Sunday, April 01, 2007

2007 California 70.3 Race Report

"The gun goes off and everthing changes... the world changes... and nothing else really matters."
--Patti Sue Plummer

This quote helped me focus immensely yesterday. Everytime my mind would drift, or negative thoughts would creep in, I kept silently repeating to myself, "Focus. Focus. There is nothing else. There is nothing else." And it actually worked.

Warning: Very long, detailed post ahead. You are under no obligation to read the whole thing.
The Short Version:
Yes, I FINISHED!!! And I'm happy about it. I am also truly humbled. This was the hardest thing I've ever done. I've never felt so tired or had to rely so much on inner strength to finish a race before. This was the first time I really had to push beyond my body's limits. When it wanted to quit, I kept pushing. And, yes, it was that hard, even with all the training. Despite having an off day, I still did pretty well, eh? But I know the next one will be easier. ;)

To answer Don's questions:
Did you:
Get blinded by the sun as you swam your way back to shore?
Get stuck behind a slowpoke in the no passing zone?
No. I was the slow one holding up others.
See a Tank Xing?
No (wasn't paying attention) but I did see tanks and hear artillery fire!
Hear a Marine tell you how much you rocked?
Yes! They were so awesome! (And hot. Oops. I didn't say that.)
See the dudes with the gross road rash?
Not too many. Again, I was off in my own little world.

Race Review:
The Good:
Before I get started on the race report, here's my 2 cents on California 70.3:
This was the biggest triathlon I've ever participated in. Very impressive. They really roll out the red carpets for you. They treat all the athletes like royalty. Lots of volunteers, lots of aid stations, medical tents, lots of onlookers cheering you by, everyone's cheering your name (b/c your name is printed on the race number! Awesome!). Great support at the end with well-stocked food tent and really neat visor with "California 70.3 finisher 2007" embroidered on teh lid. Seamless organization. Very clear courses. You can really tell that Roch and Paul have a ton of experience and know what they're doing. A really A1 event. As far as the course goes, you don't get more scenic than southern california. Ocean, rolling hills, springtime greenery, songbirds singing--all quite lovely. Plus, there's a military ambience you don't get anywhere else since you race on the marine base where civilians aren't normally allowed. The marines that volunteer for race support are AWESOME!
The Bad:
Not too much. I only wish there had been more Port-A-Johns in the transition area! We had PERFECT weather this year. Started out in the 50s and rose to the 70s. Clear and sunny. Doesn't get any better than that. In previous years though, the weather has been pretty nasty. Since it's an early season event, training is tough and the weather forecast is a gamble. Also, the bike course is not just hilly--it's EXTREMELY hilly.
Overall Rating: A (a must-do event at some point)
Picked up my race packet, which took the better part of the afternoon, especially with traffic. At registration, showed my I.D. to a bunch of marines, guarding the door. Very official. Then, I had to sign a bunch of insurance papers, reminding me that, yes, I could die, and no, it's not their fault. Then, I had to weigh in with a handsome marine bearing witness. Good thing I don't have weight issues!
Triathlon Flair--
Afterwards, they branded me with a fluorescent green wristband with my number on it and the words, "California 70.3 Triathlon." I had to wear my "flair" for the rest of the afternoon and that night. Kind of cool, in some respect, because people would ask what the wristband was for and you could brag about the crazy thing you were going to do. Plus, when Jason and I had lunch, we saw others with their wristbands. It was like our little secret. Perfect strangers wishing each other luck.
From Office Space (most awesome movie...ever)--
Peter Gibbons: Doesn't it bother you that you have to get up in the morning and you have to put on a bunch of pieces of flair?
Joanna: Yeah, but I'm not about to go in and start taking money from the register.
Peter Gibbons: Well, maybe you should. You know, the Nazis had pieces of flair that they made the Jews wear.

On the way home, I joked that we should sit at the beach and scour the ocean for dolphins because they symbolize good luck. We took Coast Hwy home because traffic on the 5 was sooo bad. I gazed at the ocean, glittering under the setting sun like jewels embroidered into a ball gown. All of a sudden, I saw a flash of silver break the surface of the water, crested by the tell-tale dorsal fin. Then another. And another. A few miles down the road, another. I saw 5 dolphins! They were out and about and wishing me good luck.

Sweet Tooth--
Went home and had a nice little dinner (salmon and rice) but then overdid it on dessert (brownie and doughnut holes--I have a sweet tooth, ok?). Watched a really bad movie (the new Rocky movie--thought it would be inspirational; was more like a porn-o but the lead-in was an hour and a not-so-great fight was the climax). Tried to go to bed early but it was a futile attempt. Was in bed at 9. Did a crossword puzzle. Read a bit. Watched t.v. a bit. Turned the light out before 10. Tossed and turned.

