Race Report. Part I.
Well I’ve finally finished my first ½ ironman. It wasn’t pretty but I finished before they pulled the finish line down. I think my final time was 8:36. If I subtract 30 minutes for technical difficulties my time still would have been 8:10 – far off from my projection of 7:35. I learned a lot about myself during the race – that I’m better at some things than I thought (which came as a surprise) and need A LOT of work in other areas (which did not come as a surprise).
When we last left off I had told you all about my fabulous party thrown by my friends and hosted by fabulous Donna. Stephanie, Donna and Michelle turned out to be not only my angels throughout my entire race but angels for a lot of other people too. They are now famous in the history of the Disney Half Ironman race log.
We arrived on Friday after some minor flight delays (not too bad about 1 hour) and immediately picked up my bike. I was a little disappointed to find that Tina got a little banged up in transport – one of the brand new decals was smooshed and she had two scuffs marks on either side of the aerobars. I was having a hard time figuring out how that could have happened unless she got dropped on both sides AND something got dropped on top of her. After the longest check-in in the history of hoteldom, we got her into the room and we headed out to get my registration packet. I was even more disappointed to find that I had a sore throat coming off the plane. Oh no, not again, I forgot that I get a cold every time I fly. Geesh, why did I not add airborn to my checklist?!?!?!
Here I am getting ready to put my bike in transition:
Registration for the half ironman was just about the same as a regular tri – only difference is you have to have your own timing chip strap (which I thought was weird). They give you the chip but you have to have your own strap. The other difference is they give you two race bibs – one with your first name on it and one with your last name on it. You are to wear one on the back for the bike and one on the front for the run. I thought that was cool because I remember at Lake Placid that is how the real Ironman competitors wore it. I felt excited that I was one step closer to being one of the big guys.
My big secret weapon for the weekend was having Stephanie along. Not only had she done the same race the year before, but she was also an event planner for many years and is very familiar with Disney properties. Later on that turned out to be more than helpful to me – let’s say critical.
On Friday night Stephanie, Donna and I went out to a fun little restaurant for Tapas and it was a nice relaxing evening. Unfortunately by that time I was aware that my cold was going to hang around and we went on the search for food and medication. Thank God Stephanie had a car because once you are on Disney property there is no getting off. You can go to any other resort or park but they are all Disney and you are stuck with their meager selection and not-so-meager prices. We stocked up at Publix so I had everything I would need for pre-race food and drugs.
Saturday we all convened early for a practice swim in the lake. We got about twenty minutes in before the Disney police came and kicked the entire team out. Then the race officials showed up and said they would disqualify anyone who stepped back into the water before the race. We were all stunned because it was on the schedule that there would be a practice swim. I guess the race officials cancelled the swim but forgot to tell us. Regardless we got a chance to stick our heads in the lake. The water was warm, clean and flat, flat, flat – no 4 foot swells there. At that point I already checked off the swim in my mind. 1.2 miles – no problem.
We walked around a bit and visited the extremely over priced expo. Already the heat was rising and the prediction for Sunday was it was going to be even hotter. Heat — my enemy, my nemesis, my golem. I was checking the weather forecast every couple of hours hoping for a weather flash. “Warning, unexpected cold front to hit Orlando – pull out your sweaters.” No such flash…. Just sweat pouring into my brow as I was standing in the shade ordering another lemonade. I had never hydrated so much in my entire life. I basically had some beverage in my hand all day Friday and Saturday and every time I checked my urine color I was dismayed to find that it was not as clear as I wanted it to be. (AND I had been hydrating all week long before hand). But I just kept drinking, drinking, drinking.
