Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Baby, keep on dancing like you ain't got a choice: 70.3 Mystic Lakes "race" report

As I've shared before, virtual races are not something that have been super motivational to me during this period of coronavirus ridiculousness. Like, why would I try to run a PR for a running race when it won't "count" anyway? (I'm starting to think that the idea that doing a thing only "counts" if it happens in an official race capacity is kind of dumb, but whatever). And as I mentioned in my last post, I was not planning on racing this solo half iron tri adventure attempt in any capacity. I truly didn't think I would have the motivation to put in race level effort on my own, with no competition, no fanfare, no one even aware of the fact that I was racing except me. But somehow as Saturday approached I found myself so excited about the idea of "racing" that I started to crave my traditional pre-race rituals that it feels like it's been years since I've done. I laid out my gear and race kit. I painted my nails. I found a ribbon that matched my singlet. And I went to bed on Friday night with nervous energy like I haven't felt in ages, the energy that the next day I would be Doing Something, What exactly that something was, I wasn't sure yet.

But at 4:50 am the alarm went off and I was up and into my usual race morning routine, including iced coffee and oatmeal and braiding my hair. One of the delights of DIY racing is that your start time is your pick - hey, you want to spend an extra 10 minutes unloading the dishwasher before you head out? Go for it! Feeling like you want to use the bathroom one last time? Sweet! I was aiming to start the swim between 6:00 and 6:30, so I left the house at 5:45 for the ~15 minute ride to my venue. Yes, that's right...I had to bike to the start of my "race" with all of my crap loaded into an old Boston gear check bag on my back (I am such a pack rat when it comes to that stuff, and it was actually perfect for this purpose!). I dropped a frozen bottle behind a ledge on the bike path to exchange on the run later on, and went on my merry way. It was a beautiful morning, calm and clear, and when I got to the lake I really just took a moment to soak it in.

Not a bad venue, if I do say so myself

I set up my extremely glamorous transition area which involved locking my bike to a fence and hiding the rest of my stuff behind some weeds and hoping that no one would want to steal a plastic bag that contained smelly running shoes and Gu. I got my wetsuit on around 6:10 and decided I would try to start at 6:14, 14 being my favorite number. I stood at the edge of the water, looking out at the lake. I could almost feel everything that would be happening at a real race going on around me - the murmur of voices, last minute adjustments to wetsuits and swim caps, announcements being made over loudspeakers. But instead, it was just me, in the silence of the morning, not a soul in sight besides a woman who had set out in her kayak a few minutes before. And I did something that was a little cheesy but just felt right: I stood there, staring out at the water, and I quietly whistled the Star Spangled Banner. The national anthem at races is always something that gets me sort of emotional, not from being patriotic really (lord knows I'm not very proud of this country at the moment) but because it's this moment of stillness before this big event. Whenever I listen to the anthem at a race I always feel like I use that time as a moment of gratitude for being there at a start line, for being able to do the thing. I have a feeling when real racing finally returns that feeling is going to be multiplied. But in this moment, all alone, about to do this thing for no other reason than because I can and because I wanted to, I felt that exact same feeling. It surprised me! But it was lovely. I don't think I realized how much I missed that feeling, that odd mix of gratitude and anxiety and anticipation all balled up together, until exactly that moment, feeling it again.

And so I waded further into the water and I gave myself a little countdown, and whispered "go" to myself, and the "race" was on!

