Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Welland Half Iron Triathlon - June 23rd, 2013

"Our people don't like to be hot." - Futurama

I did my best to do everything right for this one. I tapered in much the same way I did for the Mississauga Half Marathon in May, and followed a very similar carbo-loading protocol with the addition of a fair bit of tropical fruits. I figured that pineapple, mango and watermelon were decent bets as it was predicted to be very hot and humid for race day and those foods are native to climates in which those conditions are common. I got my final training session - a 20min run with a couple of easy pickups - in almost 24 hours before gun time, finished eating dinner with just over 12 hours to go, and got myself to bed by nine-freaking-thirty. I didn't do all that well with getting additional sleep in the week before the race or staying off my feet on Saturday, but I tried.

Up at 4am Sunday morning, it was already 22c/72f outside with thick fog - the afternoon promised 27c/81f with a humidex of 36c/97f, which is probably about the worst case scenario, as long as the 40% chance of thunderstorms stayed as merely a threat. Winds were predicted to be 25kph/15.5mph from the southwest, which would mean a headwind for about the first half of the bike course. Joy. We usually camp in a friend's backyard the night before Welland, but they were calling for thunderstorms overnight so we changed our plans - I figured having to get up an hour and a half earlier was better than not being able to sleep all night with the crack and boom of thunder and the drumming of rain on the tent roof. Rather glad we did, as Cambridge at least got a pretty solid lightshow in the evening along with a positive torrent of rain.

Dinner entertainment.

I must have slept a bit funny, as I woke up with a crick in the right side of my neck and had nothing but tingling in the outer half of my right hand - fortunately both resolved within a few minutes of rising. I dressed, braided up my freshly bleached hair, downed my meal replacement shakes and we were out of the house a little ahead of schedule, popping up to Tim Hortons to buy Tanker a coffee for the drive down to Welland,  then onto the highway...only to realize shortly before the first exit that I'd totally forgotten my calf sleeves. Tanker asked if we should turn around and I havered a bit before conceding that we probably should; we'd be later getting going than I wanted, but with the heat that was coming and my lack of bike training I'd need to use every tool in my kit to keep myself functioning. I hadn't worn compression sleeves yet this year, but I also hadn't tried racing for over 6 hours in tropical conditions.

It might be slightly humid.

We were back on the road only 15mins behind schedule (about 5:15am), hoping to make good time but having to drive cautiously due to the thick fog. After making our way past the Burlington Skyway, I was feeling a bit dozy, so told Tanker that his next maneuver was to hit the 406 toward Welland before kicking my seat back and grabbing a bit of a nap. It was going to be a long day, and the more rested I could be the better. He didn't wake me up until we were about 20km out from town, and while I didn't really sleep I did feel refreshed. We found another Tim Hortons, I used the washroom and grabbed my pre-race Café Mocha, and we made it to the race site just before 6:45am - a bit later than I would have liked, but not enough to make me worry.

It rubs the BodyGlide on its skin..
Race prep went smoothly - got a decent rack position, no problems picking up cap, bib, swag and chip, and I actually managed to get everything laid out properly. My shoes were thoroughly coated in BodyGlide, my flasks full of EFS Liquid Shot were stowed where they were needed (one in my Speedpack, one by my cycling shoes, one by my running shoes), my bike was racked in a low gear and even had the proper pedal up, my aero bottle was full of water with a Nuun tab, and I had a throw-away bottle of water with a sport top in my frame cage if I needed it between bottle exchanges. I drank my bottle of EFS drink, visited the portajohns, emptied various things, applied slatherings of lubrication to my saddlery regions, my neck, underarms, chest and anywhere else I could think of that something might rub. I chatted with some friends and other competitors, answering questions about the course and the rules, and listened to the pre-race talk by John Salt. With a half hour until go time, I stuffed myself into my wetsuit and headed down toward the water.

