What a difference a year makes!! This time last year, I was depressed about having finished my season with a DNF. But not this year! On Saturday I completed the HalfMax National Championship – my first half-iron distance race. Go me!
I took Friday off, and we headed out to Innsbrook in the morning. I was a nervous mess, and was pretty crabby as a result. So Dan got to put up with me for 3 hours in the car, I’m sure he really enjoyed that. I was trying to get all of my nervousness out on the way there, but it wasn’t really working. We got to the hotel around 1:00, then Dawn and I headed over to the race site to check in and do a little swim and ride. Courtney was already there working the Tri Sports tent, and Robyn had already arrived too. It had been a few months since I’d seen her, I was so glad she was doing this race! Courtney’s old swim buddy Ashley was also there, she was doing the OctoMax on Sunday.
Dawn and I walked down to the beach and wriggled into our wetsuits. The water was absolutely PERFECT, not too warm, not too cold. We swam out to the first buoy and back, just enough to get used to being in a wetsuit again. Those things are not comfortable, but they sure do make you buoyant. After that, we hopped on our bikes for a short little spin just to make sure that everything was in proper working order after the drive out. We chatted for a while in the parking lot, and then decided that it was probably time to head out. Eek! The next time I would be at the race site I would be here to race. That’s when the butterflies started back up. I drove back to the hotel and threw on some clothes so that we could go eat. I was hungry NOW, no time for a shower. Dan and I ate dinner at Applebees in Wentzville, and I tried to stay as positive as I could. I’ve learned the power of your mental state, so I made a point to really talk myself up. I think I even said at one point “I could run 13 miles with my eyes closed”. What?! Ok yeah, 13 miles isn’t really a LONG run for me any more, but I’ve never done it after having swam 1.2 miles and ridden 56. And this course is WAY hillier than anything I’m used to training on. But hey, you tell yourself what you need to hear.
After dinner we went back to the hotel and I set about laying all my stuff out and packing my transition bag. I am always paranoid that I will forget to take something important, so I probably spent a good 10 minutes just staring at my equipment and running through the race in my head. Helmet? Check. Bike shoes? Check. 2 sets of arm warmers? Check. Cotton balls and tape for my toes? Check. I was ready. Well, I was at least packed. I climbed into bed somewhere around 8:30 and told Dan to set the alarm for 4:15. Once I got into bed, I got really, really scared. So scared, that I didn’t even want to do the race. What if I fail again? What if I hadn’t trained enough? What if the hills are too steep? What if I panic in the water and can’t even make it through the swim? What if I have a flat and can’t get my tire changed? Every worst case scenario was going through my head. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to turn off the alarm and just sleep through the whole race. But, I knew I couldn’t to that.
I was able to fall asleep surprisingly fast, but woke up about every hour to look at the clock. When it finally did go off, I was already awake and ready to get the show on the road. I met Court, Dawn, and Robyn downstairs for breakfast and a little mutual pep talk. I was still feeling really nervous at this point, but it helped so much knowing that my teammates were going through the same thing, and that they would be out on the course with me. We headed over to the race site at about 5:15, still pitch black out. And it was COLD!!! One of the bank clocks that we passed said 45 degrees! Yikes!! I was glad to have pants and long sleeves on. We got parked and I maneuvered my way over to the TA in the dark. I just racked my bike and dropped my bag to claim a spot, it was too dark and too cold to stand there and try to set everything up. I got body marked and then headed back to the car to stay warm. I like to get to races early so that I can get a good spot on the bike rack and not feel rushed, but it left me with a lot of time to kill.
As I sat there in the car, not sure if I was shaking because of nerves or because of the cold, and watching the sun rise over the lake, I thought to myself “now THIS is living”. I was about to do something that scared the crap out of me, and I had every emotion known to man running through my head. What kind of life would I have led if when I’m 90 (God willing) I couldn’t look back and know that I had conquered my fears and accomplished something that I didn’t think I would be able to do? That thought got my butt moving, and I hopped out of the car to go over and get my timing chip. It was still effin’ cold, but the sun had pretty much come up so at least I could see to set up my TA. The other DFT gals were in there setting up their areas by that time, so I had some company. Robyn & Court were on the same rack as me, and Dawn was just behind us. We had to go re-scan our chips due to some computer glitch, so by the time we did that, it was time to put on the wetsuits and head down to the water. Usually, you want to wait until the last possible second to put on your wetsuit because all that neoprene makes you so hot, but not today. We were thankful for the added warmth!
