After a morning swim workout at Furman on Thursday morning, we packed up my car, said good-bye to our furry crew (staying with "Grandma", 1 mile down the road) and headed down south - first stop, Jacksonville, FL. About six hours later, around 5:30pm, we arrived at Tricia's house (our friend/athlete) for a quick overnight stay before making the rest of the trip to Haines City. It was nice to be able to stretch out and have a nice dinner (from Native Sun) and catch up with Tricia and her husband Brandon (and 3 furry children). Karel received his new Alto disc wheel when we arrived to Tricia's so he glued on the tubular tire on Thursday evening.
When we arrived to Haines City, we went straight to our rental home, which was booked by our long-time triathlete friend Roger from Key West. It was nice to have a place to stay (Southern Dunes subdivision), just 2 miles away from the race venue, along with a full kitchen. Although Karel and I like our privacy to get into "the zone" before a race, we both enjoy the social aspect of racing so we don't mind sharing a house with others, especially positive athletes with great attitudes. After unloading all of our stuff, we drove over to the race venue to check-in and to listen to the first athlete meeting. It felt so good to be warm outside and the weather was just perfect, with low humidity. With lots of places to park (streets), the race venue has just one transition and everything is close (water, transition area, athlete check-in, etc.), which makes it a great location for athletes and spectators.
Karel at chicken with rice and salad and I had pizza and salad. This meal is pretty typical for both of us, two nights out from an endurance event.
With no mandatory bike check-in on Saturday (only optional), our only "to do's" on Saturday were to exercise and get our gear ready for race day. It was nice not to have to rush on Saturday morning but we wanted to be out on our bikes by 8pm so that we could get back in time to eat before heading out again for the open water swim practice between 11-2pm.
After the bike course preview, we rode the run course loop (~4.3 miles) so that I could see the run course. Since Karel and Roger have raced here before, it was good for me to have a visual as to what I would be running on off the bike. Of course, with the hills on the run, I was getting more excited for race day as my legs love hills - flats, not so much.
After the ride, it was time to ride home. We finished with just under 2 hours of riding and 35 miles. I went for a little jog off the bike just to shake out the legs. I felt a little niggle in my lower calf (inside) which I was a little concerned about but I had to remind myself about those phantom taper pains that happen before a race. After the run, it was time to eat!
If you aren't familiar with this swim, it looks like a M (or a pair of pants). At first, I was a little nervous about all of the buoys and turns but as we were warming up, I felt more confident with the swim layout and it wasn't too hard to master. After the swim, we met up with Trimarni athlete Chris and gave Stephanie and Chris a few last minute race suggestions for race day. Later that evening, Trimarni athlete Kim stopped by and I called Trimarni athlete Julie. (I always try to contact or see my athletes before a big race).
When we arrived back to the house, it was time to eat again. Although I had practiced my pre-race nutrition prior to the race, I had lots of food options in the fridge/pantry, just in case my appetite changed. As much as we (athletes) like to plan, sometimes you have to be flexible. Instead of my breakfast tacos, I had a lunch of rice and cooked tempeh with mushrooms, topped with cheese. It hit the spot! For an afternoon snack, I had granola cereal with yogurt and sipped on OJ throughout the day, here or there (and with my morning meals). For dinner, I kept it light - tomato soup with rice and saltine crackers. I had a glass of Bolthouse vanilla protein before bed but went to sleep satisfied and not full. With dinner super light, I woke up super early, ready to eat my pre-race meal.
After a not so good night of sleeping due to tossing and turning, I was ready to get up when my alarm went off at 3:45am It was nice to wake-up and have other athletes in the house as the energy was positive and the mood was good. I found it easy to get down my well practiced pre-race meal (pancakes, syrup, bananas, butter, peanut butter and a hardboiled egg with salt and glass of OJ, cup of coffee and glass of water) and I was excited that it was finally race day. Karel had a bowl of oatmeal and then a croissant and a few sips of a Bolthouse chocolate protein drink (in the car, after we put our stuff in transition, around 6am while hanging around until he did his pre race warm-up). Although an Ironman feels a bit longer with all the waiting, I was anxiously awaiting getting in the lake as that would be the point when my nerves would subside. Although I had no pressure on this race, I was nervous. I always get nervous before a race but it's good nerves (as Dr. G tells me), that remind me that I care about my performance. Karel had a lot of confidence in me that I would be able to put together a good race and he was cool as a cucumber for this race, with no expectations or goals. It was nice to be around him as he was super calm, which gave me a lot of positive vibes.
