Sunday, August 30, 2015

Toughman Utah Half Triathlon ~ August 22, 2015

On August 22, 2015, I raced in my third half iron distance triathlon. It was the Toughman Utah Half, near Provo, Utah. My husband had done some research on the Toughman brand and had heard good things. It was a 70.3 race only with 291 participants and they offered an Athena division. 

Provo is six hours away which is our max radius of races to drive to. We left Las Vegas on Friday morning so we could get to packet pick-up and hopefully drive the bike course before race day. The GPS took us to the wrong location but we were luckily able to find the right location without too much difficulty. Packet pick-up was at a local running store, Utah Run. There was a small table set up in the back where I was able to get my timing chip, shirt and swag bag. They did not have any race details like course maps or athlete lists. After that was finished, we went to our hotel and checked in. We stayed at a location about 10 minutes from the race location. 

Once the luggage, gear and kids were safely unloaded in the hotel room, my husband and I went out to drive the bike course. I was able to print up the MapMyRun directions at our hotel's work station. The first several miles of the course were in the city of Provo so there were a lot of turns. We were able to follow the directions for about the first 8 miles but then got lost. We couldn't figure out where we were on the course so we gave up. We went back to the hotel and picked the kids up and went to dinner. 

After dinner, we returned to our hotel. I needed to get a quick workout in and contemplated swimming, biking and running at the hotel fitness center but decided on an outdoor run instead. My husband and I went out for a 10 minute run around the block. Once we returned, I made sure all of my gear was ready for the morning, took a shower and went to bed.

Transition opened at 5:00 am and the race was scheduled to start at 7:15 am. We got up at 4:30 so I had time to get ready. I put on my sunscreen, got dressed, ate my breakfast, and finally woke up the kids. We were on the road by 5:15 am and arrived at the race location by 5:30 am. The swim and transition area was just inside the Utah Lake State Park. We unloaded the car and walked about 1/4 a mile to transition. 

The transition was nicely lite so I was able to find a good spot near some friends and quickly get set up. Once that was done, I was able to socialize. At 7:00 am, the race director held a briefing near the swim start explaining the course and some last minute details. As he was nearing the end of his speech, I ran to the bathroom and then went back into transition to get my wetsuit on. I was borrowing a friend's sleeveless suit since the water was just barely wetsuit legal at 78 degrees. My full sleeve suit would have been too warm. 

My wave was set to start at 7:23 am. The race director's talk went a little long so we all started about five minutes after our scheduled start time. I was in the last wave which seems to be the normal. I stood on the boat ramp talking with my husband until the wave before me went and then I entered the water. I made my way to the middle and front of the pack and waited for the countdown to start. 

As the air horn blew, I dove in and was off. I immediately popped my head back up because the water was completely black and I was taken back by that. It was so dark, I might as well had my eyes closed under the water. I realized that I would have to sight with every stroke in order to see where I was going and to not run into other swimmers. The course was a one loop, out and back within the harbor. It was very shallow and my hands hit the bottom for almost the entire swim. It was so shallow that several racers actually walked/jogged the swim. It was really strange to be swimming along and look over to see the person next to you walking through the water, many times even faster then I was swimming. I thought about walking but decided against it since this was the swim portion of the race and I wanted to do it right. 

I exited the swim and made my way towards transition. I looked at my Garmin as I crossed over the timing mat and was amazed to see 32:55. That was a new 1.2 mile PR. 

Once in transition, I chatted with my rack neighbors about the water condition as I took my wetsuit off. Everyone was grossed out with how dark and murky it was. I quickly dried my feet, got my socks on, put my biking shoes on, put my race bib on, put my helmet on, grabbed my bike and was off. T1 time was 2:14. 

Once on the bike, I was cold but I knew that it wouldn't last long. I passed a few people while still in the park, waved to my husband, exited the park, and entered Provo. The first few miles were through nice neighborhoods. I had been worried about getting lost but I had other racers around me so I was able to follow the leaders through the city. We had to cross a few stop lights but there were police officers controlling the intersections so we were able to ride right through them. That is always a nice feature to have at a race. 

