Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Nope, Just Can't Walk Away...

I wasn't going to do it. I wasn't going to put you through another race report. What can I add to it to make it different from all of the others? It's still Swim, Bike, Run. I am sure it gets old reading about it. I just can't let this one go though. It's too good. It would be unfair of me to not write it. After all, you have followed me through the season, you followed along with training camp, you've read the struggles and the challenges...surely you want to know how the season ended? I'm going to give it to you, but only the race report, not the weekend antics. That story is for another day, in another way, and for a select few. So let's begin the story of the Santa Rosa Triathlon.

This race was different than any other race I have been in thus far, for one main reason ~ I mentally went into it completely different than I have gone into any of my other races. I went into it determined to not have any "goals" or "expectations" for myself. I refused to put a time goal on each segment. I refused to allow myself to look at my competition and research their times to see who I could beat. I didn't allow myself to ponder my swim, or when I would take in my nutrition, or how I would battle through the run when I got tired. I knew, according to Coach, that this was my "A" race. The last race of my long season. All eggs were in this basket. Balls to the wall, all or nothing. I just couldn't make myself see it this way. I was tired. It had been a long season with lots of hard work and lots more pressure that I put on myself. I just wanted to have fun.

I have been working hard over the past few months to let go of my self expectations, to relax, and to just do. My training has been sporadic, my home life erratic, and my work life traumatic. I've been distracted and can't seem to focus on anything. I enjoy the mind numbing that comes with triathlon training. When you are exhausted you can't think and you can't feel. It can become a coping technique of sorts.

So to sum it up, I broke all of my rules. I went into a race rather unprepared and without any expectations. My nutrition leading up to the race was adequate, but I allowed myself to break training rules and consume some "adult beverages" upon arrival. Other than waking tired on the day before the race, I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to rally and make a seven am practice swim at the race site (unlike one of my roommates...).

It was chilly and crisp, but the sun licked at us as we gathered on the beach and prepared to swim. Coach instructed us to loop the course one or two times at whatever pace we felt comfortable doing. For once I felt only minimal hesitation before the swim and it was mostly due to the cold air temperature. Once I entered the water I realized it felt warmer than the air did and quickly joined the pack of swimmers to practice.

The water was completely calm with absolutely no breakers to have to swim through. It was so different than at training camp where there were 4 -5 foot swells to overcome before you could even start to swim. It was amazingly clear. I caught myself distracted by the floor of the ocean rather than obsessing on how I was swimming. I felt fast in the salt water. Buoyant.

I was actually enjoying myself...until I saw a huge jellyfish swim under me. That got my heart beating a little more than was comfortable. I had the urge for a moment to stop swimming, but then realized that swimming would get me away from it sooner. A little while later I started feeling stinging on the back of my thigh, and then a swipe across my face, then my arm. I never saw what stung me and figured it to be bits and pieces of smaller jelly fish.

When I finally exited the water onto the beach, I had no desire to do another loop. As usual, I found myself being pulled back to swim it again as I saw everyone else entering the water. A few more stings and short-term burning and it was over. I felt pleased with my swim and had no anxiety about race day.

Race morning
Fast forward to race morning. I don't know if I am just getting better at it, or if it was a lack of race stress from my new attitude, but preparing my gear bag went so smoothly and quickly I was sure I had forgotten something major. I still like to get to transition early, to set up, walk around, make frequent pot-o-gold stops, and take photos. Loaded down with my pre-race bagel and cream cheese and a few sips of Gatorade, I efficiently set up my transition area.

Our sherpas were in abundance and had already set up the Fitbird tent where we could sit down and rest our legs before the race. I watched the Fitbirds straggle in and set up their areas, going through their own routines. It was fun to see everyone there, and to see Canada setting up her area too. Up until now, she had not raced along with us...just guided us from the sidelines. It was good to see her in her zone.

Channeling the Lizzard Mojo
I am usually a mess before a race. My mind races through the open water scenarios. How will I handle this and that. What's my Plan B if Plan A fails. Yada yadayada. I refused to do it this time. No worries, no obsessing, no excuses. All I could think about was "Just Do It'. Nike really had a great advertising campaign with that one. For the very first time I actually wanted to swim in that water. I wanted to race. I wasn't nervous, I was PUMPED.

I watched the waves ahead of me enter the race. I never do that. I am always too self-absorbed and worried. I cheered for my teammates that were ahead of me, and for my Coach. I calmly entered the holding area, and then the corral, as I awaited my turn. My plan for the swim? Not to hide in the back, or on the side, but to go out in front... in the middle...behind Ann Hill... our fastest swimmer besides Coach. I actually planned to draft off of her as long as I could. I actually planned to run and dive into the shallow water. And get this... I did!

Well, I drafted as long as I could, which was not long, but I was elated to look up as I neared the first buoy to realize that I was still in the front to middle of the white capped swimmers. I was still in my wave! I made the turn and told myself to calm down, to slow down, because I was afraid my adrenalin would wear off and I'd be left floundering. I couldn't seem to slow myself too much however and felt I was still at too fast a pace. My breathing came at every single stroke, and I tried hard to return to a normal pattern, but I couldn't maintain it. The water was cloudier than it was the day before, and there was more current. The rolling waves made me a little light-headed at times, but I tried not to think about it. I did have moments where I thought that 600 yds was the perfect distance, and swimming 1.2 miles was really absurd. This distance was doable. Manageable. I still had a lot of work ahead of me if I really wanted to conquer New Orleans in April. And then I returned my focus to the swim.

