Tuesday, June 26, 2012
5150 New Orleans Race Report
I have to start by saying that my first experience racing as a Pro in the 5150 Series in the US was AWESOME! It took quite a bit of courage for me to sign up for this race in the first place, not just because of the scary competition that I would be facing, but because I would have to be ok with taking in this entire experience more or less "on my own", ie I'd fly there alone, it was up to me to find a homestay or accommodations for myself, there would be no family or coach their to snap pictures, etc. In the end, it was a huge experience for my own personal growth, because I stepped outside of my comfort zone and was more independent than I have been in the past.
I was less afraid of going to New Orleans to race when I found out that my friend and fellow Canadian Pro triathlete, Kristina Schultz, signed up for the race last minute, and that I would be sharing my homestay with the phenomenal and inspiring, Lisa Marangon, Pro triathlete and mum from Australia. Once I arrived in NOLA and met my gracious homestay hosts, Angele and David, I knew that I was in GREAT hands and that I didn't have to worry for another second about feeling like I had to experience anything alone.
Anyway, on to race morning! Well, what can I say? We knew that the conditions were going to be really tough a) because it was going to be 35 degrees C with humidex well into the 40s and b) tropical depression/storm Debby was stirring things up on the Gulf Coast and creating some high winds. The race crew couldn't even put down carpets on the bridges/overpasses to cover the grates, because the winds were just catching them and taking them off, which was posing more of a safety risk instead of lessening one!
Nobody was allowed to do a swim warm up in the South Shore Harbour of Lake Pontchartrain, so the Pro females hopped off the dock into the water for an in-water start just after 7am (after the Pro males), and we just sort of bobbed around in the choppy waters til our gun went off at 7:05 sharp. I had an awesome swim start! I had actually been feeling quite terrible in so many of my swim workouts leading up to the race, mostly because of lifting weights and the training load, but I started feeling great in the water on the Friday before the race, so things came together just in time! I know that I'm supposed to say that I love swimming "middle-distance" now, but I really LOVE to SPRINT in the water, so I didn't have anyone hit me at ALL for the 1st 50-100m or so of the swim when things are usually frantic and punches are thrown. I'm quite sure that it was Becky Lavelle and Anna Cleaver (Anna just missed making the Olympic team in swimming for NZ in the past) out in front still, but for a few moments in the water, I think I was actually right up front with the big girls! And then, a couple hundred meters in and I felt people come up on my side and slap my feet, etc LOL! As I said, the moment was fleeting! Anyway, I just did my best to swim in the chop and stay in the pack that was forming. I did a good job of staying with the girls until the final turn around the buoys with about 500m to go, where I did a terrible job of sighting for some reason and found myself being pushed out into the middle of the swim course. You do NOT want to lose the pack in the middle of huge waves. I sprinted like crazy to re-establish contact and I noticed that instead of a pack now, we were actually kind of stringing out because the waves made it really difficult to stick together. I made it out of the water hanging on towards the tail-end of the chain of the "main pack" of girls (since Becky was out ahead on her own!), which for me, shows some great improvements from last year! I raced several of these women in ITU races last year, and some of them would often be in that 1st pack 1:40-2 minutes ahead of me, so I'm quite thrilled with my swim! I'm actually still paying for it with a sore neck and shoulder!
The run from the water to the bikes must have been at least 8-900m on concrete (very remiscent of Hong Kong), and honestly, I don't think too much jostling for places took place on that long transition run. Quite frankly, that swim took a bunch out of me, and I just wanted to get my bearings and catch my breath! So, after almost a 4 minute transition and a few attempts and doing up my chin-strap on my helmet, it was off to battle the bike course.
It was a battle out there on the bike! Not so much with other competitors necessarily, but with the crazy strong headwinds, and especially the crosswinds. I am certainly not the most confident rider at many, many times and I know that I'm more of a power rider, so I felt like I really couldn't bike to the best of my abilities. Even though the course probably would have suited me well, I know that I was very cautious in the crosswinds, because I was being blown around so much, and not riding in aero as much as I would have liked. That I'm sure, will just come with more experience and confidence. The other huge issue for me, was that I hit a bump about 3 miles into the bike course and my water bottle was ejected straight out from the cage. I consumed absolutely NO fluids at all the entire duration of the bike, which is a HUGE "no-no" in that heat and humidity. Ironically, my goal was to execute my nutrition plan to a "T", since these conditions were perfect for practicing! Once I lost my bottle, I knew that I was going to have to dig deep to survive the upcoming run.
