To quote an old friend, “racing is like pizza; even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.”
I go to every race wanting to give it my best. If I can focus, race with intensity and stay driven towards giving it my best then I’ve had a good race. No matter what place I finish, no matter how long it takes me. Sure, I’d like to set personal bests and beat my best age group times – but that hasn’t happened yet. It might never happen. I just keep giving it the best I can.
Today I gave it my best. It wasn’t enough.
Last night I couldn’t sleep. I’ve never had trouble sleeping before a race. I laid in bed awake for 3 hours watching time tick by. I couldn’t slow my mind down. I would start to relax then my mind would start spinning again. I was keeping Chris up. I asked him what to do since he sometimes has trouble sleeping before races. His words, “you lay there until it’s go time.”
Up at 3:45 am, I think I drank 32 ounces of coffee to wake myself up and get things going – but I feel like NEITHER happened. Driving to the race site the winds were blowing – hard. The trees were swayed to the southwest as the wind blew from the northeast. It was dark. There was a long line of traffic waiting to get into the canyon.
Finally we arrived. I set up my transition area in the complete darkness. Hoped that I remembered everything then headed to the beach. The water was choppy and skies were dark. At that moment I told myself “when you get in the water you will relax.” And I did. The water felt so warm and relaxing. I warmed up with some strokes and finally felt calm. Sooner than I knew it, it was time to start.
Out to the first buoy I kept up with the front group but slowly they began pulling away. Still, they were always within sight, their arms coming out of the water making white chop visible from a few minutes back. I started drafting off a woman and also had a woman on my feet. This is a good place I told myself, I‘m with people. There is a big difference between swimming with the pros – you rarely use a wetsuit and you often swim alone (unless you can maintain the lead pack pace). To have women around me was a HUGE goal of mine. And, to focus throughout the swim. Focus on your strengths, focus on your plan, focus fully, I kept telling myself. I found a smooth rhythm and at the last turn buoy I picked up the pace. Which then meant I was leading the little pack all the way to the shore.
I exited the water with a few women behind me. I kept telling myself I will get into transition and there will still be other bikes there. THERE WERE! Coming out of transition is a big hill that I climbed conservatively. Then a short ride out of the park. A girl passed me then I passed her back. Then she passed me once we made the turn onto 400 into the wind.
The wind. It was blowing. I know wind. Still doesn’t mean that I’m strong into it. I put my head down. I did the work. The tailwind sections were great. I was cruising over 25 mph and descending into the canyon at nearly 39! But then heading back into the wind after the first turnaround the wind was like a wall that I kept running into over and over again. The good news is that another tailwind section was not too far away. So I kept breaking it up into tailwind/headwind. You work, you relax.
The bike was moving along ok until I was descending the spiral staircase. It started to rain and the riders coming up started crossing the center line. I kept telling myself that the next tailwind was only a few miles away. Around mile 40 I noticed Chris on the side of the road at a van. A man was replacing his rear wheel. Did he crash? I was kind of worried. Chris said “I’m ok! Keep going, Liz!” Turns out that Chris flatted and forget to bring along a valve extender. So using Fix a Flat was not an option. He rode his flat back a few miles to a van that had extra wheels and got a new rear wheel to use. I cannot tell you how proud I am of him for doing that and then finishing. So many racers are so pent up about how their times look or their placement that they would have just called it a day. Chris just finished the job – because he could. Because he was there. Good for him.
Meanwhile, it is now pouring rain. Age groupers have stopped passing me because really how fast can you go in the rain? I was riding through puddles, contending with the wind and getting very wet very fast. At this point I also realized I was going to be on the bike so long I would have to use my emergency gel – the one you pull in case of emergency, ie, in case you are on the bike beyond the original time planned. That wasn’t too motivating but I kept telling myself to stay in the game, keep racing, keep up the intensity. I wasn’t getting anywhere very fast but little by little I was chipping away at this course.
I arrived in transition finally. Seriously, that was a long ride. But what can you do. Like I said, you do the best you can and if that isn’t good enough on a day then….you at least know you gave it your best. Coming into transition I was losing motivation. I squatted for a pee since everything was wet anyways. I looked at my transition area in a puddle. I looked at my running shoes completely soaked. The thought of putting on wet shoes for a 13.1 mile run was not appealing but then I thought of something…
I thought about my athletes. About Molly, Rebecca and Anne riding longer than I just did in the pouring rain at Boise. About my IMCDA finishers last weekend who finished their race in wind and rain. About Stef who had how many flats but still finished Silverman. My other athletes who would KILL for a finishing time that I would get today. And I realized I had no excuse. I had reasons – discomfort, rain, slow time – but those are just that – reasons. Not excuses.
