I've heard it said that every athlete will get a DNF at some point. It is just a matter of when. Well, this is the story of mine.
Most of our readers are runners, not triathletes, so this recap will go into some detail describing the process and also things unique to this event. I am telling this from a Back of the Pack perspective. You know those people that are the last ones to cross the finish line? That's my tribe. If you are a triathlete reading this, I apologize in advance for the over-explanations. This was also our first time at a long distance triathlon event so everything was a new experience.
Our plan was this: DisneyGroom would swim 1.2 miles, DisneyBride would bike 56 miles, DisneyGroom would run 13.1 miles to equal the 70.3, a half Ironman distance. Since this event was a team effort, the recap is written by both of us, DisneyBride's sections are red, DisneyGroom's sections are in blue.
Expo, Packet Pickup
We arrived late Friday night for a Sunday race. Our hotel was about 8 miles from the race location. The race itself is held at the beautiful Lake Eva Community Park in Haines City, Florida.
Saturday morning we headed to the park. Ironman Village was an outdoor expo. There was a stage, a handful of vendor booths, and a few larger sprawling vendor tents for specialty cycling, running, and tri apparel and gear. If you forgot bike shoes, nutrition, shorts, bras, socks, even if you forgot your bike - whatever... you could get it there. The Ironman branded merchandise tent was absolutely MASSIVE. They even had changing rooms.
There was a booth to rent racing tires, which I thought was interesting. Also there was a large pen for pick up and drop off of bike transport. It was a private company that coordinates bike shipping internationally and domestically for those athletes that fly in or otherwise cannot bring their bike themselves.
Packet pickup went smoothly. Relay teams had their own table for checking in and picking up our bibs, swim caps, and getting our athlete wristbands put on. I had a minor freak out the day before when I realized I did not have my USAT card with me for check in. (Every athlete participating in a triathlon event must have one.) But thankfully someone told me about the member card app, I downloaded it and viola! I had a digital version. But as it turned out, no one ever asked for it.
There was another table to pick up your timing chip (the tracking anklet), another table for shirts and race bags, and a final one where a volunteer stuffed our race bags with sponsor swag: Red Bull, Clif Bars, Lava magazines, cold therapy packs, Old Spice items, and one nice touch from name sponsor, UCF: gold Schwings for our race shoes. Everything moved VERY quickly and we didn't have to wait in any lines.
My coach had instructed us to do several walk-thrus of the transition area, and several other people in our tri club whom have done this event in previous years also stressed the importance of doing this on various occasions. Apparently this transition area is trickier than others. And so it was.
We started from the beach where you exit the lake, then found the Relay tent where we and all the other relays teams would hand off our timing chip.
Then we looked for Swim Out, which is the entrance to the Bike transition. The racks were numbered. I found our team number and was dismayed to see that the relays racks were the furthest from the Bike Out. Also Bike Out and Bike In were one and the same. This means to start my bike leg, I had to put on my helmet and bike shoes and run through transition with my bike past all the other bikes to head Out to the bike mount area, and then get on my bike to begin the course. Then when I came back after completing the 56 miles, I would have to dismount, and then walk my bike all the way back through the transition to rack it. I envied those people near the exit and the top level, because they only had to run a very short distance with their bikes. I'm a klutz, and it is not easy to run in cycling shoes, much less while rolling your bike along. What also made this transition a little tricky is that it was an outdoor parking lot with two levels, and you had to wind around from the bottom to the top level to get out.
Athletes wanting to 'test out the waters' so to speak, were given the opportunity to swim in the lake the day before the race. Lake Eva is closed to swimmers all year long. It is only open for swimming to triathletes registered for this race and only during the race weekend. So unlike the run or bike course which we can access any time we are in the area, this is the only chance we have to get into the water before race day. The buoys were already up for the course the next morning. There were kayaks, jet skis, and plenty of personnel and volunteers patrolling the water and the shores for safety.
We put on our timing chips and crossed under the arch just like we would on race day. The timing chip also allowed race staff to track which athletes went in and came back out. We had from 11am - 2pm to go in and out of the water as much as we liked.
I'm glad I took advantage of the open water swim time. The course is an "M" shape and the turns can be tricky. The opportunity to swim out to the turns and see them from the water was definitely helpful on race day.
After his swim, we went to the stage for the athlete briefing to receive any additional race instructions. I'm glad we did not miss this, because they announced a lot of important info not in the athlete guide, including course cut offs.
I knew the swim cut off was 1 hour, 10 minutes after your wave start, and I knew the bike cut off was 5 hours, 30 minutes after swim start, and the run cut off was 8 hours, 30 minutes after swim start. I also knew that Ironman race cut offs are very strictly enforced - ruthlessly so.
