This past Saturday I raced my last triathlon until the big one for the year – Ironman Chattanooga – in September! I’m also happy to report that it went well, which is always encouraging when you can see the actual progress or improvements you are making in training in race results, or at least it makes getting up at 4:45a during the week to train seem a little more worth it :).
Like last year, I drove up Friday night since it is a little under two hours away and that’s just a bit longer than I like to drive the morning of a race. I arrived around 9p, checked in, unloaded my car (I don’t like to leave my bike in my car overnight) and was in bed by 10p. I actually slept like a log and the next thing I knew my alarm was going off at 4a. I got up and something felt off, and then I realized when I turned my head to the right, I had a shooting pain down the base of my neck to my shoulder blades. What the heck?! I must have slept funny on the crappy pillows. I went to work on doing little neck and arm stretches and then tried using the foam rolling ball I brought, but it didn’t seem to help much. I started to panic wondering if I could even race since I breathe on my right side and the pain was pretty unbearable. The thought of doing that over a hundred times, just on the swim…uggghh. I took an ibuprofen, shut down the negative thoughts, forced myself to eat my breakfast, got dressed, and did a little more foam rolling. When it was close to 5, I packed up my stuff, and decided to focus on whatever it was I needed to do next and not think about my neck/back.
I got to the race venue right when transition opened at 5:30, picked up my packet and headed to transition. I got a pretty decent spot, set everything up (with a small snafu of thinking I forgot my race belt, but I found it tucked in my running hat) and then met up with some of my other teammates before the swim start. Everything pre-race was pretty uneventful, with exception of the stupid neck thing. My stomach was even chill with no angry/anxiety related stomach issues, which was a relief as I ate a little more than usual to practice my planned IM breakfast (1/2 Bobo’s oat bar, banana and packet of Almond butter) and had some extra race nerves from the missing race belt and neck situation.
Soon I headed into the water with my swim wave, the fourth/last wave of the athletes racing the 1/2. The water felt ok, it wasn’t wetsuit legal which I was kind of happy about, and off we went. One thing to note is that the water did look a little choppy after the turn around, but I figured I had swam in some chop before and it would be fine. Off I went, feeling strong, passing people, and focusing on the two main things I have been working on this month with my swim. Before I knew it I was already at the turn around and feeling good.
Then instead of going with the chop, I was swimming into it and I realized this was going to be a bit tougher on the way back. It seemed like almost every time I tried to sight, a ‘wave’ would appear and all I could see was the ‘wave’ (I am sure they would hardly qualify as waves standing on the shore, but from the water, they seemed that big!). Very frustrating. Finally, after what felt like twice as long as it took to get to the turn around, I made it back to the start, knowing that we had another small out and back before heading to the finish. Well, the little out and back took FOREVER. I had to stop several times to sight because the ‘waves’ seemed so high. Also, after not swimming near many people, I hit a group of athletes and we all kept colliding which was also irritating. Finally I broke away from that pack and made it to the last buoy before I turned to head to the finish. Also at this point, I was starting to feel seasick. The waves had me rocking back and forth and I wasn’t sure how much more I could take, fortunately the finish was so close, so I really pushed the pace to get out of the water.
Thankfully the volunteers helped pull me out of the water as I was a little wobbily from the waves, and then I hustled to transition. I was in and out pretty quickly and ready to mount my bike when I realized I still had my swim skin on 😦 I had unzipped it and pulled it down, but left it on my legs/hips. Oh lordy. I asked a volunteer to if they could hold my bike, took of my bike shoes, ran back towards transition but was worried what it would do with my timing chip if I crossed back over, so I threw it over the fence near my bike (and hoped it didn’t get accidentally taken), ran back to my bike, put my shoes on and THEN mounted and was off. I lost some serious time to that crap. Sigh.
Then I tried to just focus on the bike and on passing people. I also was paying attention to my planned power numbers, which I don’t always do in races depending on the course but since this one was flat it was easier to try to hold a steady power number. Other than some rough roads (they were actually worse last year) and headwind, the bike was pretty uneventful, which was just fabulous to me since last year was a mini disaster with my mechanical. My stomach got a little cranky during the end of the second hour, I have upped the calories in my liquid nutrition so I don’t have to supplement with gels and I am not sure if that might be why or if it was because the waistband of tri shorts I was racing in (which I won’t be wearing during IM) was squishing my stomach. I haven’t had that issue during training, so I think the shorts might have been the culprit. Also, my legs were getting a little tired by the end so I was a little worried I overbiked, but I had stayed in my planned power numbers so I was hoping they were just feeling ready to get on to the run.
