We drove down Friday morning, caravan-ing with Emily. The two of us decided together to sign up for this race WAY back in January, and I was glad that we were both still toeing the line. I had a last-minute crisis of confidence on the way down, mostly because we were expending a lot of time and effort to get to the race, and I was worried that I was going to have a really bad day based on my lackadaisical approach to training over the preceding 5-6 weeks and then I've wasted the poet's life on another race day for nothing and OMG spiral of mental disaster, there I go, falling off the cliff. However, a chat with Sonja (as usual) set me straight, and somehow I got it in my head that I didn't need to worry about numbers, this race would instead be a victory lap tacked on the end of my season. And looking back at my season, on a whole, I'll call it a success. I had plenty of ups and downs and almost no perfect races, but I grew and learned and fuck it, it's MY season and I get to call it a success if I want to. So I wasn't going to worry about time, just go have fun, and I finally felt at peace with wrestling into the wetsuit and hopping in the water. Victory lap.
A ton of people have told me that this is a great race to do, and I was ready to believe them. However, the pre-race logistics were a major pain in the ass. There was a ton of construction going on in Wilmington, which is obviously not the fault of the race, but it made everything worse. We rolled into town and hit the expo up around 1pm, and by the time we had driven to T2 (clear on the other side of town from the convention center) and dropped off my bike, it was after 5pm. Traffic was a nightmare, and having to pick things up and drop them off in different locations miles apart was really inconvenient. It makes me not want to come back to the race, and also want to avoid races with two different transition areas because it's just THAT annoying.
Once we were done with race prep, we had just enough energy to pick up some pizza and collapse into bed, covered in puppy. I did what I usually do the night before a race, which is read some of my favorite motivational things and spend time deep in thought, and I dropped off to sleep easily. Victory lap.
The morning was more logistical hassle, but everything got done and I finally boarded the trolley with Emily and a wetsuit full of snacks. We ended up hanging out in a parking lot across from the beach start for a while and got to see the full-distance athletes swim by. The water looked FAST, and that was exciting. If I had one goal for this race, it was to use the infamously strong current to swim myself to a sub-30 minute half IM swim. YES I AM A BIG FAT WATER CHEATER.
Swim: 1.2 miles, 26:32
I've realized that my favorite swim starts are in-water wave starts. There is just something really fun about bobbing around with a bunch of age group ladies, laughing and chatting and waiting for the horn to go off. I bumped into some bloggers and twitter folks while we were waiting to start and trying not to bang into each other from the current. The water was a lot warmer than I expected, and even though I was grossed out by the salt water, I was actually happy to start swimming.
The thrashing was pretty serious once the horn went off, but settled down and smoothed out rather quickly. I couldn't seem to find any feet, and my right goggle came loose and filled up with water, which was fine because I wanted to sight to the left anyway. I didn't even realize until just this moment that there was no panicking at any point in the water. So there's some progress this season.
There was a wide left turn about halfway through the swim, and I didn't take it wide enough. After a few hundred yards, I sighted and realized the entire field was about 100 feet to my left. Sigh. I pulled harder with my left arm for a while until I was back in line. It was impossible to tell where I was in the field, and my cranky right shoulder was doing some complaining. This still wasn't the effort level I feel that I should be swimming in a half-IM swim, but who cares? That crap is for next year. VICTORY LAP!
When I noticed how close we were to the dock, I peeked at my watch and thought it said 28:xx. I swam a little harder because I really wanted to get under that 30. I was a little light-headed when I pulled up out of the water, but blitzed up the ramp and over the mat. When I hit the lap button, I saw that my watch said 26, and I laughed, hard, all the way through transition and onto the bike. When I got out on the bike, still laughing, I had the thought about how in my race report I was going to write about how hard I worked all season in the pool and be smug-yet-modest in preaching that work and dedication pays off and I'm just so cool. And then I'd skip a line and say: "JUST KIDDING, MOTHERFUCKERS, HUGE CURRENT!!" (At least I make myself laugh.)
So, fun fact about this race. T1 is REALLY FAR. Over 1/4 mile far. Up the ramp, over the mat, down the sidewalk around the corner up the road across the road back down the road into transition (which is huge). I sat down on the ground to pee and put my shoes on, and then I was confused about what to do with my bag and had to ask someone, so yes, my transition was really slow. No, I still don't care.
Bike: 56 miles, 2:58:04
Happy to be on the bike, as usual. There are a lot of twists and turns to get out of town, and I almost turned left into a fence, but managed to get up and over the bridge and out without too much hassle. I let my first 5-mile split click by without putting anything down the hatch, and then started working my EFS bottle (scary foreboding music should be played here).
I've read lots of race reports about this race, and most of them talk about how serious the wind is. The race was moved up by a few weeks this year, so many people hoped that it wouldn't be as bad. I haven't done the race before so I can't speak in comparison, but it was hard. I used to get really pissed at riding in the wind but this season I've made peace with it a little bit, and can hunker down into a good mental space and just pedal.
