Before I’d even started the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii last year, I knew I wanted to make the return trip in 2014. There was something about that place- a buzz, an energy- that drew me in. Then the race happened. I was generally happy but not completely satisfied with the outcome, and the desire became even stronger— the desire to do whatever it took to qualify for the 2014 race, and to return to the Big Island wiser and stronger.
|Obligatory Hawaii Picture
Largely due to a fear of putting all my eggs in one basket, I set up the first part of my season so that I’d have two shots at a Kona slot. Attempt #1 was this past weekend’s race- the Eagleman 70.3 in Cambridge, Maryland, one of only a few half Ironmans world-wide that qualify for Kona and the only one in the continental United States. Attempt #2 is Ironman Coeur d’Alene, a short (and perhaps foolish) three weeks later…possibly not my wisest decision, scheduling-wise, but I have a smart coach and she managed to figure out a way to train me for both an extremely competitive half-Ironman and an Ironman at the same time, and did it with a training plan that only reduced me to tears once or twice.
Cambridge, Maryland is sorta in the middle of nowhere, travel was anything but easy, and accommodations are sparse, but I tried to make the best of it by staying an extra night in Washington, D.C. and visiting with some law school friends, and then tackling the Chesapeake Bay Bridge early on Saturday morning so as to avoid ridiculous traffic and many, many hours of stress.
|That is a big bridge|
Once in Cambridge, I stayed in the most fun house in the area with a group of folks- Lindsey, Jackie, and Ben – who I’d been connected to via my friend Karin. Those three are some crazy fast and serious triathletes, but the mood in the house was fun and laid back and the decor was quirky enough to keep us entertained, so Saturday ended up being far more low-stress and enjoyable than I’d ever have guessed. Yay, new friends!
|Fifth roommate, Wally, who was unhappy that I stole his seat|
On race day, I woke up in a pretty good mood, feeling confident and ready to go. While eating breakfast, I got a text from A.J., a friend from Well-Fit, letting me know that he was already at the race site, and the water had been measured as over 76 degrees, meaning a non-wetsuit swim was on tap. After considering, and dismissing, the possibility that he was messing with me (there had been some trash talk going on on Facebook), I did a little dance right there in the middle of the kitchen. My swim can still improve, but I consider it a relative strength, and a swim without wetsuits (which generally act as an equalizer) was most certainly to my benefit. Things were looking up.
A long drive to a local middle school, a shuttle bus ride to the race site, a little time in transition setting everything up, and before I knew it, we were getting close to go time. Just like in Kona, I had a stroke of good fortune and ran into Jennifer Harrison a while before the race, and just like in Kona, she was a tremendously positive and calming presence, giving me some last minute tips and intel. I’ve decided that Jennifer is now my official pre-race good luck charm.
Soon enough, it was 7:45, and I was standing (and shivering) in the Choptank River, ready to turn myself inside out. I’d scouted out my competitors like a good little triathlete stalker, and knew that if I wanted to have any shot at a Kona slot, I needed to put a good chunk of time into them during the swim.
The gun went off and I put my head down, sprinted for about 60 strokes, and then started to look around a bit. One girl took off and distanced herself right off the bat, but then I was in a nice little pack of 4 or 5, where I stayed for the whole swim, jumping from set of feet to set of feet and mostly just swimming as hard as I possibly could in murky, brackish water. (Fun fact: ‘brackish’ means part salty, part fresh water. It does not just mean ‘gross,’ which is what I thought, and why I was confused that the race directors kept using the word in their advertising). The effort was aggressive, much harder than I’ve ever swum in a half ironman, and boy, did I want to be done in those last 5-10 minutes, but I knew I had to take a risk and just hammer the swim.
|The Choptank River, the night before|
Perhaps I hammered a bit too had, because when it came time to stand up and run through the last few feet of shallow water, I could barely lift my legs and felt disoriented and exhausted.
In the end, I was out of the water in 31 minutes, 5th in my age group (35-39, yes, I’m old, but I’m actually only 34….one of the cruel realities of Ironman rules), which was fine but not spectacular, particularly given the effort. Oh well, onward.
