01 October 2012

Race Report - IM 70.3 Poconos

I am sore, tired and chaffed, but simultaneously oh-so-happy.  Not only has the last big race of my season come and gone (now giving me a free pass to indulge in cupcakes and fro-yo covered in candy to my heart's content), but I actually RACED yesterday's race.  It was a much-appreciated confidence booster after the Vegas debacle.

I've always wanted one of these

I signed up for IM 70.3 Poconos a few months ago - I didn't want to end my season in early September and I wanted to squeeze in at least one more half before the year was out.  I had thought about Augusta 70.3, but the Poconos were so much closer, driveable in a weekend, and the weather would be much cooler.  I knew the race last year had some problems with flooded and closed pavement and the swim had been cancelled and the bike course shortened, but their website said they had a completely new bike course and a different swim venue so I figured I'd give it a whirl.  As a bonus, Mr. Sweetie came up to the race with me and it was really nice to have his company.  A few of my friends were also doing the race and I had hoped to meet up with them on Saturday evening for a pre-race dinner, but by the time we had checked in, visited both transition areas (the swim and T1 were about 15 miles outside of town) and drove the bike course, it was getting late and I was tired, hungry, and cranky and would've been terrible company.  We ordered carry-out from the Olive Garden and took it back to the hotel and I was curled up in bed reading by 7:30 and the light out a little after 9.  I had a dream that I overslept and missed the last shuttle from town to the swim start and I totally woke up thinking I was late, when in reality it was only 2am.  I didn't get much sleep after that, checking the clock every 40 minutes until 4:15am when I finally got up.  Mr. Sweetie was great and drove me to the swim start so I ended up not having to wait for the shuttle.  I had plenty of time to set up, got a chance to with Beth good luck in her race, and felt ready to go.  A couple of the shuttles were delayed and didn't arrive until 6:45, which was when T1 was supposed to close.  They kept it open a little longer and it looked like everyone was able to get set up and make their way down to the swim start before their waves - and they only delayed the start by 5-10 minutes.  At the swim, I ran into my friend Courtney from DC Tri Snapple - we had met at Book Club a couple months ago and it was great to have someone else to chat with in the minutes leading up to the race start, because those are always the worst in terms of nerves.

Looking at the swim exit the day before

The swim: 29:29
There was probably about 100 people in my wave, 30-39 AG women.  The swim was in a super calm lake, clockwise, buoys were going to be easy to see, and I was wearing a full wetsuit (64 degrees, brrrr) so I was hoping for a fast swim.  My previous best at this distance was a 33:xx swim at Monticelloman this year.  My plan was to start fast and try to stay with a front group, find some feet and draft like it was my job.  I started in front and close to the buoys.  I found clear water really quickly and barely got knocked around at all.  When I was sighting, I could see there were only a few girls in front of me, it was an odd (but thrilling) feeling to be towards the front.  These past few races (Nationals and Vegas) were super, super humbling experiences and sort of confidence-killers, as I was always, always towards the back of the pack because I was racing some of the best and they are FAST.  I was hoping to do a bit better in this race, but this swim far exceeded my expectations.  About 150-200m in, I found the most rockst4:26ar feet.  She was staying right on course so I barely had to sight, she was faster than me, but with the draft and working my butt off, I was able to stay on her feet and have a much faster swim.  Even as we plowed through some of the people from the waves ahead of us, I managed to stay on her feet.  Here and there, I was a little worried that maybe I was working too hard - but I think that was the lazy side trying to get the best of me.  It would've been stupid to let these fast feet go.  I stayed on them until the last turn, when she started to take that turn wide and I preferred to take more of a straight shot to the finish.  I tried to pick up the pace as best I could in the last bit, but my arms were feeling spent - I had a feeling that this would be a swim I could be proud of, but I was SHOCKED (and thrilled!!) when I got out of the water in under 30 minutes.  All those Hains Point swims this summer and swim workouts from Jen and being swim buddies with Kendra are paying off!

T1: 4:26
It was a long run up to T1, but I had no trouble getting my wetsuit off.  On went the arm warmers and cycling gloves, and for a moment I thought about putting on my vest because it was chilly, but I was feeling warm from the swim and decided I'd be fine (which I was).

