This weekend, we headed up to the Twin Cities for the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon.
Over the past ten years, we've been up to the Twin Cities many times - several of Chris' friends live up there. Back when we were young and carefree (read: childless), we'd head up for a weekend of drinking and riding bikes. Some of my finer moments in Minnesota included drinking beer out of a glass boot and taking a late night trip to Sex World. Things like this can happen when you drink beer out a glass boot.
Don’t do it.
It’s been a long time since Chris and I have done a road trip. St. Paul is about 400 miles northwest of our home. It’s a fantastically rolling, lush and scenic drive. The hills of Dane County, the bluffs as you get west of Tomah. I spent most of the drive refusing to drive, instead doing important things with my phone, like naming all of our future children, reading Chris useless geographical information about the surrounding area and then incessantly pressing refresh for about 45 minutes as we entered a no service zone.
We arrived early enough on Friday to do a short swim in the lake. The water temperature was a perfect 81 degrees and it tasted like triathlon – the earthy green taste of Midwest lakes in summer where you can barely see your hand in front of you. After the swim we attempted to drive the course to refresh our memory. It took Chris using an actual map, a GPS, written directions and several miles of trial and error to finally figure out what might have been 12 miles of the course. I believe this is Minnesota’s trick to keep everyone else out of their state. They make their roadways (and especially highways) so complicated to navigate as if to say if you can figure this out, you can stay, if not, then get the fuck out of here. Hey, we heard you, LOUD AND CLEAR: we gave up around Minnehaha Parkway and went to eat instead.
Race morning came early – 4:30 am – and I took my first sip of coffee in over 5 days. Somewhere in late May I got back on the coffee wagon. This might have something to do with living within a ½ mile walk of Caribou or having a child rapidly approaching 2 years old. Quickly, I was full on addicted. Every morning I needed my dark roast. At first, for the fun of it. Then, for the taste. Next, to get my personality. And last, to stave off headaches. Breaking the habit was painful. My body completely revolted on Monday, I felt like I was tapering for Ironman. I had headaches for three days before I finally felt human on Thursday. And did I feel ANY boost from caffeine on race morning?
So that was worth it.
My last trip to Lifetimes Fitness was back in 2005 when I competed in the age group category. Back then we went up there with Liz Attig and Eric Ott, all had great races, got drunk, rode the rides at the Mall of America then went on a cookie spree with the short carts around Lund’s.
Yes, it is becoming clear to me that I have a drinking problem only in the state of Minnesota.
This year, I wanted to compete in the elite amateur category. I knew this category would draw top competition from around the Midwest and this year didn’t disappoint. There were some fast women on board.
Race morning always moves by quickly by the time you park, walk to transition, set up transition. My swim warm up was perfect – 20 minutes with excellent feel for the water. Before I knew it, I was in a corral on the beach waiting to start. At the start line, I lined up left, outside. In short course racing, position is everything. I knew I needed to be up front and ready to bolt. The gun went off, I ran quick and hard into the water then got to swimming. I fought a few strokes with another girl then pulled ahead. A lead group got was in front of me. While I couldn’t bridge to them, I kept them within sight. After 500 yards, a woman came up alongside my left. It was the perfect combination of being in the right place at the right time. She was moving faster than me so I hopped right on her feet. I had done this so many times at the quarry – on someone’s feet, in my speedsuit, in open water – that it felt just like training. I knew what I had to do and did it because I’ve done it before! I started to lose her on the last leg of the swim but I could see her just ahead that it motivated me to keep pushing the pace.
On to the bike, an athlete’s husband gave me splits about where I was in relation to the other girls. This information was very helpful! I was sitting in about 7th place. My legs immediately felt wretched. I anticipated this since we could not use wetsuits. You have to kick more to keep your body position up and it shows on the bike. I took 5-8 minutes to settle into the pace and then held my range of watts. I set a different range than the last race because of the course. The LTF bike course is full of rough pavement, twists, curves, sharp turns, bridges and false flats. There is absolutely no rhythm on this course. Knowing that, I figured the course itself would eat up about 10 watts so I set my range a little lower than last time.
The first half of the ride I was mostly alone, I quickly passed a few women and found myself then being passed by a lot of the younger men in the elite amateur male category who started in front of us. Scary that I outswam them! My watts were good, my legs were coming back. We made a loop around the first lake and then headed back to make the loop around Lake Harriet at the halfway point. Around the lake the roads are narrow and curvy, a complete rhythm breaker where it's hard to maintain speed.
