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Sorry, in advance, this is so long!
I was so excited to race. The family and I headed out to Eagleman 70.3 to race, for what would be my 8th time. We drove 12 hours to Philly to visit with Jerome’s parents and then after a couple of days visiting with them, Jerome and I drove to Cambridge, Maryland to race.
I did not race Eagleman last year. I decided I needed to step away from the race after I had a complete and utter meltdown on that course in 2011. Sometimes we all just need to know when to walk away and re-group. I did that and was determined to come back in 2013 ready to mix it up again.
I have had a great block of training leading into EM. I was rested (which is critical) and I was strong – fit and ready. I was mentally on my game. Two weeks ago I did a hard & long indoor bike in oppressive heat (at my doing) in my basement and then turned around and ran a course PR at a local 10 miler this next morning….with my last mile being sub 6:30. I knew I was ready. It was my race to win or lose.
I went to Eagleman with one goal — To be in the TOP 3 in my AG and Masters. I had NO idea who was going. I never once looked at the Start list or anything from previous years. It just doesn’t matter. I cannot control any of that. All I could control was getting myself ready and mentally up for racing. AND especially if it was going to be hot. EM is always hot and windy and just HARD.
Race day it was beautiful. I little humid, yes, but temps did not get over 80F. It was perfect and the wind was minimal – a RARE nice day in Cambridge. I knew it was going to be a fast, head to head race day. Me pre-race in my thoughts…
My race plan that I put together for EM was pretty simple. I have been SO HOT at the swim at Eagleman that I am overly hot and my HR too high to start the bike – so my goal this year was to have a pedestrian swim. Really. I started out in the front of the AG and with only one gal (Jen S-M!) in front me, I put my swim on auto-pilot and just went easier. I had to make sure I did not ruin my race in the swim. I knew I could do this because I knew where I was in the swim and knew strategically I had to just relax. I was freaking out a little bit because I felt like I was swimming at IM effort, but I kept telling myself, “patience grasshopper.” (really?) I usually like to race this distance MUCH faster than I did but in the end, this was the right decision. Came out of the water 2nd with 3rd, 4th and 5th all right there. And, hot in the water for sure, but no overheating that has plagued me before.
Onto the bike –> I let everything calm down but I could not believe how GOOD I felt. I was light, pedaling easy and my watts were way high. I started to drink and drink and drink. I had my salt mixed into my bottles and I was determined (again) to NOT over heat on this course. In 45 minutes I had gone through one entire bottle and a gel – perfect and my salt. Just like in training. I was like a robot out there. Never did think, just did. My plan was simple. I knew what watts to hold and I just put my head down and did the work. Ironically, my HIM watts seemed like a breeze out there and too low, but I was going 22+ mph. Hmmm…But I had passed the 1st place gal and was in 1st at this point and then I said…just settle down grasshopper and let this race unfold a little bit. So, I kept my bike easy….NO need to over-ride the front end of this course. EM doesn’t get hard until 1:45 or so into the bike (head wind usually at this point)…So, I stayed under control, RPE was light and HR was low. I thought to myself, “this is going too good OR this will end very very badly.” AND in about 2 minutes a 40-44 girl went by me. OK, now it is time to race.
I had to make the decision – DO I go with her or let her go. She was riding way to fast for me to go with her (Kristin who ended up winning the AG biked a 2:21! = good call Jen), but then another 2 girls came by and I was like, “Oh no….” I made a strategic decision to go. I was still going under control but now I had to race this sucker if I wanted to be in the mix. AND that was the game day decision, I went for it. I rode and finished up the bike within fighting distance of top 5 in the AG. I think I came off the bike in 5th, but 3-5th were all right together. I ended up biking a 2:32 (and nearly at my OLY watts), which is a great time for me on this course and considering I was taking it easy through 1 hour, pretty solid time. My nutrition was spot on, salt was perfect, gels…I felt GREAT and kept thinking to myself, “GO with it, Jen!”
I had to pee in transition, so one of the girls (maybe 2?) got away from me, but I HAD TO PEE badly and I cannot run if I do not pee. So, off I went. First mile in 6:55. OK…..again, “patience Jenny”…you will not run 6:55s for this full 1/2, so bring it down a notch…and I tried, but I felt SO good. I took my salt, drank and had a gel. Setting myself up for the calm before the storm (last 10k). I was running under control and running 6:55-7:10s. I was like, “ok, enjoy this Jen….races like this are RARE (feeling SO GOOD).” I was actually having fun. I did not want the bike to end. I was having fun on the run. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was laser focused.
