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 agreement with my Dad.

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 one cares about you doing a 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
  • 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

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'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......