Muncie. One of the longest running half Ironmans in the country. This weekend, I competed at Muncie for the fourth time. Back to the beginning. The year – 2001. Then called the Muncie Endurathon, it was my second half Ironman. The result – 1st in AG, a very young F25-29. 2002, another age group win. 2003, Muncie was the USA Triathlon National Long Course Championship. I finished 3rd, F25-29.
Here we are, 14 years later – 2015. Back to Muncie. Now a “70.3” – the course was slightly changed but Muncie it remains – an unusual place to host a half Ironman but somehow 2000+ athletes decided to see if what this bird told us through our childhood was true:
Is there really more than corn in Indiana?
This year I tried something new – going into a half Ironman with a bigger load of training. My coach encouraged me to race this summer but not to get into a position of resting into every race. I’ve never done a half Ironman not rested (or peaked/tapered). And, it’s not something I encourage my own athletes to do. Going into a race with an “excuse” for why you don’t feel good or fresh can become a slippery slope of giving up on race day when it gets tough. Especially in a half Ironman, at some point the race will get tough and you must be ready to rally. But in the spirit of learning more about myself and the sport this year, I was willing to give this new approach a try.
Last week concluded a hefty week of training and a few days prior to the race I did a fairly big workout. By Friday, I won’t lie – I felt “ok” but lacked the usual zip in my legs and mental fire I feel for a race. Bigger training leaves my head filled with a little fog – usually a few good days or rest helps that fog clear to restore my clarity and confidence. Late in the week I still felt a little foggy but was ready to fight in the race. I packed my bags, loaded the beet juice and wrote a race plan.
I drove to Muncie with Amanda. A four hour drive, deep into Indiana down the I-65 corridor. A drive I had made countless times en route to college in southern Ohio – I knew every exit, every rest stop, every Stucky’s. Speaking of – what happened to all of the Stucky’s?
We arrived late afternoon, weary. After checking in at the race site, our hotel was still another hour away. Tempted by a $10 spaghetti dinner and a $15 cot, we gave in to sleeping at the local church that was 10 minutes away from the race site. We had our pick of rooms under the chapel. After a close battle between choosing the mother’s nursing room (too many germs!) or Room #12 bursting with rainbow-colored chairs, a mini-fridge and a microwave, Amanda chose Room #12. We soon realized it was the Sunday school snack shop, filled with Pop-Tarts, goldfish, cookies, crackers and Capri Sun. If we weren’t in a church or, better yet, a race, we confessed we would have stolen (eaten) half of everything.
That night we slept about as well as you can sleep on a cot in a church snack shop.
I came to Muncie for a good old humid, Midwest scorcher. I got 70 and sunny instead. It wasn’t even humid! And there was no wind. The problem with these conditions is that it means you have to race – fast. My strengths lie within out pacing, out smarting, out lasting my competition. I tend to suffer better and make adversity my advantage. There is nothing at all adverse about 70 and sunny! That’s what you call perfect!
After a long line of traffic, a parking attendant who seemed to be tempting fate (come on, come on, you’re not gonna hit me, pull forward, come on) we finally arrived at the race site. On the list of things to do was to get a timing chip as I had forgotten to pick mine up the day before. Upon doing this, I realized I had also been body marked with the wrong race number. One of my athletes was standing there and said, Coach Liz, best we not share these mistakes with your other athletes. The shame! After convincing the timing guy that I was indeed 1830 and not 1803 he gave me timing chip number 4 instead. I had utmost confidence that I would end up with the proper splits today.
The morning flew by quickly as I did my usual pre-race rituals, feedings and waits in the porta potty lines. Tires were pumped, friends in the AWA rack were heckled, transition areas were double checked and we made our way to the swim start. Due to traffic, the race start was delayed by 15 minutes. Amanda spared me half a bagel as second breakfast while waiting.
My start time approached and I previewed the swim. Though I required a tutor in geometry, I have a basic enough understanding that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. I envisioned the straightest line between the swim start and the turn buoy. I started in the front line of my wave and took off at the race start. To my left, one woman kept up with me for about 400 yards – right on cue, she dropped off and I took the lead, weaving through the waves of older men and women in front of me.
I cruised the swim effortlessly. I felt fantastic. Each week, I swim with our masters team in my wetsuit at the quarry. This practice is priceless. I have the fastest guys on the team to chase or chasing me. I learn to go ridiculously hard in my wetsuit, I find my different gears. It’s a different skill set and practice is everything. On the way back, the course goes directly into the sun. The swim exit was adjacent to the end of the tree line so I planned to sight upon the trees. However, the sun was so bright I couldn’t even see the trees. Instead, I swam from buoy to buoy. I couldn’t see the buoys until I was right upon them but had counted 8 before the race and – thankfully – they were numbered. Before I knew it, I was at the swim exit in a little over 29 minutes!
Wetsuit strippers proved to be a slow move on my part. I had to help the stripper help me take off the wetsuit. The run to T1 was long on a series of carpets covering chunky rocks. I kept getting caught up behind people slowly running or walking, having to run in the rocks (YOW!) while also trying to be polite (excuse me, on your left, please, coming through).
Meanwhile, keeping with the theme of trying new things, I was also trying to put on my Garmin. I’ve only raced with a Garmin once (in Texas) and never on the swim. So today I had it in my cap (I find it only reads accurately in there) which required a switch to my wrist. Turns out holding a wetsuit, cap and goggles while trying to fasten a Garmin to my wrist is a bit challenging!
Finally through T1, it was time to bike.
The Muncie bike course starts out on rough roads through a neighborhood. I settled into the ride but something wasn’t right. I was being passed, aggressively. I know, I know – it happens. But I was being passed by athletes I had just outswum by up to 24 minutes! I looked down at my HR and watts – all lined up perfectly with where I should be but one after another athletes, some on road bikes, were passing me. Two women in my AG passed me. I didn’t know if my Iron Engine was just taking its time to warm up, if I had lost all of my fitness from Texas, if everyone else had no idea how to pace a half Ironman, if my brakes were rubbing, if my tires had gone flat. My head was a nonstop chain of questions, chatter and what the …..!?!?! questions. In other words, I was having a moment of Peg (from PBS Kids Peg and Cat)
I AM TOTALLY FREAKING OUT!
But Liz Waterstraat is a patient breed and knows that 56 miles is a long way to go and anything can happen. I kept thinking back to the sign on Room #12: Bee Your Best. Be your best, Liz! Maybe right now this was my best so I just went with it.
Room #12 was like staying in Willy Wonka’s vending machine supply closet.
Besides, Best Bike Split had predicted I would ride 2:33:27 and even though I didn’t “like” that split perhaps that was the best I would do today in order to run well off the bike (incidentally, I rode exactly 2:33:27). Nothing to do but accept it! Still, 40 minutes into what was becoming the worst ride of my racing career, at the point where I started to write my race eulogy in my head, Amanda, my often training partner & who started 8 minutes behind me was already passing me.
SOMEONE PRESS THE PANIC BUTTON!
I couldn’t find the button so I violently smacked my fancy hydraulic brakes instead (because in moments of frustration it helps to hit something).
I don’t know if it did anything but all of a sudden I started going A LOT faster.
Maybe it was a mechanical issue or maybe the proverbial brake was on my entire body – who knows. Whatever the case, it cost me a lot of time! So, I started flying through people. We were out on the highway which was a gradual incline going out and decline coming back that sailed alongside barren roads with empty buildings and corn. This course was fast. Course marshalls kept us honest but the course being an 11 mile stretch of highway that you rode back and forth twice – riders were everywhere. Sometimes I was passing people who were passing people. It was a tricky mess of riders to navigate.
I kept picking up more and more speed. I kept feeling better and better. I thought about something I heard from long ago pro, Marcel Vifian: let the race come back to you. When it starts unraveling or something doesn’t go your way, let it come back. As the miles clicked off quicker, I kept telling myself stay the path, stay the path! Around mile 50, I found one of the women in my age group, PASSED! Around mile 53, I found the other one. I made a pass but she passed right back. We arrived at transition within seconds of each other.
The Muncie run course is not flat. It’s a series of long, gradual inclines or declines along forested roads – perfect for me! I ran out of transition with first in my age group right ahead of me. Be patient, I said to myself. Pass her patiently and don’t rush things. I went out controlled but the first mile clicked off at 6:51. I figured it was a pace much more painful for her than me. Shortly after, I made the pass and didn’t look back. Time to put distance between us.
Racing at the front of the race, it was lonely! A few younger men passed me but mostly I was passing 40+ men. I made my way to the out and back thinking I just needed to keep clicking off as many miles at a certain pace as possible. I kept waiting for my legs to fall heavy from the last week of training but it never happened. My coach continually puts me into a position to trust my running legs and then find them. I kept telling myself to keep pushing to the turnaround. Soon after the turn, I realized I had only put a minute on the woman, Kelly, behind me. I gave her a smile but knew I still had a lot of work to do. There was no room for backing off.
In 15 years of racing, this was the second time ever that I wore a Garmin while racing. I liked it! Like Ironman, I watched my HR and time. I did not watch pace – I just pushed or backed off the effort based on the pace that came up at the mile. That is what I do in training. I knew I just had to keep clicking off miles at the same pace without much fade to hold my lead in the last half of the run. My HR was a little stale (again, not surprising given the work last week) so I just gave it as much effort as possible. I made the turn to the final road before the finish line knowing I still had two miles to go – two miles that felt like forever. The last mile contained a tough hill and finally there it was, the turn to the finish line. Following the pattern of this year, I sprinted to the finish line because I knew the younger women were charging hard behind me to finish off the run in a little over 1:34. Every second would count!
“Sprint finish” – cut me some slack, this was after 4.5 hours of racing!
In the end, I finished 1st in age group and 9th women overall. It was a glorious day to be racing and so much fun to be surrounded by my athletes and friends.
THIS is 40-44 (and was shortly after I rubbed the furrow lines between my eyes & made Amanda take the picture again). Next person who calls me ma’am gets punched in the face.
All in all, it was very exciting to return to a race, 14 years later, and win my age group once again. I’m grateful for my longevity – it’s something I respect in other long-time competitors and something I hope I am wise enough to maintain. If I’m still doing triathlon in another 14 years, I’ll come back to dominate F50-54.
Wait – one day I’m gonna be 50?
I AM TOTALLY FREAKING OUT (AGAIN)!
Here are my “details” (I told Sue Aquila, who I met after the race, that I would list this all out):
2 ½ hours prior to race: ½ cup oatmeal w/currants, almonds, brown sugar, 2 packets of Via (in Muncie, we called this “coffee”), Beet-It shot, 24 oz water
45 minutes prior to race: ½ cinnamon raisin bagel, sip water through morning
15 minutes prior to race: 1 Power Gel plus water
Bike: 3 Power Gels (2 caffeinated), 6 salt tabs, 32 oz water, 60 oz sports drink (Accelerade made with 1.3 scoops for every 24 oz), ½ Coconut CLIF Bar
Bike totals = 340 calories/hour, 73 g carbohydrate/hour, 946 mg sodium/hour, 50 mg caffeine, 36 oz fluids/hour
Run: 1 Power Gel @ mile 1, 5, 9 (one with double caffeine), 2 cups water at every aid station, 3 salt tabs
Run totals = 220 calories/hour, 54 g carbohydrates/hour, 730 mg sodium/hour, 50 mg caffeine
Post race: water, pretzels, Gatorade, Dairy Queen, beer, pizza, and a small tantrum at a gas station in Lebanon, Indiana when I realized they had everything else BUT plain Cheez-Its (who eats white cheddar Cheez-its – WHO!?).