I did it!! I finished my first 70.3 Ironman. 🙂 I’m just a little behind in posting my race report…
Curtis and I left for New Hampshire on Friday morning before the race around 8:20AM. I had for some reason convinced myself it was only an 8 hour drive, but really it would have been about 10 hours without traffic and ended up being about 11 hours total. Traffic around NYC was pretty terrible, but other than that things weren’t too bad. We arrived and checked into the hotel, but not without checking out the competition on the way in. We were surrounded by triathletes and fancy bikes. After my ogling, we unpacked the car and headed up to our room, which turned out to be quite nice – we had a nice big room with a king-sized bed. We took some time to settle in a bit and then went to find dinner at Uno’s, where I had a delicious chicken and pasta dish (carb loading!). After dinner we went back to the hotel and thought about going down to the hot tub, but we were both exhausted after the long day in the car and decided to go to bed and we would try to relax a bit in the hot tub on Saturday.
Saturday ended up being a surprisingly long and busy day. We slept in until almost 9AM, and when we finally got up, we ran downstairs to take part in the continental breakfast that ended at 10AM. I grabbed a bagel and some peanut butter and a banana plus an extra bagel and peanut butter for eating before the race. I felt like a huge slacker when all the triathletes around were dressed in their workout clothes looking like they had just gotten back from a ride or a run. I had planned to do a very short swim and/or run but nothing major, and I was going to try and fit it in after driving the bike course, which was my number one priority for the day, besides the mandatory meetings, check-in and bike check-in. So after breakfast and a few errands to the grocery store and Wal-Mart, we headed up toward Ellacoya state park and found the bike course. We didn’t start from the very beginning because the Sprint tri was that morning and we didn’t want to get stuck in the traffic. I’d say we started about 2-3 miles in. We did go off course a little in two places, but for the most part we got it right. It started with hills and ended with hills. The middle was slightly less hilly, but it wasn’t flat either- it was more of a gentle sloping. I was not feeling prepared, especially after we started seeing all the triathletes out riding the course. Were they crazy?? I wasn’t even considering trying to ride the course the day before! After becoming sufficiently nervous about my preparation for the climbs, we finally finished driving the 56 miles.
It was closing in on 1:00PM quickly and I wanted to get to the Gunstock Mountain Resort and Timberman festival to register and attend meetings. There was a 2:00PM first-timers meeting and 3:00PM mandatory race meeting, so we figured I could register and get to both meetings before heading back to the hotel to get my bike and head over to transition. I picked up my numbers, timing chip and goody bag, signed my life away and grabbed some food just in time for the first-timers meeting to start. I was surprised by the number of people who were doing their first 70.3 and even more surprised by the several people who raised their hands to say that this was their first triathlon at all! Wow! That’s ambitious! There were some helpful tips, including the mechanics of a bottle hand-off at an aid station on a bike and how to use the wetsuit strippers. 🙂 Afterward was the mandatory pre-race meeting for everyone where they went over the rules and other logistical details. Not too different from any other triathlon.
I picked up a Fuel Belt bento box for my bike at the festival, and then we hurried back to the hotel to grab my bike and drop it at transition. Unfortunately, we got stuck in horrendous traffic due to a nearby concert, and it ended up taking a lot longer than planned. We finally got to Ellacoya state park, I racked my bike and covered my saddle with a plastic bag to cover for the impending rain and we took a quick run (~15 minutes) as my only workout of the day. We ran a tiny portion of the run loop (although we didn’t know it at the time) before quickly changing in the car and going to get dinner. Luckily, we managed to find an alternate route away from the park and avoided the traffic on the way out.
Curtis had found some reviews on yelp for a great little Italian place called Ciao Pasta, so we headed there. They make their own fresh pasta and you can “create your own meal” by choosing a pasta (one of theirs or another), a sauce and any extra protein or veggies. I had a fresh cracked pepper fettuccine with a pomodoro sauce and grilled chicken, plus tons of fresh warm bread. It was a delicious meal, especially considering I tried to choose one of the more “bland” options. I was a little worried that too much cheese or tomato might upset my stomach, but luckily I had no issues. It turned out to be the perfect pre-race meal- not too heavy, but enough carbs and protein to prepare me for the next day.
