When we heard in July that a half iron distance triathlon was going to be held in Kerrville, Shelly and I dropped everything and started training for it. We had half-heartedly committed to a "year of the Olympic," and although we'd been training hard and getting results (CapTex, Greater Gator), we were both really missing the fun long distance weekend training that we did last year for Longhorn. So instead of focusing on the Avia Austin Tri as the last race of our season, we started training for Kerrville instead.
The Kerrville race was small compared to Longhorn - about 260 participants altogether in the half iron race. There were only 4 swim waves for the age group participants, and Shelly, Orissa and I were in the last wave (women 39 and under). The only wave after us was the relays. So our mantra for the days leading up to the race was "please let us not be last."
Shelly and I met with Dawn on Friday to go over race-day prep. This was not an A race for us - the marathon in November is our A race. But Dawn wanted us to "race" all the same. Swim comfortably hard, ride in zone 2, and break the 4-loop run into 4 chunks (in zones 2, 3, and 4): easy, medium, kind of hard, and hard. We asked if we should do anything different because we were going to be able to start the race together and Dawn said yes - pace each other on the bike and push each other through the run. I think both of us felt some relief that we were going to be able to race together. We usually start in different waves in our big races, so this would be different. And we had never considered working together on the bike before. "Are you sure it's not cheating?" "It's not cheating if you're not drafting."
Race weekend was pretty simple. We went through the pre-race prep like old pros. Packet pickup, ride bike for 10 minutes to make sure everything's working (it was), check in bike in transition, swim for 10 minutes to make sure everything works (everything was great except some leaky goggles; goodness, the water was amazingly cool and clear), go to T2, run to make sure everything works (yep), check in run gear at T2, go and listen to pre-race talk. Stayed hydrated throughout the day. Had a wonderful pizza dinner at Mom and Dad's with the whole gang (it was weird not to have pho like usual. But this turned out to be fine. I have had no problems this year with eating "weird" stuff before working out/racing).
I woke up race morning feeling calmer than usual. It was chilly outside - 60 degrees! Robert and I said goodbye to Mom and Dad and headed over to drop a bottle in T2, then get everything ready in T1. We met up with Shelly and Patrick at T1. We were super early. Shelly and I had racked our bikes next to each other, and as we prepared our equipment, we both noticed a certain level of intensity from the other athletes that isn't usually present. There was no feel-good camaraderie here; everyone was checking each other out and sizing each other up. It was intimidating to look around at all the intense women who looked like they were in perfect shape. I might not be last overall, but there's a good chance I'll be last in my age group.
Time flew by and the race started! We waited for our wave, and when it was time for all the purple caps to line up, it seemed like there were only 40 or so women in our wave. Ugh, Shelly and I are going to get clobbered by all of these semi-pro looking triathletes from Austin. We stepped into the water that felt fabulously warm compared to the cool morning air, and prepared to swim. Shelly and I started towards the middle back of the pack. The gun went off, and we took off swimming.
The Tarzan drills we practiced all summer paid off in this swim start. I looked over the top of all the caps and arms, and made my way towards clean water. I started almost immediately paying attention to my stroke and pulling hard. If there was one part of this race that I was going to excel at, it would be the swim. Sure enough, as I swam, I realized that I was pulling to the front of the purple caps. I lost Shelly almost immediately, but I knew she was right there too. The swim felt so amazing. I felt comfortable and strong. Sometimes I felt my mind drifting and I had to get back in the game and accelerate. I sighted pretty well and spent a whole lot of time swimming completely alone. I began passing swimmers from other waves. Woo hoo! Felt a huge boost in confidence. Even though it felt great, the swim also felt long, and I was happy to take the turnaround and swim towards the finish. I kicked hard for the last 100 meters or so, and gladly took the arms of the volunteers who helped me out. Got a swim pr of 37:xx - woo hoo!
Running up the hill to T1, I felt great. Lorena and the Tri-Sition crew were there screaming encouragement. My parents were a little way up the hill yelling too. Got my wetsuit stripped off and ran up towards Robert, who was taking pictures. "Where is Shelly?" I yelled. He didn't know. I ran into transition and heard him yell, "Here she comes!" and I knew we'd get to ride together.
