First off, THANK YOU! The most special thing about racing in Clearwater was the support I received from everyone--family, friends and my random Internet amigos. I traveled out to Florida all on my own; yet, never once did I feel alone. At the beginning of this year, I could count my triathlon friends on one hand... no longer the case. And that does wonders for my racing. To know people are Athlete Tracking me or even just thinking of me is the best motivator possible. So thanks to everyone who reads this blog and to everyone who sent me a good luck message at some point.
So Florida. Imagine sunny blue skies, high temperatures, humid air, mellow sea breezes and a sparkling crystal-clear ocean. Then throw all that away and replace it with overcast gray skies, cold temps, angry oceans and gnarly winds. Yup, that's what I arrived to. Well, actually, I arrived at 1 a.m., so I couldn't really assess the weather till sunrise. From my hotel room in the Holiday Innnnnn, this is the ickiness I saw: This pic doesn't do the choppy, currenty mayhem justice:
I meant to get in a little workout Thursday, but the day got away from me. From meeting up with friends, athlete check-in, bike pickup and finding the local grocery store to stock up, before I knew it the sun was setting and I was headed to the Athlete Dinner with Ben and Perry (met Ben back in Kona). We rode our bikes over to Sand Key Park--probably not the best idea because it was pitch-black riding back, but I let the boys lead the way so they could eat it and not me. (No one ate it.) By the way, I was very impressed with the dinner served to us. Honestly, it was better than what we got in Kona! And we even got big ol' M-dot cookies!
Thursday night, I noticed the problem with my bike. Thank god I was able to get it fixed Friday. Lesson learned: Always get to an Ironman with at least two days to hang out before the race to adjust, settle in and take care of any potential disasters.
Friday morning I went on a ride with fast people from SD: Chris Berg and Lauren Chiodini. It was my first time hanging out with Lauren, and glad I did! Besides the fact she's A LOT faster than me, we are very similar: same age, from south OC, played volleyball for the same club, high schools were in the same league so our VB teams played each other, college in SD, mutual friends. Parallel lives that finally crossed in Clearwater. Small world. I'm stoked b/c now I have another chick training partner who kicks ass! (It's always good to have fast friends rather than AG rivals)
After the three of us rode part of the course for about an hour, it was time to check in the bike and gear bags. It's pretty cool to get your own escort through transition. Very VIP-ish.
As tempting as it was to play outside all afternoon (the weather had improved a ton!), I instead sat on my butt for probably eight hours watching movies, texting, talking on the phone, FB-ing, eating---RESTING. I did nothing that actually required intelligence. It was pretty awesome. And since I had a kitchenette in my room, I didn't even have to leave for dinner. I was all prepared and had a perfect pre-race meal.
For the first time ever I didn't have trouble sleeping. Woke up energized at 4:30. Did the usual routine, had the usual oatmeal concoction then headed out and walked the ~15-min trek to transition. Once there, I realized I forgot my swim goggles. Crap. The only time I was wishing I had a sherpa with me; instead, I jogged back and grabbed the goggles. Still made it to transition with time to spare. Whew. Chatted with friends, and was feeling calm. Even in those few last minutes as I got corralled to the swim start line, I was talking with Colleen, and it was as mellow as if we were in the ticket line at the movies, not about to start a half-Ironman Championship race. Sucked down a last gel and it was go time.
As you may have heard, the swim course changed from the Gulf to the bay due to the insane chop and currents in the sea. As a result we had a "time trial" start. Huh? A first for me; I was clueless until I was doing it: single-file line, walk to the end of a little dock, plop into the 3-feet-ish deep water (no diving) and get going one at a time. It was weird. A very anticlimactic beginning to the race.
As always, I was blinded by the rising sun. Ridiculous! My saving grace was being in the mix of swimmers and letting them guide me from buoy to buoy. The good thing about time-trial starts is that there's no massive crowd of people thrashing around at the beginning. However, about 10 min into my swim, the faster guys who started behind me were catching me and I got the token MAJOR blow to the head. Had to stop and regroup for a good 30-40 seconds. Ouch. But overall, I felt pretty good swimming. The only other bad part was the taste/smell of the water--like pure diesel. Nauseating.
Exiting the swim was a challenge. We had to narrow into a tiny little dock, while dodging wooden poles in the water. The exit was right by a red pirate ship (random), which helped to sight. Still, I slipped and tripped climbing up that little ramp. By the time I hit the mat it was just over 35 minutes. But I think my swim time was sub-35 if you don't count the inefficient exit I had. A PR for me! (Now I'm setting my sights on 32 min or faster for Oceanside in March.)
Thanks Heidi (Lauren's mom) for getting pics of me! Too nice...
