Sunday, September 15, 2019

Finally think I found what I'm chasing after: Pumpkinman Half Iron Triathlon race report

I found myself thinking in the weeks leading up to this race about how long it's been since I really did something new. Something where I didn't know what my abilities were, that was completely beyond anything I had ever tried before. For the majority of the last 10 years, my athletic life has consisted of marathon, rinse, repeat. All other races were background noise and if I performed well in them, sure, that was great, but the marathon was it. And don't get me wrong: I love running, and I love the marathon. I still think I have more potential at the distance and I still couldn't be more proud of the work and performances I put in during 2017-18. But honestly, Boston this past year just broke something for me and I realized that I needed something new...not leaving running behind, but just mixing things up and seeing my athletic pursuits from a new angle. Enter: triathlon. I have tossed around the idea of doing a half iron triathlon for probably 5 years now, and each time found reasons not to. My primary reason was "because it will mess with my marathon training". So this summer, with zero interest in training hard for a marathon (yeah, I AM running NYC in 7 weeks but that is more of a curiosity/experiment situation than anything else), I finally took the plunge. And I tell you what, I have had more fun during this summer of training than any summer I can think of. I still ran a lot, but the pressure that I've always put behind running was gone. I rediscovered a passion for swimming and being in the water that I had completely forgotten about when I became and adult. I embraced the beginner's mindset and the fact that I still have SO much to learn (especially about bikes. LOL. I seriously don't know anything about bikes.) I came into training with no preconceived notions of my ability and just kind of took things as they came, especially on the bike. I didn't follow a specific training plan but applied marathon and running principles to the process, trying to make sure I did enough of the things I was weaker at (biking!) while keeping plenty of time for running...based on other triathletes I follow on social media, you could call my plan a VERY run heavy plan...and I'm OK with that. :)  This plan also left me with a whole lot of questions about how I would perform on race day...I truly didn't know!

All this being said, my rough goals for the race were as follows:
#1 goal - FINISH!
C time goal: under 6 hours
B time goal: 5:45
A time goal: as close to 5:30 as possible

I did pretty well on the nerves front for most of the week leading into the race, but by Saturday the ridiculousness of the task before me (5-6 HOURS of racing) hit me like a wrecking ball, and I got SUPER nervous. I couldn't focus on anything and spent the majority of the day checking and rechecking my packing list and attempting to watch college football, but mostly just scrolling aimlessly through my phone without actually seeing anything. Luckily, I was able to do a lot of training with my friend and former colleague Elise, and we drove up to Maine together later in the afternoon. We both realized that we were mainly nervous about things we couldn't control (crowded swim, mechanical issues on the bike, etc). Thankfully, one thing we did NOT need to be nervous about was the weather, as the forecast was absolutely spectacular for early September - highs near 70, low humidity, no wind. We then proceeded to find the most delightful little sports pub to have dinner, and over the course of a beer and some chicken parm my nerves melted away! We got back to the hotel and one of the best things ever happened...Joy and Taylor were doing a half marathon in Rhode Island, so they were also staying in a hotel down there on Saturday. We received a HILARIOUS hotel room dance video from the two of them and obviously had to respond...let's just say that our rendition of "Old Town Road" had me laughing so hard I was almost crying. We facetimed after and it was just so amazing getting to cheer each other on from afar...I love my teammates so much. With an early wake up call ahead, we got our gear situated for the morning and then went to bed! I definitely had some trouble falling asleep but once I did I slept quite well until the alarm went off at 4:30 am.

Gear ready to go! 

At zero dark thirty we were up and at 'em, going through the typical pre-race routine. Race outfit on, hair braided, gear checked (again), start trying to eat. I had been patting myself on the back for how good at gotten at packing race breakfasts (I had oats, a tupperware of brown sugar, a jar of peanut butter, and a banana to create my usual pre-race breakfast)...however Elise and I soon realized that it had not occurred to either of us that you need some form of silverware to consume We ended up crafting spoons out of cardboard (this was actually more effective than my infamous foil spoon of Boston 2019), maybe 3rd time will be the charm on actually remembering to bring something to eat with! I ate half a Clif bar as soon as I got up along with a can of cold brew coffee, then ate my usual oatmeal/PB/brown sugar/banana mixture in the car on the way to the race. There is going to be an obnoxious amount of nutrition detail in this race report because that was an aspect of the day that I was very nervous about and that I felt went VERY well, so I want to remember it for future reference!

The struggle is real lol

After a short drive on winding country roads and blasting pump up jams, we arrived at the race in darkness. I still get struck by imposter syndrome a little bit when I pull into a triathlon and see all these gorgeous, gorgeous bikes, but that was not my biggest concern today. On the way to get our chips we encountered a precious German shepherd puppy named Luna, which really set the morning off on the right foot. We went to get our packets and chips, and let me tell you...this race knows how to do SWAG! Everyone got a lightweight backpack, nice fitted t-shirt (I've noticed triathlons tend not to give out tech running occurs to me that triathletes actually don't wear those types of shirts that often, so it kind of makes sense? Anyway I actually love having race shirts that I can wear with jeans.), water bottle, stickers, and a koozie, along with some cute items from sponsors (first aid kit -random but great). Finishers also got a medal that doubles as a bottle opener, a long sleeved tech finisher shirt, and an amazing post race meal. Just...WOW. So armed with all of our new stuff, chips, numbers to stick on various items, we headed back to the car to get the bikes, and then headed to transition. We had an AMAZING transition spot, literally right in front of the bike in/out, which means no awkwardly running through transition with your bike. So clutch. So there I am, setting up my stuff and feeling my anxiety rising, when the girl setting up next to me comes over and says something like..."this is weird...but you're llama something, right?" Her name was Rachel and she was/is a reader of this blog! It was so hilarious and random (particularly because I feel like maybe 2 people read this blog currently?) and again really set a nice tone for the whole day. She was really nice and also as it turns out super fast! Hi Rachel, if you still read this, you're awesome! I feel like setting up transition has gotten easier the more of these I've done, and it wasn't long before everything was in its right place. There was still about half an hour before we had to head down to the beach, so I went to watch the sun rise over the pond and then hit the porta potty again before getting my wetsuit on and heading down to the water. I also want to note: the swim caps that we were given were SO NICE. I feel like this is a really silly thing to comment on but I was impressed lol.

Transition situation

Sunrise with the mist rising off the pond was absolutely magical

In my mind I had envisioned doing some kind of warmup swim but that never really came to pass; by the time we got down to the beach there was pretty much only enough time to walk in and feel the water temp (68 degrees, lovely) and then come back out for the national anthem. Again, not usually something I comment on but the national anthem was really cool - several times the singer paused at the end of the phrase and you could hear it echo back across the lake and like...chills. I got a little teary actually, as I sometimes do during the anthem before a big race. I always feel in that moment so much gratitude for being able to do what I'm about to do, and an appreciation for what a big deal it is to do it. We waded into the water with the rest of the under 45 women and without much further ado we were sent off!

