I wouldn’t say I’m one that worries, is nervous, or has a lot of concerns before most races, but I am usually pretty hyped up in the days leading up to races with a lot of excess energy, maybe that’s due to the taper or maybe that really is my nerves. Most people who race with me would tell you that I’m pretty calm on race morning, so maybe I just get all that out in days leading up to the race, or maybe it’s because I have worn myself out by race morning, and I’m usually mellowed out. Either way, my friends have told me several times that I always seem calm and help to calm them.
My latest race was the Chattahoochee Challenge Olympic Triathlon in Columbus, GA. The days leading up to this race were different for me. All that excess energy was missing. I was extremely calm leading up to this race. It was the weekend after the Augusta Camp which went well for me, and I wasn’t really planning to “race” this race. I was viewing it as a training race to practice my transitions and pacing on the bike and run. The swim was one where we were to swim down river, run back up to the starting point, and swim down river again, so I wasn’t excited about this, but I wasn’t concerned about it either. It just had to get done. The bike and run legs were each about half of what I’d just done the weekend before, so it should have been a fairly short and easy training race.
Coach Chuck sent me an email on Thursday that literally made me laugh as I read it. I don’t think our views of this race were quite the same. He gave me advice on hydration the day before the race, eating early, getting to bed early, racing in z3/z4 (higher than HIM) since it was a short course, how to approach the two down river swims, etc. Whoa, hold up there Coach. I just thought I’d stay at HIM pace consistently, and try to pick the pace up some at the end and finish strong. He responds with, “Hey, I like that plan too!” Ah, back to my lackadaisical attitude towards this race.
I arrived in Columbus Friday afternoon, checked into the Marriott, and headed straight to packet pick up. Packet pick up was quick since it was a small race, so I looked around in the local shop for a few minutes after getting my packet, then headed back to the hotel. I had about an hour before dinner, so I walked across the street and checked out transition, the swim start, and the swim exit. It looked pretty simple, so back to the hotel I went to meet friends for dinner.
After dinner and chatting with my tri friends, I headed upstairs and prepped for the next morning. I laid out all my stuff I needed, checked it several times, mixed my fuel, put it in the fridge, showered, and was ready for bed by 9:30. The only thing I needed to do in the morning was eat breakfast, grab my bags, stop by the truck to pump up my tires, and head to transition. I figured I’d try this getting to bed early thing and see how it went. Over 4 hours of sleep the night before a race would be a first for me. Over 6 hours was crazy, but I was in bed by 10PM with my alarm set and pushed out of arms length, so I’d have to roll out of bed to grab it.
So, let’s take a step back for a second. What kind of fears do you have the night before a race? Forgetting your bib? Forgetting your helmet or some other piece of important equipment or clothing? Starting too fast? Cramping? GI issues? How about oversleeping? Ah, yep that’s a good one. It’s not really something I’ve ever had an issue with because I never sleep well the night before a race, but it has been a concern since I don’t get much sleep. I usually wake up throughout the night probably 4-5 times. I think partially due to worrying about oversleeping and somewhat due to having to pee from hydrating the night before, but it never fails, I’m extremely early for races. I don’t like to feel rushed on race morning.
So, back to that 10PM bedtime, I fell asleep faster than I ever have the night before a race, and I slept through the night. I didn’t wake up a single time, even to use the bathroom…..until I suddenly woke up, felt panicked, saw a tiny sliver of light between the black out shades of the hotel room……….uh-oh, that’s not good! It’s not supposed to be daylight at 4:45AM. I grabbed my phone, and it was 7:30AM. The race started at 7AM. What to do? Get dressed, head down, and see if I can catch the ride and run? Or roll back over and go back to sleep? What would you do? I was in Columbus already. If I didn’t ride and run today, then I’d have to do it tomorrow somewhere, but I could also just disappear and head home and get razzed about it another day. Decisions, decisions. Well, all of that went MUCH faster and a lot less clearly in my groggy panicked state, but I threw my clothes on, grabbed my bike and bags, and headed down to transition without breakfast and without pumping up my bike tires.
