Be warned...it's a long one!
What started out as excitement and calm a couple of days before the race, turned into a full blown panic on Saturday. I think it was the finality of getting the transition bags packed—looking at everything I still had to organize and think through totally overwhelmed me. On top of that, I had promised Joey I’d make pancakes that morning, and I did, but it made me late getting out the door to go pick up Joe who was flying into Plattsburg around 10am. In the car on the way to get him I tried calling Jen, and a few other people, but spotty cell coverage and windy roads don’t make ideal “chat on the phone” and drive conditions. I was fighting off tears for a good portion of the drive anyways, thinking I was surely mad for even thinking I could ever tackle this course. It was good to find Joe and have him close. He’s learned by now what to say (no saying “you can still back out now,” just keep it upbeat and positive and repeat “you’ll do fine” over and over again). Luckily he had plans to hang out with Joey, allowing me some time to maybe put my feet up and relax. Joey was so glad to have someone other than me to hang out with! Four days with just Mom and her triathlon friends for company is tough on a 10 year old.
Our house, Karibou, had invited the rest of the TriGirl/Maramarc team over for pizza around lunch in lieu of a prerace dinner. It was nice to have staggered friends in and out, chatting about who had yet to turn in their stuff and rack their bikes. Lynn and I were finally ready around 2pm and headed down to the Oval. I tried quickly to get a lay of the land—and figure out where we run in/out of transition. Our bags were on numbered racks; it was nice that they were up off the ground. I had double bagged most of what I needed kept dry, since the weather was calling for thunderstorms that night and on race day.
By 3:30, I was trying desperately to relax and put my feet up. Holly had lent me a book, which I hoped would take my mind off the race, so I read for a little while. I was able to chat with Marit; she really helped calm me down, and had me go over my whole race plan. We did talk a little about the uncontrollable things, like weather and my plan for the down hills. Thank you so much, Marit! Someday I hope I can do a race with Marit close by to cheer me on! I knew there would be plenty of people there to cheer, including folks like Danielle who I had not met, and my good friend Heidi. She pulled into town around 4, having ridden up with the male contingent of the Richmond cheer squad—Ryon, Bryan, and another of their friends. By 5:30 it was time to start dinner: broiled salmon, brown rice, and roast green beans (and a little schluk of wine). Afterwards, we all made up our bottles of nutrition for the morning and hit the sack.
I was surprised how well I slept. No horrible stress dreams, no waking up every hour in anticipation of the alarm clock. I didn’t even hear the rain, which according to Holly was a pretty steady downpour. All the racers were up by 4:30. I quickly got dressed, and tiptoed in to give my Jofus man some kisses. He’d sleep through the morning and I wouldn’t see him again until much later. Heidi got up with me and since I didn’t have much of an appetite, we headed down to the transition area. Special needs turned in, body marked, and bike ready by 5:30! As I was headed back to the house, we ran into Cyndi. She and I trucked back down to body marking for our “pre-IM ceremony.” Before IMFL in 2007, I wrote “YES YOU CAN” on her arm; she did the same for me last year. This year, as we were both racing we took turns writing “YES WE CAN!” on each other. It was getting late—I needed to go EAT and take care of the morning constitutional. By this point it was pushing 6am…ack!
Too soon it was time to head to the swim start. Joe walked down with me, holding my hand. I got a little choked up thinking about my day ahead. There’s always that uncertainty just before a long race, a feeling like you won’t come out the other end quite the same. I tried hard not to think about NOT finishing, and focused instead on savoring my last few minutes holding onto my husband. I afraid that I had waited too long to get to the start, and that I wouldn’t be able to find any of my friends/teammates. 140.6 is a long way to go, and it’s nice to at least start the journey with some familiar faces nearby. Luckily I found some of them lined up for pictures! Whew. Kisses and hugs goodbye to the sherpas, and Lynn and I held hands as we walked over the timing mats. Just at the IM arch leading into the water, Sherpa Sharon (and IMFL peep) was there directing the athletes into the water, wishing everyone a great day/race. High fives and hugs and it was time to get wet.
Off go the pros, and the woman leading the national anthem gets some of the words wrong. The weather was overcast and drizzly, and as we waited for the cannon to go off, we took turns checking goggles and warming up a bit. I couldn’t see any familiar bodies in the crowd, but I knew they were there. At this point, much like at IMFL, I had the feeling like, yes, this is right. I’m ready and can do this. BOOM goes the cannon and I look at my friends and we head out!
Just as Cyndi and I round the dock to swim under the flags, some lady starts FREAKING out. She passed me by on her way to Cyndi, who was trying to calm her down. The dock wasn’t more than 10 feet away, but this woman was in a total panic and grabbed onto Cyndi for dear life. We shouted to the lifeguard on the dock that the woman needed help, and it seemed like an eternity before they threw in the floaty to her. By this time, the diver popped up from below us, and he was able to wrestle the woman off Cyndi. Cyndi and I looked at each other, and Cyndi said if that was the worst thing to happen during the swim, at least it was over with! Time to start swimming.
