Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I'm an Olympic triathlete!

This post is so long overdue, and to anyone out there that was actually checking my blog, my apologies. I thought that training was interesting, but didn't find anything nearly so interesting that I thought others might want to read about it and to be quite honest, I was being a complete slacker. So I am sorry about that and I'll do better with my blog as I continue on with triathlons, road races, marathons and generally the game of life. But now, for the important stuff....the race recap!

The National Capital Area Team In Training team (NCA TNT) arrived in Austin, Texas on Saturday morning for a fun-filled and inspiring weekend. I started the morning by picking up one of my teammates, Christinas Fox (aka CFox) at 5:45 to make the drive to BWI and we became fast friends. My friend, Steven, from my first TNT event in 2005, lives in Austin now and became the de facto tour guide for our team. Over the course of Saturday and Sunday, we saw the biggest Whole Foods in the country (it was really amazing, I didn't want to leave), the bridge that houses the largest urban bat colony in the country, Lance Armstrong's bike shop, Mellow Johnny's and had some fabulous Tex-Mex food. Where better than Texas for that? Sunday night brought us to the inspiration dinner with the rest of the TNT participants from around the country. All in all we raised $780,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society--pretty amazing for 211 people.

After the pasta party we had a team meeting to go over all of the last minute details and then we were off to pack our transition bags and get a good night's sleep. For the first time in my racing "career" I was not nervous and was able to sleep.

On the morning of the race I woke up at 4 am, ate a small breakfast of a banana and a Clif Z bar, gathered up all of my gear and headed downstairs to meet my team. **Oh, a note about the tri suit. It is spandex from shoulders to knees. It is not pretty, flattering or make you look photogenic. But I digress.** After everyone on my team had been body marked (race number on arms and thighs, age and wave on back of right calf) we walked to transition. It was still pretty dark but I was able to get all of my stuff out of the bags and laid out in the way I like it. Typically I start with enough empty space at the front of my towel so that I can step on it out of the water, then all of my bike stuff is lined up and anything that I want to remember to put on is tucked into my bike shoes. Then my running gear follows with my transition bag last. Along the side, I have extra water bottles, Gatorade, Gu and Clif Blocks. By the time I was done, the sun was up, I had on a ton of bodyglide and sunblock and had wriggled into my wetsuit to my waist. I was ready to go to the start line, but I was still not nervous. Jeromy and my parents will tell you that it's odd for me not to be nervous pre-race, but for some reason this one did not affect me at all.

I only had to wait about 50 minutes before getting in the water for the swim. My wave (Wave J, Females 25-29, yellow caps) went off at 7:50 for the 1500 meter swim, so just under a mile. I completed the swim in 27:09, a time I am really proud of! I don't think I've ever swam a mile that quickly, so training has really paid off. Getting out of the water was really disorienting though but I was so impressed by how the race handled it--they had people lining the ramp into the water that basically just grabbed me and held me up as I walked up the ramp. At the end of the ramp I started running, pulled off my cap and goggles and pulled my wetsuit back down to my waist. As soon as I was out of the water, I knew I was fine and that I would finish the race. I am strong in the water but for some reason I always feel like it's the spot that could go wrong and I could have a problem, but as soon as it's over, it's just a matter of how fast I will finish.
--> that's me in front!

When I got back to my transition, I peeled off my wetsuit, put on my helmet, dried my feet, drank some gatorade and took my bike off the rack. I should have run through transition but I was still feeling a bit wobbly so I walked my bike to the end of transition. This is the first time I saw Steven and CFox's family and friends--it was so great to hear and see people cheering for me. I smiled as soon as I saw them, gave them a few goofy faces and crossed the mount line. I did not prep at all for this race in terms of being familiar with the course so I had no idea what to expect except for a couple of bad hills somewhere. But still, I was not nervous, I felt great. I ate some Clif Blocks (and lost an unopened pack on the road) as soon as I got into the first loop and buckled down to see what was in store. To my pleasant surprise, the hills were maybe a 7 out of 10 in terms of how hard they were and they did not last long. It was hot, but on the bike there was a nice breeze. I can't tell you exactly how great I was feeling. My bike was light and fast, and my legs just kept pushing and pulling on the pedals--I did not want to slow down or stop. There were a few moments when it felt hard and I was tired, but when that would happen I would think of Brian and how brave he was at the clinic when I went with him, or how much his little body has to endure when he is receiving chemo. Brian got me up the hills when it started to get hard. At the front of my bike you'll see that I taped a list of people I was racing in honor of. It was the thought of what they went through that made me push harder and get through the race, because if they can battle cancer, then I could certainly finish a triathlon and finish strong.

** a note on the course--I loved it. It was a fantastic course. The bike had challenging hills and straightaways that were great for recovery. I hope to be able to do the race again, it was that much fun.**

After my fourth loop (confirmed by Steven and my bike computer to make sure I actually rode the whole race), I headed back into transition for the run. I completed the 40K (24.8 miles) in 1:27:32, about 3:30 faster than I expected, which was very exciting for me since biking is my weakest link. I got into transition, reracked my bike, put on my hat, my knee brace, my running shoes and my tri bracelet from Auntie Ellen & Uncle John, grabbed a Gu and I was on my way.

The transition between biking and running is never easy because your legs feel like jelly, so you start out kind of slow. I was hoping to be able to run the entire 6.2 mile course, but it was so hot that I was afraid I would overheat so I had to walk for part of it. The course had a ton of support so at every water stop I was able to drink water and also douse myself to keep cool. The run course was 2 loops back over the river and downtown--part of it was along the bike course. As I came over the Congress Street bridge the first time, I saw Steven and told him how bad I was feeling. He waited for me to come back around the corner and took this picture and then ran with me for almost a mile. It was really helpful because I was able to take my mind off of how I was feeling and naturally get into my stride. Thanks, Steven, you have no idea how much you helped! As I started on the second loop I knew exactly what I was in for and decided that as soon as I was about a mile out, I would run all the way into the finish as fast as I could. I had thought it would take me between 3:15 and 3:45 to do the whole race but at that point I was on pace to finish in 3 hours and I wanted to try to make it. (In the end I did the 10K in 1:06, a few minutes off of my PR.) I found a few other NCA TNTers on the course, which was fantastic so we could run/walk together. As I came back around and was on Congress Street, with just over a mile to go, I started to pick up my pace. I would not walk, I would run the rest of the way in. And I did. The crowds cheering me on made it easier to lift my feet and put one in front of the other. The chants of Go Team made me smile, every one, and smiling makes running easier. It's an amazing feeling to know that you're not racing for yourself, you're racing for a cure for something that has stolen the lives of too many people.

As I came around the corner into the finish shoot, I could not stop grinning. The finish was SO close! I started sprinting and didn't stop until I got over the line and saw my friend Leighton (a TNT team captain) waiting there. I gave her a big, sweaty hug and went on to get my medal. As soon as I had my medal and was waiting in line for my finish picture, it hit me. I did it. I finished an Olympic triathlon in 3 hours, 12 minutes and 53 seconds. I surpassed what I expected to do and I raised $4500 for the Society. I started crying right then and it took me a couple of minutes to pull myself together for the photographer--it was just overwhelming.

Thank you all for your support, encouragement and donations. I can't tell you how much it meant to me to know that you were all cheering for me in spirit and that you believed I could do this. I wore the triathlon bracelet that Auntie Ellen and Uncle John gave me so that I could carry them with me on the course and over the finish line. Uncle John, I TRI-ed for you, and I will keep TRI-ing and running until there is a cure (or my shoulders and knees give out, whichever comes first!)

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