Tuesday, June 23, 2015

That hurt.

If I could sum up the Grand Rapids Triathlon in one word, it would be... "humbling." 

After my (positively) shocking result from Leon's last weekend, I had confidence that my body was half Ironman race ready (I naturally do better when the distances get longer since I'm more of an "endurance" athlete), and set a few goals. 

Yeah, that weekend kind rocked.

One goal I always set is to have the fastest run as this forces me to push hard the entire time: regardless of what place I'm in, if this is a "key race," I should push hard until I cross that finish line. Advice to anyone coming back from injury: don't set big goals for your first race back unless you have a positive support system to help you handle your emotions after crossing the finish line.

When I came back from my knee injury last year and raced Muncie 70.3, I was in a similar situation in terms of fitness, so used those swim/bike/run times as my goals.  At Muncie last year, I swam 37ish minutes, biked 2:37ish, and ran 1:25:55. 

Keeping in mind that I did not start triathlon training with Coach Bill until May 3rd, I reminded myself that my swim and bike might not be quite where I would hope. The goal for Grand Rapids was to be under 40 for the swim (again, a slow swimmer with only 5 weeks of practice... not a good combo), under 2:40 for the bike, and 1:25 for the run. I figured the run would for sure happen, and the other two would just be icing on the cake.

Good thing I didn't bet Ryan on it, because I would have lost money.

A few weeks before Leon's Triathlon, one of our EGO p/b Sammy's Teammates, Alex, had mentioned the Grand Rapids Triathlon. It offers a Sprint, Olympic and Half distance, so Ryan and I were sold, but I just had to decide if doing a Half would be a smart idea. After running 10 miles on Memorial Day with no pre/during/post-run pain, we figured my body was back to normal and I could register for the Half. EEK.

Alex was awesome enough to host Ryan, me, and our teammates Chris and Katie. His mom, aunt and awesome wife Dani treated us to a delicious pre-race meal of bison/sweet potato tacos and spinach salad. I can't believe I didn't take a picture, but boy was it delicious. 

This would be Alex's first Half, so we planned around his schedule in terms of race day arrival (note to first-timers: it's always important to arrive earlier than you would expect to kind of ease your mind/body of any nerves). Alex's lake house was about an hour away, so we were up at 3:30 (2:30 Chicago time) to head out by 4am. It was again down-pouring and I was starting to get nervous for what this could mean for our race. I mean, we didn't drive all this way just to eat brunch (though, that was an added perk of doing this race).

Luckily, the only lightning we saw was on the car ride to Grand Rapids. When we arrived (maybe the 8th car to do so!), we figured we would grab our race packets then come back to the car and get race ready. Ryan, Alex and I walked the quarter mile to grab our packets, and realized we should have just brought our bikes. Instead, we walked back to the cars to get race ready. In the midst of rushing, I left my Garmin 920 on the passenger seat. Fortunately, I had my bike Garmin...which really is all that matters since that's the area that I need to improve in the most (though I secretly like knowing my run splits!).

The Swim:
Fastest 1.2mile swim to date!!
Ryan and Alex started before my teammate Katie and I did, so we had a good 10 minutes to hang around. This proved to be a good thing as getting on wet wetsuits is actually much more challenging than you'd think. 

I also had time to find someone with a dry shirt (a challenging task on this rainy day!) and asked this cute older man to borrow a dry portion of his shirt to wipe my goggles. Thanks goodness he let me!

I positioned myself in the middle of the group of women and listened to the countdown. We had been told that the turn buoys were the "candy corn" looking ones, so while other girls were going around the circular and non-candy-corn-colored buoys, I was making a straight path the the candy-corn colored one to swim less yardage! I do wish I would have had my Garmin 920 on so that I could have seen the path I took as it definitely felt as though I took the most direct route in comparison to the other girls who followed the sight buoys. I used my "50 strokes HARD/25 strokes easier" technique and was actually passing a lot of people, which naturally shocked me. I glanced at the time-of-day clock as i came out of the water--7:45:xx. This got me thinking, If they really sent us off at 7:10 like they said, that means I swam a 35:xx, whaaaat?! I would have to wait until the results were posted to find this out, but I still felt pretty good coming out of the water.

Transition 1:

Un/Fortunately my bike was racked with Ryan and our teammate Chris, so there was only my bike and one other left when I got to the rack. My only thought was Please tell me there's a porta-potty in transition...no luck. After thinking that I was having a good swim and that this could mean a good day for me, I tried to focus my mind on other things and quickly left transition.

1 bathroom break

I wasn't able to focus my mind for long. For those who maybe don't do the longer triathlon distances, I'll let you in on a little secret: triathletes pee on their bikes. Think about it: you have to slow down to pull up to a porta-potty, then you actually have to go to the bathroom in the porta-potty, then you have to start back up again on your bike from a dead stop....even if you're only in the bathroom for 1 minute, the time it takes to stop and restart is probably close to that so you essentially waste 2-3 minutes!

For me, it was something I had to do. This cost me at Muncie last year, and I knew it could potentially cost me my hopeful top-3 finish today, BUT I also knew that my watts were SUPER low since I couldn't push my legs like normal. 

