Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sweet Redemption

So my little science experiment of racing half-iron races six days apart was an odd mixture of success and failure. The success side of the story is that I had a great performance in Boise, particularly on the run, which completely redeemed my abysmal run from Quassy the previous Sunday. The failure side was due to the weather, which obviously was completely out of my control. I'm sure most people who are tuned into triathlon have heard by now about the wacky conditions on race day---the rain, the cold, the winds, and the snow in the foothills. It was WILD, so wild in fact that the race organizers made the call to shorten the bike segment from 56 miles to 15 miles because of concerns of hypothermia. That is a rather significant amount to put it lightly; it equates roughly to 2 hours less of racing in an event that for the ladies is in the four-and-a-half-hour range. So technically I failed to complete my science experiment, but I'm okay with that because what I learned from yesterday's outing was likely much more valuable than what I would have gained from completing the intended "dirty double". But let me backtrack a little to give you the whole story.

I have to admit it was a crazy turnaround from doing Quassy and visiting my relatives back east, what with the travel, the time change, working a couple of days, then packing up the gear and driving to Boise EARLY in the morning Friday to make the mandatory 10am pro meeting. In mulling things over during the week I became progressively disgusted with my Quassy performance and when Friday rolled around I wasn't exactly in the most upbeat mood. (If you read the post below recapping the Quassy race you might detect a bit of that displeasure.) The fact that the race was in driving distance from home also contributed to a more low-key (read: less excited) feeling about racing...and then there were the weather reports! I hadn't really thought too much about it before the race meeting but afterwards I began to get a little nervous about what the conditions on race day would be. But I kept telling myself that we have no control over the weather so it's no use worrying about it and that everyone has to deal with the same thing. So just deal with it!

Race morning was cold and wet as predicted. Boise 70.3 is unique in that it has an afternoon start time rather than the usual butt-crack-of-dawn send off. Usually I would revel in having a more casual morning, but on this day the prolonged wait for go-time just allowed the sinking feeling in my stomach to drop all the way down to my toes. The rain was not letting up and it seemed to be getting colder by the minute. Luckily Albert and the doggies came along to play sherpa for me so I was able to steal some extra time staying warm in the car before having to set out on the half-mile trek up the dirt road to T1 with my bike and gear bags in the steady rain. Everything was a sodden mess and there were (smart!) people who had worn their wetsuits to the transition area in order to stay warm. It was the most hectic pre-race set-up I have ever experienced, very much like the nightmares I sometimes have about rushing around last minute and discovering that I'm missing a vital piece of triathlon gear---like my bike or my wetsuit. Luckily I had all my gear, but the trick was to keep things as dry as possible for as long as possible, while staying as warm as possible. I did a bit of a run warm-up, visited a my secret bathroom, then it was time to put on the wetsuit. Sometime during this time frame the call was made to shorten the bike from the original 56 miles to a straight shot into town, roughly 15 miles or so. So we would be doing a 1.2 mile swim, 15 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run. Hmm. It was when this announcement was made that the seriousness of the weather conditions really hit me and I began to realize that the day was going to be less about racing and more about surviving.

The Swim
I was not a happy camper in the water. I started off well but then my goggles almost immediately fogged up and I had no idea of where I was going. It would have been ridiculous for me to try swimming blindly, so I paused to clear them out and almost got run over from behind. I got going again and then found myself in the exact situation that I was in the previous weekend, stuck in a side-by-side stalemate with another swimmer. I HATE that, especially when I'm on the right, so I took the initiative this time to cut across behind the other girl and get a little bit of space. Ah, that's better! But then my goggles fogged up again. I think it must have been the differences in air, water, and my body temperature that caused this because I'd only worn the goggles once before. I actually stopped to clear them out two more times throughout the swim. Irritating, but not a deal breaker in this sort of "survival" race. The swim itself got choppier further out from shore and the back stretch was really pretty horrendous. I think I drank about half of the reservoir on that middle leg, and I swear the buoys kept moving. I kept telling myself that if I was having that tough of a time in the water that the weaker swimmers must really be hating life, so I should just "suck it up, princess"! By this point my extremities were reaching the numbing point, and I was really happy to round the final buoy and head back towards shore. I hit the ramp in 2nd place with 3rd right on my tail, and about 2:30 behind super-swimmer Jodie Swallow.

