|Panama City Beach|
SWIM 1.2 MILES - BIKE 56 MILES - RUN 13.1 MILES
I Came. I Saw. I Conquered.There is nothing sweeter than setting a goal for yourself that seems so unobtainable you repeatedly fail at achieving it, but instead of quitting you keep plugging away at it, attacking it, trying to wrangle it... and then one day you actually accomplish it. That is the taste of success, and let me tell you ~ I have never experienced anything like it. The high that I am riding right now is indescribable. After two years of trying to get an official 70.3 distance triathlon under my belt, I finally did it. And I did it in a way that surprised even me.
The purpose of my original blog (December 2009) was to allow others to follow along on my journey from being a couch potato to becoming a Half-Ironman. After what I considered to be an Epic Fail at my first attempt to conquer New Orleans 70.3 (although it did have some good points and I did learn in the process), I jumped back on the band wagon of race redemption with goals of destroying New Orleans 70.3 this past April. When the event was turned into a 69.1 because of the weather, again my goal was shattered. Two years of training, and visualizing, and pursuing that race... gone with the wind. Literally.
As soon as the race was over, my Coach suggested I sign up for the Gulf Coast Triathlon three weeks later and try once again at completing the distance. My response? I am done. D-U-N, dun. Don't even talk to me about another race this distance anytime soon. It's not meant to be. I am dun.
Obviously, my ability to rebound after a disappointing race has improved, as last year it took about two months before I could even consider doing the distance again. This time it only took a day. By the time I returned home from New Orleans, the decision was made. I just decided that I wasn't going to advertise it. I'll admit I was wavering outwardly, but inside I knew I was going to do it. My approach however, was going to be different. This race was personal now. My inability to accomplish my goal had gone on too long. I was going to do the race, and I was going to race it alone. No support, no family, no friends, no distractions. No need to explain myself afterwards if once again the goal wasn't achieved. The less people who knew about it the better. The thought of going to Florida alone for such a huge race made me very uncomfortable, as it was putting me far outside of my usual mode of operation, and I questioned my decision many times leading up to it.
This is one of those things that I find interesting about triathlon. It is a sport that challenges you physically as well as forces you to grow emotionally. I think that is what attracts many people to it. For the most part, those that start in triathlon do so with a desire to get fit and have fun. Once they begin to challenge themselves, doors open up to areas of their inner self that they didn't know existed. Limits that were preconceived become challenged, and then broken. New limitations are set... and then broken. And then suddenly there becomes a point where one stops putting limits on what they can or can't do... because there is no limit to what a person can truly accomplish. That is the joy of the sport ~ destroying the limitations that others put on you or that you put on yourself.
Being a triathlete doesn't mean you have to compete in the longest events. It doesn't mean you have to be the fastest. It doesn't mean that your goals have to be about speed all of the time. It does mean that you should be open to challenging yourself, even if in a small way. Although we race individually, we benefit when we are able to train with a coached group. It is the dynamics of this group that helps us to achieve our goals - whether it is through training partners who push us to push ourselves, friends who inspire us to step outside our comfort zone, or a coach who sees the possibilities and abilities of her athletes that even they can't see.
It can be a personal hurdle that becomes the challenge. For me it was my desire to conquer my fear of water. I have grown so much in the past two years, and have progressed from non-swimmer to swimmer. I still have my moments with panic, but they are becoming less and less, and the more I achieve and the harder I push myself, or get pushed by my coach and training partners, the more confidence I have in the water. This has been my hurdle. Everyone has something. I challenge you to find your hurdle and attack it.
