Forcing myself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable; being able to push my body to stay strong, flexible and aerobically fit as I enter a new age group and phase in my life. These are the reaons I’ve returned to race Ironman Vineman 70.3, my favorite triathlon for the 5th year in a row.
Add to the list, the selfish feeling of entitlement when police officers stop all traffic at the sight of me coming at full speed on my bike.
“Coming through! Wee!”
I’ve also been chasing a PR at Vineman for the past 4 years. However, shortly after I registered to race, I knew it would not be my PR year. I had sustained one ankle sprain after another. I had a personal and work life that took priority. Still, I’d give it my best effort, seek small improvements and enjoy this wonderful experience.
I was determined to have a successful open water swim. Every year at this race, I get swum over by men in their 30’s (the wave which typically followed my start wave). I’d get my goggles and swim cap pulled away then inevitably lose my contacts. Last year, my wave start was especially crowded and I got kicked in the neck, just within a few yards of the start. For a brief second, I thought I’d DNF at the start of the race. Luckily I did not.
This year, I resolved to avoid the underwater smackdown. I traded swimming straight along the buoys for hugging the shoreline. This resulted in a 1.33 mile swim but I actually swam one of my fastest open water swim paces. I’ll work on swimming straighter for next year’s race, but for this day, I was happy to exit the river unscathed. And despite my goggles leaking, both contacts remained in my eyes. Halleluhah!
My goal was to bike at a pace faster than the prior year’s. I was not conditioned to reach my PR pace but I would try to get close. Since my wave started late, the air temperature was warming up. The wind also started to pick up and I rode in headwind and crosswinds for most of course.
I decided to use UCAN bars for my nutrition. In the past I preferred liquid nutrition. I found liquid UCAN too pasty so I settled on the bars, which worked well during training. I thought it would be a good idea to keep the UCAN bars and electrolytes in two separate plastic sandwich bags placed in the back pocket of my tri kit. This turned out to be problematic. I was never adept at juggling for food or drinks with one hand on the handlebar. While I’d practice eating the bars on training rides, I could not manage everything I stuffed into one back pocket. A fellow Team Betty passed me and I could barely acknowledge her with a plastic bag dangling from my teeth. I was trying to get into the second plastic bag in my pocket. Thank goodness there are no photos of this. I was peddling slow during these moments. It was frustrating. I finally stopped twice for a total of 11 minutes according to my Garmin watch. Those precious 11 minutes were used to go to the bathroom, fill my bottles with electrolytes and eat my nutrition.
There was better traffic control this year however there seem to be a lot more cars on the roads. It is summer in Napa after all. For a few miles I got stuck with a three other athletes behind a slow moving car, unable to pass it. Another car almost took out two cyclists in front of me when they got confused and entered the wrong lane. I had to shout for the car to “stop” and we safely rode around it.
Despite all the wind, stopping and traffic, I managed to improve my pace from the prior year’s but my official bike time would record a slower pace than my actual moving time. In a similar way with my swim result, I was still pleased with my pace. I was able to negative split, felt strong throughout the ride and passed many athletes during the last 10 miles.
As I got off the bike, I had a feeling I might be dehydrated. While I was on the bike, someone driving by shouted to me what sounded like “you need to take salt.” I dismissed it. It’s hard to be certain what exactly the words were. Also how could the driver have possibly known that? Still it stuck in my head as I headed out of T2. I investigated my arms and noticed that I didn’t appear to be sweating much and I had a lot of salt on my skin. It was a windy day, so that could have dried up my sweat and my back did feel quite sweaty.
After the race, I realized I did not drink enough on the bike. I had lots of electrolytes still in the Ziplock bag I was carrying on the bike. Rookie mistake.
Ironically, my father had reminded me before the race to “drink, drink, drink” which he told me is the relic of a song sung by Mario Lanza (his favorite singer) from the movie “Student Prince”. “It might prevent cramps” dad said. I think he might have been right.
