Race Report: Route 66 Half Iron Distance

Race Report: Route 66 Half Iron Distance

This is a hard race report to write. I want to be really clear about this: I am absolutely proud of the work I put in on Saturday, and the sheer mental grit I found to pull me through the day. I PRed my overall 70.3 time, as well as every leg of the race, so yes. I am proud of myself. That said, it was not the day I had worked so insanely hard for, and especially since this was due to things outside of my control (which I promised to accept in my last post!), it’s frustrating to know I didn’t reach my full potential out there. And it is absolutely, 100% OK for me to feel this way. I am not being too hard on myself. I am acknowledging that I have more to give, AND that pulling off a PR with the kind of pain I battled is exceptional. Both are true. I did an amazing job – but I could have done even better in different conditions.

The days leading up to the race, I was doing my best to stay optimistic and get myself excited. I wanted so badly for this to be like my Oly, full of positive energy and confidence. I tried. I rested, I ate clean, I rolled, I stretched, I Air Relaxed and Norma Teched, I hydrated, I pictured a great race day. But as the day got closer, the less excited I got. Dread started to set in. I’d had headaches for weeks, and intermittent stomach issues, and I just didn’t feel 100%. It messed with my head. I worked so hard to prepare my body for this. My run had improved SO MUCH. I hadn’t panicked in the water all season. My bike has been consistent – maybe not super fast, but definitely improved. This should have been my day to bring it all together, but not feeling completely healthy had me majorly concerned. And emotional.

But I tried to stay calm. I disconnected myself from the reality of race day. Friday, I packed the rest of my gear and food prepped. Teresa called to say she was running a bit early and would be over soon. Awesome, off to a great start! I was ready to roll.

We packed up the car, put Swift Wind on T’s bike rack (which made me nervous because all bike racks make me nervous – I always travel with her tucked inside my car but didn’t want to be a royal pain and request that in someone else’s car), and rolled out. A few miles down the highway, the bike was shifting on the rack a lot, so we pulled off the road, adjusted and continued. After we got into Illinois, we noticed the bike was moving a lot again. T and I were both concerned and pulled over again. A strap had broken on the rack. We decided to pull the bags out of the car and put the bike safely inside, reloaded the bags and set off with much more peace of mind all around. Disaster averted. Also note: I’ll keep not trusting bike racks from here on out. In the trunk or in the back of Tim’s truck is where she will go from now on.

We got to our AirBnB fairly uneventfully after that…I say fairly because I somehow printed directions to the neighbor’s house. We pulled up and saw a truck in the driveway and I was about to message the owner to see what was up when Teresa looked up the address and saw we were at the wrong place. Welp, glad I didn’t march up to that mailbox looking for a lockbox! AWKWARD. Seems to be my forte.

We got Swift Wind settled into the house and headed out to drive the course. A friendly volunteer helped us get started and off we went. My goal was to drive the course, get my packet and be back at the house to heat up dinner by 5. Driving the course took a little longer than planned due to some turns not being marked yet, so we didn’t nail the timing, but it was close. Once we got back, I ate and took a bath, stretched, prepped my nutrition bottles, organized bags and tried to shake off the feeling of dread that wouldn’t leave me alone.

We were watching Harry Potter, but then Chamber of Secrets started, and I hate that one because spiders, so I couldn’t even find a good chill out show to enjoy. I tried not to acknowledge how off I was feeling, but as bedtime approached, I got weepy and freaked out. Tim was there by this point, and I made him come keep me company for a bit while I tried to go to sleep. He did his best to comfort me, and I went to sleep.

Then it was here. Race day. I hated my life. I got breakfast down without a problem, got everything gathered and we were off with time to spare. We were actually some of the first people there and I claimed a primo end spot in transition. As I tried to rack Swift Wind, the rack literally fell apart. How’s that for a confidence boost?

Teresa helped me get it back together and I stood close by for a while to make sure my bike and gear stayed put. As time ticked by, I got more and more emotional. My whole body was shaking, and I could not get calm. This is fucking ridiculous. I’m beyond ready, I’ve done this stuff a million times, why was I so worked up?? Why couldn’t I get things under control?? It was just like Ohio last year. I was crying before the swim. Stupid.

I did a short swim warmup, which was weird because the lifeguard boats were still docked on the ramp where we got in, so that wasn’t ideal. Then we had the pre-race meeting and it was time to line up. Trish, my teammate who has raced various distances at this course before, helped by telling me about the weird current in the water and reminding me how pretty the rest of the course would be. She wished me luck and I lined up. I had zero confidence walking into the water. I just needed this to be over.

