Saturday's race marked my 6th 1/2IM distance race. If you look at my past races (and all have been logged here on the blog), the history looks something like this:
- 2008 Vineman 70.3: First time at the distance!
- 2009 Boise 70.3: Holy bad (wind/rain/thunder/lightning/hail) weather day
- 2009 Barb's Race: 10 months with a coach brings me a shiny new PR!
- 2010 Austin 70.3: Holy nasty (hot humid) weather day
- 2011 Big Kahuna: 3 years with a coach brings me a shiny new PR!
If one followed the pattern, I was up for a bad weather bad race. But I've learned a thing or two from all this training and I think even in days with bad conditions, you can find ways to overcome. So what if my legs were cranky and achy leading up to race day. So what if my race packet never arrived in the mail and I had to go through the trouble of getting a new # assigned less than a day before the race. So what if I spent too much time in the sun trying to get my gear checked in Friday afternoon. So what if the course changed a few weeks before the race, into something likely to be hillier and more challenging. I've trained too hard for the little things to disrupt my day.
My instructions were simple. No need to fixate on positive fluffy thoughts all day, the negative moments will be there. Just let them come and go but stick to the plan above all else.
I had no idea how important these words would be. Because when the negative thoughts came, instead of getting down on myself for being unhappy or cranky, I embraced them, I enjoyed my bad mood, I said some really funny curmudgeonly things. And then I moved on!
Race day started dark and early at 3:45 am. I coated my entire body in sunblock (with the death of my beloved Scape, I've been testing out Endurance Shield*), got dressed and ate a bowl of cereal standing up in the kitchen by the light of my iPhone so that Jeff could keep sleeping. I walked the beardies because they would have been giant pains in the ass without a stroll, grabbed my bottles from the fridge and hit the road.
By 4:30 I was in the race parking lot, along with a number of other athletes, but our shuttles - set to depart for the start at 5am - were not. I just plopped myself on a curb and played with my phone until the buses rolled up at about 5:15am. With that, we were off to the start 18 miles south at Uvas Reservoir.
When we arrived at the start, it was the usual fun pre-race chaos. I worked through my list setting up everything I needed on the bike and then used the restrooms and got body marked before the lines for both became ridiculous. It was a bit chilly out but eventually I had to take all my sweats off and start getting ready to go. I pulled out my giant tub of Aquaphor (I love this thing) and applied an obscene amount in my shorts (but it worked - no bike chafing this race!) and on my neck (wetsuit) and wrist (watch). Right about the time I started putting my wetsuit on, Jeff arrived with my mom, my official photographer for the day.
Starting to feel a little queasy about this whole thing - is it too late to back out?
I finished gearing up and headed down to the swim start. Once the first wave went off I wanted to get in to start warming up. I had the chills but I think that was more nerves than body temperature! I was also still trying to get the hang of a brand new wetsuit. I tore my beloved wetsuit at last week's open water swim race and I didn't want to do a big race like this with a huge rip, so I bought a new suit in a hurry.
Finally it was time to go get in the water and warm up. Neoprene is not especially flattering, but I'm including this ass shot for brand-new Ironman Katie!
Mary was at this race as well and I found her in the water right away - it was good to have someone to chat with.
Brrr! Totally NOT in a smily mood but Mom is making me do it anyway
OK fine I'd better warm up. The water was around 72 degrees so it felt much nicer than the air.
When I swam up to the start to wait, I found Sharon, who is also doing IM Canada.
Women 39 and under...waiting waiting waiting...
And we're off!
The pace felt alright to me at the start. The swim is essentially a long rectangle around a peninsula - we start at one end of the island and swim around it into the open part of the reservoir, then at the end hook a left into the boat dock. My preset time alarm for my watch went off at the 2nd turn buoy and I was surprised at how fast I'd made it there. Unfortunately that was when I made the turn into the long leg of the swim and right into the chop from the strong north wind that had picked up. The rest of the swim was a struggle - with only turn buoys and no sighing buoys on the course, it's a LONG way to go trying to sight far away. I think my sighting was decent but the tightness of the wetsuit wore my arms down as I fought against the waves and I started feeling the slight nausea I associate with overheating as well. On the positive side, my work on bilateral breathing paid off so I didn't have to inhale water every time I took a breath.
I got out of the water with one of my slower 1/2IM swim times ever, FAR slower than the pace of last week's 1 mile swim. I. Was. Pissed.
Hello, negative thoughts! Nice to see you so soon!
