I had fun last year...but this year was fantastic! Between the event itself, seeing friends, and racing with friends, it was so much fun. And I could not be any happier with my finish time.
I packed up and headed to Atlantic City Saturday afternoon. There were several changes to the race this year. The race was on Sunday morning rather than Saturday. I preferred the Saturday start...cheaper rooms in AC, plus Sunday was open for Squirt hockey and to get ready for school. They also had mandatory packet pickup and bike check on Saturday. It seemed like a real pain on that afternoon, but it really did make Sunday morning much easier. The highlight was having the chance to meet up with my friend Matt who I had not seen in about 18 years. We had worked together at Ye Towne Pet Shop in high school...and here we were at the AC Seafood Fest!
I am usually a MESS before races. But I am learning to deal with the nerves better. Since I have a hard time eating, I have found that hydrating really well the night before, then drinking a Boost shake in the morning gets me through - at least for these sprint distances. It think that it really helped to have Katie and Sue with me, too!
We thought we got up with plenty of time. But the line to get the car at the hotel was longer than expected. As was the traffic getting into Bader Field for the race. Luckily, Sue was there to take control of both situations, so that Katie and I could get into transition and get ready to race. Thanks, Sue!!
It was COLD. Air temperature was about 52 degrees. I tried not to put too many clothes on, knowing that they would just have to come off eventually. But it was cold. Especially walking around barefoot.
I got into my wetsuit and it was time to get things started. Other than the temperature, it was a beautiful morning! I haven't done that many triathlons, but I have done many other races - both big and small. And I have to say that Steve Del Monte of Delmo Sports puts on GREAT races. It was the best performance of the Star Spangled Banner that I have heard in a very long time. Standing on the edge of the bay while the sun rose and the National Anthem was sung...incredible moment. And Sue caught a photo of us...
It was time for the paratriathletes to began their race. I cannot say enough about how amazing these athletes were...blind athletes, athletes missing limbs and, in some cases, even more. But they were strong and determined and simply amazing. They completed their entire swim while the rest of the athletes cheered them on. There were very few dry eyes in the crowd as they exited the bay and made their way into transition. Whatever nerves I felt, I had to push out of my head. No matter what I felt that I had to overcome to get going that morning, it was nothing compared to what these athletes overcome every day. This is a photo of just one of those amazing athletes.
Then it was our turn. They started the swim differently this year. We had to self-seed ourselves...fast, medium and slow. I definitely had mixed feelings about this. I loved the idea of starting single file in groups of about 10 athletes that were supposedly of similar pace, rather than 100 people in an age group of all different abilities (especially after my after horrible start at the Try-It Tri in June). But...since I don't really like the swim, telling me to start when I was ready was not really ideal. I am NEVER ready.
Being with Katie was great. It was her first triathlon. She was super excited and I know exactly what she was feeling since that was me at this race in 2012. I wanted to encourage her the way that so many other women (and men) had encouraged me last year. And I definitely didn't want to freak her out with my freaking out. We walked the gangway (but was thinking gangplank) together. Katie jumped in first.
Then, I was off. I stepped over the timing mat and jumped in. I kept my face above water to keep my bearings and tried to get swimming immediately.
I found out that this type of start was great! There was no crowding, no pushing, no elbowing...just open water. Still, after the incident at the lake (and subsequent stitches) I made sure that I swam wide to avoid other swimmers. I felt pretty strong and that I was sighting well. I was actually passing a few other swimmers, which made me feel more confident. I believe that I am the swimmer in the wetsuit closest to the boat in this photo. Sue got such great photos!
The trip out went really quickly. I keep feeling "things" in the water. I was pretty sure they were jellyfish, but I tried not to think about it too much. When we reached the turn-around buoy, it got crowded. The buoys were very close together. I tried to stay to the outside as much as possible, but it was still crowded. Which made me nervous. So, instead of freestyle (or even the breast stroke that I actually practiced in training), I ended up doing the side-stroke around them. This really slowed me down quite a bit, but I eventually settled again into freestyle on the way back.
I breathe bilaterally during training swims, but almost always end up breathing every right stroke during races. I consciously tried to breathe like I do in training, and ended up going several stretches feeling really strong. This was my third triathlon and the first one that I really kept swimming the entire time without stopping.
And then there it was - the buoy at the exit. There were two ways to get up onto the dock to exit the bay: up a floating ramp, or up two ladders around the side. I saw two men struggling to get up the ramp, so I considered the ladders. But glancing over at the ladders, there seemed to be a line. Once the guys got up the floating ramp, I grabbed on and pulled like hell. Once I got my leg up, it was a lot easier than it looked for the guys (probably since it was floating and I weighed a lot less than two men).
In my mind, I had already won the whole race. When I actually complete the swim, and complete it well (for me) the hard part is done.
Swim split: 9:40 (7 out of 28 AG)
This was about 10 seconds faster than last year. I was actually a little disappointed that it wasn't more based on a few recent open water training swims. But even though I didn't necessarily improve my time, it was clear that I had improved my fitness. I felt a lot stronger coming out of the water and knew that I had more energy for the bike and run ahead. I am still shocked that the swim ended up being my strongest event.
