The stress begins: Jeff was working until noon, so we got a bit of a late start heading up to Guerneville for packet pickup. T had left a bit earlier and warned that traffic was awful, but I didn’t expect it to be quite as bad as it was. What should have been a 1-1/2 hour ride turned into a nasty 3 hour parking lot. With the pre-race meeting scheduled for 5:00, I got more and more stressed as we sat and sat. The GPS kept changing our arrival time…4:35…..4:40….4:56. Luckily T had saved us seats and we arrived with just a few minutes to spare. We got the low-down on what to do, where to find stuff, and how things *should* go. I headed out to the T2 area where T had saved me a spot next to her and set up my run stuff. The bike course isn’t a loop, but a point to point, so we would have two different transition areas. Shoes, fuel belt, hat and sunscreen went onto the ground in preparation for my run tomorrow. Then we were off to check into our cottage, find some dinner, and prep for race day.
After not sleeping well at all, I was up and packed and we were on the road. I arrived at Johnson’s beach a bit after 7:00. I rolled Ruby down the ramp and queued up to get body marked. A young girl was waving her marker around looking for someone to write on, so I headed over. She quickly jotted my bib # on my right thigh, my arms and my hands. Then she wanted my calf to mark my age. When I told her 38 (you race under the age you *will* be on 12/31/2008) she did a double take and said “really?!?!” Ah, bless you young lady….bless you. All marked up I headed to T1 to find Tina waiting with a saved spot yet again.
Time seemed to fly by and before I knew it we had to get suited up and head to the water. We quickly realized there was only 5 minutes between waves, not the 10 we thought. So our warm up turned into a swim to the deep water start line. As I was heading that way, I heard the announcer say “1 minute to start…make sure you cross the start timing mat!” ARRRRRGHGHG! I yelled to T that we had to go back and we splashed and ran our way back up to the timing mat, where we crossed back and forth several times to make sure it took. By then they were yelling out “10…9…8.....” and we were still about 25-30 yards from the start line. So we added a bit more distance and time to the 1.2 miles we were scheduled to swim. I think the prep work we had done, driving up to practice the swim a couple of times really helped. I didn’t panic at all and quickly found a groove. It was even *almost* fun starting so far back because I got to pass quite a few people. There seemed to be open space most of the time and I only jostled folks/got jostled a few times. All in all I’d say the swim went better than expected. I even beat my Catfish time by about 4 minutes! I was out of the water in 39:52.
As I was running up the ramp, I heard someone yell, “Wetsuit help ahead.” Oh, sweet. I had read that they were trying to get wetsuit strippers for the race. No, these aren’t some exotic-dancer type entertainers. They’re volunteers who help strip off your wetsuit as you exit the water. I wish we had pictures of this because it was hilarious. What happens is that you peel your wetsuit down to your waist and then you’re prompted to drop onto your back and stick your legs in the air. From there a couple of folks rip your wetsuit off your bottom half, pull you up onto your legs, chuck your wetsuit into your arms and send you on your merry way. It was amazingly fun ( I know, I know, how tri-geek can you get?)!
Totally uneventful, except for the little rock that got into my bike shoe that I carried with me for the next 56 miles. Bike shoes on, helmet on, glasses on, out I go. I had thought I might need arm warmers since the forecast was for a foggy, cool morning, but the sun was out bright and warm before we even began the swim (a bit of ominous, foreshadowing music here, if you please).
