Thursday, July 25, 2013

Making the best of it when things don't go your way: NJ State Triathlon race report

I didn't sleep particularly well the night before. In true endurance athlete fashion, I was up a few times during the night to go to the bathroom. The entire week leading up to the NJ State Triathlon was in the upper 90's with extreme humidity (not fun!). Of course the natural thing to do is to make sure to sip on enough water to "stay hydrated." Turns out, I overdid it.

Unlike my stress-fueled trip to the Philly Triathlon, the pre-race motions this time around were a lot less eventful (the stress came the next day...).

Race morning came, and I went through the routine. However, this time was ever-so-slightly different. I took a page out of the Andy Potts playbook (he says he tries one new thing every race - only one) and had a small cup of coffee before heading to the race. I generally don't consume coffee or caffeine before a race despite there being some ergogenic effect. On this day, it made no difference.

I parked my car and was unloading the car when the first bike issue came up. I had some issues with my front derailleur (the part on the bike the enables your chain to move between the front chain rings) the week leading up to the race. A trip to the bike mechanic and then myself also needing to adjust the limit screws, it finally felt dialed in. I pulled my bike out of the car and ran through the gears to make sure everything was working. SNAP. Shifting from the small to big front ring, the front derailleur cable came loose. "You've gotta be kidding me."

"Stay calm, plenty of time." This was one of those mornings I was grateful that I like to arrive early! I grabbed my bike tool and quickly got to work. I was able to reattached the cable fairly quickly and then ran through the gears again. It wasn't perfect, but it was sufficient.

Off to transition.

I laid out all my stuff and checked my tired pressure. A little low, so I tried to pump them up. Nothing was happening. "You've gotta be kidding me." I walked around transition asking anyone I saw if they had an extra pump. Most people leave them in their cars because they take up too much space in transition. But of course I wasn't thinking entirely clearly after my little issue, so forgot to pump up my tires in the parking lot.

One person had a hand pump (which are notoriously ineffective), so I tried it. Ssssss. There goes a bunch of air from my front tire. Piece of junk didn't work. No one else had a pump. I had one other option - make a mad dash for the bike mechanic tent over in the finish line area (a few minute walk away). I only had 10 minutes before transition closed.

I grabbed my bike and ran as fast as I could (thank you carbon fiber for being so light). The guys hooked me up and filled my tires. Ran back to transition, racked my bike, grabbed my goggles and swim cap, and then off to the swim start. Two minutes to spare.

"Ok, calm down." Now the fun part.

Well, that's if you think swimming in an 89 degree lake is fun. I've never been in lake water so hot. It was a relief during the recovery part of every stroke when my arm came out of the water. The air temperature was about 15 degrees cooler.

I had a decent swim. The first half was a lot better than the second half. I think the warm water started to get to me and my form suffered a little bit. 

It never felt so good to be out of water. Checked my watch - 27 minutes. Eh, not bad, but not great. Swimming is my weakest discipline (which I have significantly improved over the past year), so I couldn't wait to make up a little time on the bike, especially since the bike course was fast and flat.

Ok, time to make up a little time. Out of T1 and onto the first loop of the bike course. It was a double loop on mostly flat roads. I ticked them off, passing a fair number of people. Each time I passed someone I glanced down at their left calf - ok, my age group; nope, not my age group.

As I came around for the second loop I spotted my family (who I can't thank enough for being so supportive). A quick waive to my little cousin Callan and back into the aero position.

 I felt good coming into T2. A solid one hour bike split. Let's close it out.

But, the humidity was starting to get to me. The warm lake water definitely took a bit out of me as well. I took a chance on the bike only carrying one water bottle too.

It caught up with me. I was holding on the first few miles of the run, but at the halfway point, I started to struggle. My legs felt heavy.

At every aid station I grabbed for as much water as possible to dump on my head. Being from Washington, DC I'm fairly used to pretty bad humidity, but I don't know what it was. I couldn't get my head in a positive place. I kept thinking about how much I wanted to stop.

Nonetheless, I pushed as hard as I could. I knew my pace wasn't as fast as what it usually is (my run split was about 50 seconds per mile slower than my PR), or what it was just a couple weeks ago when I had a solid brick session for that matter (had a solid 5 mile tempo at around 6:20 pace off a 25 mile bike ride). But, I tried to dismiss my discouragement and focus on my form. When it all heads south, the one thing I know I can control is my form.

And that's what brought me to the finish line. Around the corning I could see the red carpet and the finish chute. It looked incredible! I gave that last quarter-mile everything I had.

Finished in 2 hours 17 minutes - good for 16th in my age group. A bit shy of my goal, but not bad for the race that also doubled as the regional championship (on the bright side, I punched my ticket for next year's Age Group National Championships).

I was particularly happy with how I persevered through the run (I was also really pleased with my bike split, which was a PR). It wasn't my best run performance and it took everything I had to dig deep and keep going. After crossing the finish line, when I staggered through the finishers' area trying to regain my balance, I knew I did everything I could. I had nothing left.

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