Friday, June 20, 2008

ITU World Triathlon Championships - Race

It wasn't as cold as I expected the morning of the race. Probably about 50 degrees, but with all of the excitement and walk to the transition zone I was comfortable. We were to meet our handlers in the transition zone at 5:00 AM so it was an early morning for us. Unlike the night before most races I actually slept. In general, I was more calm that I've ever been before a race. I can think of two reasons for this:
(1) I've been training harder this season than ever before and was therefore more confident about how I'd do than I have been in the past
(2) I finally believed that my "best" was good enough and that all I could do was leave everything I had on the race course.

Either way, I was calm as I laid my stuff out in the transition, listened to some music, and met with my handler. My handler was a fabulous lady from Vancouver who had given up her Saturday morning to shuttle my legs from place to place and take the heat from people like me who get tunnel vision when racing. I apologized in advance for any quips or harsh words that might be thrown her way during my race. I even went so far as to tell her about my experience at my first Ironman in Arizona the year before. I had asked my mom to be my handler during the race. I gave her my running show and running leg at the start of the swim and told her that I'd need them in the transition zone when I got off the bike. So I get off my bike and my mom hands me my running leg. Then I ask for me running shoe and my mom says, "Oh, the one I put in the car?" "Yeah, that one." And I digress.

Back to the race. I was telling this story to my handler during our walk from the transition zone to the race start line. By the way, it seemed like an awful long walk and considering that it was a point-to-point swim (and we were walking from one point to the other point) the distance we walked would also be the distance we'd swim. The water temperature registered in at 55 degrees, which even with a wetsuit, is cold enough to cause hypothermia issues. I had a sleeveless wetsuit and a polar cap so I was thrilled when the announcer explained over the loudspeaker that after a long deliberation the race organizers had decided to shorten the swim to 1100m. Regardless, I was definitely coldest during the first 5 minutes in that water.

I got in the water at the last minute. I was fine until the water started to seep into my wetsuit through the ankle and arm holes. My hands were numb within minutes. The last bit of advice I got before the gun went off was to pull my swim cap as far down over my forehead as I could (thanks Tommy). That was the best advice I could've asked for even though with my swim cap and polar cap pulled down over my eyebrows I still felt that brain freeze feeling as I submerged my head under that icy water. I warmed up a bit once I got moving and tried to focus on my breathing; breathing out underwater and taking short, full breaths when I turned my head for air.

The water was like glass at 6:45 am when we pushed off from shore, but 900 meters later it was choppy. Turning for air to the right was pretty much negated by the mouthfuls of water I took in when a wave would crash over my face. The current also seemed stronger during the final stretch into the beach. Too bad it was going out to sea, which was not helpful at all. Having lost sight of a group of swimmers in front of me, I assumed I was pretty far back in the pack. I had no idea that I was the second female out of the water and first to get out on the bike.

The transition from the swim to bike was rather uneventful. I couldn't speak or rather I couldn't very well form a sentence as my handler ran down to help me out of the water. I couldn't much hop for that matter either. My foot was numb, my hands were numb, and it seemed that my brain was numb too. I was out in that water in a wetsuit for 19 minutes and that was about all I could stand. Jon, our team leader, had to shuck my wetsuit for me because I had lost all dexterity and strength in my fingers. I somehow managed to pull my liner up over my stump and then change into my bike gear for the bike leg of the race.

The bike leg went extremely well, which I learned after the fact. The bike portion of the race consisted of 4 loops around Stanley Park with rolling hills for the first 3.5 miles, followed by a 1 mile slow, steady, climb, and finishing with a 1.5 mile segment of downhills/flats. During the first loop I just tried to warm up, which didn't take long once I hit that 1 mile steady, climb. I tried a different tactic each time I came around and hit the hill - one time I tried to stand and push up the hill (didn't go well because my legs were still numb and I nearly fell over), the next time I tried to push a hard gear for as long as I could (too much lactic acid build up drained my legs though), and finally I took the advice of most cycling coaches out there and dropped into my lowest gear keeping my rpms as high as I could (by far the most rewarding tactic). By that time I was going on my fourth loop and was nearly done. What learned after the race (because I don't look at my bike computer while I race) is that I average 19 mph for 24 miles, which is 2 mph faster than my average during any previous race I've done. And this was by far a harder course. Also, what I didn't know at the time that I was the first female amputee off the bike going into the run.

By the time I got to the run I was warmed up. One short loop and two long loops would take me to the finish line. I kept my pace just past comfortable. I was breathing hard, but not too hard since I still had 6 miles to go. I saw a couple of girls on the course from my local triathlon team and there were other members of the team on the sidelines cheering for us. The team has been great. I dug deep during the last loop, trying to pass as many people as I could before I got to the finish line. It was by far my best race and I was completely satisfied when I finished. Well, looking back, I probably could've finished that run a little faster. A guy interviewed me as I finished. He asked me what I thought about the race. All I could say at that point (mind you, I was still trying to catch my breath since I wasn't exactly jogging across the finish line) was "cold". Then he goes, "Well, you seem to have an awful lot of energy left". "Okay, yeah, I don't think I left all of it out there on the course". So even though I had raced my fastest race to date, I still had something left and probably could've done it faster. Encouraging, I'd say.

And so there you have it. My third ITU World Triathlon Championships. Another silver medal. Another great race.

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