I fully admit I went into this race not as prepared as I would of liked to be. Training has been hit or miss this season – while I did get in some decent long rides and runs beforehand, I did not train as much as I have in the past two seasons. This summer was jammed pack for me between moving into my first real house and working long hours (with a long commute), and I just did not have the time to train for more than an hour a day during the week. My swim suffered the most, but I also would of liked to have gotten in more saddle time and running miles. Then, to make matters worse, I got hit with a cold the Tuesday before my race, and had to shut down training complete. Although I was terribly nervous going into this, I also knew that as long as I could get through the swim, I would have enough fitness to make it through the race in one piece. Thank goodness for flat courses!
Saturday morning rolled around, and I woke up a little early to do a short shakeout run to test my lungs. Although I did not feel super awesome running, I felt like I would be able to make it through in one piece. Go time. I packed up the rest of my gear, loaded up the car with my husband, and hit the road to New Jersey. We made a quick stop at a train station to pick up my BRF who was coming from NYC (racing in her first 70.3 this weekend! and the main reason why I signed up this year) and off we were to AC. We got there in plenty of time to go right to the expo at Bader Field, pick up our bibs, do a little expo shopping, check our bikes, and then drop the car off for a quick lunch, before heading back to the expo for the pre-race briefing. My husband had a concert he wanted to catch back in the city, so he dropped us off at Badger Field and headed back north. His plan was to come back down Sunday morning to catch us on the run on the boardwalk and skip the pre-race anxiety attacks. Smart man.
After an uneventful briefing, we grabbed an Uber to head back to the hotel. We checked the weather for the 101th time, and saw a 50% chance of rain. That means it’s 50% chance the rain will hold off until the run at least, right? Hah. More on that later. We relaxed for a bit in the room, went to an early dinner (pasta, of course), and then it was time for a very early bedtime. Triathlon has even earlier wake-up calls than early-start marathons!
4 am came way too soon, as always. We looked outside and were very happy to see no rain – so far, so good! We got dressed, took our breakfast to go, and headed out to catch an Uber to the start. I did this race two years ago, and there was a traffic nightmare to the start. I had read on social that they had fixed this issue – but there was still a ton of traffic! We decided to hop out of the car about a half mile away so we would get to transition about a half hour before it closed. We were both a little stressed, but at the end, we made it transition exactly when we wanted to and I had plenty of time to fuss around with my set up. I drank my bottle of Oats Overnight, ate my banana, laid out the rest of my stuff, and was ready to go!
One of the changes this race made compared to when I did it two years ago was the swim start switched from an in-water age group start to a rolling start based on time. Instead of starting with all females in my age group, I started with athletes based on anticipated finish time. I was a little hesitant when they announced it because I prefer to swim with all females (sorry men, but alot of you can be sort of horrible in the water!) but it is what it is. We tried to line up in the 45-55 minute anticipated swim group (a compromise since I am a horrible swimmer and she is a strong one, but we wanted to start together), but it was so crowded at the start, I am not even sure where we started. After waiting forever, it was finally time to get in the water, and get this party started.
Swimmers, everywhere! It was a crowded swim, and I definitely got kicked and swam over much more than I normally do in a smaller race. I was proud of myself that I did not let this rattle me, and I just kept swimming. I was quite anxious that I would not make the cut off, but I tried to not get inside my own head and just focused on making it to one buoy at a time. It felt like an eternity, but I eventually spotted the last buoy, and then the swim exit. Since I can’t really see my watch when I swam, I had no idea what my pace looked like. I kept all my fingers and toes crossed that when I got out it would say under 1:10, so when it read 54 minutes and change, I was quite pleasantly surprised.
I jogged over to transition, jumped in a Porta Potty for a quick pit stop, shoved down a Cliff bar, changed into my bike gear, and it was time to get going! I was so relieved I made it out of the water with time to spare, and looking forward to the bike. It was still overcast, but dry, and not too hot out, so maybe I would have a great ride, after all.
The race featured a 2.5 loop course, which was different from when I did it the inaugural year, which was just one long loop. The upside to the loop course was that it completely closed to traffic, which I was looking forward to. The downside was there would be much faster cyclists on their second loop when I was my first loop, but I had hoped it would not be too bad.
The first few miles were fantastic – I felt like I was flying, and I did not let the faster cyclists passing me bother me too much as they silently whizzed by me. (seriously, what it is so hard about saying “on your left?!). I was making great time and I was optimistically thinking I would smash my bike split from two years ago.
Then, the rain came.
At first it was just a drizzle, and I was like okay, this isn’t so bad. Then it started picking up, and it turned from a drizzle into a steady rain, into an outright downpour. Okay, this sucks. By the middle of my 2nd loop, I went from “I’m killing this race” to “Omg, I hope I don’t die”. It’s one thing to be cold and wet and miserable on a road race – but it’s another thing to be riding on wet roads, terrified of a crash.
