Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tobacco Road Half Marathon

I signed up for the 2016 Tobacco Road half, but a knee injury that kept me from running in January and February that year led to a deferral, so this race has been on the calendar for a long time.  Initially, as it has been for a few years, the stretch goal was to break 1:30.  That still seems a long way off, so the primarily goal was to run a new personal best (under the 1:31:25 I ran in Utah Valley), which meant a goal pace of about 6:58/mile.  I've run this race twice beore (2014 and 2012), so I knew that despite the description, the course isn't actually flat.  I have been training on the course for months, hoping that with greater familiarity the incline section from about mile 8 to mile 10 would be less miserable.  Unfortunately, though it's only a 1-2% grade, it still slowed me down significantly and it still sucked every single time.  I think that got in my head a bit, and I really started to wonder if I even had a shot at ringing the PR bell.

The race is about a mile from my house, so logistically this couldn't be easier.  Rather than having to be in the parking lot by 5:30 and sit around in the cold, I was able to roll out of the house a little after 6:30.  Margaret and Amanda parked at my house and joined me for the jog over, and it was all pretty relaxed and low key.  My brother had left the house a few minutes earlier and I'd hoped I would catch up to him, but unfortunately I didn't see him on the way and couldn't find him before the start. Everything else went smoothly though, and that was really the only glitch of the morning.

I made my way through the corral and said hello to a few people I know, and then realized I had more than enough time to throw in some strides.  I made my way back out, added a few more minutes to my warm up, and then headed back up toward the start line.  I found Allie and Meredith, who are both far faster but were just out for training runs, so once the gun sounded I was off on my own.

The race starts uphill and heads out on pavement for about two and a half miles before turning onto the packed dirt/gravel of the ATT, heading mostly down on the way out, then mostly up on the way back to Morrisville Parkway (the aforementioned dreaded slow miles), then back to Brooks Park for a downhill finish.  My plan was to start out a little below goal pace, speed up just a bit to bank a little time on the downhill section out the way out, try to hold onto low 7s on the way back up, and then push the pace after turning off the trail.  Everything went according to plan, and I hit the turnaround just past 45 minutes (6:53 average for the first half).  

Once I hit the turnaround, I was a little surprised to see Meredith and Allie right behind me, since the rumor at the start was that they'd be running 7:05 and 7:20 pace, respectively.  Emma was also right behind me, and she and Mere caught up with me shortly after making the turn.  I chatted with them briefly but as we hit the incline they seemed to pick it up and I was rapidly slowing down, so  that was the end of that nice distraction.  I could hear them chatting as they pulled away from me on the lamented uphill section from Wimberly back to Morrisville Parkway, and I would have been silently cursing them if they weren't such nice people ;)

I took a sip of Gatorade at one of the aid stations hoping it would magically give me energy to fly through that section without losing too much time, but as expected, my splits moved up into the 7s. I am usually good about cheering on friends and offering encouragement to anyone who looks like they need it in these out and back races, but I guess I was in the zone because I passed a ton of people I know and never even saw them.  I did have my eye out for my brother and gave him a cheer as he passed, and was able to glimpse a few familiar faces, but for the most part I would hear "Go Kara!" and have no idea who it had come from.  I was actually shocked by how many friends and folks I know were listed in the results - I never even saw most of them!  So if you were out there running or spectating: thank you for the support... the cheers and encouragement meant a lot and were very much appreciated, even though it probably did not seem that way at the time!

When I hit the 10 mile split under 70 minutes (69:57), I knew that I had not lost so much time coming back that a PR was off the table, so that was a nice boost as I got back out to the road.  I don't have much of a finishing kick, and a good race for me usually means holding pace rather than speeding up, but with the help of a nice little downhill stretch through Brooks Park I was able to click off a 6:36 final mile.  With the finish line in sight, a woman who I'd passed a little earlier came out of nowhere.  I gave what I could (6:22 pace for the last tenth) and just edged her out at the line. I had 1:31:15 on my garmin, and though it was only 10 seconds better than Utah, a PR is a PR, and I got to ring the bell on the way out of the finish shoot.  Mission accomplished.

I met up with Alan, cheered on some friends, and waited for my brother to finish (he also ran a PR, despite a recent injury, so that was awesome).  While we were waiting, I checked the results to find that the woman I'd edged at the line (by less than 100th of a second) had started a step behind me, so her chip time was about half a second faster and giving her 2nd place in our age group.  Gah!  Granted, finishing 19th vs 20th of women or 2nd vs 3rd in my age group doesn't really have any significance, but I know I could have found one second somewhere, so it really does irk me a little!

