Let’s leave it at that.
Pressure can apparently be a very good thing. I channeled all the insanity to run-bike-run my best race ever. This time, my best was good enough to earn first place. Not “just” first place in my age group, but first place OVERALL.
Yep, you read that right: yours truly was the very first freaking woman to cross the freaking finish line at the freaking Wrentham Duathlon on Sunday November 6th thankyouveddymuch.
Today everything hurts—including my cheeks from the nonstop wicked-big-smile, which has already etched permanent lines around my mouth and eyes. You can keep your Clinique—no wrinkle cream for me, no siree. I fully intend to cultivate super-deep, super-prominent 1st place-overall (OA) race wrinkles, oh yes I do.
Here’s the blow-by-blow:
Pre-race: The temperatures hovered in the 20s at the 8:30 am start time. It was crazy cold—but at least the conditions were better than a week ago, when this race was delayed by a nasty storm that left two million homes without power and even postponed Halloween trick-or-treating.
At the start line, I felt calm and focused and really good. My muscles felt limber despite the cold. I liked the fact that we would start en masse; in waved starts you never really know how you’re doing vis-à-vis the rest of the field. With a mass start it is painfully obvious—a pain I welcomed.
Run 1: The race website described the run course as pancake-flat, which sounded yummy to this hill-challenged chick. But it was three full miles of pancake and that’s a lot of batter. Now, I’m not professing to be a du expert as the only other du I’ve done is Scituate. Still, Scituate’s Run 1 is two miles and that feels just about right. I feared bolting on an extra 1600-odd strides; my fear was reinforced when an excellent athlete friend of mine announced he wouldn’t race Wrentham due to the “too long” Run 1. Yikes!
The course started on straight roads so I could see all the athletes between the frontrunner and me for most of the first mile. At the first 90-degree turn I eyeballed it—it looked like about 40 athletes. (I was eerily accurate—the race results show 36 people finished Run 1 ahead of me). I kept telling myself to run my own race, to suppress the idiotic desire to reel in the Number One Dudes, one of whom was wearing a “USA” tri suit personalized with his last name, PALKEN. (That means he has competed at Worlds.) The idiot within was hard to restrain: remember…in my mind I am a Kenyan. 😉
My Garmin report for Run 1 shows I didn’t straightjacket my inner idiot straight away; I came out of the gate at a ridiculous-for-me-but-slow-for-a-Kenyan 5:59 pace. This meant unless God Himself intervened I would not be negative splitting—that is, running the last mile faster than the first.
I sounded like a pack-a-day smoker; the cold air and my warm lungs didn’t like each other. Some runners took this to mark me as a wounded soldier and whizzed past, thinking they’d never see me again. Once I got over the Kenyan silliness I settled into my own pace and held it, trying to kick it up a notch every time I passed a telephone pole. Still coughing, I eventually passed most of the whizzers. I kept assuring myself that I could run this pace all day. (I‘ve decided it’s okay to lie to myself during races.)
My Run 1 was done in 21:42, so my average pace was a respectable 7:14. I was happy to slip out of my Kinvaras and clip in–get on with the fun part 🙂
T1: When T1 is full, it can be hard to find your bike. As usual, I had my screaming hot-pink transition mat to visually cue me (really it’s more black Sharpie than hot pink now, as the girls have plastered it with pre-race good luck wishes). I was in and out of T1 in 42 seconds—the best female time of the day. A few of my wrinkles are due to the fact that only three freaking boys transitioned faster than me—one in 39 seconds, one in 38 seconds and another—the one donning “Worlds” duds—in a truly stunning 34 seconds. I am giddy to report that I T1’d four seconds faster than Tim Glickman, who would finish 2nd overall 🙂
Bike: The prey became predator once mounted on her trusty stead. If you’ve been paying attention to this blog, this should come as no surprise: in the saddle I caught 20 of the athletes who outran me. Yep, my overall rank (including the boys) soared from 37 to 17.
