Monday, September 26, 2011

ChesapeakeMan Ultra Distance Triathlon

Let me just start this race report by saying I'M A MOTHER F'ING IRONMAN! Okay, now that I've got that out of my system...


Rusty picked me up at about 1 PM in DC, and we started the drive to Cambridge, MD, which is an hour or two away. We hit heavy rain, construction, accidents--you name it, and it slowed us down. We didn't get to Cambridge until 4 PM, so we went straight to the hotel to check in and then straight to a restaurant to eat a big meal.

I had a ginormous calzone with veggies and no cheese at the pizza place next door to our hotel. Delish! I couldn't eat the whole thing, but I gave it my best effort! A lot of the research I did on pre-ironman eating suggested eating your biggest meal around 4 PM the day before the race so that it has adequate time to digest before the race. The strategy worked well for me--I didn't have any stomach issues that night or in the morning.

After dinner, we headed to the race hotel to check in and attend the course briefing. Check in was fast and efficient. The expo was super-small, though! They had just a couple vendors. All race-day necessities were there--CO2 cartridges, tubes, gels, chews, powders, body lubes, etc.--but there were a lot fewer extras like clothes, keychains, and coffee mugs like they have at Ironman-brand events.

I only bought one thing at the expo, and I only bought it because they kind of left us no other option.

A Rack Jacket is a cover for the top of your bike made out of ripstop nylon. It has drawstrings and velcro on the bottom side of it to keep it tight around the top of your bike. It protects your bars and seat from water damage, and it also keeps water out of your head tube and off of your cycle computer. It was forecast to rain all night, and we weren't allowed to use plastic bags to cover our bikes because they inevitably blow away and litter the area. Rack Jacket it was!

After checking in and purchasing my Rack Jacket, Rusty and I went to the course briefing. It was very helpful and very laid back, and we were able to ask a lot of questions. If you don't usually go to course briefings, I highly recommend going. I learned a lot of useful tips, and it really helped to settle my nerves!

We left the course briefing and went to the swim start, which was also the site of the swim-to-bike transition (T1).

Seriously, you can't take a scientist anywhere. He's already looking for bugs in the water.

We took my bike to the mandatory bike and helmet inspection and got the green light to get ahead and rack it. I put on the Rack Jacket, racked the bike, and then headed back to the hotel to pack my transition bags and get some sleep! I drank a bottle of water, repacked all of my bags, and it was lights out at 9 PM. That's not to say I went to sleep at 9 PM, but I certainly tried! A lot of my research also suggested getting a good night's sleep two nights before the race because you probably won't sleep well the night before. Very true. Definitely worked for me.


Alarm went off at 4 AM, and I was up and ready to go! I immediately scarfed a whole-wheat English muffin with peanut butter and a banana. Although a lot of websites suggested consuming only liquids on race day, I didn't think I could make it without a little solid food in the morning. I had had good luck with English muffins, PB, and bananas in the past, so I knew I'd be okay. Just a quick shower, and then we were out the door!

We stopped at the bike-to-run transition (T2) at the high school to drop off my T2 bag, and then we headed to swim start.

It was about o'dark thirty when we got to swim start. Specifically, it was 5:30 AM. I was glad to have gotten there so early, though. There was no line for body marking or for the port-a-pots, which was super-nice. The line for the port-a-pots was so long later that it ended up delaying the race by 2 minutes. No joke! I was glad to get in and out without waiting in line at all.

I took the Rack Jacket off my bike, made some last minute adjustments, pumped up the tires, and put my fuel bottles in the cages.

I coated myself in BodyGlide, wiggled into my wetsuit, dropped the BodyGlide into my T1 bag, and handed the bag off to a volunteer.

The bags were on racks in numerical order so that a volunteer could hand us our bag after we ran out of the swim exit. After they hand you your bag, you head to a changing tent where you kit up for the bike. You put your wetsuit and swim gear back into the bag, and then the volunteers deliver it to the finish for you to pick up with your bike. We had the option of laying stuff out next to our bike as well, but I opted to put everything in my bag.

