Friday, September 12, 2014

Race Report: Patriot's Half Ironman

[Endurance: "the act of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way." Synonyms: tolerance, sufferance, forbearance, patience, acceptance, resignation]

If this past month has taught me anything, it has been the true meaning of endurance: Fortitude when life throws a few too many challenges my direction once. Picking myself back up time and time again and choosing to continue to press forward. Battling negativity, exhaustion, tears, the desire to quit, and in the process, tapping into strength reserves I never knew I had. Going into this past weekend, I really had no time to for my typical pre-race nerves. I was too busy battling the compounding stressors that had been beating me down emotionally and mentally to the point of shear exhaustion.

Yet somehow, when I found myself standing on the starting line of the Patriot's Half this past Saturday, I was calm, relaxed and smiling. While the 6 hr drive to get to the race site was not the most desirable, a big part of me knew it would be beneficial to get out of town. I napped almost the entire drive, trying to not think about the inevitable challenge weather would present with highs predicted about 95 for race day, or how mentally tired I was, or how a big part of me wished this race would just go away. Deep down I know I was excited and wanted to race, otherwise I would have just stayed home.

I considered getting to the starting line a major victory... and what happened afterward didn't really seem to matter anymore.  Faith is the belief in things unseen, and despite struggling mentally and emotionally in many workouts building into this race, I had faith in my training and knew things would somehow work out just fine (One of the many perks of having a coach :)

Trying on my race belt.
As I set up my transition area, I took time to reflect on being thankful for the opportunity to race, regardless of the circumstances leading up to it. I reminded myself (time and time again) that I don't have to feel perfectly prepared or have a "perfect" race. This was not an "A" race for me, but instead, a stepping stone towards bigger things, higher priorities. "Patience, pacing, fueling, have fun." Those were coach's instructions, and the true goals of the day.

It was a beautiful morning!
Some pre-race chit chat with my neighbor, Sarah, who happened to be working the race.

I walked into the water of the James River just a few minutes prior to the race start and scanned the horizon to check out the position of the various buoys. At that point, I realized I had no clue which way we were actually swimming and turned to ask a fellow racer about the swim course. Lol. I'm glad I did, as it had definitely changed from previous years.

The thought of completing a half ironman, even with plenty of training under my belt, was a bit overwhelming. Training in each of the three disciplines, no problem. Piecing them all together successfully is another story! I am thankful I chose to prioritize my mental an physical energy by not worrying about the swim. It was definitely a challenge with the choppy water and strong current, and I worked hard, but I also took a few moments throughout to enjoy the coolness of the water and the view of the sun reflecting over the water and shoreline. I took a lot of mental snapshots while focusing on my quick strokes, swimming straight for each buoy and staying near the packs of racers. Before I knew it, I had made the final turn home and was running out of the water. First leg of the race, complete!

After a quick(ish) transition, I hopped on the bike, took a deep breath and reminded myself to stay relaxed as I settled into covering the 58 miles of open road that was ahead of me.

It's easy to get caught up in a web of negativity focusing on areas of weakness or the many things that could potentially go "wrong." I've been there many times before. One of my major victories in this race was my ability to set aside those insecurities and focus on my strengths. This season, I have continually tweaked my fueling strategy so as to optimize energy and hydration levels, adequately replenish sodium to prevent cramping, and appropriately time intakes to prevent GI issues. It's been a fun, personal "science" experiment for me. I knew with the conditions, fueling appropriately could make a huge difference, and I focused on careful execution of my nutrition plan. Fueling consistently on the bike was key, as I knew this would be critical in setting myself up for a successful run.

Finishing up the bike.
It's amazing how when you find your "zone," the miles just fly by. I remember a few patches of really bumpy road, pretending I was riding a roller coaster one of the few down hills, and spending a fair amount of time in deep thought. As I approached the last few miles, I took time to stretch out my legs and get in some last minute fuel. I definitely would have been happy to have been done with this race after the bike leg, and I'm positive I was not the only racer to feel that way... It was going to be a HOT run.

