Go ahead and get your popcorn for this one…lol
As I often say, every race is different and this one definitely was. Let me just say that no matter how long you race, in particular triathlons, 1) there is never a dull moment, 2) there is always something to learn, and 3) you gotta roll with the punches as much as the pinnacles.
With that said, let me start by painting the picture of me knowing full well that I was not really prepared for this race, nor sure I really wanted to race it. There have been a few personal, physical and mental obstacles that I’m addressing that have had me not training at the level I’m accustomed to. However, in doing what I can, I decided to see how it would go.
Like last year’s USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship, I went into the week, actually feeling a bit under the weather. I found out it wasn’t COVID (yes, got tested), but I felt drained, weakened, like I may have been coming down with a cold or something.
By Wednesday/Thursday, I was feeling better and focused on my nutrition to prepare for the weekend. By the time I was packing and determined to do my best, I noticed that the weather for Sunday was not looking good at all.
By the time I arrived on Friday, I went straight to listen to Olympian and triathlete Laura Miller. What I realized from her talk was that this year I had not been as focused nor had that desire and high level will and training that I had in the past. Having knee issues has been a factor, but also not being in a space of pure determination and even with other athletes is something that helps mentally get & keep one’s head in the game.
Honestly, I’ve been pretty isolated lately, moreso than previously especially since 2020/2021. (I guess we all have to sum extent since COVID). Though I’m used to being the one who inspires others, as well as training a lot on my own, even at times, showing up to group runs, events, cheering others, volunteering or working events, has a motivational impact.
Listening to Laura, I began to think, it’s really time to come back out into the world.
Packet pickup was smooth though it was hot, but it’s nice enjoying Milwaukee’s downtown lakefront/bay. I learned that the water was 58° on Friday, which for the competitive swim that day, meant wetsuit was mandatory. I’ll come back to that.
By the time I checked into the hotel and started prepping for Saturday’s bike check in and swim practice, this is when things started to get, as I say… interesting.
Now, mind you, having stated that I haven’t been training at the level I’m used to, to put into perspective, I had done 1 open water swim in the last month (and no other swimming). And for those of you that have followed my journey, I’m not a strong swimmer and that is less than ideal for me to be ready. So, there was a little anxiety about that.
The next day, I got up to prepare to go watch a portion of the Olympic distance race, that was Saturday morning. And prepared to take my swim gear and bike.
As I typically put my bike sticker on and a little air in my tires, I notice my back tire is flat. Hmmm, the last time I rode (the week prior), I got a flat and I wondered about that. As I pumped air in my back tire I realized that when I had been home packing and was going to put my bike in my vehicle last, I never grabbed my helmet nor bike shoes.
Yeah, instantly I thought..damn! You absolutely can’t race without a helmet. So, in the moment I thought, do I drive 2 hrs back towards Chicago to get my helmet & shoes and another 2 hrs back? Uh..no! Guess I’m on a quest to find a bike shop and buy a helmet and, since I already needed new bike shoes, I guess now was that time.
Since the bike shop I found closest to my hotel didn’t open til late morning, the plan was to first check out the Saturday race and then head on to the bike shop.
Watching the Olympic race was rejuvenating. I’m always, in particular eyeing the swim course, even though my Sunday race would be shorter. I visualize and put my game plan together. After viewing a portion of the Saturday race, I wanted to quickly grab a breakfast sandwich. I’m not even going to go into the shenanigans I went through to find, get to, and eventually buy and eat a simple breakfast sandwich. Let’s just say one place didn’t have one, one was closed (yes, I walked there), and the last place only accepted cash (Thank God there was a bank down the street).
So, I finally got to the bike shop, where YAY..they had my size in a shoe for my bike clips, as well as plenty of helmets. What I didn’t count on, was when I brought my bike in, they saw I needed a new back tire because of a rip they found that may have caused my flat the week prior.
At this point, I’m thinking, I’m doing all this and with the way they are predicting the weather for Sunday (thunderstorm, lightning, etc), I’m thinking, heck, the race may be cancelled.
After getting my bike life together…lol, I head to bike check in & the practice swim. Despite the line for bike check in and getting that done pretty simply, I still had about 45 minutes to practice swimming the race route.
So, recall, when I mentioned that the lake was 58° on Friday? Well, by Saturday morning it had gotten up to 62°, which is still a bit cold. For those that don’t know, ideal water temp is about 68-75°, at least for me and most triathletes I know. And again, if you are familiar with my journey, though I have raced triathlons for 15 years now (mostly sprints and Olympic distances), I still have never even tried on a wetsuit. Well, one of my besties, Sharon, gave me one of her old wetsuits a few months ago, and I actually brought it on the trip, since I was aware the water temperature had dropped. In preparing for the swim practice, by the time I was debating to try the wetsuit on, I had less than 30 minutes left. I decided to just go without it to see how the water would feel. When I jumped in, to my surprise, it wasn’t that bad. (I had previously swam a few years ago in about 62-ish degree water temp, so I kind of had a reference). I went ahead and did half the sprint distance since my time was limited.
