May 17, 2011

Winning is fun

Three years ago, I crossed the finish line at a small race in Baltimore. It was a month before the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, and it was the second race I had won that summer. I remember doing an interview with a local newspaper. The reporter asked me if I was trying to turn professional. In my naïve little mind, I was already so close. It would take me three years to figure out how wrong I was.

For three long years, I waited… training highs and unforeseen lows. Injuries came and went. Every time I felt like I was close, I was still so far away.

Yesterday was an average day. I’ve been waiting to win a big age-group event for a long time. Even though it’s happened, I am still very critical. I didn’t race to my potential yesterday, and I am well aware of that. I did my best with the challenges that were presented, but I didn’t have that extraordinary day. I made a few goals for the race yesterday, and I accomplished almost all of them. My main goal was accomplished: to win an overall age-group title, but I wanted to do it with my run. I feel as if I ran about 4 minutes off my potential yesterday and that makes this victory bitter sweet. Andy Potts, a super star of the sport, won the pro race yesterday. I am sure he didn’t have a perfect race. It is how he changes and evolves that will make him win again. I believe that it is important to be proud of this accomplishment, but never be completely satisfied. There is always room for improvement in this sport.

I felt as comfortable coming into this race as possible. I didn’t feel any pressure to perform because I truly believed that I was the fastest person in the race. In my mind, it was my race to lose. The swim was a bit hectic as usual. I was the 12th wave to go off, so I had about 1000 age-groupers to swim through. I don’t mind people that race to complete a half Ironman. In fact, I think it is what makes this sport so special. I just wish these people would train hard enough to have the ability to actually swim freestyle for 1.2 miles. I had to maneuver through a sea of people doing breast stroke and elementary back stroke. Without doubt, it made the swim leg much slower. This race is notorious for having a long swim, so I wasn’t shocked to see 28:30 on my watch as I came out of Bay Lake.

The first 5 miles of the bike were some of the most dangerous racing I’ve ever experienced. People were going 15mph while weaving around the entire lane. Wet roads made for even sketchier riding. It was seemingly impossible to get around the cluster of age-groupers for the first 5 miles. I tried my best to get moving, but the first 5 miles felt more like soft pedaling around town. Once out on open roads, I was able to get moving. I received my first time check at mile 10. I knew that if I road 12 minutes for each 5 miles I would be at 25mph average for the race. My plan was to rid a bit slower than that. The more I tried to relax and slow down, the faster I rode. I felt like my heart rate was around 130 for most of ride. I am sure it was higher, but it felt really effortless. Around 50 miles in, I was afraid that I was going to ride under 2:10. I knew if I did, my coach was going to literally kill me. As it turns out, I was just riding under pace because of a nice tailwind. The headwind in the last 6 miles slowed me down and I ended up riding around 2:13. I felt like it was a very conservative ride, but I suppose this is debatable.

Once out on the run course, I quickly fell into a rhythm. I felt confident as my pace hovered around 5:55 – 6:05 for the first 2 miles. That quickly changed when the road ended, and we ran onto the cross country section, a 1.5 mile grass trail that had to be run three times total. That section proved to be very difficult. I grass was not groomed, the air was thick and sticky, and there was no shade. My first time through that section was hard enough. I tried not to think about running through it twice more. Once back on the road, my pace dropped back down. Unfortunately, it wasn’t anywhere near my goal pace. I was working as hard as possible but only seeing 6:10-6:15 pace on the pavement. As the weather got hotter, I got slower. The high humidity had everyone fighting for their run splits. After the second loop, at around mile 9, I knew I had a strong lead on the rest of my age group. I tried to fight any urge to “settle in” or slow down. I knew I was racing for the overall title, and winning my age group was just the first step. About 2 miles out from the finish, I knew it was time to dig deep. I didn’t want a repeat of those last 2 miles in New Orleans. My body was incredibly overheated and very near melt down, but my mind was already fantasizing about pouring ice cold water over my head at the finish. That thought was all I needed to really push for the finish.

I ended up crossing the line in just over 4:11. I was 13th overall (including the pros) and won the overall age group title. Having a less than ideal race and still winning by over two minutes, makes me really believe that I am one of the better age groupers around. It also makes me believe that I am truly ready for the jump to professional racing. I know it’ll be a totally different race, but I feel like I need the challenge so I can keep improving. I haven’t even turned 25 yet, and I really feel like I am a LONG way away from my potential in the sport. Only time will tell…

As for now, I am headed back to Houston to train for two more weeks before I race the Capital of Texas Triathlon, an Olympic Distance. Two weeks ago, I set a goal to be top age grouper at both the Florida 70.3 and the Capital of Texas Triathlon. I am delighted to say that I am one step away from a clean sweep.

Winning is fun. I think I am going to do more of it.



  1. yay Baltimore. Was that Brierman?

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    Mandie Hayes