Brace yourself – this is a long post!
The Musselman Triathlon is located in quaint town of Geneva, NY, which is nestled in the Finger Lakes region. Brian and I drove up on the Friday before the race and made fairly decent time (~8 hours). We realized we were close when we started to pass winery after winery. That region was FULL of them! Secretly, I was a little bummed I couldn’t partake due to racing in two days. The region was absolutely gorgeous and super cute. You got that friendly, small town feel right off of the bat.
We decided to stay with teammates in a dorm apartment on the campus of Hobart and Wiliam Smith Colleges (aka the “athlete village”), which is about 4 miles from the race site. The sleeping arrangement was not ideal (single bed, no AC), but we made due.
The Day Before
On Saturday, I decided to get in a quick bike ride to spin the legs a little.The American Legion Post was serving a pancake breakfast, so part of my ride included riding to it. The breakfast was really nice (hardly any athletes were there – odd), but I didn’t get the memo about needing to pay in cash. I did an IOU and they let me slide.
After that, I decided to ride into town. There was a sprint race going on that morning and I thought I could catch some friends racing and spectating. On the way, I got a flat tire and fortunately, I was near the Geneva Bicycle Shop. I figured it would be less stressful to let them fix it vs. me tinkering with getting on a new tire for 30 minutes. It was the best decision I made that day. The Mechanic was incredibly helpful. While I was there, I kept thinking of various bike issues to ask him about and he helped me with them all (adjusted my rear tire to help prevent my brake from rubbing, replaced my missing cadence sensor, fixed the flat, told me how to clean my bike, etc.).
After my visit with the mechanic, I tagged along with my teammates to preview the bike course. The course didn’t seem quite as daunting as it ended up being. I probably should have paid better attention and taken better notes on the false flats and slow climbs.
After that, we attended the mandatory, yet very entertaining pre-race briefing. Then, we all walked over to the Mussel Wall and painted our names on the wall.
After that, it was a bit of a blur. I went by packet pick up to get my race numbers and swag. Musselman is known for giving out really nice swag (shampoo, conditioner, a cool shirt, etc.). Unfortunately, they were no longer giving out the little stuffed mussel guy for some reason. I was bummed! That was the main thing I was looking forward to, so I can take pictures with him in different places (like Niagara falls below) as other fellow Mussel racers do. I ended up buying him for $10 anyways. 😉
We had a early-ish team dinner at a yummy local restaurant (Emile’s Restaurant) who accommodated our strange triathlete requests (e.g. plain grilled chicken and a plain baked potato).
Then, I set off to get my race gear in order, make breakfast for the morning and go to bed early.
The Morning Of
The morning of was pretty straightforward as far as races go. I woke up, grabbed my breakfast, got dressed and headed out to the race site. Brian was my race Sherpa thankfully, so he dropped me off fairly close to transition. I quickly set up my gear and was reminded to “be euphoric today” – a cute tradition of the Musselman.
I was really nervous about swimming in my wet suit. I had only swam in it once and it felt too big but yet constricting (like I couldn’t breathe normally). I really wanted to swim without it, but most urged against that. Two of my teammates helped me adjust it, so it actually fit really well. I had room in my neck and arms and feel like I could swim (yay!).
I did a quick pre-swim warm-up and quickly got in my corral to start. A storm was on its way towards us, so the water was fairly choppy – not a good sign.
It was a walk out start, which was helpful to get a good position among the pack. Since my age group was so large, we got our own wave.
Luckily the water was pretty shallow until we got to the first buoy. That helped immensely because the water was so choppy from the storm. We had to fight against the swells and it was refreshing to know I could put my feet down and dolphin dive if needed.
My wet suit felt great and was a non-issue. The only thing that bothered me was where it rubbed the back of my neck – likely from having to lift my head so high to see above the waves. I got my first wet suit hickey as a result! 😛
Once I was able to get into a steady rhythm, I just tried to focus on my form, breathing, sighting and trying to cruise along. The rough water made it more difficult, but I was able to manage I had to do some breaststroke here and there just to see over the swells. I found a girl that was about my pace to draft; however, she was directionally challenged and didn’t sight well. I would continue straight ahead and she would bump into me when she over-corrected.
