Monday, February 10, 2014

Wind Blown, Tired and Happy..

Well it was a day of all days...a windy hot Australian race day. It was déjà vu of IM Western Australia of 2009 only hotter and twice as windy. Welcome to Aussie long distance Triathlon!

The weekend started with H and I taking the train from Melbourne to the race venue on Friday. It was a pleasant ride, the train accepted us with our bikes and in no time we were in Geelong, a coastal city with beautiful beaches, sailboats and Restaurants on the coastline. We had booked the  only hotel available at the time we registered, a good mile from the race site and beach. The "Mercure Hotel" was quite dated, which we could handle. It was a 40 year old establishment with the furniture to prove it. The day we arrived it was in the 90s outside. Since the A/C in our apartment in Melbourne seemed to be challenged with all the heat waves happening lately, we so looked  forward to a nice air conditioned hotel with a nice bathtub, (the apartment didn't have one). Well, long story short, this hotel had neither. It was explained that the whole hotel was on the same temperature, a not so cool a/c system. We were pretty upset by this so started to inquire about a room at the really nice Sheraton across from the finish line of the race down at the beach. No luck-they were booked, with no cancellations. I called many times Friday night and Saturday morning to see if anyone canceled. When we went to packet pickup Friday we even went in person to no avail. Finally on Sat. AM, when we went to drop our bikes off we walked in and score! They had a cancellation 30 seconds before we walked up to the counter. So we moved to the beautiful Sheraton on Saturday, perfect A/C and a bathtub-yay!

The weather Saturday was beautiful..We went for a practice swim and the ocean was calm. We biked for a bit on the streets of Geelong and it was awesome! Ready for race day on Sunday. We had dinner with our new coaching team, TEAM Tri Coaching. There were 25 or so athletes at the dinner- high energy, fun, happy young Triathletes. We felt very welcomed and accepted even given our "older status" and not so stellar fast ability. It's all good and we love our Coach Michael and other Coach Xavier, the founder of the team. 

We awoke very early after going to sleep around 8:30 the previous evening. It was a warm, somewhat windy AM, the temps already in the 80s. H and I felt good after a good night's sleep in our nice air conditioned room. After eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, coffee and Red Bull off we went to transition, a mere 10 minutes from our room at the Sheraton, our new abode. I felt excited and nervous, my usual state of being before any race, even a "practice race" as Geelong 70.3 was intended to be. It was still dark but the lights were bright in transition as I began to set up my transition. I met the other 2 women in my age group who were lovely women. The whole energy of this race transition seemed much less intense than races like this in the US. People were polite, kind and somewhat mellow. After getting setup with our bike, swim and run stuff off I went to the team tent, which was right outside transition. There were a couple dozen teammates there, chatting and happy pre race. We found our coach who was bright and cheery this race morning. It gave me calming energy to be at the team tent, even in my pre race jitter status. We had heard the wind was suppose to pick up as the morning wore on. The ocean in the "protected cove" was pretty calm as the sun was starting to rise and the light of day arrived. H and I headed down to the swim start along with the other 2000 athletes. I started feeling quite nervous after the Pros went out and it appeared to me they were fighting some ocean chop. Maybe I was imagining this...not.. After H and I helped each other on with our wetsuits, I took a short practice swim. All seemed fine, the water was warm, the air temps quite warm. The air was forecasted to cool off as the day wore on, so I really wasn't worried about the heat or wind. The most the wind was suppose to "gust" was 30 MPH, a PIA kind of wind, but nothing I hadn't felt in NM on my bike. 