But they announced that the aid stations would have cut offs as well. WHAT THE WHAT???
I had actually emailed Ironman with this question a few weeks ago, and received the response that they do not and would not have aid station cut offs. So this was news to me. The second aid station on the bike course at Mile 33 would have a cut off of 11:45 am. The third aid station on bike course at Mile 43 would have a cut off of 12:30. When I heard this, my heart sank, because while I felt okay about making the first cut off at aid station 2, with the worst of the hills between those two stops, it would be a struggle. I went up for questions at the end of the talk and asked him to confirm the times for me. The race director said "yes, these are the aid station cut off times, but really it is just for athletes that cannot continue." Words that would come back to haunt me.
A runner friend of ours, Bill (blogger at RillaRuns) lives nearby and he popped over to hang out with us for a bit. Then at 2 pm, bike check in opened. I went and got my bike from the car and brought it over to transition. I showed my event wristband and was admitted to the bike area. All the racks were arranged in numerical order according to bib numbers, and a very nice touch, on the rack itself - stickers with the individual bib numbers had been placed on there and were spaced neatly apart with plenty of room. This would make it easier to find your bike, and also prevent anyone from moving your bike to squeeze their bike into your rack (can happen at other races).
I found my number, racked my bike, and let some of the air out of the tires. My coach had put this instruction in my race plan and I was glad she did. Apparently with the heat, the tubes might pop if left out for so long. Then I left my bike there.
Doesn't my bike look lonely?
Sounds crazy but I had a very bittersweet moment leaving her overnight. I joked that I now know what parents feel like when they drop their kids off at summer camp. My bike and I have gotten really close these past several months. I have to depend on my bike for training and race day, so I try to take good care of her, and don't even keep her in the garage. Some of you might relate to this, but most of you just probably think that sounds nuts. I'm okay with that. Suffice to say leaving her in the care of strangers was weird.
Then that was it. We went off to find food, because by now we were starving. There were a few food trucks and vendors there, but surprisingly for an event full of ridiculously fit people, it was mostly carnival style junk food. There was one vendor with smoothies and fruit, but it was mid afternoon and we needed a substantial meal. We ended up going to Sweet Tomatoes in Kissimmee. We actually eat at this location before about half of our runDisney races. It's a buffet with plenty of vegan options, so we were all set.
A quick stop at Target for some provisions, then we went back to our hotel for the earliest bedtime I have had since I was a toddler.
I got Tritats (temporary tattoos with your bib number) for Disney Groom and we put then on, since his arms and legs would be uncovered during the race. I would be covered in cooling sleeves and compression socks.
Four a.m. wake up. We got dressed, grabbed our transition bags and my bike pump and headed to the start. Street parking may have been plentiful earlier, but we missed out. We paid $10 to park on the grass by a church a few blocks from the park. It was pitch black out, the neighborhood is not well-lit, and I was relieved I was not trying to navigate my bike through strange streets in the darkness.
I briefly stopped at Body Marking, to get my bib number put on my arms, and the R on my left calf designating Relay. If I were not doing a relay, my age would be placed prominently on my left calf instead. There is no room for vanity regarding your age in triathlon. It's right there for the whole world to see.
I got to my bike and DG pumped the tires for me. I filled up my Speedfil (hydration system) with ice and coconut water, loaded my pockets with a few wet wipes in a ziploc baggie (3 words: Race Day Portapotties) and I put my nutrition (Hammer nutrition bars that I pre-cut into cubes) into my bento box. For my coach reading this: yes, I did bring along extra packets of Skratch powder to mix up my hydration drink at aid stations.
Don't we look great? (She says sarcastically.) Still trying to wake up here. It felt chilly and we put on all the clothes we had with us to try and stay warm. Our friend Bill came by to hang out with us again for part of the morning. After DG left for the swim, I was very glad to have someone to chat with to distract me and keep me from getting too anxious.
The relay start
The race starts in waves, like corrals in road races. But unlike road races, where you are seeded according to your pace - in triathlon it is according to age groups. Each wave is provided a different color of swim cap to identify themselves. Some triathlons may also have designated waves for Elites, PC (physically challenged) athletes, Relays, Athenas (women weighing over 165 pounds), and Clydesdales (men weighing over 220 pounds). To compete as an Athena or Clydesdale, you have a weigh in the day before the race to prove what you weigh. This event had some of these classes, but not all of these. As you can see from the guide below, we were assigned the last wave at this event. That is not always the case for relays. But what it does mean is that each course for the swim, bike, and run will be closing right behind our wave. So slow relay athletes (raises hand) are more likely to get swept off the course than slow athletes in earlier waves.
