Barrelman 70.3 Race Recap

My season is over and done with! Every time I come to the end of a season, I’m both relieved and sad about it all at the same time. This year is no different. I’m feeling a little bit antsy and a lot of relief about being able to take a little bit of time off (though not as much as I normally get – Greece training starts very soon).

Thank you to Roslynn for talking me into Barrelman as my half this year! I had read a ton of race recaps and reviews before signing up for it and even more after the fact. I’ve done plenty of local races before, but I felt a little spoiled by Ironman. I know lots of people have issues with an enormous company dominating the triathlon market, but I always feel cared for and safe in their hands. Some people seem to be irritated by the fact that Ironman is in the business of making money and suggest that they do it at the expense of the athletes or their safety, but I have not felt this way. I had heard a lot about Barrelman’s race director John Salt, and he – and the race – did not disappoint.

I’ve been training all summer with Roslynn and Blair for this race, and it was pretty upsetting for all of us when Roslynn had an unfortunate incident on a chair (the chair won) and broke the top of her foot a week and a half before the race. I’m a fairly codependent racer and I like racing with my “people” – especially when those people have spent the past 9 months slogging it out in endless laps at the pool, many hundreds of miles on the roads, and a couple thousand miles on the bike.

For example. October 2018 through Barrelman, I:

Swam 194,931.38 meters or 121 miles;
Biked 2,110.47 miles;
and ran 457.72 miles.

This is why you get close to the people you train with. You either end up loving each other or wanting to throttle them. I’ve been lucky that I primarily end up loving everyone.

So sadly, we all headed up to the Niagara are, knowing that Roslynn was going to be channeling her inner Sherpa and missing the race that she’s been longing to do for a few years now. I can’t state enough the amount of “bummer” this was.

On a happy note, it was Blair’s first half, so now her mom was going to get to see her do ALL the things, complete with camera in hand.

We got to Welland and our AirBnB on Friday after heading halfway Thursday afternoon and evening. We decided to stay in Welland versus Niagara because the race is a point-to-point race, and the start is in Welland at the International Flatwater Centre.

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View of the swim start and Welland Canal from the Flatwater Centre. 

As soon as I could swing it, I was out of the house and on to the Flatwater Centre. As I have written about repeatedly, I’ve been struggling with open water race anxiety. I’m fine in open water at all other times, but I have panicked at the last two races I’ve done, and it was so intense that I was wondering if I even wanted to do tris anymore. It just didn’t seem worth it. putting myself through something that made me literally feel like I was going to die. I knew that I’d want to swim at the Centre as much as possible before Sunday because familiar water is comforting water, and this was a very different swim than any I’d done before.

I suited up in my long sleeved wetsuit and hit the water. It was cold, but shockingly clear. Unfortunately for me, swimming in Virginia has made me comfortable with not being able to see anything in the water. The rivers and lakes I swim in regularly are murky brown, silty. and pretty gross. But you grow to love what’s familiar, or something like that. Just a week before we left, I swam upstream from Watkins Landing in the James and the water got a lot clearer the farther up I swam. It was so clear that I actually could see the bottom of the riverbed along with a fish, and I spent the entire swim freaking out about what was IN THE WATER WITH ME. I could see just about everything in the canal, but all that I could see was some time of water greenery. For lack of a better word, it looks like tall sea grass. Some of it was so tall it would touch my feet or hands, so I spent the first 20 minutes in the water forcing myself to open my eyes and not panic whenever something touched me. The canal has guy-wires so that buoys can be placed for rowers to use, but it works great for an open water swim too. I got to the side of one of them and realized how awesome it was that i wouldn’t have to sight off any buoys unless I couldn’t see the wire. It was very clear under the water.

Blair showed up a bit later and I got back in with her and paddled around some more. I was starting to get excited about the swim instead of dreading it, so I chalked that up as a win and went back to the house for some dinner.

The entire family came with me, and Edwin did a first class job of dealing with all the other stuff not related to racing (and there was a lot of that.) He had cooked a big delicious dinner by the time we got home, and we hung out on the big deck the house had and hit the hot tub for some relaxation time.

Saturday, my family split up from me and headed to Niagara Falls. The day before a race always sucks for anyone not racing so I was both relieved and happy that the kids would have a good day and that I could buckle down and focus on what needed to be done. Blair, Roslynn, Bill and I headed to the Flatwater Centre for packet pick up, bike check in and mandatory pre-race briefings. We shopping a little bit at the tiny expo and met the race director and his staff. I realized the vibe of the race was totally different than anything else I’d done. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, There was very little about this race that felt uptight or elite or exclusive. There were plenty of very talented athletes, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes the Ironman aura can be very intimidating and overwhelming and for once it was nice to be more relaxed about everything. The RD talked about the fact that yes, we have cut offs, but they are human and he listens so they can be somewhat fluid about them if he felt he could assure athlete safety etc. It was extremely refreshing after Ironman’s hard line on time cut offs. He also made a HUGE deal about asking cyclists to announce “on your left” when passing, which I really appreciated it. I think it made a difference, as I had more people announcing during this race than I’ve ever seen. Especially after Nationals, when maybe 4 people out of 50 passing me on the bike said anything at all.

After bidding our bikes farewell, we headed into Niagara where I met up with my family. They had enjoyed the day looking at the falls and playing every weird game and riding every ride they could get their hands on. We went back to Welland soon after to eat dinner and rest up for race day.

This race started on the late side, so we didn’t have to get up until 6 am. I didn’t sleep all night anyway, so it didn’t really matter to me. I wasn’t thrilled about my 8:50 am wave start – all I do is sit around dreading the race until it start, at which point I start to love it. I like to just get on with it. Additionally the Canadians were starting to freak out about the temps – at the time, the high Sunday was supposed to be 81. Although I wanted temps in the low 70s, I had been training in an inferno all summer so 81 was no big deal. The humidity was way down, too.

Until I woke up Sunday to grab something off the clothing line, and realized it was humid as hell as it had lightly rained Saturday night 🙂

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Race Director John Salt flying both the American and Canadian flags at the race start

Blair’s wave went off about 20 minutes before mine. We got in the water after setting up in transition as soon as we reasonably could. This race couldn’t have been set up any better swim-wise for me. Endless warm up time was allowed, and the swim start was in the water. This enabled me to float and paddle and swim and blow bubbles for as long as I wanted before my wave actually left. I probably spent a total of 30 minutes in the water before my wave went off. I watched Blair go and she seemed happy and solid in the water – a good sign since both of us had been struggling with some OWS stuff for much of the summer. I floated on my back for a moment before the gun went off and channeled gratitude and joy and all the things I’d talked to Will Turner about. Then I mentally said “hey” to Derek and asked him to keep an eye on me and yell at me when I felt like giving up, and I was off.

SWIM: 

This was my most favorite swim of any race I’ve done. Because I’d gotten all my panicked nerves out before I started swimming,, I hit my rhythm within the first 100 meters. There was plenty of space to spread out. I started far left of the bouys and as the crowd thinned out, I moved toward the guy-wire and found a swimming partner going my same speed. I got on her feet and drafted for much of the rest of the swim portion, or swam next to her when it got crowded and we made our own holes to get through. I don’t know who she was, but it was fun swimming next to her and I felt some weird level of comfort having someone doing the same thing as me. I took a lot of time to remind myself how great swimming was, how clear the water was, how good it tasted, how lucky I was to be out here, and how grateful I was to finally start a race without a full blown panic attack. I was giddy swimming. When we headed back on the back leg of the rectangular course, I stopped holding back and got into the faster swim pace I’ve been working on all summer. I track my swim times during a triathlon without the transitions because I want to know my actual pace, and I’m glad I did. My goal was to keep under 2:00/100m. My first 500 was 1:54, second was 1:49, third was 2:00 (this was the back end where we had two turns to navigate, so a lot of congestion and slowing down), fourth and fifth were in the 1:50s. Average pace: 1:54/100. This was a huge PR for me in a swim unassisted by currents. I am over the moon about this.

T1 was quite a ways from the swim exit, so I took a moment to get my heart rate under control and didn’t go crazy on the way to my bike. I toweled off as best I could, got my bike gear on, remembered to start my bike computer (because I can’t convert km to miles in my head so the bike computer was going to be my guide), and headed out on the course. I got to see Edwin as I approached the mount line, and was cheered on by a couple dressed as bacon. Unfortunately they weren’t handing out any bacon, but I appreciated the thought. T1 took 4:18.

BIKE

This bike course did not disappoint. Thankfully someone had told me that the first 1/3 would be a headwind, and the last 2/3 would be either no wind or a tailwind. This was good to know because I had a very hard time keeping my speed up above 16 mph. The headwind was at times so strong that i had to come up out of aero to keep my bike from blowing all over the road. About 10 miles in, my speed had dropped to 13 mph. I tried to stay positive and looked forward to when the wind would be my friend. It didn’t become my friend until around mile 20+. Because the course is pancake flat, you get no break for your legs – they spin and burn the entire 56 miles. I was regretting the flat course for a while, but then the wind got behind me and I was suddenly holding 21 mph without much effort. I breathed a sigh of relief that I’d be able to sail in on this thing and meet my bike goals, which was to be around 3 hours on the bike or average close to 18 mph.

Unfortunately, I was so paranoid about hydration and the heat that I pushed too much through me. By mile 30 I had to pee so badly I made the executive decision to stop at a portapotty and go. I knew it meant my average speed would be affected, but the thought of another 26 miles feeling like I did wasn’t something I was willing to suffer. After that, i was much happier again and remembered Cyndi telling me to go harder on the bike than I thought I could. I did. I put the hammer down for the next 20 miles and made up some time. I was in a great mood the entire ride, chatting with my road mates and enjoying the beautiful views of the lake, the river, and farmlands. It was so beautiful out there!

Just when I thought I had the bike course mailed in, the wind picked up on the parkway 6 miles from T2. The wind was brutal. I felt like someone was hitting me in the face or blowing me side to side, depending on the moment. My legs were trashed from the prior 20 miles of hard pushing and I had my first “I HATE THIS SHIT” moment of the day. I watched the miles tick by agonizingly slowly as I got through the last little bit and then into T2.

Bike split: 3:07:47, average 17.6 mph. Definitely my best bike split – Raleigh was 10 minutes slower! Even with my bathroom break, I was pleased with my results.

My bike was at the far end of T2 so it took me forever to drag my burned out legs to the end of the racks, find my stuff, and get it together. I took extra time to make sure I’d slathered my feet with blister guard after Chattanooga’s nightmare and I used a liberal amount of Skin Slather for my usual chafed areas. I changed my shirt, put on my visor and made another visit to the portajohn. T2 time was 6:47.

RUN

I realized as I sat in a pool of my own sweat and felt the salt that had dried on my face that the weather forecasters had gotten things wrong. 81 degrees my ass. Looking back at my stats, weather temps on the bike course had reached 88. When I started out on the run, on a flat stretch of road paralleling the river but with no shade in sight, it felt just like I was back at West Creek in July. Instead of making me feel right at home, I felt irritated. I didn’t come to Canada to race in heat and humidity . . . but instead of letting myself get all twisted up about it, I pushed it aside and checked in with my body. My Achilles felt fine, my hamstring was tight, my hip was on fire. Okay then. I decided to divide the run up into four pieces, a 5k at a time. My original run plan, before the Achilles issue, had been to run the entire 13.1 miles, only stopping briefly at the aid stations which were around 1-2 miles apart. In my long training runs, I had been able to run solidly for up to 2:40 minutes so I figured with race day nerves and crowd support, I’d be able to do that again. However, after talking to Dr. Hopp about my run strategy, she made a point of saying that I shouldn’t be trying to PR this race. She recommended I try interval running and to really listen to my body. She knows what I have on tap for next year and neither of us wants me to blow up with some major injury on a race that yes, is important, but the stuff that is personally very important to me is happening in 2020. The reality is, I’m not a professional and I don’t make a living doing this, so there is no risk worth taking that’s going to end my amateur dabblings in triathlon.