I was pleased to not see and sharks, stingrays, or jellyfish. Being wave 7 had its benefits I suppose. All of the critters had cleared out. I swam hard towards the shore and looked up to see people trying to run in while still 50 yds out. I kept swimming as long as I could until my elbows scraped the sand, and then high stepped the last way out of the water. The beach sand was stirred up by the racers ahead of me and it was hard to get solid footing and run. I jogged most of the way and then found myself winded and nauseous from the salt water I had ingested. As I approached the crowd I was overwhelmed with the desire to vomit all over the beach and I veered off-course to blow. Three close calls and I managed to rally back without disgracing myself more than loudly dry-heaving in front of strangers and friends.

Once my feet hit the brick pavement my energy returned and I fell into a nice pace as I approached the transition area. A quick rinse in the sprinkler as I ran down the chute and I pitter-pattered my bare feet into transition. I had thought ahead to look for landmarks and I quickly spotted the four palm trees that marked my row. I ran over chalk markings that other athletes used to direct them to their rows and thought that this was a great idea. I rinsed my feet, took two puffs from my inhaler (yay!) and slipped on my bike shoes. Helmet, glasses, grab bike, and go. I ran to the mount line and had no trouble getting on my bike (thanks Coach for the transition practice). I rinsed my mouth with clean water to rid the salt and focused on the ride.

I smiled a lot on the bike. I thought about Chrissie Wellington and wondered if she had to think to smile or if it was natural. I had to think to do it. I focused on my ride, but also took in the scenery when I could. The sand was so white and clean. The air was perfect. I wasn't drinking because I wasn't hot and I knew I would easily dehydrate if I didn't. I forced down a gel and some water. I tried to keep looking straight ahead, but found myself watching the elites and the age-groupers that were returning, waiting to see a familiar face. I knew Anne would be in the lead and some of the girls would be close behind. Finally I saw the familiar orange bike approaching and managed to throw out a "Go Canada" as she whizzed by. 'Looking good Canada', 'looking good'.

I love our shirts. They are so easy to recognize in a race. I see a rider ahead that I know is one of ours. As I approach her I throw out another "Go Fitbird" and see Sunshine flash her smile at me. "Don't let me get in your zone Coug!" She rings her bell and I laugh as I pass her by.

It wasn't long that I heard the familiar swoosh sound that I have come to associate with Freebird Adams, as she blew by me going easily 22+ mph. I looked at my 16-17mph speed and tried to push harder. For a moment I tried to do the math. What should my pace be? Am I on track for what I know I can do? And then I let it go. I asked myself if I could go faster and still make the 18 miles, and then still be able to run. I felt like I could do no more at that point and that was all that mattered.

I saw a horrible crash happen in front of me as two bikes collided and their riders went flying into the middle of the road. A short while later I saw another cyclist slip off the road and lay motionless as two other riders stopped to assist her. I returned my focus to my own ride with renewed vigor, grateful I was still on my bike.

I reached the turnaround and started passing riders more frequently as the wind was at my back for a while. I start looking for my pal Lizzard as I know she couldn't be far behind me. I see her, and guesstimate that she is only a few minutes behind me. I push harder and keep expecting to hear her voice from behind yelling at me to not let her get in my zone. I forget for a moment that she is a wave behind me and when I realize it and see how much she has gained on me I realize that if ever I am going to be victorious I will have to not only push hard on my bike, but make no errors on my run. It is there that history has shown my weakness.

Finally I see the beach ball and know that I am close to the transition area. I have decided to shave a few seconds off of my time in transition and run without my socks, hoping that this may be the deciding factor in pulling off a victory over my training partner. As I remove my bike shoes I see sand still stuck to my feet but don't take the time to remove it. Fatal error. I can feel the shearing of my skin by the time I get to the first water station. I fight the urge to stop and wash my feet. If Anne can run a marathon with all of her problems, I can push through a few blisters. By mile 2 I am in agony. I don't know how she did it. I stop at the aid station and wash my feet and dry them with my hand. As soon as I put on my shoes I realize this was a huge mistake. The skin is now soft and raw and the moisture has just intensified that. I make myself run 30 seconds, walk 30 seconds, and push as hard as I can. I consider removing my shoes and running barefoot as I am sure it would feel better than this pain.

Left Foot
Right Foot
I see Sunshine and ask where Lizzard is and she says she doesn't know. I am convinced that means she is right behind me and every second counts. I suck it up and push to the finish to see my Fitbirds calling my name as I approach the finish line. What an awesome feeling!

Push to the Finish!
A few minutes go by and my Lizzard comes in. I am so happy to see her finish with a smile on her face, that I forget the competition for a while and enjoy her moment with her. It is not until later that I learn that I squeaked out two minutes ahead of her. I admit it was a nice ending to the season. Finally I managed to eat my prey. And what makes it even nicer is that she genuinely was proud of me. Thanks Lizzard.

So there you have it. The final triathlon race report of the season. There will be two more adventure races and then some well deserved time off before it begins again...with 5 months of training for a second attempt at NOLA 70.3. I am feeling better prepared going into it after this race. Hallelujah!

Lizzard and The Coug


  1. Coug, once again an AWESOME race report! Almost as amazing as your race! :) You worked hard, stuck with the program, took care of your family AND pulled out wicked fast ride! Looking forward to our next training adventure. Don't let me get in your zone! Muaaahhhhhh! Muaaahhhhhhh!

  2. Great report! Great race! Great fun - minus the blisters!