The horn goes off and in a flash my race mode is on. Everything else this morning disappears. I hit start on my Garmin and run in. As soon as the water is just below my knees I dive and start swimming. People are trudging next to me. I wish they would start swimming too! Shortly a sand bar comes up and my fingers scrape the sand so I get up and run/walk/trudge until the water is back at my knees and dive back in. I swim from there on.
The swim is in the Gulf of Mexico. My first salt water swim. We swim in a triangle: out at a 60 degree angle or so to a buoy, turn left, and then go straight. At the last buoy we turn left again and head in at another 60 degree angle to a big buoy/group on the beach. People are jostling me almost all the way – arms flailing, feet kicking. I even take a foot near my face. But my goggles stayed on and I kept my rhythm. About 1/3 of the way in to the swim a realization hits me. I am having fun. I am really enjoying the swim. For all the slaps, kicks, sighting: everything that can mess up a swim, I am having fun. And my form…it’s better. And I have a rhythm. And…holy cow! This realization makes me increase my efforts and keep pushing forward. I feel great.
Soon I round the last buoy and am coming in. As I near the shore I swim until my hands hit the sand again. I see people starting to run but I think “Hell no. They are putting in so much effort, and me…my heart rate is low and the waves are pushing me in and I am moving the same pace. What are they thinking? Swim!”
Soon I am on the beach and taking off my wetsuit as I scramble to the ramp to T1. I hear cheering from my friends, teammates, coach…you name it….and I see them in the corner of my eye but it doesn’t register. I recognize the voices and smile.
As I scramble up my wetsuit is hard to remove from my arms (stuck on my Garmin…which hasn’t happened before). No problem – it’s a long run and I quickly work it off and am passing people as I hurry to transition. I get to transition area and Yea! Wetsuit strippers. I run up and two gentlemen pull my wetsuit off. I hop up, they toss me my suit and I run to my bike. First row, far left.
I know not to think – just do. I toss my swim gear and put on my shoes, sunglasses, helmet. My water bottles always get stuck with the bar racks, and so I love that the racks here are the boxes on the ground. I grab my bike and go. I have to run the entire length of transition. And the HITS series places you alphabetically, not by age group so others in my age group who are racing me may not have to run all of transition in bike shoes. I don’t leave my shoes on my bike for T1. It is something I may decide to learn, but I have also seen many people messing this up and losing all time gains and more. So for now, I am good with putting my shoes on in transition. I hold my bike and steer it with one hand and run towards bike out. Soon I am mounting my bike.
Once on my bike I decide to spin at a high cadence, low gear for the first 3 miles. I feel good. I take in some water to wash my mouth and get rid of the salt taste. I spit it out and soon take a couple of real sips. I watch my power from the get-go. I want to stay between 155 and 165 watts. If someone passes me, I need to stay there. I am racing my race. And I will make bigger gains by being strong on the run than wasting my legs exceeding where I need to be.
Soon I am shifting my gears up and taking my cadence down to 90 for the ride. I keep my power steady, and am passing people.
The police were amazing – at least 4, if not more, at every intersection. We pass through a few very large intersections and they keep us safe. It really was the most police I have ever seen at a race. I was stunned, and thrilled. But I also remained alert at each intersection, thanking the officers as I go by.
Often when I pass people I note their riding style. I notice a lot of wasted energy in heads bobbing and hips shifting. It makes me keep focus on maintaining steady cadence and solid core. I know my body moves like that only when I get really tired. My goal was to keep my body strong.
I keep a watch on power and nutrition. It seems a bit hard going out. I am averaging about 20 mph. I keep it moving. About mile 24 I realize I have to go to the bathroom. And then here I realize the power of being competitive and near the front: I didn’t want to stop. I ended up never stopping – not even on the run. Some how I forgot about that feeling and was able to ride and run!
About mile 16 or so we were on a more rural stretch and so not as many officers, and they weren’t necessary. It was pretty quiet out there.
Soon we were out at 28 miles and the turn around point. Time to head in! Time flew by. Soon after I turned around I noticed my effort was a lot easier. Tailwind! I kept an eye on my power and decided to use the tailwind to my advantage, and not slack off my power. I was very grateful to have a gauge right there in front of me. I also realized that if I realized this, those behind me will, and I had better not slack off!
After the first turn on the way back, a woman passed me. I passed her again within about 10 minutes and I never saw her again. I kept a steady, strong pace. At the next turn, which was a left, I was on the right side and we had to come up along cars which were stopped. I was tense and a bit nervous. There was an officer about 30 yards up from the intersection and he told me “You have a dedicated lane on the left side, head over there” and so I had to navigate over three lanes of stopped cars. That was a bit hairy, but they really kept an eye out for the riders, and it went off easily and without a hitch. Once in the left lane I approached the intersection and made my left turn, thanking the officers. I was stunned. And glad it was over. There was only one or two more right hand turns until I was back.
