Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Soma Half-Ironman Race Report

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
--Martin Luther King, Jr.

This weekend was a whirlwind. In a nutshell, I had a blast! I trained 24 weeks for my second half-ironman. I chose Soma because it a) was in Tempe and would be good preparation for Ironman Arizona (which will be my first) in April and b) landed on the weekend of my 30th birthday. What better way to celebrate turning 30? I had been nervous and stressed out race week due to the fires and my tweaked ankle, and was worried about the heat wave in Tempe. Once I decided to just concentrate on finishing and having a good experience instead of having a peak performance, I relaxed and began to look forward to race day.

Pre-Race Nerves:
Countless San Diegans (many from Tri Club San Diego TCSD) made the long trek out to Tempe this weekend to race. I had met many of them after organizing a training group to prepare for this race, which was a very rewarding experience since I now have so many new friends! A group of training buddies, Jason and I caravaned out to the desert on Friday. As soon as I had a chance to breathe the fresh air and stretch my legs in Tempe, I felt good. Fresh, alert and energized. I guess the fires from last week had been affecting my health more than I realized.

southern Arizona--a hot, barren desert of emptiness

part of our caravan, on the road to AZ

Saturday, after we had all attended to our Ps and Qs (bike check-in, packet pick-up, athletes' meeting), we went for a dip in the lake. Tempe was experiencing a heat wave, which we were all trying not to think about, and it was a very sweaty, panting, drawn-out ordeal pulling on the wetsuit for a practice swim Saturday afternoon in mid-90-degree desert heat. Although the Tempe Town Lake is dirty, brown and murky, it was a refreshing retreat to jump into the cool, 68-degree water and escape from the sweltering heat for a moment. We swam about 700 meters (with lots of stops to sight and visualize the course) before hopping out. The dip gave me an extra boost of energy and confidence I needed--between my foot and the fires, it was the first workout I'd had all week! Quite the taper.

Afterwards, I discovered Bob Babbitt and his wife standing by my swim bag! Since the Challenged Athlete's Foundation (CAF) Half Ironman in La Jolla had been cancelled that weekend due to the San Diego fires, he had driven to Tempe to do the half ironman (Bob's one of the founders of CAF). In case you don't already know, Bob Babbitt, one of the godfathers of triathlon, is a legend. Today, he is the editor of Competitor magazine and also produces Competitor Radio, interviewing all the triathlon greats of the world (just a few of the things he does). In a nutshell, he's awesome. I love how he just, on a whim, what the hell, decided to race an impromptu half-ironman one weekend, and at age 52 and under extreme heat, still came in under 6 hours! Sheesh! Anyway, I had seen him at many TCSD events but had always been too starry-eyed to say hello. Since he was standing over my bag, I decided this was my chance. I walked over and introduced myself. They were fabulous. I can't believe how nice they were! His wife even recognized me on the run (as she flew by) and gave me a shout out to "the Birthday Girl." How cool is that?

Our group met that evening for dinner at a delicious pizza joint (Oregano's). Someone had tipped the waitress off about my birthday, and she brought me the most delicious warm, melting, enormous chocolate chip cookie loaded with vanilla ice cream after dinner. Everyone sang "Happy Birthday."

part of our dinner group
from left to right: Alex, Michelle, Hoss, me, Boston Bob's wife, Boston Bob, Russ and Jason (front and center)

Michelle, Russ, and Hoss

Alex, Bob's wife, and Boston Bob (who turned 65 on race morning, has run 5 Boston marathons, and beat me in SOMA--he's my hero!)

Earlier that day, I had been eyeing a rockin' transition bag at the expo. My friends had convinced me not to buy it, saying it was cheaper for me to make the purchase at a store in San Diego. I was easily convinced and hadn't given it another thought. After dinner, I found a package with my name on it in the backseat of the SUV. I unwrapped it, discovering the very transition bag I had been drooling over at the expo. All my friends/training buddies had gone in on the bag when I wasn't looking at the expo! I loaded up the bag that night, tucking the card all my friends had signed into the front pocket for good luck. Talk about awesome friends!

