I decided to drive up to Columbia, Maryland for the Rev3 Half-Full Race benefitting the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults the first weekend of October. It would be my first race starting in the professional wave of women, but it was more importantly my first race a disappointing DNF in Las Vegas at the 70.3 World Championships a little over a mile from the finish line. Yes, it was painful and frustrating and humbling (important lessons learned). No, I am not ashamed of my performance there. Yes, I was physically and mentally tired after the whole ordeal and could have ended my season. No, I did want to end on that note. If ever I needed a race that offered a little more in the way of motivation than the usual podium-based results that motivate many a triathlete week in and week out (yours truly included) … I could not have picked a better race.
So I went into this race with 3 goals …
1) Finish my first pro race having fun and feeling strong, and honoring the spirit of the race by remembering and racing for all those whose lives have been affected by a diagnosis of cancer
2) Try not to be the last female professional
3) Maybe even finish in the money
As long as I accomplished #1 … I would consider it a successful experience, # 2 and 3 would just be (as my dad always says) a little lagniappe.
To my geographically-challenged self … Maryland is a really long drive from Birmingham, AL (which I realized only after I decided I wanted to do this race). So I left on Thursday afternoon, and drove 5 hours to Knoxville, TN. I crashed there for the night with my college friend Mary and her husband, Jamie. They woke up Friday morning and made me a cup of really good, strong coffee and a pancake breakfast before sending me on my way to find the local YMCA pool for a shakeout swim on my way out of town.
Friday was a looooooooong day on the road, about 9 hours total to get from Knoxville to a little north of Baltimore, MD where my homestay family lived. It wasn’t an unpleasant drive as the leaves were changing colors and the fall season is most definitely in the air. I just wish I had had someone to sharing the driving responsibilities with from time to time.
I arrived late Friday night to my homestay family, the Oehler’s. Dave and Erin and their two precious little boys, Levi and Zachary (I’m sad I never got a picture with them :/) The Rev3 series of races does an amazing job of supporting their professional athletes by coordinating with individuals in the community to host athletes in their homes. Thank you Rev3 and thank you Oehler’s!
The weather Saturday was absolutely beautiful, sunny and high 60s to low 70s … BUT getting increasingly windy as the day progressed. That morning was spent at the race venue doing my pre-race routine of riding and running (swim venue wasn’t open) and driving the (hilly and curvy) bike course. This was also my very first “pro meeting” to attend. Nothing earth shattering here, well … except a few new bike rules that I was not aware of :/ … but mostly just the stagger rule. I was now sufficiently paranoid I would somehow manage to acquire a penalty. As of the meeting time according to the head official, the water temperature was something like 70-71 degrees … not wetsuit legal for the pros. Then Brian Satola, the race director and COO for the Ulman Cancer Fund, got up to thank us for choosing to participate in this event, to tell us a little more about the cause of the race, and to apologize in advance for the weather on race day :/ (ehhh … that can’t be good).
Thankfully there were other things worth getting caught up in prior to and during the race. Namely, the cause … the Ulman Cancer Fund … is a foundation that reaches out to young adults aged 15-40 diagnosed with cancer and their families to help them navigate the scary and stressful and mentally and emotionally taxing world of cancer treatments and doctor’s appointments, etc. While this was my first exposure to UCF it was by no means my first experience with the nasty disease of cancer. A close friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer following our sophomore year of high school. She and her family and her doctors battled brilliantly for almost 2 years. She passed away just prior to our high school graduation ceremony, and I dare say many a race that year and well on into my college years and after have been run with her memory on my heart and mind. I have also had the pleasure of being a part of the Camp Rap-A-Hope family for over 10 years. Camp Rap-a-Hope is an oncology summer camp provided at absolutely no cost to children in the southeast aged 8-18 who have ever been diagnosed with cancer in their young lives. It is a week focused on fun and festivities and food and swimming and horseback riding and arts and crafts AND just about anything EXCEPT cancer. Finally, like almost anyone who reads this blog and a reported 95% of individuals participating in this race, I have been touched by cancer in my family both in the past and now very recently.
I tell you all of this to share some of my motivation for choosing this race … AND the reason why waking up to high 30 and low 40 degree weather and an impending day of clouds and wind and rain would be something I certainly worried about but would not let it get me down.
