This race holds a special place in my heart. In part because it was my first Olympic distance ever and my first triathlon in over a decade. But it’s mostly because when I come back each year, I can see how much I’ve grown.
The USA Triathlon Olympic-Distance National Championships was this past weekend. My age group wave entered the water at (or about) 8:21. Last winter, with snow frozen to my eyebrows, I wouldn’t have imagined being a DNS.
Saturday morning, I rolled on to the road, earlier than my wave took off, but later than a usual Saturday ride. I wore my full race kit.
My disappointment of not going to Wisconsin had faded. But I wasn’t quite ready to rally around the thought of “next year. I just wanted to ride my bike and run in the streets, like I had trained to do on this day, somewhere else.
As soon as I finished the warm-up, I let go. No plans, no goals, no target pace (no power meter). Traffic was light and roads were clean – I swear I had a tailwind for the entire 26 mile loop. I rode by feel. I had palpable moments where I felt like my 9 year old self screaming down the huge hill on our street on my awesome huffy. (yes, banana seat & monkey bars)
At some point the thought crossed my mind that I was doing exactly what I needed to do in honor of the event. I thought about the hundreds and hundreds of athletes who would be there – racing their hearts out. I felt so impressed by the thought of them, and I felt connected to the journey, even though I was 1,000 miles east of where I’d hoped to be.
My heart felt happy – filled with the spirit of triathlon and age group competition. I love this sport. Since deciding not to go to WI, I’ve sometimes felt like all the hours and training might have been wasted. But flying along in the aerobars – free of fear and enjoying the ride – I could see how far I’d come and knew it wasn’t a waste. I was having a blast – and for me, this is the point of all of my triathlon stuff.
My leg were tired when I hopped off the bike, but I was determined to hit the first mile of the run at my dream race pace. I kept the Nationals’ athletes in my thoughts – my heart was racing with them.
The preparation: Relaxed. I love my checklist. No thinking. I had everything on race day.
Race morning: Triathalife is what happens when you’re making other plans. (a theme?)
The link for directions didn’t get me all the way to the race – close, but miles away. I looked on the website for the venue address – nothing! Oh man did I need a bathroom, so I drove around looking for a Dunkins – uncomfortable! Eventually I saw a car with a tri bike cross in front of me – sweet! I made a left turn and sped off in the same direction. The car was out of sight by then, but eventually I see traffic cones – and then I see the race organizer – YAY! I park the car and walk urgently to the bathroom – Ugh! I didn’t arrive at my planned time I and still needed to do the walk back to the car to get my bike and gear. I practiced my breathing and letting go (aka “not freaking out”) and settled in to what I had available for time.
The venue & transition set-up: This was a small race, so transition set up was easy, everyone was helpful and accommodating with space.
On the beach: Still messin’ w/ the new Garmin. All buttons, no warm up, I know better.
The swim: Ugh, I feel like I’m swimming upstream.
Ok, I was swimming upstream. We were in the Merrimack River and this was my first river swim. The lack of warm up means my breathing needs to catch up to my effort. On the positive side, I‘ve practiced this, so I’m able to stay cool and at the edge of what I can handle until just past the turn-around for the sprint. While swimming, I can’t figure out why people aren’t near the buoys and everyone’s over by the wall – weird. (I’m told after the race that the river veterans know that they’re more protected from the current there.) With 2 buoys ahead I feel queasy or dizzy or seasick. The whole river is rocking – not good. (I learned after the race that boats were passing, making wakes) At the turn around, I have my breathing and my stroke in a happy place and the water has stopped rocking. I head back with much more strength and the current working with me. (Apparently, the swim was over a mile – so later I will feel better about my time.)
