Objectives? What are those!? To be perfectly honest, I went in to this race with a bad attitude and very low expectations. I’d only been registered in the race for 4.5 weeks and despite not exactly being a couch potato all winter, I hadn’t made any concerted efforts to properly prepare and was probably only running once per week (always short!) prior to the 4.5 week wake-up call. I reluctantly signed up for the race thinking “maybe this will get me back on track”, but I’m not sure it ever did. I struggled with my motivation all along and just wasn’t looking forward to the race…I felt certain I’d do no better than last year and I feared the pain that the run might inflict. Probably the only concrete race goal I had was to “push harder on the bike than last year and just try to get through the run”. I would not recommend this pre-race mental state!
The swim felt much more hectic than last year and I felt discouraged knowing this was probably because I was swimming much more slowly and was therefore more caught up with the middle of the pack. The first lap was really messy with people swimming all over the place; I didn’t feel like I had the advantage of a draft for more than 20 seconds at any time, but I still suffered all the disadvantages of pack swimming – namely, being bumped around and getting mouth fulls of lake water. The first buoy seemed so far, my legs felt fatigued, and it all seemed like so much effort! After rounding the second buoy on the swim into the shore, things began to settle down a bit. I dove back in for lap 2 and thankfully found myself swimming more on my own. I was able to swim straight and settle in to a nice and comfortable pace, and finally got interested in the idea of racing. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad afterall.. Despite less training effort in the pool compared to last year and all the mayhem of the first lap, I was pleased to find I had only lost 46 seconds over last year’s time. I don’t think I pushed the swim as hard as I could have, but overall, I’m happy with my effort…it took me the 4.5 weeks + one lap of the swim to get into race mode. (Food: full breakfast at ~5:45 + two bites of a PB&B sandwich before the swim at 7:40!)
Disaster town! This easily took 5 minutes! First, I got the wetsuit stuck on my wrists (!?!), then once it was finally off, I put my helmet on before anything else. Then, wet feet + wet socks = crooked, bunched, ugh! Next, I realized I still had to put on my race top…so off came the helmet and on went the race top…only I really couldn’t get it on. It was completely caught up on my upper back and I couldn’t move. I struggled like this – arms flailing, cursing most likely – until a very kind volunteer came and helped me get into my clothes. Phewf! That could have gone on a long time. Okay: get on the bike! Wait: you haven’t done up your shoes! Gah! Lesson 1: practice T1! (I’ve learned this lesson before so I guess I also have to practice learning my lesson too…). Lesson 2: get a NEW top! One that you can wear under your wetsuit!
Last year I put in a really conservative effort on the bike because I was so worried about feeling good on the run. I knew I could push harder this year, and I was also fairly certain that the run would feel terrible no matter how hard (or not hard) I rode on the bike, so I just wanted to put in a solid effort. As usual, I was passed by a steady stream of athletes for the first hour or so of the bike, but took great delight in seeing Stefan, Dave, Josh, Travis, and Shari all zoom past. Last year, I struggled to stay in the aero position (cramping hamstrings and many curses directed towards my saddle), but this year it felt so much better. Thank goodness! The increased effort on the bike caused some tightness and fatigue in my legs so every time there was a small uphill requiring a bit of increased effort, I got out of the saddle to change things up a little. That felt really good. I also spent a good deal of time thinking about beaches and sunshine and other lovely things as well as reciting the little “mantras” that Becky, Pat, and Josh had taped to my bike last year…this helped me to relax a bit when things occasionally got uncomfortable. I had one aero bottle full of ~3/4 strength gatorade + ~1.5 bottles of water. I also managed to eat half a banana, one Clif bar, and a Lara bar between about kilometers 20 and 70. Usually I quite like these treats, but on race day it took a concerted effort to get them in. I don’t think I increased my riding frequency or distance over last year, but by the nature of the cycling company I’ve been keeping, I’ve been forced to work quite a bit harder this year…I dug a little deeper this year, but I also had a few more resources on which to draw. I thought this might be the one leg where I might see some improvement and I’m happy to report that I did. All in all, I really enjoyed the cycling leg and despite meeting (and slightly exceeding!) my goal pace, I still think I’d like to try pushing a little harder on the bike…for better or worse.
To say I had been worried about the run is a gross understatement; I was really really dreading it. I’d had one decent (fun) “long” run (16 km) the week before, but had struggled through all my other runs. I’d been battling knee pain and blisters and every run included at least one or two stretch breaks, blister breaks, bathroom breaks, pain breaks, and/or plain old “I give up!” breaks. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish the run. I was quite surprised when the run started out alright….I figured I was running at about 5:30/km and feeling pretty comfortable. Last year’s pace was 5:10/km and except for hitting the wall between about kilometres 12 and 17, I’d felt pretty steady. I thought something around 5:30 – 6:00 /km would be what I was capable of this time. Instead of slowing down though, I was pretty sure I was getting faster and maybe even getting close to a 5:10 pace; still, I felt suspicious of the kilometre markings along the route so I didn’t quite trust what my watch was telling me. Things continued well and I didn’t experience any of the knee pain that had plagued every one of my training runs – perhaps this was due to the large sum of money I spent attending yoga classes in the 3 weeks prior or perhaps it was due to the 2 ibuprofen I swallowed about 45 minutes before getting off the bike. I don’t know what it was, but I thank my lucky stars that the pain stayed away. The last two kilometers felt a bit rough and I had a hard time not giving in to the urge to walk (perhaps due to all the walking I was used to doing during my training “runs”….). I was also having a hard time swallowing and my stomach started to feel a bit upset as well, but knowing I was so close to finishing (and not wanting anyone to see me walk!), I managed to keep it together. I was really pumped to see the clock when I rounded the final corner – it turned out I really was running close to 5:10/km (5:12/km for a total time of 1:49:23…only 1 minute slower than last year). I felt much worse at the finish line than I did last year, but this is no doubt because I not only didn’t train as hard this year, but I also pushed a fair bit harder, especially on the bike. Again, I was really pumped every time I saw both Fiera and Tri Club friends along the route – both the racers and the cheerers. Everyone was looking strong and happy and that was a great motivator. The high-fives, “pick up your heals”, cheers, and the mid-run hug were all highlights. Food: no calories, just water…a few sips (while walking) at almost every aid station.
That this race all came together for me feels like a small miracle. I was about a minute slower on both the swim and run, but 11 minutes faster on the bike, resulting in a 9 minute PB. That said, I really felt more happiness and success with my 5:12:32 time last year than with this year’s 5:03:21. I suspect this is because in 2009 I dedicated myself to a consistent 20 week training plan, felt great improvements along the way, and was really excited to see what I could achieve on race day. I felt so much joy leading up to the race as well as both during and after. In fact, it probably wouldn’t have mattered how the 2009 race ended because the training gave me as much happiness as I needed. This year, I was consistently in the wrong frame of mind and reluctantly trained feeling it was all too little, too late; I dreaded feeling out of shape and unprepared on race day. I felt and performed much better on Sunday than I ever imagined, but I didn’t feel the joy that comes from knowing you’ve achieved something that took months and months of hard work. I know I could have trained harder and I wish I’d been able to find the strength to be more positive about the whole thing so this PB just wasn’t as satisfying as it might have been. I guess there is always some kind of life lesson to be learned from these races…maybe faster times just aren’t the right measure of success for me?…or maybe I can only be happy knowing I gave it my best effort?…or maybe a bad attitude is sometimes the biggest training obstacle? I don’t know, but I’ve got a few thoughts to chew on before next year!