I arrived in transition around 5:30 in the morning, and it was pitch dark. We had to rack our bikes the day before, so I was able to find my bike without any trouble. When I got to my bike rack, I finally got to see the hundred other women that I would be competing against. Some of them had set up their trainers behind the rack and were already doing a bike warm up in the transition area, since the bikes were not allowed to exit the transition area until the race was under way. None of the women spoke to me as I set up my transition area, instead I felt like I was being sized up and stared down all around me. I was made to feel so uncomfortable, that I didn't even bother asking if I could borrow a bike pump from one of them. I decided to walk a few bike racks over to ask one of the charity athletes if I could borrow one of their pumps. They were much more friendly and handed over a pump immediately! So, that was my first glimpse at just how competitive the race was going to be.
We also learned at 5:30 in the morning that the race organizers had to change the swim course, because of the high winds and choppy conditions. We ended up starting the swim at a different beach, and it became a point to point swim from one beach to another. The swim was also shortened from 1.5 km to 1.0 km. This meant that when we exited the water, we had to run about half a mile on sea wall concrete to get to our bikes. This was very reminiscent of Hong Kong for me!
I did a short run warm up over to the beach where the swim start was, and got in the water to test out the conditions. The water temperature was 78.5 degrees Farenheit, so it was not wetsuit legal. I swam about 4-500m for warm up in the chop, before heading to the holding pen before the race start. I expected the chop, so I wasn't phased at all. I was actually disappointed that they shortened the swim, but just happy that they didn't cancel it altogether.
Race morning, I decided not to wear my ITU competition suit, because I thought it might be too flashy with my name and country emblazoned across my chest and backside, along with some sponsor logos. I was just wearing a generic (but bright) bathing suit that I had bought a couple of days before at the expo. When I got to the holding pen for the Elite women, I couldn't help but laugh out loud at myself, because at least half of the women were wearing their ITU suits! Since they were mostly American, they had even flashier suits with the American flag and stars imprinted all over their suits. Ha!
Since it was a beach start, we were all ushered up to a start line in the sand, told to take our marks with 10 seconds to go, and then the horn blared and off we went running in the sand and shallow water. Last year I posted often about the aggressive swims that were such a new experience for me in these Elite and ITU races, where I would come out of the swim with an earring ripped off and a bloody lip. Well, this race was certainly no different! The Americans are known to be very good swimmers, so I was surprised when my competitors were grabbing my shoulders and purposely pulling me back and under the water, and similarly grabbing my ankles and pulling me backwards. This was the dirtiest swim that I have ever experienced, and I couldn't believe that people were willing to play so dirty just to win. I actually had my googles ripped off my face twice during the swim, and I'm quite sure it was not by accident. The second time that it happened, I panicked a little bit because so much water got in my eyes, and I was scared to lose a contact lense. I am as blind as a bat, so I wouldn't be able to get through the race without them! Luckily, I was able to grab my googles that were still floating near the surface of the water, and put them back on and catch back up to the pack. Despite all this dirty behaviour, I felt like I was swimming well and stayed aggressive throughout the swim. I ended up exiting the water with the front pack of women, but there were a couple of exceptional swimmers who came out of the water on their own ahead of our pack. My swim split was 1:23/hundred meters, which I was very happy with given the rough swim conditions and the rough play!
T1:My first transition seemed to take forever since it included the long run from the water, and then across the whole transition field. Once I got to my bike, I looked down at all my transition stuff, and had to stop for a moment and figure out what I was supposed to do next! I guess I was rusty from not having competed in 7 months. It took me several attempts to do up my chin strap on my helmet, but finally I headed out onto the bike course after an almost 4 minute T1.
For some reason, this bike segment of the race was where I had my most cobwebs and rust that I had to get out from the winter hiatus from racing. I just felt like bit of an airhead out there! I had to keep reminding myself that I was in a RACE! The plan was to ride at a tempo pace/wattage since it was so hot, in order to not completely sabotage my run. I managed to drop my only water bottle 5 miles into the race, when I was trying to put the bottle back in the cage in a strong head wind. Clearly some more outdoor riding is needed, ha! Again there was some dirty competition happening on the bike, because I would pass a couple of girls on the bike, only to see their shadows fall in line with my back wheel right away. This was not a draft-legal race, so all riders had to be a minimum of 3 bike lengths behind the next rider. Once you are overtaken by another rider, you must drop out of their draft zone. Come on ladies, you KNOW the rules! Anyway, I had a close call with a wipe out when I attempted to avoid the speed bumps by riding beside them on a very narrow strip of shoulder. My front wheel got caught in the groove (kind of like a streetcar track), so I was just coasting for 5 seconds or so with absolutely no control over my bike. Somehow, I managed to regain control of the bike and didn't go down! Needless to say, I decided to just ride over all the speed bumps from that point forward. Another airhead moment! My Garmin had my average speed for the 40km ride to be 35.8km/hr, which isn't horrible, but I know that I was capable of riding another minute or two faster without completely sabotaging my run. I'll be plenty more aggressive on the bike at my next race. I've got a lot more in me that has yet to be seen!
I had my head screwed back on tightly once I dismounted the bike, and entered T2 on a mission. I racked my bike quickly, slipped my new Brooks ST3 racing flats on without a hitch, grabbed my GU Vanilla Bean gel, and was out onto the run course. I think I might have had the fastest (or at least top 3) T2 times in the Elite women:)
This is where I had my first real, hard "brick" of the season. That's when you run directly off the bike. Always good to practice before you race! The run course was an out-and-back that took us over a bridge and into some quieter residential areas. There were a couple of patches of shade, but for the most part, we were under the sun. I ran my first mile at 6:18, which is just under 4minute/km pace and also my goal pace for this season. I knew that it was a pretty agressive pace for me, but decided to try my best to stay as close as possible. The run didn't get any easier as I went along, but my turnover and my form felt pretty good. The last two miles felt very long, but in the last mile I was trying to chase down the girl in front of me. She turned it on when she knew that I was coming, and I came up short by 2 seconds to claim 8th place! My run time was 40:41, which is a 50 second PB for me off the bike. I was very happy to run that time at this point in the season, and I hope to run under 40 minutes later in the season. That is run sub-40, but also after an aggressive bike! I definitely have my work cut out for me.
So, as I mentioned before, I ended up coming in 8th place in a time of 2:07:47 (My wave started 9 minutes after official clock time below) and claimed a spot for the Hy-Vee US Championships on September 4th in Des Moines, Iowa. I had to place in the top 10 to qualify. The Hy-vee US Champs is the triathlon of all triathlons, and will draw the most competitive field in the world. It offers the largest prize purse in the world in the sport of triathlon.
There were only about 90s that came between 3rd place to 8th place, so in hindsight, it was too bad that I didn't bike to my potential. Hindsight is always 20/20 though, so I know what I need to work on for the next race. During the awards ceremony, I learned how extraordinary the women in my field were. The woman who won was last year's USAT's Triathlete of the Year, and the 2nd place girl was the USA National Champion, 3rd place was the U.S. Collegiate Champion a couple of years back, 7th place was a well known 70.3 US Champion, etc., so I was thrilled to be in their company! I also won a pair of stylish Oakley Sunglasses and a placque, so it was not too shabby a day at all!
Now it's back to the grind, and time to put in some more solid training before my first ITU race of the year coming up in June.
Thanks for reading and all of your support!