Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Uncomfort Zone


About 14 years ago, I did my first triathlon.  At a local women’s race in my hometown.  Since then, the race has taken on many different names (River’s Edge, Danskin, SheRox) and seen many big names (including: Michellie Jones) and today it has settled on SheRox.

SheRox is a sprint triathlon.  People have asked me what I’m racing this year – and my answer is all short course.  Last year, I raced big, raced long and hit a lot of homeruns.  I left 2011 feeling like I did everything I set out to do and enjoyed every minute of it.  I knew it would be very difficult to top a year like that and honestly, I didn’t want to.  Sometimes I think we just need to be satisfied with our accomplishments and coast on them for awhile.  Enjoy it.  And that was why I wanted this year to be a baby year.  But no baby this year.  So I put together a schedule of short course races and bought myself all new landscaping and a paver patio! 

(it’s no baby but costing us about the same)

Why short course?  Because I did long course and did it well.  To me, racing long course is a formula – it’s pacing, nutrition and mental toughness.  You don’t race long course, you endure it better and slow down less than anyone else.  There is nothing hard about enduring.  It just takes patience and strategy. 

Short course, however, is nothing like that.  I once had a coach tell me that an Olympic peak is the hardest training he could prescribe.  This is true.  It is uncomfortable.  It does not require a lot of thinking. You can completely botch your nutrition and still finish on fumes – fast.  Done right it is very painful.  Done wrong it is still painful.  There’s no hiding from it. 

Enter: the short course race schedule with SheRox.

Every once in awhile, you need to do a race like this.  You need to take it down to the most basic level and let triathlon get real again.  We get caught up in going to these big whiz bang races where everyone has fancy equipment, everyone is wearing their most stoic race face, everyone has a coach, an aero helmet, a Garmin.  No balloons.  No tutus.  No chalk drawings on the ground to indicate TURN HERE, LINDA, THIS IS YOUR RACK!  At this race, the transition area was buzzing with camaraderie, balloons, mountain bikes.  It was gushingly pink but still yet so … green.  It was refreshing. 

Now I have raced on this course a half dozen times.  I have been to world championships.  I have stood on a start line with Andy Potts and Chrissie Wellington.  Yet there I was, a little nervous about a women’s sprint triathlon.  Why do I do this to myself, I thought?  All week I couldn’t wait to race yet the minute I got there, I couldn’t wait for it to be over.  And can you really be scared of something that lasts a little over an hour when you have several times pushed your body to the edge for over 10 hours?

It’s a whole different rodeo.  Trust me.

I arrived at transition to find one lone rack for the elite wave.  As I started setting up my stuff in transition, another elite competitor, one of five of us, comes up to me.

I just want you to know that I’m not a proI just wanted to be in the wave because my daughter’s birthday party is this afternoon and I wanted to be done early.

Gotta love an honest woman.  I assured her that I also was not pro but I liked her way of thinking. 

Jenny Garrison arrived a little while later along with the woman who won last year.  We all headed to the water around the same time for a warm up.  The water was warm so I warmed up in my speedsuit.  Something that I’m learning about short course is that you need to warm up very, very well.  I swam for 25 minutes!  After a few pick ups, I got out of the water, saw everyone in wetsuits and realized I would be silly not to take every legal advantage I could get.   More speed with less work – that’s a wetsuit, so I went to get mine.

The 5 of us lined up and started talking.  We had been joined by a young woman, 17 years old.  Jenny turns to me and says that she is all of a sudden nervous.  I tell her not to worry - most young girls do not have the muscle mass to bike well!  She said that they can usually swim and run well.  Boldly, she asks the girl what her swim pace per 100 is.  The girl says :59 per 100.  Did we really need to ask?  Jenny asks another girl what her swim pace is – and she says 1:05 per 100.  I think to myself  I am not saying my 100 pace but I do know who is going to be pulling me!

Somehow 5 women at a swim start feels like 500.  I’ve got a foot in my face and I think the 1:05 per 100 woman is trying to swim over me.  She pulls ahead and I do my best to stay on her feet or within sight.  The young girl has taken the lead.  The swim pace is hard – I remember thinking to myself “this is really uncomfortable” but I had practiced that pace with Amanda the other day at the quarry.  We did sprints to the ladder, I going as hard as I can go, nearly taking out a woman in an orange cap 3 times (3 different times but pretty sure at the end of the swim she thought I was purposefully swimming into her, once actually INTO her arms in an embrace).  All week I kept saying to myself: to get there, GO THERE!  You can’t magically arrive on race day some place that you haven’t been to in training.

The effort paid off.  I came out of the water at a 1:09 per 100 pace.  ME!  About 45 miles north of here, Jen Harrison just peed herself!  (mostly in fear, because she knows I am coming after her). It might have taken me 14 years but I feel like finally my swim is not my weakness.  And I have 2 people to thank for that: Marty and Timmy!  In the past year, I have busted my lats in their lane doing whatever it takes to not get lapped by them.  They have taught me how to swim hard – truly hard.  Not just “I think this is hard” but “I need to caffeinate before I even attempt to swim with them hard.” 

I exit the water and begin the long run to transition.  Though the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, the course is designed for us to follow about 100 orange cones around the racks of 30+ waves and 1400+ women.  It was at least 400 meters from the beach to transition.  It was 80 degrees.  I was running in a full wetsuit.  Barefoot.  On pavement.  I’m learning that in short course, these transitions are everything.  It pays to do more swim to run “bricks” to get used to this feeling (and maybe I should do them in my wetsuit?).

