Finally, the blog is getting an update! It really has been that long since I’ve done a race, and since life has just been carrying on in between, there wasn’t much to update you all on. But this was quite an epic race, so I need to write down all the crazy things that happened lest I forget some day.
Ahh Lake Tahoe. As you may remember, this is technically my second attempt at this race since we got smoked out last year, and they let us roll the registration (for a fee). Due to timing issues though, we decided it was best if I drove up by myself this weekend while Norm held down the fort at home. First 70.3 without my trusty sherpa, I was a bit apprehensive at first but what could possibly go wrong?
I took Friday off and drove up to Squaw Valley, arriving at athlete check in just after noon. Breezed through, got all my gear, checked out the merchandise (I was good and only got two things), and got ready to do shakeout ride and run #1.
Once I was done it was time to check into my Airbnb studio! A homemade pasta dinner later and this granny was ready to pass out.
First night I was in bed by 8pm for a 5:30am wake up call. Saturday morning I met up with some of coach’s other athletes at King’s Beach at 7am for a quick dip. When I left my studio in the morning, I caught this picture of a field at Squaw Valley – there’s this frozen haze floating above the ground, because it was below freezing outside. I was NOT looking forward to getting in the water!
Last year I had a hard time with the practice swim – the lake was choppy, the water was too clear and somehow being able to see just how deep the water was really worsened my anxiety. This year I returned with my trusty personal buoy and it was mentally a much better experience.
We waded in quite a ways – the drought is real and the water was quite shallow for a while. Once my face hit the water my body jolted..it was SO COLD! Even though typically Aquatic Park is pretty cold, we’ve been having a very warm year so I was only used to water temps in the low 70s. At Tahoe, it was around 61F. Brr indeed.
After the dip, I drove back to my retreat and did my shakeout ride and run #2 before attending the athlete briefing. Usually I’m only half listening, but I remember them talking about cut off times for the full and half, and how people doing the half technically had till midnight to complete the run. I chuckled, because who in their right mind would take that long to do a half marathon anyway?
After the athlete meeting I went home, packed my gear bags and went to drop everything off. Even though I’m only doing the half, they made us go through a lot of the similar motions as the full so that included bike and gear bag check at T1 the day before, as well as run gear bag check at T2 (different location).
Normally the drive from T2 (where I was staying) to T1 is about 30 minutes, but I left too close to gear check closing time and it took almost a full hour to snake my way in to town.
Never racked my bike by the handlebars before, but there’s a first time for everything!
Another simple pasta dinner at home, a bottle of OSMO preload, and this lady was tucked in by 8pm again. For once, I tossed and turned for a while, and when I finally drifted off to sleep I woke up in the middle of the night feeling very rested but confused because it was still dark out and my alarm hadn’t gone off yet. It was only 11:30pm. Back I went for my second sleep, and my body naturally woke up seconds before my 4:15am alarm.
First things first – brew some coffee, heat up water to warm up my pre-cooked spaghetti. Also had an instant cup of berry oatmeal, and took 2 bananas for the road. Left by 5:15am to catch the 5:30 shuttle from Squaw. I don’t even know how long the ride took, but I had ample time to check my tires at T1, load up my bike with hydration and fuel, wait for the porta potty, and wait around some more inside the (heated) community center.
Last year, all athletes came out of the water and into changing tents next to T1, even 70.3ers. This year instead of tents you enter the community center next to the beach which was MUCH nicer to defrost in. I found some of coach’s athletes and we hung out in the warm building until the close of transition for the halfers. At 7:20 we left and dropped off our morning clothes bag then made our way slowly to the beach. Athletes doing the full had been in the water for an hour by now, and finally it was about to be our turn.
I knew this wouldn’t be a PR race for me, given the altitude and climbing on the bike course. But I kept telling myself, “It might not be a fast day, but it can still be a fun day”. Don’t get hung up on the slow swim or the grind up those hills. Just have fun. And I tried to keep that in mind all day.
We had a self-seeded swim start, and I lined up near the back with two of coach’s athletes. I put in my earplugs, did some arm circles, and prayed I wouldn’t get a panic attack. At 8am, the cannon went off, and slowly the crowd moved towards the water. Just like the day before, we had to walk a bit before the water was deep enough to swim in. Once you pass under the arch, your chip time starts and a few hundred yards beyond that people started to swim. Breathe easy, put your face in, off we go.
I took the first few hundred yards really really easy. My trusty ROKA wetsuit kept me nice and streamlined while I paddled, taking great pains not to raise my heart rate. The water was so beautifully clear, and while normally I appreciate this, the clarity was throwing me off because I could see just how deep it was. Breathe breathe breathe, you got this.
