Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Triathlon Tuesday: Half-Ironman Augusta 70.3 Race Report

Race Day: Sunday, Sept 28, 2014
Race Weather: Partly cloudy, high of 79; Water temp – 68 degrees

I really couldn’t have asked for a better race experience for my Half-Ironman. I don’t plan to do another race of this length, so I’m glad it was so positive. The weather was perfect. The race was exceptionally well run and organized.

SWIM: The swim is done in 28 different waves and is considered the most civilized swim start of all the IM events. I was with a group of about 50ish women my age, and although I touched a lot of people, I never got kicked or swam over. Also, you’re swimming with the current, so it’s super-fast. I completed the swim in 29:32. I used my sleeveless wetsuit and it was perfect.

My Mom & I-- immediately after race
BIKE: I am not a great cyclist and was worried most about this portion. The hills are pretty relentless on this course. None of them are very big hills, but they are consistently up and down and up and down for the first 40 miles of the bike. I soon learned to embrace my big ring and pedal hard going downhill so I had more momentum going up. I ended up averaging about 15.2 mph. My total time was 3:40:47

RUN: I knew if I made it off the bike I was going to be fine. 13.1 miles is a distance my body is familiar with. So although it wasn’t pretty, the run was about what I expected. There was so much crowd support – plus having my own parents there was such a big boost. Aid stations were every mile or so… started with water, then added pretzels and a sip of coke by Mile 9. The run wasn’t fast, but it was considering my average half marathon time is around 2:10, 2:31:53 wasn’t too shabby.

Overall time: 6:56:06

This was a great race for a newbie like me. I felt pretty good afterwards, and know if I had trained a little harder I probably could've shaved at least 15-20 minutes off my time. But all in all, I've no complaints.

Trust me, you probably want to stop now. I included details that most people really don’t want to know. Read on at your own risk.

Before even starting my report, I want to say this. An ultra-distance runner friend gave me this advice a few days before the race: work the problem in front of you.  That is the absolute truth in a distance race. Don't worry about what's too far ahead, you can't do anything about that yet. Concentrate on what you can do right now. That advice was applicable for me from packing all the way to the finish line.

Seriously, packing could be a post in and of itself.  I’m pretty Type-A when it comes to organization (hahahahaha – that’s my friends laughing at my use of the word “pretty”: there’s nothing pretty about it, literally or figuratively).

I separated everything into different bags:
1) Race morning bag
2) Transition bag
3) Pre-race swim bag
4) Other clothes bag
5) Nutrition bags

I wanted to keep everything separated as much as possible. (Once you get everything into a small hotel room it can be difficult to find a particular item, or get in a hurry and forget something.) This system worked well for me overall.

I also brought my coffee maker, toaster over and a large plug-in cooler. Keeping the exact same food ritual was important for me. But yeah, it was a lot of stuff. Good thing I have a minivan.

Expo/Day before
Due to family responsibilities (I do have four kids after all) I was not able to leave for Augusta until 5am on Saturday morning from Virginia. That gave me a pretty stressful (GET OUT OF MY WAY, PEOPLE!!!) 6.5 hour drive from Virginia, but I made it by 11:45am.

Went directly to the convention center and got in the packet pickup line.  It was long, but moved pretty quickly. Lots of forms/waivers to fill out. I actually jumped out of that section to run over to the noon athlete briefing at the other side of the convention center because I didn’t want to wait until 2pm for the next one, then came back and finished the rest of the paperwork.

Athlete briefing was worth attending. Went over basic rules: No drafting! No iphones! Biggest 70.3 race in the world! Don’t drown! Etc!

The expo itself was pretty pathetic compared to almost any marathon expo, but I wasn’t there to shop, so I didn’t care. I bought two shirts from the Ironman section.

(As an aside, I’d like to make this comment: I wish Ironman would put even half the effort into designing their giveaway items as they do the items they have for sale. I felt both the race shirt and the finisher’s medal left a great deal to be desired in terms of creativity/appeal.  The free stuff doesn’t have to be as fabulous as the stuff for sale (IM is a business, after all), but for the amount of money we’re paying for the race, at least give us something a little worth showing off. End rant.)

Pre-Race Swim & the Rest of the Day
Rushed to the hotel after the expo around 1:30 (Holiday Inn Express – it was SO worth having a downtown hotel close to everything). Dumped out everything, changed into my extra tri-suit and wet suit and headed out to the Savannah River where the swim would start the next day. There were about 30-40 people in and out of the water.

As a helpful little piece of the race, the powers-that-be release extra water from the dam further upriver the day before and of the race. That gives swimmers more of a current, and a faster swim. (YAY!)