During every good race I find myself some solid bike competition; at Nantucket I dueled with #472, Jill Zeikel. In Cohasset I had the Orbea and Cervelo-wielding riders I nicknamed Blinky and Pinky as I played my silly little Pac-Man game. Wrentham came down to cj versus #125. He and I hunted each other all 12 miles; we passed maybe a dozen times. In the end he bested me by 28 seconds. Grrrrr 😉
At some point during my Duel in the Cold with #125, I eclipsed # 36, Julia Ledewitz. We experienced this passing very differently; to me, she was just another casualty of my kickass bike. Sure, I took note of her green Wheelworks jersey, her high cadence and her rather stunning ride. But I assumed there were more chicks up ahead that I needed to go catch. Julia, on the other hand, knew better—I would find out at the finish line that she had run with the front pack so she knew heading out of T1 that she was first female overall.
For #36, I became The Girl To Get.
T2: I knew I had run well, T1’d well and ridden my little heart out; what I didn’t know is that I had ridden myself into a 76-second lead over the now 2nd place Julia. Good thing I refused to give myself time to rue the next run during T2; I was in and out in 43 seconds. Julia T2’d in an admirable but slower-than-me 59 seconds, which increased my lead to 92 seconds.
A huge kudos to Lori Cunningham, who recorded the day’s fastest female T2 time on her way to finishing 1st in her 45-49 age group and 4th of all females. Lori T2’d with the same finesse as first place OA finisher Matthew Gloecker; they both recorded 33 seconds. That’s supremely awesome—well done Lori and Matthew (but especially Lori!)
Run 2: I am still getting used to this “cj’s a good runner” concept. It’s growing on me, but I still have my left-over-from-high-school doubts. That said, Run 2 at Wrentham is “only” two miles, and I know in my heart of hearts I can suffer through two miles of hell any old day. Coach Tim has made me very, very good at that.
Working on my run speed has been my pet project this season. Since Wrentham is the last race of 2011, it held a special poignancy, had a “last hurrah”-ish, pedal-to-the-metal feel.
And if I hurt myself in the process…well…I’d have all winter to heal. 😉
I single-mindedly focused on my form, scrolling through every shred of running advice I’ve ever been given:
arms close to body…
less than 90 degree angle…
thumbs to nipples…
slight forward lean…
get up on those toes…
relax those shoulders…
In my mind I was doing barefoot strides on the field (just minus the rest intervals). I was so focused on listening to my inner training partner that I almost didn’t notice I was about to overtake my bike nemesis, #125. His head-tip of acknowledgement shook me from my stupor. We exchanged guttural grunts, athlete-speak for you rock! Then he was gone and I climbed back into my cave where all that matters is my form and the finish line.
My biggest challenger at this point in a race has no bib number—it’s my own gray matter. Why not walk a bit—you’ve worked really hard and could use a break! it says. I counter with my race-day lies—you could do this all day…you can pick up the pace a notch…you can negative split.
A volunteer was waving a flag at the second turn, showing me to hook a right. When he didn’t tell me how many women were in front of me, I assumed there were not only scores but that they were all in the 40-44 age group. That’s okay. I’m having a great day and I’m not going to slow down now although damn that would feel real nice.
Soon I banked left for the third turn and as I did a flag-waving volunteer yelled “FIRST FEMALE! YOU LOOK GREAT! GO-GO-GO!”
“SERIOUSLY???” I quipped.
Before she had time to answer I barked at her again.
“You SURE I’M FIRST???”
“YES!!!!” She giggle-barked back. “GO!!!!!!!”
Looking at my Garmin file I can tell exactly where on the course this exchange occurred–because my pace for the first and only time on Run 2 surged to 6:13.
I was elated and terrified en meme temps. Just shy of a mile to go—how far back was the #2 woman? Was she capable of eclipsing me as easily as I did #125? The course rolled slightly downhill, allowing me to catch my breath, compose myself, adjust to this new reality and figure out what to do next. I tried to tell myself I could dig deep but the lie failed me–girlfriend, you’ve already dug us all the way to China.
