Monday, August 2, 2010

Barb's Half Ironman Race Report!

This is going to be even longer winded than my last race report. I am totally glowing right now. For having only spent 11 weeks training, I am absolutely, completely elated with how the race went. I had some dark moments on the run, but that was to be expected.

Friday the 30th (day before the race)

Mike and I got up at 5AM. I wanted to leave around 5:45 but of course I was bumping around the apartment like a total zombie. I made a list the night before of everything I needed to bring and decided I would wait until the morning to get it all together. All in all, not a good idea...I know, I was shocked as well. Unfortunately I have no photos of myself bumbling around looking for things while Mike stood there anxiously looking at the time saying, "Can I help you somehow?", but I probably looked something like this:

Anyway, it was getting on to 6:15 and I got all intense about eating. I knew we'd be in the car for about 8 hours so I wanted to make sure I ate a proper breakfast. Today would be super important as far as nutrition was concerned and I had a lot of obstacles that were going to make it difficult, so I insisted on eating a bunch of yogurt and nuts before leaving. We left about 45 minutes later than planned, but with 9 hours until the race briefing I wasn't too worried.

About 40 minutes into the drive I realized I left my pump at home and had a total meltdown for a minute or 2. OK, no big deal. We'll just stop at the bike shop that's doing race support and buy a new one. Meltdown #1=over. I had plenty of time before the briefing to get the pump, make it through packet pick up and deal with all the usual pre race nonsense. It was hot and sunny. As usual, I stood out in the general triathlon crowd. I always think it's interesting that so many people dress in their bike or run clothes the day before the race to go to packet pick up and race briefings. I was walking around in a purple dress and knee high black boots with compression socks on underneath. Hipster undercover athlete. I guess that's been my deal for a long time now anyhow, but the athlete side is winning out as I get older. Still, I don't see myself ever going to packet pick up in bike shorts :). Beyond that, it was awesome to see so many women at a race. Barb's Race is the only all female half ironman race in the country which is part of the reason why I did it. It is also on the same day and course as the full Vineman Ironman so I was excited to be racing alongside people doing a full ironman. It was all around very inspiring.

I wanted to drive over the run course before we headed to our hotel which was 25 miles away. It's a damn good thing we did because it changed my plan for the following day. If I had taken pictures, the run course would have looked a lot like this:

It was far hillier than any course I have ever run in my life. At first, I was like, "OH, this is kind of like the run in Central Park", and Mike was like, "Are you sure about that?" In other words, he was in awe of how goddamn hilly it was and I was trying to stuff down the nerves by turning it into something less than it was. The best way to deal with situations like this is to acknowledge the monster is a monster and respect it. After a few more minutes of driving, the hills kept coming (seriously, it was unbelievable) and I decided I needed to really hold back on the bike and adjust my expected finish time from between 6:30-6:45 to between 6:45-7 hours. I was going to finish this thing regardless of how daunting this run was looking. I closed my eyes and pictured myself running up and over hill after hill...that's how I fell asleep around 10:30PM. For those interested, I ate a seaweed salad, bananas, a lara bar, shrimp and avocado roll and a bunch of water for dinner. I spent a lot of time getting all my crap set out so I would be ready to go the next morning. This is what it takes to get through a half ironman:

And this is what would keep me comfy on the bike for 3-4 hours:

Seriously, funny name but it really worked fantastically. A big shout out to the makers of Hoo Ha Ride Glide. Riding a bike for anything over 2 hours can do some serious damage to your lady parts if you're not careful. This shit is necessary after a certain point. In other news, look how tired I am! Jeez.

Mike and I stayed at Applewood Inn for the weekend and it was really great. A bit more money than I wanted to spend, but the room was quiet, clean and cozy and the breakfast was amazing. It's a bit pricy during high season in wine country on the weekends but during the week and off season it's more reasonable. Plus, for those triathletes doing Vineman and Barb's Race, it's only a mile away from swim start which is key.