3rd/250 Female 35-39
Though I would've liked to stick around the post-race party, it was a little chilly for my liking, so we headed back home to stretch in the warmth, then celebrated our new personal bests with lunch and beers at the Pit before spending the rest of the day in basketball-watching recovery mode. 

All in all, I'm really pleased with the day.  That 1:29:59 is really far away, but I ran a solid race, confirmed that running a sub-7 half marathon in Utah was not a fluke, saw my brother and some other folks I know run PRs, and am excited to shift focus fully to triathlon training.  

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A fantastic February!

February is usually one month where I think "Gah, is it over yet?!" but despite a few cold, dreary days, February felt more like spring than winter, training went very well, and a few nice surprises made it a really good month!

Swim 17.9 miles
Bike 74.5 miles + about 11 hours on the trainer
Run 111.6 miles
Total time 48:02:43
Calories 29,864
The biggest and best surprise of the month came on February 6, when I opened my inbox to find a message titled "You're invited to the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship!"  Anyone who knows me or has seen any of my posts on social media, knows that my biggest goal for 2016 was to qualify for the IM 70.3 Championship, which will be held in Chattanooga in September.  Unfortunately I fell just short of this goal, finishing 4th at IM 70.3 NC with only 3 slots available in my age group.  Though I was mostly pleased with the season, failing to meet that goal kind of cast a shadow of disappointment over it.  So when I opened the email and read "As one of the top-ranked female Ironman 70.3 athletes in your age group in the word, you are one of 200 women who will race as part of the Women for Tri Initiative" I almost fell off my chair!

With my two 6th place finishes in Raleigh and Augusta and the 4th in Wilmington, I earned enough points to place 37th out of 5,461 in the world in the IM 70.3 female 35-39 standings. Several of the women ahead of me have already qualified (including the 6 who accepted spots in my two fall races), and the cumulative performance garnered me a spot in this new Women for Tri initiative.  It's a new program, so I had no idea it was a possibility, and I was SO EXCITED!  I had decided that even if I qualified at my race in May, I was not going to take the slot because the goal was to qualify in 2016, not 2017, so the feeling of gratification just wouldn't be the same.  But it turns out that my 2016 performances were enough to get me in after all, so I will be making a second trip to Chattanooga this year to race at Ironman 70.3 Worlds!  Did I mention how excited I am?

The rest of the month continued along with consistent training, spring-like weather, and even more good news and happy surprises!

Took over a second off my 100 PR

Made the most of a beautiful 70+ degree day
with a bike ride out to the lake

More outdoor cross training:
Hiking the New Hope Overlook trail

Good News, Part 2:
Moved up to 3rd in my age group in the USAT rankings for NC,
and earned All American status for the second year in a row

Good News, Part 3:
Was selected to continue my ambassadorship with Salming for 2017!

I absolutely LOVE the apparel, and the shoes got me to big PRs in 2016,
so I am thrilled to represent Salming again this year
Pictured above: Salming Race 5, EnRoute, and Speed 5

Good news, part 4:
Selected as a PowerTap Grassroots Athlete

Using a power meter has made a HUGE difference in my cycling,
and PowerTap is the best in the business so I am excited to share
my passion for this with the local cycling community

Good news, part 5:
Selected as an ambassador for the California International Marathon

This will be my first open marathon since Berlin in 2014
and I'm looking forward to sharing this experience with friends!
If you're interested in joining us, leave a note in the comments
and I will share a promo code for $10 off the registration fee

Good news, part 6:
Won this awesome prize pack from Team HotShot and Trisports.com
Hopefully this will set the tone for the rest of the year! 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Crystal Coast Half Marathon

I had 12x800 on the schedule for Saturday and after last week's 8x800 was a huge suckfest, I wasn't looking forward to it at all.  Then on Wednesday the Crystal Coast half marathon popped up on my Facebook feed, and after realizing that it was only 3 hours away with a 9am start time, I decided that if I had to run a 12 mile workout, there was no harm in running an extra mile for the added benefits of having people around, a nice flat course, a change of scenery, and bathrooms along the way (which I could have used during that aforementioned 8x800 suckfest on the ATT).

