Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Powered by moose magic: White Mountains Half Iron 2021 Race Report

On Saturday I raced the White Mountains Half Iron Triathlon (70.3 miles), finishing as 7th woman in a time of 5:39 and change. While this wasn't as fast as my first 70.3 if you purely look at the numbers, I am INCREDIBLY proud of my performance and very excited with where I am at 12 weeks out from IMWI! This race was the race that really sucked me in to the triathlon world - after doing the relay in 2018, it was enough of a taste to know I wanted more of the triathlon life. After doing the Olympic in 2019, I knew that the half would be the perfect challenge to take on during Ironman training in 2020. We all know how that turned out...and so, here we are in 2021, picking up where we left off!

I was VERY uncertain of myself going into this race. Between the changes to the course which turned the run into a 5 lap death march with over 1000 ft of elevation, the fact that most days I honestly feel like I have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to triathlon, and the fact that I just haven't really found my confidence on the bike yet this year, I had no idea how I'd perform. I also have been having a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that less than 2 years ago, a half iron tri was THE big scary goal and now I was somehow about to do the same thing without really having put any specific thought into my training cycle, not tapered, having run up Mount Washington a week before? I'm not saying that I haven't been training, because obviously I have, but this race just sort of came up on me so quickly that it almost never occurred to me that it was something I actually would have to do. My mind kept going to all the things I hadn't done - not enough runs off the bike, not enough long rides, not enough hill training. But finally around Thursday this week, as I was still coming down off the high of Mount Washington, I decided to take a new perspective. I had, as a non-mountain runner, hung right in with women who literally ONLY train for mountain races at Mount Washington. Why should this race be any different? My strength in running, and I think too in triathlon, has always been my endurance and my willingness to face down crazy conditions, never my speed. Why was I acting like this was any different? And so I wrote in my training journal "you BELONG in the mountains" and tried to make myself believe it.

Triathlon just has so much damn STUFF to deal with for races, and in between frantically trying to finish up all work tasks for the week, seeing patients (via telehealth), and doing a quick shakeout run on Friday I was racing around my house trying to gather all of my stuff for the weekend. The basics are one thing: race kit, helmet, bike shoes, running shoes, goggles, wetsuit (OK, that does sound like a lot by itself lol) but then you add in all the other stuff - flat kit! water bottles! hydration! sunglasses! towel for transition! fuel for all 3 disciplines and transition! and the odds of NOT forgetting something just seem to go down every second. I checked and double checked and organized things into bags and in the end I did not forget anything at home (my execution of using said items in the race, as we'll see, is another story) and we loaded up the clown car with Andrew, Joy, and the dogs, Bahamut the bike on the back, and headed up to NH on Friday afternoon.

The race had early bib pickup as well as bike drop off at transition on Friday night, which was GREAT- it was really nice knowing that my bike was already racked with one less thing to deal with on Saturday morning. I always get some serious impostor syndrome when I get to transition in tris, because everyone just seems so serious and everyone is walking around with these very fancy and fast bikes and fancy helmets and I'm just here with my little road bike that I bought for $700 in 2014, clip on aero bars, probably some coffee from my last bike commute on the frame somewhere. But again, I tried to clamp that feeling down and remind myself that having fast equipment does NOT make you fast - it's you that makes you fast. I had brought my bike pump and pumped up my tires, and laughed as a guy from a couple of racks over called to me "hello, magical competitor with a bike pump! Could I possibly borrow your pump?" We chatted for a little bit about the race, and this turned out to be super on brand for the weekend because as we'll learn in paragraphs to come, I was ALL about making friends at this race. 

After a stop at the grocery store, we headed back to our ski chalet AirBnb and settled in for a night of relaxation. For the second weekend in a row I made my favorite pasta sauce for the group (legit 3 ingredients, nothing better) and realized that I probably should cook every night before a race because it gave me something else to focus on, and totally chilled me out! Or maybe that was the beer lol. We happily ate dinner and then organized our stuff and got ready for bed. Before going to sleep I took a few minutes to think about/write out my nutrition strategy, since that was something I hadn't thought about or practiced at ALL. I've been doing a terrible job of eating enough on the bike in training so far this year, and that was just another piece of the puzzle that I was nervous about, so writing it out on paper helped me to at least pretend I had a plan (SPOILER ALERT: the plan completely fell apart in T1 lol).

Just like last weekend, I woke up 40 minutes before my alarm which today was set for 4:50 am, so...yeah, it was an early morning. I tried going back to sleep but couldn't seem to, so ended up just laying there visualizing the race until Thunderstruck started blasting from my phone. I went through the usual morning ritural: banana, coffee, braid hair, make bagel, get your shit together. I think the number of items on the checklist also helps to calm the nerves, because when you're thinking about putting on race tattoos or adding drink powder to your bottles, you're not thinking about the race! 

The light as we drove into the notch was just spectacular, with low clouds floating in and obscuring the top of the mountain. When we arrived at the transition area, the first thing I noticed was the WIND - it was cooler than I'd expected, but the wind was also pretty intense. Oh good, another thing to make me nervous! The thought of dealing with wind on the bike in particular was not something I was interested in, and I sent all my thoughts to the weather gods to please make it stoooop before I got on my bike. I was sort of laughing because I'd been complaining about how age group women always seem to get the hot pink swim caps at triathlons (like, come on, the masters men get neon orange! I want neon orange!) and yet I was wearing a hot pink half zip and carrying a hot pink water bottle, lol. I got my transition area set up, checking and double checking my gear and nutrition (NOT THOROUGHLY ENOUGH as we will learn), and eventually decided to head down to the beach. I had decided that I actually wanted to warm up for the swim in some capacity, or at least get in the water, before the start.