The other thing that should be discussed is the drafting situation. Now, I know. I KNOW. The flatter the race, the more drafting you will see. But the drafting in this race was just disgusting. And Sonja just talked about it in a really good way in her Kona race report, so I won't repeat everything she said, but in a crowded flat race, sometimes you have to back off to ride legal. That happened a lot, and in one situation, I had to ride about ten beats below my race pace heart rate for at least twelve miles because there was a long line of cyclists ahead of me and I didn't want to burn matches by riding nutty hard around them, but they weren't riding fast enough that I could ride appropriately hard and not get sucked into their air space. I saw long pace-lines of girls in matching collegiate kits fly by, and big packs of strong-looking men with women hanging off the back. One huge pack went by and I counted four women hanging out in there with my AG written on their leg. And there were a few younger girls, also in collegiate race kits, who were pace-lining AND blocking for a long stretch of road, so no one could pass them. While this was happening, an official pulled up, watched them ride for 2-3 minutes, gave them a verbal warning to move to the right and back off each other, and then rode away. So did they stop working together? Absolutely not. Did we see another official the entire ride? Nope, and despite the pretty tough stretches of wind, a quick eyeball of the race results shows some women's bike splits that are FAR faster than I would have expected on the day. I'm not mad about people riding faster than me, for the record, because I am usually somewhere in the upper-middle of the pack at best, but the amount of cheating I saw on the ride makes it hard to take the results very seriously.
There were several long stretches where I had to slow down to stay out of a draft zone, and then hammer to get around a few people, and repeat. I got passed several times by men who would then sit up and drink (annoying, don't do this) right after passing. Did I stay 100% legal the entire time? No, I'm sure I got sucked into it here and there, and I'm not trying to say that I rode a perfect race, but I worked hard to stay legal. And if nothing else, it kept the ride from being boring, so there's that.
Climbing down off my crabby little soapbox, it was about 1:40 into the ride when I noticed something wasn't right. And by "noticing," I mean I burped which turned into a cough which turned into spewing bright yellow vomit all down the front of my race kit. My stomach didn't hurt at all, but it worried me a bit. Bright yellow is the color of PreRace, a First Endurance product I've been racing with all season and never had problems with before.
I waited a while before putting anything else down, and got a gel down with some aid-station water without issue, but as soon as I returned to my bottles, the burp-vomiting started again. I wasn't upset, I was puzzled because my stomach felt fine, and it wasn't a heaving-vomiting, it was more like a burp with a surprise. My race nutrition was identical to a T to what I raced with at CP and CdA, and I couldn't figure out what was going on.
I rode hard back to town, and borrowed Caroline's run mantra for the last thirty minutes or so, "YOU love to run! You are SO GOOD at running!" and it made me laugh. Rolling into T2, I had the idea that I would sit down for a few minutes, take a gel to get back on top of my calories and make the shaky hands go away and then roll out. But as I dismounted and ran up the ramp, I had another one of those burping episodes and a volunteer saw it, and grabbed me. After a round of conversation with the race director that happened to be standing by, I turned in my chip and called it a day.
I will say that I've done plenty of Setup Events races in the past few years, and I have never had a bad experience until this one. While the specifics don't matter, I know that it is the privilege of the race director to make whatever decisions he wants to make and re-make, and it's the privilege of the timing folks to be as rude and insensitive as they would like to athletes. But the experience that I had following my choice to call it a day in T2 was deeply unpleasant and makes me want to steer clear of these races in the future, or at least this race and division of the company. The Maryland and Virginia divisions have different management, and those guys have always rocked my socks off. And I think that's really all I need to say about that.
I was pretty upset and unhappy about how my day ended on Saturday. Graham and I sat on a little bench a few blocks away from the convention center by ourselves and I had a good little self-pity crying fest (and then found $16 on the ground). But I am already over it. I had a blast on the swim and bike. I got my victory lap, and I chose to not go out and fight through a long run while barfing my brains out. I've done that before, that's been my journey, and on Saturday I decided I didn't need another notch in my "will of steel" race belt. My choice, I will say it over and over and I'm willing to own it, MY CHOICE. I know that I could have gotten through the half marathon - the run being the thing I was actually looking forward to all day - but I felt no need to dig myself into a giant hole. What purpose does that serve? This wasn't my A race, this was a fun race to end my season after a rocky patch in training, not to mention a rocky patch in life, and the only thing completing the race would have proven is that I am either a tremendous badass who can fight through terrible conditions and still succeed OR that I am too fucking stupid to know when to call it a day. I've done both of those things in my life plenty of times already. There is a time and place to be mentally tough, to push through to that finish line, and I understand that, but I also feel like it's okay to recognize when it's not necessary. So I'll store up those feelings, I'll bottle it all up until next year, and when I'm at mile 18 of the marathon in Lake Placid, I will unleash that strength and stomp it all over the road. Because that's when I'll want it, that is definitely when I'll need it, and knowing the difference between these two situations, I think, is another lesson that I am glad to have learned. And I am at peace.