Whistler 70.3 and the Lessons of This Year

This year, this season, has been important for me. I’ve needed it to prove to myself that Wisconsin, which seemed to come out of nowhere, wasn’t a fluke. I needed this year to build a consistent base of actual training, to make sure I could sustain the load without getting hurt. I needed to see what I could do and I needed to see if there was a glimmer of more potential on the horizon, more reason to keep at it. Because if not, that’s fine and it’s been fun, but then this is sort of it.

So this year’s been all about progress, constant incremental progress. Mostly, that’s been easy. Not easy in the day-in, day-out work, but easy to count on the workouts getting faster. The PRs have come, again and again. Every single race has been a personal best. That’s easy to do when you have so much room for improvement. But I also knew these leaps and bounds wouldn’t last. At some point, I wouldn’t be able to PR a 5K during a random training block anymore. And that’d be fine, because it’d mean I’d picked all the low-hanging fruit. But it’d also mean that all that’s left is the chiseling of small constant incremental progress.

I raced Whistler 70.3 last weekend because I wanted to race one more half before Kona (and I won’t be doing Australia since I screwed that up). It was a good race, a solid race. 2nd woman, 4:48 on a slow course on a tough day. It was also the first race this year that hasn’t been definitively obviously better than the one before it. This may not be obvious to everyone else — courses are different, times are different, competition is different — but it’s been obvious to me. Still. Whistler wasn’t obviously better, but it was slightly better, better enough. Constant progress.

When things started to go really south in the last two miles, when I was swallowing down vomit and covered in urine — so much urine — I kept thinking about all the halves I’ve tried in the past and failed, all the times things went really south in the last four or five miles and I shuffle-walked it in. I started having flashbacks to the underprepared death slog that was the last six miles of Ironman Canada on this same course two year ago. And then I thought: I am not that athlete anymore.

So, instead, I ran as fast as I could, which wasn’t as fast as  I wanted, and did what I needed to do to hang onto second. And then I ran all the way through the damn timing mats (learning! progress!) before I was carted to the med tent to dry-heave bile for a little while.

I had wanted to win. I had wanted to run a sub-1:30. I had wanted to kill it and go into focused Kona training confident that I’m prepared. But that’s not what happened. We don’t always get the lessons we want, I guess, but I got one I needed. I am not the athlete I used to be; I can hang tough. I am getting better, bit by bit. Progress. Constant tiny progress.

Here are some other random notes and bits from Whistler, which may be one of my favorite places if not my favorite race:

  • Caps no longer stay on my head for the whole swim. Almost every race I either have to stop to pull it down or let it slowly slide off. I dunno if my head got bigger or the caps have gotten shittier.Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 5.39.16 PM
  • Rolling swim starts are stupid. A race is a race. If it’s not, then it’s just a random assortment of people completing an arbitrary distance. (A guy tried to argue with me about this the day after, something about how ‘if I really looked at the history of triathlon…’ And, well, you do not want to argue with me the day after a race. I literally said, to this person I had never met before, “No, that’s stupid, you’re wrong.”)
  • At one point, after I swam past all these people, I thought, “Maybe I did something weird, took a wrong turn, and don’t remember it because I blacked out.”
  • I ended up totally by myself for a long time in the swim. Eventually, I saw a guy behind me, so I slowed down to let him go by and then sat on his feet like it was the end of my race. This is how I know I’m getting better at swimming. I used to think that when swimmers said things like ‘and then I let him go by and sat on his feet,’ they had to be lying, because there was no way anyone could be that on top of things during a swim.
  • When the eventual winner and another girl went by me about 8 miles into the bike, I actually tried to go with them, which I never do. Sure, I dropped my chain and lost them when we merged with the Ironman racers, and then I went back to my regular ‘just keep pushing your own pace.’ And it probably wouldn’t have worked out great anyway, if I had stayed with them, since I ended up getting 6 minutes put on me by the winner. But at least I’m trying, at least I’m starting to respond to the race when it goes by me, at least I’m starting to think I belong.

