9/11. In remembrance.
**Note. This is my race report and it is going to be long, so fill up your coffee jug.
Well it’s finally over. The end of my triathlon season for 2006. It was a long hard year with every pitfall I could imagine. My seat nearly falling off and a nice broken toe during St. Anthony’s. 3 flat tires and ten zillion degree heat at Disney. The beginning of the wobble terrors on my bike at NYC. I trained a lot over the summer and hit a mental wall a couple of weeks ago, depression, fatigue, whatever. I was not really looking forward to FIRMMAN half Ironman (swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles and run 13.1 miles) in Rhode Island because I just thought it was going to be another opportunity for some debacle and I just didn’t think I had it in me to go up against another race filled with mishaps. I have to admit I started that race with no small amount of dread. Did I have it in me to face another race with three flat tires? What if my wheel starts wobbling down the hills? Are my knees going to give out? The possibilites for disaster seemed endless and exhausting.
Cat and I drove up Saturday morning and the drive was a breeze. We made it in 3 hours including a stop. We made it in plenty of time for the first race briefing. It was actually a good briefing for once. He told us about the swim and that the buoys were only guidelines and you did not have to swim farther out into the ocean. The only rule was the first buoy and the last had to be on your right shoulder. Noted — swim closer to shore-side of the buoys. He also told us about the running through the wooded path entrance which helped me later on (I heard several people cut their run short by 2 miles because they did not go through the woods). So good meeting — good long-sleeved t-shirts. And it turns out that Hammer Heed was sponsoring the event. My coach has had me using Hammer products all summer so I was happy to find out the Heed (their version of Gatorade)was going to be given out on the course. They were also selling the Hammer products and I bought a bunch of the Almond bars my coach had me eating and I decided those along with some Sharkies would be my fuel for the bike.
Then we drove our car along the bike course. Ooph. It was MUCH hillier that I had expected. The first 16 miles were okay, fairly flatish. Not pancake flat but nothing that would have cause for worry. But then when we got off the highway we started climbing, climbing, climbing. This section they call the stairs because you go up, level off, go up, level off, go up… you get the idea. Cat and I were looking at each other thinking “oh boy, this is not going to be fun.” The roads seemed very choppy and very winding. But at the end it would dump us out on the highway again and we would have another 16 miles or so of relatively flat riding (again not pancake but nothing too bad.)
Then I found out there was an 8 hour cutoff and I started to get nervous. At Disney I thought even if I had not had my 3 flat tires I was probably not going to have finished in under 8:10. This was a small race with less than 900 people in it. This was also a half-ironman so I was not going to be in the field with a bunch of first-time triathletes, I was going to be out there with people who knew what they were doing. I was nervous that everyone would be long gone home by the time I crossed the finish line. My friend Melissa had driven out from NYC to watch and cheer so she assured me that even if everyone else went home, she would stay.
Later in the afternoon, Cat and I did a practice swim. The water was cold and choppy and my wetsuit was sticking to my knees. We swam out to the first buoy and I thought “Oh boy, this is going to be a long swim….” I suddenly rued my missed swim practices over the last couple of weeks. But I had to remind myself that I have done long swims before and just put one arm in front of the other and you’ll get there. I was already preparing myself for coming in last because I figured with this kind of chop I was going to have a pretty long swim. They assured us in the morning the current would be going with us instead of against us, but I have learning that race directors are often more optimistic than accurate. (When a race director tells you a course is flat, expect rolling hills. When they say rolling hills, expect hilly. When they say hilly, expect mountains!)
One of the big thrills for me was to find out that team Hoyt was going to be in the race. For anyone who does not know who they are, click here for their website. This is a father and son team. The father carries the son during the entire race. The son is put in a boat that the father pulls for the swim. Then he had a special bike that he rides with the son in the front and then he pushes the son in a cart for the run. It’s just an amazing tribute to love and perseverance. To finally get to see them in person was a big moment for me. To see them on the course with me was a great inspiration. It definitely made me try a little harder.
Race Morning. Cat and I got to the race early in order to get a good parking space. This was Cat’s first half ironman and I’m sure she was more nervous than I was. I was more like the prisoner walking towards their cell. I knew what was coming. She was more like someone waiting for the verdict. I knew I could do this because I finished Disney – how much worse could anything be? And, I guess I was anticipating it to be as awful as Disney which is why I had been dreading it so much.
