Most runs aren’t anything special. At least, that’s my experience. If it weren’t for the fact that I’m writing about it right now, I’m sure I would never have given last night’s run a second thought. It wasn’t fast. It wasn’t terribly slow. I ran a route I’ve run dozens of times. I didn’t feel amazing, but I didn’t feel bad, either. It was, in a physical sense, unremarkable.
But it felt familiar. Exciting. I enjoyed a surge of motivation — but it felt misplaced. I’m not training for anything right now. I started that run without any goals in mind. Where was this momentum coming from?
Running in early darkness, breathing the crisp air, keeping warm with the help of a few layers — despite what the calendar says, it was my first fall run of the year. It brought me back in time, to my most recent memories of fall runs, and I felt the satisfaction of everything I’d done since then.
Last fall, I was training for my first marathon. Even though I hadn’t told many people yet, I knew that marathon was just a start — the foundation I needed to go after my longtime, quiet goal of completing an Ironman triathlon.
I did a first marathon, then a second. I took three weeks off. Then, in late January, I started a six-month training plan for the Ironman, during which I ran a half marathon and a 70.3 triathlon. And finally, in July, I did what I secretly hoped I could ever since I started dabbling in endurance sports nine years ago — I finished an Ironman.
At that point, my motivation tanked. But last night, on that unremarkable run, it started to come back. I could almost feel the satisfaction of the last 12 months sink into my muscles, like a warmth that softened the rigid rhythm of my stride. Finally. That rhythm had become so monotonous since last year, and I had been unsure when it would bring me comfort again.
It’s taken several weeks, but I now feel like I’m in a place where I can reflect on recent goals and use those thoughts to set new ones. But before I get into all that, I have a little story to tell, because between that Ironman in July and my unremarkable run last night, I did something else: Ironman 70.3 Atlantic City.
When I signed up for that race many months ago, it seemed like a great idea. Based on my history, a late-season race on a flat course is a recipe for a PR, so I set that goal. Unfortunately, in doing so I forgot to account for one thing: The Ironman was my primary source of motivation to train in 2017. That fierce drive got me through the finish line in Lake Placid, and then it was gone.
I planned to take a week off after Placid. Two weeks later, I still wasn’t feeling it. In the month following the Ironman, I ran only three times. I biked twice. I never went to the pool.
I eventually put in a little more work before Atlantic City, but my goals changed. They had to. I just wanted to have fun and then do nothing for a while, so I went into Atlantic City running on fumes, unsure how I’d perform.
Here’s how it went:
the swim // 1.2 miles
It was very hot. The water was cool enough to be wetsuit legal but warm enough that it felt like swimming in bathwater. Dirty bathwater. Dirty, smelly bathwater. I’ve never wanted to finish the swim leg of a race so quickly. Given this goal, it would have been helpful to swim in a straight line from buoy to buoy. That effort would have been greatly aided by knowing the course, but I didn’t look at it before getting in the water. As such, I thought I was supposed to swim to the left of the buoys — a misconception I learned about the hard way, by way of a frantic volunteer in a kayak.
Pro tip: If you’re not one of the best swimmers in your field and you find yourself alone during the swim, you’ve gone off course.
Once out of the water, I ran to the wetsuit strippers: volunteers who help competitors take off their wetsuits. How it works: You pull down the top of your wetsuit to your hips, then lie down and raise your legs while the volunteers finish the job by pulling the suit off your bottom. Having gained a few pounds in my post-Ironman laziness, my wetsuit was a bit more snug than usual. The volunteers’ first attempt at pulling off my suit resulted in them dragging me five feet across the ground — the suit was stuck on my butt. They had to recruit a third volunteer to help remove the suit. Man, I wish I had a video of this catastrophe. I was laughing so hard I had to walk part of the way to transition, but I was entertained to the point of not caring about losing time.
