Despite all of the nerves and anxiety of last week, I managed to get my stuff in order on Friday night, have a delicious dinner and head to bed by 8:30. I know that is crazy early, but so is 4:30 in the morning when my alarm was set to go off.
I rested in bed before dozing off watching mindless tv and trying not to think about the race.
In spite of the party our new neighbors had that night, I managed to get a good night sleep (poor husband was not so lucky, but good for him, he wasn't racing on Saturday.)
At 4:30am when my alarm went off, I hit snooze, thought briefly about the race and dozed again. 9 minutes later, the alarm chimed a second time and I shut it off, stretched my arms and legs big, and decided to get up.
On Friday, I made sure that I had gotten everything together so that I would not feel rushed or forget something on race morning. After brushing my hair and teeth and getting dressed in layers, I woke husband up and headed downstairs for breakfast. 10 minutes later we were heading out the door just as the sky was changing from the dark of night and the sun was getting ready to peek over the horizon. I love the color of the sky at that time.
We drove to the park and I waited for the nerves to kick in, but they never really did. I was pumped, I was excited, I was ready.
Husband stayed at the jeep to finish a couple of last minute tuning things on my bike while I headed to the check-in tent. I was handed a packet with three copies of my race number (1 for me, 1 for my bike, and 1 for my helmet.) A second person handed me a Vitamin Water backpack full of sponsor information, treats, coupons and my race shirt. Then I ventured into the intimidating lair that would be the transition area.
I felt like I was in over my head, but I just pretended like I knew what I was doing and walked to the front of the transition area where all of the Elite/Pro and veteran racers were setting up. I had read about this part of the race a lot online, so I looked around and found a spot that I thought would work best for me and was easy to find and I began to lay out my things. I had a bright towel so I could recognize my spot when I came through the transition area both times during the race. I layed out my bike shoes and my bike helmet with the strap undone, ready to throw on my head. I opened my clif shots and had them ready for a quick slam. Husband brought my bike to me and I set it in the stand. Determined not to look like a first timer that couldn't find their bike, I walked the transition area twice: the way I would come in from the first run, and the way I would come back with my bike. I counted the racks to my bike from the entrance and from the water cooler in the middle of transition area. I knew where I was going.
After a quick pre-race talk, the organizers kicked everyone out of the transition area to begin staging the start. There were 7 waves of starts based on division and length of the race. There was a short course and long course (I did the short course) and age divisions. I was in Wave E, so there were a lot of people starting before me, and 70 women starting in my wave. My goal was to stay ahead of as many of the other women as I could.
When it was my wave's turn to line up, I found myself in the middle of the pack. Originally, it was my goal to finish in the top 1/2, but as my training progressed, I knew that I would be more successful than that, so I moved closer to the front. 1/3 of the way, still too far. Not wanting to have to fight through a crowd on the opening run, I made my way closer and finally landed in the second row behind the starting line. 10 seconds...5...4...3...2...GO!
With only a handful of people infront of me at the start, I made sure no one from behind came up. As we made the first turn, there were 6 people in front of me. (Husband told me later that by the first 1/4 mile, there was a gap between the front group and the rest of the pack.) Immediately I thought, "7th place is great, if I can just keep close to the other 6 maybe I can pass a couple of them on the bike." Then one started to slow and I passed her, then another, then another. I was in 4th place and felt good. Right on the heels of 2nd and 3rd place, we all ran into the first transition together. They were at the back of the area, while I had strategically placed my bike up front knowing it would be easier to run through the transition area in my running shoes than it would be in my bike shoes toating my bike (no riding in the transition areas).
I shot 1/2 my chocolate Clif shot and took a swig of water, changed my running shoes into my bike shoes, threw my helmet on, and just as I was grabbing my bike I saw the 2nd place girl heading out. I wanted to catch her. Crossing the bike mounting area I jumped onto my bike, and started rolling, I was out of breath, I was shaking, I was FULL of adreneline. She started pulling away from me, and I tried to gain my composure and catch her. On the first climb, I succeeded, and was trying to make ground on her for the rest of the race. After the first climb, racers are treated to a fast, 3/4 mile descent which always makes my eyes water. I flew down it and regained my control steadying my breath. I looked forward for new carrots. The ride is a roughly 10-mile out and back loop, at the turn around I was close to a guy and was determined to catch him. A couple of minutes later, unable to close the gap, I put my chin to the bars, rolled forward on my seat, and dug in, passing two guys in one move. Smiling to myself, I kept pushing on.
