Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Eagleman Recap: on the road to Kona (sorry in advance, this is long)

It all started as a joke.  “Hey Ry, how cool is it that our 1 year wedding anniversary is the same day as Kona?  How fun would it be to celebrate our 1 year in Hawaii?”

The joke now sets us up for the biggest race of our lives: Eagleman 70.3.  There are only a few 70.3s that qualify athletes for the World Championship Ironman race (Kona), and Eagleman happens to be one of them.  It also happened to be the Sunday after I got out of school, whereas the other two (St. Croix and Hawaii) were during the school year, so it seemed almost too good to be true. 

After talking about how we would train and if this was truly something we wanted to do, Ryan and I shelled out a couple hundred and signed up for this crazy event. 

A half Ironman (70.3) is a 1.2mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run.  I have competed in two 70.3s in my life, so I wasn’t in for a total shock….but those were right after college when I first started dating Ryan and really wanted to impress him.  Long story short, I kept getting injured from collegiate running and once Ryan started coaching me (after I “retired” from the team) and incorporating swimming and biking, I stopped getting injured.  It seemed silly to just waste that training so when Ryan signed up for Buffalo Springs Lake 70.3, I figured I might as well do it, too. 

And by “do it, too” I apparently meant race hard and just miss qualifying for Kona by 9 seconds. 

Yep.  9 freaking seconds.  I know I’ve blogged about this before, so I won’t waste your time, but after that day I did decide I’d qualify for Kona at some point in my life….and most certainly not by completing a full Ironman.  Watching Ryan complete Ironman Wisconsin a few years ago was not a fun experience.  Granted, he did not train for it at all, but still seeing him struggle really made me upset and I decided an Ironman was just not in the cards for me. 

Flash forward a few years and here we are.  Attempting to qualify for not just any Ironman.  Kona.  The World Championships Ironman.

Are we crazy?  Maybe.  I like to think of us as ambitious and dedicated rather than crazy.  Now our coach, that’s another story.  While he himself is perfectly sane, his workouts can only be described as crazy.  BUT, they work(ed).

Ryan and I started training for Eagleman the second week of January.  This gave us 5 months of quality training before heading into the taper.  Those 5 weeks were truly the most brutal 5 weeks of my life.  I remember being at LifeTime one night to lead the Run Club and being asked if I was okay….that’s how “out of it” I looked after completing my hard swim workout at the end of week 3 of hard weeks.

Bill (coach) structures our training by weeks: Hard, Harder, Hardest, Recovery. I have never looked forward to a Recovery Week until I started working with Bill.  My U of I ½ marathon PR came at the tail end of a recovery week, so it goes to show that his training cycles really do work well.

Alright, getting into the actual race…

Ryan and I flew out Friday night and arrived in our Baltimore hotel around 1am on Saturday.  We met up with college friends/teammates Melissa and Arjun for a fun run around the Ravens and Orioles stadiums before heading for a fantastic brunch with them and their adorable 9-month-old daughter, Tarala.  It was so much fun catching up with them and I can’t help but think how lucky we are that our sport helps us connect with old friends so frequently.

We picked Ryan’s dad up and headed to Cambridge, MD, the site of the race.  We spent quite a bit of time getting our bikes ready before taking them out for a quick spin.  We racked our bikes (many longer races have you leave your bikes overnight, which is actually kind of nice as we didn’t have to deal with the hassle of our bikes this morning or last night) and headed out for dinner.

 Personalized bike slot!
 Darn right!
The important part of this picture: the beers were by Maui Brewing Company...get it, Kona, Maui??

Being huge seafood fanatics, we had to try Ocean Odyssey…okay, it might have helped that they had a large selection of Craft Beers and Bison Burgers (my pre-race ritual), but their seafood was pretty darn good, too.  And wouldn’t you know…right next door was a Dairy Queen.  We got some dipped cones before making the trek to our hotel. 

We arrived at our hotel in Salisbury, MD, just as the Hawks game got started.  Perfect.  Ryan’s dad actually made friends with all of the lacrosse players and their families who were here for a huge tournament (one of his new friends actually texted him to see how our races went, too!!).  When the Hawks gave up a goal with less than 10 seconds left in the game, Ryan and I decided we really needed to focus on our sleep.  It’s not like it was the 7th game and our race was kind of really important.

We woke up Sunday morning at 4:40am to GREAT news that the Hawks won.  If that isn’t a sign that today’s going to be a good day, I don’t know what is.  We grabbed some breakfast and headed to the race site. 

WOW was it muddy.  We were happy that it had rained 6inches on Saturday as that cooled the water enough to have the race be wetsuit legal, but it created QUITE the mess.

