Thursday, March 31, 2011

Adventures of a Blonde in Chile Part 1

My journey to Chile began on March 17th and couldn’t have started out on a more sour note. When checking in for my flight at the Tallahassee airport with all my luggage from a month away from home in Colorado in tow, the Delta agent informed me that my bike box was oversize, overweight, and since I had my wheels as a 3rd bag that would bring my grand total to $550! “WHAT?!” I exclaimed. It would’ve almost been cheaper to buy my bike a seat next to me so then at least I could’ve make sure my baby stayed safe while we traveled. Anyways, I digress… on top of the bike fee, my flight out of the Tallahassee airport was delayed by almost 2 hours because of a mechanical problem, meaning that my flight would be arriving in Atlanta at the same exact time that I was supposed to be boarding my other flight to Santiago. Once my flight did arrive in Atlanta, you better believe I set the world record for fastest mile with carryon backpacks inside an airport and made it from one end of the Atlanta airport to the other just as my zone 4 was boarding. At this point, I was pretty much a nervous wreck. I was convinced that after I’d paid an arm and leg, there was no way my bags would make it on the flight but figured I’d reconnect with them somehow.

To my surprise, when I arrived in Chile, my bags were there, bike and all…I was shocked! After paying the $140 fee Americans are charged to get into the country and hiring a taxi to my hotel, I started to get settled in and explore my surroundings in Santiago. I was pretty tired, but forced myself to go for a quick jog to shake out the travel and wake up my body. I had to call it a night pretty early because I knew I’d have to wake up early the next morning. Where the athletes stayed was about an hour from the race site of Piedra Roja, a park used mostly for boating. Therefore, a charter bus met the athletes at 7am (read 8am on Hispanic time) to drive us out to the site the day before the race so that we could preview the course and get in our pre-race workouts. After returning to the hotel, the rest of the day was spent checking in and attending the pre-race briefing and pasta party. Pasta parties in Central and South America are always my favorite because there is always some kind of cheap entertainment and this pasta party was no different. The main event at this pasta party was the abs contest to see who had the best 6-pack abs, winner decided by the audience. I know you all will be disappointed to learn that I did not participate in this contest. Haha.

When I arrived back at the hotel, I was in for a surprise… the maid had bought myself and the other triathletes staying there a good luck king size chocolate bar, thoughtfully wrapped and tied in a bow. I was floored – never has a maid or anyone at a hotel I’ve stayed at for races actually cared about my race…so cool! This was just the beginning of the Chilean hospitality I would experience throughout the trip.

So, let’s sidetrack and talk about the actual reason I was down there – to race. Race morning the elite women were scheduled to go off at 9:45, meaning we’d need to catch an early bus again to make sure we were there in time to warmup for the start. However, the bus we were supposed to take never showed and almost an hour later, someone was able to convince the random bus parked outside the host hotel to take us down to the race site. Since there was no undercarriage space on this bus, we were forced to share a seat with our bikes (pretty hilarious in retrospect). When we arrived to the race site a little past 9, we were all in a panic, not knowing if we’d still be starting at our scheduled 9:45 or would be given any extra time to warmup. After we checked in and had pictures of our uniforms taken, we found out that the race would be pushed back til 10, giving us 20 or so minutes to put our equipment in transition and get down to the swim to warmup. Yikes! This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it gave me little time to be nervous or over-think the race.

The race started right at 10am as the elite women dove off the pontoon and into the water for a 2 lap, barely non-wetsuit swim. The pace started out fast and furious with lots of clawing and elbowing going on. About 200 meters in, I’d had enough of getting clawed and moved a little to the left of the pack to get out of the madness and have some clear water to swim in. After moving past a couple of the girls, I settled back into the pack and hung on for dear life as we seemed to pick up the pace as the end of the first lap approached and we prepared to make the turn to head out for the second lap. We eventually settled into a manageable pace, and then for some reason slowed down a bunch the last 300 meters of the swim, allowing most of the women to link back onto the group. We came out of the water as basically one large group minus a few.

This meant that there’d be one large pack unless there was a breakaway. The first couple of laps I was wary that there might be a breakaway and kept on my guard, ready to jump and go with whomever just in case. However, by the middle of the race it became clear that nobody really wanted to do the work and that everyone was going to wait for the run to decide the race. This was by far the most leisurely bike leg I’ve ever had in a race and the only time I’ve ever been able to drink both of my full waterbottles and stretch out my calves and back while still spinning in the pack. It turns out I may have been a little bit too lazy.

