Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Army 10 Miler - 2010

This was it - last race of the season! (probably.)  Hang on to your hats, folks, 'cause we're off!

Why I wanted to do this race:  I've done the Army10 before, in 2008 and in 2009.  Despite the hassle of getting in to DC (see below), it's a really well-run event.  I also like the ten mile distance - long enough that it's tough, short enough that I don't have to kill myself training for it.  Plus, I like supporting the cause.  Army-10 runners approach the race with fun (there are usually costumes out there) and a sense of awe (just look at the wounded servicemen and women who come out to run the course).

The Prep:  Coming off the marathon training, I was more prepared for this race than I'd ever been.

The Taper:  I took a few days off after Baltimore to soothe my legs, and just extended the taper.  I swam one day, ran another (felt tired), and then relaxed until Sunday.

The Gear:  I wore my good old Asics-2150s.  They've got holes in them now.  Don't worry, I did score a new pair on discount at the expo.

Race Morning:  Dawn broke clear and cool.  I know, because I was up to see it.  I met the Sixes at 5:10am, and we made good time to the metro.  We got the first train, which actually left the station at 5:45 (opening time was 6am).  Metro was kind enough to run the Yellow line all the way out to Greenbelt for that early hour, so we had a straight shot to the Pentagon.  Really, getting there was no problem at all.  Once there, we hydrated, checked our bags, and enjoyed the starting line sights.  Breakfast was a soyjoy bar and diluted cranberry juice, around 5:30am.

An awesome thing: they had water stops in the start corral, to make sure runners were hydrated.  Are these guys good or what?

Goal:  So what happened was... the plan had been to run nice and easy.  I just finished 26.2 miles.  Before Baltimore, I wasn't sure if I would be able to run ten miles the next weekend; however, I was feeling pretty good.  Dare I say... cocky?  I decided to start with my wave instead of hanging back, and found myself by the 8:30 pace group ('group' = one dude with a little sign).  I had wanted to look for the 8:00, but it was so crowded I just stayed where I was.

The Race:
  • The start was intense, as always.  The Army10 hosts one of the largest fields in North America.  There is no running over the line.  You shuffle, run, shuffle, walk, hobble, walk, and then you can run.  But people are laughing and waving to cameras, and we know the Warriors are just ahead of us - such a cool thing that I, at least, only felt happy to be there.  
  • Miles 0-3
    • Mile 1 felt fast - too fast.  I hit it when the race clock was at 12:00, but I had no idea how long it had been since I'd actually started.  Some dude behind me was yelling at the pacer for running a 7:50 (I don't think it was a 7:50, but it was probably faster than 8:30).  I ignored him and decided to keep going with the pacer for a while longer.
    • We crossed the Arlington Memorial Bridge and the Lincoln Memorial by Mile 2.  It was a beautiful day - sunny, comfortable.  Amazing.
    • Right around Mile 2-3, I saw a few people go down.  I guess the streets were rough.  I heard the pacer warning about rougher roads ahead, decided to keep an eye out, and pull ahead.  I grabbed some gatorade at that stop, felt good, and turned up the pace a bit.
  • Miles 3-6.5
    • Right around mile 4, I realized I was holding 8s.  This would be a personal PR for me, especially at this distance.  I was psyched.  Now I just had to hold it for 6 more miles.  Helloooo gatorade.
    • I tried to entertain myself by picking people off ahead of me.  That seemed to work pretty well.  There were also military bands and lots of spectators, and no shortage of thing to look at.  
    • We passed the Washington monument around mile 5, and I realized it's been years since I'd been to see it.  I can barely remember.  I live 30-40 minutes away.  Kinda sad.  After that is a straight-away, where you can see faster runners heading back.  Wow.
    • In this segment I passed some warriors.  I can't say enough about how inspiring these people are.  There were runners with double prosthetics, runners in wheelchairs, etc.  They had a palpable affect on the people around them, kind of like...
    • The Air Force dude at Mile 6, who was running while playing tunes on a recorder.  Srsly.  He was cool.
  • Miles 6.5-9
    • I must have missed the mile 7 marker, because I was getting tired and there was no end in sight!
    • Mile 8 took us past the Jefferson memorial, but I didn't really appreciate it.  I was crunching numbers in my head, trying to figure out what time I wanted to see when I came in to the finish.  In retrospect, I wish I hadn't been so worried about it.
    • We crossed the George Mason Memorial Bridge, also the location of the mile 9 marker.  There were people with a cooler on the bridge, pouring beer for runners.  Win... though I didn't stop.
  • Mile 10
    • The last mile is a little deceptive.  The overpasses make these little rolling hills, and it curves so it's hard to really gauge how much is left.  I definitely started to slow down this mile.
    • I focused on my stride, shortening it for the 'inclines' and leaning into the down-slopes.
  • The finish
    • The route curves around sharply, and then there's the finish!  Awesome!  I turned the gas on the best I could and ran through the finish.  
    • The announcer encouraged people to keep walking, so I tried to.  The process was really smooth.  Within minutes I had water, my finisher coin, and food: bagels, muffins, bananas, granola bars, cookies, and more water.  
    • What was more amazing?  In the post race entertainment zone, they had even more food - sandwiches, etc - and people who walked around making sure that runners had water and gatorade.  They really seemed to anticipate the needs of the crowd.  There were even bags of extra bananas at the bag pickup. These guys run a tight ship.