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  • I finally successfully peed on the bike. I have never done this. Of course, the only reason I was able to finally pee on the bike is because I really needed to pee. I thought it’d be subtle. It was not. And because this was on a long downhill, basically there was suddenly a massive torrent of urine, which hit my wheel and sprayed everywhere. I don’t think the people behind me were too happy either.
  • I do not usually pee on the bike, because I do not usually pee in races period. Everyone’s different, but if I get my nutrition right I don’t pee in races shorter than an Ironman. The fact that I peed in my wetsuit warming up before the race was rare enough. Then I peed everywhere on the bike. Then I started having to pee again by the end of the bike. This was concerning. This meant I had screwed something up, and things were going to get nasty sooner or later. I troubleshooted, downed some gels, but…
  • By halfway through the run I had to pee again. It, too, was not subtle. There was pee everywhere. It settled in my shoes as I ran. And I wear Hokas, which meant that I was basically wearing urine-soaked sponges tied to my feet. You could hear them squish with every step.
  • Things went south. I hadn’t taken in enough electrolytes or calories, especially in the hours and day before the race, too much water. But I kept running. And people kept cheering for me. There are lots of downsides to being a woman in sports, etc, but one upside: People love to cheer for you. They love seeing women near the front. And people really love to cheer for me. They’re so excited I haven’t passed out yet. I look like I’m going to die! But I haven’t died! I get a lot of: “You’re doing it!” And I am, I am doing it.

What the Hell Happened to Triathlon?

The last time I planned a full triathlon season was 2011. It wasn’t cheap then, but it was still do-able.

Then I quit for a couple years, and then I did a few races here and there, let’s do an Ironman before grad school, and some collegiate stuff — which is still do-able and fun and in the original spirit of triathlon. But now, after the summer pilot project of ‘what would happen if I actually trained for serious and didn’t also work like 70 hours/week,’ I’m actually for real back into triathlon. And I’m trying to put together a whole season and plan for 2016. For the first time in five years.

It turns out in those five years triathlon got terrible and expensive.

First, I wanted to do Oceanside 70.3. A nice, early race to kick-off the year that I can drive to. Hah. Turns out that race now sells out 10 months in advance or something. Who knows. By the time I wanted to sign up seven months beforehand it was too late. Then, I wanted to do Escape from Alcatraz. I love Escape from Alcatraz. Hah. Too bad for me. It’s $750 this year, up from $420, because, I dunno, because they think it can be. Because they think they don’t need triathletes as much as triathletes need them. Because they don’t even really need triathletes at all; in the current endurance sport landscape, they can just make it a destination bucket-list recreational event. Then I thought I’d do Vineman 70.3, since I want to do a half in the summer and it’s really the only big one, and it’s a 45-minute drive from my house. I was determined not to miss registration for Vineman.

Oh, but then Vineman got bought by Ironman (World Triathlon Corporation).

So this Monday I set an alarm on my phone to make sure I was at my computer at 9 a.m. ready to register. I thought this was crazy. What has triathlon become. But I was determined not to miss registration, and every other year setting an alarm would have been enough to guarantee it. At 9 a.m. the site said registration wasn’t open. At 9:05 it still said it wasn’t open yet. At 9:06 it said it was open, but “on hold.” At that point, I checked their twitter and facebook, figured there was some kind of technical problem, and wasn’t too worried about it. I was there; I was pressing refresh; I’d get in, no worries.

At 9:20 a.m. they said all registrations were technically sold out. There were so many people in the process of registering that all spots were “on hold.” You could keep refreshing and maybe a spot would open up, if someone didn’t finish their registration, but that was it. What the hell?? I’d been there the whole time and it never even became available. I spent another hour pressing refresh. At one point, I even got in and a few steps through the registration process and then it said “on hold” again. I was not the only one having this problem. It sounded like with so many priority early club registrations and Ironman All World Athletes, there couldn’t have even been that many spots open.

At 10:20 it was officially sold out, without it ever really having become available.

The extra fun thing is that Vineman used to have a waitlist, and most people would get in off the waitlist as people dropped out. But now that it’s a WTC/Ironman-owned event, there is no waitlist anymore. Because once they sell out of general reg spots, Ironman just wants to sell Ironman Foundation spots at double the price.

I was pissed. I was so mad. What has triathlon become? I can’t afford this. But I want to do a half in the summer and even at double the price, Vineman was still my best option. All the other halves at that time would cost a flight and a hotel and bike transport. What option did I have? But I was so mad, I was close to tears. I don’t want to give them my money. I made Steve make the decision. He said, logically, it made sense to buy a Foundation spot into the race. There really isn’t a better option. So I did.

I think the Vineman crew does a good job with their races and I think their hand was forced here. There was a paragraph in the letter that they sent to past participants to announce the Ironman acquisition that said a lot:

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What that says is that you guys did this to yourselves. You wanted Ironman events and now that’s what you have.

