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Thursday, October 9, 2014

IM Chattanooga race report-the minor fall, the major lift

Your faith was strong, but you needed proof...

  Well, it's taken me some time to write this race report, just because it's a bit hard for me to put into words everything that went on that day, and I don't mean in terms of powers, heart rates, or splits.  Every time I make it to the line of an IM, the race is important, but I think it's only human to admit that sometimes, some of these just mean more than others.  And this race was one of those.  I'd picked myself up, dusted myself off, and put in the best three month stretch of training that I had in well over a year.  As I checked off workouts, I began to get increasingly excited-that is, until the race actually came into view.  At that time, the self-imposed pressures began to build, and I searched for every reason to lack confidence.  But...what if...?  I knew what I was capable of based on my training numbers, but, in my mind, it all meant little if I couldn't display it.  Mostly, I just wanted a day where I could throw my (fit) self into a race, and put my heart and soul into it.  I didn't need a perfect day; those rarely exist.  I just wanted a day where, when I would eventually put my overly caffeinated head to the pillow at the end of the night, I would know...that was it.

  So, after patiently watching my teammates, friends, and husband all compete at various races, biding my time, honing my fitness, dotting my i's and crossing my t's, my turn was finally coming.  Chattanooga was feeling like a special race for me for several reasons.  One, it happened to fall on the final day of my twenties.  I've had one heck of a decade, and even though my grand life plan a few years ago didn't put me where I am today (I think this was around when I was supposed to have kids or something...whoops, forgot about that one...), I wanted to close things out with a memorable day.  Two, a couple of the biggest players in my triathlon career to date played a huge role at the race. QT2 was the official coaching company of the race, and QR, with their headquarters in Chattanooga, also played a huge role there.  Having Jesse and the rest of the QT2 support team, as well as multiple teammates down there was a huge help and comfort to me.  As for QR, I cannot say enough for this bike company, and seriously, I am NOT just saying that because my legs grace the cover of their catalog or because my bike handled absolutely beautifully on the Chattanooga bike course.  The support that they provided me-I'll elaborate more shortly-throughout the weekend went above and beyond any sort of responsibilities that could have been asked out of a bike sponsor.  I was even willing to put up with the multiple photos of me in various stages of flattering being thrown on twitter (and I know who was responsible for most of them...despite the claims that "like twelve people have access to that account, haha).  Finally, this race was Little Debbie sponsored.  I can't help it, that alone amused me.
Little Debbie Ironman Chattanooga to benefit Crohn's disease and colitis.  Yep.
  Anyways, the travel down to Chattanooga went fairly smoothly.  I had opted for the 13ish hour drive over flying because A. planes are disgusting; B. planes are annoying; C. I dislike packing a bike box and, more importantly, negotiating it through an airport; D. we had just gotten a new SUV that could entirely contain my bike; and E. I'm a slob, and it's easier to spend a weekend just throwing crap into a car and worrying about it later.  We left actually within an hour or so of planned on Wednesday, and made it as far as Lexington that night (which, if any of my VM Project teammates from back in the day are reading this, brought back memories...back squat!).  The next morning involved some time on hotel bikes and laps in a hotel pool of surprisingly adequate length while a manicured woman looked on from her tanning chair, and then the remainder of the drive.  On the way down, Brad and Mac from QR called in order to arrange a time for me to bring my bike into their headquarters to get it race ready.  That's right, I got personal bike service to make sure my machine was race-ready.  This was especially appreciated, given that Jesse had been casually dropping threats here and there that I needed to be sure that nothing would go wrong with my bike in this race, and I cannot be trusted with this task.  We brought the bike in on Friday, and got a tour of the factory from Brad, which was pretty darn interesting (Dave was in his absolute glory).  Not only did Brad then spend a good portion of the day getting that bike looking better than it had since I had first started crapping it up (I have a reputation...), but he got that front brake PERFECT.  Like, BEYOND perfect.  I literally almost started crying with relief in the parking lot of our hotel when he demonstrated it to me later on that evening.

