Challenge Quassy 70.3 was an event I absolutely did not want to do because I was afraid of it. I had heard from several different people who had done the race how hard and hilly the bike course is and that the run course is equally as difficult. Cycling is definitely my weakest link in the 3 disciplines, not that I am a fast runner or swimmer, as I am pretty much middle of the pack at both. However, I grew up running and swimming, cycling is still new to me and I really struggle with it, especially Hills! I decided to face my fears and do the race as a training prep for Ironman Mont Tremblant. I have to say that the course was every bit as difficult as I had heard…and than some for me!
(My race prep: Flat Angela)
The weather was beautiful on race day, mid 60’s and sunny. The swim was in Quassapaug Lake and the water temperature was 66 degrees, much warmer than the 58 degree water at Crystal Lake in Maine! There were several swim waves, the first starting at 6:50am and the last at 7:30am. I was in the last wave, which was all females 40+ and the relay teams. It was definitely the biggest wave and the water was crowded at first. I felt great, despite the congestion and not being able to really break out of it until I got to the first buoy.
At that point, I took a quick peak at my Garmin and it was 700 yards and my pace was 1:55/100 yards, which was perfect for me. As I turned at the buoy, I looked up and the sun was directly in my eyes, so I just kept swimming. Within a few minutes, I realized there was no one around me anymore and I thought I had broken out of the pack, but then I saw a kayaker. Ugh! I had swam way off course, which was very frustrating as I just could not see the where I was going. I had to stop really look around and figure out where I was and find the next buoy. I could barely see it, but I put my head back in the water and swam, sighting much more frequently and having to stop each time so I would not swim off course again. When I made the next turn to head to the beach, I could finally see. At this point, I just wanted to be done. My swim time was very slow for me as it took me 46 minutes, but I had to let it go as open water swimming can just be so darn unpredictable. Off to T1 to hop on the bike!
I stripped off my wetsuit and got my helmet and bike shoes on and headed out on the bike course. I was feeling very disappointed about the swim, but reminded myself that it was a training day, not a race. The first few miles of the bike course were great, flat with a few down hill slopes, which made me very happy! However, this did not last long and before I knew it, I was climbing hill after hill after hill. I saw my average speed go down from 17.8 mph to less than 15 mph very quickly. I focused on keeping my cadence up and using my little gears to get me up the hills, but I struggled and was feeling frustrated.
Bike Course Elevation: Approximately 4000 Feet)
I went through all 5 of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grieving on the bike course. At first, I was in denial: “Ok, these hills are not that bad! It can’t be like this the entire way.” As the Hills kept coming, I became angry: “Why am I doing this? Why didn’t I train harder? I should have been out riding hills every chance I had! How could I be so unprepared?” At the half way point of the course, I started bargaining with myself. “OK, halfway there, if you can get through this, you can just walk the run… who the hell cares?” Then, around mile 30, when I could see 15+ cyclists single file slowly climbing up a hill that I could not see the end of, depression set in. Without a question, this was the hardest bike course I had ever done and I still had 26 miles to go. I knew my mind was in a dark place and I had to turn it around. I tried to focus on the positive: I am over half way done, it is a beautiful day, this is an excellent training course for the Ironman. Then, I thought of my kids who would be at the Finish Line, and I wanted to finish this strong and happy, not depressed and angry. At this moment, the dark clouds in my mind lifted and I focused on doing the best I could to finish the bike course, so that I could I have a strong run. The remaining part of the bike course was not easy, but I had entered the “Acceptance” phase of the process and I rode as well as I could until I finished the course.
As I entered T2, I saw my family, which was a huge boost for me! I put my bike on the rack, got on my socks, sneakers, fuel belt, and visor and headed out on the run. I stopped to give my kids a kiss and they cheered me on. I made the first turn and it was up hill, when I got to the top, there was a left turn up another hill. I felt like I was running about 13-14 min/mile, but my Garmin buzzed that I had hit 1 mile and my pace was 10:19. I was thrilled as I felt like I was not working that hard considering I had just run a mile up hill! The next mile went by even quicker, and they continued to just tick away despite the course being ridiculously hilly. Before I knew it, I was at mile 8 and I felt great! I was passing a lot of people that were walking at this point. All I wanted to do was maintain my pace and finish strong. I ran well until mile 11 when I came upon a hill with what I would say was a 15% grade (this could be an exaggeration), but, it was so steep that I had to stop and walk. I walked for approximately 1 minute and when I could see the aid station at the top of the hill, I started running again. There were 6 volunteers yelling and cheering me on and when I got to the very top, one of the volunteers (with my permission) dumped a bucket of water over my head, which was just what I needed! (Note to self: As good as this felt, my socks were soaked for the rest of the run)
I had less than 2 miles to go and I pushed right through them. As I was nearing the Finish Line, my son and daughter joined me to run down the Finisher’s Chute, which was truly the best part of the day! I had finished the hardest triathlon I had ever done and I was happy! Despite being in such a dark place during the bike, I pulled through it and ended the race smiling! I am so happy I took on this challenge and feel much more confident about the Ironman. The course was extremely challenging, but it was also beautiful and the volunteers and race support were all amazing! One more stepping stone hopped across on my journey to Ironman Mont Tremblant, which is less than 10 weeks away!