So I went for that run. I told myself to give it a mile, then reassess. I made it to the first mile in the low 7’s – not a great pace but not too bad. I could do this. The next mile was about the same. Keep going. By mile 3 I told myself I had made it halfway to the halfway point so why not go further. There were two big climbs and I passed a pro on one of them. And then I realized that I was no longer in last place. That kept me running. My athletes kept me running. The fact that I just like to race kept me running out there.
By the long stretch of flat road to the turnaround, I was feeling ok. Legs weren’t zippy but they worked. I started seeing female pros and realized there was about a mile between me and a few of them…and I knew that in 6 miles I would not outrun them by 1 minute per mile but still – I give it my best. The motivation now was to just finish and not finish last. You know what – I don’t like that. Trust me, I’ve been to races and won and set PRs and “not finishing last” is not something I have ever had to strive for. None of us are raised to do things to “not finish last.” Ours is a culture of win, do your best, bring home the bronze, silver, gold. But things change. Perspective changes and sometimes your best is not being last. Believe me when I say that not finishing last is as hard as any win I’ve had. It’s not like I coasted to second to last place today. I worked for it.
At mile 9 I caught Chris. I could actually see him ahead most of the race and kept telling myself to keep him in my sights. Finally I did catch up to him at mile 9 when he started running the other way back UP the hill! I had no idea what he was doing – going out for a victory lap? Turns out his stomach dropped and he needed the port-o-let back a half mile. Poor guy. Not a great day for his first pro 70.3 race. I ended up beating him to the line. Later he told me that his only goal for the race was to get to the line first so he could wait for me and we could cross the line together. I think I melted. Because that would have meant a lot to me. Because I know that he worked really hard to get there today and so did I. We didn’t do our best but we gave it our best. We took a risk and raced without consequence.
I crossed the line in one of my slowest ever half Ironman times. Yes that sucks. But I don’t. It took me awhile to finally say that because trust me when I crossed the line I cried and said to Chris “why am I so bad at this?” Sometimes that is what I think. How can you be so good at something and then two years later be so bad? But I also know it’s a completely different level of competition. I will never regret taking this leap and giving it a try. I kept thinking there today that I do many things but I do not give up. If something isn’t going my way that is the price for taking the risk to see – what if…
Chris and I talked over food. It was actually Jeff Keil who suggested we go eat a lot of junk food to feel better about the race. Good call, Jeff, good call. I had a peanut butter brownie and a Texas turtle brownie – both were delicious. Anyways, it was so comforting to talk with Chris and share this with him. Yes we have raced together many times but now that we are both pro he “gets it”. He finally believes me when I said the first 200 meters of the swim are at a pace above balls out, that the game is different, that it’s 10 times more challenging but you will never regret trusting yourself enough to take the step up.
Still, I would be remiss to say that it feels “good” to finish second to last. Or that getting “beat” by age groupers you used to beat is a good feeling. Know what I mean? I see all of that. My stomach sinks a bit. But, I’m learning to let that go. This is about me and my progress. Yes despite a slow time I still make progress. I was less than 5 minutes behind the next pack on the swim. I was slow on the bike but my run wasn’t that far off. Yes I cried about this race and yes it hurts to take all the time to train, prepare and travel to it to finish second to last. Do I regret it? No. As long as you learn something from it, it is not in vain.
At one point, Chris asked me “Liz, do you want to go to Kona again?” I looked at him puzzled. “Do you want to go to Kona?” No, I said. I’ve been there twice. I had good times. “Do you want to medal in your age group at a 70.3 race?” No, I’ve done that many times. “Do you want to win the local sprint triathlon?” No, where are you going with this? “That is why you turned pro. You had nothing left you wanted to do.” And he was right. Chris and I have nothing left to prove, nothing to lose, nothing to fear. We were good amateur athletes. There is nothing wrong with discovering if you are a good or bad pro. If you are a bad pro at least you trusted yourself and let go of your ego enough to try.
The other side of fear is freedom. When you are unafraid to take a leap and step up to the next level you open yourself up to all new possibilities and lessons. Each race is a lesson, you learn something new. Chris may have finished his race over 70 minutes slower than his best half Ironman time but I am guessing he learned about 70 new things today. I know I did. And I will start by listing a few; 1 – leading a swim pack as a pro is a damn cool thing, 2 – I can descend hills at 39 mph in the rain, 3 – I peed on my race flats so it’s time for new ones, 4 – junk food cures any disappointment from a race, and 5 – as long as you get up one more time than you’ve been knocked down you’re on a winning streak.
*We just got back from awards and Chris got a roll down slot to Clearwater. He finished dead last in 5:17. Let me note that his PR for this distance is 4:06. He came out of the water last but was working his way up before the flat. I told Chris before the race to just cross the line – no matter what. Never give up because things aren’t going your way. His big goal for this year was just to qualify for Clearwater. It wasn’t the race he wanted but sometimes when you follow through and finish it for yourself it pays off. I’m so proud of him!