Race report: Musselman 70.3

“When this is over I want a chocolate milkshake!” I said to Mark upon leaving transition to start the 13.1-mile run. What I really wanted to say (curse alert! curse alert!) was, “When this is over, I want a ‘motherfucking’ milkshake.” Ah yes. It’s been some time since I wanted to MF all over the place on a race course. But Sunday was definitely one of those times. Proudly I held back because (a) there were lots of children around and (b) if an official heard me I could be given an unsportsmanlike penalty. Though I think the Court of Sport Arbitration would negate the ensuing 2-minute penalty. It was 92 degrees in Geneva, N.Y. for Musselman and by the time I hit the midway point of my run, I honestly thought this particular race, with the conditions and the course, was more difficult than my Iron Distance race.

Seriously, who would have thought the swim would be the highlight of my day?

Let me walk you through it:

The swim: Oddly, the best part of the day

Seneca Lake was 73 degrees which meant it was wet suit legal and I may or may not have literally done a happy dance. (Hey, they were playing Will Smith’s “Miami.” I was legally obligated to get jiggy with it.) Luckily for me, all of my girlfriends who were doing the race  (That Walker Girl, Tara, and Tara’s friends Tracy and Staci whom I hope are now also my friends) were wave five pink caps. While they started at the front of the pack, it was calming to have friendly, familiar faces nearby. The swim started and while the lake was shallow enough to walk to nearly the first buoy, I started swimming pretty early. This was part of my plan to (a) gain confidence and (b) be able to put my feet down and walk a step or two as I found my swimming rhythm. It didn’t take long and though I was at the back of the pack, I was feeling OK.

Until …. the waves started. They were gentle and barely noticeable from shore, but the lake had a current and we were swimming against it to start. I felt my body rise and fall against the water. A few times, it messed up my breathing (as it is difficult to take in air while your nose and mouth are engulfed in water, no matter how gentle and rolling the wave may be), but I calmly regrouped and hit the first turn buoy.

The course than swam across the current and I got into a groove of doing the forward crawl for about 10 strokes then doing the breaststroke for three or four strokes in order to site and correct my course, which invariable was either pushed too far toward shore to too far into the lake as I overcorrected. At this point the wave behind me started to catch up and I dealt with arms and legs and needless splashing. But I kept my calm. Hey! I noticed, I didn’t have that run out of energy early on the swim. The one where all my of my nervous energy and excitement gets wasted and I’m so spent trying to calm myself down that a quarter of the way through the course, I want to take a nap. This is progress!

I kept moving forward, paying attention to keeping my head down and my legs together. I thought about gliding and kicking less. I pulled past a buoy. Ok. Let’s swim to the next one. But wait a minute. All these other people are turning NOW. Wait, I’m already at the second turn buoy?! SWEET! That was, well, that was way quicker and easier feeling than I anticipated. In fact, it felt so good that I wondered if I had cut the course. (I didn’t, for the record.) It’s not that I wasn’t swimming hard or working hard. I was. But the gliding motion and, dare I say, the confidence and the channeled energy made the time fly by. And my time, it seems, was right around last year’s. So there’s that. Which, I have to say, I am rather pleased with.

The bike: Who turned on the furnace?

It is no secret the bike is my favorite part. I love the bike. Let me spin up hills all day. I’ll take it. But that’s not to say this bike was easy. No my friends. It was hard. While I know this bike course, I have problems with the sequence — I forget what comes where. Hence, I forgot (or perhaps have mentally blocked the pain of) the first five miles which involve a lot of long, gradual uphills, making for a slower start than I’d like.  Plus, there was a bit of a headwind, not terribly strong but enough to be annoying, especially as I was trying to push myself. Right around Mile 10 I nearly crashed as I wobbled getting into my areobars. I swerved far right onto gravel, wobbled to correct and did not have my balance as I uncontrollably moved into traffic. I heard a gentle car horn. SHIT. I righted myself and the van passed me. Seriously. That was scary. And I backed off my speed for a little while to gather myself.

There is a large downhill at Mile 28 and I took it with ease and poise. I was cranking, drinking my Gatorade and munching on fig newtons and Honey Stinger Waffles. (I had wanted to eat some TRYCHips bananas, but alas, I forgot to open the package before the race. Yep, It wasn’t gonna happen this time.) Then it came. The hill. I knew it was coming. It’s just past a water stop and comes immediately after making a right-hand turn. I prepared by putting myself in an easy gear. I made the turn and …. WHO THE HELL TURNED ON THE FURNACE? (And yes, I did shout this out loud.) That annoying wind? Dead. The heat was instantaneously oppressive. I survived the hill and pounded my way through the next section, but I know could feel the heat. And it wasn’t good.

