This past weekend I drove up to Connecticut to do the Rev3 Quassy half Ironman. I did this race last year, loved it, finally broke the elusive 5:40 barrier, and so I hoped I'd have similar luck this time around. Maybe not a PR because this was much hillier than Monticelloman, but I at least wanted to do noticeably better than last year. And I wanted a sub-3 hour on the bike course. Well, I got the latter and that's the bright, shiny star of the race. Otherwise, I only went 39 seconds faster than last year, finishing in 5:28:13. Do you know how many races I have finished in 5:28?? Three. But Quassy is by far the hilliest.
OK, let's fast forward a minute - I was feeling really good about my race until a few steps before mile marker 11 on the run. THAT was when another girl in my age group passed me like I was standing still. It's OK I told myself shake it off, so you've moved down one spot, and she was moving too fast for you to keep up if you wanted to finish the race in one piece - or finish the race, period. So, I shook it off and kept moving forward. The final nail in the "I feel good about my race" coffin came as I crested the last hill, less than half a mile from the finish, and I got passed by another girl in my age group. Again. And my legs had nothing left to give. Or, at least that's how they felt at the time. I was physically drained and mentally, I just gave up. I spent the last two minutes of the race alternating between watching her speed away and glancing at my Garmin and trying to will myself to at least get a 5:27. Kind of a sad end to the race. I was for sure less excited about this year's finish time than I was about last year's, which I'm sure is pretty obvious from the tone of this race report.
There's more to a race than the final two miles, and I was pretty darn happy through the first 68.3 miles of it.
Swim was great, I managed to find some clear water pretty quickly, I did draft a bit here and there when I found packs of people, but there were frequently times that I was just on my own. I also need to stop being a cheapskate and invest in some tinted goggles. I do love my pink goggles, but they aren't the most effective when you are swimming directly into the sun. Strangely, I felt much better in the swim this year than last year but ended up with almost exactly the same time. Foreshadowing, I suppose, of the final result.
I think I'm finally a little less craptastic when it comes to transitions. Maybe I've even said goodbye to the 3+ minute transition forever?!
I knew from doing this race last year that the bike course is one of the hillier ones out there. Wildflower has some impressive climbs, but it also has a fair amount of flats and easy downhills. Timberman has some steep climbs, but also a ton of flats right in the middle. Quassy is just up and down, hardly any flats, and while you do have some descents, there are some sharp curves and the pavement is a little rough so it's hard to just let go and fly (well, for someone like me who doesn't want to die on the bike course, I had a hard time letting go). Anyway. When I got out of the water, there were still a bunch of bikes racked in my AG area, so I felt pretty good about my swim. The first few miles of the bike was downhill, so it gave me a chance to settle in and get comfortable before the real work started on the hills. I think I have my nutrition nailed down pretty well - a Hammer gel every 15 minutes for the first hour or so, then one every 20 minutes until the end; sip water every 10 minutes; and finally have a salt tab every 30 minutes. I don't find myself bonking on the run or dreaming about a Slushee five miles from the finish so I think this nutrition plan is working. And thank goodness my poor sports bra is always half empty, it makes carrying that crap-ton of gels pretty easy. I was in one of the later waves so the bike course was pretty busy by the time I made it out there. I wasn't seeing anyone in my age group and I had no idea where I stood, but by the end when I had only passed one girl in my age group, I figured the rest had to have been crazy-good swimmers and bikers (which they were) and I was holding out hope that they were craptastic runners (which they were not). The bike ride was relatively uneventful. I pedaled my bike, ate a gel at what seemed like every five minutes, found myself not loving the uphills quite as much at mile 53 as I loved them at mile 5, and kept my fingers crossed that I wasn't pushing my legs over the edge to inevitable implosion on the run. It's always had to find that balance between working too hard on the bike and blowing up on the run and working just hard enough on the bike where you get a respectable time yet still have enough in you for a strong run. I managed to just barely eek in under three hours with a 2:58 and with all of those hills, that's definitely a bike split I will take with pleasure.
