So let's start this race report off with a PSA: If you deflate your tires the day before the race, REMEMBER to put air in them the morning of the race. Preferably before you begin the bike leg. That is all.
I signed up for this race a couple of months ago when I was thrown in a tizzy about my race schedule because a work trip was forcing me to miss the Rumpus in Bumpass oly in April and I wanted every possible chance to qualify for Age Group Nationals this year. I had some friends doing this race and registration was still open back in March - it was a sign so I forked over my credit card and I was in! I did this race once before, back in 2008, as my first-ever olympic distance tri (though this race is slightly longer with a 25 mile bike leg rather than 24 miles). I think my time was 2:50ish back then and I remember thinking to myself that I liked the oly distance MUCH better than the sprint.
Unlike the Monticelloman triathlon, I actually showed up to this race feeling healthy and well-rested (despite the fact that my alarm went off at the unholy hour of 3:30am. It was so early, I wasn't even hungry for breakfast). My friend Janine and I carpooled up to the race, the race officials were super organized and the volunteers kept traffic flowing into the parking areas and there weren't any big backups (this could also be due to the fact that we arrived at 5am, almost 2 hours before transition would close, which is unheard of for this procrastinator. I wanted a good parking spot). We took our time setting up transition, I helped Janine pump up her bike tires, brought the pump over to my transition area, set everything up, checked my brake alignment, made sure I had all my nutrition. We had so much time, I even went back to my transition area twice to double-check everything, I kept thinking I was forgetting something.
This Columbia Tri is a decent-sized race, I think there were over 1,500 competitors, and with it being a 5150 US Championships qualifier, it attracts a decent field, both pro and amateur. That meant ALOT of swim waves. The wave of 25-29 & 30-34 girls went off over an hour after the first pro wave went. So this was a little tricky when it came to timing my nutrition and making sure I ate, but not too early and not too late. The upside of the long wait - PLENTY of time to wriggle into the wetsuit.
It was an in-water start and for at least the first quarter mile, we were directly facing the sun. I'm not the fastest swimmer so I just followed the bubbles and bobbing heads in front of me and didn't concern myself too much with trying to see the buoys. It took awhile to get into a rhythm and for awhile I was worried it was never going to happen. I was so busy trying to avoid errant, drunk-looking swimmers and feeling like swamp thing with all of the weeds stuck to me (please note, even when I got home hours after the race, I was still finding dried weeds on me. I've never needed a shower so badly). Finally, something clicked and my pull felt strong, I hit a turn buoy and was no longer facing the sun, and I found my rhythm. I was able to keep a good straight line for the rest of the swim and even managed to find some slightly faster feet to draft off of during the last quarter mile of the swim. I got out of the water and realized I had my fastest oly swim to date - granted, the swim is still a major liability for me in a race of this distance, but it's becoming slightly less of one.
Not great, not awful. I got flustered trying to put my headband, helmet and shoes on all at the same time.
There were still a bunch of bikes racked all around my bike when I emerged from the swim, leading me to think that I wasn't doing half bad, but I still had no idea where I was in my age group. The Columbia Tri bike course is hilly. You could even call it stupid hilly. There aren't a whole lot of flat sections, but alot of the uphills come right after a downhill so you have some momentum to start the uphill grind. The roads were in fantastic condition, not too much traffic, the volunteers were stellar, and the course wasn't really technical at all - not a whole lot of hairpin turns or anything so you didn't lose any speed. The first couple miles just had some mild rollers. I immediately noticed that I felt like I was moving slowly, especially for the amount of effort that I was putting forth. And then the thought hit me - did I pump up my tires?? Normally, forgetting to pump your tires on race morning isn't that big of a deal. Except that I racked my bike yesterday and deflated them ALOT so that they didn't expand and pop in the hot sun. For the next few miles, I just kept going back and forth in my head - did I pump them, did I not? I remembered pumping my Janine's tires, but did I seriously forget to do my own? I remember offering my pump to the girls around me, BUT DID I SERIOUSLY FORGET TO DO MY OWN? My bike felt kind of bouncy, sort of how it does when I'm getting a flat tire. Finally, I just decided it wasn't worth obsessing over - I didn't know for sure if I forgot and if I kept thinking about it and how slow I felt, it would just become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I passed a few of the girls who came out of the swim ahead of me, one or two were in my age group, but that was it, really. I didn't see any other girls in my AG. I stayed in aero for most of the time, I enjoyed the climbs, most of them weren't too steep. I took in two gels during the bike, two salt tabs, and sipped on water about every ten minutes and this seemed to work really well for me. I got off the bike feeling just right, not too full and not thirsty.
MUCH better than T1. I didn't spend any time thinking about not wanting to run. I just shut my mind off. Oh, and I pinched my tires and it was confirmed - they were pretty darn flat. My intuition was correct.
My run legs decided to join the party today, hallelujah! Lately the run has been my nemesis. When I racked my bike, there were hardly any other bikes already racked around it so I felt like thinsg were going well, still had no idea where I was in my AG. Just like the bike, the run was hilly, but I felt good right from the start, which was a confidence booster. I shortened my stride going up the hills and that seemed to help me keep a steady pace and not blow up. Mentally I felt like I stuck with it, I wasn't focused on time or splits, just doing periodic checks on how I was feeling and what speed I felt like my legs could sustain. I only saw one other girl in my age group and I caught up to her at mile 4.5. I passed her on a downhill and then spent the rest of the race running like she was hot on my heels. I purposely avoided looking at my overall time - I did want a PR, but I knew my bike split wasn't great and the run course wasn't PR-conducive either and it's kind of hard to compare different courses to each other because, well, each are different. And I got my current PR on a flat, flat course. Anyway, I didn't take in any water or gels during the run, it was only 6.2 miles and you can do anything for 6.2 miles without bonking. The last half a mile is where my energy started flagging and my legs started feeling tired. I did my best to pick up the pace at the end and I was glad to see that finish line.
I finished in 2:35:16, about four minutes off my current oly-PR. I ended up coming in 5th in my age group out of 79, which made me pretty happy. Then I saw that only 33 seconds (THIRTY-THREE SECONDS) separated the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th places in my age group. The girls were just ahead of me at the finish and I had no idea. I can use the flat-ish bike tires as an excuse, but I do wonder if my bike time would've been 33 seconds better had my tires been pumped up. Part of me is relieved though that my craptastic bike split was hopefully more due to the hills and the tires rather than a reflection of my fitness. I did qualify for the 5150 US Championships, but they are a week before 70.3 Worlds, so I don't think I'll be going.
I loved, loved, loved this race. VERY well-organized, the course was beautiful and I loved the hills. It was so nice to spend the day hanging out with Janine and she had a really great race. I also ran into my friend Diane, who I haven't seen since late last year, and it was so good to catch up with her. I saw a few other Team Z'rs, and Kristen, a girl I work with who also happens to be a super fast triathlete. Doing races where you know a bunch of people always makes the day that much more fun. Another bonus - this was a quick race that was close to home - it meant sleeping in my own bed (even though I had to get up at 3:30am) and being home by 1:30 in the afternoon.