On Saturday night we had our pasta party. This is when the team gets together to carbo load and hear some inspiring stories and get pumped up for the big race. It was a much smaller event then previous pasta parties but in a way that was good because I wanted to go to bed early. The mission moment was delivered by a 12 year old girl with A.L.L. who had raised $12,000 on her own. She talked about the years of Chemo treatment and all of the side effects. She talked about the group of four girls she met in the hospital when she was first diagnosed. All four of them now dead from the disease – she was still 2 ½ years away from recovery. We heard a not so-inspiring speech from a coach from another team and then our coach Earl got up and was his usual witty self. He gave a short, funny speech with some good tips like “if you like it lube it” and be an “aquaholic.” I think it was just what everyone needed.
Stephanie, Michelle and Donna (hereafter called my “Rumble Girls”) gave me a lovely card and a triathlon t-shirt that said “Finish what you Start.” I thought that was very appropriate. I knew I would start – and once I started there was going to have to be some natural disaster to stop me (as it turns out even a couple of disasters couldn’t stop me.) They also gave me a card from my friend Melissa who if you’ve been following this blog you know has been at all my big events with me starting with my very first triathlon at Disney in 2003.
At the race in Disney in 2003 we had to finish the 6.2 mile run by running two loops of the lake at Epcot Center. I remember entering into the park and looking at that lake like it was the biggest freakin’ lake on the planet. I remember saying “two times? Two times I have to run around that?” I didn’t believe I could do it. After you completed your first loop they gave you a little green bracelet to prove you had finished the first loop and were starting your second loop. Of course as I was on my first loop everyone was passing me with their little green bracelets already on wrist meaning they were heading home and I still had another loop to go. When I finally got around that first loop I ran to the woman who was holding the green bands with my arms outstretched – I want that green band, I want that green band. I still remember that feeling of relief. I got my green band, I got it!!! On Saturday night in my card from Melissa she enclosed her green band from Disney 2003 for me to wear during the race. I almost started to cry. Okay, right now I am crying.
After the party everyone was about to break up when our honored teammate Marie-Eve wanted to say something to the team. So we all stood around her as she told us her thoughts about the heat we were going to endure the following day. She told us that during her treatment she had such a terrible fever that the doctors were very concerned for her. I don’t remember the number but something well into the hundreds that even I knew meant terrible trouble. The doctor’s tried everything to get her fever down but nothing would work, finally the doctor said to her “Marie-Eve you are going to have to break this fever yourself, there is nothing we can do.” She said she would try her best. Can you imagine that? I would be delirious in that kind of fever. But Marie-Eve was cracking jokes.
Soon they were so concerned about the fever because it would start “cooking” her internal organs so they put her in an ice bath. Literally an ice bath. Must be something like a big tub and just poured ice all over her and made her sit there to try to cool her body temperature. I just couldn’t imagine (little did I know that I would be doing my own version of an ice bath soon!) But Marie-Eve stuck it out and eventually the fever broke but was then replaced but the chills. Severe, bone-wracking chills. There was nothing they could do to get her warm and they would pile blankets upon blankets upon her and her mother and sister would lie on top of her to try to keep her warm. These bouts of chills would last for about two hours and she had several a week for a couple of weeks. Later a doctor told her that the energy she lost during one of these bouts was the equivalent of a marathon. Can you imagine running several marathons in a couple of weeks? Can you imagine how drained you would be? She couldn’t lift her head to sip a cup of water – her mother had to do it for her.
All Marie-Eve prayed for was one hour of being pain free. Nothing more than that one hour of relief from this horrific pain. Soon she had that. Soon she felt strong enough to sit up and actually have a moment of relief. Then all she prayed for was to be released from the hospital. It took some time but she got there. Then she prayed for one more thing at a time – to go to her family’s cottage, to go back to work, to go back to her friends, to back to her life. One by one, she got all of those prayers answered. Finally she said to us that now her prayer was to finish the half-ironman. That’s the same person who was in an ice bath and who had her life balance so precariously on the edge. She was not only on the honored teammate but she was doing the race with us! I knew she was going to kick butt because she is a great athlete. Those were magical words to me. I knew no matter how bad it was going to get out there (and it was going to get bad) it couldn’t be as bad as the chemo, the fevers, the chills or the pain of going through Leukemia. For those four little girls who died and for Marie-Eve’s inspiring determination and survival, I could haul my fat ass 70.3 miles and not complain about it.
