Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Ironman 70.3 Eagleman (4:57)

Ironman 70.3 Eagleman: 2016: 5:30, 2017: 5:12, 2018: 4:57
You know what's better than a PR? My Family!! Thank you to my Mom, Dad, and Brother who help me keep my life in perspective (Nile), coordinate and handle every tiny detail so that I can keep chasing my dreams (Mom), and make me believe that I'm capable of anything (Dad).

"A" Race #1
Those closest to me know that my goal is to turn pro (which would make me the first African American woman to turn pro in triathlon...if that were to happen right now). I'm very vocal when it comes to diversifying the sport. I've spoken about it, written about it, and I try to be a reference whenever possible - just the other week I spoke with students from Texas A&M who were at the USOC training center. Their project is to establish the first NCAA Women's Triathlon Team at an HBCU. How cool would that be if it were to come to fruition?!? I have my own personal goals when it comes to the sport but I also love being able to give back to a sport that helped me through one of the toughest times in my life.

Speaking of personal goals: this race was super important to me. I needed validation that I was heading in the right direction. That all the time and energy I was putting into training was not for nothing. That pushing through the fatigue, getting up as early as 4:30 am to train, skipping out on work happy hours, balancing a demanding corporate job, and dipping into my savings to buy all these freakin "tri gadgets" (seriously this Garmin Vector 3 Power Meter I just bought better turn water into wine!) is all worth the sacrifice.

Heading into this race, the question I got asked the most was "if I felt ready...if I felt like I was in PR shape". It was so strange because I couldn't answer that question. For the first time I really didn't have a clue. I've been working with a new coach this year and it's completely taken me out of my comfort zone. VERY low run mileage (I look forward to Wednesdays and Sundays!), swimming more often, lots and lots of biking (feels like every freakin day *ughhhh*), and just overall higher volume and intensity. The main thing I noticed is that I go into every workout fatigued. It was hard to gauge what type of shape I was in because I felt like I was 'just surviving'. I wasn't knocking any workouts out of the park. I was simply finishing them. My coach tried to reassure me that once I started to taper I'd feel better. I didn't believe him....until a few days before the race. He was right. Go figure ;-)
Packet pickup and bike check in at the race site (with Dad and Bro)
Day before the race - practice swim.
Race Day
I was a giant bundle of nerves. My Dad and brother reenacted scenes from the movie Get Out which helped lighten the mood and made me laugh! I went over the game plan in my head. 7/10 effort on the swim, ease into the bike - head down, stay aero, focus on nutrition, give it everything on the run.
I can't believe I'm smiling here. It helped seeing my family in the crowd.
Photo Credit: My Momma
The Swim (1.2 miles in the Choptank River): 34:02
I swam 36:29 at Ironman 70.3 Florida in April and 36:24 at this same race last year. But I've been working really hard on my swim and pushing myself at Tuesday morning Master's practice. I can't express how helpful it is having a coach on deck, staring you down with his stopwatch, making you jump into a lane with faster swimmers, and reminding you to do all the little things (tight core, don't scissor kick, pull all the way through, exhale completely before taking a breath). Thank you Coach Steve Hennessy!!
The swim was a self seeded rolling start. My coach told me to go with the 30-33 minute group. We knew I'd be a little slower but he thought it best to go with a pack that would swim straight. I went with the slower group at Florida and it was a mess! The great thing about Eagleman is that the course is a giant rectangle with buoys every 100 meters. The water is a little choppy but I find it easy to sight. During the swim I kept reminding myself keep it steady, don't waste energy, stay on feet, catch and pull. 
2 1/2 minute PR swim for me!! Wetsuit off and onto the bike.
The Bike (56 miles): 2:42:03 (20.7 mph)
The first few miles were all about staying steady, not surging or going out too fast. I was nervous but eager to find out how much progress I had made (for reference I biked a 2:50 last year and a 3:07 the year before). The bike is obviously my achilles heal.

Cheaters Suck
Within 10 miles of the bike an illegal pack of about 8 rode by. 7 or so men and one women. I sat up to let them go by. One of my biggest fears is staying in aero, being too close, and inadvertently getting a penalty.

