(Seriously – I’m sorry for how long this is, but I hope you enjoy the detail!)
This weekend marked the first Olympic distance race of the season for Team Scrappy, and we (I) started out in Knoxville all by my lonesome (hardly). I was joined by a very supportive team parents consisting of my Mom (thanks for funding all but my flight and race registration!), and Emily’s parents – Marge and Dan. This is the first race I’ve done without either Emily or Gered in attendance or participation since my first summer of racing. It was surprisingly easy to balance focus and distraction to keep me logistically prepared while suppressing any prerace anxiety that can happen when I’m just left to think about the race.
Momma Nichols and I arrived in Nashville and hustled over to Knoxville just in time to miss the last “mandatory” race briefing, but make it to build my bike and drop it off in transition before the shut it down for the night. We then spent about an hour walking around trying to figure out how the swim and transition worked. Missing the race briefing made this a bit more of an adventure than it would have otherwise been – honestly, I still wasn’t sure which buoy was the Olympic turn around till I asked someone IN THE WATER 30 seconds before the race started. Then it was off to our free Marriott hotel room (thanks Dad, and Marriott rewards program), to get settled, do a quick run along the river, and have some dinner. By the time dinner rolled around we decided that eating in the hotel would be quickest and easiest. Not to worry folks – my mom still got her Martini, so with less than 12 hours to the race, all was still right with the world. J This plan of action also worked out nicely as Marge and Dan arrived shortly after we sat down to have dinner with us!
When it was finally dark at 9:30 – I headed to my room, packed up for the morning, and went to bed. Naturally, it took another hour to 90 minutes to fall asleep, but I was plenty happy with 6 hours of sleep. I could have headed to bed an hour earlier, but I still don’t think I would have fallen asleep any sooner. That’s getting tough to do without Emily under normal circumstances, let alone the night before a race. In the morning I was up at 5:15, and chowing down on my 3 chocolate chip clif bars. Mmmmm… (not really). To let my mom sleep, I went down to the lobby and enjoyed the quiet while watching a dozen other racers wake up and head off to the race. Around 6 I tattooed up, and Mom and I headed over to the race.
When everything was set up in transition we headed over to watch the pro start. To my surprise they were wearing wetsuits, which meant it was colder than I thought. So in a last minute change of plans, I ran back to the car (good warm-up) and grabbed my wetsuit, I got it on, and was ready to go with just about 2 minutes before my wave started. I hoped in, asked someone where to turn around, and we were off! I’ve been dealing with some tendonitis in my toe lately which feels like something is going to tear in my toe when I first start swimming (and kicking), so the first 100 yards or so was an upper body sprint, while my toe got used to stretching out. I was fortunate to have picked the end of the starting line opposite the crowd of stronger swimmers, so I had a very clean start, and came into the turn around buoy clear of anyone else from my wave. Unfortunately, the turn-around point was crowded with swimmers from the first Olympic wave, and the Half Ironman waves which were coming back through the swim course from a turn-around point further up the river. The last 1200 meters was a mess. I let another strong swimmer in my wave take the front and cut through the crowd for a little bit while I shook out the lactic acid from the start, and with about 600 meters to go I turned it on again, and put some distance between myself and the rest of my wave.
Exiting the swim was a trick. We had to pull ourselves up on a floating dock. Note – this is not the same as pulling yourself out of a pool. There is no wall to put your feet on as you pull yourself up. When my feet reached for the wall, I slid right back in the water and under the dock. I tried again, and this time I just threw my torso on the dock, layed down and rolled on deck. I’m sure I looked like an idiot, but better to look like an idiot while exiting on attempt number two than to try and look cool for two or three more tries at getting out.
My (relatively) new Cervelo S1 performed about as I expected. Thanks to the bike fit master Grady Lynch’s at Landry’s Bicycles who gave me a fantastically comfortable and aero position on a road bike with clip-on aero bars. I wondered how much difference I would see between the performance of my ride and the ride of those around me. There was a 2-3 minute difference between myself and the other top cyclists. I’m sure I’ve got some work to do fitness wise, but I’m going to chalk some of that difference up to the lack of a TT bike as fancy as theirs. As my mom says, my bike doesn’t “schwoooosh” like theirs do. That said – it got the job done, and I’m grateful for the bike that God has blessed me with! Also, FYI – you’re overall time might suffer a bit, but if you race on a road bike with a TT set up, you’ll dominate the hills. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed climbing in a tri.
Coming in off the bike, I transitioned quickly to the run. By that I mean, transition was quick, my body’s transition from biking to running, however was not. Maybe it was the cold, but my core was TIGHT when I came out on the run. For the first 3 miles I felt like I was hyperventilating. Unable to take consistent deep breathes, I had a really hard time settling into a rhythm as my breath usually syncs up nicely with my cadence. Fortunately, the number two position was just 100 yards up the road and he was struggling too. Motivation. For the first three or four kilometers, I struggled to close that gap, but by about 4k, my chest loosened up, I was able to lengthen my stride, breathe deeply and really cook the second half. I pulled into the number two position just before the turn around at mile three and never looked back. I was hopeful that with my newly discovered Superfeet insoles, I would be blister free at the end of the run. I figured out that would not be the case around mile four. I wish I took a picture of them fresh for you but I forgot before popping and draining them, and I'm pretty sure Emily would advise against posting said imagery. Let's just say I’ve never had them fill up with blood before… Just as well, blisters are an ignorable pain during the 10k so I was able to continue pushing my pace for the rest of the race. I was 6:00/mile pace on the way out, and 5:48/mile pace on the way back for a 36:38 10k, and a 2nd place finish! That was the longest run I’ve done in two months, and still it matched my best 10k ever. Turns out fitness on the bike and in the pool translate pretty well to running, and maybe there are some other factors at work there…
I have to give all the glory and awesomeness of this race and the day to God. I really couldn’t even try to rationalize such a fantastic performance any other way when I consider how early it is in the season and the fact that I’m still recovering from both a stress reaction in my shin, and tendonitis in my toe. Thanks be to God for bringing it all together for a performance I couldn’t have dreamed to be any better, and for the blessing of FINALLY entering a career I’ve felt called to for years. AMEN.
So I actually wrote this yesterday on the plane. Since then - I've come home to an apartment full of applauding friends with some bubbly (thanks Ryan and Ian!) and pepperoni and pineapple pizza (seriously the best topping combination you could possibly imagine). It's been a wonderful two days. Thanks so much to all my friends and family - I can't thank you all enough for your support and encouragement!