Ready as I'll ever be.
Tanker did the final cramming and zipping by the swim start area, then I wandered down and waded into the canal. The water was brisk getting in at 19c/66f, especially since the air temperature was already up to 25c/77f - I carefully spat in my goggles and rinsed them, then put them on only to realize I'd forgotten to take out my eyebrow bar. I didn't know if I had time to find Tank to give it to him for safekeeping, but my goggles seemed to be sealing ok even with it on - I decided to say screw it and try the warmup with it in, donning my swim cap and covering my goggle straps while tucking the loop of zipper lanyard in the back of the cap so I could find it easily. I breast stroked a bit to find some less populated water as many people were scrambling to get a few yards in before race time, then swam out almost to the marker buoy on the far side of the canal. I stopped and tread water for a moment, then swam back - everything seemed to be functional and it had only taken a moment to get over the initial breathlessness of dunking my face in the cool water, so I decided to conserve energy for the race itself. Did maybe 125m total.

My favourite tri swim venue.
Photo credit My Sports Shooter.
Back out of the water for a moment (doing my best impression of a circus seal getting out via the floating dock), my goggles had worked just fine with my eyebrow bar in and I didn't really want to break the seal on them - they fog up if I do that unless I spit and rinse them in the cool water again, and I didn't want to remove my cap and start all over. I got a good luck kiss from my sweetheart and headed back down to the water again to hang out and keep from overheating in my rubbery prison. Stepping into the canal between the two docks this time as they'd moored the big yellow sausage buoy in place (blocking off the swim exit where I'd entered before), I was being very careful as I know there are some big rocks in there and it can be quite slippery. In spite of my best efforts, I managed to fall over and nearly sit on another racer squatting in the water. I stood back up, apologizing furiously - noone needs my rubber-coated butt in their face just before a race! Fortunately this distracted me completely from realizing that I'd banged my right middle toe off a rock under the water until long after the race was done. For those keeping track, it's exactly the same scenario in which I broke the same toe last year; I just happened to get the other foot this time. Now I'm even!

Like a big bubbling pot full of weenies!
Knowing that even with the gains I've made in the last year I'm still not a great swimmer, I took up a spot a few metres behind the line to try to let the faster folks go first rather than having them beat me up and swim overtop of me. The elites set off a minute ahead, then with almost no warning as competitors chatted around me, the horn sounded and the race was on!

Splashy splashy!
Photo credit My Sports Shooter.

I was bound and determined to stay relaxed and come through this strong. My only two prior attempts to swim 2,000m at the start of a race had been so disastrous as to be humiliating: I'd had GI issues, generally crappy swim form and a wetsuit for which I'd got a bit too fat at Muskoka Long Course in 2010, resulting in a 52:15 swim (2:37/100m), then my 2011 Welland Half Iron swim had been a ridiculous riot of swimming for maybe 200-300m before breast stroking, turning over and kicking on my back, and just generally flailing my way along with no stamina whatsoever. If you can believe it, I was actually even slower than Muskoka, clocking a 52:37 or 2:38/100m. I was a bit nervous this year because I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I'd actually done a swim of over 2,000m in a session - never more than 2,500m - and only had 2 quick dips plus the swim at the Woodstock Sprint in open water for 2013. Woodstock had been my best swim ever, though, and I just knew that I could be smooth and relaxed in the water.

Whaddya mean you can't spot me? I'm the one in the black suit & yellow cap!
Photo credit My Sports Shooter.

I settled into a nice rhythm right from the gun, just stroking along with minimal jostling from those around me. Sighting isn't a big issue in the canal, as even with bi-lateral breathing you'll get a decent look at the bank closest to you on the long stretches every 6th stroke, but I was still mindful to have a boo ahead every once in awhile. I got caught up in some feet here and there as people ahead of me discovered they'd gone out with more gusto than they could maintain, but I kept up a pretty even pace as the orange "breadcrumb" buoys started to tick past. The water felt like it was the perfect temperature, I was close enough to the East bank to get a bit of shade from the trees, and I was feeling calm and strong. I made the first turn down by the old swing bridge perfectly, only inches away from the big lime green buoy - I have no idea why some young fellow chose that moment to accelerate and try to squeak between it and me, but I avoided getting pummeled too badly and just let him go. I'd had some other folks kick vigorously in the vicinity of my face as I came up behind them (not nice!), taken a foot to the chest and took a bit of a mouthful of water at one point, but recovered easily and kept on trucking.

