Race Report: Catalina Marathon

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I’d be lying if I said that I thought this race would be easy. I mean, look at the elevation profile FFS:

CatalinaMary-RaceElevationThe course basically goes from one side of the island to the other:

CatalinaMary-MarathonRoute

This means you have to get on a boat that leaves at five am. (It also means that your poor husband has to get up at zero:dark:thirty and figure out how to drive a golf cart, so that he can drive his wife to the boat dock. He’s a saint.) As you might expect, a pre-race boat full of runners is very quiet:

CatalinaMary-EarlyMorningBoatLike any runner worth her salt, I’d been watching the weather forecast for the last month of so. It had been pretty consistently 71 degrees, but about a week ago it shot up to 81. Then yesterday we heard that they were expecting temps in the 90’s. The day moved from crazy to ridiculous. Temps on the boat were still cool, but when we docked at 6:30 it was already in the 60’s – as warm as the mild days we’d been enjoying in Seattle.

The race organizers were kind enough to let folks leave early if we were so inclined, so I took them up on it and hit the road. First, I hit the restroom (like with lights and flushing toilets! Height of luxury!!!) and took a picture of the sunrise over the harbor. After I ran it through Instagram it looked more like something you’d paint on a van, but still pretty:

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We kicked off the race with a nice long hill. This would become the theme of my day. Looking through my photos, it was pretty funny to see pictures of hills:

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Followed by pictures of pretty views:

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This dichotomy really defines this race. It is brutally difficult, but also breathtakingly beautiful. I tried really hard to let go of my expectations for the day and just let it unfold.

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The worst part is that while you’d be climbing this hill…

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you’d look to your left and see this:

CatalinaMary09In case you can’t tell, those tiny specks are runners going up a giant hilly switchback.

CatalinaMary10-labelsBut for every one of these…

CatalinaMary12You’d get this…

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As I ran/walked along, the analogy popped in my head that the Catalina Marathon was basically a very pretty, but very mean girl. Which kicked off a volley of “Mean Girls” quotes. The mind is quite a fascinating machine…

But as the temperatures rose, it got harder and harder to keep spirits up. As I reached the halfway point, it became readily apparent that it was going to be a very long day. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think about quitting. But the combo of having pulled the plug on the last standalone marathon and the only potential ride that I had was the paramedics, made it really hard to quit. So, I trudged along, running where I could and trying to stay on top of my eating and drinking.

Early on in the race, I’d seen this sign. Regrettably, I didn’t see any foxes. But I was hoping to see bison.

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Then, almost exactly at the 20 mile marker, I saw this guy. I thought I might be hallucinating, but a couple of other runners ahead of me were taking his picture as well.

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To add insult to injury, I couldn’t get a cell signal to text T and let him know that I was going to be at least an hour and a half later than projected. (Or two hours, as it turned out… ) It wasn’t until I reached this point:

CatalinaMary18-labelsThe combination of being able to see our condo complex and the fact that around this hill was the cell tower for the island made me check my phone.

CatalinaMary17And sure enough, I was able to get a text through. There was a beautiful view of Avalon from up there. The phrase “so close, but yet so far” has never been more true…

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I’m a far better descender than I am a climber, so I’d been sort of counting on being able to bomb down some hills at the end of this race. But in the cruel way of 22 miles of punishment, my body had other plans – every time I’d descend, my abs would cramp like someone was stabbing me. So the descents were a little more run/walk/whimper than I wanted. Not to mention that walking down steepish downhills really hurts your quads and swollen feet. This was definitely the lowest point.

As we got closer to town, I just decided to run as much as I could and get this stupid, godforsaken race over with. Surprisingly, I was able to pass some people with my crampy, old-lady shuffle. The course goes right through the botanic garden (a fact I would only discover the next day when we visited it, as I was in a total pain haze.) Bros on golf carts rode by and I cursed them in my head.

Thankfully, I wasn’t killed by any of the rental golf carts and I navigated my way into town. Then, with one mile left, I saw T, Erik and Nerissa. They cheered mightily and ran with me down the homestretch. The race photographer got this shot that captured the moment nicely.

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(I pretty much have to purchase and make some sort of t-shirt, coffee mug or poster out of it, don’t you think?)

Nerissa got a much better shot of my finish. (I’m giving the race announcer the thumbs up because he pronounced my last name correctly. Score!)

