Monday, August 18, 2008

Racine's Got Spirit!

In keeping with my trend of tardy race reports, I suppose it's time to give a recap of the Spirit of Racine, a race that I have wanted to do for several years. A couple of weeks before Ironman Cd'A, I went ahead and booked my ticket, as the fares I had been watching for months continued to climb. As a side note, I was actually really excited to take the train to this race, but Amtrak turned out to be equally expensive and it would have taken two full days to get there and back. I think the train would have come out marginally cheaper in the end if the $100 each way to take my bike on Northwest Airlines were considered, but then I wouldn't have gotten such a yummy thai burrito in the Minneapolis airport. Talk about fusion. I'm always tempted to lie when the customer service agent checking me in asks if it's a bike I'm travelling with. I once countered with "what if it's not?" only to receive an icy glare from an obviously unamused ticket agent. This time I just asked if there was anything else that warranted a $100 fee, and I learned that windsurfing equipment is equally reviled by the airline industry as are bicycles. Am I silly to believe that a completely manageable 40 lb bike box is less cumbersome than a windsurfing sail?

All of which is irrelevant to the Spirit of Racine. . . This race is awesome. I knew absolutely nothing about Racine, Wisconsin before going there. Randomly, I got seated across the airplane isle from a former pro-triathlete who knew all about the race and my competition, and we swapped race stories for most of the flight, which was fun. My homestay, Jenny, picked me up from the airport and even stopped at the grocery so I could pick up my oats, raisins, and soymilk for the weekend. Jenny's sister Kris is a 2x Ironman triathlete who actually raced in Coeur d'Alene this year, and I'm bummed that I didn't know her when she was in this area. Kris and her husband Dan volunteered their home to Aussie pro Gavin Scott and let the homestay director know that her sister (Jenny) would be happy to take an athlete as well. And that's how I ended up in an amazing house with Jenny, her husband Chris, and their two fantastic kids Nick and Libby.
Libby, Jenny, and Nick

Perhaps, for some, the details of the race are more riveting than the particulars of my accomodation, but I mention all of this, because there is no way to actually quantify how immensely enhanced my experience of the race was by these families. I had wanted to do this race last year, and I imagine I would have spent as little time in Wisconsin as possible to avoid accruing accommodation costs. I would have traveled alone, picked up my packet, done the event, and thought "cool, I did that" as I shuttled my rental car back to the airport. I'm sure I would have liked it, because it's a great event, but I wouldn't have felt attached to it. This race experience was entirely different. I got to spend Saturday with Jenny, Kris, and Gavin, checking out the race venue and playing with the kids (in addition to Nick and Libby, Kris has 3 fantastic children).
Libby and Kris in Kris's most awesome screened in porch

Because Kris, Jenny, Chris, Gavin and I were all doing the race, getting to the race venue the next morning was supremely slick. I just sipped tea, read the paper and listened to the birds while I waited on the porch for Kris to pick me up early on race morning. We made our way down to the transition in the fog, and eagerly waited a water temp report. 55 degrees the announcer said.What?! I hadn't even brought my neoprene cap because it was mid-July. I set up my transition area trying to avoid all of the water that had accumulated into puddles during the overnight rainstorm. The porta-potty lines were an absolute fright, especially given that we were expected to additionally walk a mile down the beach to the race start. I started to panic about getting to the start on time, but I needn't have worried because the race was on a 15 minute rolling delay due to the fog. The rolling delay turned into an hour and as we waited on the far end of the beach for the go-ahead I started to get really hungry! I was very strangely relaxed, however. The women's pro field was pretty small, so it was a good chance to meet some of my competitors, including ZOOT teammate Kelly Handel who had a great race. I was a bit worried about my lack of anxiety, as the last time that happened, I had a lackluster race (Wildflower).

The swim start was really good for me. A few dolphin dives in the spectacularly clear, shallow (and CHILLY) waters of Lake Michigan, and I set out for the far buoy. The field immediately broke up with the 3 fast swimmers (Kelly, Becky, and Lauren) leaving me and the others in the dust. I hung out with Kim Dunker for a short while, but we got separated in the fog. It was bizarre - a point-to-point swim paralleling the shore in very shallow water, but impossible nonetheless to find the buoys in the fog. At one point Kim started swimming back towards shore, and I followed her thinking that perhaps she saw a buoy (because heavens knows I didn't see one). Finally, I swam over to a paddler and asked him where the buoy was. He pointed vaguely in one direction and I went that way, still not seeing the marker. For the rest of the race I stopped at every paddler I saw and asked him/her to point out the next buoy. It was a good strategy, I think. It didn't take long for the elite men in the next wave to swallow me up and provide some sort of sighting opportunity, even though they seemed as confused and spread out over the course as I did. Even though the fog was thick, I'm glad the race started when it did, or I would have been too hungry to race.

