Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sometimes you're the hammer, sometimes you're the nail

On Sunday, I was the nail.  Although my first attempt at elite draft-legal racing at the Kelowna ITU Continental Cup proved to be an epic fail, the overall trip and weekend was quite enjoyable - Kelowna is awesome!  Geoff and I drove up with the dogs on Friday, and due to some mishaps with the bike rack near the beginning of our trip as well as construction on the highway, I was almost 5 minutes late to the 5pm elite race briefing and package pick-up.  The officials and technical delegates are pretty strict about these things so luckily I arrived when I did.  The consequences of missing the meeting apparently include getting bumped to the end of the starting position list (so you get called last to the starting pontoon), and possible DQ. They mean business!

We stayed in a lovely vacation rental home only a block from the beach, and about 5km to the race venue downtown.  TIP: a vacation home is the way to go if you're travelling.  You can cook all your own food, which is healthier and actually ends up being cheaper than staying at a hotel where you have to buy all your meals out.  As it's a 'home away from home', you get all the comforts you wouldn't have in most hotel rooms.  Our little pad was great for the dogs, too!

The elite race briefing was *serious stuff*.  There was a lot of useful info included.  The ITU officials are super strict about uniforms, bikes, and race wheels.  Uniforms must conform to ITU specs and wheels/bikes must be UCI-approved.  During the meeting I noticed some athletes were actually taking pictures of the screen showing the powerpoint presentation with their i-phones - perhaps they didn't want to miss any details, (?). After the meeting, we all lined up to collect our "race package", which consisted of race numbers.  That is all.  Much different than the schwag you get in most age group races.  haha

My 'race package' - numbers for bike/helmet, and race # tattoo's which you had to apply on your own - LOL. I screwed up 3 of the tattoo #'s and had to obtain replacements race morning. Also, the race *package* was a ziplock! 

Saturday I was up early to do an easy 20min jog around the neighborhood and walk the dogs. It was supposed to be 36C so I wanted to beat the heat! Later that morning I rode my bike down to check out the race site, transition, etc, then biked back home.  The rest of the day was spent eating, relaxing, and eating.

Race morning:
The thing about elite races is that they start so late, you don't have to get up at the crack of dawn. With an 11:30am start, I got up at 7:30am and had plenty of time to get myself organized. I rolled out of the house just after 9am on my bike.  The day before, I'd decided to just bike to the race start as logistically it was much easier than dealing with putting the bike on the bike rack, and figuring out which route Geoff should take to drop me off (considering the road closures, etc). However, I hadn't planned ahead by bringing a backpack on the trip, so I loaded my gear in a lululemon reusable bag.  People were probably wondering 'who let her in here' as I rolled in with my hobo bag slung over one shoulder. 

You have to check in race morning and have your bike/helmet/wheels inspected - I was given a happy face sticker on my bike so everything passed inspection! There is also a uniform check - which consists of a serious-looking official taking photographs of you wearing your uniform, both front and the back! You are not allowed to switch uniforms from the one that is taken in the pictures (who would do that, anyway).
The country code is supposed to be BELOW your surname - but this is the suit I got from TriCan for World's in 2008 (it didn't have my surname), so I had to get the surname screened on underneath the country code - the horror!

The best part of racing the elite wave is the red-carpet style transition area! It's actually blue carpet, but you know what i mean. You get a bin to place all your transition items (goggles, cap, helmet), and if you don't put your stuff in the bin while going through T1 and T2, you get a 15sec penalty.  For T1, you have to put your rear wheel in the slot, and when you come in for T2, your front wheel has to get placed in the other slot.  So many rules! Good thing I familiarized myself with all the rules so no penalties for me!

There's my good old re-usable bag sitting there - don't worry, all that crap got moved outta there as nothing else is allowed in transition!

-We were individually announced and called up to the starting pontoon in order of race #/ranking, and I was the very last # so was at the end.  But one other girl who had a higher starting # ended up placed behind me (penalty for missing the pro briefing or something), so I got the second to last spot that was left on the starting pontoon. All the good spots with the best lines to the first buoy were all taken already.  If you're ranked last going in, as I was, you get whatever spot is left - sloppy seconds!  Boo.  The water temperature was well above the cut-off for wetsuits, so no wetsuits were allowed.  The air temperature was to reach a scorching 35C on Sunday as well, and with an 1130am start, this meant a ridiculously HOT bike and run!

Swim (2 laps, 1500m)
-When the horn went off, I felt like I had a good run/dive into the water.  It wasn't too aggressive of a start but again I was on the far left edge of the field with only one girl to my left.  In hindsight, I should have been more aggressive. It's rare I have a really bad swim, but when it mattered the most to have a stellar swim, my swim totally let me down.  The field all got out super fast and the girls who lined up right and centre had a much better line to the buoy (not that that's an excuse).  I swam with 2 other girls for both loops of the swim course, and didn't realize the bulk of the field was way ahead until I got into transition and realized how many bikes were gone.  D'oh!  Not sure what the heck happened and why my swim was so slow, as I know I should have been WAY faster than 22:30.  Probably the fact that I'd done 3 whole open water swims this summer (which all occurred during my 3 other races) didn't help - lol.  Also, I'm used to swimming all by myself in age group races, so to have a whole field of ~25 fast girls was a foreign situation to me.  Need. More. Practice!
 Me running to transition 1 - lots of bikes already gone!

