12 May 2013

Race Report - Kinetic Half Ironman 2013! Demons Conquered!

I *love* this photo of my team!
I've done the Kinetic Half twice before - in 2009 and 2010. It was never a positive experience, usually culminating in some sort of epic meltdown on the run course. In 2010 I finished in 5:47, walking a fair amount during the run and generally feeling very, very sorry for myself, especially on that one mile hill I got to do during each of the three loops. I was so over this race after 2010 and never wanted to race it again, until this year. Even though I have improved alot as an athlete since 2010, in the days leading up to this race, a little voice in the back of my head kept reminding me that this course always chopped me down in the past and who's to say it won't happen again in 2013. So I went into race day with a little bit of mental trepidation. It's not like it's even an exceptionally hard course - nothing at all like Savageman or Wildflower, or even Quassy. The bike has rolling hills and the run has rolling hills (and one loooong uphill at the beginning of each loop). But even if the course itself isn't hard, it can still be difficult to have a good race on a course that seems to be notoriously cursed with past bad experiences. 

But I am happy to say that the score for 2013 was Caroline 1, Kinetic 0. Finally.

Top O' the 30-34 Age Group Podium to you!

In the days leading up to the race, I diligently followed Jen's advice in my Training Peaks to "eat plenty." I obliged - 30 pancakes worth between Thursday and Friday! Yum! And some pizza and pasta thrown in as well. Carbs galore to top off the glycogen. And on Friday night I kept to my usual ritual of eating ice cream, chowing down on Ben and Jerry's Chubby Hubby. 

Race morning arrived early, with my alarm going off at 4am Saturday. It was about a 90 minute drive from Arlington to the race site at Lake Anna State Park. The race started at 7am and I weighed the pros and cons of trying to drive down on Friday afternoon (I-95 traffic is the WORST, and Friday afternoon I-95 traffic is the WORST of the WORST) with getting up an hour early and getting to sleep in my own bed. My own bed and avoiding Friday traffic won out and I enjoyed a speedy (if early) drive down Saturday morning. Unfortunately, I left about 15 minutes later than I intended AND was stuck in a long line of cars trying to park at the race site, further delaying my morning, and I didn't actually make it into transition to set up my bike, nutrition, etc until about 6:25. I frantically set things up, scuttling out with about 5 minutes to spare and hoped I hadn't forgotten anything critical (I hadn't). Then it was a dash to the porto-potties, a dash to find my wetsuit, then a dash back to the car to grab my Garmin that i forgot (and a frantic struggle to find my key it the hiding place it slipped into - for a second, I thought I lost my car key). Then a mad dash to the beach and into my wetsuit. I calmed down once I got the wetsuit on, chatted with Sarah and Dawn, did a practice swim, and then walked to our wave start with Kendra.

In terms of race expectations and goals, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew Kinetic was a popular race with DC-area triathletes and there would be alot of strong athletes out there. If I could get in the top 5-AG, maybe sneak into the top 10 OA (though my previous finishes were both 39th OA so top 10 seemed like a stretch), I could call it a good day. I was also gunning for a PR (so, anything under 5:10), but was worried the prior race demons would get the best of me. AND my previous best was 5:47 so I was asking to cut off almost 40 minutes from that time. Good luck with that. As I stood at the swim start with the rest of my swim wave (girls 34-and under) and looked around, EVERYONE looked fit and fast and it was more than a little intimidating and nerve-wracking. And when it comes down to it, all you really can do is your best on that particular day. So, my best it was, whatever that was going to be. 