Elise and I got to the beach and I was somewhat terrified by what I saw...remember the wind? Well, the wind was blowing straight at the beach, and I swear there were just about whitecaps on the lake. Oh dear. Again, I tried to psych myself back up: I'm a confident swimmer, and being super fast wasn't the goal here. I knew I could handle the conditions, but just having ANOTHER challenge to add to an already challenging race was not what I wanted in life at the moment. So I decided to channel my energy into dancing around like a weirdo with Elise, commenting on how much I hate all the generic "fun" music that they play at races so, if I never heard the song "Happy" by Pharell again I would be GREAT with that. At some point I decided that I needed to get in the water if I ever was going to. The temperature was actually OK - probably in the high 60s - but as I swam out in the direction we'd be heading the waves were every bit as bad as I'd expected them to be.  My goggles kept leaking as I was hit by the waves, and for probably the 20th time this year I thought about how I need to buy new goggles since I've had my current pair since....2009, I think? #budgettriathlete over here. Oh well. Nothing to be done for it at this point. At any rate, after stroking back and forth a couple of times I felt acclimated enough and came back to the shore where I found the relay team girls and Gwen! We chatted a little bit about the waves and what we thought the day would bring, and soon enough it was time to head to our spots for the time trial start.

The usual perfunctory announcements seemed to take ages, and I was actually pretty chilly standing there in my wetsuit so found myself awkwardly dancing around once again. Someone sang the national anthem (I teared up, per usual) and then we slowly began making our way towards the time trial start. As number 81, I had a bit before my wave and continued bouncing/dancing around to try to keep warm as I watched the men go off. I adjusted my goggles at least 5 times as the women's line starts to move, and as I was coming up to the on deck circle I almost started laughing because what damn song came on the loudspeakers yet again? FREAKING 'HAPPY'! Uggggh hahaha. But it appropriate put me in a lighthearted mood as the volunteer waved me forward and I ran across the line and dove in!

Swim - 1.2 miles, 39:39 official (with run up to transition)/37:52 for just the swim component (1:47/100yd pace) - 46/132 OA, 11/41 F

One of the things I love about swimming is that the second you dive in, it's just you and the water. The sounds of the music, people, the weather - everything is just gone. It's like that scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire where they're going into the maze and the band is playing and people are cheering, and then the walls of the maze close and there's just silence.  I love that triathlon starts with the swim because it's honestly the one discipline I don't have any nerves about. I know my abilities and there are really no surprises, I just get to get in the water and go. So, even though that today jumping in the water meant almost immediately getting blasted in the face with the most intense chop I've ever swam in, I kept calm and just got myself into a rhythm. From the get go, I felt really strong. I think in a way the choppy water actually pumped me up; I got it into my head that I was fighting Poseidon or something, and winning. Because of the cloudier day, I was also having a better time sighting than I usually do. Between the long line of swimmers who had started in front of me and maybe the fact that I knew all I had to do was swim directly against the waves and I'd be swimming straight, I was able to keep on course relatively well. I kept being surprised as I'd breath to see someone floating on their back or backstroking next to me, usually men. Apparently there was a section of the swim that was actually even shallow enough to walk, which people were DOING because of the waves - like, that would never even occur to me!

I got around the first turn buoy and now swimming crosswise/away from the wind I had to focus a little more on my sighting, but didn't have to worry as much about drinking half the lake every time I came up to breathe. The push towards shore was particularly nice, although the turn buoy was smaller than the rest and so was harder to see. Oh well, just follow the crowd, right? It's almost impossible to tell where you stand on the swim, especially in a time trial start, but every time I looked up and saw a swim cap that was orange or blue or some other color that I knew had started before me, I got a boost. I felt really calm and like I was putting in just the right amount of effort.

The turn to head into the second loop was by far the worst part of the swim - now the waves were coming at me crosswise and multiple times I either got a huge faceful of water or narrowly avoided inhaling a wave while turning to breathe. I was really pleased with how well I was able to just adjust and modify the way I was breathing to try to avoid the waves, and to not get too flustered when I did get hit or knocked out of my rhythm. I think that is one of my greatest strengths on the swim - I may not be the speediest swimmer, but I am just calm in the water and I honestly can't think of a time on a swim where I really was fazed by anything. I think that may change when I have to swim in a BIG race as I honestly hate being around people in any discipline except the run, but as far as weather conditions go I was pleased with how unbothered I was by the whole situation.

I headed into the second lap, more of the same. I still felt strong, still very comfortable at whatever pace it was I was swimming, and still found myself eating up more and more blue and orange caps. I got a little thrown off at one point when I couldn't find a buoy and realized I was just to the inside instead of the outside of it (that same buoy also apparently literally came untethered from its moorings and started blowing across the lake because of the wind lol) but realized I was on a straightaway and so wasn't cutting the course or anything. I continued on. I basically swam OVER a guy in an orange cap (weird) and could tell I was just about ready to be done with the swim when I started getting annoyed with getting stuck behind/near/around other swimmers. Gonna have to get over that before the Ironman! I snuck a glance at my watch as it hit 2000 meters, and was shocked that the time was just ticking over to 36 minutes. My PR for this swim distance is 38 high, so getting out of the water in such crazy conditions under 38 minutes was SHOCKING! 

I clambered out of the water, always feeling like a land seal when I come onto the beach. It's so interesting because in the moment when I'm swimming I don't feel like I'm working that hard but as soon as I stand up and try to run up the ramp, I suddenly realize how much effort I was putting in! So I realized as I'm attempting to run up the ramp that I need to start getting my wetsuit off. I took off my swim cap and goggles and then started attempting to take my wetsuit off...but please picture this...I am holding my cap and goggles in one hand and for some reason decide to pull both arms of my wetsuit off at the same time, but I can't get either arm out of the wetsuit and I have no hands to assist...I AM NOW HANDCUFFED INTO MY WETSUIT. Now please picture that you're the girl who came SPRINTING by me up the transition ramp, as I am trying to use my freaking teeth to free myself from my wetsuit sleeve. I'm literally cracking up laughing as I'm writing this because it was just so utterly ridiculous but in the moment I was freaking out because I could NOT get out of the damn wetsuit! I eventually managed to free one hand using my mouth, and then was able to get the other arm over my watch and finally made my way into transition...this explains why there's an extra minute and a half tacked on to my swim split as I swear it took half a lifetime to get back up the ~150 meter ramp lol.

"Pink swim caps make everyone look stupid" -Andrew
"Why do you have a weird grin on your face" -also Andrew
Happily running out of the water...please notice the actual whitecaps on the lake behind me but also the GLORIOUS mountains!

