As I was building into CdA, I wasn't getting ready to go hard. Suffering was never a goal. Instead, I wanted to spend the day happy, and I did. But this time around, there was none of that. I wanted to hurt, and I was afraid to hurt, and now I'm on the other side.
Taper was a tricky beastie. The start of taper coincided with some exciting but stressful events in my work life, and while my legs felt like they were starting to snap a little bit, my system was exhausted. So I scrapped my whole schedule for the week and did the "sleep in then decide what I want to do today" plan. I swam on Tuesday, I felt like going out for a ride on Wednesday, and Thursday I had enough pep in my step that I wanted to run again. By Friday I was ready to be back on my schedule, and I had a swim with some hard 100s in it that I was itching to take a crack at. And when I showed up at the pool, two hours before I had to be at work and seven hours before we had to depart for Ohio, there was a sign up. Closed indefinitely.
I took it as a sign that another rest day wouldn't hurt me and rolled with it. The same thing happened Saturday morning when the practice swim was canceled due to high winds. That plus standing water all over the bike course meant I checked my bike in without riding it and didn't get a chance to submerge myself in the lake to get my pre-race panic attack out of the way. I did sneak out for a shakeout run as the sun was going down, but after a sleepless night (pet-friendly hotel in a thunderstorm is not restful) and a busy day, it felt awful and I bagged it after 2ish miles.
I've stopped doing the "give up X food or drink for taper" insanity after deciding that it wasn't helping me at all, but this time I went so far in the other direction that I'm a little embarrassed about it. I drank an entire bottle of wine over two nights last weekend. Monday night I had a birthday to celebrate, and I was "OMG I LOVE YOU GUYS" sloshed by the end of the night. My nutrition this week vacillated between normal clean eating and shoveling an entire bag of potato chips down my throat at 9pm, and if I wrote down in a public place the things that I ate on Saturday, Sonja would probably do whatever the grown-up version is of yanking the little kid's pants down and spanking him in public because he won't stop being a jerk in the grocery store.
Thankfully, none of it mattered.
I discovered late Saturday night that transition didn't close until 7:30am, so I got to sleep in until the incredibly late hour of 6:15. We arrived at the race just as they made the "7 minutes until transition closes" announcement, which is exactly how much time I need to dump all my crap on the ground and get out. It was about a mile walk to the swim start, and we took our time getting down there. I stopped a few times to just watch the sun come up over the lake and breathe. I had pretty strict instructions from Sonja to conserve my energy on race morning and not be batshit insane (drat).
I made another pit stop in the bathroom, then hung out chatting with Kevin for a bit about how crabby we were and horrifying his wife with my saddle sore talk. I did get in the lake for a minute just to let water in my wetsuit, but I mostly stood shivering on the beach until it was time for my wave to head out.
The words, the thoughts, the ideas I wanted in my head this time around - I had two. One was the quote from the poet's shirt that he wore in his first marathon last year - "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure." All the mental shit I've been though, all the times I've failed to execute on race day, all the times I've been afraid of what the edge looks like. What the world is like out there where it really hurts. Powerful.
The other is a quote that Sonja sent me in the days before CdA: " 'My heart is afraid it will have to suffer,' the boy told the alchemist one night as they looked up at the moonless sky. 'Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.' "
I sent it to Caroline the night before the race, because she was in Vegas and getting ready to suffer pretty hard as well. But the fear of suffering, that's exactly what is wrong with me. So the word I carried with me was fearless, and that's what I was thinking about when the horn went off.
Swim: 1.2 miles, 33:15, 1:35/100y
The lake was choppy and our wave was spread out in a long line, but right away I started hunting for feet. I hopped on a pair right away, but after ten strokes the feet started breast-stroking, so I zipped around them and searched for more. I could see that the front pack was just a bit ahead of me, so I swam hard to try and catch them. I did catch them, just as they caught the slower swimmers from the waves in front of us. It was confusion and chaos of feet and passing and by the time it shook out, we were rounding the first buoy and the only thing I could see in front of me was clear water.
