It was one year ago, this month, that I commenced my work with the Dai Roberts Group (http://www.dairobertsgroup.com). I came to Dai an injured runner with a lot of questions regarding my leg pain and the hopes of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I must say that the last year did not take the course that I had expected, and for that I am grateful.
I think it’s fitting that it was approximately one year after my time began with the Dai Roberts Group that I had one of the most significant races of my life thus far. After the various ups and downs of 2011/2012 and my varied injuries (a calf strain, a heel fracture, a broken toe, and quad/hamstring damage from a bike wreck) I was JUST able to get in enough running to pull off the 13.1 miles at the end of a half ironman distance race (which I will NOW refer to as a 70.3 because, as Mike and Logan tell me, it is half of nothing). Last June I came to Dai and told him that since I was biking and swimming so much as a result of a heel fracture, I wanted to go ahead and train for a triathlon… but not just any triathlon. I wanted to train for the 70.3 distance. I had expected him to respond as though I were crazy but he was on board with it. He asked what my goal would be and I said I wanted to break 6 hours and be as competitive as I could be; at the time, I had no idea what that would mean.
NOW, here is the race recap! 😀 Last Saturday morning, I woke up in good spirits! I was prepared to race in a way that I have never before experienced. I am very thankful to have had Dai and Denise in Wilmington with me. Justin was able to make it, too, which was great because we weren’t sure how his ship’s schedule was going to work out. Still, there’s nothing like having your coach there for the morning of a big event! Dai and Denise drove me down to T1 and got me settled in, helping strap my aero bottle onto my bike with electrical tape because I somehow failed to bring the velcro strap to Wilmington with me! In a way, it felt like I had a set of triathlon-specific parents. 🙂 Denise was snapping photos and Dai was nagging me to hydrate and 20-questioning me about what I had eaten that morning. They even bickered a bit when we had trouble finding T1 in the dark… just like a family. 😀
So, the pictures had been snapped and I was off on a bus to the swim start without my Garmin because I had decided it was best to race without it after my success at Sandman. The current looked quite agreeable and I had high hopes for the swim. I’d done some quick math and decided that I’d be pleased to make it out of the water within 30 minutes of the start. As we were getting into the channel, the gentlemen with the starting horn told us we would no longer be taking the ONE buoy that marked the course on our left; he said to take it on our right shoulder instead because the current had been pushing some people past the exit. This was a bit confusing to hear at the last minute so I just tried to follow instructions and take the buoy as close to my right shoulder as I could (he said to “get close” to the buoy). Unfortunately, I realized too late that about 2/3rds of the other swimmers had decided to cut the corner off and came nowhere near the orange buoy. Instead, they took advantage of the course change and just make a tangent for the water exit. Oh well. I just focused on swimming as strongly as I could and passing people who were heading to the dock. I came out of the water and expected to see a clock but none were visible so I went off to T1 with no feedback on my time. I was slowed down a bit by the transition from swim to bike; it was rather narrow where we came out of the water and in addition to being slippery, there was really no room to pass. I was briefly stuck behind a walker but I took my first opportunity to cut around him and sprint to my bike. I had walked the path from the entrance to transition to my bike several times the night before and the morning off so I just focused on counting off the bike racks until I got to mine. I was in and out of T1 in about 3 minutes, which was a pleasant surprise because it was a rather long transition with a 400 m run on asphalt, and it turned out that my swim time was around 27 minutes so I was out of the water and through transition a few minutes faster than I had anticipated.
Off on the bike I went! I had a much better time getting off on the bike and into my bike shoes than I did at Sandman – practice make permanent. 🙂 With the smoother start, I was already feeling confident on the bike. I was being careful to avoid an accidental drafting penalty so I had to slow down and coast quite a bit during the first few miles when the course was crowded. I took advantage of this by getting in some good nutrition; I had a cliff bar and Accelorade and once the course cleared up a bit, I got into aero and started passing people. Only a few miles into the bike I was having a pretty bad cramp in my right abdominal muscles. I tried stretching a bit but it didn’t help so I just tucked back into aero and kept going; I was concerned about how the cramping would impact me on the run but that was a few hours away so I hoped the cramp would pass by then. The bike course was interesting and it was certainly not the FLAT course that they advertised. I will acknowledge that, for North Carolina, it was relatively flat but there were rolling hills and steep hills, and more hills! There were also some very narrow places on the bike course that made it difficult to pass, which was frustrating because there was no open wave and my wave started after some of the older men and the relay and military divisions. There was a lot of passing to be done! I also got stuck behind an older gentleman on a REALLY LONG downhill and he was freaked out so he was riding in the middle of the really narrow lane, braking! It killed me to brake on that down hill – I think we were down to about 15 mph on a downhill! He was very nice and apologetic, of course, so I really attribute this issue to the course design and not the individual racer who was just cycling at his level. Further along the course, we were in between lanes of traffic going in different directions and that was very distressing. I was passing another cyclist on a bridge when an individual in a truck with a boat trailer decided he was tired of waiting in the traffic and he swerved out into the bike course, cutting off the course entirely and leaving only a narrow area to pass his front bumper without being in the middle of traffic going the opposite direction. I threw on my brakes and truly thought I was going to end my race by being thrown over his truck bed but he peeled out right before I got to him and took off down the road; his boat trailer was fish-tailing and he knocked over several of the course cones, which nearly caused me to wreck, as well. Thank GOD there were no bikers near there after he peeled out because he would have definitely injured someone. So, that was my near-death scare on the bike course. I was maintaining about 21 mph average throughout the bike, which was much better than what I had expected. Originally, I had hoped to just maintain 20 mph and come in around 2:58 from the bike. When I saw the clock at T2 and my average pace, I knew I was ahead of schedule but wasn’t sure by how much. Once again, I got stuck in a narrow space in transition behind a walker. Very frustrating. All I had to do was throw on my running shoes and I was off. Oh well.
