Sunday, August 21, 2016

Steelhead 70.3 - Because in January I'll be praying for a triathlon

You thought I was going to sit back and relax after Lake Placid, didn't you? Well pull up a chair kids, because it's about to get really fun. 

Life after Lake Placid was... life. Real life. I stayed up later and caught some of my favorite shows I hadn't seen in a while. I ate ICE CREAM for dinner one night. I helped my college roommate celebrate her Bachelorette party at Wrigley Field (although we're still unsure who won?). I said an emotional "See ya later" to my best friend from high school as she is about to start a new chapter with her husband abroad. I flew back out to Steamboat Springs, Colorado and hiked some amazing mountains with my little cousins and then danced the night away at another cousin's wedding. But I never stopped training. Did I have the best life in my legs? No. Not at all. Was I breaking any personal records? Hell no. But I kept the fitness I had worked so hard for because my season wasn't quite over. 

Last year, Steelhead 70.3 was my redemption race after I got 2 flat tires at Muncie 70.3. After crossing the finish line at Steelhead, I promised myself I'd come back to that race as often as I could. It was simply.. awesome. Benton Harbor, Michigan is the cutest little town full of amazing restaurants, a beautiful beach on Lake Michigan, and home of Steelhead 70.3. There was never a reason NOT to go back and race. I signed up for this race pretty early last year. Ironman was running a promotion and had a coupon code out for the race, so I jumped on it knowing I wanted to race it again. By Thanksgiving 2015 I was signed up, completely negating the fact that I would be racing Ironman Lake Placid only 3 weeks beforehand. "Yea sure my legs will be fine." 

And then 2016 happened. I added an unexpected Ironman to the schedule. And another half ironman in early June. And a few other smaller races. Oops.

Rob and I packed up the car on Saturday morning and took off for Benton Harbor, Michigan. My body was drained. I had put it through a serious test over this last month with enough travel, lack of sleep, and a crazy amount of fun. But there wasn't a single part of me that wished I wasn't racing. 

Jacqui decided her body was healed and ready to race again only days prior, so she and Ryan were not far behind us after I went through athlete check-in. One thing was for sure, it was HOT. Rob and I walked around the Village for maybe 20 minutes and were absolutely drenched in sweat by the time we left. We made the executive decision to head to the air conditioned hotel before heading out to dinner later. Later on we met up with Todd (StruggleBus member!) and his wife and kids and Jacqui and Ryan for dinner at the local favorite, The Buck Burgers and Brew. Having a 2 year old and an almost 1 year old added some serious fun and laughs to the meal. I sat with Baby Elin on my lap while she sipped on a pouch of pureed carrots/apples/peaches and occasionally popped an air filled puff that would end up in a soggier version of itself on my lap. For a little while, I almost forgot I was racing the next day. I was having far to much fun playing Auntie to this little bundle of joy. After dinner, our Spectathlete's requested ice cream (this time, Ryan was considered a Spectathlete!) Jacqui and I sat and watched the boys lick their delicious looking waffle cones filled with creamy, sugary goodness and made a promise to each other that we would return to Kilwin's for our serving of ice cream after the race.

Race morning was pretty simple. Up and at 'em by 3:45am and arrived at the race site by 5am. We heard a few rumors as we made our way to transition, but refused to believe them until it came from an official. As I laid out my shoes next to my bike, I heard the announcement. "Today's race will be a NON-wetsuit legal race. If you choose to wear a wetsuit you will be in the LAST wave to start and NOT eligible for awards."  For the first time in 14 years, Lake Michigan was actually TO WARM to wear a wetsuit. Definitely not ideal. But if there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's all about how you respond to what's thrown your way. 

Jacqui and I had our transition set up pretty quickly and had plenty of time to kill before our waves started. Enough time to stand in a porta potty line 1.5 times. I had a 16 minute head start on Jacqui (because she's getting old and her age group started almost last). Because I was just coming off of IMLP, I didn't have HUGE expectations for myself. But one thing I really wanted was to see how long it would take Jacqui to find me on the bike. Our friends threw out a lot of guesses, from mile 12 (thanks Jess) all the way to mile 30 (I was PRAYING I could hold her off until then). I promised brunch to the closest guess. Jacqui is a beast on the bike, so the longer I could hold her off, the better. 