At transition, I found one of the USAT refs, and asked if I could just do the ride and run. He said I could, but to just stay out of the way. Um, yeah, no problem there. I saw one other person with their bike still in transition, so I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be in anyone’s way. 😉 I was planning to ride it like a race though, so I wasn’t going to be breaking any rules and getting in the way. At this point, it was just after 7:45. I had been awake, if you could call it that, for less than 20 minutes, so I found a spot to set my bag and took off on my bike filled with adrenaline still from the abrupt start to my day. I was thoroughly ticked off at myself, and I knew I would be in danger of starting too fast. Also, I was worried about running out of steam since I hadn’t had anything for breakfast. On my bike, I had 2 scoops of Ucan (160 calories) and 40 ounces of Osmo (140 calories). My thoughts turned to drink the Ucan as quickly as possible to get something in my system, hydrate early and often since I hadn’t drank any water that morning, try to keep your RPMs up so you don’t burn your legs out in hard gears hammering early, and see how many people you can pass by the end. This was NOT my plan for this race!
I never have pace showing on my watch since I train by heart rate, and it was still set on auto-lap for bike because I hadn’t taken it off from the weekend before, so as the lap time would go off, I knew 20 minutes for 5 miles was a 15mph pace, and anything under about 18 minutes was over 16.5mph. My first lap showed 16:33…um, yeah, that’s NOT good. Riding mad was not going to fair well for me if I kept this up. Crunching some numbers in my head, that was 5 miles every 16ish minutes, times 3 is 15 in 48 minutes and 12 minutes left which would be another 3ish miles, meant I was somewhere in the neighborhood of, oh no, 18mph. SLOW DOWN!!!! I eased back some, and I had more reasonable lap times for me over the next 2 laps where the only hills on the course were, then as I headed back and the course flattened, I picked up speed again before cruising into the last few miles to prepare for the run.
I had passed several people on the bike portion, so as I rolled into transition, I felt a little better knowing that others were still on the bike course. It had gotten hot though, and I wasn’t sure how my legs were. I started the run portion too fast as well, so I switched over to a run:walk to try and slow myself down some. As I approached the first water station, someone said there was no water. I had a electrolyte drink on me, but it was mixed double strength because I had planned to drink water from the water stops. I opened the top of the bottle and crammed some ice down my handheld hoping to cool it off some and water it down as well. This water stop would also be the second water stop on the return, so I was glad to at least have my handheld. By the time I reached mile 3, my stomach was starting to gurgle from the lack of water and the extra concentrated drink in my handheld, so I grabbed 2 cups of water at every remaining water stop, and added water each time to my handheld bottle. By about mile 5, my stomach had straightened itself back out some, and I was able to pick the pace back up some as I finished out the race.
As I crossed the finish line, the volunteers tried putting a finisher’s medal around my neck, but I refused it telling them that I didn’t do the swim portion. They said I could still have one, but that’s just not how I do things. If I’m going to get a finisher’s medal for an Olympic tri, then I’m going to complete the entire thing.
After crossing, I walked around to where I had seen the rest of our team members as I crossed the finish line. They still didn’t realize that I had missed the swim, so I had to break that news. Coach Chuck was on vacation, but he sent a text to Coach Tony asking how everyone did, and very cryptic messages were sent back to him. Chuck was quickly getting suspicious. Tony told me that it happens, even to pros, and told me of a particular race he was at where it happened to a pro. It didn’t really make me feel any better at the time, but it is what it is, and I couldn’t change it, so learn from it! Tony also said that there will be a phone tree now for Augusta. 🙂 I avoided contacting Chuck for most of the remaining day, and I finally sent him a message that evening letting him know what had happened. I had put it off all day hoping Tony would just tell him, and I apparently delayed long enough. Tony had caved and let him know, but Chuck said he just wanted to hear it from me. It happens, and at least I went and did the bike and run he said. It wasn’t my “A” race, so no harm no foul. I was still mad at myself for several days, but honestly, I got what I needed to out of the race. I practiced the run to bike transition. I practiced pacing even if it was pacing for an Oly instead of a HIM, and I had the experience of another race under my belt before Augusta. I don’t really feel like I’d have gotten much else out of doing the swim part too other than another OWS, but honestly, the swim doesn’t concern me for Augusta after the training camp.
One last laugh I had about this, I had a recovery ride Sunday morning, and since I hadn’t pumped my tires up before the race, I was interested to see just how flat they were. 42 PSI in the back tire and 60 in the front, I averaged some pretty fast speeds for me on those flat tires considering I usually average mid 15-16 mph riding on 120 PSI. It makes me wonder what I could have ridden the course in.
Here’s to hoping your worst fears don’t come true! Never give up! And get what you can out of every race no matter what!
Less than 4 weeks until Augusta, I have only done two mini-sprints, an Oly Aquabike, and the bike and run portion of an Oly, but I feel ready. I’m excited about the HIM, and I can’t wait for the day!