Wednesday, May 25, 2016

First Half Ironman Chattanooga 70.3 Recap 2016

Okay guys, here is my recap of the 2016 Half Ironman 70.3 in Chattanooga. I competed in this race on May 22, 2016 as my first Half Ironman so this recap, obviously is written from the perspective of a newbie. I write that, because I read a number of recaps of this race before actually competing. In fact, before actually even signing up, I had done research and searched for race recaps. I couldn't find any other recaps that were from the perspective of someone new to the sport and who may have the stupid and silly questions that I did.

So here it is.

My alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. and I stayed in bed for about 15 minutes before getting up and taking a shower. I like showers race mornings because it helps me wake up and feel alert. I had organized all of my things the night before at our hotel room "triathlon headquarters" as I thought of it. I had a bag with all of my bike gear, a bag with all of my run gear, the things I needed for the swim start, waters and gatorades, and all my nutrition, etc.

I got dressed and then also put on some warmer clothes over it since temperatures were still chilly at 5:00 a.m. I ate breakfast of my usual pre-big race breakfast that has been working well for me for years of marathons, of Special K Chocolatey Delight, with almond milk and strawberries. Why change around a good thing, right?

We left the hotel around 5:00 a.m. and head to the transition which was just down the street. I set up my transition area, following the lead of what everyone else was doing and laying things out in order on the towel. This is normal for most triathlons but there was a lot of talk about "bags" and I wasn't sure if I should leave my stuff in the bags I had organized or not. I felt like I had never done a race before in my life, I was being so silly and nervous, but it really was pretty much exactly the same as all the other triathlons I have done.  However, I got nervous about whether or not I should double check the air pressure in my tires. I had been advised to bring my pump, but during the athlete briefing they told us not to.

I tried to borrow someone else's, I wasn't sure how it worked, and then when she helped me she told me she thought I had too much air in my tires. So I brought my bike over to the mechanics to have them double check and after I was feeling good about it. They were fast and really helpful and a great resource, although it took a little time. I mentally made a plan for myself how to get from the swim entrance to my bike rack and counted that I was 5 racks of bikes over so that I knew exactly the route I would take to get to my bike. It was a little bit of a maze and didn't want to end up running down the wrong aisle so I was glad I took the extra time to trace the steps of the route that I would take later when I knew I would be in a rush.

I left my transition area to meet up with Brick and head over to the shuttles to go to the swim start. She had walked over with me, but only athletes are allowed in the transition so she waited for me outside with my wetsuit and the things I was taking to the swim start.

My location was actually really ideal, at the end of an aisle, and also pretty close to the bike in/bike out area. Which meant that I didn't have to necessarily worry about entering on the right side of the rack, and that I would have less distance to have to run with my bike shoes on and pushing my bike. Additionally, the person next to me was a no show, so I had some extra space.

After leaving transition, I got my body marked with my race number written on both arms and my triathlon age marked on my leg. It was the first time I had to be the age of 30, since triathlon age groups are classified by how old you will be on the last day of the year! The race had a shuttle to the swim start location, since we were swimming from one point to the other.

I used the portapotty when we arrived at the swim start and then we immediately got in line. It was already HUGE and we couldn't even see the start of the line so it was hard to judge how far back we were. The swim at this race was a "rolling start" which meant that at 6:50 a.m. the professional men would start, at 6:55 the professional women would start, and at 7:00 a.m. the regular athletes would start one by one jumping into the water off of a dock to begin the swim. There was no guidance about how we should get in line, just first come, first serve. Your personal time would start when you crossed the start line and every individual would have 1 hour and 10 minutes to finish the swim.

Once we started moving, the line went pretty fast and I think it was about 7:20 a.m. when I finally got to the front of the line.  Before the line was moving though, I sat around and rested as we got in line at about 5:50 a.m.

While we were there I sipped on water and Gatorade, ate a banana, and at about 6:30 a.m. I had half of a Quest bar. Also at 6:30 a.m. I started to put my wetsuit on. It was a fun atmosphere waiting in life and we chatted with the athletes and their fans around us.

At around 7:00 a.m. we started moving and I was feeling ready.

My friend Kathi who was also at the race spectating, found me in line to give me one final hug and best wishes, which was really nice and comforting as well. She has been so supportive and encouraging to me throughout this entire journey as well.

While we were waiting, Brick and I had been chatting with the people around us in line. Specifically, a woman who was getting ready to compete and her husband who was there sherpa-ing for her. They were really sweet and fun and very experienced at this. They were great company and I don't think that they knew that they really helped to give me some extra motivation at the last minute. First, when I asked the woman for any tips on the bike, she told me to keep my head down, which turned out to be helpful later on. And also, when talking to them about why they do these things, they brought up that a few years ago they lost their 21-year old daughter when she was killed unexpectedly. It made them appreciate life and want to tackle things head on in her memory. She used triathlon as a way to work through the pain that she was feeling. It was incredibly motivating to me throughout the whole race.