Melissa met us bright and early in transition area. This is not a big race with tons of security or anything. People freely walking in and out of transition. We didn’t wear id bracelets or anything. So it was fun to have Melissa in transition with us. Cat and I were both racing Athena so we set up our bikes right next to each other so that was nice.
As we walked down to the swim we stopped to put on our wetsuits. It was fairly chilly at that hour of the morning on the beach so I wasn’t worrying about overheating. This time, however, I plastered my entire body from chin to ankle with body glide. (usually I just do my wrists and ankles because I’m lazy). This time I did my entire leg INCLUDING lubing right over my tri-shorts (never did that before). I did my entire arms, my entire neck. Any nook or cranny I could find I did. The backs of my knees, my elbows. We even put some on the outside of our wetsuits to help get them off faster (I don’t think that works, but hey it was an idea.) Wow, what a difference! My wetsuit felt actually comfortable! I could move my arms much better and instead of sticking to my tri-shorts, it moved right up over them. Cool. I will over-lube forever.
We jumped in the water to try it out. Thank goodness it was slightly warmer than the ice bath of the day before. The current did seem to be going in the direction of our goal and there was only one wave line breaking at the shore. So the water looked okay to me. Just had to get through the 1.2 mile ocean swim and that would be done. I was not looking forward to being swum over by the three waves of men behind me, but I just figured it would be what it would be. It was not like this would be the first time I was kicked, pushed or swum over and it wasn’t going to be the last. Just get through it.
The swim went okay. Actually like Disney, I thought I was brilliant until I got out of the water. It was a little difficult to sight in the ocean as the buoys were the small round ones (instead of the big triangular ones) and if you looked up there might be a small wave in front of you preventing you from seeing the buoy. But one time I looked up and saw the farthest buoy lined up between two brick buildings and that became my sight line for the rest of the race. I rarely saw the buoy again. I just looked for the two brick buildings and kept swimming.
Once I was out in the ocean I realized why I like triathlons so much. The swim is just so fantastic. I was out in the ocean, farther that I could ever safely swim out by myself, and just a full mile to stretch out and swim, swim, swim. I love it. I think it is the greatest feeling. I kept thinking, this is the Atlantic Ocean. I’m swimming in it and I don’t have to stop at the end of twenty strokes and turn around. I meditated for a moment and thought “this is peaceful, this is a really beautiful moment.” I think this is where I forget I am racing and just swim. This also might be part of my problem of why I don’t have good swim results. I forget to race. lol
I thought I was doing well although I was aware of the men swimming past me quite fast. They seem to skim the top of the water and I seem to bounce up and down in it like a cork. Nobody kicked me – one guy crossed in front of me, but he was heading out to sea so I figured too bad for him. I just kept looking for my two brick buildings and I thought I got to the final buoy fairly quickly. Then I rounded that buoy and we had swim back a bit against the current and that was hard. The final little stretch to the shore which seemed so short, was in fact, endless.
I wasn’t coughing very much (3 shots of abuterol) but I was breathing hard after fighting my way in, so I just walked up the sand. It was not very far and I really didn’t think the extra minute I would take would effect my overall time that much. (It wasn’t like the NYC tri where you had to run a quarter mille to get to transition.) When I crossed the transition mat I looked at my watch and it said 48 minutes. WHAT?!?!?! Ripped off again. Just like Disney where I thought I did so well. 48 minutes? That stinks. I wore a wetsuit this time AND I had a current. What’s that about? But Okay, okay. (Later when I was telling Melissa about it she laughed as said “Yeah, it’s like would you rather think you look really good but don’t or think you don’t look good but do?” I thought about it last night and decided I’d rather think I look good but don’t.) It’s all in the attitude. Maybe my swim was slow, but I truly enjoyed all 48 minutes of it. (Okay, 47 minutes of it, I didn’t enjoy the last minute trying to fight my way to the shore.)
