Amongst triathletes, there is an old adage passed around that goes something like this. . . "Its a good thing to have mechanical problems in training because that means you won't have them in your race." Well, after yesterday, I hope that that is the case.
Last year, while training with TNT for Ironman Kentucky, we had 3/4 to Iron Weekend. This year, since I wasn't able to be a member of the team, I didn't have one. So, I decided early on that I was going to do the Vineman Aquabike as a training race. The Aquabike is 2/3 of a triathlon. It is the full 2.4 mile open water swim followed by the full 112 mile bike ride. It was supposed to be a training weekend. Really. A training weekend.
Until about a month ago, I was not remotely concerned about this weekend. I kept thinking that it was "no big deal" and "just the aquabike" How hard could it be?? As last week wore on, I started to get more and more nervous. I started thinking about the year people last year on IronTeam who trained for 9 months in order to do the aquabike. . . Then, I started getting pretty nervous. I'd been "training" for months, but I'd just started with a new coach last month, she'd dropped my swimming yardage and I hadn't swim over 2 miles in the last month. I hadn't ridden over 84 miles yet this season (although I'd never ridden a hundred at 3/4 to iron weekend).
Thus, I was pretty nervous going in. I was also unprepared, but we will get to that later.
I picked up my packet on Friday and it was already like old home week. I ran in to Mary, Dana, and Susie from IronTeam last year. I ran into David Parks, a neighbor who was competing in the full Vineman. I ran into one of TNT's honoree's Laura Warren-- a truly amazing person. I heard that the water temperature was about 71 degrees-- well within USAT's guidelines for wearing a wetsuit but given that I don't love my wetsuit, really couldn't make a decision whether to wear my wetsuit or not.
Getting home; getting through the disappointment of John not wanting to bring the kids up to the race; getting to sleep was hard. Nothing like Louisville where I'd been in a hotel alone for 3 days before the race. I was EXHAUSTED when I got up at 255 am to get ready. I picked up David and we headed up to Gernsville. To say that Gernsville is a small town is an understatement. To say it is in the middle of no where is also an understatement. But there we were at 530 am in advance of David's 6:38 am start. Old home week continued as I saw Tony, Les, Jenn, Marina, Sandy and Nick from last year's team. Sedonia, swim coach extraordinaire, was there. Jeremy Schwab, absolute rock star coach from TNT's spring team was there; Mike Kyle, as always, was there with a big smile, a bike pump, and a wetsuit wedgie. Oh, by the way, I wore my wetsuit.
Finally it was time for the start. Another old friend, Jennifer Jay (JJ) and I entered into the water together. Wishing all the ladies around me a great race, the horn blew and we were off.
Anyway. I was 1:20 on the swim in Louisville. This number was in the back of my head as I started out pretty slow. Hard to get room to swim (a very congested course in the beginning) but the crowded course doesn't worry me. . . just slows me down. I was a little hyped up. Wondering if I was going to make it for the full 2.4 miles. Then, about 1/2 way down the first loop, the water got so shallow that my fingers were scraping the bottom of the river. NO, I'm not kidding. Like many others, I stood up and walked until my fingers were no longer hitting the bottom.
Actually, this break gave me some perspective, I'd caught up to a lot of men, who had started more than 10 minutes before me, and I felt pretty good. After having to walk again at the turn around (same reason), and coming back down on lap 2, I noticed that I was not seeing a whole bunch of green swim caps like those that my wave was wearing, so I figured I was either a) flying or b) so slow it wasn't even funny.
As I rounded the turn around on the second loop, I was feeling really good. I went under the bridge and knew that the swim end was close. I was hoping to see 1:41 on the clock as I came out of the water here. . . That would mean that I had gone no slower than I had at Louisville. As I ran under the clock, I thought I saw a 1:31-- or 10 minutes faster than Louisville. . . Turns out (by race results, I swam a 1:13. . . still 7 minutes off my Louisville time. (I was hoping to take 2 minutes off the 1:20 for Arizona, so we may want to reevaluate that goal). I ran up the beach and found Mike Kyle standing there to strip off my wetsuit-- considering the number of wetsuits that he'd help me get in to over the years, it was just fitting. . . I had a decent T1-- 5:16-- that included packing up all my swim gear since T1 goes away after the last swimmer leaves the beach. Not professional level, but good enough and a four minute improvement over my Louisville transition.
One of the places I shaved time in transition was in the change. In Louisville, I'd changed out a bikini bottom for bike shorts. Here, since there was no changing tent and public nudity is a USAT penalty, I was headed out onto the bike course in nothing but a pair of triathlon shorts. You know, the one with the minimally cushioned liner. This would later, and still, prove to be a mistake.
Onto the bike. I was feeling pretty happy so far as I left T1. Then all hell broke loose. Seriously. NOT 5 FREAKING MINUTES INTO THE BIKE I GOT A REAR FLAT. Seriously, Garmin said 4:46. I stopped. Fixed the flat with my only spare tube, blew my CO2, packed back up, and got on my bike again as the 15 minute timer went off on my garmin saying "nutrition." There was 10 minutes gone.
