“Be Patient. Be Present. Be Gentle. Be Kind.”
Let me start by saying what an incredible blessing the sport of triathlon has been to me. I have grown exponentially in the past 4+ years of training and racing, physically, mentally and emotionally. Working side by side through the highs and lows of competition with my husband has undoubtedly brought us closer together; this past weekend was no exception!
We knew going into the inaugural Salem 70.3 that it was going to be an interesting day. The swim is downriver and would essentially wipe out any potential gains a strong swimmer would typically make. Elliot and I started together, near the front, and stayed together for the most part. I didn’t really have to swim, just tried to stay calm. Several of us got swept to the opposing side of the river onto a sandbar at the start due to the current, but a simple jog over the rocks and bellyflop back into the raging river was my quick response. I think it threw some people off, but it didn’t bother me much. I knew we were all going to swim about the same speed regardless. The current was fast! I knew we were moving quickly by how rapid the buoys went by. My main focus was staying calm and smooth, staying near the buoys, and keeping track of where I was so the current wouldn’t sweep me past the swim exit buoy! It would be one tough swim upstream if that happened. Thankfully, all went to plan, and I set an unbeatable personal swim best time of 22:47. LOL. I saw Elliot in transition for the first time ever (he is always 2-10 minutes up on me depending on the swim distance!) which confirmed it was going to be a weird day.
The bike course was flat and fast into the rustic Oregon countryside. Lovely fields, vineyards, and barns dotted the countryside. I remembered my race theme: be patient, be present, be gentle, be kind. I took this mantra from Headspace – a guided meditation app I’ve been using. Despite pushing the upper end of my “sweet spot” or threshold effort, I tried to take focused breaths, enjoy the views, and exchange kind words to my fellow competitors on the course (unless they were drafting, in which case I was not as kind!) I always race the bike hard, and I felt it was especially important to race the bike like I plan to at 70.3 Worlds in a few months. I had worried about the flat bike course before the race (perhaps being small and powerful would be less advantageous without hills?) but after discussing the matter with a good friend and respected pro triathlete Paul Stevenson (you’re the man, Paul!) I decided to race hard but within myself in preparation for the more important race of the year: Worlds.
Both the bike and run course were straightforward out and backs, so I could count the girls in front of me at the turnaround. I saw Elliot not too far ahead, and at least 5 women to catch. I gritted my teeth and kept the gas pedal on. I held about 10 watts higher than planned the first half of the bike but committed to settling in a bit to prepare for the run. I know I have one of the strongest runs in the field, so after making significant ground in the first 28 miles, I felt like it was wise to get into a touch easier, uncomfortably comfortable rhythm in the back 28 miles. There were lonely stretches out there in No Man’s Land, but I didn’t mind. I felt prepared, present, and determined to go for the top step by putting together all three sports instead of having one stand out leg.
Off the bike in 2:28 with gas in the tank for the run. After a quick transition to the run, I was feeling excited to chase! In past races this year, I didn’t have as many women around me on the bike or in transition. I saw several girls in transition off the bike near me, and just up ahead on the run, but I expected that. A flat course with bull sh*t swim means everyone stays pretty close together, so I wasn’t fazed! I kept Miranda Carfrae’s advice in my head as I completed the first 5k: “Running off the bike always hurts at first, may as well hurt AND go fast.” I was out in 19:28 for my first 5k (disclaimer, it trended downhill!) with just 2 women left to pick off. By mile 5 I had taken the lead. I knew I was running the fastest – to my knowledge – in the women’s field. Ironman provides a volunteer on a mountain bike to the Lead Female during the run, so I had a volunteer on a bike supporting me the rest of the run, which was pretty cool. She radioed my position back to the finish line every time we went by a mile marker, so I trusted they would be watching the virtual lead in case it changed. Everyone was so supportive of me on the course! People had their phones out taking pictures as I came through, and the crowd was amazing when I headed back into town. My pre- race mantra came back to me often on those lonely 8 miles at the front: “Be patient, you have this. Be present, enjoy this experience- it may not ever happen again. Be gentle to yourself, but keep the legs moving. Be kind to others, they will remember how you responded to them.”
