After the bike leg was canceled on his debut race, the poet signed up for a sprint this weekend in Baltimore in an effort to complete a triathlon with all three legs. Which would make the ninth consecutive day that I had set my alarm for a number starting with a 4 or 5, so I was a bit grumpy about it, but not too grumpy, because come on, now, he stood around in Idaho for almost 14 hours while I repeatedly tried to pee on myself.
But then it turned out that I didn't have to work on Sunday and then it turned out that we had access to a 50% off race entry situation and then it turned out that the poet thought that maybe I would be less grouchy about getting up in the middle of the night to watch him race for less than an hour if I was also racing (spoiler: NO). So I texted Sonja and she let me know that if I couldn't get through a sprint right now I was basically a massive failure at triathlon not to mention life in general (or something far more positive) and it was done.
I used one of the at least eight hours between deciding to do the race and the race actually starting to think about whether I wanted to have any goals. I've talked before about how, as my races have gotten longer and my training has slowed WAY down, that I find it hard to go to the place where it hurts. So I decided that I wanted to see how badly I could hurt on the bike and the run (a snake swim in a pool is not a place to try and find the pain). And that scared me, a little, so I knew it was a good call. I also over-heard/read a conversation between Sonja and the poet and a little snippet jumped out at me...something about how vulnerable you are when you go really hard and you don't let up and then you have to face what's out there. Sounds like the opposite of what I did in ironman, sounds perfect. I obviously didn't taper for the race and had a brief thought about how non-snappy my legs felt after a decent week of training, but then pushed it out the window and let it explode on the ground. No excuses.
So I got up at the crack of dawn and stumbled around in my dark house trying to find ride glide and two running shoes that matched each other and were the same size, and then we drove to Baltimore and after trying to turn down no less than four one-way streets in the wrong direction, the poet got us to the start of the race.
I "helped" him rack his bike and set up transition ("do NOT put your bike near mine") and then we headed down to the pool.
Because I signed up that morning, I got stuffed into the cracks of the time trial swim start, which meant I was leading the second wave. One of the guys right behind me won the race last year and he was pretty cranky about being in the second wave, and promised to basically swim over me as quickly as he could.
The girl with the stopwatch counted down and I left. I had put exactly zero thought into time or effort on the swim, so I just sort of....swam. The race director had let us know that flip-turns were allowed under the lane lines as long as you didn't kill anybody, but the pool was set up to snake swim in one direction and I, sadly, flip-turn in the opposite direction. After several confusing attempts to flip the other way underwater that ended up with me shooting off the wall in a very not-straight line and my heart almost exploding because I couldn't find the surface, I just decided to touch and go. The two guys behind me swam their brains out to get ahead of me before 50 yards had gone by....and then were two inches in front of me for the rest of the swim. I decided not to pass them back because I left my enormous dick in the car, so I just drafted and made sure to stay right on top of them, which was far less challenging than it should have been based on how quickly they swam the first 48 yards. The swim was over before most of these thoughts were even complete, so I hopped out of the water, ran around one of those guys, and headed to transition. I glanced at my watch as I was heading around the pool deck and saw it flip to 4:40, which means I probably swam somewhere around 1:30 paceish. Neat.
Swim: 300 yards (plus 2 mile run): 5:45.
As usual, transition (and the swim exit timing mat) was miles away, but this time the race director managed to throw in two flights of wet concrete stairs coming out of the pool. We ran around the edge of the pool, through a gate, up the stairs, up some more stairs, across the road and then crossed the mat. Which explains why official times for the swim are pretty ungodly slow for 300 yards across the board - because they include an equal amount of time swimming and running.
Anyway, got into transition, put my helmet on backwards, put my shoes on, fixed my helmet when I whacked the tail of it on the rack while putting my shoes on, ran out with my sunglasses in my mouth and hopped on. I really need to learn how to do the flying mount thing because I waste so much time at the line figuring out which leg goes over the bike to make it go forward.
The bike course was interesting, and by interesting, I mean stupidly technical for the distance. It was a two-loop course for slightly less than eight miles, which I imagine sucked later in the morning when it filled up. Being near the front, it wasn't bad. I passed a few woman and some men, and a couple of guys with $10K bikes whizzed past me. When you left transition, you rode up a little flat part, hard 90-degree turn, then a gradual but long climb, another hard 90-degree turn, steep descent that you came to a screeching halt at the bottom of only to make a 150-degree turn and essentially climb back up what you just descended. Then some very tiny rolling stuff to get you back to the front of the loop. There was one little descent in there that was impossible to enjoy because of the extremely large speed bumps that went across the entire road. On the first lap I didn't see them coming and caught some pretty serious air, but on the second lap I screeched my brakes a bit so my vagina has the hope of recovering from the slam it took the first time around. Someday.
I didn't really pay attention to my watch because there was no hope of settling into any kind of effort (plus I accidentally reset it in the first mile and then wasted time going through multisport mode and finally gave up and switched it over to bike mode), but instead just hammered as hard as I could the entire time. It hurt, only a little because it's the bike, but ouch. The teensy tiny bit of fatigue I managed to accumulate during the six days I've been training since my ironman bender got shut down piped up a bit to complain. Wasn't today supposed to be an easy swim day?
It wasn't until I was about to turn back into transition that I noticed the guy in front of me had his feet out of his shoes (I have recently mastered this skill without crashing) and I managed to get my own feet out and dismount like a grown-up. About ten things in this picture make me incredibly happy, including my run form.
Bike: Somewhere sort of around 8 miles: 25:09.
I took the time in T2 to put my greased socks on and took off with my visor around my bicep and my race belt in my mouth, leaving a trail of sunglasses and pool water destruction in my wake (sadly, no photo exists of this hot mess). It's been a while since I've done a race where you aren't on the bike long enough to dry off from the swim.
