Earlier this spring, I managed to book a place to stay within 15 minutes of the race site thanks to AirBnB. That was MAJOR when it comes to having a low-stress morning!!! We arrived on site at about 5:20 and I quickly racked my bike and laid out some transition gear to take advantage of prime location on my bike rack. I then went back to the car and sat for about 45 minutes, enjoying my coffee and hanging with my guys. It was quite lovely!
Once it got light (roughly 6:15 AM), I went back out to the transition area to finalize my set-up. Yes that's a My Little Pony strapped to my bike rack: I find that a little humor goes a long way on race day :) And can you guess what my favorite color is?!? After a quick warm-up on the bike to test my gears, I re-racked my bike, suited up, and made my way to the swim start.
Much like last week, the water was COLD and I didn't want to get in for a warm-up. I sucked it up and did so anyway because I know I swim much better when I do. I felt relaxed, happy and excited to race, though slightly anxious about the chilly conditions. The water temperature was 66 F, but air temp in the low 50's.
When the horn went off for my swim wave, I took off aggressively to establish myself within the pack. We practice this a lot in training, so in a way it has become second nature! After a few minutes, I settled into a more sustainable rhythm while working to actively focus on my swim form and cadence. It's pretty cool to have all the guidance of your coach echoing through your mind while you race, and I truly think it made a huge difference when it comes to this swim. I felt calm, confident and focused... and almost like a flying fish! The sensation of gliding across the water as I did during this race was truly phenomenal... and while it's difficult to smile while swimming, I was smiling on the inside!! Usually there comes a point in these longer swims when I think "are we there yet?" but not this time. I was so focused on the task at hand that the distance flew by.
The run from the swim finish to transition area is my least favorite, because I always struggle to gain my legs. Thankfully the wetsuit came off just fine and I worked calmly but efficiently in T1 to prep for the bike.
While my actual transition went fairly well, my bike mount was a bit of a disaster (or perhaps we should say comical?). I LOVE the flying mount and am generally well-practiced with it. That said, the mounting line of this race is on an uphill. Despite having practiced the day prior, I forgot to take into account that cold body = less coordination. Take 1: I failed to get proper momentum and ended up completely turned around and falling over. My dad and hubby were watching from a far and my dad apparently commented "Is she ok?" (Jordan just laughed). Take 2: I stopped, but one foot IN my cycling shoe and proceeded from there. Much better. Honestly it was totally fine because it gave me something to laugh at in the early miles of the bike... it happens!!!
It was slow getting out of the park because it's mainly an uphill and I got caught behind a car and could not legally pass. I knew the first 10 miles were the hardest elevation wise so didn't fret to be slow overall to really get moving. From there, I felt strong, but had difficulty elevating my heart rate into the appropriate "zone" and struggled to understand why. While I made my best guess regarding the conditions and I ended up underdressed and I know my body was cold. That factor in itself caused me to feel a bit anxious during the bike, but I also knew that my only option was to keep moving. The major downfall of my bike is that I tend to under-drink when its cold. Since the majority of my calories were in the form of sports drink, I ended up under-fueling during this portion of the race (I took in roughly 37 grams carb/hr vs my usual 55-60 grams/hr). It would have been an easy adjustment to make and definitely offers a lesson learned moving forward (this is really my first longer race in colder conditions).
Overall the bike flew by, which is a GOOD sign, though I definitely lost focus and motivation to push in the last 5-10 miles. During the race it simply felt as if I became complacent, but in hindsight I know that was attributed to lack of calories. Usually I am good about listening to such signs and signals from my body, but on this particular day I think the cold simply served as a distraction. I was so focused on getting to the run where I knew I'd be warmer that I forgot to tend to my body's energy needs.
Thankfully my dismount from the bike was MUCH more graceful. I quickly ran my way into the transition area and was delighted to see that the muddy mess from T1 was now covered in straw. This is just one shining example of the wonderful job the VTSMTS series does in taking care of their athletes and rolling with the challenges often presented by weather.
For the run, I opted to put on socks and am thankful I did. Unlike most races, my shoes did NOT have the quick laces on them as I decided against that last minute. In my daily runs I usually just slip my feet into my shoes without taking the time to retie them, thus I opted to give that a try for this race. It worked out just fine! The major hiccup of T2 was more so running off without my watch (I used the quick release system), but luckily I only made it a few yards before remembering.
Prior to this race, my coach challenged me to take the first lap out 10-15 seconds per mile slower than I anticipated running for the entire 13.1 distance. On Friday night I clarified what that specific pace would be appropriate, and thus had a very specific plan going into this run. That being said, the cold made it difficult for me to catch my bearings during the first lap and I had no "difficulty" in taking it out "easy." Despite my slower pace, lap 1 definitely felt the hardest! I started the run under-fueled and with my left leg basically numb from the calf down (did I mention it was cold?) I also REALLY needed to pee those first few miles and spent a lot of time debating whether to stop. Finally at mile 3 I realized I was wasting energy thinking about it, stopped to relieve myself and felt 100% better. In general, I felt discouraged during that first lap, but kept fueling, working my cadence and consciously switched my mindset to a more positive tune.
Thankfully, things progressively improved as my body warmed up and the fuel hit my system. My mood and energy lifted and I settled into my mantra of the day: "You are strong, you are beautiful, you are fast!" Every once in a while I threw in "and it's your birthday!" which of course made me smile :) My other mantra was a repeat from IM Louisville "put a smile on your face, make the world a better place." These longer races really are about patience and perseverance: just because you're feeling crummy at one point doesn't mean things will or have to stay that way. I gained confidence, energy and deeper focus as I progressed through the run, and on the last lap I could not believe how incredibly strong I was feeling!! And while I was excited to be feeling good, I also knew the importance of continuing to tend to my body's fueling needs. Unlike the bike, I fueled incredibly well during this run and it showed in those final miles.
Lap data, per my coach (each lap was approx 4.3 miles):
Lap #1: 8:47 pace, 153 ave HR
Lap #2: 8:13 pace, 157 ave HR
Lap #3: 7:50 pace, 166 ave HR
As I approached the finish line, I was hurting but also elated and smiling. It wasn't the perfect day of racing for me, but still a day spent doing what I love. Ending on a strong note and sharing that moment with my husband, dad and sister was without a doubt the icing on my birthday cake :)
Naturally I was elated to later learn that I placed first in my age group and 6th overall female! Full results available here.
Post-race has been a bit interesting as I try and process the day's results. A major take away from this weekend is that it's ok to be incredibly happy with a race performance and yet at the same time be hungry for something greater. I tackled the challenges of the day and came out on top - that in itself spells personal success. Every race provides the opportunity to take lessons learned and translate them into even better performances in the future. I am proud of this performance because, even though it wasn't the swim/bike split or final time outcome I was hoping for, I maintained a positive mindset throughout and kept pushing. In the words of coach, "I am controlling my mental game," which is far more rewarding than any time or pace measure of success!!!
This week I'm enjoying some MUCH deserved down time from working and racing (a staycation of sorts) and working on house projects! Then it's back to training in prep for the Mountains of Misery Century Challenge (May 28th), Chattanooga SwimFest 2.4 mile OWS (June 3rd) and the Varmit Half Marathon (June 10th), and then Ironman Chattanooga in September.
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and endurance athlete residing in southwest Virginia alongside her husband and dog. Through this blog she aims to share favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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