The Swim: 34:30
The women 34-and under was the third wave to go off at 7:08. The water looked deceivingly calm (as I would find out after the first turn buoy) and it was the perfect temperature for my sleeveless wetsuit. My plan, as always, was to swim hard and find fast feet to shamelessly draft off of. The pack strung out quickly and I stayed close to the buoy line, but sadly not on any fast feet, swimming mostly on my own. I could see a handful of pink caps in front of me, but I mostly had clear water to myself and sadly I did not latch onto any fast feet. By the time I made it to the first turn buoy, I caught up to some of the guys from the previous wave, making for some dodging and weaving. Once we made the turn, the water got choppy and this was not the easiest swim. I kept trading places with another pink cap with a blue and orange wetsuit (who turned out to be Dawn!) and it was good to focus on staying with someone rather than focusing on the waves. The rest of the swim was uneventful, I basically tried to keep decent form and stay on course. I know I worked hard because my lats and back have never been so sore after a swim. 

T1: 3:31
The race company had some issues with the timing mats, so the results show Swim + T1 time, Bike time, and then T2 + Run time, so I'm using my Garmin time. Legs got stuck in the wetsuit again, but at least my arms didn't.

The Bike: 2:38:05
Dawn and I left T1 together and proceeded to play cat and mouse for the next 30+ miles, making the bike ride fly by. The bike course changed a bit from years past - rather than doing two hilly loops, we had one hilly loop and then did a loop of flatter roads with really good pavement. It started raining a little bit on the bike course, but nothing terrible, it actually was a nice way to keep cool. Kendra went blazing by before I hit the Mile 5 marker, never to be seen again. I passed a few girls in the 25-29 AG who were faster swimmers than me, but didn't see any girls in the 30-34 AG, making me wonder if I was really behind and all the fasties were too far ahead to catch, or if I was towards the front. There did seem to be alot of bikes still racked when I left T1. Either way, I biked my face off, trying to break 2:40 AND stay with Dawn. She would blow by me on the flats and downhills and I would catch her on uphills and this is how it went until she finally left me in the dust somewhere around Mile 30 :) She went on to have a super stellar race, and I don't think I would've gotten as good a bike split as I did if I hadn't been working out of my comfort zone to keep her in my sights. I nailed my nutrition during this half Ironman. 2011 and 2012 were the years of Eat Gels All The Time, but I think the sugar would get to me because I sometimes had stomach issues on the run. I also think overeating was a problem (are you surprised?). I figured overfueling was better than underfueling because bonking is bad. Well, guess what, overfueling is bad too. So I'm trying something a little new this year, eating mainly solids and NOT overeating. I do typically put down more nutrition in the first hour of the bike, frontloading the calories, and then back off during the remainder of the bike ride. So this time I ate one PowerBar in the first hour (a giant bite every 15 minutes), sipping on Skratch Labs lemon-lime hydration after each bite. Then I put down a whole gel, triggering my gag reflex, and ending my gel consumption on the bike at 1. About 30 minutes after the gel, I took a bite of a Clif MoJo bar, and then had another bike about 30 minutes after that. Each time I ate, I took in hydration. I think I took in between 500-600 calories total on the bike, with about 160 calories worth of Skratch, 270 of PowerBar, 90 of gel, and 75 of Clif, and a total of 1.5 bottles of fluid. By the end of the bike ride I felt full but not overloaded and not close to bonking. I stopped eating and drinking 20 minutes before the end of the ride. I was riding hard enough that I felt a little nauseous at times, but it wasn't from the food, it was from the effort because I felt hungry and had no problem getting the food down. Around Mile 40, I finally caught up to a girl in my age group. It was short lived because she promptly passed me back, but I was hopeful I would see her on the run. From miles 40-50 we hit some headwind and this was also where I hit my low point and was over the bike. I actually had no idea what my average speed was, as my Garmin was only showing me my overall time, and I think I race better like that - less information to freak myself out with. And less data analysis = more focus on actually racing. I was pretty happy to roll back into the park and head out on the run. The last mile of the bike ride goes by the first mile of the run and I took that opportunity to see how many girls were out on the run course. I saw two, plus I knew Kendra and Dawn were out there, along with the other girl in my age group. But I didn't know if there were any others that I just didn't see. 

