Thursday, September 29, 2011

Memorial SportsCare Women's Biathlon 2011

Pre-race thoughts:  Going into this race, I was having a hard time figuring my goal paces.  I ran after biking in the triathlon two months ago for the first time, and it was just awful.  That was also after swimming for 20 minutes. 

Two weeks before the biathlon, Shane and I did a brick run.  A brick is a bike/run combo, simulating race conditions.  It can be shorter than the race, but since the race is a sprint, we did the whole thing:  12 miles on a bike and a 5K run.  It didn't go that bad.  As usual, I hated the biking part.  I was struggling to keep up with Shane who had gotten used to riding while pulling Jocelyn in a bike trailer.  The first couple of miles averaged over 17 mph, and that is way fast for me.  My usual biking runs average around 15.5 mph.  I felt a bit demoralized, but Shane slowed up and started coaching me a little. 

After the biking, we took off running.  I forgot how awful my legs would feel!  I've learned that the sensation of these heavy stumps is caused from the blood still going to the muscles that I used to bike while using different muscles to run.  It will take several minutes for the blood to redirect to the correct muscles.  Until then, I'm stuck feeling like I'm stomping my feet on the pavement with legs seemingly filled with concrete.  However, when it was all said and done, at the end of the run, I had extra in me to finish strong.  I averaged a respectable pace.  I can do this!

Unfortunately, I barely got on the bike again for the following two weeks.  That wasn't smart. 

After much deliberation, I set goal paces:  biking at or above 17 mph (doable, right?) and running at an 8:30 pace.  I think I can, I think I can!

Race Day

I got up and looked outside.  I couldn't see much further than 10 feet away.  A thick fog had moved in.  This should make for an intesting bike ride.  I checked the weather, and it was 42 degrees outside.  The humidity is probably 99%.  I wasn't even sure how to dress.  I knew what I would wear for running only, but I think it will be cold on that bike!

I settle on layers that I know I can strip off easily once the biking is done.  I gather my things, get my bike strapped to the car, and we head off.  Shane drops me off at the race location and then takes Jocelyn to my mom's house.  Mom's going to watch her so Shane can practice his sports photography and document this thing for me.

I pick up my timing chip, get my number written on my leg and continue to the bike rack.  I set up my bike and walk around to look for anyone I know.  At first I see no one, which is so strange because I know about ten people who participated last year.  I end up only seeing one person I know.   Someone I used to work with years ago.

We see Josh Hester, a talented photographer/videographer we know from church.  He works for Memorial and is covering the event.  We also run into Dave Anderson who is also taking some photos for his freelance work, Perfect Concept Photography.  Dave is talented as well.  Shane is going to work with him to pick up some pointers.

Starting line:  off we go!
After the national anthem, we all head to the transition area and the first group is called.  I am in wave three.  I nervously stand near my bike and chat with a few of the other ladies.  We hear the cheers for the first wave.  My stomach jumps a little.  The second wave is setting up, so we take our bikes off the racks and head out of transition. 

We line up on Koke Mill Road.  They count down to starting, and we are off!  I start near the front of the pack on the right side.  I pass several ladies, and several others are passing me.  I try to settle into a rhythm, check my GPS, and realize I forgot to start it.  I hit the start button.  I probably only got about a quarter of a mile down the road.  I felt like I was going fast, and my watch showed my speed above 17 mph.  Nice.  This is my goal pace! 

Then a funny thing happens--I realize that the same starting line adrenaline and speed rush I get at the start of running races just occured.  As I enter into the second mile, I am struggling to maintain a speed anywhere near 17 mph.  I don't have any type of rhythm and my breathing is all over the place.  The fog is still very thick on the country roads and processing oxygen seems to a struggle as well.  My lungs are working harder to take the moisture out of the air.

So far the course has been fairly flat, but the hills are coming.  We are beginning to run into the congestion of slower bikers from the waves before us.  Right before the first hill, someone from my wave passes me.  She's on a mountain bike, and it kind of irks me.  I'm on a road bike (so much lighter and meant for racing!) and I'm in decent shape, so I think that I should be able to keep up with anyone who is not on a road bike.  Wrong.  I pass her back up later.  She passes me up again.  We would do this several times through the ups and downs of the hills and turns that make up this course.  Did I tell you that I HATE hills while biking?  And that I HATE this biking course?!  This is killing me!

I keep pushing the hardest I feel I can go, but I keep finding my pace well below my goal pace of 17 mph.  Actually, I am rarely hitting a pace faster than 15 mph.  I feel frustrated because I usually average over 15 mph on my regular evening bike rides.  This is a race!  I should be able to go faster!

At times, the congestion of bikers on the narrow country roads have me hitting the brakes and coming to a near stand-still.  I applaud each and every one of these ladies for getting out here and doing this.  I know that for many of them, finishing the race is the only goal.  I just wish I didn't feel so rude weaving through them.  There's also cars driving on the course since it's not closed to traffic.  Most of the drivers were extremely courteous and stayed very slow.  However, some went roaring by, as if they were annoyed by the bike traffic.  A minvan from hell forces me to pass another biker on the right shoulder, which could have easily caused an accident.

After several frustrating miles, the final frustration arrives--West Washington Street.  I know these hills from running them last year during the Frostbite Festival (to read that experience, click here).  Big hills.  Massive hills.  There are several of them right in a row with each one getting successively larger.  The last one is a KILLER.  I push as hard as I can while trying to find the right gears.  I'm being passed.  I'm passing others.  I'm winded.  I'm struggling.  I'm in pain.  I'm hating every second of this.  I'm praying that God gets me to the top of this hill without falling over off my bike from going too slow. 

