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. :)