As I hopped off the bike and headed out to the run, my legs felt cold as if I’d just hopped out of my bed and was starting my warmup run…not good! At this point, I was just hoping to build into the 10k run and have my legs wake up along the way. I neared the end of the first lap feeling better than when I’d started but was very upset to run past the whiteboard with the numbers of athletes who’d received penalties during the swim and bike portions of the race and see my number on there. I had no idea what I’d done but knew I had 3 more laps on the run to choose when I would stop in the penalty box and serve my penalty. I decided that since my legs were continuing to feel better as the run went on, I’d wait it out as long as I could. I was able to pass 5 more girls in the next couple of laps and finally served my time penalty at the end of the 3rd lap, taking a water and Gatorade with me so I could hydrate during my little break. After serving my penalty I sprinted off, trying to make up the time I had lost while standing in the penalty box. I was able to put a time dent into some of the runners ahead of me but my effort ended up not being enough to catch them. I ended the race in 8th place, just 7 seconds behind 7th.

Besides my costly penalty, I was very pleased with a top 10 finish for my first olympic distance race of the year. After the bus ride back to my hotel and some post-race sushi with friends, I packed up and headed to bed pretty early, eagerly anticipating the next leg of my Chilean journey: Valparaiso.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Update!

Greetings from Chile where I've just arrived at my second racing destination of Valparaiso. Quick update - I was 8th in my first race (including a penalty booo). I will write a longer race report later but for now, click here to read an interview I did with Tri Chile concerning the two races in Chile. Adios amigos!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Clermont Draft Legal Challenge Race Report

Usually the airport is a mixed bag of emotions...there's the joyous reunions at baggage claim/passenger pickup and the frowns when news of flight delays/cancellations are relayed through the speakers. However, there are a couple gates in every airport terminal where you can count on seeing more smiles than frowns. I'm not sure whether it's Mickey Mouse, Shamu, or the warm (usually) weather that makes Orlando the happiest destination on earth, but there is definitely a special magic about it. This past weekend, I was among the smiling faces who hopped on the plane to Orlando as nearby Clermont served as the host for the USAT Sprint National Championships. Like last year, the Clermont sprint race served as my season opener.Although this was the exact same course as 2010, it was a completely different race in regards to the way each discipline panned out.

The Elite women had an 11:45am start and unlike last year, we were not dealing with freezing temperatures for both water and air. The water was just barely warm enough for a non-wetsuit swim which I was honestly thankful for because I haven't had a chance to practice in my new X-terra wetsuit yet... we will spend some quality time together in the near future I'm sure :)Anyways, once the gun went off for the start I ran for a good 200ish meters before the water was deep enough to swim in. Due to the shallow water, it was a short and sweet swim with probably only about 5 minutes of actual swimming. Coming out of the water, I was excited to glance over my shoulder and see that I was in the middle of a huge pack of girls and knew I needed to have a good run up to transition and transition to solidify my place in what I saw would be a fairly large bike pack. Only about half a minute separated my pack and a group of the 5 or so in the lead pack.

As I exited transition and hopped onto my bike, I red-lined it for about half a mile to make sure I was in the middle of the group before settling in to put my feet in my shoes and take in some fluids. This was by far the largest group I'd ever biked with and I had to be on guard at all times with people trying to get around from all sides of the lane and u-turns proved to be tricky as well. I had no trouble staying with the group and finished the bike portion of the race ready for what I knew would be an intense run with some amazing athletes in our pack.

I began the run just as I do for any race and tried to push the pace and give myself some room to breathe after weaving through much of the traffic coming out of transition. At the first turnaround after a little over half a mile, I realized that as much as I wanted to, I wouldn't be able to hold this pace throughout the entire 5k portion of the run and had to back off a little and try to relax. At this point I could still see my goal (top 10) within striking distance and tried to limit my losses as much as possible and think positive thoughts. By halfway through the 5k, I was in serious pain (the good kind) and knew I had to hang on for just about 9 more minutes. As the finish line approached, I was involved in a 3-way sprint for 16th place. For the final 20 meters or so, I just closed my eyes and went for it. I ended up tying the 2 other girls in total time, 58:03, but by chip time ended up losing the sprint.

I ended up finishing 18th overall, not exactly the result I was hoping for but not too bad for my first race of the season. After suffering through injury for most of last year, I am thankful that God has given me the focus and strength to recover and come back firing on all cylinders and look forward to what the future holds for me in this season and beyond.

On a side note, I am so incredibly proud of my Tri4Him teammate Natalie Kirchhoff! Natalie won the age group draft legal race a couple hours prior to mine and secured her pro card! So great to see her faith and focus pay off! I am excited that I'll be able to have a teammate out there racing with me in future ITU races...God is good :)

Now that my first race is in the books, I am busy preparing (training and logistics-wise) for my next couple of races which happen to both be in Chile (Santiago and Valparaiso). I'm currently training in Tallahassee with one of my former FSU teammates (Shannon Coates) for the week and will take off for South America next Thursday. It's exciting to be back in my old college town but now I just need to resist temptation...sweet tea is one of my weaknesses in life and I am surrounded by places that offer it :)

Wishing everyone all the best for Spring and don't forget to set your clocks forward tomorrow!