There were a lot of reasons not to do this race. People told me that it is a really tough course for a first half-iron (there's a lot of hills). It was suggested that I should do Great White North instead. Everybody seems to do Great White North, and while that isn't a reason to choose it, it is awesome to have the on course support of other triathletes that you know. Then, my cousin announced his wedding date - the day before the 70.3. It seemed that with everything put together, maybe this just wasn't the race for me?
Yet, I was certain that this was the race I wanted to do. It's local, and for me, the benefit of sleeping in my own bed the night before the race is huge. The bike course is my training ground, the hills that I took my very first road rides on. It goes through the town I live in. The run is on the one race course that I feel defeated me (in the 2011 Police half marathon). I wanted some payback on that run course.
So, I was doing it.
The day before, I still attended the wedding. I wore the most practical, least sexy shoes I could possibly get away with. Dinner was a buffet, and I was able to choose things that worked perfectly for my stomach (not choosing my pre-race dinner was one of my concerns, so this was a huge relief). We left on the early side, but we have young kids, so would have to anyways. When we got home, I fell into a deep sleep almost as soon as going to bed.
I'd set my alarm clock to 4:30, but my eyes popped open at 4:20. I knew it was time to get up. If the alarm was scheduled to go off a few hours away, it would be worth trying for more sleep. I felt great, and to try to sleep for 10 more minutes would just make me grumpy. Got up, coffee, breakfast, get my nutrition together. Covered myself in bodyglide (I've found in past races that I chafe in brand new places otherwise. The person that invents a portable bodyglide shower could make a fortune at races; feel free to send me my cut for the idea.) Dress, braid hair, double check all my gear, head out around 5:30.
The race start is only about 20 minutes away from my house, so the drive was quick and easy. My husband was taking me, which was perfect. This race is a point to point race, so ideally you either take the shuttle or have a race day sherpa. The shuttle is probably convenient for people that live in Calgary, but for me, I'd have to drive 35ish minutes, then take the 45 minute bus ride back. Doesn't make sense when the car ride to the start is 20 minutes. My mom was here, so she watched the kids, and I got the sherpa.
|My bike in transition (actually the day before, when I checked it).|
|Prerace, nervous, but positive|
|About to get in the water|
I swam back and forth a few times to get the feel of my stroke. Get the layer of water on the inside of my wetsuit, so it warms up a bit. I know it would help with warmth, but I still can't pee in my wetsuit. I know "everybody" does it, but I've never been able to, hence the reason I always take a couple trips to the facilities beforehand.
After swimming around a bit and getting comfortable, I went back over to the dock. Technically, everyone was supposed to be touching the dock prior to the start, but in actuality, there wasn't room for everyone to. Regardless, I was able to, so I did. Nobody was trying to get a head start, so I don't think it mattered too much that they weren't touching the dock.
I was caught a little off guard by the starting horn. In the water, we couldn't really hear the announcer, so rather then any real countdown, it was just the horn. A deep breath, and I started to swim...
I've gotten a lot more comfortable with open water swim starts, which is awesome. I still remember the first race where the press of swimmers around me completely freaked me out. Now, it's just bubbles, feet, sometimes an arm. While it still kind of scares me, I also find it fun. I'm pretty realistic about where to seed myself, and I find that I don't usually end up doing much passing, nor being passed overly much. This was no exception.
After the first bit, I felt like I might be pushing a bit hard. I have a tendency to kick funny when I'm swimming in open water. Rather then kicking from the hip I bend my knees and kick from there. It's usually the first technique thing I remind myself of while swimming, because I tend to kind of panic kick. Once I got my kick calmed down, my effort level seemed to be pretty much where it should be.
I drafted a lot to the first buoy and then I drafted periodically after that. I still swim at a speed where it seems a lot of people throw in frequent breaststroke or swim very crookedly, so I have yet to find it that useful to draft. For a long section of the swim, I was swimming extremely close to another guy, and for the first time ever, I felt like he was zigzagging, while I was sighting more accurately.
The course was like a long rectangle, and when I reached the point where I turned to go back the way I came, I could feel that it was a bit rougher going that way. I felt like I was going through waves or against the current for a few strokes. Then, it stopped feeling so awkward. I think I was just against the wind, and while a different feeling, I quickly got used to it.
