JUST A TRAINING DAY.
Pre-race day: temps in the high 80s, water 77 degrees and calm. Race day: temps in the 70s with a northwest wind blowing probably 20 mph, water still in the 70s but with at least 3 foot waves. I started thinking immediately that we might not have a swim, and by 6:45, they called it. I'm familiar enough and experienced enough with Lake Michigan and know you can't mess with it on a day like that. Its not so much the waves--by ocean standards they are barely rollers--but the likelihood of rip currents is the more serious threat, and even an experienced swimmer would be at risk. I think the majority consensus was relief not to have to do battle with the water. The alternative? A short run. None of us were too thrilled with the idea of running more than 25k that day but the alternative was to pack up and go home.
I ran into Karen once back at transition and we decided then and there that this would be a training day only, and we immediately made plans to do another half in the near future. We had to have that under our belts for the year.
The Swim, er, 1st Run:
The first run was scheduled to start in waves again at 8 am, an hour after the swim was to have begun. Fortunately, the old slow people were in wave 2, so we got to start right away. The first part then was the first of a few hills we would encounter that day, back to the start, and on to the race finish line, which is a run through the dunes on the beach. Most of that had some sort of flat surface underneath, either bricks or a cement walk, but almost completely covered over from drifting sand, making it easier to run on than the parts that were just sand, making it a little tricky. From there we ran up the beach through the chute in place for the swim transition, again on sand but with carpet pieces laid down, making it easier to run. Here, I was constantly told, on your left, on your left. I was waiting for someone to push me out of the way. I mean, I'm not that wide! Sorry, but on my right is sand. If you want to get through YOU can run through the sand, just like in a trail run. I was a little annoyed. I only glanced at my watch and can't remember exactly what I did, but somewhere around 22-23 min. I was taking it completely easy.
T1: I thought I did pretty well here, not necessarily with time, but with keeping calm and organized. But that actually didn't happen. I TOTALLY forgot to take in my nutritional drink I had planned for transition. I had it in my hand, set it down, and that was the end of that. Not only that, I had failed to pack anything to eat on the bike! Fortunately, I had stuffed one gel packet in my tri top pocket for the run and still had that. I realized that as soon as I got out on the road, but it was too late then. Exiting transition and getting to the bike mount line was probably a quarter mile from my bike rack, so that was a brisk walk at best.
The Bike: I managed to exit transition with Karen, but once we were on our bikes, she was completely gone and out of site within 30 seconds. She is a strong biker! I am not worthy! The very first part of the bike is pretty much upgrade and north, directly into the wind. I was struggling almost immediately and decided to keep it an easy spin until I got settled in. People from the next waves were passing, passing, passing, just like on the run. Immediately, one woman dropped a water bottle in front of me. That was to be just the beginning of the hundreds of bottles I would see dropped along the course.
I'm not sure of the total number of athletes, but well over 2000. That meant the bike course was crowded the whole time. We were fortunate to have no traffic with us until the last 20 miles. They did a great job manning the intersections and managing the traffic. Unfortunately, there were 3 accidents, none of which I saw, but did see the ambulances.
I was a little frustrated with the course. I had been under the impression it was pretty flat with some rollers, and for the most part it was, but there were also a few surprsing steep downhills with sharp climbs following. Normally, this wouldn't be too bad, but with all the bikes, I was a little fearful going downhill that fast, so I found myself braking slightly, making the uphill climbs harder than they needed to be. And of course, no matter which way we went there was the wind. It wasn't a huge factor, but it did keep me from reaching my goal pace per mile sooner than I might have otherwise. I kept reminding myself to not worry and not push too hard since it would be a longer distance than I had done this year.
And I did get tired of hearing "on your left" about 1800 times. All I could think was, yeah, you and everyone else in the race each time I heard it. I stayed on the far right the whole time, trying to stay out of everyone's way as well as trying not to get in any crashes. Even though I passed very few people, I do know what a nuisance it is to have to pass with so many others coming alongside you. But I did get down for a while, thinking I had no business out there with all those fast people. In fact, I told myself ,if I didn't reach my goal pace by the end I would not do the run. I didn't want to be out there all day by myself. I did got a lot of encouragement from strangers, however, and one guy I made friends with in particular who was parked near us. He was very nice and very encouraging the 2 or 3 times I saw him throughout the day. I got a sense that people could see this was not totally easy for me, maybe thought I was struggling, and wanted to give encouragement. I was surprised by this generous spirit!
I also have to say the aid stations were well stocked and manned. I was fortunate they had things to eat, or I would have been in big trouble that day. I even successfully got handed 2 gels and skillfully managed to eat them while moving along, barely slowing. So a complete learning experience, and nothing I had practiced during training.