To put it in runDisney terms, imagine you are in the last corral for the marathon, and even though you trained very hard for 9 months, your pace is exactly a 16:00 min/mile. You have no margin for error - no potty breaks, no character stops, no photos, not even stopping to tie your shoes, or catch your breath at a water stop. If you stop, you will get swept. Well, that's what we were up against.
The first wave started before sunrise. That must have been interesting swimming out into a dark lake. With a 8:05 swim start, at 7:30 I headed down to the beach to line up.
I will say this about the swim- there is no training to prepare you for getting kicked in the face! After getting kicked, I did manage to get into a pretty nice groove. I don't feel like I swam too far off course at any point, and I probably should have pushed myself a little harder.
One note on doing this particular course. Make sure to swim all the way to the shore on your exit.
I stood up about 15 feet from the water's edge and took two steps before falling into a hole that was deeper than me. Apparently, someone had told me about this (I think it was DisneyBrides's coach's husband actually), but I had forgotten by race day.
I did manage to swim the course within about 2 minutes of my goal.
I was already dressed in cycling gear, gloves, bike shoes, and ready to go when DisneyGroom arrived from his swim. As soon as I saw him running up the ramp, I fastened my bike helmet.
DG ran up to the tent and as he handed me his goggles and swim cap, I handed him his glasses. Then he removed his timing chip and placed it on my left ankle (left side so as not to bump against bike gearing). A quick good luck kiss and I was off.
I ran into the transition area and grabbed my bike off the rack. Since relay was the final wave, most of the lot was empty of bikes and athletes, so I wasn't fighting any bottlenecks on my way out.
Felt like it took forever maneuvering my bike through there. No one was running though, or really appeared to be hurrying. I had been to a Transition Clinic the week before put on by my local tri club, Gulf Winds Triathletes. and I picked up several timesaving tips.
At last, I went under the arch and crossed the Bike Mount line and got on my bike to start my race. You start on an uphill. It's a little steep (for Florida) actually. I could hear my coach's voice: Always always always start in an easy gear, especially on an uphill.
WOO HOO! It was happening at last!
My legs started pedaling, and my feet instinctively clipped into the pedals like they had a mind of their own.
I had my Garmin 910xt mounted on the handlebars already. So I started it up and went to Virtual Racer. I had preloaded the bike course, set it to 4:15 (my goal pace) and planned to 'race' against it to help keep me on track. You know the rule about nothing new on race day? Yeah - I broke it. I had watched a youtube video and thought I knew how it worked. NOPE. It was showing a 4 hour pace and I could not figure out what any of the data fields were... Ooops! I would have to ride naked and blind for 4.5 hours! I shut it down and restarted it, but still had the same 4 hour pace and screens that didn't make any sense to me showing.. well crap... now what?
But wait, I had my Garmin Vivoactive on my wrist. This would save the day! It was already synced to my speed and cadence sensor on my bike, so those started right up, but it was not synced to my recently replaced heart rate monitor, so I would later find that no HR data was captured.
I put my Vivoactive on the handle bars but I didn't have time to tighten it down. All this is happening while I am riding the first 1 1/2 miles of the course, rollers (back to back hills) through a suburban neighborhood. To say I am not the most elegant of riders is an understatement, so rather than risk my continuing to wobble and possibly crash, I just left it loosely wrapped on the bars. This was okay for most of the ride, but if the asphalt was uneven or cracked, occasionally it would knock loose and spin around face down, or the right button would get bumped against the bike stem and the timer would pause. I would notice it a minute or two later, and I had to restart the timer. Probably happened about 5 times. So my recorded data is not perfect. C'est la vie!
So many thoughts and emotions running through me those first few miles.
Scared... of crashing
Worried... that I will get a leg cramp or a flat tire...
Nervous... that my stomach might decide to stage a mutiny many miles away from any facilities,
Fear... of getting attacked by a pack of wild boars (more on that later),
Disbelief... that this is really happening at last,
Joy... that I got to be outside on a gorgeous Florida day,
Awe... over the adaptive and challenged athletes I saw competing out here this morning,
Wondering... just how far can I go today?
But most of all - gratitude.
Gratitude for the absolutely perfect weather conditions,
Gratitude for my wonderful Triattic triathlon coach whom prepared me for this day,
Gratitude for my amazingly supportive husband and relay partner,
Gratitude to our friends that showed up to cheer for us today,
Gratitude to my bike shop, Higher Ground, in Tallahassee, for the bike fittings, gear, and advice to help me become a capable cyclist,
Gratitude for everyone involved in the race- athletes, cops, volunteers, race officials, spectators, and
Gratitude that I am blessed with good health and strong legs that are able to transport me 56 miles.
