The last 2.5-3 miles into town on East End Road finish the bike portion on the left side of the road, with the runners on the right. The last few miles of the bike portion of an endurance triathlon are always filled with a mix of emotions for most triathletes with questions of how the legs will feel when the hit the pavement for the first time in x-hours as well as thoughts of overall energy and fatigue. There’s a lot of thinking ahead (how will I feel at x-miles in the run) and many times, not much reflecting. I found myself in a state of reflection, thinking back to the last 57.2 miles that my body has taken me on. Although my swim was not that “fast” for me, it was comparable to the top girls in my age group. I had no regrets as to how I biked the St. Croix 70.3 course for I respected the course and this distance enough to not overbike in St. Croix. My legs were relatively tired but I was anxious to run. As I found myself easing up on the bike while watching the runners, I tried to keep my cadence high and I would often sit up and stand just to give my hips one last stretch or two before a grueling run.
I wasn’t sure how I was placing in my age group for there were no body markings in this race but by looking at bib numbers for the girls in my age group, I figured I was in the top 10. As much as I wanted to podium in this race (I wasn’t going for a Kona slot which would have been top 2 in my 30-34 age group), I knew my chances were slim as I didn’t have the bike skills to “race” on this course. I also counted at least 6 girls ahead of me, already running as I was nearing the last ½ mile or so of the bike course. However, I’ve learned in many years of racing in endurance tri’s, a race is never over til I cross the finish line – anything can happen and anything is possible. Never ever count yourself out.
I trusted my body and in my reflection during the last few miles of the bike, I didn’t let myself forget how great I have been running over the past year. Although with recent run fitness gains most noticeable in the past 4-5 weeks, the consistency of training without an injury for almost a year was finally paying off. My body felt strong, fit and healthy and I was ready to handle anything that came my way on the run course.
Finally – my mind was my only limiter during the run portion of this endurance triathlon. This is something that I crave and long for with every race and many times in the past 6 years, I have had to manage nagging aches in my hips/back instead of being able to push my healthy body in training and racing.
As I dismounted my bike, I stopped my Garmin 500 (and powered it off) and hit lap on my Garmin 910 for the multisport function. The crowds/volunteers were great and it was wonderful to see such great support from the island locals and visitors.
As I ran on the grassy transition area with my cycling shoes still on, I thought to myself “Please, only be 6 bikes.” With being so far behind the competition, I just wanted to run my way up in spots in my age group. I had a lot of confidence in my run and I saved myself on the bike just so I could compete with the other ladies.
Ugh. As I racked my bike, I saw 6 bikes in transition. Although the girls ahead of me were a bit ahead, the competitive side of me was not gone and I was ready to do some chasing!
Unlike T1, T2 was smooth and without mistakes.
I removed my helmet and cycling shoes and put on my Brooks Pure Flow running shoes (with lace locks on the shoe laces) over my 110% Compression socks. I had a pill container open) with endurance aminos (Hammer Nutrition) and I shook out 4 and took a sip of my leftover bottle from race morning of Osmo and swallowed 4 pills before I grabbed my flasks (each with Napalm powder from INFINIT mixed water – tastes like a sport drink but concentrated and electrolyte rich like a gel), my visor and transition belt and I was off.
As I was running to the exit of transition, I put on my visor as I had one flask in my mouth and the other one in my sport bra top. I put on my race belt as I was running (with safety pins on the bib number – I am notorious for ripping off my bib number).
Out of transition you run up a steep, super short grassy hill. There was an aid station with cold water right out of transition so I took advantage of it and poured cold water on my head to start the cooling process and a sip to rinse my mouth. A mega bonus on this difficult run course is having aid stations every 0.6 miles….yes, you read correct – almost every ½ mile there is an aid station – talk about heaven on a 90+-degree run course.
My legs felt amazing in the first mile and I knew that all I needed to do was pace myself. In order to postpone fatigue, I stuck to my walk plan of walking the aid stations for 10 seconds or so (after the first aid station for I wasn’t ready for my walk yet and wanted to wait until I got over the first roller). Karel walked every single aid station (every .6 miles and he said he would just stop, take in water/coke/ice and then run again) and I walked almost every aid station (I think I didn’t walk 5-6 of them, primarily because of the location of the aid station and how I was feeling + crowd support).