As we weaved our way to the start, this thought was in my head the whole time.

In addition, the night before I had spent some time planning out strategies and reminders for myself for each portion of the race, which I will point out a little later, as well as some guidance and strategy for the entire race.

My Overall Strategy/Approach Throughout the Race:
- Race your own race
- Do not worry about what other people are doing
- This is the fun part. I already won.
- I made it through training... think through all the tough workouts
- Smile
- Enjoy the course and the people

I started to jump up and down and shake out and stretch my arms as we got closer to the start. I wanted to get my heart rate up and get ready to swim. My cap and goggles went on, and I give Brick a hug goodbye and stepped forward where we walked onto a ramp and to the dock to the water. There's me in the pink cap waving.


Distance: 1.2 miles
Time: 30:00 minutes
Pace: 1:33/100m
Division rank: 16
Gender rank: 82
Overall rank: 322

My Plan/Approach:
- Get through the upstream portion of the swim
- Don't get caught in the craziness
- Keep my core strong
- REACH long through each strong. Stay long. Get max out of each stroke.
- Look for opportunities to draft
- Should not feel difficult - stay in control of breathing
- Pick up the pace in the second half if I feel comfortable
- Find my rhythm and keep my head down.
- Kick a little more towards the end

How it went:

As I moved forward up towards the start of the line, I was unsure where the timing chip would actually start. I believed it to be right at the end of the dock where there were some wires, so I started my watch as I crossed that. In other races, I have often forgotten to start my watch so I was immediately proud of myself for remembering to do this right away.

You had to jump feet first off the dock and I stood for a second or two before jumping in with a moment in my mind thinking, "Holy crap, you're about to start this." and also pausing, so that I wouldn't jump on top of people as they jumped of the dock, sunk down, bobbed back up, and took of swimming.

I hit the water and was ready to go. I felt some water splash into my mouth as I took my first breathes and popped my head up to make sure I was headed in the right direction. The main turnaround buoy was easy enough to spot so I just charged ahead towards it. The way the swim worked, we were swimming INTO the current for the first 300 meters or so, and I knew that would the hardest part. The water splashing up made it a little hard to breathe and for a moment I felt a little claustrophobic in my wetsuit and like I was being choked. I had the sudden thought, "This is what they mean when they say people panic in the water!"

But as quickly as that thought came, I pushed it away, telling myself, "Not you though. This swim is yours to take. The swim is all you." and just charged ahead.

I felt good the whole swim. I was kicking more than I usually do when I swim the whole time. I didn't actually realize that until the end when I thought to myself, "Okay start kicking!" and realized that I already was. The first 300 meters I found a route pretty much to myself somehow. I was passing people on both sides of me and maneuvered in as straight a line as possible towards the turn buoy. As I got closer, I knew things would get a bit more hectic in the water, as people were all trying to make as tight a turn as possible so it was clustered, but I just focused on keeping my head down and swimming the whole way.

As soon as I made the turn, I felt like I was home free. I knew we had to swim under three bridges, so I kept that as markers and swam towards the first one. I prefer to breathe to my left, which is where the buoy markers were. I swam steadily for a bit until I suddenly one of my pre-race notes flashed in my mind of "Look for opportunities to draft." and I realized that there was nobody really around me. I actually pivoted a little bit to turn myself into the stream of people swimming right beside the buoys that I had been looking at whenever I took a breathe to my left.

I mentioned this to a friend after the race who commented about my swim time and she said, "I always avoid swimming near people as much as possible!" but I knew that the draft could be a benefit. I tried to stay in the line of people swimming, rather than carving my own way as I made it through the first two bridges. I was passing people steadily and swimming nearby them did not seem to bother me at all and I could continue to just keep my head down and move forward.

As I neared the third bridge, I started to try and figure out where I was supposed to go next. I realized I was sort of swimming solo again, wanted to be able to push hard at the end, but didn't know what direction to head or what to aim towards. I knew at one point we'd have to turn again at a buoy to get to the edge of the river but I didn't know where. There were lots of boats around that I didn't recall seeing and I wasn't sure what to do. I started to panic a little and did something I didn't want to do and paused for a second, pulled my fogged goggles off my eyes, wiped them with a finger, spotted the exit and that I was a bit off course, redirected myself, and BOLTED towards the end of the water.

There was a dock with a couple steps going into the water and people standing there helping pull swimmers out. I didn't bother waiting for them and pulled myself out of the water. I wasn't sure when the swim portion ended based on the clocks and "transition 1" started so I didn't want to shut my watch off right away but I glanced down and saw that it said 30 minutes and thought to myself, "Holy shit!" That time was FAST and seeing that gave me a boost of adrenaline. SWIM WAS DONE!!

