Everyday I receive a buddhist email in my inbox. Some days they are a bit deep for me and other days they really hit the mark and I "get it." The day before I left for Costa Rica I received the following:
For me, this was a perfect reminder of what my journey in triathlon has been about. After moving to Napa from Chicago I have been training quite a bit to improve my weaknesses. Mostly, this work focused on the bike. Thanks to my swimming career I usually come out of the water near the front of the race only to find myself slide backwards a bit on the bike ride. This "slide" has lessened in the past few seasons and I have had glimpses of big improvements on my bike. After my off season break I continued my dedication to getting better on the bike. Several weekends were spent riding just about every road and mountain in the Napa Valley with my friend Mike from Chicago. We would plan our route to contain the maximum amount of climbing possible and set out mid morning only to return just as the sun was setting. The next day we would get up and do it again. As the winter progressed I started to see some improvements and more importantly, I just began to believe in myself and my ability to ride hard, make it hurt and continue for miles and miles. With this in mind I approached the Costa Rica race as a good test of fitness and ultimately, I wanted to race like I had been training.
With this in mind I did not find myself too nervous for the race. Of course, there were the usual travel stressors and making sure I had everything I needed (sidenote: why is this always the most difficult the first race of the season??) but as I headed to the airport I was more excited than nervous. After a long day of travel I made it to the Conchal Hotel late on Wednesday night. This place was an amazing find. It was a small bed/breakfast type place with 10 rooms. Simon and Hilda, the owners, took amazing care of all the guests. I arrived late to Hilda waiting for me offering to make me food and ushering me to my room quickly and getting me settled after my long day of travel.
The Courtyard just outside my door.
The food was amazing and it was home cooked personally by Hilda. I ate at the hotel restaurant for all but one of my meals---everything was top notch! I met other triathletes doing the race and enjoyed getting to know them and what brought them to Costa Rica.
After a good sleep on Wednesday I woke up for an easy run to check out the area and figure where everything was for the race. I found the Rev3 staff setting up the expo, checked out a couple of the hills we would encounter at the beginning of the bike ride and organized to do a bike ride later in the day with Jesse. The winds were whipping we headed out which compounded my trepidation since I was already a bit anxious with the cars and there being no shoulder on the round. To my surprise, the cars were great and gave us plenty of room and were careful about passing us. The wind was not as accommodating and Jesse and I both agreed that no matter what the wind did on race day we were prepared for anything based on what we encountered during our 20 mile test ride. While neither of us knew the exact course it turned out that we hit all the roads we would ride in the race.
Friday was more of the same--swim, eat, ride, eat, recovery pump, eat, etc. Saturday rolled around I remarked at my lack of nervousness, headed to the pro meeting, got NERVOUS, headed back to the hotel and became un-nervous again. I got my stuff together easily since it was "only" a short race and fell asleep early and easily and woke up at 3:50am on Sunday to prepare for the 6:02am race start.