The Swim:
As the gun went off for my swim wave (35 and up women), I jumped we go! The first thing I noticed is that the swells seemed rather large. OK, maybe near the shore we have this chop, but once we are out further,it should calm down, I thought to myself.  Uh, no-no it didn't. It only got worse. The swells were 8-10 feet high, I think. Imagine a huge roller coaster in the ocean and this is what it felt like. I looked up to sight the buoys (which I could mostly not see) and I would see a huge wave coming at me. I was trying to "swim" but I don't even know what I was doing to move forward. Slapping my arms in water, breast stroking, trying not to run over or into my fellow competitors. I remembered hearing somewhere if you had to swim through huge waves that when you see one coming at you, jump into the wave to the other side. I tried to incorporate this, having no real plan in these surprise extreme ocean conditions. I started to think well hell, I could be one of those people who survive in a sinking ship and swim to really! At this point it was a matter of trying to see the swimmers ahead of me and follow them, hoping they were headed in the right direction. Swimming into the huge swell seems to last forever! Where are the effing bouys? I felt like I swam forever to the turn around. I was worried about getting seasick, but alas the gods were smiling on me and I never felt sick for some odd reason. I did manage to take a few gulps of sea water, the sodium probably helped me later in the day.  Finally, finally, we made the turn, after an extremely rough water surrounding the buoys. I made it to swim along with the current of the waves at last. I thought this would be easier but we had to swim diagonally to make the turn around the next set of bouys on the triangular course. Strangely, I didn't feel that tired, or nervous-just anxious for the swim to end. We finally got to swim with the tide and I flew into the finish, riding over the huge waves in my best swim surfing style, which I really had never done before. I felt like I was out on the ocean for over an hour. After exiting the swim, I still felt remarkably good. And relieved...I saw one of the team coaches and made some expletives about the swim. I had no idea what my time was but didn't really care at this point. I made it!!

Swim time: 43:20 (about 5-7 minutes off my usual time)-not bad and surprising!

T-1: it took awhile to get my wetsuit off, mess around with bike shoes, get nutrition so a pretty slow 4:20. I was happy to get on the bike, well for now anyway!

The  ironman live TV crew was filming me as I exited T-1 as the interviewer was asking me how the swim was (keep it clean I thought). I think I said "it was like a roller coaster, I loved it," or some B.S. like that. I wanted to sound like a positive American and a rock star..haha!

The Bike
Oh the bike....the started out not too bad. It was 2 loops initially heading south in some pretty exposed areas at times. I decided, along with my coaches advice rather than paying attention to my bike computer that I would go more by "perceived effort". I would go a bit faster than my Ironman pace gauged by my P.E., which I did. It was windy going out the first lap, but nothing I couldn't handle. I would say 15-20 MPH against the wind and of course I tried to fly on the tailwind portions. The Ironman Live TV crew filmed me for about 5 minutes on the bike. Wow,  I felt like one of those pros they film during a race. I was trying to remember what they do in this situation, I smiled, tried to look all athletic and everything but when I hit a hill, I said in my most professional triathlete classy voice "hills are not really my forte". I finally was kind of over this camera crew thing. I felt so gross, dirty and hoped like hell the sweat running down my face wasn't showing on camera! There were many twists and turns on the course, so I would be going against the wind, with the wind and side winds all in a 10 mile stretch. The 12 miles back into town seemed the most difficult with full on headwinds and side winds. The first time back into town, I noticed the winds were picking up and I was starting to slow a bit. The first lap I average 16 MPH. A little slower than I wanted, but was following the plan..As I made the turn around for the 2nd bike loop the wind seemed to be getting stronger and the gusts even more gusty. The temperature topped 100 degrees midday and I was beginning to feel the heat. The twists and turns were getting more intense until halfway through the 2nd loop, I noticed my bike getting blown sideways. It was taking a lot of effort to keep the bike upright at times. To be safe, I spent much more time out of the aerobars this loop. I felt way more unsteady riding aero in this kind of wind. I noticed people around me slowing down, with an occasional young fast dude passing me. How the heck can they ride this fast in this crazy wind? I continued to try and fly with the tailwind, which even on the downhill was getting more slow/unsteady by the moment. I would guess the winds were way above 30 MPH by now, the gusts even higher. I noticed the folks riding in the opposite direction towards town were really struggling, visions of things to come. As I made the turn back into town, the wind was by now hurricane force. No one point the wind was so strong, I was thrown into the middle of the road where another cyclist missed me by inches. We both said we were sorry but who's fault was it?  There was stuff getting blown sideways, branches, coke bottles, the dust was unreal. I was told at one  point the wind was 80KPH, which is roughly 50 MPH. Gusts were higher. The poor volunteers were getting blown all over, the tables for the aid stations getting rocked, course markers-forget it. I put my head down and just got well, determined to finish this damn bike!! When there were gusts of a headwind wind, I sometimes literally felt like I was riding backwards. I stopped twice, just to get nutrition, try and get blood circulating to my feet, which were killing me by now. I tried to catch my breath. The side winds were the worst. Downright scary at times. I think the last 10 miles took me about an hour? I started to see ambulances as I got closer to town. Uh-oh, now folks are getting hurt. Did I mention the heat?? It was extremely hot for part of the bike. When the sun was out, it was over 100 degrees (the weather prediction was nowhere near this heat). I was sweating profusely and drinking as much as I could hold. I pee-ed twice on the bike, so that was good. It is hard to gauge nutrition when pushing so hard in these extreme conditions but I seemed to keep up, filling up with electrolyte drink and water at every aid station. God bless those volunteers in this crazy wind!! I ate several gels and two whole bars, something I rarely do (eat solid nutrition) but I was hungry expending all those calories I suppose. I started to feel a bit light headed at the end of the bike, which frightened me a bit but I kept my head down, kept drinking, seemed to come in waves.The last 5 miles to T-2 seemed to take friggin' forever. Against the wind, passing transition to make one last small loop into transition was torture!! Finally, I reached the transition area, sure they would tell me the run would be cut short in these conditions. Nope, game on!
Bike time: a miraculous 3:59:53. A new slowest PR. in an 70.3 but given the conditions, I was good with that.

