This is going to sound terribly cliche, and for that I apologize, but the night of the World Championship 70.3, as I was standing on stage receiving my award for winning my age group, I had the very distinct feeling that I was dreaming.  Two women in black dresses and stilettos walked towards me, and one took and held my trophy as the other one started to put a blue and black jacket with the words “World Champion” onto me, like the friggin’ Masters’ Tournament or something, and it just felt surreal.  I didn’t know how to act or what to do, I’m not that experienced on podiums, so I just looked out at my parents and shrugged my shoulders in a giggly, dorky, and shocked sort of way.  I have vivid dreams from time to time, and I just kept thinking, at some point I’m going to hear an alarm, I’m going to wake up, it’s going to be 4:00 AM and it’ll be time to get ready for the race, and I’ll go downstairs, eat my pre-race breakfast, and say to my friends, “I had the craziest dream last night…”

Is this happening?

That Sunday in Mont-Tremblant, it turns out, wasn’t a dream.  It was reality.  It was, however, one of those magical days, so few and far between, that make all the struggles and sacrifices worth it.

The whole week leading into the race felt, in so many ways, different, and magic in its own way.  I usually spend the week before big races tying myself up into a whole big knot of anxiety and worry, flipping out if things don’t go perfectly, panicking at every little sign of injury or illness or off-ness.  Not so much this time.  I didn’t really do much of a taper– Kona’s still the priority– and maybe that helped keep me sane.  Leading into the race, I just did my workouts, checked them off, and moved on, pausing only to marvel occasionally at how much more not horrible I felt than usual before big races.

 

Part of the eery calmness, I think, was that my expectations for performance weren’t all that high.  I’ve written here that I struggled quite a bit this season, and while I did believe I had turned things around in my training and was a lot happier and healthier than I’d been for the first half of 2014, I wasn’t certain that the good training mojo I’d been enjoying would translate to racing. I thought top 10 in my age group, about where I’d finished last year, would be a great day, Top 5, a stretch.

Sunset from the Sweaty Friends House

But honestly, whether I hit those places or not, I didn’t really care.  I started out this season with some huge, lofty, possibly overly-ambitious, and mostly secret goals.  And by and large, I’d been failing to meet them.   It was maddening… I was having some decent success but failing to appreciate it (and probably coming across as very ungrateful), because to me , it wasn’t what I’d hoped for.   But at some point during my two months of Operation Mojo Reacquisition, things changed.  I don’t want to say I completely gave up on my goals, but ….. I completely gave up on my goals.  I got myself to a point where I could say “this is going to be a “learning” year, I very well may end up being slower than last year, and that is actually OK, because I’m finally enjoying myself,” and truly mean it.

I realize that’s not the way it’s supposed to go.  People don’t brag about throwing away their dreams.  Coaches don’t post inspirational quotes about letting go and being content with less than what you wanted.  But for me, those pie-in-the-sky goals were taking all the fun away, the “failure” was wearing on me, and surrendering, if you will, was completely freeing.

You won’t see coaches tweeting this one

Oddly enough, it’s when I let go of the dreams that I actually started achieving them.

Now, the race weekend:

When we got to Canada, I felt the magic as soon as we stepped off the plane in Toronto for a layover Or maybe it was 5 minutes later, when I realized that the airport provided free coffee, tea, water, soda, snacks, comfy chairs, and wi-fi.  What a weird, marvelous place.  Mont-Tremblant itself was almost fantasy-like– a charming little ski town reminiscent of Disney World, except in French and filled with hard bodies and buzzing with pre-race excitement.  There was a true championship atmosphere at this race, much more Kona-like than Vegas was last year.  I am, perhaps, looking back at things through rose-colored glasses, but for once, I thoroughly enjoyed that pre-race buzz and didn’t feel the slightest bit intimidated.  I was happy to catch up with friends from distant lands that I hadn’t seen in way too long (Hi Adam! Hi Pip!  Hi Karin!) and was just generally excited.

The Finish Line

The day before the race had some wrinkles (would it be a day-before without them?), most notably mechanical issues with my bike.  In the course of a 30 minute ride, my chain spontaneously popped off about seven times.   This was not good.  But my strangely-calm-and-happy self dealt with it with far less stress than usual,  dropping the bike off at the French-speaking mechanic who may or may not have understood the problem, crossing my fingers and hoping for the best, and then heading back to my parent’s hotel for the all-important pre-race pancake gorge and subsequent nap.  That afternoon, I got my gear and (hopefully repaired but I wasn’t sure) bike checked in at the very last minute, because I am nothing if not a procrastinator, and then it was just time to eat and sleep and still not get all that nervous

Morning came quickly, it was brisk and a little foggy, I set up my stuff, got in a little pre-race jog and swim, exchanged high-fives with Karin & Co. at the start line, and it was time to go….