Saturday the 31st (race day)

I've made a lot of sacrifices getting ready for this race. Not the least of which has been a complete lack of social life for the past few months. This is just part of training for the next level up. Unfortunately it just so happens to coincide with my leaving Los Angeles. I've felt a real disassociation from a lot of my friends both in New York and here in LA getting ready for races. It's a lonely business when no one (except for Tara!!! God, I'm so HAPPY I had you to ride bikes with!!!) in your social circle is into something that consumes a significant amount of your time. When I get back to New York I'm joining a tri club because it's just too hard to keep doing this without a support system. Anyway, this was heavily on my mind as I got my things together to head to swim start. I had to make it all worth it or I'd be really disappointed in myself. Which is exactly when meltdown #2 happened. I went to pump up my tires and I couldn't get the bike pump to work properly. I freaked out for a minute and then Mike calmly pointed out that bike support would be at swim start to deal with any last minute issues. Done and done. They took care of my tires in a jiffy. I barely had time to get my wetsuit on and down to start the race by the time I made it through the bathroom line.

No time to get freaked out at all. Mike took a few pictures I walked down to the water (which was warm and calm) and swam out to the other side of the river.
Then all of a sudden it started. I was caught completely off guard chatting to some girl next to me.

1.2 mile swim

I started swimming and waited for the usual heart rate craziness/mild panic to set in...and waited...and waited. Meanwhile, I was swimming past people and the panic never happened. My stroke felt smooth, my breathing was steady and my heart rate was completely normal. I got kicked a bunch but instead of getting worked up and losing control of my breathing, I got pissed and swam past the people who were kicking me. When did I become a decent swimmer? Amazing. It continued like this the whole time. Eventually I was passing a lot of people who had begun the race in the wave before mine. Don't get me wrong, I didn't win or anything, but I had a real swim breakthrough this race. I didn't want it to end. I felt like I could have swam another mile no problem. I came out of the water and decided to let the wetsuit strippers help me. That was hilarious. Next time I might skip that. (39:50)

Transition 1

Where are the wobbly sea legs? Not here! I jogged to my bike easily. My legs felt great. And yet I managed to spend nearly 10 minutes in transition. What was I doing? Putting on make up? Doing my hair? I ate a bunch & drank a lot....I guess that took 10 minutes? Who knows. All I know is that my legs felt fine and I was stoked to get on my bike.

56 Mile Bike

The next 3-4 hours would be spent on my questionable steed who I've taken to calling the "Silver Bullet" in my head in hopes of improving our relationship. Unfortunately I think she knows that next season I'll be purchasing a replacement and she'll be relegated to a beater.

I took this ride really easy knowing what the run course ahead held. The bike course was super fun, hilly and winding through the vineyards. It was shady and the weather stayed cool for most of the ride. Nothing much to report here. I stopped twice at aid stations-once for a few minutes and the second time only for about 1 minute to grab a water and stretch my legs out before Chalk Hill. Chalk Hill was not the monster everyone made it out to be. When I reached the top, I was ready for more...a little disappointing but I guess that means I did my training right. I easily passed at least 7 or 8 people going up that hill. I didn't get out of my saddle and I didn't even come close to hitting lactate threshold.

Overall, I was also really good about nutrition on the bike. I ate and drank a lot and it made all the difference. When I got off the bike I felt pretty fresh, which was great considering the run I had ahead but a small part of me was a little disappointed and wished I had pushed the pace more. 3:34 (just under 16mph average)

Transition 2 AKA the great mistake

I, again, took almost 10 minutes in transition here. I felt great and this was throwing me off. Seriously! This race is twice as long as any race I've ever done and yet I felt better than I have in my Olympic distance races. Very confusing. I am owing it to my diligent nutrition on the bike.

The great mistake...I decided to double up on my socks for my run to try to prevent blisters and hot spots from popping up. I find that, consistently, I get blisters on all my 8+ mile runs and I knew that doubling up my socks would help prevent them. I tied my sneakers and the right one felt a little too tight, but, alas, I did not stop to redo it. Man would I be regretting that around mile 9.

