“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” ~John Bingham
Getting to Galveston
What would I do without Carmen?? If the time comes that I do a big race in a far-away city and she can’t come, I may just implode. We have a great time road-tripping to these events and her laid-back personality helps keep me calm. I do better when I’m calm.
We headed down early Friday morning with a brief stop in Dallas to visit my ART/FACTR/Graston/Fascial Stretch/Cupping/Massage guy, Mel. I really never know exactly what technique he will try – it’s always fun to guess! On pre-race tune ups, it is usually a bit of fascial stretch with ART to get any kinks out and massage. Ahhhhh. I left his office feeling lighter than air. We then grabbed a quick lunch and were back on the road and rolled into Galveston around 5 PM.
Saturday morning, most of us had a bike ride and brick run because Brent coaches almost all of us. LOL! So Tim, Craig, Levi, Brent and I went out about 7AM for a very windy ride and run before breakfast. Of course, no trip is complete without me doing something stupid. We were nearing the end of our ride and came to a stop light. I unclipped my right foot (WHY??) and fell right over when I tried to put my left foot down. So dumb. I swear I need constant supervision! Big thanks to Levi and Brent who talked me through some stuff on our ride and gave me a lot of pointers.
After the ride and run, we headed out for breakfast, which was actually more like brunch. The wait was worth it, though, because those pancakes were some of the most delicious I’ve ever had!
Once we made it back to the beach house, we loaded up our bikes and headed to athlete check in. After getting all our stuff and attending the athlete briefing, we checked in our bikes. This caused me some anxiety because at the time there was a high possibility of strong storms (including hail) moving through that night. I couldn’t stand the thought of her being left out all by herself in the elements. Once again, Levi talked me through the race step-by-step, which relieved some anxiety. Knowledge is power!
A cool part of this race is that our club is registered with Ironman and we qualified for our own bike rack, so all of our bikes were racked together! It was nice knowing that the people who you would see next to you in transition would be your teammates!
We had a Renegade get-together that afternoon after bike check-in and it was so much fun getting to meet and talk to teammates face to face (many for the first time). We don’t all get to see each other much and it was great fun!
After the party and dinner, those of us racing made all our last minute preparations then we were off to bed!
I have to say that I received the sweetest text from Ashley that evening – it brought tears to my eyes!! She is so supportive of me – of everyone, really – I hope I can develop that spirit when I grow up!
FINALLY – Time to race!
I slept until 1:30AM. I just couldn’t sleep! I wasn’t nervous or anxious, I was just ready to go and see what the day would bring. When the clock finally rolled around to 4:15, I got up, waited for my turn to hop in the shower and gathered all my things for our 5:15 departure.
I rode with Levi because he had the club’s VIP parking pass. Turns out that we didn’t need the VIP parking anyway because we got there early enough that our parking spot was right next to transition! We all headed over to start getting things ready for the day. After checking and double checking and taking my UCAN for the swim, I slipped on my wetsuit and my friend Tim and I headed over to the Renegade tent to wait until GO time.
Since I was in the first swim wave after the elites and Tim was just 2 starts after me, we headed over to the swim around 6:30. We had a few moments to sit on the curb and just talk. At this point, I had started getting some nerves, but Tim is such a calm, soothing soul – being able to talk things through with him calmed me down before the nerves could really take hold. I wouldn’t have wanted to share that time with anyone else. I cherish Tim’s friendship more than words can express!
We noticed that someone holding a Wave 9 start was standing right in front of us and realized that it was time to snap out of the zen moment, so we hopped up from the curb and headed toward our places in line. Leaving Tim at Wave 5 was pretty hard to do, but we said our goodbyes and good lucks and I was on my way to find Wave 3.
The Dreaded Swim
The way this race starts is everyone jumps off the pier (it really isn’t bad – the water might be 2 feet below the deck) and then swims over to the start line. Even with the confidence I had going into the swim, I was prepared for a full-blown panic attack. Part of my plan to avoid this was to get at the very back of the pack and start to the right.
