Wednesday, September 26, 2018

IRONMAN 70.3 Atlantic City: 7th Female (2nd AG)

This is me

This is also me :)

Working with a new coach this year was a big learning curve. (I don't believe we ever acknowledged it) but I think Coach Jonny and I had this unspoken agreement: learn how to train at an elite level, while staying healthy and injury free, and see where this season takes us. Boy oh boy did he have me digging deeper than I ever thought possible. More volume, more intensity, bigger goals. Despite a few breakdowns, panic attacks, frustrations (mostly from being impatient with my progress), I can now reflect on my tri season and say "yes, it was worth it, the hard work paid off!"

I had massive gains on the bike. When Coach Jonny and I first started working together I couldn't hold 200 watts for more than 2 minutes.
Last year's power #s (light blue, bottom line) versus this year's (dark blue, top line)
Courtesy of TrainerRoad

I made the podium at every IRONMAN 70.3 I raced this year. (I'm currently ranked 10th in the world in my Age Group)

I also reached a few other milestones: fastest amateur run split (women) at IRONMAN 70.3 Eagleman, qualified for next year's IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in France (I didn't take my slot... I have other goals), FINALLY broke 1:30 in the half marathon leg of a half ironman, and this....

I got to be a guest on the Conversation P.A.C.E. Show in NYC
(Coach Nicole interviewed my Dad and I)
You can watch the video in it's entirety HERE 
I talk about everything from how I got my start in the sport to what I use to protect my hair in the pool (hint). My Dad also shares stories about my childhood and why they decided to put me in swim lessons at a young age.

My "A" Race: IRONMAN 70.3 Atlantic City
Day before the race
Don't let the smile fool you. I was SOOOOOOOO NERVOUS!!! Like ...I want to cry... I might puke.... I just want to disappear... nervous. Luckily I have an amazing family who keeps me laughing.

Exhibit A
My brother is hilarious!!! I guess I'm immune to his shenanigans because I just carried on the convo I was having with my Dad.

Apparently my Dad and Bro stayed up watching Friday, Next Friday, and The Friday After Next the night before packet pickup/bike check (I had my own room). So I pretty much had to hear them reenact Ice Cube/Chris Tucker scenes THE ENTIRE WEEKEND.
With my Dad and Brother at the Ironman Village the day before the race
Race Day
OMG! The drive to the start felt like I was being taken in for sentencing. Like I was about to find out if I was getting life or the death penalty. I know I know. Absolutely ridiculous. But I was nervous! And this is my blog so I'm going to keep it real. If you have race day/performance anxiety, you are not alone! It's because we care A LOT. That's what I try to tell myself... (it doesn't help though)

1.2 mile Swim: 35:58
As we were herded like cattle I found the 26-35 minute swim group. I told my Dad if over 40 minutes pass and I'm still not out of the water "S.O.S., please send someone in to get me." I was serious too! I have not been swimming well lately. Earlier in the year I got to train with a Master's team with a coach on deck. Unfortunately team training takes a hiatus in the summer = I swim on my own and I'm not so good at pushing myself solo. Luckily team practice is back on!

Back to the most violent, salty swim I have ever done. Whoa! I don't know why there were so many 'bows thrown. I got punched, kicked, AND swam over. I've never wanted to get on a bike so bad in my life (and we all know how much I love cycling ;-). Luckily the swim course was pretty easy to navigate. I had no issues sighting. The hardest part was probably the last 300 or so meters. It felt like there was a pretty big current that I had to fight in order to make it to shore.

I made it!! In under 36 minutes. Not good. Not terrible.
Thinking... that was almost a TKO (not in my favor)
56 Mile Bike: 2:39:54 (21.01 mph)
I was eager to see how much progress I had made on the bike. This has always been my achilles heal. Seeing the numbers on my power meter go up over the past few months has been very encouraging. My coach thought I could average at least 10 watts higher at Atlantic City versus what I did at Eagleman. He was right! 
Isn't my bike pretty?
The plan was to stay conservative through the first half (~145 watts) and pick it up during the second half. Keep in mind this is a 3 loop course. First loop was perfect: steady power, stuck to my nutrition plan, I even passed some women. Then the rain started, the roads got slick, and people started crashing. By the 3rd loop the course was a mess. Over 2,000 athletes on a 3 loop course...yikes! Unfortunately I had to bail on my bike plan and I couldn't be as aggressive as I wanted during that last stretch. Miles 45 to 56 were all about safe riding and staying upright on my bike.