The first 5k was pretty brutal. Did I mention it was hot as hell out? It was. My legs were screaming. I was pushing as reasonably as I could, but was managing only high 11s, 12s and a 13 minutes mile the first 3.1. There is a turn onto a road called Burning Springs, but everyone calls it Burning Quads. It was there that I took my first walk break and decided I could not run straight anymore, so intervals it was. I tried a 3 min run, :30 second walk. but it wasn’t enough, so I switched to 4/1. I made it through the first 10k this way. Around mile 7, my hamstring was so tight it felt like it was going to snap in half, and my Achilles had started the familiar throbbing ache. I decided to dial it back a bit and began to run to specific landmarks – like that tourist up ahead with the weird hat, the steps at the casino, no stopping until the mist from the falls stops, etc etc. Seeing Roslynn at the start of the second loop made me want to quit big time. I was tired, hot, and over it, but it was hard to be in a bad mood on that run course. It was GORGEOUS. Beautiful blowing trees, a stiff wind that sometimes helped and sometimes hurt, great volunteers and traffic control, tourists in droves by the falls, two long stretches that paralleled the falls, and a nice, green lush park toward the end of the loop. I left on loop 2 and decided to just focus on what was around me and to run when I could eek out a run, and speed walk when I had to do that. There would be no leisurely strolling on this race dammit!

I was fortunate enough to meet someone named Scott around mile 8.5. He had tears in both calf muscles but decided to race anyway. He was primarily walking by that point. He was uber-Canadian and I loved talking to him. There were a lot of “eh’s?” scattered into the conversation. He played hockey, worked for a vegan protein company but loved meat, and said the F word a lot. It was his first half so we exchanged horror stories and motivational stories and it made the rest of the “run” go by a lot faster. At the 20k mark, we decided to run it in, which coincided with seeing Edwin who confirmed we were almost done. I let him run ahead of me when we saw the finish chute, and then it was over! Run time was 3:02:59. Total race time: 7:03:52! Maybe next year I’ll break 7 hours 🙂

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So glad it was over!

I had heard something from Roslynn at the 11k mark that Blair had wiped out on her bike, but she thought it was in transition, so I figured it was just a slow tip over kind of thing. When I crossed the line and saw Blair there, I realized right away it was much more major than that. Her leg on the front was completely road rashed, her back thigh was cut open, and her arm and hand were rashed as well. Turns out she took a corner and hit a gravel patch and went down hard and fast. Being the tough as nails, never quit kind of person she is, she decided to not wait on an ambulance to check her out, got back on her bike and finished the race, running another 13.1 miles with her arm killing her. She is truly my hero and I am so proud of her! All of that and she still met her race goals!

My family all came together at the finish line and it was so great to see them. It was the first time in a long time I’ve had all 5 of them together at a finish line, and it made my day a whole lot better. We were supposed to go back to Welland, shower, and have a celebratory dinner, but by the time we did get back, Blair’s arm was really hurting. They decided to head back across the border so she could get to an ER and have some x-rays taken to insure nothing was fractured. Thankfully nothing was, but it robbed us of some well-earned celebrations, and I am looking forward to making up for that very soon.

So that’s it for race season 2019!

The last 30 days and the next 11 months

I realized today that I have done a TERRIBLE job of blogging this season. It’s a mixture of excuses/reasons. The main ones are 1.) I’m working more this summer 2.) I’ve been busy with schedules and travel and kids and 3.) I have been in a funk for a good portion of this year. In the olden days, writing used to help the funk disperse. That no longer seems to be the case, or I’ve just gotten better at burying it down deep and ignoring it.

So while I try to keep this blog focused on all things triathlon, life is often mixed in with that. I’m dealing with elderly parents, 4 kids, work, a husband, a house that is constantly breaking, and the other normal elements that make up life of a middle-aged mom. This year, I’ve had a hard time juggling all of it. Yet, the one thing I rarely neglect is my training.

Sometimes people will complement me on how dedicated I am to my training. Sometimes people will make fun of me for the same thing. I figured I’d address my “dedication” here before getting into the rest of this post.

I haven’t had a good therapist in years, but could probably use one. The last one I saw ended up suggesting a fire ritual to “burn up the bad feelings” and that was it for me and her. Without traditional therapy (or in her case, some wacky version of it), I’ve turned to training as my primary outlet. When I don’t train like I’m supposed to, I feel unsettled and unmoored. Much as I like to bitch about training, training is what keeps me grounded. I always feel a bit disingenuous when I’m told how dedicated I am, because the subtext is that I’m dedicated to my sanity, not my training.

Secondly, my dedication is rooted in fear. I am an average athlete, but I persevere with the best of them. I know from experience that if I follow my training plan religiously, I will finish, and probably (mostly) enjoy the race as I’ll have been adequately prepared for it. Last year’s Ironman gave me a taste of what undertraining feels like, and I don’t want to repeat that (and for those who don’t know, I was sick for two months during a crucial part of my build in June and July, and was basically unable to run. Combined with blisters on the marathon portion of Choo, it was the most miserable result of a run I’ve ever had – but hey, I finished.) So, maybe stronger or more experienced athletes can cut back on their training or skip pieces of it, but I can’t.

Usually by July of the season, I start feeling burned out and my time-spent-whining percentage grows higher. This is not my first rodeo. I know this about myself, and this year I did a good job of ignoring myself. I was really pleased that my runs were going so much better. I was able to get back to the run pace I’m not ashamed of, even on longer runs. More importantly, I was able to run for longer times. We had a 2 hour 20 minute run on the schedule last month and for the first time in ages, I ran the entire time. I felt like I’d won the lottery.

With the exception of some brutally hot temps that have wrecked a few of my runs, I was back to feeling good this summer. My bike speed has definitely increased, I’m swimming well, and my runs were acceptable. A couple of weeks ago, I did a 2 mile swim in the James with some teammates. We had a blast. When we finished, we hung out on the dock for a minute to chat and I knocked my hand on the wood and exclaimed, “I can’t believe I made it through a season without any significant injuries!” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them. I guess I’m superstitious.

In October of last year, about a month after Chattanooga, I got a wild hair up my ass and decided to do a run for speed. I wasn’t even really training for the next race at that point. I just felt like going fast. I went out for a 3 mile run and pushed my pace. At some point during that run, I felt my right hamstring get tight and angry. Thanks to that one run, I’ve dealt with a tight, angry, stubborn hamstring since then. Any triathlete will tell you that something is ALWAYS bothering them, so this year, the hamstring was my main opponent. I learned to live with it and tried to keep it stretched out and as happy as possible. I knew the only way for it to really be happy was for me to rest it for an extended period of time, but I didn’t have that, so I made my peace with the pain. I have hip impingement syndrome, which results in a burning pain deep in my hip joint most of the time and especially when I run. I’ve gotten used to it. Compared to that pain, the hamstring was nothing much.

However, I did notice that when it was tight, my gait was off. I tried to pay particular attention to my form because I know from bad past experience that one injury will result in another when your body tries to make accommodations for it.

In June, I started to notice that when I’d start a run, my Achilles tendon on the other side of my body from the hamstring would feel tight and “weird.” After a few minutes of running, it would loosen up and I wouldn’t feel it anymore. Sometimes after a longer run, my tendon would be sore, but it would usually feel better in a day or two. I continued to ignore it. In July I noticed it getting more sore, but it was still not a big deal. I didn’t want to see a doctor about it because I wanted to get through Barrelman (September 22). A couple of weeks ago, I did a 6 mile run a couple of days after a 70 mile ride/6 mile run brick (I’d only managed 3 of the run, it was a million degrees out.) I noticed my heel hurting but kept running and had a great split. I got home, sat down, and crossed my ankles. OUCH. Just touching the tendon hurt, and I noticed what looked like a pea-sized lump sticking out of my heel. Well . . . can’t ignore that, time to go to the doctor.

After a few days of worrying and stressing and waiting (the doctor had warned me that it looked bad and that I might be out for 6 months to a year), I had an MRI and a follow up and lo and behold, I hadn’t torn or ruptured the tendon . . . yet. It was just micro-tears and a lot of inflammation. Cue the steroid pack and physical therapy and here I sit today, 10 days out from this year’s 70.3.

My point in belaboring the details of the “how this happened” is to illustrate that a.) You should NEVER talk about not being injured before a race and b.) nothing like a potential year-ending injury to make you SO grateful for your body hanging in there. I got to run a little bit Tuesday and am going again tonight. My doctor advised me not to try to PR my run during the race, so I’m going to go out conservatively and see what happens. My goal prior to the tendon issue was to run the entire half without stopping (I know, big goals, right??) but I may do run/walk intervals and step on the gas the second 10k if my body is hanging in there. Thankfully, my first 70.3 was good on the swim, great on the bike, and terrible on the run (thanks to heat), so even doing moderately better this year, I should PR by default.

This is Blair’s first half, and Roslynn’s second (my second too), and we have been training our brains out for the last year. It has been a joy and so much fun training with these two, and I was heartbroken over the idea that I wasn’t going to be able to do the race with them, or more accurately, do the race behind them 🙂 We celebrated our good fortune for a couple of days until Roslynn fell off a chair and broke the top of her foot. So it’s me and Blair and hopefully Roslynn for some leg of the race, or at least with champagne and cake at the finish line. It’s hard to explain how reliant we get on our training and racing buddies, and I am so sad she’s not going to be out there doing the race.

The main reason I was so upset over my potential tendon issue is that next year is a BIG one for me, and the idea that I was going to be taken out before accomplishing any of my goals was so distressing.

I had always planned to do Greece in April – as soon as that race was announced two years ago, I was drooling over the opportunity to do it. I got the go-ahead from my family and signed up with Roslynn and another teammate. Then Ironman announced it was returning to Penticton, Bristish Columbia, and Roslynn started chomping at the bit about that one. It was my intention to attempt a full again in 2021. I had promised one and done to Edwin, but when the swim was cancelled at Chattanooga, I knew I had unfinished business. Coupled with the abysmal run (walk), I really wanted a chance at redemption. Cyndi wanted a big team showing for Penticton, and Roslynn, being Canadian, wanted to do her next full in Canada. I’m sure you won’t be surprised when you hear that I signed up for Ironman Canada, August of 2020. At this point, I had Greece 70.3 on my schedule and that was going to be enough. Then, Ironman announced it was moving Ironman Virginia 70.3 from Williamsburg to the “Blue Ridge” (really, Roanoke, but Blue Ridge sounds much cooler, no?). Cyndi told all the IM Canada people that Blue Ridge needed to be our 70.3. Pulled the trigger on that race too, June of 2020. That’s a big season for me, and a lot to ask of my body.

That being said, after Barrelman, I’m making a commitment to more strength training. I need to work on my core and my balance. I feel like it’s the best way to help ensure I don’t get additional injuries. As my friend Spencer says, at this age, it’s not about injury prevention. It’s about injury management.

I feel a little (a lot) queasy about next year. I’ve never considered myself a lover of hills, and every race I’m doing next year is hilly/mountainous. I changed my cassette on the bike to something that should help me climb better, and just like every time before, I will “suspend disbelief” and “act as if.” This is just a fancy way of saying I’m going to just trust in the process and keep going.

So here’s hoping everything can stay together for another 11 months. On to Barrelman and everything that comes after.

USAT AG Nationals Race Report

I’ve probably done myself a disservice by not blogging other than race reports over the past few months. I’m having a much better race season than I have in the past, but I’m also struggling with some emotional issues that are definitely affecting my ability to perform as well.

