Here it is: race report for the Wauconda Sprint Triathlon.

You’ve been sitting on the edge of your seat for over a year waiting for this. 

Sit back.  It’s here.

In that year since I’ve last raced, I too have been waiting.  Waiting to race, waiting to stop fearing pain.  You see, since then I’ve encountered three stress reactions.  The first one – it just happens, right?  The second one on the other leg – might as well aim for balance!  The third one – second time on the same leg – now I’m getting angry.  This doesn’t just happen – again!  Blood panels, bone density scans, strength training, physical therapy – I searched it all, I’m very healthy!  But the pain kept coming back.  Finally, after a lot of thinking, asking and trial + error, we uncovered what seemed to be the cause – biking (pedals, cleats, pedaling technique). 

After a few changes, I was back on my way to running. 

A cautious and slow return to running starting in late May.  Finally in late July I felt it was time to race again.  Confident?  No.  Ready?  Not really but at some point you have to close your eyes, take a leap and trust there’s 20+ years of triathlon fitness to catch you. 

I signed up for the Wauconda Sprint Triathlon.  The night before I felt excited.  It was time.  Finally.  I threw all of my triathlon stuff in a bag and couldn’t wait to wake up.

I get to race today

Race morning was going smoothly.  Until I had that feeling.  You know the one that tells you to check the pedals on your bike in back of the car?  Me neither but I had been playing around with my pedals, cleats and seat position.  Worse than if you give a mouse a cookie (or a cat a cupcake, yes I’ve read them all), if you give Liz Waterstraat a wrench very bad things can and will happen.  15 minutes away from home I realized I had the wrong pedals.  Drive back home.  Grab both pedals and ALL OF THE WRENCHES (except THE wrench you actually need).  Drive an hour north to get race ready.

It goes without saying: I’m no bike mechanic.  Thank goodness every race has a bike mechanic on site.  So I quickly made my way to the bike mechanic and handed him my pedals.  He looked at my bike, looked at the pedals, looked at me and said “Do I even want to know?” 

No.

Next up – set up transition.  Small problem: I didn’t have my race number or timing chip.  You see, those were in the possession of Phil.  By six degrees of Jen Harrison separation I was able to connect with Phil, who lived in Wauconda, to pick up my race packet.  So I had to explain this situation to the official guarding transition.  Rightfully so she seemed hesitant.  I knew my race number, even had it marked on my body. See, SEE?  Trust me, I am #219 …. and then I showed her my arm which had been marked with…216. 

Please?

“I’ll let you in but in 10 minutes I’m coming to find you.”

Fair. 

Next – find Phil.  I went to Phil’s spot in transition.  No Phil.  Meanwhile, transition was closing in 10 minutes, I had no race numbers, no timing chip, I was marked with the wrong race number.  At this point, I switched from typical pre race anxiety to frantic search for Phil.  The entire transition was searching for Phil. 

Phil?

Phil??

PHIL!?

5 minutes to go.  I knew the race official who sympathized with my situation and anxiety.  At this point I should have been disqualified for wrong number, no chip, wrong rack, general pain in the ass-ness and let’s not forget hopping the transition fence multiple times to TOTALLY FREAK OUT to the timing chip  company.  Possibly in an effort to get me to calm the f*ck down, they finally just gave me a new timing chip.   

Renumbered, racked and ready to go – I left transition.  With less than 30 seconds to spare.

Next – wait in line for the bus to get to the swim start.  This long line until someone shouts LIZ!  Liz?  That’s me.  Who who …. it’s Mark.  From my Ironman group back in 2011.  We boarded the bus together.  He tries to go to the back seats.

Mark, take the first seat.  It’s Sunday morning at 6 am, we’re grown adults standing barefoot in neoprene on a school bus – any attempt to be cool by sitting in the back of the bus escaped us a long time ago.   Plus, we’ll be first off of the bus.  

Liz, it’s years later and you’re still coaching me.

