Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"Easier Than Chemo" Half Full Olympic Triathlon race report

My bib # was pi, or technically 100pi, which amused me to no end since I'm a total nerd and math geek.

Last Sunday was the Half Full Triathlon, which benefits the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. I did their Olympic distance edition, which was 0.9 miles of swimming, 25 miles of biking, and 6.7 miles of running. Like a standard Olympic tri but with a slightly longer run. I had contemplated doing the long course (half ironman) since January but my training and motivation has been pretty "meh", and I almost bailed completely with having a case of costochondritis pop up a couple months ago. It's gotten a little better but definitely limits my training intensity, and race efforts leave my chest sore for a couple days, but I figured I would rather deal with that than sit on my butt.

But hey this race benefits young adults with cancer, and I embrace the whole "glass half full" approach to life, and I wasn't going to break what would be my 13-year triathlon streak! Plus, I have always wanted to do a Rev3 triathlon after doing so many Ironman branded races. Rev3 did not disappoint!


Going into this was about managing expectations. After nearly a year off from racing triathon and my inconsistent training, I wasn't sure I remembered how to race a tri (especially an Olympic distance!). I knew I could do it, but as far as how fast, that would be limited by both current fitness and keeping under the costochondritis chest pain threshold. Despite the lack of fitness, I found that I could rely on my 13 years of triathlon experience (and uh, maturity? perhaps...) to make up for it.

This race was also about Kevin's first time as my triathlon crew chief. He is very experienced in being crew chief for his microsprint race car thing (see below) and did extremely well when he was thrown headfirst as ultramarathon crew chief (his first endurance event experience EVER) back in March for me and Amy C.

Saturday we dropped off a shiny White Tiger and went over the whole transition area thing together. He had helped out when we did the Nation's Tri relay with the Walter Reed Guys so he knew what to expect, only this time I also had him be my official race photographer (hence the bonus transition pics, other photos from Amy M's dad).

I also gave Kevin my best guesstimations for my race splits so he would know when to expect me:
swim: under 30mins (1500m swim)
bike: 1:15 to 1:30 (pretty hilly 25 miles)
run: 50 to 55mins (pretty hilly 6.7 miles)

After the bike drop off he had me try out my 3 wetsuits at home and then timed how fast I could get out of them. It was like having your race car driver get out of his car quickly if it caught on fire. Or...a wetsuit fashion show and transition practice! From being a sponsored pro, I had a 2009 blueseventy Helix (women's medium), then a 2010 blueseventy Axis (women's small--must've been the super skinny year), and most recently a 2011 2XU Project X (men's small-tall). I'm pretty sure the last time I wore a wetsuit was over two years ago, so it was a good call to try them all on. I confirmed that the 2XU fit the best and it only took me 23.4 seconds to get it off! Dry anyway.

Race morning nutritionals:
It's only a 40min drive up to Ellicott City and I had a couple wheat-free toaster waffles with peanut butter before jumping in the car, with coffee. I had an entire one-day coffee taper (I've been trying to cut back because it's not good for inflammation) and popped a couple of Advil in the car to try to ward off the costochondritis. I ate a Reese's peanut butter chocolate pumpkin about 30mins before the swim start, then lined up with the other purple caps.

As usual, I wore my goggles underneath my swim cap so I wouldn't lose them if the swim was aggressive. (It's also more hydrodynamic!) I had to take several last minute potty breaks, especially when I realized that there was no swim warm-up at all.

It was a time trial start, two at a time, you crossed the mat, dove in and went! They sent 6 waves of collegiate athletes off, then interspersed men and women's age group waves. I was with all the thirty-something women.

I don't remember my last open water swim, it may have been last October at the Cape Henlopen sprint triathlon. (Splashing in the ocean this summer doesn't quite count.) I had just a small panic the first couple minutes and tried to keep myself from hyperventilating. It was a combination of no warm-up, going from zero to SWIM REALLY FAST! with other swimmers around me and being squeezed into that neoprene body glove. (Luckily from the wetsuit fashion show I learned that I can breathe the best in my 2XU. I must be shaped more like a small-tall man than a small or medium woman.) From previous race experience I told myself to calm down, breathe a little more slowly, and swim my own race. I reminded myself of all the ironman swims I had to swim solo when I raced in the pro wave and most always got dropped--those races helped me hone my sighting skills as I didn't have feet to draft off of, and also my "don't panic! just keep swimming hard!" skills. I eased into the swim and soon enough started catching up with slower swimmers from the waves ahead of me.

