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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past-Musselman race report

Where to start here?  When we got home from Australia, I wrote about it, and then I moved on fairly well, in my (potentially uneducated) opinion.  I’d run through the full gamut of emotions in the week before the race and during it that by the time I got home, I was just glad to be home, and I did my best to leave what happened there, there.  While I’m a believer (by now) that feeling feelings is necessary and not denying that tough times are tough, even if it’s just a silly sport and other people have it worse, at some point, perspective has to kick in that yeah, it is actually just a silly sport, and it really could be worse.  Plus, what good was dwelling going to do for me?  I could live in the past and make myself miserable, or I could put it behind me and forge ahead.  I’ve seen what dwelling and self-pity look like, and I didn’t want that to be me.  So, onto the next goal it was-Musselman.

   Since this race report is going to be stupid long, I feel like some background on my relationship with Musselman is a good thing to mention here.  In 2010, I raced it as my first 70.3.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and I had no inkling that I might be decent at it.  I shocked myself with a 1:30 run, which brought me up to second place, way beyond my expectations.  In 2011, I decided that I wanted to come back and see if I could challenge for the win, and maybe go after the 1:28 run course record.  On a 92 degree day, I did pull off the win, but fell just short of the run record with a 1:29.  I said I’d be back in my post-race interview, and I really did mean it.  Then, a week later, I signed up for Placid, and spent my next couple of years racing IMs around that time instead.  In 2015, Musselman would have worked into my schedule, but the labral tear ended that idea.  Since I was already registered but couldn’t run, I dropped to the aquabike, and finished just short of the bike course record (not that it would have counted anyways), and in an overall time that led me to believe with a decent run, I could maybe take a crack at the overall course record, too.  Last year, I just wasn’t fit enough to go after these goals, and opted for the Racine debacle instead.  So, that brings me to this year.  I thought that going after any of those 3 records (bike, run, and overall) would be a good way for me to move on past the disappointment of Cairns.  I registered while still in Australia.
Sharing pictures of my old MM bike setups makes me happy.  2010's sideways "aero" bottle, camelbak, clip on aerobars I didn't use..the best.

I mean, SO much better in 2011...or not.  Slightly sideways double aero bottle, neverreach, crooked helmet, and at least a tri bike, although I was hit or miss on riding in the bars.  Oh well.
On the run in 2010.  I'm smiling because the guy in front of me definitely hulk flexed for the photographer, and I was in a good mood because I was running a lot faster than anticipated, so I laughed.  Still remember this.

With my 2011 stuff.  Such a baby still.
   But, this isn’t to say it was all smooth sailing, dive head first into training, crushing it type living.  Whatever disease I (we) had just did NOT want to go away.  Lower GI symptoms, horrible reflux, a lack of appetite, uncharacteristic food aversions, etc all continued, with the worst really just being crushing weakness.  I had several rounds of blood work and (still totally grossed out by this) stool tests to look for every GI disease on the planet, but nothing came back positive, which was sort of frustrating.  I wanted to get back into training and not lose all of my IM fitness, but it definitely wasn’t happening early on.  Race week, I had done absolutely nothing.  The first week back in the US, I think I managed to get in all of maybe 3-4 hours of what amounted to moving while feeling really, really bad.  The week after that, maybe 9 hours of jogging, feeble spinning, and slapping water happened.  After that, I did manage to soldier through twice that volume, albeit forced and rough.  Finally, after four ugly weeks, I began to feel better, and my last week of real training and the taper week heading into Musselman went ok enough.  Still, my fitness seemed suspect.  My swim sort of came around to its normal mediocrity (low bar) race week, and my run lost the least, but my bike numbers…ew.  Horrid.  I tried to let go of the self-induced pressure on records and placement, as the women’s field was extremely strong with several ladies I have the utmost respect for this year, and all I could control was my effort and execution on the day. 

I did get to sneak in the local town July 4 10k in there!  It was actually a decent run and sort of the turning point to feeling a little bit ok again.  Plus, I got to pose with an alpaca afterwards.  Jennie likes animals.

So, two days before the race, I did absolutely have to give the micro mussel, a ridiculously fun super sprint where adults ride tricycles and big wheels a shot!  The aero helmet was clearly necessary.  It was a blast, although riding my nephew's big wheels was a LOT harder than it sounded.  Photo courtesy Dan Bell photography.

Killer dismount skills.  As an aside, I *might* have missed some bike training the week afterwards because my old medial knee pain kicked up.  Ummm....

