So, the short story is that I got to September 27, 2009 and I survived. Actually, I more than survived, I enjoyed myself. And now for the long version ...
When I talked to Laura on Saturday night, she told me about their TNT practice session at the race site and also told me that the race had run out of bike racks so people with numbers in the 1000s and above currently didn't have a place to rack their bike. That meant both of us were without bike racks. I knew there was nothing we could do to worry about it and we'd just have to see how things went in the morning.
I managed to fall asleep pretty early on Saturday night (sometime between 9:30 and 10). I was a little upset that Drew fell asleep before I did, but I wasn't up much later than he was. I managed to sleep soundly until about 1:30. After that it was a constant waking up and falling back to sleep. Around 2:30, I woke up and just had to look outside. It hadn't been raining when I went to bed originally and I was still hoping that the weather forecasters were wrong. At 2:30 it was raining pretty steadily. After I knew it was raining, it took me a while to fall back to sleep. I just laid there for a while and thought of all the things that could go wrong with the rain, which wasn't very productive.
Finally, my alarm went off at 4:10. By that point, I was ready to get up and just start moving around. I choked down my breakfast of cinnamon-raisin bread and peanut butter as best I could. I double checked my bag for everything I would need and then just like that, it was time to head over to the race site. Drew dropped me and my bike off and said he would just wait there so that I could sit in the car instead of having to stand in the rain. I took my bike over to the rack and found out that I actually had a rack, which was good news. I tried to start setting-up, but the rain was coming down pretty steadily and I wasn't certain that I wanted to start getting stuff out of my bag any sooner than I had to.
I sent Drew a text that told him that I thought he should just go back to the hotel. I knew I'd feel better if I could just hang out in transition and I felt bad that he was just waiting in the car. A couple minutes later, I saw the bus that I knew would hold Laura and the rest of her TNT buddies arrive. I went up to the front of transition and said hi to her. The transition space was really crowded. I'm guessing that they didn't really find more bike racks magically over night and just had to try to squeeze all of us into the same number of racks. Also, I understand why they put the transition in numerical order, but I guess what I thought was silly was everyone in my transition area was also in my swim wave. Which meant that we'd all be in transition at roughly the same time, which wouldn't help with the crowding.
Finally, I had laid everything out as best I could. My best solution for the rain was to make one plastic bag of biking gear and one plastic bag of running gear and to just hope that they would stay a little bit dry. It actually did briefly stop raining while we were still setting up transition for maybe 10-15 minutes before starting up again. I almost think it would have been better if it just stayed raining.
At 6:30, everyone started heading over to the beach. As I told Laura as we were leaving transition, I knew it would sound really ridiculous, but I just didn't feel like getting my hair wet yet. We had been out in the rain for over an hour at this point, but I had either been wearing a rain coat or a poncho, so I still had dry hair. In order to keep it dry as we left transition, I put my swim caps on. There was supposed to be an athlete's meeting at 6:35, but that didn't happen.
Laura and I got into the water and were accompanied by some of her Brooklyn TNTers. We all speculated about the swimming course since no one had explained it and there clearly wasn't going to be a race meeting. We actually ended up getting into the water a couple of times before the start. Especially for me in my sleeveless wetsuit, it was a lot warmer in the water than out of it.
Finally it was 7:00 and we watched the pros start the race. I kept scanning the crowd looking for Drew and his parents. I didn't know what time they'd be back or if I'd get to see them before the race. I told myself it didn't really matter. At about 7:15, Drew found us. I just gave him the biggest hug. At that second, it was as if all my fear about doing the race disappeared. I knew he was there and would be cheering me on regardless of how I finished with the time. I guess I just needed to know that he'd be there and watching out for me.
Finally, it was time to walk over into the corral for the start of the swim. Most everyone else in our wave got into the water one last time, but Laura and I just stood on the beach and watched (that's me on the right, hands on hips).
Right before we got into the water, the guy with the megaphone shouted out some instructions. "Keep the buoys on your left. When you get to the end, the last buoy will be green. Turn around and swim back." Turns out none of those instructions were all that helpful.
And then the horn sounded and we all started running into the water. At some point while we were running in, Laura just looked at me and said, "this is ridiculous". And it really was. And then we were deep enough and started swimming. I did almost exactly what I wanted to on the swim. I just kept myself slow and steady and didn't let my race-day adrenaline get the best of me. The swim course was mostly protected by two jetties, but at some point, we had to swim past the jetty and the water got a lot rougher. I could tell almost the instant I had passed the jetty and wasn't very happy about the thought of swimming even further.
Although I had practiced a lot for nutrition before the race, the one thing that I couldn't practice was drinking a gallon of salt water along with what I had eaten for breakfast. What I will say is that the two didn't mix and I got sick during the swim. Twice. I tried not to panic about it and knew that all I could do was keep swimming and get myself out of the water. When I got to the turn-around point, it was a little confusing because there was no green buoy. But everyone else was turning, so I did too. One guy next to me said, "Well, now what do I do?". Pretty much my thought.
