On a theme of chasing my second 50k ultra, I decided I wanted to try a tougher elevation profile race. Before heading off for a trip to Iceland, I signed up for the Baker Lake 50k, a tough and predictably rainy-weather course that looked fun and challenging.
However, I admit that I signed up for Baker Lake 50K as somewhat of a concession. I really wanted to try the Oregon Coast 50k after I saw a video filmed and produced by Ethan Newberry covering the race through the experience of his then fiance, Kimberly. The video showed how beautiful and tough the course was, and I had set my heart on racing it, only to find it filled up so quickly, it sold out before I had a chance to sign up.
After returning from Iceland, I went out for an easy fun run of 10 miles to stretch out the legs and start mentally preparing for the 50k distance again. Everything felt good, the legs were strong, and I had just texted my coach about getting a workout plan up on Training Peaks.
After 56 days of dry weather in the Greater Seattle area, and Canadian and central Washington wildfires putting smoke in air that had caused days of unhealthy air quality and limited outdoor exercise for those of us with sensitive lungs, the subtle hint of a cooler weather pattern rolling in was a welcome change from the high 80’s and low 90’s of the previous weeks.
I managed to muscle my way through my training workouts laid out by my coach, yet a few of them were shortened or turned into indoor workouts because of the thick smoke that socked in Beaver Lake with a spooky layer of white above the morning mist, and an apocalyptic blood red sun rising above the trees during my morning open water swims. On one of the “unhealthy air” days, I did hill repeats up Powerline trail from the Sammamish River Trail to the 202, trudging up the hill and zipping back down until I could taste the air in my mouth and felt my asthmatic lungs tighten.
On my brick workouts, I was showing some faster intervals than I was able to do the previous year. Unfortunately, some of those intervals ended up with me leaning over a bush, barfing or dry heaving my guts. This only seemed to happen when I was pushing speeds closer to 7:30m/mi or faster. My mile speed tests were very close to 8 m/mi, a respectable improvement from the year before. I clocked several 5k brick runs at or under 28 minutes. Yet I considered these unsuccessful because I often had gut distress that caused me to either slow down or completely stop because of cramping.
Despite what probably sounds like complaints, I am incredibly aware that I am one of the “lucky ones.” Celiac Disease can be a limiter to activity, and of everything I’ve read about CD and long endurance activities, there is little to no medical literature in support of athletes with CD engaging in long endurance sports. The most positive report I read was for those with CD to run half marathons at an easy pace. Yet, here I am, racing my fourth triathlon of the summer, and it is known in the area for producing a fast flat qualifying time for Nationals, as well as drawing a smaller field of competition.
For Masters racers like myself, a hunger for a podium finish might be satiated simply because there are fewer participants in my age group.
My goals going into this race were simple:
Time: 40min swim, clean and easy; 90 min. bike, pushing the pace as close to 18mph as possible; 57min run, and guts are quiet as a church mouse (no goat-yelling guts, no no no). In fact, if the guts aren’t quiet, I would consider it an unsuccessful race
Race against the last three year’s AG finisher’s times: 3hrs 21min 41 seconds (2016); 3hrs 19min 03 sec (2015); and 3hr 03min (2014). Based on the above guesses on what was possible, I picked 3hrs 15 min as my projected goal finish time, and hoped for a solid run on those two flat loops of Lake Tye to make that happen.
Mid-week, I ate something that must have been cross contaminated outside of my home, and I paid dearly for it with a long day of cramping, diarrhea, nausea, and low appetite. After losing a couple of pounds, I felt worn out two days before the race and wondered if my body would recover in time. In my case, there is no dishonor in withdrawing because of health reasons. A withdrawal is just another way of saying, “I’d like to race well another day.”
Pre-race workout was completed the day before the race at Idylwood Park and Beach, using my car as my transition. I only practice mental transitions, not so much real transitions, but I use essentially everything, including the clothing and accessories, that I will use during the race. I had been practicing elements of transitions from swim to bike and bike to run all throughout the summer, and each race I’ve shaved off a little more time.
Of significance for this race, I started wearing my SIM shorts instead of a full wetsuit (I do not own a sleeveless or a “shortie” wetsuit), as the water temperatures have been in the low to mid 70’s. To my surprise, I discovered that I am faster for the distance in my SIM shorts, which are USAT sanctioned in wetsuit-legal triathlon swims. The pre-race workout went pretty straightforward, and all systems were go.
I had cooked my breakfast and plated it the night before: bacon, egg, fruit, and a small serving of brown rice noodles. My bike food (sweet potato puree with maple syrup, lemon, water, and cinnamon) and electrolyte pills were also ready to grab and take with me. All gear had been packed the night before, so I could arrive by 6:30am when transition opened, packets picked up, and my transition area in order.
