Kerrville Texas; 3:30 a.m. the alarm goes off. I really didn’t need it. I didn’t sleep at all that night. My brain was way too excited to let me get some sleep. So it was up for a quick stretch, some hot coffee and oatmeal and out the door of the hotel room.
Coach Adam and I headed over to “T2” (the bike to run transition area). The night before we had to rack our items needed for the run in advance. Because it was raining, and it was a “clean” transition area everything was in a plastic bag tied to the bike rack. Because we stopped by in the morning we were able to open the bag and set out our items for a smooth transition. This was a gamble due to the inclement weather. If it rained hard everything would be wet and hard to put on. Later in the race I found out that laying out my gear in the morning would be extremely important to my race.
After setting up T2 we headed over to T1 (the swim to bike transition area). Everyone was there excited, nervous and on edge. The dark skies were cold, windy and it drizzled as we waited for the sun to rise. For the first time all season my age group was starting in the front of the pack instead of the back so I had to be ready early. The Open wave started first, the open wave is for the elite athletes and pro triathletes if there are any. These would be the group of people fighting for the Overall win of the race. The next wave was the 40 and over group. This time I had a secret weapon. I had borrowed from a dear friend a TYR Hurricane Freak of Nature wetsuit. This wetsuit took 20 seconds off my 100 meters in the pool, so I knew I was going to have a great swim. And I did! A fellow teammate Andrew Collins yelled out at me “Erin, there are 3 women in front of you” as I got out of the water! Wow! I couldn’t believe it.
Running up the hill from the water out to the bike and getting on the bike took me a bit longer than I wanted, but I also didn’t want to worry about it too much as I knew I had a long day ahead of me. I knew I had minutes in front of Rhonda still and I just needed to get on my bike and ride. The course is pretty simple; two long loops for the 56 miles. Due to the high winds going out the first 13 miles was awesome and I felt fantastic! Those high winds were at my back of course and holding 24 mph didn’t take much effort. Because I was so early out of the water and the elites were so far ahead I didn’t see many people out on the bike course. I was pretty much out there by myself. Occasionally a male athlete would pass me, but it took well over 20 miles before I was passed by a female. Or at least I thought it was a female… At mile 27 while riding into the wind and uphill, Adam caught up to me. He had started 14 minutes behind me and had some time to make up. When passed me he told me where Rhonda was and that she was moving pretty good, but looked like she had been hurting a bit. I guess it didn’t really register that she was closing in on me, only that he saw her sitting up in the saddle. On the second loop I was under strict orders to follow the Coaches plan, so I worked my nutrition program eating and drinking something every 15 minutes, making sure to take in calories. At a section of the course that is a short out and back on the second loop as I was leaving the out and back I saw Rhonda entering! OMG she was less than a mile behind me! Had I been taking it too easy? What should I do? Hammer and try to keep in front? She had made up a 9 minute gap on the swim and was hell bent on running me down on the bike. At mile 50 she did. Going uphill into the wind again Rhonda made her move and passed me. There was no way for me to run her down. I tried to keep up and couldn’t. I had to remind myself to stick to my plan as hard as it was to let her go and be out front, I had to race smart today. I was crushed that I couldn’t keep up.
As I finished the bike and entered T2 I saw that Rhonda was still there! She was struggling with her bag which was still hanging on the rack. She saw me and I could hear her cursing under her breath. I told myself to make a fast transition and get the heck out of there! I threw on my shoes grabbed my water, hat and racing belt and headed for the exit. Rhonda and I ran out of T2 together!
6 races was going to come down to this final 13.1 mile run. I knew I had 12 minute lead on her in the Texas Tri Series, but I knew I could lose that if my run went bad. I also really, really wanted to beat her in this race. So I started to run as quick as I could knowing I had to run “slow & steady” in order to not blow up. The course was a U shape 3 mile lap that we had to run 4 times. This meant we saw our other competitors two times per lap. This was a good thing for me as I could keep an eye on where Rhonda was and if she was doing ok or picking up pace during the run. So I ran…. and never looked back. I felt like I was running a pretty good steady pace, I never walked or stopped. But my pace was much slower than I had thought it was going to be. I am thinking that the 30 mph headwinds on ½ of the bike and ½ of the run were taking its toll on me. My only hope was that Rhonda had pushed herself too hard on the bike and would soon crater on the run. Lap 1 was good, shaking off the initial cramps in my quads. Lap 2 seemed more relaxed, Lap 3 I was getting excited but I was having hip and knee problems… and every lap Rhonda was just about 100 meters behind me…keeping up. Lap 4 was the time where I needed to pick up the pace, really start to drive a wedge in between myself and Rhonda. My legs began to cramp badly. First my quads…then the arches of my feet started to spasm. I shouted out loud “No” as if my legs would listen. I had to remember what I say in spin class. “Your legs don’t tell you when you are done, you tell your legs when you are done!” Soon the spasms in the arches of my feet got more severe, then my Achilles started to seize up. For the last mile my legs were in a constant stage of cramping and or seizing in different places. “No” I said again and decided it was time to run faster. On the final few hundred meters I wanted to soak it in, smile at the volunteers, thank them, keep my head up and run in strong. Hearing the cheering of the spectators and my name being called out was awesome as I ran down the finish line chute. Upon crossing, my legs locked solid. I laid it all out on the course and now I had to be helped out of the finish line and into an ice bath. That was amazing.
At the end of the day, I had a great race. I planned my race and I raced my plan. I secured 2nd place in my age group which I never would have expected. I finished the race just 1 minute 50 seconds in front of Rhonda who was never able to close the gap. I set my sights on a goal, to win my age group in the Texas Tri Series and I did it. Wow!