Well, I must admit I was somewhat demoralized. But onward and upward. About 10 minutes after that I realized that anytime I coasted (wasn't pedaling) my chain would wobble left and right so violently that it would hit both my spokes and my bike shoe. I stopped. I messed about with the chain. I couldn't fix it. I wasted about 5 minutes. Made a decision to keep riding until it:
This did not do much for my mood. I felt like I couldn't stop pedaling. Coming on every water stop, I thought about quitting. I really thought about quitting at mile 56 where the 1/2 ironman distance bikers turned into the finish line. I was, however, pretty happy to get to the mile 56 water stop at slightly under 4 hours (14 minutes ahead of my 56 mile time at Wildflower, AND, remember I'd wasted about 15 minutes mucking with the bike). That knowledge gave me a first, second wind. I switched out my nutrition bottles, hit the potty and off I went.
My chain was still wonky, but I was doing OK. Then it hit me. . . no, not the wall (that comes later) or the second flat (that too came later) but the pavement. A chunk under my left eye. Still have a sexy bruise. At least this reminded me that I should put on my sun glasses (now that the sun had materialized).
Then came, at mile 72, the second flat. This time it was the front tire. Seriously. Now, here is where my lack of preparation (i.e. not taking this race seriously) comes in. Instead of having stocked my special needs bag with extra tubes, I was EMPTY. So, I hung on the side of the road for a bit until a passing cyclist took pity on me and threw me his tube. About 10 minutes here. . . maybe a few more. . . not sure. This is an easily fixed mistake and one that I won't be making again.
So then I was back on my way. Coming down Canyon Road, my wonky chain finally bit me in the ass. OK-- really all it did was finally fall off my crankset causing me to pull over (AGAIN). This time, however, it turned out to be a blessing. One of the lovely course officials cruised up on his motorcycle to see if I was OK. I was, but I asked him if he knew anything about how to fix my chain. . . He not only diagnosed the problem. . . rear cassette was grabbing my chain and causing my wheel not to spin freely --- good to know I'd been fighting that for 75 some miles. We took my tire off and mucked about with it for a while and somehow he fixed it. I was on my way again. I'd like to say that knowing the bike was fixed really picked up my spirits but it didn't. I was
Mentally. I was begging for a SAG wagon. I was seeing friends on the course (TnT folk) and they would make me cry. I was saying out loud how much I didn't really want to do this. . . that it was a training weekend. That it would be OK if I quit because I'd already gone farther that I had all season. I was mentally quitting. BIG TIME.
But, (and this is the good thing). I knew it was all in my mind. I knew that my body felt pretty good (other than tight shoulders and sore girl parts). The working parts of my body didn't feel bad at all. So, every time I would tell myself to quit, I'd then give myself a reason not to quit. At one point I listed the reasons: Will, Jack, bringing them home a medal (not that they care); I'd never not finished; I'd be embarrassed; David was going to finish; Flick was going to finish; Marlene was going to finish; I'd already gone 86 miles, how much farther is a 112 really? (OK wise ass, I know its 26).
One of the biggest reasons I kept going was Laura Warren. Laura is a Leukemia Survivor and TNT Honoree who's 1980's chemo gave her breast cancer,. I knew Laura was sitting at mile 99--3/4 of the way up Chalk Hill (the only big hill on the course-- it comes at mile 44 and 99) waiting for me to get there in her shirt that says "you think an Ironman is hard? Try Chemotherapy" and her IronTeam jacket. God Bless Laura Warren. I can tell you that had she not been there, I may really and truly have given up. As I rode by, I told her that having her there was going to make me cry today. Her response? "Pull it together Paula and get up the fucking hill." I credit her for the reappearance of my workout tourettes. And, I've got to admit that the workout tourettes actually helped. Perhaps I should have tried it earlier, but at that point, I was at 100 miles and I was feeling great. I did get a second wind or maybe a third. I passed people who had passed me. One of them even mentioned "Oh-- you must have gotten a second wind!" I felt pretty good. I actually thought I might be able to equal my Louisville time (8:04) even though I'd had so many problems. I had just enough in my legs for a final push to the finish line.
I didn't, but I wasn't all that far off. . . I finished in 8:14. Not a great bike time by any stretch.
Sitting here now, I'm not sure how I feel about the day. I probably could have done a faster swim. I learned some lessons on the bike. I pushed though my longest ride of the year (by about 30 miles-- In contrast, I'd done about 6 100 milers before Louisville last year); I feel like I did a good job with my nutrition and I'm glad that I knew enough to realize that it was my MIND saying stop and not my BODY saying stop. All that being said, I'm disappointed with both my times. My swim only because I thought I'd done the 1:10. On my bike it is somewhat more complicated. If my bike split had been 7:54 (i.e without the conservative 20 minutes I've allocated for the flats and mechanical problems), I would have been thrilled. I recognize that I probably should be thrilled to have pulled together an 8:14 under those circumstances and with my head playing so many games on me, but I'm also disappointed. I wanted to do better. . . be better. . . even though this was a training weekend and I wasn't ready yet. Does it give me a good baseline for Arizona? yep, sure does. Do I have a lot of work to do? Yep. I sure do. Have I had my mechanical problems for the season? God I hope so.