It's been 3 weeks since my virtual 70.3, and I still got a huge smile writing the title of this blog. Every once in a while, I will send a text to my coach that I did it. I completed 70.3 miles. It is hard to put into words the feelings from this accomplishment. But I'm getting ahead of myself, I promised a race report, so I'm going to give lots of details leading up to and during the race!
A little backstory, especially for those who haven't been along for the journey. I am an adult onset athlete. I started running one day because I was strength training and doing cardio kickboxing and was amazed that I could run. I ran for fun and did some 5ks that year. Then I moved, became a professor, and had two kids. I toyed on and off during that time trying to pick running back up, but truth-be-told, I wasn't a runner. It wasn't part of who I was. After my second child was a year old, I knew I needed something for me. I was Mama and Dr. Adelson, but I needed to reclaim some identity that wasn't a mom and wasn't connected to work. My family and I made a commitment for me to do a 5k training program with Fleet Feet Louisville. At the end of that program, I decided I'd do a 5k a month, the thought being that that goal would give me motivation to keep running and not stop like I did before. Less than 2 months later, I was signed up for a half marathon training program and a half marathon! And before you know it, Mama was a Runner. It became as much a part of my identity as being a mom.
With about a dozen half marathons, a marathon, and countless shorter distance races completed, I was a pregnant runner. I was able to run through my entire pregnancy, with my last run less than 24 hours before third child's birth. I completed 2 half marathons, a 200-mile overnight relay, and at least one race every month. As I mentioned in my last blog - http://mamaisarunner.com/2021/04/17/mama-is-a-triathlete/ - I was inspired during my third trimester to set a goal to train for and complete a sprint triathlon before my unborn baby turned 1.
Early in my sprint triathlon training, I realized that a sprint was not much of a challenge for me and did not take much training. I wasn't a biker, but I could bike. I wasn't fast or efficient, but it wasn't long before I could swim the distance for the sprint triathlon. And a 5k definitely was not a challenge for me. I was enjoying triathlon training, and although I hadn't raced yet, I knew I wanted to keep training and to have a longer goal. My thought was that maybe by October 2021, a year and a half later, I would be able to do a half Ironman, 70.3 miles (1.2 miles swimming, 56 miles biking, a half marathon (13.1 miles) running).
I spent my spring doing Coeur Virtual Training Camp. I went from the classic trainer my friend Barb gave me to use to a Wahoo Kickr. I eventually found a bike fitter who would do a bike fitting with masks outdoors, and I got a bike fitting and bought an aero road bike that we put aero bars on. I would do the Coeur camp bike workouts and then do some maintenance running, keeping my long runs about 6-8 miles. Eventually, the pool opened back up, with masters being 1 person at each end of the lane for 30 minutes and lap swimming being 1 person per lane up to an hour. With Coeur camp finally coming to an end, I knew I wanted to keep training but also knew that while I was pretty good at writing or finding a running training plan, I had no idea how to incorporate all three disciplines, especially with no goal race on the horizon. I decided it was time to invest in a coach.
Life-changing decisions during the pandemic (besides starting my own consulting company): #1 Joining Coeur Virtual Training Camp and The Collective Beat (TCB). I found a triathlon community. These women are supportive, encouraging, inspiring, always willing to answer questions, and fun. If you're reading this and want to know more about TCB or want to know about Coeur Velo (the riding group that was formed later based on the riding we did in camp), please reach out! I can answer your questions and help you decide if it's right for you! #2 Hiring Coach Lisa Holt. Lisa has been such an amazing fit for me. She pushes me hard, helping me be the best triathlete I can, and she makes sure I am respecting my body, not pushing too hard, getting the recovery I need, and having fun. Sadly, I don't get to see her (she lives in NY, and we've never met in person), but we talk almost every day. She knows when I'm exhausted because Emma hasn't slept well, she knows when I'm starting to have some issues with my knee, she knows when I crushed a workout. She has worked with me not only on the physical side of triathlon but also the mental side. She reminds me to give my body a chance.