First mile of the run. I ran in my new(ish) Hoka road shoes, which I LOVE!
I made my transition quick and hit the road for the final leg of the race. My legs felt great from the get-go and I was cautiously hitting the breaks during the first 2-3 miles. I passed another female racer around mile two and she told me there were potentially 6-7 other females ahead of me. Since I had seen very few females throughout the entire duration of the bike, I really had no clue as to my overall placing (nor did I really care at that point... I just wanted to finish).

After mile 4, it became a game of survival and consistent movement. My body was feeling the heat and my pace slowed, but I focused on being (mostly) positive, making forward progress and staying hydrated. I picked off racers one by one which definitely helped the miles to pass a little more quickly. For a while, all I thought about was taking a nap or lying in a pool of ice water...and one point, I became overwhelmed by the difficulty and distance remaining and spent about 5 seconds sobbing before nixing it and pulling myself together. Yep. That's long distance racing at its best! Aid stations were definitely key in this run and I used every single one, whether to drink, pour water over my head or grab a wet rag. The aid station volunteers were stellar and I can't thank them enough!!

Blowing kisses to my support crew-Dad & Hubby- at mile 7 
When one chooses to tackle these longer distance races, it's important to know why. I've had more than enough time spent over the past month thinking about these things. What fuels me? Why endure the pain, the fatigue and the stress that training and racing can inevitably present? Why get out of bed extra early, to jump in a pool of cold water (I hate cold water!), when I know I have a long day of work ahead?

I can't really answer those questions. All I know is for some strange reason, I am compelled to stand on the starting line of this upcoming ironman, which is now only 46 days away. Of all the obstacles I've encountered in training, of all the excuses and reasons I've come up with to not do it, none have held weight. Even on the days I've spent in tears from being worn down mentally, physically and emotionally and wanting to quit, I could not find the courage to walk away. A huge lesson I have learned in the process: when it comes to pushing limits and stepping outside ones' comfort zone, things have the potential to get messy. And that's where real life lessons are found. Setbacks and failure happen...and that's ok, because they are an impetus for growth. If things always went perfectly according to plan, would they be as rewarding? Probably not.

Approaching the finish...FINALLY :)
5 hours, 43 minutes is what it took me to finish the Patriot's Half. Technically, not even a "PR," and a far cry from my original time goal for the distance, but still a race that I am very proud of. Not because I took home the honors of 5th place overall female, 1st place female age 25-29, 3rd fastest female run split. All are great stats and great indicators that months of hard work and dedication to training are paying off. Yet, when I think back on this race, it's not the objective measures of success that come to mind. Rather, I am relishing in the many other victories that were found in the process of getting to the starting (and finish) line and the people who have supported me along the way. I have a wonderful support crew and am beyond blessed.

This past week, I have been living in a world of post-race bliss. It's a wonderful feeling! While covering the 70.3 distance was a vital stepping stone in my training towards the REAL deal, the take away lessons from this race have helped me to put the challenges and obstacles of this season in perspective and to boost my confidence for what's to come. Now that this race is behind me, I am confident that one way or another, on October 25th, I will find myself at the finish line of the Beach 2 Battleship Full. Not because I am "tough" or "fierce" as people have said, or because I am hard headed and stubborn, or for some odd reason think workouts that call for "100 miles of riding followed by 40 minutes of running" sound intriguing, fun and wonderful. Likely because, while I know many challenges still lie ahead of me, I now have confidence and faith in my ability to overcome them. I am grateful for the opportunity to toe the starting line, and at peace with whatever my race day outcome may be.

Running, biking, swimming... most days I love each for unique reasons, and some days I grumble each step of the way. Deep down, I know that health and fitness is a precious gift not to be taken for granted, and that days of struggle make the days of elation and joy that much better. Appreciation, passion, determination... FAITH... refusing to settle for the status quo. That is what comes to mind when the going gets tough and I make a conscious choice to press on. And being stubborn. Yep, that too :)

Thanks for reading!

"When things are tough, you get tougher"
 ~ Chrissie Wellington

1 comment:

  1. Very cool! Congrats on a great AG win. That is a fun and tough course, especially dealing with the heat on the run. I got into heat exhaustion (stopped sweating) when I did it in 2010. You are well prepared for B2B. Embrace this last couple of months of training and you will be there.


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