T2: 1:44 
I was jazzed to be headed out on the run (ANYTHING to get me off the bike, really). As I rolled into T2, I heard the announcer say I was the 6th female off the bike. THIS was completely unexpected and I was going to make it my mission during the run to at least keep 6th and, if I was lucky, move up to 5th.

The Run: 1:44:47 
Remembering my past two races at Kinetic, I was a little intimidated by the run course, seeing as it resulted in a pity party of epic proportions every single time I raced it. And I remembered that hill at Mile 1 (and 5 and 9) being an absolute beast. But you know what - it actually wasn't that bad! At all! The first 50m is steep, then you make a sharp right, and while it continues to go up for the rest of the mile, it's a more gradual, gentle climb. The absolute best part about the run - and the race in general - is the crowd support. I saw so many of my Ignite teammates, as well as my Team Z friends and friends from DC Tri/Snapple and FeXY out there cheering and racing. I love, love, love local races for this reason. There was an AWESOME Team Z contingent at the corner at the top of the steep hill and they kept me going EVERY lap - so thank you guys! I looked forward to seeing them each time! And then Zoya and John from FeXY boosted my spirits with their cheers as I went by, it was just awesome! And of course seeing Dawn, Mike, Kendra, Kasha, Kelly (who WON the whole thing!), Sarah and Ryan out on the course was the absolute best! Per Jen's advice, I didn't not blow myself up during the first mile and overextend it - I spent most of it looking for the top of the hill while assessing how I was feeling (actually felt pretty good!). It ticked by faster than I expected in 8:13 and then the subsequent mile or two were faster once things flattened out. At the top of the long hill, you make a right, have a flat/slight downhill for about 1.5 miles and then you loop around and come back, having a slight uphill for 1.5 miles and then you have about a mile downhill where you loop by the finish line and then do it again two more times. It is hard, especially on that first loop, to go by those signs that say Mile 9, Mile 11, Mile 12 and realize you have to go by them TWO MORE TIMES before they actually apply to you. And let's not get started about how it feels to go by the finish line twice before actually getting to cross it. Upside of the loops - LOTS of crowd support and knowing where your friends will be standing to cheer you on. During the first loop, I struggled a little bit to find my stride. My stomach still felt a little full and I resolved that I would only eat the gels I brought with me if I felt hungry and my body was asking for calories. Otherwise, I was just going to run and hope I would eventually feel less full (which I did). I took in a few sips of water every 2 miles and it was getting a little warm out there (compared to how chilly it has been this spring, it felt downright summer-like on Saturday). I was also getting passed left and right by guys, which felt a little demoralizing because I was thinking to myself how slow AM I running - usually I am passing guys on the run because they blow by me on the bike. But then I started to realize that I am not usually this far up in a race, I don't usually have the sort of bike ride where I come into T2 towards the front of the girl's race, so it wasn't that I was running super slow, it was more that I just biked well and found myself further up than usual. I felt stronger and faster on the second loop and started seeing more familiar faces out there, and by the end of the second loop I saw the girl from my age group ahead of me, I was sloooowly but surely gaining on her. I spent the first two miles of the last loop reeling her in and I passed her while we went through an aid station and she was grabbing water, I don't even know if she saw me go by, sneaky. I spent the rest of the last lap running scared, convinced that she was hot on my heels. I also wanted to make sure I ended up in the top 5 overall so that meant not letting up on the gas pedal, as there are always some speedy people in the 35+ age groups who started in the wave four minutes behind me. I checked my watch for the overall time about 1.5 miles from the finish and it was reading a few minutes under 5 hours. I knew I didn't have a sub-7 mile in me, so I gunned for anything under 5:05 instead.