I got in the water, swam to the start, looked around and realized – I WAS AT THE VERY FRONT OF THE LINE. We were off and I swam about 100 yards (maybe) before I completely lost it. I should have tried to start slow and easy, but it is hard to start slow and easy when over 100 people are swimming up from behind over and around you. So I tried to backstroke to calm myself down and that DID NOT work. I actually had to stop for a bit because I was so close to hyperventilating. I did have the presence of mind to realize that I needed to keep moving forward, so I inched along as I could. This went on for at least 10 minutes. Me making progress little by little because I didn’t want to put my face in the water and feel like I was drowning. Until….I just got pissed. I told myself to quit acting like a pansy and just swim. (That’s the PG version.) And I started swimming. I decided to breathe every other stroke and that would also help me keep my eyes on the buoys. I found a good rhythm very quickly and found my swim zone. By this time, I had made the first turn and was heading down the longest stretch of the course. Red buoys were the turn markers, but on the long stretch the buoys in between were orange so it was hard to tell how far I had to go when I looked down the line. Not cool. I like yellow. LOL
I FINALLY reached the buoy for the last turn and was on the home stretch! I was so focused on watching the now yellow buoys that I didn’t even realize how close I was to the exit. I did a happy dance inside my wet suit when I figured that out! Before I knew it, I was on the exit ramp. I walked out of the water (just like coach instructed) and headed to the wet suit strippers. But after I got through with them, I was just ready to get to transition so I started jogging a bit. I heard Carmen yelling my name and looked to see her and Brent standing there. I think I managed a wave and continued on to my bike!
Side note: By the end of the swim, I was SO OVER salt water! I did a good job not swallowing much, but my sinuses and throat were starting to burn. (My nose ran like a faucet for the rest of the race – it was like I had an entire hour with a Neti pot.) Also, I was thinking during the swim that the waters sure were choppy, but I had no reference so I thought all that was normal. When I ran into Noah in T1 and he made a remark about how bad the swim was, I felt much better about myself!
The bike is always windy at Galveston. I knew this going in, but with the crazy weather that had been forecast, the winds were supposed to be even more brutal. I really don’t know what the winds actually were but I heard 20-25 mph. I know there were times that it gusted more than that because it would catch my wheels.
So I finally got out of transition and out on the bike, but there were SO MANY PEOPLE that I was riding like 14mph, which honestly ticked me off. I had to remind myself that it would thin out when we got out on the main road and that the goal was NOT to chase people down. I was committed to riding a smart bike leg and not blowing my legs out for the run. I found a nice rhythm pretty quickly and, depending on the amount of cyclists around, was able to keep anywhere from 17-22mph. (I’m not going to lie, I wanted 20mph avg on the bike, but I knew it was foolish to attempt that.) I passed a lot of people and got passed by a lot of bad ass men – and a few women, too. I kept my pace and just passed when I had to. HOWEVER, if you were a woman and I could see 45-49 on your calf, I DID pass you! LOL Apparently I managed the no-draft zone well because I saw the race officials often and never got a penalty!
I had to stop at the first aid station, which was around 20 mile mark, I think, because I was about to pee in my shorts! I would have peed on the bike, but since they specifically said not to in the athlete briefing I figured best not to chance it. As far as nutrition, I took UCAN again before the bike and had Tailwind in my bottles for out on the course.
