So I’m back and partially recovered from NOLA 70.3. A little background info: this was my third Half Ironman, my other two were both in Austin in 2014 & 2015. My husband had done NOLA 70.3 as his first Half Ironman last year and had enjoyed it so much that he signed us both up to do it this year. I had also never been to New Orleans before (other than driving through it) so I was looking forward to traveling somewhere new.
We are about a month out from Ironman Texas (ahhhhh), and so this was a great “brick” to run through and get that feeling of being in a race again. Little did I know this would be THE MOST physically challenging day of my life (so far).
Friday, April 15, 2016: Travel Day
Brownsville is approximately a 10.5 hour drive from NOLA, so this day was dedicated to travel. Mike’s mom was coming along with us and it was her first time to ever experience what a triathlon really is.
We got on the road about 5:30am. The drive through Texas actually passed by pretty quickly. We got to Louisiana around 1:30pm and stopped for lunch. When we hit Baton Rouge, traffic was at a standstill. It actually ended up taking us almost 2.5 extra hours to finally get to our hotel. We were staying at the Hilton Riverside which was were the race expo, briefing, and packet pickup would take place. Went to dinner at a nearby restaurant Gordon Berisch, and I had salmon, grilled asparagus and sweet potato fries. It was quite delicious. Made our way to bed by 10:00pm.
Saturday, April 16, 2016: Day Before
Woke up without an alarm around 6:30am. Mike and I had planned to do an easy 20 minute treadmill run, but when we got to the hotel gym, we realized it was more of a fitness center hosting tournaments and whatnot, so we were charged $12 a person to use the treadmills! Oh well. The treadmill I ran on faced a window. Even though it was still dark, I could see the trees blowing around pretty ferociously. When we had arrived the night before there were strong gusts of wind outside as we walked to dinner. I had tried not to think about it too much, but I was a bit uneasy. I knew I had ridden in windy conditions before, but I was thinking about the open water swim more.
The first race briefing was at 10:00am. The race director told us to expect wind, but that the harbor we would be swimming in was usually calmer than the surrounding water. He also sad we’d have a headwind to fight on the bike out, but a nice tailwind on our turnaround. That made me feel a little better.
We went to the race check in and did some shopping. I also met a Betty sister named Tracie. She was sweet and told me she’d be doing the swim portion as part of a relay team.
We had until 3:00pm before we could check our bikes in. We ended up eating lunch at the hotel restaurant. I got a grilled chicken caesar salad and more sweet potato fries (mmm!).
We went outside the hotel to try to find Café DuMonde, and MAN it was chilly and WINDY! We were getting turned around and couldn’t figure out how to get there, so we ducked into a nearby outlet mall and there ended up a being a small chain Café DuMonde inside that mall. So we got some coffee there.
Finally it was time to check our bikes and we drove out to the race site. I found my spot on my bike rack #1038 and racked her up. I looked around transition for some type of marker to help me find my bike quickly. I memorized a nearby flag. Mike had an ideal rack spot; right near the bike out. I walked over to the bike out to see where I’d mount my bike and which direction I would head.
Then I asked Mike to show me the swim in. For some reason I was most nervous about the swim. I have been a strong and confident swimmer for the past 25 years. However, in 2014 I had a traumatizing experience at an Olympic distance race in Kemah, TX. I was thrashed around by the waves so viciously and had to get pulled out by a lifeguard. That day broke my heart and I never want to go back to that dark moment again.
As we looked out, we saw that the water had quite a strong current. You can tell what was going through my mind in the pictures below.
Our swim start was at another location around the harbor. I wanted to see where I would be jumping in to start my race. Once we got there, my heart started racing. White caps and treacherous waves. The buoys were being tossed around and were way off-course. Right then and there I decided I would call my dear friend Gracie to pray with me and give me some motivational words later on that night. If you know Gracie, you know she’s the BEST person for that!
I tried to keep positive affirmations in my mind, but I was nervous.
We got back to the hotel and freshened up. We ended up meeting with some friends at Mother’s for dinner. I had a turkey po’boy, but only ended up eating the turkey meat and one slice of bread; there was so much bread!
