06 May 2012

First Half Ironman of 2012 - Monticelloman 70.3

It's what I've been waiting for these past SEVEN months - triathlon race season!! I woke up this morning and it was finally here!! Unfortunately, so was my cold. That head cold that I talked about earlier in the week let up on Wednesday and Thursday, I got a few workouts in... And woke up Friday AM to discover it had moved to my chest. Phlegm galore (which is a hard word to spell, by the way).  No use in panicking, there was nothing I could do besides rest (was an off-day anyway in my Training Peaks schedule), drink lots of fluids (I consumed AT LEAST 4 cups of decaf tea), and eat carbs and Mucinex DM like it was my job (I had 18 pancakes between Friday and Saturday AM, which even I thought was impressive).  Saturday morning came and I felt a little bit better.  NOT 100%, not even close, but I felt like if I had to race that day that I could, so hopefully by Sunday I'd feel a little closer to 100%.

Anyway.  We left for Charlottesville mid-day on Saturday after a frantic search for my missing bike pedals (they were in my bike shoes - I was smart enough to put them there, not smart enough to remember).  Quick packet pickup and then went back to the hotel to hole up for the night.  I had grand plans of getting to sleep early and sleeping well, but things didn't quite go my way.  I got sucked into the Lion King on ABC Family and then our dog kept barking every time he heard someone walking around in the hallway and I kept coughing.  Lovely.  I eventually found my earplugs and suddenly the 5:30am alarm was going off.  I woke up feeling meh, still coughing up a lung, but felt decent enough to race.  And really, when is everything 100% perfect on race day anyway?

I managed to force down 1.5 bagels with that Justin's nut butter (good stuff).  I was nervous.  Over the past year I've been feeling the race day excitement - it's not so much nerves I guess, it's the excitement and anticipation and it builds before finally exploding when they shoot off the air cannon to start the swim.  Then the nerves disappear.  Monticelloman 70.3 was a relatively small race, two waves of men and then one of women.  Melanie and I met up at the swim start and chatted until it was time to line up at the edge of the water.  The air horn went off and in we went.

The swim:
I managed to hang on to some fast feet for exactly 3.8 seconds and then the front pack of girls pulled away.  I found myself swimming on my own, between groups.  Almost immediately, I could feel my triceps aching, probably the result off too many missed swims due to too much travel last month.  Eventually things loosened up, I found my stroke rhythm and ended up feeling pretty good.  I was sighting every 8 strokes and that seemed to keep me right on track.  I caught up to some of the guys from the earlier waves and just kept moving forward.  The lake was nice and clear, water was close to 70, and there was no chop whatsoever.  You really couldn't ask for more perfect conditions for the swim.  

I think I successfully got out of there in less than two minutes.  This, my friends, is definitely a new PR.

The bike:
It looked like there were a fair number of bikes still on the racks when I showed up in transition, leading me to believe that I didn't have a piss-poor swim and was actually in the game at this race.  Fun!!  The bike course was two loops of rolling hills - NOT flat, but no long, grinding hills like you'd find at Rev3 Quassy.  The hills seemed to be more prevalent at the beginning of the loop, making the back half a little more pleasant and good for the ego.  The first 10-15 miles of the bike felt hard - my pedal stroke felt really forced, I kept looking down to see if a flat tire was the reason I felt like such a slowpoke (it wasn't), and I just didn't feel settled in to a rhythm.  I also made an absolute mess with my saltstick tabs and NUUN tablets - I had the brilliant idea of carrying the NUUN capsule with me, with a few saltstick tabs crammed in alongside the NUUN and when I tried to empty out some NUUN into my aerobottle, it just didn't work - NUUN all over the road instead.  So then I tried to empty a few NUUN tablets into my mouth and I figured I'd just spit them into the bottle instead.  Advice: don't put NUUN directly into your mouth during a race.  Or ever, really.  Later in the race I also managed to bite off the front part of my salt tab dispenser.  This ended up not really mattering in the end because I passed off the broken dispenser that still had about 3 tabs to some poor college kid on the run who looked like he needed some salt.  And he didn't seem to care that I pulled the dispenser out of my sweaty, nasty sports bra.  Amazing the low hygiene standards we stoop to when racing.  Anyway, back to the bike.  Throughout both loops of the bike I played leapfrog with a girl in a blue tri suit who was also in the 30-34 AG.  It actually became a really fun game and I felt like I was really, really racing.  She'd pass me, I'd pass her, and in the end she passed me back and dropped me, probably around mile 50.  Womp, womp.  During the whole bike, I had no idea what my pace or HR were (which is just the way I like to race - blind).  Jen had advised me a few days before to keep a consistent effort on the bike - no super fast surges, no burning the legs out, don't blow up before the run sort of thing.  I think I did a decent job with this AND I was able to catch a number of girls on the bike who had beaten me out of the swim.  By the time I finished the bike, it had been a long time since I'd seen any girls besides the one in the blue tri suit, so I figured things must've been going pretty well but I still wasn't sure where I stood in my AG or overall.  And I didn't see Melanie at all, but I figured she was leading the race (which she was!!!).  I finished the bike, glad to be off the bike with no major mechanicals (I put my bike together less than two days before the race and rode it for about 1 minute before racking it, I was pretty concerned a mechanical might've been in my future).

