National Championships: Ran My Own Race

Kristin Armstrong, I owe you an apology. I had written you off as a great big wuss–a skirt, even–when I read in Mile Markers that your favorite saying is “run your own race.” Competitive me didn’t “get” it; you sounded like a loser. I expected more chutzpah from a woman who calls Lance her “wasband”. (btw and fyi: LOVE that.)

During Saturday’s 2011 Age Group US National Championships in Burlington, Vermont I not only “got” it but also co-opted it as my race-day mantra. While I am neither wuss nor skirt, I am tickled a rather girly shade of pink that I had the best race yet.

This running of my own race started well before I stood (er, treaded water) at the start line. I was uncharacteristically calm the day prior. Pre-race I am usually a Tazmanian Devil-like whirling dervish, foam-rolling ‘til my muscles could be mistaken for those of a crated calf destined for veal-dom and packing-unpacking-repacking my tri bag (are my bike shoes really in there? Still? Should I get more Body Glide? Race belt—where’s my race belt??). When it’s a “home game” the girls cower in their rooms during my race-inspired frenzy; when it’s an “away game” and we’re stacked like cord wood in a hotel, things crescendo until someone shrieks “next time we’re getting separate rooms! I don’t care how much it costs!”

Since Nationals is not your bog-standard race and I am not accustomed to playing on elite fields, I had assumed the pressure would drive me insane and had prepared Daughter #1 accordingly. Everyone in town was damn good, had met strict qualifying requirements. Unlike at a local tri, no mountain bikes or beach cruisers hung from the transition racks.

Ceci n'est pas un vélo de tri. Sighted on Church St.

Beaucoup des vélos de tri.

I was rightfully concerned I could come in dead last–a concern that deepened when my Ironwoman mentor LeAnne told me she finished amongst the final  half-dozen when she did Nationals many moons ago. “Everyone here has glassy, far-off eyes, Mom,” Daughter #1 commented. “It’s weird; they are looking off into the distance and yet you know they are studying each person who passes by, sizing up the competition.”

practicing my glassy, far-off gaze. As my coach would say, I've "much room for improvement"

I somehow escaped the pressure. The day before, Daughter #1 and I strolled Church Street Marketplace conspiring to abduct certain street performers and involuntarily check them into the nearest detox center.


even scarier.

We searched, fruitlessly, for a glass butterfly to represent Nationals in my collection, bought matching butterfly necklaces instead.

With Emma and our butterflies, Church Street Marketplace

We joked about the only hotel along Route 7 with a “vacancy” sign–such a shocker that athletes didn’t snap up these rooms!

the only vacancy sign in town

We scanned the horizon for Champ the Lake Monster as we dined al fresco; Emma gleefully ordered the untimely demise of one of God’s creatures.

Emma and her fresh kill.

We soaked up the local’s love–the city was so supportive of the race. It was awesome.

one of many signs wishing us well. This one was on the bike loop. Made me smile.

Search as we may, the weekend’s only Champ sighting was on this bike jersey. You know what that means: yep, I had to buy it. I consider it a need not a want 🙂

A cycling jersey complete with Champ. What more could you ask for?

We giggled about how cool it was that I’d get to ride on Interstate 89. The Governor OK’d the highway closure specifically for the event.

very very cool. Yes, I tried to break the speed limit. No, I did not succeed.

I went to the Expo but not to this session…I figured I deserved a day away from both my coach and his favorite CJ torture device.

At the Expo, my coach spread the word about one of his preferred methods of torturing me. I got to meet Bob Sleamaker, who designed the Vasa in 1989 and is still Vasa's CEO. I wasn't sure whether I should shake his hand or slap his face 🙂 In case there's any question, I said "bygones" re: all the pain his invention has inflicted upon me and was nice to him.

We pondered a few good questions…

Where to start? Pour me a pint and I'l tell you my tale...

Emma's favorite sign in Burlington. The purpose of this business and the answer to the question are among life's little mysteries.

As we walked back to the car post-lobster-dismemberment, we channeled Corey Hart and belted out Sunglasses at Night, Emma wearing “normal people” shades and me in my race-day Rudys. (Church Street performers: fear not. We’re keeping our day jobs.)  The next morning, I joked with her as we left the room that it was time for me to “git ‘er done” to which Emma replied, “Wow. That’s really odd.” I thought she simply meant I was being eye-rollingly weird (again) but in reality it was because she had used those same words in her tri mat message. (My tri mat has become a high school yearbook with a twist: my kids Sharpie messages there that I am banned from reading until I’m in transition.)