And then came the most frustrating 3 minutes of my life. Still oddly disoriented from the swim, I entered transition and made the rookiest of rookie moves– I took a bad turn, ran to the wrong area of transition, and then spent the next 90 seconds completely and utterly lost, running up and down aisles, spinning around, totally disoriented and unable to find my bike. I yelled to a volunteer, “PLEASE, help me find my bike.” He asked me my race number. I couldn’t remember. “Sixteen something!” I kept running around like a chicken with my head cut off, crying, not thinking straight in any way, and getting more and more panicked. It felt like an eternity. Eventually that volunteer called out to me: “over here!” I ran to my row but still couldn’t find my bike. Another competitor tried to help: “go to the other side. There. To your right.” And finally I found it, threw on my helmet and sunglasses and headed out to ride, completely flustered and with frustrated tears running down my face.
|Totally lost and trying to find my bike among the 2500 other ones|
Looking at results, I apparently lost between 90 seconds and 2 minutes running around transition like a moron. At the time, it felt like at least 5 minutes. I thought my race was over. I had no idea how many women had passed me and figured Kona was gone….all because of a stupid, stupid mistake.
I listened to an awesome podcast recently by Olympic swimmer Rebecca Soni, and she said something about how crazy it is that we’ll say things to ourselves and about ourselves that we would never, ever say to our friends. “You wouldn’t treat your friend like that,” she said, “why treat yourself like that?” I don’t have an answer to that question, but I can say, in the first ten minutes of that bike ride, I did exactly that. I mentally berated myself using words and names I’d never dream of directing towards even my worst enemy. I thought of all the training hours I’d put in, all the money I’d spent traveling to this race, all the effort I’d put into that swim, likely to the detriment the rest of my race, and I told myself I’d thrown it all away because I was too much of an airhead to not get lost in transition. Anger can be motivating, I know that. But when that anger is directed completely, 100% inward, it is anything but productive.
Then, a girl from my age group passed me as I was pouting, and I snapped out of it. I forced myself to get over it, I passed her back, and I got going, on a mission to make up for my mishap.
The ride in general was not terribly eventful. The roads were nice, but flat as a pancake. I’d started in Wave 13, which meant I was passing people the entire time, so staying alert and making safe and legal passes kept me engaged. I didn’t feel great riding, at all, and the power I was putting out seemed low compared to the effort, but as with the swim, I knew I needed to take a risk, and I just kept pushing and pushing as hard as I (reasonably) could, telling my tired legs to suck it up and thinking back to the many, many workouts I’ve done lately where I didn’t feel great, but got them done.
I rode in to T2 with a sore back (56 miles in the aerobars is not, at all, comfortable) and a bit of a bored mind. After the T1 mishap, I’d rehearsed the bike to run transition in my heard about 30 times during the last several minutes of the bike, so it went flawlessly, and I took an extra second to scan the bike racks and was happy to see that I was leading the age group.
The Eagleman run is just as flat as the bike, but completely exposed and a little steamy. When we set out, my legs felt fine, but not terribly snappy or quick. No surprise, given the Ironman training I’ve been doing, but a bit of a bummer. I chugged along, a bit disappointed every time I checked my pace, but not really able to do anything about it. I just didn’t have that next gear.
A bit after mile 4, Amy Farrell flew by me on her way to the overall amateur win (no surprise, Amy is a tremendous competitor, and while I tried to tell myself before this race that anything can happen, I’ll be honest and say that I knew that if Amy was healthy and didn’t have any major mishaps, she was going to win our age group). I tried to increase my pace and go with her, but I couldn’t make it happen, so instead I shook off the disappointment of losing the lead and focused on running strong in second place. In the past few years, there have been two Kona slots awarded to my age group at this race, so while there was no guarantee, I convinced myself that all was not lost, and just pressed on, hoping it would be enough.
I struggled a lot during the last 5 miles or so, constantly having to talk myself back into the race, using mantras and mental games to stay in it. So many times, I got right to the point of giving up and backing down, but the memories of Hawaii kept pulling me back from the ledge.
|For comic relief– the worst race photo ever. Everything about this picture is horrible|
I was told that the last mile of Eagleman is like a cruel joke, and I can go ahead and confirm that. You make a turn, and can see and hear the finish line for the entire last mile. It’s so damn close, but so damn far away. Mean, mean, mean.
But, despite that I’m never gonna get there feeling, I did in fact eventually reach the finish line, holding on to second place in my age group. I found some friends, parked myself under a tree, sucked down a bunch of Diet Cokes (yeah, I’m still fighting my diet soda addiction relapse), and braced myself for a long few hours until I’d find out if my day, which to me seemed decent but not spectacular, would be good enough.
