RACE DATE: 6/11/2016
TOTAL TIME: 5:18:29
AGE GROUP PLACE [F30-35]: 6
OVERALL FEMALE PLACE: 56
Stereotypical triathletes are uber Type A, unadaptable, and both dependent on and adamantly unwilling to stray from structure; perhaps I should learn from them.
At the expense of Coach Chris Rotelli’s hair [as I make him pull it out :D], I regularly trade meticulously prescribed workouts for whatever exercise-related activity I feel like doing that day, whether it be opting for a fun run at a brewery instead of a track workout, getting coerced by someone like Dani Grabol into riding a full century instead of the assigned 60 miles, “cheating” on my training by rocking out on the elliptical, or skipping 100% of my track workouts since moving to Boulder in March [did I mention I don’t like the track?]. If you follow my race reports, you will note the recurring theme. But the poor guy is used to it. Heck, the week after I hired him, I “accidentally” ran a marathon…
In yet another act of pointless, spontaneous rebellion, I took advantage of an opportunity to register for Boulder 70.3 just three days prior to the event. I had a five-hour bike ride on my training schedule that day followed by a 16-mile run on Sunday, so I figured I’d “participate” in the race, follow it up with an easy two-hour soft-peddle that afternoon and reduce the Sunday run to 10-ish miles. Totally reasonable, right? That is, until I told Coach I had signed up, and he instead created a diabolical race plan…
Whereas essentially all of my prior race strategies entailed surviving the aquatic abyss however possible, then proceeding to peddle my brains out, then running prudently for ten miles, continuously looking over my shoulder awaiting my competition to overtake me, hoping I have something left for the last 5K, this time Coach wanted to try something new!
“I would like you to be SO TIRED after the swim you can’t lift your arms. Then I would like a hard 28 miles on the bike hammered. Then I would like 28 miles Aerobic on the bike. Then I want you to CRUSH THE RUN OUT OF THE GATE!” Whoa! This is opposite! But I like it! PR or ER! What did I have to lose…?
So. Let me start by saying that at the end of the day [spoiler alert], I finished in 5:18:29 landing 6th place in my Age Group after exiting the water 75th, biking my way to 13th and running up to 6th—so I truly can’t complain—although out of nine 70.3’s in my triathlon career, this one was a resounding personal worst. I hesitate to refer to this [or any race, for that matter] as a “bad day”, though, because I hate to diminish the efforts and accomplishments of others [and myself]. Finishing 70.3 miles in any way, shape or form is truly a feat! And I had a strong performance overall. Like everything in life, it’s all relative, though. My absolute best day is still significantly slower than the average Boulderite, I’m finding. Likewise, someone else’s best day might produce a number on the clock slower than mine. It’s easy to identify the negative and forget to celebrate the positive. All of this is to say that I’ll hereto forward refer to this day as “sub-optimal”…
A week out from the race, I had an itch to do the race for “fun”, but waffled on the prospect and also hadn’t secured a spot. So I carried on with the normal activities of daily living of my new life rather than the R&R normal people would seek prior to an “A” race. Thursday I ran repeats on the hill of our humble abode—the iconic Olde Stage Road. Thursday and Friday, I worked the BASE Tent at the Expo in the hot hot sun, which requires a lot of standing and talking, and draining continuous engagement. I caught up with fellow “carnies” [those that travel from race-to-race], like my man, Marti, of Fond Memories Graphics and Ironman logistics coordinator, Dave. I also bonded with BASE Team members, particularly Kristie Dodge who stayed with us for the weekend and Ocky Koa, who sincerely deserves the Denver Mr. Congeniality award and who generously championed the expo.
After working all day in blistering heat, I came home to a barbeque we hosted for the BASE Performance team and local friends. It was awesome, but I was so exhausted! I relaxed, logged some time in our Normatec boots and enjoyed a glass or two of wine… Surrounding me on the couch were Professionals Kirstie Jahn, Leslie Smith and Steve Zawaski. In a moment of surreality, I took a step back and wondered, how did I get here?!
