A Long Day in the Desert

It has been difficult for me to figure out how to approach this blog. 
 
Do I take the mature step back and evaluate this season as one where I learned about myself, where I salvaged a half-ironman finish from a season marred by injury, and conclude on a positive note looking forward to the offseason and possible redemption next year?
 
Do I wallow in self-pity for the fact that I finished precisely two complete triathlons this year?  Is the season a failure because I achieved exactly zero of my stated goals: break a 6 min mile, go sub 5-hours for a half ironman, break a 20 min 5k, qualify for the Boston Marathon…  Especially given the start to the year – I flew to a massive PR in the half marathon I completed back in March – it is very easy to view this entire season through a lens of “if only” and “what could have been”.
 
Do I justify/excuse/explain my complete bonk on the run in Vegas?  I mismanaged nutrition, didn’t drink enough water, and paid for it by walk/jog/walking the last nine miles of the run.  And if I’m honest, maybe my optimism going into the race wasn’t enough to compensate for the missed training from April through June.  And to add insult to injury I had family and friends totaling over 10 people standing out in the heat cheering me on, and despite their protestations to the contrary, I really felt like I let them down.
 
A fair blog/race report/season recap probably borrows from all three, so here goes…
 
I arrived in Las Vegas on Tuesday, September 3rd looking forward to a week of prep for my “A” race of the year: the 70.3 Ironman World Championships.  Since qualifying almost a full year earlier, all my training had been focused on this race.  Early in the year things were going really well and I was entertaining hopes of being very competitive in my age group, but a knee injury sidelined me for 3 crucial months and now I was just excited to be able to compete.  I had been disciplined in returning from my injury, and with the support of Phila Massages I was feeling strong and healthy.  My training sessions in the mid-day dry 90 degree heat of Vegas went surprisingly well, and before I knew it, race day had arrived.  I was in a very late wave and ended up waiting in my car since it was, of all things, raining on us in the desert.  My mom, her friend, my dad, my coach and Tristan’s mum were all there to cheer me on, and I was feeling READY.  I got in the water, tried to find feet, and felt strong and steady through the swim.  My time was a little disappointing, but it was in range of what I was expecting.  What I underestimated was how ALONE I would be out of the water.  Because I was the second to last wave I thought I would have more people to catch on the bike.  However, the waves were spread out and I had a very lonely time on the bike.  There was one friendly girl that passed me on the uphills as I controlled my power, and I would zoom by on the downhills as I kept that power rolling.  I kept my head in a good place, and was surprised to see my fan crew had set themselves up at the end of the bike course.  I had a great bike to run transition and started cruising.  I felt great and waved and smiled at the 12 person crowd of my fans (complete with awesome signs) that had come to support us.  I actually caught my husband in the multi-loop course and was rolling through the first uphill.  However, as we turned to come down the hill, about 4 miles into the race, my day started to fall apart.  As Tristan ran away from me, I couldn’t keep my legs turning over as I started to run out of gas.  I knew I was in trouble when I was reduced to walking up a small rise in the 5th mile, and for the next 8 miles of the race I picked nearby landmarks making deals with myself.  “If you run to the 3rd lightpost, you can walk to the next driveway.” Terrible bargains with the devil.  I knew at this point that I just wanted to finish, but I was physically and mentally fighting a losing battle.  When I crossed the finish line I had a debilitating stitch, I was smiling at my fans while trying to suppress tears of pain and disappointment, and I was not ready to give any constructive thought to the fact that I had fallen apart in a way I had not thought possible for myself. 
 
Now that I have had some time to reflect, I think the major culprits were not eating and drinking enough on the bike, and simply being under-volumed in my training.  The first point gnaws at me as that was within my control.  I should have been more focused on executing my nutrition plan, and I didn’t get the calories I needed.  This will be a key area for improvement next year.  The second point, training volume, I need to accept.  While I was mentally falling apart at the finish line, I refocused when my dad came over and his first question was, “Are you injured?” In my semi-delirious state I thought ‘obviously not, why would you even think that?’ but once I processed his point of view, I remembered ‘oh yeah, back in July I didn’t even know if I would be able to run this race, and here I am finishing.’  While it’s tempting to ask if I could have done more, the key thing now is that I am healthy (again, huge thanks here to Martin at Phila Massages!) and prepared to get after it this off-season. 
 
Since the race, I took one week completely off, two weeks of light training, and I have two weeks of trekking around South America seeing Machu Picchu and the Amazon coming up.  It’s the perfect break, and when I get back I will get focused on the off-season. 
 
My goals for next year are shifting from times and race position to execution of things I control.  With that in mind, I’m going to spend a lot more time in the pool, commit to a weights program for the first time in my life, and stick to a plan that doesn’t get greedy.  For now, I’m enjoying the mental break after a tough, often disappointing season.  When I come back, I will use that disappointment as fuel for the dark, early morning walks to the pool. 
Until then, enjoy the beautiful fall sunshine, and thanks for reading.
 
Alexis