Swim - 1.2 miles, 38:25 (1:50/100 yds), 3/9AG, 22/95F, 76/201 OA
Goal/anticipated: I was prepared to be happy with anything between 35-40 minutes, but was hoping for closer to 35

Welp, I did not expect the swim to be my toughest/least enjoyable leg of the race, BUT IT WAS. Oh, it was. My first issue was the start/swim to the first buoy. I had never experienced swimming with such a large group of people before, and maybe I seeded myself a little closer to the front than I should have but HOLY SHIT it was just insanity. I was getting whacked, slapping people's butts, twice I went to breathe and had a giant mouthful of water go down my throat from someone kicking next to me...I know that's kind of the way it goes but it made it really hard to find a rhythm. In addition to that, the first buoy was set at sort of a strange angle from the shore and we were swimming DIRECTLY into the sun, so even with my attempts to sight I had no idea where I was going. I figured I'd just follow the sun and follow the pack and sort it all out once we got past the first turn. I sang some Madonna to myself for some reason ("get into the groove, boy you've got to prove your love to meee...") and was just so happy to finally see and turn around the first buoy. Once we got on this long straightaway, it was a lot easier to sight and the pack spread out a lot more. I was a much happier camper but still felt like I wasn't finding my usual rhythm - I think after the initial clusterfuck my body was just all out of sorts. Thankfully, one of my strengths as a swimmer is just that I am really comfortable in the water and don't get anxious, so while I was pretty sure I wasn't swimming as fast as I wanted at least I wasn't losing my shit. I sighted well on the long straightaway; I had some difficulty once we made the turn back to shore to finish the first loop but was able to correct pretty quickly. I took a peek at my watch at the turn buoy to start the second lap and was at 18 minutes, pretty much exactly where I wanted to be. And THEN all hell broke loose. I tried to line myself up with the first buoy but once again it was straight into the sun and I couldn't even see it. To complicate matters, now swimmers from the Olympic distance had started and they were swimming towards a different buoy, set to the inside of the one I was aiming for. I somehow basically started swimming into the middle of the triangle until I hit a kayak; I popped up and literally had no idea where I was, had to ask the kayaker which way to go, and then had to swim perpendicular to a whole mess of Olympic swimmers to get back on my course (and somehow got confused for a second time in the process)! I have no idea how much time I wasted with all this fuckery but it was at least a couple of minutes...note to self...WORK ON SIGHTING and swimming in a straight line. Once again my rhythm was totally broken and I was so inefficient until I got to the first turn because I was sighting every 2-3 strokes in an effort to not get off course again. Once I made that turn I knew I'd be fine, but now I was just annoyed and ready to get the hell out of the water. At least by this point the field had spread out a bit, but I still made some contact on the last leg of the triangle. As usual, I had no idea when to stop swimming and stand up, and once I stood I just sort of meandered my way out of the water with limited urgency lol. It definitely could have been worse but I was hoping for a stronger swim - I also think as a moderately strong swimmer to begin with, I do have room to get faster here...I'm never going to swim 27 minutes like the crazy elites, but I'd love to see if I can work my way down under 35 next year!

T1/Hill Climb Thing
This race has an extended T1 because you climb a ridiculous grass hill back up to transition. It's cute, and they actually give out a special award for the fastest people up the hill, but I had already decided before the race that it would be a waste of energy to even attempt to jog up it and so I devoted the hill climb to trying to get my heart rate back down after the absurd swim. My legs felt TERRIBLE coming out of the water - I felt like my hamstrings were working way harder than usual while swimming so I don't know if I was just flailing around or what. There were wetsuit strippers somewhere but I decided that if I lay down on the ground I wasn't getting back up, so I just went on my merry way. It took me 1:41 to do the hill climb - really not that bad considering I just power walked...I don't think the extra 15 seconds I'd have gained by jogging were worth it. The rest of T1 took 2:21, which has been about my norm for swim to bike transition. I had decided prerace that I was going to take the extra 20 seconds to put on calf length socks (I regret nothing) and I think just really wanted to double check everything before heading off on the bike. I also chugged a bunch of water.  I noticed that a decent number of bikes were gone from the rack, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. I mounted up on Bahamut and I was off!

Everyone else seems to have taken advantage of the wetsuit strippers, maybe next time...

Bike - 53.31 miles, 2:53:36 (official results say this is 19.4 mph but pretty sure that's incorrect; per Garmin 18.4 mph), 2/9AG, 17/95F, 81/201 OA
Goal/anticipated: My A+ goal was to squeak under 3 hours, A goal was around 3:08 (17.5 mph)

As I set off on the bike, I almost burst out laughing because through the speakers was blasting this AWFUL song, "Mmm Yeah", that I did a terrible dance to a few years ago. Between that and finding some humor in the "WTF just happened" of the swim, I was in a pretty good mood heading onto the bike course. We were almost immediately in farmland, riding past some horses and GOATS, who I obviously squealed and said hello to. The first 10 miles of the bike though, were kind of rough. I've learned that it usually takes me at least 5 miles to get into a rhythm and actually feel good on the bike, and that time seems to double when I'm coming off the swim. It didn't help that the majority of miles 4-10 is up a long incline, which I was aware of having looked at the course before the race but just conveniently...forgot about once I was in it. I also still struggle a little bit having to deal with people when I ride, figuring out when/who to pass, etc so the fact that these miles were more crowded was challenging as well. I ate my Honey Stinger waffle at mile 4 along with some Skratch. I wasn't really looking at my watch (as a triathlon noob I only have a running Garmin so I get splits every mile which is just...TMI on the bike lol) but I wasn't feeling that great and at one point I did catch a glimpse of a split and it was SO slow. To the point where I literally shouted into the abyss "WHY AM I RIDING SO SLOW?!" It was also really hard to sort out how much I wanted to push on the bike, since I knew overdoing it could lead to disaster on the run. This internal dialogue went on for a couple more miles, and then I came to a conclusion: I'm not having fun right now, and I WANT to be having fun. So I forced myself to rearrange my mindset, stop worrying so damn much about my pace, and just ride. Sing a song. Shout weird shit into the wind. Whatever I could do to get me back in a happy place. And it worked! I was also having some, erm, saddle issues, but I was sort of like, welp, sorry, there's nothing I can do about that!

Literally laughing my way out of transition as "Mmm Yeah" plays

At some point I looked at my watch and realized that I was nearing the 18 mile mark, but hadn't been riding for an hour yet. Wait a second...does that mean...I'm actually riding 18 mph?! I know that in the grand scheme of triathlon that's really not that fast, but having spent the whole summer trying my best to eke out an 18mph average for a ride and never quite getting there, I was thrilled to the point of shrieking "18 f&cking miles per hour!" into the breeze. But still, lots of time to go. After the first 12ish miles, the majority of the rest of the course was a super pleasant double loop without too many turns and pretty mild rolling hills. It was delightful riding, and I found myself really getting into a rhythm. At some pointed I decided to start singing "Shots" every time I took a drink (so...every 4 miles lol). I randomly got this Lil Jon/children's TV show mashup ( stuck in my head and started singing the Lil Jon part aloud...I'd like to think a couple of the guys who went flying by on their aero bikes heard me singing profane lyrics to myself hahaha. I sang "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go", because something made me think of Zoolander, which obviously made me think of that song. It was really my own little bike DJ party adventure out there haha. Throughout the first loop, I spent a lot of time right around the same people - there was a guy doing the aqua bike who I kept passing on uphills, would lose track of him, and then he would come bombing by me on the downhills...I probably saw him 15 times during the bike. Somewhere around mile 23 or 24, we passed a house whose occupants were having an amazing morning, sitting in Adirondack chairs and drinking bloody marys while cheering on the cyclists. I thanked them for cheering and told them their drinks looked great, and for some reason then proceeded to almost start crying! For some reason, that was the moment that it just dawned on me that I'm DOING this. I'm really doing this!

I kept on with my nutrition plan, taking a few big drinks of Skratch every 4 miles and 2 or 3 clif chomps every 7 miles. I had a little trouble getting the gingerade ones down as for some reason they seemed stickier than the other flavors, which I wasn't prepared for (at least they taste good, since I bought a box of 24 sleeves of Between miles 25-30 or so I felt like there were suddenly a lot of people around again...I kept playing leapfrog with a girl in an MIT tri kit, another woman in a pink Coeur top who I had sort of been going back and forth with since the start of the bike, and of course aqua bike bro (who was probably like 50 but shall forever be known as aqua bike bro). I felt like I was caught in a conga line and eventually summoned up the courage to just make a big move and see if I could get past everybody. worked! For the next 10ish miles, I basically had the road to myself- literally to the point that I was occasionally questioning if I was still on course. There was one guy that I could see wayyy up ahead, but otherwise it was just me, my bike, and the road. Also amusing: somewhere around mile 30, I sort of zoned out for a second and shifted my left shifter (down to my small ring) instead of shifting within my big soon as I did it, I knew that I wasn't going to be able to use the left shifter again. This had happened during a ride last week and apparently is just due to my shifters being old...luckily, I knew that there weren't any more major hills on the course although the grinding sound that my bike now makes when it's in the lowest gear of the big ring is kind of annoying...oh well, it's just a sound, no big deal. I felt very smooth and in control throughout both of the loops. I knew I was riding fast (for me) but didn't feel like I was pushing too aggressively, so it seemed like a good level of effort - I'm sure this is something I'll continue to learn more about as I gain more experience in this sport! When I took my chews at 35, I decided that I was sick to death of sugary foods (perhaps it was the fact that when I took my last handful of cran-razz chomps, all that came to mind was a vodka cranberry...) and that at 40 I was going to pull out my ace in the whole...yes, I had brought a small handful of the delicious snack of PIZZA COMBOS on the off chance that I just really wanted a salty snack. I sang a little song about it..."5 more miles...then time to eat some comboooos". I was also quite pleased when I hit mile 36 under the 2 hour mark -still holding 18+ mph pace! I tried to do math and realized that I only had another hour of riding to go...then I was like actually, scratch that, because an hour sounds like a LONG time lol.

