First of all, I got married!
Second, IM 70.3 Lake Tahoe (my honeymoon race) Recap:
IM 70.3 Lake Tahoe was an absolutely amazing race. It was quite different in terms of set-up (compared to other races we’ve done), but I’ll get into that in a bit. I’m going to cover everything, beginning with the first day we checked in for the race.
On Thursday the 17th, we had check-in at Squaw Valley early in the morning. We were surprised to see that they had a TON of vendors at this event, as well as free ART (Assisted Release Techniques). Jason (husband) and I headed over and got our legs loosened up for the race, as well as buying some raw food bars and some Base Performance Salt (we forgot one of our tubes… oops). We checked in, got our things and our plastic wristbands that designated us as racers, and two awesome vouchers for $25 at a ton of local restaurants. We were pumped! $50 to go eat? Best goodie bag ever. After check-in, we were headed to the Corporate Office/Warehouse of WetsuitOutlet.com in Minden, NV to get Jason a full wetsuit, and to Lover’s Leap for some climbing. Half way to Minden (a two hour drive on its own), we realized we forgot our climbing rope. Oops! No Lover’s Leap for us. We decided to change up our plans and attempt to hike Mount Rose instead (10,778 feet - probably not the best idea three days before a 70.3… but vacation). We ended up getting Jason a bangin’ new full suit, got some vegetarian In-N-Out Burger, and made it to the trailhead for the Mount Rose summit. The hike up Mount Rose was absolutely beautiful. After a round trip of 9 miles, we made it back to the car and headed back to town for dinner.
Friday morning we headed out for some mountain biking around and in the (former) Prosser Creek Reservoir (current mud puddle). It was absolutely crazy to see how much water is missing out there. Afterwards, we headed up to Kings Beach to do some swimming in Tahoe and get used to our full wetsuits in the 60 degree water. Tahoe was the same story, water wise. It’s down a few feet, which the beach much longer, and the drop off much more shallow. We walked the start and finish of the swim waves, and realized that there would be a lot of foot time in the beginning and ending portions of our swim, though not as much as Eagleman had. I was most pumped about the clarity of the swim. Ever since I worked in Tahoe, I have been spoiled. Their water clarity reaches for 75 feet, unfettered. I was so excited to show this to Jason, and have him experience what swimming in crystal clear water is like. We swam out a few hundred feet, still being able to see the bottom. It’s a very surreal experience to see a rock under you, think you can easily stand on it, and then reach for it and just keep sinking… and sinking… and sinking. No worries about swimming into someone in the cloudy water here. After our swim, we grabbed some fresh food and California pomegranates (seriously, take me back just for California Poms… I miss them), and headed home to cook up a nice dinner.
Saturday – the organization and drop off day. Here’s where it gets quite different. Lake Tahoe was the first race I’ve done that had two transition areas. The first area, for the swim to bike transition, was 18 miles from the bike to run transition. Therefore, you had to bring all your stuff for transition the day before. I already had my bike bag and run bag all packed up. We headed to load them into the car and take the bikes out for one small test spin before dropping them off in transition for good. This is where I encountered my first huge issue, and arguably one of the two largest for our race.
To get a little bike techy for a moment – before we left, I had my front chain rings on my Tri bike changed. I previously had a set-up on there that was meant for moving quickly across flat courses. Whoever had my bike previously either thought he/she was going to be the next Andy Potts (see: Triathlon Superstar), or actually WAS Andy Potts, because the setup was ridiculously large (54/42), and was terrible for climbing hills. Knowing that we needed to bike over the Sierras, I had it switched out for a much more hill-climbing-friendly set of chain rings (50-38, unfortunately the smallest they could go with my 130BCD crank arm). We got my bike back 32 hours from our wedding, and a little over 48 hours from the start of our honeymoon trip. Not idea. Okay, end bike tech speak.
So I take my bike out for a test spin, and notice immediately that it’s not shifting. Cue instant panic. I take it back to Jason, we test it a bunch more times, and it’s just flat not working. Jason tries to do some adjustments, and it’s still not working. We decide we somehow need to get it to a shop and get it worked on, knowing that the bikes need to be dropped off within the next few hours. Luckily, I picked the right shop to stop by at. The mechanic saw how desperate we were and stopped working on the bike he was tuning up to try and get my shifting working. After a few changes, he managed to get it shifting, though not as cleanly as it had been before getting my chain rings changed. I didn’t care – I’d take it, as long as it worked. He let me know that my issue was because of my front derailleur – it happens to be the first SRAM Red front derailleur ever made, and is engineered specifically for giant chain rings… which I no longer had. The shop we had the work done at didn’t catch this, and I didn’t have time in the nuts-ness the night before the wedding to test-ride the bike. Gah. (It’s also possible that the shop we had it done at had it in the exact perfect position and the derailleur somehow shifted or moved out of place in the week it spent driving around the country on top of our car. Who knows). I thanked the guy profusely for, what I thought was, getting my bike fully working (foreshadowing!), and we headed up to Squaw Valley to drop off the run transition bags.
