First, I want to thank Josh for asking me to pen my thoughts concerning my latest race and for his training suggestions and encouragement. It’s inspiring to see a Pro such as Josh engaging with the AG ranks.
I came into NOLA with high hopes and huge expectations. This would be my second triathlon of 2014 and a litmus test for the start of my second full triathlon season. Unknown to me, there was a Category 5 collapse brewing.
For personal background, to put it kindly, I am not a strong Open Water Swimmer. At 32 years of age and not really learning how to properly swim until 30, this has presented quite the challenge. While making minimal gains in the swim the past year, I have been focusing more on my cycling and running. I am truly blessed to be a part of the Brian Loncar Racing Team in Dallas and to have a core training group that has been instrumental in helping me achieve huge improvement in these two disciplines. With my physical abilities in mind, the plan was to simply survive the swim….hammer the bike…and empty the tank on the run. Such great intentions but the day would offer an abundance of challenges.
1.2 Mile Swim
NOLA is a time trial start with six swimmers entering the water completing a “M Shaped” course. Honestly, I enjoyed this more than the mass/wave starts. Even with limited swim skills, I put myself to the front of my AG wave to get in the water as quickly as possible. When the whistle blew, I took the inside line along the buoys and felt great going out. After the first turn, my swim quickly began to unravel. Sighting and swimming straight in open water is a big problem for me. I always drift to the right….always. On this swim course, I would need to head more in a diagonal to the left and I just couldn’t orientate my body to do this. I was fighting the course layout as well as a current that was pulling me away from the buoy. I was literally alone drifting in the middle of the course. I was finally able to make it to the second buoy and sighting back to the last turn buoy was much easier with a boat docking area lining the path on my breathing side. I exited the water in just over 39 mins and according to my Garmin; I had swam an extra .2 miles which is about par for the course for me.
56 Mile Bike
For my fellow weak swimmers, you can relate to the fact that there are few joys greater than arriving in T1 and mounting our bikes. Just you and your shiny machine for miles upon miles of blacktop hammering out the watts. Like I had mentioned, my plan was to lay down an epic bike time and pull back much of the lost time in the swim. What I was left with was a painful lesson in how to manage my energy and expectations. In case you haven’t heard, the NOLA bike course was absolutely brutal that day. The winds were easily 20+ mph and there was a headwind or hurting cross wind for what felt like 40 miles of the 56 mile course. Coming off the mount line, my heart rate instantly went to 170+, which is Zone 4+ Olympic range for me, as I began my ill-advised assault on the course and would stay in that zone for a good 40-45mins. Pushing hard into those headwinds made it impossible for me to settle down but I was determined to just go for it and see what happens. Around the 1hr 20 min mark, I really began to fade and by mile 40 I was full-on bonking. There were thoughts of “maybe I just need to get off the bike and rest” to “am I even going to finish this thing”. My back was cramping. I coasted some and soft pedaled. I was on my base-bar often and was only able to really push with short-lived relief from the few sections of tailwind. The last 5 miles was dead into the headwind along the seawall and felt like the longest stretch of cycling in my life. Aided by my hour long early effort, I was able to get off the bike in 2:33 but my race was all but over at that point.
13.1 Mile Run
Running out of T2, my quads were already tapping out and cramping up. Gotta love the fact that the NOLA run course has a huge bridge to climb in the first two miles. I came up to it and instantly decided to walk up it. The next 12 miles was a combination of jogging and walking. My tank was running on fumes and I had no interest in putting myself into so much distress that it would hurt any of my upcoming races. I had given it my best effort and it had failed. I had teammates and friends waiting for me at the finish so I was going to continue by salvaging what I could. Honestly, there were a few moments on the run that were enjoyable. I had walking conversations with fellow racers that were having similar days. I made sure to thank the volunteers as I strolled through aid stations and acknowledge their efforts. Crossed the line with a 2:06 jog/walk and was ready to move on.
My finishing time was 5:24 but little did I know that while I was having my worst race ever, my teammates and friends were crushing it! In fact, my dear friend and training partner Lauren Barnett was busy WINNING her pro debut at the 70.3 distance. On top of this, there were several in my circle that were on the AG podium and receiving their 70.3 WC slots. I am not going to lie; I was very disappointed in myself and my result. I am not one to hide my emotions and my friends could tell I was upset. One by one, throughout the rest of the day they offered encouragement and support with high hopes for future outcomes. At some point traveling home, it really hit me that this was the most important take away from the whole experience. Triathlon is not simply about racing the clock but the bonds that we form in our community. There is so much to gain from our ability as competitors to support one another as we push relentlessly, and somewhat obsessively, towards our goals. Each of us will encounter a race where misery comes crashing upon us but we are able to make it through not by our own will but by the urging of those that race along with us. Lauren texted me after the race to simply say “I commend you for your confidence and for taking a risk on that bike. You won’t ever know your limits unless you take risks and most people are way too afraid and play it safe.” That about sums it up for me now as I have had time to reflect on the day. I hope that this encourages you to dare greatly in your next race. To take a chance and experience holding on for dear life. That our final result doesn’t define us. And ultimately, it’s not about how fast we crossed the line but about whom we carried along with us and why we chose on that day to give it everything we had.