The inevitable 70.3 race report that’s been 20 months in the making!
But race reports can be sooo boring. With that in mind, I’m going to start mine with a little short list of things I learned in Raleigh.
- I can hit a dead squirrel in full rigor going 19+ miles per hour on a bike and not lose control.
- I can have three hours in the morning to clear out the pipes, so to speak, and still almost end up pooping myself on the course.
- 90% of dudes on bikes will not announce “on the left” when passing.
- 50% of dudes (in my non-scientific study) will make comments like “We just got chicked!” when a girl passes them on their left (and I announced it, too).
- Plenty of angels sign up for triathlon just to do the Good Work, I’m convinced. When one in particular whipped out anti-chafing cream, i definitely heard a chorus above my head.
- However much Glide, Body Butter, Chamois Cream, etc you think you need, multiply by 10 and you’re still going to be sorry.
- There are people doing triathlon who know less than me, which is shocking, including one guy who was confused as to how he was going to carry food on the bike. This was less than 18 hours before the start of the race. I also met a number of people who had not done any open water swimming prior to this race. Insert scared face emoji here. I very much faked my way through a Sprint, but no way in hell would I do that for a half.
- There is so much truth in what the race organizers say: just keep moving, no matter what.
- Hill training works.
- Open water swimming training, in all conditions, works.
- Having people there to cheer you on makes a huge difference.
- I still need to work on my nutrition
- And finally, I will never like the way I look in a tri suit. (this isn’t new, just bears repeating)
Edwin and I headed to Raleigh with my newly acquired Kuat bike rack (I LOVE IT – it’s the Sherpa 2.0 – purchased after some douchebag hit my bike rack in the Target parking lot and didn’t bother leaving a note). We got there mid-afternoon and immediately checked into the hotel, only to find out the hotel did not have a refrigerator for us in the room. Sorry, we ran out, lady! We know the website says all rooms have them, but hey, we’re wrong.
(a note on this: I can’t imagine how many ragey and nervous triathletes they had to deal with over this same issue. All of us have our pre-race meals and drinks and food and no one likes to mess with nutrition the day or days before a race – I nearly took off the front desk lady’s head and I’m usually fairly calm)
I tried not to think too much about it and instead we hit the Ironman “Village” – the Raleigh Convention Center – to check in. Ironman’s signage was seriously lacking and we wandered all around the building looking for check in. Once there, we still got lost between the 5 or 6 different check in tables and messed up the order we were supposed to go in. No matter; I got registered, got my long-coveted Raleigh 70.3 backpack, dropped some money at the IM store (but didn’t buy the Ironman Taco Cycling Jersey, even though I was very tempted).
I wanted to scope out T2, so Edwin hailed a rickshaw (a hipster on a bike with a wagon on the back), and he drove us the long way around to see T2. I found my bike space and was a bit overwhelmed with the enormity of the area. I’ve never raced in something this big before, so it was crazy to me to see how many racks were set up. Our hotel 2 blocks from the finish line, so everything around us was all Ironman-bedecked and it actually made me quite nervous.
We had a delicious dinner at Sono – great service, great sushi – and I tried to go to bed early. There was a lot of weirdness with T1 and T2 since T1 is 45+ miles from T2, and there were rules and notes and all sorts of things I had to mentally digest and figure out how to deal with. I’m not going to bother going into it, but suffice to say that getting ready for a tri of this distance is hard enough, and having extra things to mull over didn’t help. Therefore, I spent much of my early bedtime considering what I would forget on race day or mess up. I’m hoping with more experience, these “stay up all night and think about weird things” evenings will go away.
We met up with Heather and Renee and some of the other TG/TQ people to do a pre-swim and pre-ride after attending the athlete briefing. The briefing was the usual, except the race director spent a lot of time reminding us all how lucky we are to be able to a.) have the time for this sport; b.) the money for this sport; and c.) the physical ability to do what we do. He is so right. We are so very fortunate, and when you are deep in the pain and struggle of it, it’s easy to lose sight of the gift.
