Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Musselman 2013, my first 70.3, Part 2: Swim, bike, run -- for a very long time


See Part 1 and Part 3. (Related: I am a marathonerI am a duathleteI am a triathlete.)

After I set out to do this in earnest almost a year ago, I completed the Musselman half ironman, Geneva, NY in 7:18:15. It broke down like this: 1.2 mile swim in 49:17, T1 6:21, 56 mile bike in 3:42:36 (included an 8 minute wait for an accident to clear), T2 8:02, 13.1 mile run in 2:31:59. This put me far under my goal, the 8 hour cutoff that I was so worried about making

Races have a tendency to sneak up on you. You sign up months in advance, train, thinking you have time, you have time, then boom! The event is next week. This one came up quicker than most. 

One last look in transition before it closed. Photo by Victoria. 
I had prepared well. That morning I was on autopilot. Everything was set, I just had to set up and execute. I choked down a bagel with sunflower seed butter and got the cooler of ice out of the secret fridge. I needed more ice so we stopped at the gas station. The clerk wished me luck. 
Transition was laid out. I found the secret bathroom with no line. I greased up and slid on the wetsuit. I bid good luck to David and Ben, friends who were also doing their first. Syracuse.com has a wonderful photo of athletes in the water during the National Anthem. I got a quick dip in the water, then lined up with the other yellow caps. 


Almost time for our wave. Photo by Victoria. 
The waves were huge. I've only done one other organized swim, at Keuka Lake. I should have done one at Quakerman but it was cancelled due to high algae levels. 

I've never swum with so many people. 

The buoys were bright orange and easy to spot, but they were so far apart. It's easier to swim in a straight line if they are closer together. 

It was a blur, wading into the water with a bunch of other women my age. Somewhere in that blur a horn went off and we started swimming. No horror stories, no one swam over me, no fights for a good spot. 

I fell into a peaceful rhythm, but it was tough. Breathing to the right is more natural for me, but the buoys were on our left. When I breathed to the left, the sun was in my eyes. I went back and forth. The water temperature was perfect. 

I only got kicked in the face once. I only kicked someone else once. 

Swimming in a pool makes me nutty, but I find open water peaceful. Once you're in for 10 or 15 minutes you lose track of time, and checking the watch throws you, so it's hard to tell how far you've gone or for how long. Which is how I made my first -- and only -- mistake: I didn't study the swim course.

What's the big deal, right? Just follow the buoys and swim in a rectangle. Not exactly. This course took us around three sides of a rectangle, but then went into a canal so we'd finish at a different spot than where we started.

Out of the water, ready for the bike.
Photo by Victoria. 
I knew that much, but I hadn't studied how long that canal was. So when I entered, I thought I was almost done. Not exactly, there was still about a third of the course to go. I got through, and a volunteer helped me onto a boat dock.

When I first started swimming, an hour in the water would leave me exhausted, but I did 1.2 miles in 49 minutes and felt strong. Ready to tackle the bike. 

I spent 6:21 in transition. At some point I might want to get that down, but I'm not worried right now. Bike jersey on, fuel together, water bottles on the bike. I'm glad I brought a cooler. It was getting hot out. 


Off on the bike! Photo by Victoria. 
I am so glad I practiced the bike course. So glad. SO glad. 

I was off. The first 15 miles were gradually uphill. It wasn't so bad this time. Miles were anywhere between 3:20 and 4:00 depending on the grade. I was making great time. I stopped at the first aid station, even though it was a bottle exchange. Later I'd go through without stopping.

We rode down 96A and passed a bunch of Mennonite buggies coming from church. Each had 3-4 children in the backseat waving at us. 

I saw signs for Knapp Winery and some others as we went down 414, a slow decent. When I got Gigi, my first dog, in 2007 I did the Grapehounds wine tour through this region. Dogs could come and it benefited greyhound adoption. I went with my parents and with Gigi we toured the region. In 2011, I lost her at age 6 to cancer. I'm not the spiritual type, but as I pedaled through this beautiful country I imagined her looking over me, hanging out wherever she is now with the old family mutt, Katie. I asked her to help me through the race. She meant a lot to me, and these are the thoughts that get us through. I felt strong. Miss you, girl.

Bike map. 
Bike details. 
Volunteers make a race like this, and those out today were phenomenal. Imagine standing out in the heat for 4-5 hours holding a flag. Imagine passing out water bottles with cyclists zooming by. Imagine holding up upset drivers who wonder why they have to stop -- not the people on bikes. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for all you do. 

Around mile 23 I was looking for the next aid station. They were supposed to be about every ten miles but also had to be placed strategically. Another mistake: Not knowing exactly where they were. 

I heard yelling at Mile 25, and a bunch of cyclists were stopped, as was I. A woman was down. The mood got really hushed as the group of stopped cyclists would slowly grow to about 60. I didn't want to rubberneck, didn't want to scare myself, but it looked bad. She had slowed for the aid station and lost control. 

I used the port-a-potty that was there. No cyclist was worried about their time, it could have been any one of us and that was a heavy thought. The rules of the road came to the forefront of everyone's mind. I was stopped for eight minutes, where volunteers graciously handed out bottles of sports drink. We were able to finally walk our bikes around the scene. Everyone was very careful going down the hill. 

