RACE REPORT: The Acccidental Champion

The first part of this race report shall be devoted to the V-Team 26.2 k. The weekend's 26.2k report is brought to you via the Hammerhead Olympic Triathlon (aka HOT). My total distance was actually 51.5k, but 51.5/2=25 and change, and I warmed up for an additional couple of kilometers, so can we call it "two loops" of 26.2k? I think so. Also, I think there were exactly 262 finishers. As Hal says, what's a dot between friends?

Race Info
This was quite a small race compared to my usual events, but ran very well. The swim is in beautiful Kingsley Lake on Camp Blanding National Guard Training Center. It's one of those crystal-clear lakes so RARELY found in Florida - you can see all the way to the bottom, nearly to the second buoy of the 1.5k swim. The race was supposed to start at 7:30am, but fog was so thick you could barely see the first buoy, so the RD wisely opted to delay start until 8am. The bike is almost completely flat, with 2 or 3 very small hills. And the run is also almost completely flat, except for one nice steep hill right around mile 4. As the name leads you to believe, it is HOT'r'n'hell. Temps today got up to 91 degrees, but are typically 5-8 degrees higher. Aid stations on the run are nearly every mile, offering gatorade, water, ice cold wet sponges, and even gels at mile 4 at the top of said hill.

I was number 77. Originally I was 306, but for some reason they changed me to 77. Now, I must tell you that I am EXTREMELY superstitious when it comes to sports. Almost abnormally superstitious. The lower the race number I have, the better I seem to do. I know, I know - lower race numbers usually mean you registered earlier, which means you have more time to preapre. But the last really long race I ran was the OUC Half Marathon and I was number 99 - despite IT band injuries and illnesses that kept me from training, I did quite well. So here I was with number 77. I was convinced it was a sign. Add that to the fact that my parents, husband and race mentor were all there - for the first time. My husband has only ever been to one race, and my parents and Dawn, never.

Race Goals
This was my first Olympic triathlon, but it was my 5th (4th finished) tri. This was the longest race I have ever done next to my half marathon. Now, some may say, with all my health conditions, competing in endurance races is not a wise idea. But I firmly believe racing keeps me alive. So I shot for a race time of 4hours. I figured it would break down like this:
  • Swim: 40 minutes (originally my goal was 45 but I got gutsy)
  • Bike: 2hrs
  • Run:1:1

If I was lucky, this would put me at a total of just under 4 hours. Here's what REALLY happened.

Race Day
I'm up at 4:30am. I get to transition in perfect time to get racked, do a warm up bike, run, and swim, stretch a little, pee several times, eat a Clif bar, two bananas, and a 24-oz bottle of Clif Shot. A little coffee and some 5-hour Energy and I'm good to go.

I love the swim. It's my favorite part. I am a slow but very strong swimmer. Swim never intimidated me when I started doing triathlons. The race start, however, is delayed until 8am because of the fog; fine, just leave me out in the sun longer (but really a wise decision by the race director when I think about it.) I'm in the water with the Clydesdales, Athenas, relay and military. I hang out near the edge/side as always, and am the last one to get going (as always). But, as I slide into the water, I get my rhythm quickly. I'm breathing well, my heart rate's good, I am swimming almost perfectly straight. And something weird happens. The farther I go, the more people I pass.

I pass one girl from my wave. Then two. Then a guy. Then another girl. Then another girl. Then another guy. Next thing you know, I pass two people from the wave before me. Then I pass two people from the wave before that. Then I pass one guy from the FIRST WAVE. I keep glancing at my watch. My hopes for an under-40 minute swim are long gone, but before I know it, I'm pulling up to the dock, where my mom is shouting GO MEGGAN, and I'm running out of the water ahead of at least a dozen people. Apparently, I'm the fastest of the lastest. Can't really see my watch because my contacts are floating, but seems to say 40 minutes as I get out of the water. I feel awesome. I am more than ready for the ride. Especially since it's flat and I've trained on some of the toughest hills in the state. My flat race pace is about 15-17 (I thought it was 16-18, but my averages were wrong).