So, the preamble ends and the race report begins:
The Lead Up... Thursday, May 5th, 2011:
|Tally and Solange|
Normally I would have my gear bag packed at least three days prior to leaving, and would unpack and repack it nightly. This time I was throwing things in it up until the morning of departure, and wondered if I would remember to put my bike in the van. I was nervous, but not sick. Usually I struggle with migraines, and big races always seem to trigger them. As of this morning, no headache.
|Portion of Bike Leg|
|Plenty of room for me and my Gnomies|
Packet Pick-Up Friday, May 6th, 2011:
Eventually I decided to go walk through the expo, where I bought a shirt and a glass. I already had two 70.3 stickers that had never gotten used, so I saved my money on those. I contemplated a massage as my head was throbbing at this point, but knew it wouldn't fix the problem. I headed back to the beach again and forced myself back into the water. With each swim, the tension eased a bit, but I was having moments of what the ---- did I sign up for.
I hit the beach road looking for a place that sold temporary tattoos as I wanted something to represent my "Cougar" to come along with me. Surprisingly I couldn't find any. I considered a Henna tattoo, but decided it wasn't worth the effort. I hit Walmart for last minute nutrition and brought my lunch leftovers back to the room to eat for breakfast before the race.
|Lasagna, spaghetti, salad, bread!|
|Path from swim to Transition|
I slept like a baby.
Saturday, May 7th, 2011 Race Morning:
I awoke to the sound of my Iphone alarm strumming its banjo in my ear. I laid quietly for a minute as the hotel room came into view through my sleepy eyes. This was it. Today was the day of no more excuses. I took a deep breath and let out a sigh, and threw the sheets back. I'd only allowed myself 15 minutes to get dressed, fed, and out the door. I didn't need any more time than that as there was no one else to coordinate with. I had a Stuart Smalley moment in the mirror, where I had my version of "I'm good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me" as I stared into my own eyes and tried to convince myself there was no turning back now. "You can do this. You CAN do this." I laughed at my idiocracy and was glad there were no witnesses (but knew all along I would end up admitting to it in this blog).
I wasn't anxious. Determined would be a better description of the feeling. I didn't have to think because I had thought about this for two years, and already experienced the pre-race thoughts from the past two attempts. Just don't think. I wondered how I was going to stand another 7-8 hours of pure solitude. It was already going on 36 hours of just me, and I was a little tired of the quiet. Just don't think.
I grabbed a poptart and a swig of Gatorade. I hadn't woken up earlier in the morning for a nibble as I had planned. The Flexoril kicked in and that was all she wrote. I didn't feel like eating, but forced myself to heat up a garlic parmesan pretzel I had bought from the Mellow Mushroom the day before. It was chewy after sitting all night in the refridgerator, but it was bread so I forced it down.
I rode the elevator down with everything I needed loaded on my back. I didn't bring an "after-race bag" as I didn't have anyone to hand it off to. Whatever I needed I carried on me, or in my transition bag. As I was walking into transition Coach called to wish me well. We reviewed my goals. Number one - to have fun. Number two - to finish officially. I didn't care about the rest; anything better was just going to be icing on the cake.
When I arrived at transition it was bustling with nervous energy. I stood patiently in line to get body marked and then moved on to my area without saying a word to anyone. I methodically went through my bag and quickly set up my area as I had done many times in the past, with the only difference being that I had to put my gear on the end of the row rather than by one of my tires as already the space was taken. I looked around and tried to take it all in. I felt calm, but I was beginning to run short on time as the announcer kept ticking off the few minutes left before transition closed. I made my scheduled trip to the pot-o-gold, and then filled up my water bottles and set them in their cages. I gave a final look at my set-up, moved my transition bag out of the way, and exited the area with three minutes to spare.
I walked to the beach to see the water for the first time that morning. It was clear and calm for the most part. There were waves, but it was almost as good an environment for an open water swim as I could have hoped for. I tried to ignore that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, was wearing a wetsuit but me. Listen to my Coach, listen to my Coach, listen to my Coach. My mind screamed that my wetsuit was just a quarter mile away in my van. I ignored it.
