I returned to New York today after a great weekend and experience in New Orleans. The race is already starting to feel like it was ages ago. I wish the newness of it all would last longer. Before the details slip my mind, here is a full account of my race day.
I woke up at 4:40 a.m. Was it already time to race? I immediately dressed in my tri suit and sat down to have an English muffin with peanut butter and some coffee. I was in a hotel so the muffin was untoasted and the coffee black so it was functional rather than enjoyable. I had a bit of water and immediately started on the Gatorade. My coach told me to sip it all morning until 15 minutes prior to the race start. Yum. Gatorade at 5 a.m. Good stuff. I headed out of the hotel at 5:15 to catch the 5:30 bus to transition. I was feeling decently rested and calm, a good way to be on race morning.
Race Warm Up:
After setting up transition, I took a barefoot walk a mile and change to the swim start. There had been buses available, but I had a lot of extra time and thought the walk would relax me. I ended up walking alongside a guy named Chuck who has been doing triathlons for 20 years. I really hope that is me someday. Toward the end of my walk, the start gun went off and the pro field swam by. Just knowing athletes such as Chris McCormack and Natascha Badmann were in there was a thrill. I got into my wetsuit, finished my Gatorade and entered the start corral. I was expecting the wave of nerves to take over but it never happened. I was feeling good.
There wasn't an opportunity for a warm up so I got in when they sent my wave out, let some water in the suit, did a few strokes to check the goggles, then positioned myself at the very back along the buoy line. I still don’t have the confidence to be amongst the other swimmers at the start. I lose a few minutes doing this, but for now it’s worth it to avoid the masses.
The water was incredibly smooth and a bit chillier than Friday, but very comfortable. I was surprised by how quickly I settled in. My stroke felt strong, I had positive thoughts in my head and I was passing some of the women who started ahead of me. If it weren’t for my atrocious navigation skills I could have done so much better with the same amount of effort. Even though this swim was point to point, I ended up veering far to the left and swimming right along the buoy line, but sometimes overshooting it a bit. I almost slammed into a kayak or two.
I felt like I was out there alone for most of this swim. There was a lot of space that allowed for each swimmer to find a nice, clear patch of water. I loved that. I think it’s partly why I was so comfortable. There was minimal contact with the other swimmers that mostly involved a bump or foot grab here and there. I only took one hard blow and it was squarely in my left shoulder/bicep as luck would have it. My arm had already started to hurt by that time, about 20 minutes in, so it wasn’t that much of a setback.
I reached this point where I felt I could swim indefinitely. While my time ended up being slower than hoped, this was by far the best open water swim I've ever had. It was anxiety free and I wasn’t wishing for it to end and that counts for a lot.
This was a great ride for me. It was my first race since my accident and my longest outdoor ride on my tri bike. I didn’t feel as timid as expected and was able to maintain a decent pace for much of it. I paced myself with heart rate as a measure and was trying to stay below 139 bpm at all times. This was easy at first and I was even able to get up to 23 mph at times, but as the wind picked up, it required more effort to generate speed. At first I hoped the wind was just in one direction and we’d escape it when we turned, but it seemed to be blowing regardless of which way we were headed. And it got stronger and gustier as the ride went on. At times I couldn't get above 14 mph in my easiest gear and my heart rate kept edging above 140. By the end of the ride my legs were burning and I was dying to get off the bike. I worried how this would impact my run.
The other issue on the bike was nutrition. I had a plan that required 94 ounces of Gatorade Endurance and 3-4 gels. I was carrying 57 ounces of Gatorade with me and planned to pick up the remaining two bottles on the course. The first bottle exchange was too soon so I passed it. I was just about out of fluids as I approached the second exchange so I planned to get my first Gatorade, only as I slowed to grab one I realized they only had water. I skipped it thinking I’d stop at the next. I arrived to find out they also only had water and I was parched by this point so I slowed down and grabbed a bottle. It’s important to note I did this without stopping and without crashing my bike! I dumped it in my aero bottle and moved on. I decided to increase my gel intake since it appeared there would be no Gatorade in my future. It would turn out I wouldn’t get anymore water either.
Regardless of the minor challenges, this was a really outstanding ride for me. I beat my goal of 3:30 with a split of 3:16:12 and I actually enjoyed it. The course was entirely closed to traffic, even a bit along an interstate. That made it an incredibly unique experience.
I was worried going into the run since I was dehydrated and my legs felt trashed from battling the wind. I was definitely experiencing more discomfort than in my brick training as well, but was still able to cover the first mile in about 8 minutes. This was faster than my plan so I backed it off and settled into a solid, consistent pace right around 9:00/mile. I waited 5 minutes before attempting to refuel to give my body a chance to adjust to the change. I grabbed a Gatorade at every aid station and concentrated on slow sipping. But everything I drank sloshed around in my stomach like it wasn’t able to absorb. It took a full mile or two in some cases to get that to go away. It was frustrating and caused perpetual stitches. I slowed the sipping, skipped a station or two and concentrating on deep breathing to deal with it.
While running a thought kept entering my mind: How the heck am I going to do double this distance??? I tried to ignore the discomfort and think about the fun aspects of the race and how proud I was just to be there. One year ago I was unable to complete even one leg of this race let alone the entire thing put together. I didn't even know how to swim. That just goes to show how far I’ve come in a short time.
I'd say mile 10 is where I started to wish for the end. Lying in the shade seemed like a lovely idea and my legs felt like they weighed 100 pounds. It was around that point that I passed a bagpiper and he started to play. That’s pretty cool, but don’t they play bagpipes at funerals?
A few blocks before entering the French Quarter, a spectator asked the athletes behind me what we got for finishing. One of them said "satisfaction." People who don't do this or understand it will never know the value of that satisfaction. It sometimes feels like an odd way to have fun on a Sunday - getting up at the crack o' stupid and putting your body through extreme physical and mental effort - but I couldn't imagine my life any other way.
The sound of the crowd got louder and louder and a race official said we had just 800 meters to go. I turned the corner onto Decatur Street and instantly got chills. The finish chute was long and narrow and the spectators were several people deep. It was an unbelievable experience to be running through the French market toward such a spectacular finish. I was pretty emotional and had to hold my breath for a moment to keep from hyperventilating. This was definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Swim – 46:44
T1 – 6:17
Bike – 3:16:12
T2 – 5:41
Run – 2:01:58
Total – 6:16:50