Race: Tri The Parks – John Tanner 4/25/15
Finish Time: 1:14:50
AG Place (F25-29): 1
OAF Place: 1
So race reports are all about divulging the good, the bad, and the ugly, right? Well, although John Tanner is a short race, it was chock full of all of the above. And in typical Susie fashion, let’s make the report for the shortest race of the season the longest…
This race has become the traditional Triathlon Season Opener for the Atlanta Triathlon Club. Although a small, local affair, it attracts some fierce competition and lays the landscape of where ATCers will fall entering the season. And let me tell ya—between the Tour of Sufferlandria (a literal cycling Sufferfest), the USAT National Challenge Competition, and various intra-club competitions throughout the winter—people had worked hard! And I was a bit intimidated. Did I do enough to keep up with the Jones’ (or Rutleges, or Crossmans, for that matter)? Or would I have a lot of catching up to do?
As my second time racing Tanner (and second sprint in general–Sprint the Gaps doesn’t count), I set a very cushy goal of beating last year‘s time, which should have been a cakewalk (or cake swim-bike-run…). This time last year, I worked very erratic hours in the ER at Grady, so I hired a coach to put together a customized training plan since my schedule didn’t accommodate a “cookie cutter” regimen. As I started understanding what it means to train like an athlete, I found that the key to success in endurance sports is consistency–precisely the luxury my work schedule did not allow. Since then, I switched to a job with very regular hours (and not just for triathlon–that’s my story, anyway), which allows me to sleep during the night, a simple bliss I now cherish.
So although I hadn’t raced since Ironman Chattanooga in September, with a consistent schedule, regular sleep habits, an awesome coach to guide me as well as two years of triathlon experience under my race belt, I surely would crush last year’s performance. As a secondary goal, this race served to shake out the cobwebs that had accumulated during the off season. And, oh boy, were there cobwebs!
I awoke bright and early (at an unfathomable hour that I see quite regularly these days), grabbed my belongings and packed a peanut butter and banana sandwich and coffee for the road. The weather forecast called for severe thunderstorms, which came to fruition half way through the hour-long commute to the race site. As my car hydroplaned along the highway darkened by thick sheets of rain and illuminated by the occasional lightning bolt, I took mental inventory of my level of desire to actually race (it was low).
Alas, my bike, my car and myself arrived in one piece. I checked in and socialized with ATC, Podium and ITL friends huddled under a pavilion as we wagered whether this race would actually happen. Ultimately the race director made an excellent decision by pushing the race back one hour and proceeding with the original course. As I waited for the start, I lamented the extra hour I could have slept and felt my caffeine buzz dwindle. Gah! Where can I find more coffee? No where. Oh well.
I struggled into my wetsuit and (for the first time ever) actually swam a few strokes prior to the start. Of course I chose a full-sleeved suit, as I’m pretty sure I’d drown without it. And that would be a whole lot of paperwork. I found a quiet corner of the lake and peed my wetsuit mostly to keep me warm, as my shivers turned to full-body convulsions while I watched the first few waves start (and finish — the first male came in at a swift eight minutes).
Swim 600 meters 12:42 2:37/100m (ugh really?!)
Having gained some level of comfort in the open water, I positioned myself near the front of the wave of swimmers, hoping to catch the feet of someone fast (but not too fast). The announcer counted down the last 30 seconds to the start, and off we went. I must say that this was the second most physical swim I’ve every undertaken with only 70.3 Worlds (not surprisingly) out-violence-ing it. Granted, my first handful of races, I waited “ten Mississippi’s” before I started to allow myself some space to swim in. I battled elbows in the gut, feet in the face, and some chick who zigzagged impressively wide with each stroke–and seemed to have some sort of magnetic field sucking her right back in my way each time I tried to shake her. Luckily my goggles and my facial features survived intact (darn, no excuse for a nose job…).
