All posts by ebwestbrook@gmail.com

Race Report: Waterman’s Sprint

 

Sweet bling!

Loving 2017 so hard I had to throw one more swimbikerun onto the tail end of the season. And lucky me, Queen Sherpette, Sara, was down to October-race together!

Somehow in all my years of triathlon, I’d never raced in Rock Hall, MD, despite the town’s prominence on the VTS/MTS line-up. It’s not as convenient as Lake Anna, AND you have to traverse the terrifying Bay Bridge to get there, but with Scott willing to drive that was no problem! Plus, probably minding all the DC and DC-adjacent athletes populating their roster, MTS kindly starts the race at 9am, which allowed us to sleep at home and drive out early race morning. Double-bonus! (I’m sure Scott sees the whole equation as like, negative half-bonus at most.)

With Scott at the wheel, we loaded up the hounds around 5:30am for the 90some minute drive to the Chesapeake Bay. It was Oct. 1st – just 53 weeks previous I’d been Ironman-ing in triple digits, and yet this year the early fall that had made for a chilly Nation’s Tri in early September continued for a downright frigid Waterman’s. Temps as we arrived at transition were in the 40s with a windy day predicted on top of the low mercury.

Shivering through set-up.

My teeth chattered while I set up my gear and I was dreading having to strip off the layers of sleeves and fleece to zip into my wetsuit. Water temps in the 60s meant numb toes were in my bike-run future and I was afraid another cold-water asthma attack might be too. Adding to the anxiety I overheard a couple women talking about the glut of jellyfish that had tormented the oly swimmers the day before. I am petrified of jellies and I had a legit moment of, “well, I’ve had a good season, I could just spectate this race.”

I found Sara and whined about the cold and the water-scorpions and she used her new-mommy skills to kindly but sternly tell me to chill out. (I require a pretty firm hand.) I accepted the fact that I’d be splashing around with these sea-hornets and prepared to shiver-shimmy into my long-sleeve Huub. Then I overheard those same women say that body glide protects against stings, so I proceeded to roll my entire body in the stuff-face, fingers, and bottoms of feet and in-between toes. (In case you’re wondering whether body glide does in fact insulate you from venom, the answer is for sure no. Not that snopes has looked into it, I’m just advising you not to put too much faith in glorified antiperspirant.)

Once I was thoroughly greased in what was 110% just a jelly fear placebo, Sara, Scott, the pups and I headed to the water. It was a little bit of a hike to the swim start; I was grateful Scott was there so that I could wear flip flops on the gravelly journey and hand them off to him. Sara’s parents were in town and walked down with us as well, we had a good little crew and I was grateful to be ending the season with this tri-family.

Shot from after the race yes but look at my beautiful family!

Swim

Despite being in different age groups (for now) Sara and I were in the same swim wave as women 30-39 were going off together. I watched the waves before us, eyes peeled for tentacles and screams of terror but everything seemed to be in order and no one appeared to be getting water-poison-murdered . A few minutes before we thirty-something ladies were set to depart I joined my 30-something contemporaries in jumping off the dock into the frigid, brackish Bay for an in-water start.

Notwithstanding a few episodes of violence during in-water starts this season they are still my preference – especially on a cold day when the swim can be such  shock to the system. Rather than a dock start like Nation’s – where the second you’re wet you’re racing – in-water means you get a few minutes to acclimate and breathe through the initial discomfort before getting to work. This meant I was able to avoid the same scary chest-seizing moment (and no men tried to drown me – another plus!) so that when the gun went off for F30-39 I was ready to go. (To the extent I’m ever ready to swim. Or that you could ever call my sea-flailing ,”going.”)

The swim was a 750m loop around the Rock Hall Marina  which was a new experience for me. There were boats moored at docks on all sides and the distinct taste of motor oil in the salty-ish water. Josh had warned me about that, suggesting I use it as a reminder to keep my mouth closed. The boats were comforting as was a sea-wall type barrier protecting the marina from the Bay at large, but they also made sighting more challenging. Probably part and parcel to my passive approach to swimming, I like to pause at every turn buoy and find the next buoy or shore or something to anchor my direction before I continue “going.” My history with adding extra distance by aimlessly zigzagging all over the course has led to an abundance of directional caution these days. (Better than races past, where my splashy meandering has actually led course officials and volunteers to worry for my safety.) Several times in the Rock Hall Marina I made a turn, but struggled to make out the next buoy or line thanks to the vessels anchored in my way. More than once I thought I was swimming towards the next turn only to realize I was swimming towards a someone’s skiff. Eventually I made my way around all the actual buoys, dinghies be damned, and back onto shore. (Do we agree that the plural of dinghy takes an ies form??)

Coming out of the water I hit my Garmin immediately and was decently happy to see 14:49 – right around 2:00/100m is big for me in the open water. The VTS/MTS timing mats were located somewhere after the swim and they clocked me at 15:48 for the swim which is less impressive, and either way I was second from the bottom in my Age Group (AG). I didn’t know it right then, but I had a lot of ground to make up.

Bike

I ran up a short incline into a much less vast transition area than the thousands-strong one at Nation’s. My bike was not so easily-located however, buried on a rack where it seemed not all of my neighbors were great counters. I was #121 but many of the competitors in the 1-teens and 1-twenties had just thrown their whips wherever they wished on the bar – and apparently they didn’t all wish to be in chronological order. I found Koopa after some bumbling and after a 2:17 T1 I was out and pedaling hard to track down the F30-34 in front of me. (Again, didn’t know it at the time, but that was all but one of them.)

The course had rolling hills and comfortable, smooth pavement, but it was windy as hell. I knew it would be going in. It had been a frigid blowy morning, and Josh’s race plan had warned that most of the 15 miles would be into an unforgiving headwind – the kinds I love so much where even though you turn it stays in your face! It’s magic! (It’s bullsh*t.) After experiencing that kinda of magic BS for forty-plus miles in Williamsburg I wasn’t too bothered by the prospect of 15 miles and I was in good spirits – yeah, my feet were numb but otherwise happy and feeling strong – as I got going.

Ok yeah, basically the same pic just closer.

It took me a little while to find the right gearage and effort working into the wind, and the first five miles were my slowest. Right when I started to get my groove a gentleman in his forties (not Taye Diggs) rode past me and then parked himself directly in front of me only to slow down and eat a snack. I was feeling good and I don’t really care when someone several AGs removed and with forty Kgs on me passes me, and he’d yelled some sort of encouraging pleasantry into the wind as he passed, so while I find the male habit of passing and immediately slowing to eat infuriating I wasn’t too bothered. I waited over a couple rollers and then passed him as he chowed.

And thus began 10 miles of an entirely unwelcome game of leapfrog. I was working hard, staying low, and making the most of my kilograms  the whole way. Mister oblivious repeatedly revved past me, only to slow down once he was in front. It was like New Jersey all over again, complete with his need to shout unneeded happy overtures every time he overcame me and my little legs. I tried to stay positive, daydreaming about the clinics I would one day tour the country giving to tri-guys about how not to be a pain in the ass in a race.

At some point in the last five miles I passed him with enough wattage and the wind finally at my back, and I thought I was done with the whole thing. Then with maybe two miles to go he flew by me and screamed, ‘C’MON WE GOTTA FINISH THIS TOGETHER!’

I was torn between being genuinely touched by his encouragement, and flabbergasted that he really thought the two of us shared some sort of race-bond. I also, being smidget female vs. fully-grown man, could not keep up with him as he floored it back to transition. I worked hard maintaining around 22mph over those last couple miles but still trailed him into the dismount.

No matter; he wasn’t my competition and I was content with the 45:20 I’d put down for my bike time. Keeping my average over 19mph with ten miles into the wind felt good and I also felt like I’d conserved enough to put in a strong run. Unlike New Jersey I had not laid it all on the line in the saddle, and after a quick 1:16 T2 I was out and ready put away a fast 5k run.

Run

In the three weeks between Waterman’s Sprint and Nation’s I had started to ease back into running with a handful of 30 minute mostly low-key workouts. I’d learned my injury wasn’t a stress fracture but achilles tendinitis which was such a relief. I’d started physical therapy with the incredible inspiration Kona-qualifying badass, Holli Finneren, which was already helping me lace up pain-free. Knowing I was safe and not in any danger of completing a fracture, I was excited to tackle this last triathlon leg of the season. And it was still chilly out so I had no excuse to not finish strong.

Running out of transition I saw the happy leapfrogger ahead of me. He may have had me beat on the bike but I doubted he had me on the run and I was ready to put that whole episode behind me for good. After feeling myself and my achilles out for the first couple hundred meters I decided now or never and started to open the pace up. Heading up a short incline I passed by my unwelcome bike companion who of course shouted something encouraging as I ran by. I waved, berrated my misanthropic biking tendencies, and didn’t look back.

As I dropped first into the 7:40s and then 7:30s I could feel the summer’s lack of run-training and got a little nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to cash this check. Still, I pushed into the 7:20s and held on. Within a couple minutes the pace started to feel more manageable. As my watch buzzed a 7:26 first mile I was feeling strong and knew I both could and had to pick up the pace.

Actually I didn’t know that I had to – I had no idea where I was in relation to the rest of the 30-34 women. I hadn’t paid much attention to the people I passed on the bike – except for one… – and I was still blissfully unaware how uncompetitive my swim had been. So really I was picking up the run speed to see what I could do with these last two multisport miles of 2017. That’s the best mindset to have I think – I was absolutely only running against myself, and I wanted to walk away from this race knowing I’d thrown it all out there.

So I picked up my cadence and settled into the 7:teens for mile number two. In the middle of this mile there was an out and back stretch and I saw Sarah – always a pick-me-up to see teammates! I also got a better look at the competition which was a kick in the chamois. I clocked 7:14 for that second mile and, after seeing some women from the front who were ahead of me and potentially my age, I mentally committed to an agonizing final 1.1 miles.

Sprint tris are all about being able to live at 90% exertion, and to push to 100% at the end. You have to learn to exist in the so called “pain cave” and it is as mental as it is physical. I was already uncomfortable in the 7:teens – exhilarated but uncomfortable – but I wasn’t maxed out, so with a mile to go, once more I kicked it up a notch to right around 7:00/mile.

I ran down a number of people and for the final stretch found myself in a group of athletes who were clearly hammering it as hard as they could – but true to triathlete fashion – they found the strength to will each other on. A really young woman blew past me at one point – about a decade my junior so I got to enjoy her impressive running unfettered by ‘oh-sh*t-she’s-beating-me’ thoughts. Instead I was just happy to see female badassery and I used her performance as inspiration to stay in the pain and not let up.

Rounding the penultimate corner my Garmin buzzed indicating a 7:05 finale mile. I had .1 to go and while I was already deep in the pain cave I knew I could kick it one more notch up because it was literally just 30 seconds of hell. I also saw Sara not too far ahead and used her Speed Sherpa trikit as my sighting goal as I dug deep one last time.

Pain. Cave.