The Results:  I'm so glad that I ended the season on this note.  I blasted my PR by about 8 minutes, coming in at 1:19:29 (6.5 mile split = 53:31).  This is the first time I've had a sub-8 pace in a race of any distance.  I was tired when I was done, but I felt really good.

Post-race:  I already talked about the post-race events, but I walked around for a while and stretched.  Then the 6s, Sean M, and I went to Chopp't for some salads and soda, and metro'd back.  My legs hurt later, and my feet, but I think that was just because I put a lot of effort out after not fully recovering from the marathon.  And sadly... I think it's time to retire the shoes.

Thoughts on the Race:  I can't say enough about how well run this race is, and about how inspiring it is.  The expo is large and well-run.  The course is beautiful, the people are friendly, and I'm glad I got the chance to run this year.

Will I do it again?  Well, it kind of depends on what fall marathon I choose... but yes, I would very much like to do this race again.  And since it sold out in about a day and a half this year, I'll be sure to get in quickly if I do.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Baltimore Marathon - 2010

Why I wanted to do this race:  This was sort of a Holy Grail race for me.  Most of my training friends had done a marathon.  I thought I should do one, too.  Plus, I wanted to see if I could run the 26.2.  Ultras had some appeal to me (before I started training anyway), but I knew a marathon was the first step.  Finally, I have a sentimental attachment to the Baltimore Running Festival - it was the first 5K I trained for, and each year I've done increasingly more distance.  Since last year was the half... the full seemed like the next step.

The Prep:  Training did not go very well.  I wasn't very disciplined, though I did get some long runs in.  The last, a 20 miler in Columbia, went very badly.  This was three weeks before the race, and the last long run planned.  I didn't really have time to experiment with what went wrong.  Fail.  However, overall, I did get in several 16 milers, one 18ish run, and one 20 miler (at a 3:50 marathon pace).

The Taper:  I took it easy before the race, in part to recover from the 20.  A few short runs a week (no more than 5 miles), some swimming, and that was it.  Oh, and I hydrated like crazy all week.

The Gear:  I ran in my Asics 2150s.  I'd experienced chafing even with my running shorts, so I put on a pair of spandex beneath them.  I wore an old baltimore 5K underarmor shirt.  Since I planned to fuel with Hammer Gels (and not the Powergel on the course), I pinned Hammer Gels to the waistband of my shorts.

Race Morning:  Aside from a minor freak-out about how early we should get there, this went smoothly.  I packed a bag with a change of clothes, gatorade, water, snacks, and flip flops.  We took the light rail in, dropped our stuff at bag check, and made a pit stop.  Then we had about 25 min to get to the start - no problem at all.  Everything was clearly marked.  I took a gel and water about 15 minutes before the start.

Goal:  I had originally wanted to do a 3:45, but after the 20, decided to sign up for the 4 hour pace group.  However, after thinking about it that night, I left my 4:00 pace bib at home.  Why?  Well... I wasn't sure I could do it.  And if I fell behind, I didn't want to get upset about the goal on my back.  I just wanted to stick with the pace group for as long as I could.  I decided that I would try to make it until about mile 18-20, and then pick it up or slow down if I had to.  I wanted to have fun.  This would be my only First Marathon.

