Nervous. Jittery. Thoughts of my taper haunt me. "I still can't get it right." I had just read the token Triathlete Magazine that was in the race packet and there was an article on that Tricky Taper I wrote about a few months ago. (Apparently a lot of people wonder about that Tricky Taper because when I started paying attention to how people found my site, many stumble upon it after Googling "Triathlon Taper.")
"Dammit, Sarah!" I felt all wrong. Felt like I'd rested too much. But at this point, what was I doing crying about it? It's like knowing you have a test the next morning and haven't studied enough. Pulling an all-nighter at this point isn't going to help. I've put my time, energy, emotion and effort in over the last several months and now it's time to GO GET IT!
I reviewed my mantras:
1) Courtesy of Cristi: "Imagine yourself on the fishing line of a Japanese fisherman, being pulled up over those hills painlessly and smoothly."
2) Courtesy of the late Klaus Barth: "You have no idea what the human body can do."
3) Courtesy of Matt: "You're going to have your best race ever."
I had my nutrition plan for the bike: Starting with a Clif Shot Block at 15 minutes in, then alternate every 15 minutes between a piece of a Clif Bar and Shot Block.
I had my swim plan in check. The only true question mark in my mind was the run. I just never know what's going to happen, and until I was set with orthotics, would rather be slightly undertrained than run too much and be out for the rest of the season with injury.
This was my first A Race this season and I felt really ready.
The gun goes off. I am calm and there has never been a race in the last three years where I have ever been this serene. I fight my way in the beginning with a Zen I've never experienced. Simply breathing when I can, I make my way through the mob and before I know it, I am swimming quickly and am able to breathe every 3 strokes. I continue to make progress on realizing that I don't love open water swimming as much as I used to. I note this and move on. My focus is here and now and I want to push myself just enough to go quickly but not so much to lose any extra energy. We're at the turnaround. "19 MINUTES?!" Shit. I'm going much slower than I thought. Wow. Then I realize that it's longer on the way out AND I was fighting a current (tiny, but still a current nonetheless). Phew. Now it's on. I start pulling through the water quickly and begin to reach people from two waves before me. I can tell I'm in the front of my wave - obviously not the fastest, but still up there. The wine barrels approach and the voices begin to get louder. I think about what's next and what my plan is. Go!
I zoom past people and approach what is probably the most anxiety-laden part of this journey: getting my wetsuit off. It always feels like it takes YEARS. As usual, I'm feeling dizzy and trying to step on my suit to pull my leg out. Ugh! I inhale deeply. Calm! One thing at a time.
Wetsuit off, socks on. Shoes. Gloves ("should I put them on once I'm on the bike? No. Now."). Race belt. Sunglasses. Helmet. Throw my crap in the bag and run down the aisle to hand it off to Pat and Matt. Smile and run back for my bike. It's time to RIDE, FOLKS!
I pedal quickly up the slope and turn to the right with a smile. Yes! This is going to be AWESOME!
The course is fresh in my mind from last weekend. I rip down River Road, and feel my riding legs getting warmed up. Before I know it, it's time to turn down to Westside Road and the ride is really going to begin. I breeze past that spot from last year and pay it some homage, briefly reminiscing when I had to pull over to fix my bike seat that had come loose and was falling off, thoroughly bummed that I could see cyclist after cyclist zoom past me; I smile and move on. This is a new year. This is now.
I'm passing people left and right when suddenly, somebody passes me. It's a female. She's got a "28" written on her calf. A challenge! My cadence picks up. I remain just outside of her draft zone behind her. Finally, as I decide I'd like to speed up, I pass her. I stay ahead for a little while, until we hit a couple of nice-sized rollers. She passes me. Again, I stay behind for a little while. Then I make my move and go up ahead. I stay here for awhile until we hit the big hill on Westside Road (by 'big' I simply mean "the biggest one" - not a bad hill by any means, but bigger than the rollers we'd been riding). While I'm a decent climber, I know she's stronger. As she passes by me, I smile at her genuinely, simply to acknowledge that we're about the same speed and hey, too bad we can't team up - we'd be a great pair. However, she looks straight ahead, neither acknowledging me or smiling. Oh well! I'm having an awesome time, and while I would love to be beating her, I must remind myself that this is MY race and for all I know, she could be an amazing runner, and then I'm screwed. I'm not racing the field, I'm racing myself in hopes that the standards I've set will put me above a fair amount of the competition.
