Allison started training with the Fab Five in January and has stayed with us the whole way. She was right there in early January, hammering spin bikes for hours, then joining us for frigid “brick” runs through the shadiest Nashville neighborhoods (Ie…Wasky’s* hood). It didn’t take long before all the guys welcomed her as “plus one” to make the Fab Five, “six.” Below is her awesome recap of a race that weighed on her mind for months and pushed her limits beyond anything she imagined.
70.3 – Gulf Coast Triathlon Race Re-cap – by Allison Leigh Miles
I was nowhere ready to train for a full Ironman when the Fab Five started tossing around the idea of racing Wisconsin, but I thought if I put my mind to it, I could focus on the 70.3 distance. Jim suggested the Gulf Coast Half, it was his first, it was at the beach where I grew up and it was in May so I had 5ish months to train. I was nervous but I committed to doing that race.
Race week got here much faster than I anticipated, but it was almost as though my mind was preventing itself from being nervous; I was way too calm. I had so many sweet friends write encouraging letters and cards. My good friend, Season, even wrote everything I needed to remember in a small square that I could attach to my race bib!
Jim and I rode packed up his Smart Car and headed down to Panama City bright and early on Thursday morning. He thought it was crucial that I have an extra day to get acclimated, settled and calm since this was my first 70.3 distance race.
We checked in to the hotel about 1pm and decided to do take a quick swim to test out the water temperature. Once Robbie got settled in his hotel, we met up with him, grabbed some dinner with a few of his other athletes and settled in for the night. We planned a SBR (swim, bike, run) workout the next morning with all the X3 athletes and I was a bit nervous. I was the only one who was new to triathlons and this distance specifically; they were all racing for PRs and podium finishes for their age group, I was simply TRYING to finish.
The swim workout did NOT go well for me; I was struggling to swim parallel to shore, got separated from our group and was wondering why in the world I thought this race was a good idea. I could tell by the tone of Robbie’s voice and the look on his face when he finally spotted me in the water that he was concerned too.
I was in full on silent panic mode coming out of the water, barely said a word to anyone else on the bike or the run, both of which went well I think but I was so mentally distracted by the swim I honestly don’t remember. Robbie, Jim and I met for a post workout chat/lunch and they knew I was freaking out so we talked a bit about expectations and what I needed to focus on going in to the race. I had a lot of things to remember, mostly regarding nutrition, but for the first time coach gave me a really vague race plan, and per usual I was banned from wearing a watch:
My first thought was seriously?!? I made it all the way here and THAT’S all you’re going to give me? I asked a few more silly newbie questions and started to feel better; I trust coach to help me achieve my goal, but made up some arbitrary goal times.
Swim- 60 min
Bike – 4 hours
Run- 2.5-3 hours
That put my estimated finish time right at 7.5-8 hours (I’ve been told to note that both Robbie and Schwan thought these estimates were complete crap and way too slow)
Robbie, Jim & I went to dinner at Angelo’s Steak Pit, with the other elderly snow birds just as they were unlocking the doors at 5 pm – that place was a madhouse, but we managed to get our pre-race steak and potato meal in, plus a glass of wine and a picture with none other than the local celebrity, Big Gus.
By 6pm the seasoned vets were ready for bed, but I was wide eyed and nervous as hell, no way I’d be sleeping much tonight. Between newbie jitters and the head cold (which I’ve just learned developed into bronchitis) I acquired almost a week ago, I woke up about every 2 hours. Around midnight I had a notification of a new Crushing Iron post Tarrolly wrote regarding the three of us racing -I read it, loved it, and remembered a note he sent me a few days earlier- he reminded me that the work was there, I simply had to trust it and stay out of my head.
My alarm went off at 4 am- we had to get out the door and walk the mile from our hotel to transition by 5 because my swim wave was the first to go off at 6:20 am and transition most likely closed by 6. By the time I got set up in transition, body marked, my wetsuit on and met up with the other x3 athletes I had about 5 min until my wave went off-
My swim got moved up by 10 min, which I found out late the night before; I don’t like change AT ALL, so I was very anxious and antsy. Once I started walking towards the beach the nerves set in and needed a pep talk—I couldn’t find Robbie or Jim, but thankfully Carrie and Betsy offered to walk down to the start with me since their wave was going off second. We got there about 4 min before my start, some photographer that Carrie knew snapped our picture really quick, the girls zipped me up, got my cap on, talked about breathing, staying calm, and not worrying about time. They kept reminding me to stay relaxed and just focus on getting to the next buoy, not stress about how far I had to swim.
