**Editor’s note: I have ZERO photos from this race, so to keep you all visually entertained I have inserted some other somewhat-relevant photos from the photo bank – lucky you!**
Last weekend I was fortunate enough to turn in my second overall win for the tri season — and second in a row — at the Folsom Long Course triathlon. It seems like things have gone from zero to 60 for me in these past few weeks as far as triathlon is concerned, and I really feel so blessed to have been able to make such a quick turnaround. Sunday’s race was an absolutely amazing day, and yet another reminder of just how good it feels to be back out there!
After a pretty long week of work at the Outdoor Retailer show in Utah the week before last, I headed into last week intent on (finally) turning in some pretty big hours. I was mostly able to make that happen, and it was so much fun being able to get in some longer workouts and some more seriously stellar adventures in the great outdoors. I certainly didn’t have much rest behind me going into Sunday’s race, but I made up for it in enthusiasm, as I was feeling completely fired up from a solid week of training, and my continually-amped stokage level for the fact that I am actually able to race again.
Even with the 3:45 a.m. wake-up call, I really couldn’t imagine what I’d rather be doing that day! I was lucky enough to have the company of my friend, Elyah, who was racing the Olympic-distance, on the way down to the race to help me stay awake and just make the morning generally more pleasant! As usual the pre-race time went way too fast, and after my standard not-super-organized transition set-up and a scramble to find a bathroom that didn’t have a line a half-mile long, I was pretty much running over to the lake for the 7:00 start. That certainly didn’t help make the get-this-dang-wetstuit-on-shimmy any less awkward (this is seriously one of the hardest parts of the day, and sometimes I wish I had video footage to prove it). But I made it, and off we went, into the sun (no, really… RIGHT into the sun).
SWIM, swim, swim!
I know I often mention my difficulties sighting in races, but this one really did take the cake. I pretty much couldn’t see a thing but bright sun-ball glare straight ahead, and I don’t think anybody around me could either. But somehow we made it around that first buoy after what seemed like forever, and turned away from the glare… HALLELUJAH! Unfortunately, it didn’t get too much easier after that. For some reason this whole swim felt really long, and I felt like I was kinda suffering through it in terms of the perceived length. My stroke did feel strong, and I tried to push my effort, but every time I looked up at the next buoy it never seemed to get any closer, and when we finally made the turn for sure I was beyond ready to get out of the water. I was surprised to see that I’d made it out in 32:47 — definitely not my greatest performance, but not the 40 minutes that it felt like, honestly. Certainly better than I was anticipating, and a totally acceptable start to the day, with some good promise ahead!
Time to RIDE!
I felt great as we started off on the bike, and was super pumped up to be out there! I had no idea whatsoever what the course was going to bring, which is generally not ideal, but may not have been the worst thing in this case. It was sort of one of those days where I was just taking everything as it came, nice and relaxed, and just enjoying the ride! But soon enough I would learn that this course had some pretty serious hills. I wasn’t super ready for that, but I reminded myself that “I freaking love climbing hills on my bike,” and embraced the challenge. That was a good thing, because they kept on coming. I had no clue where I stood among the women’s field, but I’d passed a few gals who’d gotten out of the water ahead of me, and only men had passed by, so I knew I was up there. I felt really good, and was honestly surprised at how quickly the ride seemed to be going by (unlike its predecessor…).
After all the climbing on the way out, the second half was nice and quick, with some long gradual descents and flat stretches where you could really start cranking up the power. I was really happy about this because my pace was well behind where I wanted it to be after those first 30 miles, so I jumped on the opportunity to start picking it back up and tried to really push on that back half and take advantage of the faster terrain. I passed one more woman somewhere in the 40-mile range, and as it turned out that put me into the lead. I continued to feel really strong and didn’t experience any of the dips that I did in Vineman 70.3 on the bike leg, which was awesome! Before I knew it I was down to about 10 miles to go, and it looked like this could definitely be the day that I broke the 5-hour mark at the half-Iron distance. Things were shaping up perfectly, and if I could stay strong for those last 10 miles I’d even have a bit of a cushion going into the run for a sub-5. Woop woop!
