Wrapping up 2016

Once the dust from last Sunday’s race settled, I went through a bit of a period of disappointment. Trying to examine what I could’ve changed, yet trying to still be proud that I did something big. Dallas was my 14th marathon, and even though I didn’t reach my time goal, that’s still kind of a big deal. So I decided to do some reflecting on my year as a whole to help myself move on past the post-race funk.

2016 was a big year for tri-ing new things and facing fears. (See what I did there.)

I conquered my first open water swim. In a group. Of strangers. Very fit triathletes. I didn’t die from embarrassment.

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I did my first Olympic triathlon – which coincidentally was the first time I swam a mile.

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I rode in my first bike rally. It wasn’t what I thought it would be, but I survived. I also learned not to grip the handlebars too tightly.

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I completed my first half Ironman. Now that was a hard day, and I didn’t even know I could do it.

Until I did.

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I set a new PR at the Hot Chocolate 15k back in February. And I took a “shot” of M&Ms in that race too. That was a first, and not recommended. At least not at a fast pace.

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I also drank a whole lot of chocolate milk this year! 🙂

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The triathlon adventures brought renewed passion to my running. I have decided to continue to pursue my running goals while keeping up my fitness in the pool and on the bike. I learned that I can continue to improve in many ways and continue to find new goals to challenge myself.

It’s been a pretty busy year, and I’m looking forward to 2017!

Buffalo Springs 70.3 (Part 2 Bike and Run)

If you missed my last post about the start of my Half Ironman at Buffalo Springs, you can catch up on it here. The next part of the race was the longest and required some mental effort. I apologize in advance for being long-winded. I love to write and I love to give details. Double whammy here.

To sum up where I left off, I had completed the swim not knowing how long it took me, and made it to the bike with people still behind me. I was feeling pretty good.

THE BIKE:

I had a nice mental boost from seeing my husband and brother right off the bat, then I passed where we parked and the downhill was followed immediately by another climb. This one got to me. I was breathing heavy, focusing on my turnover when a guy passed me and said “Easier gear.” The guy right behind him said “You have two more.” I acknowledged with “Thanks” and shifted – twice. I was calm and ready to tackle the ride. Once I completed that hill, I knew I had a while before the next one.

The weather was cooperating so far with a cloudy sky and low winds. It was a nice day for a bike ride.

As I moved forward into the second major climb, I saw the athletes coming down and it didn’t seem as scary as it had in the car. This was the one that curved around with a guardrail that bordered a cliff. The downhill that kept me awake half the night. The one I was most worried about. But focusing on my climb, I noticed some riders walking their bikes up the hill. I focused my legs on a steady cadence and stayed in my seat all the way up. I honestly could’ve run a flat road faster than my speed climbing, but I got it done. My motto all throughout the ride became “the tortoise always wins.” I repeated it out loud as needed. I focused on my race, my speed, and my skills. After the turnaround when I began descending, I kept my confidence in place and braked all the way down. “That wasn’t so bad.” I knew that if I made it through that one, I’d be okay for the others. The next big climb had a sign “Spiral Staircase.” This one was steeper but there were no big drop-offs. I saw people walking their bikes up again. It definitely hurt going up, but again I focused on a steady climb. A straightway for several miles, and then a turn around right into the wind. Coming back down the Spiral Staircase was a little faster than the other hill, and scary in a roller coaster thrill way. Oh thank goodness it was a low wind day, because the rest of the ride I fought the wind one direction or another. I couldn’t get my average pace above 14.0. Even with the downhills.

By mile 50, the wind had taken its toll on my legs. They were done and I wanted to be off the bike. The sun had come out about 2 hours into the ride, and I was on my last bottle of Nuun. I was getting thirsty so I tried to ration the rest of my drink. I didn’t want to stop before I finished the bike. My bike was moving slower than I estimated, and since I didn’t know my swim time, I hated to push the time limits. Looking back, I should have had more chews on the bike instead of the extra Clif bar I never ate. At mile 55, I audibly groaned “Oh no!” as I began to climb the final hill in the park before the downhill to transition. It was a straight up hill.

I crested the top, rode past our car and began the descent. Then I saw my oldest daughter right as she turned around and saw me. She began to cheer, and I saw all the other kids, my brother, and my husband. They all began cheering so loud, people were turning to see who was coming. I felt like a superstar! I made the final turn and when I hit the dismount line, the volunteer said “Coming in smiling. That’s a good sign.”

“Yes, because I’m done,” I said.

The tortoise always wins.

Here’s some of the data from my Garmin. Ignore the elevation gain, because it’s not correct. It’s actually just over 1000′ of gain, but I wanted to show the hills on the graph!

