Ominous skies loomed on yet another race morning. Sandwiched between two perfect race days I worked with feeling content with what was being served up to us. Honestly, I was fine with the forecast of thunderstorms in lieu of warm temperatures. It would have been a far greater challenge to find contentment in the knowing that I would be cold for another race. The absence of numb extremities and handlebar shaking shivers were such a source of mass gratitude that the possibility of lightning and downpours was not getting the best of me. It was, however, interesting to notice the little voice inside who wished for sunny skies. I didn’t listen to her. I just observed that there is still more work to be done.
BJ and I arrived to the race in anything but a rush. Both of us were relaxed, rested and ready for whatever would pop up between that moment and the finish line. This is a part of racing that I love so much, the unexpected uncontrollable circumstances that inevitably show up over the course of the day and how I am able to navigate those hurdles. At any given time the mind is either in a state of ease or dis-ease, acceptance or suffering. These states of mind are choices and for some reason I’ve found that the resistance is an easier choice. Remaining at ease and in a state of acceptance, no matter the circumstance is the cornerstone of the work that I’m doing now. As MB always says to me, “Jess, be ok with it all”.
We headed to transition and parted ways to set up our home-base for the day. I loaded my bike with two 24oz bottles of water and one filled with three scoops of UCAN and water. I have been training with UCAN for the last month but this would be my first race using this super starch, slow release fuel. I am excited to find another way to fuel other than high glycemic gels and drinks, although this formula for fueling has been very effective in terms of getting me to the finish line with zero issues. It’s not about right or wrong, it’s just finding what works best for my body and being willing to experiment to find those answers.
I helped Beej prep for his swim since he was going off in one of the first waves and I was assigned to the final wave of the day. I rested my head on his shoulder during the national anthem and soaked up our connection, then sent him off on his 70.3 mile journey. At 30 minutes before my start I took a UCAN ‘gel’ which I made mixing one scoop in a zip-lock baggie with a little water. This was enough to fuel me for the next few hours. Along with this I took seven Perfect Aminos tablets. I hopped in the water for a quick warm up, practiced my pre-race pranayama and lined up with my group.
I seeded myself in the second row on the inside line. The gun went off and it was smooth sailing. I counted the buoys as I passed them and got on the feet of a swimmer just a little faster than I. No mantras, nothing needed. I moved my awareness fully into each stroke and felt solid in my pace. I passed buoy four and noticed that I was catching the pink swim caps, the group that went ahead of my wave. I also noticed another purple cap from my wave, swimming very close to me and then in front of me, crossing over my path. As I said to Beej, “one of us wasn’t swimming straight and my ego tells me it wasn’t me”. But who knows and who cares. I had to get around and away from this girl. Each time I thought I had passed her, she was there again, right by my side, hammering her strokes into my back or her feet pumping hard inches from my face. Now we were starting to catch other waves. I saw white caps, green caps and even a yellow. Breaststrokers, backstrokers, people struggling to get from buoy to buoy and she was right there the entire time. I put in a surge and pulled ahead, literally weaving between bodies and skipping a few breaths in lieu of yardage. Finally I was free of the multi-color cap chaos and that girl, whew! Quiet, finally. Then my mind kicked in to note that I was completely out of breath and swimming into another sea of bodies. I got a mouthful of water, my wetsuit tightened around my chest and I felt the airway in my throat start to constrict. I could feel its energies moving in fast and furious with validating thoughts right by its side. A panic attack, completely available for me to feed and fulfill. I couldn’t breathe, my wetsuit was tight, I went too hard and now I couldn’t recover. At least that is what my mind was telling me. I decided not to feed it, a much harder course to navigate but in the end the best one to choose. I noticed the breath I was in and I felt that it was full and I told myself I was calm. I slowed my stroke and felt more space between my heart beats. I told myself that my wetsuit was not tighter and there was plenty of room in my airway for breath. What happened next is the ease that comes along with choosing to be present. My wetsuit felt more roomy, my breath extended longer and my airway widened. I gave it another ten strokes and then picked it back up.
