Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Roll with the Changes: Challenge Cedar Point Race Report

This is going to be a long post, with lots of photos. But I promise not to get into a bunch of triathlon number-talk.

When I committed to the Challenge Cedar Point Half Aquabike back in November (the swim and bike leg of a half-iron-distance race without the run), I had no idea what a wild ride it would take me on. 

I knew it would be a challenge, so I worked with a coach, trained with a team, and even bought a used wetsuit.  I made regular appointments with a massage therapist. I did a 5K swim and several 50-mile training rides. The race came up way faster than I thought it would.

I never got used to the wetsuit. I swam in it twice and hated it. I toyed with bringing it with me in case the weather was terrible, but I decided not to.

My friend sent me flowers (in the shape of a cupcake) to wish me luck. Sweet and gluten-free! My husband went with me to the race to be my one-man support crew, photographer, and cheering section. He took most of these pictures, though I did spring for some of the race photos to get a good finish line picture.

I was already freaking out a little because I heard that the weather at the race site was terrible and that the Saturday races had been cancelled because of storms. I checked into Hotel Breakers, which was very convenient even though it was a little expensive. I could take a shuttle to and from the race expo site to save my energy for race day. I picked up my packet and went to the athlete's meeting.

The weather had not gotten a lot better. It made for some dramatic photos with the roller coasters in the background, but it didn't give me a lot of confidence. I realized I was obsessively switching back and forth -- "Should I do it, would it be safe? I spent so much money, I have to do it..."

I decided that I had to stop waffling and just commit. I got body-marked, which always signals to me that I'm all in.  Somehow making the decision stopped the ping-pong game in my brain.

I was relieved to learn that instead of swimming in the open lake, we would be moved to the Marina, where it was a little more sheltered.

Race day came and was not looking any more welcoming. I got to the race site at around 5:45.

The roller coasters still gave everything a haunted, creepy feeling against the cold morning sky.

The worst part was waiting for it to start. I was regretting not bringing my wetsuit. There were three of us who weren't wearing them. They changed the swim course one more time after the full-distance swimmers got tossed around outside the breakwall, moving it inside where it was safer. The water was warmer than the air, so it was almost a relief to get in. We went in two at a time, so I elected to go in with the guy not wearing a wetsuit. The song playing as I got into the water was REO Speedwagon's "Roll with the Changes," which was a pretty good theme for the day.

I won't lie, the swim was tough. I got tossed around a lot, and triathlon swim is always a full-contact sport. I put my elbow into the back of a guy who decided he wanted to swim right under my armpit. I got grabbed and kicked, and also kicked unsuspecting swimmers myself. It's hard to see in goggles. I had to take them off a couple times and look around because I couldn't tell where I was going. I am sure I lengthened the course with my bad sighting.

My husband said he was relieved to see me come out of the water. You can see my Enell in this race photo, under my brand-new purple Zoot Suit.

In transition, I pulled on a bike jersey (also purple) over my suit because, believe it or not, I'm not super-happy with the way I look in full-body spandex and thought a little extra coverage might be nice. I certainly wasn't worried about getting cold.

The bike was just as tough as the swim. I never rally felt warm. I did okay, though, doing my best to take advantage of the winds (gusts up to 30 mph) when they were at my back, and get through it when the wind was in my face. There were 4 aid stations on the course, and lots of friendly volunteers and spectators, which all helped me keep my spirits up and keep on rolling. I didn't rage against the weather, I just accepted that I wasn't going to be as fast as I wanted to be and did my best. My legs felt pretty good, considering that I was doing 56 miles on them.

Out on the course, another challenge. The roads were rough, and around mile 40, I noticed my tire was flat. It didn't seem totally flat, and I only had 16 miles to go, so I tried pumping it up with my CO2 cartridge, keeping it in my bike jersey in case it flattened out again. With about 5 miles to go, it was totally flat. I tried to pump it up but all the air had leaked out of the cartridge, so I had to ride it in flat. It was either that or walk my bike in, which would have taken too long. I fishtailed a couple of times on the turns coming in, because bikes aren't really designed to be ridden on flat tires. 

With an Aquabike, once you cross the bike finish line, your time is stopped. I had a chance to wipe off my face, fix my ponytail, and put on a hat to smile for the race photographer. As a result, I got my first-ever decent finish line picture. 

I also had my husband take some photos of me in the new long-sleeved bike jersey I bought, sporting my new medal. This race turned out to be an expensive proposition. I'm not even going to try to add up all the costs, because I don't want to see the numbers. 

With the conditions being as tough as they were, I didn't let the fact that I was the last woman to finish the Aquabike get me down. This was a tough course, on a tough day. It was a half-iron distance race, not a sprint, so the field was a tougher field. I wasn't the last person out of the water or the last person out on the bike, it was just that most of the people behind me went on to do the half marathon too. I felt very proud of myself for just finishing.

I got one more medal for my rack. It's really filling up!

I don't know that I would do this again -- training for this race and having a full-time job didn't leave a lot of time for anything else -- but it gave me a lot of confidence. Getting through those tough conditions with a smile on my face makes me feel like a total badass.

The next day, of course, the lake was smooth as glass and the sun was out. No regrets, though. Now that I got through it, I'm happy it was so challenging -- it makes a better story.

I've taken a couple of days off from training and I think tomorrow I might be ready to do a workout. I felt surprisingly good the next day, my joints didn't hurt and even my muscles weren't that sore. I was tired and hungry all day, but I think that's to be expected.

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"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07