T1 - 2:29, 14/41 F, 41/132 OA

I have one word to describe T1: shitshow. This is SO SLOW for T1, like what was I even doing in there, making a picnic? After the wetsuit debacle I just felt like a disaster of a human, and felt like I took twice as long as necessary getting the leg of my wetsuit over my timing chip. The guy a couple bikes down from me on the rack came in at the same time and we exchanged pleasantries about the ridiculousness of the swim. I started putting my socks on, realizing that my stubbornness of wearing mid-calf socks was not going to mesh well with the disposable ankle timing chips we had which I couldn't adjust after putting on (I hate this aspect of triathlon). I ended up just shoving my sock as far as I could under the chip and just left it at that and started trying to arrange my which point I realized that I couldn't find my stroopwaffle which I was planning to eat after the swim anywhere. "Where the FUCK is my stroopwaffle?!" I cried out to no one, as I rapidly realized that I needed to stop wasting time and find something else to eat. Luckily I HAD thrown a random half eaten pack of chews on my transition towel and figured the calories had to be about the same. It would have to do. I grabbed my bike and awkwardly jogged to the bike out line, all of my nutrition bouncing obnoxiously in my wet tri top, fiddling with my watch as I tried to change it to bike mode because I had stupidly decided not to use my bike computer. I felt like an absolute hot mess, and somewhere in here must have also managed to slam my pedal into my calf (I have a huge bruise there today). The bike was also the discipline I was most scared about, but there was nothing left to do but to do it. Hot mess or not, I finally made it out of transition and got to the mount line, and I was off onto the bike course!

Bike - 56 miles, 3:11:29 (17.5 mph), 8/41 F, 49/132 OA

Let me start this bike report by saying that I was 100% expecting to ride around 16.5 mph and I basically didn't look at my watch the entire ride so I am PUMPED about this split, especially given the elevation profile of the course (3300 ft of gain). I do think I'm probably capable of riding faster, but I still feel like I prefer to cruise on the bike in order to save something for the run. I think one day I'll have to really go for it on the bike and see what I've got left, but today was not the day for that. 

The bike course begins with a slight uphill, followed by a 3 mile bomb run down a 10% grade hill. It's both a great and terrifying way to start the bike leg, especially coming out of a choppy swim. As I climbed the little uphill I tried to just shove my chews into my mouth and get my legs into gear for the next several hours of my life. As we began the descent, I found myself annoyingly bunched up with a couple of men who I forced myself to pedal and pass - even though I really didn't want to pass on this hill, there's nothing I hate more than feeling like I'm going to run into someone from behind on a downhill. About halfway down, I realized that I hadn't even started my watch! UGH! There was no way to do that safely in the present moment, so I had to just wait it out. So something fun that I do on my bike that I think I've discussed before is that I talk out loud to myself, a LOT. Sometimes it's just singing songs, sometimes it's just removing any filter, sometimes it's saying things to try to pump myself up, but it tends to happen more when I'm happy and in a good mood. So about halfway down the hill I found myself lightly pumping my brakes for no reason, and I yelled at myself out loud "there ARE no cars here! Why are you braking!" and something about shouting that at myself helped me to relax into myself and just let it go for the rest of the downhill.

At the bottom of the hill I finally managed to get my watch started and tuck the stupid strap that had been flapping around in, and I finally felt like I was pulling myself together. I reached back into my pocket to grab my first full pack of chews...and reached...and reached in horror as I realized that somehow my 3 sleeves of chews that I had in my pocket leaving transition had somehow become ONE. I literally don't know what happened - did they fall out while I was running out in transition? Did they fly out on the downhill? No idea, but regardless, they were gone, and my beautiful nutrition plan was shot. I was going to have to adapt.

While I had some nervousness about the changes to this year's bike course, I really hope they keep the new course as it was REALLY pretty, really safe (quiet country roads very very minimal car traffic with the exception of one short out and back section), and difficult but not insane. We headed out onto the first segment and were greeted with beautiful views of the back side of the Kinsmans and Cannon. I was grinning ear to ear as I rode by - it was just stunning. Also somewhat stunning was the sun, which had appeared from somewhere, and I suddenly wished that I had brought sunscreen as a man passed by me slathered in the stuff. Just another thing to shrug off! A couple of men passed me in this section but overall between the time trial start and people struggling on the swim the field was very spread out at this point, and for quite a long stretch I basically felt like I was just out for a training ride in a beautiful place. It always takes me about 10 miles on the bike to start to not feel crappy, but I started to find my groove. A couple of men passed me here, but I just kept reminding myself of how strong a swim I'd had and saying in my head (and also out loud lol) "well, I swam faster than them!" Anytime I would start to feel like I was putting in more effort than I wanted, I just told myself that I must be riding uphill, which actually turned out to be true! There were a couple of unpleasant steeper spikes along this section, but nothing that lasted more than a couple of minutes, it was more just the kind of gradual climb where your speed doesn't seem to match the effort output. But I wasn't even looking at my speed! I was just enjoying the day, bopping along, narrating my food struggles and the passing landscape ("that bed and breakfast is 'pleasantly full', how adorable!" "look at this nice tennis camp!" "HI HORSES!"). After the fueling debacle I knew I needed to eat, so I pulled out the clif bar I had on me and started munching on it, just taking a few bites whenever I felt hungry. 

After awhile we left the small town section and entered the national forest, which was an absolutely gorgeous section of riding. I've developed an obsession with seeing a moose, which live in abundance in NH but I've never seen, to the point where my friends kind of make fun of me for it, and the quiet of the forest landscape made me convinced that even if I couldn't see them, there were moose surrounding me. Moose power! At this point I was riding completely by myself and couldn't even see the rider in front of me - luckily there are very few roads in this part of NH so it wasn't like I had any chance of taking a wrong turn. After a few more steeper humps, I reached the next turn leading into the bigger loop that we'd do. Right after making the turn a pack of about 4 people, 2 women and 2 men, came blasting by me (I still swam faster than all of you! haha).  I had a bit of a moment of awe at how quickly they gapped me, but again reminded myself that I had to race my own race, and the path I was choosing was to keep my effort level in check. The next section was just plain FUN - definitely downhill on this gorgeous road next to a river, and I was finally getting into a groove and cruising. I finally caved and bought aero bars for my road bike this year, and while I really didn't expect to use them much at this race I found myself in aero a TON and really enjoying the position! Not only did my legs feel more efficient, but my back wasn't bothering me like it has been on rides earlier this year. I think I probably spent ~2/3 of the bike in aero position, which I'm very happy with for my first time out with the bars! At some point in here a guy came riding from the other direction who I now realize probably wasn't a part of the race, but anyway he yelled loudly something that I'm pretty sure was "SUNS OUT GUNS OUT!" which made me laugh. 