**On a side note, for all you Edmonton and area triathletes out there: Where the heck do you do your open water swim training?  I basically do absolutely no OWS training.  If there is a lake that I am unaware of that I could be training in, please let me know!

Bike (6 laps, 41.6km)
-This bike course was tough! And slow. This is not a fast course, by any means. I got out onto the bike course with one girl about 5-10sec up the road and alongside another girl.  We arrived at the long/steep hill together (about 2km from transition) but she dropped off the back of me and then I was alone, as the girl up ahead had taken off.  It was already heating up like an oven outside.  My legs seemed to have no power and every time I got to the hill, it got harder and harder! I rode most of the first 2 laps alone, then a girl came by and we worked together until we reached the hill again, but I was unable to stay with her and was all on my own again :(

A few laps later, I caught up to a girl who appeared to be struggling, and she hung with me for about half a km then once we got to the hill she dropped off.  It turned out that the several girls who dropped off me on the bike ended up DNF'ing the race, which sucks as there may have been more people behind me at the end of the race!  I felt slower and slower as I got further into the bike - at one point I looked down to see if perhaps my brakes were rubbing, but no, unfortunately it was the operator of the bike that was the cause of the problem. The bike overall was a struggle for me - riding solo, the heat, and the hill x6 really got to me.  My legs really felt like they had nothing.  The whole point of draft-legal racing is that you are able to ride in a pack and conserve energy, but unfortunately I didn't get the benefit of riding in a pack in this first drafting race.  Had I swam what I was capable of, I would have found myself in a decent-sized pack of riders. On another note, I should have put some draft-legal aerobars on my bike - I will be sure to do this next time so if I'm caught solo'ing the bike at least I can get into a time trial position.

I knew I wasn't going to get lapped out on the bike, but I worried about how terrible I was feeling and how incredibly hot it was getting.  I came off the bike on my own, well out of the race, and racked my bike/donned my flats as quick as possible.  Bike time was 1:16 - way slower than I should have been.  Fastest bike splits were high 1:10's, which shows how hard/slow the course was.
 Racking my bike and trying to have a speedy T2

Run: (4 laps, 10km)
The entire run was a slog (slow jog).  Right off the bat, my legs felt dead and fatigued, and my stomach was all in knots and cramps.  It wasn't pretty! It was flippin' hot, too - as it was between 1pm-2pm that I was running, so we probably hit 34-35C by that time.  During my first 2.5km loop, I got lapped by the leaders.  I was feeling so horrible that I entertained thoughts of dropping out on the first loop, 2nd loop, and 3rd loop, but by the time I got to lap 4 I knew I would finish it off.  It felt like I was so far behind that I thought by the time I made it to the finish line, the finish chute would be taken down, the announcers would have left and everyone else would have gone home already.  Definitely I went to some dark places during that run!  I was so glad to finish, though, despite the painfully slow time (run time: 50min, overall time: 2:31).  One girl went by me about 500m from the finish and ended up about 20sec ahead of me at the end. But there was still another girl who finished behind me, so I wasn't DFL!

**A word on the contemplation of DNF'ing during the race: unless I am physically carted off the course by medical, I will not DNF.  I am a firm believer in plugging away to finish what you started, no matter how crappy the result is.  I was miles behind the top women in the field, my time was ridiculously slow, and I could have taken the easy way out by dropping out during that first lap of the run when the going got tough (or should I say tougher, as it was already tough!), but I am much happier to have gotten to that finish line, rather than having a DNF engraved beside my name.  And by completing the race, I gained some precious race experience, which cannot be substituted with anything else.

I definitely want to do a couple of these races next summer, as I know I can be a lot better than I was on Sunday.  This just gives me fuel for the fire and lots of motivation to improve and get faster! That's the thing about racing - when things don't go according to plan, you just have to pick yourself up and carry on.

Next time, I will be the hammer.


Joel Maley said...

Great work out there Lisa. I think racing Elite is a steep learning curve and one you'll adapt to very quickly. Best of luck in Banff!

Lisa Graham said...

Thanks Joel! I agree, it's definitely a very steep learning curve.

Best of luck in your Kona training and lead-up to the race!

mike said...

Awesome work Lisa I am very happy to hear that you are trying to make the jump. Although you had a tough day you raced pro at an ITU points race and finished 14th at Canadian Nationals, my hats off to you.

Lisa Graham said...

Thanks Mike - the jump is going to be super hard but that's part of the fun! The next one will be better!

What are your plans for next year??

runningman said...

Wow, tough day and learning curve, but a lot of kudos and respect goes your way for finishing what you started. Good job!!

Julie said...

Congratulations Lisa!! You are such a freaking stud for going out there and just doing it!! I am so proud of you!

I love the pics and your narrative -- it made me so excited and like I was there cheering you on! You are learning fast and just wait until the next race where you lay down your weapon of a swim and get in a pack on the bike! YAY!

I am totally your number one fan! :) :) GO LISA!!! YAY!! :)

You are the hammer baby!! Love it!

Lisa Graham said...

Thanks Darryl!

Julie - I am your #1 fan as well haha