Once we were out of the city, we were on farm roads. There were still officers controlling intersections so we didn't have to stop at stop signs either. The scenery was nice but we did have a long section that smelled like manure so that kind of stunk....literally. As we neared the 20 mile mark, we started to have worse road conditions. It became really rough which made it a lot harder to hold speed. There was also a slight climb for the final several miles before the turn around. Even though it was probably the hardest part of the ride, it was definitely the prettiest. It skirted along the southern edge of Utah Lake. The turn around was at a dead end. I made the turn and was looking forward to the decent but it wasn't what I expected. Due to the road conditions, I wasn't able to reap the reward that a downhill usually grants. I continued to push to try to keep my pace up. My legs were starting to burn and my lower back was starting to throb. The racers were starting to get thinner so there were sections that I seemed to be on the road by myself. Luckily, I was able to make my way back without any problems. I was glad when I returned to the smoother section of the road and was able to pick my speed back up. I weaved my way back through the city of Provo, making sure to thank all the officers for their time and help. As I approached the park entrance, I saw my husband and he cheered me on as I passed. I finally finished the 56 miles and saw that I did it in 2:54:48, an average of 19.3 mph.

I ran into transition and was so happy to be upright again. I had spent almost the entire bike ride in the aero position and my back was tired. I racked my bike, took off my helmet and bike shoes and grabbed my running shoes and hat and took off. My T2 time was 1:48. 

I was on par to reach my time goal and obtain a PR until I started my run. Within a few minutes of running, I realized that it was going to be hard. I was running in new shoes (I know, I was breaking rule #1 of never doing something new on race day) and the balls of my feet felt like knifes were stabbing me with each step. I had this happen before but the pain had gone away after a few miles. On this day, it stayed the entire time. Add that pain to my lower back pain and my run was not going to be as I had hoped. I started to do a run/walk regiment to break up the discomfort. The run was a two loop path that took us through the park. Some of the path was in the sun and other parts were along a river in the shade. I found that I needed to walk through the aid stations and through the sunny areas. I was able to run in the shaded parts. As the time went on, my goals began to change. At first, I had wanted to complete my run in 2:15. It slowly moved to 2:30 then 2:45. I even had times when I wanted to quit or cheat. Neither of those were real options because that's not who I am but the thoughts did cross my mind. 

On the second loop, I caught up to one of my friends. He was having a lot of knee pain so I decided to walk with him for about 1.5 miles. This ended up being the highlight of my race. As we were walking and talking a women asked us if we were on our first or second loop. We told her that we were on our second. She was bummed to hear that because she was on her first. She said that she hated to think that she was going to be the last person on the course. As we were chatting, we saw my husband standing ahead with the camera. I said that we needed to start running so we looked good in the pictures. She said that we should give him a true action shot. With those words, she dropped to the ground and started to crawl. I was surprised that she did that and it made me really laugh. Me and my friend continued to run and we left her on the ground. We smiled and waved at my husband as we ran by. Later that night, I looked at our pictures and discovered that my husband captured the funniest set of pictures during that event. I still laugh when I look at them!

After I left my friend, I walked a little more through the sunny area and then started to run. I was able to run for the rest of the race. It was slow but at least it was forward motion. As I made my way through the shaded path I was proud of myself for continuing through the pain even when I knew that my PR was out the window. I tend to struggle with issue of feeling like I have pressure on me to do good at my races. I have had some success and I think others expect me to do that good all the time. It was kind of freeing to lose that pressure as I came to the realization that this was just going to be a race to finish. 

As I approached the finish chute, I tried to pick up my pace. My husband had told me to finish strong so I did. I ended up finishing the 13.1 mile run in 2:50:56, my slowest half marathon to date.

I was met at the finish line by my awesome, supportive family. They untied my shoes for me as we sat and talked for a few minutes. My husband walked back to the transition area and picked up all my gear and met us back at the finisher area. I signed up for a free stretching session while we waited to see the race results. After a few minutes, my son was able to look them up online and saw that I had placed 1st in the Athena division. The race director wanted to wait until another Athena finished before he did the award ceremony. I was fine with that so we sat around and talked with friends, I drank some water and ate an ice cream cone, and I got my stretching session done. 

Finally, they held the award ceremony for the Athena division. I won with a total time of 6:22:40. 