The spectators and volunteers were fantastic. The first 2 miles had a lot of screaming fans, baggies of ice for cooling that we could grab (great idea if you are ever doing a hot course – bring a baggie with you and fill with ice at your aid stations to cool your back/body parts, etc.) and hoses to cool us off. Yes, it was hot but I do not mind hot races for my body tolerates the heat thanks to being 5-foot tall (not a lot of body surface area to cool). I was a bit concerned for Karel who has struggled in the heat and off the bike in a few races for he is still trying to figure out his body after transitioning to his new 3-sport sport instead of just bike racing.
My goal was to keep good form and to make sure the first loop (around 6.5-7 miles) felt good. It had to feel good in my mind and body the entire first loop or else I knew I would be in trouble for the second half. Although we all risk slowing in an endurance event, my goal was to slow down the least. Thankfully, I was feeling good for the first two miles which were not flat but instead, entertained my legs with two long rollers to cover until I reached the entrance of the Buccaneer.
I knew on this run course that the next 4 miles were going to be challenging before beginning another loop to do it all again. Karel and I had reviewed run times so we were aware of what is “normal” pacing for this run and what is typical for loop 1 compared to loop 2. We had reviewed the pros and top age groupers for the past few years for we were not trying to be like others but to understand what the body could handle on this course. Also talking with our top AG group friend David that we met (who is a 1:15 off the bike runner), he mentioned that it is very typical to run a lot slower on this course. We had heard similar statements from other athletes who have succeeded (and not faired to well) on this course so this advice was mentally helpful. Racing smart is not about being fit and fast but being able to race on your respected course with the best plan possible to finish strong.
After holding back a bit on the first two miles, I made a left into the resort and grabbed a sip of coke before entering the next part of the run course. I was sipping my flasks every aid station and my goal was to finish 1 flask on the first loop and the second flask on the second loop + coke as craved (I think I grabbed Coke 3-4 times) + water/ice at every single aid stations (no other gels or sport drinks).
Between miles 1-2 I saw a familiar face….KAREL!!!
Yay! I didn’t think I would see him during the entire race and I was instantly lifted up (my RPE went down and I was feeling extra good) when I saw him. He looked so strong running with his fuel belt on and I knew that he was having a great run by looking at him (I’ve seen him in other races where I could tell the run was not going as he wanted which is always emotionally hard for me to see him not have his ideal run off the bike since he is such a great runner).
As I followed the orange markings in the resort, I didn’t even have to look down for I felt a major relief….trails!!!! I think I was smiling during the entire run even though it wasn't easy.
I knew Karel wouldn’t like this section but he told me after the race that he knew I would LOVE this section and my hips were jumping with joy. Now, this doesn’t mean that my legs were feeling fresh as can be but mentally, I really loved the changing up of terrain on this course.
My Garmin would lose satellite a few times in the trail section around the golf course so I kept focus on how I felt for RPE on this course was my main focus and just keeping an eye on my pace when my body/mind played tricks on me (sometimes the mind and body will fight in a race – one telling the other that it’s tired and sometimes you have to do some check-in’s just to make sure that one is lying to the other).
The next 1.5 miles or so was a loop so I could kind of see the athletes on the other side of the grassy field but I spotted no other girls…ugh, where are they? I still needed to stick to my plan of holding back for the results in years past showed that athletes who start out too fast on the run (or overbike) slow down considerably on loop two. I did not want that scenario for I wanted to feel just as strong (or stronger) on the second loop as the first.
After finishing this next section, we ran up a steep short hill. I had heard athletes talk about the big climb on the run course and after tippy toeing up the pavement hill (short strides, more like a shuffle up) I was relieved that big climb was over. It wasn’t as bad as every said.
After running through the resort for ½ mile or so, it was time for another terrain change. Grass!
We ran on a grassy and gravel/dirt packed section which overlooked the ocean. The view was amazing from the top of this climb. I was passing guys and just a few girls but I knew I would be taking too many risks if I ran any faster on this first loop.
We made our way back on to the pavement and then back on to the grass again and then pavement. And then came a downhill that was straight down….ouch! The previous 60 miles or so were catching up to me and I couldn’t bear the pain in my quads to break down this hill so I jumped on to the grass instead and just hoped for no holes in the ground for I didn’t want to risk a sprained ankle.