But, I mean, I got to run across the finish line with the Bailey!! Look how happy the Bailey is.  That was the best.
  Race morning, I was somehow more nervous that I’d been for any race in quite some time.  It was almost the blessing and the curse of the local race-no hiding if it didn’t go well!  Thankfully, prep went smoothly enough.  I was in the second wave, which was nice.  Although I was taking my sweet time and missed my chance to warm up swim, I’d gotten in a jog, and the water temp was fairly warm but still wetsuit legal for a non-pro race, so no huge deal.  My experience with non-pro races has been that the first few hundred meters aren’t as stupid of a straight sprint for position, and then things thin out fairly quickly, anyways.  For a pro, I’m a pretty lousy swimmer, but in the general realm of triathletes who also didn’t take up swimming until adulthood, I’m not terrible, and can generally sort of hold my own.  This ended up being the case-I didn’t kill myself at the start, and found myself doing my own thing by the first turn buoy. 

  This ended up not necessarily being a good thing.  I had a bit of trouble sighting after the first buoy, and ended up swimming head first into a kayak that was perpendicular to the race course, for whatever reason.  OOPS.  The kayaker apologized, and then told me, “well, you’re way off course”, which…not really.  I was maybe like 10 yards wide.  Oh well.  My eye socket was stinging, but I decided I was fine, collected myself, rejoined the race course, and carried on.  Once around the second turn buoy, the combination of some goggle fogging and sun glare meant that I really couldn’t tell where I was going.  I breaststroked a bit to try to find some buoys and even tried slowing down so the woman who kept smashing into my feet when I did so would take the lead, but neither of those plans worked out.  So, by that point, I was passing some of the men in the wave ahead of me, and I just made sure that I could sort of see people on either side of me until I got into the canal.  Once in the canal, the rest of the swim was uneventful, although I was a bit flustered from the earlier snafus, and ready to get out of the water.  I didn’t feel like I had swam great otherwise, so when I got out of the water and saw that I was somehow right around 30min, a decent 70.3 swim for me (and was in the top 5 of my wave, go figure), I considered it a small miracle and zipped through transition. 

Since I don't have any swim pictures, here's the puffy gash above my eye from smashing into the kayak. #sopro
   The start of the bike actually felt decent.  My recent experiences with outdoor riding had been the misery of Chattanooga, where I had nothing, and a horrible long ride over the course the previous weekend, so feeling good on a bike just wasn’t something I’d encountered recently.  My power goal was thus a low bar, as I’ve been pretty frustrated trying to hit numbers that I couldn’t in some of my previous races.  I was easily over it, so keeping things in check was a nice change.  I had to surge a bit the first 15-20 miles to get around some of the solo AG men ahead of me, but overall I was very, very pleased with how clean everyone was riding around me at that point.  Familiarity with the course felt like an advantage.  Soon enough, I was getting reports that I was the second female.  I knew Kait would build a baller lead on me out of the water, so I was right where I wanted to be.  I had to back things off a bit about 15-20 miles into the ride when my stomach started having some issues handling nutrition (a concern heading in, given things hadn’t 100% reset yet), but I switched over to liquids and gels, and overall felt pretty in control.