In my T1 bag: small towel (a golf towel is the perfect size), bike shoes, bike socks, race belt, Garmin, sunglasses, helmet, bug spray, BodyGlide, and chapstick. I had my bike clothes on under my wetsuit, and I was pretty sure it would be hot enough to leave the arm warmers at home. All in all, I was happy with what I packed.

"Bug spray?", you ask. Yes, bug spray. Some serious, high-DEET Jungle Juice. Part of the bike ride was through the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge, which is, in fact, a swamp, and the race director said that if you blow a tire out there, you have about 30 seconds before you get devoured by mosquitoes. That's not a fun way to be before a marathon!

Rusty and I chatted and people-watched while we waited for the race to start.

Around 6:55 AM we sang the national anthem, and then it was time for all triathletes to get in the water!

I kissed Rusty goodbye and floated out to the buoys.

The starting line was between the two white buoys. The water was shallow enough that we could stand while we waited, and the bottom was course sand. The horn blew at 7:02 AM, and we were off!

The course was two loops around a misshapen rectangle with two very long sides and two very short sides. The water was brackish, dark, and dirty, and there was almost zero visibility. It was hard to see my own hands in the water while I was swimming! All sighting definitely had to be done above the surface. Going out on the first long side, the water was pretty calm. It was a little choppy, but that's to be expected when you're swimming with about 500 of your closest friends! I made the turn at the end of the first long side and then at the end of top side, and I was feeling pretty good. Coming back on the other long side, though, it got tough. The waves starting hitting us on our left sides, which made navigation pretty tricky. It also makes you feel kind of seasick! I had to keep telling myself that you don't finish any faster by panicking; you finish faster by moving your goshdarn arms and swimming through that mess. After I rounded the corner after the second long side I was back in the shallow area, and we all kind of waded to the next buoy, catching our breath and waving to our spectators. The waves were bad going back out on the first long side again, but after I rounded the turn at the end of the first long side for the second time, the water calmed down a lot, and I cruised to the swim finish.

That's me. In the front. With the arm.

It took me about 1:30 to finish the swim, and I was so happy to get out of the water! We exited up a boat ramp, which was SUPER-slippery, and volunteers called out our numbers so that other volunteers could hand us our T1 bags.

I had grand plans to relax in transitions and take my time, being I had no real time goal for the race except to finish, but that just didn't happen. I was not all together mentally when I got to T1, and I just went through the motions that I had gone through in my head over and over and over in the past few weeks. Wetsuit off, goggles off, cap off, socks and shoes on, race belt on, Garmin on, helmet and sunglasses on, a little BodyGlide, a little chapstick, a little Jungle Juice, and out the door to my bike. I was out in about 6 minutes.

All smiles when I jumped on the bike!

The first part of the bike course was an out-and-back. Like the rest of the course, it was flat, fast, and oh-so-tempting to just fly on. So, I did. Oops. I knew I'd go out too fast on the bike, and I totally did, despite my best efforts to slow the hell down. Around the 25-mile point, I was averaging about 17 mph and felt pretty amazing! I held it up for awhile, but around the 50-mile point, I started losing steam.

At one point in the refuge, the road was underwater for a few tenths of mile, and that was not only hard to bike though (it was almost a foot deep in some places!) but it also soaked my shoes and socks, which made biking uncomfortable. Additionally, after the water, there were a few miles of really poor quality roads, and then about 10 miles or so that were straight into 11 mph winds. By the time I hit the high school and the special needs tent at the 65-mile point, I was a little demoralized, and my average speed had dropped to about 16.4. I didn't pack a special needs bag, so I just moved a fuel bottle from my under-the-seat cage to my down-tube cage (I was fueling with watered-down Hammer gel, mixed in bottles, 100 calories every 20 minutes), kissed Rusty goodbye, and headed out for another (shorter) loop.

My goal on the next loop was just to keep my legs spinning in smooth, even circles. Not push!push!push!push!, but smooooooooth, round, even circles. I had done training rides up to 6 hours, and, just like clockwork, after 6 hours, my body started rejecting the bike. The last hour and some change were brutal! My neck seized up, and I could barely turn my head. My butt was killing me, and even my knees were complaining! It was hard to stay positive, but I remembered that Rusty would be there at the end, and I'd be able to change my clothes and spend some time on my feet once I got to T2. I just had to finish the bike! Through the water again, over the bad roads again, into the wind again, and then I was done. 112 miles. Holy crap.

