Friday, November 11, 2011

Long Distance Worlds Race Report

Last weekend I celebrated my final race of the season at the International Triathlon Union Long Distance World Championships in Henderson, Nevada. It was unlike any other race I've ever done for a number of reasons, including: 1) it was my first time officially being part of a Team USA contingent and wearing our country's colors in competition, 2) the 4K/120K/30K distance was an unknown, 3) presenting my uniform for a pre-race inspection/check-in was a new experience, and 4) I was uncharacteristically stressed out in the days leading up to the race. For some reason there were a lot of little details to attend to, and everything seemed to take forever which got me feeling really edgy. I certainly didn't enjoy being around me---too bad it's hard to get away from oneself!

Luckily I found my rhythm by race morning; the routine of applying the race numbers the night before and then getting up before the crack of dawn for breakfast has become familiar and calming. I must say (and I'm probably going to jinx myself here) I've gotten to be an *almost* pro at applying temporary tattoos! I remembered to take all the plastic backings off first, and only one of my 3's ended up facing backwards. :)

I arrived at the T1/swim start area right about 5am which gave me a good two hours to set up my gear, warm-up, and make the requisite Porta Jane visits. Coach KT White (the Team USA manager) was waiting at the transition entrance and informed me that the ITU officials were discussing cancelling the swim because of the combined cold water and air temperatures; not five minutes later the official announcement was made. Hmm. No swim? That's not really what I prepared for but I think it was the right call----getting out of 55-degree water and hopping on a bike in 37 degree air temps is a great way to get hypothermia, especially for the slower swimmers who might be in the lake for over 2 hours. The new format was to be a 120K bike/30K run with a time trial start going in 5 second intervals in order of your bib number. That meant the elite men would go off first, followed by the elite women and then the age groupers. The span from the first elite woman to the last was going to be about 2.5 minutes and I was seeded somewhere in the middle, about 1:10 behind the first girl. Some of the fastest swimmers started behind me, so the dynamic was quite different than what it would have been with a swim first; in all honesty (and I cannot believe I am saying this!) I think the cancelled swim worked to my benefit. The strongest swimmers probably would have gained at least a 2 minute advantage over me coming out of the water so it was nice to not have any deficit to make up coming out of the water. On the flip side, I would not have the usual cushion over the slower swimmers going into the bike/run so the strategy basically became to race full bore the whole way and see where I landed at the end.

The biggest decision race-morning was figuring out what to wear in the chilly temps. I was most worried about my fingers and toes so full-fingered gloves and toe-warmers were a must; the big debate was if arm warmers would be enough to keep me from freezing or if I should consider some type of vest or jacket over my race kit. In the end I went with just the arm warmers which ended up being perfect. My nutrition basically stayed the same: 8 PowerGels in water, a bento box full of red creamer potatoes, and water on the bike, then 2 gel flasks (with 4 PowerGels each) throughout the run with hydration at every aid station.

I knew going into this race that the course was going to be tough and boy, did it live up to its reputation! OUCH. There were no flat sections anywhere on either the bike or run. With the exception of the Three Sisters (3 short 16-18% grade climbs around mile 60) the hills weren't steep, but they were that special kind of long & steady grind that you find so often here in the western United States. I have a love-hate relationship with this type of hill. I train on hills like this all the time and have gotten strong on them, but that doesn't mean I necessarily like them!

On the bike I passed a handful of girls early in the ride, then was passed in turn by Nikki Butterfield (a former pro cyclist) around mile 20 and then by eventual winner Rachel Joyce just after the Three Sisters. I kept pushing to catch up to USA teammate Meredith Kessler but couldn't quite manage to bridge the gap and eventually lost sight of her once we got off the bike path and headed towards downtown Henderson. Thank you uber-coach Michael Lovato for calling out splits and encouragement along the way! Despite the time trial start the field was relatively spread out and it seemed to be a pretty clean race---thanks in large part to the challenging nature of the course I'm sure.

I started the run in 6th place with the knowledge that my running legs were with me on this day. The course consisted of four loops of out-and-back one direction then out-and-back in the other direction. It was essentially downhill for the first 1/4 lap, then uphill for a 1/2 lap, then downhill again for the last 1/4 of each loop. I've grown fond of looped run courses because it helps me to mentally break them up, plus it's really great for spectators. And I had a fan club with me at this one! My mom, Aunt Candy, and college roommate Courtney all made the trip out to Vegas to cheer me on with signs and cowbells, a vuvuzela and classically-trained singer's lungs! They were great and definitely gave me a boost every time I ran past. Thanks to EVERYONE who cheered for me out there---it was pretty neat to wear the country's colors in a world championship event and hear the shouts of "Go USA"!

The run felt GREAT for three laps; the fourth lap was still strong but I was definitely in the hurt locker by then. I focused on turnover, form, and landing lightly. I was only passed by one other girl at about mile 4 (Leanda Cave---the fastest run split of the day and certainly not someone to be ashamed of being overtaken by) which put me in 7th place, and then somewhere along the run two ladies ahead of me dropped out. I didn't realize this until the last lap, when I saw Meredith storming to third place and gave her a whoop and she yelled that I was holding 5th. I would have liked to have gotten 5th place by virtue of running down a couple of girls instead of them dropping out, but I'm still thrilled with the result. 5th place at Worlds! And 5th-fastest run split of the day. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that would ever happen! Boy oh boy, does that ever get me fired up for next year...

To top off the day, the USA women took home the Elite Team title based on our combined times (Meredith Kessler in 3rd, me in 5th, and Amanda Lovato in 12th). Jordan Rapp nabbed the overall elite men's World Championship title, and Nick Thompson ran his way into 5th place. All around a very good showing!

Check back again soon for a season recap including reflections on lessons I have learned this season. As always, thanks again to my sponsors (PowerBar, Rudy Project, blueseventy, Maxxis, and Wasatch Running Center) and to all my family, friends, acquaintances, and random people who have cheered for and supported me throughout the years.


Sarah Jarvis said...

Amazing! So excited for you! Can't wait to see you rip it up next season, Malaika!

Erin said...

Wow, congrats on doing so well.