This was not my best race but I learned a lot about myself on this race. I tried new things that didn't work out to well. I learned that deep down, I do this for me and me only. Instead of quitting and taking a DNF or cheating I choose to push through the pain and finish. When I started this sport in 2012, I only raced for myself and the satisfaction it brought. As the years have progressed, my mindset shifted a little. I needed this race to remind me the real reason of why I race. I enjoy pushing myself beyond what I think I am able to do. I enjoy the comradery I have with fellow racers, friends and strangers. I enjoy the support of my family who love me no matter how I do on a race. Winning is always nice but the rewards I get from the sheer enjoyment of racing are much greater. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Shoot the Moon at Once in a Blue Moon 5K by Calico Racing ~ 7-31-15

On July 31, 2015, we experienced a blue moon. Since this was the first one since August 2012, Calico Racing decided to put on a special night race to celebrate the event. The Once in a Blue Moon 5K had three starting time options: 6:00 PM, 7:45 PM, and 9:15 PM. Racers had the choice of racing one 5K, two 5Ks, or all three 5Ks. The Shoot the Moon challenge was to race in all three 5Ks. I participated in the Shoot the Moon challenge. I had never done anything like this so thought it was a great way to test myself and see how I handled it. 

My run coach had told me to try to negative split each mile with each race being faster than the one before without holding anything back. I knew that if I had trained for that then it might have been possible but it wasn't going to happen at this race. Instead, I decided to try to push the first race and then keep the next two races consistent. 

There were thunderstorms all around us so the air was very warm and humid. It was well over 100 degrees at race start. We were worried about being stuck in a storm but luckily, the rain and lightning stayed away. 

The race was being held at Sunset Park located near the airport. Packet pick-up was available that evening so we arrived at 5:00 PM in order to do that. We had plenty of time since the process was simple and only took a few minutes. My husband was volunteering at the aid station so at about 5:30 PM, he headed off to set that up. I met up with a few friends who were also running in all three races so the time went by quickly. At around 5:45 PM, we made our way over to the start area. 

A few minutes before 6:00 PM, the race director gave course directions and some last minute info about the race. Then we gathered together for a group picture and were off.

The course was a winding, paved path through the park. There was no shade or covering and there was only about 40 feet of elevation gain for the entire 5K. There was one aid station that would be passed at about the 1.2 mile mark on the way out and at about the 2.1 mile mark on the way back. 

I stayed true to my plan and really tried to push the first race. I could tell that I was dehydrated and that I shouldn't have eaten such a big lunch. Both started to haunt me during the first race. Since I was trying for a PR, I did not stop at the aid station which made my husband sad. As the race went on, I knew that I was not going to PR due to the heat, humidity, dehydration, burps, and acid reflux. Those things didn't stop me from trying though. I ran as fast as I could under those circumstances. The course was a little long at 3.17 miles. My splits were 8:52, 9:20, 9:37, and the final .17 was in 8:23 for a total time of 29:04. The official race results had my time at 29:03. I ended up placing 2nd in my age group for female 40-49 years old. 

After the first race, me and one of my friends decided to drive to the nearest gas station to get some waters since we had some time to kill. Also, the water on the course and at the end of the race was warm since they didn't have any ice. I bought two 1 liter bottles of water. I ended up drinking an entire bottle before the second race. I didn't think that it was a good idea but I was so thirsty. I also had a mandarin orange from the snack table. 

As the start time for the second race approached, we made our way back over to the starting area. Once again, the race director gave course directions and last minute race info. The temperatures were a little better as the sun had tucked down behind the mountains. I wore my headlamp even though I didn't need it yet. 

I wanted to still run a good race but I was not going to try to PR so I ended up running with one of my friends. It was a pleasant run as we chit chatted the entire thing. Once again, I did not stop at the aid station. The water I drank before the race didn't bother me during the run which was a good thing. My Garmin ending time was 31:58 with splits of 9:59, 10:16, 10:12, and 8:59 for the final 0.17 miles. The official results showed my time as 31:57 and I finished 4th in my age group. 

