After finishing all the things right on time at work, with a huge sigh of relief, we headed out to the airport to jump on a plane at 6pm to Cleveland, Ohio.

Everyone kind of gives you funny looks when you say that’s where you’re going for the weekend (usually my vacation destinations are a little more… tropical), but then when you say it’s to compete in a National Championship race, they nod and say “good luck”.  I wasn’t expecting much out of Cleveland, but I was pleasantly surprised!

Our flight got in late, around 1am, and that meant we were settling into our room around 2.  Not ideal, but it was much better to get the travel day done with and wake up in the city ready to do all the things vs try to fly in the next morning.  We slept until 11am, and then unpacked and put our bikes together.  Zliten did an amazing job doing it rather quickly, and then we attempted to hightail it down for the official pre-race swim practice that ended at 1.  We left the hotel at 12:30, it was supposedly a 20 minute bike, what could go wrong?

Well, we got HORRIBLY lost, had to backtrack a bunch, and then ran into construction on the bike path.  It took us 45 minutes to go the 4 miles to the race, and we OBVIOUSLY missed the swim, so we just splashed around in Lake Erie for a few and then headed to packet pickup.  After that, we dropped Death Star off for her weekend at sleepaway camp, and split a burger for lunch from a food truck on site because we were DYYYYING by that point and just needed something… anything.  We made the journey back to the hotel, which involved walking about 2 miles and then picking up a bikeshare and riding that 2 miles back with my husband on his tri bike (since he couldn’t drop it off until the next day).  It was suuuuuper fun hauling ass and huffing and puffing my way up the bridge while my husband was taunting me about averaging 17 watts.

By that point we were back on the verge of hangry, and after perusing the area, settled on an Irish Pub for pre-race food.  I had a salad, and then this amazingly decadent meatloaf filled with bacon and gouda.  I would have felt guilty about eating the entire enormous brick of it, but I knew what I had done today and what I was about to go do tomorrow, and did not feel bad in the slightest.  We stopped by Heiman’s, a pretty fancy grocery store, and got some breakfast for the morning and snacks and random essentials, and then headed back to the room to prep all the things and relax.

Then the wedding DJ started in.  Our room opened to this beautiful arcade, which was awesome.  However, they host events there every weekend.  The rooms were these old converted offices from the old Arcade, so they were super substantial, but even through two heavy doors, I could hear the *thump thump* of the wedding DJ until 11pm when it ended.  I did not sleep well the night before the race, for various reasons, and that being one.

4:30am came super early, but I’ve got this pre-race thing down to a science, and this morning was no different.  Caff beans. Tea. Sunbutter honey english muffin.  Bathroom and contacts.  Quick appointment with the foam roller.  One more bathroom.  Kit up and go.  The shuttle situation was REALLY convenient, it took about 20 minutes from hotel to race site, and I was in transition setting up before I knew it. 

I had decided to do a really dumb thing and wear my new kit (just took the tags off) on race day since it was rushed to me.  Do as I say, not as I do… but honestly, I justified it because this race was for funsies and I just wanted to wear my new and shiny, damn the conseqences.  I got nervous about it while I was lying awake in bed the night before and I packed a backup kit just in case. 

Well, I’m super glad I did, because as I zipped it back up after using the porta potty, the zipper failed in the same spot it did on the last one.  I was SUPER frustrated, and I chided myself for being too effing fat for the kit (which, I’m not… my measurements put me one size DOWN).  This started a cascade of all the negative bullshit in my head.  My specially cultivated calm, confident, and slightly egotistical race day persona went right the hell out the window to “what the hell are you doing here, fatty mc fatterson?”.

I changed and tried to clear my head and headed down to the race start about a 10 minute walk away.  However, my head was too clear, and I left my swim cap, goggles, and earplugs in my morning bag, which I had in the bag I had checked.  We walked alllll the way there and back, and I had to run to join my wave and missed the warmup swim.  Oh well, it was consistent with the shit show the morning had become.  Oddly enough, I traded stories about popped zippers with the girl next to me (her wetsuit, my kit, I hoped it made her feel better), and then it was 3, 2, 1… GO TIME!

Hey, look at me, almost the only idiot in Lake Erie without a wetsuit! 😛

Swim:

Lake. Erie.  All the fun of an ocean swim without the salt water.  It had looked deceptively calm in the early morning, but as we headed out, the waves and current picked up.  I cursed myself for not bringing my wetsuit.  It took up a bunch of room in my suitcase, last water temperature reported before I left was NOT legal, and I rarely use it, so I just left it home,  However, some extra buoyancy would have been REALLY REALLY nice in the chop.  I swallowed a crap ton of lake, once even choking on it to the point of ALMOST hurling in the water.  I took a few seconds to breast stroke while I hacked and coughed and then got going again, albiet slower as I continued to try not to yak.

Then we hit the turn buoy and I was fairly impressed with my time at the moment, thinking I was swimming against the current and would have an easier time from then on.  I turned and found that was not the case.  The next 12 minutes felt like the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the knights run at the castle and it never gets any closer.  The chop often was above the buoy when I’d try to sight.  I almost ran into some boats and had to stop and ask which way to go (I wasn’t far off course, thankfully they were just very tight in directing us).   The swim back was a little faster but I was TIRED from fighting that current and by the time I got to shore I was very frustrated with the swim in general and especially the time it took.