I also ignored the stares, and acted like the water felt good not cold as I dove in to warm-up. I swam almost to the first buoy before turning back to shore. No panic. No thoughts really. I thought how my emergency contacts were hours away as I adjusted my road ID on my wrist. Don't think. Ain't no big thang. We were called out of the water for the national anthem, and then the horn blew for the first wave, which consisted of only two para-triathletes. The second wave went off - again, only two, this time pro's. So much for clearing out the jellyfish. Don't think. Ain't no big thang. We were in the shute now. I placed myself to the middle left in my wave, and tried to drop back 2-3 deep, but kept finding myself on the front row. I figured we were all just spread out... until I turned to look behind me to find a depth of about 10-20 athletes. Too late to move now. Ain't no big thang. I look bad-ass without a wetsuit. Bet theyre scared of me. Count down, 10, 9, 8... adjusting the goggles, 7, 6, 5... deep breath, 4, 3, 2... don't think, HORN!! I started dolphin diving in the best way I knew how (and can only imagine how that looked) and out of my peripheral vision I saw others around me still walking. I pushed through the breakers and focused on getting to the first bouy. I had counted them before. There were 6 out, 2 left, and 6 back. I attacked them one at a time.
The beginning of the swim was what I expected. I got kicked, hit, pushed down, swum over. But I stayed calm and thought about Anne swimming over me in practice all the time, grabbing my feet, trying to freak me out. It's just Anne. Ain't no big thang. I did my best to hold my line, kick back, and make them go around me. I controlled my breathing which, looking back, was a nice surprise. No panic ever crept in. Not once. By the third buoy I realized I had forgotten to start my watch. Damn! I reached across during the next stroke and slapped the start button on my watch. By the fourth buoy the next wave was overtaking me and I got pummeled again. Hold your line. Kick. Ignore. I made it to the last buoy out and it got crowded again. I tried to throw in the fancy turn I learned at training camp, but don't think anyone noticed. Another wave came up on me and there were men in it now. I tried to ignore the fact that the men were in waves way behind all the women. Don't think. I am doing this for me. No one else. Enjoy it. Feel the water. About that time I did feel the water. I felt little stings all over my arms and legs and face. Just keep swimming. At that point I was glad it was murky and I couldn't see what was stinging me.
I was excited when I hit the turnaround for the last 950 yards back to shore. I had the current at my back now and wanted to go fast. I was (brace yourselves) enjoying myself... having fun. I was loving swimming in the ocean! Who gets to do this? Do people realize what they are missing out on? The sighting got easier as I had already picked out the corner of a huge condo building to lead me to transition when I practiced the day before. Ignore the buoys, focus on the building. For once I was passing a few people and it felt great. I wondered what it would feel like to do a full Ironman swim and was convinced I could have done the full distance that morning. I swam hard until my hands touched the sand, while others trudged through the deep water trying to walk out.
I found my legs and carefully ran up the beach, never once feeling like I was going to hurl. That was a huge relief. I had pictured myself having to bury my puke in the sand like a cat hiding its turds. I smiled at the thought. I heard yelling and saw some women waving in my direction, and for a small moment thought that my peeps had come in to surprise me. I smiled and then realized my goggles were still on. When they came off I learned it wasn't me who was getting the cheers but the woman next to me. Instead of being sad, I just laughed and thought about how my peeps would laugh at me when I told them how blind I was.
There was a steep incline at the top of the boardwalk and then a freshwater rinse from some geri-rigged showers as I ran towards my bike area. I heard someone yell to his wife that she did it in 49 minutes so I knew I was close to that time. I had done it in under an hour! I was ecstatic!
When I got to my bike I took the time to wash the sand off of my feet, not wanting to repeat the mistake I made during the Santa Rosa Tri last year that resulted in awful blisters after only two miles of running. Unfortunately I must have hydrated with my foot washing water during set-up so I had to pull a bottle off of my bike in order to rinse my feet. I carefully dried them on my orange FitBird towel and put on my socks. I shoved a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into one pocket, and a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips into the other. Helmet on, sunglasses, quick spray of sunscreen, unracked the bike and ran it to the mount line. I fumbled for a second trying to clip in but mounted my bike easily.