I’m the type of person that needs a goal in order to work hard. I like to train, but I fear without a race looming over my head, I’d be a lot less likely to train. When doing longer distance tris, you REALLY have to like the training, because it fills up many hours and long spans of time. I still really like training, but not all-caps REALLY this year.

Part of it has been weather related. Newsflash – summers in Virginia are never my favorite, but this year seems relentless and brutal and a complete and utter drag. When it’s not extremely hot, we are dealing with crazy humidity, and most of the time, we are graced with hot + humid and it stinks for those of us who want to work out. It also makes us stink.

I would also be doing a disservice if I didn’t acknowledge, prior to going into my race report, that me and open water swimming aren’t getting along very well right now.

Well, that’s not entirely true. The proper way to say it is that me and open water swimming in a race situation are not getting along very well.

I have this opinion based on the last two stressful races (specific to the swim) I’ve done, so I don’t know that if the circumstances were different, my reaction would be as well. It’s also worth noting that the last two race swims I’ve done where I’ve had a bit of an issue have been when I’m wearing a wetsuit.

Against this backdrop, I’ll just get right to it. Cleveland Rocks!

Seriously, I don’t know what I expected – I guess I expected it to be a dump like some of lower Michigan is, only dirtier and grubbier. I was pleasantly surprised. After a very long drive up there with Roslynn, Blair and Liz, we landed in Mayfield Heights, about 15 minutes outside of downtown Cleveland. We stayed an an extended stay place and that was great considering we were cramming four people and 2 full sets of racing crap in there with us.

Friday we slept in a little bit, then did our shake out ride in the bumpy hotel parking lot to make sure everything on our bikes still worked (it did). We headed to Edgewater Park for packet pick up and mandatory bike check in. Earlier in the week, the park had been closed due to rains, which meant an overflow of raw sewage. And while I had been dying to swim in the Great Lakes, Lake Erie almost doesn’t count in my snobby Michigan view of the Lakes. It’s usually pretty gross! We arrived at the park to find that the park had reopened, but there was no swimming allowed due to current and waves, so my anxiety about swimming in literal shit was replaced by anxiety about swimming in an ocean-like body of water. The waves and wind were no joke, and I even felt a little stress creep in thinking about riding my light and twitchy bike over the big bridges with wind gusts.

I hadn’t been nervous at all about Nationals, probably because my entire attitude toward it was “just have fun.” When I got there, though, and saw the thousands of bikes racked up (most of them costing more than an entry level Honda), I got a little concerned. I’ve done lots of races, but none with this high a percentage of “serious” athletes. There were a lot of game faces on, even the day before the race.

We had fun taking pictures and Blair and I avoided looking at or talking about the swim. We picked up our packets and our good swag and wandered around looking at the vendor tents. Unlike Ironman events, I wasn’t tempted to buy anything – Ironman really has the market cornered with good merchandise.

We had wanted to practice swim at the park, but with that option shot, we headed to the Christmas Story house and made Roslynn and Liz’s dreams come true. Roslynn still had her own training to knock out, so she spent a good chunk of the afternoon at the hotel swimming circles in a pool that was maybe 15 meters in length. Talk about dedication . . . two miles in a hotel pool is a special kind of hell. We packed up our stuff for the race, and thankfully I had Roslynn check my bag behind me – I’d left my running shoes out of it!!! This is a good reminder that if you are lucky enough to have others with you before a race, have them review your race prep. It’s amazing what I still manage to forget.

We had an early dinner and Blair, with her signature sleep style, went to bed exactly on time and maybe might actually slept. I stayed up til midnight trying to sleep, dozed until 2, then gave up. Our alarms went off at 3:30 am anyway, so there wasn’t much point in trying to get any more sleep.

Because so many people were competing in the race, parking at the event site was limited and most everyone, including us, had to drive into Cleveland, park at a huge sports center, then take rickety school buses to the general vicinity of Edgewater Park. I use “general vicinity” very loosely because I felt like we walked for a mile in the dark before getting to the actual race site. I kept trying to drink water and eat, primarily because this race had me starting later than any I’ve done before. Based on the sheer number of participants, there were 15+ waves. Blair’s was at 7:12 and I didn’t go off until 8:42.

We got our transition areas set up fairly easily – an Olympic distance doesn’t require that much stuff. We still hadn’t heard about the swim being off or on yet, but the waves looked bad – worse than the day before, and the wind was still up. We dragged our wetsuits out and waited for the official announcement, which came around 6:10 am.

The swim was being shortened to 750 meters, down from 1500. The course had also been changed. Now we’d be swimming about 150 out, turning right, swimming the majority of the distance parallel to shore, than another 200+ back in. I felt a little nauseous. The waves were about the same height as the crazy ones I dealt with in Virginia Beach in June. Even with a personal buoy, someone swimming next to me, and a lifeguard on alert who knew I was new to ocean swimming, I was still nervous and having trouble sighting and breathing without snorting water up my nose and down my throat. I could tell both Blair and I were not super thrilled with the swim happening, but I tried to redirect my negative thinking into being grateful to have the opportunity to swim in rough conditions. Lord knows I’d need the experience for Greece.

Soon it was time to hug Blair and watch her wave go off. The swim start was unfortunately very far away from the spectator area (still not sure why), so once she went through the starting area, we were probably 1/10th of a mile away. We pressed up against the fence to watch her wave go off. We were all relieved that before each wave, the next wave would have 5-6 minutes to pre-swim and get used to the water. I know Blair was taking advantage of that, especially after all the conversations we’ve had about the importance of warming up. After my terrible experience at IMVA, I have PTSD about not being able to warm up, and I felt some of my anxiety dissipate when I knew I’d have the chance to get in the water before the gun went off.

We watched Blair take off but soon lost her in the sun and waves, and just anxiously waited for her to come out of the water. I know how fast Blair swims and I knew I’d be able to gauge the difficulty of the swim based on her time in the water. She was out in under 15 minutes, despite very rough conditions and a nice devious current. She looked like she was in good spirits and didn’t look overly tired, so I figured there was hope for me yet.

I took a last trip to the port-a-potty but unfortunately twisted my ankle in the sand trying to hurry there. Insert many eyerolls here – only I could hurt myself moments before the start of a race by WALKING to the bathroom.

I hugged Liz and Roslynn goodbye and walked to the swim start, and lined up with my other fellow age group to get into the warm up area. Tension was high and no one was really talking. Someone complained about our late wave start, so I cheered “LATE BUT STILL GREAT” and we all laughed mirthlessly. Then I said quietly, “Let’s not kick each other in the face!” followed immediately by “Oh, who am I kidding? We’re all going to get kicked in the face.”

The announcer let us in for the pre-swim and it was IMVA all over again. I felt like I was choking. No matter how many times I breathed, I couldn’t get the air through my lungs. I can only describe it as feeling like I’m trying to breathe when someone is compressing my chest. Every breath that comes in gets immediately forced back out again. All I wanted to do was run back to shore, but I knew I had only a few minutes – literally – to get it together, and I figured that even breast stroking in the waves was better than getting out. So I breast stroked, put my face in the water, blew bubbles, pretended I was in the lakes of my youth where waves were fun, and tried to ignore everyone around me and their panicked faces.

By the end of my 5 minutes, I wasn’t any better. In fact, I was panicking because I was still panicking, and unable to breathe, and stressed out about the fact that I was stressed out. I had to have a serious come to Jesus moment with myself wherein I told myself to get my crap in a pile and focus and enjoy the day.

The gun went off and I was unfortunately so busy worrying about being upset that I had placed myself to the right of the group, meaning I was swimming on the side where the buoys would be, which means a lot of traffic. The waves going out were ugly, picking us up, and slamming us back down. There were feet and hands everywhere. Within the first 2 minutes, someone’s toe got caught on my timing chip and almost ripped it off – thankfully Blair had insisted we all use safety pins as backup and I am SO GLAD SHE DID! It was the only reason my chip didn’t come off.

I got to the first turn buoy and was able to breathe a little better by then. The more I thought about how I couldn’t move air, the less I could, so I started thinking about literally anything else. I wanted to quit, and had the usual “I hate this sport, it’s stupid” moments. I heard someone yelling so I popped my head up and someone behind me had gotten kicked or something because I heard her scream a frustrated obscenity. I’m glad I heard it, because I also heard a kayaker near me tell me to sight off a building in downtown instead of using the buoys. In the blaze of sunlight, the orange sighting buoys were invisible and the yellow turn buoys were non-existent. It was the first time in a race where I had absolutely no ability to use sighting, and that building saved me. The safety kayakers and boats had also formed a sort of haphazard channel with some of them inside the buoys and some outside, because once you swam parallel to shore, the current started dragging you earnestly toward the beach. By having kayakers on my left AND right, I was able to hold a shaky line to the turn buoy.  The worst part of the swim was that because we were all in a tight pack, every wave would pick up someone and drop them on the person to their right, and so on. So I was either being hit, or hitting. I drank an unfortunate amount of Erie, and tried not to think about all the extra protein/bacteria I was getting from the water.

I honestly don’t remember much of that swim other than I felt like I was in the water for an eternity and that I had many thoughts that went in variations of “I used to like the swim. What has happened to me??” I finished in 17:09, a pretty crappy swim for me, but still a victory in getting through it.

The journey to T1 was ridiculously long, especially constrained by a wetsuit and dizzy like a drunk girl on prom night. I staggered/ran in the general direction of T1 and hoped to god I could find my bike.

I struggled out of everything and into my bike gear and was out of there. T1 was 4:54 and I’m proud of that – I felt like I was in there for 20 minutes! It probably took a solid 2+ minutes just to get to my bike from the swim.

I was pretty nervous going out on the bike, but so thrilled to be out of the swim that I just allowed myself to feel grateful. I knew there was a big long slope coming out of T1 to the main road, and used Cyndi’s ever-helpful advice to leave my bike in an easy gear so that I wouldn’t have to remember to shift when leaving T1.

I loved the bike course! It was not flat, but had lots of interesting scenery including lake views, and a botanical garden. The course was closed – my first closed course ever. and it was like Christmas in August to be able to spread out on the road or move to avoid potholes. The roads were pretty rough in my opinion, and prevented me from getting my speed up any faster. One particular bridge was so rough, I thought I had a flat tire. I was sure that if I let myself go any faster, my bike frame was going to crack in half. I just accepted the limits of my fear at that point and did my best with my speed whenever I felt safe enough on the roads to push it.

I learned then that one time at Nationals, assuming I ever qualify again, would be enough. It was definitely the most “focused” race I’ve ever been to. I counted – so this isn’t speculation. Out of the MANY people passing me on the bike, 3 in total, over 24 miles, said “on your left.” In some cases, packs of guys 3 wide would pass me at once, all silently. I understood why no one was talking – they were focused completely on their race – but it made me feel even more unsafe and paranoid that I was going to hit someone or be hit by someone. I was hoping it would get a little more laid back on the run, but I was wrong about that.

I got to 14 miles before I looked at my distance and average speed, and was happy with both, so I pushed a little harder. Cyndi’s race guidance to me had been to stay in Z3/Z4 for as much of the race as possible, and I was definitely there.

I passed back over the last bumpy bridge and saw the transition area. Now all that was left was a little 6.2 mile run!

Bike: 24.68 miles, 1:43:27, 18.32 mph average (a PR for me)

I got into T2 and saw Roslynn and Liz and Blair who had finished by that point. It was great to see some friendly faces, especially since I went the wrong way – again – to my bike 🙂

T2: 2:56 (respectable for me)

Off on the run. I was feeling pretty good. I had made the decision to run by feel and not look at my watch. Sometimes having data is the devil. If my pace shows that I’m running “too fast”, I’ll back off, even if I feel okay. If it’s “too slow,” I get demoralized and bummed out. This time, I decided to just run. I know what Zone 3 feels like and I ran in that uncomfortable space, knowing that based on my experience this year, I could hold that for a 10k.

