When I saw that the Blessing and the Naval Station sprint were going to be held two days apart this year, I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I knew I was going to do both.
As race weekend approached, I was feeling amazingly confident about my biking and running. I knew I'd do well in the Blessing, and I knew that even though it was only two days later, I'd still be able to pull off a pretty good performance in the bike and run portions of the tri. The swim, not so much.
I did some swimming this spring and summer, and got in some decent workouts, but my swimming was just nowhere near the level it was at last year - largely because last year, I was injured and wasn't able to run much, so I spent a lot more time in the pool. And I also did several open-water swims before the race - something I did not do at all this year.
I could come up with lots of excuses for why I didn't swim enough, and why I didn't do any open-water swims, but it doesn't really matter at this point. What matters is that I learned my lesson. If I want to improve my swim, I need to spend more time in the pool (duh!) - but more importantly, I HAVE to do some open-water swimming before next year's race. More on that later.
My alarm was set for 4:30 Sunday morning, but after sleeping very soundly Friday night (thanks to being completely wiped out from running a 10-mile race!), I had a horrible night's sleep Saturday. I tossed and turned quite a bit, and woke up at 3:45am, completely unable to go back to sleep.
I knew there was no point in trying to sleep more, so I got up and got the coffee going, and toasted my bagel, and tried to relax and enjoy the quiet. I had packed up all my stuff Saturday afternoon, so there wasn't a whole lot I had to do, but I did check my list one more time and make sure I had everything.
I'm not really sure what I did in those two hours, besides eat and check my list - I was so nervous, I could hardly see straight. Triathlon mornings always freak me out way more than road race mornings. My nerves are so much worse when I know I'm faced with a swim, bike, and run. So much more intimidating.
But I somehow filled those two hours, and when 6am rolled around, I headed out. I arrived at the race right around 6:30, exactly as planned. I got my packet, got marked, and went back to the car to get all my stuff. It only took me about 5 minutes to get everything set up in transition. I was wearing a sports bra and my new tri shorts for the whole race, so there was really no clothing to deal with, aside from socks and shoes. I got those situated on my towel, rested my helmet and sunglasses and Garmin on my aerobars, and looked for some friends who were doing the race as their first tri.
I talked with them a bit, and also found a few other people to chat with as we waited around for the swim start. Before I knew it, we were walking over to the beach. The time passed very quickly!
I was feeling a little better now that we were close to actually getting started. The anticipation is the worst. Once I'm in motion, the nerves start to settle down a bit. And standing on the beach, I really wasn't that nervous at all. I knew I'd be slow on the swim, but I wasn't freaked out about getting in the water.
I was in the third wave, so it was only about a 9-minute wait. Not too bad. The waves were small, as they always are for this race, so there was no real chaos as the horn sounded and we entered the water. I did get jostled a bit, but nothing to really throw me off.
I kept my head up for a few strokes, just to try to get a sense of where I was, and how crowded the water was, and then got my head down and started swimming. What happened after that is hard to describe. I can't say that I panicked, and I can't say that I was scared. I know this course, I know the water is super murky and once you get 20 yards from shore, you can't see anything. I knew that, and I was fully expecting it.
But it unnerved me somehow. And it threw me off. And no matter what I did, I felt completely unable to get into any kind of rhythm with my swimming. It wasn't for lack of trying. I tried really hard. I'd stop and take breaks when necessary, just doing breaststroke for a bit, and then I'd take a deep breath and try to get back into it, but it just was. not. working.
It was SO frustrating. I knew I could do this swim, but my head and my body were just not cooperating. I finally got to the first buoy (it's a rectangular course), and the second buoy seemed so, so far away. It was totally depressing. And during that longest stretch of the course, I lost it mentally. I didn't freak out, but I came as close as I've ever come to giving up during a race. I just wanted out of that stupid water.
Finally the long stretch was over (keep in mind that this is a 1/3-mile swim, so the long stretch wasn't even that long, but it felt like a mile!), and as I rounded the second buoy and began to head into shore, I finally, finally was able to just swim. I still took one or two breaks, but the majority of that final stretch went fine. I'm glad I was able to end the swim on a good note, but overall it was just so crappy, I wanted to forget it had ever happened.
I was way more mentally than physically exhausted, and I dragged myself out of the water and walked a bit just to catch my breath, then began a quick jog back to transition, trying to shake off the ickiness of the swim and get my head in a better place as I got on the bike.
I was pretty quick in transition - this race doesn't provide transition times, so I don't know exactly how fast I was, but I'm not overly concerned with that anyway - and was happy to be back on terra firma and walking my bike out to the road.
The only thing I don't really like about this race is the beginning of the bike and run. They have the first part of each route sectioned off with traffic cones, and you have to navigate your way through this sometimes very narrow 'chute' as you're getting started. It's less of an issue on the run - on the bike, it's pretty tricky, especially as you're starting out and trying to get up to speed.
