This year, this season, has been important for me. I’ve needed it to prove to myself that Wisconsin, which seemed to come out of nowhere, wasn’t a fluke. I needed this year to build a consistent base of actual training, to make sure I could sustain the load without getting hurt. I needed to see what I could do and I needed to see if there was a glimmer of more potential on the horizon, more reason to keep at it. Because if not, that’s fine and it’s been fun, but then this is sort of it.
So this year’s been all about progress, constant incremental progress. Mostly, that’s been easy. Not easy in the day-in, day-out work, but easy to count on the workouts getting faster. The PRs have come, again and again. Every single race has been a personal best. That’s easy to do when you have so much room for improvement. But I also knew these leaps and bounds wouldn’t last. At some point, I wouldn’t be able to PR a 5K during a random training block anymore. And that’d be fine, because it’d mean I’d picked all the low-hanging fruit. But it’d also mean that all that’s left is the chiseling of small constant incremental progress.
I raced Whistler 70.3 last weekend because I wanted to race one more half before Kona (and I won’t be doing Australia since I screwed that up). It was a good race, a solid race. 2nd woman, 4:48 on a slow course on a tough day. It was also the first race this year that hasn’t been definitively obviously better than the one before it. This may not be obvious to everyone else — courses are different, times are different, competition is different — but it’s been obvious to me. Still. Whistler wasn’t obviously better, but it was slightly better, better enough. Constant progress.
When things started to go really south in the last two miles, when I was swallowing down vomit and covered in urine — so much urine — I kept thinking about all the halves I’ve tried in the past and failed, all the times things went really south in the last four or five miles and I shuffle-walked it in. I started having flashbacks to the underprepared death slog that was the last six miles of Ironman Canada on this same course two year ago. And then I thought: I am not that athlete anymore.
So, instead, I ran as fast as I could, which wasn’t as fast as I wanted, and did what I needed to do to hang onto second. And then I ran all the way through the damn timing mats (learning! progress!) before I was carted to the med tent to dry-heave bile for a little while.
I had wanted to win. I had wanted to run a sub-1:30. I had wanted to kill it and go into focused Kona training confident that I’m prepared. But that’s not what happened. We don’t always get the lessons we want, I guess, but I got one I needed. I am not the athlete I used to be; I can hang tough. I am getting better, bit by bit. Progress. Constant tiny progress.
Here are some other random notes and bits from Whistler, which may be one of my favorite places if not my favorite race:
- Caps no longer stay on my head for the whole swim. Almost every race I either have to stop to pull it down or let it slowly slide off. I dunno if my head got bigger or the caps have gotten shittier.
- Rolling swim starts are stupid. A race is a race. If it’s not, then it’s just a random assortment of people completing an arbitrary distance. (A guy tried to argue with me about this the day after, something about how ‘if I really looked at the history of triathlon…’ And, well, you do not want to argue with me the day after a race. I literally said, to this person I had never met before, “No, that’s stupid, you’re wrong.”)
- At one point, after I swam past all these people, I thought, “Maybe I did something weird, took a wrong turn, and don’t remember it because I blacked out.”
- I ended up totally by myself for a long time in the swim. Eventually, I saw a guy behind me, so I slowed down to let him go by and then sat on his feet like it was the end of my race. This is how I know I’m getting better at swimming. I used to think that when swimmers said things like ‘and then I let him go by and sat on his feet,’ they had to be lying, because there was no way anyone could be that on top of things during a swim.
- When the eventual winner and another girl went by me about 8 miles into the bike, I actually tried to go with them, which I never do. Sure, I dropped my chain and lost them when we merged with the Ironman racers, and then I went back to my regular ‘just keep pushing your own pace.’ And it probably wouldn’t have worked out great anyway, if I had stayed with them, since I ended up getting 6 minutes put on me by the winner. But at least I’m trying, at least I’m starting to respond to the race when it goes by me, at least I’m starting to think I belong.
- I finally successfully peed on the bike. I have never done this. Of course, the only reason I was able to finally pee on the bike is because I really needed to pee. I thought it’d be subtle. It was not. And because this was on a long downhill, basically there was suddenly a massive torrent of urine, which hit my wheel and sprayed everywhere. I don’t think the people behind me were too happy either.
- I do not usually pee on the bike, because I do not usually pee in races period. Everyone’s different, but if I get my nutrition right I don’t pee in races shorter than an Ironman. The fact that I peed in my wetsuit warming up before the race was rare enough. Then I peed everywhere on the bike. Then I started having to pee again by the end of the bike. This was concerning. This meant I had screwed something up, and things were going to get nasty sooner or later. I troubleshooted, downed some gels, but…
- By halfway through the run I had to pee again. It, too, was not subtle. There was pee everywhere. It settled in my shoes as I ran. And I wear Hokas, which meant that I was basically wearing urine-soaked sponges tied to my feet. You could hear them squish with every step.
- Things went south. I hadn’t taken in enough electrolytes or calories, especially in the hours and day before the race, too much water. But I kept running. And people kept cheering for me. There are lots of downsides to being a woman in sports, etc, but one upside: People love to cheer for you. They love seeing women near the front. And people really love to cheer for me. They’re so excited I haven’t passed out yet. I look like I’m going to die! But I haven’t died! I get a lot of: “You’re doing it!” And I am, I am doing it.