Woke up just before the 4AM alarm, drank coffee and ate a muffin and I was out the door by 5AM. I added string cheese and peanut butter cookies on the ride for some extra staying power. At the race site by 5:45 when it was already full light and I found a traffic backup for several blocks. While waiting to enter the parking area I watched the trees sway in the high winds and the windborne dust kicked up by the cars.
The Race Gods were toying with us. You want perfectly cool temperatures? Fine. You got it. But then you'll also have gale-force winds. Deal with it. Suck it up, Buttercup.
File into transition, past six-time Kona winner Natascha Badmann warming up on her bike "Cheetah" on a trainer, two racks over. I set up my gear and pumped my tires. It was still very cool out (most people were wearing coats), and remembering last year's inferno I thought it might be much hotter later in the day. As an afterthought I bled off just a little pressure from each of the tires, to keep the pressure from getting too high and potentially blowing a tire. (Mistake of the day).
I left an extra running singlet there just in case I needed it for the run. Then I carried my pump back to the minivan and watched the early waves go off on the swim. I hung out for a while by the waterfront with my CMS training buddies Chuck Potter and David MacKendrick (left; later to win the men's relay division, with the aid of a speedy runner whom I didn't meet).
The water was rough. Race Director Vigo kept a running patter over the PA system, including, "This ain't no disco! This ain't your swimming pool!". I watched one woman wheel her bike out of transition and strip the number off. Hmm, she’s having a bad day already.
Drank a last-minute Ensure, wriggled into the wetsuit, and before long it was the 12th wave and my turn to go. File over the mats with the other Athenas and women 16-29 in the third to last wave, all in hot pink swim caps, for the start of a long day.
We had five minutes to warm up a bit – I used the time to dunk my face in the water a couple of times and swim a few strokes, without truly getting my muscles warmed up. Fortunately the water was warm enough this year, that seemed enough. Then the countdown, start my watch timer, and GO!
I started close to the inside line in close to the middle of the group. At first I had to wait for the women in front of me to get going, then I had some free space to swim. The water near the lee shore was calm at first. Sight for the first buoy, then take 6 to 10 strokes. Sight again. Repeat. Keep your stroke rate comfortable and your breathing calm. We’ve got a long way to go.
At each buoy I noticed that the current had pushed me to the left, to the inside of the buoy line. I had to keep swimming out to the right to get around the buoy, then repeat. That kept me away from most of the other swimmers in this direction, except near a buoy there was always a pack of them. The waves got progressively higher the further out we went, and it became more and more difficult to sight. Finally after a long time I passed around the last buoy and headed for the boat. Except there were kayakers intercepting me, and pointing out yet another buoy that I hadn’t seen. In a remarkable display of bad sportsmanship, I exclaimed, “Oh, shit!” and swam back out to go around the final buoy in the line. About this time the next wave of swimmers, Clydesdales in orange caps, had overtaken us, and the water got crowded. I seemed to have to fight the current to get around the boat.
I snuck a peek at my watch. 24 minutes! Not bad at all, it seemed like such a long time that I was expecting to see over 30 by then! Okay, I told myself, you’re having a Good Swim. Just keep it up and go strong now and you might make it back in 48 minutes.
Back down the line of yellow buoys. They seemed impossibly far apart. The waves got increasingly high – when I slowed to breast-stroke to try to sight a buoy, the waves would be over my head and all I could see was water before it crashed into my face. Yep, this ain’t no disco.
I started getting scared. This was rougher water than I had ever swum in before, except perhaps in the ocean when I could touch bottom within 20 feet of the shore. This felt like being adrift at sea after a wreck. What would I do then? Just keep swimming! Keep reminding myself that this is just a practice for Ironman Florida. I’ll be swimming in the ocean then. This is a good rehearsal.
Occasionally I caught sight of swimmers from the final wave, but I kept nearly colliding with one woman in a pink cap, so I knew at least I wasn’t the last one from my wave in the water. (At least three of the younger swimmers ended up having longer swim times than me, so I must have left a few behind without knowing it).