Later I found my Rumble Girls in the Disney store having a grand old time trying on different hats for the race. They wanted to come up with some hats to wear for the race and after much deliberation we found some pink cowboy hats that they could wear to cheer. (Of course pink for Tina). Finally I pried them out of the store because it was time for me to get to bed and try to knock out this cold. They stayed with me and got my bags all packed for the morning. We had a lot of laughs getting me ready – their good humor lightened my load a lot. Little did I know that when they left their mischief continued.
I woke up race morning at 3:45 and grabbed all my stuff and headed to the lobby. I opened my door to find it had been plastered with posters of encouragement. Not only my door but the hall floor and all the walls leading out of the hotel were covered in “Rumble Girl” and “Good Luck” signs. It was pretty funny but I figured I better pull them down before the hotel management saw it. (It appears that Disney is a don’t-break-the-rules type of place.
I took the bus with the team to transition at 4:20 and we arrived just as it opened at 4:45. I had picked a great spot for Tina the day before. Everyone else had crammed their bikes near the exit of our row so they could have a speedy exit. I opted to risk the .01 extra second it would take me to get my bike the 20 feet and took the last spot at the end of the row. Now I had tons of room to lay out my stuff and everyone else was crammed into their spaces.
I laid out my stuff and was pleased with my organization and then I did my ritual checking of the tire pressure. To my horror I found I had a flat tire. A flat tire?!?! How did that happen?!?! The race hadn’t even started and I had a flat. Don’t panic, don’t panic. I just kept telling myself. You know how to change a flat. Yeah but I never got around to changing one on Tina. I was worried. But I took my time and took out my tools and then I discovered to my horror, I had no tire levers!! OMG!! No tire levers? I need a tire lever to get the tire off. Don’t panic, Don’t panic – plenty of tire levers around, just borrow one and deal with the issue at hand. I saw Ilona and borrowed her tire lever. A couple of people saw me changing my tire and gave me sympathetic encouragement. No big deal, I kept saying, I’m good at changing tires, no problem. Thank God I had thrown that extra CO2 cartridge in my transition bag.
It took about ten minutes but I got the tire changed. I was worried that I had now used one of my two spare tires (you should always have two with you out on the race) but even more worried that I did not have tire lever to bring with me. Don’t panic, don’t panic – ask Stephanie to go get one while you are swimming and then throw it over the fence onto your transition station while nobody is looking. (You are not allowed any outside assistance during the race and that includes in transition – nobody can come in and help you or hand you stuff.)
After getting body marked and doing a final check of my transition station, I headed down to the beach. I ran into Coaches Earl and George. They told me my “Rumble Girls” were down at the beach waiting. When I got down there I saw that not only did they have the pink cowboy hats on but they had pink Mickey Mouse t-shirts. They looked great and I had a big laugh. I told them I needed another spare inner tube and a tire lever and asked Stephanie to go get them and toss them into my transition area while nobody was looking. Okay, so give me a penalty point for that one but I assure you I was not in danger of knocking anyone out of the competition for that one.
I had a great wave start 4th wave in. First the pro-men, then the pro-women, then the disabled athletes, then the 45+ men and women. First time I had ever been in a co-ed wave start but I didn’t care – it was going to give me more time to finish the race and I would be needing it. I looked out at the buoys and saw that it was pretty far out but I really wasn’t worried. I have total confidence in my ability to swim – not fast but I do enjoy it. I was looking forward to an opportunity to pull everything I had been practicing together – keeping my feet together, rotation on the right side, breathing early, pulling harder.
