You just never know when you’re about to have a perfect race. Because the thing about perfect races is that they’re full of imperfections. My day started with a nagging sinus headache and the inability to take care of business.
Actually, the headache head been present since Thursday night, when I hopped in Julie Springsteen’s Prius and, along with her friend Julia, we started the long drive down to Wilmington.
This is where the story really begins.
Have You Seen “South of the Border?”
First course of action was to choose a course of action. We decided to go to Wilmington via Florence SC, which required us to go southeast, dip into the less sought after of the Carolinas, and then ever back up US 74 into the coastal plain (see, I learned something from NC Geography at Appstate!).
It turned out this route would take a looooong time, because there is surprisingly thick traffic between Columbia and the Atlantic Ocean at 10:30 PM. Still, it was nice having the company of Julie & Julia, who are both triathletes and hence were amenable to my stock topics of conversation: racing, food, and surgical procedures.
The trip went by quickly, even though we finally arrived at the hotel at 12:30am. The highlight was driving by South of the Border, which is perhaps the most politically incorrect, creepy, and intriguing theme park I have ever seen. It’s basically a Mexican restaurant with a chop-up carnival and casino in its backyard. Imagine Gatlinburg with a lot more brightly lit sombreros. Too bad it was closed.
Originally, Julie and I (Julia’s got a bun in the oven so she was just along for fun) had planned to meet up with Kris Caudill, Aaron Whitley, and Nic Machi to test out the water at 8:00 am, but seeing as we were only just settling into bed at 2am, we decided to eff that shit and maybe swim in the afternoon.
Let the Peacocking Begin
The cool thing about big races like this is that every hotel, at least those offering discounts to race participants, is chockablock full of triathletes. And we have no choice but to size each other up and make assumptions about whose butt we’ll kick and who will be kicking our own, while at the same time making friendly conversation. This begins at the free continental breakfast.
You get your coffee, and then if you’re me, you get your grits and pray for some fruit other than mealy red delicious apples that look like they were picked in 1987. But in a room full of triathletes, the fruit is usually the first to go. Yes, you see a lot of jackets suspiciously bulging with banana shaped items.
Anyway, as I’m sitting there pretending to read my fluffy chick magazine but actually sizing the other lean, shaved legged folks up, out comes the Cervelo P5 with Zipp 808’s. For those of you who aren’t tri dorks , that’s nearly $8,000 worth of bike. Not exaggerating. Dude just rolls it out, lets it sit in full view of the lobby, and I guess feels intimidating. Yes, I drooled a bit, but thought fondly of my Scott upstairs, and secretly hoped I’d pass this guy the next day.
After we ate, Nic showed up to join our group (he also ditched the early morning swim), and we started getting our stuff together to put in the famous bags that are an essential part of B2B. Both Julie and I did about 15 minute bike rides to loosen the legs and brace ourselves for just how cold we were going to be the next morning, which was forecast to be 36 degrees at gun time. Yep, it was cold.
Packet Pickup & Expo Time
About 10:30 am, we drove into town to get our packets and stuff our T2 and special needs bags (I think I’ll write a separate post on the need for special needs, but suffice it to say there was much discussion over the matter. In the end I did make a run special needs bag, containing a second pair of running shoes since I wasn’t sure I’d dig the Hoka clown shoes the whole time).
Walking through the doors of the convention center is always so fun for me. This was my 3rd trip to B2B, and that moment when you get plastic braceleted and receive your chip is like a swearing in ceremony – no turning back now! This year, I got the purple bracelet! That was reserved for full distance athletes.
Funny thing was, it still had not sunk in what I would be doing the next day. In fact it never really sunk in, even just before or even during the race. And that’s honestly what I think was the secret to my success on race day.
Pizza, beer, tattoos, and Say Yes to the Dress
This is how the pros get ready for their big days, right? Well, it should be, because my B2B race eve ROCKED!
About 3 pm, Nic and them dropped me off at my hotel, where my husband and Sherpa extraordinaire Jesse would be joining my later that evening. I enjoyed my time with my friends very much, but I am quite the introvert so I was happy to get some alone time to unwind and mentally prepare to kick ass.
I was hungry and hairy, so I walked to Food Lion to get some snacks and shaving cream. Came back, showered and shaved the stems, and hopped into bed to nap. At this point, I was feeling kinda puny after not sleeping well at all the night before, so I was hoping to rest and sleep a bit.
I turned on the tube, and there was a special on triathlon!!! Woo hoo. Nope, not woo hoo at all It turned out, it was a one hour “expose” on the supposedly staggering number of athletes dying in races lately (FYI, parents of mine, only 58 or so people have died over the last 6 years, among hundreds of thousands of participants). Not exactly motivating.
Yet TLC and its reality TV never fails to disappoint. I proceeded to watch 5 episodes of Say Yes to the Dress. I admit it, I enjoy feeling smug about the fact that my wedding dress only cost $350 when these girls feel cheap spending $3,000.