Everyone is cheering for me. Since we were the last wave, there are few bikes on racks. This makes me nervous until I remember we were the last wave. This feels like my fastest T2 yet: as I'm running in from the water, I'm already rehearsing my strategy: helmet, shades, bike, shoes, GO! First 20k loop and I'm off - I keep exactly to my strategy, sucking down 2 gels and going through 24oz of water, carefully building my speed. Second loop - I put on some hustle. I must be going really slow, though, because there's no one around me. I'm nervous but I keep hustling. I have to pee, and I finally get a moment alone to pee - a little - on the bike. Weird experience. I couldn't relax enough to pee all the way. I keep looking behind me to relieve some pressure about being passed, and to make sure no one's seeing me pee.

Second loop - I'm on to bottle #2 and a few bites of my Organic Food Bar. I barely choke them down. I am on kilometer 26.2 and solid food and I are not friends. Then, on some rough road, I lose one of my brand new Polar insulated bottles. Crap. I really needed that bottle. I just took salt pills, which I also lost the rest of. And I just bought that bottle. Oh well - part of my swag was a HOT branded Polar bottle, so maybe this was meant to be. I take my race number belt off my handle bars and tuck it into my shorts so it's already on me. By the time I come around the final corner, I'm already out of my shoes and gloves. I'm feeling fabulous, albeit a bit queasy from the salt pills and gels. Apparently, I am still the fastest of the lastest. I glance down at my watch. 2 hrs 26 minutes. I have about an hour and a half to make my goal, so it looks like I'll be finishing in 3:40-3:45. I am overwhelmed.

Ahh, the run. The great crapshoot. Some jackass racked his bike wonky, so I struggle a little racking mine, but still feel fast. I already have my race belt on, so I slide into my powdered shoes and socks, tie up and go. I clip my race belt and slap on my visor as I head out. It's all down hill from here, I think. And downhill it was. On my warmup run, the calves/shins didn't seem bad, but now they are giving me hell. I try to run it out, slowly but surely, all the way through mile 1. Around mile 2, a severe, dull pain has crept up my right leg from my calf. Now my calves don't cramp - instead the pain is all the way up to my butt, shooting into me with every heel strike. I stop to pee because I never peed all the way on the bike. Gatorade, water - should have grabbed some darn sponges, but I didn't till I passed the halfway point. It actually hurts worse when I walk, but the sun is so bad I am forced to stroll several times. The pain is all the way into my lower back now. I pass Ironman Dawn on her way back. I cheer her on. She looks miserable. I feel worried.

This run feels like it's never going to end. I forgot to sunscreen my face and there are no clouds like the weatherman promised. Most of the water I'm drinking is getting poured all over me. I'm now as wet as I was on the swim, and I'm chugging down Gatorade at every aid station, running through most of them. I start grabbing sponges at every station, sticking them into my bra straps so they cool me and I can lay my face on them, saving them until I really need to squeeze the rest of the water over me. Everyone behind me has now passed me except for a very few - my advantage is almost totally gone. I think I may throw up, but I keep focusing on my keywords, thinking positive. The sooner I get through this, the sooner the pain ends. The fact that I have run much longer races than this, at much faster paces, sticks in my mind, and I keep running through the pain. I might be able to make my goal if I push.

Then, at mile 4, the hill from hell approaches. Another person passes me. I hate, hate HATE being passed on hills. As if the torture of the hill isn't bad enough. Thankfully the grade isn't bad - it's a long slow climber. I glance down at my watch, as I have been repeatedly, and realize I'm actually getting slower. I doubt I can pull off a 22-minute 2.2-mile now, but that's what it would take to do the run in 1:17 or so. My hopes at this point are not high - this is the worst I've felt all race. My heat-exacerbated medical conditions are starting to flare up. I'm slightly rejuvenated at the top of the hill when they ask me if I want a Gu and there's a cheering section. I tell them I love them, take a Gu, a gatorade, a water, and two icy sponges. 2 miles to go.

