Wow. I am definitely flying high from Saturday. The short story: it was one of those perfect days where everything came together in a way that I never even dreamed of. I hope that I can do justice, with my words, to the excitement, emotions and sheer happiness that I experienced throughout and after the 70.3 miles.
But I hope you are comfortable and have a snack and something to drink while I do it because this is going to be quite long…
The day leading up to the race was busy, but stress free and I actually got a really solid night of sleep filled with dreams of all things swim, bike, run. I woke up exactly 6 minutes before the alarm went off at 5:24 a.m. I was wide awake and filled with butterflies.
Jenni and I went straight into pre-race autopilot: getting dressed, filling bottles, double checking race gear, etc. We were out the door by 6 and made the short walk over to the Hilton to catch the shuttle to T1.
The ride was short and quiet, with everyone quietly chatting and contemplating what lay ahead of them. We got set up at T1 and body marked, then around 7:30, we hopped a trolley over to the swim start. We still had almost an hour and a half to our start, but hoped to find a place to sit and relax and watch the full swimmers go by. We were SO THANKFUL for our throwaway sweats ($4 from Goodwill was the best money I ever spent) because people were shivering standing around in their wetsuits.
After about 4 separate trips to the port-a-potties and a lot of anxious waiting, it was finally time to line up on the beach.
The current was so strong that they had us staged in a corral area (basically just held back by the dock) until about 10-15 seconds before the start. It was crowded and I couldn’t really make my way to the front without being out in the channel. I did get a chance to say hi to Katie & Emily…Twitter/blog peeps that I have followed for a long time.
When the horn blew to start, I put my head down in the tangy salt water and started swimming hard to separate myself. It was by far the most congested swim start I have ever experienced and there was a lot of thrashing around for position. I tried to stay focused and swam over people when I needed to and kicked hard when I felt someone swimming up on me.
After about 100 m or so, I had plenty of space and started trying to sight. The orange buoy for the first turn came quickly, but I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to be looking for after that. There was another purple cap about 10 m in front of me so I just kept following her until I saw a paddle boarder pointing for the next turn. I finally saw the finish on a diagonal after that turn, so I focused on heading straight for it, pulling hard to catch the purple caps ahead of me.
The swim went by really fast, but I had no feel for how fast or slow I had gone because I was so focused on sighting and trying to figure out where I was going the whole time. I didn’t really even feel like I had a chance to gauge how much effort I was putting out. There were times that I felt like I was pulling really hard, and other times that I felt like I was frantically searching for the next thing to sight.
I hit the first ladder at the finish and climbed out, ignoring the hand of the volunteer. I ran up the ramp and saw the wetsuit strippers. They came too quickly for me to get my top half unzipped and the whole thing was really a cluster. I ended up hopping, with my wetsuit around my thighs, over to a bench where a really nice lady ripped it off and handed it to me. I thanked her then took off running up the marina dock and when I reached the timing mat and finally looked at my watch. I saw 24:xx and realized that the swim itself was easily 22ish min, before the wetsuit fiasco.
1.2 Mile Swim – 24:17 (1:15/100 m), 8/306 female, 2/59 age group
There was a really far (about 400 m) run from the swim finish, up the sidewalk and across the street to transition. I could feel the concrete rubbing on the balls of my feet and was very thankful for relief when I hit the grass of the transition area. Other than my riding gloves taking forever to get on my wet hands, I got everything else done pretty quickly and headed out.
T1 – 3:29
The bike started in a really bad way. Almost immediately after I got on, I felt a strange, sharp pain deep in my left glute. I wasn’t sure what it was or what caused it (although I guessed that it was a cramp?). It seemed to be worse in aero so I sat up and tried to massage it out, but it was deep and I couldn’t get to it. There were a lot of turns in the first few miles, so I was riding pretty slowly, but as I got on a straightaway and tried to pick up my speed, it got worse. I started to see all the months of training flash before my eyes and seriously feared a DNF. There was no way I was going to be able to keep going for 50+ miles if I didn’t get this thing worked out.
I tried everything I could think of, unclipping my foot and shaking it out and standing up to stretch every few seconds. I don’t remember at what point I decided to try a salt pill, but it seemed like within a few minutes after taking it and sucking down a TON of Nuun, the cramp started to loosen up and then eventually, as quickly as it came, it was gone. I was unbelievably relieved.
I got into aero and tried to make up the time I had lost in the first 5 miles (almost 2 minutes from goal pace). All I remember for most of the next 30 miles was leap frogging with someone in my age group and joking with her about it, seeing a number of people in my age group pass me, but also passing a ton of people.