(I had planned to put a screen shot of my garmin map up, but apparently didn't upload my data properly. I'm not at home, so can't access it right now.)
I felt great throughout the swim. I had to watch that I didn't smile too much, because it messes with the seal of my goggles.
This was the first time I've done a single loop swim course since the first open water swim sprint, and I LOVED it. Mentally, it's just so much nicer to set out for the next buoy, even if there's more of them. Then when you get to the end, you are done, rather then starting out all over again.
Then, I was turning around the last buoy and heading into the finish. When I got there, I passed somebody walking and swam as far as I could, even bending my arms a bit more then usual for the last couple strokes.
Stood up and I think some volunteers helped me stand. The swim was done and I was well within the swim cutoff times! I didn't feel nauseous or dizzy like I usually do when I come out of open water either. Bonus!
|Out of the water, getting that wetsuit off!|
Now, I had to get my wetsuit off, and the first impediment I had was my garmin 910xt. "They" claim that wetsuits come off over it. Maybe it's because I have the quick release (so it has a slightly higher profile) but mine doesn't. At all. I've tried and it always gets stuck.
So, I fiddled with the watch strap and got it off before getting that arm out. My husband asked me afterwards why I didn't just take the watch part off the strap with the quick release? Um, because I didn't think of it. Brilliant idea, and next time, I'll save 10 seconds in transition by doing it!
I headed for the wetsuit strippers and let them get the bottom half of my wetsuit off. Wetsuit strippers are AWESOME. I'll never do that volunteer job (because people pee in their wetsuits, and it all goes flying), but I sure appreciate them. The wetsuit stripper asked my number as I was lying down.
"527," I told her.
"527!" She yelled out to the people getting the bags.
"Oh no, I lied!" I admitted. "It's actually 529." Still thankful I wasn't dizzy or nauseous, but apparently I was kind of confused. She yelled out 529.
I had to wait a few seconds for my bag, but I'm confident that, had I given the correct number initially, it would have been ready.
A volunteer dumped it for me, I put on my helmet, sunglasses and gloves. The volunteer told me that I could carry my shoes, if I preferred, which was a huge relief. Not only did I have to go through the entire transition area, but it was up a fairly significant slope. I didn't relish having to go up that in cycling cleats. One day, I'll learn the flying mount (clipping shoes to bike), but I'm not there yet.
So, carrying my shoes, I headed for my bike. I put my garmin onto the bike (I could keep it on my wrist, but really prefer having it on the bike, so I can see it better). Then I headed the rest of the way up the hill, still carrying my shoes.
|Carrying my shoes up the hill|
T1 time: 4:42
The ride was the part of the course I was the most concerned about. Not because I didn't think I could do it, but because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to do it within the cutoff time (5 hours from my wave's start). I'd bought a bit of time getting through the swim and T1 faster then I'd expected. I'd figured I would be getting on my bike an hour into the race, and it was more like 54 minutes. 6 minutes may not seem like much, but at that point, having that little extra buffer was a huge relief.
I remembered Jill's advice from the week before: take the first 10 km to settle into the bike and then start hydrating and fueling. That worked well for me. The first 10 km is a fairly fast section, mostly downhill and on very smooth pavement. The only downside was the fact that there is a rumble strip on the side of the road shoulder, and in most places, there wasn't quite enough room to pass without going over it. I only had to pass once in that section, thankfully.
Once I turned onto Grand Valley, I knew I was in okay shape, timewise. I felt great and was having fun. Plus, I'd given myself a good start to my average speed, generally going between 30 and 40 km/hour in the first section. Grand Valley Blvd is a speed sucking 15 km section with relatively rough chip seal and rolling hills, more up then down.
I was incredibly worried about this section early season, but, while still rough, it has become a lot smoother in the last few months. I didn't see my speed drop from the rough roads as much as I had expected. During this section, I passed a couple other cyclists, and commenced the game of leap-frog with a few others. There were some that were averaging about the same speed as me, but I tended to pass them on the hills (down and up) of all places, while they passed me back on the flats.
