Tuesday, March 10, 2020

First Race of 2020 - One City Half Marathon...

.. a disappointing, painful 1:27!

This is so true...

Sunday's race was a mental test more than a physical one.
- 2 1/2 hour bike workout the day before the race: check
- Feeling lethargic from swim/bike training: check
- Minimal running in January due to a random foot injury: check
- Only one speed workout (and could barely hold 6:50 pace): check

I begged my coach to taper me for this race. I HATE not being competitive. I love to chase PRs, see solid proof that I'm improving, and of course I love to place well - especially in a hometown race. His response: "If you're concerned about performing at small races, you need to be ok with being average at the big one." Alrighty then... let's stick to the goal..get me ready to rock and roll at next month's Half Ironman.

So there I was on the start line, exhausted, sore, and wondering how on earth I was going to make it through 13.1 miles.

Eye's closed and suffering not even 5K into the race FML
I planned to stick with the 1:30 half marathon pace group for the first few miles, but when the horn blew the competitor in me took over and I went through the first mile in 6:44. I felt like 💩. To put things in perspective, I went out at a faster pace at IRONMAN 70.3 Augusta. I literally swam 1.2 miles, biked 56 miles, then set out at a faster pace in the blistering summer heat in Georgia. I tried to convince myself that I'd get into a rhythm and feel better after I got through the first few miles.

Mile 2: 6:41
Mile 3: 6:44
Mile 4: 6:42

The amount of energy I was exerting just to hold 6:40s was brutal. I knew by the fourth mile that it was going to be one of those days where there is no runner's high, no rhythm, no sporadic "wow that mile went by really fast" feeling. So I tried to draw strength from anything I could find. I was lucky enough to be running side by side with another woman - Cathy Moore - and we chatted for a bit. I asked her what her goal time was and she said "1:26 but I'm not on pace yet". She asked me my goal time and I think I mumbled "I really just need to finish so I'll try to stick with you."

Mile 5: 6:38
Mile 6: 6:45
Mile 7: 6:45

Mile legs were feeling every bit of the previous day's bike workout (2 hours, 30 mins with 4 x 10 minutes at 90% FTP with 5 minutes recovery). If you're a triathlete you know what I'm talking about!!
By mile 8 I got dropped. Cathy put about a 15 second gap on me and I was running all alone. Luckily we had the elite aid station right around this time. I grabbed my bottle of Sfuels off the table and chugged as much as I could before I had to toss it.
I immediately felt a little better (mile 8: 6:39) and convinced myself to try to catch up because it's so much easier running with someone else versus alone (mile 9: 6:36, mile 10: 6:41). With 5K to go I was toast but I find that if you focus on increasing the effort (leg turnover, drive the arms) and things that keep you relaxed (long deep breaths, release the tension in my shoulders) it serves as a good distraction from the misery.

Mile 11: 6:37
Mile 12: 6:36

I caught Cathy and yelled "let's go". We began what felt like a long sustained sprint. We began to pass a few guys which was encouraging, but I had nothing left in my legs and she blew by me. (Go Cathy!)

Mile 13: 6:29 - my fastest mile

Cathy and I. Thank you for letting me latch onto you for miles!!!
As I prep for my first big event - a Half Ironman at Challenge Cancun next month - I'm feeling a range of emotions. This is the most confident I've felt on a bike... go figure after my horrific crash last year. Top line is this year's watts, bottom line is last year's watts - basically my average power is about 20 watts higher than last year. I attribute a lot of these gains to 1) truly enjoying riding more , 2) my equipment (Saris H3 Smart Trainer, Cervelo P3X + HED wheels + ISM saddle), 3) my Coach Jonny who pushes me threw some grueling workouts, 4) my morning strength conditioning sessions with Danielle, and 5) using some pretty amazing devices to heal and recover quicker - HUSO Sound Therapy and Speed Hound's Recovery Boots System.