The Bike
Before the swim start some of the guys had been debating whether or not to wear their wetsuits on the bike. It was THAT cold, and apparently a good number of them did it. I really wasn't sure what I would end up doing until I got close to the end of the swim, when I knew that my core temperature was going to be just fine on the bike. It was my hands and feet that were numb, which made the transition into helmet, arm-warmers, and bike shoes rather clumsy. In retrospect I could have done without the arm warmers but I don't think that the time spent putting them on really impacted the end result. I started the bike very tentatively right behind the girl who came out of the water with me, then passed her once we had made it down the big hill from the dam. From that point there was just the one tricky section on the bike path under the bridge, then it was pretty clean sailing into town. The roads were wet but the rain stopped and the sun started peeking through the clouds. I couldn't feel my feet at all and my hands felt like they were frozen to my aerobars (I hadn't bothered with gloves because I realized in transition that I lacked the dexterity to pull them on) but at least I was able to shift and control my brakes when needed. The best strategy seemed to be to just push really hard on the bike to get warmed up, and because the distance was so short that a hard effort would still leave plenty in the tank for the run. By the time I hit the neighborhoods going into town I was actually enjoying myself and had a big smile plastered on my face.

The Run
The overwhelming sensation I had during T2 was the complete LACK of sensation in my feet. Somehow I managed to guide my feet into my running shoes and I took off in pursuit of the leader. It felt like I was running on pegs for the first three miles, and then I wondered for the next two miles if I had accidentally left a sock bunched up in the bottom of my left shoe. Finally after about 5 miles my feet thawed out. The run was two flat loops on a bike path along the river, with a nice out-and-back section at one end where you could get a good look at where everyone was. I felt great and was pleasantly surprised to see that my lead over 3rd place just about matched the lead that first place had over me. I've learned to never count anybody out though---including myself---so I focused on maintaining my rhythm and pushing hard to keep away from the pursuers and to try to whittle down the leader's advantage. The run was great for spectators and it was AWESOME to see so many familiar faces and have so many people cheer for me by name (& pronouncing it correctly!). Lap #1 flew by, and by the time I started Lap #2 there were tons of age-groupers out on the course which also helped to give my feet wings. It was when I hit the out-and-back section for the second time and got a look at my advantage over 3rd pace that I knew I could do it. The finishing chute was bliss, and as you can see from the pictures I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry.

The Lesson
Finishing 2nd was a pretty awesome feeling, but even better was the feeling of validation in my running ability. I've worked hard at becoming a better runner this year but while it has shown in open running events, I have struggled to pull it together in a triathlon. My run split was twelve minutes faster than what I ran last weekend, it was the 3rd fastest of the day in a field of strong runners, and I set my own personal half-marathon record in the process. Granted, the course was less hilly than Quassy and the shortened bike made for fresher running legs, but there is a key lesson to be learned from that. If I can learn to swallow my pride and tone it down on the bike somewhat, then I can conserve energy for the run and be competitive with the top girls. A little more training and the courage to take that leap of faith should do the trick.

...go to my sponsors, to Albert and the doggies for sharing the trip, the race organizers for making a good call to keep us safe while still allowing the show to go on, the volunteers for standing out in the cold rain, Kevin Robson for inspiring me to commit to the race, Miriam and her girls for making the trip up to cheer, and to all the other friends/acquaintances/athletes/random spectators who cheered me on my way to the finish line. It was an epic day!

1 comment:

brodjoe said...

Congrats Malaika!!! Huge result on a tough day of racing. A confident Malaika means trouble for the competition. Keep it up!!!