On Sunday, I did a race. This was a big thing for me – because this race was not on my schedule, but one of those things where Chris was going so I might as well go too. If you know me, you know this it totally not me. But sometimes it is good to shake things up.
Shaking it up is one thing. Shaking a hot bottle of pop with the lid closed tight is another. That’s sort of how this race decision felt. You see, I decided to do the pro race. First of all, I’m not a pro. Second of all, 440 yard pool swim in a long course pool – are you kidding? I don’t even flip turn in the pool. Third – the race was formula style, three times through. And did I mention I’m not a pro?
But there I was, Sunday morning, warming up in the Mizzou pool. Me and, oh, like 15 other pros. I warmed up about 800 yards or meters. Whatever the measure this pool felt long - very long. But I was ready. My race plan was simple – go hard on the swim, put it all out there on the bike, and run until you throw up. Repeat three times. 440 yards, 8.3 miles, 1.7 miles, repeat, repeat.
The race director counts us down, and it’s time to go. Within 200 yards I am almost lapped by the guy in my lane. But if I knew anything it is that races are never won in the swim, or the bike, or the run. It’s how you put it all together, how you think through it, and stay on top of yourself. Three times.
Getting myself out of the pool proved harder than swimming the 440 yards. There I am at the end of the lane trying to do a pull up with the diving block. I exit, and someone says the field is about 40 seconds ahead of me.
The run to transition is long, up some stairs, down a hill, and across the Astroturf on a field. Of course, mine is the last bike dangling on the rack. I nearly split my lip as I smack myself with my helmet but other than that I make a speedy trip in transition and begin the long run to the bike out.
The bike course is not easy. The first part of the course snakes through a parking lot with several turns. I think back to racing criteriums and think this is my advantage – cornering, accelerating, staying in control. The wind is raging, but not as bad as Texas two weeks ago. I am using my disc wheel which was absolutely eating the wind up. Into the wind I am riding above threshold, and it’s hard. It doesn’t feel good, my stomach feels queasy, my legs are burning.
Out on the bike course, I am alone. The last pro, the last lone racer trying hard to stay in the game. I laugh thinking about that. This is what it feels like to be last! I start to think to myself how silly it was to be there, age grouper doing a pro race. Seriously, what was I thinking? Is there someone I can blame for this pain?
It takes about 2 minutes to get over myself, and to stop those thoughts. Years of long course racing have taught me one thing – the race is never over, until it’s truly over; you never know what’s going to happen and you never give anything up. I may be behind now but wait it out, give it time. Just keep working hard, pushing hard and see what happens. Above all, I tell myself over and over again DO NOT GIVE ANYTHING UP.
I’m heading up a long hill. So long, so much headwind that I am in my small ring. But it’s over before I know it and then I take a turn into tailwind and the course feels mostly downhill. A few more twists and turns, and I still see no one ahead. But I’m going hard. And it still hurts, in case you were wondering. I kept drinking, and took a gel right when I got on the bike but my stomach was not pleased with these decisions. Shut up stomach, shut up!
I take a turn and reach “the wall”. It’s a short STEEP climb. It reminded me of parts of Soleded but super short. After the wall, the course turns again to snake through the parking lot. And then I see something ahead – I see Lauren, a pro, riding with one leg. I think to myself that it’s a heck of a time to work on a technique, she seems to be doing the one-legged pedaling drill. I pass her and she shouts something about losing a crank arm. And I thought being assigned number 13 was a bad sign – losing a crank? It doesn’t get much worse than that – maybe losing a wheel?
I roll into transition before her with Amanda in sight. My transitions are not fast, I need to work on the whole shoe on and off thing but that will come in time. I run hard out of transition. A little too hard I think. There’s a short steep hill before the run rolls out on the path and through the campus.
I’m running, hard and my breathing is out of sync, loud, labored. I see Amanda ahead and I want to push to her and by her but my breathing has other ideas. And then my stomach cramps. I have never cramped before, and I don’t recommend it. I actually had to stop and catch my breath. I do, barely, keep pushing, and then I cramp again. There I am, on the side of the road dry heaving, cramping, almost crying. Hey stomach – I was just kidding about the run until you puke part! My face is twisted, ugly with pain. I see Jennifer Meyer cheering me on, I grip my stomach and she shouts EXHALE EXHALE! I do, and it helps. Thank you Jennifer!! I back off my pace – so frustrating because when would I ever back off on a pace with someone right there ahead of me – but I tell myself to be patient and finish it up 3rd woman.
I’m a little miffed. Really, who cramps? Not me. Oh no, no no no no. This will not happen again. Part of me wants to not do the second race because I might cramp again, the bigger part of me says screw it, just take a risk. I want to get back into that pool and kill that course and slap those cramps.