I was so focused actually that I was carrying my salt tabs in a container and apparently I did not close it and they all fell out, so when I went to get my salt at mile 5-6 they were GONE. SHIT! THAT is how focused I was I did not realize they were dropping out all over the place? REALLY?
So, here is when the fun starts AND this is when the shit got real. I get to mile 4 and feel amazing. 2nd place is up ahead as is 1st. (I cannot see them yet). I think 3rd is up ahead or I had just passed her (can’t recall) and I am running in 3rd BUT 4th place is coming up on me. She comes up on me and I slow down on purpose to try to listen to her breathing. I shifted all my thoughts to her breathing pattern. I had to understand IF she was already working too hard OR she was going “easy” and had more gears. So, I listened. AND in my opinion, at mile 4, she was already working at her max effort for that point in the race. Her breathing was labored already. THE LAST THING I wanted to do was run shoulder to shoulder for NINE more miles and suffer with someone who I am trying to beat.
So, I did what any other person would do: I surged and made my move. I put enough space on her that I could get back to running my race and not worry about her – but she stayed close to me THE ENTIRE race (I am sure, hoping I would crack).
At EM it is a very hard run course. I realize it is flat, but it is hot, windy and NO shade and roads that go on forever and you cannot see the turn around. My absolute favorite (that is what I train on here!). So, at mile 6 – I am almost to the turn around and I see Kristin (AG winner) and she has a huge cushion on me…and she looks like she is running my pace (and she was). So, I am like, “SHIT.” So, I still cannot find 2nd place girl. But, soon I see her and she does not look good – has a hitch to her gait and fatigue in her eyes. OFF I GO.
Now, let it be clear, I am not “just jogging” here. I am working and turning myself inside out. AND the thing that messed me up was I dropped my salt and I was only at mile 6 and I wanted SALT BADLY – but had NONE. So, I had to really prepare myself to suffer and get ready for this shit to get ugly…b/c I could already feel my quads barking back at me. I have never cramped in a race before, but without salt I start to fade terribly and “bonk”.
I see 2nd place about 1/4 mile up and I start to go. I pass her WITH a huge surge = just in case. I say: “nice race” and go by. She doesn’t even look at me. THEN there I was…I was at mile 7 in 2nd place. I see Jerome and Spencer Smith in the crowd and Jerome yells, “you are in 3rd!” I put up 2 fingers and put my head back down to grind out the last 5 miles.
I am throwing ice down my pants and jog bra — taking in the fluids (3 cups per aide station) and keep on taking my GU Roctanes. I did look back a few times to make sure, as I felt myself slowing down a wee bit that 3rd place was not too close to me.
Then, I NEVER once thought about anything like, “I am in 2nd, here it is!” or anything silly like that. This is a long race…and at that turnaround you come back towards ALL THE RUNNERS and you see all your competition and it is like a death moment. EVERYONE has fire in their eyes – they are hammering and you are the one being chased. IF that doesn’t keep the shit real, nothing does. It is like I can feel them breathing on my back.
It was mind over matter. I have learned by doing all these races and coaching that EVERYONE at the top levels are physically prepared…but not everyone is mentally prepared for that battle on race day. AND this is always something I capitalize on. ANYTHING can happen. Anything. No one is unbeatable. No one. AND this, this is why I race. I train for these moments, when it is so raw and the competition and pain is so palatable.
I get to mile 12 (OH THANK god!) and I look around and do not really see anyone that close, but you just never know. So, while I was suffering (and looking on the ground for ANY salt tabs) I just closed my eyes and put my head down and ran. I can do anything for 1 mile. I was breathing like I was on the track running 400s, but in theory, I was. Then, I made the magical turn to the finishing chute at Eagleman. Many special memories here for me and today was no different. BUT I had to finish first and finish hard. Here is me doing what we always say DO NOT DO – but at a race like this – where I ran from 5th place into 2nd place and for Kona slots – YOU need to know (I turned around looking for anyone):
AND there it was! I FINISHED. I collapsed at the finish into the volunteers. I did not want to run another step. But, I felt good and as soon as I was able to sit down, I was OK. I did it! My overall time was 4:46:01. (my course PR here is 4:41 at age 33….so 9 years later only 5 minutes slower? I will take that as a WIN).