Once at the swim start, it starts pouring rain.  The type of rain that comes not in drops but in sideways sheets across the lake.  The Olympic race starts and then they began the sprint waves.  I hopped to the front of the line and notice the woman next to me – no wetsuit. 

Interesting…

Now, I’m a pretty nice gal.  But if you find me next to you at race chatting you up it’s not because I want to be your friend.  I’m trying to learn more about you.  Honestly – this is my favorite part of racing:  strategy.  The ability to play the game.  I have never, ever been motivated by PRs or fast splits.  I want to outrace you.  Outsmart, outlast, outpace you. 

And so, we started chatting.  I wanted to know what motivated someone to hop to the front of the line, no wetsuit, in a race.

Possibility #1:  limited experience. 

Have you done this race before?  She says yes.

Possibility #2:  she’s a freakishly fast swimmer.

We chat about the course.  The bike is hilly.  She tells me she cannot wait to get to the run. 

In my head, I am forming my race plan.  

The countdown begins.  The rain drives into the lake.  We are called to the starting line.

She takes off ahead of me and confirms possibility #2.  It’s officially a race.  Good.  I wanted a race today.  I sat on her feet for a few minutes before I lost her in the murky skies and pouring rain.  After a measurably long swim, I exited the water, bare feet on concrete, ripping off cap and goggles and then … I feel it.

That feeling.  Of pure excitement, joy, love for the sport, caught up the moment of what you’re doing wishing you were no other place – that feeling.  The feeling I use as a litmus test after time off to see if I’m really still invested in the racing.  Is it worth it?  The time away from the kids, the shuffling of the schedule, the physical effort. 

It is.  Dammit I missed racing.

On to the bike the rain continues to beat down to the ground.  I’m thinking of two things:

Time to go chasing. She’s out there on course, I’m chasing.  Until I find her, I need to go as hard as possible. The watts don’t matter – it’s all about the effort.  In fact, I didn’t even look at my power meter during the race.

Beyond that, all I’m thinking about is driving the bike well. You can gain lots of time at lower effort but simply paying attention to your position, cornering, climbing.    

After a very wet and wild ride, I’m back to transition.  The moment of truth: after 6 weeks off of running, no runs longer than 40 minutes in the last 8 weeks, walking 1 minute every 10 minutes, no “speed”work – would I remember how to run?  And if so, how would my legs feel?

You know how they felt?

AMAZINGLY FANTASTIC.

Running out of transition, I hear the fast footsteps of someone coming up on me.  Dear god.  Already?  As she makes the pass, I see “23” written on her leg.  She’s wearing run shorts and a cotton t-shirt.

Relay?  I ask.

(please say yes please say yes)

Yes, relay.

Excellent.  Now time to go hunting for the woman who is in 1st place.  Up ahead, I see her about a half mile later.  I am focused.  My legs are moving way faster than they have any business moving.  Pace?  I don’t look at pace.  Nothing will come from me knowing I am going way too fast other than a bunch of disruptive chatter my mind will use to scare me. 

Keep going.  Faster. 

There she is. I make the pass.  Immediately I realize she is running side by side with one of my athletes: Ben.

There are many things you wish to never run into on the course race:  a bear, snakes, a car, another competitor.  Add to that list – BEN.

He immediately bolts trying to keep pace with me.  There I am trying to not just pass but pass with authority – stone-faced, giving the illusion of control though inside my lungs are pleading STOP!  Please stop already! After a few hundred feet, Ben admits defeat, tells me I’m too damn fast.  I keep running. 

Now it’s time to put time on her.  I just need to hold this pace for another mile before I can let up, catch my breath before making a final push to the finish line.  We approach a hill.  This hill, make a move.  I outclimb and that’s it.  The race is done and won.  I enjoy the downhill into the finish line.

After a year away, it felt good to be back.  Of course my chest burned, I had post race kennel cough and I was buzzing on the adrenaline all day but for a little over an hour on that day, I was reminded of what it feels like to be racing.  It felt so good to be back that when I got home, I signed up for my next race:

The Naperville Sprint World Hometown Championship

Perch yourself on the edge of the chair again.

To be continued …