CatalinaMary-FinishLineT also got the best post-race picture of me:

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I can’t believe how difficult this race was. I would say it’s the hardest race I’ve ever done. I am extremely proud of myself for finishing and have already caught myself thinking about what I’d do differently to train for future attempts. (What can I say, it’s a sickness!)

Afterward, there was: dunking my poor feet in the ocean, a long and heavenly bath, eating and drinking all of the things and a really wonderful dinner out. I am so grateful to T, Erik and Nerissa for cheering me on. I also have to give Nerissa a shout-out for doing her first 10k today on an impressively hilly double-loop course. Apparently, the madness is contagious! 😉

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Return to the Hot Chocolate 15k

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It’s been two years since I’ve done this race. (That pesky Hawaii trip interfered last year… ) I wanted to get a little “race practice” in before Catalina and this race landed perfectly on the schedule. In order to keep my training on track, I opted to do a 2-hour trail run yesterday. Unfortunately, I was meeting a group of folks, so I couldn’t bring Mr. Austin. He was not impressed:

0215_PoorAustinGiven my Saturday exploits, I wasn’t sure what to expect from today. My goals were to get a final test of some of my planned race attire and get some good, steady, hilly mileage.

I’d forgotten what a cluster it is to get to races at the Seattle Center, especially when the course is on one of the major roads to get there. Poor T had to drop me off half a mile away and then wrangle traffic to find someplace to hang out for a couple of hours. (He’s a good boy.) Bonus, I got a bit of a warm-up before the race and happened upon the totally empty and pristine row of porta-potties by the finisher area.

They’ve improved their process and I was in the fifth corral. They sent groups off at three minute intervals, so it didn’t take long to be able to see the start line.

0215_HC15k-startI lined up at the front of my corral, so was able to run right from the start. I wasn’t feeling 100%, but was able to keep a nice steady pace going up the hills and enjoy recovering by bombing the downhills. The weather was perfect and I had plenty of company:

0215_HC15k-midwayAfter the finish, I picked up my GIANT finisher’s medal and bowl of sugar. Then walked over to meet up with T and spare him having to drive closer to the circus. Seriously, look at this thing, it looks like Mr. T designed it:

0215_MrTmedalNow that taper has officially begun, I pity the fool who has to deal with me!

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Deception Pass 25k

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The big day has finally arrived: race day! After a scintillating day of work, we drove up north and checked into our hotel. It was Austin’s first time in a motel. He made himself comfortable, as is his custom:

DP-AustinHotelKing-sized bed means everyone has plenty of space, especially yours truly!

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I don’t know if it was all of the great group training runs or if ignorance is bliss, but I was feeling strangely at ease going into this race. I set up my gear and settled in for a good nights sleep:

DP-PreRaceSetupThe next morning, I was up just before my alarm. (Thanks Austin!) I have my pre-run routine down pretty well at this point, so it was a pretty calm morning, (except for the wrong turn out of the hotel. Gah!) But despite that little hiccup, we made it there with plenty of time to check in and all that jazz.

The boy even took a pre-race picture of me, all raring to go:

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Trail races take low tech to a whole other level. After checking in, I followed a crowd of people out to the parking lot. Where we milled around until someone yelled instructions over a bullhorn and we queued up in a different part of the parking lot. 😉

DP-StartLineAfter some hilarious pre-race instructions, (the gist of which was “don’t fall off of a cliff”) we were off. It was very crowded at the start. The woman in front of me was clearly very frustrated by this, but I just took it easy and didn’t waste any energy.

DP-RaceStartEventually it spread out a bit:

DP-scenery1(It helped that people like me would stop to take photos… )

Eventually, the trail got much more technical. I couldn’t help snapping pics of the scenery as we went along. Some of them weren’t in focus, but still pretty. It was hard to believe we’d be crossing that bridge (twice).

DP-scenery2Given that this was the course map, I was really worried about getting lost:

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But they did a really good job of marking the trail. Which can’t have been easy:

DP-trail1As we went along, it seemed like the views just got better and better:

DP-scenery4DP-trail3DP-scenery8I mean, seriously! Look at this!