As basic as it gets.
Making the second turn bang on the buoy, I was now into the longest stretch of the swim - almost a full kilometer straight up the West bank, past the Lincoln Street bridge with the sun off my right shoulder. I was running into more and more clots of swimmers who were fading and even stopping in the water as I passed the starting point, forcing me to make my way around but never letting it break the easy rhythm of my stroke.  I sighted a little more regularly as I approached the bridge as I didn't want to smack into the giant cement foundation, but happily cleared it with a few feet to spare. I spent some time between two sets of legs catching a nice draft, but then they seemed to disappear; I've never had much success with hanging onto a set of feet for any length of time. I was starting to feel the yardage piling up, but I focused on form (push chest down, don't over-extend the reach, keep elbows high, don't push down on the water, rotate through and pull your body over your hand) and felt some relief as the work transferred back to my well-trained lats. I rounded the last two turn buoys just as neatly as the first two and headed for the exit.

Where I did a little disco dancing, apparently.
Sighting carefully again as I passed under the bridge, I was closer to the outside and could see the slope of the crumbly underwater portion of the cement foundation at the East side very near my hands as I swam. I did my best to avoid it so as not to damage my wetsuit - I've put nicks in it with my fingernails in the past, and during the latter half of the morning's swim I could feel cold water on the back of my left shoulder with every stroke cycle. To this moment I still haven't looked to see if there is a small cut in the suit in that area, or if maybe it was just water getting in at the back of the neck due to a difference in my reach with left and right arms - really should get on that. Oddly enough, it was within 250m of the swim exit that I ran into the worst crowd of swimmers of the day - they were lined up 5 wide in front of me, kicking like crazy and I just couldn't get past, then I felt some close in behind me. One accidentally grabbed my foot, and I felt my right calf try to cramp a bit, but it released fairly easily. I took a kick to the face less than 200m out, smacking directly into my right goggle and letting a bit of water in; fortunately it was only a few drops that didn't bother me too much, and no bruising from the goggle despite that being the one whose rim sits on my eyebrow bar. I moved away from that guy's legs but kept on stroking without a hitch - actually quite amazed at how composed I was able to remain! My calf was still feeling like it might cramp up, but I was close to the finish so I pulled my toes forward a bit and kicked with a bit more vigor to try to get some circulation in my legs - I have a very gentle 2-beat kick that mostly just helps with rotation when swimming in my wetsuit. Just a couple of minutes later I was closing in on the big yellow sausage buoy and could see a lot of silt churned up in the water. I saw people standing up around me but couldn't feel the bottom yet, so kept on swimming until my hand touched down and got to my feet with the assistance of a volunteer I'd practically swum right into. I was pretty steady on my feet climbing out of the water - much moreso than 2 years ago - pulled my goggles up and started to strip out of my suit. Fortunately, no Woodstock-esque chilly hand issues this time; I was pulling the top down in a jiffy.

2,000m swim: 40:07 @ 2:00/100m - 12/23 in W30-34, 212/379 O/A
12:30 improvement over 2011 - snap!