It used to be possible to have a local season that hit the big races and didn’t bankrupt you completely. It used to be possible to do triathlon and feel like you were still doing something that was in the original spirit of getting out there and trying something hard, that wasn’t about the backpacks and logos and bragging rights and selling of manufactured dreams. And that just isn’t really possible now. Literally. The sport has changed since I last did a full season, and triathletes have no one to blame for that but themselves.

So, you fuckers better sign up for Wildflower and the back-and-better TriCal Alcatraz race. Because if TriCal goes under, I wouldn’t be surprised if they implement a scorched Earth policy on the way out. This is what you asked for.

I Do Not Understand the Kona Obsession

Since Wisconsin the number one thing people have been saying to me is: “Does that mean you qualified for Kona?” (Or some variation.)

Yes, when you’re the second woman overall, it kind of guarantees that you’ll get a qualification spot to Kona. And yes, I handed over my credit card on the spot and signed up for next year. I’ve never been before and so, of course, I’m interested and I want to see what it’s like and I want to race the World Championships — even though I totally agree with the assessment that when you have the world championships in the same location every year it doesn’t so much decide who is the best Ironman athlete period, as it actually decides who is the best in those very specific conditions, but whatever.

So, yes, I bought into the Kona hype. But I have to say, I don’t understand the hype.

Maybe I’ll change my mind after I go. Maybe it truly is the most important and only worthwhile goal in triathlon. But I doubt it.

It seems to me like people chasing Kona qualification, trying to find the races that’ll be easiest to qualify, signing up for another and another and another, focusing only on that one thing as some kind of measure of their worth are missing the whole point of why they’re doing triathlon. They’ve lost the reason that they made Kona qualification a goal in the first place. It’s like none of these triathletes have ever read Moby Dick.

My goal at Wisconsin was to have a killer race. This was loosely defined time- and place-wise in my head, but rarely did that loose definition focus on how I would stack up in my age group. There was a point when I was running as the third woman overall and I was pretty sure I was third in my age group too (though it turned out one of the women ahead was actually in the 35-39). And that would have been fine, annoying but fine, because I’d rather have done a sub-10:30 and come in third overall than worry about winning my age group.

And that fundamentally is the part of the Kona qualification obsession that is weird to me: Who cares how old the people ahead of you and behind you are?? It doesn’t change how well you did.

If I had been six months younger I’d have won my age group at Wisconsin by over 30 minutes. If the woman ahead of me was three years younger, then the woman who was third overall wouldn’t have qualified for Kona. Does that change what we did in any way? Does it change how good or bad we should feel about our performances?

I’m a big believer in you race who shows up on race day and that’s that. Sure, I 100% get that the 60-year-old woman isn’t really competing with the 25-year-old, but the lines between 34 and 35 or between 28 and 32 are arbitrary. And we’ve let the weird structure of triathlon convince us that they’re not, that they mean something. We let Ironman lie to us that it somehow makes us more or less deserving of being at a world championships. We lie to ourselves.

Steve won Tahoe 70.3 last weekend. It was a big deal, and his first half-Ironman ever. And when I told people he won, every triathlete asked if I meant his age group or overall. I will probably never say that someone won something unless I mean that they fucking won. He WON, as in he was the first to cross the line, went the fastest, no one else went faster. Period.

The other thing people kept asking me about his race was if that meant he qualified for Kona too. Because, you know, that’s the only thing that matters.

Things I Would Change If I Was in Charge of Ironman

…I mean besides The Obvious.

And besides the general over-expansion of the race schedule, and a slight tendency to cut costs in some places, and the elimination of any real way for elite athletes to develop (which coincides with a general sport-wide tendency to overvalue the inspirational stories of “amateur” athletes as somehow better than the inspiration of “professional” athletes — which fundamentally misunderstands the value of pro athletes). Besides all those structural and systemic changes I would make, here are a couple specific and immediate things I would do differently:

  • There is no reason you can’t do registration for World Championships in a more organized and less arbitrary fashion. It would be easy — and, by easy, I mean it is already done for plenty of other events — to allow automatic qualifiers to register online within a reasonable period, like a week, and then to notify the next athlete on the list via email if the spot is turned down. It’s really a bit absurd that you have to be physically present at a certain time and run to the stage and hand over your credit card (which also, generally, means you have to know how the system works, which is not a particularly inclusive way to design a world championship event and which totally ignores that there are a TON of reasons why someone might not be physically at a random location at a specific time early in the morning the day after a hard Ironman). If it was a bit more organized, then maybe WTC wouldn’t have been handing out some of the 70.3 spots to anyone who was present, breathing and had finished the race…
  • Rolling starts should not count for those who want to win awards. I get that Ironman wanted to make Ironman races more accessible by eliminating the scariness of the mass start. I have no problem with that. But for those actually racing for awards, it’s dumb that you’re not really racing. When you all start at different times in a rolling fashion, you don’t know how you stack up, you don’t know who’s ahead or who’s behind, and you don’t know where the race really is. This would be easy to fix. Have a gun start and then behind that people can start in a rolling fashion. They already do this in big running races, where you have a chip time, but for awards or prize money purposes your gun time is your time. Because the race is the race. You can’t not be in the race and then claim you won the race.

Having been up at IM Tahoe all weekend, and having just been at IM Wisconsin — which is probably one of the most well-put-on races in the country — I also had some thoughts about how they could have done the Tahoe race differently. I love Tahoe and it’s a fantastic area to train in, but in retrospect (since everyone keeps saying this is its last year, even though a local told me it was a five-year contract) there were some obvious reasons why it struggled to find its footing:

  • It was never marketed correctly. They should have leaned in to it being a hard, epic race, instead of trying to make it slightly easier after the first year.
  • It should have been about two weeks earlier. That would have cut down on the chance of some of the weather challenges it had.
  • It was too spread out logistically — this caused a number of problems. Because the start and the finish were about 17 miles apart and there is only one main road between the two, there wasn’t an easy way to spectate. You had to either take a not super-well-advertised and not-frequently-running shuttle or you had to bike the 17 miles (which is what I did, but I think I was the ONLY one who did). That wouldn’t have even helped for long parts of the run on the bike trail, which weren’t accessible to pedestrians or cyclists. That means there literally was no way to spectate. Part of what Ironman does well is convince the community that the race is a big deal, which brings out thousands of spectators, which makes you feel like you’re a big deal. That, in turn, also gets lots of volunteers and crowds out. Both were clearly missing at Tahoe. I think there could have been a way to remedy this with a more condensed course that would have been under COMPLETE closure, instead of partially-closing such a large area.

Those are my thoughts…

Race Report: Ironman Wisconsin

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This was the short version of Ironman Wisconsin. Here’s the long (seriously long) version:

When I wanted to do a fall Ironman, part of why I picked Wisconsin was that my parents live in Chicago and my aunt and uncle live in Madison. I spent a lot of holidays in Madison as a kid and knew it’d be a fun race. And, man, it was a lot of fun. But, on the other hand, when people keep saying ‘everything went right’ for me, I want to be like: Sure, the weather was great, the course is good for me, nothing too bad happened, and it all came together. But of course things went wrong. You just deal with it. That’s how it goes.

In classic fashion, some things had to go pretty wrong in the days before the race. I flew into Chicago on Thursday and then drove my mom’s car up to Wisconsin on Friday afternoon. The only problem was that I didn’t realize the driver’s door handle on her car doesn’t work right. Or, rather, I realized once I opened it at a rest stop somewhere outside Rockford, Illinois and then it wouldn’t close and latch again. I was fiddling with it, pulling it, pushing it, hitting it, and swearing. Nothing worked. Eventually, after about an hour, because I had to get to check-in by 5 p.m., I bungee-corded the door closed and drove the rest of the way with the car beeping to let me know it was still technically open. Yeah, thanks for that reminder.

I made it to check-in with 45 minutes to spare. But then things were so backed up with some to-do about missing gear bags, and I had a work thing I needed to finish (which was why I had stopped at a rest stop in Rockford anyway), that I just sat down in line and opened my computer. The second big problem was that my derailleur hangar had been weirdly loose that morning when I built my bike, so I stopped at the expo mechanic to see if they could check to make sure nothing was wrong. They spent an hour taking the derailleur on and off, fiddling with screws, trying to fine-tune the shifting, which they said wasn’t great, but I said was basically as good as it ever was. Until eventually they decided I probably needed to replace my whole cassette and chain. The day before the race. Uhhhhhhh. No?

