Lately when people have asked me what my favorite part of triathlon is, I’ve said, “Finishing.” They laugh at my joke, but this season it hits awfully close to the truth.
My season started with tightness in my legs. It’s quite a bit better now, but I’ve spent the first 2-3 miles of every tri run waiting for them to loosen up. Lately I’ve gotten fast, probably because I haven’t ridden my bike much this year compared to the last few. I love riding when I’m doing it, but I have trouble convincing myself to go train on the weekend. Something about all those miles riding by myself during Ironman training has me yearning for rides with Lisa—she got a road bike!—and other friends, even if the training isn’t as intense. I also had a lot of encounters with rude drivers last year, too, which left me wanting to avoid my two-wheeled friend. Nevertheless, I’ve been commuting to work on my bike, and I can feel strength in my pedaling, even if my brain doesn’t think I’m as strong
Swimming is (ironically) the most consistent thing I do. I’ve been going to the pool consistently for years, and I’ve seen progress each year. And after Alcatraz in June, I feel so much more confident in my swimming abilities; it was that intense.
Diabetes, the fourth discipline in triathlon, has really been bringing me down, almost to the point where I don’t want to workout or race. My blood sugar has risen each race I’ve done this year after the swim, astronomically high on a couple of occasions. And yet, it’s hard not preemptively freaking out about insulin’s power to cause severe hypoglycemia. A couple of very large, very fast blood sugar drops have happened a few times this season during training.
Saturday I was determined to do everything I could to have good diabetes mojo going into race morning. I ate a nice small evening meal, containing a known quantity of carbohydrates, and then BAM! my blood sugar tanked. Maybe it was walking around all day between the hotel and the race venue and the mini-golf and the ice cream shop. Maybe I overcorrected the high earlier in the day from the aforementioned ice cream. Maybe—and I hate to think about it—it’s an unpleasant complication known as gastroparesis, where the stomach empties slowly and insulin timing becomes difficult. Who knows?
Anyway, after treating the low, I went to bed in a normal place and then shot up wicked high by midnight when I woke up for an overnight snack. So I gave some insulin that should have cleared my system by morning. After the meal I couldn’t sleep. In addition to thinking about my blood sugar and being nudged awake every few minutes by the loud air conditioner, I was just plain anxious: I discovered that the wiring in our hotel room is a bit dodgy, and I had the irrational fear of being burned to a crisp. I wasn’t really rested when I got up at 4:30 AM.
Being in transition at 5:15 centered me a bit. I was back in my element and would probably be in my happy place once the race started. Walking the 1/2 mile to transition and back started my blood glucose dropping, and I started having a lot of anxiety. My stomach hurt, and I had trouble eating my breakfast. (It will be a long time before I ever want to see a Chocolate Brownie Clif Bar again.) After putting on my wetsuit and walking down to beach, I debated whether I wanted to race. Triathlon is supposed to be fun, and here I felt like I wanted to be sick.
I was still nervous getting into the swim corral at 6:20, but I set myself up right at the front. The day before I had an excellent practice swim, and it inspired me with confidence. (After Alcatraz, the gently rolling waves of the Gulf of Maine were soothing, instead of intimidating.) As soon as the horn went off for my wave I ran from the beach into the knee-high breaking waves, did a couple of dolphin dives, and settled into a rhythm. I was feeling pretty peaceful . . . until someone elbowed me in the face and my goggles started leaking. So I stopped, adjusted them, and got back into my high-intensity happy place. The water was pretty close to perfect: calm and a bit cool. The sun was hanging out behind some thin clouds. I sighted well. I swam well. It was really only crowded when I started to swim through the wave that started five minutes ahead of me. I swam the 1.2 miles in just under 38 minutes.
This race has a long run up to transition from the beach: about 4-5 blocks. I felt good. My stomach had stopped feeling queasy when I started swimming, despite the motion of the ocean. I was surprised to find that someone had moved my things in transition. This is a cardinal sin of tri, and I blame the Canadians—wonderful people though they are—who made up a large number of triathletes. I learned at the Muskoka 70.3 that they seem to follow different rules about where things go. They are wrong, of course. But to their credit, whoever did it placed it almost exactly as I left it.
I saw Lisa on the beach and as I headed out onto the bike. I got passed by a few very fast people early on and then some dribs and drabs as slower swimmers from different waves put the hammer down. My goal for the day was never a personal best race; in fact, I doubted it could happen because of my relatively low training volume. Early on I decided not to look at the overall time on my watch, because I didn’t want to think about the “what ifs?” and push myself too hard or beat myself up for being too far behind where I thought I could be during any other year. Instead I watched my heart rate, which was my plan. I was a bit surprised to see it hang out in “Zone 2″ (easy riding) for so long.
I didn’t really feel like pushing the pace. In fact, before I got in the water I told myself to go out, look around, enjoy the beautiful course, and just have fun. I saw much more of the scenery this year than in the previous couple times I’ve raced here. I played leapfrog with a few people and eventually started picking up the pace on my way back into town. About halfway through my blood sugar started to rise a lot, as it has all year, so I got out ahead of it and gave myself some extra insulin and cut back on the food. That seemed to work well. Overall, I averaged 20.0 mph, completing the bike in 2:43:13.
I saw Lisa as I came into transition and was excited to see her again going out on the run. In the meantime, as I put on my shoes, the DJ was playing Redbone’s 1973 classic hit “Come and Get Your Love.” I fully admit to singing along because I loved that scene from “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Plus it made me think, “Come and get your run.” Lisa thought I might be having a good day.
Back out on the run my legs were tight but I got loose about 5K in, and I just started picking people off. The course is an out-and-back, so I saw all of the half-IM racers ahead of me. The lead man was 9 miles ahead; the first woman about 3. I’ve never been this close to them. I still wasn’t looking at my overall time, but I was feeling hopeful that I might have a good day. The weather was gorgeous: warm but not too hot, sunny but shady with a light sea breeze.
I felt like I could run for days. I was pushing myself but not too hard. I watched my heart rate so that I wouldn’t flame out, but I was pushing the pace faster than any other half-ironman I’ve done. With 5K left to go, I tried to pick up the pace a little, but my body was like, “We’ll just keep doing what we’ve been doing until the last mile, okay?” Works for me, friend. I did throw down in the last mile, passing the guy who was set up next to me in transition (and who probably moved my stuff). I did the half-marathon in 1:52:45.
“That seemed fast,” was Lisa’s reaction at the end. And it was. 5:21:53, the fastest I’ve ever done a half-IM. I set my previous best two years ago on this same course, and I have mostly done stupid hilly races since then, so a PR wasn’t likely in the meantime. Even though I was in good form and on a fast course, I wasn’t expecting this result. I’m beyond thrilled with the result.
My season is now (probably) over . . . at least for tri. In the off-season—and I really do need to take a proper one this year—I’ll be spending some time thinking about what I want to do and figuring out how to do it without dreading it. Wish me luck, friends.