Since ending the 2015 season, my focus has been on developing my skills as a yoga teacher, learning how to kite surf and my triathlon training has been dropping off a bit by the way side.
I had signed up for Monterrey 70.3 a long time ago, a place where my boyfriend’s office is and where some of his family lives. We would have more than one reason to go visit.
January went by with me just maintaining myself in normal shape working out an hour a day and teaching yoga. Three weeks into February I realized the race was in a month and I haven’t been doing any structured training! I panicked. There was no way I could make up for all the lost time not having trained properly. I emailed my coach asking and hoping he can put me through some rigorous training that would miraculously enhance my fitness in four weeks, well, really two, as you tend to rest the week before a race. I knew there were no such silver bullets, but I needed someone to be accountable to, who would also boost my confidence. That’s what I did the year before prior to my race in South Beach, but that was prior to a much shorter, olympic distance race, and I had at least six weeks to go, the amount of time typically needed for one to see improvements in their fitness.
I eagerly awaited my coach’s response to hear back that he is no longer in the coaching business and could not help me. Oh no. I had a knot in my throat. With a month to go, I either needed to do it on my own or find another coach, who would not know me or how I respond to different kinds of training, and who would have difficulty really helping me in such a short period of time.
I let another week pass, trying to spend just a little bit more time on my stationery bike (as I don’t feel comfortable riding on roads in Playa del Carmen) than before, and then I thought that I needed to get a coach anyway to prepare for Ironman Nice, only 3 months away! Yikes. Another panic moment overtook me.
I decided to try contacting Lubos Bilek, Sebastian Kienle’s, the Ironman and Ironman 70.3 World Champion’s coach. I have spoken to Lubos in the past, but did not have much hope he would have space for me, especially since the season already started, and since he was coaching star athletes like Sebastian.
To my surprise, he was willing to talk to me and take me on. He did think it was necessary to increase my training mileage right away in preparation for Ironman Nice and that it could make me quite tired at first. He did not think I should taper, i.e. reduce my training prior to Monterrey 70.3 by 50%, to feel rested for the race. He would only lower volume to about 80% Ironman training volume the week before the race. Great, so I will be out of shape and not even rested, tired from the new training volume spike. I was not liking my odds of how I would do in Monterrey. Lubos did provide some comforting words that as a life-long athlete I would have some fitness stored in me, so could do reasonably well.
All of my boyfriend’s friends living in Monterrey knew about me racing and furthermore my boyfriend’s mom and brother arrived for the event. Furthermore, my boyfriend’s cousin, who used to be a soccer (football) commentator arranged with the sports reporters for me to get interviewed and do a photo shoot with me. The pressure was mounting and my lack of preparedness was getting more uncomfortable for me. And I really had no good excuse for why I hadn’t put in the hours I normally would.
I managed to find what seemed to be a good bike shop for my pre-race tune up and went for one last spin on the bike the day before the race, before heading for the pre-race briefing and dropping the bike off in transition. As I start biking I notice my arrow bars are moving from side to side. Oh no! I thought the bike had been checked by trusted professionals! I return frantically to the house, grab my Allen key to try to tighten the screw which holds the handle bars in place. As I turn the screw, I hear a pop. It breaks in the middle. The only way to get it out is to drill it out. Oh no! For a moment I thought it would be impossible to find someone skilled enough to know how to do it and that I might actually not be able to start the race… I tried to stay calm.
So we head back to the bike shop and I explain that the pre-race check up was not that thorough. Apologetically, the mechanics promise to fix it, despite it not being easy. With the humidity in Playa del Carmen the screw corroded and was susceptible to breaking. As before many other races, my jittery nerves were being tested.
Sure enough the mechanics did do their magic and I was able to get my bike within an hour. Off to the briefing I went. I learned that the course could be quite slippery on the cobble stone near the transition. I started chatting with Maria Teresa from Ecuador. She had recently won her age group at a 70.3 in Ecuador and thus already had her qualifying slot for the Australia World Championship. She was definitely my competition. She had done the race the year before and mentioned the winning time was sub 5. That made sense. With my preparation, I would be lucky if I could go under 5.10, I thought.
The night before we went to an Italian restaurant after first going to a bbq we had been invited to, which did not have any food I wanted to have before a race, thus we had to make an executive decision to change dinner plans. We bought some bread, almond/coconut butter and banana and tried to be in bed by 10pm. I set up my race gear and surprisingly was able to fall asleep quite quickly. After half an hour my boyfriend’s phone rang though and I could not go back to bed. I felt as if I had drank two cups of coffee. I meditated and my mind was calm, but my body wide awake. Perhaps it was the supplements I took before retiring for bed that might have been expired? I went downstairs to the kitchen. Perhaps I was still hungry and still needed to put something in my belly. As I enter the kitchen, I noticed the bread I had bought for breakfast was not there, missing next to my banana and almond butter. I got nervous. We were staying with some friends, so someone came home, got hungry and must have eaten it. Our friends were still up, saw me in the kitchen, knowing I should be sleeping. I told them about my undesired awake state and also the missing bread. They immediately promised to go to the store to replace the bread. I was calmer again. I had experienced sleeplessness before a race before. I knew I should be able to handle it. Looking for breakfast at 4am, on the other hand, would not be a favorable addition to my jittery nerves.
We left the house with no extra time to spare and took a wrong turn to get to the race start. I tried to keep calm.
I quickly set up my transition and started running to the swim start in the race provided flip flops.
I only managed to jump into the canal that we would be swimming in for a couple of minutes. The water was surprisingly warm, unlike the air, which dropped in temperature suddenly from the previous two days.
It was a rolling start, so I positioned myself in one of the first corals and jumped in. It was very crowded as the canal is quite narrow, the advantage being that not much sighting is necessary and you’re likely to be on someone’s feet all the time, thus drafting/ swimming faster. As I started swimming my body felt tired. I felt I was gasping for air in my wetsuit. I tried to calm myself down mentally – you have not tapered for this race and increased your mileage recently, it’s ok, it will take longer to warm up, just keep swimming and focus on technique. At some point someone jumped on my legs and pulled them down. I wasn’t sure if that was intentional but I just tried to keep going and contain myself in this dishwashing machine feeling. At one point when I looked up to sight I saw a sign “pain is temporary, fame is forever”, one of my favorite sayings. It’s not so much the fame that I am after, but the feeling I have given it my best shot, not having any regrets later. My breathing did eventually calm down, but I was so happy to get out of the water, and in surprisingly decent time for me – 30 minutes, and seeing my boyfriend at the exit dock, cheering me on.
It was very cold and I elected to wear socks, which I don’t normally do. And that was smart. I started biking, the roads were wet and my fingers frozen. It was hard to shift but with my electronic shifting it was luckily not that big of an issue, as you only press a button. I felt I was maintaining a good pace, no one was passing me and I just tried to keep it up. I would slow down a lot after the first loop on the slippery cobble stone. I was probably overly cautious, but it just looked and felt treacherous. As I was finishing my last loop and seeing my boyfriend cheer me on, I just felt I did not have my usual fitness in me to now also pull off a good run. The idea of running 13.1 miles now was not appealing and I knew I would have to put a lot of mental energy into being able to run an embarrassingly slow pace.
As I started running, I could tell this would not be fast. Just try to keep a consistent marathon pace, I told myself. Main training is Ironman Nice anyhow. I tried to focus on form and a girl I had passed on the bike passed me. I tried to stay with her but pretty quickly realized that pace was not within my reach that day. She was not in my age group but it was nonetheless frustrating. Later a very fit-looking girl passed me and we ran together. I realized she was running as part of a relay team and after a while I needed to let her go also. Loop two came and I really had to push myself to keep a decent pace. It was slightly torturous not being in my usual shape. I put all my energy into form, the one thing I could control, lowering my arms and making sure they were not swinging to the side, but straight and back, pumping them faster to induce higher cadence in my feet, moving my hips forward to create a leaning posture to propel me forward. Finally I had just a mile to go and I tried to keep a good pace for this last mile. I ran into the finish line with a huge smile and relief to be done. I felt destroyed, almost nearing a feeling of after St. Croix 70.3, the hardest 70.3 I have ever done. I checked my watch and saw I had done 4.49. That’s the same time as my fastest time ever. That was despite my slow run of 1.39, which I have been able to execute in 1.30 at other races. My decent swim, bike, fast and also short transitions due to the design of this course, have allowed me to do that.
I was pretty happy. A few minutes later I saw Teresa in the finish line who had checked the results already and told me I had won, by 8 minutes. Sweet. Now I felt my pre-race interview, which came out a week later in Sierra Madre section of the Monterrey El Norte newspaper, was deserved. I went on to find my boyfriend and his family and it was time for a drink, after a quick post race massage.