They had made the call to allow wetsuits if you didn’t want to place in your age group, and all wetsuit swimmers, male and female, got moved into my wave. Cool. Thanks. Put ALL the uncertain swimmers, flailers, leg grabbers and over-swimmers in my group. Love it.

The horn goes off and we go. I think I got about to the bridge before panic set in. I started side stroking, gasping for breath and seriously debating quitting. I looked at my watch right after I thought about throwing my arm up for a boat to get me. I had gone 160m. WHAT.THE.FUCK.WAS.WRONG.WITH.ME????? I told myself to just get to the turn. Go buoy by buoy, side stroke as needed, this won’t be a PR swim, but you WILL do it. Then my other voice, the old me, is all, “But you don’t feel great anyway, this isn’t going to be your day and maybe you’re hurting yourself by doing this today. You should just quit.” Ugh. SHUT UP, OTHER ME.

I struggled for another buoy or two, then started burping. I had gasped in water, swallowed air, you name it, so I wasn’t surprised. I get burpalicious when I work out sometimes. I’m the master of burpees AND burping. So as I’m side stroking, I burp once, then again a little louder…then a third burp that was so loud, I scared the guy in the wetsuit next to me. The look on his face was one I’d use to humor me through the pain to come. Seriously, it was priceless.

But that last burp was some kind of magic, because after that, I was GOOD. I swam to the turn, and then did not stop to side stroke once the rest of the way in. As the volunteers were helping pull me up the slippery boat ramp, Teresa was yelling SO LOUD that I had PRed. I could hardly believe it. She was yelling my name, and I looked at the volunteers and said, “Well, that’s me.” They laughed, I laughed, life was good for a few minutes as I ran into T1 and got bike ready. This was probably the only fun I had all day. So I cling to this moment – it was definitely one of the few highlights of the day.

I headed out on my bike, relieved to have the swim behind me and thrilled to have managed a PR after that panic. I took a drink, grabbed a chew, dropped into aero and tried to settle in. I was pushing a great pace, it was a beautiful day, I was going to make the most of it! Oh, if only I knew what was hurtling my way.

Cue mile 5. MILE FIVE. 6.2 miles of 70.3 to complete. I went from happily pedaling my buns off to being in excruciating pain, my abdomen racked with intense cramps and waves of pain. Had I not been in aero, the pain would have put me there. Luckily, this position was about as comfortable as I could get, so I clung to my bike, forced as much nutrition as I could (mostly Infinit, as every time I tried to take solids I’d throw up a little and force it back down…nutrition on the bike will make or break the run, and I HAD TO KILL THE RUN, so I was not about to allow an ounce of nutrition to leave my body) and tried to pretend everything was fine. Then the wind set in. Nothing I couldn’t handle, but as my heart rate increased, so did my pain, so it made things all that much harder to tolerate. And at some point, my chest started to hurt…which freaked me out that my panic had helped caused SIPE, but I never coughed or saw signs that I needed to stop, so I pushed on.

I tried to focus on anything but the pain. I called out to every cyclist I passed or who passed me…GREAT JOB, KEEP PUSHING, YOU GOT THIS. I was talking to myself as much as I was talking to them. There were a few super bumpy stretches of road that just made the pain worse (in my stomach AND in my bits), and I remember passing a guy, hitting a bumpy section, yelling about every swear I know, and then hoping he couldn’t hear me. But maybe it made him laugh. Or made him scared to pass me. Either way, I never saw him again.

I desperately wanted to break the 3-hour mark on the bike. I have the ability. I should have done it. I tried so hard to push to get there. I rolled into T2 over 8 minutes past my goal. Bummed. Worried about the run. Hurting intensely. I still PRed the bike, but not how I’d hoped to.

I quickly changed shoes, grabbed my bottle, visor and bib and ran out of transition. The RD had said there were bathrooms just across the bridge, so I passed all the ones in transition to try to just get myself going. Teresa and Tim were congratulating me, but I could barely hear them over the doubt in my mind. I might have said something about the pain I was in, but I’m not sure. Sometimes acknowledging it makes it harder to deal with, so I might have ignored it.

I crossed the bridge and started looking for bathrooms. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nothing. As my stomach raged, I hoped today wouldn’t be the day I shit my pants, and pushed on.

I had managed just enough nutrition on the bike to make the first six miles pretty great, given my condition. I averaged 10:26 through those miles, which is a phenomenal average for me. I was so looking forward to mile 7 when I could really turn on the speed, so reaching that milestone I’d been clinging to for weeks leading up to the race and realizing I didn’t have it in me was devastating.