I had done a brief pre-ride on Friday afternoon just to get out and spin my wheels and legs, as I wasn’t sure what Saturday was going to look like. It’s a good thing I did, because Saturday morning as I was loading up my bike, I realized the back tire was completely flat. Okay, great, it’s flat and it’s not race day, so I’m going to change this thing myself and build up my self-confidence. Off goes the back wheel, and I start diving into the tire with my crappy levers and cannot for the life of me get to the tube. At this point I’m sweating and pissed because I feel like such a poser idiot. All of a sudden a super-fit young guy walks up to me holding a very expensive bike. Edwin sees that his race number is 9 (which means he’s a pro). He kindly offers to help me with his much better tire levers, and still has a hard time getting them off. Finally between the two of us – the pro and the ignormaus – we pull the tube and put the new one in, just to find out the tube doesn’t have a valve extender on it and I can’t inflate it. All I can think at this point is “OMG WHAT IF THIS WAS HAPPENING DURING THE RACE!” Edwin runs off to the convention center to get new tubes for me while I try not to get dehydrated from all the sweating I’m doing. Unfortunately the new tubes he brings back have the same short valves, so back I go, with my bike frame in one hand and the wheel in the other. We find a vendor who gets me the tubes with extenders I need, and ignores me saying “I need to put these tubes in myself, let me do it,” and instead mansplains how tubes works while putting my wheel back on my bike. At this point I didn’t even want to argue. I just wanted my bike so I could get to T1 and check it in.
Thankfully I did learn that all of my spare tubes didn’t have the valve I needed, so I was able to fix that issue before it became a bona fide problem on the side of the road if I were to get a flat. So THANK YOU, flat tire gods – for giving me one before the race!
Heather, Renee and I loaded up into the Beetle and Edwin drove us out to Lake Jordan. I was a beautiful day and Lake Jordan was even more beautiful. Heather and I grabbed our gear and prepared to ride for a few minutes before we checked our bikes in. A guy next to our car was looking decidedly confused and started to ask us questions like “Should I blow up my tires now?” and “Where do I carry all my food?” I am not laughing at him, but I was a bit concerned. Roslynn had loaned me her bento box for the race because it’s way bigger than mine, so I decided to loan my smaller one to this guy because he really, really, really needed some help. He’s supposed to mail it back to me – I’m trusting in the goodness of people, but either way, I looked him up and he finished the race, despite seeming very confused about everything.
Heather and I rode up and down some hills near the lake while Renee and Edwin hung out. Renee was doing a relay, so she didn’t have to deal with any cycling or running (and I was a little bit jealous!). We went back to T1 and checked our bikes in without incident, wrapped up all of our bike stuff in those nice little IM bags they give you, and hoped the rain overnight wouldn’t soak everything.
Unfortunately there was no swimming at Vista Point where the race was being held, so we all piled back in to the car and headed to a different “beach”. After paying $7 to get in, we donned swim caps and goggles and fought our way through a million kids with noodles and beach balls to swim outside of the designated swim area. It was CHOPPY. The waves were enough that you were lifted with every stroke, and it was hard to get into a rhythm or breathe efficiently. The current felt strong too, and I sent my hopes out to the universe and beyond that race morning would be a little more manageable.
After that, it was time to run back to downtown Raleigh to get changed for dinner. We had blown through all of our free time. Heather picked Irregardless and it was terrific! We all had great dinners, then went our separate ways. Edwin and I had to get a cooler and ice since there was no fridge to be had and I always start my mornings with a protein shake. Thankfully I hadn’t forgotten to pack the blender.
All that was left to do was set the alarm for 3:50 am and go to bed.
Because T1 is so far out of town, everyone gets shuttled from downtown to Lake Jordan in giant buses. We had no trouble meeting up with Renee and Heather at 4:30 AM and got right on a shuttle and were on our way in no time. Unfortunately, the bus driver didn’t seem to know how to get to T1, so we got lost. Thankfully a few of us remembered the way from the prior day and instructed him on how to get where we needed to go.
I was trying very hard to keep my wits about me. I was visualizing positive things, I was deep breathing, I was trying every trick I had to keep my mind calm and focused. I managed, but it was definitely difficult. I made sure my tires were pumped up, laid out my stuff in transition, ate some food, drank some water, and wandered around looking at the beautiful swim start. I also tried doing jumping jacks and sprints to help my body get ready to use the bathroom, but it was in vain. I spent a solid two hours sweating it out thinking about what would happen if I didn’t go to the bathroom before the race started. I’m happy to report that approximately 10 minutes before my swim wave went out, I was successful.
Suddenly it was time to watch a couple of my teammates enter the water, and then, it was just me, standing in the water hip-deep with a bunch of 45+ women looking equally anxious, and then it was an airhorn start and I was swimming.