Then proceeded to try visualization techniques to play out how I wanted race day to unfold (again). Whoever recommended the whole visualization-thing for athletes should have attached a disclaimer: DO NOT practice race-day visualization in bed the night before the race!!! My heart rate went from 55 to 100 in a few seconds. I thought it was going to leap out of my chest. Tried to watch a little t.v. but couldn't pay attention. Turned on the light and tried to read but kept reading the same sentence over and over again. Switched to the latest issue of Runner's World but the whole focus was on the Boston Marathon. Is this a joke? Everywhere I looked, all I could see was: Race, Race, Race.

Sleepless in San Diego--
Finally, listened to some relaxing music on my iPod, and this seemed to help. Fell asleep restlessly about midnight, although I woke up several times through the night (every time I rolled over, I could feel my flair on my wrist, reminding me of what was to come tomorrow). Woke up at 3:15 and forced myself to fall asleep again. At least I felt more excited than nervous. Honestly, I just wanted to get started already.

3:45--Time to Get Up--
When my alarm went off at 3:45 am, I was so ready to get up. I didn't feel tired at all, and I know the lack of sleep the night before did not affect my energy levels on race day (it's the sleep several nights before leading up to race day that count). I got ready quickly and even had 1/2 cup of coffee to get everything going (I drink coffee every day so my body's pretty used to it). Put on my "racing stripes" (tri club top and tri shorts) and felt a renewed surge of excitement. I never wear my tri club top unless I'm racing so I guess it just injects that race-day excitement into me. After that, my spirit just knows it's race day. All of a sudden, it was 4:40 and time to go.

I was so sure I would have plenty of time before the gun would go off but I couldn't believe how quickly time flew from 3:45 until 7:29 when my wave went. I had enough time to do what I needed to do but no extra time. In some respects, this was good, as I had no extra time to be nervous. Plus, I had everything so organized, it was really easy to set everything up. We arrived at parking, and I unloaded, did a final tire pressure check, and attached lights to my bike. Yes, it was pitch black. I also had on a thick sweatshirt and sweatpants over my racing stripes but I was still freezing. It was about 49 degrees. Pus, when I'm nervous, I'm more sensitive to cold for some reason. I proceeded to bike to the start from parking (1.5 miles), which actually isn't a bad warm-up except it felt more like a freeze-down. I was cold. And shivering. Normally, even when I'm cold on the bike my legs feel warm because they're moving. But I was doing the whole body shiver, and even my legs were shaking. Ergh. Shivering always makes me feel like I'm wasting so much energy.

Transition Set Up--
The transition area was HUGE. I finally found my rack and saw some familiar faces. It was so nice to see so many friends at the race. Lots of people from my club (Tri Club San Diego) and also some blog friends (Jodi). Everyone was very friendly. I love the comaraderie between triathletes at races. It was difficult to set up my area in the dark but I got it done. I figured out where we biked and ran out (same spot) and where we swam in and biked in (also same spot) and then trotted the transition course to make sure I could find my rack. One nice thing is that the race directors designed the transition area so all athletes had to run the exact same distance irrespective of where their spot was located. No one had a transition advantage. So cool. That takes special planning. I noticed a plaground adjacent to my rack and made a mental note to use that as my landmark. Then, stood in line for a looong time for the potty. Made small chat with strangers. Don't you love other triathletes on race day? Everyone is your friend. I love it. At this time, the sun made its first appearance of the day (~6:15), and I instantly stopped shivering. Aaaaah. Back in transition, applied body glide, safety pinned my ankle strap together (to appease my paranoid self) and put on my wetsuit. It was only 6:40 but my wetsuit helped keep me warm while waiting. Grabbed my ear plugs, goggles, and 2 caps (1 silicone to go under the latex, neon green, race cap) and proceeded to the swim chute.
  • Equipment in Transition:
    Bike (flat kit with tube, tire levers, patch kit, and CO2 cartridges in small bag under seat).
  • Towel under bike for stuff.
    Towel on top of bike for drying off.
  • Garbage bag for wetsuit.
  • Bike shoes with socks with baby powder.
  • Helmet with sunglasses, racebelt with number.
  • Vest with nutrition in back pocket.
  • Water bottles (thawing) with Carbo Pro and electrolytes in cages on bike (2).
  • Running shoes with regular old laces (tried the quick-ties but didn't like them) with fresh socks and more baby powder.
  • Fuel belt with 2 bottles with electrolytes and number.
  • (I'm not a believer in sacrificing comfort for speed. I'm here for the experience. Saving 10 seconds in transition is not going to make a difference for me.)


