A Tale of Two Halves
by Rebecca Jones
Last year was an important one for me with respect to triathlon; 2014 marked my first full season on Team FeXY, second year working with Coach Shelly McKenna, and my first two half iron distance races. Besides honing my nutrition between the two races and seeing significant gains from my summer training, I learned how interacting with teammates and other athletes makes triathlon such a joy.
Ironman 70.3 Raleigh
June 1, 2014
As usual on race morning, I woke before my alarm at 3:25am. I got vertical, caffeinated and fueled, then headed out for the race site. This was a split transition, so I set-up my T2 gear first. Spilled some of the water out of my aero-bottle, but it was easily topped off later, since I had brought extra.
On the bus, I sat next to an athlete wearing a “Rumpass in Bumpass” race shirt. Nice to see another Virginian! We talked about racing at Lake Anna and I tried not to think about what the day ahead would bring.
After the dark bus ride to the lake, I got body marked and set up T1. I borrowed a pump from another athlete, since my bike had been sleeping by the lake since the morning before. I brought the tubulars up to 105psi, took care of bike nutrition, water, and was set-up well before 6am. I had so much time to kill and was soon very thankful for the company of my teammates. The race began at 7am, but my wave started after 8am. I noshed on a balance bar then watched the first pros exit the water after only 22 min. Fast!
I checked my morning clothes bag at 6:50am, downed some Clif Shot bloks, and then got neoprened. It was such a relief to finally get in the water for a quick warm-up swim. While lining up, I saw Erin, a lady from Instagram I’ve followed for years. She was smiling and excited. I introduced myself and wished her a great race; great to have that positive energy immediately before the race. My wave got in position and I was surprisingly calm. I was thinking “it’s a long workout” and I was really excited that the waiting was over. Go time was 8:10am.
Fuel: Breakfast shake (1.5 scoops Karbolyn, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder, 1 tri-berry nuun: ~450 kcal, 20 g protein).
Clif bloks (3, 100 kcal)
Balance bar (200 kcal)
Water: 1 full bottle
Electrolytes: 1 caffeine pill + 2 salt tabs
SWIM: 45:31, 2:00/100yds
The swim was akin to a washing machine, especially near the beginning. Lots of churning arms and legs, it felt crowded. I focused on long strokes and good form, tried to be really consistent, calm, and not waste any energy. I drafted whenever I could and got to the first turn without any incident or kicks in the face. The back length of the swim was long and the faster swimmers in the wave after mine began to pass. That was troubling, but I didn’t think about it too much. I was drifting right during this section and actually passed a few of the yellow buoys on the right. I adjusted and tried sighting more often. I made the final turn and sighted the finish feeling really good so far. After the turn I had swimmers on either side, so I just used them for guidance and didn’t sight as often. The numbering on the buoys was odd, I was thinking they were counting down from 8, but they weren’t. Before I knew it I was sighting the dock on my left and then was climbing out onto the boat launch. Finishing the swim, I looked down to see I was around 45min, which was within my goal range of 40-50 min.
The wetsuit strippers were quick and I was feeling excited to start riding. I took 2 salt pills in transition, stuffed a pack of bloks and 2 more salt tabs in the pocket of my tri top. My aero-bottle was full of water and I had one spare bottle in the rear cage. Volunteers sprayed my back with sunscreen on the way out. (Should have gotten some on my arms and shoulders too.) T1 was under the 5 min estimate, but just barely.
BIKE: 3:17:14, 16.8mph AVG
In the first 3 miles, I stayed in the small ring and got my legs spinning. After we made the turn onto the big road, I settled in and pushed harder. I felt strong and comfortable in aero and I drank regularly; I planned to drink all the water in my aero bottle before the first aid station around mile 15. I reached the first aid station a couple miles later than I expected, but went through without incident and refilled the aero bottle without stopping.
