On Saturday, I raced one of the most competitive Olympic distance triathlons in Illinois. With prize money to the top 3, the elite wave usually attracts pros and top age groupers. This year did not disappoint. Usually I do not look at the start list. But after Eagleman, I felt I could have benefited from better knowing the strengths and weaknesses of my competition. Needless to say, when I noticed there would be not one but two twentysomething ITU pros (both trying to get to the 2016 Olympics), I had one of these moments:
And in moments like this, it helps to go back to the last blog you wrote and not just read but literally eat and absorb your own words. Racing against this field? Why?
I couldn’t control who would be there, all I could control was myself and my mindset. What seemed a little ridiculous (me against THEM?) became a unique opportunity to rise up to a new level of competition! I might be a little older, weathered and more likely to pee myself with a good sneeze these days (hence why I feel all of us tri-moms need our own porta potty line, because we cannot hold it and once we get to the front of the line, we’ve already let half of it out so that line would MOVE, folks) - I WAS READY!
The week before the race I did nothing you should do the week before a race. I was very busy with work. I didn’t eat well enough. I went to bed a little too late. I gardened in the heat – intensely, including installing a fabulous new concrete bench by myself. I moved a lot of workouts around. By week’s end, the only thing I did do right was give up beer for 6 days.
Which if you’ve been following my tweets lately giving up beer was a pretty tall task.
But I wanted this to be a lower key race (I really know how to pick them). Coming off a peak race a few weeks ago, I didn’t want to put that same level of intensity and focus into anything again until Vegas. Not that I wouldn’t prepare, I just didn’t feel the need to overprepare. By Friday late morning, I had done such a good job of not overpreparing that I wasn’t even packed. Which is how I found myself packing in a frenzy with the help of a 3 year old. Let’s just say I’m lucky I made it to the race with half of my gear in my bag.
Yes, those would be my racing flats being used as giant hands for clapping.
We traveled south towards Bloomington-Normal. Evergreen Lake is nestled a few miles off the highway with the backdrop of dozens of giant windmills standing proud in fields of corn and soybeans. Continuing with my trend of doing things I shouldn’t do, we didn’t preview the course. We ate dinner at 7 pm. I ate a giant bowl of … white pasta (THE HORROR!). And, I went to bed after 9 pm.
Yet somehow, despite all of that, I woke up at 4:19 am on Saturday morning feeling completely 100 percent ready, confident and excited to race! All of this was quickly shattered when I went to get body marked and the girl asked me if I was in the Athena category.
The crash diet begins tomorrow.
Arriving early at the race site, we had plenty of time to set everything up, shoot dirty looks at the competition, warm up and then stand around in the piles of poop surrounding the lake. Nothing screams e coli like 81.8 degree water and goose poop everywhere! Between that and taking a shower at the race site (in which I was being sprayed with cold water but upon looking at the ground, I’m not sure I could walk out of there calling myself clean), next time I’m packing antibiotics.
The elite wave included the collegiate competitors, elite men and women. Some local studs and well known pros. I positioned myself right up front. This might not have been one of my better decisions of the day but considering I also bought my prerace coffee that morning AT McDONALD’S, I was throwing all caution to the wind and going for it.
Per tradition, some of the collegiate teams gave their team cheer. I turned to the guy next to me.
I really need to work on my own cheer.
What’s your name?
LIZ LIZ LIZ LIZ LIZ.
Before I knew it, the gun was going off. Arms, feet, sun glare everywhere. My plan was to follow faster feet. Great plan! As long as said feet are ON COURSE. I ended up too far right when I needed to be far left. It took me nearly to the half way point to get in line with the buoys. When I exited the water, I was disappointed with my swim but also knew that I had swam slower there before and still had a good race. I reminded myself of something I always tell my athletes: never judge the outcome of your race on any single split. Just go RACE!
After a quick transition, I set out to bike. The bike course is just like what we ride at home: flat, corn-lined farm roads. If the pro girls had any weakness, it would be the bike so I knew I needed to go as strong as possible. The night before, I was reading through my notes from other races and found a quote I had read somewhere:
When you find yourself wanting to quit, that’s when you know you’ve hit Olympic race pace.
My legs hurt so bad I wanted to quit 3 minutes into the bike!
But I also knew that it would be only about 20 minutes before I would either settle down or forget the pain. Sure enough it happened and I found myself holding decent watts. I went back and forth a few times with two other collegiate guys. I kept telling myself to not settle, to charge hard past them no matter how many times we go back and forth. Though I didn’t see any women, I knew I was in 4th and knew they were still up there. I was chasing ghosts but I was chasing hard. Never settle. Never give up. Connect to what you’re doing out there and go full after it. It worked and before I knew it, I was pulling into the park with one of my best 40K bike splits!
Another quick transition and out on the run course. My legs – oh, why do you even ask them how they’re doing anyways? Just make them work! I focused on turnover, arm carry – as we get more fatigued, these are the things that slow down and, in turn, we slow down our pace. The run course is mostly flat with two out and backs. On the first out and back I realized the top girl was quite a bit ahead but 2nd and 3rd were within 5 minutes. I couldn’t believe it – though I expect BIG things I am also very realistic. I knew there was a chance I could be VERY far back in this field. But I was not far off! I kept the pressure on myself and pushed as hard as I could until the finish line.
In the end, I ended up 4th overall! I raced my fastest Olympic distance time since 2007. I raced 4 minutes faster than I did 2 years ago on this course. I finished 3 minutes behind someone training for the 2016 Olympics. I am doing all of this at 38 years old! I crossed that finish line excited about this race but also excited for what’s to come. I believe that my best races are still in me. I train every day with that in my mind.
Unfortunately, there is no medal, no money for the excitement of being fourth place. Yup, this year has been the year of being fourth. Off the podium, walking home empty-handed per se. The irony is that I’m racing as fast and at times faster than I’ve raced since 6 years ago. Yet I’ve missed a lot of my “finish in the top 3” goals. Not because I’m failing but because on that particular day, someone shows up who’s that much faster. That’s life. That’s racing. And it’s been good for me. It’s forced me to rethink what I consider success. It’s reminded me that for the majority of people out there racing, it’s not about being top 3, it’s not about getting on the podium, it’s not about staying for the awards. It’s about going out there, giving it your best and going home knowing you nailed it or learned something to better yourself. Putting those lessons together for the next race, chasing after your best performances. That continual intrinsic process is why most people race. And why those people often reach their goals.
We made the trip back home and then I spent the rest of the afternoon laying on my couch in Norma-Tec boots, drinking recovery a smoothie and updating my Facebook status.
OH WHO AM I KIDDING?
I walked two miles mostly uphill in the hot sun while mowing our giant lawn.
Here's to real life recovery!