One of the best parts about doing big races with lots of friends is hearing everyone's stories after it's all over. There's always something to be learned no matter how the race goes, and I'd argue that often we learn more when the race doesn't go well vs when it does.
When I crossed the finish line on Saturday, I had some friends ask how it went... and all I could say was "I'm conflicted!!" In a nutshell, the truth is that I raced to the very best of my current ability on Saturday. Unfortunately my current ability makes me slower than I've been in years and it didn't put me in the mix for top 3 in my age group the way I hoped it would.
So how do you deal with it when you look back and think you executed the very best you could, nothing you'd change, but yet the results weren't even in the ballpark of where you want to be?? I definitely don't want to bitch and moan b/c for the 5th year in a row I came away with a podium spot in my age group in this race so it doesn't really feel right to complain about that, but I'd be lying if I said I was even remotely satisfied.
There were some really good things about how the day went down on Saturday. I'd say I did the following things exactly right:
~Managed my time and stress levels all week so it was a really relaxed lead in to race day.
~Fueled and hydrated prior to the race really well.
~Felt like I was as rested as I've ever been going into Saturday.
~Was appropriately nervous/excited but not overwhelmed or fearful.
~Executed the best swim I could have given the scenario.
~Stayed upright on my bike when it was mass mayhem during the first ~10 miles.
~Fueled and hydrated exactly as I'd planned on both bike and run.
~Kept my head together and didn't mentally cave when it became clear to me that I wasn't going to reach any of my big goals.
~Never gave up.
Not sure how interesting it is to go through the details of each leg of the race, but here are some thoughts about how it specifically went down (if you're interested?!)
I knew my swim fitness was good so I started on the front line. W40+ started in the last wave and I hoped I'd have someone to swim with but was mentally prepared to go it alone if there was no one. Cannon went off, I swam hard for about a minute, took a quick look around and saw there was no one around me at all... so at that point I went with Plan B which was swim hard all alone. I caught what seemed like 1/2 of the pink cap wave (W39/under) by the first far turn buoys, followed my plan of staying on the inside of the pink marker buoys, passed a steady stream of people the whole way but for the most part had clear water, hit every yellow turn buoy straight on, and felt like I was swimming really well. Not super stroked with 29:48 but swim might have been like a minute long this year... No one else in my wave swam <34' and only 4 gals in the wave ahead of me swam faster, so I felt 100% satisfied with my swim. I will say this- I own 3 different brands of speed suits and without question my Roka one is the fastest material. Plus, I used my new Roka goggles which are mirrored/tinted in such a way that allowed me to no be completely blinded by the sun after the final turn when we were heading into shore. I'm a giant fan of Roka products for the swim!!
T1 and the start of the bike was a giant cluster*ck of a mess. I swam myself straight into the middle of the men's race and it was a disaster. Super scary, men everywhere riding all over the place weaving passing on both sides, etc. It's a minor miracle I stayed upright and didn't completely lose my shit. I had the thought that I really missed the days when this race used to be a mass start. I know a lot of people don't like the mass start b/c it doesn't spread things out, but for me personally it was so.much.better because I was able to get out onto the bike with some relatively clear roads and then the men who passed did so with authority b/c they were fast. So it's just less of a mess (for me) that way. Alas, starting in the back and dealing with this chaos is something we as women apparently just have to deal with now so I'm adapting.
I will say this- the worst is when these men refused to let women pass. Several times I found myself in a scenario that was 'illegal'... meaning I'd ride up on a guy and start to pass but then he would see me and step on it and surge ahead. Um, ok. I was sort of trying to figure out if that was my fault for not completing the pass or if it was his fault for not falling back after the pass was initiated? I didn't feel like I gained any drafting advantage when this was happening (it happened at least 4x with 4 different guys- the last one I just yelled at to BACK OFF AND LET ME PASS ALREADY) but I knew it wasn't 'legal' riding and that bugged me. They said the new rule was 5 bike lengths but even with the athletes spread out over 5 waves, there was simply not enough room on the roads for all those athletes to be spread out 5 bike lengths apart. And this course is a lot of rolling hills so depending on whether or not athletes were pushing the downhills or the uphills, there was a ton of passing back and forth. I'd say this- I didn't see any blatant cheating/drafting going on but I did see a lot of 'technically illegal' riding which just seemed to be the nature of how the race had to go... No solution to this really other than maybe to further spread out the swim wave starts?! I really don't know.