There were a few minor climbs at the end of the river section, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was making up some ground on 2 men in front of me each time we went uphill. Muahaha. I definitely swing back and forth between being having no confidence on the bike and having a huge chip on my shoulder about how well I perform despite my low key equipment, and at this stage of the race I was definitely swinging toward the latter. We came off the river section and into a more rural area that was again quite beautiful in a different way - farms and rolling field, and much more open than the previous sections. The only problem with the openness was that this was the one point in the bike leg where the obnoxious wind started to make itself known. Again, I narrated my thoughts: "excuse me wind, you are UNNECESSARY, can you please just NOT do what you're doing...also can this uphill just not be the way it is? Ooh but I'm gaining on that guy again, heck yes! Hi donkey! Hi sheep!" Like, seriously, the amount of random things I just shouted into the world during this ride was just on another level.

By this point we were approaching halfway, though I didn't know precisely where I was due to not starting my watch at the beginning, I figured my splits were about 2 miles behind the actual distance. Around this time there were a few more somewhat difficult hills and I had to drop into my small ring for a bit, but I could definitely feel how much I've improved at climbing this year because while the hills were certainly difficult and not altogether pleasant, I wasn't really fazed by them - I just kind of put my head down, got up and over, got back in my big ring and got back to business. I'm still having some annoying problems getting back into my big ring, which only got worse once my hands got sweaty near the end of the ride, so that was a bit obnoxious but nothing I wasn't able  to overcome. I was a little bit bored and could feel myself starting to strain a little bit at times, so I decided, as I do, to start singing out loud a song that just seemed to make sense at the moment...take it easy, take it easy. Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy. We may lose, and we may win, but we will never be here again, so open up I'm climbing in, take it easy...

One one of the steeper climbs I realized I should probably stop singing as I was getting awfully close to another human (lol) and soon I came up on and passed a man (internal happy dance!) who shortly after pulled up alongside me. Now, here is another strange thing tht happens to me during triathlons: I get FRIENDLY. Like, would I ever speak to another human in a running race? Absolutely not. But put me in a triathlon and all of a sudden it's that Coke commercial where we're all holding hands and singing together. I think doing these races just makes me so HAPPY that I can't contain myself! So anyway, this guy pulls up next to me and we're riding along, he strikes up a conversation and I figured, why not? It was the midpoint of the race that always turns into the doldrums, and so we cruised along in aero, chatting. He was from Florida, and when I asked him what the heck brought him to the Whites he told me that he and his brother were trying to set a world record - I didn't catch exactly for what, but I think possibly longest streak of completing a half ironman every weekend? Craziness. We got to a downhill and he pulled ahead, as men on tri bikes tend to do to me on downhills, but as soon as we started climbing again I caught up almost immediately. "You're an incredible climber! I don't think I'm going to be able to keep up!" new friend said. "Yeah," I replied, not actually processing what he'd said for a moment. Then - "wait, you mean ME?!" Someone probably needed to wipe the grin off my face - I cannot stress enough how empowering having someone say that to me was, especially knowing that there was still significant climbing ahead on the course. 

In the midst of said climbing I parted ways from my flatlander friend, and was pleased to note that I was over the 30 mile mark of the race. Overall this ride seemed to pass much more quickly than my last half iron ride did, maybe because the scenery and terrain were so pretty and interesting. That's the thing I do love about hilly bike courses - there's always something to do, a gear to change, position to mix up, something to eat, something to look just makes the time fly by. At the top of the next climb we headed into a steep and winding downhill, and boy, did I feel like I was flying. I let out a whoop as I flew down the hill. My friend Elise always says that flying down a hill on a bike makes her feel like a kid again, and in this moment I totally understood what she meant. I felt joyful and free and strong, flying down the road, yelling into the wind, just me and the bike. It was amazing.

At the bottom of the hill we made a quick turn onto an out and back section; the out section was one of the sections of the course I enjoyed the least. There was a bit more traffic here, and I felt like we were riding into the wind. As it turns out we were also riding uphill, which explains a lot, but that was really the theme of this course - I kept wondering where the "hills" were because I was expecting this big, steep, get down in your low gear climbs. But really the course was much more about these long stretches where you were going uphill for 8 or 10 miles without even really knowing it. Luckily, a good chunk of these sections went both ways, and when I reached the turnaround point on the out section as I almost laughed realizing..."wait a second, was I riding uphill that whole time!?" The eternal mystery of false flats, I tell ya. You would think I would realized that every time I feel like I'm riding slower than I should be for the effort I'm PROBABLY going uphill, but I honestly hadn't even looked at my watch in miles so I didn't even know how fast (or not) I was going!

As I rode back on this section I started breaking down the rest of the course in my head. We'd ride back on the same road we came in on which I was starting to think might be mostly downhill, then the massive climbing section, then more climbing, then the dumb bike path and then back to transition. Really it was just a 10 mile countdown to the big scary KOM climb. Along this stretch I also saw Elise riding by on the other side and we exchanged hand signals of some sort - it was only later I found out that she rode the whole second half of the bike on a flat! No fun, but she was a champ for finishing so that her relay runner could run. 

There was a pretty rude climb right after the turn back onto 116, which allowed me to make another pass on a guy who stopped halfway up the hill to deal with some kind of problem on his bike. By now, I was finally well into the groove and feeling like I wanted to roll...and I tell you, this section was truly some of the most fun riding I have EVER done in my life. Once over the hump, I got down into aero and just felt like I got on a rocketship. Was I honestly going that fast in the grand scheme of cycling? Probably not, but to me glancing at my watch and seeing 22 mph under any circumstances made me feel like I was absolutely crushing it. The giddiness and joy that I feel on the bike only multiples when I'm riding well, and by the time I reached the point where we met with the Olympic distance riders turning around, I don't think I could have stopped smiling if I tried. While it was a little bit jarring to suddenly have so many people around after riding basically solo for 2 and a half hours, I was bolstered by the fact that I was cruising by all of them, and I had PLENTY of people to cheer for. I started yelling at everyone, people I passed, people on the other side of the road, it didn't matter, they were ALL getting something positive yelled at them. I even came across a girl wearing the same kit as me, and awkwardly yelled at her "COEUR! GREAT OUTFIT!!" Awkward yelling at strangers was a big part of the day lol. 