The first 2/3 of the swim was fairly difficult because of how choppy the water was; however, once we got into the last third, we hit the canal by the marina. SO much better – the current actually pulled us along a little bit. I eventually made it to the end (woohoo!) with a time of 43:22.
I was happy with my swim despite the conditions and was looking forward to the bike (my favorite leg). I rode out of transition and started pedaling with excitement.
That excitement quickly ended once I realized how SLOW I was moving. When my Garmin lapped at the 5 mile mark, it said I was moving ~14MPH and my heart rate was remained pretty high (zone 5 high). My goal was to keep it around 130 (zone 3/4) during the first half of the leg to conserve my energy and my legs.
Negative thoughts started going through my head – Something must be wrong. I had never been that slow in training for such an extended period of time. Maybe it was my rear brake. It was rubbing before. Maybe that bike mechanic didn’t actually fix it properly. Maybe my tire moved when transporting it and it’s now rubbing. Crap! I wish I looked at it in transition. Dummy. Do that next time!!
I told myself I’d keep going to see if it gets any better. Nope. Around mile 10 I was still averaging between 14 and 15 MPH. I was ticked! I decided it must be my brake. I thought I would wait until I saw the first SAG but then I was worried that by waiting, I was wasting my leg muscles. I needed my legs to be as fresh and ready for the run as they could be. This is not going to plan.
With that, I impulsively jumped off my bike on the grassy shoulder of the road. It was not the best idea as I could have been a hazard to racers behind me if they weren’t paying attention. For the most part, everyone was really nice – asking if I was ok. One person cursed at me b/c she wasn’t really watching where she was going and I must have scared her.
I tried spinning my wheel to see if the brake was rubbing and in the process of doing so, my chain hit the long grass nearby and proceeded to come off. Crap! Tears started forming as I saw all of the racers pass me. This was supposed to be my strong leg! I was going to kill it. I was ready. Now, I’m going to get a horrible time because I’m wasting it here fiddling with my bike, my legs will be exhausted from working hard against a rubbing brake and I will be moving super slow.
I couldn’t get the chain back on, so I picked up my bike and placed it over my shoulder and was able to manually put it back on the gears – grease everywhere, though! I spun my tire and it seemed OK. I decided just to jump back on and see how it goes. I think I wasted about 5 minutes in total – who knows!
What I didn’t realize is that first 10 miles was pretty much all uphill (no down hills or flats really). I probably should have studied the map more closely and set realistic expectations with myself. In addition, the incoming storm was causing a horrific head wind. I was fighting gravity and the wind with every pedal stroke.
Around mile 15, I finally found a decent descent. My MPH increased and my heart rate came back to my goal zone. I realized maybe it wasn’t my brake. I averaged 19 MPH during that next 5 miles and a crazy 22.9 MPH the 5 miles after that. I had never sustained that high of a speed in training – I was ecstatic! It was SO much fun riding it too, even if it was pouring rain.
OK, so I was feeling more confident. As I just mentioned, it was also pouring rain in addition to strong winds. The rain didn’t really faze me – I actually quite enjoyed it. The only time I worried was when the wind would pick up and my bike would skid a little due to the rain. Over the course of riding, I had about 5 scares where I thought the wind was going to push me over and get some kind of scary and painful road rash.
This was also my first time ever trying to change out water bottles. It was definitely tricky. I often wanted both water and food and it was difficult to manage. There is a skill involved with keeping your bike upright while slowly riding by and grabbing a bottle. I luckily managed OK at each stop – phew! No spills there.
