Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Clearwater 70.3 World Championships Race Report

I've never actually written an "official" Race Report... instead I've penned my thoughts onto my race number, which usually ends up in a pile in my gear closet - with the eventual intention of getting made into a year-end tri season collage. It is my intention to get my 2007 races all online into a cogent Race Report format - if anything for my own sake. Once the bibs get tacked up on the cork board, they're pretty difficult to go over. And besides, I get a kick out of reading other athlete's RRs. So here we go!

Act I. Pre Race:

Race morning: I set the alarm for 3:50 am. Brutal, I know. But as my wave was charging off at 7:15 am, I wanted to make sure I had my race-morning breakfast of oatmeal and coffee a full 3 hours before the start. Plus, I was really hoping I could clear out the intestinal tract - which later proved to be critical. Nate stumbled out of bed around 4:15 (what a trooper!) and we were bumping along the road to the race site by 4:30.

The 70.3 organizers had a really great race-morning set-up. We parked the car in a designated shuttle lot, boarded the bus, and were at the race site around 5:30. I really prefer to arrive 2 hours before race start, which I know is a bit manic. I guess a few past experiences with almost missing my start time has lead to a bit of an extreme on the other end of the scale (the worst arriving via shuttle bus :30 seconds before my wave start at the 2005 Willmington Sprint Triathlon. I was literally running off the bus and into the water, throwing my cap and goggles over my head. Not fun). Also - I've had recurrent nightmares about missing a big race - not a very good feeling, something I would much rather avoid. But as the 70.3 folks were really well organized, it wasn't that essential to arrive too early. Instead I took in the atmosphere, checked and re-checked my bike, watched the pros (in awe!), and made a few (unsuccessful) trips to the port-o-potties. The atmosphere was electric, weather beautiful, Gulf was sparkling and I was ready to GO GO GO!

One interesting thing to note - I saw my second shark before the start of the race. As Nathaniel and I were riding on the shuttle bus, we crossed a really small bridge before turning into the bus drop-off site. While waiting in line to pull up and de-board, I took a glance out the window and into the water. There was a small fishing boat, two men on board, and a purple light that cast eerie shadows along the water. It was still dark, but the pre-dawn light was breaking through, and I was able to see the boat, men, and extremely big fish really clearly. I didn't believe what I saw: as we were inching forward along the road, these two guys were hauling this HUGE SHARK out of the water. I didn't see the dorsal fin, only the caudal (tail fin) and a pectoral fin (side fin). I have no idea what kind it was, I only saw the fins and a very white/pale belly. My first thought was poor shark! And then I snapped out of it and exclaimed, "Look at the shark!" All conversation on the bus ceased immediately, and I heard all of our fellow co-passengers turn towards the window.

Nathaniel gave me a wicked grin and said, "that shark had your name on it." And then he laughed.

What an evil guy - he didn't have to swim in the water!

And, he didn't look like a fat seal in a wetsuit.

Oh well. It's no mystery. We're swimming in salt water, and we all know there are, ahem, creatures in the water. Which is a great incentive to get out. Fast.

Back to the pre-race ritual. Bike looked okay. I pumped up the tires, rechecked the computer, packed my water onto the bottle cages, and bid farewell to her (she's got a name. It's Sjofin, named after a Tutonic goddess who inspires passion) until after the swim. The sun was rapidly rising, breaking into a beautiful orange and yellow glow just below the inky dark blue of the horizon, and I could feel my excitement rise in the atmosphere. I was number 142, a mere rack away from Craig Alexander (#1 - Holy Cow!) and lots of other really fast people. They all looked so cool and calm, joking around, laughing, and checking out each other's gear. I saw the NBC Sports cameras filming athletes as they warmed up, and did my best to look like I knew what I was doing. But as my swim-to-bike bag and bike-to-run bag were already packed and racked, there really wasn't anything else I could do. I grabbed my backpack, stripped off a few layers of clothing and headed over towards Nathaniel. He was waiting on the other side of the transition area barrier, camera in hand, chatting away with other spectators. I held onto my issued green transition bag, wetsuit and swim stuff, and handed Nate my backpack. He asked if I needed anything else, to which I responded no. He then asked if it would be okay to go search for coffee or if I still wanted him to wait for me. I reassured him that he should go FIND COFFEE (it was around 6:15 at this point), and that I would be fine even if I didn't see him before the start. We bid our farewells and I was off on my own.