I got past that, though, and was quickly flying down the road. The bike course is great. Out and back, with a bunch of nice rollers. Nothing steep, and nothing that really even slowed me down too much - but enough to keep it interesting.
And all of the confidence that was sucked out of me on the swim came back tenfold on the bike. I was passing people left and right, and I felt GREAT! The hills challenged me a bit, but even climbing, I was still passing people.
The turnaround point is a very, very tight corner, and I came very close to taking it a teensy bit too fast, but I stayed in control, and was happy to be headed back. The second half went just as well as the first. Still feeling good, still flying : )
I haven't put my bike computer on the new bike yet, and I hadn't turned on my Garmin (I wanted to just enjoy the ride), so I don't know how fast I was going, but I'm fairly certain I was averaging 20 or 21mph.
As much fun as the ride was, I was still happy to get off the bike and get to what I do best - the run.
I was a little worried about how my legs would feel, seeing as how I had just run 10 miles really hard not even 48 hours prior, and had not done a single brick workout in training.
Much to my surprise, my legs felt great. I wouldn't go so far as to say they felt fresh, but I didn't have that heavy-legged feeling you can get going from the bike to the run. And when I looked at my Garmin, I was kind of shocked to see a sub-8:00 pace, since I figured I'd have to gradually work my way up to a quick pace - I never imagined I'd get under 8-minute miles so quickly!
As with the bike, we had to run through a narrow chute of traffic cones, then directly up a short, but steep hill. It sucked, but it was over quickly. As we continued on the run, I began to remember all the hills. I think I had blocked it out of my memory, but as we climbed, and climbed again - and again - and again - the memories came flooding back.
And of course the sun was higher in the sky now, so it was definitely getting hotter. I was still feeling alright, though, and just chugging along, holding a pace just under 8:00. Still slightly astonished that I was running at that pace, considering everything my body had been through, but I wasn't going to slow down now!
The run course also includes a lot of little out-and-backs, which I find kind of annoying, but they did afford me the chance to see my friends who were also running, and it was fun to wave and cheer each other on.
Right before the run ends is a nasty big hill. I knew it was coming, and I knew I could do it, and I knew that once I got done with that, it was literally all downhill to the finish.
Once I could see the finish line, I picked it up and sprinted in, crossing the line in 1:15:36.
I was and still am disappointed. I don't like to fail at any goal that I set for myself. But I need to keep in mind that four PRs in one month is a pretty lofty goal, and the fact that I got three out of four is something to be incredibly proud of.
And the fact that, even though I completely bombed on the swim, I was still able to come within one minute of my PR for this race, is something else to be proud of. As is the fact that I managed a 7:45 pace on the run - after running the Blessing Friday night, and then swimming 1/3 of a mile, and biking 10.5 miles.
So while I'm disappointed, I'm also proud. And humbled.
I thought that since I had done this race three times already, the open water factor wouldn't be an issue. But I've learned the hard way that there is NO substitute for practicing in the open water. None. I will not make that same mistake again.
The tinge of disappointment I felt was certainly not enough to spoil my day, though, and I was happy to hang around watching my friends finish (their first triathlon - woohoo!!!!), and thoroughly enjoyed the pancake breakfast.
Now, a few days later, I am completely, 100% burned out. July was a very fun and very exciting month for me, and I enjoyed every single one of my races, but I am so ready to take a break from racing and just focus on my marathon training.
I've felt some post-race blues, too, and it's been fortunate that Gabe and Dante have been at camp this week, because it's allowed me to just plop down on the couch in the afternoon while Carmine naps.
My body is desperate for some recovery time, and I'm more than happy to oblige. It's not like me at all to just sit around and do nothing, but for the first time in a long, long time, it feels good, which I think is the clearest sign of all that that's exactly what I need to be doing.
I'm still working out, but I'm taking it easy. My marathon training plan called for a track workout yesterday. Not just any track workout, either - 2 x 1200, and 4 x 800. I almost laughed out loud when I read that. After the weekend I had, there was no way that was going to happen. Instead, I did a very, very easy few miles, and spent a ton of time stretching.
Tomorrow's tempo run may become an easy run, too. I'm going to listen to my body and cut myself some slack. There are still plenty more track workouts and tempo runs to do in the next 12 weeks.....
So, the final stats from the tri -
Swim 1/3 mile - 14:03 - 200 out of 273 : (
Bike 10.5 miles - 35:53 - 72 out of 273 (this includes my transition time)
Run 3.5 miles - 25:41 - 7:45 pace - 76 out of 273
Total time - 1:15:36
7 out of 20 in my age group
21 out of 110 females overall
97 out of 275 overall
Considering the swim was so horrible, I think I still pulled off a pretty decent race overall. Running will always be my first love, but I love my once-a-year tri tradition : )