I realized if I kept one arm out in front most of the time and stayed long and streamlined, I could cut through most of the waves and catch a breath in the troughs. That worked about three-quarters of the time, but every fourth breath would be a mouthful of water. I drank a lot of the Choptank.
The next buoy always seemed impossibly far away, but I just kept going. Count your strokes. Okay, that’s the length of a pool. Do it again. And again. Try to stay relaxed. Long, smooth, strong. Pull. Pull. Get tossed from side to side, broadsided by a wave and spun half around, and I’d have to revert to breaststroke to regroup and sight again, and re-orient back to the correct direction. Then try to settle back into a freestyle stroke.
Finally I caught sight of the landing, which was difficult to spot without bright buoys setting it off. At one point while I discovered it was shallow enough to stand about 200 yards away from the dock. I think I ended up going past it and having to swim back in the other direction.
Finally I got into the channel and the water turned cold and miserably dark and dirty. Ugh. At least it was finally smooth and I was able to stumble up the ramp and out. Check the watch – ack, 55:30. Well, it’s still under an hour, and much, much better than last year. Not bad for such tough conditions. But if this was an Ironman and I had to do a second loop of the same swim course, I probably wouldn’t have had the fortitude to attempt it. But I couldn’t think about that now.
Hooray! Once again, a tough swim was finished, and I was happy to know that I should be able to finish the triathlon today, if everything went well.
Jog through the whole transition area, down to near the opposite exit. Sit down, strip the wetsuit off my feet. Lube up my toes, pull on socks and bike shoes, stand up and put on my sunglasses and helmet, unrack my bike, and jog out with it over the mats and mount and start riding. T1 time 4:31.
Uh oh. Something’s wrong.
The front tire is completely flat. Ack! I quickly realized that I had probably not closed the valve correctly after pumping it up. Okay, that’s good, I won’t have to change the tube. Let’s try just filling it with air and seeing how it does. Pull out my compressed air pump and the cartridge in it is dead. Dumb! I should have put in a new one. Okay, there’s one more in my pack. Fumble around with it and ACK! I accidentally discharge the entire second cartridge. I’m down to nothing.
Jog back to the bike mounting area where some people are changing a flat. Does anyone have a pump? No, they’re using cartridges too. What to do??
Okay, try to stay calm. There are barricades up all the way down the lane, so I have to run my bike all the way down the road (wearing my bike shoes) before I can get out and jog across the whole parking area to my car. Some wise guy points out the bike course goes in the other direction. “Uh, yeah, I’m aware of that.” Do I have another cartridge? Yes!! Fumble around with that one and ACK! I set the safety switch the wrong way and I discharge that one too!!
I’m feeling really, really stupid. This is all my fault. Maybe I should just withdraw and go home with a DNF. I got the swim done. That’s enough. But no, Niki had FIVE FLATS at Ironman Arizona. You’ve only had one. Keep going. You have to get at least two more flats before you withdraw.
Pull out my hand pump and refill the tire. I sure hope that it will hold air, because if it doesn’t I’m going to just have to wait by the side of the road for the sag wagon to get me. Jog my bike back across the grassy parking area to the place where I left the course, mount, hit my watch timer, and start out riding. No other bikes in sight. That’s okay, you expected to be one of the last finishers. Just keep going. Time lost filling one tire: 12:17.
Out of town and onto rural roads. The tire was holding up! Keep your fingers crossed and keep riding. Forget it, you can’t do anything about the lost time now. Don’t think about what will happen if you get another flat, you can deal with it if it happens. Pass one or two people on the roadsides with flats, and a couple Clydesdales traveling slowly. Each pass feels like a little victory. Use the beginning of the course to rehydrate, take some salt, get some energy into you.
I pass a bunch of guys standing around the roadside by a couple of pickup trucks and realize too late that was the first water bottle stop. Nobody seemed to look at me and nobody offered water when I rode past. Oh well, just watch more carefully for the next one.