DP-trail4While I was taking the picture above, a nice racer behind me offered to take my photo:

DP-midrunAs the race wore on, I won’t lie – I was tired! The trails were very technical and there was quite a lot of climbing. Some of it was very similar to trails we’d run in training, so I was grateful for that experience. But there were things hurting that hadn’t hurt before, so there were definitely tough points. Signs like this definitely didn’t help:

DP-signNot to mention there were sections of trail that involved climbing over downed trees. This is definitely not a sport for the faint of heart.

DP-trail5The wheels were starting to come off a little bit. I wanted to just lie down next to the trail and take a little nap, but I pressed on. Unfortunately for me, the toughest part of the course is second half:

DP-ElevationProfileIt has these steep, relentless climbs that not even the beautiful views could overcome. (I was too dizzy from being out of breath to enjoy much of anything.) I wheezed my way up them and cursed the course makers and geography in general. The “good” thing about trail running is there really isn’t any option to quit. So, I put my head down and got it done. All time goals had gone out the window by this point, so it was just about finishing the thing.

I’d been trading places with the lady who’d taken my picture at the mid-way point and as we closed on the final mile, she and I were very close together. Her significant other was cheering her in and was kind enough to add me to the mix. He assured us that there was one last hill and then we just had to run a little bit more to the finish line. (That turned out to be a strange run through the parking lot, but there weren’t any more hills!) He’d raced also, so he didn’t want to run up that hill again, so he shouted encouragement and off we went. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to cross a finish line. That race was TOUGH.

The boy was there cheering, as were a number of ladies from my training group. I pretty much crossed the finish line and went right to the pizza line. (That’s right, someone was making wood-fired pizza at the finish. Trail running rocks!) T had to take over my spot because I needed to sit. He loaded me up with a bunch of snacks and the world’s most delicious Coca Cola. I cheered and snacked until he brought me pizza. It was perfection.

Then I changed out of my sweaty clothes and we hit the road for home. I’d had these grandiose notions of going out for a delicious dinner, but, when all was said and done, I had no energy for anything other than a hot bath and ordering a pizza which I ate on the couch. As always, T was an amazing support crew. He wrangled the dogs for the many hours that I raced and then drove home and took excellent care of me. He’s the best.

Snoqualmie Valley 10k “race” report

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For the run part of our training plan, we needed to get 10k race times to calculate paces for speed work. Since neither of us has run a 10k since the Dog Dash (which wasn’t actually 10k, as it turned out.) So, I signed us up for the Snoqualmie Valley 10k, a nice little race out in Carnation. They had pretty fantastic SWAG for such a small race:

RaceSwag

It turned out to be the same day as the Rock & Roll half in Seattle, so road closures made for an earlier arrival time than I’d originally planned. But that just gave us plenty of time to park, stand in the porta-potty line and take silly pictures of T in front of said porta-potties:

Pre10k-T(I like that he’s wearing the shirt from his PR 10k… A good luck charm, for sure!)

The 10k was the perfect sized group – not so crowded that I had to weave through big crowds, but enough folks that I wasn’t running by myself the whole time. T of course was way in front of me, but it was an out-and-back, so we got to do our requisite high five out on the course. The race photos turned out to be surprisingly decent:

T-10k1 M-10k2 M-10k3 T-10k3You can tell T is taking this much more seriously than yours truly. But his hard work paid off, he ended up being SECOND in his age group (of 11, in case you were wondering.) He was sixth when we looked at the results on site, but when we checked later he’d moved up to second. It was a bummer because we would have stayed for the awards if we’d known.

I paced myself better than I have in a running race in quite a long time. I’ve forgotten how much 10k’s hurt though, I crossed the finish line and pretty much immediately laid down on the grass for a good solid five minutes. Then ate all of the pretzels and m&m’s. And was pretty much done for the rest of the day. Yeeesh.

 

 

Sunflower Marathon weekend

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Back in the dreary days of winter, our friends Jenn & Bryan asked us to do a trail marathon relay with them out in the Methow Valley. Basically, the race breaks up a trail marathon into six segments that you can either do as a single person or a team. Last year, they did it as a team of two and with a last-minute 98-degree heat wave, had quite the time. This year, they decided to bring in reinforcements.

Our team name was “Things That Seemed Like A Good Idea When We Were Drinking” and boy, did my training for the race live up to that name! My running this year has been lackluster at best. With the boy’s extensive travel schedule and random knee pain, he was in the same boat. But we knew that no matter what, we’d have a nice weekend of friends, wine, dogs and beautiful scenery and we were not disappointed.

