Shhhhh. Want to know a secret? Well, shhh, and I'll tell you about my race on 9/11.
Before the Race
When you prepare for a whole season for a big triathlon, as I prepared for the Patriot's Half Ironman this year, by race day you are a bundle of nerves. Most people pick out a "mantra" that calms them down. I wasn't sure what my mantra would be for the Patriot's Half.
I did know I'd be lucky, though, because the fortune cookie I had after finishing my PF Chang's Singapore Street noodles the night before the race said so. And it had some "Lucky Numbers," which reminded me of my 7 weeks in Hong Kong doing a project for Philip Morris. Whenever you bought something in the big stores in Hong Kong (and I bought a lot of good stuff), you'd get a receipt and a Lucky Number. With the Lucky Number, you'd go to a counter where ladies repeated "lucky number! lucky number!" Every number was a lucky number. If you handed over your lucky number, you'd get a prize of some sort. All sorts of different things. It made you want to keep coming back for more, so you could get more prizes. Anyway
The night before the race, I got all kinds of lucky numbers. The noodles were a great pre-race meal, and it was gratifying to know that on race day, I'd be lucky! I hoped that it would be good luck!
There was some thing special, too, about doing this race, the Patriots race, on the anniversary of 9/11.
On 9/11/01, I calmly rose at dawn to get into the office early because I had a closing the next day and many hours of work to do before the closing could occur. But in the quiet morning, I got several hours of solid work done and felt good about what I'd accomplish for the day. Then someone came and told me to come look at the TV, and the whole world changed.
On 9/11/10, I rose before dawn with butterflies in my stomach and thought about the race ahead of me. My friend Lilo had told me to hold the butterflies in my hand till the race finish and then to let them go and fly away. What an image!
Holly, Beth, Dale and I left the hotel at 5:00 am for the race site, where we were told to park in a large hay field. We unloaded our gear and took turns pumping our bike tires with air, using Holly's truck lights to see what we were doing. I pumped my back tire fine, and then started on the front one.
Shhhhhh Shhhhh Shhhhh The air was coming out, but not going in. Clearly Ariel had a flat. I would have to change her tire tube before the race start. Now I was nervous. In theory I can change a bike tire tube, but it could take me a LONG time. At these races, there are bike mechanics on hand to help with things, and I decided to have an expert change my tire tube. But the line was too long! I began to panic. I took a deep breath and quieted my mind. Then I knew what my mantra would be: shhhh shhhh shhhh
Then it came to me: Coach Tyler was not racing, but he was planning to drive from Richmond to see us start and through the swim. I called him on my blackberry, and said he was on his way and would help with the tire. So I set up my transition, and I realized I forgot my visor! Running a half marathon without a visor--yikes! I remembered to remain calm--shhhhh. I recalled some $5 visors for sale at the registration tent. I had no money, but Holly had mentioned she had some cash. "Holly, do you have any cash?" She replied, "I only have $5." LUCKY! Is there any tax? I found the visor and handed the man the fiver. "Thank you and good luck on the race!" he said, with no mention of tax. Whew! With 15 minutes to spare before transition closed, Coach Tyler arrived, and boy was I glad to see him. He deftly changed Ariel's tire tube, and announced that the problem was the valve stem, which meant that there was nothing inherently wrong with the tire, no glass hidden there likely to cause a second flat. LUCKY!
My Goals for the Race
Patriots would be my second race of this distance, 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, and 13.1 mile run. Last year, I raced Augusta, and finished in 7:30:39. The swim at Augusta, though, was downstream in a rushing river. I completed the Augusta swim in 33:55, but I expected the swim at Patriots to take an hour because there was no downstream current to carry me. If my cycling and running had not improved, therefore, my Patriots time would be close to 8 hours. But, I knew I had improved. So, I figured that if I cycled and/or ran faster, I could make up that extra 30 minutes needed for the swim, and still come in under 7:30. That was goal one, to beat last year's time despite the harder swim. And, shhhhhh, I had a secret goal, a stretch goal, to finish in fewer than 7 hours.