So, Summer of 2020, I hire Lisa to be my coach. There were no races planned, we just focused on what I needed to work on - mostly improving my swimming and biking. Don't get me wrong, my running was definitely getting faster, but it wasn't a focus. Generally, my longest long runs during the fall were 7-8 miles. Which reminds me of some other changes I made when I started working with Lisa - I now do heartrate training (which was actually really nice to not worry as much about pace) and also train by time, which was foreign to me.
This backstory is getting quite long. I'll try to wrap it up. All fall and winter, I kept training. 26 days of training and 2 days of recovery every 4 weeks. My birthday? Biking and running (and hiking with my family). Thanksgiving? Masters swim. Christmas Day? Working out. Yes, Mama is a Triathlete. I was committed. I trusted the process and did what Lisa said, making sure I communicated. I also found that my struggles with exercise-induced IBS were getting worse, so I invested in a registered dietician. I went almost entirely gluten-free and dairy free, changed my nutrition and fueling, and focused on what my body needed. In November, literally the moment registration opened for North Carolina 70.3, I was registered. (I got out of the pool, got on my phone, and got registered - I have registered for enough Disney races to know how to register as soon as a race opens!) I was (and am) hopeful I would get to race a sprint or Olympic or two before NC70.3 on October 23, 2021, but this was my goal race and the countdown was on. I had over 300 days to get ready for my first 70.3...or so I thought.
Lisa definitely knows what I'm capable of better than me. She knew I was ready for a 70.3, race or no race. So in February, we did an intense 2-week build. At the end of those 2 weeks, I had a 4-hour trainer ride called "Testing Limits," followed by a 25-minute transition run. The next morning, I had a 90-minute aerobic/tempo run, waited a couple hours, and then had a 45-minute aerobic run. And then on Sunday, I had a 3900-meter swim. And I not only rocked the workouts but had fun doing so. Don't get me wrong, they were tough and I worked hard. I also had fun because I was doing it - I had worked so hard, and I was doing it.
With my intense build behind me, it was time to taper and do a 70.3. Lisa had decided I would do a simulation 70.3. It just so happened that the Ironman Virtual Race for the weekend we chose for the simulation was 70.3 distance. So a virtual 70.3 was on my training plan!
Overall, taper went well. Typical race nerves. A couple days before race day, Lisa and I talked on the phone. Like with any big race, I had been constantly checking the weather. The weather forecast was not promising - hot, humid, chance of storms. We finally decided that my bike ride would be on the trainer. We didn't want to risk me being out on the bike if a storm hit. Also, I am still a newbie on the bike without a lot of outdoor rides under my belt. I was a little anxious about 56 miles on an open course at race intensity. It might have been on the trainer, but Lisa wasn't going to let me off easy. She picked a Zwift route that I would do 2 loops on, and each loop included 2 KOMs (King of the Mountain). I took about 3 pages of notes during my talk with Lisa. We talked through race logistics, we talked through nutrition and hydration strategies, and we talked through the mental aspect of each leg.
I came home from a workout one day, and my husband let me know that we had vaccine appointments! I was so excited. We expected our turn to come a lot later. But, a pharmacy had openings for us if we could come Thursday or Friday. I was a little anxious getting my vaccine just 3 days before my 70.3, but this was top priority.
On Friday, my arm was a little sore from my vaccine. I went and did my swim, which actually helped with the soreness. Then I had a 40-minute ride. I kept it easy and that went well. Then, my schedule had a 20-minute recovery run. However, somewhere during the swimming and biking, I thought I was supposed to do the run I did the day before and did 40 minutes of descending pace starting in recovery zone and progressing to top of aerobic zone. About 25 minutes in, I couldn't believe that Lisa was having me do this 2 days before my race. I was achy, whether from the vaccine or just from the load of the workouts, I was cranky, I wanted to quit. But I didn't let myself. I kept myself going. I couldn't believe it when I finished and looked in TrainingPeaks and saw the orange block indicating I did a lot more than I was supposed to. I was frustrated with myself. I was just done in general. As always, Lisa was there to assure me that this one workout wasn't going to "ruin" it. She told me the next day I needed to rest and not workout and not stress about the extra running. And that is what I did, while watching the weather with a bit of anxiety. I don't mind running in the rain, but Saturday it was storming pretty badly, and storms were predicted for Sunday.