After the second race I drank another half liter of water and ate a fruit strip. There was less time between these races so we all just hung around and talked. The third race would require my headlamp to be on in order to properly see during the race. The course had lights occasionally on the route but there were areas that were really dark. Since I had worn it for the second race, I knew that it fit well and didn't move.

A few minutes before the third race start, we made our way back over to the start area and listened to our third race briefing and took our third group photo. The temperature finally felt better. It was still probably in the 90s but without the sun it felt pretty nice. 

On this race, I wanted to stay close to the second race time. I started with one of my friends and we ran together for the first mile. Then he began to have some asthma issues and had to start walking. He told me to continue on without him so I did. I ran right passed the aid station once again. Since it was dark, my husband didn't notice me anyways. 

I was finally able to do what my coach asked. The third race had negative splits and was faster than the race before. My Garmin showed a finish time of 31:46 with splits of 10:17, 10:08, 9:58 and 8:06 for the final 0.17 miles. The official results showed a finish time of 31:44. Once again I placed 4th in my age group. 

When I crossed the finish line, I was handed my finisher's medal and a volunteer took my timing chip. I met up with one friend who had already finished and we waited for our two other friends. Once we were all done. we walked back to our cars and took a group shot. We were hot, tired and happy to be done.

It was definitely an interesting way to run a 15K. My body held up pretty well. At the beginning of the second and third race, my legs started out a bit tight but loosened up before the half mile mark. I am continually surprised by what my body can do.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Hiking Half Dome ~ Yosemite National Park ~ July 22, 2015

On July 22, 2015, I hiked up Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. The journey actually started a few days before that though. We were unable to secure a hiking permit in advance so we had to enter into a lottery to get a permit. The lottery was held two days before the permit date and if you were selected, you would be notified the day before the permit date. My friend and I had blocked the week of July 20-24th off as our attempt week. We put in for hiking Monday and didn't get it. We put in for hiking Tuesday and didn't get it. We put in for hiking Wednesday and got it. I woke up Tuesday morning with the news that we were leaving in a few hours to start our 5-6 hour drive. We booked a hotel room for two nights in Mammoth Lakes, CA. We left around noon and started our drive. We were greeted with beautiful desert landscapes, mountain passes, flash floods, rolling valleys, and the Eastern Sierras. We made a quick stop in Bishop, CA at the famous Schat's Bakery. We picked up some yummy goodies for the road and continued on. We arrived at our hotel around dinner time. We checked into our hotel and unloaded the car. Then we walked next door to Angel's Restaurant and had a delicious dinner. After we finished eating, we went back to our hotel room and prepared our gear for the next day. We called it a night early since we were getting up at 4:00 AM. 

The next morning, the alarm went off and we hit the ground running. We were in the car and driving by 4:25 AM. Our drive was just over two hours and we arrived at the trail parking at 6:40 AM. The parking lot was 3/4 a mile to the trail head. We donned our backpacks and headed out. We stopped by the bathroom on the way. We had hoped to be at the trial head a little earlier but we were still good with a 7:00 AM start. We decided to take the Mist Trail up and the John Muir Trail down. 

At the trail head.
The trail almost immediately started climbing uphill. From trail head to the top of Half Dome there is a 4800 foot elevation gain. At about a mile in, we passed a bathroom and a fresh water fountain. This was the last spot to fill your water without having to use a filtration system. I was carrying 3 liters of water in my hydration pack so I didn't need to fill up. I did stop to use the bathroom because you should never skip an opportunity to use a real bathroom. I also decided to change from my capris to shorts at this bathroom stop. It was humid and I realized that I had overdressed. 

At the first bridge, looking upstream. 
After our quick stop, we continued up the Mist Trail towards Vernal Falls. As we got closer to the falls we realized why this route was called Mist Trail. The falls covered the area with a fine mist. We decided it was time to pull out our hiking sticks since the rocks were so wet. It was a strenuous but beautiful climb. 

Walking up Mist Trail towards Vernal Falls. 
We stopped for a quick picture in front of Vernal Falls and then continued climbing up. The climb was made a little easier by the steps that were cut into the side of the cliff and by large stones that were placed along the trail. Once we made it to the top of Vernal Falls, we took a moment to enjoy the view. The trail remained dry from this point on. 