The Race:

  • Start - Mile 6
    • The start was crowded, but I kept up with the pace group.  I missed the first water stop - it came up fast, and was just a few tables of water.  There was no time to get over.  
    • By the time we hit Druid Hill Park, I felt like the pace was fast.  I realized that the pinned gels were bouncing and hitting my arm, which actually left cuts on my right forearm.  Ouch.  Oh well.
    • Once I got some gatorade at mile 4, I felt much better.  I liked this part of the course.  Every time I felt like I wanted a down hill, it was there.  And the park was pretty.  I kept the pace group in sight and downed a gel with water at mile 6.
  • Mile 6 - Mile 13
    • Here, I stuck closer to the pace group.  I realized that they were going through the water stops faster than I was, so I got up to the front pre-stop.  This meant I could grab some gatorade, walk a few steps while I drank, and then catch up without sprinting.
    • I liked this portion of the run, too.  Fed Hill was a great neighborhood to run through.  I knew exactly where we were going, where the turnaround would be.  
    • I planned to take a gel at mile 12, but the water stop came up early - more like 11.  I quickly ate the gel and tried to get a little water down.  I didn't want to lose the group, because I knew we'd be meeting the half folks and that would get crazy.  Plus, the pace leaders were very helpful.  They pointed out potential hazards as they were coming up, and talked about what we had left.  When we hit Mile 13, we were one full minute ahead of time.  I couldn't believe how fast it went by.
    • One unexpected hazard: traffic cones.  For some reason, there were cones along the whole route, in the middle of the street.  This may have been to keep runners to one side of the road, but it failed.  Instead, runners ran on both sides (they had to.  There was no room otherwise), and collided with the cones.  I saw at least six people wipe out.  It was ugly.
  • Mile 13 - Mile 21
    • This was where it got a little rough.  The meeting point (mile 16) was really crowded and really crazy.  It was hard to keep track of the pace group.  I did my best, ducking and weaving (probably being a jerk).  However, I knew that there were hills coming from 16-22, and I wanted the pack to help me through.
    • Mile 16 at Patterson Park, I had spectators!  Yay!  Thanks Clint, Ken, and Justin!
    • Right around this point, I started taking water and gatorade at stops.  I knew I needed the electrolytes, but I also needed the water.  I was thirsty, and the gatorade was too sweet.
    • I was feeling pretty good as we approached Lake Clifton.  I knew this part of the run.  I took my last gel just before the relay point, around mile 18.  I was digging in now, and really glad to hit the flat part of Lake Montebello.
    • Around Mile 20 (a short marker, by the way), I saw the Sixes.  Yay!
    • Mile 21 seemed to take longer (because it was long, but also because I could see the whole way around the lake, which made it seem longer).  When we came out from around the Lake, I was starting to drag.
  • Mile 21 - Mile 23
    • This was a really rough part.  Coming out of the park, we hit some more rolling hills.  My legs were tired, and after the flat, even small hills hurt.  I do remember running through/by hopkins, but by the time we hit 22, I couldn't make my legs move fast enough.  The pace group was starting to pull ahead.
    • I took water and gatorade at the next stop.  And then I went to the bathroom.  Yay hydration.  It was cool, there was no line.  I gave myself a pep talk, grabbed a little more water, and started running.  I could sorta see the pace group.
    • Once I began running, I realized I wasn't going to catch them.  I decided to focus on my form and getting through the next four miles.
  • Mile 23 - Mile 26.2
    • Running by myself was a lot more lonely, though I occasionally talked with the people around me.  My real focus was just the next stop.  I walked the whole length of the next two water stops, and then continued running.  There was one part (just after the Howard Street Bridge) where my hands started tingling.  I walked a block, felt better, and started running again.
    • I did score some gummy bears running through Waverly.  Yum!!
    • By the time we hit down town, I was thrilled.  I was also amused by the evangelical guy outside of Lexington Market.  Really?  You're going to preach to me about salvation, after I've just run a marathon?  Ok.
    • I saw signs for Camden Yards: 7 blocks.  I started counting down.  I knew that wasn't the end, but that it was closer.
    • Once I hit the ballpark, I couldn't keep the smile off my face.  I wasn't moving fast.  There was definite shuffle.  But I tried to pick it up while in the chute.  I just focused on the finish line, and I was psyched to see the clock. 
    • I ran over the finish pad and into the runners corral.  And I tried to keep my legs moving (even though there wasn't room to move) so I wouldn't pass out.  I didn't. Win!

