This past weekend, I did the Galena Triathlon.
Or, the Chicago National World Championships.
Galena has become the nonofficial season opening race of triathlon season in this area. A lot of the best athletes in the area come out to test their fitness on this very challenging (and surprisingly gorgeous) course. Drive about 3 hours west where Iowa meets Illinois and you find beautiful rolling hills, waterfalls and bluffs carved out along the Mississippi River valley in the Galena Territory.
Like last year, I traveled with Jennifer and a few of her neighborhood athlete friends. I thoroughly enjoyed 120 miles of Driving Miss Daisy where she not only ate all of my pretzels but talked the entire time. Once we arrived in Galena, we dropped off our bikes along with many, many socialization stops. Next time I travel with Harrison, I really need to consider getting one of those monkey backpack leashes that parents put on their kids at the mall.
A few changes in the bike course and some major changes in the run course left us wondering just what we were in for so we drove the course. There was the usual livestock warning on Pea Ridge (in Miss Daisy’s words see those baby goats? If they run on to the road on race day, it’s going to be a hot mess going up this hill). The headwind on Elizabeth-Scales-Mound. A new long descent into Shenandoah and a hill going into T2 – yay! More hills. Also a new run course that went in two directions: up or down. The only flat section was the 400 meters leading into the finish line!
The morning of the race, we were up early and ready for multiple bus rides. We parked at remote parking, waited (impatiently) for the bus to fill so we could depart to T2. The bus driver admitted he had no idea where he was doing (reassuring!) so we directed him turn by turn. This is what happens when you sit in the first seat of the bus (and if you travel with Miss Daisy you will always be in the first seat!). At T2 we dropped off our run shoes. Then, we boarded another bus to the lake.
We had left our bikes at T1 the day before. Quickly we got about setting up our transition. Though we boarded the first bus at 6:40 am, we didn’t arrive to T1 until 7:50 am (plan accordingly – the bus rides take time!). There wasn’t much to set up in transition since everything had to be stuffed back into a plastic bag so they could transport your “swim bag” back to T2 at the end of the race. Confused yet? Me too. All I knew is that I needed to be on the start line at 9:36 am. The race seemed like the easiest part of this whole adventure!
This year, I decided to leave my bike shoes along the path from swim to run. Last year I really struggled with the rocks in T1. Believe me, this is an entire transition area of chunky, awkward, painful rocks that slowed me to a walk – painful and embarrassing! My plan was to exit the swim, stop before the timing mats, take off my wetsuit and put on my bike shoes to run into transition. Many others did this – and I highly recommend it if you want to cruise through transition without worrying about the rocks (and your feet!).
After setting everything up, then, we waited. Nothing like being in the second to last wave! Miss Daisy informs me that this is what happens as you get older, you go close to last - something about saving the best for last or there's no way anyone woman over 35 could possibly win a race so put them last! While waiting, I did a warm up in the water. A week ago, the water was 57. Race day, it was closer to 65 and perfect. Cold to the face at first but then really refreshing. The swim start is on the beach with a short run in. I did a few practice run ins and realized that running and then diving in to swim really jolted my heart rate up and made me burn. I also realized that there was no point in running – you only had room for a few steps before the depth dropped off and you had to swim anyways.
Being in the second to last wave, I had plenty of time to watch the men with their race starts. I noticed something else – most of the men ran in and then “bunched” in a chaotic group that actually swam outside of the buoy line. Knowing the shortest distance is between two points (this from someone who nearly failed geometry), I knew the place to be was right on the buoy line, far right, away from the pack. Strategy, my friends, strategy!
After a long wait, it was finally time to start. In my wave were Jenny Garrison and Jenny Harrison (< ----- also known as Miss Daisy). Two long time friends and strong competitors. I lined up right behind Harrison when she pulled me up and said you belong next to me. I know her well enough to know she would bolt at the gun and get ahead. My goal was to get behind her without blowing myself out in the first 200 yards. The gun went off, she and Garrison bolted and I took my “casual” run into the water, lined myself up with the buoys and started swimming. I kept the Jennys in sight for first 100 yards where they were just slightly ahead of me. And by the first buoy, we met (as I suspected we would!) so I hopped on their feet for what was glorious ride – Harrison leading, Garrison to my left, another women to my right, moving through the course with ease.