I stepped in to the start chute, had about 3 seconds to decide I wanted to start at the back of the pack, looked around to see if Robbie or Jim made it down to the start, didn’t see them, waved to the girls, and then the horn blew. I knew the water would be shallow at first and I could wide knee jump the waves, then it would get deeper and I’d have to swim, before hitting a sand bar and being able to stand up and jump again. What really happened was all the women decided they were going to wade out to their necks, then doggie paddle to the sandbar— that hindered my plan a bit because I couldn’t get around them until after the sandbar. Once I got beyond that, I started calmly swimming. It was a bit crowded at first and I had nowhere to go so it was a very slow start. Some girl next to me was having a complete meltdown so I decided to talk her through it since I couldn’t move any faster–that allowed me to stay calm before actually having to put any work in. Finally the field broke up, and for whatever reason–probably poor sighting on the lead swimmers part, the field took off to the right and I sighted the shortest path left to the next buoy.
I was still behind most people, but I didn’t want to go out too strong with such a far distance to cover. I focused on picking off the buoys one by one and finally got to the turn; everyone was out right so I got to cut close and just as I made the turn my cap fell off. I found it, stuck it back on, caught my breath and a glimpse of “control” written on my hand and re-focused. I turned and made my way across, I couldn’t see the shore or the other buoys yet so I sighted off a sailboat just ahead of me to the right–occasionally looking left to figure out when I could see the buoy–finally caught the top of it and headed towards it-made the turn towards shore and mentally took an assessment–legs weren’t kicking, arms weren’t tired, breathing wasn’t bad. I felt good but still had 950 meters left.
I picked off the rest of the buoys, elbowed a girl in the face pretty hard because she was trying to swim ON my back (Season told me not to be nice haha) then at the last buoy, with 125 meters left I decided to hammer it….two seconds later BOTH of my calves cramped up and I had to sit up in the water. I remembered Daniel Hudgins saying he tries to run through his cramps and they usually go away, so I flexed my feet, put my head down and plowed toward shore. They relaxed pretty fast, but the twinge would last all day. I swam over the sandbar and didn’t stand up until I knew the water was about thigh deep. I was walking faster than people were swimming around me so I started pulling my wetsuit off.
When I hit the sand I looked up at the clock and it said 44 min and some change. I was surprised and I remember thinking that the clock must have been wrong or that it restarted with each wave. I was so confused by my time that the woman behind me thought I couldn’t get my wetsuit unzipped (I paused with my hand on the string when I was trying to focus on the clock) and she kindly yanked the zipper down for me. There was no way I swam 1.2 miles in 44 minutes. Robbie later told me that my swim time was shocking, as in, no one expected me to come out of the water that fast, myself included. I walked the few hundred yards up the beach to the showers, ran through the showers and sat down on a bench to pull my suit off. I thought this was a better plan than trying to pull it off in transition and it paid off.
T1 was just about 4 minutes. I had to chug some cough syrup, spray some sun screen, and dry my feet off enough to get socks on. I decided not to risk the no-sock ride since it was probably going to rain and my feet would be drenched. I grabbed my helmet and sunglasses, slipped my bike off the rack, and made my way to the bike exit. My garmin was already set up for the 10 min interval alarm so I didn’t have to worry about starting it. The women that passed me while I was sitting on the bench calmly removing my wetsuit were still struggling as I rolled my bike out and on to the course. I rolled a couple yards past the bike mount sign, clipped in and I was off.
Robbie told me I needed to ride smart, not hammer it, and basically survive. It was a fairly flat course with the exception of one bridge we had to cross twice, but I also knew it would most likely start raining at some point. Nutrition was going to be a HUGE component for me, so I needed to focus on taking in Gatorade or water every 10 min and nutrition every 30. Jim set my Garmin up to alarm in 10 min intervals, so all I had to focus on was spinning my legs and hearing the alarm. That worked beautifully.
The day before Season told me not to worry or get upset by the amount of people passing me on the bike. She told me that there were a TON of much faster, much more experienced athletes that would be coming up fast behind me and that if I just followed Robbie’s plan I would pass a lot of them on the run. These words turned out to be invaluable to me during the 56 mile ride.
Once I hit the highway, which comprised the majority of the ride, I watched the road ahead of me; it wasn’t smooth and the cones were not in a straight line so if you took your eyes off them for one minute you risked hitting one. My biggest stressor was the fact that other racers did not respect the “on your left” etiquette when passing. I spent a lot of time in aero, more time than ever before and felt comfortable; the next thing I knew I was half way through the ride and feeling great.