After pumping our tires and setting up our transition area, we headed back to our rental van to hang out as we had over 2 hours until we would actually start racing.  While hanging out in the van, ironically (now) Ryan and I began talking about how much we didn’t want to race and how we never get these kinds of nerves before running races.  We joked about this after the race as we clearly were confident in what we knew we needed to do in order to qualify…all we needed to do was execute the race exactly as planned.  No big deal, right?

The pro’s took off at 6:45am….and Ryan’s wave began at 8:30am, mine at 8:35am.  Dead freaking last.  At least it allowed me the opportunity to pass some people for once on the swim, which is always a successful day in my mind!

Right from the start, I was getting knocked around.  The one thing that I really have going for me in the swim is that I am really particular about swimming the shortest route.  I spot the buoy and make the most direct and shortest route to it.  Let’s be honest…who wants to ever swim/bike/run farther than they have to in a race situation?  Anyway, I started my swim on the inside (it was a water start) so got a little pushed around in the beginning before finding my groove and—in my mind—began flying.  Ryan had told me that there are sometimes jellyfish in the water, which I didn’t remember until probably ¾ of the way through when I hit something that freaked me out.  Neither one of us got stung, but I was a little scared after touching it!

I came out of the water with a girl named Jessica Crate (I met her after the race).  She was the only girl in my age group not wearing a wetsuit, so she stood out to me for that reason and because she was wearing a PowerBar Team Elite uniform….so I knew she was going to be good.  When I exited the water on her heels, I was pretty excited since I knew she had to be a pretty good triathlete (looking her up after the race, I saw that my prediction was correct). 

I quickly took off my suit, changed into my bike shoes and plowed through the muddy mess to hop on my bike for 56 miles of fun.

Swim time: 41:47….26th out of the water.

I started training with power this year, so knew the “number” I should be hitting….which would have been great had my Garmin bike watch actually worked.  14 minutes into the bike, it froze.  I tried turning it off and on and started to get worried until I remembered that I’m a math teacher….

I used my wrist Garmin as it split every 5 miles.  I knew to be in contention for the one coveted Kona slot, I had to bike around 22mph and run a 1:25ish 13.1miles at the end.  I started doing the math and realized I should be biking low-13’s for my 5mile split in order to average at least 22mph.

This was truly the only solution I could come up with and really was frustrating.  I do believe I’m capable of biking faster than what my split shows, but had no idea of how fast I was ever going since my Garmin decided to die.  While I felt like I was constantly pushing hard, I know there were a few times I wasn’t, specifically going into the wind and when changing out my waterbottles.  Long story short, I keep one bottle in between my aero bars and two behind my seat and struggled a bit rearranging them when I’d empty one.  I had one bottle of just Gatorade, one bottle of Gatorade plus three PowerGels and one bottle of Gatorade plus three PowerGels with caffeine.  I knew what to take and when to take it, but just struggled moving the bottles around and this truly could have cost me my slot to Kona.

I started the bike in 26th place and ended the bike in 6th place.  My split put me 4th in my age group, which is something I have to be proud of as it was always SUCH a weakness of mine before training with Bill (and doing workouts in our “dungeon” with Ryan).

Bike time: 2:35:08 (21.66mph average....21.88 for the first half, 21.44 second half)

My favorite part!  I started the run with a lady spotting me and telling me, “Slow down girl, you’re gonna burn yourself out!”  I just smiled and ran past as she helped fuel my already growing fire.  My run splits were ridiculous .  I seriously don’t know how I did it.
6:22, 6:14, 6:31, 6:37, 6:43, 6:45, 6:44, 6:51, 6:53, 7:00 (yeah, we’ll get to that), 6:56, 6:42, 6:28

Honestly, the first three miles really felt the easiest.  Part of that was probably because it was not too sunny at that point.  The run course was an out and back, which was so awesome for me as it gave me the chance to see my competition.

Ryan’s dad yelled to me that the girl he thought was in first, Jessica, was 1minute and 40seconds ahead of me.  So, I had 80some minutes to make up 100seconds.  Bring it on.

At about mile 4, I saw Ryan and Jen Harrison and was SO excited.  I also was able to see Jessica in her PowerBar uniform, so knew it was now doable.  Jessica is a phenomenal runner.  She’s run a 1:19 half and 17:xx 5ks, so clearly this was going to be a battle (though at the time of the race, I was able to identify her as a good runner based on her stride and form).

I’m used to being able to rely on my run to pass girls at the end as generally, when you’re a good swimmer and a good biker, running is your weaker of the three disciplines.  Not with Jessica.  I really was worried until I started creeping up around mile 5.5.  Just before the turnaround at 6.5miles, I flew by her and prayed she wouldn’t come with.

I saw her at the turnaround and she was starting to fade back a little, which made me confident but still scared.  I knew I’d have to stay sub-7, preferably sub-6:45, if I was going to win this thing. 

