Sunday, July 28, 2013

Toronto Triathlon - A perfect race - no matter the pace

Sometimes everything in the world seems to go against you.

You don't train enough. Life goes nuts. You get injured in the weeks (or days, or minutes) leading up to a race. You trip walking down the stairs. You get to the start line...or 30 seconds in...and wonder if you'll even make it past the first 10 minutes.

That last one was me in Leamington back in June. A panic attack in the water because I hadn't had enough time wearing my wetsuit, coupled with choppy water, left me struggling to breathe the first half of the swim course. I had no idea how much that actually affected the rest of my race. I finished with a big smile -- but I was breathing so hard at the end, I couldn't believe it. It took me hours to recover.

But that's the thing. Some days, something goes wrong. You push through and live off the adrenaline and the high of moving forward. I might not have been smiling coming out of the water that day, but I was proud for finishing.

And then - there's the opposite. The perfect race.

For me, the Toronto Triathlon - Olympic Distance was perfect. It was like everything in the world clicked, right at the right time. Sure, I'm not particularly fast (I finished 24th in my age group out of 40) -- but fast isn't a measure of perfection. Having the best race you can possibly have on a given day is.

And that was me.

I was nervous going into this race, but not the same way I was before Leamington...because I'd now done it before. Volunteering last year also helped - because I knew the procedures, knew the transition area, and had been out on the turnaround on the bike course. I hadn't seen the swim, but I'd been out in Lake Ontario a dozen times since Leamington - not wanting a repeat performance of that swim.

My brother and Colleen were also great. They kept me out of trouble the day before as we travelled around the city exploring festivals, walking around the Distillery District, and finding good coffee.

I felt a lot of nerves setting up my transition area the day of the race. But I was happy to be the second row from the end - making it easy to remember where my bike was racked. I also saw a bunch of people I knew - and that helped settle me down. Folks from the LPC training camp. Folks from the Toronto Triathlon Club - everyone was supportive and in good cheer.

The weather was also perfect. After a week of scorching heat and humidity, the temperature had dropped to low 70s or so....couldn't have asked for a better day.

The Swim

Lake Ontario was freezing. Seeing the line of swimmers getting ready to go in made me realize just how big this event was compared to Leamington. I was in the second to last wave, so I got to see the melee as everyone else started.

Then it was time to jump in. The cold was enough to cut all the nerves out of my system...mostly in an effort not to scream out my dismay. It was much colder than earlier in the week - thanks to a storm in the few days leading up to the race. There were jokes shared with the other girls in the water...mostly about ways to keep warm. No, I did not pee in my wetsuit. I made it through the port-o-potty line, thank you very much.

I planned to start slow and build - a suggestion given to me by a friend. When the air horn sounded...I started swimming, only to realize I'd underestimated my pace and was blocked by 3-4 girls swimming very slowly. I feel maneuvering around them was actually a good start to the race because it gave me something to focus on other than the cold around them and started to build from there.

Picked up speed the whole way I think. Got into a nice groove - especially near the end. I did go a bit off course, mostly when I was swimming into the sun - but I did a good job of re-sighting once I could actually make out the buoys. I have to say there was contact in the water the whole time - most of it benign but annoying. Hope I didn't hit anyone too hard!

I knew when I reached the exit that I'd made good time...and I did: 28:53! A full minute under my goal of 30 minutes! Even better, I didn't feel winded at all after the swim. I just felt great and ready to get on my bike.

Here is me at the swim exit! I was feeling awesome and accomplished and full of energy.

Picture 1: me at the swim exit

The Bike

Everyone knows it's the bike that scares me the most. But after having no issues getting to the mount line (it was at the top of a hill), or over the pedestrian bridge (I'd been worried about crashing)...the clear roads of the Gardiner and the Don Valley Parkway were like a gift.

Without the need to worry about cars or traffic, I just let myself go. There were a bunch of potholes, especially on the Gardiner, but I managed to easily avoid them as I started to get into a comfortable pace. I had no idea how fast I was going (my bike computer sensor refuses to stay on when I am outside - so I just don't bother now), but I felt great. There's nothing like clear and empty roads to make you feel confident and safe.

