It was only an Olympic distance triathlon but I was nervous. I had sprained my big toe 10 days ago, and it was only 70% healed. I had resolved to do the race just for fun and not care about time. My strategy was to hit the swim and bike as hard as I could so I wouldn't want to run fast. Then, I would run verrry conservatively. Walk if I must. At least I was still racing. Still, in the back of my head, I wondered, "Can I still PR?" I had done this race 2 years ago, in much poorer shape.
We got to transition just as they opened. Within 5 minutes, I was finished with my set-up. After the intense set-up involved with Ironman transitions, everything else seems like cake now. The body-marker wrote my number in HUGE letters on my leg so that the last number was on my knee-cap. C'mon! Next time, I'm just going to do it myself (I keep a Sharpie in my bag, just in case). I grabbed my wetsuit, cap, and goggles and headed towards the bathroom. Suited up, and waited. And waited. And waited. The first wave left at 6:40 but my wave didn't go until 7:25. Torture! Can I go now? Now? How about now?
Finally, it was time to get in the water. I jumped into the calm, 70-degree water. Perfect. It tasted like diesel. Ah, yes. We must be in the Harbor. Yummy. I swam out to the deep-water start and bobbed with the other 68 girls in my wave. We chatted pleasantly and wished each other good luck. Girls are SO much nicer to each other than guys when racing!
I had taped my toe with waterproof tape in an attempt to support it for the run. It promptly slipped off as I waited for the horn to blow. I tried to throw it to the bottom (yes, I'm polluting, I know, but the water's already pretty nasty) but it kept floating to the surface. I looked around, sheepishly wondering if I was disgusting everyone by my mass of floating athletic tape. I guess it could have been worse. It could have been a turd. I decided to keep it wadded up in my fist until the horn blew. Then, I threw it under the water behind me. By the time it surfaced, I figured I would be long gone and could no longer be traced back to the scene of the crime.
We all took off, and I focused on staying in the middle of the pack. Unfortunately, my arms wouldn't obey, and I kept veering to the left when I breathed left. Then back to the right when I breathed right. Guess it was payback for Saturday's 1.7-mi ocean swim. Oh, well. At least it was only 1,000 meters. Did I just say that? I couldn't believe how quickly the buoys flew by. I zipped by the turn-around and picked up the pace. I could already see the final buoy and exit ramp in the distance. I remember a time (not that long ago) when 1,000 meters seemed to last an eternity.
I hopped out of the water and across the timing mat. My watch read 18 minutes. Yippee (5 minutes better than 2 years ago). I walked gingerly to my bike, waaaaay down on the far side of transition. I wanted to run sooo badly but restrained myself. No barefoot running on pavement with my bad toe! Slipped on my helmet, sunglasses, shoes and then w.a.l.k.e.d. to the mounting area. Ugh! I wanted to run SO badly! It was hard to let everyone else run by.
I clipped into Pandora, stood up out of the saddle and sprinted off. I had selected Pandora (my road bike--Look 585 Elle) instead of Torch (tri bike--Kuota K-Factor) because of the numerous little hills on the SDIT bike course. A tri bike might be faster but a climbing bike saves your legs, thus an advantage when you hit the run course. And with my injured toe, I wanted to keep as much pressure off my toe as possible. Using a lightweight road bike designed specifically for climbing was a smart strategy for this course. In addition, I was super stoked about debuting my gorgeous new road bike for the first time.
Pandora didn't let me down. Chomping at the bit, she took off, zipping around people, left and right. Taking them down. It was as if she was telling me, "Finally! I get to have some fun! Just sit back, relax, and stay out of my way. Let me do my job!" We hit Canon, and she took off. I spun up it effortlessly, amazed at the number of people I was passing. My face was burning, and I was breathing hard. Very hard. No worries. Plenty of time to recover at the top. I let loose full throttle.
On the downhills, I hit it hard as well. Pandora descended like a demon, surprising me. I didn't think a bike as light as she would be good at descending but I hunkered down on the top tube, and she screamed downwards at 35 mph. We passed more people on tri bikes as they leisurely coasted down the hills, sipping on their bottles and popping GUs. What is this? A picnic? (Actually, I was kind of thirsty too but had dropped my water bottle. Maybe this saved me more time? Afterall, I didn't need to waste time drinking, and no bottle = a lighter bike!)
I used the momentum from the downhills to spring halfway up the next hill before powering up and gearing down slightly. Then, I popped out of the saddle, unleashing Pandora from her box. That's right! I'm standing on the pedals! Want some of this? Pandora is so light; it's a treat to stand up and glide up the hills. (I think she has wings, honestly. Is that cheating?) As we crested, I continued standing and pedaling, springing forward, gathering speed, before gently resting on the saddle again, and recovering on the downhill sections.
