2016 Wisconsin Milkman Triathlon

27 06 2016

I’ve been making multiple trips to Wisconsin over the past 6 months, more so than I usually do. One of the reasons for all the trips is that I’ve been taking classes at the UW School of Business Center for Processional and Executive Development in addition to my monthly business trip. Man, it’s been exhausting! I didn’t realize how much stress/exhaustion/work it would take to make it through, but I can happily say I came out on the other side with a few extra letters behind my name to boot!

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This last trip was the longest amount of time I’ve ever spent in Madison. I arrived on a Wednesday for a Thursday-Friday class, spent the weekend, and then took my capstone class on Monday-Wednesday before flying home.

A few months ago, when I was looking into flights for this trip, I knew I’d have to decide to stay the weekend or make two trips because of when the classes were scheduled (depending on costs). For fun, I did a quick Google search to see if there was a running race or a triathlon in Madison that weekend, because why not? As it turned out, there was a new event in town- the Wisconsin Milkman Triathlon  which was scheduled to occur on June 19th! I reached out to my SOAS teammate Kathy to see if she knew anything about the race, and as it turned out, she was already registered! So, when it became clear that it was a bit cheaper to spend the weekend in Wisconsin rather than fly home, I decided to go ahead and register for my first triathlon in Wisconsin!

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PreRace: Logistics/Getting there:

I decided to ship my bike via Bikeflights.com because I actually had a work meeting in Tallahassee the first day of the trip, and didn’t want to have to pay to check my bike twice. This was the first time I’ve ever shipped my bike (I had only ever used TriBikeTransport previously) so I used the bike shops they recommended (Cycle Sports Concepts in Tampa and Endurance House in Madison).

In all honesty, I’m not sure I’ll use BikeFlights again, or if I do, I’ll do something differently. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. When my bike arrived in Madison, the rear pulley was broken! Thankfully the guys at Endurance House were able to fix it, but they said they’d never seen anything like it before and the box the bike arrived in wasn’t damaged!IMG_4759
  2. In theory, BikeFlights should be cheaper than checking a bike on a plane or just straight up shipping it. Since I’m clueless about disassembling and assembling my bike, I had the shops do it for me, which means I paid for that service in addition to the shipping costs. Disassembly and packing x2 and Reassembly x2 adds up. UGH!
  3. When my bike arrived back in Tampa, the bike shop noticed something else was amiss- the sheath for the bolt in my seat post was loose. The guys at CSC are still trying to figure out what to do about it, so my bike isn’t home yet :(.

I have no idea how/when any of these issues happened, so I really don’t know who’s  at fault. I really don’t want to shell out any money for this, so I’m hoping it will all be fixed and I’ll get my bike back really soon.

The other interesting thing that happened before the race even started was that I forgot my bike shoes. Yes, I know. It’s an OBVIOUS piece of gear, how did I forget it? Honestly, I don’t know. I remembered my recovery protein powder but forgot my shoes. Sheesh!

What makes this mistake even worse is that my Gramin pedals/powermeter require a special type of cleat. So no bike shoes = no Garmin cleat.

The guys at Endurance House were great and they helped me find a new pair of bike shoes. Unfortunately they were out of the Garmin cleat, and so were a few other shops they called. Thankfully, one of them learned that a Look Keo cleat would work just as well, but EH was all out of that too! By some miracle, another bike shop down the road had these cleats so Kathy and I drove there to pick them up and have them installed.

Phew- finally, I had my ducks in a row!

PreRace: Saturday

Saturday morning was race check in! Kathy and I met up at Olin Park for a swim in Lake Monona with a whole bunch of other athletes. It was an absolutely beautiful morning and the Lake was much warmer than usual- a perfect 72 degrees.

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After our swim, we grabbed our bikes for a 40 minute ride. Kathy took me on the first part of the course which was super helpful for me. I was clueless as to what to expect so this little preview was much appreciated. Kathy warned me about Wisconsin roads after a long winter, and sure enough I got a taste of some bumpy/rough roads. I also got to experience a few hills. It was definitely going to be an interesting bike.

We got back from our ride, dropped our bikes in the car and then ran the short kilometer to the check in/expo. Check in was a breeze- they were super organized and it wasn’t crowded at all. Then, we walked outside to the expo, where Kathy and I both questioned “Is this it?” The only thing that was worth our while was the Normatec tent, where we sat in the boots and relaxed for a bit. Gosh I love those things!

