Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hey Ash! Why are you winging an Ironman next week? (Ha!)

Now that Matt's racing season has ended and we're 2/3rds through our Davis Family Month of Ironman (trademark pending 😉), the focus has shifted to my race at Ironman North Carolina next week! It's almost time for me to face the music. 😂

I've had quite a few people raise their eyebrows a bit at this relatively-last-minute bid for my third Ironman. And I can't blame them!!! I've questioned my own sanity more than a few times. And even though I've had a solid past few weeks of training, that word is "weeks" when it should be "months." I honestly have no idea if that will be good enough or if I'll totally fall apart 125 miles into this thing. An Ironman is a different beast and I know full well that you have to respect the 140.6-mile distance! So I thought I'd let you into my brain and explain why on earth I'll be towing the line at IMNC next weekend.
Race #1 of 3!

*My biggest goal for the year 2016 was to PR the Ironman... and go 140.6 miles in less than 12 hours. Stats show I would have been dang close to that time -- and I believe I could have gutted it out and made it happen -- at Ironman Texas in May. But due to the missing miles on the bike course, we'll never know for sure. So I wanted one more shot at it!
IMTX 2016 bike.. all 95 miles of it.

*Yes, I would absolutely go faster (and have a much more sure chance at sub-12) if I did a proper build-up and raced an Ironman next year instead. It pains me that I won't be racing Ironman Texas! But I'll be focusing on the Boston Marathon in the spring and, well... We want another baby after that. :) And once we have baby #3? I don't see myself doing another full Ironman until all of my unborn children are in school. So it's like now or in 7 years! That's a loooong time to wait. And I've always half-jokingly told my mom that patience is a virtue I'm not meant to acquire. Ha!
A little throw-back to being 9 months pregnant with my Summer Girl! Hard to do IM with a baby bump. ;)

*I don't feel like I have a real Ironman PR. That sounds dumb to say out loud and obviously doesn't really matter, but it's the kind of thing that will drive me crazy for 7 years. When people in real life find out that we've done Ironman races, they almost always ask how fast we've done it/how long it takes us. And then it's like, "Well, the first year I did 12:54, but I had just barely learned how to swim and bike, so I was a lot faster the next year and did 11:11, but that's not a real time because we were missing miles on a bike course with a million turns, oh and my listed time isn't even that because we had this lightning delay and the weather was crazy, but anyway, if the course was right, it would have been more like 12 hours, give or take, because..." I mean, can I just lay off the run-on sentence and give a freaking number? 😂 Matt gets to say "9 and a half hours." It's just simpler that way!
That 12:54 -- when I had a normal answer for a normal question. ;)

*More importantly, I want to have that answer for myself. I don't want to spend the next few years wondering how fast or slow I could have gone. I want to *know.* Before signing up for IMNC (when it was selling out during my layover en route to IMTX), I quickly called my non-triathlete best friend for her input. Liz told me to do it, because she knew that question would eat at me... and that I'd try to remedy that with crazy ideas like trying to squeeze in a full Ironman with a two-month-old or something. Haha! Let's just say she knows me well. :) This way is much more sane.

*I already have a pretty rocking endurance base. I know it seems like I'm winging this thing -- and in a way, I totally am. However, I also happen to have about two years of Ironman/marathon training in the bank. And I'm banking on that base coming through on race day! So while it seems like I'm just throwing this together, in reality, I've been training for this race since October 2014... I just had some recovery/other life things to attend to this summer before building up again. :)
After a 3:21 in STG last fall. All that running has to count for something, right??

