This past Sunday, May 31st, I participated in the Black Bear Tri in Lehighton, Pennsylvania. This course challenges one to “dare the bear” with its very hilly course and trail-like terrain. Set in a most beautiful landscape, it’s deceiving just how rough it is beyond what you initially see. Well, I came, I saw, and I’d like to believe I conquered!
So let’s break it down and go back about a few weeks when this was just decided upon. Coach Robert told us we’d be adding this to our race calendars as Ironman Syracuse 70.3 was/still is rapidly approaching and the need for an eye-opener was necessary. I was reluctant at first after reading all of the reviews on this course, proving that this was going to be a tough one for me, especially as I’m having some adjustment issues to my new bike. But after a few internal fights with myself, I jumped on the bandwagon…mainly because I was most excited for a team getaway.
I knew going into this that a PR was out of the question. That’s not me being negative…that’s me simply being honest with myself. I mean, with hills like these, this race is more about the overall challenge and pushing my limits. Numbers were not as important on this day…finishing with a smile was.
So Saturday afternoon, the day before the race, some of us Terriers met up at T2 Multisport on the Upper East Side to rack our bikes and get in the car to head west to Lehighton. For the two hour drive, I packed a turkey sandwich and plenty of water, focused on staying hydrated. The plan was to get to the race site, pick up our race packets, go for a swim in the lake, and do a shake-out run. But when we arrived on site, it was already fairly late in the day and the rain started to come down. Rain? Hills? Suddenly, the formation of the two made me nervous about bad conditions for the following morning. Mother nature and her games!! So the mini training sesh was cancelled.
The site of the event was stunning. I mean, I felt like I was at camp. The transition area was right on the lake so the swim out was a short distance from my racked bike. I could tell right away this was going to be a well organized race; the folks at CGI Racing set this up to be as seamless as possible, given the course was much more rough. Post packet pickup, we checked into our hotel, got situated and then headed out for a team meal at the Fork Family Restaurant. We shared some laughs, carbs and dessert and then stopped by a local WaWa to get the morning-of essentials…aka bananas, peanut butter, bread, water, basically anything we thought would possibly come in handy. Back at the hotel, I did my always fun gear spread where I double checked my items for race day, and then we hit the hay by 10pm or so. I must have been a tad nervous because I couldn’t fall asleep until 12:30am…with a wakeup call of 4:30am. Eek. Maybe because outside it was RAINING CATS AND DOGS!
Morning of! Early to rise, pump the tires, pack the bags, put on the tri kits and head on out to the race site. The rain had ended by morning, but it was up in the air as to whether it would rain during the race, which would totally stink. (slick roads + rain are super dangerous for cycling). But we soldiered on because that’s what we do…and so I set up my transition area, ate my pre-race breakfast (WW bread with Justin's honey peanut butter, one banana, and a pinch of salt), and grabbed my swim gear. GAME ON.
In the Beltzville Reservoir, I started with hundreds of other woman, all at the same time. Yes, that’s a frantic situation, but I always start at the back of the pack so as not to get kicked or swam over. I maintained a steady, slow pace until I felt comfortable enough and found some space to really pick it up. I went a tad off-course trying to stay so far from everyone else but thanks to my regular sighting skills, I never was too far from the crowd. Singing my always favorite “row, row, row your boat” while blowing bubbles, I was in my zone. Chilling, stroke by stroke, half way there and suddenly some dude swims diagonally into me and startles me a bit. I tense up…and get a charlie horse! UGHHH and I still have another 10 minutes to go. Thanks to the compression of the wet suit, it was manageable (though painful), and I tried to breath and stay calm, and focus on swimming less with the legs and more with the arms. These guns were going to carry me home. And they did, 31 minutes later when I emerged from the water after almost a mile swim and headed to transition to get my seal suit off. (Not my fastest swim, but a swim I made out of alive, which is the best kind!)
My transitions are not that fast, mainly because I purposely take my time. I took my wetsuit off carefully so as to avoid making the cramped muscle worse which would kill my entire race. Toweled off, helmet on, gloves on, sunglasses on, race bib on, cycling shoes on, squirt of some fluid and off I went.