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Kathy and I parted ways for a few hours, but came back a little before three to check our bikes and attend the pre-race meeting. I recognized the man leading the meeting from when I spectated at IMWI last season. He had been bringing in the finishers when Mike Reilly needed a break. The team putting on this race was experienced! The meeting was a nice refresher of the information in the Athlete Guide, and we were assured that the streets were being swept and marked before the sun would rise. Oh, and he also confirmed that the last quarter mile of the run into the finish chute included the lovely hill right behind us. CRUEL!

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After an early dinner (pizza), I crawled into bed and watched some TV before lights out around 9:30. Kathy was picking me up at 5:15 and I wanted to get as much sleep as possible!

Race Day!

It was an absolutely beautiful morning for a race!

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I got up and was surprisingly not nervous for the day that lie ahead. My mindset was that this was a long training day. I had zero expectations. No time goal, no place goal (It helped that awards would be for women 30-39. Hello competitive age group!) – just get out and have fun and get in some miles.

Since our bikes were already racked, we had plenty of time to get through the usual morning routines of a triathlete. It was pretty warm (for Wisconsin) and I was actually kinda bummed- I was looking forward to a 70.3 in cooler temperatures, since all of my previous races have been in Florida and it’s crazy heat and humidity. Well, at least it wasn’t as humid as I’m used to.

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We made our way to the start where we waited for what seemed like forever before our heats. I didn’t start until 7:42- it was definitely going to be hot by the time I was running!

Since I’d never raced in WI before and I hadn’t done any tri-stalking of the local athletes, I really had no idea how this race would pan out. I’m generally a strong swimmer so I took my chances and lined up at the front of the pack. The gun went off, I did a few dolphin dives and started swimming. There was one girl who got out a little in front of me and was swimming at a nice strong pace.  I opted to stick to her heels for a little and save some energy. By the time we hit the 2nd buoy, we were starting to catch the wave in front of us. I was also gaining on her. I eventually overtook her, and I had no idea if she stayed on my feet the rest of the swim or not!

The first leg of the swim was directly towards the sun, and sighting was a bit difficult. But I hugged the buoys the best I could and just kept swimming. It got a little congested, and I swam over a few people. There was one point where someone in front of me suddenly stopped and I came to a grinding halt so that I didn’t totally crash into him/her. I was a little annoyed but quickly got back on track and kept swimming. I really had no clue how I was doing. I felt good, I was passing a lot of people, and I didn’t seem to be getting passed. I was hopeful today was going to be a good day!

Swim: 30:08

(I think I was 7th fastest female swim, including the elites)

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I got out of the water, pulled my wetsuit halfway, laid down and then the wetsuit strippers took it the rest of the way off. Gosh, wetsuit strippers rock. Thank you!!

I got up and then ran towards transition, which I believe was about a quarter mile away. I kept telling myself, This is not a sprint, you don’t need to kill this part of the race!

I grabbed my helmet, sunglasses, put on my bike shoes and sprayed myself with some sun screen (yes, I did take the time to do this!) before heading out.

T1: 3:41

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Oh the bike. This was the leg I was most apprehensive about. How “bad” were the roads actually going to be? Will I need to walk up any of the hills? Again I reminded myself I was there to have fun and get in a good workout, and that’s exactly what I did.

The bike course was really pretty- lots of farmland and some cute towns. And yes, it was hilly. I hadn’t swapped my cassette out to be my climbing one and there were a few times I regretted that. But, all in all, with the exception of Observatory Hill and then one more on the way home, I really didn’t find the course all that outrageous. The hills were rollers- and what goes up, must come down!

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I played leap frog with a few people on the course, but I also felt like I was constantly passing people and being passed. I guess that’s what happens when you’re in a later wave but you’re a speedy swimmer:-)

Garmin tells me I gained 2451 feet in elevation, averaged 18.3 mph and my max speed was 44mph.

Overall, I was quite pleased with my bike split!

Bike: 3:03.37

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Despite the fun on the bike, I was happy to get off. One of my new bike shoes was starting to rub on the top of my foot and I could tell I was getting a blister. I was really hoping it wouldn’t interfere with my run!

I got into transition, put on my shoes (no elastic laces, so I need to actually tie them), grabbed some nutrition and my hat, sprayed on sunscreen (again), and ran out while clipping on my race belt. I can’t believe I’m 2/3 of the way done!

T2: 2:40

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The run started off pretty good for me. It wasn’t super humid, and my legs felt surprisingly good. But, I knew there were a few hills in the early parts of the run so I didn’t want to go out too hard. I tried to focus on good form and not letting my heart rate get too outta control.

The night before I had read a handout from Marni about 70.3 race strategy and it said to think of the run in 3 intervals: warm up, pre-set, and main set – just like how regular workouts are structured. So I tried to keep that in mind as we ran through the neighborhoods of Monona.