I spent another few minutes running around, trying to stay calm and warm (it was 58 degrees - perfect conditions, but a little chilly for my Florida adapted body), and finally getting the rest of my clothes off and into my assigned green transition bag. Wetsuit? check. Goggles? check. White cap? check. Gel? check. Disposable water bottle? double check. I handed in my stuff, got the wetsuit halfway on and bounded down towards the gulf. The water felt cool - 66 degrees, maybe 68 - as my feet splashed in the shallows. I got the rest of the wetsuit on, had a spectator help zip me up (quite a bonding process! You know you're a true triathlete when you'll go up to a random stranger and ask them if they could please pleas please zip you up.) I swam a few strokes, splashed around in the water for a few minutes, got adjusted, peed for the umpteenth time, tried to dismiss my lack of a morning poop (sorry it's gross - but we ALL worry about it), and just waited for the race to start.

Finally we were called out of the water, as Greg Welch got all the athletes corralled into the proper area. I was wave #3 (Women 18-34), and got to watch the pros and PC athletes take off. Listening to the National Anthem on race morning was truly a humbling experience. The sun was rising in the east behind the beach hotels and condos, the water was calm, the wind was light, and the crowd of thousands was silent. The moment was overwhelming, and I tried to clear my mind and reflect on what I was about to do. We cheered at the end of the anthem, and I hurried through the chip mat and athlete corral. I joined my fellow white-capped ladies and got ready to go. I kept sipping water, even though at this point I figured it was useless. You could cut the anxiety with a knife - we were all on edge.

The announcer called the pro women to take the line. A big pause. Big breath. And BOOM! The cannon fire. The crowd cheered and we all crained our necks to see how they were swimming. I noticed that about half the field was swimming to the right of the buoys, yet we had all been instructed to keep the buoys on our right side. Oh well - maybe there was a current. I kept this in mind as I got ready to line up.

A few minutes passed and the pro men lined up. A big pause. Big breath. BOOM! The second cannon went off, and there was a mad scramble as the men splashed into the water.

5 minutes. Gulp.

Here we go.

I've never had 5 minutes pass so slowly or so quickly at the same time. It felt like an eternity, and I was hyper aware of my surroundings. We crowded into the corral and then to the starting line in the sand. The sand felt hard packed and cool under my toes, and I couldn't stop myself from shaking. I had a brief flash of the scene in "Gladiator" when Maximus goes into his first gladiator fight. There's a terrified guy in front of him who is involuntarily shaking and then pees on himself. Maximus, on the other had, looked calm and collected, took a small step back, and waited for the start of the fight. I wasn't Maximus.

And before I knew it, we were given the 1 minute mark. And then 30 seconds. A big pause. Deep breath. Wait. Breath. Breath. Breath.

Time stood still and my world paused. A deep breath and a calm before the storm. The moment that lasts an eternity but is over in the blink of an eye. I will never forget it. I gathered my thoughts, focused my energy, and simply let go. I had prepared. I had trained. I was ready. And it was time. My time. I opened my eyes, saw the line I would take, and brought my hand up to my wrist, ready to start my watch the moment the cannon fired. A big pause. Deep breath.

BOOM! We were off.

Act II. The Swim:

3 Words best describe my swim: turbulent, violent, washing-machine. It was brutal. I've seen video footage of IM swim starts, and it always makes me pause and catch my breath. The beauty of seeing 2,000 bodies in motion is overwhelming and electric. While I had nowhere near 2,000 athletes with me, it certainly felt like it. There were probably about 150 or so of us ladies; but no one was very lady like. Aggressive, mean, violent at times - it was pretty scary. I did my best to steer clear of the arms and legs, but more than once found myself getting kicked and/or swam over. Not cool. Kind of like the Cliff Bar commercial where an Ironman triathlete enlists the help of his friends to beat him to a pulp while practicing his swim. Ha ha. At this rate, I would have rather encountered my shark friend. Instead I veered to the left, kept clear of the large buoys (which seemed to be attracting the most people), and found a small group on the outside to swim with. After the first 500 or so (5 buoys, I think), the pace really settled, and I felt myself moving up.

I found a good rhythm, got into a good breath cycle, and for the first time really began to enjoy myself. There's nothing like having a good swim rhythm: and it makes me want to spend more time practicing open water swimming. But as I'm deathly afraid of sharks and other creatures in the water (we all know they're there!), I usually stick to the pool. But I felt strong, the water felt great along my body, and my wetsuit wasn't rubbing the back of my neck (bonus!). I hit the black turn buoy, swam 100 meters, and then started heading back towards shore.

