I registered for the race last-minute, less than a week before race day. After The Great Marble Falls Cop-Out, it seemed prudent to rush for redemption by registering for (and, ahem, completing) another intermediate race. This particular race has been on my wish list since moving to Austin five years (!) ago. I was in no way prepared for the competitors who turned out for this one. After scouring the web for race recaps, Yelp reviews, or ANYTHING that would indicate this once is for real-deal racers and coming up empty-handed, I decided something had to be said.
The race is in its 11th year, so everyone already knows the idea behind it: downplay big corporate sponsorship and pro athlete spotlighting to refocus on providing a killer race day experience for mid-pack age-group blobs. As a mid-pack age-group blob, I can’t help but love it. Doesn’t hurt that the bar code branding looks maximally cool. Remembering that Jack and Adams also sponsors The Rookie Tri (my first crack at it), I was expecting a race specially designed for next-to-noobs: Not quite as gentle as the Rookie, but a generic experience for generic racers. Makes sense, right?
Well, sort of.
I was stoked at packet pickup to receive a race packet filled with actual samples and goodies instead of just flyers and coupons. Seems more and more that race day packets include a T-shirt, the essentials like your bib and pins, and then a bunch of ads for upcoming races and coupons for newly invented space-age gear that could only be relevant to pros inexperienced but infinitely funded trophy wives. Excited to finally nab myself a bar code T-shirt, and even more excited to sample everything from sport-grade sunscreen to new Lara Bar flavors, I thought I couldn’t have been riding higher coming out of the expo.
Then I saw my bib.
Number 281. 281, really? That’s awesome! Or is it?
281 is the highway where my dad lives, it’s where I blew off the Marble Falls Tri a week ago, and it was the site of a recent bike wreck for my favorite non-blob cycling buddy. Was this a positive portent or an ominous omen? On reading some advice from my inspiring non-blob race-fan friend (“No doubt about it, that’s good luck. It’s the road home!”) I decided for the umpteenth time in my life that signs are like luck (good or bad): they’re what you make them. 281 was going to be great. The best.
Beyond the packet and my Lucky Bib Number, Race Day Eve was one of the best I’ve had in a while. Finally managed to carbo load in a more refined way (No offense, Olive Garden, but A Roma is the new go-to.), kept it to one glass of wine (mostly), and got in bed early (-er than usual).
Got up with relative ease on Race Day with plenty of time for a drive-through iced latte to rinse down 600mgs of ibuprofen (coffee and pills: almost as good as chicken and waffles on a Sunday morning, right?) We made it out to Lake Pflugerville with ease, and parking was a breeze, but pulling in to the parking area I started to get the feeling that this wasn’t my usual race experience. The fact alone that parking was so easy let me know that it’d be a small field of competitors. I’d already suspected when I saw that there was only one wave time for all women racing the intermediate distance. Did that mean it was a small hill country community race run predominantly by locals, or did it mean that it was somehow reserved to hardcore crazies who would commit to the longer distance on a dog day of summer? The mystery became elucidated in the parking lot: M-dots everywhere. 70.3 and 140.6 bumper stickers on every car (with one glaring exception). Overwhelmed and intimidated by the gear dangling from the bike racks and compulsively laid out on chamois towels in transition, I could only remind myself of the pearl dropped on my by an early tri-idol (tridol?) of mine: “Race morning is no time for tri-perving; quit looking at what everyone else has and get focused.”
I stopped drooling over everyone else’s set-ups right away, but couldn’t shake the onset of nerves they had stirred up. I was in over my head here. Sure, I could DO these distances, no problem. But look at these people! They’ll be showered and duly beered 30 minutes before I even finish. What was I thinking putting myself out here with these people like I belonged here?
On the beach for the pre-race meeting anxiety spiked when they announced a change to the swim course. Change? Change is for elections and snack machines, not Race Day! But once I saw the course had changed from a pentagon to an out-and-back, I started to feel like more was on my side than the perceived power of Bib Number 281. Straight out and straight back would be much easier sighting than canted angles around the outermost buoy. Also, time trial instead of mass wave start. 60% fewer feet to the face, and a greatly reduced likelihood of needing to combat hyperventilation on my back for 50 meters. These were at least footholds.
