Saturday, November 10, 2012

Great Lakes 100 Mile Triathlon - Race Report

This is possibly the longest overdue race report I can imagine. Still not sure what has been hanging me up about writing about my race but it deserves to be marked...

Pre race:
James and I drove to Seneca Lake a few days before the race and hung out with my parents who were vacationing there for a few weeks. It was great to get to chill out, swim in a chilly but beautiful lake, and get a sense of the wind and terrain in upstate NY. We drove the final 2ish hours out to Barker/Lockport NY on Friday before the race. We drove the bike and run courses. The bike course terrain looked very manageable but we could feel the wind even inside the car.  The run course had a whole series of small out and backs and only a few hills. Check in was quick and easy and we were able to head back to our motel to have our picnic dinner and hit the hay early. I can't remember but I think I slept pretty well (although the bed wasn't comfortable) and got up at 4am to eat breakfast and pack up. When I went outside to load up the car, I came to find that it was raining steadily and was around 40F. The weather improved in the 3 hours leading up to the race - the rain stopped, the sun rose (although obscured by clouds for most of the morning), and the temperatures came up toward 50F. We arrived at Camp Kenan a little before 6am and unloaded the car and set up transition. One of the camp cabins was open as an indoor and private area for any women who wanted to have a full change of clothes. I opted to ride in tri shorts instead of proper cycling shorts as my saddle sores were all healed up and I figured I could save a few minutes not having to detour and jostle with women for space in the cabin. Seems like most of the women opted to change indoors. With still 30 minutes before sunrise, James and I hung out in the mess hall for a while and listened to race announcements.
The RD gave us lots of useful info about the course and reminded everyone that they could switch to duathlon up until race start if they wanted, due to the strong winds and cold/rough water. As the sun came up we headed down to the water and watched the volunteers drag the large buoys out onto the course. The winds were definitely whipping and there was a pretty good swell going. I wore my new Xterra Vector long sleeve wetsuit and neoprene booties. I thought it might be overkill but with so much hype about the swim, I figured better safe than sorry.


  The swim, to my surprise (despite the warnings), was no joke! I lined up in the front with a bunch of men who were talking about swimming 22-25 minutes (for 1+ mile course). I didn't expect to swim this fast but figured I would hold on as long as I could and then be in a solid position to proceed along at my own pace. As we watched the buoys go out, we all thought the course looked long and with the swell and waves it seemed like times needed to get adjusted upward.

I went out hard at the start but quickly was disoriented and had lost track of the feet I was hoping to following. For much of the westward outbound trip there was a man to my right about 10 yards away so at least I knew I wasn't off course. I swam as hard I have ever swam in a race. I felt like I was standing still. We had been warned that there would be a current but this was the first time I had experienced one. Slowly, slowly, the buoys came and I reached the turn around. The return trip was equally swelly but I could tell that I had the current with me. I was concerned to see very few people around me, wondering how I had fallen so far behind the group of men I started with. There was a swimmer about 50 yards ahead of me for much of the return trip and the guy I was with on the outbound trip fall back from me. I came out of the water with thoroughly numb feet (despite my booties!) and gingerly made my way up the rocky shore.

As I ran up the slope, James was waiting and jogged along side me the 200 or so yards from the beach to the transition area. I asked him before the race to keep track of how many women came out of the water before me and to let me know. The first thing I heard him say was, "you're in third." I was a little disappointed with this. The women's field was quite small (11 women were registered for the tri and a few changed to du the morning of the race) so to be in 3rd would put me less toward the front than I usually find myself. I fumbled around in T1, taking off wetsuit and booties, putting on knee warmers, arm warmers, and gloves before heading out.  I couldn't feel my feet at all and was glad to be heading out on the bike, to hopefully warm up.

Heading out on the bike I could immediately feel the wind throwing me around. I tucked down in aero as soon as I could and just pressed on. The course itself was beautiful and I enjoyed myself a ton despite the winds. I passed a few guys in the first 10 miles of the race and didn't see any women. I was surprised that they were so far up the road given how hard I had swam. Around mile 10 I passed a friendly larger male athlete who told me that he was first out of the water and that I was first woman. I told him that my husband had said I was third and he suggested that perhaps the other two women had been in the changing cabin while I came through T1. I was a little confused by this exchange and assumed he was wrong in some way or other.