I hit the first turn buoy, the second turn buoy and headed strong to the finish. Swimming through groups of people from waves I don’t even remember, sending them strength and love to complete the swim as I know they had already been out there for a long time. My fingers scraped the sand, I got vertical and my wetsuit stripped off but not without leaving muddy footprints all over the volunteer who helped me. I managed a smooth pace to the transition area where, after about a quarter mile run, my official swim time would be recorded as 35:16.
The purgatory of triathlon. Can’t go too hard, can’t go too slow. The plan was to keep my heart rate monitor on so that I stay in check with it all but soon after getting on the bike I noticed that my heart rate was not registering on my watch. No doubt a divine sign to lose the technology and race on feel. I know that I’m a 3:00 – 3:30 rider for this distance depending on the course. By no means would I say this was the hardest bike course I’ve raced but there were several long climbs at the beginning and some that never seemed to end. Once those were done, the course was rolling and then just plain fast at the end. This is a great preparation for anyone racing Lake Placid.
For nutrition, I took one packet of Justin’s Almond Butter as soon as I got on the bike. Noting this packet has 200 calories in it and lots of fat I’m not sure I’d use this again for this distance. I also had chia bars from Health Warrior which are 100 calories each but didn’t use them considering the amount of calories I had just taken in with the nut butter. Next time I race this distance I may just use the UCAN and no food as I’m confident the UCAN will give me all the fuel I need. At 1 hour into the bike I drank 8oz of UCAN over the course of a few minutes then nothing until 2:15 into the ride when I drank another 8oz. At 2:30 I took six Perfect Aminos and at 2:45 I took a Gatorlyte Electrolyte powder pack which contained 780mg of sodium and 400mg of potassium just to start prepping for the run. I also drank both water bottle plus another that I picked up on the course. I pee’d (yes all over my bike and shoes) four times which makes me think I may have taken in too much liquid which could have been flushing out the electroytes I was taking in.
Although I wasn’t feeling the humidity, people kept saying that it was a humid day. I spend on average 13 hours a week in a 95 degree yoga studio with humidity averaging mid-high 70’s. I drink a lot of water during the week but I haven’t been drinking anything to supplement the electrolyte loss. My triathlon training is on top of the 13 hours at the studio so I am curious if I may have been a little deficient coming into this race. I wasn’t feeling any effects of that, at least not yet. At 2:45-3:00 hours I took the final 8oz of UCAN to set myself up for the run. I finished up the bike in 3:18:53 and felt really good the entire ride.
I ditched my heart rate monitor and watch in T2, grabbed a 5oz flask with another scoop of UCAN, water, a pack of Gatorlyte. I was fired up to run but my legs were not. I felt like I could barely move them. With no heart rate numbers on the bike I may have gone a little too hard. “No big deal”, I thought “the first 5k is all about getting your legs under you, just shuffle, you can make up the time later”. I drank my flask of UCAN over the first few minutes knowing that would give me what I needed for the entire run but this was not a good idea. I was already too full from what I had taken in at the end of the bike and so next time I will finish my nutrition intake sooner on the bike.
The run course starts in a field with a pitch that angered my hips immediately and climbs uphill to the road. The field was muddy and slippery from the rain that fell earlier. Being careful with footing was key. I made it up to the road, my legs barely moving and a red-lined heart rate. The course headed downhill, the space was narrow. Runners coming at me on my left and bikers on my right. I noticed the faces of the runners coming at me and they looked like they had been through the ringer. I turned left off the main road and a big smile crossed my face as I saw my favorite view. Hundreds of athletes with bright colored kits and cold sponges tucked around their shoulders running in both directions. There was an aid station with volunteers offering help to everyone and this is the scene that I love so much. It is this scene that I see in videos and can’t wait to be a part of. I love to be in the challenge with everyone and to see how it is all handled. Triathlon is a great study of the human condition, especially my own.