So far, so good!
Off at something approximating a run to transition, I clocked a 2:08 for the three-hundred-and-something metres (it seems to change a little every year) at a pace I probably shouldn't have attempted. I felt damn good, though, and figured I could catch my breath a bit when I got to my bike. I almost blew the minor u-turn I had to make to take the fastest route to my transition spot once I came through the swim entrance arch, but figured it out just in time - I had elected to rack closest to the bike exit rather than right by the swim entrance, figuring I was probably faster running in my wetsuit than with my bike. It also gave me lots of time to pull my suit down past my hips before I arrived at my little slice of the rack, so I just had to do that weird little dance to step on the suit and pull my legs out. Now down to my spandex militia uniform, it was race belt-sunglasses-helmet-bike shoes, the latter taking on a bit of gravel that had stuck to my feet. I hoped the slatherings of BodyGlide in the shoes would prevent any issues, grabbed my flask full of slightly dilute EFS Liquid Shot, stuffed it in my back suit pocket, grabbed my bike and headed for the mount line.

It wouldn't be me unless there was some manner of stupidity, so of course just as I reach the archway at the bike exit my gel flask hops out of my pocket and onto the ground behind me. I heard it drop, and had to stop, lean my bike against the arch, pick up the flask and then try to get moving again. I also had to coordinate doing all of this while apologizing furiously to the 2 or 3 other racers trying to exit T1 whose progress was blocked by my chubby butt in the air as I scrabbled around on the pavement for my precious, precious calories. Giving it rather more decisive a shove into my pocket, I grabbed my bike again and finally crossed the timing mat, figuring I'd pretty much blown my transition time.

T1: 1:34
19sec improvement over 2011

Artist's conception.

In the confusion, my pedals has managed to get out of position again, but I managed to kind of spin them back into place on the way back up so had no real problems mounting. My right foot took a moment or two of wriggling to get clipped in and I certainly wasn't alone in struggling a bit - the two or three people in front of me at the mount area were wobbling and moving at less than walking pace, so I just concentrated on trying not to crash into them before making the first two corners onto Canal Bank Street, getting down into aero and getting on with it. Oh, and finally starting my cycle computer, only to realize the cadence sensor or magnet had got bumped and wasn't picking up. No big deal that, though - I spin pretty well. The slightly bigger worry was that I had missed the back of my shoulders when applying sunblock in the morning, and I feared that I'd be cooked to a deep red before my feet touched the ground again. On the bright side, by looking at the clock on my cyclocomp I could see I'd had as good a swim as it had felt; with my lousy T1 time and the run-up I calculated I'd have to have done the 2k in the canal right around 40mins. Nice.

Knowing that the longest ride I'd done on my tri bike this year was only 50km and that represented probably a full third of the riding I'd done on it in 2013, I didn't expect anything great out of the bike leg, but I definitely wasn't expecting what felt like the beginning of cramps in my glutes almost immediately upon starting to ride. I'm not sure if it was an effect of 40mins of sustained kicking during the swim or something else - all I know is that my butt was seriously unhappy! I remember thinking that I might not even make it through the bloody cycle leg if this was going to keep up, but fortunately it settled down after a few minutes. I may have shifted my position on the saddle and/or bars a bit to help relieve it, which may have resulted in the next issue - as I worked against the rising headwind, my adductors started to cramp a bit. Keep in mind this was all within the first 3 kilometers! I foresaw a long and painful road ahead as I slurped a bit of diluted EFS Liquid Shot around 10mins in.

That's right. I drew you a picture of my bum.

The adductor cramps were much less obliging about buggering off, as were the headwinds. While I figured I couldn't do any worse than my 2011 bike split (3:14:42 at 27.7kph), I was mostly seeing even worse figures on my cyclocomp. Oh well - the sun was shining, the wind provided some cooling, and I'd have lots of time to gaze at the water lilies in the old canal along Feeder Road. The pavement left a bit to be desired on the way out, too - there was some washboard-like vibration coming through the bike that certainly wasn't playing friendly with my nethers, or anything else. In the first 20k I saw what appeared to be an aero helmet visor lost on the side of the road, plus several people with flats, then a bit later on I saw someone's behind-the-saddle hydration kit lying on the road. I was keeping up with hydration and fueling, finishing my aerodrink full of Nuun-y water and refilling with plain water from the bottle exchange near the 30k mark - of course I get the one with a cap that's stupid and closes itself after I open it and try to fill my aero bottle through the cut foam splash cap in the top. I spent almost 5 bloody minutes trying to get water from one container into another! I finally got as much as I figured I could and chucked it. Slurps of EFS Liquid Shot kept happening regularly around 35mins and 1 hour, with me finishing the last sip of my slightly diluted flask (about 3.5oz of gel topped off with water) at around 1 hour 20mins. Depressingly enough, I had only hit the 35k mark by that time - I'd been averaging anywhere from 11:30-12mins per 5k, or just over 26kph. I had passed a few people, but I was getting passed quite regularly.