T1: I ran right past my shoes
I wore earplugs to see if I could manage my post-swim dizziness better. It seems to work – no dizziness. I was happy that I covered my calves in Glide; it was much easier to get the wetsuit off. All in all a pretty uneventful T1 – Yay! (So uneventful that I didn’t hit the button on my Garmin, either)
The bike: Challenge #1 & thanks for my bike angel
I felt ready. I was going for my first 20 mph average oly. The initial straightaway on the main road without hills was awesome! I worried about my run after pushing for over an hour, but rationalized that this was research and it was time to find out what happens I push 20 for 26 miles. My goal was to stay in aero as much as possible. There were some hills where I kept my left arm on the bar and body low, but moved my right hand wide to the brake and this was enough to make me feel in control. There was a long section where I didn’t see other riders and where sections of the roads were in rough shape. The volunteers were awesome.
Somewhere near the end of the first loop, I realized that my aero bottle had cracked and water was leaking on to my legs. It wasn’t too hot, so I figured I’d be fine, but pushed up my second snack to make sure I’d have water left to wash it down. At the end of the first loop I felt strong – and overall time was aligned with my goal of finishing in 1:18 or less. On the 2nd loop, a strong female cyclist (#714) passed me. It was perfect timing; she became my bike angel. I kept her in sight and tried to mimic her lines and channel her strength. She did bring a drafting male caboose with her. He was on my wheel for several minutes. He kept calling “car back” like we were on a weekend group ride. Eventually he passed and grabbed my bike angel’s wheel again, before moving on – very odd. My average coming into transition was 19.7 – I was quite happy. So close!
T2: nothing notable
Belt on, sneakers on, run. Too smooth – I paused to figure out what I’d forgotten.
The run: I really wanted to hit my goal…
I got to run with the Hoyts! How cool is that?! I ran with the Hoyts! It was awesome and an honor.
I don’t know exactly why I passed on my run snack. It had something to do with the intersection of too much time on the internet the night before and the bike being shorter than Quassy. It wasn’t my best thinking. (Even if it’s all in my head. I like knowing I’ve had a hit of energy that will sustain my last 30ish minutes – 100 calories at mile 2 would have been terrific.)
I needed to quiet my thoughts and encourage my body at lot. I kept re-setting to “good form”. I can’t ever know if anything would have been different (other than not having the “what if”) but I have a hunch that I won’t skip my mile 2 snack again. On the way out to the turn-around, I had this thought, that Olympic distance really wasn’t my thing, I’m not good at them– I should stick to the sprints. “What was I thinking?”
As I got to the turn around – I realized that I only saw 3 women go by in the other direction and felt sure the closest was on a relay (she was). Hmmn, maybe I’m ok at the oly distance. The return felt long. It wasn’t the crazy alp like hills of Quassy – just one long slight hill until the last ¾ of a mile. It became mental/physical challenge and my legs were tightening. The last mile felt long and I wondered if I’d slow or walk. Then I saw the relay woman, who was just ahead of me, completely miss the left turn around the parking lot. I hollered for her to “turn – turn – turn!” When my yelling finally registered, she came back on course. I was happy to be competing and supporting. This is what I love about triathlon.
This interaction of cooperation/competition fueled a final kick and a strong finish – and then I ran right into the river to cool down. I really had nothing left – I’d pushed and given everything I had. Ahhhh – this feels awesome! (In review, my lap paces told the same story – I had a 7:30 average after the first 2 miles and slowed from there – the last full mile was over 8:00 – the last .2 @ 7:20)
By the Numbers:
Swim: 21 / 33:00 / 2:05 T1: 2:25 Bike: 23 / 1:17:11 / 2:58 T2: 1:03 Run: 15 / 48:28 / 7:49 Total: 2:42:09
3rd Overall & 1 cool new bowl
The preparation: I hate packing.
I made it easier by (finally) creating a packing master list. Everything was laid out Thursday night. I had everything I needed AND didn’t have any weird forgot my wet suit dreams.
The departure: Triathlaife is what happens when you’re making other plans.