One of the things I love about BuDu races is how they are organized, and how most people are familiar with USAT rules regarding racing, setting up transition, and general sportsmanship. Everyone on my rack were friendly, chatty, and eager to chase a good race.
Swim: 39min 52 seconds
The water temperature was indeed warm (75.5F), with a breeze in the air with grey skies. I chose not to do much of a warm up, as waiting around in the cool air for the men to take off would have had me shivering.
Instead, my plan was to go out hard sculling the surface, swim about 100 yards hard to find a place to dig in towards the right buoy, and let the faster swimmers in the women’s and relay group have at it. The women’s group spread out quickly, so very soon I was swimming past the first buoy on the far right and heading out to the first turn buoy at the far end of Lake Tye.
Two things stand out about this swim. One thing was a backstroking female racer, who kept crossing my path over and over because she could not swim straight. I made a mental note of it that I needed a better strategy of dodging back strokers, besides, “Swim faster.” Eventually I did pass her and swam just inside of the sight line to the far buoy to keep from running into her. The other thing was the breeze in the air that created a bit of a current coming back to shore. I didn’t notice it until I had to work a bit harder and increase my stroke cadence to not waste any forward progress.
All I can say is that by the first ten minutes into the swim, I was rather excited that I chose to ditch the wetsuit and go with the SIM shorts. I was warm and comfortable, and after I ran to transition, it was so easy to take off.
T1: 2min 55 seconds I thought I would actually save a few more seconds off of T1 because of the SIM shorts, but in reality, my T1 was almost the same as the previous two triathlons (both completed with a wetsuit).
If I really want to save time, I need to not put on a bike jersey in T1. But the wind was picking up, and the jersey provided me just enough warmth to not shiver, plus it gives a big enough pocket for my special race food in a gel flask or pouch.
Bike 27.5miles 1hr 33 min 28 secondsOf note: the bike course was changed to 27.5 miles to accommodate some in-town requests for the course to be diverted slightly.The ride out to the main road (Old Snohomish Road) is a mostly flat road with one downhill descent (noted: you’ll have to climb it twice for the double looped Oly course) was fairly smooth, and I noted the place I would likely be taking in food for the second loop. It then takes a hard left turn onto Treosti Road to a turnaround, and then you follow it back the way you came.
The bothersome thing for me is that I’m such a slower swimmer compared to the field, I end up biking alone for awhile, pushing the speed in order to catch the slower riders who happen to be faster swimmers. Until I catch up, I’m riding alone. For awhile. Ho hum! It can feel self-defeating at times. Why am I here, riding alone? But experience has shown me that triathlon is also a race of strategy and endurance, and by executing your best race, new possibilities unfold.
One of the things I love about these small races is that you get to see brand new triathletes born. They might be riding an old bicycle with platform pedals, and their smiles are wide. A woman on a comfort bike chugged up a roller; a young man on a hybrid bike impressively held his own against the headwinds.
At the bottom of the first long descent, there is a left hook turn and then a slight false flat towards the distal turnaround cone. After taking the left turn, I could really feel the headwind that had picked up, and my thin Pearl Izumi bike jersey collar began to flap against my neck. Keeping my body low in aero, I fought the wind and passed as many people as I could, took the turnaround, and raced back towards the right-hand turn towards the start.
Panting up the small hill, I took a quick look at my Garmin to get an idea of speed. My goal was to try to average close to 18mph, which meant I could basically feel my speed by my exertion level (panting). As I grunted past a few people up the hill, I received a few, “Go get it!”s by female riders.
Of note, I missed the Bike Loop 1 turnaround to get back onto the main road; apparently I was going a bit fast and missed the turn, but it was easy to go just a few more feet and find a safe place to return without blocking any of the sprint-distance cyclists from taking the road back to the bike dismount line and transition.
Additionally, an impatient motorcyclist trapped behind some of the racers made a pretty bold move at the left hook turn onto Treosti Road while on my second loop, nearly clipping myself and another rider. The police officer directing traffic was not thrilled. Nor was I.
While on the course for Loop 2, it was time to assess my fueling needs. How much food did I want to eat? Well, ideally I wanted to consume the entire gel flask of my bike food, split over three feedings and with sips of water, and give my guts plenty of time to empty before I hit the run. But what I ended up actually consuming was about half the flask. Oh well. I wasn’t hungry, but my legs were definitely feeling the burn as I charged up the hill on the return to the race site at the end of the second loop. There weren’t too many of us left, so bike dismount and T2 were a snap.
T2: 1 minute 17 seconds This transition should have been shorter, but I had trouble zipping off my bike jersey when the zipper got stuck. Argh! I grabbed a gel and stuffed it in my back tri kit pocket and took off, this time relying on the course aid station for water rather than carrying my own as I have in past races.
