Okay, so this race wasn't all I hoped it would be. I didn't reach my goals. I didn't have a great race, or even a good race. But I'm over it now, and I finally feel ready to break it down. Let's try to figure out where I went wrong.
By far the best part of the weekend. The Photographer and I headed up to Lawrence Friday night, set up camp, and settled in for an awesome time. Dinner was baked potatoes and chicken rubbed with herbs and pan-grilled over an open flame (provided by yours truly's awesome wilderness survival skills). Temperature was just right--not too hot, not too cold.
Saturday was too hot. Biggest mistake I made was taking my T-shirt off, without considering the fact that I didn't have sunblock on my shoulders, stomach, or back. I got a little crispy. Activities included registration and check-in, an athlete meeting (at which we learned that the water was too warm for wetsuits--yay!), swimming in the lake (temperature was just right), and bike check-in/body marking (which is pointless the day before; my numbers always rub off). Saturday night, my teammate and her family joined us at the campsite, and we finished the evening with yoga, cous cous, grilled bell peppers, and Italian sausage.
Sunday morning dawned cooler--downright, cold, relative to the day before. First thing I did was put on my warm ups. I went through the process of lubing, dressing, sunblocking, and dropping everything I needed off in transition. Race seemed a little less well-organized this year than last year; getting through the maul of people trying to enter T1 was downright dangerous. I've never before cut it so close with my pre-race prep, in terms of getting everything done before transition closed. I borrowed a guy's bike pump right at the last minute to check my tire pressure (good thing, too).
I really had to go to the bathroom, but of course there weren't enough johns to go around. So I stood in line for 20 minutes until I decided that I couldn't wait any longer, at which point I figured I would go after the swim, and started stuffing myself into my wetsuit. Oh yeah! Did I mention that water temperature the day of the race was 77.5* F? So wetsuit legal. I seriously debated whether or not to wear mine, but decided in the end to take the advantage of buoyancy and lower drag, at the risk of overheating. The swim waves started a good 10 minutes late with the pros. I was in wave 8, and was rushing down at the last minute (again, because I'd hoped to get into the potty before I had to swim). I had a random stranger zip me into my wetsuit. I returned the favor. Then it was into the water.
Swim: 1.2 miles, 41:16 (2:08/100 m; last year 39:34)
I think the wetsuit was a mistake. Despite the supposed advantages of swimming in a wetsuit, I would much prefer swimming without one, given the choice. I find the suit constricting for my arms and shoulders. I suppose I should invest in a sleeveless suit, if that's the case. But that takes money, and money is something that I would prefer to spend on race entry fees, right now. At any rate, I had issues with the wetsuit. The first was that it was chafing the sunburn I got all around my mid-section the day before. I had an itchy, burny patch on either side of my low back that started to hurt about a third of the way in.
I didn't have any of the problems I had last year. My goggles didn't fog over. I had no trouble sighting. I didn't get caught by the next swim waves and swum over. I felt smooth and strong and confident the whole way out and back. Which is why I'm surprised that my time was slower than last year. I guess there was a little bit of chop, and a little bit of a current on the way back. But I don't know that it was enough to make up for that 1:30 that I lost over last year. Even so, I felt strong coming out of the water, and good about my swim.
T1: 3:33 (last year, 2:56)
But I had to poop. Bad. First thing out of the water, I stripped off my wetsuit and headed for the nearest port-a-john. Fortunately there wasn't a line. I did my business as quickly as possible, and finished exiting my wetsuit right outside the toilet. I ran to my bike (doing my best elite impression and passing all the slow-poke walkers). Then it took me for-ev-er to get all my stuff together for the bike leg. I had trouble getting my helmet and sunglasses lined out, then had trouble getting my spare tube, tire levers, and frame pump into my back pocket. I couldn't get my race belt to snap. I wasn't shaking or anything, but with the clumsiness I demonstrated, I felt downright palsied. So in spite of foregoing socks and having all of my nutrition on my bike ahead of time, I still had a slower transition than last year. But, you know. Pooping.
Bike: 56 miles, 3:01:59 (18.5 MPH, last year 2:56:32)
And this is where the wheels started to come off. I did okay for the first 25 miles or so. I was following my nutrition strategy (2 Fig Newtons every half hour, water as often as I wanted it, salt pills every hour). And then, shortly after the first aid station, I lost a bottle. I think I know where it happened. I was coming down a hill at a high rate of speed, and hit a bump at the bottom. It jarred me a little bit, but I didn't hear anything bounce out, and no one around me said anything. At that point, I had one water bottle (empty), and one Gatorade bottle from an aid station. I lost the bottle that actually had fluid in it. Unfortunately, I didn't realize this until it was time for my next salt pill. I reached back for the bottle, so I could swallow the salt pill, and . . . nothing. So I had that damn pill lodged in the back of my throat until such time as the casing dissolved. It took about 15 minutes. I thought about asking cyclists I passed for a drink of their water, but I wasn't sure if that might count as illegal aid. The worst (funniest?) part was that after the casing of the pill had dissolved, I burped, and totally gleeked salt powder. Guess what? Salt pills? Actually salty!
I was without water for probably about half an hour, worrying the whole time that I was getting dehydrated (I was, by the way). When I finally came upon the next aid station, I grabbed a water bottle for each cage, and sucked a third down right then and there. Shortly after that, I realllllly had to pee. I stopped at the third (and final) aid station to use the port-a-potty. I did (for the record) try to pee on the bike, but no dice. I guess I need to practice that one in training, first.
