Thursday, June 22, 2017

My first Gaps ride - a lesson in anxiety

This past weekend I went on one of the toughest bike rides I have done yet. For the first time, I got out to what is referred to as "The Gaps" which is a series of six climbs or "Gaps" in the mountains in North Georgia. Going into the weekend, I really didn't know anything about the Gaps besides that it was a super challenging place to go ride your bike up and down mountains - and, in my mind, it felt like you weren't a real triathlete or cyclists in the area unless you have ridden the Gaps. I've seen SO many pictures and stories of people riding the Gaps and I really wanted to be a part of it and experience it for myself.

I had to miss the last group ride that my training group did so this past weekend was my first time going. Despite the fact that I don't have any real goal triathlons on my schedule for the year, one of my goals for the season is to continue to get stronger on the bike. I want to become a better cyclist and keep trying new things, pushing myself, and getting stronger and faster on the bike. I was excited for the group ride to the Gaps and looking forward to my first time attempting this ride. I had gotten my first taste of riding in the mountains when I did one climb during the 3 State 3 Mountain bike ride in May, which was tough, but doable. I expected similar going to the Gaps.

In TrainingPeaks, where my coach gives me my workouts, for Saturday he had just written "Bike at Gaps" and that was really it. I knew from talking to others that some people had 4:00 hours of riding planned vs. 5:00 hours or 6:00 hours. Because of this, I assumed that it would be similar to any of our group bike rides and there would be options of how far I could go or how many Gaps to ride. I figured I would just figure it out depending on how I was feeling. I really had no idea what to expect.

Going into the ride, I was looking forward to it and mostly was nervous about the logistics of getting out there and back, which took my mind off of worrying about what exactly would happen at the ride in the days leading up to it. Maybe there was a bit of naiveness in me as well. I just wanted to be doing what everyone else was doing and was just excited to get out there and give this Gaps thing a go. So I didn't mental prep much.

The night before as I started to pack my bag and plan out the day, I started to realize how unprepared I was. I talked to my coach and spoke with a few friends but I didn't really articulate well what I was thinking or ask the right questions. But then I couldn't fall asleep feeling uneasy and anxious about the whole thing.

I drove up to the Gaps with my coach and two other athletes that he trained who are both doing Ironman Lake Placid. They have all been doing a lot of climbing in preparation and I knew had all ridden at the Gaps recently. It was early super early while we were in the car and my nerves were still with me, but I wasn't in major freakout mode or anything. Based on our conversation in the car, I still had in my head that I would be able to choose how far or how long I would be able to ride - and then I could hang out for a while as others finished longer rides! I also knew that my coach likes to stay with the newer people and had heard only the best things about the support he gave others their first times riding at the Gaps. I sort of figured that I would be with him or nearby to him throughout the day to be able to ask questions. And due to our how group usually does rides in general, I assumed we'd all be together.

We got up to the meeting point and all started gathering our gear together and getting ready. It seemed like it was going to be a beautiful day and it was a bit chilly when we arrived which is great when you are about to start a long bike ride. Jerome knew that I wanted to document my first Gaps ride and we'd even stopped to take a picture, I was feeling nervous but not really anxious.




For me, anxious and nervous are different things. I have struggled with anxiety my whole life. I remember being a little kid and feeling anxious and not knowing what it was and being afraid to tell anyone - I was anxious about being anxious even! Throughout college and the years after college, I struggled with anxiety and panic attacks. My worst ever panic attack took place a few years after college on my birthday that actually ended with me leaving work in an ambulance. It was awful and I was out of work for a week with anxiety unable to leave the house. I spent many years on medication for my anxiety and it's been something that I continue to work through as an adult.

I react differently to anxiety vs. nerves. If, for example, I am nervous about a big presentation for work - I will seek out advice and guidance and practice and prep. Whereas if I am feeling anxious - it hits me physically and I am more apt to retreat, withdraw, become really quiet, and cry.

In recent years I have become much better about managing my anxiety and honestly, sports have been a huge part of that. I do not have panic attacks in the same way, I no longer take medication for anxiety, I have become so much better at managing it and working through anxiety when it comes along but sometimes it is still a struggle.

So return to the bike ride. As we arrived at the ride, I was feeling nervous with a mix of a little bit of anxiety, which probably caused me to be quieter than I usually am. In hindsight, I also realize how much I didn't even know to ask. I could have used the car ride to ask things that would have made my day go by differently but I didn't even know the questions to ask.

Part of me also did not want to be too needy. I was riding up with two people who were doing Lake Placid, who this training ride was for! I felt like I was very much tagging along. My big triathlon race is past, so I felt like I needed to give other people their time to get support and coaching and just be quiet.

When we were all ready to head out, we got together to have the route explained a bit. Not knowing what any of the Gaps were named or what they meant, the overview of where we would be riding did not mean much to me. I had no idea the names or distances or levels of intensity of each of these so it began to overwhelm me a bit as we walked through what we'd be doing.

It also hit me that we were all going to be riding the same thing - there were no options for shorter rides and we'd all be going the same route! My anxiety definitely started to creep up a bit more because I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. How long, how far. I knew nothing. Just that we were doing 5 Gaps and I didn't even know what that meant.

I had planned to stick together on the ride with my friend Lauren who I have a lot of fun with and our paces are around the same. We also have similar mindsets around a lot of things and I was really thankful that she had suggested we ride together, even though she is stronger than me on climbs.

The first of the climbs was pretty uneventful. Lauren and I stuck together and for a portion of it were with a few other girls we ride with, which made it fun, and I got to the top feeling pretty good.  Lauren got ahead of me on the climb as expected but then I caught her on the downhill. The descent didn't bother me at all either, I enjoyed it, but was careful to brake and take the turns very easy. When we got to the bottom, I said to Lauren that I didn't think it was too bad and asked if all of them were like that. She said no. Definitely not.


Our next climb was a bit more challenging, made more difficult by the fact that for a portion of it we were unsure of where we were going. I am so used to riding marked routes and places familiar to me, so the idea of getting lost hasn't been a big concern of mine recently. Our group usually rides by looping back at different points so I am very rarely alone on the bike. However, for a large stretch, Lauren and I were just by ourselves. When I heard of people riding the Gaps before, it seemed like they are usually somewhat together. I felt SO alone being out there and not seeing anyone in front or behind us. We were happy to have the fact we were going in the right direction confirmed by our coach Adam driving by in the support truck.

I was glad that we hadn't made the decision to back because we were already started up the second climb. It began a bit more gradual than the first but got more intense. Some of the other riders in our group turned back, which was amazing since we hadn't seen anyone in a while. Again, Lauren got ahead of me on the climb, but then at the top the group was all waiting and we regrouped. I was thankful for the ability to pause, take a break, refill my water and Gatorade bottles, and have something to eat. I was already feeling hungry and starting to worry that I wasn't going to have enough food with me. These climbs were tiring and at this point I was 1:30 hours in but running through my nutrition. Not having any idea how we long we'd be out there, I wasn't even sure if I had brought enough.

As we made our way up the second climb, I started to lose my head a bit. How long is this climb going to last? Why are we all so spread out? How come nobody gave us better information of what the route is? How hard are these hills going to get? What do I even expect for the rest of the day? How long are we even going to be out here? If I eat through all my food right now am I going to be screwed?

I didn't socialize too much at the top of the second climb. I confided in a couple of people that I was feeling anxious but beyond that didn't talk much as I didn't want to cry. Even when my coach, Jerome, asked me how I was doing, I gave a sort of flippant answer. I knew he could tell that was not how I really felt but we also didn't really get into it.