Another turn, this time a right. I took the opportunity to glance over my right shoulder. A dozen or so fast-moving runners were strung out behind me. I squinted; are any of those female forms? Couldn’t tell. Assumed the worst. I wished I had worn something more nondescript; my girlie-girl-pink-and-purple gear (complete with matching hot-pink gloves) made me ridiculously easy to keep in the crosshairs.
Another turn—the final turn and it would literally be all uphill from here on out. Not much of a hill but a hill nevertheless and my tank was utterly empty. Accck!!! Is that male breath or female breath gaining on me?? Whatever its gender the athlete approaching from behind sounded far healthier and stronger than I did at present. I kept my face pointed at the finish, refused to look. Chin down, I willed speed to come and pretended I felt the difference.
Here’s an insight into how truly twisted my mind is: to say I wanted to win this race badly is an extreme understatement. And yet, a sliver of my grey matter actually wanted that heavy breath to be emanating from female lungs. “Show me what you got, sweetie-pie…we’ll see who wants this more” my tortured brain baited.
Fortunately for my body, my brain didn’t get the fight it wanted. The heavy breather was a boy, and he had some serious kick. Bib number 151, 35-39 age grouper Matt Barows, escaped being chicked by 12 seconds.
It was a relatively small crowd waiting at the finish line, but they hooted and hollered loudly as the announcer let them know their first female finisher was approaching.
Me! He’s talking about ME!
Someone yelled “you go, girl!”.
A young girl clapped wildly and jumped up and down.
A thought flitted across my mind like a butterfly across a field: do I look like a “real” first place OA female?
Must work on that later.
Good goal for next season.
Plenty of time.
When I got close enough for the announcer to read my bib number and look it up on the registration list, he announced my approach:
“Here she is, ladies and gentlemen, your first place woman of the day…CHRISTINE JOHANSEN OF SUDBURY MASS!”
I thought of Andy Schachat. It would have been nice to have Andy behind the microphone today; he announced at my first-ever race in 2010 and he was the first familiar face I saw at the 2011 Boston Marathon finish line; it would have been a nice continuum had he announced my first “1st OA”. Heck he may have even noticed the registration list was wrong and announced my right city. (For the record, this chick’s from Marlborough not Sudbury).
Usually I have pre-finish-line moments of brilliance in the fives. Not today. I’d left all my kick on the course. My Garmin would show that I actually crossed the finish line at a 7:15 pace while my average for Run 2 was 7:10. So many firsts–my average pace of Run 2 was faster than that of Run 1, and I ran out of kick!
An embarrassingly large number of people came over to tell me how awesome I am. I wanted only to escape and find a quiet place to puke or at least dry heave. But the feeling subsided less than a minute later, when the voice-that-wasn’t-Andy announced the second-place woman of the day, 25-29 age grouper Julia Ledewitz.
Julia had run off an impressive 59 seconds of my lead during Run 2, leaving just 31 seconds between us. My pink-and-purple was in her crosshairs indeed! She beelined for me and we hugged the type of hug you give someone you’ve known your whole life. I may have nothing in common with this young thang but in a way we have everything in common. While we were talking, the announcer welcomed in my long-lost friend from the bike course, #125, whose name turned out to be Michael Podzaline. Michael and I exchanged actual words not just grunts this time.
Julia said she was awestruck by my ride. I said that when I grow up I wanna run like her. We parted, agreeing to meet again—first at the podium for the awards ceremony, then at some future race.
I started across the field, intending to thank the volunteer who giggle-barked the first-place news to me and also maybe get to cheer for a friend who was likely closing in on that very turn.
I only made it halfway across that field.
I sat down.
Closed my eyes.
Cried a little.
I came home with flowers and a $10 bottle of wine and probably the ugliest, cheapest medal I’ve gotten to date. That goofy thing is already proudly pinned up on the wall in what Daughter #1 calls my Tri Shrine.
Oh, Wrentham, I will be back—and not for your premium outlet shopping malls 🙂
That’s all for now. Know you’re already number 1, no matter what the race results say. Ditch the Clinique and work hard on those wrinkles.