Oh shoot! I have a race tomorrow!! I was wildly unprepared.
After everyone left, I remembered that the cleats on my shoes were defunct, so I traded them out. I filled my bottles and discovered that I had none of my “go-to” solid nutrition. I had a couple Pro Bars on hand [the meal kind…], so I threw those in a bag, and I couldn’t find my preferred Atlanta Tri Club race shorts, so I laid out a different pair. Oh well!
The professional wave didn’t start until 7:30 am even though the sun rises these days at a bright and early 5-5:30. Transition, only 15 minutes from the house, closed at 7, so Kristie and I drove down together at 5:45, stopping at the local coffee haunt along the way. If only they hadn’t made me check my bike in on Friday, I would have ridden it to the start! The convenience enabled me to sleep past 5am on a Race Morning! It felt odd..
I successfully found my sub-optimal transition spot nestled up a curb and around a tree [and I realized I’ve become an AWA snob..], took my bike to the mechanic at the opposite side to inflate the disc wheel [I still haven’t found my crack pipe, and I still stubbornly refuse to purchase a new one. Besides—some things are best left to the experts, right?]
I found Kristie and we parked it under a tree overlooking the swim start until our waves took off at an agonizing 8:07 and 8:15, respectively. I thought aging up would finally land me an early start wave! Ugh. Oh well. I’ve grown used to a super crowded bike course and blistering hot run.
Eventually I struggled into my wetsuit and sauntered down to the beach to where the other athletes gathered. It was already hot. I ran into Eric Kenney of EK Coaching here in Boulder. I told him my race plan and perhaps should have listened to him when he told me to relax on the swim and take it easy—my normal race strategy. Nope! PR or ER!
SWIM 1.2 miles 48:19 [Woof!] 2:30/100mi [Ugh!] 75th AG
I donned my new ROKA goggles that make me look like an insect but fit so comfortably! [I may have paraded around in them for a good couple hours at the expo the day prior]. I waded into the water and uncharacteristically took a spot in the front. Countdown and GO TIME! I took off hard. Certainly not an “all-out” effort, but far stronger than I’ve ever started a swim. Maybe I can hang on to the front pack! There were athletes around me, and I got a foot or two in the face, but this swim wasn’t particularly physical compared to others. I actually felt good at first! Until I didn’t.
All of the sudden I couldn’t breathe. My wetsuit seemed to have shrunk five sizes. I gasped for air and swallowed water. My extremities felt like lead and wouldn’t move. This was a terrible idea! Why did I do this?! 1,000 negative thoughts flooded my brain.
I had heard even professional triathletes have had a panic attack in the water. Normally “freakishly” cool as a cucumber on race day [as Coach pointed out at 70.3 Worlds at Mont Tremblant], I thought I was immune to the phenomenon. Apparently not. Yeah, I have a little healthy anxiety here and there [some might call “eustress”], but nothing more than the average person—and certainly never a fulminant panic attack. Was this seriously happening to me? I’ve done HOW MANY open water swims?!
I couldn’t stand it. I poked my head up and treaded water for a bit, spotting a jet ski with a raft behind it. I climbed onto the raft and shed my wetsuit. After a little “come-to-Jesus life chat” with the teenager operating the machine, I looked at my watch for the first time ever during a swim [usually I intentionally avoid it—the number is irrelevant to me], and 12 minutes had transpired. After a couple more minutes, I jumped back in the water, determined to continue.
It’s difficult for me to explain, but every time I put my face in the water, I just couldn’t. In a sort of out-of-body experience, I cognitively didn’t understand. I’m totally FINE in open water! I don’t GET it! My brain was telling me to go, but my extremities felt like lead and I couldn’t keep my face in the water. Freestyle just wasn’t happening.
So I started breast stroking.