Two season's worth of love notes from the girls and we're ready to start on a new one. The corner was all that was left for Nationals! 🙂 I love this tradition so much. It rocks.

While I had a blast with Emma, I totally dissed everyone else; my Blackberry was blowing up with texts, emails and voice messages from friends and family wishing me to have a great race, to “chick ’em all”, to call once I’d secured first place at Nationals. (Duly noted that you folks either have extremely unrealistic expectations of me or you simply don’t ever want to hear from me again!) While I’m usually a Crackberry addict, I had zero desire to connect with the outside world. It was all about Emma and Nationals and that was really cool. (Caveat: I did pick up one call from my boss man, but he is da boss—actually make that was, since I start a new position at Cisco this week!) I’ve since caught up with the messages and thank you all for your support and kind words and apologize for being such a bee-otch and ignoring you. It happens sometimes.

For the first time I guess I just totally trusted my training and preparation. I had given my all to my fast 50s, my TTs, my mile repeats. I had plugged my nose as I downed Vita Coco, fish oil capsules and spinach. I knew I possessed enough Body Glide to grease Goliath.

This was as ready as this tri chick was gonna git. My trusty stead was chomping at the bit too: Maverick looked super-spiffy in the Zipp 404s we rented for the occasion of our first Nationals trek. Yep, for a mere $129 we spun $2500 wheels. (I considered that a need not a want, too.)

Mav post-makeover. Isn't he handsome?

getting ready to swim

Swimming aside an Olympian.  My Plan A for the swim was to stick with the lead pack and try to catch their draft—this worked for me in Cohasset. But that plan became Champ food when the announcer told us chicks of Wave 11 there was an Olympian among us. Yes, Susan Williams—who took bronze in Athens in 2004—was bobbing alongside me in Lake Champlain, wearing the same red swim cap USAT issued to all of us F 40-44ers. Oh. eM. Gee.  So I pulled out Plan B: I would try to stay out of any and all Olympians’ way and swim my own swim—alternating fast 50s and 100s with a little cruise action to let me catch my breath. It worked; I had a great-for-me swim. I was passed by some speedy silver caps who started six full minutes behind me in Wave 12, which has never before happened to me in a race, to the best of my knowledge; it’s the equivalent of being “lapped” on a track. Yuck. Instead of letting that freak me out I chose to focus on the fact that this pass-ee was also the pass-er; I did indeed  pass a few (clearly wounded) soldiers from Wave 10. I smiled as I emerged from the water steps ahead of #1267, a red-capped competitor that I outkicked in the final 25 yards (Can you outkick in the water? Or just on the run? This I do not know. Someone please correct my newbie terminology.)

the one in the wetsuit--that's me emerging from the swim

My Swim time: 1500m (that’s just shy of a mile, .93 to be precise) in 31:37. Later my coach would call it a “solid swim” and said he thought the course ran a little long, or maybe the sighting made it longer.

Stuck in transition. I struggled to shimmy out of my wetsuit—no amount of Body Glide makes this an easy feat. The transition seemed to take ten minutes;I got stuck at both wrists and ankles. If someone had offered me an X-acto knife, I would’ve slit my $600 suit. I had planned to ride sockless, put the socks on in T2 so it would hit my T2 time not add to my T1, but decided screw it—my T1 already must suck so I’ll just bite the bullet and  put ‘em on now.
My T1 time: 1:58—surprisingly nowhere near the ten minutes it felt like.

Reeeeeeeeeeally enjoyed the ride. Zipp wheels make this most excellent reeeeeeeee noise when you stop pedaling. I reeeeeeeally loved it and needed to remind myself that if I heard that noise, fun as it was, I wasn’t doing my job (in the event there’s any question as to what my job was, that’d be pedalling). The bike leg rocked as I knew it would. My test-drive of the course a few weeks prior gave me a lot of confidence. While I fretted pre-race about how I’d handle the Nationals competition, I thrived inside this accomplished pack. I didn’t miss yelling “on your left!” every five seconds after all. I loved the constant challenge and I smiled as 1267—she whom I had outkicked (?) in the lake—did the back-and-forth dance just as I had with Jill in Nantucket. When Cervelos and super-speedy helmets zipped past, I played my Garmin games (in which I sprint trying to raise my average mph above 20).  I smiled most of the time though I was not smiling when I hit a bump at 36.9 mph–at that point I panicked and screamed SH*T! veryvery loudly.

