Pre-race was also fairly smooth and low stress. By that I mean, I am typically stressed until the point that I've arrived at the race site, racked my bike and have done my "business." After all that, THEN it was relaxed 😊 In addition to the husband being the designated sherpa and photographer for the day, I gave him explicit instructions in holding me accountable in getting to the water with plenty of time to warm-up sufficiently. He did his part and I was able to get in about 10-15 minutes of swimming pre-race. It was quite nice to have this time to gain a feel for the water but also relax and breath and enjoy the moment before the real "work" began.
I mentioned in my pre-race thoughts about "expecting the unexpected," and that definitely rang true during the swim. Prior to the race, I thought a lot about the weather [heat, humidity, potential for storms] and how I would pace through the run and implement my nutrition plan. I thought little about the potential for a rough swim and was greeted by choppy water that put a few kinks in my plans for a "smooth and relaxed swim."
The first stretch to the first turn buoy is always a challenge and it seemed that half the field was swimming, and half was walking through the shallow water (I chose to swim... I am also short!) I found myself on the wrong side of the turn buoy, went to correct myself, then proceeded to swim straight into the buoy, dive underwater and momentarily tangled myself on the support line underneath (ooops!) After that, it was time to settle myself, find my bubble and establish a rhythm. All went fairly well until we turned around heading parallel to shore towards the swim finish, where the water felt extremely choppy / rough (at least, much more so than a flat and calm pool!) I did my best to "roll with it," quite literally, though now I understand how people become seasick while swimming. It was difficult to sight and maintain an efficient rhythm with the wave action, which quite honestly made me a bit agitated and angry (because naturally you want to fight back against the waves, which of course is pointless). I reminded myself to remain calm and focus on the controllables [my form and breathing and mental attitude] while making my way from buoy to buoy. It was not the prettiest swim, but better than last year's as I came out of the water 3 minutes faster in 39:07.
My T1 also went much better than last year, partially due to my decision to utilize my tri shoes, which were pre-mounted to the bike, and partially because I actually had decent legs (for once!) to make the long run up and through T1.
Of all the disciplines I was most excited for the bike as I know my cycling fitness has improved since last year. I mounted with no issues but quickly found that my aero bottle lodged itself sideways (see pic below), my clif shot bloks fell down into the water bottle and my heart rate strap definitely was not working. All more annoying than true issues but I had to remind myself to "roll with it" and adjust accordingly. I used the first 5-10 miles to get settled and eased into my goal pace. It's a long bike and I reminded myself hat just because it feels "easy" to start does NOT mean it will stay that way [a mistake I've made many times in training!]
Around mile 25, the course turned west and I found myself facing a wall of dark storm clouds and even saw a few strikes of lightening. This definitely had the effect of getting my adrenaline pumping over the next 10 miles or so. Lucky for us racers, the storm was moving northeast away from us and we were spared. I encountered very few females over the entirety of the bike course, but instead spent the majority of my time weaving in and out and passing back and forth a bunch a men from the two waves ahead of me. In ways it was frustrating as it was hard for me to establish a good "flow," but there wash great camaraderie among these men and they were friendly and encouraging. I definitely appreciated their company rather than being out there alone.
The last 20 miles seemed to drag on, but it was perfect practice for Beach 2 Battleship [very straight, flat and somewhat windy] In the end, it was a very steady ride with consistent splits throughout and right about the time I predicted / expected [2:50].
I came off the bike a bit frazzled (see left pic below), cramping and a bit overwhelmed at the distance that was left to cover. However, similar to the bike, I allowed myself to ease into the run while I found my legs and worked through the cramping nutritionally. Coach also gave me explicit instructions to NOT start off too fast (not that I've ever done that before ;) and so I was extra intentional in keeping things relaxed in the early miles (Hey coach, I listened!) It took 3-4 miles, but my legs did finally come around and I found a great groove both mentally and physically.
I carried a hand-bottle for water and two flasks of yellow fluids during my run. One contained pickle juice and the other mountain dew (high tech sports nutrition here!) and they both were lifesavers. Since I dropped my endurolytes tube on the ride, I picked up the pickle juice in transition and used it to stave off cramps. The mountain dew provided much needed energy + caffeine in addition to my gels, and sat much better in my stomach than the gels also. Since both looked identical, it was a bit of trial and error in pulling them out of my back pocket to sip on (sweet or savory? hmmmm)
Miles 5-8 were some of my strongest of the day and here I settled into a great rhythm, felt focused and continued to fuel well. Heading back out for the second loop I was ready to count down my miles to the finish, which went well until about mile 9 where I seemingly "crashed and burned." I simply felt like my tank was empty, I was struggling with my asthma and really just wanted to lie down on the side of the trail in the fetal position (somehow I remember feeling this way last year too). It happens and comes with the territory of these longer races and I've learned that you have the choice to "bag it" (give up) or push through it. I choose the latter and kept reminded myself "it will pass, keep moving, stay strong and stay focused."
I did manage to perk back up later in the run and give a final push and finish the run in about 1:52. The Hubz commented to me later on "I'm not used to you finishing so strong," which in ways is an accurate assessment since my run pacing in triathlons is typically less than stellar :) Coming into the finish, I had no idea what my final time would be so I was pleasantly surprised to see I had broken the 5:30 mark and set a new PR! I improved my times across the board from last year's Patriot's Half to finish a total of 17 minutes faster, on less than fully rested legs ... so yes, I AM HAPPY with my performance!
Special thanks to VTS-MTS owner and race director Greg Hawkins for producing another mighty fine, high quality event, to the Hubz who served as my patient sherpa and most-excellent photographer of the day, and to my family, who woke up at the crack of dawn to drive up and watch me race. Of course, another huge thanks to Coach Jim who did his part in getting me to race day healthy, fit, excited to race and mentally prepared to take on the challenges of the day. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful support system!
Looking back, I think it pretty cool that the real magic of the day has nothing to do with my final finishing statistics, and everything to do with my attitude surrounding the race. Normally I am one to nitpick my performances and things I should have or could have done better. However in reflecting back on the day, I have nothing but a smile. It was not pretty or perfect and I fought many mental battles along the way, but I tackled each as they came, made the most of the day and had fun doing what I love while pushing limits. I definitely learned a few lessons about myself along the way, and is that not what it's truly about?
Looking forward, outside of the all-to-normal post-race fatigue, I am feeling mentally invigorated and ready to step things up for Beach 2 Battleship Full! With five weeks to go, there's still plenty of quality work to put forth in my final preparations and according to coach it's back to work (at least in the pool) by Thursday. Yes, sir! Bring it!!
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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