As much as I love trying something new with races — challenging myself with a new distance or visiting a cool location — I also accept that there’s something to be said for returning to the same race year after year. I mean, it’s really difficult to compare one triathlon to another. A downriver swim can’t compare to a choppy, open ocean swim, and bike courses can be drastically different when you factor in hills and turns.
And that’s part of why I decided to return for the third year in a row to TriRock Clearwater and compete in the Olympic distance. I knew I wasn’t in ideal racing shape for it — I’d actually only been on my bike once since Augusta, and it was a short, easy ride — but I knew my run was in better shape than it had been in 2013. Plus, I just really love that race. And to sweeten the deal, my friend Sarah signed up to do the sprint portion as her first-ever (!!!) triathlon, so if I wasn’t motivated at first, that certainly got me fired up.
The weather was a little more of a concern than it had been in the past. It rained throughout the night and was still sprinkling as we walked over to transition the morning of the race. There was a bit of wind and, while I’ve swam in rougher seas, I can’t say the Gulf looked particularly inviting. Still, I was pretty psyched to start. Not only was Sarah there, but I also knew about 10 other people racing, and even if you never see another familiar face on the course, it’s kind of fun to know you have friends out there, you know?
The swim introduced a new start. Instead of everyone in each wave starting at once, we did a time trial start with just three people taking off every few seconds, which meant I got to take off with my friend and swim coach, Karyn. (The three seconds it took to run to the water’s edge was the only time I got out ahead of her — after that, she took off, eventually winning her age group!)
As anticipated, I got tossed around a bit by the waves, but was able to keep a fairly steady pace, at least until I got near the end and realized that I hadn’t used the bathroom in about two hours. I knew I could either lose a few seconds by slowing down and peeing during the swim, or I could lose a lot more time (and, in my opinion, seriously increase the ick factor) by hitting a porta potta in transition. I think we all know what my choice was. (Shut up, everyone does it. Want to borrow my wetsuit?)
While running (okay, fine, I took it to a walk — running in that sugar-soft sand is hard, guys) out of the water, I was informed that, at that point, I was the eighth woman out of the water, so even though I was breathing heavy, I had a big ol’ smile on my face.
Swim time: 26:58
Eh, whatever. It was transition, and it was kind of slow. I sat down for the wetsuit-removal struggle, had a little trouble getting my socks on properly, but eventually got out and started to ride.
T1 time: 4:45
Bike (24 miles)
The one ride I’d gone on after the Ironman 70.3 was a total delight, so imagine my surprise when, just a mile or two in, I started to really feel it. This was not helped by the fact that, just a few miles in, there’s a major climb over a giant bridge, of course. Eventually, whatever was going on seemed to let up, and about halfway through the 24-mile bike course, I found my groove and was able to pick up the speed.
All I could think was how glad I was that I wasn’t doing the sprint distance, because by the time I felt warmed up and started pushing the pace, I would’ve been done!
While the skies remained overcast for the most part, there was no rain during ride, although there was enough of a headwind near the end to make me laugh out loud — I knew we had another big bridge just up ahead, and with that wind … well. All you can really do is laugh, right?
Bike time: 1:24:56 (17 mph)
Once again, I took my time. I fiddled a bit with my laces, which reminds me: Pro tip! Don’t screw around with your laces the day before a race and don’t bother to try out your new system for lacing them up! This was not my brightest move (although, hey, I remembered to actually use my inhaler this time, and I brought my watch and everything, so clearly something had to give).
T2 time: 4:00
I’d set my watch to beep every minute so that I could maintain a good run/walk ratio. That worked well for me in Augusta and was the way I’d been training, so I fully intended to hold a 3:1 or 5:1 run/walk pattern as much as possible.
However, I got going on that first mile, and it just felt so great that I didn’t want to walk. My muscles felt fresh and my knees didn’t hurt, so I opted to run through the first mile until I hit the aid station, at which point I ate a Gu, chased it with some water, and then took off again.
This was the one and only time I glanced at my watch, and it said I’d done the first mile in just about 9:30. Considering how great that had felt, I decided to change the display on my watch so I could not see pace and go entirely by feel. I didn’t want to freak myself out if I was holding a faster-than-normal pace (like that first mile), but I also didn’t want to get down on myself if I slowed down. And I knew I had to go over a huge bridge (and come back over it as well) — I didn’t even want to guess what that was going to do to my overall pace.
As I descended the bridge the first time, I got to thinking about how I’d felt at that point last year: lousy. I was tired, I was sore, and I wanted to walk. Or sit. Or take a nap. I definitely wasn’t thinking, “Hmmm, I wonder if I could pick up the pace a bit,” which was exactly what was going through my mind this time.
When I got to Mile 4 of the run, I glanced at my watch — not at my pace, but at my overall time, which was 2:40. My best time at this distance ever was 3:03 at St. Anthony’s, although that didn’t entirely count because the swim was cut short for safety. My previous best at TriRock Clearwater was 3:17. With just 2.2 miles to go, I knew I had it in me to hit a PR. I skipped the last water station — it was still cool enough that I wasn’t feeling overheated — and focused on a rapid turnover.
I didn’t think I could smile any bigger than I already was when I hit the finisher’s chute, but then I saw a big group of my friends on the side, screaming my name and cheering me on, and I’m pretty sure my face split right in two. I came through the finish line gasping for air, partly because, well, I’d worked really hard, but also because I’d started laughing out of pure joy (and maybe a bit of an endorphin rush). And my final time?
Run time: 1:02:07 (10:01 min/mile pace)
Overall time: 3:02:49 (my new PR and a first place in the Athena division!)
And that right there is why I’m such a big believer in returning to a race. I knew my running had improved (although the 10-plus minute drop between last year and this year was unexpected), but was surprised to see that I’d also improved on the swim by almost four minutes. Although I’d felt like my bike was weak this year, my average pace didn’t change at all.
If you need to find me the second weekend of November next year, I think you know where I’ll be. And let’s see if I can break three hours next time, shall we? (And congrats to all my pals who finished! From the Chicks Who Tri group to my RMC peeps and beyond, I’m so proud of every single one of you!)
Do you go back to any of the same races or events year after year? Do you find it to be a good indicator of improvement or overall fitness? Or do you just really love that event? —Kristen