I wasn't delusional enough to think that I was leading my wave, but I just couldn't find any orange caps to hang onto. So I decided to forget about feet and just put my nose down and swim. Not hard, nothing was burning, but steady and strong, sighting off the roller coasters, being blinded by the sun and rocked by the chop. It didn't feel long before I breathed and noticed that people around me were standing. I stroked deep but couldn't feel the bottom, so I decided to keep swimming as long as I could. I pulled my elbow a bit high so I could swim as far as I could, but eventually I touched bottom. I stood up to walk and noticed we were still pretty far from shore. I was able to hurry for about 10 steps and then the water got deep again, so I put my goggles back on and swam again as far as I could. The next time I stood up, I was pretty close to shore, so I waded through the water, up the beach, down the carpet, and over the timing mat into transition. When I stood up out of the water, I saw a 32 on my watch, so I knew I had a decent swim and might PR if I could get to the mat in time. I didn't look at my watch as I lapped it in and out of transition, but I thought that I probably hadn't made it because of the run up the carpet. I was pleasantly surprised after the race to find my final time: 33:14.976 (Rev3 meanies rounded it up to 33:15, no I don't actually care) - a 30-second PR. 3/55 AG and 19/251 women.
I've been sitting down in transition lately for a good reason and a disgusting hydration reason. The good reason is so that I can put my shoes on without falling over. I grabbed one of my arm warmers and put it over my wrist, and then decided it wasn't that cold and took it back off. Helmet, sunglasses, and I was out.
Bike: 56 miles, 2:55:23, 19.2mph
I set up my watch for this race to auto-lap every five miles, for no other reason than post-race data analysis. I didn't have a detailed race plan, but I intended to bring my HR down into the low 140s after the swim and let it sit there for a while. If I felt good and strong midway through the bike, I'd push it as close to the 150 line as I could.
I let the first five miles go by and did nothing but ride. I didn't eat or drink or fidget or flip through my Garmin to look at my splits, I just settled down. When the first split came through at 15:03, just a hair under 20mph, I got a little worried that I was hammering too hard on my daisy-fresh legs. I made sure to keep a close eye on my heart rate for the next five miles, and when the split popped up at 14:38, I decided to just quit worrying about how fast I was riding because in training, I never know anyway, and to focus on being steady with my effort and heart. I ate the little half-Snickers bar that was in my bento box and then started working through my EFS bottles.
The bike leg felt like it went by very quickly until we took a left turn that brought us onto a long stretch of road with a fairly significant headwind. It had been fairly windy up until that point, but mostly gusts and crosswinds that were very manageable. I put down quite a bit of EFS and then hunkered down and tried to stay under the wind as much as I could, but that stretch lasted at least 10 miles and left me feeling a bit battered and low, especially when my Garmin split a 16:43 somewhere in the middle. As soon as we turned left, I ate my other little half-Snickers bar and took a few sips of my EFS magic power plus bottle (loaded with PreRace), and perked up again a few minutes later.
I kept waiting to make a turn into the still quiet that means the wind is finally at your back, but it never happened. We headed back to the park, riding again on the horribly bumpy and chipped roads we came out on, and I was surprised when I tallied up the Garmin beeps to 50 miles. My stomach was feeling a bit empty and gurgly, so I finished off my last bottle of EFS and ate 6-8 Gu chomps that I was carrying as emergency backup nutrition. In my head, I couldn't quite figure out why I needed so much more fuel on the bike than usual, but I decided to listen to my tummy and load up as much as I could before I got off the bike.
After the race was over, I realized that my mistake was not made on the bike, but rather before the race. I had my usual pre-race breakfast at 6:15, but my swim wave didn't go off until 8:50 and I only drank a small bottle of EFS (100 calories) in that time. I probably should have eaten a much bigger breakfast or eaten a second breakfast before I got in the water. Because of that, I was heading into the bike with a totally empty stomach, which explains why I went through all of my planned calories, my backup calories (Snickers), and most of the stinky old chomps in my bento box. My second mistake was shoving all this down between mile 50-56, which I knew at the time was going to be a problem but it was too late to do anything about it.
As soon as we turned in the park, I started looking for the poet and the puppies. I knew I was going to break three hours very comfortably, and I was ready to get off the bike and fucking hurt myself.
I dismounted and my family was right there. I yelled, "Hey, Graham!" and he started looking around for my voice, so I stopped and yelled it again and waved, and they all started tail-wagging at the sight of their mamas. Mission accomplished, I crossed the mat and headed into T2. 14/55 AG, 28/251 women (man, my AG is
Racked the bike, sat down to deal with my shoes and hydration issues, stashed my ziplock bag of goodies into my pocket and took off.