But that last hour actually went by really quickly! I did indeed eat my Combos, which I had awkwardly wrapped in a cup wrapper from the hotel (this was surprisingly effective) at 40. They tasted amazing, but afterward my stomach felt a little sketch. I got a little nervous...the idea of dealing with stomach cramps for a half marathon sounded unappealing at best...but then I drank some Skratch and got some quality burps out, and immediately felt much better. All in all I only ended up drinking about 36-maybe 40 oz of fluid on the bike? At the very end I felt like if I drank much more I was going to start feeling sick, so I figured I'd deal with hydration at the aid stations on the run as needed. The last 5 miles I was VERY ready to get off the bike, but we got to ride down a lovely road with the most BEAUTIFUL horses standing in a pasture, as well as running in parallel with the runners for their first/our last mile which was great - I was cheering for everyone and they responded in kind. I also realized as we made the turn for the last stretch that I was not only about to meet my crazy sub-3 goal, I was going to smash it!! I passed one last aquabike woman just before transition and made it to the dismount line. No mechanicals, no stomach issues, no problems...except a RIDICULOUS hamstring cramp getting off my bike! On to the run!

T2 - 1:39
1:30-1:40 has been about my going rate for T2...much more of a quick in and out than T1. I quickly stretched out my hamstring, swapped my helmet for my hat, put on my race belt, grabbed another swig of water, and got out of there. Last leg, here we go!

Run - 13.1 miles, 1:40:37 (7:41 pace), 1/9 AG, 3/95 F, 19/201 OA (lol)
Heading out of transition with happiness in my heart

THE RUN! I was overtaken with such happiness to have made it through the preceding events without any major problems and to finally be doing the thing that I know how to do well. So I bombed down the hill out of transition with a smile on my face and not a care in the world to the tune of a ridiculous 7:05. I knew that wouldn't last, but it really set the tone for the rest of the run - my goal was to keep the effort level on par with a moderate effort run, as I figured my legs wouldn't tolerate much more. This was the best thing: in comparison to a typical half marathon race effort, the pace felt EASY, and my delight in being in a running race but not actually having to go to the red line was on full display (as an aside: this probably means I'm capable of a faster run leg in the future, but at this moment in time I really didn't care). I'm pretty sure every endorphin my body could produce was flowing through my body and I was flying high through the first few miles. We passed a field full of cows, including some babies, and I literally shouted aloud "OMG, COWS! HI COWS! YOU'RE SO BEAUTIFUL LOOK AT THE BABY COW!" The first 5K floated by in a haze of delight. Shortly after that, I realized that this course was hilly 
AF, which for some reason I was not anticipating. When you're headed out on a double out and back and just keep encountering hill after hill after hill, it's easy to get a little beaten down by it. While I can't say I was overjoyed by the hills, I felt strong at the pace I was running and decided to just try to keep it rolling until I couldn't anymore. One of the best parts about the double out and back (combined with being a strong runner by triathlon terms) was that I was constantly passing people and people were constantly coming from the other direction. In my giddy state, on the way out of the first loop I literally said something or cheered for EVERY single person I passed or who was coming the other way, and SO many people were doing the same! I'm not sure where I got the idea that triathletes were kind of snobby, because I had the polar opposite experience during this race. There was very little crowd support on the run but with all the runners cheering each other on it felt like we were creating our own cheer kind of gives me chills just to think about. Because I was motoring along at a pretty good pace and I imagine I looked like I still had some gas in the tank, I was on the receiving end of a bunch of really nice "looking strong" and "crushing it" type comments. At one point a guy said something to that effect to me, and I sort of laughed and was like" well, this is the one thing I ACTUALLY know how to do!" 

One amazing thing about this race, which I think all summer races should adopt, was people handing out ice cold sponges at the aid stations along the course. There was this adorable little girl handing them out around mile 3, and I was sort of like "why yes I WILL take a sponge" when she offered me one. It wasn't really hot, but 70 degrees feels warm when there's no shade and that cold sponge felt like HEAVEN. The second half of the out to the turnaround felt like it took a small eternity, and I was already kind of dreading having to do it again. Still, my splits were encouraging; I was generally sticking around the mid 7:30s, much to my surprise and delight. I was still enjoying cheering people on around particular there was one girl in an MIT kit who I think I passed on the bike who was really friendly and cheerful when I would see her going the other way, and I also had a nice high 5 with my new friend Rachel, who was ahead of me after crushing it on the bike (she would go on to take 2nd overall!). I took a Gu at around 4 miles and continued taking a little bit of water at each station - I think there were 3 on each loop. 

Somewhere around mile 7 everything started to hit me a little bit, and it seemed like the second turnaround was NEVER going to appear - in fact, I asked some random spectator standing in a field where the turnaround was, lol. Somewhere along here I finally saw Elise coming the other way - we high fived and she shouted to me that she had gone off course on the bike...noooo! I also finally found the turnaround, took ice sponge kid up on her offer once again, and headed out into the second loop. Things were definitely becoming a grind, and I was losing the energy to cheer people was everyone else, and you could tell the mood had shifted from "YAY" to "let's just get this DONE." There was a particularly nasty hill around mile 9 that just seemed to last all day, but as I had done with all the others so far I just put my head down and got up it. That's one of the greatest gifts I've found about running in triathlons - because you've done all this crazy stuff beforehand, pace has no's totally about effort, and taking the numbers out of the equation makes it SO much easier to keep my head in the game and just do what I can do. You'd think this would be something I had learned already in running, but for some reason the comparison game always gets me in straight up road races. I think taking that pressure away is where a lot of my joy has come from in triathlon, and I was feeling it despite the fatigue. At the top of the hill was an aid station and I walked for a second to get a full cup of water down along with a Roctane (the new cold brew flavor which was GREAT). Then I was back to trucking. At this point the mile markers were appearing about 1/4 mile before my watch said they should, and I had a background curiosity about whether the course would be short or if the markers were just wrong (spoiler: it was just the markers!) 

I approached the final turnaround, which was in a little cul de sac where the neighborhood had gone ALL out for the race - there were tons of cute yard signs, a big sign advertising "THE OASIS" on the traffic island, and lots of people out and about cheering. An adorable young boy (maybe 5 years old?) offered me something and I was like "no thanks, but I LOVE your dinosaur outfit!" With 3 miles to go, I knew this was not only happening but happening WELL. A race vehicle briefly tried to squash me against the curb around mile 10.5 - I didn't really have the brainpower or drive to go around the vehicle so I just kind of made a woeful noise to which the guy in the car noticed me and apologized...he thought I had already gone ahead. I knew the way back was mainly downhill until the finish, so I was hoping I could just ride things out and that my legs would hold on for a couple more miles. On my way back, I came up behind a girl who was moving pretty well; I tried to read what age group she was in (another thing I love about triathlon - everyone has their age written on their calf so you know EXACTLY who you really need to hunt down and who you can sort of ignore if you want). I thought it said 33, and I hadn't seen her on the bike. "Well, maybe she's in the Olympic, or on her first loop", I thought. "But do you really want to take that risk?" the dumb competitive side of my brain replied. "UGH, NO" I internally replied, and shifted into a higher gear to get past her. Based on the fact that I finished 50 minutes in front of the next person in my age group, I'm pretty sure it was one of the earlier options, but you can never be too careful, ya know? 

