Thursday, October 3, 2013

Carolina Half Race Report 2013

Most blogs start with the training leading up to the goal race.  But since I was too busy training and barely keeping up with the rest of my life, this is where I'll have to start.

First things first, blog name inspired by the shirts my husband DP made for my parents, himself, and me for Christmas last year, declaring "2013 the year of the triathlon."  Probably not knowing what he was getting himself into...

I'm very lucky to have a kind, generous father-in-law who happens to be more into triathlons than I am.  He did the 9 hour drive to and from the race, picking up and dropping my bike off along the way.  Which left DP and I free to fly down on Saturday, back on Sunday, and not miss work (in theory...definitely not there mentally).

Dr. P warned me he wanted to leave early in order to get through the city.  I know "early" means before 6am so he showed incredible restraint by not texting until 5:59...which means he left at 3am.  I brought down the bike, helmet, 2 wetsuits, and stuff we couldn't take on the plane in carry-on: chamois butter (is that a liquid?), tri slide, anti-fogger, new bike multi-tool.  I should have also sent my ice packs and sunscreen but didn't think of it.

[AND scissors!  Side note for future tris: I will never, ever, ever go to a triathlon without scissors again, amen.  I needed them for: opening shot blocks when I ripped them wrong, cutting nylon straps, trimming down the ziplock bags for the bento box, clipping the end of the hospital-style bracelet for the timing chip, cutting trashbags off the bike after leaving it in transition overnight.]

After he left, I was fully awake and decided to pack, which nearly two hours b/c I was being overly methodical about the whole thing.  I've packed for a tri in 17 minutes flat after zero sleep, but this race just felt like it needed that focus even though I've been planning for months.

After work and catching up with some out-of-town friends, DP and I had a late dinner of pizza and wine (as predicted, one glass knocked me out).

Uneventful flight to CLT.  We were able to check into the hotel early (Homewood Suites, exit 30, love it for this race). DP's college friend, Jeff, was in town so we met him for a lovely Brickhouse lunch.  For me: glazed salmon, grilled asparagus, and sweet potato waffle fries.  Nice balance of protein and carbs, perfect.  DP and his friend went back to Summit to catch up and Dr. P and I drove the bike course.

This is the second time I'd seen the course.  I came down earlier in the month to preview, and had a horrible experience.  It was a Friday afternoon so a lot of traffic and there are something like 40 turns in the course.  I don't have a bike GPS so I'd tried to make a sleeve (like a quarterback) to keep up with the turns.  Actually, two sleeves.  I got lost around mile 20 and by the time I got back on track, I looked up to see a huge dark cloud looming, which weatherbug confirmed was a line of severe thunderstorms.  I ended up standing in the rain for over an hour until my parents could get to me with the car.  We drove the rest of the course, but I was pretty completely demoralized.

This time, the course seemed hilly but doable, which was fairly amazing considering how I felt less than a month ago.  I realized (for the 23,497,856,392th time) that everything happens for a reason.  Had I not had such a terrible experience, I might not have signed up for spin classes or worked so hard in them.  Dr. P might not have offered to show me how to use my gears properly.  I might not have gone back to the bike shop and the technicians might not have realized that when they lengthened the stem when I bought the bike, it made the brake cables too short.  I might not have whined to my mentor and he might not have offered to go out with me on the hilly Potomac ride when I learned how hard I could push myself.  Yep, it all happens for a reason.

After the bike course preview, time started to speed up.  Packet pickup at Summit, my parents arrived,  grocery shopping, dropped off the bikes at T1, pre-race meeting, and then headed to dinner at Joel's.  Joel's used to be in Davidson and is just fantastic Asian fusion.  I had hibachi chicken, clear soup, mini shrimp spring rolls, steamed rice, and copious quantities of shrimp sauce.  In other words, the perfect pre-race meal.

Then I spent way too much time re-packing everything, but made it to bed around 10:15.

Race Morning

I slept great til 4am, dozed for the last hour and was out the door in 30 minutes.  I had half a frappacino and a clif bar.  Not nearly as much as I'd planned to consume but I'd eaten so much the day before that I felt about as full as I wanted to be.

Arriving at 5:45, we were on the late side getting to T2 at Bailey Road Park and wasted more time finding a parking spot in the second overflow lot.  I set up as quickly as possible, got my timing chip and got in line for the shuttle.  I was super annoyed at the timing chip holder being one of those hospital bracelets rather than velcro.  The tail was way too long and I could already feel the snap scraping my ankle.  I could see that turning into a big gash once I did anything besides sitting on a bus.  Fortunately, DP got some electrical tape from the bike maintenance guys at T1 and that took care of it.  Honestly, it could have been miserable.


The race organizers recommended we bring an extra set of shoes for the 1/4-mile run from the swim finish to T1.  My only criticism of the whole day is that they should have told people to bring an extra EXTRA pair of shoes for the walk from the swim finish to the swim start.  People were stepping on rocks and acorns in bare feet.  You don't think this is a big deal until you have to do it.  I've already seen other race reports commenting on it.

