This has been a roller coaster of a season. Started off at Ironman Texas in April, where I had an awesome swim, but broke my toe while running barefoot through transition, and had to drop out. Clearly, I had unfinished business in Texas! I'm happy to say that the return trip, for the Waco 70.3, was much more successful.
This time it was the opposite - the swim didn't happen, but the bike and run did! I do think they made the right call with cancelling the swim. I was disappointed, but frankly, the current was flowing so fast that none of us could have swum against it. And the water was murky enough the kayakers would not have been able to see anyone if they went under.
I will say that Waco did an amazing job of not shortening the bike or run courses. We had a full 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run, even though they had to rearrange the course in several places, to avoid flooded areas. Points for creativity!
Since there was no swim, we did a time trial start on the bike. Pros started one at a time, 30 seconds apart. Then a ten minute gap. Then the age groupers, two people every five seconds. They drew numbers out of a hat at the briefing, and I was to start 17th out of the 20 female pros.
It was cool that the start format made for super-simple logistics on race morning. Swim gear stays home. No need to set up bike gear in the transition area. Just put your running stuff in transition, and go with your bike to the start!
I felt really good starting out, but about a mile into the course, I started having some technical issues. We had to go up a short but steep incline to get to a bridge over the river. I shifted into the small ring for just one little minute, and then wasn't able to shift back to the big ring!
I had started having issues with my Di2 (electronic gear shifters) a couple of days before, when I arrived in Texas. When I reassembled my bike, I noticed that when airport security had inspected it, they had not put all of the insulation back snugly, and the weight of the aerobars was pulling on the wires. Something in the wiring seemed to have come loose. I made sure all the wires were pushed in. I recharged the battery. Each solution I came up with worked for a few minutes, or a few hours, but then stopped working. Right before the race, I double checked, and it was working fine.
Anyway, after letting me switch to the small ring at mile 1, the Di2 decided that was it, and it was going to stop working. The next few miles I pedaled along furiously in the small ring, trying to maintain my speed. The women who had started 18th, 19th, and 20th went flying past me. When the last woman passed me, I decided I really needed to do something about this. I pulled over, and made sure all the wires were pushed in as far as they would go. Again. I tried shifting, and....the bike went into the big ring! Whew! I decided then and there that I'd better find a gear I'd be okay staying in for the rest of the race. This turned out to be a very good decision, because a few minutes later, when I tried to shift again, it didn't work.
Fortunately, I had driven the bike course, and knew it was flat enough I'd be able to manage in one gear. However, I wasn't even five miles into the race, and I was already in dead last. After a few minutes, I managed to repass one of the women who had passed me. And then, I didn't see anyone. For thirty miles. I knew there were eighteen more women ahead of me somewhere, but didn't know how far away they were, or if I was gaining ground. A few times I thought I might see a cyclist in the distance, but it always turned out to be a volunteer, or a spectator instead.
That must be what it's like if you're a sailor, and you're anticipating land, after being at sea for a long time. Are those mountains? No, it's a cloud formation. How about that? Just a reflection on the water. If you want something badly enough, your eyes play tricks on you, and you might think you see it, even if you don't.
Around mile 35, I saw someone way up the road in front of me. And then, I saw her turn a corner! That was definitely a cyclist! After several more miles, I managed to catch up and pass her. And then a few miles later, I passed another one. Forty miles of hammering, and I was finally back in seventeenth place, where I started! Around mile forty-five, I rode past a bike tech van, but at that point I wasn't going to stop for anything.
When I made it back to transition, I saw that there were two more people just ahead of me. (According to the official results, I actually finished the bike 15th / 20, and was ahead of them. But since we started at all different times, I didn't know that. As far as I was concerned, I finished the bike in 17th place, moved into 16th during transition, and then 15th on the run.)
Starting the run, my legs felt like jello. I have screwed myself over at other races by trying to force myself to go fast right at the beginning of the run, when my legs felt dead. I decided that the first mile I wouldn't worry too much about pace - just loosen up, and try to get my legs to feel less heavy. Once my legs figured out that I was willing to listen to their opinion, rather than just ordering them around, they decided to cooperate. Good thing, because a couple of miles later, we had some really big hills!
At the top of the biggest hill, I saw a familiar face - Laura, a woman I had made friends with at Ironman Texas, was volunteering here in Waco as well! She recognized me, and gave me an extra loud cheer. Definitely boosted my energy, on the toughest part of the course!
Once we were done with the hills, we were also done with the shady part, and I could feel the temperature heating up. I made sure to stay hydrated, and grabbed fluid at each aid station. I was mostly trying to drink water and red bull, but I don't have a sensitive stomach, and by the end, I was just grabbing whatever cup was convenient. Gatorade - fine! Coke - fine! Of course, water has the added benefit that after you take a few sips, you can dump the rest over your head, and not get sticky.
After finishing two loops of the run course, we got to cross the coolest finish line ever: it was on a bridge over the river!
56 mile bike: 2:28 (15th/20)
13.1 mile run: 1:38 (15th/18)
Total time: 4:09 (15th/18)
15 seems to be the theme of the day! At least I'm consistent. And it looks like a super fast time if you forget that it doesn't include a swim!
I still have a long ways to go, but I'm going in the right direction. It was a much more solid performance than I had in Augusta five weeks ago. Frankly, after Augusta I was questioning whether I had made the right decision by turning pro, and this gives me hope that if I keep working at it, I might be able to keep up.
I think what I'm most proud of is holding myself together mentally when my gears weren't working at the beginning. I wasn't happy about it, but I didn't go into panic mode, either. That was a lesson from Ironman Texas: when things go wrong, life goes on!
Also, for everything that goes wrong, there is something else that *doesn't* go wrong. After finding my mom, and cheering for other athletes for a while, I retrieved my bike from transition. That was when I discovered that...my front tire was flat! I'm pretty sure it still had air in it when I finished the bike course. If I'm going to get a flat on race day, after the race is a great time for that to happen!
Having completed the race, I did not change the flat right away. Instead, I enjoyed a glass of champagne with my mom, Elizabeth (our homestay hostess), and Antoine (the other athlete staying there). I mentioned that 15 was the theme of the day? Well, Antoine was the 15th place male pro!
It was my first time doing a homestay, rather than booking a hotel, and it was a great experience all around. Elizabeth was super nice and generous. She cooked for us each night (much better than anything I would have cooked for myself!), even though it was definitely not her job to do that. Plus, she lived in an amazing historic mansion, that had been in her family for more than a hundred years.
It was also nice to have another athlete there. Antoine and I both turned pro very recently, and, especially with all the last minute course changes, it was good to have someone in the same boat to talk to, to make sure we knew what was going on.
A big thank you to my sponsor, n+1 cyclery. You have been there for me through highs and lows, and I am so excited that we were able to end this season on a high note!