I am currently enjoying a day off in which I have nowhere I need to be, so might as well blog, right? On Friday I was set to drive from Birmingham, Alabama to Galveston, Texas. The route I had planned was 690 miles. Oh, what fun! I had a little swimming, biking and running to get done before I hit the road. I suppose I could've waited until I got there, but I knew I'd be happier if I got there and didn't have to do them, so I got up at an undisclosed, ridiculous hour so I could get my workouts in and be on the road a little after 5:30am.
My car was full of gas, all of my race stuff, some water and some protein bars so I wouldn't have to worry about food too much. The other thing is that my car is incredibly fuel efficient and I only like to stop as often as I need gas so it was a long time between stops. The first four hours of the ride were incredibly painless as there is not a lot going on along I-59 through Mississippi and what few cars on that road drove at speeds I enjoy driving. Louisiana was not as much fun as that was where I found all of the trucks, especially the annoying ones that move over to the left lane and create a sort of blockade that you can't get past. Seriously, the speed limit back home is 65mph and everyone drives 75mph. The speed limit around here is 70mph and it's like everyone goes 65mph!
I stopped for gas somewhere on I-12 and was back on the road in less than 10 minutes. For the most part things went smoothly, except for this one bridge when I was almost to Texas that went down to one lane and caused about twenty minutes of mostly sitting still while we very, very slowly merged. I had one more gas stop when I was only about half an hour away and then almost got caught behind a bad accident before I noticed people veering off onto this side road and took my chances following them and managed not to get lost before arriving at our hotel, the Comfort Suites, less than two miles from the race site.
The hotel choice was great as the room was huge and the beds were super comfortable. I was rooming with Mary once again, and once again Mary booked her arrival for about 11pm so I would not be seeing her that night. Instead I met up with my friend Kim who was doing her first race as a pro, and an athlete she coaches. When deciding where to go to dinner we used the tried and true method of picking the first place we laid eyes on, which turned out to be perfect. Right on the ocean, simple, easy, quick and got me back to the hotel nice and early so I could go to bed! I'm not sure how I stayed awake at dinner since I was practically shaking after I got out of the car I'd spent ten hours in.
I did wake up when Mary came in so we had a chance to chat before going to sleep. I think that was the first time ever that her flight was not delayed, she wasn't bumped, and her bike arrived in one piece. Just the first of many things to go right all weekend. We got up a little before seven the next morning to prep for another epic QT2 team breakfast at Denny's. I'll admit that of all of the places to eat pancakes Denny's is not my favorite but the chocolate chips and bananas I had them add helped out some. And really the point is the company, right? It was unbelievable how many of us were there. The team is huge! And given that I hadn't tapered much, I was plenty hungry so stuffing down whatever crazy amount of carbs that was did not give me any trouble.
We had a short break after that and before we knew it, it was time to eat again. We headed to Subway for sandwiches but, more importantly, our new race kits. Race kits can be sort of hit or miss as of course all companies size things differently and stuff fits differently, but when I heard we were going with Pearl Izumi I had high hopes and they certainly did not disappoint. They look really nice and, more importantly, they feel really nice. It's like second skin. Nice and light and I'd also like to add that I finished the race without a single hint of chaffing!
Anyway, after that I finally headed back to the hotel and got all of my stuff together for the morning, took a quick shower and got into bed. Mary was heading out to meet Charlie, Pat Wheeler, Jesse and Andy Salmon for dinner and I stayed behind first because I could hardly sit upright anymore and second because I already had half a sandwich in the fridge I planned to eat for dinner, so I stayed behind. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I made all weekend. First of all, I am pretty sure I was dead asleep by 7:00. Possibly earlier, I don't know. I just know the TV was on, the lights were on, and I definitely didn't notice Mary coming home. Second, dinner apparently turned into a two-hour affair thanks to some super-speedy service at the restaurant they went to. Let's just say that that is one of the reasons why I never leave my pre-race dinner under anyone else's control.