Everyone helped wrestle me into my wetsuit and I was grateful I went with the rented sleeveless option as opposed to my full sleeve.  I felt much more at ease.

The race started a bit late, which was super helpful since I felt like we'd been running about 15 minutes behind all morning.  I was in the second to last wave with ALL women (minus Athenas and novices).  Definitely the highest men:women ratio I've been in.  It was a beach start but they let us splash around in the water in the 5 minutes between waves.  This was awesome b/c: 1) lots of separation between
waves; 3) chance to get my heart rate up; 4) could test the water temp and clarity; 5) air temp being 57 and water temp being 76 meant it felt nice and warm when I splashed back in for the start.

I started out great in the first 400m before the first turn buoy.  I have come to expect the panicky feeling during this part but it never happened.  I got lazy on my sighting during the 1000m straightaway and started my old habit of popping up to look at the buoys instead of taking in a quick snapshot and analyzing it in my mind while continuing to swim.  In my (limited) defense, most of the sighting buoys I've encountered this season have been way off and following them would have wasted time.  But the fact that I couldn't SEE the turn buoy should have clued me into the fact that they were correctly placed.  Oh well.  I also got a little discouraged when some green caps from the wave behind caught up with me.  These were aquabikers and relay people so I convinced myself they were probably super fast anyway.

All in all, I was happy with my swim even though I knew it was slow compared to the rest of the field.  My watch said 43:something when I hopped out so I was totally fine with that.

On the run back, I decided not to fool with putting on shoes b/c I also had to carry my jacket and a towel I'd brought to dry my hands (trying to avoid trying to put dry gloves on wet hands like I've struggled with in the past).  In retrospect, I needed none of those things and they got in my way.  I even threw my shoes to DP.  Well, truthfully, I looked straight at him and threw them to the other side of the little athlete runway they'd set up.  In my (limited) defense, I was afraid a race official would see it.

Swim: 48:26 (including the 1/4mi run), 75 out of 81 female finishers.

I'm always super slow in transition, and this was no exception.  I struggled getting my wetsuit off my ankles, as usual.  And getting my gloves on, as usual.  I don't exactly know how to practice transition under real conditions, but I definitely need to get better at the mechanics of it.

T1: 10:32, 80 out of 81 female finishers (ugh).

I'm sorry Tricycle, I promise I'm buying it.
Good mount, for once, and off I went.  Immediately, I realized what would become the biggest problem of my day.  As soon as I switched my 910xt to bike, I only saw the overall total time -- no distance, cadence, or average speed.  As much as I love my Garmin, I have never successfully operated it in a race.  I thought I had it right, but I realized I that the settings I had put on the sports individually didn't transfer to the multi-sport setting.

So my options were to stop and reset the settings, or just keep going without the data.  I decided I had PLENTY of time to weigh these two options and I wanted to try to gain some ground on my slow swim and T1 times.  I could still see a few women riders so I knew I hadn't been left totally behind.  Plus, I'd seen Dr. P's bike in T1.  I knew he'd catch me but I wondered if I could hold him off for awhile.  And really, I wanted to see how bad the hills were really going to be compared to my preview a month ago...

On that front, I was relieved.  Knowing how to use the gears properly, not having to fight traffic, not having to navigate on my own, cooler weather, and knowing the route gave me a lot of confidence.  Every 5 miles, there was a spray chalk mile marker so I could keep up with where I was.

Dr. P caught me around mile 18, on an uphill, and I chased him awhile and passed a few people in the process.  I saw the place where I got lost on my preview and cursed at it :)  I said hello and thank you to all the volunteers and police (who were almost at every single turn...seriously amazing...they literally called in every available officer from 6 jurisdictions).

After waving to the tree I stood under during the thunderstorm, I stopped around mile 30 to empty another gatorade bottle into my aero bottle.  I popped a salt tab, rearranged the ziplock bags in my bento box, pulled a stinger waffle out of my back pocket.  I'm just not skilled enough yet to do this all while moving.  So appreciative of all the people who asked if I was okay.  I thanked the ones I passed again ;)

Then I reached the big hills I remembered from my preview ride.  The ones I envisioned during spin class.  I took SBM's advice and sang Eminem songs all the way up.  And they were actually doable.  I could not believe it.  I was thrilled.

Somehow, I missed the mile 50 marker.  So 45 to "50" (actually 55) seemed endless and I started to worry again.  Somewhere in there, my second water bottle ran out.  I didn't want to stop again so I just kept going and prayed that was the right decision.  A volunteered confirmed my suspicions that I'd missed the mile 50 sign.  Total relief.

Coming into T2, I got nervous again.  I was super shaky and I'm terrible at dismounting.  Thank God for race volunteers who were there and helped me get off the bike.  One saw how shaky I was and said he'd walk with me.  Thank God for him.  As we walked, he said "remember is that your stride cadence is more important than your stride length.  Just keep it steady and you'll be fine."  I had no idea why he was telling me that, but got a hint of what I was in for.

