Credit: Aaron Burden

Hot Wheels: Rev3 Williamsburg

Many firsts in my second race of the season

The Rev3 Williamsburg Half was the second of three races on my calendar this year and, like a middle child, somewhat ignored. Sandwiched between the excitement of my first race since 2015 at Rev3 Quassy and my ultimate challenge, Ironman Wisconsin, looming in September, my preparation for Williamsburg was less than stellar.

How not to train for a 70.3

First, spend a little to much time recovering from your last 70.3 . After Rev3 Quassy, I had an unstructured week of training. That may sound like a good thing—an opportunity to stay active without getting too serious, to reset before the long months of training ahead. I may have misinterpreted “unstructured” to mean “unactive” or, more specifically, indulging in a Better Call Saul marathon while catching up on Oreo ice cream.

Say my name

Possibly not what was intended in the plan.

Get preoccupied with another big-scary-important thing. I was scheduled to speak at a tech conference a couple weeks before the race. With over three months to prepare, I naturally waited to nail down my presentation until the last two weeks before the conference. Lucky for me, the talk went really well—it’s about handling adversity—but my training suffered.

You don’t need to know anything about programming to watch this talk. And yes, that’s Kermit.

As I can now share from experience, the hours in needed to prepare for a tech talk ended up being the same hours I may have otherwise reserved for triathlon training or sleeping.

Finally, eat Chinese food about a week before the race. I have nothing against Chinese per se, but on this particular occasion, I managed to consume tainted Chinese food and was subsequently introduced to a black plague of gastrointestinal hellfire. I spent the entire July 4th long weekend losing my dignity. Needless to say, I was out of commission up until just three days before the race, when I was able to get back on my bike for a short warmup ride.

What I got right this month

  1. I didn’t freak out.
  2. I started working with a coach.

Since last October, when I returned to triathlon training, I’ve been what is described (in the biz) as a “self-coached athlete”. Have you tried coaching yourself in anything? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

The stars aligned in June though, and after Quassy, I joined up with Coach Robbie Bruce of Team C26 and the Crushing Iron podcast.

As I’ve mentioned before, I discovered the Crushing Iron guys, Robbie and Mike, earlier this season while researching IM Wisconsin. They both raced IMOO last year and did a course breakdown on one of their early podcasts. I enjoyed their banter so much I started listening to the rest of their podcasts, connected with them over email, and have even appeared as a guest on their show back in April.

Now, I finally have an experienced guide overseeing my training regimen. As a widowed single father in a new city, it helps to have a new friend too. Though we’ve only been working together for a short time, he’s already guided me through a few challenging weeks and has me excited about the build up to Wisconsin.

Given the circumstances, we came up with a simple plan for Williamsburg:

Bike conservative, then run like hell

That was all there was to it. Sure, there are a lot of logistics to the plan, like when and what to eat and drink before and during the race, that I’m sun-screened and lubricated, and that I have all the right equipment (running shoes, bike shoes, baby powder (my ingenious sock replacement), gels, bike bottles, bike helmet, race bib, race belt, timing chip, GPS watch, bike computer, spare tubes, CO2 cartridges, etc.) I’ve done enough triathlons to know what I need and how to bring it all together. I’ve also come to expect if something can go wrong it will, so I’ve learned to be ready to improvise.

So, aside from all that, it was a simple plan. We all know how that turns out.

RIP Bill. What ever happened to Bridget?

Chasing numbers

So as race weekend finally arrived, I wasn’t feeling great about my fitness. While I was brimming with excitement for Quassy, I mostly felt tired thinking about Williamsburg. Knowing it’d be a hot race didn’t help. I don’t run well in the heat. Run like hell, more like running in hell, amirite? I also slept really well the night of the race—another indication I was really tired as I’m usually too amp’ed—and almost slept through my alarm. Ugh. I even thought to myself, Maybe I’m not up for this today.

So it came as a great surprise, as I got on my bike coming out of T1, to discover I had legs. I’ve done enough races to know what that energy is supposed to feel like. As Robbie says, “it’s better to be undertrained than overtrained.” As I pedaled up the Route 5 bridge across the Chickahominy coming out of transition, I knew my race was on.

Though I hadn’t previewed the bike course, I knew it was flat. As a former New Yorker, and having done most of my triathlons in the Northeast, I don’t know much about flat. The Quassy bike course, for example, has an elevation gain of nearly 4000 ft. Early reports indicated Williamsburg would be a pancake.