I felt nervous but ready. Being surrounded by great friends was invaluable. We all had the same mentality about the upcoming race, and it was relaxing to hang out with this charismatic group. I thought it would make me nervous or disrupt my race plan to hang out with others since I had done most of my previous races solo but it was actually a great comfort. I ate when they ate, slept when they did, and we even made Whole Foods and Walgreens field trips together to purchase our pre-race breakfast and odds and ends transition needs (spray on sunblock, chapstick, flashlight, helium balloons). Not only did it relax me, but hanging out with these guys was super fun. I laughed so hard at our stupid jokes, my insides hurt! Good ab workout!

As expected, I had a hard time getting to sleep that night. My bike was polished and lubed (I had finally gotten all the ash wiped off from the fires), and my new transition bag had been neatly packed. I was ready to go. I played relaxing music from my "meditative" playlist and laid on my back, visualizing each part of my body relaxing. I meditated on the race the following morning, playing out each scene in detail--arriving in transition, laying my necessities out on my towel in order, getting into the water... Towel? Towel? Wait a minute! I hadn't packed a towel! I leaped out of bed and hastily threw a hotel towel into my transition bag. Phew! Guess those visualization techniques really work! Afterwards, I practiced deep breathing and relaxing meditation until I was able to fall asleep--not an easy task. All I had to do was think about all the great friends I had and how much they cared about me, and I relaxed, feeling blanketed in comforting warmth. It was a full moon, on my 30th birthday weekend. I felt like the universe had opened up and was working in my favor, filling me with positive energy. This allowed me to get a solid 5-6 hours of sleep. Not too shabby.

Race Morning:
The wake up call I had ordered at 4:15 am never came. Luckily, Jason woke me up at 4:30. That could have been a disaster. I hastily dressed (tri sports bra and tri shorts (thanks to my handy-dandy new ergonomic bike seat, I can do the whole distance in tri shorts!), fastened my timing chip to my ankle (and safety pinned the velcro strap so it wouldn't come off by accident), and forced breakfast (banana and 3/4 of a Luna bar) down (difficult--anxious stomach due to pre-race nerves). The reserved hotel shuttle promised to us at 5:30 to the race site (a mile away) also fell through at the last minute. (Oh, and also, the hot water heater at the hotel broke Monday morning. A little FYI--the Best Western Inn at Tempe Town Lake stinks! Don't stay there!) This could have been a disaster but Jason was there to save the day. He drove all of us to the race site that morning and dropped us off. Jason was a life saver this weekend. I don't know how we would have gotten through it without him. Thanks, hon!

Transition Prep:
We all marched into the transition area silently, our gear loaded on our backs, the tension thick in the early morning darkness. I felt like we were preparing for battle. We hugged each other and wished us good luck and marched on to our bikes, waiting for us in our designated racks.

I tied my Happy Birthday Sponge Bob Square Pants ("This is the best day ever!") balloon to the transition rack to mark my spot. The balloon put a smile on my face. I laid out my stuff in an organized fashion from front to back. I placed my bike helmet on my aero bars, straps open, ready to go on my head. I put my brand-new cycling Oakley sunglasses (made for small faces; my birthday present to myself) in the helmet. My race belt and number went on top of my helmet. I laid my TCSD bike jersey on my bike seat, pockets loaded with Cliff blocks, a Cliff bar, salt tablets, and a spare tube. My flat kit (another tube, tire levers, and 2 CO2 cartridges) was ready to go, crammed into a tiny bike bag under the seat. I placed my 2 frozen water bottles, containing Carbo Pro (200 cals each) and electrolytes in the bottle cages and open bike shoes (with a liberal layer of baby powder on the insoles; no socks necessary) on the front of the towel. Behind the bike shoes, sat my running shoes (also laden with baby powder), with loosened laces (I don't like Quick Ties for long races) and running socks (necessary) on top. My CA 70.3 visor (with a light, mesh top--perfect for filling with ice) sat on top of my socks and shoes. I also had my TCSD sleeveless racing top ready to go for the run (cooler than the bike jersey), with a packet of Lemon Lime Cliff Blocks (yummy) in the pocket. Behind this, I placed a small cooler. Inside, my fuel belt with 4 bottles containing frozen water, electrolytes, and a pinch of Carbo Pro waited inside, along with 2 industrial ice blocks to keep my bottles cool until the run. I grabbed my wetsuit, cap, goggles and ear plugs and left the transition to make my Port-a-Potty run. Afterwards, I dashed back into transition, minutes before it closed, hastily stuffing a tampon in my running top. Yup. My period had started. When it rains, it pours, I guess.