T1 Swim-to-Bike: 5:35

We ran out from the water and down a little pathway. I had heard there were supposed to be wetsuit strippers and I was kind of excited to try it out. I'd also read to be sure to start to have your wetsuit about halfway out, so I jogged from the water and grabbed the zipper of my wetsuit and pulled it halfway down around my waist. When I got to the strippers, I made eye contact with someone she waved me over, I lay on the ground on my back and she grabbed the top of my wet suit, pulling it down and off of my legs, turning it inside out. The whole process was a matter of seconds.

She gave it back to me and I yelled thank you and ran up a ramp, over to the transition area. There were tons of people around, it was a great energy, and I didn't feel lightheaded or out of breathe from the jog. I felt great.

I counted the rows of the bikes in the transition, made it over to mine and did my transition as if I had done it a million times. Which, I have done it quite a few times, I just had made myself so nervous for this race beforehand! I sat on the ground and wiped off my feet then threw on my socks, shoes, biking gloves, sunglasses, helmet, grabbed my bike off the rack and ran towards the bike exit.

There were volunteers right by the bike exit putting sunscreen on people, so I stopped for a minute, had someone lather my neck and back and shoulders and arms with sunscreen and then ran out the transition. My neck and hairline immediately started to sting and I wasn't sure why, until it dawned on me that I must have had chafing and a rash from the wetsuit on the back of my neck. Mental note: use body glide around my neck next time (yes, I feel comfortable saying there will be a next time!)


Distance: 56 miles
Time: 3:33:25
Pace: 15.74 mph
Division Rank: 58
Age Rank: 503
Overall Rank: 1679

My Plan/Approach:
- If my watch doesn't work, then screw it (my watch can be finnicky, so I wanted to be prepared)
- Just focus on getting through 10 miles at a time
- Do not forget to eat and drink (Alternate water and Gatorade every 5 minutes, Gu Chomps or Stingers every 45 minutes, Salt Tab every 30 minutes)
- Stay focused.... 10 miles at a time, that's all you have to do
- Stand up and stretch things out
- Miles 0-25 has lots of rolling hills
- FREE SPEED on the downhills
- You don't use your breaks on the uphills
- Don't be afraid to use my gears, I am not saving them for anything
- Turn onto Andrews will be the hardest part at 26 miles
- 30-40 should feel good
- At 42 miles there will be another big hill
- At 46 miles we return to the same road again
- Just focus. You can do it.

How it went:

So, these notes are literally what I wrote out for myself the night before as I sat and listened to music and made a race plan. It was a compilation of mantras I have made for myself, race plans I had been given by friends and fellow triathletes, things that were told to me by the bike coaches I rode with throughout training, and what I had studied from the course map.

As I wrote this out right now, I realize that I did my nutrition plan wrong on the bike - I was eating Gu Chomps every 25 minutes. Woops! No wonder I got sick of them so fast.

But anyways, on to the bike. The first few miles went by fast. I was feeling really good and enjoying the scenery and just trying to get comfortable on the ride. People were flying past me, which was to be expected, that always happens for me during the bike ride of triathlons. I did pass a few people myself, which was a little bit of an ego boost, but mostly, I told myself to just zone out from everyone else on the ride.

At first, it took me a little bit of a rhythm to figure out the bike portion and how to navigate with so many other riders on the road. I had in my head that we would be a lot more spread out, especially because the rulebook and the athlete briefing made it VERY clear that we were to be 6 bike lengths apart from other riders at all times. And if we did come within 6 bike lengths of another person, we were not allowed to back out of it, we had to pass them, and we had to do it within 25 seconds. This is what the rules stated, or else we could get a penalty.

I was very worried about this and also confused, because people were passing me in packs of 2-3 or even more riding together. I myself was trying to time when I would pass people to not be in the 6 lengths rule and then have to back out. I also sometimes had to really pedal hard to be able to pass someone in 25 seconds. Whenever I did that I got mad at myself because I didn't want to be pushing my legs so hard so early in the bike, but I also didn't want to be stuck behind someone a little slower than what felt comfortable or have to brake on a downhill portion of the course.

At 15 miles I checked the time I had been riding - knowing if it was under an hour, I was under my goal pace (15 mph is easy to calculate.)  I don't remember exactly what it was, but I was way under. I was pretty excited because I thought I knew that combined with my swim time being well, I had a little bit of a cushion on my goal. However, I was nervous I would crash at the end so tried to be careful not to go too hard and get stuck in the situation of having to pedal hard to pass someone.

There was the first aid station at mile 16 and I went to replace my water bottle. I tossed the plastic bottle to the side and tried to grab a bottle on the move from someone handing them out and immediately jammed my finger and did not get the water bottle. I panicked a little, braked, and tried again to grab water from the next volunteer and was able to get it and keep moving. Before the race, I had bought some sport top plastic water bottles to start with - one with water and one with Gatorade. I had bought Vitamin Water with the sport top, but immediately wished I had done something else when I was on the bike. The smooth bottle design was hard to grip so I was excited to throw that in exchange for a water bottle with a better grip. I didn't attempt to exchange both water bottles at each aid station so decided to go with water first and at 30 miles replace my Gatorade.