I felt good. I started my Garmin which I had attached to my bike as I got onto Thomas Road. I had debated whether to bring it, but decided I wanted to have the data to give to Coach to analyze after the race. I took off at a decent speed but tried to remember to enjoy the scenery on the ride. I liked passing the Putt-Putt courses and the water parks because of the brightly colored dinosaur and sea creature statues that dotted the areas. I looked around at the beach houses along the main road, and the shops and bars that were just starting to come to life.
I started drinking my water, as the salt water of the ocean had my mouth parched with thirst. An aid station came early, at the five mile mark, and already I was adding water to my speedfill. My speed was decent but I felt a little wind and wondered if it would be more of a tailwind on the way back in. Once I turned off of highway 79 onto the first side road, I realized that the wind had been at my back and now I was facing a headwind. Ooops. I wished I had pushed harder than I had.
For some reason (sarcasm) I had a fear of a flat tire, and kept checking my front wheel but was relieved to find it still circular and rolling. At one point I heard something metal fly off my bike and I turned in time to see one of my CO2 cartridges go shooting across the road, luckily missing the riders going in the opposite direction. I kept an eye on the racers who were passing me and would wince a little when I saw a number on a calf telling me that I was just passed by an older rider. One rider passed me and said I must have kicked ass on the swim. I wasn't sure if that was a compliment or if she was saying that my biking sucked. Either way I thought it was funny and laughed.
One rider passed by and yelled, "FitBird! How's Miss Anne?," but he took off so fast I couldn't see anything but his age on his calf. I managed to yell back, "Good!" as he sped away. Every few miles I would repeat Susan's mantra. Ain't no big thang. I realized soon that there were times when I couldn't remember it. I connected the idea that my short term memory loss of such a simple phrase that had been repeated for hours to a lack of nutrition, so it became my tool to keep on top of it. By mile twenty I found that I couldn't remember the saying and thought it was something like "Ain't nothing but a thang". I knew it was wrong, but couldn't remember how it was supposed to go, so I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Eventually the saying came back to me. It was a great way to monitor my fluid and nutrition needs. I used it like that for the rest of the race.
I made another huge mistake in regards to my salt tablets. I put enough into my Bentos bag to carry me through the ride, but after getting the first two in my mouth on schedule, when I reached for my next scheduled pill, my fingers came up with only dust. Somehow I had either crushed the remaining tablets, or the perspiration from my hands had seeped into the bag and dissolved the shell casing of the pills. It was a mess and I was out of salt. Luckily I had taken Susan Hayden's advice and packed a bag of salt and vinegar chips in my pocket. I started eating them and they actually went down easy and were full of sodium. I did have trouble manipulating the ziploc bag they were in and ended up tearing a hole in it and sucking them through the hole as I rode. Strange approach, but it worked and solved my problem.
The last 15 miles was tough. My right shoulder was killing me like it always does, my crotch was hurting, and I felt chaffing from my uni in new places. I would stretch, re-adjust, drop into an easier gear, but nothing seemed to help. I finally just gave up and did the best I could. I was ready to get off the bike. Unlike in the swim, I did not feel like I could have doubled the bike distance and survived.
It was a nice course, and I liked that the other riders were always visible, either coming towards me or passing me up. I never got run off of the road like I did in New Orleans, and the athletes were very encouraging as they passed me up.
When I finally made it back to transition, I had it in my mind to take enough time so I didn't forget any of the items that I had been reminding myself to bring along on the run while I was finishing my bike. I managed to change socks again (which I'm glad I did because I still had sand on my feet), and I took a Biofreeze wipe from my Bentos box and put it on my race belt (another good decision). Unfortunately I forgot the main item I kept telling myself not to forget, which was my Garmin that was attached to my bike. I got distracted trying to rack my bike, as someone had convienently taken my spot. Luckily I remained calm as I just took someone else's spot instead (grin). I made it to the run exit before I realized I had forgotten to grab my Garmin. I hesitated for a moment, thinking I would return for it, then decided it was a bad idea and just kept moving. Looking back, I really wish I had remembered it as I think it would have helped me to move a little faster during the run.