The decent of the second Gap was really fun. I tried to take my mind off of my negative feelings by enjoying the downhill as much as possible. I let myself go fast and reached my fastest speed of the day at one point (possibly ever) hitting 40 mph on the bike according to my watch. I knew I was getting a lead on Lauren which I felt bad about though. Once the descent leveled out, I tried to slow down to let Lauren catch and I considered stopping.  However, it turned out to not be too long before I was climbing our 3rd Gap and I was going slow NOT on purpose. 

Lauren and others passed me on the uphill of the 3rd Gap, which I later learned is called Unicoi. The first was Wolf Pen and the second was Jack's Gap. While climbing, my frustration around my lack of knowledge of how long the climbs would be started to build and build. It was tough, people were passing me, and I had no idea how long it was going to last. The unknown of the whole thing made me feel very anxious and I started to cry.

I do much better when I have a plan. I like to know what to expect as much as possible in life, but also in this sport, because it is something that I tend to feel very unconfident in. So being prepared makes me feel better. I did the same Half Ironman a 2nd time specifically so that I would know what to expect. I study course maps for major races and write myself mental notes of where the hills or tough stretches are going to be so I know how to pace and plan.

Knowing what to expect helps me to mentally talk myself through the tough parts. I plan out what my mantras will be and break up the course into pieces by chunks of time or distance. Even when I don't know an exact route, everything I do is always with a set distance or time and I am able to use that as a way to self talk and motivate myself. "Only 1 hour left" or "More than half way through the distance - just have to get myself home." Or I tell myself "If you can just get through this one section of hills, the rest will be fine." 

For this ride, I had no idea how to self talk my way through the really difficult climbs because I had NO IDEA. I didn't know long each of the Gaps were. I didn't know how much distance was in between them. If the next one coming would be longer or steeper than the last. I didn't know if I would be out riding my bike for 4:00 hours or 6:00 hours. I didn't know how many miles we would be covering in total or what the total elevation gain would be. I didn't know ANYTHING and this lack of knowledge was building and building my anxiety, even during the ride. Which was what led me to be crying on my bike.

A couple of the guys turned around at the top, which I appreciated when people turned back, not only for the company and support, because I knew that when I started seeing people coming back I must be somewhat close to the top.  One of them asked how I was doing and when I said I was feeling anxious because of the unknown, he replied it was good training because you don't know what you will happen on race day. But I disagreed! I do know what to expect for races! 56 miles! And they publish the elevation maps! I can prepare for that!

I felt so unprepared mentally for what was going to come. And plus, riding the Gaps was hard! It was tiring! My energy was going to keeping my legs moving, not holding back tears. I was scared for how much harder it was going to get and I had no idea how to mentally prepare myself. 

At the top of Unicoi I went up to Lauren and I started to cry again. I was embarrassed but I was just really feeling so anxious and didn't know what to do. I didn't want anyone to see me so I stuck just with her and explained how I was feeling. She was so calm and understanding, letting me know that she felt the same exact way the first time she rode here. She suggested calling over Jerome but I told her not to. I didn't want him to see me crying. I was embarrassed as well that I was breaking down as the ITL motto is "Be tough." And as I mentioned, when I feel anxious, I tend to withdraw and shut down vs. seek out help.

I worked to get myself together and then started the descent down. Again, wanting to distract myself from how I was feeling, I went fast which gave me an adrenaline boost. I just wanted to out-bike the way I was feeling. I knew when I got to the bottom that I had gotten down faster than Lauren. I was mentally in a rough spot and was retreating into my own anxiousness. I kept going, but Lauren caught up to me after a little and the first thing she said was "Man, I've been busting my butt to catch up to you. You could use the brakes on the downhill you know!" 

This made me smile and woke me up from my funk. In addition to making me laugh, she also made me realize that I was not alone. Even though I was having a rough day, she still wanted to ride with me and and was fighting to catch up with me when I wasn't being a very good friend by giving anything back in support. 

The next portion of the ride was fun and enjoyable with Lauren. Before we'd taken off from Unicoi, one of the coaches said that it would be 1:30-ish hours of rollers before the next Gap. This wasn't exactly the level of detail that I wanted, but it was something. It was still tough and we joked the rollers felt more like "mini Gaps" but we laughed and talked through it. I was so thankful to have her to ride with. There were some beautiful stretches of smooth road and it couldn't have come at a better time for me mentally.


Lauren and I stuck right together, even getting some company for a bit when one of the guys turned back for us. We rode for a bit on a stretch of busier road as well, which distracted from thinking about being tired or anxious of what was to come because I was really concentrating on being in the moment and staying safe. There were some really rude drivers out there and we got honked at multiple times by trucks and sped past by people in flashy cars flying by.

After a good amount of road that allowed me to regain myself a bit, we started the climb up the 4th Gap. Lauren got ahead of me right away and I paused towards the beginning to refill my water. Our coach Adam, who was driving around all day supporting us, was stopped and asked if I wanted any water. I did, because I was continuing to fly through all of my nutrition and liquid. He said to stop for water if I needed it because this was a "long climb." I tried to take water on the move, but couldn't, so paused to refill my water, dump some on me (it was hot at this point!) and then settled in for a climb that I now knew to be "the long one." After stopping, it took me a number of tries to get going on my bike as starting a bike ride uphill is always difficult. I was happy I could even get the momentum to get going again at all. 

Finally I was moving again and just started to climb, climb, climb. I was in a better mental state than I was up the last one, if I am being honest. Knowing at the bare minimum that it was "long" allowed me to settle into that a bit mentally. I also realized that I was strong enough to switch around the gears at some points. I didn't need to always be in my lowest gear and by using my gears more, even if just switching to the 2nd to lowest gear for a tiny bit of time when the elevation changed or when rounding a corner, it helped break things up. Lauren and another woman ride were in my far distant view so I tried to keep them there! I thought at one point in time I was making gains on them but it was never enough. I was just climbing and climbing and climbing for what felt like forever. 

This was a pretty windy stretch of road and there were a good amount of cars driving by, but even scarier were the motorcyclists who would rev their engines and scare the crap out of me as I was just riding by myself.

It felt like this thing went on forever and although I knew it was long, I was starting to get very tired of it at the end and it was really wearing on me. I was nervous I wouldn't be able to make it at some points. One other guy in our group, I did catch on the climb, as he was taking breaks every here and there. I knew I wouldn't be able to start if I stopped, so just continuing on was the only option but I was getting weary. Very weary. As I turned a couple corners and saw that there was still just more climbing, I may have cursed out loud a few times.

Eventually, I saw the most glorious sight of one of the ITL riders coming back down. One of the girls who was doing this ride for the second day in a row (!!!) had turned around at where I was and rode with me for a bit, asking how I was doing. I told her miserable and she distracted me for a bit talking about plans for the evening and telling me I was almost there. I was so thankful for her to come back right at the point where I was starting to really crack. The distraction was just what I needed to finish it off and get to the top of that thing. Right as we got over the crest, she said to me "Great job! You've done 4 of the 5, now you've got just one left!" After brief excitement of getting to the top, I was right back to thinking I had no idea how I was going to do another one!

I hung out at the top of this Gap, which I now know is called Neel's Gap and is a bit under an 8 mile climb that I think took me a little under an hour. AN HOUR. An HOUR of straight climbing. Shit. Lauren let me know she had nothing left to give for support because she was struggling too.

At this point I dove into the snacks in our support truck, eating a ton of potato chips, my second Clif bar, and also refilling water and Gatorade. We waited at the top until everyone made it up there and my coach Jerome arrived with the last person. He asked me again how I was doing and I started to cry again. I let him know I was struggling and how the unknown was getting to me. He let me know that he wished he'd known earlier because he could have let me know what the climbs would be like. He said that there was only one more left and it was just a short 3 mile climb and assured me I would be able to do it. I said I didn't know I could and he told me again that yes, I could do it.

