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There is no perfect race: Winning comes down to tenacity, patience and pain management.
This weekend I traveled to Oklahoma City to race in the Long Course National Championships (1/2 Ironman). I decided I wanted to race the “double” this year: Short Course and Long Course Nationals.
Fall has come to Chicago and I was ready to start my off season. It was 30sF overnight and I wanted to drink apple cider and eat apple donuts, frankly. But, I knew I was super fit – healthy and motivated to race long course nationals. We kept my workouts very race specific, doing as little as I needed to get the job done AND never losing the sight of my goal: To win Nationals – which, clearly, is never an easy feat and something I have never done.
In September, I am fit and my job was to keep things LIGHT leading into LC Nats and hold onto any strength I had and to stay sharp. Honestly, that meant weeks where my workout totals were only 10-12 hours. YEP. For long course Nationals, I was in such great shape – the key was not to go into a HOT (race day was mid 90s) even 1% over-cooked in late September. I have so many miles on my legs, I just needed to sharpen up for Oklahoma. Luckily, I arrived in OKC – fresh and ready to race.
Elizabeth and I traveled to OKC and this trip did not disappoint. We actually travel VERY well together and we know how to get ready to race, eat the right things AND have some fun – all of which is so critical for racing – but more importantly for Long Course racing. This trip down to OKC I demanded we hire a driver to take us to the airport – stay at a 4 star hotel (after our dump in Burlington, I needed to get on this one!) – and basically have people take care of us. I realize that sounds snooty; which, is not really the case at all. I just have traveled and race for so long and all over – that IF I am going to OKC in 90 degree heat – Miss Daisy and Maude will be taken care of. And, as a result, I have NEVER tipped so much in my entire life – I went through over $30 in SINGLES probably this weekend! But, besides putting our bikes together and taking them apart – we did not do much more work. Perfect.
I told Elizabeth when I am 50, we will need someone to DRIVE US TO THE START line on race day. Preferably in a pink, stretch limo (which, by the way, we did see in OKC and nearly peed our pants).
I think the biggest blonde moment of the weekend came when Elizabeth and I drove the bike course and it felt like it was SO long – and desolate (it was!) – and we both said, “Gosh, I cannot believe we have to do that course 2x.” On race day, as Elizabeth and I traded bike positions on the bike – one time I said to her, “This is a 1 looped course – DUH!!” We had no idea it was a 1 loop bike course until we were out racing on it!
Race day came and I was ready to go. We ate, had the bellman get our car (see…) and arrived at transition in pitch dark. Our LC National Championships started first – along with the normal ½ Ironman race and the Aquabikes and the FULL Ironman (god bless those athletes out in that 95F degree heat AND desolate OK roads all day!!). The water table in the lake was so low! I started front and center and knew I would get hammered but I did not care – I needed/wanted a good swim to separate myself from some/any uber bikers out there. The gun went off and I shot out of it like a cannon. And, let me tell you, I do not shoot out of anything fast. I wanted to get a good position. I realized that not only did I get a good position, I was in the front pack! I got a little off course – and out of the corner of my eye I see Elizabeth! She worked so hard on that swim – I told her to jump on my feet and STAY there!
I came out of the water first overall female – of ALL females that day. That made me happy – I did not have a watch on – so I had no idea what my time was but I could have cared less. The race was mine to lose.
I got onto the bike and my goal was to KEEP THINGS way easy for the first 30 minutes. I knew it was hot out there, but I am not acclimated anymore to heat and I knew it would bite me in the ass in the last 30 minutes if I was not smart. We had a tail wind AND I kept my watts way lower than I needed to – or would have if I did not ride with that power meter. I must say, I am A HUGE fan of power for long course racing, it saves me from myself – especially in the heat. Anyway, I was 1st onto the bike and then a gal went by me fairly strongly at 45 minutes and she was 41 years old. OK…game on now…time to race. I got up to goal watts and rode strong and steady. Soon after that Elizabeth came by me and we rode back and forth until the ½ way mark.
I had to let the 41 year old go on the bike – she was riding too strong for me to chase her – and she was a bigger girl (not heavy, just not 100 lbs) so I knew either she was going to KILL this race or she would implode. Time would tell.
The roads were in crappy shape – really, really bad. And, at some point, I lost a bottle of my nutrition. If I knew I dropped it, I would have stopped to get it. But, around 1:45 I reached for it and nothing was there! So, I had to go to water/Gatorade, which is not my favorite combination for long course. My stomach started to bother me and while my power remained steady, my cadence decreased and I was hitting a real low part. I also had gone thru ½ bar, 5 gels and some salt. Then, my stomach started really bothering me – and I stood for parts to get my stomach back to normal…I could not wait to get off the bike. I was in a real low and thought there was no way I could run 13.1 miles – fast.
I arrived in T 2 and was in 3rd position overall. I was actually a little surprised because I fell off the bike pace a bit there – that I was still in 3rd OA. I actually was a hot mess. The temps were hot, but honestly, it was not that bad. It is a dry heat in Oklahoma and we had a breeze. I sat in T2 and peed and peed and got my head around this run ahead of me. I estimated that the girl leading my AG was at least 6-7 minutes ahead of me, conservatively. THAT is a lot of time if she can run. I headed out of T2 and had actually had my legs.