The bridge that we had to ride over was so freaking bumpy. I swear I felt like I was riding on rumble strips. I noticed at the turn around that the bracket holding my bottle cage between my aero bars was loose on one side. I thought about stopping and getting my hex tool out of my bag, but I wasn’t sure if I had packed it. Then I considered stopping at one of the support vehicles, but all that would take time that I didn’t want to give up, so I decided to chance it and see what happened. Well….that bracket came loose and fell off. And right before it fell off, I found myself on the bumpy bridge again and a guy behind me said I had lost my left rear bottle (out of a Gorilla cage) and that bottle had my last leg of Tailwind in it. I wasn’t too concerned about it though, because I had enough Tailwind for 3 hours on the bike and I had elected to start the bike with UCAN which covered the first hour. I was pretty sure that my nutrition would suffice. As I approached mile 40, my shoulders were starting to cramp from white knuckling my aero bars (to keep my bike from blowing over in the cross winds) and I noticed that I was hungry, too. Plus that stupid cage between my aero bars was driving me NUTS. I stopped at mile 40 and grabbed the emergency bar I had stashed on my bike, rearranged my bottles so that I didn’t have anything in that aero cage, stretched out my shoulders and went off again. My mouth was watering for the end of the bike. I was SO READY to be done because my shoulders felt crampy, but my legs still felt fresh. I checked my heart rate – 107. LOL I know it wasn’t that low the entire bike, but I laughed a little bit that it was that low at mile 50. I stayed in aero basically the entire 56 miles, to combat the wind.
I’ll speak to the wind a bit. Even though that wind would catch my race wheels, I was SO GLAD it was a crosswind. I didn’t feel like I had to fight for every pedal stroke the way I feel when I ride into a headwind. I think that is what made my bike leg so manageable.
When I was on those last 6 miles of the bike, my thoughts jumped back and forth from: I CAN NOT wait to get off this effing bike! to: I DO NOT want to run 13.1 miles! to: Quit acting like a pansy, Jen. How the hell you gonna run a 50 miler if you can’t even mentally handle a half. SUCK IT UP.
And then I was back in transition, getting ready to run!
Running in a sauna would have been cooler
Again, I took my time in T2. I didn’t want to rush things too much. I took another serving of UCAN, grabbed my bottle of Tailwind for later in the run and took off out of transition. I had my watch in Triathlon mode and hit the lap button….twice…by accident. And that ended the activity. I’m a data freak and a little OCD about all that stuff being perfect, but I managed to handle it with cool and calm. It took forever for my watch to save the swim and bike, though, and I was getting impatient. While all this was happening, I ran right by our Renegade tent and with everyone cheering it gave me a real boost to start the run. The workout finally saved and I was able to start the run, but I had NO IDEA how far I had gone when was actually able to start the run on my watch. I wasn’t really worried, though. The course was 3 loops of 4ish miles, so I felt it should be manageable.
The run was SO HOT. After being nearly blown away on the bike, I went to running in and around the resort where breezes were few and far between. I struggle in the heat, anyway, and I WAS STRUGGLING. Before the race, I had hoped to do better than a 2:15 half and felt that I could manage a 2:00 half. So my goal was to just stay on pace for around a 2:00 half. My only problem was that I didn’t really know how to judge that since my run was off a little on my watch. My whole goal with the run wasn’t to crush it so much as it was to use it for mental training for my upcoming ultras. I managed the heat as best I could, stopping at every aid station and getting ice water sponges or pouring ice down my bra and back of my shirt when the aid stations had ice available. It helped, along with the occasional breeze in certain parts of the course.
The second loop was the hardest. I was hot and I wanted to STOP. I was determined that I wouldn’t walk. I didn’t need to walk, but my brain wanted me to. Again, mental training for the ultra. Push through when your brain tries to trick you to stop. When I came by the Renegade tent for lap 2, they were all standing in a line cheering for me. Lacy was the loudest and her enthusiasm gave me the boost I needed to keep pushing forward. I can’t put into words how much it helps seeing your teammates cheering for you. I started seeing Renegades on the course on lap 2 as well, and seeing those familiar jerseys reminded me that I wasn’t in this alone. I finished lap 2 and now the finish was just one lap away – and that gave me a huge mental boost!