I got lost in transition looking for my bike. Why? Because all the other bikes were still there! Shelly and I had swum faster than most everyone in our wave. I ran out of transition ahead of Shelly, knowing that she would catch up. Took some swigs of Infinit right away (I had 3 bottles on my bike). Followed Dawn's rules: get your heartrate down (it was 160 when I started the bike - top of zone 3), get some nutrition in, get settled for the first 20 minutes. Shelly caught up within a few minutes and we were off.
The 2-loop bike course was pretty nice. It was mostly flat with some rolling hills, a few false flats, and some chip seal in sections. Shelly and I stayed together. We stayed in zone 2 and took turns leading. There was definitely a time on the bike when I thought Shelly would ride off without me; I was struggling to stay in zone 2 and felt mentally and physically tired. But I drank a few sips of Gatorade (had launched a bottle of Infinit and said the F word in front of my parents as a result, did OK with 2 bottles of Gatorade that I picked up on the course) and got back in the race. We met a new friend, Alyssa, on the course, who was riding at about our same pace (18 mph avg - another pr). We took one bathroom break about halfway through. It was great to stop, get off the bike, and stretch out my lower back that had become really tight.
The coolest thing about the bike was that Robert and my parents followed us like paparazzi through a whole lot of the course. They took pictures and yelled encouragement at several spots on the course. They happened to be at the one place on the course where there was a hill and a bump at the same time, where I launched a bottle and dropped an F bomb. They tried to give me back my bottle, but I refused outside assistance (seems kind of silly, but oh well). When we came around on the second lap they were having a great time directing traffic and I just had to laugh. I'm glad they were having fun too because it's a long day out there for a spectator!
I was very happy to be off the bike and running into T2. Threw the bike on the rack and hustled to get my shoes on. I yelled at Shelly that I'd meet her out on the course by the porta potties. I ran out onto the road and there were the porta potties - and a whole cheering crew from Trisition, plus Robert, Mom and Dad, and Patrick. They took pictures at me and yelled at me as I waited my turn in the line for the restroom. It all just made me laugh. Then I waited for Shelly to go, more laughing, and we were off and running.
I felt great for most of the run. My heart rate was in zone 2 and I felt strong. But Shelly was struggling with her heart rate and her foot, and we were supposed to take it easy in the beginning anyway. We got a nasty surprise at the first turn - a downhill that led to a trail run. Ugh, trail. Soft dirt in places, mulch in others. Grass and rocks...you name it, this course had it. And I hate trail running. I think I kind of gave up mentally when I saw the trail. I just knew I'd run slowly on it, and that would ruin my plan for a run pr, so I might as well just try "less hard." Shelly seemed up for this plan too. We know now that instead of pushing each other like Dawn wanted, we instead enable each other to run slower or to walk. We have to fix this.
Luly was cheering on the sidelines when we ran through the trail section. Mom, Dad, Robert and Patrick set up camp with Luly and her kids and cheered for us at the bottom part of the trail run. Luckily, the way back was easier than the way out. We ran up onto asphalt (love it), had to run uphill toward the finish line, pass the finish line, and then do it again 4 times.
I tripped once in the trail section and landed hard using one quad to support myself. I knew it would start to hurt later in the race, but I tried not to think about it. Just kept running. And singing! I felt really good for the first 3 laps of the run. Dawn and Amanda were out there cheering too. It was so great to have so much support.
We walked through every water stop, which Dawn told us later not to do again. And as we headed back for the final mile, I felt the dreaded twinge in my left achilles - here were the cramps I'd been hoping would not appear. Left achilles, left shin, right calf. I had to walk it out a few times. Shelly stayed right there with me. We had determined that we were going to finish the race together; no matter how slow we took the last mile, we'd get a pr. And we did! We crossed the finish line smiling, with a 10 minute pr over last year's time at Longhorn.
This race was awesome. It was well organized and the volunteers were supportive, fun, and friendly. I've never seen such awesome, energetic volunteers. I would love to do this race again next year, even with the trail running. I hope it works into the plan!