*Finally, and perhaps most importantly, WHY NOT? Because it's not the "right" way? Well, neither was jumping straight to an Ironman without being able to swim more than one consecutive lap. ;) Because I might not meet my goal? Here's the thing. A sub-12 is obviously a lofty goal for me at this point (when you swim 2.4 miles in 1:40+, there's not a lot of room for error on the bike and run). But if I didn't do this race, I would always wonder what might have happened. How it could have gone. I would regret it! I'd so much rather show up, give it my best shot, and miss my goal -- but know that at least I had the grit and the courage to try. And who knows what will happen on race day anyway, right? I fully believe that I could have a magic day in Wilmington. Either way, I am really anxious and excited to find out!
Tapering in Kona was a party, so I have that in my favor at least! :)

Monday, August 1, 2016

4th Time's the Charm: Matt's Going to KONA!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ironman Texas 2016 Race Recap: The Finish

I wasn't racing for a Kona slot or a place on podium.  I wasn't racing to check a box next to "Ironman."  And on a course shortened by Mother Nature and a clock extended by the same, I wasn't even racing for a PR.  I was just racing for myself.  It was as simple and complex as that.

As time kept ticking and the miles seemed longer, I kept pushing toward that finish line.  The one that symbolized nothing more and nothing less than the culmination of this 30-week-long journey full of literal blood, sweat, and tears.  The finish line that came after not just the dozens and dozens and dozens of miles covered on race day, but the thousands of miles tallied in the months before.  All told, it took 62 hours of swimming, 171 hours of biking, and 118 hours of running to get here -- to this finish line.  To me, that little arch meant so much more than the timing mat underneath.

I fought through those final miles because that's what I came to Texas to do -- my very best.  An Ironman tests the limits of your heart, body, and spirit.  I always intended to pass that test.

The most glorious moment of the day is the one in which you come to the final fork in the road: Veer left for more laps, or veer right toward the finish.  There are only a few random spectators here, and yet it's a defining moment of the race.  Taking that right means you've made it.  After all those long, long roads and this very long day, you've done it!  There's just over a quarter mile left and, frankly, the finisher's chute is the icing on the cake.  I pumped my fist in the air as I followed the arrows marked "Finish."  It felt like this: the winner, Patrick Lange's private celebration as he took this same exit toward the finish -- captured by my father-in-law.

There's a little incline from there toward the finisher's chute, and you're alone for those thirty seconds.  At once, it hit me.  All of those hard months of training, all of the hard miles on this long day -- all for this moment that was about to be realized.  I'd done it.  I'd given this day my everything.  It was enough for me.  It was all worth it.

I started to cry but quickly realized getting choked up doesn't work when you're already breathing so heavily, so I composed myself.  Stay in the moment, I thought as I made my way toward the crowds.  I took it all in -- the lights, the music, the red carpet, the people.  It was as magic as I remembered.

I ran toward the finish line, soaked to the bone, with giant blisters in my sopping wet shoes, and a giant smile on my face.  And I heard those sweet, priceless words:

"Ashley Davis, you are an Ironman!"

Splashing through that wet, beautiful red carpet.
Just about to ugly cry, because did you read about this day?!
Step 1- Run to finish line. 2- Run through finish to Matt. 3- Accept high-five from volunteer. 4- Cry to Matt.

But suddenly it all disappeared -- all I saw was Matt, standing in a sea of volunteers, smiling, waiting for me.  My emotions all came to the surface as I ran to him.  The one who had worked so hard for this race only to have the most heart-wrenching day.  The one who beamed at me with tears in his eyes as he placed my Ironman medal around my neck.  "I am SO proud of you," he said as he wrapped me in his arms.  I buried my head into him and let some tears fall.  "I had to fight for this," I told him.  And he chocked back: "I know."

It was such a bittersweet moment, celebrating the successes of the day while the disappointment loomed in the shadows.  This was not how things were supposed to play out.  The devastation I'd felt for Matt's freak accident taking away his ability to just race to his potential, that I'd had to push aside for the last two hours, finally sunk in.  I knew first-hand how hard he'd worked for this, how much he'd wanted it, and how close he was to realizing his dreams.  The disappointment was heavy.  And yet it was mixed with all the raw, relieved, happy, triumphant emotions surrounding my own race.  And it was vastly overwhelmed by my love and pride for that man who had soldiered on despite everything to finish the race.  We felt it all, all at once as he held me steps past the finish line.  I whispered to him, in a tone much celebratory that I'd hoped for that occasion but equally sincere: "I am SO proud of you, too."

