Chattahoochee Challenge Race Report:
Learn something from every training session and race that you do. Lesson from Saturday’s race: learn to accept the things you cannot control – for this race, that’s weather and hormones. At this point, I may have either intrigued you or scared you off! Don’t worry. There’s nothing gross or disgusting about this!
I put the work in with training, showed up and finished. Part of the race went fantastic and part didn’t. I’m not looking for congratulations or sympathy. I wrote all of this, because for those starting out in the sport, or who have never been apart of it, you don’t understand what all goes on unless people talk about their experiences. So for those who want to learn more about it, keep on reading. If not, that’s ok too.
Chattahoochee Challenge Half Duathlon 2019 was on my schedule as a redemption race. I did this race last year for my first half. First off, for those who aren’t familiar with terminology for triathlons and duathlons, a full is 140.6 miles (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run). A half is just that, half of a full (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run). That’s if you’re doing a triathlon. If it’s a duathlon, it can change some. In this particular race, it was technically 72.2 miles (5K run or 3.1 miles, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run). Last year there were 30-35mph winds on the bike course that tanked me by the 13.1 mile run at the end. I didn’t get the result I was hoping for and wanted another shot at it.
Pre-Race: This year, once again, training had gone pretty well and I felt well prepared going into the race, except for worrying about race day temperature. Limited warm weather this spring means not really being acclimated to higher temps. The last 2-3 weeks, I intentionally picked the hottest times of the day to train to do what I could to get acclimated.
Race forecast ended up with a low of 68 and high of 80. Great for the bike, but hot for the last run. Saturday morning, the forecast called for some thunderstorms about 11:45. So race morning the bike was cut to a one loop course (36 miles) instead of two (56 miles) for safety reasons to get everyone off the road sooner. Having racers scattered out and about over 30 miles isn’t a great thing if you need to get in from lightning. Yes, I understand it and appreciate the concern for our safety. But when you want a comparison to last year’s race to better it, you automatically know it’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna be an apples to apples comparison anymore. How to start a race already in a different place mentally than expected. Tried really hard not to be totally bummed over that because nothing I can do to change it.
Well, aside from weather, there’s another factor beyond your control that can mess with your race…ladies, the dreaded hormonal shifts.
***Side note, my husband deserves sainthood for putting up with me, especially this past week. This perimenopausal tapering athlete was a hot mess emotionally!***
We figured out the hormonal part late in the week. Why do I mention hormones? Perimenopause can cause unpredictable shifts in hormone levels and when you don’t have a normal cycle because of an IUD, you don’t have a calendar to gauge when to expect any of the “normal” PMS symptoms. In my case, hormonal shifts result in a couple of joint pain issues for me. However, one of the other issues with perimenopause is inability to regulate body temperature. I’m normally cold natured so warm temperatures and me usually get along pretty well. My temperature issues are usually overnight while I sleep. I’ve been lucky so far not to have to deal with hot flashes. This will make more sense later.
Race time: Being a duathlete is weird thing. There’s not many of us around and as a result there’s not as many races either. So while there were several triathletes to start, there were only a handful of us on the Du side…5 females and 2 males to be exact. The 5 females had 3 in the 55-59 age group and 2 of us in the 45-49 age group. So there was still a need to compete to place overall or win age group.
Race day jitters are always a thing, but once it starts, I quickly settle in. Brent kept telling me to relax before the race, but I knew it wouldn’t happen until the gun went off. First run went great, on target pace, and was 2nd female overall so far! Feeling great! T1 was faster than last year thanks to not needing to don the winter gear for cycling in 46 degree temps! With a small race size, it’s easy to pay attention to and remember what folks are wearing. As I head out on the bike I quickly see and pass the first female runner before leaving the gardens. Mentally a huge boost to know I’m first place female at that point. Ok, this is mentally making up for the short bike course. Now, I’ve got to hold onto that. Brent was at the start, at transition, and came out on his bike and rode around to see me on the course, encourage me and take pictures. It’s always great to see familiar faces at transition and out on the course cheering for you! With 10 miles left on the bike, my right lower back/SI joint was starting to hurt (remember that hormone comment?), so I figured better to stop and stretch it so I could maintain my speed rather than the pain slowing me down. It worked and I was off again! Brent was riding behind me at this point after taking pictures twice, so when I stopped, he pulled in to check on me. When you’re out on a course for hours, the ability to say hi to someone, not to mention a quick kiss from your hubby, is a welcome sight!