On the way back I grabbed some flat Coke from the aid station, which I have ALWAYS wanted to tasted delicious although it did leave a less-than-awesome taste in my mouth for the final stretch. I did my best impression of picking it up throughout the downhill section, although truth be told I didn't have much left to give. Finally, after 60 something miles of racing, my legs were just gassed. I also started getting a truly awful cramp in what I initially thought was my left calf, but actually turned out to be the arch of my left foot. I'm not sure if I was electrolyte depleted (let's be honest, probably) or if I had been holding my foot awkwardly on the bike and it was now paying me back (also probable), but it was REALLY unpleasant and got to the point where I actually couldn't push off at all for the last mile - if I pointed my toes at all, my foot would lock up into spasm. Not fun! Even less fun when for some sadistic reason the last mile of the course is uphill! As I passed through the aid station for the last time, my foot seized and I had a strong urge to curse loudly, but SOMEHOW managed to hold it back to a "FRICKIN' A" because there were multiple children Really proud of my self control on that one. The last mile was really just a battle to hold things together and mainly to keep my leg from seizing up on me. I was sort of following this guy in a white tri top up a neverending hill and at one point again had to walk for a second because my foot was cramping into a ball. But then I looked at my watch, said out loud "You LITERALLY have less than 5 minutes left of this race, you can deal with this for 5 more minutes, now stop being lazy and GO". And I went.

Finish line where are youuuu

The final chute was hilariously a very steep downhill, on grass, and I felt like an awkward robot heel striking like crazy because I was afraid if my foot seized up on the downhill, I was going to wipe out and ain't nobody got time for that. As the finish line clock came into view I saw 5:2x...which assuming the clock was counting from the 7 am start, put me at UNDER 5:20. I was in SHOCK. I had been pretty happy with my individual performances in each event so far, but hadn't really put the pieces together up until that point. I ran into that finish chute beaming.

So happy and also so trying to not push off my left foot at all

5:18:16, 2/9 AG, 3/93 amateur women, 5/95 OA women, 37/201 OA

I got my medal and finisher shirt and then, for lack of anything better to do, wandered over to the results tent. I was somewhat curious as to where I'd placed in the grand scheme of things as I hadn't been passed by ANYONE on the run and felt like I had been passing quite a lot of women. My eyes immediately went to the AG place, and I was thrilled to see that I was second, as one of my random outside goals knowing this was a smaller race was to place in my age group. But then my eyes shifted to the overall women's placings, and I scanned down...1, 2, 3, 4....5. 5TH OVERALL WOMAN?! 

I don't know why, but that was the piece of the puzzle that put me over the edge. I wandered off into the grass and sat down and just started crying tears of pure happiness and elation and exhaustion and wonder. I had done a hard thing. I had done it well, particularly for a first timer. And I had loved every single second of both the process and the product. What could be more wonderful than that? In training for this race I recaptured a joy and delight in just going out and seeing what I'm capable of that I for some reason had lost in the endless marathon grind. To then have validation on top of that that what I'm capable of is actually pretty damn good was just...a lot to take it. I'm still having a hard time describing the feeling but suffice it to say: I was on top of the world.

Elise finished not long after me and we headed to the post-race meal (AMAZING Thanksgiving dinner style) with pumpkin beer, and the awards ceremony. The awards ceremony brought more surprises: they did a special award for the age grouper who was fastest in each event, and as they're reading out the female run winner a part of my brain was like "huh, I think that's the time I ran?" Sure enough, it was me! I literally was like WHAT?! and got up just laughing to go get my award. Then, I re-learned another neat thing that I had forgotten about triathlon, which is that when you enter as an "elite" you're in a whole different category - there are separate podiums for "elite" and amateur/age grouper. So instead of winding up on the AG podium, as I had assumed I would, I got to stand on the overall amateur podium and let me tell you...I will claim that doing sports is all about competing against myself and that winning this is not what drives me, and I will say that a lot of the time that is true...but I also will tell you that I was grinning like a crazy person getting to stand on a damn overall podium in my first half iron triathlon ever. 

During my last brick run of the training cycle, the song "Alive" by Krewella came on my playlist and for some reason just really spoke to me as an anthem of this training cycle. I had tried to listen to it so many times during the week leading up to the race that I would have it in my head for the run leg, which actually worked surprisingly well. Some of the lyrics are as follows:

Come on make me feel until the pain don't matter
Every second here makes my heart beat faster
Finally think I found what I'm chasing after
All alone, just the beat inside my soul
Take me home, where my dreams are made of gold
In the zone, where the beat is uncontrolled
I know what it feels like, come on make me feel alive

Training for and experiencing this race has made me feel like I'm chasing after exactly what I should be. I love this sport. I love that I was bold enough to try it. And I can't WAIT to see where it takes me next.

In case you were concerned that I had completely given up running, though, I was a part of a Reach The Beach relay teams and did some of the best running of my LIFE in a no pressure environment on the back roads of New Hampshire, and I have half and full marathons lined up in the next 2 months (in other news: I'm insane). If anything, I think triathlon is going to make me a better no, I'm not done with the marathon yet. But that, I think, is a story for another day. In the meantime, I'm not signing up for Boston this week because I don't have a qualifier for next year. I'd sarcastically thank the weather gods who made Boston 2019 such a miserable disaster, but I think maybe I should be thanking them for real...that experience was a big part of what made me finally pull the trigger on this triathlon in the first place, and as a result...I do have something to register for tomorrow. And as it turns out, it's just a little bit bigger than Boston...stay tuned. :) 

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Whaling City Sprint Tri Race Report

AKA, the most successful race I've ever had in the heat (*probably because only 1/3 of it was running*)

Back again with ANOTHER triathlon race report! My dad was in town last weekend and naturally, I decided that a fun thing to do would be to get up at 4:30 in the morning and drag him an hour+ out of the city to watch me do a race. What I did NOT count on was the fact that this race would be held in the midst of a horrid heat wave - forecast temps in the mid 90s with high humidity - on a course with no shade. FUN, yes? I had also talked Joy into the splash and dash event, and she texted me the day before like...uh...are we going to die tomorrow? Time would tell.
I also didn't have the greatest couple of weeks of training due to a variety of factors including travel and houseguests, but felt like this would be a good opportunity to get back into the swing of things before the big push into the half iron in September.

I slept horribly the night before the race, partially because it was 85 degrees in our apartment and partially because I was super anxious for some reason about getting to the race in time. Not about the race itself, mind you - I was really committed to the idea of just doing this as a training stimulus and for "fun". I got my bike into the Zipcar and picked up my dad at 5:15, and we enjoyed a peacefully traffic-free trek to New Bedford...if there's one time of day I actually enjoy driving, it's early in the morning on a weekend when I essentially have the road to myself. We made good time and I busied myself with checking in, getting body marked, and doing all the random extra shit you need to do for triathlons that you don't need to do for a running race. It was a little nerve wracking when they decided to play the national anthem a full 30 MINUTES before the start of the race (even the volunteers were very confused...) Once I got my stuff set up in transition I felt like I could finally take a breath, and I hunted down Joy and we headed for the swim start.

Still rocking that "take off the tire and put the bike in the backseat" life. I actually did buy a bike rack finally, but the idea of getting it properly set up at 4:30 in the morning was too anxiety provoking for me to deal with this time around

Yeahhh we are not wearing wetsuits today, thank you very much

The first wave went off at 7:30, and after several waves of various local triathlon teams (part of the race was a "team challenge"), I was lining up for the time trial start. Ready or not, here we go!

Swim - 400m, 9:00, 2:03/100yd, 10/21 in division
Gah, I'm a little disappointed in this! I think the distance might have been slightly longer than 400 m, but this was not a great showing in terms of division place. I think that my swimming is stronger over the longer distances, because I could have gone all day at this pace but I'm not sure how to swim "fast" yet (not sure if I really ever care to learn how to swim "fast" lol). Anyway, I ran into the water and dove right in, because the 72 degree water felt INCREDIBLE. So cool, so lovely. I did make a couple of errors that I think I can improve on for next time: I went off course IMMEDIATELY which probably cost me a few seconds, and I stood up WAY too early at the end of the swim and the awkward running in knee deep water also slowed me down. I think I also just sort of forgot that the swim was so short and settled into my usual pace - probably should have pushed more, but oh well! I felt good, and otherwise, this was fine. Once I got over my initial path failure I did a pretty good job of sighting, and I only got caught up with another swimmer once. Luckily, the swim is an extremely minor part of a sprint triathlon so, meh. I was sad to get out of the water and back into the blast furnace of heat...not even 8 am and we had already hit the 85 degree mark.