Posing in front of a giant wall of myself at the QR factory.  Dave made me.
   Without the bike to worry about, the rest of the race prep went smoothly.  Well, our hotel room was small, which didn't bother me because a whole bunch of dogs were staying there to compete in the frisbee dog world championships and I like dogs, but my prima donna husband complained a lot.  Otherwise, I lazed around the QT2 tent a bunch, ate pancakes, surfed down the river in the current at the practice swim, rode my bike around the parking lot to check the gears (absolutely perfect, of course), complained about how my quad felt funny to anyone that would listen (had to set the bar low before starting the race, after all), and tried to come up with motivational social media posts.  Soon enough, I was in bed, sleeping horribly the night before the race while having weird race-related dreams-a surefire sign that I might have cared a bit about this one.  On race morning, I got to transition to learn that the swim was not wetsuit-legal, which, although I would have liked a wetsuit, I was prepared for-the river had felt warmer than our pool the day before.  I also had master reset my garmin bike computer the previous night, so trying to get it to pair with my power meter amidst 2000 other power meters was interesting.  I figured that I needed something to fret about race morning, though, so this provided an outlet for that.  As it would turn out, the reset garmin 800 picked up power and not HR (even though I had paired it with the HR monitor in the hotel room the night before), and the 910 that I decided to wear on the bike just in case picked up HR, but not power for half the ride, even though it was paired with both.  Whatever.  I can judge a bike effort by now.  I was, admittedly, a pretty tightly wound nervous wreck that morning.  I greeted Jesse by bitching about how it was all his fault because he hadn't "let" me race in too long so I was too nervous about it before finally dragging Dave along with me on the shuttle bus to the start, because I didn't want to be alone with my thoughts at that point.  After we walked in the wrong direction for a bit, Dave deposited me at the front of the line, and I spent some time chatting with teammates Matt and Kait, which kept me somewhat under control.  We were finally allowed into the water as the darkness pretended like might break at some point, and I did my best to warm up and calm down.  
Action shot of me shoving face.  Typical.

Bringing my pony to transition.  Note: yes, I am wearing calf compression and an IM backpack.  However, I did not wear either in non-triathlon public.

Both of these two CRUSHED their days.  Loved sharing the course with them!!
  After the final excruciating countdown to the swim start (while a rope swept against our feet, trying to keep us from drifting forward with the current), the cannon sounded, and I took off to the best of my abilities.  For the first 30 seconds or so, I was happy to actually have women around me still, as my mirrored goggles in the dim morning light weren't the greatest for sighting, and they already seemed to be getting a bit foggy.  I concentrated on keeping myself in the midst of things when...WHAM!  I smashed directly into the first turn buoy.  Like, not just brushed against it, but pretty much had a head-on collision with it.  Ultra smooth.  I basically had to come to a complete stop, swim out and around the buoy, and then restart again.  Totally pro.  By the time I got around, the rest of the field was well ahead.  I didn't fret it too much, though, because as we all know, the current assist more than made up for the lack of draft.  Eventually, I did manage to catch up to a couple of women.  I remembered Texas, where I had been kicking myself a bit after the race for not pushing ahead of the pack that I was swimming with, and I moved ahead.  The main problem was that my goggles were a bit foggy.  Luckily for me, the straight shot swim course was NOT hard to navigate, even for me, and I just took care to sight frequently, admiring my improved skills in that regard at least.  I didn't necessarily perceive the current-I was concentrating on making sure that I felt like I was swimming hard the entire way-but I did have the vague sense that the buoys seemed to be passing more quickly than they do at my normal remedial paces.  I watched the numbered buoys, and before I knew it, I was swimming to the shore.
And we're off!  Go slam yourself into buoys!!

