Monday, April 18, 2016

Race Report: NOLA 70.3 2016

First things first - I'm SO happy to say that I'm on a new triathlon team!!!  My very first day as a resident of Pensacola I went to Gulf Coast Cycle & Tri and I was super impressed with the shop, the inventory, the friendliness of the staff, and the knowledge of the mechanics.  Not to mention that the first thing I saw was this bad a$$ Felt IA hanging in the window, beckoning me to go inside:

Turns out the tri team members are just as awesome as the shop, so I jumped at the chance to race w/ this crew!  We're working on a team blog so stay tuned...

So, NOLA, my first race of the 2016 tri season and I really wanted to do well so I could justify my spot on the new team.  I haven't been training excessively (as is required to improve in triathlon), but I still expected to finish this race within 5-5.5 hours.  Instead of the sweet taste of victory I was left savoring the flavor of humble pie.

I anticipated that this race was going to be windy.  It was so windy when I did this race back in 2011 that there were waves in Lake Pontchartrain and they wound up canceling the swim.  Since then, the swim has been moved to the marina, but winds were 20+ mph, creating white caps on the water.  Allison & I were in the same wave and when we got to the front of the dock they told us to jump in after the sound of the beep.  The beep went off and like an old reflex from summer swim team I dove into the water - crap I thought, did I just get DQ'ed?!?!  The swim felt like swimming in the ocean.  There was a lot of chop and some people were definitely panicking.  I swallowed some water (but no used sanitary hygiene products - thanks Mike for putting that thought into my head).  I tried to steer clear of other swimmers and focus on staying as true to course as possible.  I knew that it was going to take extra effort to get through this one, so the less extra yardage I added on d/t poor navigation, the better.  I didn't do a terrible job, especially given the weird "N"-shaped course!

I finished the swim in 37:42 (1:47/100 yds).  Had the water been flat, I would have been looking for closer to 1:35/100 yds, but exiting the swim I felt pleased with that split.  I've been swimming twice per week at a masters group at the NAS Pensacola and this was a good result for the work I've put in.

I got out on the bike course and it was ridiculously windy.  I was thankful that Allison, Aaron, & I had ridden the day before because it boosted my confidence about my handling skills.  In the past the wind has been a real nemesis for me.  I have ridden a few 70.3s on the handlebars the entire time b/c I was scared to ride in the aero position.  However, not today!  Today I put that fear to rest.  There were times when I was going super slow and times when I got surprised by powerful side gusts, but I was confident I wasn't going to get blown over.  I made a point to make sure to eat on schedule; I figured other people would probably forget to eat d/t battling with the wind and that it could give me a leg up later on in the race.  I started getting into a pretty good groove and was catching some of the 25-29ers and a few women in my age group - fantastic!  However, when I was about 5 miles from the turnaround I started getting some unbearable pain in my upper hamstring/groin/muscles around the sit bones on both legs.  I've experienced this before in flat windy races, particularly when riding into a headwind, but have never been able to figure out what to do about it.  It got so bad that I was wincing with every up-stroke and started tearing up a little bit.  I tried sitting up, getting out of the saddle, shifting my weight forward and backwards on the saddle but nothing helped.  I stopped at the turnaround and figured I would try to walk it out/stretch it out because it had become too painful to keep going.  I want to make it clear that it was not a muscle cramp.  The only way I can describe it is that it felt like complete muscular fatigue.  But the frustrating thing was that it was muscular fatigue of those specific muscles - I wasn't tired, my quads & hamstrings were fine, my heart rate wasn't out of control.