My first time racing in the 30-34 age group!

I met Jason outside the transition area as he snapped some photos and helped calm me down. I nursed a bottle of Gatorade and tried to down more of the Luna bar to no avail. I stuffed myself into my wetsuit, at which point, I immediately had to go to the bathroom again. Of course. Murphy's Law. Afterwards, I practiced deep breathing to calm my stomach down. I was officially nervous as the first half-ironman waves set off. I kissed Jason goodbye and lined up with my wave.
Note to self--Gatorade makes finicky stomach feel downright icky!

me before the swim, managing a nervous smile.

me and Hoss before the swim

The Swim:
We all jumped into the water minutes before the gun went off. I had planned on getting in a little earlier than that but as the shock of the chilly water flooded my wetsuit, I was glad I had waited. The 68-degrees that had been so refreshing in the heat of the afternoon the day before was now a cruel, electrifying jolt in the cool early morning dawn. I swam a few strokes, checking to make sure my goggles didn't leak. I set my watch and looked ahead. All systems go. Then, the gun went off.

We all started swimming. Knowing I was in the 2nd to last wave and there wouldn't be too many people behind me, I had seeded myself to the inside, which I usually avoid and relinquish to the faster swimmers. Today, I wanted to try and swim a tighter line. The only buoys set up were the ones at the start and turn-arounds (not the promised "tons of buoys every 100 meters"). I was only a little thrown; however, since I've practiced swimming and sighting in the ocean so much. I mentally broke the distance down into 4x500s since there was a big buoy I had to pass at each of these points and I had practiced that exercise in the pool. Breaking it down into pieces helped a lot.

I focused on relaxing and falling into an easy rhythm for the first 500, using it as a warm-up. It as going to be a long day. Now was not the time to rush. Today would be all about pacing. Although the Tempe Town Lake was dirty and murky (I couldn't even see my hand in front of my face), I felt fast and quick since there are 0 waves. I glided easily through the water in my wetsuit. I hadn't swam in my wetsuit since July and had forgotten how much it helped.

I couldn't believe how quickly the first 500 passed. Fell into a nice rhythm for the 2nd 500, counting strokes and switching sides every 10 strokes, sighting as I switched. I zig-zagged slightly every now and then, but nothing too extreme. Still need some work on that. Passed another buoy and decided to pick up the speed a little for my 3rd 500. Occasionally, I bumped into another swimmer; it was so hard to see and difficult to avoid contact! I swam straight into a "floater," lifted my head up, used the opportunity to sight, and swam on. I imagined feeling "power" during the pull of my stroke and felt myself surging through the water. At which point, I bumped into another swimmer. No worries. Swam around, counted a few strokes and fell back into my rhythm.

At the 2nd (and final) turn-around, a got a swift elbow to the back of the head. Ouch! The pain was brief and again, I focused on returning to a rhythm. During the final 500, I noticed my stomach was feeling a bit weird. Jostling around a bit. Stupid pre-race Gatorade. No more of that! I slowed up a bit for the final 500 so my stomach could relax. I had been prepared for complaints from my stomach and was ready to handle it. I knew my stomach was going to be my handicap today. I used it as my body's mainframe feedback system--my stomach was relaying information about how my body was feeling. My stomach had decided to be my body's pace setter.

I reached the end of the swim and knowing it would be difficult to heave myself onto the steep steps leading out of the lake, I stuck my arms straight up, allowing a volunteer to hoist me out of the water. Glanced at my watch. It read--45 minutes. That's 5 minutes better than CA 70.3! A PR for me! I was stoked. My hard work and all the masters classes had paid off. Plus I felt good.

(all smiles after my PR swim)

I peeled the top half of my wetsuit off and trotted over to the strippers, plopping onto my butt to allow them to swiftly peel off the bottom half. I had never used strippers before and had an amused smile on my face as I trotted across the mats towards my bike. The announcer boomed through the loudspeakers, "She's all smiles folks. That's what we like to see."
Russ--running into T1--he doesn't need a stripper!