Thankfully, I’d rented a car out of paranoia at the Camry’s weird engine behavior and we headed out on a rainy Thursday afternoon. Austin had never been to the cabin before, but he caught on pretty quickly by running huge frantic circles around it upon being released from the car. Wally made himself right at home, per usual:

CouchSnugglesThe next day, we took the boys out for a nice morning hike:

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Austin was determined to woo the pointer sisters. He was smart enough to be nice to Greta and he was absolutely in love with Tyr. She didn’t seem to return his affections:

DogDynamics

And then later we headed over to see Jenn & Bryan’s new piece of property. On the way there, we were treated to this spectacle of country life. (Sorry for the blurry photo!)

ShareTheRoadTheir land was beautiful and large enough that we could let the boys off-leash for a little bit. Naturally, they found every bit of water to splash around in and got soaking wet. One of the trails that would be used on the race course runs through their property and contains this cool suspension bridge:

CoolBridgeIt really is a shame that it’s so ugly here:

MethowSceneryThe boys were thoroughly tired out from their adventures:

CabinWally TiredPupThe next morning, we got up early and T and I headed out to the race start while Jenn & Bryan handled dog watching. T was running the first and second legs (about 7 miles in all). The vibe of this race was decidedly more relaxed than the races I usually do. I took some silly pre-race pictures of the boy:

PreraceTThen I went and found a place to photograph the start:

RunnersStart SunflowerCollage TSunflowerStart

I had time to get some coffee and leisurely head over to where my leg would start. Relays are pretty odd in that you don’t quite know when you’re going to start. As I stood in the porta-potty line, racers were running by and my fellow line-people were all nervous that they’d miss their hand-off. But thankfully, I’d timed it well and had no problem seeing T.

I set off and almost immediately felt winded and out of breath. (The altitude up here always surprises me.) Plus, we turned off onto some pretty uneven ground which was killing me. It quickly became apparent just how out of shape I was for this trail running thing. People were passing me left and right and I was feeling pretty discouraged.

But it was hard to feel too down while looking around at this level of gorgeousness:

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I kept on chugging along, running when I could and walking when I needed to. And the most curious thing happened, I realized that I had this big goofy smile on my face because I was having the BEST TIME. There was a section of single track that felt like a roller coaster, except it was through this beautiful forest and it was so much fun. I decided right then and there that I was going to have to do more of this trail running stuff.

My leg ended with a few serious hills and then emptied out on to a gorgeous downhill dirt road. It was perfect amount of slope to just let the legs relax and let gravity do the work. (This was the only part of the course where I passed anyone.) I felt amazing – so happy and awesome. Before I knew it, the hand-off was ahead of me and I could see Jenn smiling at me. We high-fived and she headed out for her leg. A race photographer posted this picture of her. How badass is she?

BadassJennI headed back to the cabin to get cleaned up and rest for a bit. Bryan went out to do the last trade-off with Jenn. She rocked her leg and actually had to wait for him. (He brought a chair, which we teased him about.) Then, freshly showered, all of us headed down to the finish line to wait for Bryan (and get into the lengthy post-race burrito line.)

Before we knew it, Bryan was cooking down the finishing chute and bringing it home strong. Naturally, we were still in the burrito line, but T had procured refreshments from the beer tent, so we were feeling good. Everyone had a great day and the post-race food had that magical phenomenon that all food after a race has: so delicious!

When we got back to the cabin, we saw that T was now a social media star. This picture was posted on the race organizer’s Facebook page:

BadassT

( I will absolutely have to purchase a print of this, it’s such a great photo.)

Then there was some post-race relaxing. (There may have been some napping as well… )

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And, of course, extensive amounts of dog patrol. They are always alert for the dangerous squirrel and chipmunk population. And don’t get them started on those hazardous deer!

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Later, we went out for post-race margaritas. The service and food weren’t the best, but the margaritas were fantastic. Bryan wasn’t messing around:

GiantMargaritaIt was such a great weekend. The perfect combo of activity and relaxation. And after last week, exactly what I needed.