I had almost reached the first turn buoy before I stopped again at a kayak for a quick break and another come-to-Jesus moment. Do I actually do this? I mean, I never intended to do this race, after all. Everyone has a DNF, right? This’ll be it. This’ll be my DNF.
After a minute, I did a little mental hokie-pokie and turned myself around. NO! You will not DNF! Let’s do this! Breast stroke is working. Just do that! My mantra quickly turned from “PR or ER” to “No Pain! No Quit! No Surrender!”—a Rotelli Classic. I then invented a game I called “see if I can make the cut off breast stroking!”
Never before had I worried about getting pulled before finishing a race, and I actively empathized with the “back-of-the-packers” for whom this is regularly a legitimate concern. For the remainder of the swim, I didn’t even attempt free style. Partly because–for whatever reason–my body was rejecting the maneuver. Equally, too, because it would violate the rules of the “fun game” I had just created for myself.
Having swum through cackles of human buoys many times in the past, I tried to respectfully stay far wide of the main packs of swimmers to the best of my ability. Occasionally a kayaker would shout out to me to ask if I was ok. Yup! I’d respond. Just breast stroking my way through this one! No big deal! And chuckled to myself. This is ridiculous. It’ll be pretty epic to breast stroke an entire 1.2 miles!
Although droves of swimmers swam by me, to my surprise, I actually passed a handful of folks, which encouraged me. Maybe I’ll actually make it! I made it to the second turn buoy and pressed on. I could see the finish, albeit far away. I just kept on breast stroking. C goal for every race is gathering fodder for an entertaining race report, right?!
During my previous personal worst swim at Raleigh 70.3, I planned my so-called Swimtervention. I was sure to worst it and felt déjà vu as I planned Swimtervention 2.0: the Open Water Edition.
Sure enough, I reached the swim exit, casually walked up the beach and laughed to myself when I looked at my watch. Time to spare, even! Wow. That was terrible. And kind of ridiculous. I heard someone shout my name, and I gave a smile and a “hang loose”. Although embarrassed at my sub-optimal performance, especially knowing a lot of people were tracking me, I made it a point to stay positive.
Ok. So I set a new personal worst. Today is a training day anyway! It’s kind of like practicing for Ironman! Now just get on your bike and keep going!
After all, 70.3 is a LOT of miles, and a LOT can happen. Don’t pull a Raleigh.
I jogged the long distance to my awkward transition spot, initially passing it and circling back. I took the time to ensure my shoes and helmet were snug. I took a swig of water and jogged the bike out. You might say I lacked a sense of urgency at this point.
BIKE 56 mi 2:29:45 22.44mph 13th AG
I’ve discovered that riding around Boulder can be frustrating. The wind can be fierce and seems to shift into a headwind whichever way you turn. Often you’ll encounter a head wind along a false-flat stretch, which slows you down to a seemingly disproportionate, demoralizing crawl. I was told that the roads that normally feel slow during training become fast on race day, though.
Unlike the typical “bike my brains out” strategy, I’d go fast for 28 miles and then take it easy for the remainder of the ride. Well, that plan assumed a halfway decent swim, so I wondered whether to abandon it. Regardless, I set out strong and figured I’d feel it out.
My legs felt heavy the first few miles, but no more than usual. The wind was noticeable, but not nearly as intense as I’ve previously experienced. As expected, the course was crowded. The first 15 miles along Diagonal Highway offered ample room to accommodate the swarms of bikes. One dude flew past me. I saw him turn onto Jay road signaling that he was on his second loop. Probably a pro or something. Also as expected, the two turns on to a bike path in a “no pass zone” were slow. Although people maneuvered them more prudently and safely than I expected. Well done, folks!
Then it was my turn to turn onto Jay Road—the same road where I hit a total wall and almost unclipped and sat by the side of the road during my first high-altitude 100-miler just a week before. I slogged through it and turned “North on 36”—where all Boulder routes seem to inevitably funnel at some point. It was fun racing on familiar roads!