I was pretty thrilled when I rolled into transition around 2:50, heck yeah, bike PR! I quickly threw on my socks, running shoes, hat, race belt and grabbed my baggie of nutrition and was off…. no… I noticed halfway through transition my aero top was still on. Good grief! I ran back, took it off and then I was off!
Right out of transition I usually make a quick stop in a porta potty to empty my bladder as I struggle with peeing on the bike, but there was a line. A line! I didn’t have to go that bad, and I knew there was one at mile 2.6 on the course, so I decided to hold it and wait until the 2.6 mile opportunity. In hindsight I’m not sure if that was a smart decision, as I had to pee enough that it was uncomfortable and as a result I didn’t take in much water/fluids until after I peed at mile 2.6, which I think put me behind on hydration/nutrition. After I peed I hit an aid station and was SO thirsty, and I did the stupid thing that I do sometimes and drink way too much water and then deal with cramps and bloating for at least a mile. Then I usually rinse and repeat. Which is what happened.
By mile 5 after the cycle of drink too much because I was thirsty, then deal with bloat, my pace was slowing from an 8:40 to a 9 min pace, and then mile 6 slowed down to an 10 min pace. Things were starting to go from bad to worse. I did a little assessment to see how I was really doing, and my body was ok (hips/legs, etc), it was just my bloated stomach that was causing me to feel like crap. I could fix this. Going forward I needed to only take sips of water, not gulps (and just deal with being a little thirsty), take my BASE salt (which also usually helps settle my stomach) and take in coke since I didn’t think my stomach could handle many gels at this point.
I flipped my watch screen to total time and after doing some math I realized if I could just hold a 9/9:30 pace I might have a chance of still breaking 2 hours on the run. My main goal for this race was to have a good, strong run. My open Half-Marathon time had improved a lot over the past couple of years, but my half marathon time in 70.3’s hadn’t budged. With that knowledge, it was like a flip was switched in my brain and I was back to being on a mission. Also around that time I finally caught up to a girl that had been in front of me for a while, and as I neared the next aid station I saw she had a 31 on her leg. It was a relief knowing she wasn’t in my age group, but that also meant she was in my swim wave, so I needed to pass her to move up a spot. I grabbed a water – no walk breaks through aid stations now – and kept running. I was on a mission.
From then on my splits stayed at 9:30 or a bit faster: 7-9:29, 8-9:31-, 9-8:56, 10-8:48, 11-9:10, 12-8:45, 13-8:32. So clearly my legs had it in them, I just needed to get my head out of the way and also figure out a better fueling strategy than drinking allll of the water at the first sign of being thirsty. I had to dig a little deep on the last mile or so as I was starting to feel tired and my neck was bothering me a little, but I held on. I crossed the finish line with a run time of 1:58:33, I had done it, not by a lot, but I went sub 2!
I finished with a new PR of 5:33:56 (39:57 swim, 2:52:01 bike, 1:58:33 run), and maybe if I hadn’t had those wardrobe snafu’s it would have been a little faster, but oh well. I even managed to place 3rd overall female, which was pretty exciting since it was a little bit bigger of a race than Innsbrook. Not as competitive as the previous year, but hey, I’ll take it!
I was a little disappointed in my swim time since I have really started working on my swim and I have seen improvement in my times in the pool, but with the chop, it looks like everyone had a slower swim. Also, even though I did break two hours, I was hoping for a little stronger of a run to give me confidence in my IM run time goal, and to prove that it isn’t unrealistic. But it was improvement and a 70.3 run PR, so things are moving in the right direction! All I can do right now it just keep my head down and do the work (and run a lot of hills!!!). So back to training! 🙂 Sidenote: My neck bothered me a little during the race, mostly during the swim, but after that I just didn’t turn my head too much so I didn’t notice it. My body was sore the next day after racing but holy moly, my neck/back took the cake. I will now always bring my own pillow when staying in hotels for races!!