At this point, my little pack had all but broken up. I saw one lone swimmer to my right, a few meters away, but didn't really see anyone else. While sighting, I could see a pack of people, maybe 50 or 80 meters ahead, and decided to try to catch them by the end of the swim. The water was beautifully calm, with only very small rollers rocking me up and down. It was wonderful. Now that I was away from the turbulence, I relaxed and found my stroke. Sighting became increasingly difficult as I drew closer to shore. Not through any fault of my own, but the glaring sun directly in my eyes made seeing the bright yellow buoys all but impossible. I'm sure I swam a zig-zag course for the last 600 meters or so, but came pretty close to closing the gap on the large pack ahead of me. With about 500 meters to go, I caught sight of Pier 60 off to my left, and focused on pulling a little more with my arms. My strokes felt fluid, even though my course may have been a bit off. I would sight every few strokes, and thought I was closing the gap on the group up ahead. More than once I thought about my shark friend and wondered if he/she had any other "friends" who were lurking in the water. Probably. Well - even more incentive to catch up to the pack ahead. No use being the lone zebra on the plain who gets picked off and eaten. Seeing the kayaks and the surfers made me feel a little safer, as I figured they would spot my cries for help and see the red pool of blood if I was eaten. How morbid! But just goes to show, the funny things that cross your mind. With 200 meters to go, I started catching a few people and eventually joined up with the swimmer who was to my left. It would have been better had I been with other people, but I felt more than a bit freaked out at the violence of the initial swim. But that's how it goes - sometimes you get a great pair of feet and a good crowd, and other times you're by yourself. Something I'll work on in the off season, I suppose.

I saw a swimmer in front of me stand up, and I waited until my fingers scraped the sand. Luckily the waves were pretty gentle (I once did a face plant in a big race after getting hit in the rear by a big wave), and I splashed my way out of the gulf. As I crossed the mat, I got a quick glimpse of my time. I was around 31:30, exactly 1:30 off what I wanted to do. I figured it would be okay, and I could make up time on the bike and run. Nathaniel yelled, "Great Job!" just as I was reaching for my wetsuit zipper. Time again, seemed to stand still, and I was hyper aware of my surroundings. His wonderful face stood clearly out from the crowd, and I wondered how in the world he could pick me out of a sea of other wetsuit clad, white cap touting triathletes. Whatta Man! The sound of cowbells brought my focus back into reality, and time again caught up with my body. GO GOGOGOGO! The sand felt warm and soft under my feet as I sprinted up the beach. I calmed my breathing, looked ahead, and thought about my transition.

Act III. Transition 1:

I hit the mat running, tugging at my wetsuit zipper, and then trying to get my shoulders out of the suit. I felt clumsy and slow trudging through the sand, but focused on taking quick and light steps, and by the time I ran through the showers, I had gotten my bearings. The path towards the transition bags veered off the the left, but out of the corner of my eyes, I noticed the wetsuit strippers. Yea! I get to get stripped! A quick change of direction, brief tug at my wetsuit arms, and found myself flopping on the ground - like a fish flopping on a boat deck. A wonderful volunteer told me to relax, and then barked orders at 4 high-school aged girls.

"Go Girls, GO!" he screamed, as he grabbed me under my arms. I relaxed, leaned back, and hoped my shorts wouldn't come off with my wetsuit. Note to self: next time make sure my race shorts have a tie! I felt 4 pairs of hands grip my suit in various places, and felt my body get dragged towards the ladies. Luckily, they guy gripping my arms had a good hold on me, and before I knew what was happening, he had hoisted me back onto my feet, was thrusting my wetsuit into my arms, and yelling at me to get going. They were amazing! The crowd cheered wildly, my heart raced, and I grinned in spite of myself. Holy Cow! I had just been wetsuit stripped, my shorts didn't come off, and had just been lifted off my feet by the coolest volunteer in the world, who obviously didn't mind getting drenched by triathletes.

I sprinted into the rows of transition bags, while yet another volunteer asked what my number was. "142!" I yelled, just as a second volunteer handed me my blue bag (blue = bike; red = run!), and a third directed me into the transition tent. I noticed the long braids of the girl in front of me, and we entered the tent almost at exactly the same time.