A couple kilometers into Grand Valley, I realized I hadn't started fueling. Tsk, tsk. That was one of the things I knew I had to nail. The half ironman distance is not nearly as forgiving to poor nutrition as the shorter races I've done. On the bike, I had perform to drink, along with stroop waffles (like honey stinger waffles), gels, and some honey stinger bites. I popped some waffle into my mouth and started drinking. I've put a speedfil system on my bike, and being able to drink without grabbing the bottle was a huge advantage for me, because I drank more, and didn't slow down to grab my bottle when I did.
Grand Valley has a couple big climbs, but I was mentally prepared for them, since I know the course well. I just geared down and spun my way up them. I frequently found myself passing on the hills, which surprised me a lot. I'd plan not to enter the draft zone while going up, but I'd find myself going into it, and I'd have had to actually brake to avoid it. Braking while going up a hill, in a race, seemed utterly ridiculous, so when that happened, I'd put forth the little bit of extra effort I needed to pass.
And then I was at the top of Grand Valley, the section of the course that I was worried would be my undoing. The section that I thought would suck so much speed, I would be trying to make it up for the rest of the race, in an effort to meet the cut off time. I needed to average about 24km/h for the race, as a whole, but with this being a hilly course, I knew I'd rarely be going the average speed. And, I was at the top of that 25km section in under 55 minutes.
You couldn't wipe the smile off my face.
As I turned on to the next road, I was on top of the world. In that moment, I knew that I could finish this race. I knew that I could make the bike cutoff and go onto the run. Of course, I wasn't anywhere close to being done, but I'd been so afraid that I'd get to that point in the race and be in a hopeless battle against time. Instead, I was on top of the world.
The next turn took me onto Horse Creek road, probably my favourite road to ride on. It's also rolling hills, but it's smoother and there's more down then up, so it's great fun.
Right after turning onto Horse Creek, I hit the aid station. I had started the race with about 3 litres on my bike, so I knew I was good in terms of hydration. I considered grabbing a bar, but my stomach was happy enough with the stroop waffles. I wasn't feeling too confident with doing the hand off, and I had sufficient nutrition on my bike, so I kept on rolling.
What an awesome road! Some short climbs, followed by awesome descents. I've finally reached the point where I'm not terrified going down those hills, but am actually enjoying it. It helped that I knew the course, and the hills well. A lot of the flatter sections were gradual downhills, so it almost felt too easy. I reminded myself that this race was about endurance. If I was hurting when I wasn't even halfway through the bike, I'd be in trouble.
Then off of Horse Creek, and through Cochrane, my home. No temptation to stop off, and some awesome, enthusiastic spectators while going through town.
There are rolling hills throughout the course, but the last big hill comes right after Cochrane. I knew to just keep my effort level as even as possible. I wanted to watch my cadence, but the sensor seemed to have gone wacky on me. I don't know if it got bumped in transition, or if the battery is getting low, but it seemed to be registering only a quarter or a half of my actual cadence.
As much as I adore my garmin, I think it's usefulness is the highest in training. By now, I have a pretty good idea where my cadence is falling, so I tried to keep it in that zone, and keep my heart rate where I wanted it. After all, a big goal for me is always to not let the uncontrollable get to me in races.
Once I got to the top of the hill, I was thrilled. I was doing great with time. I could even afford a flat tire, or another delay, if it happened. The wind was perfect. Nothing more then a gentle breeze, in a place that is renowned for strong, gusty winds.
When I got to the second aid station, I decided I should grab some more hydration. I'd partially filled my speedfil with the extra bottle on my bike already, but I didn't want to risk running out. I stopped at the aid station, and filled up with a bottle of perform.
And, it was horrible! Completely warm, and incredibly strong. I thought I was so smart when I started training with the on course nutrition, because I'd get used to it, but I realized at this moment that I made a serious error in my habit of mixing my sports drinks weak. I was not at all prepared for this disgusting, super warm stuff. I forced myself to drink it for the rest of the bike, but BLAH!
For the end of the bike, I stopped all the solid food, and stuck to liquid nutrition, the awful perform and gels.
One thing I'll remember for future races is not to bother with any nutrition that I don't like. I still have some Island Nectar Roctane gels that I won earlier this year. I continue to use them and train with them because they sit perfectly well in my stomach. However, I don't like the taste of them AT ALL. On my bike, I couldn't even stand the thought of consuming the one that was taped to my bike, and skipped it, in favour of the chocolate mint one below it. Fortunately, I had intentionally given myself an extra gel, beyond what I expected to use, so it was okay, but if I'd needed that gel, it would have been torturous to get it down.
