Thursday, July 21, 2011

Caesar Creek Triathlon Recap

After stuffing my face with pasta the night before the race (with the Pope, no doubt), I had to do a triathlon so I could work off all those calories (I do have a wedding dress to fit into in 9 days after all!).

Short version: I rocked that creek to the best of my abilities! I finished in 2:11:05. End of story.

Long version: (I tend to be long winded and like to share ALL of the nitty gritty details that I can recall so here is that version)

I'm not a morning person. Even if I get plenty of sleep the night before, I do not enjoy the process of waking up. My alarm when off at 4:00...I think The Pilot jumped right out of bed. I, however, hit snooze multiple times and finally got up around 4:15. The morning was spent forcing myself to eat breakfast and checking and double checking my lists (I did NOT want a repeat of my practice tri a few weeks ago) We were on the road by 5:00 am. I drove so I could occupy my brain with driving instead of sitting in the passenger seat with nothing to do other than think about the race. The Pilot rode shot gun and entertained himself by taking pictures of the sunrise through the car mirrors.

We rolled up to Caesar Creek shortly after 6 am and the fussing began. I unloaded the bike and obsessively checked my wheels, brakes and bike computer (remember the computer didn't work last year?!) before heading to the transition to get body marked and to set up up my transition area. Transition set up went fine but I did have a somewhat comical exchange with the poor girl that did the body marking.

Girl: "What is your number?"
Me: "193." She starts for my right arm. "Does it have to be my right arm? I already put sunscreen on that arm. Last year you marked the left arm so I didn't put any sunscreen there."
Girl: "No, it has to be the right arm." Sigh. My number from last year pretty much slid right off my arm when I applied my sunscreen.

I'm about to walk away when the girl stoups down to my leg. Oh! They didn't mark the legs last year.

Girl: "How old are you?"
Me: "30." Ugh.
Girl: "What race are you doing?"
Me: "Sprint."
Girl: "No, which race?"
Me: " I at the wrong state park?"
Girl(clearly annoyed based on the slight teenage eye-roll that I MASTERED 15+ years ago, just ask my mother): "Triathlon or duathlon?"
Me (clearly a rocket scientist): "Oh, triathlon."

And of course The Pilot captured this short exchange.
I set up my transition area (which involved checking my bike computer again) and headed to the Team in Training tent to meet up with my team. Everyone was a complete bundle of nerves and it showed! We were all smiling but there was also a lot of nervous laughter. I'm still a little surprised at how nervous I was. I get nervous before any race, even if I've done the distance before but this felt different. I really think everyone else worrying about me was getting to my head. My friends and family were worried about me racing so close to the wedding. I think my mom was convinced that I was going to crash my bike and knock my teeth out or get road rash all over my face. That's a legitimate concern I supposed but I've never gone into a race feeling like I was in danger until this race!

This is my "Oh my gawd, I'm going to crash and burn on the ride" face.

Our coach encouraged us to do a warm up swim but it seemed like it was taking awhile for everyone to get moving in the same direction. I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin! Finally I gave up on waiting for everyone and The Pilot and I headed down to the beach. I'm not kidding you, as soon as I stepped into the lake, I completely relaxed. I waded out until I was about chest-deep and then enjoyed an easy swim out to the first buoy and back. The water was like a giant bath tub! It was so warm! It was still wetsuit legal (barely!) but I didn't even bother bringing my wet suit since I didn't get a chance to train in it and I was counting on the water being warm.

I am an Ironman! Now go get in the water, fools! ;)

Right before the start, we took a team photo.

8:00 am finally rolled around and it was time to get the show started! The sprint distance men headed into the water first and then the sprint distance women were right behind with the Olympic distance athletes following. I'm not sure why I didn't think of this but I was starting out right in the middle of the total field as opposed to the very back like last year when I did the Olympic distance. I didn't actually notice this until I got to the first buoy and the people behind me just keep coming. Last year, I was all alone for the entire first loop until the fast swimmers lapped me. I came into contact with a lot of feet and elbows this year. I just did my best to hold my own, swim straight and to keep my head in the water. This strategy worked for the most part until a beast of a man took a sharp turn into the side of me (what?) and knocked me in the side of the face with his arm. Woah! He knocked my goggles sideways. Luckily I can tread water like no other and I was able to get my goggles straightened out. In hindsight, I'm a little surprised that this didn't rattle me more than it did.

