Some experienced coaches and athletes may say that if you have a lot of energy left when you finish a race, you could have gone faster and gotten a better time. True perhaps, but my personal strategy is to finish strong and smile for the camera. Crazy, perhaps, but I’m a performer; I feed off of the energy of those around me and deliver it right back to them. Amidst the confusion of trying to keep on course I went pretty hard during the swim, and the thrill of passing and being passed on the ride kept me smiling, but in general I have very little motivation to run fast, other than to get it over with sooner. I pretty much all-out sprinted on the last stretch as soon as I saw the finish line. I still need to find out my time – and can’t wait to see the photos – my hair was perfect.
Our Super Sprint wave began 2 or 3 minutes earlier than the set start time of 7:20am, to give room for the Olympic length athletes to finish the final stretch. I took five to seven minutes before our start time to get into the water and do a few strokes to warm up. Moments later our group of neon green swim caps were bobbing along the start line. More exhilarated than nervous, I began my forward crawl towards the far red buoy. The course markers are huge anchored floats that extend at least 3-4 feet in the air, and though my goggles fogged a bit I could easily see the markers as well as the neon green heads bobbing up and down in front of me.
Unlike the swim practice earlier in the week I tried to cut close to the buoys without getting off course. I had no problem swimming near other people, though I was stuck behind a few people on the short length of the rectangle before the second buoy. I’m not competitive by nature, but since swimming is my favorite event, I felt like I had a flame lit under me.
The competitors spread out during the second long stretch so I wasn’t stuck behind anyone. I was able to keep on course rather well and rounded the second green buoy and headed for the home stretch. Actually, I was able to keep on course so well during the last short length that before I knew it I smacked into the red starting buoy as I came up for air. I paddled like crazy towards the shore, and kept afloat until I judged I might go faster standing up and walking. ‘This is going to be the worst part of my day,’ I thought to myself as my princess-soft feet made their grueling way across the shallow stones at the water’s edge.
I smiled, and ran up the carpet, and smiled, and hopped up the concrete stairs of the pavilion, and smiled, and ran, and looked around me a bit. I felt good. Swimming always makes me feel good. Mornings make me feel good. Gorgeous orange sunrises make me feel good. Cheering volunteers and spectators make me feel good. *pant pant pant* I feel good!
I reached my bike and began to slow down and recover. ‘No no – keep going – keep going!’ My wet, cold, shaking hands reached for my towel and my water bottle. ‘Wow, tying shoes takes a long time,’ I thought as I fumbled my way through T1. My clothing went on quickly enough though, my fancy yellow Pearl Izumi cycling jersey that Kathleen gave me when I began mountain biking, and my brand new Zoot tri shorts. The usual joy of tying my bike shoe laces just so before a ride turned into a horrible, time consuming chore. ‘Gloves? No gloves,’ I thought when I couldn’t put them on quickly enough. ‘Oh, off we go.’
I walked my bike through transition along with the other cyclists raring to go. My timer went beep beep as I exited – I love that sound. We hurried down the wooden ramp and onto the pavement at the exit of the park. I’m glad the volunteers repeatedly shouted where to get on the bikes, even though we all knew, because it’s easy to get swept up in the moment and forget basic things, like where to turn, where to get on and off the bike, to put on helmets and race numbers, etc…
I saw the red traffic lights blinking at the intersection of 152nd St in the morning haze as the police and volunteers ushered athletes through the intersection. The normally ridiculously crowded main thoroughfare through Kent was silent and peaceful, save for the adrenaline of hundreds of pumped up athletes. The morning just kept getting more fantastic.
I started strong, and I maintained a good, strong pace throughout the course. I felt powerful on uphill sections, and spent a lot of time coasting through the downhill sections. I knew there was a limit, mostly due to wind resistance, to how fast I could actually pedal my bike, and took advantage of spots to rest. I had them all mapped out from my ride Thursday morning. I had a gel ready for me in my back shirt pocket in case I needed extra energy for the ride, but the adrenaline was suppressing my appetite, and I was even feeling a bit sore on my right side from the small breakfast in my stomach. I was right in my assumption that liquid nutrition was all I would require for the shorter distance race. I mixed up a 2:1 ratio of water to Revive Vitamin Water (I like extra potassium) which I drank most of during the course of the ride. It was hard to put more in my stomach, but I knew I needed readily available energy for the run, and I certainly can’t run well with anything in my stomach.
The cycle section went about as expected: I downshifted too soon on the steep uphill section, but at least my chain didn’t fall off this time! I kept leap frogging certain cyclists – they would pass on the uphill or flat sections, and I’d coast by on the downhill, or on a section where I decided to put in a bit more power. My cycling experience is mostly with mountain biking, so my strength comes in bursts of energy, and I’m most successful when the course has variable terrain.
I could see the group of us was slow to recover from the short steep uphill, and I had to motivate myself to drive it to the next roller hill. I would pedal hard, then coast down a short section and half way up the hill, then downshift slightly, keep low, and pedal hard uphill, stand up on the pedals for a few strokes, then make my left turn down Lake Moneysmith.