The lessons we learn about ourselves, about the human spirit, and about life are the things that make triathlon so beautiful.  We were blessed to be surrounded by so many wonderful people at Ironman Texas, and we are so lucky to have learned the lessons we did that day.  We're better for it.

Final Time- 11:11:27.  (Listed as 11:13:00 -- I was very impressed by how close they came in estimating how long we were each stopped for the lightning delay!)  Projected time if adjusted for the full bike course would have been about 12:05 for 140.6 on that crazy day.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ironman Texas 2016 Race Recap: The Run

In the story of this legendary Ironman Texas, no discipline was left untouched.  The swim route had to be altered when the canal water was deemed unsafe less than 48-hours before the cannon went off.  The bike course was an ongoing drama for months leading up to the race.  The run just didn't want to be left out of the party!  Cue Mother Nature.  We went from one extreme of real-feel 100-degree intense heat and humidity to the other extreme of torrential downpour, 30+ degree temperature drop, high winds, hail, and a too-close-for-comfort thunder and lightning storm in a matter of minutes.  During a marathon.  Of an Ironman.  It was crazy!!!  So awesomely crazy.
Going into the race, I'd wanted a 4-4:15ish marathon split.  That sounds like a funny thing to say since I just ran a 3:21 open marathon last fall, but an Ironman marathon is a whole different beast.  And again, I didn't feel like my fitness level was up to par (months of poor sleep and nutrition, extra pounds, etc.) and have felt slow on a lot of runs over the past few months.  So I knew even a 4:15ish split wouldn't come easy after a long day of swimming and biking.

That said, the one part of my training that I've been happiest with in the past few months has been how strong I've been able to run off the bike.  My legs have felt good and I've been able to hit some pretty great-for-me splits on my long brick workouts leading up to the race.  And in my practice half-iron distance race at the beginning of March, I ran a negative split 1:47 half marathon to wrap it up and felt AWESOME.  So I know it's in me to run well off the bike!

The great thing about being a runner-biker-swimmer in that order is that on race day, things just keep getting better and better.  I was obviously super relieved to be done with the swim and onto the bike, and then I was so excited to be hopping off the bike and getting to run!  But it quickly became evident that this run wasn't going to feel awesome.  Normally, there's a jello-but-I-can-still-run feeling and I'm so happy to be on my feet that I actually have to hold myself back a bit.  As I came out of T2, though, my legs felt heavy and slow, and there was no intentional holding back needed.  You figure that an Ironman is a game of attrition, so less-than-great miles early on in the first loop made me nervous about doing that loop three times.  You know, running a full-on marathon.

Thank goodness for my angel friend Syd and that fateful conversation we shared on our bikes that crazy April day in St. George!  Stay in the moment, I reminded myself.  No need to worry about what's ahead.  I started to think about now.  Why was I feeling the way I did?  What could I do about it?

Had I overbiked?  I knew I rode faster than planned, but I still felt like it was in a safe realm of perceived exertion -- I'd biked harder many times at BAM and ran plenty well off the bike afterward.  But maybe it took more effort to get back up to speed -- even ever so slightly, for even just a few seconds -- over nearly 90 turns.  Not to mention all the pushes required to pass clumps of people on the bike early on.  So maybe I didn't over-bike as far as pacing goes, but perhaps it happened anyway, if that makes sense?  Then I thought about how I actually used more energy proportionally on that awful swim than even on the bike (the swim was *that* bad and I was using my legs *that* much).  Nothing I could do to change either of those at this point, though...

