Monday, November 12, 2007

70.3 World Championship 2007

Clearwater, Florida
November 10th, 2007

Today everything was fast . . . all around me. The 70.3 World Championships was an absolute treat for me, from competing with the world’s top HIM athletes to enjoying a fabulous venue, first class treatment from the volunteers, and the warm hospitality from the residents of Clearwater.

My first ever ocean swim was Thursday morning (I don’t think that my previous experience in the ocean of wading in waist deep and playing in the waves counts). When I arrived at the beach there was a lecture going on about strategy suggestions for ocean swims. I was only half listing to what was being said because I very nervously was watching the waves wondering how in the world I was going to get up the nerve to get in. There were a lot of questions about swells. People were asking, “how big are the swells? In what direction are they moving?” “Swells?” I wondered, “Are they talking about the waves?” I slowly put my wetsuit on, watched, delayed, and then took the plunge.

Swells are very scary. Surfers love them, strong swimmers just deal with them, but weak swimmers like me find them terrifying. I bobbed up and down like a cork, trying to site the buoys, but they kept disappearing. I struggled for about 15 minutes and then got out wondering how I was going to survive the swim on Saturday.

That afternoon I checked in. At the first table a volunteer asked for my id and USAT card, gave me a pink slip of paper with my bib number, and then sent me to the next volunteer wearing a head set. This volunteer radioed my bib number and assigned me to go to table #6 where another volunteer had already pulled my packet and was ready to explain the contents, get me to sign the forms, and put on my wristband. From there I went to another spot to be weighed and another to activate my chip and a final one to hand me my complementary bag, t-shirt, hat, etc. The process was smooth and so pleasant. The volunteers made me feel important, and I really appreciated how they went out of their way to make sure every athlete felt special.

Friday morning I went to the beach again and this time paid closer attention to the lecture. The ocean looked completely different, no swells, so I was not as distracted. I’m glad I listened because there was a lot of useful information. For example, the moment to get up and run out of the water when finishing a beach start/finish ocean swim is when the hand touches the bottom. “Take an extra stroke,” they said, “get up and start running without removing goggles or cap.” “You will need your hands,” they said, “just lift the goggles off your eyes when you hit the beach and go.” I practiced this on Friday and followed their advice race day and it worked perfectly.

Friday I swam for 25 minutes and felt a lot more relaxed. I could site the buoys and when I turned to come back, I felt pushed forward by the waves. That was nice. I was grateful for calmer waters, and as it turned out, Saturday the race conditions were perfect.

Friday afternoon was bike and bag check-in. At the 70.3 Worlds the transitions happen in a changing tent and not at the bike like at other HIMs. So earlier in the day, I had carefully packed and re-packed my swim-to-bike transition bag and my bike-to-run transition bag. When it was time to walk over to transition from our hotel, Mark helped me with my bike and my bags, but he was not allowed beyond a certain point to get into transition, so I had to push my bike and carry the bags and I was making a mess of it, getting all tangled up and tripping over my bike. There was a long line beginning to form and I could hear the announcer saying, “we need more volunteers to check in the athletes; we don’t want them waiting; we want them happy!” When it was my turn a tall young man introduced himself and then asked me my name. It took me a moment to realize that each athlete got a personal volunteer to help set up transition, to show the flow, and answer all question. First, my volunteer rescued me from my tangled bags; and then he helped me rack my bike, suggesting the best way to do it, and pointing out all the major landmarks so I could easily find it race morning. Next, he showed me where to hang my bags, and he made many helpful suggestions about what I should do as I was running out of the swim and how to quickly transition from the bike to the run. He showed me and showed me again how the flow worked (I asked lots of question, often asking twice to make sure I understood). He patiently answered and re-answered my questions. He explained that there would be wetsuit peelers and a bike catcher. I asked him about race morning, race waves, potty facilities at transition and on the course, about water and food on the course. So when I couldn’t think of any more questions, I remembered my manners, thanked him, told him I thought the volunteers were the best ever, and then asked him, “you said your name is Steve, right?” “Yes,” he said, “I’m Steve, the race director.” Just then Mark, who was standing just outside the transition fence asked me to ask the volunteer for spectator viewing suggestions. “I’ve got the race director!” I shouted. So Steve walked over and answered all of Mark’s questions. The whole experience was just way too cool.

Race day morning the water was calm and gorgeous. I arrived at transition a little before 6. Transition closed at 6:30, so I did not have much time, but all I needed to do was fill my water bottles and put all my cliff blocks in my Bento box. The pro men were only a few bike racks away from me, so I got to watch Craig Alexander and Andy Potts get their bikes ready under the glare of the NBC TV cameras.

Soon it was time to get my wetsuit on and walk to the beach to my appropriate wave corral. It was cold, about 54 degrees. The water, I knew, was about 69 degrees. Fortunately I had had two cold mornings to acclimate, so I felt all right. I also knew that in about an hour the temperature would go up to about 70 degrees and the late morning would be about 76—PERFECT!