It was a long transition from my rack to the area where I could actually hop on the bike, and I felt fairly lethargic. That soon changed once I started spinning my wheels and took in some fluids and noshed on my Honey Stinger honey waffle. I think within the first couple of miles there were large hills, and they continued throughout the entire race. There were very few flat breaks and when they came, I took my time on them, especially because the scenery was beautiful - rolling hills through farmland and and swirling roads through the forest. With every uphill, there was a very steep downhill, where I plunged down roads at 40mph fluttering my brakes to avoid going any faster. The uphills were no joke - I was warned by many but literally did not know that I would be crawling at 3mph with a heart rate that seemed off the charts. Climbing up side by side with other cyclists was like a death march and all you heard was extreme gasping. If any of us stopped, we wouldn’t topple over - we’d spring backwards. For real. Some chose to unclip at the bottom of the downhills (which seems nearly impossible to do at that speed) and walked up the hills instead of riding them. I was here to challenge myself and prove my capabilities, so I was riding, even if it meant my heart was to explode out of my chest. 24 miles later, I was feeling kind of great and I was coming in for the run.
I got to the dismount area and the woman in front of me stops short on her bike and I crash right into her, falling over with my bike and hers coming down with me. After many apologies from her, I struggled to stand up and looked down to see my knee was bloody and bruised. UGH. Setbacks, I thought. Just when I am about to run. But the other side of me was like get the heck over it and get up. So I did. And on I went, looking kind of bad a** with my bloody knee.
After racking my bike and putting on my sneaks, I began the 6.2 mile run through one of the coolest courses I’ve yet to be challenged with. The entire run was on ROCKS! Yes, little pebbles left and right to make it just a tad harder to keep my speed up. But I was running through wooded-trails with red mulch which eventually opened up to the most scenic sight yet…a vast space of greens, mountain ranges and water views, all as I ran over this most perfect dam in the middle of it all. I wish I had my camera; it was stunning and I was smiling. I think I spent so much time looking up at first that I forgot to check my footing and suddenly slipped and twisted my right ankle slightly. It was painful at first, but at this point I had 4 miles left so pain was not going to be an option. Just get to that finish. I took in a couple of Pro Bar bolt chews and I was sipping water at every mile marker. I actually felt pretty darn great. (Have I ever mentioned how much I love the run?) Then there were a few hills, especially one that was like nothing I have ever seen on a run course. It was so steep that I felt like I was suddenly on an obstacle course. Most people walked that hill, including me. After that, I picked up the pace, kept my eyes on those rocks and enjoyed my remaining miles. Most people complained about the run course; I thought its challenges kept me from getting bored. Glass half full, folks! At the end of that 10k, I emerged from the trail and crossed that finish line smiling with the announcer yelling “Check out Brittany with her Black Bear Grin!”
After crossing, I realized I never looked at my watch, except when I emerged from the swim. I didn’t wear a Garmin; I just had a timer on my left hand. I finished in 3:16, which is 26 minutes slower than my PR (NYC Tri) but all courses are different so it’s not comparable at all. My goal on this day was to finish, and since I didn't know the course, I didn't want to push it and risk a DNF (did not finish). Bottom line, I felt pretty fresh considering what I had just done. I ate all the finish line treats that they provided including: pizza, soft pretzels, chocolate chip cookies and watermelon. YUM. The team took home a lot of pride that day along with some podium finishes. Soon after that finish, it started to pour so we grabbed our goods and left the site, leaving behind some new memories! Thanks to CGI racing for a great day! Awesome, challenging course, fantastic race support, our very own team port-a-potty(!), and one of my favorite tech tees yet!
After a team lunch at the Titled Kilt in Allentown, we headed back to NYC in the rainstorm. I put my new race medal on my medal rack and slept with a smile. I feared I couldn’t do it and yet I did. Now in three weeks I have another opportunity to prove what I have worked so hard for. To that hilly Ironman Syracuse 70.3, we’re coming for you and we are more ready than ever!
What goes up, must come down,