For my July race I had to make a decision between heading up to Xterra Skyhigh in New York or tackling the Litchfield Hills Olympic on-road race. Litchfield seems to be a local favorite — one of those races that everyone and their mother has done. Since I hadn’t done it yet I was feeling a little FOMO [that stands for ‘Fear of missing out’, Mom]. So even though in my mind the dirt *almost* always wins after a conversation with my coach I decided to get my tri bike off the trainer and see if I remembered how to ride on the road.
The weekend before the race I took the tri bike out three times — which was cumulatively more pavement than that bike has seen in several months. The road saddle I use on the trainer came off, tri saddle went back on, I got to use the new tri shoes Henry had gotten me this winter and I found myself pulling out sleeveless tops from the bottom of my ‘cycling crap’ drawer. Just like that, I was a road traithlete again. After 3 outdoor rides on the tri bike in so few days Henry expressed deep concern that I was turning back into a roadie, that if this kept up I would be tempted to do another Ironman ….. no worries on that front …. at least not for a while.
Although the few shake out rides went well, I was a little nervous because I have virtually no experience at the Olympic distance. Do you red-line the whole time? Do you pace it? Usually my answer to such questions is ‘red-line or bust’ but thankfully I have a coach who tries to reign me in.
Uneventful. On the drive over Henry constantly reminded me that another reason Xterra races are better [than road tris] is because of the later start time, he could’ve slept in, yada yada yada, crank music up.
When we arrived however, I had to agree with him. Despite getting there right when transition opened there were tons of people around! Ugh. All these type-a triathletes getting there early. Bastards. Racks are assigned by group, but not a specific spot. I’m usually picky about my location if given a choice so I tried to rush into transition, only to get turned away (with a smile) until my bike number was affixed and my body marking completed. Again, clearly not at an Xterra. Once that was taken care of I rushed in again — only to find that my rack was full of the [damn] overachievers. Middle of the rack it was. Luckily my bright pink bar tape makes my black bike a little more conspicuous.
I did my usual pre-race routine. 12 trips to the port-a-potty, rearrange transition 6 times, try on my helmet 4 times, re-do ponytail and re-try helmet on twice, count racks from swim in and bike in, slip shoes on and off, debate and bemoan equipment choices (pro tip: don’t do that morning of), check that my bike was in a baby gear one last time and head down to the water for warm up – with an obligatory bathroom stop one last time on the way down while Henry rolled his eyes at me.
Best part of this race? Ladies got to go first! A rarity that I can’t help but celebrate. THANK YOU HMF for this! For a “swimmer” it is a nice change to not have to swim over people in a fight to the front. Pink caps went off first and like a shot someone took off. I was pushing and pushing my pace, watching them swim farther and farther away from me. The whole swim I think I was consumed by thoughts of “who the heck is this girl” and “guess that swim training isn’t paying off after all coach!” Anytime I think I’d make headway on that lone cap out front, I’d look up a second later only to find I’d fallen off the pace. Eventually I had to resign myself to the fact that I would be chasing on the bike — not a position I usually like to race in. “Minimize the damage” became the new mantra.
I got to the swim exit feeling like I had put in a bad [for me] swim. Then my loyal sherpa assured me “they were a relay, it was a dude!” Suh-weet. No longer chasing. It takes some of the pressure off, but now you’re the hunted. Time to move.
T1 was uneventful. Everyone had warned me about the run to transition which is about a quarter mile up a gravel hill. But yet another shout out to Xterra for the prep – it wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating – and I made it to my rack with some breath to spare. After this race I have a love-hate relationship with my tri bike. I felt FAST, which is an awesome feeling. Until you’re stopped two miles in, having to get off the bike and pick up a dropped chain. As I was on the side of the road swearing profusely waiting for the first female to fly past me, I got the chain back on and hit a uphill with 0 momentum. What is actually 20 seconds feels like 20 minutes in a race. I remained convinced a pass was coming. Pause for a thank you to the relay dude for helping me put in a commanding swim performance and thanks to that turned out I had a lot more breathing room than I thought.
I had a race plan based on power, but I also had a lot of adrenaline after the 1st dropped chain (don’t worry #2 is coming still) so I pushed the flats were I could and tried to find my groove again. The first half of the course is fast. Cruising along I just tried to avoid the road debris and chewed up pavement.
Around halfway through I got past by the first male, right before that or after that (my mind blocked out the trauma) I hit a pothole. Instantly something was not right. By about 2 inches. My seat post had slipped. I felt the power drop, I felt my knees practically hitting my chest. About 2 minutes later I felt my chain throw to to the outside of my big ring again. Screaming in frustration (really hope no one heard this less than lady-like curse fest) I was able to ride it back on the ring. Mentally I was now running on rage. I couldn’t even look at my power as I headed into the climbing because it was impossible to stay seated. For those who are familiar with cycling it is usually advantageous to stay seated and spin up the climbs, you save your legs – which in a triathlon means a stronger run. Standing up will give you a little burst of power, but cooks your legs. Unfortunately with the lower saddle height I had no choice but to stand up and muscle up the climbs. And there were a lot of them — the entire back half of the course seemed to go uphill. My bike went from feeling fast to painfully slow. I was mentally cursing my equipment manager (who also happens to be my Sherpa, and my boyfriend). The mental cursing might’ve turned into cursing out loud when I got back to T2.
“You’ve got a comfy lead — you can walk the run if you want”
“I’m going to have to f**king walk, my seat slipped” — maybe not a shining moment of patience.
Coming off the bike my legs felt like jelly and I felt like a newbie again. Out of frustration I was ready to run, even if my legs were slow to join me. I wanted to find that red line and push it again to make up for any time I’d lost during the bike. I had been told the run was hilly and I’d say that was fair. I had a bike escort heading out onto the run, unfortunately my escort seemed to dislike the hills even more than I did. Listening to his mountain bike struggling to shift on the uphills while I shuffled up, I’d curse as he’d then sail past me on the downhills (bastard). Glancing at my watch and seeing the slow pace reflected became mentally painful, a combination of tired legs and the hills, I had to just stop looking. I tried to move my focus from my pace and thoughts of those behind me to the guys running ahead of me. Just keep the pace, find a rhythm and roll. Halfway. 2 miles to go. 1 mile to go. I’d lost my original bike escort on a particularly nasty hill when another cyclist came riding towards me. “Are you a relay? Duathlon?” “Nope I panted, solo triathlon” “Lead female half a mile out,” he chirped into a walkey. Oh thank the lord, half a mile, just go. Before I knew it I could hear music and then I was there.
Races where Henry gets to be there for the finish are extra special — [despite my earlier fury about my seat post] — he works hard to help me get there and his time updates, moments of humor and supportive jeering help more than he knows! This race provided me with enough adversity to be a challenge, enough adversity to make me proud that I was able to rise above the challenges and have a good day, and enough adversity to remind me that no matter how many races I do there is always more to learn.
So lessons from Litchfield:
Even if you think you’re bike is in good shape, it might be a good idea to get it tuned up/checked out before the race.
Even when things go wrong, you can overcome. Just keep adapting and don’t let your brain convince you of defeat before it happens.
Trust your race plan – even when the sh*t hits the fan it will keep you calm and moving forward.
Wedge seatposts suck.
I probably curse too much.