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Shifting Gears

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

2021 Season Wrap Up

Before this past season quietly becomes a blip in my rearview mirror, I need to get a few thoughts down because, frankly, if I don't do it soon. . .I'll forget most of it. If you're over fifty, you understand. In addition, I need to snip this ridiculous florescent green Ironman bracelet off my wrist. Today.

This chapter starts in March of 2019 when all hell broke loose and the pandemic erupted. Vinny and I were vacationing in Hawaii and I had hoped to hit the ground running when we landed in Albany. The Universe, however, had a different plan. As more and more races were postponed and cancelled, I made an early decision to pull the plug and to allow myself the opportunity to take a long, deep exhale. I continued to follow a training schedule which focused on cycling and rehabbing my knee, while not allowing myself to stress over the occasional missed workout or lack of pool time. I hiked every day, attended a virtual training camp, did a few virtual running "races", enjoyed countless hours with my little grandbaby boys, and I smiled. I smiled a lot! The pandemic forced me to do something that I could not (and would not) have done on my own. It forced me to take some time away from racing. Honestly, it felt really good and was exactly what my entire being needed most.

I came into the 2021 season feeling refreshed and optimistic, and I was desperately determined to get to the start line of an Ironman race injury-free and happy! In my case, it was the little things which added up to make the biggest differences. Investing in a Whoop taught me how my specific lifestyle and training behaviors impacted my recovery. For the first time in ten years, I gave myself permission to shorten a workout, dial down the intensity of an interval, and/or take the day off from training when I wasn't fully recovered. This helped me to get more out of my key workout sessions and allowed me get to the end of the season feeling healthy and motivated.

I went to physical therapy. . .just because. I enlisted the help of Ray Webster, of Positive Motion Physical Therapy, and told him that I was not injured and needed his help to stay that way. I'm sure he thought I was a little nuts, but did his best to identify my weaknesses and address them with strength, plyometric, and mobility exercises. He also tortured me with manual therapy and did a very comprehensive run gait analysis. In short, Ray helped me fall in love with running again.

Although it's often the first thing most triathletes triage from their training schedule, to me, strength training is key to becoming a stronger, more resilient competitor. For the past eleven years Ron Greenfield has been my superglue. He has challenged me with workouts aimed at helping me become a better overall athlete. He has also been my mentor and motivator. In contrast, my triathlon coach, Vinny Johnson, QT2 Systems, has fine tuned my training with individualized workouts and helped me grow as a triathlete. Vinny's wisdom and straight forward approach demanded that I mature (although I hate that word) and become more independent. He forced me to toughen up.

The biggest difference for me this year, however, was my attitude. I went into this season with no expectations or added pressures. There was zero thought about long term plans, qualifying for Kona or boosting my USAT age group rankings. I wanted to bring back some of the joy I had lost since my first Ironman. This needed to become more of a hobby and less of a "job." I wanted to smile more and think less. Why does everything in this sport have to be so serious and calculated? Sometimes a girl just needs to shift gears and have some fun!

With that, the journey became the prize and the outcomes were just an added bonus.

Lake Effect Half Marathon

March 20, 2021

Liverpool, NY

2:06:38 5th AG out of 19

I was talked into doing this race by my QT2 friend, Betsy. I hadn't trained for it and probably had no business doing the mileage, but thought it could be a solid training day. My only goal was to have fun and to keep my knees intact. Mission accomplished. Well. . .I didn't get hurt anyway. As a side note, I won't do this again or recommend it to others. It had us running three loops of a very nondescript Syracuse neighborhood. It was so blah that I didn't take a single picture. I did get a really sweet pair of pink and orange Dunkin Donuts socks. . .so, there's that.

Druthers Helderberg to Hudson Half Marathon

April 16, 2021

Altamont, NY

2:07:06. 10th AG out of 34

This was a fun one! The course started and ended at the Altamont Fair Grounds and made a large hilly circle through the Helderbergs. It was scenic and challenging, and turned into another good day of training. I didn't break any records with my running, but wow. . .it was nice to be running with a smile!

Ironman 70.3 Virginia's Blue Ridge

June 6, 2021

Roanoke, VA

6:08:54 2nd AG out of 17

I loved everything about this race. . .except the 90 degree (humid) weather. The swim was held in a pristine reservoir which does not normally allow recreational swimming. The bike was the most challenging that I have ever encountered and included a four mile climb which averaged a six percent grade up the Blue Ridge Parkway. This section was closed to traffic and I couldn't help but feel completely privileged to be up there! The run was along a pleasant little bike path and was mostly flat without much shade. Admittedly, I completely melted just six miles into the run and was reduced to taking short walk breaks every two minutes. I think I would have benefitted by some heat acclimation protocols, but it felt great to be racing again.

Ironman Musselman 70.3

July 11, 2021

Geneva, NY

5:17:29 1st AG out of 20

If you know me, you know this is my race! It's rarely been my experience that Ironman takes over a race venue and makes it even better, but it's true for this one. The new swim was a straight forward rectangle (no more blinding turns), the bike was FAST and fair (no more gravely single track), and the run was two loops and spectator friendly. I do have one small complaint. . . Ironman, what did you do with all that wine?!?

Ironman Wisconsin

September 12, 2021

Madison, Wisconsin

12:00:03 1st AG out of 17

I registered for this race with the intension that it would be my last full Ironman. With that, I completely embraced the process. Much like having my youngest child, I savored each training block and developmental milestone. I didn't hate being in the saddle for six hour training rides or doing split session runs on rainy Sundays. In addition, I didn't swim nearly as much I had in previous years, partially because of the lack of pool availability during the pandemic, and partially because. . .well, I just didn't want to. I had lots of riding miles under me and felt really good about where my power numbers were. My running wasn't speedy, but I was able to run with consistency and without pain. When you're sixty, you don't have to be blinding fast, you just need to be able to find a sustainable pace and hold on to it!