I warmed up in the Reserva Conchal pool (about 25m long=love from this girl) and made my way down to the beach for the start. Every race should have a pool for warm up!!! I found myself on the start line and was very calm. I had a plan for the race and all I had to do was execute. My goal was to stay in the present, deal with any challenges and move on. The swim start was fast and furious but I quickly settled in to a good pace and stayed with a good group. We hit the turnaround for the second loop which meant we had to run out of the water, around a buoy on the beach and dive back into the water. Holy lactic acid!!! I felt like poo for the first 250 meters of the second loop but stayed in the group and said to myself "the pukey feeling will subside" over and over again. The last turn that sent us into shore meant we were swimming right into the rising sun which made sighting on the buoys difficult. Luckily, in my pre-race recon I had found a tall, lone tree in the distance I could site on that would take me right into the swim finish. I focused on this tree and while the group splintered a bit (probably because of the sun) we all made it to the right spot and ran through the sand and into transition. My transition was a bit rusty but I soon found myself on the bike and getting my shoes quickly so I could tackle the 100meters of rough gravel we had to ride over. This had given me a bit of pre-race anxiety and worry but I made over fine and hit the hills with Bree and Malaika just about 15 seconds into front of me. These hills were no joke, it was a maximum effort to get up the 20% grades and out of the resort. I made it to the flatter part of the course and reminded myself of what my "fast" riding felt like. I was in the race--passed a few girls and found myself riding in 4th with Malaika and Bree in sight. Nicole passed me in the middle of the first loop. I focused on my effort (wattage) and even though my legs burned I knew that I could maintain my pace. As I came down a small hill I hit a huge pothole. I was sure that a pinch flat was about to happen. I kept riding and watched the front wheel. It stayed inflated. Phew...at this point I thought that I was being given a big opportunity so I better make the most of it. 9 times out of ten I am pretty sure a hit that big would have flatted the wheel or broken it. I moved into 3rd during the second loop and I could not believe it. I was sure the other girls were coming so I just kept riding hard. I did have thoughts drift into my head like "oh my god...you could get 3rd, or even 2nd," however, I dismissed them instead choosing to stay in the moment and make good decisions to keep myself moving forward and riding well. I made my way back up the hills, which we easier on the way into the resort, and then across the gravel and into transition. As I dismounted the bike everyone was yelling "Go Amanda, good job Amanda, go get em' Amanda." I responded with a quick, and somewhat breathless, "my name is Emily."
I got my shoes on quickly and headed out onto the hot and hilly run. It was a 2 loop affair that took us along the beach, through the town of Brasilito and back up a hill and into the resort (more hills) and then down through transition and back out for loop 2.
There was a turnaround point about 1.5 miles in and I got a look at the competition behind me..gulp, I started to get nervous. Now, I don't know about anyone else, but when I run I always feel like I look really slow and I see others and think "oh my, they are running so well, so fast." I definitely had this thought when I saw about 4 girls breathing down my neck. I had a thought like "good job stupid, you finally come off the bike well and you are going to ruin it on the run and get like 8th." I also had a fleeting thought about Andy watching online at home and thinking "WTF, she comes off in 3rd and fades?" Again, as fast as these thoughts came into my head they left and were replaced by, well, I'll just run hard and if I struggle and get passed them is the breaks. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. So I hit the hills and while I felt crappy I ran well up them. I passed a woman who looked a me and made a signal that implied "relax your shoulders." This was a good point and I took note. As I was running across the golf course I heard someone approaching from behind...the train had arrived, or so I thought. It was actually the 2nd place male and I breathed a sigh of relief. Jesse eventually came by in 3rd as I headed out on my second loop and I was encouraged to keep fighting since I thought it would be cool if the 2 Rolf Prima athletes finished up really well. Around mile 4 I was passed for 3rd place. I attempted to go with the pass and while there was slight gap I fought to keep it as close as possible. I figured if I could stay in it perhaps I could surge on the hills and take 3rd back. I run on hills all the time in Napa, I can do this! Ultimately, although I tried I fell short and finished 30 seconds out of 3rd place but I have to say, although I was disappointed to fall back on the run, having Sarah in front of me and trying to stay with her helped me maintain my 4th place position and not be caught by anyone else behind me. I was encouraged by my positivity and my ability to keep pushing when the heat and effort was really getting to me.
After a cool down in the hotel pool I made my way over to watch the awards and chat with other competitors. Although I was very pleased with my performance I can say that it stung a bit to watch the top 3 go up on stage and receive their awards. I wanted it to be me up there smiling for the cameras. This is good fuel for the fire and I am excited to race again. Luckily, my next race is March 31 in Las Vegas!
This result gives me some confidence I am moving in the right direction but I know that past races mean nothing in terms of future efforts. I will be standing on the start line on March 31 with a clean slate, ready to give another big effort and see what happens. While I am racing others to do my best I have to focus on myself---MY training, recovery and preparation. I am back in Napa recovering, will do some more work and then head to Vegas to challenge myself again.
Happy Training and thanks for reading---I know it was a long one :)