"Birkenstocks, Jet Lag And A Sprint To The Line - Every Second Counts"
Sunday, September 13th, 4:50am the alarm goes off taking us into a day that I had been thinking about for many months. Darkness was turning to dawn, it was in the upper 50s with very light breezes. I ate a breakfast of 300-400 calories and took a quick shower to wake me up fully. We'd checked my bike in the day before so I just needed to get Jen up, get dressed and head out the door with my gear in my Nathan tri backpack.
The apartment we were staying in was about a 15-20 minute walk from the race site and as we walked the sun peeked up over the horizon. Triathletes, with their families and friends were pouring into the race site. I found my bike in transition, carefully place a towel on the ground with my bike helmet and Zeal sunglasses on it along with my running shoes, race belt with my race number and my bright yellow FCA-E hat. I pumped up my tires, check my starting gear, filled my water bottle with Hammer Nutrition's HEED, spun the wheels on my very fast Valdora "Phoenix" (great name for a bike huh?) to be sure the brakes weren't rubbing the rims and headed back out to find Jen and start to warm up.
The sun was warming things up nicely and it looked to be a perfect day weather wise. After thinking most of the week that wetsuits would not be allowed in the swim, they announced the water was cold enough and wetsuits were legal for which I was glad at the time. I sat down to stretch in the grass and Jen went to find a cup of coffee. She returned a bit later to watch my wetsuit, goggles, etc. while I jogged around a little. It was so cool to put on my Team USA uniform...we took a few pics, did a bit more stretching, put on the wetsuit and I was ready to roll.
My 50-54 age group was about the 18th heat / wave to start so there were already a lot of people in the water and out on the bike course. Jen and I walked to a place where I could get in the water away from the official start area and I swam about 100 yds. just to get my arms going and then got worried I might be late for my heat so I got out, kissed Jen and walked over to the start area.
About 50-60 guys lined up on the beach with me 10 yds. back from the water's edge. I looked down the line...how would I stack up against these guys from 20+ nations? Australia produces more good triathletes than any other country in the world and about 40% of the guys in this line were Aussies. I felt good though and was ready to finally get after it. I lined up on the far left end as I didn't want to get hit or kicked at the start.
The countdown started - 10, 9, 8, etc. I'd taken my watch off and also removed my bike odometer/speedometer. Not much to monitor today - just GO! Horn blasted and off we went. Ran / bounded out as far as my legs could take me, then a quick dive in and the stroking began. 750 meters or 820 yards - straight out, right hand turn, swim parallel to the beach, then back in further up the beach to the exit area.
I felt good heading out. I have several "mantras" that I repeat in my head while I swim such as, "Long and strong," and "Reach and roll." I hit the first buoy about 250 meters out with a pack of guys that I thought might be the lead pack. (I later learned that it was but that two guys had gotten away quickly and were fabulous swimmers who beat the pack I was in by a minute and finished with the Silver and Bronze medals that day.)
Was starting to tire a bit as we turned to head back to the beach. In a 750 meter swim you have to go fast but you can't go totally all out or you'll be sucking air half way through. I was trying swim right at that "red line" without going over it. I kept looking up as we neared the beach wanting to see how many orange capped guys, our swim wave color, beat me out of the water. Didn't see any til I was almost done so I was encouraged, though again, not realizing two had smoked that swim...
Jen yelled that I was in 8th as I passed her running to my bike. It was hard for her to see exactly what place I was in... The results showed I as 13th, so the pack I was in was made up of 11 guys. We all came out together and ran up a soft sand beach, then had a long run along the transition area before it led us to the bikes. Wetsuit was stripped down to my waist and I was ready to get it off quickly...but...I really struggled getting it off. I'd had much faster transitions with it in other races this year and I knew that every second counted so I was pretty ticked as I headed out on with the bike knowing that I'd probably given up a spot or two at the finish with my T-1 wrestling match. The results showed it wasn't all that bad compared to the other guys though...but they also showed that the struggle did cost me....
The bike was an out and back that we did twice - 12.4 miles. No time for pacing myself here - it was all out, all the way. The bike has been my strength the last couple of years and I was hoping to go sub-30 min. Though at times I felt like I was really going fast, much of the time I felt a bit sluggish, not on top of my game. It was frustrating. I played leapfrog with an Aussie most of the ride without drafting which is illegal. With no watch and no speedometer I didn't know what my bike split was, but as I passed Jen heading into the second transition, I heard her yell, "47 minutes." I was wanting to be at 45 or less at that point in the race so I knew I wasn't having my best race this season.
It was a fairly long run from the road we biked on to the transition area but I ran as fast as I could pushing my bike ahead of me. VERY cool to hear people yell, "Go USA!" when I went by them. I had a pretty good second transition but struggled a bit with the insert in my shoes bunching up some. That had not happened all season...great timing...but I headed out on the run hoping they'd smooth themselves out down there - they did.
Now, let's back up a second. I love Birkenstock sandals. Not the coolest looking footwear but I've always loved how they feel. So, I thought I'd wear them on the flights over and during that week. But, I've never worn them 3 days straight without a break. By the end of our first full day in Australia, having walked all over the Gold Coast in them, my Achilles started hurting pretty badly and I couldn't understand why. It got so bad that I had to walk super slow to keep the pain down. It took me a while to connect the sandals with the pain. (The day after the race, I put them back on and immediately had the same pain so those things are history!)