I started mentally re-counting all of my nutrition on the bike.  Five full bottles of PhD Nutrition at 240 calories a pop, plus water, plus two Honey Stinger waffles at 160 calories each = 1500+ for a 5-hour ride = practically perfect 300 calories an hour.  I'd had to use the porta potty in T2 so I knew I was hydrated.  And then I remembered the salt tablets I had brought to mix into my drinks... and I realized they were still on the nightstand.  Salt!  I needed salt.  Funnily enough, I'd grabbed a tube of BASE salt at mile 3 and stuck it in my kit just in case.  My brain realized I actually needed to take said salt somewhere near the end of the first loop, so I did.  I was also grabbing oranges and drinking Gatorade to keep the calories coming because I didn't think I could stomach a gu.  Something started working, and I started to actually get my feet under me as I neared the double digit mileage mark on my second loop.

Meanwhile, it was super hot and super humid -- 90-something degrees with real-feel in the triple digits.  The sun was out in full force!  I love warm, sunny weather but definitely acknowledge the affect it can have on running.  I was doing my best to manage the heat -- staying hydrated, sticking ice in my tank, pouring ice water over my shoulders and down my arms (instead of over my head, because I wanted to keep my shoes dry, ironically enough).  At the aid station around mile 10 -- just over the bridge by the lake -- I double-dipped on the ice water dumping and made sure to use the hose shower because it was just SO hot.

Literally one mile later, I was drenched.

The storm came from nowhere, and it was not just "rain" -- it was a torrential downpour.  Suddenly, wind picked up, and the rain seemed like it was coming sideways.  There was thunder... a lot of very loud thunder, coming very quickly.  And the lightning was right there -- by the lake, by the trees, by us.  And then came the hail!

Just before the rain hit, I started running with a nice guy from Korea.  He was about to take his family on a road trip to some national parks, so we were chatting about Utah.  I was finally hitting my stride and we were maintaining a decent pace -- low 9's while running, plus walking purposefully through the aid stations.  I laughed as we got drenched and splashed through the puddles that immediately appeared.

As we turned the corner onto the South side of the lake, I saw them -- Matt and Jorge.  They were supposed to be finished, but there they were, walking.  My heart instantly sank.  I ran over.  Matt told me he didn't feel well and had awful cramps, kissed me, and sent me back on my way.  I hated leaving him there but they were a full lap ahead, and thankfully he had Jorge.  I just had to push my worry and sadness for him aside and keep going for now.  It was right before an aid station so I was able to catch back up to my Korean friend.  "That was my husband," I explained.  Kim responded: "He's handsome."  Yes, yes he is.

The weather was just getting crazier, and the lightning was just coming closer.  I wondered aloud, "They're not going to call the race... right?"  And we both shrugged and kept running.  I was feeling good and we were running pretty well against the wind, rain, and hail.  I was going to negative split this marathon!  It wasn't long before we hit the timing mat at the half marathon mark.  There was a single volunteer there who told us there was a lightning delay and we were to find shelter at the clubhouse around the corner (about a mile ahead).  She didn't seem to have a lot of information and didn't know what was going on with our times, so while other people started walking to the clubhouse, we continued running to it.  We were still covering part of the course and our watches were still going, at least, so it was still part of the race to me.

When we got to the clubhouse, which was an aid station, there were lots of volunteers and a few more answers.  The race was being paused for an hour, and the clock had already been stopped for about 15 minutes.  They'd take our time from the last mat and figure things out from there.  They said they were told they couldn't stop us from running but that we might get DNF'd if we did.  Clearly not worth the risk.  But oh, how hard it was going to be to stop at mile 14 and then have to get going again -- for 12.2 miles!  The thing that makes an Ironman work is the momentum.  An object in motion stays in motion.  While an object at rest, well...  Let's just say I knew this was going to hurt.

