Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Alabama State Time Trial Championships Race Report

The Time Trial.

It’s called “the race of truth”.

Do you want to truth?

No really – are you sure that you want the entire truth? Because I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you fair and square.

(deep breath). Pause (for the dramatic!)

It was the most painful hour and change of my life.

How about that?

I worked so hard that my average heart rate was only four beats lower than my max heart rate. That little tidbit earned a comment from Coach Jen.

“I could tell that you rode your hardest!” were her words.

And I assure you, just as I assured her – that I did.

Race morning dawned not quite as early as it had for the previous morning’s race at Deer Point Lake. There’s just something so relaxing (a little too relaxing – continue reading!) about getting up at 5:45 am race morning. Registration was from 6:45-7:45, and the race was set to start at 8 am sharp.

Parking was interesting: we had our pick between the run down corner store, the deserted barn, the deserted feed store, or the half-collapsed and desolate house. The three corners where Al-14 met AL-187 were all that was left of Sprott, Alabama. The Race Director really wasn’t kidding when he said it was a “non-town”.

While waiting around to begin my warm up, I surveyed my water situation and realized that my 3 bottles probably wouldn’t be enough to keep me functioning long after the race.

But I pushed the thought out of my mind, registered and got my starting time. I was set to go off at precisely 8:45 am. And Jen’s words of “do NOT miss your start time” echoed throughout my head as I pinned my number to my jersey.

Being the newbie, I pinned them upside down. But the octogenarian parked next to us helped me out. And showed me how it was done.


He and his parter were actually really cute. They were riding a tandem bike, and qualified for the "Masters" category without a doubt.

As a triathlete, I felt very out-of-place. There were lots of small stature guys with shaved legs and speed suits, joking around and spending lots of time warming up on their trainers. Not just warming up, but really really going hard. I must confess that I did bring the trainer along – but taking Jen’s and Courtenay’s advice, figured it would be a tad bit overkill.

And yes, I DO realize that in triathlon, there are lots of small statured guys with shaved legs and speedos. I'm just used to that. Different in cycling. They all looked so small! (And hairless).

Around 8:10 am, I got my gear ready – aero helmet, bike, shoes, and lone water bottle (gosh – my bike looked very naked without tools, the rear cages, and only one bottle on board), and got ready to set out on my warm up. I was deterred when I noticed the “official” race time.

The clock read 7:40.


Is this normal??

I conferred with the race organizers, and they had decided to push the start back by half an hour. And had changed the clock to reflect that.

O-k-a-y. Great. Another 3o minutes to be nervous. Wonderful.

So I returned to the car and waited.

And waited…

And waited…

And, well, you get the drift.

30 minutes later, I set out on the warm up, checked out the start line (about 1 km down the road), watched Team Jeep take off for their 4-person team time trial, and went about finishing up the warm up.

I wish I could say it was earth shattering, but it really wasn’t. I did some spinning, a few accelerations, debated if I should pull over and pee in the woods or just go on the bike. I wasn’t so sure about what was lurking on the edge, so I played it safe and took my “nature break” while completing the warm up. Gross, I know – but I just didn’t want to stop. Besides, I wasn’t’ so sure how much time left I had.

I passed the car, yelled “hi!” to Nathaniel who was walking towards the start and promised that I would return for a photo. I was a tad bit worried about my start time, and just wanted to confirm that I had 10 minutes left before I was set to GOGOGO.

Brief time out here. For anyone who knows me, I’m a stickler about being on time – no EARLY – to three places. 1) Airport (the thought of missing a flight makes me feel sick). 2) Movies (I like to get good seats and contrary to most other people, enjoy the previews). 3) Races (for triathlons, I like to be in transition about 2 hours before I go off).

Enough said. You get the point.

My start time was exactly 8:45. Not 8:45:01, not 8:46. 8:45.

So you can imagine the look of terror on my face when I saw the clock read 8:44:38 as I passed the riders in the back of the line.

The starting line area was in a bit of a frenzy.

“Number 145! Number 145! You are about to miss your start! Has anyone seen number 145?”

The announcer was calling my number out on a bull horn. Not exactly how I wanted to make my time trial debut, mind you.

I felt my heart rate jump from 100 to just below LT.

I coasted in to my designated place at precisely 8:44:45. (Almost as though I had menat to do exactly just that. I don't think I had anyone fooled - my knees were shaking, not from fear of the race, but from fear of missing the start.)


(Later it was confirmed that the race directors had jumped the clock ahead 10 minutes. So instead of being behind by 30 minutes, they were behind by 20. I just missed the switch. Nice.)

Luckily, I remembered to shift into my Big Ring (Thanks Courtenay!), unclipped for 15 seconds, and tried to steady my shaking hands. Jen’s words of “DO NOT MISS YOUR START!’ reverberated throughout my mind.




Wait! Don’t go yet!

(Oops – sometimes I go a little early on swim sets. I guess the same doesn’t apply to time trials!)




And I was off.