Again, I meant to take my time in T2, but I just went through the motions again. In my T2 bag: small towel, run socks (Injinjis), run shoes, run shorts, sports bra, t-shirt, visor, BodyGlide, chapstick. The only thing I wished I had had in T2 was another bottle of Jungle Juice to spray myself down with. I had sweated off most of the Jungle Juice that I applied in T1, and the mosquitoes were brutal on the run!

Oh, the run...

There was no way that I should have been running. It's just not human and just not natural, but I was doing it. I was running! It wasn't fast, certainly, and I stopped to walk every once in awhile, but I ran most of the marathon. Triumph of the human spirit? Lack of remaining sanity? Indomitable pride? I think it was all three. I ran better and further during the last leg of my ironman than I have in most of training runs. It's mind-blowing and life-changing, seeing what your body can do when you push it.

That's not to say it was easy--it was brutal at times. The course was three eight-ish-mile out-and-backs. The first out-and-back wasn't too terrible, but when I got to the finish area to turn around and saw Rusty, I realized I had two more laps to go, and that was kind of disheartening. The second lap was okay--I jogged with a guy named Brian for most of it, and that help pass the time--but it started to get dark on the way back in, and the mosquitoes got brutal. The mosquitoes were approximately the size of small birds, and they kept getting stuck to the quarter-inch-thick layer of BodyGlide, sweat, marsh water, bug spray, and more sweat on my arms and legs. They weren't all biting me, but still annoying nonetheless. And, when I say dark, I mean DARK. Black. No lights, middle of the swamp. I could barely see the road I was running on, and they gave us glow-stick necklaces so that cars wouldn't hit us. Yikes.

Once I started the last lap, though, I knew that I was going to finish. Even if I slowly walked the whole final loop, I would finish well before the 17-hour cutoff time. If I jogged at least have of it, I would make it under 16 hours. Knowing that, it was easy to keep moving. There was no pressure. Throughout the run I took in a gel every 2 miles and a cup of water at each aid station--there was an aid station about every mile--and I kept that up through all three loops.

The race clock said 15:41 when I ran over the timing mat.

I can't believe I'm an ironman! Holy crap! I got my ginormous medal and sat down for a minute while everyone fluttered around getting me things and talking to me slowly like I might be retarded. "Hiiiii. Con gra tu la tions! Here, I'm going to put this cold towel on your neck... What do you neeeeeed?" Fair enough. I might be retarded. I just did an ironman.

Rusty came and congratulated me, and we walked to the high school's gym where they were giving free massages. The massage was amazing! I'm pretty sure that's the only reason I'm walking today! Bless the masseuses giving free massages. They had to touch some nasty bodies. When I walked up to the table the masseuse asked me, "Do you want to take off your shoes?" I asked him, "Do YOU want me to take off my shoes?" He laughed and said he had smelled so many nasty feet today that he was sure mine wouldn't be shocking.

The locker rooms in the gym were open for people who wanted to take showers, but I just wanted to go home. Rusty and I started heading back to DC. We got a couple miles away, and then I decided I was hungry, so we stopped at a Denny's. Turns out I wasn't hungry, but the highlight of my night was the waitress doing an imitation of one of the other triathletes who had come to eat there earlier. When she saw me, she said, "Oh! You must have done that race today!" I asked her if other athletes had been in, and she said, "There was a guy in here earlier with funny socks that came up to his knees, and he had a bandage here [she pointed to her neck], an ice pack taped here [she pointed to right knee], and he was walking like this [she leaned back with her hands on her lower back like she was pregnant and walked slowly, kind of swinging her hips and barely bending her knees]." It was spot on.

Hope everyone's having a happy race season! I have a 10K this weekend, so I'll be reporting again soon. :)


  1. Congratulations girl! Sounds like you had an awesome experience... you are an an ironman!

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  3. congrats. ironman is tough

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  7. Not sure how I found your blog, but thanks for a great race report! I'm doing IM FL in 2014 so I enjoyed learning some of your tips. ~ Janie