This was 2:27 faster than last year. I believe that some of that was because they changed the location of the transition area. But I know that I was more efficient. I was also freezing. Ashley had lent me some sleeves to wear. I was very close to putting them on, but I really wanted to get out on the bike, so I decided not to take the time. I definitely regretted that for the first 2 miles of the bike (but, not in the end). I did take the time for some energy chews and water, but then it was on to the bike.
I have put a LOT of effort in my cycling this year. I know that it is my weakest event. My goal was to average between 16-17mph - while still having something left for the run. I have hit that speed on longer group rides...but I don't run after those. I just went for it. For the first time in a race, I was passing a few people. My feet were frozen, but otherwise I felt good. It is a great course - along the AC Expressway. It's kind fun going through the toll booth - twice. And on the way back, one of the toll booth attendants was cheering her heart out for us. It was very nice since there are otherwise no spectators along the bike course.
I reached the Exit 4 turn-around and flew up the hill. Short hills have become something that I actually enjoy. I am ok at climbing the short ones. Across the overpass and back down the other side, I didn't hit my brakes and just enjoyed the speed (which is actually something I have been trying to get used to). and I was on my way back to transition. I kept wondering if I should slow down a little, but I figured this was what I had been working on...just keep going.
Bike split: 34:18 (20 out of 28 AG)
That's 3:03 faster than last year. WOW! I was so excited about it. I definitely pushed myself more in training and, with Chuck's help, I have really gotten more confident on the bike. This has allowed me to get faster. I averaged 17.5 mph (although, I do think that the bike course is a little short of the 10 miles)
I made sure to drink some more Powerade/water in transition. I still managed to cut 50 seconds off last year's time. But I definitely need to speed up my T2 transitions in the future.
Finally, it was time to run. My feet were still frozen. Out of transition and up towards the boardwalk. In any race, and this one was no exception, I make a point to thank the police officers that are directing traffic for the racers. I am sure that it is a headache for them. I was just about to thank the officer directing traffic at the light when he actually stopped ME. In the middle of my race. To let about 8 cars through. Yes, I know that "this isn't the Olympics", and yes, I know that I wasn't going to win any awards at this race. But still...15 seconds to me means that I could have run my goal time. I was pretty annoyed and let him know that as he was about to stop me...but it wasn't going to matter. So, I just shut my mouth and waited.
It was great to be on the boardwalk. I love being down the Jersey Shore! The temperature was finally warming up and I was starting to get the feeling back into my feet again. All the smells of the boardwalk were already there at 8:30am. Interestingly, there was a clear smell of pot along the course...pretty much at the same spot as it was last year!
I hit the turn-around in front of Boardwalk Hall. My Garmin showed my pace to be pretty consistent around 9 min/mile. Just where I wanted it to be! I felt good. SO much better than last year. I thought about really pushing it the last mile. But I was reticent about irritating my plantar fasciitis right before starting to train for a marathon, so I held my pace until I had about 800 meters left. I ran as fast I could (~7:30 min/mile pace for the last 400 meters or so). It felt SO good to reach the finish line!
Run split: 29:14 (10 out of 28 AG)
Not bad, but not great. 1:32 faster than last year. Despite what my Garmin was telling me, my average pace was 9:26 min/mile (I think that the run course was a little long). I was hoping to finish between 28 - 29 minutes. Yes, I could blame the police officer that stopped me. But I should blame myself for holding back. However, I am so happy with how the overall race went that I can't really be too upset about those 15 seconds.
The breakfast after this race can not be beat! Eggs, bacon, sausage, bagels, and salt water taffy! I caught up with Sue, Mark and Katie shortly after finishing. Katie had a great first triathlon!! We all got to see Ashley transition from bike to run and cross the finish line. She, too, had a great race - finishing 5th in her age group for the Olympic distance.
I had the chance to meet John Kolker in person. We have been friends on Facebook since before last year's race. He has a great story and has shown incomparable determination in finishing 4 sprint triathlons in the past year. I am sure that I will see John at races in the future!
I met up with Ian, too. It was also his first triathlon. Not only is Ian a wonderful person, but he is quite an athlete. He absolutely shattered his goal...and finished 5th in his age group. In his FIRST triathlon. I was SO excited for him and impressed with all of the work that he has put into achieving his goal. It was awesome to talk with him about training leading up to the race and to see the familiar HAC Tri Club top on the run. I certainly hope to race again with him!
So, now what? Before I even left the race, I was already thinking about what I am going to do next. That will change many times when I look at the calendar (and talk to Chris about the economics of racing). But it's great to have had a really successful race and to still feel strong and fit afterwards.
I have to acknowledge the Hockessin Athletic Club Triathlon Club and all of its coaches and members. Being part of a team has been really critical in making these improvements. The coaches have been awesome. Swim coaches Katie and Katie were so helpful with advice on my improving my stroke. I know that I may not have gotten a lot faster...but I am certainly more efficient! My improvement on the bike definitely would not have happened without Chuck. Not only the coaches, but the other members of our team have been excellent support! I can't thank Theresa and Eileen enough for all of their racing expertise...all those times we were talking instead of swimming. And thanks most of all to Marsha for organizing the HAC Tri Club in the first place!
And, of course, I thank Chris, Alexander and Benjamin for letting me go off and train and race. And listen to me talk about training and racing. I could not have ever done this without your support and love!