Monday, August 17, 2015

Challenge Pocono Mountain Race Review: Olympic Triathlon OMG

Hello all --

Sorry it's been a while since I've last posted. So much has been going on. 

I've started training for the NYC marathon, competed in a local sprint triathlon a few weeks ago and have been going through the summer training for the Challenge America Pocono Mountain OLY triathlon. Which was yesterday. And boy what a shit show. 

This gets slightly ugly so go get comfortable and something to drink because this is going to be a helluva read. 

day before the storm
First of all, I've been struggling with biking and getting used to the damn "clip-less" pedals - (clip-less pedals means your bike shoes actually clips into the pedal and you and the bike are one. Don't ask me why they are called "clip-less") Anyhow, so I keep falling over in them and am having trouble getting used to them. So on Saturday, during a practice ride, I literally broke down and started crying over these damn shoes because I feel so awkward and klutzy in them. I felt paralyzed to even 'kick off' and get going. I was seriously freaking out. It took me 20 minutes just to start. The most terrifying part of them is stopping and getting out. that's when the falls happen. But I figured for the race I would just have to unclip once - at the end, so essentially once I got going I would only have to maybe fall once. This is relevant information for later in this blog. I considered switching the pedals out to the old fashioned flat kind but that's really not a great idea on the kinds of "hills" we were going to be doing on the course. 

Let's get on to the race.

In spite of the nervous breakdown about the pedals (and fears about feet and leg cramps in the water - which I'm prone to get) I'm feeling pretty excited about the day. All I have to do is not drown or crash and I think I'll be OK.  I spring from bed at 4:15 AM and prepare to 'be great' as my friend Travis would say. 

THE SWIM - .9 miles

The swim start got delayed because of fog. They told us at the pre-race meeting that they might have to cut the swim short because of logistics of closing the roads to traffic if a foggy morning delayed the race. They also told us that the swim cut-off was 1hour.

Well, we finally get in the water and this swim was HARD but I was determined. Like trout we had to swim against the current but unlike trout, I'm not a very strong swimmer and made the stupid error of not wearing a full wetsuit because I feared being too warm. I wore a "shorty" instead that was sleeveless and cut off above the knee. Once at the race, I realized that 99% of the field had traditional long wetsuits on and I had learned that a 'shorty' was less buoyant and effective. Terrific. 

The water felt good and was clean and clear - I could see straight to the bottom. Which made me realize how hard the swim was. At one point I was looking down at the same rock for what seemed like ten minutes. I was "swimming" but the current had me essentially standing still! No bueno!

For time perspective, last year I did an OLY Triathlon, untrained, stopping every 10 strokes to rest and having 0 swim technique and I was able to finish the swim in 53 minutes. This year I've actually trained AND had some solid swim lessons with great triathlon coaches. I am still far from fast and still have a lot to learn but theoretically, I should be MUCH stronger than a year ago. 

This swim was crazy (for me). It took me 45 minutes to get to the turn around point but once we make the turn the current would be on our side but we still had issues. 

First of all, I had to go around this little yellow-minion looking buoy. Apparently that buoy became "unhooked" and started floating away in the current so the more I tried to get around it, the more I was "literally" getting run over by it and it kept getting further away. It was nuts. Then I got around that thing and I was in shallow water that was filled with what seemed like a "field of grass." So I'm trying to swim thru this field of grass and literally these strands of grass is grabbing me and smacking me in the face. holy crap. a volunteer told me if I wanted to get away from the field of grass that I should move towards the center of the river - the only problem with that was the buoy was straight ahead so I would have to add more time onto my swim to swim out to the middle of the river only to swim back to that buoy.

Anyway, at about 55 minutes in and with the swim finish in sight, I was informed that I had two options: Jump on a boat and get brought back into shore - and be able to continue the day - or finish the swim but not be allowed to bike and run. THIS WAS A HUGE BUMMER!!  I wanted to finish that swim but myself, along with 8 other women, decided that the boat in and getting to do the bike and run was better than ending the day with the swim so we did that. Two women (ironically both friends of mine) both decided to finish the swim. 