The first three miles were hell. My shins were cramping so badly that I had to stop to stretch, massage, and use my Biofreeze wipe on them. I tried to walk fast since I couldn't run, but even that made them hurt more. I tried Coach's pain plan of walking when the pain hit a 9/10 and running when it got to a 6/10. I managed to stay positive although I was frustrated and I reminded myself that eventually it would letup.
I passed a singing Elvis and that made me move a little faster. It was hot, but at least it was a "dry" hot. There was no shade on the run, but the aid stations were well stocked and the volunteers were great. I tried to find someone my pace to keep me moving, but either I was quickly passed or they would stop to walk when I was running. I ran a short time with one or two people and had a quick "where are you from?" conversation, but for the most part was on my own. The State Park was the hardest portion of the run, as it was very hot and secluded. They did have a sprinkler set up that I ran through on the way in and out that helped a bit, even if only mentally.
I didn't think about much during the run. I just wanted to finish. Since I didn't have my Garmin I had to guesstimate my pace since I can't do math, especially when I'm exhausted. I tried to run as much as I could, and would set mailbox or palm tree goals to force myself to move. I kept fantasizing about finishing and going immediately into the ocean to cool off. That's all I wanted to do. Cool off and then nap. I had a really strong urge at one point to just go lay down under a tree and go to sleep. I'm still not sure if that was exhaustion or the late effects of the muscle relaxant from the night before.
The last two miles of the race wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, I think because I knew that I had my "official" finish as long as I kept moving and didn't get hit by a bus, I was able to start thinking about time goals again. I wanted to finish in under 7:30:00 if I could muster enough energy to run the majority of the last two miles. I managed to keep moving, and was motivated as I neared the finish line and could hear the announcer calling out the racer's names as they crossed the finish line. Athletes and their families were heading back to their cars and they were great about cheering me on and telling me that I was almost there, was looking strong, and could make it. I tried to thank them in between huffing for air, and when that got to be too hard I'd just give them a thumbs up. Once I saw the shute, I willed my legs to move faster, and I think they responded. I had wondered how I would react when I finally got to the end. When I got close to the finish line I found myself fighting back tears of joy and relief. I stopped for my medal and to have my chip removed, and didn't throw up on anyone. I was greeted with an ice cold towel to put around my shoulders which was the best gift they could have given me... after my medal.
So that is the end to a very long journey. I can't even describe the changes that have come over me since I began this trek. I have grown physically and mentally. I have faced and overcome my biggest fear. I have made friends that I will have for the rest of my life. I have gotten healthy and fit and I am Fast and Strong. Being a FitBird has been the most incredible thing I have done in my life. It has led me to believe in myself, to find my voice, and to be happy.
I want to express my gratitude to all my FitBird training partners over the past two years who have helped to push me to keep going, and special thanks:
To Lizzard (my first love) with whom I bonded during training for my first attempt at a 70.3 and who joined me to keep me motivated and on track as I went back for a second helping.
To Grace for always making me laugh at myself and to help me to take things less seriously. You are my Dirty Mama to the end.
To J.T. for being an incredible support as I finished this journey - even though we just met, you have become an amazing friend.
To Hill for putting up with long training hours, childcare marathons, and extreme mood swings - I love you and thank you.
And to Coach and Friend Anne for pushing me to places I didn't want to go, but am so glad I went. For challenging me to do things outside of my comfort zone. For holding my hand when I cried. For being an incredible motivator and teacher. For holding up your end of the deal and not giving me my peanut butter shake until I officially finished a 70.3. And for teaching me to swim and to... love...the...water.
|The Infamous Peanut Butter Shake|
What happens next? Well, I hope that this summer brings me new adventures and challenges. I have big dreams now and I know that anything is possible in my future. I may not be the best athlete, but if I stick with it long enough my perseverance will pay off eventually. Who knows ~ IM Florida 2012??
Official Time: 7:30:28