Background: I started doing triathlons in medical school, largely as a way to challenge myself and to stay active while having a schedule that didn’t allow for me to play team sports anymore (my first loves were soccer and Ultimate Frisbee). I continued during residency in Washington DC with my husband and a small network of friends. None of us had fancy equipment, time to train seriously, and frankly, any business at all racing these things. But there was beer at the end, so….
My last tri was in 2011 in Longmont, with some of the attendings and residents at DH. I was one year out after having my son an in miserable shape. I panicked during the swim, tore my right medial meniscus clipping out of my pedals on the bike, and limped through the run. I also decided to give up tri that day. Running is simpler, more efficient to train for with a busy job an a family, and has given me so much solace, perspective, and self-confidence that one would expect it to be quite enough.
Yeah, no. Once I got reasonably good at running I foolishly looked around, saw my husband and friends doing triathlon, and thought, “well, maybe I could do that too! It was fun before and now I am in better shape and can afford, well, more than clip on aero-bars for my old road bike!” Turns out, however, that half-ironman and childbirth are eerily similar. I will get into that later.
Ok, here we go: I signed up for Ironman Boulder 70.3 to re-introduce myself to tri racing, in preparation for the Ironman Canada event in Whistler this July. I last did a half ironman race in Maryland in 2009. Thjs time though, I came with a solid running base having finished 2 marathons this past year, training 7-10 hours per week for most of the year and 14 per week for the last 6 weeks. I even swam a little. I also got good equipment, including a bike that I now have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with.
Race week: Packet pickup, did a little taper for 4 days. Still pretty intimidated at the registration site by all the athletes with sponsored bike kits and 4% body fat.
Race day: Got up at 4:15 am after reasonable sleep, which is weird for me – usually I cannot sleep at all before a race day. I was nervous but trying to have no expectations for myself other than finishing an learning how to race tri again. Perhaps some of that had sunk in. Got set up in transition early and had a rack spot in the Foundation area – tons of space, which was nice. Coffee and toast and bananas.
Swim: Wetsuit legal and we could get in the water and warm up first, which was key for me to not panic. Found clean water right away next to the buoys and just tried to go easy an concentrate on form. Came out of the water feeling good, no panic attacks.
Bike: I was in the penultimate swim wave so almost everyone was in front of me. My plan was to hold around 160 watts for the race, give or take based on the heat. I blew past a lot of people in the first 8 miles and was enjoying the heck out of myself. Until I noticed my front tire had a flat.
Pulled over, tried to stay calm. Got yelled at by one woman who thought I was cutting her off. Apparently she was expecting the race to be more than just a learning experience. I had only changed a flat once on this bike, and had a lot of help doing it, and these were new wheels. Looked in my gear box and realized somehow my tire lever had not made it onto the course with me. Ugh. Walked bike back 50 yards or so and asked a cop to call for service for me. Was told it would be a long time because there were several flats and a crash. Double ugh. Finally managed to wedge the tube out using a bike tool and put in the new tube. Could only get to about 40 psi because I don’t use CO2 cartridges. And I am off, having lot at least 30 minutes in what shall hereafter be known as Jen’s flat debacle of 2016. (this is a terrible name so please feel free to think of a better one. Flat flail? Bike bungle? The possibilities are endless.)
Ok. Back on the course and managing expectations. I decide to keep with my plan of 160 watts and make this a long training day. Hey, I wanted to learn from this race, right? Wish granted. I pushed ahead and relied mostly on Gatorade for nutrition, feeling I could not eat solids at this pace and am not awesome at biking and eating at the same time without crashing anyway. My power started too falter at the last 10 miles or so as the heat of the day set in. Rolled into T2, well, late.
Bike 3:11:46 (without stop time: 2:38:28 20.5 mph)
Run: Exiting T2 I knew I had a problem. Legs felt like lead but that was expected – this was a big bike effort for me, and in my brick training runs I was able to loosen up my legs after the first mile. The bigger issue was the 85 oz of Gatorade I pounded on the bike course like a freshman during pledge week. I was super bloated and nauseated and it was. SO. Hot. I ran/walked/shuffled and tried to wrap my head around 13 miles of this. Saw the DGBG gang at the first lap sitting in the shade drinking beer. Fortunately I was too dizzy and tired to leap over the fence and strangle them. (only kidding of course; it was downright incredible to see some friendly faces out there.)
As my stomach settled I was able to run a bit more and only walk at aid stations. That became my mantra: just need to get to the next aid station. I would drink a bit of water and coke, and cram ice into every crevice of my tri suit. I was in this, well, sucky spot where I needed nutrition and was dehydrated but couldn’t take anything in for a while because of the bloating and nausea. Good times.
Just need to make it to the next aid station.
Then, suddenly, the last aid station disappeared behind me. I came down the chute and finished.
Run: 2:15:05 10:13/mile
Found the DGBG gang, tried not to dry heave when K2 offered me a beer. Found out Byyny got 2nd in his AG, and later found out that Tracy Cushing crushed her first triathlon and Sankoff got a spot at the World Championships in Australia later this year. I work with some serious badasses. Ate all of the things in the food tent and shuffled home.
Oh boy, lots.
1. Equipment matters on SO many levels. My new bike is so fun to ride and is just so very fast. BUT I needed to practice changing a tire about 20 times before I raced. And double-check my gear box. And learn to use CO2 cartridge. And not rely on electrical tape to keep my hydration system in place. Taking the time and investing in the right setup AND knowing how to trouble-shoot it on the course is huge.
2. I need to ride my bike more. Not only for the fitness but to become more comfortable on it. Descending in aero and eating while riding, also being able to grab water bottles at aid stations and refilling mine without dismounting will all help. Practice!
3. Back off on liquid calories in the last 10 mile of the bike if I want any prayer of being able to run out of T2. Sips of water and food.
4. I have the potential to be a pretty good cyclist but need to work on my endurance. Maintaining power for longer than 2 hours is a weakness for me. Long rides followed by bricks are my future.
5. One can never apply too much sunscreen. My burn lines are so bad that the shower last night I thought for a second that I forgot to take off my tri suit.
6. That having a community of people to race with and cheer you on is like manna from heaven. Seeing DGBG faces on the course, having 37 texts of encouragement waiting for me at the end, and being a part of the DGBG team is what makes this sustainable for me. Thank you.
7. Triathlons are like childbirth. (I told you I’d get back to this). It is really painful, lots of unexpected shit can happen along the way, and generally you forget about all the bad stuff when you think about it later. Probably because, in the end, its is VERY much worth it. Albeit for very different reasons.
8. Adaptability. This is my second race this year that has not gone as well as I’d hoped. (I have put off writing a Boston Marathon race report for that reason). I went into both Boston and Boulder with high hopes and became a bit too fixated on a number; a finishing time that was only possible in ideal conditions with no hiccups. Unfortunately that left me very disappointed after Boston and, truthfully, now about this race. I am faster and fitter than I have ever been in my life and have been training a lot. To get a disappointing result after the hours of training I have put in and that my family (and work) has had to accommodate is really hard to reconcile. I over-estimated my ability to thrive at this distance and let my ego get the better of me.
So I think this is the best lesson of all. This race, and Boston before it, reminds me that there is value in racing and finishing. That I cannot let my own competitiveness prevent me from enjoying the race and learning from it. That the bet way to move forward is to learn from yesterday and use the experience to have a fun day at Whistler in July.