By 3pm the course was set and I took advantage of being onsite to do a preview swim of the course and practice my transitions in the actual TA. Thanks Greg and crew for leaving the tents just high enough for my short self to duck under while running with my bike. Sometimes it does pay to be a shortie!
Afterward I picked up my race packet and settled in to a lovely country home I found through AirBnb. I was in bed by 7:30pm, asleep by 9pm. Despite struggling to sleep all week long, I had a very restful 8 hrs if sleep that night and awoke feeling happy, refreshed, relaxed and excited for the day ahead (Major positive #1) I arrived at the race site plenty early, had my gear organized in TA and was in the water with enough time for a solid swim warm-up, whereas typically I'm running behind and cutting this very much important warm-up short (Major positive #2).
Swim: At 8:08AM the horn went off for the one and only female wave of the event. I went out aggressively to find a solid position within the pack, but quickly found my own "bubble" and throttled back a gear to a more sustainable, steady swim flow. I am very proud of my swim in that I maintained good form throughout, did well with sighting and swimming straight (always a time-saver :) and felt at peace mentally (major positive #3). I have my coach to thank for that, as he does a stellar job in prepping us for the specific challenges of open-water swimming despite completing most training in a pool. As I exited the water, I heard someone say I was the 9th female and was right behind swim-group lane mate Cortney. Again, I couldn't have asked for a better swim! (12:22 for 750 yrds).
T1: This went as well as I expected given it being the first race of the season and my limited practice prior to race day. Major "oops" was placing my sunglasses on my head, rather than over my eyes, where they remained tucked under my helmet for the entire duration of the bike. Doh!
Bike: The bike was fast, furious, chaotic and simply not a good day for me whatsoever (in light of having MUCH better cycling fitness, it was my slowest bike split on this course in comparison to racing there in 2009 & 2010). In hindsight, as I told my coach, it was simply a perfect storm of circumstances that made for a rough day of racing. My legs were less than rested due to the 70-mile long ride I completed just a few days prior, and the short, hilly course is not exactly one that suits my strengths, but more importantly, a building sense of frustration in regards to cycling as of lately simply got the best of me mentally. None meant to be excuses, but certainly important to acknowledge in order to learn from and improve upon moving forward (41:24 for 12 miles, ave 17.5 mph)
T2: I nailed my flying dismount and my running shoes slipped on without issue. After a deep sigh of relief, I grabbed my visor and race belt and took off for the run.
Run: I knew the run was going to be a challenge, and mentally I worked towards regaining composure and focus after a frustrating bike. After cresting the first hill and the "jelly" in my legs resolved, I felt strong but not speedy and aimed to take the course one rolling hill at a time (major positive #4). I have been focusing a lot of energy on efficiency and endurance, so redlining effort-wise as is required in these sprint triathlons was particularly challenging for me to achieve. Again not aiming to use that as an excuse, but simply acknowledging what is and the need to push outside my comfort zone in that regard. I assertively passed one female within the first mile, and then slowly worked to pick off others. I was delighted to see my coach running strong, Cortney looking solid and happy in 2nd place and other locals running well. All gave me an extra boost mentally and helped me to continue pushing forward to the finish (23:43 for roughly 3.3 miles/"5k" 2nd fastest female run split of the day, major positive # I don't know I've lost count now :)
I finished on a strong note, first in my age group and 5th overall female. More positives! In hindsight, I still had plenty of energy reserves left in the bank, but mentally I was simply drained, exhausted and relieved to be done. I wanted to quickly put the race and the week leading up to it behind me, though I knew that wasn't realistic nor healthy. "Focusing on the positive" is easier said than done, and in the moment I was far from my normal chipper, smiley self. No I didn't perform my best and physically-mentally-emotionally it was a tough day, but another major positive became extremely evident to me after the race: the beautiful community of athletes and supporters I am blessed to call my friends.
When I transitioned back to the sport 2 years ago, I did so with a renewed sense of excitement but also very out of touch with the triathlon community and lonely in that regard. Though it has taken some time, after Saturday's race it was clear to me that things have definitely evolved for the better and that I am blessed with some pretty amazing friends and supporters within the triathlon community and beyond :)
Special thanks to my husband for the extra support and encouragement he provided in the days leading up to the race; my coach Jim McGehee, who I had the pleasure of racing against for the first time (he kicked my butt, as I fully expected him too!!); Mark Long, wonderful friend and leader in Christ; Cortney Martin, role model athlete and friend who also did a stellar job in kicking my butt Saturday; Tanya LeRoith, with whom I happily shared a bike rack and whose presence put me at ease pre-race (whether she realized it or not :) and Bill Huckle for the fantastic race photos found in this report. Also a special shout out to Sean, for getting me out the door and on my bike yesterday for a ride that did a lot to improve my mood and regain some big-picture perspective on why we do what we do as athletes.
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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