When I got to mile 26, which is a sharp left turn into a steep hill, I knew I just had to get through that and it would be the hardest part. Or at least that was what I was telling myself.

To be honest, the hill wasn't that bad. I counted to 8 over and over and just pedaled my way up, passing a few people on the way and just focusing on one pedal stroke after the other.  I had been told during training that biking the Cartersville route that I went to often would be good training for the Chattanooga bike course and it really was. I feel like there were hills worse than that on the course that I rode often, so it didn't seem so bad. And then man, downhills are fun!

Somewhere along the route, someone rode up beside me and said, "Hey! Get it on that road bike!" or something like that. I immediately thought to myself, "Seriously!?" because I went for years being the loser at the sprint triathlons on a hybrid bike that everyone would make comments to as they passed me. Now, I am at the Half Ironman distance and I am the loser on the road bike that people are commenting at as they fly by in a triathlon bike.

I did a little mental celebration when I was halfway through the ride, but just refocused on getting myself to 30 miles to not break my plan of focusing on 10 mile stretches at a time. I checked my watch at 30 miles and was still WAY ahead of pace and even though it wasn't feeling hard, I should pull back on pace to not crash on the run. And, I kept telling myself that when I got to 30 it would be a nice easy stretch, because I had written that in my race plan, thinking that the course would be a decrease in elevation.

However, miles 30-40 did not get easier. They got really hard. Miles 30-45 were really, really tough on the bike and for a majority of it, I felt like I was crawling. I knew that my pace was dropping and it was feeling harder to pedal. I let my pace drop and I held back from trying to go hard or keep up with people. At this point it felt like the oldest, heaviest, and most mangled riders were passing me and I was just crawling along. A couple people said to me as they passed, "It's a tough few miles!" or "I could do without this wind!" which made me feel a bit better that it wasn't my imagination that it was harder and that it really was wind that felt like it was blowing right at me.

The other problem for me was that I had to go to the bathroom SO BAD. I needed to pee from the very beginning and it just got worse and worse and worse. I kept expecting it to go away because that's what happens sometimes when I am running, but it didn't.  Before the race started I had debated what to do if I were to get in this situation. Do I stop and use the bathroom or do I keep going? It is such a long race so does pausing for a minute to be more comfortable really matter?

It got to the point where I was having a hard time standing up on my bike to pedal because my bladder was so full. And, I was not drinking water because the thought of more liquids was almost painful. I knew that was not good and I needed to be drinking water so it was critical at this point to go to the bathroom. Thinking of using the restroom at mile 45 (there were aid stations every 15 miles or so) was what kept me going through those next miles.

When I saw the porta potties and that there were no lines, I immediately hopped off my bike, dropped it on the ground, and no lie, peed for like a solid 45 seconds or something. I stepped out, hopped back on the bike and kept going. It wasn't a long stop and I felt A MILLION times better and it was a great feeling to get me through the next 10 miles.

The last 10 miles were mostly on a highway with no blocking from the trees or anything and we were biking straight into the wind. I remembered the advice I had gotten earlier that morning and tried to just keep my head down and not look at the long road ahead of me but just zone out and charge through. I didn't push the pace either, knowing I would be running soon, and stood up more often just to stretch out. I kept wiggling my toes to make sure I had feeling and my feet would be ready to run. A number of times throughout the bike (and then later in the run) I said over and over to myself, "You are doing it RIGHT NOW. You are racing in an Ironman race RIGHT NOW." It would give me goosebumps and keep me going a little bit longer.

I started to stray from my nutrition plan a little but I really couldn't stomach any more food at this point. I realize now I may have been eating a little too much, but I avoided more Gu Chomps towards the end of the bike.

At this point in time I was also super thrilled that I had driven the course the day before so I knew exactly what to expect and that I would be home free soon. I couldn't wait to get off the bike and start the run and was SOOO proud of myself for making it through the bike. I was also cautious not to celebrate too early as I was scared I would start to do that and then get a flat tire in the last 5 miles. There were a number of railroad tracks along the route and I was nervous about them having seen them the day before, but there were mats over the tracks the day of the race and I was careful to hit them perpendicular as I had been advise by my friend Jeremy.

It was a glorious feeling it make it back off the bike. I can't even explain, it already felt incredible.

When I returned into the city, I hopped off the bike and ran into the transition area. I hit my watch and saw that it was at around 3:30-something and was soooo happy with the time. I knew I had slowed down quite a bit the second half but seriously couldn't even believe that I had done it in such a good time. The only other time I bike 56 miles, I did it in exactly 4:00 hours so I was coming in way under goal.