After this downhill, my legs suddenly felt super weak, kinda like an empty feeling. I looked at my pace and I knew I didn’t over do it this far so I just tried to silence the pain in my legs and kept on moving forward. This was a weird feeling almost as if my legs were really light and heavy at the same time but I just kept looking forward to each aid station to cool myself.
As I was getting to the end of the resort section of this run course, I spotted a big hill ahead. Oh – This must be the hill everyone was talking about!!!
I didn’t want to walk the hills for even if I was “running” 12-minute miles up the hill it was faster than walking 15+ min/miles. I shuffled my way up with a short stride and used my upper body swimmer-muscles to power my way up – it wasn’t fast and likely not pretty but I conquered “Beast Jr.” (As it said on the pavement).
You are kidding….another downhill?
Finally I made it out of the resort and back on to East End Road. At this point, I was hoping badly to see Karel for I needed another pick me up. No Karel but lots of awesome spectators and volunteers and inspiring athletes. Knowing that the top athletes race St. Croix, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by the amazing bodies that were racing on this course.
I saw some of the girls in my age group as I made my way over the second roller and back into town and my dream of moving up in my age group was likely over. Although I was running as smart and strong as I could with my current level of fitness, I had lost too much time on the bike to move up any more. Additionally, when I made my way to start loop 2, I felt confident in seeing my competition behind me (on the other side of the road) that unless something bad happened to me, I was not going to get caught. This was a happy and sad place and for the next mile, I had a little conversation with myself as to how I would approach lap 2.
This was a really tough position for me to be in for I was stuck in a position of not being chased and not being able to chase anyone and that’s what I long for in racing. Even though I have my plan and I love to stick to my plan of racing smart, I thrive off competition to help me reach my full potential.
I saw Karel finishing his second loop on the way to his finish and he looked so strong. I was amazed by how he was running and it was time for me to figure out how I would approach the next 6 or so miles.
Karel run time: 1:34:17 (including walking at every .6 mile aid station)
22nd fastest amateur male run
6th fastest age group (35-39) run
My mind loves to do math when I run so I started to do a few calculations. In reviewing past run times, the average “fast” run times on this course are over 1:40 with the majority of top age groupers between 1:45-1:55. There are often some fast runs and then some not-so-fast runs that still help an athlete finish at the top of his/.her respective age group because of how he/she biked and swam prior.
With no auto-lap time over 8 min/miles (this includes my walk breaks) so far on this course, my new goal (instead of moving up in my age group) was to continue running sub 8 min/miles.
My next goal was to try to break 1:40. As I made my way to the trail section in the resort, I saw this as my “recovery” – I didn’t necessarily slow myself down but it just felt “easier” than pounding on the pavement so I told myself to just relax on this section and then finish strong in the last 3-4 miles to the finish. Although I never dreamed it possible on this course (I was hoping for around 1:43-1:45), I thought to myself 8 min/miles was around 1:44 for a half marathon and 7:30 min/miles was around 1:38 or so (per my math calculations in 90+ degree heat after racing for 65+ miles) and I knew from my paces that I was in between the two times.
Ok – I can do this!!! Break 1:40 and that would be unbelievable on this course!!
I was on a mission, now racing against the clock. Me vs. the clock.
Little hill and Beast Jr. were over and boy oh boy, was my body getting tired. BUT – I was not slowing down that much so I knew that if I could stay mentally strong, I could win this battle with my body vs. my body. Who knew so many competitions could go on without chasing a human competitor ahead of me.
As I made my way back into town, I again broke this course down.
Ok – one more roller to go as I ran down the first roller. After the next roller, I was going to see the downtown and then it was a sprint to the finish.
Around mile 10 I had switched my Garmin 910 screen from the run interval screen (showing my lap time, lap pace, current pace and average pace) to a screen that has total run time and that helped me stay super motivated to try to reach this new goal.
When I made a left turn in the downtown area, I could see the finish line to my right. Ok, probably just a block or two more and I would finishing this run course in my own record goal rime!
Ok – where’s this turn? I kept running and running and running….what seemed to be a never ending road and when I reached another aid station, the nice volunteer smiled and told me “you are almost there – only ½ mile to go!”
What??? A half mile. Ugh.