3/4 of the way through the bike is a double steep hill, racers would hit one longer, not as steep section before turning at the top for a brief 20 foot rest before a super steep shorter hill. (I found during my training that thinking of it as 2 hills instead of one long one, actually made it seem a little easier.) It was hard, and although I passed someone, it still felt painfully slow.
Again, the course was nice treating racers to a flat stretch at the top of the hard climb before a long, fast downhill. I caught my breath and took a few swigs of water on the flat section, and then went into the drops and spun my legs hard as I cruised down the long descent. So fast actually that because of another racer's near crash at the bottom, husband didn't even see me coming until I sped by him. "Hi baby," I told him.
Only one more uphill, a turnaround, and a return to the transition area left on the bike, I passed a couple more people and flew into the turnaround. Shortly after, I saw the next girl heading towards the turnaround. Again, I dropped into the drops and pushed hard. She had beat me (barely) on the first run, and I knew that I would be hurting for the second, so I needed as much time between us as I could get.
I spun my legs out as I raced to the transition area and jumped off my bike. Again glad to be at the front of the TA, I put my bike back in the stand, stripped my helmet and bike shoes and put my running shoes back on. As I grabbed my 1/2 finished Clif shot from earlier, I saw the next girl come into transition. I needed to move. With a mouth full of chocolate goo, I started running.
Out of the back of the transition area and onto the paved path, my legs felt like they were the size of an elephants legs and were anchored to the ground. Just keep moving.
Husband was ahead on the path cheering me on, and for a minute I forgot about the pain. But just for a minute.
I caught a guy on the road and told him, "Good job." A minute later, another guy passed me and told me the same thing. Turns out he was the leader of the men's long course. They had started 20 minutes before me, but had done twice as much distance as I had...man, these guys were quick! I only saw him for a second before he disappeared in the distance. I pressed on knowing that the next girl could catch me. I told myself that if she did, I would need to be able to keep her close, but in reality, I just didn't want her to catch me at all.
At about mile 1.5 into the 2nd run, there is a switchback and as the path turns, it climbs steep hill. As I was climbing I had full view of the path behind me and I saw her. Damnit...she was getting closer. Just keep moving.
I passed a few more guys, told them "good job" and encouraged them that we were almost done. At the mile 2 sign, I had to pee. 1.1 miles to go, this would either make me faster or make a mess.
A couple more climbs, around the parking lot and downhill to the finish, I knew the course and I was ready to be done. I didn't know how much longer I could hold her off. When I popped out of the trail to cross the road I was suprised by the volunteer telling me to take and unexpected turn. In an effort to add distance to get the full 5k in, the organizers made us run to the end of the road, turn around, and come back to the trail that crossed the road. On the way back from the sudden detour, I saw her. If she had a big kick left in her, she could catch me. I took a deep breath and ran.
Finishing the path, I raced around the parking lot and was grateful to make the run onto the downhill to the finish. I pushed and didn't look back for fear that she would be right behind me. I heard my name as I crossed the finish line and I felt like collapsing. A volunteer handed me a water bottle while another took off my timing chip anklet. I saw husband and he asked me what I needed. I told him that I needed to pee.
It was over. After all of the training, all of the anxiety, all of the time, it was over, and I had done it. A short while later, the organizers started posting the results on a board outside of the transition area.
We searched for my name and didn't have to look far down the list. I was the sixth name on the sheet, having beat the times of all by 4 guys and 1 girl. I beat the third place girl by over a minute, but I felt her chasing me the whole time.
I did it!
As my training progressed my goals had changed. Leading up to the race my final goals were:
1:10:00 total race time
9:30 first run
<24:00 second run
and I thought it was a stretch goal but I wanted to be in the top 10 women.
1 hour 7 minute 1 second total race time
8:13 first run
24:46 second run (This was due to the added detour on the second run)
6th place overall
2nd place woman
1st place age division