3rd and 4th place finished within 25 seconds and 1 minute from me. IF I would have mentally cracked out there, I would have gone from 2nd place to 5th or 6th in a SNAP. THAT is how close it was.
I was so happy! I kept looking for Jerome and Elizabeth! I found Jerome and just jumped into his arms. Having him there to Sherpa for me and cheer of me (he did not race this year) was a TREAT for me and I loved it. He was great! Such comfort for me in a time of stress.
I immediately went up to Kristin (1st place) and Congratulated her. She raced Professionally but is racing Amateur this year and wanted to go to Kona. So, even though she beat me solid on Sunday, I feel good since she has raced PRO all these years and this is her first year back as an Amateur (that is what happens in the 40-44 AG!). She had a great race!
Here is the 40-44 AG podium TOP 4:
The Awards Ceremony and Kona slot allocation TOOK FOREVER. We did not leave until 6:30pm! IT was insane and I was not showered. UGH! BUT, of course, it was all worth it. The biggest AG was my AG and we got 2 slots for Kona as did W35-39, so that meant Kristin and I both got the Kona slots. All the other AG had ONE slot for Kona.
AND I did not know I would take the Kona slot until about 1 hour before the awards. I did not bring $, no checkbook and even after Elizabeth texting me on Saturday to see if I brought a check, I was like, “NO WAY!” See, I do not race for Hawaii. I know that is what so many athletes want and so set up their seasons to do that…but that does not motivate me. I do not say, “I want to q-fy for Kona” because, frankly, KONA is a monster and I don’t usually take my slots.
What motivates me is head to head racing and being my best, executing my race plan and being in the mix to WIN. That is what makes me happy and gets me out of bed in the morning and makes me say NO to the late night social commitments. Kona is just the icing on the cake when it happens. And, it is nice to be in a position to have that option (and I am FULLY aware of that). I never take anything for granted at 42 years old. NOT ONE THING.
So, I thought long and hard about Hawaii. Talked to Elizabeth, talked to Jerome. See, I am signed up for IM AZ this year and *if* I were to q-fy at IMAZ this year I do NOT want to do another IM in 2014. I do not like to race them back to back years. Last time I took the Kona slot was 2006!!! But, I am fit, healthy and feeling good this year — so I decided to do it all this year – so next year NO IM! So, yes, I took the slot.
I have been SO excited since Sunday. I can’t sleep, I can’t focus on anything – so I know I made the right decision. THE MAIN reason I did not want to do Kona only had to do with my kids….that is a biggie for me – I do NOT want to be riding their summers away while I try to work full time AND be mom….and train at that level….but this year they are 11 1/2, they are at camps, they are older and have a ton of friends and commitments…it is just a little easier now at 11 than when they were 2, 4 ,5 6 years old, etc. (in a different way).
I have not felt this good in years at a 1/2 IM. I was on fire at Eagleman and just felt confident, I did a TON of specificity training, so my body “knew” what to do at this distance. I knew what watts, RPE, paces I could handle at this distance and I had enough confidence in my nutrition and training plan that ALL I HAD TO DO was execute my plan. All the hard work was done well before the race. The race was “easy” compared to my prep for this race. AND that is how it should be. Robotic.
Thanks to my in laws who had a great time with the kids while we were in Cambridge. My kids LOVE this trip. Thanks to Jerome for EVERYTHING. He is a rock for me and I was so relaxed with him helping me all weekend. He was so unselfish (going to bed at a silly early hour, eating pasta, doing my bike). AND, thanks to Elizabeth and Dave W. Both of these people are not only dear friends of mine but also have helped me with all the details to get ready to race my best. I think Elizabeth said it best in an email to me late last night:
I’ve know you a long time – seen many “shades” of Jennifer along the way. Younger, aggressive, very fit/fast Jennifer is not much different than “over 40” Jennifer (see, I did NOT say older) – other than she’s SMARTER and has realized (or maybe accepted) that now you can stay nearly as fast by working smarter vs harder – stay in the game longer by doing that, stay healthier and race/train more consistently. Less ups and downs, more even keel.
Yep. Being 40-44 is not too bad, eh? Now, let’s get on with this KONA thing!!!!!