He also did something that really means a lot to me looking back. The whole time going into this ride, I had the picture in my head I wanted to take. I had seen everyone's pictures from the Gaps and I wanted my own. Beautiful scenery. Looking accomplished and strong. Standing proudly next to my bike. I wanted that victory photo!

I was feeling not very victorious, not accomplished, or strong, but more weak and broken and tired and embarrassed at the top of Neel's. But Jerome made me go over and made me take a picture in front of the scenery. He knew it was important to me and insisted it happen. It is basically the most awkward photo of all time but I am glad that I have it and it meant so much to me that Jerome knew it was important to me, as silly as it was, and insisted it happen.



Oh, and yeah, I didn't mention that our helmet hair was pretty much out of this world. I think the sight of Jerome's helmet head mohawk made my smile a little more real in this one.


By the time we finished talking, the majority of the group had taken off, so I got directions and hopped on my bike to descend. I tried to go fast, wanting to catch up to Lauren and the group if possible, but also being careful and not reckless. I knew I was tired at this point and there were still a lot of cars and motorcycles.

When I started the last climb, I had a different mentality than the earlier ones. I knew it was the last one, which helped. And I knew that it was only 3 miles. Having that knowledge helped me SO much. It is just 3 miles, I told myself. I looked at my watch a number of times and seeing the progress and telling myself how little I had left helped me to keep pushing. I enjoyed the waterfalls and trees and scenery around me because it really was beautiful and I was tempted to stop and take another picture. However my desire to be done beat out my desire for a photo. This last Gap was called Wolf Pen. Our first climb of the day had been coming up the other side of this one.

I was so thankful when I made it to the top and wanted to badly to be done. I had in my mind that I would be able to just descend and then coast from the bottom back to where we had parked but unfortunately I was a little bit off in that. It was still about 7 more miles and I was so ready for it to end. I started getting nervous that I had gone the wrong way but finally made it back. The anxiety of not knowing where I was going or what was going on stuck with me all the way until the very end of that ride.

It was a long day and I immediately climbed off my bike and collapsed on the ground when I arrived back. It was what I had been wanting to do ALL day long. I ended the ride at 71.59 miles, which is just shy of my longest bike ride distance wise ever (which is 75 miles).  It was 5:24 hours in the saddle though, which is my longest bike ride time wise by about 34 minutes. It was tough - both physically and mentally.


I don't know why the unknown gives me such anxiety. It is something that I struggle with in all areas of life. My managers know about me - if you want to guarantee I will be unproductive for hours and go totally crazy just put a meeting on my calendar with a vague subject line like "Discussion."  I will then get nothing done because I will not be able to think about anything else besides what that could mean. Dating is a struggle for me because that time in between text messages and the unknown of what someone else is thinking really makes it so I can't sleep at night. "We need to talk" messages make me feel like I can't breathe. I just struggle with uncertainty - which, I know, there is a lot of in life - not just in triathlon.

Technology in many ways is helpful because it takes away some of that unknown. For me, traffic is much more bearable when I can pull up Google Maps and see that traffic will clear up in a couple of miles versus just sitting in a long line of cars inching forward wondering "Am I going to be stuck in this for the entire rest of my trip!?!" Weather forecasts give you a pretty good idea of when a storm is going to blow through. Even when watching TV on demand on Hulu, the commercial breaks come with a little timer so that you know how much longer you have to sit through the commercials and if you have time to run to the bathroom or grab a snack. In many things, you have clarity with the duration or length of annoying things nowadays!

Saturday was a huge struggle because I did not know when the bad part was going to be over. It's not a new to me form of anxiety, but it was particularly challenging that day. It was a really good reminder for me that I need to keep working at managing this.  I think that one way that I can do that is to practice planning for the unknown. Plan to not have a plan essentially. I kept wishing that I knew more and feeling frustrated that I didn't know what the route or ride would be like and never did I just accept that I didn't know, and work through it.

I also think I can focus more on asking for help earlier versus letting the anxiety overwhelm me and retreat back. I understand that a lot of unknowns you simply can't control - if you are sick or injured you don't know how long it will be until you are better. If your flight is delayed you might not know when it will be back on track. However, this day could have been an avoided anxiety for myself had I asked for help earlier. Jerome or others could have told me the information if I had been more direct about what I needed and had I asked. I was embarrassed and not wanting to bother others and feeling like I was being a nuisance. I was stubborn.

And a final thing I can work on is mindfulness and being in the moment. Not worrying about what is to come as much and just thinking about where I was and the company I was with. Yes, for endurance sports it is really helpful to know how far you are going so that you can pace yourself. But I should have been better about staying in the moment. I will continue to work on that more in the future. At the time I couldn't get myself to focus on the positive when my anxiety had taken over, but there is always positive out there so I need to get back in the practice of managing through that.


It was a challenging day on Saturday. I think I knew I could do the ride all along, but I just felt so anxious it was so hard. I am glad I did it. I learned a lot through the ride and it was humbling to struggle with anxiety again after doing well with it for a long time. I am also so, so thankful that I have ITL in my life and a group of people who make me WANT to do these hard things! There were about 20 people riding in the mountains and Adam, one of the coaches, spent his whole weekend driving hundreds of miles around to make sure we had water, food, and were all safe on the road. I am so appreciative that I have these things available to me in my life and the coaches do all that they do for us as athletes.

Honestly, I can't wait to ride the Gaps again and have a better day. I still feel like I need to conquer it and I know that I can. I will get that victory photo!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

2017 Chattanooga Half Ironman Race Recap

When I left off writing yesterday, it was the night before my third half ironman and I went to bed to a crazy storm, unsure of what the next day would bring. Well, for those of you who don't know - the day brought awesomeness, a race I am so proud of, and an incredibly fun experience all around. However, I can't quite call it my third "70.3" but third Half Ironman, since the distance ended up being slightly less than 70.3 (69.9?)


Anyways, let's recap!

I went into this race feeling as confident as I have about any race. I knew that I had done all the things that I could and was excited to put all of my hard work of training to the test. I had a great support crew of Brick and my mom with me at the race, many people cheering me on from afar, and the entire ITL Coaching and Performance crew as a positive force between the athletes racing, coaches, and those who came up just to cheer. As I went to bed on Saturday night before the race, I was feeling very nervous about the weather and what it would mean for the day since I fell asleep to thunder and lightning. However, I woke up on Sunday morning to calmer skies.

I set my alarms to wake up a bit after 4:00 a.m. with the plan to leave the hotel at 5:00 a.m. to head over to transition. I always get super paranoid that I am going to oversleep on race day so had multiple alarms set and had made sure the night before that Brick had one set as a backup alarm as well. I slept pretty well that night, and woke up, immediately heading to the window to pull back the curtain and check the weather. When I did that - I was immediately relieved - no rain.

This year I didn't shower before my race, a tradition I am weaning myself off of, but simply put on my kit in the bathroom, first applying sunscreen and body glide everywhere. My transition gear and nutrition had been meticulously put together, labeled, and lay out the night before, so I didn't have much to do there. After getting dressed, I had breakfast and opened my laptop to review my race notes to myself one final time before heading out with Brick and my mom at 5:00 a.m.

