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. ♡

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