Starting from the back of the pack can be a good thing, but not when you’re in the World Championship Race and virtually everyone is faster than you are. I learned that pretty quickly. A Mile into the bike ride, I climbed my first hill over the Memorial Causeway. My heart rate was still fluttering from the swim-to-bike transition, so this first incline felt discouraging. I didn’t get out of the saddle to climb, but instead decided to put it in the Granny Gear and ease my way up in the small chain ring. I totally thought, “Please don’t let it be this tough for the next 55 miles!” Fortunately, it wasn’t. The course was primarily flat through the streets of Clearwater and across the bridge towards Tampa. We did go over a couple of bridges that tested my resolve, but I had settled down long enough to be a little more relaxed. As I mentioned in a previous post, the weather was absolutely phenomenal and the wind just wasn’t a factor at all. I was so afraid we’d be blasted with an ocean breeze on the bridges, but it never happened. Every now and then, I’d feel a slight headwind, but it was nothing debilitating.
The one thing I noticed on the bike was that I was constantly hungry! I swear I don’t know how that’s possible since I had been loading up all week long, but sure enough, I needed nutrition about every 45 minutes. I alternated between gels, CLif Blocks and ½ PB bagel (yes, I had packed one). My legs started to wake up and I had some decisions to make.
By Mile 20 I thought, “What the heck is going on? I was passing plenty of people on the bike, but they were primarily people in the older age groups. I could not find anyone in the 30-34 age group!” It then hit me that these women were riding just as fast, if not faster than I was. Turns out, they were riding much faster than I was. I was never going to make any ground on these people like I try to do in a local race. It was then that my focus shifted completely. My goal was to no longer try to gain ground. It was to race for ME. It was to see if I could improve my previous PR of 5:44. I started comparing it to a Marathon. I NEVER think about my overall standings in a Marathon. It would be like me being disappointed if I didn’t place in the Top 10 at Boston. Duh…It’s not going to happen. In a marathon, I focus on MY previous time goal and MY new time goal. That was my new approach and I’m not really sure why it took me 20 miles on the bike to figure it out.
So, here was my major decision. I could hammer the bike and try to ride as fast as I possibly could, or I could ride comfortably hard and hope that I still had enough legs for my goal run of a 1:45 Half Marathon (8:00min pace). I obviously chose to ride comfortably hard. I made a very conscious decision to keep the speedometer between 18-21 miles per hour. Again, in any other race, that’s a great bike time. In the World Championship, it’s below average. Amazing…
Time went amazing fast on the bike and the scenery was fabulous. We did ride on several busy roads, but the Police did a fantastic job of controlling traffic. I never felt in danger. However, there were several severe bike crashes which took people out of the race immediately. I hated driving by those scenes, but it’s part of the sport I suppose.
I remember passing a couple of the disabled athletes on the bike including Sara Reinersten who competes with one leg. She’s such an inspiration and always has a smile on her face. She was the one who cheered for me as I passed her.
All in all, once I changed my focus, the ride became so much more relaxing. I was in awe of these bad-ass athletes.
I rode into transition and dismounted the bike. 2:57 and some change. Wow…My previous best was a 3:02. I had gained 5 minutes on the bike and averaged about 18.9999 mph on the bike. I couldn’t ask for anything better. My inner thighs and quads were burning slightly, so I was a little nervous about the run. For the first time in triathlon, I was scared of bonking on the run. 13 miles suddenly seemed almost impossible. Not only did 13 miles sound brutal, but the thought of being in “race mode” for another 1:45 was tough to comprehend. I was already mentally and physically tired so it was definitely time for a gut check. I was never in fear of not finishing. I was more in fear of a total bonk on the run, which is always my saving grace.
I handed my bike off to another volunteer, headed into the changing tent with my run bag and quickly threw on my running shoes and visor and headed out on my running journey.