my triathlon journey
Now that it’s Christmas break and I left New York City, I finally have a moment to reflect on what 2014 has brought…
Earlier in the year I decided to really stretch myself and go for the impossible, or at least the very difficult… a full time demanding career at a global company solving for needs of big brand names, while competing as a professional athlete…. In triathlons, one of the toughest, yet the least-paying sports… And in New York City, one of the least conducive training grounds. Yes, this girl is up for a challenge…
This was a true learning experiment for myself. How would I handle the shift from top of the podium to fighting not to come in last? What is the human ego and what is the lifestyle of a pro athlete like? Who am I and would I like a career that focuses is much on the performance of the body, after pursuing higher education with entire focus on the mind?
Here’s a recap of some of my experiences, starting with my first pro race, The Lifetime South Beach Olympic Triathlon…
Since I got my pro card from the Czech Federation I have definitely had a few freak out moments about why I did this to myself, especially when I got stuck in the office working late a couple of times or could not join my coworkers or girlfriends for happy hour/ going away party as I had to go swim.
I’m in it now, I told myself then, no turning back on my decision, at least for this season.
When I got contacted by the South Beach Triathlon to confirm my pro status, the fact that I would be starting with those crazy fast people in the race became real to me. And when I was emailed the race packet and scrolled through the disclosed emails of other pros, such as Leanda Cave, the Ironman World Champion, or Sarah Haskins and Helle Frederikson, the Olympians, I almost threw up. My stomach knotted up with excitement, pre-race jitters and fear.
I looked at the start list and number distribution and there I was, all the way in the end, number 77. I told a friend at dinner about it that night and he told me – well, from last place, the only way is up!
As I got through the packet I also noticed that as any other pro I was invited to the opening Lifetime Tri Series party, with their sponsors and other VIPs. Ok, that I can do! As a serious party goer in my life before long distance triathlon I was definitely good at this. What they also mentioned in the packet was that we could provide them some photos for self promotion that can be included in the race packet. That made me realize I needed to put some pictures like that together!
I was starting to get more excited and less freaked out. This was to be a trial year to see if I would ever enjoy this kind of lifestyle. So let me just roll with it. This was a great way to represent Zoot not only as a Captain to Age Groupers, but in the professional scene as well. I had just come back from the Zoot Captains camp where I was energized by Zoot’s growth plans, where Team Zoot was placed at its center. I loved our Marketing VP’s, Erik’s, speech about the SeaHawks win at the Super Bowl this year. They decided – “why not us”, and they won. And that’s Zoot’s attitude as well, and needs to be mine!
I was lucky to have a place to crash in Miami with my friend Brian and also to have to be there for work the following week. Score! When we arrived to Bryan’a with my luggage and bike box, he wanted to see my new Ceepo and told me to put the bike together. It was kinda late and I wanted to leave it for the next day, but he was so excited to see my new machine, and even more to see me put it together, something he was greatly impressed by, I went for it.
I took out everything bike related to notice my pedal zip lock bag to be open. That’s no good I thought, I also put two screws for the handle bars there, as well as two washers that keep the Garmin pedals in place. I instantly analyzed the contents and sure enough, the screw and washers were gone. Damn TSA! Go through my stuff and lose the most important parts. No apologies. I was angry.
Well, at least I had a couple of days to sort this out. I did not have much faith those washers specific to those Garmin pedals which not many people have would be easy to find.
The next day we googled “best bike shop” in Miami and were directed to Mack Cycle. They said they had the washers and could find a spare screw as well. So we decided to take the trip and I got treated royally! Helps to be a pro! Thank goodness for Rober’s magic hands and his experience with pro cycling teams. At Mack Cycle I also got to meet Mois who had lost one of his arms and both legs in a motorcycle accident and was preparing for the paraolympics as a cyclist. He had no doubts about the brightness of his future and I was inspired by him.
Although my bike was in perfect working condition thanks to Mack Cycle, and that is all you really care about before a race, as I was biking to drop my bike off in transition I got an error message from my Garmin Power meter pedals saying the left sensor was not being detected. So TSA did even more damage. I was really not happy. This race was going to be a test of current fitness and I wanted to know my numbers!
I let my coach know that and that I would have to go by feel/ heart rate and he said just one thing – 90% effort. Ok, so that means almost max at all times.
I stopped by a random bike shop in South Beach as I went to drop off the bike in transition to see if they could check on those pedals, but they had no clue what to do. Ok, forget it finally, I told myself. There will be no power reading to be had for this race.
By this time I was almost running late for the pro briefing which was taking place in a tent on the beach. I recognized Leanda Cave, the 2012 Kona winner, and Helle Frederikson, as I was just reading about her in Triathlete Magazine on my way to Miami, the new undefeated 70.3 racer from Denmark who moved up from ITU racing as well as the Olympics.
I sat down in the last row where Cameron Dye, who ended up winning the race, was also sitting. I did not know who he was and was wondering who this hippie looking kid with a beard was. A super fast triathlete, that’s who. Another pro lady came in and sat down between me and Cameron. I figured she might be a first year pro as well. She did not seem crazy skinny/ minimal body fat the way some Ironman pros look. She started chatting with Cameron. Later on my flight home, reading the swim column of Triathlete Magazine, I realized she was Sara McLarty, the column author and one of the fastest swimmers in the sport. She has had the fastest swim in every Lifetime Tri series race that she entered last year. It was definitely overwhelming competing against the best in the world.