When I got into transition I changed quickly and got out on the bike. The bike was pretty much as I had expected it to be from my ride with Cat. I think knowing the course ahead of time was a huge help. Just being able to visualize in my head where we were helped me pace better. I knew once I exited the hilly section that I could pick it up a little as the last sixteen miles were fairly flat. I actually tried to stand on a couple of hills (I need MUCH work on that.) The hills were hard. I need to be lighter and stronger to do more standing climbs for those. But overall I think I did as well as I could on the bike. My final time was 3:26 on the bike and for my present level of fitness and for that course, I think that was the best I could do yesterday. It was about 10 miles of hills. I was probably going about 10 miles per hour vs. 20 miles per hour on the flats. That takes up time. The downhills were good but a little winding. But I kept thinking that this was a more realistic race. A little bit of everything. Some flat, some climbs, some wind. It really gives you a chance to see what your strengths and weaknesses are. Most important is that Tina (my bike) did not have a peep to say about anything. Nothing went wrong. I held my breath at mile 52 to see if she was going to blow a tire. Nothing. Her chain did not fall off, the seat did not slip, the saddle bag did not fall off. She was quiet and just did her job. I was suspicious about why she was so quite because usually she is quite the Prima Donna. I decided that Embert (the bike Mechanic) had said something to her. He was quite emphatic when I picked up the bike that she was going to perform really well. I wonder what he said to her? She seemed reluctant to misbehave…..
At about mile 12 on the bike I realized how much I love to ride my bike. I thought this is so cool to be out on this open road and ride, ride, ride. No stopping for anything. Just let your legs out and let ‘em rip. It’s a wonderful feeling. I realized at that moment that I was actually having a good time. OMG, was this awful, dreaded race actually turning out to be fun? The weather was gorgeous, nothing was hurting, Tina was behaving, I had made it through the swim. So far this was a good day.
On my descent of the stairs I ran into team Hoyt starting their stair climb. I had to swallow hard. I barely got my own body up some of those hills. How is this guy going to get him AND his son up those hills on that bike? I don’t know how he did it. It seemed impossible to me. It made me ride a little harder when I passed them yelling “Go Team Hoyt!”
I switched quickly to the run. I slathered tiger balm all over my legs and popped two more Aleve (total of 4 for the race day). I didn’t want to carry my fuel belt but I grabbed one of the bottles of Heed they were handing out and I decided I would carry that with me until I didn’t need it. Ironically that bottle stayed with me through the entire run. I still grabbed heed and water from the tables but it was nice to have something to sip on in between water stops.
Almost immediately I knew I had to walk. My left calf was cramping. (I don’t think it was from the bike, I think it was from the swim because I had to kick to get into shore.) So my first two miles were a weird mish-mosh of running/speed walking/ limping. Then I made a HUGE mistake. At mile two I stopped to go the bathroom. I got into the Porto-John and as soon I bent my legs I got a HUGE cramp in my quad. Ouch. I got stuck for a second in the Porto-John and thought “Oh great, this will be my claim to fame, the girl who got stuck in the Porto-John with a leg cramp.” I got out alive but my left quad was actually spasming and I had to stop for about thirty seconds to massage my leg. Then I started to walk it off. (Note to self — wait until about mile 4 to go into a porto-john by then your muscles have transitioned).
Very soon my back went out. Not my lower back (which used to happen), not my shoulders, my mid-back. I didn’t even know I had a mid-back. I’ve never felt a pain there in my life. But the entire mid part of my back was in a muscle contraction and total pain. I couldn’t run and hold my upper body – it hurt too much. All I could think is that I had an upper body massage on Friday and maybe my muscles got a little out of whack. My legs felt fine (that massage had been on Wednesday) so I just kept power walking. “Just walk as fast as you can, don’t stop and it will go away.” People were passing me, but I noticed that they were not getting that far ahead of me. I was going at a decent clip. Every once in awhile I would try to run but I really couldn’t get my mind to escape my crunching back. I really wanted to get down on the ground and do a shoulder bridge – I thought that would help but the thought of emptying my pockets and finding a place to do it and, and, and…. Oh for goodness sakes just keep moving!!!