They had to delay the start about 15 minutes to give the fog a chance to lift off the lake. So 15 more minutes for me to stand there and be nervous. The men went off first, and then it was our turn to go onto the beach. A good luck kiss from Dan, and it was time to go. Once I got on to the beach, all my nervousness disappeared. I was ready! I didn’t care if I came in last, I just wanted to do this thing! We had 10 minutes between the start of the men’s wave and ours, so we had a bit of time to get in the water and do a quick warm up. Standing on the beach waiting for the starting gun, I was actually excited. I couldn’t wait to get in there and swim 1.2 miles, then get on my bike and actually ride the entire 56 miles this time, and make it to the run course to run 13.1 miles. Lets get it done! BOOM! We were off!
I am a slow swimmer, so I always hold back and try to be at the back of the pack. It was still crowded, and I got hit and tugged on a few times, but I was able to find a hole pretty quickly and just settle into my rhythm. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke, breathe. I felt awesome. There were actually a few other gals pretty close to me for the first half or so of the swim and we kept bumping into each other. But I always managed to get away from them and get back some open real estate. It seemed to take forever to get to each buoy, but I was feeling good and enjoying being in the water. Before I knew it, I was at the first turn buoy. I somehow always mange to swing really wide when I turn, so I made a point to keep a tight line with the next turn buoy so I didn’t waste precious time. I made it to the next turn, and now it was a straight shot to the exit. Well, if you can call a half mile swim a straight shot. Mark Livesay had told us on the beach that once we rounded that second turn buoy, we could just swim straight into the exit arch, it didn’t matter if we were inside or outside of the buoys. So that’s what I did, I was sighting off the exit arch, swimming in a straight line towards it. About half way to shore, one of the boats came up to me and a volunteer told me I had to get on the outside of the buoys. Crap! The buoys were way to my right, away from my line to the exit, so I had to swing out to get outside of them. Dang. Oh well, I was still feeling good, and the end was in sight. I swam until my hand touched the bottom, and then I stood up and ran out of the water. I looked at my watch; 40 minutes!!! Holy crap!!! I had been HOPING for 50 minutes, and I just blew that out of the water!! Yeah! That really boosted my confidence. We had to run up a hill several hundred yards to the TA, so that time was added on to our swim. But I knew that I was in good shape. 1.2 miles down, 69.1 to go.
Sometimes when you are racing, you have to do unlady-like things. Like sit in the grass and piss your shorts while you put on your bike shoes. You gotta do what you gotta do! I had to pee and there was no way I was taking the time to find a port-a-john. It had already taken me long enough to strip out of my wetsuit and I wanted to get on my bike! It was still cold, so I knew I needed arm warmers. I had brought lined and unlined, which should I go with? I opted for the unlined, though the lined probably would have been fine too. I was a little nervous at this point, since the bike is what had done me in last year, but I was also anxious to get out there and tackle those hills. I hopped on my bike and took off. Right away, there is a pretty steep hill that you have to climb. Dawn and I had ridden it on Friday, and I’m glad we did, because I knew exactly what gear I needed to be in before I started climbing it. The first 7 miles of the bike course is within Innsbrook and is pretty hilly. However, it is not nearly as bad as I remembered it. There are definitely some pretty good hills there that I had to come out of my saddle to climb, but I made it up all of them without incident. There’s a portion before you get out of the resort that is a little out and back, so I got to see who was behind me. To my surprise, there was Sister Madonna Buder! Yeah! I was beating a 74 year old nun! Everyone behind me was smiling and looking like they were having fun, one of the things I like about being towards the back of the pack. People tend to enjoy themselves much more when they aren’t going balls to the wall trying to win.