My side cramp had NOT gone away by the time I started the run and the toes on my left foot had gone numb during the bike, which I didn’t realize until I was trying to run. Awkward! I was a bit confused when I saw the clock coming out of T2 and couldn’t quite figure out where I was in relation to my time goal but knowing my time wouldn’t change anything so I pushed on. The side cramp continued to worsen through the first few miles and I thought perhaps relieving myself might help. To be honest, I was SERIOUSLY eyeing some bushes near the course but there are so many rules in triathlon and there were so many officials all over the course that I didn’t want to take the chance of being disqualified because I peed behind a tree! THANKFULLY, when I got to the first water stop there were three entirely open porta johns! I ran in, found relief, and ran out! Shortly thereafter, the cramp began to let up some though it never really stopped hurting entirely.
After mile 2 or 3, I began to notice a blister developing on the arch of my left foot. Awesome. Just keep going. I was hot. I was tired. I was starting to get passed by some of the women I’d taking the lead over in the bike. Oh well. Just keep going. The run course was terribly confusing with this really odd triangular loop into a neighborhood that we had to run twice and there was also traffic being directed across the course. I think I was too tired to care, though, and this is why I am glad that I didn’t wear my Garmin. When I started out on the run, I was thinking “Come on, Courtney, 1:50 half!” and then when I started to hurt I thought “It’s okay if you come in around 1:52” and then when I was really hurting I thought “Maybe you’ll still come in under 2 hours” and then I thought “just don’t walk!” 😀 Because I couldn’t see my pace and because I felt like I was practically crawling, I was convinced that I had totally blown my goal during the run. I was almost afraid to see the finish line clock. To make things worse, I tried to spin my race belt around when I got near the finish so that my number would be visible (it HAS to be visible when you cross the finish – another one of those triathlon rules) and I tore one of the corners. I was afraid that my number would end up tearing off entirely if I let it flap around so I took my race belt off and had to hold my race belt and number in my hand as I struggled to stay upright and stagger to the finish. IF I had been wearing my Garmin, I would have either 1) freaked out at my slow pace early on, 2) cut myself some slack and slowed down when I started hurting. Because I didn’t have that feedback all I could do was keep pushing myself and I’m so glad I did. My wave started 25 minutes after the first wave so I had done the math and decided that if the clock said anything near 5:40 when I came in (that would me a 5:15ish finish for me) I would be thrilled. I’ve NEVER been so happy to see a finish line and if I hadn’t been dehydrated, I probably would have cried because when I saw the finish clock reading 5:37 I knew I had done it. I started smiling immediately and held up my race bib as I crossed the finish line. Run time was 1:56 something but I gave it all I had so who cares? I was well under 5:20!
The Dai Roberts Group and my awesome husband were all waiting for me across the finish. The next several minutes were a total blur but I was well cared-for and very pleased. Looking at the results, I finished in the top 6% or so of women. I came in 18th overall and took 3rd in my age group. I exceeded my hopes and expectations and now I’m not only a triathlete but I’m a damn good triathlete with a lot of potential for improvement!
I’m so thankful for all of the people who got me here. I still remember my first open water swim with Rosanna and Tom and the first few long bike rides with Bryan, Jason and Michelle. The cycling group at Final Kick painstakingly attempted to teach me proper biking etiquette. Ruth stood by my side through injury and, of course, none of this could have happened if Dai Roberts Group hadn’t supplied me with a bike and ever-changing training plans. Then, there’s Dr. Bresnahan, the folks at Atlantic Physical therapy and Dr. Sam Wittenberg to thank for my return to healthy running. Justin has been there, through it all, and dealt with my various irrational thoughts when I was continually fighting injury. Now, I have a better attitude, an amazing support system and a sport I love more than I could have ever dreamed. God is good, even if we don’t always know what kind of crazy plan He’s working out for us. 🙂