Before I hit the first turn buoy about 200 m out (?), I had already nearly swum over a gentleman floating on his back. I empathized with him, recalling my perceived struggle on the same course last year (which was still [spoiler alert] significantly faster than this year). I turned as well as I could and finally found a rhythm headed to the second buoy. Unfortunately there were no feet to be found, though. I focused on long strokes and calming my breathing, which remained jacked up. I passed a few gents from the wave prior, but mostly people passed me. Oh well. I’ll catch ‘em on the bike!
I turned around the second buoy and saw the finish closing in. I felt lightyears better than this point last year, so I chalked that up as a success. But I was still frustratingly tired by the time I reached dry land despite the short distance.
It seems as though the longer I continue to swim, the slower I become… Which was confirmed at this race, as my swim was over a minute slower than last year’s (which was in super cold water without a wetsuit—there’s no excuse for why I didn’t beat it). Although I’ve admittedly never given swimming the good ole college try out of loathing for the discipline. Lately, though, this strong hatred has evolved into merely mild aversion, so I’m hoping to reach the point where I actually enjoy the water and feel compelled to train enough to improve. But that’s beside the point.
Room for improvement remains for sure… Perhaps a swimtervention.
I emerged from the water lightheaded and wobbly as per usual. This is the excuse I’m going to stick with for the events that ensued. And I’ll go ahead and use it for T2 as well. I pulled down the top of my wetsuit and yanked off my cap and goggles as I jogged up the slope to the transition area. I easily found my spot and deftly threw on my shoes and helmet. I mounted my bike at the line and set out. So far so good! Until I fumbled with the visor on my helmet as I simultaneously glanced down at my aero bottle, noticing that I forgot to clip it in AGAIN!! Seriously, Susie?! Again?? (I’ve since started taping it down). All of this serendipitously occurred precisely when I hit a speed bump, sending my aero bottle flying and toppling me over into an embarrassing yard sale. I nimbly hobbled over to grab the bottle, hopped back on my bike, and took off without getting pancaked by an oncoming cyclist in a maneuver I refer to as “the Frogger” (I’ve unfortunately had much practice at it). Corey–a first time triathlete (who rocked it!!)–witnessed the whole debacle as she passed by. You would have thought I was the first timer… At least it wasn’t captured on film… I shook it off and then the actual race began!
Bike 13.8 miles 38:54 – 21.3 mph
I made a concerted effort to avoid the unintentional sandbagging of last year’s race (I was too conservative on the bike for sure). I’ve heard that you’re supposed to essentially “red line” an entire sprint. As my coach put it (and I paraphrase), if you feel completely in control, you’re not going fast enough! I aimed to keep my power above 220 and let myself push it up the hills more than I usually would. And, of course, work those downhills! Woop woop! Let me tell ya—I was flying. I felt fast.
I suppose the silver lining of swimming super slow is you enjoy the thrill of passing everyone on the bike (well, nearly everyone…). After about fifteen minutes, I did get a little nervous about going out too hard considering the relatively short but challenging run that awaited my tired legs. I derailed that train of thought reeeal fast. Pssht! Who needs legs anyway?! And I stepped it up a notch. About half way through the bike, I passed Jacklyn and then Bethany and then Carrie—the three fasties I knew I had to watch for. To stand a chance against their running skills, I knew I needed to pedal some serious pavement between us. I later learned that Carrie lurked closely behind me for the remainder of the bike.
For nutrition, I had been testing out BASE performance‘s “rocket fuel”–a combo of their hydro + salt + amino powders. And it seemed to do well for me! Although a sprint isn’t much of a test. We’ll really see how it stacks up against the distance and heat at Chattanooga 70.3. As a girl that needs to eat, I noshed on a larabar as well.
It wasn’t until the end of the bike that the one and only person passed me–a guy who had clearly started the race well before me. Like a typical dude, immediately after I passed him, he kicked it in high gear to pass me–only to slow down again. When I passed him again, he did the same thing again. Really? We leap-frogged like this for the last few miles with me staying nice and consistent, and this brah burning matches with each machista acceleration. Which I suppose isn’t a huge deal for him in a sprint distance race. Just annoying for me.
