The Echo Olympic Triathlon was my only planned Olympic distance race and my last race before my Ironman. I knew this race would give me a good indication of my current fitness level as well as a starting point for next year when I plan to focus on shorter distances. For this race, I did come up with some time goals:
I picked the swim goal a little arbitrarily. I figured I could hit 1:40/100yds over 1500m, and that comes out to around 27:30. I’ve beaten this time in an Olympic triathlon before, but I have no way of knowing exactly how accurate that course was or exactly how accurate the Echo course would be. I also still tend to think of 1:40/100yd as my “fast” pace. I’ve disproved that in the pool, but not in open water.
My bike goal is a little arbitrary too. My goal time came out to an average of 18.6mph. Honestly, over shorter distances without hills or stops, I had no idea what my capabilities were. The fact that I had literally ridden on my race wheels once did not help me pinpoint where my fitness was for this type of event. I hoped that this was a fairly conservative goal, and I had some visions of 20mph average speeds dancing in my head.
Finally, my run goal was anything but arbitrary. I’ve been trying to beat an 8:00/mile pace on the Olympic distance run for a couple of years now (which actually translates to a couple of races, so it’s not terribly dramatic), but I’ve always cracked. I was hoping with my deep endurance base this year, things would be different. I had a bone to pick with the Olympic triathlon run.
My overall goal was generous compared to my individual goals. That’s because (other than having a strong practice and great workout) my main goal was just to PR. I thought I was stronger than when I did my first Olympic distance triathlon in 2014, and I loved the idea of seeing some improvement. I fizzled out a bit at my race last year, and I wanted to feel good about my performance at a shorter race to boost my confidence for next year.
I had a very low-key evening the night before the race. I made a list and packed up all my stuff, ate macaroni and cheese for dinner, and went to bed around 7:45pm. (I played on my phone a bit before falling asleep.) My alarm went off bright and early at 3:50am, and I didn’t have trouble waking up at all. I ate a bagel, threw my stuff in my car, and headed over to Rob’s house. As we got ready to leave his place, I suddenly remembered I had to put my race tattoos on. “WAIT!” I yelled as we left his house. “I need my race numbers!” I had packed them, so they were in my bag. I just had to put them on which took a little time. We stopped to get some McDonald’s on the way up which took a little more time than anticipated. Then, the entrance we planned to use to get on the freeway was closed for construction! A little more time. By this point, we were running late, and I was really glad that I always plan to get to triathlons stupid early because “late” for us wouldn’t really be late at all.
We reached Coalville and parked. Because the race was staged in a campground without much parking, athletes had to ride their bikes to the start and spectators had to take a shuttle. The ride to the start was easy, and I was set up in transition before I knew it.
Aside from one quick run back to transition to start and then pause my Garmin (so I could be sure it would be ready to go), I didn’t run into any snags. The race started a bit late, so I had some time to hang around in my wetsuit and chat with fellow racers. I even hopped into the water beforehand (despite the beach start) to warm up a bit.
It was a rolling swim start, so I seeded myself around 1:40/100yds and followed the leader into the water. The rolling swim start did cut down on some of the boxing that can happen during triathlon swim starts, but it didn’t really feel necessary for a smaller Olympic distance race like this. I immediately starting passing people who thought far too highly of their swimming abilities. Apparently, this is just a thing that triathletes do, and it drives me crazy every time! It wasn’t long before I broke through a particular group and was swimming mostly on my own in open water.
With the open water came the waves. It must have been windy because the water was choppier than I’ve seen in smallish bodies of water that close to the shore. I got hit in the face with waves a few times, and I felt myself rising and falling with the swells. It. Was. Awesome. I’m somewhat strange in that I actually enjoy swimming in water that’s a little bit rougher. I know it doesn’t help my time, but (as long as I can avoid motion sickness) I think it’s really fun. So I had a blast out there. Only one moment stood out as less-than-awesome: it was almost impossible to sight the buoy when I turned back to shore because the sun was directly in my eyes (I followed the people in front of me). I reached the end of the swim and Rob yelled that I was (about) the seventh woman out of the water. I was halfway from the water to T1 when I thought to look at my watch. I was shocked to see 24:30. I had blown my goal time away, even with the long run-up to the transition.
I had another absurdly slow transition. In my defense, the transition area was gravel which meant there was sand everywhere and I had to carry my bike out in order to avoid the possibility of goatheads. But still. Every woman who finished ahead of me had a faster T1 time than I did. It’s something I need to work on.
