Oh damn!

Well, sometimes, races just don't go like you'd hoped. You get a flat, you bonk, you have GI distress, you cramp, and so on and so forth. Other times, they go exactly as you've hoped, and you achieve greatness. You never know which it will be, or if it'll be somewhere in between the two. That's where the jitters come from. You want to hope for the best, but know how fragile the balance is. I've been lucky enough to never get a DNF, knock wood... you always see a few on the list of times, and you think "there but for the grace of God go I." This time, my friend skidded out on her bike, crashed, and didn't finish. And she's a roadie. It can happen to anyone. (For this reason, I feel I need to ride more and get better at fixing flats, for the inevitable time when I'm "that person" stranded on the road's edge.)

This time, however, was happily a case of the perfects. I had a mental image of what I wanted to happen that I saw very clearly the night before (aka beating David Duchovny.) I wanted a 1:45 time. What I got was very close to that (and Duchovny wasn't even there, so, who cares) at 1:46. And to make it sweeter, I made my FIRST podium... and not just podium, but I WON!!! As in, I got FIRST in my age group!!! Say what???! Of course, I feel like I don't deserve it, as I've been slacking and am not even at race weight (blah blah who cares) but ultimately, uhhhhmmm... I WON. It was a pretty close race between the top 3, but I came out on top thanks to everything going exactly as I'd hoped. One false step: a sloppy transition, a bike problem, a foot cramp, and all would have been lost. But there were no false steps, so I got first. Amazing! 

Here are my splits: 

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In brief, my swim was WAY faster than hoped (I got out of the water in 15, across the mat by 15:51) and put me ahead of the others (I gained a minute or two on 2nd and 3rd here, mainly.) I was about fifth fastest in the group.) Both my transitions were very good, I think I was the fastest in my group in T1, actually, 2nd fastest on the bike (2nd place beat me in that split by three seconds) and 3rd fastest run (I coulda picked it up a wee bit earlier at the end, but have my reasons, as I shall explain.) In an exciting finish, I wound up getting first by 12 seconds, and my aforementioned friend Angela (who is a fierce competitor and beat me at Wildflower) got third, being a very close three minutes behind. So truthfully, it was anyone's race. Like I said... if I tripped or something, I could've lost it. But would have still been honored to be up on that podium, because it was a really solid performance by all. [We can pause to appreciate, with the new bike, according to the numbers, my bike is now as solid as my run. HOLY CRAP! That be some news.] I'm pretty honored to have gotten 1st, and can't believe I'm the 9th best out of overall women and in the top 10% of all finishers. This is my first sprint... so, uhhh... maybe I should do more sprints? ;-) I keep going over it in my mind and thinking of how delicate the balance was that made this success possible. It's so crazy to me that I won. I mean, I believe it, but at the same time, I feel so lucky that it all fell into place so perfectly for the day. Very happy and lucky!

Now, for the play by play: We woke up at 4:30am, had some oatmeal I'd made the night before (smart idea!) and rolled into the Malibu parking traffic by 6am. I got my transition area set up, hit the port-a-potty, saw my LA Tri buddies, and felt nervous. They tried to lock us out of transition after our safety talk, but I luckily snuck in to put away my water bottle, get my tri glide on under my wetsuit and take a beta alanine (I swear it helps.) I saw Angela was racing too and thought, "oh shoot, she'll totally beat my ass", since she's the real deal, but then noticed the podium had five spots and thought, "oh, well we can both podium, and if there's five spots, I can definitely get up there!" I started to get nervous again when I saw the ocean. There were some pretty big waves coming in by our 8am swim start, and I'm not the most confident about open water swims in the sea ever since that one time at the Sunday Zuma swim when I got totally owned by a wave that bitchslapped me on my way back to shore when I had my back turned. (Never turn your back on the ocean... it is a notorious asshole and will try to kill you whenever it can.) I was then bucked back up by Will, who said that the current would make it a fast swim, and that he thought I could do it in 15 or 16 minutes. Well, leave it to Will to call it: any time he says something I find mildly over-optimistic, I choose to believe it (like sub 4 Santa Barbara-- almost) and I do it. He has the years of tri experience and an objective viewpoint that makes me think "if he says so, it must be true!" I was wearing a gold cap for my wave and joked with my group: "Gold for gold!" (I was secretly hoping for podium, but didn't know that gold was a tangible goal.) So those moments pre-race were the usual high and low of "what's gonna happen!?!?!?" excitement/anxiety with a rising heartbeat, until the cannon went off and we all ran into the ocean.

I'd positioned myself at the front right, and they said to account for the current for hitting the first buoy. I guess it didn't really drag too much, because I was right in line with it and wound up precisely in the right place. I think this is what gave me that edge in swim time, efficient entrance. (I often wind up zig zagging a little. Maybe if my lines are better I will cut more time in future events!) Getting in wasn't a big whoop: just dove under the first big crashy wave, and was able to swim up over the next two big swells and then was at the buoy. Cake!

I swam as straight and hard as I could, keeping up my buoy sighting, which was super easy because it was short swim. I noticed there weren't many gold caps around me, so I had to be up front, and that was rad. I was also catching up to the yellow caps, and some very slow white ones, which is also a good sign. Before I knew it, it was time to get back to shore. This proved a little annoying and awkward... getting out of an ocean with big waves always is, cuz it tries to suck you back. But I did a little scissor kick on my side some I could keep an eye on the wave and ride it in correctly, and was lucky to not time it wrong and get bitchslapped again, and I trudged out as fast as I could, and was astounded to find 15 minutes on my Garmin: Will was right!!

