I randomly had a dream a few nights before the No Label Tri that I got first in my age group.  If you’ll remember, my last race I came in LAST place, so this is not typically something that happens for me.

Even though my self-confidence tends to flag occasionally, I do have my moments where I actually believe I can do things.  I started to write it off, hahaha, that’s funny, you’re going to get 5th like you always do, if you’re lucky… I thought to myself.  And then I told that asshole to eff off and go away.

What do I have to lose being confident?  I thought.  What could it possibly hurt to dream big and believe I had a fighting chance at placing in or even winning my age group?  Why not start the race as an optimist for a change?  So, I attempted to hold onto that moment of confidence, that moment of standing on top of the podium, in the back of my mind through the week.

We were lucky enough to have Good Friday off work, so we had our pre-race swim, packed the camper, ate an early lunch of a giant turkey sandwich, and had a fairly uneventful drive to Katy, TX.  The RV Park we stayed at was the opposite of anything natural – it was a jungle of concrete with our little mobile boxes tucked in right next to each other – but it also had a pool, a hot tub, and an icemaker, so I was perfectly happy with what it was for it’s purpose – a makeshift hotel room.

We cooked our traditional pre-race chicken, potatoes, and salad, and puttered around a bit before we settled down with books and attempted to sleep.  The concrete jungle was loud at night, and sadly, I think I got a little less than 6 hours of sleep.  Earl grey tea and a sunbutter + honey english muffin (plus two caffeinated jelly beans) perked me right up, so I’ve had much worse and I really think I’ve nailed my pre-race nutrition for the year as I felt solid all race.

Rocket fuel!

The late night meant a later sleep and we got to transition 15 minutes before closing (don’t do that).  Yeah, no time for a warmup run.  Oh well.  Then, I left transition without my swim stuff because I felt rushed and barely got back in on time.  Then the potty line was long.  I was incredibly thankful that the planned race start of 6:45am came and went and the race director was just starting the briefing.

We stood in line for what felt like eternity (I think it was about 40 minutes) waiting for the start and then watching the fastest swimmers cruise through the pool.  Chatting with the folks around us, the general consensus was that this race was always kind of a shit show.  The course is either long or short and something is the matter with it, it never starts on time, and they were impressed because most of the right things had gotten in the packets this year unlike other years.  I took a deep breath and thought, Well, good thing I’m just here to kick off my season.  A rust buster can totally be a shit show, no problem.

All of a sudden it was my turn and I dove into the pool, like I had told myself absolutely NOT TO DO, but thankfully my goggles held their seal and I was off!  My plan was to sprint a little bit to try and catch the person in front of me and then draft off them for the rest of the 300m.  The guy in front of me took off like a bullet and I actually had to swim for my life to keep the people behind me from catching me.

Spending a little more time here lately but I’ve probably swam more in one long session last year IM training than I have collectively in 2018.

Around lap 4, I noticed that two other swimmers had passed Zliten, who had started right behind me, and I got two taps on my toes, so I stopped at the wall and let them pass.  The couple seconds it took to let them pass was so worth it, as I got to ride their bubbles spending CONSIDERABLY less energy the last two laps.  I sort of rolled my way out of the pool awkwardly but quickly, and was off to T1.

Swim time: 5:54/300m – 1:58/100m pace.  3/15 AG.

It’s hard to compare this to anything because it’s a pool swim, and you’re sort of forced into the pace of the people in front or behind you.  However, I’m incredibly happy with this considering I can probably count my swims this year on one hand so it can only get better from here.

T1 was about 10 feet from the door, which was nice.  I ran out with intent and then with purpose went down the wrong rack.  D’oh!  Once I got to my spot I did the quick sock shoe sock shoe thing, though since it was a parking lot it was nice to not have to worry about putting my stocking feet down like I hate to do on dirt or mud.  I clipped on my helmet and tried my sunglasses and immediately stuck them down my jersey – it was so freaking humid I couldn’t see out of them, but I didn’t want to not have the option for the whole bike.  I should have.  I didn’t use them all morning.

Zliten was about 30 seconds into his transition when I unracked Death Star and told him I’d see him out there, figuring he’d be whizzing past me in no time.

T1 time: 1:15. 3/15 AG.

I was on a mission on the bike here.  I know I’m not the best runner but I am getting to be a pretty darn decent cyclist.  From analysis of my age group last year, I found the bike times to be really slow.  I figured there were a few options: either something happened last year (wind, rain, etc), the course was super hilly (which it wasn’t), or that I had a chance to blow the competition out of the water and come off the bike in first and then just run for my life, hoping no one would catch me.

So, with that knowledge, my goal for the bike was just to get out there and pedal my ass off.  I spent the first mile or two rolling past about twenty people on a super chip sealy and debris laden road, and then finally I relaxed into aero when I found a nice, clear section and got down to it.  I was holding around 19 mph, 20 when I really concentrated, and I felt some wind, which I was hoping was headwind.  If I can hold this pace in the headwind, I thought, I can REALLY crank it on the way back.

Sadly, I never found the tailwind.  Somehow, on an out and back course with a box in the middle, it never felt easier and the wind was causing SOME sort of resistance at all times.  I continued to pass people (and proudly, I got passed a total of ZERO times) and just keep inching that speed back to around 19 mph average, the power around 160-170, and staying as aero as possible.

Guys… guys… GUYS!  It’s all about the bike.  Truth.

On the way back, the chipseal seemed even worse, and the sun was completely in my eyes without sunglasses so I could barely see the road.  It was super bad and I even sat up for a while on the worst of it exclaiming out loud, “How is my tire NOT FLAT RIGHT NOW?” after hearing the tenth PING of debris flying out from my spokes.  At some point I realized it was not going to get better so I just got back down, and figured it would be what it would be.  I’d either flat and get practice changing a tire quickly during a race or I’d make it back to T2 in tact, and riding like a wuss wasn’t going to help either way.