I really tried to hustle out of T -2. Not sure why it took another 4 minutes but soon I was out of the run course.

The Run:
I have never been happier to start running! I still had not seen H all day. Finally during the first mile or so on the run, I saw him in the last stretch of the bike and yelled at him. I knew he could catch me on the run if he was feeling good, so this made me happy. I started my walk 3 minutes, walk 1 minute. All seemed to be working, I felt pretty good after the "Hurricane Bike". The wind was horrific on the run also but most of the course was protected by the trees in a very pretty park area, birds chirping and all at times. The only really, really rough part was down by the ocean, where the trail followed about 2 miles in gale forced winds. H caught me in the beginning of the run and told me he was pulled off the course at the run start. They had closed the run about 2 minutes after I went off on the run because of the dangerous After surviving that bike course, he was kept from the run, where the wind was manageable?? H was pissed, he said he just ran through the barriers anyway and caught me to run with me. We ran the whole half marathon together, which was so awesome. I loved having him there, even if at times we literally could not hear each other because of the wind, which seemed to be picking up even stronger still, if that were possible, especially the ocean shoreline part of the course. The volunteers were still there, thank goodness. I needed more nutrition, eating gels about every 2 miles. After the first loop of the 2 loop run, it seemed apparent they were going to start pulling the slower people. At one point I thought we were screwed as a volunteer asked us to wait at the side of the course, but we just kept going and got our 2nd loop bracelet. The first loop had had tons of runners but now the field was..well non existent. We saw 4 poeple on the run course, 2 of them behind us. I began to worry I would not make the race cutoff..dang! After all this, to be stopped from finishing would have killed me. I would have thrown a fit, believe me! The officials came by and took our numbers (they still thought H was on the course officially, we just kept on like he was..).