If I hadn’t been powerwalking I might never have noticed what an absolutely fantastic day it was. I’m guessing a cool 72 degrees. Not once did I feel like I was overheating or searching for shade. The sun was out but I had my hat and sunglasses and although I was breathing hard as I was trying to powerwalk as fast as I could. Before I even knew it I was passing mile 5 marker and I thought to myself, “can you do more than double that?” No problem! Came the voice in my head, “we got this.” I kept looking at my watch thinking ‘this can’t be right, if I ran the whole thing I would be way under my estimate. But I wasn’t running so I just kept pumping my arms (to the back not the front) and concentrating on moving my feet as fast as they could go.
About midway through the run I was about to descend a small hill (not the mile 10 hill a smaller one). There were two young girls (about 11 years old) sitting in a couple of old beach chairs in their yard with an old plastic radio tape player between them. The player was obviously was on max volume and you could just about make out the music – some pop tune from a boys band or something. The girls were just hanging out, slouched in their chairs, not saying much, clapping now and then. I yelled to them “listen I’ll be coming back this way soon and I need to hear some rock and roll when I come up this hill, no pop music.” They yelled “okay!” They were behind me as I yelled “Like Lynard Skynard” as I started jogging down the hill. I was sure they couldn’t hear me say that and then I chuckled to myself, OMG, it is quite possible that those girls parents don’t even know who Lynard Skynard is – I am old!!!
Okay. Here is the highlight of my race. I made it down that hill, through some neighborhood cul de sac and through some trees (no kidding you had to run through someone’s yard or something) and then back up that hill. I had a little WOG going (walk/jog) and then I saw those girls still sitting there slouched in their chairs like they hadn’t moved. Then all of a sudden I heard diddle, dit, de, diddle, dit, de, diddle dit de. It couldn’t be. Sure enough right as I was nearing the top of the hill the words “Sweet Home Alabama” come sailing out to me. I couldn’t believe it. I looked at these girls, they didn’t move one inch of their slouch and they had big grins on their faces. I screamed out to them “I CAN”T BELIEVE IT, I LOVE THAT SONG!!! HOW DID YOU DO THAT?!?!” They were laughing and I actually started running for a little bit and waved to them as I shouted “THANK YOU!”” That kept me going for a good two miles. How the heck did they do that? What happened? Had they run inside and asked their father who Lynard Skynard was and he said “I don’t know, go ask your Grandfather?” Then the Grandfather might have handed them an old cassette tape? Did they blow on the tape to get the cobwebs out? That honestly made my day. I couldn’t believe those two little girls who were probably sitting there talking about Justin Timberlake actually did that for me.
I was aware that the day was getting progressively more gorgeous. Although I was in pretty bad back pain, I felt as long as I can keep powerwalking and the day is nice, what do I have to complain about? The Hoyts were out there struggling more than I was as were others. I was passing a lot of people who had just stopped and were limping. Most of the people I was passing were walking but they weren’t power walking so I said, “just keep going.” I kept saying to myself “faster, faster, faster.”
When I hit the turnaround and the woman said “five miles from here.” I couldn’t believe it. I thought. 5 miles? What’s that? That’s nothing. I can do five miles in 1 hour if I was running. I looked at my watch and it was only 6 hours and some minutes. Something’s wrong with my watch. At this point in my mind I was just trying to break 8 hours. I wasn’t even looking at my watch to try to do my 9/1 run/walk it was more like 1/9 run/walk. I was okay though, the day was soooo gorgeous and I felt lucky to be out there and healthy enough to be able to do this much.
Around mile 8 I picked up my first injured runner. He was trying to run but couldn’t and was walking. I said “walk with me, c’mon.” After about 5 minutes he said “I can’t walk that fast, let me jog.” I laughed. We did one mile with me power walking and him jogging next to me. Then we caught up with another walker, a woman named Vic. I told her to come with us so she started to pick it up. Then we hit the mile 10 marker and the guy said “3.1 miles, I’m going to try to run it from here.” he thanked us and took off. Now Vic and I were power walking and she was trying hard to keep up but her knee was killing her. We exchanged muscle complaints. Then we saw the Hoyts coming – they were heading out for the turn around. “Oh boy, we better get moving, they will be on us in no time. Father Hoyt was BOOKING!! Man I could never run that fast, never mind push my son in front of me for the entire race. We didn’t mention our pains to each other after that.
