In-Depth Thoughts from The Girl
Hello friends, welcome back to my internet hideout.
As promised last time, I would be back in your inbox with some tales from my first triathlon race in about 12 years! So go grab a coffee, or any other beverage of your liking, and I’ll catch you up on what I was up to.
So some of you are thinking, “Huh? 12 years? She raced in the Bermuda Challenge Running series back in January?!?”, and you’re right. But what I was talking about, is long course triathlon. With the exception of June last year when Ray and I took part in a charity sprint triathlon, the last time I “raced” a triathlon was June 2011. One could say that that race was the tipping point for my triathlon burnout, and afterward, I stepped back from the sport for a decade plus. See, I had my sights set on qualifying for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships that year, and heading into that race I had put everything into my training. I placed 3rd in my age group, and it was bittersweet as there were only 2 World Championship allocations for my age group. In reality, I clawed my way into 3rd place in that race and I should have been super proud of myself. But as it is when we are “young” (because now I’m so much older and wiser 😉), I was really bummed and disappointed with certain aspects of my performance that day. It made me take a step back and reevaluate. “Was this fun anymore?”, and ultimately I decided to take a break.
That’s "young" me below, June 2011. 3rd place Women’s 25-29.
(oh how I wish I could tell that 27-year-old me that I had done great! Enjoy that moment!)
It is slightly scary how fast 12 years can blow by! But, after last summer’s sprint triathlon, a tiny flame reignited, and I silently let that burn throughout the summer and fall. I didn’t say anything to Ray because how the h*ll was I going to train for a 70.3 or longer distance if I couldn’t keep the running injuries at bay for more than 3-4 weeks at a time.
I chatted with my coach BEFORE even talking to Ray, and he was really encouraging but also wanted to keep it reasonable. “Let’s see how your body reacts, we will take it one step at a time”. When I brought it up to Ray, he was super excited as well, but also didn’t want to see me frustrated with the emotional up and down all year fighting injuries. So, I skipped off work for a day and researched pretty much every race happening in Europe in 2023 and made some decisions.
As you know, the running injury saga has been (finally) put behind us, and I’ve had a really awesome winter and spring of training. So, a couple of weekends ago we had a little fitness test to see where we really stand!
And by fitness test, I mean the Challenge Gran Canaria Half-Iron. Myself and Ray decided to bring the girls with us, and enjoy the weekend of racing. Now, some of you already follow me on Instagram so you know how this story ends, but I’ll try to keep it reasonably short as I rattle off other details from the weekend.
The night prior to the race was bike check and transition bag drop off. This was a “clean” transition area, meaning all of your bike stuff and run gear was to be placed in provided transition bags, and those bags were then hung on racks for the next day. The T1 and T2 were also in separate areas, so once you left T1, you wouldn’t be going back if you forgot anything! While this isn’t overly complicated, I like having the chance to double-check everything just one more time on race morning, so it did cause a little stress of “Holy crap, do I have everything in the right place?!”.
On the morning of the race, the transition areas were open again for a short period. This allowed me to bring all my race nutrition for the bike the morning of. I sorted my water bottles and gels and chews in my bento box. I forgot how much I like looking around bike transition areas to see what others have fashioned to their bikes. As pictured below, these half bananas gave me a moment of pause. I’m going to have to do some math on how many bananas I’m going to need for my next race!
With the final details cleaned up in the transition area, it was time for the most energy-exerting part of race day. Getting into the wetsuit. This is really the part of my day when I questioned my life choices. Or more, I chastised myself for eating all of those Oreo cookies throughout the winter.
Eventually, I stuffed myself into all that neoprene and headed to the beach to find Ray and the girls at the swim start. Ray did the honors of zipping me up and velcroing me in the final bits. He was then headed off to the edge of the swim start so he and the girls could have a good view of all the swimmers.
I’m going to keep the swim short. It wasn’t my finest athletic performance. I’ve been swimming really well in the pool, but I have not done an open water swim in over 2 years, and while I joke about stuffing myself into the wetsuit, I honestly haven’t swum in a wetsuit since the last 70.3 I raced in 2011.
At about the 300-meter mark I had to stop. Floated for a while, and tried to control my breathing. I honestly don’t know what came over me, but I realized my breathing was a bit erratic, and was panicking a little; it was really hard to put my face in the water and take more than a few strokes. I had to consider that if I bailed now, I would have to actually swim back to the start passing Ray and the girls along the way. That was a walk of shame I wasn’t willing to do, so I took a little extra time, realized there was still a lot of racing left to the day, and not to give up.
So after 2 loops of the swim (1.2 miles or 1.9 km), I hauled my body out of the water and made my way to T1, some 900 meters away. One down, two to go. On to the bike.
