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Friday, September 16, 2011

Ironman 70.3 Worlds- the actual race

As riveting as my descriptions of travel probably were, time to get down to the race before I forget!  Race morning, we awoke at 4:30 (later to my east coast time tuned body, luckily), made our way to Lake Las Vegas, and put some last minute touches on the bikes.  This, for me, entailed shoving tons of ice into my aero bottle and Neverreach, to avoid having hot fluids during the race.  I seriously need to figure out how to do a bottle exchange.  Anyways, a brief moment of silence for 9/11 was observed at the time the first plane hit, something that seemed more emotional for me than the horrible events 10 years ago; I think it probably has to do with being 26 vs. 16 and appreciating the enormity of it all.  The process of arranging us into our waves then began, which, at 6:30 am, seemed a bit early for our 7:50am wave start.  Still, Alyssa and I joined the nervous group gathered on the narrow mat along the lake.  We're somewhere in here:
With the blast of the cannon, the pros were off (wouldn't it be fantastic to have booked a hotel room in Lowes that morning with no idea that a race was going on when the reservation was made?)  I watched Andy Potts exit the water ridiculously fast, watched the pros transition with impressive coordination, made a million bathroom trips, drank some unnatural beverages, ate some unnatural foods, and wrestled into my swim skin.  Time passed surprisingly quickly, and before I was really ready, we were in the swim corrale, waiting to enter the water.  At that point, I went through my moments of overwhelming nerves, near crying, and doubting why I put myself through such torture.  On the bright side, this sort of panic attack used to occur at the start of my swim, so I suppose getting over it beforehand is progress.  Dave was right there, though, and he even captured the moment quite well:
Once in the water, we got to tread water for over ten minutes.  I took the opportunity to swim a bit, and then stood on some rocks at the end.  Finally, we were off.  The lake was narrow, buoys were in my preferred location on the right, and the course was easy to follow.  I had started to the far left, which actually gave me plenty of swimming room right from the start.  The women in my wave took off fast- at one point, I'm not sure if I was actually beating anyone or not.  I was able to get in a rhythm pretty quickly, though.  Once we rounded the far end of the rectangular course and started to head back, I started to lose sight of other women.  For some reason, I was pulling to the left, which I have never once done in open water-it's always been right or bust for me.  My swimming, therefore, continues to be a mystery.  I then began to alternate between feeling fatigued and zoning out entirely, thinking about the upcoming bike.  When I finally got out of the water, I clicked my watch and saw 35:xx.  Ugh.  I tried to put it behind me and began the long run towards transition, noting that I felt fresher during that than I had the entire swim.

I ran into Alyssa in the changing tent; we exchanged some encouragement and exited transition pretty close together after I stumbled up the hill with my bike.  Several miles of climbing followed to open up the bike leg; surprisingly, this was my first clue that the day might go well for me.  I settled in, felt strong, and began the process of trying to make up some ground.  The first descent followed, during which my race day downhill alter ego kicked in.  Just a few miles in, I set a few ground rules: get into my small ring on long climbs for at least the 30 miles of the bike, no matter how strong I felt, don't freaking ride the brakes downhill, and ride as fast down them as I'm comfortable!  While the hills in the recreational area looked daunting in the distance, avoiding any urge to grind them out in my high gears made them manageable, and I began to relax and steadily move up on the climbs.  Another small source of inspiration came from the paratriathlon and handcycle athletes- watching these athletes push themselves in a way I can't imagine led to my inner refrain of "suck it up!"  The 70+ age group contributed also to this- and one of the men in that age group led to a humorous interlude.  As I passed him, I admired how good he looked for his age (something that someone in my profession can completely appreciate).  Immediately after that, a guy in my age group passed me, and told me, "you have amazing legs!".  However, for some reason, I didn't comprehend the "you" part of this, and thought he was referring to the 70  year old, which led to my response of "I know!  I know!".  Realizing shortly after what he had really said, I figured that he must now think I'm the most conceited chick ever.  This led to me feeling like an idiot and holding back on the next uphill as I began to catch back up to him...whoops.  Later, I would decide it was kind of strange that he was commenting on my legs mid-race, anyways.  That aside, shortly after 30mi in, a race motorcycle pulled up next to me-crap!  I was so sure that I had been riding cleanly, too.  But, instead of a yellow or red card, someone on the back of it pulled out a camera, and they just drove alongside me, taking pictures.  Weird.  I still haven't figured out what that was about (again, probably just admiring the Neverreach...).  Continuing on after that small heart attack, I checked my watch every five miles, and began to realize that my bike leg was going much, much better than I could have hoped...

