It was an overcast day with temperatures in the low to mid 60s – just about perfect weather for a race. I got to the race site early to begin setting up my gear in the transition area and walked through all of the protocol I had mentally been rehearsing for the past week. The order of operations ran through my mind and occasionally my fiancé, by my side to cheer me on, would quiz me on them – take off wetsuit, set down cap and goggles, put on helmet, put on bike shoes, grab sunglasses, grab bike and so on.
Once my gear was set up, I left transition and did my warm up going through every muscle group to check for tightness and prepare them for the race to come. I jogged. I did some strides. I did my dynamic stretching routine for my lower and upper body. I was serious, but not too serious and I had just the right amount of nerves. For the first time maybe ever in my life, I felt both physically and mentally ready to perform at my best for this race, and that was a great feeling. I was ready—and I wanted to enjoy it and soak in every moment of it.
With my warm up complete, I did one last check of my transition set up, fueled, and began putting on my wetsuit. This is always my least favorite task, but today I got it up all the way with ease. I walked over to the swim start with my fiancé and we watched as the Sprint Triathlon group began there swim. I kept loose and cheered on triathletes as they exited the water growing increasingly excited that soon it would be my turn.
As the Sprint triathlon swim completed, the Olympic distance athletes began to enter the water according to assigned waves. As I entered the water with my fellow female triathletes we laughed and talked about the race to come. The water was a chilly but not too cold. We all took a few strokes to warm up and then formed a pack at the beginning of the swim area. When the announcer kicked us off, we all began swimming in a frenzy, eager to get our two lap, 1000m swim completed. The first 250m or so were a little crowded and we all got jostled around a little bit as arms were flying. I knew my heart rate was way too high from the adrenaline, but worked on focusing on my stroke and finding a rhythm. I settled in and soon enough, our pack started to spread out.
For the majority of the swim, I was swimming free and clear of anyone else. Part of me wanted to panic and let the negative thoughts take over – I must have fallen behind, I must be at the back of the pack – but I quickly dispelled them. There was no time or place for negative thinking. I resumed my focus on my stroke, made somewhat choppy turns, and finished my first lap of the course. I had absolutely no idea how long it took to complete, but I felt good about the way I was moving in the water. I felt strong, smooth, and calm. On the second lap, my focus was on just on getting through it quickly and making more efficient turns. I started to notice more people around me and even passed several. Before I even realized it, I made the last turn and started heading towards the dock where we entered the water. I was slightly disoriented when I reached I stood and climbed the steps of the dock and my heart was RACING, but I felt great. One out of three disciplines completed.
I ran the short distance from the swim area and into transition to begin preparing for the bike. My fiancé met me along the way to give me a mental boost and cheer me on. Transition went smoothly thanks to the times I had rehearsed my order of operations. I did struggle a little to get my wetsuit off at the ankles and almost left my timing chip behind, but thanks to a fellow athlete, I noticed it in the grass and placed it around back around my ankle – I was ready to begin the bike!
The bike was the part I was most looking forward to – it was a beautiful and PANCAKE FLAT out and back course. The temps were perfect and I had really worked on improving my bike over the course of the training block so I was excited to see how it would translate to racing. Less than a mile into the bike, I accidentally advanced my triathlon watch too far and had no way of tracking my stats (cadence, speed etc) as I was going. I was instantly annoyed, especially as my fiancé had warned me to set a button lock just the day before to avoid such a blunder and blatantly ignored it. Note to self: my fiancé knows my clumsiness far better than I do and I should always listen to him! Fortunately, it didn’t take me too long to get past the minor setback. I still had the timer function going and I had enough previous experience of racing by feel that I felt confident I would be able to dial into the right exertion level.
From start to finish, the bike was amazing. I didn’t know exactly how fast I was moving but knew I was moving well and working hard, but not too hard. I was passing a good number of other competitors and it felt fantastic. Although there was a slight headwind on the way out, I had trained to simulate this experience (unlike IM Maryland 2 years ago…ooof) and was prepared for it. And in the back of my mind I held on to the fact that a headwind on the way out meant a tailwind on the way back. After making it through the turnaround point, I caught a few more athletes, but spent more time alone. I checked in with myself mentally and physically for any areas of negativity or tension, but in all honesty, I felt great all around. It was an incredibly satisfying feeling.
I came back into town and towards the transition area and again, my fiancé was there to greet me. He remarked at how it had only taken me a little over an hour to complete and that I had made up a lot of time. He ran with me as I dismounted and made my way back into transition and he ran with me out of transition to start the run course. He filled my head with positive thoughts and sent me on my way. Fortunately, at this point, I had my GPS watch back on track and this was really where I would need it. Though running was what I was most familiar with, it was always a bit of a thorn in my side especially where my mental outlook was concerned. But, once again, with the help of my fiancé, I had really worked hard on my run during the training block and had made some great progress.
I was admittedly a little nervous that all of the time I had gained on the bike would be lost on the run, but I pushed aside any negativity and focused on getting my breathing under control and settling into a rhythm. By this point in the morning, it had warmed up a little and was markedly more humid but I still felt good. I settled into a pace around 9:30min/miles and though I knew I was working hard felt it was sustainable. As I made it through the first few miles of the 10k, I started getting muscle spasms in my quads, so I took in more electrolytes and forced myself to hang on. I was definitely being passed a little more on the run, but I felt proud of my efforts and knew I was on track to have a great time. At one point, a fellow female triathlete caught me and we ran together through the turnaround and for a short distance after. We joked about the run course being ‘boring as ***t’ before wishing each other well and continuing on our ways. Though she was faster than me, I managed to keep her in my sights for the remainder of the run even as the spasms in my quads increased in frequency. I came back into town trying to muster up everything I had left within me and picked up my pace to head to the finish line. My fiancé met me there and cheered me on to the end, and as the announcer called my name I smiled and stepped through the finishing line. My fiancé greeted me enthusiastically and even bravely gave my sweaty disgusting self a hug. I had finished the race and gave it everything I had and felt incredibly full of gratitude and pride for what I had accomplished.
After slowly making my way back into the transition zone to begin collecting my gear and changing, my fiancé excitedly tracked me down and informed me that it looked like I had actually placed in my age group! This was the last thing I had ever expected – I knew I had a good race for me, but in no way was thinking at how that actually stacked up against the other times. We stuck around through the end of the race for the awards ceremony and sure enough I received a second place age group award. Standing there beside me was the girl I ran with briefly on the course in first place – I had finished less than a minute behind her! We laughed about it and shook hands, congratulating each other’s performance, and once again I was filled with gratitude and pride.
Overall, my experience at the New Jersey Devilman Olympic Triathlon was an extremely rewarding one – and since then I have had some time to reflect on just how different this race has been from some previous race experiences. Stay tuned next week to hear about the lessons I learned in this last training block. If you’ve ever felt like you’ve had trouble getting stuck in your progress towards better health and fitness and/or all around just spinning your wheels, you will not want to miss it!
Get Fit For It,