Swim - 1.2 miles, 38:08 (1:48/100yd)
Within 2 minutes of starting to swim, I knew that I was not, in fact, just "doing this to do it", and that I was actually going to be putting in something resembling race levels of effort. I love open water swimming but I've pretty much felt like a slug in the water all year so far, and this was the first time I'd felt like I had some semblance of "speed" (please note I am still decidedly a middle of the pack swimmer but with no formal training I feel pretty solid about that). The water was so calm and the sun poking over the trees was casting a beautiful golden light that hit my hand with each stroke. I settled into a rhythm of 25 strokes and sight, which felt amazing. I've gotten bad about looking at my watch while swimming since getting a Garmin that actually tracks open water swimming semi-accurately, and so I tried to avoid doing that and just SWIM. I hit my first diagonal in the fastest 500 yd I've swam all year, and then swam even faster for the second 500. In some ways I think being alone in the water made me swim faster too - I have a buoy, was wearing a wetsuit, and I knew the lady in the kayak had seen me go in, but the fact remains that solo open water swimming is not the safest of activities. So I was kind of like, alright, you have a task to do, do it, and get out (although it was so lovely out there I would have happily swam another 1.2 miles). There isn't really too much to say about swimming - there was none of the jostling for position or getting kicked or trying to sight a buoy that you'd have in a race, which I didn't mind one bit. I got into a good rhythm and just went with it. I did sort of laugh during my last segment when I actually nearly ran into another swimmer going out into the lake! It's like a real race! Hah! Another nice perk of DIY racing is you can stop your watch at EXACTLY the correct distance and call it done - and I can tell you in a typical tri I DEFINITELY swim extra because of my terrible sighting, lol. This time was very similar to my Pumpkinman time from last year, and while that time was definitely impacted by me being a hot mess in terms of sighting, I also had swam a lot more prior to that race. So overall, I felt great about this swim!

Swim, check, also really stupidly pleased that my swim cap matches my race top because that's just the way I am...
I didn't time transitions (HECK YEAH DIY RACING) so I took my sweet-ish time getting out of my wetsuit and taking a couple of photos while getting myself ready for the bike. One of my favorite parts of the day occurred at this point - a guy out on a run came through the parking lot heading for some nearby trails; he looked at me (half ready to bike with a wetsuit laying on the ground next to me) and sort of paused and was like..."are you doing a full triathlon today?" And I was SO stupidly proud to be like YES I AM! LOOK I HAVE A SPECTATOR! Hahaha. I bagged up my wet gear and got into my biking socks and shoes, made sure I had all my food, took a couple of drinks of water and headed out! 

We offer only the finest and most secure transition area here at 70.3 Mystic Lakes. I don't know what the dirt/plant matter on the ground is but it was EVERYWHERE

Bike - 56 miles, 2:59:28 (18.7 mph)
Not gonna lie: I am PUMPED about this ride. Faster that I've ever ridden in any situation except a completely flat 11 mile time trial at last year's Whaling City Sprint, over a fairly long distance! My riding is definitely coming along and I'm really proud of the work I've put in on it this year. That being said, I knew throughout this ride something that proved to be true (though not necessarily for the reason I thought): I 100% sabotaged my run with this ride. But, I knew that would be the case and I really didn't care because I wanted to prove to myself that I could ride like this. And those are the choices we have to make sometimes in races, yes? The course I created included several loops of the lakes (a very nice 5 mile loop with no significant traffic), and a lollipop incorporating the popular Minuteman bike path as well as one of my favorite loops of all time, the Bedford-Carlisle-Concord triangle.  I've finally learned that I can't trust how my legs feel in the first 5 miles of a ride, and so despite feeling pretty sluggish coming off the swim I was pleasantly surprised to see a decent 5 mile split show up on my watch. I literally said aloud "OK, so we're doing this" (and then proceeded to get Ten Dual Commandements from Hamilton stuck in my head). But again, if I had any doubt that I was racing, it was now gone. I was. It was a thing. It was time to see what kind of fun I could have on the bike.

I purposely planned the bike path section of the course early because it gets CRAZY crowded and frustrating to ride later in the day - as it was, I was shocked at how many people were out at 7:30 on a Saturday! Still, it was more of an athletic crowd versus the small children learning to ride bikes and massive packs of walkers who show up later on, so everyone was pretty much solo or in small groups and respectful of the rules of the path. The majority of the way out to Bedford is a false flat slightly uphill, and I think my first 5 mile split on the path was actually my slowest of the day. But after awhile I got into it, and I found myself grinning as I felt like I was flying along the path. As I passed riders and other runners, all I could think was "they don't know I'm racing!" It was like this super fun secret I had - super silly, but super fun too. 