The water was better than Saturday, but it wasn’t an easy swim by any stretch of the imagination. The first leg of three was the shortest, and it felt long. I was counting the buoys, reminding myself to look at the scenery, and enjoy the fact that this was probably the coolest and most comfortable I was going to be for the next 7+ hours. The 2nd leg was the longest part and by then the 25-30 male age group released after us started to crawl up our asses, literally and figuratively. I started to get punched and kicked and shoved, so I decided to just swim faster and get it over with. After what felt like an eternity in the water, I saw the exit arch and realized it was almost over. A few more hard kicks and I was out of the water.
My goal for the swim was to break 45 minutes, which was a lofty goal. I didn’t, but I got close. Swim time: 46:39.
I took off for T1 as fast as my wobbly legs would take me. I saw Derek and Cyndi and Edwin – Cyndi gave me her usual “MOVE YOUR ASS” gentle encouragement when I couldn’t get my stupid ponytail through the back of my helmet. I really hope one day I learn to braid my own hair. As I was sitting down to put my shoes on, the bike next to me made this huge popping sound. It was my unfortunate rack-mate’s tube blowing. That’s how hot it was already getting – hot enough to blow a tube. I felt really bad, but there wasn’t anything I could do. After throwing the rest of my gear on, I headed for the bike out and was off.
Cyndi has been having us work our butts off on hill training. We have ridden a ton in Goochland and we have done hill repeats and all sorts of other fun drills on the hills in West Creek and elsewhere. Because I am constantly pushing myself, nothing ever feels easier, but the one big victory I had in Raleigh was this: I kept asking, where are the hills?
This course is supposed to be hilly, and we chose it as a good training race for IMCHOO. The first half is flatter and faster, the second more challenging especially with headwinds that pick up as you get closer to Raleigh.
I restrained myself from going out too hard for the first 24 miles or so. I don’t look at my Garmin anymore (I think that’s what caused the crash in September), so I ride by feel and by my crappy Cat Eye cadence and mileage computer. My very conservative goal was to stay between 15.5/16 mph average, thinking it would save my legs for all of the hills. At mile 30, there is supposed to be a 2 mile climb, before the course becomes less rolling hills and more, well, just hills. I got to mile 32 and wondered where the 2 mile climb was. Turns out I had already done it. It’s not that the hills didn’t challenge me, but they weren’t “hard”. It wasn’t until the last 6 miles of the course where the hills started to bother me, but they didn’t slow me down. I actually had a negative split on the course, which is a very big source of pride for me.
I adored the course. It was beautiful, scenic, and enabled us to spread out. I never felt overly crowded or held back. I did get a reminder that I need to practice with my water bottles more (getting them off the back cages and putting them back in). I lost a bottle going over a bridge. I was in the process of stopping to pick it up when I saw it fly off the side of the road into the water. I also feel guilty about this – littering on a race course is a big no no and one of my pet peeves.
I played a lot of mental games with myself to get through the ride. Although I was enjoying it, in the back of my mind I was thinking about the crash and all the “what ifs”. When I hit the dead squirrel while in aero position, probably within the first 10 miles, I thought “Well isn’t this just great. I’m going to have to tell people I DNF’d and crashed due to effing ROADKILL.” But I didn’t crash, and when I hit mile 53, I will admit I yelled out a triumphant curse word. Riding into T2 and seeing my sister and nephew in from Texas and my mom and Edwin was the cherry on my sundae. I can’t express the joy and relief I felt in knowing that I was done with the bike, I hadn’t crashed, and I felt really good. I wasn’t tired at all, my nutrition seemed to be on point, and although I didn’t know my bike time, it felt like I had blown my goal out of the water.
Actual: 3:17:06, avg 17.05 mph
An awesome volunteer showed me to my rack spot in T2 and I started the process of switching from bike to run. As I had ridden into Raleigh, I noticed that I could feel the heat coming off the pavement and I knew I was in for a hellish run. I tried not to get all in my head about it – and at this point, I knew even if I walked the whole 13.1, I was going to finish anyway.
Leukotape is my friend. I have had problems with chafing in the past, under my arms where they rub against the side of my run or bike jersey. I had bought the tape and put it under my arms, but ooops, in entirely the wrong spot. And because I was relying on the Leukotape to fix my chafing problems, I didn’t bother to apply Glide or any other type of anti-chafing ointment to my skin. This would be a real problem later on. (foreshadowing)
Edwin cheered me on as I left T2. Within 2/10ths of a mile, I felt like I was being stabbed in the inner quad with knives. I was experiencing the first leg cramps in my running career, and I will tell you, I was petrified. First I tried running through them, but that didn’t work. It made them worse, and I thought I was going to fall down. I started to walk while rubbing them and trying not to scream. I remembered I had put salt tubes into my run belt, so I started popping salt tablets, hoping that dehydration was the reason for the cramps. Within about 20 minutes they had eased up, but then I was buried in the steam shower of Raleigh and every time I tried to run, it was like I was in some sort of smelly soup. Everything felt like lead.