The best part came when I actually enjoyed a gloriously long descent. (Yes, you read that right, I, queen of the terrors on the descent, enjoyed a downhill, not touching her breaks ONCE. Really. Where this bravado came from I have no idea.) In the end, I was five minutes slower than last year, but surprisingly, I was happy with it. I rarely if ever feel heat on the bike, and I knew it zapped me, despite my best efforts at hydration and nutrition. As I pulled into transition I had a huge smile on my face. One of the volunteers was on a speaker at transition, announcing the riders and entertaining the crowd.

“No. 722 is coming in with a huge smile on her face. She is glad to be done with the bike. I think she might break into song.”

In the distance came a long, loud, “NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!” It was a long, hot day for spectators, too. And Mark (though he napped in the car during  my swim) did not want to have to hear my musical intonations. (Which, by the way, I think are fabulous.)

The run: Sponsored by Death Valley

As I trotted out on the run, a woman cheering shouted, “Be sure to take care of yourself out there.” That phrase came back to me several times on the run. This was about survival, not performance. This was now a mental game, not a physical one. And I needed to make peace with that. Quickly.

The first aid station, about 1.5 miles into the run, featured a porta-potty. Only the guy who went in ahead of me was in it for like four minutes. So I downed some flat cola and water and waited. (Really dude, what were you doing there? Then again, I probably don’t want to know.) My plan was to run from aid station to aid station. And in that second and third mile, I battled the same thing as last year: The “I suck” monster. I mentioned it tone of the women on the course.

“Only one percent of the population does this,” she said of our our 70.3 experience. “So you don’t suck. None of us do.”

Thank you random woman, in your 40s, wearing the Terry triathlon gear and looking more buff and fit than I could ever dream of looking.

For the most part, I made it running aid station to aid station. There were hills on the course which I knew I would walk: The dreaded backyard stairs in Mile 3, the hill on Mile 6, the top of the cornfield hill on Mile 7, and the top of a few rollers on the stretch along Hobart & William Smith Colleges. I was slow. (I turned off my Garmin early in the run when (a) it started to run low on power, (b) accidentally was stopped and not restarted during the porta-potty incident and (c) told me at one point I ran a 13:40 mile and frankly, I didn’t need to know that.) But I was running. And oddly, though I was slow, I felt stronger.

Then came Mile 11. The final two miles are flat, but with large swaths of path with no shade. My body was done. It was starting to shut down. A few things were happening:

  1. I was experiencing a bit of sloshy stomach. Not too bad but enough to annoy me and realize my gastrointestinal system was not pleased.
  2. The space between my shoulder blades was aching.
  3. Chaffing from my wetsuit high on my neck was burning.
  4. A large blister was developing on my right foot. I anticipated this. See, God bless the people of Geneva who were out en masse with their garden hoses, offering sprays to runners as they went by. I thought of my friend Sue, who told me not to take sprays. What happens is your socks and shoes get too wet, rub against your feet and voila! Blisters! I knew this. But I didn’t care. It was ninety-freaking-two out. I wanted the spray. I’d deal with the blister when it came. (Aside: Kudos to the people doing the spraying as they asked people if they wanted a spray. That is respect. Thank you.)

The last water stop was about 1.5 miles from the finish. A volunteer gave me an entire bottle of water. I took off power walking, hoping to start running soon. I chatted with a woman from Rochester for a good quarter to half mile before I finally decided my body was ready to jog it in. Maybe about 200 meters from the finish line I came across a group of people cheering. They read my bib and started cheering for me:

“Go Amy!” Then I heard a woman say, “Go Amy? Wait, that’s our Amy!” It was Kate, one of the members of the Buffalo Triathlon Club, who took on the role of club photographer for the day. “Come back so I can take your picture!”

“Are you on crack?” I yelled. “There is no freaking way, I’m coming back!”  Seriously, I was thisclosetothefinish. N0t only did I want to be done, I wanted, no needed, to keep moving forward. And yes, that is meant to be both physical and metaphorical.

There it was. The finish line banner. I had survived. I saw my dad standing along the chute and smiled. That race? Right there? Was freaking hard. My friends — That Walker Girl, Theo and John — were part of the posse that greeted me after I made my way through the finisher’s chute. Mark and my parents were there congratulating me. The consensus was that, to use technical racing terms, the run sucked. General wisdom said most people were 30 minutes off their expected time. Hmm. If I subtract 30 minutes from my finishing time, that would have been a PR. I can live with that knowledge.

There is actually much knowledge gained from this race weekend and very little of it has to do with actual racing. Those insights will come tomorrow, so tune in again for the continuing story. Because races are about so much more than the details.

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