This might take a while, but here goes... We left at 8am on Thursday morning for the ~11 hour drive to New Orleans from Charlotte. Having done that drive many times previously, I was worried that it might be very long and very boring but it actually went by pretty quickly. That's probably the product of traveling with 3 people instead of just by myself. Scott and I discussed our plans for the race in pretty great detail, but that's normal considering that we didn't have much of anything else to discuss.
We got to New Orleans around 6pm and went for a run with May who met us at my house. We ran to Audubon park and twice around it to get in a little over 5 easy miles. At the time, my legs felt pretty loose and the 3 strides at the end of the run felt good.
On Friday morning we all went for a swim in the lake right next to the swim start. The waves were intense as the wind was coming from the North so the chop along the seawall - and even further out into the lake - was a bad omen for race day. Scott and I were both pretty nervous about the potential for the same thing happening on Sunday as the RD had said that if the winds were 20+ mph out of the north the swim would be canceled. Neither of us were too keen on the idea of a duathlon. Not one bit. The swim itself was pretty uneventful beyond the huge waves. The water was murky for sure but there was nothing wrong with it. Not cold at all. I went for a short bike ride later on in the day after some touristy stuff to make sure the wheels were working ok. There was definitely a lot of wind when I was up on the levee but the deep front wheel + disc didn't seem to be an issue. The bike was definitely not as stable as with my training wheels but it was nothing that would make riding unsafe (or make me slower).
We all went to the mandatory briefing in the early afternoon where the main point was: don't draft. I heard a lot of people outside after the briefing talking about how it would be 'impossible' not to draft and it struck me as slightly annoying that they would think that. It's not hard to follow the rules. Sometimes it's annoying and/or frustrating but that's just the way it is. Don't draft, pass in 15 seconds, ride on the right. Three things that are easy to accomplish, yet so many had problems with it on Sunday...
I pretty much did nothing all day Saturday. Allison and I threw the frisbee for a little while in the park and my calf felt a little tight as I was running around but I wasn't really worried about it. Bike check-in was no problem and went very smoothly. A lot of people seemed to be bringing all their stuff with them to bike check-in, which I was definitely not doing; all I put in transition that afternoon was my bike. No bottles, no Gu. I tried to get a feel for the way the transition was set-up and that was difficult because of how huge it was. It was going to be a long run from the swim finish and to the run start.
On race morning I woke up at 4:30, ate a bagel with PB and had a glass of milk. I had slept pretty well the night before and didn't feel particularly nervous so I was pleased with that. I met Scott and May at her house at 5:30 and we all left to drive to UNO and the transition area. We got body marked and went to find our spots in transition to get set up. I put my helmet on the aero bars with the sunglasses inside them, my race belt around the aero bars, and all of my bottles on the bike (1 gatorade, 2 water, 1 gu bottle with 2 e-gels + water). I laid out my bike shoes and my run shoes on my towel and put the 4 e-gels and my salts down beside them. I also left a water bottle right beside my mat for a quick drink in case I needed it in transition. I checked my tires and made sure the wheels spun smoothly and that was that. I didn't feel the need to debate too much as I hadn't brought any options along with me, which was a good thing. I put a handful (literally) of chamois butter on and put body glide all over my feet, shoulders, under arms, and neck. I sprayed some sunscreen on my back and hoped it would all be enough.
Once we all finished setting up we began the walk to swim start of 1 mile. They only had 3 shuttle buses for 2500 people, which was ridiculous. It wasn't bad to walk at all it was just kind of silly that the planning was so underwhelming for that particular aspect of the morning. Scott and I both walked barefoot which ended up making my feet a little tender, something I noticed in the latter parts of the run (although that probably had as much to do with my shoes as with this walk...). May stopped to use the porto as her race didn't start until 7:58 so Scott and I grabbed our chips and found a place to put on our wetsuits. I was a little nervous at this point mainly because I hadn't been able to take a morning #2, which DEFINITELY came back to haunt me on the run. We slipped on our wetsuits, liberally applied cooking spray, and then walked over to the start corral.