The run, as always, was a big unknown. All I wanted to do was hurt as hard as I could, but run steady. I didn't want to run a 7-minute mile followed by a 10-minute mile followed by walking, I wanted to run evenly but the word I kept repeating to myself was HARD. I've found that I do a lot better when I have the knowledge of the Garmin, so I set up my screens to show me run time, average pace, and lap pace. The run course was excellent. You left transition, did a short out-and-back and then did two complete laps around a pond before heading to the finish. Except for the last 25 feet of the race which had maybe 700 feet of elevation change (up then back down), it was completely flat. Average pace was going nuts for the first minute or so, of course, but settled down to about 9:09 pace by the time I came out of the turn-around. I wanted my pace to be in the 8s without question, so I tried to move into the hurt. And it did hurt, and I relished it. Mile 1, 8:38.
I came around into the second lap just when the burning was starting to really get to my brain, and I started thinking what I usually think, which is, "when the mile beeps, you can walk for 10 seconds!" Which is exactly what I didn't want to do - I didn't want to surrender, I wanted to stand on the edge of the pain, I wanted to roar into it. When I came up onto the out-and-back, a guy had just come flying through and I latched onto him, hard. He was wearing an UnderArmor shirt that had a logo on the back right under his neck (hi, mister age-51) and he was running just a little bit faster than I was. I fell in step about six inches behind him and just stared at that logo and tried to empty my brain. Mile 2, 8:27.
It's been such an interesting journey this year as I've been working on getting my mental crap sorted out. I've realized that sometimes I need to talk nice to myself, but sometimes I think that expending the energy to try to convince myself that something is happy and nice when it sucks isn't worth it. And 5K effort is probably a pretty good representation of that. Instead, I just try to empty my mind completely. It's pretty dumb and cheesy, but I have this perfect little image of a tiny bare piece of beach with waves washing up onto the shore, and I just go into the place where it hurts and watch those stupid waves. Crash. Crash. Crash.
I hung onto my UA boyfriend hard. He sped up, I sped up, he slowed (thank GOD), I slowed. I'm sure he wasn't happy about the snorting buffalo sitting on his tail but I wasn't letting him go for anything. I remember reading somewhere from one of Sonja's reports that she told herself to eat the pain, and that popped into my head while I was running (which was for far less time than I've been typing it) and I made a little growl face with my teeth and repeated that over and over for a while. Eat the pain. EAT THE PAIN. Mile 3, 8:30.
When I hopped off the UnderArmor train to turn towards the finish, I thanked the guy for the ride and he laughed, so I guess he wasn't that pissed. Up the extremely short but steep hill, down the other side and done. (6:46 pace for the .1? Can that be real? Probably just unicorn Garmin math.) I did not walk, I did not slow down, I did not surrender. Victory.
Run: 5K, 25:54.
Because of the way the swim started, I passed the poet in T2 (he was in T1, we high-fived, it's fucking adorable) so I had a rough idea where he was in the race. So I chatted with my new friend Lindsey (overall female winner, rude) and then headed up to the bike course in time to catch him getting off the bike and heading out on the run. We waited down on the run course to scream his name and yell GO a million times as he headed out on his first lap.
While he was out on the lap, I stopped back in transition to clean up a bit and then we made it back down to see him heading out on the second lap, and then we checked out the unofficial results
When we checked the fifth round of unofficial results, I was still on the first page. And once all the finisher dust settled and all the people who only did one lap of the bike course were DQ'd (MANY), I was still there. 6th overall woman, 2nd in 30-34, with the fastest female bike split of the day by about 20 seconds. (My not impressed with second face).
It's really difficult for me to type that and not immediately start to qualify it with the size of the race, the depth of the field, the length of the race, a million other reasons why I should not make a big deal out of this. But you know what? Fuck that. I'm going to just celebrate it and not shit all over it. I've never been on a triathlon podium before. And I might not ever be up there again, but yesterday, I was.
Even better than getting on the podium, I set goals before the race started and actually achieved them. Do I feel a little sheepish that my hard 5K effort right now is a 25:xx? A little, but again, I'm going to try not to qualify it. It hurt like hell and that is honestly what my body could do. I feel like I might have been able to run at that pace for a little while longer but there was no way I could have run faster (although when I found out that I was only 13 seconds behind the 30-34 winner...well, never mind). My data files for the bike and the run paint a very different story than the sprint I did in the spring, where I essentially rode at half-IM effort and then ran at MAF. My heart rate on the bike yesterday hovered well over 160 and hit 166, a number that I've maybe never seen on the bike before and haven't seen on the run since last November in Philly. And this is the first hard run in a while that doesn't have the big heart rate drop in it showing where I surrendered to the monsters in my head. Instead it's a picture of perfect effort. Steady and hard and can never remember to stop the watch at the finish line.
But I'm honestly less excited about the specifics of this day. The thing that I am excited about is the progress I am making in race day execution. I've always been a mule in training but for so long, I could not for the life of me put my shit together on race day. Showing up for a sprint was terrifying. I'm not in sprint shape at ALL. I'm actually not in anything shape right now. I spent nine months teaching my body to go long and easy, raced for 14 hours, took 5 weeks off to be a fat drunk (SOAS kit not fitting quite so well this weekend), and then was only back in training for 6 days before I showed up for a race. And you know what? None of that matters. What matters is I showed up, I went hard, I didn't give up, and I don't give a shit about the numbers. I'm finally figuring out how to execute, and this step is making me so excited to race this fall.
The puzzle pieces are starting to come together. Maybe I'll never be fast, maybe I will never get on the podium again, and maybe a steady stream of women will always blow past me on the run. Or maybe, just maybe, this is how it begins.