I’m back! The last two weeks have been quite busy for me- I jumped on a plane to Chicago on the afternoon of the Gator half, spent two days there for work, popped back to Tampa for 24 hours and then headed back out for a 5 day vacation!
Now that I’m relaxed and refreshed, I can get back to you with that race report. So, here goes:
Saturday (day before the race)
Saturday afternoon, Heather and I headed down to Bradenton to pick up our packets and scope out the course. This was a VERY small race, with about 250 or so people registered between the multiple races that were occurring on Sunday: the half, the international distance, the aquabike (which, by the way Ronde Barber, former NFL player competed in), and the duathlon.
We opted to skip out on a practice swim- swimming solo in a lake with gators and no guards just didn’t seem appealing, but went for a 35 minute ride followed by a 10 minute run. We rode the run course, and I took note of several things: 1) it was windy, and we were most likely going to experience this tomorrow. 2) the run was totally exposed- no shade and 3) the mile markers were confusing, particularly why was mile 12 about a kilometer from where the finish line was?
We drove back to Tampa and dropped our bikes at Chris’s house- he had offered to load our bikes up in his truck and drive us down on Sunday morning so we didn’t have to worry about driving. He also texted us later that night to tell us he wiped down the bikes for us so we looked rockin while crossing that finish line. How nice is that?
I spent the rest of my evening packing up my transition bag, prepping my nutrition (Allen’s rice cakes), painting my nails, and relaxing with a bottle of Osmo Preload. Wild night, I know!
Sunday – Race day!
I woke up with my first alarm, having had a surprisingly solid night’s sleep. I geared up and headed to Heather’s house, where Chris was picking us up.
Chris, Heather and I arrived at the Lake Manatee State park around 6:30am on Sunday morning. We didn’t have rack assignments, so Heather and I found a spot next to each other close to the swim in/bike in. We prepared our transition areas, picked up our timing chips, got body marked (where, by the way, when I told the kid my race number was 45, he asked “That’s your race number right?” which I took to imply that he thought I was telling him my age rather than my number. Do I really look like I’m 45 without makeup, in my tri gear?!?!), and then took an obligatory photo by the “Beware of Gators” sign.
As we got to the water’s edge, there was a pontoon boat still setting the buoys. The swim for the half would be a two loop, triangle course- start in the water, swim to the first yellow buoy, make a right, swim parallel to the beach to the second yellow buoy, turn right and in towards the beach, around the red buoy (which wasn’t set yet) and then do it again. I must note that the swim definitely looked short (side note: a few days after the race the RD sent an email saying that they forgot to put in one of the buoys- whoops- confirming the shorter distance) and though the RD was quite clear about safety first, the whole atmosphere was pretty chill. Someone asked “Where do we start- in the water or on the beach?” The response was “where do you want to start?” The joys of small races! A minute or two after that question was asked, the bull horn sounded and the half athletes were off.
The water was a beautiful 75 (a little warm for me in a wetsuit, but I’ll take that extra buoyancy!) but quite murky. I’m actually thankful for that, because I didn’t really want to see what was under there. I got out with the lead swimmers and was one of the first few swimmers to turn the first buoy. I fell into a groove and was feeling strong and smooth. I was barely kicking my legs, saving them for the run. As I got further into the swim, I started overtaking the few swimmers who had been swimming with me. However, at the second buoy, a saw what appeared to be another female swimmer gaining on me. We were stroke for stroke at this turn, and maintained that pretty much for the remainder of the race. I decided to try to draft off her to save even more energy, but to be honest, I really didn’t like the course she was taking, so I ended up swimming right next to her instead. We headed for shore, and I thought we had to go in close to that third buoy, rather than heading straight to the beach. I started to swim that way, but noticed that the other swimmer was heading more towards the shore, so I stuck with her. She was about a body length ahead at this point, so when my hand touched ground, I popped up and put my surf dash skills to work. I was NOT about to get beat out of the water, so thanks to many years of beach lifeguarding, I flew past her out of the water.
