Black Beauty did her job well.
One of my goals in my triathlon career was to go under 5 hours in the 70.3. I knew it was possible, but I didn't think it was in my near future. Still, Jen had me believing that if I could put my fear aside and just go for it, I could have the race of my life at Clearwater. Throughout the race I remembered Jen's words--even when things got really tough on the second loop of the run and I could no longer hold the pace I was gunning for. I just kept repeating to myself, "This is the race of your life. You are HAVING the race of your life." And it was.
It almost wasn't, though. On Thursday after a half day of work we left MA, kids and dogs in tow, to drive to Maine. The plan was to drop the dogs with my in-laws, the kids with my mom, drive to Peak Performance in Portland to pick up the race wheels I was renting, and then head to the Portland airport. When we arrived at the airport everything was oddly dark. In fact, it looked rather like--THERE WAS NO POWER.
A flight attendant stood with a mike at check in.
"I'm sorry to report there has been a large traffic accident close by which has taken out power to the entire airport."
"We have no computers and no way of checking you in."
pause. grumbling from patrons.
"We have been told power will not be restored for at least six hours. We have canceled all flights until tomorrow morning."
Oh .Sweet. Jesus.
My heart began racing and I felt weak. Leaving Portland, Maine on Friday morning would not get me to Clearwater in time to check in before 2 pm, the cutoff.
Andy took out his Blackberry and began checking flights from Boston. Could we make it there by 6 pm and fly to Tampa from there? Nope. Already four, and the trip takes 2.5 hours.
All over. All that hard work and I would likely not get there in time.
And then, without ceremony, the lights came back on.
I almost wet myself in relief. I'm not lying. Everyone began milling around, smiling. A line immediately formed at check in.
After getting our boarding passes we went to our gate and I sat in numb relief. The flight was still delayed, though, so we decided to get food and a beer (not a good pre-race strategy, I know) and tried to stay cool, hoping we would catch our connecting flight out of JFK.
We did make the connection, and the rest of the trip was long, but uneventful. We arrived in Tampa at 12:30 a.m. We were in our hotel room at the Hilton by 2 a.m.
This is what I want to know. What the hell was I thinking when I booked this flight? 2 a.m.? The possibility of things going awry and missing the race entirely? Am I insane? A 1/2 day of work on Thursday was not worth the 2 a.m. arrival. Live and learn.
We woke rather late on Friday morning, and headed down to get a nice hotel, buffet breakfast. It was here that reality totally hit. Everyone, everywhere was decked in Ironman attire. Finishing t-shirts from various 140.6 events, tiny bike shorts revealing muscular, shaved legs, wetsuits half donned over ripped bodies, M-Dot tattoos, sickly sexy bikes being pushed through the lobby, voices using foreign languages I couldn't recognize.
I began to feel sick.
Ange and Mark met us after breakfast. They had arrived the afternoon before and Ange had already completed her pre-race, Friday workout. I, on the other hand, had not signed in, gone to the meeting, found my bike, put my race wheels on, organized my bags and I had not BEGUN to think about the quick swim, bike and run I had hoped to get in. And it was already almost 11 a.m.
Let us just say I was on the tense side. Andy, in an exasperated voice, kept reminding me to breathe. I checked in and got my blue band, and then began the long process toward being ready to go race morning.
By five I was done. UEUEU! Bags organized and turned in, bike racked complete with race wheels, workouts done, fluids and pre-race breakfast prepared and put in the fridge, chat with Jen complete, clothing laid out. I had even checked in on the home front. I was able to chat with Alina (the bestest friend any person could have) and my mom, who were sharing responsibility for our kids. The kids were in heaven, of course. All was fine. I flopped on the hotel bed. I had made it. I was here. It was going to happen.
The four of us (Ange, Mark, Andy and I) had dinner at a local Italian restaurant. Ange and I tried to keep calm, tried to reassure eachother, tried not to let our overwhelming anxiety ruin the meal. Over dinner I continually looked at Ange and felt like I should pinch myself. We were here! We were doing this! And more than anything I kept thinking, I'm so glad Ange and I are sharing this. We've been on this triathlon journey together since the beginning. We've shared every big race since the start and we will continue to share them in the future, including Lake Placid, our first Ironman. I love that girl!
Okay. enough sentiment. onward.
I slept well considering I was shitting myself.