As soon as I came out of T2 and hit the first aid station on the run course, I grabbed water, gatorade, and sponges to squeeze over my body, and ice to stuff straight down the front of my swimsuit! The sponges were actually warm after maybe 30s, and the ice in my suit melted so quickly. I'm not sure exactly how hot it was when I hit the run, but it was the hottest it had been since I arrived Thursday afternoon, so HOT!! Sort of like you're trapped in an oven, and you can't get out, hot! Anyway, I think I probably ran my 1st mile faster than I should have in that heat, but I came off the bike in 7th place (I was in 6th for while there), and was thrilled that I was in that position. I know that there were 13 Pro females that started, so anything better than 13th was a bonus! I moved into 6th place on the run before the 2nd mile, and really just tried to stay calm and to keep my core body temp as low as possible. That meant ice and sponges down the suit whenever possible! I've never had to do that with such fury during a race before! I think with 2 miles to go, I really started to lose it, because I think that I was actually gaining some time back on the run for the 1st 3-4. Things started to deteriorate quickly, and my breathing started getting out of control, I was starting to cramp up, and I felt the onset of a fainting episode. That last mile felt like an eternity, and at that point I was running beside/behind a couple of men who were on the sprint relay. I actually asked one of them how much farther we had to go to the finish somewhere between the last mile marker and the actual finish chute. He must of thought that I was not the sharpest tool in the shed, but what I really needed to hear, was an approximate of how many more meters I would have to fight to stay conscious. I just needed a number! By this time, I was hyperventilating and sounding so terrible that those poor guys probably thought that I was going to DIE!! And at this point, Kris passes me somewhere at the start of the finish corral/chute! I really, really wanted to maintain my 6th place finish, but I had nothing to give when she flew past me. That woman is so awesome though, and I'm truly inspired by her! So, I crossed the finish line in 7th place out of the 13 female Pros that started, and I believe 20th overall for the entire 5150 Olympic event, including the Pro males, so I really can't be too upset with that result!
After crossing the finish line, I was literally draped over the barricades for a few seconds to try and stay upright. I then had to lie on the ground (hyperventilaing still) for a couple of seconds as the photographer was preparing to take a picture of the Canadian Pros that raced the event, which was Jon Bird on the men's side, Kris, and myself. Jon had to hold me up for the picture as I faked a smile, and then I turned to him and said "I think I need to get to medical right away", which was luckily right beside the finish area anyway. As soon as I got in the med tent I collapsed onto a bed and was out! I was drifting in and out of conscienciousness for a while, but at some point I knew that I was being hooked up to an IV, and somebody was stuffing ice in my armpits and packing it around my body. My head, face, legs, arms were either full of "pins and needles" or cramped up. I'm sure it was not a pretty sight to see, but ironically, my fellow homestay buddy and athlete, Lisa Marangon was there to witness it all, 2 beds over in the medical tent! We can laugh about it now, but not so much at the time. Anyway, my diastolic blood pressure was apparently less than 40 and my heart rate was super low, but after some IV and more fluids, I was smiling again! I was fine by the awards ceremony, and even got to take home a trophy!
I can't thank Angele and David enough for being such amazing homestay hosts and showing us around New Orleans for the past 5 days, and Kris Schultz for her support throughout the race and after in medical. Lisa-I am so honoured to have had the chance to meet you and spend time with you over the weekend and form this bond of friendship. A huge thank you goes out to my coach, Ming-Chang Tsai, who has been working with me from the start of this journey, and who hopefully believes that this journey is nowhere near the end for me, and of course, to all of my family, friends, and sponsors who showed me all of their love and support from home!
Up next for me is 5150 New York City!!! Excited for it already!
Thanks for reading!
P.S. One downside of traveling alone without a camera is that you have to rely on others to take pictures, but many people have and will hopefully send some my way soon to share:)