   Much of the middle part of the bike passed without incident, leaving me just generally being in a fairly good mood.  I started getting reports from spectators that I was maybe a couple minutes off the lead, so I figured I was making up some ground.  I had to make one move up a hill to break away from a male ego, but otherwise, all good.  Watching my splits pop up, I figured the bike course record was safe.  I was making decent time, but it seemed like I’d come in just under 2:35.  Good enough, I’d thought.  Kait was riding strongly ahead of me, so I felt fortunate enough to be able to pass her for the lead just before 40 miles.  After that point, I decided that I just wanted to get through the rougher road in Sampson state park without incident, and then see if I could do something I haven’t been able to do in a race in ages-bring my HR and power up a bit the final 10 miles, rather than watch it drop.  The park was fine, and once onto the smooth road, I told myself that I just had another hard half an hour to go-something I’ve done many times feeling worse.  I was completely alone at that point, couldn’t even see any other racers, so it almost became a solo TT. 
Bike shot!  Sooo, just gonna go out on a limb here and say that maaaaaybe, just maybe, some improvements have been made throughout the years with that setup.  Courtesy Dan Bell photography.
   I still didn’t think I had a chance at the record until I got into the final 8-10 miles, and realized that my speed was higher than expected.  When we’d ridden the course the previous weekend, that section had been straight into a nasty headwind, so the slight tailwind of race day was obviously a huge difference.  I had a mental dialog with myself at that point-play it safe, don’t bust my legs, come in a little above the bike course record, and then get after it on the run, or go for it?  What if I tried and failed?  It took about 30 seconds for my “screw it, I’ve got a chance at this, and I’m going to go down trying” voice to kick in.  After enough disappointments in the sport, what did I have to lose?  I pressed with whatever I had left in my bike legs, with a whole lot of panting and grunting, and just willed the last few turns to come as quickly as possible.  I got back into the part a few minutes under the record, pulled off my very non-pro dismount with my bike computer reading 2:28, and tried to sprint in bike shoes across uneven ground pushing my bike to the transition mat, knowing it had taken me a bit to get from transition to the mount line and started before I’d started my garmin.  When it still read 2:28 as I stopped it (actual official time 2:29), I figured I’d definitely come in under the previous 2:31 record.  This, to me, was a huge win on the day.  I’d come into the race with zero confidence in my biking abilities based on my recent training and racing, and came out having met a goal I’d pretty much given up on, and the knowledge that I could make myself hurt late in the bike and execute a ride again.

   My T2 was about as skilled as my swim-I’d made the decision on a hot, humid run earlier in the week that I’d wear my two piece kit, getting myself the option to take off the top and run in a sports bra if race day got hot, which it did.  Now, I’ve always been pretty damn self-conscious of my stomach, and I’ve never had chiseled abs.  After a couple of abdominal surgeries in the off season, my belly button is a patchwork job, and I get major issues with bloating.  But hey, it’s a freaking triathlon, not a bikini contest.  Everyone can wear whatever the heck makes them comfortable (and is still sort of decent).  It’s not like spandex makes that much of a difference, anyways.  So, sports bra it was, and I didn’t regret the choice at all.  Anyways, soapbox aside, I’d practiced taking off the stop, but getting wet tight sleeves over wet elbows was a different story, and I fumbled around getting stuck in it #sopro.  Once on the run course, as expected, I didn’t feel really all that great after pushing the end of the ride.  No big deal.  I didn’t know how much of a lead I had, but I was through transition and onto the run course without any other women coming through, which was good-there were several strong ladies in the field I knew I’d have to hold off.

   While I had sort of given up on the bike and overall course records heading in, I still admittedly did hope for the run course record, as my running had been going pretty decently, at least.  I needed 6:40 pace.  With the tough hills in the middle of the course, I figured I’d have to build a bit of a cushion early on, in the flat portions.  Well, that didn’t work out so well.  I just couldn’t get into the run-I’m not sure if it was the bike effort, or the heat playing a role as I went from getting off the bike through the first couple of miles without really getting a chance to cool myself much.  After my second mile split popped up slower than I would have liked, I really just went into troubleshooting mode-don’t look at the splits, cool at aide stations, keep things controlled, read what my body needed.  I passed one man in the first mile or so of the run, then again spent the first half completely alone, running along sidewalks and roads and feeling sort of like I was on a long run.  Systemically and leg-wise, the slogginess never really went away.  I was overall ok-still smiling and interacting when I did see people I knew out there-but just was kind of flat.  Up until the main hill on the course around miles 7-8, the dirt/rock Barracks Rd, I was actually behind the pace I had set back in 2011.