The first two miles felt slow as hell, which is weird, considering those were my two fastest miles. Oh well. The course was back out on the highway, in the sun, and it was HOT. Thankfully low humidity unlike Virginia, but still hot, and running at 11:30 am is not my favorite thing to do. I turned around at mile 2 to head back to the park and realized I was out of it enough at that point to have forgotten if the course was one loop or two. I saw everyone again at the halfway point and Blair yelled that the second half was shadier. “Awesome, ” I thought, “One loop, and shade coming up.” The second half was also the hillier half! I smiled whenever I felt like stopping, and other than walking a couple of steps at each aid station to dump water on my head, and one painful hill at mile 5, I ran the entire time.

The last 1.2 miles were rough as I was starting to feel pretty bad. I do basic math in my head when I start to wonder if my nutrition is off or my hydration isn’t effective, and I was having trouble (more than usual) adding two digit numbers to each other. I could hear the announcer at the finish line and the crowd, so I dug deep and tried to push my pace for the last little bit. Up and over a weird bridge they had built over the course, then down into the chute, and it was done.

Run: 1:08:50, 11:03/mile average. I was hoping to break into the 10s, but the heat made that impossible for me.

Total time: 2:55:13

When I did review the data from my Garmin, I had been in Zone 4 the majority of the race, so I can safely say I didn’t leave anything out on the course. I’m happy with my results.

After the finish line, Blair caught me and showed me heaven on earth: the race had three enormous inflatable pools, all filled with ice water, to soak in. I was pretty sore and by now very out of it, so it helped me cool off and ignore the burning pain in my hip that always accompanies me on my runs.

I was so proud of Blair – it was her first Olympic, with a very challenging swim and a lot of hype when competing against the best of the best. She nailed her race, her swim, and enjoyed it, best of all.

I’m also glad I did it – it was another chance to see what I need to work on, a reminder that my swim stuff isn’t “fixed” and needs more attention, and a great experience to see truly talented and hardworking triathletes out there doing their thing and making it look kind of easy (although on the run, no one looked like it was easy). Thanks for the hospitality, Cleveland!

 

Robious Landing Triathlon Relay Report – and some sad news.

Normally, my race reports are full of plenty of detail about things that 99% of people won’t/don’t care about. This race report is certainly the first – and hopefully the last – I’ll have to write about something tragic.

First, some background on Robious Landing. Cyndi had asked our team to consider doing the race, primarily as a way to come together at a local race, refocus, try to move beyond the tragedy of losing Derek, bond, etc. Although I’ve done a number of races this season, none of them have really felt like a traditional team race. We haven’t had a high concentration of team members at any one race, so this was a chance for us to knock out a sprint distance and be together.

Derek’s absence has been felt all over the place, but I always feel it in a particularly painful way at the start of any race. 9 times out of 10, he and Cyndi were at the starting (and finish) line for me/us. Not having them there has been hard, and I always feel a fresh wave of grief at every race where he isn’t there to calmly remind me to put my sticker on my helmet and other random things I should totally remember to do but always forget.

So when Cyndi asked the team to consider signing up for Robious, I didn’t hesitate much. I had little to no desire to do a sprint distance, but the idea of being on the course with my teammates was motivating. I talked to Edwin about it and he piped up, “Hey, I’ll do a relay with you.” I was excited, primarily because I wouldn’t have to run, and could focus on the two things I like to do – the swim and the bike. I was also thrilled that he’d be doing a tri with me, as we’ve butted heads over the sport on a number of occasions. It gave him a small goal to train for, and we were looking forward to a nice, manageable race together. Team “Better at Running Up a Tab” was born.

On race day, we got up early and headed to Robious. I was feeling mostly calm about everything except the bike portion. I have accepted that I will probably always have nerves surrounding the bike and that’s just the way it goes, but for a sprint distance, I was hoping I’d be less uptight about it. I was wrong!

Transition set up was super quick, especially since I only had to put out stuff for the bike. Edwin was wearing everything he’d need for the run. I met up with the majority of the team and we wandered out the 1/4 mile ish walk to the swim start.

Robious’s distance is a little weird. The swim is 650m, the bike is 18.8 miles, and the run is the traditional 5k. The swim is in the James River and with the current the entire way. It’s the easiest swim I’ve ever done in a tri, and many first timers like this race because of the swim.

A couple of words on the James River at Robious. I personally don’t get anxiety in the James, and never have, for some reason. Maybe it’s because it’s in my backyard or because I’ve spent 80-90% of my open water time in the James, including most of my longest distances – I don’t really know. Most of my OWS memories in the James are happy ones. I usually feel very relaxed and peaceful when I’m swimming in the river, once I stop thinking about potential snakes and how gross the bottom is. I’ve made my peace with the fact that water in Virginia is murky and dirty and I’ve tried to forget the glorious years I had in Michigan, too stupid to appreciate what I had, swimming in crystal clear and cold as hell water.

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The mighty James from the Robious Boat Landing Ramp, looking upriver.

However, the James can be a scary place. When I say it’s murky, I mean it’s really murky. I can usually see my hand when it’s outstretched in front of my head, but it’s not easy. There’s a nice silty brown glow to the water. Just recently, I was swimming upstream in a part of the river I don’t know as well. All of a sudden, a shape appeared maybe 12″ in front of my face. It was an old piece of wood from a long-fallen dock, still sticking up from the bottom of the river, but it wasn’t until I was on top of it that I saw it.

So the swim, although “easy” in terms of moving with the current, is still an open water swim, in a dark, quick river, while surrounded by many athletes splashing, kicking, and occasionally swimming next you, on your feet, or in less desirable cases, over the top of you. In other words, I don’t find any open water swim to be easy in a race setting, and I would never, ever attempt one without training and experience behind me. I know plenty of people who just wing it and are fine, but that isn’t me or my personality.

 

Our team took some photos at the swim entrance, then divided ourselves into waves. I was in the last wave – wave 5. The first wave went off without a hitch, and a few minutes later, wave two. Around 5 minutes after the start of the race, we heard someone yelling/screaming. We all looked at each other, because the transition area isn’t near and it seemed odd that someone would be cheering from the banks of the James. It sounded like it was coming from the water. Shortly after, the race director stopped any future waves from entering the water. We all stood around, trying to figure out what was going on. We heard that there had been a swimmer in distress. We saw a rescue boat head away from the start, and I found myself reassuring myself and others that someone just probably panicked and wanted out of the water. Maybe they couldn’t get into a kayak so they needed the boat.

A few more minutes went by, and the race director announced that they had a swimmer missing. The swimmer had gone into the water but hadn’t come out, and they needed to locate them before they could continue the race. Everyone started shouting into the crowd “Number 55! Who has number 55?” Around this time, a man came sprinting up from the transition area. He was soaking wet and holding his swim cap, so it was obvious he’d been in one of the first two waves. He pulled a woman out of the crowd, whispered something to her, and she started crying. All the very bad feelings we’d been having but pushed down surfaced. Athletes were talking amongst themselves – “Check T1, if his bike is gone then he maybe lost his chip in the water and he’s out on the course,” or “Maybe they checked in an athlete that wasn’t actually here, ” or, “He’s probably just getting out of the water right about now.”

Another few minutes went by and the race director announced that the swim portion of the race was cancelled, and that they would have us continue in a time trial start to the bike portion of the race. We were told to walk back to T1.

I’ve never been at a race that was so quiet. I think we all knew at that point that whomever was unlucky enough to be #55 was in dire straights. I had a horrible, nauseating feeling that unless a major miscommunication had happened, #55 was not among us anymore.

Back at T1, we saw Cyndi standing near where the swim exit was. I was shaking and near tears. She had obviously been experiencing her own form of hell, because she knew as well as the rest of us that someone had probably lost their life. We knew that #55 was a male in his 30s. She knew that someone else’s husband wasn’t coming home that night, and it added a fresh layer to the hell she was already living in. I was on the fence at that point about continuing. I was shaking and upset. She told us that Derek would want us to persevere and make this happen. We were there to come together as a team, and we wanted to honor Derek’s memory. She said a lot of very eloquent things considering how upset she was – how she gets through the days by putting one foot in front of the other – by remembering how Derek valued perseverance and commitment. I looked at Edwin, gave a hug, wiped some tears away and tried to get my emotional shit together.

Thankfully, this time trial start was a far cry from the one at IM Chattanooga – it was a lot less stressful. Honestly, it looked like a lot of people had decided to turn in their timing chips and call it a day, so the transition area was pretty empty by the time I got my shoes on and pulled my bike off the rack. We lined up, and Roslynn and I jockeyed for space next to each other in the line. I knew I’d be with her for a mere 2 minutes before she dropped me like a hot potato once we were out on the course, but it was nice to have company for a tiny bit.

I was still shaking but got on my bike and took off. I had set some lofty goals for myself, the main one being that if we weren’t going to win the relay team division, I was going to leave no doubt in my mind that I hadn’t tried my hardest. The majority of my shorter distance races, I am in the 17+ mph range, so I figured for a sprint distance, I could get into the 18s. I knew I didn’t have to hold back anything since I didn’t have the run to save my legs for. I made it out to the main road and decided to start the hard push there. Because I was having to work so hard to maintain my speed and cadence, it was easier to forget about #55. I did think about Derek a lot, primarily because I was praying to him to watch over all of us, keep us safe – as well as channeling his voice into yelling at me to push harder.

The turn around point comes at the top of a very steep hill. I tried to balance between going as hard as I could manage while still saving enough energy to get up that hill. Thankfully I managed to get up the hill, while passing quite a few people walking their bikes up it. My goal was to limit the amount of people passing me and pass as many as I could pick off. By mile 9 and the top of the hill, I was feeling the effort as well as the heat (hottest day of the summer so far). On the way back, I kept telling myself there was no reason to hold back, blow up or throw up, go go go, and reminding myself that the sooner I got back, the sooner Edwin could be running, and the faster we’d both be out of the heat.

Around mile 15, I went to take a sip from my aero bottle only to hear the dreaded slurping sounds of an empty bottle. I was dehydrated and hungry. Because the race was delayed so much, I hadn’t brought enough water or food, and I was paying the price now. Oh well. I put it out of my mind and attempted the final push back to transition. There was a lot of mind over matter those last few miles. I’d feel the lactic acid build like crazy in my legs, but instead of backing off, I’d tell myself that soon the acid would flush out and I’d feel better. I got through many of the small rollers that way.

I slowed down the last 1/8 mile before the dismount line. My bike time: 1:01:53, average speed 18.4 mph. I was thrilled.

Edwin was waiting at the bike rack for me. I racked my bike and he grabbed the timing chip off my ankle and broke out in a sprint for the Run Out arch. Transition time: 46 seconds, mostly because of my inability to run in my new bike shoes. I am SO slow in them.

I hung out with Cyndi and some of the team who came out to cheer everyone else on. I got to see a bunch of our people come in off the bike and start their runs. I knew Edwin was trying to get in around 25 minutes for his 5k, which for him is “slow.” He hadn’t really been training for anything and definitely hadn’t been doing speed work, but he’s one of those incredibly annoying people who can barely run and still go out and bust out a fast race somewhat effortlessly.  Sure enough, Edwin crossed the finish line with a 25:23 5k. He definitely wasn’t feeling great, but after he realized he wasn’t going to vomit, he returned to his normal happy self. We hung out near the results waiting to see what the other two teams did, and saw that we were in first place as none of the other teams had finished. A girl standing nearby realized we were a relay team and told us that she was too, but the bike leg had backed out of the race when the swimmer went missing, so now it was down to us and one other team. And since we were already in . . . we won.