It could have been much worse - I came upon what appeared to be a crash in the middle of the road, with a couple of non-injured athletes directing the racers around. I hope whoever it was is ok! I also hope it wasn't another racer who caused it, as some of the people who passed me were a little quick to cut over to the right in front of me and nearly clipped my front wheel with their rear. One girl who did this was eating what looked like a piece of banana bread as she did so, and was wobbling all over - not exactly what you like to see from a safety perspective. At least I didn't have any trouble other than a few clench moments, and of course I was yelling thanks yous to the volunteers and police officers along the way; they're toughing it out in the sun and heat as well just to keep us safe and on track!

Long way to go yet.

Passing 40k and making the turn onto Bird Road, I finally found some relief from the headwind and was able to build a bit more speed - hell, I hit the big ring for the first time in ages. I found that the adductor problems were exacerbated by trying to crank hard at low RPM, so I just kept spinning however was comfortable and tried not to worry about being so bloody slow. I finally made the halfway point in 1 hour 40mins - looking at a dismal 3:20:xx bike, but hoping for a push from the tailwind on the way back. I did the little out-and-back and saw there were still plenty of athletes behind me, so I wasn't totally out of the race yet, and my favourite section was coming up - North Shore Road, with its gorgeous views of Lake Erie! I had to climb the one and only hill on the course to get there, but it's really no big deal as I was able to spin up it without needing my biggest cog. I did so sitting up, but that had more to do with taking a stretch than needing extra leverage - past the first hour, I'd been sitting up to take swigs out of my gel flask (on the half-hours) to give my un-adapted and protesting body a break from the aerobars. I'd even get out of the saddle occasionally to try to stretch my adductors, which would help ease them for a little while. I was, however, back in full tuck on the back side of the hill, screaming toward the 60k marker at over 50kph.

The trouble getting water into my aerodrink resulted in me running out of water before the bottle exchange, but looking at my cyclocomp I saw that I'd only have to wait 7 minutes at most to refill - since I'd just taken my slurp of EFS Liquid Shot at the 2-hour point and had enough to wash it down, I didn't bother whipping out the throw-away bottle in the frame cage. The second refill bottle had a much better cap, and I was able to fill without issue, then settled back down into aero and began hydrating again as the wind finally turned into a help rather than a hindrance - riding along the shore with the stiff breeze off the lake was both fast and deliciously cooling! I'd gone about 2:15:xx for the first two thirds, and was starting to see consistent speeds in the 30+kph range as I headed into the home stretch. My adductors even decided to settle down and let me get to work, so work I did! Only a couple of people managed to pass me after this point, though one did comment on the smiley face I'd drawn on the back of my left leg as he came 'round. No point in racing if you can't have a little fun, right?

He looked a lot better before the race.

Back onto Feeder Road, it was like I'd found a second set of legs. I hammered away, probably averaging 33+kph as the old canal whipped past, though not so fast that I missed the cute little turtle on the side of the road staring up at all these weird, wheeled creatures sailing past him. I saw an SUV with a green flashing light turn off Feeder Road onto a gravelly side street, thinking to myself that green usually indicates volunteer fire department. A few moments later I heard a weird crackling, spitting sound - looking over my left shoulder across the canal, I saw green flames spewing from a hydro wire! I was just starting to wonder if someone shouldn't tell the authorities when I saw the same SUV parked a little further up, with two young men throwing on bunker gear as they walked back toward the electrical fire. They're on it!

