Last week, I found myself easing into the off season. I ate ice cream. I ate chocolate. I drank wine. I ate very few vegetables. I spun around easy on my ‘cross bike. I got a massage. I got a pedicure. In an effort to not ruin said pedicure, I avoided the pool for all but one day. I went on a run that was 35 minutes and that was my “training” – for the day. In fact, I wasn’t training. I was just moving so I could feel less guilty about doing all of the other things I did.
On Thursday, I started to think. I should have ruled out all thinking during the off season because it is often thinking that gets us in to trouble. You see, Chris was racing on Sunday. The race had a long course and a short course. It was within driving distance. I was feeling good. I was motivated. I still hadn’t taken off my race wheels….are you thinking what I’m thinking?
The answer was obvious. Put the off season on hold and race.
Saturday late afternoon, we drove a few hours into southern Illinois for the Last Try. Literally, the last triathlon. Know that anyone from the Chicago area considers anything south of Kankakee southern Illinois but we actually were within 1 hour of Carbondale which many know is truly deep, deep south within southern Illinois. Guns. Bait. Triathlon.
That about sums up my I-57 experience.
The night before the race, we enjoyed life as two adults with no child. My sister in law was gracious enough to watch Max in a plan to give her own two year old a playmate for the weekend. A plan that might have backfired when they decided to go surfing in spilled milk and moments later her daughter was holding both her and Max’s diaper in her hands. Both two year olds covered in milk, running around the kitchen naked. Meanwhile, Chris and I went out to dinner with two goals: sit for the entire meal and take longer than 6 minutes to shove the food in our mouth. Ah, childless adult life.
With a 9 am start time, we were able to leave the hotel the next morning at 7:15 am and – besides – Chris assured me that the race site was only 5 minutes away. Forty minutes later, we were still not there. Something about the scale of the map being wrong. You know, because maps are usually wrong like that. But I was relaxed. I said something highly overcaffeinated but much less lippy than my usual WE ARE GOING TO BE LATE tirade. After all, this was a nonrace race. Just going there for fun.
There is very little truth in that.
Truth be told, I had some goals. I decided to race the short course version of the race, a modified sprint with a 750 m swim, 21 mile bike and 5K run. I checked the results from the past few years and knew it might be time I could check something off of my triathlon bucket list. I’ve never won a race outright – meaning, beating all of the women and men. I knew the times I would have to hit in order to do that. And felt like this was the race where I could do it.
The race took place at Rend Lake, a beautiful natural area. The weather was perfect. I signed up about an hour before the race started, then got myself situated in transition. The race was small but well-organized. I warmed up in the water – it was as flat and perfect as could be. Then, we waited. A long time. The race was delayed about 30 minutes until the EMS arrived.
Finally, they sent off the long course athletes. After their second loop, they lined up the sprint women in the water. I lined up far left, front and knew the second the gun went off, I had to bolt. My plan was to swim and bike as hard as I could out there. In these small races, I know that not too many can swim with me and I needed to minimize any damage on the bike from a faster male. I also knew coming off a half Ironman, my run would not feel great no matter what I did. Time to take some risks out there.
The gun went off and I bolted. This was one of the cleanest, easiest lines I’ve ever had, swimming clear buoy to buoy. I felt great out there. I exited the water far ahead of the other women but with no idea how far behind us the men started. The run to transition was again – long, which seems to be the theme for every race I’ve done this year! This is why I’m a proponent of the running before the bike. Some of these transitions have been 400 meters long! Not only are you running up a beach, you’re in a wetsuit and going HARD! It pays to prepare for that.
The bike course took us 21 miles around the lake on low traffic, mostly smooth roads. It was FAST. I was flying by some of the slower men from the long course race when I found myself mostly alone. I gave myself a range of watts and stayed on the low end of it until the half way point. When we hit halfway, I went chasing watts. This is not a strategy I recommend unless you are in control of the race and racing a short distance. I always believe in the most speed on the least effort, when possible. But today, I was chasing after every watt I could get. By the time I got near transition, I was at the top end of my range.
I rolled into transition, the first athlete overall. The long course athletes still had one loop to go on the bike and no men from the sprint had caught me. And here’s where I made a critical mistake: I forgot to preview the bike in segment. I had the choice of following the small cones to the left or the large cones straight ahead and for whatever reason, missing the giant BIKE chalked on to the ground, I went left. A few spectators shouted at me, I turned around and returned to the proper bike in. A mistake that cost me about 30 seconds.
While my legs felt great on the bike, I could feel last weekend’s half Ironman lingering in my run legs. I just didn’t have my zip out there. I felt heavy, wheezy and flat. There is where true racing takes place – if I wanted to win, outright, I had to push through this. Every second counted. The course was either slightly up or down along a paved bike trail. I was entirely alone out there except for a race staff leading me out on a bicycle. Pedaling so so so slowly.
Watching someone pedal 40 rpms in front of you is always a great confidence builder. If you’re running backwards.
At the turnaround, I asked him how far the men had started behind us. He said 30 minutes. Clearly we were not speaking the same language so I just kept pushing it. Finally, I see the first male heading towards the turnaround. I had a 3 ½ minute lead on him. I didn’t know if this was good enough so I just kept pushing. The long course men and women were separated by 1 minute so I assumed they started the men about a minute behind me. But I was soon to find out otherwise. As the third male ran towards the turnaround, I asked how far he started behind the women:
4 minutes! This was going to be close. I pushed. It hurt. Was the lead male running faster than me? How could I tell? Did I look like I was running fast? I looked at my legs. AH! A week of eating ice cream and chocolate – look away, LOOK AWAY! I pushed it into the finish line, crossing in 1:30:46. I waited. And waited….
A few minutes later, the first male crossed. In 1:30:16.
Safe to say, those will be 30 seconds I will never forget. Or the 30 seconds which will remind me to always preview the course, every inch of the swim in, bike in, bike out – ALL OF IT, every single time I’m racing.
And now it is done. The 2012 triathlon season is over – officially. Besides, I’ve run out of races around here. It’s October which means any day now it could snow and we could all go into hibernation until May.
So it’s the start of the off season – take two. I’ve done some serious damage in peanut butter cups, my race wheels are still on my bike with no plans to take them off until I need them again and I have depleted my entire stock of Power Bar. I am now on sabbatical. I raced 11 times this year – raced short, hard, fast and had so much fun racing that often. I learned a lot. I became my own science experiment in coaching. I’ve learned more about what works, what doesn’t work and most importantly, whatever I’ve done, I still really love the sport of triathlon and cannot wait to train for another season. Any time you can emerge from a season saying that, I feel like you’ve done good out there.