Since we packed up our bags, got our gear ready and prepared our sport bottles with powder on Saturday afternoon, it was an easy morning of getting ready for the half Ironman. Karel and I did a short jog outside our rental home around 4:45am, just to get the blood flowing before we left the house. And by short, I mean about 5 minutes just to move some blood.
We left around 5:15am, with just enough time to park the car, get body marked and rack our bikes. There was a little bit of a line getting into the transition (which closed at 6am) but it wasn't stressful as it moved quickly. After setting up our transition area, we walked back to the car, parked a few streets away on 7th street in a restaurant parking lot.
Since my wave was at 7:05am and Karel's wave wasn't until 7:40am, he was in no rush to get in his pre-race warm-up. As we walked back to the car, I felt a little rushed so I gave Karel my transition bag as I jogged around to start my pre-race warm-up (and added in some dynamic stretching). After I felt warmed up, I grabbed my wetsuit, swim cap and goggles and said good luck to Karel (with a hug and a kiss) and walked to the swimming pool, by the lake. Although it was in the low 50's on race morning and getting wet before the race didn't seem too inviting, I knew it was necessary to get in a good warm-up before the swim start since the lake was not open for swimming before the race. I took advantage of this option and swam in my wetsuit, in the pool, along with a few other athletes. I was surprised that more athletes didn't see this as a great opportunity to warm-up as an open water swim requires some type of warm-up and you can also use that warm-up as an opportunity to adjust the wetsuit so that it feels comfortable in all the right places. I swam about 10 minutes easy and added in a few 25's with break out speed and at 6:45am, I got out of the water and with my throw away plastic bottle w/ Clif Hydration, I walked to the swim start.
My feet were a little cold in the sand but with the adrenaline starting to rush, I didn't feel too cold. I lined up with my wave and by 7am, we were in the water, counting down the minutes until our wave start.
1.2 mile SWIM
I noticed that there was a section in the water where athletes were standing before the in-water start but I choose to start by treading water so that I could keep my blood moving and muscles working a little before the start. With my jog warm-up + pool swim, I felt really relaxed in the water and ready to go. The time was finally here to race!
The gun went off and it was a quick acceleration for me to swim hard to get near the front of the pack. I noticed one pink cap swimming away and I was unable to stay with her. My focus was on staying on course but also trying to swim in the straightest line possible to avoid overswimming while catching up to the other swimmers in the earlier waves.
There was a lot of weaving in and out but certainly not as much as Karel experienced in his later wave. Although the M-shaped swim course required a lot of sighting, I actually really enjoyed it as it kept me engaged during the entire swim (I couldn't really zone out for I had a lot to think about).
We kept the buoys on our right until the first turn buoy and then after the 2nd turn buoy, we swam toward the middle of the lake. At this point, we made a left to keep the buoys on our left, before making another left turn and then swimming out again to keep the buoys on our right. There were kayaks out and a few jet ski's (creating some wake) to keep an eye on everyone. This was one of the most fun swim courses and it went by super fast.
I felt like I only had one speed in the water (common theme for me lately with swimming) and later did I learn that once again, Karel beat me out of the water by 6 seconds! Karel has improved so much with his swimming and as much fun as it is to have a swim partner, the swimming rivalry is strong in our house these days. However, for every second that Karel swims ahead of me in the open water (with a wetsuit), I feel like I am getting 1 minute closer to him on the bike.
I tried to swim as long as I could before I had no choice but to stand but little did I know, that my first step up was not the shore but a little pocket of water. I was warned that the sand is not even all around so I happened to step into a deep section right before the exit. Luckily, it didn't catch me too off guard and I was able to step right out and jog to the sand to get out of the water.
I passed a lot of athletes on the swim but had no idea of my age group or overall place at this point in the swim. I glanced at my watch and saw 31 minutes and some change but it didn't mean much to me as I didn't care about my swim time but instead, my competition. Once the gun goes off, I am in race mode!
I quickly took off my cap and goggles and as I was running through transition, I removed my arms from the sleeves of my wetsuit and stepped out of my wetsuit at my bike. With no other females around me, I put on my socks and cycling shoes, powered on my Garmin Edge and grabbed my bike. Opps - my helmet! Oh, such a rookie mistake. Luckily, I didn't make it far (the end of my bike rack) before I went back to get my helmet. Once again - this is why we do these tune-up races!
I ran my bike out of transition and over the mount line to the far right barricade and then got on my bike. As soon as I got on my bike, I was so excited to ride.
