Since I made my goals so known for this race it made for an interesting starting position. Standing on the beach I felt an accountability for my effort and performance that I’ve never experienced before, but that accountability also made me more excited and confident, and less nervous, than usual or than I anticipated. All of which made it that much sweeter when my post-race text to Team Arielle (insiders on my training and goals) read, “You ready for this?” following with details of my performance that still have me smitten this morning.
Yesterday morning the alarm went off at 5am and I broke race day tradition by eating my new favorite breakfast of peanut butter toast with banana. Usually I go for cheerios with a banana or banana cinnamon oatmeal, but the peanut butter has been holding me over very well so I decided to go with what works. To prevent race day congestion I nettied (my verb for used a netti pot), which has been working pretty well in the lake, then chugged some nuun, stretched out, double checked my gear and hit the road. We stopped for some caffeine, and I got to make my first “I’m racing today!” announcement to some unsuspecting half-asleep baristas who couldn’t have cared less, and then we were back on track.
Husband faithfully drove us south to, well, I don’t really know where. As city dwellers we’re not quite sure what the difference is between Renton, Auburn, Enumclaw and the like, but Google Maps provided stellar directions and I had a decent sense for the right way after last weekend and packet pickup. Driving through the farmland was straight out of a scary movie. Though the forecast called for sun and 80 degree weather, that early it was a nighttime kind of dark, and low thick fog hung in patches over fields, hills and poor alpacas trying to sleep. We arrived at Nolte State Park at about 7am, air horns to be fired at 9am (9:05 for us women).
We were so early that we got to park on-site, a big perk for my #1 fan who deserved some extra z’s in the car for getting up so early to drive and cheer. I sat in the car for a bit drinking the action in, and finally built up the courage to check out my transition area and plot out my scene; the nervous conversation and energy in the transition area makes me on edge so I wanted to make sure I was calm before I ventured over. I’d go so far as to say I generally know what I’m doing here, but the way athletes insist on making loud pronouncements to their buddies about the course, their last race, their bike, or what have you, you’d think they were all professionals getting paid a pretty penny to grace us with their presence! Once I got set up I jetted out of the that circus ring pretty quickly and went back to the car to spend the next 45 minutes sitting, drinking and making porta potty visits repeatedly.
As has happened with my last two races, it felt like that 2 hours pre-race ended up lasting 15 minutes (riddle me this: why can’t time pass so quickly at work Monday-Friday?) and suddenly it was time to suit up and head to the beach for the pre-race meeting. I have no idea what was said other than, “swim out, two loops around the red buoys, and on the second loop come straight in” and then the elites were off. And then the men were off. And then us women stood on the beach counting down.
The Swim – 1.2 mi // Time: 39:41 // 1:53 min per 100 yards
The swim started out okay. Standing on the beach it didn’t look like there was that many of us, but as soon as we were allowed to wade in everyone clumped up and it felt like the field tripled in size. I adjusted my goggles, the air horn went off, the water was cold on my face, and I swam. I went about 30 yards, and then I started panicking for reasons unknown. As has happened during training swims, my heart rate spiked because I was breathing too quickly, but the spike made me feel like I couldn’t breathe so my heart rate stayed high, and the evil evil evil cycle continued. I forced myself through a few more strokes but knew that I was edging on a self-induced asthma attack, so lifted my head to catch my breath and settled on breaststroke with my head above water for a while.
Figuring it would only take a few strokes to catch my breath I wasn’t worried, but time passed and my heart rate just wouldn’t fall. I watched turtle after turtle swim by and started feeling really upset. I was frustrated that I’ve made such strides in swimming and under pressure was failing, and started kissing my sub 6 good-bye. I was just starting to consider the guard’s canoe as a viable option when a voice behind me said, “How are you doing up there?” I turned around to find another girl in the same position as me, and upon closer look realized she was in dead last. Meaning, I was second to dead last. Man that canoe looked good, but flopping over the edge like a seal in my wetsuit, and then getting rowed to shore (still in wetsuit) to officially DNF, sounded worse than drowning in the deep end. At this point I was about 1/2 way through the first loop, and found these distractions were enough to get my body to start adjusting. So I wished my new friend luck, and began swimming like I knew I could.