I slept incredibly well that night. But given my serious sleep deprivation in nights prior, it was almost guaranteed. The good thing about your wave not starting really early is you don't have to eat breakfast quite as early, so I was on tap for 4:45 applesauce breakfast. I had put my applesauce in the fridge because while getting down huge quantities of applesauce sucks almost no matter what, it is slightly less sucky when it's not warm. I did learn though that it sucks in an entirely different way when it's sort of frozen. So I had sort of an applesauce slushy, which made it take even longer to eat. It's been a very long time since I had to choke all of that down, so it was pretty rough but I made it. Ok, maybe I left a few bites in the jar, but I still did pretty well!
Mary and I headed over at like 5:30 for the very short drive where we parked in some lot we hoped we'd remember after the race ended. Transition set up was pretty quick and painless. I used the porta potties without having to wait in crazy lines since there were tons of them. I saw Lance setting his bike up about five minutes before transition closed while dozens of people snapped pictures of him like paparazzi. And for some reason I decided to use the dry clothes bag, which is totally useless both because you drop it off right next to transition anyway and it was a huge pain to get back to it from the finish line after the race. But anyway...
We had to walk a little ways down to the swim start and I was going off 45 minutes after the first wave. In this case that actually wasn't too bad as we were right in the middle. I also kept finding real bathrooms and used every opportunity to use them to make sure that there would be nothing left to bother me during the race. It certainly worked. Then I found a chair to hang out in for a while and made my way to the water for the swim start.
I seriously felt like I hadn't raced in like five years. The good news was that I did not have the sense of dread and hopelessness that I've had before so many races in the recent past. I didn't feel like I was going to have the best race ever, either, but I felt like I could at least take a step back in the right direction. We jumped off a dock into the water and had a couple of minutes to tread water before we took off. The water felt pretty warm and the course looked easy to navigate. I wasn't nervous or anxious or indifferent, so I was right in that sweet spot and definitely felt ready to at least let my swim training shine.
And we were off. I swam out hard and tried to find some feet to follow - something I just keep trying and not quite managing to do. I did find someone for a bit but then I found myself way inside the buoy line, I think because there was a bit of a current, so I lost the feet in front of me when I went to correct my trajectory. I felt like I was swimming well but as always, you can never really tell until after the race is over. But it didn't take long before I was swimming through the wave in front of us. This is good because it meant that I was swimming well, but bad because it was just the beginning of the obstacle course I'd be stuck navigating much of the way. For a long time I never saw anyone from my swim wave.
I also felt like I was swimming for an eternity. Seriously, I thought that swim was never going to end. It definitely felt like I was out there for a lot longer than 1.2 miles. But when I finally exited the water and looked at the clock and did the math to find out I'd swum a little over 33 minutes I was very happy. If nothing else on the day, at least I could say I'd had a good swim. I felt a little sick and dizzy as I ran to transition so I figured I swam hard enough. I was a bit clumsy getting my nutrition in my pockets, putting on my shoes and getting the Garmin going but it wasn't too long before I was off to ride.
Oh, biking, you never let me down. And I've never ridden a course this flat which is certainly a good course for me at the moment. It was sunny and beautiful and on this out-and-back course it didn't take long to discover that we were going to be going into the wind for the first 28 miles. I made the decision to ride a little hard on the way out in the hopes the wind assist on the ride back would compensate. I felt pretty good at that point and basically I spent the entire ride on the left constantly passing people. I got passed by a few men from other swim waves, but really mostly I was just trucking through those people. And as usual, some random person after the race saw me in the food tent and asked me if I rode a Cervelo and mentioned how I had passed him earlier.
My biggest job aside from pedaling was drinking. I have an incredible sweat rate and had to get down three bottles in the first hour. And I did. And I drank three more after that before the ride was done. I spent the first half just hoping for the second half and the tail wind that went with it. There was some excitement though when we got to see Lance coming back the other way in the lead. And I was able to pick out several of my teammates coming back the other way. I felt like a new athlete when I hit the turn and got to start riding back, effortlessly cruising at 25mph and passing lots of people. That was fun. It did turn into a crosswind at points but the ride back was quite a bit faster than the ride out. Definitely enjoyable to get out there again.