I had never seen it during the morning like this, but I began to recognize the bike course from previous visits. Last September, we were in Orlando and we came down and drove the bike course all the way through. During Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, I brought my bike and rode the first half of the course to become more familiar with it. Then again in March, we came down and I rode the second half. I don't like surprises, so I wanted to know what the road conditions were like, where the tricky turns are, what kind of hills I will have to climb, etc. I knew which landmarks to look for, I knew which hills would challenge me the most, and I knew which roads were in DESPERATE need of repaving (Lake Marion, Jim Edwards cough cough). Also I had seen wild boars during each of these trips, the first time we drove here we saw a whole pack (even got it on film here) and I was hoping and praying I would not see any on race day. I reached down and pulled out the safety whistle I was wearing around my neck, under my jersey. The shrill noise might not frighten off boars that may charge at me, but it made me feel better having the whistle, if only to alert others.
The bike course loops through mostly farmland with a few neighborhood clusters along the way. There are lake views during some portions, but the most striking thing are the citrus groves. On previous rides here, I found myself suddenly surrounded with a very familiar smell. In Walt Disney World, EPCOT's popular ride, Soarin' has a moment where you are flying over orange groves. The scent of oranges fills the air - powerful, sweet, tart... then quickly it is gone. Imagine riding on a bike past miles and miles of citrus trees; you are surrounded on both sides of the road. It is absolutely heavenly. On race day, I knew I would encounter citrus groves at various spots along the course and I was eager to get to them. It literally took my breath away, and I sniffed the air like a dog hanging his head out of a car window. (You can see the oranges look ready to be picked.)
During these first few miles, I was passed by several other athletes. I don't really know how many, but at least 30, perhaps more. As they came up behind me, many shouted encouraging words. So I did the same. "Looking strong! Keep that pace going! stuff like that. There were maybe 5 or so athletes that snuck up and whizzed past without so much as an 'on your left' to warn me. I shouted 'Have a great race!" to those riders too.
By Mile 5, I began to have ... umm... discomfort in the lady bits area. This happens sometimes. I had put on TriSlide at 4 am, and it was now 9:30am. It's supposed to last through a full day, but maybe it was wearing off? I looked at the clock and groaned... how the heck can I endure this for another 51 miles? I moved my butt further back on the seat and that took the pressure off. Miraculously, it didn't bother me the rest of the ride.
Because the bike course is just one big long 56 mile loop, there are very few spectators. Well maybe they were there for the previous waves, but there was not much excitement happening at the end of the pack, so if they were out earlier, they were gone by now. When I did see a spectator, I shouted Thank You! Every single cop I saw on the entire course, I shouted Thank You! Every volunteer who caught my eye, Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!
I am slow. I was anticipating being out on the course for over 4 hours. You may not ride side by side with other athletes, when passing you have 25 seconds to put a distance of six bike lengths between you, or you risk a drafting penalty. Race conditions are not conducive to carrying on a conversation with anyone. I've run for four hours before, and always had other runners nearby to talk to. I've been on group rides where I can chat with other cyclists. But here I was, my first long distance race on a bike, I found myself faced with only my own thoughts for company. There was nothing else to do, so I smiled, waved, and said thank you to everyone I saw. It was the only human interaction available to me. But the more I did this, the more cheerful I became. Yep, my small grinch heart grew three sizes that day.
I reached the first aid station, about Mile 17, and my coach will cringe when she reads this... (sorry Jo) but I didn't stop to refill my Speedfil bottle. I had plenty of fluids left to get me to the next aid station at Mile 33, so I grabbed a water bottle a volunteer was holding out, took a quick swig, then dumped it all over my arms, neck, and back. The temps had started climbing and this cooled me down and felt great.
I was invigorated by the cool water and picked up my pace. Then I settled in to enjoy the mostly flat road, because I knew that would come to an end soon enough.
At almost exactly the mid point of the race, the real hills begin. Now, this is nothing if you live in Colorado. But for a Florida resident... these are Hills with a capital H. Long gradual climbs over a mile long.... ugh - the worst. Shorter steep ones... also not fun - for a chubby girl. I must have been having one heck of a great day, because I made it up all those hills, butt-in-the-saddle, slow and steady. My friend Ashley told me later, she saw some athletes walking their bikes up the hills. For all the months grumbling about training on hills, and for all my stubbornness in learning my bike gears, it all came together.