Originally, I had planned a 9:00 start time, with Pamela coming by at 7:30 to French or Dutch braid my hair. However, the storm predictions were starting around 2:00, and the morning started looking clear around 6:00, so I decided I would forego the sleep and get an early start. My lane was reserved for later, but no one wants to swim that early on a Sunday, so there were open lanes for me to switch to. Luckily, Friday night I had slept in a room by myself and got some good sleep. Saturday night I would sleep in that room again, but does anyone sleep well on race night?
Before bed, I went ahead and got everything ready. So. Much. Nutrition. And. Hydration. With the heat and humidity, there definitely was extra attention paid to hydration. I prepared bottles of water and Skratch hydration and baggies of Skartch bars cut into quarters and of Skratch gummies for the bike. I prepared soft flasks with water, my hydration bladder with Skratch hydration, a baggy of Skratch chews, and some Base salt for the run. Then I laid everything out to be sure I had it all ready. My Coeur team kit, socks, and visor. My Wahoo heartrate monitor. My Roka goggles for the swim. My Coeur Velo towel, Zealios Betwixt chamois cream, Coeur Ponyaband, and bike shoes for the ride. My Aftershokz Aeropex bone-conduction headphones, Roka sunglasses, and long-distance shoes for my run. All there - time to move them to the appropriate transition spaces and head to bed!
Lisa told me to get to sleep, and I really tried. It was hard to believe what I was going to do in the morning. I also felt like there were so many details I needed to be sure I had considered. The one thing that didn't bother me at all though was that my race countdown calendar said:
My husband commented a day or two later that he saw it and thought about changing it. I never did countdown to this race. It wasn't something I had planned on. This happened because I had worked hard and trusted the process and I was just ready. There weren't any questions about whether I was going to do it. I just accepted it as part of the journey. So yes, I was racing in the morning, and yes, I would be racing 70.3 again 209 days later!
I woke up 2 hours early, per Lisa's instructions since that is what it will be like on a non-virtual race morning. After downing my pre-made breakfast shake, I, of course, checked the weather. It was currently pouring down rain, and the bad news is the storms were expected to continue until about 7am now. I decided I'd have to delay the start a little, but I was already awake.
I was able to leisurely get ready, although I was constantly checking the weather. Finally, it cleared up, and I made the 3-minute commute to the pool. I was ready. I quickly got situated to start the race. I got out my swimcap and my Roka goggles. Inside my bag, where my swim instructions live, I found two notes placed by my middle child, Zoe -
It would be the most uneventful race start, especially for a race so momentous to me, but it also was a beautiful race start. Our pool had kept the bubble off all winter so that we could safely swim during COVID, and it was so worth it for that moment before my start. The pool lit up. The flags swinging in the wind. The absolute quiet of the pre-dawn, post-storm world. The calm of the water. This would be my day. I had done the work, and now I was going to get to celebrate how far I came over the next many hours.
For my swim, Lisa wanted me to do a 1000m time trial. This meant doing a 700m warmup, 2 all-out 50s, my 1000m time trial, and then 200m of easy kicking. My warm-up was right on the pace that Lisa had set for me. I did my two all outs. Then it was time for my time trial. I set out at a good pace, hearing Lisa telling me to trust myself that I could hold it. And I did hold it - and got faster. I finished faster than I started, giving it my all. I would have to check my stats later, but I knew I had a personal best for the 1000m time trial. Later, Lisa would text me excited with my 1.2m swim time, even with the drills in there.
