Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Am I really smiling that wide? It seemed so tough at the time!

What went through my mind while racing the Desert Half Ironman and Canadian Long Course Triathlon Championships, July 8th 2007:

At the 16k mark of the run, I am still in 2nd. I tell myself, you can mix it up with the world’s best at an international 5k road race, you can definitely run your way into first here. C’mon, 5k to go; run like you know you can. Be a runner.

Thinking about Greg Bennett and Brent McMahon and Simon Whitfield and all the great triathlete runners I trained with at the National Training Centre with coaches Lance Watson and Paul Regensburg before Athens. Greg, with his trademark high heels stride, would always be so jovial and funny during warm ups and cool downs, keeping up a running commentary a la Phil Ligget as if we were in the last 600m of the Olympic 10 000m final…. “And here comes Smith, pushing the pace, but Bennet responds, unleashing a confident surge, Smith pushes back with a fury that the mighty Australian can't match”….I’m smiling at these memories and it relaxes me, helping me run more efficiently.

“50 quick steps”. The words of husband and coach Lance Watson, and all of our pre-race talks over the years, things to draw on when the going gets tough. I head into each corner, putting in 50 quick steps, trying to draw out my lead so I can relax.

And then the ridiculous bargaining with myself, which in the heat (literally) of the race, makes me laugh, as it’s so inane. “Finish this one off and you don’t have to do Ironman Canada.” “Win this one last Canadian Championship and you can retire”. Even I, in my fatigued discomfort am not so delirious to believe any of this for one moment, and have to chuckle at the craziness of a sport that makes you start negotiating for pleasure because it’s so tough.

Racing in the Okanagan, Family in Tow

I opted for the Osoyoos race particularly because I wanted to race and attempt a win at a National Triathlon Championships, because the Desert Half is a really good race in a really beautiful part of the country, and because it was a great chance for Lance and I to get away with Maia and Ross on a summer holiday.

In the course of three days, we drove to the Okanagan, ate cherries, played rounds of mini golf (7 year old Maia regularly scores higher than I do by the way), swam in the lake, went out on a motor boat, played on bumper boats, and I raced and successfully defended my title at Joe and Sarah Dixon’s Desert Half Ironman.

On race morning, everyone the whole family woke with me at 5AM, so we had a pre-race breakfast party, with Ross on my lap and Maia and Lance beside me on the sofa. Then it was time to say good bye and head to transition to get prepared.

Not having done quite enough swim training on account of my own unique parenting priorities, and the fabulous May-June road running trips I did, I set my goals in the swim as “keeping my turnover high, my focus steady and to sight smoothly”. I have always had a tendency to need to see too much where I am going in the swim. I am not sure if this is an extension of my own personality to always need to know what’s going on, or as a result of a more specific human need to feel grounded out in open water, even if that means being able to lock onto a big orange buoy 500m meters away. In any case, my biggest challenge as a triathlete (outside of the small detail of just swimming faster), has always been to swim a course well, from sighting smoothly, to drafting efficiently, and staying on course.

I usually feel happy in the swim, especially after the frenetic start is over. I love swimming surrounded by other athletes; I enjoy being in a sport that starts with a swim in a lake while the sun is rising in the sky. During the middle portion of the swim while I am immersed in my own internal focus on swimming well, pulling and rotating and relaxing my shoulders, I become acutely aware of the rhythmical quality and sounds of swimming. 1,2,3 breath, 1,2,3 breath, gurgle splash, splash, splash, gurgle splash, splash, splash. My ears are filled with watery sounds and the athletic world is muffled in the lake.

With the swim completed, I hurried my way to transition, eager to start the bike, eager to start eating into the big deficit that I know I created by a not so fast swim time. Once on the bike, I headed for the hills like a horse, pushing for the first climb up Richter Pass and my chance to make up some time. I love the climb of Richter Pass, the steady cadence of cycling uphill. (Maybe I just love being on my bike period, doing something I know I can do well.)

The bike this year didn’t feel quite as easy or powerful as last year’s ride. I could say it was the wind, which was a big factor in this year’s race by all accounts as we seemed to have headwind both out and back up the hill! I have no excuses, except that I suspect that I am not quite as well trained this year. Last year, Ross was still a little baby, sleeping a lot and fairly immobile and I was keen to get back to racing form. This year he is an active toddler, has stopped his regular naps and I don’t take much rest or recovery time, preferring to explore the world with him when I am not on my bike or laced into running shoes.

I decided to pace myself on the bike, to be careful of doing a 'Lucy' and burning it all up in the first 40k of the course. To take a more tactical and patient approach to the race and use my skill-set well. Seeing Lance and the kids out in the car at various points on the course gave me a boost. I saw him outside a fruit market, holding a bag of cherries in one arm and Ross in the other. After a blustery go of it out to Cawston and the turn around, in which my thoughts wandered occasionally off on the tangent of being a 40 year old woman with two children in a sport that has pretty much redefined what getting old means, I hit the backside of Richter with energy to climb well and to take a bit more bite out of the time between me and the (unknown) competition up ahead.

I came into transition 6 minutes down this year, and I ran out into the heat of the day feeling a little like that was an insurmountable goal to reach. However, in my triathlon memory bank, are all the races that I have won from behind, from patiently and strategically using my run off the bike to pull the leaders back. While I race most duathlons and road races from the front, I relish the challenge to having to make up a gap.

I ran up past Yvonne Timewell first, who gave me tremendous unflagging support on the out and back course. As far as she was concerned I was “Going to CATCH those GIRLS!”. Ok, I said to myself. I was running well, and I wasn’t dead, but my legs didn’t have the ‘fire’ in them that they had last year.

It took 17km of really focused running and a lot of positive mental pep talks to catch the lead woman, with a lot of that time spent wondering if I would catch her at all. All along I knew that I couldn't give up on the desire to reel her in, as everything can change so much in the last half of the race. Lance, and the rest of the field seemed to me sure that I would catch first place as well. It is a 2 loop out and back course so you see the same faces a few times and each time the same people would yell at me, as they ran by.

“She’s just up the road! You’re going to catch her for sure!” Although I never could see her “just up ahead” I figure so many people can’t be wrong and I think that the absolute certainty in their earnest encouragement helped me to believe that I would reel her in.

And there she was, finally, around the 16km mark. I spied Rosemarie Gerspacher’s back, and it was game over. Of course once I took over the lead, a new fear crept in. “What if someone runs up to ME from behind?”. So that old familiar feeling of running like a rabbit came over me, I pulled in my road racing skills—quick corners to get a few steps up, quick feet, fast water stops—and couldn’t relax until I was only metres away from the finish line and that is when and I knew that I had won my 19th Canadian Championship title and my first Triathlon Championships, and that is the end of another great day in sport.