Side note: Through various forums (the race Facebook page, other blogs, etc.) many people are talking about the blatant drafting during the race. It is obvious from the number of penalties that were given out that a ton of drafting was going on, but I can honestly say that neither Jenni nor I saw ANY intentional drafting. I was baffled by it at Augusta last year and was curious if it would be bad here too, especially since the course was flat and windy. For me, the road was pretty open most of the time, riders were courteous when passing and when I passed, and I only had to back-off once or twice to get my 3 bike length distance. I actually saw an official 3 different times on the course, which is more than I have ever seen in any other race.
Throughout the ride, I focused on keeping my cadence steady and staying on my nutrition schedule. It was more windy than I thought it would be and I felt like I was working much harder than I should have been to maintain my goal pace. There were several bridges, which were a nice change from the constant flat pedaling, but there were also a lot of “false flats” which seemed to suck the energy out of me. I started to get slightly worried that I was working too hard and wouldn’t have anything left for the run, but I kept telling myself that had to push those thoughts aside and stay within the bike.
When I got beyond the halfway point, I felt myself counting down the miles. I was hitting my target pace, but I wasn’t enjoying the bike near as much as I thought I would. I was working hard and my ladyparts were screaming and numb. Judge if you will, but I (literally, out loud) told them that they needed to toughen up because they had no choice but to be in the saddle right now.
Throughout the last 10-15 miles on the bike I had to keep reminding myself over and over to stay focused on the mile I was in and not think ahead to T2 or the run. I knew that a lapse in focus is when an unexpected crash or some other stupid error could happen.
Finally, I got to the final bridge into downtown. I slowed over the dreaded grates on the bridge and screamed at a few trucks that made u-turns in front of me to get out of the standstill traffic. Then I let out a HUGE sigh of relief as I turned toward the convention center. My legs were shaking and tired, but I could hear an awesome crowd ahead, which meant the bike was over.
As I rode into the bike finish chute, I choked back a sob. Tears were streaming down my face as I dismounted and handed over my bike. I had so much anxiety leading up to the race over the possibility of a flat and all of that relief just came pouring out of me once I knew that I had made it.
56 Mile Bike – 2:48:04 (20 mph); 31/306 female, 6/59 age group
As I ran toward my T2 bag, I calmed myself down and a huge grin spread over my face. All I had to do was my favorite part, RUN. I easily found my bag and changed my shoes at the rack. The volunteers asked me to go to the changing areas, but I already had my stuff out. I silently cursed myself for not having untied and loosened my shoe laces before putting them in the bag…this cost me some time. Other than that, I got everything else out and the bag dropped off pretty quickly. I got stuck behind some guy in the narrow path out of the convention center and there were several people behind us, including one lady who kept running into me.
T2 – 2:25
As I was running out of the chute, I dropped my Garmin. I stopped to pick it up and the same lady who was behind me before plowed into me and yelled. I calmly picked it up and started slowly jogging onto the board walk as I got my visor, race belt, watch and handheld all situated.
I saw Jenni right away (she did the aqua bike so she was finished). She cheered for me and then ran across the grass to see me again as I went off. I told her she must have rocked the bike and gave her a big smile.
My legs felt really, really tired coming off of the bike, but less than a half mile into the run, they loosened up and started to feel fresh. My Garmin initially showed a sub-8 pace, but I knew I was running slower than that. I focused on finding a good rhythm and keeping the effort “stupid easy“. My plan was to stay SLOW for the first 3 miles, then allow myself to pick it up if it still felt easy at 6.5, then to evaluate how I was feeling from there.
I crossed the 1-mile marker at 8:20, lapped my Garmin and tried to dial back the effort even more. I headed out of downtown, tackled a short, but very steep hill and crossed mile 2 at 8:30. The next 5 miles, I ranged anywhere between 8:25 – 8:50. I wasn’t checking my watch too often but just tried to keep the effort EASY. I cheered for the lead men, encouraged people who looked like they were struggling and high fived tons of volunteers. I felt FANTASTIC and was having so.much.fun.
**Other than the first 2 miles, which were calculations from my regular watch, all my splits are from my Garmin, which I started late and was definitely off from the race mile-markers, so I am not sure how accurate they are.
I hit the turnaround point at mile 7, (8:30 min/mile) and decided that now was the time to focus. I stopped all my talking and cheering, pulled my visor down and like my friend Jocelyn did in her recent PR marathon, I asked myself if I could turn it up a gear. Miles 8, 9, 10: 8:11, 8:17, 8:09.
