“Make friends with pain and you are never alone.”
When I read this in Christopher McDougall’s book Born To Run, I’m fairly certain he was talking about running. However, I don’t think that this mindset refers strictly to running. Biking too, sure. Cross-country skiing? Why not. In fact, I think that it can be applied pretty liberally to any endurance event…which I found out yesterday.
Quassy 70.3 (known as Revolution 3’s Half-Rev) was my first Long Course triathlon consisting of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile ride…for a grand total of 70.3 miles of pain.
Yehudah drove up with me on race morning to Middlebury, Connecticut. We missed the weekend’s festivities, but arrived at 5:15 with just over an hour to go until transition closed. I got my bike set up, with my transition area pretty clean: my bike – helmet and shades perched atop, and just my sneakers, cap, nutrition and race belt on the floor. Cycling shoes were already clipped in.
I got into my wetsuit and drank 3 servings of hammer gel mixed with water from my flask before Yehudah and I walked down to the swim. I wasn’t as nervous as I should have been, given how little time I spent in the water over the past two months (thrice, in three races) – but my swim result definitely reflected my inability to swim.
The swim was a basic two-right-turn course. Out, right, out a little more, right, bring it home. It looked like much less swimming than it actually was. The water was relatively calm which didn’t help me. I managed to zone out and just swim for 5-10 minutes in the middle, but then somebody elbowed me in the nose and I had to stop for a bit, tread water, and regain my composure before continuing. Swim time: 47:25.
I came out of the water in last place in my age group, which I expected. I got back and my bike was last on the rack (which was the closest rack to bike in/out. Sweet!). I ripped off my wetsuit and grabbed my bike (after affixing my sunglasses/helmet).Transition 1 time: 2:08. There was a bit of a run out of the water, and I was happy with my speed in the transition area. Though I think I stepped on an uneven surface as my heel’s really hurting me.
I couldn’t find any gels at home, except for a tropical flavored one the director gave out at the Red Bank triathlon 2 weeks prior, so I taped that one to the handlebars. My nutrition plan was: 2 bottles of nuun, one on the aerobars, one on the downtube, the gel, and whatever on-course nutrition they handed out after I finished mine.
I had only ever ridden more than 50 miles once before, and never before had I ridden them without stopping. Without thinking much about it, in the back of my mind, I knew this was going to be tough for me. Compound my inexperience in traveling the sheer mileage with one of the toughest courses around (certainly the toughest course I’d ever ridden, across any distance) and the inevitable was sure to happen – I would hit “the wall” – the question was merely when.
Well, it did happen. I bonked at mile 38. I remember exactly what happened. After 38 miles, I realized that the course would never level out. I endured terrain made of climbs lasting a few seconds to 20 minutes (seriously. One climb lasted 4 miles, and those miles ticked by at 13, 14, 10 and 13 mph. It was pretty steep too!) to descents at truly breakneck speeds (I hit a top speed of 44 mph and a fastest mile of 37 mph, backed by 30 mph – that’s downhill for nearly 2 entire miles!). I couldn’t count the amount of times I was certain the wind would blow me over. All I could do was ensure my knuckles were white and clamp the top tube with my knees – my brakes were no good at those speeds. The course had 3,690 feet in climbing and 3,699 feet in descending – virtually no level terrain!
At mile 38, I began to desperately yearn for solid foods. I had drank 1.5 bottles of nuun, 1 bottle of gatorade, and felt like my bladder was going to explode. I hadn’t had my gel yet, and didn’t feel like having it either. I opted to leave it on my handlebars, and this may have been a mistake. I soldiered my way through the final 18 miles, dropping my average speed from 19.8 to 18.5 for the entire course.
My total time on the bike was: 3:02:05. I climbed 443 spots in the rankings. Makes sense, I’m a terrible swimmer and a less-terrible cyclist.
I put socks on in transition. The last time I tried running in my New Balances without socks, my toes ended up with blisters on 6 of them. It didn’t take long to put socks on, and it definitely made the run more comfortable.
Out of transition 2 in: 2:12.
My nutrition for the run consisted of a single-serving packet of smooth peanut butter, a peanut butter clif bar, a vanilla bean gu that a friend I made in transition’s father gave me and a pack of sports beans. I immediately ripped off the top of the clif bar and started devouring it. As soon as that was done, I downed the peanut butter. I realized that I was moving too fast, and after I finished the 1st mile in 7:51, I slowed the pace. My goal for the first mile was 7:45, but it was time to reevaluate – luckily I did before it was too late.