Normally I’d be thrilled to win anything, but once the adrenaline had worn off, I just felt sad and stressed out. The boats were still out looking for the swimmer, but the longer the search went on, the worse we all felt. Edwin was feeling pretty sick at this point and needed to eat, so we hugged everyone and headed back home.

I had previously planned a very long swim for this coming Sunday – swimming from Watkins Landing to Robious Landing, 4.4 miles. Edwin’s going to run kayak support for it and I had some other teammates interested in it. A few have chosen not to do it considering what happened at the race, but I am going forward with my plan. At this time, no one really knows what happened to #55, who eventually became a human being with a name: Quy Pham, a father of two and a beloved bartender in Richmond. I do know that I take many precautions to be safe in the water, and I have a fair level of experience in open water at this point. I have worked diligently on my OWS skills, and I am constantly exposing myself to new situations so that I can build on those skills further and increase my confidence. I’ve seen many, many situations in races where people are making dangerous choices to swim without appropriate training. Part of this may stem from people mistakenly thinking that because the swim is the shortest part of a triathlon, it’s not as important, but as my swim coach often remarks, it’s the one part of the triathlon where you can die  – no matter how much safety and support is given. This man had some kind of issue and within moments was under the water and in the current, unable to be assisted.

I also want to acknowledge how traumatic and difficult this situation must have been for the people providing safety support for swimmers. I know many of them are volunteers – I can’t imagine what they are feeling or dealing with. My heart goes out to the race director and all those who tried their best to make this as safe as possible.

In the meantime, I’m keeping on – persevering, doing my best to not let fear get in the way of the goals I’ve set for myself. My hope for Mr. Pham’s widow is that the community and their friends and family rally around them as much as Cyndi’s did, and so far it appears that is happening. An article about him is linked below, and there is a go fund me set up for his family as well if you are interested.

https://www.richmond.com/news/local/henrico/admired-bartender-at-mekong-apparently-drowned-during-sunday-s-robious/article_724a1c63-8cc0-5657-a313-db4d691e19a2.html

https://www.gofundme.com/phamily?fbclid=IwAR3m9YDgZqiVi0xpYE3qZFedxsCQkJxUNzgqOcvAVwhxeYUepGPTXeBnouU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inaugural Ironman Virginia 70.3 Race Report – AKA When Triathlon Beats the Cocky Right Outta You

Way back when Ironman first announced they had purchased Rev3 Williamsburg, I had this great idea that an early season race would be so much fun to do as a relay. Each of the relay legs could focus on what they do best, training over the spring would be more relaxed, and personally, I’d never had the chance to go as hard as possible during a race (except the Tune Up Tri and that was only because it was so short). I wanted to see what I could do for a longer distance race when I didn’t have to worry about the other 2 legs.

I got Roslynn on board for the bike and we slowly twisted Blair’s arm to be our run leg (pun intended). As Blair is fairly new to tri, not having an opportunity to get comfortable in the water took her out for the swim, and she wanted more time on the roads to get used to the cycling part. Blair has always been a strong athlete, but she has worked very hard on her run over the winter and spring, and man, has she gotten fast. And stronger. Roslynn also worked hard on her bike skills and although she was fast last year, this year she’s smoking the past version of herself. As for me, I decided to swim a lot this winter and spring, and I have stayed committed to that goal. I haven’t noticed myself getting a lot faster in the water, but in swimming, it seems like shaving :02/:03 seconds off your 100 time is a hard thing. My private goal was to do the 1.2 mile swim with an average 1:45/100 pace. I’d had those kinds of times in the past in certain open water conditions, but there is no reliability to OWS times as you never know what you’re going to get on the day of the race, especially when locations are different.

My point is, I had a goal. Roslynn had her own for the bike, and I’m sure Blair had one too, but we were all fairly quiet about it.

This was the first time I’ve signed up for a race where I wasn’t nervous as hell the entire time I trained for it. I was flat-out excited. I couldn’t wait to get in that disgusting muck of a river/creek and show that thing who was boss. I wanted to excel for my team. I knew we didn’t have a chance in hell of placing in an Ironman event, but I wanted to blow all my previous records away.

As it is with all Ironman events, there was mandatory packet pick up and bike check in on Saturday, with the race on Sunday. Saturday in Williamsburg turned out to be oddly hot as hell and humid too for added fun. I got seriously sunburned during the athlete briefing in a very unfortunate place. Still, we wandered around, enjoying seeing the rest of the team (Stefanie, Sarah, Angela, Alberto, and some random other people I knew doing the race). I was particularly excited about Sarah, since it was her first half, and for Blair, who was running her first half marathon, and would have the awesome experience of that Ironman red carpet into the finish line.

The swim portion of the race briefing didn’t concern me much. There was one part of the course that had us swimming between two buoys to keep us away from the shallow sides of the creek, but that was about it.

In horror movies, the director will often play scary music or use close shots of characters when they are foreshadowing something bad to come. In my personal IMVA horror movie, I vaguely heard – but didn’t worry about – the fact that no warm up swim would be allowed on race morning. In fact, there was no pre-swim or practice swim or swim of any kind at all happening there at the race site. I mentally shrugged my shoulders and thought, “Oh well. Not ideal, but it’s not like the water is that cold. I’ll be fine.” When I had done the Olympic version of the race, back when Rev3 still put it on, the swim was no big deal to me. In fact, I had one of my fastest swims ever – with or without a wetsuit. Because I’d done the swim before, I was even more blasé about it. I don’t remember if there was a warm up swim for that race, but I think there was one.

Ironman had made a change to the swim course, in that most of it was taking place in Gordon’s Creek before turning left into the Chickahominy. I’m not a huge fan of creeks to begin with, and I was a little bit scarred from Rev3 when trying to get out of the swim and sinking crotch deep into what can only be described as hot, sticky mucus (aka the bottom of the river.) I was hoping it would be better this time.

The race director moved on to talking about the bike. Roslynn did a good job of keeping her face composed, but the way he was describing the back 2/3 of the loop was no other word than gnarly. It was supposed to storm most of the day on Sunday. Wet road conditions + fast bikes + tiny tires + train tracks + torn up roads and hairpin turns = gnarly. I was relieved I wasn’t doing the bike leg, but I was having second-hand anxiety and PTSD for Roslynn. I knew at that point there would be no relaxing for me on race day until she was in off the bike safely.

The run course was about as straightforward as it had been with Rev3 – two loops including a gross bridge with no shade, and an out and back 6 mile loop. It meant doing the inclines of the bridge 4 times (and yes, that means you get to run down it 4 times too.) Blair was cool as a cucumber about all of it. We spent some money as is required on overpriced Mdot merchandise, picked up our cool IMVA 70.3 dry bags (great idea, Ironman Virginia!) and wandered around the village. Blair fell in love with the Normatech leg sleeves, but not the price, so we walked away after her session was over.

After the race briefing, we packed up and checked into the hotel, then decided we should drive the last 2/3 of the bike course so we could see if it was really as bad as the race director said. With Roslynn’s husband Bill behind the wheel, we took off for the intersection of Brick Bat Road and Route 5, then headed north on Brick Bat for about 15 miles.

The hills described seemed doable – Roslynn is strong as hell on the hills anyway, and we had so many hours and miles on hills last year for IMCHOO training that we all felt confident we knew how to gear for the big ones. Also, it was very easy being confident since I didn’t have to actually ride them myself!

The dicey section the RD had described was definitely . . . dicey. The road was in bad shape, the turns were sharp, the road was littered with debris from previous storms and because it was so shaded, nothing really dries down there . . . etc etc. There were two sections designated as no passing zones due to the narrowness of the roads, and also no being in aero in those sections. We were promised volunteers that would be screaming “SLOW DOWN YOU IDIOTS” in that section. Roslynn just accepted she’d be riding conservatively there and safely. The only thing we all cared about was having fun, staying safe and finishing.

Then it was time for dinner at the delicious Dog Street pub in Colonial Williamsburg. I tasted Scotch Eggs for the first time, drank a ton of water, had fun talking to Sarah and her husband David, and allowed myself to feel relaxed. We were worn out from all the sun and humidity, so we headed back to the hotel for an early bedtime.

Race morning came very, very early. Despite my insistence that I was relaxed going into this race, I didn’t sleep at all – as usual.

We got ready quickly and headed out to Chickahominy Riverfront Park. As we feared, getting into the park was a nightmare. We sat in traffic for a long time. Thankfully we had left ridiculously early after our stressful Rumpus in Bumpass experience, so we were fine, but I can imagine that many people were not. Once in the park, we found parking right away. Roslynn got her bike together and tried to buy tire levers (no luck), and I made a final decision to go with my long sleeved wetsuit even though I thought I was going to get hot. I recall the official water temp was 71.2. Roslynn braided Blair’s and my hair, and we were all ready to go. Roslynn decided to stay near the relay pen instead of walking the ¼ mile up to the swim start, since we thought the swim would be fairly quick and we didn’t want her to have to rush back. Blair went with me.

Seeing nearly 2000 people all gathered at a tiny entrance to a river I couldn’t see made my nerves a little jangly. I saw Sarah, which was great, so we hugged it out. I saw my friend Lizz too, and got another hug.

The swim start was self-seeded, so I put myself in the 37-40 minute estimated finish group. I ended up walking next to a really nice guy from New Jersey. He is the kind of triathlon dude I love. You would never know he was a great athlete with a lot of experience because he downplayed everything – turns out he had done a bunch of fulls and even more halfs, and had a lot of insight to share on everything, once I got him talking.

I miss Derek always, but so painfully at a swim start. Having his calm voice and dry humor at the start of most of the races I’ve done was that last little bit of comfort I needed. It feels like a huge void at the start of the races now, and it makes me sad, and angry, and bitter for a world that would take someone like him away. I pushed those feelings down for the millionth time and tried to refocus.

With less than a minute to go before I went into the water, I still couldn’t see the river. We walked out a longish dock and they were having swimmers jump in one second apart. I wished my new friend well and finally got close enough to see the brown/greenish creek water awaiting me. Then I had a swim start person yelling at me to jump, so I held my goggles and jumped in. I told myself, GO HARD! DO IT!

This was the first time I had ever just jumped into a race swim without a warm up of any kind, and man, did I underestimate how it would impact me.

For the first 100, I tried to argue myself out of my belief that I couldn’t breathe. I was having so much trouble moving air that even breathing with every other stroke, I was gasping by the time my head turned to the side to breathe. I tried to breaststroke for a bit to keep my head up, hoping my breath would even out if I didn’t hold my head under water. That seemed to make it worse, and I started to panic. Once again, I told myself it was mental and to get going. I swam about another 100 and gave up. My heart rate felt like it was in the 170s and although I never thought I was going to die or drown, I was getting incredibly frustrated. It felt like forever since I’d started and all I could think about was how disappointed I was going to be in my swim. Then I started to wonder if I’d be able to complete the swim. 1.2 miles had never seemed so long. If I couldn’t get my breathing under control, there’d be no way I could continue. My wetsuit felt like it was squeezing the will to live out of me. No matter how many times I pulled at the neck to let water in, it returned to the python grip on my lungs and neck.

I saw a kayak near me, so I made the split-second decision to do what I had never done – hang off the side of one. To me, it’s akin to a walk of shame. I didn’t have any other ideas on how to fix my breathing issues, and I was about to give up on the swim entirely, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt at this point. The kayaker threw me a flotation buoy and I grabbed it and tried to breathe slowly. Someone else was hanging off the other side – he looked at me with wide eyes and said, “This is not like the pool.” I was still gasping for air so I just nodded. Then he said, “I don’t like not being able to see the bottom.” As I’ve described, the water was so murky that I couldn’t see feet in front of me until I was touching them so . . . he was definitely not going to be seeing the bottom anytime soon. I said, “Welcome to Virginia”, wished him luck and decided to shove off and start up again.