The results: I crossed the mat a little after 4:04, which was awesome!  My chip time ended up being 4:02 and change.  Based on how I felt around mile 22 and the end, I'm really happy with that.

Post-Race:  The worst part of the race was actually the post-race runner's area.  There wasn't much room after the finish to move around.  I basically hit a wall of people waiting for those shiny blankets and the medals.  I got both, and then started for the food - only to realize that the food lines were crazy-long.  I got in the shortest one (for soup), and just had that.  It was perfect.  I needed the salt.  Thankfully I'd gotten water along with my medal.  I decided to leave the race corral and go find Matt.  Worse case, I knew I could buy food - but at the time I wasn't hungry.  I even gave the beer tix away.  Sigh. We caught the light rail home, where I did eventually get food and discovered all the places where chafing happened. Ouch.

Thoughts on the Race:  This was a really great experience.  I thought the pace group was awesome.  I had no idea that 4 hours of running could go by so quickly.  I loved the support of the neighborhoods, and other runners as well.  I knew almost every portion of the route - I'd either run, walked, or driven those roads, which was cool.  I also think that it helped, knowing what was coming.  I had no stress, I just knew what I needed to get through. I do wish the finishing area had been better organized, but I'm happy with my time.  

The best part about the finish?  Finding Matt in the reunion zone and giving him a big hug.

Will I do it again:  Definitely.  I'm hoping I'll be better able to stick to a training plan.  Part of my challenge with the long runs is that I'd never done those kinds of distances before.  Well, now I have.  I'm not sure the 26.2 would have gone as well on an entirely new course.  We'll see.  I want to do Marine Corps in 2011.

So how do I feel now?  I ate like crazy on Saturday, I was so hungry.  My feet, hamstrings, quads, and hips really hurt for the first two days - however, it was all muscle ache, nothing that feels like an injury.  I'm still sore a few days later.  I do feel like I need more sleep, so I'm working on that.  I took Sun-Tues off, and I'll be swimming tomorrow.  Thursday will be the first run back, and then I'll have a nice easy run at the Army 10 on Sunday.

I'm glad I did the marathon, and I'm looking forward to the next one.  Thanks to everyone who supported and encouraged me along the way, especially Matt, the Sixes, and Team Duzy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Warrior Dash - 2010

The full blow-by-blow account is here, but I wanted to mention Warrior Dash in this blog as well.

Why I wanted to do this race:  I heard of this race a few times last year, but Matt's excitement about it pretty much sealed the deal for me.  I was looking forward to something different, and also an event we could do together.  And a mud race just sounded fun.

The Prep:  Nothing beyond my normal routine.  In fact, this was technically my marathon taper.

The Gear:  All the things I read recommended wearing quick-dry fabric, because the mud/water obstacles would make us cold.  I wore an orange Columbia Tri shirt, black mesh shorts over cotton spandex, and old sneakers (blown out a while ago).  I planned to donate the shoes at the end of the race.

Race Morning:  We had to leave kind of early (8:45a for the 12:30p wave) because the race was so far away.  I packed a bag with a towel, a change of clothes, and some snacks.  We picked up the Sixes and headed north, stopping briefly to fuel with Chick-Fil-A (another reason why this was a great race.  We could do that!)  We met up with our friends in the parking lot (great timing) and inside the race area, which was really well organized - bag drop, etc.

The Goal:  Have fun.  And don't break an ankle on the obstacles.

The Race:  Pretty much summed it up here. 

The Results: No idea.  And that's cool.

Post Race:  We sat and enjoyed the beer, turkey legs, and bands for a while.  There was some great people watching.  It was also a fabulous day - awesome just to sit outside, even though the dirt probably prevented any hope of actually getting a tan.

Thoughts on the Race: This was a really fun, not very fast 5K.  Many of the obstacles weren't nearly as tough as the website made them out to be, but that was ok.  There were some surprising challenges.  I thought the best part was running the Warrior Dash with my friends.

Will I do it again:  Sure!  Though maybe not next year.  After all, we have Tough Mudder to look forward to.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Upcoming races...

I've spent the last few days thinking over races for 2011, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  October is my race-heavy month this year, with the following...

October 9 -- Warrior Dash

"Welcome to America’s most insane race. Warrior Dash lands in the Mid-Atlantic for the first time in 2010 where eleven obstacles from hell await along this 3.15 mile course."
This is basically an obstacle course at a ski resort.  Expect moments of girly panic and shrieking (and that's just from the boys).  A whole lot of people we know are signed up to do this race, which is going to be held in PA.  At the end there's live music, free beer, and viking hats.  I know!!  Pretty psyched for this one.