After a bit of a climb, usually this road is fast. However, the sliver of road allotted to race participants narrowed dangerously at certain points, especially given the number of cyclists on the road, causing significant bottlenecks and tough split-second decisions. With as much caution as possible, I found myself gingerly swerving into traffic [at least going in my direction this time, unlike Chattanooga 70.3] in order to maneuver forward rather than slam on the brakes behind slower cyclists. I narrowly escaped death on more than one occasion. There seems to be an average of three such experiences on non-closed courses.
Failing to study the course in a whole lot of detail, I wondered when the 28-mile mark [and my signal to slow my roll] would come. On the ascending parts of 36, I found myself wanting to slow down—a feeling foreign to me! Then I knew the fun, fast stretch of Neva/Niwot was ahead and I hoped beyond hope that I had permission to hammer this stretch! And I did! [Although I would have hammered regardless #badkid].
Descending the brief, moderate decline down Neva from 36, I remembered the Cornering Conversation I’ve had with my bud, Steve, several times. On group rides, I’ve been dropped here and around many-a-corner since moving to Boulder. While I’ve grown more aggressive [and effective] riding alone, as Steve pointed out “you don’t just corner with people you don’t trust” when it comes to groups [a metaphor for life, perhaps]. Alas, I still get nervous, slow down and lose not only the wheel in front of me but also any hope of catching up, much less keeping up. Room for cycling improvement remains!
This time, however, I entered the stretch solo and confidently and aggressively rounded the bend with plenty of momentum to launch over the roller behind it. Love that stretch!
Eventually, I did reach that 28-mile mark and, for the first time during a race, slowed down on the bike. The second half is quite fast, so my speed didn’t drop significantly, but my effort did. I kept reminding myself that today was a training day, that my sub-optimal swim erased my A goals, and that my un-tapered, fatigued legs likely wouldn’t have maintained the pace of the first 28 miles anyway.
But I was still tempted to hammer. So I dropped into the small front ring to avoid the temptation. And people passed me. Kind of a lot of people. Oh well!
So I tried to enjoy the ride, take in nutrition, and stay cool. I felt bloated and nauseated. A little after the one-hour mark, I forced myself to take in that Pro Bar I had unpreparedly stashed in my bento. It actually helped my gut a bit. et’s hop it’d be enough.
I slowed at aide stations to grab water, drinking about half the bottle and splashing the rest down my neck and back to stay cool.
The rest of the ride was pretty unmemorable. Peddled along as though it were any other ride in Boulder, taking in the beautiful scenery and trying not to worry about the blazing-hot run that loomed ominously ahead.
I heard my name a couple times as I pulled into transition. Again, I felt a bit embarrassed, as I presumed whoever cheered also knew about my “sub-optimal” swim. I performed a flying dismount for kicks and giggles, although in hindsight it would have behooved me to have kept my bike shoes on for the long jaunt over molten pavement, up a curb, through a grassy meadow to Grandmother’s house—er, I mean to my bike. At least having spent a large portion of my childhood and adult life in Atlanta, my redneck feet have a higher-than-average tolerance for heat. I danced across the pavement, up the curve, onto the slimy, wet grass, around the tree, finding my spot easily. A LOT of bikes were racked.
Wisely, I had electrical-taped BASE Salt to my race belt to avoid ironically leaving it in transition as I had at both Augusta and Chattanooga 70.3s. Fool me once… I also employed a new strategically placed lawn watering technique. Off I went!
RUN 13.1 1:53:40 8:40/mi 6th AG
It will sound cheesy and disingenuous, but I set out on this run truly grateful. I often think about people like Brad Smith, who doesn’t allow physical limitations to hold him back from any life activity. I think about people like Dani Grabol, who regularly endures far more than I to raise money for charity. I think about Kyle and Brent Pease, who not only crush it a life and triathlon together, but bring the gift of the sport to so many other otherwise disabled individuals. Participating in triathlon is truly a blessing on so many levels. Not only am I blessed to have the physical capacity and health to partake, but I have the financial means and luxury of time to train, race and travel. I do the sports in great part because it makes me feel truly alive and well on multiple levels.