Race report: Vineman

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Before I write one of my trademark ridiculously long race reports, I must give a heart-felt thank you to my friends and family. Both online and in person, your support during this race was both awesome and overwhelming. And in this case, I don’t think I’d have crossed the finish line without you. This phrase is over-used, but no less true: I’m blessed to have all of you in my life. </mushystuff>

PRE-RACE:
I did my usual tossing and turning  before giving up and getting out of bed fifteen minutes before my 4:30 alarm clock. I felt bad for Heidi because while I wasn’t sleeping I could hear the girls asking her questions, so I know she wasn’t getting much sleep either. I made my new pre-race breakfast of frozen waffles and nutella with a banana. I was originally planning to just bike to the race start, but T was actually awake, so I talked him into walking with me. It was nice to have company as we walked down the dark highway. There were already a bunch of triathletes on the road, so it was only quiet for a short while. Soon it was time to part ways as I headed into the athlete’s only area to set up my transition area.

pre-raceThey had body markers roaming around the transition area, which was so much nicer than having to line up to do it. The girl who did mine told me “I hope you win!” which made me laugh out loud. (Something really bad would have to happen to the rest of the field for that to happen!)

T went to get coffee while I did all of my pre-race stuff. My favorite sight was some guy wandering around in what looked like a hotel bathrobe. He cracked the entire porta potty line up. It was like racing at the Playboy Mansion. I met up with T again and did my usual pre-race cry. (The enormity of these races catches me off guard sometimes.) Then it was time to get into the wetsuit and do a quick warm-up. T got this awesome shot of me as I came out of the water:

SwimWarmup

THE SWIM
I had to hustle to join my wave, which was a little stressful, but it didn’t give me much time to get nervous. Then the usual mess of starting to swim, having people do all manner of craziness in front of me (breast stroke from the very beginning? Really?!) My goggles filled with water, but luckily I got them fixed quickly with only one adjustment. (Knowing that the river would eventually be shallow enough to do this again if I needed to was nice. There was some kind of river plants that had very fine tendrils that got chopped up by all of the swimmers before us and was exactly like swimming through a bunch of dog hair. (GROSS!) But luckily, it was only a little section (that we’d get to swim through three more times, lucky us!)

The weirdest thing about the swim was looking up to see people walking at various intervals. I downloaded a couple of images off the internet to show what the swim looks like:

VinemanSwim2This is looking towards the turn-around, where a lot of the walking happens. It was super odd, but made the potential of being swum over much less scary, since you could just stand up.

VinemanSwimI swam as much as I could, because it was a lot easier than stumbling around a rocky river bed, but there were a few sections where it was so shallow that I thought I was going to fall on my face. It was also a fairly crowded swim, which was stressful for me, but I just did the best I could. I can’t say I ever really found a rhythm and I was very surprised when I came out of the water at 1:31. I think this picture sums it up nicely:

SwimExit

T1:
I was actually pretty proud of this transition. I felt calm and in control. I went down the wrong aisle briefly, but was able to correct it without too much problem. I was able to give my stuff to T, which was way more awesome than letting it marinate in the sun all day. (There were a few volunteers that were so sweet, offering to take the bag and then handing it off to T for me when I explained. They were the first of many awesome volunteers that I met over the course of the day.)

BIKE:
Leading into the race, I heard over and over how much easier this course was than Canada. I think they’re just differently hard. Canada has two major climbs with a bunch of rollers in the middle, where this course was more like a roller coaster, twists and turns, ups and downs. It had a climb that you did twice, once at mile 30-something and again at mile 100. I loved it. It was never boring and there was tons of pretty stuff to look at. In looking at my race photos, there are a ton where I have a huge smile on my face, which matches my memory of how I felt about the course:

Bike1

Bike2I planned to only stop at the special needs aid station at the half-way mark and I kept to that plan. The only bummer was that they had two porta-potties at that aid station, so there was a line. Then the special needs bags were at the other end, so you either had to walk your bike or ride while dodging other triathletes who were trying to get things from the aid station in the middle of these two points. So, my stop there was much longer than I wanted it to be. Oh well…

I hadn’t really expected to see my cheering section out on the bike course, since we’d been told not to have folks driving on the course with us. But suddenly, I turned the corner and there they were! I was so surprised and happy that I actually teared up after seeing them. You’re out there for such a long time by yourself that you get easily emotional at the sight of some familiar faces. The miles ticked by and I tried not to be nervous about climbing Chalk Hill for the second time. It turned out fine, but definitely tougher the second time. I was again surprised by M, J & Baby Rowan around mile 105. J has this bright orange baseball cap that I could see for quite a distance, so I spotted him before I even knew what I was looking at.