I was up at 4:30 a.m. to eat and get ready, and by 5:05, Ange and I were getting body marked. The body markers used stamps. How cool is that? As we walked into transition to check on our bikes everything became sort of surreal. The lights were blazing and the bikes looked otherworldly--shiny and carbon and so hot--every. single. one. Perfect bodies milled about. Athletes were stoned-faced--pumping tires, filling aero-bottles, lubing up with Body Glide--just like any other triathlon, except that the pavement was clean of all transition garb and it was clear, there were no newbies here. These people meant business. "Ange,"I said, "we're not in Kansas anymore..."
We did see a few people we knew in transition. I saw a QT2 uniform, and introduced myself to the guy wearing it who is one of Jesse's athletes from D.C. His name is Matt Powell, and he ended up getting a 4:12 or something sick like that. I also met Katie, a fellow blogger, and Gina, who used to be a teammate and who I had met at Timberman. It was especially fun to see Gina who is so fun and bubbly and made me feel more relaxed.
Transition closed at 6:30 and we made our way to the beach where we found Andy and Mark. At this point, I was a wreck. The sun was rising and the beach was gorgeous but I couldn't focus on it. The air was electric with nerves and thunderous music and the announcer, who every minute reminded us we were one minute closer to the pros going off. A helicopter descended just before the beginning of the race, and that added intensity too. Andy captured a little of it on film.
Finally Ange and I left the husbands and headed down to the wave bins. There was a huge screen set up that magnified the swim, so that when the
canon went off we could see the pros close up. Andy Potts was alien he was so fast. It just was bizarre. I swear he only took like six or seven strokes between each buoy, and those buoys were far, far apart! We heard he was the first out of the water. Julie Dibens was the first woman, which was no surprise to me. I DVR'd Ironman St. Croix 70.3 and I watch it when I work out on the trainer, so I have seen Julie Dibens crush her competitors in the water more than once. (She broke the swim record there but some crazy amount...) I was really excited when I heard the announcer yell that Elizabeth Fedofsky was finishing the swim. Elizabeth and Bree are the two pros I route for and follow most closely. They are both women of incredible strength, determination and character.
Finally the female 35-39ers were called to the front bin. I felt a calm come over me. Soon I would be in the race and I could stop stressing about it, and just DO IT. I hugged Ange, walked to the line, and then turned myself inward, ready to get wet and start suffering.
I didn't start as fast as I had planned. I was expect a frenzy, but it didn't come, and I just couldn't get my body to MOVE. I began to search for a person to draft, but I was alone. Was I one course? Sight. Yep. On course. Then I smashed arms a few times with a woman, so I knew I was okay. I stepped up my pace, but the lead pack was gone. Stay calm. Push harder. I pulled ahead of the girls around me and then I found one: a girl just ahead of me. I set my sights on getting on her ankles. I spent the WHOLE swim trying to catch her! I was too far to get a good draft. It was frustrating. I was able to push pretty hard the whole swim, but of the whole race, the swim is where I really feel like I could've given more. Still, it was solid. Here you can see that Ange finished, wisely and with great speed, with the lead pack. I was a few minutes behind, ALL ALONE and clearly very focused! I was in 18th position out of 67 in my AG out of the water with a time of 30:38.
Transition was slow because of the whole get the bag and go to the tent thing, but I still kind of liked it. It was clean. I was out of there in 3:30. Onto the bike. As soon I was got on the course I felt fast. The course was just so light! so fast! the pavement was so clean and free of debris! The only problem was that I was all alone. What? Where was everyone? I spent the first 30 minutes only seeing a few people. But I was still flying. I was averaging 21.5 mph. I couldn't believe it! Was this me? I felt so smooth! When I crossed the first timing mat all I could think was, "Andy will catch that on his Blackberry! He'll know I'm kicking ass!" and it spurred me on. At this point I had finally found people. Most were trying to race clean races, it was clear. I played cat and mouse with a guy whose bib read Jason for at least 10 miles, but we both tried hard to pull forward and drop back in the required, legal way. My first pack of riders plowed past me at about an hour into the ride. I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT. These people were riding in A PACK!! How dare they! I've never seen anything like it! It was all I could do to refrain from screaming, "Cheaters!" at the top of my lungs. Jen had warned me it would be like this, but it was still startling how brazen it was. Where were the officials? I forced myself to refocus on my own race. They would have to live with themselves; they would know that their respective bike times weren't real.
