Sunday, September 6, 2009

Gone Fishing

One of my friends at VQ mentioned that I should write about the difference between racing age group and pro from the insiders perspective. So, with all my pro races that I have done (that would 2!) I can tell you that it is different but still very much the same because to me, races are races.

Let me step back, however. I have always been someone who does not mind being the small fish in a big sea. I went to Michigan and was not the best swimmer on the team by a long shot. I was just excited to be on the team. I told people when I was in 7th grade I was going to swim at Michigan. I took one recruiting trip, applied to one school---my mind was made up. When I began my career at UM it was anything but pretty. The workouts were harder than anything I had ever done and combined with the dryland we had to do I was dragging. Each and every workout was a challenge to get through but I knew that if I kept plugging away good things would happen. I still remember the workout where I thought "I can do this!" It was November and I finally had a good workout---it was a breakthrough moment. In all my years at Michigan I was never the best swimmer on the team but I was challenged the entire time and that is what I loved about it. It brought out the best in me.

For me, racing pro is very similar to my experience at Michigan. That is not to say that age group racing is not challenging because there are some AMAZING age group athletes. That said, I was very excited to have the option to step up and race in the Pro division. I am a small fish again and every race (and training session for that matter) is a challenge because I know what awaits me at the starting line. I am not as fast as some of those women, but I believe I can get there. I am closing the gap and every race is another opportunity to improve my racing and fitness. I do not really get nervous for races, either. I get a little anxious making sure everything is okay---do I have all my stuff? Is the bike in good order? You know the drill. Whether it is Steelhead 70.3, Chicago Tri or a local race it's another chance to challenge myself and take steps forward. Nothing has changed with my mental approach to training and racing. I am going to do what I need to do to get myself to the finish line as quickly as possible. Whoever is in between really does not matter to me. Of course, if someone is close in a race it just brings out the best in me. I don't swim, bike or run any differently than I used to. I race triathlons because I have fun doing it and that is not going to change because I am in a different division. I love to train and I love to race. I remember training in college and thinking "I could do this forever, I love to train and make myself hurt...could someone pay me to do this?" Well, here I am, making the big bucks in triathlon (insert laughter here). It took me awhile to get here: a 4 year break post college with lots of going out and not much physical activity, injuries, working as a paralegal and more time on the bike than I ever imagined. Now I am in a place that I wanted to be and I am so excited to see what is around the next bend.

The Great Illini (local Half Iron race)

Yesterday I did a local race in Mattoon, IL. I drove the 2.5 hours down to Mattoon on Friday. I have been down that way (it is in the middle of the state) for a swim meet but I really did not pay attention while riding on the bus. One thing I did see that is worth mentioning: signs on the side of the road put up by a farmer that read "if teachers had guns they could shoot back" and "guns even the score." WHAT?!?!?! That needs no explanation, it speaks for itself. Back to the race. I got to the hotel, checked in, laid around and then went to the Alamo Steakhouse for dinner. Luckily they had chicken and rice on the menu so I had that for dinner. After that I drove down to the metropolis of Neoga, IL (population: 1900) and picked up my packet at the race site. Let me just say, I love low key races. It's easy to get your packet, set up your gear, go to the bathroom, etc. 2000+ just complicates all that stuff.

Here is a pic. of the lake/swim course. This is taken from transition and where I parked my car---like I said, easy. I got back the hotel and went to bed early. Up at 4:15am for breakfast and all the particulars. Got down to the race site, parked my car 40 feet from the transition and got set up. It was cloudy (even though the weather said sunny all day) and a bit humid. We got started right on time and my only complaint was that the women in the half iron went off second so we had to swim through about 150 males. I was thinking of the movie Titanic as I swam through them, the scene where the boat has gone down and everyone is flailing about in the water. Out of the water and onto the bike course. It was two 28 mile loops. There were three 180 degree turns on each loop combined with chip seal and some turns with gravel. But, honestly, it was great. Pretty much wide open. I was able to see my competition and that made me ride hard. The second loop I decided to really go for it and see how I would run after that type of effort. On the run I eased in the first mile and then found a nice rhythm. We were running among the corn fields on a 2 loop course. The aide stations were manned by local high schoolers who were kicking around soccer balls and handing out drinks. They were great, it was so low key and I was enjoying making it hurt out there. After the first loop I really pushed hard, my mile splits were good and I wanted to maintain the pace no matter what. I kept telling myself "I love running" and "this is so fun, you have done some hard training, keep it up." I made little goals for myself along the way in terms of my competition. I wanted to see how many men I could pass and I wanted to get further and further ahead of the females behind me. It kept me going and before I knew it I was at mile 12. I was really running hard at that point. It was my last tri of the season and I wanted to leave it all out there. I finished with a great run split and as first overall female and 2nd overall in the whole race. Great way to end the tri season. I grabbed my stuff and headed to the hotel for a quick shower so I would not be totally gross for the drive home. I got breakfast at Cracker Barrel(mmmm...warm biscuits) and then hopped in the car. Boy, the drive might have been more challenging than the race. It was most certainly less fun. I made it back and luckily, when I got to Chicago, it was mainly free of traffic. Now that is a gift! Home to see my kitties and then lots of eats ending with my favorite post race treat:
A cupcake AND a peanut butter cookie from Sweet Mandy B's (corner of webster and racine for Chicago peeps).
So that is it for the tri season. Now it is rest for most of this week, an open water swim next Saturday and a 4 man TT next Sunday followed by going to watch Hillary kick butt at IM Wisconsin.
After that cyclocross and running races along with swim coaching until I start gearing up for another fun year of triathlons.

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