October 16 -- Baltimore Marathon
My first marathon, but not my first running festival.  I have a goal time, but I'm more concerned with finishing strong.  I'm really looking forward to this race, even if the long runs have been hard to do on my own.  At the end, there is also Free beer.  Hmm.  Pattern?

October 24 -- Army 10-miler
One of the biggest races in North America.  This is a crowded race, but it's also a nice route.  They have a huge expo as well.  A run through DC will be a nice way to end the "season".

Finally, as I plan out 2011, I've already signed up for one event (or will be signed up by the end of the week).  What's that, you ask?  The Tough Mudder challenge, held near Charlottesville, VA on October 22 and 23, 2011.  We are currently trying to determine if we are going to run for charity (The Wounded Warrior Project), and if we do, I'll set up a training/fundraising blog.  There may be tattoos involved.  But look for training updates here, because Tough Mudder seems like a really intense challenge! 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Iron Girl Columbia - 2010

Why I wanted to do this race:  This was the first tri I ever did.  When I signed up, I wanted to see if I could meet my time goal.  More on that in The Prep.  Also, Iron Girl is just a fun race.  Athletes are very supportive of each other, and it's very inspiring.

The Prep: My focus this year has been the Marathon.  With a few exceptions, I've sort of stuck to that training plan.  However, through a combination of scheduling, a few illnesses, and a lot of good old fashioned laziness, I did not spend the summer consistently training.  Not an excuse, or even an explanation.  Just the facts, ma'am.  So as August closed in and Iron Girl was fast approaching, I realized I wasn't really ready, and there wasn't a whole lot I could do about it at the last minute.  Hm.  Lesson learned.  So I came out of my "three month taper" with the attitude that I just wanted to have fun.  And not wipe out on my bike.  A lot like my goals the first time I did this race.

The Taper:  Hah!  None.

The Gear:

  • For the swim, just a suit (water was 86 degrees), speedo goggles, race cap.  Wrapped some prewrap around my hair to keep it back during the bike, after T1
  • For the bike, bike shorts, my specialized Dolce; Bell bike helmet; old bike shoes with spd clips
  • For the run, Asics Gt2150s.
Race Morning, pre-race:  Up well before dawn, though not as early in past years.  Breakfast was a SoyJoy bar, followed by a Larabar an hour later, with plenty of water in between.  Packed up transition stuff in a laundry basket, which worked surprisingly well.  The woman next to me never showed up, so I had extra space where her bike should have been, which was nice.  Set up my transition area, covered everything with a towel (it was raining), and retreated to the car.  Begin 45 minutes of playing WordUp.  The rain stopped, and I put on sunscreen, just in case.  The rain started again.

Goal:  Finish, feel good on the run, don't wipe out on the bike.  Have fun.

The Race:  I spent a short time wandering around saying high to people, and then it was time to walk to the start.  
  • Swim:  The start was pretty rough - No matter where I was, I felt like I was running into someone, and this lasted pretty much through the turn around.  The lake was full of grass.  Yummy.  I kept my strokes nice and long, and used the swim as a warmup. Also to plan T1  Leg time: 21:33 (234th place)
  • T1:  It was pouring.  I've never biked in pouring rain.  Do I forgo the bike shoes so I don't have to worry about clipping?  Do I wear shades?  Do I eat before?  It stopped raining as I came out of the water, and I opted to go with what I knew.  Socks and shorts on.  Bike shoes on.  Helmet and shades on.  Racebelt, check.  Bike under the rack, and off we go!
  • Bike: this is my weakest leg.  Mounted with no problem, and I was off.  Because the pavement was so wet, I avoided painted lines.  I braked on several of the downhills (In the past I just tore down them as fast as gravity took me), took the turns slowly, and made sure I knew where the other bikers were.  Bike felt crowded, too, until the way back.  I actually felt very comfortable on the bike, except when it started raining again (last few miles) and my hands started to slip when I went to shift. Time: 2:20:48 (1828th place). 
  • T2: Came back in, unclipped, ran down and racked.  Sadly, I had forgotten to cover my running shoes after T1.  Yay for sloshing!  Swapped shoes, slugged some gatorade, and took off.    Time: 2:20 (1008th place)
  • Run:  I decided, as I ran out of the transition area, I would walk in two places: the steep hill on the zig-zag (just before the second water stop), and the second half of the steep hill on the way back.  The rest of the time I wanted a strong run.  I adjusted my pace as I went, based on how my legs felt.  And for the most part they felt fine!  Or at least, they were tired but I've done this route when I was tired, so it didn't feel like a big deal.  I pushed it out on the flats, where I had room to run, and shortened my pace on the hills.  Stuck to water at the stops.  I powered up the last little hill, and sprinted through the finish. Time: 28:46 (8:43m/mile, 125th place)
The Results:  I came in with a final time of 2:09:06 - a little less than 5 minutes slower than last year.  437 overall (out of 1780), 60th in my division (out of 183).  Mostly, I came in feeling really good.  I'm pretty psyched about that.