T1 - 2:32
There was a pretty long run up to transition, during which time I got to see my dad and Joy...was super confused as to why Joy wasn't in the water yet but apparently they ended up delaying the splash and dash start. I think I did a slightly better job of getting my shit together here than I did at White Mountains, but definitely still an area for improvement. I also definitely underestimated how challenging it would be to put my crop top on when I was wet from the swim, so that was probably a wasted 10-15 seconds of untwisting my clothing. I headed out of transition to volunteers shouting "HYDRATE ON THE BIKE!" and headed off on the double loop bike course.

Bike - 11.4 miles, 35:34, 19.2 mph, 4/21 in division
I'm SO PROUD of this bike!! I feel like I have no clue how to push on the flats so I was very pleasantly surprised by my performance here. I've also never had a ride over 18 mph average so on that account, hell yes. I always prepare myself mentally to just have a zillion people flying by me on the bike, but once again that was not the case here. In fact, because of the time trial start, waves, and a two loop course, there were a variety of people already out on the course that I was passing left and right. The first few miles didn't feel great - I think I'm realizing that it takes me a few miles to get warmed up on the bike, especially out of the swim, and that I should never trust how I feel until at least mile 5. After awhile though, I started to find a rhythm. Things were helped by the fact that I found a random girl who I ended up playing leapfrog with for the entire ride - it was fun! She also had a very snazzy racing uniform and it was motivating trying to stay with her each time she would make a pass. I still feel like I have a hard time choosing appropriate effort on the bike, so in this case I really just tried to focus on maintaining a steady effort and steady cadence, and making as many passes as I could. I also got to see Joy out on the run course, which looped past the bike course - running in the blasting sun looked fairly miserable but I tried not to think that far ahead. I kept drinking every couple of miles and wound up going through an entire bottle of Gatorade during the ride, which I think was a really smart move. I'm always amazed at how competitive I get on the bike - I think maybe it's because pace just has no meaning to me and the only metric I have of how I'm doing is how many people I can pass? Anyway, let me just say that it's a pretty great feeling to go blowing past a man on a $4000 triathlon bike. I know that having a good bike can be important in improving in this sport, but it's nice to know that it isn't EVERYTHING. 

I still just wear running shorts on the bike like the noob I am

The second loop went by really fast, and before I knew it I was pulling back into transition right behind my leapfrog friend. Aside from nearly getting sideswiped by an overzealous older man, I didn't run into any traffic issues and felt like I was able to ride my own ride, so...success!

T2: 1:23
Not much to report here. Swapped shoes, swapped headgear, dumped some cold water on my head, and got the heck out of there.

Run - 3.1 miles (a little long), 24:39, 7:58 pace officially, 2/21 in division
AHAHAH this was HORRID! Truly one of the worst runs of my life and I just couldn't even bring myself to care. It was so. hot. I passed my bike friend almost immediately out of transition and set two goals for myself for the run: don't walk, and don't die. At the first aid station out of transition I grabbed a cup of ice and shoved half of it in my bra, half of it in my hat, and just tried to chug along. By this point it was nearly 90, and the run course has exactly zero shade. Running along the ocean is lovely, but not exactly conducive to happiness on a hot day. I also quickly realized that I had blown out my legs on the bike (I can't figure out how not to do this?) and muscularly I had very little left to give. Still, in the triathlon world, often times if you're not walking you're passing people and I found myself passing, passing, passing, left and right. I only was passed twice, and both times it was by INSANE women in their 50s, both absolutely cruising! Good on you, ladies. I trudged along at somewhere around 7:45 pace, just laughing to myself at the absurdity of it all. I drank some Gatorade. Nothing really helped. I'ts 90 degrees, like, what can you even do? With a mile to go we headed towards a fort, and as I passed a woman she said something like "wow, you still have gas in the tank! Go girl!" I was like ummm not very much gas but I guess I'm still moving! It's just a very strange feeling running easy run pace in a race, passing people like crazy, and just not caring about how slowly you're going. I could tell I was getting dehydrated and I was truly just ready to be done. As we turned towards the finish line I glanced at my watch and realized that at only 2.65 miles, there was going to be some kind of stupid out and back to do to get to a 5K. And uggggggh there out and back on a pier with the sun continuing to blaze, all sea breeze gone, just 100% misery. I tried to look at the turnaround to see if there was anyone in my age group coming up on me, but honestly I'm not sure I would have been able to do anything about it even if there were. FINALLY we were heading onto the grass towards the finish line, and I summoned the saddest "kick" of all time to finish the race in 1:13:06.

I kind of just wanted to fall over at the finish but I made my way through the chute to get my medal and water bottle/cold towel (a really delightful perk of the races from this company). I had heard that there were going to be ice baths at the finish but I didn't know where they were and didn't feel like searching, so I just wandered around and eventually found my dad and Joy. 

After taking a few minutes to decompress I wandered over to the results table, where, to my absolute surprise and delight, I learned I had snuck my way into the age group rankings with 3rd! It's really hard to tell where you are in the general scheme of things with the wave/TT starts, especially with all of the team groups starting earlier, but I hadn't anticipated being able to place at this race due to it being a bigger race and people from so many actual triathlon teams being there. I was also pretty pumped that it was basically having a good bike that got me on the podium - the work I've been putting in is paying off! (Even though I still think I have a lot of work to do on the bike.) Joy and I went and jumped right back into the ocean for awhile, which honestly was the best part of the day. I had also joked in the morning about the absurd number of beverages I had with me (2 water bottles, a Gatorade bottle, a larger bottle with nuun, and an iced coffee) but I ended up drinking almost all of them...stupid high sweat rate and eternal dehydration. My dad also seemed to enjoy himself and I think was extra excited that he got to see me up on the podium.

It's so fun getting to stand on an actual podium! Why do road races not believe in these?

All in all, it was a really fun day and a great experience racing in less-than-ideal conditions, with the added bonus of having a strong day in the discipline I feel least "good" at. This was also a great motivator to get back into the swing of training generally - I'm still struggling a bit with the fact that there is just no time/energy to run the type of mileage I'm used to when I'm also trying to fit in 40 mile bike rides and swimming, and I definitely need to work on running off the bike even though it's the least pleasant thing of all time, but man oh man I just can't seem to get enough of this silly sport. I'm not quitting running though! I promise! I can do it all! ;) Running PRs just might not be my focus right least not until after September of 2020. Until then, I think I've got plans....(cough, cough....Ironman...cough)

Whaling City Sprint Tri (400m swim/11.4M bike/5K run) - 1:13:06
105/469 OA, 28/225 women, 3/21 F30-34

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

White Mountains Olympic Triathlon Race Report

On Saturday I competed in my first Olympic distance triathlon, and I think it's safe to say that I've been bitten hard by the triathlon bug. Running will always be my first love, but over the past couple of years I've frequently found myself frustrated with the training/competition side of it, frequently finding myself feeling like I was putting in a ton of effort with very little to show for it on the race course (or at least, not as much to show for it as I felt there should be). Out of this ennui, combined with some colleagues who were either intrigued or already fully entrenched in the triathlon life, came the idea to finally jump into the sport of triathlon for real. I did a sprint like 10 years ago at the behest of my then-boyfriend, now husband, and I relit the spark last year with another sprint, but I had never fully committed to a longer distance race that would actually require, you know, training! A wetsuit! Actual bike shoes! I signed up for this Olympic race all the way back in November, knowing full well that it's known as one of the most challenging courses around, and hoping that I would like triathlon in practice as much as I did in theory. My boldness paid off in one of the most truly fun race experiences I've ever had (it also didn't hurt that I blew my expectations out of the water). I loved every second of this experience and I absolutely can't wait to do it again. 

