I wrote about my goals for this race last week. Click here to catch up.
It was a beautiful, brisk and breezy morning in the Connecticut Alps (the race organizer’s moniker for this extremely hilly region of the Constitution State). I was happy and excited. I love the atmosphere of race mornings. I love being outside with a bunch of other people who are happy at 5:45AM and who, like me, can think of no better way to spend a Saturday morning than by swimming, biking and running on an extremely challenging course.
I was also curious: How would my body respond to the course? Would I be able to stick to my plan? What would happen if I followed my plan to a “T”? I love the uncertainty of race morning. What would the other racers do? Was the girl with the really fast-looking bike as fast as her equipment made her appear? Were those people wearing their wetsuits an hour before the start newbies or did they just have different race-prep strategies than I did? I would know all of these answers soon enough—or I wouldn’t, and I was okay with that. The sport of triathlon is a great reminder that you can’t judge a person’s athletic ability by their appearance or by their equipment. And that is one of the things I love about this sport—and life. Life (and triathlon) is full of surprises and I love surprises.
I stood on the water’s edge with a bunch of other neoprene-clad 39-and-under women. I felt calm, happy and driven by curiosity. I looked out at the lake, breathed in the fresh air and smell of neoprene and set my intention to be audacious joy, to trust my stuff and to be open to awesome possibilities.
And then the horn went off and we were in. Right away there were five of us with baby blue caps. The other girls seemed like they were rushing. I was chilling. I remembered what my coach said: “Do not start out too fast, give yourself a few minutes to get your turnover going.” I stayed in my own little world and found my groove. I was really happy to be swimming in comfortable water and really happy to be racing. And then there was an obstacle in front of me—the first of the green caps (the wave in front of us) bobbed right in front of me.
The green caps were sparse for the next couple of minutes, but then they were everywhere. As we rounded the first turn buoy we turned directly into the sun. Sighting was a challenge and there were people everywhere. I swam around and over them. I was having a blast, but definitely wasn’t enjoying a consistent strong smooth stroke. Every once in a while I’d get a patch of clear water where I could take five to six strong strokes. I knew I wasn’t leading my wave and I was totally okay with that. I was completely comfortable and completely present. And I may have been smiling.
T1: I reached for water heading into T1 (I can’t remember why), but ended up with Gatorade. I tossed it directly into the trash without spilling. I smiled. That was ~5-foot toss and I’d done it left-handed. Score! I got the rest of my wetsuit off, put my bike shoes, helmet and sunglasses on and took off with my bike. I’d already decided I wasn’t going to attempt a flying mount or dismount at this race so I was completely calm about mounting my bike (and I may have done a better/faster job of it than when I’m feeling like I should be doing a flying mount).
I felt great. I felt like my bike and I were one. Sometimes I feel awkward for the first minute or so of the bike as I get settled, but not this time. I turned on my Garmin Edge and just rode. The plan was to treat the first 5.8 miles as a warm-up and that’s what I did.
I was having fun. It was a little chilly (high 50s with a breeze), but the sun felt great and the hills kept me warm. I went over a bump within that first 5.8 miles and my bottle (XLab torpedo with Garmin mount) fell down at an angle. I could still drink just fine, but my computer was now at an awkward angle. I tried to fix it and finally settled on holding it in place whenever my hands were in my aerobars. Lesson learned: jury rig something so this doesn’t happen again.
I hit lap at mile 5.8 and settled into my target race zone: 145 to 155 watts. It was comfortable. I was happy. I mooed at the cows. I was completely present, focused on one section at a time, trying to keep my power right where it was supposed to be. I felt like I was playing. To keep my power as close to my target as possible on the uphills, I eased off a bit—and I passed people. “Interesting,” I thought. Last year, I’d been nervous for these hills (more than 2,300 feet of climbing). This year, I chose to feel confident in my climbing abilities. I had, after all, successfully biked up (and down) these beasts last year. And I knew I’d already been on the road more this year than I had last year at this time. Plus, I’d gotten some fabulous hill work done in Claremont this winter. All of these things combined to make the hills seem much smaller this year.
I hit lap at miles 13.1 and 16.4. I really liked breaking the ride up into sections. It made staying present easy. I just focused on the section I was riding instead of jumping ahead or beating myself up for something I’d done earlier. At the 16.4-mile mark, I knew the hard work was done (because Marni said “once you get to 16 miles, the hard work is over—descend and recover.”).