Dropping the run bags was an interesting experience. When you have the bags, you don’t set up your transition spot like you do for other races, you just… leave it in the bag. Similarly, we didn’t have a spot at a bike rack. Instead, we lined the run bags up in numerical order in a giant, open parking lot. We talked to a volunteer and she explained to us that this race basically used ‘Valet Bike Service’. When you finished the bike portion of the race, you simply handed your bike to a volunteer (who would take it over to the rack area and make sure it was placed in the right spot), and you simply grabbed your run bag and ran into the women’s (or men’s) changing tent. …Cool? After dropping the run bags at Squaw Valley, we headed to the other transition area in Kings Beach to drop our Bikes and Bike Bags. Here, we lined our Bike bags up in numerical order on the beach, and racked our bikes alone in the huge transition area. I said goodbye to my bike, arranged it so nothing could touch it and screw up my painfully-precise-and-barely-working derailleur, and we headed to Sand Harbor to do some Stand Up Paddleboarding for the rest of the day (we were in full taper mode… can you tell?). That night, we agreed that we were going to race together, instead of racing individually. We really wanted to cross the finish line at the same time for our first race as a married couple. There was a TON of logistics to be worked out for this, and we spent the rest of the night working them out.
Sunday – Race day! Our alarm went off at 4AM, even though our race didn’t start until 8AM. We grabbed our swim stuff and threw on the warmest clothing we had (it was in the 30’s outside), and headed to the finish line at Squaw Valley so we could catch a 5:30AM shuttle to the start line. Once we were there, we watched the sun come over the lake and huddled in the conference center (they got us a conference center to stay warm and change in!) for warmth. At 6:40AM, the full Ironman athletes went off. At 8AM, it was our turn! We took off our warm clothes and shoved them in our morning bags to get shipped back to the finish line, and wrestled our wetsuits on. The swim was a ‘start when you feel like it’ swim, Jason and I had decided that I would start a few minutes ahead so that he would be able to catch up to me on the bike, where we’d do the race together from that point on. It’s WAY too hard trying to keep track of another person while swimming in a mass of people. I crossed the timing mat shortly after the gun, high fived the race director (coolest guy ever – him and the Mayor of Truckee wouldn’t let you go past without high fiving one of them), and started wading out for my swim into the 60 degree water. At this point, it was in the 40’s out, so the water didn’t feel nearly as cold as it did Friday and Saturday. I solidly believe this will probably be my favorite race swim ever, until I do another Tahoe race. I swam looking straight down, watching the lines in the sand, the rocks, the fish, and the old tree logs 20-60 feet underneath me. When we hit the turn to come back, I had just lost sight of the bottom of the lake (water was about 80-100 feet deep). After a few more strokes, it was back. I watched it slowly come up to meet me, following the sand lines until it was time to put my feet down. At the end, it faked me out – my hands felt like they were just about to hit the sand. I figured I was in about three feet of water, and that it was time to start wading. I stopped swimming, went to stand… and promptly sunk under the water. Oops! Not three feet. I went back to swimming and kept going until my fingers ACTUALLY hit the sand so I wouldn’t be faked out again. With the swim unfortunately over, I jogged to the beach, grabbed my bag of things out of the sand, and headed to the appropriately named ‘wetsuit peelers’. I had planned to take my suit off myself, but when I got to the top of the beach, a woman instructed me to wash my feet off in a plastic baby pool filled with water, and walk over to a peeler. Before I could tell the two peelers that I was okay to take my suit off myself, they had it down around my knees and yelled, ‘hurry, sit down!’ in the nicest, most authoritative tone I’ve ever heard. Haha. I sat down and they pulled my suit off of me before my butt even hit the concrete. They handed it back to me and I headed into the women’s changing room in the conference center, which was a huge room with a ton of chairs and close to 60 volunteers. This, along with the wetsuit peelers, was probably the weirdest moment for me in an Ironman race. Ironman is usually very strict about a race being ‘only under your own power’, and you’re not able to receive any help. When I walked into the conference center, it was almost like I was instantly assigned a volunteer. A woman zeroed in on me, took my bag, and immediately emptied it on the floor to sort the items in it. She grabbed towels for me, found my socks, gave me each item in order, and repacked everything I took off so it wouldn’t get lost. It was so awesome. At one point, I told her I was good, and that she could help someone else. As soon as she left, I had two more volunteers asking what they could do for me. When I was ready to leave, a woman grabbed my bag and my towel and told me to go, and that they’d pack it away and tie up the bag for me. It was a super awesome environment, and it made you feel so supported! However, the full change (absolutely necessary because of how cold it was outside) along with heading through the conference center made for a super slow transition for everyone. 12 minutes and 30 seconds, for me – a 12 minutes I would have loved to have had at the end.
