My mind fills with questions. For months, weeks, days before Memphis - or any short course race this season - my mind fills with questions about myself. Wondering if I could successfully make the switch from long course to short course. Can I go twice as hard for half the time? And if so, would it be good enough, would I be fast enough to call it a success?
The questions multiply along with mystery until today, the race day arrives to see if all of the work - the hard work, the overdressing, stomach churning, pedals turning, pushing, pulling, power, pain that makes me want to stop 10 minutes ago - repeat - if all of that would prepare me for any short course that lies ahead this season.
It makes me wonder if all of that - every painful minute and mile of training - would be enough. Would it?
Sooner than later, I found myself in line waiting for the time trial start on Sunday in Memphis to find out. How fast would I race today? Would it be fast enough? Was my training hard enough? When push comes to shove in short course could I pull it off?
In line, a little tap on the shoulder, a run into the water and the swim begins. Would I freak out, would I feel like the wetsuit was strangling my neck to squeeze the calm out of me making a panicky mess of the first few minutes of my swim?
No, because I went through that yesterday, in the lake, with Chris asking me if I was ok as I first entered the water and stopped frozen mid-stroke not knowing what to do. What was going on? What are you doing? You idiot. You did Ironman. You swam in the ocean. Put your head down and go. Swim. So I did. I found the pace at which I could push just below blowing up and remembered it for race day.
Easing into the first few hundred yards in the race, I found the swim smooth and effortless. I swam to the far right, along the buoy line and it was almost like an express lane was cleared for me. Could I hold this pace? Was it too fast, too slow? At some point, you stop listening to the questions and you swim. You focus on the here, the now, you make it happen. You take a risk. You swim hard, harder than you think you can hold, you trust your training and hope for the best.
I cross the swim mat at 21:22. The questions stop, for a short time, as I make my way into transition. Time to bike, a new bike, a new fit, a new position, a new feel. Would it work? Would it feel good? Would I chafe my inner thigh bloody again like I did two weeks ago? If I did, could I put it out of my mind again?
Stop thinking and ride. Make your move, push, pull, power over these pedals. The bike is flat, the bike is fast. The bike hurts. The time trial start means I have no idea how I’m doing, who’s ahead, who’s coming from behind. Does it matter? Shut up and ride. Go hard. So I push. I push hard. I have no idea how hard or how fast because today I’ve taken my computer off. The only way to connect to your pain is to totally focus on your pain. No numbers, no speed, no rpm’s. Push those pedals, heavy gear, big ring, whatever it takes to get ahead at full speed.
I’m weaving in and out of people to pass, and occasionally a man passes. But where are the women? This is either a good sign or things are going very very bad. Either I’m far ahead or far behind. Does it make a difference? Either way you better pick it up and pedal faster, push harder, put out more watts because one thing is sure – they are coming from somewhere, at some point.
And it must have worked because I hit the mat after 1 hour, 2 minutes, hard. Hard as in would I be able to run off the bike at a pace like this? Does it matter? It’s what you have to do. Ride like you’re not going to run. What if I took it to that level of hurt and pain? Tell me. Tell me legs. Would you still work?
They did. There was no pain, no heaviness. Just legs ready to go. I start out with small, speedy steps, going at what feels like a comfortably hard pace. The first two miles contain a few short hills, and then the course turns out on to a long flat stretch. I pass a few women and I feel fast, light, and fluid.
Before the turnaround point, Sam comes flying from behind me and says “put your head down and run”. What does that mean? Am I looking up? Do I need to watch the road? Sam is a runner, a fast runner, I know he says that for a reason. Right?
Descending from the turnaround, I noticed a wall of women charging fast about 30 seconds behind me. Holy crap, he was right. Time to put my head down and run. Thanks, Sam.
I pick up the pace. A lot. I don’t know what I was doing on the first half – waiting for the 6.55 mile half-marathon turnaround? Snap out of it. Put the pop back into those legs and get your ass moving. Now it’s time to hurt. Can I hold it? Who cares. Just run. Run like you’ve got nothing to lose in your legs but everything to lose in this race.
I’m thinking about the track, short speedy steps pushing off to get farther ahead and farther from the other women with each step. I don’t even look behind me. Are they there? Are they gaining? Does it matter? Go as hard as you can, time trial start, every second counts, there is no question, there is no doubt, there is one speed, one thought and that is full speed ahead.
I hold it. I hold the pace to the finishing stretch then I pick it up a little more. And more. It’s like a 400 on the track that doesn’t end. Finally, I hit the line at 2:07:39. Did I win? Place second? Third? Crack the top 10 overall? I wait for results and confirm that I have finished 3rd overall. And finally, my mind is quiet for some time.
And then the wondering begins again. Will I be faster next time? Run faster? Swim the same? Who knows, but for now the questions must stop. All of these things that make me wonder must go away. Because at some point you have to stop wondering and start expecting. Knowing that you must expect the best from yourself, work hard to achieve it, and accept nothing less.
Next up is in short course is nationals. I found myself going to look at the participant list the other day, and then I stopped. Would it make a difference if I looked? It will be stacked, it will be competitive, everyone who is someone who is fast will be there. Will I be ready? And how will I stack up?
For now, stop asking. Do your training and time will tell. And remember to maintain an unwavering belief in your ability to succeed. Do the training. Hurt when it’s time to hurt. And the rest will take care of itself.
Thanks to Chris, Christy, Sam, my darling coach, Trisports.com, The Bike Shop, my St. Louis pals, and gracious sponsors for helping me to have a great day. Even though it was a little short for my taste.......