One of suggestions from the swim lecture the previous day was to have a plan for how to start the race. The advice was that weaker swimmers should walk, not run in, go all the way to the left away from the buoys, and then also maybe wait a little after the gun to get in. “This is the plan for me,” I thought, but just a few moments before my start I changed my mind. Too many women seemed to be moving to the left and hanging back. The strong swimmers moved forward and to the right, but not many were lining up after them, so I decided to just follow them in. The gun went off and I ran! It was fun. There was a little bit of bumping, but not much, and very soon I had open water in front of me. I was hugging the buoys, keeping a straight line. I was happy and comfortable until . . . the fast men in the wave behind me caught up. They also liked hugging the buoys, so they just swam over me. They were so fast, the swimming over me only lasted a moment, but I was a little scared. Very soon I was once again happily and comfortably swimming from buoy to buoy until the wave of fast swimmers from two waves behind me also caught up. They also liked hugging the buoys, and they also swam over me. I’m pretty sure Jon Brown was one of them (he had a blazing fast 29 minute swim and 4:34 overall time!). By this time I was at the turn around, and we headed east, right into the sun. I was prepared, though, because I had already experienced being blinded the two previous mornings. So I followed the swimmers ahead of me, knowing that eventually I would see the buoys, and I knew I could keep straight by sighting Pier 60 on my left. The swim back felt faster, don’t really know if it was, but the gentle waves were now working in my favor. I eventually touched the bottom, took another stroke, got up, ran, lifted the goggles, ran up the gauntlet of cheering fans, spotted Mark and his parents cheering, ran through the showers, reached the peelers who had me out of my wetsuit in seconds, and ran to get my swim-to-bike transition bag.

My swim was a slow 40 minutes and my T1 was a slow 4 minutes and change (I need to work on this transition thing). There were volunteers inside the tent ready to help me get my gear on and bag my stuff for me. I ran straight to my bike (Steve’s directions were superb) and just as I reached my bike I slipped! I did not hurt myself, but I was very embarrassed. But I kept going, ran with my bike to the mount line and took off. I was wet and cold for the first 15 minutes, but I warmed up quickly.

The bike course is very flat and fast except for crossing the causeway. It is about a half mile up with a 12% grade. Mark and I and his parents had driven the first part of the bike course the day before, the one with the most turns, so I knew what to expect. The first third of the bike course went through Clearwater’s business district and several neighborhoods. The cops were out in full force and they were absolutely amazing. They had to deal with some intense traffic, but they were just fantastic keeping everyone safe. The second third of the bike course was the fastest, a wide straight road and a tail wind. It was not very interesting, but the bridge over the bay was nice, and I was having way too much fun going fast. I kept thinking about all the times Mike and Tim pulled me to and from Bernalillo, going 22 to 28 mph. Thanks to them I was not scared to just go as fast as I could. Mike and Tim have everything to do with my improving on the bike this year. I totally owe them for my 2:35 bike time and 21.6 average mph. The last third of the bike course turned around into the wind and had some turns and then the climb over the causeway again, steeper and longer in this direction. I was much slower here, but I felt strong and kept pushing as best I could.

One thing that made me laugh while on the bike was the Europeans. The men like to wear speedos to race, and so when I saw them pass me, leaning over their bikes, I got a few flashes of rather hairy butts.

The transition to the run went much more smoothly. I felt great right away and I knew I would have a good run. The run course is not fast because it consists of two loops that go over the causeway. So there are four climbs. Fortunately I do a lot of climbing when I train, so I was not intimidated at all. I have my running buddies Jean, Ken and Susan to thank for my run time—they are always there helping me push hard when I am training. My plan was to gradually speed up. I didn’t get negative splits, but my two loops were practically even. The nice thing about the run is that there is more time to look around, to see the athletes and to take in the surroundings. I saw Mark and his parents twice, cheering for me, and that was super nice. In a quiet part of the course there were two older ladies sitting on lawn chairs waving their homemade signs for every athlete that went by. One sign said, “Allez, allez,” I’m sure in an effort to encourage the foreign athletes, and every time a woman ran by, one of the women turned her sign around that said, “You go girl!”

For the last three miles I wanted to quicken my pace. As I approached the finish, the cheering got louder and I could see the huge Ford Ironman finish inflatable. I started to pump my arms as soon as I heard the announcer say my name. And then I was done. Immediately a volunteer wrapped a towel over my shoulders, another volunteer put on the medal (a very nice one, by the way), another took my chip, another handed me Gatorade, another bottled water, another showed where to find food. I was hungry, so I ate some rice and beans and some fruit.

It was very crowed and I had a little trouble finding my family, but when I found them they were very excitedly telling me I had done the race in under 5 hours! My mom was also on the phone congratulating me. My run was 1:32:50, my overall time was 4:56, and my age group place was eighth. For 2007 I am eighth in the world in my division for the 70.3. It doesn’t get any cooler than that.


S. Baboo said...

Maria, that is fantastic! You did great! I hope that maybe one day I'll make it to Clearwater.

SWTrigal said...

Maria-what a great race and report. I am so proud to be your teammate! And you handled the ocean swim so well. You are an amazing athlete. When you are ready to practice those transitions-let me know. That is the one "leg" I can do as well as anyone, thanks to some good coaching a couple of years ago. It can save you 2-3 mins (for me that is good).
You rock!!

Sluggo said...

Maria, you did so awesome! I knew you'd smoke that bike course. Must feel so incredible to know that in your AG you are the 8th fastest 70.3 triathlete in the world.