Put ahead by the swim, I rushed to get through transition as quickly as I could. I had my new tri shoes ready with powder in them for my soggy feet (I found going sockless didn't bug me on the ride and would save time-- socks on the run wouldn't take long and the feet would be dry by then) and was up on the bike in no time flat. I saw Angela running in shortly after me, so I knew it would be close.

Race wheels, aero helmet, and new TT frame all combined, I felt strong and efficient and ready to fly. I could see myself from outside my body, bent over, in the drops, weird Tron helmet on, speeding by folks barking "LEFT!" I was the fast one! I was the one who, on the first tri I did, I let go by and thought, "Damn." I wasn't a dick about it... I try to be nice... but dude, if I'm flying up, you need to get left so we both don't die. And I got a nice few "good jobs" on my passings that I said thanks to. There was one 40-something year old man who I played back and forth with, he kept joking "you let me pass you again?!" We stuck with each other until the final timing mat, where I slowed down again due to the volunteers and I told him "they told me to slow down!" It was extremely headwind-y, which was annoying, but I had my Tron helmet, so I felt like I could still cut through it pretty well. I of course was a little slowed down on the uphills, but blasted it on the flats, coming out with an easy 26 mph without feeling like I was going to die. What a difference a bike makes!! There was ONE scary coulda-been-bad moment-- actually, two, the other being that someone's errant helmet sticker got caught in my front brake, but I brushed it away without incident. There's a BIG descent right before a very sharp right, and you can get your speed real high before you notice "oh snap I have to slow down, pronto." This happened to me, 'cause I was thinking, "fear not the descent" and trying to embrace it, and now I'm going 30 mph and have to slow down in like 200 feet or something shitty. Braking was making my bike tremble, because it put tension into my arms, and I had a minor freakout that I was going to crash, but I managed to gently pump the rear brake-- I thought I'd fly over the front if I hit the front brake-- and slowed down JUST (and I mean just) in time for that right. Evidently this is the area where Cheryl crashed. It's not surprising. I was a little shaken up by that and biked rather timidly for a few minutes after. But I still averaged 19.6 mph, and finished in under 55 minutes, which was slower than my ideal goal, but still within the range of my hopes.

Transition 2 was also respectably fast, with very few bikes on the racks (I saw Angela run in shortly after me again!), so I was up and running quickly, trying to maintain a lead. I felt a little ragged, which was expected after holding threshold for that long, so I was pleased to find that I was still already running under 8 minute miles, though I was hoping to average 7:30s. I made the sensible decision that I'd let the first mile or so be slower as long as it wasn't over 8, so I could save a little for the finish. I passed one woman with a 26 on her calf and hoped she wouldn't catch me. Then, at around 1.5 miles in, a woman in a WB jersey with a 27 on her calf came loping up and passed me, getting about 10 feet ahead. I had a flashback to Santa Barbara and thought, "oh crap, is that going to happen again?"  I figured it would be in my best interest to stay on her heel, and then if she picked it up to 6 minute miles, I would still be ahead of a bunch of other women, and she'd deserve first anyway. (At this point, I had a feeling we were the top contenders, judging by the lack of bikes I'd seen on the racks.) I stuck with her, grabbed some extra Gatorade and water, and at around 1 mile left, I caught her and we were side by side. "Not much longer," she'd said to me. "Yup," I said, "Just .6 miles!" She was nice and clearly a very strong athlete, and I was entirely convinced that she was going to pull ahead in these last moments, so I wanted to save my sprint for the finish. But then I noticed her pace was slowing: earlier, I'd been doing a 7:20 to stay with her, but now with under a half mile left, we were back at 8 minute miles. "This is too slow," I thought, and I decided, the hell with it, I'm putting in the final push, even though I was afraid I'd burn all my matches too quickly and she'd catch me. My Garmin had been beeping the miles about a tenth too early, and I heard it go off shortly after I pushed ahead. "Here we go!" I thought, as I dug into that horrifying last reserve and pumped out that last effort down the carpeted corridor, around the bend and across the timing mats. I vaguely recalled in that moment the announcer at the prerace meeting saying, "Don't forget to smile!" and noticed the multiple cameras catching my look of anguish. I remember thinking "I will smile when I'm fully across these mats and I know she hasn't caught me." And I did! I saw her come in a little bit later-- apparently 12 seconds later-- and I congratulated her on a strong run. She was a good sport, and congratulated me on a great finish. I'm aging out of our group, so I hope she wins next year, 'cause she's awesome. And if she'd pulled away and won, I would have felt honored to be silver to her gold.

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Jacob said he thought I might have gotten first, and I suspected it might be so, too, since, while the gold caps and our racks included all females from 18-29, I was still competing only with my age group. We waited in line to look it up... first time, nothing appeared, annoying... then checked back again and-- voila!!! I was first in my division! For a moment, I second guessed it, as Will told me sometimes ranks change, like if someone races in a different swim wave or something, but I checked another time and yes, I was still first. 

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I got to stand up on the podium, and, for Carrita's sake, thrust my fist in the air and yelled "Tonight we dine in hell!" (And the announcer said, "she just said "drinks are on me"-- ha, ha.) Everyone was so thrilled, proud and surprised-- it felt a lot like college, where I did a lot of theatre and extracurriculars and was very social, and then stunned everyone by getting highest honors in my major even though I wasn't an introverted library invalid. Suddenly I had proven that I, the fun comedienne triathlete, who likes to work hard but also play hard, wasn't only a good time, but also a totally solid badass and capable athlete. And that I, indeed... am a contender.

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Oh, and if it weren't epically victorious and amazing enough of a day, I also met IRONMAN LEGEND Chrissie Wellington... who gave me not one, but TWO hugs. WORD!

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AuthorNikki Muller