Thursday, August 08, 2013

Naperville Sprint

On Sunday, I raced the Naperville Sprint Triathlon.  I returned as the two-time women’s winner.  This year was a little different.  Like most of us preparing for late season long course races, I was in the thick of training and warned that if I did race you might feel flat.  I had a lot of miles in my legs.  Usually, I don’t go into races too tired because I think it gives you an excuse when things aren’t going your way; I was tired, I did a long ride this week, I ran yesterday.  All of a sudden, you’ve excused yourself to underperformance and your confidence takes a hit.  That’s not productive.  But ‘tis the season of taking risks.  So I packed my triathlon bag, put on the race wheels and headed out to race!  

Race morning we put our gear into the van, put the key in the ignition and … nothing.  Battery dead!  Here’s the difference between men and women.  Man goes into the garage to pull out jumper cables to jump the van telling woman this will only take 5 minutes.  Woman says but we have another car sitting on the driveway!?  Man then bets woman that she can’t possibly fit two bikes into the car.  After years of expertly loading the dishwasher, woman says watch me.  Five minutes later, the other car is packed with two bikes, two bags, two racers.

I WIN!

(yes, I am THAT competitive)

We arrived at the race site and I was spilling over.  Chris called it nerves, I called it enthusiasm.  I love this course, I love this race, the hometown feel, the fact that I know someone in nearly every one of the transition racks.  I got there early enough to set up my gear and have plenty of time to warm up.  I had no problem finding my space in transition.  Know why? 

I got the #1 bib.

In 15 years of racing, I have never ever been given #1.  When I picked up my race number the day before my stomach actually dropped.  Little did I know this silly bib could induce anxiety!  I have no idea how I got #1 but it made me feel like the Queen Bee of Triathlon in Naperville.

(I’m totally THAT important!)

And just as quickly as I settled into the HONOR of the #1 spot in transition, a woman walking her bike along the outside of the transition area looks at me and exclaims:

YOU’RE number one?

(enter that awkward space where you’re not really sure what to say…)

Well, someone has to be!   

The rest of the morning went by quickly.  I did a short run warm up to preview the run course.  The course was changed this year and I wanted to be sure I knew all of the turns on the Riverwalk that would lead to the finish line.  Then, it was time to swim.  The water temperature in the quarry was 77 degrees.  That’s right, wetsuit legal.  The day before I asked Jennifer Harrison if she thought I should wear my wetsuit. My inclination was YES and she agreed.  I kept thinking about something she said:

The 30 seconds you gain from using it will matter in this race.

Matter they did!  But more on that later.

I chose to wear my full wetsuit.  Non-Pro Tip:  TAKE ANY LEGAL ADVANTAGE YOU CAN GET! This includes coffee, race wheels, wetsuits, friend standing on key street corner screaming splits at you.  I wrapped my body in full neoprene and then it was time to warm up.  The shorter the race, the longer the warm up.  So, I swam the swim course twice.  I was hot but I assured myself I wouldn’t overheat.  If I swam this right, I wouldn’t even have time to notice the water temperature.  And if I did, I clearly needed to be swimming faster!

Finally, it was time to race.  Know the saying when in Rome do like the Romans?  Well, when you’re wearing #1 go right to the front of the race!  The swim start is unique: you line up in lines of 6 that get sent off every 10 seconds.  I put myself in the first very line, right under the sign that said “4 minutes for 400 meters.”  The race director, standing right in front of me, may or may not have made eye contact with me when he said “the front of the race is for those who can swim 400 meters in under 4 minutes.” 

What, you don’t think I can do that?  What gave it away?  The full wetsuit?  And, for the record, has anyone in the history of this race EVER done that!?!?  

The gun went off and I bolted into the water with 5 other swimmers.  It was a tight start and immediately I was sandwiched between Taylor on my left, Doug on my right.  And Chris, my husband, pulling away.  The swim is designed as an M and when I finally got on the second half of it, I found a clear line and got ahead of everyone.  I exited the water nearly 90 seconds faster than last year (when I was wearing a speedsuit).

Worth wearing the wetsuit?  YOU BET!

