Ever have big expectations of a place you plan to travel to, and you were disappointed? Maybe the pictures of the resort weren’t quite reality. How about a race that you’ve always wanted to do, but then once you did it, you were over it? That’s how I felt about the Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens (half Ironman) race. I’ve wanted to do this race for years. Finally, 2015 would be the year!
As part of a vacation with my youngest daughter, and a visit with my sister and friends, I booked this race. Sure, it was a lot to cram in to eight days, but I was motivated!
Lake Stevens, Washington is near Everett, just north of Seattle. It’s in the sprawl of traffic congestion that has to be seen to be believed. The venue is beautiful, with stately pines and sparkling water, but looks can be deceiving. Who knew one of the hardest parts of this race would be just getting through traffic to check in the day before?
Athletes had to pay $20 to park near the race venue. The only other option was to park in the Lake Stevens high school lot, up a giant hill, at least a mile from the race. Not the community-friendly venues I have experienced in the past. Athletes heard the message sent to them from the Lake Stevens community loud and clear: you need to come through us to do this race.
Race day wasn’t going to be warm, but we were blessed with no rain. A cool morning low of 50 contrasted to the 76-ish degree water, creating obstructive steam on the lake and fog on the bike course. It looked foreboding but I was bent on having an adventure. Looked like I was going to get that, plus much more. Besides, last month, I raced the Ironman 70.3 Racine in 60 degree Lake Michigan. This was going to be cake!
If you’ve read The Competitor in Me, you know my history of anxiety from swimming with large amounts of people. Today, I did great because I was focused, and I was warm. That was the last time I would be warm for a long time.
The steam and fog were only part of the adventure of swimming in Lake Stevens. At the start, it was the murkiest water ever. Murkier than Lake Woodlands in Texas. Once out in deep water, lake wasn’t as churned up, but it was still dark and murky. Before the race, everyone talked about a cable under the buoys that helped with sighting. I swam on the outside. Just 10 yards from the cable, the water was too murky to see it. No worries, I liked the outside.
Volunteers helped us out of the steep shore bank, and then we were off to a short T1, and then into the fog on the bike course. I chose a black, long-sleeve half zip for the ride. It was the best decision! I wasn’t sure what to do about my sunglasses. The fog was so dense, I couldn’t see with them on, but I didn’t have a place to keep them. I had salt pills in a tube down my top. I tried holding them, but with all the turns and hills, that wasn’t going to end well. I rode with them on the end of my nose until we made it past the fog, about 10 miles later.
This bike course was the most treacherous course I’ve experienced. Not because of the technical turns and climbs, although there were plenty of those, but because of the traffic on the road. Cars and trucks were everywhere around us. Many times, I would be riding with a car right in front of me, and riders in front of that car. The cars often didn’t pass us because we were on a hill, and traffic was coming down the hill the other direction. Chaotic and dangerous. And lonely without any spectators (were they all in their cars driving the course?!) I took chances with traffic on that bike course with my safety that I would never do on a training ride. One memorable moment was near mile 38, when we were chugging up the steepest climb on the course. As we crawled up, a huge RV whooshed past us going the other way. We all shook our heads in dismay. Or was it frustration? Either way, it was clear to me this community was too congested for a half Ironman race. Or any triathlon, really.
Huge descents can be fun, like on the roller coaster hills of the Ironman Wisconsin bike course. In Lake Stevens, just about every big descent was spoiled with a 90 degree turn in the middle or bottom. There were warning signs that said SLOW! to remind riders, and sheriffs helping patrol the corners, but with the traffic all around us, these descents felt bad, not fun. I talked to God during this entire bike course. Normally, I offer thanksgiving and praise for the privilege to beat cancer and be out on this course. Today, I was asking for strength and focus.
Once off the bike course, my shoulders relaxed. I said a prayer of thanksgiving and got onto the run course. The sun was out, but it was only about 72F with a perfect little breeze. A great day for a half marathon!
It took me about two miles to shake off the experience I just had, and get into a new focus. One thing helped me get focused: little cups of Red Bull. Never saw that on a race course before. The first time I had some, it was really cold and just what I needed to snap out of the white knuckle ride mode. Other athletes were very friendly. I noticed this before the race start, too. A bright spot in a disappointing day.
The best part of this run is on the Lake Stevens shoreline. The view is great and there was a nice breeze. There were not many spectators on the course, but the handful that were there were encouraging. My sister and her husband and my daughter Lokelani were waiting for me at mile 10 of the run. What a perfect spot to see them. I was feeling good and ready to finish this day.
The last three miles, I thanked God for a safe day, and for the ability to do this race. Then it was time to dig deep for the end. In the last half mile, I saw a woman in front of me in my same age group (her age is written on her calf). Do I run behind her and pass her later, or pass her now?
I passed her. It felt great. Then about 200 meters later, it didn’t feel so great. I pushed on. Now I could hear the finish announcer and I could see the tents. I was so close. Just hold on! What if she passes me? She didn’t.
Near the finish, you run around this convoluted, twisty-turn-y chute that never allows you to actually see where the finish line is. I even asked a spectator as I pushed around the corner, “Where is it?” Just around the corner, I was told. Right, another corner. And there it was. Along with my loving family who battled traffic and $20 parking just to see little ‘ole sweaty me finish what I was determined to do.
Just like that, Lake Stevens was over. It wasn’t the experience I expected, but it was adventure. And, adventure is not usually a tidy, predictable thing.
Go do that thing that has been nagging you for a long time. Find a way to do it and with an open mind. You might be disappointed in the experience, but you won’t be disappointed you went after it.
- Freedom Friday!
- Freedom Friday!