I felt like I’d blown 10 minutes in the water between breast stroking and hanging on the buoy. I was too scared to look back to see how (not) far I’d gone, so I just decided to swim slowly and see if I could get my breathing to slow down. Somehow in that midst of all that fear and self-doubt and irritation, I finally found my rhythm. As soon as I realized I was no longer gasping, I started playing with my pace, going a little bit faster each time I checked in with myself.

Soon I was through the two buoys where the course narrowed and thankfully everyone had spread out at that point. I was relieved to see the turn into the Chickahominy, as I knew there was supposed to be a current and my swim was going to get better. I feel less panicky when I’m not confined to a murky creek.

Just like in Rumpus, my calculations were grossly incorrect. Turning the corner meant chop in my face, and if there was a current, it certainly did not feel like it was with me. I felt like I was fighting the wind and waves the entire time. I also thought the portion from the turn to the finish was shorter than the swim in Gordon’s, but for some reason it felt longer. I also started to pass people (finally!) and I was having trouble getting around them. I was also taking in a lot of water because of the angle of the waves. The water was so silty (the color of caramel) that I wasn’t aware I was near or approaching someone until I crawled over them or hit them with my hands. Everyone was doing the same thing, so there was a lot of touching and pulling and elbowing.

I stopped worrying about how many buoys were in front of me at this point. I just decided that I had to make up for all the time I lost in the creek, so I swam harder and faster until I reached the point where my lungs felt like they were going to give out. In all the time I’ve done tri swims, I’ve held back on my kick since I had to use my legs exclusively the rest of the day, and told myself to pull – hard. This time, I eased back on my pull a bit, as my kick is the strongest part of the swim for me. I kicked like hell and tried to leave every bit of energy I had in the river.

I passed the final turn buoy, momentarily confused by the wiggly man at the end of the dock. I thought that was the exit, but the swim exit was closer in to shore. Ironman had given us a dock to help us avoid wading through the snot bottom, but people didn’t realize how bad it was and as they approached the dock, they tried to stand and sank down. I knew better, and used my salamander stroke to belly crawl as close to the dock as I could. With all my arm strength, I grabbed the edge of the dock, hoping the swim exit volunteer would haul me up, but she was clueless. I sort of flopped/fell forward onto the dock, dragged my mucus-covered legs over the edge, and staggered to an upright position. I heard, rather than saw, Bonnie. At that point I was laser focused on getting the ¼ mile or so through transition to Roslynn so we could exchange chips and she could be on her way.

I decided not to waste time with the wetsuit strippers and sprinted – as much as one can sprint in a wetsuit – down the path toward the relay pen. I had gotten the top unzipped and pulled my goggles off.

Around ½ way there, I realized I was crying. I decided to not think about it much, made it the rest of the way to Roslynn, slapped the chip on her leg, and wished her well. She looked excited and Blair said I had a great swim – that I was right on time. I was so confused.

Once Roslynn was safely off on her bike, I had some sort of emotional crash. I was hyperventilating and crying and trying to calm down. Poor Blair was completely confused – all she knew was, I had hit my 38 minute swim target, so why would I be upset?

I’ve had a lot of time to process all of that, and I think the short version of what happened is that Ironman smacked the crap out of my cocky swim mentality. I’ve found that whenever I think I know all there is to know about some specific part of racing, triathlon comes around and smacks me with a dead fish right in the face. Being in the water, unable to calm down, struggling like “those people” who just don’t have enough experience in open water, or who wait until the day of the race to try on their wetsuit, or whatever other judgment I’ve made about those around me panicking while I smugly plow forward – well, I was one of “those people”. I was humiliated that I had to grab the kayak and angry that I couldn’t get my body in line as fast as I wanted it to. I learned a valuable lesson – this girl needs a warm up swim, and if I can’t always rely on a race to give me one, I’d better train for that possibility.

The tears were a combination of relief it was over, anger that I’d blown it, embarrassment that I was crying or upset about it in the first place, and a release of a wave of anxiety I’d rarely felt. I eventually calmed down and got changed and the rest of the day I was fine, but I knew I was going to have to come to a reckoning with myself.

Low and behold, despite my stops, I had my fastest open water swim ever. I timed myself from the entry to the water until my hand hit the dock, as I wanted to know my actual swim time for the 1.2 miles. This was a killer pace for me, yet I find myself unable to really celebrate it. I could have gotten this same pace without stopping and I would have been thrilled, but because I panicked, somehow it feels like a hollow victory. My head is dumb and so is my logic, but there is it.

imva swim

Not a swim to be ashamed of, no matter what.

The rest of IMVA was pretty great. Unfortunately there were very few timing mats on the bike course, so Blair and I anxiously followed the tracker and guessed on how accurate it was. When Roslynn hit the first mat, she was averaging 20 mph and we both yelled and jumped up and down (or maybe just I did; Blair is a lot more composed than I am). She was knocking it out of the park – despite the fact that it was raining hard. I was quietly worrying and stressing over the back half of the course, and I knew I wasn’t going to really be able to exhale until she was off the bike. Her goal had been to break 3:00 and when she rolled in at a cool 2:50, we were all ecstatic! Blair had done her 1 mile warmup and was mentally as prepared to go as one can be, running their first half marathon. Her attitude was great and she was raring to go. Roslynn came in to the pen, panting and obviously wiped out from a massive effort. She got the chip on Blair and the run leg began.

I love racing with Roslynn for so many reasons, but one is that she often suffers anxiety before a race and inevitably is the person you see on the course hooting and hollering and grinning from ear to ear because she’s having so much fun. When she finally caught her breath, she said, “THAT WAS AWESOME! I HAD SO MUCH FUN!” I thought, “Why can’t I be like her???” I hugged her and told her how amazed I was by what she was able to accomplish on a tough, rainy day and on a tough, technical section toward the end of a long ride.

She got changed and ate some food. We had caught up with Bonnie at this point and I heard Fran and Tony were in the area as well, so we grabbed our cheer signs and headed out to the bridge where we would catch Blair on her way back in front the first 6 mile loop, and hopefully catch the rest of the team there as well. By now the sun had come out and it was humid and hot and, I’ll say it – a little bit miserable. I felt bad for all the runners who had suffered a rainy slippery bike course just to start the run in a steam shower. Virginia loves to dish out the pain.

I had made a sign that said “It’s just a 5k . . . with a 10 mile warmup” and people either loved it or hated it. One guy hit it so hard with his fist, he knocked it out of my hand. Thankfully most people laughed. I decided that cheering for other racers is my favorite thing ever. Fran, Tony, Bonnie, Roslynn and I had great seats on the bridge and we loved cheering on our team.

Around the time Blair approached us at the end of her first 10k, I got a message from Cyndi saying that we were in 6th place and if Blair held her pace, we might be able to get to 4th. I was shocked – there were 39 relay teams competing and I couldn’t believe we were that close to the top. I conferred with Roslynn and we decided to tell Blair. I wasn’t sure I would have wanted to know, but we guessed that Blair would, so after she completed the turnaround and ran by us on her 2nd and final loop, Roslynn shouted the news to her. She grimaced a bit and then looked determined and ran right back up that gross, hot bridge.

We stayed a bit longer to see Sarah starting her first loop. She looked fatigued but happy, and we made a lot of noise for her. Then Roslynn and I headed to the finish line to await Blair.

I was hoping for more timing mats, but we got a notification when Blair hit the 9’ish mile mark. She was making great time. Then we just waited in the hot sun at the finish for Blair to come through.

We caught sight of her as she rounded the corner to the finish chute, and Roslynn’s mom pride overflowed. She was crying her eyes out, which of course made me start up all over again! Blair just looked peaceful as always, but very glad to be finishing. She had a huge smile on her face.

She picked up her medal, we figured out how to get ours, and the texts from Cyndi kept coming in. For a little bit, we were in 2nd place, then dropped to 3rd as other results came in. We waited, and prayed. It was beyond my wildest imagination to ever think I’d be on a podium at an Ironman event, but it looked more likely that we had done it – even with my ridiculous freak out in the water.

We got to see the rest of the team finish. Each one of them fought through their fair share of challenges but looked great at the end, and hugging Sarah after she finished was awesome! She worked so hard for the last two years. There is nothing like seeing someone accomplish a huge goal, right in front of your eyes.

We got the disappointing news that due to weather concerns, Ironman wasn’t going to do an age group or relay awards ceremony. We shrugged it off and picked up our award, and pretended that the Ironman backdrop was the same as podium and got some good pictures anyway. Then we loaded up 50,000 pounds of our stuff and muddy selves and headed back to Richmond.

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WE DID IT!

 

So what’s the takeaway from all of this?

I have very strong teammates – that’s first and foremost – and I am so proud of all of them and so grateful to know them, and train with them.

I loved doing a relay – it allowed all of us to laser focus on our areas, and I feel like each of us tried our very best to do our very best.

I miss Derek, and will continue to miss the hell out of him forever. I missed Cyndi’s presence there too, but she texted a lot and it was almost like having her in person at the race.

And finally, I need to work on cold entrances to a swim start 😊

 

 

Rumpus in Bumpass Race Report – Waves, Wind and Heat, Oh My.

For some reason, I felt like I needed to do an Oly distance tri this year since all I had on the calendar was Barrelman 70.3 in September.  It just seemed like the prudent thing to do.

However, last year’s Rumpus was quite the day – the water temps were sooooo cold that the swim was shortened, and my teammates had a comedy of errors that are now legendary (broken wetsuit zipper, doing the swim anyway in 51 degree temps, broken toe, Garmin dropping on the bike course, etc etc). I guess I thought there was no way the race could go the same the following year, and it fit in my schedule, so I signed up.

I vaguely remembered liking the race, but I also have to temper that by saying that I can’t really remember the race until the run, most likely because my brain and body was still frozen until halfway through the run.

Somehow I talked Roslynn into doing it with me again, even though from the moment she finished the race in 2018 until the day she signed up, she swore she’d never do it again.

The week before the race, we got an email from the race director with the pleasant news that water temps were in the mid-60s. I was in Texas during my taper week, and had the opportunity to swim in Grapevine Lake – water temp mid-60s and perfect for a wetsuit swim. I felt confident my race experience this year would be a very different one from FreezeFest 2018.

Roslynn and I met up at her house early on Saturday morning with Super Sherpa Blair and headed out to Pleasants Landing Marina with plenty of time to spare (or so we thought.) Roslynn had accidentally navigated to Lake Anna Marina, but it wasn’t a huge deal as it was on the way. However, when we got close to Pleasants Landing, we saw traffic backed up for a good mile to even get onto the road LEADING to the parking lot. It was moving very slowly and neither Roslynn nor I likes being late, so we were both a little stressed out as we still had to pick up our packets.

We finally got through the cluster of traffic and parking issues only to find out that we still had a nearly 1/2 mile hike through the woods to get to the main race site. Okay, no big deal. We pulled our stuff out, got our bikes ready, loaded Super Sherpa Mule Blair up with all of our crap, and started walking. Unfortunately, we’d had a crazy night of rain and storms (and even some tornadoes) on Friday, and the trail was already a mud bog. This is the same trail we’d all be running on in few short hours . . .

We tried walking around the mud as best as possible and finally got to packet pick up. We were very efficient and got packets, body marking and timing chips quickly, then set up our stuff in transition. It was an absolutely gorgeous day at Lake Anna – scattered clouds, sun, and what looked like a kind of calm lake. There were some big gusts of wind, but on the shore, it didn’t feel like a big deal (foreshadowing). We got into our wetsuits and had approximately five minutes for a pre-swim before they closed the swim course for the race start. We hugged Blair and stood by the water and talked about Derek a little bit. I always feel his presence – and absence – during a race or in our normal meeting places, like West Creek and Cap Trail. It seems so quiet without him and it feels pretty bad. We decided to channel that grief into making Derek proud of us (but he was always proud anyway, even when we did stupid things, just because we tried so hard.)