I'll pause here for a moment to talk about my eating, only because eating is SO important in these silly races and I want to share how I overcame the ridiculousness that was me losing half of my fuel into the abyss. The temperature was quite comfy for the race so I didn't find myself drinking excessively. I finished my first bottle of Skratch right around the midway point and I took a salt tab around mile 30. In the end, I think I drank 1 and 2/3 of a bottle, which is actually amazing because I'd been stressing about needing a THIRD bottle. I definitely do for Ironman, but happily not today. I had finished my clif bar and decided to follow that up with a Gu because I wanted caffeine, and the mystery flavor of chomps that had been salvaged didn't have it (it was also the lamest of the 3 flavors I had, and I'll admit I think I said AWWW and pouted a little bit when I saw my cran raz chomps weren't the lucky winner). I had also started in on the one pack of chews that I did possess, munching on 2 of them any time I felt a little hungry. But we were getting to the point in the race when it was time to bust out my magic ace in the hole...if you read my Pumpkinman or Ironman reports you know what this is....PIZZARIA PRETZEL COMBOS! Look, I don't know what normal or serious triathletes eat on the bike, but I'll tell you what if my stomach can tolerate a delicious salty and fake cheesy snack after 2:30 of riding, it is the most glorious thing you can imagine. I had them in an open baggie in my back pocket and just would pull out 2 or 3 and chew for awhile, like a cow chewing cud, while continuing to ride and then eventually wash it down with some Skratch. I ended up doing this a few times until I felt sated, and I was SO happy! I felt like I'd needed the salt and I was definitely hungry; earlier in the day I really hadn't been sure I'd go for it on eating them at all, but once again when push came to shove Combos were there in the clutch (Combos, would you like to sponsor me? Slide into my DMs lol). 

I was still having such a blast on this section but I knew that the good times were going to come to an end at some point, and they did as we made a right turn. I thought that the climb was going to happen immediately, but instead was treated to some little teaser hills and a bit of rough road, during which I tried to get clear of the pack of Olympic riders I'd found myself in. On one of the little climbs a guy riding next to me said something like "not your typical flat course, huh?" to which I replied "NOPE". But then again, I honestly think when you have to ride 56 miles are you really ever going to find a truly flat course? Maybe if you're in the cornfields of Indiana somewhere, but otherwise I doubt it. Whatever, like I said to my Florida friend, I'm not that fast on the flats so I make up for it by being a little engine that could on the climbs. 

At the top of one of the hills we made a left turn which was actually terrifying because bikes were absolutely BLASTING down a hill from the right, and it took me a minute to realize that those were the sprint riders! It was a little awkward having to merge into these men going like 40 mph on tri bikes, but once I figured out what was going on I was able to do it. And THEN I saw it....THE hill. 

Well, the king of the mountain was 100% as bad as advertised. A good half mile of 10-12% grade, you could see the parade of miserable cyclists slowly slogging up the slope from the bottom and knew that soon you'd have to be one of them. "Welp, here it is," I said to no one, and a girl next to me laughed. "At least they told us that this is it," she replied, gesturing at the big "KING OF MOUNTAIN" flag right at the bottom of the hill. I laughed, then put my head down and got gritty. Immediately, the climb was HARD. Get in your lowest gear and just grind, hard. On tired legs, this totally sucked, but I forced myself to just lock in and climb. I was passing people constantly, almost irritated in my head as I remembered that half of them were in the sprint race, meaning that they'd basically just bombed down a 3 mile hill and that's it. Um, excuse me, I've ridden over 50 miles already! Move, get out the way. I kept repeating in my head what my Florida friend had said. You're an incredible climber. You're an incredible climber. Some stranger told you that, so it has to be true, and now you get to prove it. Keep the legs moving, keep the cadence, keep grinding. 

KOM - 3:38, 6.6 mph, 7/41 F, 30/132 OA (holy shit that guy might be on to something)

FINALLY, after what felt like an hour but was really only 3 and a half minutes, I reached the end of the steep KOM section, but the climb continued albeit at a slightly lower grade. I fiddled with my gears a bit and tried to keep the cadence going, eyes on the road ahead. I suddenly saw a girl on a pretty bike with a teal bike number (meaning a half athlete) fact, it was the girl who'd been standing in front of me at bib pick up and whose gorgeous green and black bike I'd been lusting after...and no one could have been more shocked than me as I passed her. I was eating people up like nobody's business and again, no one was more surprised than me. And it was hard, yes, but I was still having FUN. I came up behind and passed yet another woman in the half, and I couldn't help but share the only thing I could think of with the world: "What is even HAPPENING right now?!!"

There isn't too much to say about the end of the bike, other than it's not my favorite. Everything was still uphill, and my hands were so sweaty from the effort of the climb that I was having a hard time getting back into my big ring. I had had some minor shifting issues for similar reasons earlier in the ride, but of course just talked out loud to my bike and told Bahamut he had to hold it together...and he did! This was totally just a problem of my excessive sweating. There also were now just way too many people for my taste, with all the sprint and Olympic athletes around, and again I found myself getting a little irritated with them because, GUYS, I have been riding for somewhere between 2 and 8 times as long as you, PLEASE LET ME LIVE MY LIFE! At the very end of the bike course there is this stupid section on a bike path, and I understand that there's no way to get back to transition otherwise, but man it is annoying. It's so narrow, the pavement sucks, and there's hardly any room to pass which is extra annoying when everyone is suddenly so bunched up. "I hate this damn bike path," I grumbled as we entered it, which some woman behind me replied "ME TOO!" There was really no way to ride this section fast even if I'd wanted to, so I ended up just staying in the high end of my small ring and kind of chilling out for the last couple of miles. Nothing wrong with that, I guess - might as well shake some of the junk out before heading off on the run!