I gave up on my run/walk method at this point. We just started running, maybe walking a few steps here and there. I was sure we would be pulled at any moment! This added a whole new definition of race pressure for me. When we had about 5 miles to go, the volunteers were still at each and every aid station, fueling us up and cheering us on. This was amazing to me, it brought tears to my eyes. The last few miles of the run I started getting really, really tired. And grumpy...we couldn't even locate the course at times because all the orange cones were blown everywhere and when volunteers said, "just go the same way you went the first lap" I said to H, wtf?? That was 2 hours ago! I don't remember all the twists and turns..this frustrated me, I was so afraid we would not make the cutoff. The wind, the tiredness, the stress of finishing, it all started getting to me. H was doing his best to calm me down, bless his heart. I was starting to feel out of it. H was worried about me but I knew I was OK , just exhausted! We finally got to a place on the beach where we turned up to make our way back to the finish line. A race official came up behind us and said "you have 1.5 Kilometer to go with 10 minutes to cutoff, you should make it." I told the guy I couldn't run that fast. He told us "you'll make it!" We started hauling ass running. I then realized they had pulled the 2 guys behind us off the course. We were going to be DFL! Which I really didn't care, I wanted this race to count. Plus we had a chance to go to the 70.3 World Championships if the other women in my AG didn't finish or want the slots. Worlds are in Quebec in September, we really thought it may be a off I ran my heart out the next mile with the race official following us. No pressure there! As we ran down the final race chute, there were a few spectators left to cheer us in. Wow, we made it!! As the race announcer announced that " Team Wess" was coming in as the last racers to finish, I felt so relieved, happy, disoriented. Then came the cameras from IM TV live in our faces! The interviewer Steve started asking questions, "how do you feel." Me: "Out of it". Some other questions about the race.."Was it the hardest 70.3 you have ever done?" Me: YES! "Did you ever feel like quitting." Me: Hell no! (Or some version of that). Something about the weather conditions?  Me or H: Brutal! We have yet to find out where all this TV footage will be, I think it will be part of an hour long special on TV here in Australia at the end of the month. We read somewhere about a "Geelong 70.3" highlight TV thing. We will know more soon. I never in my wildest dreams thought we  would be followed in the race and cameras on us at the finish line!  They asked if "they could do an interview with us" a month back by email but I never thought it would be constant coverage...We had done a little interview on the beach the day before the race but this? We have our "15 minutes of fame as H  puts it! 

Run time: 2:48. Not bad for a crazy windy run in a half IM!

Final time:7:40. 2nd slowest half ever. With the conditions, I felt like the thing that got me there was pure determination, luck and my hubby..

We went to the Awards ceremony. I had no idea where I had placed in the 3 women in my AG. As it turned out, I was 2nd. I picked up an awesome plaque, a well earned prize! The lovely woman who beat me said she was going to take the Worlds slot in Quebec, which she totally deserved! The other woman must've DNF'd. It looks like looking at the results today, that 30% of racers DNF'd-crazy! I was last in the overall females, 151st. About 70 females did not finish the race at all. I waited for the remaining of the Worlds roll down (more slots may be available if athletes from other age groups don't take them) while H was sorting out his official time since he did do the run after all. Our coaches agreed it was total BS that they pulled him from the run because of "weather" after surviving such a hellacious bike.  He was not that far behind me but said whole tables were being blown over at aid stations on the bike when he went through the last couple aid stations. It must've been heartbreaking for those who were told the run course was closed after getting through that crazy ass bike! Anyway, they told H he would get his 2nd place since he finished the run. I went up and asked if there was any chance I could get a roll down slot to Quebec. The announcer told me I missed the cutoff for the qualifying time, 7:30 for worlds. Damn! Oh well, wasn't meant to be for H or I this time. Just means we will have to keep trying and outliving our competition. 

We went out to eat at the best steakhouse around last night. That was the best steak ever!! After  a nice dessert of a chocolate chip cookie, we passed out at 8:30 after a very long exhausting day. I woke  up at 3:30  this morning and never went back to sleep. I was up peeing every 2 hours, guess no dehydration there! After waiting 3 hours for breakfast to open, H and I pigged out on a well deserved excellent buffet breakfast. 

We are packing up to take the train back to our home away from home in Melbourne. After a couple days' rest, we will continue our training for Ironman Melbourne in 6 weeks. I felt very trained for the Geelong race and plan on being well trained for IMM as well. I mean what are the chances the weather will be this bad yet again for an Australian race? I am not holding my breath but I know after yesterday, all things considered, I can face anything!!

Now, off to eat some more food. I have a bottomless stomach today!

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