We got into the water and swam out to the start buoy. It was around then that I began to notice a current whipped up by the wind. It was a little choppy – nothing too major – but I could sense that a few of the women near me were very nervous about it. We made encouraging comments to each other until the gun went off, and then the race was officially on.

It is common for me to spend the first 1/2 mile of every swim at every triathlon I’ve ever done questioning my sanity and desire to do this sport. I’ve learned that this happens to me and that it will pass eventually, so I try not to pay attention to that voice or give it any power. This time, I didn’t have time for thoughts of any kind other than breathing since there was a lot of panicked swimming. I couldn’t find any holes to go through, so I was pinned between two women in particular. I was trying to swim with Roslynn since we are close to the same speed in the water, and neither of us were trying to win this race, but within the first 400 I was trapped behind a group of swimmers and couldn’t get around them. 2 of them stopped dead in the water, and began a sort of strange breast stroke-esque kick that almost knocked the goggles off my face. I popped my head up to tread water and get my bearings, and asked them if they were okay. Both of them looked like deer in the headlights and didn’t really answer me, so I squeezed between them and moved on.

As this was one of my first races without Derek’s insight on water conditions, I wasn’t sure how good I’d be at figuring out what to expect. Turns out I suck at it, because I thought the first leg of the triangular swim course would be the hard part. As I got nearer to the turn buoy, I kept telling myself that this would soon be smooth sailing – the current would be with me, the wind would calm down, and I’d be just fine. Unfortunately, I was completely incorrect and the backside of the course was actually worse.

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A good view of the transition area and swim course – the swim is around the small “peninsula”. Swim start is to the left side, by the dock, finish is in the area on the right that looks blue.

I occasionally would look around for the safety kayaks or jet skis, but this was the only race I can remember where I literally saw none.  I made a mental note of it and was grateful I wasn’t in any distress, but it did strike me as odd.

At around the 1000 meter mark, I realized there was no one around me. At all. I looked up and I was alone in the water. I saw tiny splashes to my left and realized I was way off course. The current was pushing me back into the side of the peninsula, and I had to cut hard back to the left to find the buoys. I don’t know what buoy I was sighting off, but it obviously wasn’t the correct one. The waves at this point were high enough where I was getting water in my mouth every time I took a breath, and they were high enough that I was having trouble sighting anything at all, including the wiggly man at the finish line. I had a number of thoughts in succession at that point, including:

  1. I may die out here
  2. No, I’m not going to die, I’ve got this, I’ve trained for this.
  3. Okay, someone one time taught me how to breathe when chop is in front of your face – how do I do that again?
  4. Oh yeah, that’s how you do it.
  5. This is the longest .9 miles ever
  6. This has got to be my slowest swim ever, I feel like I’ve been in the water for a year.
  7. When will this be over?

Normally, once I find my rhythm in the water, I love the swim and regularly remind myself that it will be the only time during my race I won’t be hot. This swim, though, I couldn’t wait to finish. I now have an understanding of what people who don’t like the swim leg feel like.

Finally, I had a good view of the wiggly man and managed to get myself to the shoreline and to the very nice volunteers helping hoist us all out of the water and onto the steps. I was dizzy and out of it, so as soon as my helper let go of me, I slammed my toe onto the wood of the steps and snapped off a portion of my toenail. I only have a vague recollection of this, which was good at the time.

I found out from Blair later that people were being plucked from the water right and left and many were hanging on to the safety kayaks. This would be why I hadn’t seen any – they were being overwhelmed with swimmers who needed assistance.

I’m going to step away from my regular race report to first give a shout out to my coaches and to Peluso Open Water. I am very fortunate to live in an area where we have access to real OWS training and practice. Without it, I’m not sure where I’d be. I also owe my coaches a real debt as they have drilled into our heads how important the swim leg is and strongly encourage us to get proficient in all water conditions. I would never, ever, ever, enter a race without having tried on/swam in my wetsuit, or going from a pool swim to an open water swim on race day, never having had exposure to open water. It seems strange to me that so many people do this, but maybe I’d have been the same way if I didn’t have the coaches I do.

But – going out unprepared like this, in difficult water conditions, is a really bad idea. I’m not sure people understand how dangerous a swim can be if you’re not a proficient swimmer with proper training. And an Olympic distance is long enough to be problematic. Hell, the Sprint distance in that water would have been challenging.

Someone at a high level made a comment that he hoped USAT would take swim proficiency more seriously and I hope they do as well. While the swim may be the shortest leg in a triathlon, it’s the one where you can die most easily and it’s not to be underestimated.

Off my soap box . . .

Swim: 31:45. While that wasn’t my goal pace, considering the conditions, my crappy sighting and my blocked passage, I was very happy with it.

T1: a whopping and lengthy 4:25. I had trouble getting my wetsuit off, I was dizzy, and I had mud all over my feet so I spent some time trying to get it off before shoving on my bike shoes. I didn’t have time to get my hair braided that morning so my ponytail got stuck in my helmet and I know enough not to ignore those things – it’s impossible to fix once I get on the bike. The run out to the bike mount line is LONG as well, so that was probably a solid minute to a minute and a half of my T1 time.

I love the bike course for Rumpus. It’s hilly enough to be interesting with nothing too major (loop 2, I did end up shifting into granny gear on the big hill just to save my legs). There are plenty of lake views and countryside and farm animals to look at, and I enjoyed all of it.

There was the highest percentage of any race I’ve done of people passing without announcing themselves. I started counting and I think it was around 1 in 12 people who said “on your left” before passing. I don’t get why this is a hard thing to do. In one case, a very aggressive guy decided to pass two other athletes BETWEEN their bikes. At the last minute, he bailed on the idea and went to the left, crossing over the center line in the process while scaring the crap out of one of the cyclists who didn’t hear him. I guess grunting a few words is just too much effort.

I saw the aftermath of one bad accident that involved four cyclists. Right after that, an ambulance came up the road toward them, and I hope that everyone was okay. Blair told us that many people were aggressive into the sharp turn at the start of the bike course and wiped out; I saw plenty of flats and one guy walking his bike back on the road. Once again I felt grateful for a race where I didn’t crash or have mechanical issues.

The first loop of 12 miles was good and my average speed was mid-17 mph. I felt like that was a good pace – my legs were working hard, but still felt like I’d have some juice in them for the run. The second loop, the wind really picked up and the gusts were quite strong. One hit me going up a hill and I thought I was going to tip over. My speed ended up slower than I wanted it to be, averaging 17.1 mph. I was shooting for 17.4 or higher. Oh well.

Still working on my nutrition – although I did drink my Infinit during the bike portion, I had no carbs prior to the race as I’m on a low carb food plan right now. I am never hungry during a race, but I was hungry at the beginning of the bike and for the entire run, so I need to fix that somehow.

I took my time going into the dismount line as I have a new fear of wiping out, so I went wide and slowed down gradually. I had just gotten off my bike and started running down the road toward T2 when another guy came in hot, tipped over, and knocked the guy next to him down. This is why I go slow, folks.

Bike Time: 1:24:16

T2: 3:53. Meh. Again, a long trek from the bike dismount back to the transition area. I did my best to be quick about it.

By this point, I was legitimately warmed up, and wishing I’d worn sunscreen. I could tell I was getting a sunburn on my upper arms where my bike sleeves didn’t cover and I knew it was going to get worse on the run.

This run course is not my favorite, but it’s not my least favorite, either (that would be Raleigh 70.3 hands down). It’s a two loop course, with a long run from T2 through a wooded trail out to the road, a loop that ends at the top of a gross hill, and then you do it again. A big portion of the road isn’t shaded, but it does have a nice view of a beautiful creek and some farmland. My goal for the run was just to consistently run, and only use intervals if my hip started hurting. Thankfully it didn’t, but I was definitely hot, dehydrated, hungry and sort of over the idea of a triathlon at that point. The wind had taken a toll and the swim had sapped a lot of energy from me, which it usually does not. In 2018 I was able to maintain an 11 min mile pace with no walking, so that was my goal, but as soon as I hit the trail I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do that. I readjusted my expectations to “just run, no matter how slow” and got out there.

By now, the mud had spread wide enough where you couldn’t get around it on the trail. I saw a number of people lose their running shoes in it (including Roslynn, but I didn’t know that until later). I started to pick my way through it, then said screw it and just walked into the middle and hoped for the best. I got to spend the next 6 miles smelling swamp socks and swamp shoes and feeling the mud drying on the back of my heel. I learned that I definitely do not want to do a mud run from this experience.

There isn’t much to say about the run other than it was great seeing Roslynn twice on the run course. At this point she was 2 miles ahead of me, so I was happy for her as it meant she had a great bike time. She looked slightly miserable but we both smiled at each other and high-fived and whooped like this was the most fun we’d ever had in our lives.

I let myself walk up the two bigger hills but that was it. I paid no attention to my watch and just got myself to the finish line as fast as I could. I was pretty happy to see it, especially after going through the mud again. I run this race for the finisher’s medals – I’m only partly joking – because it’s a monster and I love it. Right after I finished we found out Roslynn had placed 3rd in her age group. I also placed 4th in mine – no medal, but I’m now at the higher end of mediocre, and that’s exciting for me!

Run time: 1:14:54, an abysmal 12:03/mile pace.

Total time: 3:19:13, a full 5 minutes longer than my fastest Oly (Rev 3 Williamsburg – flat course, but hot as hell when I did it).

We stayed for another hour for the longest awards ceremony I’ve seen (lots of categories), picked up Roslynn’s medal, and headed home for showers. We were all gross.

Some take-aways from this race:

  •  More practice in difficult OWS conditions. If I’m going to do Greece next year, I need a lot more exposure to ocean swims or swims with a lot of chop. The videos from Greece’s inaugural race this year scared the hell out of me. Serious waves.
  • More practice sighting in difficult conditions. I failed on the back side of that course. Had it not been for that major mistake, I feel strongly I would have broken 30 minutes on my swim.
  • More work on my run. It continues to be my Achilles Heel, pun intended, and unless I can improve my speed for longer distances, I’ll fall back to the bottom of the mediocre category. I do these races because I enjoy them, but I’d like to improve and the run is where there is a lot of room to do so.
  • Work on my transition times. I still find myself staggering around like an idiot and I want to be more smooth, like the cool kids.

That’s about it! All in all, a great race day, with a lot of challenges and a lot of enjoyment. Not sure I’m doing Rumpus again, but I think I said that last year too.

 

 

Tune Up Tri

The Tune Up Tri was both a terrific and frustrating experience, but mostly it was just terrific.

It was Blair’s first official tri, and she destroyed that race and all of her competition in one fell swoop. Blair isn’t my daughter (I’ll claim her anyway), but I like to think of her as a member of my family. I started training with her for the first time last spring when IMCHOO training was starting to get gnarly. She was between jobs so she was able to train with Roslynn (her real life mom) and me a bunch. She had never ridden with clips, she hadn’t been swimming a ton in years, and she “hated” running. Within the first couple of weeks, she was effortlessly keeping up with Ros and me in the pool – and in the summer, we were swimming, long, long, long distances. She bravely confronted open water swims in the less-than-welcoming arms of the James River. She did the best she could on Roslynn’s old road bike that is a bit too small for her, and got herself comfortable with her new pedals. Watching her go from a hesitant newbie rider to someone who is all guts and gusto has been one of the best parts of tri life. Her dislike of running has been replaced by something else – a game of chicken, maybe, where she is constantly pushing her boundaries and seeing what she can do, and celebrating every victory. I haven’t asked her lately, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t say she hates running anymore. She’s a strong, consistent, dedicated runner, just like she is strong and dedicated in everything else. All of her hard work and belief in herself paid off big time in Manassas.