Hoss--running into T1. Unfortunately, he crashed on the 1st lap, badly injuring his shoulder and wrecking his bike, unable to continue. Poor guy. He stayed on the sidelines the rest of the race, cheering us on with an amazingly positive attitude, his shoulder bandaged with saran wrap and a bag of melted ice water! He's a rock star!

Boston Bob--out of the water and into T1. Happy Birthday, Bob!

me--trotting into T1 after utilizing the strippers (I needed two).

At this point, I realized I was in pretty good spirits. I didn't rush in transition. I felt calm, relaxed and confident. Squeezed into my bike jersey, clipped on my race belt (with the number upside-down, I was to discover later), put on my sunglasses, helmet and shoes, and trotted Torch off to the mounting line. I had to readjust my shoe before I mounted because it was pinching my foot. One spectator kept yelling at me to hurry up: "Let's go! Just get on and go! Don't wait. Just go!" I wanted to tell her to calm down and shut up but chose to ignore her instead. Sometimes, spectators can get a little overexuberant, don't you think? I clipped in and was off.

out of T1, suited up and ready to go on Torch, my sleek race steed.

The Bike:
The bike course was 3 laps around downtown Tempe--very flat and smooth roads. I was coasting at 18 mph on the first lap, even though I felt I was being conservative. I had delusions of grandeur that I could push the pace on each lap (little did I know the wind and heat would begin to undo me). I also got to see many friends and training buddies on the course since it was 3 laps and had several turn-arounds, which was really fun.

Since my stomach was still fussing at me, I popped a Pepcid that I had thoughtfully dropped into my salt tablet baggie. This would prove to be a lifesaver since it would enable me to force down my nutrition later on as the heat rose. The bike lane was very narrow and very crowded since many of the athletes racing the Olympic distance were still riding (on the same course). Since it was my first lap, I took it easy and road cautiously, avoiding the cones and "Keep Right" road signs jutting into our lanes (to keep cars off the bike course). I almost hit one of the signs a few times, veering at the last minute just in time. Several people actually collided with these signs, I later learned, resulting in many injuries, wrecked bikes and DNFs, including my poor friend, Hoss, who is now dealing with a nasty shoulder injury. He actually cheered us on from the sidelines, injury be damned, the entire time, until we all crossed the finish line! Talk about a class act!

As I began my 2nd lap, the heat started to pick up, as did the 20 mph wind, which was a full-on headwind during the eastbound 7-mile strech on Rio Salado. I struggled to keep Torch at 16 mph and focused on keeping an even pedal stroke. "I hate wind. Wind sucks," I thought to myself. Another voice said, "The wind isn't good or bad. It's just there. And you are just here, passing through the wind." Where did this come from? Thank you, Miss Philosophy! The impromptu zen thoughts helped a lot.

On the 3rd lap, I began to struggle a bit. The wind was taking its toll and the heat was steadily rising, sucking the energy from me. A lot of debris had begun to collect in the bike lane and I had to be vigilant as I swerved in and out of fallen water bottles, tubes, CO2 cartridges, and GU packets.

I was also having a hard time getting my calories down. I had drank all the calories in my bottles (400) and had grabbed an extra water bottle from an aid station for hydration so fluid-wise, I was okay. But it had been really hard to get the Blocks down. I had no appetite. It was the heat. I had forced down 2 Blocks each lap, 1 at each end. I swallowed each one like a pill, chewing only minimally. Nothing tasted good. After, I soft-pedaled for a few minutes until my stomach decided to accept it, at which point, my stomach was actually mollified by the food.

Unfortunately, I had a much harder time getting down salt tablets (Thermolyte). I had taken 2, at different points in the race but my stomach had revolted dangerously each time the capsule broke open in my gut. Luckily, my water also had electrolytes so I was okay but I'll definitely have to work on an alternative for Ironman Arizona. All in all, I managed to consume 800 calories, which warded off bonking (since the heat forced a pretty slow pace, I wasn't using up a ton of glycogen). However, let me just say, force-feeding sucks!

By this point, I had given up trying to negative split each lap and instead, focused on keeping an even pace. Even though my 2nd and 3rd lap was slower than my 1st, each lap felt (perceived effort) progressively harder. My mantra for the day was, "Deal with the cards you're given." This really helped. I knew I couldn't control the wind or the heat. I knew both were affecting me (especially the brutal, intense heat, which no one could have anticipated). I knew if I was going to finish, I would have to listen to my body and pace myself.