The tent was very dark, and my eyes took a moment to adjust to the dimness. Before I really knew what was happening, I stumbled my way into a corner and dropped my wetsuit. I sorted through the bag and tried to figure out what was where. Immediately three girls surrounded me, helped me sort through my stuff and asked what I needed. I pointed to my sunglasses, put on my socks, and tried to stuff my wetsuit into the bag. "Don't worry, we'll do that for you!" one of the girls yelled. For the umpteenth time that morning, I found myself thanking the volunteers and impressed by their efficiency. I felt like I was slowing them down. In a flash, I was off the chair, sunglasses, socks, and race belt on. I flew past rows and rows of bikes, headed towards the very end of the carpet, past the sponsor tents. I spotted my bike at the very end of the second row, grabbed my helmet, fastened the strap, and got the bike off the rack.

My bike hummed as I ran the short distance to the Bike Out sign, where volunteers were directing us to hop on the bike past the mount/dismount line.

Show time. I got on Sjofin, relaxed my shoulders, slipped my feet into my shoes (which had been expertly rubber banded and were waiting open and ready for my feet to slide into - finally a quick hop on the bike without fumbling around with my shoes! Yea!!), heard the snap of the rubber bands, and was on my way.

Act IV. The Bike:

The first few miles of the bike were pretty easy. I didn't want to go out too hard and blow myself out too soon. I hit the "big" causeway around 1 mile in, spun up the "hill", had a great cadence, and passed two girls. There were two ahead who put on a big burst down the hill, and I kept them in my sights as they moved forward. After 5 minutes or so, I let them go - my legs were still warming up, and the last thing I wanted was a high heart rate so early on. I passed a few more girls, and got passed twice, but really didn't think much of it.

The first 20 minutes were mentally the most difficult part of the ride for me. It's intimidating getting onto the bike and thinking about hammering away for 56 miles. How do you wrap your brain around that? It seems so unnatural, not right. Your brain reminds you that 56 miles is a long way to go, while your body just goes and does what it's supposed to do. The Body vs The Mind. Not a good scenario, as the two are supposed to work together. As I crossed an intersection, I wondered what the chances would be of getting a flat. NO! BAD! That would be AWFUL! I quickly pushed the thought out of my mind, and focused on the task at hand. Just break it down, simple steps. That's all.

Bring it back to the basics: I thought about the 4 X 30 minute bike rides in heart rate zone 4 - my favorite ass-kicker workout. That's all this was. 4 X 30 minutes. With a little extra thrown in for good measure. I was hoping to bike around 2:27, something I thought was possible given the course and conditions. Focus.

My body got warmer, and my mind slowly calmed. Focus. Breath. Heart rate check. Good. I took in a gel, grabbed a sip of water, and remained focused. I had been on the bike for 35 minutes or so, rounding out past 11 miles. So far so good. My legs felt great, my body was responding to the increased pressure well, and my mental focus was strong. Somewhere along the way, I passed Army Major David Roselle and another PC athlete - both extremely motivating. The PC athlete was biking with one leg - one leg the entire way and NO prosthetic on the other! This guy was hardcore. I had never seen anything like it, a true inspiration. It made my earlier mental hangup seem downright silly. Here I was lamenting a flat tire, and this guy was biking 56 miles with one leg and no prosthetic. A 56 mile single leg race. Wow. I've got a hard time lasting 56 seconds doing single leg drills on my bike, and I was truly inspired by this spectacular athlete. I yelled, "Great Job!" as I passed, and he smiled back at me. Life wasn't so bad. A minute or two later I came up next to Major Roselle. I thought about the struggles he had been through, the sacrifices he had made, and all the work he was doing for wounded veterans and shouted, "Ooh-Ra!" He smiled back at me, waved, and then settled back into his race, his journey. Fair winds, my friend I thought to myself. I thought about Nathaniel, grateful that he had returned safeley from two deployments, and then focused on my race. Again. Focus, breath, relax!

I was back in my zone, spinning away at 95 rpm, feeling more comfortable by the minute. It was just another day, another wonderful opportunity to bike fast on my bike and race wheels. I get to do this! I get to go fast! For 2 and a half hours, I get to enjoy the senses of this race. This is my world. This is my reality. This is my race. Focus.

And then, one by one, I started getting passed by groups of men from the waves behind me. At first it was amazing, these wonderful athletes soaring past, perched precariously on their saddles. I would shout words of encouragement as they passed. Some would respond, others would just give me a funny look. No sense in being too serious, this was after all, supposed to be fun! One athlete turned into two, which turned into three, and eventually small packs were wizzing by. I did my best to stay to the far right, kept my head down, and focused on my own race. A few times I saw a few ladies riding right along side, but tried not to think anything of it. By mile 15 or so, I had passed the first penalty tent and saw (to my dismay) 5 people waiting. Wow. And it was still early in the race. I noticed a bright, baby-blue Kuota bike, the girl standing over it seemed pretty impatient to get going.