I still feel like I'm a decedent of the mollusk family (i.e. snails, slugs, etc) when it comes to the bike, but guess what? I PR'd!! My first time breaking 2:40, averaging over 21 mph, and it was a 20 watt improvement from Eagleman. Shout out to Dylan Ralston for being my bike training buddy these past few weeks.
Bike Dismount. Heading to transition.
Half Marathon (13.1 Mile Run): 1:29:49 (6:52 min/mile pace)
By the time I got to my run gear everything was soaked and I was cold (according to my Garmin it was 64 degrees). But I heard my Mom cheering for me (she made it down after a crazy weekend). My mood immediately picked up and it was time to get to work. 
One of my goals this season was to break 1:30, but not at the expense of doing poorly on the bike. I'm not sure how my coach figured this out but I think what he did was give me the bare minimum mileage, but the runs I did do were BRUTAL!!!! He literally made me do this awful tempo run every d*mn Wednesday for a month leading up to this race. We did not see eye to eye on this workout. The first time, I ended up walking. The second time was a little better. But it never got easier. I'll be happy if I never have to do it again :-)

Back to the race.... this was the first time I've ever done a half ironman and got on the run course with the top women in my vision. Having a faster bike split makes it feel like such a different race. I went out around 6:55 pace and tried to get comfortable ticking off the miles. Not sure running ever feels "comfortable" after swimming 1.2 miles and biking 56 miles. I seemed to have found a rhythm around mile 6 and I moved up a few places. All was great until.... Mile 9.
After running down a few stairs we ran on the beach behind the finish line,
then back up onto the boardwalk.
I'm convinced that I will always go through a low point at least once during a race. I mean ... you are out there for hours. It's bound to happen, right? Well, mile 9 was my lowest point. I wanted to walk!! I ate a gel, shuffled through an aid station, grabbed some Gatorade. Before I knew it I was at mile 10. "Only a 5K left. You did not suffer through all of those awful Wednesday training runs for nothin!" I think these are the moments that can make or break your race #themind. It's so easy to succumb to fatigue. I checked my watch, did some calculations, and knew I could break 1:30 if I ran 6:30s. 

I did it!!! Official Time: 4:54 (and I broke 1:30)
Excuse the hair. Always stop the Garmin ;-)
I have the BEST family <3
With my Brother Nile, Dad, and Mom at the finish line
What a day! Weather conditions weren't ideal but overall it was a great race/venue. Very organized, spectator friendly, beginner friendly course, aid stations were on point, course was well marked. The bike leg was a bit scary, but I think a lot of that had to do with the rain. I'd definitely recommend this race. Especially if you are considering doing your first IRONMAN 70.3.

The rest of the day was spent holed up in our hotel room, trying to stay warm, eating pizza, and watching The Bobby Brown Story on BET. I had wine of course ;-)

More pics from the weekend...
Award Ceremony. I missed winning my age group by 30 seconds!!
With my girl Flaca (actress/model/triathlete)
Before the race, our goal was to win our age groups. We both came in 2nd.
Not too shabby ;-)
My friend Sam (from KIS Coaching) and I
Day before the race
Thank you to the volunteers. You rock!!
Where to go from here....
Luckily there is still TONS of improvement to be made. Top 10 women at IRONMAN 70.3 Atlantic City:
As you can see, about a minute and a half separates me from 4th place. I'm still losing quite a bit of time on the swim and bike. (Disregarding the woman that won; she's a former pro) I think I can be right there in the mix this time next year.

Up Next...
Some road races!!!! I will be in Baltimore next month for the National Black Marathoners Association Annual Summit and racing the Baltimore Half Marathon on October 20th. And then I will be in Tempe, AZ on November 30th for the Outspoken: Women in Triathlon Summit. I'll be on a panel with Rachel Joyce (2X Kona podium finisher), Erin Beresini (Triathlete Magazine Editor-in-Chief), and Kelly Burns Gallagher (Race Director and Lawyer). I know, I don't fit in hahaha. But I have much to say ;-)

A big thank you to the companies that supported me this tri season: Point 2 Running Company, Hoka One One, TrainerRoad, Flat Out Events, Kinetic MultisportsZoot Sports, and Village Bicycles. And of course a big thank you to my family, coach, and friends. You know who you are. I am eternally grateful!

Follow me @SikaHenry

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Racing (and training) Continues....

Rev 3 Williamsburg Olympic Triathlon 
4th Female (fastest women's run split)
After a brief email exchange with my Dad I finally decided to update this blog of mine.
Dad: Where’s the new BLOG?
Me: I’m so uninspired!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And drained. This sport is so d*mn hard. I don’t have anything positive to say. Just that I’m slow and tired and it might take 10 years before I turn pro.
Dad: If we keep doing what we’re doing, I guarantee you that you’ll turn pro before I get my Black Belt in Jiu Jitsu. At the rate I’m going, I estimate two more years to Black Belt. I give you permission to quit the day after I quit! P.S. I turn 66 in a week!

So there you have it...my agreement with my Dad.

Realizations
Training day after day is hard. Psyching myself up for an AM workout isn't easy. Psyching myself up to train again after work is usually harder. Balancing three disciplines (swim, bike, run) is tough, and testing my limits in races is outright painful. But you know what I've found to be the most difficult? PATIENCE - accepting that I won't get fast overnight and learning to embrace the minuscule gains.

