Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Race Report: Ironman 70.3 Kansas
This was one of the best things I've ever done in my life. One of the coolest. One of the most rewarding. By far one of the greatest achievements. So here's what happened.
I had the awesome privilege of having my whole family at this race with me. My parents each took half a day off work to drive down on Friday night. My brother took a week off of playing bass for the church band to come watch. One of my athletes, Karlene, and her husband shared our campsite. We had a good group.
My family drove down on Friday afternoon, arrived at the camp site around 6:30, and set up our space. My dad is a camping ninja. He climbed a dead tree to find us some firewood. He cooked pork loin with potatoes and sweet potatoes in a dutch oven. We had a Greek salad with tomatoes and cucumber. Peach cobbler for dessert. And then we sat around the fire and talked until it was time for bed.
I slept horrendously on Friday night. The ground was hard and I couldn't get comfortable and there were four of us crammed into that tent and my dad snores and my mom is a chronic insomniac and there was just so much . . . human in there. I prefer not to be in the presence of a lot of human at once when I'm sleeping. It bothers me.
So I didn't get very good rest on Friday, and it sort of freaked me out, because I knew that I was going to have the same kind of sleeping conditions on Saturday night. And even though I know that you have to get good rest for a good week prior to an event in order to perform your best, there's still a need for good sleep the night immediately before.
Saturday saw pancakes for breakfast, the Rock Chalk (Jayhawk!) 5k/10k runners coming past our campsite, and the arrival of Karlene and her husband, Virgil, along with both of our bikes! We picked up our packets just in time to totally miss the rush (the line went from a 5 minute wait to an hour wait shortly after we got checked in). We browsed through the surprisingly full expo section. We got lunch at a great barbecue place in Lawrence. Karlene and I went for a little bike ride, a little run. We dropped our bikes off at T1 and got body-marked (which was totally useless, by the way, because I just ended up with black smudges all over my legs and arms).
The best part about the whole process was that there were other people around the whole time. I didn't have to do anything in isolation. Even gathering my gear for the next day's activities was done with Karlene, the two of us reminding each other not to forget anything. It feels a lot different to be getting ready for a race with another athlete. And because there were many athletes camping near us, we got a chance to get ready with a handful of wonderful people.
And with all that going on, the camping and the family time and the getting to know other athletes and the time spent with friends was every bit as significant to me as the race itself.
And I got an awesome night's sleep on Saturday.
We woke up at 4 a.m. to a dark, cloudy sky with lightning in the distance. Fortunately, all of the storms went north and east of us, and all we got was a little sprinkle (and the light show). My dad and Virgil both woke up to join us for oatmeal with raisins. I ran off to the bath house to change into my kit and apply generous amounts of sunscreen and chamois butter. I was expecting a crowd of people in the bathroom, but I only saw one other woman getting ready.
Karlene was a little jumpy, but I was totally mellow. I didn't have the butterflies, the nerves, the feeling of "What the hell am I getting myself into?" that I was expecting. I was just kicking back in a lawn chair and eating my oatmeal. At 5, I gathered my stuff, wrangled Karlene, and we headed to T2 to drop off our running supplies. From there, Virgil and my dad joined us in the mile-long walk down to T1.
It seemed like I had brought an inordinate amount of stuff into transition with me. Bike pump, spare tube, helmet, shoes, nutrition, water bottles, towel, wetsuit. It took me a good 15 minutes to get everything where I wanted it. I aired up my tires, grabbed my Body Glide, and went to join the line for the port-a-johns.
After a long wait, when there were only about 3 people left in front of me, a USAT guy started announcing that they were going to close down transition. Why are those guys always such dicks? Just once, I'd like to encounter a race official who doesn't act like an asshole when preparing to close transition. I asked Karlene to go grab my wetsuit for me, so I wouldn't have to go back to it after I finished my very necesary moment.
I was struggling into my wetsuit with about 10 minutes left to go. Met a very nice woman from England (via Junction City, KS) who I'd already remarked on several occasions that morning because she was adorable. About 10 years too old for me, probably, but adorable. We chatted as we walked down to the boat ramp, where my parents caught me and wished me luck one more time. Then it was time to muscle my way through the mass of humanity to the cluster of white caps that matched my own.