I was much more comfortable down in aero than I had been all day so far, but sat up to take a shot from the gel flask at the 2h30 point and noticed a very strange thing - my idiot triceps were trying to cramp up on me! I know I'd spent a bunch of time really choked up on the aerobars, and I guess the strain of supporting my upper body had taken its toll. They were fine while I was down on the armpads, so I just tried to stay there as much as possible; I was making up time by the bucketful, too! Making the turn back onto Forks Road I saw two great sights - first, a foal playing in a paddock on the South side of the street, and then the blessed Welland city limits sign! I was less than 5k out and feeling good, knocking back my last bit of gel for the bike as I came through the 3 hour mark.


I managed to pass a couple more competitors on my way back to the arena, wondering if I was cooking myself before the run but enjoying the hell out of finally rolling fast. I made up almost 10 minutes in those last 30km! Coming into the last couple of turns I sat up and spun easy to try to settle my legs a little, came into the coned-off lane to the dismount line, and pulled off a near-perfect hop off the bike just before the line.

90km bike: 3:11:27 @ 28.2kph - 10/23 in W30-34, 291/379 O/A
3:15 improvement over 2011

Yes, I suspect my seat is too high, and that may be the source of the adductor cramps.
I found my rack spot quite easily, hooked the bike on by the brake levers, dumped the empty gel flask from my pocket, then changed up shoes. I noticed as I pulled on my left shoe that there was still some gravel stuck to my foot and felt a little bit come loose in the shoe as I pulled the speed laces tight, but I hoped it wouldn't be an issue as I didn't want to take the time to remove the shoe, clear the intruder, then put it on again. I gave my right foot a bit of a wipe with my hand, then donned the other shoe, took off my helmet, grabbed my 3rd gel flask and hat, then buggered off. Reasonably smooth!

T2: 1:18
36sec improvement over 2011

See ya!
The run is where things got ugly. It was incredibly stinkin' hot, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and the wind that had been the source of such consternation on the bike wasn't enough to blow away the ridiculous humidity that made the air feel as though it was 36c/91f. I was pleased that I managed to make it out of transition and was just passing the finishing chute when the first of the elites came in, smashing the course record and going under 4 hours - congrats Cody Beals! Hearing that he'd gone sub-4 also let me know I had a full 2 hours and 25mins to finish this bloody half marathon before I'd bump up against my 2011 time. Having run 1:58:12 at the Mississauga Half just 7 weeks beforehand, I was pretty confident that wouldn't be a problem. I did remember, however, how poorly I'd run the 5k at the Woodstock Sprint 4 weeks prior. We'd just have to wait and see.

The first few minutes of any tri run leg always suck - it takes awhile to settle in, and you just have to go with it. I was death whistling and my mouth was dry despite drinking right up until the last couple of minutes on the bike, but I knew there were supposed to be aid stations every mile, so I just kept on trucking. I'd heard in the pre-race meeting that the run course had changed, and could have sworn I heard they'd eliminated the short out-and-back section in the first couple of kilometers, but as I came through downtown and I saw signs diverting me off to the right and up a hill. Bugger. I shortened my stride as much as I could to try to keep my breathing under control, but it sucked nonetheless - there was a fellow in a gorilla suit at the bottom, and I almost could have sworn he jumped on my back as the road tipped up. My only bit of levity came from another athlete saying "hey, I passed you on the bike - no fair!" as I managed to edge ahead of him. I crested that buggerdly hill, plodded through the turn-around at the top, then slowly jostled back down to try to save my quads as I made the 2k mark and grabbed a couple of cups of water from the aid station. There was a lot of work left for my legs to do.