We got back to the hotel room and got our last minute stuff together. I organized my nutrition, race kit, etc. At about 8:15 I talked to Gracie and she really helped to calm me down. Some words of hers:
“No weapon formed against you shall prosper.” ” If God be for you, who can be against you?” “You’ve already won; celebrate your victory in advance!” “The challenge in this race will only make you stronger for your full Ironman.” “The run will be your victory lap!”
I was crying, but I was grateful to be refreshed and re-motivated. THANK YOU GRACIE!
Sunday, April 17, 2016: RACE DAY
Woke up around 3:45am. I had a calm feeling inside. Had a PB&J Bonkbreaker (which was delicious) and mixed my hydration bottles. I was worried about being chilly on the bike ride and hadn’t packed my arm warmers, so I stuffed a dry-fit half-zip in my bag in case I wanted to throw it on after I got out of the water. We got our tri bags and headed to our car. We left by about 4:20am and made the drive over to the race site.
When we parked and got out of the car, the winds were still strong and it was still chilly out, but it was still dark, so I couldn’t see the water yet (which was good). I took my time setting up my transition area and then just stood there taking it all in. I had a peace and calm inside of me. I knew I was in for a challenge, but I told myself giving up was not an option, not today.
Mike came over to check on me and pump my tires. I spotted another Betty sister Leisa, who I had met the day before at bike check in. We chatted awhile and then it was time to put on the wetsuits and leave transition.
The race announcer told us the race would be pushed back 15 minutes because the buoys were off-course and had to be put back. This told me that the water was choppy, but I didn’t let it psyche me out. The sun was beginning to rise and we began to make our way to the swim start.
When I finally walked out to the dock that I would soon be jumping from, I looked out to the water and told myself it didn’t look as bad as it had the afternoon before. I said a prayer for God to lead me safely through the path of least resistance. We said a prayer altogether, the National Anthem was sung and the pros were off!
Mike’s wave was shortly after, so he had to say bye to me. Right after he left another girl came up to me and asked me if I was from Brownsville. She said she had recognized me from Facebook, and she was from Harlingen. Her name was Priscilla and she was very sweet. We talked for awhile and before we knew it, it was time for our swim wave to head out.
As we were walking to the end of the dock I saw Leisa again. Talking to her right before we started distracted me from being psyched out. I put my goggles on and could tell they weren’t suctioning quite right. This swim start was a time trial, meaning 8 people would jump off the dock at a time with about 12 seconds in between each group. I didn’t have time to fix my goggles because the whistle blew and we all jumped in feet first.
The start was quite chaotic. Right away the waves began to toss me around. I had a split second of panic where I contemplated flipping to my back, but I knew if I did that, I would panic more. So I pushed through and forced myself to start stroking and kicking; breathing every 3 strokes. My right eye goggle started leaking, but the waves were so strong, I couldn’t stop to fix them just yet. Sighting was very difficult (especially with one eye) but I finally spotted the first buoy. I pushed on and noticed many people hanging from the sea wall. I knew they were stopping to breathe and rest, but I pushed on.
Our swim course was in the shape of an “M”. We’d swim out, turn at the yellow buoy, swim back in, turn at the yellow buoy, swim out, turn at the yellow buoy and then make our way out at the swim exit. This would have been a somewhat confusing layout on a calm day, so you can imagine how it was now. It was quite a fight to make it to the first yellow buoy turn. My right eye was completely full of water. Somehow I found a pocket to fix my goggles and continue on. It helped so much. When we were swimming back in after that first turn around, the waves were not as treacherous. I finally found a rhythm. But I was still having to sight a lot because I had to know what buoy I was heading towards as well as watch for wayward swimmers. It was extremely difficult to stay on course.
Long story short for the rest of the swim: it was tough. Kemah tough. But I found my feet climbing the steps out of the harbor and I was so happy. I conquered “my Kemah”!
The run to transition was pretty far and when I got to my bike I realized my body was warm enough that I wouldn’t need the jacket. So I had a couple Gu chomps, a bite of a Honey Stinger, and ran my bike to the mount line. Clipped in, and I was off!