There was a mandatory dismount on the bike where some oil had been spilled on the road. We had to slow down and carry our bikes around, then re-mount and get going again. Taking that and the potty break into account, I might have equaled my average speed from last year. But that six-minute deficit . . . I don't know. That's much slower.
The fact is, I was underprepared for the course, this year. Last year, I spent a week in the middle of Ohio training physically and mentally resting. I got in some good, long rides in the hills that week. And I spent time out near Latham/Atlanta (the nearest place to find even moderately rolling terrain around here) with friends, training for the hills at Lawrence. Last year, I remember thinking that the difficulty of the course was exagerrated; it didn't seem that tough to me. This year, that course kicked my ass and ate my lunch. Those last few hills, my legs were toast. And I knew this, coming into the run course. I fully believed that run was going to suck major monkey balls. And I was sick to my stomach, and tired. I seriously wondered how I was going to make the transition to running.
T2: 2:26 (last year, 6:09)
Finally! Something I did faster than last year!
Run: 13.1 miles, 2:19:10 (10:38/mile, last year 2:20:21)
The answer to how you make the transition is just to do it. Get in, get out, and get going. If your feet feel like bricks attached to your hips by soggy noodles, run anyway. If your stomach is upset, run anyway. If you think you'll never be able to make it, run anyway. And that's what I did; I ran. I felt awful, but I ran. I told myself that I just had to make it to the first aid station, and then I could walk. I hit the first mile in under 10 minutes, and held my head a little higher after that.
My stomach and legs settled down a little bit after the first big downhill (about 2.5 miles in). I think I ran out of 10-minute miles around mile 3 or 4. After that, I stopped looking at my watch; I decided I didn't want to know. Besides which, my watch strap broke, so my watch was just hanging out in my back jersey pocket with two disintegrated salt pills. Ew.
It was around mile 5 that I started to feel awesome. I always catch a second wind from (about) miles 5-8. At this race, the effect was almost instant; it was just after the 4 mile marker that I started to feel awesome. I said hi to my friends on the course, shouting out encouragement and skipping for my cheering fans who were screaming my name. And the best part was that my Photographer got to see me at that point, at my best.
There were a few things that I did this year that I hadn't managed last year: I ran full-tilt down the big hill both times (last year I couldn't muster the energy to careen down the hill on the second loop), and I ran most of the uphill both times (all but the steepest part). I didn't experience the debilitating cramps that slowed me to a near-crawl last year. More than anything, the last 2 miles, I was just exhausted. I wasn't necessarily hurting; I just couldn't move anymore. It was partly physical, but I think mostly mental. My brain was done long before my body. You know what I didn't do in training this year? Really long bricks. And I think that's what really did me in.
Still, I beat my run time from last year, even if it was by only a minute. And when I came across the line, there was my Photographer, waiting with open arms. That in itself was worth it.
Carnage. Not immediately, but also not long after. I sat in an ice bath with a dozen other athletes for a while, and felt fine during that. But I was still sick to my stomach, and had to go to the bathroom again. Did I mention I was on my period again, this year? Yeah. Someone's pheromones screwed up my cycle. So even though the race was a week earlier this year, I still had to race with Mother Nature's monthly gift. Thanks, Mama N. That was really special.
After 5 or 10 minutes in the ice bath, I staggered back to our campsite and proceeded to lay down in the shade. I knew that I should eat something right away, but the thought of food was totally off-putting. I managed to eat a few bites of leftover cous cous, but not enough really to recover. I dozed in the shade while my Photographer was kind enough to go to T1 and T2 to pick up all my gear. By the time she was back, I had stirred myself (slowly and fitfully) enough to pack up the tent. We took the next couple hours to pack up the car. And then we hit the road. She drove. I slept.
When I got back to my house at about 7 p.m., I showered, changed, and collapsed on the couch, ostensibly to read. Of course I fell asleep. Slept straight through the night, about 11 hours total. Woke up and went to work to teach cycling class. After class, took a nap in my car. Saw a few clients. Took another nap in my car. Went home that night and was in bed by 10. I started to feel human again sometime on Tuesday. It took me until Wednesday to recover from my dehydration.
The worst part has been the aftermath. I didn't feel like I did as well as I should have done. My main goal was to go under 6 hours. With the speeds I'd been running, all I really needed to do was maintain on the swim and bike, knock a few minutes off of T2, and run the half marathon I knew I had in me. But that didn't happen. Part of that was on the day. It was unbearably hot; I wasn't the only one who really suffered out there. Last year's ideal conditions allowed me to have a really good first experience, and these conditions were much tougher. Given similar conditions, maybe I would have had a more pleasing performance.
But part of it was that I wasn't as well-prepared for the race this year. The past 6 weeks, I've been unmotivated in training, particularly with long workouts. And I didn't feel good, after the race. Not just physically. But mentally and emotionally. I was happy to be done. But I didn't feel a sense of accomplishment and joy like I have in the past. Maybe it's because I didn't meet my goals. But then at Emporia, I did meet my goals--I had a significant PR and got 2nd overall--and I still wasn't happy about it. So maybe this is more than just one bad race; maybe it's time I took an extended vacation from triathlon.
At any rate, racing aside, I had a great weekend. It was unspeakably wonderful to have the Photographer's support throughout the weekend. I saw a bunch of friends, a bunch of fellow athletes, several of whom came out for the exclusive purpose of cheering. We had a fun weekend camping. It was all-around enjoyable.
And I'm coming to terms with the disappointment of the race. I'm even starting to feel the itch to try again, to do better next time. But I wonder if that's a good thing; maybe I just need to take a year off, let that itch build, until I'm ready to come back and really train again.
By the way, pictures to come, as soon as the Photographer gets them to me :-)