This is when the faster cyclists on the course really started to rattle me. I understand it’s a race, and we are all out there to do our best. I also understand if you are fast enough, you are in contention for a podium spot and/or Worlds slot. That said – some of the behavior I saw on the course was completely unsafe and unacceptable. I was passed by large groups illegally drafting together whizzing by all at once, silently. I was passed on the right, illegally. I saw someone passing another cyclist in the middle of the road, in the middle of a sharp turn – not leaving much room for anyone else. Meanwhile, there were ambulances left and right treating multiple athletes who had crashed. There HAS to be a happy medium between riding as fast as you can, but also respecting the fact that there are other cyclists out on the road as well. After all if you crash, your day is likely over. Is an extra 5 seconds to be considerate to other athletes on course really worth risking your race and potentially your life? Sidenote – this rant just applies to the some of the faster athletes on course. There were some who passed me safely and called out “on your left”, and they were awesome. I just wish everyone could be that way.
I was SO relived to start my 3rd loop, when all the super fast cyclists were off the road. At this point my stomach started to cramp, and I realized I had not been drinking nearly as much as I should of been – I was so rattled by the rain and other triathletes on the course, that I was not focusing on my nutrition. When I passed the aid station for a 3rd time I ran into the bathroom, but it did not help my cramps. I tried to do my best to get in as much calories as I could, but my stomach hurt, I was cranky, and I just wanted to be off the course. I felt my pace starting to slip severely, but I did not care. I just wanted to be done.
I finally pulled into transition at 3:28 – which was still a slight PR for me – but I was not really thinking about time at that point. My stomach was in immense pain, but I was just happy to be safe. I took off my bike gear, laced up my shoes, and got ready to run. I tried to munch down a second bar, but I could only stomach about half of it. Welp, it’s just 13 miles I thought. How bad could this possibly be?
I tried to run for the first mile, but my stomach was making it near impossible. I also could not tolerate any sports food, so as I passed each aid station, I tried to sip on as much Gatorade as I could. The first mile or so was a maze through Bader Field, so I tried to focus on first just getting through that portion of the course. Then it was across the town to the boardwalk, for the first of the two out and backs.
By the time I made it to the boardwalk, I virtually gave up on running. My stomach just hurt so much. I spotted my BRF on the way back as I was first starting. I must of looked pretty bad because she asked me if I wanted to stop, and I said no, I am going to gut it out. I was hoping if I kept sipping on the Gatorade, I would eventually start to feel better. I think at this point my tracker said I was on pace for a 3.5 hour half marathon split, which I knew would freak out my husband was was tracking me from the boardwalk, and my mom who was tracking me from home, but I didn’t know what else to do.
Around mile 4, I decided to try a banana at an aid station. Yep, bad move. Was not able to keep it down. I just kept shuffling forward, wondering how the hell I was going to finish this race, but just focused on one foot in front of the other.
I shuffled like this for a few more miles, sipping Gatorade at every station. Finally it must of worked, because I was able to choke down some Clif Shot Bloks, and then eventually start walk/running again. Around mile 7, I realized I was able to run more and more. This was fantastic timing, because I knew my husband would be coming up around mile 8.5ish, and I did not want him to see me in such distress. I passed him (running, thankfully), let him know I was okay, and I was ready to finish this damn race.
I was able to run the rest of the way, only stopping for a brief walk at the aid stations, to make sure I was getting enough calories in me. I ended up passing by many triathletes who saw me walking in such distress earlier in the race. They cheered for loudly and encouraged me to keep going, pleasantly surprised to see me running at a (relatively) strong pace. Since it was my stomach, not my legs that had given out, I was still able to run relatively well so late in the game.
Finally, finally it was the end of the boardwalk, and time to turn around for 2 more miles to finish this damn race. Around 11.5 I saw my husband again, who yelled “at least this rain isn’t as bad as Boston!” which made me laugh. Truth – after that one, if you’re not hypothermic, the rain is not that bad!
1 mile to go, half mile to go…..and then there it was, the red carpet leading up to that beautiful, beautiful finish line! I ended up crossing the finish line in 7:28 with a 2:38 run split – definitely a personal worst, but not nearly as bad as a 8:2x finish and 3.5 hour+ half marathon, which is what I thought I was looking at when I was at the beginning of the run.
I collected my medal, found my husband and my friend (who totally killed it – 6:15 for her first 70.3!) and headed back to the hotel. I was ready for a shower, warm clothes and to celebrate!
Although I am disappointed that my stomach gave out on me, I learned alot about myself on this course. I am stronger then I think I am, and I have better bike handling skills then I think I do. I also think I know what I did wrong in terms of nutrition (i.e. not eating enough on the bike!) and have a loose plan on how to correct that for next season. I know what I have to work on – but for now, I am still basking in the glory of my third 70.3 finish!