I wish I could say that I remember everything clearly. I wish I could talk about the different stages of the race or the other rides that I saw. I wish I could go into detail about my heart rate zones or how I felt. But really, all I remember was pain.

I spent about 20 seconds fiddling with my bike computer trying to get it reset and then starting my hr monitor. I was hoping to race with my power meter, as a way to gather data for future training. But it wasn’t quite ready, so instead I looked at this as an opportunity to assess my heart rate zones.

After glancing at my heart rate to confirm that the monitor was indeed working, I quickly decided to NOT look at it for the remainder of the race. About 2 minutes in, my body was registering a heart rate of 181.

Just to let you know: I’ve never registered a heart rate above 180 while on a bike.

Ho hum. I guess there’s a first for everything!

This entire season has been a “season of firsts” – so why not throw in a new heart rate into the mix. While racing, no doubt!

Basically, I put my head down, kept my body tucked, and rode my heart out. I didn’t go off at a 100% effort, but it was up there. After 10 minutes, I dropped the hammer and rode steady, solid, and as hard as I could. My legs kept firing, my hands gripped the aerobars, and I pulled myself far forward on my saddle.

Soon I noticed the lone figure of another rider up ahead. I figured it was the lady who had started 2 minutes in front of me, and I immediately set off to bike her down. Within five or six minutes, I passed her, commenting great job as I rode by.

I was greeted by silence. Which turned out to be a good thing, as it added fuel to my fire.

Fine. Be rude. I was just telling you good job! If you don’t want to respond, that’s your prerogative. Just enjoy the clear shot of my rear as I ride by.

Before I realized it, I hit the turn around.

Ah – sweet relief! The first time I was able to get out of my saddle and stretch the legs.

And it was over before I knew it. A few pedal strokes later, and I was back in aero, steadily grinding away kilometer by kilometer, mile by mile.

The first thing I noticed after turning was the wind. What had been so deceptive on the way out, practically non-existent as our beloved tail wind, was a fierce and unrelenting headwind.

The course was essentially a 12-mile straight shot, flat-as-a-pancake course, with forrests on either side. Broken only with the occasional house or farm dotting the landscape. And my speed didn’t really feel wind-assisted. I hit the turn around point at 32 minutes – something that I would ride on a flat course during an Olympic distance triathlon. In the past when I’ve had the pleasure of riding with a tailwind, I’ll hit speeds in excess of 24, 25 or 26 mph. It’s wonderful!

But I didn’t hit anything close to that during the first segment.

So at the turn around, I figured it would be more of the same on the return trip.

About five minutes after the turn, my mind recollected the looks of intense pain on the riders who had already made the turn as I was still racing out. One team in particular stuck out. The two girls were in visible pain; their moths slacking open, their cadence a low grind. They did not look happy to be there.

Undoubtedly, I looked the same on the return trip.

But I remembered what Jen’s advice was: the race is won or lost in the wind.

I knew this, I knew I was strong, I knew I could hang on and power through. So I put my head down even more, doubled my resolve, and powered as strong as I could.

I can’t remember specifics, but I remember looking at my watch and wondering how I could handle this effort for another 20 or 25 minutes. But I refused to let that concern me, and instead focused on the Here and Now. I remembered reading one of Jen’s old blogs – about how she would “cut through the wind like a knife” and decided to make myself emulate that knife.

I loved the wind, and I was going to use it to my advantage. The other racers were of no concern; I had no control over what they could or could not do. But I was able to control my own race, my own reaction.

So I pushed and pushed and pushed some more.

One glance at my heart rate confirmed that I was still at record highs. But I figured the tremendous amount of heat and high humidity were also a factor. Well, that and my effort.

So I rode, and pushed, and rode harder, willing my body forward, constantly hovering on the edge of blowing up and on survival. I knew this was the “race of truth” and I remembered World Championship Time Trialist Fabian Cacellara commenting, “it is a battle of the mind. Is my mind stronger than the pain? I think so and I win.”

It sounded deceptively simple when I watched him comment. But 45 minutes into my race, I knew exactly of what he was speaking.

The wind blew more fierce, but I ignored it, kept my head down and powered forward – watching as my clock ticked past the 60 minute mark. I knew the finish area was close – and played mind tricks to will myself forward.

Just 5 minutes. You’ve done this a million times. Just five more minutes. You can take another sip of water in 2:30. Just focus and push. Easing up is not an option. How much is 5 minutes compared to the rest of your life?

65 minutes passed, and I knew I was close. Any moment, I would hit the only hill on the course and see the line, the blue tent, and waiting spectators. Then I could drink cold water and stop the pain.

My quads felt as though they would burst, and a glance down confirmed they appeared larger than normal. The sun pounded on my back and I could taste the rings of sweat on the sides of my mouth. My lungs were begging, pleading for me to abate my drive. My body ready to stop at any moment. But my mind was strong.

My mind is strong.

And it was forcing my body to do things that I never thought possible. And I had been doing things I never though possible for the past 67 minutes.

I refused to look at my heart rate monitor for fear of what I might see.