As I sat up I zoomed in on the woman and looked at her calf. She was in my age group (d*mn it) and she was softly pedaling in the pack (saving her legs for the run I’m sure). I couldn't see her number but I memorized her kit and its design. A girl pulls up next to me and says: “apparently drafting is now legal, unbelievable. What is wrong with people?!?” She was furious. I looked down at her calf and said “yep, and she’s in our age group which sucks big time.” I put my head down and kept going. I prayed the cheater was a weak runner and that I’d pass her later on the run course. Unfortunately, I never saw her again, she placed above me. I never mentioned this incident to my coach but the ironic thing is that he messaged me later that day and asked “do you know who *female x* is?” He pointed out that I beat her by nearly 50 minutes at Ironman 70.3 Florida in April and yet she dropped over an hour and demolished me at Eagleman. Long story short, guess who *female x* is? The cheater that flew by me in the illegal draft pack.

You know what sucks about cheaters? They steal other people's dreams. They diminish your hard work. I know this is just a sport, but I work hard for every second, every place. Instead of a top 10 amateur finish, I ended up 11th. Instead of placing higher on the podium in my age group I was pushed down to 5th. Instead of being one spot closer to a pro card, I was one extra spot away. It's frustrating and sad, but my coach reminded me to "only focus on the things you have control over" and that "the goal is to become stronger than them so you beat them even when they cheat."

Back to the bike race…
I still have a good 10 minutes to make up if I want to be competitive, but overall I'm really pleased with how I did. It's the first time that I can legitimately say I raced the bike. I fought hard, I nailed my nutrition, and I stayed in aero. Now that I have a power meter I'm hoping that my coach can come up with a game plan that will help me chip away at those extra minutes.

56 miles later...approaching the dismount line. Half Marathon time.
The Run (13.1 miles): 1:34:59 *fastest female amateur

Heading out on the run course.
Look at that smile/wave (I spotted my brother). My cocky behind thought I was going to crush the run. Ummmm yeah no. See below.

Just as I was making my way out to the run course, I saw the pros coming in as the blazing sun came out from behind the clouds. Temperatures were much cooler compared to previous years and I'm grateful for the overcast we had on the bike, but the run course...it's something awful. I don't know what it is about the run course. Because it's on asphalt? No shade? It just traps humidity and heat and it's hard to breath.

I always stay conservative through the first mile - in the 7:10 mile/minute range. Despite my low run mileage, I felt fit enough to go sub-1:30 (not that any of my workouts have indicated that I'm in that type of shape). But mentally, when it comes to the run at the end of a tri, I can just turn that pain switch off and push hard. I dropped down to 6:50 through the second mile. NOPE! My body was having no part of it. I started catching up to people because they were walking. One guy was holding onto a mail post and puking on someone's lawn. Same scenario as the previous years. This run is going to suck big time. 
Miles 1 - 5 from my Garmin.
I remembered my coach stressing the importance of taking in fluids and keeping myself cool even if it meant walking through the aid stations. So I slowed to a jog at every mile marker when I reached an aid station, dumped water on my head, and put ice in my race kit.
By mile 7 I was struggling badly. But I had company. 
Ben: Hey do you know what pace we're running. My watch isn't capturing the splits.
Me: 7:15s
I couldn't help it any longer...I went on a long rant.
Me: OMG why does this feel so hard?! I'm struggling. I don't understand why I'm moving so slow. My goal was sub 5 hours but I'm starting to unravel.
Ben: You're moving really well. It's very hot out and the sun is beating down. Keep with it. You are doing good.
Me: What's your name? Do you have a time goal?
Ben: I'm Ben. No time goal. I'm just grateful to be out here. I haven't been able to race in years.
I immediately felt bad. All the complaining I was doing. I should be grateful that I get to do this. Stay positive Sika.
Me: You know what? The fact that I can carry on a conversation is proof that I feel better than I realize!

