And my goodness, what an adventurous trip it was! The flight there went smoothly and my fiance, Clint, and my mom were right on target with their 15 hour drive from Texas. Yes – you read that correctly: my mom and fiance drove TOGETHER, cooped up in my tiny car to come to the race. Wow! I am spoiled and blessed!
They made it into town by dinner time and I was so excited when they drove up. You see, I traveled quite lightly on the flight since they like to charge an arm and leg for EVERYTHING so the drivers had pretty much all my racing loot. So besides the fact that I was super stoked to see them, I was also anxious to have everything there and ready to prep. I think in the midst of my excitement, I may have distracted Clint a bit and the keys to the bikes suddenly disappeared. So there we all were, outside the hotel, frantically searching and tearing apart every inch of the car and luggage for the darn key. We finally found it and freed the bikes.
The rest of that evening was pretty tame and included a fabulous dining experience at a place called Cafe 4 at the Market Square area in Knoxville. There’s really only one word for the food – “amaaaaazing.” You have to say it like that too – it’s all my fiance uses to describe wonderful food so I’ve adopted the same policy.
That’s where the calm/relaxed feelings came to a halting stop. That night, I had a lot of trouble sleeping. Those that know me well know that sleeping isn’t my strongest suit. I have difficulty quieting my mind and being still enough to drift off. It has gotten a lot better and especially when I’m knee deep into high volume training, I usually don’t have too much trouble. But, when you race back to back weekends and thus, are really only recovering and tapering again, there is quite a cutback in volume. I just couldn’t turn myself off. I guess I finally fell asleep but then per my lovely internal alarm clock, was up the next morning around 7am Houston time. It’s quite dependable! Well in the middle of that restless night, I also realized I had forgotten the extender valve for the pump to air the disc up. That darn wheel is quite difficult to air up without it. Heck, it’s still difficult with the extender but it definitely helps. So between the mediocre sleep and forgotten supplies, the morning was a bit rough but with the help of my lovely support crew, we were able to get out and ride around a bit. I followed that up with a swim prior to the pre-race meeting.
At this point, my mom and Clint knew I needed some time to myself to nap and relax so they went out on a mighty adventure to pick up a few forgotten items. Later on I learned that they had done quite a few other things as well – they met a dog, played in a park, looked at houses, and the list goes on. I know – I’m still amazed at how well they get along…I am so lucky! We ended the day with Mass at a small little church that had the most gorgeous scenery:
It’s so green there! I love it. After church, we headed back to Market Square for dinner at an Italian spot. This dinner was not so “amaaaaazing.” We’ll just leave it at that. We waited way too long to get our food and when we finally did, it wasn’t up to par. So we topped off our dinner with a little dark chocolate at a cute little coffee shop to help take away the sting. And then, restless night #2 began. Once again, I just didn’t feel sleepy and couldn’t turn off. I was used to this situation when I first started racing but like I said, it has gotten a lot better so this was an unexpected challenge of the trip.
I was so relieved when the alarm went off on race morning because I knew that no matter what, I’d be finished in just a few hours without pressure and anything to prepare for. Don’t get me wrong – I was still going to go out and give it my best but after quite a few travel and trip adventures, I felt like it was a feat to just get to that starting line with some juice still left in me. And sure enough, just as soon as the gun went off, all the butterflies and anxiousness just melted away.
I found myself starting out pretty strong and was able to catch on to the fastest pack. It only lasted a few minutes but still, those girls are FAST so I was pleased. I tried to keep it but I was gasping for air every few strokes and knew I couldn’t keep that up so I found myself once again, a little bit in “no-man’s land” where there’s a pack behind and a pack ahead. There was one gal pretty close to me who was my same speed so I kept her feet for a bit until she started veering way far left. We ended up finishing pretty much at the same time, with her a little bit past the actual finish. Since it was a wetsuit swim, that water was pretty chilly! I loved it but my feet did not. As I was running the 1/4 mile jaunt to transition, my feet were completely numb. I tried not to let it panic me too much and I guess they must have eventually returned to normal somewhere before the bike.
I was less than 3 minutes behind the leader so I was pretty pleased with the placement at this point. Out on the bike, I just tried to get past the busier city streets and focus on attacking those few steeper hills. Around mile 3 or so, after coming off a steep climb and anticipating a steep descent, I was shifting from the small ring to the big ring when I had a big oops moment. That shift was way too intense and I dropped the chain. Not only did I drop it, but I couldn’t just pedal it back on so I literally had to stop, get off, and get it situated. Mind you – there were girls right on my tail so there was at least one, maybe two, that passed me during this little complication. I tried not to let it deter me and just refocused on the course.
The day before, we had ridden just the front few miles of the course until it got back into the more rural part. Well, that more rural part delivered some mighty challenging miles. Rolling hills were basically the name of the game. My legs were left feeling heavy and fatigued but I decided I’d power through and use the very limited hill training this Houston gal has in her to the best of my ability. I came into T2 in 10th place with 11th and 12th VERY close behind. They were so close that they actually beat me out of transition by just a bit.
I actually didn’t know what my placement was at this point but since the run was out and back, I would soon find that out. By the run, I was hungry. Not physically hungry but just hungry for the finish, hungry for some hammer time, and hungry to see how far I could push myself. I passed one girl around mile 1 or so and then as soon as I could count the gals coming back in, I knew I was now in 11th place. I definitely wanted that 10th place spot and knew that if it was going to happen, I had to make a move NOW. Since the girl in front of me was pretty much my same speed, I had to kick it to make up the distance and finally, around mile 3.5, I was able to do just that. It was not easy and I knew I couldn’t let up much at all so those last few miles were painful. My legs were exhausted from all the hills and I was beat. That finish couldn’t come quick enough! But alas, it did, and I ended up 10th. Whew!
Once again, I learned a lot during this race. I have some room for improvement on being prepared with everything I need for sure. Additionally, keeping calm in times of high stress is always an area that can be better as well. The swim is getting better but I still don’t have it in me to keep up with the leaders; I doubt I’ll ever catch that far up but I want to make up as much time as possible. A girl can dream, right?! I obviously also need to be careful with my shifting – that was a huge mistake that could have been prevented.
After all is said and done, I’m pleased with the results and proud that I was able to overcome a lot of challenges in the journey. I couldn’t have done it without the endless support and patience of my mom and fiance who were there for me. Neither of them ever thought twice about helping me do this, do that, etc…no matter how crazy it was. I must say that the thing that helped the most was prayer. It’s so easy to forget how powerful it is!
The lessons learned list is growing and I know that if I let it, it will help me become a better athlete. I think we all tend to get caught up in the details and stress of a race but remember the big picture…one race doesn’t define you. The journey is what it’s all about.