There were already a lot of people walking, and it took a lot for me to stay mentally strong and not join them right away. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and told myself to run happy. This race was for fun after all!

Aid stations were every mile and a half. It was my plan to walk through every one and grab water and ice- I wanted to make sure I didn’t get overheated out there!

The first three miles seemed to drag on- maybe I just wanted to get through the warm up? I kept reminding myself that the half (and full for that matter) is about who can slow down the least. I was definitely slowing down some, but I was still having a solid run.

I allowed myself to walk when I needed it (and to be perfectly honest, I think there were a few times where I mentally gave in and walked just like every one else around me) and I was trying to stay up on my calorie intake, but my stomach was starting to feel sloshy. I had Osmo in my race belt, which I was good at drinking regularly, but the Shot blocks were not appealing to me at all. At one of the aid stations near the midpoint of the race, I started drinking coke and had a few small pretzels. Unfortunately Coke was only at every other aid station, so I didn’t get my fill of Coke as often as I wanted it, but I was still able to get enough to get me through.

Eventually, we were at the part of the course I recognized. The run course was a loop around Lake Monona, and on multiple occasions, I’ve run part of the way around the lake, but never done the whole thing. The end of the run was part of the loop where I had done a bunch of training runs in my time in Madison. I got a mental boost from the familiarity of my surroundings, and I knew I was almost home! I looked down at my watch and realized that I might be able to slip in right around 2:00 as well- bonus!

Eventually, I was at the dreaded uphill before the finish chute. I put my head down and chugged my way up and into the chute. I had done it!

Run: 2:04:48

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Overall time: 5:44.53

overall place: 200 out of 835
division place: 13 out of 99
gender place: 33 out of 290

Final thoughts:

Though this was my slowest HIM, I still think it was a solid day.

When I first saw my rankings I was a little annoyed. I grumbled to myself:

I would have done much better in ranking if I had only been in my real AG (30-34). 

Gosh, the elites were calculated into my AG too, how unfair!

But then I took a step back and realized that 13th place in an AG that included the 34-39 year olds AND the elites is nothin to shake a stick at! And, I was in the top 25% of the ENTIRE RACE- men and women! That’s nothing to be ashamed of!

This race was a great reminder that triathlon is fun- it’s not always about placing and podiums and fast times. It’s an amazing thing that I have a strong, healthy body that allows me to push it for 70.3 miles! I should appreciate that more often!

It’s all about where your mind is- if you’ve got a positive attitude, you’re already halfway to a great race.

Oh, and the race team put on a great event! The course was clearly marked, post race food was pretty good, and hello free photos! If I was local, I’d definitely do this one again!

 

 





St. Anthony’s Triathlon- Race Report

29 04 2016

Tap, tap, tap…Is this thing on?

Oh, hey, it’s Steph. Remember me? Sorry for the radio silence folks. Life/work just got busy, and when you sit all day staring at a computer, it’s difficult to want to spend even more time in front of the screen to write up a post. But alas, things seem to be a bit less hectic now and I miss blogging. So, I’m going to try to pop into this space a bit more frequently, especially now that it is race season!

I’ll start with what is most fresh in my mind- St. Anthony’s!- but I hope to write another post soon about some exciting swim/bike/run related things that I’ve done over the past few months. Stay tuned…

And with that, I’ll rewind to Sunday morning, bright and really, really early.

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My alarm went off about half past four and I slowly got out of bed. I didn’t get the best night’s sleep- it took me some time to fall asleep because I was a little stressed: I had forgotten to pick up my timing chip! As I was going through all my gear before bed, I read the instructions in the envelope with my numbers and it talked about the timing chip. I texted Beth to ask if she had gotten one, and she told me that we were supposed to have picked them up at the timing chip table. Whoops, I hadn’t seen that table. She assured me not to worry, they’d have them at the swim start in the morning. Phew.

Despite knowing I’d be able to get the chip in the morning, I didn’t like not having everything in order the night before. Lesson learned!

My friend Chris and I were carpooling over, so we met up just after 5 to head over to St. Pete. I wasn’t sure how the parking situation would be, but we were early enough that it wasn’t really a problem.  I had plenty of time to set up my gear in transition and get over to the starting area to pick up my chip. There was really no need to stress- picking up my chip was a breeze. (Interesting to note: the chips weren’t really chips- it was a foam ankle bracelet that had adhesive on it- no need for a velcro strap and no need to turn it in at the end!)

