How do I put this into words? I don’t know if I can, really. I’ve already said a lot and have been absolutely flooded with kindness and support beyond what I deserve. I guess I should describe some of my motivations for this race. Often times, even when I was training for Texas, I was thinking of Placid. I don’t know, it just seemed to carry more emotional baggage for me. I think from the outside looking in, it seems like, oh, she’s had a couple of seconds, that probably really fueled her desire for a win. And, I don’t know, for some reason I just never felt like that was necessarily a big driving force for me. My seconds were absolutely awesome. I was thrilled on those days, and never really once thought man, I wish that I’d won. With the women in those fields, second was as good as I was going to do. I know when someone’s better than me, and really, to win would have taken something bad happening to someone else, which I’d hope that no one ever wishes upon fellow athletes (if you do…that’s pretty screwed up). Winning by default is hardly winning. With that, though, knowing that Placid was a lower points race sandwiched between higher points races when many already had their Kona slots secured, I was hoping I might have a shot, even though I hate making any sort of placement goals-just too many variables, just causes unnecessary, unhelpful anxiety. Anyone can bring it on any day. But in a way, it almost seemed scripted, fated. I kept thinking back to the summer of 2010, when I’d entered my first 70.3 at Musselman, where I’d run myself into second place, which seemed improbable to me at the time. I’d returned the next year, come off the bike a few spots higher (ironically, I think I was third off the bike there as well), and run to victory. I had meaningful memories of high school running in Geneva. I had meaningful memories of high school running in Lake Placid as well. The parallels in my mind were drawn (luckily, I knew that they meant NOTHING without work. Lots and lots of work).
But really, the date of Placid stuck with me, as well as the significance of all that had happened since that day. July 28-the last day last year that triathlon life seemed normal. The day afterwards, I’d come in from putting up (part of) a fence to see Heather’s name and picture on the news for the wrong, horrifying, gut-wrenching reason. We still haven’t finished the fence, actually. Complain away neighbor behind us, but you don’t get it. A week later, I was at her memorial ride, where at least half a dozen people were telling me she had been glued to the athlete tracker while I’d been racing Placid, and had been updating them throughout the day. Funny, because I’d been tracking her the weekend before that at Musselman. That spirit, that love, that life-deserves to continue on in us. Since then, here in Rochester we’ve had trials and sentencings and anger. And then more grief and sadness, two weeks before Placid. Dave and I made it to the end of Michael Coyle’s calling hours. Maybe it was because we were some of the last people through, but here was this grieving family, telling us how wonderful and supportive the Rochester triathlon community was-a fact that I certainly knew. At the end of the day, children are growing up without parents and spouses are lost and races are completely inconsequential. But I love my city and the people I’ve met here through sports, and, for the love of God, we just needed something to smile about.
The weeks before Placid seemed to crawl. Dave and I didn’t get in until Thursday night. From that point on, my time was filled with the normal meetings and buying of last minute stuff and equipment prep and such. I kept busy and didn’t dwell (which was a little difficult when I was alone all day Saturday while Dave and Aaron had their bromance ride day). Once I was in Placid, though, I was just happy and grateful to be there. My training had been great in the last two weeks before the race, although the week before had given me some pause-my quads and calves had been a bit funky-I pushed the doubts out of my mind and felt ready. Once I’m done with work at the race site, race morning always rolls around quickly. I woke up feeling good and shared good luck hugs and wishes with my friends and family before suiting up and heading over to the swim start.
|How I spent my Friday. Living the life!|
|Ready and waiting with her twin. Awww.|
|Hugging my lucky charm. Last time Alyssa and I were in the same race, I won the AG in Vegas. Coincidence? I think not. Oh yeah, she won the AG this time too!|
Before the start of the swim, my nerves were actually fairly well under control. I chatted with several of the other pro women, and soon enough we were lined up and ready to start. The first portion of the swim didn’t seem like as much as a flat out sprint as normal, and when the pack cleared I found myself working to stay on some feet. I wasn’t sure whose feet they were, but I could tell that I was fighting to stay on them, so I figured that if I was working hard in a draft, I was probably moving fairly well. I’m generally far more positive towards swimming when I’m not alone, so I was feeling pretty good on the outbound leg until just before the first turn buoys, where the first age groupers started to engulf myself and the two women I was following at that point. I lost track of them at that point, and became slightly discouraged as I fought to figure out where they were amongst the pack, to no avail. When I realized I was then behind, I regrouped myself, moved to the buoy line, and decided that I’d just try to catch some brief draft from the swimmers that were then passing me. The new swim start meant that instead of being caught by packs, I was being caught by a steadier stream. I was still getting jostled and grabbed at and swam over, but I never found myself on my own, which ended up working out in my favor. I could still see the women that I had been with just ahead of me, as well, even if I wasn’t directly behind me. Just before the first lap ended, I was passed by a larger clump of athletes that I discovered I was actually able to sort of hang with until exiting the water the first time. When I ran out onto the beach, I glanced down and saw 31:16 on the garmin…31:16?? I was pretty pumped by that alone, given I’ve never even swam that in a 70.3 (legitimately). I actually smiled a bit, and then dove back in.
