On Sunday, I did a race. But let me back up. Originally, I was supposed to race a sprint triathlon last weekend. Race morning, I woke up and it was snowing. SNOW-ING. Living in Chicago, I expect a lot of snow each year. But not in April and certainly not before my first triathlon of the year! I switched things up and decided to race this weekend.
Sunday morning, Amanda (who offered her sherpa services) drove up to Wisconsin with me. You can’t beat a race where you can sleep in your own bed and wake up at 7 am. My wave started at 11:30 am which gave me plenty of time to get caffeinated, get up there and even take the scenic route (Highway 12!).
The race was held at UW-Whitewater. A 500 yard pool swim, 13 mile bike and 3 mile run. We walked into the transition, literally we both walked into it (the rules were a little loose here). I told Amanda that we need to do races like this to keep it real – low key, sawhorses with metal pipes for bike racks, no frills, just racing.
After setting up transition (which included my ceremonial placing of my bright blue hibiscus jersey around the bike rack to mark my spot, to which Amanda said why didn’t you just bring a balloon?), I went into the pool area to watch the swim. Rumor had it that the race had a tendency to run ahead of schedule so I didn’t want to be caught off guard. I warmed up in the diving well and then waited.
The race start was a little unusual. When a lane opened, they called three numbers out and they started you in numeric order. Not by swim time. I was third in the lane, with a faster woman ahead of me and a slower woman ahead of her. I’ll never complain about the opportunity to draft off a faster swimmer – it felt just like masters! We were told we could pass on the left at any time.
I got my start and took off. Swimming state the other night really prepared me for hard breathing, hard charging intensity of this swim. I took off, trying to bridge the gap to the woman ahead of me. By the first length, I had already passed the slower swimmer. And by the 5th lap, we had lapped her 4 times. Maybe more, to the point where I actually felt bad for this woman because myself and the other fast swimmer were all over her!
I hit the 500, hopped out of the pool and it was time to transition – fast!
During the swim, I wore a speedsuit. No matter how short the swim, always take any advantage (ie., using a speedsuit)! The 10 seconds you spend in transition standing there taking it off is 10 seconds you’re standing still with a lower heart rate versus 10 seconds swimming harder with more drag! The pavement was rough so I ran in my bike shoes to the mount line. Unfortunately when I stopped, my shoes kept running and I slid out but quickly regrouped. I told Amanda, I hope you got a picture of that!
The bike course was like a black hole for power. The road surface was rough and there had to be two dozen turns or curves that required you to slow because of sand or gravel. Kurt always says: speed is harder to gain than maintain. Unfortunately, maintaining speed on this course was nearly impossible! Not only that but I chuckled when I recalled the race director saying the course is FLAT – extra emphasis on FLAT. Yes, this was Wisconsin flat but not Illinois flat! There were plenty of inclines and false flats that seemed to eat up any effort or power. I was holding nearly 20 watts lower than what I expected. After a few miles, I knew that it was time to ignore power – I was getting speed on less effort. And when that’s the case, you just go with it, don’t get caught up in judging yourself or asking what’s wrong – just race!
The entire time on the bike I kept thinking of my athlete, Jen F. I couldn’t see anyone else out there on the course, except for a few people I passed at the half way point but Jen was pushing me. You see, Jen was also racing today. The good thing about racing against one of your athletes is that they make you proud. The bad thing about racing against one of your athletes is that you know their strengths and weaknesses! Jen outswam me by nearly a minute and I knew I couldn’t give up any time on the bike if I was going to come out ahead of her. Jen rented one of my Power Tap wheels to incorporate power into her training. It’s paid off – her bike has really improved! I know her potential and knew we would finish very close. But we were in different waves. Every second counted out there!
I hit my time goal for the bike except – the bike kept going! It was a little over a half mile long. Coming off of the bike, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My run legs have been on and off lately. A few weeks ago, I did what I can only call a shitacular 5K. You know it’s bad when you have to make up a new word to describe it! Since then I’ve had some great runs but the night before the race, I did my 20 minute shake out run which did not go well. In my words from Training Peaks, this run was dramatically awful! I try not to think too much about how I feel before races, knowing that some of my best races come after some of my worst feeling workouts the day before.