By the time I arrived in Bedford I was pretty excited to leave the path and enjoy the loop section of the course, which basically combined all of my favorite country roads. I felt strong and powerful, yet overall controlled. One issue I did run into was that I was NOT hungry in the slightest - I was really having to choke down Gu chomps at my 5 mile intervals and I definitely think I underfueled on the bike as a result. One of my goals for this "race" was to get some data bout my fueling, so this was all good info! The roads of Carslisle and Concord were quiet and beautiful with only a few cyclists to share with. I pleased myself by passing a group on the nasty little uphill into Carlisle (again...they definitely did not know this was a race haha) and enjoyed the quiet and shade of Lowell Road, aka one of the best roads of all time. I was feeling good after hitting Concord Center and heading into the last leg of the lollipop before returning to the bike path. This was around the halfway point and I realized I had only drank maybe 1/3 of a bottle of Skratch and a couple of Gu chomps, which I knew wasn't enough, so I forced myself to eat half a Clif bar and drink most of the remainder of that bottle. It was not the best strategy but I was trying to balance the need for fuel with avoiding gut rot on the run, and I figured with about 90 minutes still to ride I'd have time to digest.

On Bedford Road the most AMAZING part of the whole day happened: I SAW A FOX! This absolutely majestic creature ran into the road not far in front of me and I swear, looked me right in the eye before bounding off into a graveyard. I, ever the adult, SCREAMED to no one "OMG A FOX! THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER!!!" Animal sightings will always excite me and I've only seen a fox in the wild once in my life, so it just felt like a beautiful omen for a beautiful day. 

By the time I reached the end of the loop section, I was definitely starting to feel like I had to work a little harder to maintain the pace. This is really where I made the conscious choice to throw the run in the toilet - in an actual race, the smart move here would have been to ease off the gas just a little bit, focus on making sure I had enough fluids (time would tell that I did NOT) and saving something for the run. But in this particular moment and situation, I simply did not care. I wanted my fastest bike split at the cost of whatever it took. And so I kept pouring it on as much as I could, back onto the bike path, though the little side roads, past the alpaca farm and down the screaming downhill (where I happily did not hit a stoplight) back onto my lakes loop for the final 10 miles. Except...I thought I only had to do 2 more full loops around the lake, but actually it was 3! Womp. Oh well. The 5 mile lakes loop honestly goes by so quickly and I know it so well that you could have fooled me that it took almost another hour to finish the course after I returned to the lake. Every time I would think that I was slowing down another 5 mile split would prove me wrong. And when you're going fast and you know it, there's nothing to do but try to keep going fast, and that's what I did. Finally, after a last out and back, I cruised back into the parking lot and stopped my watch at 56 miles exactly for a new half Iron bike PR! 

I was HYPED. I was also TIRED. The idea of running 13.1 miles did not sound particularly appealing, especially as it was now 10:15 in the morning and the temperature was above 80 degrees, which generally does not bode well for my running experience even when I HAVEN'T been riding a bike all out for 3 hours. But...I was into the thing, and I was going to see it through to the finish. So after finishing my second sleeve of Gu chomps and drinking some water, I headed out to finish the damn thing on the run.

Run - 13.1 miles, 1:55:30 (8:48 pace)
HOT MESS EXPRESS ALERT! Oh my. All I can say about this run is that I never thought I would relive the last 10 miles of Hot Boston 14/16/17/19 by my own choice but THAT is basically what this felt like...running the last 10 miles of a marathon where you're overheated and dehydrated and there is just nothing that can save you. I felt pretty good, if a little leg-wobbly, for the first mile...and then almost immediately I realized the direction this day was heading in. I think I've experienced this situation enough times that I know exactly what the feeling of heat fatigue, for lack of a better word, is, and it's so hard to explain - there is nothing specifically problematic that I can pinpoint. Nothing hurts, I'm not necessarily feeling the sensation of being hot or thirsty, my stomach is OK. But everything in unison is just saying "nope. Absolutely not. We're done here." and there is just no physical way I can overcome it.  I suspect it also might be closely related to my being such a salty sweater - my clothes were already coated in salt by this point in the day and I hadn't been doing as much as I could have to replenish. I only ended up taking 1 salt tab on the run and probably could have used 3-4! But anyway, whatever the reason, I was feeling some kind of way, and I basically was just like, welp, if this was a real race, or a hot marathon, or whatever, how would you handle it? And I handled it the same way I have: by walking when I needed to, by trying to take in fluids when I actually felt thirsty, by taking Gus and salt. 

