Race Report: KC Tri 2010

Five-fifteen AM. 800 triathletes filter into the park through the dark and dawn. As people arrive and set up transitions, the mellow morning buzz tightens to E string frequency. Wow, there are a lot of people here. Loving triathlon #1: being in the thick of so many people who have trained to be triathletes. This is going to be FUN!

I hit my high-voltage pre-race current at about 6:45. Thought: "Huh. Maybe the sleep deficit from this week isn't going to affect me."

Perhaps this was the voice of sleepless, race-juiced delirium. Anyway, it was wrong. Loving triathlon #2: How much I want to show up and race no matter what.

7 AM. We popped into the cold, choppy water. For some, this was warmup — the rest of us were just showing a little tough love to our lungs and extremities.

I breast-stroked out into the lake, ducking and diving. There is a kind of cold that gets colder the longer you stay in it. This wasn't that kind of cold. This cold would never feel warmer but wouldn't turn moving arms into ice. However, a sadist's south wind was push-brooming white-capped waves across the surface of the lake, rolling conveyor belts of currents below.

The sprint-distance partipants watched the Olympic waves run through the sharp crests. The murmur went across the athletes: "Oh my God. They're in trouble out there." Heads were popping up everywhere, fast age groupers were thrashing, swimmers were tacking left and right.

We got a second shot at warmup as our heats were held while the Olympic waves cleared the buoys. Back to the beach to wait. Loving triathlon #3: The unpredictable, beast nature of open water.

We gasped watching the elite sprint wave pushed north by the current, toward the wrong buoy. They wrestled directly into the waves to correct. Then the Olympic elites returned to shore. No one swam in. Everyone stood waist deep and walked. No one ran out of the water. The second murmur went through the Sprint groups: "Oh my God. They look exhausted."

You might think this would raise anxiety in the waiting swimmers, but it seemed instead to heighten resolve and preparation. We women in the green caps could see what we were in for, shift and refine swim strategy. We lined up, tensed and set to run, one foot in sand, one in water: Air horn! Off we go.

My swim strategy: "Don't stop swimming." Basic. No way around the reality of fatigue. Concentrated on staying calm and responsive, focused on aggressive body roll in the smacking facefuls of rough chop. My kick in the wetsuit felt nonexistent. "That's odd," I thought. "Why am I not kicking?" I tacked wide of the buoy line once. There were fewer and fewer green caps around me. Hey, as long as I can still see swimmers, I am still racing somebody.

The swim heats were arranged to have greater numbers of swimmers bunched and finishing at the same time. This makes more sense to me than the pattern of starting the slowest waves last, which would stretch a race and thin out the bike and run courses. But with this scheme the fast men overtake and jostle past the slow women. Being knocked around a little was great, as it meant I was going to catch a draft from the stronger swimmer passing.

Rounding the fourth buoy I got caught in a current and fought to head south toward the run-out mat. Suddenly I was so tired that I could barely believe I was going to hop on a bike. I swam in to the shallows, stood abruptly, tweaked my left calf muscle, and fell precipitously forward into the water.

"Oh my God," said a woman next to me, "are you all right?" I grinned. We ran up the mat together. I stripped the suit on the run. Swim: 27:03. Vast room for improvement but I was pleased with my ability to stay focused and keep a steady pace even as I tired.

T1. After the previous week's comedy routine, I'd practiced putting on my bike shoes and had rehearsed my transition order many times: Cap Goggles Strap Flap Strip Stop Glasses Helmet Drop Strip Drink Sock Shoe Sock Shoe Straps Straps Up BIKE!

Loving triathlon #4: THE BIKE. And I love the bike loop at Longview Lake. Some short hills, a long hill, some flats, some neighborhood sections with 90-degree turns in rapid succession. Every challenge has its own reward and a quick consecutive challenge. But I felt too good on the bike. I rode more aggressively and faster than I have to date — on the fast flat headed into the long hill I was actually involuntarily growling with exhalation like a dog ripping apart a rabbit — but I never got to that delicious place of pain that I'd found at Heritage. "What's up, legs," I asked. "I've got a full tank here, come on, let's use it up." Legs said, "This is everything." I tried. I got down, rode in the drops, which I hadn't really done before. Pushed all the gear I could at all the cadence I could on the last flat and passed a bunch of people. And I leaned the bike into corners and shot out of them, shut down any hesitation. First time I'd really done that, or even, y'know, approximated a line. Bike: 47:02, 15.8 pace, about 67th percentile of the 200-person field.

T2: Clockwork. Helmet Cap Shoe Shoe Shoe Shoe Belt RUN.

Wow. We ran smothered in the wet press-cloth of 85% humidity, and it felt long. Seeing the two-mile marker was incredibly demoralizing. It felt like I'd been running forever. No wonder, since I was at a minute and twenty five seconds slower than race pace. I was thankful clouds had pulled overhead; had the sun been beating down I'm not sure what I would have done to myself to finish. My legs were about as responsive as stacked Legos. I asked them to go faster and they would actually slow down. "Legs! Why aren't you moving!" They blew me a giant raspberry and started cramping, then recruited what seemed like every muscle from my smallest rib down to join them. "I love you, legs," I said. "Sorry about the sleep. Come on, let's run it in."

Loving triathlon #5: Laughing in the face of the insanity of running after the swim and bike. Loving triathlon #6: How much encouragement triathletes give each other on the run course. A marine doing KC as a training race jogged with me, chatting. I had plenty of energy to chat, and could manage to funnel exactly zero of it into my legs. So I decided I might as well encourage other runners, be good for something out there!

My race strategy became much like the swim: Just keep running. I had so much fuel left in the tank that I gave The Major a big yell of encouragement as we crossed, she on the first lap of the 10K. "Crap," I thought, "no way should I have that much left to yell with." Run: 31:59, 10:20 pace.

I crossed the finish without racing to core fatigue. My rule of thumb is that I ought to be almost throwing up when I cross the finish line. So to finish without core fatigue might have left me disappointed and feeling like I'd thrown away a race. I considered it. Didn't have time for it. Hooray legs for not stopping! Hooray brain for not doubting! Hooray 800 racers seeing it through, whatever that meant for you!

The take-away: do not build a sleep deficit. I thought I'd dodged the bullet since my endurance and cardio felt great pre-race. But I didn't have fast twitch; I didn't have slow twitch. I had no twitch. My legs just couldn't give what the rest of my body could have given. But they raced. Loving triathlon #7: But they raced.

I can't say enough good things about the race organization. Great course, fantastic support, dedicated field, clear communication throughout pre-race and race day. Surprisingly hefty goodie bag.

Oh. My time? 1:50:02. This was about five minutes slower than I thought I would be and ten minutes slower than what a great race would have been. I didn't bring a great race with me. I just brought me. Scavenged scraps of effort on the fly, and finished the work, feeling every minute of it.

It's not enough to rest with. But it's more than enough to keep going with.