Off the bike, surprisingly, my legs felt great! I knew this course was going to be very challenging. I looked at results from years past and noticed that no woman had ever held sub 7:00 pace on the course. It appeared to be on part of the UW-Whitewater cross country course that went through a little bit of everything – hills, grass, sand, pavement, rocks, bridges, mud, gravel and more. A perfect course for me – I train mostly on crushed gravel trails and grass. I do most of my intervals on the path, knowing that if I can put forth the effort to hit intervals on a challenging surface, there is NO reason I can’t hit them in races. I set out thinking no one is doing to run this course faster than me. NO ONE! (well, except the men)
I took off and noticed pavement on a straight path in front of me. My plan was to bolt the first mile as fast as I could as long as the course was fast. Bank the time! I don’t think about can I hold this, is this too hard, what if it hurts - I just go. For this race, I also grabbed my Garmin; I don’t usually race with it but figured the data would be good to have. I noticed I was holding under a 6:30 pace for the first half mile and once the course took a turn up a hill into the grass my focus was on maintaining the effort to hold that pace. I hit the first mile around 6:30 and then the course became much more challenging – sand, a sloshy bridge, turns, downhills, uphills, and then a long wooden bridge through the woods. This course was something straight out of XTerra! I used the Garmin to keep pushing me, gaining speed anywhere I could. Since this race really was like a time trial start, it became a fun game of me against the Garmin - looking back, I think this is one of the best things I did for this race when there’s no one out there to really “race” against!
Around mile 2, I saw a guy ahead of me. I took advantage of a hill and fence which contained the world’s loudest barking dogs to surge past him. The entire run my breathing sounded like I was on the edge of death – a sound I had gotten used to on Wednesday night’s run and reminded myself that you can hold yourself at this edge for much longer than you think! Stay there! I passed the guy, came around a grassy bend and the next thing I know, an orange saucer came fast flying at me and hit me smack in the chest. I yiped! Now I’ve been chased by a lot of crazy things while racing; competitors, a strong tailwind, farm dogs but I had never, ever before been hit, while racing BY A FRISBEE at full speed!
The volunteer nearby jumped up, you’re on a Frisbee golf course! The college kids who launched it from in the woods said, did we just hit you?
Yes, I was bruised on Monday!
I just kept running, the hilarity of it made me charge even faster! At that point, I could see the finish line – finally, pavement again! I hit the 3 mile mark and – sure enough – the course kept going! Regardless, I crossed the finish line averaging under 7:00 miles and outrunning the rest of the field by nearly 2 minutes!
In the end, I finished first female overall with Jen less than a minute behind me. Together, we were ahead of the rest of the field by nearly 6 minutes! It felt great to do well in my race and feel pushed by one of my own. Proud coach today!
Amanda and I ran the course in reverse for a cool down before heading home. We stopped at one of my favorite places in Wisconsin, Backyard Bikes, for a good sandwich and beer (Rocky’s Revenge – new favorite). Years ago, Chris and I would head up to Kettle Moraine for mountain biking and visit that shop after riding. By the way, any man who goes on to marry me after mountain biking with me deserves a lot of credit! He actually talked me into doing a 10 mile mountain bike race there many years ago. I thought to myself – 20 miles, pfft…that’ll take an hour, maybe. OVER TWO HOURS AND MANY TEARS LATER, I learned a valuable lesson: I need to stick to triathlon!
Each year I start racing again, I never know if I’ll have that same drive. The same drive that pushed me towards the sport in the first place. Is it still there? Can the fire really burn that long? When I was out there racing on Sunday – I felt it. I was having fun. I said to myself I forgot how fun this is! To push, to breathe hard, to race. To enjoy every minute of it. Winning helps but really it comes from the start gun – just going after something with all of your energy and heart. Connect to that on race day and anything is possible.
On to the next one!