56 mile BIKE
As much as I wish I could give you an eventful, suspenseful and exciting bike report, the bike course was well, pretty uneventful. I felt strong and fast, I loved the bike course and I rode most of the course by myself. My power meter did not work (it showed low power numbers from the first pedal stroke) and I didn't wear my HR monitor so I went all by feel - which is exactly what I had planned to do. I lapped my Garmin every 25 minutes and focused only on 1 x 25 minute segment at a time. I made sure to start my fueling around 15 minutes into the bike to let my tummy settle after the swim and every 10 minutes, I took 3-4 gulps of my sport drink from my primary cage between my aero bars. When one bottle was complete, I rotated my bottles (grabbing from the rear cage) to always have a bottle between my aero bars for sipping. I did not take anything from the aid stations as it was rather cool out. My hands were a bit cold when I started but I warmed up just fine in about 25 minutes. Karel and I both consumed almost 3 x 24 ounce bottles of our sport drink but Karel took in some additional calories from his gels during his ride. Whereas I felt amazing throughout the entire ride, Karel felt strong but had a few niggles in his hip/inner thigh during the bike (nothing abnormal for him) that limited his ability to push even harder as he had to ease up several times during the bike ride to keep from cramping. We both felt like this course was easy relative to what we ride in Greenville but there's nothing easy about racing. Since I broke the course down into 25 min segments, I never thought about "Oh, I can never hold this effort for the entire ride" but instead, just stayed present and in the moment. As the course changed, I experienced different wind and terrain conditions, which also affected my effort and RPE. I was kinda hoping for some more company during the bike to keep me engaged in racing but instead, I felt like I was out for a 56 mile TT.
There were some gentle rollers near the back end of the course and with the wind picking up a little, which made the ride a bit more exciting. Nearing the end of the bike, there was a stretch of road of chipseal with a few rollers, which reminded me of our bumpy roads in Greenville.
Throughout the ride, I was passing a lot of guys but also was passed by several of the younger guys. I wasn't passed by any females but after catching up with one lady in the 45-49 age group (Rachel), we played cat and mouse for the last 10 miles or so. Finally - some fun racing on two wheels!
Rachel and I entered T2 near each other but I think I managed to get over the line first, which meant first female into transition. Although I didn't have the fastest female bike split of the race (3rd fastest I think), I was shocked and excited to see my bike computer when I switched over my interval screen to show total time, average pace, total distance, etc. Although I didn't ease up until the last 1/2 mile of the bike, for a moment I thought I would break 2:30 but I ended up with 2:31.27 which is a big improvement for me on the bike. Needless to say, I got off the bike feeling confident!
With my rack near the front of the transition, I didn't have far to run before getting my bike to the rack. I spotted my friend Roger in the transition area and he gave me a big cheer. The announcer told the crowd "we have our first females in transition area with Marni as our virtual leader." My theme of the race was stay present so I didn't let that announcement get to my head as I new I would be running a bit scared with fast girls behind me. I put on my running shoes and hydration belt and grabbed my hat (with glasses resting on the bill) and then as I was walking, I put on my bib number belt. I made sure not to sprint out of the transition so I walked myself to the far end of transition and then when I rounded the corner, I slowly jogged, making sure not to run too fast out of transition. As I crossed the timing mat, I hit lap on my watch and not until the end of the race, did I look at my watch again. For the next 13.1 miles, I would run 100% by feel.
13.1 mile RUN
As I started running, my legs felt good. But seeing the amount of brick runs and hilly runs that we do in training, I had confidence in my running legs off the bike. As for how I would feel racing this run, that was a pure unknown since most of my long runs are around 8:20-8:45 min/mile average with a lot of climbing. As I was running, I was beside Rachel and she told me to go win the race. I gave her a high five for her awesome bike ride and I thought I would be running away from her, thanks to her confidence in me. As much as that was a great boost of confidence, she made sure not to leave my side for the next 1.5 miles.
I waited until I got to the end of the first hilly section before sipping my flask and I made sure to grab water from every aid station for sipping and cooling. I didn't have a strategy for fueling on the run but instead, to fuel immediately when I needed a boost of energy and to make sure to not go more than 10 minutes without sipping my flasks. Since I like to drink when I want to drink (and often on a schedule - at least every 10 minutes), I used the aid stations to break up each mile instead of focusing on my fueling to break up each mile. This worked well because I always looked forward to the aid station and I felt like I had good energy between the aid stations.
If you know me, I love love love looped courses. Three loops is such a mental boost because when 1 loop is done, you only have one more loop until you only have one more loop to go. At least this is how I think about it. Never did I look at the mile markers (or my watch) but instead, I just focused on where I was in the course and broke down the course into sections.
