Listen to the Ali on the Run Show!
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Spring Duathlon At Smolak Farms Recap
What is a race recap and how do I write one?
Noooo, I remember how. And turns out, I even kind of remember how to race. Not too fast and not too far, but this weekend — for the first time in a very long time — I woke up while it was still dark outside, used the bathroom a billion times, braided my hair, pinned a bib to my shirt and crossed a start and finish line. I even got to do it all with my very best teammate: Brian.
Now, as you all may know, Brian is a cyclist. He takes it kind of seriously (we have more bikes than people in our small one-bedroom apartment, plus five helmets, a handful of spare wheels and multiple bike trainers), so most weekends are devoted to either long training rides or races. Usually races.
This weekend, we traveled to the North Country (Massachusetts…so far and distant and exotic!) for Tyler’s second birthday party. He’s two! Aca-believe it!
Naturally, as soon as the trip was planned, Brian hit up bikereg.com to see if any races were happening in the area that could coordinate with our travel schedule.
No bike races.
But there was a duathlon: the inaugural Spring Duathlon at Smolak Farms.
We never even discussed it. It was just an email with a link and a note: “I signed us up for the relay.”
OK then. Because I’m so healthy and so adept at running these days! #bathroomstop #bathroomstop #bathroomstop #outoftoiletpaper
I did get excited at the possibility of actually being able to do this thing, though, and at an apple orchard, no less. I love apple orchards! And farms!
The run distances were totally manageable: a 3.2-mile out-and-back road run (they said over and over that the course was 3.2 miles, but also kept saying it was a 5K…I don’t know), a 13.3-mile bike leg (which I knew Brian would demolish) and then a 1.5-mile “trail run” (if by “trail run” you mean “run up and down all the rows of the orchard, in between the apple and peach trees, then totally, a trail run).
My race goal: I did not want to have to make any bathroom stops. Since getting back at it after another long-ass flare-up, I’ve only had two stop-free runs: one back in the cold days, and another two weeks ago. But generally, the runs I’m able to do are all broken up by multiple stops with no discernible pattern. Sometimes I have to stop within the first quarter-mile (thank youuu, Starbucks on Lex); other times I’m not bolting for the bathroom until I’m three miles in. Nothing makes sense.
In the end, though, it was a pretty perfect weekend.
We spent Saturday with my family (and what seemed like one thousand two-year-olds) at Tyler’s birthday party. It was at this massive gym where he took gymnastics class earlier this year (precious), and he had the best time ever.
By the end of the party — and the after-party back at Ryan and Michaela’s house — my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. It was a good hurt.
I went to bed with a belly full of cake and my race gear on standby.
We were up early Sunday morning and I immediately remembered how much I actually love those inevitable pre-race nerves. I used the bathroom as much as possible but, like with my marathon prep, just tried to keep calm. Calm Ali = calm belly.
It was a lovely day for a race: sunny and breezy. Or maybe like…sunny and windy as shit, if shit can be windy.
Nothing super eventful happened before the race. On the way out of the hotel, I saw that they were putting out warm chocolate chip scones, and I was all, “It seems like a good idea to eat one of those right now,” because I simply cannot resist fresh-from-the-oven baked goods with chocolate…even though my only pre-race plan was to go in on an empty stomach. Oh well.
The scone was delicious.
It was nice having my first race “back” be a small out-of-town race. The logistics were simple, though they only had two PortaPotties that I could see (I later found three more…dang it, too late). Everyone was super nice, and people seemed really excited that we were there “from New York! Wow!”
This was my first time experiencing a transition area, and that was cool. I felt pretty legit, even though the transition wouldn’t affect me all that much.
We set up our little spot and then I headed off for a “warm-up,” which was basically just me jogging around the start area trying to get things moving and get that stomach emptied. So beautiful.
Brian and I reconvened at the transition area for the mandatory pre-race talk and a singing of the National Anthem. The race director said, “Let’s sing this National Anthem really loud, OK?” and I did exactly that because I follow directions. But no one else sang, so my proudest moment is being the unofficial National Anthem singer at the inaugural Spring Duathlon at Smolak Farms. I know my mom is really proud because after the race she said, “You were the only person I heard during the National Anthem.” There’s a compliment in there somewhere, she’s just a very subtle lady.