The rest of the swim was unremarkable in every way, except that as soon as I got my confidence back I really truly swam. I started passing through large groups of people, my sighting was good, and like little Nemo I just kept swimming! As it turns out I ended up passing 75 people in the water in my 1.5 doggie paddle-less loops, and I came out of the water feeling very happy that I hadn’t canoed it.
The Bike – 56 mi // Time: 2:50:14 // 19.74 mph
T1 could have been better and it could have been way worse. I was pretty efficient getting out of my sausage stuffing suit and into my gear, I didn’t forget anything and easily stuffed my powerbar into my pocket for safekeeping. The issue was running 4382938473892 miles out of the transition area to the bike start in bike shoes, all the while my bike bouncing around from hitting pinecones, holes in the grass and small rocks. When I arrived at the start I mounted and heard Garth cheering for me, and knew that I had done the right thing by battling through the swim.
The bike didn’t seem as epic as the swim, seeing as how I could breathe and all. I did start out more quickly than I probably should have, but I was conscious of it and 15 minutes in I watched my heart rate and set the goal of keeping it at a lower and more sustainable level for a while. The course was a pretty good one, rolling hills with a few short steep ones, and a handful of sneakers that look pretty flat but are anything except that.
Soon into the bike I started feeling sort of negative about the experience for no good reason. I wasn’t dwelling on the swim anymore, my bike was going well. The sun was shining, it wasn’t too hot, I was killing the hills with minimal effort and picking up for lost time. So I did what every therapist will tell you not to do and did some emotional eating. I assumed my negativity at this point was associated with looming fatigue, so calories, carbs and water should right that. And I was right! So I continued to eat and drink and every time I really felt the burn, physical or mental, and each time was quickly was able to turn myself around. This was a really good lesson to learn so quick into the race (and my time in the sport) because the pattern continued to serve me well through the bike and run.
I met some bike friends (AKA people that I rode near for an extended period of time) but they seemed pretty intent on riding in front so I stayed close behind and let them duke it out. We were only at mile 15 or 20 so why push so hard just to ride in front of someone? Their fight was ongoing for the remainder of the bike, but I liked it because I got to pace off of them and indulge in my favorite bike past time. Other than pushing myself, keeping up with nutrition and keeping my mind in the game (Hi Coach!), one favorite past times during the bike leg is to check out other people’s bikes. And I have to say that I love genuinely riding better and faster on my old hand me down than some of the riders with brand new $4k bikes with aero helmets. It just makes my day! And confidence after my morning was something I was willing to take wherever I could get it.
The bike always seems like such a long amount of time. By the time I’m off the bike I don’t need a recap because I’ve had plenty of time to process things, or maybe it’s that during the bike there’s so much to concentrate on that it just can’t be as emotional for me as the swim or run tend to be. However during the bike there was a major crash and seeing the aftermath (ambulance, fire trucks, police cars, stretcher, majorly injured rider) kept things in perspective. This was just a race, I was just out there to do the best that I could, and so I did.
The last 15 miles of the bike felt like the final countdown. I ate my last gu, took my last sip of water, and tried to gain as much ground as I could while keeping my heart rate down enough to transition easily. I actually gained more ground than I anticipated; my body had finally checked in to the ride just as my mind was about to check out of it.
The Run – 13.1 mi // Time: 1:50:04 // 8:24 mile avg
T2 is always better than T1, and this race was no exception. Helmet off, visor on. Shoes off. One sock on, one shoe on. Other sock on, other shoe on. Race belt on, grab watch from bike, and run!