Add to that my recent move to Boulder, enabling me to swim, bike and run [and hike and ski and SUP and sail and…] right outside my door, beneath the backdrop of beautiful mountains in a town filled with people who enjoy doing the same. I have absolutely nothing to complain about! And I certainly won’t complain about an activity that brings me joy, which I am privileged and choose to participate in.
With this attitude and a new-found empathy for back-of-the-packers, I entered the run.
Yes, it was HOT. Like blistering hot. Like feeling-the-sun-physically-beating-you hot. Yes, there was no shade save for a tree or two. Yes, I was having a “sub-optimal” day. But how could I not revel in my blessings?!
Rather than “RUN OUT THE GATE”, as Coach had initially prescribed, and aware that paces were all relative in the heat, I dialed it back a little bit. To ensure I stayed conversational, I made it a point to converse with every person I passed! At minimum, I tried to give everyone a cheer. I made jokes and tried to lift people’s spirits. I commented on everything I could think of—a cool kit, a stellar beard, how beautiful the day was, the nice breeze. I handed salt to a couple athletes who suffered more than the others, including, as it turned out, a local pro whose name escapes me…
Perhaps I was subconsciously influenced by The Celestine Prophecy, which I had recently read. Having had great successes giving and receiving energy from those on the run at Chattanooga 70.3, I decided to employ the same tactic during this run.
And it was fun! A great distraction for me. A motivation to continue forward. And, hopefully, a benefit to those around me. To my surprise, I was passing nearly everyone. There were only a few athletes that passed me on the run. At one point, I had a bit of a literal following in a so-called “positivity train”.
Meanwhile, I felt like I was going to vomit. And within a mile, I made my first jaunt to the restroom during a triathlon ever. No puke, but not promising from the other end. Oh boy. This could be bad. So the positivity was admittedly quite forced and certainly wasn’t easy, but I believe that attitude is a choice. Fake it till you make it, right?!
Rather than think about it, I continued to chat with everyone. And I told many of them with a chuckle that I felt like I was going to puke.
I knew that if I could make it to 10 miles jogging, then I could make it through the last 5k jogging and that I would have a decent run given the conditions. And if I could have a decent run, I could I pull together a somewhat solid day. I kinda wished Race Tracker and Sherpa extraordinaire, Sondra, had been on the side lines giving me updates on my standing…
After turning off Monarch into the res to traverse a short out-and-back where beer was being served. I briefly contemplated grabbing one, truly signifying the “fun” of this run. However, the impending vom feeling dissuaded me. Perhaps on the second loop, I’ll indulge…
I ran into Adam Heiser of Atlanta-Based ITL Coaching and Performance, who has been struggling this season with a frustrating injury, particularly considering he is perhaps the most disciplined, goal-oriented and hardworking individual I know. I stopped and walked with him awhile and we, together, coincidentally passed by another Atlanta ITLian transplanted to Boulder and my swim-training buddy, Chris Anderson, who had finished his swim in a relay and came out to support. ITLers sure stick together! Adam deserved to have an excellent race given his tremendous level of commitment and focus, but today, unfortunately, wasn’t his day. Ugh, I hated this for him. We snapped a fun photo and I forged ahead, hoping he’d be inspired to jog behind me.
By this point, I had leap-frogged with this random gent a few times. He was clearly faster than me, but I would catch him after I gained a boost of energy [and ice] at each aide station. Eventually, he ran by my side and said that he wanted to stay with the “positive girl”. Right on! I learned his real name, but my foggy race brain kept mistakenly calling him “Larry” haha! [I still don’t remember his real name]. His slow pace was a bit faster than I was wanting to go at that point, which was good for me, but I felt bad holding him back. I kept telling him to go on, but he insisted on running with me. So I carried on making comment and jokes to all the athletes, hoping to provide encouragement or at least diversion from the sunny sufferfest. He jogged along silently beside me.