I headed out around 5 am on Saturday morning and even with a coffee + bathroom stop and a gas + bathroom stop, I arrived with more than enough time to spare.  Parking was really easy, and I found a spot a block from the start/finish/registration area.  I walked the block to get my bib and shirt and then went back to the car because it was cold (temps in the 30s with 15-20 mph winds) and waited until about 8:45 to make my way back over to the start.  The park has bathrooms, so I made one more stop (3 bathrooms stops on race morning is usually a good sign, so I was optimistic that the workout was going to go well).  

I met a girl who was planning to start out in the mid/high 8s, which was right around my planned warm up pace, so I asked if I could tag along with her for the first 2 miles.  It was weird lining up for a race start having done no warm up at all, but since it was built into the workout, I didn't do anything prior to the gun.  And after what felt like a long wait because of the cold, we were off.

I ended up running my first two miles with Kristin and Kaz (the director of the Tobacco Road marathon, which I've run several times and is my early season A race), and the miles went by pleasantly and quickly, even if they were a little faster than advertised (8:15-8:20).  As we finished the second mile I wished them luck with the rest of the run and took off to complete my workout (2 x building 400s on 400 recoveries + 12x800s on 400 easy).  
Nice conversational warm up miles
Going into the intervals I was a little worried that I would be playing leapfrog with some people and annoying everyone with what would probably be perceived as my inability to maintain a consistent pace, but it wasn't a huge race and it actually worked out that only a couple of the people that I passed on an interval caught back up to me on my recoveries.  The course is all flat, with the exception of one bridge that you cross around mile 4 and then again at mile 11.  My goal was to keep all of the 800s around 3:15 (Yasso-esque since I'm hoping to break 3:15 at CIM in December), and not worry about the pace on the jogs.   A nice strong tailwind helped me keep my pace over the bridge, and the first 10 splits ranged from 3:11 to 3:19, so I stayed pretty consistent.  I felt like I was running easy in between, but my recovery jogs were all in the high 7s/low 8s, which is about a minute per mile faster than I usually do them.  I was really surprised to be feeling so comfortable, and attributed it to race adrenaline, which was unexpected given that at no point did I have any intention of "racing."  

Up the bridge and into a headwind at mile 11
(It looks like I'm walking, but I really wasn't)
The 11th split was back over the bridge, this time into the headwind, and I gave up on trying to maintain pace on that one (the recovery jog down was actually faster than the "fast" run up), then finished my last 800 and tried to just run easy the rest of the way.  It was tempting to try to catch the guy up ahead of me, but I stuck to the plan (more or less) and finished in 1:35:10.  Results were available immediately, and I learned that my time was good enough for 2nd female and 11th overall.  In hindsight I wish I had gone after that guy to nab a top-10 finish, but I'm still happy with the result.

In the finisher area they had the usual bananas, trail mix, and peanut butter sandwiches, but also oreos, fig newtons, twizzlers, sour candies, jelly beans, animal crackers, etc etc etc. Plus two tickets for free beer and food at the post race party, which was thankfully out of the cold at a bar/restaurant about 2 blocks away.  

My prize was 50% off entry for next year, and I have already registered for 2018. The post-race party was well attended, and people who didn't like the free beer (Goose Island IPA) were giving away their tickets, so by the end we had a pile of them on the table.  Unfortunately I had to drive, but next year I will probably stay at the host hotel so that pile of free beer tickets does not go to waste.

I spent the night in Atlantic Beach, and though it was too cold to spend much time outside, I was treated to a beautiful sunset and a nice relaxing evening, so all in all I am really pleased with the last minute decision and may have to work on turning more of my workouts into adventures :)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Back to work

After taking December off from structured training, I was ready to get back to it in the new year!  I started out with a cold, drizzly Commitment Day 5k and then picked back up with my coach on January 2.  I guess my "do whatever I feel like" approach to December was enough to maintain at least some level of fitness, as my return to the track went better than expected (6x400s all under 6:00 pace), I swam new 50 (40.2) and 100 (1:27) PRs, and set a 20 minute max average record on the bike (232W).  I guess there is some value in rest after all ;)

Swim: 17.4 miles
Bike: 13+ hours on the trainer
Run: 121 miles
Total: 53:09:47

My first all-green month in TrainingPeaks!