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Side note: I can’t say enough about how wonderful it was having my family cheer coming in off of the bike. I needed that lift going into the next part of the race.

THE RUN:

Coming off the bike, I was surprised my legs didn’t feel more wobbly. My first mile I stayed busy trying to make sure I was headed in the right direction, and I didn’t pay attention to my pacing. I knew the run was two loops so when I saw the first mile marker I relaxed a bit. Not paying attention to my pace was a mistake. The first mile averaged 9:30. In the second mile, I slowed to grab a cold towel at the aid station. My second mile pace was in the 10:30s. Then I guess you could say my wheels fell off. (Good thing this wasn’t on the bike. Ha!) The third mile started the walk breaks and I had an 11:30 average pace for that mile. Oops!

My legs were fine. It was my breathing I was struggling with. I was getting hot, and somewhat nauseated at the thought of taking in my chews. I tried a couple of them after the third mile, and kind of gagged a little while chewing. I took in some more around mile 5 and had the same problem. This is the same stuff I trained with, but my body wasn’t handling it at this point. Ever since before the swim, I had felt like my food was sitting at the back of my throat. I handled it ok on the bike, but the jostling from the run made it worse.

With this kind of trouble on the run with the heat, I quickly shifted my plan to run/walk/smile. I walked through almost every aid station. Wet cold towels, ice in my visor, and taking in Gatorade to get the carbs. My stomach did okay with that and I still had my Nuun in my bottle along with some Nuun Plus. As I came across the bridge to finish my first loop, I saw my husband. I called out, “You know that 2 1/2 hour half marathon I planned? Not gonna happen.” But I was okay with it. I was the tortoise. As he ran alongside me for a minute, I told him about being too hot, and my nutrition problems. My legs were still okay, but my effort felt hard even staying around a 12 minute pace.

The second lap was even tougher. The crowd had thinned out as most people were done by now, and I still had well over an hour to go. I talked to other runners, and fell into a run/walk pattern with another athlete for a while. We chatted about goals. Mine was to finish. She added, “finish with a smile.” I thanked all the volunteers. They were so uplifting at that point in the race. The ice was wonderful and I would grab handfuls at the aid stations and put it in my hat and down the front of my tri top to stay cool. I walked up the monster hill along with everyone else and noticed one of the hand cyclists rolling up the hill backward to get up. That was a game changer for me. There I was, walking to get through the tough parts of the course with all my limbs functioning, while those guys didn’t have that option. They did the swim, the bike, and the run all with their arms and upper body. It was so inspiring to see him working up that hill, and I know he was tired but he kept going!

I began to feel a little energized in the last mile. Two of my kids ran alongside me for a couple of minutes. They told me they had been swimming in the lake. Then I saw my other daughter, then my husband, then my brother, then his wife and kids were near the finish line. I felt like I was flying at that point. According to my Garmin, it was my third fastest mile. I made the final turn and saw the finish line, crying and smiling at the same time. I heard the announcer call out my name, and just like that I had a medal on my neck and a finisher shirt in my hand.

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The finisher shirt was an XL, and I tried to exchange it for a smaller size. Then I found out when you’re near the back of the pack, you don’t have much to choose from. I could have XL or XXL.

My husband has a new shirt to wear.

That evening, I finally saw what my swim time was and it completely surprised me. Overall, I expected I would finish in about 7.5 hours, and I wasn’t too far off the mark. I was surprised at how the run knocked me out, but my goals were to finish. I was the tortoise, and that was quite all right with me.

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Buffalo Springs 70.3 (Part One)

I didn’t think it was possible to sum up my weekend and half Ironman race in one blog post, and once I started typing it out I decided to split it up into two posts. I’ll post the rest of it later this week, since I now have some free time on my hands. There was a lot to it, and I want to do my race justice with my recap! I’ll start by saying the race itself surprised me with the parts I expected to struggle with were actually the smoothest part of the day.

We headed out on Friday the 24th. Two adults, three kids, two bikes, all in a loaded down VW.

My husband just loves the camera!

All smiles! Well, mostly.

It was a family trip to go see family, with a nice bonus of me putting in 70.3 miles on Sunday. With a little over a six hour drive to get to my brother’s house, the scenery headed west just couldn’t be matched. (Ha!)

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Hey, kids, look! Another windmill.

When we got to my brother’s house we talked about the race, and what our plans were for the next day. My sister-in-law had done a little bit of research and my brother had actually been out to the lake several times to fish the past year, and even ran a couple of road races in the area.