I've also found a lot of  joy in "giving back". I've spoken at universities, on tv, and even in front of who's who in the triathlon industry, but speaking to an auditorium filled with elementary school students was the SCARIEST!! But oh so rewarding. I'm truly grateful that I was able to connect with Jeremy Wall, Student Involvement Specialist for Newport News Public Schools, and I'm looking forward to speaking at two more upcoming public school events this month :-) (I discuss the positive impact sports have had on my life, the importance of habits and consistency, and how you can find inner strength to get back up after you've been knocked down - in my case racing at the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona after my traumatic crash)
They were super well behaved. When I showed them my crash photos they let out a collective "whoooaaaa" haha!!
Better than a finisher's medal at a race!
Last but not least, in case you're new to my blog, here's a three part docu-series I filmed with HOKA and IRONMAN that came out last month. They filmed me chasing my pro card, everything I went through after my crash, training with 6X IRONMAN World Champ Dave Scott, and my first time racing at Kona in October. Enjoy ;-)

Part I: Chasing history and ending up in the ER

Part II: Post Crash and training with 6X IRONMAN World Champion Dave Scott

Part III: Racing at IRONMAN 70.3 Augusta then Kona 2 weeks later

Sunday, October 20, 2019

2019 IRONMAN World Championships: A Rookie's Day in Kona

2.4 Mile Swim ~ 112 Mile Bike ~ 26.2 Mile Run
I thought this pic was fire 🔥🔥 Proudly showed it to my Dad, who proceeded to tell me that I looked like a horse, with a mane and all. It's still my favorite pic from the race though 😏 This is around mile 20. I could finally see town. I was less than 10K from the finish. And for the first time in 11 hours I thought to myself "Wow, I am actually going to be an IRONMAN."

Yes, that's right. This was my first IRONMAN. How I got a slot....
I am 100% honest about the fact that I didn't qualify. I take no pride in this. I have so much respect for the folks that earned their spot by winning their Age Group at a qualifying race, or raced 12+ IRONMANS (Legacy Program), as well as those that raised thousands for charity. But after my crash at IRONMAN 70.3 Texas in April... where I looked like this...
..I truly felt like 'you only live once, seize the moment.' So when my sponsor (HOKA ONE ONE) offered me a golden ticket 8 weeks before the race I reached out to the key people in my 'athletic' life - my Dad, my Coach (Jonathan Caron), my Mentor (Dan Empfield), and my 'Agent' (Eric Gilsenan). They all gave me the green light. And there you have it.

My only concern was if my body could handle everything in such a short span of time. Keep in mind that I went from trying to qualify for my pro card in the half distance a few months ago to waking up in the hospital being sewn back together, sucking food through a straw, broken nose, unable to turn my head, loose teeth, and having to live with my parents for weeks.

My coach pretty much had me on the 'recover, rebuild, test your fitness before Kona' torpedo plan.
But I did it.. we did it!! I fought so hard to get back. I lined up at IRONMAN 70.3 Augusta two weeks ago and went to work. Result: 6th amateur overall (3 spots short / 4 minutes shy of a pro card), fastest amateur run split, and 16th woman overall including pros. I felt both relief and pride! I also felt like "heck, I'm tough, maybe just maybe I can make it through a full ironman, THE ironman."

Journey to Kona
Disclaimer: I'll try my best not to use a lot of expletives to describe my first IRONMAN, the World Championships. But that was some crazy sh*t.

They don't call it the world's toughest endurance event for nothing. Between the chiseled, half naked athletes running around everywhere (I kept myself clothed!) to the uber expensive equipment all packed into a quarter mile radius; I was intimidated!! I kept thinking "what the eff did I get myself into.. I need to stop listening to men".
The famous pier. No need to rob a bank, just hold this place hostage. Millions of dollars worth of bikes in a confined space!!
I flew in on Tuesday and tried my best to quickly adjust to the time zone change (6 hours), heat, and humidity. The folks at HOKA were wonderful. Even though I'm a scrub 😜 they shuttled me wherever I needed to go. I was treated like a professional athlete.

Got to hang out with Lloyd who thankfully distracted me and shared some tips about the course.
Dad flew in on Thursday and all was right with the world again.
2.4 Mile Swim in Kailua Bay: 1 hour 20 minutes geezus
From the moment I entered the water until the time I got out, it was a strugglefest. I found the water extremely choppy. The exact opposite of what I had been training in all week. I was instructed to stay on feet and draft as much as I could, but I just couldn't hang on because I was being tossed all over the place. The first 1.2 miles weren't so bad, but after I swam around the turnaround "boat" (it's a big *ss yaht!! I felt lied to!), I really struggled the last mile. I consumed so much salt water I began to pray that it didn't have some kind of colonic effect on me. I mean .. who really wants to take a laxative then go ride 112 miles?!
By the time I reached land I was in shock. In fact my Dad said "that was the first time you didn't acknowledge me in a race." I heard him cheering but I was too disturbed by the whole experience to even give a thumbs up. So yeah ... that sums up my horrid swim. But you know what's crazy? I thought I was out there for two hours. 40 minutes faster than expected gave me a glimmer of hope!