Oh well. I had just had the most unbelievable experience checking off this race from my bucket list, I raced with Karel on this beautiful island (I thought, how lucky are we that we were able to make this dream come true and make some memories together), I suffered as I raced smart and I still felt as if I had a really awesome run, even though I didn’t meet my new time goal that was created half-way through the run (sometimes a goal needs to change to ensure a positive outcome).
As I finally made the right hand turn down the downtown bumpy streets of Christiansted, I saw the finish line and gave it my best sprint possible (my slow-twitch filled body doesn’t really know how sprint so I just make sure it feels like a sprint) and with my hands in the air, I was SO happy to reach the finish line.
Finally, I can rest.
13.1 mile run stats (From Garmin 910xt – showing 13.25 miles, splits with walking included):
Mile 1: 7:31
Mile 2: 7:23
Mile 3: 7:34
Mile 5: 7:53
.25: 7:04 min/mile
(yay for descending the last 4 miles!)
Total: 1:41:31 (7:39 average)
18th fastest female run (including pros)
2nd fastest age group (30-335 run
8th fastest female amateur run
2nd fastest age group (30-335 run
8th fastest female amateur run
I was hoping to see Karel when I entered downtown for the last section but he wasn’t there. I then expected to see Karel with his arms opened wide to catch me at the finish, but he wasn’t there.
My first thought was that he was with our friends from Jax celebrating with post-race beers somewhere and completely forgot about me. Then I thought he had selfishly got a massage and missed me finish. Of course, all appropriate things for me to think for he has always been at the finish line waiting for me at every tri we have done together.
With my finisher medal around my neck and my body drenched with cold water (once again after I finished to officially start cooling off) I hear “Marni, Marni – I’m over here!”
I was turning all around in circles without Karel in sight and then I followed a voice toward the medical tent and there was Karel, with a needle in his arm, enjoying his first post-race IV (while making friends with my friend Jenny Fletcher – model, pro triathlete and Oakley Women athlete and sitting next to our friend Brad from Jacksonville). Opps – it never occurred to me that Karel’s health would be in danger. I didn’t say anything to Karel about not being at the finish for I was feeling like a bad wifey for getting upset that he wasn’t at the finish line J
My body was fatigued and officially drained but it performed amazingly well. I had no GI issues once again in a race, no cramping and no bonking.
As for Karel, he really pushed it on the run, especially at the end and he said he was starting to black out at the finish. For the first time he said he felt hydrated during the entire race without his normal adductor cramps so we contribute it to the Osmo pre-load which likely helped Karel ensure that his cells/tissues/muscles were well hydrated. However, he said he still needed the IV despite feeling good during the race. I guess that good feeling allowed him to really finish strong.
After I stood and chatted with Karel about the race, he finished getting is post-race pick-me-up and we hobbled over to a large tree in transition area to get some shade. I finally went to the bathroom ( I tried to go on the bike but had no luck and I really had to go the entire bike/run but never stopped to go) and then had a drink of Hammer FIZZ to help replenish electrolytes. I usually give myself a good hour or so before eating anything after a race (or track practice) for if I try too soon after a race, I will have major GI upset as the blood starts to return to the GI system after my heart rate returns to a normal level.
Karel and I chatted about the race as we walked to our car, which is always my favorite part to share with Karel – when the suffering is over, I just love being able to talk about our personal journey from start line to finish line, together.
Run: 1:41: 28
Total: 5:24:34 - 6th age group, 25th female
Total: 4:56:53 - 11th age group, 46th male
Because we drove to the race start, we were not able to drive the 4 miles home so we put some of our gear in our rental car and then biked back to our resort. We made a quick stop at a bar to say hi to some of our friends. Although this was tough to get back on our bikes (with our bike shoes) and pedal home, it did feel good to loosen the legs a little.
When we got back to our resort, I was finally able to have a small snack (banana/handful cereal and glass of milk – which is typically post-race OR pizza and milk) and then Karel and I jumped into our resort pool to officially cool off.
The rest of the afternoon we crashed on our king size resort bed as we read the nice notes on social media from our friends. I called my parents to share our race recaps (Karel also had a great race and was super happy with how he ran – he said he felt like it was his best effort in a run off the bike – not his fastest but he feels it was his strongest) and we had our first official meal about 2 hours or so after the race. I had tomato pasta/veggie soup (from a can that I bought pre race) with Lays potato chips crumbled on top (chips from the race in a bag), mineral/seltzer water to help my tummy and some other leftovers like some cheese, tempeh and bread – it wasn’t a filling meal but enough to start the recovery process.