As I trotted out to Merritt Island, I was having no success at settling into a sustainable effort level - my breathing kept hitching in my throat and I just wanted to find a nice patch of cool grass, lay down and have a nap. I tried to fall into the "I can keep this up all day" amble I use for ultrarunning, even to the point of trying to just trip along on my toes (letting my calves do most of the work and giving larger muscle groups a break), but it all just seemed to take so much energy. It being past the 4-hour mark now, I was into unfamiliar territory - I hadn't really done much more than 4 hours per day of training this year, and I know that's usually around the point when I start to get stupid and forget to eat and drink. I had only managed a sip or two of water at the first aid station because I'm really crappy at drinking from a cup while running; I more or less have to chuck the water at my face, slurp up what I can, and try not to drown in the rest. The second cup had gone on my chest and back to try to cool me down. I thought about having some EFS Liquid Shot, but didn't think I could tolerate it - warm, sweet, sticky semi-liquid was not sounding appealing at all.

My GI tract was feeling fine, though - I had a brief bit of flatulence (oh shut up, everyone has farted while running!) and let out a huge burp from swallowing air with my hydration, but my belly wasn't complaining at all. I did manage to get a shot of gel into me around the 4k mark, by which time I was already getting confused by the barrage of kilometer markers out on the island - having to do two out-and-backs on the trail means there are a LOT of marker flags, and unfortunately the ones that applied to me had the smallest numbers on them. I decided I'd supplement fueling with the on-course HEED, despite my less-than-glowing opinions about it - I needed calories and I needed hydration to keep me from succumbing to heat exhaustion/stroke. I saw a lot of other racers running with sponges and saw plenty on the ground, but none of the aid stations had any to offer me and I didn't want the cold shock of ice in my suit, so I made do with cup after cup of water dumped over my head, chest and back. I was constantly soaked!

Where's a splash pad when you need one?
By the time I reached the far end of Merritt Island, around the 6.5k mark, I knew that a few sips of beverage per aid station just weren't going to cut it, and that I was probably going to implode if I couldn't get my breathing settled down. As I hit the turn-around to head back into the wind and up the small hill from the farthest aid station, I finally caved in and walked as I drank a cup of HEED. I finished both the hill and the drink at about the same time, then started to run again, but it was the beginning of a lot more walking. I still had just under 15km to go, too.

There were a ton of people walking out on the run course, many of whom looked much leaner, fitter and faster than I - the crushing heat and relentless sun was turning the race into one of attrition. I did have a few reasons to feel particularly sorry for myself, though: that stupid bit of gravel in my left shoe was rubbing up an enormous blister on the pad of my big toe, my race suit zipper was chafing away at my chest even after I zipped it down a bit (despite my vigorous lube job in the morning), and the HEED was having a side effect I'd completely forgotten about. You see, in very hot weather, when I drink HEED and run I have a tendency to lose control over some rather valuable mechanisms - to put it bluntly, by the 8k mark I'd started randomly peeing on myself. Charming, no?

This facial expression pretty much sums it all up.

Hoping that people on course wouldn't notice my unintentional urination, I soldiered onward to the aid station under the bridge and walked up the hill on the other side while taking on more hydration, getting in another shot of gel, and dumping more water on me in lieu of the elusive sponges. Yes, I kept drinking after starting to pee myself - I'm more interested in survival than dignity, thank you very much. I figured the water dumped on me would help rinse me off anyway, though it seemed to increase the chafing on my chest. I continued to walk every aid station from there out just to make sure I was getting lots of fluids and to let my breathing come down a bit, but it just kept getting tougher and tougher. This was a really dark period for me; I hated that I was walking, but I just couldn't manage to stay running for more than a few minutes. There were people in worse condition, though; after the turn-around to head out for my second loop of Merritt Island, I passed a young, very fit looking fellow just sitting on a bench in the shade and staring at nothing.

