Here’s the second half of the big double. Less travel but double the racing and double the stress (more on that later).
In general, I expected some good things from myself out of this race because I was feeling peppier. It’s not that I felt bad at short course triathlon nationals. I actually felt OK, just not that nailed-the-taper-pop-in-the-legs-go-gettum feeling. So I went super hard any way because I’m not spending all this time and expense training, travelling and paying race fees to hop on the first excuse train that comes along. I had my eye on that age group title and if someone else wanted it, well, they were going to have to earn it.
Which brings us to long course triathlon nationals, the subject of this particular race report. I had another age group title in my sights with the stretch goal of taking the overall female win. Historically, long course nationals hasn’t been as competitive as short course nationals, but there’s always a few ringers in the crowd and this year’s is the sole qualifier for the 2011 long course triathlon world championship set in the United States. As expected, this made the field a little tougher than typical.
I was fortunate to score staying at a colleague’s beach house in North Myrtle Beach, which was a fairly easy 25 minute commute to the race site. Until Gary took a wrong exit, then tried to turn around off the following exit, which didn’t have a way to turn around. We were well on our way back to North Myrtle Beach before we got turned around. I was a little stressed since we didn’t pad that morning’s schedule a whole lot of extra putz around time to still get there in time to set up transition before they closed it down. The idea was to set up and do a short run warmup in between the transition area closing down and when my wave took off (2nd to last of course).
So we get there and I take off for the transition area, set down my bag and suddenly realize that I’ve left all my water bottles and goo in the refrigerator back in North Myrtle Beach. My heartrate sky rockets. Oh (expletive)! I have my Lara Bars and salt tabs, but those bars are too solid to rely on for all of my calories. Plus, how the heck am I going to do a Half Ironman with zero water until I can pick some up on the bike course about 15 miles in?
Immediately, the girls setting up on the rack around me who I don’t even know except for one that I just met the day prior start offering me Hammer Gels, a banana, a small bottled water and mention there was a girl around earlier asking if anyone else needed some water for their bottles. Is it like that on the men’s bike racks? I did see a jug of water lying around, but I was afraid to snag it only to find out that this jug didn’t belong to that particular person, so I took off wandering around to find people I knew to see if anyone had extra water bottles. Within seconds I find Floyd Cook, who has two he can spare. Perfect! Now to fill them.
I go back to my bike at the rack and there is Jackie Miller. I tell her my plight and wouldn’t you know it? She’s the one with the jug of water! Shortly after, I am in the porta potty line relaying my story (again) to someone I know in line and the guy behind me offers me some Honey Stinger gummies. Really? Awesome! He calls his wife over and pulls out two little baggies of the gummies, which are the perfect supplement to Lara Bars & water on the bike and for the occasional boost during the run. I mean, really, how lucky am I?
So all this personal drama is going on while the race director is calling everyone over for an “important announcement”. He stutters haltingly, sounding terribly apologetic, stumbling on his words and generally making me worry that the whole deal is going to be cancelled. Finally, he spits it out– the swim in cancelled due to e coli and other bacteria levels.
The southeast has had a significant dry spell followed by 4-5 days of heavy rain. This sort of weather pattern is typically tough on the local water quality, so our triathlon becomes a biathlon. Since I used to be a swimmer and tend to gain advantage in the swim and only lose time to a few ex-Division 1 swimmer types, this isn’t the best of news. To be honest, I was just relieved to have water bottles and nutrition lined up. The lack of swim? Well, I’m grateful that we weren’t exposed to water that could make us sick.
Instead of the swim, we all lined up in random order near the swim exit to start one at a time 3 seconds apart so we’d start with T1. I know some really competitive folks wanted to be at the front, but my rationale was that it would be better to have the roads lined with slower cyclists to pass. That’s free and legal speed. I’ll take what I can get.