Swim: 1.2 miles, 39:34 (2:02/100 m)
This was one of the cleanest swim starts I've ever had. I started off to the right, wanting to avoid the inevitable pummeling that I've seemed to receive lately. I swear, I was faster than most of the field a year ago. Now I feel like I'm being left in the dust. My starting position did the trick, and I was blessed with plenty of personal space for the first 900 m or so. The biggest problem I had was that my goggles were fogging up, and I couldn't see the buoys. So I was just relying on the people around me to head in the right general direction. Then when I was about 50 m from a buoy, I would finally be able to see it. I went through probably 500 m like that, then took enough time to stop and clean my goggles. After that, I could see fine.
I was coming up on the first turn at about the time the wave right behind mine started to catch up. At that point, my time of peaceful swimming was over. It was okay at the beginning, as the athletes who could actually swim passed me on either side. Then I started to get elbows to the sides, kicks in the jaw, and all the unpleasantness characteristic of swimming in a pack of large, masculine triathletes whose only objective is to make it through the swim without drowning themselves. How, I ask you, is it possible that these men were passing me?!
I didn't know my swim time until much later (I figured I came in at around 45 minutes), but it makes me very happy. I swam right at the pace I should have swam at, and it was practically effortless. It set me up well for the rest of the race, and it was a great way to begin.
Needless to say, I wasn't really hurrying, although the amount of time I spent in transition definitely became significant to me later. I had my wetsuit half off and my swim cap and goggles in hand practically as soon as I was out of the water, and was running past all the Clydes who had ambushed me in the last quarter of the swim. But once I got to my bike, I got very slow and methodical. I normally don't carry CO2 or a pump or a tube at races, but this ride would be long enough that I wanted that security. So I stuffed all that into my two tiny jersey pockets, sat down to put on socks (I know!) and shoes, double-checked to make sure all my stuff was in my transition bag so that I would actually get it back, then started running. I was parked at the far end of transition, so I had a long run in bike shoes; it's like running in high heels, which is why most women I know are better at it than men. Oh, and I ran into a guy whose butt was sticking out into the aisle while he was trying to get his wet suit off. Knocked him right on his ass. Sorry, dude.
Bike: 56 miles, 2:56:32 (19 MPH)
I had heard things about this course. I'd heard it was tough, that there were a lot of hills, that the whole thing really took it out of you. That was not my experience. I mean, there were a lot of hills (for Kansas). But they weren't the brutal hills of Wildflower. And they weren't the relentless rollers of the Latham loop. They were just hills, interspersed here and there on the course.
And what a course. The Iron Cross, which is apparently a popular loop around Lawrence, is gorgeous. It was ton of fun to ride. I would definitely consider it the highlight of this race.
I managed to lose my nutrition out of my Bento Box before we even got out of the state park. The thing is that I don't have an actual Bento Box; my dad made one for me for Christmas a couple years ago. Yeah, it's not perfect, but tell me you aren't jealous. My dad rocks. Anyway, keeping the thing closed and out of the way of my knees when I'm pedaling takes some finnagling, and I apparently had not adequately finnagled. So I was going uphill and knocked my powerballs and two tubes of Shot Bloks onto the road. I thought about just leaving them and trying to survive on the gels and powerbars that would be at all the aid stations (or so I thought), but decided to go back for the food. If nothing else, maybe I saved myself a littering penalty.
I passed Chrissie Wellington, and we'll just leave it at that. There will be no mention of the respective directions in which each of us were traveling.
The best part of the bike was when I went into bike nazi mode. The course was really crowded for most of the ride, which is understandable. Put a couple thousand cyclists onto a single road and they're going to packed together in places. So incidental drafting is bound to happen. I understand that. And it was a windy day. I had moments when I thought, "You know, I could just stay about a bike length behind this guy for a little while, and no one would even notice." I have no problem admitting that there's a little bit of a cheat inside my head, especially when I'm looking at another 5 hour of racing.
But there was one guy who flew by about three inches off another cyclist's wheel, and in an area where the course was not at all crowded. At first I thought he was just waiting for the opportunity to pass the guy in front of him, but it soon became apparent that his intention was nothing other than blatant disregard for the draft zone. The other two or three cyclists on the road near me were grumbling to each other. So what did I do?
I chased the motherfucker down.
I have no idea how much I had to hammer to chase them. It felt effortless, but they had just blown by me, so I must have been going pretty fast. Anyway, I pulled up even with The Cheat, and yelled at him as I went by to "Get out of the draft zone!" and kept pedaling. As they faded away behind me, I started thinking, "Dude, that was really stupid. What if he chases me down now? What if we get into a shouting match or something crazy? What did I just start?" But it was nothing. A few minutes later, the same duo passed me again, this time with The Cheat a less-blatant bike length off the back of his domestique. So maybe I made some difference. At any rate, I felt like a total bad ass for doing it.