3rd female/6th overall at the Cary Commitment Day 5K

January 8:
Snow, ice, and a "feels like" temperature of 17 degrees
Perfectly runnable in Yaktrax!
Five days later...
January 13
Sunny with temps in the mid-70s
Sunset on another spring-like January run
My first-ever trail race:
UGTB Grind'n 5 mile run at Harris Lake

Spending a lot of quality time in the pain cave
Thankfully I really enjoy riding on the trainer
(as opposed to running on the treadmill - yuck)
20 minute time trial on the bike to close out the month
225W for the first 10 minutes, building to the 240s
This is the first time I didn't run out of steam and taper off!
Overall I couldn't be happier with the start of my 2017 training cycle.  I think that both my training plan and my approach to each workout (doing "hard" intervals HARD) have been more aggressive and so far it seems to be paying off.  Coach added a 15-20 minute daily functional strength training routine and I had a minimum of one swim, bike, or run workout every day in January, and I am definitely feeling stronger for it.  As a result, I've been putting my Normatec recovery boots to more early-season use than ever before, but overall I am feeling good and growing more excited about the year ahead. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Bring on 2017

This is not exactly how I wanted this year in review post to read, but here goes...

Goals set for 2016:
1. Qualify for the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship FAIL
I came close at IM 70.3 NC, finishing 4th with three spots in my age group (unfortunately the top three all accepted).  Ironically I still have a chance to qualify in Chattanooga this May, but given my travel schedule for Penticton (see #2), I would most likely decline and let my spot roll down.  I'm still disappointed to have failed to meet this goal, but given the way that my 2017 race calendar has shaped up, I think it might be for the best.

2. Qualify for the 2017 ITU Long Course Triathlon World Championship SUCCESS

I needed to place in the top 18 in my age group, and finished 7th, so my 2017 summer vacation is now planned around the ITU Multisport World Championships in Penticton, British Columbia.

3. Top 5 AG finish at the Long Course Duathlon National Championship SUCCESS
I'd said last year that based on the 2014 results, I'd have to take about 20 minutes off my time from my 2014 Nationals.  Ultimately I finished 21:52 faster to place 4th in my age group and 10th female overall.  

Maybe it's the blah of 2016, but even though I met 2/3 goals, set PRs ranging from the mile to half ironman, and found myself on an Ironman 70.3 podium, I found the year to be kind of disappointing.  Part of it might be that it had to follow 2015, when I didn't just meet my goals, I crushed them.  I know that level of improvement is not sustainable, but it felt awesome, so by comparison this year sort of fell flat.  It really just felt like the year of close-but-not-quite... 4th overall at the TOA sprint (one off the OA podium), 4th in my AG at LC Du Nationals (one off the podium), 6th AG at IM 70.3 Raleigh and IM 70.3 Augusta (which have podium spots for the top 5), 20:07 at the Butte to Butte 5k (I really wanted to break 20 minutes), and of course one spot away from the World Championship spot I'd been working for all year.

Swimming: 172 miles (2015:139)

I definitely saw improvement in my swimming this year.  The only stand alone open water swim averaged 10 seconds per 100 faster than my sole OWS of 2015 and I somehow managed to get out of the water 8th in my AG and in the top 10% of all women at IM 70.3 NC.  Considering that I've historically been pleased with finishing in the top 1/3 on the swim, I was extremely happy with that.  That said, I am still very slow by swimmer standards, and I still don't really like swimming.  So we'll see what happens... 

Cycling: 3,772 miles (2015: 3,855*)
*My new trainer does not estimate distance

I seem to enjoy being on my bike more and more each year, and I really love my new IA10 (despite the bento box design flaw).  I was only training for half IMs this year, but still rode more miles than I did in preparation for B2B last year, which was actually a really nice surprise (thanks, coach).  Honestly, despite the danger of riding on the roads, there is nothing better than to get out on the bike on a beautiful summer day.  I set a new 40k PR (1:08), upped my 20 minute max average power to 220W, and had the 6th fastest female bike split at IM 70.3 NC (unfortunately 40 miles of headwind prevented that effort from translating to a half IM bike PR).  Though I have been riding pretty well, there's still a sizable gap to the top and I think there is quite a bit of improvement yet to be made, so I am looking forward to putting in the time and work to try to get a little higher up on the podium.