The swim sounds simple: Swim from the shore straight out to a yellow buoy and turn left, then swim parallel to the shore (more or less downstream) to another yellow buoy, then turn left and head straight into shore. I was in the fifth wave so I had the advantage of watching the men and younger women start ahead of me. Coach Tyler was on shore, and he told several of us to be sure to swim to the right of where we wanted to go because the current was carrying the swimmers, even the strong swimmers, to the left of the first turn buoy. The last thing you want to do is to get out where the buoy is supposed to be and discover that you have to swim upstream to get around it. I took this advice, and swam wide. Most everyone else headed straight to the buoy. Every few strokes, I would peek up to see the buoy, and I was glad I was banking right, because the current was carrying me closer to it, and carrying others far away from it. When I got to it, dozens of people had gone to far left and were swimming back toward it to round it. I rounded it wide to avoid the mayhem and began to swim parallel to the shore. Before I knew it, likedy-split, I saw, and rounded, the second yellow buoy. Now my job was to swim to the shore.
I looked up and I was LOST. Part of the problem was that the shore was not straight. Part of the problem was that the sun shone brightly in my eyes. Part of the problem was, I saw swimmers, but I couldn't tell if they were coming or going. Moreover, they had not been good guides earlier in the swim, so maybe they were going the wrong way. I started to panic, but remembered "shhhhhh." I would get through this. A woman in a kayak said, "swim toward the light." I swam toward the blinding sun. Soon, however, I realized that this was not the "light" to which she referred. I asked someone on the boat, "where is the exit?" He said, "see the strobe light?" Strobe light? No! "See the yellow balloon man?" I saw this balloon blowing in the distance and headed toward it. Soon, though, I was lost again. I asked directions again, and realized that to exit I had to swim very far to the left. I headed that way and sighed at how far it looked. But at least I was going the right direction now.
While I was still far from shore, my hands began to touch the sandy bottom of the river. Just a few weeks ago, I had learned to "dolphin dive," and I knew I had to use this technique because running too far in water would wear me out. Dolphining consists of grabbing the sand with your fists, pulling your feet up to your hands under the water, and then doing an arch with your arms and diving forward in the water. Coach Michael had taught us this technique and after watching me attempt it a few times observed that "belly floppin' might not be ideal." I replied, "indeed, it's called the 'dolphin,' not 'the big fat whale'!" By race day, I was no longer imitating Willy, but I felt a bit more like a frog, or--dare I say a toad--than a dolphin. I contemplated walking the rest of the way, but I saw Coach Tyler waiting on the shore and kept it up. Finally it was too shallow to dolphin, and I stood and began to run out of the water. "I think I swam two miles!" I shouted to Tyler, and he replied, "You are not alone!"
As I came ashore, I unzipped my wetsuit and pulled it off my shoulders and arms. Coach Michael teaches you to take your goggles and swim cap off and put them in your wetsuit sleeve, but my goggles are prescription and cannot be removed till I am close enough to my bike to see my sunglasses. So I kept my goggles on and ran. Then, I stopped, pulled my wetsuit off completely, and threw it over my shoulder for the remainder of the (long) transition run. I was pleased that my compression sleeves (knee socks that start below the knee and end above the ankles) remained in place.
Back in transition, I found Ariel with my helmet and sunglasses on her handlebars. I took off my goggles and swim cap and replaced them with the sunglasses and helmet. I grabbed Ariel and threw my wetsuit over the rack in her place. My shoes were attached to the pedals, so I continued to run, barefoot, out of transition, pushing Ariel by the seat. After the mount line, I put my hands on Ariel's handlebars and jumped on her seat. I found the shoes, right side up--LUCKY-- and pedalled with my feet atop the shoes. I knew there was a long flat stretch, so I took my time in riding while grabbing my right shoe by the toe, placing my foot inside, and then closing the velcro. Then the same for the left shoe. I was in and I was off!
And what a great bike ride! I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day: after the summer of heat, the temperature was moderate and the humidity was low. The Patriot's bike course is not a hilly course, but a fast course with just a few modest hills. I felt great, and focused on making sure I ate and drank appropriately, so I wouldn't get too hungry and lose energy. I felt so lucky, and I heard the Chinese ladies' voices: "Lucky number! lucky number!"
