Note: thanks to my awesome brother-in-law Josh for coming down to cheer me on and for all the quality pictures featured in this post! And while I've uploaded some select video clips, if you care to view more you can do so here (password: B2B2015).
The morning of the race I woke up extra early, 4 AM, to eat breakfast, drink my coffee, do my business and hit the road by 5 AM. I was determined to get to the transition area early to get myself situated without having to rush or stress, and that's exactly what happened. Everything about my race week preparation went smoothly, and I was calm, almost eerily calm. Pretty much I was like "who is this organized and chill person?" Whatever, it was awesome! Long story short, I successfully made it on the shuttle to the swim start with plenty of time to spare, and plenty of time to relax prior, and by relax I mean jamming and dancing around to my music :P
As relaxed, peaceful and smooth my pre-race preparations were, that ALL changed as soon as the horn went off and I entered the water. It was pure CHAOS and a struggle to establish any sort of rhythm or even direction with people swimming every which way and the high chop of the surf. Between elbows being thrown left and right, people grabbing at my feet and pounding of the surf as I tried to breathe, my brain quickly switch gears from peaceful and focused to survival mode. Here is where I am really glad my comfort in the water and swim fitness has improved! I focused on what I could do with the situation, which meant kicking a bit more than usual (to establish space with all the toe grabbing) while focusing on finding bubble in front of me and sticking with them. Sighting? Yea... it becomes a bit more difficult when the river is wide, buoyed spaced far apart and lifting your head means a mouthful of water. Purposeful swimming?? Let's just say my focus was getting out of the water and move on to the next thing ASAP.
As we approached the main left turn of the swim I noted the racers ahead were swimming between the buoy and a large boat, so I aimed to do the same. Except I managed to swim straight INTO the front of the boat... like holy crap hands up pushing away so I don't get pulled under this thing (nice move, huh??) The final stretch featured more chop, more chaos and me swimming straight into another participant that had suddenly stopped in the water, hard enough to knock my goggles loose (yea, I'm smooth... ;-) It was even a struggle to find the docks, but no doubt I was relieved to finally get them in my sight and then have a volunteer help me up out of the water.
2.4 Mile Swim – 53:32 (3.5 minutes slower than 2014, but you better believe I didn't spend a second sweating it. I was just glad to move on!)
My major goal for my transitions this year was to simplify. That being said, T1 was quick and smooth minus one key factor: my inhaler. Last year I gave it to the "glasses" volunteer who transported it to the end of the swim and picked it up as I exited with no problems. This year I did the same and as I ran towards T1 there were no glasses and definitely no inhaler to be found. Thankfully, I was able to have the hubby retrieve it and transport to the special needs aid station on the bike (it was hidden away in the medical tent, and the med guy had difficulty finding it... so not sure how I was expected to figure that one out while racing???)
T1– 4:50 (~1.5 min faster than 2014)
Never, ever, EVER give up.
The bike started off rough with equipment issues and continued to be rough with more equipment issues and a whole lot of wind. The first thing I noted immediately was that my heart rate monitor wasn't registering. Then, just before the bridge crossing leaving Wrightsville beach area (less than a mile in) I noticed my helmet wasn't fastened. So I stopped to fix it and found that the buckle was clipped, but the strap itself on one side had pulled out. Ironically my major goal for the bike was to waste less time off the bike and here I was off within the first mile. Boo!
The first 15-20 miles is all about getting settled in for the long ride, so I tried not to stress much here. At one point with the bumpy road I managed to lose the splash guard on my aero bottle, which left me with a crooked bottle and water splashing everywhere. NOT COOL. I managed to improvise by stuffing my honey stinger waffle wrapper down in the opening (pretty effective actually). Even so at this point I was annoyed with the bottle, annoyed for having to stop to deal with the helmet, and annoyed with the inhaler ordeal. Right around the 20 mile mark we get off the highway heading north and here began the 30 mile stretch of headwinds. Let's not start with those headwinds! I was without a doubt frustrated, but I reminded myself that while I can’t control the elements or challenges of the race, I CAN control my attitude and how I choose to handle them. I knew I could either continue to have a mental pity party or suck it up. Actually, a more accurate way to describe it would probably be: the challenges of the race to this point were making me mad, and instead of dwelling on it I was smart enough to turn it around into positive energy (i.e. Kristen gets feisty)
Around mile 52 we turn left off the main road and finally found some relief from the headwinds. At this point, I was looking forward to the special needs aid station, meaning I was desperately needing that opportunity to get off the bike for a moment, see my family and regroup mentally and nutritionally. I don't regret stopping, as was good for me to see everyone and get off that bike, but then again, in the time spent at the aid station I fell behind my goal pace with about a 5-minute deficit to make up.
When I saw the time in leaving the special needs aid station, I was initially discouraged. I started to "settle" in my mind, but this is where having a mantra (or more) to pull from in races is important! I recalled one of my favorite Chrissie Wellington quotes “Never, ever, EVER give up…and smile!” I put the chaos of the race up to that point out of my mind and started focusing on what I could do to make the most out of the remaining miles. It was a COOL breakthrough moment for me in consciously taking back control of my mind and actively overcoming the negativity. I pushed calories and caffeine and forced a smile on my face. Even though I didn't feel like smiling, I knew the act of doing so would make me feel better. I got to thinking about how gorgeous of a day it was, how it was my choice to be out there, and about my sister-in-law waiting at the end of the bike (and how I'm going to be an Auntie come March !!!!) My mood lifted, I got to work and before I knew it I was passing miles 70… 80… 90… I kept an eye on the watch and noticed I was making up time. When I hit the main road again, the wind that plagued the first 40-50 miles made for one stellar tailwind. Let me just say that those final 15 miles ROCKED and I was STOKED when I realized I was back on goal-pace and then some!!
