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.

- 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.
- Enjoy every portion. Celebrate every accomplishment.
- Be confident.


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.
- 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.

Time: 3:59
Comparison to 2016 Chatt: -1:36
Best HIM comparison: -1:36

My plan / approach: 
- In and around. Down the first aisle.
- Helmet first.
- Sock. Shoes.
- Sunglasses.
- 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.


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.
- 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!

Time: 2:33
Comparison to 2016 Chatt: -2:30
Best HIM comparison: -2:30

My plan/approach: 
- 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.


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:
- 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.
- 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.


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!

Monday, May 29, 2017

The days leading up to 2017 Chattanooga Half

Last Sunday, May 21, was my goal race for the spring, with the Chattanooga Half Ironman - my third triathlon of the Half Ironman distance and my second time at the race in Chattanooga. For those who may not be as familiar with the various distances of triathlon, a Half Ironman, or 70.3, consists of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run - a total of 70.3 miles elapsed.  I wanted to do this race again to see exactly how much I could improve in one year of coaching, experience, training hard, minor gear upgrades, and a lot of hard work.

On Thursday morning before the race, my mom flew down from New Hampshire to Atlanta to come and visit and see my race, but also my life in Atlanta. She has been down once before, which was right after I moved here and I was in a different apartment and neighborhood and didn't have any friends yet, favorite places, or know my way around at all. This was really her first opportunity to come and see what my life is actually like here and meet some of my friends-turned-family that she hears about all the time! Coming with us to Chattanooga for the race would be my friend and most amazing supporter of my athletic goals and triathlon, Brick. It was going to be a fun weekend for Brick and my mom to be able to meet in person for the first time as well!

The three of us planned to drive up to Chattanooga on Friday afternoon, so for last minute preparations before leaving, on Thursday evening, my mom and I went over to my coach Jerome's house for a last minute bike check and pep talk to get all of my questions answered. I had actually taken my bike to Atlanta Cycling just a few days before to wash it and had ended up getting one of my tires replaced as well at the recommendation of one of the techs there. As much as I trust them, I wanted one final check on the bike because I had also used it on the trainer after taking it there and I always worry I am going to loosen or mess something up by washing it.

With some last minute adjustments and the addition of some amazing decals (is that what you call them?!) from the coaches at ITL, my bike was ready for Chatt. Jerome helped me to lessen the load on my bike by only carrying the bare essentials of a tire repair kit and cleaning out the empty wrappers from Stinger Waffles from my bike satchels. We had discussed him letting me borrow his race wheels and he also gave me an aero helmet I could borrow for the race if I wanted. However, I know myself and I really wanted to see how I did on this race without these types of enhancements on my bike. I knew that if I had a good bike split, I would question how much of it was the hard work I had put in and how much was just bike improvements/purchased speed. I wanted to do well on the bike that I had trained on. Last year I didn't have the aero bars on my bike, I put those on last July, but otherwise - the only difference between last year and this year was whatever strength I gained (and my sweet decals.)

I'm sure as I get further into this sport, I will get into wanting the better, faster gear, but I know myself well enough that I need to take small steps forward to get myself comfortable and go my own way. I can't say enough though about how willing my coach was to offer me anything and everything from advice to bike support to gear to help me in the last days before the race.

At this point I had already been panicking a bit about the weather. From mid-week on, the forecast said thunderstorms were expected all day Sunday, the day of the race. With about a 80-90% chance starting in the morning. It worried not because I didn't want to race in the rain - I was okay with that for the most part. But mostly because I was scared that a portion of the race would be cancelled. If there were thunderstorms in the morning, I imagined there was no way we could get into a river and swim. I know that lots of times at races, Ironman will cancel the swim or different portions of the race for safety and I mainly just wanted to have the opportunity to compete.

I put together a backup plan and backup race for myself and did my best not to think about it but it was definitely in the back of my mind. Talking with Jerome made me feel better and more prepared for whatever would come that weekend.

Friday morning, I swam at Windy Hill and then stopped on my way home to pick up a bagel for breakfast and one to bring up to Chattanooga for Saturday if I wanted it. As I parked, I had a flashback to last September when I met Adam and Jerome at the same bagel place for breakfast for the first time to learn more about ITL and my training goals. I wasn't in the market for a coach at that time of year but was blown away with how nice and welcoming Adam and Jerome were and after that meeting decided to join ITL for a few workouts. The rest is history and I was feeling nostalgic so shot a text to the two of them before heading home to finish packing up to head to Chattanooga.

We left at about 2:00, arriving in Chattanooga around 4:30 and checking into our hotel at The Chattanoogan. The hotel was about 1 mile from the Ironman Village / Expo / Transition / Finish and at first I was a little worried about it. I didn't know much about the hotel since it wasn't a brand hotel and I was unsure if being a bit further out than what we were last year would make things more complicated or not. When we arrived, I no longer worried because the hotel was gorgeous and Brick and my mom were both really happy with it. I had some fear at the last minute that I had booked a random motel, but this was actually way nicer than the Holiday Inn we had been at the year before. There were bowls of candy and fruit water at check-in and the room was super spacious so we were all happy campers.

We dropped our things and went to the Expo where I checked in, we explored the vendors, and then walked down by the river and transition a bit before heading to dinner. The expo didn't seem to have as many things as last year, but perhaps I was just wide eyed last year and everything seemed new and exciting. We were sure to snap some pictures though!

