The Third Time is a Charm – IM Maine 70.3 Race Report by Jackie Lott
Spoiler alert: I did it! 😉
It has been two years since I have raced the 70.3 distance. Maine was my third HIM, but my first long course race since being diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2016. Before we get to the good stuff though, a little backstory is necessary 🙂
I say Maine was my third HIM race, but it was the sixth HIM race I registered for. I signed up and trained for IM Princeton in 2014, but ended up with food poisoning the night before the race, and was unable to compete. I also signed up for IM Atlantic City last year, but again, was unable to compete – this time due to my RA.
When I decided to race Maine, I was more than a little worried. Not just because of my RA, but because I have attempted two IM branded races to date and DNS both of them. I went into this race hoping that the third time would be a charm!
Training this year has been different than past years. I’m not sure why I expected it to be the same (I know, duh), but it took some time for me to adjust to the new normal. I pulled the short end of the gene pool when it comes to athletics, but RA has made training even more of a challenge. Physically, my body needs more time to adapt to training, and to rest and recover from harder efforts. Mentally, I needed to make peace with the fact that my body just isn’t the same, and to be ok with training while I am fatigued and in pain. Before the comments come rolling in… I have learned when I need to rest and when I need to push through and get a workout done. I also have a coach who is way smarter than I am, and who makes sure I am not overdoing it. 🙂
Learning to love open water swimming is easy when you are with great teammates!
[photo courtesy of Hilary Topper]
The biggest focus for me this year has been conquering my anxiety around open water swimming. Before this year, I could swim in the open water, but it wasn’t pretty or fast. Danielle told me that comfort in the water was the key to faster times, and happier races. So, I worked, and worked (and worked some more!), on swimming in the open water. I pushed myself WAY outside of my comfort zone, and when I failed (more than once!), I got right back in and tried again. I saw huge gains when I raced in Williamsburg, which gave me the confidence I needed heading into Maine.
Fawkes — Racked and ready to fly at IM Maine 70.3!
I sold my first tri bike at the end of the season last year, primarily because I was convinced that I wouldn’t race long course again – I’m such a drama queen! 😉 I used those funds to purchase a power meter, which has been essential to helping me train smarter and stronger. Once I started riding outside though, I quickly realized how much I missed my tri bike. Long story short, I welcomed Fawkes to the family in late May. As with the swim, my goal for this year was to develop strength and stamina on the bike. Again, I saw a big improvement in Williamsburg which helped fuel the fire for Maine.
The run is perhaps my favorite discipline of the three sports, although swimming is starting to gain ground. Running this year has been hit or miss due to my RA, but Danielle has taught me to be flexible when my joints aren’t and to do the best with what I have.
IM Maine 70.3 takes place in Old Orchard Beach, which is located about 30 minutes south of Portland. The swim is in the ocean – more like a bay, since it is a protected cove. The ride takes place in the Saco area, and the run is along the gorgeous Eastern Trail. As with many of my athletic endeavors, I signed up because everybody else was doing it – namely my IronFit Endurance teammates. I love Maine and thought it would be a great race to re-enter the HIM waters.
About six weeks before the race, a hill workout popped up in my TrainingPeaks calendar. My initial reaction was “Hills, why is she giving me hills?! I HATE hills.” I didn’t question the workout, or ask Danielle why – I just did the best I could. Later that same week I joined the Facebook group for folks who were racing in Maine. The bike course was being discussed in length — specifically how hilly the bike course was. I quickly looked up the bike course elevation and realized that I had made a grave mistake. A nearly 1700 ft of elevation gain kind of mistake. In comparison, my two previous HIMs had around 400 and 800 ft. of elevation gain. Panicked, I messaged Danielle, who I am sure looked at her phone and laughed. Not at me, but with me, because really that was all I could do at this point! She assured me that I could do the course, but yes, hill training might be a good idea. I don’t call myself the clueless triathlete for nothing!
Tom and I arrived in Old Orchard Beach late on Friday afternoon. It is a cute town that reminded me a lot of some of the shore towns I grew up visiting in New Jersey. I met up with my fellow teammate Barbara the following morning for a practice swim with others who were racing. Danielle and I discussed the water temperature leading up to the race – my main concern was how my RA would handle the cold water. Her advice was to give myself plenty of time to acclimate and to keep myself calm.