At the end of the 2nd turn-around, as I circled around the Cabrillo National Monument, I took a brief second to admire the ocean surrounding me on all sides. Not only was the course fun and challenging with all the rolling hills but I had forgotten how beautiful it was.
I passed a girl in a pretty light blue-green tri-top and called out, "On your left!" As I passed, she cheered me on, "Go, Rachel!" I turned my head back, recognizing the voice. Michelle? Obviously, I was in the zone. I no longer saw people on bikes. My vision had clouded, as if I was seeing from robot eyes like the movie Predator. Moving object ahead. Obstacle. Go around. Guy slowing down on hill. Obstacle. Go around. Girl passing me. Age. 32. Enemy. Passing unacceptable. Take her out. Take her out.
I couldn't believe how quickly the bike was over. I cruised into T2. 0:55:16. I'll take it. My bike was one of the first ones back in my wave. Really? That had never happened before. I tried to re-tape my toe but my feet were wet and the tape kept sliding off. This wasn't going to work. I gave up, slid my socks and shoes on, and took off towards the timing mats, my visor and race belt in hand.
I tested my toe. Ran conservatively. Focused on my running form as I had practiced. Land light. Off quick. I kept repeating my new mantra to myself as I focused on striking mid-foot under my body and taking off quickly without using my toes. I felt good. Plus, my legs felt fresh. My breathing was calm and rhythmic. My feet felt quick too. How much faster could I really go? I wondered to myself. I let a few guys race past me, their breathing rapid and their faces red. My confidence grew. I knew they would fade in the first 2 miles.
I started settling into my rhythm. It felt SO good to just be able to run. Running is my favorite and my 10-day deficit had made my heart grow fonder. I wish the run was longer, I thought to myself. Then, I hit mile 2 and accidentally toed off. Searing pain shot through my toe like a lightning bolt. I limped for several strides, trying furiously to regain my rhythm. No, no, no, please, no! The pain subsided, and I diligently focused on my form again, slowing my pace. This seemed to work. Land light. Off quick. Land light. Off quick. I kept repeating to myself.
Soon, I was running rhythmically again, pain-free. Thank you, oh, thank you, toe. Thank you for letting me run today. If you get me through this, I will give you whatever you need. X-rays, doctor's appointments, rest, ice, acupuncture, yes, needles in the toe; I don't care how much it hurts. You get whatever you want. The toe responded by allowing me to continue running painlessly so the bribing must have worked. Oddly enough, the farther I ran, the less pain I felt, and the more pressure the toe seemed to be able to withstand. I was elated. I can run again! Oh, happy, happy day. Have I told you how much I love running?
I continued focusing on my running form. I felt so light and quick on my feet. I quickly chased down the guys who had started out from T2 too quickly. They were crashing and burning now at the halfway point. I felt strong, confident, and my breathing was calm and even. I knew I could go even harder if I was 100%. But I was happy to stay at my current pace. I was happy just to be able to run. In addition, it was a revelation to focus inward so attentively. Normally, I zone out when I run. For the first time, I was acutely aware of every movement, every breath, every step I took. I had to be in order to run pain-free. I had heard that elite runners run this way but had always dismissed this tactic, thinking it would be very tedious and exhausting. On the contrary, focusing in was exhilarating. I felt connected to my body, and more importantly, could eke out more speed effortlessly from every stride.
I reached mile 5 and picked up the pace slightly. I tried not to but several girls in my age group began pressing the pace. I could pass most of the girls wearing the light blue singlets and many of the girls wearing the orange singlets but the ones wearing the pink (HerSports), my God! They were so fast! I begrudgingly let them go, knowing today was not the day to push it. Not with the toe. Another day, another day. Still, I took some satisfaction in knowing the girls I was chasing down were part of a team. With a coach. While I go it alone. Did I mention that I was competitive?
My favorite San Diego homeless guy was perched at mile 6, cheering us on. He's always in good spirits, and I waved to him as I passed by. The final 200 meters seemed to take an eternity, and I really had to hold myself back. No sprinting down the chute today! I crossed the finish, exhilarated. That was a BLAST! And my run was :52. Not bad at all with an injured toe!
Overall, my time was 2:11:42 (more than 15 minutes faster than 2 years ago!) I conquered my injury, had a fantastic time, learned how to tune-in instead of tune-out, perfected my running form, and still PR'ed. What more can a gal ask for? Plus, a bunch of us went out to Naked Cafe for a delicious brunch to celebrate. Yippee!