Mountains to Main Street – Fiona’s Race
May 22, 2016 is a day many will never forget – at least not the 450+ people who took part in the inaugural Mountain to Main Street (M2M) triathlon, which started in Seneca, SC and finished in downtown Greenville. M2M is a half ironman distance triathlon – normally 70.3 miles, M2M had 2 extra miles on the bike, bringing it in at 72.3 miles total.
The breakdown is a 1.2 mile swim, 58 mile bike and 13.1 mile run. The name did not disappoint – the swim took place in beautiful Lake Keowee, the bike leg was extremely hilly with over 5,000 feet of climbing, and the run had us finishing in downtown Greenville at the TD Peace Stage. FGM team members running the race included Fiona Martin and Amy Wise. Kara Clyburn came to cheer us on and help with logistics.Because this race is a point-to-point, we were required to set up our transitions the day before the event. That proved to be an event in itself! Transition 1 (T1) was located at the swim start, Lake Keowee, which was an hour drive from where we were staying in Greenville. In T1 we had to set up our bikes and everything we would need for the bike portion of the race – helmet, bike shoes, sunglasses, sunscreen and nutrition.
We then drove the bike course (58 miles!) to T2 at Travelers Rest to set up everything we needed for the run – shoes, visor, nutrition, sunscreen again. All in all, it took 3 ½ hours to set up on Saturday, so I’m glad we started early!
My race goal – finish! This was my first half ironman distance so I had no time expectations and had no idea how I was going to feel while doing 6+ hours of strenuous exercise. I had in my head that I’d like to finish around the 6 hours mark, but that I wouldn’t beat myself up it came and went, as long as I felt decent and completed the course.
On race morning, many of us took the shuttle provided from downtown Greenville to the start at Lake Keowee in Seneca, SC. The weather was perfect – sunny but not too hot. I think it topped out around 80 degrees. Everyone finalized their transition and many of us donned our wetsuits and warmed up in the lake. The distance was daunting – it was an onshore start with a straight out, 900 meter swim to the first turn buoy. We were told we would make a sharp turn to the right to start swimming towards the 2nd turn buoy, but I couldn’t see those buoys from the shore. Strategy – head for the first turn buoy and trust that I’ll see the remaining buoys once I make the turn. Luckily the strategy worked and I (Fiona) knocked out the swim in 37 minutes. T1 was a bit of a disaster – luckily there were wetsuit strippers on hand to help but after switching into your bike gear, you had to put everything left over into a plastic bag so it could be transported to T2 by race volunteers. I was so focused on making sure that I tied the bag that I did it before I had all of my gear on, which meant I left out a towel and armwarmers. I’ll never get them back, but at least they weren’t expensive or precious.
58 miles on the bike was next. Amy and I did a bike recon 3 weeks before the race, and I’m so glad we did. The drive on the course the day before made the hills look every bigger and longer than I remembered, but I trusted that Amy and I had done it before, so we could do it again. The first 20 miles were rolling hills, similar to what we’re used to training on in the Midlands. The middle 20 was up and down the mini-mountains of highway 11. To add to the “fun”, the wind picked up considerably – and it was the dreaded headwind in all directions – no help either way. The final 20 were relatively flat compared to the previous 40, but at the point the wind was howling so there was no relief on the flats. I felt slower on the back 20 than on the hills and was passed by some men and a few women. At this point, I have no idea where I am in relation to the other women (the competition) on the course. After being passed by a few women on the bike, I assume I’m not doing particularly well and just concentrate on riding steady and preparing myself mentally and physically for the run. By the time I roll through Travelers Rest around the 4:10 mark and see my family, I know the run is going to hurt. I’ve also done the math and realized that my “goal” of 6 hours was an impossibility, and that I should’ve known that before I even started.
Transition 2 – bike racked, bike shoes off, helmet off, visor on, more sunscreen! We were told there would be run aid stations approximately every 1.5 miles – strategy: run aid station to aid station. I was most looking forward to the iced towels and flat coke once I got to the six mile mark. At the suggestion of an experienced triathlete, I had weaned myself off caffeine the 5 days previous to the race. Caffeine was going to get me through the back half of that run.