The run into transition in this race is long - it requires quickness and the ability to hurdle your way over parking blocks and grass.  I fussed about an extra 10 seconds with my wetsuit then ran my bike out.  I was sitting in second place at this point but in a time trial start, you’re always hunting or being hunted.  Today every second would count! 

Construction changed the bike course this year to something that can only be described as crazy laps.  A series of out and backs with 4 x 180 turns.  Immediately my legs felt bad.  As in quad burning, head screaming, I do not want to go one more pedal stroke kind of bad.  It also didn’t help that my Garmin lost the satellites.  And then, my power meter kept going in and out, giving me readings that were roughly above my normal warm up wattage.  I expected to be flat but the way I was feeling and the power numbers I was seeing made me think I should check my pulse out there!

You know you’re racing at the right effort in an Olympic race when you want to quit.  In a sprint, you know you’re at the right effort when you feel like jumping off your bike, throwing up your hands and running the other way screaming.  Pain and burn.  I kept telling myself to ignore it, push through, ride harder, get this over quicker.  At every turnaround I could see the 1st place woman ahead of me and the 3rd place woman gaining on me.  I had absolutely no giddy up and go.  The only highlight of this ride was that the course was short! 

Yes, it was THAT bad! 

I quickly transitioned off the bike knowing that I hadn’t made up any ground on either of the women in front of or behind me.  Knowing they were both very strong runners, I prepared myself for a VERY FUN 5K (read: PAINFUL).  I ran my way out of transition and to my surprise there was the first place woman, less than 30 yards ahead of me.  I was shocked!  I’ve raced Jen Howland in the past, and she’s beat me with a strong run.  She’s only 20 but make no mistake – she’s been racing for 11 years and is a former junior elite national champion.  I knew I had to stay gritty and not let her out of my sight.  And while my legs felt awful on the bike, they actually felt great on the run!  Goes to show – never write off yourself or your race until you cross the finish line.

Turnover turnover turnover – I gave it my best 5K effort, turning over fast for speed and trying to make up any ground on first place.  Meanwhile, I knew 3rd place would be running strong.  But at no point did I wait for her to catch me.  I kept saying if she wants to catch me, don’t make it easy, if you end up 3rd place at this point it's because you didn't want it bad enough.  The last mile was mostly downhill and once on the Riverwalk I knew the twists the course would make and the point at which I could sprint for the finish line.  As I rounded the final corner, I heard them call the name of the overall winner with myself finishing 30 seconds or so behind her.  Less than 20 seconds later behind me, arrived 3rd place. 

In the end, I ended up 2nd place.  As much as I’m disappointed that I didn’t “defend” my title, to finish just seconds behind someone HALF my age (and so accomplished) was satisfying.  While I know the days are waning for me to match the speed of the younger triathletes, as we get older we can use knowledge of the sport, the course and the art of racing to our advantage.  Whether this means knowing which way the wind will be blowing on the bike, a course preview, fast transitions, better equipment choices - never pass up any opportunity to find or use free speed.  Racing smarter IS racing faster, and it’s available no matter what your age.

It was great to see so many friends racing.  And family!  Chris (who also finished 2nd place) and I were the first male/female to finish from Naperville.  Which mean we got interviewed by the local cable television station.  We’re celebrities!  And, again with a most impressive effort, my brother in law (who last year raced his first tri here) dropped over 20 minutes from his race.  I’d credit the coach (she’s great, really, I’m not just saying that) but it’s his determination, work ethic and passion for sport that gets me excited to watch him fall in love with the sport of triathlon and make continual progress. 

But the big take-away from this race – no, it wasn't the hurricane glass that they gave us as an award (like last year, myself and the crowd are still very confused about this glass) it was what I learned about fatigue – to not fear it or be limited by it.  Just because you’ve got a lot of work in your legs doesn’t mean you can’t work any harder.  I realized I needed to let my effort and drive for my best performance be stronger than the voice of fatigue screaming in my head that you can’t do this or you’re too tired or it’s ok to expect less of yourself.  Don’t listen!  Scream louder.  

Talk back! 

1 comment:

Katie McFarland said...

I love your posts. Great recap.