I was riding with a broken bike computer and just relying on a pace chart I had made for a 16 mph pace at the ten-mile markers. I was hitting the marks pretty well, within a minute or two. That was good. The winds were strong and I felt them throughout the course. I kept pushing the whole way, using the infrequent downwinds to generate some speed, trying to stay steady with a high cadence on the upwinds, and fly into the wind like an eagle as Natascha had described. Spot a rider ahead and work a little harder trying to catch them. Pass a water station and try to pick up a bottle without losing too much time, avoiding riders who came to a full stop in the roadway.
Stay clear of the other riders and avoid drafting – but if a big truck passes you, it doesn’t hurt to pick up the cadence for a short while, while you have an inadvertent draft. Lots of officials out on the course riding double on motorcycles, and several stations for serving time penalties out on the course. (I don’t see any penalties in the results, but maybe they were all served out on the bike course?)
At one point a motorcycle pulls up next to me. Oh shit, I think again. But they say, “Hi, Nancy, how are you doing?” I do a doubletake. Oh, it’s Cambridge people!
“Hanging in there. Can I draft off you for a while?” I joke.
“No, we’d have to give you a penalty then.”
“Oh well, that’s what I was afraid you were going to do.”
“Keep going, you’re doing great!” And off they zoomed, unfortunately far enough away that I didn’t get any draft at all.
I keep pedaling along, trying to stay strong as I’m buffeted by the winds. I had a little smorgasbord in my bento box and I had my watch alarm set at ten minute intervals. Each time it beeped I would drink some water, take out a Swedish fish or an apricot or a piece of dried mango, and eat that while I took a little stretch. Everything tasted good. That broke up the trip a little and gave me a little treat periodically.
Or take a swig from my gel flask. But uh oh, I hadn’t capped it tightly. Yuck, it had dripped in the back pocket of my tri top and I could feel it sticking in the small of my back. Ewwww.
Then at a water bottle exchange about mile 40 I was getting out my container of salt capsules to take another and whoops! Dropped it. Damn. Well, I have more back in transition. I’ll get them there.
Keep riding, keep pushing against the wind. Ride like there is no run. Don’t think about that, stay in the moment, keep your cadence up. Ugh, you’ve been on the bike three hours now. Three times as long as you were in the water. This is getting old.
Finally after an interminable time I hit the last few turns and headed down the residential street toward the transition area. “Good girl, Buttercup, thanks for doing a great job” I told my bike out loud, and I petted her on the shifter. She got me through it.
Down the chute to the dismount area. I held the fence as I dismounted – I wasn’t sure how wobbly my legs would be after over 3 ½ hours in the saddle. Bike time 3:44:38 (or 3:32:15 in motion without the flat-filling time).
Okay, not too bad, jog into transition. Yell “Coming through, thank you!” at the people who were all done for the day, wandering around and blocking my way.
I had a moment of confusion when I couldn’t find my spot in the rack. All the piles of wetsuits and towels look the same! Think, Nancy, think! Ahh, there’s my stuff.
Off with the helmet and sunglasses. Sit down and change the shoes. Take off the tri jersey and spray with some sunblock which I had forgotten earlier. Owww! That STINGS where my tri-top chafed me! Better not use that top in events this long again. Pull on the CMS running singlet – ahh, that feels better. No sticky gel in your back. Grab the hat and waistpack (with sunglasses inside) and jog out of transition.
Think positive. Think, “Yay, I get to run now!” as Debi Bernardes had advised. That helps.
I’m jogging along steadily in the first mile. Surprisingly, my legs don’t feel wooden. I don’t feel fresh, but I don’t feel especially tired. All I have to do is get to the first aid station. All I have to do is a series of jogs between aid stations. Down the tree-lined road, and enjoy the million-dollar views out along the Choptank River.
At least the temperatures are perfect. Now the wind feels good, instead of one of nature’s furies. The breeze cools me. I keep jogging along at a steady pace. I walk a ways after the first aid station, sipping an icewater, and Michelle Boyer surprises me by yelling out at me “Nancy!”, going the opposite direction towards home. “You go girl, strong finish!” I respond. Too bad I never had a chance to actually talk with her!
