To me, my favorite thing about the half Ironman distance is that it's like walking a dangerous tightrope. You're constantly balancing pushing yourself harder with holding your reserves back, as a sea of bonking swirls beneath you but what you know you can do is just on the other side. The more I think about it, the more fun I had out there. You learn a lot about yourself at this distance; that's for sure.
I mean, when I was actually ON the run course, I was thinking "THIS IS SOOOO NOT FUN RIGHT NOW."
But when I remembered that ALL of us had to deal with the weather, it made it a little easier to swallow.
One thing I remember when I went to Vision Quest last June and got tested by Robbie Ventura and met my AWESOME Coach Emily, was that when they asked me what my goals are I instinctively said a time goal: "Sub-6." Almost instantly, Robbie said that focusing on a time goal isn't the best way to go about things. Lots can happen: wind, weather, etc. and if you set an age group goal, it's a better way to gauge your progress. Top half, top third, etc. Ever since then, I've really focused more on age group goals.
My first two 70.3s, I was undoubtedly in the BACK of the pack. LAST 20% for sure. And I was fine with that. But now I feel like I could push a little more--lean just a little toward the side that says gogogogogoGO and hope I've learned enough not to go tumbling down into Bonkville.
Steelhead was a great race for me. Had there been a swim, I was ready for it. I knew I could go about 36 that day. I felt very, very confident. But there wasn't, and that's the way it is. So focusing on a time goal had me confused. What would my "real" time be? If my swim was 36-37, that would have me finishing at 5:27. Which is great and all, but still doesn't feel "right." I went 5:10 there, and I know I would have most likely gone 5:30 if it was a tri, but we'll just never know, you know? So by looking at my age group placement, I finished 45/111. Top half--40% to be accurate. That was HUGE progress for me. Whereas I am able to hit the top 10% in a running race (Cleveland Half Marathon 2008), that hasn't happened yet in a long distance triathlon. Not even CLOSE.
In my heart, I knew I wasn't quite as trained as I am by August. AP tests are in a month, so school has been killer, and I'm LUCKY if I get in 6,000 yards a week at the pool. I hadn't biked more than 2 hours at a time. My running was strong, but for the most part it was either on a treadmill or in the cold weather. So, if this was August, I would have set my sights on top 25%. But, realistically, I decided a good day for me would be to crack the top 1/3.
So that's what I set out to do.
Got to New Orleans and had an absolute BLAST with my team and buddies Steve and Sarah. I can't say enough about how amazingly awesome Team Evotri is. These people are not only crazy talented and dedicated, but just genuinely awesome people who tirelessly give back to this sport. They put up with me and my bizarre antics, too, and for that I'm eternally grateful. :) I didn't even bring a freakin' camera down with me, because with Steve around, you just don't need one. For some great tales of the days leading up to the race, as well as pictures of all our shenanigans, check out Steve's post here. He says and illustrates it much better than I do! Thanks, Steve!
Race morning I got up, had my teensy bit of coffee and pre-race bagel with peanut butter, and head out the door. The second I stepped outside I said, "Oh s#$%t." Why would I utter such a phrase? Well, see, it's because at O'Dark Thirty it was ALREADY 73 DEGREES AND SUPER HUMID. Which was hotter and more humid than it has been in Cleveland since about September.
Me and the heat? We don't usually get along.
I sighed. There's nothing in the world you can do about the weather, as I learned back at Ironman Wisconsin. You simply adjust. No amount of bitching and moaning will change it. I made sure to grab my electrolyte tabs (I had 17 of them) and started drinking fluids.
We got to the start, and after some grumbling we had to walk the mile to the start line. It seems they didn't have enough shuttles. There were a few things that they seemed to underestimate, and you could definitely tell this was the first time around for this race, but overall it was well-organized. Hopefully next year they will have more shuttles, more fluids, and more volunteers as they DEFINITELY could have used more of all of those things.
The swim was the swim. I knew it wasn't going to be pretty; swimming once or twice a week wasn't going to win me any PRs or speed records. But I was pretty confident I could come out of the water in around 37-38 without being too tired. Still not my best, but doable. I didn't even have a watch, but all I know is that the swim seemed to NEVER end. I caught up to a few people in the wave ahead of me, and a few of the fast people from the last wave caught me in the end, and I came out. Easy peasy. End of story. I didn't even know my time until after the race, and when I saw it was just a smidge over 40, I was pretty disappointed. Many people are saying the swim was a little long, as even the pros were coming out later than usual, but whatevs. I got what I deserved, and my plan was to earn it back on the run.