We were both in the first wave of 25-29, starting at 7:28am. They told us to get in the water and started the countdown. I was using a brand new pair of goggles (blue seventy, awesome), which is on the top ten things of what NOT to do on race day but they ended up working ok. I didn't really feel nervous at all and that was one of the most positive things that I can take away with from this race. I expected a ton of pre-race jitters but they just weren't there. I accepted the fact that I had put in a lot of work and at that point I couldn't do anything else. I was just going to go how fast I was going to go (if that makes any sense...). The director counted down from 30...15...10...5, 4, 2, 1 and then the horn blew and we were off! I started right behind Scott but I knew that he would be going a lot faster than me so I didn't plan on trying to stay with him. I got into a pretty good rhythm almost right away; it wasn't as tumultuous as I had expected, although I did get a hard kick on my left eye that left my goggles slightly awry and - thoguh I didn't know it at the time - a burst capillary in my left eye. Unfortunately, I wasn't really able to get behind anybody throughout the swim. It was so spread out and I'm so bad at swimming in a straight line that I was pretty much pushing my own water that whole time. We came around the pier and headed for the beach and the water was only thigh height for the last 50 yards, which was annoying because it wasn't deep enough to swim but it was too deep to run so I kind of dolphin dived for about 20 yards before making it to a runnable depth. Scott and I had surmised that the swim was long because before our start the announcer said that the pros were about 100 meters past the halfway point in 16 minutes and that would be super slow for them so when I hit the mat and saw my watch at 33:47 I was super pleased. Going 35 was my goal so being able to be more than a minute under that on a long course was pretty sweet.
1.2 mile swim in 33:47 (1:46/100m) putting me in 24th place in AG (on a long course, nice)
It was a little disorienting to start running after swimming for so long and I consequently almost tripped and fell twice on the run in to transition. I got stripped by a volunteer and carried my wetsuit, cap, and goggles for what seriously must have been 200+ yards. It was kind of ridiculous. I put on my bike shoes, sunglasses, and helmet then stuffed my pockets with the gels and salts; grabbed the bike and started running toward the bike start, hopped on the bike and was off.
T1 in 2:49
The bike course started out with a short out and back just to add on some mileage and that particular section of the course was packed with people. Slow people. I pretty much immediately got up to speed and into my aerobars, unlike a lot of them. One guy that I was passing lost control of his bike and veered off to the right to crash into the curb. What an idiot. My HR monitor wasn't working right away due to the large amount of water so I just got going based on my RPE and was averaging around 23-25 mph. After about 15 minutes it started registering and I was sticking around 170 so I kept going at that bpm because I knew that it would start to come down slowly. The first 10 miles or so were flat with the exception of the two bridges we had to cross, but at both of those I just clicked into my small chain ring and sat up because I knew that my back would likely be suffering later so why try and push a big gear in the aerobars when I can go slower and not really lose much time. I kept cruising and passing tons and tons of people, all of whom were in the age group waves that started before mine. I didn't really get out on the bike course around other 25-29ers and I knew Scott was a couple of minutes up the road so I just kept going and waited for my HR to settle. Scott and I had discussed (endlessly) our nutrition beforehand so I went in with the strategy of 2 e-gels per hour (basically 1 every 30 minutes), 1 lava salt every hour, and basically blow through my water and gatorade as fast as I could think. So I pretty much followed that verbatim throughout the ride except for in hindsight I'm almost positive I didn't get enough fluids. Potentially not enough calories either, but I don't know enough about what was going on with my body on the run to get a really good analysis. I was passed by some people and I passed some people and everything was pretty ho-hum through mile 25ish and the 2nd turnaround at the end of the 2nd out and back on the course. At that point, I realized that the second half of the race was going to be MUCH harder than the first. I had seen Scott at each turnaround and that I was probably only about 2 minutes behind him but when I turned at the second and encountered a stiff headwind I realized that I just had to race my own race at that point. I needed to focus on putting whatever power I could down to the wheels and stay aero. For the most part I did that but I started experiencing a good deal of lower back and shoulder pain (aching really...) starting at about mile 40 so I had to stand up and crank out a low gear for a couple of pedal strokes every couple of minutes. I don't think that slowed me down but it wasn't the best feeling dealing with that. Went back over the bridges, back along Haynes boulevard and back on Lakeshore Dr where the UNO campus became visible. With about 1/4 mile to go I unstrapped my shoes and took my left one out and tried to place it on top of the shoe but for whatever reason I couldn't manage (it probably had to do with the hundreds of people lining the road leading up to the dismount line and all that pressure...) so I tried my right and was pulling on it really hard but I just couldn't get it out of the shoe. Finally I had to stop and get off normally but I felt my right hamstring lock up; I thought to myself "Oh crap, is this going to be the end of my race?"
56 mile bike in 2:31:54 (22.12 mph) putting me in 26th place in AG (fast bikers)
I started walking with a very irregular stride - it's difficult when you can't bend your leg to walk - to my rack in transition. It was a long, slow process that involved stretching out the hammy a couple of times but eventually it faded a bit and I was able to walk normally and start putting on my socks, shoes and hat. I grabbed a drink of water and started running to the T2 exit. My hammy started feeling a lot better and when I crossed the mat I felt pretty much back to normal.