This section of the course is actually the most difficult for me. It must be around mile 9 or 10, and I’m a bit tired and settled into endurance mode rather than speed mode. It has the most rolling hills, and I always get distracted by the beautiful horses… But at least I can coast the end of Lake Holm, and back we are out on Auburn-Black Diamond Rd. The hard part is over.
While triathlon is a race made up of a chain of solo sports, a lot of people find it’s great motivation and companionship to train and/or race with friends. Of all my friends (no offense to anyone) I think I would love to have raced with Lacey today. She’s done a triathlon before, and has the same odd, dry sense of humor, that keeps me laughing for hours. By the time I rounded the corner and rode past the espresso hut I was smiling, laughing, and pretty much wanted to shout joyously to everyone, including the guy in the red pickup truck with the coffee in his hand who waited for me to ride past. The 3 miles or so after the espresso shop is my favorite section. It’s cool in the shade and there are lots of downhill sections to lean forward and coast on. My absolute favorite part of the course is the section of road where someone graciously spray painted three large penises which point up the road in the direction of the course. Thank you, penis-spray-painting person. I think Lacey is one of the few people that would find as much amusement from this as I do.
The last section of 152nd out in the sun with lots of dead animals is probably my second least favorite area. Again, I’m tired at this point, and traffic has generally increased to the point of continually filling my nostrils with smog. I stayed focused and was emotionally revived to see the police and volunteers preventing traffic from going through the intersection. Haha, the world belongs to us cyclists and not Sunday drivers going to Wal*Mart so they can spend all day on the couch watching reality TV with bags of chips!
“One last stupid hill,” a volunteer in his yellow shirt said to me as I rounded the intersection, for the first time without traffic. I smiled again.
As my feet hit the pavement at the entrance to the park, I felt that “brick” sensation in my lower legs, as articles in Triathlete magazine described. Except, they weren’t bricks so much as ice blocks. I thought it was just the hard soles of my bike shoes cutting off circulation, but apparently many other athletes had numb toes at the end of the bike section as well.
I remembered the clock was still ticking for the bike section and I skedadled across the blue sensor and beep beeped my way to T2. The two cyclists next to me were bare-footed, their cycle shoes still attached and unfastened. I’m still sort of fascinated about that, and curious if it results in as many blisters as one might expect.
The sun was warming up the park and the crowds were going crazy. People were at all stages of this crazy race and several were finishing as I fastened my tri belt with my number across my bum. I was too amped up to be able to put anything in my stomach at the moment, so I decided to take my second water bottle on the jog with me. The second water bottle had a 2:1 ratio of water and Energy Vitamin Water, the one with caffeine. I had a few gulps after the swim, and used the rest on the run. At first I thought it may have been a mistake adding extra weight to my run when my stomach couldn’t handle anything while running anyway, but I was resourceful, and figured out the best way to make use of it.
My “brick” legs were slow to get moving; my muscles felt cold though they had just been pumping through 15.8 miles of roadway. The goal for my run section was to keep moving at least at the gait of a slow jog, through the entire course. When I reached the start of the Soos Creek Trail up the hill from the park I started to kick it into gear… almost… *Thud thud thud* My brain was telling my body to be loose in the ankles, but I kept grinding out heavy knee-jarring foot falls. I couldn’t go faster without it being greatly uncomfortable. On the main downhill section I lengthened my stride instead of sacrificing acceleration, and further on I jogged a bit on the grass on the side.
I smiled and thanked the police officer holding up traffic along 240th. A long line of vehicles waited on either side of our trail. I kept on.
The turnaround came at about the point I had estimated and I jogged a sharp U-turn around the cone, careful not to cut off anyone continuing forward for the Olympic length. Back I went across the street where cars were still lined up and waiting. My feet had finally thawed out and I was able to adjust my alignment for a stronger and safer stride. I knew the uphill section was coming up, so I didn’t want to use up too much energy. My right side was aching, and there was a slight discomfort at the top of my right hamstring. I was determined to keep my pace.
“Doing good,” a gentleman jogging slowly uphill next to me called out as I passed.
“Thanks – I’m a mountain biker so my strength is on the uphill.”
“After this part it’s all of our strengths!” he said moments before we crested the hill.
I felt strong – my pace was something of a faster jog. I could have gone harder, but something was holding me back. The fear of losing my pace and having to walk was too strong. I was too happy in just the place I was in. I could take in my surroundings and enjoy the moment without my lungs or legs burning and clouding my senses.
I had been emptying excess fluid from my water bottle throughout the course, and managed to take a few sips along the way, just enough to wet my throat. Towards the end I started taking swishes of drink in my mouth, holding it under my tongue and hoping the little bit of hydration and nutrients entering my blood steam would help. It most likely did, and I felt great as I came down the road and entered the park. I was ready – this is it – this is it – oh there’s a photographer already. *Smile smile*
I had my White Pine Touring Park City water bottle in my hands, sunglasses on, tri belt turned so my number was facing forward, and look there’s the finish line. I sprinted. Arms pumping, legs burning, lungs unaware of what they were about to do. I accelerated. I finished strong and kept my pace just as I had wanted to. For me, I won.
Shaking, I allowed a young volunteer to take the timer chip from around my ankle and another one to place my medal around my neck. I graciously accepted a bottle of water from another girl and made my way out of the finish area to bask in the warm glow of the sun and my momentous triumph!