Oscar and I got into Benton Harbor, MI Friday evening after a long drive across Ohio and Indiana. There was a lot of corn and many cows. Thankfully we made good enough time to get in before packet pickup closed. And we also had enough time to have a relaxing evening enjoying the cool lake breezes off Lake Michigan. I really do love Benton Harbor! (although Oscar assures me, I wouldn't love it nearly as much in the dead of winter when there is 10+ feet of snow - good point by him!)
|We found a pirate in town and he had a...snow shovel? Probably not a good indicator of the winters around these parts... :)|
Our homestay was amazing and at a house right along the lake that was only a 1/2 mile walk from transition. This is very key for this race because there is not a lot of parking and many shuttles involved on race morning. Not so for us! I just rode my bike over while Oscar walked. Very, very nice. (and as an aside, I really do love and am thankful for the homestay program - it is so cool to meet and get to stay with these very generous people from the different tri communities around the country!)
|Mr. Campbell, our homestay host. Thanks so much for your generosity!!|
|Lake Michigan is big, blue and beautiful! Oscar was trying to convince me if I looked really hard, I could see the skyscrapers in Chicago on the other side of the lake. ;)|
Thankfully, things went better from there. I got set up in transition, warmed up and stretched out and wetsuited up and then Oscar and I headed to the swim start.
|Let's get this party started!|
|Big pro women's field - 9 total! ;) And why do I keep picking the races where you have to run and dolphin dive at the swim start? :)|
As I was running up the beach gasping for air, Oscar told me I was in 5th place and 4th place was just a minute ahead. Okay - I can work with that!
After I got settled on the bike (I was seriously gasping for air for a looooong time), I went about the task of hunting down 4th place. I got my first glimpse of her at around mile 5. Of course it took me about 10 miles to catch her. One thing about racing pro - everyone is fast and passing someone is truly a major triumph. I celebrated my move into 4th and then immediately started wondering where 3rd place was. It took me another 5 miles or so to even get a glimpse and again, about another 5-10 miles to catch her! Good thing this is a long race! At this point we were on the back roads of Benton Harbor and some seriously pot-holed, oil and chipped bumpiness. Luckily, the roads of Pittsburgh have prepared me well for this but still, I think my brain is still bumping around in my skull from those roads! YIKES!
After moving into 3rd I started to wonder if there was even a possibility of finding #2 and #1? I knew Jess Jacobs (SUPER biker and SUPER runner) was lurking behind and likely to catch me at any moment. So I made it my new goal to try and catch the front of the pack before Jess caught me. Oh, what a fun game!
Luckily I was feeling strong and fluid on the bike and around mile 35ish caught a glimpse of not only 2nd place but 1st place too! I couldn't believe my good fortune! They were riding together and I was giddy at the thought of trying to catch and pass them and...move into 1st place?! It was around this point that I started to wonder if I had bitten off a little too much to chew. I was definitely riding at a pretty high HR/wattage and although I definitely felt good, the half marathon that awaited started to weigh heavily on my mind. I pondered this for a bit but it honestly didn't take me too long to decide that I wanted to just go for it. Why not right? Who knows when I will have another opportunity to take the lead in a race - might as well take advantage! HERE WE GO!
Again it took me 5 miles to finally catch them but I when I did I tried to pass with authority and ride away HARD. I had a moment of "NOW WHAT?" after I moved into 1st. At this point I knew I wouldn't be seeing anyone up the road to key off of (the pro men were obviously very far ahead and Steelhead is a one loop bike so no AGers ahead either). So I started a new game of "make it to mile 45 without Jess catching you"...then "make it to mile 50 without Jess catching you"...then "holy cow...make it into T2 in first place?!" (unbelievable)
In the end I did make it all the way to T2 in first. This was sort of a surreal feeling because (I'm just being honest here), I never really thought this would be a reality for me. I rode a 2:23:35, a big PR for me (including the very fast and flat Eagleman course) and had the fastest bike split which garnered my first mention in an ironman.com story. In my heart, it made me really happy because I knew, somewhere, my bike-loving coach Dirk was smiling. :)
I had NO idea how my legs were going to feel off that hard bike. I kept telling myself I was going to be just fine but I definitely had my doubts! Luckily when I started the run I felt okay. Not GREAT but not bad either. Okay - time to see how long we can hold this lead on the run!
I have to admit, it's a pretty cool thing leading a race. Everyone gets so excited for you! I was so thankful for the cheers and I could not wait to see Oscar at mile 3 (praying I'd still be in first place at that point). He was calm and giving me the info I needed (like how far behind 2nd was, etc...) but I could also tell he was excited for me. And that made me smile so much inside (and makes me a little teary eyed now!). The run became a game of "hold on as long as possible!" I was holding pretty steady at 6:40-6:50 pace but couldn't get the legs moving any faster. And then, around mile 6.5, my party was over. Jess came blazing past and was gone before I even knew what happened (she went on to run a 1:21!).
I started giving myself a big pep talk at this point, telling myself I COULD get 2nd place. I COULD hang on. But around mile 8, Mandy came by. I tried valiantly to hang onto her but my wheels were starting to come off a little. Now my pace was creeping into the high 6-low 7 range. COME ON LEGS! And then, around mile 10+, Lesley (on her way to a 1:24 run!) passed too. My head was still positive and I knew I was still having a great race so I didn't get down but I was definitely hurting! When I saw that I had a shot of breaking 4:30 at mile 11, I *really* dug deep to bring it home. The last mile felt like an eternity! HA! But finally, the sweet, sweet finish line. 4:29:xx was not to be - I finished in 4:30:47 - but that was still an 8+ minute PR for the distance. I'll take it!
|Move legs, MOVE!|
Am I disappointed not to have held on a bit better? Well of course! I ran a 1:31 which certainly isn't "blowing up" by my standards (previous best on this course was a 1:35) but it's also not competitive in a pro field. Still, I've always been a half cup full type of girl and I can really only take away positives from this race. Sure, I didn't hang on on the run, but I put myself out there and realized that I CAN ride really hard and be pretty competitive on the bike. And I have faith that my run will come around. If I can learn to run a 1:25 off that kind of bike I will be A-okay! And my swim? Oy...that's a topic for another day! Still, yesterday I went 20+ minutes faster than I ever have on this course. It's been a long journey to get those 20 minutes but I have no reason to believe that with more hard work, time and PATIENCE, I can't continue to chip away...
All in all a GREAT experience where I learned a lot. And had a ton of fun. And enjoyed a wonderful weekend with the best husband, superfan and sherpa in the world:
Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to everyone for your notes of encouragement and cheers. They really mean the world to me. And I sometimes feel so overwhelmed (in a good way!!!) how many people reach out. This is indeed, a wonderful sport that we are in.
Oh, and in case you are wondering about the title of this entry "Racing For The Boots", the story is this. Quite a while back I asked Oscar about the possibility of buying Recovery Pump boots. They are expensive and we didn't have the money for them but Oscar made me a deal - if I earned a certain amount of prize money throughout the year - I could purchase them. When we found out we needed a new roof, I was disappointed because the prize money was definitely going to a new roof - not some fancy space aged boots for recovery! But then our insurance company came through and paid for our new roof instead. What a blessing!!! Project Boots back on!! Steelhead finally put me over the prize money goal and today I am going to be ordering some boots! YAHOOOOOO!!! (next on the prize money goal list - a disc wheel - might take me until 2014 to get there but I'm up for it! :)