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!





Embrace Challenge

19 01 2015

I’m still in my post-IM lack of motivation to run, bike, or swim. But the one thing that has been motivating me is yoga. It is an activity that Bill and I like to do, and I have a few new friends who also like to regularly get on the mat. I’ve also found a few local instructors whose classes I really enjoy and I always leave feeling exhausted but refreshed. One of the studios I attend, Yogani, is hosting a 25 day challenge. The challenge is to commit to taking 21 yoga classes in a 25 day period, beginning on January 20th. Bonus: if you complete the challenge, you get 30% off your next package of classes!

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After an invigorating class with Annette on Saturday morning, I signed myself up. It’s $99, which is actually a fantastic deal for unlimited classes between January 20th and February 14th. (That’s cheaper than the 10-pack I normally buy!) So, if you’re in Tampa and want to get into a regular yoga practice, how about signing up?

Embrace Challenge

For those of you not in Tampa, who’s up for a similar challenge in their area? Yoga at home or yoga in a studio- join me in committing to practice 21 times in the next 25 days! You in?? Comment below, and let’s keep each other accountable!

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Challenge Atlantic City

2 07 2014

As you may already know, I grew up in South Jersey. Ventnor, to be exact. Yes, if you’ve ever played Monopoly and landed your thimble on the yellow “Ventnor Avenue” property, it’s that “Ventnor.” Ventnor is one town south of Atlantic City.

Monopoly

 

Atlantic City holds a special place in my heart. My dad grew up there and my grandfather lived in their home on Chelsea Avenue until he passed away when I was in high school. Every Sunday after church (which was also in AC) we would go over to his house for lunch. If it was summer, we’d head down to the Chelsea Avenue beach, where I’d play in the ocean for hours. I went to Atlantic City High School, which was the public high school that the kids from Brigantine, Atlantic City, Ventnor, Margate, and Longport could attend. And, after my sophomore year, I tried out for the Atlantic City Beach Patrol, where I guarded for 8 summers.

ACBP

Atlantic City has never struck me as the healthiest place on earth; despite the beautiful boardwalk that, to me, just begs to be run on, people come for the gambling, the clubs or to get their money’s worth at the all-you-can-eat buffets. Don’t get me wrong- I’m not criticizing, I’m just saying that fitness is not one of the top priorities in this town.

So, four years ago, when Stephen Del Monte of Delmo Sports announced that there would be a triathlon in Atlantic City, my jaw dropped. How the heck did he pull that off? I signed up immediately, thinking that this might be the one and only time this race happens. To my surprise, the race is in it’s fourth year, and I couldn’t be happier to know that it is alive and well! Though I haven’t registered yet, I’m 90% sure I will be.

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Even more shocking was the announcement late last year that the European-based Challenge Family brand of triathlon races was coming to the US, and they had chosen Atlantic City as the location to make their debut. WHAT? Part of me was so incredibly proud that they had chosen South Jersey as the place for the inaugural race. The other part of me was wondering if they had made this decision over one too many drinks at Trump Taj Mahal.  Are they sure they know what they’re doing? Atlantic City? Really??

Atlantic City Skyline

I didn’t register for the event as I had other obligations on race day (bridesmaid!) and already had plans to complete my first Ironman with my teammates in Cozumel later in 2014. But I followed the event closely, and was so excited when they announced Miranda Carfrae was participating on a relay. As the event drew closer, I was wishing and hoping that the event would be a smashing success, but at the same time was worried that Atlantic City just wasn’t the place for a race of this caliber.

Challenge AC

On the Thursday evening before the race, the Press of Atlantic City released an article that said the Showboat casino would be announcing that they were closing; they were issuing the required notices to their employees on Friday. This news comes just a few weeks after the newest casino to open, Revel, announced that if they don’t find a buyer by the end of the summer, they too will need to shut their doors. Add to this the fact that the Atlantic Club, another casino, closed its doors in January. Oh, and remember that storm Sandy? Yeah, she did a number on AC, and there are many families STILL displaced from that awful storm.

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Wow, what a blow. Atlantic City is in a sad state. This race NEEDS to be successful here. It needs to prove that it is boosting the economy- and that it IS something to get excited about. Sure, the road closures are a pain, but how often do you get to watch world-class athletes push themselves to the limit in a race that lasts as long as a work day? Or, even more inspiring, cheer on the every-day Joe, the weekend warrior as he proves to himself that yes, he too can push his limits and cross that finish line! If you’ve never been to a finish line of an iron-distance race, put it on your “to do” list. Believe me, you’ll walk away with a tear in your eye, and so inspired to push yourself to try that one thing that you’ve always wondered if you could do.

10460116_10100304476044542_7060137147400723819_nI downloaded the above picture from a friend’s Facebook page- This is Mike Pelosi, a guy that grew up with me (though a few years older) who was also on the ACBP with me. He’s picking up his daughter, who has cerebal palsy, to run with her across the finish line. I’m getting teary-eyed just typing that. How incredible is that? Check out the Press’s article about some of the locals in the race, including Mike and a mention of Dave, the other guard in the picture with me above.

In Europe, thousands of people come to watch the Challenge Races. It’s no World Cup, but they line the streets to cheer on the athletes. I want that vibe to be present in the Atlantic City race too. Maybe all these economic blows are AC’s chance for a clean slate- perhaps to bring a new breed of tourists. After all, the average income of USAT members is $126,000 (source)! (Please note, I know it’s not that easy to bounce back from rough economic times).

So far, I’ve read mostly positive reviews of the event, with of course the typical bumps in the road that inaugural events have. And, registration for next year’s event just opened (yes, I’m going to participate, just not sure if it will be in the capacity of a relay or something longer…). This gives me hope (and the fact that they have a 5-year contract)- but the triathlon community and the South Jersey community need to come together to make this thing an overwhelming success like I know it can be. I may be babbling, but I truly and deeply want this race to succeed. Not only for the sport of triathlon  (Ironman could use a bit of competition) but for Atlantic City. They need this race- they need something to get excited about and more importantly, something to help boost the economy.