After a two year hiatus in my 15 year career racing triathlons, I found myself standing on a pontoon last Sunday, with 15 other pro women at the Sooke International Triathlon, Olympic Chase Edition. There I was, goggles pulled tight under my cap, staring down some serious fog and looking for the first buoy. Honestly, it was a beautiful morning. Still, calm, water was like glass and it was a wetsuit swim in what would be called bathtub water temperature for the West Coast. Still, I couldn’t see the second buoy and frankly that almost unnerved me as I knew I would be spat off the back of the pack no matter how fast I turned my arms over. I took the far right spot, the safest and most outside position, and at the start whistle, dove in dutifully with my head low, didn’t lose my goggles, rose to the surface amid the churning bodies, breathed, swam and….in seconds…was alone. Me and the fog, by myself, keeping my head low and hoping that the big orange Bema buoy was going to appear soon. I found my way around the course. I have raced pro triathlons for a few years now, so this was not a new scenario-being solo at the back in the swim-and as usual I used all my old tricks. The biggest trick is just a mantra: finish as fast as you can because then you get to BIKE and RUN. If I could have one triathlon wish, it would be to be able to feel, just once, what it’s like to be a really fast swimmer, like 17:30 for 1500 fast.
A good swim for me is one where I deal with the open water heebie jeebies, if they come up, and where I simply focus on swimming and breathing. A really good swim includes finding some feet to draft on as well. I had 15 minutes before the men started in the chase format, and I was pretty sure I could get around one lap before they started. As I swam past the pontoon after the first lap, I saw them there, all lined up in their black wetsuits, like a bunch of penguins on an iceberg, about to jump in right on top of me. I swam faster, thankfully they didn’t jump on me and I pulled as hard as I could to stay ahead. They all caught me before the turnaround buoy. MUST GET TO BIKE.
Once on the bike, the rest of the day went like clockwork. Hammer the bike, hammer the hills, stay low and aero, and use everything to go as fast as possible. The West Coast Road is challenging and hard, giving lots of opportunity to use bike skills and be tough. I had done a great 10 day block of training with Amanda and Brent, Jonathon and others who were in town for a LifeSport training camp with Lance and I knew that I had the fitness necessary to ride hard. Sometimes it’s a bit of surprise, how fast this fitness comes back, but I think I paid my dues between 1996 and 2007 because I can get fit fast. Besides, that Blue is extremely fast. I didn’t let up on the ride once. I hammered right to T2, where I promptly almost fell off my bike and then dropped it. Not the most graceful transition ever, but I think I was on a mission and forgot the small detail of smooth transitions. Besides my feet and hands were frozen from the foggy morning and riding in wet gear.
Love that Sooke course and the new trail through the bushes. It’s so hard too…to have to get off your bike and run those hills, but hard is good. I found myself in 5th spot coming off the bike. Amanda was out of sight, having already given herself an 8 minutes lead on me because of her lightning swim. All I could do there was keep the spread even for the day. But there were two women I could catch and so that became mission #3. I actually forgot about the men chasing us, but by chasing the women in front of me so hard, I kept ahead of many of them. It was hard but so much fun, pulling out all the stops, using my run speed and efficiency to reel them in step by step. I just gave in to the fun and challenge of racing. I moved into 4th on an uphill at 7k, and then chased down 3rd by 8k. After that it was a matter of racing through the trail and holding off more guys. In the end I was 3rd women and 9th overall in the chase race that included men and women.
It was an awesome weekend of racing, getting to see all the coaches and people from LifeSport, Tyler from PowerBar, Larry and Bob from Subaru and many many friends. It tied up the 10 day training camp well and gave me one last strong day before I tackle the Cobra 70.3 Philippines this weekend. That is going to be a different sort of challenge!