In front of Vernal Falls.
We made our way across another bridge as we continued to climb. We could hear water rushing to our right as we climbed. Shortly thereafter, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of Nevada Falls. This was the only time we were able to see the falls while on the Mist Trail. 

In front of Nevada Falls.
After a steep section of switchbacks, we arrived at another bathroom at a trail junction. The John Muir Trail and the Mist Trail joined at this point. The bathroom was closed but we decided to stop for a snack at this spot. After a few minutes of rest we continued towards Half Dome. We had reached a flat, high meadow so we were able to pick the pace up. After a mile of hiking, we came to a backwoods campground. It had a compost bathroom but no water. We stopped to use the restroom. I also stopped to clean my shoes and socks out. I was hiking in my trail running shoes and they were feeling good but I could feel some small debris that if not removed could cause problems later on. 

Once we left the campground, we started to climb upwards again. About a mile passed the campground we met a guy sitting along the trial who was checking for permits. Luckily, we had ours and were able to prove our right to be there. He verified it on his tablet and wished us luck on our way. He said that a storm was coming so we tried to pick up our pace but it was hard since the climb became really steep. After a few more miles of hiking up, we reached the Sub-dome. We were greeted with the sign below at the base. It reminded us that climbing up the dome during rain and lightning was dangerous. 

The sign that greeted us at the bottom of the Sub-dome.
With the threat of the storm, we were pushing up the Sub-dome. It was about 12:00 PM and we were getting hungry. I wanted to eat at the top of the Half Dome and I didn't want to stop on the Sub-dome and possibly miss the chance to summit. About half way up the Sub-dome, I realized that I had to stop and eat. I was exhausted and thoughts of quitting were crossing my mind. I told my friend that I had to stop and she agreed that it was time. At least we stopped with a beautiful view. 

Eating lunch on the Sub-dome.
After we ate, I felt so much better. I had my strength back and was ready to tackle this mountain. I was on a mission. Towards the top of the Sub-dome, the steps disappeared and so did the trial. We were left to scramble up granite rock.

Working my way up the Sub-dome.
We stopped for a picture with Half Dome behind us in case we weren't able to summit due to the impending storm. I knew that we were going to make it to the top of the Sub-dome but making it up Half Dome was getting really questionable.

Almost up the Sub-dome.
Once I made it up the Sub-dome, I once again had my picture taken in front of Half Dome (just in case). These pictures are deceiving because they don't show the storm clouds that were approaching.

I made it up the Sub-dome!
As I waited for my friend to join me, I looked up at the cables and began to question my sanity. They were really steep and I realized why they would not be good to be on when it was raining. We had read that we needed gloves for the cables so I had packed gardening gloves. If you had forgotten gloves, there was a giant pile of discarded gloves at the base of cables. 

Looking up the cables and questioning my sanity.
I decided it was time so I put on my gloves and started up the cables. The first few feet weren't that bad but it quickly changed. Within a few feet, I was having to pull myself up by the cables. There were 2x4s placed at almost every cable post. From the bottom I thought they were there to use as steps. As I made my way up the slope I realized that they were there to stand on to keep be from sliding off the edge. They were also a wonderful place to stand to catch my breath. We were nearing 9000 feet elevation. The amount of exertion I was giving and the altitude I was at combined to make it a very difficult climb. I was only able to go two sections at a time before having to stop and catch my breath. It seemed so small, like 10 feet, but by the time I would get to the next 2x4 I would be heaving for breath. Luckily, there were no crowds and I didn't have anyone waiting on me. That way I was able to go my speed. When I was about halfway up the cliff, I heard thunder rumble behind me. My friend was just starting up the cables and we yelled to each other. We had to decide what to do. I didn't want to be stuck on top in a thunderstorm. I looked at the storm clouds and I felt the direction of the wind and decided to continue up. I would have hated to have gotten so close to not have made it. I knew that time was of the essence so I put my head down and started back up. I was beyond exhausted but I had to do this. The final sections of the cables began to level out and before I knew it, I was there.

I made it!
The view was amazing! Suddenly I had a ton of energy and started hiking all around the top. I wanted to see it all. I looked over the entire valley. Shortly after I made it, my friend joined me on the top. What a feeling of accomplishment!

