I’ve been hesitating writing this one, and almost convinced myself to just copy my social media posts over here and phone it in, but I do look back at this stuff for posterity, so rock and roll, let’s do this.
The week of the race was probably one of the most hellaciously hectic – not just the “to do” list, but I had to be ON a lot with filming, live streaming, and other things going on in work and life. The problem for me sometimes is not being ON (I live for that stuff), but turning OFF after. On the week where sleep matters A LOT, I spent a lot of nights awake thinking all the things, which is SO abnormal for me.
Thankfully, I had the headspace to take a little time off work Friday and arrive in Waco in the late afternoon (versus Saturday like we had originally planned), and all went smoothly with the trip up. Once I got to athlete check in and did all the pre-race things, this is what I had to say:
I’ve been fretting all day, all week, heck, all month about various and sundry things both related and not related to this race. At one point, I questioned, is this what ACTUALLY losing your mind feels like? Are THEY going to find out and whisk me away to the funny farm?
After the comedy of errors which was this week, I hoped I hadn’t spent all the mental energy I had left for the race. My cup of give-a-crap hath runneth dry mid-race before, and folks, it’s not pretty. On the drive up, thankfully, things pivoted. I enjoyed conversation and actually peeping that big, beautiful, bright ball in the sky. Oh sun, I have missed you so. Never stray for so long.
When I saw the finish line today, that familiar arch, I smiled. The spark is still there. I’m pretty certain there’s still some poetry left. Forget all that fast flowing freeeezing water with debris we’re supposed to be swimming in. Never mind that race day is twenty degrees warmer than yesterday. I’m ready to do battle on Sunday, once more, with feeling, with whatever course the race director lays out before us.
And, of course, I’m enjoying the opportunity to eat all the things. That is partially why we endure, to order something from the BBQ truck called The Terminator guilt free, right? ?
It was a bit of a brave face at the time, I will admit – but I was there, I was going to race whatever course was deemed appropriate, and that was that. I don’t back down. I’m not a quitter, even if the notion flits through my mind occasionally.
I got the best night of sleep all week in the camper, and woke the next day naturally to do the rest of the race prep things. We went on a test ride, dropped off our bikes, attended a race briefing to find the swim cancelled (about 10% boo since I’ve been swimming well lately, and 90% yay because that water looked VERY UNSAFE). The only thing I botched a little was that I ate my lunch (turkey bacon guac bagel sandwich) around 4pm instead of at a reasonable hour, but followed up with dinner (chicken, potatoes, and some veggies and hummus) quickly and the calories got in as they were supposed to. I snacked a little more than normal and was probably about 2200-2500 calories, which is a lot more that I’d take in on a rest day, but a nice surplus to start the race in the morning.
I ended the day with this thought:
While I adore fine food and drink, being pampered, and penthouse views, there’s nothing quite so peaceful as waking up in the camper. Even if the situation at hand involves all the mosquitoes, one shower for the whole camp, and the illustrious “pee bucket”, being outdoors stills my soul. Best night of sleep and the most relaxed I’ve felt all week. I’m feeling the proper amount of nerv-cited butterflies fluttering around inside.
I haven’t been able to visualize this one yet. Cozumel, I pictured it clearly months in advance. This race has remained hazy. Of course I have a race plan, I just haven’t really been able to transport myself there mentally. Now, I’m pretty sure I know why.
A week ago, one course was set. Two days ago, it was altered to a point to point swim through rapids and obstacles, and the bike course changed as well. As of this morning, the run course has changed, and the swim was scrapped. Instead of kicking off the age group racers in the first wave of the swim at about 7:30, I’ll be hopping on my bike in the middle of the fray around 9am. That’s ok. I get to chase. I love the hunt.
While there are some minor logistical adjustments with gear and nutrition to consider, the overall plan for tomorrow is unchanged: bike with my head, run with my heart.
I slept a little fitfully that evening, but it was typical pre-race. Luckily, with the swim cancelled, we did not have an early wakeup call, and rolled into transition around 7am, with plenty of time before the race to get set up. I had my “Courage and Confidence” playlist on repeat, and actually didn’t take my headphones off until about 5 minutes before we queued up (around 8:40am). It was nice to hide and listen to Willy Wonka about 6379 times.
At first, the bike course was incredibly narrow and crowded and that made me a little cranky, but I figured it was the best they could do with the situation at hand. I wasn’t going to do unsafe things to keep my power or speed up, so I knew early on that the bike wasn’t where I was going to kill it this race. The idea of staying draft legal (6 bike lengths) in this situation was laughable – it was just impossible. I did my best to not hide behind anyone for too long but I’ll admit that there was no way I was technically legal for at least the first quarter of the race.
Once it got clearer, I found that I was maintaining the 150W average I wanted to (though the plan wasn’t to find it so early) with absolutely no effort, so I went with it. I also found that I LOVED this bike course. It had enough elevation changes to keep my legs fresher than Cozumel without any killer climbs – lots of rollers – which I just adore. While other people complained about the chipseal on the country roads, to me, it just felt like home, like riding out at Pflugerville or Kerrville.
About mile 40, I felt some deep fatigue/minor cramping in my lower back and inner thighs. I’m frustrated about this, I don’t know why this has happened in both my races when my training rides were pretty spectacular. In practice, I took less salt and nutrition in wayyyyy hotter conditions and my rides went by in a blink of the eye. My power dropped steadily but I stuck with the pace. I’m proud that I rode REALLY evenly – I stayed between 18-18.7 mph the entire time. My goal was to push the last hour to try to come in under 3 hours, but with the threat of cramping looming fiercely, I played it a little more conservative.