I ate 3 Clif Shot bloks about every 5 miles and used the lap indicator on my Garmin to remind me. I must have dropped the bloks that I had put in the pocket of my tri top, because they were gone when I reached for them around mile 25. So I only had the 3 packs of bloks in total, of which I had already eaten half. I knew I would need more fuel and that my electrolytes might suffer without the extra sodium. At the last 3 aid stations, I picked up water and a banana half to supplement. Improvised nutrition, but it seemed to work. I did pick up a gel at one aid station, but it was one I hadn’t tried in training, so I just saved it in case I got into trouble.
The hills were rough, especially on the second half of the bike. At one point, probably mile 30, I realized I needed to down shift a lot sooner as I was beginning to climb. My quads were really angry with me trying to power up the hills on the big ring. So, I started downshifting to the small ring first, which made the climbs instantly easier. I felt slow trying to climb in aero, so I stayed on the horns more at the end too. The descents were a lot of fun and very fast. I passed a lot of road bikes descending because I was just more aero. Sometimes, though, they would pass me back on the next uphill! I resolved to work on climbing more during the summer.
Overall, I was happy with the bike. I would have liked to have been faster, but my time was consistent with my training rides.
Nutrition on bike:
Fuel: 3 packs clif shot bloks (margarita flavor, 600 kcal), 1 banana (100 kcal)
Water: 5 bottles
Electrolytes: 2 salt tabs in T1 (430 mg + 900 mg in bloks)
Dismounting, I felt seriously wobbly, especially since we rode up a hill to get to the dismount line! I’m used to running straight into my rack at T2, but this felt totally different. I just walked as quickly as I could to my rack way down near the run out. Lady next to me had racked her bike the wrong way, so I just followed suit. Got my bike gear off and running shoes on, then looked at the water bottle. I felt plenty hydrated at that point, not thirsty, so I made a decision to leave it there and not deal with it. That was a good choice. Put my hat on and clipped my race belt while volunteers slathered me with sunscreen. Again, should have done the damn arms and shoulders. Reasonable time here.
RUN: 2:26:38, 11:20 min/mi AVG
I saw my family going into my aisle in T2 and then again on the run out; so good to have their support. I took off and ignored my legs, which were screaming. The pain lessened after a mile and in hindsight, I’m glad for all those little bricks I did this spring. I knew the run would get better.
The hills were miserable on this run. More than I thought and two loops. Thankfully the up was all at the beginning of the loops, mentally easier. It was also damn hot by this point, especially headed away from town. But I started stashing ice in my tri top, which helped and made an amusing sound. Convenient when I got thirsty between aid stations.
In my race belt I had 3 Gu gels, a pack of bloks, 4 salt tabs. I took 2 salt tabs and a Gu (tri-berry, with caffeine) at the first aid station. I split the blok pack, half around mile 3, half around mile 6.5. At mile 10 I was starting to feel that loopy feeling again, so I took the other 2 salt tabs and a final gel (jet blackberry, 2x caffeine). My stomach was a little sour at this point and I was concerned about that last gel staying down. So I walked a little extra after that aid station to let things settle. Shelly had warned me that walking would hurt more than running at this point; she was totally right.
Seeing FeXYs on the course with me was a great motivator. I loved that. Really helped me stay positive while trudging up the hills. I didn’t expect this, but seeing the finish line on the turn-around was also really great.
The last few miles went by pretty quickly, actually. I’m proud to see I picked up the pace from the previous splits, but then it was more downhill and I was relishing the shade whenever I could get it. Rounding that corner onto Fayetteville knowing the finish was like half a mile away … that was a sweet moment. I remember feeling strong and that I had really done it. I ran thru that finish. The race didn’t beat me. Final half marathon time was 2:26:38, only 11 min off my PR. I was hoping to be under 2:30 and I was.
Nutrition on run:
Fuel: 6 bloks (200 kcal), 2 gels (200 kcal)
Water: Cup of water at every aid station, usually drank at least half
Electrolytes: 4 salt tabs
OVERALL TIME: 6:39:02
Seeing teammates at this race was incredible. I saw FeXYs on every leg of this race and felt their support… truly amazing. A favorite moment was when Zoya passed me back on the second loop of the run. Going up a hill, she said “Slow and steady, professor. Slow and steady”. I kept that advice close.
