Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ironman Switzerland 2015

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” T Edison.

In the past seven years of racing triathlon, I’ve learned that the “perfect prep” is an illusion. The truth is, life gets in the way. The fortunate thing is, life gets in the way for everyone. You may be sitting on the couch, missing a session because you are sick. However, chances are that along the way, your competitor misses a session because their car broke down or they had to help a friend in need. I’ve come to realize that the small setbacks along the way are just a part of the game. At Ironman Melbourne in March after a bout of Salmonella just 10 days out from the race, I found out that you can still salvage a good race (not perfect, but good) even when s%$t goes very wrong. 

My prep for Ironman Switzerland was far from textbook perfect, but I’ve come to realize that the imperfections sometimes might just be a part of the perfect prep. 5 & 4 weeks out from Switzerland, I did hardly any training as I was tapering & traveling for Ironman Cairns (the race that wasn’t). When I got “back to work” at home, I was at first freaked out that I had missed “the two most critical weeks” of Ironman prep for a late July Ironman. Once I began training though, I realized that I’ve already done probably 20 critical weeks this year and actually needed a solid break which life incidentally granted me with the DNF at Cairns. My training was better than ever and I took life’s usual hiccups in stride, confident that I had already done the work. Babysitter doesn’t show up for my long ride? Ok, no ride for mom today. Getting a cough two days before the race (which is now bronchitis)? No worries, take some echinacea and ignore it. 5 days of travel to Cape Cod for my brother’s wedding? Just fit in the training you can and don’t be a neurotic freak around your family because it’s not about you. These reminders helped me to get in some solid training, but to also be adaptive and flexible.  

There was also the question of which Ironman race I was going to do. I looked at both Ironman UK and Ironman Switzerland which were on the same day (July 19th). I hemmed and hawed about about the start lists & the course profiles, knowing I needed a podium finish by the end of July to get into the top 28 women in the world who qualify for the Ironman World Championships in the first cutoff (7 more women qualify in August in addition to a few automatic qualifiers). Normally, I just like to race whoever shows up, but this race was different. We were spending a lot of upplanned time and money to get there and I needed to make it count for Kona. To confuse things further, I even threw IM Canada on the table as a possibility. I sent an email to Thorsten of tri rating asking for advice and he essentially said, “You need to have confidence in yourself now that you can podium at any of these Ironmans. Pick the course and race that suits you best and don’t worry about everyone else.” In the end, that’s what I did. I knew UK had a high likelihood of being cold and rainy (not my bag) and Canada was a week later (July 26th) and conflicted with our plans to head to the Phillipines. Ironman Switzerland looked amazing: A beautiful 2-lap lake swim that looked easy to navigate (in-water navigation and rough conditions are not my strong suits). Switzerland also had a challenging bike course with a lot of variety: About 50% flat and 50% ups and downs, but a do-able total elevation gain of about 4000 feet. The run was flat and 4 back-and-forth loops around lake Zürich. Lapped runs are my favorite because you can often see your competition, pace yourself (e.g. 45 minutes per loop) and get an extra boost from the spectators who you see more often on this type of course. So, Switzerland it was. 

Due to our upcoming trip to the Phillipines for Cebu 70.3 on August 3 and then Australia for Sunshine Coast 70.3, we didn’t think it was fair to bring Wynne along to Switzerland as well… Luckily, my sister came to the rescue and offered to look after the Wynnstar while we (hopefully) got the job done in Europe. I realize I’m also incredibly fortunate to have a fiancé that rearranged all of our travel plans and sacrificed our time at home in July in order to get me to this race. Luke literally will go to the end of the world for me and I know he’s a rare catch. This kind of last minute travel is expensive, tiring and logistically difficult, but Luke was dedicated to the trip from the beginning. 

After dropping Wynne off in Chicago, we flew to Zürich where we settled in to Flo & Carole’s house in Horgen- a hamlet just outside of the main city. Flo & Carole are good friends who opened their house to us for the week which was incredible. We had such a good time just hanging out with them it was easy to forget I had a race on Sunday as most evenings were spent laughing around the dinner table with a bottle of wine until after 10pm. 
Lakeside dinner with Flo & Carole

We arrived on Tuesday and took a quick swim at the lake which was INCREDIBLE (and way too warm for wetsuits). Wednesday we had a chance to ride one lap of the two-lap bike course. The course was more challenging than we had anticipated, but had tons of variety and was just gorgeous. The climbs were significant- most notably, “The Beast” which is nearly 3 miles long at 5-6%. The forecast for Sunday was thunderstorms, but I tried to not worry too much and took the “it is what it is” route. I was just happy it was forecasted to be quite hot with highs in the low 90’s. 
Wednesday: Bike course recon. 

