in awe of...
I'll preface my personal race recap with a look at how I planned this race to go. From the get-go, it was highly unlikely that I was going to complete the entire run. I've been battling a bit of posterior tibialis tendonitis for 2 months and my running outdoors has been at a minimum. More on that later. So the plan was to find some feet and swim with a group, per the advice of Tim with Magnolia Masters, bike really, really hard, and do just one loop of the run then assess where that gets me and decide if it's worth it to continue running (basically, if a top 10 finish was possible). Most importantly though, the goal was to get experience in an event I'm going to be doing quite a bit of over the next few months and years.
The swim went technically to plan, but not quite how I would have liked it in hindsight. We started out with one of the largest fields I've ever raced in. Somewhere around 30 girls were on the start line. The advantage I saw was the chance to have more people at my ability to swim with. Typically at my pro races so far, I've been lucky to have 10 people on the start line - and at least one of them is an Olympian, a World Champion, or has made the Olympic Trials in swimming, making it a challenge to stay on their feet. So with this advantage at play I knew if I found some feet I'd be in good shape. The swim went out hard with lots of feet grabbing, elbows, and thrashing. The pack started to separate and I found myself at the front of a third group with about 10 meters between me and the second group. I tried to bridge that gap but unable to, I had to settle in. I was at the lead of a group withgirls on my feet till the turn at the first bouy when one girl took a sharper turn and swam in front of me. I decided to let her do the work and save my energy. A good choice - and a bad choice. While I saved a lot of energy, I found myself zig-zagging trying to chase her as she zig-zagged from bouy to bouy. I finally just sat back a bit and kept my straight line while she went back and forth in front of me. We came out of the water 8 minutes down on the lead. Oof. Got some work to do.
Onto the bike and right from the get-go I could tell something wasn't right. My hips were super tight and immediately I could not find a comfortable place to stay situated on my saddle. My saddle has been a bit of an issue for a while now. I've tried a host of things to help alleviate it - from special butt cream to zip ties and nothing totally solved the problem. The problem is simple - my saddle is old and totally worn out. And at a race like Galveston the strong survive by sitting in one spot on their saddle, not moving much, and grinding away. With flat terrain and strong winds, you want to be as aerodynamic and still as humanly possible. When you can't sit still because you are in so much pain from saddle discomfort, you're in for a long day. To alleviate some of the pressure I started arching my back. At about mile 25 I sat up for a minute and some pretty intense pain started radiating down my lower back - to the point that tears were brought to my eyes. You can imagine how the rest of this ride went. I slowly watched my watts go from 10 watts under... to 20... to 30.... to 40, to the point where I was just trying to get back to transition so I can get off my bike and lay down.
You don't want problems like this to crop up on race day, but unfortunately I have this nasty habit of ignoring small problems and letting them become bigger ones at dramatic moments. Another lesson learned. Riding at race effort with endurance watts isn't very fun. Saddle discomfort can completely rob you of watts. It's actually remarkable how fast I rode considering the type of effort I put down when you look at the numbers. Promising, perhaps for my position and equipment (kudos to my bike from Bikeland and wheels from Cantu). Now... to get my rear (literally speaking) in gear.
Obviously after a back-breaking ride, I was in no condition to jump on the run. I decided to save my leg the extra stress and get to recovering as soon as possible.
I've seen progress with my injury recovery and I have to give much credit to a special and unique tool. I've been fortunate to start a new relationship with a company in the Woodlands called Relief Express, who has a host of recovery tools - from Cryotherapy chambers, to localized Cyrotherapy treatments, to Normatec boots, and nerve entrapment treatments. Though, the most important and useful tool for me has been the Alter-G Treadmill. If you aren't familiar with this magical machine, take a look at their website. Essentially, it's a treadmill where you can adjust your body weight down to as low as 20% to reduce the load you put on you muscles and joints. Imagine how easy on your body it would feel if you could run like you only weighted 20-40 pounds. With any skeletal or muscle injury from running, it's usually the load, not the actual muscle contraction or joint movement that causes pain. In my case, the muscle I've injured actually doesn't take on a lot of the load of running (actually as little as 15-20% of your weight), but any acute stress will aggravate it as the tendon is knotted up and tight. When I run the tendon twists and pulls away from the place on the bone where it attaches. Until my tendonitis calms down and the tightness of that tendon reduces, the pain from that tugging will continue and put me at risk for a fracture. Without a lot of blood flow to that area, the healing process will be slow. However, by reducing the percent the tendon can tug on that bone which increases as you increase your load (currently I feel nothing at about 80%) and still working out all other running muscles, I can continue to improve my running ability while minimizing the stress I put on my injury. Each week I've been incrementally increasing the amount of body weight I put on my leg to gradually reintroduce myself back into normal outdoor running at 100% of my body weight. Each week I see small improvements and feel like I'm still maintaining much of my speed. If you are a competitive athlete aspiring towards big goals but injury has limited you, you'd be wasting your time not to invest in running on this machine. Having used it several times in the past - I believe it heals you quicker than standard rest (healthy blood flow to muscles and joints + keeping your running muscles strong by still using them) and returns you to running MUCH quicker than the typical aqua-jogging route. Aqua-jogging can be effective - but it also demands a much slower return to running after being nearly weightless for weeks or months. When you stop your time on the alter-g and reach full recovery, you could be back to the mileage and speed you previously were at almost immediately. Most triathletes and runners are looking for that quick-fix. Running on the alter-g is about as quick a fix you can get when faced with a dream-crushing injury.
All that being said... It looks like I'm doing some things right. And other things I still need a lot of work on. But isn't that how it is for any of us? You can never trust an athlete who says everything about their training is clicking along well. There is always something that needs work and something to improve upon. A race is a mere snapshot into what I need to do/am doing to fix my problems.
Looking forward I have a few fun races to gear up for in the coming weeks and months. First... a local favorite (outside that other little triathlon in the Woodlands), the CB&I Triathlon where I will attempt to defend my title as the Queen of the Bubble World. And later in May I'll be heading to Tennessee (a bit of a homecoming for me, having started my triathlon career in Tennessee) to race IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga, this time healthy and with a less sore tush/back!