Post-Race:  A bottle of water, but I wasn't hungry.  I cheered people on, walked around for a bit to stretch my legs, and then packed up.  After a shower (I was really gross), I was finally up for food.  Post-race meal of choice?  Chicken and waffles from Chick'N'Friends!  YUM!  That night, I crashed around 5:30pm, and slept until around 8am.

Thoughts on the Race:  While I do wish I hadn't been quite so lazy over the summer, I'm happy that I felt good and actually had fun while I was racing (even on the bike, which has never happened before).  Also, this was the first time I've felt a payoff from my long runs that were part of marathon training - even though they were tired, my legs worked just fine.  Mentally I felt a lot stronger than I have in years past.

Will I do it again:  Probably not, although I would like to volunteer next year, just because it's such a cool event and I want to continue to support it.  I started training with the goal of IronMan, but I haven't been able to make myself like the bike leg.  I won't sign up for another tri until I do get on the bike more.  When I do, it'll be a smaller race.  Until then, I'll stick to the running and the swimming.

Thanks to everyone who was on the sidelines, cheering along the race route and into the finish.  Matt, thanks for being a good sport about waiting in the rain!  
This truly is an awesome race, and I'm so glad I was able to participate this year.

Monday, June 14, 2010

2010.06.13 - Great Chesapeake Bay Swim

 4.4 miles across the Chesapeake Bay, most of it between the spans of the Bay Bridge.  Race proceeds to benefit the March of Dimes.

Why I wanted to do this race:  One of my long term goals is to do a long endurance event, like an Ironman Triathlon, for my 30th birthday.  My best friend did this race a few years ago, and for several years I've done the 1.1 swim.  I decided to upgrade, entered the lottery in January, and made it in.  Go me!

The Prep:  I had a detailed training plan that increased yardage and time in the water with weekly long swims.  This would be supplemented by masters' practice 2-3 times/week.  I didn't adhere to this well, but I did manage to get a long, continuous swim in every few weeks.  The last two were 2 hours long.

The Taper: We took a trip to Vegas the week before.  The timing wasn't really intentional.  I did one workout while we were there, and a lot of walking.  This wasn't a great pre-race plan, but as my goal was just to finish the event, I tried not to stress about it.  And I did have a lot of fun.

The Gear:  My sale-special Xterra wetsuit (sleeveless), the numbered race cap, and my trusty (aka ancient) speedo goggles.

Race Morning, pre-race:  Still on Pacific Time, it hurt when the alarm went off at 4am.  Stumbled around in the dark for a few minutes, made sure I had packed my wetsuit and goggles.  Matt took care of the dogs while I made breakfast (yummy smoothie with fruit, yogurt, and lots of ice), packed snacks and my post-swim bag, etc.  Felt good, just nervous and pretty tired.  Sixes showed up around 5am, and off we went!

Arrived at the park and ride just before 6.  The trip over the bridge was somewhat nerve-wracking.  The trip BACK over the bridge on the buses provided by the race was moreso.  It was a beautiful morning to sit and wait at Sandy Point, though.  Hydrated, checked in, and got my stuff into a trashbag so it could be shipped back across the bridge.  I was too nervous to eat my granola bar, so I nom'ed some cliff shot blocks and drank water.

