And in hindsight, I can see it coming. I set out on a long run Saturday morning with some friends and my heart rate was through the roof....notable both because of my elephant heart and because sea level usually does a bit of the opposite. I chalked it up to travel and ignored it, and spent the rest of the day at the wedding drinking beer and dancing and going to get donuts at 10:30pm before Sugar Shack closes, as you do.
On Sunday, we went out for a short little run and I came back complaining of what I thought was heartburn, giving me one hell of a sore throat. By the time Tuesday afternoon rolled around, I was sick. I don't get sick all that often, thank goodness, but this one was a doozy. I missed close to a solid week of training there, and then it took another week of very short and gentle workouts to get me ramped back up into what I consider normal, which left maybe two days to do any work before tapering for Arizona.
At some point Michelle and I chatted, and I offered up that I still wanted to race because of all of the things I am working on in my brain, but how about if I just train straight through it, with the real goal being Cozumel. She agreed after I promised not to bitch about how tired my legs were, and that was that. I think it was early Monday or Tuesday morning of race week, I was out doing a pretty hard ride and chasing some power numbers I haven't seen in at least a month, if not longer, and I started to waffle about whether it was worth it to go race if I wasn't able to put out a true effort. But I kept thinking about it, and I remembered reading a race report by Beth about how she pulled off her best watts ever! in a 70.3 a month or so out from Kona, and for whatever reason, that was really appealing to me. (Spoiler: I did not back it up with a 1:18 like she did). It settled my head, it gave me something to focus on, something I could get out of the race that still had tremendous value but that I knew wouldn't come easy, especially once I saw that there were 15 U-turns on the bike course to gleefully wreck havoc on my power numbers.
Race week. I worked and trained and hung out with my puppies and lived my normal life all the way up until Friday afternoon, when I flew down to Phoenix. My bike had gone down with ProBike Express, which was awesome as my hotel, PBE and packet pick-up were all within three blocks of each other AND I didn't have to pick a fight with any airline reps. I had dinner with one of my athletes and climbed into bed, where I stayed for the next 18-20 hours. I slept a ton, I read, I ventured out for a quick trip to get breakfast and then a bit longer mid-afternoon to ride and check the bike in, but I really just shut everything down to give my body the best shot I could at 36 hours of pure recovery.
Swim, 1.2 miles, 34:42, 5/105 AG
My wave was the first wave of women to go off. While we were standing in the corral, the first male came out of the water and I did some math and realized that he swam around 35 minutes. So I knew not to expect a fast swim. It was wetsuit-optional, which I'm always glad about, and the water was really pleasant. We stroked around a bit and I twisted back and watched the clock count down to 7:10 and then we were on our way. I tried to grab onto some feet but I had a bit of trouble getting my bearings and swimming straight against the wall of the lake, so I blew out a bit wide right off the line. It didn't take me long to realize it and correct it, although I could tell that a few women got away from me in that first minute or two. I had clear water the whole swim - no feet, but it was fairly easy to navigate through the earlier waves. My swim felt good: steady, effortless. I had to wait behind a few men at the ladder but popped up in time to see a 34 on the clock. As I mounted my bike, the poet yelled to me that I was in fifth, but the woman at the mount line said I was in second, but then a guy on the way out to the course said fourth so I had no idea what was going on so I just yelled thanks! and got to work.
Bike, 56 miles, 2:42:16, 2/105 AG
There isn't a lot to say about the bike (but I am sure I will come up with plenty). I went out knowing that I had women to catch - aware that if I biked the way I wanted to, it wouldn't matter at all once we got into the run shoes - but wanting to be in that racing space in my head as long as possible. I was all eyes on the power meter. I had taken heart rate off the screen because I knew that no matter how it reacted, it would piss me off, so I spent the entire ride watching 10s power and lap power, pushing as hard as I could to drag it up. It was interesting. The day before the race, I did some 3' efforts that had me moaning and bitching (quietly to myself) about how crappy it felt, but once I got my power up into the range I wanted it on Sunday, my legs did not feel nearly as bad as I anticipated. It hurt, certainly, but it didn't hurt any more than I've hurt in a 70.3 in the past, and one of the BIG lessons that I want to remember from this day is: I believe that if properly rested, I can actually ride exactly like this, maybe even better than this, and run well off of it. One of my many flaws as an athlete is that I fear the run so much I hold back on the bike, and this year has been a long process of Michelle trying to beat that out of me. And it surprises me that this race knocked down a few more walls between how I have ridden in the past and the rider I think I can be. I rode well. It's hard me to say something like that about myself, but that's the truth. It felt fantastic to feel strong, to be strong, to ride controlled and hard, to go out ready to fucking slaughter myself for the power meter and instead finding out that once I dug just a little bit, it was right there.