Once back at the hotel, I gathered all my gear together and laid it out for the early morning. We went to bed right at 9:00PM, but I didn’t fall asleep for quite awhile afterward. I really didn’t sleep very well at all and I think I woke up several times throughout the night.
3:15AM, the alarm blaring in my ear signaled the start of the single longest day of my life. I dragged myself out of bed, brushed my teeth, got dressed and filled my water bottles. I grabbed the last few items that I hadn’t packed yet and we left for the race site. It was surprising to see that most of the cars were still in the hotel parking lot and we seemed to be the first ones to be out and about. On the way to Ellacoya, I ate my bagel and peanut butter that I had grabbed from the hotel on the previous morning. Soon, we arrived at the park, and as it turned out, we were one of the first cars into the parking lot and got a prime spot very close to transition and right next to the finish chute. It was right around 4AM, and we hung out in the car till transition opened at 5AM. We found some hot water at the local firefighters’ stand, so I had my green tea that I had brought from home while we were waiting.
Finally, transition opened. I stopped to get body-marked on the way – 2212 on my left arm, left hand, left quad and my age on my left calf. I think the mark on my quad was still a bit visible three days later, despite scrubbing but all the others were gone by the end of the race. Weird. I’m really glad I brought a bright pink beach towel to use as my transition mat, it turned out being really easy to find amidst the sea of bicycles. After I had everything arranged exactly as I wanted it, I pumped my front tire. Then I went around and pumped my rear tire. Both looked pretty good, but I managed to convince myself that the rear tire needed just a few more pumps of air. As I removed the bike, I heard the valve break. Doh! I didn’t really want to frustrate myself by changing the tire on race morning and it seemed to be holding air so I decided to leave it for the time being. A half hour later, I would check the tire and if it didn’t have air in it or seemed to be leaking, I would change it.
I took all my nervous energy back to the car and tried to sit and relax with Curtis for a bit. The time went by pretty fast, and soon enough it was time to check my tire again and use the bathroom for about the 4th time of the morning. I ran into transition and found both tires still full of air and ready to go. I decided I’d leave well enough alone and ran back to join Curtis in the Porta-potty line. We wandered around to check out the swim exit and before we knew it they were clearing transition and calling for people to head to the swim start. We joined the throngs to watch the pros (including Chrissie Wellington!!) start at 7:00AM.
Pro men went off first, followed by Pro women, then another hour before my swim wave would start at 8:05. I got my wetsuit on around 7:15 and joined the line to the corral around 7:45. It was an in-water start, but only about 2 feet deep and we waded in as soon as the previous wave left at 8:00AM. I got my watch ready and my goggles on as the announcer gave us warnings every 30 seconds. Finally, we were off!
I started the swim running into the water and got a few dolphin dives in. I had lined up in the middle, but at the back so it was difficult to find clear water for dolphin dives. I did stop a few times right at the beginning because my goggles were being uncooperative, but luckily I fixed them quickly and they gave me no trouble for the next 1.2 miles. I was surprised at how mentally strong I felt in the water. If anything suffered during training, it was my swimming and I was expecting my mindset to reflect that. I guess I have had enough open water experience to relax and do what I know. I was pretty sure I was dead-smack in the middle of my wave for the most part. When I reached the first turn buoy, I started seeing white caps from the previous wave. Shortly after, a few yellow caps started swimming over me (literally!). Also around this time, the water got pretty choppy. I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as churning as it was, there were moments when I actually thought I might be sick from the motion! The next turn came quickly and then it was just the homestretch left. I did peak at my watch at both turn buoys, so I had an idea of how long I’d been in the water (15 minutes and 24ish minutes) and knew I was on track. My private goal for the swim was to finish in under 45 minutes, and I crossed the timing mats at 40:06!!
