Friday, October 12, 2012

Last Tri of the Season....Poconos 70.3 Race Report

Pocono Mountains
I am actually writing this race report just a few days after my race…new record! Well, I tried…I wrote half of this report a few days after my race but it is now over a week and I’m just finishing. I had good intentions!
I haven’t been a very good blogger since I started my blog for several reasons: 1) It just takes time and I don’t take time out to write a whole lot 2) Sometimes it’s hard to put your personal experiences out there for everyone to read. Blogging is a great way to reflect on your experiences and to keep friends and family up-to-date and hopefully a little entertained. I write in hopes that I can keep friends and family inspired and/or motivated in their own healthy endeavors and to give others an idea of what a certain course is like in case they are looking to do that same race in years to come. This is how I’ve learned about many races I’ve done in the past!
I have learned over the years that you can continue to do well in this sport with great determination, dedication, a good life balance and most importantly a humble approach! I have had many humbling experiences over the years and continue to learn, grow and be inspired by the many great athletes I meet, from the new triathlete to the elite. We all have good and bad days or even good and bad seasons. This season I feel like I personally had more down’s than up’s and I’m truly thankful to have had the race I had at Poconos 70.3. It reminded me of why I do this sport and the importance of keeping things in perspective and to not lose site of the most important thing….have fun while doing something you love and leading a healthy life!
Why Poconos?

Well, I had signed up for the National Harbor 70.3 which was to be held the beginning of August in the swamplands of DC. I have to say, I am happy this got canceled because I really could not have suffered through another HOT race this year. I had to figure out another 70.3 race to do that was within driving distance.  So, I went to the Poconos 70.3 website to read through the course information. Last year the swim had been canceled because of water contamination and I had heard horror stories about the bike course. This year, the swim and bike course had been completely revamped. The swim was in the spring fed-lake at the former Tamiment Resort and Golf Club, the bike course didn’t have as many crazy steep climbs and was mapped out on better roads, and the run course remained the same. Plus, I had never been to the Pocono Mountains and heard it was beautiful!
Pre Race
Ron and I left for PA Saturday morning and decided to take the more scenic route rather than going 95 most the way. This is one of those races that you need to read through the entire athlete guide and figure out logistics ahead of time because T1 and T2 were in different places which required a lot of driving around the day before the race. I got my bike checked out at check-in to be sure my wheels were on properly. I borrowed a sweet set of Zip 808’s from my good friend, TrevorAlbert. Thanks again Trevor! It made me want a set of race wheels ever more but not sure that’s happening anytime soon. While I was running around one of the vendors asked Ron what my bento box on my bike was for. He said, “Oh you know it’s to store food in….like peanut butter sandwiches, ham and cheese, maybe even some beef brisket.” The guy didn’t know how to take Ron and of course Ron being in his jokester mood held a complete straight face the whole time. Then I show up and the guy is looking at me like I’m crazy or something. When we walked away Ron told me the story. Ha! No wonder the guy was confused. He thought I was going to have this big ol feast on the bike!
After dropping my bike off, Ron and I drove the course. I like to do this now for any of the longer distances I race so I’m mentally prepared the next day. We had been in the car for quite some time that day so when we drove by a bakery with about 15 miles of driving to go, Ron wasted no time at all to pull over and get some apple pie! He deserved it spending his Saturday doing my boring race prep with me. Next stop was T2 where I dropped off my running bag and then it was time to meet up with our friend, Melanie, to eat a delicious pasta dinner.
Race Day
Rather than messing with the shuttle to the start line, Ron told us that he would drive Melanie and me to the lake. There were only 100 parking spots and by time we got there all the spots were taken. So, Ron drove out to the bike course to find a spot to cheer us on. It’s a good thing he drove us because the race ended up getting delayed a few minutes because a few of the shuttles had gotten delayed. One pre-race stressor avoided! The delay was much appreciated since there were only 20 bathrooms for over 1000 people! I was standing in line and still had to pump my tires, put on my wetsuit and drop off my morning clothes bag!
 I think one of the most painful parts of the race was walking on rocks, barefoot to get to the swim start! Here’s a tip for those of you doing this race next year: buy cheap flip flops to wear to the start and then toss. It will save you from some very cold, sharp pain on the bottom of your feet! Once I got to the start, I ran into Caroline, whom I had met at book club where fellow Snapple DC Tri teammate, Mindy Ko had introduced us. Nerves are high before any race start and it was nice to bump into her, chat and try to forget about being nervous for a bit.

