IM Waco - 1st AG, 4th Overall Female
What an experience that was! I'm stoked to earn my Kona slot on first try!
But it certainly wasn't a smooth sail!
I will start at the end: 10:59:48 (haha, within 11h), 1st place in my Age Group and 4th overall female, earning that coveted Kona slot.
And now let's go back to pre-race. The original plan for the year was to do the World Triathlon World Championship in Amsterdam in September (A-race) and piggyback on the fitness to pull off another IM in October (B-race) for a chance to earn a Kona slot.
I had my eyes on IM Malaysia, because it seemed to have a soft field and my strength is hot races, but the registration never opened for that one and I believe the country still doesn't accept tourists. So I had a look around to see what was available. I had never thought I could be competitive in a North-American race where usually only 1 slot is offered for my W45 age group. That's when I spotted Waco.
I'm not sure why, but somehow there was nobody on the W45 start list who had better times in the past than mine. It was very annoying that the race organizers didn't update the participant list from July 13th, so I couldn't be certain. I waited and waited and waited but eventually had to pull the trigger and register - I was already committed with my training and entering taper at that point anyway, so there was no way back even if I found out that one or two or more very competitive ladies were in.
For the first time ever, I afforded the luxury and arrived to Texas on Wednesday. It was a blessing. My kids are getting a bit older which makes it easier for me to get away for that extra day. I had time to put my bike together, get any issues fixed at the local shop, check out the race course, do all the tune up training sessions, all in all I felt great going into the race despite all the challenges that I faced in my training since the WT Worlds 6 weeks prior.
I was struggling with the bike between the two races while my swim was going surprisingly well for myself and I was crushing all the run sessions.
Race morning also went well, I had an unusually good sleep, I was up at 3am to go though all the pre-race rituals with breakfast, getting dressed, putting wetsuit on and the like. Got to the race site, checked my bike, put my nutrition on and went on the long walk to the swim start. They didn't allow swim warm up but I don't like doing that anyway, I always warm up with a short run which is what I did this time too.
Out of the water
Having done the distance 6 weeks earlier, I was uncharacteristically calm going into the water, knowing that I just need to get through the swim and the hardest part is over. I felt great, just did my thing and the swim was done before I knew it. The water was so dirty that I couldn't see the feet in front of me, so after two tries I gave up on the idea of drafting and comforted myself with the thought that it probably hurts me less than those who usually draft more and better than I do. (You guessed it, I'm not good at drafting - something I'm planning to improve on. It is free speed so I need to learn this skill.)
1:27:28, a PB by 1 minute and we are off to transition. I surprised myself with a relatively fast (compared to the W45 field) transition, beating everyone in my age group by a minute and a half - after basically losing the race in Amsterdam on the transitions.
Usually bike is my strongest discipline, but in this build I was having a hard time on the bike so it was expected that I won't be able to perform at my best. My coach suggested that I just ignore the power numbers and do the best I can and we hoped it would be enough.
What followed was worse than we anticipated even with the problems in the lead up and the fatigue from the previous race.
I usually go out a little over target power (or a lot over haha...) but this time, I wasn't even able to hit my IM power. The first hour was not too bad, but I already started to fade in the second hour and later it kept dropping further.
I simply had no strength in my legs. I usually ride by feel and love that slight tingling sensation in my thighs that IM effort comes with. At this time I wasn't able to hold that, I tried again and again, but I could only keep it for a few minutes before it dropped. I decided not to fight it.
Even though I rode 16W below what I did in Amsterdam, the first half of the ride was actually faster. I'm sure a big part of it is that I switched to a full disc rear wheel which I was previously reluctant to try because I was worried about cross winds blowing me away. We got some wind on this course and although I had to concentrate to be able to hold my bike straight, at no point did I feel unsafe. Now I'm considering an 80mm deep front, but that is an even harder jump from my 62.5 than the disc was in the back.
The second half of the ride was just really bad compared to what I'm normally capable of. Power dropped another 15W between 3-4h. That's when I decided that I needed caffeine.
Caffeine is basically legal doping - that's the way I see it. It has proven performance enhancing qualities yet it is not a banned substance. I usually save it for the run when it starts getting harder, but I felt I really needed a pick-me-up here as I was so low.
The aid stations had caffeinated gels, so I tried to pick up some but I missed it. I wasn't able to clearly communicate to the volunteers what I wanted. (I yelled 'caffeine' and they had no idea what I wanted - not surprisingly, it was my fault.) So I had 15 minutes to re-phrase what I wanted and try to do a pick up at the next aid station.
I rolled slower and yelled 'white' this time to the volunteers at the gel table. They got it! Picked up two white gels and took one, saving the other for later.
That was like magic!!! My power was immediately up almost 10W and I felt great. I must add that I withdraw caffeine before the race exactly for this reason. Because then when I take it during the race, it hits hard. It is really worth the suffering of going a week without coffee.
4h-5h was better but then around 5h I again felt the power dropping to that recovery ride level where it was before the gel. I wanted to take the second gel but as I was fiddling to open it, I dropped it. At that point there were no aid stations left, so I just finished the ride off like that... not great.
