First off . . .
And now that that's out of the way, let me tell you about the race!
I was simultaneously nervous and confident about this race. I knew that I was prepared. I knew that I had trained well. I was confident in my ability to complete the race. But I didn't know if I could finish in the time and placement that I really wanted. I was afraid even to voice my goals, for fear that I would destroy myself from the inside out if I didn't meet them.
Of course, I covered all of that up with swaggering bravado. I acted like I knew I was going to win the race, even though I was in profound doubt of my availability to compete in this field. I spent our extra day in Kansas City (which we should do every year, by the way) cool and confident, for the most part having put the race into a small, jittery corner of my brain.
First thing I did after waking Sunday morning was take a shower. I'd never done that before. It felt amazingly invigorating to have a hot shower. And I'd had problems with stiffness and cramping all week, so the pulsing of the water on my neck and shoulders helped to loosen me up. My parents came with me on this trip, and I fidgeted as they gathered their things. We headed to the race site around 5:50, about 20 minutes later than I had hoped. I kept yanking my mind away from thoughts along the lines of "Ack! I'm running late!" No reason to dwell on it if it happens. Race plan won't always go tic-toc as I want it to. I put my ipod on and listened to my pre-game music, tuned the rest of the world out, and got excited to race.
It took me all of 5 minutes to set up transition, another 10 to get body marked and be-chipped, then I got out on the course for a quick bike warm-up. I had to keep reining myself in on the bike, reminding myself to soft-pedal up the hills, that there would be plenty of time for racing later. The air was cool--almost chilly--and refreshing as I pedaled around the lake. Mist rose off the surface of the lake and fog blanketed the meadows. I passed deer. It was a beautiful morning to be out on a bike.
It was 5 minutes to 7:00 when I got back into transition, which left no time for a short run. Instead, I grabbed my goggles and my swim cap and hopped into the lake to swim over to the start. I got a decent warm up in, then settled into the water (because the air felt downright cold) to wait for the first three heats to go.
Somehow, I ended up at the front. Not near the front or towards the front; in the very, very front. One of the women I coach was at this race, and she's a quick swimmer, so I stood with her. I figured everyone could pass me if they wanted to.
And they did.
I don't know what was wrong with me this time, but I got passed by everyone. In the first 50-100 meters, I put on a sprint, trying to get past the crowd. And everyone else sprinted past me like I was standing still! It bothered me a little bit, that my swim was so obviously mediocre, but I couldn't dwell on it because I had to race.
The crowd got past me within 200 meters. I got hold of a couple ankles, and had a few full-on body grabs (let's call them accidental hugs), but past the first quarter of the swim, I didn't really have any trouble.
Except for this one chick who was swimming the exact same pace as me. Seriously. We were going stroke for stroke. And I don't swim perfectly straight. And I'm absolutely POSITIVE that she wasn't swimming straight. Which meant that every four strokes or so one of us HIT the other one. And I couldn't get away from her! I tried to pass her and couldn't. I tried to swim farther off to the side and she followed me. Eventually, I let her go around me.
And hopped onto her feet. I probably got a couple hundred meters free from her before I started hitting her feet, realized that she was slowing down, and went around her. I didn't look back to check on her after that--I was in clear water and was enjoying it!--but I'm pretty sure she drafted off me for the rest of the race, because we came into transition at about the same time.
Goal: 18:30; Time: 22:29; Last year: 23:04
Bike: 18 miles
Every year, I forget what a ball-buster this course is. Seriously. There are 5-6 hills (depending on whether you count the Dam Hill as one or two), which wouldn't be such a big deal if it weren't on a 4.5 MILE LOOP. IN KANSAS. North-eastern Kansas, but still. KANSAS. So every year I think I'm so much stronger (and I am) and I'll ride so much better (and I do), but the course absolutely kicks my ass. And this year was no exception.
I went out too hard. I always go out too hard. It's difficult not to, when you start off on a slight downhill then cruise through the flats at 23 MPH. Then this little hill appears before you and you think, "Oh, that's not so bad. Look at how short it is! I'll have no problem powering up that thing." So you start climbing, maybe shift down a few gears to keep up a good cadence. But you keep going. Because it's steep, but it's short, right?
Yeah, sure. Except that first hill--the Infamous and Almighty Dam Hill (just ask anyone who's ever done this race about it; they'll know exactly what you're talking about)--is positioned on the second big curve of a circular course. So as you're climbing along (la di da di da), you round this corner and HOLY CRAP THERE'S MORE OF IT. So you re-evaluate, maybe drop another gear and settle in for a steady climb, but still a relatively short climb. Not short enough to power up it, but short enough not to be concerned. Except when you get over the hill, you see maybe 50 yards of nice, flat pavement before there's ANOTHER hill.