Run: 58min 7 secondsGiven that the run course was a fast flat, the goal was to have a clean run, free of a Grumpy Tummy, and come in under an hour. The course heads out left on the sidewalk around Lake Tye, crosses a dirt lot, and then follows a concrete path around the lake back to the school next to the race site; it then goes south briefly to a turnaround cone, returns towards the race site, and repeats.
The first 5k I admit my only worry was about running the course correctly, since it was top of mind not to repeat my 2014 performance and short the run, which earned me a DQ that year. Yet this time, the first five kilometers were easy, and I kept a solid pace close to 8:30 or faster.
On the second loop, however, I got the first hint that I was starting to bonk. The harder I tried to dig in and keep the pace, the more effort I felt, and the more fatigued I became. It was time to pull out the emergency gel and take a very small “hit” while walking for 30 seconds. Within minutes, I got a kick of energy and kept going. As I reached the end of the straightway, that bonking sensation returned and I slowed down to take another small hit of gel and grabbed some water at the aid station.
I would’ve thought that I could make the last 1.5 miles without anymore need for nutrition, but because I raced faster at the beginning, I probably switched over from burning fat to burning more sugar, and there just wasn’t enough sugar coming in to meet the higher demand. So many of my past races have been finished by burning fat at a lower speed, so I was in unfamiliar territory. A flat real-sugar Coke would’ve been a gift!
When I hit the turnaround cone, I had to walk for 30 seconds, which was a real disappointment psychologically. But as soon as the gel worked itself in, I started picking up the pace. Eventually, a woman in my Age Group that I passed earlier had caught up with me, and she encouraged me to give whatever I had left in me. We began to gun it towards the end, and as we ran behind the baseball backstop towards the final sprint into the finish, we were yelling at eachother, “Take it!” “No, you take it!” I slowed up slightly, and she crossed the finish line with me on her heels.
I leaned over to catch my breath at the end of that sprint, satisfied that I had finally had a race where my gut survived without getting upset! My friend Whitney took a few pictures as I crossed the finish line; she captured the drama on my face as I sought to empty the gas tanks and give everything I had remaining to finish strong.
Post Race Result: 3hours 15 minutes 40 seconds
71 of 113 overall | 19 of 45 female | 2 of 4 F50-54
Well, I pretty much nailed the goal time on the dot! Just imagine if I had not needed to walk during the run; I could’ve saved a couple of minutes at least.
Initially, I received 3rd place in my Age Group 50-54 F. However, the woman who I told to run through the finish line first later came to me with a concern about her swim. She believed she shorted her swim by failing to round the first buoy (to the right from the beach), and her watch ended up confirming that she had indeed shorted her swim. After she reported it to the race timing official, her second place finish was given to me, and my third place finish was later awarded to the remaining woman in our A.G., who came in twenty minutes later.
The bittersweetness of this triathlon was that it delivered the opportunity for which I have waited all summer: the chance to arrive onto the run event and not experience gut distress. Yet I experienced energy fluctuations that were vastly different from my training. I did not expect to need to slow down or walk, and yet that is exactly what I chose.
My next piece of homework will probably involve increasing the amount of food I take in on the bike, regardless of hunger (based on time and energy output), and then running a brick of four miles steady pace or a brick of 1.5 miles fast pace to see how quickly my body signals a need for food. Ideally, I’d still like to avoid taking in any food during a 10k, yet if I am to run at speeds higher than an 8min/mi., my Metabolic Efficiency numbers shift dramatically towards carbohydrate burning over fat burning, and I can only expect that I cannot maintain those speeds without more sugar. And sugar is a bomb to my gut.
But just when you think that what I’m saying sounds like
triathlon is only about science and mathematical strategy, I can never get away from how deeply mental triathlon racing really boils down to. The first 75-80% of the race is mechanical, a good race plan, proper nutrition, and the science of triathlon for sure; but to finish well, you have to reach deep down past your own fatigue, and mental will yourself forward, when your body is crying to stop, when the lungs hurt and your mouth is dry from panting, when your mind starts to let go of the goals you fought so hard to train for (“It doesn’t matter anymore, you can go slower, because you aren’t going to win anything”).
An Ironman athlete once shared with me this truth, which has stayed with me to this day:
“Ironman is not so good for the body, but it’s great for the mind.”
To a lesser degree, this statement has some truth for the shorter distance endurance course. Anything that begins to strip the mind of its ego, pontifications, doubts, and braggadocio has the potential of helping one encounter her true self in the present moment.
Not who she was a minute ago or a minute in the future. Just now.
Coach Michael Covey of ultramcendurance.com Once again, I have never seen you roll your eyes when I have fu’barred myself for the upteenth time. Thank you for not giving up on me! Time to rake in some podium finishes while it’s still possible.
