Guess what?! I raced again! And this was a BIG one!
Somewhere in the craziness of prepping for Nationals, then moving, going on vacation and trying to catch back up, I managed to forget to share one not-so-tiny bit of news here – I MADE TEAM USA!!!
I was actually walking into yoga class during Elizabeth’s running bachelorette weekend when I got the email. To say I was shocked and elated is an understatement! It was all I could do to focus on yoga and not let my mind race during the entire hour. Before the weekend was over, I secured my slot on the team and paid the whopping $480 (!!) race entry fee. By the end of the week I booked hotels and flights. There was never any question as to whether I would race or not.
I took 10 days almost completely off of everything training-related when I went on vacation after Nationals. This was great for recovery and a good mental break, but it wasn’t exactly ideal at that stage in training (for this race or my upcoming marathon<–WUT). Once I got back at it, I dropped down to 2 days of riding a week and upped my running mileage. I made sure the two rides each week were quality – a 20-mile hammerfest with a small group on Wednesdays and quality long group rides on the weekends. I also continued swimming 2 days a week and after a summer of slogging through workouts, had a breakthrough swim the weekend before the race. While swimming outdoors in Mobile after Elizabeth’s wedding, I took some time to work on my stroke and discovered an issue that made a huge impact on how I felt in the water. With only a minor little hitch (small tweak in the groin), I was able to increase my mileage to high 30’s, with a long run up to 15 miles. This was confidence boosting after a low mileage summer. All-in-all, I went into Chicago feeling decently fit (but not tapered) and not expecting a disaster, but also not any outstanding results.
Brad and I landed in Chicago late Thursday night after having weather-related flight delays, which also made us miss dinner with the girls. Despite getting in bed later than planned, I still got plenty of sleep because we were able to snooze late Friday morning. We finally got up and moving around 9 and met Char and Jesse for a fun (<– sarcasm) day of race logistics.
(Did I mention that Char got the roll-down too?!?! Does it get any sweeter than racing for your country, in your favorite city, with your best friend?!). The logistics were a little different for this race because 1. pre-race bike check-in was moved to Saturday due to weather and 2. there was no swim preview at the race site. Since we had rented long sleeve wetsuits for the first time (water temps were 60 degrees!), we took a cab up to Ohio St. Beach to do a test swim. After being on our feet for what felt like all day, I finally had a couple of hours to relax back at the room that evening before dinner. Dinner was a super fun evening at Davanti Enoteca with Jenny, Manny, Chanthana and Brad.
We knew it was going to be a windy day, but I was especially nervous when I woke up to this:
I really wanted this to be a full triathlon and I was nervous that they would cancel the swim or make it a duathlon as they had done in races the previous days due to bad weather. A quick look out the window showed that Navy Pier and the two jetties separating the harbor were keeping the waves at bay. It was choppy, but certainly swimmable.
Despite having to do bike check-in on Saturday morning, we still had plenty of time since transition was open until after 8. And bonus: since my hotel was right across the street from the race, we spent the several hours of waiting time doing this:
This was one of the most relaxed triathlon race mornings I can remember. We finally walked over to the swim start about an hour before the race.
Everything was running smoothly and on-time. Once we were fully wet-suitted, we handed our stuff of to race-sherpa extraordinaire, Jesse (Char’s husband), and got in the corral with the group. We were excited and nervous, but it was the least pressure I have felt going into a race in a long time. No expectations – other than to (hopefully) not be last American!
1500 m Swim: 23:33, 1:26/100 yd (13/107 AG)
We only had about 30 seconds between the time they let us jump in the water and when the horn sounded. In frigid water, that doesn’t leave much time to get the initial shock out of the way. I put my face in the water, blew some bubbles, took some deep breaths and then we were off. The first 10-15 m were rough. But surprisingly, within less than a minute, the jostling for position was over and I found myself on my own. As far as I could tell there was a small pack ahead of me, but other than that, I was swimming solo. After the blood bath at Nationals the last few years, I was more than grateful.
The first buoy came very quickly. It was only about 300 m out, but I was surprised at how fast I was on it. My shoulders felt really restricted in the long sleeves for the first 400 or so meters, but seemed to loosen up after that.
The last 1000 m felt like forever. In theory, long-straight swims sounds great, but when the arch at the finish never seems to get closer, time in the water feels like an eternity. Pull, pull, pull, breathe…rotate your hips, dammit!…pull, pull, pull…At some point I swam up on the green mens’ caps in front of me, but never was able to catch any red caps from my wave. I saw about 4-6 of them out front and was surprised to be that far up in the pack. (There were two 35-39 waves, so I assumed all the fast girls were in the other wave!). When I finally reached the swim out, I let the volunteer pull me up the stairs and took off for the looooong run into transition (almost 800 m total).
T1: 4:20, (76/107 AG)<–womp.