Pre-race meeting was informative.  The water was warm (71 degrees), but because of the recent rain, there were no jelly fish (YAY!).  Based on the tide, we were given instructions to stay right for the first two miles (because the tide was pushing left).  After the 2nd mile marker, we were to stay left (because the tide turned to push right, and the flood tide was extremely strong).  Learned that similar tides had led to 100+ DNFs in a field of 800, last year.  Hm.  Ok.  Stay right until you have to stay left.  Got it.  Race director made it clear that we had to stay between the spans of the bridge (a distance of about 100 yards), or we would be DQ'd and pulled from the water.  Strict instructions to comply with volunteers.  Race support was impressive.  Dive teams, coastguard and private boats, and medical boats.  Plus aid boats at miles 2 and 3, equipped with water, bananas, saltines, and nilla wafers.

Then it was time to go!  Wetsuit, check.  Bodyglide, check.  Sunscreen (for what it would be worth), check.  Put my wetsuit on, realized my goggles, cap, and tag were still inside it, had to pull my arms out and get them.  Gah.  I was so nervous.  Lost Cindy and Jeff even before we started.

Goal:  Finish under the 3h 45m cut-off time.

Concerns:  I was worried about the things I couldn't train for, like chop and the force of the tide. I was also pretty worried about sighting.  I don't practice it enough, and in the past lifting my head has left me pretty tired.  And I was worried because I didn't put in enough prep time.  :(

The Race:  This was intense.  I'm incredibly grateful to the account from two years ago, provided by Cindy, as well as to other race reports I read online.  That helped me prepare for what it was like, to be out in the water.  Here's the mile-by-mile breakdown:

  • Start to Mile 1 marker:
    • The race went in 2 waves, of about 400 people each.  This was the largest start (in water) that I've ever experienced.  I knew that if I lost my goggles I'd just quit (I'm not as hard core as some people who were out there), so I hung back and let people rush forward.  The water was cool, but comfortable.  By the time I got horizontal, I just had to watch for overzealous kickers. There were a few people swimming at sharp angles across the wave.  I just let them go, until I had room to move.
    • We were aiming for a pair of buoys right past the jetty.  It was pretty easy to keep them in sight, and get under the bridge.  Once beneath the bridge, I tried to stay center.  The bridge curved left, but it was easy to kind of center myself between the spans.  Hit the first mile buoy sooner than I thought I would, still feeling good.
    • I realized sighting would be ok.  Once I was between the bridges, I could gauge my distance to either span when I breathed.  Picking up my head, all I had to do was look up and make sure I was centered.  That was awesome.
  • Mile 1 to Mile 2 marker:
    • This one felt long.  There were places here where the water felt choppy - even though I know the conditions were pretty fantastic for swimming.  I can't imagine how it would be to swim all 4.4 miles in heavy chop.  Even for that little stretch, I just felt beat-up.  Tried breathing both sides, didn't seem to matter much in terms of water hitting my face.  So I varied it just to keep myself entertained.
    • I spent a lot of time in my head in this one.  Thought about writing, and about my family, and about Matt.  It was some nice quiet time, broken up by the occasional reminder 'Stay Center'.
    • I saw the aid boat before I saw the buoy.  They were pretty close together, and the aid boat was smack in the center between the spans.  Awesome.  Hung on the boat for a minute to catch my breath and grab a cup of water.  I felt a little light-headed when I went vertical, so I decided to forego food.  I hadn't trained with food anyway.  Joked with some other swimmers, then pushed off and started swimming again.
  • Mile 2 to Mile 3 marker:
    • My right shoulder started to hurt just after the mile 2 marker.  I'd sort of expected this, based on how my body felt during the long swims.  Tried to pay attention to my stroke, and breathe on the left side periodically.  Wished I could have done some fly or backstroke, but I didn't trust myself to keep to the center/keep a good pace with either one.  Occasional breaststrokes felt good though.
    • There were some huge swells/waves in this part, the center of the channel.  I actually felt a little motion sickness - had to pick my head up, do a breaststroke or two, then swim again.  But I could see the other side!  Motivated myself by focusing on the next set of pilings.  Thought about how running 4 miles is much more fun than swimming it. 
    • Around this time, the pink caps (second wave) started to catch me.  I was ok with that.  There were huge sections of the race where I was all by myself in the middle of the spans, and that was a little unnerving.
    • One thing I hadn't expected, though Cindy had warned me, was realizing how much water is out there.  I mean, it makes sense.  But I really felt it, out there in the middle of the bay, knowing how much water was beneath me and around me.  It made me feel tiny.
    • The spans were far apart, and seemed to go forever.  I was tired, and couldn't let my thoughts wander as much.  Had to pay attention.
  • Mile 3 to Mile 4 marker:
    • Really wanted some water and saltines from the aid boat at mile 3.  I was looking for it.  And there it was - ALL the way to the right side, far from the center.  It was a moment of panic.  I knew I had to stay left, because of how the water was moving.  I knew if I swam to the aid boat, I'd have to swim perpendicular away from it before I could get going again.  I decided to skip it.  Good thing, too, because....
    • The tide got intense here.  I had been in the center, but all of a sudden, I was close to the right span.  Not good, not good at all.  I couldn't remember how the pilings were labeled, but they were closer together here.  So I swam, diagonal for 1-2, then straight for 1-2.  I had no intention of getting pulled at this point.  
    • Reminded myself that I was into this because it was a long event, and it would be cool if I finished.  Yet, also wondered why anyone would actually ever want to do a race like this.  But it was going to be ok.  Had a chat with my body.  We were going to get through this.
    • I was so glad to see the mile 4 marker.  There were still people behind me, so I knew I wasn't going to get pulled for time.  I began to wish I'd worn a watch.
  • Mile 4 marker to finish:
    • All I wanted was to be out of the bay.
    • Still was getting pulled to the right by the tide - tried to stay just far enough away that I wouldn't get pulled off-course.
    • Finally saw the pair of buoys that signaled we were supposed to cross.  But it wasn't like the race director said... there wasn't a group of people waving us through, just a guy sitting on a jet ski not really moving at all.  What were we supposed to do?  Where were we supposed to turn?  The swimmer beside me was just as confused.  We swam to the second buoy, then cut across between two pilings.
    • The water instantly got warmer, and I could see the shore.  As soon as we reached the jetty, I could stand - it was about 5 feet deep.  Took a minute to fix my goggles, then started swimming again.  Nearer to the finish, I stood up a few times, just to make sure I wouldn't pass out when I finally got out of the water.  Ran a bit, swam, ran, swam.  I didn't really care, I was done swimming.  Stumbled out onto the beach, ran past someone and over the chip mat.  Felt pretty good!