I maintained the pace that I had been running for the first half of loop 3. I caught up with Tim and wanted to run it in with him, but he was having stomach cramps and walking some so he told me to go on without him. I think I left a little of my heart right there. It would have been so amazing to cross the finish with him! I stopped at the next aid station and filled my bra with ice, then picked up the pace. I was so close I could almost taste it! When I got to mile 12 marker, I really kicked it up. I went from a 9:29 pace on mile 12 to an 8:48 pace on mile 13. And when I knew I was close to the finish, I pushed even harder! I smiled the entire way down the finish line chute – I HAD DONE IT!!!
After the finish
After I zipped across the finish, I downed a water and tried to find the exit. It was a bit camouflaged. I turned to go to Medical but realized there was no way out and I had to go back across the finish area to get out. As I did, I looked at the clock and it was 6:28. I knew that I had *at least* a 6:20, since I started 8 min after the first wave of elites. I couldn’t help but smile. I had hoped that I could do better than 6:30. (I really wanted 6:00, but was smart enough to know it probably wouldn’t happen my first time out of the gate.) I exited the finish area and had NO CLUE how to get back across to the Renegade tent, nor did I have a clue where Carmen was. I felt so lost!
It was about this time that I spotted Carmen and I’ve never been so happy to see her. She gave me a BIG hug and I might have had a tear escape from my eye. It was a special moment. We found our way to the food tent which was serving pizza (disappointing) and NO BEER (MORE disappointing). I grabbed a slice of cheese and Carmen escorted me back to the Renegade tent. On the way, it hit me that I hadn’t waited for Tim and I felt TERRIBLE. What a bad team mate I turned out to be!
When we got back to the tent, Tim was sitting there and I gave him a hug and sat down beside him. The app had finally updated and Carmen shared that my time was 6:18:02 – I was very happy with that!!
Turns out that Ryan is really good at this sherpa thing, too, because he had BEER in a cooler! SCORE!!! Ahhhhh it tasted so good! He may as well have serenaded me with what he said next – he asked if I wanted a hamburger! Bless him! If I had been on my feet and able to move at that moment, I would have tackled him with the biggest bear hug. I’m pretty sure that hamburger was the best tasting hamburger I’ve ever had in my life!
After Tim and I ate, transition was open again for bike pick-up. We walked over together to get our stuff. Carmen and I left pretty soon after the bike check-out. We had a 6 hour drive and possibly some storms to dodge, so we didn’t want to waste too much time.
The Important Stuff
The week before and right up to race morning, the threat of severe weather was real. Luckily, the predicted storms went North of Galveston and I managed to finish the race before even a drop of rain fell. (I’m not sure if it rained/stormed after Carmen and I left or not.) This storm threat caused me to reassess the race. I had once been so terrified about the swim but realized that if it had to be cancelled, I would be severely disappointed. In just over a year, I had gone from sitting in my car, nauseated, in the natatorium parking lot – not even able to swim a full lap with my head in the water to KNOWING that I could manage a 1.2 mile swim, even if/when I panicked. I think that is the most beautiful part of this half Ironman journey.
I have to thank my coach, Brent. He was relentless in trying to talk me into triathlon – I know he knew it would help me spread my wings. I am so glad he didn’t give up when I said NO over and over and over and over again. I am thankful for his training, his support and his friendship.
I have to thank my sherpa, Carmen. I cherish our friendship and am SO THANKFUL for her dedication to come with me to these races and wait on me to finish. We really do make a good team at these things!
And my dear friend, Tim. He is a very treasured friend, indeed. His wisdom resonates with me and he has talked me off the ledge of anxiety more times than I can count. Those fake Galveston wind updates, though…..
Finally, my TEAM! Oh my goodness. I love each and every one of you! When we have these events that a bunch of Renegades are racing, it makes the experience SO MUCH FUN! Racing is so much more fun with friends and I’m so glad that I get to do it with YOU!
OH!! I later found out that the founders of our club decided to do top 3 male and female awards and I ended up as 2nd place female!! I feel really lucky, too, because the two women on either side of me are young and amazing athletes.
And now, I’ll continue the rest and recovery. Hitting training hard again next week as I prepare for a 50k just 30 days away!