In 2011, I was signed up for the North Carolina TTT. Friends had done it the year before and loved it, and with the cheap price I was sold. But then they abruptly cancelled it two months before the race. It wasn’t looking like we would get a refund, so I asked them to roll my entry to Ohio. Not at all where I wanted to race, since hills aren’t my milieu, but I gave it a whirl. And I almost did it—except I was very dehydrated going into the Sunday HIM. I had a headache going into the race and didn’t pee that am, never good signs! Called it a day after the swim and one loop of the bike. That’s it. I’m coming back to finish. I’ve never DNFed a race, as slow as I am, that’s not in my nature.
This year I was starting from nothing, having had surgery end of December and was told all I could do was walk for 6 weeks. When I got the all clear, it was a pretty steep climb up in March. By April I did a couple of 80 milers and by May a century. I had also done a bunch of hilly courses, but the quick miles took a toll on my knees. They hate hills. And I got a wicked 3 week cold. But I got to the race, limping and coughing the week prior.
The first race is a crazy mini-sprint Friday night. Therefore, you have to get there by 3:30 or so. Its an 8 hour drive to Portsmouth, OH, and 8.5 if you’re scared of being dehydrated and require lots of rest stops. I had driven to Morgantown the night before and drove the other 5 hours the next day. Picked up my TTT jersey, arrived at the cabin, unpacked, and got ready for race #1.
Everyone was amped up and ready to go. A race in the evening is odd, and folks that got there Thursday night were really chomping at the bit. It’s a time trial start, and you line up according to a time you gave for your fastest half. Thank god, I wanted to be nowhere near the fast dudes. They waited till people got to the first buoy so that really slowed the line down, but it was good considering the bike course would be too crowded. My friends Kristen, Slake, Laura, Kim, and Kevin and I were all still in line when we saw Scott(my coach at #75) coming in from finishing. I was #354. It was comical.
Only 250 m to swim, and I swam hard. Got out to put on my shoes, but it was a comedy of errors in transition. Can’t wait to see those times later. Got on the bike, which involves two out and backs and one big long hill. Only 3.9 miles, but they pack a punch. Off the bike, onto the mile run. People were flying! I was towards the tail end of the finishers, but hey, with a 32 minute race, you’re never really that far behind.
That night we biked back up that brutal hill to our cabin, which is just awesome to be stationed at. You don’t have to move your car at all. We had a big dinner, got ready for tomorrow, and I was in bed by 8:30. Weekend’s just beginning!
Saturday, Olympic 1
Today we had two loops to swim, the really hard Thompson hill to climb, and got to do the run loop for the first of 4 times. I found Alice Spristerbach and Slake and we three decided to go off together. It was crowded, since some of the fasties were catching up to us for their second loop. I took it easy and wide, and then was off on my bike. I remembered this course not being nearly as bad as I thought. But I HAD TO DRINK. last year, I only had ½ a bottle, this year I would drink two. Saw that I was coming up on the famous hill, heard some cheering and said “I’m just happy to not tip over!”. Then I heard, “hey Amy, do you have a chain tool?” “Geezus…Scott?” I stopped 20 feet up the hill and turned to see my coach on the guardrail. His chain had broke. Knowing this race was pretty important to him, I rode back down (which was scary! It was steep, too steep to walk!) and got him my tool. I turned and went back up for round two. Its about a mile long climb, most steep in the beginning. I forgot we had to take 125 back to transition, it was one long brutal hill at around 22 miles. But there was a guy at the top singing to us that got me up the hill. He made my day.
The run on this race…you get to do the loop 4 times! It’s pavement for about ½ a mile, then rocky trail with two category 5 climbs. It is also 6.5 miles, so a little longer than your normal Oly run. The entire time you think, I have to race again in a few hours, take it easy! And you drink, and drink, and drink. I brought a hand held bottle this time—that was a good idea. But the real race begins when you’re finished! You have to pack everything up from transition. This time though I didn’t feel like biking up that damn hill with my backpack, so I walked up the hill. Not sure that was easier or harder on the legs!
I was able to take a shower, cooked and ate a pizza, and got a quick nap. Most glorious 1.5 hour nap ever. Eat, sleep, drink was the name of this weekend. I decided I’d head down early and get a coveted parking spot—no more extra hill climb for me! I got my stuff ready (including a bottle just to drink while waiting) and head down. The folks that have to stay in Portsmouth don’t have it so easy. It’s a 20 min drive, so folks opt to just put out a blanket and sleep on the grass. Not easy when its 88 degrees. I went to set up transition and realized I grabbed the wrong suit. My coach’s to be exact. Thank god he brought one and it fit me well enough! I could have swam without, but it is cold enough to warrant one.
Saturday pm, Olympic 2
The PM race is a bit different, and I LOVE it! You head out on the bike first, lined up by number, and you head out in threes just like the swim. It’s a bit of a mess, everyone is trying to get in early. They don’t really care too much about the order, and everyone wants to go earlier than later to get done early enough to get ready for tomorrow! This course takes you on 125, with that dreaded hill, and a much worse hill later on. Its just an out and back, and I could see the faster guys look pained heading up that hill. The clouds were dark too, the wind picking up. I heard thunder 3 times, and finally the heavens opened with quarter sized raindrops, just as I was heading up the hill. I started to get really cold, but then the rain stopped and you could see it hadn’t rained at all by that last hill. I was convinced we wouldn’t swim, and yet people were swimming. Hmmm. Clearly no science teachers here that knew when there was thunder, there had to be lightning!