Putting together a "plan" and race notes for myself is something I have started doing at every race since Chicago Marathon. It was the first time that I had a mental plan for mantras, things to focus on at each point in the race, when I started visualizing things, etc. and I found it incredibly helpful so I started doing it for my bigger races.  I put together a Word Document and write notes to myself based on things I want to focus on, pep talks to give myself, mantras to repeat, things that make me feel strong, and tips for getting through various portions of the race, specific to that race (whether it is turns, hills, etc.) Putting these "notes" that I write for myself and only myself into the blog is something that makes me feel a bit vulnerable because they are my inner voices and words to myself, but I share them because I like being able to look back. And in case it is helpful to anyone else! What I have put in this post is exactly word for word how I wrote it to myself, I even kept the capital letters where applicable! I review this before going to bed the night before the race and then again in the morning as I eat breakfast.



When I felt I was ready, we head out. I had all of my transition stuff and some items for the swim start in a big bag that I lugged around.  Given the forecast of rain, I had used two separate gallon backs - one holding my swim-to-bike items and one holding my bike-to-run items. I had my morning start bag that carried some body glide, Quest bar, water and Gatorade, cap and Goggles and wet suit. I also had worn some long sleeved clothing to go to the start in, but it already was pretty warm and I really didn't need it - taking it off when I arrived at transition.

I had left my phone with my mom as well as a bag of some items I would want after the race. Brick and my mom drove my car the one mile to transition where we gave some hugs and I went over to the race. As I walked in I got my body marked and then made my way to my bike. It felt tight with all of the bikes and everything was wet from the night before. The bike next to me had a grocery store bag over their handlebars and when I first walked up to my bike and bumped, a huge pool of water dumped onto the ground where I was about to set up my transition. Luckily I hadn't pulled anything out of my bags yet!

Right when I arrived at my bike, I immediately saw Tisha and Krystle, the two girls that I was planning to meet to go to the swim start together. So I was thankful for that! Krystle was pumping up Tisha's tires and as she then walked by my bike I asked if she would mind helping me with my tires. I struggle using new-to-me bike pumps and asked Krystle if she would simply just pump my tires for me - to 90 psi.  Despite having just arrived after driving to Chattanooga THAT MORNING and not having been to her bike yet to do her own tires or set up her own area, she of course said yes, which I was so thankful for. Pumping up my tires is something that makes me so anxious around race day and has been a source of stress for me the past two races I have done. I was very appreciative and planned to meet back with Krystle and Tisha after we'd all finished setting up our areas. I kept my things in my bags but opened them up to access them easily, put a towel down on the ground, nutrition in my bike, hung my helmet on my handlebars, made sure my shoes were unclipped all the way, and then practiced walking around the transition area a few times to ensure I felt comfortable with how to get from the swim in to bike out and from bike in to run out. I had a few cues for myself as to how to identify my bike, one of which was my proximity to the arch that was set up by one of the transition entrance/exits and one was the numbers painted on the ground of the parking lot that had been turned into the transition area. I was right by number 30 so knew that I could start looking at the numbers when I was entering to know exactly where I needed to be.

After setting things up I went over to where the coaches Adam and Chris were, and I was so happy to see that my coach Jerome had arrived and was there as well. I knew he was driving up that morning, so I don't even want to think what time he left in order to be there to see the start, but it was such a reassuring feeling to see him and be able to have one final pep talk before I head over with Krystle and Tisha to the swim start.


I sat by myself, sort of staying in my own thoughts and then when we arrived we used the porta potties before going to get in line. Last year, you had simply lined up based on arrival time and there was a long, organized, line snaking throughout the parking lot. This year, there wasn't such an organized line and just lots of clumps of people sitting around in groups on the ground and people continuing to walk towards the front and past all the groups. We stopped at what seemed like the back but Tisha let us know she was going to keep walking and check out what was happening ahead. In a couple minutes she was back, waving us forward, so we grabbed our things and walked further a bit to where there was a large group of ITL athletes all sitting around together on the ground!

As soon as we walked up, I ran into my friend Lauren, who explained to us what was happening - rather than having a "self seeded" start where first to get in line, is first to swim, they were changing things last minute and trying to move faster people to the front of the line. This was a little odd and a bit unnerving for all of us who had been strategically trying to scope out where we should start. Lauren and a few others had gotten up at the crack of dawn in order to arrive at the swim start as early as possible (around 4:30!) in order to be some of the first in the water at 7:00. And now they were being told they had to move back and let others in front of them. However, nobody was really patrolling or enforcing this. It was just a confusing situation.

All of our plans were adjusted a bit and we ended up just all sticking together in that one spot and had a fun time before the race kicked off. I loved that I got to see so many people that morning and it was a very calm start with everyone helping one another to put on wet suits, apply Glide, offer snacks, and consolidating our things into the morning bags.



At 6:50 the gun went off for the pro men start and 6:55 for the pro women start, but at 7:00, the Age Group start gun didn't go off. I was a little confused but also just talking with friends so didn't pay too much attention to it. The pros were in the water so I was just feeling excited and confident not thinking too much of the delayed start. I was watching the pros, trying to make sure I understood where I needed to swim and what buoys were the turn markers. Talking to Lauren and some of the others who were more nervous about the swim than I was, kept me really calm. Since I had done this race the year before, I was one of the more knowledgeable ones about various aspects of the race, which is not a position I usually find myself in, in triathlon. I always feel like such a newbie so it was good last minute confidence boost to be able to talk to others who hadn't done this course before.


A few minutes after 7, one of our teammates came over and let us know that he had just heard that they were shortening the swim. Apparently the current was moving so strong due to the rain from the night before, that the pros had a really hard time even being able to swim upstream, so they were cutting that portion out of the swim. It was confirmed when we saw boats moving around the buoys and we realized that instead of swimming upstream, we'd swim right across the river, then downstream - turning the swim from 1.2 miles to .8 miles. Everyone started to celebrate, but I was a bit disappointed that the swim was getting shortened, although I told myself, appreciative of the fact that we were even able to swim at all given the weather situation the night before! Shortly after the race officially started for the Age Groupers and we saw even the earliest swimmers having a hard time getting directly across the river and able to get around the first buoy that they had to keep on their right.

I readjusted my mindset a little bit and one of the last thoughts that went through my mind before filing down the line and getting into the water was actually a comment that someone had written on one of my Instagram posts - which was "dominate the day." Yes, I was disappointed that the race would be shorter than an official 70.3 but that's out of my control, so now time to control what I can do and dominate every aspect of the race and the day that was in front of me.

OVERALL RACE PLAN / APPROACH:
- It thunder-stormed during my first sprint triathlon. I can do this.
- It downpoured during my first half marathon. I can do this.
- Focus on the moment that I'm in and the element of the race.
- Be in the moment.
- This is what you trained for.
- Pain is temporary.
- Be tough.
- There will be highs and lows in the course, I won't feel good the whole way, but how I manage the lows will define the race.
- Trust in my training. I did the work.
- SMILE! ENJOY THE COURSE AND THE PEOPLE! HAVE FUNNNNN!!
- Enjoy every portion. Celebrate every accomplishment.
- Be confident.
- DOMINATE THE DAY


THE SWIM

Distance: ~.8 miles
Time: 16:56
Goal time: Sub-30:00
Pace: ---- 
Division rank: 6
Gender rank: 43
Overall rank: 124
Comparison to 2016 Chatt: ----
Best HIM comparison: ----

My plan / approach:
- Practice good sighting - lock eyes on a buoy and go.
- Get around the first buoy and go.
- Reach long and get the most out of each stroke. Keep my core strong.
- Don't get caught in the craziness but look for opportunities to draft.
- Should not feel difficult. Stay in control of my breathing.
- PRACTICE GOOD SIGHTING.
- Look for the big yellow buoys and three bridges to swim udner.
- Trust I can swim.
- Keep my head down and find a rhythm.
- Keep my head. Just focus on sighting. Channel how I felt at John Tanner.
- Pick up the pace in the 2nd half and kick more towards the end.