Next we ran through the shower hoses, which I really wanted to spend more time in. You know, wash off the salt water. But noooo everyone just kept sprinting. So no soothing shower for me. Onto the bike I went.

112 Mile Bike: 6 hours 26 minutes wow
I had an amazing first 40 miles. I felt great. I was averaging about 20 mph. Nutrition was on point. I was able to grab a water bottle through every aid station. I even managed to have a brief convo with Petey who wizzed by on the back of a moped and took the pic below. I mentioned to him that the wind was picking up....
Photo courtesy of Rook Productions Media
Then my day went south FAST. I was in aero one minute, making the ascent to Hawi, and the next thing I knew I was on the ground looking up at the sky. I heard that the crosswinds were bad - like 30 mph bad - but what scared me the most was that you couldn't anticipate them. (Coach later told me that I'm not the first to get blown off and won't be the last)

A super nice competitor pulled over, unclipped, and helped me up. We gathered my bottles and nutrition off the road (yay for not littering). He asked if I was alright or if he needed to flag down a medic vehicle to take me back. I mumbled something like "heck no, I'm finishing this damn race" and got back on my bike.

Unfortunately my bike was not ok. I broke both aero bar shifters and ripped the tape off of the right aero bar, which was a bummer because my sweaty palm kept slipping when I was in aero.
I cried for the next 20 miles. Fogged up my visor and everything smh. Plus I had to sit up like this for about 80% of the ride back down Hawi and onto the Queen K.
Once I got over the pity party I had thrown for myself, I refocused my attention on completing the bike leg. Did I consider dropping out? Of course. But the truth is, I had one job: cross the finish line. Whether it took me 12 hours or 16 hours. I was there to finish. I see nothing wrong in a DNF. You have to assess why you are there. Everyone's circumstance is different. I was not seriously injured and I didn't have a mechanical that stopped me from riding, so - to be blunt - I didn't have a good enough reason to quit.

26.2 Mile Run / The Marathon - 3:37 help
What on Earth... I got off my bike and tried to run... like all the other people in front of me. Nope. Wasn't happening. My legs were jello. I entered the "Bike to Run Transition Tent" and plopped my pathetic behind in one of those folding chairs. Volunteer comes over:
  Volunteer: Are you ok?
  Me: I mean.. not really
  Volunteer: Would you like some water?
  Me: Yes, that sounds wonderful... drinks water
  Volunteer: Would you like some gatorade?
  Me: Ohhhh yes, that sounds great ... drinks gatorade.. and if she offers wine I'll drink that too
  Volunteer: Are you sure you're ok?
  Me: Yeah I'm just trying to convince myself to go out and run a marathon now.
  Volunteer: I don't know how you folks do it!
  Me: 😭

Keeping in mind that I was staying at the Seaside hotel, literally located around the freakin corner from the tent (no lie), I had to dig deep in the well to keep moving and resist temptation to call it a day.

I shuffled my decrepit *ss back onto the course and made a pact with myself that I was going to be brave and go for it. I think it was a mix of stupidity and arrogance, but I went through the first half of the course entirely way too fast (goal was to break 3:20..yep.. stupid) ...
I saw Coach Jonny at mile 3 on Alii Drive and he began yelling "take it easy.. slow down Sika." But noooo, I was stubborn. Again, at mile 6, he told me to be conservative. I was surprisingly feeling really good. Had a great rhythm going, then flipping Palani happened. I wanted to walk up that freakin long mountain hill. Unfortunately, the women from Self Magazine were there cheering for me (I did an interview earlier in the week). My pride wouldn't let me walk in front of them (thank you guys <3). So I carried on and powered up the hill, turned on the Queen K...
Courtesy of Bill Flanagan