The water temperature was a chilly 64 degrees so I opted for my long sleeved Xterra wetsuit. We started in the water so had a few minutes to adjust to the temperature. Once we were off and I put my head in the water, I was relieved to find that you see could far enough ahead to pick out feet to draft off of. All my swims this year have been in dark, murky water which I think tends to mess with me mentally. I got into my groove quickly, was surprised the cold water didn’t really affect me and noticed that I was fairly calm. Right away I found feet to draft off of. I lost her for a bit and could tell someone was actually drafting off of me. What?! That never happens! I think this same girl sped up a bit after the turn around so then I started to draft off of her until the last 100 meters when she sped up. This felt amazing and I actually enjoyed the swim! I had the fastest 1.2 mile swim ever! I looked at my watch and couldn’t believe that it read 33 minutes. That’s about 5 minutes faster than my last half Ironman swim.  I do think the swim was a bit short because I’ve read some of my other friend’s race reports and they also had their fastest swim ever. But, hey I’ll take it! I know being able to see feet to draft and the long sleeved wetsuit definitely played into my time as well. I usually can’t keep up with the fast swimmers to draft and lose them right away. I’m not going to be so timid at the start of the swim from now on so I can find those feet right away!!
My swim set the tone for the rest of the race. I had a huge smile on my face when I exited the water and was ready to get on the bike. It was a decent distance from the swim exit to T1 and before leaving transition you had to make sure that all of your swim gear was in your bike gear bag or it would not be brought back to the finish line. Everyone was in the same boat, so the T1 times were slower.
Swim Time – 33:50
The bike leg started with a long, fast four mile decent. Weeeee! This is a great way to start and gives the heart rate a chance to go down a bit from the swim and rush onto the bike. Speaking of heart rate….my heart rate monitor did not work correctly the entire race!  I have had some major problems with the ‘new and improved’ Garmin heart rate strap. I do not get the need for companies to continuously feel they have to change and upgrade their products all the time when they work perfectly fine the way they are. I had NO issues last season when I was using the hard strap that came with my Garmin when I purchased it. After awhile, it’s just inevitable that straps get nasty, smelly and rinsing them out just doesn’t work anymore. So, I was forced to buy the new strap. Anyway, it was just really weird because during the bike, my HR was reading at a resting state the whole time and then on the run it was reading like I was maxing out. Of course, neither one of the readings were true. Luckily, I’ve done several half Ironman races and know my body well enough to keep from racing too hard. I went strictly on how I felt this race!
Back to the bike…after the long decent, you go out nine miles and then come back in for ten before the rolling hills start to greet you. During this time, you get rolling hills until the end. There were a few short steep climbs where I had to get out of the saddle and a few times where I did not think I needed to gear down and it ended up being steeper than I thought so had to stand up. During this portion of the course, I saw the beautiful foliage and mountains, deer running along the side the road in a field (luckily they stayed there and did not venture out to the road!) and a sinkhole in the road. A grumpy woman had informed Ron and I the day before when we drove the course that the sink hole was there. She went on and on about how she could not believe they would make part of the race course on that road. I was starting to get a bit worried that there would be tacks in the road the next day. No tacks luckily! I also saw this same woman sitting in her front yard watching the race so guess she got over her anger about the course.
They had made a wooden pass through over the sinkhole where we had to go single file. It was not crowded so it did not slow me down too much. Then late on, at the top of one of the climbs, I saw a creepy Criminal Minds unsub type of man. He had on some big safety goggles, held a leaf blower and stared out at the riders with a killer look on his face. Seriously, it was scary looking but actually made me crack up after I had passed. The theme song to Criminal Minds got in my head ‘do do doooo do’. Ok so if you do not watch Criminal Minds you probably have no idea what I am talking about but it gave me a nice chuckle. I was just having a blast and taking it all in! Luckily, all that man had in his hands was a leaf blower!
I did not see many women until about mile 40. I had finally caught up to the faster swimmers and started to see several women in my age group around mile 50. I saw Caroline and she was looking strong. Over a mile from the finish, I had to swerve around a 19 year-old who was trying to clip out of his shoes too early and was weaving around the road.  This is why you practice this technique before you  race!
In T2 I struggled just a bit to get my long sleeved jersey off over my Garmin, but that was the only delay. I was anxious to see how my legs would feel on the run.
Bike Time – 2:42:33