Towards the end of the bike, my neck got really stiff. I was expecting that, since it always happens on my long rides. My levator scapulae get so tight from holding my head up in aero position, and it affects my whole demeanor. My legs weren't exactly tired, and my ass wasn't even sore, but my neck and shoulders were killing me. And I was in need of another port-a-john. I was so happy to come to the bike finish and get on my feet again.
My slowest transition ever, I think, thanks to waiting in line for a toilet.
Run: 13.1 miles, 2:20:21 (10:43/mile)
This was, strange as it seems, the best part.
I was expecting it to hurt. I was expecting it to feel awful. I was expecting to come to that moment where I wonder why I do these crazy things, and vow never, ever to do another one. But that moment never came. And the running didn't hurt; it felt great!
The first mile ticked by slowly, but I heard my name called left and right. I had no idea there were going to be so many people I knew lining the course! This was a new experience for me, having my name shouted by people who weren't my family, who I didn't even recognize until after the fact. I felt like a super hero.
I was surprised at how quickly the first loop on the run went by, how much I enjoyed it, and how easy it all felt. I was even more surprised when I checked my watch and noticed that I was running sub-10-minute pace. It was the same feeling I had at UCSB, that first time I ran a sub-30-minute 5k. I didn't realize how in shape I was, and how ready I was for this race.
It was at mile 8 that things started to turn. I'd completed the initial out-and-back on the second loop, and was coming to the long, 400-meter downhill portion that took us to the lake front. Where I'd leaned into the downhill and flown before, I restricted my stride and kept my pace and heart rate down. I walked through the whole aid station. I walked the long uphill coming back. My quads were starting to cramp. I was starting to wonder if I needed more electrolytes, more water, more ice.
After the uphill, I knew the end was near. I was coming into the final out-and-back section of the run course, and passed the mile 10 marker. Soon I'd be running past my family's campsite and my most passionate cheering section. I managed to keep shuffling on, but it wasn't exactly pretty. The next 3 miles I only vaguely rememember through a haze of pain and increasing tightness in my quads and right hip flexors. My plan had been to start drinking Coke at about that point, but none of the aid stations had any left. I took sponges and Gatorade and water and forced myself to resume running after each one.
About that time, I started to try every mental tool I've ever used. I tried to get outside of my body. I tried to go deeper inside my body. I tried to focus. I tried to repeat my mantra ("Trust the work"). I sang "Closer to Fine." Nothing was loud enough to block out the pain.
I passed the marker at mile 12 and thought, "Okay! Only 1.1 miles left! I can endure anything for 1.1 miles!" But it was seriously the longest mile I've ever run. I had no idea a mile could drag on like that. I must have been absolutely creeping, by that point. I felt like one of those really, really old guys at marathons. You know the kind I'm talking about. Looks like he couldn't even walk, but he's still running marathons. I ran exactly like that guy.
As I neared the final turn, the live band was playing "Love Shack," then "Hey Mickey." I was in the midst of the throng, again. I came to the junction where you either go right to the finish or left to complete another loop, and I finally got to go right. I was in the blue corridor, 70.3 flags flying to either side of me. There were two other men nearing the finish with me. "Okay," I told them. "Home stretch, now. Time to run pretty! There will be cameras!" I got no response from them, but my own body rewarded me by straightening up, striding out, and forgetting all about any kind of cramping or pain. I blazed across the finish line, exactly the way I'd wanted it to play out.
Total: 70.3 miles, 6:05:32
I am so happy with my debut. I was expecting to finish in around 6:30. But if I would have just put the effort into my transitions that I normally do, I could have gone under six hours. I really could not be happier with my results.
And of course I want to do another one. Coming into this race, I was sure that I would do one half-iron race and go happily back to Olympic and sprint distance, content to have tested myself once and content to return to what I do best. But now (of course) I'm wondering how much faster I could have gone, how much better I could place, if I made a 70.3 race my A race for a season.
One of my favorite parts about this race, though, was the lack of pressure. I think the reason I never really got nervous about the race was that I knew that the pain would be on a different level. Sure, the last 3 miles hurt, but none of the miles before that were particularly hard. It's a completely different kind of suffering from the all-out effort of a sprint. And going into that, I knew that I wasn't going to need to test the limits of how much pain I could take like at the end of a 5k. And even though I did end up feeling like I tested the limits a little bit, it was in a completely different way.
Writing about this event brings such a sense of joy and elation to me, and every time I think about the experience, I grin a little. I did a half Ironman! What can't I do?