Race morning rolled around quite quickly! We woke up at a horrible hour, made a ton of treks with our gear to the car, drove to the park, and made the trek from our distant parking spot to transition. I set up my gear, chatted with a couple of the other girls in my age group, made my final port a potty visit, and wrestled into my wetsuit. Before I knew it, I was rushing towards the beach to get a few strokes in the water. Walking down the beach, I had a mini-breakdown of nerves, and started crying for some unbeknownst reason. I pulled myself together, waded into the water, and plunged in. It was a chilly morning, so in comparison, the water felt crisp but manageable, in a take your breath away sort of way. Soon, we were lined up on the beach in our waves, waiting for our turns.
The pro men and women went off first; I watched in admiration. Some age group men went off, then it was our turn. I lined up to the far right as usual (I both breathe and pull to the right). The countdown dragged on, and finally, we were off. I don't remember too much from the swim, as usual. I remember being on course one minute, getting cocky and not spotting for a bit, and then looking up and finding myself next to the kayak the next minute. Oops. Of course, I was directly even with the buoy we had to turn left at at that point-only, I was a good 50m to the right of it. Oh well. I got back on course, and finished up feeling strong. Upon exiting the water, I was a bit disappointed to cross the mat into transition with 33:25 on my watch, given that was slower than I had swam at Musselman the previous year despite improvements in the pool, but I forgot about it quickly and hustled towards T1.
This certainly wasn't my smoothest transition ever-the cold water had taken its toll on my dexterity. I fumbled trying to get the top of my wetsuit down before the wetsuit strippers; luckily, they just plopped me down and pulled it off my arms and legs in a flash. In transition, it took me several tries to clumsily pull on my shoes, put on my number belt, and get my helmet clipped. I ended up opting against arm sleeves, and headed towards the bike out. Party time!
Of course, I spent the first several miles of the bike anticipating the hill and battling with a man named Francois, who kept sprinting past me, then slowing way down and standing to climb even the slightest incline. Soon enough, we turned the corner and started heading up the climb for the first time. I downshifted to my smallest gear and dug in. The hill became tougher around some sign that said something along the lines of "Woodcock house" (as I immaturely noted). I'm not even sure how slow I was going up that thing, but I managed to make it up without tipping over (barely), despite the fact that I was standing on the pedals and gasping for air. The first time through the descent, I was largely alone, and surprisingly not scared. I actually enjoyed the rest, but could only think of having to make that climb again. The rest of the loop passed uneventfully. By the time I was heading toward the climb for the second time, 35-39 and 40-44 men were passing me left and right (well, really just left)-those guys were hauling. I managed to concentrate on the task at hand, and surprisingly, the second time up the hill didn't seem as bad as the first-the mental aspect of knowing the worst was over after that likely helped! From that point on, I kept checking my watch vs. my bike computer, and hoping I'd at least break 3 hours on the bike course. Mile 40 passed, followed by mile 45. I was passed by one woman during that time (Jessie, according to her race bib), but didn't worry too much, as she was A. not in my age group and B. wicked fast and out of my league as she turned in a pro-quality ride. I told myself to take it a mile at a time for the last 10 miles, but was hurting at that point and running out of fluids. I had also opened a gel around mile 30, not finished it, and ended up with gel smeared all over my left aerobar and handlebar, causing my hand to stick whenever I tried to change between the two. The package of chomps I tried to eat later on ended up sticking to the aerobar as a result. Lovely. Finally, we made the final turn into the park. I knew I'd make it in under 3 hours by that point, so I tried to push the fatigue of the challenging ride out of my mind and focus ahead on the run. Bike split-2:54:00. Not great, but given the course (and my fear going in), good enough for me.
This was slightly better than T1. I did take some time to gulp an extra bottle of sports drink and blow my nose in transition, but otherwise made it out the other side in a reasonable amount of time.
This was where I was supposed to be more comfortable...right? Well, on the first mile of the run, I felt spent and slightly panicky. All I could think about was how good I had felt right off the bat during the run at Musselman last year, and how far I had to go. I was too out of it to think that I rarely felt good starting off a run off the bike, but would was able to settle in comfortably soon after. I hit the first mile in 6:24 though, and figured it couldn't be all that bad. During mile 2, I passed Dave. He said something about how he had been waiting for me to the men he was running with, and I responded with something about how I had probably used up too much off the bike and was already hurting, in my usual positive fashion. A slight downhill before the first turnaround helped, though, and I began to get my legs back under me. During the first portion of the first loop, I had passed a couple of girls in my age group, but still didn't have any idea where I stood overall. I used the turnarounds to judge my lead, as they had been tough to pass, and I wasn't confident that they wouldn't be able to come back on me. My mile splits were remaining relatively steady, though, between 6:20-7:00, depending on the terrain. Eventually, I reached the final turnaround with about 3 miles to go. I have to say, a kid that Dave and I would later affectionately refer to as "the awesome little chunky kid" on one of the corners near the turnaround, with his calls of "You guys are so awesome! You're all amazing! Look how far you've come!" was enough to spur me along. I then spent the last couple of miles convinced that I had a blister on the bottom of my foot that had split open (turns out it hadn't), and crunched my foot up in my shoe to take the pressure off. The last mile or so, a man helped pull me along, then graciously let me ahead to have my moment as we approached the finish. Still having no clue where I stood overall or amongst amateurs, I heard the announcer call out, "And here comes Jennie Hansen, our first female amateur finisher of the day. Someone get this girl a pro card!" (um...not there yet, buddy). Uncharacteristically, I briefly fist pumped a couple yards before the finish line, sprinted (it felt like sprinting, at least) across, and promptly dissolved into tears-of relief, of fatigue and pain, of pure happiness. Run split-1:26:20, overall time 4:57:24.
I knew that with the wave start, I wouldn't end up being the first amateur female overall- that honor, as I had expected, went to Jessie Donavan, the woman who had sped past me on the bike. I had passed her on the run (she graciously encouraged me), but her wave had started well behind me, and she was highly determined and fast, as she finished amongst the pros. But, I had snagged the coveted Vegas slot that had been my singular focus spurring me on during the countless trainer hours during the winter, the 6am pool sessions, and the miles of cold, snowy roads. I think I felt more relieved than anything, although the pressure was more internal than anything. After my finish, I took off my shoes, stood with Welby and waited for Dave to finish (5:23 for his first half, not too shabby!), and soon discovered that thanks to getting a little aggressive with my yankz in transition and scrunching my foot up all funny due to the phantom popped blister for the last 3 miles of the race, I had a massive foot cramp that soon rendered me unable to walk. I ended up getting carried (I might have been more concerned about my dignity if the race hadn't gone the way it had) to the med tent for some ice and a wrap until I could sort of weight bear again, using my "I'm a physical therapist" excuse to politely decline needing the doctor to look at my temporarily swollen foot. Finally, I convinced everyone that I was sort of mobile, got a ride back to the Vegas registration/awards area, coughed up my money, chatted with some fellow Rochester athletes, gimped through the awards ceremony, and waited with Welby through the rolldown process. Unfortunately, despite a great race from him, his age group was highly competitive, and the rolldown gods were not with us. After one last soak in the lake and the hills moment, I limped my way to the car Dave had been allowed to retrieve and bring right into the park (score one for the crappy foot!). We drove to Vermont, enjoyed the rest of the weekend with some drinks, lots of food, a hot tub, a pool, some shopping with money I don't have, and a very slow walk around a scenic little pond near our hotel (my foot bounced back nicely within a couple of days). All in all, despite the nerves heading in, the experience had been fantastic-a tough but rewarding course, a beautiful location, and a goal fulfilled!