Again, I got to see Husband at the transition and it’s always so great to hear your name being screamed. He had made some fan friends too, so between all their cheers I felt really excited to be going in to my favorite event. I say “favorite” with some amount of hesitation; running is my favorite as well as my best, but I wasn’t certain how much I’d really enjoy a half marathon following a long swim and long ride, and given my foot injuries and light running training this summer I hadn’t run longer than 7ish miles since a random 10.5-miler in June, and before that it was Boston in April.
Because of all of this I started out slow, and tried to stay slow, and luckily had a perfect pacer in front of me for the first couple miles. He was running at a good pace to adjust to the new leg so I stayed behind him until I really felt in the game around mile 2 or 3. At that point I sped up a little too quickly, as mile 3 and 4 were challenging and I was worried I’d pushed myself a little too far (I swear it took at least 10 miles to get from mile 3 to mile 4). But in retrospect maybe my pace was perfect, because I pushed myself and got my legs to adjust and after mile 4 the rest breezed by.
I kept running, and kept passing other runners, but I have to say that triathletes are the nicest bunch of athletes I’ve ever met. Despite their pre-race mind games, out on the run course everyone is cheering everyone on and with each pass you hear a “nice pace!” “good work!” “nice job!” or “keep it up!”. Runners at road races are never so considerate but I jumped on this bandwagon quickly to cheer on all of the runners who were, in the nicest way possible, eating my dust.
At mile 10.5 I caught up with one of the leapfrogging riders from the bike leg and tried to pass (because I was running faster, not to show her up) but with her friends out on the course cheering her on she didn’t want to be shown up, and kicked it into high gear. So, I checked in and tailed her. I felt only somewhat bad, I was running at an awesomely perfect pace and felt great, and she was clearly not feeling great, but I had no intentions of ruining my race my speeding up too quickly or by turning it into a race with her so far out from the finish line. She ran, I tailed her, her friends yelled at her to beat me or kick my ass or whatever, she ran (clearly getting very tired), and I continued to tail her. And when we had about 1.75 left and I knew I had gas in the tank I kicked it into gear, left her in the dust, and ran home, back to the lake, circled around it and into the finish chute feeling like a champion.
Final Results – 70.3 // Time: 5:24:12 // 3rd in age group, 7th woman overall
When I’m imaging race day I always think I’ll feel like a champion when I finish. I always picture the chute, sprinting down it, and basking in perfectly executed awesome, but I’ve never truly felt that way. In all honesty, I usually feel completely dead tired or completely indifferent. Now, in my heart I know that I could have pushed myself harder yesterday. I could have swam faster for glaringly obvious reasons. I could have biked harder, eaten another gu, and probably kept up with the leapfrogging duo. I could have kicked into Fast sooner on the run. These things I know, but aren’t relevant right now because I’ve never finished a race so thoroughly exhausted but so strong as I did yesterday. My tank hit empty right as I crossed that finish line, not a second to soon or too late.
I always try to stop my watch after I truly finish, while they’re clipping my chip or even after I get water and my medal. Official times are quick to post, and my focus in those last strides should be on the strides themselves rather than time. But when I looked down at my watch that had collected the whole day’s data (starting with the airhorn) I was floored. Garth came up to me right at that moment, and I asked him what time it was. I knew that my watch MUST be broken. There was no other explanation on this earth.
I was aware of pacing much faster than planned on the bike, and even moreso I knew that my run had felt like flying, but I was in the game and had spent the day focusing on the race rather than time. And feeling great doesn’t always translate to reaching goals or fast times. But when all was said and done, even with a swim so terrible I considered a DNF as a viable option, I came in 35 minutes and 48 seconds under my goal time of 6 hours. I’m still smiling about it, too.
Thanks to my carefully planned hydration and nutrition I had really good energy and strength, as well as minimal discomfort, for the remainder of yesterday. Though my legs are heavy and sore in spots today (read: butt, hips, inner thighs) I feel good enough to still be wearing my champion crown. I didn’t sleep well, my body was too amped to relax, but today is my off day so I’ll continue to bask in my hard work, success, and will award myself a nap as a prize if and when I need it.