I caught up to Sara as we rounded the last turn and sprinted down the chute. She saw me pull alongside her and we cheered each other as we ran across the sensors together. It was (literally) a picture-perfect way to close out the last triathlon of the year. I hit stop on my watch and saw I’d put up a 22:12 or 7:09/mile average 5k. With the weeks off my feet and then the slow ramp back up I was pretty ecstatic with that time. I felt the way I wanted to: absolutely wrung out with nothing left in the tank. Whatever kind of shape I was in I knew I’d given everything I had on this last race so I felt proud and peaceful as I wcollected my medal with my teammate – still beaming from our photo finish.

Post-Race and Results

Sara and I collected our bling and some water and sweaty-hugged. We both felt like we had raced well so we hustled straight over to the results tent to see how we’d done. (I’d finished racing myself – time to see how racing against all those other humans had gone!) Men’s and then women’s age group finishers lists slowly scrolled by looking pretty lean – a good sign that not many people had crossed the mats yet.

Men’s overall and then age group results were first, followed by women’s overall. Sara and I were elated to find our names rounding out the top ten female overall athletes. It felt like a poetic end to the season: running the chute side-by-side, hitting the final sensors with the exact same time; Wrapping our season together on an unseasonably cold morning that had started with fears of jellyfish stings and would end with results we could be really proud of.

When Women 30-34 appeared on the screen, my name was the first and only one there: I’d won my age group! And no one else in it had even finished yet! My last race in 30-34 and my first time winning the division – I was ecstatic.

Next on the list were women 35-39 and there was Sara in the second place position. So not only did we get to finish together in the top ten, but we both got to take our places on the blocks. (Sara’s performance was all the more impressive as 2017 was her first year training-while-momming – she was closing out the year on the podium and then going back to her itty bitty baby boy at home. Anyone else impressed and inspired as hell? ‘Cause I am!)

We were definitely  riding that multisport high as we tracked down Sara’s parents and Scott next to the finisher’s chute to give them our good news. After cheering racers down the chute for a bit the cold started to seep back in and I headed to transition to re-bundle up and to get my phone so I could announce to anyone who would listen that I had won. Sara went back to the results tent to confirm once more our rankings and learned that while we’d been celebrating, the results had been adjusted…

She came and found me and broke some unwelcome (to me anyway) news: We were still top ten, but now for some reason I was listed as second place in women 30-34 and she was listed as winning 35-39. I paused my gleeful, boastful texting and went to check out these amended results for myself. Sure enough she and I had somehow switched top blocks in our respective age groups. It was hard to read much detail into the stats as they quickly scrolled by on the official race computer so I found them online.

The only thing I could think was that one of the top three finishers had incurred a time penalty and been dropped from the overall podium back into her (my) age group. And sure enough, a ringer in the 30-34 division had been bumped from the the top blocks into age group after a penalty of some sort had tacked two extra minutes onto her time.

I was so disappointed. It felt silly, on any other day a second place age group finish would be cause for pure celebration. But they’d dangled that first place in front of me and I wanted it! I wanted the top block! I’d never been on the top block! If they’d just given me second place from the get-go I would have been really happy with it, but my expectations (and ego!) had been teased.

I grumpily texted Coach Josh about the mix-up. He was still proud of me and helped me level-set. I came to terms with the second highest block (knowing whoever was in third place would be taller than me in the pictures no matter what) and tried to psych myself back up for the awards ceremony. I’d started the season with a second place age group and I would end it that way. Good book ends to a really fun and productive year of tris. And it’s not like I’d incurred the penalty. I’d put up a good fight and had especially turned in a great run after struggling with an injury and a generally slow run-summer.

When time came and my name was called, I happily climbed that middle block. Maybe just shy of victory is a better way to end the year, because it definitely left me hungry for more. I grew a lot this year. (I mean figuratively. I’m still child-sized on a 45cm tt frame. @tiny_triathlete #folyfe.) I feel like for years I was just dabbling, getting by, pretending at this sport, and now I’m really finding myself in it. Next year I join the most competitive age group, so it will feel that much better if (WHEN) I finally get myself on that top block.

Toldja 3rd place would be taller than me!

Race Report: Nation’s Tri 2017

Chris’ first race in his new Speed Sherpa kit!

That’s right I said tri! Not a duathlon this year – we got to do all three sports! Sadly Nations’ registrations were down this year as a result of the 50-50 chance in recent years that the swim will be cancelled. I know a good number of local triathletes who sat this year out for that reason. In July I myself wasn’t sure about signing up – more because I was holding out to potentially tack on another 70.3. When life logistics and other obligations made it clear  that wasn’t going to happen I turned my attention back to this actually local race; I was going to be in town that day and I knew I’d be cranky if other people were swim-bike-running (or even bike-running) in my backyard without me. Chris is easy to cajole into things so he of course signed up as well and even picked Koopa Troop and I up to head to the expo and transition together.

The expo was held this year at Yards Park in SW DC, It was outdoors and scaled back from previous Nations expos I’ve attended at the Washington Hilton. I’m guessing this was an attempt to slash overhead due to lower registration numbers which made me really sad for race organizers. While they we learned there would indeed be a swim this year, and the race org was marketing information on the partnership it has entered into with the Potomac Conservancy. I think their effort to take an active part in cleaning up the Potomac is really admirable and that stewardship and community engagement will make me more likely to keep signing up.

Race day was Sept. 10th – still very much summer in DC, (and technically everywhere in this hemisphere) but we were in the midst of a bizarre coldsnap. I was worried I would be cold during the race, but happily the DC Tri Club was there with past-season gear. I picked up a cycling top with sleeves and also made sure that I was registered in the local tri club wave which is reason in itself to pay yearly DC Tri Club dues.

Koopa racked and ready

From the expo Chris and I drove down to Hains Point, which is just over a mile from transition. We both had shakeout bricks assigned so we parked on the Point, did a lap there and then rode to transition. After racking we ran back to the car and he kindly chauffeured me home.

Shaking it out back to Chris’ car from racking.

The rest of that Saturday was uneventful with the exception of a wetsuit-induced panic attack. I hadn’t raced in a suit in years and figured I better confirm I still fit in at least one of mine. (Are you thinking, ‘Liz, you should have done that more than twelve hours before the race?’ You’re not wrong.) First I tried to put on the sleeveless Roka suit I’d never worn, only to find that like most other Roka women’s swim products, it’s not made for adults. (And reminder: I’m miniature. No seriously, who the fuck is Roka’s XS wetsuit for??? I’m 4’10”, 105 lbs, 25″ waist and I could not pull it above my knees. This isn’t just irritation talking, I think the men [for sure men] designing Roka’s swim measurements should be fired for contributing to the fucked up, unattainable unhealthy body image expectations that dominate women’s endurance sports.)

Back to the obvious conclusion: the sleeveless wasn’t happening. (Anyone want a Barbie-sized wetsuit???) I moved on to my Huub long sleeve which I have raced in several times, just not in a couple years. (And I hadn’t put on in those years either.) I was able to get it on but it was TIGHT and uncomfortable, and worst, limiting my range of motion. The internet instructed me to shower in it and then while it was soaked, take it off and sort of stomp all over it in the shower to really saturate the neoprene. I texted Josh pretty panicked and he confirmed this plan so I went for it. Once it was good and drenched the whole way through I hung it up to dry and sacrificed a chicken to the tri gods that it would fit better tomorrow. Then I hit the hay for my usual lackluster five or six hours.

Hope this works!

Race Day

Race morning I woke up a little before 5am with plans to order a Lyft around 5:30 and be down at transition before the road closures started at 6am. The car showed up promptly when called and I felt like I was in great shape to be there early for a leisurely set-up.

The drive should have been 11 minutes according to Waze, and we were right on target as we tried to exit the highway, only to find the roads were already closed at 5:40am. My saintly patient driver tried multiple exits before we were finally allowed to get off 395 at 14th St…only to find more roads already closed. Turn after desperate turn, we were actually being forced farther and farther from transition. Finally I told the exasperated driver I’d just get out, even though we were more than a mile away and the morning was frigidly in the low 50s.

I slung my tri bag and tire pump over my shoulders and started hoofing it across the National Mall. It was a full mile and a half trek to the start area and by the time I got there my planned leisurely prep had been winnowed down to a hectic twenty some minutes. (And that includes bathrooming.) I was pretty unhappy with the overzealous Metro Police who’d shut roads twenty minutes earlier than they said they would. I was frazzled as I rushed to get ready, to bathroom, and to shimmy into my Huub for my first wetsuit race in years. (And yes! The shower-saturating worked and it fit much better race morning!)

Luckily for my abbreviated prep window, the portas were plentiful and I didn’t have to wait on much of a line. I did however have to try 3 different johns before finding one where no one had pooped ON the toilet. C’mon people, we’ve all got nervous bellies and triathletes have a high tolerance for gross stuff, but that’s unacceptable.

