Racing early in the year is never pretty. If you can go into the race with that in your mind, then you’ll come out ok. But you’ll hurt a hell of a lot along the way.
I went to the Desert Classic Duathlon with two goals in mind; 1) let’s get the heck of Illinois, and 2) let’s take a leap of faith.
I know my strengths, I know my weaknesses, and if I’m ever going to turn those weaknesses into strengths I was going to have to take a leap of faith.
My plan was simple – push the first run hard. And that’s exactly what I did. I didn’t run up to the edge, I ran right by it. The gun went off and immediately Kerri and Kristin were ahead and I knew I had to pull ahead of them before we reached the trail. And so I did. I hit the trail first and took off. It was a fast pace, it was a nauseating pace. It was a pace far beyond what I could probably hold at this time of year. But I had to do it. Because, as it says on Ficker’s website, if it’s hurting me, it’s killing them. 7 minutes into the run and I was literally sick to my stomach. I wasn’t just hurting me, I was killing me. My body couldn’t remove the lactic acid quickly enough so instead it was building in my body causing my stomach to lurch and turn. I backed off a bit, just a bit, to regroup, and then fired it up again. I ran this course like a mountain biker, taking the jumps fast, running the tangents, and going full speed ahead.
I arrive at the transition area first, about 30 seconds ahead of the other women. I reached my bike and a new level of pain had settled into my legs and sat in my stomach. Time for the bike – which is where I knew I would have to work even harder to hold the other women off. A little flustered in the transition area – helmet didn’t want to snap, but then I ran through and mounted my bike. Along the way I saw Kristin and knew she would be right on my tail. Time to push.
The way out is mostly uphill and into the wind. I push, I push more. My legs hurt, my stomach hurts. And just like at Du Worlds last year, I think I am seeing stars. Good, this is exactly where I need to be. I need to do this – I need to take this leap of faith to prove to myself that my legs can handle this. Men attack me and I attack back. I can’t sit back today. I have to fight.
The uphill turns into a long downhill and I’m geared out. I think back to last year and remember being passed on the downhill.. That won’t happen again. Geared out, I know the only way to keep gaining ground is to spin those pedals faster. I spin and attack more men.
I exit the park still in the lead. Once outside, the wind picks up and so does the hill. I push up it, in my big ring. I won’t even touch the small ring today. I can’t afford it. There is a heavy pain in my legs and still my head is cloudy from stars, too much speed, too much hurt. This is why I race in February – to get this feeling, this process underway and to get through it.
I keep telling myself to take that leap – to keep leaping with the faith that this is what I have to do. I hit the turnaround and surprise myself that I have still held Kristin and Kerri off. But they are right there. I see them within 30 seconds of me at the turn and know I have to keep pushing. Goddamn this hurts. But if they’re chasing me at this pace it’s hurting them too.
Around mile 12, Kristin passes me. She is amazing. 47 years fit, young, and fast. Incredible. She says something about my bike and I notice that she has the same exact bike, wheels, bars. She passes me quickly but I know I have to keep her in sight. So I work even harder to keep her within 30 seconds of me.
Re-entering the park, I know the real work was about to begin. The 3 mile climb. Kristin is still dangling in front of me and I do everything I can to keep her in my sight. She pulls away a little each mile, but I never give up. I stomp the hills, and when I turn and see the hill going on, I stomp even more. I’m pushing a heavy cadence but I have to do this – I have to force my legs through this to prove to them that yes they can.
The bike is over before I know it. I see Kristin running out of the transition area as I dismount my bike. I get off my bike and cannot believe the pain that has settled into my legs. For only the second time in my triathlon/duathlon life, I doubt if I can even run (the first ever was at Buffalo Springs….yikes). I go as fast as I can to get my running shoes on a winter’s worth of hibernation has left me rusty in transitions. My foot reluctantly refuses my shoe and I’m trying hard to cram it in.
Kerri exits transition with me. She pulls ahead slightly and I think to myself that maybe I can’t keep up with her. Maybe I am not going to make it through this run. Then I hit myself in the head – mentally. I tell myself that is absolutely unacceptable, from a duathlon silver medalist, a national champion, a future champion of whatever my plans might be this year. I am not so much racing as myself, but as the person I intend to be by season’s end. I pick it up and pull away.
The second run is a variety of terrain – from roads, to packed dirt, soft gravel, hard rocks. The gravel is spongy and unforgiving. I am pushing ahead but feel I am taking steps back. I see a woman ahead and I think she is Kristin but then realize it is a pro woman. I pass her and keep pushing on. We set out on the sandy trail portion of the run. I am woozy and my head is still spinning. A brush with a cactus impales my arm with a dozen spikes. I’m not sure which pain is worse – the pain in my legs/head/stomach or the pain from 4 inches spikes in my arm. Either way, both are going to have be ignored right now. I can barely find my way snaking through the rest of the trail and nearly lose my footing half a dozen times.
Back on to gravel, I lift my knees high and then hit the rocky part of another trail. Rocks, rocks, big rocks, little rocks. I run over them, on top of them. The course begins to wind and climb steeply and I am huffing so loud, so painfully that I feel bad for the man in front of me that has to listen. I reach the top of the climb and let out a guttural dear god this hurts so bad I just want to be done 10 minutes ago moan. Down the trail I nearly go head over feet over rocks over the man in front of me. But I make it down and push through. The last ½ mile is on the road, smooth. I lost sight of any women ahead of my about 1 mile ago and finish it strong for myself.
I cross the line two minutes faster than last year, yet again 3rd overall. I couldn’t be more excited. I think to myself that it is not so much where I am right now, here in this race, at this time of year, but where I am going. I think about my goals, my plans for the year and know that those plans are what count. This race, this course is only a stepping stone to what really counts. I took a major leap of faith and worked harder than ever in this race. I don’t think I caught my breath once. I honestly cannot say that I had anything left to give. As far as February goes, I not only spent the money in my bank but make a huge overdraft withdrawal.
But it felt good. Good to know that taking a leap of faith, losing sight of your shore is easy to do. As long as you set your mind to it, and push yourself, your body will follow. Painfully, but it will follow.
My 2007 ship has set sail, and as I sail farther from the shore, I am more excited than ever about the year ahead. It’s not that I wanted to leave what I had on lat year's shore – no, my 2006 shore was an incredible place to dock - yet I’ll never know what better things lie ahead if I don’t lose sight of it, let it go, and take that leap of faith in hopes of finding new places in new lands ahead.
After the race, Chris and I feasted – for me a turkey sandwich and a slice of heavily frosted, double-layered chocolate cake. It tasted almost as good as in my dreams. Of course, coffee followed. We drove south to Tucson and spent the rest of the late afternoon hiking Saguaro National Park. What an amazingly quiet, scenic, and desolate place. The saguaro cacti are a sight – nearly 50 feet high and weighing over 8 tons. It was a great place to reflect on the race, lessons learned, and what lies ahead.
Here’s to a healthy, strong, and successful 2007 – for everyone that I had the pleasure to meet and talk with today – Jenni, Kristin, Kerri, Anne, Alisha, Tyler – and for my husband and myself.