The second loop of the swim was more of the same on the outbound leg-I did my best to hang with the group that had passed me, and found that I was able to stick with it to some degree. I was hoping for a 65min swim heading in, and I knew that I was well on my way by that point. The way out passed by quickly. The return trip became a bit trickier, as I started to run into people on their first loop. I managed the crowds by jumping on the feet of a male age grouper and following his navigation. Honestly, I didn’t really feel that I was hindered at all. Eventually, I even made my way back to one of the women I had been swimming with originally. I was watching the numbered buoys pass by, and soon enough was headed back to shore, where I was thrilled to see 1:03 on the watch-just a huge improvement for me over last year both in terms of time and outlook, and a great start to my day. The last time I’d gotten out of a race and saw a time on my watch that was faster than what I thought I was doing was during the first tri of my life nearly four years ago, so I’d take the pleasant surprise-finally! I was still 11 minutes back, but 11 is quite a bit less than 17, and I wasn’t starting the bike in the very back of the pack by a minute, either.
|A rare post-swim smile from me, and a look that says "this girl was freaking annoying my feet the entire last leg of the swim" from my unknown male swim friend.|
As I headed out up 9N and out on the first out and back, I began to really enjoy myself. The power was coming easily, and the legs were behaving. I was riding happy and comfortably (minus a few instances of the normal cat and mouse with a few male age groupers…it’s ok to get passed by a woman here and there. Really, it’s ok). I moved up a couple places on the out and back, which was encouraging given that I’m so used to not seeing any women for miles upon miles. At the out and back, I was able to see that I was about 10 minutes back-not losing any time, which was good at that point. The first climb up towards Wilmington was manageable. I entertained myself with the creative signs here and there. The first loop was passing by quite quickly; at one point, it dawned on me that I actually didn’t even know how far I’d gone, because I was riding happy and not dwelling on how much riding was still ahead of me. Even the first climb up out of the notch felt good; I appreciated the fresh paving and the much improved road condition over last year. I knew that the town was waiting at the top to provide a boost. I smiled my way up the three bears and into town-easily my favorite part of any bike I’ve ever done in an Ironman, without a doubt. The crowds were electric, and I was pleased with my speed at that point, having made it through the first loop in 2:37 or so. I had no idea if I’d put any time into the leaders or where I stood at that point, but my ride was going well.
|From the Ironman gallery. They rode next to me for a while taking pictures. I always feel like I should smile when someone's taking pictures of me. I don't know.|
|Having fun on my way back into town. Clearly the first loop. Obviously.|
|This course really is beautiful. On another note, once you go disc...you can never go back. Whomp, whomp, whomp.|
On the way back out of town, I did start to actually look forward to my next trip down Keene-one, because the relative rest would feel good, and two, because I needed to, cough, “dehydrate”, as they delicately put it in our pro meeting. The rain had stopped, so I figured that trip down would be easier. Wrong. The rain was replaced with wind, so Jennie and her bike handling skills and her second ever race with a disc had some issues. The brakes were applied a couple more times. Plus, by that point, I was entirely alone, which although probably safer also means that I tend to be more tentative-I’m usually a bit more likely to tell myself to stop being a total wimp if I see someone else speeding past me and staying upright. I breathed a slight sigh of relief when I made it to the bottom unscathed. On the next trip out towards the out and back, though, fatigue started to click in, and I started to second guess myself. Had I been overbiking up to that point? I didn’t think so, my numbers were the same as they’d been in Texas. Was I making up any ground? When I got out to the out and back, I must have mistaken a female age grouper for the lead pro, and somehow thought that I was something like 20 minutes back. Even though I made a couple more passes on the way back in, some seeds of negativity started to sprout up in my brain. Keeping the power up was becoming a bit of a fight right at the point where I should have been thinking about trying to pick it up again, around mile 85. By that time, I was actually starting to look forward to climbing the notch, just because I could change positions and it’d force me to get the numbers back up (or so I thought). My calves were concerning me about cramping-I’d had a random charley horse in the pool on Tuesday morning, which never happens, so of course I’d been worrying about them all week. My stomach was also revolting a little bit. I switched from Perform to water and salt tabs for a bit to bring everything back under control and reached for the double caffeinated gel to try to revive all my systems. I also tried to remind myself-ride like you want it.
