Sunday, September 26, 2010

Big Lick Triathlon at Smith Mountain Lake

Yesterday closed out my first full triathlon race season with 3 sprints and 2 Olympics under my belt. I have a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment not only for the races but for training hard, weathering the ups and downs of progress, and managing fears and self-doubts. I can’t believe how much I have learned in 15 months in the sport...annnddd I'm excited to think about how much more there is to learn and do!

We got a cabin at the lake and made a little family trip out of the event. SML has quaint, newly-built, well-equipped 2 bedroom cabins, with most right along the lake. It’s a real treat to have a home base like this at a race and it sure keeps the kids happy.

I felt some additional pressure coming into this race because it would be my fifth and the final one needed for eligibility for VTS awards. I had mechanical issues in the last race, and this was the site of my mentally tough swim back in May. And after some challenging run legs in the last few races, I wanted to prove to myself that I could execute a smart run plan. I wanted to pull it all together in this final go.


Friday night I went to the race site to check in and get a look at the courses. The swim course looked HUGE and I was awash in feelings fear and defeat. I also learned that this was the VTS Collegiate Championship race so there would be lots of young fast fit collegians in the field (including a team of 36 from Virginia Tech!!). But as I drove off along the bike course, that crushing feeling of dread turned on a dime and morphed into something that said “time to roll up the sleeves and get to work.” I knew I was trained and had put in the time, so there was nothing to fear. As suddenly as the panic had set in, it was entirely replaced by excitement!! It was the coolest feeling and a reminder of why I love the thrill of racing.

One of the most fascinating things about the races has been experiencing my own reactions and learning to predict and channel the emotions and mental aspects. I recall being genuinely concerned at Bath because I was strangely calm and almost lethargic before the swim. Now I know that’s just my normal response. I shut down and save the adrenaline for when the starter’s horn sounds. This race was no different.


The water was a hair under 78, so considered “wetsuit legal.” I debated the wetsuit briefly, but Jim suggested I wear mine and I needed race experience in it anyway. I gathered with the white-capped women of wave 5 and off we went on the rectangular course. It took 150m or so to really settle in to a comfortable breathing pattern and then things went on auto pilot in that rhythmical upper aerobic/threshold zone. I swam behind some feet for part of it, but we were all pretty spread out and I was primarily alone….except for when I would overtake swimmers from previous waves which always feels good! The glare made it hard to see the turn buoys so I just made sure I was in the middle of the pack, assuming we couldn’t all be off course. The last 2-300m I was ready for it to be over so I started counting strokes knowing every 100 strokes got me at least 100m closer to the “wiggly man” that is present at the finish of all the VTS events.

(Incidentally you’re apparently not supposed to pee in a wetsuit because of reasons of long-term lingering grossness. Let’s just say you gotta do what you gotta do!)


After a minor struggle to extract myself from the wetsuit, I was off on the bike and on a course I knew I would enjoy. I’m guessing people don’t train on the bike as much as they should, or at required intensities, because I am always surprised by how many people I pick off. In my training, on the road and on the trainer, Jim had me cycle near threshold and hold it for increasingly longer periods of time. During the bike phase, I thought about some of those times and the intensities I had held and it gave me confidence to push against the wall. I thought too about the countless quad-burning laps of lunges Jake has put me through on a regular basis. I survived those and the pain was always temporary.

I did get passed by a few folks on the bike, but they were the middle-aged guys who had slow swim times but were studs on the bike. I could hear their disk wheels and slick bikes approaching from the rear!

The course was rolling, with a good road surface, few turns, and only one moderate hill. I kept up a 90ish cadence and when I glanced at my bike computer, I noticed I was at 58 and some minutes and 19 and some miles. One of my goals this summer had been to sustain 20+ mph and it was within my reach! I crossed over 20 in under an hour and was elated. My overall bike time averaged 20.1 MPH, which for me was solid. In the final miles I shifted my attention to the run and what I needed to get done. But I already had some concerns about my energy levels. I had consumed most of one bottle of Perpetuem (maybe 150 calories) and one gel (100 calories), but it may not have been enough.


I had a slower transition to the run than usual and I knew it. I grabbed my gear, started the watch, and headed off. My plan was to open with a 7:30 mile, cut to a 7:20 and hold that for 2 miles, then just focus on picking people off in the final miles. I struggled on that first mile which opened the floodgates for negative chatter. It was a hilly course and I could feel myself worrying about each approaching uphill. I was concerned I’d really bonk and really blow it. I ran from aid station to aid station, stopping at each to pour water on myself because it had to have been close to 80 by this point. I ignored my Garmin watch, which was set to show my average pace for each mile. I didn’t want the bad news. At one point I even walked a bit up a hill which to me is the ultimate sign of mental weakness. What was wrong with me?!

Coach Jim's pre-race advice included some prophetic words for the last tough hill, "Don't feel sorry for yourself, just get the work done!" He sure knows these routes and can anticipate my state of mind!

For as disastrous as it felt, I did manage to pass some folks, and I don’t recall being passed by too many others. It turned out to be the 14th best run of the women, a 48:52 (7:53 pace). It was not a great run time for me, but then again, the tricky part about triathlon is managing energy and effort across three sports. It’s not easy to run after a hard swim and bike.

My mile splits were: 7:56, 7:31, 7:41, 8:15, 8:42, and 7:32.

I’m wondering if I was running low on fuel and that contributed to the negativity. At any rate, I’ve got to do a better job of managing those thoughts that tell me I am doing an awful job. I can’t really know how I am doing in relation to the field, for the conditions of the day, or the topography of the course. I need to keep it positive and keep on going!

Reflections/Lessons Learned

I may have to revisit this part in a few days after my energy rebounds and I’ve had time to ruminate on it all. It’s been a heck of a ride this summer, FAR exceeding my expectations. I look forward to next summer and revisiting some of the same races and maybe a new one or two. I’ve enjoyed a widening circle of triathlon friends and I know more than ever this is a sport I would like to enjoy for a long long time.

After a few days off, I will be shifting gears to more of a running focus and preparations for the Richmond Marathon in November and Boston in April. But I’ll continue swimming and cycling to maintain some endurance and refine technique for next year’s race season. I already have a cabin reserved for the May Smith Mountain Lake sprint tri and I plan to be stronger than ever next season!

Thanks as always are due to my fantastic triathlon coach, Jim McGehee, and strength trainer, Jake Parks. They give so much of themselves for so little in return. I’m grateful for the support of my family and the two loudest cheerleaders, Spencer and Grant!


Overall Women’s Results:

TOTAL - 02:35:06 (10/119 women racers, 2nd Master’s Female; would have been 75/224 among men)
Swim – 0:29:57 (52nd)
T1 – 0:01:39 (12th)
Bike – 1:13:22 (10th)
T2 - 0:01:18 (51th)
Run – 0:48:52 (14th)