I talked to a couple of ladies who offered to give me a ride back up to the swim start if I swam all the way to transition with them (important, because I wouldn’t have any shoes and didn’t want to walk 1.2 miles back barefoot). So I did.

I’m glad I did that full practice swim. I was nervous about everything, so this was one less thing to weigh on me race day morning. Plus met some nice people.

Since my hotel was so close, after the swim (and getting a lift from my friends) I rode my bike down to transition to drop it off (about 1 mile). Forgot by race stickers, so rode back to the hotel, got them and back to transition. Jogged back to the hotel. So I did my own little mini-Tri on Saturday: 1.2mi swim, 3mi bike, 1mi run.

Went out to eat with friends (old and new). Found out one of our group had strep throat (he stayed at the hotel, but I still drank a can of Lysol to be sure).  Met up with my parents at the hotel, did one more check to make sure everything was ready in my transition backpack, then went to bed around 10pm. Of course, didn’t sleep much, but that was okay because I had slept well the night before (it’s not the night before the race, it’s the night before the night before the race that’s important for me for sleep.)

Race Morning
Half Ironman packing
All my transition gear was packed in my backpack
Got up at 5am, fixed my coffee and bagel in the room. Drank my Boost. Rubbed myself down with all my various substances: deodorant, body glide, Chamois Butt’r. Got my tri-suit on. Caught a ride with friends to transition at 5:45.

At transition I borrowed a pump (there were tons around, I’m glad I didn’t bring mine) and pumped up my tires. I laid out all my items carefully under my bike. I like how IM sets up transition, every number has a sticker on the metal pipe where you hang the bikes. That way everyone gets an equal amount of space. My spot was at the end of a bracket, so I got a little extra room.

One mistake I made in my set up was putting the towel on the bottom and putting everything else on top of it. When I got out of the swim and needed to dry my feet, I would’ve had to dump everything to do that so I just put my socks on wet feet. Always lay towel on top or to the side.

Augusta Swim start
Dad helping me live through the wait
Took one of the school buses back up to the swim start and hung out. One of the local churches by the swim start were offering coffee and snacks (and real flushable bathrooms) in their fellowship hall. Very nice and a great ministry. While there I ate as much of my banana and peanut butter as I could choke down.

My swim start was scheduled for 8:32. By 7:30 I was so nervous I did my crazy laugh/cry thing,
which actually helped me feel better. We left the church and headed down to the water around 7:40. Drank a Red Bull… because why not?

My dad showed up at the swim start which was a great boost! It’s so great to know you have family who are watching specifically for you.

The Swim (00:29:32)
IM Augusta Swim start
My Dad took this from the first bridge
Tom Petty said it best: The waiting is the hardest part. I was pretty nervous standing with my age group waiting for our turn to get into the water. There was about 4 minutes between each wave (I think), so we were able to get in the water and swim around before actually starting. That helped me ease my heart rate up rather than jump it.

Once the buzzer sounded, I was off with no problem. As I mentioned above the current really works in the swimmers' favor. I had placed myself in the back of the pack, which was a mistake because I was one of the faster swimmers. But there was plenty of space and I was able to work my way around people as needed.

My sleeveless wetsuit was perfect for this water temperature. I had complete range of motion with my arms, but was still warm enough. If I had needed to, I could’ve turned over on my back and floated, but I felt fine the whole swim. Definitely could’ve kept on going.

T1 (00:07:00)
I felt good, ran up the ramp.
Wetsuit strippers - not me, but that's what I looked like

Used the wetsuit strippers. Hilarious.

I found my bike without getting lost. (With 3600 bikes, that’s easy to do). Figured out pretty quickly that I shouldn’t have put my towel on the bottom of my stuff. Didn’t want to dump what I had so painstakingly organized, so I just put my socks on over wet feet.

For Half-IMs, there are no changing tents. So most people just wear a tri-suit which has a little padding in the seat for the bike but not so much that it affects your swim or run.

Got my helmet and sunglasses on. Everything else was already packed on my bike, so I took a couple of sips of Gatorade and headed out!

The Bike (3:40:47)
The bike was what I was most scared of. I’m not a good cyclist, I don’t enjoy riding that much and honestly it’s why I’ve decided that triathlons aren’t really for me.  One of my best friends fell and broke her arm in a sprint tri, plus I’ve heard no less than 30 stories from different people over the last few months of folks who were injured or even killed in biking-related accidents.

I respect anyone who loves to cycle. Be safe, be smart. It’s just not for me.

Having said that, this bike course was less… awful than I thought it would be. As I’ve mentioned, the hills were relentless. Forty miles of them. None too hard (and I live in a flat beach city where there are zero hills), but I was trying to keep my heart rate in Z2, and doing that while going up those hills was nigh impossible. I found myself in the very easiest gear probably 6-8 times throughout the course.