Up to this point, Robbie had caught up to me around mile 5, I saw Carrie and Mike on the first and second out and back and finally saw Jim around mile 38. It was so calming to have familiar faces on the course. I clearly was wearing a “newbie” sign somewhere on my back because it seemed like every experienced cyclist that passed me had some encouraging words or tips; I thanked each person for their offerings.
This was the first long ride that I didn’t have any negative thoughts or “get it together Allison and get through this” moments. When I hit mile 40 I stopped wanting my food, but kept drinking fairly regularly and right about the 45 mile mark it started POURING. It was sprinkling before, but this was full on downpour. I slowed down a bit knowing that it was notoriously windy the last 10 miles and I didn’t want to crash on the wet roads. I witnessed several crashes, falls, and many a racer that had clearly taken a spill based on the road rash flying by me. I had to come to a complete stop with about 5 miles left in the ride because a pickup truck decided to back out in my path, unfortunately the jerk riding behind me didn’t head my “I’m slowing” signal, sped around me, started yelling about not slowing or stopping during a race and promptly rode right in to the side of the truck—so sorry sir, you should’ve listened.
I got back in the groove, finished out the last 5 quite cautiously and couldn’t believe I was 2/3 of the way through the race. My time took a hit for riding smart, I finished at 3:40, but my legs would thank me later.
T2 took a bit longer than I wanted because the girl on the opposite side of the bike rack decided to rack her bike DIRECTLY ON TOP of my transition stuff, with her back tire resting squarely on my running shoes. She jammed her aero bars on top of the rack leaving it impossible for me to unwedge my shoes so I had no choice but to flip her bike up and grab by shoes (please note, its illegal and grounds for immediate disqualification for touching another athletes equipment. Had an official noticed any part of this, both her bike placement and my subsequent flipping, we both would’ve been out) I finally got my shoes on as a kind volunteer was picking up that girls bike from the ground on the other side of the rack, grabbed my race belt, visor and some nutrition which were all linked together and took off running, putting it all on as I tore to the opposite side of transition. About halfway to the exit I remembered that my garmin was still strapped to my bike. Robbie told me to leave it there, but the control freak in me just couldn’t let it go. I made a turn and snagged it off the bike, picked up speed and headed out to run. Just about 2:30.
Run fast, that’s what I was supposed to do. I had NO guidelines pace wise, just to listen to my body. I blew out of transition too fast, about a 8 min mile now that I’ve gone back to look at the splits, but I ended up catching up to an older super talkative guy. He asked me my plan, I said run fast and he said that he was planning on run/walking the entire race. I was only going to hang with him till I caught my breath and slowed down, but then he said he could complete the entire half on that plan in 2:06. I made the decision to stick with him as long as I could.
Even though my legs felt great, I was still worried about my calves cramping again and wasn’t sure how the 13.1 miles would play out for me. I saw Robbie on the second mile, of course in the midst of our first walk break, and I knew he wasn’t happy with me. I needed to stick with this guy and come out with a quick-ish half otherwise I’d never hear the end of it from coach. My buddy talked a lot and I blocked him out a lot but he stuck to the 5 min run hard, 1 min walk brisk and what seemed like 5 minutes later I heard him say we were approaching the 7 mile mark. My only thought was “well hell that went by fast…I’ve got this”.
Once I focused, I realized I hadn’t taken any liquid or nutrition yet and remembered Meg Willoughby telling me to drink the coke if it was offered. I snagged one at the next water stop and it settled well- I was feeling great. My hands were sore from gripping my bike in the rain, so I was grabbing the cold sponges, one for each hand, and holding on to them so I didn’t clinch down too hard. The miles ticked away and then we hit 12. Buddy (I don’t remember his name) said he was going to skip the last walk break and hammer it the last 1.1–I told him to go for it…I wasn’t going to walk either; I knew I couldn’t keep up with him but I would run as fast as I could. I sailed in to the finish, saw my sweet friend Lisa and her yellow lab cheering for me and caught a glimpse of the race clock. I thought it said 6:44 something. I WAS ECSTATIC. I had finished under 6:45!!!! All in all I finished my first 70.3 roughly 45-75 min faster than my estimate and 17 minutes faster than Robbie’s guess. I FELT AMAZING! I couldn’t believe it was over so fast or that I felt as great as I did when it was over.
* Wasky eventually became +2