I made it out of the resort and was happy to be on the rolling country highways. I knew I wanted to ride conservatively so that I would actually be able to finish, and so that I would have enough gas left for the run. So I didn’t push it too hard, just found a comfortable pace and stuck with it. I decided to treat it like a long training ride and just enjoy being out there on my bike. It was a beautiful fall day, and I was able to relax and just soak it all in. The only bad part is that my allergies were bothering me quite a bit, so my nose was running like crazy. I was blowing snot all over myself the entire ride. Oh well, I was just glad I wasn’t sneezing. It was making my nose and lips pretty chapped though, and I was wishing that I had thought to stick my Aquaphor in my jersey pocket. Since I had decided to go with my unlined arm warmers, I was rockin’ out my bad-ass tattoo design sleeves (thanks Court!) and everyone that passed me and all of the volunteers were like “cool arm warmers!”
The time seemed to pass pretty quickly that first loop, and every mile I felt stronger. I was SO glad I had taken it easy that week, so my legs and lungs felt totally fresh. Before I knew it, I was making the turn that would lead me back into the resort. Those last couple of miles before you get back into Innsbrook are pretty rough and pretty hilly, but my legs felt great so I wasn’t worried. I knew that when I could see the green Innsbrook water tower, I was coming up on the last major climb. And boy is it a doozy. It’s a relatively steep, long hill right before you get to the resort, and it’s the worst hill for me on the entire course. I saw it coming, shifted into my easiest gear, and started climbing. I passed a gal walking her bike up the hill, and hoped that she would be getting back on to finish the race. Then I turned into the resort to start my second loop.
I knew that I was feeling really strong at this point, so I TRIED not to worry, but it was kind of hard because I knew that I was coming up to the point where I had stopped last year. I knew exactly where I had gotten off my bike, and when I got to that hill and crested it, it was as if the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. I was over the hump! I had beaten it!!! I still had 28 miles left to ride, and a half marathon to run, but I had no doubt that I would finish. I think I spent the rest of the ride with a smile on my face. The second loop was a little windier and took me a little longer, but I got it done. When I got to that last hill before the resort again, my legs were starting to feel fatigued but I was just so happy to almost be done with the bike! I thanked the volunteers directing me back into the resort, and made my way back to the TA as quickly as possible. As I came up and around the last hill that led you into the transition, I almost started crying out of sheer joy! I never made it to this point last year! And I was actually looking forward to the run!
When I got back to my rack in the TA, I was surprised to see Robyn there getting ready to head out on her run. We exchanged a few words of encouragement and then she was off, while I sat down to get ready for the run. Luckily, the girl next to me had brought a big bucket, so I just sat on that to tape up my toes. Much easier than sitting in the grass. I had thought about not taking the time to tape my toes, but with as bad as my feet blister, I knew that it would be worth it in the long run. I grabbed my hat and race belt, and took off out of the transition. Once I started running, I was surprised at how fresh my legs felt. You would never have guessed that I had just ridden 56 miles on a hilly course! Part of the run course was the same as it had been for QuarterMax in June, and I remembered the point where I’d had to start walking at that race because my legs just weren’t ready to run. But this time I kept chugging along!
The run was another 2 loop course, that was mostly shaded but it was either up or down. There was 1 short flat, but other than that you were constantly on a hill. I am not a strong hill runner, but I really surprised myself with how well I was doing. I made it to the first aid station at mile 1 still feeling good. I walked for a few seconds so that I could drink, then kept on running. I came up on my first big hill, and was able to actually run up it! Yeah! I just kept at a comfortable pace, walked through the aid stations, and walked up any hills that I needed to. The first loop was pretty crowded because of all the people ahead of me that were still out on the run course. As I came to the bottom of the biggest hill known to man (that thing hurts to run DOWN!), I passed Court going the opposite direction! Yay! It was great to see a familiar face out there. Then not too far behind her, I saw Dawn! And I knew that Robyn wasn’t too far in front of me, so we were all within about 20 minutes of each other. How cool!