Following the race, I have been participating in and reading conversations on the closed Facebook group of the Ironman Chattanooga 70.3. I feel really validated about a few different things on my bike performance. First, a lot of people were complaining about the wind and how difficult it was on the second half. Someone commented that even one of the top triathletes/pros had their average MPH drop from 24 (!!!) the first half to 20 the second half.

My bike splits were 17.59 MPH for the first 30 miles (WOW!) and then 14.06 for the second half, averaging 15.74. Knowing that many, many other people had such a drop in their times, including the pros, due to the wind, was really comforting. I guess it was a lot worse than past years, so people were saying who had done this course before. In addition to riding INTO the wind on the way back, we had the wind pushing us on the way out, which helped with my speedy time without feeling a ton more effort. It was really validating to see this conversation.

Additionally, in the Facebook group there was a LOT of conversation about the groups of riders on the route, lack of marshalls, and people drafting illegally. I guess many people had the same problem I did with trying to obey the rules but struggling to for a variety of reasons - including large packs of riders riding together. I don't really care about place or competitiveness because I was only out for myself and was only worried about not personally getting in trouble or breaking a rule, but it was interesting to also read that it was a big issue for a lot of others on the course.

All-in-all, I was so happy with my performance on the bike (and so happy when it was over with!)

T2: Bike-to-run

Nothing too exciting happened here except that adrenaline had me run a little too far past my transition area. I entered into transition, counted the rows I needed to run down, and then realized all of a sudden I was way too far and had run immediately past my area with my bike. Woops!

I was a little intimidated that it seemed like everyone's bikes were already back - including all the people around me. I felt like I was the last one to be heading out on the run, but pushed those thoughts aside and told myself again to do my own race.

When I took my bike shoes off, I realized my socks were still wet, so I changed my socks, threw on my sneakers, my running belt (stuffed with more nutrition), and my visor. I got more sunscreen before leaving the transition, which was disgusting because it wouldn't full rub in. There was already a layer of river, sunscreen, and sweat coated on me, so when they rubbed more sunscreen on top it didn't soak in and just mushed on top. I tried to run it in myself as I ran away and it just smeared around and was disgusting. I figured I was a lost cause and incredibly gross so just continued off on the run with white streaky sunscreen all over.


Distance: 13.1 miles
Time: 2:13:17
Pace: 10:10 min/mile
Divison Rank: 51
Gender Rank: 391
Overall Rank: 1386

My plan/approach:
- If my watch doesn't work, screw it.
- Enjoy it
- Salt tabs every mile
- Alternate water and Gatorade at the aid stations
- Stay cool - keep my body cool
- Ice in my clothing
- Water on my body
- Ice in my visor
- First three miles - ease into it
- Mile 5.2 is going to suck
- Middle 7 miles, moderate... stay steady
- Fight and push through
- Remember how far I have come
- Last 3 miles = PUSH
- Be okay with panting
- Your body can do it, your mind needs to stay with it
- Think of my first triathlon, my first runs

How it went:

I felt good running and looked down and saw my pace was fast so I pulled back and reminded myself that this was not a race to PR but a race to FINISH. FINISHING was what was most important here so I needed to hold back in the early miles.

There was a steady hill up in the first mile, and lots of highway boring runs. I told myself not to think about the fact that I would have to do a second loop of this and just focus on my plan. The first three miles went by fine and I recognized that I was now running further than I had after any of my long bike rides (usually I only ran 2 miles.)

My mind tried to think ahead about if I would let myself walk if I wanted to in the back half, and I thought to myself, worry about it later, just get to mile 6. I don't know why I said mile 6, I just said get to mile 6. There were some fun groups at the aid stations in 3-5 that kept energy high and there were some shaded patches too. As we passed the volunteers, I kept thinking of Christina's blog about the race she did where she decided to thank every volunteer she saw. I decided to be that person here and said thank you everywhere and high five-d every little kid I could see.

It was hot out at this point and I grabbed sponges and cups of ice at every station. I dumped ice down the front and back of my shirt and in my pants. I stuck sponges around my neck and shoulders and dumped water on top of my head and all over my body. At one point someone stopped running right in front of me after taking a cup of water and accidentally dumped it over me. He apologized but I just said, "I would have done it myself!"

We ran over Veteran's Bridge which had American flags waving high and I thought of all the people who cannot run and wish they could be doing something like this. I told myself - do this race for them. I thought of all the people who COULD be doing this, but just don't. I told myself - do this race to show them that they can.

We returned back over the wooden footbridge I had been on the day before, and the race split for some people to finish and others to finish their second loop. I was so jealous of everyone finishing the race and looked at then enviously, but then I saw my friend Kathi and her friends cheering for me and it gave me a huge smile and boost. Just one loop left!

