The Utah half has become one of the races I look forward to every year. Last year I was in the hospital having a baby during the half and I eagerly anticipated it this year. The course is flat and the spectators and support are always superb!
One of the things I have loved about being on a triathlon team this year is that you have a built-in support system, and every racing experience is amplified. The night before my half I had various text messages and phone calls from my teammates wishing me luck and encouraging me. I was not nervous until the night before at packet-pick up. I learned that wetsuits would be allowed which normally makes a racer happy, but because of an incident with my dog, I was going without one. I figured if everyone was without, the playing field was even. No wetsuit, no problem. As I laid out my gear that night the normal thoughts went through my head, had I done enough preparation? Had my body amply recovered from the previous week's flu? What flavor of GU should I take on the bike? I went through the race in my mind then laid in bed for two hours trying to go to sleep.
Four hours later, it's race day! The only time I ever have to force down breakfast is race morning. I'm too excited to eat. One of my favorite parts of a race is the morning before the gun goes off. I love the energy and excitement as people prepare to race. I'm always 'Chatty Cathy' in transition with my transition neighbors. I met a few stressed out first timers, and enjoyed seeing so many friends and familiar faces. Amongst the friendly faces was coach Keena. She came to cheer everyone on and minutes before the first wave was to start she offered me her wetsuit. The miracle was that it fit, and I now had a wetsuit.
The swim was great! A double loop in the boat harbor. Lake sludge or not, I was happy to be there. I felt a little sorry for the race directors, trying to explain the swim route to a bunch of athletes with earplugs in their ears hopped up on energy drinks and adrenaline, was like giving instructions to toddlers with ADD. I think they had to explain the route about 20 times. The swim felt long, but enjoyable, there were no kicks to the face or leaky goggles, I love my swim mask. (thank you HEAD Swimming!)
As I came out of the water, Keena was right there ready to strip her suit off me, (thank you Keena). I rushed into transition excited to get on my bike. This is usually the portion of the race that I gain a little ground. I'm never last out of the water, but I can usually pull myself further ahead in a race during the bike. During the first hour on the bike, I kept telling myself to hold back a little so I could save some legs for the run. The bike course was so beautiful out on country roads and the weather was nearly perfect, a slight head-wind but otherwise great. At the turnaround I noticed myself getting passed quite a lot and my body very thirsty and running out of steam. I tried to not get discouraged and to focus on racing my own race. I instinctively wanted to speed up but my body knew it's limits. I was thankful to all of the policemen that took the time to provide a safe passage for all the racers through the intersections and streetlights that day, and I thanked every one of them as I passed by.
I would love to say that I didn't care what my bike time was, but truthfully I was disappointed in it. It was almost the exact same time I had two years ago and I know I'm a much stronger cyclist now with a much lighter and faster bike (thank you Kestrel!).
On to the run- I'll give you the mechanics, and leave the dramatics to the end.
The run was different than it was two years ago when I last did it (I don't know about last year), but I really liked the layout of the course. It's very flat and the majority of it was on the Provo River Parkway and nicely shaded. The various out-n-backs kept the run very social and allowed you to high-five friends and complete strangers. The aide stations were well placed, amply stocked and included opportunities to be hosed down like a wet t-shirt contest. The volunteers were abundant, supportive, and crucial to the success of this event.
As for myself, even with a slower bike time, (3 hours) I was still on track to keep my race within 6 hours if I could just keep a slow and steady run. I learned very quickly in mile one I would not meet that goal today. I barely walked, more liked limped/hobbled the entire first mile, even stopping altogether to try to take in even more salt tabs and get my quads to stop seizing. I remember at one point stopping and feeling like I just wanted to quit. I started trying to think of funny jokes in my head so I could stop the tears from coming out of my eyes, thus dehydrating and embarrassing me further. My throat started to close up and I told myself to just suck it up! No more pity party, I train on these very trails and I've never let them get the best of me and I'm not a quitter. What happened next is why I love this sport. Everyone passing by me on the out-in-back saw me struggling and I was buoyed up by complete strangers saying "hang in there," "you got this," "you can do it!". One girl, Ashley, even stopped to see if I was alright and another guy gave me his bag of salt tablets. I'm so accustomed to team sports where the other competitors would love to see you fail. Out on the trail it was like being a part of one big triathlon family. It doesn't matter where you finish on the podium, I know I've been inspired by those who have struggled and finished last because they didn't quit. Of course I thought about my teammates cheering me on and my family and friends who overcome hard things everyday, and if I had to limp or crawl, I was going to finish this race.
My legs started to calm down a bit as long as I didn't run over 10 min. miles. I saw Keena running along the trail (that woman is always training, she's amazing!) and she high-fived me and told me to "tough it out and keep going"- I love that.
I was happy to reach the aide station with two of my teammates, Mckenzie and Taylor, they dumped ice down my sports bra so I could snack on ice chips for the next mile (worked quite well). Every couple of miles my legs would start to seize and I would have to walk a little which was frustrating because my lungs felt great. I battled through those 13 miles! Seeing the finish line at the end of a race like that was beautiful.
The post race food was perfect! They had plenty of chocolate recovery milk, bagels, fruit, water, etc. I sat down on a chair just as they started to announce the winners of the day. I think the overall winner came in at 4:20! Amazing. I made a comment to the guy sitting in the chair next to me, "wow, I'm feeling a bit slow..." he looked at me and said "So what! We just did 70.3 miles on foot, bike and in water!"
He was right. I am so blessed to have the ability to exercise and move, and participate in these great events with such awesome people. It's amazing what we as people can do when we let go of our fear of failure and just do our best. I have had races where I got stand on the number one block on the podium and yes, it feels great, but ultimately I don't race for medals, I race for the whole journey.
This would not have been possible without the help and support I have received from family, friends, and sponsors. Specifically, RaceTri for a track record of amazing races and TriEdge for taking on the TriEdge-Kestrel Womens Triathlon Team.
My other amazing sponsors: Kestrel, Flexr Sports, BEARPAW, T3 Triathlon, HEAD Swimming USA, Coach Keena Training (thank you for your wetsuit rescue), and Cool-Aide: Sports Towels (I ran with this towel and it helped me stay cool during the run!)