The last few miles are always a bit of a struggle. I was looking forward to getting off that damn bike, that’s for sure.

T2:
I was moving a little slower on this transition. I took my time taping up a couple of my toes that are prone to blisters and struggled into my Injinji compression socks. (Those things are awesome, but man are they a PITA to get into!) I had a bandana to wrap ice in and put around my neck which felt like heaven, both because it was cooling and because my neck was stiff from being on the bike for so long. I also grabbed some sunscreen and chaffing creme and stuffed them in my pocket.

RUN:
Run special needs was right outside T2 and T was standing across from it. He checked in with me and I was pleased to report that I was feeling great. Unlike IMC, I was able to run (sort of) right from the start. The rest of the crew was right around the corner and Nerissa took this rad picture of me heading out:

OffToRunThe course is basically three out-and-back sections of a little over 8.5 miles. This is exactly as tough as you might imagine, but I tried to just focus on each piece at a time. The first section was about finding a run/walk interval that worked for me. I had my watch set for 2 min run/1 min walk, but I also was walking aid stations and uphills, so it was a little bit of a mess. Finally, I just started running all of the downhills and as many of the two minute intervals as I could, longer when I felt like it.

There were a ton of other folks on the course and it was nice to see that even the faster folks were struggling. (Misery loves company and all that… ) I was able to run a bit more as I came in to start the second loop. It definitely helped knowing I’d get to see everyone. I high-fived them and headed back out onto the course. Initially, loop two went awesome. I was able to run and felt pretty smooth. Then I started feeling some… um… intestinal issues. I stopped at an aid station and dropped some weight, but when I tried running I still felt like I might poop myself. So, there was a lot more walking than I wanted. Then the pity party started. Then I started worrying about making the cutoff to start lap 3 or worse yet, making that cutoff but not making the finish cut off. This picture perfectly sums up my feelings on lap 2:

RunStaggerBy the time I got back to the cheering section, I was a weepy mess. I really wasn’t sure I was going to make the finish line cutoff and I was scared to go through that drama again. But here’s where I have the best friends ever – they kindly but firmly gave my hoody, reminded me to grab my headlamp from special needs and took the bag from me. T made me grab a gel and M told me “You don’t have anything else you have to do tonight. Put one foot in front of the other and get it done.” It was so effective that I actually started to run again. They ran alongside me for a little bit and I headed back out into the night.

RunNight

The volunteers were truly fantastic. They encouraged us, fetched things at the aid station and generally kept spirits up. I was determined to run as much as possible and bank as much time against the deadline as I could. By this point, my feet hurt just as much running as they did walking, so I just kept a steady shuffle going lest I wake up the GI monster again. I was very glad I’d brought my headlamp because it was pitch black out there. I was pleasantly surprised by how many folks were still out on the course and everyone was super encouraging and supportive. It helped as much to cheer others on as it was to be cheered by them.

There was an asian dude dressed as Mr. Incredible (complete with foam muscles) and I thanked him for being out there. He was cheering on his friend, who I ran with for a little bit and chatted with. He was doing his second iron distance as well and we bonded over the differences in preparation from race #1 and race #2. As I was about halfway through the last section, a volunteer asked if I’d like some company. I said sure and she ran/walked with me. Her name was Anna and once she told me about how her family had made signs that said “Bananas!” when she did Vineman, I started thinking of her as Anna Bananas. She was great, she told me funny stories about things she’d seen over the course of the day and kept my spirits up. (Now that I was pretty certain I was going to finish, I was in a much better headspace.)

We started the last section and I heard voices. Then Erik’s voice said “Is that Michelle?” When I answered, there was a flurry of excitement and suddenly I was surrounded by Erik, Nerissa and Martha all telling me at once that the timing mat at the final turnaround hadn’t shown up on the tracking and they’d been worried about me. Erik went to call T and I introduced everyone to Anna Banana. She left me in their capable hands and went to help another race. (THANKS ANNA!!!) T met up with us and Nerissa fired up “Eye of the Tiger” on her phone. I was run/walking at this point because my stomach was getting a little queasy when I ran. Since I didn’t have to push it, I decided doing an Ironman without barfing would be nice.