Saturday, I went to the regular bike store, which was a really cool place btw, and they agreed the shifting was fiiiiiiiiine, but not great, and I shouldn’t replace all that stuff right before a big race. Then I bought a new aero bottle, because naturally I had ordered a missing part for my old aero bottle, but that part didn’t fit because the bottle was too old and now there was a new model. Naturally. I also hadn’t realized that it was going to be that cold in Madison, and I had packed no pants. So we had to make a trip to the thrift store across the street. Basically, I just kept handing people my money. And eating. And trying not to freak out about the fact that my stomach was NOT happy on Saturday.

My stomach was still not super happy Sunday morning. After dropping off all the different things in all the different places, I was down by the swim start in my baggy thrift store sweats, trying to swallow an Immodium, when all of a sudden I was throwing up off the side of the road median. I thought about that later, when I was in 2nd (spoiler alert) and the crowds were screaming for me. Because there were definitely some people in the morning who saw that and were not sure I was going to last the day.

From the local paper.
From the local paper.

 

The swim is still an old-school mass start, which is fun. But it was weirdly aggressive, more than I would have expected for an Ironman. I lined up near the buoys, but far enough on the inside that I wouldn’t be in the crush. I thought. And I swam hard at first to get slightly away from the crowds, but they never went away. The problem, really, was that I kept getting sandwiched between large guys. They’d come in on both sides of me and then try to just ignore the fact that I was there. I definitely threw some elbows and kicked some people. On the way back, it opened up a bit. I was swimming with a group of guys, and saw no women for 20-30 minutes. (It’s weird, when you think about it, how different the women’s race is from the men’s race. I never was by myself all day, not really. But if there had only been women in the race, I would have spent long, long amounts of time alone, which is what the front guys experience. It’s weird. That’s all. How different those two races, that are supposed to be the same, actually are.)

The swim seemed like it just went on and on and on, and I just wanted to be finished and I kept convincing myself that the next buoy was the last turn buoy, but it NEVER WAS. When we finally did get to the last turn buoy, I came around the corner and got kicked in the face so hard that it knocked my contact out. (PSA: DON’T DO BREASTSTROKE RIGHT AFTER TURNING A BUOY!) I came up yelling a string of swearwords almost immediately. I was worried my race was over right there. What do you do with one contact? After 10 seconds or so, I realized the contact had rolled up in my eye, so I treaded water (and swore a lot) and spent about a minute getting it to come back down and settle, so I could see again. In that time, I realized where all the women had been — in the large pack right behind me. Sigh. When I could see out of both eyes, I put my head down and swam hard to catch them back, and eventually we were done.

I wasn’t wearing a watch and there was no clock at the exit, so I had no idea what I swam. I got my wetsuit off faster than the wetsuit strippers could even get to me, then took off up the ramp — which was the first time during the day I started spontaneously laughing, because the crowds were just so nuts and screaming so loud and I felt like the biggest rockstar. By the time I got through the long transition and all the way down the parking lot to my bike, the clock at the exit said 1:05:40-something, so I thought ‘Holy shit, I must have swum a sub-hour.’ Nope. I swam 1:00:01. Actually, originally the tracker said I swam 1:00:00.1, so, you know, got to save some goal for the next race.

Because I’d thrown up a decent amount of what I’d eaten and drank beforehand, I knew I needed to get something down right away. I had half a Clif bar almost immediately and some water, then started drinking my 900-1000 calorie bottle of Infinit, but it wasn’t sitting great. I felt OK on the way out of Madison to where the countryside loop started, but not good. I passed a couple women, got passed back by one. But my stomach was bothering me and I was NOT in love with the weird bike path, sketchy turns, through parking lots, and on sidewalks at the beginning. About an hour in, I just tore the bag of Immodium off the top of my bike and threw back the two pills and I swear to God that saved my race. Around when we started the loop, I started to feel decent.

Bike, bike, bike.
Bike, bike, bike.

 

A woman passed me about then and I thought I should try to just keep her in sight. I didn’t think I could do it, but eventually I actually caught her again and passed her back. Then, on one of the longer climbs, she passed me again. That sort of set the tone for the next four hours. She would pull so far away that I’d be convinced she had finally totally dropped me, then I would catch her on a long descent and pass her. I’d pull far enough ahead that I thought I’d have pulled away for good, then she caught me when I stopped at Special Needs. It was actually really good to have someone to mentally push off. And a few of the times we were passing each other, especially on the long climbs where everything would sort of accordion together, we would talk briefly for a few seconds. Her name was Kelly too, and she had a huge group of friends on the crazy climb that was Tour de France-esque in the crowds and costumes.