Now to be fair - strong swimmers didn't seem to have too much trouble but as still a newer swimmer this was challenging for me. I had done more than a mile in under an hour a few times so I believed I could make this cut off. Apparently I was wrong. On the other hand, there was a woman on the boat who said she had done 2 half IM and that this was tougher than those swims. Who knows... All I know is it sucked. :/

OK, so I get on the boat. I'm scared shitless about the bike and am still pretty new to this triathlon thing. We get off the boat and there's an announcement "You have One minute and 30 seconds to get out of transition or you can't go out!" Whhhhhhhhhhat!! I'm a shitty triathlete. I'm scared on the bike, I need to eat a banana, get this stupid wetsuit off, put on socks, GET MY SHIT TOGETHER after swimming for almost an hour... All this is going through my head and then I hear, "ONE MINUTE!" So choice words are flying out of my mouth at record speed and I skip eating, skip my sunscreen, skip drying my feet, slap my socks on, crookedly put on my helmet and I'm shaking as I'm trying to get out of transition, "TWENTY SECONDS!" And I run out of transition to the mount line. I'm out. But I'm a f--king mess. 

So I stick the shoes on and gobble down a nutrition packet and sit there paralyzed as I try to get the strength to start biking. I'm now thinking, maybe I should've just finished the swim. I'm last one out and feeling scared to death. This is not an easy course. The bike is challenging. It's in the freakin' mountains for the love of God. What an idiot I am to be doing this race....

Anyway. The Bike: 24 miles of hell 

While I'm stalling my start I see an athletic girl on a bike next to me, also seemingly stalling - was she on the boat? I didn't know. She had a fancy Quitana Roo bike. I was wondering why she was still just procrastinating too but didn't give it much thought because I was out of sorts and scared to death.

I'm a way worse biker than swimmer and we know how the swim went...

Finally, I push off. I start going. And this QR bike girl starts riding behind me. And then she just starts chatting. "How are you feeling?" "How was your swim?" I don't even know what she's saying. Or why she's chatting with me but I'm OK with a friend on the journey. Why not? But then it hits me. The Challenge America team kit, the real tri bike, her sick triathlete body... Wait a second!?  Are you out here just for me? The last person out?

She smiled and said something to the effect of "Yes, I love being out here with the last person..." I'm not quite sure of the exact words but it was something like that. 

BUT SHIIIIT! Don't get me wrong I was happy for the company - but the f'ing race people sent a chaperone for me!! I'm trying to do a triathlon and now I have a nanny in tow!! Kill me now. Who gets a babysitter during a race?? I know I'm not fast but it feels, I don't know. But I push aside my pride. I suck at the bike and truthfully I'm far more happy for the company than insulted at this point.

AND thank God she was there. The first four miles of this course is CRAZY. Warning. If you haven't trained on hills and don't feel like you're a great biker, you probably want to reconsider signing up for a race with the word "mountains" in it. Just sayin'

I'm maybe a mile into the ride when we get to our first insane climb. And I can't. get. up. the. hill. I wind up almost falling off the bike but manage instead to unclip and get a foot down. On a hill. Well shit. No way I'm getting back in the clips now. So I have to clop, clop, clop, walk, walk, walk up this dumb hill. Talk about feeling defeated. We've got 23 miles to go. How the hell am I going to do this when I'm already failing at this bike thing? UGH. Shit. Now I'm starting to doubt that I have it in me to do this. I really was panicked and overwhelmed. I never wanted to quit something so bad in my life.

But those race people knew what they were doing when they sent Carmel (the name of my triathlon Nanny) out to stick with me. I think I would've quit if she wasn't there. She unclipped and walked her bike with me - chatting, smiling, encouraging me to not give up. I apologized, I worried, I told her I wanted to quit. She reminded me of what's written on the back of my shirt which said, "The greatest pleasure is doing what people say you cannot do." I had no idea that was on the back of my shirt. HA.  Carmel was great. 

So we got up that hill and rode some smaller hills and technical turns and bumpy roads - all pretty tough for me. We just kept going. And then we hit another killer hill. I tried to climb it again and again I nearly fell but managed to unclip in time to not fall. And clop, clop, clop, walked up a freaking hill again!! This was not going well.  22 miles to go. This is going to be a long day. Ugh. All the while I'm still having a heart attack about the shoes. So we keep going and going and then around mile 5 or 6 we get onto a regular road - this road was good. Some 'rolling' inclines but nothing crazy. 

So I was starting to feel a little bit better and then mile 10 hits. Almost half way there! Carmel rolls up next to me and says, "Listen, you're doing well. I'm going to remember your number and look you up and expect to see you got to the end of this thing. You go finish now." And my babysitter left. I was sad to see her go. It was me, the road, and all the bad ass triathletes coming back from their HALF distance races. So at least I wasn't alone, even if I was one of the last OLYs out there. There was one OLY girl still out there too. She had to walk up the hills too. At this point she was behind me. 