As I coasted into transition, Alex caught up to me. He was having a bad day and had suffered through not 1, but 2 flats. Relentlessly, he had pushed on, after changing each one (tubulars). He said, "I've accepted I'm not going to PR today. Let's just finish and do the run together." I happily accepted his offer. However, I warned him I would be several minutes since I had a requisite date with the Port-a-Potty. "No problem," he replied. I found him waiting for me outside T2, like an angel. It felt like joining a friend for a training run. He was bummed about his bike ride. I told him the universe was in my favor because it was my birthday, and I needed his support for the run. His bad luck had become my good fortune. He just gave me a weird look. However, despite his misfortune on the bike, Alex had a great attitude.

The Run:

The heat was ridiculous. The high was 96 degrees that day, despite the fact that previous years had been cloudy and low 80s. Plus, we were beginning our run at 11:30 am. Who does that? Despite this obstacle, we fell into a nice rhythm and felt we were running conservatively at 10 min/mile, which under normal circumstances, would have been very conservative. Again, delusions of grandeur like sugarplum fairies, popped into my head, as I thought about doing the 2-loops of the run in a negative-split fashion.

I had been so worried about my foot/ankle but I didn't feel a thing. Alex and I chatted happily under the oppressive heat, blissfully unaware in our flood of endorphins. Other suffering runners on the course clustered around us, eager for our entertaining conversations. We all gave each other words of encouragement, urging each other on, bonding in the face of a common, great enemy, persevering despite the obstacles in front of us.

(still feeling good on the first lap)

The aid stations at each mile were heaven-sent oases, at which point, I could walk, drink ice-cold water, pour water on my head, and dump cups of ice down my sports bra. This allowed Alex and I to cool off a little, resuming our slow but steady pace. The ice in my sports bra rattled; I was Mariachi Girl! The simplest of things were like gold to us--cold water and ice--precious. I told Alex that the ice at the aid station could be a performance enhancing drug.
"I think ice is a real drug actually," he replied.
"No, I mean the ice cubes!"
"I know. But there's also ice. Like crystal meth."
"Oh. Yeah, then we could run until our hearts exploded," I joked.
Another runner commented as we passed by, "You seem to know a lot about the subject," he laughed. The conversations I seem to have on tough runs are very strange.

"We're crazy. Why do we do this to ourselves?" Alex asked me on the first loop.
"Because we can experience things few people in the world get to experience. We challenge ourselves and it seems impossible to reach our goals. Then we reach that goal, and it is so rewarding," I replied, letting Miss Philosophy spew from my head out my mouth. I don't know where this statement came from but internally, I was like, "Yea! That's right!" and it kept me going.

The first loop came and went, and we managed to run all 6.5 miles in a solid, steady rhythm. At the end of the first loop, several TCSD'ers stood by and cheered us on, giving us a much-needed energy boost.

Alex and I completing our 1st lap of the run.

Shortly after, my GI started to seize up and I made a mad dash to the Port-a-Potty. Alex patiently waited at the aid station a few hundred yards away, cooling off with ice and water. I caught up to him and we jogged off again. Our pace was slowing noticeably. My stomach was dangerously upset. I had developed runs on the run. Ha! At this point, I pulled out my little baggie grabbed 1/2 an Immodium from my secret stash and popped it in my mouth.
"Need anything?" I asked Alex.
"No. You're carrying a little pharmacy in there!" he replied. I was lucky. Knowing my stomach had been acting funky but wanting to avoid as much medication as possible, I had planned ahead and packed wisely. Turned out, I had to pull out all the stops for this one. About 10 minutes later, my gut stopped spasming.

Five minutes after that, I started feeling naseous instead. At about mile 7, we were running 11 minute miles. There was no shade. No grass. Not even a cloud. Just cement and waves of heat emanating off the sidewalk. We passed a tall cactus. "We're not a cactus. We shouldn't be out here," Alex commented. I nodded in agreement. The heat was wearing on both of us. The stretch between miles 7 and 9 were the toughest. We fell into an ominous silence, the thick heat pressing in around us like a fog. We were on a death march. I was beginning to feel a bit overly existential.