This run course is flat but all on concrete and windy, trail-like paths. I LOVED IT. I could see the runners and it was out and back and 2 loops…a perfect course when you are chasing someone. I almost let her go. I almost allowed myself to believe I could not chase her down. I had already stopped twice in two port-o-johns to crap my brains out. And, this was in the first 4 miles. HOW in the hell do you catch the lead girl when you are stopping to crap – twice in 4 miles? AND once in the bushes at mile 7???
I will tell you how….you rely on that girl messing up her race plan in 90 degree temps. You hope that the conservative approach on the front end of the bike/run will pay off enough and chip away on her lead. AND YOU never ever ever give up. AND, you have to think fast on your feet. I knew that due to my awesome poopy pants that I had too much in my gut, so I was able to adapt at the end of the bike and on the run…I needed to be quick and sharp to get this win.
At mile 6 I saw Elizabeth, she said, “Keep chipping away at her.” I put my head down and just swallowed the pain. I did not allow myself to feel. THE entire time I repeated over and over, probably 1,000 times, “It will all be worth it Jenny – you can be the National Champion…it will all be worth it…woth it….worth it…..”
I put my head down and ran as hard as the weather would permit –I was around 7:15-7:40 all day…slower than I wanted to be, but considering my stomach was a hot mess, I was OK. And, who cares what pace you are running if you can catch the first place girl, right? And, due to my stomach, I could ONLY drink water/COKE. I had nothing else. I had enough salt and calories on the bike…but it was a fine line. I carried gels and salt for the entire run, because I knew at any second I would need something. AND, ice saved my ass too. I had ice down my sports bra to keep my core cooler – it helped.
At mile 10-11 I see Elizabeth again. She is clearly in 1st overall and I realized that it would be SO cool for us to go 1-2 overall at this race – WHO would have thought? We pass and she says, “She is 1 minute up, Jen.” At that point I knew I could do this. If I could cut into her lead by almost 5+ minutes in 10 miles, I can do 1 minute in 3 miles. And, so I went. I dug really deep. I grabbed as much coke/water I could at each aide station and dumped water over my head to allow my body to really get ready for what is ahead of me. I round the turnaround corner and I have less than 3 miles ahead of me. The course is super crowded since this is a 2 looped course. I am flying by athletes and I am painfully focused on that girl – and FINALLY I see her and her pink shorts. I slow my pace to catch my breath so that when I go by her, I can sprint past her so she does not attach herself to me and we battle for 2 miles in that heat for the win.
I pass her, say, “nice job” and go hard past her…BUT I was so happy. I was so proud of my race and I could have given a rat’s ass if the time was 6 hours OR 4:30. I was in the lead at the National Championships at mile 11. The race was mine to lose. AND I did not let off the throttle. WHO knows who is lurking back there. I did not really let off the gas until I crossed the finish line. AND in the last 4 miles I did not have to stop and crap myself. So, that was a bonus. I ran a 1:41, which is slower than I thought I would run, but guess what? IT DOES NOT MATTER. I crapped myself for 13.1 miles and won the AG, who cares!
As I entered the Finish Chute I saw 4:57 – I had NO idea what the time was, but I was happy to be under 5 hours for sure. I raced without a watch. When I can go head to head with my AG, I do not need to know anything but who is in front of me. I think it is so freeing and I race best when the game is ON. As I finished I saw Elizabeth in the waiting area and we both smiled at one another – nothing really even had to be said. We were both SO happy and to get 1-2 and both be National Champions was almost too much to grasp.
But, I was a mess. I had mentally and physically given that race my all and I could not take another step. I was thirsty, sore, tired and euphoric all at the same time – and SO satisfied.
Anyway, the Awards Ceremony for the National Championships is a great treat. I not only won my AG, but I was 2nd Overall and 1st Master. Honestly, it was so gratifying. And, to get 2nd OA to Elizabeth was nothing short of fantastic.
We finished our weekend with some pizza, salad (we desperately needed something green), Malbec for Elizabeth and big gelatos! We took a Trolley tour and went back to hotel room to take apart our bikes (blah). We were trashed. Elizabeth and I could barely walk. My legs ached so bad that night in bed I was praying someone would just bring me pain meds! I was even up at 1am emailing Elizabeth (who was sound asleep in the next bed) for her to get some ibuprofen!!
And, while I did the work yesterday on the course, I am not crazy to think I could do this without the great support of my team. A special thanks to Jerome – who is a rockstar when I am gone and who gets to have special daddy time with the twins. Thanks to Dave, Elizabeth and Kate @ ProKine who keep me honest and challenged even after all these years racing…and for keeping it REAL. Understanding what I can and cannot do at 41 years old and most importantly, allowing me to hit some home runs this year! AND to my friends, family, athletes & my sponsors – your support means the world to me.
Final note: Thanks to those who introduced themselves to us this weekend: Christie, Pele and others. And, CONGRATS to Carrie Kimber who was 4th OA at the Long Course Aquabike – great to see some friends down in OKC!
Here is the link to the USAT press release – where they KEEP reminding me that I am a Master now at 40.
Next up: THE OFF SEASON!!!! AND as much pumpkin crap I can eat!