Finally, we were in the homestretch and I ran for the finishing chute. I could hear the announcer and see the lights and I was soooooo happy. Once again, this race picture sums it up quite well, even if it’s not the most flattering:

AllDoneThe volunteers had formed a little “tunnel” that the finishers would go through, while they chanted “Gauntlet… Gauntlet!” It was fantastic and so funny. Then I got my medal and finisher shirt. The volunteers handing out the shirts were so nice. She apologized for them only having women’s mediums that were a little small, so the other volunteer gave me a mens small, just in case. Nerissa took a triumphant finisher shot:

FinishLineDon’t worry, I eventually figured out that I had the headlamp still on. 😉

There was still plenty of food left and I was actually in a state to eat something. They had some chicken noodle soup that tasted like the best thing ever. I had that and some watermelon and was pretty happy. M & T kept me company while Erik & Nerissa went to get the car. I was astonished by how much better I felt than last time. I was actually able to walk (albeit so very slowly) to the car, including negotiating getting around some race fencing down a grassy embankment.

I didn’t find out my real finishing time until the next day, but I finished in 16:16 – a 31 minute PR over Canada. (I’d hoped to knock another hour off of that time, but considering I’d been worried about finishing at all, I am still pretty happy about it.) I learned a lot and have a feeling that there might be a third Ironman in my future.

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons will be repeated…

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So, despite this blog post, I made the decision to do Pacific Crest as a practice race for Vineman. I still hate this race, but it was ideal as a practice race for a couple of reasons:

1.) Heat: One of the things that is really scaring me about Vineman is the fact that the temp is likely to be between 80 and 90 degrees. Pacific Crest is typically pretty toasty and this year did not disappoint.

2.) Uninspiring run course: From everything I’ve heard, Vineman’s run course is hot, isolated and uninspiring. I can’t think of a better practice for that than Pacific Crest’s terrible tour of Sunriver resort.

3.) Practice with new stuff: I wanted a chance to see how the kit and wheels did in race conditions and test out my nutrition strategy.

4.) No other options: There were literally no other half-iron distance races in this time frame. Everything else was either too early or way too late.

With all of those things in mind, I signed up. I lucked into a free place to stay from a girl on Slowtwitch who I’d met when I’d volunteered at Ironman Canada. She’d posted some questions about the race on the forum and I’d mentioned that I might be up there as well, so she messaged me and offered me a place to stay at her dad’s place. So nice! (And after all of the Smokey Joe expenses, pretty much the only way I could make this race happen financially.)

Per usual, the day before the race was filled with all sorts of errands. Thankfully, there was an option to pay 10 bucks and drop your bike off at Packet Pickup for them to transport up to the lake. Since this saved me two hours of driving, I considered it money well spent. I passed this sign as I was checking in and thought it was amusing:

PC_DeschutesThere’s something about a brewery congratulating you on your courage that makes me laugh. I also snapped a photo of tomorrow’s goal:

PC_finishLineI was able to wrap up all my errands and spend a nice relaxing afternoon/evening hanging out with Lisa’s lovely Dad and Aunt. They made a delicious dinner and then it was early to bed.

Because I was doing this race solo, I was a little worried about where I was going to park on race morning. I needed the car to be close enough to hobble to post-race, so I left extra early and scored a nice convenient spot somewhat close to the finish line (and a grocery store, score!) I walked over to transition, set up my T2 and caught the bus out to the lake/T1. As usual, the bus ride was a mix of quiet and nervous chit-chat. It was already a gorgeous day out:

PC_BusRideWhen I got up to the transition area and found my bike, I realized I’d remembered my race number wrong (and set up my T2 in the wrong spot!) I had to have a volunteer fix the number on my calf and felt like a total spaz. (Why yes, I have been doing triathlons for ten years, thanks for asking!) I set up my transition area and tried to keep the butterflies in check by reminding myself that this was basically a training day with company. I also learned that for some unknown reason, they’d changed the swim course to be two loops. Which meant that those of us in the second to the last wave would be passed by all of the people in the the four waves in .6 miles of space. Blergh.

I went in for a practice swim and reminded myself of how freakin’ cold that damn lake is. They claimed it was 67 degrees, but it sure felt colder than that to me! When it came time for our wave to line up, I found a really good spot, to the right of the start, in line with the buoy. There were only two fast looking guys near me, so I didn’t have to worry about a lot of people next to me, although there were a million people to my left that would be merging into my line. I decided not to worry about it.

