We had a terrible experience flying United to Canada, as they inexplicably separated the poet and I when checking in for our flights and routed him through a different city that had him landing in Montreal several hours after me. When I booked my tickets for Austin, I clearly had a touch of amnesia as I booked tickets again on United as they were one of the cheaper options that flew direct. This time I was able to watch someone throw my bike box quite forcibly onto the belt and when it was finally returned to me, was in this scary condition. This is just my little reminder, dear self, please travel with the precious QR on other airlines, ok thanks.
One of my athletes and great friends, Jen, was also racing and had offered to let me stay with her in the most adorable little cottage that she booked through one of the VBRO-type websites. The place was tiny but amazingly cute and perfect for the two of us and our massive piles of triathlon crap. We slept in on Saturday, and by the time we headed out for our shake out ride, it was getting hot and it felt amazing. My last few long rides in Colorado have been done in all the cold weather gear I own, and it made me so unbelievably happy to roll out only in short sleeves and shorts. I did a short run off the bike and then immediately texted this (warning, this is a selfie that does not involve a shirt so if either or both of those things offend you, click away now) to the poet along with the words it is so hot and I am so freaking happy right now!
I don't think that the weather in Colorado this fall has been particularly bad; I've actually been fortunate to get in quite a bit of good weather riding and have spent very little time on the trainer. But for some reason training in the cold this autumn has been a bit more intolerable than the last couple of years, or maybe I'm just getting older and fucking crankier by the minute. Other athletes kept talking about the predicted high temps on race day (somewhere in the high 80s/low 90s) with their uh-oh doldrums voices, but I was pumped. I think that in the past I've been afraid of the heat or feel like I haven't raced well in it when really, I wasn't hydrating myself appropriately and maximizing cooling measures. Switching over to OSMO in my bottles had made such a huge difference for me - I am sure on this blog somewhere are the words I don't race well in the heat and I am here to retract and replace them with Hot? Bring it the fuck on.
Logistics of the day before weren't nearly as annoying as I had expected based on other accounts of the race. We got through packet pick-up and gear drop-off quite easily, I carried my bike over the grass after hearing about all the prickly thorns, we were able to squeeze in a nap and then met up with another one of my athletes, the super bubbly and cute Rosalyn, for dinner.
Race morning was also very smooth, we dropped frozen bottles into our run bags and then hopped a bus over to bike transition. I set up all my nutrition, paired my heart rate strap and power meter (cue the foreboding music), had time for a quick warm-up jog and then squatted on the grass to wait the almost-two-hours until my wave went off. I put on my seventh layer of sunscreen and hooked up my race morning groove tunes, ate my snacks, drank my drink, hung out with my friends and soon enough it was time to get in the water. This is the last picture I have from the weekend that isn't a selfie and I really like how it looks like Erin is about to slap me.
Swim: 1.2 miles, 31:36, 5/128 AG
The fun part about being in a very late wave was that we got to watch hundreds of athletes come out of the water. The pro women times weren't blazing fast so I prepared my brain for a slow (on paper) swim. I floated up towards the front of my wave and - this is always my one of my favorite pre-race moments - took a moment to look around at all the women waiting to race, at the sunrise, at the course and smile, exhale and be happy.
I went out hard. I tried to hop on feet, I thought I found a pair but then I accidentally brushed the feet with one hand. I backed off after saying sorry sorry! in my head, but the woman attached to the feet slowed until I pulled up next to her and then kicked me as hard as she could in the left shoulder. And it made me laugh. For whatever reason I seem to swim around the same time as plenty of aggressive athletes no matter where I race. I simply put my head down and swam fifty strokes hard and just like that, she was gone in the rearview mirror.
The swim was fantastic. The buoys were easy to spot on the way out, the course was clear to follow even though I never found another pair of feet to ride on, and the waves were spaced close enough together that after about a few minutes I was plowing through athletes from the waves in front of me. And I know that that doesn't really matter but it is always fun to feel like you are blowing through the field for whatever reason. I stroked until my hands touched dirt, bounced on the ground long enough to have my wetsuit ripped off, and then headed into T1.
I sat down on the ground, as I usually do, to get my shoes on and all my shit in my pockets and strapped on my head. The ground was covered with little thorny spikes, so I shouldered my bike and walked carefully out of transition, cracking CX jokes that none of the very serious and focused compression-wearing triathletes around me found amusing. Clomped up to the mount line, noticing that at least two girls in my age group were just a minute or so down the road, hit start on the Garmin and rolled out.