Thankfully, my tires held and I rolled into feeling pretty great and ready to do battle with my nemesis, the run.

Bike time: 44:13. 19mph. 1/15.  By like, 3.5 minutes.

In a vacuum, I’d say I was least pleased with my bike, because I feel like if I would have gotten less distracted with the chipseal and a little braver passing people in aero and pushed just a little more, I think I could have probably held closer to 20 mph.  I was not cooked in the slightest off this bike.  It was windy but not THAT windy and the course is super flat.  However, it’s the highest power (161W/167W normalized) I’ve held in a sprint so far and my heart rate was 164 average, so I didn’t have *too* much further I could have gone without jeopardizing my run, it was just a wee bit on the conservative side.

Also, you can’t complain too much about outbiking your age group that much.  So I won’t!

I headed into T2, and watched a gal coming out fall trying to clip in.  I said, “Everyone does it, don’t worry, go get em!” to encourage her and I was off mine without incident and running to my rack.  I got my shoes on quickly and decided to leave my handheld bottle (it was 63 degrees) but grabbed my caff blocks out of it and was in my race belt and headed out quickly.  I didn’t see my husband and I was okay with that because he’s usually a faster runner and I needed a head start to hold him off.

T2 time: 1:12. 6/15. 

The few seconds I took to get my chews cost me a few seconds and places on this one, but I think it all worked out.

I ran out of T1 and found two things – my feet felt like popsicles (60-ish degrees and a little wet from humidity and well ventilated bike shoes = cold!) and my arches also felt like they were running on little springy tennis ball halves with my new insoles, like the first couple times I ran in them.  This was not a good sign.

Apparently I have a running fever that can only be cured with more ‘bell (and maybe some track work and losing 20 lbs but let’s focus, people…).

I did my best to ignore it and also ignore some dudes zooming past me at what looked like an effortless 7 min/mile lope and concentrate on my form and my breathing.  I will not say that anything about what I was doing felt comfortable or effortless or flowing, but my legs were turning over and my watch kept showing about 9:30/mile, so I settled there for a bit.

As soon as that started to feel just a little bit comfortable, I tried working my pace down to where it felt just on the line of terrible and death and despair.  If you feel happy at any point when racing a 5k, you’re doing it wrong.  I’m sure it’s exactly what other people think when I whiz past them on the bike, but I get so jealous of people with great form and relaxed strides.  I’m working the strength, I’m working the flexibility, someday it will click, but I just have this hard line right now around mid-9-minute miles where my legs just don’t understand it anymore and my lungs aren’t really much of a help either.  I put down a (really stale, been open for months) caff chew to help educate them both on the wonders of going faster than that.

I passed the water stop that was about halfway, and the girls operating it said, “Less than a mile to go!” I looked at my watch and I knew that wasn’t the case at 1.55 miles but I felt like I might as well believe them for right now and just go for it.  I kept looking back to see if I could see my husband, and I expected that he would be loping past me any minute, but after my watch ticked over to 2 miles down, my goal was to give it everything I had to see him at the finish line and not any time before that.

I won’t steal race pictures I didn’t pay for but I’ll surely LINK this right here.  My bib # was 114 if you want a good laugh because I definitely had some pain face going on the last mile of the run.  I did a really nice job negative splitting the run with 9:31, 9:21, and 9:11, surging to low 8 minute miles by the time I saw the arch.  While I wasn’t sure my legs would hold up once we hit the last tenth of a mile on the gravel, I found the finish line upright and before my husband.  Less than a minute, but still.  It’s been since 2015 that I’ve beaten him in a triathlon.  MINE!

Run time: 28:15. 9:25/mile. 7/15 AG.

I will say that I’m pleasantly surprised with this run considering I took about 6 weeks off after 3M and I’ve been on a bountiful 5-ish miles a week plan since.  However, I’ve run pretty well off the bike lately and I was able to give it a little extra today.  This is one of my better 5k-off-the-bike paces, if not the best, so I’ll be happy with it.  And it did the job.

Total time: 1:20:52. 1/15 AG.

One hell of a rust buster shit show of a race!  I. will. take. it.  The insecure part of my brain wants to caveat it a million ways.  Yes, I picked circumstances in which just about everything was to my advantage (pool swim, colder weather, flat course, running to end at a brewery as motivation), but that’s strategerie, man.  Yes, 1:20 is not a particularly fast time overall (though it’s definitely a PR for me), but I was 16th female overall out of 126 finishers and I would have many of the female categories if not at least podium-ed, so it wasn’t completely a weird age group anomaly.  Plus, I beat second by over a minute and third by almost four, and 15 people meant two in my age group should get Nationals invites, so I could have come in 3 minutes and 50 seconds slower and still made it).

I’ve had a few people ask me if now I’m just going to coast the rest of the spring season since I hit my goal of Nationals qualification on the first try.  Let me tell you – standing on that podium felt way too effing good to do that.  I’m excited to work harder and get faster so that I can be in the mix like that all the time.  However, I also tend to race really well when the pressure is off (but not too far off), so this is a great place for me to be right now.  It’s also a nice sign that I’m doing the right things to improve, so I’m going to stay on this little “prioritize lifting heavy things and eating less food over all else and yes, that even means run/bike/swim” path and see where it takes me.

In my next race, I’m less likely to stand on the top spot, considering the results last year, but anything can happen.  In the next month, my goal is to improve my strength and speed, and on that day, if I leave it all out there on the course again, I’ll see what I can do.  I just might find that podium again sometime soon.