Rev 3 Williamsburg (July 8th)  - mostly told in pics and gifs because I'm lazy and don't feel like writing :-)
The cool thing about racing is that each venue, distance, and atmosphere is totally unique. You can't even compare the same race to the previous year. Funny how something as simple as wind or humidity can make the same race you did the previous year feel like a totally different experience. Rev 3 2016 was practically a walk in the park compared to this year's race. 2016 - smooth, downstream swim, bike with no wind versus 2018 - 55 minute delay (I literally stood on the pier shivering and wondering what was going on for nearly an hour), choppy swim and super windy bike. 

The Swim (1500m)
I did my usual swim warm up at 7:05 then seeded myself towards the front of the line on the pier expecting that we'd start on time at 7:20 am (about 30 minutes after the half iron athletes started). By 8 am I was cold, cranky, and about ready to call it a day. As I stood there thinking about how I was going to rip the Rev 3 brand to shreds by the time I wrote this blog, they made an announcement that we were starting. As I made my way to the take off point, there was a guy personally apologizing to each athlete for the delay - I believe he was the race director. Apparently, they had to pull some of the half iron folks out of the water due to the current / chop, and supposedly a buoy got loose. Kudos to Rev 3! Safety first. And if in fact that was the race director, he ROCKS.

I hate making excuses for a poor performance (everyone deals with the same conditions) but my hands and feet were numb for the entire first half of the swim. I also kept thinking about food for some reason. Is that normal?? By the time I reached shore I knew I was pretty far behind the other women. Seeing a lot of the bikes gone from transition confirmed it. 

The Bike (27.2 miles)
Holy wind!! We rode out for 10 miles into a head wind. I kept telling myself "stay strong, you'll have the wind on your back on the way in". Nope! I don't know how it's possible to have a head wind on a lollipop course but we did.

On paper, I got out-biked by the top 3 women. But you know what? I rode 7 minutes faster this year (much tougher conditions) versus the same race in 2016. I'm closing the gap!!! Plus I'm feeling stronger and more confident on the bike with each race.
Bike Dismount photo Bike Dismount_zpsqb8f1iiu.gif
My favorite part of the ride...the dismount ;-)

The Run (10K)
 photo Run out_zpsepmpl5xh.gif 
I headed out onto the run course in 10th place for the women, and went through the first mile in 6:45. I spotted some females in the distance and tried to pick up the pace, working my way down to 6:30s. I saw tons of friends on the course and that helped push me through the bad patches.

Thanks Lilly (Soliman) for the video and for the cheers!! I look like I'm casually jogging haha

I crossed the finish line smiling because I didn't give up. I fought and ran the fastest 10K split for the women which moved me into 4th place.

And I won my age group!

I'm going to be honest. During the drive home after this race I called my Dad and told him I wanted to train for a fall marathon. "All this swimming and biking isn't for me. I'm too slow. If I can run these times off of 20 miles a week imagine what I could do with 60, 70, 80 miles a week." My Dad basically said, in not so many words, "shut up...no one cares about you doing a marathon...you need to stick with this and have faith in your coach...besides your bike is improving, you are just impatient." Tough love! But he's right! After every race I usually google the women that place ahead of me (not sure why I'm admitting this publicly!). And you know what I typically find? They've been doing this a LONG time. Case in point, the woman that won the race...she was winning her age group at Ironman 70.3s since 2007!! When I did my first 70.3 in 2016 I knew it would take a lot of months, perhaps years, to get good. But what I didn't take into account was how committed you have to be to the daily grind. Now I understand why they say this sport is a lifestyle.

Plus this "journey" has been so worth it. Believe me, when I first started this blog I never intended for it to have much of an audience outside of my family and close friends. I mean ... who really wants to hear about my pre-race jitters, bike struggles, work / training balancing act, and random thoughts on diversity and inclusion in the sport? Well, apparently there are a lot of folks out there that can relate. My story really isn't unique, I just happen to put it in writing, which has afforded me the awesome opportunity to connect with people.
More pics from Rev 3 Williamsburg
Shout out to FastChix!!!
With Nikki Bailey <3
Pre race day swim and bike check
Congrats ladies! With Michele Moore and Zsa-Zsa Porter
Ramblings....
  • Triathlon has afforded me the opportunity to write for online sports publications. I enjoy sharing my thoughts on diversity and inclusion in the sport. Here's my most recent article: The Power of Image in Triathlon
  • I did the Tidewater Triathlon on Saturday during a rain storm! It was ...interesting. I came in 2nd for the women. I'll blog about that next week.
  • I qualified and punched my ticket to the 2018 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in South Africa (at Ironman 70.3 North Carolina). Unfortunately due to the time I'd need to take off from work and the whole expense of the trip I've decided to do....drum roll.... Ironman 70.3 Atlantic City in September. I've heard lots of great things about this race. This will be my "championship" race. 
I'm looking forward to ramping up my training over the next month and giving it my all in Atlantic City. For now, I'm off to Jamaica for some fun and relaxation <3