The crowd was still pretty thick, but I was able to keep Cyndi in my sights on my left. The whole first half of the first loop was crazy—I wasn’t pummeled at all, but had a couple of close encounters where I went to breathe to one side and there would be a face immediately in front of mine. I didn’t feel I was swimming as much as being carried along by the crowd. At the first turn buoy I glanced at my watch: 23 minutes and change. The way back in was a little better and seemed to go much faster. As I came out of the water over the timing mats, I was still keeping up with Cyndi, and I was glad for a familiar face as we headed out for loop 2.
The second loop always feels so much better—people find their rhythm, there’s much more space, and you can focus on things like lengthening your stroke. Every time I breathed to my right, I could see the sun trying to peek through the clouds. I started singing “Here Comes the Sun” to myself, hoping it would stay out long enough to dry up the road down into Keene. At one point I saw a familiar stroke to my left. It was Lynn, and we said hello! As I rounded the buoys again, I was feeling good. Time to stop dicking around and swim. I thought for sure I had negative split the thing (I did by 1 minute) and I came out very close to my IMFL time (one minute faster). Total swim: 1:24:44.
Gotta love wetsuit strippers. They need them at every 70.3 race. Otherwise I end up sitting in T1, pulling and tugging and stepping on the wetsuit trying to get it off. Off with the wetsuit, and it was time to huff it to the transition area. It was lovely to see familiar faces along the way, especially Joe and Heidi. A quick run through the racks to grab my bag, and then I was in the tent. Talk about crowded! I found a seat close to Cyndi, she was lucky to have a volunteer helping her, and plopped down. Just then a volunteer came to help me (Halleluja!), and she was able to dump out my bag and get me organized. First things first, I had to read the note Maddy had written to me (I had one for each transition!). I thought of my Moo, and so wished she could be there. I think I showed the note to Cyndi… I dried off the feet and the volunteer helped put on my shoes, sprayed me with sunscreen (thank goodness!), and helped with the arm warmers. Time to roll. Run out of the tent, grab the bike from another volunteer and get to the mount line. T1: 9:53, just a minute faster from IMFL, but it included a longer run from the swim to the tent.
I tried not to be apprehensive about the bike start. From the mount line, there are a couple of SHARP turns combined with STEEP hills, and on wet pavement in the midst of other racers doing the same thing it could be very dicey. I took my time, and stayed as far to the right as possible. I was pretty surprised that Joe and Heidi were able to make it over to the bike start, but they were there yelling for me! I also saw Fave and the other rock-star wives on the way out of town. I love racing with lots of friends.
I made it down the hill past the ski jumps, and settled in for the first climb of the day. I tried to focus on getting in calories while spin spin spinning up the hill. It didn’t feel like I was pushing it, but I was passing more people than passed me (that would change soon enough!) Cyndi caught up to me and we chatted a bit. She stayed with me down the first two small downhill sections, bless her soul, looking back to make sure I was good. Then Amy passed by. That poor woman had rented race wheels only to get a flat before the first aid station.
Pretty soon I was at the start of the Keene descent. The sun had come out and dried up the pavement, and I knew this first part was where I needed to let it go and relax. Free speed. The repaved road and no wind were wonderful! I passed the photographer and smiled—this was almost FUN. Then I hit the steep windy part. Cyndi took off, and I was on my own. Guys and girls were FLYING by me, so I again stayed as far to the right as possible to give them room to pass. I loved the fact that the whole lane was ours, no cars to contend with! I kept my speed to what felt comfortable for me, and when I hit the last little turn into Keene I almost wept for joy. I DID IT! I only needed to make it down that damn hill one more time, and I knew I could do it again. Turning onto 9N to Jay, I was feeling great. There was a little tail wind and I just got down into aero and cranked away. I was surprised to catch Shawn, who was still enjoying the rush of her bomb down the hill. She said “Have a good ride” as I passed, and I wished her the same!
From here through the hill toward Wilmington, I took in my carbo pro and water, trying to keep sipping every several minutes. By the time I hit the hill, it was getting pretty warm, and I took off the arm warmers. I reloaded my profile bottle with water at the turn to Haselton and looked forward to crossing the first timing mats at the turn around. BEEEEEEP is like a heavenly chorus. I thought of all my friends following along online, knowing they’d be waiting to “see” me hit another milestone. I loved that out and back for the chance to yell a quick hello to my friends and teammates! The next 20 miles were the tough ones: just enough flat sections to give you hope of covering the distance in a decent clip, but relentless hills that make you just groan in despair when you see that 8mph on your speedometer yet again.
I didn’t want to look at my watch until I finished the first loop. I didn’t want to know how slow I was going. I felt strong enough that I was certain I’d make the bike cut offs, but I didn’t want to know how close I would cut it. On the hills up toward Whiteface Mtn, some racer’s family had set up a tent on the left hand side of the road in front of their hotel. I figured it must be close to lunch because they were grilling what smelled like burgers. Damn, that’s not nice. Wouldn’t you know, their racer had pulled over and had lunch with them. He was just shoving the rest of his lunch in his mouth as he crossed the yellow lines to get back onto the course right in front of me. Uh, where are the course marshalls when you need them?! I so wanted to yell if they had enough burgers to feed all of us racers. Instead I just made it my mission to pass the guy and keep him behind me.