Swim time: 44:06.  My garmin registered 2052 yards which means it was about 400m long.  Some of this might be sighting but I’m confident most of it was not, I stayed on the right path fairly well.  Still, I’d be at least mildly disappointed by this time for a 70.3 swim (which was actually only about three pool lengths longer than this…), so I’ve gotta hope Cozumel is a little less rough.  Or I’m a little better.  Or both.

T1:

I had been thinking “say something nice to Zliten, say something nice to Zliten” the whole way in, and what came out of my mouth was something like “don’t let me fucking forget my wetsuit ever again, that was bullshit”.  Oops.  Transition was a long run but it gave me time to check my head and realize I was about to start my best sport and I was going to be happy about it. 

On the way out, I shouted again to Zliten, “Yay, I get to ride my bike now!” and took off on Death Star to try and catch someone in my age group, as I was fairly convinced I was in last place at that point.  The truth is, I wasn’t quite, there were three people in my age group that took over an hour to complete the swim, and I heard accounts of people (who had legit qualified for the National Championships here, not newbies) getting towed in by kayak or even just making it to shore and handing in their chip for the day after completing the swim.  Regardless, I certainly wasn’t in the normal position I’d be in at this point and I was looking forward to chasing people down on the bike.

T1 time: 5:01.  Honestly, my garmin clocked the transition at almost a third of a mile.  I’m okay with five minutes for that length.

Smiles because I did. not. drown.

Bike:

I ate my gel and I worked the pedals and my speed was just NOT coming up for the level of effort I was putting out.  I was wondering if something was wrong… and then I realized it wasn’t me, it was the weather.  Headwind.  Cool.  17 mph into that isn’t too bad.  I went up and down the hills at the beginning and then got onto a freeway (cool!) and then made my way onto a crazy narrow single lane interchange thing that was super bumpy (scary!) and was relived when we headed into a neighborhood onto better roads.

My speed came up and my legs got under me, and I hit the turn around seeing about 18 mph on the garmin.  Ok, I could deal with that when I knew I had some help on the way back.  I just got to work and ate some blocks and passed everyone I could.  My bike was still doing the delayed shifting thing it has been lately but besides that everything felt nice and smooth and I just kept working my average up until I crossed the line.

The most obvious thing I learned on the bike ride?  If I leave my top tube straw out, instead of tucking it in after each sip, I will drink much more liquid over the course of a bike ride.  If nothing else, this race has taught me that. *captain obvious salute*

Bike time: 1:19:15 (18.9 mph).  Honestly, I paced the thing more like a 70.3 (155W/172W normalized @ 158 BMP AVG HR), because that’s what I’m practicing for right now.  The other “gear” I have is to race a sprint, and I knew going out like that would be a bad idea.  I’d love to race more Olympics and nail what that 25 mile race effort feels like, but for now, I’ll just be happy with that.

T2:

Again violating the “nothing new on race day”, I was feeling incredibly protective of my feet and doing everything I could to avoid blisters.  Even though I knew it would cost me time, I ditched the quick laces for regular ones.  Also, I left my socks OFF for the bike ride, and set them in my run shoes covered in powder so they’d be dry.  I can report that I got ZERO blisters on my feet during the two days of racing so it was worth it.

T2 time: 3:27. Big transition was big.

This is what a happy runner en route to the finish line looks like!

Run:

I got out and my legs felt pretty darn decent.  And then they sent us directly up a big hill.  D’oh!  I knew I only had to contend with it twice so I charged up the best I could without burning too many matches, and picked up my pace once it evened out.  I realized that my legs were definitely carrying me at a Olympic run PR at this point, but feeling like they had a lot more in them.  My options at this point were to pick up the pace or to cruise a bit, and considering I am inexperienced at this distance and also was racing the next day, I kind of cruised. 

All the lifting this year, and following my mountain goat husband up hills with less complaining has made me a better hill runner this year, apparently.  Everyone was complaining about the hills and I managed them just fine.  There was that first one, and then a short steep-ish one around mile 2, and the third, which I called optional hill because you went off the path simply just to go down and back up a steep hill.  Race directors are mean. 

There was no walking today, besides a few steps at one crowded aid station to get some water down.  I kept my pace fairly even – 9:45s to 10:15s (with a speedier 9:30 for my last mile).  Even though I didn’t feel like I needed it, I ate a gel halfway though just like I planned.  I finished feeling like I had a lot left in the tank, at least one more of the 3 mile loops, without needing to slow down.  For an Olympic run PR, I’ll totally take it!

Run time: 1:00:09 (9:42 average pace).  First sub-10 minute mile Olympic run!  I’m stoked!  And it wasn’t even all out racing.  I’m excited to see what I can do for my half ironman races this year if this is any indication of where my run fitness is…

Overall time: 3:11:58. 138/162 AG.  So close to those top 18 slots that qualify for worlds, hahaha!

I’d say overall, I put about 80-85% into this race, but besides the pre-race BS and the fallacious swim, I had a total blast on this course and couldn’t wait to race it again the next day.  After some food.  And sleep.

Dear self, medals are not food.

After wandering aimlessly for a bit, I picked up my bag and changed into clothes.  We waited around for a while hanging out with friends and then when transition opened, I moved my bike to the place it was supposed to be for the next day.  For our commute, we walked two miles to get to the city bikes, and then rode them back to the hotel.  Next on the agenda was to get cleaned up and food in my face to fuel tomorrow’s race!

Part two coming soon…

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