Swim: {1.2 miles}

Goals quickly changed after we realized that wetsuits were a no-go. Lake Michigan is known to be choppy. And even though today was "calm" it was still choppier than anything I've swam in this year. Choppy water + no wetsuit = get me out alive. The gun went off and everyone immediately dove into the water. And then we all stood up immediately. The tide just happened to go out at that time, leaving us with mostly sand. Within 30 seconds we were out far enough that we couldn't touch. And it was about 30 seconds after that that I really noticed how much harder I was going to have to work to get out of this lake. For every 2 strokes I took, I was pushed back one. Well, this sure makes things interesting. I'm lucky that open water swimming doesn't freak me out. I know some people can have serious panic attacks in the middle of the water if there is even a slight hint of chop. But I can (and do) get carsick when driving through the mountains. And this choppy water was making my stomach a little queasy. I was having some flashbacks of driving to Lake Placid, sitting in the backseat with my eyes closed and my head back, trying not to move. Once I hit the final turn and the long stretch towards home, the current was in my favor and my stomach relaxed. Nearing the end people were standing up MUCH earlier than I was expecting. Before long my hand hit sand and I realized why. I stood up and glanced at my watch. 40 minutes. NOT what I wanted. Reminding myself that I didn't get to use my wetsuit and still had a course PR in a difficult swim made me feel good about myself.


Transition #1:

As if being dizzy immediately upon getting out of open water isn't enough, this swim requires you to run up a pretty long beach to get into transition. My lead legs seemed to sink into the sand every step I took. I heard my name and looked up to see Ryan and Nate (Tomato!). Nate used his vampire super powers to hit the road in the middle of the night to hang out and watch Jacqui and I all day! (My friends are better than yours?) When I finally made it to my bike my heart was beating out of my chest. I exited transition in 3 minutes and 59 seconds, ready to see if my aggressive season had completely trashed my legs.

Bike: {56 Miles}

I settled myself pretty quickly, and even applied some chapstick in the first mile to prevent a repeat of some nasty chapped lips in Lake Placid. I don't really remember a lot from the early miles. The only thing I remember is that I was passing ALOT of people. Surely the field will thin out soon and this will slow down. Or not. 10 miles into the bike and I was still making passes. This is something I've never experienced before. The bike is not my forte. Usually, I'm the one being passed. But today, I spent most of my time on the left, calling out, "On your left!" My first 5 mile split was 15:xx and my 2nd was 14:xx. I knew I wanted to see what I was capable of on the bike, but I was worried about burning my legs out to soon. But somehow, my first split of the day was my slowest. I dipped into a few 13 minute splits later on, keeping most of my splits at 14 minutes.

Within 15 miles or so, Todd came from behind and made his pass. Starting only 4 minutes behind me (and being a much stronger swimmer than me), I knew this was going to happen. He said his hello and pulled ahead. But only a little. I had a secret goal. Don't let Todd out of your sights. I quickly re-passed him, this time keeping him behind me for longer than I expected. But this cat & mouse game wasn't over. Soon enough he found me again. This time I made sure to tell him, "Have fun while you can, Jacqui's about to light us up." He smiled and agreed. We were at about mile 25 and I told him to expect her within the next 10 miles.

This pass of Todd's was a little more aggressive. He put some good space between us. I focused on staying low, hydrating, and making sure to spray water on myself at aid stations because it was DEFINITELY heating up. And quickly. At mile 30 I heard a greeting from behind and saw Lauren, one of Jacqui and Ryan's EGO teammates, as she made her pass and pulled ahead. Unfortunately I saw her only 2 miles later, this time she was on the side of the road with her bike on it's side. Oh no, I hope she's ok. Does she need a tube? Air? Help? I was ready to stop and give her supplies when I asked her if she was ok. Thankfully she just dropped her chain. Easy fix. Within the next 4 miles I saw her again as she made her final pass of the day.

I was closing in on mile 40 and I had a scary realization. Where's Jacqui? I immediately thought the worst. Flat tire. Mechanical issues. Crash. I did my best to not think about all the "what-ifs" and just pedal. Soon I found Todd again. This time we hung together until the very end. Coming in to the dismount line I almost {literally} bumped into Todd's back wheel. 56 miles in 2 hours and 41 minutes. Just an unexpected 11 minute distance PR and a 16 minute course PR.

Coming off the bike, ready to run!

Transition #2:

As I practically tapped Todd's wheel at the dismount line, I saw Rob immediately to my left. And he wasn't alone. Remember how I told you I was in Colorado for my cousin's wedding the weekend before? Well, the grooms Dad, Chuck, was standing with Rob! Chuck is Joey's dad. Joey and his now wife, Kristen, are my Florida pit crew. Sidenote: The Florida pit crew had JUST recently relocated to Frankfort, IL. A mere hour and 15 minutes from Benton Harbor. Chuck has a daughter (Joey's half sister, also a Meghan) who is a sprinter at University of Michigan. So this whole endurance world is extremely foreign to him. But he was all smiles on the fence, yelling and screaming with Rob like you wouldn't believe. My support system NEVER ceases to amaze me. I was overjoyed as I racked my bike. My legs had just given me the best bike split I've EVER had. And my family/support system was currently making my heart erupt with love. The 2 minutes and 40 seconds I spent in transition was definitely emotional.