I can’t express how good it felt to finally see the painted cherries on the shoulder. I was almost back into town! While the Three Bears tend to get top billing as the worst of the hills in this race, I thought the hills leading up to the ski resort were much worse. It could just be that the crowd of people cheering helped propel me up those hills. I was almost to the top when I heard my name being shouted from behind me. It was Danielle and her daughter Lelia!!! Oh how I wanted to turn around and properly introduce myself (and maybe just SIT for a while). But then I was at the turn, looking forward to getting UP the bastard and then seeing my family. Then, more wonderful sherpas! Bryan was there clicking pictures—we high fived, for some much needed love, as I made it to the top. At that point my watch said 5:30 (total elapsed time from when the cannon went off). Quick math…it was 12:30pm and I was good!
Riding around the lake was so nice—sherpas galore! As I approached the special needs area I assessed my nutrition. One carbo pro bottle down, one to go. Swap those around so the full one is closer at hand. Water, ok. Grab more at the next aid station. Gu’s: three down, at least 4 still available. No need to stop! I just cruised through. Joe and Joey were there, I think I blew them a kiss. Heidi was down a ways at the TriZ tent. And the crowds through town were heaven—everyone yelling “go go go” and “great job.”
It was a little sad to leave them behind, but I was still feeling really good. I knew that would change as the hills wore me down, so I was anxious to get as far as I could before having it catch up to me. On the down hills, I worked harder to let it go and pick up more speed. I thought a lot of what Karen might say if she was riding next to me on those sections. On the flats I thought about how hard I had worked at Eagleman, and that day in Tucson when I had to stay on Jen’s wheel. On the hills I sang the “push and pull” mantra and thought of my climb up Mt Lemmon and Marit. Before long, I was again at the top of the long descent and it was time to go. After the race I checked my speedometer—top speed was 39.5mph and I think that was through the section of down hills along the lakes. The wind had picked up some, so I talked to myself a bit about how it was just a little breeze cooling me down, not monster gusts trying to knock me off my bike.
As I approached the last windy section, there were guys in the road yelling at racers to “STAY LEFT!” Up ahead some guy had crashed. He was on a stretcher and looked really banged up. Talk about sobering you right up! Ok then. I slowed down quite a bit, taking the last hills at a 20mph pace. I want to make it down in one piece. (After the race, I learned that he had crashed—more like flown right over his handle bars—going about 50mph right in front of Shelley. She and Cyndi both stopped to help him. Shelley is an ICU nurse and helped make sure his injuries weren’t life threatening.) I cried as I hit Keene. I was only 70 miles into the bike, but felt that my race was mostly won. Since May I had battled mentally with these hills, but I had done it and they were now behind me. Everything after this was gravy. I had a tail wind through Jay and Upper Jay and cranked along the next 10 miles going about 22mph.
It was about mid way through the flats through Jay that I really noticed the heat. I realized I needed to keep drinking more water since I aim to drink a full profile bottle an hour and had only refilled the bottle twice at this point. I started using whatever was left from the aid station bottle to pour over my head. I didn’t feel like I needed to pee until well into the second bike loop, but on that loop I went four times. I knew I’d need to drink at least 6 bottles of water—but I always forget that my bike times are over 7 hours. I hoped the electrolyte powder I added to my carbo pro bottles was enough, together with the added salt in the gu I took in. Two words: not enough. Not enough water, not enough electrolytes.
The out and back to Haselton wasn’t as much fun the second time. A girl I had been leapfrogging with all day finally passed me for good. She was a good sport and said, “Come on, Kate!” (she heard someone call my name up Papa Bear) “We’ve got a tail wind here. Catch me.” I just couldn’t. I tried to keep a positive attitude at this point, not letting the thought of the hills back into town get me down. I kept my pace on the uphills the same, getting up out of the saddle to make it up Mama and Papa Bears and the Bastard. Turns out my second loop was about 8 minutes slower than the first, which I had heard was a reasonable expectation even among the pros. Pulling into town was sheer bliss, even seeing so many guys hitting the turn around on their first loop of the run (and knowing I was that far behind them!) I was so glad to be off the bike, and practically threw it at the volunteer once across the timing mat. I am very proud of my bike split—it was a tough tough course, and I finished 112 miles in 7:38:44. My IMFL time was 7:13, so to be just 25 minutes slower on a much harder course I think was a testament to my general improvement in bike fitness. I also had moved up in rank in my age group: after the swim I was 84th out of 112. After the bike I was in 77th place. (That would change on the run!)
T2 wasn’t nearly as crowed as after the swim, but there was Cyndi! Deanna was heading out just as I walked in. I had a volunteer that tried to steer me to the porta johns, but I was having none of it. I just sat in the grass in the tent and peed! She was a little taken aback, but I think at the end of the day, nothing fazes those volunteers. She dumped out my bag, and again the first thing I did was read the note from my Maddy Moo. This time I remembered to put the note into a baggie with my Tylenol so I could take it with me. A quick change of shorts, shoes and socks and I was out the door. T2 time: 6:43, over 7 minutes faster than Florida!