My mottos going into this race were:
“I eat pain for breakfast” and
“focused and fierce!”
Following my meltdown of a race at Buffalo Springs 70.3 just 3 weeks ago, I knew what I needed to work on–primarily my mental attitude, my willingness to suffer when the going went rough, and to focus on the things that I had control over, not the weather or competition. I am no longer an age grouper who is there to just have fun and finish, but a future pro athlete who needs to start thinking and racing like a pro. The desire to race well had to exceed the desire to back off when the pain hit. Just going through race photos of me at races this past year, I learned that I am fierce at the Oly distance, but had to master being fierce at the half level.
“Winning comes to those who want it most” was another one.
To me, winning at Vineman would be a sub-5 performance, regardless of how I placed. For about a year I have had a sign on my dashboard that says “HOW BAD DO YOU WANT SUB-5?”
The adventure began on Saturday as my friend Larry and I carpooled to Sarah’s place in Santa Rosa. I had met Sarah at Big Kahuna last September and we got along awesomely, as we are in the same AG and had both podium’d there. Christine was also staying with us, she is only 22 and just getting into tris from a pretty impressive athletic background–watch out for this one!! It was like a little triathlon slumber party and I had the best time hanging out with a couple triathlete girls my age. Sarah and her bf Matt made us a great pre-race dinner complete with homemade nectarine cobbler and ice cream for my fat-loading strategy. I slept so well that I thought I was in my own bed!
Race morning I was already focused and fierce! Mom and G-dog met up with us at the swim start, with Blue Steel. I was racing on my training wheels (saying that makes me feel like a toddler), because Coach says I need to prove myself fast enough for race wheels, and there are less mechanical issues if I just race on what I train on. Mom wanted to know my goal splits so she would know when to see me, so I wrote them on her hand: :32 swim, 2:40 bike, 1:40 run. with 8 minutes for transitions (generous for some time cushion), that would be 5 hours exactly.
It was a bit chilly and overcast, but no rain, ideal conditions for a PR! I popped a hard candy in my mouth as we got in the water–I like to suck on one before swimming in open water because my throat tends to dry out and make me gag while swimming. I started my watch at about the 1-minute countdown, this way I don’t worry about missing hitting the button right at the gun (which I’ve done, ha!). It is also a great mind-fuck when you are trying to break 5 hours and you look at your watch and keep thinking “oh shit, I need to go faster…faster!!” that was on purpose.
Unfortunately I lost the pack right away. I am in the midst of switching over my breathing to the right vs. the left on Coach’s recommendation, which I am starting to master in the pool, but open water seems to be a different story. I have trouble sighting from the right and in fact, learned that I veer to the right when breathing on the right…taking me off course and towards the river bank. Goddamn. Nevertheless, I powered my way through the swim, mostly solo, staying focused and working hard. The turnaround seemed to take forever to reach, and once I got there realized the water wasn’t even knee deep. I actually stood up and took several steps before resuming my stroke whence it got deeper. I ended up switching back to left breathing, stayed on course and probably headed back faster, as the river current was with me on the return.
34:15. crap! oh well, move on. Except I couldn’t move on through as fast as I wanted–the women’s 29 & under wave started 1 hour and 45 minutes after the first wave. We were wave 14 of 16. This meant the entire race course would already be clogged up with slower athletes who had no desire to hustle through transitions–over 2000 athletes. Out of the water, I was the only athlete trying to sprint to my bike…I wasn’t sure how to get people to move out of my way without being rude, so I tried a few “Excuse me! excuse me!”‘s Sarah came into transition right after I did, so we exchanged some cheers while getting our bike gear. I started the bike out at around 37 minutes, so I was still on pace for a sub-5 performance, I was NOT worried.
Onto the bike and away I went. It was still overcast and I already thought “should’ve worn toewarmers, your feet will be numb when you get off!” I felt GREAT and FAST. Despite my lack of fancy deep dish carbon fiber race wheels, I was passing, passing, passing. Coach’s orders: hammer the bike like it’s an Olympic. I knew the course pretty well having raced it twice before and training on it twice in the last 2 months, and surprised myself with how quickly I was hitting the major intersections. One thing that was different than the training rides though, was the sheer amount of athletes on the course. I couldn’t hit the corners or downhills nearly as fast as I wanted; the last thing I’d want was a magnificent crash.
I huffed and puffed up the hill, feeling the fantastic burn in my legs, and thinking “BRING IT ON.” My mind started chanting “focused…and fierce! focused…and fierce!” I wasn’t saving anything for the run. I would deal with the consequences when the time came. There was definitely some sketchy bumpy pavement throughout the whole bike course, luckily I was not one of those who lost their nutrition bottles, but I did hit a bump pretty hard at about the halfway mark, which knocked my saddle downwards. Shit. I tried to ride it for a couple miles, even though my pelvis was sliding down, I kept thinking “NO STOPPING!! NO STOPPING!!” but it was killing my back and quads, and I finally stopped for a quickie adjustment, getting passed by a zillion people in 60 seconds. It was worth it though. I ended up catching all of them back, and when I saw the mile 35 marker on the road, my computer said 1:39, and I knew I could still break 2:40 on the bike if I just held 21mph.