Picture #2 - me on the Gardiner Expressway

I reached the turnaround much faster than I expected, and then it was just right back to transition.

I made both of the scary turns (a U-turn and a sharp right turn right near the end) without crashing - and suddenly my bike ride was done.

After the fact, I found out that I'd managed to keep up a pace of 18mph for the bike portion of the race. That's by far the fastest I've ever managed for ANY ride - even one on my indoor trainer. I was utterly shocked. I knew I'd done well, but for me - that was remarkable. I beat my goal time on the bike by 7 minutes!

Now, if I were a better biker - I could've actually changed gears properly during the bike and likely gone faster...but that'll come with time and lots (and lots, and lots) more practice. On this particular day, I did better than any other time I've been on my bike. That as perfect as it can get, in my mind.

The Run

If you've been reading my blog, you know I love running. So you won't be surprised when I say I loved the run at the Toronto Triathlon. It was a nice out on the Martin Goodman trail (not as crowded as I feared, thank goodness) - and back on a curb-lane of Lakeshore. I carried my hand-held water bottle which meant I didn't need to worry about chugging water at water stations - I could just get into a nice pace. I did end up slowing my pace a bit to have a conversation with two nice folks also racing, until I remembered it was, in fact, a race and got back to it. I know, kind of funny...but after 2 and something hours of racing, you sometimes forget you're supposed to be on a mission!

That didn't make a difference though. I was still faster than I'd projected  (I said 55 minutes - thinking the swim/bike beforehand would really slow me down), finishing in 52 something...only 4 minutes off my Personal Best at the Yonge St. 10k. That was kind of awesome, in my mind!

And best of all - I smiled the whole way. It was a joy to run.

Picture 3: Me on the run

The Finish

As I got closer to the finish, I was pretty sure I was heading toward a time I thought was impossible (sub 3 hours). I might not have worn my watch the whole time (I have a Garmin that isn't waterproof)...but I had timed my bike and run...and unless I'd had a terrible swim (which I knew I hadn't)....I knew I was headed to a "Beyond Expectations" finish.

The finish line was kind of had to run a bit beyond it I think, before turning and heading down the finisher's chute. Not that I cared - the minute I saw the time on the clock reading 3:15...I knew I'd managed sub-3 hours, because my wave started at 7:16...and the race started before 7am. I was smiling already...but that realization made me beam.

Picture 4: Coming down the finisher's chute

I crossed the line of the Toronto Triathlon completely ecstatic...not like Leamington, where I was ready to faint. I was over the moon...and was grinning, even while my brother was trying to get a good picture.

Picture 5: After the finish

The perfect race

It wasn't until at least an hour later that I found out I'd beat my goal time of between 3 hours and 3:15....coming in in 2 hours, 49 minutes and 35 seconds. By that point, it didn't actually matter. I was absolutely overjoyed to finish my longest race ever without crashing on my bike -- and with a smile on my face.

Sure, there were things I could do better...I could have started a little closer to the front in the swim so I didn't waste time trying to get around people. I could have changed gears on the bike (and maybe one day I'll even be able to use my aerobars without being afraid of crashing). I could have picked up the pace a bit on the run, because in hindsight, I probably could've run a touch faster.

But those are things that will come with time (copious amounts of it in the case of riding my bike better). All I know is that for my very first Olympic Distance triathlon - I had a perfect race. Maybe not a perfect race for a lot of people (like I said at the start, I was 24th out of 40 in my AG - not even close to fast with any stretch of the imagination)....but a perfect race for me on that specific day.

I had an awesome swim. I had a phenomenal - best ever - bike. I had a fabulous and fun run. I had a beaming smile as I crossed the line.

Really, the only sad part of the day was realizing I don't have another Olympic triathlon this year. And I really, really want to do more.

But I have a marathon to run. And my best wish is to have the kind of race in the Run for Heroes that I had at the Toronto Triathlon!

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