And that is how I found myself back in the pool about 5 minutes later. Not much time to reset my transition area, but it was time to go. The second swim felt nice. I was finally warmed up, and in a much better place. I thought if I just stayed consistent I had a good shot of moving up to 2nd. Just take my time, trust myself, and never give anything up.
Out of the water- and someone shouts that there is less time between the women ahead. I see them in the transition area when I arrive so I quickly set out for the bike. I keep Lauren within my sight, surprisingly, for most of the ride. I keep telling myself just to keep her there, not to let her go. I am pushing hard up the hills, into the wind. This is where the work needs to be – into the wind. We will all go fast in the tailwind, that’s a given, but the headwind – this is my work, this is where it counts.
The run course arrives. Lauren is right ahead and I know I will need to push a little to catch her. I’m not even thinking about cramps. I am ready to force them out. I am ready to take control of those damn cramps and control of this race. Plus, I’m feeling good. Second time through and this little long course girl is just warming up.
I am running neck and neck with Lauren. Let me repeat that – I am running neck and neck with Lauren. And she is so smart. I get so close to passing her and she picks it up. I pass, she passes, we trade places. I love this. This is what I miss about short course, the chase, the speed, the pure physical power. The last few yards, I surge – now or never – and finish ahead of her. Ok, we are now in 2nd place.
7 minutes later, back in the pool, round three, let’s go.
Third time through, third time is a charm, and when you’re wearing number 13 you look for all the lucky charms you can get. The pool feels good – and the swim, well let me say there is something to be said for consistency. Surprisingly, there are a few other swimmers that are swimming right with me at my pace. The only difference is, I’ve been holding this pace each race.
When I exit the pool, the race director is giggling at me and telling me I am much closer now. I shout the word IRONMAN – hee hee! - and keep running strong. I am running next to Chris – who is struggling a little today because he’s spent the past 2 weeks sick. But I admire his willingness to stay in the game, to go all the way.
As I run out of transition, Chris shouts GO LIZ in a way that makes me feel proud, like I’m doing something I should be very proud about. I see Lauren right ahead of me, and I have made it out of transition ahead of Amanda.
We approach the snaky parking lot. It is so windy, the signs are literally flying at 90 degrees. Lauren dangles out there in front of me – and I make my move, tell her good job, and do what it takes to hold her off. Not only that, but I think to myself the more time I can put on the bike, the less I will have to work on the run. The less I have to do on the run, the quicker I can recover from this race and work harder for the next big thing.
So I lay it all out there. I am pushing the hill hard, and the tailwind – I’m geared out going a pace that simply felt fast. I have no idea how long, how fast, my cadence – nothing. I am using my new bike and it has no computer. But today, I only speak in terms of ahead or behind. I’m either chasing or being chased. Right now, I’m being chased.
Know what that means? Go harder.
I arrive at the wall, I push up it, and enter the snaky loop. I realize that there is now a lot of time between myself and the other women, and I am comfortably in 2nd place and I hold on to it until the finish line.
I find the results, and realize that was my race was just as fast as my second race was just as fast as my third race. 2 hours, 15 minutes of racing. I think about 20 of those spent either running to, out of, or in transition. But in the end an overall good time, and terribly consistent. This is what Ironman does to you – you know your pace, and you just go and hold it.
But back to this race. It’s over, I’m thirsty, and I’m thrilled. A short while later, I call my coach and tell her I want to shit myself but I don’t say that because I know it’s her home voicemail so I just politely say “soil myself”. 2nd place is 2nd place no matter what. And what matters to me is my day, my race – what I learned, what I did well, what I need to work on. I knew there were a lot of lessons I would take away from this race. And I learned that out there it’s anyone’s game. Don’t sell yourself short, don’t give anything up – ever.
And I also knew I would take away a lot of money. Did I mention the unbelievable cash prize?
And so it was a surprisingly good day for something I was so surprisingly unprepared to do. It was just Wednesday when my legs started feeling normal again from Texas (early season long course duathlon is pure evil like that) and I wasn’t hungry for a race. But something told me I needed to do this to learn how to hurt again, to learn how to go short and fast. To find myself on the side of the road dry heaving so it didn’t happen at a bigger race down the road. But I’ve got to be honest, I hope I don’t find myself there again anytime soon – on the side of the road, that is.
All week I had been telling myself that if I kept giving what I had always given, I would get what I have always gotten. So today I gave it more – I went harder, faster but without forgetting all of the lessons I had learned from my other distances and racing. And here’s the deal – my long course racing has made me stronger, and smarter. It taught me to stay on top of my nutrition, and hydration. To pace myself, to believe in myself, and to be patient. A race is anyone’s race – no matter what their strength or weakness is - and it always pays to wait it out. In fact, it pays big.
Trust me on that one.