Run: {13.1 Miles}

I had a slightly large hunch that my Florida Pit Crew was going to pop up on the run course. I was barely out of transition when I saw (and heard) Joey, Kristen, and the super sprinter Meghan, complete with home made signs and noise makers. Joey made sure to hold the "Iron Hode" sign while he crouched down and yelled obscenities in my ear as I ran by. I felt like I was running on top of the world. These guys sure know how to make a girl feel special.

Within a half mile of seeing my family, I started to come back to reality and noticed how hot the sun was beating down. Immediately I started dumping water on my head, arms and wrists at every aide station. My first mile split was no where near where it should have been off the bike. I felt ok, but my legs were not responding. This is where the last 3 months of fatigue started to set in. The sun didn't help either. Or the practical cloud I was running in. Seriously, it was that humid. Just after mile 1 I saw Nate standing halfway up the first hill. Right were I needed him. Within a mile of him, Ryan. Cruisin' around on his bike, he was there to remind me to stay strong in the heat. I could barely get any words out. But I found a way to ask him how Jacqui was doing. He shrugged. "I haven't seen her yet. I hope she's ok." Yea, me too.

Don't worry. It was only about a half a mile later that I heard that sweet high pitched voice. "Megan! It looks like you don't have to buy anyone brunch!" YESSSS. Jacqui came in for the pass and I was THRILLED that she was moving so well! So far this year, we've raced together 4 times. And so far, I've only seen her actually running on the run twice. Today was one of those days. She wished me luck and was pretty much out of sight within the next 90 seconds. Life Goals: be able to run like Jacqui.

By the time you hit mile 4 you start the loop around the Whirlpool campus. Towards the end of that loop I knew my legs weren't going to give me what I wanted on the run. I was hoping for some sort of 2nd wind, but it wasn't happening. Just when I needed a smile, I watched a little sassy woman pass me. I say she was sassy because she was wearing a pretty cool Wattie Ink kit, pig tail braids, and a trucker hat. As she made the pass she turned her head slightly and made eye contact with me. Could it be? I glanced at her bib and read EMILY. I'll be damned. One of Jacqui and Ryan's friends (who is a recent Boulder, CO transplant, former Chicago native) was someone I had never met, but we followed each other all over social media. I knew she was going to be racing today but never dreamed that our first meeting would be during the race. I called out to her as best I could (which was pretty damn weak) and she turned her torso to flag me down as if to say, "come run with me!" I totally wished I had more life in my legs. I wanted nothing more than to run that race the way she did that day. But I had to let my newest real life friend go on without me.

I started my 2nd lap and saw Ryan and Nate one last time. I reassured them that it was blistering hot (in case they wanted to know) and they told me to shut up and keep running. Deal. The last lap of the run was semi-miserable. I felt like I was flying but my watch told me otherwise. The miles got slower and slower. I found a way to get my exhausted body to the finish shoot.

I mustered up a smile for the boys
At the very beginning of the finish shoot, a man stood with his camera up and pointing directly towards me. CHUCK. Once again, a smile plastered across my face and I quickly forgot about the misery my body was in. I found another gear deep inside me and picked up the pace for the last quarter mile. 100 yards before the finish line, I saw Rob on the fence and Joey and Kristen screaming from the top of the hill on the beach. I barely cracked 2 hours on the run, but damn I did it.

Racin' and Spectatin' - it's what we do ;)
Chuck and cousins!
My Florida Pit Crew in MICHIGAN!!

The Aftermath:

I found my support crew and collapsed into their arms. I've never been happier to be done with a race. I made it to the finish line under 5 hours and 30 minutes, although I'm not sure how.

My body was spent. My season started on May 14th, 2016 with Ironman Texas in The Woodlands, Texas. Only 3 weeks after that, I started a trio of race weekends. Starting with an Olympic, then a half Ironman, and finishing it off with a sprint. Exactly 5 weeks after that, I crossed another Ironman finish line in Lake Placid, New York. And as if that wasn't enough, my body was able to finish ANOTHER half Ironman in Benton Harbor, Michigan. On August 14th, 2016. Exactly 3 months to the day that I started my 2016 triathlon season.

I can safely say, you won't see me toeing any triathlon lines until 2017. The past week has been the most relaxing. I came home from work one day and took a nap! I went to bed pretty damn early every night, just because. My body was yearning for recovery. So that's what it got.

Post-race Ice Cream - as promised!
The Ying to my Yang ;)

As far as the rest of the year? I'm ready to lace up my running shoes for a season of fall running in Chicago. I'm ready to see what my legs can really do! Can't give it all away though. Gotta keep you on your toes ;)

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