An Exhilarating High
by Jeff P.
In the weeks before the Pleasant Prairie race, as I was working through the paces of hard workouts on hot and humid days, I found myself praying that the race day would be cool and overcast with cloud cover. Be careful what you wish for! The Sunday morning of the race started off with the bang and excitement of rolling thunder and lightning coursing through the skies along with a heavy downpour. Gathering with the rest of the ET group in the continental breakfast area of the hotel at 4:30am, I found us looking at each other wondering if we were racing in this kind of weather. For most of us this was our first time at Pleasant Prairie and at the Olympic distance. Fortunately, there were those who were more experienced and offered a calming presence in the midst of the chaotic storm. That is the nice thing about having a coach to offer the reassurance that things will work out. Having a computer to access weather forecasting sites also helped to see that a window of opportunity existed to get this race off the ground. Thus, in the darkness and rain we proceeded to the race site.
At the race site, we huddled in the warmth of the rec center gym to dry off and get mentally and physically ready for the race scheduled to go an hour later than expected. Our bikes were already racked from the night before and covered in plastic to protect the gears and wheels from the night of dousing rain. Everything looked good for the start of the race. It was cloudy and a tolerable coolness was in the air – the kind that usually follows an early morning storm. It was almost as if I had prayed for this kind of weather! I was in swim wave three with several other fellow ET athletes which was good for moral support as we offered words of encouragement just before entering the water.
With the sound of the horn, so began the journey of my first Olympic Distance Tri. The water felt great! Not cold at all. I did take advantage of the wetsuit so as to have the added buoyancy, which made swimming a little easier. The usual group rush into the water resulted in the typical banging elbows, feet and heads. It took the first of three legs of the triangular swim route to clear a straight path that allowed for a good swimming form. Fifteen hundred meters later, the finish line was in site. Out of the water and to transition I went.
Transition has been a challenge for me this first season. I am learning that transitions can be “free speed.” This time around I had been experimenting with biking without socks and putting my bike shoes in the clips during the pre-race preparation. Slip the wetsuit off, wipe the feet, glasses on, helmet strap, bike off the rack and off to the bike out gate. Lo and behold, my time did improve some – still got a ways to go, but I am getting the idea that transition practices are important. Part of that practice is mentally thinking through the transition and organizing your transition area in a way to match your visualization training.
I had my shoes secured to my pedal clips with rubber bands holding the heels of the shoes to the rear skewer and the front derailleur, which kept them parallel to the ground. At the mounting line it was up on the saddle and feet on top of my shoes and done the road I went. As I reached a comfortable speed, I slipped my feet into the shoes and fastened the straps. Smooth transition. The road course was pretty straightforward with a variety of surfaces from smooth asphalt to patchwork country lanes. Downhills, uphills, flats and turns of all varieties were present. The coolness of the day made the course very bearable and accounted for some excellent times from seasoned amateurs and newbies alike. Rain came into picture occasionally, but it was the kind that was refreshing rather than insulting. Saw few flats during the race – mostly after some sharp turns on bumpy roads. You definitely feel for those racers as you watch them struggle to change their tubes and pray that you don’t find a similar audience later in the race. In what seemed like a few sips of Gatorade and a blink of an eye, I was back to the dismounting line and heading for transition two.
T2 was the highlight of my race for I got the opportunity to see and hear from my biggest fans as I ran my bike to the rack – my wife and kids! That was the first time they had seen me in a race. Seeing my kids jump up and down and hearing their words of encouragement meant so much to me. I was almost intoxicated by the feeling. Perhaps that is why I goofed a little on T2. Racked the bike, traded my bike shoes for run shoes, took off my helmet and to the run out gate I went. There’s nothing I have forgotten…I think. What am I missing? Just as I got half way to the run out gate, I remembered my run belt/number. Arrrrggghhh! Going back to get my number cost me about 25 extra seconds, a difference I would later learn of one place in the final rankings. Lesson learned. And now it was on to the run.
The run is usually my strength and within a few minutes, I had shaken off any hip flexor stiffness obtained during the bike ride and was in full stride throughout most of the run. The only challenge I had was running the Olympic distance of six miles in a competitive environment. Finding the right pace to make sure I didn’t burn out too quickly was my main objective. Thus, it made me a little tentative to go all out and my overall time was a little slower than I wanted. The cool thing about running this course was that it gave me the joy of seeing fellow ET athletes as we passed each other at various stages of the course that intersected. High fives and more words of encouragement from my second family was another high that fueled my run. Finally, the end was in sight as I rounded the last quarter of the lake towards the finish line and the waiting crowd, including my family, who all cheered on every triathlete that ran between the fences for the last hundred yards – yet another exhilarating high. A medal on my neck, a bottle of Gatorade in hand, and hugs galore from my family awaited me on the other side.
I also found a great sense of accomplishment in completing a goal that I set for myself way back December of 2006 when I was planning my 2007 race season with Coach Joe. At one time, I could not have imagined myself doing triathlons. Now I can imagine anything is possible if I put my mind to it and have the wonderful support of family and the ET friends I made in this journey and watched cross the same finish line beaming in their own glow of great accomplishment. What can I imagine now…Ironman?????
Take a look at the Pleasant Prairie pictures on our photo gallery!