Once I was out of the conference center, I jogged out to my bike and headed out to the bike course. On my way out I noticed that Jason’s bike was still racked in transition – at least I knew he didn’t kick my ass in the swim and was already out there for me to chase down. I crossed the mat, hopped on my bike, and started the bike course, which to me was three parts: the bike course up to the base of Brockway (the 5 mile long hill/mountain pass we needed to bike up), the actual climb up Brockway, and the portion after Broadway (i.e. the ‘sit back and relax, because you don’t need to bike over the damn mountains again’ portion). While I was rolling along, I was appreciating my new gearing and hoping that my new granny gear (easiest gear) was low enough to get me up Brockway. Fingers crossed! At a tiny out and back 4 miles in, Jason caught up to me. Apparently he only started a minute behind me on the swim, and we hadn’t created as much of a gap as we’d thought. Oh well! Jason slowed his pace to hang with me and we kept peddling through the course towards Brockway. At mile 12, my bike-nightmare revealed itself to me – we turned a corner on the course to see a short, steep, kicker hill in front of us. I down shifted in my granny gear and got out of my seat to push my way up it…. And my chain instantly popped. My bike chain has NEVER popped, and I instantly knew it was because of the way my derailleur was adjusted. Because it was adjusted to give me enough room to get into my big ring up front, it now didn’t have enough pressure to keep the chain on while being in the little ring up front, and the big ring up back (having the chain all the way to the left). I was instantly panicked, but also took note that there was nothing I could do about it without making my shifting worse than it already was. I walked the bike to the top of the hill, and put it in my second easiest gear, where I tested it out up the next small hill – no pop. Thank god. Unfortunately…. It meant I had to do all the hills in my second easiest gear, and had lost my granny gear. Brockway was becoming a nightmare in my mind. In addition, I had to guess where my second easiest gear was. I was too nervous to accidentally shift into my easiest gear for fear of the chain popping and jamming, so I would try to peak back at my rear gears to make sure I was in the right spot. At one point, I accidentally went up another short, steep hill in my third lowest gear, missing the fact that I could have gone down another step. It ended up wearing my legs down a lot more than they should have by the time Jason and I got to the base of Brockway. Then… the climb started. By this point we were 28 miles in, and we had 5 miles of a 1400 foot elevation gain in front of us. I’m proud to say that I made it 95% of the way up Brockway before I needed to walk the bike. It was so frustrating rotating my legs so slowly and with so much effort, when I’d see others making their way up in their granny gear, rolling freely with a moderate to hard effort up the never-ending 10% grade. With the summit not in sight (I didn’t realize how close I was), I made the decision to walk the bike instead of getting of the saddle for the last quarter mile – the steepest part of the hill. During this time, Jason had been rolling ahead of me (being able to move much easier in a much lower gear), waiting, and then rolling on again once I caught him. When I hit the top of the hill, I noticed he wasn’t there. I was certain I hadn’t walked past him, so I hopped on my bike and started down the screaming descent back into Tahoe, while trying to keep my eyes on the road, the offshoots, my breaks, etc. I tried to keep my speed under 40mph so I could avoid any road hazards and keep my eye out for Jason, but people easily blew past me doing 60 miles per hour. I finally hit the bottom of the hill a few minutes later… and still didn’t see Jason. I kept biking for three more miles, and hit an out-and-back on the course… and still didn’t see Jason. I started wondering – was I wrong and I missed/passed him on the hill? It seemed terribly unlikely. Did he think we were only riding together to the summit of Brockway and decided to kick up the speed after the hill was done? As I started to get… admittedly emotional about the prospect of Jason ditching me mid-honeymoon-race, I noticed a bike hanging out in a pull off a quarter mile ahead of me. I rode up behind it… and it was Jason! He thought I would be coming down the hill a bit faster and was riding slow to let me catch him, but made it further than he thought he would before I caught him. Back together again, we rode the final 10 miles into Squaw Valley to hit our run transition and head out on the part that I was (for once!) looking forward to. By this point, it was a balmy 75 degrees.