Practice swim in 58 degree water! I am only smiling because my face is frozen. 😀
Barbara and I entered the water, and… It. Was. Cold. How cold? 58 degrees. 5-8. As in less than 60. As in way less than the 70 degree water I had been practicing in all summer. I told myself to relax, put my face in the water and to breathe. Once I got going, it wasn’t too bad. I was so cold I couldn’t feel my joints. Winning!
After an early dinner with my teammates, I got my gear ready and tried to sleep. Emphasis on try 😉 All too soon it was time to rise and grind. After setting up transition, Barbara and I walked to the swim start, which was about a .25 of a mile from transition.
On my way to the swim start. Can you spot the Canadian in the picture? 🙂
The swim was a rolling, self-seeded start, and Barbara and I decided to enter the water together. My main goal for the swim was to swim comfortably and confidently. My secondary goal was to finish in under 50 minutes. There were a lot of panicked swimmers due to how cold the water was, and it was a challenge to not let it affect me. I sang songs from “Moana” in my head (Disney nerd!) and told myself my only job was to swim to the next buoy and then the next buoy, until there were no more buoys. Swim time: 49 minutes, which was a 16 minute PR. Boo yah!
After a slow transition – the .25 mile run from the beach to my bike cost me – I headed out on my bike. One of the biggest lessons I have learned this year is to trust my training. Sounds silly, but my brain usually gets in the way when I race. Danielle reminded me, multiple times, that biking in Maine was no different than my rides at home. My main goal for the bike was to hit my tempo wattage. My secondary goal was to finish in under 3:30. The bike course is rolling hills – which start pretty quickly and last until around mile 25, or so I was told. With each hill, instead of focusing on the negative (Hills suck! I am SO SLOW!), I took a deep breath and reminded myself that each hill brought me closer to the finish. As I mentioned, the course was SUPPOSED to flatten out around mile 25. Yeah, no. No it didn’t. While it wasn’t as hilly as the front, it definitely wasn’t the fast or flat downhill I was promised. I told myself to “Muscle up buttercup!” and get it done. I was quite a bit relieved when I rolled into transition. Bike time: 3:32. Over my goal time, but given how hilly the bike was, and more importantly, that I hit my goals for wattage, I count it as a win!
After a quick transition to my sneakers, I was off on the run. So quick, in fact, that I forgot my Base salts and my Huma gels. Clueless. Triathlete. The run course is an out and back, with the majority on the Eastern Trail. The first three and last three miles featured – wait for it – HILLS. I am pretty sure that God is trying to teach me a lesson in perseverance. Or that I need to do a better job researching the course BEFORE I register. Probably a little of both. 😉
My goal for the run was to finish upright and still be able to walk. I honestly had no idea how well my body would tolerate 7+ hours of exercise, so I was being extremely cautious when I hit the run. The trail was beautiful (I think I may have mentioned that!) and the volunteers were SPECTACULAR. Since I forgot my salts and nutrition, I rotated between flat Pepsi (AWESOME), Gatorade (ewww) and fresh fruit (nectar of the gods). I ran into my teammate Barbara around the halfway mark (mile 5 for me, mile 8 for her). Her smile and hug gave me the boost I needed to finish. Run time: 3:02.
Crying. Of course.
Crossing the last street on my way to the finish, I was surprised by my teammates who cheered me on to the finish. Having finished a few hours ahead of me, their genuine excitement for me was awesome. As I headed into the finishers chute, I was overwhelmed with what I had accomplished. Yes, I traveled 70.3 miles in one day. The greater distance though, was from a place of insecurity to one of confidence. Consistency, hard work, positive self-talk, being flexible and listening to my body have all been lessons that I have learned this year. And they paid big dividends in Maine.
Total race time: 7:46. Apparently the third time IS a charm. Suck. It. RA.
Jackie Lott is a digital marketer by and a clueless triathlete the rest of the time. She loves Nutella, her husband, son and dog — not necessarily in that order.