Swimming back in was rough, but mostly because there was a girl next to me who wouldn't stop bumping into me. I tried to speed up, I tried to hang back a little bit, but it seemed like everything I did, she did too and just kept hitting me in the head. I was surprised that it would be that far into the swim and still so congested. Once we got back into the protected area of the swim, I really just tried to bring it home stronger than I had swum on the way out. I felt like I was practically rolling onto my back to get a breath without taking on water, but it seemed to be working. I also decided that in the future, I would try to avoid salt-water triathlons at all costs. With so many races out there, it just didn't seem worth it.
The other thing that the guy with the microphone at the start didn't describe was the fact that on the way in, you had to swim in between two buoys. I noticed a lot of people going really far to keep the outside buoy on the left, but that didn't make sense to me, so at least I didn't add onto the distance of the swim too much like I saw some other people doing. Once I got pretty close to shore, I kept swimming for as long as possible. I saw some people get up and start running really far out, but I knew that swimming further would be better.
As soon as I hit the bottom with my hand, I was up and running. I remembered how tired and defeated I had felt at Staten Island after the swim and I didn't feel that way at all today. I was feeling really strong and totally looking forward to the cup of water that I knew that they would have on the run into T1 (me, in the pink cap, running).
I knew that I was going to have long transitions because of the weather and because I wanted to put on more clothes than I had before. And I accept that as part of the race-day conditions. I almost forgot to take my swim cap off before putting my bike helmet on. With the rain, I'm not sure it really would have made any difference and might have actually helped. Drew and his parents were talking to me while I was in T1 and he asked how I was doing.
My answer, "sticky." It's really hard to put on a long-sleeved shirt while you're wet and it's raining. But, finally I got it on and ran my bike over to the mounting line. I jumped on and was off for 25 miles.
The first part of the bike was just fine. I recognized the part up until where Drew and I had gotten lost on our aborted training ride a couple of weeks ago. The roads were really wet and I tried to avoid the puddles and the storm drains and whatever bumps I could. Once I got past the part where Drew and I had ridden, I knew that I was then going to be in for the two big hills. On the first one, I saw a girl walking her bike up the hill. I was thinking that didn't look so good for her. I was also really glad that wasn't me. Once I got the first hill over with, I was just anticipating Claire's Climb.
It was still a few miles away, but it felt like it was there before I knew it. The race actually tracks your time up the hill, so I'm interested to know how fast I did it. I will say that I when I looked at my MPH, it was somewhere around 5.6 or 5.8, so it certainly wasn't a fast climb. But I stayed in the saddle and just kept pedaling. There was a bag piper playing on my climb up, so that was a nice distraction from the hill and the rain. Once I hit the top of the hill, I was ecstatic. The bike was more than half-way done, the hard part was over, and it would be (mostly) downhill from here. The ride down the hill was where I hit my highest speed and I'm sure I could have gone faster had the roads been dry and I wasn't worried about my brakes being too wet to stop!
On both bike bike hills, there were lots of inspirational signs provided by the race. As I was riding past, I was thinking that I would remember most of the sayings. Of course, I only remember one: "Pain is temporary. Quitting is permanent." Although a lot of the signs were corny, there is something about that sort of encouragement that just gets you going a little bit harder than you were before. And at least it distracts you slightly from the task at hand.
My stomach still wasn't very happy on the bike. I tried to take a couple of bites of my Clif bar and I managed to get two down, but that was all I could do. I tried to drink as much as I could, especially of the Gatorade that I had brought with me in order to keep my calorie count for the day up. I was worried about not having enough left in the tank for the run, but I also knew that if I ate too much and my stomach revolted even more that I'd be more miserable, so I might as well just try to do what I could and leave it alone a little bit.
The roads were really wet and the cops and volunteers were terrific. I tried to say "thank you" as often as possible. Especially when there was a long line of cars that the police officers were holding back from crossing into the course. A lot of the volunteers offered words of encouragement, which was nice. I felt pretty bad for them standing out in the rain, but none of them looked too unhappy.
So, I'm not 100% sure that I needed to put on my long-sleeved shirt for the bike ride, but I was never sorry that I had it on. Had it been any windier, I think it would have been a necessity. The one thing I really wasn't prepared for was how wet my shoes were. The rain just poured down my legs and collected in my shoes and every stroke of the pedals just felt like I was stepping into a pool of water. Needless to say, it wasn't the most comfortable feeling.
I got done with the bike faster that I would have thought I would even under dry conditions. In fact, I apparently was lucky to even see Drew on my way into T2. He told me after the race that they thought I would be coming in about 10-20 minutes later than I did and they had just gotten there to start watching for me. I actually saw them before they saw me, probably because they weren't expecting to look for me.
The second I unclipped my left foot and set it on the ground, there was nothing I could do but laugh. My legs were complete jelly. They haven't felt like that in a long time. I think because I have been doing bricks almost every week with Terrier, they're used to riding for about half that distance and then running, but doubling the bike ride and then running was a different story. But, somehow I managed to run the rest of the way into T2.