The Finish
The two ladies behind me have now passed me. I am dead last. On the run. Again. Because of my stupid legs. Again. I'm going to kill my physical therapists. The girls make friends and start to talk. I chit chat with them for a bit, but I'm in so much pain all I can think of is getting done. Amazingly enough, despite the heat and my natural dehydration problem, I have saved a little bit for the last 1.5 miles. I surge past them. They keep walking. Mile 5 comes. I glance behind me. They're a little farther. Mile 6 comes. The girls behind me are now jogging. I'm in trouble - one of them is 6 feet tall, and her race walk is faster than my run. I see my parents just past the 6 mile sign. As I pass, I whisper to my mom, "I don't want to be last, but I don't know if I can do it." She yells, "YES YOU CAN! There are like 15 people behind you!" I can't believe that there are 15, but for some reason her words are enough to keep me moving.

I really am going to puke soon. The girls behind me are gaining on me. I hear my mom yell, "COME ON SWEETIE, YOU CAN DO IT! Pick 'em up and lay 'em down!" I start to near the cones and I dig down from somewhere really deep and I pull out a full-on sprint, leaving them no chance of catching me. A cop pours water over my head after asking my permission. I want to kiss him but I hold back and go stand under the sprinklers for a few minutes. I can barely walk.

I finish in 3:53:17.

After hobbling and chatting for a few minutes, Dawn comes back. She is changed and getting ready to go to breakfast with her family. She was going to go run with me. We look at my time. "I finished 2nd in my clss," I tell her. "I don't care," she says. "You finished. Now go get your award!" she says. I get an award? She missed an award by one place, but her time was over an hour less than mine. How is this possible?

I hang around for a while, and I hear the Athena results being announced. They're giving the Clydes age group awards 5-deep, but the Athenas only get 1st pace awards. I'm TICKED but I never really expected an award for a time so slow. "1st Place Athena in her age group," says the announcer, and I expect the other girl to be announced. But the guy says, "Meggan Johnson." I almost crap myself. I look all "Academy Awards speech" - you know, big eyes, open mouth, silently asking, "ME??" But I go up to get the award. And then I start crying a little. I keep telling my family, "But I'm not that fast."

As it boils down, I was the 2nd to last finisher. I don't know where the 15 behind me were, unless they dropped out. Somehow, the 2nd to last finisher won an award. Of all Athenas, I was 3rd, so I would have gotten an award even if they did overall, but there were only 4 Athenas. Eventually I stop caring. This is my first award. At my first Olympic race. And it's FIRST place. And I just bet my initial goal time by 37 and a half minutes, and my revised goal by 6 and a half.

#77 Meggan Johnson 28 Orlando FL
TOTAL: 3:53:17
1.5k SWIM: 43:37 (3:37 slower than goal)
T1: 2:14 - my fastest T1 yet
40k bike: 1:38:20 (my fastest long-distance bike, 22 minutes faster than my goal)
T2: 1:31 (my second fastest T2)
10k run: 1:27:36 (10 minutes slower than goal)

Three heart arrythmias. Vertigo. Two leg injuries. One award.

Just call me the accidental champion.

Currently listening :
Lenny Kravitz Greatest Hits
By Lenny Kravitz
Release date: 24 October, 2000

6 tidbits of wizdom:

Unknown said...

CONGRATS TO YOU!!!!! I did my first ever sprint tri this year with the flu so I can totally relate overcoming adversity....

FunFitandHappy said...

Way to survive the heat and the hills!! I hope you're feeling VERY proud this morning :)

Meggan said...

Shaaaaaazzzaaaaaam! Awesome! I am doing a little celebration dance for you!

Allez said...

Great report! You deserved & earned your award!

Anonymous said...

Congrats thats awesome.
Yea my favorite things to give me energy for my mma training are 8-hour energy pills, 5-hour, and bananas!!!

Dr. Iron TriFeist :) said...

Great job, girl! It was nice to meet you while we set up transition.

I disagree about the flat course but I live on the beaches and only see hills when there's a draw bridge. LOL!

Good luck with your marathon training.