My goal for this race was to get out of my wetsuit without embarrassing myself or getting stuck.  Last year, I did one race that was wetsuit legal.  I was out of practice!  It took ridiculous amounts of Body Glide to accomplish my goal.  Jenny and I left transition at the same time and then we took off.  I knew to beat Jenny I would have to outbike her, figuring that her giving birth to her 3rd child about 10 weeks ago (yes, 10 weeks ago) might have slowed her down?  MIGHT!?  But I also knew that once Jenny saw that 17 year old girl she was going to bike like hell on fiery wheels.  DAMMIT!  I stayed with her for a few miles before she pulled away – and then further away.  I could see the lights from the lead motorcycle but they weren’t getting any closer.  And like that I was out there – riding alone. 

This tends to happen when only 5 women do the elite wave. 

And you know what – it’s really hard to keep the pressure on yourself.  This was one of the (many) things that made me a not so good pro – I just can’t race out there by myself.  Some athletes have that animal urge to just fight, race and destroy themselves.  I don’t seem to have that switch – or if I do, I can’t flip it – yet.  Honestly this is why I’m doing short course this year – to learn more about myself, to figure out ways to get faster by seeking out new challenges, getting uncomfortable, shaking things up.

Let me tell you, 14.2 miles goes by A LOT faster than 112.  Another long run through transition and now it’s time to runBeing in 2nd place, I got a lead cyclist.  Who kept turning back to look at me – constantly.  It was a little nerve wracking.  Not to mention that she was pedaling really, really slow to keep up with me.  Come on, was I REALLY going that slow?  Can she shift into an easier gear and spin the heck out of it to give me the illusion that I’m moving faster!?  All I could hear was the ticking of her spinning wheels as she coasted while my feet were turning over like crazy trying to chase Jenny and trying to hold off whoever was behind me. 

I held on to 2nd elite overall and got a giant FlavorFlav sized medal for it.  No joke: a medal with a 6 inch circumference.  While I’m pleased with the result, I need to do a better job of racing.  You see, if there’s nothing immediately in front of me – I have a hard time pushing up to my potential.  I get complacent.  I get uninspired.  I realize this is a huge weakness of mine and I’ve yet to figure out how to fix it.  It would be much easier for me to be pleased with 2nd overall and not try to fix it.  But we need to honestly assess our performance to get better. 

I knew when I set out to do short course this year that it would be very uncomfortable.  Already I have wanted to give up and sign up for the nearest half Ironman just do to what comes so easy to me and what feels comfortable.  That’s how you know it’s working – you want OUT!  The other day, I saw someone wearing a t-shirt that said: a champion always seeks higher ground.  I want to find that higher ground or find that uncomfort zone and work there.  That is where my next big breakthrough will be!  Not in the same place I always go.  So this is my season of working my weakness – not until it necessarily becomes a strength but until I become a stronger, smarter athlete. 

But really, short course racing means more racing which means more post-race Dairy Queen. 

The truth is, I’m in this for the ice cream.

But I suspect you've known that all along. 

8 comments:

Steve said...

"The truth is, I’m in this for the ice cream.

But I suspect you've known that all along. "


HA HA HA!!

As mostly just a runner, I learned a 5K run with a fast first mile is the longest race in the world.

Short stuff is brutal, and sounds like you have another challenging year ahead of you.

Good luck. :)

Jennifer Harrison said...

For the record, I DID pee in my pants, but that is common for me. In all seriousness, CONGRATS on 2nd place at this race, it is fast and huge! Next time, PUKE and you will feel better about how hard you went!

And, next time you complain about how slow you feel in the water I am going to cut and paste: 1:09/100m in my response to you! :)

Kris said...

Yes! This is the thing I need to work on most of all (as you know)....racing myself....because let's face it, at my paces it's all about racing myself. Thanks for this post....at least I know I'm not alone in this challenge. :)

And....smokin' fast swim! Nice!

Elsbeth said...

I saw your second place finish on the TriSports FB page- congratulations!!

I love the local sprints where people carry their transition gear in a Home Depot bucket and then use the overturned bucket as a stool to sit on during T1 and T2. They keep it real.

Someone told me once that the only way to practice racing is to race. That's where I learn all of my lessons, mostly subscribing to "Holy shit, I'm never doing that again".
Taking EIGHT seconds to wipe spilled gel off of my top tube cost me a podium spot. Seriously.

Amazing job- post a picture of your medal!

Molly said...

Clearly I've been missing out on the ice cream component of this whole triathlon thing. I will design my schedule for 2013 to encompass this aspect of racing fully. Short course = ice cream, check. Congratulations on your race!!!

Katherine Willis Pershey said...

This was my first triathlon. I'm hooked! It is really fun to hear about it from an elite triathlete's perspective. Congrats on your great finish, and good luck in your future races.

Bob Mitera said...

A great recap as only you can tell it. When I read your blog, I can hear your voice (and somehow, Chris, Max and Boss are always lurking around too).

Terri said...

Liz - Maybe next year you should race the Batavia Triathlon - what a nicely done race! I drove up from St. Louis to do this one with my niece who lives in the area. Great volunteer support, great finish line party and finisher's medal as well as awesome raffle prizes. The overall winners also received very nice gifts - Timex GPS systems for the triathlon winners and a Specialized Aero helmet for the duathlon winners.