Longhorn 69.1 Race Report 2016

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So it’s been 3 days since Austin Longhorn 69.1….

I have been debating about being super positive in this race report, or being honest. I have always worked hard to add a positive spin to any triathlon race experience. I search for motivational quotes, scriptures, song verses, etc. And going into this race (my 4th Half Ironman), I actually was feeling pretty prepared. I had gotten more long runs under my belt, a few good 50+ mile bike rides, and my last swim on Friday was a PR!

I was actually excited to see what I would be able to do with this beast of a course in Austin. My past two race experiences were filled with many moments of joy. 2014 was my first Half Ironman experience here and though it was hot, I enjoyed it. 2015 had unexpected windy weather which made for a choppy swim and slower bike time, but again, I enjoyed myself throughout. 2016…well, I’ll stop beating around the bush and get to it…

Saturday, October 29:

Woke up to a 4:15am alarm, packed up the car and Mike & I were on the road to Austin by 5:00am. I couldn’t help but notice how foggy the entire drive was. We arrived at the Expo center around 10:30am. By that time the fog was just starting to clear out…(foreshadowing)…

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We stood in line for athlete check-in, (well, I stood in line…Mike has AWA status so he skipped the line…anyway) got all our gear and shopped around a bit. The athlete race briefing was at noon, so we had just enough time to stop by the Normatec booth and enjoy 15 minutes of heaven in those compression boots.

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The race briefing had no surprises to it: same rules, regulations, and routes as it was last year. The meeting was held outside this time and I felt myself baking in the noontime sun…(foreshadowing)…

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We took our bikes to the T1 site and checked them in. I was happy to see my race number 1937 was in the exact same spot it had been my first year in 2014. I thought this to be a great sign.

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We decided to walk down to the lake where we’d be swimming the next day. There were a few swimmers out in the water and it was so beautiful. The water was warm, smooth, and calm. Mike and I were wishing we had thought to bring our swim gear with us! Oh well, save it for the next day…or so I thought…

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Since our bikes were checked and all the race-site to-do’s had been done, Mike and I stopped by Whole Foods to make ourselves a nice salad as well as pick up anything we would be needing for breakfast the next day. We were both feeling calm, cool, and collected, and both talked about how we were excited to see how we’d do the next day.

Checked into our hotel and got our gear bags ready. Since there are two transition sites at this particular race, packing your gear bags is a bit more tedious. Still, it only took maybe about 20 minutes before I had it all laid out and ready to go.

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3 of our friends who would be doing the relay met up with us and we all headed out to an early dinner at BJ’s. I got my go-to Ahi Tuna salad along with many chips and dip during the appetizer course.

Back to hotel room and in bed asleep by 9:00pm.

Sunday, October 30, RACE DAY:

Woke up at about 4:10 and checked the weather right away. 67 degrees and would be heating up to about 88 degrees by 2:00pm. Although hot, not too bad for race conditions. No wind makes for a way better race day.

Got our tri kits on, ate an almond butter Clif bar, wrote out our race numbers and ages on our bodies (no hiding your age in triathlon; it’s there large and blazing on the back of your calf for all to see) and set off in the car with all 3 gear bags.

Got to the expo center and walked our run gear bags to T2, where we would be parking our bikes and taking off for our run. I took note of where my rack spot was and met up with Mike. We got into the school bus which shuttled us to T1.

Mike and I had arrived with PLENTY of time to set up our transition areas and then wait for the race to start. My favorite part of pre-race is setting up my transition area. It allows me to calm my mind and mentally map out what I will be doing.

We were set up, with tires pumped and gear laid out with about an hour and a half until myself and then Mike’s swim waves were scheduled to enter the water.

Met up with our other friends Natalie (who would be swimming in the relay), Norma (biking in the relay), and Lulu (running in the relay), along with Chuy, who would be competing in this particular race for the 8th time.

We talked amongst each other, and as the time drew nearer for the first swim wave to enter (7:30am) it was announced that due to incoming fog, start time would be delayed.

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Long story short…it was about 8:30am, DENSE fog, and no swim wave had stared yet. My swim wave was supposed to start at 8:35am, but at this rate, I had no idea what time I’d begin my swim.

