Second Place at St. Croix!
Overall, I am satisfied with my second place performance at St. Croix. However, I would be lying if I said that I wasn't disappointed about not winning, that is the nature of being a successful athlete. As I have matured I have gotten better about recognizing the fact that I can't always win, and that almost never will I have a "perfect" race, and that is important to let myself be satisfied with aspects or even my whole performance. Otherwise, I'll be stuck in a cycle of constantly critiquing myself. Don't get me wrong, I am still definitely my own worst critic, but I have grown in the sense that I can allow myself to say I did a good job. Seven years ago, every race I did was "horrible", even if I won and set a PR. Nowadays, I am definitely a happier athlete and person, and ultimately will be more successful long term with a more level headed approach that isn't focused on the negatives or what I did wrong, but rather the positives.
St. Croix is definitely one of the most challenging Half Ironman races on the circuit, offering no time for "mental breaks". One truly has to be "on" the entire race. The swim is poses many challenges being in the ocean with a strong current and lots of chop. The bike course includes the infamous "beast" and not to be forgotten, many rolling hills while facing a strong head wind on the back side of the island. The run is perhaps the most overlooked challenge of the race. People always talk about how hard the bike course is, and seem to forget that the run is equally or if not more challenging. The run course, is more like a cross country course with dirt, grass, steep hills, and offers little shade to protect one from the 88+F.
Anyways, on to my race report...
My swim was nothing stellar. It continues to be a struggle for me. My main goal going in to the swim was to try to get on feet for at least a portion of the race. As in my last few races I have been swimming solo, and definitely not straight! While the time here, 31:02, is two minutes slower than I have been swimming at most of my races, on a relative basis compared to the other pros, it isn't that bad. Being non wetsuit, and with a strong current, it seemed consistent most pros were swimming at least 2 minutes slower than their "usual" swim times. I ended up having an okay swim start and found myself on the feet of Anne Basso. The pace seemed too slow a few times, so I'd try to pass her but would find myself just swimming next to her. Consequently, I decided to just go back on her feet since I couldn't seem to swim faster on my own, and make it easier for myself. We excited the swim one second a part in 4th and 5th respectively.
I had a pretty good T1 exiting ahead of Anne in 4th place. However, she quickly passed me back at around 3 miles. We continued to yo-yo back and forth a couple more times for the first 20 miles, which was good practice for me as I usually am just cycling solo and not worried about dropping back every time I got passed to avoid a drafting violation. The first 20 miles of the race my effort level was pretty conservative, and I was just focusing on drinking as much as I possibly could to get ahead of myself on hydration. Once we reached the beast, at mile 21, I passed Anne almost right away and continued to power up the hill, at a very controlled pace. I actually stayed at the lower end of the wattage zone my coach gave me as I knew it was a long ride, with many more challenges ahead. Despite being conservative, I managed to repass the one age group male, and Jenni Seymour by the end of the .7 mile climb, and move into 3rd place overall. I have always been a good climber, being light and having a good power to weight ratio, and knew I would excel on the beast even if I kept within myself. After the beast is a fairly steep windy decent. The age group male, repassed me on the decent, and I never saw him or any female pros again on the bike course. The remainder of the bike I tried to stay focused on good nutrition, and keeping heat off myself as much as I could. I felt I was riding quite slowly, and that my watts were rather low given my HR. I tried to not let that affect me negatively, and just kept holding a steady pace. In the end, I came off the bike in 3rd, a little over 5 minutes down from the leaders, Lauren Goss, and Amanda Stevens. In the end, to learn that I biked only 30 seconds slower than the lead females was very positive. I felt, I had biked poorly, but given the conditions it turned out no one was laying down killer bike splits. In most races, the top female pros bike 10+ minutes faster than me, so to lose only 30 seconds while riding solo, is a huge improvement for me, and gives me a lot confidence going forward on my cycling abilities.
I started the run not feeling too bad, and was super motivated to know I was only a little over 5 minutes down from first. I usually start the run nowhere near striking distance to the leaders, and am just trying to run myself up to a top 6th place or so... I ran the first 3 miles in 6:15ish pace, at a reasonable HR. Mile 4 has a pretty steep hill which really sucked a lot strength out of my legs, basically after that I got slower and slower the whole run. It was a mental battle to keep pushing and keep the turnover up. I ended up passing Amanda Stevens, a little after the 5 mile mark. She was so kind to cheer for me and told me to "go get her". I definitely was thinking I might be able to catch Lauren still at that point in the race. A few minutes before the turn around I saw Lauren running back in the opposite direction, and she looked great, she didn't even look like she was sweating! I on the other had was drenched in sweat and had drool and spilled Gatorade all over my face! I think around mile 7 is when sh*t really started to hit the fan, it was at this point I heard Lauren was still over 4 minutes ahead of me, and I felt like death, every step was an effort. I realized I definitely wouldn't be able to catch her, I just didn't have another gear to go. As a result, I shifted my focus hydration, fueling, and basically just getting through the run and holding on the second place. My pace really deteriorated rapidly on the second loop of the run, despite keeping a relatively high HR, which tells me the heat was making a huge impact, and that perhaps I cycled a tad too aggressively. I must say I have never been so happy to stop running before in my life. I love running beyond what would be considered normalcy, so to say I didn't want to run a step further at the end of the race really sheds light on how spent I was!