Half Marathon

For the record, I have never run more than 11.5 miles ever. After getting off a bike, I have never run more than 6 miles and I have never EVER run after a bike ride of more than 30 miles. But I felt really good and confident despite the mini Alps I had to conquer ahead of me. The run started off really well. My plan was to stop at every other aid station (there are aid stations approximately every mile) until I absolutely had to start stopping at all of them. I stuck to my plan for 7 miles and then started to feel thirsty. I was running all the hills except for one really steep one. I walked up it quickly (as fast as a lot of people were running it). I was passing quite a few people for the first several miles. Around mile 7.5, I started slowing down but kept running. At mile 8.7 I hit the first turnaround and walked for a bit. I ran for another 1/2 mile and then my foot completely cramped up. Oh shoelace, why did I not retie you? I had a few minutes where I actually though I might have a stress fracture. I could barely put weight on my foot and then my calves started cramping up. Total body shutdown...well, that's an exaggeration, but at that point in a race you're prone to drama. I started feeling really sorry for myself. Lame. I walked for awhile. At that point, it seemed like the entire course was somehow uphill. I hit another aid station and asked how far to the second (and last) turnaround and they said 1/2 a mile. So I started running again. I built myself back up and got excited that I had less than 3 miles to go. I could run less than 3 miles. I kept going and going for what felt like forever. I started hitting bigger and bigger hills...where the hell was the turnaround??? Finally I made it to another aid station and was told by one of the volunteers that I had run an extra mile. WTF??? I almost started crying. So, instead of 13 miles it looked like I would be running 15 miles. This may not sound like a big deal, but at that moment, with the way I was feeling physically, I could not even imagine how I was ever going to make it. That really got me down for awhile and I limped away like a sad wounded puppy. I walked for a lot longer than I would have had I not run the extra mile out of the way feeling sorry for myself. And then with 2 miles left I started running again and ran most of the remaining distance. The last mile I picked up the pace enough that bystanders watching were saying "Great pace 1502!" which made me feel better and I ran to the finish line. 2:17 (that's subtracting the time I took on the 2 extra miles)

Above-here I am thinking, Holy crap, please give me some water.
Below-Oh look! There's Mike! Hi!!!

Total time: 6:53:24 directly in the middle of my goal finish time


Yes!!! I had the biggest, most genuine smile on my face for about 5 minutes after crossing that line and then my legs started feeling absolutely crazy. I didn't know what to do with myself physically. I didn't want to sit or stand or lie was nuts. I've never felt anything like it before. I got some food that I forced down because I knew needed to eat even though I wasn't hungry and watched some of the other racers finish. A lot of people have asked me if I've cried when finishing a race. The answer is no, I'm too tired to cry usually. But I have definitely teared up watching other people finish races. Seriously, watch some coverage of Ironman Kona in October and if you don't get emotional watching people cross the finish line then you're officially a robot.

I was more tired than I can ever remember being by the time we got back to the hotel. I slept for a really long time. I'm still tired, but I'm also REALLY proud of myself and I can't wait to do another one. For the record, my foot just stopped hurting today from tying that lace too tight. I won't be making that mistake again.

A huge thank you to Mike (of course) for being supportive and patient during all of this, Tara for being my super rad bike buddy (click on her name to follow her on Tumblr getting ready for SF--->LA charity bike ride!), my Daily Mile friends for their words of encouragement and inspiring workouts, Crossfit Pasadena for instilling new levels of pain threshold in me and all of my friends who took a moment to wish me luck or ask how my training was going.


  1. AWESOME!!! i'm so inspired & moved by your energy nicole. what a champ!!! i loved the play by play as well. have mike give you a huge hug from me please. or i'll give you one before you move i hope!!!


  2. AMAZING NICOLE!! I am so extremely proud of you! I would've given up (or drowned) after getting kicked at the start/swimming portion. Will I see you at the Boston Marathon April 2011?


  3. Thanks so much guys!!
    Rynne-I'll see you at Aaron & Alex's wedding right?

    Marc-A marathon....good lord. I guess if I can make it through 15 miles after all the other stuff I could run a marathon. Weirdly the idea of running a marathon seems crazier to me than a full ironman. I know, it makes no sense. You should go for Boston! You'd qualify no problem on a less crazy hilly course.

  4. so awesome! i love reading the full accounts...makes me get so into it! i remember trying to train for a triathlon by myself years ago and it is really difficult to do alone. i admire your determination in doing so much training solo, but i know it pays must have felt pretty damn good after finishing! congrats lady!

  5. Ohmygod Nicole. Tears are rolling down my face after reading that. You really have the eye of the tiger. Passion and Glory both buddy. This is inspiring. I'm ready for some breakthroughs. Keep it up!!! Yeahhhhh!!!!