This proved to be difficult as I began to encounter narrow stretches of road filled with slower bikers, cars trying to pass us, and a draft marshall on a motorcycle that blocked the left side of our lane. Going the same pace as the slower riders. It was one huge congested clusterfuck. I was SO frustrated. This happened several times in the last 15 miles, and I was actually leapfrogging with the motorcycle, it was ridiculous. There was a good headwind on one stretch of road, but I continued to power through the crowds, passing a good number of strong-looking guys with fast race wheels and big aero helmets. Soon enough we were at Chalk Hill, I was still hammering and a little perplexed…am I really at Chalk Hill already and why isn’t this harder than I thought it would be?? We literally got over the hump and I knew, this was it. GO TIME! I never hurt so bad, but it was no time to let up. This was when I started having thoughts about pain…Make pain your bitch…tell it to BEND OVER…OWN IT…
I rolled into the high school parking lot, taking my feet out of the shoes in between speed bumps, jumped off and got caught up in another clogged up transition area. Again I was the only one trying to run through…there were only a handful of bikes at the racks designated for my age group, so I had a good feeling. I hadn’t gotten passed on the bike by any women, and hit a 2:39 bike split. Perfect. I took more seconds in T2 than I wanted…there were some burrs stuck in my left sock, then I tried to hustle through, but it was simply too crowded. My feet felt numb, as predicted, so I told myself to trust my feet to know how to strike the ground properly instead of getting my ankles all twisted up.
A glance at my watch put me at 3:20 starting the run. OHHH DAMN. This was it, the moment of truth. No more time cushion–I had to run a 1:40 half marathon to seal the deal! I went out at a good clip, perfect form, focus-focus-focus, and hit mile 1 at 7:22. Nice. Hold this pace. Just like an Olympic tri. C’mon. My feet slowly thawed and I could feel there was still something in my shoe, a small rock or something. Ignore it…ignore it…no stopping! This was going to give me a blister, I realized, stepping off the road and pulling two more burrs out of my left sock. Mile 2 was in the 7:30′s. Mile 3 was in the 7:30′s. Ok. Focus. Focus. Focus.
There was not very much thought going through my head at this point, I was surviving one mile at a time. The only thoughts in my head were “focus-focus-focus,” “pain is my bitch,” and whatever mile marker I was approaching. “5…5…5…5…ok…6…6…6…” Also the variations of pain: “fuck you, pain, I’m not listening!!!” and “I eat pain for breakfast! and lunch!” Each mile came and went, my quads had threatened to cramp at the start of the run, but I threw down some Gatorade and they eventually shut up. and I literally threw down the Gatorade–I opted not to race with my Fuelbelt, as it made me feel slow and heavy, instead I would blow through aid stations, grab a cup and try to drink it while breathing very heavily. This resulted in a third of it getting to my mouth, a third up my nose and the rest all over my face. I felt like a rabid dog, foaming at the mouth, because I was NOT STOPPING to drink.
I could not talk to people, and stopped looking at women’s ages, because it didn’t matter, there were masses of people and I was on a mission to simply move up through the field in my battle against the clock, I wasn’t racing anybody but myself. I saw Sarah with Christine hot on her heels as I exited the vineyard, they both yelled for me but I’m not sure I could say anything back, I was so focused and hurting so bad. At mile 10 things got dicey–I realized that I had become stagnant in the field, and that I must be slowing down because I wasn’t moving through people. My slowest mile was #11, 8:03, the only one that was not under 8 minutes. LET’S GO!!! I told myself, NO BACKING DOWN!!! this was the hardest part of the whole race for me to focus on, meanwhile the clock was ticking towards 5:00 and because I had started my watch about a minute (or so?) before the gun, I couldn’t be completely sure I was safe… Like I said, a brilliant mind-fuck. I hit mile 12 and told myself “This is it. JUST FUCKIN’ GOOOO!!!” I picked up the pace, then picked it up more, telling myself “c’mon, you’re a TRACK STAR” and “I don’t care if you go BLIND from this effort!” and I couldn’t back down, couldn’t give up, not now, I’d never forgive myself. Instead I dug deeper, and then deeper, deeper than I’ve ever gone, while the voice in my head said “HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT????”
I was so in the zone, and there it was, the finish, and I could stop, and normal life resumed. My watch said 4:59:something and I was so happy I could’ve cried, but I was too absolutely SPENT and just had the hugest smile on my face. All I could think was…holy shit, I did it. I REALLY FUCKING DID IT.
My official time was 4:58:52, my first time under 5 hours and I am absolutely ecstatic…things are only going to go even faster from here on out. I ended up 5th in my AG (good for a bottle of wine!!) and 15th amateur…every woman that beat me destroyed me in the swim, so it’s obvious what I need the most work on. No more racing until I take off for Subic in early September for my first training camp experience with the team. In the meantime I have a residency to finish and a research paper to write, I remember having the thought of “why did you think it would be a good idea to race two 70.3′s in the last 2 months of your residency?!” but hey now, it is all worth it after this race.
Thank you Brett, Alex, and teamTBB for everything, like teaching me how to face pain head-on in order to become a future champion! I have grown so much as an athlete in this short year and look forward to stepping it up very soon. Thank you to my teammates for the inspiration and words of encouragement–I remember thinking “I have 4 female teammates that can go under 9 hrs in an ironman, there is NO GOOD REASON why I should not be able to break 5 in a half!” Finally, thanks most to my Mom and Dad who have been completely supportive of my athletic endeavors and have given me their blessing to go overseas to a pro training camp. I love you! sorry for all the bad words in this race report. I only say them in my head!