When I decided to race Long Course Worlds in August, I was very fit and I was enjoying a great block of training. At the time, I was not considering my two week trip to Hawaii or the sort of training lead-up that I would need to prepare properly for this race. I didn’t consider the cold weather that Boulder could endure, and I did not consider that all of my friends would be enjoying their off season, thus tempting me with their margaritas and fun.  However, going into this race, being able to race fast and to compete against the best wasn’t my main concern. When I decided to race LC worlds, my main goal was to see if I could handle a race that lasted more than 6 hours. I wanted to see if I liked going longer. I wanted to see if I could go longer without having some sort of problem. After all, I have not had a successful race  at the longer distances (i.e., Ironman) since 2006.

After our two weeks in Kona, and after ML asked for a bit of advice from PNF, I put in a solid ten day block or training. I needed to see  if I was even fit enough to do this race.  And so I decided that this would be my final race for 2011.

Three weeks ago I made a plan. I made the plan to execute this race like I would an Ironman. In the past, I have had enough bad experiences at the long course races to make me really respect them. I knew that I was strong enough and fast enough to get through a half, but was still unsure about getting through 3/4 of an Ironman, especially on such a hard course. I decided three weeks ago that I would NOT go for it, and that I would not get out of my comfort zone.

In the past I have made the gamble to race longer distances at 90-95%, and it hasn’t always ended in my favor. My main goal for LC Worlds was to get through this race at 80-85% effort, and hopefully, I would avoid any terrible issues. This decision was hard to make because ML was really encouraging me to go for it. LOL! He trains with me and sees me everyday. He knows my ability and he gets really excited seeing me train well. But I knew in my heart what I needed to do in order to have what I considered a successful race.

Typically the distance is 3 x an Olympic Distance race: 4k swim, 75 mile bike, and 18.6 mile run. Yesterday, however, our swim portion was cancelled due to cold air temperatures (39 degrees) and cold water temperatures (55 degrees). Frankly, I was happy that the ITU officials made this call, as I could not imagine getting out of that frigid water and riding (while still wet) in 39 degree air temperatures.

Athletes started on the bike at the mount line with 5 second intervals between each person. At first I thought this tight interval might cause a bit of drafting.  However, because the bike course is hilly with quite a bit of wind, I think the race was very fair. At times, I would have the occasional age group man slot in between me and the next person ahead. However, I tried to not let it bother me. I stayed focused on my goal, and stopped pedaling in order to not get into his draft zone. At times, I had to really get in tune with my inner chi, because I found it annoying…LOL.

On the bike, I felt like my nutrition was spot-on. I was taking in about 100 calories of liquid shot every 30 minutes. I had about 100-plus oz of Fluid Replacement Drink (FDR), broken down as 70 oz of EFS (for 500 calories) and 30 oz of water. At 2.5 hours, I noticed a bit of discomfort caused by some acid reflux and heart burn. I have had this in the past, and I know that it comes from my hiatal hernia. Two things cause it to react: eating too much and consuming caffeine.

While I followed the same race fueling plan that has worked for me in all of my successful  races this year, I made a few (unnecessary) changes to my routine.  First, I ate almost twice as much as I usually do the day before the race. I also doubled my breakfast on race morning.  (Naturally, my breakfast was planned out and eaten before I realized the swim was cancelled.)  Next, I made the decision to take a caffeinated gel at 2.5hours. This was a bad decision as caffeine tends to dilate the hernia, allowing food to regurgitate. Gross, I know, but it’s life and it happens. Lucky for me, I anticipated anything and everything on race day, including reflux. I took prilosec the morning of the race in order to make sure that if I had symptoms that they would be  a lot less severe. There have been races where my reflux has been debilitating causing me to not be able to eat for hours, resulting in either a DNF or 5-plus hour marathon…neither of which is appealing.

This time, I was able to have about 1000 calories on the bike in 3hrs 50′. Normally this is the right amount to consume – when I eat my normal amounts of food the day before a race. However, when I factor in how much I had eaten on Friday and on race morning, these calories were too hard for my body to process.  Next time, I won’t stuff myself the day before a race, and I won’t ingest any caffeine during the race. Lesson learned.