Race morning arrived and conditions were absolutely perfect. Calm seas, not too much wind, and no rain or thunderstorms. No wetsuits for pros or age groupers as the water was quite warm 25.8 celcius). I said a little “thank-you” to the weather gods and got my pre-race business done. I took my race-prep jog and felt fresh and at ease. 

The SWIM: 2.4 miles 1:00 (2nd fastest swim) 
My goal in the swim was to have a strong enough start to hop on some slightly faster feet. I was able to do this and ended up on Mareen Hufe’s feet. She historically swims a bit faster than me, so I was pleased and the pace felt perfect. Mareen led us through the first lap and we exited for a short run on an island before diving in for lap 2. 
Mareen (pink cap) & me (black cap/ Blue Seventy)  Photo: Michael Rauschendorfer

Luke yelled, “you guys are 2nd”! Yes! We knew Mary Beth Ellis (a very strong swimmer) was far ahead, but I was surprised that we were next as I knew some of the other swimmers in the field were typically faster than me. I dove back in with a smile and continued for a few minutes until some age groupers started to pass us. (Age groupers had started only 3 minutes behind the pro women so the faster ones were able to catch up). In a critical decision-making moment, I decided to leave Mareen’s feet and try to stay on some feet that had passed us. It turned out that the pace felt fine and these feet navigated me all the way to the finish. I was surprised at how many swimmers we had to swim through that were on their first lap. It was really challenging and I think partly due to the fact that IM Switzerland had a rolling start for the first time. With a rolling start, I think the slower swimmers may not even get into the water until almost 20 minutes after the gun goes off, so they are barely on their way as we started the 2nd loop. I got kicked by a few breaststrokers and whacked in the face but whatever I did, I kept an eye on the feet that were leading me. This choice on the second lap was a good one and I was second out of the water, 5 minutes behind Mary Beth Ellis and 45 seconds ahead of Mareen who was in 3rd place. 

The BIKE: 112 miles 5:13 (3rd fastest bike)
I decided for this race to go mostly by heart rate as my power seemed to play mind games with me at IM Cairns (I had a slow start and was fixated on the numbers and that I wasn’t quite hitting them). In Switzerland, I rode my target heart rate, and luckily, for the first half, this netted me my exact target power without focusing on the numbers. I was feeling strong on my SCOTT Plasma 5 and in control. 
famous Heartbreak Hill. 

Mareen, a super biker, passed me by 20k and I didn’t (couldn’t really) go with her. Going into this race, one of my mantras was “let the race come back to you” (pretty sure I just borrowed this from Elizabeth Waterstraaat). I knew that if I executed my own race, I should be able to get to the podium. I didn’t want to take any risks that could derail the outcome that I needed. 
Photo: Michael Rauschendorfer

To my surprise, the ride was quite fun. (I typically get really nervous about the ride and the pain and solitude it brings). I enjoyed the climbs and was somewhat cautious on the downhills. I didn’t encounter very much age group traffic, but there was some. At times it was mentally helpful (for pacing), at other times it was an irritating nuisance as I’d have to sit up and soft pedal to drop back quickly enough, etc. There was one longer climb where I had to ride much easier than I wanted - I was spinning up in my easiest gear far below my race watts. However, there were 4 men strung out ahead of me and I wasn’t sure I could (or should, given the effort it would take) pass all 4 of them legally (within 25 seconds each going uphill), so I sat back and ate and drank. Other than that, it seemed to be a fair race and from what I saw of others, they competed fairly as well. The second loop, my power and morale dropped slightly, but that’s Ironman for you and pretty much to be expected. I ate and drank a lot throughout and stayed on top of it all to set myself up to run. I remained in 3rd place alone (1+ minute back from 2nd, 5 minutes ahead of 4th) for the duration of the race, but I actually don’t mind racing this way. It allows me to do what I need to do and I don’t have to base my moves upon those of the other girls. 
Heading into T2. 
Photo: Michael Rauschendorfer
The RUN: 26.2 miles 3:01 (fastest run) 
Off the bike I got some splits: 17 whopping minutes behind to MBE (girl can ride!), and 2 minutes to Mareen in 2nd. Right away, I decided to run my own race as planned. I hoped to catch Mareen, but pretty much wrote off catching MBE and decided I’d be quite happy to be a bridesmaid at the Mary Beth Ellis Show. I threw on my Hokas (Cliftons) and set off. 
Photo: Michael Rauschendorfer

