Unfinished Business at Iron Girl

With all this pink...definitely a girl's race

It’s amazing how many female triathletes look like men when they’re on a bike. From behind, that is. I can’t decide if it’s the muscular legs or broad shoulders or unisex outfits, (or my general state of mind), but as I approached several bikers during Athleta Iron Girl Columbia, I was convinced they were men. In fact, there were a few men out on the course but I could tell they weren’t racers as they had little backpacks on, I’m guessing containing tools and stuff to save us the dirty work of changing a tire should we get a flat. How considerate.

Iron Girl is, obviously, a women’s race. (I don’t think any men entered as a protest-measure, like they do at Disney’s Princess Half Marathon.) And in case you forgot, there were reminders: pre-race, every 5 minutes, the announcer would let us know that there was Charmin in the bathrooms. I thought about asking what they had in the lake, since that was where I planned to go. (I don’t like waiting in line.) We were asked, repeatedly, to help our rackmates by lending out our pumps, since there was apparently a very long line of ladies waiting to have their tires inflated at the Princeton Sports tent. Women helping women,or something like that.

Last year I helped no-one. I didn’t even mention to the girl who laid her stuff out in front of her bike that she might want to move it off to the side. She – and everyone around me – was my competition, and you don’t help the competition. Yes, I was Mean Iron Girl. 🙁 And I didn’t like myself very much.

So this year I was Nice Iron Girl. I announced that I had a pump over by the fence and anyone could borrow it. I did freak out for a bit when it disappeared, but it reappeared later so I guess someone just took it to their bike so they could, um, actually use it. I gave electrical tape to a girl whose number wouldn’t stay on her helmet. I moved my bike down when the racer next to me clearly was a no-show, to give the other girls more room. And I admit that it felt much better to be nice, even though I still wanted (and planned) to kick every one of their butts. Iron Girl was the only triathlon I completed last year in which I didn’t podium. I needed a top 5 age-group spot to secure an award and ended up 7th. So you could say I had some unfinished business with this race.

It was pitch black when we arrived in transition at 5:15am. I remembered from last year that the lights they have in transition, huge though they are, do nothing for those of us racked all the way out in West Virginia. And, how on earth did I get the SAME rack spot as last year? No kidding. I had the same spot AND the same number: 542.

Last year's number...this year's number...

Racked in West Virginia...before rack-mates arrived on Saturday

Chaos of transition in the dark

I had a little flashlight with me which was helpful for seeing little things, like the valve stem on my tires, and not much else. I held the light in my mouth to see the gauge when I put air in my tires, then I found a good spot for the light on the end of the rack so I could towel off my wet bike, get the shoes ready, aero bottle in place, GU taped on, etc.

As I was leaving transition to head over to the swim start at 6:30 I heard a rumble of thunder and then the heavens opened. Good thing I toweled off my bike. So it poured and thundered and we started talking about delays and duathlons and what the race organizers might do. The announcer said there would be a 10, max. 15 minute delay. We were told the storm was moving and should be out of the way soon. All I could think was that last year it poured on the bike and it was so hard to see anything and I DID NOT want to relive that. Bombing down a hill at 35mph when you can’t see a thing and are afraid to brake is not my idea of fun.

And then the skies cleared, and the first swimmers were in the water, 20 minutes late. I had 11 minutes to go. Up until this point I was fine, but the pressure of wanting that top 5 spot was definitely getting to me. This is the time before a race when I question what I’m doing here, why I’m even here, why I put myself through all this, etc. etc. I’m usually fine once the race starts so I focused on that, rather than on how I felt at that moment. Fruitcake comes to mind.

THE SWIM

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned 1000 times before, the swim is not my strong suit. I’m glad it’s first, so I can get it out of the way and move on. That being said, I was determined to have a good, strong swim and take 2 mins off last year. At 1000 meters, the swim at Iron Girl is long for a sprint and so the good swimmers have a clear advantage. I got in the water expecting it to be bathtub temperature and was surprised that it actually felt a little chilly. I swam out towards the start buoy and realized my chip band was sliding down my ankle. I couldn’t tighten it while treading water so I had to head back to shore where I could stand. I found a rock to stand on which was nice because the bottom of Centennial Lake is goo – I’m guessing a combination of algae and goose poop. Best not to think about it. When the announcer mentioned we had a minute before our start I headed back over to the buoy to get a good position.

During the first half of the swim people on my left kept swimming in to me. I was getting quite pissed off and was wondering why it kept happening when I realized, as I tracked the buoy, that I was actually veering left as I swam. I tried to straighten out but it wasn’t until we had rounded the second buoy that I realized I was veering left because I wasn’t really pulling with my left arm. Once I started actually using my left arm I started swimming much straighter. By then I had caught the back of the previous wave (50-55) and was making my way through, which was a confidence boost. My swim time was 21:19, 2 minutes faster than last year.

THE BIKE

There’s not much to say about the bike except: I went fast. I had no definite plan other than to beat last year’s speed of 18.3mph and I crushed it with a 19.4. Last year 3 or 4 people passed me on the bike. This year I didn’t get passed at all. I hammered the uphills as well as the downhills. I stayed in my seat on the uphills. I got as much as I could out of the downhills. The only thing I forgot was to drink enough (I actually felt like I was drinking constantly, but I guess I wasn’t) and take my GU. I finally took the GU in the last couple of miles, which was way too late.

THE RUN

So I have learned that when you bike hard, the run suffers. The run was as bad as the bike was good. My legs simply wouldn’t work. They couldn’t respond to the hills and were doing little baby steps. I willed them, I talked to them, I tried everything, but there was nothing. And the late GU was sitting in my stomach, reminding me that it was there whenever I tried to push the pace. I ended up running the same pace as last year (7:06) for the hilly 3.3. mile course, which wasn’t terrible, but certainly wasn’t the planned 6:50.

THE RESULT

My final time was 1:42:38, 6 minutes faster than last year and good enough for 2nd in my age group! I guess being nice is good karma. Eh, most likely was the training.

My award...difficult to take pictures of these plexiglass things...

If you like stats, overall:

  • My swim was ranked 229th
  • T1 was 10th
  • Bike was 14th
  • T2 was 106th
  • Run was 5th
Oh, and as you go through the finish they announce “You are an Iron Girl. There’s Charmin in the bathrooms.” (That last part may not actually be true.)

Comments

  1. Hopefully some day my legs “simply won’t work” to a 7:05 pace.

  2. Wow, congratulations! That’s a great race, and 7:06 pace seems decent enough to me 🙂

  3. Congrats on the PR and age group improvement! I am super-competitive (in my own mind only, not time-wise, though I will put out a helluva sprint at the finish line). I have found that helping others always seems to give me a bigger boost than the other way around.

  4. Thanks, everyone!

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