Look at me in aero though!!! This is right at the end of the dumb bike path, so I had plenty of time to prepare for this photo lol 

FINALLY we reached the end of the dumb bike path, and then it was just a quick cruise into transition. I hopped off my bike at the dismount line delighted - the ride had been wonderful, I'd had no mechanicals, I'd had a blast, and I'd overcome my fear of the course and my biking abilities as well as the nutrition snafu. I felt awesome as I ran my bike into transition, right behind yet another woman who I'd snuck up on on the bike!

T2 - 1:27, 22/132 OA, 10/41 F

T2 went much better than T1. I suspect I can still lop off another 10-15 seconds somewhere, but whatever. I laughed because as my watch saved my ride it told me I needed 38 hours of recovery or something, and I was like, um, that's unfortunate, because as it turns out I need to run a half marathon right now lol.  Joy was there and I told her how great the bike was, and told her Elise was about 20 minutes back (this would turn out to be wrong for reasons I didn't know about at the time). My hair was half falling out and I reached back to try to adjust it and realized the SADDEST THING which was that my race ribbon was gone! I had felt it untying during the bike and it must have gotten whipped off in the breeze, but I was SAD...I have literally worn that ribbon in every race I've done since like 2015 :(. But I told myself that if there was anywhere to lose it, it was on a fantastic bike in my favorite place...I'll get a new ribbon lol. Helmet off, shoes swapped, I used my new super cool triathlete race belt which I'll admit WAS faster than the nathan fuel belt I'd been using before, hoped I had most of my nutrition, and off I went!

Run - 1:44:38, 7:59 pace, 15/132 OA, 3/41 F

During part of the bike I'd had a segment of a quote from the movie Boondock Saints in my head, in relation to run (paraphrased): "only then will you cross over into true corruption, into our domain." And here it was, the run, finally MY domain. The thing is, even as a runner the run is still the hardest part of the tri for me. Because even if it's the sport I know and love, it's still HARD, especially when you've got 4 hours of racing in you. Pacing becomes a moot point, steady effort and moving forward is the key, but yet there's always this magic about knowing that this is where I come from.  The swim is an adventure, the bike is a playground,  and then the run, hard as it is, is like coming home. 

I ran out of transition and immediately had eyes on the girl who'd come in off the bike right before me. She was wearing an old Coeur pattern trisuit (one which I'm now kind of sad I don't own - it was a pretty sweet black and green situation). She looked like she was running strong, and I was a little sad thinking that I might not be able to catch her. But, no matter, I had my own things to contend with. I'd kind of felt like I needed to pee starting around mile 45 of the bike, and I still haven't been able to convince myself to pee on my bike (I tried), so I definitely spent the first lap not totally comfortable. I told myself I'd stop at the porta potty and fix my hair, which had been falling out since the swim and was bouncing around oddly, on the next loop...and then proceeded to just keep telling myself that every loop until finally it was the last loop and I obviously wasn't stopping!

I mostly spent the first loop feeling good and trying to make note of all of the features that I would have to pass 5 TIMES (yes...a 5 loop joke). The beginning of the loop ran briefly up and over a bridge, followed by a great downhill stretch. Then we left the road and turned onto a bike path, where there was a STEEP so steep you can't really even run fast down it because you'd fall on your face...and then THE hill...over half a mile just going uphill on and on and on. Honestly on the first lap, it felt very doable! I was cool, calm, and collected, and being boosted by the fact that I was CONSTANTLY passing people, sprint, olympic, and half distance alike. It always kind of blows my mind in triathlons how I'll be running a pace that is essentially my moderate daily run pace, and just be passing, passing, passing. Even later on in the race when I wasn't feeling as great, the passes were a constant. 

Loop 1 vibes (they smartly placed the camera in the DOWNHILL section)

Finally, you reached the top of the hill and ran onto an out and back along the lake section of the bike path. This section was flatter in comparison to the massive hill, but still was slightly uphill in one of the directions (and to be completely honest I ran it 5 times and I still can't quite figure out which way was uphill). The way out to the aid station always felt harder, since I was trying to recover from the climb, but I actually think that might have been the downhill stretch. The folks manning the water station at the bike path turnaround were like my own personal hype train, and even on my first lap were yelling things to me like "look at that PACE!" Not gonna lie, I was definitely enjoying my status as strong female runner lol. The run back to the turnaround seemed to pass really quickly, and soon I was heading up over the bridge back into lap 2. I had laughed during packet pickup because the race was like "look, we gave you 5 rubber bands you can use to count your laps!" - yeah, as if I'd forget how many times I'd run up that massive hill! But my rubber bands were lost inside my wetsuit, and so I decided to just smile and yell out my lap number to a random volunteer standing at the turn. "Lap one, done!"

I'll admit that a lot of my memories of the run are a little muddled by the fact that I was really tired and focused on moving forward, so the timeline might be a little off here, but I'm pretty sure it was just after I crossed the bridge into the second loop that I realized I was closing on black and green trisuit girl. It didn't take long to realize that I was most definitely closing on her, and by the time we entered the climb for the second time I was able to make the pass! This was good in many ways, because now knowing that she could theoretically be on my tail at any time kept a fire under me to make sure I was still giving my best effort. I do think it's easy to get complacent when you're running faster than the majority of the people around you, and making this pass reminded me that yes, I was still in a race, and I needed to run accordingly!

Loop 2, major downstep action but still smiling!

The second run up the hill sucked equally as much as the first, but no worse, and lap 2 passed in something of a blur. I was trying to focus on my form, staying tall, and trying to shout encouragement at as many people as I could. With 3 races going on at once and runners going both directions the bike path was a little packed, and it was a little irritating at times to feel like I got stuck behind someone for a second, but overall I don't think it impacted my race too much. I took a Gu the second time I hit the turnaround water stop because I'd forgotten my salt tabs (seriously, like where was my brain in transition? Everything was labeled and bagged and I just totally failed in the moment). I actually ended up taking 3 Gus over the course of the run which is disgusting and way more (obviously) than I would EVER consider taking in an open half, but I think after being depleted from the bike I needed more fuel. I have to say, my stomach stayed happy through the entire race and I felt like I did a good job of managing my hydration/salt needs as well. It wasn't wildly hot - in the 70s and cloudy - but definitely warm enough that I needed to be mindful of what I was taking in and how I was feeling. 