I had a hard time getting out of the rented wetsuit and it took way longer than it should have. I was passed by at least 2 Team USA teammates while I stood there jacking around with it. Then it was yet another time when I wished I knew how to get my shoes on while riding because I ran through tons of sand and my cleats were full of it, which made clipping in a challenge.
Bike: 1:04:36; 23.1 mph (65/107)
Let’s go ahead and get this out there – the bike course was 2 km short. It was short last year when I did the preview race and even though they changed the course, it was still short this year. I would love to be able to ride 23+ mph and especially on that course, but let’s be realistic: that’s not the kind of shape I am in.
For the most part, I knew what to expect of the bike course. I knew it was technical and dark and there were a lot of turns. Having it two loops vs. the four from last year, was better mentally, but the parts that were added on to make the loops longer were challenging and quite frankly, scary. After the first loop, all I could think was that I didn’t want to go back and do it again. It was crowded and I was nervous and riding very conservatively. I just kept thinking “It’s not worth it.” [to get hurt]
The second loop was definitely better than the first. I felt more confident and slightly more comfortable, but I was still ready to get off the bike and run. Char passed me toward the end of the 2nd loop, in a super crowded section and there was almost a collision when she and others behind her came through to pass. I heard her voice yell “ON YOUR LEFT” to a rider behind me and it got sketchy as I was passing someone at that point as well. It turned out that a girl from Mexico got a penalty around that same time for drafting off of Char.
I tried to keep Char in my sights as we made the last turn up the on-ramp, back on to Columbus drive and into transition. But as I rolled up to the dismount line, I couldn’t get un-clipped. Like, my foot wouldn’t come out (all the sand from transition). I panicked and instead of just unstrapping the velcro on my shoe and pulling my foot out, I kept rolling and screaming “I can’t unclip” (<–rookie, much?!). I thought the volunteer/official was going to grab me and hold me up, but he just said, “YOU HAVE TO STOP.” I finally was able to get my left cleat un-clipped (I normally un-clip right first) and got off the bike before having a slow speed tipover in the middle of Worlds. I was certainly silently thanking whoever was looking out for me on that one.
The average over 38k was around 21.9 mph, which is exactly what I rode at Nationals this year for my fastest bike split ever. Despite not feeling great about the bike during the race, I am pretty pleased with that result.
T2 – 3:17 (66/107 AG)
It was another long run into transition, but this time with the bike and in bike shoes (ugh – learn to leave them on the bike, already!). I came up on Char as we were running into transition and as I went on the grassy area inside the fence, I unclipped my helmet. Right away, an official stopped me and yelled that I had to re-clip it. Just up ahead I saw Char had her helmet off and they did the same to her. We read the ITU rules over and over and I never remembered seeing that one, but luckily we didn’t get penalties. We just lost any time that it took us to stop and get them back on/clipped. In all the chaos, I managed to leave transition without taking the Garmin off my bike and putting it back on my wrist.
Run – 46:35, 7:30 min/mile (37/107 AG)
Char and I fell into step stride-for-stride right away. I had no idea what pace we were going, but she had a lap watch so we thought we could get a split at the first mile marker.
We quickly learned that since the course had 3.5 loops, there were no mile markers and we had no choice but to run on feel. I felt pretty crappy for the first 1/2 mile or so, but (unlike at Nationals), my legs woke up and had some pep. I tried to keep the effort even and strong. It was hard, but I was having fun, smiling at the crowd cheering for me (yay to names on race kits!) or Team USA. I looked forward to when I could see Char’s sisters, then Jesse & Brad, then Jenny, Manny & CT (starting in lap 2) and Lynton. They were all spaced out just enough that it seemed like I kept coming up on little cheering squads.
I felt like the pace was solid and even latched on to a small group of women for about a mile or so to let them do the work. The loops went by quickly, but I was really happy to make that final turnaround to my last loop. I picked up the pace and pushed a little harder, then grabbed my USA flag and made the last loop around Buckingham Fountain.
I waved my flag and smiled big through the whole finishers chute. It was definitely a cool finish line to cross!
Since it wasn’t a PR attempt, it was kind of nice to not have any data or a race time right away. If I had run with my Garmin, I may have been pushing for that sub-7:00 pace and not have had nearly as much fun.
When I first heard my run time later, I have to admit I was pretty disappointed. I knew I hadn’t left it all out there (that wasn’t what this was about), but I definitely felt like the effort was better than 7:30 pace. As we were going back to get our bikes and talking to other athletes, we learned that the run course was about 600 m long (consistently per coaches/people’s Garmins/etc). This also made sense when I looked at the times of other athletes and where they “normally” would be in a 10k. I felt much, much better about the effort after that (extra 600-ish would have meant ~7:05 min/mile).
ITU Worlds Chicago: 2:22:19, 38/105 AG
I am so glad I had the opportunity to do this race. It was an amazing (albeit expensive) experience that I definitely won’t forget any time soon.