Swim
(27:35, 8th in Age Group)

This swim was a beach start with a long-ish run-in through shallow water.  I hated this idea.  I am not a huge fan of beach starts, especially in a championship setting where everyone is charging hard off the line, I am generally very, very leery of dolphin dives in lakes for  personal reasons, and mostly, I just knew it would be aggressive.  We were also starting towards the back of the race, meaning there were several waves of racers already in the water that might require some effort to weave through.  With those things in mind, I made the game-time decision to line up as far right as possible, and then swim inside the buoys and hopefully away from the mess until the first turn.

Bob, I stole this picture and a few others from you, if you read this and object, email me and I’ll take them down:)

My strategy worked perfectly.  The horn (and fireworks, awesome) went off, I bolted in,  ran through the water, head-down sprinted for about the first 80 strokes before settling in, and then was very, very surprised to find myself with almost entirely open water.

The swim felt great, the water perfectly clear and cool.  I cruised along at a very relaxed pace inside the buoys all the way to the first turn,  largely by myself and not really able to see a whole lot of other people.  I wasn’t sure if this strategy was smart or totally dumb, but I took comfort that there was at least one other girl near me that I could see and another clearly enjoying the draft that I was providing, as she hit my feet over, and over, and over, and over for the whole damn swim (until she sprinted to get out of the water before me, you go girl, seventh place is ALL yours).   I could have tried to stay closer to the masses and maybe caught more of a draft, hindsight is 20/20, but I was really enjoying the effortless pace and open water.

Coming back in to shore, we turned into the sun and I couldn’t see a damn thing and just generally swam towards splashes ahead.  I had a bad feeling that my line was bad and I was tacking on unnecessary distance, but girl was behind me still tap, tap, tapping on my feet, so at least we were all going down together.

Out of the water, I still had no idea where I was in relation to anyone else in my age group, but I caught sight of the clock, did a little math to subtract out the time between when the clock started and when our wave started, and came up with 27-odd minutes.  That’s a PR, and not a small one.  You never can tell with swim times and I tend to ignore them as they vary so much with conditions and measurements, etc. etc., but I figured a 27 had to have done me decently well.

Are out-of-water pictures ever good?  But I do love my ROKA suit

T1
The first transition was long, almost a half-mile, but my legs felt good.  My brain, however, got lost somewhere after the time I was able to do the math necessary to compute my swim time and before I got to the tent where the equipment bags were.  I’d marked my bag all up with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle duct tape in hopes of being able to spot it in the piles, but that wasn’t enough to keep me from running down the wrong aisle of bags and then, much like I did at Eagleman, running around completely lost and desperately begging volunteers for help in finding my gear.  The frustration grew (why am I such an airhead??) but once I’d found my bag I turned up the pace, got my sunglasses and helmet on, stuffed the wetsuit into the bag, and bolted to my bike…..which I ran right past and then couldn’t find.

I’m thinking I lost about a minute with that comedy of errors and I wasn’t pleased with myself, but I shook it off and focused on riding.

Bike

(2:33:38, 5th in Age Group, 2nd off the bike)

Getting going on the bike, I felt quite good and remarkably non-frantic, given the T1 debacle.  I hid the watts on my bike computer and rode fairly easy for the first stretch,  knowing that the tough part of the course was in the last 12 miles and not wanting to overdo things early.   The first part of the bike course in Mont-Tremblant rolls, but not terribly, and I spun up the hills and tried to get as aero as possible on the downhills.

The first several miles out on 117 really were enjoyable.  Things weren’t too crowded, I was enjoying moving up in the field, the weather was great, the road super smooth and scenic.  Then, going up a hill, my chain spontaneously dropped, just like it had the day before.  I tried to maneuver it back on but failed, and had to pull over and get off my bike and wrestle the chain back on.  I slowly started up again, on an uphill, and within 4 pedal strokes, dropped the chain again.  This time there were under-the-breath swear words as I dismounted again, and I wrestled with the chain, drew blood, and tried not to flip out as I heard dozens of riders whoosh, whoosh, whooshing past me as I stood on the side of the road.  At the time, I was pretty sure my day was over, envisioning a long, long ride of constantly getting off to fix my chain.  I was sad….this was a long way to come to have a race ruined by a mechanical.  But I told myself to just see how it went, I got back on, tried to put out of my mind the time I’d just lost, and miraculously, with careful, careful shifting, I was able to keep the chain on for the rest of the ride.