The Results:  I came in 472 out of 599 finishers, 17/21 in my age group (F 25-29),l and 135/179 overall females.  My final time was 2:33:02 (avg mile split: 34:47).

Post-race:  Water first, then some donut peices, a piece of subway turkey sub, and an orange wedge.  I was starving, all I wanted was sugar and salt.  Then all I wanted to do was sit down.  Felt a bit nauseous when we were done, but by the time I got back on the bus, I felt better.  Caught lunch, a shower, and a nap, and woke up sore and hungry.  Carbs and salt fixed that.  Got home and slept for 11 hours.  Still sore, and my shoulders hurt, but nothing that feels like an injury.

Thoughts on the race:  My goal was simply to finish beneath the cut-off time.  And I did.  I'm happy that I felt as good as I did, and I'm very happy with my time.  I do wish I had prepared better, because I think that I would have had a stronger race.  If the conditions had been poor, I would have been screwed.

My wetsuit was awesome.  Fit well, was buoyant, kept me nice and warm even in the cool spots.  I could kick and stretch in it.  Minimal chafing, I didn't really notice til I got in the shower and got soap on my neck.  Goggles held up well, but I'm going to go for a bigger set where I can see more... sort of like an aquamask... for future open water events.  Finally, based on Cindy and Jeff's advice, I stuck the chip/band beneath the leg of my wetsuit.  It was a big chip, and there was concern that the water would drag on it and it would be lost.  This was great advice, and completely comfortable.  When it came time to take it off, all I had to do was fold the neoprene back, and I didn't stress once about losing it during the race.

Will I do it again?  I'm not sure.  The race was hard, and I'm psyched about finishing.  The fee was expensive, but it seemed extremely well supported (except for the issue with the aid boat at Mile 3).  But it also made me aware of how much harder it is to swim in the ocean (versus lake, etc).  I would have been miserably on a choppy day.  Next year I'm going to try a similar distance in the Chester River, and see how they compare.

Thanks to Matt for coming along to cheer us on, thanks to Cindy and Jeff for the great training motivation, thanks to the Columbia Masters' program and Sue for the great workouts. Thanks to Suzy for the supportive texts! :)
Thank you, everyone, for your support and encouragement leading up to the event.  Knowing there were people cheering me on really helped motivate me when I was out there, tired.  You guys rock!