I saw Elliot just before the halfway point of the run and could tell he was fighting to stay strong. I was really proud he got to see me in the lead with the Lead Female bike tailing me. After the turnaround, I took note of my competition on the way back. Everyone was still running slower, and the gaps were big. A mile or so after the turnaround, I noticed one girl running well. She looked young, and was running fast, but seemed so far back I counted her out. (Mistake!). I was holding pace for a 1:22 half marathon through mile 8. I allowed myself a few seconds per mile with the lead I had built up, not knowing the girl I had written off was running an unheard of 1:20 pace. Elliot had told me before the race to break 1:25 on the run, and I will probably have the win. So, I held a pace good enough to break 1:25, and kept a little in the tank in case someone ran up on me. My official run split was 1:25:03 (petty sidenote: I started my watch at my bike in transition, so my half marathon split was 1:24:48, which means I did as I was told! 😉
No one ran up on me, physically. Virtually, however, that girl was. I’ll give her credit, she put together an insane run. I’ve never seen an amateur run a 1:25, let alone a 1:20. She deserves a lot of credit for the chase she gave! She has my respect. Would I have liked to run side by side with her and go to battle? Absolutely. By my calculations, we would have met at around mile 12.5 had we started together in the swim. I had enough in the tank to battle. I’ve run an official 1:21 half marathon before, deep in training, and I would like to think we could have been the next Iron War. We will never know.
The experience of finishing first (physically) was unforgettable despite the hard news I would hear after I finished. I got tears in my eyes as I saw the red carpet, finish line arch, and the winning tape rolled out in front of me to break. I took a final look over my shoulder, saw no one, and crossed the line first with the banner over my head, proud. I did it! I executed the course to the best of my knowledge and ability. Five years of hard work and dreaming finally coming true! Photos were being snapped, and Elliot came running up to congratulate me.
The girl chasing in second came in about a minute later and the announcers told us her virtual time was a few seconds faster. The rolling swim start presented the illusion she was farther down than she really was but, on paper, she did beat me. I felt stupid; what did I do wrong? I never settled in, but I allowed myself some time due to the cushion I thought I had with the knowledge of amateur run field splits and taking note of everyone at the halfway turnaround. I was sad, mad, and frustrated that I had just been told I got beat, without really being physically beaten, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Since the race has passed, I’m more at peace now. I’m a competitor, so it will always sting. It’s no one’s fault: the swim has to start that way due safety concerns for the large age group fields, she deserves to feel happy about winning, and in some way so do I. Anyone in my position would have done what I did and would feel the way I feel. I raced at the front, I took chances that I thought they paid off (and maybe they did….) I raced from the gun to the tape, like any athlete would. We all completed the whirlwind swim where the best swimmers swam the same as average swimmers (like me). I pushed the bike and set standard on the run. It isn’t my fault that someone got to start later and pip me at the line after I had finished. That isn’t a real race if you ask me.
No, I don’t count it as a win. I don’t count it as a loss. I count it as an experience that taught me what to expect as an amateur that wants to win, and if I don’t like that it’s not a live race then it’s time to consider cashing in on the pro license I earned back in May. No, I don’t think I’m ready for pro level racing. I don’t think I’d like it if I wasn’t in the mix. I know I’m a fast age grouper but a middle of the pack to back of the pack level pro. If an age grouper can beat me, even by seconds unknown at the time, I don’t think it’s the best option to go pro. So, we just have to put our heads down, go back to work, and continue building for what has been the objective for the past 2.5 years: Compete with an international, championship level field in St. George at 70.3 Worlds in September. I have one more training block to build all three disciplines, with the fire burning stronger than ever. It just may be the best thing that ever happened to me. Nothing hurts more than being a winner for 60 seconds just to be told you’re the first loser, and I don’t anticipate feeling that way again if there is ANYTHING I can do about it.
Elliot finished well, considering how hard he pushed himself in his build to Kona after qualifying a month ago at Ironman Coeur D’Alene. He wasn’t satisfied with it, but that’s why I love him. He honestly assesses a performance, his athlete’s and his own, and goes to work to improve any shortcomings. It was fun to experience a significant high that turned out to be a significant low with Elliot while he worked through what he would describe as a lackluster performance.
We do this sport for so many reasons: health, structure, fun, etc. Winning age groups, overall, or qualifying for a pro license or championship race are all just bonuses that come with this amazing lifestyle we get to live, both on the good days and the hard days. We still love each other a lot and are incredibly proud of the ability to fight through anything- a quality we both possess and are attracted to in one another. ❤ On to the next!
Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk J
Stay present, patient, gentle, and kind folks.