Not as fast as T1, but faster than my usual "sit down and have brunch in T2" times.

The run:
So while I was on the bike, I felt pretty OK, the chest cold wasn't bothering me that much.  Maybe it was sitting in aero, I don't know, but I felt almost normal.  That all changed when I stood upright and started running.  I had mentally prepared myself for this throughout the race - I knew I'd probably feel pretty rotten, I knew I'd have a hard time catching my breath, I knew I'd probably be hacking up a lung or two.  And I was OK with that.  There was nothing I could do but deal with things as they came.  The first few miles were rough, finding my stride, catching my breath, I sounded like a 90 year old smoker huffing up those hills.  Ick.  I found myself constantly apologizing to those around me as I hacked up, gagged, and spit a whole bunch of nastiness all over the side of the road (and sadly, myself) multiple times during the 13.1 mile slog.  None of my mile splits were even close to under 8.  I knew this wasn't exactly going to be a PR run, BUT if I didn't fall apart, I could probably rely on my stronger bike and swim to carry me to an overall PR for the day.  And - what I am most proud of - I stayed together mentally through the run.  There was no stopping, no walking, no pity party.  The miles ticked off (some slower than others), and I eventually found my stride and actually started to feel pretty decent.  My legs felt pretty OK until about mile 11, then they were feeling the cumulative effect of the race.  This actually made me pretty happy because it showed that I wasn't leaving much, if anything at all, in the tank and even though my run time wasn't going to be what I had initially hoped, it was about the best I could do given how I was feeling.  So the run was a two loop affair on a road with some rolling hills (again, not a ton of long or steep hills like Quassy, but definitely not flat).  I had no idea where I was in the women's race until I came to about mile 5 and one of the course marshals told me I was the 4th girl overall.  THAT brought the biggest smile to my face - I'd hoped for close to the top of my age group, but close to the top of the overall field was even better!  I caught up to and passed the third women around mile 7ish/8ish.  I tried to look strong when I passed her so she wouldn't try to answer and stick with me and I guess that worked because I didn't see her again.  During the last few miles of the race I started to realize that I was going to actually PR, despite a rough April of training and despite not feeling 100% on race day and despite my less-than-stellar half marathon.  I could even totally implode on the last two miles of the race and still PR.  Fortunately that didn't happen and I crossed the line in 5:14, nine minutes better than I've ever raced the 70.3 distance before AND good enough for 3rd place overall.  Melanie rocked the race, winning the whole thing with a sub-5 (!!!) and we all got some pretty decent race swag.  The three of us were all in the same age group AND we'll all be racing Ironman Lake Placid.  Watch out!!

See those bottles - not wine.  Beer.  Lots of Beer

This was a fantastic race - great venue, beautiful country roads, a well-run grassroots type race.  The race director was super friendly and people in the neighborhoods, especially on the run, made an effort to come out and cheer on the racers.  And, the best part: they had shower facilities for some post-race cleanup.  Today's shower ranked right up there with the best shower I ever had (that one when I was staying in a little hilltop village in Nepal).  No lie.  I would definitely do this race again in a heartbeat.

I also wanted to say a quick thank you to Jen.  She has totally changed how I see myself as an athlete.  Four years ago when I did my first half ironman in 6:20 or something like that (and immediately vowed I would never, ever do another one), I remember thinking that anyone who was doing one of these races in under 6 hours must be superhuman.  I never, EVER pictured myself being capable of a 5:14 or anything close to that.  My goals always used to be "finish with a smile and not hating triathlon." I'm so excited that I can set aggressive time goals that suddenly don't seem outlandish, that I've learned how to suffer in a race and enjoy it, and that I'm learning how to race.  I feel like I get it, I finally get it, and I'm so lucky.


Anonymous said...

Holy cow! Congrats, girl! Awesome job!!!! You rock!

Kathy said...

Fantastic! Congratulations. Nice Race Report too. What a fast age group - glad I'm not in it anymore...(that's my cheerful spin on turning 35 later this month, btw).

onthebusrunning said...

GREAT job, Caroline! Congrats!

Katie said...

AWESOME! Look at you go. I'm trying to follow in your footsteps so please make sure I can see them clearly.

What an awesome day you had!

Marc Oleynick said...

Fantastic race...terrific write-up, and I rarely bother to look at or at best, speed read the wordy girl race reports, but yours drew me in and keep me reading. I am inspired by how you overcame all the contretemps with pluck and poise.