Run, 13.1 miles, 2:17:17, 10:29 pace
As soon as I started running I could tell I had a stomach situation. My stomach felt full and bloated with fuel and I was burping quite a bit. I was carrying a little hand bottle of about 6-8oz that had EFS and PreRace (and still smelled like pee when it got sweaty, from Knoxville) that I had planned to drink and dump by mile 4. I took a tiny sip of it and burped it right back up. If there is one thing I have learned this year, it's that if your stomach hurts or you are having digestive issues, STOP putting things down. So I just ran. When my heart rate crept up towards race pace (160), the gurgling intensified and sent a few warning shots due south, so instead I kept it right around MAF (152). I know that I can run at MAF for a long time without issue. I ditched my race plan and instead decided to run at MAF for three miles and then reevaluate where my stomach was.
The first three miles clicked off fairly quickly, all somewhere in the 9s. There was an aid station right after the three mile marker, so I slowed to grab a cup of water. I drank just a sip, which resulted in more burping, so I knew my body was still working on everything I had put down on the bike. I wasn't that concerned, because I know that I can run 7-8 miles without taking down calories if I need to, but it wasn't an ideal situation. I looped around the little park and headed down the first of many out-and-backs on side streets. When mile four went by, I let myself walk for about 20 seconds to see if that would calm my tummy down a bit. It didn't, but I started running again right away. Walking is a dangerous and seductive thing to do, and I've always gotten sucked into off the bike in the past, but not this time. That 20 seconds was the longest I walked the entire race, and I'm proud of that. Every time I started to feel down, I rolled my eyes upwards, where the only word I could make out on the inside of my visor was powerful, and reminded myself of what I really wanted.
Water wasn't working, but I started dumping ice down my top and then chewing on pieces of it and that was going okay. I wasn't talking to anyone, I wasn't making friends, I wasn't thinking at all, I was just trotting along as quickly as my tummy could bear it. When I got to the aid station around mile seven, I tried another cup of water and it was the sweetest most delicious thing. And no more burping. A mile later I tried another cup of water and finally, just after mile nine, I walked through an aid station and took my first gel of the day.
By the time I got to mile 10, the gel had kicked in and I was starting to feel a lot better. I didn't have a real low on the run this time, which I am thankful for, but getting on top of some calories - especially some magical Roctane calories - made a big difference. At the next station, I took a second gel, and then geared up to power home. I knew that once the course turned back onto the causeway, we had just a little over two miles to go. Running up the hill hurt quite a bit, but I flew down the back side and around into the parking lot and started searching for my family.
The poet was waiting at a split in the fence no more than 100 yards away from the finish line, and I stopped. He handed my puppies to me, and it took us all a few seconds to get headed in the right direction, but once they did, they TOOK OFF. Little brats with fresh legs dragging their mama at a 4 minute/mile pace.
Two women flew past me in the chute, one in my AG, and I don't care even a little. It probably cost me about 15-20 seconds to stop and grab my babies, and it was 100% worth it.
70.3 miles: 5:50:07
I didn't feel any different once I had crossed, but we chatted and talked and took some pictures and I went to find Jen and eyeball my splits.
But then I got myself into the magical recovery pants booth and that's where it all let go.
I think that one of the best things about this day is that it wasn't perfect. I made mistakes, but I figured them out and managed my day and didn't get dragged down like I have so many times in the past. I'm also excited to look down the path at continuing to race this distance, finally. Looking through my data, I can see that I was far on the lower end of what my heart rate should be at these distances. I know that I played it a little safe on the bike this time, but I really wanted to make sure I had legs to run. Now I know that I will.
And while I'm glad I finally executed a good day and I'm thrilled to PR every distance, I'm also not upset about my execution in the three races prior to this. I have friends and training partners and I read blogs of people who tend to crank out pretty perfect race days 100% of the time, but somehow they often still carry an attitude of intense dissatisfaction. I've spent time being jealous of people who dick around in training and then have magical races, but not anymore. Because the fact that it took me so much time and energy and work to have the day I had this weekend, because I suffered at this distance so many times before I got it right, it all just makes it so much sweeter. Yes, I can see the way forward, and a dozen ways that I can take another hunk of time off of this distance, but I am deeply satisfied with how I raced this weekend and wouldn't change a thing. I'm thrilled to be able to say with pride instead of a tinge of sadness this time, this is my journey and I will own it. And right now I'm standing on top of the mountain, hollering my lungs out, because I did it.
Powerful beyond measure.