After cleaning up, we got back to the park around 3:00 to see how the Kona slots had shaken out. For those that haven’t had the good fortune to suffer through a roll-down ceremony, here’s how it works: there were 30 total Kona slots for the entire race. One is allocated to each age group that has a starter, and then the remaining slots are allocated amongst the age groups based on the number of starters. What this meant this year was that no women’s age group had more than one Kona slot allocated. When I got that news, I looked over at the registration table and saw Amy signing the form to take the lone slot from our age group. I tried not to cry.
My phone was buzzing though, messages from Liz telling me not to give up and to stay until the very, very end of the roll-down ceremony. The kicker here– there were three female age groups (70-74, 75-79, and 80+) that had only one or two starters. If no one from an age group claims the Kona slot, it gets reallocated to the women’s age group with the most starters (which, by one single person, was my age group).
And that’s how, to be brutally honest, I found myself taking a HUGE karmic hit when I may or may not have found myself maybe just a tiny, tiny bit hoping that an 83 year-old nun might make the decision that Ironman racing is silly, and either decline her slot to Kona or walk this race in just a few minutes too late to make the cut-off. Yes, I know this makes me the worst person ever, and I probably ought to atone for my sins by working at a soup kitchen or something, but hey. It’s my blog and I’m gonna tell it like it is.
You have until 4:00 PM to claim your slot to Kona if you’re an automatic qualifier, and I hovered around that table, eyeing every older looking woman that walked towards it. (I didn’t actually know what Sister Madonna looked like). “Is that her?” I kept asking people whenever I spotted anyone remotely elderly looking. “Amanda, that person has on a shirt that says IronSupporter and jeans, and can’t be more than 60. That is just someone’s mother. Relax.”
The clock was clicking, 3:57, 3:58, still no sign of Sister Madonna. But then, 3:59, there she was, practically carried by two gentleman from the finish line directly to the table so she could claim her spot at the very last minute. It’s hard not to be inspired seeing someone having just done something so spectacular at that age, but….yeah. I was bummed.
|With my good luck charm, Jennifer, who had a great race|
But, Coeur d’Alene is right around the corner, so I willed myself to stay positive, enjoyed the awards ceremony, and was only paying half attention when I heard the announcer say, “there was only one finisher in the women’s 70-74 age group. It doesn’t look like she’s here to accept her award.”
That….was a good sign.
A LONG 15 minutes later, the roll-down ceremony started, and when the announcer took the microphone and said “the Kona slot from the women’s 70-74 age group has not been claimed and will be reallocated to 35-39,” I’m pretty sure I let out a fairly obnoxious shriek and jumped in the air in celebration. Sure, not cool, but….c’mon. It’s Hawaii.
|They didn’t have the race information papers to pose with, so here’s me and the credit card that got quite a workout on Sunday, too.|
And that was that. The rest of the evening, I celebrated as best as one can celebrate in Cambridge, Maryland…gorging on greasy food, crab, beer, and ice cream, and then driving to Delaware just so that we could say we’d been to Delaware. Good times.
|Hi. We’re in …. Delaware.|
Now, I’m in a sort of weird recovery/ taper but not quite yet ambiguous state before I had on out to Idaho in just a couple weeks for Round Two of this crazy double- Ironman Coeur d’Alene. It’s nice to have some of the pressure off for Ironman, and I did briefly contemplate not doing the race, but I’ve already done all the training and still have some lofty goals. Plus, this is my opportunity to check off two new states that I haven’t visited before– Idaho and Washington. Together with Delaware, that’s three new states in just one month. Huge!
The more and more I get into this sport, the more and more I realize that it takes a whole support team, and I couldn’t be more grateful to all the people who have helped me out. As always, thanks to Liz for putting together an awesome plan that left absolutely no stone unturned and dealing with way, way more than her fair share of my crazy. Thanks also to Gina at Achieve Ortho for keeping me in one piece; Rick Wemple, my former college track coach, who has also taken on his fair share of my crazy lately and helped me get mentally prepped (more on that later); my friends and coaches at Well-Fit Training Center; TriSports.com for keeping me geared up; Lindsey, Jackie, and Ben for being great housemates; Jennifer for being a great good luck charm and keeping me calm during the roll-down; Chris for staying at the ceremony with me until the very, very end….and so many other friends and family. Thanks for reading- you’re all the best! Now, who’s coming to Hawaii????