Swim
We were kicked out of transition at 6:55. Chris and I headed down to line up for the swim start as the DC Tri Club wave goes out after the elites and before the age group waves. (Actually, this was the first year Nations had self-seeded instead of AG swim waves. See my Montclair report for my gender-related thoughts on how this seems to pan out.)
This year the DC Tri Club wave was opened up to other DC area tri clubs so it was a big group. The only catch is that it means you become podium ineligible but I’m a ways off from placing in a race this size so it’s worth it to not have to wait. The first time I did Nations I had to wait 90 minutes after transition closed before I could start my race. No thank you.
A little after 7am the elites were off and swimming and we began filing onto the dock for the time trial start. The Potomac temperature was decidedly wetsuit legal at 69 degrees. Showering with my wetsuit the night before had made a big difference in the fit, but I was still less than enthusiastic about the chilly river. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m sort of a mess, and my mess includes, asthma, a tachycardia-causing heart defect, and Raynaud’s; none of which are a huge deal generally but all of which I worry about in cold, wetsuit-constricted swims.
As we stepped onto the dock we were lined up 8 at a time and then sent into the water every 15 seconds. When it was my turn, I stepped off the dock and directly into an asthma attack. This had happened to me in a really cold race a few years ago. As soon as I hit the chilly water my lungs basically seized and I couldn’t get in any deep breaths.  This was unpleasant but I had been through it before and knew if I took the first couple hundred meters slow – or even on my back – my body would adjust and my breathing would come back to me.
I barely had time for this semi-comforting thought though, before some ASSHOLE swam directly over top of me like he was actively trying to drown me. I’m not talking somebody kicked me or bumped me or whacked me with an errant hand or elbow. All of the above sucks but happens in pretty much every race – multiple times. What I’m talking about, is some guy swam on top of me and all the way over me, holding me – head and all – under water for several terrifying seconds like I was just part of the river. He didn’t start to swim over me, realize there was a person there, and change course. He got on top of me, held me under, and kept going. When his attempted homicide was over I pulled my head up and treaded water as I tried to cough all the water out of my nose and lungs. I’ve said it before (on this blog and elsewhere) and I’ll say it again: FUCK YOU AGGRESSIVE MALE TRIATHLETES. I feel lucky that I was wearing my wetsuit during this incident since its buoyancy aided me as I tried to recover and catch my asthmatic breath. I don’t know who that guy was and in six years of swimbikerunning I’ve never experienced something that egregious and I really effing hate that dude. I hope the rest of his race was terrible.
As for the rest of my race, or swim, it improved, but the asthma and near-death experience took both time and a toll. The Nation’s swim course is 500m upstream, about 200m of turning back around, and then downstream home to an exit just passed the swim start. I don’t think I ever got into a good rhythm until the turnaround, I was coughing up dirty river water until then. Once I was heading back downstream I just kept it slow and steady letting the current assist me home.
At 1300m there’s a final left back to shore, and as I was sighting the turn buoy and starting to make my way around it, another frickin dude came wailing down the line, punching me hard in the back. I stopped and let him pass, and watched as he just kept flying straight, clearly not sighting the buoy. I could have tried to flag him but I was in no mood. It felt like a good dose of dickhead karma as I watched him swim well off course. I made the turn, and got back to slow and steady business. I looked over my shoulder a few times and he didn’t realize his mistake until a good hundred meters past the turn. HAHA. Not even a little sorry for the schadenfreude.
The first not totally horrifying swim-exit pics ever!
 I arrived at the exit dock and some volunteers helped me up the slick exit. I slipped at one point and they grabbed me as I ate a little Potomac sh** – mayhaps that was my karmic retribution for enjoying a fellow athlete’s mistake a little too much. My fingers and toes were numb (thanks, Raynaud’s) which made for clumsy running and wetsuit-stripping as I rushed back to transition – knowing I had a lot of time to make up.
Right? Not bad!
Bike
Even with fewer competitors this year Nation’s is still a big race and the transition area is quite large. My bike placement was a mixed bag: I was all the way to the end of a rack which meant extra running, but since he was the last bike on a rack Koopa was easy to spot. I ran past as many people as I could into and around the outside of the transition racks.
My feet were numb from the chilly swim and I had brought an extra towel to dry them as well as I could before putting on my bike shoes. I took a few extra seconds to do that, knowing I wasn’t really competing that day and also that dry feet would make for a more comfortable and thus faster bike and run. In the end T1 was 4:16 – that’s long but the run up from the swim at through the thousands of bikes is long too so not too ashamed.
I can’t feel my toooooes!
The bike course is two ten-ish mile laps followed by a hellish down-and-back on the 14th Street Bridge. Thanks to the DC Tri Club wave the first lap is always enjoyable – just Tri Clubbers and the elites on the course which means it’s both uncongested and everyone riding follows the rules of the road. The first lap means people stay right, pass left, are polite on the U- and technical turns.
Lap two is a different story. A lot of people use Nation’s as their first tri so there’s a real mix of skills and experience and rule-following, and it gets crowded in places. At one point a bunch of slower people were riding in the middle and to the left of a pretty wide stretch of course. I had to pass them to the right, as I did, I called out, “on your right…and I shouldn’t be!”
I’m the ‘get off my lawn!’ grumpy rule-stickler equivalent of triathlon
 Coursewise, the first twenty miles are really lovely notwithstanding any rule-shirking shenanigans. A little climbing but mostly flat, generally smooth pavement and wide, car-free roads. As I set out I shifted into my big ring hoping to lay down some speed after the bad swim and before the 14th Street Bridge inevitably slowed me down. Halfway though that first lap I knew my fitness wasn’t good enough to be riding that heavy – working that hard was slowing me down, so I returned to my smaller ring and picked up my cadence. That turned out to be the way to go as lap two was faster than lap one while my heart rate stayed lower – even as I made time to eat and had to dodge the crowd.
Nations’ first twenty miles include several sort of tunnels as you ride under overpasses. Something about the precipitous darkness always makes me stomach rise like I’m on a rollercoaster. I haven’t experienced this in any other race, but it’s like you’re suddenly riding on nothing. The road is smooth and wide, but you can’t see it underneath you. Josh’s directive was to keep my tires really straight in the tunnels to combat any unseeable holes or obstacles. Having that to focus on made me feel more secure, maybe just by giving me something to do beyond dwelling on my nerves and tummy flipping.
Misleading: Behind me is NOT ones of the aforementioned tunnels.
 I got through both laps and made the left back towards transition and towards the Bridge. In years past, the crosswinds on the Bridge left me death-gripping Koopa trying with all my itty bitty might to stay upright. I was bracing myself to go through the same cyclone-cross death ride as I climbed the hill towards my fate.
The pretty face I make when I’m approaching the 14th Street Bridge!
 And then, miraculously, it wasn’t so bad! Yes it was still the worst part of the bike, but it wasn’t as terrorizing as I was remembering it being. I don’t know if the wind was legitimately milder, I like to think that my riding has improved making it less harrowing. Where I’d never previously been willing to ride aero over that expanse, I did this time around and felt comfortable. The billions of seams in the concrete still rattled my brains constantly, but I wasn’t petrified I’d be blown back into the Potomac. In previous years my pace had taken a nosedive here, but I kept it pretty consistent and didn’t lose too much time.
Before I knew it I was exiting back down the hill to transition feeling relieved and a little proud of myself. I still wish organizers could find a way to make the 14th Street Bridge the first part of the course and let us get it over with before treating is to the beautiful two-lap ride through downtown DC but I feel less bitter this year about it! I wrapped the bike with a time of 1:22:06 – a course PR even if in the years since I last did Nation’s I’ve improved enough that I wouldn’t call that a great time.
Run
I again hoofed it around the outer edge of the massive transition area to find my rack, but this time I managed a much faster transition. In two minutes and two seconds I was out of my cleats, in new dry socks, and off on my run.
I was still healing from the Achilles tendinitis that had kept me out of my running sneaks all August with the exception of the Quantico Tri. I’d done a couple really short run workouts between that and Nation’s but I had no idea how 10k in a race situation would go – especially since my last oly run performance at the New Jersey State Tri had been really bad – even before developing the injury.
Here goes…hopefully not nothing!
 Josh wanted me to treat this race as a two separate 5ks. I was to hold way back the first 3.1 miles to see where I was before giving it a push if I could for the second 3.1. The weather by this point was absolutely perfect, and though I still couldn’t feel my toes, dry socks were helping, so I had to make a really deliberate effort to take it easy over the first half. I was proud of myself as I turned in an average of 8:20 for 5k number one, and I felt like there was plenty in the tank and no pain in the heel to step it up as I hoofed into mile four.
I decided to still play it on the safe and smart side and increase just into the 7:50s to see how that felt. And happily it felt great – no Achilles or heel pain and still plenty of cardiac reserves to dig into for the last two miles, so as I entered mile five I stepped on the gas a little more, dropping into the 7:40s and then into the 7:30s and enjoying the speed with every fast and slow twitch fiber of my being.
Taking it easy…letting the guys pass me which I hate!
 Halfway through this second-to-last mile I ran into an older (well,  not really older-older than me anyway) gentleman named, Ken. He’d passed me earlier in the run and had shouted really kind words of encouragement and DC Tri Club support. Here he was again, and we began to leap frog each other on our way home to the finisher’s chute. He was pushing hard and still encouraging me on and giving me a hell of a fight for the last mile and a half.
Leapfrogging home
 At some point I got in front of Ken but then slowed through the turn of the race. I hoofed on chalking the deceleration up to the lack of running and forgiving myself for not keeping the speed going. Then, with maybe .4 miles to go, Ken appeared by my side and announced that we had to finish it together. He was driving a punishing pace to the finish line, but I couldn’t say no. I urged my legs on and held a sub-7 with my new friend all the way in. Crossing the sensors feeling totally spent but proud and happy I was beyond grateful to Ken. This total stranger had approached me just five miles and 40 minutes earlier and yet he invested his energy and support in my race day and he got me over the finish line faster and stronger than I could have gotten myself there. Ken is what triathlon is really all about.
And now for the Liz-and-Ken-run-it-home-in-sync series!
We high-fived, collected our medals, and went our separate ways, but I hope I’ll be able to track him down and thank him again. I went and found Scott and the pups, and Chris who had had a great race. -even after struggling with the shock-to-the-system frigid swim too. My final run time was 49:04, but my second 5k averaged around 7:40 min.mile. My overall time was 2:52:17.
Nation’s 2017 was far from a PR in any of my disciplines, but it’s funny how in different races totally different things can make the day feel like win or a disappointment. In New Jersey I’d been so focused on my bike – I hadn’t ridden a course that flat in years and that’s where I had wanted to make gains. New Jersey was also far from my best overall oly performance, but it felt like such a victory pulling off that fast bike. At Nation’s, I executed a run that felt strong and mature after dealing with an injury that had sidelined me for over a month. And I managed a third in the DC Tri/DMV Tri Club wave, which made me happy, though I was less competitive against the women 30-34 overall Age Group.
This sport is endlessly challenging and never in the same way at any given race or time. I’m never after the same thing twice and while different aspects come together at different competitions tying it all together is such an impossible art. I don’t think grabbing at those loose ends will ever get boring!

Race Report: MCM Quantico Sprint

I hadn’t planned my tri season out past Williamsburg and New Jersey, but riding the July high from those races I was jonesin’ to add more to my schedule. My teammate Bill put out feelers for the Quantico Sprint on August 26th, and right away I threw my visor in. Happily, so did a whole slew of other Speed Sherpa athletes and so the Quantico Sprint turned into quite the party! (As much of a party as one is allowed on an active Marine Corps base.)

It will probably come as no surprise given the race location, but the Quantico Sprint is one of the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) organization’s growing roster of races. Even though I’d never heard of this tri, MCM’s involvement was further reason to sign up – I had faith in these (literal) veteran race organizers’ abilities to take care of we multisporters.

The race was a Saturday which was a blessing and a curse. Saturday races can be great because they don’t devour your entire weekend, which I think can be relationship-saving when you’re married to the saintliest race sherpa of all time. The problem in this case was that Quantico, while pretty close to DC, was far enough to make a Friday evening packet pick-up problematic. DC area traffic is infamous (there’s a reason I live in the city – ok many reasons but one is I’m not about that commuter lifestyle) and rush hour on a Friday would have taken this city girl (woman) hours upon hours. Fortunately (and later, unfortunately) MCM was apparently not super set on following USAT rules, and so they let Speed Sherpette Peyton pick up packets for a large number of the team. This was a real logistical life (weekend [sanity]) saver. It may not be feasible on the Marine Corps Base, but if MCM wants to conduct a Saturday, USAT-compliant race in the future, they could (maybe? I dunno maybe they can’t) move the start time back to 8 or 9am to accommodate day-of packet pick-up. A number of MTS/VTS DC “local” races do this, but then again those courses aren’t located on active military instillations.

As it was, the race started at 7am, with transition closing at 6:35am(!), which meant factoring in the drive, the porta potties, set-up, and more porta potties, Scott and I (and the doggies) had to get up at 3:30am. Even for race-addicted me, this was early. And with the day before being a work day, it was impossible to get to bed at an early enough hour to log multiple REM cycles with that middle-of-the-night alarm. By the time I got home from the office, cooked dinner, set out my stuff, took the dogs out, and got ready for bed, it was almost 11. I think in the end I came away with around four hours of sleep, which I was feeling by the time we returned home Saturday afternoon.