Towards the end of the bike, I was feeling really ready to get off. It didn't exactly hurt, and I wasn't at the end of my energy; I was just ready to be done the bike.
The last few kilometers were new to me. Of the 95km course, I'd rode about 90km previously, but the last bit has pretty heavy traffic, and I've never felt comfortable doing it on my own. During the race, with the traffic controlled was good though! I passed Chris, a newer blogger and triathlete who was volunteering on the bike course.
Then, I was rolling in towards the finish line, and lots of noise and activity. The first person I saw was my husband, a quiet, and incredibly supportive presence. He's been there supporting me every step of this journey. Pushing me out of the door at times, listening to me whine at other times and just overall being there. He isn't at all my races (kids!), but I didn't realize just how important it was to me to have him at this one until I actually saw him on the sidelines.
Then I rode a bit further, and there was Keith, with his cowbells, like he promised. Keith has been one of my mentors along this journey, having traveled a similar road a couple years before me. We only met in person a couple months ago, but blogosphere friendships have a strength of their own.
|Shortly before entering transition|
Bike time: 3:37:18
Into transition, and a volunteer directed me to my spot. (With it being a point to point, I hadn't even seen T2 set up prior to the race.)
He dumped my transition bag for me and I changed my shoes, swapped the helmet for a cap, etc. I knew I needed to stop quickly at the porta potties. If I can't pee in my wetsuit, I certainly can't pee on the bike, and I needed to by that point.
There were two porta potties in transition. I glanced quickly at the indicator on the door that's supposed to say whether it's occupied. I yanked open the one with green, onto a woman with her pants at her ankles!
This is the beauty of a long triathlon. I suppose there should have been some embarasment, but there isn't any energy for it at that point in the race. I just closed it again, and a volunteer told me that the other one was empty. It was, but the lock had been pushed, so it showed red.
When I came out, I had no idea where to go, even though I was practically by the run exit, so in classic Deb fashion (I've headed the wrong way out of transition before), I started going the wrong way. Then, I stopped, totally confused and asked a volunteer where to go.
On my way!
T2 time: 4:25
I had made a critical error in my mental preparation for this race. In my worry about cutoff times, I'd been a little concerned about the swim cutoff and majorly concerned about the bike cutoff. I'd spared very little thought for the run. I knew that if I made the bike cutoff, I'd have at least 3 hours for the run. I was confident that I could run a half marathon in under 3 hours, even on a hilly course, even if I was exhausted.
While that might be true, mentally, I had given very little thought to the run. I just had to get through the bike. Just had to make the bike cutoff time. Ideally swim fast enough to have some extra cushion for the bike. Bike, bike, bike, bike, bike... Somehow, I had neglected to consider that this run was likely to be the most difficult run I had done yet.
I came out of transition feeling okay. Not great, but not exhausted either. Keith came and ran beside me for a few strides to check in. He reminded me to get into the rhythm and find my pace. Pace? I didn't feel fast, but I glanced down at my pace: 5:30/km. Great for some, almost 5K race pace for me. I slowed myself down a bit. If I had it in me, I could go that fast at the end of the run, but doing it at the start was suicide.
|Right after leaving transition. I am a camera whore. If I know there is one trained on me, I can almost always muster up a smile.|
I reached the first aid station, where Leigh was. I think she told me I looked strong. At that point, I even still felt it. I took water and tried to conceive of the thought of taking perform. Just couldn't do it. Ugh.
One thing to be said for this course is that the scenery is stunning. The views are amazing early, and late in the race. In between, it's a lovely, natural area. Yes, it's a hilly course, but the hills make it interesting to run on and lend towards breathtaking scenery.
|A picture taken of the view|
Just before I got to the second aid station, around 5km, I took my first gel. I took some water at the aid station and still couldn't get my mind around the idea of taking perform. I accepted some coke, and to my surprise (I don't normally like coke whatsoever), it went down perfectly.
Then, it was down the weaselhead hill. Like the bike there's lots of smaller, rolling hills and gradual slopes on the run, but this is the big hill of the run course. I was grateful to see almost everybody walking their way up that hill. If the fast triathletes were walking it, I could be totally okay with making the choice to walk it myself when I got there.