I pulled over to the side after going over the timing mat and tried to get off my bike.  Lifting my leg up caused me so much pain that I had to try a few times before I could lift my leg over the saddle of the bike.  An official came over to me and I told him what was going on.  He said, "Well you're not going to throw the towel in now are you?  You still have plenty of time before the cutoff."  Oh wow thanks.  Just what I was hoping for - to make it in before the cutoff.  I hobbled around and tried to stretch, while all the while masses of people were passing me.  I was so frustrated and pissed off that this was happening and in so much pain I started debating quitting.  "If I keep going, I know my time is going to be bad and my new team is going to think I'm a slowpoke." "But if I don't keep going and I DNF they'll think I'm a wussy with a capital P."  I weighed a lot of pros (no more pain) and cons (having to tell people I quit) and about 30 minutes later decided to get back on the bike.  It still hurt like a biatch.  I rode another couple miles and pulled off to the side again, so angry that my body was not holding up and all these other people were whizzing by me.  I was mad that I finally had the confidence to ride in the wind and I couldn't even show it.

Again I took a few tries to dismount the bike and I walked it over to two police offers and said, "I think I have to stop."  They called in a car to come pick me up and told me it would be a while.  I leaned my bike up against their car and kept trying to walk and stretch it out, all the while feeling sorry for myself that the race was coming to an end like this.  About 15 min or so went by and I'm in the middle of wallowing in self-pity when a dude rides by with 1 arm.  Seriously!?!? That was it.  I didn't care if I had to ride back at 10 mph, I was going to finish this damn race.  Here I was out on the course on a nice day, doing a supported ride, in the middle of a race of the sport I love to do, healthy, alive, and nothing to complain about other than #triathleteproblems.  Witnessing this amazing athlete hit me like a gale and my ego blew away in the wind along side all the discarded gel wrappers and abandoned water bottles.  I told the cops to cancel the car and got back on my bike.  I figured at worst I could coast most of the way back since the wind was so strong (24 mph as per Garmin Connect).  I started out really slowly, but then it seemed like I was able to start putting a little more force into the pedals.    I clocked a few 5-mi splits that were 22-23 and I knew I could make it back to transition.  My focused changed to turning the race into a hard training day.  I caught up to the incredible athlete and told him how much he had inspired me to finish the race.  He said, "It's been a tough day out here for everyone, but we're almost there now!"  I thanked him and may or may not have started crying a little as I pushed on towards T2.  When I got there I noticed that 99.9% of all the bikes were back on the racks.
My official bike split was 3:42:05 (15.13 mph).  Had I not had issues, I think I would have been somewhere around 3 hours, but who really knows...

The muscles around my sit bones really hurt when I first started running.  But, I knew from past experiences that the motion of running has never made this issue worse.  I was running a little gingerly the first 2 miles.  I stopped at a porta potty at mile 1 and a volunteer jumped ahead of me - this normally would have made me mad, but I just figured getting angry at this point would be much to do about nothing.  Around the second mile I was able to pick up the pace and enjoy the full benefits of the massive tailwind.  I could tell people were really struggling on the way back and mentally prepared for 6.5 miles of suckfest on the return trip.  The only other interesting thing to note about this run was that I felt like I needed some salt and was asking the aid stations for it.  The only thing one of the stations had was pickle juice!!!  LOL  I was like what the heck and swashed down a dixie cup of the stuff (Alli I hope you are proud of me).  And honestly it didn't taste too bad, haha.  I would definitely do it again.  The last few miles of the run got really hard, as to be expected in a 70.3, but with every step I knew I was getting closer.  And there were so many people out on the course, I passed the time by playing the passing game and singing Iggy Azalea songs in my head.  My run split was 1:42:37 (7:50/mi), not stellar for me but I'll take it given the day.

So there you have it, my total time was 6:07:55 (17th in my AG, 101st female), making this race my slowest half ironman to date but at the same time, one of the ones I'm the most proud of!

Congrats to all participants, especially my fellow GCCTriathletes Allison (who picked a helluva 70.3 for her first half-iron distance tri - seriously you don't even know how hard this race was compared to other 70.3s), Erik, and Aaron (who qualified for 70.3 World Championships)!  And a huge thank you to Mike & Karrie for being awesome sherpas and having to go all day without food and almost all day without beer ;) - you guys rock!