Tried to piss myself while sitting down putting on my shoes so I wouldn't have to make a pit stop during the run, but it turns out I suck at multi-tasking and only managed to get my shoes on. It's also likely I was a little dehydrated because I didn't visit a bathroom until after 7pm that night, so I guess that had something to do with it too.
I started the run feeling about as decent as one can feel after racing for over 57 miles. Fortunately for my ego, the first two miles were downhill so my Garmin was giving me fast-for-me splits. Then we hit the uphills and they were a little more normal. Mile 3-5 are basically uphill on a gravel road. But, it's shaded and if you take small steps and don't burn yourself out, you make it to the top pretty painlessly. At this point I preferred the uphills because my stomach was bothering me on the downhills, sloshing around all that water and gel. Ick. It was during one of these climbs that I felt a thrill go through me, I'm racing, I'm running and enjoying it, I'M HAVING FUN EVEN THOUGH I FEEL LIKE CRAP AND I'M WORKING HARD. I still have so much work to do in order to figure out how to have a fast run off the bike, but these slower run times aren't a total waste and they aren't indicative of a bad run - I understand that I'm not supposed to feel good at this point in the race and, if I am feeling good, I'm not working hard enough. I've figured out how to deal with the inevitable low points, push past them, and realize that they are temporary and not forever. So half the battle is done - now I just need to figure out how to run faster. That should be the easy part, yes? There was an out-and-back at mile 5.5 and at that point I didn't really see any other girls in my age group. Mile 7-8 is all uphill, but then after that you have some flats and downhills. As mentioned before, the first girl nabbed me right before mile 11. At this point, I was still feeling like I was in one piece. It was just two miles to the finish, two miles is a piece of cake, two miles is a run to the dog park and back when I am home, I can do anything for two miles. That's the mental self-talk I was giving myself as I was trucking forward. It was beginning at mile 12 where the wheels were starting to come off and I just went into autopilot to keep it together. One. Foot. In. Front. Of. The. Other. As quickly as possible (which was not quickly at all). At this point, I didn't know that the second girl was hot on my heels. I was just looking ahead to the bridge we were going to have to pass under and the steep part of the hill were were going to need to climb before we could coast to the finish. It was right near the top of that hill that I heard the footsteps behind me, heard the panicked breathing, and out of nowhere this girl, with a half-crazy look in her eyes, runs by me like she's being chased by a black bear. And I don't go with her. Now, of course, part of me is pissed I did nothing and just let her go. Half a mile from the finish - this was the chance to race head-to-head with a girl in my age group and see who would cross the finish line first. A "sprint" to the finish. This is what a race is about. Aaaaannd I did nothing. I do feel slightly better about my decision when I saw she ran a 1:35 half marathon, a time I can barely do when I'm just running a half marathon without the biking and the swimming. At this point, I just focused on damage control and trying to get myself over the line faster than last year, which I just barely was able to do.
I did love this race. It was so nice to see my parents who came down to watch, hang out with some of the other Z'rs doing the race who I don't get to see nearly enough, and swimbikerun on a beautiful course. The night before the race I got to spend time with my friend Dawn and her absolutely wonderful family, as they invited me to stay at their house rather than a hotel. It was so much more pleasant to spend race day eve in a welcoming home with a homecooked meal, great company and conversation (and homemade cake!!) than staying in a hotel - so thank you Dawn and family!! I think the only things I'm disappointed about is dropping from 5th to 7th place in the last two miles of the race AND not being much faster than last year. I feel like I've made progress since last year and it was disappointing not to see a more measurable result of that. I lamented all of this to Jen last night in a semi-dramatic e-mail and she responded by reminding me that I've not exactly been race-taper friendly to my body lately, with last weekend's combined 5 miles of swimming and 150+ of biking. I didn't go into this race rested, this is not a PR course, and when I look at things that way, I feel a bit better about it. I don't have any other races scheduled between now and Lake Placid - which is just under 7 weeks away! That means I just have one more month of a build cycle (hello 100+ mile rides every weekend, good thing I like my bike seat) before taper. I love racing, but I'm looking forward to just focusing on the build and recovery cycles until Placid - I am sure Jen is too, it's got to be like a jigsaw puzzle trying to fit in build cycles between races every other weekend, whoops!