Ben and I took turns leading and at one point I began passing a long train of women. I didn't know what place I was in but I knew if I could hold it together I'd make the podium and get that sub-5 hours I was desperately after. Ben took off with 5K to go and dropped me like a hot potato. I was left on my own again. And I went through ANOTHER bad patch. My pace started to slow. I was so hot. I needed motivation. Michael Reed and his family immediately came to mind. He was racing a FULL Ironman, in BOULDER, at OVER 5,000 feet, in 98 DEGREES. Get it together Sika. This isn't so bad. Side note: Mike read an article I wrote for USA Triathlon on expanding diversity in triathlon last year. He shares the same passion and has played a huge roll in supporting me this year. In fact, he pledged $1 for every mile he completed of the Ironman and opened the door to anyone else who wanted to join in. I don't feel like I deserve a penny, but I'm extraordinarily grateful for the support!!


Guess what? My 1:34:59 half marathon was the fastest female amateur time overall . Only 8 pro women ran faster. According to my Dad being black helped....apparently my melanin gave me an advantage...yeah ok Dad smh. 

And even better....I crossed the line in 4:57. Only 10 minutes away from qualifying for my pro card. Those 10 minutes are still a long ways away. But this race felt like validation that my coach has me heading in the right direction. It will be interesting to see how much progress he can make with me over the next 12 or so months.
With my Dad and Brother at the award ceremony.
Guess who finally got in a picture?? My MOM <3
Thank you to my sponsors/support: Point 2 Running Company, Flat Out Events, and Kinetic Multisports. Special shout out to Michael Reed and his family, Alex Williams (please keep her in your prayers), my cousin Kevin who came out to cheer me on.....and of course everyone who sends me well wishes and follows my journey.

Up next: Rev 3 Williamsburg (Olympic Distance), a few Kinetic Multisports races, and then onto the next Ironman 70.3......

Monday, April 30, 2018

Triathlon Kit Giveaway (+ race update)

Did someone say FREE??

Yes, that's right! My sponsor, Point 2 Running Company, is giving away a Pearl Izumi Select Pursuit Triathlon Top and Bottom ($130 value) - see below (women's kit is on the left, men's on the right).

In order to enter the contest all you have to do is Tell us about a time when you showed grit when competing. Who or what inspired you to keep going? Please leave your answer directly on my Facebook page under my most recent post which is public or in the comments section below. The only restriction is that you must be a Hampton Roads, VA Resident. We will select a winner one week from today (on Tuesday, May 8th). After you have been selected you will have exactly one week to pick up your new tri kit from Point 2 located at 12080 Jefferson Ave, #910, Newport News, VA. If you haven't picked up your prize during this time frame, we will select another winner.
My favorite things at Point 2:
  - Roll Recovery R8...best self massage tool I own
  - A tie between Tifosi (I'm rockin them in the pic below) and Goodr sunglasses (great quality for ONLY $25)
  - My go to sneakers - Hoka Clifton 4
  - Skratch Labs sports energy chews - I hate that I'm addicted to these. I eat them like they are a delicacy. Dawn, I blame you.
  - Point 2 logo gear, especially my Asics Motion Dry hoodie. I live in that thing. Oh and my family is easy to spot at races. Just look for Point 2 shirts ;-)
Dad and I at Ironman 70.3 Eagleman
Other things I love about Point 2: their custom shoe fitting process. Takes less than 20 minutes (they have a treadmill on premises). And last but not least, they also offer an in store loyalty program where you can earn a point per pre-tax dollar spent = free stuff!! Points never expire and can be shared among the same household. Actually, I shouldn't have said last but not least. One of the best things about Point 2 is the team that works there. Everyone is super friendly. They don't hound you or try to push products on you. If you need help they assist. If you just want to browse they let you do your thing.

Good luck with the contest! No response is too short or too long. We just want to hear who or what inspires you to keep going.

And now for my race update.... Rumpus in Bumpass Triathlon (Olympic distance)
Age Group Awards
This was my first time racing so soon after a Half Ironman; less than two weeks. Speaking of "what inspires you to keep going", I had to go through a longgggg list in my head in order to get my butt on the starting line! I was not fully recovered and it was freakin cold! My coach thought this would be a good training workout. The goal: go hard on the bike; bike like you don't have to run after.

