The last thing I felt like doing after all the events of last week was racing.
The week before the race didn't feel like a normal taper. I wasn't crabby and crazy and finding mysterious injuries everywhere, I didn't give up something essential in my diet, and I did not almost get divorced. The only noticeable difference in my life was that with only one workout to do most days, I slept in and then felt blah and had crazy hair until lunchtime. I spent the entire week not wearing a watch or a strap or looking at a clock, and I had almost no desire to complete workouts with everything else that was going on. I floated through the week feeling meh. No pre-race anxiety, no stressing about times or distances, just meh.
Saturday morning I flew down to New Orleans, where it was sunny and full of palm trees and 70+ degrees out. That helped. I picked up my tiny rollerskate of a rental car and drove to Heidi's house (best race host ever, by the way) with the windows down and the music blaring. That helped too.
Pre-race logistics were relatively simple, especially compared to the nightmare of my last 70.3, and I was fed, organized, and in bed before 9. I asked Sonja for a "go fucking hurt yourself you aren't going to die out there" pep talk, but instead she just told me to go have fun. No paces, no digging a hole in the floor of the pain cave, no visor down hurting hard. The point of this race was to chase the dust bunnies out of winter, not hunt for speed and pain. And I almost felt disappointed, somewhere inside, that I didn't have numbers to hold myself to especially off the bike, but I also felt relief. No pressure, just go have a ball. I have no idea how my bike box fit inside that car.
We showed up to transition about eight minutes before it was closing, which is exactly how I like to roll on race morning. Get in, pump the tires, lay out the crap, and get out. The race was a TT start, so there was no getting in the water beforehand to get the OWS freakout out of the way (first time in my wetsuit since October; this race report is "do as I say not as I do" for the record). I met some really nice women while waiting to start, and as I stood around, I realized that I felt no anxiety about my day whatsoever. And when it was my turn to go, I was ready and there was a smile on my face and I leapt off the end of the dock and cannonballed into the water.
Swim: 1.2 miles, 34:56
For the first time ever, I didn't wear a watch for the swim, and THAT was one of the best decisions I made all day. I felt like I swam hard. The swim course was relatively confusing, and instead of doing recon on it beforehand, I assumed that I would just follow everyone else (as I say...). I actually thought that with the TT start, there would be a nice straight line of people to follow all the way to the dock on the other side. However, the breaks between waves plus the fact that I started near the front of my group meant there was no one to follow, so I got a little bit lost and almost swam into a boat. It was actually a pretty strange feeling - usually I can find some sort of pack to hang onto - but instead every time I popped my head up, I saw no one in the water around me. Maybe a red cap far off in front, or a pink cap stroking 30 feet to my left, but no one nearby. So I swam for a while, I watched the sun come up, and then it was time to climb up the steps and jog into transition. Wetsuit off, helmet sunglasses shoes on, clack clack clack out to the mount line and off I went. Hours after the race, when people were complaining about the swim being long and there being an extra buoy to turn around and blah blah blah, I didn't care because I didn't know my time. And when I found out my time, I still didn't care, because now I understand why people say to not wear a watch during the swim. I could look at this time and go nuts in my head because of how "slow" it is compared to my swims in the past and the work I've done this winter and my TT at this distance and my 100s and all kinds of stupid shit that doesn't matter, or I could go, "eh, sure, maybe it was a bit long," and move right along.
Bike: 56 miles, 2:59:38
We turned out of transition and climbed a tiny hill and I started to settle. I was worried about the wind but it seemed calm...until we did a 180-turn at a cone and headed the opposite direction and I realized that the wind had been at my back. Now, if you've ever ridden a bike with me, you know how much I hate the wind (and how much I curse and talk about my crotch). And I spent a lot of time last year trying to make peace with it, but then I moved to Boulder and learned a whole new level of wind. The wind, on race day, as I described it to the many, many people who didn't really care, was Boulder-windy. It was lifting my helmet off my head and smacking me in the wheels and trying to suck out my water bottles, and I spent almost three hours trying to figure out how the fuck I was going to train for a windy ironman when I could barely deal with half the distance in those conditions. The thing I said to myself over and over that was a comfort was, "everyone is dealing with this, everyone is riding the same course with the same wind," and that kept me calm and focused, albeit a bit grumpy. I worked through my nutrition and desperately prayed that we would turn our backs to the wind at some point, and there were a few miles of sweet tailwind, but for the most part we were all tucked tiny and tight with a death-grip on our aerobars trying to get nutrition down before it was blown to Mexico, for 56 miles. (Blatant race photo thievery).