My bike time: 1:13:45 (average speed 20.2 mph). Apparently the Garmin games worked 🙂 In his “atta girl” email, my coach called my bike split “very good”; I think “very good” is a higher level of praise from him than the “solid” I got on the swim. But one can never be certain with Tim 🙂

It’s “Run Out” not “Run Back”. T2 is usually much faster than T1—T1 has you doing the wetsuit shimmy and juggling shoes and bike and helmet and glasses, whereas in T2 you simply slip into sneaks. So I did that and sped towards “Run Out”…halfway there I realized I forgot to transfer my Garmin from its bike mount to my wrist. While a more experienced runner may have kept going, I ran back for it—I’d need it to run a decent pace.

Run Out...Take Two! Garmin on wrist this time.

My T2 time: 1:13—not bad, but I would have had one of the best T2s in my age group had I not had to run back for the Garmin.

Daring to walk on the run. For me, this race was all about the run; I’ve been working super-hard on it and really wanted it to show. My best mile to date in training is a 7:02; I plugged that info into a little online calculator and it predicted that I should be able to muster a 48-minute 10K. (It also said I should be able to hack a 3:44 marathon, which was all sorts of exciting.) Now, the calculator was doing its predicting for a standalone 10K, not the 10K at the end of an Olympic-distance triathlon when you’ve already been in the zone for an hour and change. So naturallyI took that into account and set my sights on achieving a 45-minute 10K instead 😉

I wasn’t entirely certain how I’d get to this number; clearly I couldn’t run steady 7:40s–especially since a). this is me we’re talking about–I rarely hit and keep a pace and b). right out of transition you head up a monstrous hill. So the week before the race I decided to give myself some general guidelines: I’d program my Garmin to record quarter miles and I’d aim to do most of those quarter miles in two minutes apiece, although some would be slower and hopefully some would be faster. When I passed the 5K mark, I’d glance at my elapsed time and hope it was somewhere around 27 minutes. Steady with a little bit of a negative split–that was The Plan. But then on Friday, the day before the race, I noticed something interesting during my itsy-bitsy coach-prescribed 15-minute run: he had me do strides with recovery walks while the bulk of the athletes practicing on the course were doing steady-state runs. Once I passed the steady-staters on a stride, they never caught back up to me—not even as I walked, which let me regain my composure enough to belt out the next solid stride. I crushed them and still felt fresh. I tucked that nugget in my back pocket and pulled it out on race day as noon approached and the course heated up.

The net-net: I modified The Plan and let myself walk through three water stops. I’ve never done this before in my life—always thought it would be wussy to do so and have bragged many times about doing 4:09:55 at the 2011 Boston Marathon without one step of walk. But in Burlington I watched my heart rate, and when it hit 162 or so I’d walk a water stop, drink one cup and toss another  over my head and resume once my HR touched based again in the high 150s. This made me feel fresh and ready to rock and roll again. It allowed me to pass scores of steady-state runners. And when the finish line was in sight, it let me hit a 6:13 kick.

Here are the quarters my Garmin recorded:

lap 1:   2:14.10 / 8:56 pace / 154 bpm / 84 spm
lap 2:   2:21.99 / 9:28 pace / 156 bpm / 78 spm (walked some)
lap 3:   1:59.00 / 7:55 pace / 156 bpm / 85 spm
lap 4:   1:59.99 / 7:59 pace / 156 bpm / 84 spm
lap 5:   1:49.00 / 7:16 pace / 157 bpm / 86 spm
lap 6:   2:13.00 / 8:52 pace / 156 bpm / 85 spm
lap 7:   1:47.00 / 7:08 pace / 158 bpm / 86 spm
lap 8:   1:56.00 / 7:44 pace / 158 bpm / 86 spm
lap 9:   1:56.99 / 7:47 pace / 158 bpm / 86 spm
lap 10:  2:02.00 / 8:07 pace / 158 bpm / 84 spm
lap 11:  1:57.03 / 7:48 pace / 156 bpm / 83 spm
lap 12:  2:11.96 / 8:47 pace / 153 bpm / 81 spm (walked some)
lap 13:  2:04.99 / 8:19 pace / 158 bpm / 82 spm
lap 14:  2:00.99 / 8:04 pace / 159 bpm / 84 spm
lap 15:  2:04.00 / 8:16 pace / 158 bpm / 82 spm
lap 16:  2:09.99 / 8:39 pace / 157 bpm / 81 spm
lap 17:  2:27.99 / 9:51 pace / 154 bpm / 76 spm (walked some)
lap 18:  2:02.00 / 8:07 pace / 157 bpm / 82 spm
lap 19:  2:00.99 / 8:04 pace / 158 bpm / 82 spm
lap 20:  2:04.00 / 8:15 pace / 158 bpm / 82 spm
lap 21:  1:58.99 / 7:55 pace / 160 bpm / 83 spm
lap 22:  1:58.00 / 7:51 pace / 160 bpm / 83 spm
lap 23:  2:02.00 / 8:07 pace / 161 bpm / 82 spm
lap 24:  1:57.00 / 7:47 pace / 164 bpm / 83 spm
lap 25:    53.42 / 6:56 pace / 168 bpm / 86 spm
(forgot to turn off Garmin right away so lap 25 isn't accurate)