The night before the race I checked the website. The water temp was 49 degrees and there was a chance the swim would be canceled and it would just be a bike-run race. If the water temp got above 52 degrees, we'd swim but the course would be shortened to 1000m (from 1500). Mentally, I began preparing for a bike-run race. As my coach says "Sika, there's a name for that. It's called a duathlon."

Morning of the race
I checked out of my hotel, loaded my bike, and didn't even bother to pull my wetsuit and goggles out of my luggage because it was 42 degrees outside.....No way could I swim. Even if the swim is on, I'm not freakin swimming!! I got to the race site, checked in...guess what? Swim was on. Water temp was 54 degrees. I begrudgingly pulled out my wetsuit and sulked. As someone told me last week (who will remain anonymous), "With your negative attitude it's amazing you can get through a half ironman." #truedat

The Swim (1000m): 18:32
I waited until the very last second to get in the water. For the most part, so did everyone else. It was actually pretty funny. The men went first. When they got in the water, they were silent. Us women, when we got in, there was a collective scream. It was COLD. Those few minutes of waiting and treading water was brutal. But believe it or not, once we got going it really wasn't so bad. In fact, since I just did a half ironman, the 1000 meter swim felt incredibly short. Before I knew it I was climbing out of the water (16th for the women).
Swamp thing
The Bike (24 miles): 1:12
After watching everyone suffer at the Boston Marathon I figured I'd play it safe and dress in layers. Nothing worse than shivering on a bike for 20+ miles. I put on arm warmers, gloves, a jacket, socks....I was getting dressed as if I was about to hit the slopes. But hey...better to be safe than sorry.

Look at Don (Donald White) cheering for me. How awesome is he!?!
My one and only goal for this race was to push it on the bike. It was a rolling 2-loop course. Not a technical course but I never stayed in one gear for more than a minute at a time. I struggle the most with this type of course. I thrive off of staying in a rhythm. Climbing, switching gears, etc kills the flow. Needless to say, I felt like I was giving it my all, but I was getting passed the whole time. What else is new. I averaged 20 mph (which was actually a 4 minute pr on this course...yay me), but the top women averaged 22 mph....ugh. As usual I got off the bike a long long (did I mention long) ways behind.
I love my bike but my bike does not love me. One day our relationship won't be so combative.
The Run (10K; 6.2 miles): 42:08
The only word I can use to describe how I felt during this entire run is: fatigued. I think my previous race + pushing it on the bike led to a not so comfortable run. This is actually one of my slowest runs to date. Surprisingly I'm not too bummed about it. That's all I had on the day. Good practice for pushing through the pain ;-) 
A mile from the finish line
Chit chatting with some fast women. They both outbiked me by 6 minutes (on an Olympic course). Yikes!
In triathlon years I'm 35....whatever!!
Since my bike is still a work in progress I'm not so competitive against the top women. But I'm excited to see how much faster I'm getting on the age group level. Proud of winning my age group by 10 minutes :-) Side note: Kinetic Multisports (formerly Virginia Triathlon Series) races are the best! And the competition is always legit.
7th overall. Those +6 minutes lost on the bike really did me in. I'll keep at it!!
This is what inspires me to keep going - helping add diversity to the sport, encouraging others to participate, and hoping my journey can be an inspiration to others. I don't know if this is a good or a bad thing, but I don't like to disappoint people. Especially those that have given their time, energy and resources so willingly. I think a lot about them when the going gets tough. I have this saying that I stole from my father before the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. I had this brand new bike Dan (Empfield) built for me and I was scared to death of racing on the bike course. My Dad said "when you start having negative thoughts and want to give up just say 'make Dan proud'. It worked! I use that phrase in every race now 'make ____ proud'. I've used a lot of names since then ;-)

Next up
Ironman 70.3 Eagleman!!! My Mom, Dad and Brother will be there. They seem to be my good luck charm. I end up having these massive PRs when they are there cheering me on. Again, I think it has something to do with it "not being all about me". Until then...

Don't forget about the contest! Comment below or on my Facebook page (under the post)