We stayed over in North Woodstock the night before the race with my friend Elise, who was racing, and her boyfriend, and race morning was a giddy wave of trying to make sure I had everything (so. much. equipment.) and figuring out where to go and what to do. The organizers of this race do an absolutely outstanding job and everything ran super smoothly from start to finish, including the WEATHER which was absolutely perfect...sunny, dry, and 60s. If I were doing a longer road race I'd have been alarmed at that forecast, but knowing I needed to go swimming and then ride my bike while wet first? 60s sound great to me. Elise and I were both balls of ridiculousness and I'd like to think our significant others were entertained. Time seemed to fly by with getting our bibs, putting on number tattoos, setting up transition, using the porta potty (my nervous peeing was less of a concern at a triathlon because of that whole swim thing....TBH it was amazing), and finally heading down to the beach to await the swim start!

My sherpa on a glorious morning

Number tattoos are EXCITING and we are NORMAL

Transition area all set up

At the beach we did a quick dive in to sample the water temperature and then anxiously awaited the start. I was literally more excited than I think I have ever been before a race - it was just such an incredible morning and I couldn't wait to swim in this beautiful place and then just see what the rest of the day would bring. I felt such joy and gratitude to have this opportunity and I wanted to enjoy every single second. At one point I just awkwardly jumped in the air and slapped my legs and yelled "I'm SO excited to swim in this lake!" and somehow Elise and I are still friends, so I guess she was entertained. The pre race meeting brought some depressing news: there was roadkill on the bike course and it was a MOOSE :( :( :( This was sad but also kind of hilariously ironic, as one of my life dreams is to see a moose in the wild. Elise mentioned that this was like a fairy tale where you get 3 wishes but you mess up the wording somehow and so it comes out totally dark and twisted...thankfully, I think things must have been cleaned up by the time we actually got out there, because I didn't see anything.

Here's a picture of me at the swim start. You can tell it's me because I'm the giant loser in the front row bending down to look at the minnows in the water, bahahaha. 

After a couple of waves went off ahead of us, it was time to head down to the water and get rolling. At 8:39 the horn sounded, and we were off! 

AM Fuel: Peanut butter banana Clif Bar ~2 hours before race, banana ~1 hour before race, lemon-lime Gu (no caffeine) ~20 minutes before start

1500 m swim: 32:40 (1:30/100yd) - 3rd in AG, 11th female, 43rd OA

This was my first swim without a time trial start, but with a staggered group start (all women under 40 in my case), I wasn't too worried about getting caught in the washing machine at the beginning. After running a few feet into the brisk 59 degree water, I saw everyone in front of me and decided it was time to do the same. The water was BRISK - I swear they announced at the start that it was 65 degrees but my face told me was cold! I knew that once I could find a rhythm I'd get used to it and sure enough, after a couple of minutes it was no longer an issue. It was definitely more challenging to sight the buoys and find open water than I'd planned on, but I feel comfortable enough in the water that it was easy to just stay calm and find a lane. Once I got in the zone, I was in the zone! I definitely could tell that I was swimming harder than usual, and I got a little nervous initially because my arms were feeling fatigued pretty early on, but it never really got any worse and so I just fell into my rhythm and stayed there. By the time I got to the first buoy the pack had separated out nicely and I had plenty of open water to swim in. Around this same time my goggles started fogging up, which initially I could deal with but I eventually had to stop for a second and de-fog them as I literally couldn't even see the buoys, let alone the people from the waves ahead that I was starting to pass, and I couldn't handle another full lap in that state. The second lap I basically just spent the entire time thinking about how much I loved being out in the water (and intermittently about the fact that I was hungry and looking forward to my stroopwaffel in transition...), trying to soak in the beauty around me every time I sighted, and just enjoying the feeling of powering through the water. These sound like ridiculous things to be thinking in the midst of the race, but I honestly knew I was swimming just as fast as I could and that was going to be good enough. Soon enough I was gliding through the shallows, and then up and running up the ramp to transition! I apologize to the little girl holding out her hand for high fives on the ramp, I really WANTED to high five you but my hands were busy trying to unzip my wetsuit and claw off my swim cap, so I hope my smile was enough!  
Andrew's view of the swim from up on the bluff. Is this even real life?

T1: 1:57
I feel like this transition was sort of slow, partly because I had never practiced doing it quickly and partly because I was TIRED after the swim and at one point I feel like I was just sort of staring at the ground in a daze pondering what I needed to do haha. My wetsuit came off pretty easily, and I was able to get my socks and bike shoes on in reasonable time. I think my biggest struggle here was that I attempted to eat a stroopwaffel, which was extremely dry and just was not going down smoothly...I could barely swallow it without water and after awhile I decided to just stop wasting time and shoved the thing in my back pocket to eat once I was on my bike. Helmet, sunglassess, life sorted...OK, off to the bike!

Fuel: 1 honey stinger stroopwaffel (ate 1/2 in transition and finished in the first couple miles of the bike)

Still trying to swallow a stroopwafel, probably.

40K bike: 1:26:17 (17.3 mph) - 1st in AG, 14th female, 67th OA
The bike was by far the event that I was most nervous about, as well as where I felt I had the most to lose in terms of time/places. Between the outrageously difficult course, my minimal training on large hills, and my beginner's knowledge of shifting between chain rings (seriously, I learned how to do it 2 days before the race), I knew that the bike was likely going to be a "hold on and do the best you can" sort of scenario. But as it turns out, like everything else in this was a blast! The course started with an enormous, 3 mile long 10% grade downhill, and while I was initially terrified of this I got over it quickly and enjoyed flying down the hill like a kid on a sled, giving my legs a break and trying to get my heart rate down. Unfortunately, when a course starts with a zillion feet of elevation drop, and it's a loop course...there's pretty much only one place that you get to go from there. And that place is UP. 

As soon as we stopped going downhill and I actually had to start pedaling, my legs felt pretty crappy. Looking back I think I'll just chalk this up to the confusing transition between swimming and biking, and that it took my legs awhile to catch up. It probably also didn't help that almost everything that looked like it was "flat" on this course was, in fact, going uphill at some rate or another. And I mean, going up large, long hills on a bicycle is hard AF. I don't want to understate the fact that it was so hard, and I would love to get stronger on the bike so that I can go faster! But the sun was shining, the temperature was perfect, I was out on my trusty bike named after a dragon, and sooner rather than later I started actually making some passes. Life. Was. Perfect. We hit a nasty uphill, and after dropping to my small chain for the first time, I immediately passed 2 men. What! While I did get passed by a few men (and two women) on the bike, they were all exclusively on downhills and by people riding very fancy, very expensive bikes. And you know, you can't do anything about that. We rode through a cute little town where people were out cheering, and I was having such a lovely time that I smiled and thanked basically every single person I saw. My legs still didn't feel outstanding, but I didn't care - everything was amazing. At some point I made a poor choice of trying to eat some Gu chomps while starting an uphill and basically lost all of my momentum while also trying not to choke - note to self, uphills are not for fueling. 

Then we hit mile 10. And oh my sweet summer child....I learned later that this hill is called "3 mile hill" and you'll NEVER GUESS why they call it that...this thing was an absolute monster. It was so monstrous as to be comical. And so, I said (out loud) such things as: "well, at least we're by a little stream!" and "we're all in this together" (sung from High School Musical). It was uplifting to look ahead and realize that EVERYONE was going the exact same slow as molasses pace as me - in fact, in a shocking turn of events, I passed 3 people during the hill. As I rode past one woman, I had the odd urge to apologize to her for passing her on the hill? Instead I think I blurted out "IS THIS EVER GOING TO END". This hill and my baby ring were my life now, and all I could do was keep chug chug chugging up to the top. 

FINALLY we hit the crest, and were rewarded with a downhill with the "trucks could go off the road"/steep grade sign. As it turns out I enjoy just talking to myself while on my bike, because once again, aloud, I said "I'm gonna enjoy the SHIT out of this grade!" And I did! And then another hill loomed. And once again, I started singing: "Hi ho, hi ho, back to small chain we go!" wrong with me lol. Basically once we hit the halfway point of the bike I turned into some kind of giddy ball of happy energy. The views off into the mountains were just incredible, and I just found myself in such a place of awe and gratitude for this gift of being able to do what I was doing. I am not normally someone who gets super sappy mid race, but here in my happy place doing this ridiculous but wonderful thing on the most gorgeous day, I just felt so, so grateful. At one point I sang out again "I f*cking love this downhill, I f*cking LOVE MY LIFE!". It was a lot. The endorphins were extremely high, is all I can say about that. 