I never look at my pace during the first mile and go by feel. I try to run by a “controlled but productive effort” and then I look to see (after the mile) what that split looks like on the day. On the day, the split was right on my target pace and my effort was controlled but challenging. By 3 or 4 miles, I caught up to Mareen and we both wished each other well- we knew we were both in a good position for the Kona qualifying points we needed. After that point, I ran the next 15 miles focusing on solidifying my 2nd place finish. MBE is a world class athlete, multiple IM Champion, top 10 contender in Kona and current ITU long course world champion. I was okay with the fact that her 17 minute lead would probably be out of reach on the day, even if I could whittle down 10 minutes or so. As a result, I got to run in control for the first 3 laps and really enjoy the run! I said “hi” to everyone I knew along the course (Steve, Laura, Luke, Adrian, Joe, Sage, Brian), smiled a lot, and just ran. 

Having a little too much fun at the halfway point

thumbs up

My friend Carrie and I talk about ‘“finishing the business” in training so I focused on just finishing the business and what I came there to do. I had a lead mountain biker with me (Sabrina, who was amazing!) and she let the crowds know I was coming and got me some extra cheers which kept the wind in my sails. By the end of lap 3, though (about 19 miles), I was definitely starting to feel it all and slow down a bit. But, as I came through the finish line area to start the final lap, Luke & the race announcer informed me that Mary Beth had slowed down and that if I kept my current pace, I would catch her by 24 miles. HOLY S%$T. Honestly, that wasn’t what I wanted to hear! I was already happy with where I was, you mean I had to try harder and dig deeper? My legs hurt just thinking about it, but somehow my pace accelerated a bit and by mile 21 she was less than a minute ahead. At that point, the prospect of winning became real and I really went for it. I lifted my pace and eventually passed MBE around mile 23. I kept it going until the finish and had time to celebrate my first Ironman win. 
Photo Getty Images | Ironman

finish line debrief w/ Mary Beth Ellis... can't. stand/ up. 

Overall, I had the most solid start-to-finish race I had ever put together, something I wouldn’t have expected from my choppy prep and mishaps in my last few races. To win an Ironman was my bucket list dream and I get emotional thinking about all of the hard work I put into that very moment and that it has actually all paid off. 

Thank you to our families, who encouraged me to give it one more shot after IM Cairns, to my sister for all her help with Wynne, and of course to Luke, my coach and better half.
Women's pro podium

Thank you also to all of my sponsors for taking a chance in 2015 on the girl who was 20lbs overweight after just having a baby this time last year. We also have a new supporter, mortgage Broker Tommy Ullich #AussieTom and we’re excited about this new partnership. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Tour de New England & plans: Ironman Switzerland!

I think we spent almost two weeks at home in San Diego... As usual, it was awesome. As soon as we returned from Ironman Cairns, I strapped my big girl training boots back on and got back to business.
Enjoyed a few family sunsets back in SoCal
Luckily, Scottie (DeFillipis) & Carrie (Lester) were still in town and putting in some big miles so I was able to join them for a few big sessions to get moving. Jess (super cyclist riding for pro team TWENTY 16/ my friend who created Harmony Bars) also was kind enough to accompany me on a long ride from home to the top of Palomar Mountain. I left Palomar with a PR time up there (first time under 1hr 20 for me, and a few minutes under at that). Other than that, Luke joined me for a lot of our typical weekly benchmark sessions. We did our weekly strength efforts up Torrey Pines and I am finally climbing like someone who can actually ride a bike. Our visit home was short and sweet, but I left with some confidence I never had before. Although I tapered for Ironman Cairns and had a few rest days afterwards due to life/travel, I think the extra rest actually helped me kick my fitness into the next gear and I was really able to "turn the screws" (who am I? who says that?) on my training during the end of June/ early July. Luke has been so great for the last few weeks. After recovering from Cairns, he started "taking it easy" which coincides perfectly with joining me for all or part of my sessions and sitting on my wheel or taking pictures or videos as I kill myself on the track. Joking aside, he has been awesome and I love having such a supportive wingman. It also helps bring me to the next level when he's staring me down during every interval instead of off doing his own intervals as he usually is. This is because I work extra hard to see if I can really make him sweat. If I finish an interval and he's a little sweaty or out of breath, I feel quite proud of myself.
Luke pacing me up Bandy Canyon