Suddenly I ran into a diagonal swimmer, I thrashed a bit, and popped my head out of the water. Usually this is how things start unraveling for me, when I start to tread water. Somehow I get so out of breath trying to stay afloat that it makes me feel even more uncomfortable when I try to swim again. My goggles started to fog up and suddenly I just wanted a kayak to hold on to.
Of course, I was equidistant from the two closest kayakers. Should I swim for shore? Forget it, I’m swimming for shore. I took a few strokes and saw the swarm of athletes coming towards me from the start, and I knew it would be impossible to swim against them. I thought for a second how disappointed I would be to not even get a chance at doing the bike and run, and wondered if this would be my triathlon life from now on – short circuiting on the swim. I stayed there bobbing up and down for at least half a minute, thinking, trying to push those demons out of my head. Finally I convinced myself, just one more buoy. 6 yellow ones out to the first turn. I counted them down one by one. They came up faster than I anticipated but I steered very clear of the thrashing crowd right next to the buoy line. I was going to stay wide and do my own thing. One buoy at a time.
Eventually I made it to the red turn buoy. No point turning back now. Even though it was thrashy, I kept going, breathing slow and deep, resisting the urge to pull hard. Soon the next turn buoy came up, and it was finally time to swim for shore. I was starting to get a bit cold at this point and could feel my hands turning into claws. The sun was peeking out from behind the mountains and directly at my face every time I breathed to the right. So I closed my eyes and kept going. At some point I realized there was NO ONE swimming around me. In fact, I came upon a lone kayaker who was staring intently at me.
I did it again. I’d veered off to the edge of the swim course.
My heart sank as I saw everyone else and the buoys WAAAAAAAAAAY in the distance. Frustration ensued but I just put my head down and got to work, pulling harder than before. The harder I tried to get back to the buoy line the further away I seemed to slip. Just as I was about to give up I saw that I was coming up to buoy #2. The end was near! Screw the buoys, just swim for the exit arch! And that’s exactly what I did.
Swim – 40:52. Hey not bad considering I hung out forever deciding if I wanted to race or not!
Ran up the sandy beach, grabbed my T1 bag, waded through the feet-washing pool and on to wetsuit stripping. The warmth that hit me once I entered the community center was such a wonderful sensation. Found a seat in the changing area and two absolutely wonderful volunteers came to help me out. I debated between a full change or some other variation leading up to the race, and settled for keeping my tri shorts on for the swim and changing out of my bikini top. The morning was pretty chilly and I wanted to keep my core warm. Even though I spent a whole 10:02 in T1, it was well worth the comfort in my opinion. Toe socks, arm warmers, vest, jersey, and I was ready to go.
The 70.3 consisted of 1-1/3 loop just north of the lake itself. Most of it was flat or slightly downhill except for one big climb up Brockway that everyone freaked out about. It’s 3 miles long and when I previewed the course last year, I remember going simultaneously as fast and slow as I possibly could up that hill. It was brutal, in my memory and I was sort of dreading it. But prior to that was 30 miles of smooth sailing and I enjoyed that part thoroughly, eating and drinking along the way.
There was an aid station just before the big climb and I stopped there to get water, use the porta potty and say a little prayer before heading out. I saw one of coach’s athletes as I left the station and ended up following that strong lady all the way up Brockway. The climb wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered and I felt really happy knowing that I’d gained some fitness in the last 12 months. I owe a huge part of this to Shift and especially Tyler for whipping my butt into shape!
So an unfortunate thing happened around mile 40. I was passing an aid station on a slight downhill when a bug smacked me above the eye. This wasn’t uncommon and certainly wasn’t the first time it happened that day, but unfortunately it was BEE and it STUNG ME above my eyeball!! I’d never been stung before and all my brain could comprehend was SMACK! …SEARING PAIN!….OW OW OW OW OW what happened??
I screeched to a stop, one eye barely open and asked a nearby spectator if there was a bee attached to my face. He told me he didn’t speak English but judging from his lack of freaking out, I determined the insect had flown away. Luckily I was near an aid station and hobbled over to see a medic. They sat me down and wiped the area with an alcohol pad, then just waited for a few minutes. Apparently I’m not allergic, which is good, but I was still getting recurring stabbing sensations in my eyelid that kept coming in waves. “Well medically it seems like you’ll be fine, but it’s just one of those things where it’ll hurt for a while and just kinda sucks”. That was what they told me, so I figured I better get back to work!
The last 16 miles of that ride was not fun. My body might have either been in shock or reacting to the toxins from the sting, but I definitely did not feel very well after that. Not enough to stop, but I was not having a good time. The pain would hit me from time to time and never really let up. Near the end of the ride I felt like I was bonking, even though I had hydrated and eaten according to plan.