Bike: 56 miles, 2:54:25, 6/128 AG
I spent the first few minutes trying to avoid crashing into the crowd of athletes with poor handling skills that had started the bike in my zip code. Once we got out onto the main road, it thinned out, and I finally looked down at my Garmin long enough to notice that nothing was registering on the screen. No power, no cadence, nada. I spent a few minutes asking it to search, and finally gave up and powered it down. Powered it back up, coasted in hopes it would find the meter, tried to pair again, and so on and so forth until suddenly the mile 5 sign popped up next to me on the road and I realized I had been wasting a lot of time dicking around. I said, obviously out loud to myself, well, I guess this is how it's going to go today, dropped into aero and got to work.
I realized that after turning the Garmin on and off so many times, I had no idea where I was in true time on the day, so I decided I would eat every ten miles and try to be through a bottle every fifteen. The roads were very crowded and working my way through the packs of athletes kept me quite occupied. The bike course itself was great, although the conditions of the roads were terrible and we rode over bumpy railroad tracks five or six times. But the terrain was fun, lots of short and punchy ups and downs, a fair amount of flat, and plenty of twisty climbing in the last ten miles.
About halfway through the ride we made a right turn onto a long flat stretch that had a blasting headwind. I hunkered down into aero, trying to stay tiny - think small thoughts! - under the wind and out of the way. The only female that I saw pass me during the ride did so at the front of this section...glued to the rear wheel of a long line of men. I registered her not-that-far-off-from-my-own-age as her calf spun by, had a moment of cursing drafting stinkers, and then attempted to use the end of that group to keep my effort up into the wind. I was pacing pretty far off the back of them, trying to stay legal, and they quickly disappeared into the distance. That stretch turned into bumpy chip seal and when we finally turned back onto asphalt and out of the headwind about forty minutes later, my hands and teeth continued to feel like they were vibrating from the bumps for another 3-4 miles. I said to Jen after the race, I'm surprised I didn't eject any bottles - shit, I'm surprised I kept all my teeth in my mouth during that section.
I realized at some point that I was feeling down and my heart rate was in the low 120s, and it took me a few minutes to notice, diagnose, and shove some calories down, which left me feeling like I gave some time away out there. I fixed it and came back around quickly and then spent the last ten miles trying to catch and pass the men that I had been playing leapfrog with all day. Before we turned back into transition, I flipped my Garmin over to total time, knowing that it was wrong due to all my power meter troubleshooting but wanting to check the box in my brain anyway. I got out of my shoes, screeched to a halt and was off into transition.
Nutrition: 4 bottles of OSMO, including one with one scoop of Preload & 5 salty balls. 96oz of OSMO + 700 calories = 32oz/hour and 233 kcal/hour.
It was hot, I noticed as I ran across the asphalt in my bare feet (obviously I have learned nothing from T2 at IM Boulder). I sat down to deal with my gear, I dumped out my bag but things got tangled up and my brain wasn't working. Finally got everything back in, jogged over and got sprayed with sunscreen and was two steps from crossing the mat when I realized I had left all my nutrition in the bag. For a split-second I considered leaving without it, but ran back to my rack, dug through, got everything I needed and trotted out, Garmin in my teeth and hands full of run debris.
Run: 13.1 miles, 1:55:35, 6/128 AG
I spent a few minutes settling and getting my watch going and my belt facing the right way and all the other things you futz with coming out of T2. My legs felt like crap, which they always do, so I ignored them and headed down and out on the course. I had a bottle of OSMO with me so I skipped the first aide station and headed out and up the hill. The run course was more rolling than I expected based on my maybe-I-should-actually-look-at-this examination of the maps the night before. I hit the first mile at 8:35 and was content with that against my effort, but then we started heading uphill again and I knew it wasn't going to be one of those perfectly-negative-split-by-every-mile kind of races.
My plan for the first lap was to run at a manageable pace, which I did. My bottle of OSMO that was supposed to last me an hour was empty by mile three, which was alarming due to both the heat and the fact that I needed to figure out ten more miles of non-OSMO electrolytes. I grabbed sponges coming through the end of the loop and threw my first cup of ice down my bra, but I felt the way I have felt often in hot races powered by OSMO - like the heat was a nagging fly instead of something crazy hot that was destroying my day (thanks, PreLoad!). I finished the first lap feeling like I could absolutely run two more.
The second lap I started working a mixture of water and whatever gatorade-type-drink was being handed out in little cups. The aide stations were further apart then they looked on the map because they were only on one side of the course, although a few times I dodged over and swam upstream to grab some ice. I got down some chews but was mainly focusing on cooling myself, and by the time I finished lap two I had the no, I actually do not want to run another lap feeling.
