Life in the Fast Lane: Panama 70.3
Wow, I haven’t written a blog in quite a while! I forgot to cover last season’s final race (Miami 70.3) but that one is too long to cover now. To give some context for this season: I had a wake-up call near the end of last year that my time as a professional triathlete won’t last forever. I was pleased with my 2012 results for the most part, but realized I have bigger goals. I decided to make some changes – to buckle down and get serious. First off, I needed to admit that self-coaching was getting to be a drag. I’ve been quite fortunate to have the help and support of some excellent swim and run experts. But being honest with myself, I will get to the next level, only WITH someone else’s comprehensive help.
Working with Neal, I’m learning a ton and reinforcing old truisms I may have neglected or under-emphasized while self-coaching. We’ve made various changes (enhancements) to my training and even after a few weeks I’m seeing major improvements. I was excited for Panama and ready to start my season off right: my goal this year being to bring my frequent 3-5th place finishes up to wins as often as possible. Strike one against me in Panama – I finished fourth. But usually you can’t judge a race by your finishing place (just like you can’t judge it by time)…
Going into the race with a nice little taper, I felt well prepared and excited to take on the heat (mid-90s) and wind (pretty strong this year). With the exception of some poor sleep and not the ideal warm up, I felt good as we prepared for the horn to sound. Our start was delayed as the Panamanian police had trouble closing the Bridge of the Americas (pretty extraordinary to ride across it by the way!), and I avoided pre-race jitters by chatting with other racers and going over my race plan in my head. Once we got in the (COLD!) water, I paddled around a bit and sought out what I hoped would be a smart starting position. The fact that I had to wipe out my goggles 4-5 times in the 2 minutes pre-horn did not bode well for clear vision; my biggest problem on the swim (which was the major disappointment of my race) was not being able to see through the fog inside my lenses. I’ve had fogging problems in the past, but these were worse – I wonder if not spending more time in the cold water harmed me pre-race. Between the fog in my goggles and the sun’s glare off the water, I could not see for the life of me. I knew I wasn’t swimming on anyone’s feet and wasn’t sure what line I was taking either. Once the swim exit was just a few meters away, I could see it – but it couldn’t have come soon enough. Sadly, my hands and feet were numb and my spirits a bit low as I got out of the water much further behind the leaders than I’d hoped and expected.
As with anything in life, you can’t dwell on what goes wrong – you move forward and focus on what you can do. So I hurried through transition as best I could and was on the bike ready to attack. The first several hundred meters out of T1 can be tricky because you’re on a narrow sidewalk. I didn’t even try to pass the rider in front of me, opting for safety first. I felt sad for her when she turned off to fix a flat before we got out on the main road, but then determined to drop the hammer and catch the several women ahead. I really like the bike course at this race. The first several miles take you away from Panama City by way of the Puente de las Americas, into a rural area with winding, sharper curves and steep hills for a short bit, then back up to a more open highway with longer hills and sweeping curves. The wind felt much more noticeable than last year, as did the spread between me and the front of the race. Last year, I’d caught the leader very quickly. This year, I never did… For much of the race, I could not see anyone in front of me, and with the exception of a couple of people, I did very little passing. Instead I focused on staying as aero as possible, keeping my wattage within the goal range, keeping my cadence high, and eating and drinking at the right intervals. Thankfully, I achieved a personal best in water bottles aimed for and caught at the aid stations (usually I drop them!) Thank you to all the wonderful volunteers standing out in the hot Panamanian sun!
By the time I got off the bike I was in fourth place, with plenty of time between the 2 leaders to me, but only a few seconds out of third. I passed her in T2 and got out on the run feeling only somewhat stiff but optimistic that I could run well. Within the first mile she passed me back, so I figured I’d slip in behind her and let her block the wind. That only lasted a short while – I knew I could push a better pace – so I passed back and pressed on. My thoughts were on fueling, hydrating, taking salt tabs, and keeping my form (swinging my arms behind me, keeping my torso forward, and my knee angle tight so my feet would plant underneath me). I also entertained the notion of catching #s 1 and 2 and avoiding being caught by a known super-runner a few minutes back. The first several miles passed quickly, the tailwind giving a pace boost, the headwind cooling us nicely. After passing the halfway point, though, a more noticeable heaviness set in (probably also because I could see the super-runner making big gains, and I couldn’t see obvious gains being made by ME on the runners ahead). I told myself to press on, to keep my cadence up, to hold my core strong, and to keep taking in calories. I reminded myself that anything can happen in long races: maybe someone would fade, maybe I’d get a big surge of energy… so I must press on!! I did, as best I could, for as long as I could. With just a couple of miles to go, I knew it was mathematically impossible to catch 1&2 unless someone started walking or I got a magic rocket, and I knew I’d have to speed up significantly not to be caught by #4. My calf and hamstring were getting tighter, my thirst became more noticeable, and my feet were hurting like crazy (lots of blisters burst in the wet shoes from all that water to cool us off). With about 2k to go, the inevitable happened – my super-running friend behind me caught and passed me; I submitted without a fight, focusing on keeping my own pace, since I had no more gears to shift. I pushed as best I could through the final corners and up the small incline into the finishing area, putting on my best smile as I came through the long finishing chute. Fourth place was neither expected nor desired, but it was my best on the day. And the top three put on admirable performances.
Thanks to all of you who’ve sent well wishes and congrats. Special thanks to long-lasting my sponsors: Potomac River Running, Elite Bicycles, Plum Grove Cyclery, Rudy Project, blueseventy. And of course a very special thanks to my two most health-enhancing sponsors: Jette Hansen/Old Town Massage Center and Dr. Aleck Wong/United Wellness Center. Without you two keeping my body moving, I wouldn't be able to race! Last but not least, a shout out to all of the tough competitors who endured the heat and elements in beautiful Panama!