Bike – 3:33:56. I’ll take it, considering a porta potty stop, big yucky hill and a short time out for medical!
The great thing about this race was the overlap with the full. We got all the perks of a full Ironman like a changing tent and volunteers racking and retrieving our bikes, without the spend-16-hours-exercising part. Wonderful! I ran into T2, changed into a running tank, got some sunscreen lathered on me and went on my merry way.
T2 – 4:37
Things turned ugly for me very quickly. My legs didn’t feel too terrible off the bike, and while the heat was creeping up I thought I’d be able to put up a good fight. Before the mile 1 marker, I had slowed to a walk. All I wanted to do was find a bush nearby and throw up. What was going on?! The pain from my eye still hadn’t gone away, and now my stomach was freaking out. Ran walked another mile or so and it became clear that running was mostly out of the question today. My body felt like it was in shock from all the adrenaline and all the pain that I couldn’t really comprehend and toxins getting pumped around my body. Was my bike nutrition off? Did I ride too hard? I may never know. But this was not the run I had anticipated.
I thought of my indoor cycling instructor, Tyler. She told us this story of her as a pro at Kona and how her saddle came off and she rode for 20 miles out of the saddle. And even though her coach at the time told her not to continue the race after that, she insisted on finishing.
Just because it’s not your day, doesn’t mean you give up.
Tears came to my eyes. The solitude, frustration, the despair and self pity. Yes, this was definitely not my day. But I knew exactly what I needed to do.
At mile 4 I stopped at an aid station and asked to see a medic. I told them I had been stung by a bee an hour or so ago and was now feeling nauseous. They called in the actual medics and told me to sit in the shade and wait. The volunteers were all so sweet, asking if I needed anything, offering me an ice bag for my eye. Once I put it to my head I just started crying. The pain was killing me and my brain hadn’t even had time to comprehend it. When help arrived in an ambulance, I heard one of the race officials mutter to a volunteer, “Call for a sag, just in case”. My heart sank and the tears welled up once more. Was this it for me?
They took my blood pressure and listened to my breathing while I tried not to cry. Somehow they cleared me medically and said I was fine to continue. The race official came over and introduced himself. He asked if I wanted to take a DNF here, or if I wanted to walk. If I walk, I had till midnight to finish. It was a no brainer. I told him I was walking.
And so I did. I walked for 9 miles in the heat, but I kept telling myself to walk like I was late to a very important meeting. As long as I can take one more step, take it. If I feel up for some jogging, do it. Every effort counts. In my mind, I knew there was no physical way I wouldn’t finish 9 miles in 8 hours. I knew it was definitely possible. The only question was whether I wanted to do it. The worst possible outcome would be having a conversation like this the next day.
Anyone: “So how was your race?”
Me: “Oh, I didn’t finish it. I had enough time to do it really slowly, but I decided, nah. So I quit and went home.”
No no no. I had seen the finisher’s medal the day before, I can’t go home empty handed now.
This race may not be fast. It might not even be fun anymore. It may no longer be the story of the time I thought I wouldn’t PR and it came true. But it can now be the story of the time everything sucked and I held on anyway, because I could.
And so I walked. Past the finisher’s chute as I ended loop 1 and tore myself away to start loop 2. I’m not gonna lie, I REALLY REALLY wanted to throw in the towel and just drive home already. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to face myself, so I walked on. And on. And then I only had 6 miles left. Then 4 miles left. I played mind games with myself. “It’s like walking from home to work, that’s all you have left. You got this”. I impressed another athlete with my speed walking skills. Everyone was hurting now. I ate some bananas, drank some water, my stomach kept churning and I pressed on. As I passed the aid station I had stopped at earlier with 2 miles to go, I smiled really big and told the kind volunteers who had helped me, “I’M GONNA MAKE IT!!!”.
I didn’t start jogging again until I was practically in the Ironman village. Gotta save it for when people are watching! I have never been happier to see the finish line.
They called my name, and finally, finally it was all over.
Run – 3:19:09, with almost 15 minutes chilling in medical.
Final time – 7:48:36
It was nowhere near where I expected to be, but given the circumstances I’m glad I finished the race and in under 8 hours, which is the typical cut off for a 70.3.
And just like that, my fifth half ironman was in the bag. It was slow, it was mentally very challenging, but I have no regrets. I faced down several demons today and I won. And now I know I have what it takes the walk a half marathon with a bee stung eye.
Up next…some brief downtime before I start ramping up again for my A-race of the year, Austin 70.3! Stay tuned.