Although I loved this run course, my least favorite section was a flat part on the far end of each loop before an aid station. This occurred before the last loop around the block before heading back to a little hill (with another aid station) before entering the crowds by the lake. I would say this was around 3 miles into the loop. It was a long flat stretch and although there was shade, I did not like it. But I kept telling myself to just keep one foot in front of the other and that sooner or later, I'd be on the hills again (which is my comfort zone). And even though I suffer when I race, I almost always have a smile on my face because I love using and moving my body.
I felt strong through the entire run. I certainly had some low moments and had to stop twice (once on loop one near the end and once on loop two near the end of the loop just to stretch out my hips) but I kept on focusing on good form running, knowing that soon the terrain would change and I would get a high again. And anytime that I felt like I was in a low moment, feeling really uncomfortable, I just started to count my steps - one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four as this helps me shut off my brain so I don't think about the pounding of my legs to the ground.
On the last loop, I was excited to be almost at the finish and completely surprised by how fast this race went by! It was getting a bit warm on the hilly section and I really needed the aid station to keep myself cool. I never passed up an aid station for water, even the last one, less than 1/2 mile from the finish.
I guess with my steady pace, I caught back up with Rachel, who dropped me in the first loop and for the entire third/last loop, I was escorted by a volunteer on a bike, who was leading the 2nd female over the line (me!). I wasn't sure how I would finish overall once the other female age groups started to roll in, I was running as strong as I could. I actually looked over my shoulder a few times in the last 1.5 loops because I could see Gin running strong behind me. And how do I know that Gin can run strong and fast, you ask?
Well, I am her sport dietitian (coached by Haley Chura) and we have been working on her daily and sport nutrition for the past 8+ months. After her overall femalewin in IM NC 70.3, she has been running so much better off the bike, thanks to some hard work dialing in her daily diet and fueling. So yes, I was racing ahead of one of my nutrition athletes (and Karel has fit Karel and we did a private training camp with her) so I knew how strong she is on bike and run and that she was getting closer to me with each mile.
Once I made it to the last aid station on the hill, I zipped up my jersey and felt so relieved that I was running my way to the finish. Oh boy, did I sprint to that finish line!
As I crossed the finish line, it was not even a second before my legs collapsed beneath me as I can't tell you how many times during the run did I bargain with myself "you can rest when you are done, you can rest when you are done." Finally - done. I fell to the ground and just laid there for what felt like forever, until a volunteer helped me up. I was announced to be the 2nd female across the line, only to later learn that I was the 3rd overall female winner - wahoo!
After Karel crossed the finish line, I told him that I won my age group. After hearing some results from our spectating friends with phones, we also heard that Karel finally broke 4:20 in a half (4:19) and he ran 1:24. I was so surprised with my run as I have never ran so fast off the bike in a half this early in the season so I was super pumped with my 1:39 run split (without any metrics). Oh the freedom to run by feel! Karel said he pushed hard on the run and with his run as his secret/not so secret weapon, he brings a lot of confidence to the end of the bike as this born cyclist loves running off the bike.
While we were both exhausted after the race, we didn't feel too beat up. Certainly, the 48 hours after the race are the worst when the inflammation starts to subside and you feel niggles in different places as some body parts take longer to heal than others.
My favorite part about racing is exchanging stories about the race with Karel. It's always fun to hear each others perspective of the race. About an hour after we finished, we changed our clothes in the car and walked back to the race to look for our athletes. We weren't able to find anyone so we grabbed our bikes and gear and drove back to our rental home. Thankfully, we were able to talk to all of our athletes later that day and everyone did great!
After we cleaned up with a shower and ate some food back at the house, we all (in the house) exchanged our stories before heading back to the awards and received our slots for the 2017 IM 70.3 World Championship.
I'm so glad that this race is out of the way and we were able to build confidence, test our fitness and take some risks and get that spark back for racing. As I continue to recover and slowly build back into training, I am counting down the days (3 weeks from Saturday!) until we get to do it all again in St. George, Utah!
-Run In - for helping us with all of our running needs
-New Wave Swim Buoy - for keeping us safe and seen in the open water
-Mg12 - for helping our muscles stay relaxed
-Clif Bar - for quality ingredients in quality sport nutrition
-Cheribundi - for providing a safe, natural and delicious way to reduce inflammation
-Veronica's Health Crunch - for the most delicious hand made crunch - ever!
-Infinit - for customizable sport nutrition
-Levelen - for helping us optimize our hydration needs through sweat testing
-Hot Shot - for keeping Karel cramp-free!
-Solestar - for maximum stability, better power transmission
-Boco Gear - for helping us race in style
-Canari - for the most comfortable, functional and stylish gear