By this time, I was letting myself walk even more. There are places where there are two kilometer marker flags 10-20 metres apart; I'd let myself walk in between them. I continued to walk aid stations, drinking HEED and soaking myself with water, and took my last swig of EFS Liquid Shot around the 15.5k point. I had no idea what time it was, and no idea what kind of pace I was moving at - I just kept clinging to the fact I had almost 2.5 hours to get through this "run" in which I could still PR. Hell, I'd be happy on the day just to go under 6.5 hours, or even just to finish without ending up in the medical tent. My legs hurt, my left big toe was a riot of pain, I continued to pee on myself at random intervals, and I swear there was one bit around 17km when I could only manage about 100m of running in between 10m walking breaks. Realistically I'm sure I only actually walked 250m or so in total, but I felt like I'd failed. The only bright points were the other racers complimenting me on my smiley face as they passed, and the fact I was now on my way to the finish. Actually, it was kind of motivating seeing the number of people coming the other way as I traversed Merritt Island for the last time, too - I wasn't going to be last by a long shot! 

I finally made the 19k kilometer mark, leaving the island, and had a lovely lady come by me saying "now for the longest two kilometers ever!" - she sure wasn't kidding! Another racer came up along side me as I lumbered back to a run from my last walk break, gave me a big smile and tried to motivate me to stick with her to the finish, but she was just moving too fast for me to hang. Thanks anyway Laura! It seemed to take forever to hit the final aid station around 19.5km, at which I took one final cup of water to tide me over; a sip and a splash and off I went, with a volunteer telling me I would see the 20k mark in just a couple of hundred metres. I never did spot it - maybe it fell over, or maybe I just missed it, but I managed to stay running. I came up on a fellow who looked to be wearing a watch and asked the time - he said it was 2:37pm, meaning that with a kilometer to go I was somewhere around 6 hours, 7 minutes. Jeebus! If I could manage to keep moving I might manage sub-6:15!

I knew there was one last little rise up to the road as you come through town and I had figured all along that I'd walk it, but there was someone just before cheering people on and I didn't want to walk in front of them - I ran around the curve until I figured I was out of sight, but as the path rose I could see the finish area and knew that I had to just run it in. Crossing the road and passing the 21k mark I threw everything I had left into pumping my poor, beaten legs into something like a finishing kick. I managed to spot the clock at last, seeing 6:14:40 or so - holy crap! There was no way I was going to let the minute turn over without me crossing that line, so I squeezed out the last of the gas in my tank in a high-speed stagger toward that glorious beep of the timing mat. Adrenaline being a wonderful thing, I managed one last burst of effort for the photographer at the line.

21.1km run: 2:17:19 @ 6:30/km - 10/23 in W30-34, 185/379 O/A
5:18 slower than 2011

But I stuck the landing!

I got my handshake from John Salt, was handed a finisher medal and hat by a wonderful volunteer who took off my timing chip, and then wandered into the cooling tent where one of my favourite people of all time took two huge sponges and squeezed cold water all down my back. It was then that I realized I might have managed to go under 6:14:xx, since the elite wave had gone off a minute before the age groupers, and the clock might be displaying their time.

Photobombed by Kentiger, who snapped that awesome shot at the finish!

Official time: 6:13:50.1 - 8/23 in W30-34, 56/122 Women, 224/379 O/A (361 finishers)
12:06 improvement over 2011

Completely and utterly done.
I'm still very cross with myself for walking - the possibility exists that I could have made it through without the walk breaks, and I almost certainly took more than I needed since I was able to run the whole final 2km. On the bright side, though, I've left myself some low-hanging fruit for the next half iron distance attempt; I figure with some more cycle training on the tri bike and a less punitive day, I could probably break 6 hours. As it stands, I'm very happy with the PR in tough conditions, and even happier that I chose to bring along a celebratory beverage to enjoy in the parking lot afterward. 

Shh - don't tell anyone.
There was no jump in the canal afterward as I'd forgotten to bring my trusty pool noodle (and didn't trust myself not to drown without it), but I managed to survive somehow. Now to recover from the blisters, chafing and bloody epic sunburn!


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