When the horn went off, I took off and started to swim. Everything was going fine, I was trying to find someone to draft off of, but every time I moved in closer to the buoys I ran into someone flailing their arms or kicking wildly so I had to move out to where I could swim. I got kicked around a little in the beginning, but then I found it to be fairly smooth sailing. During the final stretch to the finish line I had my familiar feeling of wanting the swim not to end because I was really enjoying it. But alas, the finish line was ahead of me and I had to go in. Swim done. No problem whatsoever. As I got out of the water I looked at my watch and it said 49 minutes. 49 minutes? That stinks! I was hoping for 44 or better. And that did not include the time it was going to take me to run into transition. I timed that as another 1:27. Pooh, even though I had estimated 50 minutes for my swim I didn’t REALLY want 50 minutes for my swim. Oh well, I was still on track it didn’t matter and I truly enjoyed the swim. In retrospect I guess my problem was I was swimming a little off course too often and I will have to dig in next time and swim closer to the buoys and not so far out.
Ran back to transition feeling very good. Good, good, good I thought. My heart rate was feeling fine and I got into transition and got out fairly quickly. I saw a bunch of people cheering and off I went. I lost a glove early on but that’s okay, I had new extra tape on my handle bars and I was going to be in aero anyway so it didn’t matter. Before I knew it I was out on the bike course and pedaling away. I looked down at my computer and it said 20 mph. I thought “whoa, slow that down you have a long way to go.” But my legs didn’t even feel like they were pedaling – no effort at all so I just decided to let them find their own pace. As long as I did not feel like I was putting through too much exertion I would let them go.
The coaches told us in each part of the race to do the first part easy and then if we were feeling okay to accelerate a little in the second half. You can’t regain energy so if you spend it all in the first half you are not going to get it back in the second. So I was very cautious in the first half. But I never saw my speed go below 17. It stayed pretty consistent at 18 or 19 and often at 20. I just couldn’t understand it. I was in the big chain ring. I wasn’t even trying hard. So I figured I would just go with it. I had predicted a 3:30 and if I could stay at 17 I would get a 3:30. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. I passed the 25 mile marker and I was at 1:19 which seemed ridiculously fast for me. What was going on? I thought my bike computer must be broken. This can’t be right.
The course had a lot of turns – even more than St. Anthony’s. I was a little cautious around the turns even though everyone else was speeding right through them. I didn’t care – I had time to spare, I was ahead of my estimate and saw no need to blow it by killing myself going around a turn. I just kept pedaling away.
It was a strange feeling for me. Even though I was riding very fast EVERYBODY was passing me. Usually I start much later in the race and I spend a good amount of time passing people. But in this race because I had started at the front of the race there was nobody for me to pass. Everybody who was passing me was someone super fit and super fast. All were riding 23 mph +. I decided to not be worried about it but a little voice inside me said “you could keep up with them if you wanted to – you could ride harder.” But I resisted. I wanted to stick to my plan AND I knew I had another 30 miles to go.
The course had some rolling hills but nothing to cause a break in stride. The hills were not terribly steep – they were longer than steep and I found that I never had to drop below 10 mph which meant they were not steeper than Harlem Hill (where I drop to 8 or 9). But for every uphill that means a downhill and I took advantage of them and let it rip.
There were several switch backs along the course so I was able to see anybody catching up to me. I did not see any team in training people for a long time until I saw Missy coming like a speed demon. She was pedaling so fast – must have been 110 rpm easily. I was sure she was going to catch up to me but I just kept pedaling away. Very comfortably I wasn’t even really racing. I was so far ahead of my estimate that I figured I would take the gift and use it toward my run time. At the next switch back I saw Missy again – she was still behind me. Finally there was a third switch back and I didn’t see Missy. I realized that she was probably so close to being behind me that I missed seeing her in the turn around. I laughed and started to pedal a little faster because I knew she was going to catch me soon.
