Today I raced the Olympic Distance Mass State Tri in Winchendon. Last night I prepared by going with the family to see this. Yes, excellent race prep--what I lost in getting home at 8:30 pm and still having to put on my race wheels and pack for the entire race was made up for, I'm certain, by the psychological advantage of being able to channel Bellatrix in my ongoing search for my inner b**** on the bike.
This was my 3rd Olympic Distance race. Last year I did the Ashfield Tri in June--I had a horrible sore throat, went to a wedding the night before, had a total panic attack on the swim, but somehow managed a pretty solid run (sore throat considered) there on a hilly course--48:27 for 6.5 miles. I did Mass State last year and felt pretty awful on the bike and the run but still eked out a semi-respectable 47:54 for the 10K despite feeling like utter death on the hot, hot run.
So this was it--an Olympic race where I was not sick, not likely to freak out on the swim, and even better, I was going to be sporting this:
But maybe not worn backwards. Although I did very much like my friend Kara's comment that this looks like an aero helmet for a Smurf.
I even went up to Winchendon last weekend with 3 of my teammates and rode the course--it's a 2-loop course, and we did the loop 3 times so I could become intimately familiar with the many ways one could flat or crash on that course. Frost-heave city on the major downhill portion--I think it's much worse than last year, plus they're doing some construction in an attempt to improve things, but right now we're at the stage where all the frost heaves and potholes are still there, only half the lane is blocked off by orange cones. Still, I felt good about this--everyone gets the same road, but at least I knew what was coming.
The swim this year was wetsuit-legal (unlike last year), barely. I was in the last wave again, and I was just so freaking ready to go by the time it was finally our turn. I positioned myself in the front row and took off aggressively, and I had a great swim. Except for the fact that the swim is 0.9 miles and I think I maybe swam 1.1 or so, because on the last leg I could not sight to save my life. I was about 10 yards off the main line of swimmers, but eventually I just gave up and picked a good line from there and was happy that at least I wasn't tangled up in all the other folks--by then I was deep into the two waves before mine. Final time: 25:37, compared with 31:52 last year. OK, some of that is the wetsuit, but I'm taking credit for at least half that differential, because it's my blog.
T1 was uneventful. My new helmet is very easy to put on--I really had no idea I was wearing anything different, except for when it whistled at me at high speeds.
The bike here starts off with a long flat, some real and some false, then hits a small uphill, a big uphill, some downhill on the aforementioned deadly road surface, another up or so, and then some turns back into flatsville. And repeat. I was happy with my riding on the uphill today; I've been talking to a friend of mine who is a very good cyclist (just made Cat 3) and a ridiculously fast climber, and her advice to me was to pick whatever gear lets me spin at my normal cadence. I haven't always been able to do this in the past, but today I was able to find a gear that let me keep my cadence at 85 on the uphill, and I passed a lot of people. Now if I could just lose about 20 lbs (and somehow be 4 inches taller as well), maybe I could be just like my friend. But I digress.
Two team-related things happened after the first round of the uphill: 1) I saw teammate Kevin by the side of the road fixing a flat. Bummer. 2) Teammate Joellen flew by me. Now Joellen routinely dusts me on the bike--she has about twice my power and half my weight, plus I think she's just ridiculously tough. But in the past she's struggled enough with the swim that I don't see her on the bike--she's just hot on my tail on the run (and she's a fabulous runner as well). I didn't realize it was her at first--I just knew some woman called out "on your left" as I was already way left myself, passing someone else and avoiding half a lane's worth of frost heave. I apologized to the woman, who I'd pushed out over the yellow line, and she just laughed and said, "That's OK--we can protest if I get a penalty." That's when I realized it was Joellen, because who else can speak in complete sentences at such a moment?
I had half a second of dark thoughts here, I have to confess-thoughts of "If Joellen is already passing me, either I had a really crappy swim or I am biking even worse than usual." But then I pushed it aside, assumed she was having a great race (and, um, she was--she was only 2 minutes behind me on the swim!), and cheered up. After the hilly section I saw her not too far ahead, and I decided to try to catch here. And thus began the most fun bike leg I have ever done. On the long flattish section Joellen and I must have passed each other--totally draft-free, I promise, because we are goody-goods--no less than 10 times. Each time the passer said something to the passee. For instance, me to Joellen: "You really need to get aero bars." Because yes, she kicks my a** on a road bike. Honestly, if Joellen weren't the sweetest person in the entire valley here, you'd kind of want to hate her. And today she pushed me in exactly the way I need on the bike--it wasn't one of those annoying back and forth things with some guy whose bike creaks in a really grating way, but a game, and I had a blast. She left me for good on the 2nd round of the uphill, obviously. My bike split was 1:16:14, almost exactly 2 minutes faster than last year. Thanks, Joellen!
T2 was pretty quick, and I started the run feeling good. That lasted for about 1 mile. My first split was 7:17, which is right on, and then I gradually slowed down like a melting record, ending up at 8-minute pace for the last couple miles. For half the run I convinced myself I was catching Joellen, but that was a total hallucination on my part. Still, I only got passed by one woman, who looked about 20 (I was too tired to read numbers on calves at that point), so I was way ahead of her anyway (she'd started a couple waves ahead of me). It always amazes me how many people I can pass on the run even when it feels like a total slog. My run time was about 2 minutes slower than last year--49:18 compared to 47:54. So essentially I shifted time from the run to the bike. But I'm fine with that--I need to learn how to bike faster, and I'm confident I can train myself back into a faster run after doing that.
I ended up 4th in my AG in 2:33:38, and not really close to 3rd; last year I was 3rd in 2:39:51, but this year Mass State was the BOUS qualifier, which seemed to bring out way more competition. I don't usually worry much about times in triathlons, since conditions are so variable, but minus the whole wetsuit difference, conditions seemed pretty identical this year, and since the comparison works in my favor, I'm taking it. And if anyone thinks a wetsuit cut 6 minutes of my time, feel free to keep that to yourself. Kthanks.
Joellen, by the way, WON her AG. She cut over 10 minutes off her time for last year. What a stud. Here are all my teammates, with Joellen holding up the tire she won as part of her haul (along with the gift certificate that looks like it's gouging out Ryanne's eye, only it's not):
I have to confess, it's also possible some of my difficulties on the run came about because I violated that age-old rule of not trying anything new on race day. Yes, I tried a new color of nail polish:
I thought light blue went better with this year's tri suit than the dark blue, but I ended up with some gnarly blisters, so maybe my feet were trying to tell me something. This, by the way, was taken later in the afternoon when I took my daughter to the pool. She insisted on racing me in backstroke, and she beat me pretty handily, so eventually I cried uncle and retreated to the lounge chair to watch her frolic. I think I could have taken her if I had a wetsuit, though.