In the Water--
I stood in the swim chute with my wave for about half-an-hour but it felt like 5 minutes. Chatted with friends and met new people. Very friendly group. Watched in amazement as Andy Potts flew by like a rocket jet, kicked off his wetsuit with the fling of his leg, jumped on his bike, and was gone. We all watched with our mouths agape. Is he even human? (He won, for those of you who didn't read the race results and from what I could see, deserved to. Seemed like he had an awesome day.) We watched the other pros exit the water and fly past us into the transition. We cheered them on.
All of a sudden, it was time to line up to get in the water. Knowing the water would feel chilly, I jogged in place and jumped up and down to "pre-warm" myself and also psych myself up. The sun was out by this time, which also helped. We were allowed to get in just a few minutes before starting, just enough time to swim to our in-water start. As soon as I found a spot, I dove in, anticipating freezer burn. Surprisingly, the water felt very nice. Not cold at all. I guess swimming in mid-50 degree water all winter did help prepare me afterall. Bonus. In addition, absolutely no waves, no currents, just calm, easygoing harbor water. Like swimming in a saltwater pool, except with murky water and colder (and dirtier). Had just enough time to swim over to the start, position myself, pee (also helped warm me up), and start my watch (I always start it a minute early and then subtract later; then I don't have to think about it anymore). We were all hootin' and hollerin' and the announcer said we were the liveliest wave of the day, which psyched us up.

Swallowing Water--
Unfortunately, I also had just enough time to lift my head as I was swimming, open my mouth, and allow a ton of salt water to pour down my throat from an adjacent swimmer's arm, siphoning it down like a beer funnel. I hate swallowing salt water! This would not be the first time this happened today, unfortunately; however, it also taught me a valuable lesson (DON'T SIGHT SO MUCH!).
The horn sounded and directors in kayaks shouted, "Go!" and it was time to begin what I had been preparing and waiting for 6 months. We all took off and the telltale full-contact sport of triathlon swimming ensued, complete with kicking, elbowing, and pushing. Very violent. I held my ground, having to kick extra hard when a few swimmers attempted to swim over me, and quickly found my way to the back and outside of the pack. Luckily, I had put my goggles on under my race cap so there was no chance of it getting ripped off.
Find a Rhythm--
There were swimmers everywhere throughout the whole race. Always bubbles coming from someone's feet to draft off. Nice. I'm a slow but steady swimmer so I was prepared to have most of the wave take off in front (and waves starting behind overtake me--sorry Jameson; I was probably one of those to get in your way) but, since I knew this would happen, and prepared myself for it, for the first time, it didn't demoralize me like it has in the past.
I settled into the swim, easily finding the buoys every 100 meters. I focused on slow and steady breathing, ensuring I didn't push too hard, and counted strokes to relax me. Every 20 strokes, I switched sides to equalize the effort and to help with swimming straight. I could actually feel myself settling into pace and feeling stronger and stronger. This has never happened. Usually, I can't wait for the swim to be over. Plus, I was so stoked about feeling good and finding a rhythm, it just made me feel even better, giving me confidence. Now, I just need to learn how to maintain this rhythm/pace.