I also got really scared at mile 5.5 when I saw another female wearing a bib that clearly put her in my age group.  I thought, “there’s NO freaking way.”  Except that there was.  I looked up results and saw she swam TEN MINUTES FASTER than me.  And biked about the same.  Jeeeeez.  But, again going with the “good swimmers and bikers aren’t the best of runners” philosophy, I kept plowing on in hopes of catching her.

I passed a guy in Ryan’s age group and he decided to run just a few steps ahead of me (after repassing me) for the next three miles, which was great until we hit a 7:00 mile.  That is NOT happening if I want to go to Kona.

With one mile to go (sound familiar? As in my first ½ Ironman experience?!), I had her in striking distance and decided to go by her fast so that I wouldn’t get repassed again like I had a few years back, which ultimately cost me my Kona slot then.

After I passed her, I went back to my 6:45 pace only to find that she was just about to repass me!  She did, and I did the only thing I could think to do: pray.  I know it sounds super cheesy, but it truly is what I did.  And just like that, I was around her again, running for a Kona slot. 

I saw Ryan and his dad and they put even more fear in me.  This would be why I ended my half Ironman half marathon in a 6:28.  It was SUCH a sigh of relief to be done with the race.

I finished a mere 50 seconds ahead of Jessica, who then qualified for the World Championships 70.3 in Vegas, which is pretty darn cool as well.  I’m very thankful to have raced someone of her caliber today as she pushed me to my potential and we had a fun (despite being stressful!) battle.  I’m already looking forward to seeing her rock the 70.3 Champs.

Run time: 43:42/44:11 for 1:27:53 (6:42/mile), 1st in my age group.

Overall finish: 4:48:14.

We knew I’d have to be around 4:45 to win my age group and with the swim being long (over a quarter mile long!), I can’t complain with my time.

As soon as I found Ryan and his dad, I immediately asked if Ryan had won his age group.  He told me he did and I just jumped into his arms.  Having eyed down every single female on the run, I was 99% confident that I also had won.

On our walk back to the van to get our phones to look for my results, we happened to bump into ANDY POTTS.  You know, the guy who represented the US in the Olympics for triathlon.  No big deal.  HE was super excited for US for qualifying for Kona—how cool is that?  We told him we’d get another picture with him after we all dominated at KonaJ

When we got back to the van, my phone had exploded with texts and facebook messages from friends and family, reminding me just how blessed and lucky I really am.  All of these people were cheering for me, tracking me, following each discipline to see how I was doing because they knew how important this race was to me.

Awards took FOREVER to actually get going, but signing that check to solidify that we would be celebrating our one-year anniversary in Kona by recovering from the World Championship Ironman made everything worth it.

I have to really thank SO many people for support throughout this journey.  This goes without saying, but God really has big things in store for me and I am so lucky He chose this race to show me that.  Ryan, my biggest supporter and cheerleader throughout this process, I would not have even thought about ever trying to make it to Kona without you.  My parents, right behind Ryan in the support/cheerleader department, got me into running and being competitive at such a young age and I am so grateful to have grown up with a fun running background….thanks to Nic and Kristina for pushing me to my limits in everything any one of us does.  Coach Bill—without you, truly none of this would have been possible.  You completely killed us on each and every hard workout, but look where it got us.  I am so glad we trusted you, believed in you and found you (shout out to Lauren for Nic’s surprise party where we met Bill!).  I could go on forever, but without the aforementioned people I really would not be where I am today: recapping the most incredible race of my life.

Here’s to another crazy intense 4 months of training.  Happy following!

 Top 5 females 25-29
 Kona bound!
 AWESOME trophy!
Just hanging out with the overall pro winner, Andy Potts. No big deal.
 After awards, we drove 3 hours to Atlantic City to see the shore and have fun....
 ....this happened to be the only non-smoking room left, and our reservations were for non-smoking...
 ....so I think we got a pretty good deal.
We came home (after a very delayed flight) to a decorated house! We are SO blessed!
 Happy 30th anniversary/thanks for your help with our wedding....fly to Kona on us! :)


Jennifer Harrison said...

AWESOME race report! I am so glad you and Ryan did so well and are going to Kona! It will be an opportunity you guys will never forget!

We should ride before Kona -- not sure I can run with you! And, see you at LITH!

So happy for you guys!

Nicole Kesten said...

congrats to you and ryan!! that seriously will be the BEST 1 year anniversary. ( hope you don't mind i linked to this post for his interview.) nic


jacqui said...

Thanks Jen! I am SO glad all THREE of us are going to Kona--we are so excited that you decided to come!:) YES PLEASE, I would love to ride with you. I'm hoping next week to be able to have a nice Wednesday for once so we can all have a good (not freezing cold) swim at LITH! Thanks again:)

Nicole--thank you!!! LOVE that you posted your link to Ryan's interview...it was great to read! Thanks again!