I left transition and headed out on the 2 mile loop that proceeded hopping on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, which would take us all the way into Greenville. I knew my family would see me around the 2 mile mark so I had to look good for that. In typical fashion, I ran too fast coming off the bike. My watch was saying 7:45/mi pace so I allowed myself to walk up the first hill, as was everyone around me (all men).
The first mile still came in fast at 8:30/mi. There was no way I could hold that pace in a half iron distance triathlon. At the first aid station, I grabbed water and an iced towel, threw the towel over my shoulders and started looking for my cheering section. It was a fantastic boost to see Kara, my sister, dad and step mom cheering me on. The photos make it look like I was enjoying it, and I guess I was as much as someone can enjoy running a half marathon at 2pm, in the sun, after riding 58 miles on the bike. After they were out of sight, the rest of the half marathon was a run/walk affair. When your watch starts popping off 10 minute miles and you’re happy about it, you know you’re tired. Most the course was downhill, but they threw in a loop around Swan Lake at Furman University for good measure. There is a notoriously steep hill in there that I remember from the Swamp Rabbit Triathlon. A cyclist almost hit me at the aid station, not cool. I passed a fair number of guys on the loop but didn’t see any women. I’m thinking they all must be in front of me at this point. The relay team runners with their fresh legs were demoralizing as they ran by all fresh-faced. Seeing people lounging in hammocks while you chug along was also a mental test. Just get to mile 6, where you can have your first coke! Sweet Jesus, nothing tasted as good as flat, hot coke. It would’ve been nicer cold, but at that point, who cares? The caffeine did the trick and took 30 seconds off my next mile. It was still a slow mile, but I was riding the caffeine train from here on out. Around mile 7, I had given up on the hope of there ever being a finish line. I swear it didn’t exist at this point. I said this to a few ladies who passed me around mile 8. I think only one got in front of me for good – I passed a few ladies myself on the back half. Now, the mile markers are off. Some of the miles are long, some are short so I give up on looking at my watch and keep on going. Aid station to aid station – final aid station is at 11.5 and I see my friend Jose. Nothing will cheer you up more than a friendly face, except the finish line. Mile 12 – a cop tells me I only have a quarter mile left to go. I don’t believe him because he is wrong. Mile 12.7 – are we in downtown Greenville yet?? All of a sudden, a turn here and turn there and I’m heading down the finishing shoot. There’s my cheering squad, there’s the finish line – I have to run the last .2 at least!
And then I finished – 6 hours and 16 minutes. I have no idea if that’s good or bad. A medical volunteer holds on to my arm and looks me in the eye to gauge my state of mind/exhaustion/health. He makes sure I hold the hand rail as I go down the steps. I’m given a bottle of water and a finisher’s medal. I walk into the finisher’s tent. I see the results being posted – I see my sister and Kara. I look for my time – 2nd in my age group! I start to cry. I start asking Kara if there is any chance that someone in my age group can come in behind me and supersede me in the standings – with pool swim starts that can happen – but I remember it’s a wave start so there’s no chance of that happening. I’m amazed and overwhelmed just to have finished. A place on the podium was never the plan, but I won’t complain!
Now it’s time to start cheering on everyone else who is still coming in, and there are a lot of people yet to finish. We’re keeping an eye out for Amy and cheer her on as she comes in around the 7 hour mark. The cutoff time was scheduled to be 8 hours, but the race organizers extend it as they begin to realize that MANY people would be coming in after that time. As an inaugural race, I’m guessing they didn’t know how hard the race would be. Many people say the wind had a huge effect on their bike times. Anyone and everyone who finished that race can celebrate as I heard from more experienced triathletes that it was one of the toughest races they had ever done – whether it was the wind or the course, it tested everyone to their limits. Congratulations to the M2M team for putting on a challenging, but well-organized race. I know many people will look forward to tackling it again next year!