So, going into the race, I felt a little more reassured, but still not sure what race day would actually bring. It was time to finish race prepping and have a good night’s sleep.
4:30am – Sunday: Race Day
I woke to it raining outside. Though I knew it was going to rain, I just did not feel like racing in the rain. I’ve raced in various rain conditions and though for the swim, you are all already wet, I dislike biking in the rain and depending on how hard it’s raining, running in wet shoes isn’t fun either. I read the pre-race announcement email and they called for the race to be changed to a SuperSprint with a trial time start. It made sense that they wanted to plan for the potential rain all day, especially storms later in the morning and afternoon, so they wanted this to be quick and done as soon as possible. I got dressed relatively quickly and prepared for the worst case..a down pour. I didn’t even put on shoes because I didn’t want my shoes to get drenched prior to racing. I got to the race location wearing my flip flops.
By the time I entered transition to set up for my race, the rain was light and a bit on and off. The good thing about the change to a Supersprint distance was that, since I was in the last age group wave (don’t know the reason for the order), with a trial time start, the times would move up a bit. Also, with the race being shorter, I was less worried about the swim, since it was about the same route I did the day before.
Once the race began, I watched as previous waves went in and got through their swim. We could see how fast and furious folks were getting done with the swim and onto the bike. For many this was going to be an all and out sprint, however, for me, I wanted to stay relaxed, focused, and see how my body and knee would be for my first triathlon in about a year. As my wave got set to move onto the pier for the jump in start, I always get a little excited and sometimes nervous. I say my quick prayer and tell myself ‘nice and easy’ for the swim. This swim start was four at a time in a line, jump in, and go.
As my foursome jumped in, the water felt a little cooler than the day before, but immediately I got into my nice and easy stroke, as to not get anxious or tire myself out. I got and stayed into a nice rhythm, focusing on being relaxed and sighting…and trying to stay away from folks…lol. Somehow I got a little too far to the right, but sighted off one of the large red buoys that kept us inline with the lane that takes us under the bridge. Once under the bridge (about 300 yards into the swim) it was about 25 yards to our yellow right turn buoy and then head in for the last 100 yards. All of a sudden at the turn buoy, it seemed like a bunch of folks crammed into a traffic jam. I started to lose my focus and with slight anxiety turned on my back to breath and get it together. It seemed hard to catch my breath but after about 20-30 yards on my back I turned back over to try to swim in. Again I got winded and felt panicky, so I rolled back on my back. At this point, I’m thinking, I need to get it together because I’m almost at the swim finish. I’m also thinking, what the heck is wrong and what would have happened if it was the regular sprint. I didn’t have time to beat myself up. I refocused to finish up the last 20 yards and pulled myself up and out.
Now that the swim was over, transition to the bike was pretty uneventful, except, I need more practice. Having just got new bike shoes, I wanted to see how it would feel, but also knowing it was such a short ride, I wasn’t even worried about it. I hadn’t been riding as much as I’d like, nor my pace up to where I want it to be, but I was going to just push on this ride. The bike felt good. I kept looking at my watch to keep my pace up toward 18 mph (I hadn’t been riding that pace on regular rides but I knew I could push it for this race). There was a slow uphill before the turnaround, but once I got past that, I kept a nice pace. I will say that having looked at my results and talking with others, most feel like the bike sensors were off. I agree because my Garmin had me at my 18.3 mph pace for the bike leg, whereas my results have 16.6mph (at least for now). But…on to transition off the bike.
As I got back to transition, I knew switching to the run wouldn’t be as quick as I usually am. I have been wearing a leg brace for all runs and I wasn’t going to change that for this race. So, pulling my leg brace up to my knee was almost comical. Not only was I damp from sweat, but just it was tough trying to grip it while balancing and my heart rate was still up from the push on the bike. It felt like it took 2 minutes just to get the leg brace on…lol.
Now on to a 1.25 mile run. At this point, I knew I haven’t been running at the pace I’m used to. My knee felt alright, but I was mindful to not re-injure myself. I decided to take this run as it goes depending on how I felt. I could feel in the first few minutes, my heart rate was still up (at 197) and my breathing wasn’t relaxed. I actually decided to stop and walk for a moment, which proved to be the wise decision. After about a minute to adjust my breathing and adjust physically and mentally, I took the same approach that I did for the swim. I took it nice and easy and focused on getting into a rhythm. This run path didn’t have too many hills, thank God, but right before the last quarter mile, there was a slight uphill that I took a little slower so I could maintain and go for a strong finish…which I did.
It definitely wasn’t my fastest supersprint, but I finished in less than an hour. I learned a lot in this race and more so in the days leading up to it. It was humbling and provided an honest and hard look at where I am in my training and the space I am currently in as a triathlete. There is some work I need to do mentally and physically to be where I have been and looking at even better. COVID, getting older, other physical & mental factors have had an impact this last year and presented some challenges that I think the experience of this race begs the question…Fredi, are you up for it? And in time, you and I both will know the answer 😉