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Transition closed at 6:45, the pros went off at 6:50, and then my wave didn’t start until 8:06.  My goodness was this a lot of waiting around! As the sun rose higher in the sky, the temperature kept rising. I was getting a little nervous about how hot the run would be, but tried not to let it get to me- the weather is outside of my control, so there’s no need to stress about it; just do the best I can with the conditions I’ve got. And let’s be honest- today’s conditions were darn near perfect. It was wetsuit legal and the water was as flat as a pancake. There was minimal wind, and the sun was shining. It was a great day for a race- in fact, numerous people said these were the best conditions they’d ever had for this race!

Finally, it was go time!

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Swim: 1.5km, 23:35

The cannon fired and off we went! Off to my far right I saw one girl shoot out in front of the pack. She was moving! (Turns out she went a 21:53!) There was another girl immediately to my right who was in the perfect spot for me to catch a little bit of a draft, so I did until just after the first buoy, when I overtook her.

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The course is an “L” shape- you swim parallel to the shoreline then make a 90 degree left hand turn, then a 90 degree right hand turn, and then one last 90 degree turn before swimming in to the ladder where you’ll get out. As I reached the second buoy, I started to catch the wave in front of me. And then I caught more swimmers- by the time I reached the first turn buoy, I was swimming through a rainbow of swim caps from all the different waves in front of me. Surprisingly, I didn’t actually feel like I was getting caught up in congestion; I was just swimming through a sea of minnows. Thanks to the wetsuit and salt water, I think I kicked maybe 10 times the entire 1.5K;  I just kept pulling my way past more and more swimmers. As I neared the exit, I started mentally preparing myself for the bike.

T1: 1:19

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I was racked on the outside lane almost at the very end of the rack, which was a primo location for a transition area as large as St. A’s. I arrived at my bike, and seconds later a girl on my rack (and therefore in my AG) also arrived. HURRY! I thought, and I threw on my sunglasses and helmet and was out in front of her.

Bike: 40km, 1:10.09 (21.2 mph)

(Side note: Isn’t it funny that the race distance is in km but my speed is reported in mph?)

When you leave transition at St. A’s you ride for about a block on a brick road (off to see the Wizard?). It makes for some teeth chattering good times to start the ride:-) Anyhow, I got past the cobbles and to the straightaway that runs along the water, which is where I planned to coast and get into my shoes (my shoes are on the bike when I leave transition, and after I hit a nice flat shortly after starting, that’s when I velcro in). For some reason, I had a terrible time getting into my shoes- I lost all my momentum and at one point, one shoe was dragging on the pavement as I struggled. It was awful! I almost opted to stop entirely to get into the shoes, but eventually I got in. I got back up to speed and found myself passing people from waves ahead. A few miles in, the girl from transition passed me. We’ve got a race! I thought to myself. I kept her in sight, maybe 25 yards or so ahead of me, and after one of the turnarounds, on a slight downhill, I made up ground and passed her. It didn’t take too long for her to pass me again, but I kept her in my sight, for probably the first 15 miles or so. I wavered back and forth between wanting to give it my all to try and stick with her/catch her, or holding back some for a smart ride, since I knew I had a hot 10K ahead of me. I opted to try to be smart about my race, and let her go.

The bike is a fun ride, with some straight sections where you can get up and go, but there are lots of other sections with turns and speed bumps (yes, speed bumps). I was really glad I had done the bike last year as part of a relay, so I had a much better sense of what to expect and where I was on the course.

Soon, I was back on those cobbles and headed into transition. It was time to get my run on!

T2: 1:36

I knew I wasn’t too far behind the girl from the bike, so I wanted to be quick. Because it was going to be so hot, I planned to wear my fuel belt, which unfortunately doesn’t have a place for my race number, which meant I had to put on a second belt with my number.  I also had my visor and watch for the run. I somehow managed to put on the fuel belt, grab the rest of what I needed, and started to run out of transition. I wish I could say that I easily clipped on my number, velcroed on my watch and popped on my visor, but that would be far from the truth. I dropped my watch just before exiting transition and for some reason was fiddling with my sunglasses, which got caught in my hair – to the extent I need to stop for a second and get myself together. Sheesh. Finally, I got onto the run course.

Run: 10K, 49:26

In the back of my head I had been thinking, Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if I could break 50:00 on this run? My best 10k (off the bike) is actually 47:39 <- I didn’t actually realize that until I was writing this post; prior to now I thought I had never broken 50:00- whoops! So, I was gunning for what I thought (at the time) was a 10K PR (whoops).