As I headed south along the longest stretch (hwy 19, I think.), I was passed by hoards of people. Lots of them drafting. Nothing I could do. I felt angry. I felt helpless. I was mad. We had plenty of room, as the entire 2 lanes of highway had been shut down for the race. Around 1:15 into the ride, I was passed by a large contingent of women. They were blatantly drafting, no way around it. I could do nothing. I deliberateley got out of my aero position, sat up, felt the breeze of wind as they few by, and made a mental not of what they looked like. I might as well, as I was going to kick their ass on the run. Savor it now, ladies - while you can! I thought, grimly to myself. But it doesen't matter - I'm doing my own race. My own thing. I can't control what other athletes do or don't do. But I can control myself, my reactions, my thoughts.

About 30 seconds after this pack of women blew by me, I heard the rumbling of a motorcycle. A quick glance over my left shoulder confirmed the race official. I smiled, waved, and turned my attention forward. The official gave me a quick look and zipped forward. I could see the motorcycle close the gap between me and the pack of women ahead. They were oblivious to its presence, thoroughly enjoying the ride. The official quickly changed all that.

I've never seen a penalty given during a race - but I learned how it was done. In the distance, I saw the official pull out a card and start pointing at people. Two of the girls actually pulled to the side to talk to him or ask him a question. I didn't get a chance to see any more of what had happened, as I quickly rode by. I passed another girl who had not joined the pack and she made a comment to me about the blatant drafting. "Can you believe this?" she yelled.

I only shook my head, told her to hang in there, and kept going.

At 1:24 I passed another penalty tent. This time there were too many people waiting for me to count. And I saw my friend with the baby blue Kuota again. Isn't there some kind of rule about how many times one can get penalized? I was angry, disgusted by what I was witnessing. It was horrible: people, no fellow triathletes were blatantly drafting and cheating. Whatever happened to playing fair, following the rules, being true to oneself, and true to the sport? Where were the morals? What had happened to the ethics of the sport? Moreover, how could people - knowing in their heart that they were cheating - be satisfied with their race and willing to live with what they had done? Passing the penalty tent at 1:24 was a bit of a breakthrough to me. It was then and there that I decided I would rather finish last and ride an enthical and honest race, than sacrifice my morals for individual gain or time. I had gone into the race determined to race clean, honest, and fair - but 1:24, as I passed the penalty tent I was downright disgusted. To hell with place, I was going to do my own thing. If I was passed by 1,000 people, I didn't care. As long as I gave it my best effort, did the best that I could, I would be okay with it. No regrets. Just myself and my own race. Cheating wasn't even a choice. It was never an option to gamble my moral ideals on a race. I refuse. It's just not right. And it hurts the sport.

I had a long time - another hour and change to mull over this idea in my head. Yes, I was still passed by groups of riders, and I did see officials on the course doing their best to penalize the obvious offenses. But it came down to the individual triathlete. This was, after all, an individual sport. I thought about cheating, drug use, drafting, and made lots of mental notes. I resolved to do the right thing, to stay true and honest to myself. I could not control others, just how I responded. I looked at the long road ahead, focused my energy, put my head down, and pedaled my heart out. Yes, I was still passed, but at this point I was in my own world. My blinders were on, yet every time I would pass an athlete - out there on their own - I tried to give a few words of encouragement. We were out there, not working together, but banded together by our determination to race our own race. It was freeing, liberating, and I felt myself relax.

I had gone into the race with the idea that I wanted to break 4:40, and finish in the top 10 in my age group. After I passed the sin bin at 1:24, I relenquished that idea. No longer did I care about placement - I just wanted to do my own thing. And that's when I started having the best race. I let go of thoughts, expectations, and instead focused on having the time of my life. Focus. Relax. As I relaxed, my heart rate lowered a few beats, I felt my anger seeping away, and my cycling cadence became smooth. It never ceases to amaze me how much emotions affect our physical performance. When I let go, I truly relaxed. And just as in the swim, I found a good rythm. This was fun. This was what racing was supposed to be. To heck with everyone else. It was just me and the bike. Another 2 X 30 minutes left to go. And I've done it before, and I could sure do it again.