I got to the second aid station, Mile 33 at 11:29, 16 minutes ahead of the cut off! Yes!!! I really wanted to keep going. But this time I knew I had to stop. I yelled out to the volunteers, I'm going to pull over and I need water. There was a row of tables bunched together pretty close together and there were many volunteers standing in front of the tables. I rode past the first table with water, the second table with Gatorade, the third table with GUs, the fourth table - had chocolate chip cookies, and finally there was a break where I could get off the road. I unclipped and discovered my legs forgot how to stand upright. ha ha. I carefully dismounted and I am standing there --- no water nearby. A volunteer approaches.
Me: May I please have some water?
Volunteer: ummm... There's umm... no water over here. Hang on... (turns back and shouts) Do you have any water left?
I hear: water? .. no... these are my bottles, I am drinking them..
He looks back at me, I am too stunned to say a word, but I must look pretty pathetic, because he says, I'll find you a water and runs off towards a table far away from us. Before I can ask him to bring me two bottles, he is gone.
He comes back after what seems like AGES later and hands me a bottle. We fill up my Speedfil to the top and the bottle is empty. It is now really hot and I wanted to dump a bottle on myself. I tell him, I'm sorry - I need more water. Off he goes again, running towards that faraway table. The only table apparently that still has water. He comes back and I take a few swigs, then dump the water over my arms, back, and down the front of my jersey. I hand him the empty bottle and get back on my bike.
I am now nervous about being on the clock. I don't know how many minutes this was, but I told myself, I was slightly above pace for the first half, so once I get past these hills, I will make up the lost time when the course gets flatter again.
As I am leaving, I notice a car with a Bike Tech sign parked at the far end of the aid station.
Similar to road races, there are designated spots after the aid stations where you can toss your cups on the ground (in this case - bottles) and volunteers will pick them up. In triathlon, if you are caught tossing trash outside of these designated zones, you could get a penalty for littering. I had heard of this, but this was my first experience with them.
Well either a lot of athletes got penalties or the referees missed this section because the following mile of road was an absolute landmine of bottles and gel wrappers. It was a quick down hill and then up hill, and here is where the real trouble started.
I am very slow climbing up hills. A turtle wearing a blindfold could beat me. I go so slow that I am sometimes in danger of toppling over because I am not moving forward fast enough. It only happened once... okay twice... during training sessions months ago. I've worked on my gearing for many weeks to get better and I have improved. But I wasn't prepared for the obstacle course of race trash. I changed gears too quickly without enough momentum, and boom... my chain dropped. I tried to spin out of it, but no... man down. man down.... MEDIC!!!
I had no choice. I unclipped, dismounted, and moved my bike into the grass. I was thankful that I had learned how to put my chain back on. So I get the chain back on, sighing over my now filthy grease covered hands, and get back on to ride.
This is where I remember the last rider of the day passing me. A woman with long brown hair and a red and white kit. I had seen several athletes with flats or bike trouble further back. I know some got moving again and passed me but not all of them did.
I advance maybe 5 feet. Loud scraping, chain catches hard, my bike jerks and I almost fall over. I dismount again.
I didn't know anything about bikes several months ago. I didn't even have a road bike until last September when I began to train for this event. So I had to learn bike lingo and basic repairs quickly. Well this had happened to me before. I knew what to look for and sure enough there it was.
Behind the front derailleur and chain there is a small flat aluminum plate that is mounted to the bike frame. Not all bikes have it, but carbon bikes will often have one to protect the frame from this: a dropped chain taking little bites or making gouges. That little chain guard was bent. And it was bent A LOT. The dropped chain caught on it and pulled it partially away from the frame. It was now sticking out far enough that it scraped the chain and did not allow it move freely. My bike shop has fixed this before for me, but I didn't have shop tools at my disposal. I did have a tiny little folding multi-tool kit in my saddle bag. I pulled out one of the Allen keys and set to work trying to push in the skid plate and flatten it back down, at least enough that the chain would clear.
I also noticed that the Bike Tech vehicle I saw earlier was headed towards me. I did the best I could, and by then bike tech arrived. I thought about saying - No, I'm good and then trying to keep going - scraping and all. But I had an expert there, so I had him look at it. He checked it out closely, ran it through all the gears, asked me about the clicking noise, said he didn't notice any scraping, then he made a slight adjustment to the derailleur. There was actually still some mild scraping, and I knew I would need to get to my bike shop back home and have this repaired. But it was good enough to finish the race.