The Bike: 2:47:21
The bike course started with a 4 mile descent, which gave me a chance to let my heart rate settle and get ready to bike.  We made a left hand turn onto 209, for the 20 mile out-and-back that was completely closed to traffic.  This was the flattest part of the course, with only the gentlest of rollers.  A few girls had bombed by me on the descent, one wearing hot pink who was in my age group, and I had hoped to catch up to her during the bike, but she was hauling.  I was switching places back and forth with a few people for much of the ride.  Unfortunately there were a few draft packs on this section, one in particular that would get in front of me, so I would drop back, then they would slow down and I'd try to pass a few of them, then they would speed back up, so I'd drop back again.  This went on for the last few miles of the flat section and when we hit the hills, finally everyone split apart and it was much less annoying.  I decided to dial-down my race-day nutrition.  The last few races I've been getting off the bike and my stomach has been feeling bloated and wonky.  This probably had to do with the fact that I was fueling during a half Ironman the way I would during an Ironman (NOBODY needs 8-10 gels during a half Ironman bike, NOBODY).  So I took either a gel or a piece of a Clif MoJo bar every 20 minutes.  I skipped one interval because I was feeling full and wanted things to settle, which they did.  I sipped on water every 10 minutes and I ended up taking 2 salt tabs.  The whole bike ride I felt adequately fueled, not over-fueled, and I felt hydrated.  I think this is going to be my new nutrition strategy - less is best.  There is such a thing as too many Hammer gels (who would've thought).

When we drove the bike course, I knew there were hills, but they felt bigger and longer when I was actually out there riding them.  In some ways, this course reminded me of Timberman - hills mixed with a long, flat out-and-back.  My bike split was almost exactly the same as Timberman's too, about a minute faster.  I spun up the hills in an easy gear and kept the bike in the big gear for the flats and downhills.  At about 35 miles, I managed to catch one girl in my age group.  Then around mile 47 I started playing leap frog with another girl in my age group and she eventually bombed by me on one of the last downhills, not to be seen again until the run.  I had no idea where I stood in my AG at that point, but it was a goal to catch as many girls as I could.  Courtney blew by me around mile 52, looking strong.  By the time we were finishing up the hills, I was glad they were over, my legs were tired.  I also spent the bike ride talking myself up for the run, YOU are a great runner, YOU can't wait to run, YOU are going to have so much fun on that run course, YOU are going to pass people like they are standing still, YOU like to run!!!  One major goal was to get off the bike excited to run and as silly as self-pep talk is, it actually worked this time.

T2: 2:22
It was getting warm out so off came the gloves and arm warmers, on went the sunglasses, and I made sure not to forget my nutrition this time around.  I wasn't sure if I would feel super hungry on the run since I didn't eat as much on the bike, so I brought an extra few gels, just in case.  On went the shoes and the pink visor and I ran out of T2.

The run: 1:46:29
I was so excited and happy to be running.  I saw Stacey out cheering almost immediately and she told me there were three girls in my age group just ahead of me.  My legs were feeling really good, my stomach was absolutely fine, and all I cared about was running as hard as I could - I didn't want to finish the half marathon feeling like I had anything left.  The athlete guide described the course as an out-and-back that was false flat/slightly uphill on the way out, with one steep hill near the turnaround, and then a gentle downhill all the way back into town.  LIES.  I didn't drive the bike course the day before, so I didn't realize that the hills on the way back into town would feel tall and never-ending and almost worse than the way out.  I wasn't looking at HR and the only time I had any clue about my pace was when my Garmin ticked off each mile.  My first mile was about 7:45 and it got faster with each subsequent mile until mile 5.  In the first mile, I passed one girl in my age group.  I caught another girl and she and I went back and forth until I managed to pull ahead around mile 2.  Courtney was completely out of sight, running her way to a 1st place finish in our age group.  I kept my eyes peeled for the girl wearing hot pink, the one who had bombed by me right at the beginning of the bike, and finally caught her around mile 5.  I tried to make my passes with authority, so that they wouldn't try to stick with me.  It was right about mile 4 that my legs started sending messages to my brain that maybe I should slow it down a little, it seems unlikely I could keep up this pace.  I tried to stuff the voice away, this was only the second time ever I've really raced the run - I wasn't in survival mode, I was in go-for-broke mode and it was such a neat feeling.  I didn't care if I blew up, I didn't think I would blow up, it was only 13 miles and I had fueled and hydrated smartly, I've run these paces before, there was absolutely no reason why I should blow up.  I finally made it to the turnaround and that gave me a chance to see who was behind me.  The girls I had passed were still far enough back that I didn't think they could catch me.  There were a few other girls who were hauling (they caught me but were not in my age group, so whatever).  I was taking water every other aid station for the first 8-9 miles, but my stomach felt sloshy after each one so by mile 9 I stopped.  It was only 4 more miles, I wasn't thirsty, I would be fine.  I took one gel at the beginning of the run and that was it, I was fine.  I was able to keep up a decent pace, but around mile 10, the wheels started to come off a little.  My legs were fatigued and feeling the earlier pace and all of the hills.  I was feeling it in my hips and my quads.  I started just staring at the ground, telling myself that it was only 3 miles, visualizing what three miles is like on my usual run on the bike path.  That helped, made it feel less long.  During those last three miles I was running scared that I would be caught and passed by someone in my age group.  It didn't happen but I ran hard to the finish, just in case.

