WOW! Race number seven of eight is complete! Even though I didn't place as well as I would have hoped, the race was a huge success. I am also much more settled into the "Pro lifestyle" now: I have found out that home-stays are a great way to cut down on the cost of travel and an awesome way to meet new people, I have gotten used to the not-so-intimidating-anymore Pro pre-race meeting, I can now position myself toward to front at the swim start, it is somewhat difficult for others to pass me on the bike, I'm even getting used to people wanting me to give them high fives (that's awesome!). It's been a great first year of professional racing so far.
I initially chose to race Pocono Mountains 70.3 so that I didn't go "stale" between Muskoka and Miami 70.3, which are 7 weeks apart. September is usually a difficult month to train, because most athletes are finishing up their racing season and are taking it easy during this time. This race was a great way to keep myself focused on training. We drove down to the race on Friday morning at 5am! Only this time, instead of staying at a hotel with free chocolate chip cookies, we heading to the Nicholls' home in a beautiful town near Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. They had generously offered to host Rikki and I over the race weekend. I had only just heard of a home stay through volunteers at Muskoka 70.3 and thought that I would try it out for this race. Rhonda, her husband Jeff, their dog (Madison), and their cats (Penelope, Mittens, Socks, Lizzy, Amber, Midnight, ?), were terrific hosts! They made sure we had everything we needed, and more. Rikki even got to eat a nice chicken dinner instead of my gluten free pasta on Saturday night! Rhonda is a terrific runner and we got to hear many tales of her own running adventures in the Boston Marathon and other races! Rhonda and Madison were even there to welcome me at the finish line!
The race started almost as soon as the sun rose, which was just after 7am. All the Pro women and men started together. We had 4 minutes after entering the water to get to the start line. No one really knew exactly which buoy we were supposed to swim too (the closer buoy was way left and the far buoy was straight ahead), one of the men called out for all the fast swimmers to "lead the way". I positioned myself at the front, thinking to myself "ya, that's me!" (even though I didn't know which buoy to head to, either). Soon enough, we were off. It was a pretty clean start for me and I wasn't toppled over at all. After rounding the first buoy (which every one decided was the far buoy). I saw another Pro, Amber, close by, and we took turns swimming on top of each other as we tried to get a draft of the pack of male swimmers in front of us. Eventually I must have made it in front of her, because soon it was just me and 4 or 5 male swimmers in a group. I couldn't pull ahead of them so I knew I was swimming at the appropriate pace. I was liking this situation, because it meant I didn't have to kick as hard and I could save a bit of energy for the bike. I would need it - there were some super strong cyclists in the Pro field!
After exiting the swim (24:00!) I was in 2nd. I headed up a hill to T1, put on knee warmers and my warm cycling top over my trisuit, then my helmet, and I was off (considering having all that gear to put on, a 2:22 transition was not bad!). Amber and Christine Fletcher were just behind me though. Next was the 7km descent down the mountain - this was so much fun, especially on my speedy Cervelo! I was in aero the whole time and I am sure I reached a new max speed! Ed Veal, who has helped me with my bike technical skills (www.realdealracing.com), would have been proud! The next 31km was a section of flat and very sightly rolling hills. This was my favourite part of the bike course. I was alternating between being 2nd, 3rd and 4th female, but we were all staying pretty close. To avoid drafting we would pass one another, drop back, get passed, etc. I knew both Amber and Christine have posted much faster bike times than me in the past so the fact that we were all biking at around the same speed made me happy. I was hoping this would last through the last 52km - but as soon as we hit the hilly section of the course they took off. I cursed my small and weak glutes, which I maintain is the reason for my lack of climbing ability, and just did the best that I could. I definitely was up out of the saddle a lot more during this race than in the past and I stayed aero more often on the steep, winding descents. After cursing the last few hills I ended up finishing the bike 6th, in a time of 2:37:36. My best bike split compared to the other Pro females so far. Woohoo!
Once in T2 I racked my bike, stripped off my warm top, put on my Mizunos and was off! Like Muskoka, I couldn't feel my feet, so I was super paranoid about tripping and falling. I was also aware that right behind me was Jessie Donavan (winner of 2 IMs!) and Jennie Hansen. It would be really tough to stay ahead of them on the run. I just tried to focus on what I could control: my own run, my own pace. For starters, this meant regaining the feeling in my feet. So, while running, I curled my toes up and down desperately willing the blood to flow to my toes. Co-incidentally I noticed the feeling back in my feet just as Jessie passed me. I was able to stay close for about half a mile, but my heart rate was soaring and I knew that I wouldn't be able to complete the full 21km at that pace. So again, I tried to refocus on my own pace, until I saw another female Pro up ahead who I was gaining on! Sweet. New goal: catch-her. So I went for it and caught her at mile 4. There was another female up ahead of her, 1:00 ahead, and that became my next target. At the turnaround I was about 30s away, but she must have seen me gaining and picked up her pace, because I would remain about 45s-1:00 behind her the rest of the race. This run course was particularly difficult, it was gradual uphill until the turnaround, which included some steep ascents and small descents the whole way up. There were no flat sections. However, that meant that the last half of the run was downhill, but those short ascents on the way back were what killed me. With 3 miles to go I was barely hanging on, my legs were heavy, I was getting chilled, and it took a lot of willpower to get my feet to lift off the ground. Sure enough, Jennie Hansen passed me at Mile 11. I looked back and didn't see anyone else coming, which was a relief. I managed to put one foot in front of the other for the next couple miles and ran my way to the finish with a run time of 1:30:07 and a new PB of the season (4:35:03)!
I also wanted to say that this race had some of the most friendly volunteers I have ever come across. Not only that, but they cheered for you, and they cheered LOUD!, and wanted to give you high-fives! At each aid station they made sure that you got the fluid that you needed. There was one water station, where the volunteers were dressed all in pink and wearing tutus! I didn't catch the name on their shirt, but I thought that was pretty awesome.
Anyway, up next, this "seasoned pro" will be conquering nice and flat, Miami 70.3. No hills to worry about there!