My 'best case scenario' plan for the bike ride was that I'd find a gal 39/under from the wave ahead of me who swam ~33-34 who was a strong rider and I'd be able to work with her... Sure enough around mile 10 a young gal rode by me and I was like PERFECT. She was strong and aggressive but I felt like I was too and neither of us ever settled to just sit behind and let the other get complacent out front... we (legally) passed each other back and forth probably 10x throughout the ride and came into T2 together. So that really was great and I loved riding with her.
During the bike I gave myself a little mental pat on the back every time I managed to eat. I never felt like eating but I knew better than to skip fueling, so I ate 2 bonk breaker bars + 2 gels + 2 bottles of Osmo + a Gatorade from on course + water as needed at each aid station. It's probably the best I have ever done fueling a 70.3 ride.
T2 was a mess for me but mostly b/c the way they had it set up- no passing zone for the last mile of the bike and of course I got stuck behind a guy who stopped pedaling and coasted in... Then he proceeded to jog as slowly as he could to the bike rack where we had to rack in the order we came in (vs in a pre-assigned spot by number) so I was basically walking single file behind this guy who was clearly not actually 'racing' and it seemed like forever... Finally I couldn't contain myself anymore and was like CHOP CHOP BOYS MOVE ALONG!!!! It didn't help but made me feel like I was at least being slightly proactive about trying to not waste time in T2. I hope they fix T2 for next year because it doesn't seem fair to the women who are competitive to get stuck behind men who are not... being in a situation where it was literally impossible to pass just seemed wrong.
I was told by some spectators that I was 6th woman coming into T2, and I knew that 4 of those women started 4' up on me- I'd been passed on the bike by one gal in my age group so knew I wasn't leading the age group but was still doing really well overall... I didn't know my exact bike split but I glanced at my watch which was showing time of day and did a bit of math and figured out that I didn't bike particularly fast (as compared to how I'd ridden here in the past) so I was trying to figure that out. I didn't spend much time or energy on it though I just got my run shoes on and set off onto the run course. Within a mile, Nell went running by and I thought SHIT now I'm third... Then like a minute later Audra went running by and I was like TRIPLE SHIT now I'm 4th... Kudos to those girls for being such badasses of course, but that pretty much confirmed to me that I hadn't had the ride I was hoping I'd have. Don't get me wrong- I wasn't sightseeing out on the bike- I was working as hard as was appropriate given my fitness, but that just resulted in speed that was not where I want/need it to be when I'm racing women as strong as these gals!
I wanted to win, but by mile 1 that goal was out the window because I was already 4th. In the past this would have been a giant mental blow but the thing I might be most happy with about this race is that I completely let that disappointment go and made a vow to salvage what I had... keep trucking along and just do the best I could with what I had in each moment. And that's what I did. I continued to follow my plan, ran as fast as my heart and legs would allow. Part of my plan going into the race was to not judge how it was going until I'd cross the finish line. I wanted to FOCUS on the here and now with every pedal stroke and with every step and I think this might have been the best I've ever done at achieving that goal.
When you do the best that you can, but don't end up in the league where you want to be playing, what do you do? I'll tell you what I did. I came home and dug through 5 years of training logs and found the problem. I don't for a second believe that I am too old to be getting faster! And while I wish a lower volume/higher intensity plan was one that worked for me, the proof is in the pudding. It's back on the high volume bandwagon for me. If you need me this summer, come find me on my bike. :)