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Finally the announcement was made: the swim was cancelled. Everyone let out a harmonious moan as we were told that the race would consist of the bike and run course, and that we would all be starting in time-trial fashion (2 at a time) in the order of our race bib number.

Mike was number 378…I was 1937…

I couldn’t complain too much because Natalie had been robbed of her entire race, and poor Norma’s bib number was in the 4,000’s…

So, with that decision called, we sadly said goodbye to Natalie and made our way to our bike rack spots. Norma waited with me as we watched the racers slowly walk their bikes to the mount line. I was VERY happy to see my sorority sister Alison at the same bike rack I was! She had mentioned being interested in this race but I never knew she actually had signed up! That was a happy reunion.

I looked at my watch and saw it was about 10:30am and I still hadn’t mounted my bike. This put me about an hour 15 minutes later than I had expected to start my bike….

BIKE:

Finally I got to walk my bike to the mount line. Since there were so many of us all clustered together, it was a bit chaotic to get started. In fact, a race volunteer actually grabbed my seat and pushed me to start (kinda like when my mom taught me to ride a bike, haha).

I was happy to finally begin this course!

Let me sum up my bike experience in a few words:

CROWDED. WINDY. HOT. THIRSTY. HUNGRY. ACHING QUADS. OVER IT.

I had not planned my nutrition for such a late start. In Texas, late=HEAT. Also, where did this wind come from?! I had to pull over twice to refill my drink, and when I hit about mile 40, my stomach began to growl. A hungry stomach during an endurance event is never a good thing.

I don’t want to try to make any excuses. This course kicked my ass. I remember it being testing on the legs, but I really think the heat set into my legs and I was just absolutely aching when I hit the 40 to 50 milers.

Also, we were all riding on top of each other. Drafting rules went out the window. There was never a moment where I was spread out from anyone. Every time I looked back to pass a rider on my right, 4-6 riders (the 30-34 men age groupers) would be speeding up upon me. Made for a bit of frustration.

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Anyone who has ridden this course knows that they save the killer hills for the end. This was no surprise to me. I rode my small chain from miles 50-56 to try to let my legs spin out for the upcoming half marathon ahead of me.

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I spotted one camera out on the course and flashed my fakest “TRIWITHJOY” smile. Ha.

T2 (Which technically was T1):

When I finally dismounted my bike and began walking my bike to my rack spot, the urge to pee came at me ferociously. This is not something new and I pulled the “pee on the groud as you sit to change your shoes” move I had done last year. No shame…covered my pee spot with my run gear bag (as I had done last year) and made my way out to begin the run.

RUN:

As I ran out I spotted Lulu waiting under the relay tent and gave her a wave and a smile. “Here we go“, I thought as I trotted my way down the energizing spectator crowd at the run start.

As hot as it was (about 1:30/1:45pm), it felt good to loosen my quads up from that killer bike ride. I refreshed my mind and began my pump-it-up playlist of running songs in my head.

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This run course is a 4 mile, 3 loop course which is nice because you get to see spectators several times (especially if your family and friends are there to cheer you on). The downside to this layout is that your legs have to take on the steep up and downhills several times.

My first loop was actually pretty great. I ran to each aid station and walked and filled my sports bra with ice cubes and drank up water, Gatorade, coca cola, and ate pretzels before starting to run again. I spotted Mike at about mile 3 and was so happy to see him. He said he was just about to start his last loop (LUCKY)…

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As I made my way around for my second loop I spotted Lulu still waiting under the relay tent. This got me a bit worried about Norma and I sent up a prayer for her. I also got to spot Carolina running during this time and was happy to see a familiar face.

At about mile 6 I felt that old familiar feeling: my left foot was beginning to ache in it’s arch. EVERY YEAR I end up having the arch of my left foot swell, but only on this course. I don’t know why, it may be because this course is more like trail running than running on a street. Either way, the discomfort set in and I knew I’d need to just fight to ignore it.

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(My swollen foot after the race.)

I spotted Mike as he was about to make his way into the finisher chute and was so happy for him.

Last loop was pretty rough. As I ran, I racked my brain to think happy thoughts. How I am so lucky to be here and have an able body. How God placed this passion in my heart for a reason and not to take it for granted. How I may be inspiring someone else.