Right after we left transition, a girl I presumed was in my age group passed me (they didn’t actually make us write our age on our calves, so it was hard to tell who was in what age group!). I tried to stay with her, but she was running really strong, and I knew I just needed to focus on my race.

The run was flat with the exception of a tiny bridge that you go over twice. It winds through the neighborhood, where the locals come out and cheer, spray you with their hoses, and offer fruit, water, and beer. It’s a fun atmosphere, and makes the miles go by pretty quickly. There’s a bit of shade once you’re in the neighborhood, but for the most part you’re totally exposed and it was hot! At each aid station, I tried to grab ice or ice water to pour down my top and in my shorts. I had my own fuel (osmo and Clif margarita shot block) so I was only using the aid stations to help me stay cool.

I was running pretty solidly for the first two miles, watching my pace hover just under or around 8:00/mile. As I approached the halfway, I noticed my pace had slowed and my heart rate was climbing, so I opted to take a walking break- 30 seconds only. Perhaps I’ll talk more about this on another post, but since working with Marni, I’ve learned that there is NO SHAME in taking short walk breaks- in fact, sometimes they help you run faster, as it allows your heart rate to drop down so you can get back to where you need to be. Anyhow, throughout the course of the run I took two more 30 second walk breaks. After the last one, two women passed me, but again I wasn’t sure what age group they were in. One of them I was pretty sure was older than me, but the other I wasn’t so sure.

In all honesty, I think I gave up a little at this point the run. It wasn’t like a “Screw it, I’m done.” it was more like, “I’m not going to try to kill myself to get to that finish; I’ll run strong, but no need to push to my limit.”  It was hot and I was tired, my right foot was tingly/numb from my elastic laces being too tight, and I was pretty sure I had slipped out of the top 5 by this point. Looking back, it was ridiculous to let my mind think that- I had a MILE or less left! And looking at the results, I probably could have eked out at 4th place if I had been a little mentally stronger. But, at the end of the day, I had a solid finish, and overall a really great day.

Overall time was 2:26.04, which was definitely an Olympic distance PR. I was hoping to come in under 2:30, and I crushed that by coming in nearly four minutes under that. (For an unfair comparison, in March I did the hilly Clermont Olympic triathlon at the end of a training camp, and went 2:43).

I actually ended up with a 5th place AG award, which was icing on the cake!

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I would certainly recommend this race to others- great venue, super organized, and overall fun race. It brings a great pro field (hello Rinny!) and it’s super cool to share the course with those tremendous athletes. Sure, it’s a huge race with lots of waiting around if you’re in a later wave, but it’s nice to mix in some large races every now and again. I’m a little curious about what it would be like to do this race in not so ideal conditions to see if I’d still feel the same way. Perhaps next year I’ll give it another go? Only time will tell!





Challenge Florida 2015 Race Report

10 11 2015

My third 70.3 is in the books and I’m officially in the off-season! Wahoo!

My race weekend started off on Friday night when I picked up Cynthia at the airport and we drove down to Venice to meet up with another SOAS teammate, Nadia! Friday night was actually low key- we got to Venice a little after 10:30, chatted for a bit and then crashed- the night before the night before is the most important anyhow!

(Most of the photos in this post are courtesy of Cynthia!)

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We love our SOAS!

Saturday:

Saturday morning we woke up with no alarm clocks and it was glorious. Sure, we’re all early birds and were out of bed by 8ish, but we got a solid 8 hours so I’ll take it!

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We grabbed breakfast at the hotel and then made our way down to Sharky’s, where transition and packet pickup were located. We had plenty of time before packet pickup opened, so we took our time getting our gear together and made some friends in the parking lot, including a nice young (69 years old!) man who was a huge UW fan. I wanted to get a photo with him in his UW Badger kit on race day, but I didn’t see him. 😦

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Venice Pier. We’d be swimming around that tomorrow!

It was already quite hot at 9am; I was thankful I had filled one bottle with Skratch and another with water, just for the few hours we planned to spend at the race starting area. Nadia and I went for a short ride (20 minutes) and then went over to the expo area to check in.

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Check in was easy-peasy and the volunteers were great. Venice is like retirement central, so most of the volunteers for the weekend were adorable senior citizens who were excited about being a part of this event. The swag bag was a Blue Seventy Brick Bag, which is probably one of the best swag I’ve ever received from a race. We stuck our numbers on our bikes and then went back to transition to drop them off. It’s a little bit of a hike (perhaps a quarter mile?) between transition and the expo area, so if you do this race, just be prepared. We were lazy saving our legs so we drove rather than walked. It was hot and the air conditioned car felt so nice.