Then, it's mostly downhill back to Lake Nokomis. There were still so many twists and turns, it was hard to keep focus out there. I brought it back to the process – hold watts, corner well, stay aero. Just bring yourself back to it. The bike is about a mile long so I didn’t worry about having a slightly slower time than usual.
The run is two loops around the lake, flat and fast. It was warm and humid but the course is quite shaded. My plan was to run a fast 4 miles and then hang on with what I had left. In the last race, I held back too much in the beginning. This time I was going after it.
At first, my legs felt horrible, I was nauseous and wasn’t in the mood to run after the 6 women ahead of me. Immediately a woman flew by me with insanely fast turnover. Make that 7 women ahead of me. Do I really want to be doing this? It’s hot. I’m uncomfortable. Wah wah wah wah wah.
It’s funny all of the chatter than can take place in your head by the first mile of the race. Usually in a half Ironman it’s the first 6 miles that painfully hurt more in your head than legs. Olympic distance, all of those crazy I want to stop thoughts get crammed into the first mile – hard. I hit mile 1 and I still had the low feeling. But I knew in low moments of a race, we’re simply not thinking clearly. It’s in these moments when most age groupers give up or change their course. The only thing you should do in a low moment is stay the path. I told myself, stay the path, there are a few women up there that you can see and they are suffering. Keep going after them. You’re faster and tougher than them.
It worked. By mile 2 I had found my rhythm at a 6:40something pace. It wasn’t fast but compared to the other women, it was fast today. I made up a 45 second deficit in under 1 mile on one of the women. I moved ahead of 7th. And then set my eyes on 6th. Caught her a bit later. At this point, I had made it through the first loop. I had found my rhythm. My mind had also cleared – what was I thinking about? Nothing. Occasionally about my turnover or arm swing but otherwise, trust your rhythm and keep running.
As I crossed the finish line, I heard the familiar voice of Jerry MacNeil. Jerry has been around Midwest triathlon forever – he knows everything about everyone through years of race announcing and watching results.
Hello Liz Waterstraat.
I waved, I’m coming across the line, I’m going hard, this felt awkward.
It’s good to see you back. Your stomach is looking flat after having all those babies.
(is there a rumor going around that I gave birth to a dozen children in the past 2 years?)
I finished 5th overall elite amateur. It was a decent result. My desired outcome was top 3, acceptable was top 5. I know I still have more work to be done and I’m going to do it. What I love most about the short racing? I get to race again in 3 weeks.
I know our sport is infatuated with long course racing – half and full Ironmans. But I’ll be honest with you – sprint and Olympic distance races may not be sexy but they are so challenging in a different way. The girls who are doing these fast and well have something unique in their mindset and physiology. They go to redline, from the gun, for over 2 hours and stay there. They don’t just know how to suffer but they look forward to it. They don’t wait – they go for it. Totally different than the patience, wisdom, and maturity you need to excel at long course races. Short course is really uncomfortable. The more comfortable you are, the more you realize you’re not going hard enough. I spent every mile of that run uncomfortable yesterday.
We wrapped up our trip quickly and drove back home. Chris, being hopelessly trusting of the GPS, believed it when it misrouted us towards Rochester, through western Wisconsin on to one of the most beautiful routes I’ve ever driven. As we took this – uh – 90 mile highway detour, he threatened to throw the GPS out the window. Having once seen him throw an entire road atlas out the window (we started triathlon so long ago that back then – we actually used REAL MAPS!), I begged him to spare the GPS. The road traveled along the shore of a 40-mile lake off of the Mississippi River, Lake Pepin (now threatened by farm run off – this is what happens when you read useless geographical information to your husband for 90 miles), winding through the small lakeside towns, long hills and bluffs. For as inconvenient as the route was, it was exactly the quiet you need after a race for reflection.
After every race I sit down and think about what worked, what didn’t work, what needs work. I take notes. I keep them in a book. I look at them before every race so I don’t make the same mistakes twice. I’ve been doing this for a long time and what I’m enjoying most about this year is that I keep learning something new about racing – makes me a better athlete, a better coach, makes me always excited for the next time.
Shameless sponsor plug: thank you to TriSports.com for supporting me in all of my racing endeavors!
Shameless sponsor plug: thank you to TriSports.com for supporting me in all of my racing endeavors!