I have a rule: I don't do triathlons in Boulder. Boulder is full of athletes who intimidate me; they have 4% body fat and always seem to have a game-face and clock splits I couldn't even dream of. Plus, most triathlon runs in Boulder are around the reservoir, where the lack of shade not only makes hot days scorchers, but leaves little to the imagination about how far you still have to go. (There are runners all the way over there? )
I made an exception, though, for the Athleta IronGirl. I know that women's-only races are worlds apart from coed ones; the supportive, we're-in-this-together atmosphere means people leave the 'tudes at home and all sizes, shapes, and experience levels turn out. I love that. I wanted to start this year-long chapter of my triathlon life in a place I knew I wouldn't--and couldn't--psyche myself out. Plus, the sprint distance--1/4 mile swim; 17.2 mile bike; 3.1 mile run--was a perfect length to see where I was, fitness-wise, before I commit to the Harvest Moon half-Ironman in September.
As much I as I love the estrogen-scented vibe, I'm not a pre-race hanger-outer. I'd rather get there, get my number, use the bathroom, set up my transition area, and race. Which is what I pretty much did, except that I had about 40 minutes between when the transition area closed and my age-group wave (hello 40!) went off. I'm not a warmer-upper either, but I jumped in the water to see how my Zoot racewear would feel (and to, um, use the bathroom again); this swim, in 74 degree water, was my first open-water swim without a wet suit. I felt sleek and strong and comfy, so did about 20 strokes then hung out with Beth from Shut Up and Run on the beach for a bit.
Feeling bold, I centered myself at the front of the swim, knowing it would be over in a flash. I went out too hard, if there is such a thing in a sprint triathlon, and my body felt all tingly within a few strokes and I freaked a little bit. But I reminded myself there isn't such a thing as pushing too much in a sprint tri, so I found my rhythm, and rounded the four buoys as quickly as my long limbs would carry me, which turned out to be a little over seven minutes. Sweet.
Transition one--or T1 in tri speak--from swim to bike was pretty smooth. Lyle, my two-wheeled Trek steed, is a little too tall to fit well on the rack, so it took a little maneuvering to get him him out, but once we hit the road, we were rolling. My one goal for this race was to see if I could average over 20 mph on Lyle; based on my training paces, I thought that would be a challenging but attainable goal. (And let's be honest: lightweight, sleek Lyle basically gives me at least 2 mph of free speed.) I thought it would be, but wasn't sure; I'm not a course studier either, so I didn't know what I was up against, hill-wise.
Turns out, the hills weren't bad at all. There was one slight climb for a few miles towards the beginning, but I put my bike computer on cadence and just concentrated on keeping my pedals turning quickly: I wanted 85-90 revolutions per minute, so I didn't wear my legs out prematurely. Once we got over that climb, Lyle and I flew. Every time I passed somebody, I made sure to say, "Nice job," and I got a few compliments back too. Love that too. We're all pushed each other towards the finish line.
I'm not saying that doesn't happen in co-ed races, but I'm never sure if the guy I'm passing in a tri would want me to say something, or if the fact that he's "getting chicked" stings him so badly I'd just be adding hydrogen peroxide to the wound, so to speak. I realize that's this imaginary male's problem, and not mine, but it stresses me out enough in a co-ed tri that I usually keep my mouth closed unless I'm passing somebody who I sense is friendly.
I was the passer, not the passee, until about mile 16 when a woman with 41 on her calf whizzed by. "Look at this view," she said, talking about the Flatirons ahead, "How lucky we are to be out here today." I agreed, trying to put on a poker voice to show I wasn't kinda pissed she was spoiling my no-pass record. Then I decided I would do my best to stay with her. (Yes, I'm all warm and fuzzy until I get passed.) She pulled ahead as we headed towards home, so I used the opportunity to switch my computer over to my average speed: 20.5 mph. Nailed it. Thankyouverymuch, Lyle and legs.
Back in transition, I saw only 2 (!) bikes on our age-group rack, which meant I was in third place. Seriously? Third? I knew my run was my weakest link, so I took drastic measures: I decided to skip putting on socks and instead cranked my feet into my new Altra Instincts with super speedy BOA lacing. (This, by the way, is not recommended. My shoes were brand new and I've never run without socks. And, yes, I now have the blister to prove it.) I put on my badass mother runner hat, forgot to grab the water bottle off my bike I wanted to take with me, and off I went.
My goal on this leg: to not walk and hopefully hang onto third place. I've always said I survive the run in triathlons, and today was going to be no different. I saw my bike record spoiler/view admirer take off, and was glad I didn't chase her down too hard on the bike, as she was definitely a faster runner than I've ever been. It was warm, but not as the last time I braved the rez three years ago, and I had two friends--Nancy Reinisch, a breast cancer survivor and the author of Chemosabee, and the great group of Tribellas--call me by name, which always puts a little spring in the step.
Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to hang onto a podium place. Right before Mile one, I was passed by a woman with a "44" on her leg. She was running so strong, I tried to convince myself she was on a relay team, but after a few steps, I realized there were no relays at this event. So there goes my podium. "Nice job," I said as she ran by me, and meant it sincerely, even if I wished she weren't beating me. Right after Mile 2, another 40-44'er steamed by me, and all I could say was the truth: "Great run." I had a great run too--for me, anyway--finishing in 25:54.
Regardless of missing a special medal, fifth in my age-group in Boulder (Boulder!) is not what I was expecting, so I'm definitely not complaining. I felt so solid and capable, and had such a ball, even on the hot, gravely run, when my left leg was whining and the sun was beating. The entire morning, I was reminded that triathlon is such a better sport for my strengths and my body.
I'll always love you, running, but I'm gonna have a fling with triathlon over the next year, when I'm going to transform from IronGirl to IronWoman. I can't wait.