In the week leading up, my training wasn't great. I did a long ride on Memorial Day, a couple 30 minute swims, and those joyous run/walk sessions. Thursday was a total rest day. I had planned on putting in a long ride for HIM training yesterday, but sleep and life won out. So maybe I will be "tapered" for this thing after all.
Yesterday was a "what not to eat the day before a race" type of day. Ice cream for breakfast. Not an exaggeration. Random, mostly unhealthy, stuff throughout the day. No excuse for it, but those glycogen stores were at least tapped off. While I was at it, I decided to make other silly day before race mistakes. Like not thinking of packing my stuff until 9pm. Or not going to bed until 11pm. I think I have gotten use to the somewhat complex logistics of the longer stuff and had forgotten that even "just" an Olympic has lots of moving parts. So next time, checklists.
I woke up this morning at 5am exhausted. Quick shower, breakfast of 1 cup vanilla yogurt and 1/2 cup gluten free oats, and a cup of coffee. I thought I'd be on the road by 5:30 but it was closer to 6. This got me a bit anxious but I knew I had plenty of time. It is just a 45 minute drive and transition closed at 7:20. It was an uneventful drive down, and had the usual emergence of fancy bikes on cars as you got close to the site. Plenty of parking at the high school, and then I took Penelope to transition.
Transition was first come first serve, which is not my favorite. I chose a somewhat central location (without scoping out the traffic flow in transition). Again, checklists would have been helpful. My brain was still tired and I was having a hard time figuring out what I needed. I also had brought way too much stuff, so a packing checklist would've helped there. I was excited to have my first race with Penelope. I had her set up with the profile bottle in the aerobars with 3 scoops Perform and a bottle on the frame with water. I definitely need to adjust the straw in the Profile bottle, as that was not ideal. Once I was setup I got bodymarked and applied sunscreen. I ate a banana around 7am and then joined the portapotty line, which moved pretty quickly.
After I left transition, I had my first two complaints about this race, one of which is preventable with better planning on my part. 1) No gear check or glasses area. Yes, you can leave most of your stuff in transition, but I had an hour between the close of transition and my start time. For me it was mostly that I wanted to have glasses and then somewhere to put them, but I could see having a gear check be good for other things like flip flops or warm clothes on a cold day. I ended up asking the guy at the Athletico tent to stow my glasses for me. The second was no fluids while we waited, not even a water fountain. I should have brought a bottle, but it would've been nice to have cups of water or gatorade out for that wait. I got really nervous about dehydrating so I ended up breaking that "don't try anything new on race day" rule and having lots of samples from vendors of their various drink products.
There was an opening ceremony with nice recognition given to different military groups. The whole race felt very patriotic- flags everywhere! The guy that does the anthem for the Blackhawks sang it here as well. They announced that they were trying to speed up getting us in the water to beat the heat as much as possible. My wave was scheduled to start at 8:30, I'm not sure how much earlier we ended up. I had a gu at 8ish and got my wetsuit on and lined up with the other pink caps. My wave was the last one of the Olympic and all men and women 34 yrs old and under. I was a little scared to be swimming with the guys, but nothing I could do about it. Stay in my box.
The swim starts in deep water. It felt refreshing when I first jumped in. The water temperature was 73 degrees, and I was happy I'd gone with my sleeveless wetsuit. The swim course is a rectangle, and is well marked with orange buoys. I was nervous that I was going to panic as I usually do a bit for my first open water swim of the season, but I was fine. I got into a rhythm pretty quickly, and tried to really focus on the patient hands/gliding that I've been working on. Much harder to execute in open water, and I could not get into a rhythm of breathing every 3rd stroke. There was surprisingly little contact during the swim, which kept making me think I was off course. I also had no idea where I stood in the pack. A few times when I paused to reorient myself, I could see caps ahead of me and caps behind me, so I guess I was somewhere in the middle. The swim seemed long. I think this is partially due to my lack of swimming, as I'm not use to spending time in the water. I wasn't really tired, just like "get me out of here". There was a sandbar close to the end of the swim, so people were standing up. I thought it was over, but then the sandbar dropped off and you had about another 100 m to go. My swim time was 34:19. While this time is quite disappointing, you really can't slack as much as I have on the swim training and expect a miracle.
When I came out of the water I felt dizzy and disoriented. I got the top part of my suit off and left my goggles on since they are prescription. The run to transition was longer than I thought, as the entrance was on the far side. Should've checked that out better before hand. Found my bike pretty quickly and could tell my heart rate was sky high. The dizziness got a bit better when I got my glasses on but I still felt off balance. Penelope and I were off to the mount line.
As soon as I was on the bike I felt off. My heart rate was ridiculously high, still felt a bit disoriented, and felt I couldn't get my legs going. Starting off into a head wind wasn't helpful, and I quickly felt discouraged. I didn't have a super clear bike goal to begin with, but that "just give up" side of my brain started talking. I compromised- I would try to push myself, but accept that what I get pushing myself might not be what I want.
