Yesterday’s race was originally supposed to be my “A” race for the year – Half-Iron, baby, woo hoo!! Then my training got a very late start due to back issues/sciatica. Then I completely freaked out about the open water swim. “A” race? Not so much anymore, more like a “Let’s just make it to the starting line and THEN we’ll worry about whether or not I’ll make it to the finish line” race. Well, I am happy to tell you that (with a little switcheroo to the duathlon option) I made it to both the starting line AND the finish line, and you know what? I think it actually was my “A” race after all!
BEFORE THE RACE
Saturday afternoon we made the hour drive up to Auburn for packet pick-up. There was no expo, just a mellow “Here’s your shirt, good luck!”-type pick-up. I decorated my “T-Bags” (the starting line/T1 was in a different location than the finish line/T2, so you filled out your name and number on two bags, then set up your T2 with all your run gear the night before. At T1 on race day, you put all your swim stuff into the bag and they transported it to the finish line.) and we were off to drop my stuff at T2.
I slept remarkably well on Saturday night and woke up at 3:30 ready to get crackin’ on the day. I worked really, really hard to keep my nerves at bay, with moderate success. I would be fine for long stretches, then a huge wave of nausea would hit me, “OMG, what am I thinking, trying to do this??” I had my coffee and got all my stuff together and we left the house around 4:40 am (race start was 6:45).
It’s about an hour’s drive to the race, but we knew from the website that there was no parking at the race start. The race director suggested parking at the finish line and riding your bike (about 7 miles) down to the race start. Yikes! Thankfully, from my one aborted attempt at training on the bike course, I remembered a little group of businesses about three miles from the start and we were able to park in their parking lot and ride in from there.
I nabbed another sweet rack spot in T1, right next to the bike mount line. It pays to arrive early! I chatted with the other duathletes and got body marking done, then hunted around to find the duathlon starting line. It wasn’t marked. Ummmm, this is not a good start to the day!
We scoped out the finish of the run and I spent most of the wait time singing a little “I’m so glad I’m not getting in the water!” song. Seriously. I was so fricken glad not to do the open water swim!
RUN #1 – 1.8 MILES/3K
I spent a lot of time on the race’s website in the weeks leading up to the race, but I have come to the conclusion that reading about a course does absolutely nothing to prepare you for running (or riding) that course. Case in point, the 3K run at the start of the duathlon. I understood that it would be trails and paved roads, but I was remarkably unprepared for the single track mountainous trek it turned out to be. I can totally see why people love trail running, it was absolutely gorgeous and lots of fun. Unfortunately, living in the middle of suburbia like I do, my ability to run trails is extremely limited. Hence, my standing at the end of this portion of the race - 2nd to last. 3K Run: 20:04, T1: ~ 2:00 (I didn’t time it and official results include it in my run time)
BIKE – 56 MILES/90K
Since IronHubs had to ride back to the car anyway, and the car was three miles into the bike course, he accompanied me along the start of the bike leg. It was a really nice way to start the bike, plus when I was overheating at Mile 2, I got to ditch the bike jacket!
The cool thing about the duathlon option is that I was out on the bike course way, way, WAAAAAAAY before I would have been if I’d done the swim, so I got to see the lead cyclists as they whizzed past me. Well, really, by the end of the bike leg, I got to see almost the entire field of athletes as they whizzed past me! Every time I got passed, I reminded myself – mostly in my head, but sometimes out loud – “I’m not racing you.” In the immortal words of Big Daddy Diesel, I was here to rulk my own race. Or, in this case, I was here to balk (bike/walk) my own ride. And, yes, there was plenty of walking! The entire 56 miles was hills, hills and more hills. Just when I thought I couldn’t stand one more hill, there was another one anyway.
First walking break was at Mile 3, where I fell off my bike on a training ride. When I got to the bottom of that hill, I thought briefly about how great it would feel to grind it out and conquer it, but then I realized that it was mighty early in my day to be blowing out my quads, so walking it was.