The highlight of Saturday evening was a home-cooked meal courtesy of Erin and a sit-down-family-style dinner with the whole Oehler family and a couple that lived next door. The gentleman was an avid runner back in his day and had also coached high school runners. I began to get nostalgic reminiscing on my days running in high school under my high school coach, Pat Galle, who had more to do with my development as a person and athlete than anyone next to my parents.
Ok, I digress ….
Race Morning: It wasn’t raining yet! Awesome. We learned, as expected, that water temperature dropped 67 degrees … this meant the race was wetsuit legal for the pros.
Setting up my bike, I spent a good deal of time trying to decide just how much “stuff” I wanted to bother putting on for the bike over my race suit to stay warm. (Yes, if you are laughing at the weather extremes I have found myself in recently and don’t want to risk racing with me … I don’t blame you). Being from very southern climes … I HATE being cold and knowing that the rain was most definitely coming, I definitely erred on the side of a little too much “stuff.”
Swim: First big perk of racing in the professional field. There were only 10 of us in the water for the deep water start (in case you were wondering, 67 degrees felt warm compared to the air temps) … NOT 100+ athletes like my race in Vegas. This makes getting out to a good start, not getting completely pummeled, and finding clean water much easier. I was able to jump on a couple sets of feet early on, but I did not manage to hold on to them for long. This is a skill I am learning slowly, but surely. I emerged from the water in 8th for the 0.9 mile swim. We had quite a long run up to transition, and hence plenty of time to figure out just how cold the 40 degree air felt now that we were wet.
T1: This took longer than usual certainly … thanks to trying to put a baselayer on while wet. I wore knee warmers under my wetsuit (first time for that, but worked pretty well), and I put a beanie on under my helmet. Like I said … maybe too much “stuff.”
Bike: As I headed out onto the bike I realized a few things … 1) 32 miles of wet roads thanks to a now consistent spitting rain on a hilly and windy course meant I was riding more conservatively than I would have liked. BUT my#1 goal involved finishing and that meant staying upright on two wheels at all cost 2) I put on enough “stuff” … maybe too much … as my core and head would get warm from time to time, but my hands and feet still got really cold. I ended up fumbling a water bottle at one point during the bike and dropping it on the road because my hands had lost a good bit of dexterity in the cold. Not a huge deal because I had another bottle with me. 3) And most important lesson I think … I spent a good deal of the bike portion in no man’s land. As an age group athlete, there was usually always athletes from other age groups in sight in front of me to key off of and motivate me to keep pushing and riding hard. This is NOT the case when the only group in front of you are the pro men … way long gone … and the other pro women who exited the water long enough before me to get out of sight and stay there. This challenge to continue riding at “race” pace and not get complacent is a mental skill that will take time to work at and improve. Eventually a few of the collegiate wave of men began to come around me on the bike, and I found the visual cues I was looking for to maintain a strong race mentality. I finished the bike in 6th place.
T2: Hello complete loss of dexterity … simple tasks like unclipping a helmet chin strap and slipping on shoes become frustratingly (and painfully) difficult.
Run: First thoughts as I took off on the run went to my feet, frozen and numb. It’s a strange sensation that was not too painful, just awkward. I quickly settled into a groove and felt surprisingly good on the run. About a mile into the run was a truly inspiring site. A corridor of posters (like the one I wrote on shown above) written on by athletes and their family members listing all the individuals and groups that were motivating and inspiring them to race/fight lined the race course for about 100m. I wish I had a picture to show you … it would give you chills. I will keep searching for one to post.
I finished the run with the 4th fastest run split and an overall 6th place finish.
Goals #1, 2, and 3 … all accomplished!!!
Congratulations to Nicole Kelleher on her strong victory, my teammate Kirsten Andrews on a 5th place finish, and everyone who stepped up to tackle this challenging race course, made even more difficult and epic by the weather, all to honor someone or a group of individuals with your performance.
After the race and the awards ceremony, I packed up my bike … dried off with a towel, bundled up … and hit the road, AGAIN. I had 8 hrs to get to Asheville, NC. I spend Sunday evening and all day Monday, hanging out, hiking, and eating at all my favorite places with my friend Becky (obviously from the lack of fall colors, this picture of us was stolen from a trip earlier this summer).
Tuesday morning … it was back to Birmingham and a three week window before my last race of the season, Austin 70.3 on October 28th.
Check out this race report (soon) and others at my website www.hallieb.me.
Thanks again for all the support from the FFT team sponsors, imAthlete, and to my local gems … Eskridge and White and Bob’s Bikes.