Monday, August 8, 2011

We did it, hooray!

Last week, I took care of my niece Lily for a day.  Lily is terribly precocious for a two year old (or maybe that's just auntie pride), full of spirit and very, very energetic.  When we dropped her off at home after the day together, she was still chuffed and raring to go (possibly from all the sugary treats we fed her). I, on the other hand, was completely wilted.  I can run a marathon....yet a two year old does me in.

If you've been around a toddler recently, you also will be very familiar with Dora the Explorer.  Lily is all about Dora.  If you try to steal her fries, it's "Swiper, no Swiping!", and when she's proud of achieving something, she shouts the ubiquitous "We did it, we did it, we did it, hooray!".  It starts to stick in your head.

So on Sunday in Sooke, when I found myself in the very, very surprising position of leading the women's half-iron race with 10k left in the run, the mantra stuck in my mind with every painful step was, you guessed it, none other than we did it, we did it, we did it, yeah!  Stupid, yes.  But true.  I didn't willingly choose this mantra, but it just kind of stuck there like that terrible song you hear on the radio that will not leave your mind.

The Sooke race was my third half-iron race this year, and a tune-up for the Las Vegas 70.3 in September.  There is no better way to gauge how everything is coming together by putting it to the test, and this race definitely challenged me and surprised me in so many ways.

Having had three categorically shitty race swims so far this year, salvaging a decent swim was goal one.  Bjoern suggested to me that perhaps I should try to start further to the front since the half-iron field was small.  This terrified me....but I listened.  And it worked!  Although there was some confusion when the gun went off (we weren't ready), I found myself very quickly in a nice little pod of swimmers being pulled along.  Those mythic "feet" that I have heard so much about really do exist!  To be fair, the "lake" was actually more like a little puddle, barely big enough for the two-950m laps, so this was a very tame, calm open water swim by any standard.  Yet, it was exactly what I needed to gain a little confidence with the whole swimming thing.  33 minutes and change later (still not very fast by swimming standards but positively blistering for me), I bounced out of the puddle and into T1.  So, so very awesome!  

A week before the race, it was announced that a new bike course was to be unveiled - a "scenic" and "spectacular" one-loop course along the coastline.  They adjectives they failed to include were "ridiculously hilly" and "savage"!  At over 1300m of elevation gain, the bike course had almost as much elevation as Ironman Canada, over half the distance.  So it was with a sense of foreboding that I set off on Ora....knowing exactly what was in store for my poor legs.  

The first section was surprisingly fast, notwithstanding a few rollers, and then we hit the hill up to French Creek.  It was literally like slamming into a wall - 39/25 felt like the hardest gear in the world and felt like I was doing about 5 rpm.  I honestly thought I would just tip over!  There was nothing I could do except muscle my way up a few of the nastier inclines and my rule about spinning up the hills went out the door.  Quads be damned, I was standing.

I had trouble getting into a rhythm because the course was so undulating and there were only a few sections where you could really put your head down and work.  The last 20k felt like a total slog - I was exhausted and totally relieved to reach T2!  I knew my split would be comparatively slow to recent races, but even so, seeing 2:50 was discouraging.  My legs were shot and I had a half-marathon to run.

T2 was a comedy of errors.  My bottle of cola exploded all over me and I kept dropping my nutrition.  I ran about 2k with my hands full of stuff and must have looked so silly while I settled in.  After 3k, cruise control was set into my planned 4:30/km pace, legs surprisingly responding well.  And then the mental game started.

At T2, someone said "she's 2 up" and I had no idea what they were talking about.  Then a few other spectators told me the same thing - Stephanie was 2 minutes up on me, in the lead.  In Boise I wasn't able to sustain an AG win on the run, so I was nervous that I would outpace myself and end up getting run down again.  I also really like Stephanie and didn't feel particularly competitive against her - she had swam and rode extremely well to be out front and if the cards dealt a win for her, I was good with it.  Yet, I was cautiously optimistic that if I ran the race I wanted - a 1:35 half - that I could catch her.
Cruise control on.  Lap 1 almost done!
I reached Stephanie on the short downhill at the end of the first lap and we spoke briefly, cheered and laughed.  It was a positive, wonderful experience - a friendly competition that made me work to be as strong as someone whom I admire as an athlete and a person (Stephanie, you are awesome!).  It was just fun.  And honestly, if the roles had been reversed, I'd feel the same way.

It would have been great to end the race then, feeling happy and giddy.  I started running out of steam after the second turnaround, and even the adrenaline of being in the lead started to wane.  Even though the volunteer on the bike lead was fabulous and tried to distract me, the last few uphills were grueling.  That's when Dora snuck into my head.  Silly, silly run mantra....but it worked!
I did it!
5:02:48.  Not a PB, but a solid ride on a very tough course, a run executed as planned (1:34:38 split)....and for the very first time, a win.  Pretty cool, huh?  

Big cheers and hugs to Stephanie for motivating me to keep kicking it to the end, to Bjoern for encouraging me to be more confident and to Jeremy, Andrew, Don, Mikey and Jared for being friendly faces out on the course (and congrats on your races!).  Huge thanks to all the good folks at Speed Theory for their support (and for keeping my Ora in fine working order to crank up those hills), to Doug in particular for reminding me not be a stressball and not least of all to Lily, who taught me the silly little mantra that kept me in the game.  We did it, we did it, we did it, hooray!!!