But let me tell you, it was hard. And I went into a dark and ungrateful place for approximately 2 minutes.

Then, for some reason (and this is super random) the song “Go the Distance” from the Disney movie Hercules popped into my head. Yes, I am an elementary music teacher. But I have no idea how I remembered every word to this song. It brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my face as the lyrics ran through my head…

I have often dreamed of a far-off place, where a great, warm, welcome will be waiting for me. Where the crowds will cheer when they see my face, and a voice keeps saying, “This is where I’m meant to be.” I will find my way, I can go the distance. I’ll be there someday, if I can be strong. I know every mile will be worth my while. I will go most anywhere to find where I belong.

Super cheesy, I know. But it did the trick. Before I knew it I was headed down the finisher chute with a huge smile on my face and a spring in my step!

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And there you have it, Longhorn 69.1 done.

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Sadly, my friend Norma was pulled off the bike course on mile 47. Praise God it was not because she was hurt. The race officials had to pull everyone off the course by 2:30pm to open the roads back up to traffic. I KNOW she would have finished if she had been allotted the time she deserved. Due to Norma not being able to complete the bike portion, Lulu was unable to complete the run portion. All around, an unfair ending for my friends’ relay. I am so sorry.

I am ready for rest and a break from the required training for awhile. I have hung my hat for this Longhorn course and am ready to look elsewhere for a new 70.3 to compete in. But 2016 was quite a doozy in my Ironman sanctioned races, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. These experiences have all made me stronger, mentally most of all.

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So I will continue to go the distance and TRI WITH JOY!

Jenna

 

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Magic In Misery

 

 

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I came across this quote on pinterest and I liked it a lot. If you know me, you know that running is not my favorite. The only reason I run is because it’s part of triathlon. I have friends who absolutely LOVE to run and I never understood them. Running beats me up; as I run I’m aware of the aches, pains, bruised toes/ toenails creeping in. My heart rate rises, my throat goes dry, I start sniffling and coughing…

But this past Saturday morning, I set out for my last long run before Longhorn 70.3. I wasn’t sure if I would end up running 6…8…or 10 miles. I just was going to run off of how I felt. Luckily, it was not such a terribly humid morning, and as I hit 4 miles I started to look around and notice the beauty of the sunrise. I also noticed my breathing was still easy and steady, and that my legs felt fine underneath me.

4 miles turned to 6…and I still felt fine. 6 miles turned to 7…8…and finally 9! I was satisfied with 9 miles (more than I expected I would run) and was pleased to feel not as beat up as usual.

The reason I kept running was because I took my mind out of what I was feeling physically, and started to send up grateful prayers. A year ago (while training for this same race) I was in a lot of pain with my tendonitis. This year, (knock on wood) the pain is gone. I took time to thank God for the renewed motivation He has restored in my heart. I feel confident and ready for this year’s Longhorn.

Yesterday was my last long ride and I participated in the Rotary Ride. 56 miles from Brownsville to Port Isabel and back. It was beautiful weather and minimal wind, so it was ideal conditions for a long ride.

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13 days out til Longhorn 70.3! It’s time to ease up on the training and begin the tapering (yesssss)!

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TRI WITH JOY!

Jenna

Fake it ’til You Make it

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Well, September has flown by! Went on an amazing trip to San Francisco with my family & we had an absolute blast. Got to see the 49ers win their opening game too, which was an awesome way to kick off the season.

Back to reality & training for Longhorn 70.3. I’m about 5 weeks out and I’m feeling semi-unprepared. Ever since IMTX I have struggled to get my mind and body back into the training mode. I’ve tried to kick it back up since last week, but haven’t been able to ride my bike outdoors because my schedule’s been too busy. So I’ve just been riding my trainer in the garage (hot), and teaching my RPM class.

I’m also trying to up my running miles but this humidity is seriously killer. Even starting my run before 5:00am, it’s still 80 degrees out! Tomorrow I planned an EARLY long run (10 miles) with some friends who are training for the New York Marathon. So far, my longest run has been 6 miles, but I know if I pace myself, I’ll be able to do 10 miles alright.