The residents of Clearwater made that easy. Throughout the course, I passed people sitting out on their lawns, cheering from the side of the street, and gathered in groups at street corners. They were shouting, cheering, ringing bells, blowing whistles, and making all sorts of noise. It was wonderful, and I never felt alone. I felt emotional when one yelled, "Thank you for comming to Clearwater!" It was wonderful - they were thanking us, the ahtletes for racing in their town. The community was truly special, their support and enthusiasm was apparent right down to the ornately painted signs scattered on laws throughout the course. Very motivating, and helped me along in the last 10 miles.

When I turned North and headed back towards Pier 60, I encountered a bit of a headwind. Screw the drafters - if the only way they could go fast on this course was with a pack, then there was no way they could last on the run. I downshifted, adjusted my position a bit to get a little more strength from my quads, made sure my head and upper body remained in a tight tuck, and kept pushing as hard as I could. Just keep it up! Keep going! Focus! You're almost there, just a few more miles until the run. Then you can pass all the people who can't ride for themselves. Just work to keep the gap closed as much as possilbe. Focus. You've got this. You've done 10 mile time trials all the time - 25 minutes tops. Let's go! FOCUS!

The final 5 miles passed quickly, and after a few bumps across an intersection, I nearly teared up. Got to find better shorts! I downshifted, increased the cadence, was greatly amused when two girls in my age group rode past me 2 miles from the finish. By the sound of their breath, they were working pretty hard. Wrong time, ladies! I thought. There would be no way they would run well if they were smashing their pedals in such a violent fashon. I had spent so much time practicing running off the bike, I was confident I could have a good run. I knew the final 5 or 10 minutes I would ease off the pace, spin a little more, and focus on the transition. I enjoyed the final climb over the causeway, reveled in the cheers from the many spectators, and was amazed by the beauty of the beautiful blue water under the bridge. A quick check confirmed no sharks (visible, that is).

I rode around the final round about, was once again amazed at the number of volunteers, pulled my feet out of the shoes, and got ready to dismount. Here was another aspect of the race I was looking forward to: handing off my bike to a volunteer. I had seen it happen in the full Ironman race, but was looking forward to experiencing it first hand. I managed to NOT hit my legs on the water bottles behind my saddle as I swung my leg over while coasting to a stop. 2 years of transition work and I can finally dismount while coasting. Sure, I've lost a shoe or two, and once made a bit of a fool out of myself while wearing a slightly small swimsuit (the guy behind me saw a bit more than he was expecting to - yikes!) - but all worth the sacrifice because now I feel confident while hopping on and off the bike.

I hit the ground running, crossed the mat into the transition, and handed my bike to the bike catcher. Again, wonderful volunteers - thank you! The bike segment was over - it was both wonderful and very frustrating at the same time. I was really happy with how I did, but dissapointed at the same time with some of the other athletes. I just don't understand why people are willing to sacrifice their honesty and integrity for the sake of a faster time or higher placement. In their hearts, they've got to realize they cheated, right? And if not, well, I guess that's even sadder. Overall, I was 4 minutes off my goal, as I crossed the line around 2:31.

Act V. Transition 2:

This time I was almost ready for the fantastic volunteers. Running past the bags, I gleefully shouted my number, recieved my red bag from a great gal, and ran as fast as my wibbly legs would carry me into the tent. My red bike-t0-run bag was a lot bigger than the blue swim-to-bike bag. I had overpacked my gear, and it was crammed in. Just what exactly did I pack? You ask... good question. I had 2 pairs of shoes - racing flats and my regular training shoes. Additionally, a full camelback of water, 4 gels that wererubber-banded together, a visor, salt tabs, and an extra pair of socks. I figured it would be better to be prepared.

When I sprinted into the tent, I made a beeline for the chairs and immediateley dumped my bag full of stuff on the ground. Before I knew what I was doing, the gals in the tent were asking me what I needed, what I wanted, and if I wanted any water... they were wonderful. I marveled at their efficiency, and then reminded myself that I needed to RACE and GO FAST! I grabbed my training shoes, yelled visor, dropped my aero helmet, grabbed the gels, and before I knew it, they were telling me to GO GO GO, that they would re-pack the transition bag. I didn't need any further motivation, and was quickly on my way. I noticed one final penalty tent on the way out, but didn't pay attention to the athletes serving time. They simply weren't worth the effort.