Normally, I still have at least a quarter of the swim to go at this time in an IM
  Exiting the water, I saw that I had swam a 47, and laughed a bit to myself at how ridiculous the current had been.  I had no idea how far in front of me most of the field was at that point, but as predicted, the current had compressed our swim times, and I wasn't starting in as much of a hole as I normally do.  I've heard plenty about the swim current and how it discounted the race, but really...I'm well aware of my strengths and limitations as an athlete, and I knew that the current swim, longer bike, and harder run in this course would play quite well to my strengths.  An IM is hard, no matter what-and I'm not going to complain about less time in the water.  I'm also not going to claim that my IM swim PR is a 47, because it's totally not.  Anyways.  Jesse told me that I was in a good position with relation to the field, so I zipped through transition to get to work on the bike.  As for my bike pacing plan-this time, it was different.  In all of my fulls and 70.3s thus far this year, I've set out at a wattage or HR target that's been ambitious, and have found myself frustrated early on when the numbers started dropping off.  So, the instructions were to just start out at an effort/number that I knew that I could hold throughout, and go from there.  Naturally, then, I spent the first ten miles thinking to myself, this is too high.  Is this too high?  I should ease up.  But what if I can't bring it up again?  I guess I feel ok.  No, I can't hold this.  This is so long.  I was moving up regularly and earlier than normal, though, I felt ok, and I was making it over my nemesis, railroad tracks, with rubber side down.
I thought that my muffin top looked worse than this.  Yes, I did adjust the waistband of my shorts mid-ride to try to tuck it in a little more.
 This lasted through 25 miles or so, when things started to feel sort of blah again.  I was watching my HR and power plummet, and I couldn't shake the thoughts that like every other race, things were only going to keep getting worse.  My left calf had started cramping in the swim, and it was continuing to cramp on the bike.  I saw the QT2 crew somewhere in there, and apparently my stress was quite obvious.  This was easily the low point, and the point at which Jesse later told he me knew I could go either way on the day-which was true.  I didn't want to start on the caffeine yet at that time, so I did whatever else I could to make myself more comfortable.  So, I took some salt and peed.  And then I started to feel better.  I began to think about my training-most specifically, all of the 2x20min tempos that I'd pulled off well on days when the warm up felt somewhat miserable.  I thought back to a high school track tactic-put in a hard lap when you're not feeling good, usually you'll end up feeling better-and I decided to do just that.  Give it ten hard miles.  I put in a surge, got myself free of the woman that I'd been jockeying back in forth with a bit, and just drove on.  Seeing the numbers rebound a bit encouraged me.  Keep it here until mile 40.  Now keep it here until mile 50.  My legs felt reasonable, my bladder was completely overactive, and the all-important caffeine usage was still low.  Passing through town at mile 50ish energized me, as did one particular sign: "It's my birthday".  For the first time all day, it occurred to me, this is your last day in your twenties.  Make it worth it.  

Action shot of my low point on the bike..."EVERYTHING IS DROPPING."  At least I'm not crying at an aide station while taking off my brake.  That's a positive.
   I started my second loop feeling...focused, more than anything.  Jesse said that I looked like a different person my next time around, and in a way, I was-for the first time all season, I felt like I was in control of the ride, rather than having it be in control of me.  I knew how much I had left, and I began to trust in my training a bit more.  Sure, it was going to hurt, but...I knew how to hurt.  More than anything, I wanted to finish the final quarter of that ride near the limit.  My PR6 turned out to be well-suited for the course, carrying momentum from every descent up over every subsequent climb. Every so often, an age group male came past me, but the pointy end of the field there was riding completely cleanly, and not once did I have any problems in that regard-kudos, guys.  I backed off just a hair between miles 60-85 with the intent of really nailing it home after mile 90, determined to put in those hard 25 miles at the end, just like in training.  Weelllllll...the intention was there.  Unfortunately, somewhere in there, I literally began to get stuck in traffic.  I was lapping athletes on their first loop, and somehow a bunch of cars had begun to appear on the course.  The roads had minimal shoulders and were curvy in spots, which meant that I was getting stuck behind lines of cars sitting behind cyclists.  Things got a bit sketchy, to put it nicely, at times, and there was a whole bunch of internal dialogue about keeping calm going on.  Judging from my splits, I probably only lost a couple of minutes in that whole mess, but the whole experience took a bit of the wind out of my sails.  Plus, my power meter sometimes likes to start to zero out or become completely erratic when I stop, so those numbers started to get a bit unreliable.  But, I hadn't had to get off my bike, I'd made it through in one piece, and I didn't need power numbers to know how to work, so eventually when I finally made it out onto clear road, I regrouped and tried to just bring the HR up.
Action shot of me actually looking like a real triathlete on the bike next to some cows.  A rare gem for my loyal readers.