Side note: I’m a football coach’s daughter, and my brother is a football coach. Sports were, and still are, a big part of our family. As kids, my brother and I were always brought to each other’s events because my parents wanted us to support each other in everything we did. To show up at my brother’s house for a triathlon, and to see their excitement about the race meant so much to me.

Saturday morning we loaded up two vehicles and drove in to Lubbock. My brother, his wife, their three kids, and the five in my family all descended on the expo for packet pickup. I was excited to find my name on a shirt.

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…but not my size…

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After we ate lunch,  my sister-in-law took all the kids to a movie, while my husband, brother, and I headed back to the expo for a Q&A I wanted to go to. My nerves were pretty much building throughout the day. After listening to some of the questions and discussion about the hills (where the word “treacherous” was mentioned about one of the descents), I was basically a knot of nerves. We headed out to drive the bike course so I could see what was up. Or down.

I knew going into this race that there would be “five challenging hills.” But all throughout my training, I imagined climbing – not descending. I also spent so much time worrying about getting my swim pace down, that I didn’t consider much with the bike. Until we drove the bike course, and all swim worry got tossed out the window.

No, I’m not kidding.

I am still a beginner when it comes to cycling. I’m a chicken on the downhills. I slow considerably to make a turn. I’m not very fast. But I feel like I have one strength on the bike, and that’s climbing. I like to think my running background helped with that, because of all the hills I run. But these hills were nothing like I’ve tackled in my training. Not even close. And it wasn’t the climbing that worried me while driving the course; it was two of the descents that scared me. I was thankful that we drove the course though, because I knew what I’d be facing and tried to mentally prepare. My husband reminded me to go slow, use more pressure with my rear brake, and I would be fine.

The rest of the evening, my nerves were on full blast. I had trouble sleeping, imagining coming down the hills. As silly and irrational as it seems now, I couldn’t shake it. It kept me awake until after 11 pm. Then I woke up at 1:30 – a full hour before my alarm was set – and couldn’t sleep any more.

Race morning was a different story. I had a lot of people praying for and thinking about me. I felt calm and purposeful. I had all my gear together, and my husband and I loaded up early to get to the park before transition opened at 5:00. My brother was going to come when the race started at 6:30 and my sister-in-law was bringing all the kids later.

Even though we left so early, we were not the first ones there by any means. I thought we had the early arrival down, but this was no running race. Triathletes take it up a notch on early mornings. We parked and loaded up all the gear to trek down the steep hill (climb number one on the bike).  I got my area set up in transition. I noticed someone tied a green shoelace on the end of the rack, and I made a mental note to look for it coming in to get my bike.

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The swim was “barely wetsuit legal” (75 degrees) and I knew I’d probably get hot, but I needed all the help I could get with buoyancy. So my husband helped me into it, and I headed down the steps to the lake for a little warm up.

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It seems like the time before the race flew by. I couldn’t believe it was already time to start! I was in the third swim wave, and the first two went quickly. The time cutoff for the swim was 70 minutes from the last wave (which gave me an additional 15-20 minutes). Surely I could make that! The weirdest part was not being able to see the layout of the swim because of the way the lake was, but the instructions were to turn left at the yellow buoys.

THE SWIM:

Once in the water, I settled into a rhythm. The water was calm, and I focused on really stretching out my arms. When I get in open water, I tend to forget about my stroke because there are so many other things to think about. My goggles started to leak a little, so I flipped over on my back to fix them. I had trouble with them fogging up during the whole swim, even when I tried to fix them again. Whenever I got frustrated, I would somehow spot a buoy and knew I was still on track. The only other hiccup for me was the guy who slowly passed me who made such a big splash every time his arm entered the water. I couldn’t get around him so I slowed until he finally pulled ahead enough not to give me a face full of water. I glanced at my Garmin once and couldn’t see the time, so I knew I messed it up somehow. I shrugged it off and just kept swimming until I saw the last turn and people getting out on the dock. One of the main positives was that this was the first race for me that the buoys were on the left. I’m a left side breather and it made sighting much easier. Since my Garmin was messed up, I didn’t know how long it took me to swim, but I knew there were people still coming in behind me and no official stopped me with “I’m sorry, but you didn’t make it in time.” 🙂

I was grateful for the volunteer who helped me get out of my wetsuit. There is no gracious way to do it, but she was awesome! Then I ran to find my bike. It’s a good thing the racks were numbered, because I forgot about the green shoelace. Unlike Texasman, there were still quite a few bikes in transition. I ate half a Clif bar, reset my Garmin to start biking, and then headed out to face the hills.

Out of transition, beginning the first climb on the bike, I heard my name and saw my husband and brother cheering for me. I smiled and called out, “I made it!”

My first hurdle – the swim – was done.