I darted through the chute, and found myself running under the RUN OUT banner. A glance at my watch showed that I needed to run around 1:31 if I wanted to break 4:40. Deep breath. Focus. Relax. Here we go. I could feel my heart rate increase as I ran across the timing mat. I reset my watch, told myself I was going to run a 1:29, and was off.

No regrets. Just let go. No regrets. Focus. Breath. No. Regrets.

Act VI. The Run:

About 45 seconds into the run, I heard Nathaniel. His voice was wonderful. I don't remember if I said anything, but apparently I waved. He got a picture. I was focused and determined to run down as many people as possible. If they had the audacity to pass me in packs on the bike, well - I might as well savor the next 13.1 miles. An hour and a half of going faster than other people. Yea! Here we go!

I made a quick assessment of my body. My legs felt great, and I was happy I didn't go out too hard, and really happy that I had spun in the last 5 minutes or so. My turnover was fast - all the running drills that Memo had me do were really paying off. It was now easy for me to hold a running cadence of 93 beats per minute. I felt zippy, I felt fast, I felt like I was flying. Hhhmmm. It made me wonder if I really worked my hardest on the bike - a thought that I quickly pushed aside. I had given it my best at the time, and was now focused forward. Focus. Relax. Breath. Focus. My stomach concerned me the most. I had followed my nutrition plan: a gel 15 minutes before the start, and then about 2 gels per hour on the bike. But my stomach just didn't feel quite right. I felt like I needed to use the bathroom - but I thought I might be able to hold it off. Just an hour and a half - a long run. Just 90 more minutes and you're done. Then you can spend hours in the bathroom if you want. Just not now. It felt a little wobbly, slightly bloated, but I focused on the task at hand.

Just like the bike, 13.1 miles of running at a fast pace can seem a bit daunting at first. Mind v Body part II. Just focus. You like out and back courses! You can see people, and they can see you. They will be afraid because you're running so fast, flying by everyone who rode the train on the bike. Break it down. 2 X 45 minutes. 4 X 22 minutes. Easy. Just another Sunday morning run. A quick check of my heart rate confirmed I was in zone 2, and my breathing felt great. I felt steady, I felt fast, and as long as my intestines would cooperate, I knew I could throw down a great run. Mind over matter. If I don't mind, things just don't matter!

I passed the first mile in 6:45, and felt great. I kep passing people left and right. Every time I passes someone, I tried to give a bit of encouragement. I had gone beyond the anger on the bike, and instead was feeding off my own energy. With each pass made, with each word of encouragement given, I felt my own pace increase. My spirits soard, and I felt like I was floating inches above ground. And then I started picking off women, one by one. Eacth time I would pass one in my age group, I made a special effort to be really nice, all the time controlling my breathing and making my run speed seem effortless. Believe me: I had been passed by so many fast runners in the beginning of my own triathlon years, that I knew how it felt. Not great. It's hard enough laboring through a half-marathon, let alone to be passed my someone who's having a great time and going really fast. For the first time, I felt like the "fast" person. It was great. I want that feeling again!

Around mile 3 I passed then-first-place female Julie Dibbons who was on her second loop. She was tired, but looked amazing while running - a perfect triathlete physique of long sculpted muslces packed into a powerful frame. I told her that she looked awesome, and then kept going on my way. Here she was, the second loop into her run, holding a fast pace, and having just biked an unassisted 2:15. Incredible. What a great athlete! Around mile 4.5, eventual race winner Mirand Carafrae few by me. It was beautiful to watch, as she was incredibly efficient and made running look easy. I felt like I was going backwards in comparison to her, but I watched in awe as she kept flying by runners up ahead. Wow.

After the first loop, I was able to see that there were still a few girls infront of me. Running past Nathaniel right before the turnaround, I remember yelling, "I LOVE YOU!" at the top of my lungs. I was just so grateful that he was there, sharing this moment with me. I hit the turnaround in 45:30, and made my way back to Nate. "I'll see you in 45 minutes. I LOVE YOU!" I yelled again. (Later, he said that he got a few stares from his neighbors, but that they all chalked it up to the fact that I had already gone 64 miles or so, and was probably a bit "out of it")

They weren't that far off. While the first lap blew by pretty quickly, I knew I still had a lot to do on the second. I gritted my teeth, put my head down, focused on leg turnover, and redoubled my efforts. I had noticed a girl in a white and grey zoot suit who looked pretty speedy, and estimated her about 1 or 2 minutes up on me. She became my new target. It didn't matter all the people I was passing - just get to Zoot girl, and then reasses. My stomach was beginning to voice its discontent, and I tried to push aside any unpleasant pictures. I hadn't been paying attention to the port-o-potties on the first loop, figuring I wouldn't need them. Now I was regretting that choice. I was hoping desperately that my stomach would cooperate, and just hold out. Just another 45 minutes, that's all.