I always feel weird smiling for the cameras

After that, the scene started to change.  As we were getting going out on 117, the pros were coming back in, and it was cool to throw out a couple cheers for my favorites.   And then came the first waves of age groupers, riding almost entirely in packs of 30-40 with a straggler here or there.  I think the drafting issues at this race have been talked to death, and I don’t have a whole lot of substance to add, except to say that during the race (and after), I was glad I was in the age group that I was in.   We (35-39) took off late, towards the end of the race, and well behind the young, fast male age groups where the packs tend to form.   By bringing up the rear,  my age group was able to have a much more fair race than some of the earlier-starting female age groups that got mixed in the men, that’s evident even in looking at the times, and for that, I am very glad.

Anyway, aside from being appalled at the packs I saw across the road, I was cruising along well and enjoying the day.  Until maybe 10 to 15 miles in, when I was passed by Amy Farrell (who seemed to be desperately trying to break away from a few 25-29 year-old leeches that had attached themselves to her rear wheel).  Suddenly, things changed.  I raced Amy earlier this year at Eagleman.  She beat me soundly, by four minutes or so, but didn’t pass me in that race until almost mile 5 of the run.  That she was passing me this early, or on the bike at all, did not bode well for me.  I started to question myself and thought maybe I was having a crap race, even though I felt good.  But that thought exited quickly, and from somewhere deep inside of my goals-out-the-window-this-is-just-a-learning-year psyche came a competitor.  I threw out my race plan, I stopped looking at my power meter, and for the first time possibly ever, I decided that the race was right here, on the bike, and I could not let her go.

Nice face.

For the rest of the bike, Amy and I (and an Aussie girl) raced that bike (legally).  I’ve never really had that opportunity, and it was so much fun.   She’d pass me, I’d fall back, I’d pass her, she’d fall back.  I’d go by her on the climbs, she’d zoom by me on the descents, I’d think I’d dropped her and 5 minutes later, she’d fly right on past me again.   She was relentless.  We never said a word to each other through all those passes.  Maybe she had no clue who I was, but I knew her and I knew her capabilities and I just kept trying to get.away.from.her.  It didn’t escape me that Amy had out-run me by 8 minutes at Eagleman and that worried me a bit, but I was in the moment.  And the moments flew by.  The course got tougher in the last 12 miles.  I barely felt it.  I was in such a zone.

T2
I did pass Amy on the last big hill, but figured she was right behind me, so I hustled a muscle in transition and booked on out to the run course.  I didn’t know where we were in the overall standings or how many were ahead of us, but for some reason, I was focused on this particular match up. I found out later that Amy had actually fallen off her bike (her words) at the very end there, and I probably got a much-needed minute or so head start on account of that.  

Run

(1:29:06, 1st in AG)

And then, the dream sequence started.

I headed out and my legs felt great, a welcome surprise after the last 12 miles of punchy hills on the bike.  The 2-loop run course is no joke, and the hills were pretty much constant and substantial.  Hills are not my strength but each climb was met with a very nice downhill, and I felt like I was moving well.  I evaluated my effort, tried to stay at a relatively easy pace for the first 5K, and just kept waiting for the moment when Amy would pass me (remember, outran me by 8 minutes earlier this year?)  I made a last-minute decision before the race to leave my Garmin behind and had just a simple stopwatch that I forgot to start (nor would it have done me much good as the course was measured in kilometers), so I was going completely by feel.  In hindsight, it’s a good thing I had no idea of my pace, because if I had, I most surely would have slowed down.

This hill was in the last half mile of each loop, and a bit intimidating

As we were approaching the turn-around for the first loop of the run,  I forgot to start looking ahead to see who was there to catch, but for sure once I’d made the turn, I started scoping out the scene behind me.  Amy was charging hard and not far back.  She seemed to be followed by a whole line of familiar faces, girls who I knew to be excellent runners.  Oh boy, here they come.

We ran back towards town and I felt better and better but still expected the passes to start.  I mean, I’ve been run down in every long course race I’ve done this summer.  I’m not a runner.  It seemed like a foregone conclusion.

As we approach the Village for the turn-around to start the second loop, my parents spotted me and subsequently won themselves the race-VIP awards for the second time this summer.  Confusingly, my dad yelled over and over, “P-2, P-2, P2,” his own secret code words for second place, a code that he forgot to tell me.  And my mom, bringing her A-game and showing up to the race more than I did, yelled very clearly, “you are in second place.  The girl in front of you is from Austria and is wearing red.  Her number is 1850.  You have gained a minute on her at every split.”  

Yeah, Mom!

Moms are great, they really are, and my mom, who has watched me develop as an athlete since I was seven years old, is the best.   I wanted to turn to her at that moment and say, “OK, but what’s going on behind me?  How far back are the rest?  When are they going to start passing?”   That’s my m.o.  I look backwards in races.  I have literally tripped on curbs and fallen on my face in races because I was looking back for whoever was chasing me.  I generally assume I’m going to get passed, and I run scared.   So it was the race behind me that I was worried about.  But for some reason, I didn’t ask that question, and when I told her later that I’d wanted to, she said, I knew that was the information you wanted.  And that’s exactly why I didn’t tell you.

