Raceday: Sunday, September 13, 2015
Location: Martha’s Vineyard
The Martha’s Vineyard 70.3 Triathlon was my first half Ironman event, and the best way I could have ended the season. The course was beautiful and scenic. And while there were a few rough spots in the event itself (only it’s second year running!) I had a great experience.
The day before the race, I had some pancakes with a doughnut appetizer for breakfast, then snacked and drank water all day. I ate a light dinner, and set my alarm for 5:00 am. On race morning, after some coffee, half a bagel and hair-braiding, I went for a light jog that got my digestive system right on track. The nerves didn’t hurt either.
The open-water 1.1-mile swim was a bit delayed due to some buoy placement issues. The forecast was scattered thunderstorms, so the water was choppy. (I think it stormed right before and after the race?) The buoys were tough to see through all the waves, but I’m oddly comfortable in ocean-swims, so I took the time I needed to sight. At one point I even stopped and pulled up my goggles, and made it to shore in just under 40 minutes.
To be honest, I wasn’t really worried about the swim. I know I’m not that great, but I knew I had it handled. If I just kept a steady pace then I could get through it in a reasonable amount of time without feeling fatigued.
The wetsuit transition always feels sloppy to me. I jogged into the transition area with half the suit pulled down to my waist, then pulled it over my hips before plopping down onto a my transition towel. I pulled my feet out of the legs like a pair of boots that don’t quite fit, and pushed it to the side in a muddy heap of black and orange. Wiped my feet, geared up for the bike. My snacks were all ready for me in the bag on my top tube. I took a packet of chamois butter and squirted it into my shorts, then moved out of transition and mounted the bike.
I felt like the bike was where I had the most control. I set a goal pace of 18.2 mph, which would set me up for a strong finish. I knew the course was hilly on the first half, then flat and fast for the second. All I needed to do was keep up my pace on the hills and then I could finish strong.
I was eating every half hour. First some gummy snacks, then two gels (both with caffeine), more gummy snacks, and finally a honey stinger waffle that I broke into pieces pre-race. I also had two bottles with Skratch.
There was one water stop 25 miles in, and for some reason this had caused me a bit of anxiety pre-race. For athletes on aero bikes with aero water bottles, a water stop is more of a water ride-by. They just grab the bottle and refill their own. But because I just had regular bottles, this wasn’t really an option for me. I either had to toss a bottle and get a new one, or stop to refill. And I couldn’t make up my mind. I didn’t want to waste time stopping, but I didn’t want to take a chance that I would get a bottle that didn’t fit properly into my bottle cages. Or worse, what if it didn’t have a sport cap? After a lot of deliberation, I went with plan B – regular water bottles, stop to refill them. My biggest concern was that a disposable bottle would pop out of my water bottle cage and I would be out a significant amount of hydration. And with regular bottles I wouldn’t have to worry about that. Turns out this was a solid plan. When I got to the stop, there were no bottles, just a big jug of water and some dixie cups. Had I gone with the disposable option, I would have had to stop anyways. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but it certainly would have thrown me off.
I finished the bike strong. I felt fantastic. Totally ready to take on the run.
Someone racked their bike in my spot! Expecting to see an empty slot for my bike next to all my gear in the transition area, it took me some time to find it with someone else’s bike disguising my setup. But things happen. There was no number marking my spot, so I guess it wasn’t 100% her fault. I strapped on my fuel belt stuffed with 4 gels, and grabbed an extra just in case. And just to be safe, I dug out a big chunk of body glide and made sure my trouble spots were all taken care of. I even put a sample-size in my back pocket. I also grabbed some chap stick. Dry lips are terribly distracting to me when I’m running.
I couldn’t believe I felt so great. I sucked down my “good luck Gu” right away. Chocolate Outrage. And I just kept running. I wasn’t tracking my pace, so I planned to use my watch to keep track of my general distance and time my fuel. I figured the run would take me about 2 hours and I would eat every half hour. The water stops were every 2 miles or so. The fueling really helped me get into a rhythm that carried me through the race.
Until about an hour through I felt great. After an hour and a half, the pain started. It wasn’t too long after that until I had to dig deep to keep myself going. I felt like cement was injected into my thighs, and each step felt heavier than the last.
But I wasn’t going to walk. I wasn’t going to stop running unless I physically dropped to the ground. At this point, I knew I was only a couple of miles out. Then the chaffing started. And I looked down at my watch to see that I was coming up on 2 hours. In my head, I knew I should be there soon. But at this point I felt like I was running 14-minute miles, so I second-guessed my estimates. Then, seemingly out of nowhere… the finish line!
I looked up and saw that I was still under 6 hours, so I sprinted to the finish. I was DONE. 5:56:11. I made it to the under-6-hour goal that I had secretly set for myself with more than a few minutes to spare.
This was by far the crowning achievement of my season. I had only decided to enter about 5 weeks prior to the event, and I was worried that it would be slow and ugly. But all of my training paid off. It helped me feel confident in all of the success I had earlier in the season.
More importantly, it made me feel confident about next season. Right now I’m taking a little recovery time (light jogs and stretchy yoga, anyone??), but I’m already amped about training for 2016.
When I’m digging deep for motivation – 5:00 a.m. swim workouts in the dead of winter, trainer intervals after a long day of work, and long runs when there is still snow on the ground – I’ll be thinking about two things. Mile 13, and crossing that finish line.