The horn blew and I focused on just taking it out nice and smooth and use the time before the first buoy as a warm-up. I was surprised to not really have too much congestion from folks merging in. There were a few TnT-ers with some crazy swimming (special shout out to the person somehow swimming freestyle arms and a scissor kick. I’m not sure how you could even do that!) but for the most part I avoided them. After the first buoy, it was a total cluster. There were slower people breaststroking and faster people from the previous waves trying to get through. I got caught up in a big pack just after the second buoy and had a total panic attack. Like, had to stop and catch my breath/calm down freak-out. It totally sucked and threw me off my mental game. I had one other section where I had to stop to figure out where to start the second lap, but by the second lap I found a bit more open water and was able to get a steady pace going again. It was a super slow swim time, but according to my Garmin, I swam 1.27 miles. Sigh.

I finished the swim and wobbled my way to the bike. I struggled into the Coolwing sleeves (I’ll have to wear these under my wetsuit if I use them for Vineman, they took FOREVER to put on.) I finished my changing and stuffed all of my crap into the plastic bag and headed out. I felt surprisingly good on the bike, but tried to keep things easy for the first part. (Which was hard, I really wanted to to fast and pass more people.) I kept up on my water, but my stomach felt really weird and queasy. I assumed it was from the swim, so I eased off the food until my stomach felt better.

By the time the climbing started, I felt like I was riding well. I was steadily passing folks and not getting passed back too often. I was drinking my Infinit and taking in some gel, but not really wanting to eat the solid food I’d brought along. The heat wasn’t too bad, except when we got to some of the longer climbs. Then it was brutal. The climbs weren’t as easy/breezy as I remembered from Leadman, but they weren’t as bad as the last time I’d done Pacific Crest either. I kept my effort as low as possible on them, but was feeling frustrated that I wasn’t going faster. I was so happy to get to the big descent back to town, looking forward to making up some time. But as I started barreling down the hill, a cross-wind hit and moved me over a foot or two. I screamed and grabbed the brakes and nearly stopped the bike, I was so scared. This, of course, made me take the rest of the descents far more gingerly than I ordinarily would. It got better and I started to get a better sense of how to handle the bike in the wind, but it really rattled me.

Plus, my stomach was feeling really weird and I was feeling just strange. I wasn’t sure if it was heat stroke or what was happening, but I was just feeling AWFUL. It was a struggle to ride the last five miles and I wasn’t sure what was happening. I was in tears when I finally pulled into the transition area, but the minute I stood up and started walking the bike, my stomach started growling like crazy. I was super hungry and bonking like crazy. I put my bike in it’s proper place at the rack and walked over to where I’d incorrectly set up my run stuff. I sat down, burst into tears and ate a Honey Stinger Waffle while I changed into my running stuff. I was a mess, but I stumbled my way out of transition and on to the run course.

I’d put my phone in my pocket, so I got it into my head that I should call the boy and get his advice. I sat down on a stump, next to some poor bastards condo, hysterically crying while other racers jogged by me. The boy talked me off the ledge and helped me realize that doing the run was going to put me in a pretty deep hole that would likely effect my ability to train for the rest of the week and that was just stupid. So, I decided to cut my losses and call it quits. It’s official, Pacific Crest, I’m done with you. You aren’t the race for me.

The next morning, I was feeling deeply regretful that I didn’t know if I could have rallied from the bike nutrition fail. It was making me feel insecure about my readiness for Vineman, so with a fairly empty stomach and a decent level of hydration, I went out to do a hot weather run in 90 degree Salem. There’s a great area with running trails at Minto Brown park:

MintoBrown

I’d planned to do a 90 minute run, but ended up getting lost and doing two hours. I stashed a couple of bottles of water at various places, but only ended up passing one of them. (D’oh!) I was able to eat myself out of that empty/pre-bonk feeling and found a run/walk strategy that helped when the heat got to me. While I ran, I thought about the previous days’ race and what I’d learned from it. I actually found myself feeling better about the whole experience and extracting things to apply to my upcoming race.

So, even though it was a really crappy race experience, it was a great training weekend. I’m still feeling nervous about Vineman, but I’ve got some sound strategies to make the race go better.