The finish line, finally

Final time, 5:10:07, 2nd in AG
This was a PR race for me, and I'm so happy with how all three legs went, and while I'm super happy about my swim, I'm most proud of my run.  I've never RACED the run before like I did yesterday.  I didn't let it become a death march, though in those last three miles, my legs thought that walking would've felt pretty awesome.  Before the race, I had a goal of being top 10 in my age group, and a super secret goal of being in the top 5.  I NEVER thought I would podium at this race, and when Mark and Stacey were telling me that the IronmanLive tracker had me unofficially in second, I thought they were pulling my leg.  And, an added bonus - there were 2 slots to Vegas.  I kinda, sorta thought I'd never go back there, but I got a slot and I'd love a chance to do better on the course next year.  This was a great way to end my season.  I exceeded my place goals, accomplished most of my time goals, but most importantly I accomplished the mental goals I had set out for myself.  All three disciplines hurt (the run hurt most), but it hurt so good.

Podium!!  Look - I am on the PODIUM!!

The awesomeness of the race weekend continued, with the chance to hang out with Stacey and chat after the finish, and hanging out with Melanie, Courtney, and Ken - ALL THREE of whom also grabbed slots to Vegas!!  I'm already excited for next year!  Mr. Sweetie was great, helping me get my stuff, handing over his credit card for the Vegas slot, and driving my tired and sore self back home post-race.  I had so many messages and texts from friends wishing me good luck and congrats on the race and it was so fun to know they were all tracking me.  During the run, my friend Julia and her husband were on my mind and I wanted to make her proud, as life has thrown some sad curveballs her way.  And a thank you to Jen for being an awesome coach, yesterday would've have been possible without her!  And a thanks to my tri club Ignite for all of their encouragement and support, and for Tri360 for keeping my bike up and running, and giving me a one-stop shop for all my nutrition and for their messages of support.

Melanie, Courtney, and I

The cupcake and fro-yo binge start now.  Who cares if it is only 8am?


Em said...

WAY TO GO!!! Awesome job Caroline :-) Very happy for you - sounds like a really fun course and a great race!! And if we worked closer - I'd definitely take you out for a cupcake with fro-yo right now.

Sarah said...

Awesome race!

Anonymous said...

Who PRs in the Poconos? Only a champion! Way to go. Can't wait for our next social kick! --Kendra

Beth said...

Congrats!! What an awesome race from start to finish!

Mindy Ko said...

haha! Love the disbelief that you podiumed! Great race, fun tracking you, and piefest for celebration!

Katie said...

I had such a good time tracking you - your swim BLEW MY MIND!!! Congratulations my dear friend, you kicked this one in the tushie!

onthebusrunning said...

A HUGE congrats, Caroline! What a great way to end your season!

B.o.B. said...

HOT DAMN!!! Congrats!!! We both had great races this weekend. Although - uhm, PODIUM is ROCKSTAR STATUS!!!

JV said...

WAY TO GO!!! Love the TROPHY. You are racing so well. Really RACING!!

Gina said...

Congrats, Caroline! That is JUST AWESOME! Have fun at Waterman's next weekend!

Allison said...

Congratulations on a well executed race, new PR and AG place!