We did it!
I wanted to stay up there forever but I knew that we had to get down before the rain started. So with one final 360 degree look I started back towards the cables. 

About to head back down the cables.
I soon realized that the view going down was going to be a lot scarier than going up. I decided to start down facing forward like going down a set of stairs so I could see where I was going. Once it got steeper, I knew that I wasn't going to be able to stay that way and turned to the side. I grabbed hold of the one cable with both hands and held on for dear life. There were times when my feet were sliding down the cliff because it was so steep. My gloves were starting to disintegrate. Apparently, they were not made for climbing cables. Once again I was thankful for the 2x4s but this time it was because they kept me from sliding off the side of the mountain.

Looking up the cables from about the middle. 
While standing on one 2x4, I decided to stop and take a few pictures. I took one looking back up the cables and one looking down the cables. It was as steep as it looks.

Looking down the cables from about the middle. 
I finally made it to the bottom of the cables. I sat on a rock and waited for my friend. I ate a small mandarin orange and I think it was the best orange I have ever tasted. As she was making her way down, I started to feel a few rain drops. I called out to her and told her that I was going to continue down the Sub-dome and would wait for her at it's base. She said to go ahead. 

Going down the Sub-dome was so much easier than going up. I made great time and was quickly at the bottom. I ate another mandarin orange and talked to people as they were starting their climb up. Soon my friend joined me and we continued down the trail. About five minutes after that it began to rain. We had just beat the storm. We stopped and got our rain gear on. I had a poncho that fit over my backpack. As we were hiking down, I couldn't see where I was stepping and slipped off a rock and went down on my left knee. I ended up cutting my knee and hand and scraped up my calf. It drew blood but we laughed about it. We stopped for a few minutes so I could rub some antibacterial cream on the open areas. I decided that seeing where I stepped was more important than being dry so I packed my poncho away. The rain was also stopping so I wouldn't have needed it much longer anyways. 

We continued down and soon made it to the flat meadow again. We stopped at the campground again for a bathroom and snack break. It was about 3:00 PM and we enjoyed our short break before continuing on. Once we reached the trail junction, we saw that the bathroom that was closed earlier was now open and there were several people stopped there. This is where we started taking the John Muir Trail instead of the Mist Trail. The trail took us to the top of Nevada Falls. There were a lot of people there. We realized that most of the people hike up and spend time there. I understand why. It offered a beautiful view across the valley.

Looking out across the valley from the top of Nevada Falls. 
The John Muir Trail was a longer route down but it was less steep and had fewer switchbacks. It was also a great way to see a different part of the scenery. It gave us a great view of Nevada Falls.

Nevada Falls from the John Muir Trail.
We continued down. We were both starting to get sore and really tired. I felt like we were hiking at a steady pace but people kept passing us. At about 5:00 PM, we stopped for our final snack. We wanted to make sure we were down before dark so our stop was a short one. Finally, the John Muir Trail rejoined the Mist Trail just above the bathroom and water station. It seemed to be perfect timing because I had just taken a drink of water from my hydration pack and sucked a little bit of air so I knew that I had about one drink left. As we approached the water station, I took my last drink. Unfortunately, the bathroom and water fountains were closed and locked up. I knew that we had about a couple miles left but that it was downhill so I should be fine without water. We crossed our last bridge and made it back to the trail head. We stopped for one more picture on our way out. We hammed it up a bit to show how tired we were. In reality, we were so excited about what we had just accomplished.

How we felt at the end of our hike.
We passed another bathroom that was open so we used it. It also had a drinking fountain so we took several drinks before hiking the final 3/4 of a mile to the parking lot. We reached our car at about 6:35 PM. 

We had hiked 18.77 miles in 11 hours and 52 minutes. We had completed a feat that I had thought impossible. We were totally blessed. The weather ended up being perfect and we were able to hike the entire route during daylight hours. This adventure is not for the faint of heart. You cannot be afraid of heights and you must be in decent shape. I know that my triathlon training helped me be able to accomplish this task. Muscular strength, cardiovascular strength and endurance are a must. If you have those though, this hike is a must! The reward is 100% worth the effort.