Meanwhile, Dave made a friend.
  The final stretch back to transition was fairly uneventful.  I was completely alone by that point (actually thinking a few times, I hope these cars see me), having moved into fifth place, which I was actually quite pleased with.  I had no idea how far ahead of me the rest of the field was, but I was looking forward to running.  I used the last few miles of the bike to unsuccessfully try to take care of the bladder business one more time, all while cursing the extra four miles simply because I just did NOT want to be sitting on my saddle anymore, and my upper back was none too happy about aero at that time.  Finally, I made it to T2, overall pleased with the bike split and feeling like I had put in my best IM effort of the year, despite the snafus here and there.  The second I handed off my bike, though, I automatically felt a little bit dizzy and out of it.  I pulled off my shoes (still can't handle that task on the bike), ran into the tent, and got myself set.  After a quick veer off into the port a potties to finish off what I'd started the final miles of the bike (the answer is no, after peeing myself like, eight times on the bike, I didn't bother to pull anything down...made no difference by that point, ha.  I figured that was slightly better than my stand by the side of the road move from Muskoka, at least), I headed out the run exit.  Immediately afterwards, I ran down a short, steep hill, and...YIKES.  My quads did some weird screaming/cramping thing.  Well, this could be a long marathon.  I had plenty of doubts at the start of that run, for sure.  I probably said something whiny to Jesse and Dave at that point about my legs feeling weird, and began downing more salt.  Even though it wasn't hot, I'm fairly certain I took in about 400% of my daily allowance of sodium during that race-I'd started feeling better on the bike after my first round of salt eating, so somehow, in my head, it made sense to just continually eat salt.  Good thing I like it. of like, seventeen pictures of me opening my little vial of salt.  There was a reason that I looked seven months pregnant by the end of this race.  At least I'm rocking a sponge.
   Anyways, the rest of the first mile was pretty much uphill, which was fine-it made me feel like the stupid little hill up off of our street that I HAVE to run at the start of was sort of worth it.  I watched my HR, and kept it a good 5bpm or so below where I normally start IM marathons.  The day before the race, Dave and I had gone across the bridge to pick up a couple of things from a running store, and I actually had an intelligent idea-since we were there already, why not drive those last hilly four miles of the run course?  Turns out, knowing what I had coming at the end of each lap was a smart idea.  The hills reminded me in both pitch and length of a couple of the hills on my normal run routes, so while I had some confidence in my ability to deal with them, I also knew better than to try to overcook the flat portions of the run course at the start.  My first few miles clicked by in ~6:50's; I never felt great, or really even all that good during that run, but I was feeling reasonably enough.  I passed Rebeccah to move into fourth.  Then, around mile 4, I began to start feeling slightly concerned about the sanctity of my lower GI system.  By some absolute stroke of genius/luck, though, I'd found four life-saving pepto bismol tablets in my toiletry bag that morning while getting ready, and I'd stashed them in my back jersey pocket "just in case".  Remembering that they were there was probably one of the highlights of the day.  Things settled down a bit, and I pressed onward, keeping the HR low and controlled still.
No idea when this was taken, but I look like I'm still communicating about my lack of confidence in what was going down, so I'm guessing early on.
   As it turned out, I would probably rank this run course, even with the hills, as my favorite IM run course to date.  The varied terrain kept me interested, the entire route was lined with spectators, the bridge crossings were kind of fun, and the hilly portion over the bridge was actually really nice.  Not that I was taking time to admire the shops and really, really nice houses, but still.  Plus, unlike in the rich neighborhood on the IM Texas route, the people in the nice Chattanooga houses actually came out to cheer.  Anyways.  Still, my favorite portion was the first stretch along the Riverwalk.  The combination of paved trail and boardwalk reminded me of my beloved Riverway trail in Rochester, and I felt at home again. When I got to the end of that the first time, I threw a quick glance back, and, sure enough, I saw Ruth coming.  She's basically been the best 70.3 runner in the world this year, and I (correctly) had figured that I'd need a good 5-7 minutes on her at the start of the marathon, which I didn't get.  Shortly thereafter, she passed me, which honestly relieved me a little bit.  Although I think that sometimes I run better when I'm running defensively, I really don't like running scared.  I still felt controlled at that point, about six miles in, and I just kept steady (all while still yelling negative things at Tim on the bike though, ha).  Back up the highway, I began to slow a bit, but Laurel was gradually getting closer to me, so I figured that I was ok, especially heading into the hills.
Through the hills, lap one.  Making sure that Jesse understands that I'm the only woman in the entire race that's tired halfway through the marathon.