How it went:

We walked down the end of the dock, I looked for the mat that would officially start our time, which was right at the end of the dock. As we approached, I checked to make sure that Lauren was okay as she jumped into the water, jumped in myself, and started off towards the first buoy.

Immediately I just worked to get into a comfortable rhythm, locking eyes with the first buoy and driving towards it. The sky was still super gray and dark due to the big clouds so there was no sun and I was happy with my decision to wear my white pair of goggles. They have no tint to them but they are the ones that fit me the best and I never have problems with them leaking. They felt great and I felt smooth, having no problems making that first corner. It never even felt crowded at the buoy turn, I just shifted direction and found the next buoy to lock eyes on. Knowing that the swim was shortened a bit, it took some of the pressure off of this element of the race. I knew I wasn't going to beat my time from last year of 30 minutes flat, so I just wanted to feel strong and comfortable. My main goals were to practice really good sighting and not swim any extra. I wanted to keep my head down and swim without having to adjust goggles or stop to refocus my direction at all and I was able to do that really solidly.

While we were waiting in line, people had been saying that with this swim, it works in your favor to be close to the center of the river, as the current is strongest there. After I went under the first bridge, that thought flashed through my mind, but I was on the side closest to the shore and made the decision to just stick there vs. intentionally try to dart across the flow of swimmers to get on the outside. My goal with this swim was to swim as short a distance as possible and not do anything extra! I did do my best to try and catch some draft off of people but was passing people pretty continuously throughout the swim. I was under the second bridge in no time and started to see the boats that marked we were getting closer to the exit as I approached the third bridge. I could not believe how fast the swim seemed to go, as it felt like I had just started. I wasn't feeling out of breathe or that my HR was particularly high - I didn't feel like I was pushing too hard, which I did feel that way when I did the swim at the John Tanner sprint triathlon recently. I just felt comfortable and a bit shocked that it was already time to get out of the water!


That being said, as I approached the steps to climb out, I started to visualize what I needed to do in transition. Helmet on first, socks, shoes, sunglasses in my pocket, bike, go.

I approached the steps and had a bit of a slow time trying to climb out. People climbing out around me seemed to be going slow and I had to wait a moment or two before having access to the steps and I pulled myself out using the railing, since the helpers were helping other people.


When I glanced at my watch climbing out of the water, I saw 16 something and had no idea how to gauge how that was since I didn't know the distance I had swum, I knew it was nearly half my time from the year before though. Looking at my times after the fact, which I know these calculations can't really be used for much, if I assume that I swam .8 miles, that would put my pace at 1:19 per 100m.  Last year my pace averaged 1:33 per 100m for a 30 minute swim, which it was my goal to swim sub-30 this year. However, it would also be expected my pace would be faster given the distance was shortened because the current was moving quicker! I don't know the distance I swam but I am proud of my swim for the fact that I sighted GREAT, I kept my head down swimming the whole time, and I felt really strong.

T1: SWIM-TO-BIKE
Time: 3:59
Comparison to 2016 Chatt: -1:36
Best HIM comparison: -1:36

My plan / approach: 
- In and around. Down the first aisle.
- DON'T SIT.
- Helmet first.
- Sock. Shoes.
- Sunglasses.
- BIKE AND GO
- Run the outside.

Coming out of the water, I glanced at my watch and then I started to jog towards the wet suit strippers. People around me were climbing out of the water and walking as they pulled off their wetsuits, which I thought was so odd. This is a race! Why are you coming out of the water and walking?!

I knew last year my transitions were slow and wanted to improve those, so I immediately was jogging and pulling off my wet suit. I heard people shouting my name and I saw some ATC friends and the ITL group as I ran and pulled off my wet suit. I was able to get some high fives, had my wetsuit stripped by someone who has trained with ITL before, saw a few more people as I entered into the actual transition area.



I had thought I had heard, but not seen, my mom and Brick, and was hoping that it was them for their sake. I didn't know if they knew the swim was shortened so just had been hoping they'd gotten to see me. Turns out they did, so I was really happy.




Knowing the numbers of the parking spots turned out to be really helpful and there was a lot of space when I got to my bike as it looked like my neighbors in transition had already made it out on the bike. I didn't towel off my feet and just threw on my helmet, then bent over to put on my socks, shoes, sunglasses in my back pocket, and stood up to grab my bike. Last year, I had sat on the ground to put on my shoes and wanted to try this year to do everything standing up. After being bent over to put on my shoes, I stood upright fast and then had to pause to steady myself before grabbing my bike. I got really lightheaded and dizzy when I first stood back up, but paused to get oriented then ran out with my bike.  I really hate wearing my sunglasses while I ride my bike and since it wasn't sunny I had decided to try and see if I could get away without them, which is why I put them in my pocket.

THE BIKE

Distance: 56 miles
Time: 3:00:54
Goal time: Sub-3:20
Pace: 18.6 mph
Division rank: 38
Gender rank: 393
Overall rank: 1412
Comparison to 2016 Chatt: -32:31
Best HIM comparison: -27:12

My plan / approach:
- Let my HR settle coming out of transition. Use my gears.
- Ride steady.
- Keep my head down.
- Aero, aero, aero.
- Be careful of others.
- Trust in my training.
- Get in nutrition - do not forget to eat and drink and keep this as your focus!! Alternate water and Gatorade. Gu Chomps or Stingers every 40 minutes (after 20 minutes of riding.) Salt tabs every 30 minutes.
- Don't draft but stay tight.
- Don't grind the hills - no standing.
- Race 20 miles, then another 20 miles, then the last 16
- A few one hour rides and then some change.
- Will be windy the last 10 miles on the highway... picture Cartersville and silk sheets.
- Aid stations at mile 15, 31, and 46
- Stay focused. Just another training ride.
- Free speed on the downhills.
- Stay safe and be in control. Control what I can control.
- You've got a year of biking in you. You can do this. You are strong.
- Do not celebrate early. Enjoy it. Have fun. This is where your training will shine.
- STAY STRONG THE SECOND HALF. STRONG SECOND HALF OF THE BIKE. YOU KNOW IT TAKES YOU TIME TO WARM UP. FEEL GOOD AT THE END. NO TAPER ON THE BIKE.
- 11 miles, 34 mile loop, 11 miles.
- Left turn at mile 26 at Andrews Hill
- Miles 40-45 climb

How it went:

As soon as I got on the bike, I felt good. I saw my friend David as I was exiting out on the bike and he was taking pictures. I smiled and shouted hello, reminded myself to get into aero, and just biked. The weather was perfect with the sky still cloudy and I just set my mind on focusing on what I needed to get done. I loved that I knew the route so clearly in my mind. It was 11 miles until we started out on the loop and route and turns all felt comfortable to me. I was thankful that I had been practicing turning and that from that very first bike ride I went on with ITL, that Adam had given me tips on how to maintain momentum through the turns.

I focused on taking in some nutrition, sipping water and Gatorade, and having my first solid food about 30 minutes into the bike. I planned to eat every 40 minutes and take salt every hour. I wanted to finish 2 bottles of Gatorade and water. Jerome had told me my goal was to take in around 750 calories on the bike. I had estimated about half of that to be liquid I think. In my first bottle of Gatorade, I had a scoop of some sort of Carb powder that Jerome had let me have to try and get in some extra liquid calories. In his words, he didn't want me "eating a buffet" on the bike... but I sure do love those Stinger Waffles!