I did start to feel a little better by the Haselton out and back, as well as through the first portion of the Wilmington climb. This only lasted so long, though, as somewhere around mile 100 I began to really struggle. The seeds of doubt were really sprouting by then. I was willing my legs to work. I did pass one more woman in there, eventual runner-up Katy, whose did transfer some of the enthusiasm she carried throughout the day to me with some much-needed encouragement as we briefly commented on our twin bikes. Still, I was hurting. I told myself that I always hurt at the end of long rides, and that I still somehow always manage to get off the bike and feel halfway decent running. I’d hit my nutrition and hydration and electrolytes, so all systems should have been a go there. Still, even though I was climbing, I was really having trouble keeping the heart rate and the power up. I hit the portion of the course where Dave and chalked “Heather is with you #48” onto the pavement, and took a big dose of “suck it up and go” with me back into town. I again tried to smile at the cheering spectators as much as I could going through the last few miles towards transition, convincing myself that it’d make me feel better. When I made it to T2, I was still feeling a bit weak and disoriented, though. I hustled my way through as quickly as I could, though. I honestly was unsure of my ability to get through a marathon feeling the way I did at that point, but at the same time, I had to just trust that my run would come around.
Exiting T2, I was told that I was in third, about 8 minutes back of first. I was a little bit confused-I didn’t know that Hillary Biscay had unfortunately fallen ill and hadn’t started, and I knew that she and Dede would have come out of the water well ahead of me and maintained the lead on the bike. I also knew that I hadn’t yet passed Carrie. Oh well. I was slightly encouraged to hear that I’d gained ground on the second lap of the bike, even though the last ten miles had been an exercise in tanking. I was definitely feeling off, though, so I sucked down a gel ASAP and really eased into the run-my heart rate was sitting very low the first couple of miles, and I just concentrated on taking a buffet of fluids at every aide station (even though I had to pee…I don’t know, when I’m tired, I just reflexively drink). Luckily, despite the low heart rate and slightly wooziness, I was running at a good clip, and within a few miles, everything began to come around, both the legs and the systemic stuff. The calf cramping that had been threatening on the bike was luckily a non-issue as soon as I started running. My lead biker tried to offer me some encouragement; unfortunately, I wasn’t a very good conversationalist at that point. Once on River Road, I just began to look forward to nearing the out and back to get my first look at where I stood. I began to see some of my QT2 male teammates coming back the other way, who offered me encouragement, with Tim Snow winning the award for enthusiasm, as he told me it was mine right then and there (I wish I’d been that confident!).
Watching the mile signs as I approached the turn, I realized that I was within a mile of Carrie, who was leading the race at that point, and I had Dede within my sights by that point. I passed Dede somewhere in the vicinity of the turnaround (the memory’s a little hazy at that point), who offered me encouragement, told me I was gaining, told me to be patient, keep my pace, and take my time, and then said the words that sent chills down my spine at that point-“go win yourself an Ironman”. Dave and Aaron had run down to mile 8, and told me I was within a few minutes. By the time I turned off River Road and headed back up towards town, I was hearing gradually decreasing splits to the lead as I went along. I kept Dede’s words in mind, though-patience. I knew I’d have to fight-I was surrounded by women who are just as strong, talented, and capable as I was. My stomach was reasonable for an Ironman at that point, but not great. I could tell that my body was going to want a couple more gels, so I’d have to be careful to make sure that I was able to get (and keep) them down. The crowds along the streets were awesome-being from Rochester, I could definitely feel some sort of “home field advantage” in Placid (to the point that a couple of people I was running with commented on how many fans I had out there). I had the lead within my sights by the time I got towards the second climb on the run. The excitement of the spectators was contagious, but I knew it’d be foolish to put in any sort of surge and rush anything, because I’d pay later. I stayed steady, and (much to the delight of my parents, who were stationed right there), finally moved into the lead just before the halfway point, at the second turnaround.
