I have had two days to let the events leading up to and including the race sink in so that I could evaluate, analyze, and reflect upon them. That was certainly the most emotionally charged that I have been leading up to a race in a VERY long time! Given that I had only been told on Tuesday that I had been approved for my ICC (International Competition Card), I really only had a few days to comprehend that I was about to race in my first ever ITU Pan American Cup race. I have never before raced in a draft legal elite race of any kind, so the thought of making an ITU race my first was enough to jump start the nerves! Terrified would probably be the best way to describe how I felt on Friday when I arrived in Coteau-du-lac for the athletes' meeting. I just felt a bit lost, out of my element, and intimidated by all of the amazing male and female triathletes surrounding me. Everyone else seemed to have done it all a thousand times, so they appeared at ease and almost relaxed. I felt better though when Ayesha Rollinson spotted me in the auditorium sitting by myself and came over to chat with me. I also met her sister, Kyla, who was formerly a Pro triathlete and now coaches the Quebec provinical triathlon team. One very interesting piece of information that came out of the athletes' meeting that had never been uttered to me before was that it would be a NON-WETSUIT swim! I'm not afraid of drowning without it of course, but I had never raced without it before, so this was analagous to ripping off the band-aid with full force and taking away my training wheels all at the same time.
I had a terrible sleep the night before the race, because I was just so nervous. I would dose off and have dreams about the race and then wake up startled and look at the clock. I must have gotten up 3 times to go to the bathroom. Good thing the race started at 1:45pm!
I got to the race site nice and early and took my bike out of for some warm-up and last minute tweaks. Good thing I did that, because my bike was making some funny noises. The bike mechanics were on the seen so I got it all checked out and fixed in a jif. When I went to get my uniform and bike checked out by the officials, I was told that my shorties had to be bridged together and taped...oops-back to the mechanics I went for round 2! When I got my bike checked again, guess what, the shorties extended about 5mm beyond my shifters, so I had to take them off altogether. I couldn't bring the shorties back any farther on the cockpit, so they were removed:( At least my uniform didn't violate any rules! Once again, I was really glad that I arrived to the race site early. There were so many rules I had yet to learn. The elite women had the chance to warm up in the canal from 1-1:30, so I practiced diving off of the pontoon and swam the 500m loop, and then practiced climbing out on the ramp, running down the pontoon and launching myself back into the water gain. Our swim was to be composed of 1x1000m loop followed by exiting the water and diving back in for the 2nd 500m loop.
About 7 minutes before the start of the race, they had everyone line up according to our race numbers. The first 10 women had international rankings, where as those of us who weren't ranked were just randomly assigned a start number. Once the 1st 10 women were announced, they jogged down to the pontoon to claim their preferred spots. The rest of us jogged down after that and claimed whatever spot was left. The last 2 minutes before the start were the most nerve racking. You can't move from your start position, so it's just a bunch of huddled bodies trying to stay warm. That's when I had that moment where I asked myself-how in the world did I get here today? and Am I really ready to be racing here? OMG, what have I gotten myself into?! Well, it was too late for any of that, because we were told to take our marks, and the horn blasted.
From the second the horn blared, the swim was aggressive and intense! I dove in and did some dolphin kicking, and when I re-surfaced there was someone right on top of me. The chaos of the mass start that I 've experienced usually dies down after 3-400m or so, but that was not about to happen on Saturday. These girls were unbelievably fast swimmers, and I emerged after the first 1km loop in the very last pack of 5 women! Some of the women in my pack were the same ones that emerged with me among the leaders at the Age Group Canadian Nationals in Kelowna last year, so that is a great indication of JUST HOW FAST these other women were! Things didn't change much after the 2nd loop, I was still among the last pack to exit the water! That was the first time I've ever really stayed in a pack for the entire duration of the swim. The other thing that was striking during this whole experience is how fast people are in transition. We had to climb some stairs to exit the canal to go get our bikes, and people were running like their lives depended on it, and now I understand why. If you do not get into a draft pack on the bike very quickly, your race will suffer...no doubt about it. On the first loop of the 6 loop bike course, I was actually in a very good position for a moment because I jumped on the back wheel of a very strong cyclist that i had exited the water with, and was confident that we could work together to make up some time. Unfortunately, just before the first turn around on the first loop, the sensor for my bike computer came loose and was caught up in my spokes of my front tire. The noise was awful and I was forced to pull over and fix it before continuing on. That was some bad luck, because by the time I had come to a full stop, unclipped out of my pedal, and removed the sensor, I had lost my drafting opportunity, and the last pack on the bike had also passed me and were well ahead of me. That was demoralizing to see everyone pull away from me. I had some serious catching up to do, which is not easy to do in a field like this, especially if others are working together on the bike. I was able to time trial it on my own to catch the last bike pack by the end of the first loop. Unfortunately, in hindsight it may have been better for me at that time to continue working on my own to try and catch that next pack while they were still within reach. In the end, I rode with the last pack of women on the bike, and I did get some experience drafting, which was really something that I wanted to take away from this race. My bike split however was quite disappointing for me, because I had biked faster than that on my own last weekend. The technical nature of this bike course probably played a large factor in that, since there were so many tight turns and corners. The bottom line is that my cycling ability is much better than what the results show, so I know I can improve on that the next time. I can definitely make up signficant time if I'm just aggressive and get into a pack that I know I'm capable of riding in.
The good news with the run is that my hamstring held out for the whole 10km, so I didn't have to walk. The time was just slightly off of my best 10km time in a triathlon, which is not bad considering the injury and my lack of running lately. I'm hoping to be a good 2 minutes faster than that though by the end of the season, and I think I can do that if I can take care of the hamstring.
All in all, that race was humbling to say the least. Being close to the bottom is sometimes exactly what you need to grow as an athlete and a person. There is no room for error when competing against a field like this, and I have learned so much over the past weekend. I am looking forward to gaining more experience as a newbie elite triathlete, so I will be gearing up for the draft legal race in Magog, Quebec in a month or so, followed by the Ontario Sprint draft legal championships, before potentially trying my hand again at the ITU race in Kelowna. For now, I will be tweaking my training to get fitter for the upcoming races. I will now start swimming 5 days a week, with a couple of open water swims with no wetsuit. I will work on my drafting skills on the bike, and join in on the donut ride. With my hamstring feeling better, it's back to the speed work at the track!
Next week I'll be doing the swim leg of the Peterborough Half-Ironman as a member of Team Awesome, so I'll write again after that!