Friday, October 5, 2012

2012...the year I qualified

Up until about 2 years ago, I was content to be a mid-/back-of-the-pack, somewhat underachieving triathlete. The occasional age group award was nice, but never expected. Then, everything changed. My focus changed, I trained harder and more consistently, and I got faster. Go figure. I began placing, sometimes winning, and, for the first time in my life, I felt as if I were actually racing.

It's a whole different world, this racing stuff. I started feeling the pressure. I felt as if I had to perform each time I stepped in the water or up to the start line. By the end of the 2011 season, I wasn't sure I really liked it very much and swore off the whole "racing" idea. I wanted to return to having fun.

So, I didn't train as hard, and I wasn't as consistent. But I was enjoying the process again. I started to get slower (go figure), except for running. Somehow, I got faster. I be-bopped through the 2012 Mississippi Blues Half Marathon and still managed to run the crazy hilly course within a few minutes of my most recent best time (I no longer count PRs that occurred more than 20 years ago). I ran one of my fastest 5k times, and was only about a minute off my fastest ever (which was most definitely more than 20 years ago). I managed to not just once, but twice, set an Olympic distance tri 10k PR. And I was still often earning an age group award...mostly by chasing people down.

Not sure if that's the best way to race a triathlon.

Oh wait. I wasn't racing.

Then, I started to qualify for certain national-level championships.

To be honest, last year, my time at the May Gulf Coast Triathlon (half iron distance) was fast enough to qualify for the USAT Long Course Nationals (HalfMax) race, but I decided not to go. This year, Gulf Coast was a special Long Course qualifier, with the top 30% of each age group qualifying for Nationals. And this year, there is no way I would have qualified based on time. We had waves. Big ones. And a rip current near shore nearly took me to Destin. Then, the last 6 miles of the bike were into a screaming headwind, punctuated by vicious crosswinds between the beachfront condos. What had initially been a pretty good bike quickly turned into a dismal ride that I was just thankful I survived unscathed. I recovered okay for the run, but the damage was done, and I was a good 20 minutes slower than I had been in the previous year. I was still in the top 30% of my age group, though, and qualified for the 2012 USAT Long Course Nationals in Oklahoma City. I decided maybe I should go...just in case I never got the opportunity again.

So, I re-hired my favorite coach again. And I started training harder and more consistently again.

A week after Gulf Coast, I drove up to Tunica, MS, to do the famed "Memphis in May" triathlon (not sure that race has ever actually been in Memphis). It is a "5150" (Olympic distance) race, under the auspices of the WTC, and apparently, if you finish in the top 15 of your age group, you qualify for the Hy-Vee 5150 National Championships held in Des Moines. This was probably my best race of the season. I had a very good swim (for me), despite swimming all over the lake (a theme for the year). My bike started slow into the headwind, and my legs were protesting they had just raced 56 miles the previous week. But I made up a bunch of time on the way back with the wind at my back. Whee! Run was pretty good. Sure 'nuff, a week later, I got an email congratulating me on qualifying for the Hy-Vee 5150 U.S. Championship (I think I was 14th).

Well, heck. Now, it seemed, I should be racing.

My next race, our local Heatwave tri, didn't qualify me for anything, not even an age group award. (I would rather not talk about it. <pout>)

Then, it was a long time before the next race. I was focused on getting ready for the Long Course Nationals (Redman Triathlon). I picked up an Olympic distance race, the Gator Bait triathlon in Vicksburg to see how training was going, and I really wanted to "race" this one. Swim was okay...not the best. All over the lake, again. My bike was just terrible. But the run... Thank God for running. This. This, I can do. I ran myself up into first in my age group with a third overall master's place. It's not official yet, but my Gator Bait age group first should qualify me for the 2013 USAT Age Group Nationals.

Finally, the A race was here. However, the month before, I had taken a trip to Florida and Ireland and ended up off the bike and out of the pool for 2 weeks. When I got back, I had 2 weeks until the race, so was simply extending a taper that had already begun. I got a cold. I didn't ride longer than 90 minutes or hardly swim at all. At least, I had been running. I still had high hopes for a strong race, aiming for meeting or beating my previous fastest time at the 2011 Gulf Coast.

The Redman Triathlon is held at Heffner Park, just outside of Oklahoma City. The lake is actually pretty nice (it's a drinking water lake, so usually no swimming is allowed), but the drought this year had severely affected its level, and we had a longish walk through the lovely Oklahoma red clay to the middle of the lake. Luckily it was cool enough for wetsuits. I started well enough, but once again, ended up swimming all over the dang place. I even got far enough off course to get shooed by one of the canoe supporters. My time wasn't nearly what I had hoped for (when I looked back at results, though, it was certainly within my "parameters" based on others' times), and my bike was a bit lonely on the rack when I finally got there.

Transition took a little bit longer than usual since I had to scrape mud off my feet, but once I got on the bike, I was feeling pretty good and relaxed. The Redman course is rolling, but not hilly, by any means. Just enough to shift a few gears and to enjoy the occasional downhill coast. The roads, though, were rough. I do not do well with rough. My bike doesn't do well with rough. I started to get uncomfortable and unhappy. My overall speed started to drop...precipitously. Two hours in, and I was done. This was not the bike ride of someone who should be "racing." I was depressed and angry at myself for allowing a little trip to Europe to completely derail my bike fitness. Then, it occurred to me that not everyone can have a good day all the time, and I had certainly had my fair share of good races over the last 2 years...when it would have been easier to just give it all up, anyway. About then, I burst into tears.

Good thing I had a helmet and sunglasses on.

I spun my way through the final 8-10 miles, giving it up. Not giving up, but giving up the need to be my absolute best that day, the need to show everyone I could function on my own, the need to prove myself a survivor, despite it all. Because, in reality, I had already done that.

So, I got ready to run.

Leading up to the race, the OK City forecast had been pretty good...not too hot. Then, as the days went by, it was getting warmer. But, still, a high of 85 is relatively mild after a hot MS summer. In reality, it was about 10 degrees hotter. No shade on the two-loop run course. In other words: brutal. But I ran. And I ran hard. I took every ounce of remaining energy and channeled it to my legs...and to my heart. When I finished, some 6 hours and 17 minutes after I started, I was satisfied and content. I didn't place. I wasn't even in the top 10 (my goal). I was off my best time by more than 17 minutes. But I felt as if I had a race to be proud of on a day that was physically and mentally tough.

A week later, the official email came: "Dear Athlete, Congratulations! You are being contacted because you have earned a spot on Team USA for the 2013 ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships because of your outstanding performance at the 2012 USAT Long Course Triathlon National Championship."

Triathlon season is officially over for me. I am running a marathon in about 5 weeks. Then, I am hoping Coach Debi gives me a little break before we start training for Ironman Lake Placid next year.

And I have decided that I am not racing again next year. 

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