Even though I'm a month late in getting this race report written, the race still feels like it was yesterday. I signed up for Challenge AC very shortly after I completed Ironman Lake Placid not knowing if I was really ready for another one. But since I knew I could withdraw and get my entry fee back (nice perk by Challenge) I went for it. Before I knew it, October came around, I hired a new coach and we were off!
Coaching and personal training allowed me to set my own schedule for my training this time around and I think that made all the difference. Not having the stress from corporate America and actually getting sleep kept me on top of my game and feeling great. In fact, most of the time I didn't even feel like I was training for a 140.6. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all perfect. I had my moments of doubt and uncertainty but I trusted my coach and great training partner, Stacey, and pushed the negative thoughts aside.
Race week was here before I knew it. I arrived to Atlantic City on Friday afternoon, went to athlete check in and then attended the race meeting. I almost didn't go to the meeting since I've raced this distance before but I'm glad I did. It was communicated that there was NO bottle drop on the bike course. Racers were expected to get off their bikes at the aid stations and refill their bottles from carboys. Hunh?? What??? Needless to say, that caused quite the stir at the athlete meeting. After the meeting I had to run around to find extra water bottles since this was going to destroy my nutrition plan. From here on out, I will always attend the athlete meeting regardless of how familiar I feel with things.*
Storms were in the forecast all week but with each passing day, the bad weather moved up a day. Thank God it did because the storms that rolled through on Saturday definitely would have cancelled the race had they happen on Sunday. After I dropped off my bike Saturday morning and went for a nice long walk, I was off my feet just past noon. From the hotel window I watched the crazy weather wondering if my bike was surviving in transition.
Around 9am, lights out and off to bed. I had a decent night sleep considering I get nervous before races. Alarm went off at 4am and after making an iced coffee, I hopped in the shower. For the next 45 minutes I slowly went through the motions...body marking tattoos, sunscreen, breakfast, deep breaths, etc etc. We arrived to transition just after 5am and I was surprised to see how well the race committee cleaned it up. The night prior there were pictures of tents blown down, port o johns blown over, bikes off the racks, etc. I immediately went to check on my bike and was happy to see that aside from it being soaked, all was good.
After going through the set up motions, I milled around going in and out of the bathrooms. Race day nerves were in full effect. With about 15 minutes until the start, I got in my wet suit and headed for the swim start. Right on cue, I started to tear up. I cared, I was nervous, I wanted to get the day started and I was hoping and praying for the best.
Two loop swim with one length against the current. The first time it wasn't too bad and when I checked my watch at the half way point, I was at 35 minutes. Right on target for my typical 1:10 swim. At this point I wanted to push harder because I was feeling great. Unfortunately, on the second loop the current got even worse. I was swimming harder but not gaining any time for it. After I made the final turn to head towards the dock, the current was choppy and strong. With almost every breath I was taking on gross bay water and really struggling to stay on course. Andy said it looked like a cartoon out there with all the swimmers moving their arms but not moving any closer to the finish. I exited the water at 1:13...slower than my goal of 1:10.
I rode most of the course twice during course preview rides and knew what I was getting into. Flat with wind. I knew I had to stay in aero and more importantly, stay calm. My goal was to not let the wind frustrate me, which is always does. Once I'm frustrated, I spiral out of control mentally. The bike is my hardest leg. I seem to get into my own head and break down at some point. For this race, I decided to break the ride down by 10 miles and count down. So when I hit the 10 mile mark, I told myself I only had 9 more to go (yes, I know it's 112 miles but I knew once I got to 100, I would be fine). 8, 7, 6...before I knew it, I was at special needs and then mile 60. "Only 4 left!" I told myself. From there, the count down flew by. I was so focused during the entire ride, I never once let my mind get the best of me. My nutrition and mental game were 100% and I felt like a million bucks....except for my foot. My foot, which started bothering me the weekend before, was killing. Every stroke hurt and I knew the run was going to hurt even more. But I got off the bike smiling, so happy to be back at transition and ready to finish my day! Bike was 6:08:59 and 9 minutes off my goal time.
My happy place!! But OUCH. OUCH. "How am I going to finish a marathon right now?" That's all I was thinking as I exited transition. My foot hurt so badly. Every single step hurt. But this was my day, I had to stay dialed in and determined. My goal for the marathon was to start off easy at a 9:30ish pace and to walk each water stop for 30 steps or so. I stuck to my pacing and nutrition plan like clockwork and even though I was in pain, the miles were flying by. Just past the half way point, I saw Andy and I stopped to walk with him. Not because I needed to walk but because I was having such an incredible day that I wanted to tell him about it. After what was too long of a walk break, I gave him a kiss and took off running. As the miles ticked away, I still felt incredible. I was passing people and knew I was in the front of the pack for my age group. My coach told me after mile 18 I could do whatever I wanted and to go for, it so that's what I did. My last 5-6 miles were the strongest of my race. My foot was worse than when I started but the smile on my face and determination in my heart pulled me through. I wanted this so badly! My run was 4:06:41 which again, was slower than my goal of a 4hr run.
My final time was 11:37:18 which was an hour PR. I ended up 5th female overall and 1st in my age group. Not too shabby. I missed each of my goals by a few minutes but based on how great of a day I had, I'm ok with it.
Were there things I would have done different? Like not take that long walk break with Andy? Not stop at special needs on the bike? Yes. But each one of these races is a learning experience and I learned a lot. I'm walking away from this one knowing I executed perfectly. Nutrition was spot on. Mental game was 110%. I had the strongest 140.6 so far and if I could bottle up what I felt on 28JUN, I would. There WILL be another one because this last one confirmed that this is the distance for me.
*Within an hour post meeting, Race Director had this resolved. Close call that really should never have been an issue. Hopefully Challenge won't do this again.