I started talking to some of the people around me to distract myself because at mile 8-9 it started to feel rough. I still hadn't walked and at this point didn't want to because I didn't think my legs would keep moving again. My mind was still in the game completely, but it was getting harder and harder for my body to keep doing what my mind was telling it to do - which was just keep moving forward. I could feel my pace dropping but just kept running along.  I stuck with my nutrition plan as best I could, absolutely continuing with the salt tabs every mile.  I was having Gu Chomps every 3 miles and I was just getting really sick of eating them so I strayed at the end. I made sure to have Gatorade and water at the aid stations and at around mile 10 I drank a cup of coke because I had heard that could help save you if you're hurting.

There was a crack in the road at one point and I saw two people trip over it and faceplant onto the ground. Everyone was getting to the feet-barely-picking-up-off-the-ground point of running and you could tell they both hit the ground hard. The hill at mile 5.2 had sucked on the first way around and I wasn't sure if I could make it up the second time. I thought it might take all of my energy to try and run up the hill, so I let myself walk up the hill and then was SO proud of my body when I kept going and went back to running when I got to the top.

As we went back over Veteran's Bridge, I told the woman running beside me that my body was starting to want to do its own thing. She reminded me we had a nice stretch of downhill and then we would be with the crowds to the finish. I realized she was completely right and kept moving.

At this point, where I was in the race, everyone was walking. Tons of people were walking all around me and I just kept going. I told myself - this is where your pacing pays off and kept moving forward. As I got to where the crowds were the last mile of the race, a few people said things to me like, "Great job 924 - awesome pace!" It was really encouraging to hear that the 3 or so times people cheered it because I FELT like I was inching forward and barely making any progress.

A few times, Beyonce even popped into my head and I think I sang out loud to myself a few times, "Imma keep running because a winner don't quit on themselves!'

I finally got to that point where I could turn left to go to the finishers rather than go for another loop and it was the best feeling in the world. I knew I had made it. I knew I was finishing. I was about to finish and I was so happy.

I saw Kathi and her friend again and immediately started to choke up and cry. But when I started to choke, I literally started to choke because I couldn't breathe and get in enough air to cry and run. I saw Brick and she was yelling to me and running along the side of the spectators as I finished, and again, more tears and more not being able to breathe. Crying is hard when you're exhausted.

I tried to calm myself to take everything in. The crowd, the water to my right, the Ironman signs everywhere, the finishers clock that was just about ticking to my goal time of 7:00:00 hours. I looked around and I crossed the finish line.

I finished my first Half Ironman in 6:27:20.

At the time, I had no idea what my time was, but I knew it was under 7 hours. I wasn't immediately thinking that though, I was thinking more along the lines of "How do I breathe?"

I stopped running and they had people waiting to walk with each finisher, give them a medal and make sure that the athlete was okay. The woman kept asking me if I was okay and I couldn't really answer because I was having trouble catching my breathe. She gave me water which I tried to sip but really just wanted to focus on breathing. She had me keep moving when I was trying to just bend over and put my hands on my knees and she told me she wanted to walk me over to medical to get some ice. I let her do that because I still couldn't really talk but then when I got to medical the lady there saw my psoriasis on my legs and asked, "Oh I see that you had a fall?" I was frustrated because I was trying to catch my breathe and didn't really feel like explaining psoriasis to the people, but I managed to make out that I was fine and just needed to breathe.

They had me sit down and then Brick somehow broke her way through the crowd and came into medical to sit with me. I told her I was fine and I started to catch my breathe. I wanted to walk around and keep moving, so we took the ice and left medical. There was a food tent at the end and I was feeling hungry so I went and grabbed a piece of pizza. Brick started filling me in on the conversations she'd been having with my mom, my times, how I did so much better than they all thought, and how they were worried about me when the timing didn't work.

It was as if I was coming back to reality after 6 and a half hours of just being with me alone in my head. It was an interesting feeling and I wasn't sure where to focus my energy. I felt like there was something I should have been doing or that I was forgetting or missing out on. But we sat and ate my piece of pizza and drank my water and I called my mom who was sobbing and things started to settle for me again. I had done it. I was so happy.

My splits for the run were very consistent. Given all that I had done at least. 9:41, 9:28, 9:38, 9:59, 10:23, 10:15, 10:15, 9:48, 10:05, 10:42, 11:40, 10:21, 10:11. The slower miles correlate to the hills and the 11:40 mile is where I walked up the hills. I ran a smart, smart race and I am really proud of that.

I felt extremely extremely disgusting and since there really wasn't anything else I could think of to do, we went and got my gear and bags from the bike transition and head back to the hotel. I realized afterwards, a few days afterwards if I am being honest, what the missing thing was that I didn't do an I am a bit disappointed about it. If I have one regret it is that I didn't think to go back to the finish line and watch and cheer for the people who finished after me. I regret that a lot and NEXT TIME, because YES, there will be a next time... I will have to be sure to go and do that. You see the hearts of champions coming across that finish line in the later hours of the race.