Pop quiz: what's missing from this picture?  If you said, "Jesse's black composition book", you'd be correct.  If my splits aren't written down in it like the race ever even happened?
  Once across the bridge the first time, things started to get a bit more real.  I used the "I'm trying to keep my HR steady" excuse for my feeble pace uphill, but part of it was just that my legs didn't really want to move any more quickly.  I did manage to finally catch up to and pass Laurel, but she was still running strong, so I knew she certainly wasn't gone from the picture.  My training this year has been a little different-I haven't done any single long runs over 1:45-so even though I'd had three days in which I'd run 20+ miles, I just started to lack the confidence to hold up for THAT much longer.  Somewhere in there, round II of pepto happened, as well, while I just prayed that it would hold up throughout the remainder of the race.  Jesse and Dave were there to inform me that Anna was slowing up ahead, and that I still looked strong, to which I believe I replied, "yeah, but I could blow up on the second lap!" (I was not the portrait of confidence all day, for good reason, based on the year).  I passed former camp housemate Ryan on my way back across the bridge to start my second lap; he offered some kind words of encouragement that lifted me a bit.  The second trip down the path, well, wasn't quite as much fun as the first.  I had a couple of quicker rebound miles before things really started to set in, and I had to settle for trying to hold ~7:20 pace, telling myself to just relax, use the flat path to recover and regain strength a bit.  At the end of the path, just before heading out onto the highway, I passed Anna for third.  Now things had gotten real.  I had a cyclist, Tarbell, with me now, who was completely awesome.  Despite being in the highest position I'd been all day, around mile 19 I just began to feel BAD.  Like, dear Lord, I don't know if I can keep running bad.  My legs felt like they were moving through muck as I continued up the road.  One mile at a time.  My existence was reduced to trying to put one foot in front of the other, and miserably croaking out "cookkkeee" when Tarbell asked me what I wanted from aide stations.  Thankfully, he was clearing a path for me through the runners as I moved along, which was much appreciated, as I wasn't functional enough to do so myself at that time, and was telling people my name.  I just did NOT want to lose my awesome escort at that time.
Across the bridge the first time.  Salt encrusted lips.  Salt bloat baby growing.  I'm glad this made the internet.
My race BFF Tarbell, somehow still staying upright despite my uphill pace at that time
  Once I hit mile 20 and started to move towards those hills again, it started to get really ugly.  Everyone was telling me how far ahead Ruth was, but I was completely powerless to even attempt to close that gap; I knew she had WELL more than enough space on me.  I was more concerned with where Laurel was behind me (even though an age grouper yelled, "don't worry about fourth, go f-ing get second!" at me when I asked Dave at one point, ha!).  I slowed down significantly through mile 22, until I could mentally wrap my mind around the distance left-imagine yourself on the four mile loop from your house that you run ALL of the time.  That never seems that far!  The crowds were awesome at that point; Tarbell was drumming up support still. I tried to use the descents the best that I could (even though my quads were screaming) and minimize the damage on the climbs.  Somewhere between miles 23 and 24, I learned that Laurel was just over a minute behind me.  Yikes-I knew then that I had to get my act together.  I thought back to the last couple of miles of my hard training runs, where I'd spent my time imagining this moment to get through them.  I was visualizing training, where I'd visualized racing-funny how that works.  So much of training and racing for me is processed-oriented-what's my HR, what's my pace, gel, drink, salt, ice, turnover-but, at mile 24 of an IM marathon when in the final podium spot, it became VERY outcome-oriented.  I wanted that third, badly.  After everything, getting back onto the podium at an IM suddenly meant the world to me.  I figured that I just needed to keep things under 7:30s at that point; chances were unlikely that anyone was going to be able to drop sub-7's suddenly.  So, despite barely moving up the final hill, I hit mile 25 just under that mark, where Dave informed me that I'd opened up a few more seconds of a gap.
The best part about this picture is that it does in fact pop up when I google image search for myself.  That's good.  It's so pretty.  And the salt baby is in full effect.

