“Don’t worry about a thing, ’cause every little thing’s gonna be alright.”
Bob Marley may have said it first; but it was my Dad, the most amazing support crew a girl could ask for, who blasted it on the car speakers and belted it out to me as we left the transition area after racking our bikes on Saturday night. I was excited, and knew that I had done as much preparation as I could for my first Half Ironman, Musselman 70.3, but my nerves were out of control in anticipation of what the next day would hold. My race went far from according to plan, but in the end, everything turned out to be better than alright.
(rewind to Saturday morning)
With a car packed with tri gear, my Dad and I headed out from Baltimore, Maryland early on Saturday morning for the 5 hour drive up to Hobart William and Smith College in Geneva, NY. I had never been to upstate New York, but the drive was stunning. The stops along the way weren’t so bad either, although when I casually suggested some ice cream at 10 am, I got the “are you serious?” eye from the Pops. I used all of my willpower to not digress to my 5 year old “but why not?” self.
As we descended into Geneva, which is on Seneca Lake, my endorphins got pumping and I was feeling ready for the big day. Not such a shabby spot for a Half Ironman.
When we got to Geneva, we grabbed a few sandwiches and headed to registration, where we got our shwag bags.
Then we drove to our swanky hotel, which was completely sold out with triathletes in town for the race.
I dumped out my shwag bag to check out my goodies! A really nice race top, wool socks, race belt, temporary tattoo (which you know I rocked!), Musselman sticker, Musselman shampoo and conditioner, Cliff Bar, Hammer Gel, scull cap (for winter running), Musselman chocolate bar and Nuun drink tabs. The sunflower nut butter and cashew butter were being sold at the registration from a local nut butter maker, so we snagged a few to support the locals.
There was a mandatory race meeting at 4:30, but before heading to the meeting we decided to check out the transition area and get in a short workout to loosen our legs from the drive. We rode our bikes for about 20 minutes, alternating between moderate riding and quick sprints. It was pretty hot and we were pretty sweaty so we jumped in the lake for a quick 15 min swim afterwords, just to get a feel for the water. Turns out that the bottom was super rocky/mussely and it was extremely shallow for a good ways out, so we were glad that we were able to discover this ahead of time!
After the meeting, we quickly stopped at the hotel to drop our gear. We had spent some time in the car discussing dinner options and saying how glad we were that we hadn’t signed up for the “athletes dinner,” because those organized dinners were often filled with athletes only talking about how nervous they were about the race. We also couldn’t imagine a dinner of overcooked pasta with so so meat sauce, frozen veggies, and garlic bread. Turns out that when registering, we each got a meal ticket by accident in our packet (we chose not to think that we accidentally paid for the meal), so being the cheapos that we are, decided to head to Hobart William and Smiths cafeteria for dinner. My Dad’s motto for the evening…”it is what it is.”
The meal was just about what we expected, but we were hungry and loads of Parmesan cheese can fix anything.
After dinner, we headed back over to transition to rack our bikes. I had COMPLETELY forgotten that when registering for the race months ago, the system asked for your personal mantra. I entered mine , and completely forgot about it. Each athlete had a sticker with their bib number in the transition area, indicating where you rack your bike. The sticker also included a quote, which I automatically presumed to be completely random. As I approached my spot, I saw my quote and freaked out. WHAT WERE THE CHANCES!?
I ran over to my Dad and told him about what had happened. Then I looked at his quote…”whatever.” Hmm.. that’s odd I thought. That seems like a silly quote, but also kind of fitting for him. Waiiiiit a minuuuuute. Turns out the chances are high of the quotes being “fitting” when you pick them yourself. DUH.
As we left the transition area, my Dad could sense how nervous I was. As we were pulling out of the parking lot, he asked for his Ipod and blasted Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” and at that moment, I knew things would be alright, not matter what the next day held. It was a memorable moment.
On the way home, I INSISTED that we find ice cream, or I wouldn’t be able to race as fast on Sunday. Talk about an ice cream addict. We stopped at McDonalds for a vanilla soft serve topped with M&M’s. I was so excited about my treat that I forgot to take a picture.