About 500 meters in, the course veered to the left, and this totally threw me. I was prepared to swim in a straight line, not veer this way and that! Luckily, kayakers were lined up to the right to help keep us on course. "Left!" they would shout. I sighted off them and made sure I was between the kayakers and buoys. At this point, I got a little panicky. "Where is the turn-around?" I couldn't see the last buoy, and it was freaking me out. "How much further?" I was sighting way too much with the full head-up, exhausting water-polo stroke to try to figure out where the turn-around buoy was. Every time I did, I got a beer funnel-full of water down my throat from a nearby swimmer. I probably ended up swallowing water like this about 4 times. Yuck. At least I was getting electrolyte replenishment! Lesson to learn here? Do NOT sight so much. I knew where the next buoy was. That's all I needed to know. I began focusing on that. Just swimming to the next buoy. Count strokes. Next buoy. That's it. And I relaxed again, settled into a rhythm, and focused.
Halfway Done; Blinded by the Sun; Floaters--
All of a sudden, I was at the turn-around. Okay. That wasn't so bad. No need for panicky feeling. Coming back was easier psychologically. For one, I knew I was over halfway down. 2nd, more swimmers were around me from other waves so I had more people to draft and sight off of. 3rd, the dock was to my right so I had lots to sight from on both sides without having to pick my head out of the water. Unfortunately, the sun was right in my eyes to the left, making it difficult to find the buoys. In addition, because I was on the outside, I kept running into the floaters (swimmers having a bad day, chilling on their backs; one guy was singing a little ditty to himself). I focused swimming between the other swimmers, which were spread out from buoys to dock, making a very wide lane. It was difficult for me to envision a straight line to swim on.
Gotta work on this.
Focus, Focus; "Are We Done Yet?" to "Done Already?"--
I fell into a rhythm, felt strong and focused, and then my mind would drift. "Am I going straight? How much further? Will my water bottles be thawed enough to drink on the bike?" I'd catch myself and tell myself "STOP! Focus on task at hand. Focus on the task at hand." That mantra helped. All of a sudden, I could see the boat ramp. The exit. Already? For real? I couldn't believe it. Swimming for me is SO psychologically disorienting. Physically, I'm fine. But it's a psychological test for me. I feel like I don't know where I am or what's going on. Throughout the whole swim, I kept falling in and out of a rhythm. "Feel good, feel great, stroke, stroke." Then, "where am I? What's going on?" Back and forth.
Overall Swim:
I have improved. I can actually find a rhythm and relax now in the swim. Last season? No way. I always felt beat up, exhausted, dizzy, and completely demoralized by the end of the swim. So, even though I'm not any faster, I'm stronger. I have more reserved for the bike and the run now.
Lessons learned from the swim:
1. Don't sight so much! This was a biggie. I was directly negatively reinforced every time I did this by swallowing water--dirty, disgusting, polluted harbor water.
2. Focus on finding a rhythm and maintaining a good pace and relaxed feel throughout. Here, I could find the rhythm. I just couldn't keep it. This will come.
3. Become stronger to the left. This is my weaker side but in triathlons, because the buoys are inevitably to the left, and I'm always to the right (because I'm slow), I'm always breathing to the left on race day. Although I practice equally on both sides, the left is naturally my weaker side. Maybe I should focus on swimming a bit more to the left to make it stronger.
4. Lots of open water practice (in cold water) helps. I felt calm and cool as a cucumber. Plus, the water felt warm to me!
5. The masters swimming has helped. Yes, I'm still slow, and the same speed as last season. But the key is that I'm more relaxed and stronger. I'm not wiped at the end of the swim. I feel strong, raring to go. So that's a step in the next direction. Speed will come. It will come. I'm building the foundation.

Out of the water onto the boat ramp. I felt strong and focused. Not disoriented, tired, and dizzy like I normally feel. My watch read ~49 minutes. Okay. A little slow but not horrible. I think if I had sighted less and focused a little more, I could have done 45. Next time.
I trotted on up and down the corral to the transition area, maintaining a nice little pace. My breathing wasn't even hard! I casually unzipped my wetsuit and got the first half off, removed my race cap, goggles, ear plugs, and silicone cap, as I've practiced before, all while running to my bike.
Had no problem finding the bike, using the playground landmark to sight. Removed the rest of my wetsuit. Put on my sleeveless vest with nutrition inside back pocket, ready to go. Put on socks with baby powder and shoes. Race belt, helmet and sunglasses.

Fatal Error #1 (of many)--
Did not change to more heavily padded bike shorts, which I would sorely (pun intended) regret later. Damn adrenaline convinced me I would be fine in my thin little tri shorts.
A volunteer asked me if I was cold and offered me warm soup to warm up. I realized I was not cold at all! I didn't even need the arm warmers I had laid out. I felt great and ready to go! My transition time was ~5 min. This seems egregiously slow for most but I'm fine with this. Afterall, it's a long race. No reason to kill myself for a minute gained here.

Start (miles 1-5)--
Had no problem clipping in and smoothly taking off. Usually, I'm very shaky and this takes me a few tries. I felt calm and confident. Jason cheered me on from the sidelines on one side and a good friend from my running group had climbed up a tower to cheer me on from the other. This put a huge grin on my face. I felt like they were with me, cheering me on the whole way.
I eased into a pace the first few miles, taking my time. Took a few sips of my thawed yet cold drink. Ate a Cliff Shot. Yummy.