On July 1, we hit the road (ok, hit the air) for the East Coast, but also packed for potential racing opportunities in Europe, though nothing had been finalized. After Cairns, I debated the pros and cons of racing a few July Ironmans (IM UK, IM Switzerland, IM Whistler) to try to get in for the July qualifying period for Kona. I also debated waiting and doing an August Ironman, but considering I haven't done an Ironman since March and just put in a huge training block, I thought I probably (but not definitely, hah) wanted to cash in on that fitness and race in July. The problem was, we hadn't solidified plans and I was have a MAJOR case of decision paralysis. But, we packed up "prepared for anything" and took the red eye to Boston.
We have this s$%t down to a science! And thanks to Scicon bags we #packsaferidefast ... though they should rename their hashtag #packfastridefast - it's really very simple (or so Luke tells me!) 

First stop on the tour de East Coast was Cape Cod, Massachusetts for my brother's wedding to my lovely and amazing "other sistah" Katy! I love how weddings are always a great excuse for a Gerdes family reunion, and we had a great one. It was great to catch up with all the relatives and I was especially happy that Wynne got to meet her great grandma Gerdes. Between family events, Luke and I packed in some solid training! Everything from bike intervals on the Cape Cod Canal bike path to a track session at the local high school to a long ride out to the tippy tip tip of Cape Cod (Imagine Cape Cod as someone's arm as they're flexing their bicep.

We stayed in the bicep of Cape Cod and rode our bikes out to Provincetown which is the fingertips,  an almost perfect 100 miles round trip). We don't have much (ok, ANY) flat, uninterrupted riding out in California so it was super fun to average over 20mph on a ride... That NEVER happens.
Luckily Luke put a ring on it recently so we could invite him into the family picture with Grandma 
Riding into Provincetown on the 4th of July
After Cape Cod, we hopped on a ferry and spent a short 24 hours on Nantucket Island.
Nantucket is an island 30 miles south of Cape Cod,

We decided to visit Nantucket because I spent summers there as a little girl staying with my aunt, uncle, and cousins who live there and I wanted to see them. We also went because I wanted to show Luke one of the most beautiful places in the USA, or even the world, I think. 
so perfect

Our stay was SO short, but we had an amazing local dinner with my relatives, beach cruisered around town, and took a 19 mile run around the island. It was perfect and WAY. TOO. SHORT. But, we had training to do and the cycling in Nantucket is limited so we bon voyaged back to the mainland.

Island exploring... we were sad they didn't rent SCOTT bikes! 
Cruising to dinner
Luke ....being so Nantucket in his nautical tee. Loving the local oysters
Me & Wynne with aunt Lee & cousin Elsie
This week, we are staying at my mom's house on a lake near Sunapee, New Hampshire. It's been really nice to do absolutely nothing besides train and sit by the lake and relax. The training here is also really good and really different from California. We have a lake out the front door for open water swimming, lots of hilly dirt roads to run on, and new cycling routes to explore.

morning (and afternoon) routine on Perkins Pond
T-run around the lake

T-run around the lake part 2.
Wynne is in heaven at Grandma's and is loving the swimming and the millions of (breakable) knicknacks all around the house. The lake cottage is a bit of a baby death trap, though, with lots of ledges and decks and docks and no options for baby proofing. Needless to say, all eyes on Wynne this week!

So, we will be here until Sunday and then....... Off to Switzerland! We cashed in our miles and got some tickets to Zurich for Ironman Switzerland on July 19th 2015. Europe was NOT in the plan this year, but I must say I am super lucky to have a finacé that easily says "F the plan!" and wants to do what's best for us as a team. I think Luke wants me to race Kona almost as much as I want to race Kona as it was my dream after having Wynne, so off to Zurich we go to try to get a few KPR points. It wasn't an easy decision to make, but now that it's decided, I'm super excited! Besides, I got this fortune the other night at dinner, so I have to go, right?