There were a number of moments that day that I could point to as motivators. My teammates, the beautiful weather, the cheering crowds, my family. What I can’t identify is at what point in the race I felt sure I would finish… I don’t know when that moment happened. Maybe it wasn’t a single moment. Maybe it was when I rounded that last corner and had the finish line in sight. I really had no idea how my run time had been… I stopped looking at my pace miles before the end. I had felt mentally clear the whole day and I wasn’t being taken away on a gurney. When I saw the clock, I subtracted my swim start delay and knew I had finished well.
One surprising thing happened on the bike. On a hill, there was a group sitting at the edge of the subdivision cheering for the cyclists. Standing in the street, a lady holding her baby looked deliberately at me and said “you can do this” and I felt a wave of emotion. I knew I was doing it. This race taught me that big goals are possible and I don’t know my own limits. On to the next goal!
Rock Hall, MD
October 4, 2014
Waterman’s Half was my last triathlon of 2014. This season, I had also raced the Luray double and Reston triathlon. Going into Waterman’s, I felt rested, but mentally in a very different place. Besides the usual stress of fall semester classes, which was in full swing, I learned of my Grandmother passing just two days prior. The news really affected me, but I was determined to not let it get in the way of this race, which I had been training for all summer.
I woke up early, but didn’t feel very rested. Since this race had a late start, I had breakfast with my daughter at 6:30am; that was wonderful. I rode to the race site an hour later, only to find a crowded transition area and crappy rack position. I put that out of my mind and got set up. I saw some familiar faces. One athlete from Team Z saw me and introduced herself: “I recognize you from some other races you’ve won. You are intense.” I was very flattered and it felt strange to be called out, but I just took the compliment. I was glad to see a couple other FeXYs racing, John Schaller and Rob Barlow. Their confidence was refreshing. With an hour left before transition closed, I was getting antsy, so I set out for a short run to clear my head. Back to transition I forced myself to eat a Vanilla Stinger Waffle and finish the water bottle I started earlier. Wetsuited and off to the swim start, I was more nervous than any other race this season.
Fuel: Breakfast shake (1 scoop strawberry Karbolyn (200kcal), 1 vanilla protein (145 kcal), 1 full raspberry scratch (80kcal) = 425 kcal).
Half a white bagel with cream cheese (~150 kcal).
Vanilla Stinger waffle (160 kcal)
Water: 1 full bottle
Electrolytes: 1 caffeine pill + 2 salt tabs
SWIM: 43:52, 1:47/100yd
Into the water at 9:13am, it was surprisingly chilly and brackish.
I tried to stay calm. Started my Garmin a few seconds before the gun. I was lined up way right, looked like a shorter line to me. My swim wave was a crazy mix of people; old guys, relays, Athenas, mixed bag… but not too large, fortunately. Maybe only 60 people.
Go time was 9:16am. It felt like I got to the first turn quickly, my stroke felt strong and fast. Not a whole lot of contact with other swimmers, except around the turns. One point I was pacing with another pale blue cap next to me, that kept getting closer, I tried to speed up to get ahead but didn’t sustain it long enough and had to settle into a slower rhythm. The swim had 2 loops and 7 turns, which felt like a lot. Overcast skies helped with sighting though, since I wasn’t blinded by the sun. I tried to bilateral breathe every 3 strokes and sight every 9th stroke. Not much drafting this race, felt mostly isolated. I got away from the sighting buoys after the 3rd turn. Tried to make a beeline for the turn buoy… this may have been where I swam extra, total was nearly 1.4mi.
Swim out was a wide ladder on the dock, with a volunteer helped me climb out. I felt wobbly, afraid the dock was slippery, but got moving as quick as I could.
So crowded! My bike was surrounded by two people struggling with their wetsuits. Loudly and politely, I said “Excuse me!” and barged in between them. Shed my wetsuit fast, turned bike Garmin on (doh!), noticed my glasses and helmet were on the ground, (must have fallen off aero bars), swallowed two salt tabs, gloves on, helmet on, glasses on. Running out. Passed at least 4 competitors right there, still transitioning. Both of those two people who had been crowding my bike were also still there. Passing them fueled my confidence and I ran to the mount line.