I made it!  I finally make it to the top! I know that was the worst of the hills. I can't remember how many more there would be.  My legs are hurting.  My lungs are hurting.  I feel like cruising around eight mph pace or so, but I can't.  I'm not done yet.  There's still two miles to go!

There's a few more modest hills on West Washington.  I see my friend Karen on the side of the road at the entrance of her subdivision ringing her cow bell and supporting everyone going by.  I yell hi to her, and she cheers for me.  Almost at this very moment, my left calf seizes up in a cramp.  It was like I quit pushing for a minute and the tendons tightened up.  It was as bad of a cramp as I can remember.  I push through it.  I had just passed a couple of ladies, but the cramp forced me to slow way down, and then I was just in their way.  I yell "sorry" as they pass me right back up.  Oh, it hurts so bad!

I continue on, looking at my watch which tells me I don't have far to go.  We turn on to Koke Mill Road, and I'm staring at the last hill.  I push as hard as my sore calf would take me.  There's also a ligament on the back of that knee that hates me as well.  I keep pushing and make it to the top.  A volunteer yells out that it's all downhill from here.  I pray he's not joking!

The transition area comes into sight!  Volunteers are directing traffic.  I get to the dismount area grateful that I am able to get off the bike. 

Official biking results:  Time 49:02.45. Average speed 14.7 mph. 60th place.

I walk my bike into the transition area.  It isn't too crowded.  My legs are feeling like jello--very heavy jello.  I feel like I'm walking in slow motion, so I pick it up to a slow trot with my bike.  I park it in my spot, take off my helmet, fleece, and I'm off!

Transition:  00:44.50.  19th place in transition.  =)

The running is bittersweet.  It is my strongest event, yet I feel so awkwardly unprepared due to my biking legs.  I stomp (it feels like stomps, at least) my way down Koke Mill.  The run begins on a sidewalk--a very narrow sidewalk.  There is a lot of people traffic.  There are walkers and runners of all paces heading down the walk.  It's way too crowded, and I think I'm going to twist an ankle while trying to pass on the grass.  I still feel like I have "sea" legs.  I could trip on my own feet at this moment very easily without the extra help of switching between grass and sidewalk.  A few others and I move out into the street, running down the side of the road.  This gives us a little more room to go a comfortable pace without feeling like we are runing someone down.

Mile 1: 8:36 pace, respectable.

I am counting the seconds as they tick by so slow.  I want my legs to feel better soon!  I look at my GPS and I'm pleasantly surprised that I'm hovering around my goal pace already.  It's so hard to judge your pace when you just got off a bike going 15 mph and your legs don't feel normal.  I keep my pace up the best I can.  My legs are really tired, but at least they are starting to feel more normal.

I'm feeling the spring come back in my step and begin passing people.  I check on my pace from time to time, and I'm staying on goal.  When my GPS finally chimes out mile 2, I feel like I have an eternity to go.  That can't just be two miles.  Come on, Tammy.  Just 1.1 miles left.  You can do it!

Mile 2: 8:37 pace.

I'm starting to feel weak in this last mile.  I find myself wishing I had my music.  This is when I would crank my iPod to push me through.  Most biathlons and triathlons prohibit having them on the course for safety reasons.  I miss my music!  I keep pushing past my mom's house, down to the corner and back around to Old Jacksonville Road.  I know that I'm close now! 

Photo courtesy of
We're back on a skinny sidewalk for a short distance before we hit the parking lot of the Koke Mill Medical Center.  The finish line is in the parking lot just up ahead.  My watch rings out mile three is done, and I start to run with everything I have left.  I can push hard for a 10th of a mile.

Mile 3:  8:28 pace

I turn the corner in the parking lot toward the finish line and run as fast as I can.  My legs still have a little left in them, and I feel like I finish strong.  I run across that finish line through a crowd of people. 

I am done!  Hallelujah!

Official 5K time:  26:13.85, 8:27 pace, 24th place.

Overall Finish:  1 hour and 16 minutes on the nose.  28th place overall.

While I am disappointed with my biking time, I am happy with my overall performance and my run.  My running pace was three seconds per mile faster than my goal.  I can handle that.  So, my post-race thought is if I want to do this again, I seriously need to work on my biking.  I bought that pretty bike, and it really needs to do more than lean up against a wall in my living room.  I need to learn how to spin.  I need to get past loathing the biking, and start to enjoy the experience. 

Look, I'm smiling (kind of).

This time a year ago, I felt the same way about running as I do biking right now.  I didn't enjoy running a year ago.  It was a challenge and a means to an end.  Now, I love the experience of running.  I love the feeling that I get during and after a great run.  Hopefully in time, I'll feel the same way about biking. 

The rest of the day, when I should have been recovering, I was spending time on my feet with my daughter at an apple orchard. By bedtime, I was walking funny and had severe pains in my legs and calves.  My left achilles was aching.  I also had a wet cough for hours as my lungs tried to get rid of the water I breathed in all morning.  I felt rough, but I would recover eventually.  I spent the evening on the couch with my husband fixing dinner and pampering me.  I'm one lucky girl.  ;)

This was a fun event regardless of my whining about things. I'm glad I did it and set the bar for improvement when I do it again next year!

Click here to watch Memorial's video montage of the event.  I didn't make the final cut.

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