I’m including my run from my Garmin because the Garmin shows the true run course. I was warned about this run but the race website didn’t really explain that there were several hills that were about a mile long! Don’t pay attention to the heart rate. It was way off and not working most the time!

How I felt the whole race!
Throughout the entire run I was running with mainly men from the 40 and up age groups since they were in the swim wave ahead of me. When I got to the first hill, I got a feel for how my run would go and luckily…my legs showed up for a good run! The first half I passed a few more women in my age group along with some women in the two age groups up from mine. Several times women said to me as I passed, “Oh good you’re not in my age group!” I gave them a thumbs up and encouraged each woman I passed. This course is an out and back so I kept watching for anyone in my age group coming back on the other side of the road. I saw all the pro women including Beth Schutt, who was looking strong and raced to 3rd! Once I got to the turn-around I was pretty stoked….I didn’t think I saw anyone in my AG ahead of me and I was actually first in my AG! That has never happened in a half Iron distance race so I didn’t want to get too excited and jynx myself.  After about a mile or so I started to see a few girls in my AG. I knew they were most likely too far back to catch me, but I didn’t want to let myself think I didn’t need to keep up with my pace. You never know when there’s some sub 7 minute mile runner trying to reel you in. On the way back in I also so several DC Tri and Snapple Club members and cheered them on. It was nice to see some people from DC! I saw Melanie on her way to the finish, and she told me to go get that championship slot. Thanks for the encouragement Mel! I just couldn’t believe that I was feeling so good on this run!  Even the long hills did not bother me. Sure they slowed me down a little but didn’t seem to bother my legs much. With about three miles to go I passed a 60 year old man who said to me with a chuckle, “You know this isn’t a 5k right?” I just smiled and told him I just want to see that finish line!
There was one shorter steep hill before mile 11 and then it was pretty flat the last two miles. I could hear the announcer as I got closer and just started to kick it in. I heard Ron cheer me on and I had a huge smile on my face as I ran down that last block. Wow, had I really won my age group?! Ron ran up to me, confirmed my place and gave me a big hug. I cried tears of joy and was just in awe! We later found out that I was the 3rd amateur woman.
Run Time – 1:36:51
Total – 4:58:45
The few weeks leading up to this race I finally felt my body peak the way it is supposed to. I have not felt this going into any of my races this year. Coach Mackenzie had asked me a few days before the race how I was feeling and if I was ready for the race. I told her, “I feel giddy and am so excited to race. Finally!” Yes, I said giddy. It’s weird how you just know when your body is ready to go and you have this gut feeling that the day will go well. I had this feeling at Ironman Louisville and it was nice to finally feel it again. I was thankful that everything fell into place…excellent weather, smooth, clear lake, good nutrition, a fun and challenging course and my body felt healthy. It just goes to show that patience, persistence and a positive attitude can go a long way!
After the race I got to hang out with Mel, Caroline and Ron. The line to claim the Worlds slot was long and the beer tent was conveniently located right by the line. Hmmmm….So, I enjoyed a nice beverage to celebrate while I waited (maybe followed by a few more while waiting for the awards ceremony ;)
Caroline, me and Mel

Caroline got 2nd in our age group so she got a championship slot. Mel also had a great race placing 5th in her AG and got a slot as well. We are all excited to be heading to Vegas next September!
I never thought I'd get one of these cool awards! Very nice  finisher medal too!
And now, let the off season begin!! Also, time to get some new bike shoes! Yes, I raced with these hoping the clips would clip in for one more ride. Thankfully, they held out. Ha!
Waterfall on our hike at BushKill Falls

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