I got on the bike and headed out. I could tell my heart rate was pretty high, not from working hard but from the general rush of T1. So I focused on calming down and getting into a groove. It was a great bike course. There were a few rolling hills (though “hills” feels a little excessive) on the way out, and then we turned onto a road that was a false flat going up. For most of the way out, I was holding a speed of around 17mph, more when it was a little flatter and less when it was a little steeper. I passed two strong swimmers early on (it’s always exciting for me to pass people on the bike!) and was passed once right away (with a “Nice swim!” tossed my way which was encouraging!). I waited for a stream of fast women to pass me, but it never happened. I did get passed a couple more times throughout the bike leg, but I was holding my own! On my way to the turn around, I took advantage of the slower pace and ate a Honey Stinger waffle and drank plenty of water.
It was a beautiful course, and the only downfall was the horrible condition of the roads. There were nasty potholes everywhere. And there was plenty of flat-tire carnage on the side of the road. I must have seen four to six athletes after the turn-around point pulled over changing tires. Fortunately, I didn’t end up getting a flat. And I gained some time by using the downhill grade on the way back. I got down in my aero bars and took full advantage of those new aero wheels. I flew down the road until we turned back on the road we headed out on. I slowed down some then because of the hills (which were more uphill coming back than they were going out). I spotted another woman who had passed me earlier and decided to keep her in my sights to see how she held up during the run. I rolled into transition, thrilled with my time and ready to attack the run.
The second transition wasn’t as slow, but it still wasn’t great. I forgot to take my sunglasses off, but I decided to go with it. Normally, I don’t run in sunglasses, but I hoped that the sun being out of my eyes would trick me into thinking it was cooler than it was and remove some of the feeling of the sun beating down on me. It actually seemed to work (or maybe I’m just better acclimated to running in the sun/heat).
It’s always hard to gauge my pace off the bike, but I started off with a pace that I felt I could sustain for six miles. I was not far behind the woman who had passed me on the bike, so I hung out behind her for the first part of the run. Once I got my legs under me and got an idea of how strong I felt, I picked up the pace slightly and ran past her. As I grabbed some water while passing the first aid station (they were stationed about every mile on the run), she almost passed me back, but I picked it up a bit and she dropped back slightly. I hit that first mile mark in about eight minutes, so I knew I was on or near my target pace. However, upon seeing my pace hovering so close to that magic number, I picked it up a bit. I slowly reeled people in throughout the first half of the run, but I worked on keeping my pace controlled. I didn’t want the second half of the run to break me.
Upon reaching the turn around, I glanced at my watch and was surprised to see 23:35. I had been working on reeling in a woman in front of me for a while which must have caused me to pick up my pace. I still felt relatively strong, and I was encouraged at the cushion I had. However, at some point on the run back, I forgot my target time. An 8:00/mile pace comes out to a 49:42 10k. However, I totally misremembered it as 48:24. Go figure. Because I thought I had started my watch a late for the run (I did, but only by a few seconds), I didn’t feel quite safe even though I knew I was making good time. The run back was hard. The sun was getting warmer, and my legs were getting tired. We were running on a packed dirt trail, and I noticed my footfalls getting lazy and wobbly, like my steps weren’t landing exactly where I wanted. However, I was desperate to hit that 8:00/mile pace, so I focused hard on running “strong.” I didn’t think about going fast. I just concentrated on taking strong, confident steps. The last mile and a half was especially tough. The whole run looked the same (beautiful, but the same), so even though I knew how far out I was, it felt like I wasn’t getting any closer to the finish. After what seemed like forever, I rounded a bit of a bend in the trail and saw the finish line a few hundred yards away. I picked it up a little bit more and did my best impression of a sprint finish.
After finishing, I wandered around in a little bit of a daze. Rob had been cheering for me about a hundred yards from the finish, so I didn’t see him right away. I found some watermelon and munched on that. I finally tracked down some water. After a few minutes, I went off and found Rob. He had made a friend during the race, and we also ran into some folks we knew from Boise. We chatted with them while we waited for the race results to be posted. Once the results were posted, I saw that I finished second in my age group. They weren’t doing podium awards for all the age groups, so I just went over to the awards table and picked up my second place water bottle. And then we drove home.
I was thrilled with my race performance. I demolished all of my time goals and truly surprised myself in my swim and run. It’s apparent to me that the strong endurance base I’ve built this year has helped me in these shorter races. I know that the bike is still my weak leg, but that gap is closing, even though I’m also a stronger swimmer and runner than I was last year. With some training and a focus on shorter distances next year, I’m hopeful that I can break through the 2:30 barrier.
Swim—25:02.4 (1:40/100m; 1:32/100yd)
Bike—1:17:11.9 (19.31 mph)