Miles 5-25--
The first 25 miles was very flat and very fast, and I was able to maintain rocket-blasting speeds at about 18-20 mph with very little effort. I felt like I was just spinning and wasn't breathing hard at all. I couldn't believe how quickly the miles flew by. The ocean sparkled to my left, and the short, green stalks of grass sparsely carpted the landscape around me. It was as green as it gets around here for San Diego. I couldn't believe what a beautiful day it was. I heard songbirds singing their sweet, mating lullabies all around me. High 60s, calm. Perfect day for a race.
Miles 25-45 (The Forbidden Zone--Battle of the Hills)--
After a stint on the Trestles Bike Path, we turned back and reentered Camp Pendleton and went inland. I was excited. We were now biking in the forbidden zone, where no civilian has gone before (unless you've done this race before). I could hear artillery fire, popping in the distance. Whoa. I was psyched about the killer hills looming in the distance, infamously mentioned to me time and time again by more experienced triathletes. "Here we go," I thought. Now it would begin to get tough.
Fatal Error #2 (Humbling Rookie Moment)--
At about mile 30, I saw the first hill. There was no mistaking it. A guy next to me said, "There it is." And I said, "Here's what we've all been waiting for. Bring it." It was huge and winding and went up and up and up. Hills always appear more intimidating from a distance because you ride down into them before they start going up. I got some momentum up on the downhill and kept repeating to myself, "There is no hill. There is no hill." In retrospect, I should have said, "Respect the hill. Respect the hill." While several other athletes conservatively walked their bikes up the hill, I attacked the hill with gusto and had no problem getting up. About halfway up, I had to stand for a bit before resuming pushing from a seated position. It was a tough hill but I could handle a hill. It was the hills (plural) part over the next 10 miles that was the problem. First hill, no problem. 3rd hill, then 4th hill (I thought there would only be 3 but I SWEAR there were 4!)--problem. I was starting to feel pretty tired, especially in my legs. (Not to mention what it did to my heart rate). Looking back, I didn't pace myself properly for the hills and psyched myself up waaaay too much for the first one. Rookie error. Hey, I AM a rookie. That's right.
Keep on Going--
Luckily, the nice thing about hills is that each uphill is followed by a downhill. That's the great thing about hills. You know where they begin and where they end. And you are almost always rewarded by a nice downhill recovery after your hard effort. You can size up the enemy. This kept me going. I was able to maintain a pretty good speed because of the rewarding downhills, although my overall mphs did drop a bit (before 18-20 mph, now my avg speed was in the 17s).
By the end of those 10 miles, my legs were starting to feel a bit beat up from the hills. I had planned on 3 big hills, not realizing in between would be a bunch of smaller, yet steep hills, rollers, and false flats (I HATE false flats! I want to see the enemy and size him up before being attacked). Mentally, I felt very positive, however.
Miles 45-56 (The Torture Begins)--
Mile 45 the hills ended, and I should have been relieved but 2 bad things started happening:
1--terrible headwind. Terrible!
2--my ass was killing me! Sharp pain...difficult to block out. Wearing the tri shorts in lieu of the bike shorts was coming back to bite me in the....
Rookie Error #3 (Nutrition)--I had eaten too much.
I guess. To be honest, I can't figure out why my body says I had eaten too much when simple logic says I didn't eat nearly enough. I had 100 cals in my water bottle of Carbo Pro, 5 Cliff Blocks (~200 cals), and 2 non-fat Fig Newtons (~150 cals). This is only 400 cals. I had spread out eating throughout so I was getting calories every 15-30 minutes. Plus, the Carbo Pro ensured I got cals every time I drank. In addition, I was eating like I had trained. Typically, I have a pretty finicky stomach though so it's verrry hard to eat enough. Could it be my body is just different, and I don't need as much? Obviously, I need to figure out my nutrition better before my next long distance event.
Only thing I can guess is that all the climbing had caused my heart rate to skyrocket, shunting the blood away from my gut and preventing the food (and water) from clearing . I was beginning to feel very bloated and a bit naseous. I came out of the aero position for awhile to try to allow my gut to digest. That helped. Unfortunately, every time I got aero again, my gut would complain.
Did I Say How Much I Hate Headwinds?
I couldn't believe how bad the headwind was for the last 12 miles. It may have been flat but with the headwind, there was no reward. At least with hills, you can see where they start, how steep they are, and when they end. Plus, you get a downhill afterwards. With a headwind, it feels like a never-ending hill that you can't see, never ends, and no reward afterwards. It was relentless. This was the most important part for me to stay aero. But I just couldn't. The naseous feeling building up sharply increased every time I got aero.
First Smart Decision of the Day (Swallow Your Pride)--
I realized I would never be able to do a half-marathon if I got off the bike feeling like this so I swallowed some pride, sat up, downshifted, and slowed to an achingly slow pace of 12 mph for the next 10 miles to allow my legs to recover and allow my gut to clear. Athletes flew by me. I didn't care. I was hurting. But I knew I could manage less than 10 miles. In retrospect, this was one of the smartest things I did all day. I kept telling myself, "just 10 more minutes. You can do just 10 more minutes." I must of done a good job of zoning out because all of a sudden, I was biking back into the harbor and the transition area was up ahead. I had no idea how I was going to run a half-marathon, and I blocked it out and tried not to think about it.
Overall Bike--
I still managed an average of 16 mph, which is my average training pace. And that was with the hills, bloating, headwind, and feeling like crap. Obviously, I need to work on pacing and nutrition here.
Racked my bike and tried not to pay attention that EVERY other bike in my wave was already racked. I took off my helmet and vest, strapped on my fuel belt, put on my running shoes, and trotted off to the loo. Luckily, I had stashed some tissues in my fuel belt because the Port-a-John was disgusting. After a quick pit stop, trotted off onto the run course. Including the pit stop, my transition time was still ~5:30. Fine by me.
Moment of Inspiration--
A 68-year old woman in fantastic shape rode in with me. She said some very encouraging words before heading out. This wouldn't be the last time I saw her today.
Start (Miles 1-3)--
I had a lot of concerns starting out. However, running is my strong suit. Throughout the entire run, I had little conversations with myself.
Me: Am I going to be able to this?
Legs: Get out of the way. We can handle this.
Me: Awesome. I'll just sit back and enjoy the ride.
I took off. I felt great. My legs had no problem finding a rhythm. They were there and ready to run.
Rookie Mistake #4--
Feeling good had a dangerous snowball effect. Feeling good makes one feel even better. I hit mile 1 at 8:15 min. I was flying. Normally, I run ~9:30 min/miles for my long runs. I knew I had to slow down. But my legs wanted to go! I took the first 3 miles way too fast, hitting mile 3 at a sub-9 min/mile pace. I think I was just glad to be off that damn bike! At the aid stations, they had everything. I particularly loved the cold, wet sponges and cups of ice that I poured down my shirt to cool off. Plus, all the volunteers were cheering us on. Our numbers had our names on them so everyone was calling out, "Go, Rachel!" It was pretty awesome.

