Monday, April 18, 2011

2011 New Orleans 70.3 Race Report (aka 69.1 Race Report)

It's a very simple relationship really. It's just taken me awhile to accept it. I am coming to terms with the fact that New Orleans 70.3 hates me... and I hate it. I don't mean to take any of its power away. It's a mighty beast of a race, and always seems to throw curve-balls, I just can't help but think it has it out for me personally.

The good news first? I finished officially! YAY! Main goal accomplished. The bad news is that I finished "officially" a 69.1 race, not a 70.3 race as the swim portion of the event was cancelled at the last minute due to strong winds and waves that were unsafe for the swimmers as well as the water support.

SO, now you know the gist of it. If you want the gory details read on. If not skim to the end and maybe by the time I finish typing this I will have decided what happens next, as I find blogging a very therapeutic way to deal with my race frustrations. This will likely be a long blog as I haven't gotten any posts out in 8 weeks and my head has a lot to say, so hold on...

I'll start with a glimpse of pre-race week. I felt good about the upcoming race, anxious, but overall good and confident. I'd had some tough open water swims leading up to the race, battling some old head demons, but seemed to consistently overcome them after about 500 yds, so I was feeling confident that if I could just hang on that long I would be able to re-compose and get the job done.

This time I thought more about my nutritional needs and kept a constant supply of water on hand to hydrate, tried to avoid eating the crap I usually ingest, and avoided skipping meals - as can be my habit. I stuck fairly well to the 9 - 9:30 bedtime I had assigned myself, and really tried to maximize my taper week. I did struggle with migraines for two days that I know were stress related, but by Friday they had eased and I was able to relax again.

Thursday night we had our team pre-race dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. It was nice to be with my friends who were either competing as well, or were there for support. My migraine battle was in full throttle so I wasn't as "up" as I would normally have been, but overall I enjoyed the evening and looked forward to the camaraderie that the FitBirds always have when together at races. We were presented with our officially screened race kit and I was excited about wearing it on Sunday.

Saturday morning seemed to arrive quickly, but I was glad. As anxious as I was about the race, I just wanted to attack it sooner rather than later. My gear bag had already been packed and re-packed about three times up until then, so I was pretty sure I had everything I needed. The big question was whether it was going to be a wetsuit swim or not, and mentally I was preparing to go without it so I would be ready for my most difficult challenge.

I met up with the Rocketchix 'Sputnicks' as we like to call the weekend warrior training group, and took a nice warm-up loop from the split to check out my bike setup and make sure everything was in order. I had a nice ride and noticed no problems. I went home to shower, pack the van, and pick up Coach on the way out of town. We went to packet pickup, which was very organized and quick this year and held in the conference room at the Hilton Riverside, and then we hit the expo. Unfortunately it was a bit of a downer this year ~ few vendors and not a lot of selection. I fought the urge to buy a shirt and cap in fear of jinxing myself, and instead settled for a three dollar "70.3" sticker as I lost the one from last year since it never went on my van window. I needed a double bottle cage for the back of my bike as I didn't have a chance to pick one up before leaving town, but my only expo option was to buy a $180 carbon one... so I made an emergency phone call to a friend who was coming up to New Orleans that evening. Whew. Stress level decreasing.

A group of us hit the Gordon Biersch for lunch. I abstained from the ice cold brew, tempting as it was, and kept hydrating. From there it was on to transition to rack our bikes and take a dip in Lake Ponchartrain one last time before the race. My bike spot was decent, but not as easily locatable as last year when I was right under the lighthouse. I used a line of trees to help sight for my spot, and racked my bike. Tires were checked, computer cleared, Bentos bag scanned, and all was right with the world. I sneaked a peak at the swim entry/exit and was disappointed to see large white caps on the water. I had a moment of PTSD triggered from memories of the previous year's conditions, allowed myself a moment to be upset, and then tried my best to suck it up. We went for a "supervised" but un-coached swim in the Lake. I skipped the wetsuit and braved the water without the floatation assist. The water was cold on entry but comfortable once in. I actually did fine with the swim, and decided that if I had a preference I would choose big waves over small chops, as at least the waves are predictable and for the most part come from one direction. By the time I finished my swim, I was feeling much better, was less nervous, and more confident.

We spit bathed and went to eat as a team at Reginelli's, having already made a quick stop at Parlay's for a drink while we waited on the rest of our crew. Dinner was nice, but slow, and I was ready to get to the boathouse, re-check the bag again, and go to bed. I managed to get into bed by 9, and after a hot shower and a final pep talk from Coach, went to sleep. Or tried anyway. I managed for about three hours, and then woke. I ate two poptarts, drank some water, listened to some tunes, meditated, and gave myself a pep talk. By the time I fell back asleep I could and would be able to do anything I wanted come morning.