If I didn’t appear sweaty enough on the bike, I certainly made up for it on the run. The weather forecast was a high of 83F, which is relatively cool for this race. It felt much warmer to me. (Our car showed a temperature of 90F that afternoon.) I felt good for the first two miles and tried to stay hydrated, but both legs started to cramp up. I ran whenever my legs would allow me to and walked as fast as I could the other times. I traded encouragement and small talk with a few other athletes suffering on the run course with me. I carefully took in electrolytes, salt and nutrition and focused on trying to recover. I accepted that I could not run much but pleaded with my legs to at least allow me to run the last mile in.
The high-fives from friends, cheers from strangers and the energy from my dear friend Rhonda running with me for a few yards, transferred some mojo into my legs and I was able to run the last mile to the finish line.
I didn’t care so much about my time as I cared about finishing strong in front of the kids. I wanted to set a good example. What a tough day for them to get up at 5 am and be out there in the heat all day. I could hear the 11 year old cheering me from start to finish. I appreciated her energy and enthusiasm. I’m honored that the 13 year old sports enthusiast gave up on his search for Brett Favre (you know, THAT famous quarterback), to search for me. Favre’s wife was racing too. After I finished, the 15 year old told me he wanted to race a triathlon next year. My heart melted. He even offered to pace me at this race but I had to tell him it was not allowed, but he did find a lot of Pokeman all over Guerneville and Windsor.
I smiled to myself all day, grateful that my family was there cheering me on. I worried they’d be bored, hot and exhausted waiting for me to finish. I wanted to finish the race so I wouldn’t keep them waiting for me too long.
And I’m so grateful for this guy, for making sure I’d get my workouts in and being my biggest cheerleader. Thanks for all the support darling!
Shout out to my Team Betty. There were a dozen of us racing and I am also so grateful to be a part of an amazing group of women from all over the world. I would meet one of the Bettys on the run course. Later I would learn that it was Arianna and she had traveled from Ecuador to race. She graciously thanked me later for the “power hug” saying that it helped her. I told her a few miles back, another friend and SVTC teammate named Christina hugged me when I needed it. I told them both, that this sport is part training and part heart and soul.
There were a total of four Betty podiums. It was great to see the camaraderie and friendship between Audra and Jen (below). They stood on the podium together, in the same age group. Polly and Jordan also made the podium. A shout out to Jordan for placing 1st in her age group!
And happy birthday to Hannah, who was celebrating the anniversary of her 29th birthday in a badass way.
I finished with my 4th best effort out of 5, almost an hour over my PR. The small improvements (swim, transition, learning about nutrition) will all contribute to the bigger picture next year, as I seek to, once again, chase down my PR. For now, I’ll celebrate being able to say that I am among the many happy souls who are privileged to partake in this sort of thing.
- Need to re-install a bento box if I’m going to continue to use bars for nutrition otherwise I need to go back to liquid calories.
- Heed my father’s advice to “drink, drink, drink” (water that is, not booze).
- Try out the latest anti-camping remedy. Yes cramping is part conditioning and part hydrations but for me, it’s also a part of my genetics. Even when I’m fully hydrated, I can get bad cramps. It impairs me physically AND mentally. I’m afraid to push too hard when I race because I’m scared of cramping. This article talks about what I’ve learned about cramping from a nutrition class I took at Stanford http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-new-way-to-prevent-muscle-cramps-1468256588
- Heed Coach Soren’s advice that if I really work on my swimming, I can get faster.
- It’s a long-term goal. Coach Garry from SVTC reminded me that to really prepare properly, it’s a long-term goal.
- I’m in a new age group and while it does get harder, it’s still possible to PR. I just need to work a lot harder at it.
It’s about the journey and for this race, I was smiling to myself on the course feeling loved and fortunate to have my family’s support. I am so grateful to be able to do this sort of thing.
Interested in the cool gear all the Bettys are wearing? You can get most of it here: