I woke up minutes before my 5:10 alarm feeling rested and as if I had actually gotten a solid night of sleep. Because we were staying so close to the race, thanks to the generosity of a stranger who offered her second house for us to stay in, and my wave being the very last one was not set to go off until 8:35, I did not feel like I needed to get there super early. This was not my first rodeo so setting up my spot in transition was not of great concern to me. My nerves were far from calm and I tried to relax to enjoy some breakfast, but it was a struggle to eat through the waves of nausea. My anticipation and nausea continued to grow on the drive over. I was greeted in transition by my teammate Pat Mckeon who offered words of encouragement and a vote of confidence that I could beat all the other chicks in my age group including a former pro who decided to revert to amateur status in order to Kona-Qualify. As I set up my spot my anxiety levels began to drop and my focus rise. I wasn’t even looking around sizing up my competition, a former nervous habit of mine. When I heard the announcement that it was not wetsuit legal in only panicked briefly, and was grateful to have a brand new never used Xterra Swim Skin, thanks to Bill Robertson (Twitter handle @_Bicylcle_Bill_), who generously gifted it to me. I was also glad that I convinced Bill to send it to me before the race, as he was convinced that it would be a wetsuit swim; sigh of relief for not being that schmuck. I ran into my former college classmate Brian Duffy on my way out of transition. I was surprised to see him as he was recovering from a multitude of injuries sustained in a bike crash several weeks ago. He wished me good luck and told me the Kona slot would most surely be mine.
And then I sat…and I waited. ..and waited. I watched waves and waves of other age groupers head to the water. The wait was not as tortuous as I thought it would be. The anxiety began to build. I went out to jog around and use the port-a-potty for the umpteenth time. When I began to walk to the swim start I started to really enter my zone, my thoughts slowed down, but I also became more and more nauseous. I am glad I walked down there when we did because they had decided to start the waves 5 minutes early because they were running ahead of schedule. I put on my caps and goggles and waded into the Choptank River.
I was out in a pack for about 100m before the fast swimmers took off. I was able to benefit from a draft until about three-quarters of the way to the first turn buoy and then I was by myself. I tried to get in and stay in a good rhythm of a strong stroke and sighting. I felt strong and smooth. This was one of the first swims that I really felt like I was staying focused, not just splashing around to get to T2. After the first turn buoy I could feel the Velcro on my timing chip loosening up and I prayed that it would make it through the swim. I started catching people in the earlier waves and after making the first turn buoy there was no longer clean water to swim in, but at least I was getting an adrenaline rush from passing and swimming over top of people. Finally I was out of the water and struggling to reach the zipper of my swim skin. The swim was a personal best of 31:20.
I was racked almost as far away from bike out as possible. Bun finally was on my bike and it was go time. For the first few miles the course takes you through some neighborhoods which gave me time to take in some First Endurance Kona Mocha and water. My goal for the race was to gradually bring my power numbers up over the 56 miles, not crushing the first 10-20 miles of the flat course. As I was heading out onto the course, the pros were finishing up their bike leg, this gave me a boost of excitement. The course was crowded and I was passing lots of other competitors, no one going fast enough to get any significant wind-blocking advantages. I was able to benefit from a few 25-29M who were in the wave ahead of me and I had beaten out of the water. I tried not to get too crazy and drive my watts up when passing the other riders, occasionally some of the middle age men would get competitive and I would have to drive a litter harder than I would like to get buy. As I made the turn onto the road where I had done my threshold intervals on during my late April course recon I said to myself “It’s go time baby. Time to go to work.”
I knew I had some other girls in my age group ahead of me, but I still had not caught anyone. At least not that I knew of. I finally made the final turn before Egypt Rd and passed a fellow age grouper. Then Egypt Rd was upon me. I settled in to my final power goal and saw I was right on target. I was feeling good, but knew this could all change very quickly especially if the winds came out to play. Fortunately it stayed relatively tame and my campaign to T2 continued without major event.
I came running into T2 and it was really go time. From transition the run course looped around past the finish line, where I saw some of the female pros, including Alyssa Goodesky, finishing the race. While this served as a reminder of just how late I started the race, I did not dwell and focused on the 13 miles I had ahead of me. I knew I needed to get my legs under me and hydrate over the first few miles. I was beginning to regret not picking up one more bottle on the bike as I was getting severe abdominal cramps. They escalated very quickly and by 2 miles in I felt nearly crippled. I tried taking in salt tabs at every water station and even walking through the water stops to make sure I was getting hydrated, but the cramps were overwhelming. My abdomen felt like a sheet of rock. Just when I thought it was fading, the cramps would come back and slow me down. I was still able to keep a decent pace, but now where near where I wanted to be.
I said to myself as I left T2, “If you run like you are capable of, the Kona spot is yours.” I kept that thought in the back of my mind and tried my best to relax and keep running as best as I could. Instead of panicking I kept telling myself over and over, “You got this, just another long run. Relax. Breathe.” I was also energized by the cheers and words of encouragement from the other competitors out on the run course. With each “nice pace,” and “you go girl,” came a boost of confidence and a little pick up in my pace. My favorite line from and 60-something year old man was: “You must have forgotten your cape, because you are Superwoman.”
As the turnaround approached I started feeling better and the cramps were fading. I dropped my pace by about 10 seconds per mile and felt such an overwhelming sense of relief. I had no idea what place I was in and how far ahead the other girls I needed to catch were so I just kept running. Finally at about mile 9 I saw a girl with “27” on her calf. I closed in and debated whether to make the pass or hang with her for a bit. It didn’t take long for me to decide to make the pass as I was holding a much quicker pace. I could feel the wave of adrenaline go through me as I ran by her. One down, unknown number to go.
I could feel the temperature rising. It was getting harder to breathe. I finally reached what I considered the home stretch, with about 3 miles to go. Just before the 11 mile marker I passed another girl in my age group. Just. Keep. Going. Then one of my supporters appeared out of nowhere, “You got to push. You got two in front of you and one closing.” Shit. He started running behind me, “Come on Emily, come on, you gotta push. You have the fitness.” Yes I had the fitness, there was no doubt about that, the only doubt was if I had what it takes to get to the finish line and secure my Kona slot. I dug really deep, running as hard as I possibly could. I was dropped the pace to about 6:20/mile but my legs felt so heavy I hardly felt like I was moving at all. My head started pounding and my vision began to tunnel. All I could think about was getting to the next turn. I could not see any girls in front of me and I felt like it was impossible to catch two in less than two miles. But I kept fighting thinking maybe I would catch them in the shoot.
The final turn to the finishing shoot appeared. At that point all I wanted to do was finish. I crossed the line without a celebratory gesture and stumbled into the arms of a volunteer, as I was unable to stand on my two feet unsupported. When they laid me on the stretcher in the med tent we did not know if I qualified. Then finally Athlete Tracker updated and my name was the only one up with a finishing time. I had done it. It was surreal.
They released me from the medical tent after denying me an IV, much to my dismay. Everything hurt and I was incredibly nauseous. Fortunately it would not be a long wait until the award ceremony and there was business to take care of, like claiming my Kona slot and swiping my credit card. No buyer’s remorse came when I handed over my Visa. Just pure joy. I was able to relish in my accomplishment with another Breakaway teammate, Patrick McKeon who also KQ’d.
It was a feeling of Mission Accomplished. We stopped by our generous host’s house on our way out of town since she was having a party and invited us to come by. Most of the people there were not triathletes, but they knew enough about the sport to be very impressed by what I had done.
The feeling I had driving up the eastern shore of Maryland was reminiscent of my sentiments after all the presents have been opened on Christmas morning when I was a child; weeks and months of anticipation ended with an event that lasted only hours. Only instead of having to wait another year, it was only 4 months until my trip to the Big Island and just two weeks until my next race. By the time we arrived back in Philly the excitement had waned and it was time to return to reality. Time for me to shift some focus from training to studying for boards, finishing up my last rotation of my third year of medical school, and taking one more shelf exam. Having also finished second amateur, I qualified for my professional license; I have decided to take my pro card and also take time off from school to pursue some of my athletic goals. I am looking forward to the rest of the season, and hopeful for continued success.