The pros and the elites are amazing and wonderful and awe-inspiring in the speed in which they can accomplish these feats. But its the people who are stumbling and dragging themselves across the finish that are the real champions in my book. So I guess guys, there is going to another race :)

Monday, May 23, 2016

The days before Chattanooga Half Ironman

Well, I walked in the door to my apartment today returning from Chattanooga and immediately started crying. I can't believe that this thing is all over. It's over. It's in the past. And I DID IT. Really, really well, if I am being honest. I planned well and executed a smart race, nothing went wrong, and I exceeded the time goals I had set for myself in all three sports. I really am so happy and proud of myself. I completed my first Half Ironman race - swimming, biking, and running 70.3 miles over 6 hours, 27 minutes and 20 seconds. I did it.

I'm amazed.

I have so many emotions and feelings and thoughts about the race and how I did and what's next and training and everything in between that I have had a hard time sitting down to my computer to type. I feel like if I could just explode emotions like excitement, happiness, pride, accomplishment, exhaustion, eagerness, and even a bit of uncertainty and overwhelming-ness (is that a word?) onto a canvas it might convey what I feeling better. I imagine one of those splatter paint paintings in my head with each color being a different emotion. I am hesitant to sit down and type because I feel like it would just come out as the blog and word version of something like this.

But, I guess, why don't we just start at the beginning, shall we?

On Friday around 1:00 p.m. Brick and I head out on the 1:45-2:00 hour trip from Atlanta to drive to Chattanooga. I knew that Saturday would be a busy day with lots to do to get ready for the race, so I wanted to be able to get out there on Friday and make a weekend of it. Packing for this thing alone was a beast but since it was driving distance, I was able to have a little more leniency and take everything I thought I might need as long as the essentials.

From the very beginning when I signed up for this race, my friend Brick had said she would be there to support me. You may remember that she came out for my Olympic Distance race with me and also came to cheer at the Sweetwater Sprint Triathlon I did last year as well. She is a great support, great company, and helped me lug around all the bags and gear that you need for a longer distance triathlon. In these races, the athlete's support person who helps with all this is known as the "race sherpa" and it is hard work and I was glad Brick was up for the challenge and ready to do whatever I needed that weekend.

When we got to Chattanooga we checked into our hotel and the city was already buzzing with excitement for the race. Other triathletes were checking in at the same time so there were bikes and bags and equipment and other foam rollers everywhere and the hotel staff was incredible. They had a little welcome station set up for triathletes with towels to clean off bikes, granola bars, and little bags with Epsom salts. There were signs up that they were hosting a breakfast for athletes the morning of the race and also would have a bike washing station after the race. Pretty amazing!

We walked from the hotel over to the race start and check-in, which was only a few blocks away. Unfortunately, the weather was pretty crummy and it was chilly and rainy in Chattanooga on Friday afternoon. We both had flashbacks of a few weeks ago when we'd gotten caught in a storm at the Taco Festival, and just embraced that apparently it is going to rain when we hang out.

Race check in went smooth, there were lots of forms and waivers to fill out and bibs and timing chips and race t-shirts to pick up. We made it out of there with relatively little confusion on my end. I have been agonizing over some of the logistical things wanted to be sure I fully understood everything I was supposed to do and needed for race morning. I originally got some bad information that confused me and it took a while to sort it all out.

Following the race check in, I attended an athlete briefing, browsed the money suck that is the race merchandise tent, checked out the sponsor tents and got a free stretching session, and took some photos. I wanted ample pictures with the Ironman logo items that were all over! So despite the rain, I was sure to get as many pictures as possible.

We finished up at the expo for the day, and went over to River Grille, a brewery right in the downtown area by our hotel and by the race, for dinner. I was craving woodfire pizza and a beer and theirs hit the spot!

We returned to the hotel room and were headed to bed by around 9:30 p.m. after doing some reading about the race and going through all the information that was given out at the race check in today.

My plan was to start Saturday morning off really early, since I knew that Sunday was going to be an early morning as well and I didn't want to mess up my schedule by sleeping in. However, it didn't start as early as I would have liked due to having a really crummy sleep. For some reason, nerves were already hitting me hard and I couldn't sleep with just so much running through my head about the next days.

I did get up around 7:00 a.m. and first head out to do a short shake out consisting of a 20 minute bike ride and then a 10 minute run. I explored some of the streets that were a part of the route for the next day and there were lots of runners and bikers out doing the same. I stopped for a mini photoshoot and to take in the bridge that I would be running over the next day and the river I would be swimming!

The day started a bit foggy and muggy but as the morning went on, the sky cleared up and it was a beautiful day. The sun started to dry up the ground from the rain and things were looking awesome for a great race morning.

Following my workout, Brick and I head out to do something I would have never thought to do on my own, but was recommended to me, which was drive the bike course. We pulled up the directions of the route online and started as close as we could to the start and went out and drove the route. There were a couple cars following me and doing the same thing and the race route had already been marked on the ground, so it was easy to follow.