A quick note about the run course – in addition to having no bathrooms, the elevation profile said 0 feet of elevation gain. Now, I knew that was wrong as that’s just not a real thing. However, what I did NOT expect was that the entire run course was rolling hills. Nothing major, but keeping my heart rate down was the best way to manage my pain, so every uphill was a fight to the top…a fight to push the pace but not blow up my insides. It was a fun game.

But the run course was gorgeous. Lots of shade, fun jaunts onto little peninsulas to see the lake and feel the breeze, awesome mid-century architecture to drool over, even a few sprinklers and a driveway with old men playing electronic dance music. Can’t complain about that! The volunteers were amazing and my fellow racers really kept my spirits up as we passed each other and cheered each other on.

Though my average pace was falling, I never once walked. I never gave myself permission to pause, slow down or stop. As I saw my A goal time come and go, I refused to not PR by at least a little after dominating the run so much in my training, so I dug deep, pretended I didn’t have a stomach, and pushed as much as I could. I passed a lot of people – more than passed me. As I came back around to the bridge, I finally saw the single portapotty they must have been talking about and rolled my eyes. Bathrooms, my ass.

As I started across the bridge, my eyes filled with tears. It was almost over. The pain might end soon. I have never wanted something so much in my life. I was desperate to be done, to get this pain to stop. I pushed as hard as I could, crying, yelling for Teresa and Tim to get to the finish line (they didn’t know, but I needed them to hold me up). They were there. I tried to control myself as I took my medal and a water, but as soon as Tim and Teresa got to me, my legs started to give and I was soon surrounded by medical. I was sobbing, it hurt SO MUCH. But it was done. I had PRed every leg of the race, and cut 26:25 off of my overall time, despite experiencing the most intense stomach pain I’ve ever had during a race, nonstop from mile 5 of the bike through the finish.

And I didn’t shit my pants.

Here are my times:
Swim: 43:53 (previous: 48:16, PR of 4:23)
T1: 2:06 (previous: 5:06, PR of 3:00 but it was a much smaller transition)
Bike: 3:08:06 (previous: 3:19:48, PR of 11:42)
T2: 1:32 (previous: 3:26, PR of 1:55, again much easier transition)
Run: 2:24:36 (previous: 2:30:04, PR of 5:28, sad face)
Total: 6:20:15 (previous: 6:46:40, PR of 26:25)

Overall, I’m impressed with how I was able to handle and mentally separate from the unexpected stomach pain that probably would have destroyed my day if it happened last year. I’m clearly a more resilient and determined athlete now, able to handle much more and push through.

But I’m so disappointed to have worked so very, very hard leading up to race day and not have been able to reach the new potential I’ve created for myself. I haven’t missed a single workout. I haven’t taken it easy. I haven’t messed up my nutrition. I’ve been diligent and put in every hour that was asked of me, and race day should have been a reward for that effort. It wasn’t, and that is a hard blow to accept.

I feel betrayed by my body. My stomach is notoriously rude, but I have mostly harnessed my digestive issues through dietary changes (removing gluten, soy and most processed foods), so I wasn’t expecting to have issues. My coach thinks I’ve been fighting a GI bug for a few weeks and it came out in full force on the course. I’ve continued to have some stomach pain after eating since the race, and that weird chest pain pops up every now and then, so I still don’t feel 100% better. But I don’t feel terrible, or like I’m actually sick, so…whatever.

So there it is. A mixed bag. It’s embarrassing to me to work so hard and still finish as the slowest athlete on the team at that race. I know I can’t compare my performance to anything but my own previous accomplishment, but it still stings to feel so mediocre after pushing so hard to improve. I honestly feel a little resentment at giving up so much of my life to devote to training, only to still feel so slow overall. I was 4th in my age group out of 7 – solidly middle of the pack. So yes, that’s an improvement, and I’m certainly not looking to suddenly be an elite level athlete, but I just feel like I’m sacrificing a lot to just be so-so. I’m taking training incredibly seriously, and it’s just hard for me to come to terms with my seemingly permanent mediocrity.

But I am improving, slowly but surely, so I won’t lose sight of that. I’m not competing with anyone but myself…I just seem to have pretty high expectations of myself that I’m continually not meeting, so that’s ultimately where I need to adjust my thinking. I’m clearly capable of overcoming tough situations without giving up, so there’s no doubt in my mind that I can handle Ironman…as long as I can make it through training. The next few months are going to be the most intense and tough of my life in terms of physical work, and as long as I can continue to dig deep and deliver consistently, October 15 will be an amazing day. So onward and upward…

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