Racing in the pro field this year has been a wonderful and challenging experience, and one I have absolutely loved. If you want to realize how not tough and not fast you actually are, and how much better you need and want to be, I recommend you give it a try :). This year I am truly learning how to race. I know how to swim, bike, and run; I know how to train hours and hours every week; I know how to fuel, recover, and hit targets during key workouts, but knowing all of this doesn’t matter if I don’t know how to race. I am realizing more and more that learning how to race is something I will always be doing, and it’s an exercise that mostly goes on in my head. I am doing the training and will continue to build fitness and get stronger with time, so I have to make sure I’m mentally committed to executing and putting the hours of training to work on race day. I’m talking about committing to the pain, the suffering, and the discomfort of pushing your mind and body to the limit. It’s something that takes practice and unwavering focus.
Coeur d’Alene (CdA) 70.3 was working out to be a race I was really excited for. Everyone kept talking about how great the course is and how beautiful the venue is (and they were right!). I was coming off a taste of success by placing top ten in St. George, and I certainly wanted to keep that success going. I also had a six week block between these races where I was home (the longest I’ve been home in months) and focused on training and recovering. My training consisted of high volume and more intensity – all things that help me to feel ready and confident for race day. Leading up to CdA, the work was being put in, and I was thinking how the only thing I needed to do was commit. Commit to using my mind to push my body where it was trained to go.
Two areas where I felt like I wasn’t performing to my abilities on race day: the swim and the run. I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t feel like I have been able to consistently swim in open water as well as I can swim in the pool, and it’s not like I haven’t been practicing in open water. There are some obvious differences between the pool and open water, but I don’t like excuses and feel like I should be able to swim just as well in open water. Even more important than feeling like I SHOULD be able to, I NEED to be able to swim just as fast if I want to really be competitive in the pro field.
All I wanted at CdA on the swim: finish the 1.2 mile swim in under 30 minutes. So off went the gun and the pro women ran off the beach and dove into Lake Coeur d’Alene! The water felt great, I pushed hard and got a great start, and before I knew it I was swimming on my own. While some feet to draft off of would have been nice, I didn’t mind being able to just focus on my stroke and how hard I was pushing. I used each buoy to ask myself if I could go harder, and would adjust my effort accordingly. Aside from totally botching the first turn buoy (not used to doing a complete 90 degree turn!), the swim went well and I pushed it JUST enough to finish in 29:57. COUNTS. Breaking 30 was a great start to the day, and I heard Matt say I was 7th out of the water, so I felt great about where I was sitting. I wanted to come in a little more under 30 minutes than three seconds, but I can do that at my next race :).
The first 20 miles of the bike were a lot of fun – I FLEW. I’ve decided for myself that part of racing is not holding back (within reason), so I went out aggressively and felt great. I passed two girls within the first 15 miles and thanks to the first out and back, I saw that the lead pack wasn’t too far away. Pushing it on the bike is something I feel confident in and know how to do. Each discipline has its own pain that takes getting used to, and the bike is something I’ve become very comfortable with being uncomfortable on (referring to discomfort from using my lungs and muscles, and not discomfort from sitting on a tiny saddle for hours :)).
The last 36 miles of the bike had more wind and false flats than I was expecting, but that is how racing goes. One female pro passed me in the last half, but I was otherwise able to hold my ground. Despite feeling like I wasn’t moving as fast as I wanted to or should be moving, I would check in with my power meter and see that I was pushing plenty of watts, so I just kept pushing and came in 6th off the bike. I knew the podium and money was top six, so of course I wanted to at least hold this place!
Now time to run. All I wanted on the run was to push harder than I’ve pushed before. I know I am capable of more than what I have been doing on race day. This wouldn’t be determined necessarily by a goal time (though a sub 1:30 would have been great given my past run times), but mostly by my own mental and physical feeling. You just know when you are digging deep and putting in your very best effort.
The first mile or so was slightly uphill, and my coach and I talked about taking that first bit slightly conservatively so that I could really push hard the rest of the run. I got passed almost immediately by the lady who ran her way to 3rd place (she was FLYING), so there I was sitting in 7th. It’s not all about placing in races, but when money and recognition is on the line, it’s something worth thinking about :).
I sat in 7th for a long time. The run was a two loop out and back, so I was able to see where the ladies ahead of me were. During my first look on the first loop, most of the 1-6 ladies seemed out of reach based on my pace and how everyone was looking. I focused on running hard and maintaining quick feet, but I had all but settled into 7th place (BAD HABIT!). Then things changed at mile 9 when a fellow female pro, Sue Huse, ran up behind me and said “let’s go get them.” I looked up and realized there were 2-3 other female pros not far ahead of us, and not cruising at the speed they seemed to be going at before. I immediately upped my speed (and suffer level) to keep up with Sue. We very quickly passed two other female pros, moving us into 5th and 6th place. The race was ON! It’s amazing how fun suffering becomes when it’s a real race to the end and you feel like you are digging deep. Not much time passed before we ran past another female pro, which then put us at 4th and 5th. I held on with Sue as long as I could, but between mile 11 and 12, she really pulled ahead and I just kept pushing hard to hold onto 5th place.
I finished the run in 1:27:40 – one of my best half marathon splits at the end of a half ironman. While I was elated to have finished 5th, especially after thinking I was going to finish 7th or even 8th place, I was even more happy to have really pushed myself, especially on those last four miles of the run. I finally felt what it needed to feel like mentally and physically to go harder than my “comfortable uncomfortable,” and I finally ran a time that I was proud of. I am SO grateful that Sue encouraged me to dig deeper. I have a lot to learn from the strong women I line up with at every race.
Of course I want to be faster and stronger in all the disciplines of triathlon, but CdA 70.3 was a great experience for me to really race and to teach me what racing needs to feel like. I want to finish every race feeling like I gave my absolute all both mentally and physically. Regardless of placement, I will always be happy with my performance if I know I pushed my very hardest.