I tried to just focus on my nutrition and what I needed to do next and little milestones or markers coming up. At 8 miles, I started to get passed by the ITL athletes who were stronger cyclists than me. Jodi and Jaclyn came through first, looking super cute in their matching outfits and navigating around all the cyclists together. I thought it was so cool that they were able to pace so evenly and time their swim and transitions to be cycling together. One of the Ironman photographers on the course actually snagged a pic as you can see the two of them creep up behind me on the bike :) Blurry - but I know those matching shirts and helmets!


When I race and ride, I like to go based off of effort, so I just kept my head down and didn't look at my watch much. I checked in at 15 miles in when I went through the first aid station, ensuring that I was well under an hour time wise, which I was. I didn't take any nutrition at this station, just kept coasting through. The next time I checked in on my watch was at 1:00 hour into the ride, where I saw that I was 18.9 miles in. Holy crap I thought!

One of the things going into the bike was that last year, I slowed down significantly in the 2nd half and I was really scared that was going to happen this year too. I have never ridden that fast, even during the sprint triathlon, so I was nervous about maintaining it, but made what (at the moment) I thought could potentially be the same mistake and just kept going at that effort. Jerome had assured me he didn't think I would crash like that this year - I trusted in him and my training during the race, reminding myself that last year I had done ONE ride at 56 miles before the half ironman. This year, I have done so many rides that were longer than 56 miles that I had much better endurance. Dominate the day, I thought. And kept pushing.


In addition to Jaclyn and Jodi, I was passed on the bike by Krystle, Tisha, Lindsay, Abby, Troup, and a few ATC people that I knew or who recognized my kit as ITL in the first half of the bike. (Let's be real, tons of people passed me all throughout, but that's just the list of people I knew.) In the second half, Peter caught up to me as well. It was fun every time as I was able to shout words of encouragement to them and it gave me a boost of confidence to all the people around me who heard them shouting to me thinking, "Yeah - that's right! These fast people are MY friends!" Some people shouted encouragement just based on the ITL kit - this guy here I have no idea who he was but appreciated as he made a comment back to me like "Go ITL" or something like that, which the camera man happened to capture.



There is a lot of rolling hills in the first half of the race and then at mile 25-ish you make a sharp left turn onto Andrews Drive that has the steepest hill in the route. I knew that I could make it up the hill and went into my lowest gear, staying seated, going what felt slow, but reminding myself that I would be thankful later because it was saving my legs to ride the hills this way. I never stood up once during any of the rolling hills, using all of my gears and shifting to keep a steady pace and not ever grind my legs to get over a climb. It will pay off later, I told myself.

We came through the next rest stop at 30 miles and I tossed my Gatorade bottle, grabbing a new one of orange Gatorade. At this point, I was starting to have to go to the bathroom but there was a line at the porta potties at mile 30 aid station and I wasn't willing to wait in that. I kept going, with my bladder feeling full and starting to feel a bit more uncomfortable. My next check-in on pace/speed was to look at my watch at 2:00 hours, where I still saw that I was almost at 37 miles in, which meant that I was still riding at +18 mph.  That gave me a boost of confidence and my rally cry to myself was to just get myself to the 45 mile marker. I knew that miles 40-45 had a consistent slight incline that had challenged me last year and my need to use the bathroom was also getting more urgent. I knew I was slowing a bit through these miles but I still felt so much stronger than last year going through this 2nd half of the bike course and that started to make me feel so excited. I told myself that once I was able to relieve my bladder, I would be able to cycle stronger and it would be my "secret weapon" to then come back strong the last 11 miles.

The downhill portion after the climb from 40-45 was super fun and I loved it - my max speed going down was 37.45 mph. I was so ecstatic to get through the portions of the course that I had found challenging the year before and had to remind myself not to celebrate yet and stay focused in the moment. Throughout the race I had passed a few people who were off their bikes with some sort of mechanical or bike issue, which I always would feel so bad about when passing. This is a huge fear of mine during races because I am not super comfortable changing flat tires or putting the chain back on my bike or anything like that. I remember at one point I passed a girl who was on the side of the road and someone I recognized in an ATC kit who had stopped to help her. I thought that was so nice of someone to give up time on their race to lend and hand and thought that was pretty cool.

At 45 miles, I needed to get a new water bottle, use the bathroom and then refocus on nutrition. Luckily there was no line at this porta potty, because I was going to have to stop either way. I threw my bike on the bike rack, jumped into the bathroom, almost knocked my sunglasses, which I realized were still in my back pocket into the toilet, and relieved myself. As I was exiting the bathroom, I noticed some blood on my hand, which I had no idea where it had come from. I must have cut myself and been bleeding from somewhere but I had no idea where or how and didn't bother to think about it but just sort of said a silent prayer to myself that I wasn't bleeding in a super embarrassing way or that the cut wasn't in a spot that would stain my pretty new ITL kit!

I got back on my bike and just like I had told myself, I felt AWESOME and had a whole new "gear" after going to the bathroom. I immediately got right back into pushing hard and felt like I was flying those last 10 miles into the finish. Jerome had told me not to taper on the bike, so I kept that in mind and kept going hard, which wasn't hard because I was feeling good. While I was in the bathroom I must have been passed by my friend Kristin, because I shortly after biking again caught up to her and I hadn't seen her at all on the course yet and knew she'd gotten into the swim after me. I shouted hello and just kept on pedaling. I remembered from the year before that there had been a lot of wind at this portion of the race, but I didn't feel any now so just kept my head down and going. I was in aero for the majority of this ride, which I felt really good about.

As we entered back into town, I caught up to the guy who I had seen helping someone with their bike on the side of the road earlier. He must have passed me while I was in the bathroom as well. As I passed I let him know that I had seen him stop and thought that was really awesome.

I looked at my watch with 5 miles left and realized that if I booked it, I might be able to do the bike ride in under 3:00 hours. I was SHOCKED at that and it gave me an adrenaline rush as well. I had told Brick that I was hoping to be under 3:20 on the bike and the idea of being under 3:00 hours wasn't in my radar. Thinking I might be able to hit that milestone of being in the sub-3:00 hour bike range, it kept me pushing all the way into town. I first saw my friend Karen out cheering, then Joni and David, followed by Adam, who I saw shouted to my mom that I was coming (which I appreciated so much that he was looking out for her!) and as I passed yelled at me "That's right, keep pedaling, girl!" which kept me going right up to the dismount line.


So, as I mentioned a number of times - I was concerned about my speed dropping in the second half. I looked through the bike splits that Ironman gave out to see what my speed was for the various sections as they had it segmented.

- Bike split 1 was at 10.61 miles was 32:24... average 19.6 mph
- Bike split 2 was at 27.64 miles, a segment of 17.03 miles in 55:55... average 18.24 mph
- Bike split 3 was at 45.39 miles, a segment of 17.75 miles in 59:47... average 17.9 mph
- Final bike split at 56 miles, last segment of 10.61 miles in 32:48... average 19.4 mph

Assuming I did that math right, I did drop down a bit in the middle section but picked it back up for the last 10 miles. On that out-and-back first ~11 miles each way I was able to maintain a +19 mph speed!!! The middle loop section, my pace dropped a bit, the 3rd split included my bathroom break as well. I feel super proud of these numbers and can't even believe that they belong to me!


The last thing to note about looking at times on the bike is that my friends Kevin, Lauren and I had all had REALLY close bike splits! Kevin and I were within 5 seconds of one another. I never saw them on the course, but if we HAD timed our swim starts the way that Adam had advised us to, with me starting further back, it could have been really fun and cool to have been able to bike together! Something to try for in the future I guess, but was super proud of all my friends!