During mile 2, I met another runner who’s goal was to run an 8:00/mi. Pace until 5 mi. To go, when he would pick up the pace, and this sounded good to me. I threw my previous plan (negative split 7:45 to 7:15 by ~5 seconds each mile as the race progressed) out the window and ran side by side with my new friend. It was now pain, me and him. He told me I was lucky because this course was much easier than the original run course. I couldn’t imagine anything harder. Mile 2: 8:18
Regardless of his plan, I think we managed to negative split most miles. At the first table, I grabbed a cup of gatorade, drank it quickly, grabbed a banana, and a handful of pretzels. I ate the banana first, then the pretzels which ran out about 2 minutes before the next aid station. Mile 3: 8:15
At the next aid station, I grabbed 6 bananas, 3 in each hand. They were delicious. I couldn’t seem to get enough food in me. I wasn’t overheating, I simply needed solids. Amazingly, I knew what I needed and pretty soon, I started feeling better. I barely even noticed the sheer amount of hills we faced. This was quickly becoming the most difficult run course I’ve ever ran. Mile 4: 8:53
More hills. And more hills. This was getting pretty tired, pretty quickly. My foot was still numb (oh yeah – my foot was numb ever since I stepped on something in transition) and I was huffing working my way up those hills, but offering inspiration to those who we passed helped me take my mind off the pain. Keeping pace with my friend kept me honest and helped me unleash some speed later in the race. Mile 5: 9:06
Those hills were getting tough, but we’d tackled the worst of them. He told me that we’d be done with the hills until mile 12. At the aid stations, I drank 2 cups of gatorade and grabbed those water-bag things. I drank some water, but mostly just a little sip cause it tasted so plastic-y. I sprayed myself with some, then sprayed other runners with the rest as we passed them. It was getting hot out there, didn’t want anyone passing out from heat over-exposure. Mile 6: 8:54
Now that we were getting back on pace, my foot was feeling better and the roads leveled out, I was getting itchy. There was still a while to go in the race, and I had to keep reminding myself to hold back. I ate more bananas at the tables so that I couldn’t take in too much oxygen and get cocky (not sure if this makes sense or not from a physiological standpoint, but it helped keep me honest and I didn’t take off at mile 7, so…) Mile 7: 8:21
He lied. There was another hill. Mile 8: 8:49
With 5 miles to go, my running buddy informed me that he wasn’t yet ready to go, and so I stopped telling him our pace as my GPS-watch (Garmin 310) relayed it to me – I told him we were running 15 sec./mi slower than we were. If he wasn’t going to push now, then he probably wouldn’t push again the rest of the day. I was working on a hunch, especially since I didn’t really know him, but he seemed tough, and it worked. It was all fast from here on out. Mile 9: 8:04
Sometime during this tenth mile, we began flying downhill, and we ran past the announcer and the transition area. Well that certainly didn’t help my adrenaline levels. Mile 10: 7:38
I decided I was being held back a little, so after a brief goodbye, I took off and finished the race at my own pace. There were a few rollers but mostly the road was flat or downhill. In college, we learned how to run the downhills and I used them to my advantage, really leaning into them and charging hard. Mile 11: 7:30
I felt good at mile 12, and figured I’d lose some time at “the big climb” so I pushed a little harder. Mile 12: 7:14
Turns out the hill was actually in the 13th mile, and it really saps you. You’ve been running for a while now, over 1:20 for most people, and you’d been racing for the entire morning – all you want to do is stop. Luckily, there were others suffering around me, which gave me just the motivation I needed to pass them. Mile 13: 7:55
I rounded the corner and heard the announcer. I threw everything I had at that last tenth of a mile and passed a few runners in the unnecessarily long finishing chute. I hear my name being called out and did all I could to stay on my feet. Someone put a medal around my neck, as someone else handed me a towel and t-shirt. Yehudah got my head in a bucket of water and put a cold water in one hand and a muscle milk in my other. I was delirious. Run:1:48:12 for an average 8:13/mi. I climbed 102 spots in the rankings.
I didn’t get a massage. I didn’t get normatec legs. I changed out of my race suit, got my bike together and drove 7 miles to get 2 slices of pizza in me.
First 70.3: 5:42:04
9th place in my age group, 343rd overall.
Next 70.3: Mussleman in Geneva.