Race Day Write Up-IM 70.3 Pigman Long Course
I’d signed up for this race at the tail end of last year’s race season-I figured it would give me something to train for all winter and I’d be ready by August 18 to kick butt and take names. Then I got engaged. The winter wasn’t spent in the pool or at spin class, but on the couch and in the kitchen. I’d been waffling as to whether I should just put this off until next year, since the race was 20 days before my wedding, but a friend convinced me we’d do it together and signed up on the spot. I was committed. And terrified.
We loaded up our bikes Saturday morning and headed to Cedar Rapids. That is one long, boring drive. Not a lot else I can say about that! Got to packet pick up, looked around, and boy did I feel outclassed. I run triathlons not because I have any designs on being the fastest girl at the race, but because I simply need to do it. I have a desire to participate, to keep moving forward, and if I’m at the back of the pack? More motivation to get better. Every triathlon I get to, I feel honored to compete with such clearly seasoned athletes. Their bikes look shinier, their helmets more aero, their gear so clearly designed to shave seconds off each movement they make. In the parking lot, we were getting ready to go in and the couple next to us looked over at our bikes hanging on the back of the car. “Who’s riding the cyclocross?” they asked. I proudly told them I was, but they laughed and wished me good luck. That took a little air out of my sails. After a nice pasta dinner, we headed back to the hotel to soak in the hot tub and head to bed for the big day. As is customary, sleep was terrible that night. Tossing, turning, flat pillows, noisy hallways. We got up before the alarm and went through the motions, and then headed out on the road.
Arriving at the site, my mind was blown. I easily had the bulkiest bike there, again. I thought once I got rid of the mountain bike I did my first few tri’s on, it was smooth sailing from there. But it took me right back to that first sprint triathlon I did at Holmes Lake. These people weren’t messing around-and why should they be? We had 70.3 miles of sunny road ahead of us. Shiny spandex, alien looking aero helmets, quads of steel. I did meet some super nice ladies at the porta pottie line who had also asked the race director how long they’d leave the finish line up (9.5 hours is the answer we both got). Guessing ages would be impolite, but I peeked at the post race stats and they were around 50, and were doing the race for a friend with cancer.
Got our transition areas all set up, nutrition attached to the bike and laid out for the run, and went down to wait on the beach. Newbies can always seem to find other newbies at a triathlon and we got to talk to a few more nervous souls completing their first half IM. I was pretty zen at this point, and just ready to get this thing started. I know I’m not fast at any of the segments-my normal speed at the run isn’t a given after 57.2 miles of bike and swim, so I mentally budgeted myself an 8 hour “work” day to get this thing done. The swim start was a time trial entry, instead of the normal mass release we’re used to. I think I actually prefer this method-it’s a little less flaily, and I didn’t get kicked in the face as is customary at a triathlon. The main things I remember from the swim were really wanting to pee and not being able to, and constantly realizing how off course I was. Orienting yourself during the swim portion of a triathlon is a constant concern, and periodically I’d have to check buoy position and right my course. The swim ended up taking me about 53 minutes, and yes I did pee in the lake. I should also mention that I’m one of a handful of people not in wetsuits for the swim. It’s my understanding that they help with buoyancy in the water, because it’s certainly not to keep warm. But the down side of that is that I could probably have gotten done 5-10 minutes earlier if I was to suit up. It’s a trade-off I’m willing to make because a) watching people get into those wetsuits looks like a new level of humiliation, b) Peeling said wetsuit off after a race seems terrible, and c) spending the money on a wetsuit I’ll end up wearing a handful of times a year is just not an expense I need or can afford. Only other thing of note from the swim is about halfway through, I started feeling something pull on my neck, but there’s not a lot you can do for adjustments to your swim cap in the middle of a seaweedy lake.
Ran up the beach to transition, and was really bummed to see how few bikes were still left waiting to be ridden. Our classification (group 8, women under 40) was 8 out of 10 in transition, meaning I had a long run to get to my bike, but a short walk out of transition to mount up and start riding. Got my helmet secured, feet wiped down enough to get my socks and cycling shoes on, and was on my way. I want to point out that as you increase the distance of your triathlon, it becomes more important to make absolutely sure you get all the sand off your feet before you put your socks and shoes on. That tiny grain of sand stuck to your big toe is livable for a sprint distance, but during the half marathon portion of the half IM, it’s going to wear a formidable blister into whatever surface it’s attached to. I bring a squirty water bottle and rinse off before drying them and getting my shoes on-you know, for safety.