"How are you feeling?" Alex asked me, bringing me back from the brink.
"I feel nothing," I replied, robotically. I was too tired to feel anything.
"Nothing?" he asked. "Isn't that what psychopaths feel?" I smiled. He had rescued me. I was back in my happy place again, as if a little protective cloud had burst up around me, shielding me from the heat.

A few minutes later, my stomach lurched warningly. I was reminded of that famous Ironman quote, "If you start to feel good during an Ironman, don't worry. You'll get over it." Even though it was a half, I definitely understood this quote during this race.
"I feel pukey," I said.
"Let's walk,"Alex suggested. I didn't argue. It was mile 9. 4 more miles seemed like a lot.
"How's your foot?" he asked.
"It just started hurting a little. Not too bad. Stomach's worse." I replied. The foot was holding up well, in fact. I was more worried about losing the contents of my stomach, which in 96-degree heat, would mean I would pretty much have to shut it down. The last thing I needed was to further dehydrate myself.

As I had anticipated, my stomach was the commanding general, front and center. I had been drinking at each aid station; the cool, icy water was like a magic elixir but it was too hot for my stomach to empty. My skin tasted like a salt lick. I was losing water fast in the dry, desert heat, and all of my blood was in my periphery, working hard to cool me down. There wasn't enough blood left in my gut to absorb the fluid it held, and it was sloshing with each footstep. If I continued running, I would overheat until I dropped, like a dry engine. Walking was like heaven. It felt soooo good. Alex was kind enough to walk with me. I told him to go on, not to let me hold him back, but he refused. We were in this together.

Alex's stomach wasn't feeling so hot either but at least he could burp. I couldn't. Each time he burped, I looked at him with envy. "I'm jealous! I wish I could burp!" I commented. He gave me a weird look. After several minutes of walking, I was able to burp. Alex would burp, then I would burp. It was contagious, like yawning. It was also a wonderful reward, making my tummy feel so much better. I have never looked forward to burping so much in my life. The small things in life that are so easily taken for granted...funny how in a triathlon, modesty and shame go right out the window. Bodily functions take precedence, no one bothers to cover them up, and no one else cares. I could have been naked on that 2nd lap of the run, and I couldn't have cared. Everyone's sweaty, covered in grime, and odiferous and it doesn't matter. It's inconsequential. All that matters is getting to the finish.

About half-a-mile later, Alex coaxed me into a shuffle. Reluctantly, I tried. It worked. Shuffling was much more efficient than walking. We walked-shuffled for awhile. I had no shame, no pride. I would shuffle like an old, crippled woman if that's what it was going to take. My stomach was able to empty, my body cooled off, and we were able to resume running. By mile 10.5 I felt 100% better. I couldn't believe it. It seemed so simple. My body had just needed to cool down! We began running again--slowly--but steadily and rhythmically. It would get us there.

Our strange conversations continued. I guess the endorphin levels were rocketing, buffering us from the extreme conditions. It was surreal. I felt as if I was dreaming. Oddly enough, I was still in good spirits. I knew I was going to finish and that was all that mattered. I never had a doubt. Plus, how could I not be in a good mood with such good company? The camaraderie fueled me forward. At one point, Alex said something about Bilbo Baggins (we were discussing Lord of the Rings) but it almost came out as "Dildo Baggins". I giggled hysterically. My knee buckled, threatening to give out. For some reason, it was really funny. I almost slapped Alex.
"Don't do that!" I exclaimed.
"I'm going to fall down convulsing in seizures if you make me laugh." My body could only do one thing at a time. Apparently laughing and running were mutally exclusive activities.

Feeling the excitement during the final mile, we urged on runners around us as we passed them.
"We have to earn this one! It's not just going to give it to us," I commented. Sensing the end was near, faltering runners, picked up their pace. We tried to as well but the futile adrenaline surging through my veins had nothing left to work with. At least I was running and lucid. We crossed the grass to reach the finishing chute. Our friends, including Hoss, injured shoulder and all, lined the path, cheering us on. I was exuberant. "It's a bit warm today, eh?" I asked them. They all chuckled. I can't believe how good I felt. I could even make jokes!