The race organizers and USAT referees talked about the course and let the pros ask questions. They said something about part of the run being on the beach/ sand. I thought it was odd as I did not remember this part from previous years. I did not dwell on it too much though. At the end of the briefing I walked up to Leanda Cave as I had met her before through my old coach. I reminded her how we met and asked her if she was racing short courses as well, knowing her mostly from the ironman distance scene. She said she was getting ready for the Common Wealth games but her sponsors wanted her to do more longer races. And of course she has to do one Ironman to validate her Kona slot. So lots on her plate. But this race was more for charity. They were auctioning her helmet for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. She was very encouraging of my pro racing. She mentioned another pro in the group had started her pro racing career later. She’s a very bright lady, much more than she seems to let on when she speaks publicly, I thought. I heard her speak at the awards ceremony in Hawaii and she really did not want to make too much fuss out of her speech. That was just her humbleness, I now realized. I felt honored to have this chat with her.
I then checked in my bike, met up with Brian, Maria and Mike and we headed home for a home cooked meal. We got stuck in horrendous traffic, the last thing you want the night before a race, but dinner was splendid.
It helped calm my nerves to head to the race with my friends who were racing as well. As the last seeded pro I had the luxury of having lots of space on the last spot on the bike rack. I started spreading my gear when number 78 showed up and started to rack next to me. Oh, I guess someone signed up last minute. Setting up in transition was really no different than an age group set up, except I could take some stuff with me to the swim start as our stuff would be taken back to the finish. Nice. I will run over to the swim start in my shoes I thought.
It was still dark as the race was starting right at sunrise. I saw a couple of Terriers, my old team. We chatted a bit. Then I headed over to the beach. First thing I noticed were the big waves, coming fairly strong at the shore, crashing, and some wind. It would have been a good surf day. Oh no, this’ll be a crazy tough swim. Pros were not allowed to wear wetsuits, so no help to be had there. They allowed us to warm up. I tried to mentally make friends with the water, knowing how tough the swim would be. Then they asked us to line up in the corrals for the national anthem. What we then heard was the best anthem performance I had ever heard. This amazing strong voice started singing and to my surprise, when I looked over, it was a little, maybe 10-year old girl. I usually don’t pay too much attention to the anthem as my thoughts are wondering elsewhere. However, this time, the performance completely engulfed me and I forgot about being nervous.
Then they started announcing the male pros, their names and accomplishments. I figured they would go through the top 10, but it seems they did not miss anyone. When they announced the female pros, I listened carefully to who my competition was. They called Leanda Cave’s name, and said she was the 4* Ironman World Champion. I could see Leanda smiling about that. That would actually be Chrissie Wellington. They did mention a couple of girls as being first year pros. At that point I figured I might get a shout out as well. And sure enough before I knew it, I heard – and Hana Sykorova, from the Czech Republic, competing in her first season as a professional. I tried to remind myself to cherish this moment, as there won’t be another first pro race.
Right after that I heard someone yelling my name. It was my friend JC, also from Terrier. Have a great race he shouted. I went to give him a hug. It was great to have this encouragement.
Loud pump up music was playing, which I loved. Then off we went after a lot of cheering. It was nice to be there right at the race start. We did quite a bit of dolphin dives over those crazy waves. I was right in the back, last row again, trying to hold onto someone’s feet. That lasted all of 2 mins and I was on my own. It was tough. It felt like I was swimming uphill. I desperately tried to focus on my technique and to stay relaxed. I reminded myself it was a lot shorter than an Ironman swim, although it might feel like one right now and it might take a while, but I would get through it. Eventually the elite age group men caught up to me and I tried to draft one of them. That was also short lived, but better than swimming on my own. I figured I would for sure be last out of the water. When I finally made it to shore, I saw three other red swim caps, ie female pros, right in front of me. Ok, so others struggled as well. That made me feel a bit better.
I ran into transition to find my lonely bike next to number 78. Ok, so I’m not last, but one before last.
I had brought cycling rather than Tri shoes with me as the new Tri shoes I ordered were the wrong size. I decided to leave them off the bike, as the bike out was right there. Turns out it took forever to put the cycling shoes on and turn the 4 boas multiple times. My T1 time ended up 1 min or so slower than the average. And that’s a lot in an Olympic distance race.
I jumped on the bike, cheered on by people who knew my name but who I did not necessarily know. It was nice. All I kept telling myself was 90% effort. This was my strongest leg and I needed to make the most of it. I passed a couple of girls and that felt nice. It was a welcomed experience to have empty roads and be able to go fast on the downhills. I then tried to keep up with a couple of elite guys and then on the last part back I passed another two girls. One was towards the end of the bike with Rojas written on her butt. We kept leap frogging each other till I finally passed her.
She passed me right back out of T2 on the run and I tried to hold on to her. Turns out she was going sub 6′ miles and I could not hang on to that pace. I tried to keep her in sight as she was slowly getting away from me. It was hot and tough. After a couple of miles I found myself on sand and things got tougher. I guess that’s what they were talking about, a bit of an unpleasant surprise. My slow pace got even slower. This can’t last too long I thought till I found myself on the beach, in much thicker sand, slowing down by a whole minute/ mile. Yikes! When will this end? I saw the top pro men running towards the finish in the opposite direction and I was jealous they were close to being done. I felt light headed all of a sudden and put an electrolyte in my mouth. I really had to keep telling myself to keep pushing and not let those girls behind me that I passed on the bike catch me. I saw Lesley Smith wearing the same uniform as me looking very strong. We were both on the Zoot Ultra team together last year. I put all I had in me into finishing strong. The spectators were great and many. When I ran into the finish Sara Haskins was already giving her victory speech. I finished 15th pro out of 18 in a time of 2.23, which, outside of the NYC Tri which has a downstream swim, was my fastest Olympic time. And Olympic distance is not my strength. Ok, so maybe better competition makes you better. Either way, it was nice to be done early and be able to enjoy the day. Now I knew what I needed to work on and the after party at the hotel pool with my friends from the Full Throttle triathlon team was awaiting.