Scott, the doggies, and I got to Quantico around 5:20am, went through security, and then had to navigate the pitch black Base without much signage. Fortunately Waze knows its way around military installations too apparently and we made it to the race site. Marine “volunteers” (voluntolds I think, but I’m appreciative either way) guided us through a longish line of cars and we were parked by 5:40 or so. Chris and teammate/chef extraordinaire, Will, were right behind us. Peyton pulled up around 5:45 and handed out the packets she’d collected for our growing Speed Sherpa crew, including Coach Dave, who we located by finding the sickest looking bike (wheels) in the parking lot.

Race pup 1 (Birkin!)
Race pup 2 (Daenerys!)

I’d wanted to get to the race early as the athlete guide said to budget a 20 minute walk to transition. In reality it was maybe a five minute walk – very convenient and easy. We got set up in each of our respective spots, and then I hurried to the porta line. The loooooong porta line. Set-up took me longer than planned as I’d left something in the car and Scott (and the dogs) had to run back and get it, and by the time I got in the line it was a) all the people and b) I was approaching a bathroom emergency.

Did you notice how I said “line” singular? Yeah, that’s because there was only one line for the insufficient number of porta johns. There was a second (also small) bank of potties by the parking lot, but with time running short and no insight into how long that line was, I opted to stay in the closer queue. Maybe this is why they force everyone out of transition so early: to mitigate the piss-poor (potty pun obviously intended #toilethumor) ratio of bathrooms to athletes. By the time I got to the front I was a) cutting things closer to start-time than I like to do and b) in agony. And obviously I only got to go once.

The Swim

Pre-swim teammates – me, (the itty one), Chef Will, and blog-star, Chris!

From the close-call bathroom experience I rushed to the small beach another maybe three minute walk away from transition. Waves weren’t divided by AG – we honestly couldn’t tell how they were divided, but Dave and Peyton were in the first, Chris and I were in the second, and Bill and Will were some time after that. While waiting to start, I met a gorgeous four month old German Shorthair Pointer (GSP) named, Milo and fell in puppy love. (I grew up with GSPs and they’re a) the best and b) insane. [I don’t know why I started this two-part enumeration scheme but I’m just gonna go with it.]) As always, some puppy kisses made me a) calm and b) happy (nope, it’s getting to be too much) as the second wave was called into the water.

Milo the GSP! (Today’s blog is mostly dog pics and I’m not sorry about that [and neither are you.])
Chris and I waded down the beach and into the shallow, silty-bottomed Potomac for the in-water start. Josh had warned that the swim conditions here would be very similar to Williamsburg: a) shallow enough to stand the entire way (for normal height people anyway) and b) too disgusting on the bottom to actually want to do that. (Ok, I think that’s the last bipartite list I’m gonna throw at you readers [mom].) The water was in the low 80s – again similar to Williamsburg – but in the cooler-than-average air I was still chilly. As we waited for the gun to go off, my teeth chattered. I treaded water to avoid the bottom, then put one foot down and discovered the bottom was gross but also warm. (Let’s not ask too many questions about why that is.) I alternated treading in the cold-feeling river and putting my feet down for a little mysteriously-sourced heat until we were finally off and swimming.

Much like New Jersey, somehow this in-water start – usually my preference – managed to be totally cluster-f*cky. Maybe because of the confusing seeding? I dunno but bows were thrown and I hung back to avoid the scrum. Once some of the chaos had dissipated – or just gotten farther downstream – I found a steady rhythm and focused on knocking out the 750m. I also focused on not adding too many extra meters to that 750 as I’ve been known to do. I’m too slow to be swimming more than the prescribed distance!

The cours starts downstream, though there’s not much current at that point in the Potomac. We swam south about 150 meters before a 180 back north for around 400m. Then we hooked a left for 200 or so meters back to shore a bit north of the beach where we’d entered the river.

Besides the early violence of which I’d generally steered clear (by being the most passive swimmer ever) there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement. The river was smooth and the temperature comfortable once we got moving. I did bump into a couple people who were indeed walking as Josh had predicted. It’s probably really comforting for nervous or novice swimmers to have the security of being able to stand any time they need, but I still shudder to imagine walking on that slimy river floor. To each their own, as long as you’re not punching or kicking me, you do you! I finished the swim in an unimpressive, very Liz time of 17:42 by MCM’s count. Their sensors were a a good distance from the water exit though so I was slightly less mediocre than that in actual water-time. (According to my Garmin I only added 23 extra meters though, which is a huge swim-like-you’re-sober win for me!)

The Bike

It was a steep run up into the oddly shaped-transition. Because of the uneven terrain and tight space onto/into which organizers had squeezed us I struggled a little to find good path to my bike and then to the mount line. I also dawdled as I decided to wear my gloves at the last second as my hands felts clammy and slippery. MCM says my T1 was 2:00, Garmin says it was longer but I know I didn’t line myself up well with the sensors so who knows. Either way I finally made my way out of the confusing non-grid transition area and out onto the bike course.

It was turning into a very pleasant morning and I felt really comfortable as I took off. In no time I passed Sherpette Sarah out with her camera and her cheers – a  big morale booster heading into 12.5 saddle miles. I’d been nursing what I thought was a stress fracture all August so I wasn’t feeling very well-conditioned for a stronger ace performance – having teammates out cheering on the course helped me get my mind right, even if my body was a little behind the curve that morning.

Bike course photography by Sarah

The course starts off up a hill to get away from transition and onto the Base’s bigger roads. And pretty much immediately the potholes and uneven pavement appeared.

This was really the theme of the Quantico bike course. That and false flats. It bothered me that the roads on a major Marine Corps base were so decrepit. [Political sentiment warning: like there’s not room in the bloated defense budget to pave some streets???] These blown out roads were wildly unpleasant to traverse on a tiny tri bike, and really disruptive to my attempts to stay low and aero; I feel much more secure sitting up when navigating such obstacles.

Over the first few miles there was also a lot of traffic. Almost the entire bike course was open to cars and in places it was heavily-motor-vehicled, causing a minor pileup at one point as two-way traffic tried to give us space that didn’t really exist. The cars were all very polite – there just wasn’t much room sometimes for multiple cars and multiple bikes abreast – it put a damper on passing in places.

I felt slow and heavy the whole way. Teammates later confirmed that the first half was a false flat, which made me feel a little better, but mostly it was a fitness issue. In addition to the heel injury, Scott and I had been out of town a lot and I’d been battling some mid-season burnout. It all added up to very little quality bike/run time. After my 20.4mph performance in the Garden State, I was embarrassed by how little I had in my legs. I pushed myself as hard as I thought wise knowing I still had to run on those same sad stems, and minding the craters (and water bottles that had been launched from cages) which comprised the bike.

There were a number of rollers and a couple technical turns, but besides minding the pock-marked pavement and my own athletic shortcomings, it was a decent course – challenging but not crazy. Coming back into transition was a little confusing, mostly because I didn’t do a good job memorizing where the different bike in/out entrances were. I unclipped and almost dismounted a couple hundred meters early so it was a slow roll back in. MCM says I finished in 41:45, Garmin has it a little longer so let’s go with the official clock. (I forgot to direct my watch to end the bike and start T2 until I was already re-racked thus the difference of opinion.)

The Run

Josh had set a sub-90 second T-2 goal, which MCM says I beat by 10 seconds so huzzah. (Here of course Garmin says I did a 24 second change into my sneakers which is obviously inaccurate.)

First run in weeks thanks to tendinitis…and it showed.

As I made my way onto the run course I was not sure what to expect out of myself. I’d laid off the heel for weeks so less-than-ideal run-training to say the least. But I also had this (misguided) idea in my head that somehow my legs had just gotten super fresh and stayed strong and I was gonna get out there and crush a 20 minute 5k like it was nothing. (I know, I find my unwarranted hubris exhausting too.) The course was also mostly a trail run which I have almost no experience in, but why would I factor that into my fantasizing?

I headed out a little tentatively, feeling out my heel. After the first mile – 7:53 – I had no pain so I thought I’d try to pick up the pace a bit.  Of course this attempted hammer-drop coincided with the gravel course starting to wind its way up hill. Said hammer remained undraped, my fitness just wasn’t there to sustain much pace uphill. Then as we headed downhill, the unfamiliar rocky substrate made me nervous. I was afraid I’d slip and damage my heel further or roll an ankle. Mile two went by with a meh 7:54.

The middle section of the course is an out and back during which I got a look at the hordes of people who were ahead of me – and who would stay there if I failed to pick up the pace. There were so many people in front of me and I didn’t understand how I was faring that poorly, even given my underwhelming performance. Lots of them were women who looked to be about my age too which further deflated me; healthy Liz had planned to be in podium contention. Then I started having grumpy New Jersey Tri flashbacks as I noticed that at least half of the runners were wearing headphones. I knew we weren’t adhering to USAT rules but WTF?! I had half a mind – two halves even! – to say something to the officials stationed at the turnaround.

As I arrived at the appointed 180 however – pretty much the halfway point of the course – I saw that we were merging with an 8K run race. I felt like an ass for getting so worked up, and my ego reinflated a bit knowing most of those 30-something women were not actually my competition.

The trail flattened out and I’d shaken off my miserly thoughts as I started mile three. If the hammer was going to fall at all now was the time. I picked up the pace and felt pretty good. I started wishing there were more run miles in which to make up for my swim/bike times. As we ran out of the woods and the last half mile towards the finish, I was able to open it up some more for a final mile of 7:28 and a sprint in the 6s up the shoot. Most of the Speed Sherpa crew had finished before me and were there to cheer me in that final stretch. MCM and my Garmin both agree I did the run in 24:22. They spilt ways on the distance which my watch says was closer to 3.2 miles for a 7:42 average, which I prefer to the MCM-reported 7:50/mile. (Ugh.)

Wrap Up

My  final overall time was 1:27:08. Glad to come in under 90 minutes; not in love with MCM’s non-USAT-compliant AG designations. Rather than F30-34, I was lumped in with all the women 30-39 and placed 11th. If they’d organized results properly I would have been 4th in AG and only 9 seconds off the podium – a result I could have lived with considering my flatlining fitness.

Not that any of that matters as there was no podium ceremony. This was especially a bummer since Coach Dave won the whole damn race and Peyton came in 2nd in her AG. It would have been fun to see our Speed Sherpa crew take the blocks – and it was Peyton’s birthday so that would have been a great way to celebrate!

Birthday girl: birthday burrito!

We made do with our own team party in the parking lot though. We’d each brought snacks and drinks including adult beverages and birthday cake. Being a military base we tried to be discrete with beer in paper bags and water bottles – very college tailgate-y. (Pro tip: wrapping your beer can in a doggy poo bag doesn’t work if the poo bag is clear.)

Dave’s sick bike (and disc wheel) and…
…team tailgate!

I don’t know if I would do Quantico Tri again – because a) the non-adherence to USAT rules, and b) that bike course was such a brain scrambler. (See my first ever post for a rambling reminder of why I don’t need any extra cranial-disturbance.) I did have a lot of fun though with so many friends there, so if the whole Speed Sherpa crew decided to sign up again next year and I was free that day, I would absolutely cave to peer pressure.

