That which doesn't kill (or drown) us....makes us stronger, right?
The drive up to the Eastern Shore on Friday midday was great, and the weather cooperated pretty well with just a few smatterings of rain here and there along the way. Coach Grandison came along to cheer and sherpa. She rode up with me while Patty and Heidi caravanned behind. Crossing the Choptank River bridge into Cambridge, we were elated to see calm water and few clouds. It was quite humid, but we still hoped those conditions would hold out through the morning. We breezed through packet pickup, and drove over to the race start to rack bikes and check out the (altered) swim course. It would be a 2 loop swim in the bay to the left of the boat ramp (for those who know the Eagleman course) instead of the point-to-point originally scheduled from the Hyatt upstream. There we met up with everyone doing the race: for the Aquavelo it was me and my IMFL peeps Sharon, Patty, Shawn, Charlotte and husband Fred; IMWI peeps Heidi, Tammy and husband Brad; and brave TriGirl Molly (giving the distance a try before IMFL signups). For the full ironman distance it was Coach Som and Karen. We decided to meet up post race briefing to get dinner and went off to check in to our various hotels.
I had just last week booked a room online--it seemed it was the last room available in the area so I just took what I could. Granted the reservation was for a smoking room, but I added a note asking to please change us should a non-smoking room become available. Given the crappy weather forecast, I was sure they'd have a cancellation that would work. Hopeful, we pulled into the Days Inn just down the street from the Hyatt. Most everyone else was at the Holiday Inn Express. At the desk, I reiterated our request for a non-smoking room to the manager, several times. No dice on changing rooms. Now, I'm no dummy and I have a brother-in-law that works for Marriott. I know that like airline desk agents, those managers can easily (if they so chose) change reservations to accomodate certain requests, especially if they have open seats/rooms. The manager at that Days Inn was NOT budging--even though he admitted to having a non-smoking room available! His excuse was that absolutely NO changes were allowed with a prepaid reservation, not even if I was willing to pay any difference in rate. Ugh. Defeated, Grandison and I headed upstairs. I was hoping the room wouldn't be bad....
Well, if the stairwell and hall were any indications, we were in for a fun night. Oh man! It smelled like a smoker's convention had parked themselves in the halls for a year. They were so bad, the room was a breath of fresh air in comparison. But after 2 minutes, it was awful too. We opened the window and joked about having to burn a bag of popcorn to make it smell better. All I could think about was how the heck I was supposed to get a good night's sleep breathing in that stench. Grandison was trying bravely to make the best of it, and set about getting ready for dinner. I got on the phone and called the Holiday Inn. They had quite a few cancellations and did have a double, non-smoking room available. YEY! I ran downstairs, berated the poor woman who had replaced the manager at the front desk for not switching us, then drove the car around to just below our open window. Grandison threw our stuff out (it was easier than schlepping it all back downstairs), while I loaded it in the car, and we did a drive-by check in at the Holiday Inn before meeting up back at the Hyatt for the pre-race briefing and dinner. We all were able to get order good prerace meals, then trundled off to pack our race bags, watch a little of the debates, and hit the sack. Grandison ordered up a 5am wake up call, for a 7am race start.
We made it to the race start at 6:30, after having dropped our special needs bags and extra cars at the high school finish. We barely had enough time to grab our timing chips, load our nutrition on the bikes, and suit up before it was time to get in the water. Ooops. Note to self--allow at least an hour so I'm not rushing around...I hadn't made it all the way to the white start bouys before the gun went off. It had started raining just as we got to the race start, and it poured for the first 15 mins of the swim, which was pretty much par for the course the entire day. The first half of every swim (no matter what distance) I always have a hard time calming my nerves and settling into a rhythm. Up to the first turn bouy, it was fairly calm and shallow enough to stand almost the whole way. Once around the bouy, the chop picked up quite a bit. I was sighting poorly (only breathing to one side), and needed to swim about 10 yards back to the pack. As usual, I also couldn't find any feet to hang on. Close to the last turn bouy on the first lap, I got stung by jelly fish on my arm and wrist. Ouch. I caught sight of the clock as I rounded the bouy--1st lap 43 mins and change.
The second loop was much better. The outgoing part was blessedly calm, and I felt much more confident and relaxed. That lasted until the chop started again, and I started feeling a little queasy. I definitely wanted to keep whatever nutrition I had eaten that morning firmly in my stomach--I knew I needed every calorie. I finally got to that last turn bouy and felt the current from upstream on the last 20 yards to the boat ramp. It would have been a great swim as a point to point--no chop in the face and a following current! As I crossed the timing mats, I was surprised how quick it seemed to be done and I knew I could go the distance in Florida. One discipline down, one to go. Total time (not confirmed) about 1:35.