Around 25 miles into the ride I still hadn't seen any women. I came to an intersection where cops were directing traffic and was stopped short by a cop letting a car go. I hopped off my bike just in time and felt my heartrate spike. As I started back up I heard a funny sound coming from my bike. I couldn't figure out what it was. Thought perhaps since my aero water bottle was nearly empty that it was clanging around against my bike cables. I couldn't get the noise to go away though. Two miles later I looked down (just in time) and realized that I was suddenly dangerously flat on my front tire. I jumped off my bike and calmly proceeded to fix my flat. A few men passed asI worked at the side of the road and asked if I needed help. Thanks guys!!! I was all good though. Didn't see anything in my tire so switched out the tube and for the first time ever used a CO2 cartridge. Glad I brought two because I kind of messed things up the first time. But within 5 minutes I was back on the road.

For about a mile, I felt great, started thinking that maybe the wind had switched and I would now get to enjoy some favorable cross/tailwind. Then things got hard again and about 2 minutes later I was FLAT AGAIN!!! Jumped off my bike again but this time didn't have a spare tire. Thought various catastrophic thoughts and then crossed my fingers that someone would be willing to share a tube and canister. As I waited on the side of the road, cursing that I had missed those generous men from the first time go round, I had time to look carefully at my wheel and found a teeny tiny metal shard in my tire. I waited 5-10 minutes before I was able to collect a tube from one nice racer and a canister from another. A farmer from across the way came and stood with me while I waited. I watched as a number of racers passed as I worked again on my wheel. I got a glimpse of all but one racer who passed and I asked the farmer if it was a man or a woman. He sheepishly said, "it was hard to tell." This put a smile on my face. It is indeed hard to tell!  After an indefinite period of time I was again back on the road, now battling various thoughts about my tire flatting again, dropping out of the race, and cursing myself for not locating the metal shard the first time. It felt unlikely that I could ride 55 miles on this tube without another flat. I tried to quiet these thoughts as much as I could. I told myself that I could decide once I finished the first loop (at mile 42). At mile 32, I turned onto the eastbound straightaway back to camp. The tailwind was glorious. I felt like I was flying. I loved it. The RD drove by at this point and snapped the picture below.
 As I finished the first loop, I jumped off my bike and ran into a portopotty at the side of the road. Normally I would just pee on my bike but given the cool temperatures, the strong winds (25mph steady, with gusts increasing over the course of the day), and the fact that my feet were still numb I decided that being dry might be a good idea. I saw James at this point and told him about my 2 flats and 20+ minutes on the side of the road. He told me I was still doing well and had only seen a few women. So I soldiered on. I cant remember now, but I think that it was a no-brainer by the time I was in a position to decide. The second loop was definitely tougher than the first. The winds got stronger and stronger and it felt like grinding in place for almost 30 miles. I was passing many of the men who passed and/or aided me during my flats so I figured I was still riding steady. My effort felt good, although it was hard to know how hard to go as I have little experience riding this distance or in these conditions. Somewhere around 60-65 miles I slowly slowly was gaining on a rider who looked very solid. It wasn't until I was passing that I realized this athlete was a woman and said hello. I asked if she was a du or tri racer and she said tri but that she planned to stop after the bike. I rode on, wondering if she was the mystery rider who passed as I was working on my second tube change. As I came to the final straightaway I again reveled in the tailwind. I was feeling good and eager to finish up this second and longest leg of the race. I was a little worried about the wind on the run but overall my energy was good and I felt ready to go.

I stripped off my gloves and kneewarmers. Changed my shoes, noting that my feet were still completely numb. Told myself to run lightly until I could feel my feet. James told me that there was a woman very far ahead but that the might be a duathlete (they ran 1 mile while we swam 1+mile, so had a 20+minute advantage). I was still confused about my position. In a small field it was surprising that it was hard to keep track of this sort of thing. As I headed out of transition, I remember shaking out my hair and looking forward to what was ahead. [What was I thinking?!?!?]

