Folsom International Triathlon was located a bit further away than the last few, but we still opted to drive up the morning of. My plans for being prepared and well-rested for this race were sidelined by numerous obstacles (Two hours standing in line for the rental car I’d already reserved, a late night war against an invading ant colony in the bathroom, etc) so I had to be adaptable and just hope for the best.
I compromised by settling for almost 5 hours of sleep, but intentionally arriving an hour and a half after transition opened. I knew what this meant: last pick on transition rack location and very little time to get ready.
The transition area was packed when I arrived, but race officials were carving out spaces on crowded racks for the latecomers like me. Instead of orderly, alternating bike positions, every single person had faced their bike towards the Bike Exit, creating a jammed mess of handlebars. Athletes had staked out giant transition spaces with what looked like picnic blankets and a week’s worth of camping gear. I slipped my bike into the three inch gap between two campsites while the announcer on the loudspeaker interviewed the feature Elite triathlete of the day, Robin Pomeroy. I was familiar with Robin and her skills – in particular, her swim skills. I knew I had my work cut out for me, and the bike and run were going to be all about undoing whatever damage she was about to do in the water!
My late arrival meant that my only warm up was a quick few minutes of swimming, but I was feeling good at the starting line. My biggest challenge with the swim is making it feel like a race. I can’t see a pace clock or my heart rate monitor, and it’s hard to gauge my speed based on the speeds of other anonymous swimmers around me. I often catch myself having too much fun out there in the middle of the lake, and not really focusing on Work.
As luck would have it, I landed right on the feet of the perfect draft. She was just slightly faster than me, but with the advantage of tucking in behind her slipstream, I was able to push just enough to hang on to her swift pace. I was laser-focused on swimming strong and keeping her bubbles in view, and before I knew it, we were rounding the final buoy towards the finish.
Holy crap, quickest swim ever!
And it turns out, it WAS my quickest swim ever. Open water splits are hard to compare since there are so many variables with water conditions, course measurement, and placement of the timing mats. But this was definitely my fastest 1500 meter swim in eleven years of competition, by a full minute! I like to think it has something to do with increasing my training from three to five swim days per week, but it was probably more due to tactical maneuvering this time. Hey, I’ll take it!
Transition was quick and I zipped out to the bike course to see how many dudes I could catch. Robin was up ahead somewhere, but I wasn’t likely to see her until the run. I passed a few guys but for the most part, it was pretty lonely out there. With so many turns I lost track of which direction I was going, but I noted with irritation that the wind seemed to be pummeling my face no matter how many turns I took. After getting beaten up in the headwind for awhile, a guy blew past me at top speed, and then promptly slowed down as he pulled in front.
Ah yes, headwind’s a bitch ain’t it?
I had passed him early on, just out of transition, so I figured he must have been enjoying my draft for quite awhile. Another guy passed us both, and then I watched the two of them duel it out in front of me – passing, re-passing, fighting for the front position. Fine by me, I’ll stay back and save my energy. Even at the prescribed three bike lengths behind them, they were still giving me some relief from the wind, and also giving me a target to chase (I consider this a Psychological Draft). I stayed behind them until the course steered us back towards the park. At the final turn back to the trail, we encountered a pack of volunteers helpfully calling out “Slow Down! Sharp Right!”
…Only they were all yelling at once, and even though it was obvious that something important was happening, it was impossible to untangle any English words from the hollering mess. The cyclist in the lead missed the turn completely. Luckily I was able to skid to a halt just in time to hit that sharp right and stay on course, winding my way back to Transition.
As I cruised in, I heard people yell that I was the second female, which came as no surprise. But then I heard Brad cheering for me, “Come on! Get a PR!!” and that was a surprise.
I just got my long-awaited PR at the last race, a fantastic 39:37! Now I have to get another one?
After thinking it over, I decided he was right. This course was ideal; paved, with just a few small rollers, my favorite! So I watched my splits at each mile marker, and calculated and re-calculated how fast I needed to run the remaining 4 miles, 3 miles, 2 miles… I saw Robin coming the other way, with more of a lead than even my shiny new run pace could make up for, but I figured the smaller the gap between her finish and mine, the better!
She ended up with a three and half minute lead on me, but I still turned out one of my fastest Olympic distance times, and I didn’t just get a new run PR, I beat last month’s 10K time by almost a minute!!
All around, a terrific day of racing for me, topped off with the usual post-race burrito, some Stand Up Paddleboard fun on the lake, Kona’s first swim lesson, AND my fourth consecutive raffle win at the Awards ceremony! I won another Polar watch, which will be put to good use, since Brad has been borrowing mine for his training for the Men’s Health Urbanathlon in November.
Kona is not so sure about this swimming thing…