For nutrition, I carried 3 Feed Zone Portable PB&Js and 3 gels. I figured that had to be enough food. I also had my Powerbar electrolyte calorie drink plus water. Everyone told me to drink a lot of water whenever I eat to help with digestion, so I did. My Profile Design speed fill bottle was full of water when I started and I picked up 4 additional water bottles along the way. This was the first bike ride where I felt like I had to pee immediately after I was done. Crap! Maybe I went overboard on the hydration. I ate my Portables early on (during the first half of the ride) and then my gels after. I remember thinking I was hungry towards the end and was trying to find some food at the stops, but couldn’t swing it with the water bottles. When I finished the bike, I remember feeling incredibly hungry – like I could eat a full meal right then.
By the end of the bike, I was feeling better about my race. I felt like I made up some time and enjoyed some of the beautiful Finger Lakes country along the way. My time was 3:20:26 (thinking I would’ve been around 3:15 had I not jumped off my bike).
The (f*#%ng) Run
The run. Ah yes, my Achilles Heel of triathlon. Well, let’s just say my run was disappointing as I sort of knew it would be. I started off feeling optimistic – I was running about a 10:30 mile and in search of a port-o-potty. There was essentially one at every SAG, which was nice. I stopped at Mile 1 and afterwards got some water. (Talk about having a hard time pulling your tri kit back on, though! Ugh.)
I made sure I stopped at each SAG to take a mental break, hydrate and take some nutrition. Since I was notably hungry, I decided it would be good to eat part of a banana. It made my stomach whirl, so I walked a little to allow it to digest a bit.
The run course was incredibly hilly. The elevation basically goes up for the first half of the course and then comes down for the last half. Normally that’s ideal, but the first half pretty much crushed my soul and spirit. There were a ton of supporters along the course, which was fantastic. For one of the first big hills, you could choose whether to climb up a house’s grass lawn or walk up the stairs. I chose the stairs – no sense messing with that! At the top they had a little band playing and supporters cheering everyone who made it up there. One of my teammates who was pulled from the swim was up there cheering as well. I was SO happy to see her. I also passed another teammate who is super-fast and enabled this picture to be taken.
As the miles continued, the harder it became to continue to run. My legs just didn’t want to. I felt miserable. I had to play the mental game of “just get to the next SAG” or “make it to that street sign.” A lot of racers passed me on the run and I mean a LOT. That was incredibly humbling. That’s one of my least favorite things about racing triathlons. I do so well at the swim and bike and am lose any competitive ground on the run. I wanted to “stay strong” (as a faster few teammates yelled at me when we passed in opposite directions) but I just couldn’t. Quite a few times I considered DNF-ing, so I could be done with this madness, but I knew I wanted to finish.
I tried eating and drinking more to see if that helped. Luckily, it didn’t result in any GI issues – likely because I wasn’t really exerting my heart rate. In reality, I was likely well beyond the point of glycogen depletion. All I could really do was continue to put one foot in front of the other and run as often as I could. I walked up all of the major hills to conserve energy – particularly the never ending large hill through a winery. I didn’t care. Forward progress.
I remember getting close to 1 mile left and it felt like the longest mile ever. I wanted to run the whole thing, but couldn’t. I set more goals for myself – get to this landmark and then walk or only walk until that landmark and run again. My run was a small shuffle.
The finish line was in sight and I was almost there! Most of my teammates finished before me and many were cheering. It was great to see them, but I couldn’t appreciate it because I just wanted to be done and sit down. I felt miserable! I couldn’t believe I paid to do this to myself. I also didn’t understand what athletes are thinking when they do these types of races for fun!
In the end, my time was ~6:51 and my run was a whopping 2:41 of that time. My half marathon time was a good 25 minutes slower than my half marathon last year. Going in, I was hopeful I could break 6:30. Because of the conditions, most racers’ times were worse than expected, so that made me feel a little better.
After I cooled down, ate and started to feel more normal, the happy emotion started to surface. I was proud of myself for finishing and the desire to improve on the next one also surfaced. I learned a lot about nutrition. I decided I likely slacked too much on my long runs and could improve there. Maybe I wasn’t ruling out any long course races in my future after all.