Sunday, September 27, 2009

Elephant Butte

Pack fill.
That's what T calls it.
I'd never heard the term before, but it's when you don't bring up the rear--and you're certainly not up at the front.
It sounds anonymous and generic. No recognition of the effort it takes to finish and no indication of place--just a space occupying reference, which is how I felt after finishing the race today. Pack fill.

Of course, I should know better by now. I'm not, and never have been, an athlete on the sharp end.
Meaning, I don't lead.
I plod, and work, and eke out every minute of gain that I make.
I am a model of economy of success.

Where I live, I sometimes have the opportunity to be a big fish in a little pond--but only because the pond is so small. The big fish don't show up to the little races, because they have bigger ponds to contend with--which makes it easy to forget who and where I am.

But not today.

Today was actually impressive because more big fish showed up to race at one time than I have ever seen in a local race.
What a reality check.
I had actually given up an earlier, smaller race to opt in on this event--the Elephant Butte Triathlon--in order to get more race time in the water, and because I wanted a free weekend for longer mileage just before our foray to Colorado for the Harvest Moon Half.

The Elephant Butte Triathlon is a sort of Olympic distance event with a swim that's longish at 1700 yards (almost Half IM distance), a bike that's 26.5 miles, and a 10k that's short 2/10's for a 6 mile run. Odd. I didn't know it was one of our premier local events. Nor did I know it was that hilly. Or that there was approximately a mile of sandy trail running involved. I was just focused on more swim practice and getting through the swim.

Which I did.
And with NO panic.
The first time this year that I felt OK in the water.

I did start off very slow, in anticipation of the onset of panic. And then every time I started to pull harder and settle into a rhythm, I would bring myself up short and worry that I might get carried away and tip myself into a panic, but in the end, it was just a decent, calm, but longish swim, with a bit of chop from passing swimmers, and some difficulty sighting due to the rising sun, and the lack of a buoy to mark the finishing chute.

I attribute the success of this swim to a number of factors--
-that I had just experienced a nightmare of a swim two weeks prior, and lived through it,
-that the water was exceptionally flat and warm at 74 degrees, which allowed for wetsuits without the corresponding coldness to take my breath away,
-that I took the advice of Shirley to heart about my sighting difficulties and did some preparatory scouting to help me find my way,
-that with T coming home at the end of summer, I've finally been able to get in some open water swim time on the weekends.
But most of all, I think my lack of panic had a lot to do with feeling surrounded by a group of understanding people--people who come in from all parts of the state who I've seen at these races for years; team members and training partners for those longer mileage rides we've been doing; friends who would come to my rescue in any way, shape, or form, if I really needed it. It was like I finally realized that if I didn't make the d*rn swim, it wouldn't matter and my friends (and fellow triathlon and exercise groupies) would be there to pick me up anyway.

It was a nice feeling, and I finished the 1700 yards successfully in a predictably slow time of 46:49, the 7th slowest out of a field of 80 women.

The outcome of the race was another story.

Because I have been doing longer distance training, I forgot that the Olympic distance is still one to be respected. I actually thought of it more as a "sprint" type race, because the distances were so much less than what I have been doing for training. Which meant that I went too hard on the bike and didn't eat or drink enough.

My time for 26.5 miles of some fairly decent hills was 1:23:58 or 18.6 mph, for the 9th fastest female bike. A good showing for the terrain, and I passed a number of people--many of whom passed me back on the run.

My run time for 6 miles of more hills was 1:00:14 hours, not bad for me, but oh so frustrating because I just don't see how people can run so smoothly and fast, passing me with ease, while I plod and fatigue. It was here that my "sprint" perspective came back to bite me--as I realized I had left my legs out on the bike course and I just couldn't pick up the pace the way I wanted to, which told me how tired I was. Several of my AG competitors passed me with ease. Somewhere between mile 4 and 5 I realized I was hungry and subsequently realized I might bonk before I got to the next aid station. It's bad when you're asking for gels to finish the last mile.

In the end I placed 9th in my Age Group. In any other Age Group, I would have placed 1st through 6th. But not my Age Group. Ahead of me were women whom I totally respect and admire and who compete on the sharp end at a level I can only dream of, and they are my age. That speaks volumes to me and on so many levels.

Still, I had a successful swim, which really was the whole point of the race, and most of all, I enjoyed seeing everyone and all the hugs. I can't say that I don't wish I was faster, and leaner, and taller--because I do--but in the end, it's really all about myself and what triathlon training and competition means to me--not how I compare to every other human out there. On another note, I can't believe I only earned 2 points towards the SW Challenge series, when Mark B so kindly pointed out before the race that I "only" needed 3 points to make the podium!


SWTrigal said...

great job N!! good swim, killer competition it sounds showed them on the bike!

ShirleyPerly said...

I know what a victory it is to just finish an OWS without having any major anxieties. I've struggled with them too for so long. Congrats on overcoming them and then going on to a stellar bike segment. I think it's difficult to pace oneself in shorter races when you've been used to going so long. And, indeed, the F45-49 category at my last race had some of the fastest female times posted. I was just Pack Fill, lol.