The run was truly ridiculous. The hardest thing I have ever done. The course was roughly an out and back with a bunch of smaller out and backs mixed in. The out had a tailwind, and the back would be all headwind; on the smaller side out/backs it was all crosswind all the time. On the outbound trip, I felt pretty good. Quite good for being 5 1/2 hours into a race. Miles ticked by and I stuck to my planned pace, feeling confident that I wasn't overextending given that I had the wind at my back so even at the faster end of my range it still felt good. The crosswinds were tough.  When I drank, I had an immediately regurge-reaction. I figured that I must be more hydrated than usual due to the cool temperatures. Although I had a well practiced and effective fueling strategy going into the run (gel at miles 3, 6, 9, 12), I started rethinking and talked myself into a new plan (4, 8, 12). In retrospect this was a big mistake, but I didn't realize until it was too late.

 Around mile two I passed a woman, who told me she was a duathlete. I kept trucking. I passed men. I kept trucking. The feeling came back into my feet and I was for the first time all day comfortably warm. I thought about trashing my armwarmers (actually $2 target knee socks with the toes cut off) but decided instead to roll them down to my wrists and see if that would be okay. This, unlike my nutrition thinking, was smart. I would need them on the return trip. At mile 5.5 my parents drove by and I smiled and waved. "Still doing good," I thought to myself. At mile 6.5 I came to where my parents had parked and passed my mom on the side of the road. I remember telling her something to the effect of "This is getting hard." I knew I would see her again in under two miles, just had to run up and down some rollers, out to the lighthouse, and back. This is where things started to get ugly. Everyone was struggling. There was a woman up ahead of me and I became determined to catch her. I focused on her with unusual intensity. I think probably as a distraction from my desire to walk. Right as we reached the far point of the course, the lighthouse, I caught and passed her. We exchanged few words, as it was suffer time. Coming back toward my mom I knew I was in for it. The pictures tell so much of the story. The first one [above] is at 6.5 and my posture is upright and strong. The second [below] is less than 2 miles later. I have crumbled and my energy is tanking. And I know it only got worse. To be fair to myself the wind was brutal. Weather reports indicate that by this point in the early afternoon gusts were up to 35mph and wind steady at 25+). I kept trucking.
My focus got very narrow. I remember saying the same things to myself over and over again. Keep going. Don't stop. Don't walk. Tuck in. Keep going. You'll be there sooner if you keep running. I stopped looking at my garmin (current mile/lap pace) after mile 10 when I saw my pace drop off toward 10:00+. I pushed and pushed and pushed. I was so deep in it, I don't think I can really do it justice in words. I noticed the people I was passing, those on the outbound voyage and those struggling on the return, but couldn't smile or offer encouragement (as I had for the first hour or so). I vaguely recall words of encouragement from others, but didn't hear much. Mercifully, mile 14 came and my mind told me that I would make it the mile home. I tried to push harder but was afraid I would be unable to continue. With 1/2 a mile to the finish line, the course enters a trail into Camp Kenan. I focused intently on my feet, on not falling. I was so afraid I would fall. I wasn't sure how I was still standing at all. Then the trail turned to grass and I could see my mother and James in the clearing a few hundred yards from the finish. I knew it was time to kick. I kicked with everything I had. Charged to the finish and ran under the banner and the clock.

Through the chute and immediately I was grabbed for a finishing photo. I had finished under 8 hours, my A goal, despite the 20+ minutes on the side of the road. I was happy for about 90 seconds. See me and Ken below, during the 90 happy seconds.
Post Race:
Then I didn't feel so good. James and my parents joined me and I asked what place I finished in. No one knew. I felt a little dizzy and cold. We all started walking toward the mess hall to get warm. Then I felt very dizzy. By the time we got into the mess hall it was time for me to be horizontal. I sat down hard, on the floor, in the middle of everything. I tried to drink. But I wanted to lie down. Then I felt like I was falling. I haven't had vertigo like that in a long time. The medical director (Kristina) came over and started asking me questions. She was calm but forceful. I couldn't do what she wanted me to but didn't quite get everyone's serious faces. The room was spinning, I wanted to close my eyes but I had to drink, eat, talk...When I tried to lift the cup of OJ in my hand to my mouth I could make my arm move. I cried hysterically for an indefinite period of time (20 seconds? 2 minutes? forever?) and then I stopped and I drank my OJ. I noticed I was shivering. I could hear concerned conversations about taking me to the hospital. I said no. No! Although I thought I was being tricked, I agreed to walk over to the ambulance which Kristina promised would be warm. I changed into some random clothes and out of my wet kit and walked over to the ambulance. In the ambulance, two lovely volunteer ambulance drivers gave me hot packs and towels and cranked the heat. Kristen gave me some magical superstrong Nuun. James, my mom and I sat in the ambulance for 20 minutes and I returned to the land of the living. I remember seeing an athlete I know walking toward the mess hall and thinking, "wow she finished pretty close to me" and looking at the clock trying to figure out the gap. When I couldn't, and I asked James how long it had been he said an hour. Everyone laughed at my disbelief at the passage of time.