I knew that I was riding well within myself. I didn’t pay attention to watts (except in the beginning of the ride as I typically like to start out too hard). I paid attention to my breathing and to how my legs felt. I loved that I made the decision to ride my 650c Kestrel 4000. It was the right bike choice for this course. That little bike is like a whip! The course is really challenging.  As soon as I got off of the bike path (mile 68 or so), I started to see some of the girls who passed me in the initial stages of the bike. At 70 miles, I was actually enjoying myself and didn’t feel the urge to get off the bike, which I sometimes feel at the end of the bike leg.

I entered T2 feeling fresh and ready. I changed out of my winter gear in the changing tent which included long socks, a long sleeve jersey and wooly gloves. I said it was cold! ;)

I started the run and I knew that I was going to be ok. My reflux and heartburn were  bad, but they were not  debilitating. I was happy that I was able to manage it. The best way that I can describe what it feels like is to say I have a large lump in my throat – the sort of lump that you have when you are holding back tears. But I cannot swallow it down; it is very painful. This is combined with the heartburn, which is a deep burning in the pit of my stomach.  Yuck. I tried to stay relaxed, and I even pushed downward on the hernia, to try to relieve the pressure and pain. At mile 5 , I felt ready to try taking in a gel. I got it down. Success! I knew that after that initial gel, I would be ok and that I would be able to eat more during the run portion. (3 gels and 2 bananas, with lots of water.) In past races, I was never able to consume anything once the hernia and reflux had begun acting up.

The run has four loops. I loved all of the energy  that the crowds gave! It was awesome to have all of that support! ML kept on giving me splits to girls just ahead, which was nice, but I had to tell him to stop. I wanted him cheer for me and encourage me, rather than give me time splits. I needed to just focus on myself and my personal goals, which were purely to finish a successful long course race.

In the end, I finished in 12th place. I executed the race that I said I would, and along the way I stuck to my plan. In fact, I was very close to my time goals: I told ML before the race that I would ride between 3:45 and 3:55 (I rode 3:52). I told him that I would run about 2:15 (I ran 2:15). Before I saw my splits, and before I looked at anyone else’s results, I was proud of myself. After a few hours, however, my competitive side came out and I told ML that I wished I had trained a bit more, that I had focused a bit more.  I started wishing that I  gone a little harder, a little faster in the race.  But he reminded me that even though I was 12th place, it didn’t matter. He reminded me what I had been telling myself for the past 3 weeks: “Having a successful long-distance race after so many years of struggling even to finish one is #winning!”

I have had a great season this year and I am excited to build on this success for next year. Will I do an Ironman anytime soon? While I do want to race an Ironman again, someday, it will not be anytime soon. Right now I am training really well, I am happy, I am healthy, and I am consistent.  I really want to focus on getting my bike back up to speed and on getting stronger at the 70.3 distance. While I am fast in open running races, I want to run fast off the bike. In short, I have a lot of goals that I want to achieve before I think about racing an Ironman again.

I would like to thank all of my sponsors for helping me have a successful 2011. First I would like to thank Splish and Boulder Running Company. These two have been with me since my humble pro beginnings back in 2003. Thank You Charlie from Trakkers/REV3 for believing in me as far back as 2008! Thank you Steven from Kestrel. My 4000 is the best bike on the planet. LOVE IT! Thank you Robert at First Endurance. Your knowledge is incredible and there is no comparison in the nutrition market, as FE is the BEST! Thank You Shawn from Avia. I love my Stoltz & Bolts! Thanks to Dave B. from ISM for keeping my lady bits healthy. Thank you Louis Garneau for my comfy triathlon shoes and making me look amazing in my gorgeous Vorttice helmet! Thank you Ryan at TYR for making the fastest wetsuit on the planet! I need all the water speed I can get… :)  Thank You Katie from CycleOps for helping me stay honest with my bike training. Thanks to the guys at ZIPP. Is there any other wheel out there?? Thanks to Doug at recovery pump for helping my legs stay healthy and happy. And a big thank you to our friend Jack at Jack and Adam’s bike shop in Austin for keeping Team Lovato stocked up and race ready!