I’ve mentioned some of the bike changes that Curtis made over the last couple of weeks, but there were additional adjustments just a few days prior to race day due to setting up the aero bars. Usually he recommends a 2-3 week adjustment period for ‘settling’ into the new positions. Unfortunately T and I got about 40 minutes of riding to settle in before our race. So I was a *wee* bit nervous about a 56 mile ride with all the new toys but tried not to stress over it too much. Ha! There is a short steep hill right out of T1 and some people opted to run up it with their bikes and mount but I hopped on Ruby and pushed right up that hill. I think the adrenaline was pumping pretty strongly at that point. The first 20 or so miles of the bike went by pretty quickly. Soon enough I was through the half way point and still moving along pretty nicely. I didn’t stop at any of the aid stations, as I figured I had enough fluids with me to get through to the run. Curtis had cautioned us not to spend too much time in our aero bars until we were able to get a little more practice with them, but I just couldn’t resist. After about 40 miles though even being able to switch between 3 positions (aero, drops, hoods) on the bike wasn’t enough. I wanted off and the sooner the better. I started telling myself that if I just got up Chalk Hill at mile 44, it was pretty much all downhill or flat from there in. Soon enough I hit the hill. Unfortunately I couldn’t remember where it ended and was getting pretty nauseous from the effort. I made a rookie mistake of listening to someone who said “The end is right around the corner” when in fact it *wasn’t*. Finally I hit the top and some guys were there yelling “Nice climbing! You’re there!” I yelled back, “Great, so I can throw up now?!?” Well, I didn’t throw up, but I did need to chug a bunch of water. Unfortunately I was hitting the warmest part of the day and the course and I ran out of liquids about 6 miles before T2. I saw a lady riding in front of me and for a brief moment I contemplated riding up and snatching the Gatorade bottle off the back of her bike. Instead I just put my head down and pushed the last few miles into transition. And yep, I did *just* manage to get my shoe trick completed before the dismount line. Total bike time: 3 hrs 25 min.
Completely and utterly without incident. I got rid of the rock in the shoe, sprayed a big cloud of sunscreen around myself and was able to get some water from the aid station. But it was a bad sign that I was still *very* thirsty.
Thought number one: “Holy smokes, it’s hot.” (I later heard that it was somewhere in the mid to upper 90's.) It didn’t take me long to realize that my hydration was all out of whack. I was drinking so much water that my stomach was sloshing, but I couldn’t quench my thirst. I was popping electrolyte tablets like mad too. It was a very weird kind of feeling. I wasn’t bonking like I did at the Jungle Run a couple of weeks ago, but I just couldn’t get my legs to obey me. I’d tell myself, “Okay, you can walk the uphill parts, but you have to run the downhill and the flats.” I’d do okay for a bit then all of a sudden my legs would just start walking. I think it was partly because my stomach was so full. I’ve never run with such a full stomach. I decided pretty early on that I wasn’t going to have a great run, and that instead of killing myself I’d just get through it as best I could. A few thoughts kept going through my mind:
1) Rutger Beke from the Ironman Championship. His legs ‘just wouldn’t fire’ on the run and he basically said that he thought it would be disrespectful to the age groupers to drop out just because he was having a bad day, so he was walking the marathon. Of course even walking he would kick most people’s asses, but if Rutger can walk, then I can walk and finish this thing up.
2) Lollie Rodgers: Another Ironman Championship participant, but an age grouper. She basically just talked herself through the marathon. Just telling herself to keep going, keep moving forward, each step is a step closer.
3) Dean Karnazes’ quote “Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.”
So even though it was my longest half marathon ever, by far, I did it. A mind bogglingly slow, brutally hot, fluid filled 2 hours, 57 minutes, and 39 seconds later I had done it. I was a half iron woman. Total time spent in accomplishing this goal: months of training of course, but 7 hours 8 minutes and 8 seconds this day. While I would have loved to have finished under 7 hours, the heat made it unrealistic for me. Given a better weather day I think I definitely could have shaved more than 8 minutes off my time and made my goal.
The best thing about the whole experience though was that I didn’t let myself get too down. Yes, I was miserable. Yes, I just wanted to finish, especially when I came through on my first run loop and the kid said, “Finishers to the right, second and third loops to the left.” Yes, it was hotter than our wood burning stove. But I still wasn’t swearing, or giving up. I was still telling people “good job, keep it up, we’ll get there.” I was still thanking the volunteers for coming out, thanking the ‘regular’ folks out there with garden hoses in front of their houses that were cooling us down.
And the next best thing? It’s a tie between the nice cold showers they had waiting at the finish line and beating the first IronMan finisher in, then hearing him say he just felt “full” from all the fluids he had to take in. Glad it wasn’t just me.
And as it turns out, there was more than one adventure this weekend. You see, it was Lazy Bear Weekend in Guerneville. And two guys hanging out, having breakfast together might well not be safe on their own.