It was actually sort of fun? Maybe. For some parts. At one point, the Ironman video crew rolled up next to me and asked how I felt and I said, “Surprisingly, not that bad.”

The only downside was about two hours in, my derailleur started to make this terrible grinding sound in the middle gears. Um, shit? I tried to see if I could figure out what was wrong, but I had no idea how to fix it, so I just hoped it would last. It got worse and worse as we went, so that by the end it sounded like the whole thing was just going to come apart, and people who went by me were asking about it. But it made it 112 miles, so what are you going to do. I also was not doing an amazing job of handling all the turns and downhills. Turns out, I’m still super stressed about crashing, so I was stupidly cautious. But, I made it through. So, again, what are you going to do.

At some point at the beginning of that first lap, it was evident from the people on the sidelines that the other Kelly and I were in 3rd and 4th. Then we passed the girl in 2nd. (Got passed on the second lap by the woman who would eventually win, and who was flying.) When I hit the climb with the huge crowds and the creepy clowns, who would step out of the corn fields randomly, I was the 2nd woman and people were screaming and going nuts. And I wasn’t going particularly hard up the hill, no point in wasting the energy, so I just sort of soaked it in and laughed. This is insane.

On the way back into Madison, I did start to struggle and hate everything. The other Kelly finally put a few minutes on me. I knew I was doing well overall and it was fine. I had drunk a 900-1000 calorie bottle of Infinit and another similarly caloried bottle of Gu Rocktane, plus lots of water. But I was just so tired of biking. Ugh. I pounded a gel and began the process of talking myself into getting ready to run.

When I handed off my bike to a volunteer, my computer said 5:40-ish, but I hadn’t pressed start for about a minute at the beginning, so I didn’t really know exactly what I had ridden. Whatever. I knew I was “crushing it,” as people kept yelling at me. Then I got to the part of triathlon I am best at: transitions. Ironman transitions are sort of fun (in my opinion), because there’s so many people ready to help you and it’s not like if you screw up and lose 10 seconds everything is over. I tied my shoes, while a volunteer shoved gels in my pocket and turned my Garmin on, and then I was out the door. I had come into T2 4th, but started the run 3rd. And, my total Olympic-distance race mentality took over. I needed to pee and was going to stop, but some deep subconscious part of my brain took over and was like: no, get out of sight of the other Kelly, try to lock up 3rd while you can.

Then I just started running “easy.”

A woman was biking in front of me and after a few minutes I asked her if she was biking for me. Yes! She was! And the crowds were screaming as I came around the capitol building. This is awesome. At that point, I just wanted to hold onto 3rd and run solidly. The clock as I headed out of T2 had said 6:50 I think, so I knew I had a lot of buffer time for an OK overall finish. I also was 95% sure I was going to blow up and need all that buffer.

My bike escort and me. For 16 miles, before I got a new bike escort.
My bike escort and me. For 16 miles, before I got a new bike escort.

 

Here’s what was weird: All during the run and the next morning, people kept telling me how great I looked, how fast a pace I was keeping up, how I could catch the girl ahead. They really all thought that it was easy, I think. But the difference between what they saw on the outside and what was going on inside my head could not have been more drastic. I didn’t feel great; I didn’t want to try to catch the girl ahead; I didn’t think I was running fast. By four or five miles in, I was very worried about how this would end. So I took a gel. Every time I felt terrible, I told myself, “Shut up, eat a gel, keep running.” I think I ate eight gels during the run.

I divided the run up into four 6-mile sections in my head, because of course you can run six miles. You can run one, and you can do that six times. So. The first six I just ran “easy” and tried not go too fast. I did mostly 7:45s/7:50s (except for on the steep hill). The second section I tried to maintain an 8:00/mile pace. That was actually a tough section, because I kept thinking about how I had to do it all again and I didn’t think I’d make it. My legs hurt, hurt, hurt. I did not feel awesome or any of the things people kept yelling at me. The third section I just kept repeating the number one Hillary Biscay rule: DO NOT STOP RUNNING FOR ANY REASON. I think I said that hundreds of times in my head. Do not stop running for ANY reason. I told myself I just needed to make it to 18, and then the last six the rule was ‘do whatever it takes to get to 24, it doesn’t matter how slow, just keep running.’