When I hit the end of mile 10, it was time to make it hurt. I didn’t want to walk away without leaving it all out there. I wanted to pour every ounce of energy I had remaining onto that course.
At that point two other things happened. 1. I allowed myself for the first time all day to do a little calculation. I realized that if I could keep the pace right around 8 minutes for the final 5k, I was not only going to break 5:10, but it was going to be in the 5:07:xx range. I WAS SHOCKED. 2. I felt the familiar rumbling in my tummy that meant that I had to go. This is the first time this has ever happened to me in a race and I was determined not to stop unless it was absolutely necessary. I made the decision to pass the port-a-potties at mile 10 and prayed that it would get better. By mile 11ish, it was much better and I stopped thinking about it.
Unfortunately, my very ambitious plan to keep the last 3 miles sub-8:00 didn’t happen. I held 7:45 for about a 1/2 mile, then slowly felt myself fading for the first time on the run. I was pushing as hard as I could, but couldn’t keep it there. Mile 11: 8:09
Mile 12 was completely exposed to the sun and while it wasn’t super hot (about 75*?), I could really feel it beating down on me. There were tons of athletes on their way out on the run cheering and a few bikers riding along telling me that I looked strong and was almost there, but I was really hurting. Mile 12: 8:14.
When I reached the start of the last mile, I wasn’t thinking about anything but the finish. Nothing in particular hurt, not my legs, not my lungs, but I was just.so.tired. I opened my stride down the short steep hill, then pushed with every ounce of energy toward the finish. When I started to hear it and see it, I smiled big and got really choked up. I lifted my arms as I heard the announcer say my name and ran through the finish with a huge smile on my face and tears in my eyes. Mile 13, 0.1: 7:58, 7:24.
13.1 Miles: 1:49:28 (8:21 min/mile); 19/306 female, 1/59 age group, official splits: 6.9 miles: 59:22, (8:36 min/mile), final 6.2 miles, 50:06, (8:04 min/mile) – tells me that my Garmin was definitely off with the splits.
Beach 2 Battleship 70.3 Miles: 5:07:40; 13/306 female, 2/59 AG**
I took my finishers beanie, medal and some water then walked in a daze out of the chute. I was in tears and really didn’t know what to do with myself. I continued walking until I got to the shade behind a trailer, where I pulled down my visor, crouched down and cried an uncontrollable, ugly, ecstatic, exhausted, shocked and grateful cry. I was so overwhelmed with emotion. The months of training leading up to this day and having a race that I never even dreamed of was an amazing end to this journey. (I actually dreamed about a month ago that I went 5:11:xx and thought that was insane!)
After those few minutes alone, I collected myself and walked across the parking lot to where Tonia was in her booth. I wanted nothing more than to see a familiar face and have someone to share my happiness with. She had been tracking me but didn’t know I finished and I teared up again as I told her my time. She was so sweet and congratulatory and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to see right then. Shortly after, I saw Jenni looking for me.
We hugged, chatted and replayed the day before deciding to go shower at the YMCA. Why the need to shower so quickly? I was COVERED in salt from the swim and from sweating.
Although I didn’t want to get my hopes up because I felt like I had seen so many in my age group pass me, Jenni was convinced that I had placed in my age group. There was also a good chance she placed in the Aqua Bike and we weren’t sure where those results would be posted.
We had a couple of hours to wait until the awards ceremony. After showering, collecting our bikes and our gear from the convention center, we headed back for some pizza and finally the awards. My stomach felt really awful, but I knew I needed to eat something. Eating didn’t help much and I suspected that it was a result of having to go so badly but ignoring it during the race.
I was BEYOND THRILLED to find out that I placed 2nd in my age group. It was, once again, another unexpected, unanticipated, amazing end to this race, that I never even dreamed of.
**I actually got 4th in my age group but the top 2 from my age group placed in the overall top 5, so they were were “out” of the age group awards category, giving me 2nd place.
I had tears in my eyes several times as I wrote this novel of a race report. I can’t say enough about how absolutely ecstatic I am with how the race played out. I am sure post-race depression will hit me once I come down off of cloud 9, but I can definitely say I have no regrets and wouldn’t change a single thing I did or decision I made during the race. –Edited to add: I wrote this Sunday and am now fully wallowing in the midst of post-race depression.
Thank you to everyone for all of your comments, emails, texts, tweets and positive vibes you sent my way. I am overwhelmed at the support I get from my family, friends, training buddies and this amazing online community. I definitely thought about everyone tracking me while I was out on the course and knew that you would be cheering me on virtually. I appreciate that so, so very much.