Now it was time for the run. Oh, how the run has given me trouble recently! I changed into my run stuff pretty quick and set out. I didn't have pace goals or anything, I just wanted to feel good for as much of it as possible. I still don't feel like I have the run volume in my legs built up again after the whole foot thing last year so I knew it wasn't going to be there for me like it will be in a few more months, but I could at least do a bit more than the shuffle I've been dealing with for far too long. So out of the gate I was doing pretty well. From early on I decided to walk the aid stations both to refresh the legs and to make sure I got in enough fluids. It was humid and record high temperatures so that is not to be messed with.
The run course is three loops and has some crazy, convoluted turns all through Moody Gardens. It was really difficult to ever know exactly where you were and you could rarely see that far in front of you, which in some ways was a good thing. It also made for lots of spectators. And we got to see our teammates plenty throughout the run. I had moments of feeling good, moments of feeling not so good, but never any moments of feeling truly terrible, so that was a big victory in my mind. And a few times late in the run I had surges where I still felt pretty good, so I was very happy with that. More importantly, for the first time in a long time I actually can tell it's going to get better as opposed to the hopeless sort of feeling I've had in the past, so just that is a win in my mind.
It was definitely hot out there but I didn't feel like that bothered me that much thanks to my Birmingham training. At one point though we ran out on the tarmac of an airport (doesn't that pose a security risk?) and we spent a long stretch going straight into the wind which was awful, but then you turned around and you got the wind at your back, but it then felt about 20 degrees hotter than it did with the wind in your face. Apparently Lance also took off in his private plane at some point during the race because he "only" came in seventh. But hey, if I had his schedule, I'd probably hit the road, too.
Anyway, I took it one mile at a time and still felt pretty good at the end as I ran across the finish line. And let me tell you it was good to come across a finish line like that again. Really the whole weekend was great. It was like getting my friends back. Not that they stopped being my friends because I was injured, but you're just not as much a part of things when you're not racing. It didn't take me long to find people afterward and I sat down with some pizza and watched others take advantage of the free beer. Mary finished a bit after me thanks to her late wave start and eventually we went and put our stuff in the car and quite thankfully were able to move the car to right outside transition.
We stuck around for awards and the rolldown and then finally made it back to the hotel with just enough time to shower and go back out to a restaurant where we had planned to all meet up for the evening afterward. Another fun night and a great start to the season. I suffered sunburn and some minor blisters but otherwise all was well. It was really the first time I've felt like it might be possible to find myself out there again, so I'm very happy with how it all went.
Mary got up at like 3:30 or something crazy to get to the airport for her 6am flight and again I didn't even hear her leave. I woke up pretty early myself and got in a spin on the hotel recumbent bike and I wasn't planning on leaving until later morning but there were terrible thunderstorms coming through and I thought if I left earlier I might beat them. I did not. I spent over three hours driving through torrential rain and wondering how close those lightning strikes were going to get and wondering if I should stay further away from those fuel trucks on the highway. I started to wonder if the storms could possibly cover all 700 miles of my trip, but somewhere in Louisiana the skies finally... well, I can't say cleared, but they at least didn't look black or dump ridiculous amounts of rain on us.
So the drive started slow but the made up time on the back end meant it was another ten hour ride which I guess I can't complain too much about. The unfortunate thing was that somewhere on I-10 the car in front of me sort ran over and sort of kicked up this huge piece of plywood on the road and it was balancing straight up when I plowed through it. I thought maybe I'd escaped unscathed but my gas station stop showed that my bumper had come loose around the right headlight. Great. What great timing, huh? Oh, well, at least I was back before 6:00. And I got to go to bed last night knowing that I didn't have to get up this morning! And let me tell you, that was a good feeling.
So the first race of the season is in the books. It was far from a PR and involved a run split most would be embarrassed about, but I'm just glad I was able to be out there again and show at least a few glimpses of my old self. And I've got seven more weeks to bring it back even more.