The volunteers are amazing!!! They help everyone into their wetsuits. Then there was the slow jog/death march to water. The enthusiasm from the am was gone. Two men as I was getting in hunched over, to the point I thought they might have been having heart issues. Turns out they had gotten out of their first loop and when they had stood up, they cramped! Wow…ok, here I go. It was a glorious relaxed swim. And that’s how I treated it! Just enjoyed myself. When I got out I saw a man severely cramping trying to get out of his wetsuit. The volunteers were trying to help but he couldn’t pick up his legs. I told him to get on his butt and showed them how to pull it off. That was the trick! Then they followed me and pulled mine off. Like I said, simply awesome volunteers.
Out on the run, I moved much slower this time. Did my same thing of the morning, took 2 cookies (we had infinite, cookies, pretzels, and water) to put in my carry case and infinite in my bottle. Ate the cookies on the long uphill while walking and sipped at the water. The fact I had to pee was a good sign! Yay!! not dehydrated! Got done, ate a PBJ sandwich and a sloppy joe. You just can’t eat enough during this day! Drove up the hill (great idea!) and got stuff ready for tomorrow. We had a long day tomorrow…
Sunday HIM day!
Wow, my legs were sore. This was going to be interesting. At least I had the right wetsuit! Found Slake and Alice and lined up with them again. We took off, slowly this time, and I started swimming. But something was wrong, very wrong. I couldn’t breathe. I started to panic a bit. What the heck? My allergies were bad in this place, maybe it was my asthma? I kept breastroking, and when I got to the first turn, I really was in a bad spot. I even started thinking, you better not drown. Mom will be destroyed. Just quit, I can’t do that to mom if something goes wrong. Then I had the thought of although I love open water swimming, I absolutely hate it in races. What the hell am I doing triathlons for? I forced myself to try to make it one loop, then I’d decide. Part of me knew that if I pulled out, I would have a panic episode the next time I tried, and I needed to be successful. Had to be. I made it, saw my friend Shelly, and said, “somethings wrong!” She asked what’s wrong, and I burst into tears. She held me a bit, told me to breathe, walk, go on my back, take my time. I nodded, wiped my tears, slowed my breathing, and jerked up my wetsuit. I could feel it pulling a bit. When I started to swim, I was fine! It totally was the wetsuit. In my haste I hadn’t pulled it up all the way and it was tightening on my throat. Now it was smooth sailing! I neared the end of the second loop and caught a glimpse of familiar earrings. It was Alice!! I gave her a hug and off we were on the bike.
This bike was the hardest one. There were several long climbs. I made it up the first one, and saw Kristen and Laura. YAY!! I asked if they had room for another team member and we decided to ride all together. We’d get separated going up hills, and would wait to catch our breath at the top of the big hills. Clearly we weren’t getting a draft advantage! Plus, if I got into trouble, I had my friends around. . With no sag support if you got into trouble, I was happy to have some friends within eyesight. Everyone is so supportive, especially the folks that were “only” doing the half that day. You can tell who they were because they didn’t wear the TTT jersey. Along the way Slake caught up too. And like I said, as we were near the end, not a lot of folks were out there on the course. We did run into a road block of about 20 bikers. Turns out a woman took a turn too fast, hit an unmarked pothole, and hit the pavement face first. We found out later she had to be medevac’d out! You really had to be careful on this course, since there was a lot of gravel and sharp turns. We ended up back on 125 and had to go up that darn hill AGAIN, but made it, and back to transition. You change up your own bottles (no on course bike support), and headed out again, as we did the first loop a blistering 14 mph. The second loop went better, although those hills were a bit more painful. When we hit 125, I took off from the group, knowing they were all faster than I was on the run. They pulled in just as I was setting out for my “run” and Slake came with me. We agreed to walk every uphill part. Near the end of the loop I ended up trotting ahead b/c I felt a little fresher on the return. Saw the girls, and turned around as a lot of folks were finishing. Nope, not me! Out you go again! More walking, more oreos, more infinite. Slake was just behind me. And I was so hydrated I had to pee (which I did behind the run turnaround sign ). Counting down the miles was amazing. I finally was at mile 5, then I saw that magnificent bastard mile 6. Yes! Only .5 miles to go!! My original thought would be 8 hours, and I was done at 7:47. I cleaned up, and drove straight to Portsmouth to get Sonic. All I wanted were some tater tots, and I promised myself them as soon as I was done.
We had an awesome party that night at the cabin, with drinking and steaks. Yes, I had a second dinner! Alice and Tom came over and it was a fun night. I was beat up, but not quite as beat up as an IM. That night I didn’t sleep well (we found two wolf spiders! so I kept picturing them crawling on me) and got up early to head home. Yep, I definitely did 140 miles this weekend! Every time I stopped, I couldn’t walk! But what a great, accomplished, feeling that is!
It is a tough race. More mentally tough than an IM, for sure. You have to restart three times. Whereas in an IM you just have to get through each sport, and then you’re done. Plus, it was 26 miles of rocky, hilly trail! And the bike courses? Hardest hills I’ve ever done continuously. But what is absolutely unforgettable is everyone cheering you on. Everyone! Even all the fast folks as they are coming home. They say “Good job”, “keep it up”, “good pace” and other encouraging words, because they know you are struggling. And you say it too when you turn around and see folks still trying to finish.
The volunteers are amazing. They are so happy to give you anything and despite being overwhelmed sometimes with two way traffic, they remained positive. With the heat and being so isolated, it couldn’t have been fun, so I thanked them every time. Of course the response is always “of course, happy to help”. That is really what brought me back. And I’d come back every year if it weren’t in May. Just a hard time of year for a teacher to get away. But if you want to challenge yourself, this is a must-do race.