Never, ever, EVER give up! And don't forget to smile too :)
112 mi bike – 5:53:12 (~26 min faster than 2014!)
Last year I had a 9:30 T2 split, oy! Coach Jim and the hubby both were like “did you fall asleep in there?!???” That being said, I learned my lesson (SIMPLIFY!) and was bound and determine to make it quick this year.
T2 – 4:32 – (5 min faster than 2014... ‘Nuff said!!)
Going into this race, the run was the big question-mark of the day in terms of what might happen. My run training this year (due to my injury in the spring) was less than what I did last year when I finished with a 4:15 marathon. I was undertrained, but in a good way, yet somehow still had a great deal of optimism in my ability to pull together a solid marathon. Most importantly, I was just plain eager to find out.
Leaving T2, I quickly settled into an ideal pace with seemingly low effort. In one sense it was great to have the legs to run, but on the other hand, my stomach was not the happiest with me and I knew I needed to continue to fuel well if I was going to finish out this race right. This is where I truly believe being in tune with your body is key in endurance sports: I kept the pace conservative early to facilitate digestion and allow my stomach to settle while making some adjustments to my nutrition to get things back on track. I took ice and water at every aid station (ice down the shirt, water over the head with my hand bottle to drink from) to stay cool, and I did whatever I could to stay loose and relaxed.
>>If you can't hear my response, it was basically along the lines of "who cares about my bike split, did you see how quick my T2 was??!"<<
Probably one of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard was to always "take care of the little things" (from the 2013 IM World Championships in regards to Miranda Carfrae's marathon). No matter how good or bad you may be feeling or how close you are to the end, ensure you're taking the steps necessary to get to that finish line successfully. Despite the fact that I was feeling great in the early miles of the run, I did not take for granted the possibility of falling apart and remained focused on piecing together those little things to ensure I would continue to run strong.
The miles were a bit of a blur, but it's funny (to me at least) the random things I remember:
After passing the halfway mark (somewhere in the 1:59 range, I think) I started breaking down the miles mentally: 3 miles until 10 miles to go, at which point I would be down to single digits! I was taking it one mile and aid station at a time, with more ice and water, more fueling, more mantras to keep my head in the game. I really didn’t want to eat at this point, but I pushed the calories anyway going with whatever I could stomach (hint: definitely not gels!) hoping it would be enough.
Around mile 20 arrived I was ready to fall over and logged my two slowest miles of the run. With 6 miles left and 1 hr to get it done, I was low on energy, hurting, out of palatable calories, and worried that things were starting to unravel. Luckily I had planned for this and began grabbing cola at the aid stations. I can’t tell you how many “2nd winds” I found in that marathon, but then again, it's like I wasn’t waiting for the lows to pass ("aint nobody got time for that!") and I was somehow managing to actively push myself out of them. Thankfully the cola helped, I perked up and, with no reason to hold back any longer, I was on a mission to get to that finish line!
Not once did I look at my watch in those last 6 miles. The time or pace didn't matter at that point and I honestly just didn't want to know. By mile 24 the additional fuel had really kicked in and I was fully alert, head up, eyes forward, focused on that finish line and taking advantage of whatever I had left in my legs. The emotions of these final miles are hard to describe: a mix between exhausted and elated and beaming with pride. And then there was the part of me that was sad as I could not believe the race was just about over. I wanted to slow down to soak it all in (but trust me, I wasn't slowing down!!!) Anyway you put it, the feeling of running towards that finish line in those final miles is pretty magical, and it's that exact feeling that keeps me coming back for more...
Months of dedicated hard work, fueling, visualization and overcoming challenges went into this race. It was without a doubt my best training cycle to date. One where I remembered just how much I enjoyed the sport, while also finding great satisfaction in working hard and the sense of accomplishment that goes with it. In this training cycle I was not so much focused on the final outcome, but on enjoying and making the most of each week, each workout, and cherishing the abilities of my body. After being injured this past spring and my DNS at the Boston Marathon, I never once wanted to take being healthy for granted. Setting aside my dream of running Boston was not an easy choice, but I've come to accept that my priorities have shifted and that dream has simply evolved into something different. Fast forward 6 months from April, and 10+ hours from the start of this race, and there I was running strong and confident only to finish in a time that I STILL have difficulty comprehending. All I can say to that (other than 'holy guacamole!') is that God is GOOD :)
Marathon 3:53:57 (~22 min faster than 2014)
Final Time 10:50:02* (~50 min faster than 2014!!!!)
*For the record, I DID beat the hubby's PR... by 33 minutes... not that anyone is keeping track ;-P
The sense of accomplishment that I have coming off this race is not so much about the time or finishing place, but in how I conquered myself in regards to the countless fears, insecurities, setbacks and challenges I encountered up until this point. I look back and think about how far I've come, in the past year, in the past 5 years and in the past 10 years since I first became a Hokie and took up triathlon in 2005, and I am at a loss of words. Back then, I could barely swim across the pool, was burnt out from running and knew nothing about riding a bike. I was also struggling with depression and an eating disorder and simply trying to hold my life together. Like triathlon, I've come to appreciate that those struggles do not define me, but most certainly have played a large role in my story and in what drives me as a person. With that, I am thankful for the challenges, thankful for the good days, and most of all thankful for each and every person that played a role in getting me to where I am today.
The beauty of this race was not in the outcome, but in the battles fought along the way, knowing it was not the distance I conquered, but myself.
Looking forward, to think of the possibilities of what we are capable of, not just in sport but also in life, with a mindset of getting outside our comfort zone, conquering our fears and digging deep. I can't tell you how much that excites me!!!
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and endurance athlete residing in southwest Virginia alongside her husband and dog. Through this blog she aims to share favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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