Fortunately, the rest of the bike continued to be nice and flat, and fast! Unfortunately, I measured it over a mile-and-a-half too long (57.7 instead of 56 miles), so when I didn’t see the transition coming after the 56th mile on my GPS, I started to get a little concerned. Then when I still didn’t see it for the next mile, my concern grew. Then finally I could see that we were coming back into the park, much to my relief… but I was also disappointed to see that this extra mileage (which several others who I’d talked to measured as well) had extended my bike time pretty significantly, and would make it really tough to notch that sub-5 time. I was officially of the bike in 2:46:17, which I had anticipated would have been closer to 2:40 as I was watching the GPS. Bummer! But… not much I could do about that, except keep on trucking!
Getting My RUN On!
Transition #2, like transition #1, was actually exceptionally decent for me (probably two of my least embarrassingly slow transitions of the year — woot!), and I was off and runnin’! I’d pretty much already dismissed the thought of a sub-5 after the extended bike time, but I knew a PR was definitely still well within reach. As I exited transition my watch showed 3:22 and change for total race time. That meant I’d have to run faster then 1:38 to break 5 hours. My previous run PR in a 70.3 was 1:40:59. That seemed like a push, but I figured I’d go for it anyway and see what happened. Much to my surprise, I felt flippin’ amazing out there! The run was a two-times out-and-back which can be a little tough mentally, but I just tried to break it down into chunks and really focus on one mile at a time.
The first “chunk,” on the way out lap one, was just stellar. A couple of sub-7-minute miles, and I felt like a super hero. I knew this was fast, but I also knew I had to push it if I wanted that sub-5 (and I did). The second “chunk,” on the way back, brought more super-hero-style goodness as I continued to feel really strong. I was eating and drinking well, taking full advantage of the every-mile aid stations (thanks USA Productions and your awesome volunteers!!). I didn’t really know my progressive run time because I was just taking it mile-by-mile (that’s WAY too much math when you’re tired), but I was still turning in some really strong paces on my miles, focusing on keeping them all under 7:30.
At the turn-around halfway through I started to think about how I had to do all that again, and realized there was a lot of race left to go. Ugh. But I re-channeled my energy back to the “one mile at a time” mantra, and told myself that after each one I had that much less left to run! (Small victories…) Chunks 3 and 4 sort of blended together with a bit of up-and-down action along the way. I definitely had some moments where I started to feel weak and tired, and HOT, and THIRSTY, and like I was going to get caught or have a total meltdown and have to start walking (okay, I really wanted to start walking). I started fantasizing about jumping in the lake and the many gallons of liquid I was gonna down after I hit the finish. A few of the miles were pushing the 8-minute range, but I (painfully) kept them all under 8. But then I would muster up some new energy (primarily thinking about how much I wanted to get to that damn finish line and lay down!), and throw in a few faster miles here and there.
The last couple miles were really hard and my body felt pretty much done, but I forced myself to press on and get the job done, just taking my brain into autopilot as much as possible. After the 12-mile marker total exhaustion mode took over and my foot started cramping up, which trickled into my calf, and my legs started to feel like structureless noodles. But I was still so close to that 5-hour mark, so I just kept on pushing, unsure whether I’d make it over the line still standing. Fortunately I made it before complete meltdown could set in, and just missed that sub-5 time by 48 seconds. The good news is that’s a new PR time for me at this distance, a new best run time for this distance (1:38:39 – averaging 7:31/mile), and I still call it a sub-5 in my book with the extra distance measured on my watch 😉 I’ll get it officially next time!
The meltdown did come after I crossed the finish, and I felt virtually dead for a good half-hour, completely unable to function. My body had truly gone to its limit. After plopping myself down straight in the lake, I hobbled over to the grass and laid in the fetal position for several minutes (prompting many strangers to ask if I was okay — yep, just hanging out!). But I stayed out of the medical tent, a solid success in my book. Before too long, I was back to life, and feeling stoked! A new PR (5:00:48), and my second overall win — feels GOOD! I feel like I’ve finally gotten to a point where I’m able to tap into a new level on these half-Iron races where it’s not such a struggle to get through them and I can push that much harder (and, yes, hurt that much more… but go faster!). I am happy to have felt so strong through Sunday’s effort… and a little nervous thinking about going twice that distance next month (yikes — I sure hope it doesn’t hurt twice as much!). But for now, it’s back to the dirt for Xterra Lake Tahoe tomorrow! Yipee!