   Still, no time to let off.  I ran down the hill towards the final bridge, and...uh oh.  Suddenly, it seemed as if that last pepto would no longer hold out.  Hmmm.  Whenever talking to first time participants about an IM, Dave has always said that the #1 goal is to finish.  I've always contradicted him, saying that my #1 goal is to not $h!t myself.  It seemed as if that theory was going to be put to the test here, as in that moment, I was fully prepared to just let it happen in order to hold onto third.  Luckily, as soon as I started moving up the bridge again, that momentary bit of relaxation down the hill went away, as did my concern about what was going on in my intestines.  I found an extra gear again that last mile, counting down every last bit.  I got over the bridge, Tarbell turned off, and I gratefully made the turn towards the finish.  After standing at the line watching at both Placid and Tremblant, I had made one vow to myself before the race-I would smile and be happy in that last stretch.  Then, of course, in the moment I didn't want to let up until I'd crossed the line and secured my spots-think of the Bills-so really, I continued to look miserable up until the final ten feet, when I finally allowed myself to express my inner excitement with it all (sorry, all those people that wanted a high five!  I had NOTHING in me!).  I also apparently drifted all the way to my right for the finish.  Who knows.  I crossed the timing mat with an overwhelming sense of emotion, mostly joy with a strong element of relief mixed in there (and not just because I hadn't crapped my pants).
10 meters to go.  I get to smile now! 



Two meters away now.  Ok.  I'll be happy again.
I'm past the line now!!  I'm the second loser!!!!!

But Jennie...what...what...what about stopping your watch?  How did you manage that with your arms in the air?  What about your trademarked finishing pose?  What's going on with this race-no composition book, and no watch stopping all at the same time??  No fears.  It was still stopped, albeit two seconds late.  The world continued to revolve around its axis at that time, though.

Yayy!!  I might be getting old, but I still maintained control of my bowels!!
  What happened after crossing the line was a blur-Dave and Jesse were there, there was hugging and (on my part) crying and, a few minutes later, me already nagging Jesse about how I wanted to race again this season (he had to leave for his flight shortly after I'd finished, I had to get in the plug while I could-I'd already been told that morning that I had to come in under 9:30).  I was briefly interviewed, I congratulated the women who'd pushed me to the brink, and I chatted with some of the QT2 guys before someone wrapped me in a space blanket as it started to rain.  Eventually, I made my way over to the QR tent, where someone fetched me a chair, and I just sat there, wrapped up and wet, face in my hands, kind of dry crying out of some emotional blend of happiness, relief, and redemption.  The three months heading into that race were filled with self-doubt-what am I doing with my life, what if I never pull one off again, I'm just not good enough-but also with a whole lot of fight, and a whole lot of figuring out some way to get things done.  And that's what that race was for me.  I'd been a wreck beforehand, I'd doubted myself throughout (Jesse had picked up on that one as well), but I'd remembered that it was ok to hurt, I'd remembered how to fight through it, and I had managed to somehow find some way to make it happen again.  There was no magic, there was no odds-defying performance, there was no crazy breakthrough; there was only the result of continuing to chip away at things, and being able to execute based on that fitness.  And that was enough.  It was what I wanted, it was what I'd been chasing, and it's what I'm going to keep on chasing day after day, week after week, year after year.
Look!  The Hansens are touching!  I still think Dave looked happier with his mini horse.