I said Thank you and he said he would be out here if I needed him. I asked is there another bike tech further up the road, he said - no, it's just me - until the end of the course. I got back on my bike... uphill starts..ugh.. and kept going. I glanced at my Garmin... it was 11:48. That was it. I knew at that point I was done. Unless I suddenly sprouted wings, I won't make the next cut off. It was the hilliest stretch of the course, and I had nearly ten miles to go in 40 minutes. Easy peasy for many, sure. But even with a few downhills, I knew my pace would end up averaging 10 and 11 mph until I got back on the flats. My one consolation was that I had already made it up these hills last month without having to get off and walk my bike, so I knew I already knew I could do this course.
Well, as much as it sucked, I would do like I did at Princess Half Marathon in 2013, when I knew I was behind pace and sweeping could happen at any moment. I would just keep going until a race official told me I had to stop. And not a moment sooner.
I had not gone more than 1/2 a mile when a motorcycle cop rides up next to me: Hey Monica!!!
(I am thinking: How do you know my name? It's not on the bib, and I'm not wearing a bib anyway.) Instead I say... "Was I speeding, Officer?" I am not sure he heard me, but he smiles then says - your friend is waiting for you at the top of the hill. Holding a sign and everything! So don't go thinking about giving up. You keep going!
It was like a Fairy Godfather appearing out of nowhere with a message of hope. That was exactly what I needed to hear at a low point like this.
I wasn't sure if the 'friend' was our friend Bill from earlier, or if it was another friend, Ashley. She lives in Lakeland, about an hour away, and I know her from the Athena Triathletes facebook group. In fact, she rode the back half of this course with me last month as a training ride. She was not racing today, but said she would come out to cheer. Athletes are prohibited from having ANY communication devices on the course at any time during the race: no ipods, no radios, no mobile phones (gasp! I KNOW!), not even cameras (including Go Pros). It's an immediate DQ (disqualification, not Dairy Queen). Without my phone this morning, I had no way of knowing if she ever came, where she was, or anything.
It had to be her. I really hoped it was her. Ashley is pretty awesome and has the coolest job, as an operations director for some major endurance events. She is living the dream.
I kept going. Hill after hill, after hill. After hill. The motorcycle cop came by again. "Your friend is wondering where you are. Keep going! You are doing great. I'll ride up ahead to say you are almost there." He caught me right when I was out of breath, so I didn't get to ask who it was, I just nodded and kind of smiled pathetically.
Around Mile 39, I see this crazy woman wearing donut leggings and holding a neon green Go Monica! sign. Unmistakably Ashley. I start waving. I yell out Thank you! Without stopping I ride by and I ask her to send a FB message to Bill that I had bike issues and am behind pace, but I am still going. I thought at the time Bill might still be with my husband and he could pass along the message. She says okay, and I continue on.
At Mile 41, I hear a car behind me. I've had several cars behind me all day, but they have all gone around as soon as the oncoming lane was clear. This one didn't. Other cars pass, but I can hear the same engine - close behind me. I flash back to 2013 Princess again, the line of sweeper vans snaking right behind me. I remember wishing I hadn't looked back and seen them. This time, I didn't look back. I didn't want to look back. I kept my eyes ahead and kept moving. I saw the turn I needed to take and the 3rd aid station right in front. It is now 12:35. A man walks out into the road and stretches out both arms. The universal symbol for 'I'm blocking your path'. He says very simply, "you need to get off your bike." So I do. Then I see other athletes and bikes being loaded into vans. I don't know how many. I saw at least four, there were more already in the other vans. I'm standing off to the side awaiting further instruction, and a volunteer walks over to me and whispers.. "just go!" I say, huh? He says, "if you are fine, and your bike is fine... then just go. It's a public road - they can't stop you!" I ponder this for a moment. And am sooo very tempted. The course cut off is 1:35, so really I have one full hour remaining on the clock to get just 13 measly little miles. The worst of the hills are behind me, it is mostly flats. I feel good, I could totally do this. The volunteer says to the man in charge, the guy who stopped me -- " hey, why not just let her finish?" One word response: NO. He looks at me and says.. "well that sucks." I know, dude. I know. I see Ashley drive past. She says she messaged Bill, but he had already left Ironman Village and wasn't with my husband anymore. My husband didn't know what was happening... I had no way to reach him, and all I wanted to do was get to him.
|Loading bike into SAG wagon
I got in the van; there was another athlete there with his bike. We waited what seemed like a very long while. I tried a few times to converse, but he had not been having a good day, so I was mostly quiet after that. The SAG wagon driver got a call, and gave the other person our bib numbers. Then he asked us to turn in our timing chips. I asked him to ask the person on the phone to please notify my husband in the relay tent what was happening. The driver was a volunteer and this was his first experience with a tri. He had a lot of questions about the bikes, how the race works, etc.