Nutrition: 10 shot blocks, 1 stinger waffle, 4 peanut butter crackers, ~60 oz of gatorade.

Bike: 3:43:25, 69 out of 81 female finishers.

Just tried to focus.  Congratulated Dr. P who'd come in 15 min before in the aquabike.

T2: 5:13, 73 out of 81 finishers.

There was a steep downhill straight of transition and I had to walk.  My sense of balance has been off recently b/c my hamstrings and calves have been so tight.  But slowly, I got my run legs.  I tried really hard not to think at this point.  It was an out and back course so I congratulated the people finishing.  How could people be FINISHING and I still had a 3 hour run ahead?!?  I almost passed the first aid station until a volunteer said "oranges."  Ohhhh, I love oranges during races.  I braked, grabbed an orange and kept going.

My watch setting was still off on the run but I had a better shot at fixing it than while on a bike.  Around mile 4, I realized I couldn't remember pushing the Lap button for T2.  I pushed it and the watch congratulated me on finishing my triathlon.  Expletive.

At that point, it was exactly 5 hours so I knew I had 3 hours to run 9 miles.  I knew I could do that so I turned my mind off and kept pushing.   I turned into the Baker parking lot asked the aid station volunteers if they were Davidson students.  "No, UNC Charlotte."  I asked at a couple of other stations and got the same answer.  I stopped asking when one volunteer asked me if I was a Davidson student.  "A long, long time ago," I said.  "What, last year?" he said.  "Read my calf," I said and ran away :)

I do NOT remember the cross country trails being as ridiculously hilly as they are.  I remembered what the volunteer from T2 said and I kept my cadence steady.  God bless him.  Fortunately, it was only 2 miles and then it flattened out.  Also, there are now goats on a farm out there.  Random.  I baaa-ed at them, but no response.  The turnaround at mile 7 felt amazing because I could envision the end.

I started to stiffen up around mile 9 and was definitely hurting by mile 11.  Especially since I knew the final (up)hills were coming.  I walked the worst of the hills.  I was going to pass the final aid station until a volunteer said "coke."  Ohhhhh, I love coke in the last mile of the run.

Then I saw my mom.  Then my dad.  Then DP.  And the finish.

I thought the finish was going to be a big rush of emotion.  Actually, I think I had been focusing so hard on controlling my emotions all day that they were buried pretty deep.  And I just couldn't process what I'd done.  Could. Not. Comprehend.

Nutrition: 6 shot blocks, 1/2 a mini bag of pretzels, 2 salt tabs, ~20 oz gatorade, ~20 oz water.  One orange slice, one small flat coke.

Run: 2:42:05, 66 out of 81 female finishers

Total: 7:29:39, 70 out of 81 female finishers

The BBQ guys were packing up their post-race feast by the time I got there.  No worries.  There was ICE COLD DIET DR. PEPPER IN BABY POOLS.  That plus Cool Ranch Doritos and peanut M&Ms and I had the best unhealthy post-race feast of them all.

I didn't feel very good for the first two hours.  Sore, nauseous, and not hungry (gee, I can't imagine why).  Eventually, I suggested Joel's Round Two b/c I couldn't think of anything potentially more palatable.  I had 2 cups of clear broth, salad with ginger dressing, Philly sushi roll, edamame, sprite.  I felt a lot better after that.

We made it back to the airport in plenty of time for our 10pm flight and slept like the dead for the 1.5 hour duration...but not before stopping for celebratory margaritas.

Final Thoughts
I cannot even describe how amazing Team Drea was this weekend.  Dr. P was always looking out for me, even though he had his own race to execute (and beat me...again!).  My dad had his signs, which were funny and sweet.  My mom was always there, ready to help and ready to back off when needed.  And DP, just everywhere, all the time, being the very best husband I could ever, ever ask for.  It was such a long day for all of them too.  I love my family more than anything and I would not have made it without them.  This paragraph is way too short to describe it.

And my friends.  I found out that DP sent a message to some of my friends asking them to support me since I was struggling so much in the last month.  I thank you all for your words of encouragement, texts, phone calls, posts, cards.  I am truly grateful for your friendship and I hope I can return the favor in some way.

Moving forward, I plan to take break from long-distance racing (okay, I admit I've already googled several races...but I at least waited 48 hours!).  I want keep up my workouts and maybe do some shorter stuff but I need to re-establish a balance (like, I don't know, clean the house??).  I look forward to building on this year to get stronger and faster.  I'm still in awe of the people finishing 3 hours before me.  And those who do full IMs.  That's just crazy.

My mom asked me if I feel different about myself now that it's over.  No and yes.  In a way, it feels like it never happened.  All that training and boom, over.   But it was definitely a different drea who showed up that day.  More patient, forgiving, focused.  I've seen her a few times since but I'll probably need to keep training and racing for her to stick around longer :)

I'm happy and grateful beyond words for this weekend.  The weather was perfect, the event was totally well run, and I truly did the best I could.  And I accomplished my mantra for the day: