my triathlon journey
A few weeks after my trip to Miami, I’ve had a chance to reflect on a race day gone perfect. There are only so many races when we feel things have gone just right, it’s nice to reflect on them and learn for the next ones.
Last year’s race presented its own challenges with the intimidation factor of competing against the best in the world, the professionals, including former Olympians. A small fish was jumping into a big pond.
This year the fear was different. It was a combination of feeling under-prepared, yet knowing it was expected of me to do well, as someone who had been competing against professional triathletes, coupled with the pressure I tend to put on myself.
I had signed up to race in the elite category, so starting with other fast ladies, regardless of their age group. As the race approached, the competition I was going to face, combined with my lack of preparedness, started to become a reality.
I was starting to feel uncomfortable to go into the race not being able to perform at the level I know I’m capable of. I started to toy with the idea of switching to race my age group, an easier way to place well. When I received an email from the race organizers asking me to confirm my time from another triathlon to validate my ability to race in the elite division, I was tempted not to respond, which would have automatically placed me in the age group division. Yet if there is one thing I learned last year from my pro season, it is that better competition makes you faster, regardless of where you are with your training. And why take the easy way out now? I enjoy the thrill of good competition I reminded myself, not easy wins.
So a couple of days before the race my coach contacted me asking how I felt for the race. I admitted that somewhat underprepared, although feeling very well rested. He then responded that if I’m really ready to race and hurt, I will be able to do well. I just needed to put my mind to it. There is a saying that says it’s better to be 10% undertrained then 5% overtrained. I felt my body was at least 30% undertrained but since there is nothing I could go about it now, as it takes at least six weeks to absorb the benefits of training, I could only focus on elements of the race I could control, like rest, acclimation to the race temperature, proper hydration, nutrition, stretching.
As I was lucky to be in Miami for a work conference earlier in the week, I was able to go for a bike ride on Miami’s roads and for the first time this year, test my bike handling skills. It was time to get re-acquainted with Katana, my partner in crime for the race. It felt really nice to be outdoors on a bike again. I have also received my new Zoot uniform, the color and design of which I adored. Zoot had purchased a company called Squadra earlier in the year, with its own factory, allowing for faster production lead times and I could tell the new quality resulting from this merger was impeccable. Zoot has always been producing higher quality clothing, but this time the kits including the smooth, fitting material, were simply unparalleled.
So being in Miami early was great, participating in the conference was not exactly rest-inducing and resulted in socializing with adult beverages in the evening, while getting up early for sessions. Getting used to the heat and humidity worked well. It also reminded me I was lucky to be starting earlier in the day, at the very beginning of the race, when it’s cooler. I made sure to drink plenty of coconut water daily, water and try to stay out of the sun unless training. I also went to my good friend Juli’s yoga class which gave me just the needed level of stretching and relaxation. I also got spoiled and got two massages leading up to the race. The taper program my coach put in place for me seems to have combined just the right amount of rest and muscle stimulation. Last year I felt I was doing too much pre-race and this time I felt we figured out the right formula.
So when race day came I could hardly sleep the night before, which is common and no longer scares me. I slept great Friday night, which is key. My power meter stopped working again, which aggravated me, but the key here was not to let it get to me. Something unexpected seems to always happen to me right before a race as if testing how I would handle it mentally. Just race by feel, race hard, 90% at all times is what I reminded myself. I also got into a small crash the day before in South Beach traffic and had to go back to the bike shop to have the bike re-checked as the dérailleur had been bent. Again, a distraction put in place as if to test my already jittery nerves.
When the alarm rang bright and early at 4.30am I was excited to go out there and race. I had my green tea, bagel with cashew butter and banana and on my way to transition a tablet of Biestmilch, a colostrum I have come across in Kona, and made friends with the company producing it. The elites had their transition right in front. I was number 12, a low number which kept me wondering if number 11 or 10 were supposed to be faster than me, if we truly were seeded by race results. The men were mixed in with the women which was something I have not experienced recently. But I liked it.
After setting up in transition and seeing some familiar faces from New York, such as Corinne Fitzgerald, an incredibly fast runner I had met at the Mile High Treadmill Studio, I felt some more jitters. There were a few other fast-looking girls in their onesey uniform with their last name spelled on their butts. I did not recognize any of them. But I was not racing in my region, so no surprise.
It was still dark when I made it to the swim start and I went in the water to warm up. Water felt great, yet a little rough. It was not as bad as last year when I felt I was swimming uphill. And it would be a non-wetsuit swim also, given the race was moved to the third week of April when water temperatures are over 78 already. So no help from the buoyancy of my Zoot Prophet Wetsuit.
The little girl with an amazing voice sang the anthem again and then it was game time. I realized there were only 6 elite women; it would be easy to track my position on the course that way. The announcer told us it was a swimmer’s swim today, not my cup of tea, we wished each other good luck, and off we ran into the ocean.
As always I tried to jump on someone’s feet to get the benefit of drafting. I managed to stay on till just past the turnaround buoy and then I lost the two fast swimmer girls. I was on my own again, fighting the swells and focusing on my technique that I had been working on some over the winter. That is one aspect of the sport I did not dare neglect completely this winter.
I was focusing on swimming straight, from one yellow buoy to another till I saw an orange one. That surprised me, as I did not think I was already at the end. I checked my watch for time, I was at roughly 14 minutes. I must be half way, I thought. This must be the shorter race swim start. Even though slightly confused, I kept swimming. What I later found out was that the two fast swimmer girls ahead of me turned off and headed for the shore at this orange buoy point. They then had to head back out to finish the swim as they were only half way, and I had assumed first place on the swim in the elite division at this moment, my lucky day.
I got out of the water, cheered on by my boyfriend who had never been to a triathlon race, and that made me very happy. I was sure I had those two girls ahead of me and was determined to chase them. No one told me I was in first place. Being in first row I found my Ceepo Katana easily and was excited to head on the bike course, my favorite part. It was lovely to be on empty roads and I knew I had to keep pushing hard to try to create a gap on the other girls on the bike, usually my strength. When I got to the top of the first hill, the race marshals who were their watching jumped on their bikes almost in tandem. It felt as if they were waiting on me. It was a beautiful and slightly overcast day. Perfect race conditions. When you’re in hot places like Miami, that is just what you wish for.
I tried checking my heart rate monitor to make sure I was pushing hard enough and noticed it was not working. Great, so now I’m without power and without heart rate gauges. I can only go by pain. I took a caffeinated gel from our new sponsor Boom, which is an orange vanilla icicle tasting treat, and that put me in a better mood. Just focus on fast descends, staying aero and forget the training gadgets, I thought. Keep drinking my Osmo drink to keep the right amount of electrolytes and hydration flowing.
At the turnaround points I tried to watch who was ahead of me. It seemed there were a few girls ahead and I knew I had to keep pushing. I got passed by some guys on the up hills and just tried to keep them in sight. I just can’t give up on the bike. This is my chance to make up time, I kept reminding myself. At the last turnaround point on the bike I saw some girls not too far behind me and I knew I had to keep going hard. I thought I was making good time as the speed was mostly showing me 23mph. I knew I still had to save the legs some for the run. So as always in triathlons, it was a balancing act of hard enough, but saving something for the last leg. To my surprise I clocked in a 1.06 for the 25 miles. That was just 2 minutes slower from last year when I had been in much better shape by this time of year.
My legs were so shot when I made it into transition that I could not elegantly get off the bike. I breezed through transition thanks to my sockless entry Zoot Kiawe race shoes and now I knew it was war time. I had no idea what pace I was capable of running as I had not done any run fitness tests all year. I knew I had to keep it brisk as girls like Corinne would be tight behind me and catching me. If the fastest runner behind me could run almost a minute faster per mile then me, then to stay ahead, I needed a 6 minute lead on the swim and bike combined. I did not think I had that kind of lead.
I started off fairly fast but keeping in mind not to die on mile 1 and knowing that a negative split (running the second half of the race faster than the first) would produce a better physiological outcome. Just as I started the run I heard an enthusiastic volunteer yell – only 50s ahead of you. Another couple of volunteers were pointing ahead encouraging me that I could “get her”. Not sure whom I was chasing, I tried to chase, focusing on my run technique of high cadence, arms not swinging to the side and deep breathing. Not before long I saw a female in her onesey uniform with Simmons written across her butt. Kerry Simmons. That was a name I recognized from up North. I had no idea if I had it in me to pass her but I went for it. Now the question was if I could stay ahead. That required me to keep up my current pace or go faster. I could only focus on not slowing down and it was getting tougher and tougher. At this point I knew podium was somewhere within reach and I wanted to get it. Finally the turnaround point came, the moment of truth, when I would see who’s behind me and how far. I saw one lady, I saw Corinne, they seemed very close. Go number 1 female, someone yelled at me. Could that be me? I did not think so. I haven’t caught those fast swimmer girls yet. I kept reminding myself how close I was to the finish, that I would have so much more if this were an Ironman race. I tried to ignore how hard I was breathing. When I hit mile 5, so just a mile to go, my legs started to wobble as if refusing to run further. Oh no, I cannot afford to slow down now. I can’t die on the last mile. I focused all my mental strength on my form. Then I happened to notice my boyfriend walking along the running path. I screamed at him and he cheered me on. That helped distract me from my pain and the next thing I see is one of the race organizers on his mountain bike telling me he would lead me into the finish line. Really? That meant I was in the lead. That was a great and scary feeling as I certainly did not want to lose this spot on the last half mile to go. I kept running behind the lead vehicle as he seemed to be getting further away from me. Run with the heart and soul now, forget the body, I thought. I dared not look behind me and tried to kick in a sprint when entered the sandy part of the run to the finish line. Sprint! Someone yelled at me. I tried, thinking I had someone right behind me. Then I heard the announcer pronounce my name and say thy had the first female entering the finishing chute. Wow, this is really happening, I thought. I tried to put on a less strained look on my face for the camera, almost a smile as I broke the finishing tape in disbelief that I had won the race!
I immediately got interviewed and congratulated. I then hugged my boyfriend and then recognized Roberio Bezzera, the extraordinary bike mechanic from Mack Cycle, who had helped me with my bike issues last year. He has now opened up a new bike shop, Fusion Pro Bike Shop, my new go to mechanic spot in Miami. He interviewed me as well, and then it was celebration time! No one I knew had been done with their race yet, so I decided to go shower and get ready for the awards ceremony. And after putting my bike apart and ready for travel, it was pool party celebration time with my friends from Full a Throttle, my favorite part of the weekend!