Welcome to the 2006 triathlon season!!! I thought the first race of the year was supposed to be a gentle reminder of how to swim, bike and run – a little rehearsal for the upcoming season – a chance to re-acquaint oneself with travel, taper and pressure. Nope! A quick look at the start list would explain why I had the “opportunity” for a finishing sprint en route to capturing my 5th title at the Pucon half Ironman on January 22nd!
The weeks leading up to the race certainly were not indicative of any “finishing sprint” ability. After taking 25 days off – yes, completely off – after my appendectomy, I resumed training in mid November. It was wonderful. Everyone said that it would be brutal, but I was so happy to be swimming, biking and running that I cannot remember one day where I didn’t wholeheartedly love what I was doing. No that would come later – around the end of December, when for the first time since October, I started to do structured workouts. Gone were the 90 minute “fun” runs and the “video watching” computrainer 3 hour bike rides. Now there were pace guidelines, hill repeats and tempo sessions and all of a sudden, my blissful days of easy volume were replaced! I must admit that I am guilty of begging Lance Watson, my coach, for more intense workouts during those easy days – well I got them – and right along with them, the aches and pains! My two-week training camp in Clermont, Florida to begin my Ironman preparation for Ironman Australia was cut short as I returned home early for some physiotherapy with Steve Hill and for some rest. I know well enough that an ache in January gone unattended would become a major injury hurdle in October. Besides, dog walking is a cure for every ache and pain!
Meanwhile, I am hearing the start list for Pucon – Susan Williams, the bronze medalist from the Athens Olympic Games, Heather Gollnick, 3-time Ironman Champion and Erika Csomar, the World Duathlon Champion, Ironman Champion and a 2:39 marathoner. At first, it was overwhelming, but later, I realized that these women were going to help me to elevate my game – they were going to pull out of me an amazing swim, bike and run combination that ultimately would in turn elevate my race at Ironman Australia – my early season goal race. It was a win-win situation – I was going to be able to do what I love – swim, bike and run – in a gorgeous place – Pucon, Chile – with amazing competition and I would come away from the race fitter and faster for Ironman Australia. Of course, I wanted to win, but I found peace in focusing on my internal goals. When it got right down to it – I wanted to race – I love racing – and nothing was going to stop me – certainly not an appendix this time around!!!
I had a great few days leading up to the race. I arrived on Thursday evening and over the next few days, I was able to make some new friends and visit with some old friends. I also visited with a group of young triathletes representing Universidad Catolica – the training club in Santiago that sponsors this race. These young people travel from Santiago to Pucon to train for a few weeks in the summer and to race in the kids race on the Friday before the Half Ironman. We had a wonderful chat and question and answer. It was a fantastic opportunity for me to share my love of sport with these athletes. I was also able to spend time with Tony DeBoom, the athlete liaison for my new sponsor, Tri Dubai, who traveled to Pucon to support me. I have been so fortunate to have had such amazing sponsors throughout my career – sponsors who have become like family to me – and I am so fortunate to be able to add Tri Dubai to that list.
Race day was gorgeous – clear, sunny and warm! Perfect race conditions for me! The swim got out in its usual aggressive way. The professionals get a 5 meter head start on the beach. So here is the visual – the professionals are lined up about a “Subaru Outback and a half” ahead of 523 age group athletes! Ok, now let’s zoom in on us tiny little professional woman being chased down by at least 300 South American men! That might be a nice visual for some women, but personally, all I could think of was “please don’t step on me!” Despite the rough start, I had a great swim and found myself exiting the swim to bike transition with Heather Gollnick. I was pretty excited until I tried to get onto my shiny new P3 Carbon and I found my saddle pointing 45 degrees downward. I don’t know how that happened but I straightened it out and got on board. Of course, that was a brutal setback, but it made me realize how much I wanted to race. I am so particular about the set up of my equipment and yet, my saddle was in the wrong position and I didn’t care – I just wanted to ride and race – I just hoped that my body weight on the saddle coupled with the inevitable bumps on the 90 km of pavement ahead wouldn’t cause my saddle to drop back into that pointing down 45 degree angle.
I definitely had the fire to ride hard. So I rode as hard as I could and despite this, I still was losing time to Susan Williams who exited the water about 3 minutes ahead. But what was even worse was that I was passed by Erika Csomar at about 25 km into the bike. My goal had been to hold off Erika as long as possible on the bike since she is an amazing runner and I didn’t think I would be able to catch her if she had a lead on me off of the bike. Oh well, on to plan B! The only good thing about getting passed by Erika was that I was able to stay positive and happy and aggressive in spite of losing ground. My saddle was holding up – I was pushing back on my saddle so that I wasn’t weighing down the nose. I was riding well and hard and fast. There were just faster gals out there!!
I got off the bike in 4th place, 10 minutes behind Susan, 2 minutes behind Erika and a less than a minute behind Heather. Again, I focused on my internal goals – building fitness for Ironman Australia, racing my best, racing with heart and loving what I was doing. I could check off everything on my list. I didn’t feel pressure at all! I just ran as hard as I could. After a few kilometers, I was in 3rd place, but I wasn’t gaining on the leaders. By about 7 km, I had gained on Susan but not on Erika. I just kept telling myself to have no regrets and to run as hard as possible. After about 12 km, I had gained about 30 seconds on Erika and 7 minutes on Susan. At 17 km, I caught Susan and the new leader, Erika was about 30 seconds ahead. Now I was in a full sprint. With about 1500 meters to go, I caught Erika. Sounds good, but that was when reality hit. Like any good runner, Erika stuck right to my shoulder. She responded immediately to my pass by attaching herself to me. I thought “rats, she is going to sit there and then sprint by me at the end!” After all, I had been sprinting for 20 km whereas she had not had to use that gear yet. She still had that gear to call on. I thought about sitting back and letting her take it out and then I realized that my finishing sprint is about the same speed as my 10 km race pace (which is the same pace as my 21 km race pace!) and so I had no choice but to run as hard as I could! I did not look back – there was no point. All of my energy was into moving forward. And forward I moved as fast as my little legs would go. I broke the tape in my fastest time in Pucon ever – and more importantly, 2 seconds ahead of Erika.
The best part about the race was that I loved every minute. I loved it when I was in 4th place, 3rd, 2nd and 1st. I was on task and content and at peace the entire race. This is the kind of mental race I want to have at the Hawaii Ironman this year. And so, that is my goal in Kona – to race with that perfect mixture of passion and peace. I just hope I don’t have to sprint for the entire marathon!
Thank you for your support.