As Alex and I entered the chute, I felt as if I was in a drunken stupor. "I love you, man!" I told him. We gave each other a big hug as we ran down to the finish line. I crossed the finish and threw my hands up into the air. I had finished. Not only that, but I had raced smart. I felt pretty good. I hadn't bonked, I had energy, and I hadn't needed the medical tent--on a day in which I easily could have ended up in the hospital.

Russ finishing the run, looking strong (Michelle finished before him but she was too fast for the camera!).

Alex and I, picking up the pace for the final 100 meters to the finish.

When I got back to San Diego, I e-mailed TCSD to thank everyone for their support in Tempe. Bob Babbitt e-mailed me back:

It was awesome see all of you guys and gals in AZ for the Sufferfest……Always nice to work on my tan with friends……..


How cool is that? I will be saving this e-mail! It was one of the best birthdays ever!

"There's no thrill in easy sailing ... but there IS satisfaction that's mighty sweet to take, when you reach a destination that you thought you'd never make."

Results (but who's counting?):
Total Time: 06:48:04 (Too hot for a PR that day. Hey, at least I was under 7!)
Swim: 46:02 (a HIM swim PR--yipee!)
T1: 3:15
Bike: 3:11:24 (17.6 mph; a HIM bike PR--yipee again!)
T2: 3:17
Run: 2:44:07 (12:32 min/mi; I've never run that slowly in my life! a new record! Clearly, this was a death march.)

Random Race Tips I Learned from Soma (for everday mortals):
1. Surround yourself with friends that make you feel good about yourself (applies to times outside of racing too). Distance yourself from those who make you feel anxious.
2. Use visualization techniques in detail to picture race day from start to finish, exactly as you want it to go. Focus on feeling positive and surrounding yourself with positive energy. Use relaxation techniques when you get nervous (deep breathing, meditation).
3. Never underestimate the power of positive thinking. Use a mantra, if that helps. Mine for this race was "Race with the cards your dealt with."
4. Have a backup goal. I wanted to PR but knew this wouldn't be possible in the heat. My backup goal was to finish and have a good time. I aced that goal!
5. Be prepared. Carrying odds and ends like Pepcid, spare tubes, spray-on sunblock, and chapstick can be godsends. It's a long day, and it's not going to be easy. Every little aid can help. A lot.
6. Don't beat yourself up when the going gets tough. Expect that it will be tough. Do allow yourself to be energized when friends and strangers cheer you on from the sidelines (or from other athletes on the course).
7. Break the race into pieces. It makes it digestible. A 2000 meter swim is 4x500. I focused on each lap of the 3-lap, 56-mile bike course. I focused on each mile of the run--getting to each aid station.
8. Race smart. Listen to your body. If I had pushed too hard, I would have never finished in that heat. Focus on pacing yourself, no matter how slowly. Every foot forward is one foot closer to the finish line.

Transition Odds & Ends:
(besides the obvious, e.g.--towel, bike, helmet, sunglasses, bike shoes, running shoes, race belt, water bottles; these other things come in handy!)
1. Visor--really helps keep the sun off. Use one with a light, mesh top--you can put ice inside, which will actually keep you cooler (I know, counterintutive).
2. Baby powder--liberally to bike shoes and running shoes/socks to help ward off blisters.
3. Scissors--comes in handy if they forget to undo the zip ties holding your bike on the rack; also helpful for trimming race numbers down to size.
4. Electrical tape and zip ties--strap stuff to your bike; resecure the wire of your bike computer; many uses.
5. Permanent black magic marker--in case your number smears after applying sunblock; or skip the body marking, save time, and do it yourself!
6. Helium balloon--to mark your spot with; makes finding your bike a cinch; also puts a smile on your face if you choose a fun one.
7. Cooler with industrial ice packs--keep your running bottles cool; it's going to be a long day; no fun with warm water bottles!
8. Screwdriver and Hex wrenches--in case something loosens up on your bike before you start; remember to check the cleats on your bike shoes.
9. Tummy meds--if you have a sensitive stomach like I do, some Pepcid, Tums, or Immodium can mean the difference between a fun race and a miserable DNF.
10. Spray-on, sweat-proof, water-proof sunblock. Use it. T1 and T2. Get a little one and stick it in your pocket. It will save you and prevent you from further dehydration.


bunnygirl said...

Great job! The heat did a lot of people in, from what I've read.

