The poet and I drove down Friday so (different) Emily and I could spend Saturday getting all of our pre-race business done without rushing. Our biggest goal was the get in the water for the practice swim, especially because I’ve only been in open water once so far this year and it was for less than 15 minutes.
We managed to get in, get warm, stroke around, and practice our synchronized swimming for a few minutes before climbing back out.
Other than ripping a huge hole in my wetsuit and wiping out cartoon-road-runner-style on the dock, I was happy with the swim. We ate dinner early enough to get back to the hotel and have some quiet time before tucking into bed.
Race morning always comes early. I’d organized all my nutrition the night before so all I had to do was add water and shake it up, and other than that, I was ready to go.
But getting all three of us ready and our cars packed took longer than we estimated, and by the time we headed down to transition, I was stressed. Once I had dumped my pile of shoes and Gus, it was too late for the warm-up jog I had been hoping for, so instead we just power-walked down to the swim start. My only real regret about the morning is that I had wanted time to sit quietly and/or go jog alone and gather my thoughts. I had hoped to feel calm and centered by the time we got in the water but instead still felt slightly frazzled as I got ready to yank on my wetsuit.
Swim: 1.2 miles, 33:40, 5/16 AG
The gun went off and I put the pedal down. I hopped on the feet right away but they kept getting away from me, and I just kept telling myself to swim harder, harder, harder. After about 400 yards of this I went into cardiac arrest and had to flip over and catch my breath. (I found out after the race that those fast feet came out of the water almost TEN minutes before me. Whoops.) I stroked easy for a few minutes to try and let my heart calm down. It didn’t feel like panic as much as it felt like I went from a heart rate of 50 to NEW MAX HR HOLY SHIT! in about 8 seconds time, and as it turns out, your body is not so much a fan of that. So I did some breaststroke and tried to get my act together. It felt like I spent 15 minutes dicking around in this manner before I was able to put my nose back down and swim, but I’m sure it was only a minute or two. Once I got it together and looked around, my wave had busted apart and I couldn’t see any packs to hang onto, so I just settled into a reasonably hard effort and headed into the sun. When I hit the turn-around, I was feeling much better and was able to loop around the buoys without stopping or swimming directly into one (significant progress). On the way back towards the boathouse, I ran into one of the olympic waves that had gone off after my own. From there on out it turned into a game of hopping on feet, realizing the feet were slow, passing the feet, finding new feet, and repeat.
When I got to the dock there was a bit of a traffic jam, but I pulled up as quickly as I could and started walking to avoid another wipe-out like the day before.
The thing I didn’t like - but understand was unavoidable due to the logistics of the race - was that we got out of the water, walked across the dock, up a long ramp, across another dock and into the boathouse before we hit the timing mat. I forgot to turn my watch on at race start, so I’m not sure how long my actual swimming time was. I’m curious not because I’m upset about the split, but because I’d like to know how long it took me to swim the distance. The only timing clock I could see was reading 14 minutes when I got out of the water (??). So I’d guess that it took me 45-60 seconds to get to the timing mat. And for the first time on Sunday, not having any time goals for the race paid off - if I was trying to swim a sub-32, for example, the timing mat placement might have put me over that and then I would have been real cranky. (Side note: Emily thought I was going to pull her to a 30, and then she was pissed when I stole the crack she was smoking). Whatever my actual swim time added up to be, it was still at least a 3-minute PR on paper over my last open water half-IM, and I’m thrilled.
So we all ran through the boathouse and then up a sidewalk and then we crossed the highway and ran up another sidewalk and then past transition on the grass and then back around into the parking garage. As I ran with my bike towards bike out, I could hear and feel the sound of my rear brake rubbing, despite being adjusted a dozen times the day before. I stopped right after the mount line to adjust it and then hopped on and went.
Bike: 56 miles, 3:11:23, 6/16 AG
I’ve been spending the past few months trying not to think about the bike course. My training has included a decent amount of climbing but I knew from reading race reports that this course was serious. And it was. It was challenging in so many ways - it was technical and there were steep climbs and long sections of false flats and killer descents with tight turns. And I loved it. There was never any time for my legs to get a break - either I was climbing at 6mph or I was hammering down descents or I was pushing the false flats. It was fantastic riding, gorgeous gritted-teeth kind of riding that really tests your handling skills and I was almost sad that I only got to ride 56 miles of it.
The first 60 minutes or so I rode hard. My HR popped up out of my race zone a few times on some longer climbs, but for the most part it stayed put. I started sipping water and working my nutrition, and after my :40 nutrition I realized that my stomach still hadn’t settled from the swim. I figured I had just swallowed some river water and needed to let it digest, so I decided to hold off on putting anything else in for a little while. When I hit the 20-mile mark on the course, it was starting to get worse, so I very reluctantly decided to bring my heart rate down out of the race pace zone in the hopes that this would send more blood towards my tummy to let it digest. I usually just do Hammer Perpeteum on the bike, but I had packed several nutrition options in the event that my tummy started revolting, and I’m mostly glad that I did. I spent the rest of the bike talking nice to my tummy and trying to troubleshoot what was going on. When I hit mile 50 on the bike, I realized that my stomach had taken a turn for the serious and I needed to find a place to unload it and soon. Sadly, the last stretch of this course is on a highway, so I just had to coast and soft pedal back into town. Every time I pressed down hard, I felt like I was going to be sick.