And then you spend the rest of the 4.5 mile loop trying to get your heart rate to come back down from that first hill.
So that's the course.
I felt like I pushed a little too hard coming out of T1, but I settled into my pace by the third lap. I was frustrated by how weak my climbing was (which I'm sure is not helped any by the aluminum and steel masterpiece that I ride). There were two women whom I kept passing in the flats only to be dropped on the climbs. One of these women was in my age group, which was particularly frustrating. I spent entirely too much time looking at her ass (which wasn't necessarily a terrible view).
In the end, I came off the bike feeling like I had done my best. But I wish that my best was better.
Goal: 1:00; Time: 1:00:14 (18 MPH); Last year: 1:05:02 (16.6 MPH)
T2: 1:05; Last year: 50 seconds
Run: 4.5 miles
I don't know if you guys have picked up on this, but I'm not a strong runner. I don't think that I particularly like running. I have an awful lot of trouble getting myself psyched up to go propel myself along the ground for 8 miles. Or 4 miles. Or anything more than 2 miles, really. I would rather be biking. Or swimming. Or lifting weights. Or going to the dentist. Okay, maybe not the dentist. And I do tend to enjoy myself once I get going. It's that initial push to get myself out the door that keeps me from running.
Anyway, I am generally not thrilled to get to the running part. And this race was no exception. The hardest part for me was coming out of transition and seeing a girl in my age group running away from me. I had thoughts of going after her; I accelerated to keep her within my sights. But I knew that if I tried to hold that pace, I would blow up after two miles, if not one. So I settled in and ran my own race. Le sigh.
Another thing I conveniently forgot was that the run course is almost as difficult as the bike course. First off, there's the Dam Hill again. Keep in mind, the run course and the bike course are not the same (even though they are both 4.5 miles). Which means that some sadistic bastard decided to route the run course up the Dam Hill for no good reason other than to make people suffer and want to die.
I suffered. I wanted to die.
But I didn't frickin' walk (I started to, but then it hurt so bad that I went back to running).
I definitely felt better about my run, this year. I felt like I held a good pace, ran my own race, and didn't wimp out too badly. But I also felt like I never really pushed through the general hurt and whiny-ness into new territory, which--come to think of it--has been my complaint about the past few races I've done.
The last mile of the run course includes three hills that aren't particularly long or steep, but at that point in the race feel. so. mean. I accelerated on the last one, only to find that SOMEONE (probably the same sicko who thought it would be a good idea to put the Dam Hill on the run course) had MOVED THE FINISH LINE! I swear, it was right at the top of the hill last year! This year, after topping the hill, I had to pick it up for another 100 yards!
Which, to tell you the truth, I loved. It gave me a chance to kick it at the end, sprint across the finish line, and empty the tank (figuratively speaking, although I did warn the volunteer who removed my timing chip to watch out). I love sprinting to the end. Downside of that sprint is that I don't pay enough attention with it; I do it because I love it, not because I'm trying to pass someone at the last second. Looking at the results, woman # 27 finished four seconds faster than me. Which means that if I had been paying more attention, I probably could have out-sprinted her and moved myself up one spot. Which isn't a big deal, really, except that then I would have been able to brag to you all about how I out-kicked someone in my race.
Goal: 41:30; Time: 46:44 (10:23/mile); Last year: 52:48 (11:44/mile)
Total: 2:12:12; Last year: 2:22:44
2nd place F 22-24; 28/58 overall
Not bad, I think. Knocked 10 minutes off of last year's time. I guess I'm pretty proud of that. I finished in the top half, which makes me much happier than last year's 47th place (out of 56). And hey! I got a trophy! I must say, I am very, very happy about the trophy.
And that's the biggest difference between this year and last: It's not enough for me to finish, or even to PR--I want to win. I really, really like winning. Don't know why. Not particularly competitive (at least I don't think I am). Never cared that much before. Maybe this drive to win is symptomatic of some deeper issue, like I need the affirmation of total strangers to make up for . . . something.
Or maybe I just really like to kick some ass.
I'll end by saying that this season began too early, with Shawnee Mission being my peak race. I feel tired and lackluster. My body is cramping up (and crapping out). I lack motivation for workouts (especially of the running kind). And it's not just overtraining; it's burnout. Even writing this race report, I can feel it. The writing lacks something. Soul. Passion. Desire.
In short, it is time for a break. I will continue to race, but with minimal training. My next project will be my first ever marathon (which is the perfect project for someone who's not overly fond of running, no?). But until my training for that endeavor begins, I'm going to lay low, rest as much as possible . . .
And write :-)