I don't remember as much of the second loop as of the first. It was harder. I worked a LOT more, and I was grateful that I hadn't blown myself out on the bike. I tried to keep my heart rate in check, but it remained comfortable and I was reassured by the numbers. I had done all this before, I had run faster, with more stress, with a higher heart rate - this... this was a piece of cake. Just 45 more minutes. Breathe. Focus. Relax. Focus.

Around 11 miles I saw Zoot girl. Ah. Target achieved. She had slowed considerably, and I was almost dissapointed. I wanted to fly by her when she was at her best, working her hardes. Not when she had slowed to a more leisurly pace. Not fair! So I instead focused on aonther girl just ahead of Zoot-lady and made a move to pass her. Even though I was working at what felt like a much higher level, I was sill managing to pass people. The course was more crowded, as many were on their first loop and others were in the middle of their second.

The final 2 miles were surreal. I knew my time would be close, but I had confidence. I ended up running and chatting with a really nice guy from Germany. I don't remember his name, but I DO remember his details. He worked in London as a stocktrader, had a German tennis-playing girlfriend, and was 43. We kept each other company, and when I felt my pace slow around mile 12, I made it my mission to stick with him.

Half a mile to go. My legs were not happy. I had stopped checking my heart rate, because I had a feeling of where it would be. My shoulders were aching with the constant strain of holing my posture (PROUD running form!), and I was looking forward to reaching the finishing line. My stomach was in serious disaray, and I could think of no single thing more embarassing than having an accident in the finishing chute. Not a great finishing photo, I can tell you that mutch. I bid farewell to my German friend, an vowed to run down 3 more people in the closing 400 meters. I picked up my knees, felt my speed increase and tried to fcus.

300 meters. I could see the final round about, hear people yelling and cheering. I made sure to wipe all the salt and snot off my nose, on the off chance that the finishing picture actually looked good. I blew past one guy. And then a second.

200 meters. I was rounding the turn, somewhere in the distance I heard Nathaniel's voice, but I have no recollection of what he was saying. I thought about what I had just done, what I had just accomplished. Just a littel further. My breath was ragged, and my libs felt heavy. How in the world did people run a full IM at this pace?

100 meters. I was in the chute. I could see the Black Ford 70.3 arch and the blue carpet. I had arrived. I was going to make it. I focused. I breathed. I relaxed. I looked up at the clock and... realized I was 19 seconds over my time.

I crossed the line and folded like a pretzel. A volunteer draped a towl over my shoulders while another placed a medal around my neck. A third lady asked if I was okay and then helped me to the medical tent. My quads were NOT happy, and my stomach was really upset. After checking my weight, one of the doctors gave me some chicken broth, and I sat on a cot while slowly sipping. And then my stomach made a weird gurgle. It literally jumped, and without realizing it or giving any warning, I yelled, "I need to use the bathroom NOW!" Another volunteer escorted me - he was really great, and was able to discern the urgency of my voice. He said that he had kids and he could tell when they meant business.

Act VII. Post Race:

After the medical tent and a quick massage, I met up with Nathaniel. It was great to see him, give him a hug, and thank him for his support. He asked me how I thought I did. My time was 4:40:19 - not the 4:40 or 4:35 I was hoping for, but a pr nonetheless. I figured that if I was top 15, maybe top 10, I would be happy. I just didn't know how many people I had been able to run down. My placement didn't matter, because I had had a great race, a really wonderful season, and had so much to be thankful for. All the pressure, all the hard times, all the tough workouts, lonley training sessions - everything had been worth it. I went out, raced my own race, and grew in the process. And I like the person and athlete I am - honesty, morals, integrity... they all mean a lot to me. And I was proud of the fact that I upheld my prinicples. But based on the drafting that I saw, I resigned myself to maybe a top 10 (if I was lucky) finish.

When I saw the posted results, I nearly fainted. It said that I was 2nd. Holy Shit. I was in disbelieve. No effing way. This had to be some kind of mistake. After all the torment on the bike, after seeing what I saw, and to be able to still finish second was great. I laughed when I saw my bike time - but you know what? It was honest. It wasn't the fastest one out there, but that was far from the point. It was my time, my race, my own effort. And I couldn't be prouder.

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