I came out of the water feeling a little winded but overall pretty good. I saw The Pilot right away, waved and then he waved to my brother and sister-in-law to let them know I was coming out of the water. Because I was in the thick of things, no one was able to keep track of me in the water (I guess that was the advantage of being one of the last swimmers last year, I was easy to spot!) I ran up the beach and found more of my cheerleaders. Some of my marathoners training with the TNT fall teams made the trek from C-bus to cheer for me and my teammates! I even ran right past my coach, who didn't see me because he later asked the marathoners if they knew where I was. I finished the swim faster than anyone, including myself, expected. I mentioned in my post the night before the race that I was shooting for a 21:00 minute swim. The time from the start until I got up to the timing mat at the entrance to the transition area: 21:01! YES!!

Thank you, Kim for capturing my smile as I ran out of the water! :)

I ran from the beach up to the transition entrance but as soon as my bare feet hit the parking lot, I was hobbling. :( The older I get and the more I train, the tighter my feet get. I have a heck of a time walking barefoot. And the gravely surface just made it even more painful. I literally hobbled to my rack and prepared for the bike. After seeing my 3:45 T1 time, one would think I was having a picnic in there. That is obviously something I need to work on. I felt like I was moving quickly but I had to rinse my feet off, try to put socks onto damp feet and then balance on my wobbly legs as I got into my cycle shoes. I also had to "run" in my cycle shoes out of transition to get to the bike mount line. I have enough trouble running in running shoes. This was my first race with these cycle shoes so I'm sure I looked pretty wobbly has I headed out of transition. I managed to get on my bike without incident and I was so excited to see I was leaving transition with so many other people! I was all alone by the time I left T1 last year.

Heading out of transition one. Hey, this is fun!
I headed out on the bike. I thought for sure I would start to feel a little panicked when I got the bike but I told myself I was going to give that bike course some hell. I was going to give it everything I had and redeem myself for the craptastic bike rides I had had over the past couple weeks. On a flat surface, without much wind, my cruising speed is a blazing 15 mph (insert sarcasm). Throw in some nasty hills and I want to roll right into a ditch and cry. My goals were to finish the bike in under 68 minutes and actually ride my bike the entire time, no walking up the hills. I made it all the way last year and I could do it again, the recent rides had shaken my confidence though. I got the boost I needed though on the very first major hill.

I was huffing and puffing, going about 5 mph in my granny gear when someone came up from behind me and asked me who Parker and Seth were. I glanced over my shoulder and saw a woman on a crazy fancy/fast triathlon bike. She slowed down and stayed there while I told her. This took some time and effort because my lungs were about to explode from that hill. But you know what, the distraction worked perfectly. I forgot how much it hurt, I got to the top and I got to share Parker and Seth's stories (the abbreviated versions obviously). The woman wished me luck and sped off. She was a complete stranger but she set the tone for the rest of my race. Parker and Seth were with me for the rest of the race. At least two other people mentioned my shirt on the ride alone!

I pedaled as hard as I could for the entire course. I recognize that I am slow and was barely moving up the hills but I felt like I was just attacking those hills! It was only on the last really hard climb did I doubt if I was going to make it without walking. I was in my granny gear again, plugging away, swerving all over the place when I could hear someone huffing and puffing behind me. Needing some encouragement myself, I just started to talk out loud. 'We're going to make it! We are going to get to the top of this hill without walking." I heard a very weak "Yes, we are" from my left side. A girl was slowly gaining on me. Just as we were about to make it to the top, she passed me and I caught a glimpse of her age on her leg. 15. What? I just got passed on a hill by a girl half my age. Part of me was thinking how awesome it was for a 15 year old to be doing a triathlon. Another part of me really didn't want to get beat by someone half my age. I wanted to take her down (in the nicest, most sportsman-like way of course). She had me on the few remaining hills but I was able to catch up and pass her on each downhill. We ended up coming into the transition area at the same time. I was able to dismount a little faster and ran into transition 2. My time for the bike you ask? Remember that 68 minute goal? I headed into transition 2 in 1:03:04! I felt so relieved that not only did I not crash and burn but I beat my goal by 5 minutes!

I knew I had beat my goal as I came down the hill into transition...
I don't always just smile while riding my bike.

I felt so strong coming off the bike. My heart rate was up so I slowed down in transition to let my heart rate come down before heading out for what I think is the hardest part of the race. My T2 time wasn't as bad at T1. I changed shoes, applied more sunscreen, ate a Shot Bloc and came out of T2 in 2:31.

My entourage had spread themselves out all over the transition area. I could hear them everywhere I went! Some were are the bike dismount line, some were yelling as I was in transition and there were more as I left T2. My favorite was my brother running up to me as I left the transition, carrying a folding chair, asking if I wanted to rest yet. If I had the energy, I might have smacked him. Just past him, I saw The Pilot running ahead to take pictures and then there was Lisa. Lisa is a run trainer with TNT and her energy amazes me. She did a brick workout with me awhile back and she knows just the right things to say to keep people moving! And she did just that on race day. As I headed out for the 3.1 mile run, she ran with me and told me how relaxed I looked. I don't think anyone has ever said that to me before (probably because I always look like I'm about to die during training/races) but it was the perfect thing to hear as I began the difficult run.