Ok one more of Milo!

Race Report: New Jersey Triathlon

New triathlete, Tiff!

The last few summers, my old camp bunkie Diana and I have done the New York City Triathlon together in late July. I’m a big fan of that race – don’t care how much people may judge (or fear) me for swimming willingly in the Hudson – but it is very pricey. When thinking through this season last winter, my friend Tiff, who has run pretty much every New York Road Runners race for the past three years, said she had signed up for her first tri: the New Jersey State Triathlon. It was a week after the  New York City triathlon, which was a week after the WIlliamsburg 70.3 so it made sense to swap News – York for Jersey – this year (not a trade I’d normally make) and join Tiff in her firs multisport adventure. (I felt like I owed Tiff too since she credits (blames?) me for her run addiction – as I like to tell her, I’m a pusher.)Bunkie Diana was down to swap it out as well so soon we three were all signed up. Then Bunkie had to go and get all pregnant with an inconsiderate late July due date, so it was down to Tiff and I.

Tiff did what many do before their first tris and prepped with a mix of city rides on her hybrid and spin classes. A week before the race she came to DC and took my road bike Warrio out for a training brick around Hains Point. She did great on a much lighter bike than she was accustomed and with the seat all the way up (I ride with it all the way down) my roadie was actually a pretty good fit. So it was settled that my steeds Warrio and Koopa Troop would both be seeing action in New Jersey.
I drove up Saturday, July 21st, and picked Tiff up at the Princeton train station which was about 15 minutes from the race site in Mercer Park. It was really fun showing Tiff her first transition. We picked up our packets, found our racks, (ground racks, yay!) and walked through Sunday’s logistics. Then we (I mostly) raided the expo before hitting a little bike/run shakeout brick.
Got sweet new (sticky!) bar tape ahead of the New Jersey Tri!

 We did about 25 minutes on the bikes around Mercer Park, saw like three gophers, and had an existential conversation about whether gophers and groundhogs are the same animal. (Readers, we’re from NYC/DC, we have no idea.) Then we spent just ten minutes slowpoking the middle of the run course – part of which was in grass and all of which was in direct sunlight. Once we were all shook out and stinky we loaded the bikes back up – I was surprised to learn it was a morning rack – and found our hotel.

Very polite geese using the crosswalk by our hotel!
We stayed at the Homewood Suites in Princeton. Upon check-in the front desk very kindly offered us two separate rooms for the price of the suite Tiff had reserved. Being two adult women not engaged in a romantic relationship I get why they thought we’d want that, but all we really wanted was to co-dependently race-prep together and watch Law & Order to simultaneously incite and quell each other’s anxiety. I think they thought we were a little weird to turn the offer down but whatever! It was a really nice hotel, and having a suite with a full kitchen and fridge for cold drinks and fresh breakies felt pretty decadent.
After rinsing off our stinkiness (it was real hot out) we hit a 6pm dinner at Trattoria Procaccini. Much like Williamsburg, I hadn’t had a proper lunch so I was pretty starved, which was conducive to putting away an obscene load of carbs. (So many garlic knots. So garlicky!) It hit the spot and I recommend the restaurant to anyone doing NJ State Tri in the future. After dinner we had to navigate back to our codependent paradise through a pretty heavy downpour. I felt mixed about the rain: I was happy the forecast predicted a cooler Sunday, but I didn’t want the swim to be cancelled – especially on Tiff’s first tri. Back at the hotel I showed Tiff how and where to affix race numbers and the timing chip. We laid out everything we would need and then looked for some Benson and Stabler.
That’s when the unthinkable happened: THERE WAS NO LAW & ORDER ON TV ANYWHERE. It felt like the apocalypse. We were forced to slum it and order up an episode on Netflix – which only has the post-Stabler seasons, so basically tragic all around. But we’re troopers, so we made do with Olivia Benson on Tiff’s iPad. We were in bed (separate beds – it wasn’t as desperately codependent as it could have been) before 10 – a coup for me.
Flat triathlete – pleasant surprise to see my insta handle on my bib!
 It was still raining when we woke up at 4:30. It was pretty chilly as we made several trips to load up the car. Again I felt mixed: it had been ages since I’d felt chilly before a tri and I was excited at the prospect of my coolest race in literally years, but I also wished it would stop raining before we hit the bike course. You know me and my chickenshit cycling. I was nervous for slick roads, especially because this was my first flat course in maybe ever? And I had high hopes for a 20mph+ average. I knew I wouldn’t thrown down that pace if it was wet.
When we got to Mercer Park we were directed to park in a field across the street from transition. It was enough of a hike that we made triple sure to bring everything we would need for the day as returning to the car seemed out of the question. The rain was starting to abate and I felt a huge surge of relief. I hadn’t heard anything about the water temperature so I lugged my wetsuit down to transition with everything else – just in case.  (See below – so incredibly far from wetsuit legal as to be laughable!)
Bike racked and gear ready to go.
Tiff and I racked our bikes – we were happily just a few spots away from each other on the same row and in ground racks – which this shorty always appreciates. We made two porta stops – one early with no line and the second en route to the swim start with a moderate line. Then we filed down to the lake to nervously wait. We shared a gatorade and a gu and talked through what was about to happen. Tiff was anxious of course but she was impressively excited. I feel like I was 99.9% anxiety at this point before my first tri, but she was probably 50-50 – or at least that’s what she was projecting. I was relieved because I felt her excitement absolved me of any guilt for pulling her into this crazy world. And I knew if she was this optimistic before it even started, barring disaster she was going to be hopelessly hooked at the finish line.
The Swim
We watched the couple waves before ours take off, then we began shuffling down the ramp for our in-water start. We were grouped with all women under 34, which isn’t too weird, but some of the waves were pretty bizarre. For example, the second wave was the 20 year old men and the men 65-69. The third wave was men 30-34, 60-64, and over 70. The 40something men were split alphabetically. Looking at the strange combinations in almost all of the men’s waves it becomes pretty clear that in a sport dominated by men, this race was especially testosterony.

Maybe all the dude-age explains why the lake was 87.8 degrees? Hotter than Williamsburg! Which two weeks before had been the hottest swim of my race career! Screw bathtub swimming – this was straight hot-tubbing. And that 87.8 was after it rained all night, cooling the water from the previous day’s 90 degrees. I spoke to some Saturday sprinters who said it had felt unpleasantly hot.  I actually thought the hot tub felt fine as we treaded water waiting to start, probably thanks to the cooler-than-usual morning air.

The bathtub lake.

I hugged Tiff good luck one more time and at 7:50ish – a few minutes late – the gun sounded and we took off. Or we somethinged. I had promised Tiff that in-water starts usually cut down on the fisticuffs but that is not what happened. NJ Tri is one of the most popular races in the country for first-time triathletes, and I assume that’s what caused the melee over the first couple hundred meters. In-water starts usually allow people to position themselves where they want to be in the wave before the thing even starts. I generally find middle-to-back of the pack towards the outside and then voila! Minimal violence! But as soon as our wave was released there was a wall of slow swimmers in front of me, and a tide of faster swimmers crawling my legs and back. I swam right and left and treated water looking for a path.