Fast forward to the second pass by the beer—the nausea grew worse and I started to fall apart. It was around mile 10. Karma came around and my buddy, “Larry”, wouldn’t let me walk! I even bargained with him. Ha. I told him at the 10-mile mark he needed to go ahead. He wouldn’t. Then I told him at the 11-mile mark he needed to go ahead. Seriously. I won’t walk, I promise! He jogged ahead a bit only to slow down for another mile with me. He said to me, “You got this! We’re almost finished! Stay strong, just like you were strong for everyone else out here!” Damn. I couldn’t let Larry down! So I continued to jog. At mile 12, I told him, seriously, I got this now! You crush this last mile and wait for me at the finish! He tore off.
I jogged it in, and heard my name again. I keep remarking on this, because I wasn’t expecting so many people to recognize me out there! Perhaps I have gotten to know some folks in this town after all!
I crossed the finish with nothing left. I still hadn’t puked, although I wanted to for the next two hours. I never did.
Feeling nauseated, I tried to swallow some water, but struggled. I hung out and chatted with athletes I knew, feeling like I was going to hurl. A sip of coke and a bite of a peanut butter bagel tasted magnificent and two of each and a few orange slices later, I felt like a new woman! And I, alas, had that long-awaited beer.
I experienced a whole lot of “firsts” this race:
- First race in my home town (+) – the convenience and knowledge of the terrain were great! Although it didn’t feel like a race, though probably due to other circumstances and not the geographic location.
- First open water swim at altitude (-) – uh, in hindsight I totally should have logged at least one of these prior to race day! If nothing else, for a confidence boost. I think I might be more sensitive to altitude than others!
- First panic attack—ever (-) – I truly empathasize with those that suffer from panic attacks regularly! It’s a wildly bizarre, startling and frustrating feeling to have your body react in such an uncontrollable way.
- First time shedding a wetsuit mid-swim (+/-) – I tried to recover it but was unsuccessful. An excuse, perhaps, to shop for a new one?
- First time breast stroking during a swim—much less completing the whole thing (+/-) – part of me feels like a bit of a foolish badass. The rest of me felt more sore than ever before for a good two weeks post-race!
- First time “taking it easy” during half of the bike – This was just odd
- First evidence of GI distress during a triathlon, and related—first use of a porta potty mid-race [and second and third, for that matter…] (-) – hopefully my stomach-of-steel hasn’t turned to porcelain from this crunchy-granola [gluten-free, of course], kombucha-drinking, carnivore-averse town! Gah!
Things “new” on race day:
- Nutrition (bars)
- Cleats on my shoes
- Race plan
While I support Andy Potts’ in his disqualification of this gospel-like rule, perhaps I should dial it back a bit.
Since the race, I shared my story with folks. Several times, those that don’t know me have tried to console me by saying, “Oh I remember my first triathlon, too!” HA! I’ve’ done like 30 of these things! Oh well. To date, I’ve been very lucky during races. No mechanical issues. No real GI issues. No terrible weather or other natural disasters. So I got my sub-optimal day out of the way. And hopefully never again!
Now it is time to be a “good kid” again and stick to my training regimen. Soooo does anyone know a track I can access in Boulder?
What did I learn? That sticking to a training plan provides perhaps greater power in training the mental aspects than the physical; namely, boosting confidence. And I’m learning that the mental aspect of the sport matters substantially more than the physical. It’s a game of suffering better. This race, I was in excellent shape for a 70.3. I should have threatened 5hr for sure. But it was my mind that ultimately held me back, but also propelled me forward. Enterting race day knowing that you’ve done everything you can to prepare is invaluable.
Hopefully the “sub-optimal” day is out of the way for Ironman Mont Tremblant!!