The third lap I ran as hard as I could. A few times I stopped and walked through aide stations, which I normally don't do, but it was hot enough that I wanted to make sure I got electrolytes AND water AND ice AND sponges or whatever else was available. I wasn't moving particularly quickly but the course was crowded and it felt like I was passing people in droves. There were lots of athletes out there making friends and walking and chatting and doing the things that you do when you give up on a race. Through my haze of heat I noticed this enough to be thankful that I wasn't having that kind of day, that at this distance at least, I have finally grown out of being that particular kind of athlete. The last mile feels awful, there's an upwards slant to it that is a bit miserable, and then the chute dumps you around and suddenly you are blinded by the darkness of being inside and boom, over the line.
Nutrition: 1 pack of Honey Stinger chews & 1 24oz bottle of OSMO plus little cups of orange drink and water and ice chips and some coke and maybe two little salty pretzels for I have no idea how much anything per hour.
70.3 miles: 5:27:15, 6/128AG
As soon as I went over the line and stopped moving, my legs gave out. A volunteer grabbed me and I tried to tell her look I'm fine I just need a minute but I couldn't get the words out straight and she dumped me in medical straight away. They had shirts soaking in giant ice buckets and someone draped one across my back and my vision cleared like magic. I told a different very sweet volunteer that I was truly fine and she let me go.
The night before the race, I did the thing you aren't supposed to do and took a look at the results from last year. And they were fast. When I got off the bike, in my head my rough idea of my bike split had me, somewhere in the 10-300th place range, which didn't bother me but I did have the brief thought that I was nowhere near the pointy end. It turns out that I didn't do my research properly, though, because if I had, I would have known that the bike course was changed pretty significantly this year. And the question of the week is: if I had known that I came off the bike in 6th, would I have been able to pull any more out of me, to chase 5th down? I don't know the answer, I won't ever know the answer, I do know that the answer is that it shouldn't make a difference because I should always be racing but that isn't always how my little Katie brain works.
I do know this. On the run, I was completely focused inwards, on what I needed to survive, to keep pushing, to manage myself across the miles, to keep allowing those steady steady splits to show up on my watch, I stood out of the way and my body performed and I had no thought for the rest of the race that was going on around me. Those are good things, I raced confidently, I raced steadily, but in the aftermath when I asked myself, was that everything you had?, the only answer I had was, well, I don't know. That's not a fun way to feel after a race, even a race that I signed up for late on a whim and came into on the heels of a bit of a rocky time in my life. These past months have been bumpy, there have certainly been highs but there have been plenty of lows, I was sick, I thought I broke my foot, I've really struggled with getting my eating back on track after the tequila bender I went on post-IM Boulder, I've declared today is day one! at least half a dozen times but haven't made it further into a whole30 than day 8, there has been plenty in life to celebrate and I have done so with gusto but life stress has also been higher than usual and there have been a few meltdowns, some tears, and through all of this training has not been even close to the highest priority in my life. None of these are excuses in any shape or form, more just me acknowledging, on the real internet where no one ever forgets anything, that the last three months have been inconsistent and imperfect especially when compared to the progress I made in the first half of the year. And after Boulder, I was ready for a period of loosening the reins a bit, I needed a time where it was okay to drink a beer because the poet was born and I'll make my pancakes with 1/4 tsp of brown sugar and no kittens will die and every once in a while I just need to sleep until 9am. So I'm not upset about the past few months, I'm not angry at myself for my decisions, it's part of the learning curve I am on as an athlete - as a human! - and the fact that my journey has brought me to a place where I can rip off a 5:27 70.3 while not properly rested and a few chocolate bars plumper than usual, well, for right now, that's okay with me. Here's another selfie in case the lack of pictures in this post made you super sads.
Much love, as always, to the people who keep me healthy and happy even when I have no idea where I am going : CoeurSports for making sure that there was no post-race shrieking in the shower because I can always count on being chafe-free in their sick gear; OSMO Nutrition for creating a spectacular women's-specific product that lets me stay out of the way of my low-heart-rate elephant machine; Charlie Merrill for the lucky pre-race leg yank and moving my bike seat one centimeter, not to mention months of eleventy bajillion needles in my neck and back and butt cheeks and adductors and most horrifyingly notable of late, calves; and Josh Shadle for the really excellent elbow he shoved in my ass three days before this race. And to everyone else who has a hand in my mixed-up overly-adjectated (is that even a word?) journey through this life as an athlete, especially a few people that have become a bigger and more positive presence over the last few months: for all of you, on a regular basis, I am thankful.