I snoozed a bit, then Jesse arrived and we got beer and ordered a prerace pizza. I always have this meal before a race, and it has yet to disappoint. While we waited, I ran upstairs to Kris and Sybil’s room to tattoo up! Sybil is the shiznit. She’d brought all these fake tattoos so we could all sport “Ship Just Got Real” somewhere on our bodies. I also made a bicycle tramp stamp and put a glittery purple one on my shoulder to match my glittery purple toenails (another prerace tradition, you’ll recall).
About 10 pm, I went to bed, with the alarm set for 5am.
Let’s Do This
I awoke with no trouble, mainly because I hardly slept yet again. Plus I had that bad headache. It’s not ideal to take Advil before exercise, but I figures I’d have it mostly out of my system by the race start, and who wants a headache during an ironman?
I body glided up, put on my swimsuit, and then put on my wetsuit halfway up, rather than wearing pants. Pants are overrated.
Jesse drove me to the Swim to Bike transition, where I pumped up my tires, gave my bike a pep talk, and got in the long line for the bus to the swim start. I was in line for about 5 minutes when I realized I had left my goggles and swim caps in Jesse’s car. Crap! Frantically texted and called him (honestly, what would we do without cell phones) and he got them to me. Sherpa to the rescue!
The Swim: I went more than 2.4 miles
And not because I’m an overachiever, but because I have recently sucked goat eggs at staying on course in open water swimming. This whole season I’ve been getting disoriented and zig zagging like a frat boy in a sobriety test.
There were very few buoys on this point to point course, save for one giant orange buoy that marked the one 90 degree turn we’d make about 2/3 of the way through. We were instructed to keep this to our left but as I rounded the buoy as instructed, I popped my head up and saw hoards of swimmers cutting the course here. There’s no way they were all identified and penalized, so I can only guess this “rule” was a strong suggestion.
There’s not much else to say about the swim except that I really had to pee. “Did you, Kit Hayes?” you ask, “Did you pee on yourself like you wanted to?” Well, you’ll have to wait for my super awesome video montage to find out.
I exited the water after 1:13:46, a not great but not horrible swim time, considering we had no advantage from the tide this year (usually this is a fast swim course with an incoming tide).
A tent full of cold smelly half naked chicks
After exiting the water , the next task was to make it to the changing tent without tripping, stepping on a pop top ,or becoming hypothermic. Easier said than done. While the swim itself was relatively comfortable with 71 degree water, the 30 seconds I had to run across frozen sand on the way to the start was enough to turn my feet into numb blocks of useless matter.
Running on the pavement was really painful! I finally grabbed my T1 bag containing dry clothes (which sadly didn’t stay dry for long) and scurried into the tent to change. It was crowded with women in all different states of dress. We all had the same good idea to change completely, which I had hoped to avoid. As it was still freezing outside, but would warm up some over the next 112 miles, I dressed in the following:
- My purple Tough Chik tri top & shorts
- Wool Defeet knee socks, the best wool socks in my opinion. They have purple flowers on them.
- A short sleeved Piney Flats Bicycles & Fitness purple bike jersey containing my Gu, flat kit, and peanut butter crackers.
- Defeet wool arm warmers (pink, grey, blue, and green stripes).
- Pink Defeet wool gloves (Defeet should really throw me a free pair of socks, as much as I tout their stuff
And of course a helmet and shoes, with toe covers. Turned out to be the perfect amount of clothing.
112 Miles of Leapfrog and Chicking
According to the race website, this bike course is “best described as pancake flat.” Actually, it contains a lot of false flats in the middle miles, which at first made me call false advertising. But if you think about it, pancakes aren’t totally flat either. There’s a mild slope as you get to the edges.
One thing pancakes do not have, but the B2B bike course does have, is lots of guys to pass. Most of these, I passed with ease. But there were one or two of note:
- Leapfrog Old Guy This is the man that I first passed at mile 20, but failed to shake until mile 70. He was in his 50s, and on a modified road bike, so I give the guy props for hanging on so long. And I must stress that I do not suspect him of drafting. I’d pass him back, glance backward, and see he had dropped back way enough. For good measure, I tried to pass 2 at a time whenever possible, bit sure enough, dude would come around again. I’d always think this is the time he’s finally going to either take off or go at a fast enough speed once ahead of me to where we’d just ride along at the legal spacing. But out of exhaustion after passing me, or because he’d get hung up on another slower rider, it seemed I’d come up on his ass yet again. Annoying, but nothing to do but follow the rules and keep passing and repassing legally, if tediously. I finally ditched him at special needs. I guess his needs were special.