Swimming has been alright, I’ve fit in 2 swims a week, but ideally I’d like to be swimming 3x a week.  As long as I’m getting in the water consistently, I’m confident about my swim.

So to sum it up, I’m just going into this year’s Longhorn 70.3 with the “Fake it ’til you make it” mentality. I know that I’ll do what I need to do to be prepared in the next 5 weeks, and get my excitement and motivation up when race time comes. It is noticeably different when I’m training on my own (without my girlfriends), but I just have to remember how exciting and exhilarating it feels to cross that Austin finish line.

This race is no joke, and the first year I did it (2014) it was scorching hot, last year it was windy/choppy/freezing, so who knows what this year will bring. Either way, you know I’ll do my best to TRI WITH JOY!

 

Jenna

Tri Girl Sprint Race Report

Summer vacation is over…where did it go?!

I know I’ve been M.I.A from blogging all summer, which is ironic because I thought I would be blogging more often over the summer. Oh well, it was a wonderful couple of months & now I am ready to start another school year.

Yesterday was the 3rd annual Tri Girl Sprint hosted by Bicycle World RGV in Harlingen, TX. This was my 2nd time to compete in this race, and I really enjoyed it last year, so I was looking forward to it this year.

It is very rookie-friendly; consisting of a 300m swim (in an Olympic distance pool), a 10 mile bike, & a 3 mile run. I was also excited to be racing alongside my mom for the first time! She has been training consistently for the past 4 months, and I knew she would do well.

Race Day:

Woke up at 4:30am and got all of my stuff together. Mike helped me load my and my mom’s bikes on the rack & I headed over to pick her up around 5:40am. Had a Bonk Breaker bar and a bottle of water for breakfast. When we got to the race site we made our way to transition and set ourselves up. Since it’s a small race, any place you rack your bike in transition is a good place.

The race was to begin at 7:00, so we waited around the pool for the festivities to begin.

Some of us dunked in to feel the water temperature and make sure our goggles were adjusted correctly.

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Before we knew it, a prayer was said, the National Anthem was sung, and we were heading to line up to start.

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It was a self-seeding line, so I made my way towards the 1:50-2:00 minute 100 meter swim pace.

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SWIM:

The start was nice, with a 15 second gap between swimmers. I really enjoy swimming in this pool and found my rhythm right away & had a pleasant swim.

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Jumped out of the water & headed into transition. Threw on my helmet, sunglasses, bike shoes & ran my bike out.

BIKE:

As soon as I took off on my bike I noticed my brakes were making a loud screeching sound when I rounded the first couple of turns. I got into my zone & started hammering away as fast as I could, but I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere.

I also noticed my heart rate was very high and I was breathing heavily. Since I lost my bike computer at IMTX & chose not to wear my Garmin for this race, I had no idea what my speed was. I tried to ignore my heavy breathing and effort & thought to myself that maybe my brakes were rubbing in the back (which was what had happened to me once before when I first got this bike last summer).

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I pushed through and finished the bike feeling a little more winded than usual, but was interested to see what my legs had in store for me for the run.

What was cool was that as I was in transition to start my run, my mom was in transition right beside me to start her bike. So I was happy to see her.

RUN:

I loved how many spectators showed up and cheered us on in and out of transition. Heading out on the run I got a lot of friendly cheers and words of encouragement. We were lucky that it was a little overcast that day, so it wasn’t so extremely hot.

Overall, the run wasn’t so bad. I realized I was in the 3rd overall position once I hit the turn-around, and I knew the two women ahead of me weren’t in my age group, so that helped me kick it up a bit & head in for a strong finish.

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Sprinted through the finish line and got interviewed for the newspaper right away; still trying to catch my breath. Found out I was first in my AG! Very happy about that.

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Stuck around to see my mom come in on the bike and my other girlfriends finish. I made my way to the corner when I thought my mom would be finishing her run, and ran into the finish line area with her.

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I am so extremely proud of her!

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A very well-run race that I will most definitely do again next year!

By the way, when I got home and unloaded my bike, I took a look at my brakes and they WERE rubbing the tire frame the whole time! So it wasn’t me biking as poorly as I thought after all, haha ;).