According to the race’s website, the first 6 miles is the hardest climbing, but I can say in all honesty that the ENTIRE bike course is hard climbing. There were no flats. You were either going up or you were coming down and even the coming down part wasn’t easy. At one point near halfway, the descent was so steep and scary that my triceps muscles started cramping from bracing myself and riding my brakes so hard!
IronHubs was the most awesome support crew in the world, meeting me at several points along the bike route, cheering and ringing his cowbell for all the athletes. It was such a boost to hear that bell ringing in the distance and know I was going to see him again! He found me about Mile 8, Mile 20-ish and Mile 37 and snapped a ton of pics.
The course was more or less an out-and-back, with a big loop at the top that had the hardest and steepest climbing (and descents) of the whole race. I remembered from the course description that there was a long, sustained climb during this section, but those words simply don’t do the reality justice. Holy crap, that climb was brutal, unforgiving and endless. I was able to grind out maybe half a mile of it, then had to walk the rest – which was a whole ‘nuther MILE. Yeah, I lost a little time on this part.
I hit the one and only low point of the day a few miles after this – I had let myself get pretty dehydrated and hadn’t eaten enough. I could feel my energy draining and my spirits flagging, so I made a real conscious effort to suck down a gel and drink, drink, drink. Thankfully, right about then was when I saw IronHubs for the last time before the finish and he totally passed me some of his energy. He captured this part of the race on video. Yay.
Surprisingly, I felt really good on the bike overall. Everything after Mile 42 was a distance PR, and this was for sure the hardest ride I’d ever been on, so I felt super proud of myself. I smiled and said good morning to everyone who passed me. I chatted with lots of other riders during sections where we were going the same speed (you know, before they passed me). I was happy with the way the day was going and I was so proud of how many hills I was able to climb, never mind the ones that I couldn’t. I reminded myself often of my race goal to “Keep smiling, keep moving forward.” Race goal: met!
Sure, I had a great time on the bike leg, but OMG, I was so, sooooooo happy to be done with it! I think I may have shouted, upon arrival in T2, “I am SO happy to be off the bike!!” In fact, I might have shouted it more than once. 56 Mile Bike: 4:34:34 (12.2 mph average), T2: 3:05
RUN #2 – 13.1 MILES/21K
I spent a good portion of my day saying this mantra in my head: “How do you eat an elephant, P? One bite at a time.” Sort of wordy for a mantra, but it summed up my race plan pretty nicely – don’t worry about what comes next, just deal with what you’re doing right now. So, until I was actually on the run course, I simply hadn’t thought about it. I had read the course description, but surely you’ve noticed by now that those were useless in the face of the day’s reality. I understood on some level that there would be more trails and more hills - yes, more hills – but hadn’t let myself think about what that would mean for my poor, tired quads.
It was a three-loop course, which I absolutely LOVED! Aid Station…Mile 1 marker…Mile 2 marker (halfway done with this loop!)…Aid Station with the cheering, yelling, dancing people (loved them!)…climbing, climbing, climbing some more…see IronHubs...repeat. There is no way in the world I could have done a full 13.1 mile loop or even a 6.5 mile out-and-back. Breaking the run into small chunks was definitely the way to go.
Needless to say, I was pretty exhausted by this point in the day and my lofty goal of having a good run went out the window as soon as I left T2. I ruffled (ran/shuffled) on the flats and downhills and walked the uphills, leaving me with an average pace slightly faster than the course sweepers. Ha! Another race goal met! 13.1 Mile Run: 2:39:34 (12:11 average pace)
I know you’re wondering, if I got passed by everyone all day long and walked a good portion of the bike and run, how the heck did I win my age group??? Well, maybe you noticed in the picture of the mass start – there weren’t all that many of us, and ummmm, yeah. I was the only one in the 40 – 44 year old women AG. I’m still displaying this thing proudly – I earned it!
Thanks for sticking with me for the whole race report, I know it was almost as long as the race! If you take away one thing from my experience, let it be this: YOU can accomplish anything! If I can survive a long course duathlon with all the obstacles I found along the way, anybody can!!