The volunteers were so cute and held my bike as I flew in and out of the porta-potty. I checked to make sure I wouldn't be violating a USAT rule that could potentially DQ me by mounting my bike when no other riders were coming. Almost immediately, I was riding less than 10 watts under what I was hoping for (prior to my break, I might as well have been on a spin bike in terms of my low watts!). Unbelievable what one little bathroom break can do!

The nice part about the Grand Rapids Tri was that it was a simple out and back bike course, so I was able to not only see Ryan, Alex and Chris crushing it, but I was also able to count how many girls were ahead of me.

The tricky part was that the Athena and Relay ladies started 10 minutes ahead of us; I decided just to count every girl I saw as I would rather count too high than too low. At the turnaround, there were 12 girls ahead of me. I had hoped to have less than 10 to catch, so was a bit bummed, but that turned into motivation on my ride back.

I hopped off of the bike with only 8 girls to catch on the run, knowing I had my work cut out for me if I wanted to reach my goal of a top 3 finish.

Transition 2:

All the bikes except for mine back on the rack, I had to find an open spot to throw my bike (two riders placed their bike where mine should have been...oh well). I grabbed my Fastwtich and socks out of the garbage bag, and was surprised that they weren't completely drenched. I threw them on, grabbed my bib belt and 2 PowerGels and headed off to the run.

Fastest female run. 8th overall fastest run.

Finally! I honestly had not even looked at the course as I didn't care to psych myself out for any portion of my first tri back. I quickly learned it would be a double-loop course, which could potentially work in my favor in terms of seeing what girls were ahead of me.

I saw one female almost right away, thinking there is NO way this girl is NOT on a relay...she is SO far ahead! Turns out she would be the winner by almost 10 minutes. What? Yeah, she out-biked all but 17 guys out of the 438 finishers, so I'd say that's probably how she won the race. 

I saw two other girls relatively far ahead, and figured a top 5 is still a respectable first-race-back kind of finish. It felt like it took forever to reach the girls who were ahead of me, but each time I did, I felt a tiny boost of energy.... similarly to the boost I'd feel after taking my two vanilla PowerGels! I know it seems crazy, but I swear those things get my legs pumped back up and reenergized! 

I was not a fan of the run course to be honest, despite many factors working in my favor. The run course is a 2-loop course. Instead of just being a loop or an out-and-back, there were two times where you'd turn onto a street, run to the end, run around something to turnaround, and run back out... while it was great in terms of seeing people in front of you, mentally it kind of sucked. Plus, these parts also had hills so it definitely challenged everyone both physically and mentally.

By the time I started my second loop, I had calculated that the best place I could do was 4th, which was what my teammate Katie was currently in. She had done major work on the bike so was pretty far ahead of me, but I knew if I was to dig deep and really HURT, I could potentially catch her just before the finish line.

Sure enough, at mile 11.5 I could see her in front of me, within striking distance. I was lucky that the last 1.25miles were either flat or downhill, and used that to my advantage. Katie was hilarious at the end: "And then just before mile 12, Jacqui comes flying by me, and I'm pretty sure I actually saw dust come off of her feet as she smoked past me." I do kind of wish I had my watch with me for the last 2-miles since I really feel like I had one of my best finishes of a triathlon during these last 2 miles. 

Home stretch!!

4th place female
Fastest female run split

LOVE this team<3 p="">
One of the most important things that I learned from this race was to be realistic. Yes, it is awesome to set high goals for yourself and get pumped up about a race....but when coming back from an injury that kept you out of training for 5 weeks, having high goals might set you up for disappointment. 

If I'm being honest (which, let's be real, I'm honest to a fault), I pictured myself running into Ryan's arms and breaking down crying about how awful this experience was for me multiple times on the run and the bike. All I kept wanting to do was finish the race so I could have my cry sesh with Ryan... yet, when I finished the race, Katie's comment really just made me feel so much better about my day, despite having no clue what any of my splits were. 

A big takeaway from my "comeback race" is that it's important to have those "test" races prior to a big race when coming back from any sort of injury. Use this "test" race as a learning experience and as a way to get your feet wet again in terms of competition. Not only will your body be able to physically adjust and remember what the race feels like, but your mind will be able to adjust as well. Having a "test" race is almost like a pre-test in school: you then get to correct your mistakes, learn from them, and perform better on the big test when things actually count. And this, I plan to do in a few short weeks. Stay tuned!

Reasons why I keep coming back for more.

As always, thanks to EGO p/b Sammy's Bikes for the sweet uniforms, team camaraderie, and best bike/equipment and bike tune-up in Chicagoland. Thanks to PowerBar for the nutrition that keeps me energized. Thanks to Saucony for the amazing shoes that help me chase down as many people as the race allows. And thanks to my incredible friends and family who believe in me and encourage me when I need it the most.


Agnes Lawson said...

We should face down our pains in order to move forward. But we should also be aware of our limits. That’s a great tip about not setting big goals for your first race after injury. It simply won't be rational to stress your body like that. Give your body time and latitude to heal. Good day!

Agnes Lawson @ Pain Relief Experts

Clayton Diaz said...

Wow! That's an incredible time! I'm still in the 6 hour plus finishing time frame. It's improving though with each race. :-)