T2 in 2:58
The run began with a short bit under some trees until we got back on Lakeshore Dr heading west for an out-back section that was COMPLETELY unshaded. I felt totally fine to begin with and went through the first mile in 6:40, which is about the pace I wanted for the run, and my HR was just hovering around 170, which is the bpm I wanted to hold for the run. I grabbed some water and solidered on down the road, passing people left and right (literally, I passed SO many people in the first 5 miles). I came up on a bunch of other 25-29ers between miles 3 and 4 and still felt pretty good. My splits were slowing down a bit but I was still under 7 min/mile. I grabbed a drink at every aid station and kept my HR at 170, which wasn't difficult to do. At the first turnaround I saw Scott going the other way and he looked pretty good and I still felt pretty good so I was thinking it would be nice to catch him, but I didn't speed up I just thought about how nice it would be... Once we turned off Lakeshore Dr the route was a little more shaded as we went towards City Park but not all that much more so; my miles continued to slow down as I realized that I was probably suffering a slow death and that the next 8 miles were going to be pretty painful and mentally challenging. Running down Wisner was excruciatingly boring as the road was very flat, very straight and very uninteresting. I drove the opposite way down Wisner every single day to get to high school so I knew just how long that road was at 60 mph (speed limit of 45, nice) so I was just thinking to myself how long it would feel a little over 1/10th of that speed (demoralizing). From mile 6 on the thing I wanted most in the world was to just stop running and start walking. It was the most mentally challenging thing I have EVER done...forcing myself to continue and slog through the miles. I kept telling myself how mad I would get if I walked portions of the half marathon and that kept me going when the going got tough. I kept getting at least 2 water cups per aid station and sometimes threw in a gatorade cup as well. Running through City Park was a nice reprieve from the hot sun of Wisner, but not much of one. I was still passing people a good bit but the number of runners had thinned out a good bit so it was getting a little boring. I snagged a powergel at one of the aid stations along with some water but inexplicably didn't take it for at least another mile or so. It really didn't help much. I got out of City park and turned right again on Wisner only to make a quick left onto Esplanade for what would be the most insanely boring and challenging road I have ever run on in my life. It was the last road besides the finish and it was 4 or 5 miles of torture. The only positive thing I can get from it was that it is mostly shaded. It was so hard to be able to see down the entire length of the road and realized that it never f***ing ended. I saw people all the way down the road and I could see the aid stations far ahead of me. I kept running though. The first, and only, girl that passed me all day got by me on Esplanade. I was surprised (and mortified) at first but then I looked down at her calf and saw an R, signifying a relay runner. So that lucky you-know-what only had to run 13.1 miles and that made it completely okay for her to pass me. The story is pretty much the same until the turn on Decatur; at the mile 12 marker I finally told myself that I was going to finish and that I was going to run the whole way...no walking at aid stations, no walking in between aid stations, and no walking anywhere else. I let out a little sigh of relief and that spurred my stride a little bit and the crowds started picking up about 1 or 200 yards from the right turn on Decatur. I turned right and encountered a stiff headwind. Great, I thought. But then I looked up and saw the finish chute and realized it was only a short distance ahead of me. I picked up my stride a little bit more until I was probably running about the same pace I was in mile 1, although it felt much faster. I began to hear the announcer and people around me were clapping and telling me to finish strong. The last 200 yards were amazing and are probably what made me want to sign up for the race again. The crowds were 5 deep on either side and everyone was yelling and cheering. I actually got pretty emotional when I hit the carpet with 50 or so yards to go and I realized how awesome an accomplishment it was for myself to finish the race. I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch, and just stopped.
13.1 mile run in 1:37:34 (7:26/mile avg pace) putting me in 12th place in AG.
I saw Scott ahead of me and went over and we both looked like hell (I'm assuming I looked like hell, although I'm sure it's a safe assumption) and congratulated each other. The race was over.
I really thought I was going to be able to run faster than this, but there were two huge firsts that took place on this day so I'm not really bent out of shape about it. It was my first half-marathon and my first triathlon, so killing both of those birds with one stone was pretty huge for me. In my pipe dream of what this race would have been like I envisioned myself finishing the swim in 35 minutes (I actually accomplished that, yay), biking the course in 2:25 (pretty sure I could have done this with less wind), and running a 1:25-1:30 half marathon. I also, in my head, gave myself 4 minutes for transitions. That would have given me a solid 4:29-4:34 race. In hindsight, that would have been an AMAZING race. I'm not sure how I expected to accomplish that last weekend but still, I had the dream in my head. I think, with better fueling, I could have cut some time off the run, but not 7+ minutes. Of course, it's really all just hypothesizing and dreaming until you go out there and you LAY DOWN a fast time. Gotta walk the walk before you can talk the talk. Or at least, to be able to back up the smack.