But I also learned to face down my own mortality, embrace my big gear and pedal hard while going downhill. Because the faster I went down the hills, the easier it was to get back up them on the other side. When I hit a speed of 35mph a few times, I have to admit I was pretty scared.  And yet I got passed by literally 1000 people. I have no idea how fast they were going. Yikes.

I had a few problems on the bike. One was that my lower back was killing me from when I had tweaked it a couple days before lifting a case of water bottles out of a shopping cart. I spent a lot of time trying to stretch it out while clipped in. Also, I was having some seriously girl-area problems with my seat. I have no idea what that was about because it hadn’t happen before, but that was BAD NEWS. I’m pretty sure I had a bruised va-jayjay by the time it was all over. (I warned you to stop reading. :-)

Half Ironman nutrition
Mixing my nutrition at home - Mad Science!
Nutrition on the bike went pretty well. I had a concentrated bottle of Hammer Perpetuem (5 scoops for an estimated four hours). I took a sip of that every 15 minutes and made it through about ¾. I also had two Stinger Waffles broken in half. Ate one of those about every 45 minutes.  Overall, throughout the entire race I was happy with my nutrition. Definitely something I had practiced and knew what I needed.

Also tried to take a Hammer Electrolyte and Hammer Race Supreme caps every 30 minutes, but  dropped the container about half way into the ride. Oooops.

I spent the last 10 miles trying to force myself to pee on the bike (all the really fast people do it!) but just couldn’t manage it.

All and all, considering I did 90% of my bike training on the trainer I was pretty happy with my ride. Didn’t get off the bike at all during the ride, which I think was important. I just stayed to the right and let everyone pass me. And didn't crash or get a flat tire. Whew!

Transition 2 (00:06:54)
My legs weren’t too wobbly coming off the bike, surprisingly. I pulled on shorts and a tank over my tri-suit (because seriously, I’m not running for 13 miles in a skintight suit). Grabbed my running cap and was gone. Had to stop at the porta potty, which added a couple of minutes, but I was still pretty happy with my transition time.

The Run (2:31:53)
Mom loved all the sweat. :)
Look, I’m not fast on any given day. After having swam and run, I was definitely not fast.  But I knew once I made it off the bike that I would finish the race, so that was a big relief. My body knows how to run. It’s familiar territory. My mind knows what to do and what nutrition I need.

I kept two packs of Cliff Shot Bloks in my running belt and used almost all of those.  I took water at most aid stations until about Mile 9 then I started taking a few bites of chips/pretzels and sips of coke. I also took an Electrolyte and Race Supreme capsule every 30 minutes.

The course is multiple loops up and down the same roads, so I was able to see my parents multiple times. It was such a great boost! (And knowing somebody is watching you helps you run faster!) Rarely do I have anybody at my races, so that was a real thrill.

The Finish
The last mile I was really struggling. I finally just started running for 20 seconds and walking for 10 seconds. At that point it was all I could seem to manage. I was about a half-mile from the finish line and feeling pretty weak when this totally random awesome stranger lady (who had already finished) came along side me and said:

Run this last half mile as hard as you can and I promise you’ll never regret it.
It was like magic. So I took off, not anywhere near sprinting, but at least not walking anymore and ran the rest of the way in. And I’m sure she was right, I’ll never regret finishing strong.
(Want to do something great for your favorite IM athlete? Record them coming 
over the finish line from home! [my friend used her phone and recorded her
computer] Believe me, athletes don't care about the quality of the video. Your
recording will be the only one they get. IM doesn't provide that)

Closing Thoughts
Although Ironman Augusta 70.3 was a good experience, I don’t expect I’ll race another 70.3. I liked conquering the distance, but don’t feel any urge to try to beat my time in another race.

But a Full Iron 140.6… that still lingers in my mind. Because of stuff going on in our lives I was planning to back out of IMFL 2014. But now I'm thinking: four more weeks of training. Just do it. Train this last month as hard as you can and I promise you’ll never regret it.

This was my mantra for the whole day and I still hold to it:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My Writers' Police Academy Experience: More Than Just Blowing $%&# Up (Although Do You Really Need More?)

I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life teaching college-level public speaking for a living. My hubby, Captain Awesome, (engineer that he is) once added up roughly how many speeches I’ve seen.  Three speeches a semester x 75 students a semester (a very low estimate) x 45 semesters = 10,125

Over 10,000 speeches.

So when I say I don’t jump at the opportunity to attend conferences and conventions where people are doing more speaking, you can probably understand.

The Writers’ Police Academy was different. 

Held near Greensboro, NC each year, the Writers’ Police Academy (WPA), is a chance for crime/mystery/thriller/romantic suspense writers to experience hands-on what happens in the real world of law enforcement. So we can then turn around and get it right in our writing.

