Sitting at a bar after the St. George race a few weeks ago, Brendan and I had an interesting conversation with someone we met, his words further cementing in my mind the importance of having a win (or more) on my resume, in addition to self-promotion, in order to succeed at the non-competition part of professional triathlon. Anyone who knows me well understands that self-promo is a unnatural, and if you’ve followed my career closely you’ve seen that while I have a lot of podium finishes, I have yet to earn the win at a 70.3 race. In going after the big money/big points races to optimize qualification chances and see where I really stack up, I have never had a result I felt was “soft” (i.e. looks nice but doesn’t mean much). I thought maybe it would be permissible to seek one of those, just because of what it may do to help my resume. SO, we thought perhaps Raleigh would be that opportunity (as a low points race in a low-profile destination and with several other key races on the same weekend). I signed up right away.
Post-St. George recovery went remarkably well. After racing on such a difficult course, I figured recovery would be equally challenging. I think having raced just a notch below top capability (in terms of wattage on the bike and run pace), I may’ve taken the edge off enough that I could recover well. So 2 weeks prior to Raleigh I was feeling great and liked my chances. Then I saw the start list and realized it would not be an easy win, as I was in the company of a handful of very strong racers. But that’s ok, as I prefer having a challenge…, and even this year alone each of the “heavy-hitters” and I were about 50-50 in terms of who’d beaten whom at other races. I’d rather have a win among some great contenders than a truly “soft” one anyway!
Then we went through a wave of sickness in the family, beginning with my daughter. Although we thought it was allergies, I tried to keep my distance from her and wash hands, etc., but still caught the same congestion. I spent over a week fighting major coughing fits, waking up in the night and going to the basement or guest room for fear of keeping up the whole family for hours while I coughed endlessly. Finally after Memorial Day I went to the doctor, not knowing what could be done. Turned out her first suggestion was an inhaler that’s illegal by USADA standards (I get drug tested regularly both in and out of competition and am very careful about what I put into my body), but then we came up with 2 whose ingredients were permitted. So Tuesday of last week I started to breathe free of incessant coughs, and with that came some much needed sleep. I’d been on the fence about Raleigh because of the cough, which distracted me from my knee issue (which has been going on since before St. George). I was so obsessed with the cough and lack of sleep (and what it meant to my training) that I had ignored the knee issues for the most part and didn’t consider how they may affect my race. I made the decision Wednesday to go to Raleigh and arranged a ride with my friend Craig so that Brendan could join me Saturday night after kids’ games were through.
I thought I’d been to Raleigh during college for track meets, but I think it must’ve just been Durham and Chapel Hill, as I didn’t recognize the city at all and hadn’t realized how substantial it was! It’s a nice area, and I enjoyed the mixed-element race course despite its complications (two transitions, a 40 min bus ride to get to the swim start). We had equal parts rolling hills, rural areas, headwinds, long sweeping stretches, and even a final urban piece coming into downtown. But my body did not enjoy it so much! Starting with race morning, my bowels were not ready to function in their normal way. I left the hotel post-breakfast to board a 4:45am shuttle to swim start and proceeded with my normal pre race prep once at T1 (except I forgot to lay out the bag for my wetsuit, cap and goggles and they never made it back post-race… darn distracted memory issues). The 75 degree water was just below the wetsuit limit – in my opinion too warm for pros to swim in wetsuits – but with several very strong swimmers in the field, I could not afford to lose the valuable time my blueseventy Helix would gain for me, so I donned my wetsuit and started my swim warm up. I was wondering if the stomach issues I felt were nerve or bowel-related… We got off to a roughish start (I haven’t been missing the violence of ITU swims but this one was not the civilized 70.3 swims I’ve come to enjoy!) but eventually I found an all-too-familiar (unacceptable) no-man’s-land behind the fast pack in front of me and a couple of stragglers. I exited the water further from the leader (Mary Beth Ellis) than I’d hoped, about 2:30 down, and tried to make quick work of closing on the 6 in front of me on my freshly tuned bike with awesome wheels I borrowed from Bonzai. I felt pretty smooth early and covered 4 places within the first 5 miles. Shortly thereafter, I found myself playing cat and mouse with Amy Marsh (eventual winner) through about the 25 mile mark when she was able to gap me to the point that I never passed her back. Facing what seemed like an interminable headwind, I found it a very challenging race, but both of us were eating up time on the lead. Although I’m frustrated I didn’t work harder to stay closer to Amy, I was determined to achieve my mission of taking all of my nutrition at the proper times, without spilling it all over my bike, and beginning the run without the caloric deficit that seems to have plagued me at nearly every race. While I am pleased to say I accomplished said mission, I cannot be sure it really worked perfectly.
When I got to the run, I felt the immediate need to visit a port-a-pot. In third place, I had the company of a biker, whom I warned about the potential pit stop. He pointed out the next couple available don’s johns but I was doing ok, running a good pace and making up time on the leader. I hoped I could make it through without a pit stop! I continued taking my fluids and nutrition and worked to hold my form (which I could feel deteriorating). Through about 6 miles I felt decent and believed that if I kept pace, I’d pass the 2 in front of me by the race’s end – maybe we’d even have a sprint finish! But the wheels started coming off before I reached the turnaround for lap 2. Brendan yelled that Corbin was closing hard, and within a mile she and a male pro motored by me shoulder to shoulder, with him pacing her to an excellent run. My pace had slowed considerably, and my new objective was to finish the race with my best effort, and maybe pass the now-number-3 in the process. That objective whittled itself down even further to just finishing at all as my knee pain became alarming. Normally late in the race I’m dealing with glute-hamstring issues, but in this case the knee was shouting at me more loudly (all 3 problems are related, but their root cause still eludes me despite heaps of therapy). I saw a lot of encouraging familiar faces in FeXY athletes and others along the way, but nothing could get me to the finish line sooner, it seemed! I knew I had fourth place wrapped up by several minutes, and by this point, though third place was struggling herself, I knew I would not catch her. I fought the urge to stop and stretch, instead limped/waddled my way across the line for a disappointing finish but a hard day’s work.
You never know who’s going to bring what to race day. No matter the resume (or lack thereof), pro triathletes have their ups and downs. Today was a bit of a down one for me, but I could be pleased to make it through without quitting. Knee problems aside, I know racing hard is the best workout of all, and I value the experience it brings – each time I get a little better at something (this time forcing the nutrition) and learn something as well (like to remember my blue swim supplies bag and to push a higher cadence no matter what it takes… and maybe don’t skip that second cup of coffee which could prove crucial to the gastric emptying process!)
Thanks all of you for your support, and especially my key sponsors Bonzai Sports, United Wellness, Old Town Massage Center, Rudy Project, Blueseventy, Therapeutix, and of course Potomac River Running!