Dozens of athletes were already standing underneath the clubhouse porch, many of them with garbage bags on to stay warm.  I joined them while Kim talked to a volunteer.  More athletes just kept pouring in and I realized I might get to see Matt again, so I kept my eye out for him and Jorge while chatting with the girls around me.  This was one girl's 10th Ironman and she was pretty fast (on her last lap).  She said she's never felt so awful running off the bike and had come to the same conclusion I had -- that coming out of all the turns had probably taken more effort than we'd realized.  I was glad I wasn't crazy, ha.

One volunteer recognized my BAM kit and knew my coach Jen -- and she had her phone.  We looked up our friends that were racing and saw that Jen was on her way to a Kona slot!  So were my BAM sisters Tracy and Syd.  I was SO excited for them!  It was a nice distraction.  As we talked, I started shivering uncontrollably and my teeth were chattering.  I was so cold, which was a crazy thing to process so soon after being so hot.  An ambulance arrived and another volunteer explained that an athlete needed treatment for hypothermia.   This was just a few miles after people were suffering because of the heat.  It was insane.  Luckily for me, my volunteer friend went searching for a garbage bag even though they'd run out long ago -- and she magically found one.  It helped, and I tried moving in place a bit to warm things back up.

Two black BAM shorts in two black garbage bags finally showed up.  They'd previously taken cover with some spectators so I was grateful I got a chance to see them again.  Matt told me about the freak accident in T1 and his foot's injury (details here), although at that point, he didn't know it was infected and therefore the dots weren't all connected yet.  I wanted the boys to run with me, but Jorge (a doctor who is always joking around) got serious and told me they really couldn't.  I believed him.  Finally, nearly 40 minutes after I arrived at the clubhouse, the rain had let up and people started spreading out... and we realized the race was back on!  There was no announcement or anything, ha.  So again, we said our goodbyes, and I set out to force my body through 12 more miles.
And another video of what we were running through:
Lightning gone, rain lifted (for a bit), and race back on!  Matt and I are together on the porch. Thanks to Jon Rasca for the picture!
I was still so cold that I ran the first couple miles with my arms tightly crossed over my chest under my garbage bag.  Such efficient running form, I know.  My muscles were so cold and my body was so tired -- it was well over 100 miles into this, after all -- that my legs and lungs were not happy about this development.  But during that lightning delay, I promised myself that I would push through these 12 miles.  That I would fight for them.  At that point, the race was already not a true 140.6 and now the times were thrown way off and there was no way to know if or how they were going to be fixed, so it seemed like the clock didn't even matter.  I could phone it in and no one would know the difference.  But I would know.  I would know if I gave my everything to this race.  I would live that with that defeat or that triumph.  I chose to fight.

The Ironman Texas run course is the best because of the Waterway -- it's basically like a parade route, lined with hippies, drumlines, frat boys in speedos, and families cheering you on. The people are what make it amazing.  Nearly half of each loop is spent on the parade route while the rest of the course is more quiet as you round the lake.  When we were standing under the clubhouse porch, we wondered how many spectators would still be on the Waterway.  It wasn't long before we found the answer: EVERYONE.  They'd waited out the storm and were cheering louder than ever as we tried to get our feet back under us again.  It was honestly beautiful.

A couple miles back into it, I was finally able to bring my arms out from my garbage bag, and I tossed the bag another mile later.  It was hurting, but I was running -- and I was running well, seeing the number 8 for the first time in a long time.  Now at aid stations, I reached for the chicken broth and took a few sips to get warm.  You know, just the polar opposite of what I'd been doing for the first half marathon haha.  I saw my in-laws right before starting my third loop and told them Matt was on his way, but slowly.  A high-five from my niece made my day!  It was still raining on-and-off, albiet with less intensity, so I was grateful they were still there supporting us.