The three of us exited the water at the exact same time – sub 8 minutes and almost two minutes faster than last year! I popped up to hear Harrison say nice swim, Elizabeth while I was thinking get outta my way! I ran to my bike shoes, stripped the wetsuit and ran to the timing mat – this put my time a little slower than the Jennys but the trick helped – I ran through transition quickly and painlessly, exiting with Garrison.
Immediately out of T2, there’s a long, big hill, big enough that you need to be in the small ring. I powered up it, passing Garrison but soon after, she passed me and dangled in front of me for awhile until fading away. She is a beast on the bike! I knew I would need to ride this course very aggressively – no regard for power or how I felt – just destroy the legs the entire time. The run was too hilly to require sharpness or speed, everyone would be tired and it was hot – my “tired” leg run speed would be faster than most people’s “fresh” leg run speed so I had to take the risk and blow this bike out. I stomped up every hill in an unwise gear. I threw my wattage up high with no regrets. I recovered anywhere I could – mostly the downhills and honestly this is where Garrison made up huge amounts of time on me. If you’re going to excel at this course, you must be prepared to push the ups and downs and do it for 17.8 miles with no recovery.
The new T2 was well-organized. The run out was on grass with a short, steep hill before dumping you out to a road that goes up. And up. In fact, the first mile is entirely uphill. My legs were feeling a little rough but again, I knew I didn’t need to be fast, I just needed to be tenacious. At mile 1, I made a left turn to start climbing again. I saw a woman ahead and set her in my sights. We began the long descent – honestly, this was harder and more painful than the uphills. Hard to gain speed because I felt like I was going to trip over myself. And I’m pretty sure I heard my quads and shins crying! The course flattened out, momentarily, I passed the other woman and made a turn into the neighborhood.
The loop around the neighborhood seemed to last forever, every hill was work and there were no more women ahead of me that I could see. At this point, I started racing “flat” – I didn’t realize we had tailwind and started to get a little hot, tired and wishing I had more water, even salt! When we finally reached the golf cart path, I should have kicked it up. Every second counts when you start in different waves – you’re always chasing the phantoms in front of you but I eased back. And I’m not sure why. I crossed the finish line thinking I didn’t give it everything I had out there which is one of the most regretful things you can think when you cross the finish line because you can’t go back and fix it.
Sure enough, when results were posted, I ended up in 4th place overall – by 16 seconds. And 50 seconds to 2nd place. Over the course of over 90+ minutes of racing. Frustrating! But if you’re going to truly race a sprint and go for a front of the race performance, you’ve got to give it 100 percent. Not 99 percent, not 99.5 percent – the full 100 percent through the finish line. You must keep the pressure on yourself.
After the race, we all stood in our race gear wondering how we were supposed to get to our gear at T2. You guessed it – another bus ride. Making the grand total of bus rides I took today at 3. For a sprint race. Yet something about this race makes you want to come back – maybe it’s the beauty, the challenge, socializing with the Chicago triathlon scene or just being pent up all winter ready to race again. I’ll be back in the future. And let’s face it – how often as an adult do you get to enjoy a bus ride?
Or 3 in one day?
Or 3 in one day?
Something fun to point out: the ages of the top 6 women:
Well what do you know, us old women CAN race! What I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older in this sport: racing smarter is just as important as racing faster. The gains you can make by arriving at a race with a plan, assessing the course, reading race reports, using strategy, warming up, open water skills, pacing, nutrition – all of that is worth much more and comes much easier than more training. All of this is the very valuable stuff you accumulate as you get more experienced (dare I say older) in the sport. And this is why it’s never too late or you’re never too old to breakthrough or get faster. When I go to a race I do all of those things. Those things make me race faster than any single training session! And, they’re free.
On the way home, Miss Daisy talked me into doing something I never thought I would do – order chocolate ice cream at Dairy Queen. Turned out to be of the best decisions I’ve made lately. Add to that chocolate covered peanut butter pretzels and Reeses peanut butter cups and I had myself wondering why I didn’t order a large.
I keep notes of what worked and what didn’t work from every race. Something to put in my notebook to read before my next race: What didn’t work - post race DQ needs to be large.