Time: 19:20 (uh yeah, definitely NOT 1.2 miles)
I ran the LONG way up to the beach, and about 5 yards from the entrance into transition, the woman who I’d been battling it out with in the water passed me. She congratulated me on a fast swim, and headed in just before me. I grabbed my helmet, nutrition, and sunglasses, and debated for half a second whether I should bring the extra tube. I opted to throw it in my back pocket, and man, was I glad I did (<-foreshadowing!) 1:53 later, I was out of there (before the other woman to boot!)
I spent the first few minutes on the bike trying desperately to get my left foot into my shoe. It was so smashed down from the short time my foot was on top that it was nearly impossible for me to get my foot in there. I lost a lot of momentum, and before I was even out of the park the other woman passed me. Whomp whomp. Going in to this race I had secretly thought I could get an overall podium spot, perhaps even an overall win, but the way that woman flew by me on the bike, I knew she was a much stronger rider than me, so unless she bonked on the run, first was probably out of the picture. I spent the next few minutes struggling to get my watch to start. I had attached it to my stem, and for some reason, I just could not get the correct display to appear. Get it together Steph! Eventually, I was able to handily switch it to my wrist and get it started, at what I’m figuring was about 2km into the ride. There were a few small rollers (SMALL) right after we made our left turn, and then it was flat, flat flat, for the remainder of the 28 miles out.
Unfortunately, there was an annoying headwind (about 8-10mph) the entire way out. I tried to focus on my own race and not burning my legs out. One or two guys passed me, but for the most part, it was a quiet ride with no other riders close by. At about 13 miles in, I head a tick, tick, tick, sound, like something was hitting the ground or my brakes with every revolution of my wheel. I slowed a little and stared closely at my tire. I noticed something on it, so I decided it was probably best to stop and check it out. As I spun my wheel I realized that something was IN my tire, not ON it. A small, thin wire was sticking into the tire. Crap. I pulled it out and PPPSSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHH. The air rushed out of the tube. OH NO! I quickly covered the hole with my thumb, frantically thinking about what to do. I had rented race wheels (Zipps) and had NO CLUE how to change them, despite Chris giving me a quick verbal lesson on the car ride down. I removed my thumb and let the air continue to leak out. I felt defeated. I wanted to cry. All this hard work in the early season to go out and DNF. A guy went by, slowing down to see if I was okay. I quickly asked if he had a cell phone (since the RD told us we could bring them on the course in case of instances just like this), but he said no and rode off. CRAP. CRAP. CRAP. I took off my front wheel and tried to pull back the tire, but I was freaked out by the Zipp rims and DEFINITELY didn’t want to damage them, so I gave up. A few more guys rode by, shaking their heads when I asked if they had cell phones. Then I saw the first female go by me since I was stopped. Now I really wanted to cry. She apologized for not being able to help and rode on. Shortly after, another female rode by, giving me a sympathetic look. I wanted to give up. My chance at a top 3 OA placement was gone. I stood there, helpless, as another male triathlete approached. He slowed to ask if I was okay, and then stopped. HE STOPPED!!! TO HELP ME! I wanted to do a happy dance right then and there, but instead I handed him the tire lever and he quickly changed my tube in just a few minutes. I don’t know who he was, but he was absolutely the most selfless athlete to stop and help me out. I thanked him profusely as he rode off, reattached my wheel, and then I was off too.
I felt like I rode the remainder of that first half pretty cautiously. I think the combination of the wind and the mental blow of the flat made me ride a little slower than I probably would have otherwise, but I think in the end, it worked out okay. The ride was BORING as all get out, and I was so thankful when I saw the railroad tracks and the cop signaling the halfway point. When I made the turn at the 28 mile marker, I immediately felt the wind at my back. What a mental boost that tailwind was! I was constantly reminding myself to hold back and not burn out my legs, but at the same time I kept wondering where the other females were and if I could catch them. Along the way, I spotted someone who I thought was the third female. It took me most of the 28 miles back to catch the white jersey, and as it turned out, it wasn’t a female. Whoops. I turned in to the park hopeful I hadn’t burned out my legs, and ready to see what I could do on the run.
Time: 2:59.15 (my guess is that I lost about 10 minutes with the flat, but I don’t know for sure. It felt like forever!)