I had my wetsuit stripped and ran into transition to retrieve my bike and I was on my way. About 3 miles in, I started to get paranoid about my tire. I actually convinced myself that it was flat, so I pulled over and checked it. It was completely full. Silly me! I was pretty quick and only 2 or 3 people passed me while I was stopped and I quickly passed one of them again. I was still a bit paranoid about the tire for the rest of the ride, but I planned to ditch one water bottle at the first stop for Gatorade and alternate water and Gatorade for the whole ride. The roads out of the park were not bad, but pretty soon the hills started. I think I saw Chrissie Wellington leading the women before the first aid stop. Around mile 10 was the biggest hill of the race, Marsh Hill and it was steep and it was long. I just took it in my granny gears. We did see two pro women wipe out coming down the other side, so I knew it would be a fast and probably technical bit of riding. Soon, but not soon enough, I reached Route 106, which was the bulk of the course. It was a long, straight and gradually sloping road that made for somewhat boring riding. I got a kick out of the aid stations with some very over-the-top volunteers all dressed up in crazy outfits. We even got to see Santa and his Elves at the North Pole! Pretty soon we were climbing again. This time, my bike got stuck in the big ring so I had to take it really slow and easy in order to not destroy my legs. It was hard work! Coming back down Marsh Hill was a blast, I’m not sure what my top speed was, but it was definitely fast. Finally, the park was in sight and I realized that I was going to finish much faster than my expected time of 4 hours. I saw Curtis cheering on the bike in chute, dismounted and ran into transition. I finished the bike in 3:32:55.
After ditching my bike and changing shoes, I decided I would step into the porta-potty at the end of transition. The volunteers standing there tried to convince me to continue on to the run and stop on the run course, but I knew it would be in my best interest to stop then. My transition time turned out to be only 4:08, so I’m glad I made the decision to go then. Curtis was there to cheer me on as I started my run. It was two loops, so I would get to see him again at least once before I finished. I ate one package of Clif shot blocks as soon as I started the run, and I had another package that I decided I would take at the beginning of the second loop.
I knew the run was going to be the hardest part of the day. The biggest issue I had been having during my bricks in training was that my back hurt when I ran after biking for the 50+ mile distances. The one difference in the race from my typical bricks was that I put on my fuel belt. I’m really glad I did because it ended up having a stabilizing effect on my back and completely eliminated any pain in my back. It did not, however, do anything for the pain in my feet and legs. I had not accounted for the amount of swelling in my feet after more than 4 hours of constant exercise and my shoes felt tight on my feet from the moment I started the run. They went numb quickly despite my best efforts at wiggling my toes to keep the blood flowing. My right knee gave me trouble throughout the bike and didn’t get any better on the run. I just kept repeating to myself, “It can’t hurt any more than it already does.” So I kept running, it was just four 5Ks. I could do four 5Ks.
The run course was pretty challenging with one pretty significant hill. It was no worse than training runs at home, though. The first loop was pretty crowded, but by the time I started my second loop, many of the rest of the athletes had finished and I spent a lot of time alone. It was a treat to get to each aid station, with all the very enthusiastic volunteers. The turnaround point for the first loop was decked out in patriot decorations and bubbles and there was a stereo blaring “Yankee Doodle” when I passed through on the first loop. I was still running when I reached the teaser end of the first loop, which shared part of the route with the finish chute. I kept running the whole second loop. In fact, I am very proud to say that with the exception of walking through the aid stations when I got something to drink, I ran the entire 13.1 miles! When I reached mile 12, I realized that if I picked up the pace and got in a strong 10 minute mile I would be able to finish in under 7 hours. I summoned all the energy and strength I had left and picked up the pace. When I could finally see the finish chute, I knew I had to push just a little harder, so I ran as hard as I could at that moment (which wasn’t very hard!). I passed two men who were walking in the chute and ran across the finish line!
I cannot even express the overwhelming feeling of that moment- never before have I felt such a desire to cry and jump for joy at the same time, but be so mentally and physically exhausted that I was incapable of either. I got my finisher’s medal and a hat and a blanket and hobbled out of the chute. I did it!
My total time was 6:58:39.
1.2 mile Swim: 40:06
Transition 1: 3:39
56 mile Bike: 3:32:55
Transition 2: 4:08
13.1 mile Run: 2:37:51