I have so many questions right now, I hardly know where to begin.
How did I end up in the toughest age group? Why did I let myself get so slow? When will I get faster? And who would have thought that this race (of all races) would be the one to light a fire under my ass?
It stormed yesterday, and this morning the sky was overcast and ominous-looking. Off to the north and west, there was a huge mushroom cloud with sheets of rain pummeling the ground beneath it. The occasional lightning flash lit up the sky and made my mom renew her comments of "You guys are crazy."
Now this is the second race that we've driven to as a family. And this is the second race at which I arrived much, much later than I would have liked. The race was scheduled to start at 7:30. Packet pick-up began at 6:00, bodymarking at 6:15. And we left the house at 6:20, which had us pulling up to the parking lot at 6:40.
Fortunately, the race was very laid-back, although surprisingly bigger than I expected. I was thinking the race would draw around 100 athletes. There were upwards of 250 there, I believe (Edit: 150 triathletes, 30 duathletes). And, because it's a small, local race, I knew so many people! I've never had that experience before! At the most, I've had a few folks on my team to keep my company while we're waiting around for the start, but never have I been able to walk around transition chatting and introducing and laughing . . . That was a great experience.
The lightning was still flashing at 7:15, but the rain had yet to roll in. The race directors announced that the start would be delayed by 15 minutes, and then we'd see how it looked. Which was fine with all of us. We were standing around, talking, having a nice little coffee hour (GU hour) and enjoying each other's company. Of course, that's what I was doing when I should have been warming up. Which meant that when they finally called us to the water, I was stone cold. Stone cold. Hadn't swam, hadn't run, hadn't even ridden my bike from the parking lot to transition. I really quickly swam out and back a little bit, until they told us all to get out of the water. And then it was time to start.
Swim: 750 meters, 15:36
I was surprisingly nervous; as I stood on the beach I thought, "Why am I so nervous? This is just a little race! I wasn't going to care!" But it became quite evident to me as I stood there that I did care, and that I really wanted to kick some local, small-town, home-grown triathlon ass. I put myself right at the front, no one ahead of me, and got myself ready.
The swim was a standing beach start! That means that finally--after practicing for months at Lake Afton just because I enjoy it--I got to dolphin dive to start. And it was a good choice. While everyone else was wading into chest-deep water, I was already swimming at a good clip to the first buoy. But it did cause me to get a large quantity of sand in my top.
This was one of the more hectic swim starts I've experienced, however. Probably not quite as bad as Wildflower, where we're held in a bull pen and then released all at once, but still a very rough start. For some reason, everyone bunched up in the middle, whereas there are normally a good number of athletes who cheat out to the sides (to avoid the chaos of the middle, natch). In this race, seemed like everyone was contained within a 12 foot lane, and we were all hitting and kicking and slapping and sucking air together like a cross between a hydra and a leviathan.
For the first 200 yards, I settled in to get kicked in the face a lot, because it was entirely too crowded to try to pass. After that, people spread out a bit, and I was able to start making time back. I felt like the swim went pretty smoothly, after that. I got to draft a little bit, got to pass several people, and managed not to overexert myself. Plus I came out of the water ahead of the two women I coach who swim faster than me. I think it was because I positioned myself well at the beginning of the swim with the dolphin diving.
T1: 35 seconds
This is where I really started to feel tired. As I ran up a short hill (carpeted!), I glanced at my heart rate monitor. It blinked 177 at me. That might be the highest my heart rate got all day.
And hell yes I was booking it! This was the fastest T1 time on the day out of all the women, baby!
Bike: 12.4 miles, 38:24 (19.375 MPH)
By the time I was on the bike, I was huffing and puffing a little bit. The course took us out of the park, then west for an out-and-back. The initial segment out of the park is almost a mile long, though, which is a hard way to start the race, because that initial 1 mile feels a lot like transition. It's hard to pick it up, at that point.
As soon as we got out of the park, one of my athletes passed me (way to go, Katy!). I tried to take off after her, but my heart rate was already doing funny things, so I settled in and repeated to myself the mantra, "Your own race your own race your own race."
Bike was otherwise uneventful. The people whom I expected to pass me passed me (except for a couple of women who I thought would come out of the water ahead of me). I did my fair share of passing. Oh! And my bike computer wasn't working! I'm pretty sure I knocked it off track trying to get my bike off of the damn rack. So I had no idea how hard I was working, how fast I was going, or how much I was slowing down on the uphills. It was completely by feel, today. Which I didn't like at all, by the way.