I came through the turnaround and yelled at my volunteer friend again - "2 down, 3 to go!" I was still really in a joyful mood and my legs were still feeling good overall. This is where my strategy of kind of chilling on the bike was paying off - I definitely did not override it and I felt like my legs had plenty left to give. I was trying not to put too much stock in my splits, since I knew that there was still a long way to go and the fatigue bus was going to hit me at some point especially with the amount of climbing we were doing. I kept reminding myself "even effort", allowing myself to really roll on the downhill and trying to keep my stride as efficient as possible on the climb. It seemed to be working - I had slowed down slightly since my first mile, which had been fast, but was averaging out to just below 8:00 pace between the downhill and uphill miles which was exactly what I'd planned for on this course. After the first couple miles, I'd actually switched my watch to just show time of day since it didn't really matter what mile I was at - I had to do this loop 5 times, and that was the only thing that mattered. 

As I was rolling on the downhill second of the 3rd loop, I came up behind a girl who I recognized as a girl who'd come blasting by me early on the bike course and who I'd never seen again. She looked like she was slowing a bit and so of course, like a shark scenting blood in the water. I went into kill mode. Here's the thing: before the race I had thought about how I've placed in my age group of every triathlon I've ever done. I knew this was a smaller race, but I wanted to do everything possible to make sure that I continued that streak today. Plus, I WAS still feeling strong! So I went bopping by, awkwardly yelling "Good job....everyone!" because she was running with a pack of a couple of guys...and I am awkward.

I look aggressive in this loop 3 photo and it is 100% because I have that girl in my sights

Coming up the big hill the 3rd time was definitely the first time all day when my legs started to be like...ya would actually be great if we could stop doing this now. Nothing dramatic, but some feelings of muscle fatigue that I definitely knew weren't going to improve with another couple of trips up this mini mountain. Still, I wasn't walking (definitely the exception rather than the rule in the field at this point) and I wasn't cramping, and I'd just passed a girl who looked to be around my age, and as tired as I was I was STILL having fun, because I just love this ridiculous sport.

I think I exclaimed somewhere near the top of the hill on the 3rd round "I swear to God this friggin' hill gets LONGER every time I do it!" But then the bridge would appear, I was at the top again. 2 more times up this damn hill. As I crossed under the bridge I recognized a familiar tri top; it was my friend from the bike! Now, let's just say that by this far into the race my brain really isn't working well at all anymore, and the brain to mouth pipeline just doesn't have a filter left in it, because that's really the only way I can explain what I did, which was to shout "HI FRIEND!!!" at this random man who I'd rode with for 25 minutes earlier in the day. WHY am I so awkward? I was just very excited apparently. I quickly ran away from my awkwardness and continued my trot down the bike path. There was a really nice little cluster of spectators right at the end of the bike path, and I enjoyed the cheers and cowbells whether they were meant for me or not. My water station hype train was still in full force - "GREAT pace! Wow!" as I made the turn and tried to hype my own self up for the next 2 laps. I saw Joy and Elise running on the opposite side as I ran back along the bike path, and we shouted at eachother. There was just so much joyful shouting going on at this race! And so many high fives, people cheering, people running and standing along this packed bike path without a mask in sight. It felt like the last 15 months had never happened, just a long nightmare, and we were all bursting out of our cages, free.

I came off the bike path and gave "my" volunteer a shout - "lap 3, way to be!" By this point, pretty much all of the sprint and Olympic athletes were done or heading to the finish, so things quieted down dramatically as I turned again into the 4th loop. Once again over the bridge. As I came up the hill, there was a photographer walking towards me, and I decided that this was my shining moment to ham it up. There are so few occasions in any running race when I'll grant anything more than a little smile for a camera - it's all serious business, all the way. But caught in the joy of the moment, of doing this thing that I for some reason love so much and doing it well, AGAIN, I couldn't do anything but throw my arms up in the air and grin like the happiest girl in the world. 

What I love the most about this photo is that it's 100% genuine. My smile is real, wanting to throw my arms in the air with joy is real, it's all real. It's been that way since that very first sprint triathlon all those years ago. Triathlon brings something out in me that running alone (or at least not run racing alone) just doesn't. I still don't exactly know what it is about tri that just makes me spend every race having so much damn fun, but whatever it is, it hasn't seemed to fade even as I've become more invested in and serious about the sport. Even running down women and putting down a run split faster than most of the men in the field, I was honestly and truly having an absolute blast.

Now, as much fun as my heart was having, my legs were starting to have decidedly LESS fun, particularly when it came to trying to stay under control on the steep downhill and then immediately climbing the endless uphill. I could feel the first flickers of cramping starting to happen in my left leg (always that damn weakling of a left leg) and I knew that I'd arrived at my stop on the fatigue train. The phrase that kept playing through my mind during the run as I watched the carnage of people walking, struggling, legs totally fried by the hills, was "war of attrition". I had known from the start that my ability to do well on the run was going to come down to my ability to outlast the fatigue and maintain through the hills without completely breaking down. With that in mind, I let myself have a short walk break on the 4th round of the uphill, just 20 steps counting just like I did at Mount Washington. I felt like I needed to save myself a little bit, otherwise loop 5 had the potential to be a pretty big nightmare, and I still had the fear of the 2 women behind me reminding me that I couldn't give back any more than I had to.

Lap 4 is a whore (is that a smile or a grimace? We may never know)

The out and back happened; I walked at the turnaround just to take in a full cup of gatorade and some water, and then got right back to it. The past couple of laps I had been warm enough to dump water on my head, and I was definitely starting to feel like I needed to keep my electrolytes in check or cramps were almost a certainty. But as I ran back along the bike path, I felt a surge of excitement. All I had to do was do all of this ONE more time. One more time up the hill. I said that last part out loud, because a random man nearby burst out  "only ONE!? I'm jealous!", reminding me once again that there were plenty of people out there who had a much longer way to go. 