There's one tiny dirt hill to climb early on each loop, and now it was a mud pit.  Thankfully, the awesome volunteers were there to help pull you up!  I started grabbing coke at the aid stations and reminding myself to drive my knees forward to avoid the shuffle.  It was a constant effort, but it was working.  I was smiling and moving along well.  "You make it look easy," a spectator said.  I laughed inside, because I was actually dying.  Smiles can be deceiving.  :)  And yet they deceive ourselves too -- the suffering is a bit easier if you smile through it!

There were giant puddles on the sidewalk around the lake now.  We're talking four feet wide and five feet long with muddy marshes on the sides -- nothing to do but run through them.  Some were so deep that they enveloped your whole shoe as you touched down.  I thought of how careful I was not to get ice water on my shoes earlier and laughed for the hundredth time.  There were some guys who looked miserable as I passed, so I joked about not knowing we were signing up for a steeplechase.  One cracked a smile but the other just stared at me like I was crazy, ha.  I was hurting but having some serious fun out there!  I thought of how much my kids would love this puddle jumping business and tried to enjoy it to the fullest extent.

Last year, my goal was sub-13 and I had a decent cushion to hit that by the time I started my third lap.  I remember constantly calculating in my head -- I could go X slow and walk an extra X at that aid station and still make my goal.  It was my first Ironman, I was tired (duh), and everyone else was slowing down, so I was bargaining my time down, too.  But still under my goal time, so hey!  Clearly not the right train of thought.  I've told myself for months that would not happen this time.  I would keep pushing no matter what the clock said or where I was in relation to my goal.

I thought of that, and I pushed.  I kept going as fast as those legs could maintain.  I was huffing and puffing for basically the entire third lap.  (Yes, while running high 8's, low 9's, ha!)  Breathing hard won't kill you, I reminded myself.  You're fine.  My body did not want to run, let alone run anything even remotely fast.  But I did.  I wanted to make every mile count.  I wanted to cross that finish line and know I'd given my best that day.  It was HARD.  I was fighting.

I made it back on the waterway and took all the high-fives I could get.  I kept running, kept pushing.  I'd planned on running past the last couple aid stations but was still so cold at mile 23.5 that I walked long enough to down an entire cup of chicken broth.  Looking back, I wouldn't have frozen to death so I'm sure I could've skipped that, but your brain isn't working super awesome at the end of an Ironman, and hey, I was cold.  :)  I threw the cup away and took off running, knowing I had less than a 5K left!  I could taste it.

Finish story coming up next!  For now, the stats:
Run split- 4:17:44.  Pace- 9:50.  Negative split.
Position- Passed 477 more people.  Went from 1314 to 837 OA, 275 to 180 female, 32 to 23 AG.  (I had a stacked AG full of Kona alum/hopefuls!  Such rockstars.)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ironman Texas 2016 Race Recap: The Bike

The whole bike course situation for IMTX 2016 was crazy.  Just 2.5 months before the race, the old course didn't get approved and race officials started scrambling for an alternative.  The race date came closer and closer, and there was still no bike course.  A month before the race, I told Matt we'd better pick back-up races just in case it was canceled and we had to transfer.  We settled on Vineman for Matt and North Carolina for me, but we kept training and planning as if Texas would be a go.  The quotes in the local Texas papers weren't too encouraging: "We'll take whatever course we can get."  Luckily, they got one!  Apparently things went through right before Ironman's do-or-die date for canceling.  Ironman announced that they finally had a course a mere three weeks before the race.  Then a week later, they announced that 18 of those miles had just been washed away in the major Houston flooding, so the bike course would now be 94 miles instead of 112.  And they released the course map -- with 87 crazy-looking turns in very populated areas over those 94 miles.  It was definitely a "whatever we can get" kind of course!