Four forty-five came early, but I felt rested. I popped my NY Bagel asiago, bacon, egg, and cheese in Lizzard's toaster oven and cracked open an orange juice. I was already in my sleek new uni and feeling FAST and STRONG. I began making the first of several morning treks to the restroom, and then we headed out to transition, but not without a quick look at the water conditions via the high beams of my van. Huge white caps. One big sigh and then it was on. If I was supposed to battle white caps, then dammit, that's what I was going to do. I was ready. And all the more perfect an end to an epic long training season and redemption race.

I drove because I needed to be in control. I parked and started the walk to the transition area to get body marked. Before I made it out of the parking lot I heard the news: the swim portion was cancelled. I couldn't believe it. And I couldn't believe my reaction. You would think I would have been elated as I could get away with racing without having to swim, but I was PISSED. Maybe I shouldn't have been. Maybe I should have just taken it like everyone else and been slightly disappointed (or for some, relieved) and then moved on. But you have to understand ~ this has been my personal battle for a year now. Every hour of training has had this swim as the motivation. Every panic attack, every time I forced myself to keep going, was because I knew I had to overcome and beat this Lake. Suddenly a year of mental battles to be redeemed as "official" and another 5 months of intensive training had just been ripped out from me. I knew that I could finish the race, but I wasn't going to accomplish what I set out to do today. I wasn't going to officially finish a 70.3 race. I was pissed that it was ending like this, I was pissed that I reacted that way, and I was just pissed.

Lake Ponchartrain - Pre Race

So, my choice? There wasn't one. I knew I had to let it go as best I could and deal with what was in front of me. A du-athlon of bike/run. I could still finish officially, and I could still go for my bike/run goals. All was not lost. I had a moment with my Coach where I let out my frustration and then tried to move on. The race was changing into a time-trial start, so there was a long lapse before my wave was to take off on their bikes. It gave me time to settle down, re-focus, and eat the banana I had saved for the T1 that wasn't going to be. I was cold and was kicking myself for not keeping my long sleeve shirt and sweats with me. I tried to sit in the sun with my transition towel, but it didn't help much. I finally got up and went to look for other FitBirds to mingle with and to help kill the time. Eventually I went back to my bike and put on my gear, slowly and methodically, as there was no rush. I checked my bike again, ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to empty out a pocket, and waited. Finally my wave was called to the holding area. Two-by-two, like Noah's ark, we worked our way to the mounting line, and then suddenly we were off.

I fumbled a little clipping in, but once set I went out fast. We headed west along the lakeshore and I was hitting 22+ miles an hour. I felt good but knew I had the wind at my back, so I tried to maximize my speed while I could. As soon as I rounded the corner to return towards the east, I was reminded that I was right. The wind was rough and my bike wobbled trying to fight it. My speed made a steady decline and I kept dropping gears, trying to keep my cadence up. Hills, even small ones, were making me pant. If anyone tells you this is a flat course, they are lying. There may not be a lot of hills, but they do take their toll on you. I managed to get my speed up as I flew past the transition area again, but then hit another hill and watched it drop. There was a lot of back and forth like that. As in the past, I found it hard to eat anything on the bike, at least when I was working hard. I usually had to wait until the wind was at my back to get a gel or a sandwich in, and my gatorade tasted strong and was hard to get down. My preference was to drink water, but I only had a bottle of that on the bike as I knew I didn't care for the Ironman brand sports drink and I wanted to have plenty of my Gatorade.

I hit mile 15 and grabbed a new bottle of water. My pace was not great, but I was moving steadily along, with hopes that the wind would come to my aid at some point. I felt like everyone was passing me, usually in big peletons taking advantage of the illegal draft. Occasionally I would make a road kill, usually of someone on a beater bike or bearing a bit of extra weight around the middle. No matter, it was roadkill. I was glad I knew the course this year, as I could better estimate the distances I still had to go, and wasn't thrown by the changes in the streets. I knew where the turn-arounds were and could psychologically prepare myself for the long roads. I didn't see many FitBirds on the ride, but knew that most had gone off in earlier waves and were way ahead of me. I caught sight of "Just T", one of our newer girls, and gave her a shout out. She was in my wave and was riding away from me, so I tried to estimated how far ahead of me she was. I guessed she had a few miles on me, but didn't know what kind of pace she usually rode, so it was hard to determine where I fell in comparison.

I noticed sometime after the second aid station that the occasional rider would make a comment to me as they passed, but I couldn't figure out what they were saying, and assumed it was another "your doing good" comment which for me was the mental kiss of death last year, as I tended to take it as "poor thing, she's trying so hard." I had to keep the focus that I was doing fine, and was spinning not mashing, and would make my goal time. The riders that were passing me had to be going 20+ and that was NOT my pace, so I couldn't compare myself to them... although it was hard at times to be passed by large groups whizzing by. Once or twice I felt like I was being run into the orange cones in order to avoid being taken out by a large peleton of riders, and I would have to make a quick illegal adjustment around the right of the cone to avoid death.