I arrived in Madison three days prior to race day. Those days were filled with taper rides, runs, a sharpen swim in Lake Monona, restaurant-ing, farmer's market-ing, and relaxing.

My advice to anyone with aspirations of doing an Ironman. . .get to transition early on race morning. Fill your tires, top your fluids, mount your computer, set up your helmet/sunglasses, and get out of there! With the help of our sherpas, Vinny and Stan, Betsy and I were herded through T1 and T2 with our blinders on. They kept us focused and moving in the direction of the helix, towards the swim start.

Having done this race two times prior, I knew how important it was to keep an eye on swimmers lining up in the fenced in coral. Despite the fact that athletes are suppose to line up by self projected swim times, in an instant, that limited space quickly became jammed packed with nervous swimmers that were reluctant to let anyone get in line ahead of them. Once again, I missed the boat and had to revert to ducking and weaving my way to the 1:10-1:14 group.

Finally, after two years of waiting, it took less than five minutes after the canon sounded to enter the cool, calm waters of Lake Monona. I finished the swim in 1:13:10. Not my best, but I never felt like I was able to find a good rhythm, and even stopped once during my second lap to assist an older woman having a panic attack. I just couldn't get out of my own way, getting caught behind and between packs of crowded swimmers unwilling to let me claw my way through. Hindsight, I probably should have started closer to the front (like my coach had suggested) and swam with more intensity, but instead, I exited the water feeling fresh and ready to ride. Not a bad tradeoff if you ask me.

Cycling is always my favorite leg of triathlon, especially this one. This two loop lollipop course is rolling and technical. It starts and ends with a spirally descent (and later, an ascent) around a three story helix. There are a few punchy climbs positioned towards the back end of the "pop", which pull you out of your saddle and into a mob of cheering hooligans. It's the absolute best! With few exceptions, the roads are well maintained, and the picturesque farmlands present riders with something to smile about at every turn. It's a fun ride!

I realized early on that my bike computer wasn't going to be much help to me. It paired, but despite a quick calibration that morning, my power numbers were reading about 80 watts too low and my data fields were all screwed up. Unfortunately, I had no access to elapsed time, distance, power, cadence, or heart rate. After a few quick attempts to reset my computer on the fly, I opted to pay attention to the road and the other cyclist around me. Ironically, although I can see the ride is saved to my Garmin Edge, it still refuses to download to Garmin Connect. I'm quite sure my second loop was a bit slower than my first, as I felt an increased headwind during those final two hours, but overall, I felt strong and well fueled. My final bike time was 6:02:03 and I averaged 18.56 mph. I guess that's all we need to know.

Starting my run, there was plenty of crowd support along the bustling urban streets of Madison. There was also ample opportunity to reflect as athletes run along the quiet path that borders Lake Mendota. I felt solid and steady throughout the first loop, but noticed my walk breaks at the aid stations were getting longer with each mile. I was grateful for the soft, forgiving turf in Randall Stadium, as everything was starting to ache...without anything really hurting.

Most of my Iron friends know I don't like being given tracker information when I'm in the thick of a race. I can promise you, when I'm racing I'm giving my best effort at every given moment. Feeling like I'm being chased is intimidating and gives me anxiety. I know I'm a weirdo...but I'd rather not know. So, when my friend Stan suddenly appeared next to me and told me very sternly, "Do not stop running. Keep your feet moving!", I thought he was either ready for a cold beer or it was going to be a close race. My husband followed up by telling me that I was having a great day! Hmmmm. . .my only thought was, "I must be doing well and I better keep my damn feet moving!" Of course, my friends and family were on the edge of their seats hundreds of miles away, knowing this race was going to be a nail biter. Honestly, I had no idea until I rounded the corner of the State Capital and Jeff Andritz (a fellow athlete from Bethlehem Tri Club) told me very clearly, "You need to go for time! Jan Guenther is closing in behind you!" I guess Jeff didn't get the memo, but in this case with less than a half mile to the finish it was GREAT information to have!

That final five minutes of the run may have been the only time that entire day that I wasn't smiling, as suddenly, the thought of coming in second lit a fire within me. With a final run time of 4:31:37, I crossed the finish line of my tenth full Ironman race feeling giddy, teary, exhausted. . .and ready for a shower. I had won my age group by a mere twenty-nine seconds!

So, apparently, this won't be my last Ironman, as I opted to take the one and only slot that was allocated for my age group and return to the Big Island in October 2022. My goal there is to be able to cross the finish line feeling like I finally learned to navigate the crosswinds of Hawi and the sweltering heat which radiates off the Queen K.

I've given myself a solid seven weeks to recover, both physically and mentally, from a season that that took me through COVID to a finish line in Madison, Wisconsin. I've enjoyed late morning coffee, quiet walks with Lucy, and an awesome vacation in Bar Harbor. I'm slowly starting to feel a profound sense of excitement and anticipation for next season and am ready to start sweating! My season goals and race schedule are set, however, my race kit will look a little different in 2022. I'm planning to shift gears and give back a little more, to a sport that has given me so much over the years.

Thank you QT2 Systems and Vinny Johnson for your guidance and friendship. I've learned so much from you.

Husband Vinny. . .thank you for your love. ❤️

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