We went back into the mess hall and found that the results had been posted. I shuffled over and looked for my name. First place woman! I won! So James and I hung out until the awards ceremony.

I had been coveting the oil burning lantern OA awards since they were posted on the race website (and facebook and twitter) a few weeks before the race. I couldn't believe I was taking one home. As first place woman I also won a full length Xterra wetsuit = awesome.

Swim: 33:14 (including long run from lake up to camp area)
T1: 4:07
Bike: 5:06:12 (4:44:57 on the bike, per my garmin which I stopped during flats)
T2: 1:54
Run: 2:12:02
Total: 7:57:29  (1st woman, 11th OA)

-Bob Timkey put on one hell of an inaugural race! It was friendly, well organized, fairly priced, had a great course, and delivered on the promised tough conditions!!
-In our race swag bags was a 1lb jar of Once Again Almond Butter. I devoured the jar in 3 days. You should try it... I wish they would sponsor me.
-Good sportsmanship rules! So many athletes offered help to me when I was in need. I cannot imagine anything like this happening at an M-Dot race where people get so self-serious. If it weren't for these people my day would have ended very differently!
-Overall, I am very pleased with my performance. This was the longest distance I have raced and I stayed tough. I responded calmly to adversity and didn't let the negative thoughts that came into my head interfere with my day. I did what I could when I could.
-Only in retrospect did I realize that I messed up my nutrition. When I picked up my transition area after the race, I realized that I had downed 300 calories less than I thought on the bike. I only got 2ish gels down on the run (when I should have had 4). I don't think I was dehydrated, I think I was just so hypoglycemic that my system shut down. I should remember in the future not to deviate from a plan that works unless absolutely necessary. In an effort to avoid vomiting on the run I pulled the nutrition plug too early. I hope I don't make that mistake again.
-After the race I finally figured out what happened with all the confusion about my position in the women's race. When James told me I was 3rd out of the water, he meant overall, not among the women. So I chased phantom women all day. I can't say one way or another whether this was a good or bad thing. My sense from the folk I talked to after the race is that most people were just out there for fun and didn't want to suffer too much. I was prepared and wanted to suffer. And I did.
-Winning is cool. I wanted to revel in it, but a part of me resists. The race was small. The women's race was smaller. On a different day, other women would have handed my ass to me on a platter. But on this one day, I was the fastest (woman) out there. I want to feel (really) good about this but I also don't want to bother with caring about it because I doubt it will ever happen again. Somewhere in these thoughts is where my "mental" fitness could stand to improve. Somewhere in these thoughts is also why I took more than a month to write this report.
-Now a month later, it is hard to resonate with the last point, but I know I was thinking it in the immediate aftermath of the race. I'm not sure Ironman is for me. 100 miles was a lot of fun. I would surely love to swim 2.4 miles. I think I would even like to bike 112 miles. But I don't know that I want to walk, shuffle, or even jog 26.2 miles. There is something pretty awesome about the 70.3 distance. Its long but you can still go hard/fast. I'm not a fast runner (in any objective, absolute sense) but I enjoy running hard. I'm not sure I would enjoy knowing for a whole training cycle that I would be racing slowly in second gear. I just don't know. This gives me plenty of food for thought for the winter. Thankfully the life of a postdoc does not provide the kind of guarantees to make it possible to plan a race season 9 months ahead of time so I will just have to wait until I know where we are going to be living next year before I decide what races I want to sign up for.


  1. Congrats on your race. That is a long time from race to race report. Holy cow. I remember your last update a LONG TIME ago, about wishing you luck on your race. :)

  2. Awesome job! Congrats on the win! That is pretty awesome and unique bling!

    Now... what is another 40.6 miles right??? ;)

  3. Amazing! This sounds so, so hard. I have never done a triathlon, so I can only imagine. Congrats!