|Blog running picture selection rule 1: Choose one where you look sort of happy, particularly if it features a volunteer looking really happy for you. I love this volunteer.|
|Blog running picture rule 2: Choose one where you look like you have nice muscles. I think I'm near Alexa's boyfriend's house here, actually.|
|Blog running picture rule 3: Choose one that's taken at a flattering angle for your thighs, particularly if the "Finisherpix" is covering the problem upper inner thigh area.|
Holy. Freaking. Geez. I had just moved myself into uncharted territory. I’d thought that running in second place in previous Ironmans was nerve wracking. But nothing could have prepared me for taking the lead. The thing is, I’m just not that used to leading anything other than small local races-so an Ironman lead was a whole different ball game. As a poor swimmer, I’m used to chasing, not being chased. The women behind you all look like they’re moving more quickly than you feel like you’re moving, regardless of what the reality may be. Still, when crowds are cheering for you by name, you can’t help but smile for a couple miles, regardless of how the body’s feeling. Jesse warned me that I still had a lot of race left as I headed back out (a fact that I was all too well aware of), and gave me the “don’t do anything stupid” advice. After the nice little downhill semi-break, I was back out onto the lonely River Road stretch. That’s when the mental games set in, and sheer determination took over. I started playing the “x miles left…you’ve run that far feeling rough many times” game, I started telling myself to just make it to the next aide station and get some life blood (aka, coke), I got myself through a stomach cramp, I told myself I felt worse at that point last year and had made it through, I looked down at the smeared Sharpie on my arm, where I’d written Mike and Heather’s initials and scrawled “just remember what you’re here for” and felt a sense of sheer will for them and for everyone in the Rochester triathlon community as a whole. We need a pick-me-up, I’d told Dave after leaving Mike’s calling hours just over a week before. A year ago that day…Heather had still been with us, for the last day; “Heather strong” had been spray painted at the far lonely end of the road for me. The one thing I didn’t think about? How winning would feel. I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. One step, one minute, one mile at a time.
|I don't know how this got started, but it didn't stop amusing me the entire day.|
The mile splits continued to pop up with surprising consistency; I was hurting but not fading for far longer than I’d ever managed in an Ironman marathon before. I needed to get to the turnaround, to figure out how much of a lead I had. Doug, Pat, Matt, and Tim all continued to encourage me as I approached the turn, despite being deep into their own races. I checked my watch as I got to the turn and made a mental note of what it said. The further I got away from the turn before seeing anyone else, the better I began to feel. 30 seconds-ok, at least one minute. A minute-ok, at least 2 minutes. I eventually calculated my lead at close to five minutes at that point with about 8 miles to go-meaning I had more than 30 seconds/mile to give back. I was still running right around 7:00/mile at that point, so my chances were good if I could just stay on my feet. I forced myself to stay steady, and I found myself in some new sort of zone. Get fluids, stay calm, keep going. Get to the base of the hills feeling ok. Get to the crowds. Don’t burn the last match before the climb.
|Late in the run. The Jennie pain face is in full effect. I'd love to know what the guy pointing to me is saying. Probably, "I think that she's going to keel over".|
I made it to the climbs; I kept running. Four, three, two miles to go. I was gaining confidence; I knew I’d run a couple miles before in worse states. The crowds were thickening; they were cheering and pushing me along. I absorbed their energy. Five people called me Cait-if I want to be mistaken for anyone at mile 24 of an Ironman marathon, it’s one of the best runners in our sport, I thought to myself. I kept running for that final turnaround-I had no idea how far in front I was still (Dave Bradshaw had told me no one was coming a few miles ago, but…I’m a Bills fan. You don’t count on anything until it’s over). Finally, I reached the turnaround. 3.5 minutes later, Katy and I were giving each other one final smile and congrats until after the race. I was at mile 25.7. I relaxed, I smiled, I began to allow myself to think that I was going to be hitting the tape. My awesome biker and I reached the oval, and she turned off with some final words of encouragement. Between leaving the crowded streets and hitting the final straight was one brief moment of solitude. I could hear the finish line; in seconds I’d be brought home by Mike Reilly and the rest of the spectators. But it was there, those brief seconds that what was about to happen really, truly hit me. The hands went to my face, and I started some sort of dry crying. I floated around the oval, and truly just reacted to what was going on-unscripted, unrehearsed, just raw emotion.