First I had to get there...
A lot of the run blends together. It was hot. I was tired. I kept going. I worked on keeping an even effort, rather then pace. Run steady, but walk the aid stations. Slow down for most hills, walk the truly steep ones. Watch my heart rate, try to keep it in the right range.
Around 7km was the Team Trilife aid station. Although I'm not a team member at this point in time, I've done a lot of training with Angie (the head coach) and other members of the team. I got an awesome cheer as I passed which gave me a boost just when I needed it.
Shortly before I reached the next aid station, my tummy gave a little grumble. "Better watch for a porta potty", I thought to myself as I turned a corner, and, cue music, one appeared. As soon as I saw it, my stomach seized up on itself and it took some serious effort even to make it that short distance.
After some time was given up to the porta potty gods, I carried on. Gosh, this was not easy. What the heck was I thinking when I pictured the run as being this simple cake walk? Sure, my last half marathon was a fabulous day, but it only seems easy in retrospect, and that's considering I wasn't already going 4.5 hours before starting it.
Hitting the turn around point was another big boost. Halfway done the run. Which meant that I was way more then halfway done the race. Only a bit more then 10km left now, right?
At the next aid station (11.5 ish km), I took another gel. I also took the water and coke I'd accepted at every other aid station and somehow attempted to accept a cup of ice as well. Hmm, one hand short. I finished one of the drinks and dumped the ice down my shirt. Never has ice down the back felt so fabulous!
Soon after this, it started to hurt. This is where the training really started to matter. I knew my body could do this. I knew it was able to finish the race. But it wasn't going to be easy. I was going to have to keep going, even if I really wanted to stop.
When I got back to the team trilife aid station (about 14km), Wilma (someone I swim with) asked how I was doing. "I got this." I muttered. I might have muttered it more then once. I might have been quite incoherent. I'm not really sure. All I know is that I was going to keep moving my legs, because if I stopped them, I had no idea if I would be able to get the going again.
When I got to the Weaselhead hill, I walked it without hesitation. Got the aid station at the top of it. Skipped taking my gel. It just seemed too sweet and I was tired of sweet. There was less then 5k left right? Took the water and coke and carried on.
There was my husband and Keith. I think I mustered up a smile and a thumbs up. I don't think I was capable of speech.
I kept going.
By the time I reached the next aid station, I felt horrible. Dizzy, disoriented, nauseous, and oh yeah, tired. Just keep moving my legs. Just run. I think Leigh asked how I was again. Not sure what I told her. Pretty sure she gave me some encouragement.
On I went.
And, for the first time in the race, I really wondered if I'd make it to the finish line. Only a couple kilometers left. I couldn't see clearly. I don't think I was running straight. I thought I might pass out. I thought I might vomit.
And, I'm okay with that.
I'm okay with that, because at the point where I thought my body was at it's limit and it was shutting down on me, I kept moving one way or another.
My vision was still blurry and I felt completely horrible, but I was close. So close. I wondered if I'd feel better if I sat down for a minute, but there was no way I could do that. If I did that, I might not get up again.
I stumbled forward.
It was an eternity, but eventually I started to hear noise again.
Run. Must run.
Through my haze, I saw my husband and Keith. Beejay ran with me for a bit and I was vaguely aware of him. I knew there might be cameras on me, and I couldn't even pull up the smile.
But, I was going to cross that line.
As I got closer, I heard my name. I know I picked up the pace a bit, but there sure was no sprint to this finish line.
But there was the finish line, the one that I was going across!
I could stop.
Run time: 2:33:58
Once I got across the finish, somebody handed me some water. Another person took my timing chip and somebody put the medal around my neck. A pretty awesome medal too!
I stumbled over to a table and was told they were out of finisher's shirts, since one of boxes got held up at customs. I gave them my name had trouble remembering my phone number. Then, I managed to get to the food tent. No protein (I kind of wonder if faster people got protein), but I snagged a mediocre veggie wrap, a couple oranges and a cookie.
Once I put some food in my stomach, I very quickly regained my mental ability. I honestly wonder how much more coherent I would have been in that final section if I'd just taken that last gel?
I had done it.
From that first swim lesson, that first run, just a couple years ago, to a half ironman. The journey may be what really matters, but finishing the race feels pretty darn good.