The wildly entertaining flipbook-worthy series of photos that followed confirmed that my foot did not cross that dismount line! If there was any question of my integrity before this race, I now have solid photo evidence to prove that Susie does not break a rule! Unlike my T1 topple, I somehow managed to maintain my balance and awkwardly dismount without flying over the handlebars. It’s time to learn that flying dismount! If that wasn’t enough… while I had strategically set up my transition on the outside of the bike rack so that I could simply run down the far side of the parking lot, I failed to notice the giant planter obstructing my path. I ungracefully maneuvered my bike and myself around it and racked my bike next to the one and only lowly bike. I think I’m in second! It felt awesome to have made up some serious time on those wheels. Shoes on (no socks!), grabbed visor and race belt and took off on the run. I still had work to do.
Run 3.1 miles 21:19 – 6:53 min/mile
Heading out of transition, I heard ATCers cheering me on, which is always a lift! Someone shouted that I was in second, which is also hugely motivating. Almost immediately after, I heard cheers for Carrie, so I knew she was right on my tail with Bethany surely right behind her. Both of these ladies have serious running speed to catch me!
I headed off onto the beautiful wooded path adjacent to the lake–the relatively flat, shaded and serene calm before the hot and hilly storm that lay ahead. My legs felt like lead, but I focused on keeping a high cadence to push the effort beyond comfortable (but hopefully not too far). And I refused to look at my watch to see what pace this achieved. When I gave in and looked down about 3/4 mile in, I was pleased to see a pace under seven minute miles!
It took every ounce of my being (that wasn’t suffering on this run) to prevent myself from looking back to see if Carrie and Bethany had creeped up. This would not only slow me down but also psych me out. Jeez did this take a lot of effort! Maybe I could have even knocked off a few seconds if I put that toward running haha. In my head, I knew it was only a matter of time before they caught me. I just wanted that time to be later (like after the finish line).
I allowed myself to slow a bit on the ascent and tried to pick it up on the way down (easy up! hammer down! as I learned at 70.3 worlds). With every hill, I seriously considered taking a walk break. You’re better than that, Susie! Seriously?! This is a SPRINT! 3.1 miles! You can’t WALK!! There may have been a couple profane words peppered between the exclamations. An internal battle transpired with literally each climb.
I eventually made it to the turn-around and knew that the back half would be relatively easier, but not without the back side of the hills I managed to trot up. There’s no walking in SPRINTS! You’re better than walking, Susie! Now I had the opportunity to stalk my stalkers. Carrie lurked maybe 50 feet behind me and Bethany 50 feet behind her. I was sure that both of them would catch me. With each hill, I expected Carrie to roll up beside me, cheerfully pass on words of encouragement as the ATC’s most humble and under-acclaimed athlete. And while Bethany amazingly participated in this race despite a root canal the previous day, she certainly has demonstrated an inhuman toughness that enables her to perform well even during the most debilitating of conditions. If she has enough pavement, she will certainly run me down!
Other ATCers passed on the way out and cheered me on. While I tried to return the favor, I only managed to utter a couple grunts. I made it back to the gravel road and knew the finish awaited down a hill and up a hill. Again, I refused to look behind me and pushed with whatever I had left in the tank.
I crossed the finish second female overall. The last time I placed overall was my very first triathlon at Eleven Lake Oconee. I cooled down, grabbed a recovery beer and joined fellow ATCers to cheer on the rest of the finishers. I’m still convinced that Carrie let me win (she raced an Olympic the very next day and placed!) and that Bethany would have caught me had she been healthy or had more pavement. I chatted with Megan, who is not only an excellent athlete, but a super sweet and humble individual. Maybe some day I’ll stand a chance against her… Not any day soon!
Despite the public humiliation of my shaky transitions, overall I had a great race. While my swim was frustratingly slower, my total transition time improved by 26 seconds, my run by 1:04, and my bike by 1:02. Which I’ll certainly accept! Hopefully I got all the blunders out of the way for a smooth season. I certainly need to work on my swim. And my transitions need more help than I knew. It seems as though I’ve reached “the next plateau”, and I’m scared to see what Coach has in store for me next!
Till next time, John Tanner…