To give you a sense of how far I came since starting to work with Lisa, here are my 1000m time trial stats:
August 21, 2020
1000 TT = 22:38.2
Pace = 2:16
January 8, 2021
1000 TT = 21:51.8
Pace = 2:11
March 28, 2021
1000 TT = 21.17.4
Pace = 2:08
I didn't take time to look at my stats. Just then. I had a big smile knowing I had a great swim, and kept moving - I had a transition to make. By that point, the sun was up, and I wasn't the only person at the pool. I hopped in the car and drove the 3 minutes home, ran into the bathroom next to the garage for a quick stop, and hopped on the bike.
Lest you think that I escaped the heat by riding on the trainer instead of outdoors, my bike is in my garage. I do not escape the outside temperatures. I have to wear toe covers in the winter and have lots of sweat towels handy when it's hot.
56 miles on a trainer is a long time. I had a Coeur Spotify playlist playing on the Sonos in our garage and had Zwift on my computer, and I just rode. My biggest concern was needing to keep having to go to the bathroom, because that's often a problem when I have a long ride on the trainer. However, whether because my teacher bladder kicks in on race days (I didn't stop for the bathroom during my marathon either) or because the humidity was greater than my Skratch and water consumption, I didn't have to stop once during my ride. The hills on the course Lisa and I picked out were challenging, but they kept it interesting. In fact, I mentally struggled most on the two flat sections because there was nothing to think about besides just ride, ride, ride.
When the ride was challenging, I would look at what was taped to my laptop. The first is a quote from my good friend, gear guy, and triathlon "big" brother (despite being younger than me since he has much more tri experience), Scott (affectionately known as #andScott to the Coeur community). He and I have spent many hours on the phone and texting. Not only have we geeked out about the inner workings of Zwift (which is how we first got to know each other, when I was using Zwift with my hybrid bike), not only has he patiently taught me so much about tri gear and about triathlon - always explaining and helping me learn rather than just telling me what to do, but he also has been supportive and encouraging during my journey. I wrote this quote on a notecard after he texted it to me one day, and the night before my tri, I got it out and taped it onto my computer.
Zoe was very excited to help me get ready the night before my tri, so when she saw that, she also wrote a note to go on the other side of my laptop (and the swim note above). I still vividly remember pushing up the Zwift volcano, down in aero and taking a moment to stretch my hand out to touch this note and then push even harder up it.
One loop done. Two mountains conquered. During that first half, I had texts coming in from Lisa, my friend Kate who was tracking me via text messages and had a link to my run when it started, and my husband. So despite being alone, I was never really alone. Plus, I knew I had so many people cheering me on and waiting to hear how it would go. I entered the second loop feeling good. My heartrate had been right on track so far, and I knew I could keep going. I had no time goals in mind when I started, but as I went into the second loop, I started to think that I might be able to finish the bike in less than 3 1/2 hours. I picked up speed in the second half, although still keeping it within the heartrate zone Lisa and I had talked about - after all, I still had a half marathon to run after this. I was climbing my third hill, working hard to finish it faster than the first time I had done it, when my kids opened the garage door to cheer me on. It was perfect timing! It was so good to see their smiles and to hear them cheer for me. And then, I was at the top - with a pace about 18% faster than the time before if I recall correctly. My final hill was similar - finished it at a faster pace than the first time I had done it. And the flat sprint was also faster. I kept my heartrate in check, but I had done negative splits. I kept my head and legs in the ride, and I finished strong. I was so proud of it. Finishing in under 3 1/2 hours was just icing on the cake. But once again, I didn't have time to celebrate that leg because I had another one that I needed to transition to. Off the bike, bike shoes off and running shoes on, Ponya off and visor, sunglasses, and AfterShokz on, and into the bathroom for a pitstop before heading out for my run.