There were three bottle exchanges on the bike ride. Only water was being offered at the first one, so I rode past it without stopping. At the second stop, I missed the chance to throw my bottle away, but I took a bottle of Heed and refilled the nearly empty water bottle on my aero bars and drank deeply from the Heed bottle, and tossed it away. Good; more than enough for the rest of the ride, particularly if I took another Heed at the last stop. The third stop was supposed to be at mile 45, so I looked for this. At mile 42, I saw a group of volunteers with flags. Was there a turn? I thought it was straight on. I asked "which way?" and they said "straight." Then I realized--this was the water stop. No Heed for Amy. Oops. Good thing I still had plenty of Gatorade and Heed on the bike.
By this time, with 14 miles to go, my right hip (top of my IT band actually) was getting tight and sore. I stood up a few times to stretch. I thought "oh, nothing a little 13.1 mile run won't cure!" HA HA HA. I am so lucky!
Before I knew it, I was headed back into transition (T2) and I undid the velcro on my shoes, removed my bare feet, placed them on top of my shoes and kept pedalling. I slowed near the dismount line and put my leg over the seat. Not graceful, but I did it! I pushed Ariel by her seat back to her rack, and racked her on top of my wetsuit. I removed my helmet and put on my socks, in which I had put lots of talcum powder, and my shoes with the elastic laces. I grabbed my visor, race belt and fuel belt, and headed out on the run, putting these items on as I ran.
Out of transition, someone offered me water and Heed, but I declined and concentrated on getting into a running rhythm. My goal for the run was to walk only while taking in fluids at the water stops, and to run steadily the remainder of the time. And I felt pretty good as I started. The run course was a two loop course, so fairly quickly I saw my speedier teammates. I didn't see Coach Michael, who finished second overall. I suspect he was finished with the whole race before I started my 13.1 mile run. But he had an advantage--he started in an earlier wave than I did. : ) But soon enough I saw Whitney (who would take 1st in her age group) and many other teammates, most on their second loop as I rounded the first loop. And, several times, I saw a man who carried a large American flag as he ran. "Thank you!" I said to him. It was a fitting tribute to those who have served our country in the military, as my husband did in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Patriots.
Although there was some sun, most of the course was on tree-lined trails. This was a very good thing because I noticed that I was a lobster. I had planned to use a spray on sunscreen that morning, but in my haste with the flat tire, I forgot. LOBSTER! Nothing to do, though, but to try to run in the shade. Whenever my energy flagged, I would see a red uniform ahead of me, headed the opposite direction, and I would pick up the pace to meet a teammate. I started on the second loop and passed Holly going the other way. "Are you on your second loop?" she asked. "I'm jealous," she said as I nodded. But she was not very far behind. I saw Beth, who said, "my goggles snapped off my head!" Whoah. Not so lucky. But she was still going.
At the turn around for the second loop, with only about 4 miles to go, a volunteer offered "a Double Espresso Hammer Gel? It's like Starbucks!" I was running next to a man who looked like he'd lost his last friend, and I said, "I'll have one, and I'll buy one for him too!" We each took the gels, tore off the tops and downed them. YUCK! For future reference, if you tell everyone you like Starbucks, but secretly you think it's a little bitter, then you do not want to try Double Espresso Hammer Gel. Stick to your Folgers. But I will say, it perked me up. And the man I'd treated to the medicine perked up too. I shouted, "Hey, aren't we LUCKY?"
The rest of the run seemed easy. I know that seems weird to say, but soon I only had 3.1 miles left, and I began to say, "I've got this in the bag. I've got it. I've got it." When a young woman at the next stop said, "You got it!" I realized I was talking out loud. Shhhhhh!
As I rounded the corner to the finish line, I felt great. I heard my name as I came in and saw Coach Michael and many teammates cheering. I let go of the butterflies and the finish was beautiful! I did it! LUCKY!!
I looked at my run time and was amazed. It was the fastest I have ever run a half marathon. I guess it helps me to warm up with a swim and a bike ride! And, after a little rest, I looked up my results.
My official time for Patriots was 6:59:03. I was thrilled because I made my stretch goal of completing it in under 7 hours, despite the longer swim. Here are the splits:
Swim 59:12 (pretty good considering I figured it would take an hour under the best conditions, and then I got lost!)
Yipee! That's it for me and triathlons this year. My next athletic event is the Marine Corps Marathon, on Halloween. I hope to sport a Purple Head of Hair for that event. You can help that happen by donating to my Team in Training site. Help cure cancer!