Miles 3-6 (Disorientation, Stomach Speaks Up and Doubt Settles In)--
As soon as I hit mile 4, it caught up with me. Bloated. Naseous. Upset stomach. Uh-oh. I slowed down. And slowed down. Miles 4-6 seemed to take forever. I suddenly realized I was tired. Very tired. And disoriented. For about 20 seconds, I ran to the right of the cones (luckily, no one was coming the other way) until I snapped out of it and jumped back to the left. This kind of freaked me out. At another point, I was looking for a place to throw away my now-dry sponge and had to remind myself that a mailbox is not the same thing as a trash can. I wonder what the mailman would have thought? I normally don't feel so disoriented during a workout. But I wanted this. I had to finish. That's all I cared about. I was so close.

Mile 6-10 (Feel Like a Stone; Just Keep Going)--
At mile 6, the dreaded turn-around for the 2nd loop, I saw Jason, cheering me on.
"I still have another lap to go!" I called out to him, clearly worried.
"You can do it! You're doing great!" he shouted back.
Well, he thinks I can do it, so I must be able to do this, I thought. And kept going. One foot after another. Then I realized, of course I can do this. I've trained so hard. I've run this far before. Many times. I can do this. Having Jason there at mile 6 was a godsend that day. A little bit up the road, my tri club (Tri Club San Diego) was manning the aid station. They saw my jersey and went nuts.
I can't let them down. I can't look bad now, I thought. My rhythm returned. Other athletes I knew and had met also kept cheering me on as they ran the other way. It's great motivation having people around you egging you on at an event like this. The last thing you want to do is puke on their shoes. So many people were calling my name and cheering me on. I only wish I had the energy to respond. I didn't know who half of the cheerers were and didn't know if I was supposed to know them. My body felt like stone and didn't respond when I tried to smile and wave. I was suffering. Plain and simple. I took comfort in knowing everyone else around me was also in their own private hell as well. We were suffering together. Hey, misery loves company.