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Chairs set up for athlete meeting; packet pickup in the white tent to the left; retail a bit further back.

After our bikes were dropped, Nadia, Cynthia, and I went for a 10 minute jog. Before we even started I was sweating. Oof. Tomorrow was definitely going to be rough. We cooled down after our run by joining in on the practice swim. Even though the water was 80 degrees, it felt refreshing. The race was likely not going to be wetsuit legal, so I was thankful that I had recently purchased a Roka swim skin during their end of season sale.

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After the swim, we ran to Panera (Sorry Sharky’s, no greasy bar food for us!) to pick up some lunch before heading back to the mandatory pre-race meeting. We met up with another of our SOAS teammates, Benjamina, and obviously grabbed a group pic.

SOAS Group pic

After the meeting, we headed back to the hotel to relax before heading out to dinner. We went to a yummy Italian place called Ristorante San Marco– I’d definitely recommend it! With full bellies we returned to the hotel, where I proceeded to fall asleep at 9:30. That 5am wakeup would come quick!

Sunday- Race day!

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Pre-race selfie!

Race morning was pretty typical, so I’ll just dive right in to the race!

Swim: 30:32, 01:35 /100m

T1: 02:16

At 7:25am, the last wave of half athletes, my wave ( 39 & under females, relays, and aqua bike), took off. It was a small race this year (I believe less than 250 athletes finished) so my wave wasn’t very large. I immediately got out with the lead swimmers, and by the first buoy I noticed that there was one neon green cap (a male swimmer on a relay, I think) and another neon pink cap ahead of me. I was in third. After we turned the buoy, I tried to catch the pink cap’s feet, since she was maybe only three body lengths ahead of me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t catch her so I just settled in to my own stroke. Once I made the second turn onto the straight portion of the swim, parallel to the beach and with the current, I really started to feel good. It seemed like with every stroke I was passing light blue caps from the wave before me. And soon enough, I was catching the green caps from two waves ahead of me! Not gonna lie, it made me pretty happy to catch guys that started 10 minutes ahead of me. I started to wonder if I had passed all the women in the wave before me, and if so, I had a 5 minute advantage on any speedy female cyclists 39+ who would catch me from behind. The last part of the swim, as expected, was a bit rough because the sun was directly in our eyes and it was against the current. But, I was somehow able to see the buoys and stick to a decent course. I swam it all the way in, popped up and ran towards transition in the sand. I nearly tripped twice, and kinda jammed my toe, but thankfully soft sand is, well, soft so the toe didn’t hurt too badly. I made it to transition and noticed that most of the women’s bikes were still there. Sweet! Let’s make those women catch me!

Bike: 02:45:05, 20.35 mph

T2: 01:42

I ran out of T1 and hopped on my bike and onto Harbor Drive. There was a slight crosswind, so I knew that with all of the out and backs in this course, there would be times where I was frustrated by the headwind, but other times where I would get the benefit of a tailwind. About a mile and a half into the course, just before the first turn, I noticed police activity up ahead. It appeared that part of the bike course had been blocked off by a police SUV and police tape, and it looked like maybe something had happened at the corner on the right. My first thought was maybe there had been a house fire, but then I noticed the mangled bike on the ground, beside an SUV that had a large dent in its side. OMG someone was hit. I was a little shaken by the sight, and I said a little prayer for whoever was hit, but kept moving. (Note: I haven’t heard much about the cyclist other than this.) I made the right onto Venice Ave, went over the bridge, and then a short while later it was right then left and then out on our first “long” out and back. I ate a bag of Skratch fruit chews and settled in to what I felt was a comfortable pace. I planned to use my Soleus bike computer for pace, but unfortunately, I haven’t figured out all the settings…so after fiddling with it for a minute or so, I gave up and decided to just go by time of day and course markings to figure out where I was. I noted that I started at 7:47 on my watch (which is actually 7:57; my watch is ten minutes slow for some reason, and again, I can’t figure out how to fix it. derp.) so I’d just do calculations from there. There was a bit of a headwind but I tried to just keep my head down and stay strong- it was comparable weather to many of my long rides in Alafia last season, so I just told myself that’s what it was- just another day at Alafia. A few men from the 40+ wave had already passed me, and a few others passed me as we neared the first U-turn. I don’t think they liked that a girl was beating them. As soon as we turned, I felt the tailwind. I was definitely not going to let this opportunity pass by so I picked it up a little and re-passed a few of the men that had just passed me. I knew that my fancy wheels give more benefit the faster you go, so I was hoping to squeeze out all the free speed I could get! I leap frogged with a few of these men a few more times throughout the course, and some I managed to drop, while others dropped me.