Bed time was around 9, however as it usually is the night before a big race, I didn’t fall asleep for a good 2 or 3 hours. The morning came quickly once I was asleep, and we were off to the transition area.
We of course stopped for coffee at Dunkin along the way, to go along with our bagels with Justin’s Honey Almond Butter and Banana.
The transition area was only about 5 minutes away from our hotel, but the line of cars waiting to get into parking reminded me of the movie Field of Dreams. “If you build it, they will come.”
By the time we parked the car and made our way into transition area, we only had about 15 minutes to set up our spots. At this point in my “triathlon career” I feel pretty comfortable setting up my transition area, so I went through my routine and was out of there with 5 minutes to spare!
I felt ready. My Dad felt ready. It was a gorgeous day, and we were excited to race!
(warning: there are no more pictures from here on out, so use your imagination)
Going into Musselman, I had a game plan. I had visualized each portion of the race, including my transitions and had a general idea of the time that I would have liked to see as I crossed the finish line. One of the lessons in life that I AM STILL learning and learning to appreciate is that things don’t always go according to plan.
1.2 mile swim: There were about 1000 athletes competing and we were broken up into colors rather than ages. I started with the pink caps, which was a wave of all females between the ages of 15 and about 40. There were around 100 in my wave. As we were corralled into the water for an in water start, my nerves were flying, and I had tears of excitement in my eyes. The gun went off and I dolphin dove my way out about 75 yards to a point where I could begin to swim comfortably. I felt pretty confident with this game plan and it turned out to work pretty well. Once I started swimming freestyle, I couldn’t see another pink cap in my line of sight. The water was choppy and there were rolling waves, but I loved it! I barely kicked and felt strong. About halfway through the swim, I sighted another pink cap. We paced off of each other for the remainder of the swim and ended up finishing 1 and 2.
Swim time: 26 minutes
transition 1: I ran into T1 feeling invigorated and strong. I had been a little nervous about taking my wet suit off in T1, since I hadn’t worn a wet suit since last summer but it came right off and before I knew it, I was out of the transition and onto the 56 miles bike.
T1 time: 1:51
56 mile bike: As I just typed “bike,” I smiled, and then laughed. This portion of the race was by far the most challenging, emotionally. I started off the bike feeling great. My legs were strong since I had barely used them in the swim and I quickly settled into a pace of about 18 mph. I was passed by a few speedy cyclists but was rolling with the big dogs and feeling pretty confident. Around mile 14, I noticed that “the road got really bumpy.” Turns out that the road was the exact same as it had been for the previous 14 miles, it was just the fact that I was riding on the rim of my front tire because my tube had completely deflated. I took a deep breath and pulled over. Luckily the night before my Dad had gone over how to change a flat, but I had NEVER changed a flat on my own before and felt less than confident in doing so. For the next 20 minutes, with tears rolling down my eyes, TONS of triathletes passing me by and curse words flying out of my mouth, I changed my flat. I got back on the bike, pulled myself together and was back in the game. I quickly realized however that my odometer read 0 mph and was not changing. I said “screw it” and pushed on. Every once in a while I would ask someone how fast we were going. The answers ranged between 18 and 21 mph. My adrenaline was pumping and I was flying. I didn’t feel like I was pushing myself too hard, although I knew that this pace was much faster than I had planned. I didn’t have too much time to think about it though, because before I knew it, I had another flat. YES- A SECOND FLAT! I couldn’t believe it was happening. I didn’t have another tube or C02 cartridge. I was tempted to just forge forward on my rim, but knew that it might be the least strategic option. So I pulled over and began bawling. My mind started wandering to a pretty bad place, but my gut told me that someone would help me out. And within a few minutes, my Dad showed up! It was the most unbelievable feeling. He pulled over, told me to get myself together and proceeded to change my tire in approximately 3 minutes and off I went. “Get the *HEdoublehockeysticks out of here and go get em!” he yelled. This time around, getting myself together was much more difficult. I had watched about 100 triathletes pass me by and definitely felt defeated. But I forged on, and once again found myself trying to make up for lost time. Again, I asked other athletes how fast we were going and got responses around 18-20 mph. It was faster than my planned pace, but hey, I had a lot of ground to make up. The scenery truly was one of the most beautiful rides I had ever taken, but around mile 45, my legs began to feel the heat. My right knee began to ache as well, so I focused on using my left leg and letting my right spin. By mile 56, I couldn’t have been happier to get off of that bike!