Sometimes I was clearly enjoying myself:

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And sometimes I was definitely just deep inside my own head:

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Around mile 16 I passed the girl in 2nd and got a new bike lead. I did not really want to pass her. I was totally happy with 3rd, and I didn’t want to have to fight anyone or sprint for anything. I was seriously just trying to keep it together myself. Once I was in 2nd, though, I also did not want to let that go. People were screaming for me. (They get so excited for the top women.) And my name was on my bib, so they kept yelling, “Kelly!” And when I came back by again, they’d cheer “Kelly’s back. Let’s go. You’ve got 2nd now. Come on, Kelly!” And I wasn’t going to let down all these total strangers. Obviously. So I just kept running.

I slowed down that last section of six miles, from 8:00 to 8:20-30, but I kept running. I started drinking Coke at around 19 miles too. But by the time I made it to 24, it was clear that I had a big lead on 3rd and that I was going to run in the 3:30s even if I slowed drastically. Then I really started to enjoy it.

Those last two miles, I high-fived everyone I could and I kept spontaneously laughing. It was just so unbelievable. It didn’t seem like it was me. Me? I usually blow up in situations like this and trudge it in. But not this time. There were a couple section on the run where the road was deeply lined with people, some of whom were college students who had been drinking all day, and they were screaming and screaming for me. And I didn’t know what to do. You just want to jump up and down and wave your arms. Maybe that’s why everyone does the fist pump. It feels right.

IMMOO - finish

I crossed the finish line laughing and laid down a few seconds later, mostly because I had promised myself that I could lay down when I got to the finish. But this made the volunteers very concerned and they swooped in. I told them I was fine, and it was agreed I was fine, but I should sit down and drink some water. I pounded the water, because I was way too thirsty, which made me start throwing up everywhere, which concerned the volunteers even more. And that’s how I ended up in the med tent. The only problem was my veins had shrunken up and they couldn’t get an IV in right, so some of it went into my arm muscles and not my veins (ugh). I got a big bruise as an extra token from the race, along with all the random cuts and sunburn and soreness.

But it was totally worth it.

Getting 2nd at Ironman Wisconsin Was the Most Fun Ever

The short summary is that I was the second woman overall yesterday, in 10:21:57 (and my dad thinks is hilarious I keep saying 10:21 and not 10:22, but you do not round that shit up). It was possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever done. In fact, I’m slightly worried I’ve peaked now. Yeah, it hurt and it sucked at parts and I’m in a lot of pain today, but hitting your super-secret-if-everything-goes-right-maybe-I-can-do-this A goal while huge crowds cheer for you is pretty epic.

Because there was no pro race at Wisconsin this year, I was actually the straight-up second woman period. Which was weird and crazy. I got a bike escort. And my name was on the front of my bib, so all these people kept yelling, “Come on Kelly!” over and over. That’s just insane. Basically, if you ever get an opportunity to have thousands of people screaming for you as you run down the middle of the street achieving something you’ve been working really hard for, well, I highly recommend it.

You can kind of see how much I was enjoying myself in the recap video from the awards ceremony. And that’s after I’d already been high-fiving small children and trying not to cry/laugh for the last mile. (Also, no I was not the 25-29 champion, even though that’s what it says. Whatever.)

Crying in My Car, And Other Weird Parts of Ironman Training

Yesterday, after my swim workout, I got in my car and started crying. There wasn’t any particular reason. I had totally done the workout just fine and everything was fine, theoretically. The reason was simply: Ironman Training.

Last summer, I was busy with so many other things—like moving to L.A. and my car trying to kill me—and I was arguably undertrained for IM Canada (though not because I’m lazy, just because I was as trained as was smart and made sense at the time). So I never really had the full-on Ironman weirdness happen, where your body just sort of isn’t sure what to do with what you’re putting it through.