The major criticism of the bike course is the massive amount of turns. I would add that the second criticism is absolutely no scenery. Concrete. Roads. Concrete. Not exciting. The course takes you along some area roads and then you go onto a closed highway. You repeat the whole thing twice. I did start to feel better as I went. Once my heart rate came down a bit, I got my bearings. Getting out of the headwind gave me some confidence back as well. I kept my Garmin showing only power and lap time to not distract myself from speed. I tried to never let my power drop below 140. I didn't have a clear nutrition goal either, but I essentially emptied my aerobottle with Perform.
I had a hard time staying in my box on the bike, and not thinking about how other people were doing. This can be good from a competitive standpoint- the "find someone and chase them down" mentality, but I think I just let it be negative energy. I was telling myself everyone seemed more fit, stronger, faster, etc. I should have just focused on racing my best race. I also kept being paranoid about flats. I saw many people on the side of the road, due to flats I presume, so I kept being sure I had one.
My mojo definitely came up the second loop. By the time we were coming off the highway into the final stretch, I was pushing it and yelling at my legs to shut up. I was able to chase a couple girls down, though couldn't beat the last one. A nice tail wind coincided with this section, so I got a boost from the wind as my legs were pumping it out. Of course that last quarter mile or so turns into the wind ago, but with the dismount in sight it's no big deal.
Final bike stats:
Time: 1:17:37 (19.17 mph)
NP: 147; VI: 1.02; IF: .90 (based on power test 2 days later)
When I got off the bike it was on to the run, which is usually my favorite and strong point, though this time my plan for the run was run 5 minutes, walk 1 minute. I had done a run 4/walk 1 with good success for 40 minutes, so I figured this was a bit of a stretch but nothing crazy. I started with that good ol’ brick feel of legs moving through cement. I didn’t have my Garmin, so no idea what my actual pace was but it felt like a crawl. It was somewhat relieving to not care- I had to be smart and I obviously wasn’t pushing it. I was shocked when I was passing people. I got to the first walk interval with no problems. The funny thing is people cheer you on more when walking, like you need the extra encouragement. I wanted a sign to carry saying “This is my plan!!”.
So that is pretty much how it played out, run 5 minutes, walk 1 minute. Occasionally I had some extra walking depending on placement of the water stop, and a couple times I ran 6 minutes before walking due to water. But more or less, I stuck to the plan. The major problem with my strategy is it makes you look at your watch a lot. And nothing makes time go slower than constant staring at the watch. Ironically, it seemed I was walking a lot less than a lot of folks out there. And there I was thinking I’d be dead last… It was fairly hot, and I think people just weren’t use to it. This is where I realized how key it is to have a plan. I think that I too may have walked more had I not had my plan due to injury. Without it, you think “ugh this is hot and awful, I’ll just walk a minute.” And that walking feels good. Unfortuantely, rather than rejuvenate you, it more often leads to… more walking. However, having that plan at the get-go of some walking lets you still have the benefits of walking without it becoming an addiction. Lesson to keep in mind…
The run course was similar to the bike course in that nothing was that great to look at, despite running around the lake. Well, by around the lake, this incudes through park lots with one of the worst smells you will ever experience. The organization of water stations also seemed to be lacking. There were a couple really close to eachother, and then a long stretch without any. People were really suffering out there.
As I neared the finish line, I was incredibly optimistic. My hip was feeling fine. I definitely hadn’t PR-ed, but I was still going to have a sub 3 hr Olympic, which I was happy with given the circumstances. Seemed like my hip was saying it was on the upswing, and I even let myself have a brief notion of running in Wisconsin Dells, though the logical part of me quickly reminded myself that was just plain stupid.
I finished in 2:57:10, with a run time of 59:43. Not bad for about 12 minutes of walking (and really, no run training). I was satisfied with this, as it wasn’t so much a race for me as a fun thing to do. But here’s the kicker. I placed 4th in my age group. And the top third qualify for AG National’s since it is a special qualifier. So yeah, on my worst Olympic time with a gimpy hip, I qualified for a national champtionship… Mixed feelings on that one- 1) awesome!, 2) Um, I don’t deserve it. 3) What the heck, when else can I say I qualified for that? As to whether or not I’ll race, we’ll see. Oh, but the real kicker- my run was third in my AG. About that lesson of having a plan…
Leon’s did a nice job with plenty of post-race food. However, I was extremely disappointed that there was ZERO bike security. You could walk out with not a single person watching you or checking you were taking your bike. At least there are still nicer bikes than Penelope.
All in all, I’m not sure I’d do this race again. On the plus side, it is close to Chicago and a good test of somewhat early season fitness. The special qualifer deal is also a bonus if you are trying to make it to Nationals. However, the course was blah, and things like long stretches of no aid stations on a hot day and no bike security frustrate me. Leon’s is considered the World’s Fastest Triathlon, and while it was my slowest, it was a win in many ways. I may have to come back some day to see if it really can be my fastest.