Roslynn got up super early Saturday morning to knock out her brick while Blair and I didn’t 🙂 We were tapering, you know? For a Super Sprint . . .

The Tune Up Tri is a reverse super sprint, ending in the pool so you don’t freeze to death in those balmy March temps. It’s a 1.5 mile run, a 4 mile bike and a 250 swim. The distances turned out to be, well, a little off, but you get the general idea.

After Roslynn was done with her brick, we met at her house and headed out together with Blair. Blair’s dad Bill came up separately on his motorcycle later that day. We got our race packets, drove the bike course like good and dutiful athletes, made sure we understood the run course, looked at the transition area, and did a shake out ride in some of the windiest weather I’ve ever ridden in. That was actually terrifying, and Blair and I just kept silently praying the wind would die down.

Blair had done a ton of pre-race strategy and planning, and she’d hunted down some competitive intel on the other women in her age groups. She did the same for me, and I realized that I might have a chance to place if I worked hard on my run time. I’ve been getting a bit faster thanks to dropping 20 lbs as well as a lot of negative associations with running, and I was feeling confident that I could go in and run a sub 11 minute mile (my goals are low) for the 1.5 miles. Blair planned out her race, we practiced some transitions, ate some amazing Greek food in old town Manassas (highly recommend), headed back to the hotel, and tried to sleep.

For those of you who race solidly in the middle of the pack like I do, it’s a weird and not entirely pleasant feeling to have the pressure of knowing if you try really hard, you might actually place. I’m so used to not having a snowball’s chance in hell of placing that I generally relax and enjoy race day. I’m not saying I stroll through race day – I give it my best – but I don’t feel a huge amount of pressure because there’s just little to no chance I’ll ever place. It’s actually quite a relief, but until I experienced this kind of pressure, I didn’t know how good I had it!  I decided I was going to do my absolute best – after all, the distance was short enough – and channel my inner Derek and Blow Up or Throw Up.

Race morning dawned cold and clear after little sleep as usual. Someone was partying all night in the room next to Blair’s and mine, so that was super fun. We packed up the bike, ate some breakfast, and began to nervously pace around the Aquatic Center.

Blair’s been to many triathlons, including some Ironman events, so I think she was surprised at how laid back the race environment was. I like small, locally-run events, and I also don’t like them. I like the inclusiveness and diversity of locally produced events, but I don’t like the lack of security or safety on the course. I’ve done the Tune Up Tri before so I knew what to expect, but it’s always a surprise to see the differences between race companies (for better or worse.) I’m used to some semblance of security in the bike area – at this race, anyone could have walked off with anyone else’s bike no problem. Thankfully, no one did. A bunch of volunteers didn’t show up on race day, so people were doing double and triple duty, and that was problematic at points.

Roslynn was volunteering at the finish line and Bill was volunteering as a course marshall (we got to see him a bunch between the run and bike, so that was a bonus!). They went out to their respective areas and Blair and I braved the freezing cold 30 degree temps to stand at the starting line, which actually wasn’t marked, so it was a lot of people just standing around hoping we were in the right place. The race went off in waves, supposedly by age group (but it sure didn’t look like that in actuality.) I was in the age group right in front of Blair, so I had a three minute head start. Right before we started, I talked to a girl who looked really nervous. She had headphones in, so I told her nicely that USAT rules don’t allow them and I didn’t want her to get penalized. We ended up running together the first half mile. She was really nice and started my race off on a positive note.

The “gun” went off and we took off. My plan was to run a 10:30 mile pace which I felt like I could hold for the entire 1.5 miles. As we rounded the first quarter mile, I looked down at my watch and saw that I was running a 10:15 pace and it felt easy, so I said goodbye to my friend who was recovering from an injury and struggling a bit. I knew I needed to push my limits as much as I could. I dropped to a 9:45 pace for the next 3/4 mile. Although it took everything I had to hold the pace, I knew I could do it and I felt like I still had some gas in the tank for the last half mile. When I hit the 1 mile mark, I dropped to a 9:15 pace and told everything in my brain to shut up and just fought through it. Unfortunately, I looked at my watch, relieved to see it said 1.47 miles – except I couldn’t even see the transition area and the run was supposed to be over in .03. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I had paced myself perfectly and at that point, i didn’t feel like I had enough left in my legs to get me any further. I decided that puking was a better alternative than slowing my pace, so I just buckled down and pushed on. I saw the transition area and cursed the race director and thanked god my legs were still moving.

Run: 1.66 miles, 16:08 minutes, 9:42 avg pace

I was trying not to let my lungs explode in the transition area, so I staggered to my bike. As I finished putting my bike stuff on, Blair rolled in. She grunted at me and tried to smile but she had also thrown down the gauntlet and was feeling the pain after that run. I think I grunted back at her and then I was off on the bike with Blair close on my heels.

T1: 1:31 (was really hoping for something closer to a minute considering, but my hands were so cold they weren’t working)

I headed out on the bike course. It’s an ugly course, lots and lots of turns. I think the longest stretch of straight road you get is .25 miles. Everything else is a u turn or a right turn in an industrial park. It’s nearly impossible to get your speed up, though I did my damndest to do so. Every time I let off the gas, I told myself to go harder – it’s a short race, I wasn’t going to die, there was no reason to save anything. I was pleased to notice that I was not getting passed on the bike, by anyone, male or female, but I was passing plenty of men. I always shouted “Good job” or “Looking good”. Most of them appreciated it. A few did not; there are some men who feel like you’ve castrated them if you pass them on the bike. It’s stupid.

I looked down at my bike computer and I was over 4 miles and still couldn’t see the entrance to T2. Uhhhh . . . another distance off. But I knew I had to be close and my favorite part was coming up!

Bike: 4.50 miles, 15:28 minutes, 17.5 mph average pace

My bike computer had me around 4.31, my Garmin had me about 4.34 but later on, the race director said the course actually measured 4.5. She was aware the distances were off, but for some reason, didn’t correct them prior to the race.

T2 was a disaster. I thought about not wearing a swim cap, but I was afraid my goggles would slip down, so I took the time to put it on. However, my hands still weren’t working, I kept slapping myself in the face with my cap, and I was stuck in my jacket. Everything took way longer than I planned.

T2: 1:30

On to the swim – a 250 yard snake swim. The transition mat to the swim area was at the entrance door to the pool, but then you had to walk the entire length of the building to get to the lane where you started. Thankfully no one was in my way when I got to the entry point (though I did get yelled at my a lifeguard to WALK!). I got myself in the pool as fast as I could and started pushing. The long walk from transition to the swim start throws off your pace per 100 time, too, which drives my OCD brain crazy.

I always say I wish the swim was last, but the two times I’ve done a swim last, I remember why it’s first in the trio. Swim at the end of a tri feels like a recipe for drowning. Everything was cold, tired, achy and screaming for a break. In my usual longer distance tris, it’s a slow burn. This thing was like I had been lit on fire and sent screaming into the wilderness. It was THAT level of effort, so once I got into the pool, I thought I was going to sink to the bottom.

About 100 yards in I encountered a man leisurely breaststroking. My normal non-competitive nature would back off and let him get to the wall before passing him, but this time I decided getting kicked in the face was better than giving up even 10 seconds of this race. (I know breaststroking is legal, but I hate when people do it, especially when others are around. It takes up space and is a perfect recipe for someone getting kicked. If you need to breaststroke to make it through a 250 swim, you need to swim more and build your strength. End soapbox rant.)

I felt like I was swimming through mud but I had mostly clear lanes, passed a few people at the wall and before I knew it I saw the ladder out. I threw myself out like a dead fish, gasping for air and doing my usual Dizzy Dance trying to walk after swimming. I staggered across the finished line where Roslynn handed me my finishers medal that wasn’t a medal – a key chain. Right after that, Blair crossed the line, and it was so great to see her getting her medal and a hug from her mom!

Swim: 5:33, 1:59/100

Total time: 40:09

After high fiving Blair, we headed to the locker rooms to change and get somewhat drier. She was feeling pretty confident that she had at least placed second. I had literally no idea where I was. I was so focused on just going hard that I didn’t notice anyone around me, other than a nice person wearing a Team Zoot kit who definitely beat me and was definitely in my age group. By the time we got out of the locker room, the results had been posted. I felt sick to my stomach, so Blair went up without me to survey them.

This was probably the only time I’ve done a race where I literally could not have gone any harder on any of the legs. I was spent and had nothing left at the end of the race. My transitions could have been improved, but I felt very happy in the knowledge that I had gone as hard as possible and whatever the results were, they were good enough for me.

She came back grinning and whispered that she thought she’d placed first in her age group. I started crying – I was so happy for her! Then she told me she thought I’d placed second in mine, which was unbelievable to me.

We waiting what seemed like forever for awards, and bitched to each other about the distances being off. I always expect a little difference between Garmin and what the race director has but this seemed like a lot for such a short race. From a pride standpoint, seeing official results listing my average pace as over a 10 minute mile when I knew that I had done well below that, stung a bit. Yeah, I know, no one cares, but I wanted it in writing that I had pulled off my pace.

The first place overall female was actually the first place overall winner. I was at first excited to see that, but then as Blair and I talked, we realized that she beat the first place male by over 3 minutes. I’m all about girl power, but her bike speed would have had to have been somewhere in the 24 mph range. If you’d seen the bike course, you’d know something was off.

She collected her medal and promptly ran out of the building. She was pretty unfriendly and decked out in Ironman gear. I mention this only because she was an experienced athlete, and anyone who trains for something like an Ironman knows what their normal race paces are like. If I suddenly pulled off a 24 mph bike split when every other bike split had been 17, well, something is wrong or off. It is my belief that she knew something had happened, but rather than self-report at that time or ask them to look into it, she took her medal and checked out.

The first place person in my AG was Team Zoot lady, and the third place person didn’t stick around, so the two of us stood up front and I had my moment of glory. Blair got to claim her first place win and it was an awesome moment to be part of.

After all was said and done, Ironman Lady disqualified herself, probably when she realized it was going to happen anyway. She did it sometime the next day. She said she missed a turn on her bike, and while maybe that was the case, an experienced athlete would have known the distance was off right away. She was wearing an expensive Garmin. She knew. I was pretty pissed because she took podium moments away from others who rightfully earned them, including Team Zoot who actually placed third overall female. When she got bumped up, I was also bumped up into first place in my age group. This was exciting for a bunch of reasons, including qualifying for USAT AG Nationals in August! I haven’t decided if I’m going yet, but I’m leaning toward it.

I’ve spent some time thinking about everything that happened. I ran with my friend Clair, a multiple Ironman finished herself and an all around great person. I told her I was having major imposter syndrome and finding every reason I could to make my win feel not special, and how stupid that was. Tons of people qualify for AG Nationals in small local races, and I would never think less of them for it. Yet when I do it, and I did have 7 women in my AG that I beat fair and square – somehow it seems stupid and meaningless and I shouldn’t be at Nationals anyway.

At the end of the day, I am so proud of my effort, and no one can take that away from me. Would I have qualified at a 70.3 event run by Ironman? Hell, no, but … I did come in first in my AG and it was one of the best moments of my life, realizing that. I’ve spent 47 years not winning at anything, not being athletic, not feeling powerful or strong. Over the past three years, all of that has started to change. Okay, maybe not the winning part – I still don’t win – but I feel strong a lot more, and all of the work I’ve done physically has translated mentally to make me a stronger and more confident person. I’ll always love triathlon for that gift!

I am so excited to race Ironman Virginia 70.3 with Blair and Roslynn as a relay team. Blair will have the Ironman finish line experience, and I know we are all going to do our best that day. Then I get to see her hopefully go to Nationals, and follow that up with her A race – Barrelman 70.3.  It’s going to be a great year!