One final freak out on my way to the start line when a fellow age-grouper trying to line up appropriately asked me my time per hundred meters. I don’t know!? I can do 50 in 45 sec, and 1,000 in just under 20 minutes, but that’s in a pool so totally irrelevant here. Did these people actually know their times like that? Again, what was I thinking putting myself out here with these people like I belonged here?
But, like always, before I knew it I was face-down in cloudy lake water deaf to everything but my own breathing and relentless 1-2-3-gasp counting. It was crowded to the point of near-constant touching, but not to the point of face-kicking, which was nice. I’d heard that the organizers had gone to great effort to remove growth from the lake and man, it was worth it. The conditions were great. I think there were buoys every 50m, so it was much easier to stay the course than what I’m used to, and I was only passingly terrified of wandering over the midline into oncoming traffic. My current goal for 1,000m is 20 minutes, which I’d been able to best barely, but consistently, in the pool. I missed it here, which I’m chalking up to the combination of open water and the mid-distance on-land turnaround (small prices to pay, I think, for a straight course).
The first transition was a blur, as they always are coming from twenty minutes of sloshing to two minutes of sprinting and changing clothes. If you want to know what makes triathlon so different from any other sport, I think it’s that. Those two minutes are so weird and nearly impossible to approximate in training. I was happy to get it done relatively quickly, even though I was chagrined to see I was one of only a few remaining bikes hanging in my section. The other girls were already changed and gone?! Seriously, what was I thinking putting myself out here with these people like I belonged here?
The ride was really great (or so I thought until I saw my rank). I felt healthy, fast, and as strong on the hills as I’ve been all season. Everyone who passed me looked like someone who SHOULD be passing me (they had their name on their butt like a pro, they had a solid back wheel and teardrop shaped helmet like a pro, or they had on an M-dot branded kit like I will someday), so I avoided feeling mental energy sapped with every “On your left!” I leapfrogged the entire ride with a ripped-looking guy who looked like he knew what he was doing, and a 19-year old girl who looked less experience but was 1/3 my age. Those passes were continually motivating.
I didn’t hydrate as much as I should have, and I didn’t eat at all on the ride. My new saddle and recent realignment had me in the aero position nearly the entire time (except of course during my ferocious hill climbs during which I tried my damnedest to be on my twinkle toes passing Ripped Guy and Baby Girl. “What’s so hard about this?”). Now I understand fully the need for a front-end hydration system, and this will be my next gear conquest leading up to the Half Ironman this fall (right after I get a stylish kit upgrade as a reward for PR at Tri Rock next month). The inconvenience of sitting up for every sip is totally for the birds, and is not something I’m looking to repeat on distances intermediate and above.
I came into transition two right on the rear wheel of Ripped Guy and feeling like a boss. Recent bricks adding even ten minute runs after my long rides have already paid off in dividends to combat my formerly inoperable jelly leg syndrome. I got my feet under me almost immediately and was able to jog handily back to my set up. Even with old school shoe laces, I was out of there in my own personal record time, adding fuel to my recent adoption of a less-mess-less-stress approach to tri gear (no Garmin, no watch, no odometer, no heart rate monitor, and no tie-less laces. Luddites, unite!).
Headed out on the run, I immediately felt the benefits of my recent long-runs in mid-day heat. Form was solid, breathing was rhythmic and smooth, I could totally do this. I knocked down the first loop without incident, and was as thankful as I could possibly be for near-constant cloud cover. Even though I know (I KNOW) that stopping at water points has undone me in countless prior races, I thought I could afford it here, and permitted myself the first stop in Loop 2. Total mistake. The rest of that mile was a struggle, and I was overjoyed to find my favorite Non-Blob Superfan halfway through it. He was trying to catch me starting Lap 2, so it was a big boost to know I was ahead of schedule. But it was also everything I could do to keep running into the water point at Mile 4. Cloud cover was quickly dissolving, and I was really struggling. Overheating, I grabbed a double-cup of water at Mile 4 and walked until I’d finished drinking it. I knew then that the run was all but lost, not only because of all that precious time I’d just spent walking, but because it would now be nearly impossible for me to finish it out without walking again.