- Insecure Mystery ManThis man, as his name implies, I never saw. I only heard word of him from another dude that passed me, about mile 80. By now, I had picked up the pace considerably after going probably a bit too easy in the first 60-70 miles. I was taking the conservative approach, but wanted to complete the bike in under 6 hours. Mid ride math is sketchy on a good day, but at the mile 70 aid station (which, incidentally, was also named “South of the Border,”) I stopped to pee and get water, and glanced at my watch for the first time! It had taken over 3:40 to go 7o miles. I would have to complete the next 42 miles at 21 mph to make it home safely sub 6. By now, I was a little disappointed that I was going this slowly. I thought I had a 5:30 split in me, but It was quite windy and I was trying to err on the side of too easy. I guess I was doing a good job of that. ANYHOO, about mile 80 I’m down to business, passing guys pulling out more of a half ironmanny effort. I pass this cluster of 8-10 dudes. A few seconds later, this tall guy on an orange trek road bike comes up to pass me. He hollers “just to let you know, that guy back there says he has to beat that woman (me)!” At least I think that’s what he said. “Well,” I think to myself, “that guy back there clearly don’t know who Kit Hayes is.” Challenge accepted. I turn up the gas, and take off. Sucker never saw the front of me.
Overall, I had a good ride. I only started getting mildly fatigued at mile 95 or so, after fighting wind and cold all morning. I ended up with a 5:43:45 bike split, second fastest among women, but a full 15 minutes behind the leader. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t bother me, but I gotta cut myself slack. I have little to no experience racing that kind of distance, and if I went out like a bottle rocket, which I can get away with even at the half distance, I very well might have blown up and not enjoyed my impressive (for me) run split.
26.2 Miles of More Mental Focus than Even I Would’ve Guessed
Once off the bike, I entered the T2 building feeling good. I even smoked the guy coming into transition with me, who was already walking 🙂 I grabbed my bag, ran into the tent, and found myself among about 5 other women, most of them doing the half. (I felt a little smug.)
I took off the bike jersey, changed into my Danger Cat lucky socks and giant Hoka clown shoes. Ate a Roctane Gu and took off.
The first thing I noticed is that my legs felt awesome! WTF? I’d just ridden 112 miles. Guess those cheap peanut butter crackers work! I actually had a hard time staying disciplined and running easy. Easy easy easy. I knew that going out too fast on the run was a surefire way to walk the last 10 miles. And I wanted to get back to the hotel in time to see more Say Yes to the Dress.
So I concentrated on relaxing and just loosening up. I had no real nutrition plan for the run, just to make sure I didn’t bonk. It was comfortably cool outside, good running weather, so I didn’t even drink at every aid station.
The first 8-9 miles went by without incident. I was still in the “keep it easy Kit Hayes” mode. About mile 9, Kris Caudill came by for the first time on her bike, I smiled, said hey, and that my feet hurt.
Mile 10-13 were not memorable, except that I got some much needed Vaseline for my chafing armpits. I think I ate some cheesy ritz crackers, but I can’t remember.
At mile 13, we had to run by the finish line, back past t2, and turn around again before heading back out for the second lap of this mostly flat, half in town and half alongside a lake run course. It’s actually a really nice course to run. I thought it might be torture seeing the finish line with another 13 miles to go, but it wasn’t. I was still running, but by now I had to concentrate a lot more on holding my pace than holding my pace back. Keep it together, Kit.
On the way back out, we hit the only real hill on the course. It’s short, but steep. I opted to walk the 50 yards or so. This was about mile 16, and it was about 5:15 pm. I figured that if I held 12 minute miles the rest of the way, I could finish in under 12 hours. This was unbelievable, as when I started the run at 2:45 pm, I had fully expected to take about 4:59 for the marathon if everything went well. Keep it together, Kit.
I decided the best option was to run until I couldn’t run anymore and that would spare me some walk time, because surely I’d end up walking.
At mile 19, things got hard. I’m actually surprised it took 19 miles for this to happen, and I was weirdly glad that things were getting hard. By now, I really was walking a fine line between letting myself walk and choosing to keep running.
I credit my earlier long, difficult races for my mental strength to keep running. I thought back to how tired and hungry I felt at Fear the Reaper, but kept going despite having a stump nearly rip my butt in half. I thought back to IMTR, when my legs hurt so badly going down that hill that I was whimpering, but I kept going. This was nothing, keep it together Kit.
Then, at mile 21, Kris came riding by again, perfect timing. I know I wasn’t super nice! I was so tired, but I hope I wasn’t mean or ungrateful. I had just hoped I could be more fun out there, but literally every ounce of my brain was occupied with keeping my body in check.
I just kept jogging, simultaneously exhausted and elated at the fact that I was still running, without any injuries developing! My abs were really sore though.
Mile 25 was my favorite. I knew I had it!!!! entering the cobblestone on Front street was so fun! It got this bit smile on my face and some spectators said, “she looks like she’s finishing!” Damn straight I am! I saw the bright lights and finish chute ahead…this was the iron person finish I wanted, the one that I didn’t get the first time, when my welcoming crew consisted of two bored volunteers and Kenny G on the loudspeaker.
I started sobbing and laughing and soaking it all it, blown away that I had finished this sucker in 11:24:41.
The full that I wasn’t going to do turned out to be my best race of the year. My perfect race. You just never know.
Stay tuned for my video montage!!!!!