That's Lisa to my right. See the girl in the shorts and sports bra just in front of me? That's the 15-year-old. She just beat me out of transition but she was walking. As I came up behind her, I asked if she was really 15. She turned, smiled with a mouth full of braces and said yes. I told her she was awesome and thanked for for pushing me on the uphills on the bike....
and then I passed her. :)

This run course is by far, the WORST course I have ever raced on. I had to endure 2 laps of it during the Olympic tri last year and I thought I was going to die out on top of that levy. I think was even hotter than it was last year and the only thing going for me was that it wasn't so late in the morning when I finally got the run compared to last year. I tried really hard to make myself run the entire first mile. Your legs feel like lead when you come off the bike but after about a mile, they get with the program and start to work. I ended up taking a 1 minute walk break, just shy of the 1 mile mark. I dumped a cup of water of my head and got running again.

It's an out and back course so you can see everyone in front (and behind) you and it was so nice to see some of my teammates that were ahead of me. We each exchanged some encouraging words. I came up behind one of my teammates that I didn't know. She was walking and as I passed her, she asked if she could run with me, she just couldn't make herself run anymore. Sure! The more the merrier. I was really starting to feel the heat and sun and yelled back to her that we would make it to the turn around and then take a walk break. The coach in me came out and I really wanted her to succeed! We made it to the turnaround, took about a 2 minute walk break and then started to run again. She told me to go on without her. I didn't want to leave her but at the same time, I knew I could still reach my under 45 minute goal if I kept running. I told her to keep moving and ran on. I dumped more water over my head when I got back to the water stop and told myself that I could run the rest of the distance without stopping.

It was HARD! I was so hot and really wanted to walk but I kept going. Another person asked me who Parker and Seth were and I shared their stories as we came off the levy and headed back towards the beach (and the finish!). As I came out of the trees, I saw the entourage again! The Pilot and his dad were there also, taking pictures as Lisa jumped out to run with me. She told me she couldn't believe how relaxed I still looked. I wanted to kiss her. ...instead I made this face:
My marathon buddies, brother, sister-in-law, The Pilot's mom (and The Pilot who sprinted from the course around to the finish line to capture it all!) were at the finish line cheering me in. I knocked out the run in 40:42! I came across the finish line and felt ecstatic because even though I didn't know my finish time yet, I knew I had reached my individual goals. I also felt nauseous! I honestly left everything I had out on that course and that, on top of the heat left me feeling pretty fuzzy at the end.

After holding myself up on a tent pole for a few minutes and getting a bag of ice on my neck (THANK YOU LISA!), I came around and really could take in the moment. I was SO proud of myself. I think the major nerves and fear I was experiencing leading up to this race made me enjoy the accomplishment even more than last year. Despite the fears, I was able to make it all happen and finish with a smile (and for the record, I just barely beat the 15-year-old. If you look at the finish picture at the top of this post, you can see her right behind me. hehe).

One of the hardest working spectators out there! He's so great that I think I'll marry him!
And someone who can make an improvised cowbell is someone you should
stand beside for the rest of your life!

It was a great day! I had several teammates doing the Olympic distance so I waited with my marathon buddies and some of the sprint teammates for everyone to finish. I knew exactly what they were going through out there, especially when they finished their first 3.1 miles of the run and then had to circle back and do it again. I think the happiest part of my race (other than finishing) was when I got to the point where you have to turn right to the finish chute or left to do another lap on the run course. I was so thankful that I didn't have to do another lap! Don't get me wrong, I would definitely do another Olympic distance race, just not on this particular course. Know of any flat triathlon courses that are in the shade?? :)

Everyone on my team finished and thanks to our marathon team, we had an amazing cheer squad until the very end. That's what Team in Training is all about!

And how can you not love your TNT staff when they are willing to put on the TNT cheerleading costume??
Thank you, Nick, for supporting our Team from recruitment through the finish line!!

I also have to thank all of my donors. With their help, I was able to raise $1,400 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society! It all makes a difference and I am honored to have your support as I race to find cures for blood cancers.

Thank you to:

Jim and Karen
Lauren and David
Beth and Steve
Rosemary and Robin
Lisa and Dan
George and Judie


  1. Amber, you are SO inspiring!

  2. Fantastic race report! I love it when the coach in you comes out and then you have to realize your own goals, be there done that.

  3. What lake is that?

  4. Caesar Creek in Waynesville, OH