(That wasn't gonna happen, though. :) Not today, unfortunately)
Anyway, I totally could NOT find my bike in transition. I probably lost a minute or 90 seconds staring at the racks and not comprehending where freaking 1359 was. There were no volunteers to be found--I even tried to find one because I was so out of it and confused! Oh well. Sprayed on my 45 sunblock (I refuse to be sunburned in the name of saving a few seconds--pasty is beautiful, people), and hopped on my bike.
Now, I swear I drank everything I could get my hands on. I was really counting on picking up gatorade at the second stop, but they were OUT ALREADY. And I was in the middle wave! Inexcusable, folks. I paid $225.00 for this race. I expect fluids where you tell me they will be. Oh well...luckily I had a few Nuun tabs and salt pills for electrolytes, but I needed calories. I took little bits of Clif Bar and Fig Newtons every 15 minutes, and salt tabs every 30.
Apparently, it still wasn't enough.
Cause, did I mention it was hot?
The ride was going well--I even started to love my BMC TT02 bike so much that I wanted to make out with it. But then the wind picked up, and it just sucked the life out of me. I tried to tuck in and spin, but it was pretty relentless for a while. I watched my average drop and drop...and I started to feel it. And I got pretty mad.
When I got back to T2, I was disappointed with my time. I wanted to go 2:50; I went 2:58. Which, now that I look back on it, is PRETTY darn GOOD for a chick who didn't ride more than 2 hours EVER in her training. But at the time, I felt like I blew it big time.
But the real problem is that I got off the bike and felt like I had been HIT BY A TRUCK. Clearly, I did not drink enough, even though I swear I drank enough to fill Lake Ponchartrain. I have GOT to figure something out to remedy this. I immediately thought, "There is NO WAY I WILL BE ABLE TO RUN A HALF MARATHON RIGHT NOW." No. Way. I could barely stumble to put my sunscreen on. At Steelhead, I couldn't WAIT to run, and I took off. This time, I honestly didn't think I had it in me. My heartrate was through the roof. I tried to snap out of it, and grabbed my visor. I couldn't let my team down.
The first two miles were sub-9, just like I had planned on. My original goal was to run somewhere around a 1:53 for this race, but I knew in T2 that this was not going to be that day. So I adjusted, and thought, I just need to get through this, period. I actually found my buddy Rob from Cleveland and ran with him from miles 2-7 or so. We joked around as much as we could and he kept me going. It was so good to have a friend to get my mind off the pain. At 7, I told him to leave me as I was really hurting and needed to slow down a bit.
I dry heaved twice on the course and slowed waaaaay down. The lack of fluids was hurting, despite what I thought was a good intake of fluids up to that point. I just wasn't acclimated to the weather, plain and simple. I ended up dropping a few salt tabs at one aid station, and I PICKED THEM OFF THE GROUND. Yeah. I was that desperate. At Steelhead, there were sponges and ice at every stop. Here--no sponges, and I literally had to BEG for ice cubes. Come on, guys. It's Louisiana and it's 85 degrees. I know you all are used to it, but lots of us aren't...throw us a fricken bone here, K? ;)
Anyway, I got to the finish and I was definitely disappointed. I hoped to break 6 at least for my pride. The last mile was awesome and packed with a cheering crowd and music--that definitely helped me focus on something besides the pain. I had a big smile on my face at the end and soaked up as much of the finish line magic as I could, despite the fact that I saw the clock and realized I had missed breaking 6 hours by a measly 42 seconds. Poop sandwich!
Anyway, I really hammed it up for most of my brightroom pictures. I knew I was crashing and burning, so I decided to smile and make it look like I was having fun, because then maybe my body would get the message, right? So here are the pictures--put on your sunglasses so you don't get blinded my my pasty white skin. Remember: pasty is beautiful. ;) Sister Wil got some amazing pics at the finish line, so as soon as I get those from her I'll post them!
You know what's funny though? I forgot that it was a hard day for everyone. That time is, just like Robbie said, NOT always the best indicator of your effort. I saw that I came out of the water in 48th place AG, off the bike in 43, and at the finish in 40. 40/117. Which, is top 34%. Which, my friends, is what we are calling CLOSE ENOUGH. :)
When I look at it that way, knowing what I know: that I have a baby at home who needs me lots, that I probably care way too much about my job and put in more hours than I need to, and that I know I didn't get as many hours in the pool or on the road that I usually get in before these things...well, when I think about that, and see that this 70.3 is my highest age group placement ever...it makes me really proud. And I smile like I'm smiling in those pictures.
So we'll take that 6:00.42. And I'll take the memories and laughs I had with my team and my friends with me back home to the snowy land o' Cleve.
70.3 number 4 is officially in the books.
I love this stuff.