And descend I did. I’d set my Garmin Edge screen to show average speed and lap speed so I couldn’t see how fast I was going downhill. I think this was a good thing. It looks like my maximum speed was 44 mph. I’d tapped my brakes a few times as I flew downhill, but I think I would’ve tapped them a lot more frequently if I’d known how fast I was actually going.
The rest of the ride continued up, but it felt fairly flat after all the big climbs. I made it my mission to stay in my 145 to 155 watt window. I mooed at more cows, but couldn’t even hear myself (this was my only indication of the 20+ mph wind).
People started passing me. I didn’t care. Women started passing me. I didn’t care. I was exactly where I was supposed to be. But then I saw the time. I knew I’d finished the bike leg in 1:28 last year. (And I knew that my time had been about 8 minutes slower than most of the girls in my age group.) I saw the time hit 1:26 and then 1:27 and then 1:28. Each time I saw a new minute I had a flash of anxiety/fear/expectation and then I released it. I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I had no idea how staying in that power zone would affect my time. I trusted the process.
T2: I came into T2 feeling fresh, well-fueled and ready for an awesome run. My non-flying dismount went just fine. My feet were numb and I struggled to get my toes into my shoes. Finally in, I grabbed my flask, Garmin 910 and my race belt.
We ran around the outside of the transition area, out through the driveway, over a slight incline and started on a slight downhill. One woman in front of me ran into a porta potty. I had to pee like a banshee and wondered if I should do the same, but my legs kept running. I kept my pace controlled, but let my legs just run.
I was supposed to hold a 7:15 to 7:20 pace, but given the hilly nature of the course, was aiming to keep my effort at an 8 out of 10. It took a little while to feel good (usually I feel like a rockstar right off the bike). I took this as a good sign because it would allow me to ease into the run. (I reminded myself that I had had to pee for 2 hours in the car yesterday. I could definitely hold it for another 40 minutes.)
I passed a whole bunch of women. And I recognized all of them. They’d all passed me in the last five miles of the bike. I cruised through mile 1, through the Betty water stop around mile 1.2, rode the downhill around mile 1.3 and took a 10-second walk break, as planned, around 1.4 miles.
I felt good, but tried my best to control my pace while still enjoying the gifts of the downhill. As Marni had recommended, I walked for 10 seconds around mile 2, mile 3 and 3.8 and then through in a few more random walk breaks. At one point, towards the end of mile 4, the volunteers allowed a car to pull out in front of me and aggressively pushed me to run over to the right and then back around to the left to get back on the road. This messed with my flow and as soon as I passed the chaos I took a brief walk break to reset everything. My form felt good throughout and somewhere in the midst of mile 5 a spectator on my bike told me that my form was fabulous. (YAY! This is something I’ve been working on for years. I think the walk breaks are the key to maintaining good form.)
There was a steep downhill after mile 5. It was too steep to lean into. I did my best not to brake as I ran, but I knew my quads were taking a pounding.
We enjoyed a wonderful section of flat road before reaching the last climb. I expected it to be short and steep, but it was long and slow. I felt a little discouraged by this (expectations tend to have this effect), but then I checked in with my body. I was still feeling good and I realized that I didn’t have any blisters on my big toes—and that made me very, very happy.
When I finally got to the top of that hill, I turned onto a slight false flat. My husband and friend were there cheering and telling me to have fun. Another spectator told me to beat the boys, which of course, is one of my favorite pastimes. I picked up my cadence and cranked it (smiling all the way) on the flat and then hung a left into the finish chute, careful not to trip over the railroad tracks that the volunteer warned me about. The downhill angle and the mushy grass were a shock to my legs and made for a slightly wobbly finish.
I had my Garmin 910 screen set to show time, current pace, HR and distance. I glanced at current pace a bit in the first few miles and checked distance to time my walk breaks, but really had no idea what I’d end up with for a run time. I also had absolutely no idea where I finished in my AG. BUT I knew that I’d been all in, stayed present, trusted the plan, the process, my body and the universe and I’d had fun and learned stuff— A - check, B - check, C - check, D -check.
For those who want the stats:
Swim: 23:25 (1/43 in my age group, 5/227 for women)
Bike: 1:32:18 (3/43 in my age group, 29/227 for women)
Run: 47:24 (3/43 in my age group, 20/227 for women)
Total: 2:46:04 (3rd F 35-39)