What’s next on the calendar? Well, Longhorn 70.3 is in about 10 weeks, so training volume will gradually increasing, but I’m looking forward to it. I feel like I’m ready to get back on a schedule and a plan. It’s hard for me to train during the summer when my schedule is off. So, it’ll be nice to have that structure again.

Congrats to all the ladies who completed yesterday’s Tri! And remember….

TRI WITH JOY!

Jenna

Tri For Old Glory Race Report

Tri For Old Glory was a blast! This was the first Olympic distance tri I’ve done in 2 years (my last one was the Gator Bait Tri in Boerne, TX). I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as my performance, but again, I had to remind myself that I signed up for this to have FUN.

Woke up Saturday morning and did an easy 1000m swim, just to stretch everything out. Came home and finished packing up. Mike & I hit the road (with our Sandie girl in tow) by about 11:00am.

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Arrived at our hotel (which was REALLY nice and dog friendly!) by about 3:30pm. Met up with my parents and we all headed to the race site for packet pick-up. Man, it was HOT!

We walked around a bit and checked out the lake and showed my parents where the transition & finish line would be. Everything is really close together so it’s very spectator-friendly.

Headed back to the hotel & organized our tri gear, then met my parents downstairs for happy hour/dinner.

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I was passed out asleep by 9:00pm, no joke.

RACE MORNING:

Transition opened at 5:15, so Mike & I were up by 4:15. Got dressed and had a pb&j Bonkbreaker for breakfast. We left the hotel by 5:10 and were at the race site by about 5:20. Luckily we met up with Gracie in the parking area (which is quite a walk in the pitch dark, carrying your bike so you don’t roll it through stickers in the grass).

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Got to transition site and set it all up. I was happy that my nerves were very calm. I was more excited than nervous to see how I would do that day. I expected the heat (especially during the run), but as the sun was rising we noticed a nice cloud cover which really kept things cool.

The race director held a quick pre-race briefing where he explained the swim route for the sprint and Olympic distances. Then he went over the bike route, which he told us to expect some crappy roads before we hit the farm roads. And finally the run route. He said to stay hydrated because this cloud cover would burn off by the time most of us were out on the run.

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We met up with Team Healy and chatted around their tent set up. My parents showed up with Sandie girl & Bentley (their doggie). Before we knew it, we had sung the National Anthem, prayed, and were walking to the swim start!

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Got to say a quick bye to Sandie girl and got in line. The Olympic distance athletes would enter the water first and follow a 7-buoy 1500m swim in a counterclockwise direction. We were to seed ourselves by 100m swim time and it was a time-trial start which means each athlete enters the water about 3-5 seconds apart. I love time-trials because they are much calmer than wave starts.

SWIM:

I jumped right in and was off! This lake is a man-made ski lake, and so it has a very shallow border all around. I couldn’t see anything through the muddy/murky water, but I felt my hand swiping the bottom of the lake a few times. I tried to swim more towards the center of the lake where it was a bit deeper, so I could feel more comfortable.

I felt good throughout my swim, but I wasn’t sure of my pace. Got out of the water and looked down at my watch to see I swam it in 30 min; not bad!

T1:

Ran into transition and got all my bike gear together. It was still nice and cloudy out, so it wasn’t too hot yet. My transition could have been faster, but oh well. Was out of there and on my bike in under 2 minutes.

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Guess I was just so fast, mom couldn’t get a pic of my whole body, haha 😉

BIKE:

The beginning portion of the bike was the least pleasant because of those roads! Bumpyas all get-out! I saw a few water bottles that had been dropped along the way. About 1 mile into the bike we hit a steep and short uphill right after a right hand turn. Mike has just passed me up and yelled out, “Get ready for that hill coming up!” That was nice of him, haha.

Once we hit the farm roads it was chip-seal (ugh) and long rolling hills. Despite the bumpy, bumpy, bumpy ride, I really enjoyed the bike. I felt great with my uphill climbs, but I’m such a chicken on the downhills! One of my goals is to be able to stay in aero on the downhills. It was also surprisingly very windy! I guess I bring the wind with me to every race. When we finally hit Scull road (about 3 miles before the end) I was looking forward to flying down that hill. I shouted a “WOOOOHOOOOO!” as I rode down at 35 mph! What a rush! I was very surprised to see my average bike pace was 18mph, even with the wind and those climbs!