Running: 839 miles (2015: 1,190)
For the first time since 2009, I didn't break 1,000 miles.  This was largely due to the knee injury that prevented me from running in January and February, but I also had nothing longer than 13.1 on my calendar, so the year was devoid of any real long runs.  But what I lost in volume I made up in quality, with an even greater commitment to making all of the hard miles (intervals, progression runs, fast finishes) count.  That translated to short distance PRs (mile, 5k) as well as better strength off the bike (a faster second run split than the first at Du Nationals, a near PR despite the heat in Augusta).  And of course, the crowning accomplishment of my running career... becoming a beer mile champion ;)

I have to remind myself that just finishing four half iron distance races in a year (and especially 3 in 7 weeks) is something my pre-2015 self would have never thought I could do.  All told, I ended up with Ironman All World Athlete Gold status in the 70.3 rankings and USAT All American status, so even though I never had that perfect race, I'm more or less pleased with the year as a whole.

20th (of 2,579) F35-39 American athletes
in the Ironman AWA 70.3 rankings 

With all of the training and racing, I sometimes forget that I do other things as well, and reflecting on this year is a good reminder of that.  Though most of my travels are usually around races, this year included trips to Mexico, the Pacific Northwest, Vermont, Colorado, Texas, and Florida; with the sole purpose of having fun and spending time with friends and family.  As much as I was over 2016, these memories definitely help me to regain more of a glass-half-full perspective, and I appreciate having such special people in my life.

Goals for 2017

1. Finally break 5 hours in a 70.3
I came (sort of?) close at Augusta, finishing in 5:06 despite a last minute change to being non-wetsuit legal and the temperature reaching up into the 90s.  I'm racing IM 70.3 Chattanooga in May and IM 70.3 North Carolina in October, so I'll have two shots at this (again).  If I am fortunate enough to stay healthy and have decent race conditions, I'd like to shoot for sub-5:00 at Chattanooga and sub-4:50 in Wilmington.

2. Podium the Long Course Duathlon National Championship

After a big PR but slightly disappointing 4th place finish, the goal here is to go home with a National Championship AG medal.  

3. The elusive 1:29:59
I've been wanting to break 1:30 in a half marathon since I ran 1:33:01 way back in 2012, but the closest I've gotten was 1:31:25 in June 2015.  To actually do this, I'd have to average 6:52/mile, and I am not sure it's even feasible.  Even if the sub-1:30 fails to happen, I'd be happy to walk away from this one with a PR to start the year.

4. Sub 3:15 at CIM
If I do actually manage to run under 1:30 for 13.1, the calculators suggest I should be able to squeak in under 3:10 (7:15/mile), but I'll cross that bridge if I get there.  For now I'd be happy to break 3:15 (7:27/mile), which would mean cutting about three minutes off of my current marathon PR.

5. Qualify for the 2018 Ironman 70.3 World Championship
Though it would have been convenient to race IM 70.3 Worlds in Chattanooga, the 2018 race will be in South Africa.  What it lacks in convenience it makes up in checking "African Safari" off of my bucket list, so my hope for the NC race in October is to walk away with both a PR and a spot at Worlds.

It takes a village

First, congratulations to Dark Horse Triathlon for finishing 1st in the Americas in the Ironman Triclub Division V rankings!  I could not have made this much progress or balanced my heavy fall race schedule on my own, so I am thankful to have such a great coach!

Another big thanks goes out to Triangle Multisport and Inside Out Sports, who provided a ton of support for me through the TMS-IOS Elite Team this year.  In addition to the sponsorship benefits, it was great racing with a team and making new connections with such badass athletes, and I am really grateful to have had that opportunity.

Though I won't be rejoining the TMS-IOS squad in 2017, I am excited to announce that I'll be racing for the TriSports Elite Team!  I'm also happy to be continuing my affilation with Honey Stinger through the Hive Elite Program and representing Salming as an ambassador.  

And last but not least, thank you to my friends and training partners who make all of these miles much more enjoyable.  It's a long road, and sharing this journey with you means so much to me, so thank you for the company, laughs, motivation, and inspiration.  xo

So I guess with help from Dark Horse and my sponsors, I have coaching, nutrition, gear, and apparel covered... all that's left is to do the work!  Here's to an amazing 2017!