Hubby coming down with the stomach bug wasn’t part of my plan. Getting a bit of the bug myself, was worrisome (like all I could think about was poor Uta Pippig). A 45 minute, pre-race brick allowed me to make a plan B for how I would handle the race if I got it full force. The run gave me confidence that even with a mild bug I could pull off a Quassy finish.
The venue & pre-race : I don’t think mandatory means what i think it means.
They didn’t take attendance– so I’m thinking… I had a friend, Susan, to meet up with and tour the expo. ($0 purchases all weekend) The amusement park was cool. The fried dough was tempting, but I resisted. I was happy I had plastic bags in the car for our saddles.
Race Day: On the beach: All calm – the water & me.
This is the first race (ever) where I didn’t experience pre-race anxiety. I was clear on my goals. I was here to see what was possible for me on this day with my training on this course. I was here to learn how to move into and through challenge in a new, positive way. I was here because I love this sport and this is my idea of fun. I was aware of my stomach, but confident that I’d been taking care of myself and had a hydration / fueling plan that would give me plenty of energy and not fill my belly too much. ( I hoped)
In the water: At home.
The difference in a year amazes me. (the year-round 5am wake ups paid off) I started near the middle of the pink cap wave. I gave myself enough long, strong strokes to acclimate my breathing to the water temperature. In short time, I felt confident that I had my breathing, my legs felt clear, and I started to move up through the group. I noticed an improvement in my ability to move around other swimmers. I was happy with my sighting on the way out. The portion parallel to the beach was into the sun and I needed a friendly course correction from a nice woman on a kayak. I felt good enough to jog to transition.
I had a hard time standing on one leg to get out of my wet suit and get into socks and shoes. Transition was slow, but I left with all the gear I needed (mostly).
In the saddle: My biggest challenge – I was here to get over my bad attitude on hills.
My goal was to stay happy and present on the hilliest bike course I’ve ever raced. The first 5 miles went by quickly. (yay!) The route was beautiful with farms along the way. I was able to fuel and hydrate on plan. The uphills were very challenging, as expected. The downhills were often too much for my comfort. If you were biking near me, you would have heard my exasperation when I crested a huge hill and saw the crazy downhill. I had the opposite reaction of most of the people around me on the course. I used my brakes and sat up and just talked myself through my fear. I was passed on most of the down hills and passed many back on the next uphill. I didn’t compare myself to the others or feel badly about my fears – I accepted that this is my current level of comfort and this was a challenging course. Overall, I stayed positive and didn’t experience the draining negative thoughts that I have previously on hills. I had the ride I wanted. I felt strong and powerful and steady.
T2: nothing notable
Visor on, belt on, sneakers on, run.
In my happy place: Running trumps racing
I love running after riding my bike. A lovely net downhill start doesn’t hurt. Within the first ¼ mile I figured out why my vision seemed off on the ride. I had my clear lenses in, not my sunglasses. I make a mental note about prepping. I wish for someone to hand the silly clear lenses to, but then let it go, laugh at myself, and run. The first big hill during the 3rd mile I practiced the mindset of “embracing the hill” as part of the Quassy experience and that the hill is what makes the finish so rich. I didn’t resent or wish the hill away. I repeated this for each of the 3 major hills and just turned my focus to the footstep on the hill and pulled my body up. On the downhills, I focused on form and not braking. I fueled up, as planned in the 4th mile.
My favorite race moment happened in the 4th mile. Running behind a woman with awesome back muscles, her husband filming her from his bike, I playfully offered to look miserable since she was kicking my butt. We had fun. And then her husband said – “ya know, if you can be doing all that – you should probably be running faster.” ….Oh, right! I cracked myself up! This was a first – I’ve never lost track of the “grind” before. Off I went. It was a tough course for sure. But for the first time EVER, racing wasn’t in conflict with my joy of running.
The finish: Hit my sub 3 hour goal: 2:58:21. And most importantly I felt strong, energized, and positive throughout the challenge. This was my Rev3Quassy Olympic – no bad attitude! – mission accomplished.