Proof that looking extremely happy does not preclude you from also looking hideous.  At least the volunteer is happy that I'm happy, though.  Or she might just be happy that she didn't have to touch me like Dave did.

Action shot of me sitting in the QR tent in my space blanket, performing the all-important task of finding out what was going on on facebook while I was racing.
   And then, after I managed to drag myself into a Coldstone bathroom to change (yes, I ignored the "customers only" sign), there was pizza.  Well, first, there was a time period of what can only be described as pepto-induced gastric paresis, where Dave had to drive me around before I could uncurl enough to get out of the car.  Eventually, motivated by the Mellow Mushroom that awaited me, I was able to overcome the pain and make my way into the hotel room.  I later dragged Dave back down to the finish line, and I ended my twenties entirely appropriately, slapping high fives while watching the midnight finishers of an IM.  In case anyone is still wondering, my 30th birthday then consisted of breakfast donuts, standing on a stage, spending WAY too much time in Best Buy getting a new phone (which became worth it when I had car pandora and reliable navigation for the way home, at least), looking at some sweet fish and other creatures in the Tennessee Aquarium, and finally, checking "unhealthy specialty sushi rolls" and "frozen yogurt bar with ALL of the toppings" off my list of "crap food I'm totally eating after this race".  Oh, and as an aside, for all of the nerds out there who never achieved popularity in high school...turn 30 the day after a good IM, and you will feel like the COOLEST person on social media.  My facebook and twitter friends all rocked in that regard-thanks everyone!!  Take that, popular girls.  Just kidding.
The sign for the restaurant next to our hotel.  And...a spot on description of my post-race shower.
Shaking hands at awards.  Full of donuts.

Technically, I still had two more hours until I was officially 30.  Should have corrected Mike Reilly on that one.  Always honored to stand up there with such strong, fast, and awesome women!

Sea horses at the aquarium!  Aka, yet another completely ridiculous-looking creature that can swim faster than me.

Somewhere around mile 23 the day before, I'm sure that I had similar running form to these guys.

Still less terrifying than the body that was pulled out of the water 200m past the swim exit

Much nicer to look at than to run over
  So, I think that's enough of me rambling on for now!  As for what's next, I ended up getting a bit more recovery than planned these past couple of weeks thanks to a dental implant (and some busted stitches), but now that the mouth is (almost) all mended, it's time to get in some training and aim for IM Arizona!  I'm looking forward to racing again, Arizona always draws a hugely competitive field, so hopefully I'll start to snap back into shape in the coming weeks and will arrive there ready to go one more time this year.  I'll end this post with the thank yous to all who support me and make this all possible- first with the companies QT2, QR, Normatec, Rudy Project, and Reynolds.  And of course to all of my friends and supporters near and far, even the ones who I've never met in person; I carry the support with me on race day and use it to get me through the low points out there, and it means the world to me to have so many behind me!  To Jesse, for sticking with me through this year, believing in me when I might not have believed in myself, always conveying in some weird way that somehow it really will work out, and knowing how to light a fire under my butt.  And of course to my family, who stands beside me no matter what and keeps me going through this stuff.  I wrote a lot about everything happening for a reason in my last IM race report, and I now can see that even more-not only was Chatt a little bit sweeter, but the whole process just added a little bit more resiliency to me, and it made me see all that much more how much this crazy, weird sport matters, for better or worse.  I love racing, I love competing, and to be able to get the best out of myself is always a gift that I'll never take for granted.  Now...back to work!!!

Post-race birthday froyo bar.  ALL THE TOPPINGS!!  I miss this already...

Former expo site.  And then...there was one.  Little Debbie.  The lone survivor.  

I went for a walk and took pictures of bridges before driving a million hours and getting boxed in my trucks throughout the entire state of Virginia.  But I got to catch up with college roommate/teammate/friend Megan on the way, so that was worth it!

Scenic boardwalk.  Not the one that we ran on, but nice nonetheless.