It was useless till the first turn buoy at which point I broke free by swimming wide. And at which point I was kind of pissed off. So I buried my face in the hot tub water and angry-stroked to make up some time. Instead what I did was develop a cramp in my right side because of how I’m not a fast enough swimmer to vent my rage in the water without repercussions. (I love a good angry run or angry ride but I have to learn how to keep breathing while angry swimming.) So I had to slow back down and try to breathe into the stitch. It took most of the long straight stretch – around 800m – to the second turn to work the kink out of my ribs.
Finally I felt like I could breathe and swim normally again and finally I was turning and pointing back to shore. I again buried my face but this time with fewer anger issues. I tried to take long strokes and find my rhythm. About 100m from the swim exit I passed Tiff and any residual pissed-offedness dissipated because she was doing fantastic! Not that beating me in the water is any feat but in her first swim she was wiping the lake with my sorry crampy ass! As she ran up the swim exit next to me she called out, “Liz, I did it!” She was so psyched and I was so psyched for her and thank goodness because I think it helped put me in the right head space to have a great bike.
Tiff and I coming out of the water together! Look at her giant smile! She is so hooked!
The Bike
I had a decently quick transition considering we had a long run out with our bikes before the mount line – and over still-slick post-rain grass. I was nervous I would slip in my cleats before I ever got my ass in the saddle. But I made it out and onto the road and onto Koopa Troop without calamity or embarrassment. There was the usual chaos as people clogged the start of the bike course blocking each other to get on; I did what I normally do and ran far ahead of the mount line spending a few extra seconds to get out of people’s way and clear some space for the competitors behind me. I do this because, I’m not an asshole. (I’m sure I am in other ways but I make an effort to be a courteous cyclist and triathlete.)
About that, as I said this race is chock full of (dudes and) newbies. And I want to be clear that this is awesome. (The newbies part – we still need to work on the gender parity. [Even more true of racial diversity.]) More (female and diverse) triathletes please! We as a community need to keep working on this. Thing about a lot of first-timers in one race is, all those newbs on one course can be rough. Between that and a race make-up that on the bike felt legitimately 9:1 Y chromosomes I witnessed (experienced) a lot of bad and stupid behavior.
I instructed Tiff to always give a heads up to people she passed that she was “on the left” or “passing” especially on parts of the course that were narrow and/or open to vehicle traffic. As I set out I passed dozens of people in the first stretch heading out of the park and I made sure to follow my own don’t-be-an-asshole advice. I kept the courtesy going over the entire two loop course; I did not receive this same courtesy even once over 25.2 miles. I was cut off and nearly clipped repeatedly by aggressive guys who leave no room (or warning) when overtaking someone.
But enough griping and more on the course/ride itself. I was really excited for this bike as it is pretty pancake flat. I literally only learned how to really use my big rings last year and this course was the chance to throw down some heavy gears and big numbers. My goal was to get aero right out the gate and stay low and fast for a 20mph average overall.
Actually my goals for the day were pretty much all bike-oriented. My swim continues to be lackluster, and when I’m on my run is right where it needs to be to podium in almost any race. So cycling is where I want to grow the most – and if I can get as strong on my wheels as I am on my feet, I should be in podium contention in more and more competitive races.
I often dawdle too much in the beginning on the bike, telling myself it’s ok to take a few miles to get comfortable. Not here though. I settled into my bars and got to work right away. And right away I began picking off picking people right and right. (Because, say it with me now: you only pass on the left! Things that seem intuitive but new athletes should be told repeatedly.)
Kicking it into high gear right out of the gate.
 The double loop course heads out of the park and onto mostly-open-to-traffic streets right away. The course was well-marked and well-staffed, and on the busiest roads we had cones marking a sort of protected bike lane. I think organizers did a great job keeping everyone – two and four-wheeled vehicles – safe and informed out there and despite the cars I never felt in-danger or exposed.
Loop one flew by and I felt so strong and fast. Over those first 12 miles I averaged over 20mph just as I’d wanted, and I was only passed by one woman. (And she was a total ringer.) Coming into the second loop I felt confident that I could hold my pace, and that even if I had to back off some I would hit my 20mph goal.
Lap two became much more of a cluster as more athletes were on the course. Cue the flashbacks to the chaos and amateur hour at the swim start. It became even more important to shout my position as I passed more and more people, many of whom were not riding to the right. Still, no one returned the courtesy. At least now though I knew the course and what was coming so I could plan around the fuckery accordingly.
Around mile 20 I realized I should probably try to get in some solid calories in addition to the aero bottle of gatorade and water I’d consumed. I was stuck among hordes of unpracticed, and in some cases just uncaring cyclists though, and I was afraid to navigate the swarm and eat at the same time. I decided to wait till I could make some less-crowded space for myself.
That moment never came and I realized as we turned down the last (and tightest) road before the park that I’d either have to seriously slow down to eat or hold out till T2. I was still feeling really strong and holding the 20+mph averages I wanted. The idea of slowing was anathema to everything I was feeling, and so I said eff the solid calories and stayed in the work. I didn’t actually feel hungry or like I was losing steam so hitting my bike goal seemed more important.
As I hammered that last long pre-park stretch an amalgamation of impossibly long limbs pulled up alongside of me on my left, like it was passing, and then, it just hung out there. I know it’s maybe over-lawyerly of me, but there is a USAT rule that you get 15 seconds within which to overtake someone, and if you can’t make that work you’re not supposed to do it. And here was this pile of arms and legs just riding next to me. As he rode there I was getting more than a little teed. (Uh-oh! Ellen says that when you have feelings – including I assume, homicidal ones – you’re supposed to eat!)
Then the limbs spoke: “We’re almost there!” It was so happy I eased off the irritation a bit. “Yep! Keep it up!” I responded. ” It continued alongside me and spoke further: “I’ve never done one of these! Never run after biking!” That immediately cut through my pissiness. He was a newb! He probably didn’t know he was riding in direct violation of USAT rules and was just excited for his first tri. I told him to just let his legs feel wobbly for the first few minutes of the run, to trust that they’d get better and to get it done. Then I slowed up some to encourage him to pass all the way which he did.
Once he was a few lengths ahead I stepped on the gas again. The limbs were right, just a few miles to go and I was nailing my goal. I redoubled my efforts and focus to get it done.
Within two or three minutes I was back on top of the leggy one, who had slowed down. I called out “passing” and did so – well within the prescribed 15 seconds. I thought the ordeal was over with, but it was not. He seemed to think we were playing the most aggravating game of leap frog ever and soon he was passing me again. As soon as he was in front of me he slowed, because I don’t think he could actually maintain the speed he’d had to hit to get around me. After another minute or two I passed again, and then he passed again, this time at least staying fast once he was ahead of me.
Soon we were turning right back into Mercer Park with just about a mile to go to transition. I was amped to drop the hammer all the way down but all of a sudden I was back on top of the limb monster. I called it out and began to pass him. As I was right next to him he discernibly increased his speed to stay neck-and-neck.
Let me pause for a moment here to drive home how much taller and leggier this human was: I am 4’10”. And mostly torso. He was over 6′ and, as I think I’ve alluded, mostly limb. I ride a 44 on 650 wheels. His seat, perched on his normal human sized 700s, rode somewhere around my shoulders I just want to be crystal fucking clear that this athlete had a billion watts – at least watt potential – on me and anatomically enjoyed every advantage. I am not physically capable of moving a bicycle as fast as he is physically capable of.
So here he was, acting like this was a fun game to the end, speeding along totally oblivious to safety and USAT rules. (Not everything is legal in New Jersey!) And I snapped. I yelled at him, “either get ahead of me and stay ahead but don’t fucking wait to accelerate till I’m next to you.” He looked shocked and slowed up. I pulled away and dropped the hammer like I never have before riding my rage around 23mph home. I finished the bike in 1:14:51 – averaging 20.4mph – right on (even above!) target!
I dismounted and had to run the awkward long slick grassy downhill path to transition. It was a little treacherous but I tried to run it in as quickly as I safely could. One more woman had passed me on the second loop of the bike course, and I was able to overtake her by staying aggressive on my way to rack Koopa.
I tried to swallow some Clif Bar and grabbed a gu to hopefully stave off any ill effects of not getting in solid calories on the bike. I wasn’t discernibly hungry and the weather, while a little muggy, was overcast so I felt  good going into my strongest discipline. Only two women had passed me on the bike – net one! – and I was ready to run past any F30-34 I saw.
The Run
Transitioning from bike to run is always clunky and awkward. All the bricks in the world can’t save those first few steps – maybe that’s not true and fan of the blog, Gwen Jorgensen* will have something to say about such a sweeping assertion. Either way my legs felt stiff and unnatural as I ran onto the 10K course. I wasn’t too concerned though. As I’d  told the leggy newbie, just let it feel weird and it will get better.
I was fine with the first few minutes – first mile even – feeling slow and a little sloppy because I was sure I would hit the mid and low-7s I should maintain over 6.2 miles. As I slogged along, I kept thinking, ‘any second now I’m gonna hit my stride and just wow these newcomers with what a practiced, seasoned, accomplished runner I am! Annnny seconddd!’
And I waddled along and waited for that burst of speed and competence to hit. Mile one ticked by at 8:03. ‘No problem,’ I told myself, ‘even in purely run races my first mile is usually my slowest. I’m gonna run fast reallll soon!’ I stayed optimistic, comparing conditions here with my last two summers grinding out NYC Tri 10ks in the blazing heat over hellish Central Park hills. In NYC I’d maintained averages in the 7:30s and this course and these conditions were soooo much more conducive to fast running.
As the course wound through a wooded path and up and down some minimal rollers I kept waiting. I stopped at aid stations and tried my gu and willed my speed to return, to no avail. I didn’t feel hungry or out of energy like I was bonking. I wasn’t overheating or queasy like IMChoo and Boston. I just felt uncomfortable and out of shape. And it seemed like there was no reason for it. I was just running like Liz of years ago, where 8 minute miles were reaches.
A good deal of this course was also on grass and trail – substrates that I don’t know or trust well. The grass portions especially threw me off. They were still slick, and I felt like I might fall and even if I stayed upright I was working twice as hard to run through it than I would be on pavement.
I don’t know if it was that unfamiliar exertion or the T2 attempt to inhale calories, but around mile three I cramped hard and in just the same spot as in Boston. The pain was really similar to that day actually, somehow aching more any time I got to go downhill a bit meaning no making up speed on the descents. I tried to massage the pain clot out of my side to some effect but not much. I breathed into it and changed up my stride as Josh had taught me – hoping the new breathing pattern would loosen whatever was sticking to my belly.
At least it wasn’t hot – not compared to what I’d been training and racing in and what I was expecting from New Jersey in mid-July. I had my zip lock bag ready to be filled with ice but I didn’t need it. I wasn’t even tossing water at aid stations over my head because I really wasn’t overheating.
As I ran through an aid station at the u-turn halfway between miles four and five though, a (well-meaning I’m sure) volunteer dumped an unsolicited cup of ice water over me. I didn’t see it coming and didn’t even see who it was – but it was an unwelcome frigid surprise that mostly ended up in my shoes. I considered turning around and yelling at this shitty samaritan but I didn’t want to waste the energy that I was already low on, or aggravate my stitch which was abating a little. So I shivered head-to-toe in silence as I ran (jogged) on in my now-soaked shoes.
I could literally hear my shoes as I squish-squished the last mile and a half to the finish. I could feel my wet socks starting to rub the bottoms of my feet and I became very nervous that I was going to finish this (relatively) short course with really intrusive blisters. I was feeling a little better through my tum-tum though so on I ran (jogged) ignoring my loudly belching sneakers.
Not that anyone else probably noticed the noise given how many people were in headphones. I chalk this fact up to the many-a-newbie situation, but it still pissed me off. Having music to distract from my discomfort and guide me to a better rhythm and inspire me onward would have been a huge asset – I wish in almost every tri run that we could have our playlists in our ears. But we do not do that in triathlon. Run races often announce that headphones are banned as well, but in this sport we actually mean it. It is an unfair and unsafe advantage that takes you out of the athletic moment and depending on the course can be dangerous. It is a rule that in five years of racing I have almost never seen broken until the New Jersey State Triathlon. I have no idea if the numerous competitors I saw in earbuds were penalized, but I can say I watched several run past race officials who seemed unmoved.
I soldiered on in my loud squishy shoes, cramp still gumming up my insides, trying not to let the rule breaking irritation slow me down further. I never managed to get any faster – just hanging in the mid-8s the whole way in. That first mile – the one I’d been so sure was just a warm-up – ended up being my fastest. I finished the run in a very disappointing 52:09. I’d been sure I could/would throw down a 46 minute 10k – maybe 47 minute. Five to six minutes below goal on the run was really frustrating. Especially because I couldn’t pinpoint a reason. I hadn’t bonked, the weather had behaved, the course was manageable; I had just failed to perform. Later Josh said he thought I’d just spent myself putting up my biggest bike numbers ever, and that’s probably what it was, but in the moment I felt like my run training/abilities had inexplicably failed me.
Not masking my discomfort or disappointment with an uninspiring finish.
 My overall race time was 2:47:57. I was four minutes off the podium – and five or six minutes slower than I’d expected/wanted. That was salt on the wounded ego. But New Jersey wasn’t an A race and placing isn’t  what matters. What matters is the tri community and brainwashing Tiff to join us!
After I crossed the last judge-y sensors (and partook in the glorious misting tent and the end of the chute) I grabbed some noms and posted up a few hundred meters from the finish line. I wasn’t exactly sure when to expect Tiff. I had passed her towards the end of my run – I was almost to mile 6 and she was just past 3 . I was so excited to see her, she has looked really strong running by walkers up a little hill. When I cheered for her she saw me and replied, “this is the hardest run I’ve ever done!” so I knew she was hurting some – who wasn’t?
I waited about 20 minutes cheering people in and then I saw her. She was still running and however she felt, she looked great. I screamed for her as she ran down the finisher’s chute and successfully crushed her first triathlon. After some misting tent time we reconnected and she was so proud and excited and hooked on the sport just as I knew/hoped she would be. (And I was maniacally pumped to have another bestie in my race squad!)
We wandered the finish area festivities, changed into dry clothes, and exchanged war stories. She told me she’d seen the woman who had doused me with unsolicited ice water doing the same to others and getting yelled at. I hope race organizers address this bad volunteer behavior. I knew she meant well and race volunteers make the world go ’round, but she turned a bad run worse for me, and at least a few others.
As we meandered, the leggy newbie I’d reamed out on the bike approached me, and guess what??? He apologized! He was a nice guy and said he realized as soon as I yelled at him why his bike behavior was problematic. I apologized for yelling and told him I knew he wasn’t trying to be malicious and that I hoped he’d keep triathlon-ing.
New tri besties!
 As Tiff and I collected our bikes we made some friends in transition, but also witnessed yet more bad dude behavior when we overheard a very loud guy ribbing a friend to stop being a girl and stop taking even longer to pack up his stuff than a girl would. Tiff and I both heard it and bristled, but another woman stepped in and told him the anti-female stereotypes were not welcome in transition. I loved watching his idiot bro face drop as he apologized. I’m sure he continues his doucheyness in his day-to-day, but for at least one moment he was forced to think better of it.
Recap and Thoughts
Looking back at this race I’d been more focused on a big bike than a big overall performance, so I consider the New Jersey State Tri a success. Holding 20+mph on an olympic course was a breakthrough – mentally and physically. I expect more and more of myself in the saddle, and now that I know I can deliver those numbers, I need to focus on brick work to make sure I can dismount and still hold a 7:30 average on the run. The pieces are coming together individually (well…swimming…sigh…) and the magic of triathlon is fitting them together without losing too much.
I don’t think I would do this race again unless I knew race organizers were making more of an effort to edeucate new triathletes on the rules of engagement. New Jersey Tri organizers should require all athletes to attend a safety briefing before picking up their packets the way the New York City Tri does.
Speaking of, and comparing the (big) apples and oranges, I definitely prefer the NYC Tri for a mid-July northeastern  oly race. And Tiff lives in NYC so  I’ll just have to sell my new tri buddy on the merits of a local-to-her race next year!
 