He then tells us about a woman they picked up earlier that morning with a punctured tire. He describes with some horror, the massive meltdown she had, crying, screaming, tears, uncontrollable sobbing, the works. Then how she wanted to call around and put another tire on her bike to continue her race. Newbie that I am, even I knew that was against the rules. The volunteers had been talking about it all morning and some were really shaken up by it, because how do you handle someone completely freaking out like that? Okay, now I am really glad I didn't cause a scene, or even put up any kind of protest.
Having someone that was chatty kept my mind occupied. I was okay, but was not looking forward to seeing my husband's face and telling him that he wouldn't get to run. I love him so much and I know he worked really hard with swim training all these many months. How he put up with a messy house, and me spending a lot of money and time on this new
The van dropped us off and I saw that they had taken both my tires off to fit bike in the van. The back tire is tricky, with the chain assembly, but after a few minutes, I got them back on, good enough to stay on, but not secure enough to ride. Then I asked "what's next?" I was told - "just head back to transition". So I started walking my bike that way. As I got closer I saw DisneyGroom waiting in the relay tent with one other person. He got excited and waved. Then he looked confused, probably because I was walking my bike. From this far away, I realized he did not get the message that I was swept. By this point, there was still 35 minutes before the bike course would cut off, and bikes continued to stream in. He thought I had finished the course and was coming to do the hand off.
I was about 50 yards away when I stopped and slowly shook my head. He stared at me for a moment, then he turned and left the tent. It was the only time that day that I wanted to cry...
But I didn't cry. Not on race day. I never went into transition. I had turned in my chip. If there was some other step that we needed to do, then I missed it. We had our race shirts, a couple of items I got at the expo, and our race bags. But this is the first time we came home from a race with no medals.
Watching DisneyBride walk up to Bike In and not riding her bike was scary. I couldn't tell what the problem was. When I finally got to her I was just so relieved she wasn't hurt. I didn't care about the bike or anything else. But, it did alert me to a something other relay teams may want to think about. Without communication devices and no quick way to get to her, I was left thinking the worst. A simple predetermined hand signal could have alleviated the issue. Guess it's time to review the divers signals handbook. It should work pretty well, even if you are seeing each other from far away.
Here I am, two days later, and I admit to having some regrets that I didn't make a break for it at the 3rd aid station. The race director's words at the athlete briefing came back to haunt me "the aid station cut offs are really just for athletes that cannot continue". That wasn't me.
I did my best. Could I have done any better? I don't think so. My hydration and nutrition was on point. I trained for headwinds and hills and got through those just fine. The delays I had with the water at the aid station, with the chain guard - maybe they could have been avoided. Maybe not. This was not my day.
My bike splits here, broken into every five miles tell the story. I am doing better than average (for me) splits early on, because I know the back half of the course will be a lot slower. Why? Several reasons: 1) Will be around 12 noon, hottest part of the day. 2) Fatigue kicks in. 3) Surrounded by mostly miles and miles of farmland and without any buildings or tall trees nearby to block the wind, the headwinds can be strong enough to knock you off your bike. But 4) The biggest reason of all: because the hills really start to kick in right around the midpoint of the course.
In order to finish within the cut off, I needed a 12.4 mile/per hour pace. Easy right? For me, that is doable... on flats. But on hills, that's where I struggle.
Gravity. Big girl. Up hill climbs a mile or more long. Not exactly a winning combination.
And on the hill climbing is where my pace will drop to 10 mph. And there are a fair number of climbs on this course. It's not Utah or Colorado kind of hills of course, but definitely more than you would expect in Florida.
Oh and we did meet up later with my friend and super awesome cheerleader Ashley. Aren't those tights the best thing ever?
My DOs and DON'Ts
So you think you might want to try a tri or a tri relay? Well besides the obvious, being able to swim, bike, and run - these are some of the things I've found unique to this sport that were a big help to me.
1) Know the rules. And there are A LOT of rules. There are sanctioning bodies that govern triathlon events. In the US, that is USAT. Before doing any tri event, be familiar with the rules. Penalties could be issued if you are caught breaking the rules, and there are even penalty boxes where you have to sit out of the race and serve your time (like hockey). Repeat offenses or serious offenses can be an automatic DQ (disqualification). Often the DQ comes after the event, but if you are caught in the act, this means you might even be kicked out mid-race, depending on what it is you did. Race directors of individual events may add more rules unique to that race, so always read the athlete guide.