Vic and I hit the mile 10 hill that we had all been dreading. “Okay, Vic, we are doing this hill for my friend who has cancer. She’s going through Chemo and I promised we would do this hill for her. Let’s do it!” So we started pumping our arms and powered up the hill. When we got to the top the guy said “wow, you gals did that faster than the runners!” We were really smiling at that and gave each other a high five. Then he told us “Just about two miles left Ladies” and we said “no problem!”
Right about then a guy went sailing past us walking. I couldn’t believe how fast he was speed walking. That has to be a ten minute mile! Right then I decided I want to learn to do that. Maybe I’m never supposed to be a fast runner, maybe I’ll just speed walk my way through races. He was passing all the remaining runners. It was so impressive I couldn’t believe it. I’m not sure he was actually in the race though because he was walking on the opposite side of the road and he was wearing a non-tri looking outfit. So maybe he was only doing that for a mile or two but nonetheless it was very impressive.
Then my friend Mellissa found us. Just shy of two miles from the finish and we told her to walk with us. She’s six months pregnant and in non-pregnant state a very good runner. I know she can power walk too and the three of us (me, Mellissa and Vic) headed toward the end. We hit a downhill and I thought I could jog a little. I told Vic to go ahead because she was a faster runner. Melissa and I did a jog/speed walk toward the finish – she went around to the finish line and left me to do my finish in the sand.
Okay the sand finish. Nothing short of cruel. Deep, deep sand. Impossible to run through for more than five steps. But I kept trying because I really wanted to finish. I promised my friend Missy that I would run the sand for her (it was her birthday). So everytime I stopped I said “okay for Missy, for Missy, and started up again.” (So Happy Birthday Missy!) I would guess it was about an eighth of a mile or so. Not really far but just enough to be totally mean. You had to run by everyone sunbathing. Almost all of them clapping as I went by. And then I hit the plastic boardwalk to run up to the finish line. The announcer yelled my name and I saw Melissa there with her camera, jumping around just like the New York City marathon. As I crossed the finish they handed me medal and I glanced at my watch, I thought I saw 7:32 but I wasn’t sure.
Hugs from Melissa. I was really happy. 7:32? Really? How could that be? I walked pretty much the entire run. I felt really good. The weather was perfect, I had tried my hardest, fought through 13.1 miles of back pain and still managed to come out better than I thought I would. Imagine if I had been able to really run it? I might have been able to cut 13 minutes off! (I don’t think my run is actually much faster than my powerwalk but it is a smidge faster.) But who cares? I finished it and I was one hour and ten minutes faster than my half ironman in Disney!!!! Who can complain about that? And I wasn’t last, there were at least a dozen people behind me (not sure if they all finished because some of them looked like they were really hurting). I was way ahead of the clock cutoff. I finished even before the awards ceremony (which is always a bummer to hear you have crossed the finish line and the awards ceremony is already over!)
Interestingly my legs didn’t give me a bit of a problem. Who ever thought my back would give out? But nonetheless I did a lot of things right for a change. I did my nutrition correctly. I was efficient in my transitions (relatively). I had a good, constant effort through the entire race. But most important, above all else, I had a good head through the race. I can’t stress how important that was to me to actually enjoy the process. To be out there and think, “hey, I’m actually having fun!” I had a big smile on my face throughout the entire race and I truly, truly enjoyed myself. That is how I wanted to end my 2006 race season and launch my official ironman training, with a good head.
I feel good. I feel like I got the end to my summer that I wanted – finally a race that wasn’t some form of a disaster. I highly, highly recommend Firmman as a race to do. I will probably never do another Florida race after experiencing what I think racing should be all about. A hard day, but a fun day. It shouldn’t be torture. I respect the Firmman course but at the same time I feel the conditions are fair enough to let everyone have a shot at having a good race. And isn’t that all we want? A shot at a good race? Not spectacular, just very solid. And, in my world, very solid is a good thing. It’s all I really want. I don’t need to be the fastest out there, I just want to do it with dignity. I want to know I tried my hardest and that I didn’t give up. So in that respect I did great! Very happy. I feel very blessed to have good friends and the health to continue with this quest. I live to fight another day!
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” Maya Angelou