I had a fun time chatting it up with new and old friends while I waited for my turn to go. Finally, it was time to go run into transition, helmet up and roll my bike out to the mount line. While I’m fitting my feet into my shoes (at speed), I have guys around me going like crazy to pass me as if it would be the most awful thing in the world to get stuck behind a girl. Now, there’s plenty of guys who ride faster than I do, but there’s plenty more who don’t. It just so happened that these particular fellows were in the latter category. Always fun.
It feels a little weird starting without swimming first, but it did simplify the clothing issue since it was a chilly morning in the low 60′s. If I were wet, I might have elected to wrestle on some arm warmers, but since I was dry, just the usual race kit was perfect.
As expected, I had a nearly endless stream of people to pass on the bike with wide open roads on which to do it except for one short section where we had only one full highway-width lane each way. There was one point where I was part of a simultaneous triple pass, where there were 4 bikes wide of passing action going on at once. As far as I could tell, all passes were clean, which is something else to witness. I can only imagine what the person on the far right was thinking.
I hinted at the beginning that I was feeling pretty good and confident in the days prior to the race and the way I felt on the bike bore that out. I felt good. I felt relaxed. I felt powerful and fast. Very, very few men passed me and only half of those that did stayed there. This is partly because most of the alpha bike rockstars started before me, but also because I was riding fast. This is also because some people don’t know how to properly pace a long course bike.
The course was flat, but not completely flat. The winds started as noticably significant and built to unignorably blustery by the second lap. Fortunately, it was mostly either straight on head wind or tail wind rather than that obnoxious cross wind business that ruled the day at White Lake Half.
I finished up the final 5 miles by letting up on the gas a tiny bit. Need to pay some respect to that half marathon I had coming! Since I ride without data, I had no idea what speed I was going, but apparently it was about 23 mph. Which is awesome. For me. I rode clean, too. I try to ride back 4-5 bike lengths, instead of flirting with penalty disaster right at 3, even into the headwind. I’m all about a legit bike split.
Off onto the run, my plan was to run relaxed and strong the first lap and try to build my effort over the course of the second lap. Two guys I passed in transition came by early on, dropping compliments about my bike prowess. Oooh– thanks! I run with them for a short ways then decide to scale it back a little and save it for later. I don’t expect to see either of them later, but I do because even those that do pace their long course bikes well don’t necessarily do the same on the run. Either that, or I must have sped up significantly on the second half, which I suppose is possible. But I have no idea. I don’t wear a watch.
At any rate, my run felt strong. I kept my turnover relaxed on loop one and gradually pushed harder throughout loop two. There was a brief moment of confusion where we do an out / back portion twice (each lap), but the volunteer there made it clear what to do. Or, at least, it was clear to me.
Apparently, some people cut off a couple miles there and didn’t realize it until later when they saw their other-worldly run splits. One of these people ended up with the overall female spot (and $150 Tri Sports gift certificate) with a time a couple minutes faster than mine. Unfortunately for her, it took a 1:15 run split to pull that off, so unless she’s Shalane Flanagan’s training partner, that’s reason for DQ and ineligibility for a Worlds slot. Unfortunately for me, that means that I lost out on that sweet gift certificate (screwed out of the cash again folks) and the 15 seconds of glory in getting called up in front of the crowd as the overall female winner at the awards ceremony.
So, anyway, my run split was not other-worldly, but it was a 1:33 and faster than I expected. I was hoping for something in the 1:34-36 range. Yes, I did the whole course. Also, I know I ran hard and engaged my glutes properly on the run because I was feeling like that muscle group was going to cramp for about 15 mintues after I stopped. Hamstrings too.
So I did it. I got my overall victory and I’m psyched about it. It wasn’t a huge margin of victory, but it’s not so easy for a 40 year old to beat those 20-something youngsters. Lack of swim and inauspicious start to the day notwithstanding, I feel like I prepared well, raced smart and earned the win.
To outside observers, I know that my repeat performances at championships make it appear easy. I assure you it is not. I refer you back to this piece, where I describe how I arrange my season to ready me to dig deepest at the highest stake events. So it was hard and it hurt. This makes it all the more satisfying.