I did not want to race the Monticelloman Oly. I didn’t feel ready and knew that I had no chance at a PR, so what was the point? I had shown zero improvement on the bike after a winter of soul-crushing trainer rides and had barely been running at all thanks to knee/back issues that have been plaguing me for the last 15 months. I hate you, triathlon.
I also knew that I had paid good money for the race, so I was going to show up and attempt some semblance of a swim-bike-run routine. It seemed like the best strategy was to abandon all strategy (going rouge for someone who had a 13 page race plan for Ironman Maryland (not including my nutrition plan or packing lists)), race like a bat out of hell and see what happened. No data, just feel… and pain. Hopefully that would result in some fun too.
A late start to the Olympic distance race allowed us to sleep in and cook breakfast at our campsite. It was a 30 minute drive to the race site where packet pick up and body marking were a breeze.
With my new-found nonchalant attitude, I had no idea what the water temperature was going to be on race morning. (65 degrees.) Coldest swim to date? Oh well! I swam in the San Francisco Bay with no wetsuit… once… when I was 20 and then couldn’t get warm for four hours. Details. I expected the water to feel terrible so it didn’t feel that bad when I got in for my pre-race dip.
Call me crazy, but mass starts amp me up. Years of water polo will do that to a person. I pushed my way up near the front and jumped around in the knee-deep water to keep warm until go-time.
I hoped to find some fast feet to latch on to and see how high I could place in the swim since that was the only area I was feeling confident in; I never found those feet and spent most of the swim by myself. I found my rhythm and just swam. My toes started to go numb about halfway through so I tried to kick harder to be ready for the bike. After the final turn the water became choppier and we were swimming into the sun making sighting more difficult, but I came out of the water feeling like I turned in a well-paced, moderately-strong effort in the water.
Nothing exciting happened in transition so it was on to the bike. Being quick out of the water means I have become accustomed to settling in to get passed (and discouraged) by the entire field on the bike. In past races I have diligently sat back in my nice, conservative Z2 pace to execute a successful run. Not today, not this race! (Really, not for any oly, ever again.) I was going for it, whatever that meant for me. I rode hard. I heard there were hills on the course, but didn’t really know what to expect. I tried to keep my pedal stroke smooth and bomb down all the descents, trying to get into a solid downhill tuck position on my road bike like my husband taught me. My confidence was elevated when I flew by some folks on tri bikes on one of the descents. Who am I and what did you do with Jaime because she certainly does not ride like this?! I checked out my power numbers periodically to tell myself that I could afford to pick it up a little bit or should probably back off if I wanted my legs to show up for the run.
I never looked at my total time so even though I felt like I was doing OK, I didn’t really know how things were playing out. A girl passed me right before the dismount line and proceeded to leisurely walk her bike towards transition; old Jaime would have politely stayed behind her, worried that she’d pass me again moments later. New Jaime said, “Screw it” and ran by her awkwardly, but quickly, in my bike shoes. T2 was also quick and uneventful so off I went on the run.
I had no issues running off the bike and settled into what felt like a moderately-aggressive, but natural pace. When you don’t look at data during the race, you don’t know how fast (or slow) you are actually running. I ran two 2 sub-8 minute miles off the bike and promptly made up for that by cramping up, walking, and sticking with a pace that hovered around 9:30 min/mile for the rest of the race. Go big or go home!
Then new Jaime thought, “Hey, this is called a race for a reason” and I tried to start picking people off one by one, especially those ladies with a 30-34 on their left calf. I’ve never done this before and was exhilarated to go back and forth with another woman in my age group, whom I finally dropped; I just hoped that I could hang on.
I popped a salt tab around mile 3 and hoped that that would keep my cramps at bay. I thought of this as my magic pill and kept going, drinking and dumping water all over myself at aid stations. I made sure to thank all the volunteers and encourage other racers; I have learned that you get this energy right back and it proved no different today.
I finally checked my watch around mile 5 of the run and realized I might actually PR. (What?!? No way. I must be delusional, but better keep going just in case.) The road was marked for both the half and oly courses, and I got confused about which was which so I picked up the pace for that final mile about a ½ mile too early. Then I saw a large, dead (thankfully) black snake in the road; this caused my heart rate to jump even higher and propelled me quickly on until I reached the real 1 mile to go marker. I dashed up another hill and across the finish line for a 9 minute PR and 3rd in my age group! No way!
… and then I proceeded to miss my first ever, solo podium because the Hubs, our pups and I left to go wine tasting. I even checked the results board! I didn’t see my name at all, assumed I did something wrong resulting in a DNF and booked it to a vineyard. Typical. (To be fair, the race site didn’t allow dogs so we couldn’t hang out at the Team Z tent or near the finish line.) I checked my email 24 hours later to discover that I had placed thanks to congratulatory notes from Team Z friends.
Final thoughts: My mental state was a mess going into this race, but I tried to regroup and decided that I would consider this race a success if my knee held up for the run. Success achieved. I also feel like I should offer up a disclaimer that the way I raced might not work for everyone. I’ve had a lot of races where I had energy left in the tank at the finish line because I raced too conservatively. No more. I would rather lay it all out there on the course and fall apart than not hurt after a race. If I crash and burn, and walk a run, at least I know I gave it all I had on that day. Maybe I gave too much too early on this day, but for me I’ve learned that’s better than not giving it all. (Remind me of that during the Ironman Maryland run and I’ll probably punch you in the face… if I have the energy.) I had a good day and I was due for a good day. It had been two years since my last really solid race and I don’t think I realized the toll that took on me mentally, especially in terms of motivation. I feel reinvigorated based on a day that came together out of nowhere.