Hopped on the bike and pedaled as fast as I could onto the course. The 56 mile course took us through 2 towns, a couple of railroad tracks, and a boatload of rolling hills. I was prepared for this, but my partner for the race Kristina was really not happy about all the hills. Again, I’m riding a Jake with my knobby tires still on, so I was pretty happy to check my computer and realize I was maintaining about a 15 mph pace. The reason I left my bumpy tires on was twofold: I did the majority of my training and long rides on a crushed limestone path, so that is what I was used to, and I figured sturdier tires decreased the chances I’d pop a tire on the course. One mantra you’ll always hear a triathlete preach is not to make any equipment changes on race day. You always want to make sure you’ve trained in your tri suit, nothing you’ve never ate before, no new shoes, etc. Nothing like getting 30 miles out and finding your suit gives you a killer wedgie.
While on the bike, I consumed a Smuckers Uncrustable PB&Honey, some shot blocker chews, and not nearly enough water. They let us know there were bottle exchanges about every 10 miles, and made an effort to keep us hydrated on the course. I brought one bottle of my own water, and one of the bottles they’d given us at check in. When I traded out my Pigman bottle around mile 28, I realized they were filling them with HEED, the electrolyte replacement fluid they’d talked about on their website. It tasted, quite frankly, like warm pee. Salty, faintly lemony, and due to my slower performance was completely warm. I couldn’t drink it, so I lost out on that hydration which would end up being a bit of a downfall during the run. They had some disposable squeeze topped water bottles out on the course as well, but those didn’t fit in your bike cage so I’d have to take a big gulp and throw it away (and they tasted like warm plastic anyway, which didn’t help my burgeoning headache). My legs still felt pretty strong throughout the ride, but I did notice that the chip timer seemed to be wearing a nice hole in my shin. And it turned out that the feeling I’d had on my neck earlier was my swim cap or goggles burning some nice holes in my skin on either side. We’d talked about how stinky the caps were the night before, but that they were thicker than the race caps we’re used to. As a result, I decided to forego my normal double cap approach to keep my “regular” cap on and put the race one atop it. See, kids: nothing new on race day.
Pulled in to the recreational area after the bike, and saw a bunch of people finishing their run. Those seasoned IM athletes are animals! I came in at 3:45 for the bike, threw it on the rack, changed into my running shoes, and headed out for the last part of my day. I made it about 3 miles before my first walk at a water station. From there on out, I had to stop at each station, walk a bit and double fist the water cups. My lips had a fine crust on them, the water was so cold, and I knew I was in real hydration trouble. So I just ran/walked as best as I could, and just kept moving forward. The run would have gone a lot better if I’d taken in some more water on the bike, and if the route contained as much as a tree’s worth of shade-there was not a single respite from the 90 degree day, and starting my run at around 1:00 PM didn’t ease the sun beating down on me at all. When I got to around the 9 mile mark, my feet started letting me know that they were pretty displeased with all the abuse they’d taken. Around mile 10, I knew it was almost over and picked up the pace as much as possible. Came in to the park with about 2 miles to go, and passed a girl. Stopped and walked a bit up a particularly steep hill and she passed me back. One thing about triathlon racing that you may not know is that they mark you on your calf with your age. I saw she was exactly my age, and my competitive streak kicked in. I’d beat at least one person in my age group, gosh darn it! Kicked it into gear and realized I still had something left to give. Ran it into the chute, and even gave a little sprint at the end. Looked up and realized I’d come in about 35 minutes ahead of “schedule”-7:24:55. Kristina had done amazing and came in right around 6 hours.
We had been going back and forth about whether or not we wanted to stay in Cedar Rapids and relax that night before driving back Monday morning, or if we just wanted to go back home that night. Well, around hour 2 on the bike all I could think about was how much I wanted to sleep in my own bed. Kristina agreed, and we decided to head back that night. Took some much needed showers, fished the seaweed out of our sports bras, and headed over for some Jimmy Johns for the road. Sandwiches seem to be my go-to after a big calorie burn-not too tough on the stomach, which was just what I needed.
I saw the race results, and I know I was in the last 25% of finishers. I’ll say that all things considered, I’m happy with how I did. I realized during this race that I’ve probably hit here the pinnacle of what I’m going to be able to do. And a lot of that has to do with the monetary investment I’m willing to make. I enjoy doing triathlons because I like to challenge myself, but the amount of money you would need to invest to really be successful is more than I’m willing to spend. Time trial bikes, wetsuits, trainers, aero bars and helmets, I mean there’s even fancy water bottles that just have straws so you don’t have to change your focus for a second; I on the other hand don’t even have a Garmin or a Heart Rate Monitor. I now know what I’m capable of, and it’s more than I ever thought possible, and I don’t even need fancy equipment to tell me that. Would I do it again? Probably. Would I train differently? Probably. But considering I did this race and all my training while simultaneously building a giant patio at my house and planning a wedding that is 3 weeks after the race, I think I did the best I could expect. Race photos still haven’t been posted, so I have nothing pretty to pepper this report with, but I thank you for coming on the journey with me!