For dinner, we went to Big River Grille, which is where Brick and I ate dinner last year on both Friday night and again on Sunday. I know there are tons of restaurants in Chattanooga that we could try, but I had it in my head to want to do the same thing and want to get their pizza that I had eaten the year before. Brick ordered a very spicy burger and my mom ordered the chicken mac and cheese and of course, I ate off both their plates naturally. I was feeling good and relaxed and even had some time for some silliness, courtesy of the random brick boat outside the restaurant.

We returned to the hotel for an early bedtime, sleeping in on Saturday morning. This year, my Saturday before the race was very low key. Last year I had a short shake out workout to get in and wanted to spend time driving the bike course. This year, my coach had said a shake out wasn't necessary and I felt comfortable with what I had remembered of the course. We slept in and then went over to a coffee shop called the Frothy Monkey for some morning joe. It was a short walk from our hotel and turns out also the home of the Chattanooga Choo Choo so we explored the hotel a bit before returning back to our room. I had eaten food that I brought for breakfast, planning to go out for a late lunch as the main meal of the day. The day before I felt I had gone a bit overboard on eating with bagels, pizza, cookies, cake, etc. so was feeling full. My friend Kristin came over and hung out with us for a bit, we relaxed, and eventually made our way over to the Bitter Alibi for lunch.

The restaurant was great but I definitely made the wrong choice in meals. I ordered a egg and toast dish, still feeling heavy from the day before, but then ended up eating half of my mom's order of Fluffernutter French Toast. It was so good!

After lunch we grabbed my bike and drove the one mile to the transition area to check my bike in for the evening. I had been able to scope out the location of my bike rack the day before, so I was already feeling comfortable there and mostly wanted to be sure to just connect with the ITL crew before dropping my bike. We found a bunch of people in the race expo area and Adam let some of the air out of my tires before I dropped it off. My coach Jerome had told me that I would be okay if I left the air pressure how I wanted them the night before, but then last minute Adam said to double check in the morning and that I would be able to find someone with a bike pump in the AM.

Adam also advised me that I shouldn't go with what I had been planning to do as far as timing to start the race. I had planned with one of my friends from training, Lauren, to meet her in the morning for the swim start and get there pretty early.  When I mentioned that to Adam, he said that he thought I would be better off if I planned to start a bit later. As a stronger swimmer, it serves me well to start further back, and have weaker swimmers start more towards the front, that way we might even off and end up near one another on the bike. I hadn't thought at all about this type of strategic placement at all the year before so it was an interesting concept. My main goal was that I wanted to have friends to meet in the morning and hang out with while in line. Last year, Brick came with me early in the morning and we spent more than an hour waiting in a long line at the swim start. I was hoping to allow my mom and Brick to have a less hectic morning and go to the swim start on my own this year.

After dropping off my bike and seeing the ITL crew, Adam told me that he thought it would be perfect for me to meet two other athletes who train with us, Tisha and Krystle, at 5:20 at the transition area to go together to the swim start.

With a plan in place, we returned to the hotel for a little bit, where I worked on my race plan and mental prep, before heading out to go to Whole Foods to meet even more ITL people for a small dinner. I picked at some chicken, vegetables, mac and cheese, rice and potatoes, but wasn't feeling super hungry. The mood wasn't quite as fun and energetic as the ITL crew usually is as I think pre-race nerves were starting to kick in for most, at least they were for me.

We didn't stay too long and then returned to our hotel where I got into bed and put music on and started to review my final race plan and mental prep for the next day.  My mom sat with me, reading a book, and Brick let us know she was going to venture out and try to get a drink somewhere nearby to where we were staying. It was still early, maybe 7:30 pm, and super bright outside, so I didn't blame her for not being ready to settle in for the night. Wanting to get myself ready for bed, I pulled the blackout curtains shut in our hotel room and dimmed the light so that hopefully it would start to cue my body to be bedtime soon. With my headphones on and laptop open, I was trying to stay focused and get my mind ready for the next day before an early bedtime, but I did send a message to Brick to make sure she had found a place to go okay.

Quickly she responded back, "I'm coming back. Look outside." and I got out of bed to pull back the curtains to a completely dark sky and DOWNPOURING rain. Then the thunder and lightning started.

Part of me thought it was a good sign - that maybe the weather would just empty everything out now. But the forecast said for thunderstorms all through the next day as well and it was SO loud and so strong that I started to get really panicky. I thought of my bike sitting outside in this storm and texted my coach, who told me not to worry and that things would be fine. He said the forecast for the next day said light rain. At the same time, Adam posted in the ITL Facebook page saying to have positive thoughts for the next day - that it would be 70 and sunny and he wouldn't have anyone mentioning anything else. With the coaches clearly not wanting us to panic about the weather, I did so to my mom and decided to just head to bed. I had reviewed my race plan a number of times and felt good mentally, although concerned about what was happening outside. I continued to have my headphones on to not see or hear the storm, did a meditation on my phone, and went to bed thinking that I would just take whatever the next day brought when it came!

Tomorrow I will post the recap of the actual race. Thank you for reading! I also wanted to take a moment to address Memorial Day and say a thank you to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for my own freedoms. This day does not go by without some reflection on my part and I am beyond grateful for the bravery of few that protect the freedoms of all. Thank you and my heart goes out to those.