I wish there was a camera to capture my facial expression when I saw the hill. At first I couldn’t believe it but with zero study of the course prior to the race there was no surprise that I was surprised. Again, it’s how I handle myself in those moments of surprise and amongst things that I cannot control. I saw the hill, I accepted it and leaned into what was being offered. It was steep, it was long and I had nothing in my legs. The last time I remember feeling so weak on the run was at the 5430 Long Course (now Ironman 70.3 Boulder) in 2009. To make matters more challenging I was starting to cramp along my diaphragm. I started exhaling longer, holding the exhales out to keep the diaphragm contracted as direct pressure to the muscle is the best way to alleviate cramps. I shuffled up the hill passing many walkers, there was only one other athlete that I could see running. Once I got to the top, the road continues to climb although it felt flat in comparison to what I had just come up. One step at a time, one breath at a time. This run course was no joke and my mind already wanted to make me suffer by thinking about how I would have to do it all over again on the 2nd lap. I anchored back into my breath and looked at what was next. A long, not as steep, but maybe even longer hill to the turn around. I tightened my stride and made it to the top, hitting the mat and recording what would be my slowest run split in years.
It is usually at this point, that I get my legs and pick up the pace but I just couldn’t do it. The cramping was getting worse. I popped another Gatorlyte and washed it down with water. Nothing happened. The cramping continued, my pace was suffering but mentally I was pretty easeful. I kept anchoring into my breath, my foot strike and into what was happening now. Not the story of now, just noticing now.
The cramping continued and wasn’t getting any better. I took my fourth and final Gatorlyte packet. Taking in 3120mg of sodium and 1200mg of potassium tells me that something was off. I hit the turn around, hoping to see my husband and get a lift of energy but that didn’t happen. I was on my own to face the challenge of the final lap. I headed back up the hill in a very torn up and muddy field. At this point, most people were walking. It looked so enticing, so much easier than what I was doing but I refused the death march. My cramps were subsiding and I was started to feel better. My pace picked up. By no means was I running fast, I was probably at the pace where I normally start the run. I refused my mind’s constant invitation to visit the hills before actually getting there and took one step at a time. I was going to finish strong, I could feel that now. I hit the first hill and shuffled up. I hit the second hill and shuffled up. The turnaround was in sight, the aid station that I couldn’t wait to get to was within reach. Then I heard commotion, words like turn around, severe storm, disqualified. I got closer to the race officials who were riding down the center line of runners and saw runners turning around. The course was being shut down. A severe thunder and lightning storm was on route and it was BAD, they told us. The choices were turn around now or be disqualified. I certainly didn’t want a DNF on my record so I turned around immediately.
The idea of being caught in yet another severe storm during a race and being struck by lightning quickened my pace. I noticed runners ahead of me notifying other runners about turning around. Many stopped in their tracks and headed the other way but many immediately went into a mode of resistance. From what I saw on the run course that day, the ego is alive and well in many. People being driven into a lightning storm and ultimate disqualification on command of the ego. It was so interesting to watch and so disheartening to watch as I realized there is still so much work to be done to end our suffering.
The rain started to come down and I pushed on to the finish. I turned back onto the main road and headed up the hill for the final descent through the field. The rain was coming down hard at this point and the thunder was cracking loud through the sky behind me. My cramps were gone and my legs felt strong. The field was a mud pit and very slippery, my pace slowed as my goal was to stay vertical. My vision started to get very blurry adding to the decreased visibility of the down-pouring rain. I focused on the outlines of people in front of me and started laughing at the once again, ridiculous weather conditions for racing. I hit the pavement for the final push, the course crowded with people seeking shelter. I saw the finish shoot and headed to my 8th Half Ironman finish. I crossed the line was handed my medal and hat then told to seek shelter immediately. Very anti-climactic finish but a finish nonetheless. My official time was 6:20 although when I went back today to double check they have me now listed as a DNF. My ego does not like that because I did finish the race and it’s glad I have the medal and finisher hat to prove it. My higher self, which is the only one I try to pay attention to these days is grateful for another challenging experience to strengthen myself in lieu of my human condition.
Next up Challenge Maine. Namaste Racers!