BIKE: 3:03:09, 18.4 mph AVG
This is the part of triathlon I live for. As soon as I’m on my bike, it’s like I’m home. I quickly settled in for the miles headed out of town. Temp was mid-60s and I was comfortable. I made the right choice not wearing arm warmers. Thankful again that I took the extra seconds to put on gloves, especially for the 5 mile section of tar & chip section on Bayshore. Aero felt a little sore on my bruised elbow; I ignored it.
I passed a few other Athenas in the first 5 miles of the bike. The wind was at my back, I felt fast. Ate 3 shot bloks every 5 miles for first 25 miles, I had divided the packages into smaller packs of 3, then spaced out remaining 9 over last half of the race. Felt like enough fuel, but I probably could have done with more.
Aid stations were TOO short! I picked up a water bottle, (good hand-offs actually) and then 3 seconds later see a sign “No trash past this point” Did they want me to stop to refill my bottles? No way. I ended up only getting only a half of a bottle refilled at the first stop. Then drained my spare heading to the second aid station. I focused on drinking everything I had on board before the 3rd and final stop, then refilled my aero bottle there. A little less water than Raleigh, but it was a lot cooler.
The wind was really tough in places. Demoralizing, actually. I just put my head down, cursed a few times, and focused on keeping an even cadence. I was frustrated that I had to drop into the small ring. My heart rate spiked into zone 4 a couple of times but I noticed it and pulled back. I think most of the zone 3 was early, the second half of the ride was more in zone 2. I felt really strong at the end; after 40 miles, I was really in a rhythm I could have sustained a lot longer.
Staying in aero got harder toward the end, as my right arm was hurting. But it was so much more efficient in that wind than doing anything else, that I ignored the discomfort. I kept pushing all the way into T2, passing a few people in the city who were slowing down as transition approached.
I was shooting for sub 3-hours on this bike and thought I would be close. I passed a lot of people and there was no one I rode near for any length of time. Weather was gorgeous, aside from the wind, and really beautiful country. I enjoyed just being out there, it was a gorgeous day to race. Even though I missed the time goal by just a couple minutes, I knew I had biked strong and came into T2 feeling terrific.
Nutrition on bike:
Fuel: 4 packs clif shot bloks (800 kcal)
Water: 4.5 bottles of water
Electrolytes: 430 mg from 2 salt tabs in T1, 1200 mg in bloks
My dismount was awkward, but my legs didn’t feel terrible. Not nearly as wobbly as at Raleigh. There was a large crowd of Team Z people near the fence of T2; when they saw my kit, they cheered “Go FeXY!” and rang their cow bells. Such an awesome surprise! I got to my rack and found it empty; then I knew I was in the lead for my category. Transition was smooth and fast. No nonsense. Ran out and settled in.
RUN: 2:10:02, 9:52min/mi AVG
This run wasn’t about winning Athena, although it easily could have been. I had in sight that 6 hr overall time and knew I needed to run hard to get close. I was running for myself, not for a podium.
The first aid station was immediately after T2 and I ran right past it. Next aid station, I took a gel and a few sips to get it down. I noticed an immediate difference and felt better. When I took in fuel, I walked and drank water at the following aid station. I skipped a few when I didn’t fuel. The last few bloks were harder to get down. It helped to take a sip of water and then swallow the chewed up bloks, went down faster that way. I’ll remember that.
Salt tabs were definitely needed here. I started getting that loopy feeling at a few points, the salt helped. I didn’t have salt in the bloks on the run, as I forgot to pack extra margarita bloks. Thankfully, I had a pack of cran razz bloks in my transition bag.
The second half was tougher, but I still felt pretty good. My right foot started getting sore after 8 miles, felt a blister forming on my toe, right edge of sole aching. I ignored it. The last 3 miles were very mental, but I focused on that 6 hr goal and kept pushing. I sipped water at the aid stations but kept running. I pulled the last mile closer to M pace, and pushed through to the finish. I really felt like I was racing, not just running.