I pass her on the downhill, as I know I can descend with full confidence and full speed. It's an easy descent with no surprise turns. Eventually she passes me again and I pay her little mind. I'm in my element now; focusing on my cadence, the power in my legs and just how incredibly happy I am to be here. I'm smiling and it's all I can do not to simply yell out "YES! I LOVE THIS SPORT! I LOVE THIS COUNTY! I LOVE THIS ROAD!" All around me are beautiful green vineyards and rolling hills; the fog has all but burned off and it's turning out to be a gorgeous day in Sonoma County. I feel so lucky to ride this all the time.
Much of the rest of the ride goes like this. I ride between 20-22 mph, maintaining a cadence of 90 or higher, and I savor the beauty that surrounds me. I never get tired of this scenery. Ever.
Suddenly, about 30 miles into my ride, I have a realization. I am being passed by very few people; they tend to be the men in their late 30s/early 40s on super nice tri bikes with sweet wheels. A couple of very talented women. But in all, I am passing a LOT of people. I'm working hard to be this fast. If I had a tri bike instead of a road bike, I have a very good feeling I would be going faster for the same amount of effort I'm putting out. I used to revel in the fact that I would always pass so many people on their tricked out tri bikes while I was on my good ol' Trek Carbon road bike. Now I'm thinking that perhaps it's time I finally own up to the fact that with all the time, energy and money I devote to preparing for race day, I may as well have equipment that will let me perform at my best. Note to self: Time to buy a tri bike.
The ride continues. I make it to the top of Chalk Hill and yell out a loud "YESSSSS!!!." I just kept repeating my mantras to myself. Imagined being pulled up, up, up the hill smoothly, my legs making perfectly smooth, fast circles. It worked! Some guy says "do you know how much farther?" Enthusiastically I answer "oh, only about 10 more miles!" I enjoy the descent, tucking in as much as I can and ripping down the hill.
Before I know it, I'm riding past the cemetery and about to turn right onto the road that will take me to Windsor High School, where my running shoes and hat await me. Just before I turn right, however, I spot a familiar jersey. I look at the leg. Sure enough, there she is - the woman I had encountered only 8 miles into our ride. I pass her, knowing full well that she will likely pass me on the run, but damn! It sure feels good for now!!! I savor my moment and continue on, hearing the cheers of T2 get louder. Runners begin to appear, starting their 13 mile journey. Here I am!
I look at my watch. Damn! I DID IT! I DID THE COURSE IN UNDER 2:45!! That was my GOAL! I'm at 2:44 for the bike. This puts me at 3:21 overall. I begin to crunch numbers in my head as I run toward my spot to rack my bike. My goal is to do this run in 1:55. If I can really do that, I will not only come in under 5:30, not only come in under 5:25, but I COULD DO SUB-5:20!!! I am thrilled at this prospect. Rack the bike. I count about 10 other bikes in transition. Wow. That is SO AWESOME. :D Off I go...
Oh the thrill of just beginning the run!!
This first 1/4 mile is always the toughest. Legs one in front of the other. Keep moving. Don't stop, whatever you do. As Devo says: "GO FORWARD! MOVE AHEAD! IT'S NOT TOO LATE!" I see Pat yelling words of encouragement. I smile and take it in. Mike D. is there with his camera, and as I approach, he pulls out a bag of ice cubes and hands it to me. Thanks, Mike. I begin popping ice. Mmmm.
I follow my rule of walking through each aid station to get Gatorade and pour water over my head. The temperature has risen. It's 11:15 a.m. and already in the mid 80s (F). The wonderful thing is that my nutrition on the bike worked. I don't feel dehydrated; I feel strong; I don't feel bloated or full. Success!
Around mile 4 I realize I can just take in water at the next few aid stations. My stomach tells me it's had enough electrolytes for now and if I keep drinking this stuff, I'll get full.
I also notice at this time that my back is beginning to stiffen up. It's angry with me that I haven't ridden more lately in my clip-on aerobars. Instead of simply hoping it won't cramp up, I draw in some slow, deep breaths and focus on being as strong as I can be. I allow each breath to carve some space in between every single vertebrae. I use the oxygen to soothe my muscles and allow them to relax. I exhale slowly, drawing out every bit of carbon dioxide I can. It works. I continue to run.
Suddenly, I'm reaching the last aid station before LaCrema Winery (the turnaround point that is mile 6). I know I must still be with it because I instantly recognize one of the volunteers from freshman year of college. I search my brain for her name and it comes to me. As I take some water, I say "Melissa. (she looks at me.) It's Sarah Trejo." I smile and wave as I float past and while it takes a second to register with her, she yells out to me "Oh my gosh! Wow! Good job!"