On my way out of the garage, I grabbed my running vest with my Skratch and water in the flasks and bladder and stuck my bag of chews in my kit pocket for easy access. I walked into the driveway, and there at the end of it were my support crew. All three kids and my husband were so excited to see me and to cheer me on as I started running out of our driveway, into the cul-de-sac, and out into the neighborhood for my half marathon. It filled my heart having them all there.
In my pre-race talk with Coach Lisa, she prepped me for those first couple of miles. She was right. They were hard. I start by going up a pretty good hill right after the first tenth of a mile. Close to the end of Mile 1, my stomach started getting iffy, but I couldn't believe I was having GI problems so early in the run so decided to push on rather than change my route and go back home. A half mile later, I knew that a pitstop was needed, so I altered my route and ran towards the backyard. A quick stop in my house to take care of my GI issues, and I was off running again. I decided to alter my nutrition and hydration plan a bit, which seemed to work. More hills. I felt like my legs were heavy and I was going slow, but I knew I could do the distance and was determined to finish it. It was hot and humid. I kept on top of my hydration, nutrition, and my electrolytes. When things felt hard, I would touch my right running vest pocket, where I knew there was this note from my daughter:
Although the first few miles were tough, I was super proud post-race to look at my stats and see that those miles were my highest cadence miles, just like Coach Lisa told me to do. I also heard her in my head saying "You are a runner" and making sure I had good form. Eventually, my legs loosened up, and I got into a groove. I hear in my head Coach Lisa telling me at the halfway point to start having more fun, and that is about the time I relaxed and did really start enjoying the run. I never did hit what Coach Lisa and I predicted my race pace to be. This was likely in part due to the heat and humidity, also in part due to running a hilly half marathon with no race environment - just me out running and running and running. My second half was faster than my first half, so that was fantastic. I never doubted I could finish. I really tried to pick up my pace the last couple miles, but I managed to raise my heartrate and keep my pace about the same (which Coach Lisa had also warn me might happen - that as I tried to pick it up my heartrate might go up but not my pace).
It wasn't the pace we wanted, but (1) the second half was faster than first half and (2) my half marathon time was 20 seconds faster than my last stand-alone half marathon time from March 2020. For my stand-alone half marathon, the weather was great, it was virtual but I ran the first half with other Fleet Feet Carrboro & Durham runners, I pushed hard, and I was super happy with the pace. This day, the weather was not in my favor, and I was out on my own - yet even with 57.2 miles completed before my run, I managed to finish in a faster time. My training has been paying off!
Enough talk about pace - back to my actual race. In the final miles, it started to drizzle. In a way, it was a relief from the humidity. I was trying to keep up (or ideally pick up) my pace and heading towards home. As I went up my last hill climb back towards and into my neighborhood, the rain was picking up, and all I could think about was that I was almost done - I had almost finished. I was pushing hard, running with everything I had left heading towards home. My husband had a live feed of my running thanks to Garmin, and as I rounded the final corner and could see my house ahead, I also could see my family out there waiting for me! They had a finish line stretched out for me to cross.
They were so excited and couldn't wait to put my medals on me. Get ready - I'm about to hit you with so many finisher photos!! This was the BEST part of the day!
As the adrenaline started to come down and the rain picked up more, I was ready to go in the house. However, Caleb and Zoe had a special request for another photo. They remembered this photo from the finish of my marathon in November 2017 (the two medals are the marathon finisher medal and the Ultra Indython medal because I also did the Indy Half Marathon at Fort Ben that fall):
And they insisted they wanted another photo similar to that one with the two of them next to me, each holding one of my medals.
I can't believe how much has happened between these two photos. Look how much bigger these two kids are! Plus, we have another child in our family and have moved states and I started my own business. And now I'm not only a marathoner but also a triathlete - a triathlete who finished a half ironman.
Next, we went in the house, where I finally got a closer look at my medals:
Caleb made the medal on the left. It is very Caleb that the medal says "Good." Zoe made the medal on the right. She had Jonathan help her with the trophy in the middle, and she made sure there was an "M" on it for Mama.