T2: BIKE-TO-RUN
Time: 2:33
Comparison to 2016 Chatt: -2:30
Best HIM comparison: -2:30

My plan/approach: 
- STOP AT MY RACK - DO NOT RUN PAST
- Rack bike, take off helmet
- Socks. Shoes.
- Drop sunglasses. Grab visor.
- Belt
- GO

I made my way to my transition area pretty easily, using the parking numbers as cues again. Reaching my position on the rack, I threw my bike onto it, jamming it into place, dropped my helmet, changed my socks and shoes, threw on my bib and grabbed my visor, putting it on as I ran out of transition. Again, completely forgetting about my sunglasses in my back pocket and leaving them as they fell out by my transition area. Last year I had gotten sunscreen applied at both transitions, this year, I totally skipped that step and just went figured I had better run fast if I wanted to get out of the sun.

THE RUN

Distance: 13.1 miles
Time: 1:56:25
Goal time: 2:00 hours
Pace: 8:52 min/mile
Division rank: 15
Gender rank: 157
Overall rank: 553
1 year Chatt 70.3 comparison: -16:52
HIM comparison: -9:23

My plan / approach:
- THE RACE STARTS HERE
- GO EASY
- Run a smart race
- Pace, pace, pace
- First hill is right out of transition. Do not let my HR spike too much. Watch my pace.
- Alternate water and Gatorade at every aid station.
- Keep cool. Keep my body cool. Do not overheat.
- Pace, pace, pace
- Salt tabs at every mile
- Fight and push through pain
- I CAN do this. I CAN do this. My body is ready. I have trained for this.
- Channel my training
- Enjoy the crowds. TAKE IT ALL IN.
- SEE ALL THE PEOPLE.
- Gu every 3 miles or so
- Mile 5.2 will have a hill
- Last 3 miles - PUSH
- Your body can do it. Keep my mind in the game.

How it went:

As I started out on the run, I did not feel good. My feet felt cold and numb and running was not comfortable. I knew that my bike split had been AMAZING for me and I was scared that I was going to be one of those people that just blows up on the run. I've heard people in triathlon say before, "Bike hero, Run ZERO" and knew that I had pushed myself hard even at the end to try and get to 3:00 hours which wasn't even a part of my race plan. I was scared and my feet just felt very weird. The beginning of this run course, you do a short out-and-back on the bike entrance, so I got to run right by my mom and Brick. I smiled to them and my mom asked how I was doing, I told her "I felt good!" but in my mind, I did not and was feeling a bit scared but didn't want to worry her.



I pulled back on my pace as I ran down by the river, and then when I started the first up hill to get out of the transition I saw the huge ITL tents and a bunch of people in blue. One of the coaches, Chris, spotted me and shouted to everyone that I was coming. I started to hear my name which was such a boost and saw that my friend Margaret was there and must have driven up, as well, I spotted my coach Jerome. He asked how I was doing and I struggled with what to say. Part of me wanted to get across to him how ecstatic and happy I was with my bike and see if he had seen how fast I went. But my anxiety on what I had left for the run bubbled out and I said "I am scared I went to hard on the bike!" and he just told me not to think about that, have a positive attitude, find my pace and settle in.


My race plan called for consistent miles so that's what I said to myself to do. It was a little bit of a mental game because other races I have had a plan to go off effort and this was the first time with a time goal. My first mile I saw was about 8:30 so I told myself to ease back, especially on the uphills, and at 2 miles I was at 17:00 minutes so told myself again to hold back. At this point in the race the sun had actually even come out and it was warm. I was shocked that the sun was actually out after the weather forecast. And thankfully, it wasn't as hot as it had been the days earlier as well. It was really great weather!

I again, used the fact that I knew this course and what to expect to my advantage and focused on celebrating little portions of the route I would complete. I looked down at my watch a number of times to check my pace and telling myself to just "lock it in" when I felt the numbers were good. I bobbed around in the low 9s and high 8s, which was just where I wanted to be. I stuck with my nutrition plan of taking salt tabs every mile and taking in Gu Chews every 3-ish miles and water/Gatorade at every stop. I also was dumping water on me, shoving ice into my kit, and putting sponges on me whenever they had them. The first time I put a sponge of cold water on the back of my neck, it stung a bit, which was a sure indicator that I had missed a spot when applying my Glide earlier and there was some chafing going on.

It was a weird feeling, having flashbacks of being in this spot the year before. I remembered where I saw someone trip on a crack and was careful to be sure I was lifting my feet, and I recalled which aid stations were the most fun and energetic. It actually seemed like the course was pretty quiet and the crowds were not as populous as they had been last year. I assumed it was because of the predicted terrible weather, so just went about making the best of it and getting high fives and energy whereever I could. I danced along with some of the music that some of the stations had and told myself to just enjoy the party. I'd been thinking of the crowds and people as I came in off of the bike and really wanted to enjoy them. Throughout the bike ride I had been thanking the volunteers and crowds and was enjoying them as much as possible on the run.

While on the run, I kept on the lookout as well for other ITL people! I saw Jaclyn through the bushes when I was in my first couple of miles and we made eye contact briefly. Then I ran into Stephanie and Tisha as well. It was so fun to see them and when I passed Tisha she said to me "I am so proud of you" in the most genuine and sincere way that it almost made me cry.



Coming back around the foot bridge, it felt like it was taking forever to make my way up to the creast of the bridge but then I saw Adam and the ITL cheering crew and my mom and Brick in the distance and it made me so happy. Adam just looked proud and smiled at me, I got high fives from everyone and had a huge smile on my face.




Right when I got off the bridge, I saw Jerome and he asked how I was doing. I said I felt good and he let me know I was about half way there. I thought he was a little off and I still had another mile to go in order to be halfway there. For some reason, including the fact that I suck at math, I had in my head that 7.5 miles would be "half way" and I planned to look at my watch at 7.5 miles and see how close I was to 1:00 hour. Clearly this is basic math, but I somehow had this fixated in my mind.



After passing through the ITL cheer station I passed through the ATC crowd and made my way onto my second loop.


I like on the 2nd loop I can tell myself "this is it!" and that I never have to pass these things again. However, I also got really down on myself because due to my poor math skills, when I looked at my watch at 7.5 miles and saw that my overall time was at 1:06 - I thought to myself, what the heck?? How am I halfway through and at 1:06? I thought I had been running 9 minute miles pretty well, how did I get so far off that I am on track for a 2:12 half marathon?? I was confused and disappointed but told myself that at least with this race I had a really good bike split. I felt a bit down about my time because I had been actively telling myself to slow down whenever I saw my pace creep into the mid-8s. Whereas I figured I shouldn't have been doing that and somehow slowed down too much. Then, all of a sudden I had the realization that 7.5 mile x 2 is actually 15 miles and 6.5 is really halfway through the race. It was a boost of adrenaline that I was still in the game!


I worked to maintain my nutrition and keep my body cool at the aid stations. I could tell I was getting hot and a bit sunburnt so did what I could to keep cool. I said hello to all of the ATC people that I met and mentally told myself to power through to mile 10. At mile 10, I knew there would be a big hill and at that point it would just be a 5K left. Last year I had walked up the big hill at mile 10 on my second loop, so I made sure to run it even though everyone around me was walking and I knew it might spike my HR. I wanted to at least make that improvement from the year before if the time I wanted didn't work out! I checked my watch again with a 5K left and saw I was at 1:33. That sounded better and I asked myself if I could run a 5K in 27 minutes? I had seen my pace drop a bit into mid-9s and I told myself even if I did 10 minute miles, I would be at a 2:03 half marathon, which is better than Australia. However, I got a bit of an adrenaline rush knowing I was near the end and only had the bridges left.