Reaching La Crema is a happy sight. The misters are on in full force and I happily trot through them, skipping the aid station and knowing I'll catch it on the way back. As I make my way around the ponds, I think about many things. I think about how strong I am. I think about how DAMN GOOD I feel. I'm still pacing below a 9 min/mile; slower than when I started, but still on track to do 1:55 or so. I smile and yell "YES!" This isn't just for me. This is for Klaus Barth, whom I wish I could've contacted before he lost his battle with a GBM so that I could have brought him further into the community of people I work with. I send a thought his way and silently thank him for continuing to be such an inspiration to me, and push on. "You have no idea what the human body can do."
Damn straight! I am going to go KICK SOME BUTT! Just as I'm ready to rev my engine, I realize that I still have 6.5 more miles to run and that picking up my pace by a large degree might not be the smartest move. What's smart is using my enthusiasm to keep on keepin' on and remain steady and strong.
About two miles later, I am feeling more fatigued. The temperature is now in the low 90s. I've been running for about 1:15. My legs aren't so springy; in fact, they're feeling quite heavy. Damn!
Pat has been out riding the course and between his encouragement and occasionally seeing friends and teammates running the course, I manage to keep my spirits high. I smile as I see them and tell them all I'm feeling great. Around mile 10, however, Pat can see that I'm beginning to fade. I'm pulling 9 min miles now.
THREE MILES! THAT'S IT! It's 12 laps on a track. THAT'S IT. TWELVE.
My back is threatening to cramp again. Back to my yoga breathing. I'm wishing I would've done more plyometrics. Wishing I would've run more. Wishing this would be over.
I'm so strong. You can do this. 2 more miles. TWO.
I try to pick up my pace with only two miles left, but I just can't. Pat has helped me out but now I know it's all on me to finish this. I've given up on finishing under 5:20. However, looking at my watch, I make it my personal vow to come in under 5:25. I CAN DO THIS. Yes.
I wasn't feeling quite so springy at this point...
One more mile to go. I'm coming down the line of houses and about to turn left onto Windsor Road, where the high school is. The voices are getting louder. My calves are threatening to cramp. NO! Back is stiff. Deep breaths. This is it, Sarah. Give it everything. Run until you can't.
People begin to clap and yell "you're almost there!" I know I am, but it still feels like ages away. The finish line seemed closer when I was back at mile 6. Everything hurts, but it's not going to stop me from making this time.
I see Matt on his bike as I turn into the front high school parking lot and head toward the rear. He's yelling at me "good job! Keep going!" I hope he's not telling me to go faster. Is that what he's saying? He keeps yelling at me but god, I just need to focus. I can't listen to anybody right now but my body and I need to just focus on what I'm doing right here. I don't want to use any energy to speak and tell him to please be quiet, so I simply look his way and raise my finger to my lips in a "shhhhhh" fashion, and smile. I hope he knows I'm not mad, just need to focus.
There's the chute. OH GOD, IT'S SO FAR AWAY. There's the green pole. There it is. I can sprint that far. Yes, I can.
No...there's a green pole...and then a purple...and another green...shit. The finish line is so far back. My legs are screaming at me. My body is tired. I'm spent. Only a few more steps.
I look at my watch. 5:24 and counting. I can do this. I AM DOING IT!
I sprint through the finish line and it's all I can do not to collapse. My legs don't want to work anymore. They've had it. I search aimlessly for people I know. I don't find anybody. I begin walking toward a tent with shade so I can lie down, and then I see Jim, his wife Christina and kids. Oh what a welcome sight to see them! They even picked me up a sandwich and Coke. I immediately grab the Coke and lie down on the ground. I don't want to move. I just want to lie.
About 20 minutes later, when we were going to head over to Pat's for the BBQ, Matt tried to help me up and my legs gave out! They were toast!
All that aside, it was an amazing race. I reached my goals. I followed my mantras. I used my breath. I used my strength. I've never felt so strong in any race up to this point and I can say with 110% that even in the toughest moments, I truly enjoyed myself and I'm so proud of what I accomplished.
I really had a wonderful time. I love this sport.
Swim: 35:14 (though I think they got this slightly off; I think the swim was 34:40 something and the T1 was just over 3, but whatever)
overall: 5:24:39 | 19th in 25-29 AG | 80th overall in women
In retrospect, I need to believe more in my taper. I think I did it better than I have before, though I know I can use some improvement. I will experiment a little more in the next few weeks and see what happens with my last two races. I'm going to try keeping the number of hours the same (as I have in taper - less hours than a build phase of training) but directing some of those toward some higher-intensity sessions as opposed to more aerobic sessions.
Eventually, I will get it. Santa Barbara and Big Kahuna, here I come!