As I rode the course, I remembered sections from doing the race two years ago. I remembered the quiet road after the split (where the olympic race turned off from the half distance) which is where Jess had passed me, and then there was the random “hill” aka overpass that I hasn’t expected then, but was ready for now. As I passed the mile 20 sign, I looked at my time- I had been on the bike an hour. Whoa, I think I’m holding 20 mph! I kept reminding myself as I had two years prior- this is just a warm up for a half marathon. Don’t burn out your legs.

There was one part of the course that I hadn’t remembered from the race two years ago: we rode out and back on this service road that was parallel to the highway until it dead ended (I think this is called Forbes Trail?). I approached the hairpin turn cautiously, but didn’t take it wide enough. I thought to myself, yup, I’m going down. And sure enough, almost in slow motion, I was down on the ground. I was super thankful there were no others trying to make the turn at the same time because I definitely would have caused a much larger accident. I was more embarrassed than anything. I picked up my bike, noticed my scraped knee and the slight soreness in my chest from my aerobars hitting my chest, reclipped in and took off. About 25 yards away, a cyclist was fixing a flat or something and he asked if I was okay. I laughed it off and said yes and kept moving. I only lost 15-20 seconds, but I was frustrated that I made such a rookie mistake. On the way back from this turnaround was the 30 mile marker and when I looked at my time, I was still holding 20 mph. Yeah!

At each turn around, I took note of the females behind me. There were three or four that I thought were in striking distance, and were gaining on me. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to hold them off for the rest of the ride. I told myself that this is my race, and I needed to just focus on me. And, anything can happen on the run, especially in these conditions.

Because of the heat (it was probably in the low 80s by this point and HUMID), I was drinking like a mad woman and was nearly out of all my liquids by the time I hit the second aid station at mile 31 so I grabbed a water bottle and stuck it in my tri top’s back pocket. I’m thankful for deep pockets in my SOAS gear! I was also worried about the temperature rising throughout the day, so I took an electrolyte tablet somewhere around here too.

The rest of the course was more of the same- out, back, turn, out, turn, straight, turn…I kept thinking, This is such a WEIRD course. At mile marker 40, my time again showed I was at 20 mph but I felt like I was starting to fade. You still have to run a half marathon I kept reminding myself. I took another water bottle at the last aid station, drank some and poured it on my head before tossing it. I couldn’t remember at what mile marker that aid station was supposed to be at, but I knew i was close-ish to the end. Shortly after the aide station, right before making a left turn in what was probably the sketchiest part of the race, traffic-wise for me, I was passed by a female. I noticed her leg, and she was in my age group. Dang it. I later found out that it was Laura of Frayed Laces!  OKYou’re almost home Steph, just finish up the bike so you can go out and run and see how you can do! 

With a big sigh of relief, I finished the bike. I must have sighed pretty loudly, because someone at the entrance to T2 said, “Are you okay 121?” Or perhaps they saw my bloody knee? I responded with a “Yup!” and headed in for the run.

Run: 02:05:47, 09:36 /mi

My mantra the run was “Your mind will give up long before your body will”- I knew the heat was going to take a mental (and physical) toll on me, but I was determined not to let negative thoughts about the temperature make me stop or walk or get frustrated. However, I needed to balance pushing myself with my own safety- the heat is no joke, and it is important to be aware of how it is affecting your body during intense exercise. Just two hours of running Steph, you got this. 

When I started the run, my legs felt pretty good. The first km ticked off at 5:18 and I thought, Ok, that’s where I should be, but maybe back off a tiny bit. I was having a good day so far, and now it was up to me to maintain this on the run. I convinced myself that I was going to have a better run than two years ago; I was not going to walk until I absolutely had to, which was hopefully only through the aid stations.

At the first aid station I grabbed ice and threw it down my top and poured water on my head, but I kept moving. I had a hand-held with Osmo Active/Preload mix, and though it was warm, I knew it would have the electrolytes I needed. At aid station 2, I did the same. Keeping my body temperature down was going to be what got me through this run. Shortly before I was 1/4 of the way done, I saw Laura. I wasn’t too far behind her, and in fact, it seemed like I was gaining on her. However, negative thoughts started coming in. It’s hot. This sucks. I want to walk. No. I pushed them aside, and set a landmark for where I could walk: make it to the first turnaround and then you can do a short walk. That first turn around is a little deceiving because there’s the turnaround for the Olympic distance, and then just a little bit further is the half turnaround.