The last 20 miles was with traffic, and again, I got a little nervous about this, but also finally started seeing my pace come up, and I was completely surprised by this too! The last 10 miles was pretty much without a shoulder on the road, yet I found myself passing people, trying not to be freaked out by traffic right next to me. By 50 miles I found myself feeling the best in the whole race and COMPLETELY forgot about my vow to not do the 13.1 mile run. Bike pace: 15.1! A total milestone for me! No official time yet, but I think about 3:37 or 3:43--I can't remember.
No time on this either, but I was there a LONG time. I felt pretty good, wasn't disoriented at all. Took in my energy drink. Got shoes changed, etc. Then tried to get on my water bottle holder which would not cooperate at all. Had to mess with that FOREVER it seemed, but I could not go out without it. Finally got that situated and went to run only to have the damn bottle fall out! Grrr! Then I saw Don and he was very encouraging as I ran out. I waved and smiled. I was very happy!
2nd Run: I started out very easy and it felt pretty good. I probably started too fast but also went with the 6 min run, 2 min walk until 3 miles when my walk/run intervals were all over the place. I felt okay for the most part but couldn't run too long at a time without needing water or having my heart rate go too high. I just went mile by mile by mile. I drank every time I walked, and I would guess I drank almost a gallon of water on that run! And once again, kudos to the race volunteers and ice water at EVERY water stop. Nothing I hate more than warm water. This really made my day. Even though I carried my own water, at the rate I was drinking, it wouldn't have lasted to mile 4. At every water stop then I refilled my bottle with ice and water to be used between aid stations, which were frequent.
This was a new run course, due I think to construction. Part of it was 2 loops of the Whirlpool Headquarters campus and surrounding neighborhoods. So that meant two times up a pretty steep hill at mile 6 and again at mile 10. The first time around, I made it almost all the way to the top before walking; the second, to the 3rd cone. And while I stayed steadily moving forward, I definitely starting fading by mile 10, as were many others. In fact, a few of the young guys called out congrats to me as I trudged alomg while they were walking. That's where all that old fat comes in handy boys!
One thing that went through my mind over and over throughout the whole run, and even the whole day, was what a beautiful day it was! A cloudless blue sky, a breeze almost no matter what direction you faced, and a beautiful locale--a view of the emerald green waters of Lake Michigan against the backdrop of the deep blue sky. Consequently, I got nicely fried out there! I cannot go that long without getting a major sunburn. But still, I enjoyed myself. I got a particular high when I finally reached 12 miles (I swore I would kiss the ground when I saw that mile marker--I never thought it was possible!!) and I passed this young guy who actually started running at the same time I did! I'm sure his time was faster than mine, but it certainly gave me a good feeling to be able to maintain as some of these young studs were fading.
As I came close to the finish area, I was fighting my usual stomach cramp feeling I get in long runs. I am getting better and better at managing this, and today it only started surfacing in the last mile, so while I felt good about that, I also was not able to push myself like I would have wanted to get in under 7 hours. The last 1/4 mile was on mostly sand again, and I came running in with a smile and hearing Don say how good I was doing and Libby giving me congrats and then seeing Karen and really, really being happy to have survived the day! I felt good, I felt so happy to be done, and I knew I would do this again.
I signed up for this race 2 years ago, right after my bike accident, in a way to fight back, to prove to myself I could heal, and be strong again, and that the very serious injuries would NOT defeat me or get me down. It also gave me an incentive to continue training, to get strong again, to beat down that which could have defeated me and reduced me to less than what I am.
All last season, if some of you were following along, I trained, and trained, and trained. It seemed futile. I could not progress. I had no strength. All I had was that desire to overcome. And I had that race to do. Three weeks before the race, even while I felt I was not ready for something that monumental to me but easy for some, fate intervened and I suffered a serious sprained ankle. I was disappointed in one way but relieve in another. I now now there would have been no way I could have done any part of Steelhead last year without caving in. I was not ready. In fact, until 3 weeks ago I still did not think it was possible. Then, all of a sudden? Things started turning around. I felt I could finally say I was ready, that I could do this, that maybe I could even finish in 8 hours or--dare I think it?--under 8 hours??
So to do barely over 7 hours, even though not an official half IM but close enough? I cannot tell you how ecstatic I am, how thankful I am that I have all of you to cheer me on, and how encouraged I am now to continue to succeed. I found a strength in myself that I somehow knew was there but needed this to bring it out of me.
Shelley asks how do I feel? Consindering I had to get in the car and drive 10+ hours to Virginia the very next morning, sometimes listening to two squabbling kids not mine the next morning? Pretty good actually. Nothing much sore except a chaffed spot I will not mention. And will I do this again? Of course! I already have the training in, right? Now I just need to get an actual swim in with a bike and run and I'll be all set.
Pics to follow