Bike time: 3:06:03. I would have been about 3:04 and change, but I had to stop and pee early on and that took about 90 seconds. This is right about what I did at Coz time-wise and power average, but I enjoyed this course MUCH more and smiled through it instead of being angry (first at others, then at myself) the whole time.
The chute was crowded and muddy, and everyone in front of me was walking their bikes so I did too. My legs just didn’t have it in them to run through the mud in my bike shoes (read: still on the edge of cramping). I sat to put on my shoes and talked to people next to me. I could have been a little more expedient, but I honestly just didn’t care right about then. Once I got up, running felt okay so I did that, heading out under the arch, wondering what the run would hold.
Transition time: 5:29. Meh. I’m not impressed with this but I can’t hate myself for it either.
My legs felt oddly okay, so I just tried to pace myself at that 10-something minute mile and hoped for the best. Quickly, I knew it wasn’t going to be my day. I had followed my nutrition plan exactly on the bike (2xcaff gels, 1 pack of spearmint blocks, 4 salt pills, 2 303s after I started cramping, and probably about 3 bottles of gatorade). However, within the first mile of the run, I started feeling AWFUL. Overfull. Nauseous. I tried to hold it together, sometimes that fixes itself, but I walked the first aid station and could only take in water. Not a good start.
Then, I saw Zliten, and he had one communication for me as we crossed paths, “No shame in walking the hill” and then “oh yeah, love you!”. Then, when I got to the hill, just the bottom looking up, I shouted, “OH HELL NAW!”. In that moment, the switch in my head flipped from “shooting for a PR” to “maybe let’s survive this and resist the urge to turn in my chip at each aid station I pass”. While I will give the Cameron Park area props for being BEAUTIFUL, it was so hilly. They rerouted part of the run there, which added extra elevation, and not just a little bit, the kind of hills you maintain running heart rate walking up at 18 minute mile pace and bust up your quads running down.
I’ll be honest, I sulked a lot of the first lap and walked a lot (I ran the downhills- that’s about it – not even the flats after mile 2), while also visiting at least five different porta potties to try and take care of business out of one end or the other, and figure out how to make my revolting digestive system feel better. I could not even fathom eating anything solid (I took ZERO gels or blocks in over the course of the run), but after a while I found I tolerated gatorade and the coke was actually settling my stomach, so I stuck with that so I could at least get SOME calories in.
Finally, I got my shit together on the second lap. I stopped hitting the porta potty at every aid station even though I still felt like I could use it the whole race. I figured whatever happened, happened, I was beyond giving a flying fig. I established a 100 step run/100 step walk cycle, except at aid stations and the hills (which I walked). Once I finished up the stupid hilly section (which I said goodbye forever to – because I don’t think I plan to do this race again), I started pushing myself to increase my run cycles to 200, then 300, then 400. I had entirely lost my internal monologue and I had a few people call me out and ask me what the heck I was counting. Oops. At least I was mostly passing people by that point.
My last three miles were 12:10 (a fair amount of walking), 11:24 (just a little walking), and 10:17 (I think I walked once for 100 steps), so my RUNNING was on point, I just couldn’t keep it up for that long.
Once I realized that I was close to a 3 hour run, I wasn’t willing to let that time tick over. I’ve only run over 3 hours in a half Ironman once and it was in 2013, after being injured and having a 5 week cycle to go from being unable to walk to racing hot and hilly BSLT 70.3. Surely, I could do better than that during the best season of my life.
Run time: 2:58:37. Spoilers: I beat it. But it took a pretty good physical and mental push at the end to overcome the fuckery of the rest of the run. I’m happy I was finally able to latch onto a goal and conquer it, but gosh, it came so late in the day. A few days out, I feel less content with this than I did after the race. I think on Sunday I was just happy to be done, both with the race and the season, but now I have a different perspective. Now, my sentiments about the run go something more like “fuck that race, fuck that course, fuck my stupid malfunctioning body, fuck my weak ass brain, fuck that day in particular”. If I raced with my heart, it was kind of like this. I could have been in a better situation, but I also could have handled my cards I was dealt a little better, especially in the first lap.
Total time: 6:10:09. Nowhere near the 5:30 I was hoping to beat, which was kind of unrealistic with that stupid run course, but I could have gotten closer if I tried a little harder and gave up a little less at some points.
My face at the finish. Big difference in how I felt at the finish line vs Cozumel.
Lest you think I am hating everything about the race, let me talk about the awesome parts. As I said, I was a pretty big fan of the bike course. I got to camp, which is always a bonus! We raced with a billion people we knew, both on Bicycle Sport Shop team and also Wattage Brigade. The town came out in force to support us. I’m so happy they made the call to cancel the swim early, versus having us out in transition at 5am lugging gear and wetsuits, wondering if it would happen. It was a well done race for an inaugural one. It just wasn’t my race, and it probably will never be with that ridiculous run, and that’s totally okay.
My heart goes to the long stuff. I love the training. Somehow it feels more epic and heroic to come into the finish line 6 hours later instead of under 60 minutes. I love the idea at someday being able to podium here like I can at sprints, but my head now knows its unrealistic without a BIG change in my strength, my weight, and my brain. While that’s a bit of a downer, it’s also enough to already make me hungry to tear shit up next season.
That is, after a NICE long winters nap where the only requirements on the schedule is lifting heavy shit a few times a week. Ah, offseason. I am here, finally. Embrace me with your arms of blissful recovery!