I was passed by probably six or seven packs by the end of the ride. All of them had about 15 riders, most of them men. Cheaters. Losers! Anyway. Despite that I tried not to draft at all, of course I benefited from the gajillion riders out there. A draft is created no matter what when riders are close by, but the pack thing is just blatant, disgusting, disheartening, and wrong.
Enough diatribe. Despite my annoyance with the packs, I was having fun. I was pushing hard, going fast, and I felt like I could go on like this all day. Whenever the idea that I had to run next crept into my head I pushed it aside. Deal with the run when you run. Ride without fear. Just do it. I finished the ride in 2:34:50. That's an average of 21.8 mph. I still can't get over that bike split. I worked the bike hard at Timberman and finished 20 minutes more slowly. Comparing Timberman to Clearwater is like comparing oranges and apples, of course. They are totally different things. Timberman just knocks one out with its hills, and at Clearwater there are no hilly surprises, just miles of flat pavement. Very fun! You'll note in the picture I am alone. Surprisingly, I spent a lot of the ride solo.
It was a treat to have the volunteers take my bike. I tried to run to get my run bag with my bike shoes still on, and then realized it would be much faster to take them off right then. I stopped in the middle of the path, of course, and a competitor almost ran me over. Oops! Sorry! I yelled as he ran off. I raced to the bag, then the tent, and got out faster than I had for T1.
The run hurt immediately. I hadn't felt the heat on the bike, but now on the run I knew it must be at least 80 degrees and there was no cloud cover. Maybe for Floridians this weather was fine, but for we Northerners it was pretty hot! We had a balmy fall, but that means temps were in the 50s, not the 80s! My body was definitely a little shocked.
I didn't wear my Garmin. I had for Timberman, and I think I didn't push as hard as a result. With the Garmin you can look at your average pace, and if it's staying sort of the same, you feel confident you're okay. With just your Timex on you run in fear. That's what I wanted. I didn't know how fast I was taking out the run. I just knew it didn't matter that it hurt. I was going to kill this run. Turns out my first mile was a 7:02. Oops. I wanted to go out strong, but that was too strong. I dialed it back a little, but not much. I knew I probably couldn't' keep this pace, but my goal was to race without fear, and that meant going as hard as I could manage RIGHT NOW without regard to the last miles of the race.
One thing I will say is that although the run wasn't hilly, it was NOT flat. We had to go up and over that damn bridge four times, and it was tough. There was no breeze going over the bridge, and the pavement was white/bright/burning. There was a breeze through the neighborhoods, which was odd, I thought.
I knew that with each mile my pace was slowing, but I kept putting out as much as I could despite my fading. My first loop I averaged about 7:45 pace, and that was good. On the second lap I really was suffering, but I just kept forcing negative thoughts out of my head. Do what you can do THIS mile. Keep strong. You hurt, but you've hurt like this before. Just keep at it. My pace dropped to 8:09 or so for the second loop. In retrospect this is disappointing in that I dug really deep, and that's what I pulled out. Still, it was good enough for a 1:44 run. A hell of a lot better than my run at Timberman!
The shoot was LONGGGG, and I just lived it up, even though I was so hurting I thought I might boot. I was really going to go sub-five. I had done it! Ange was right at the finish, and after I crossed I just hugged her so tight. My time was a 4:55:58. Ange did a 4:42. We were so, so excited. Here she is at the end of her run:
And here we are at the end!
Ange placed top five in our age group and I was number 25 our of 67. Not too shabby for the World Championships! I was 18th out of the water, in 34th position after the bike, and then 25th after the run. Even though I had the ride of my life, my bike is still the weakest leg compared my competitors. Luckily, I made some of that up on the run. One good thing I noted was that the two women who beat me out for Clearwater spots at Timberman both finished 7 minutes behind me in this race!
Because Ange was top five in AG she got an award. The award's ceremony was wild. That stage was huge! It was thrilling to see Ange's name up on the big screen when she got her trophy.
After the ceremony we went out to party! Here we going crazy, dancing. Woot! The next morning we left, more than a little hungover. Flying when hungover is NO FUN. The sad thing is, course, that it took very little to create this hangover! I can't handle drinking these days....
When we got off the plane in Portland, there was Alina with two of her kids waiting for us with a big sign and flowers. As if taking care of our kids wasn't enough! Love you, Alina! Thank you!