Jog along through the residential neighborhood, around a few corners to the next aid station. These are local folks. They yell “Go CMS!” when they see my singlet, and take a snapshot of me. I’m guessing I’m a real sight by then, but it cheers me on to feel like a local celebrity.
Keep jogging along. Hey, that first 5K was only 36 minutes! That’s not a bad pace for you! You must be jogging faster than you realize! Okay, stick to it, just keep it steady and maintain a comfortable jogging pace, resist the urge to walk anywhere but the aid stations. Pick up the cadence a little on a few cooler stretches in the shade.
The course follows along a rural highway for a ways. Lots of runners and walkers are still coming in the opposite direction, so I don’t feel alone. I cheer them along when I can, mostly because it helps ME stay feeling positive. Try to think about how far you’ve come, and not how far you have left to go.
I stopped in one porta-potty and after I got inside I realized it was seriously unstable. It was rocking back and forth as I was in it. Very unsettling! I hope my balance isn’t that precarious, but I’d really hate to be inside this thing if it went over! Better bail out quick and keep heading down the road!
Finally I get way out to the turnaround, which is right on the road outside Horn Point where we had our practice triathlon. This is familiar ground. 1:18 or so at the turnaround. I’m surprised my pace is that strong! Just keep doing what you’re doing.
There are only 4 or 5 people after me when I hit the turnaround. Most of them are dispirited Clydesdales, walking slowly as if injured. I try to say encouraging things to them. A couple are faster younger women, who easily run past me on the return leg. Where did they come from? Maybe they’re relayers, or had a flat on the bike. The volunteers are starting to break down the aid stations, but still supporting the last few people through. I switch to a cup of Pepsi at each aid station for the caffeine and sugar. Swig it down, burp, and keep jogging.
My mind is still alert enough to do some mental math. I know I can’t do the 7:15 finish that I had thought was possible on an ideal day. But maybe 7:30 is possible. Let’s see, if I can keep up 12-minute miles, I might be able to do it. Just keep jogging. Resist the urge to walk. Keep your motivation going.
Back along the same route, in reverse, past the aid stations one by one. I pass a walker at mile 11 and exclaim “Two more mile markers to go!”
At the final aid station along the river I tell the volunteer, “Thanks for staying out here so long!” He says, “We’re glad to do it, we have the easy job. You have the hard job.”
It did seem hard to maintain a jog instead of a walk, but I was feeling stubborn. It was just possible I still might be able to pull off a sub-7:30 finish.
Around the last few bends, weaving between people heading for their cars, making my way for the final home stretch. Push hard here! Every second is going to count!!
Finally down the chute I run, giving it all I have. I stagger over the line, hit my watch button, and a volunteer hands me a medal. Another follows me over to a bench and encourages me to sit down while he removes my timing chip. He talks to me, to make sure I’m not incoherent. “Are you okay?” “Yeah, just that last little bit was hard. I was trying to break 7:30, but missed it by 33 seconds.” I guess I was coherent enough to pass the test, and he let me go on my way then.
Run time 2:42:02 (about 5 1/2 minutes above my standalone half marathon PR)
Finish time 7:30:32.
Close enough. A darned good day for me, after all. I was very pleased that I was able to maintain the run that well. Finish time was 80 minutes faster than last year on the course. Second place in the Athena 40+ division, out of 2 finishers (although I think there were 5 or 6 registered). And on a day without major problems, at the same fitness level, I could probably improve that time by 15 minutes right now.
Double that and add an hour, and I still have another hour leeway. If the Race Gods are willing, I might even get over that finish line at Ironman Florida this November before midnight.
I was 369th/446 female starters, 369th/387 female finishers
Swim: 398/446 women who finished the swim, 2:55/100m pace
Bike: 413rd, 14.96 mph pace
Run: 361st, 12:23 min/mile pace
I was 1366th/1561 starters overall, 1366/1412 finishers overall
9.4% of people who finished the swim leg did not finish the race