Clermont ITU Sprint Race, 6th Place
That feeling of crossing the finish line of a race feeling strong is something that has escaped me the last several races I've done. In the 6 races I competed in last year (although they were meant to be "for fun"), I buried myself completely before I even made it through the first quarter of the run. There were plenty of good reasons for this - like having a baby and recovering from a major surgery and the lack of training that goes along with that - but, it still left me wondering when my speed and strength was going to return.
Then came Panama, where not being prepared for the heat did me in early in the bike ride. I told myself to stick with the program and stay serious about my winter training and decided to head back to Clermont, Florida. So I loaded up the car with my bikes, dog, baby, etc. and drove for two days to the south, in search of warm weather and hard training.
Knowing there was an ITU sprint race happening in Clermont 3 days after I arrived, I made space in the crowded car for my road bike (needed for this Olympic format drafting race) - just in case. After a day of feeling restless in the car, I decided, why not sign up for the race. It was motivation for finishing the drive and the thought of getting in a hard effort on the weekend made me feel a lot better about two travel days of now exercise. I figured, even though the race format or distance wasn't what I had been training for, I'd just go and race hard.
My swim training has been going well, but for some reason, I came out of the water at the back of the big first pack. I passed a few on the run to the bikes, but by the time I took off my wetsuit and got on my bike, the people at the front of that first swim pack were already on the bike course. I knew I had to make up for this tactical positioning mistake (coming out at the end of a pack is not what you want), so I got on my bike and time trialed until I caught up to the rest of the girls. It wasn't that hard to get there on my super aero Cervelo S5 road bike, despite not having aero bars or race wheels. By the time I joined the group, Sara M. and Sarah H. had already gotten away and were riding together 20 seconds ahead. Figuring that our pack would eventually be fighting for the podium, I settled in to the pack and waited for the run to start.
I wish I had practiced a few transitions before this race because I lost some valuable time in T2. I started the run a few seconds down from the rest of my pack, but set out to chase them down. Even though I haven't experienced it in forever, being in chase mode on the run, rather than survival mode, felt natural. I passed a few girls and just as I was making my way to podium position, I got a stomach cramp. It only lasted about 5 minutes, but it slowed me down enough that by the time I recovered, I didn't have enough time to make up the gap and finished 6th.
While I realize that there's a lot to improve on in a 6th place finish, there are plenty of reasons to be happy about this "bonus" race:
-I wore racing flats for the first time in over two years (anyone who's had a foot injury will understand why this is a big deal!)
-finished as 2nd American
-finally felt strong running and passed people instead of getting passed
It was also fun to go back to my roots to my rookie season when I did a similar race on this same course. When I arrived at the race venue on Saturday, I had to laugh at the spot where 10 years ago I toppled over, clipped into my pedals, in front of a crowd, when I tried to ride my bike through sand. I didn't realize road bikes weren't able to ride through sand. Ha!
I guess no matter how long (or short) you've been racing there's always a lesson to be learned with every race.
For pictures of the race, check out j5 images' facebook page.