For most of the return back I was riding alone and couldn’t see riders ahead of me. It was a small race! The course was well marked. And as I neared each intersection I would sit up so the police would see me better. A couple of times I did verify that I went straight. It was very strange riding without seeing anyone ahead of me.
Traffic was much heavier as I neared Naples on the return trip than on the way out. Makes sense – it’s later and more people are out. A couple of times I had to ride up along the right next to cars stopped at an intersection. I was alert, but kept going forward knowing the police were there, and to get to the intersection I had to continue along on the right next to cars.
As I approached one of the last intersections an officer let a group of cyclists through so all of a sudden I had a group of recreational cyclists (not going as fast as me) in front of me. I went along side of them and luckily before there were any cars next to us, they went over in to a right hand turn lane and were gone.
And soon I saw transition coming up. I get my feet out of my shoes and get ready for my dismount. As I come in I hear people I know – Carlos, Mary….I am not sure where but I hear them. I smile and run in to transition. I feel fantastic!
I run in and back to my transition zone and rack my bike. I have learned – no need to be neat, just get it done. I throw on my race number, socks, shoes, grab a few items and my hat and head off. I see, in the corner of my eye, Susan there by the exit and where I am racked. I smile and head out.
I head out and put my salt in my back pocket, pull out my sunscreen and rub it in to my shoulders as I run. I have been burned before and it drains me. No thank you on that! I didn’t take the water they offer at the start and hoped that wasn’t a mistake.
I take two turns and see, much to my delight, my team doing a short run before their race tomorrow! I holler at them that they look fabulous and receive a round of cheers and encouragement as I run out. I cannot think of a possible better send off for a 13.1 mile run.
It is an out and back course. There isn’t much shade, and there are water stops about every 1.5 – 2 miles. I walk about 5-8 seconds at each to take on fluid. No coke on the way out so I alternate water and heed. I start to see a very few people coming back in once I am over a mile out.
Soon I am at the turn around. I feel pretty strong, and am elated. I apply more sunscreen as I run. I keep it up – pushing along. I see Kevin and think – gotta keep up my pace. I start to feel like I want to throw up. Ugh. It’s hot, and we are in the sun. At the next water stop they have coke out. Hooray! I take it and soon burp and am feeling right as rain. No more thoughts of nausea, just running strong. I see Lauren on her way out and cheer her on. Many women and I exchange nods and “You look great” or “Go girl” on the course. It is something that I really appreciate and enjoy on a race course. I also get a few words of encouragement from some of them men on the course. And one tells me I am the 5th woman. Great information. I need to make more of it in my next race!
I am starting to feel a bit tired. My pace did slow over the run, but I never felt defeated or off. I felt strong. So – more work on the run, but I did hit my over-arching goal of running strong throughout. Part II will be running more consistently (keeping that first pace for the entire run).
In the last 1.5 miles a woman passes me. At this point I am strong, but don’t keep up. She isn’t flying past me so this had been the work of many miles. Another goal – next time I know I can dig deep and fight back for position! This really is a learning process for me.
Soon I am taking the last two turns. The Ironteam is just before the last turn, cheering like crazy. I smile and start to up my pace and run stronger. Their cheers launch me in to the finish with a big smile and strong run. I finish and am winded and spent and proud. I look at my Garmin – 5:00:50. Holy cow!
Never, in my wildest dreams, had I imagined a half like that. Never. Mary comes over from where they were cheering and hugs me. Carlos hugs me. I am thrilled and stunned. And tired. I can’t remember everyone who came over to the finish to walk with me back to where our team was but…I was honored.
I am taking it all in. I head over to where everyone was cheering. I am still trying to register everything. My teammates hug and congratulate me: Rachel, Jane, Danielle, Lauren, Susan, John. Robert and Kristin and others come over to where we are cheering and congratulate me. And I am trying to remember to stretch. Lauren and Danielle offer to get me something from the store – chocolate milk please? When they come back I can say that it was the best tasting chocolate milk ever! Thank you! I am coming back, and we are waiting for Chad, Kevin and Lauren. I feel…stunned. Carlos stays with me, letting me stretch, wander, and cheer and talk with my teammates. Michael comes over and congratulates me on a race well raced. I wish him a happy birthday and thank him.
Eventually I take an icebath, shower, and head back for the awards ceremony. It is there I find out my official time is 5:00:53 and that I had won my age group! I also realize I really was 6th female overall. And I learn that second place in my age group was 50 minutes behind me! Woo hoo! I was closer to the front than the middle.
Not much time to sit around – time to be sure I work on nutrition and resting up for tomorrow. I have one more race to run this weekend!
Half Iron Distance Results (per the HITS results site, which differs slightly from Garmin time)
Swim: 32:20 (T mat was at up above the run where the bikes were – so ~ 1 minute run from beach to transition) Garmin swim time was 31:05
Bike: 2:33:33 (~21.8 mph)
Run: 1:52:18 (8:34 mile average pace)