Friday, December 30, 2016

A little down time

After three 70.3s in seven weeks, I was ready for a break!  After a week of walking, hiking, and some leisurely miles on my ElliptiGo, I resume light cycling and threw in a couple of easy swims, but didn't run at all for three weeks.  Through December I took some hot vinyasa classes and swam, biked, and ran a little, but without any real structure, goals, or pressure.  It was a nice break, both mentally and physically, and I hopefully maintained at least a reasonable level of fitness.  

Walking on the beach in Miami
(Nothing more strenuous than that for days!)
Back to NC, but not yet back to training...
Hiking around Jordan Lake
Some beautiful and leisurely ElliptiGo outings
Holiday travels!
Family walk around White Rock Lake
over Thanksgiving weekend in Dallas
Ran a 5K in Florida over Christmas vacation
Despite having run only 33 miles since November 13,
I manged to finish 16/706 women in 20:30
My favorite recovery activity:
3 mile jogs with my dad in Florida

Monday, November 14, 2016

Long Course Nationals

Though I failed to meet my first goal of the year (qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship), I still had a chance to meet my second goal: qualifying for the ITU Long Course World Championship in Penticton, Canada.  The qualifying race is the Long Course National Championship, which this year was hosted by MiamiMan.  This is a quite a bit easier than IM 70.3 Worlds qualification because there are 18 spots for my age group instead of just 3, but since it's a national championship, it draws some of the top age groupers in the country, so it was definitely not a given that I'd get a spot.  I also wanted to end my season on a positive note, and I was feeling a bit more pressure than I'd anticipated when I'd decided last December to add this race as my 3rd 70.3 in seven weeks.

I flew down to Miami on Saturday morning and was pleasantly surprised to find that my hotel room was ready at 9:30am.  So I dropped my stuff, changed into my cycling gear, and took the hotel shuttle down to the race expo.  Check in was really fast and easy, which was a pleasant surprise after the hour long line at IMNC.  From there I went over to the Mack Cycles tent to pick up my rental bike.  Since this wasn't an A race and it's only a 56 mile ride, I'd decided to save some money and trouble by renting a bike rather than flying with mine.  I contemplated bringing my wheels because I knew they would be faster and so I would have my power meter, but given my goals for this particular race, ultimately decided the extra few minutes wouldn't be worth the expense of a second checked bag.  I'd emailed my measurements ahead of time, but they hadn't made the adjustments, so that took some time, but eventually I was set up and ready to go out on a test ride. 

My ride for the weekend
By two miles in, I already missed my di2 shifters, aero wheels, and power meter, but overall it was fine and I felt comfortable enough on the bike to be confident that it would get me through the 56 miles.  When I got back to the expo, I racked the bike in transition, sat in on the athlete briefing, and went down to check out the swim course.  

View of the swim from the swim finish
By the time I was wrapping up with that, my dad and Mary were arriving from Punta Gorda, so they picked me up and we went back to the hotel.  The rest of the day was nice and relaxing, and I had plenty of time to review the course maps, get all of my gear together, hydrate, and rest.

Race morning I was awake well before my 4:00 alarm, so I got up, put on my race tats, and went down to get coffee (our hotel kindly offered a continental breakfast starting at 3:45!).  I got the rest of my gear together and my dad drove me down to the expo around 4:30.  It was a beautiful morning, with the supermoon shining brightly and only a nice breeze.  This was the only of my four 70.3 this year that had T1 and T2 in the same location, so it was nice and easy to just set everything up without having to deal with gear bags, drop off, and getting from point to point.  

I made the long walk from transition to the bathrooms a few times, chatted with other athletes, and made my way down to the swim start around 6:15.  There was a bit of a breeze, but nothing awful, and though it wasn't the glass surface that it had been when I viewed the course on Saturday, it was almost as calm as I could hope for in an open water swim.  