I finally put other shoes on and it made a huge difference. My Achilles hurt most of the rest of the week though, causing me to miss a workout and putting some doubt into my mind about the run portion of the race.
Back to the race - I headed out on to the run, really just trusting the Lord. I don't mind running with some pain, but a number of times over the years, I've had injuries that cause pain that suddenly make a muscle seize up, bringing me to walk and no hope of running for several weeks. THAT is what I didn't want to happen. I wanted to run 19:something for my split, or, if I was having a fantastic day, maybe go 18 something. I'd gone 19:something at Nationals on a pretty tough run course with a monster hill and a 1/2 mile of beach running during the 5K. This was an easier, flatter course.
I ran each mile faster than the one before and though running as hard as I felt I could, I still felt sluggish. I kept exhorting myself to go 110% but just didn't feel "fast." The last 1/2 mile I really pushed it for all I had. In a sprint distance tri, especially at this level, every second counted - EVERY second. Typically, a finisher will come across the line about every 10-15 seconds so you can see that 20 extra seconds in, say, transition, can be a place or two. I was really hurting as I put the pedal to my 52 yr. old metal that last 800 yds. We rounded a bend, ran about 150 yds., then rounded the final bend for the final 50 yds. straight to the finish line. With about 100 yds. to go someone was holding out a small US flag to take which I grabbed on the way by. Didn't slow me down at all - probably made me run harder if that were possible.
I had no idea what place I was in but with about 75 yds. to go an Aussie ran by me with "50" written on his calf showing he was in my age group. No way I was going to catch him as he was flying. (I remembered doing that to a Brit at Worlds 2 yrs. before - now I knew how he felt.) I sprinted to the line, not knowing that 4 seconds behind me was the next guy in my age group and 2 seconds behind him was the next.
I knew I hadn't had my best race of the year which probably had been a month earlier when I won the sprint race in Detroit Lakes, MN, but I did what I could and my Achilles didn't effect my race so I was very thankful to God for His kindness to me. We had to wait to get on line later that afternoon to see the results as they didn't post the results at the race site like most races do.
After the race we had to wait a couple of hours before they'd let us back into transition to get our bikes and gear so we sat down in the park where the race was held to enjoy the beautiful day, get something to eat and relax. Later, I got my bike and gear and walked back to the apartment, showered, changed and went to the local internet cafe to look up the results. Two years ago, I'd finished 20th out of 99 at Worlds and wanted to be top ten out of 50 or so in this race.
Results said I'd finished 8th, missing 7th by two seconds due to the guy who ran by me at the end - but I was sure thankful I held off the two guys right behind me or I'd have been 10th. 8-9 seconds separated 7th place from 10th place - truly, every second counts in a sprint distance race. I was happy that I'd reached my goal of top 10. I wasn't happy with my bike split of 31:something or run split of 20:02, but....I can't really complain. I ran 6:25 per mile and was the second Team USA finisher in my age group.
I have a friend who has traveled the world racing in World Championship races whom I talked to afterwards and he was quite sure I felt sluggish due to jet lag. He said it would take at least 10 days to be on top of my game and better yet, 12-14. We'd come through a 15 hour time zone change and that was big. The Birkenstock deal didn't help nor did hardly running at all the first 2/3s of the summer due to a foot problem.
No excuses here, just evaluation. I love to analyze and evaluate and look for ways to improve. I love trying to figure out, like a puzzle, this sport of triathlon. I do know one thing - I was 4-5 lbs. over ideal race weight for me and I can't blame that on anyone or anything but ME. In a sprint tri, if you're a good swimmer and cyclist, it all comes down to the run and the lighter the better. The guy who won the world championship started the run back a few spots and ran 17:something to win it.
Highlights of the tri experience? Marching in with Team USA during the opening ceremonies under the lights, and, grabbing the American flag and running to the finish holding it up.
I probably won't try to go to Worlds the next two years. I'm heading into the upper end of my age group and the next two "Worlds" are in Budapest and Beijing. Been to Budapest and in 2011 I'll be oldest in my age group so I'll probably wait til I age up to the 55-59 age group in 2 1/2 years and then really go for it. Just for fun I checked to see how I'd do if I still raced at this pace, then...my time this year would have landed me a silver medal in that next age group, so my plan is to not slow down any in the next 3 years which, might be challenging but, I'm actually planning on getting faster not slower....so there! Ha.
Jen was a real encouragement to me, believing in me and probably having more confidence in my abilities heading into the race than I did. I did cause her to struggle a bit and here's why... At Nationals back in July, I pulled out of the parking lot in Newport Beach, CA after the race and left my racing aero helmet in the parking lot for some lucky person to take home. This race? I left my Xterra wetsuit in transition and later that day, when I realized it, it could not be found though we searched everywhere and talked to everyone. Ouch! Three others were turned in but, not mine. Oh well, Christmas is coming and no need for a wetsuit before next Spring.
If you read all of this you are either an endurance athlete, or, you could be one. Thanks for hanging in there to hear the whole story, or at least most of it. Thanks to all those who thought of us and prayed for my race and those who took care of our lawn, house, dog, cat, trash, etc., while we were away. All that is deeply appreciated!
PS - we had a great time watching season one of the TV show, "24." This last season was the first time we'd ever watched it. We thought there was no way we'd get through all 24 episodes during this trip but we actually finished 2 days before leaving Australia. Now...on to season two!