Finally I had the wind at my back and I was making up time. Twenty miles to go. And then I realized something was wrong. The bike felt heavy. Slower than usual. The thought crossed my mind that I might have a flat, but I remembered thinking that last year and when I got off to look I realized I was just slow. So I ignored it at first, but then it became obvious. My front tire had a flat. I surprised myself. It didn't phase me. I didn't freak out or get angry. I pulled over and went to work. I had changed a number of tires since training camp, and I knew what to do. I had just bought a new hand pump because I found my C02 wasn't being reliable. I had even practiced with my new hand pump two days ago. I removed the tire, sat down, and went to work. I was calm, but it didn't go smoothly at first. The tube came off easily enough, but putting the new tube in was challenging. I had new race tires, and they were more difficult to work with than my old tires. The tube kept slipping out off the rim, and I was afraid I was going to pinch the tube. I did a "once over" of the tire and didn't see any obvious injuries. Since I was already sitting down I figured I would use this time in re-placement of my planned port-o-potty stop so I just peed on myself while I worked. I thought of my Coach and figured she'd be proud of me for multi-tasking. I had tried to pee while riding but found it impossible.

Riders came by and asked if I needed aid, but I smiled and said I had it under control. I was still in the race. The one big mistake I had made however was to not push the stops down on my water bottles. I lost a lot of my hydration while my bike was on its side, and most of my speedfill contents were now absorbed into the dirt. THAT we didn't practice in training camp. Lesson learned.

Bike upright and off again. I saw my first FitBird, Andrea, pass by the opposite direction, and realized someone I knew was still behind me. That made me more confident that I was still in the game. I started pedaling and quickly realized something still wasn't right. The bike felt funny and my computer wasn't reading. I realized I had put my wheel on backwards and the magnet wasn't aligned to the computer, so I wasn't getting my speed. I contemplated stopping to fix it, but before I could decide I heard a loud pop and realized that again I had a flat. The tube must have gotten pinched after all. This time the catastrophe warranted a loud "mother fucker" and I pulled over again. Still calm, I went through my options. I had just used my only spare. I had it on the list of things to pick up last minute at the bike store, and forgot to get my friend to pick one up when she went for the bike cage. So now I had a flat with no tube. I went right to work. This time I plugged up what little I had left in my water bottles, removed the tire, and laid the bike down. I went to work on my tire, hoping that an angel would drop me a tube. Eventually that angel came in the form of number "2025" I believe. He stopped long enough to throw me his spare and then flew away into the distance. I went through the steps again, being more conscientious about checking the inside of my tire for anything that could puncture the tube. I found nothing and surmised that I must have pinched the tube. I took more time with this tube as I figured this was my last chance. There were less and less riders passing me now, and the ones that were went slowly and appeared to be struggling. I had a fleeting moment of dejavue, but it made me work harder to get back on my bike.

Upright once again, I started praying that I could make it back without another flat, as I had yet to see the SAG vehicle and there were less riders around offering up free gear. I under-inflated this time for fear I had popped the last tube with my mighty strength. I set my mind on the task of riding and kept going. I knew I wasn't going to make my goal time but I was still in the race. I had a half-marathon to run. I tried to think what I would do if I had another flat. "Three strikes I'm out" came to mind. I prayed I wouldn't be faced with that decision.

I knew the FitBirds would be waiting for me at transition and I hoped they weren't worried about me, knowing that I wasn't on my goal time. When I saw them I felt like I had to explain my time so I yelled out "two flats!" on my way to the Bike In. I wasn't angry, although I was later told I looked that way, but I was concerned. It was hard to not relive T2 from last year. Especially when again I was on my way out to start a 2+ hour run and there were athletes laughing and coming in to transition to get there bikes. They were done, hydrated, and going home. That was the moment that I didn't know if I had it in me to continue. I didn't think I could go through another long run/walk of aid stations serving hot water, dried up sponges, and messy port-o-pots. I started questioning myself. Why does it matter when it's not going to count anyway? I'm still not getting the credit for a full 70.3 race. I haven't conquered the swim. I didn't meet my bike goal. I'm tired and hot... and almost dead last...again.

I tried to put my "mask" on as I started my run to face my cheering section. I didn't do it very well though as my mind was raging with ways to get out of this race. Shells and her crazy get-up started running next to me and I tried to laugh but was too tired. I tried not to think about the half-marathon left to run. Thirteen plus miles. I tried to just think 'aid station to aid station'. Shells dropped off and I kept moving for a while. And then I walked while my mind raged. And I ran. And I walked. I tried to find someone to run with but couldn't keep their paces. I fell back into last year's struggle. I didn't have the energy to run. I refused to walk another 13.1 miles. What was the point? I didn't know what to do. If Shells and the crew showed up at an aide station I think I was going to throw in the towel. Who cares if I disappoint everyone? So what, I'm a quitter. Great, I get to write another blog in my head. My readers will be so impressed at how pitiful I am. 