That doesn’t necessarily mean easy—most of us are always going as hard as we can sustain—but it would mean faster if I could hit my numbers. And those numbers, per Robbie’s prescription, were in Watts. He gave me a target and I just hammered on, trying to match that number for 56 miles. The result? I set a 70.3 bike split personal best in 2:31:50. But I was most proud of the fact that I came within 1 Watt of the average normalized power target we set. That means I trusted my body to hold up and stayed disciplined by not getting caught up in racing others.

But the run loomed. To understand why it worried me, we have to go back to August, 2014 when I raced Timberman 70.3. This was a comparably hot and humid race up in New Hampshire. I went into that race hoping to break 5 hours for a half-Ironman for the first time. After setting a blistering pace on the bike course, I completely fell apart on the run, stumbling through the first eight miles until I finally found the courage to finish with dignity. It was my worst HIM run. That performance was haunting me as I was coming out of T2.

According to Dark Sky, the temperature around run time was approaching 85ºF. It’s scary to imagine how much hotter it could have been. My legs felt pretty tight coming off the bike, andI wouldn’t know if I’d be running or hobbling for several minutes while my hip flexors and hamstrings adjusted to new stress.

Yet again, I was surprised when my legs kicked into gear on my way up the bridge back out onto Route 5. I knew I didn’t have the same fitness that carried me to personal best 70.3 run at Quassy, but I could tell I wouldn’t fold like I did years ago at Timberman. It was tough under the hot sun, but I had one trick up my sleeve to beat the heat:

Ice ice baby

I carried a ziploc bag with my nutrition and filled it with ice at every aid station. As the ice melted in my hands, I was able to pour water on my head throughout the run and was able to keep the engine from overheating for the most part.

What a time to be alive and in a stock photo pouring water on my head!

As I made made the turn at the halfway point, heading out for the second loop, I peeked at the time and started doing the mental math. If I kept up my 8:30 pace, I would break 5 hours for the first time with a few minutes to spare. Timberman redemption. If.

I latched on to another runner who had just run past me and looked pretty strong. I was able to stay with him all the way to the final out-and-back turn. With three miles to go, I fell back. The last mile and half still really hurt, back over the bridge one last time and without any cover from the sun. I couldn’t look at my watch. I wanted it. Just. keep. going.

Finally, the end was in sight. The female champion passed me in the final 100 yards before the finish line. In the finishing tent, there was a lot of celebrating for her—rightfully so!—but all the volunteers surrounded her while I was nearly collapsing a few feet away. It took a minute or two before I got some assistance.

Water. Help. Please.

Okay, it wasn’t quite Vince-Vaughn-in-True-Detective bad, but it felt like stepping into a support vacuum for a brief moment (To be clear, I am very grateful to all the volunteers who took time out of their weekend, braved the heat, and helped a bunch of masochists throughout the race). In the announcer’s excitement to congratulate the female champion, my name wasn’t called out as I crossed the finish line either.

Right then, I acknowledged a sad metaphor for Jen’s absence. She has been there for me at the finish line of so many races. When I’ve struggled most, I could always fall back on her support and re-energize with gratitude for having her in my life. Now, she’s only there in spirit and I deeply miss her presence. This was a painful reminder of the void she has left behind. But as I’ve been learning to do, once I acknowledged the hurt, I shifted my perspective back to the positive again.

And I finally looked at my watch. It read 4:57:14.

Onward

Despite the anticlimactic finish, I perked right back up with post-race barbecue and beer. Adam, one of the DC Tri all stars, introduced himself and told me I had a great race. My family and coach were quick to check-in and congratulate me from afar. Coach even gave a shoutout on the podcast.

I learned a lot about myself in this race and in the buildup. I’ve come a long way in my training. I can bike smart. I can run in the heat. I remembered I’m doing this for fun; that it is a great privilege to be able to participate in this sport. I do triathlon to find out just how far I can push myself and where my potential lies; that it’s not really about the time posted next to my name in the race results.

I have renewed confidence heading into the homestretch to Wisconsin. Next weekend, I’m off to Nashville for my first-ever triathlon camp with coach and the C26 team and looking forward to the challenge. My longest ride of the year is 63 miles… something tells me I’m going to have to step it up a notch.

For the nerds, here are links to my swim, bike, and run data for Rev3 Williamsburg. I’m doing Ironman Wisconsin on September 10, 2017. Follow me on my triathlon journey here.

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