As I passed by my house on my first loop, it occurred to me that what I was doing really had no point and that I could absolutely stop at any time, because this was stupid and maybe I was going to have to walk the whole second loop? But I did not. Because I couldn't. One of the songs that I've really been enjoying this training cycle is "Physical" by Dua Lipa. There's a line in the song that's "Baby keep on dancing like you ain't got a choice". I think about that line a lot, because it really feels like it sums up this summer of training. Is there a point to all of this? Is there a race at the end of it all? Who knows, and probably not, but you just have to keep on dancing because what other choice is there? And in this stupid, self-supported, made up race, I was doing this for no one else besides me.  And I wanted to be true to myself and true the spirit of what I created, whether or not it was particularly fun in the moment. That's also why I walked and kept my watch running as opposed to just stopping my watch and gathering myself, like I would on a normal run. I wanted to be true to the spirit of my "race", because that's really all we've got right now. I also can only imagine what the now packed bike path thought of this salt-covered woman just stopping and walking and trying to shovel Gu in her

Time passed, I kept slowing down and having to walk more often, but that was OK! It was almost done and I was going to do it, and that was awesome. My phone got sweaty and started randomly skipping songs and then decided to turn off my bangers playlist and start playing "It's Quiet Uptown" which...why?? No!! I ate a small Slim Jim that I had brought, because SALT! (This has worked on the bike before, it was...not optimal while trying to run.) At one point on my second loop there were two cops on horseback on the bike path for some reason, and I literally thought I was hallucinating when I saw them...that basically summarizes how things were going at this point. But there were only 2 miles to go and damnit, I could at least get this shit done under 2 hours, right? So I shuffled my way along, again trying to picture what I looked like to an outsider (like roadkill and/or a crazy person I imagine), and FINALLY I was on the final road back to the Mystic parking lot. I was not going to run a single step beyond 13.1 miles so when my watch hit 13 I set my eyes on a tree that could serve as my "finish" line up ahead, and to absolutely zero fanfare whatsoever, with no spectators besides a couple out for a stroll along the lake, I finished my second half Iron distance triathlon!

Total time: 5:33:08 (transitions not included)

I was SO depleted that I barely convinced myself to get back to the parking lot before sitting down. I was completely disgusting, caked in salt and sweat and sunscreen and lake water and random bits of Gu, but I was HAPPY. It just felt like it had been so long since I had that "finish" feeling - the Yeti challenge just didn't quite have that same feel - and despite the lack of music pumping through speakers or balloon arches or fans of any kind or any post race food other than the warm dregs of a water bottle and a discarded Clif bar half from the bike, this somehow felt real. 


Look, I made the podium!

What a lame post race party. There WAS a golden retriever puppy with a life jacket that had a shark fin on at least there's that. 

So as the final ridiculous component of this "race" day, I had to load up all my crap and then RIDE MY BIKE HOME. Yes, it's only a 2.5 mile ride, but I swear it was the longest 2.5 miles in history. I almost swerved into a curb at least twice and almost fell off my bike trying to stop at a light. It was grand. But I made it home, and immediately lay on the floor in front of my air conditioner and drank the sweetest Sierra Mist I had ever tasted. After awhile, I ate some leftover pizza, had a beer, then took a nap. In many ways, it was just like a normal race day. 

So, in summary, I don't know if I'm going to get to do an Ironman this year. Or race, period, this year. But I learned that maybe the bells and whistles of a race maybe aren't always what makes something a thing. Maybe....the thing is the thing, you know? Maybe it's knowing what you have inside of you and letting it out on a random Saturday because why the hell not. Maybe it's burning out your legs on a fast bike split because you actually HAVE a fast bike split in you. Maybe it's waving to foxes and heron and imagining randos on the bike path as your spectators, because the importance of those things is really all in your head anyway. Maybe, just maybe, you do the thing because you love it. For no other reason than that. That's why I'll keep training this summer, Ironman or no. Because interestingly enough, a friend of mine might be hosting an IRONMAN Mystic Lakes in September if his race gets cancelled. I never thought I'd entertain the idea of doing an "unofficial" race for my first attempt at something so big and important to me, but after this experience, honestly? I'm not ruling anything out.

Ironman 70.3 Mystic Lakes (inaugural, possibly only race?)
1/1 OA, 1/1 F, 1/1 F30-34 :)