  Then, up Barracks, things began to shift a bit.  I didn’t necessarily feel much better, but I started to catch a few men, and once up, my mile split popped up far faster than what I had done in the past.  I didn’t know my total race time, but I saw that I still had a good chance for a sub-1:30 run, which probably would put me close to the course record?  Who knew.  All I knew was that I had a few downhill miles to get some speed up.  I took advantage of that, and then the course rejoined where many were heading out for their first few miles.  That alone was an instant boost-I saw many familiar faces, and the town had come alive with cheering and support.  It was almost a combination of double awesome-personal cheers from friends in the sport, and community support for being the first woman through.  I think I even *might* have smiled a few times in the later stages of a 70.3 run.  Go figure.  Sort of like the bike, I got to the 10 mile point, saw my time, and realized that wait a minute, mayyybe I did have a shot at that previously given up on course record.  It would take about a 20min 5k, or just over.  I knew I could run hard for 20min.  So that’s what I set out to do.
My paper cover model shot.  That Hansen is so hot right now.  No, literally I was probably hot.  Note there is a sponge.  While my bike setup might look more legit, some #sopro things never change, at least.
   The last couple of miles of that race along the lakeshore, well, I remembered how to really, truly, let go and get myself into the deep again.  I’m not one for formal race visualizations and stuff like that necessarily, but my mind drifts during training sessions (and when walking the dogs in the woods, admittedly-very philosophical), but I will admit that my mind had gone to that exact scenario from time to time-running along Seneca lake, with a narrow margin of time left to reach a goal seven years in the making, one that just had never worked out with timing and health and my years of IM pursuits.  After Australia, I had vowed to myself that if I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be in that position, I’d tap into all of that bullshit and go down swinging, because for the love of everything, even resilient athletes need a freaking bone every now and then.  So there I was, in that exact scenario.  Usually, I spend the last couple of miles of a race counting down the distance, trying to hang on, slightly on the defense.  That day, though, was different.  Race director Rich had joined me on the bike at that point, and my internal dialog was entirely focused on challenging myself to see what I had-find out what’s left in there.  Dig.  Go faster.  Move!  I had something left in me, and I was loving getting it out.  I thought about Mary waiting to announce me in, knowing that she had seen something in the clueless kid there six years ago, and had reached out and transformed my life as an athlete.  I knew my parents and Dave were waiting (and our dogs), and would be excited to see me come in.  Half a mile from the finish, I ran past the place I had sat and cheered in 2012, the last place I had seen Heather alive, when she had, in typical Heather fashion, wished me good luck in Placid the next weekend despite being half a mile from finishing her own major goal.  That was the final kicker I needed.

   I had maybe wanted to enjoy the final stretch, but I saw the clock, I saw my run time, and I heard Mary calling me in, so I just threw myself in until I got across the timing mat.  After that, it was game over on letting the lid off my emotions.  No, I mean, it’s not like I won an IM or something, but those 3 course records had become personal to me as time had gone on, I hadn’t woken up that morning feeling like it would happen, but then it did.   After every disappointment and thwarted IM attempt, I’ve coped in part by telling myself that I would eventually see a reason, there would eventually be some sort of personal triumph that would be a million times more meaningful than it would have otherwise, I just didn’t know it yet.  Keeping this faith has been hard, really, really hard at times, but some small part of me has held on no matter what has gone on.  So, accomplishing some goals several years in the making was no small deal to me personally, and that was that.
Finish line feelings and stuff like that. :)

Sometimes we look loving and stuff.  Touching Christmas card material right here probably, because the chances of a nice picture of us not in spandex are low.

More spandex-clad Hansens

I felt like an outtake picture with some awesome people here was necessary.  Gorgeous.

Dave didn't listen to me about how running up a mountain in Colorado was a bad idea so he couldn't run and had to aquabike, but at least he won.  Let me point out that I swam faster than he did, though.  This hasn't happened in years. #suckitdave #heracedmeinthepoolwarmuptwodayslater #maleego #sobruised 

Yay women's podium!!

With Kait!  Who crushed the swim course record like a boss!

UB alum pic!!  Tim was second in the men's race.  Good day for the old Bull pride! #ubbelieve
   I probably should wrap this up at some point, though!  I can’t even describe how touched I was by all of the comments, congrats, and kind words I received regarding this race.  The support was absolutely amazing.  Special thanks to my normal squad who stands by me no matter what-Dave, Jesse, my parents, etc.  Also need to throw out a thanks to Kelly and Stephanie for their assistance with our canines over the weekend, and for being generally awesome!  Also thanks to our BSR team sponsors who played a huge role on helping me make the most of myself on the day- Zone3, Reynolds, Ice Friction, Kask, Lake cycling, Ruby's lube, Hiball energy, F2C nutrition, Juice performer, Bonk Breaker.  For now, it's time to wrap up some more hard training, attempt to stay in one piece (easier said than done), and keep literally every part of me crossed that maybe I can make that IM thing happen in a few weeks in Tremblant!!  I know better than to count on it, but here's to eternal hope.

After taking the group selfie with Tim, Dave accidentally took a selfie.  Naturally, he's talking.  At least it's sort of artistic with the sky.

Then he handed me back my phone, and I accidentally took a self.  Naturally, I look confused and concerned. #restingconfusedface #restingconcernedface

The dogs did not take a selfie, but since Dave and I did pretty much in our natural states, here they are in their natural states-Bailey rolling in something, and Moose smelling something.