I had another long transition because I took off my bike vest and long-sleeved shirt. I also had dry socks that I wanted to change into for the run. Then I grabbed my race belt and hat and was off on my way out of T2. Right when I was leaving T2, I saw Laura right in front of me. I yelled for her and after yelling a second time, she turned around. I ran up to her and we started the run together.
We couldn't believe that we ended up there together. We figured out after the fact that she must have finished the bike just behind me and had a shorter T2 than I did to get out just ahead of me to the run. The official results aren't posted to the internet yet, so that's our best guess, but I guess we'll know more when we get those.
I think Laura was a life-saver in that first mile. My legs were feeling tired from the bike and I hadn't quite settled into the run yet. At one point, I told her that if she wanted to run ahead of me, she should. Unfortunately, that's not what happened. After about a mile, Laura stopped running. I turned back and she told me that I had to keep running and I shouldn't stop with her. I know that if the positions were reversed, I would have told her the same thing, but my heart sank. She's been training for so long this year and has just recently been having some leg pain and I knew that was getting the best of her. A big part of me wanted to stop and encourage her along and make sure that she finished okay, but the other part of me knew that we each wanted the other to have their best race possible, and that I needed to keep running in order to do that.
Oh, and also in the first mile of running there was also this monster puddle that took up most of the road we were running on. That was the end of my dry socks. That made me less enthused about the fact that I had changed them and also the rest of the run. On the plus side, I figured that since they were already soaking wet, I might as well splash myself through future puddles just to have some fun.
Somewhere between miles 1 & 2, I saw Drew again. It was at the first water/Gatorade station on the run, and I was ready for it. I actually took these two cups, drank them, turned back around and gave Drew a quick kiss before heading out for the rest of the run...definitely some good motivation!
I followed my running plan to a T. I wanted to walk through the aid stations and run otherwise, and that's exactly what I did. There was only one brief moment where I walked. I ran uphill only to turn left for another uphill (meanwhile the volunteer was saying "it's all downhill from here" -- complete lie) and that second uphill got about a 15 second walk out of me. At the aid stations, I tried to drink as much Gatorade as possible for the calories (plus, the water tasted funny), but the Gatorade was all lime. I think maybe I'll have to try drinking that in the future when I'm training, because it's really not that good and I don't understand why they can't get another flavor.
I was also able to pick up my running about 5 times. I think I only did it for about 20 or 30 seconds each time, but it was really helpful in just giving me an extra boost and not settling into my slower rhythm the whole time. I saw Laura again between miles 4 & 5 on an out-and-back part of the course. She was walking and said her leg wasn't good. I was so proud of her for not giving up and for continuing on.
By the time I got to mile 5, all I could think about was how good I was feeling and even though I knew I was tired, I wasn't dying. I couldn't believe all the training I had done to get me to be able to accomplish this and get to the finish running. This never would have even been possible a year ago and I never would have dreamed that I'd be doing triathlons and be wanting to do more. That was what else I was thinking about on the run ... next year's races. But that's another blog post. Let's finish this race first!
Once I saw the sign for mile marker 6, there was a sharp turn into a park for the finish and the last 0.2 miles. At that point, I just started sprinting. The run through the park was not on pavement, it was on grass, which at this point had turned to mud. I did my best to not lose my footing and just run as hard as I possibly could.
And just like that, it was over! Someone handed me a medal, a towel, a water bottle, took my chip off my ankle, and then I was hugging Drew and I was done!
Drew and his parents suggested that I should get something to eat. We walked over to the tent and I picked up a piece of pizza had one bite and knew that was a really bad idea. Instead I grabbed some plain bagel and tried to munch on that for a minute or two while I settled down. It was still raining at this point and I was getting really cold. I decided that we should just go get my stuff from transition and then head home. I felt horrible for not waiting and watching Laura finish, but even though I was happy to be done and I felt great about the race, standing in the rain and the cold for one more minute was just going to make me miserable.
So, we headed back to the city and I regaled everyone with stories of the race. By the time we got back home, it had stopped raining (quite typical!) and it turned out to be a nice evening.
I did learn a few things:
1. Bring a flashlight to transition. Some of the racks were in complete dark (not under street lights) and if I had one of those, I would have been sunk without a light. Not to mention using a port-a-potty in complete darkness is something I'd rather not repeat.
2. Use body glide. I don't really like it and I feel like it just makes sand stick to you, but the weird chafing I have on my neck, collar bone and arms thinks that I should have used it.
Other than that, I had a fantastic time and was more than prepared for the race. I'm sad it's over, but I'm looking forward to next year.
Unofficial Watch Time: 3:37:27
Maximum HR: 191
Average HR: 174
I'll post the official results when they're available. I also am planning a new blog for my continued training as this one seems to have almost reached its end, so I'll keep you updated on that as well.