Wetsuit strippers rock. But the whole bag thing/changing tents was new and I was confused. Slower transitions than normal, but whatever.
My one time to shine. Like I said before, I was determined to stay away from any drafting. Didn't care if that meant a lower ranking/slower split. I wanted to ride my own 56 miles. Unfortunately my knee was bothering me right away. I was pissed. But since the bike doesn't pound the knee like running, I said to myself, "Screw it--if there's a change I can't run the full 13.1 miles b/c of the knee, I might as well hammer the bike as hard as I can to shoot for a good split."
Generally the course is pancake flat, but there are several gradual hills--nothing major. Plus there are a lot of turns and narrow roads. It's a good recipe for drafting, even if you're not trying. I can see how it's easy to get caught up in a pack. You literally have to stop/slow way down to avoid them. Which I did. A bummer, but it is what it is.
I still very much loved my bike experience. (In another life, I'll be a pro cyclist.)
I've almost perfected my bike nutrition, this time taking in a variety of gels every 20-30 min, sipping G2, water and water+Nuun—like clockwork. Next 70.3, however, I will bring along some actual food. I need to mix it up with the gels, which get nauseating after a while.
By mile 49 I was so ready for the bike to be over. Another indicator that I'm not yet ready to do a full Ironman. Total bike time- 2:31, avg 22.2 mph—major PR.
Oops, I tried something new. Proof (see shoes attached to pedals)....
First of all, this run IS NOT flat. The bridge you run over 4x is a painfully long ~12% grade uphill—like full on ships travel underneath it, a lot bigger than I expected. Of course, you get to run down the other side, but it still sucks. (Looks like the bridge in the picture posted above.)
I started off strong, ignoring the knee pain as best I could because the thought of a DNF killed me—really, it wasn't an option, I'd walk if necessary. At first, I held a good pace from low 8's to sub-7's. I made it through the first loop in decent time. Then sh*t hit the fan. The knee was aching. My body was aching. I wanted so badly to at least hold an 8-min pace, but toward the end I fell apart. Yes, the knee undoubtedly played a role, but really the fact is my legs just didn't want to go anymore. (Yet another reason why Ironman can wait a couple years.)
I still PR'd the run, going sub-1:50. But I wanted to do better than that! Grrr! With all those painful hours spent running, I should have done better than that!!!
I somehow managed to pick up my pace to ~7:30 for the last mile+, realizing I was getting close to the 5-hr mark. Just missed it. I crossed at 5-0-stupid-1. Immediately, I beelined for medical to ice my knee.
Meanwhile, I was afraid to remove my shoes and see the blister damage on my arches. But, I'm starting to connect the dots: Those blisters are definitely caused by my high-arched-feet-gone-flat, which, in turn causes me to run in poor form and, thus, the knee pain. Ha! Biomechanics in action! Changes are being made.... I think I've caught the problem before it's too late!!!
The post-race food was pretty crappy, especially the pizza. That disappointed me more than the :01 attached to my 5-hour finish. I ate just enough to hold me over, said some hellos to friends, then rode my bike back to the hotel, crazy, I know. Ate some real good food there.
I thought I'd fit in a nap, but it never happened. Next thing I knew, I was headed to the Awards Dinner with Ben, Lauren and crew. A view of Sand Key Park/Awards Dinner from my room:I felt great Saturday night, believe it or not. My body is getting used to half-Ironman racing on some level... earlier this year, after Oceanside I pretty much was worthless by 4 p.m., after Vineman I had about 1 glass of wine and was dozing off at dinner (remember, Ian?). But at Clearwater I charged through the night until almost 2 a.m.
Besides the most hilarious awards speech ever given by Michael Raelert (winner), the two things Clearwater's awards had that Kona lacked:
Best mini key lime pies ever... After awards, I got our dinner crew to meet up with the Breakaway Training crew at the Sheraton Hotel bar. With a drunk Chris drinking foo-fooey appletinis, Felipe's birthday, two podium athletes in the mix (Lauren and Ben's friend), me & my wine, a friendly bartender and post-race delirium, good times were had. See pictures on FB.
I continued on to the post-race party at Shepherd's, where only the hardcore racers were still up and energized ;) Triathletes can be like monks before a big race, but man can they also party and drink hard when all is said and done. Pretty funny to see. I danced for quite a while—don't know how considering my knee hated me and the legs were stiff and sore. You only live once, though, and who knows if I'll ever be back in Clearwater to race.
As expected, I felt like total crap on Sunday. Like a semi-truck had rammed into me.... repeatedly. But successfully made the long journey home. And offseason has officially begun. Ahhhhhh :)