Into the finish chute, the Team Z folks buoyed my spirits again shouting “Go FeXY! Finish strong!” And it felt really good to run hard through that finish line. No collapsing at the end…I felt fatigued, but still really good. And satisfied.
Nutrition on run:
Fuel: 2 gels (200 kcal total), 1 pack of bloks (200 kcal)
Mile 1.2: Tri-berry gel + caffeine, 1 salt tabs
Mile 3: 1 cran-razz blok
Mile 4.5: 2 cran-razz bloks + 2 salt tab
Mile 6: 2 cran-razz bloks
Mile 8: 1 cran-razz blok + 1 salt tab
Mile 10.5: Jet blackberry Gu (2x caffeine)
Water: 4 cups, approximately
Electrolytes: 4 salt tabs (860 mg)
OVERALL TIME: 6:01:13
The athletes racing Waterman’s were incredibly supportive. More than once, I saw a Team Z athlete who said something encouraging. Seeing my own teammates, John and Rob, was a fantastic boost. One racer saw my red compression sleeves and said “You have the best socks ever!” When I saw her on the second run loop, she smiled again and pointed “Look! The best socks!” I saw some of the other Athenas behind me on the run loops and they cheered me on too. Such great sportsmanship! I returned the love whenever I could and it made the miles fly by.
Overall, this was a fantastic race and I felt strong and confident. I PR’d every leg of the race, won Athena by over 39 minutes, and finished 5th AG. Oh, and by 5 minutes, I PR’d my half marathon time too! Yes, I missed the 6 hr goal, but now I have that to shoot for in the future. The support of my fellow racers was a tremendous surprise and it made such a difference in my state of mind. I was more than a little worried about how I would do, considering my grandmother’s recent passing and the stress of the semester. And I really thought this would be a lonely race without lots of other FeXYs. Thankfully, I was wrong! There was so much positive energy, it was hard to not feel amazing, even while I was pushing hard. Oh, to bottle that feeling for days when I forget! My finisher’s medal is still hanging from my rearview mirror… a welcome reminder of this amazing day.
The two overall race times clearly tell the story; I definitely improved and became a better triathlete this season. Thank you to my coach, Shelly McKenna, for pushing me to be better and believing in me.
Both of these swims felt good, but I was definitely more comfortable at Waterman’s. At the later race, I was able to push the pace at times and felt stronger amongst the other athletes swimming around me. A summer of extra swims at my local pool yielded a more confident racer. Unfortunately, I over swam both races this year. Next season, I may add more open water swims and practice sighting.
The bike at Waterman’s was pancake flat, but had some killer wind. Raleigh was significantly more hilly than the Athlete guide had suggested. Because of the terrain difference, it’s hard to compare my bike times for the two races. Heart rate wise, I had more zone 3 at Waterman’s than I did at Raleigh, suggesting I was pushing harder to race, not just ride. Getting off the bike at the end is also a good sign of my improved fitness since Raleigh.
Running at Waterman’s was so much better than Raleigh. With a cooler temperature and flat course, there was no trudging along like at Raleigh. Instead, I was racing. Mentally, I was stronger and physically, I felt better.
My progress in 2014 was a step in my continued evolution into a healthier life. Six years ago I was obese, I could barely walk the streets of my neighborhood without getting winded, and my doctor was concerned about my health. I never dreamed I was capable of racing a half ironman. In fact, there were many people who looked askance whenever I spoke about this goal. Moving to Virginia, finding a coach, joining Team FeXY… all these choices catalyzed me to where I am today. It has taken hours of commitment and more sacrifice than I can define, but I have no regrets. And I’ve come to learn how valuable is the support of a team and fellow athletes; without them, I know these stories would have been much different.
The slogan on my Raleigh finisher’s certificate says “Anything is possible.” I proved this adage true in 2014. Now, on to the next goal… Ironman Maryland 2015!