I bought a sleeveless wetsuit for this race, knowing that it would probably be too warm for the full suit, so I put that on for the first time (I was already going to be riding a new bike, so why not).  The water temperature was 76, so I was happy to have the sleeveless suit and it felt a lot more comfortable, so I think that was a good decision (mostly - more on that later…).  The swim was two loops, with a short beach run across the timing mat after the first lap, and the first lap was a little different than the second because the start was located in a different location that the lap mat/swim finish.  I was in the second wave, and it seemed odd to being starting so early after being in the 10th wave in Augusta and the 6th wave in Wilmington.  We watched the first wave go out and then were off.  It's a beach start, and I was somewhere in the middle.  I tried to stay calm, but being in such close proximity to so many other swimmers still causes me so much anxiety.  Just after making the first turn, I got hit in the face, just enough to unseal my goggles.  The left one never really sealed right and I had to stop throughout the race to mess with it, but it was mostly ok if I would breathe to the right, so I just stuck with that.  The way out and across seemed to take forever, but the way in was much better, with the only problem being that it was really hard to see the buoys with the sun coming up on the horizon and the steam coming off of the lake.  Even though I finally felt like I settled in, I thought that the first lap would be well over 20 minutes given my anxiety-initated breaststroke breaks at the beginning and fiddling with my goggles.  So it was a pleasant surprise to get out and see 18 minutes.  I really wanted to finish the swim in under 40 minutes, so even with the second loop being a little longer, I was happy that my goal was still within reach.  The second lap was much better, since I had a lot more space and had the confidence boost of finishing the first lap on target even though I'd had some struggles, and I was out for the second time in about 38 minutes.  Even though I'd posted faster swim times in Augusta and Wilmington, those were current-assisted, so it's hard to say what I would have done in still water, and this was by far my fastest half iron lake swim.  

Official time: 38:06 (14th AG, 65th female)

I had a little difficulty getting out of the wetsuit, but was not feeling hugely rushed so I didn't stress out about it.  The transition area was really long (about a quarter mile according to my garmin), and I was fortuitously on the third rack from bike out/bike in, so I was able to do most of that distance carrying my wetsuit as opposed to running with my bike.  When I got to my rack about half were still there, so I figured I was about in the middle of my AG coming out of the swim, which, given the field and my (lack of) swimming ability, I was perfectly happy with.  I took the time to wipe the grass off my feet, put on my bike shoes, and threw on my helmet.  GAH!  My visor was completely dew-covered and foggy, so I couldn't see a thing.  I took my helmet off and tried to dry it with my little towel, but visibility was still not great.  But I could more or less see where I was going, so I called it good enough and hoped it would clear once I got moving on the bike.

T1: 2:53

After a few miles, the bike was through a very rural area of farms and fields.  The pavement wasn't that great, but it was flat and though there was a little wind, it was nothing compared to Wilmington.  The ride was about 13 miles out, two 15 loops, and then the 13 miles back.  The first wave of the swim was open/pro and men 34 and under, and most of the women out ahead were strong triathletes all around, there weren't very many people to chase.  I passed a few people, and some guys from the waves behind me would go flying by, but for much of the first lap I felt like I was out there riding by myself.  Since I normally ride by power but didn't have that data, I settled into just riding comfortably around 20 mph.  My goal was to finish by noon (under 5:20) and at that speed I'd have 1:50 to get through T2 and finish the run, so I didn't really feel the need to push it.  As I started the second lap we merged in with later waves starting their first lap, and suddenly there were a lot more people, which was great because now I'd have people to chase!  Shortly after that merge, I saw my dad and Mary, and that was a nice boost as well.  Just like that I found myself riding along at 22+ and the second lap was much more enjoyable than the leisurely, lonely first one.  I saw my dad and Mary again at the end of the second lap and then headed back toward the zoo.  We'd talked the night before about where they would be on the race course and approximately what time I expected to go by each spot.  I gave a best case scenario estimate of 9:20, which my dad noted on the spectator map, and he told me later than I went by at exactly 9:20!  Once we passed the turnaround for the international race with 11 miles to go, it went from a nice amount of people to chase to insanely crowded.  A few times it was almost like a three-wide paceline, and I threw in a few surges when I could to get out of the congestion and avoid a drafting penalty, even though it was nice to be able to tuck in, especially since it was a bit of a headwind on the way back.  With about 53 miles showing on my watch, one spectator (out of maybe a dozen that I saw the entire time, which included the two who were there to cheer for me!) was cheering to finish strong, only a mile and a half to go and I thought that couldn't be right, but with 54 miles on my Garmin I was at the dismount line. 

Official bike time: 2:38:33 (15th AG, 63rd female)  

Results note: I placed better on the swim?!!?  Though I've improved my cycling considerably over the last two years, I think there's definitely potential for me to pick up some time here, and I'm looking forward to doing some serious work on the trainer this winter!