T2: I ran into T2 to the cheers of Chris, Courtney, Heather, Jess, and Felipe. My teammates had arrived! This put a huge smile on my face- I was so happy they came down for the race! As I got to my spot on the rack I started to put on my socks and shoes, until I realized that one of my socks was missing! I am 100% sure I had both of my socks when I set up transition, because I put one in each shoe. “WHAT!?” I exclaimed, “Where’s my sock?? My sock is missing!” Courtney and Heather heard me and immediately sprung into action to help. Courtney got to me first, pulling off her own socks and shoes and throwing me one of her socks. Thank goodness for that. My feet would have been a hideous mess with only one sock! I threw them on, grabbed my race belt and hat and headed out. In the rush, I took off my sunglasses and forgot to put them back on. Whoops! Glad I had a hat!
Time: 58.4 (yeah under a minute!!)
Run: I started the run feeling pretty good, reminding myself NOT to take it out too fast. The first km ticked off at 5:12, and though it felt a LOT harder than a 5:12, that was right about where I needed to be. I picked it up a tiny bit to try to hit 5:10 and stay there. Right after the first aid station the heat hit me. OOOF. Running on the black asphalt with no shade, I could feel the heat radiating from the ground. This was not going to be pretty.
I’m not sure at what point I began walking through the aid stations, dumping water and ice on me, trying desperately to cool down, but I’m pretty sure it was before mile 3 on the first loop. So much for having a stellar run. At about mile 2.5 or so I saw the second place followed shortly behind by the third place female and figured they were both about a mile or so ahead of me. (The first place female was WAY ahead, and I think I saw her when I was a mile 1 and she was at mile 5 perhaps?) That wasn’t too bad- I figured there MIGHT still be a chance I could squeak into the top three. But, I was NOT feeling fresh and light on my feet. I somehow made it through the first lap, constantly reminding myself of working through the heat in hot yoga. I saw the gang cheering me on, which gave me a slight boost, but I was so flipping hot. All I wanted was a cold shower. Felipe ran with me for a bit and asked how I was doing. I told him I thought I took it out too hard on the bike, but in retrospect, my legs really didn’t feel that terrible. It was just the gosh darn heat getting to me. I told him I wanted a Coke (which I thought was going to be on the course since I had emailed the RD and asked specifically about that and was told that there would be Coke at every aid station. There wasn’t.) he disappeared for a few seconds and then reappeared on his bike with a Coke. I sipped some Coke then ran a little, sipped some more, then ran, until I left the park and parted ways with Felipe. I was so thankful for his encouragement and the Coke! At this point, I dug deep and told myself that I was going to finish this second lap strong. So, I dropped the remainder of my Coke at the first water station (telling the nice JROTC boys that I’d be back for it!), dumped ice down my top and in my hat, and then kept moving. I did this pretty much at every aid station, and threw in only a few walk breaks when I was not at an aid station. Finally, I was headed back into the park. I was so flipping excited that I didn’t care that my watch was freaking out because of all the coke/water/sweat/etc that had been spilled on it and I couldn’t see my splits anymore. I was also thanking my lucky stars that this run wasn’t truly going to be 13.1 miles. Just give me an ice bath gosh darn it! As I approached the finish, Felipe yelled that there was someone RIGHT behind me and I needed to hurry hurry hurry! He was so anxious that I actually believed him-especially because I had noticed a female gaining on me at the last turnaround. Had she really caught up? I kicked it in to high gear and crossed the finish line, breathless. I couldn’t even turn around to see if someone actually was behind me (there wasn’t). I was just happy to be DONE! I was even more thankful to have completed the race with the support of my friends! They also shared with me the good news that Heather was the overall female winner of the International Distance race! YEAH TEAM XP!
Final time: 5:15:33.5, 1st in AG, 4th OA female (9th overall, overall).
Final thoughts: I mentioned this before, but this race truly was a team effort. I could not have had the day I did without the help from my friends and fellow triathletes. I definitely learned to never give up, even if you’re not quite having the race you expected. Anything can happen on race day. Oh, and learn how to change a flat with race wheels!