Everyone around me was walking or trudging along and I was still running. It made me feel strong and powerful and I told myself that this was what my training was for. All those runs at Kennesaw, I knew I could manage the hills on this course. All those speedy track workouts, I knew I could push the pace out of myself. All the endurance I had done, was to keep me running these last miles and I fought through.

As I ran through the town on the other side of the river and was about to turn onto the foot bridge, I saw my friend Kevin and asked how he was doing, I wished him luck and kept going. I was SO close. A number of people told me that my pace looked strong and that had me feeling good. I had stopped looking at my watch so wasn't sure what my times were but knew I was moving better than the people around me.


I made it up over the foot bridge and saw the ITL group again. Jerome was jumping up and down and cheering, which made for some of my favorite pictures from the run.





I was so happy as I ran through this section, knowing all of the decisions I had made in the past few months with training and joining ITL were the right ones. I rounded the corner and was so happy to be able to follow the arrow that said "To Finish" vs. going on any more loops. My legs were screaming at this point because I had definitely kicked the pace up a notch with the adrenaline of seeing ITL and the finish but now I wasn't sure if I could hold it through the long finish shoot.


I saw some of my other teammates and just willed myself to cross the mat. I saw Brick and my mom as I ran down the shoot and the clock said 6:03 or something like that when I passed but I had no idea what time I had started or what my run had ended up as. I knew in the back of my mind that I would be under 6 hours due to the fast bike and the shortened swim, but nothing was computing or registering as I caught my breathe.



Nothing hurt, there was no pain. I was tired but I felt good. I could walk and nothing was aching. I was overall so happy. My mile splits ended up as the following, with my slowest miles being 5 and 10 that both include the big hill. I got a boost of energy at the end with my last mile actually being my fastest and my 2nd to last mile not being too shabby either! My HR spiked at the very end in the last mile, but I otherwise stayed very consistent with my HR in the upper 150s and overall HR for the whole race averaging at 159!

8:29 / 8:43 / 8:53 / 9:04 / 9:15 / 8:49 / 9:00 / 8:54 / 9:00 / 9:27 / 9:37 / 8:46 / 8:05

Back when I ran the Publix Half in March, which is my current half marathon personal record, I ran it only 30 seconds faster than I ran the half marathon at the end of this half ironman. How insane is that?  My average HR for that race was 161, so my HR was actually even lower at this race. Craziness.



POST RACE

After getting my medal, walking a bit, and letting my HR go down and breathing get better, I went over to the side and found my mom, Brick and Jerome. My official times hadn't come in yet but I knew I had done really well. Jerome told me my bike was exactly 3 hours and asked what I had on my watch for my run. I looked at it and it said 1:56. My half marathon said 1:56!!! I almost started to cry and had to put my hands on my knees because starting to tear up caused me to lose my breathe a bit so I willed back any tears. Jaclyn and Chris came over and were so excited and happy, Jaclyn asking me if I had reached my goals and gotten under 6:00 hours. At the run the weekend before, we'd talked a few minutes about what our goals were for the race and I had told her that's what I was hoping for. Even though my run time and my bike time were huge PRs for me, it didn't hit me what my time would be and I said I wasn't sure. Things weren't computing for me in my brain yet. I think everyone else knew what a big race it had been for me though and the excitement from everyone was really awesome.


I was so, so thankful to have this crowd of people at the finish cheering for me. I was so appreciative of Brick for coming the second year in a row and this year for having the added duty of showing around my mom, who came all the way from New Hampshire to be there. And Jerome and teammates at the finish, just meant so much.



A few minutes later, my official finish time synced with Jerome's phone and he got the alert that my time was 5:20:47. My finish time was 5 freaking 20:47. I couldn't believe it. The number seemed too fast. Too low. That was INSANE. I don't finish these races in those types of times, that's what really fast people get. I couldn't process that time belonged to ME and it took a few minutes to register and more holding back of tears. Now, I know there is a little bit of an sub-note on the time, given that the swim was shortened. But even if you add 15 minutes to my time, to be the same as what I swim in Australia in an ocean swim, I would still be at 5:35 which is still REALLY FAST. Although I knew what my individual splits were, to hear it all added up, it felt like a dream. That time belonged to ME.

Jerome and my mom reminded me again that I am not the athlete I was a year ago and although that makes sense to me, it still is hard for my brain to really process that. I have spent the past week looking over my times and my splits over and over, somehow expecting to find a glitch in the timing systems because that would make more sense and sit easier in my mind. I almost get mad at myself a little because it is SO hard for my own brain to accept that these are my numbers and my times. People all around me have seen the work that I've put in and knew that this was something I was capable of, but my own mind, which should be my #1 fan, registers it as a mistake.

Following the race, I knew I wanted to be able to see others finish and cheer people on. It was something I missed in Chattanooga and didn't get to do a ton of in Australia on account of basically being one of the last people to finish. However, I wanted to cheer on my friends who were coming in. We started to walk back towards the bridge, stopping to talk to people and me still being afraid to say my time out loud. They would know that I was a fraud, right? I felt like I really needed to examine the times and do the math myself, which even as I type that, feels so embarrassing to admit that I doubt myself that much.


I got to watch some of my friends finish and had some time to let the race sink in with everyone and talk about the race a bit. I was so proud of all of my friends and people I train with. There were so many amazing races and it felt like everyone had amazing splits during the race. The weather, which had started so scary, ended up making for a really fast race and lots of happy athletes. It was a really fun thing to be a part of and I didn't want the day to end.



After my last ITL teammate finished, we packed up our things and head to the car. We were already a few minutes past the super-extended lake checkout that the hotel had agreed to do for us and I needed to shower and throw together all of my things. My post-race shower was glorious and painful as usual, where that chafing on the back of my neck burned and the blood that I had seen earlier in the race was from really bad chafing on my legs. But we were in and out of our room really quickly, which I was impressed with. We also had to check out of transition and get all the crap to the car and start to wrap up the day that I had been training for, for months. It was sad to part because I wanted to let it linger on but I was reminded that everything is still going to be there - triathlon isn't going anywhere.

Brick, mom and I ate at Urban Stack for my normal post-race burger and beer, before heading back to Atlanta. My mom, I was thankful, drove back, so I could rest and play around on my phone to look through my data, times, respond to messages, and let process that I had just completed 69.9 miles in 5:20:47.

A week after basking in this accomplishment, I'm still so happy and my lens of what I am capable of is starting to get a bit wider. I have spent the week comparing race notes with friends, looking at times, and sorting through the tons of pictures that my amazing friends took throughout the race and shared with me (many are featured here so thank you Sheryl, David, Doug, Chris, and more!)  My next goal race is Berlin Marathon but I am so excited about my improvements with triathlon, I don't want that season to be over. I want to keep pushing and getting stronger and seeing how much more I can improve. I am wondering how far I should push my goals and if I should set scary goals for myself. I had dinner with my friend Lauren this week to go through all of the nitty gritty details of our races for hours and one of the things we talked about is how we set goals for ourselves. My lack of confidence lends me to set goals that in range and take baby steps towards bigger things. Whereas Lauren tackles big goals - something that amazes and inspires me. She signed up for a full Ironman before ever even doing a sprint triathlon! I want to get better at pushing myself, but am at the same time, so thankful that I've found people in my life that see what I sometimes don't. I left Chattanooga feeling so grateful. Grateful at how perfect the weather turned out, that my mom and Brick were there, for my coach, for my teammates and friends, for the decisions that I made to do the race my way as far as gear goes, for support of friends near and far and of course for my health and ability to compete in this sport at all.

I feel like I probably say this after a lot of races, but I really cannot wait for what is next and this race has given me more confidence and excitement for the future. It is amazing what can happen in 1 year. Thank you for reading so far!