Anyhow, enough of that crap. I caught at least two girls in my age group on the first loop, and another one in there somewhere, and then after the first loop it got crowded and really hard to keep track of who was where so I stayed nose down in the Garmin and tried not to let anyone pass me at all. I went by the poet at some point and he didn't say anything and I held up one finger, there is one girl still in front of me. It was pretty easy to ride clean, at least where I was; only a few times did I get clogged up in traffic near the turn-arounds. I shoveled my nutrition down and stayed on top of my hydration and in the last loop grabbed water bottles to shower off with because I could tell it was getting hot. I dropped a couple watts trying to get out of my shoes in the last couple of miles but when I got off the bike I was pretty sure that I had done it: best watts ever!
It was much later that night when I finally uploaded my file and laughed to see that I had done it all right: one watt. ONE measly fucking watt. That made me want to laugh at myself, we do all this work and go through all of this fuss for one watt? But I rode eleven watts higher (and....12?? minutes faster?) than I rode at Santa Cruz a few weeks ago so that gives me good scientific knowledge about why I need to stop as soon as I need to pee if I need to stop and pee. And good grief, my goal was to PR my watts and I did it and it doesn't matter by how many! Michelle sort of talked about it a few weeks ago, after racing ironman, but I feel like I'm getting to the point in this sport where the clock really does not always reflect progress. It's not going to be all PR! PR! PR! at this point in racing for me. The only PR that I got out of this race was my one tiny little watt (which I will take, especially knowing how pissed off I would have been to MISS it by the same) but more importantly, I was in the race. At least for the swim and bike, more than I ever have been in my life, and when I dismounted to run into transition and knew I was in second, I was straight-up fucking thrilled.
Nutrition: 3 bottles of OSMO + about half a bottle in T1, 2 Bobo's Bars + 1 stinger waffle for roughly 30oz/hour OSMO & 368 cals/hour.
Run: somewhere sort of around 14 miles, 2:14:54, 6/105 AG
I was in transition for only seconds when suddenly I was surrounded by girls at the rack. I managed to get out and over the mat but two of them went flying past me right away. My instincts were yelling GO! but my legs felt fucking terrible (when not-tapering shows up, it is not subtle) and I knew that I needed to forget about the other women and instead concentrate on surviving without having a meltdown. And I did.
The online tracking system showed everyone blowing up and then getting their shit together and then blowing up but it's likely we all ran pretty steady. I found out hours after the race that there had been a car accident near part of the run course, and it was re-routed last minute, so one of the mats was in the wrong place and one of the out-and-backs was long, and not by a little. The race director posted somewhere that the run was long, I don't remember where I read it, but then people started getting shouty about their Garmins and what their medals say and I clicked away. Here's what I know: I ran steadily, I dropped a few seconds here and there when I stopped at aid stations to refill my bottle and drop ice in every crevice of spandex I could find, I put down chews and got through my fluid and chipped away at the miles. I managed myself in the heat, I managed my brain, I managed my legs, and I'm content, now, with the effort that I know I put out, no matter what the crazy tracking system says. There isn't much more to be said than that.
70.3 miles (ish): 5:36:29, 6/105 AG
Now, in the days after the race, was I disappointed that I wasn't able to hang onto where I was coming off the bike? Yeah, that showed up, a little, and I had to wrestle with it. I hated that it says somewhere out there in forever-land of the internet that I ran a 2:14 for 6th, and then I got frustrated with myself for not being able to just be happy with my day, for judging and picking myself apart for the things I didn't accomplish. There's no asterisk on the race that says it was 92º or that I wasn't properly rested or that the run was long, those things are all part of my story but they are not the simple facts. But that shouldn't matter, and I've just about sorted it out.
Since Boulder, I've gone into each of the last three races with a very specific goal, and I've accomplished that goal every time. I did exactly what I wanted to do in this race, and that should be the end of my reflection about it. I don't want to be picking myself apart because of the things I didn't do; I want to be fucking pumped because of the things I did accomplish. So what I want to remember is that I get to define what success is. I get to write the end of this story. And the way Boulder went down, that's not it. That's the plot twist. This year has been so very hard, and I have struggled, and fallen down, and failed, but that does not need to be the end. I raced well in Arizona, I felt strong, I rode fearlessly. That's what I wanted to get out of the day and those are the pieces that I will tuck into my tool belt as I prepare for Cozumel next month. I don't have any goals for that day mapped out or defined, right now I'm so far in the bucket from training that I'm trying not to think about the race at all but instead nailing each individual session and nothing more. But I do know that when I'm standing at that finish line, the feeling I want, for so many reasons, is this: redemption.