After waving at Grandison, I grabbed my gear bag and headed for the change tent. Lo and behold, Shawn, Sharon, and Charlotte were in there! After bitching and griping about the jellyfish, and pulling sports bras on wet torsos (I need to just swim in my bike gear!), we were heading out. I had a few issues getting my bike off the rack since I approached it from the wrong side, but managed to keep it upright and run over the timing mats. Off I went, assuming Shawn, Sharon and Charlotte were just up ahead. Heading out of town, I was coasting down the street, easily maintaining 18mph. Wow, I thought, this was going to be a breeze! As I approached the Gun/Bait/Beer store on the right, there was a lady turning left into the lot in front of the store. It wasn't raining just then, and I knew she saw me, as she had just passed a few bikers in front of me. I figured she'd stop and let me pass before completing her turn. NOT. She almost ran me over. I was able to swerve and go behind her, thank goodness. The next guy that passed me saw it, and commented to me that I did a great job avoiding her. I already had consumed one bottle of my drink, and had to pee. Had I been a guy, I would've turned around and peed on her car! Stupid lady.
As we came up on the turn around, about 10 miles in, I was happily cruising along and had seen Karen, Terry, Som, Brad, and Fred. Then I turned around and slowed down. WAAAAY down. My mph hit about 15, and I couldn't figure out what happened. Then I realized...headwind. Damn. I really am slow as molasses. This is going to be a looong ride, all alone. Headed back toward town, I passed the rest of the girls. I thought I had missed a turn since they left the change tent before me. Turns out they had stopped to use the port a potties before heading out on the bike. Me, I just peed 3xs in my wetsuit during the swim, so I was fine!
The first 40 miles went by pretty quickly. People were pretty chatty, and would ride side by side just for a minute or two to say good morning. Inevitably, people that stopped at the aid stations would catch back up, so many games of leap frog were played. It made it more bearable--you had familiar faces/jerseys to keep you company. I worked hard to eat but this time I had a hard time pedalling and chewing food. Bananas were ok (luckily they weren't hot and mushy), but everything I brought just didn't look appetizing. Another reason to get up extra early for ironman: I can eat much more before race start and hopefully front load alot of calories. It was still raining on and off. Then we hit about mile 55, in the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge. Parts of the road were already under about 2-3 inches of water, and high tide was going to hit during my second loop. It was kind of fun pedalling through the water, and the scenery around us was beautiful marsh land.
Close to the high school, about mile 60, there were 2 ladies tailgating by the side of the road. As I approached, they grabbed their cow bells and cheered me as I went by. The emotional boost that gave me was indescribable--wouldn't it be nice to have the entire 112 mile route lined with cheering crowds? Then I got lapped by the guy who ended up winning...he pulled into the bike finish, and I was just getting done with 64 miles. Ugh. Grandison and another Richmond friend spectating, Monica, were working the special needs station at the high school. They held my bike, helped me sort out what I wanted, found water for one of my bottles, and let me pee in the grass (very discreetly)! It felt so damn good to be off that bike, even if just for a few minutes. But inevitably I had to get back on, and finish what I started. Just 48 miles to go--even at my best pace about a 3 hour ride.
Right at mile 70, I hear a familiar voice behind me. It was 3 of my IMFL peeps! Shawn, Sharon, and Patty had just pushed hard from the special needs station to catch me so we could finish the ride together. It was soooo great to have them there--especially since just about then the rain started pelting down but good. Course marshalls be damned, this was a "training ride" for us, and we stayed pretty tightly together. Enough so, that Shawn and Sharon were assessed pentalies for drafting. Ooops. Those miles were the longest, but now much more bearable given the company. This time as we went through the Wildlife Refuge, the water was so deep, my shoe was totally underwater at the bottom of my pedal stroke. We saw a bald eagle drying his (her?) wings in a tree, and many white egrets fishing.
By mile 80 though I could tell that my nutrition was a little off, and I was getting tired. I started in on my Gu's--one for every 10 miles left to go--and that really helped. We picked up speed with the last 8 miles (up to 20ish mph), and the body hurt a lot less. I think that was just knowing that soon I'd be off the damn thing. When we got to the guy who said "2 miles to go" I was ready to be done and cranked it in to the finish, a couple of minutes ahead of Shawn and Sharon. Patty had already pulled away much earlier. My final time: 8:50 (swim+bike). If I can do that in Florida, or even come in at 8:30, I'll be ecstatic. As it was, I was very glad I didn't have to run, and as soon as I saw the massage tables set up in the gym, I was lost. Oh my, that massage felt sooo good. The poor guy got me on the table even before I could shower, and I kept apologizing for the way I smelled.
Everyone finished well. Tammy's husband Brad survived 3 flat tires and an hour and 47 minute wait for the sag wagon, but still came in before the last two bikers. We all got cleaned up as best we could (those high school showers left something to be desired), ate some soup and cookies, and waited for Karen to finish her 2nd lap of the 3 lap run course. Grandison was anxious to get home since while we were away her baby had been running a fever (always the case that when Mom goes away, all heck breaks loose), and I wanted to sleep in my own bed too. We pulled into town about 10:30, said our goodbyes, and made it home. Today I've been tired and loungy all day. I need to eat some more...isn't it all about nutrition?!
I'm very glad to have done the race. I feel much more confident that I can tackle less than ideal swim and weather conditions, and finish the bike with plenty of time to spare. This week I think we jump back into the running part of the equation, and next weekend I get to run one of my favorite races, the Army 10 Miler up in DC. Happy training and, for you Kona folks, happy tapering!