Around 5:30 or so we found some energy to get ourselves out of our post-race compression gear and into normal clothes which showed off some awesome Caribbean tan lines.
We drove to the post-race party on the other side of the island (about 15 minutes away – on the last loop of the bike course we see the hotel where the post-race party is held, with around ~13 miles left to go) and met up with some of our friends and it was nice to share the race with one another.
The post-race BBQ food was just ok, nothing that would make my tummy super happy but they did have veggie burgers (Karel had chicken), amazing cookies (I had oatmeal raisin), cheese and burger toppings. I had a side of potato salad which was also just ok. I really wanted some good bread or pasta (pizza would have been a dream) but the bun did not make me excited so I had an open faced burger (good thing I had plenty of carbs in my cottage to enjoy after this BBQ).
The party was fun to see the pros get their award money and to be so close to them while overlooking the beautiful ocean. The age group awards consisted of top 3 in each age group plus 70.3 and Kona World Championship slot distribution (athletes could take both if they wanted).
Oddly enough, both Karel and I received a roll down slot (6th age group for me and 11th age group for Karel) for 70.3 World Championship but neither one of us accepted and it was great to see the excitement of the other athletes as both athletes behind us both took our slots (we are racing IMWI the same day at 70.3 WC so we are racing for our Kona slots that day as that is our A++++ race).
After the BBQ/party, we made our way home around 8:30pm or so and it felt like midnight. Since we had been up since before 4am, we were both a bit tired but my post-race insomnia (happens every time after half or full IMs) left me completely exhausted and awake so I just watched a little TV while working on my blog recap. Karel was out the moment he hit the bed.
What an incredible race. For a challenging course on a beautiful island, I highly recommend to race in St. Croix. It is not an easy race but after you conquer the Beast and everything that comes with it, you will not regret your decision to enjoy a race-cation in St. Croix.
As for the rest of our trip:
-Monday (day after the race) – ~6 mile hike to the tidal pools (2.8 miles each way) . Quads were not happy but it rained on us and felt amazing. Plus, the experience of swimming in these pools was really awesome. We had a very late lunch (veggie burger in a wrap that was super yummy with sweet potato fries - this hit the spot!) in Fredriksted and then when we arrived back to our cottage around 6:30pm, Karel was knocked out and I did a bit of work for a few hours for my athletes on the computer.
-Tuesday – 20 min open water swim outside of our resort around 7:30am (after waking up without an alarm. Karel had at least 10+ hours of sleep, I got about 4 or 5 but not continuously) and then we packed up our resort. Karel had packed our bikes before Tues and we had our friend Brad drive our bikes to the airport since he was on our flight and had a van from his family friend on the island (to return the favor, Karel boxed up Brad’s bike for him). After checking out of our resort around 11pm, we did a little computer work til 12 at our resort and then we made a stop at the local gas station by us to get some local fresh bread (banana bread). We then went to Christensted for lunch at the Avocado Pit (Excellent service!!) and walked around after lunch (we also got lunch to go – I had a salad at the Avocado Pit – my first “real” salad since I arrived to St. Croix – I was finally able to enjoy some extra fiber and had a wrap w/ fries for later).
We then drove to the Buccanear to lounge on the beach with our Jax friends and then around 2pm we headed to the airport to return our car. Our flight left around 5pm to head to San Juan and then finally back to Orlando (arriving around 9:30pm). Karel drove back to Jax with Brad in his car (Brad’s luggage was lost so they didn’t leave the airport until almost midnight for a 2.5 hour drive) and I drove to my parents (2 hour drive), arriving around 1:30amwith lots of kisses from Campy and a super happy tail.
-Wednesday – woke up without an alarm around 8am at my parents and got caught up on some emails from Tuesday and then drove back to Jax (3.5 hour drive) with my furry BFF. Campy was super happy to have his mommy and daddy both together with him. But little did Campy know that there was going to be a lot of excitement happening over the next 5 days….time to pack up our townhome for the Sumbal’s are moving to Greenville, South Carolina!