And guess what?  That made it so much FUN!!!  I felt like a kid playing on my bike and was fully entertained for the entire five hours I spent in the saddle.  It was awesome!  We'll get to that. :)

When we arrived in Texas, driving the course was a priority so we could know what to expect and if/where there were any places we needed to be cautious.  Matt's instagram post summed it up perfectly: "Q: How many triathletes does it take to navigate the new IMTX bike course? A: Five. The driver, the navigator, the GPS tracker, the map reader, and the arrow spotter. #westillgotlost #somanyturns."  Haha!  We pictured the course-makers laughing as they put it together, because that's what we would have been doing!  There were just so many random, tiny out-and-backs and funky turns to add tiny bits of extra mileage here and there.  We were pleasantly surprised to see that most of the turns weren't that bad, though!  And I was SUPER grateful for the cornering clinic BAM had just put on the week before.  Thanks to that crash course, I got to be super excited about the crazy ride ahead!

But the changes weren't quite done.  When the swim course had to change last-minute, Transition 1 moved to the lake shore.  This bought us a whole mile back for the bike!  So now we had a 95-mile course with close to 90 turns.  Woohoo!  Some people were pretty ornery about all the changes, but we decided it was better to be grateful we had a race at all, and just roll with it!  A HUGE thank you to every single person who made it happen.  The volunteers were nothing short of amazing!

Last year, I averaged just over 18 mph on the old 112-mile course.  Leading up to this race, I felt less strong and weighed more (ice cream weight, not muscle)(honesty counts), and since power per pound basically equals speed, that wasn't the best combination, ha.  So I was thinking anything above 17 mph would have to work this time around.

There's a fancy program called Best Bike Split that takes all of your body's data, all of your bike's data, and all of the course's data to estimate your bike split time.  It's really helpful for knowing how to pace yourself and has been pretty accurate for a lot of our triathlete friends.  It thought I'd be able to average 18.4 mph over the old course, and about the same for this new course (apparently pacing for the shorter mileage made up for the slowing around the turns).  That would've meant a 5:10 for me, but I felt like that was pretty ambitious considering my current fitness level and how new I am to cornering.  I can hold decent speed through the turns, but that seemed like I'd need to be holding much more than I probably could.  I felt like 5:30 was a more reasonable goal, and then I'd try to beat it by a little if I was feeling good.  That meant holding 17.3+ mph.  Honestly, I wondered a bit if I could even do that but was willing to try!

Fast-forward to coming out of the water.  I was focused in transition and posted a 3:46 split in T1, which I was super happy with!  IMTX 2015 was my first-ever USAT sanctioned event and, therefore, my first big tri.  (Previously, I'd just done two women-only pool sprints with zero training, and then a small grassroots half in preparation for Texas.)  I spent forever in transition without even realizing it last year (9 minutes in both T1 & T2), so I knew that was one easy place to make up time!  I was very intentional this time around, and felt like that I nailed that T1.  It sounds silly to say that about transition, but it's part of the race, too!

After the disaster that was my swim, I was determined to make this bike split count.  I thought of all the 4 a.m. wake-ups for 3- or 4-hour-long sweatfests at BAM, all of the time spent on the trainer at home, and that hard St. George century ride with the crazy crosswinds.  I was a stronger cyclist, after all.  I could do this!   Game on.
Hi to the fam!
Hi to the BAM fam!
Awesome drone shot of bike start by Dung Le.
As a back-of-pack swimmer but decent cyclist, I knew I'd be doing a lot of passing on the bike -- especially early on.  I assumed the slower cyclists wouldn't be uber-experienced at cornering, and was concerned that would make it more difficult to safely pass on a course that had 30ish turns in the first 15 miles alone.  I was right.  There was a lot of ill-timed braking, funky turning paths, and general messiness around the corners.  I had to stay super-focused to make safe passes as I made my way through twists and turns around clumps of cyclists.  The "clumps" were pretty prevalent early on -- it's always congested in the beginning, the varied speeds around the corners complicated matters, and the course wasn't really accessible for drafting officials at that point.  I didn't want to draft whether there were officials or not, so it took a lot more effort to get around giant groups of people!