And then it was time to race.
Fun fact Q&A lightning round: Guess who else was at this race?
Answer: Coach Cane!
You remember him. When he found out Brian and I were going up to do this race, he decided to do it, too. He has family in the area as well and figured it’d be a nice little duathlon. He also figured he’d come up and beat us — oh hellll no, Cane — and even made a bet with that cute wife of his about who would more likely to come out near the top. (Keep in mind he had to do all three legs of the race himself; Brian and I certainly had an advantage.)
Stay tuned on that one…
I got a little kiss from my teammate and then lined up at the start for the run. I was feeling OK. Mostly excited.
Of note: I haven’t timed my runs since I started running again. I did one run a few weeks ago that I timed with the MapMyRun app, mostly because I wanted to monitor the distance. I kept forgetting to stop it during bathroom stops, though, so the pace was all messed up. In other words, I have no idea what paces I’ve been running, I haven’t pushed myself on a single run, and I had no idea what I might be capable of at this race. I also couldn’t find my Garmin before we left NYC, so I was running blind, and there were no mile markers or timers along the course. Sweeeeet!
I lined up fairly close behind Coach Cane. I didn’t know his pace plan, but I knew he’d run a smart race (duh, he teaches that for a living). My plan was to stick with him, or at least keep him in sight, knowing he wouldn’t be positive splitting out there, and I could probably learn something from whatever race strategy he had in mind.
With a countdown from 10 (seemed like a lot…), we were off! I was racing!
The first run was on a small-town road with lots of little rolling hills. Nothing killer, but enough that I felt like I was working. At first the pace felt easy — of course — but soon I was breathing heavily. And since this was a USAT-sanctioned race, we weren’t allowed to run with headphones. Yikes for me.
I was running near Coach Cane until the turnaround point, and then he pulled ahead on one of the downhills (he surged, I coasted…rookie mistake). I was hurting in the last mile or so, on the final (and longest) uphill, but kept within about 10 seconds of Coach Cane.
As I plowed back toward the transition area, I saw that the number on the clock was 24:xx, which meant I’d somehow managed to squeak in with a sub-8-minute pace. Not bad!
My whole family — even tiny Tyler! — was there screaming as I came in, which was awesome, and I cruised into transition to where Brian was waiting and ready. I was supposed to rip the ankle timing chip off and hand it to him, but my arms were shaking and I was essentially worthless, so Brian had to do all the transition work. Sorry, teammate!
He grabbed his bike and ran off and I knew I had about 30 minutes until he’d be back.
Brian completely crushed the bike leg. He was the fastest bike split of the entire day, and when I saw his bright-red helmet coming back toward me, I lost my mind. I was so excited. I was definitely not one of the first runners back from the first leg, but he was definitely one of the top cyclists coming back.
He was so excited, which gave me a ton of energy to kick off the last run leg. We had a frantic pep talk as we exchanged the timing chip, and then I bolted out of transition and sprinted into the orchard.
Soooo at this point, all the race directors and volunteers were freaking out. “First female, first female! You got this!”
I just kept yelling back, “I’m in the relay!” It was cool to hear them say it, because that’ll never happen again, but it was all a farce. Sad.
The orchard run sucked. I hated it. I felt so slow and my dang glutes refused to activate or help me out. I felt out of shape and flabby and like I was dragging a lot of dead weight with me. Plus, the orchard was oddly hilly and the ground was uneven and I couldn’t find a good line at any point. There was mud, there were branches, and this is when I realized, “Holy hell, it is windy out here!”
I was getting passed by, oh, everyone at this point. All the hardcore tri dudes were whipping past me, and I felt like I was working hard but knew I had majorly slowed down. There were just so many rows to run!
Finally, we were out of the orchard and I got to blast into the finish. That part was fun.
My family was there cheering, and Brian was waiting just past the finish line going nuts.
The results: Our overall finish time was 1:13:31 — good enough for first place in the relay division!
The credit for the win most definitely goes to Brian. He biked the hell out of that course, and I was basically just OK enough on the run that I didn’t lose it for us.
But first place relay.
We did beat Coach Cane.
I got to race.
My family was there.
And no bathroom stops.
A victory, indeed.