We rode along Cayuga Lake, then hit Swick Road, the big hill. It wasn't as bad as it was when I practiced, but it was the first time in the small chain ring. Cyclists talked each other through. The climb eased but there was still a gradual uphill.

Lots of hills. 

Coming back in. Photo by Victoria.
We turned a corner at a penitentiary and zipped downhill, and turned into Sampson State Park. The road got a little rough. I was lucky not to get a flat tire, but many did. They were almost never alone in fixing them. Most of the time one of the official race vehicles stopped -- I even saw the official ref helping someone instead of penalizing us for drafting :)

After Sampson there was another hill, this one I wasn't expecting, since I didn't practice this part. I tagged back and forth with another woman. She'd pass me on the uphills. I'd get her on the downhills. We emerged, and turned back to Seneca Lake State Park. Victoria was there, with her camera. I took my time getting ready for the run. It didn't feel like eight minutes, but it was.


No matter what would happen in the next 3 hours, I would finish.
Photo by Victoria. 
I knew what I was getting into. Sign up for a race in February, it's going to be cold. Sign up for a race in July, it's going to be hot. End of story. 

I'm normally not good with heat, so I knew it was a hazard going in. All week I drank a gallon of water a day, sometimes more. I took electrolytes, I boosted my sodium intake, I was prepared. 

I started the run at 11 a.m., as the sun is reaching its peak. According to my Garmin it was 82 degrees, felt like 86, with 66 percent humidity. People were walking at Mile 1. People were finishing, walking. I'm afraid to find out how many people did not finish. 

It was bad. 

I told myself I was going to run the whole thing, with no time expectations. I had more than three hours. I could walk the hills, and walk through the water stops. I would stop at every water stop -- every mile. I had my hydration pack. 

My legs were numb from the bike, and I couldn't control my speed. As tired as I was, I finished the first mile in 10:30. I could not sustain this pace. I vowed to go 11:00 or slower, and I did. The pace evened out to a 12:00 mile with all the stops. I was thrilled with that.

My splits were: 10:26, 12:28, 12:46, 11:51, 13:41, 12:03, 11:57, 12:30, 11:42, 10:50, 10:09, 10:43, 9:53. All over the place. It was my first time looking at the numbers post-race. I finished stronger than I thought, averaging 11:36.

Run map. 
Run details. 
I thought with no headphones the run would be lonely, but it was anything but. Since no one was allowed headphones, the other runners were chatty, and this made the sweltering miles pass by quicker. 

I come from the Randy Olson school of negative splits, but I quickly learned that this was the exception, and my speed started to vary dramatically. When I saw a hill in the distance, I started to run faster, because I knew I'd recover while walking the hill. When the road was shady, I sped up. When the road was sunny, I slowed down. I picked it up a little at Mile 9 but four miles seemed like a long way. I felt like I was poking along. I wanted to be done. I also refused to walk across the finish line. I had to be smart. 

Volunteers continued to be amazing, so encouraging and helpful. The aid stations had bananas, pretzels, animal crackers, gels, ShotBloks, water, defizzed coke and sports drink. I took a little at a time. I don't remember who it was who suggested the ice in the sports bra trick, but that person is a genius. The cold, wet sponges were a lifesaver. Residents cheered. They sprayed us with hoses, but asked first. 

My favorite was the sprinkler near the sidewalk with the sign "ball chiller". (It's a male dominated sport.)

I would like to see the volunteers put a ban on the phrase "It's all downhill from here." I know you meant well, volunteers, and believe me, I know it's hard work to stand out in the heat doing any of these tasks from handing out water to ringing cowbells. Thank you thank you thank you. 

The course trended down after Mile 8, but there were still some ups. And when you're tired, you've gone so far, any small hill is still a hill, and is disheartening to see after you've been told otherwise. So please, unless you actually mean that the runner will be running downhill with no ascent until the end, don't use that phrase!

Run elevation. After Mile 8, those little blips up didn't seem so little.
Let's put it with "only a mile left". When you've come so far, a mile seems like a long way to go. 

I continued with my strategy, and after almost two grueling hours in the heat I finally came to the shore of Seneca Lake. Two and a half miles to go. This territory I knew. This was flat. I knew when the aid stations were. 

But more importantly, I still had more than an hour to get through these two and a half miles. I could walk it, and still finish in time. I was going to do it, I was going to be a half-ironwoman. 

These last two miles were spent in a sweaty daze as I plugged along. I was smiling. People noticed. "How on earth are you smiling?" 

"Because I'm going to do it. I will finish this race."

A half mile from the finish, I said to a random person, "I'm going to make it."

I finished. Photo by Victoria. 
I didn't have the gas to pick it up much at the finish line, but I stepped it up a little. I was soaking wet, had a huge chafing rash on my back from my hydration pack, and put my arms up. 

Victoria was there with her camera.

I did it. 

Read about the aftermath in Part 3.  Also see part 1. 


  1. Nice story! It sounds like you executed your pre-race plan well. I ran the Boilermaker on Sunday. I thought about mini-Mussel on Saturday and Michael Coyle. I hope the woman who got hurt is OK.

    1. Thanks! I was so happy I was prepared. Hope the Boilermaker went well!

  2. You are just absolutely incredible. (Side note: I want to rescue a Greyhound. It's on my bucket list.)