Race Report: My First

WinforKC 2009, sprint distance. Here's the short version:

I finished strong! My time - 1:34:17. That's eleven minutes faster than I expected to finish and six minutes faster than I hoped. Six months ago, I couldn't have finished. Ten weeks ago, before focused training, I expected to finish in two hours. The effort couldn't have gone better.

More important: It was an absolute blast. Being in the company of the other triathletes, each woman with her own story and her own race to finish, was profound and cheerful. The general mood, the weather, this body — everything felt so good! It was euphoria from the minute we lined up at the swim until just about mile 1 of the run. The run was a real test. The last half mile: back to euphoria.

Here's the whole story.

When we left home at 4:30, the rain was pouring and I had double-bagged my bike saddle in plastic grocery bags. We parked in the grass lot at Smithville Lake and walked in the dark, in a cool, comfortable drizzle. (Tip: N. has one of those little headlamps you can wear on a headband over your cap brim. It was invaluable.) Athletes — teens, grandmothers, seasoned competitors, first-timers, tall, short, slender, fat, everything in between, and all of us jumping-out-of-our-skins READY — quietly unpacked our transition bags under gray skies.

I wiped down my bike rims and watched the swim crew drag back a buoy that had come loose and floated a half mile across the lake. Whew. I'd thought the far buoy was part of the swim course. The triangle looked small and harmless after that.

I walked around transition finding training pals and talking and joking with women who looked nervous. Too much energy! Had to jog up and down the bike path to work it out. Bonus: Unused porta-john past the first curve in the path. Last-minute adaptation: Hadn't counted on losing an eighth-inch around my rib cage. N., at the spectator fence, helped me re-hook my bra tighter. First the headlamp, then this. N. saves a day when he's around.

I made myself eat a granola bar at 6 and a banana at 6:45 — I'd had a plain turkey sandwich at 4 AM, and though I wasn't hungry, I know by now what I need not to bonk. A couple of Shot Bloks at 7, then the pre-race meeting: a lot of cheering for each other. 400 first-timers signed up for this event. Cool thing about the swim — the event offered a last-wave group start, escorted around the course by lifeguards, for anyone who was nervous about open water or afraid they might not finish.

We lined up for the swim in bib number order. When the first swimmer came out of the water and up the grass after six minutes, a huge cheer went up from the athletes. A second huge cheer went up when Tina Fleecs, the event's local triathlon coach, came up the embankment.

Two moments of emotion from this experience are crystal in my memory. One is the feeling of standing at the chip mat waiting for the race official to yell Go! It was like everything in me was surging forward. Like the air was cracking open and I would be able to run through it forever. Like I was connected to everything and everything urged me forward. Yes. Here. YES. Go!

That was one of the happiest moments of my life.

I pounded down the beach and ran high-step into the water until I could dive under. And then I had almost fifteen minutes to think. Think about the feet and hands and elbows whapping me as people passed. Think about the crush of traffic at the buoy turn. Think long arm, high elbow. Rhythm. Breathe. Feel that wonderful sensation of my hand reaching down, down through the lake. Feel the weightlessness of drafting a faster swimmer, like riding on a bubble — the helpless lift of my body in a sudden wave. Some strokes, it seemed the swim took forever. Some, it seemed to go by very quickly. Strange perception — the shore looked far away when it was actually very close.

Up the grass embankment and into transition. Friends — transition practice pays! 2:22 in transition, measured and calm. I had a little glitch getting onto the bike — faster people flew around me and I was shaky up into my pedals and grazed a cone. "Stay right!" a volunteer yelled. Yeesh.

Bike - SO MUCH FUN! Bike time, 38:39, 15.5 mph. The route was fairly flat, with three or four shallow climbs to spin up. Kept a cadence of 90 most of the way, determined to work my limit. More time on the big ring than I expected. I passed folks; folks passed me. I managed to suck down a water bottle by mile seven and was happy about that. Two months ago I couldn't even reach for my bottle without dropping speed or losing my line. Had an ear-to-ear smile a lot of the time. Don't know if that is aerodynamic or not but couldn't be helped.

A word about Shot Bloks. Can't say for sure; maybe I'd have been fine without them. I've bonked plenty in the past and didn't this time (or on the brick workouts where I used them). Pulled two out of my DIY race-belt pocket as soon as I was up on the bike and the last two just before I finished off my water.

What did I think on the bike? Mostly just taking it in — the other riders, the green world in periphery, the volunteers cheering and clapping. I remember thinking that that I was proud of myself there on the bike. I was riding as hard and smart as I could. I felt my quads tiring but had utter confidence in being strong enough not to slack, strong enough to run.

I thought about the run. How were my calves feeling, how was that tight spot at my hip? What would I need? Would I need to relax, would I need a shorter stride, how was everything feeling, what was strong, what was my leverage?

I came in fast and stopped right at the dismount line. Walked my bike in quickly and had a little trouble racking it. Again, 2:20 or so in transition, slow for T2, but comfortable and unflustered. By the time my shoes were on I felt ready to run.

The run: Yeah, that was a 36-minute grim little exam. That's the longest 3.1 miles I've ever run. I kept thinking, good lord, will it ever end? The path wasn't difficult - little rollers more fun than challenge. I'd thought they might be a problem if I were struggling with nutrition or heat or doubt. But it was 72 degrees and the skies had just cleared and I was doing this thing.

The first mile, my legs were made of wet concrete. Typical. Expected. At the turnaround, they started feeling fine, but I didn't fully trust my endurance. I wanted more to finish running than I did to speed up. So I kept my 11:38 pace (which felt like a 13:00 shuffle to my body) and ignored the voices in my head that said, "hey, if you want you can slow down and walk for a while." NO, voices. I am here to run. I trust my legs. They will keep going. Per the plan, I walked into the aid stations, took a drink or two, then picked up the pace again.

I high-fived Tina Fleecs, who had already placed third in her division and had come back to the the quarter-mile point to cheer us in.

The chute into the finish went up a grass slope. At the last curve of the paved path, the other crystalline moment formed. It was stunning. I could hear, then see the scores of people cheering. Before my foot hit the grass, I realized I had done this thing. This body, this life, this work. I was finishing what I set out to do. And I still had strength. I still had joy. I felt like I could tear the sky apart with my bare hands and wrap it around my competitors' shoulders.

That moment sat in my throat. My feet felt grass and all my strength went down into my legs. I kicked into a hard sprint and ran as tough and open as I could. Head back. Grinning. "Strong finish!" people yelled out. "Strong finish!"

I'll never forget that. Never.

I can't say enough good things about this experience, about the race, WinforKC, and the amazing volunteers who were everywhere on the course.

If you're in Kansas City on August 11, come out for the Martini Mile run. It'll be a lot of fun, and the money goes to help WinforKC in their efforts to introduce women and girls to their own strength, through sports.


Ann Pai said...
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Anonymous said...

Outstanding. 100% excellent & inspiring. Barriers have been broken and its only the beginning. The rest is gravy.