Eventually, after a stretch on a kind of crappy road (but that was also the "flattest" section of the course), we made a right hand turn onto a larger highway - beautiful, smooth pavement....and also the thing I had been pretty much dreading - 9 miles of gradual uphill with no relief until the finish line. My initial thought was oh shit, 9 miles is a looooong time for my quads to tolerate what's going in right now. But then I forced myself to find a rhythm, locked my eyes on the blue and black trisuit of the dude in front of me, and just pedal on. I got a song with a good beat in my head and again, because apparently when I'm alone on a bicycle I just lose all semblance of a filter, started singing: "Oh baby, come on and say it now, just let the words come out, tell me you love me..." A couple of men on tri bikes passed me during this stretch but quite frankly, who cared about the men. Me and blue and black #242 also started playing a little bit of leapfrog, as I oddly found myself channeling some level of competitive energy. On my bike! I was definitely thinking a bit about how I might be screwing myself for the run by pushing as hard as I was, since I could definitely feel quite a bit of fatigue building in my quads and calves. However, I sort of figured that with the absurdly hilly course that fatigue was going to be there no matter what - no sense in holding back. 

 This is insane in all of the best ways

The very end of the bike was on sort of an obnoxious bike path, and with 2 miles to go I was very much ready to be off of my bike. I finally became annoyed by my friend #242 who had passed me again, so I passed him and another gentleman before finally making the turn back into transition. Being back on the road and knowing I has made it through the bike was SO exciting - I knew that I had outperformed my own expectations, and all that was left was a 4 mile run...a tough 4 mile run, to be sure, but finally an arena where I knew would be my time to shine!

Fuel: 2 x 2 Tropical Gu chomps (150 calories + some caffeine), 16 oz 50-50 mix of Glacier Freeze Gatorade and H20

T2: 1:24
My brain was slightly more on in T2 although I definitely did a very inefficient job of racking my bike - things to practice for next time! It felt like I was there for much longer than I was and people definitely do this transition much faster (this was actually my slowest overall placing!) so I think transitions are definitely an area where I could use some practice/work. Shoes switched, hat on, run belt donned, grab a Gu, we're outta here!

4.25 mile run: 33:22 (7:46 pace) - 1st in AG, 4th woman, 28th OA
I could summarize the run in one sentence: running off the bike, especially a bike with 1800 ft of elevation gain, IS REALLY HARD. But as I ran out of transition I had a smile on my face. The greatest thing about running in a triathlon is that it allowed me to completely ignore my pace and run 100% for place and competition. I knew that anyone who was behind me at this point in the race was unlikely to pass me, and also that this was my opportunity to make some moves after the bike. My plan was very straightforward: just keep moving, and make as many passes as you can. The first mile is somewhat downhill, and while I felt like a noodle I just bopped along, eyeing up the people in front of me. There was another woman about a minute up who I definitely thought that I could pass, otherwise all of the nearby competitors were men. I hit mile 1 in 7:09, which I was pretty happy with, but I also knew that I'd been running downhill and that probably wasn't going to be sustainable (ding ding ding, correct answer!) But who cares - the name of the game is keep moving forward.

Smiling! And!

The remainder of the run course absolutely sucks, but knowing all I had to do was run 3 miles to finish seemed so easy compared to what I had done during the prior too hours that I was able to keep myself in a really positive head space throughout the entire run. I knew I wasn't running fast at all - probably closer to "moderate" run pace than any pace I'd ever race 4 miles at - but it was such a great feeling to just not care about that, because all I could do was give it as much as I had after the bike. The really awful section of the run is an out and back over multiple short but extremely steep inclines and declines, and having passed my first prey I started hunting down other women who seemed close enough to pounce on. There was another woman within sight and I could tell that I was gaining ground on her, so my new objective became: just pass that woman. I also started counting women as it began to dawn on me that I was much closer to the front of this race than I was to the back! We ran down a huge hill to the turnaround, where I nearly knocked a sign over hitting it as I made the turn, and then climbed back up to the bike path. It was slow going up anything steep with my quads that had been annihilated by the bike and were begging for mercy, but I was able to keep on moving forward. I managed to get past my new target on an uphill, and it was a nice feeling to know I was unlikely to see her again...unlike in road races, no one is really picking it up for the last mile of a triathlon! It was certainly an unusual sensation for me - cardiovascularly, I felt like I was out for an easy jog, but muscularly my legs just had nothing to give. Clearly, this is an aspect of the bike-run transition that I could stand to work on. 

I dunno, why wouldn't this be fun?

We crossed back to the other side of the highway and began a little looping section that's the "flattest" part of the run course. I passed a guy here who was cramping up and tried to offer him some encouragement as I went by. I was running pretty damn slowly at this point, 7:45-7:55 (if you'd asked me I would have guessed 9 minute miles, that's how sloggish it felt) but I was still having a blast - in fact, at one point I passed a volunteer who said something like "alright, still smiling!" and I was like "actually yeah, I'm having an amazing time!". I knew the last mile of the run was an absolute bear, but I also knew all I had to do was climb the hill of gravel, then climb the hill into the parking lot, and I was going to absolutely crush this thing. I slogged up the half mile gravel hill, cursing whoever decided it wasn't worth it to pave this section of road on the ski hill. I managed to pass another man as I willed myself to the top of the hill. Every uneven section and little pothole and muddy rock felt like a complex problem that my legs were having a harder and harder time solving. I almost laughed when my watch showed my 4 mile split: 7:46, coulda fooled me, these feel like 10 minute miles! We finally turned the corner and SURPRISE! it's another GIANT hill up into the parking lot. This time my legs just totally gave up and I actually had to walk for a second up the steep grade, but then I pulled myself together and kicked (hah) across the parking lot, onto the carpet, and before I had time to think of something interesting to do for a finish line photo, I was done! 

Run fuel: salted watermelon Gu
Can we also just talk about all of these FREE PHOTOS? This race is amazing.

I was on some other level of giddiness when I finished, and while my legs were completely exhausted I was high on type 2 fun and endorphins and life. Andrew and Elise's boyfriend reported that she was about 20 minutes back from me starting the run, so we wandered around to find a good spot to wait to cheer her in. In the meantime I went to get my results printout and almost lost my mind when the little sheet printed out and showed: top 10 women. 1ST IN AGE GROUP. It was like deja vu - 10 years ago at my first sprint triathlon, I went in with no clue of what I was doing and won my age group. Here I was a decade later, and it happened again! I was shocked, thrilled, pumped, and PROUD because not only had I executed the race about as perfectly as I could have imagined, I did it with so much joy. There were moments on the bike when I could swear I was just going to explode with the happiness that I was feeling. I don't exactly know what it is about this sport that makes me feel this way, but whether it's the lack of expectations or comparisons, the fun of having a beginner's mindset, or just the overall weirdness of the sport itself ( have to change shoes during a race...) it's something I hope I never stop feeling. I'm certainly not giving up on running, but discovering a new sport feels like such a gift at this stage of my running career - bringing me back to the idea that racing is fun, something to be grateful for, something to find joy in, not something that subtracts joy from your life. Of course, discovering something that I seem to have some natural ability for certainly doesn't hurt - surprise age group placings are probably just as addictive as many drugs, and when you've experienced it once, you want to keep experiencing it again and again. But for now, I'll always remember how my fun I had during this race, and how much I just loved the experience of doing what I was doing, and I'm going to try to carry that with me into future training and races - whether it be just running, or triathlons, because let's be that I'm in, I'm in for good.