Speaking of drafting officials, they talked to me THREE different times during the ride.  The first time, an official called out my number -- to tell me she liked me kit!!!  Haha!  The next time, an official warned a guy not to draft off of me -- and then gave me two thumbs up as they drove past.  And the third time, toward the end of the bike, I got yet another compliment on my BAM kit.  So funny.  Matt said he bets they liked me because most other cyclists probably don't smile and wave at the officials throughout the ride.  Go figure.

And while I'm sharing happy anecdotes from the ride, I have to mention my proudest ninja moments of the day!  I try to thank as many volunteers, police officers, and cheerleaders as I can throughout the race.  On one particularly messy road, I was down in aero but raised by right hand to wave at a cop and say thank you as I was riding past.  Just as the words left my mouth, I hit a bump and my front water bottle went flying... and I caught it with that right hand!  Not going to lie, I was pretty impressed with myself.  My PhD Nutrition was in there, so it mattered!  Then, toward the end of the ride, I had just crested an overpass "hill" and reached down to grab the bottle from my downtube with my right hand.  As I went to take a drink, there was a bumpy seam in the road -- and it launched the plastic water bottle I now had between my aero bars!  And I caught it with my left hand!!!  If there was ever a moment I wished I had something on camera... I was so pleased with my hand-eye coordination.  Haha!  But now I had bottles in both hands and flashed back to that one time I was 10, thought it'd be a good idea to ride my bike hands-free, and then hit a rock and went endo and broke my arm.  So I hurried and tucked the bottles away to get my hands back on the bike as quickly as possible. :)  Guys, these were the first things I told my family about the bike portion before even mentioning my split. #proud 

Back to the actual ride, though.  So there I was, winding through the streets of Harris County, Texas, having a lovely time and passing lots of other cyclists.  There was really only one spot that made me nervous (the pot-hole happy tight-double-U-turn loop bordered by a ditch near the equestrian park), but I felt like I handled that pretty well.  At BAM's cornering clinic the week before, Coach Andrew would stand at the apex of a tight turn and Coach Jeff would stand where we should exit, so the goal was to start wide, "hit" Andrew, and then "hit" Jeff.  Whenever there was a tricky or sharp turn, I just pictured hitting my friends and was therefore able to take a good path and maintain pretty good speed.  I had my watch set to show me my times for each 5-mile lap, and I was liking what I was seeing!  Anytime we got a straightaway, I tried to take advantage of it.  I stayed in aero for most of the ride (including lots of turns), was feeling good, and was kicking my goal time's trash.

When we drove the course a couple days before, we bowed out around the 42-mile mark.  We'd already covered 2/3rds of the turns at that point, felt like we'd seen enough, and chose to go home and take a nap instead of spending another couple hours in the car.  So once I hit that point in the race, the rest of the course was a mystery!  I thought of Forrest Gump: It's "like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get!"  On such a random, twisty course, this made for a fun game.  I know I said it before, but I honestly felt like a kid for those five hours on the bike.  I was never even remotely close to being bored and just had a blast out there!  (Who knew that was even possible for such a long ride?)  Once we turned into The Woodlands, we were back in familiar territory as the last few miles of the bike were the same as last year.  I actually flatted on that portion that Thursday so I was careful to ride further away from the shoulder as I made my way to the bike finish.  This last stretch was especially great, though, because it was full of spectators cheering you in!

I hopped off my bike and glanced at my watch -- 5:02:28!!!  That crushed my goal time of 5:30 and even my predicted time of 5:10, and equated to an 18.85 mph average.  I'd just nailed that tricky little bike course and earned back the time I'd lost on my rotten swim.  I was so happy with my bike split, and even happier to be off the bike and onto my favorite part: the run!

Bike Time (95 miles) - 5:02:28.  Speed - 18.85 mph.
Position - Went from 1902 overall to 1314 overall, passing 588 cyclists.

Off to the RUN!