I sucked back a few tears and took a puff on my inhaler and tried to run again. I couldn't make it to the aide station, so I dropped that goal and settled for trees. Run five, walk two. By the time I got to three miles I was feeling slightly better mentally. I was encouraged that the aide stations were well stocked this  year and had ice water, coke, powerade, fruit, cookies, gels... and ice sponges. I was almost giddy that there wasn't boiling water. Maybe someone of importance read my race report from last year. I had hope that I would finally receive the support on the run that my body needed.

I found another 41 year old that I ran with for a while, but was pleased to find that even my walk/run was faster than her steady run, so I left her eventually. At mile five I saw Sputnick Miranda and her fiance and they cheered for me, picking up my spirits, as by then I figured the rest of the girls were already at the finish line. There weren't a ton of runners, but I wasn't dead last this year. I fell into a pretty good pace for a while, but still found myself having to walk at times. I bargained with my brain. Make it to the aide station and you can have an orange. I forced down a gel and held back the nausea. I was sick of food and liquid, but was hungry and thirsty. I didn't know if I was eating/drinking too much or not enough. I lived for the ice sponges, but the water made its way into my shoes and I felt like I was getting swamp foot as I ran.

I thought it would be more emotional honestly. Everytime I passed a landmark that I noted in my blog post from last year's race, it was more of a "hummph" than an emotion. The dog park, the equine facility, city park. Just a lot of "hummphs". I trudged along, wondering what my pace was. I failed to ask at the start if the cut-off was still four o'clock after they cancelled the swim, but some of the other runners assured me it was. I had time, but I wanted to allow myself enough time to have hypothetically completed the swim. I was hoping for my swim to be under an hour, with a lofty goal time of 45 minutes. Once I hit Esplanade I thought about my running last year with my new friend Gerald. I didn't make a "buddy" this year as I was too busy watching my feet hit the pavement rather than visiting. I tried to run the last three miles without stopping but I struggled hard with nausea. I prayed I just didn't hurl on the finish line.

The final turn came and I was on Decatur and there were actually people around still watching the race and cheering. The street was still closed to pedestrians so I didn't have to run through crowds to find the finish line this year. I heard a number of "you geaux girl" (s) and "looking strong"! It was a nice change.

Coug and Koko bringing it home...
There was a lone runner up about 100 yds from me and I realized it was my FitBird friend Koko. I forced myself to risk puking and sped up to run with her. I grabbed her arm and we smiled at the thought of ending this sufferfest together. As we entered the shute we gave each other the "let's do it" look and sprinted towards the end. I crossed and received my "official" 70.3  69.1 medal. It felt good, but not as fulfilling as I had hoped.

I hate this about myself. I'm never satisfied. Why can't I just accept that I did okay, I "finished" and be done with it? I won't lie. I was miserable. I was overheated and tired. I was sick of manufactured food and drink. I don't think I am cut-out for these long distances. I am a "mental midget" as some say. I always thought I would try a full IM someday (before age 45) but now I just don't know that I am strong enough mentally. I don't know if that can be trained or not. I am better than I was last year, but still have a long way to go. I can't say this damn race has been removed from my bucket list because I didn't race the full distance. The thought of waiting another year and trying this same race again makes me ill. The thought of registering for another race to at least complete the distance this summer makes me ill. The thought of doing nothing and not achieving what I have trained so hard for makes me ill. But which illness will do me more damage in the long run? Never proving that I can and settling for what I have done, or battling the tri-flu to tri it yet again?

There are parts of my personality that are very frustrating to me (as well as to others I am sure). I am now going to soak in a bath of Epsom salts and contemplate my future.


  1. Desire is the key to motivation, but it's determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal - a commitment to excellence. That will enable you to attain the success you seek. - Mario Andretti

  2. Nothing about you frustrates me. You will know what you need to do, no one can decide that Rx for you. And maybe there is more than one answer? Whatever you choose, you ARE strong enough, dammit.

  3. "Life is change, growth is optional. Choose wisely"

    Quote from a friend this am....

    What is it you seek young grasshopper? If 70.3 sticker makes it to the window of the puke wagon....not so inspiring. BUT...if that same sticker appears on a new 2011 Jeep that belongs to a COOG Pearson....hmmmm.
    Food for thought.
    I'll do one with you if you decide to do it again. (pending Froggy approval of course)

  4. Nice blog!!
    I think you hit on every thought and emotion!!
    just remember thoughts and emotions can change!!
    Love you!!!