Ironman Number 8 is in the books! It’s an old but true adage in sports that it never gets easier – you just go faster: yesterday was no different. Hillary and I met on Saturday to set out a race plan. I tend to stick on the less is more side for race plans – go hard, have some fun, and no walking! In so many words on Saturday, it came down to this: Go for it. With a Kona spot and a pro-card qual checked off the list already for the year, it was clear I had nothing to lose. I certainly hadn’t come all the way up here to play it safe.
The morning of the race was very smooth. It was considerably warmer than it had been in the last few mornings, and the rain was holding off for the time being. I dropped all my necessary gear off, said goodbye to my parents, and got into the water for a warm up swim. We were part of the new “swim start initiative” so after a warm up (which – by the way, that small area was not quite enough room for anyone to actually do more than just get wet) I lined up in the front corral. I saw Hillary off to the side and knew that meant she had decided not to start. So bummed for her, but racing an Ironman is never an easy day. Racing one sick is the worst, and she made the smart call to let her body recover. Selfishly, I knew that meant I’d have a full time cheerleader on the course!
We were told we’d start 5 minutes after the pro women, when in reality we started 2 back. Honestly, the swim start felt just as rough as it always does, but the new start did help me be less nervous beforehand. So, I’ll take it. I came out of the first loop and my watch had a 29:xx on it (official mats had me around 30). Realizing it could finally be the day I hit that sub-1 hour swim, I took off for loop 2. Unfortunately here it was a lot of swimming over people, and I just had some trouble really getting into a rhythm. I came out in 1:02 – not what I hoped for but still 2 minutes faster than ever before. Progress!
As I was running into transition I was passed by a girl who was BOOKING it. I saw a ‘P’ on her leg and realized that I had at least caught one of the pro women! Man do these girls transition fast! I had a smooth change and out onto the bike it was. Ahhh, the bike. I was so excited to not be swimming. And I was so excited to be on my bike. The rain was coming down but the temps were reasonable, so it was actually kind of nice for the climbing. Within a few miles I caught back up to the pro I saw out of the water, and another one! I felt good, and I think I was excited to feel like I was actually in the middle of the pro race. So I pressed on. Within 40 miles, I had caught all but one of the other age group girls.
However, as I did the math coming up that first loop – I realized I had biked pretttty darn quick. Whoopsies. On pace for a 5:20 was probably a little ahead of myself. I have biked myself into a hole many a day, so I knew I was on the brink – if I pushed hard again for another lap I may not get out of that hole. I opted to scale back a little bit and relax more for the second loop. I didn’t want to lose the time on anyone I had just picked up, but there was no use spending all my pennies on the bike. By the time the second loop picked up, the swirly headwinds had also, and no matter where we rode it felt like the wind was in our face. This was especially unpleasant for the final climb. Luckily, I had faced this weather back in May doing repeats up the climb, so I was ready! As I came to the end of the bike I was ready to be done, but I have to say biking that section through town is so much fun!
Off into T2 as the second age grouper, I was pretty excited. But I was also pretty nervous – did I bike too hard? Last week I watched the ESPN Nine for IX documentary No Limits. In that is a quote by Tanya Streeter that has really stuck with me:
“If it isn’t something that’s physical stopping you, then it’s mental. So, is your mind going to be your weapon or weakness?”
In this moment I told myself: do not let your mind be your weakness. You can run off that bike.
The 3rd place age grouper had come off the bike only a couple seconds behind me, and we left T2 together. As you leave town with all the cheers and the adrenaline you can’t help but feel good. We kind of laughed together as we ran step for step saying it felt harder to hold ourselves back than to just go. But, I knew well enough as this was #8, that holding back now would pay off later. Cynthia and I ran together through the first turnaround. At this point I dropped back a bit and was starting to worry. My toes were hurting. I know, I know. Just run Alyssa. But seriously – they were HURTING. Like, worse than anything. Suddenly I realized that it felt like I was cutting off the circulation to them: my shoes were pulled to tight! So, I stopped for a couple seconds, loosened the laces to the point I thought I could run right out of my shoes, then picked up the pace again. Step by step as blood got back to my toes, I was able to run better. Whew! Heading back into town I knew I was going to be faced with two big hills.
Coming up off the first hill I saw Hillary. The best and loudest on-course cheerleader ever, she shouted encouragement. To which I just shook my head. Our conversation then went like this:
“What? Why are you shaking your head?”
“I don’t feel good”
“My legs hurt”
“Listen – if you think ANYONE feels good right now running up this, you’re WRONG. Pound some calories, and keep moving! You look FINE.”
Ha! I felt like a little kid that just tried to get out of school early by faking a sickness and was told to get back to class and stop making things up! And, she was right. I was fine. And to be honest, I was still making good time. So, I kept plugging away. As I started the second loop, I moved back to 5th as Kendra flew by me. Seriously, flew! That girl’s got wheels! “Just hold on for this loop” I told myself. The second loop was a little bit more distracting because now people were pouring out onto the course. Little by little I was picking people up and ticking those miles off. As I was heading out River Road, I was caught by a friend of a friend, Dave. Only having actually met in person that morning, I knew there’s no quicker way to become friends than during an Ironman (that IS how Haley and I met after all!). He wasn’t keeping calories in, but lucky for me his rough day was helping keep me moving through several miles. We hit the turnaround, and were heading home!
I call the final miles the countdown, and once again Hillary was waiting at the top for me! We can get under 10:30, yes? She asked. Holy shit – can I? I wondered. I changed watches after the swim to my Garmin, so I truly had no clue what my total time was due to transitions, etc. I gave her a thumbs up because I would certainly try! The SMASH crew was out in full force, and Michele and Anabel’s cheers as I hit the bottom of the last hill were so inspiring. Coming into the oval I saw my parents, and as I rounded the final curve I saw the clock: 10:29:45. Ahhhh. Sprinting through and coming in just under 10:30 by the clock (I realized I had a buffer with the swim start – so final official time of 10:29:53!), I was spent. I felt better than I ever have at the end of a race, but man oh man did it hurt.
Getting under the 10:30 barrier, with a 15 minute best over the 140.6 distance, felt so, so good. Solidifying another age group win was also meaningful. It was also fun to feel like I was in the mix for the women’s pro race. It’s a shame that they are only given a 2 minute head start, but it does work out in my favor to see where I stand. I told people going into this race that sub-10:30 would be reason to be excited, and I am standing by that! The progress I am making is encouraging. To Hillary – thank you for being the selfless coach that puts me above all else even when your day isn’t what you wanted. I couldn’t do this without you. Thank you to my parents! Sherpa duty for an Ironman is no easy day, and you never complain. Thank you to my Rev3 team near and far – you guys are an amazing support system and get me through the tough days, no doubt! And of course, thank you to the Rev3 team sponsors: NormaTec, PowerBar, Biotta, BlueSeventy, SBR Sports, Compex, and Pearl Izumi — words can’t describe how you make this sport possible!
On ward for some recovery – and then next up is one of my favorites for the year: Rev3 Old Orchard Beach!