It was a long transition out of the water across the amazing white sand beach of Racine. I had stupidly seen the "EXIT" sign right near my transition spot, and so I didn't clip my bike shoes onto my pedals. I figured it would be quicker to put my shoes on first and then to run the 3 steps out of transition and then get immediately clipped in. It turned out that it was the run exit sign near my transition spot, so I got the run the entire distance of the very large transition area in my bike shoes. Brilliant. I also got to wrestle the plastic bag off of my bike seat that I had securely tied on the night before to keep my gel seat from becoming completely water logged. Minor details.

Onto the bike and back into the race. I correctly assumed that I had exited the water in 4th, in what was a PR swim time for me (28:36). However, given that my effort on the swim was average and my nagivation was well below average, I assumed that the swim was fast for all and that I probably had the typical amount of catch up to do. I was right. No cycle computer, HR monitor, or GPS for me this race. Totally gauging myself on perceived effort. Since this was my first major race since IM, I continually self-assessed. Is this IM effort, or 1/2 IM effort? I think maybe it's only IM effort. Pick it up. I assume it was very scenic, riding through rural, green Wisconsin, but in reality it was too foggy to see much. There were no major climbs but very subtle and constant grade changes and a rough surface made the course feel very slow. I kept expecting to catch up to the other girls, or at least to see them, but it never happened. I tried not to get too demoralized and trust that my cycling was as strong as I believed it to be, but it was hard to do an entire 56 mile bike and to never see my competition. It turns out that when I was swimming a PR 28 minutes, those girls were swimming 23s. A fast swim, yes. And yes, I did make up my time on the bike with a 2:27:10 split - I would have just needed a few more miles to see the other ladies.

As I entered T2 I heard the announcer calling out Kelly and Lauren's names as they left, so only then did I know that I was back in the game. T2 was much less eventful than T1, and in a split second decision, I passed on the visor, as it was still foggy. About 5 minutes into the run the clouds parted and I regretted that decision. Oh well, it's just 13.1 miles. Nothing like and IM. The first 6 miles went really well. A scenic lakeside run past the zoo, out to a lighthouse and back to transition to start the 2nd lap. The spectators that I ran past kept telling me that I looked better than the girls ahead, which was encouraging, but again, I couldn't see them. Finally, at the turnaround I got an idea of how far back I was and I caught Lauren just before the end of the 1st lap. And that was just before I started to feel like crap. I just hoped that Lauren didn't sense how crappy I felt because I really didn't feel like a side-by-side run. My descent into feeling awful was pretty abrupt. It was 87 degrees with 100 percent humidity, and at this point the sun was beating down. It was unlike anything I get to experience very often. My energy levels felt good, my muscles didn't feel exhausted, but my legs felt like they were made of lead. At the 2nd turnaround, I realized that I had lost time to both Kelly and Becky, and I went into survival mode for the rest of the run. One foot in front of the other gets you to the finish line faster than not doing that does.

And that was that. After a semi-disappointing run I finished in 4:32 and took 3rd place. Then I got to hang out and cheer for Kris, Chris, and Jenny. With the hard part done, it was a gorgeous day for spectating.Ironwoman Kris simultaneously running and cheering through the fog.
Jenny running towards the finish with Racine's gorgeous beach as a backdrop.

Post race celebrations couldn't have been better - a shower followed by SUSHI! The kids played on the slip-and-slide and the adults gorged on raw fish and beer. It was an awesome evening. Being that this is being posted so late after the fact, it makes me incredibly nostalgic for long summer days. Not only was the evening after the race supreme, but the next day Kris gifted me a massage certificate! Does it get any better?! If Aaron hadn't been convalescing at home with a sprained ankle and knee, I might not have left. Indeed, I was very sad to do so. Thanks so much to everyone who made me love Racine - I can't wait to come back!

It's off to bed now, but I promise more updates soon. Troika, Coeur d'Alene Olympic, Sooke International, and the awesome week spent at training camp in Victoria, BC with my Lifesport teammates. I should have the blog up to date by December. I still maintain that my favorite ever triathlon was my first, but I'm presently as excited about the sport as I have ever been. It's amazing what healthy knees and a solid training block will do for the spirits. Can't wait for Kona!