downhill ahead.” He yells there’s an accident ahead. I slow way down and then see multiple EMS vehicles, lights flashing, bikes and bodies on the ground with c-collars, spine boards, and stretchers. Thanks to the curves and now the detour on the course, I can’t see the scene long enough to figure out what happened or how bad things are. I pray that nothing serious is wrong with any of them and continue on while trying not to focus on that, but I’ll admit the upcoming curves and downhills were approached a wee bit slower after that. I still don’t know what happened or the extent of any injuries.
Back into transition to get ready for the second run. I look over and see 2 of the other women duathletes changing shoes too. They didn’t pass me on the bike, but they had to have pulled in right behind me. Crap, gotta get going and beat them out…but I REALLY need to stretch my back again. Quick stretch and still headed out before they did. First 2 miles on the run are feeling great and pace is right on target. The 2 ladies are doing run/walk intervals and we jockeyed back and forth a few times during the first 2 miles and chatted briefly. Then I felt a sharp pain in my right rib area wrapping around. I know this pain…it’s the other culprit that acts up with my hormonal shifts. Argh. It hurts too bad to run, so I walk for a bit keeping the ladies in sight hoping that I can stretch it out and start running again to catch them. That plan didn’t last very long. They were quickly out of sight and I couldn’t shake the rib pain for long at all. Ended up walk/run myself at that point and frustrated. The original run leader also passed me, now leaving me in 4th. Brent finds me on course again about mile 4 and I gripe and complain about all the things. My knight in shining armor wants to know what he can do for me. I tell him he can’t do anything for me because receiving external assistance on course can get you DQ’ed. He asked if he could at least give me a hug. I gratefully accepted that and felt somewhat better for another 2 miles. He said he’d meet me at the finish line if he couldn’t do anything else, so I sent him on his way to get cleaned up.
By mile 5-6 the pain in my Si joint was back again. I stopped and laid down in the grass to try to fix it, but it was too tight and wouldn’t relent due to muscle tension from 46 other miles of running and biking. Did the best I could to continue on with run/walk. Somewhere around here Todd passes by yelling and cheering for me, telling me I was doing great, but get to running. I threatened to punch him! Mentally I was just so over it now! So many things hurt. It wasn’t the same race as last year. I lost my overall chance. I was done. Despite how lonely it was on the end of the course, I was glad I had sent Brent to shower and meet me at the finish. I didn’t want him to see me suffering and I didn’t want to have to try to pretend I wasn’t. I found the darkness that I’ve heard so many people talk about in long-course racing when you’re alone with your own thoughts and no one is in sight for a few miles and those miles are passing slowly. Thoughts of quitting on the race crossed my mind more than once. But by the time I got back to the start-finish area, I came to grips with the fact that I’d hate that decision and the DNF (did not finish) and it would be better to just keep walking and run when I could and finish it out. I knew an overall placement was out, but thanks to an out and back part in the loop on the course, I knew the other girl in my age group was a few miles behind me and didn’t seem to be gaining on me at all, so I’d at least push on to finish and win the age group.
During these last few miles, I also hit a point where the taste of my electrolyte drink in my water bottles wasn’t cutting it. No GI issues, just taste. Thankfully there are aid stations every couple miles on this run so I’d grab a cup or two of water when I passed. Got to the aid station at mile 7 and had decided to dump the electrolyte drink out of one of my two bottles and refill it with their cold plain water and keep electrolytes in the other. The volunteers on the course were fabulous and willing to help you with whatever they could. A sweet lady took my bottles to fill them up for me, so I took the chance to bend down and stretch. When I did, things got fuzzy really quick. Again, wonderful volunteers recognized I wasn’t ok, and asked if I was too hot. I could tell I was at that point. They dumped ice water on my head and neck, put an ice pack inside the back of my hydration vest and I got horizontal for a few minutes. I could feel things settling down so I sat up and they suggested dumping the water down the inside of my sports bra to help further cool me off. Whoa! Worked and felt great! Back to live action again.
I’m stubborn, and I know it, but I’m not dumb. I knew if I had overheated slightly at mile 7 and there was still no rain, I needed to make sure I stayed cool enough and not push too hard. I’ll walk to a finish, but gosh darn it, I don’t want a medical DNF! So I trotted off. Each time I came to an aid station after this, I’d drink a cup, dump a cup of water on my head and one down my kit. Also, science is such a great thing. When you know what your heart rate data is for given paces and efforts, you can use that as a gauge to know how your body is performing in training and on race day. On the back half of that run, I made sure to drink plenty to keep both cool and hydrated. Sweat literally had been running off my hands from the beginning of the second run. The sun was out – no storms! – argh. This wasn’t what was predicted. Where it was shady or downhills on the course, I found I could “run” and then sunny patches where it was hotter or the uphills I’d walk. Run is in quotes, because based on what it “felt like” I was running in terms of pace was in reality about 2-3 minutes per mile slower than what I expected each time I looked down. My heart rate was significantly higher than what usually matched my pace. I knew that was a sign of the physical stress from the heat. Even when I was walking for prolonged periods, my heart rate didn’t come down to match that effort. So I knew not to push too hard and finish out the race without being pulled off the course by medical! When the back or rib pain would flare up, I’d stop and stretch. I’d walk when it kept me from jogging. Finally, after what seemed like forever, I crossed that finish line with Brent videoing and snapping pics while Todd was yelling and cheering. I got first in my age group and 4th overall female with a time of 6:05:42.
After the race, looking at my bottles revealed I drank 40 ounces of water and electrolyte drink during the last half of the run alone. That’s 40 oz for a 10K! After getting the race results email, the weather box said 87 degrees! No wonder I overheated! (Shocking, the temperature forecast was off – never did storm or even rain more than a sprinkle for a minute during the race either!) The hottest I had been able to train in was about 83-84 and that wasn’t for multiple hours. No where near enough to acclimate to racing for 5-6 hours. As for all the things “that went wrong” I’m not making excuses for my performance. Excuses are for things that you can control and train for, but don’t. I can’t control the weather. I can’t totally control my hormones, even with HRT. But I can control how I react to those situations beyond my control and do the best I can given the situation. Sometimes your best gets the results you want, but sometimes it doesn’t. I didn’t hang on to an overall placement, but I kept first age group and finished without medical assistance.
After it was all said and done, looking back at last year and comparing to this year, every segment this year was faster than last year. 5K faster by 2:55. T1 1:51 faster. Bike 1mph faster average speed. T2 0:33 faster and half marathon 7:49 faster, even with all that happened. So while endurance sports are a competitive sport against others and I’m competitive, it’s also a competition to be better than you were before. While this race didn’t go as planned, it was a significant PR of 13:08 on runs and transitions compared to last year and the bike data estimated out to be about 20-ish minutes faster if it would have been a full race, which amounts to at least a 30 minute PR compared to last year, so despite all the frustrations, it’s a fantastic result!
Perspective often can’t be found in the middle of the quagmire, especially a hormonal race day, and this was another reminder of that. You have to step-back and see the bigger picture. Long-course multisport racing is simply a rollercoaster ride no matter how you look at it. For now, I think I’ll step off this ride and take some time to enjoy some social rides and runs with family, friends, and my pup Max! Because after all, we do this for health and fun, right?!