Post-race hanging out!
 I ended up crossing the line in 5:02:05, a PR by about 8 minutes! I ended up 5th female overall and 1st age group. I would love, love, love to get my run under 1:40 someday in the near future, and I am slowly but surely whittling my time down and suddenly a sub-5 seems within reach, which would've been completely unfathomable to me just a few years ago. Heck, it felt unfathomable just last year. I felt the same exhausted, legs running on fumes for the last mile or two of this race that I felt at Poconos 70.3 last year, when I put all my effort into having a good run. This is twice in a row that I've had a good, relatively solid run off the bike, and now - like I'm learning to do on the bike - I need to start pushing the envelope of my comfort zone on the run. With a half marathon PR of 1:33, I should be capable of a sub-1:40 off the bike, it's just convincing myself to dig deeper on the run. I could see it on the faces of Kendra and Dawn and Rachel, the girl who ended up winning the whole race (AND who also has the same type of dog as Miles - a Llewellin Setter), that they put themselves in a world of hurt on that run course and I absolutely was not on their same level. I don't know where that fine line lies between racing just outside my limits to completely blowing up and I need to get up the courage to keep testing it out and learn how to expand my capacity to suffer. But overall, I am really happy with how my race went yesterday.

With Sarah and Kendra post-race
Lots and LOTS of thanks to all of my friends who were out on the course, both racing and cheering, as it absolutely made my day. I loved exchanging words of encouragement with my fellow Ignite Endurance teammates Ryan, Mike, Kasha, Kelly, Dawn, and Sarah along the course, as well as superstar Kendra. I loved seeing all the Team Z'rs along the approach to the finish line as well as at the top of the steep hill and their cheers made that hill so much easier - thank you Jenny and Julie and Amber and Scott and Ray and Jason and Janet and Valerie and Mark and everyone else! It was great to see Adam S. killing it on the course, and Zoya and John from FeXY cheering on the long hill was great! I got to run with Chris W. AND I saw Bob the Pie Guy multiple times on the run course.  Happiness ABSOLUTELY is when it takes you 45 minutes to head to your car because you keep bumping into friends and chatting. I'm really lucky.

I chased this girl ALL day! Congrats on your first sub-5, Dawn!
And of course, a *huge* thank you to Tri360 for making sure my bike was running smoothly on race day. In a show of ultimate procrastination, I finally put my bike back together on Thursday night, a good month + since I packed it up for Tucson. I've just been riding my road bike everywhere and I would be lying if I said I didn't consider just riding the road bike out of sheer laziness. Twitter can vouch for this. On my Friday AM shakeout spin, my gears just weren't switching right and I had visions of my bike falling apart on the course and Mr. Sweetie took it to Tri360, they fixed the problem and it ran PERFECTLY on Saturday - thank you guys! And thank you to Skratch Labs, the hydration mix is *amazing* and I attribute my happy race day stomach to your product. And ZocaGear's kit was super comfortable, as usual. And I love BlueSeventy's goggles, no leaking! And THANK YOU Jen Harrison - you are a fabulous coach and you've changed me from an athlete who was a resident of MeltDownCity to one who gets to stand on the podium. And a thank you to Mr. Sweetie for indulging my need for carbs all week, making yummy pizza and pasta dinners. I hope to always be able to repay you in bottles of victory wine :). And thanks to my awesome teammates on Ignite, I love racing with you guys and I think it's pretty neat that we all podiumed!


Melissa said...

Holy cow woman! Awesome job! I loved reading this RR.

ADC said...

Wow, Caroline, great race. Huge congrats. You've totally inspired me reading this.

chitoandkgo.com said...

That's how it's done! Congrats on the huge PR. See you at the pool this week! --Kgo

Kathy said...

So great. Congrats on a great race. Wish I had been there so cheer you all on!

Karen Talley Mead said...

WOW, you KILLED it! Congrats!

Caroline said...

Thanks so much guys! It was such a fun race and a great opportunity to FINALLY get the demons from Kinetics Past off my back!

onthebusrunning said...

Congrats, Caroline! Well done!