I kept running, and then Laura stopped to walk and I passed her. That gave me a little boost to keep moving- don’t let her catch you! I made it to the turnaround but my mind kept telling me it wanted to walk. And unfortunately, I gave in. I only let myself walk for 30 seconds before running again, but man, now all I wanted to do was jump in the water that was just to my left. I was wishing for more aid stations (but upon reflection, I realized that I utilized the aid stations all 12 times I passed them, which isn’t too bad for a half marathon!) and just to be cooler. Ice, water, Ice water. That was what came out of my mouth at every aid station. When I passed the middle aid station on the way back towards transition (approximately mile 5.5ish?), I finally decided it was coke time. I grabbed a tiny cup and it was warm and kind of gross. But, the sugar was what I needed. I was not in the mood for my Skratch chews or the gels on the course. My calories were going to have to come from Coke and my Osmo (even though I know that’s not sufficient!). As I walked this aid station, one female athlete passed me. Then, as I was about to start running again, so did one more. And both of them had looked really strong on the run. Ugh, I think top 3 OA may have just slipped away. Mentally, I didn’t have the fight to chase after either of them.

The next part of the run was what I think was the worst part of the course: there was a stretch that was parallel to the ocean, behind a big sand dune, on black asphalt. There was no shade, and each time you were on this part of the course on the way back towards the finish line, the wind was behind you, which means it felt like it was 100 degrees out there. I could feel my back frying, and I seriously started contemplating stopping after the first loop. But, deep down, I knew I couldn’t do that. I had friends here and afar who were cheering me on who I didn’t want to disappoint. And I didn’t want to disappoint myself. You can do this Steph.

At the start of my second loop I was just about to start walking when I saw Heather and Nadia cheering. They had both done the olympic and were all done. Oh to be done right now!! I couldn’t walk while they were right there,  so I kept moving, one foot in front of the other. I made it to the next aid station, which actually had a sign that said “Miss Kitty’s Watering Hole” and asked for some Coke. This time, it had ice in it, and it was glorious. It was exactly the pick me up I needed. It was like a switch turned on and I was ready to be the tough athlete that I know I am. I did an Ironman last season, for goodness sakes!

Though there were definitely some low spots on the rest of the run, I stayed as positive as I could because the finish line was getting closer. I kept looking at my watch to see if 2:00 was in reach, and I knew it was slipping away each time I walked. My goal then switched to “Just beat your time from two years ago” (2:09). I knew I could do that, as long as I didn’t completely just walk it in.

My watch dinged at 16K. 5K to go. You got this- you can do anything for a 5K. Ice, water, ice water. Pour it down the shirt, in the pants, on the head. Stay cool, just keep moving. I suffered through that last long stretch by the ocean and when I reached Miss Kitty’s Watering hole for the last time, I knew I had less than a mile to go. I was so looking forward to jumping in the ice baths at the end of the race! I saw the man directing athletes to go straight for the second loop or turn for the finish line. I held up two fingers to indicate I was on my second loop and was headed home. I saw Heather and Nadia at the start of the finish chute and waved to them. I was so thankful to be done! I ran down the carpeted finisher chute and soaked it all in. I. DID. IT!!

I immediately went to medical for the sole purpose of cleaning and covering my scraped knee so that I could get into the ice bath. Thankfully that was the only reason I needed to be there! Nadia and Heather congratulated me on my race and then we went to check my results. I had won my age group! I only found out after that I technically was third, but the girls in 1st and 2nd in my AG were overall winners. That’s fine by me! We waited around for Cynthia to finish and then went to the awards ceremony so I could get my award. The winner’s medals are pretty rad- they fit like a puzzle piece in the back of the finisher’s medals! I got some nice swag too: a transition towel, mason jar and fuel belt hand-held water bottle.

Final time: 05:25:23.836, 1st AG, 5th OA female

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Final thoughts: First, the volunteers and police support were terrific. I was definitely worried about all the intersections, but the PD had it covered. Race-wise, I had a really good day out there, despite the heat. 5:25 is a new PR for me, and I know I can do better than that. Again, I question why I do this race since it’s just so darn hot on that course, and I think I’ve finally convinced myself to just do the olympic next year (if the race returns). Challenge does a phenomenal job of putting a race. It is really well organized, everyone is super nice, and the swag is great. My biggest complaint about the race (besides the darn unprotected course) is that the post-race food was kinda lame: yogurt, granola, fruit, and cookies. I needed something more substantial, (and with salt) like a sandwich or pizza. Bravo Challenge, I hope you bring back this race next year!

A HUGE thank you to SOAS Racing for gearing me up in the best darn tri kits out there, and for my SOAS Sistas for always being so supportive!