As I'm riding back on the regular road, somehow I managed to run over an already dead possum. That wasn't pleasant. 

And then I had to go back to those shitty hills. Tons of work, around mile 20 I hit the hill that about killed me. I couldn't get up this one either and tried to unclip to stop but fell over on my left instead. With the bike on top of me I just curled up in a heap on the ground. I felt like that poor possum. Dead and then ran over again. I grabbed my water bottle, and hydrated. I was so, so, so tired and drained. I didn't want to go back on that bike again. I didn't even want to stand up. I wanted to sell my dumb bike on Craigslist at that very moment and uber my sorry bike-riding ass to the nearest diner. But USAT rules disallows cell phones on the course so no uber. I was very, very done. I sat there between wanting to cry, nap and quit for a full 20 minutes. 70.3'ers passing by and offering help, aid, whatever I needed (thank you triathletes!) but I just wanted to lay there and have death come and take me away. Death never came. If I had my running shoes with me I would've just walked my bike back. I had ZERO desire to get back on. 

Finally I stand up and I know that only four miles is between me and ending this shit show. So I go to get on my bike and my chain has dropped. Under normal circumstances I can get this thing remedied, but with no where to balance my bike and drained from five hundred hours of climbing and 200 hours of swimming and 90 degrees of heat, I have no idea what to do. 

And then, as if on cue, a truck (the only vehicle I've seen on the course all day) pulls up. It's the bike mechanic. He asks me if I need help and he fixed my chain in 5 seconds. 

Ok then. No excuses. I hop back on the bike. It's still tough but the super hard stuff is behind me. I do the best I can to use the downhills and flats to gain the speed to get momentum to go up the hills and manage to get thru a few tough hills without having to get off the bike. 

FINALLY, I turn into the final little part to get off this bike! That bike ride was probably the very hardest thing I've ever done in my entire life. hands down. I was spent. 

Screaming at my best friend Angela that this ride was Bullsh!t

But I was super relieved! I didn't die and now I get to run! (or walk or crawl but I was pretty sure I wouldn't die.) 

Still giving Angela the stink eye in T2 over that ride
And off on the run I go... Just 6.2 miles keeping me from the finish line!

Out to run!
So I'm happy to be running but it's hard and hot. It's fine. I'm slow, I have to walk, I have to douse myself in ice but I just have to keep moving.

And moving, and moving.

It's on a gorgeous trail but that was really challenging too! Nothing easy about this race. there were a few very steep declines and inclines. I was cramping in my quads but still able to keep moving. So I just kept moving. 

Finally the end was near! 

And I turn the corner to see my son and husband! They were so excited to see me. My son chanted "Momma, Momma, Momma!" and it was awesome. 

hubby and son running to get to finish line as I turned corner
pictures are all courteous of bff Angela Lee 
My son decided to race me down the shoot (instead of crossing with me) - he won and proudly told me, "I won and you lost!" and crossing that finish line was the best losing I did all day. 

First smile all day! Ha! He might've won but I got the medal
Another proud picture:

After all that I looked up the results - out of the 8 in my (Athena) division a bunch quit the bike ride, or decided not to run at all. I actually "kind of" wound up placing 3rd. (I say kind of because next to my name, sadly, I have a DNF - which I assume is because I had to be pulled from the water.  And except for the last part of that swim I DID FINISH. I finished when I wanted to quit that first mile of the bike. It's a BUMMER. But I know I gave it all my heart so I am going to have to be OK with that little DNF next to my name.)  I also later learned that a bunch of even seasoned athletes had very tough time on the hills, a few also had to walk the hills and there were a few crashes and curses besides mine. 

I know this is very long but a few last words. The race people were great. Carmel was awesome. The race itself was well-run. I loved being there even though this was very, very hard for me. I may have reached too big for where my training was at. Although there was lots of cursing and tears, a sore day later I'm happy I did it. I'm proud I didn't quit. I was clearly not trained correctly for this. I think if the race was in the lake (like it was last year) and the bike was relatively flat I would've been OK'ish. Who knows?

My friends Angela and Michelle were great. My parents and family too. 

Yesterday I was quitting triathlon forever.

But today, I'm just more fired up than ever to get better, train harder, not have to have a babysitter on the bike... and figure out those damn bike shoes!