I made it to the first turn around and headed back towards the finish area. This was the same run course that they had used for QuarterMax in 06, and I remembered how tired I had been at this point. I was still feeling great, no pain or stiffness to speak of. By this time I was having to pee again pretty bad, and was happy to make it to an aid station that had a port-a-john. I had made sure to drink plenty of water and Gatorade the day before, and since it wasn’t hot, I wasn’t sweating very heavily. Which was great, but I had to get rid of all that hydration some how! I made it back to the finish area and turned around for my final 6.5 miles. Next time I was here, I would be finishing! What a great motivating thought. They had cold wet rags at this point, and I took one, but didn’t really need it. I mainly just used it to wipe some of the dried snot off of my arms.
Before I started this race, I made a promise to myself that I was going to enjoy every second of the run course. Since I hadn’t been able to make it to that point last year, I wanted to appreciate being there this time. And I did. I don’t know that many people can really ENJOY a hilly 13.1 mile run, but I made sure to enjoy every step of it. I was just so happy to have the opportunity to be doing it! I was talking and joking with the volunteers and with the other runners. I talked to one guy who was doing his first triathlon EVER, and another guy who was eating a bag of Lays while he ran. I talked to a lady from Wichita who only had 1 hill to train on back home, so she had run up and down it endlessly to prepare for this course. I talked to a 68 year old man and we discussed how good a cold beer sounded right about now. Everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves, and I loved being a part of it. I was ticking off the miles, and before I knew it, I was to mile 12. Only 1.1 miles to go!!! Piece of cake!! I really couldn’t believe how good I was still feeling. My feet hadn’t blistered, and my IT band hadn’t acted up. Sure, I was starting to feel a little soreness in my joints, but nothing bad. I came up the final hill, and there was Michele waiting to take my picture and she ran with me for a little bit. Half a mile to go! I came out of the wooded portion of the course, and was back to the overflow parking for the race site. I could hear the finish line! I came around a curve, and there was a volunteer waving me into the finish chute!! I had done it! As I ran off the pavement into the grass of the finish chute, I just kept saying “oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh”, I really couldn’t believe that I was done! I had been thinking the entire run about how I was going to raise my arms and shout when I crossed the finish line, but I was so excited that I forgot all about it. I just ran across the line, got my medal and towel and water, and tried not to fall over as a volunteer took off my timing chip. YES! Redemption!!! No more DNF to haunt me, I had beaten it.
Dan and the gals were all there waiting for me, and Dawn and I needed food NOW, so we went over to the food tent to grab a burger. We were able to watch the last few people come in as we sat there and ate, I hadn’t been last! I always tell myself that it doesn’t matter if I’m last and that I shouldn’t care, but I still always hope that I’m not. We saw Sister Madonna finish, and Dan was able to flag her down for us to get a picture with her. She’s so cute and tiny, I hope I can still be racing when I’m her age!
We stuck around for the awards, Court and Robyn took 4th & 5th respectively in their AG, and Leslie took 2nd in hers. She’s smokin’ fast, and was done a few hours before all of us so she was nice and cleaned up. After that we all headed back to the hotel to shower up and order pizza. We sat in the lobby and chowed down while I semi-watched the Nebraska/USC game. Let me tell you, pizza has never tasted so good! It was Dawn’s birthday, so I had made 50 calorie cupcakes to bring along (thanks for the recipe Stacey!) and we ate the entire batch. When you just burned close to 4,000 calories racing, you don’t really feel guilty about putting a bunch back in! We had to fend off several weirdos (including a guy from New Hampshire who I think would have been more than happy to have Dawn come stay at his house to do the Timberman race), and restrain Courtney and Ashley from taking off with one of the high school hockey boys that kept coming into the lobby. It was a lot of fun, and a great way to end the day. I went back up to my room with the intention of watching the rest of the game, but not surprisingly, I fell asleep before the half. Which is OK, I didn’t miss much.
Official results aren’t up yet, but my time was right around 7:01. Which is great, because my goal had been 7 hours, and I hit it pretty much head on. For those of you that can't do math, this was a 70.3 mile race :) Now I cant wait for IMFL!!