Not this time around. This time I’m pretty sure my body isn’t sure what to do, so I’d like some corroboration that weird things happen during Ironman training and also, if you were wondering just how healthy being fit is, well here you go. These are some weird things that have happened that we’re just chalking up to Ironman training:

  • Can you micro-fall asleep? Where you’re pretty sure that you fell asleep for the second you closed your eyes and then you blinked and woke back up? Because I think that’s happening.
  • Also, I can’t really sleep after hard or long workouts. Which is fun.
  • One day, after a really long weekend, I fell asleep on the couch and woke up and couldn’t figure out where I was. Not just for a few seconds, which happens to everyone sometimes. I straight-up walked around the house, took something out of the oven, and still wasn’t sure where I was.
  • Not being able to breath all the way. It just keeps catching in my chest. But then it goes away. Except for the other day when I forgot how to yawn.
  • Freezing-ness. Lots of that.
  • Am I starving? Am I going to throw up? The fun is in not knowing.
  • For a little while, I was convinced I was sweating way more than usual, just buckets and buckets. But that’s stopped. So I’m not sure if I imagined it or if something was actually wrong with me.
  • Sure, I’ve been to the doctors for both my ankles. I think they’re both within the realm of ignorable twinges, though. I have, however, lost the ability to discern ignorable twinges from non-ignorable ones.
  • I also have so many cuts. I’m not even sure how you get this many cuts training for an event that is largely by yourself. But there you have it.

Oh, and yeah, things are a mess. Don’t come visit our house right now. I’m not thinking straight and sometimes I write stuff that doesn’t make sense. Good thing that’s my job.

Why Don’t You Write More About Training

One of my writing teachers—OK, a few of them—told me I should write more about running and “being an athlete” and “that kind of stuff.” And I don’t mean in a reporter ‘here’s how to train for your first half-marathon’ kind of way. I mean that they thought I should write more characters who are athletes, more personal essays about “Why I Run,” more about what it all means, etc. Write what you know, right? Or something.

The thing is that when I have, no one believes me about what it’s really like.

Once, after reading a story I had written in which there was a part where the main character was running, I was informed that I had “gotten it wrong” and it just “wasn’t believable.” That’s not how running works, girl in writing workshop told me. You’re not supposed to get angrier when you run. Aren’t there endorphins and stuff, right? Like you’re supposed to feel better after running.

Sure, sometimes. And sometimes you just want to lie down on the ground for a little while and cry. And sometimes you’re so jacked up you’re ready to rip somebody’s head off. Like maybe somebody in a writing workshop who’s telling you that you’re wrong about what running is like. Not to be specific.

The main reason writing what you know doesn’t work is that what you know is that people are wrong about how they think things are.

I have been training a lot lately, probably not a full-Hillary Biscay load yet, but a lot still and it’s been pretty intense. And there’s not a ton to actually say about that. I ran on the treadmill for 11.6 miles the other day. You know what I did during that time? Mostly thought about running on the treadmill. (Also I semi-watched a close-captioned version of the terrible TV show Botched.) Here’s some writing what I know for you: I’m tired a lot, but then I bounced back and stopped being as tired, but I’m still pretty tired. Tantalizing, right? And there’s just really not a super exciting way to say, “And then I almost started crying in the middle of intervals on my bike, but I didn’t and instead I finished the intervals.”

There is a reason most professional athletes’ twitters and blogs and instagrams are all motivational photos and sayings and stories about how they’re working hard and overcoming and they believe. (Oh, and then every now and then they’ll throw in a vague post about “keeping it real” and how they’ve been struggling, but that’s just part of the journey and now they’re moving forward again and don’t worry, they’re going to overcome this because they believe.) Partially, that’s what people want to hear. It’s easier to sell a brand that’s aspirational.

But partially that’s what the athletes want to hear too. It’s what they need to hear.

The line between crying on your bike and not crying is very thin and if you look at it too hard it’ll disappear. Why did I almost start crying the other day, but then I didn’t? I don’t know. Because I decided not to? Writing, though, does not lend itself to a lack of introspection. Training does not lend itself to too much. I don’t think all those athletes are lying to everyone else with their motivational photos and stories that always have them coming out on top. I think they’re lying to themselves, but it’s lies that they have to tell.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve stopped writing as much online here about my training at the same time that I’m doing more training than ever. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when my mentality slightly shifted in races, my race reports got sort of boring. When you stop thinking about the funny story you’re going to tell or the excuse you’re going to have or how this is all going to sound later, then all you have left to think about is just doing the thing you’re doing. And there’s really not much to write about that.

Oh, look. They found three more slots for Kona. This is a pretty good open letter about some of the problems with the Women for Tri Board deciding that giving themselves three Kona spots is the best way to promote women in triathlon. I’d add as a question: Why didn’t you do a contest of some kind to give the slots to beginner female triathletes, who could have fundraised and been ambassadors to their communities in much the same way that is proposed but better?

http://www.somerandomthursday.com/an-open-letter-to-the-women-for-tri-board/