I felt like I pushed sufficiently hard on the bike leg. I was wanting to go under 40 minutes for the 20k today, and I did that.
T2: 49 seconds
I felt a little bit draggy at this point in the race. I think my body wasn't really into the running thing today. I wasn't taking my time or anything, and I didn't sit down to put my running shoes on, but I could feel my momentum leeching away as I faced the prospect of the final 5k.
Run: 3.1 miles, 31:05
"I am a runner. I love running. I am a runner. I love running." I tried to repeat this to myself as I willed my legs to stride out a little more. It wasn't working, so I switched on my mental radio. "I would swallow my pride, I would choke on the rinds, but the lack thereof . . ." Then I tried "What you gonna live for? What you gonna die for?" Then I settled in to just keep going for the 3 little miles I had to endure before the end. I could see Katy about 100 yards ahead of me, but I couldn't reel her in; I tried to keep her in my sights, but somewhere around the first mile I got a little bit of tunnel vision and lost track of everything.
About a quarter of a mile into the race, a chick with "22" on her calf ran past me at probably about an 8:30 pace. I picked up my turnover, lengthened my stride, and tried to mentally draft off of her. But she was entirely too fast, and it was too early in the race for me to hope to keep up with that pace. A mile later, another woman in my age group (who works out at Genesis and is from my pokey, dinky little town) blazed past me like I was standing still. "Okay," I told myself. "That's back from third place. Better settle in, enjoy this race, and have fun."
And I did. I joked with the volunteers, encouraged other runners (as they passed me, natch), and cut up for the video camera I made my mom hold throughout the race. Just before I passed the second mile marker, I felt a little bit of life in my legs, and was able to pick up the pace a little bit. And that felt magnificent. I could tell I'd been crawling along the whole time, so to feel that reinvigoration made the first 2 miles (almost) worth it.
Coming around the last turn (which I know is about half a mile from the finish, because Lake Afton is where I do a lot of my training runs), I could hear heavy breathing and soft foot falls behind me. I looked back. There was a skinny little thing running in bike shorts and a yellow crop top. "No way," I thought. "Not this close to the finish." I put on the speed. I heard her fall back. I let up slightly, but maintained a quicker pace than I had held for the first 2.5 miles. A minute later, I looked back. She had gained on me again. I turned on the speed again, looking ahead at the huge red inflatable arch that marked the end of my suffering. She was probably 20 feet behind me. I yelled back at her, "I don't know if I can hold you off to the end!" She responded, "Probably not!" And I took off.
I brought it across the line in not quite a dead sprint, but it was enough to give me 8 seconds over her. As volunteers removed our timing chips, I said, "Thanks for pushing me at the end there!" Her response? "It doesn't matter. You're not in my age group."
Yeah, thanks a lot. I don't care how old you are. I still beat your ass. The number next to my name? It says 17. And next to your name? 18. That means I beat you. You almost caught me, but I held you off. And I beat you. So there.
I wasn't terribly happy with my performance right after the race. When I checked the results, I was 6 out of 11 in my age group. 6th place? WTF?!
Somehow, today, I ended up in the toughest age group. And we all know that 20-24 (or 22-24) is not the toughest age group (35-39 F was actually the smallest division, with only 3 entrants!). Unless you're in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, or some other major collegiate race. So I was happy for my friends, several of whom finished top in their respective age groups (45-49, 50-54), but I couldn't help thinking how much better I could do if my running were a little bit stronger. For this race, that was what really held me back--those 10 minute miles are just not conducive to winning anything. Ever.
But then I got home and checked my results. And you know what? I didn't do too bad. I placed 17th overall. With a 9 minute mile, I would have finished 12th. But I can live with 17th. I'm actually pretty happy with my results, now that I'm home and get to see the bigger picture.
This was a great race. Even with Miss Not in my Age Group, the whole feel was friendly and laid-back. This is exactly what a small-town race should be. I knew the course intimately. I had an excellent swim. I met my goals on the bike. And I was only 1:05 off my goal for the run. Plus I rocked transitions!
And for the first time in a long time I felt nervous at the start. I felt those butterflies fluttering and the adrenaline surging as the gun went off (a shotgun, by the way. Oh Kansas). I remembered why I love racing so much. I remembered what makes this sport special and essential and very very worth it.
I felt like a brand-new triathlete. Like a total n00b.
Yes, you might even say I felt like a virgin.
But without all the unpleasantness of not knowing what to do ;-).