Last year’s motivating phrase on my pre-race bottle has faded long ago. I was waiting for another one to come along and strike my fancy. After Saturday’s race, I’ve decided that this one needs to stay:
“How long will it take you to arrive? However long it takes you to unlearn your doubt.”
This summed up my race entirely, as I was reminded to never count myself out or give up. I went into this race with 0 confidence. And it was showing. Not only was it hard for me to get into race mode for whatever reason, I also felt that my evident lack of bike fitness would make for a very depressing race. Knowing only some of the competition that was going to be there, and their abilities compared to where I was at, in my mind this was a race for silver in my age group at best (exactly what I thought in France 2012).
It was also a race where I got to see a bunch of friends so no matter what the day brought I knew it would be fun! As we were lined up at the start the words of Gail Kattouf rang true – “I’m going to give it the old college try.” And that’s all we can do – go out there and race our own races while having fun doing what we love!
With 338 Long Course finishers at a mass start, we knew this race was going to be chaotic. And starting with the men is never good for my pace 😉 My plan had been to hang with the lead females on the first 5 mile run to get a sense of what I could expect, but as usual I went out at my own pace and totally forgot the plan! When I hit mile 1 at 5:59 I felt relieved that I was keeping it under control. Another female blazed by me and I immediately looked for the “R” for relay on her calf – it wasn’t there. But I did see the age marking of 23 and knew it was best to let her go.
The first out-and-back run was uneventful. We met some challenges on the course with some flooded and muddy spots along a paved trail which proved to be very slippery. But now we knew what to expect for the next 3 passes. I came into T1 in 30:49 and was feeling good. Now, onto the bike…
As expected, within mere minutes Gail came blazing by me. I was excited to see her doing her thing and gave her some encouragement as she sped by. Gail is the strongest female cyclist I know, and it’s always cool to see her in action, even if it’s only for a brief moment 🙂 As the short course athletes were also on the course at this time, there was some bunching to start. And also some traffic. As I was behind a car waiting for an opportunity to get around, 2 more females passed me but I barely even noticed as I was focused on finding my own way out of this mess. Shortly after things started to open up and it was time to get into my groove.
Unlike my inability to stick to my initial run plan, I am happy to say that I was able to pace myself appropriately on the bike. Since my bike fitness isn’t where it should be, I knew that going out at a “panicked” pace would only make my day tougher. Fading at the end of the bike only to have to run another 5 miles is not the best scenario. At around mile 20 the next female arrived. She was the 2nd one I was expecting to pass me, so again, no surprises there. I now had the game plan of keeping her in sight for the remaining 12 miles.
This is where my negative self-talk really crept in, as I realized that this race was playing out exactly as I had imagined it. So there it was – my expectations of a mediocre race were coming to fruition – probably in part because it was already crafted in my head to end this way. My thoughts created my reality. That made me mad. At myself. I know how important the mental game is and I was losing. So I just put my head down and carried on.
With these frustrations already clouding my mind, the last portion of the bike led to even more irritation. Around mile 25 a pace line of 3 guys passed me. I dropped back, only to find that they had slowed down their pace. So I passed them. Nothing annoys me more than blatant cheating – even if it’s not affecting me. It’s just embarrassing. Of course, they passed me again. This time after I dropped back I let them move on ahead. I did not want to be anywhere near them. I was happy to be back on my own until about 3 miles from the finish – all of a sudden packs of riders are flying by me. The effects of the mass start were now hitting. There was no way out of this. If I wasn’t being boxed into the shoulder, I was on the outside feeling like I was blocking as riders were 3-4 across the lane the whole way through. Here I was feeling like I was finishing the bike strong, only to see my position threatened by other females in the pack. Perhaps this is what fueled the start of my second run…
I came into T2 in 5th place (however I forgot about the 2 girls who passed me that I didn’t know, and thought I was in 3rd). I fumbled a bit in transition, but it was good enough to head out onto the run in 4th place. I felt strong. I thought I had mentally lost my fight, but it was still here. I was right in front of Rachel and I knew she was a strong runner. If only I could hold her off, I could take 1st in the age group.
About a mile in I look up the road and see Gail. This brought mixed emotions. I know Gail would have crushed me on the bike, and since she is an equally strong runner, she would’ve been way ahead of me. Coming back from a year off I figured this was injury-related, and no one wants to see their friend struggle. Being the amazing competitor she is, she greeted me only with a smile and words of encouragement pushing me along. Love this woman! A true athlete. Now it was up to me to forge ahead.
As I neared the turn-around I came upon my friend and travel companion Marty Stiegmann also hobbling and in pain. Man – this course was tearing up my friends! Next thing I saw – females #1 and #2 coming back. Damn! I forgot about them! I had much more work to do. It was time to dig deep and use my strengths. The back side of the course had a lot of short risers and I had been feeling strong on these. So I used them to gain some ground and try to increase the gap on Rachel whom I knew was right behind me. I finally got the first 2 in striking distance and at around mile 4 I made my first pass as we gave each other some encouragement. 1 down, 1 to go. And I was losing real estate.
The first female was looking strong. Although my confidence was building and I thought I had a good chance of taking the lead, I also knew that I had to be smart about it. Time to come up with a game plan – and quick. I knew that when I made the pass, it had to be with total conviction. I had no doubt that she would be able to respond. I also thought about the last turn into the park which had one last riser into the last 1/4 mile. I had my 2-pronged attack mapped out. Make the pass and stick it, and then find that last gear as I entered the park. I came up on her quietly and when the moment was right, I made my move. It worked. I didn’t know if she was responding or not, but my legs were doing exactly what I asked of them. I turned into the park and surged one more time. Running this final rectangle allowed more than one opportunity to see where she was. And man did I want to check. But I didn’t want to give one ounce of weakness away. So I let out my final kick down to the finish line and made it across with a 16 second lead.
An awesome day of racing indeed! The weather was perfect, so many great friends were there, and many of them on the podium. Even if this race wasn’t the National Championship I still would’ve been there to compete. Marty, Dave and I have to keep the tradition going! Even as I awkwardly dangle in this photo, we now re-create it annually to celebrate our friendship and our passion in doing what we love.
Marty pulled his calf during the race and still managed to take the silver in his age group – now that is grit! Dave on year 2 of his comeback, and after being hit by a car only a few weeks prior, rode 3 mph faster on the course this year. His relay team took 1st overall. I am a lucky girl to have met such amazing friends on this journey, and I am always looking forward meeting many more!