|Hey moron-you have a seven minute lead with 10m to go. Stop sprinting 6:30 pace and smile. Actually, I think I thought that I was smiling here.|
|I managed to finish without sponges...but at least I'm stopping the garmin. Wouldn't want to ruin my signature move!|
|In case everyone hasn't had enough of this picture...|
|This seemed like the thing to do at the time. I don't know.|
|I think this same picture was taken last year|
|And this one too|
|Interviewing with Mike Reilly-yeah!|
|Kind of fun!|
|They gave me an Olympic torch-how sweet is that! Everyone male wanted to light it. What is it with men and fire?|
|I can't come up with a valid reason why I'm grabbing my own ass. Thanks crowd! I like to touch my butt!|
Hitting the tape was like the release of every emotion that’s built up from every battle I’ve fought against myself, and no one else-every lung-busting swim rep, every time I’ve had to will myself to JUST keep up with Dave on a long ride, every run in some sort of extreme of the weather spectrum came to fruition in one brief moment. It’s the kind of moment that you bottle up and save next to the other self-triumphs, the one that you open up and take a whiff of the next time the going gets tough, and you’re wondering why on earth you’re rolling out of bed at 5am to swim or spending 5 hours in your basement on the bike yet again. It’s the blue label bottle on my shelf; the one I’ll keep and look at and only use on the most special of occasions, because I don’t ever want it to run out on me.
At the same time, I’m not going to rest on this. One victory does not make a triathlon career, nor does it even put me in the realm of the top women of this sport. I still know where I stand and how much work is left for me to do. This win has been absolutely incredible, and I’ve been completely and entirely overwhelmed by the kindness and support shown to be my complete strangers, including some of the women who I so greatly admire. I know it sounds silly, but in some weird way, winning this race has restored some sort of faith in humanity. I’m completely taken aback by some of the messages and congrats I’ve received. I’m just doing what I love to do to the fullest of my abilities, like so many thousands of others out there; I just happen to have been blessed with the genetic predisposition and the life circumstances that have allowed me to rise to a certain level. I don’t see what I did as any more worthy than what thousands of others were doing that day. Walking back to our house, watching those finishing in 14, 15, 16, 17 hours is just as inspirational to me. A patient stopping at mile 24 of her own marathon to give me a hug as I cheered her on-well, that’s pretty freaking special to. When I think back on every race I’ve ever done, there’s always been someone who’s said the perfect thing at the perfect time, who’s put out some sort of sign that’s made me laugh, or who’s run across the road to make sure I got the coke I so desperately wanted (awesome volunteer man at mile 21) that I remember, that’s contributed to my journey in some way that’s more significant than they’ll probably ever realize. It takes a village.
|Dave and I and my torch. We almost look like proud parents here.|
|Katy and I during the last hour! So much fun!|
|The inflatable alpaca. He was there from swim start to final finisher. The inflatable alpaca is clearly awesome on many levels.|
Anyways, I think that I’ve gone on more than long enough here! So of course, I’ll wrap up with the specific thank yous-as always, Mary, Jesse, and the whole awesome crew (you guys were EVERYWHERE and were incredible) of QT2, Quintana Roo for my favorite bike ever (fastest bike split for the first time!), Normatec for the recovery assistance through some hard training weeks, Powerbar, Pearl Izumi. Huge thanks to everyone who took the time to congratulate me or send me a kind message-I read everything and take it all to heart, so thank you!! Thanks to all of the Rochester/WNY triathlon communities, I've been taken aback by how many of you were following me on that day, and I hope I provided a smile or two along the way. And of course to my closest friends and family, without whom I could never, ever do any of this.
Oh, and thanks to Charlie Abrahams and Kelly Gallagher/Sonic Endurance for most of these awesome photos. Props!
|Scenic coffee the day post-race. Oh coffee. How I missed you. We just wrapped up one blissful week together...it's time to say goodbye again. Tear.|
|Why do I have a giant smile plastered on my face? Because I'M STANDING NEXT TO ANDY POTTS!!!|
|Things that are awkward: Looking at yourself while poking around town.|
|Two Ironmans in three weeks? This calls for a little bit of man up.|
Triathlon.com interview (thanks Bethany Mavis!)
The D&C (thanks Leo Roth!)
The Buffalo news (thanks Amy Moritz!)