And my mouth was bone dry – all I could think about was cold liquid at the finish. Screw the T-run that Jen had on my schedule. My legs had deserted me 40 minutes ago. My hands gripped the aero bars and I kept my head down, peering intently at the road as it flashed under my race wheels.

I think I can I think I can I think I can.

My legs screamed.

I know I can I know I can I know I can.

This was my train, this was my time trial, this was my return to racing on my bike. And I would be damned if I gave up with less than five minutes left.

And that’s all I remember. The next thing I know, I heard clapping and I crossed the line.

Where had that come from?

Nathaniel was waiting for me, a luke-cold diet cherry coke in hand. I downed it in one gulp, my quads still shaking – yet feeling oddly detached.

If memory serves me correct, my first words were, “That was the most painful thing I have ever done. I don’t ever want to do another!”

Followed by, “How the hell does Jen expect me to run after this? I’m toasted! Do you have another coke?”

In the end, I did run – albeit for 15 minutes instead of 30. And my heart rate maxed out at 184, a new record for me.

We didn’t stay around for the awards or even to see the final results. I had run out of water, and was in desperate need of something more substantial than GU or granola bars. And the thought of waiting an additional 60 minutes in a ghost town in the zillion degree heat sans water, was not a good one.

All in all, it was an incredible experience. And yes, I will do another time trial in the future – as it turns out, I really don’t remember a lot from the last one. Which is a shame, as I know that I worked really really hard. Then again, some things are better left forgotten. And I’m sure that I’ll think those exact words about three minutes into my next one.


Courtenay said...

awesome job marit! way to suffer... and i think part of the reason little bike racer guys look so little is the imbalance between their lower and upper halves. they don't have the shoulders and pecs of triathletes, you know? i laughed at your description though - little and hairless, sounds like baby mice!

TriGirl Kate O said...

Wow! way to go!

Ryan said...

You had me standing in my office cheering, "Hammer it Marit!!!"


From now on every time I ride with the roadies I'll be thinking, "Little Hairless Men!"


Hi Nate.

Beth said...

Great job Marit! I have a cyclist friend who swears on his life that individual TT on the bike are the most painful events of all time!!! I guess you might agree! :)

Anyway, way to push it and really suffer! I bet those cherry cokes never tasted so good! :)

Amber and Eric Rydholm said...

Good job Marit. The CO state TT had the extra fun of long grinders of hills (with an uphill finish) after i thought it would be flat since it is out by the airport.

Amber almost missed the starts of both of her time trials this year (although the first one was due to a silly long line at registration).

I hear you on liking to be early to things, I'm pretty onery to be around until we get to the airport or race site.


Wes said...

ROFL @ Ryan... Ahhh, Marit! You are such a competitor. That HAS NOT CHANGED since your little mishap. I had pegged my LT on the bike at 156, but after my super sprint at Callaway, I averaged 164, LOL! Nothing like a race to bring out the truth in our mind and bodies.

You are another one of those athletes that reminds me that the race is not all about training the body. Train the mind. The body will follow.

Well done!

BTW: I never mentioned, congrats on the write up in Tri Mag :-) It, too, was awesome!

Anonymous said...

This is probably the best few lines I've read on a blog in a long time:

"Fine. Be rude. I was just telling you good job! If you don’t want to respond, that’s your prerogative. Just enjoy the clear shot of my rear as I ride by."


Good job on the TT as well ;-) You're right, they are incredibly painful and also incredibly fun (after the fact).

Anonymous said...

HA! This was a great RR on your 1st TT....those darn TTs hurt like hell...yep! But, it is an eye opener on how hard you need to work on the bike in the Sprint/OLY bike portion of the Tris. :) Your legs will be there...GOOD job!! Fun to read. Jen H. :)

CAMI said...

wow! You rock! Great job.

TriBunny said...

Great job Merit! You are one tough and talented cookie. I'm so inspired by you. I know that it's been a rough road, but wow you're recovery has been amazing. Rock on girl!

Anonymous said...

"How much is 5 minutes compared to the rest of your life?"

Priceless! I am going to put that away in the back of my mind, and remind myself of it when I need it most!

Congratulations on your accomplishment - you're amazing!

GoBigGreen said...

Super job! My first 40 k was the ecstasy of finishing and the agony of cramping and not being able to get off the bike. Welcome to the Pain Locker..
You will do another one..and you will dig deeper than you ever thought possible.

Sarah said...


This was such a great pre-tri read for me! Everything about it - reminding me how powerful the mind is, how important commitment and perseverance are, and how you can still have a sense of humor in the middle of pain (loved that 'fine, DON'T say hi to me!' - i wrote about the VERY SAME THING in my race report from vineman last year!).

Way to really suffer and forget the suffering so you'll go back for more. ;)

Thank you for being such a great inspiration!


rr said...

Loved the RR, Marit! i missed your blog while I was away..

I did a tt like that recently.. had no idea I could hurt like that on the bike! That's killer training though, it'll pay big down the line. Congrats on pushing the whole way!!!!