I snapped a few pictures while I was driving of the route because it was pretty beautiful at times and I knew that I wouldn't be able to take any pictures the next day. There was a gorgeous view of Lookout Mountain and lots of rolling hills during the first half of the course, then you looped around the back end and rode through a little bit more of a boring route and through a small town. And then back into the main city of Chattanooga.

A lollipop route, if you will, which you can find here, if you're interested or care! It also gave me a chance to scope out the hills and know what I was in for. Although, I swear, it is hard to tell what is a hill from the car. Sometimes those slight inclines can really kill you on the bike, that you barely notice in the car.

When we got back from riding the driving the bike route, I was a bit more nervous than before we went out and I was really annoyed that I had done in. In the end, looking back on it now, I was really happy that I drove the route and knew what to look out for. However, Saturday at around Noon when we returned from driving? I was basically in tears I was so nervous. Okay, I was in tears. I did cry. I was scared.

The combination of driving the route and seeing just how long 56 miles is, added with returning to the hotel and seeing all these professional looking triathletes checking in or returning from bike rides had me freaked out. I didn't see ANYONE that looked like me. Nobody with rolls poking over the pants of their tri kits or with road bikes or with clothing without logos on it. Everyone looked fit and professional and out of an Ironman catalog and I felt like I was a joke being there. It really freaked me out and I got into a scary place for a little bit. My mom, Brick, and some triathlete friends calmed me down, reminding me that a lot of times it is just gear (although gear cannot make those people have the muscular bodies and flat stomachs I was seeing...)  My friend Kristin made me laugh saying, "The real pros aren't at the hotels - they rent houses. Those people are just faking it." But still, I was nervous.

I had eaten some leftover pizza for breakfast, as well as a bagel that I had brought with me from Atlanta. And after the ride, Brick and I went over to a local place called Milk and Honey that we'd seen on Yelp. The food was delicious and I had a turkey sandwich and a coffee. It was a really cute place if you are ever in Chattanooga!

We returned to our hotel and went about the next part of race prep weekend that I needed to do - which was check in my bike to the transition area.

For these big races, you drop off your bike the day before the race, which I guess it to help things get organized and maybe they examine people's bikes? I'm not sure. But you have to drop off your bike in the transition area, at your assigned location, the day before the race and be checked to ensure that you have the proper stickers on the bike. The stickers they give you have your bib number on it and it is your identifier when you are out on the bike course. During the run, you have to wear the paper bib that is traditionally seen at most road races and the bike stickers are for the bike portion.

The sticker situation caused a little stress as I wasn't sure where to put the sticker. I am sure it was just my nerves and anxiety causing me to overthink this but I wasn't sure what to do. To show you the state of mind that I was in, I actually walked halfway down the hallway of the hotel to leave to bring my bike to transition... and realized that I had forgotten the bike in the hotel room. So after going to check my bike in, looking what other people were doing, I put my sticker in the wrong place and then caused a bit of a cluster trying to fix it and getting help from like 6 different people all telling me different things. What should have been a simple trip to drop off my bike ended up a stressful one, but eventually my bike was racked and ready to go. Not before I gave it a little hug and a pep talk/prayer/plea to just be good to me tomorrow and not have any mechanical or tire issues.

This time also gave me the opportunity to be sure that I knew where I would be biking in and out of the transition as well as entering for the swim, and exiting for the run. Once I felt good, I hightailed it out of there and was so stressed about the sticker situation that I told Brick we needed to go get a drink. I always like having a beer before my races, just one, the night before, and so we stopped at World of Beer to sit outside and enjoy the day and have my pre race relaxation beer. Brick got a bit artistic with the pics.

Nothing was sounding good for dinner, which I believe was the nerves in me because I always like to eat! But, I knew I had to have something. I was tired and nervous and just wanted to be back in my hotel room reviewing plans for the race and making sure that everything was ready. I remembered that the night before my first Half Marathon, which ironically, was also in Tennessee, that I had gone to a BBQ place and just had sides for dinner. There was a BBQ place right by our hotel called Sticky Fingers, so I opted for that, and we got takeout and brought it back to the hotel. I went with a salad with grilled chicken, macaroni and cheese, and corn bread for my prerace dinner.

I ate my meal in bed, while reviewing and creating a race plan for the next day and making sure that I had everything organized the way that I wanted it to be for the morning. I put on headphones and just zoned out listening to music and prepping. Brick and I worked perfectly together as she was more than fine to do her thing and leave me be to calm myself and get ready for the race. I went to bed around 9:30 p.m. and was lights out until 4:00 a.m. when my alarm went off for the morning!

To avoid having a super long post, I will recap the race itself tomorrow. Thanks everyone for reading along with me and enjoying this experience. Everything means so much!