There was something in that exchange that changed my entire attitude as an athlete.  Suddenly, I stopped looking back and instead looked forward and said, “I can catch that girl and I can win my age group.”  It was small, right there, that shift in thinking, that sudden belief in myself as a runner, but it was incredibly profound.

I caught her within a half mile.

Top of the hill

From there, I took off like a bat out of hell, on a mission, but just floating.  I know there were hills on that course…. I’d felt them in the first loop.  Remarkably, I didn’t even notice them that second time around.   When I got to the final turnaround and saw I’d actually extended my lead, I had a moment of shock.  But the race isn’t over until it’s over so I picked it up again, and was just tearing through the crowds of people as fast as I could, breathing so, so incredibly loud, just repeating to myself “faster, faster, faster, you’ve got this, you can do this, go, go, go.”

Triathletes are so nice, and I think they could tell by my animal noises how hard I was working.  I got a ton of cheers from the competitors from other waves as I passed, which was so motivating.  About a mile and a half from the finish, I saw my friend Karin heading out on the other side of the street.  “AAAMMMAAANNNDDDAAA, GOOOOOOOO,” she screamed, sounding more excited than even I felt, and to borrow a phrase from her lexicon, I got a serious case of the feels.  When I was a new triathlete anonymously hanging out at Well-Fit, Karin was one of those fast girls I looked up to so much, and she was also one of the ones who was nice to me.  In time she’s become one of my best friends and biggest supporters, and her honest and obvious happiness for me gave me chills.

I huffed and puffed my way back to the village where I saw my parents again, a half mile from the finish (which includes a massive hill, so it wasn’t an insignificant last half mile), with my dad yelling “P-1, P-1, P-1.”  This time, they clued me in on what was behind, telling me I had more than two minutes ahead of second.  I didn’t slow down when I got that news, but I relaxed mentally a bit, and let myself take it all in.

 

Coming down the last steep hill into the finish, I totally lost it.  Looking at pictures, I look absolutely insane….mouth wide open, like a crazed animal.  I was doing some sort of combination of gasping from the effort, while also crying.

But I was just so shocked.  I never, ever imagined this result, I’ve never considered myself in that league, and the enormity of it overwhelmed me.  I made a bit of a scene at the finish line with  my happy tears, and then again a few minutes later when I got the official results that confirmed the place.  And it wasn’t even just the age group win that thrilled me, it was the whole day– the magic of it, the effortlessness, after a year that had been so full of effort.  And the run?  I’m still a little stunned.  My run has not been good this year in races, and it’s never been my strength.  So to PR, straight up, including open half marathons, on a course that cannot be considered particularly fast, and to have the fastest run in my age group — you can see why it all feels a bit surreal.

TOTAL: 4:36:36, 1st in AG, 8th Amateur

I stayed on a high for a few days.  Or really, a little longer that that.  Of course, Kona’s still coming and has  always been the primary focus.  I celebrated a bit but got back to work quickly, having a bit more spring in my step and confidence in my ability, and that has shown up in my training.   Yes, I know Kona’s a different and much bigger ball game, my “job” there will be no easier after this, and I have not suddenly changed my goals or expectations for that race (or really, set them).  But, I’m going in there putting even less pressure on myself than I did before.

I had my magic day.  I had this moment.  2014 is a success, no matter what else happens..

Of course, I cannot do this alone, and there are SO many people to thank who have helped me along the way, and especially those who helped me to pull out of my mid-season slump and get this train back on the track.   To my parents, thanks for being there in Canada, thanks for the updates, thanks for all the love and support.  Liz, my coach, thanks for being the mastermind, hanging with me all this time, giving me the tough work (and the tough words at the right times), and helping me learn to believe in myself.  Thanks to Val, Criss, Pat, and all the Sweaty Friends for welcoming me into your house for the weekend.  Taylor and Gina and Achieve Ortho, thanks for keeping me injury-free.  Heather Fink helped me with nutrition, and is so great at what she does.  Gloria Petruzelli, who helped me with some mental skills training in July & August– you never gave me the answers but instead helped me to find them on my own– thanks so much!   Thanks to new-this-summer riding buddies Kristy and Nick who helped me to re-find the joy in training, and to so many friends near and far who have provided so much support, you know who you are.   And of course, TriSports.com, thanks for the support, and it was so great to see so many teammates out on the course!

Thanks for reading!

In the jacket
For comic relief…the guy who finished right before me.  I had nothing to do with this

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