What I love most about short course racing is that you can actually race and race often.
This past weekend, I raced.
It wasn’t on my original plan but when I found out that short course Nationals was sold out, it became my plan. Though I qualified last year with All-American status, turns out you actually have to register for a race while registration is still open to get into a race.
I waited too long.
I don’t have an excuse other than – since when does Nationals sell out!?!
After a few emails with our governing organization, I got them to clarify that though the event was sold out, there would be actual slots set aside at a local “special” qualifier, different than a regional qualifier, but still a national qualifier. Folks, we’ve got to come up with a simpler system! The staff told me that I could confirm a Nationals spot by completing the special qualifier race.
(seriously it has felt harder to get into Nationals than into Kona)
With this being a low priority race, I wanted to try some new things. Let me say that I am not a fan of change when it comes to racing. I have my formula and trust it. But I don’t necessarily remember my short course formula. It has been a long time since I’ve done a lot of short races. And they are an entirely different animal. You don’t necessarily pace yourself. You don’t wait. You don’t expect your legs to ever feel good. While I’m getting closer to what it takes to do well at this distance, there are things I’m still learning. Or maybe I learned them a long time ago but too many half Ironmans and a few full Ironmans made me forgetful. It was time for some re-education.
The swim was about a 400 meter walk down the beach. I did a relatively short warm up and then at the last minute, I changed my start position. My gut said start right but for some reason I went left. Always listen to your gut in racing! This position error ended up costing me a lot of time on the swim. I ran into the water, after a few unsuccessful dolphin dives (another new thing I wanted to try) I saw the lead girls swimming away. I missed the opportunity to jump on their feet (which is critical at this distance) and it never came back to me. They dangled in front of me until the first buoy and I could not bridge the gap.
I swam the entire race alone, passing only the men in the waves earlier. My swim time ended up being about 2 minutes slower than I expected but part of racing well is taking a disappointment and then moving beyond it. I knew my swim was off but I also know that I’ve had much worse swims and still gone on to win a race. I didn’t think twice about it and ran through transition ready for biking. The bike course itself was nice – it was mostly rolling along the Blue Star Highway – shaded and fast.
I have never been so excited to get out there and race on my bike. This past week – I got a new toy. A Quarq. I’ve used a Power Tap for the past 7 years. I strongly believe in training with power. It’s not necessary but if you are interested in getting the most out of your training and racing on the bike: USE POWER! I’ve also raced with power when it matters most: I used power at Vegas and Kona and felt it was critical to my success. But in other races, I go by feel. I’ve been doing this sport long enough that I trust myself and pacing. But in the past two races I’ve done, I felt like I just haven’t biked up to my potential.
Enter the Quarq which can be used with any wheel (whereas my Power Tap was only on a specific wheel). I did a test ride with the Quarq a few days before the race and immediately fell in love with it. I have a Garmin computer that goes with it and I love that I can display everything I want to see on one screen (I raced with real time power, average power, distance, time & cadence). I am a complete convert now. You all need a Quarq. No really. Stop spending your money on Lululemon and buy yourself a Quarq.
My goal was to hold a range of watts that I knew I should be able to hold based on my last bike test. I decided to hold back about 5-10 watts below that for the first 8-10 minutes to get my legs settled and ease into things. In other words, do not go nut bar from the get go. I knew I could hold my range of power for about an hour and didn’t want to go after it too soon. It worked. Once I hit 10 minutes I was ready to go and easily locked in the power.
My legs felt on top of the pedals. It’s a feeling I can’t describe but when I’m there, the watts feel effortless. My range of watts felt sustainable and I had great rhythm. And roughly one pedal stroke away from being in the zone, a woman passed me. At first I thought – is that 36 or 56 on her calf? Then I thought – does it matter? Go after it! I kept her within range while trying to manage the power output. At one point I passed her and knew that if I did that 4 more times, I would cook my legs. I could tell by the burn and the watts.
At the turnaround, she took off. I kept watching my average power climb up into the middle of the range I wanted to hold and knew I needed to hold my watts over xxx to minimize the lead she was gaining on me. I also knew that my legs were feeling ready to go harder. It was so easy to just DO this with the Quarq. There was no thinking or wondering IF I was going hard enough – the proof was RIGHT THERE! I finished the bike not only feeling strong but like I had a complete success out there – I nailed what I wanted to do and my bike split was at the faster end of what I thought I could do. I came off the bike in what I thought was 2nd place ready to run down the woman in front of me.
Out of transition there was a fairly steep hill but then the course flattened out and was mostly shaded. My plan was to use the Garmin to hold back then charge after it. I do not race with a Garmin (though I think it is a phenomenal training tool, I think for some athletes it is not the best racing tool) but I wanted to try using it. The first 2 miles I felt good – yet followed my “new” plan (even though my gut was saying: when you feel good, run good – GO WITH IT) I held back too much based on a pace that I thought would be good for starting and then when it was time to run hard, it was almost too late in the race to go after it. My usual run pacing plan flies in the face of what should work but I’m learning that for whatever reason – it works for me. And this is the beauty of athletics – there are many paths to success. Finding the right one for YOU is your challenge in racing.
I ended up catching the woman in front of me but then at a turnaround realized there were two more which signaled more work to be done. At that point I was giving it more but it was getting me nowhere. Whether I was tired from the week’s training or played it too safe too early – I wasn’t making up enough ground to catch 1st and 2nd place. My 10K split was subpar for me but I know why and can use that information to improve the next time.
The last part of the run involved a run down 30 stairs to the beach and then a straight shot to the finish line – in dry, hot sand! Simply put there is just no fast nor easy way to run 400 meters in the sand. Those last 400 meters took me a very long time and when I finished all I wanted to do was get OUT of the sand and drink water but the only way to the water was…MORE SAND!
All in all I finished 3rd female, 1st in AG and 13th overall. My goal was to finish as the top woman but here’s what I’ve learned from nearly 14 years of triathlon – what you want doesn’t always happen. Even if you work hard. Sometimes someone better prepared shows up. Sometimes you fall just short of your goal. Sometimes you give it your all and it is not enough.
Wins are good. But losses are what make us learn how to be a winner. That’s not failure – that’s learning. And that’s something a lot of athletes struggle with understanding. Sport is not black or white. For most of us, anyways. It’s not “only” a success if you PR or hit your time goal or win your age group. Those things are nice but not necessary for walking away from a race feeling like I learned something here, this was valuable. What I learned from my race has made me that much more ready and excited for my next race – no, my next opportunity, to put it all together and see where it gets me. Chances are I will learn something new from that experience and it will help me race better after that. That’s the fun of racing – you learn, you build, you improve from that process of learning and building. If you’re lucky, that process leads you to a breakthrough experience that is perfectly timed with your peak race, fitness and freshness.
And if not?
You keep trying.