It's been almost a year since I last raced, 11 to be exact. I was too burned out after Ironman Utah to race for a long time. I lost my motivation to work out, let alone train. Sometime this fall, I committed to working out again...about 3x/week. Slowly, slowly, I started to get back in shape. I signed up for Superseal, an International Triathlon near the Navy Base in Coronado, a ways back with good intentions. But as race day approaced, I felt sorely undertrained. My heart just wasn't in it. Like the countless other races I had signed up for and bailed on this summer, resulting in a privately shameful handful of DNSs (Did Not Starts), I had no problem shrugging off this one too. But a little part inside me was sad.
With the change in daylight savings, Tri Club (http://www.triclubsandiego.org/) workouts resumed full-tilt last week. With renewed energy, I started training and seeing old friends again. I kicked off last weekend with a very chilly 58-degree swim in the Cove, followed it the next day with a zippy 50-mile ride, and finished it off the third day with a 10-mile trail run in Penasquitos Canyon. I realized I had absolutely no excuse to bail on Superseal the following weekend. I guess I could do it. It's at that moment I realized I had cold feet. I love nothing more than facing my fears. All of a sudden, it was on! Plus, I would get to put on my race wheels and go super fast!
I spent the night before getting Torch ready, freezing my water bottles, and packing my bag. I whistled as I carefully put on the race wheels, oiled the chain, and put baby powder in my bike shoes. It was just like old times. Amazingly, I slept like a baby, awakening a minute before the alarm went off at 5:00 am. Feeling well rested, I eased into my race clothes in minutes. I had plenty of time to enjoy some tea and a nice breakfast as well as walking the dog, making the bed, and washing dishes. Who wants to come home to a dirty house after a hard race?
As I racked my bike in transition, I felt strangely calm. I had expected nerves but there were none. It was like returning home. It was warmer than I had expected, both air and water. The rain that had been predicted was not to be, and the clouds that hovered over the early morning gray skies would quickly burn off with the good ole' San Diego sunshine. I slipped into my wetsuit and made my way to the water. I kept bumping into old friends, chatting away, until suddenly, my wave was lining up. I jogged over to the middle of the pack and quickly put on my Neoprene cap, silicone cap, and goggles. I noticed everyone around me was stone-faced, pale, and eeriely silent. Oops! Wrong place. I slipped towards the back of the pack until I was met with more (predominantly female) smiles, "Good lucks!", and sandbagging discourses: "No, you go ahead. I'm slow." "Oh, no. I'm slower than you!" The 10-second countdown began, I started my watch, and then the horn blew and my first official race of 2011 began.
I swam easily to the first buoy, pulled by a strong draft. Surprisingly, there was no kicking or jostling. Finding my way was easy. Thank you, back of the pack! The water was cold, but warmer than I had predicted. My face only burned for the first minute or two. About 60. In addition, swimming in the bay offered, slippery calm waters. I easily found my rhythm, sighted every 10 strokes, and circled the buoys. My sighting was dead-on. I had been mentally prepared for the swim to be a struggle. Afterall, I've only been swimming about once a week. I had forgotten much fitness adrenaline can compensate for. On the return, I started to tire. My arms didn't get sore, and I couldn't feel myself slow down but my thoughts were distracted, it took more effort to swim the straight line, and I swallowed a bit (just a bit) of water twice. However, I could see the final buoy in the distance, and this motivated me to push and maintain my pace. My lungs heaved in sharp gasps with each stroke. Suddenly, my hands hit earth once, then twice. I pulled myself to my feet, trotted up the ramp, and undid my wetsuit. A quick glance at my watch showed only a few minutes slower than my best possible predicted time. I smiled.
In T2 I checked my front tire for pressure with a quick squeeze. I had needed to pump it up significantly again this morning, and I anxiously pondered about a slow leak. Careful inspection earlier revealed a significant gash. Did my fingers detect slightly more give now? I would keep my fingers crossed and pray that it held. I trotted over to the mounting line, clipped in and was off.
I settled into a comfortable 19 mph pace almost immediately and enjoyed the ease at which this was maintained as Torch zipped across the smooth, pancake-flat Silver Strand Highway. I sipped on my sports drink and popped a few cafeinated Cliff Blocks. It had been a long time since I had done an Olympic time trial, and I found my mind wandering, bored with the flat course. I guess I like hills afterall. I increased my focus, concentrating on the circular rhythm of my pedal stroke. Consciously relaxed my shoulders. Relaxed my wrists. I played mental games with myself, breaking the course up into pieces, and setting little time goals for each section. 3.5 miles to the first turn-around, then 7, then 5. The course was two loops. The mental game trick worked. I actually enjoyed myself more at the same speed on the 2nd lap. However, I was ready to rack my bike in T2. What I wanted most was yet to come. I wanted to run!
I zipped out of T2, relieved that my stomach felt great. I had been predicting a pit-stop at the Port-a-Potties but after zipping onto the run course, decided against it. I felt fine! My legs felt a little leaden the first mile. I concentrated on my stride, pretending I was landing on hot coals. This encouraged me to step lightly on my toes and spring quickly off again. My turnover increased, my feet landed solidly under my hips. The first mile flew by. 7:30. Wait. Was that right? Maybe I had miscomputed. I could never trust my math skills when blood flow was being shunted preferentially to my legs. Lucky for me, the first 3 miles were sand and dirt trails. I love trails! The trail was flat and well-groomed and I skipped lightly past 3 bulky male runners, their large biking leg muscles no help on the run. I felt wonderful, and I continued focusing on that springy feeling. I grabbed water at aid stations, gulping down large mouthfuls, spilling half down my tri top. The miles flew by, and suddenly, I was turning around and on the return.
3 miles back to the finish, a straight, paved bike path along the highway. There was nothing to look at but it wasn't necessary. I zoned out, focusing on landing on my toes, springing off, over and over. I focused on my breath, finding a pace where my breathing was heavy but rhythmic. In every 2 strides, out every 2. Over and over. It was like being rocked into a trance with a lullaby. When my mind strayed, I changed it up, and played games. Can I catch the person in front of me? What about the person after that? A few guys that I passed certainly didn't appreciate my new game but the more they hated me passing them, the more I ate it up. I was now on the final mile. Only one more to go. I picked up the pace, pushing myself. My breathing was more rapid now, in 1, out 1, in 1, out 1. The finish line was now in sight. I picked up the pace even more. My legs felt like rubber. I was gasping for air. I tried to smile for the photographer, as the crowd cheered me on, running down the chute. Unfortunately, the best I could manage was a contorted grimace stretched ear to ear. The second I crossed the finish line, the grimace transformed to a big smile.
Needless to say, I had a great race and finally feel that I have my mojo back. Bring on the rest of the season!
Postscript--Oh, and the front tire? It was flat when I came back into transition after the race. Phew! The Fates smiled upon me today!