The elation I’d had throughout the day disappeared. Even though we were supposed to treat Raleigh like a training day, it was a race – and I wanted to do well. My run was completely falling apart. While simply finishing was the goal, I really wanted to finish well. Run problems scare me and they are at the core of my worries for IMCHOO, and having these problems within the first few miles of Raleigh freaked me out.
Thankfully I was able to start running some intervals, though I was unable to stick to the 4/1s I had planned on. The longer the race went on, the shorter the amount of time I was able to stick to a run. By the last 4 miles, I was happy to run 1/10th of every mile. It was all I could manage. The heat was blistering and there were very few places with any type of shade.
This meant that I resorted to dumping anything wet over my head. I piled ice into my sports bra and tri shorts (sorry, volunteers, I know this has to be disturbing to watch). My visor was soaked and so were my clothes. My tank began to rub unpleasantly against my inner arms and I realized that the Leukotape was completely useless. After a while, the burning sensation where the chafing was occurring got bad enough where I started running with my arms at 90 degree angles, basically in a sort of crazed Scarecrow stance. This isn’t ideal, by the way.
That is when an angel appeared out of now where, with a small tube of chamois butter. She told me to raise my arms up and she slathered this sweaty stranger’s arms with her magical heavenly cream. She scampered off, never to be seen again. Shortly thereafter, I came upon a super fit looking dude who was sitting in the grass with his shoes off, never a good sign. He was in agony from cramping, so I pulled out the rest of my damp and probably really gross salt tabs and gave them to him. I was trying to pay it forward or something.
The Raleigh run course is a special kind of hell, and something I don’t even want to talk about since this was the last year for the race and bitching about it won’t do any good. It was a “two loop” course, but unfortunately those two loops are made up of a bunch of other loops and back and forth and out and back and on and on into eternity. This meant that you could see your friends quite a bit, but in a way it was demoralizing because I realized that a few of my teammates were already on their second loop as I was just starting the first one. Did I mention the heat?
I had made a decision to not bring my run formula with me and instead rely on the on-course nutrition offerings. Big mistake. The Gatorade Endurance they were handing out made me start to throw up. The water went down, sort of – but it was doing better getting dumped over my head. I sucked on a few oranges, chewed ice, and finally in a last ditch effort to get fluid into my system, tried the Coke. Turns out the Coke saved my life. I don’t know why or what it was about it, but my stomach settled down and I was able to get a few sips down every aid station.
I have GOT to get my run nutrition nailed down. I am a hot mess with it right now and I can’t afford for this to keep happening.
This was the slowest half marathon I’ve ever run, but considering I barely ran at all, I guess it wasn’t too bad. I met some nice people out there, also in various degrees of hell and suffering, and we talked and made it through together. There is a kinship among the very slow, and I always appreciate it when I remember to, after the fact.
I walked the last mile with a guy who has done Raleigh every year for the last however many years. He told me that we were almost there, and sure enough, as I turned the corner, I realized the finish line was a few blocks away. My teammate Jennie was right there too, so I ignored my toenails that were killing me and started running. All the months of training and stressing and the crash and recovery came at me all at once, and I just started smiling and high fiving anyone who would touch me. I saw Renee and I screamed out to her. Crossing the finish line was as good as I thought it was going to be.
Cyndi uses a formula for guesstimating Ironman times; You take your half, multiply by two, and add one hour. That means my estimated full time would be right around 16 hours. That is too close for comfort for me with a 16:30 cut off in Chattanooga, so I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about how I can change things between now and then.
Honestly speaking, the half was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I was well-trained for it. The length of time you’re out there working hard is challenging. Trying to head off potential problems is noble, but you never get it exactly right. Sometimes nutrition works and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve never had a problem with my toenails during a race, but during this one, I did. I am still having trouble walking and I am three days out from it. My arms look like I have some strange rash on them from the chafing, and there was a big part of me that crossed the line and said “OH HELL NO I’M NOT EVER DOING THAT AGAIN – let alone a FULL! What is the refund policy on Chattanooga???”
I’ve also been at this long enough to know that these feelings fade, along with the sore muscles (and hopefully chafed skin). I am keeping the faith and trucking along toward Tennessee. I am already looking forward to my semi-retirement when IMCHOO is over.
But for now, I FINISHED! DONE! And I enjoyed about 80% of that race, so I’ll take it.