Clearwater 70.3 World Championships. I have done this race 4 times, all 4 times they have held it (2006-2009). I am on a steady progression of improvement, but at this rate, it will take me 6 more years to win the event! My past finishes have been:
2006 – 4:36 (18th)
2007 – 4:26 (16th)
2008 – 4:24 (14th)
2009 – 4:19 (you guessed it…12th)
I went into this event coming off of a great season, excited to compete, and ready to make a jump in my finishes. I was hungry for a Top 10 finish (ideally, Top 6) and I felt prepared to put up this performance. Unfortunately, the desired place was not in the cards, however as the race unfolded and I reflect upon it, I have nothing to be disappointed about.
I went with my parents (which is tradition, this trip gets them out of the Indiana November gloom!) and my husband Derick, and we all arrived Thursday and settled in. Friday was the typical pre-race meeting, transition bag preparations, bike racking and as much rest as possible. It was very convenient that we stayed in a small local motel which had a kitchen, so we enjoyed a pre-race dinner of spaghetti, salad and bread all in the comfort of the balcony off of our room. Good meal, small glass of wine, and relaxing evening, and I felt ready to roll the next morning.
I woke up on Saturday a bit sluggish; but, no worries. This is fairly common and not often a prediction of what will happen on race day. I arrived to the transition area (which was a 5 minute walk) with plenty of time to spare and the buzz of excitement got me ready to go. The swim had been diverted from the ocean to a small bay, due to choppy water conditions. I was actually pleased with this, as I tend to get pummeled a bit in the ocean. I suited up in my Zoot long-sleeved wetsuit and was ready for our 6:45 swim start; a short swim warmup and I felt ready to go. Beautiful morning! The sun came up just as the gun went off. Unfortunately, my speed did not go off quite as readily. I fell into the second swim pack, but never quite felt strong and relaxed. Small mistake on my part, the water was about 70-F and I wore a full sleeve suit. I get warm very quickly, and I think I would have been better off in my sleeveless suit. I used the full sleeves because I have been told they are ‘faster’, however, I think comfort is very important, and I may have been better off keeping my core body temp a bit lower. In any case, I tried not to let it get to me, but upon exiting the swim up the short ramp, I actually felt quite tired and a bit dizzy. I ran through and grabbed my T1 bag, but got to the change tent and realized I had the wrong bag! Probably only cost me about 20 seconds, but still frustrating. Good thing was, it lit a bit of a fire under me to hurry it up and keep my head in the game.
I got out onto the bike and knew that I had my work cut out for me. I was not sure how far ahead the lead women were, but I expected it was a couple of minutes based on how the swim felt. It took a few miles to feel my heart rate settle down, but I did relax and got into a good rhythm. At first, I thought I may have to write this off as ‘one of those days’ where nothing felt easy and the result would not be good. But, the legs seemed to come around and I started to feel stronger. I stuck to my regular nutrition plan, about 6 gels over the course of the 56 miles, and tried to keep my distance from the swarms of professional men that cycled by me early in the ride. The majority of the ride, I was alone, which was alright with me as it kept me out of the ‘packs’ that form on this course. Despite still being quite a ways behind the lead women, I finished the bike feeling strong and ready to see what my running legs had in store.
The transitions at this event are great. Volunteers grabbed my Orbea Ordu upon entering T2 and racked it for me, while I just bolted to my T2 bag and headed to the change tent. I quickly threw on my Jack and Adams visor, Zoot Ultra TT shoes, and Gu flask and bolted out of there for the 13 miles left of my season.
The run in Clearwater is, in my opinion, deceivingly tough. You run flat for about 2 miles then head up a long bridge, and run down the other side, to continue through about mile 4, when you head back up the bridge towards transition for the second loop. While most of the run is flat, this bridge gives you 4 pretty long hills and can really sneak up to zap your energy mid- to late-run. I started out at what felt like a strong yet controlled pace, still not feeling ‘snappy’ as I would have liked, but trying to just stay positive and focus on running some women down. I did not check too many mile splits, as I moreso wanted to find a smooth rhythm and a strong pace to settle into. From my perspective, a half-ironman run is really a “controlled hard” pace. It is right at the point where I feel if I pushed much harder, I may blow up, but a pace that seems sustainable for at least 6 miles; at which point, I’ll try to pick up if I can. I came through the first loop having caught a few women, and I believe being told I was in 12th place about 6.5 miles in. Not where I wanted to be, but little I could do other than keep on running. I believe I came through the first half in about 41 minutes or so. Not quite the pace I was hoping for, but again, doing what the body was giving me on the day.
The second loop was pretty uneventful. I think I caught one or two more women but the next one up ahead was Kelly Couch, who was having a very solid day up ahead of me. I could tell I was putting time on her, but I was likely going to run out of real estate. At the 12 mile mark, I gave it absolutely everything I had left, looking at my watch and aiming to run the fastest possible last mile. I did not see the 13 mile mark, but I came to the finish line in just over 6 minutes, so that last mile really was dropping all that was left in me. Kelly had about 15 seconds on me at the finish, but I knew that I had left it all out there.
It was great to be greeted by my parents and Derick. The day was gorgeous, the race was solid and given how I felt, the result was good. I ended up 12th, which given my past finishes, I should not have been surprised! I wanted to be in the Top 10 (solid in the Top 10) but on this day, 12th was the best in me. The time was 4:19, just a minute off of what I did in Augusta but on a very legit course (fast swim in Augusta). Given this fact, I’d say this was PR for the distance, and was a 5 minute improvement on past Clearwater races.
I am sure you may be wondering about the ‘drafting’ out there. This is something I am so tired of thinking about, but to touch on it, yes, I know that it went on and I also know that I was nowhere near any of it. Maybe I just did not have the ‘chance’ to be up there mixed in, since my swim was mediocre today (about 90-seconds back from the top pack). But had I of been up there, I will say I would have had a hard time getting pulled along to a ridiculously fast bike split, something which I know I could not ever do on my own. I finished the bike in 2:25, the best I have done on this course, and I ran a 1:23, also a PR run for this course, on yes, tired legs (as they should be). Unfortunately this is what the event has come to; you are either up in the mix, or you are not. I was not. However, I cannot walk away upset at my finish, because I know that it was my finish, my race and my effort. Either the event will change (hillier course, more strict rule enforcement) or it will remain a fast albeit drafting event.
Needless to say, the weekend was a great one, and I have so much to be proud of. I feel I have finished my most successful season of my 8-year career as a professional, and I am excited at what 2010 has to hold. I have the most supportive network of people around me, from my sponsors (Zoot, Jack and Adams, Hill Country Running, 3 Cosas, Orbea, Gu, Suunto, Go with the Flo, Alcis, Advanced Rehabilitation, and Katalyst Multisport) to my incredible parents to my husband Derick to my amazing friends. The day in Clearwater did not feel as ‘easy’ as I would have liked, but that is the beauty of sport. You prepare your best, you do all you can in your power to be 110% on the day it matters, and despite how you feel, you get out there and throw it all on the line. You take the good days and run with them, but you get stronger from the days when it does not come easy. This event made clear what I need to focus on for 2010, but first in order is some down time, rest and recovery and focusing a little bit on my life outside of triathlon. And, of course, some reflection on what a great season ’09 had been and excitement at what 2010 has in store.
As always, thanks for reading and have a wonderful Thanksgiving! Stop to appreciate all the good in your life.
And, jump into the local Turkey Trot. It makes the food and drink taste that much better.
Take care ~ Kelly