My husband Gary & I drove the 9 hour trip down to Birmingham on a hot Friday just in time to see the weather forecast for terrible storms and tornado threat. Tennessee had already been hit with softball sized hail, and the storms were coming our way. At 1:30am Saturday, we were risen by storm sirens. We look out the window and see nothing, not even rain yet then found the weather station on TV and see some really bad stuff coming our way. We move away from the big windows and onto the floor. I make sure my bike is away from the windows. Priorities, man.
Luckily, the bad stuff misses us and cooler air moves into the area.Come Sunday, the weather starts in the low 40’s and clear. Supposedly, wind is supposed to be minimal, but I think it’s always windier in Irondale where the race takes place. There are U.S. flags all along the bike course so you always have a visual on wind direction and speed. Both the run and bike course are moderately hilly, but not too bad.
One thing I really liked is that they use the same course for both runs, but do the second the opposite direction of the first. This way, you finish the second run really fast down the 1-mile hill that you crawl up the first mile of the race. It’s like the hill pays you back when you most need it. Very cool. As I mentioned, the bike course is fairly hilly, but they are more sustained than steep. The roads are wide open with a whole lane provided to the athletes. The local police do an outstanding job of directing traffic safely around the cyclists.
There were a handful of women I knew that were going to be very tough—Elizabeth, Gabby, Leslie, Melanie, Lynn. Lynn didn’t show. Plus, you never know about those you don’t know about. You know?
I find Elizabeth at the start line and we look around for the other girls. We move to the front. After the start the group begins to spread out leaving a pack of 5 or so at the front. I’m intent on taking the first big hill pretty conservatively, but a couple of the girls are working it a little harder. I settle in behind for a while, until the pace slows near the top. I pull through and pick up the pace over the crest of the hill. Three come with and the two that pushed hard up the hill drop back. The pack of 3 (me, Alex & Elizabeth) stays together until the final mile when the lady in the bright colored jersey catches and goes and takes Alex with her. Elizabeth and I hold back and I hold back more.
I’m fourth into transition and I head back to my less than ideal rack position. I get out fast enough to have Elizabeth in my sights. We quickly pass up the other lady who turns out to be in the beginner ranks—apparently a fast runner with lots of potential. I go by Elizabeth a couple miles in and figure I’ll see her pass me back soon since I consider her the stronger cyclist, but you just never know in these early season races. First to pass me is Amy. Later came Leslie then Gabby, I think at cemetery hill. Then Melanie came back by. All this along with 3 guys in the mix and it became necessary to really watch the passing and slowing so I didn’t creep into a draft zone.
It was a little frustrating because the men in the group seemed to pass at times where it caused me to have to slow up at times to prevent a drafting situation and my lower back was starting to hurt a little so I was a little afraid to surge at that point.
Finally, things spread out a little over the miles where we were pushed in with a big tailwind. I’m sixth off the bike with 3 in visual range. I pass Melanie in transition and quickly reel in Leslie then Gabby, who hadn’t been running much lately so didn’t have the speed she usually does. Funny thing is I don’t remember even looking for the leaders ahead of me on the out and back portion of the run. I just bargained a sustainable pace with myself and held it.Eventually passed a couple of pro women having a rough day.
Cresting the final hill for the last downhill mile, I pick up speed and finish strong. I finish in 2:45:15, 3rd female amatuer. Unfortunately, the amatuer winner was new to the sport and ended up with an outside assistance penalty for giving someone her helmet when she forgot to take it off in transition. That four minute penalty dropped her placing quite a ways, so I ended up with 2nd place officially. A good result, and I’m very pleased with my run speed in this race.