I tore through transition in 1:16 - ripped my wetsuit off and tossed it in the bag for transport to the finish, threw my helmet and glasses on and was out of there. My T1 was not only the fastest in my AG, it was the fastest of all women in the race. I'd say sometimes it pays to be racing from behind but really I set myself up in advance to transition quickly. I even had my best mount of the bike with shoes clipped in - I've been practicing this, with rubber bands, every ride for the past week.
Still pissed, I tried to give my family a smile as I headed out to ride 56 miles and was determined to stay on my plan. Initially I was to keep my watts below 1/2IM watts for 20 minutes and get settled in. At this point the course was flooded with long course AND sprint cyclists so it was a zoo out there. Not only that, we were headed uphill and straight into that nice north wind. I had to focus to keep my watts under control and start fueling on time.
All I could think was how slow I was going, how slow I was on the hills, how much the wind was slowing me down, how slow I would be as I stuck to these target watts! But I did it anyway. Just eat and pedal, Molly. Yes, it sucks. It's a sucky sucky race and it sucks. Get on with it.
Jeff and my mom popped up about 15 miles into the course and again around 25. It was so windy I couldn't really hear what they said as I went by, I just tried to give a little wave or smile and keep going.
I made a point to follow my instructions and not chase watts on the downhills/in a tailwind. I pedaled strongly through them but I didn't hammer it to get my watts up to a certain number. I was just thankful for the free speed in those few moments and hopeful it would balance all my slow hills a little. Surprisingly I spent more time passing people, while maintaining what felt like a stupid slow pace, than being passed. And every man I passed gave me a little ego boost, as they had a long head start before me, between my wave going after theirs and my horrific swim.
One of the goals I was given for this ride was to pee at least once on the bike. Hit that one out of the park. It was so damn windy that it blew away off my saddle immediately. Another goal was to achieve a Variability Index of under 1.15, meaning ride the course under enough control and at a steady enough power that my normalized power and average power were close to one another. My Powertap decided to stop working in the last 30 minutes of the ride (as I told Coach, I was NOT pushing 4 watts going 20mph into a headwind, I swear!). With that data removed from the big picture...nailed it!
In the closing miles, the bike course headed into very familiar territory and I got even more twitchy to be done with it already. Stupid slow stupid bike. Stupid bumpy roads. Stupid wind. Stupid tired legs. I did mention I was embracing my negative side, right?
It turns out I ran into transition only 4 minutes off my best 1/2IM bike time and did that on a hillier windier course!
I was in and out of T2 in 1:02, again the fastest of all the women in the race. I started the run...muttered something as I went by my mom about "Holy shit that SUCKED" and then realized...I felt pretty darn good!
The run was supposed to be 2 loops out and back on the trails around Lake Almaden but instead they set it up as ~1.5 loops, where on one loop you did a double out and back on one part of the trail. My next mini-goal was to make the first 3 miles of the run my slowest of the day. I took in my gel and salt tabs on schedule and waited for the miles to tick by. I slowed down, then slowed down more, then more, till it felt like I was jogging in place for the first 3 miles. Due to lack of restroom facilities, I even stopped to water the bushes quickly.
When I hit the 3 mile mark, I cheered because finally I could pick up the pace and RUN! And I still felt FABULOUS! When I went past my mom this time I think I said "this is awesome!"
About 5 miles of out and back later, I came by again with "this is slightly less awesome but still pretty good!"
I just motored along, taking my gels on schedule and smiling at people running the other way, cheering them on. I think some of them probably hated me because I was having far too much fun. I had a nice blister forming in one arch and my legs were getting tired but I was able to push through it with the confidence of all my recent run training behind me.
And then before I knew it - possibly before I was even ready for it - I was headed into the finish, no more loops or aid station visits.
Not only did I finally have the run off the bike in a 1/2IM that I knew I was capable of (in good part due to careful bike pacing)...I had a new 1/2 marathon PR altogether (1:44:49!!!).
For a day that started out with a terrible swim and was spent mired in negative thoughts, it was astounding to me to end it with a 15 minute 1/2IM PR and finally breaking the 6-hour mark with a total race time of 5:54:46!
To paraphrase a very smart coach of mine, it doesn't have to be a cupcakes and daisy race experience to be successful. This one is going to stick in my head for a very long time as an example of a day where I took those negative thoughts and turned them into a positive outcome.
Thanks to my awesome coach who always knows what to say, my amazing photographer, my husband who drove her all over the course, and my wonderful teams - TrainingPeaks who provides the best training log and analysis tools out there and Aquaphor for keeping my skin protected from the dreaded race chafe (NO CHAFING ON THIS RACE where I used Aquaphor!). Onward to IM Canada!
*This sunblock mostly worked but the tops of my shoulders did burn quite a bit. The rest of me was OK though so...