Miles 10-13.1 (Inner Battles)--
My stomach argued with me in waves. We battled each other throughout the whole run and exchanged words. I swear, my stomach is like a bratty 3-year-old sometimes.
For awhile, I could run and maintain a rhythm, and everything was fine. My legs felt great. No knee pain at all, even though I'd overcome a recent pre-injury, and the entire run was on unforgiving concrete.
Choices, choices: Thirst or Nausea?--
I started to feel really thirsty. Then, I would drink. Then, I would feel naseous again. I was being forced to choose: fluid or nausea? What a choice! At this point, I began to take little 30 second walk breaks. This allowed me to drink, give my stomach a chance to settle, and then resume running. I did this about 4 times during the last 7 miles.
Argument with Stomach--
When doubt began to sneak in, I tried encouraging myself with little mantras:
"One foot in front of the other."
or "left foot, right foot."
or "focus on the task at hand."
Oddly enough, though this had worked on the bike, this backfired on the run. The mantras just made me feel worse.
Me: Focus on the task at hand.
Stomach: Shut up! I don't want to hear about "task" right now.
Me: Okay. How about left foot, right foot.
Stomach: No! Just shut up! Go away!
Me: Are you sure? It helped on the bike. What about, "Left foot, right foot." Very simple.
Stomach: I swear to God, if you don't shut the f*#k up right now, I'm going to puke here on the spot!
Me: Okay! Okay!
A few minutes later...
Me: Look at how pretty the ocean is.
Stomach: It makes me want to lose it. Stupid ocean. Full of currents.
Me: Okay! Okay! Look at the ground. It doesn't have currents.
A little bit down the road...
Me: I really need water, stomach. Please? Just a little.
Stomach: Just a little.
(Gulp, gulp.)
Stomach: Too much! Too much! Don't feel good!
Me: Okay! Okay! Look, we're walking now.
Stomach: Okay, good.
Legs: Godammit. You have got to be kidding me! Again!
Me: Ready to start runnin now?
Stomach: No. Want to go to bed.
Me: We'll start jogging very slowly.
Legs (to Stomach): We really are going much more slowly than normal. You should be able to handle it.
Stomach (with arms crossed in front of chest, pouting): Fine. But I don't like it.
Legs, Me: We know!
Disorientation at Aid Station Mile 10--
Mile 10 I was craving cold, aid station water not the nasty, warm salty water in my fuel belt (now almost gone anyway). They were offering water (yes), Gatorade (yuck), and Coke (WTF?). I wanted to be sure I didn't drink the wrong thing. Volunteers were shouting out their wares as I passed by: "Water! Gatorade! Coke!"
"Water?" I parroted back, still running.
"Water!" they responded, trying to offer me a cup. For some reason, I was confused (disoriented) and missed several handouts. Also, I couldn't stop. My legs were on autopilot.
"Water?" I called out again, like a worried puppy.
"Water!" they shouted with urgency. Great. I'd missed it.
"I'm coming to get 'ya!" a young boy shouted. He took off sprinting after me. I turned and gratefully accepted the cup of precious water from him. The volunteers were so awesome. Then, I coaxed myself to a walk and automatically drank 3/4 of the entire cup on the spot. Whoa, Nelly! Be careful about drinking so much there! For some reason, my stomach didn't object too much.
Repeat Sighting of My Muse--
Mile 11 came flying by. The 68 year old woman I had so foolishly passed on the run came loping past me. I knew I was on the homeward stretch. At this point, I knew I could make it. I started feeling waves of happiness. I wanted to high-five the people cheering me on but couldn't muster the strength. My stomach told me not to push my luck. Jason cheered me on 100 meters before the finish. Everyone was telling me to "Go, Go, Go!" Couldn't they see I was going?

The Finish!
I was going down the chute and so happy I could cry. They held up a ribbon for me to break as I crossed the mats, and the sweet, sweet sound of Mike Reilly's booming voice over the loudspeakers yelling my name overwhelmed the victorious beeping of my chip as my legs crossed over the mats. The volunteers placed a medal over my neck and loaded my arms with shwag before helping undo my ankle strap. Everyone was saying, "Congratulations!" I was so dazed, dizzy, and disoriented but very, very happy. I must have looked better than I felt because no one directed me to the medical tent, although I must admit, I lingered there for a few minutes to determine if I would need assistance. After sitting down for awhile and sucking the juice out of an orange slice (I couldn't stomach actually chewing), I made my way back to the transition area and somehow collected my stuff. I was already starting to feel better.

The Aftermath--
At the transition area, I saw the 68-year-old age grouper who had done so awesome and congratulated her. She was very humble and modest obviously much more experienced and she gave me some tips.
"I hope I'm in as good of shape as you when I'm your age. Jeez, you're in better shape than me now!" I said to her
Her husband came over and leaned into me and said, "I just have to tell you a little bit about this woman. She holds the world record for her age group for Ironman Hawaii at Kona." What, what, what? I couldn't believe it. Amazing. People like her inspire me even more than the pros because they're not in it for the money or the fame or the glory. They have jobs and lives and families. It makes that accomplishment mean all that much more. That put things in perspective for me.

What I Learned--
1. So much. So much.
2. It was a very humbling and rewarding experience.
3. I have a lot to learn but in reality, what I need most is patience, time, and more experience.
4. I will work on pacing and nutrition the most.
5. The next one will be easier.
6. Speaking of which, when is the next one?
7. When is the first IM I should do?
Finally, thank you so much to everyone for all your support! You guys really keep me going out there!


Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Congrats, Rachel! I never had any doubts! I bet it was that salt water you swallowed during the swim that messed up your stomach. So to help with item #7, do an IM with a freshwater swim. :-)

Habeela said...

What an inspiring race report! Way to soldier on in spite of stupid stomaches!

Jodi said...

Great race, Rachel!

Cliff blocks always make me nauseous. To figure out your nutrition, you should try to do some prolonged Zone 3 riding (20 minutes at a time, or so) and see what your body can handle. Powerbars and water are great for me, then once I can feel the run coming I switch to Gu. Everyone is different, but it's really when your HR gets into Zone 3 that your stomach gets finicky. I swear I could eat a 3 course meal while on my bike doing a zone 2 spin! Way to stick with it on Saturday. Great race and Report. And it was so great to meet you! Maybe we can plan to do a full together some day!



Unknown said...

Fantastic race report! You really hit the highs and lows of long-distance races and the California course. I felt like I was right there beside you through the whole post. And you are right, you can learn a lot from what you did. I raced to a 6:46 at California in 2003 and was able to take what I learned and did another half in November in 5:51. The first is always the hardest.

Great job!

RunBubbaRun said...

Great race report... When you start getting to half IM and up, the 4th & 5th discipline is a key factor. Mainly nutrition, always a hard thing to figure out..

Yeah, still not sure how people race in TRI shorts, especially men, and especially IM distance.

You had a great race...

When will you be ready to do an IM.. As soon as you hit that mouse button and are registered...

Congrats again...

Jessica said...

Congratulations! Great write up. I'm sorry you had a rough time with your stomach, but you pushed through and made it anyway! That's HUGE!

Fizzgig said...

wow! you never cease to amaze me with how you keep going! Good job, it exhausted me just reading this!

Kate said...

Great work- and a great report- I was feeling everything!

Unknown said...

In answer to your question about Ironman Arizona, everything I have heard about it is that it is a great race; very well run. The swim is as easy as it is going to get since Tempe Town Lake is just a giant swimming pool, no waves to worry about. The bike is probably the toughest part. It is three loops and each leg heading out is a continuous uphill. The other factor is that it is almost always windy in April. It can be hot and it is always very dry, so you have to hydrate like crazy because you won't even realize you are sweating, it evaporates almost instantly, so you need to follow a plan and not rely on your body to tell you. The run is very pretty and nearly flat running around the lake on a mix of sidewalks and packed dirt trails. It is a great race and if you have aspirations of trying to go to Kona because the conditions are similar and it is early enough in the year to recover before October.

Let me know if you need any other info, and congratulation again!

Bolder said...

congrats Rachel!

you raced your race, and did beautifully.

thanks for taking us along in your race report, we were right there with you!!

JeffM said...

The first one is under your belt and you battled through alot.
Great race report and great internal dialouge.

Leah said...

Congrats! You did great! Your race report was such a great read, I was almost tearing up by the end. (Really. I'm a sap, I guess.) But what you describe is so real. It's exactly how I felt when I did my first tri last fall (Nautica Malibu). Especially the swim and run portions.

I found your blog only a few weeks ago and LOVE reading it. I'm writing a blog for Women's Health magazine (full disclosure: I work there) called Play to Win ( about training for my second race and trying to push myself to do better. On days when I don't feel like working out, I read your blog and it motivates me. I only wish I lived in sunny San Diego! Can't wait to hear what your next goal is. Keep up the awesome work!

Unknown said...

Great race report! Loved all the detail! And congrats on finishing!

Kewl Nitrox said...

Fantastic report! Thanks for taking us with you.

Even from as far away as Singapore, I have read that Camp Pendleton has killer hills so kudos for making it thru the bike in record time.

Fantastic job finishing despite the discomfort. Way to teach your gut to behave. :)

Dances with Corgis said...

What a great race report! Glad you got through it and still had a good race, and sounds like you learned a ton.

Also, I have serious issues with you- how could you not like the new ROCKY?! I am done with this blog :) (heehee-kidding). But I loved it! I guess I am just a sap... all the cheesy parts with his son totally got to me... I was bawling like a baby!

Anonymous said...

What an awesome race report! Best one I've ever read. My heart rate went up to like 120 just reading about the hills. A sincere congrats. I take it the hills at the Pendleton Oly weren't even close to the ones on this bike course?

Cliff said...

Hey Rachel,

No matter how much u suffered, u looked great running in the chute.

Jenö said...

Hey Rachel - Great race and great race report! Well done!

Anonymous said...