I loved Nationals. I loved the whole experience.
The main reason we were here was for Curt, he came into a new age group this year and every five years (sometimes more) he makes a push for the podium. He’s been National Champ of his age group a few times in his career, and this time, he earned the silver medal in his age group for both races. In both races, he also earned the fastest grandmasters run prime (and won two Garmins). Score!
To watch and experience him put in that focus for a season is beyond inspiring. We trade seasons and the past few seasons while I have been retired…. it’s been him as the focus. Which I have equally loved. I love everything about this whole sport, so it’s easy. It’s short course, so he doesn’t train long but there are certain things that I need to pick up when he gets close to race day. Like planning the whole trip and figuring out where we need to be when.
That’s the thing most people forget about races, there is bike check in here…. registration there, awards at this time…. then time to get recovered and rest to do it all again the next day. This I have down to a science with him.
I can not imagine being married to someone who isn’t in this sport. I really can’t. It’s just been my life for so long.
Sunday I got to race the sprint and end my retirement. I am SO so happy I did.
My wave began at 8:47, which was over an hour after the first wave began at 7:30am. We checked in bikes the day before, so there wasn’t much to do race morning. At 5:30 I put my shoes on my pedals, checked my transition area and then went back to the car….. to sleep.
I am not one of those athletes who hangs around transition for 3 hours chatting. I close my eyes and fall asleep like a teenager. I woke up with enough time to double check my transition (I get in and get OUT) and then we headed to the swim start to see Curt off.
The shorter the race, the longer the warm up. Around 7:50 I embarked on my warm up run and actually ran most of the run course. I love this course. It’s straight out and back on the bike and the run. Closed to traffic. GREAT roads. It was hot but I have trained SO much in the heat that it never bothers me. The water temperature was 84 degrees which I dreaded, but it was actually fine. I wore a swim skin and it was good.
Finally, it was time to walk onto the pontoon. Tim Yont (the announcer) knows every single person on earth. I don’t know if he has ever forgotten a name. I got to say hello and I told him it was my first race back in 15 months.
“Mary….” he said in a fatherly tone “We don’t retire from a lifestyle that we love.” Perfect send off words.
With one hand on the pontoon and my feet up on the side of it, the air horn sounded. It was the perfect mix of excitement for me. No nerves. The bigger the stakes in the race the more nervous I get, but there were no big stakes today. I told myself “This will either be the last race you ever do, or the start of the next part of your career.”
As soon as I took my first stroke I knew. It’s the first race of the next part of my career.
The swim went fine. I knew what my fitness level was, I am fit but not A race fit. So I settled in and landed somewhere in the middle of the pack. I always swim alone for some reason. Unless I have a stalker. Then they swim on top of me.
Transition featured the LOOOOONGEST run to the dismount line ever. Noted for next year! And it was onto the bike. The bike was awesome. I raced with zero data and found myself nudging up to that red line. The one that is too fast to even run…. I stayed right below it. It was amazing to race by feel again. I got passed by 2 women and then held my own the rest of the ride.
On to the run, I knew that this was where I would get passed and I did. My race reflected my fitness, and my run fitness is coming along. I have really slowly been building that run back and building it slow. I am not one of these athletes who can build into 12 mile long runs in a matter of weeks. I will get injured. I have slowly and steadily been building weekly….. 5 minutes of total volume at a time. I have been patient. It’s going to take some more time for this part of me to come around. But…. well I have time!
As the women passed me I thought I would feel defeated. But I wasn’t. Instead I was stunned there were THAT many women BEHIND me off the bike. That meant my swim and bike were coming around a lot faster than I realized (and faster than my run, but I know that).
The run is also out and back and in hindsight (and seeing my paces) I didn’t push that run. I ran steady, and if you want to get into the top then at Nationals….. you can’t do that. But I knew that coming in.
As I came to that finish line…… I felt pure happiness. Pure joy. I have won races where I haven’t felt happy about being out there on the course. I felt happy out there on the course that day. Coming through that finish line was awesome. I can’t even articulate it. It represented the end of a journey where I took a load of turns, where I was pretty lost, where I was not healthy and I was burnt out. I feel grateful that my self-esteem and self-worth are not defined by a finishing time or place. I know too many people like that and it’s a very sad, lonely place to live. I thank my lucky stars each and every day that I grew up understanding that those are different.
They say that you never have another first. I feel like I got to. I felt like it was my first time again without the doubt of a beginner. I didn’t think about much out there, except to ask myself the question “Do you love it”. The answer was an emphatic “yes!!!”.
A few months ago Luc told me he wanted me to do this race. He was the big reason I was out there. retirement or not, it was him. I wanted him to see me not only finish what I started but I wanted him to see me when I am not at my best. He’s seen me win, he’s seen me win a lot. He’s never seen this, and I think it’s important that he did. I want him to always know that whether you are at your best or not, if you are having fun and you give 100%….. that is really what matters.
As we were at awards both nights Curt kept saying…… “It would be possible for you to make that podium. I know what you are capable of achieving.” That sparked something within me that I haven’t felt in a long time, and I don’t have the words to articulate.
The feeling of…. what if? The feeling of desire to work for something in this sport again. The desire to achieve. The desire to see what if?
To have that feeling is easy at these kinds of races, where you are removed from life and the day to day grind. Fortunately…… because I have experience, I know all too well the reality of pushing for a goal. But this isn’t Ironman for once. I don’t need to do that kind of training. Short course is a whole separate kind of tough but that’s the thing…. it’s a DIFFERENT kind. That is what I am looking for.
As I have watched Curt grow into his coaching role the past year I have seen firsthand how he applies the work to athletes and to himself. He’s always been self-coached, and well…. look at his results. I got to thinking about whether it was time to work with a coach again and as I expressed that to Curt I realized….. the guy I need is right here. Look at his track record. Look at the results he’s had with our athletes this year.
Curt works quietly and thoughtfully. He’s not on social media, he doesn’t need the noise. Instead of being the coach (like many of us are) who gives out our one liners all day…. he puts that work into his athletes. He’s honestly…. and while I am biased this is TRUE…. one of the greatest coaches I have ever seen. And I have worked with a lot of good coaches. In fact…. I think he might very well be the best.
And he’s right here in front of me.
I have been coached by him before and it’s fine, being his wife only adds to the respect I have for his work. So….. we are going to make the performance push. The beauty of travel is you have a long time to discuss things. We did.
I loved Nationals. I loved everything about it. I loved the vibe, the set up, the whole thing. I LOVED OMAHA!!!!!! We made a huge trip out of it (we are still on it in fact) and it’s been amazing. So much has been learned out here on the road in the middle of I don’t even know where.
I feel like part of me clicked back into place on that course. Like when you know you need a chiropractic adjustment…… and it gets adjusted. Click. Check. Relief.
One thing is for certain (god willing). I will see you again Omaha!