My run time: 50:08 (8:06 pace). I’ve only done one other Olympic-distance tri—last year’s Lobsterman. My run split there was 52:17 (8:25 pace), so this is a pretty big improvement. While it wasn’t 45 minutes or even 48, I’ll absolutely take it and be very happy with it. Until next year’s Nationals, that is 🙂 My coach called my run  “good”–I think that falls somewhere between the “solid” swim and the “very good” bike. But again, this is up for debate.

Add all those splits up and I finished my first Nationals in 2:38:41. This landed me 69th out of 108 in my age group (full Wave 11 results here.), 360th out of the 665 females who competed and 1199th of the 1648 athletes who raced (damn boys are so super-speedy! I am so super-jealous). What a privilege to compete with this accomplished field. I’m still smiling–and thanking God that I wasn’t last.

So Kristin, back to non-wussy you. From start to finish I ran my own race at Nationals–at Nationals, I say!–and I have you to thank for it. Thanks. And I’m really sorry about that “skirt” stuff.

Now on to Nancy: if you’ve been following this blog, you know who I’m talkin’ about. Charlestown’s Nancy Arena—the F 40-44 athlete who pummeled me in Nantucket worse than that day’s freak storm, beating me by a solid five minutes. Well, in Burlington we doubled the distance and she doubled her pummeling. Nancy cruised across the finish line at 2:27:48 which earned her 41st place in our division. Even that made me smile. Well done, Nancy. I hope to finally meet you someday. Maybe even before next year’s Nationals.  Game on, I say! 🙂

And as for the rest of you: I hope you all dream Nationals big—whatever that means to you. And that you find the chutzpah to run your own race.

–          Christine

Big smiles!

About garmin_girl

I'm a 40-something single mother of three--two great human girls and one four-legged Dalmatian banshee--who is hellbent on swimming, biking and running straight through my midlife crisis. Care to tag along? Crazy loves company! ;)
This entry was posted in My "Firsts", Nationals. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to National Championships: Ran My Own Race

  1. Kathy Sumpter says:

    Great job! You are amazing!
    I love reading your blog. (I was reminded of myself screaming “SH*T!” going down a steep technical descent in Napa and hitting a bump (although NOT at 36 mph). Also I remember praying REALLY HARD that there wouldn’t be a car coming in the other direction while going through a 90° switch back …)
    But I keep on riding — LUV it!

  2. Hey Kathy: Yikes re: your SH*T moment and thanks for the encouragement! 🙂 If you look closely at the image of Mav you’ll see he’s still wearing his squirrel sticker! 🙂

  3. Pingback: Chicago: to be or not to be, that is my question | CJ Runs Like a Girl

  4. Roxy says:

    This might sound strange, but I was googling my mom’s salon and your Blog popped up and I read the caption about the sign being one of lifes little mystery’s so I thought maybe it was one I could shed some light on, its my mothers labor of love. My younger sister and I relocated to Boston some years ago, and would always ask my father when calling “WhatsMomDoing?” which gave her the idea for the name of her Cruelty free, green salon! My mother is my best friend, as well as my younger sisters! Shes quite the character standing all of five feet tall (she claims 5’1), with bright red hair, and the personality of a giant. 🙂 Stop in and say hello sometime if you are in the area. She loves visitors!

    • Hi, Roxy! Always fun to see what brings people to my blog, and thanks for taking the time to write 🙂 Your mother’s salon is GORGEOUS–you can tell it’s a labor of love, it is just so beautifully cared for. I’m hoping to be up there for Nationals next year, so I may have to set an appointment for a pre-race cut with your five-foot-wonder of a mom! 🙂 Love the story of the name; that’s priceless 🙂

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