I almost forgot BodyGlide, but didn't, but I did forget how high up the neck of the wetsuit goes. I immediately felt neck chafage on my right side (the side I breathe on), oh well. I also liked that the course was clockwise, so buoys on the right side, yup, my breathing side. The last third of the swim, I caught a girl from my wave and even drafted her for a while, before I lost her towards the end. Then we were out!

27:58 from the swim results, although I totally forgot to start my watch, so I had no idea how I did. Sometimes I think it's better that way. ;) Just like the olden days (even before racing pro), the swim was always something just to get through. If I actually train to go fast again, it'll be a different story, but I'm pretty sure I can count the number of times I have swam in the last two months on one hand. So I'm pleased with a sub-28 for barely swimming at all! Definitely under 30 minutes.

I saw Kevin as I ran up the hill to transition (long run to transition!) and made the last minute decision to forgo the sunglasses under the aero helmet. Mostly because the glasses fogged up and I had trouble jamming my big head with glasses into the helmet. It ended up being pretty foggy and overcast on the bike anyway, so I made the right decision! The helmet has a built-in clear visor anyway, maybe I'll end up getting a dark visor for the sunny days.

I also clipped my bike shoes in the pedals so I could do that pro thing, jumping onto the bike and slipping my feet in the shoes while riding. (Um, no I haven't practiced or done this in a while.) And I did get a little stuck at the mount line getting my foot in the first shoe, but once it was in, I was ok and ready to go!

Off I went on White Tiger and realized right away my first rookie mistake. I can probably count the number of times on one hand that I've worn this aero helmet and actually biked with it on, race situations only (there were other times where I wore it just for laughs but not for biking). I realized how important ponytail positioning is when wearing an aero helmet! My ponytail was a bit too high, which made the helmet sit down on my forehead enough that I couldn't see anything if I got down in the aero position. OOPS. The first couple miles I struggled to fix this as my legs got warmed up on the bike, and I ended up just pulling my hair rubberbands off and letting my hair stream through the ponytail opening in the helmet.

I felt stronger on the bike than I expected and only got passed by maybe 5 guys. No women came by me. Even though my training's been pretty minimal, with my biking and racing experience I knew how to shift gears appropriately for a hilly course. I knew to hammer down the hills to pass people that were coasting, knew when to stand up on the hills to get up and over, and knew when to sit up and spin to pass the people who were standing up to climb and burning out their legs. I also knew how to gauge my effort (perceived exertion, no fancy power meters for me) and I was breathing pretty hard the whole time...audibly. Even if your fitness is not there, your effort level should be! I've done some Sufferfest cycling videos on the trainer during the week and their motto is "I will beat my ass today to kick yours tomorrow", i.e. IWBMATTKYT. So during the bike, I told myself "tomorrow is today!"

As for nutrition, I had the genius plan to eat a couple of pre-frozen Reese's pumpkins on the bike along with 28oz of Gatorade in my new Profile hyration system. I already questioned if I really needed to take in any calories other than Gatorade and as it turns out, I never even thought about eating anything because I was going at appropriate Olympic distance effort (harder than an ironman, breathing hard, and approaching pukey-ness!). Instead I sipped on my red Gatorade and ran out of drink with at least 5 miles to go (the second and last aid station). I think the 28oz bottle would be perfect if this was a flatter race or if I went faster (more of a 60min bike rather than a 75min bike), but for this one, I could've used a little bit more. I ended up grabbing a water from that last aid station and while refilling got passed by another Team RWB'er. That woke me back up (hello, this is Olympic distance racing!) and I tried to keep him in my sights for the last several miles.

I checked my bike computer as we hit the last turn and was impressed I was on the faster end of my predicted range. I ended up going 1:17:27, which I'm pretty happy with for a hilly course. On a flat course, I'd expect about 10 minutes faster.

I threw my hair back in a ponytail after getting back in transition and asked Kevin how long ago the two bikes on the rack came in before me. He said 10 to 15 minutes and my first reaction was blurting out "oh, I suck!" The second reaction was to save time by going sockless. Like 15 seconds was going to help close up a 15-minute gap. But hey, you never know.