Finally we were at mile 50. Missy passed me and shouted out “way to go CC you held me off for 50 miles!” I laughed and told her to go get ‘em. Then Lisa passed me – she was grinding her pedals not the fast fluid strokes Missy had. I was watching how everyone pedaled – I could tell the people who were doing it right vs. the people who were doing it the hard way. A race marshal passed by and looked at me but I knew I was doing nothing wrong so I just kept pedaling. There were so many people out there violating the no drafting rule that I was sure this guy was busy giving out penalties. I saw packs of people riding together for miles – they refused to give way to the person trying to pass them and they created their own little testostrogen filled clusters.
I was so excited to pass mile 50 and realize the I was on my way to a sub 3:15 bike ride. For me that would be great! I was grinning from ear to ear. Not only was I going to beat my 3:30 estimate, I was doing it easily!! I could do another 56 miles like this no problem! But then, as soon as the marshal passed me my bike went out of control. Yikes! What was going on? I couldn’t hold the bike still. I was skidding all over the place. I managed to clip out before I was going to crash and I pulled on my breaks. Geesh, what was going on? I looked down and sure enough I had a flat tire!! The back tire was flat as a pancake. Oh Lord. Now what?
I refused to panic. I had rehearsed this. If I get a flat I will calmly and patiently fix it. But 4 miles from the finish? C’mon God, that’s just cruel. 4 miles? I had to admit I thought about just riding it on the rim but I couldn’t keep it straight so I said I had to fix it. Then the horror. I realized that I never put the tire levers that Stephanie had bought me into my bike bag. I was stuck out on the course, 4 miles to the finish with a flat and no tire lever. I was in big trouble in big Disney. I didn’t know if I could change a tire without a tire lever and I was going to find out – the hard way.
I tried to use the screwdriver on my multi-tool but I couldn’t get it to work. I was stuck. I started yelling out to passing cyclists “anyone have a tire lever?” Half the people didn’t respond, most said no, one woman said “it’s in my saddle pack, can’t get to it.” I was screwed. Time was passing. I saw my beautiful 3:15 slipping into the black void. I was standing there baking in the sun, sweating in my helmet trying to figure out what to do. I didn’t know what to do other than keep calling out for a tire lever. Finally a guy, number 76 I think, stopped and gave me his tire lever. He ended up falling over because he couldn’t clip out which lead me to believe he was a new triathlete because he was nice enough to stop and fell over doing it. I thanked him profusely, he was so cool about it. Ten minutes later I had the tire fixed and after struggling with a kink in the chain for another minute and struggling with the stupid CO2 cartridges I was on my way. 30 minutes gone. Ouch!!! But that’s okay I kept telling myself. I was 15 minutes ahead of my projection so I’m really only 15 minutes behind. You’re okay…..
I start pedaling. I hear some weird clicking noise. I can’t make out from where. Is that the back tire? No I think it’s from the front? I realize it is probably my wireless computer sensor clicking against the fork. Oy, what to do? I looked at my speed, 16 mph. Okay, at least you are moving, just keep going, 4 miles you can make it. Just get to the finish of the bike, that’s all you have to do. Now I’m feeling my back from bending over to fix the tire without stretching. I’m starting to calm down a little. I kept telling myself “good girl, you fixed the flat, you got back on track, that’s what a triathlete does – never quit.” Then I saw my odometer pass 54 and I said just two more miles, just two more miles. Then the unthinkable…..
A second flat. Obviously there was something in the tire that I couldn’t feel (I did check for foreign objects but I must have missed something in my haste to get out of the sun). Now I was in a dilemma. I yelled out to one of the people on the side, “how far to the finish?” “About a mile and half I think” she shouted out. Okay, that agrees with my computer more or less. I could run it in for a mile and half but who am I kidding? I am in my bike shoes and my run is my weakest link. I had to make an executive decision. I had a another spare and a tire lever but I had used up my two CO2 cartridges trying to get them to work. (Later I find out the threads on my CO2 holder were striped – yikes). So I decided to just ride to the finish on the rims of my fancy new bike that had now failed me in two races – both times five minutes from the end. Oh Tina, how could you do this to me? What did I do to deserve that?
To be continued……
(Sorry Cliff, I know you hate that…)