time: 36 minutes 22 seconds
the bike // 56 miles
The bike was great — fast and flat, and not as congested as I thought it would be. I mean, it was very crowded, but people were pretty good about staying to the right when they were getting passed and avoiding drafting when possible. I had a lot of fun cranking away, and I thought I might even squeak out a personal best time. I did, by a little more than a minute, though I wasn’t sure at the time. Still, I coasted into T2 having done much better so far than I expected I would. I knew a 70.3 PR was a long shot, given how weak a runner I am, but I wanted to get as close as possible.
time: 2 hours 45 minutes 8 seconds
The good vibes I had coming into transition disappeared when I was about to run out but couldn’t find my race belt. I checked under my other gear, under my neighbors’ gear, under my neighbors’ neighbors’ gear — it wasn’t anywhere. What happens if I go on the run without a bib number? I didn’t know. I didn’t see an official I could ask. I checked my transition area again. I looked at the next row. Where the hell is it? I was the first cyclist on my rack to return, so I didn’t think anyone else could have it, but I didn’t know how much longer to look. After wasting way too much time, I decided to start the run. My transition was a terrible 4+ minutes.
And then I had to run. The worst part.
the run // 13.1 miles
The course had almost no shade, but it had been overcast while I was on the bike. Not on the run. I took salt every 15 minutes (I’m high maintenance like that) and dumped water on myself constantly to keep my core temperature down. That’s the main reason I run with a water bottle during triathlons — yes, I like having hydration on hand at all times, but for me, it’s more important to have water to cool my body at all times. I overheat easily.
The run was relatively uneventful through Mile 6, when I accidentally dumped the entire contents of my water bottle on my shoes. (When I’m coming up on an aid station, I remove my water bottle top, then grab two waters. I dump the first cup’s water into my bottle and cap it, then drink the second cup of water. Then I drink gatorade. Then I grab another water to dump on my head and get on my way. There’s lots of juggling of cups and whatnot, but it works for me — most of the time. I somehow forgot to put the cap on my bottle before taking a drink of gatorade with the same hand at Mile 6, so … soaked shoes.) That made for a very unpleasant second half of the run — more so than usual.
Something else worth noting: I didn’t love running on the boardwalk. Moving past the slats creates a weird, strobing visual effect after a while, so I had to avoid looking at it, otherwise I started to get a headache. It’s not as hard on the legs as asphalt, but it’s also not what I’m used to. The good news is the whole race isn’t on it. The bad news is a lot of it is.
As previously mentioned, I gained some weight after finishing the Ironman, and oh man, I felt it on the run. The fastest pace I’ve ever averaged in a 70.3 is 9:30-minute miles, and I couldn’t keep up with that after mile 3 of this race. I just felt heavy. I averaged 9:49-minute miles, which seemed like a miracle given my lack of preparation for the race.
time: 2 hours 8 minutes 45 seconds
It was good enough to get me my second-best 70.3 time, even with all the time I had wasted in both transitions.
finish: 5 hours 37 minutes 29 seconds. (PR is 5:31:55)
After cheering on some friends — was thrilled to be able to see many of them along the course — we went back to our place to celebrate. (When I went to get my stuff from transition, my race belt and bib number was draped across my bike handlebars, almost apologetically. Someone must have grabbed it and put it on before the bike, only to realize it wasn’t hers when she came in T2. Hilarious.)
I showered, put on PJs and planned to become one with the couch over the next several hours, so I started my lounging time by checking the text messages some family and friends had sent while tracking me during the race.
Among them was a screenshot my mom had taken of my results. I was shocked to see I placed 4th in my age group. I wasn’t sure how deep awards went — some races do three places per age group, others do five — but my friend Lillian wasn’t going to let me miss out on a potential moment of glory so she kindly drove me back to the course just in time for awards. AND I GOT ONE. I couldn’t believe it. I felt so unprepared for the race, and I somehow scored my first age-group award at the 70.3 distance. It was a fantastically obnoxious one, too: Most 4th place awards don’t result in a massive medal that says “WINNER.” I’ll take it.
Flash forward almost two months — to now. I’m wondering how much better I could do if I thoroughly trained and planned for a 70.3. So that’s my next big goal. I want a sub-5:25 70.3. I haven’t decided when I’ll try. For now, I’m going to enjoy thinking about it on my next few fall runs.