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“Dispatch” is an online column from Triathlete Editor-at-Large Holly Bennett that features pro updates, industry news, happenings afield and otherwise random reports related to multi-sport. Look for “Dispatch” every Thursday on Triathlete.com. Look back on the other “Baker’s Dozen” entries from Bennett.
It’s amazing, really, what sort of effort you can pull out of your body at times when you least expect it. It’s equally amazing how a race can go awry, when you feel more or less on track to do OK. Such is the lottery of competition, the unknown factor of toeing the line and learning–despite indications one way or another–what you have on the day.
For my ongoing Baker’s Dozen project, I needed to race something, somewhere during the month of June. I was already registered for the Boulder Sprint, but I also received an invitation to travel to Costa Rica as a guest of local organizers Unlimited Productions–with the special request that I race one of their events. Their Saturday afternoon 2575 Costa Rica sprint race sounded fun, plus I figured sprint distance races are so short I could race two on back-to-back weekends and sort of count them as one (at least that’s the way I justified my adventurous idea to myself).
Let me tell you a little something about my lead up to these races. The Costa Rica race came at the end of week one of my 12-week training program for Challenge Penticton–three months during which long mileage would be my focus. The only way I could incorporate two sprints would be to train through the race days and consider them as speed sessions–sessions I knew would hurt! The days leading up to the 2575 were an awesome blur of traveling to some of Costa Rica’s top tourism destinations, zip-lining through the jungle canopy, hiking cloud forest trails, meeting with passionate Ticos eager to share everything about their country and culture and eating a lot of delicious Latin food. I rarely put my feet up.
I trained a bit, too. On the Thursday prior to Saturday’s race my program called for a flat one-hour build run, a chance to gauge my heart rate zones and current ability. I asked my host–one of the country’s most accomplished and downright badass adventure racers and ultra runners–to point me toward a relatively flat stretch of road. “Just head out from the front of El Establo [the resort where we stayed]–it’s flat and a perfect spot for pace work,” promised Sergio. Turns out “flat” is a relative term when you’re perched 4,662-feet atop a mountain in the jungle. For any of you that are familiar with Boulder, Colorado’s infamous Switzerland Trail, my run was nearly an exact replica. Flat it was not. I returned feeling fatigued yet accomplished, and shared a good laugh with my amigo Sergio.
That afternoon we traveled to coastal Guanacaste and crashed for the night in a gorgeous condo in Reserva Conchal. We had a full schedule planned for Friday, and since I was meant to run two hours with a handful of high heart rate efforts I knew my only hope for accomplishing this task was to knock it out before anyone else awoke. At 4:00 a.m. I was sipping coffee, waiting for the sun to rise. By 5:00 a.m. I was out the door, dripping sweat already during my short downhill walk to the resort’s front gate. But I’ll tell you, it was one of the best long runs I’ve ever done. You know when things just click, you’re in a locale that makes you suck in your breath every few seconds with the realization of how lucky you are and you bust out the hard work with a feeling of invincibility? When I returned to the condo–surely 10 pounds lighter–I told Rodolfo (my other host from Unlimited Productions) that I’d earned the right to use the Latin swear words we had jokingly practiced the day prior.
Later that day, I attended a run clinic hosted by Race Quest Travel and coached by pro Michael Lovato. Michael shared several of his best tips and techniques for running, including the fact that a lot of running form relates to los brazos [the arms]. I latched onto that idea, as it’s one I’ve proven to myself on a previous occasion–running my best Ironman marathon split on six weeks of pool running (necessitated by a foot injury), in which I learned to drive my arms back like never before. I did opt out of the group run that followed the clinic, as by that point I was struggling to walk.
As I limped about on race morning, my legs as flat as the tortilla that accompanied my favorite gallo pinto breakfast, I couldn’t help but wonder: Would I end up walking a 5-km run? Even though I’m a slow swimmer I looked forward to starting the race in the ocean–a chance to loosen up my legs in the soothing salt water. That and a 20-km spin seemed my only hope for saving myself from certain embarrassment. As we readied in the heat of the afternoon for the swim start, however, it was announced that the race would be switched to a run-bike-run duathlon. I don’t think any of us questioned the race director’s call–the swell and current were unusually strong on this normally calm beach at the JW Marriot in Hacienda Pinilla and would surely send athletes directly into a section of sand blanketed in rocks. It simply wasn’t worth the risk, especially with one third of the sprint field first-time triathletes. Normally a duathlon would work in my favor, as running is my strongest discipline, but I panicked! Starting out with a 2.5-km sprint sounded nothing short of agonizing for my aching legs. I attempted a warm up, which confirmed my fear: my muscles were toast.
I don’t know where it came from, therefore, but when the gun went off I ran all right. I set a somewhat cruisey pace, and the pain was minimal. On the bike, while I certainly felt a heavy sense of fatigue, I actually found myself able to push a bit harder than I expected [big ups to the smooth-riding Trek Speed Concept Project One that I borrowed from gracious Alonso!]. The true test would come on the final 5-km run. What the heck? I thought, and set off like a bat out of hell from T2. Maybe it was the fact that I was running at sea level in extremely hot and humid conditions (pretty much my favorite setting to train and race); maybe it was the unique sealed plastic tubes of water handed out eagerly at each aid station by adorable local children; maybe it was the refreshing water-soaked sponges the size of seat cushions provided throughout the course; maybe it was the shouts of “Vamos! [Let’s go!]” and “La campeona! [The champion!]” from the enthusiastic crowds, something I thought was awfully sweet to say and in fact turned out to be true–I won the amateur division; maybe it was the fact that I kept Michael’s words in my head–todo en los brazos [all in the arms]–as I focused on my hard-driving elbows and did my best to ignore my legs; or maybe it was the more personal mantra that I repeated to myself over and over and over: No pain, no mojito; but something propelled me to keep that pace until the finish, earning my post-race mint and pineapple infused treat.
Fast forward a week and I was back home in Boulder, again prepping to race. On paper, I should have been slightly better positioned for an OK day. I ran and rode some long miles that week, but not the day directly before the race. And while I have no illusions of ever earning an age group title, much less an overall win in this Type-Triple-A town–I mean the second-place finisher in my division is a four-time Olympian–I hoped I would feel fast and strong by my own standards. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Maybe the feelings of glory left over from my Costa Rican crush were my own undoing; maybe, as I often imagine, I’m simply incapable of functioning well in dry air and high altitude (there are a number of reasons I love living in Boulder, but those two do not make my list); or maybe the accumulated fatigue from my first two weeks of increased training, along with the physical stress of travel were too much for me. Regardless, my race was nothing special. I didn’t fall apart exactly, I just felt flat and fatigued, and honestly a bit irritated–a good indicator that I needed to go home and take a nap. Of course, maybe my race failed because the night before the start I canceled my plans to share post-race pizza and beer with friends in favor of playing catch up on some work projects. Let’s be realistic, the mantra of: no pain, no late night spent working on a deadline is hardly inspirational.
Despite the surprises of my training and racing over the past two weeks, I’m thankful for every experience–the positive ones and the real pissers. I’m sure I’ll draw on those memories as I race the next events on my calendar: the swim and marathon as part of a relay team at Challenge Roth, the Ironman 70.3 Boulder and the full Challenge Penticton. I’ll remember the calls of “La campeona!” when I need a lift, and when I’m feeling good I’ll give myself an extra boost by remembering just how much better I feel than when I raced my local sprint. I’ll also have my mantras ready to go–I know that Penticton is a region particularly famous for its prized wines. No pain, no popping the cork, baby!
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