I made it through the last water point without stopping, and as soon as I passed it I thought: You will absolutely not stop in the last mile; you can do anything for one measly mile. It struck me that every woman in front of me was a division place for the taking. Still leap-frogging back and forth with Baby Girl, I started mentally calculating whether she’d be ahead or behind at the finish. I decided she’d be behind. I continually thought: Do you want to be that number finisher, or that number #1? Go get it.
One of the best parts about the run course (to say nothing of it being almost perfectly flat and relatively scenic), was the ability to see the finish line for about the last half mile. I set sights on that and envisioned pulled toward it effortlessly, magnetically. By the time I hit the chute, I slammed the pedal to the metal and laid it out. Edging past someone in those last 50 feet propelled me faster yet and when, through increasingly tunneled vision, I saw them stretch out the finish tape for the first runner in this pack, I laughed thinking about how lucky I was indeed — it was all mine!
The sprint to the finish was costly in recovery because I felt on the edge of upchuck for about thirty minutes there. But so worth it! I left feeling like I’d done my very best on every leg except the run, and even there, I did what I could with what energy (mental and physical) I had to give. I felt pretty proud.
When I pulled up my results that evening, I was astounded at my 3:07 finish; handily 10 minutes faster than my expectation. I was elated! But immediately I started looking for the tarnish: could this really be a PR? The distance must be different from my previous intermediate race (It was: 500m shorter on the swim, 1 mile longer on the bike, and 0.02 miles shorter on the run.). This course was shorter, so I SHOULD have been faster over all, but was I still faster by pace? Could this still be considered a PR?
My goal for this particular course was not an Intermediate PR, but instead was to race Half Iron pace, since this represents roughly half of the Half Iron distances, and since I’m roughly halfway through my Half Iron training plan. If it wasn’t a PR, did I at least make that goal?
Total time: 03:07:29 (Tri Rock 2013/Former PR 03:22:41) (Goal: 03:43:00 Half Iron Pace)
Swim time: 00:21:50 (Tri Rock 2013/Former PR 00:33:57) (Goal: 00:30:00 Half Iron Pace)
Transition 1 time: 00:02:28 (Tri Rock 2013/Former PR 4:36) (Goal: 00:05:00 Half Iron Pace )
Ride time: 01:30:37 (Tri Rock 2013/Former PR 1:25:35) (Goal: 02:04:00 Half Iron Pace )
Transition 2 time: 00:01:56 (Tri Rock 2013/Former PR 3:24) (Goal: 00:05:00 Half Iron Pace )
Run time: 01:10:37 (Tri Rock 2013/Former PR 1:15:07) (Goal: 01:09:00 Half Iron Pace)
Division place: 17/20 women age 30-35 15th percentile (Ugh, it hurts to look at that!) (Tri Rock 2013/Former PR 27/37; 32nd percentile) (Goal: Top 50%)
Gender place: 66/106 women overall 28th percentile (At least that hurts a little less.) (Goal: Top 50%)
Overall place: 215/275 total timed runners (Hurts to look at that, too!) (22nd percentile) (Goal: Top 50%)
Lows: The last half of the run was punishing; while I’m pleased at my hot-weather long-run training, I NEED more running in my life; seeing that I was third from last in my age group and so far down the line in overall ranking; basically getting a D-average in ranking; and wondering for the zillionth time: What was I thinking putting myself out here with these people like I belonged here?
Highs: The ease of the swim on the heels of my 20,000 meter month of training in July; seeing myself at 80th out 275 total finishers (71st percentile is un-freaking-heard of for me!); killing all of my Half Iron pace goals with the exception of the run, and not being too far off of that one; working to remember that “comparison is the thief of joy” when I’m very happy with my results as compared to my former results, but heartbroken with my results as compared to the other racers, and finally deciding after much questioning and analysis that at least a D average isn’t failing (unless you consider a C-average passing).
As long as I’m not failing, I should be proud to put myself out there with these people like I belong here.