Right away we were hit with that strong headwind. I later learned that the winds were consistently at 25mph with gusts of 30mph. I had to get into my small chain right away. Even though this course was flat and smooth, the wind was brutal. I looked down to my bike computer and saw an average of 13mph! I was also struck with strong gusts of crosswinds. So strong it would push my bike sideways; I really had to brace my core to stay balanced.
I already saw pros making their way back. I wanted to shout, “Is it easier on that side?!”
At Mile 20 I finally spotted Mike on his way back. I yelled out to him, “MICHAEL!” He shouted back, “Hey!” (Later he told me that he was so relieved to see me at that moment because he knew how brutal the swim had been.)
Then, a small disaster struck. My right contact popped out of my eye! I am blind without my contacts, seriously. The wind blowing had really dried my eyes out and when I had blinked it just popped out! I pulled over and was so grateful to find it was stuck inside my sunglasses. The problem here was that the wind was so strong, if I tried to position it on my finger to put it back in, it would blow away. I was praying out loud, “Please God, help me get this back in!” I was crouched over trying to block the wind and reposition my contact. After about 4 or 5 minutes I got it back in. I was so grateful! I hopped back on a felt some strength renewed in my body. That short break had given me a chance to stretch out my back which was aching.
It felt like forever to hit that turn around. I was so looking forward to that tailwind. Unfortunately the wind was still there, but in the form of crosswinds. Yes, it wasn’t as strong, but it was still there. I decided to bite the bullet and push through. I knew I was halfway done. Between Miles 35-45 the wind let up enough for me to push my speed up to 19-21mph. It felt great to see those numbers. The last 15 miles were still pretty windy. During the last 5 miles a girl rode up beside me and said, “We’re almost there!” I said, “I’ve never looked forward to running more!”
Finally I heard the crowd! Rode to the bike dismount and ran the bike in. My watch hadn’t been working for me, so I took it off and threw it in my bag. I didn’t care about my pace, I just wanted to finish.
Headed out of transition I immediately felt relieved to stand up straight and stretch out my neck and back. There were water aid stations at every mile and my plan was to walk at each one. It gave me something to look forward to. Right after Mile 1 we ran up a steep bridge. I knew I’d have that to conquer on the way back to the finish.
At about a mile and a half, the same girl I had talked to on the bike ran up beside me. We started chit chatting and ended up running side by side. Her name was Lauren and she was from Alabama. She had just moved nearby and had signed up for this race months ago. She was recovering from a hamstring injury, but is qualified for Boston 2017!
At about Mile 4, I saw Mike running on his loop back. We got to give each other a high five, and I knew we were so close to this all being done. Lauren and I felt great the first 6.5 miles because the wind was at our backs. But at that turn around, the wind hit us dead-on. It was actually just quite ridiculous how strong it was. The water was crashing over the sea wall to our left and spilling over onto the road.
I started to struggle and feel my heart rate rise at about Mile 9. I knew I had to pull back my pace. So I told Lauren to go on ahead and we parted ways at Mile 10. She definitely had helped me keep a pace faster than I would have done running on my own. At Mile 11 I had to walk a bit more. Mile 12 went up that steep bridge. I decided walking to the top of it would be faster than my shuffle-run pace, so that’s what I did. When I got to the top I told myself I would not walk that last mile. I was so close! All I could think about was that finish line and being able to lay down when it was all over.
FINALLY I heard the crowd and saw the finisher chute! Tears filled my eyes as I crossed that finish line. Tears of joy and gratefulness. I literally gave everything I had in that race.
I got my medal and lay down right there on the cement. I was done. But so happy.
I had no idea what my time was, but I didn’t care. I had conquered so many doubts, fears, and obstacles. That was enough for me. This was my redemption race.
I had to lay there for about 5 minutes before I could think about moving again.
It turns out I actually PR’d on this race. It is still unbelievable to me. Somehow I had a faster bike and run time compared to Longhorn 70.3 in November! I improved by about 20 minutes!
I have read many horror stories about this exact race. I am so grateful my husband and I finished safely. I am also so grateful no one died out there; it was that bad, people.
4 weeks from IM TX! I have more confidence in my abilities!
TRI WITH JOY!