My M: for making the coffee and feeding the cat while I slip in those extra minutes of rest before the morning workout. I know you get it.
Eastside Trail Running and Multi-Sport (ETRMS): in a year that I have been coping with my health and training without a formal team, I deeply appreciate each and everyone of you for your support, words of encouragement, and company on the water, on the bike, and on the trail.
Location: Bloedel Donovan Park, Bellingham Washington
Date: July 15 2017
After racing Eastside Triathlon and feeling more confident that I was not going to completely break my body by racing again, I signed up for the Lake Whatcom Triathlon two days after racing Eastside Triathlon. Silly Snappy Dragon!
My Coach suggested that I give the Long Course distance (aka Half Ironman) a brief break and focus on shorter distances, while training up for another 50k trailrunning race. With what happened to my guts in Victoria six weeks earlier, it was a sensible choice, yet I was feeling unsatisfied. My brain comes alive on the longer distances, even if my body doesn’t always like being dragged along for the ride. After searching and comparing some different options for races in July, I settled on Lake Whatcom Triathlon as a single-distance race.
Oh boy! I haven’t raced an Oly for almost two seasons! This is going to be fun!
After a quiet 2016 without a triathlon race at the same site, Eastside Triathlon (Raise the Bar) drew the local teams back to this sweet hometown favorite. Not only is it close to where I live, the Lake Sammamish Loop is a frequent training ground for me. It is also the site where the previous 2015 Issaquah Triathlon in June and the 2014 Lake Sammamish Triathlon in August took place, and so I have warm memories of learning about triathlon racing right here.
On my, “third time’s a charm” return to Victoria BC for the Half Ironman distance triathlon on June 4th 2017, I had high hopes that this would be the time I could come close to breaking the six-hour barrier, a decent goal for someone who battles Autoimmune Disease and also contends with a kidney disorder that attracts electrolyte imbalance issues like the ice cream truck draws small children to chase it down, block after block.
One change I made this year was to try connecting the dots between my love of being outdoors, my need to have fresh and organic foods free from allergens, gluten, and preservatives, and a reasonably priced triathlon race accommodation. After collecting the necessary pieces and calling in an early reservation, I decided this was a good time to try camping instead of staying at a hotel.
The Mt. Si 50-Kilometer and 50-Miler ultramarathons are a local favorite in the ultra community. Known for its comparatively flat sections and easy-going ten-mile false flat descent back to the finish line, the 50-kilometer trail race is the perfect introduction for the newcomer to this distance.
The course begins at Snoqualmie Elementary school on a low-traffic road, uses a stairway to get onto the Snoqualmie Trail. It then winds through a golf course, park, under the I-90 freeway, across a bridge, and then through the forest on the way to Rattlesnake Lake. At the lake, runners are directed onto the Ironhorse trail, enjoying more forested dirt trail, waterfalls and bridges, while running along the old whistle stops of the former railroad bed. Descending steeply to the 16 mile turn around point, runners encounter the only real elevation change that is not gradual, and after returning through the Rattlesnake Lake aid station at Mile 21, it’s literally all downhill from there to the finish.
I call edibles “phood” if it’s processed and filled with chemicals, preservatives, sugars, and cheap oils, or if it’s a sugary treat that triggers sugar comas and gastrointestinal hell.
In any case, just inside a month after Ironman Mont-Tremblant, I had scheduled myself to run the Beat the Blerch Half Marathon Sept 18 2016 in Carnation, WA with my sister, who is also an avid 10k and Half Marathon runner. Unfortunately, she was injured and unable to run, so I took this opportunity to run by myself and wear a silly, food-related costume.
The response to being “Empress SPAM” for the day surprised me. Almost
everyone, even the fastest marathon runners on their uber-speedy return to the finish line, broke out in smiles and cheers when they saw the cheery colors and familiar packaging of this iconic meat from the war era.
I had intended to run slowly and walk a good amount of the half marathon distance because I was not fully recovered from Ironman Mont-Tremblant, and I was actually unsure what would happen to my body after Mile 9 or 10, since I hadn’t been running much the previous three weeks. Considering my recovery status, I was pleased to run the majority of the race, and forced myself to take a few photo opportunity breaks with fellow runners, give and receive a few high-fives, and run slowly across the finish line in 2 hours and 12 minutes, with no pain soreness, stomach upset, dizziness, or extreme fatigue.
This is (I believe!), my last scheduled race for the season. My Coach has strongly urged me to focus on allowing my body to gain back some precious weight (“be a chubby Asian”), which I realize sounds really strange to many people who fight hard to keep their weight under control. In my case, I experienced what the pros do when training for high volume races, and it’s now time to build me a fat pad so I can start training for my next big challenge — Mt. Si Ultra 50K on April 23, 2017.