|USAT Nationals in Burlington, VT|
Of course, it still had to be in England. But when I learned that the 2013 ITU Age Group World Championship would be held in Hyde Park, London - I now knew this was THE international race I was meant to do. Hyde Park was a place I knew. A place I loved. The one urban park I've spend more time running in than any other. And there was one way to get there - with a top-18 finish in my age group at the USAT National Championship in Burlington, Vermont.
In a season that had become a deluge of pitfalls, downfalls, unfinished races, illness, injury, and general beating up of myself both mentally and physically, I decided that if I could do ONE thing right this year, it HAD to be this.
Getting to London would come at a price, though. It would mean letting go (mentally) of my Ironman goals. After racing in Burlington last year, I knew it would be next-to-impossible to excel at both short- and long-distance triathlons and work full-time. Discussions (with family members) were had. Big questions were asked. Priorities were rearranged. Sanity may or may not have been restored.
I did not emerge unscathed.
But I did emerge with priorities. The first one was to get to London. I knew from last year's seventh place finish that I couldn't take anything for granted. Age group nationals is no joke. Everyone is fast. I was a year older, a new bunch of super-fast 45-year-olds were now in my age group, and I had spent the last two years training at long slowness. Two short races this year further underscored the fact that my speed had left the building long ago and would require major coaxing to return to my life. But I wanted this bad enough to redevelop that love-hate relationship with my watch and the track, I didn't have a lot of time, and I still had Ironman Louisville in my future. (But that's another story. I'll save it for next weekend.). So I did short speed work during the week and saved the weekends for just enough LSD work to get me to the Ironman finish line.
|This might just be the best Italian restaurant in Vermont|
After racking my bike Friday evening, my husband Jim and I got out of town for dinner at the same restaurant we ate at last year - the awesome Sarducci's in Montpelier. Two glasses of wine with dinner was enough to send me off to a good night's sleep.
|Morning on Lake Champlain|
My usual nerves didn't kick in until I was in the lineup and on my way to the start. The wind was pretty strong and the water was choppy to say the least. I chose to wear my wetsuit this year unlike last year because the water temperature was measured at 73 degrees. (In retrospect, I wish I hadn't because the water seemed much warmer.)
My wave was further delayed and we were advised to get out of the water. It was the only time during the day that I was happy to be in my wetsuit because the air temperature (low-to-mid-60s) was cooler than the water. My wave was finally given the go-ahead to get back in the water, and within about two minutes, we were lined up and the starting horn was fired.
|The start is on the other side of that building|
(purple caps = women 45-49)
The transition zone this year was a very long rectangular shape. Because I practiced, I had no trouble finding my bike. The only thing that slowed me down was having to sit for a second to get my right leg out of my wetsuit. Shockingly, I beat several women out of transition who beat me out of the water.
Once on the bike, I had no trouble getting into my shoes and by the first stretch, I could tell I already felt better than 2011. The 40K bike course is mostly rolling hills with quite a few turns. There were two big obstacles to overcome. The first was the wind. The back portion of the ride was mostly into the wind. The second obstacle was a moving truck. Yes, there was a semi-truck ON THE COURSE. I don't think it was supposed to be there, and I don't know how it got there, but it took up the entire side of the road on which we were riding. I couldn't pass him on the right because there wasn't enough room. I couldn't pass him on the left without risk of crashing head on into other bikers. There were spectators yelling and waving their arms at the driver, but he just stayed his course. The female biker behind me was yelling but I couldn't hear her. My mind was screaming. Finally, against my better judgment, I managed to get past him on the right (with about six inches to spare), and tried to get back (mentally and physically) into the race. Yep, it was the first time THAT ever happened to me in a race.
|Coming into T2 looking confused (probably about my slowness)|
I had to FOCUS.
Riding into T2, I was struggling to shift my mental energy from a slow bike (that already happened and there was nothing I could do about it) to a fast run (that could still happen if I just got my head out of my butt). Think FAST.
I was thrilled that I got my running shoes on faster than usual (but still slow) - another age-grouper passed me in transition. I was forced to quickly run her down right out of the run start. Then I saw Jim. He gave me the news: in my age group, I was likely 7th or 8th with the leader about four minutes ahead. Ok, so, I always knew this was going to hurt.
The first thing runners face in Burlington is a ridiculously steep hill. I backed off and tried to maintain some sense of humor on the way up. The spectators seemed to appreciate it - they gave me several rounds of applause for being the only one smiling. But at the top, it was all business.
|This was as fast as I could go at the finish|
When I crossed the finish line, I no longer cared what my place or time was. I knew I had found the monster. It was still down there. Mostly dormant - or just lurking - but yes, it was still there. And it would now be coming to London with me.
I finished fourth in my age group, 17 seconds out of third, and three minutes behind the winner. My 10K was, sadly, not under 40 minutes, but at 40:19, it was more than a minute faster than I had run in two years. I came away from this race with a bike split (1:12:05) two minutes slower than last year, a swim split (23:44) two minutes faster, and an overall time (2:19:23) one minute faster, and plenty of room for improvement.
And perhaps, best of all, I'm finally able to look forward to a new year and not back at a bad one.
|Standing on the podium: free|
|Signing up for Team USA for London: priceless|