T2:

Was NOT looking forward to the run because, as the race director had predicted, the clouds had burned off and there was blazing sun. I changed into my visor, running shoes, and grabbed my mini hand-held water bottle for pouring on my head.

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RUN:

I’ll describe my run as a “shuffle trot”. I didn’t want to gas out too early, and my heart rate really spikes in the heat, so I just trotted along. It seemed to be working for me because I slowly but surely started passing people up. The run course is a 3 mile loop, so it’s hard to tell who is doing the sprint or who is doing the Olympic because you don’t know if they are running one or two loops.

There were only 2 water stations (which wasn’t enough for me with the heat!) but I had my hand-held bottle that I used to spray myself, and I was thankful I had it.

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I kept an eye on the calves of my competitors (age group numbers, of course!) and handn’t seen anyone in my age group around me. I had no idea where I stood in the race, but as I was passing the last mile I felt someone right behind me. I could hear her every step and breath and was so tempted to turn around, but I never did. When we turned off to head into the finish line area (about .2 miles away from the finish) she yelled out to me, “Are you doing the Olympic?!” Me: “Yes! You?” Her: “Yes!”

And then I kicked it up and “ditched and dashed” (as we like to call it) through that finish  line! Glad I did because I ended up placing 3rd in my age group, and if I would’ve pooped out and let her pass me I wouldn’t have podiumed! 😉

For the sake of embarrassment, I won’t post what my run pace was…hehehe.

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Overall, I really enjoyed that race. And I PR’d 7 minutes faster overall since my last Olympic tri! I’ll definitely be doing it again, Redemption Racing always puts on the nicest tris!

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After the race we cleaned up and headed to Gruene (our happy place) to celebrate. I was so happy to meet up with my dear friends Lexie & Kash (who are expecting a baby in October!)

A wonderful start to my birthday month!

TRI WITH JOY!

Jenna

 

 

Patience

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I’ve always considered myself a fairly patient person. I have been working with children since I was about 17 years old (when I started teaching swimming lessons to 4-year-olds). This is also my 7th year of being an elementary music teacher where I teach children from age 4 to 11. You HAVE to be patient to work with children.

I am also married to Michael Gutierrez….enough said.

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Just kidding babe, I love you!

But training for an Ironman has taught me a different type of patience. Not just a “social skills-type”, but a time-management patience, and a patience with my mind and body.

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When we started hitting the “peak training” weeks in our training plans, the LONG workouts showed up. 3, 4, 5, and even 6 hour bike rides (some on the trainer, some outdoors). Long, double-digit mileage running. A minimum of swimming for an hour straight 3x a week. I’m sure that anyone who’s human could get easily bored and burned out by it all. Not to mention those who are employed full-time!

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But as the workouts were checked off and the weeks ticked by I needed to do an attitude check. I needed to remind myself that all of this is part of the story. The race is the reward (if you can believe that) for all of those workouts where I just wanted to quit (and sometimes did). But I just set the alarm for the next day and got at it again; doing my best to get done what I could in the time that I had.

This past weekend was our last long run and long ride. On Friday I had an Earth Day program with my 2nd graders and needed to look nice, so I didn’t do a workout that morning so I’d have time to do my hair (for once). I also work later on Fridays than other days, so the last thing I wanted to do was get that LONG run in….but I did! I just started running, and running, and running, not caring my pace or how many miles I got in. I was PATIENT with myself and got it done.

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In my opinion, patience in my mind and patience with my body is what is going to help me meet that goal: crossing that finish line. One of my favorite sayings is, “Just keep moving forward“…that’s what we have to do. Keep moving forward and have patience, trust, and faith that we’ll get there.

18 Days out!

TRI WITH JOY!

Jenna

NOLA 70.3 Race Report

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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!).

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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.

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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!

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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!

turkey po boy

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.

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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.

SWIM:

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”!

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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!

BIKE:

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.

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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!”

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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.

RUN:

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.

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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.

AFTER:

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!

Jenna