*Gwen Jorgensen does not read this blog**.
**Gwen, if you do read this blog, I apologize for all the bathroom talk. And I love you.
Thumbs up on the try bling from New Jersey!

Race Report: Rev3 Williamsburg 70.3

Is this not the greatest finish line pic of all time?
Spoiler but is this not the greatest finish line pic of all time?

I volunteered at Rev3 Williamsburg in 2016 as the bike lead for the half iron distance. Chris and a number of my Speed Sherpa teammates were racing, and through their experience and my volunteer role biking the run course I got to see what a fantastic race this is. It was a no-brainer to make it one of my 2017 A races.

In 2016, Chris and I made a weekend of it, first hitting the Colonial Beach Sprint for me on Saturday, and then Williamsburg for him on Sunday. This year I made it a family affair with Scott and my two ponies-er-dogs, Daenerys (Daynee,) our Great Dane and Birkin, our Anatolian Shepherd in tow. Traveling with the dogs always complicates things, but I discovered the La Quinta in Williamsburg is pet friendly and had no limits on dog size so that made hotel-reserving easy!

Since it wasn’t a double-race weekend this year, we loaded up Scooby, our new-to-us Subaru (because yes we had to buy a new car when we adopted Daynee and that’s a totally rational thing to do to fulfill your Great Dane dreams) around 10am on Saturday and made it to Williamsburg at 1:45pm after terrible traffic and too many bathroom stops. (Gotta hydrate!) I missed most of the 1:30 athlete briefing which was disappointing – they’re usually really helpful both to review logistics and to assuage nerves. Chris filled me in on what they covered though and escorted me through the very quick packet pick-up.

Subaru filled with dogs and hauling my beloved Koopa Troop!
Subaru filled with dogs and hauling my beloved Koopa Troop!

We’d each been assigned short bike-run shake-out bricks so while Scott entertained the hounds, Chris and I saddled up and headed out for 25 pretty easy minutes biking the course and five minutes running. It was the hottest part of a hot day and that half hour of work had us drenched and disgusting. We were encouraged though that it was supposed to cool off at least a little over night. We racked our bikes a little after 3pm and parted ways till the morning, and Scott and I went in search of this dog-loving hotel.

Biking the run course to shake out the legs - and forcing Chris to pose halfway through!
Biking the run course to shake out the legs – and forcing Chris to pose halfway through!

The La Quinta was in town, about twenty minutes away from the race site at Chickahominy Riverfront Park. I had called a few days before to make sure they knew we were bringing 200 lbs of dog and the woman I spoke to was friendly and said she’d try to get us on the first or second floor so we could take them out easily. When we arrived, true to her word they gave us a room on the second floor and didn’t blink at the size of our canine crew. If any readers (hi mom!) are considering this or any race or event in Williamsburg and you want to bring your dogs you will be well-taken-care-of at this hotel!

Once we were settled in, Scott, because he’s a race sherpa and a saint, hit the 711 next-door for extra waters and gatorades and bread and jelly for my morning breakie. I found an Italian restaurant with a massive menu that delivered, (Antonio’s) and quickly ordered all the things for a geriatric dinner. In all the traffic getting down we hadn’t had a proper lunch and I was starved. The food arrived in 30 minutes – so fast! – and I plowed through a massive portion of fettucine alfredo, a side of meatballs, and 3 garlic knots. It was a spectacle. I actually think it worked out well; I’m often too anxious the night before a race to eat much, but I was famished so I did not have any issues putting away a billion calories.

I wouldn't let Daynee on the hotel bed (or near my dinner) so she did this for a good ten minutes. The guilt-trip puppy eyes are strong with this one.
I wouldn’t let Daynee on the hotel bed (or near my dinner) so she did this for a good ten minutes. The guilt-trip puppy eyes are strong with this one.

We unwound as per always to a Law & Order marathon while I laid everything out for the morning. Also as per every-f*cking-race I aimed for a 9pm bedtime and overshot by an hour. And in no time it was 4:15 and my phone – plugged in across the room as there were no bed-adjacent outlets – was belting out wake-the-hell-up show tunes. Chris had awesomely offered to pick me up before the race so that Scott could sleep a little longer and so that we wouldn’t have to pack everything up at 4am. He showed up right on time at 5 and we were setting up at transition by 5:30.

The DC Tri Club had arranged a rack in the front which was fantastic. Lots of friendly, familiar faces in our red, white, and blue kits. Being the discombobulated spaz that I am, I forgot multiple things in Chris’ car and had to make repeated trips between the parking lot and transition. Luckily we were in the main lot and not overflow so this wasn’t a huge issue – though it did add unnecessary stress to Chris’ morning. I said hi to Josh while we set up, met insta-friend Tim Cross in person, pumped my tires – we’d let air out in the night before heat – and porta’d twice (and told Josh too much about that.) Chris and I were out and on our way to the swim start by 6:20.

The Swim 

There were four big waves going out 5 minutes apart via an in-water start. Chris got to go out with the young dudes in the first group at 6:45. I was in the last wave at 7:00am – with the first group of Olympic athletes five minutes behind. (No fair!) Rev3 had all the waves out and onto the course on time and the in-water start limited the usual cluster of feet and elbows.

Unlike Poconos 70.3 where it was barely wetsuit legal and I was the only one who opted to swim without, the water was almost 84 so no one had their neoprene speed boosters on. Still I was quickly left in the dust bubbles of most of the women under 39. Not gonna lie, it really bothered me to be eating wake like that. I kept looking around and checking that I wasn’t dead last which was small comfort and a waste of my time and mental energy. I imagined the volunteers on kayaks and surfboards judging me, which is ridiculous (and not fair to imagine of them) but in the moment I just knew I was the laughingstock of Rev3. Aware of my swim psychosis I tried to shake the self-deprication and find a decent rhythm.

About halfway down the first straightaway the river got shallow and dark. Every downstroke my fingers brushed against the muddy bottom and I shortened my stroke to avoid the unpleasantness. The already brackish water became darker than any I’ve experiences in a race. It was discomfiting to turn my head to breathe and sight and then see nothing but black when I turned back into the water. It rivaled the Hudson for gnarly swimming conditions.

At the first turn the bottom dropped back down enough to swim normally (or my version thereof) and see more clearly. I started to overtake the slowest athletes from the waves before mine, all of which made me feel better about life. We turned one more time for the straightaway to the swim exit and joined up with the oly swimmers and quickly I was back to feeling bad about my efforts. I also struggled as this stretch home lacked the sighting buoys that had marked the way out. Every ten strokes or so I had to stop and scan the horizon to figure out where I was supposed to be heading. Given my penchant for swimming extra mileage this bothered me more than the mud water.

A few hundred meters before the exit I started bringing up handfuls of mud again. Around me people started standing up and walking. I put my feet down and discovered the bottom (very close to the surface) was heavy deep mud. Walking through it was both foul and difficult so I shortened my stroke again and freestyled on. As it got shallower, I switched to breast stroke, refusing to walk in that muck until I absolutely had to. Finally I had no choice and joined the upright slog toward shore.

I was so happy when my feet hit the boat ramp. I ran into transition with a swim time of 37:44 which was about what I’d aimed for when thinking through what I had to do to go under six hours for the race. But later I would find it was also the bottom 1/3 of women 30-34 which is so frustrating.

Doing weird stuff out of the mud-water into T1.
Doing weird stuff out of the mud-water into T1.

I felt like I had a slow transition as I tried to take in some calories and fluids and fumbled to get my bike gloves on. (Most people race without gloves and I do not know how. My hands get so sweaty and I feel like I have to fight to hold on.) In the end it was 2:58 which wasn’t as bad as I thought. There was a little traffic jam at the mount line when a cyclist fell shortly after getting on. I managed to avoid a near pile-up and soon was on my way up the first hill and out onto the bike course.

The Bike

The course is generally pretty flat with some rollers in places but nothing drastic. The worst is probably getting out and onto the course. There’s a hill right out of transition to get out of Chickahominy Park and then an immediate climb up the bridge over the river. (You get intimately acquainted with that bridge in this race.) Once I was a few miles away from transition and the bike jitters wore off I shifted into my big ring and got to work.

I felt fantastic and strong. It’s been a battle to get back to enjoying the bike the way pre-crash Liz did, and several times over this bike course I thought to myself, ‘oh my gosh I am really legitimately, loving this. This is objectively fun as hell.’ It made me a little teary to feel so happy in the saddle. I buckled down into aero and for the first twenty miles racked up a solid pace – on track for the three hour ride I was hoping to turn in. (I swear I was in aero – even though the ONE photographer on course caught me sitting up as I was about to eat a gu. I was so mad when I saw him. We need a warning to look cool when the cameras are coming!)

Looking like a total goober for the ONLY photog on the bike course. grumblegrumblegrumble
Looking like a total goober for the ONLY photog on the bike course. grumblegrumblegrumble

From miles 20 through 45 or so, there was a near-constant head wind. Which scientifically I do not understand. How can it be blowing in your face no matter which way you go?? Every time I saw a turn coming up I hoped the straight on gusts would end only to be let down. We got some relief in the wooded portions but when the course opened up into unobstructed farm country it was pretty bad. As it slowed me down through the middle miles I started doing math and getting nervous. I wanted to hit the run having logged four hours or fewer in case the sun forced me to really slow my roll in that third leg.