My Zen philosophy on a similarly hot run course at IronStar a few years ago was, "This is the best part of the course!" I repeated it to myself no matter how ugly and shade-starved the landscape. It helped, I think. That and the ice. :-)

Is this your last race of the season? It's a nice capstone, if it is.

jessie said...

Congrats on a great race despite the heat!!! You're training and racing this summer has been inspiring - thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Super job!

I've been debating whether to try a half IM next spring and it's so reassuring to see that you don't have to be a great athlete to do it, this sport is for everyone. After all not everyone can pull off 9 or 10 or even 11 minute miles. You're an inspiration!!

Paul said...

Hey Rachel,

Congrats on finishing that race in such brutal conditions!! It was definitely good preparation for IMAZ. Awesome race report, thanks for the cool writeup. So are you taking time off or going straight into your IM training?

Take care,

21stCenturyMom said...

Happy Birthday and Congratulations on your swim PR. Several people have said that the swim was long by probably 300 meters so your PR is extra great!

That heat was awful. You get an A+ for managing it and a big thank you for passing along your 'how to' tips!

ps- my daughter goes to UCSD. I'll have to get her on the team (which involves getting her to start swimming, cycling and running, first)

RunBubbaRun said...

Congrats on the finish and I guess you will always remember your 30th b-day in a special way..

Way to hang in there, staying positive.

Overall, sounds like a great time and a great b-day weekend.

Rainmaker said...

Congrats on pushing through, especially on the swim and bike PR's! And happy birthday!

The towel almost always gets me. It never ceases to amaze me the number of random little things I remember lying there in bed the night before.

Cliff Tam said...


Hey, thanks for visiting my blog. I was just wondering how you are doing.

Congrats on your 2nd half. Treat it as a lesson for Arizona and you will be fine :)

Reading your race report bring back so much memories. Other than the tampon and the ice in the bra though :).

I was chuckling about the burping. In IM Lake Placid, I was burping like there is no tomorrow :).

Are u at the end of your season? U should be very proud of yourself for finsihing this race in the heat. :)

Anonymous said...

Great Job!

It was SO hot!!! remember seeing you on the run. You looked strong. Keep up the hard work and I'll see ya in Arizona!!!


Kate said...

Go girl!!! What a performance on a day like that!!

Happy bday!

Jack said...

Congratulations on a great finish despite the heat. Your report is really fantastic, I could almost feel the heat and discomfort, and the positive energy!

Wes said...

Excellent. I love long detailed race reports. It really helps those of us who are coming after you. I thought my last sprint was hot! Wow!! You did run your race, and you raced very smart! Congrats again!!!

Bolder said...

awwwww. we lost track of each other, maybe i'll see you at IMAZ. i'd like to go and support Comm...

you had a great race though!

well done!!

Lisa said...

This was the best written race report ever! Usually with the long ones I start glazing over paragraphs but I was racing right beside you it felt like- terrific! Pretty inspiring post, too. I'm going to remember to read it before my next race to pump me up.
Also- Happy Birthday!

Shan said...

Rachel, I've been reading your blog for some time now, and thought I'd pop in and say "hello!!". I'm also a fellow TCSD-er, but I mostly train at UCSD with the Masters program since I'm a grad student there. I just wanted to congratulate you on a killer season, a great effort at SOMA and for working so hard - you're certainly inspirational with all your posts! I'll be doing IMAZ 2008 also...starting up prep phase next week! Enjoy some rest and the offseason, albeit a short one! :)

Shawn said...

Awesome Job!!! Happy Birthday too! All of your hard work paid off with a great race! I will definately keep a running list of race tips for my first tri race next year. Again Great Job!

Mon said...

Congrats, youre awesome!!! Ad happy birthday! Sounds like you had a good time, with some great friends!!!

Beautiful pics, I want to go to Sedona...I hear it's quite spirtual.

Marcy said...

YAY!!!! OMFG You R.O.C.K!!!!! CONGRATS on both the B-day and an excellent race even with the brutal conditions!!

Anonymous said...

Congrats! I felt like I was right there. What a great race report. Oh yeah, and Happy Birthday.

SarahM said...

Way to go in your race, esp. w/that heat! I was searching the 'net for 70.3 training plans and came across your site. Excellent read, full of useful tips that will use for my 1st 1/2 ironman, coincidentally on my bday weekend, too!