At transition, I felt great. I handed my bike off to a valet volunteer (I still think it’s funny I got valet bike service in a race), grabbed my run bag, and headed to the women’s changing tent to get all my run stuff ready and take off my bike stuff. The transition here was much like the first – I had my own volunteer to help me unpack, change/swap, and repack my bag – but not fully changing saved me a lot of time: only 5 minutes for this transition. Having to pull everything out of the bag still took up a decent chunk of time. I walked my way out of the tent knowing I transitioned faster than Jason, and loitered at some sunscreen bottles until I saw him making his way out. We started jogging on our way into the run course, when I finally noticed some persistent chest discomfort, my breathing became labored, and I got dizzy. This immediately threw me into the dumps. I didn’t feel it at ALL on the bike, so I thought I might be in the clear for this one – or at least in the clear for a few miles of the run before my allergy would pop up and my medicine would stop working. I tried to push through it in the first mile by walk/running, but it only flared it up further, and I was wheezing and gasping just walking up hills by mile two. Jason and I agreed to majorly slow it down and walk… which is outrageously frustrating when your legs still feel good and fresh, but other parts of your body can’t handle the rest of the load. For the next two and a half miles, we did nothing but walk, and I pounded grapes and redbull to try to help break up the junk in my chest, open up some of my airways, and get some adrenaline and caffeine buzz going. At four and a half miles, I was finally able to run again, albeit shortly. Jason and I realized that we were very close to the cutoff time, and would need to run 12 minute miles to get back on time. I took stock in my current condition and realized that, while I could normally smash 12 minute miles for the 7.5 miles we had left, it would be dangerous for me to push myself to attempt that now. I promised I would try to run as much as possible, but we agreed to be smart. After every run portion I would be left gasping and dizzy, and we would walk for a while again to get my breathing and heart rate under control. We resigned ourselves to the fact that we wouldn’t be making the 8 hour and 30 minute cutoff time because of my breathing issues. By mile 10, we were already over 2 hours and 45 minutes into the run course, and the cutoff was only 20 minutes away – and still 3.1 miles to go. with my 5k PR being 29:55, I knew it wasn’t possible. I tried to convince Jason many times to go ahead and finish so he didn’t get the ‘paper’ DNF (Did Not Finish), but to his credit, he refused and still wanted to finish together. With that, we set our sights on finishing under 9 hours. We knew we’d still get our finisher’s hats and medals, as they had announced the day before that since they cutoff for the Full Ironman was midnight, any Half athlete that got out on the run course before a certain time could finish any time before midnight and still get a medal and finisher’s hat for the Half. I thought that was pretty cool. We saw many other athletes out with us with Half bibs on that we knew didn’t make the official time cutoff as well, and I’m sure they were appreciative, too. When we started mile 12, adrenaline finally kicked in and my reaction started to lessen (adrenaline is a natural anti-histamine). With that, Jason and I ran the rest of the way into the finish, and were able to complete our goal of finishing together. Once we got our medals, we walked into a beautiful conference room that had a full hot buffet up and fresh baked cookies. Yes – they got Squaw to cater this. The food was absolutely wonderful. Jason and I were totally floored by it.
Afterthoughts – This was an awesome, supportive, hard race. I had decided prior to this that I was not doing another Ironman branded race until they ironed out (pun intended) some issues that they have in their organization in terms of equality (see: #50womentokona), ego, and the insane entry fees. This race was the first one where I felt like the race may have been worth dealing with all of that. I seriously enjoyed the amazingly beautiful and challenging nature of the course, and Jason and I began talking the next day about coming back for our anniversary to actually race it individually, instead of taking the time to race together. Of course, the day after we decided that… they discontinued the race, citing ‘unpredictable weather’. Bright side is - at least I won’t have the temptation to not stick to my guns. No Ironman branded races for the future, for me. Second, I absolutely need to get my condition under control, and I have no idea where to turn with it. I’m going to try out carrying Benadryl with me at all times during races, but I’m not convinced this is just an allergy problem. I also don’t want to have to take Benadryl that frequently, as this doesn’t just impact my racing – it severely hampers my training as well, and prevents almost any kind of progress. It’s outrageously frustrating to work at something year after year and have no progression on it. So if anyone has any suggestions or avenues, I’d love to hear them. My doctor kind of stopped answering my calls and the entire Rothman Organization in Philadelphia refused to see me because they don’t have anyone that ‘treats my kind of condition’ (Uhh, I don’t even know what my condition IS). The only thing I can think of is to try an ENT. Other than that…. I’m stumped. Because of all this, I’m going to try to hold back on racing as much as possible until I can get it figured out. I don’t want to do what I did this year and race every month, just pushing myself from reaction to reaction. I want to take the time to try and get a handle on this, and actually start seeing improvement from the effort I’m putting into it. Of course, I still have 5 races to get through before the end of the year (Runners World 5k, 10k, Half Marathon, Perfect 10 Miler, and the Philadelphia Marathon), so I’ll be putting that Benadryl theory to the test sooner than later.
Final thoughts: This really was an awesome race. I honestly can’t wait to go back to Tahoe and race again. Luckily, there’s an independent Lake Tahoe Triathlon that runs there every year! So LTT, I’m coming for you!