Right around mile 35, my race truly seemed to begin.  At that point, I thought of what I had left- which was my normal Sunday training brick of a 20mi bike, 13 (or more) mile run.  This seemed so doable; I had done the workout dozens of times, often with more fatigue in my legs than I was feeling at that point on the bike.  I banked on this confidence, and soon enough I passed the girl in my age group who had edged me out for 3rd at Nationals.  It was almost a relief; I knew my swim had been bad, and I had no concept of where I was within the age group.  With my optimism growing, a couple miles later, I came up on another couple of women in my age group.  The name on the bib of one of them caught my attention- she was the girl, a former All-American runner, who was predicted by many to win the group.  I debated for a minute if I had any business passing her; I had certainly never thought I'd be heading towards T2 in that position (it unnerves me to have faster runners behind me, trying to chase me down!).  After a brief "holy crap!" moment, I made the pass and pressed on.  At that point, it dawned on me: I was going to push the rest of the bike, I was going to run hard, I was going to make myself hurt more than I ever had, and I was going to love it; this is why I do this, this makes me feel alive.  The last 15 miles of the ride were almost uneventful despite a gradual climb towards the end, I felt under control and tried to keep it that way.  I figured I was in a good position, so I concentrated on finishing my fluids and getting down a gel in the closing moments.

As soon as I started my run, the doubts started.  Had I biked too hard?  I'd felt fine, though.  Was my gut going to hold out?  I felt sort of nauseous again, but it didn't seem as bad as it had in the early stages of my Musselman run.  The worst of it was the crampy/sore feeling in my distal medial quads, which caused visions of the agony of my first marathon to dance around in my head.  The first mile, while relatively downhill/flat, was tough.  I couldn't find my running legs, 13 miles suddenly seemed like an eternity.  I missed the mile marker, and I felt like I was crawling until I reached mile 2, where I took a 13:09 two mile split.  Ok.  I was fine.  The course began its long, gradual climb, which looked innoculous enough on an elevation map, but in reality was wearing.  I was still unconvinced that my quads would hold out, until I recalled that they'd felt worse 10 miles into that first marathon; 13 miles to go was at least less than 16.  I told myself that every step was one step closer to safely getting to that finish line, that I couldn't go back in distance, at least.  Around mile 5, I finally began to work into the run.  Somewhere in those first few miles, I passed one final 25-29 girl.  I still didn't know that, though.  After a few more miles, when I hadn't passed anyone else in my age group, thoughts that I might be in the lead crossed my mind.  I pushed them aside, and recalled what I'd told myself earlier: that I was going to hurt, but I was going to get through it.  Ironically, I can't say I noticed the heat.  Cups of water over the head, multiple sponges, and Powerbar drink mix at every aid station helped with that, as well as the 2 glorious spray tents per lap.  Entering my final lap, I was struggling.  Still, I knew I had one more trip up the hill, then a mile downhill to the finish.  I was slowing, but I made it to the final turnaround.  At that turnaround, in my semi-delirious state, I saw another girl in my age group slightly behind me.  I couldn't remember if I'd just lapped her or not, so I expended everything I had left in the tank over that last mile.  Finally, after running past it and watching it mock me twice, I was able to make the turn in to the finish, and pushed with all that was left.

At the end of the finish chute, volunteers were directing us into the food tent, but I couldn't even think about food at that point- all I could think was some jumbled version of, "that was it, wasn't it?", as my hands were covering my mouth in some version of uncertainty, mixed with disbelief and cautious joy.  Dave was right there, and he confirmed what I'd been wondering and hoping for the past several hours: "you won!!"  After several refrains, "are you sure?  are you SURE?", I allowed myself a total state of laughing/crying breakdown, and my cautious joy turned unadulterated (sorry...).  I spent the next hour or so with a smile plastered to my face.  After calling my parents and talking to a few other friends, I tracked down my gear and Alyssa (who toughed out a sub-5:30 two weeks after a full ironman-talk about balls!), ran into a few Buffalo competitors, and finally was forced to sit in the shade with my leftover gatorade, given I'd completely neglected the fact that I'd just completed a half ironman in 90 degree heat and should probably consume, well, anything with liquid or sugar in it.  A few days later, I now realize just how on the brink my quads were throughout that run, and I'm so, so grateful that I was able to walk (run?) that line and get through it.  I know that it's not Kona, I know that plenty of pros crushed me, and I know that this might not have been the strongest competition ever in my age group at 70.3 worlds, but the support and congrats from everyone have been absolutely amazing and overwhelming.  I couldn't have asked for a better weekend, and no matter what happens in my athletic future from here, this will always be a highlight.

For some final thoughts, here's some pictures:
My awesome, not so flying dismount:

In the water...that's me in the middle, thinking about how I'm about to swim really slow.

Alyssa and I at the awards banquet!

25-29 awards!  I should add that the girl next to me was also finished right behind me when we both qualified at Mooseman-she's super nice, I wish her the best!

Lake Mead recreational area, the next day.  It looked prettier when I wasn't biking up its hills.

Hoover Dam visit

Hiking at Red Rocks Canyon the next day...the views were worth the pain in my quads!

See?

We scurried between some rocks
Making my awesome mount...try not to be too impressed.

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