About halfway through I also started needing to pee. I didn’t want to stop though; I didn’t want to lose any time and most of the course was residential enough that I was nervous I’d get caught bathrooming in someone’s front yard. We want to maintain the good will of the people through whose communities we race and public indecency didn’t seem good for the longterm health of Rev3 Williamsburg. (Not that I didn’t see plenty of [exclusively] men doing their business along the road.) Instead I thought, this is the perfect chance to try peeing on my bike – just like Ellen taught me! I found some distance between myself and the other athletes, pulled to the left and stood in my pedals as she’d instructed. And then I coasted and squeezed and tried so hard, but I guess my potty-training really took because I just couldn’t get my bladder to cooperate. I made several attempts throughout the course before giving up. I wasn’t terribly uncomfortable and felt I could hold it till the run. Bathrooming while biking would be a new uncivilized skill to pick up another day. (Any advice, Ellen?)

Just gonna pause here for all non-triathletes still reading. (Hi Mom!) We are really gross. I want you to know that I know that. I also want you to know that I’m going to keep leaning into it and that I apologize to no one for that. Except Scott. I’m so sorry, Scott. 

The aid stations came every 15 miles. I rode by the first, still plenty stocked with water, gatorade, gus, and a Clif Bar. I also brought salt tabs with me on the bike which I haven’t previously done. I drained a bottle of gatorade, half a bottle of water, a quarter Clif Bar, and one gu (consumed one half at a time) over the first 30 miles. At the second aid station I pulled over and refilled my aero bottle with half gatorade and half water. I briefly considered the porta potty but there was only one and there was a line so I got back on the road. This pause took less than a minute, and until my bike handling is much better I’ll still opt to pull over to refill my aero bottle.

Back on the road in the back half of the course, the pack of athletes had thinned. Many were probably ahead of me on the run, and the tens of miles had spread us out so that it was very sparsely populated. There were even places where I was totally alone which made me a little nervous that I might miss a turn. Generally though it meant no bunching or passing – just really comfortable pleasant riding at the exact pace I wanted to go.

Around mile 38 I happened upon a bad accident. Two athletes were strapped to back boards and being loaded into ambulances. One, a young woman, appeared to have he torso wrapped in saran looking plastic and I could see she was bleeding from some really terrible road rash. I heard later that at least one was hit by a car but that they were both going to be ok. In the moment I slowed way down and sent a little plea for their health into the universe. It really scared me to see these athletes laid out like that, and it was hard not to flash back to my own accident – ambulance, road rash, and all.

After a few moments of reflection and mindful deep breathing I tried to buckle back down into the last third of the bike. I remembered with relief that Josh’s race plan had promised the course would get flatter and faster, and that the energy I’d conserved through the first 40 miles would pay off here. With his words in mind and with the energy that always comes at the end of the bike portion I shifted down and kicked up the speed a little bit.

Based on the previous miles of calculations I was aiming for something under 3:10. As I picked up the pace I began shaving time off this estimate. With five miles to go I knew I’d made up enough time to come in closer to 3:05 and I was pumped – a big 70.3 bike PR. With three miles to go the bike course began rolling parallel to the run course and I saw Josh and Chris. Their encouragement gave me another burst of energy. My last push was my fastest and strongest and before long I was heading back up the bridge and back down the hill into transition.

My final bike by Rev3’s clock was 3:04:09, though my garmin had me at 3:03:43. Either way a PR and I’d maintained a pace over 18mph for the 56 miles. (Actually the course was slightly short – 55.6 miles.) As I ran into transition I felt the relief I always feel when all I have left is my best discipline. I felt extra weight lift off knowing I’d bought myself a really good cushion to ensure a sub-six day. After a 1:59 transition I scurried to the porta potties – no line! – before heading out on the run. Once I was really on my way for this last leg I was at 3:43 overall. I just had to run a 2:16 half marathon and barring disaster I knew my sub-six goal was in the bag.

The Run

The way I left off there you may be expecting me to say that it all went to hell but nope! That wasn’t some cryptic cliffhanger. It was a typically sweltering July day though and I was determined not to fall apart on a hot run. I’d been pointedly training in the heat and was nervous as I’d bonked on several mid-day runs. I knew I had to keep the effort and heartrate under control, especially the first half if I was going to make it through the July-in-Virginia conditions.

Like the bike, the run starts up a hill onto the main course and then continues uphill over the bridge. For the half distance the course is two six-and-change mile out-and-backs, meaning you get to run up (and down) the bridge four times. This first said climb over the river I took it extremely conservatively. There’s zero shade and it’s a legit incline – I would have been really upset with myself if I got too aggressive and threw it all away right off the bat.

I crested the bridge and felt like I was in control. I looked to the right which Scott had instructed, and there he and the dogs were, waving from a dock on the river below. I smiled at my awesome family and at the earned descent down the back of the bridge.

I made a plan that I would keep my heartrate under 170 (threshold was around 172 for me at that point in training) for the first out-and-back, and then I would reassess. I was a little nervous that meant I’d be running 9+ minute miles – despite the good cushion of time to go sub-6 I still wanted a sub-2 hour half marathon and 9:30s weren’t going to get me there. I was pleasantly surprised though to find that I was actually in the 8:40s and 50s depending on the course. There are some shaded sections as well as some long totally sun-exposed bits which of course spike the heartrate.

A few times on this first lap I hit 170, but I succeeded for the most part in holding myself around 168 – a very comfortable level of exertion. The out-and-back is fun because I got to see Chris and Josh several times, as well as other DC Tri friends. It’s a little congested as the run is on a pretty narrow bike path, so passing has to be done considerately of the other athletes. This also makes for one of the most collegial experiences in what’s already an incredibly friendly sport. So many people cheering each other on, high fives all around – it’s great.

The out-and-back is also conducive to TONS of aid stations. In the heat this was so clutch. Ellen taught me to bring a ziploc and fill it with ice whenever ice was available. I did this and kept it in my sports bra. I think this tri-hack makes a hug difference in tricking your core body temp to stay low. When the ice melted down I would dump the frigid water over my head and refill the bag at the next station. I also grabbed the wet sponges volunteers were handing out and tucked them into my kit at the base of my neck whenever I could, and slipped ice cubes under my hat for constant dome-cooling.

Believe it or not - I was actually as comfortable as I could have hoped in a mid-day 90 degree run!
Believe it or not – I was actually as comfortable as I could have hoped in a mid-day 90 degree run!

The first lap passed by as comfortably as could be expected in 90 degrees and soon I was back at the bridge. This would be the cruelest bit because, again, nothing but sun, and now I’d have to run up it, down it, and right back up it to start lap two. I slowed  and brought my heartrate down as I approached, and then took it easy over the top. Once at the turnaround I tried to take it easy back up, but also recognized that it was time to reassess my self-imposed heartrate rules. I decided I would let it creep to 172 for the next three-ish miles out to the last turn around.

If I’d been thinking more about the other 30-34 women I probably would have kicked it up a notch. But I wasn’t competing with anyone but myself. Looking back I’m a little torn: was I too conservative? I’m sure I could have run a faster 13 miles but it was definitely a fine line in the heat, between pushing too hard and taking it too easy. Ultimately I’m happy I opted for the latter. As it got hotter and my body became more fatigued, I still felt like I was at a strong but sustainable effort for the third 5k.

I kept refilling my ziploc with ice and grabbing fresh sponges at every aid station where they were available. As I approached the last turn-around at mile 9.5 I started building a little more momentum. I felt like even if I pushed too hard and the wheels started to come off it was just a 5k left and I didn’t want to finish feeling like I could have done more.

The sun was directly overhead and the shady stretches were shrinking so as I picked up the pace most of the people around me were slowing down. I felt really proud and like I’d grown as an athlete to have gas left to burn. Josh can attest to many a training run where I’ve taken his reasonable-but-tough assignments and raised him an unsustainable breakneck idiot speed/RPE only to flame out with thirty minutes left to go. Like sometimes he’ll assign marathon pace intervals, which I’ll run like a 10K, or he’ll assign 5K pace, which I’ll interpret as go as fast as you possibly can for the first push so that you have absolutely nothing left for the remaining intervals. Tangent there but the point is I felt like I had matured as an athlete, a Sherpette, a competitor.

As I picked up speed and gave my heart rate permission to creep higher I ran by many people and true to triathlon form they all cheered me on, even as I passed them. Having been on the other side of it, it’s surprisingly heartening when you’re stuck in the pain cave to see someone else climbing out. Running down the last few miles I started to feel a little terrible for the first time all day and reveled in it. Crossing the finish line you want to have felt like hell at least once otherwise where’s the accomplishment and the challenge?! (That’s actually kind of sick, isn’t it? And I’m not even sure this is the correct way to approach racing; Ellen? Josh??)

I kept my foot on the gas up the final bridge ascent and then floored it down the other side. Once off the bridge the last chunk of the run winds through the grass around transition, alongside the parking lot, and down the chute. It’s a hard way to end a race, though less discouraging than last year’s extended course which wound all the way around the parking lot and camp ground in direct, killer sunlight. This was a bit less than a half mile of sunny, grassy hell so long enough to hate it but not long enough to complain too hard.

I saw Scott with Birkin and Daynee shortly before the final chute and waved them along with me. Rev3 lets you run in with your family which is amazing. I had told Scott that if I was cutting my sub-six goal close I would just run ahead, but here I was about to come it under 5:45! As I waved him into the final stretch with me, Birkin and Daynee were so excited – there is nothing better than how happy dogs are to see their people and my two weirdos are no exception! Scott handed me Daynee’s leash and she took off toward the finish line – she may have  actually shaved a few seconds off my time! (Is that fair?)

Quintessential Daynee crazy whitewalker eye pic!
Quintessential Daynee crazy whitewalker eye pic!

As I sprinted the chute I felt like I might puke – which was great! Made me really feel like I’d nailed the line between holding back enough to not fall apart while still giving it all I had. I do think I could have run a faster, more aggressive 13.1 successfully – at 1:56:50 it was one of the slowest half marathons of my career – but I’m so proud of this race effort and the decisions I made. I’d hoped for a sub-six hour half iron and I finished at 5:43:40. Can’t argue with that result!

The finish line crew gave Birkin and Daynee their own medals from the children’s race and draped the giant icy wet towel over my shoulders that Rev3 always provides. As good as that wet towel felt, the rest of me was unhappy to be sopping wet after all the ice water I’d dumped over my head. Scott and Daynee had to run to the overflow parking lot to find me some dry clothes – race prep fail on my part not leaving them out for him. Birk and I stayed back and watched for Chris to finish.

Wonder if Scott is mad that everyone but him got a medal? (He deserves one for his sherpa-ing!)
Wonder if Scott is mad that everyone but him got a medal? (He deserves one for his sherpa-ing!)
Up close and pretty race bling.
Up close and pretty race bling.

Once Chris, Josh (who is a sub-fiver so was long done) and I were all over the line, Coach treated Chris and I to some truly decadent snow cones. I shared mine with the pups, putting a literally cherry-flavored treat on their great day. After hanging a bit – had to get in some Normatec recovery! – my ponies, hubby and I loaded up the car and headed back to DC. I’ve never seen the dogs so pooped which was the figurative cherry on top of my PR. Fourth Rev3 event I’ve participated in and this organization continues to deliver and impress. I HIGHLY recommend all fellow multi-sporters to check out their schedule – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

One of many Rev3 perks: this free finish line pic!
One of many Rev3 perks: this free finish line pic!