Nutrition aside, this leg kicked ass. I really regret that I rode the last 90 minutes or so at an easier effort than race pace, because my legs felt like little coiled springs, ready to work hard. I knew coming in that this course would not be a PR bike effort for me at this distance, but I care less about the numbers and more about how surprised I was to feel solid and strong on a tricky course. I’ve been having doubts about my bike fitness this spring and this was a great check-in for where I am.
I dismounted my bike and headed immediately into the porta-potty parked next to transition. I felt a LOT better when I came out, but I was stressing about calories I had lost. I dropped off my bike, pulled on my shoes, grabbed all my run crap and headed out to run.
Run: 13.1 miles, 2:42, 9/16 AG
I hadn’t noticed the weather on the bike but as soon as I started running I realized that it was boiling hot. When I added that to my nutrition worries, I decided right then and there to ditch my aggressive race plan. I decided to run easy the first mile and get settled down, and when I got through that I would reevaluate. I had half a nuun tablet in my handheld so all I had to do was dump some water on that, and I took a gel immediately after leaving transition. Mile 1 clicked through and I felt okay, so I picked up the pace a little bit in mile 2. My legs felt fantastic, but as soon as my heart rate started to rise, my stomach grumbled in warning. Just past mile 2 there was a little park with a building of restrooms, and I ran past the aid and directly into the building, where my stomach again let me know that it was extremely displeased. I tried to get back on track and not let things spiral downhill. The run course was no less hilly and tough than the bike course.
There was a long and steep up hill that lasted for most of mile 4, and when I rounded the corner and looked up it, every single person I could see was walking. I tried to alternate between walking and lightly jogging up the hill, but by the time I got to the top things were pretty bad. The course crossed over into a neighborhood that was one big rolling hill, and that’s where my race really started to go down. I was sick again in a porta-potty somewhere in mile 5, so I decided that I would put down some water and calories and then walk for a mile. I walked the mile, and then jogged a mile, and then started vomiting, which was really the beginning of the end.
From there on out, the rest of the race was a cycle of jog-puke-walk-drink-eat-jog-puke-walk. I spent a lot of time talking to myself (sometimes out loud), saying again and again, “I am strong. I am tough.” Over and over. Jog. Puke. Walk. Jog. Puke. By the time I got back out onto the highway - about 2 miles from the finish - I was starting to feel like boiled Gu packets. When I pulled into the second-to-last aid station, two volunteers offered to take me to medical, but I told them, “I’ve been puking for two hours, I’m not going to medical now.” They followed me down the highway for a little while but once I hit the last aid station they let me go. I still felt like I was just fine. All I wanted to do was get to the finish line and sit down for a while. The race turns off the highway and goes under the street in a tunnel, and for the first time in over two hours, I didn’t feel like my brain was on fire.
I don’t have a clear memory of coming into the finish line. I was told that when I crossed the line, I didn’t stop running until a nice man tried to give me a medal and I collapsed on him. I woke up in the medical tent covered in ice and blankets with an IV in my arm. (The poet didn't document this in photographs, fail).
So that was my race. I’m a little sheepish about ending up in medical, because I’m usually kind of snarky when I hear about people running slow races and ending up in medical, but that’s exactly what happened to me. I’ve already had the post-race nutrition pow-wow with my coach, and I can identify quite a few things that went wrong in here, lessons to learn.
People often say about the marathon, respect the distance. And after my third shot at the 70.3, I’m going to say the same thing. In a lot of ways it’s more challenging than ironman (says the girl who hasn’t yet done an ironman), because your effort level is so high and you really don’t have a lot of time to correct errors. In a sprint, you don’t have time for errors to get out of hand and in an ironman you’ve got time to fix most of them. My nutrition started to get out of hand, I tried to fix it, made a few mistakes, and that was my day. But there's a big win buried in the piles of vomit I left on the streets of Knoxville. Not once did I give up inside my head, and I can't explain why it's different and new, only that it is. I didn't get frustrated on the run, not one time did a mean thought wrapped in self-defeat cross my mind. I spent the whole day talking nice to myself: on the swim when I dropped the feet, on the bike when I decided to relax the effort slightly, and on the run where all I wanted to do was lay down and die. Even though it's still not the race I want to have on paper at this distance, it was the race I needed to run. And like always, it was my race, my journey through this sport and I will own every second on that clock, I get to call this day a success. All that crap I was telling myself on the run? I was right. I AM strong, I AM tough, and while I'm still learning how to put the pieces together on race day, I belong here.
Because I am fucking legit.