I knew the bike was going to be what either made or broke my day. The bike course was going to be really challenging with its elevation profile. While there was a lot of climbing over the course, it wasn’t so much the climbs that were going to pummel my legs, it was the continuous ups and downs without really any flat sections to really get into a rhythm. My bike has been having some big issues with shifting as well, and I was pretty nervous about it going into the race.
My biggest goal of the bike was to take all the nutrition I had planned for. Knowing I’m not the fastest swimmer, and I’m a decent cyclist, my race will come down to the run. So nailing my nutrition on the bike would be what sets me up for a successful run later. And I did just that. My support team (Ray & Brad) weren’t sure of all the plus/minuses of me carrying all 3 bottles on the bike vs grabbing bottles from the aid station. But I felt my bike handling skills on those hills, while trying to mix hydration powders was not going to be in my favor. I’d rather carry the extra weight of the bottles than have to stop and fiddle with bottle caps and drink mixes etc. I think in the end, that was the right call for me.
The second priority on the bike was not to blow up the legs. This was a 4-loop course of non-stop ascending and descending. This was a course you could easily get carried away on the efforts, and while that first loop might have felt great to blow through wattage, I needed to reel it in. My coach Brad gave me a watt range to maintain with an “exception” for when on the big climbs. I behaved myself in the efforts, and overall I think performance wise, I did really well for my current fitness level. Not to mention, what goes up must come down. Living in the Netherlands, I don’t have a lot of practice with descending. And while it might look like fun on the spectator side, laying out in aero position while descending cliff-side coastal roads, is slightly terrifying! I managed to top 35 mph a few times, but with constant sharp curves it was very hard to see very far ahead of you, and my hands kept sneaking down to the breaks. All in all, I’m really happy with the bike portion of the ride.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, my bike has had its share of mechanical issues leading into the race. With so much shifting throughout the race, I really struggled to keep in a good gear ratio as some of my gears were skipping. Somehow, I managed to drop the chain 3 times throughout the ride, and when you are roadside completely covered in black chain grease, throwing your chain back on the front ring, it really sucks the confidence out of you. Throughout the race I found myself hesitating to shift from the big ring to the small ring, afraid the chain would drop off again - so I often found myself just grinding it out in the wrong gear altogether trying to avoid the risk of dropping the chain.
In the end, the mechanics of the bike is a relativity easy fix compared to poor fitness, and it’s a bit of a confidence booster to know I could have pulled at least 4-5 minutes off my bike time just by not having to fix the chain. So that’s fine, this race was all about seeing where I stand, and I’m really happy with that.
Now before you all start hassling Ray, Ray didn’t realize how bad the shifting was until he saw me later in the race covered in grease wondering what had happened! I always feel bad complaining to Ray about bike stuff (he has enough to do, and I thought I had it sorted myself), so in hindsight maybe I should have poked the bear a few extra times this spring. As I said, it’s getting sorted as you’re reading this!
Also, kudos to Ray for dragging the Peanuts up the side of a mountain to cheer! It was super cool to have the girls there chanting “Go mommy go! Go Mommy go!”. Not something I really imagined I’d get to experience as a mom, and it was awesome!
Finally, for the best part of the day. The Run!
As I said earlier, my strength in triathlon comes down to the run. And this run course was right up my alley. It was a flat, 5-loop course. Yes, 5 loops! Which means, while I was at the back of the pack getting off the bike, I could quickly see all the women ahead of me, and figure out how much work I had to do!
Having nailed my nutrition on the bike, my legs were ready to roll. Making it even better, the run was along the beach, and that’s where Ray and the girls were stationed for the day. Meaning I had the best cheering squad on my side!
Even with the day being really hot, and part of the course was actually in the sand and on gravel trails, I just kept it going on the run. Tracking down each female, one at a time. That was the fun part for me. And in the end, I did in fact track down and pass every (non- pro) female on the course. Realistically, some of those women were just total badasses on the swim and bike course, and even though I passed them on a run-loop, they were already a lap and a half ahead of me. I needed more time on the run to make a bigger impact.
In the end, I did finish the half marathon portion of the race with the fastest (non-pro) women’s run time (1:36:35). So that’s a super cool nail to hang my hat on! And even cooler is getting to stand on the podium in my age group with Ray and the girls cheering me on!
3rd place Female 35-39, and 8th place AG Female overall.
And that’s a wrap! Thanks, Ray, for being the ultimate sherpa over the past months and encouraging me on this big adventure. It's a big shift in family and work dynamics, and you've been my #1.
Stay tuned as *we* still have several races left on our schedules! Until then, safe and happy training days to you. And as always, thanks for reading and supporting DC Rainmaker.