2) Find a coach. I am not someone that needs a lot of hand-holding. Until I do. And then I really need it. Last summer, when I signed up for this 70.3, I reached out to a few local triathletes I trusted and asked for recommendations. Am grateful to Robin for sharing her coach with me. I love my coach. Jo has the patience of an angel and I trusted her immediately, a rare thing for me. She has been there every step of the way, through all my triumphs and setbacks in training. For race day, she had a detailed plan written for me, and I tried to follow it to the letter. She has done this course before, and it helped a lot having something to refer to.
3) A triathlon team. If you don't have a coach, or even if you do, training with a team will help you improve. I'm the slowest swimmer, cyclist, and runner on my teams (Triattic and Gulf Winds Triathletes) but I have learned a lot from group rides, brick sessions, team swims, and other events.
4) Fuel. Meticulously plan and train with your nutrition and hydration. Eat something about 30 minutes to one hour before your race. If you are doing a relay, this is tricky, because you have to estimate when your team mate will be coming in to hand off to you. Find out what your race will offer and try to train with that. I can't tolerate Gatorade or Powerade, which is what most road races and triathlons offer on the course. For all my long rides and runs, I've been using Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix. The pineapple flavor is my favorite. I also prefer real food over GUs and gels. So I brought my own nutrition too.
5) Special gear. Besides the usual bike, tri kit (adult onesie), cycling kit, shoes, etc, we got some special items. DG is a strong swimmer, but he also can't see without his glasses. Corrective goggles (Speedo Vanquisher Optical) because it will be much safer for himself and for the other swimmers if he can actually see where he is going. In a pool, this isn't that big of a deal, but in open water, sighting (spotting markers to swim to) is vital. He also got prescription sunglasses to protect his eyes while running in the sun. My special gear: Speedfil hydration system, a 40 oz bottle with a tube assembly - because I am so clumsy if I mess with bottles while moving at race pace I will most likely fall and Gatorskins - tires that are not designed for racing, but are thick and durable for long distance riding, with a reputation of being flat-proof. While nothing is 100% flatproof, they came recommended by my bike shop and a few other cyclists I spoke to. Most triathletes will not touch these, because they want the lightest weight possible for everything on the bike. I'll take security over saving a few seconds of speed.
6) Do Believe in Yourself. One more time.
Believe. In. Yourself.
1) Nothing new on race day... I decided to test out Virtual Racer on my Garmin for the first time that morning. Such a bad move, it was almost comical. My backup Garmin came through. Most people don't carry two watches, but this tri geek tried to be prepared. (See what I did there...)
2) Gear: Don't go overboard and get more than you need. There are thousands of tri-specific items on the market and the only limit is your budget. Get the basics, learn from other triathletes in your community, then figure out if you need anything special (like corrective goggles).
3) Don't disregard the rules. There are penalties on the course if you do. And the tri community is small, so we will all hear about it.
4) Don't freak out. Okay, this may be unavoidable. But if you do freak out, don't do it on race day. I had my freak out 3 weeks before my race. I had come down to Haines City to ride the course, and it was really hot, and I was really slow. And when I looked at my Garmin data, I had a meltdown and decided I couldn't do it. I even talked to a woman I just met (a good cyclist though) about taking my place on the bike relay, and then I would be the runner. I'm glad I talked myself out of that craziness. I worked really hard for this. I received a great piece of advice. "Do your best and remember you are there to have fun." Sounds so simple, doesn't it? And on race day - it actually was.
5) Don't make yourself crazy trying to control what you cannot actually control.
- The weather. Unless you were born to a virgin in a manger, am pretty sure you have no say in how windy, how humid, or how hot it is. Be prepared for a monsoon or a scorcher.
- Course conditions. Wildlife encounters. Crappy roads. After the race, write a letter to the race director or the Mayor of the town you are racing in. Let them know. But on race day, you gotta roll with it.
- Aid stations. Provisions and set up. Yep, I was frustrated with the accessibility or lack thereof of water at the second aid station. I don't know if there was water at every table earlier and they just ran out? or if there was only water at the first table all along. Which logistically doesn't make sense because if an athlete needs to pull over, and many do, the only place to do that is after you pass all the tables. There was nothing I could do though. And having an adult temper tantrum would have solved nothing.
- Other athletes. The other guy in the SAG wagon with me had crashed. Two other athletes had zoomed past him and sharply cut him off. He flipped his bike and was pretty shaken up. You can hope most other athletes won't act like this - but nothing you can really do, except hope they get busted by an official.
6) The final Don't should really go without saying. DON'T GIVE UP. We saw a blind triathlete with his guide, an amputee, and a paraplegic athlete. Seriously! Those guys were amaze-balls! They were out there crushing their race. If they can train and race while adapting to the challenges they have, so can you.
If you have read this far, then YOU deserve a medal.