Between 3-4h and after the 5h mark, I was seriously unable to push anything better than what I do for my easy rides in training. It was discouraging but I also suspected that there was nobody in front of me from my age group in the race by the end of the bike so I wasn't panicking. I accepted that this is all my legs had in them and hoped that it would be enough.
Oh, the pink calf sleeves? Haha... I left mine at home and this was all the local bike shop had. But they had them! I was very happy to score a pair and they were even on sale.
I found it hard to ride on such bad roads. It wasn't even the chip seal that was the worst. I could deal with that. But the rest of the roads were also in very bad shape, potholes, cracks all the way and patched cracks that were not much better than the not patched ones. It made riding fast very hard on top of all the physical weakness I was experiencing.
I'm not too worried about why this ride didn't go the way it would have if I was at my best. I know the issue wasn't nutrition, I had my glucose monitor on and my fueling was spot on. I was simply too tired from the previous race and I don't plan to get into a similar situation in the future unless, just like in this case, for some reason I suspect that a sub-par performance will still get me the result I want.
Bike: 5:23:21, AG 1st, overall 3rd. For how badly I rode compared to what I'm capable of, I was very happy with this.
I certainly wasn't going to hurry too much in T2 but again I surprised myself by still being slightly faster than anyone else in my category.
At this point I learned that I have the lead by over 30 minutes which calmed me down and eased my mind. I didn't care about overall position, I just wanted to win my AG.
I expected that I will feel great going out for the run since I didn't extend myself on the bike. Boy was I wrong! It was all the more shocking because I usually feel absolutely AMAZING going out for the last leg, even if I bike really hard. Same with any brick training I do, but so far in all my races as well this was the case.
I also always get going by feel and decide on the pace based on what my body tells me. I have an original plan but adjust it readily on my body's signals. For the first time ever, I rolled out of transition and just felt awful.
Since I never experienced that before, I wasn't prepared for it at all. I had hopes of feeling even more springy in my steps and smooth in my strides than normal.
I swiftly had to adjust to the situation and I didn't even have much time to think about it because right at the start of the leg, around 2km/1.5mi we hit the hardest part of the course, the two biggest hills, which we had to do a total of 3 times.
So first I was focused on getting through those while trying to form a plan on what to do. I knew I wasn't going to run my best, but I also knew that I didn't need to. Based on my pre-race research, I could beat anyone in my age group by about 30 mins on the run if I was in top form. This meant that with my 30-min lead already, if I just ran conservatively, I could still finish with the same margin and win.
I don't think I have ever walked in a triathlon race before, but this is what I decided to do - based on my physical condition and most importantly to put my mind at ease. I came up with a pattern that would allow me to get through the marathon and make it mentally very easy. I would walk each aid station comfortably, but run between aid stations.
I also decided that the pace of the run between aid stations doesn't have to be all out. I would do my best by keeping it comfortably hard. After going up those hills I came to the conclusion that it was also fine to walk any hills that I felt were mentally and / or physically too much to cope with. They were perfectly runnable hills on a good day. But I could afford to walk part of them this time and still get what I came for.
After those hills and about 40 minutes into the run I started to feel way better. Some flat parts were coming on the course with just minor hills that were fine and the run/walk plan made it easy to keep going. I was looking forward to each aid station and they were never far.
By the time I went up the Cameron Park hills the second time, I was in a good head space. I asked a group of spectators who were having a party by the side of the course to look up how much my lead was. I figured if in the middle of the second loop when I see them again it is still 20 mins+ then I'm fine. I also calculated that my run time would be somewhere around 4h which I was perfectly ok with.
When I rolled back down the hills about 12 miles / 20km in, they told me my lead was 47 minutes. That made me extremely happy and from that point on it was a joy run.
I knew I had the slot, I knew I had the win, I was having fun the way I was running and I loved every minute of it. I didn't mind the hills at all, especially since I had enough of a lead to walk the hardest parts. I thanked all the volunteers at the aid stations when I saw them for the last time in my 3rd loop and smiled all the way to the finish.
The big difference between the horrible feeling of the ride and the incredible happiness I felt during the run was that on the bike I tried my absolute best and my body was just not giving me anything more. On the run I knew I didn't need to leave it all out on the course and therefore I just enjoyed myself and took it a bit easier than I would have if my slot depended on those 10-15 minutes that I left in it.
Run: 3:57:26, AG 1st, overall 8th fastest run. I know I could have caught the overall 3rd position if I pushed the run to my maximum that my body could handle that day but there are no awards for overall and I felt that by running a very happy marathon at the end I will make this experience better than pushing to my limits when I'm not in the best condition.
Overall I had a great experience, won my Kona slot that I came for and enjoyed myself a lot - except maybe that bike ride. But even during the ride I kept calming myself and trying to enjoy the race knowing that what happened was in line with what could be expected.
With my just under 11h time I beat 2nd place by almost an hour and 3rd place by 2 hours.
And now onto a whole lot of ultra running races including some world record attempts in the next few months. I might not have an "A" race in triathlon until Kona 2022!