T2: 1:53

I made a quick shoe change and took off on the run.  Thankfully, my heel pain was at a tolerable level and my knee pain has not returned since it's disappearance at IMNC.  My biggest concern at the moment was the underarm chafing that had resulted from wearing the sleeveless wetsuit for the first time and, only having used a full wetsuit in the past, failing to consider putting glide under my arms.  It had been burning on the bike as I started to sweat, and I assumed they'd have vaseline on sticks or something of that nature at the transition exit.  Unfortunately they had nothing of the sort, so I continued on running with my arms out to avoid further damage.  I'd also assumed they'd have volunteers with sunscreen, since the spf 30 I'd put on pre-race was not feeling particularly effective in the Florida sun, but I had no luck on that front either.  Chicken wings and red shoulders it is, I guess. 

Going into the race I was shooting for something around 1:45.  If I could keep a pace with 7s at the front I'd be happy.  With a couple minutes under goal time from the swim and a few more because of the short bike course, I realized I could run a two hour half marathon and still be done by noon, and that helped me just run comfortably without feeling the need to try to do anything crazy.

The run is two loops on a combination of pavement, gravel, dirt, and grass.  The cool part is that is runs through the Miami Zoo, and in the first two miles I saw antelope, giraffes (two of them were actually running, which was neat), and a few other deer-like animals.  I was feeling very comfortable at a pace in the high 7s, and drank a little water or gatorade on the run at each aid station.  There were a lot of people out because the international was just one loop of the same course, and I tried to say something positive to everyone who passed me, whether they were running really fast or looked like they were struggling.  There was a long stretch without any shade over the last couple miles of the loop, part of which is through a big parking lot and part on grass and dirt, and I was starting to get warm.  By the 6th mile my pace had crept into the 8s, and I decided I'd start walking through the aid stations on the second lap.  The beginning of each lap is definitely the best part, as there is some shade and this time I saw zebras.  I was starting to feel like I was running really slowly, but still saw low 8s on my watch, which was surprising given how I felt.  I walked though each aid station, putting ice in my trisuit and pouring cold water over myself.  I tried to keep drinking fluids but my stomach was unhappy so I probably didn't drink as much as I should have.  I was really starting to feel bad, but somehow passed two women in my age group on the way out to the 10 mile turnaround.  At that point I had gone from feeling really hot to being cold, and realized that I wasn't sweating.  I knew that was not a good sign, but told myself that I only had 5k to go and I was not going to give up in the last 3 miles of what has been a very long season.  I continued to take the walk breaks for ice, but I did not want those two women to pass me back, so even though I really wanted to walk in between aid stations I managed to keep running.  Not running fast, but running.  By the last mile I was convinced that the woman behind me was going to catch me, and was determined to give everything I had to prevent that from happening.  I was audibly breathing (apologies to the guy who was running next to me and probably thought I was having an asthma attack) even though I was running around 8:40 pace, but I managed to keep all of my splits under 9, hold off those two women, and "sprint" to the finish at a sub-7 pace, so despite feeling awful I was really happy with my effort. 

Official run time: 1:47:57 (6th AG, 23rd female)

Finish time: 5:09:23 (7th AG, 23rd female)

Photo of the finish line from Saturday
On Sunday this was a beautiful sight
After a few moments of wondering if I was going to pass out or throw up, I saw my dad and Mary in the finish line bleachers, collected my medal and water (maybe the best water ever), thanked the woman behind me for the motivation (I held her off by only 37 seconds), and wasted no time in getting to my phone to check the results.

I just needed to see that I was in the top 18 in my age group, and the athlete tracker said I was 8th!  It was a great relief and I am so excited to race with Team USA in Canada next summer!  Official results later had me finishing 7th, but in either case I hit all of my goals for this race: (1) Qualify for Penticton, (2) Top 10 in my age group, (3) sub-5:20.  

I returned my rental bike (it's actually really nice to not have to deal with your bike after a race other than to roll it across the transition area), gathered up my stuff, and sat with my family near the finish line for a while.  They had a results area where you could print out your time, so my dad and I walked over there to confirm my placing.  As we were heading back to the finish area, a woman approached me and said, "Thank you for telling me I looked strong out there.  I just finished cancer treatments a few months ago and was feeling rough at the time, and you saying that really inspired me, so I wanted to say thank you for that, it really meant a lot."  I can't imagine a better note to end the season on.  I had a solid race, mentally stayed tough when I felt awful, accomplished all of my goals for the day, got to spend some time with my dad, and had a positive effect on someone else's day.  I couldn't ask for more than that. ♡