As I rounded my turn "my" volunteer was gone, but I still shouted "last one, fast one!" to no one which was also hilarious because my last one was absolutely NOT going to be my fast one, but hey, it was going to happen, and that was what mattered. I check the time on my watch and realized that I had plenty of time to finish well before 1 pm, which was kind of shocking to me - I was absolutely convinced that I was going to finish this race over 6 hours given my perceived current fitness and the difficulty of the course. That thought gave me a boost as I headed up and over the bridge, one last time. Into the downhill, one last time. By this point my legs were absolutely ready to collapse, not in the painful lactic acid way of an all out race but just in this fatigued, quivering, muscles no longer have any interest in firing sort of way. My ability to give encouragement had diminished from shouting to a mumbled 'goodjob' as I passed other runners, all of my energy finally needing to be directed to the actual task at hand. I dumped a cup of water on my head at the last water stop and dove into the final steep downhill, and I just went a little nuts. There was no one around (or maybe there was, who even knows), and so out loud I said..."OK, you f&cker of a hill. SAY GOODBYE TO THESE! BECAUSE IT'S THE LAST TIME!!!" If you've ever watched Arrested Development you'll catch the reference, and I almost burst out laughing at myself because it was such a ridiculous thing to shout into the abyss. I put my head down and attacked the hill...for a bit, until my legs gave a hard NOPE about halfway up and I took a quick walk break. Then I ran again, most of the rest of the way, another quick walk to regroup, and then it was onward under the bridge and into the last out and back.

The last out and back was a blur. I was still moving but definitely less quickly, and I could tell I was on borrowed time in terms of the cramps that seemed to be brewing throughout my left leg. I just had to keep holding on a little bit longer. I made the final turn, grabbed one last water cup, and took off back down the bike path. I was SO ready to finally make the turn for home! I yelled to no one "time to go!" as I made the left turn towards the finish, laughing at the girl with a giant sign on a hot pink posterboard that just read "GOOD." There was a woman in front of me as I started to run back towards the finish line, and for a second I wondered 'who the hell is SHE?!" before realizing that she was either in the sprint or the olympic. I passed her anyway, then ran side by side for a bit with a taller man. We had to run around the back of the transition area and as we did so the guy grimaced. "I've got nothing left!" he moaned, as I left him to his fate. I wasn't quite on empty yet, but I didn't have a whole lot more to give.  I knew there was a nasty uphill into the parking lot to finish the race, but what I DIDN'T expect was the 200 meter stretch of dirt uphill that preceded it. I almost laughed - the old run course had included this dirt hill and it was almost like the race director had a sick sense of humor. "Oh, you missed the old course, do you? Did you miss THIS?!" I made an attempt to keep running up it, but my legs were not in any mood to deal with slipping and sliding on sand and gravel. "You've gotta be f7cking kidding me," I grumbled, half expecting the guy with nothing left to pass me at any moment as I slowed to a jog/stumble. I just really wasn't interested in having my left calf cramp on me so close to the finish, and the sand and rocks seemed specially designed to send my trembling legs into a seizing cramp.

FINALLY we hit the end of the dirt road and came into the stupid, sharp, STEEP hill up into the parking lot. I've walked this hill every time I've done this race and today was no exception. No shame in my game - again, give me a time that's 10 seconds slower over my leg rendering me unable to run 200 yards from the finish any day of the week. But once I was over the steep hump, the finish line was basically in sight and it was time to run it in. The finish of this race is sort of funny, as you basically run through the parking lot, but then you finally see the really beautiful green carpet that leads to the finish arch. I was definitely fighting for it - looking at my finish video I'm definitely running TIRED up the last uphill - but there's also a huge smile on my face (what else is new) as I threw my arms up in the air once again and finished my second half iron triathlon!

I think this might be the best actual finish line photo of my entire athletic career?

I was elated, but also completed exhausted after finishing. I wandered around trying to think of who I should even be looking for. My immediate instinct was "look for Andrew", but he was back at the AirBnb watching the dogs. Joy and Elise were still out on the course somewhere. I wandered around in a daze for a few minutes, trying to figure out what I wanted, when I spotted an Athletic Brewing Company tent. "Can I just...HAVE one of these?" I asked the guy. The answer was yes...and cold non alcoholic IPA gave me LIFE in those immediate moments after the race. Forget the sugar free powerade (ew), this is what I wanted while my stomach settled. I still wasn't sure what to do while I tried to wait for my friends, but luckily a couple moments later I ran into Gwen! We discussed our races and the insanity of the swim, and I introduced her to the glory of Athletic. After awhile I walked down to transition to get a change of clothes because despite the fact that I had been hot enough during the race to be dumping water on myself, I was now getting cold! By the time I got back up to the finish area, it wasn't long before Elise and Joy came rolling in. We grabbed post race beers and burgers and hung out on the deck, reliving the glory of the day. 

I truly think it took a little while after the race for it to dawn on me how thrilled with the race I actually was! I had outperformed my expectations on both the swim and the bike, raced really smart, not screwed up my nutrition despite really trying to screw up my nutrition, and had a strong run on a VERY difficult course. For all of my stupid doubts about my ability to perform at this race, feeling like I wasn't ready, totally underestimating my ability to be strong and endure when it counted, I had come through in every way and had, yet again, had an absolute BLAST doing it. 

I sound like such a broken record, and I really don't want to take away from all the running races I've done and how much I love those, but there is something about these triathlons that genuinely makes me happy. I'm happy when I train. I'm happy when I race. Even though the volume of my training is so much higher than it was when I was only running, it very rarely feels like work. Even Andrew commented that I complain a lot less and seem a lot happier with training since I started doing tris a couple of years ago. It's hard, because I think part of makes it all so much fun for me is that it IS just that - fun. I don't take it too seriously, I don't go wild with workouts on the bike, I do what seems right for me and I see how it pans out in the race. I clearly have some inherent ability in the sport, so I worry a little bit that at some point I'm going to get stuck on getting faster and lose the joy in it. I have two friends who are convinced that I can qualify for Kona, if not this year than sometime in the future, and I completely brush them off partially because I don't believe them, but also because I don't want to suck away the joy that I've found in this sport by attaching myself to some arbitrary goal. I want to continue going out there and swimming, biking, running the best I can, using my brain to strategize and my heart to endure, and to just keep going out there and smiling my way through the whole damn course. Given my results so far, its kind of hard to argue with that strategy. 11 weeks to IMWI...LET'S GO. 

White Mountains Half Iron Triathlon (70.3)
31/132 OA, 7/41 F, 1/5 AG