Here are some of the opportunities I was able to experience at WPA:

The decisions EMTs/Paramedics/firefighters have to make when faced with a multi-victim situation. We were given a demonstration (using actor victims) of what such a scene would be like.
I stopped watching this so I could write a scene for a book, it came to me so clearly

What it feels like to get to try to get your weapon out of your holster when someone is rushing at you with a knife from only ten feet away (not easy! Keep perps at least 15 feet away or you don’t have much of a chance)
Janie Crouch author
Self-defense with partners -- I somehow ended up with the Black Belt lady. Great pick.

What it is like (via simulator) to drive an ambulance with sirens and lights blazing
Janie Crouch Author
Instructor turned on the sirens & I didn't even flinch -- I'm used to a loud/chaotic vehicle

How daggone heavy a SWAT vest is (all in all, SWAT moves around with 40+ pounds of gear on them).
Sadly, they wouldn't let me hold the rifles.

How loud it is, even from 30 yards away, when a door is blown off its hinges. Being inside the building would scare the pants off someone who didn’t know it was coming.

The adrenaline that comes along with doing a building search, knowing someone is inside. Seriously, I was one of the more calm people (the officer helping us kept telling me how natural I look with a gun in my hand – that ought to be a frightening notion to some of my ex-boyfriends), and my heart rate was through the roof by the time the exercise was completed.
Janie Crouch Author
I'm telling you, it was SCARY. Even knowing it was safe.

The pressure of giving CPR to a critical patient while a REALLY HANDSOME young paramedic is watching in a moving ambulance.
Janie Crouch Author
Um, yeah... I don't know how his phone number ended up in my notes.
So basically, I loved it. And not just the hands-on stuff. I also enjoyed the more traditional workshops I attended on: prostitution, K9s, Special Ops, and forensic art. Not to mention all the information I gleamed just from talking to law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMTs, lab technicians and TSA agents. Just getting inside their minds, listening to their language, was fascinating and useful.

By the time I left I had a notebook full of scenarios, stories and specifics you can plan to see in my book soon. (In particular, you can expect to see a forensic artist and a hot paramedic in my future books. I’ve already got stories mapped out for them).

Plus, to be surrounded by writers the whole time --people who understand when you stop talking to them in the middle of a sentence to jot down an idea-- just made the entire experience even better. 

I'll definitely go again, and hopefully bring all my fellow Harlequin Intrigue authors along with me.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Why Is Getting Rid of Kids Easier than Getting Rid of Characters?

Yesterday I sent the kiddos off to school. 

I was terribly sad to watch them go. You see, I am one of those mothers who would spend all her time with her kids if I could. And having them home with me – all the time – just completes me in a way I never thought possible.

Is anybody but me rolling around on the floor laughing yet?

Holy cow. I love my kids, but THEY HAD TO GO!!! Here in Virginia we have a late school year start (the day after Labor Day) and I thought I would kill them the last couple of weeks.

But now they’re gone.

This was them, heading on off to school:

As soon as the last one was out the door, this was me:
(Or even better, see this dancing orangutan. That was really me: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10153151189783228&set=vb.135376688227&type=2&theater

Interestingly, the day I said goodbye to my kids was the day I also said goodbye to Omega Sector Series characters I was writing for my next Harlequin Intrigue books. Book 4 was due to my editor on September 2, the day after Labor Day. 

Kicking the Omega Series guys out the door was a little more difficult than kicking my kids out. Maybe because the characters in my books rarely ask me to make them a sandwich or demand an iPhone for their birthday. 

But these characters have consumed me for the last ten months. Together, we’ve been in plane crashes and on yachts and in dangerous situations we were both sure there was no way out. I’ve spent hours every day figuring out what drives them and scares them and makes them more than they thought they could be. I’ve gotten to know each character as if he or she was a real person. Because to me they were each a real person.

Deadline reminder that has sat on my desk for 10 months
And although pitching, writing and editing four novels in ten months was CRAZY, I was sad when I wrote The End on book 4. 

Because that meant these characters were gone.

I guess they’ll be back somewhat in the form of copyedits, cover reveals, and, of course, the books themselves. That makes me happy and I truly hope readers will fall in love with these characters like I did. But for all intents and purposes, they’re gone for me. I have to move on to the next project with its own set of characters that need my attention. But hopefully not any sandwiches.

So I send off my Omega characters – the Branson siblings and those special people who come to love them in their stories– but without a happy orangutan dance. Because I know these guys won’t be getting back off the bus at 3pm.

I’ll miss them. I really will. They've been my buddies. 

But now I’m ready for the next set of stories and whatever crazy adventures we’ll take together.