....and truly learned what suffering in a race felt like. I've hit the wall before, wanted to drop out of marathons, etc, but this was on another level. I went through the half marathon point in 1:41.. then .. Wow! I could no longer take in nutrition. Only fluids. My stomach was wrecked. I switched from water/Gatorade to Red Bull. And in total desperation began chugging Coke which I haven't had in 15 years!
The run through the Energy Lab made me question my sanity. Between all the coke, the heat, peeing on myself (OMG) and knowing I still had to run 8 more miles... I was just wanting the misery to end! My entire body ached. The sun was setting and the roads felt so lonely. I began to count down "ok it's just a 10K... now it's just an 8K... just a 5K Sika you can do this". Before I knew it I was running down the hill and could hear Mike Reilly's voice echo within the IRONMAN Village.

"Sika Henry you are an IRONMAN"

Those words made it all worth it!!! There was nothing like it. What an experience! I crossed the finish line in 11 hours and 35 minutes. While the competitor in me wishes I was faster (I predicted a much faster bike and thought I had a sub 3:20 marathon in me somewhere), I did what I could with what I had. No regrets!
Thank you Dad for flying to Georgia and screaming for me all over the IRONMAN 70.3 Augusta course. Then less than two weeks later making the 11 hour flight to Kona to be my Sherpa at the IRONMAN World Championships. I love having you as my sidekick!

How I celebrated...
I finally got to have some wine!! I gave up wine and coffee - per Mom's orders - she was afraid of me getting dehydrated: "Work hard then play hard". Thanks for the tips Mom ;-)

Memories for life...
Thank you HOKA ONE ONE for gifting me this opportunity. In a time where we still read about women losing sponsorship for getting pregnant, I can say that HOKA actually increased their support of me right after my crash.

Thank you for connecting me with 6x IRONMAN World Champ Dave Scott! Fun Q & A I got to do with Dave: https://www.hokaoneone.com/blog?postid=sika-dave-kona
"Do what you can do in the moment" ~Dave Scott

Women of HOKA Panel with IRONMAN icon Julie Moss and HOKA President Wendy Yang
Thank you Eric for including me on this panel. It was a special moment for me! I was so honored to be seated next to these two women.

My Coach ... compatibility is hard to find. I really lucked out.
You wouldn't believe everything Coach Jonny and I soldiered through these past 6 months. Some days my body wouldn't cooperate, and other days I mentally shut down. I'm sure training me was like figuring out a giant jigsaw puzzle. Thank you for sticking with me. Now we get to do it again for another season... ain't life grand.

One of the highlights of my trip:
I'm not really someone that likes to have a camera in my face following me places, but boy am I happy Greg Browning was here to capture this moment. Drone footage: my coach is swimming in the lead, I'm drafting behind and we ran into a pod of dolphins!!

Where would I be without you? Definitely not in this sport. My Dad said "the only way this trip could have been better is if I got to hang out with Dan" .. what the hell. Brothers from another mother.

"The race is not to the swift or strong but to those that endure to the end"
There are so many more talented athletes out there. I often times feel undeserving of all the help I've received. Nonetheless, I am eternally grateful for the companies that support me and help me chase my dreams:
- Shawn and Mark aka Zoot Sports - thank you for checking in on me throughout my recovery. And of course I LOVED rocking this custom Ultra Tri DragZero race kit (with special ice pockets and a message sewn inside). I felt like a bad *ss on the course.
- In & Out Express Care - Dana - I'm sure you thought to yourself "Again, Sika, really?!?" when I said I crashed and needed to come in for X-rays. Thank you for taking excellent care of me this season. Having local support means a lot to me.
- Point 2 Running Company - Andrea - You sponsored me when I was "just a runner" and not even a fast one! Point 2 has literally become my emergency stop. I always run in there frantically 2 days before I fly out for a race smh.
Photo Credit: Rook Productions Media
CerveloHED., ISM - I literally get to ride my dream bike because of you <3

Last but not least, thank you Sfuels (nutrition), Saris (bike trainer), HUSO (recovery), and Hawaii Blue (skin care)... it takes a village!

Up next...
Recovery! Then (hopefully) a full, healthy race season filled with plenty of IRONMAN 70.3s! My #1 goal for 2020 is to earn my pro card.

You can follow along at: https://www.instagram.com/sikahenry/