Bike time: 3:45
transition 2: In my mind, I pictured myself hopping off my bike, running into transition, quickly swapping my bike shoes for my running shoes and heading out for my 1/2 marathon. Didn’t happen that way…I hopped off my bike, stood still for a second, told myself about 3 times to get going, and then jogged to my spot. I managed to swap my shoes and off I went.
T2 time: 1:44
13.1 mile run: It felt SO good to start running. I could finally give my biking muscles a break and tap into new muscle restores. The temperature had risen to 94 degrees, but I managed to pull out an 8:30 for my first mile. I felt OK for the first mile and a half, and then it just went downhill. I had killed my legs by trying to make up for lost time on the bike. By mile 2, I felt dizzy, lethargic, nauseous and unmotivated. There were stops at every single mile, where volunteers were handing out ice, water, heed (like gatorade), animal crackers, apricots, pretzels, salt tabs and sponges dipped in ice water. For the first time in my life, I walked during the run portion of a race. I walked through the second water stop and proceeded to walk through every single water stop for the entire rest of the 13.1 miles. I never could have imagined getting to the point in a race where I had to actually stop running and walk, but it took every single ounce of energy to put one foot in front of the other. The run was hot and hilly and the vast majority of athletes were walking through the water stops as well as throughout the entire distance. Mile 3 included a STEEP hill, where you had the option to walk up a set of stairs as an alternative. I chose the stairs and honestly considered faking fainting to get out of the race. I dug deeper than I have ever done before however and forged on. For the first time in all of the years that I have been a competitive athlete, this race was not about competition with others, it was about me. I focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Making it to a water stop was a big accomplishment. I dumped water on my head at every stop, made use of the salt tabs and kept myself fueled with Gu’s. I made friends with other runners who had also never experienced pain and frustration they way they were feeling it during that race. We urged each other on. “10 more steps,” “just to that mailbox,” and “I can see the next stop!” were frequent phrases. I was so focused on the here and now that the miles went by surprisingly fast. As I approached the finish line, I saw my Dad. He was pumping his fists in the air, and as I approached him he said “you’re doing great girl. let’s finish this!” And so together, side by side, my Dad and I ran to the finish line, where I collapsed into his arms.
Run time: 2:18
FINAL MUSSELMAN 70.3 time: 6:35:27.
Final Thoughts: My immediate reaction right after finishing the race, was that it was awful. I thought at the time, that it was the most painful, frustrating, disheartening experience in all of my years of competing; however minute by minute, hour by hour and now 36 hours after the race, my opinions have changed drastically. Yes, this race was the most physically and emotionally challenging thing that I have done in my entire life. Yes, there were times that I wanted to quit. And yes, my expectations turned out to be COMPLETELY different than expected. But in retrospect, the cards fell in a way that enabled me to become a stronger, more passionate and appreciative athlete. I have been extremely fortunate in the past in competing and achieving high level goals. This race forced me to leave my comfort zone and become a more introspective athlete. This race was not about the competition against others, it was about recognizing and acknowledging my own strengths. I am so proud of myself for finishing on Sunday. I have no regrets and if given the chance, would not have changed a single thing leading up to race day. I learned a lot about myself on Sunday that I now can carry with me as I continue on my journey as a triathlete. And the big question that I keep getting asked…”would you do it again.” I think so
I would like to sincerely thank my Dad for each and every moment of this past weekend. It was such a wonderful opportunity and I am SO appreciative of the time that we shared. He is a pretty remarkable guy.
And with that, have a wonderful day! I will see you on Thursday.