Welcome to the Pain Cave...

I always get way too excited for races…especially the first race of the season. So excited that I woke up at 3:13 am, 3:32, and 3:35, wondering whether it was time to chomp my bagel and PB yet. 5:00 am, and the horrible blare of the hotel’s alarm went off. Spandex on…tires pumped…breakfast annihilated…ready to roll.

Too bad there were no yellow swim caps for this event...the ladies in my wave got boring, evergreen caps. Swim start was delayed by 15 minutes due to morning fog hiding all the buoys. I got in a quick warm-up swim that mainly found me dodging others who had thought it best to swim parallel to the shore. At least the nuclear-power-plant-heated water was warm!

The ladies started 6 minutes after the first heat of military machines. I was relieved that they let us start in the water, since I am horrible at high-kneeing and dolphin-diving into the water from a beach start. Gun blasted, and we were off!

First tri of 2012…oh, how I had forgotten some of those race-day idiosyncrasies! I pulled to the front as the pack V’ed in, and immediately found myself jockeying for a strong position, battling those fists of fury. After the chaos settled down, there were 5 of us green caps…all sticking to each other and fighting for lazy feet.

Can you tell which arm is mine!???!!

By the way, who else hates the buoy turns? What a clusterfest. I never know whether it’s better to take the buoys wide or hug them, but neither way seems to be optimal. First buoy I chose to hug – and consequently ran into a military man’s crotch who had planted himself at the buoy for a breather. Second buoy, I chose to swing wide, and found myself by my lonesome until I properly sighted myself to the main pack. Swim was, as always, the favorite leg of the race. Some sighting difficulties on the last 1/3 of the swim due to us heading directly into the rising sun, but I managed to follow the stream of swimmers all headed to shore. I struggled to rip the top half of my wetsuit off as my heartrate raced, and heard the announcer boom that I was in 4th place. Yippeee!!!

A slight hiccup: I dropped my goggles going into T1 and had to run back to retrieve them!
My purple TYR goggles are worth the extra 5 seconds!

1.2-mile Swim: 29:39; 4th female, 2nd AG. Happy to break the 30-min mark!
Thanks to my dimpled Xterra Vendetta for getting me out of the water in good time!

On to the bike – Penelope and I had a lot of saddle bonding time this spring, as DC’s mild weather had allowed for outdoor riding since February. Unfortunately, the hours logged didn’t translate to speed nor power. Riding a bike should be easy: you turn the pedals, you don’t run into any pebbles or potholes, life is good! However, throughout the entire first loop of the 56-mile bike course, I was continually passed by folks I had beaten in the water. I tried to convince myself that I was “saving” my legs for the run, but the truth is that they were all better cyclists…or that I am seriously lacking in the cycling ability department. Well, I did have a slight confidence boost during the 2nd loop of the bike, when I passed several people who had gone out too hard.

So even though the bike was a bit deflating, I do have a couple of highlights:
1. Got to use my HED race wheels for the first time!
2. Double Espresso Clif gels. Let’s just say it’s a gooey party with 2 hits of caffeine. Oh my goodness, those things were delicious.
3. Thanks to soon-to-be-dad Matias for my nutrition plan – my stomach needs to work on digesting so that I don’t have a massive glob in my stomach for the run, but his caloric advice was perfect!

The total damage on the bike? I dropped in place A LOT. I had better redeem myself on the run.

56-mile Bike: 2:53:20; 36th female, 4th AG…yikes!

Relief to be off the bike! But, the reality of a half-marathon quickly settled in. 13.1 miles is a long enough distance that you can’t just wing it. I mean, people train for months to race a half-marathon!

A bit of my history here: 7 months earlier, I had torn my hamstring. Gah, the agony in reliving that moment! Since October, I have been RICE-ing and foam-rolling my hamstring, replacing my running with elliptical, and even attempting to aqua-jog. The result has been a mental quash on my running confidence…I didn’t even know if my hamstring would hold up through the first 5K!

Amazingly, and much to my happiness, the first loop of the run felt great! I was prancing along, ticking off the people who had zipped past me on the bike. The heat was starting to get to me…thanks to the Kinetic volunteers for my water/small cup shower at each aid station!

About 7 miles into the run, my muscles started to hurt. Hurt, as in slowing down didn’t sound too bad. Water stations couldn’t come soon enough…I was definitely dehydrated. I kept my eye on Mr. I’m-too-cool-for-a-tri-top in front of me – we had been passing each other and staying with 10 seconds of each other the entire run. “Just keep up with him, and you’ll be fine”, I thought.

Enter third and final lap of the run – seriously, I hate loops. This was agonizing because relay runners would blow by me and deflate my theory that I was doing A-OK for entering the double-digit miles. I couldn’t tell whether the girl with a 26 on her calf was on her first, second, or third lap. I tried to do the ol’ process-of-elimination: had she passed me on the bike, or was she a non-threat? Ugh…I was too tired to care anymore. Just wanted to cross that finish line!

I officially entered the pain cave for the first time ever in my life at Mile 9.5. Shockingly, my hamstring felt fine and was holding up. My quads, however, were being punished with invisible knives stabbing me with every heel strike (yes, I am an inefficient heel-striker). The uphills hurt because I couldn’t find that extra bounce to make my tired gait seem like anything more than a shuffle. The downhills...shudder…the downhills. Pain with every step. I remember wanting so badly to stop…just let me walk for 100 meters…but thinking that if I stopped, my muscles would seize and I wouldn’t have a chance of un-cramping them.

So I kept on running. I tried to think of anything other than “I’ve already passed this corner twice and I know there’s still 2 miles to the finish.” So I let my mind wander to thoughts of the BBQ joint that Phil had told us to visit post-race, and how lovely an ice-cream cone would be right now. Maybe Haagen-Dazs coffee…or Black Raspberry Chocolate from Breyer’s…I could use some of that right now. Ouch, anything is better than this now, I could use an ice-bath after this…

Last mile was pure downhill, and my buddy Mr. No-tri-top and I were within 3 strides of each other. “Just seven more minutes. Or eight. Or nine. I don’t even know my pace. Just a few more minutes of pain.” My running partner decided to desert me with 400 meters to go. I tried to chase him and sprint in, but there was absolutely no gas left in the Lil’ Engine. I probably just looked like Gumby with my sloppy arm-flailing and grimacing. Crossed the finish line – oh my god, OH MY GOD I have never been so glad to just stop moving. Just let me stand here. Just let me take up whatever space I’m using up – no, I don’t want to clear the way for people finishing right behind me. Please please please, 70-year-old volunteer, bend down to take my sweaty timing chip off my ankle – I am not about to creak my body down there to strip the Velcro strap off.

I was pleasantly surprised by my run split, given the lack of running training I’ve had.

13.1-mile run: 1:45:08; 11th female, 3rd AG.

Found Bart, did some grumbling, and settled down a bit. Annihilated a not-so-tasty tuna salad wrap and some cold coffee. Nothing was sitting right in my stomach – but I was so hungry! Talk about a congealed glob of Gus and Shot Blox in my tummy!

Overall result Kinetic Half: 5:11:35; 10th female, 2nd AG!

Got myself another pint glass – perfect prize, given my propensity to break those fragile things! Headed out to Tarheel BBQ off of the recommendation of teammate Phil, crushed a pulled pork sandwich, and headed home to an ice bath.

Next race: May 20, Columbia Triathlon!

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