I took off on the run and forced an attitude adjustment, reminding myself what the Half Full Triathlon is all about. The whole race benefits the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. So I remembered quickly "I don't suck, CANCER SUCKS!" I had thrown on my race bibs where I wrote down the names of my family and friends who have had various cancers as young adults and underwent chemo.

My cousin Alvina had aplastic anemia when she was 25. My friend David had Hodgkin's when we were in high school. My cousin Vicki battled breast cancer earlier this year, and my former boss John lost his leg from bone cancer when he was in high school. Then there's Charlene, who was one of my first friends in 5th grade when I was the new kid in a new school, and we later ran high school track together. She is currently in treatment for a pretty aggressive form of breast cancer.

When the hills felt hard, I thought "this is easier than chemo." When I felt kind of fat and out of shape, I thought "shut up, cancer patients lose weight because they get nauseous from chemo." And the run really didn't feel bad in the grand scheme of things because I would think, "this is nothing like losing a leg, having a mastectomy or getting a brain tumor removed"--all things my friends or family members had to do in their battle against cancer.

Because the costochondritis is a self-limiting affliction (although obviously nothing like having cancer in your lungs), when I run I have to hold myself back. So I ran steady, under the chest pain threshold. I just took it one mile at a time, ran steady and smooth and focused on keeping my cadence high (at least higher than my body wants...I don't think it's ever super high), especially on the downhills in the second half of the run. I reeled in the college girls who had started several waves ahead and cheered for the girls who were only 18-20 years old. It made me smile because that's how old I was when I first started! (18 for my first sprint tri, 20 for my first ironman.)

I never felt very fast or fantastic, I just tried not to slow down. I grabbed a Gatorade cup at miles 2 and 4 and tossed water over my head at the other aid stations. It wasn't that hot, at least the second half was completely shaded going around the outskirts of the park. Coming into the park, my right calf twitched a bit in that last half mile, so I didn't throw in a finishing kick (there was barely anyone around me anyway). Then I was done. It was pretty anticlimactic, maybe because there were none of those fun finish line battles and it was hard to tell where I finished due to the time trial start and different age group waves.

I ended up running a 50:24, which was spot-on for my estimates. In fact, I was kind of impressed with my ability to guesstimate all my tri splits. I met other Team RWB members at the finish line, caught up with Terra and Zane Castro (who coached the 1st place collegiate girl and guy), and local pal Amy M. who's dad I actually met at IM Florida way back in 2009 before I met her.

Official race splits:
swim: 27:58
T1: 3:01
bike: 1:17:27
T2: 1:25
run: 50:24
total: 2:40:14

Final placings: 3rd AG, 8th OA. I got bumped up to 1st AG as the top 2 in 30-34 whupped me so hard (by about 20mins) that they got bumped into the top 3 OA. No double dipping! I'll take it! The coolest part is that the finisher's medal doubles as a bottle opener, while the age group medallion thing has a slot in it so it's like a medal holder. Genius.

It felt really great to race again, and be in that atmosphere with other trigeeks. I think I'm really liking this Olympic distance stuff, feeling like I can train enough for it while working a solid job with busy hours instead of being overwhelmed trying to train for long course. And to also be done before 11am and handed Flying Dog IPA beer at the finish line before lunch, and not feel wrecked for days afterward! You may be seeing me racing more of this short course stuff next year...

In the end, I want to thank everybody reading this race report for your continued support, the aforementioned friends and family members I raced in honor of for the inspiration, and my patients at Walter Reed and our civilian office for daily motivation. Thanks to all my former sponsors whose gear I still use! Most of all thanks to my crew chief Kevin for being my #1 supporter, for the daily hugs, kisses, and new adventures together. He did really awesome in our first triathlon...and he has been warned, there shall be more to come!


  1. You were going to eat Reese's on the bike?! Man, I need to try that.

    Nice first one back. Olympic racing is fun!

    1. Thanks!! Yeah, i figured why have overpriced gels or clif blocks when you can have Reese's, which is available everywhere!

  2. Congrats.
    I have been following you from the time you were training seriously for triathalons... and your transition to speed walking... and then now. Glad to see you are back to triathalons.

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