As far as numbers go, I didn't look at my Garmin very often. It's set to auto-lap every 5 miles because that is the setting it comes with out of the box, so I caught a couple of those lap beeps, and laughed when I calculated how slowly I was moving. For the first ten or fifteen miles, I held back a bit in hopes that the wind would just fuck off like I was telling it to. At some point I realized it wasn't going anywhere and I needed to buckle down and crank, so that's what I did. I rode entirely based on effort and in looking at my file after the race, I'm pretty happy with the work I did in the back forty miles.
Run: 13.1 miles, 2:03:49
There is no greater joy than racking your bike on a windy day and pulling on the run shoes. None. I couldn't wait to leave the ride behind. I sat down to pee and tie my shoes (another sign of a season opener...where are my elastic laces?), grabbed my watch, my visor, and my nutrition and bounced on out of transition.
My instructions for the run were to run at a pace I knew I could hold, to high-five people and smile and laugh and just have a little party of one. The screen that is always showing on my Garmin in training shows elapsed time and heart rate, so I know what my heart is doing and when it's time to turn around, and that's it. I barely looked at it on Sunday. I still have a hard time believing how happy I was for the entire 13.1 miles.
I lapped the watch at the first mile marker and was a little surprised to see it say 9:22. The next two miles were somewhere in the 9:20s and then there were only ten miles left to run. I was waiting to see if a low was going to come, if I was going to blow-up and fall into a black hole, and I never did. A few women blazed passed me and I cheered for them (relay assholes with fantastic hair and no black river beard, just kidding, love you girls), and a man with a 69 on his calf smoked me around mile 6 and I was flat-out impressed. There was a woman handing out Coors Light somewhere after the mile 5 marker, and I'm not exactly saying that I stopped and drank one, but that 9:43 was my slowest mile of the day and I burped for the next four miles. And when I arrived at the first timing mat somewhere between miles 5 and 6, I jumped into the air and stomped on that sucker with both feet, in hopes that it would broadcast my glee back home to the poet, who I knew was anxiously waiting to see how I was doing. I wanted him to know that I was having a blast.
The miles passed pretty unremarkably from there on out. I never lost my joy, I never for one second felt weak, the smile never fell from my face, I ran every single step from T2 to the line. As I ran by, people cheered for me (because they were drunk and cheering for everyone) and told me I looked strong, and for the first time in my life, I believed them. I was passing people - not many, and quite a few people were passing me - but I don't think I've ever passed a single person when running off the bike. Ever. And all too soon it was over. (More shoplifting).
The amazing takeaway from this race for me is that my head, my mental game, my brain is exactly where I've spent so much time wanting it to be. I look back to January, where I started off this year, and what I am looking for, and I am here. I didn't go into this race chasing times, I went in chasing happiness, and that's what I found. And deep down, WAY far inside, do I actually give a flying fuck that I PR'd my run off the bike by almost 15 minutes? Just typing that makes me laugh, I almost feel like I shouldn't mention it because it just doesn't matter. If I had done the entire race Sunday and never known what my times were, I would be just as content. What matters is that I got to swim, bike, and run outside on a glorious day, I finished happy. I am that girl, the one that drinks a beer and slaps men on the ass that she's never met and sings "BOOTS WITH THE FUR" along with the aid station and cannonballs off the dock. I am jumping up and down, face cracked in half with a stupid grin, yelling, "that's right, motherfuckers!" I am changing, I am growing, I am figuring my shit out. I am back.