White Mountains Triathlon (Olympic - 1500m swim/40K bike/4.25M run)
39/173 OA, 9/67 F, 1/11 F3034

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Tales from a weekend double: Westfield 5K/Harpoon 5M

Last weekend was utter chaos - the studio where I teach had it's annual recital, so I was biking back and forth to Lexington all weekend, wrangling young children missing pieces of their costumes, and oh yes...dancing with my high school class because a girl dropped out last minute, all weekend. And somehow, I ALSO managed to fit in not one, but TWO races! Not something I would typically do when I'm fit, let alone when I'm "out of shape" (running, but hadn't done any workouts since Boston). And yet, while I may not be the fastest member of my club, when my team needs me, I answer! Which is how I wound up at the first of the two races, the Westfield 5K.

This 5K was part of the USATF-NE grand prix, and as our women's team is currently in 3rd in the series we knew we needed to field a full team (5) to keep any hopes of winning the series alive. Unfortunately, it was a NIGHTMARE putting the team together - I went from "yeah sure, I'll run if you need me but there are 7 other people running" to being upset because I had signed up and we somehow only had 4 women running! The fact that the race was at 1 pm on the first nice Saturday of the year and almost 2 hours away from Boston was also not helpful in recruiting potential runners. Luckily, our former club president who unfortunately has been injured for quite some time is slowly starting to return to running, and stepped up to complete the distance, if not race for time. And so, after I spent literally the entire day before bitching about having to do the race, our full car hit the road to Westfield!

To be honest I was fairly stressed about this 5K - 5Ks are dumb and they hurt like hell, ESPECIALLY when you aren't in fitness for them. I wasn't looking forward to driving an hour and a half to race a shitty 20:45 5K. The one glimmer of hope was that the race was literally entitled the "Westfield Fast 5K" and word on the street was that it was actually more than flat, it was slightly downhill. I hung my hopes on my lingering marathon fitness and the sweet sweet thought of 'net downhill' as we pulled into the parking lot. In additional news, race day had dawned gorgeous for things besides running - 70s and sunny, I could think of 6000 things I would have rather been doing besides running a 5K - the majority of them involving drinking beer on a patio somewhere. Unfortunately, I wasn't there, I was here, wearing sunglasses and wishing I had worn a crop top, at the start line of a 5K. Oh well. My teammates made it much more fun as we all bitched and moaned together (3 of us were racing the following day, an intersecting 3 of us had run Boston, and 1 was the injured one - clearly the 5K squat our coach was seeking lol) as we did a solitary stride and then headed for the line.

I begrudgingly crammed myself into the "elite women" area with my teammates and the rest of the general USATF women's crowd, and while I felt like I didn't belong there I at least belonged there more than the ~7 people attempting to move into the front of the start corral with baby strollers, small children, and large groups of people who just were not going to be running a 17 minute 5K (as many of the top women did). After some shuffling, it was finally time to do the damn thing!

The gun went off, the course started immediately up a short but steep hill, and I immediately felt the fatigue in my legs from 25 miles of biking the day prior. OOF. Thank God the remainder of this course is supposedly downhill. I didn't feel outstanding from the get-go but I didn't feel bad either, and I just attempted to find a rhythm and groove with it. I felt like I was doing a nice job of staying relaxed and holding back to a reasonable pace for my fitness, but I was brought out of that fantasy by my first split of 6:08. WHOOPS! I'm a dumb dumb! Oh well, nothing to be done for it now but deal with the inevitable slowdown of mile 2. I did not enjoy mile 2. I slowed down (duh), the sun was hot, my stomach hurt, and I was just regretting all my life choices. I ran the least surprising 6:40 of my life lol. However, I can always manage the last mile of a 5K better than the second - once I convince myself I only have 6 minutes left, things just seem much more doable. I felt like trash but the course was heading downhill, and I just tried to hold on as best as I could, passing a few people along the way. We made one final turn towards the finish line and my watch popped a 6:26 for mile 3. Wait, what? I attempted some math, then glanced at the clock, and then gradually came to terms with the fact that I WAS ACTUALLY FIGHTING FOR A SUB 20?? Oh man, I tried so, so hard in that finishing straight. I wanted it bad. But it wasn't enough - when I crossed the line I looked down at my Garmin, which read: 20:00.00. I mean, COME ON!! I prayed to the racing gods that perhaps I started my watch early or something, anything, that would give me that .01 second, but the time stood. Honestly, I'm kind of proud of it now - when do you ever run a flat, even time? I've certainly never done that before. The downhill course nonwithstanding, this was also my second best road 5K of my career (3rd best including track races), not something I would have expected at all given my current fitness. Best of all, our team managed to scrape out 4th place overall thanks to some really strong running by our frontrunners, keeping us in our 3rd place spot. Not the easiest race, but a successful one by all accounts!

So then, I headed home, did some stuff, and got up the next day ready to race...again! This time, at the Harpoon 5 Miler, the race that I had actually planned on doing this weekend. While my mind was in a better place for racing this time around my legs were not. Turns out when you race for the first time in awhile on already fatigued legs, it's tiring! Oh well. This was another team-centric event, so we rallied the troops and got ready to run. I ended up running out of time to warm up and basically just jogged around for like 5 minutes on a dead end road, excellent, quality racing stuff. I also elected to race with music because I just couldn't fathom surviving a 5 mile race in the current state of my legs without a little extra shot of motivation. I'm getting much more lax in my views regarding racing with music - I am 100% certain that I race faster when I have it (see: Black Cat, Philly) partly because it keeps me out of my head and partly because I think it helps me find the "flow" state that typically leads me to my best races. It also seems to be becoming much more common even among fast/high level runners, so I feel less like its "unprofessional" to run with music. Whatever.

The gun went off, and my legs were immediately like WHOA BUDDY! I mean I had known this going in, but how I felt when I started running confirmed that this was going to be something of a struggle. Still, I was in it and willing to do the best I could. I've done this race a couple of times so it was helpful to be familiar with the course and have a sense of how long certain sections were going to take. After barrelling through some crowds of improperly seeded people (I will never understand why people line up in the second row at a 5000 person race and then leisurely jog off the line) and managed to sort out my life to a 6:26 first mile. The pace didn't feel even remotely sustainable, but at least now I only had 4 more miles to go! During mile 2, there's what you could probably consider a veeeeery gentle incline, which felt pretty awful, and at that point my legs basically just gave up and died. And you know what? I actually kept myself in a very happy mental place with that! I just sort of laughed at myself and was like "this is what you get for racing 2 days in a row" and just listened to my techno and survived the remainder of the race. It was nice, and I'm happy to have reached a point in my running career where I can just shrug off a struggle performance and not get so caught up in it that it makes my life even more miserable. Miles 3 and 4 were slow, 6:51 and 6:53 (I'll admit that my thoughts here were: welp, you can run 5 miles at your goal half marathon pace! You've got some work to do!) People were passing me and I was just kind of like, yup, carry on, these quads aren't moving any faster at this point. The last mile I was able to convince myself to summon up a little extra energy, and I crossed the line in 33:21 - only a few seconds off from the last time I did this race, but I'm pretty sure they fixed the course since then so the race is actually almost 5 miles (4.98 on Garmin) vs. 4.9 even. Woo! I think we were all a little disappointed as we pretty much knew that we hadn't won the team title, but honestly I think everyone was pretty content with our 3rd place steins (and beer!) given how the rest of the weekend had gone.

Laughing at myself

And then after the race, I had a couple of beers, went home, ate a snack, rode my bike 8 miles to Lexington, supported the recital for 4 hours, biked home, and was exhausted! But looking back on it, it was the type of weekend I live for. I suck at relaxing and I thrive on movement and a two-race weekend has plenty of one and virtually none of the other. And speaking of busy weekends, my summer is definitely going to be busy in the athletic sense, because after years of pondering it, talking about it, and considering it, I finally pulled the trigger and am signed up for a half iron triathlon in September! I am PUMPED. Running is always going to be my love and the sport that comes first, but I honestly think Boston broke me a little bit this year and I needed a shift, at least for the time being. I'm super excited to be learning about a new sport where I have virtually nothing to compare myself to, and to participate in a sport where both of my experiences to date have felt like nothing short of pure joy. I'm also convinced that pursuing the triathlon life is going to help me in the long term as a marathoner, but that's not really what it's about. While I love running, it turns out I also just generally love moving, and pushing myself, and challenging myself to see what I'm capable of, and I can't wait to see where that love can take me!