FIVE weeks and many many beers later, my memory and testimonial of the Galena Triathlon may not be too reliable. Luckily, this was my fifth time racing this event, it is near and dear to my heart, and it marks the kickoff of the tri season hereabouts. I have good institutional and emotional knowledge of Galena. It is a beautiful setting.
Setting (Geological): Galena is a sleepy, lush Mississippi-River-tributary town in the very northwestern corner of Illinois, that is carved out of the Driftless Region’s hills. Technically speaking, this area of the Mississippi River Valley is the hilliest shit we Midwesterners can hope for. The hills aren’t long, but they’re frequent and steep, and the race organizers do a pretty good job of finding some challenging roads for us to sweat on.
Setting (Sociological): Several Chicagoland triathlon clubs, including the Chicago Tri Club and Well-Fit, of course, use this race as their first major social/training/racing event of the year. Very large groups rent very large houses in the Galena Territory and Eagle Ridge, make a weekend of it, and turn the post-race party into a shit show (more on that later, maybe).
Setting (Political): I don’t know if it’s necessarily fitting that Galena is the home of U.S. Grant or not, but the Galena Triathlon has the power to divide houses. All things being equal – namely the reach of this race is hyper local, attracting mostly flatlanders who have little to no experience on hills this early in the Midwestern tri season – this race helps shake out “who’s fast/strong” among local athletes. It is surprisingly competitive, exceedingly difficult to get on the podium, and sets a baseline for the rest of the season. At least I’ve always seen it that way. In prior years, I had finished 7th AG, 6th AG, 4th AG, and (weirdly) 3rd OA, and basically had entire seasons to match those results.
Setting (Mental): Sparing some details here, a week and a half prior to this event, I snapped and left my life as I knew it. Training/sleeping/eating was pretty difficult (but had been for a while), but I got to move in to my friend Stacey’s spare office. Thank god for Stacey! Around this time, another major breakup involving a teammate and good friends took place, and my teammate Marc lost his father. The emotional milieu was NOT ideal, but (almost) everyone decided to make the best of it out of respect for the tradition of having insane amounts of fun at the race.
Let’s start a little before race day. Three weeks prior, a group of Well-Fitters rented a house and held a big bike weekend in the Galena Territory. I rode pretty well for 2 days, didn’t do much in terms of running (I mean it is so goddamn hilly, people) but dug a little hole for myself in the nutrition and sleep department. I didn’t rest or recover, or take in enough calories while training, and had a totally shitty bonk on our third day. I suppose it’s best to get that type of thing out of the way when training and hope you’re spared of the experience on race day.
Race weekend, we arrived in Galena laaaaaaate Thursday night in order to enjoy all of Friday doing “shake out” shit and race prep. This involved sleeping in, a group bike wash on the front porch, brief group ride in full race set-up mode, and a really fun swim. Unlike previous years (when organizers have kept a daily vigil by the thermometer, hoping that the lake temperature will come up enough to actually hold the swim and not force EVERYONE into a duathlon situation), there was no doubt the swim was on for race day. Friday, the water temp was comfortable enough that we left our wetsuits in the car. Thank you La Nina and global warming for the beautiful spring! Anyway, a group of us swam the entire course, with a king-of-the-mountain play break at the diving dock, obviously, and practiced a few beach starts.
Race day… I don’t even know what happened. I’m pretty sure I didn’t sleep and have no recollection of what I ate (English muffin and peanut butter, banana, Starbucks Double Shots as is my tradition … maybe? Boring!). We set up T2 and trundled over to T1 in this point-to-point setup. I did a little 8 mile ride (nearly killing Henry when he took a fun left turn right in front of me as I was descending at 30 mph. Fucker), said howdy to a few people, but generally tried to keep calm and not freak that there were 3 former pros in attendance (my former coach, Liz Waterstraat, Jenny Parker Harrison, and Jennifer Garrison (two of whom are in my age group)).
Who am I kidding: I was TOTALLY freaking out.
Somewhat-unfortunately for me, I insisted I be put in the F35-39 wave for USAT accuracy (which the race organizers are a little soft on). That took me out of the wave with the F30-34ers, who would have been great to race against too. My new wave went second-to-last. More time to watch friends in previous waves and be proud of my teammates. In retrospect the lesson is, if you have a chance to be in an earlier wave (and against the presumed winner), take it.
Swim: my new roomie Stacey and former coach Liz and I all toed the line together, front and center. The two of them planned to stay on my feet…like as part of their race plans. I mean, talk about pressure! So basically I went balls out and tried to look for them over my shoulder at the first turn. They were a few yards behind me, but as I looked for them I ran into two big dudes from a previous wave and a kayak, all hiding on the other side of the buoy. I popped my head up and screamed “MOVE! MOVE!!!” Although I could bust between them myself, there were 30 pairs of arms and legs behind me, too. I swam hard but never found a good rythem thanks to having to swim over so many bodies stranded by their waves. I exited the water first in my wave with Stacey close behind. Thanks to a clumsy attempt at wetsuit-stripping efficiency on my part, Stacey entered T1 before me. I was on a different rack, though, so I never saw her again (apparently we passed again at the mount line).
Bike: haaaard! My grand experiment for this race, as a swimmer/biker, was to blow myself out and try to hold on for the run. This is a biker’s course, but the run is, as always, important too. As is the way with hilly courses (especially after a hypoxic swim like I had), I never quite caught my breath during this ride. I don’t train or race with a heart rate monitor, and that’s probably a good thing or I may have psyched myself out. I stayed aero almost the whole ride (unless I was climbing at <11mph, or about to crash into someone who had crashed on the trickiest descent on the course). All power data from my Power Tap is long gone by now, unfortunately. It would have been fun to look at.
Run?: This didn’t go well. I started out feeling pretty strong, but soon the sun and unfamiliar heat got to me. I couldn’t feel my quads after that ride. Or more accurately ALL I COULD FEEL WAS MY QUADS SCREAMING AT ME. LIKE THIS!! AAAAAGH!!! About a hundred yards outside of transition, you have to run down a giant hill, then up another. I let my legs really spin for free speed on the downhills, but going up the other side they flipped me the bird. To keep this unpleasant portion of my race report brief: I melted. Down. Luckily there was some great stranger who was running slower than I, but who kept chugging along while I took little (walking, shh) breaks. He encouraged me every time he passed, urging me to stay strong, complimenting my pace, and saying “there ya go!” every time I passed him back. All I could muster was a “nice!” whenever he came around me.
Eventually I got over myself and wanting to die and realized Liz Waterstraat was a hard-charging runner and would be coming for me any second. Sure enough, on a switchback about a mile from the finish, I saw her coming. I dug deep and kept running, knowing a pass so close to the finish would be hard for her and heartbreaking for me.
Settling: The finish line is a little like the first day back at elementary school. There are not only bananas cut in half and wax paper cups filled with bright liquid, but a lot of familiar faces and people you’ve lost touch with during the off-season. Lots of asking about summer plans, lots of “how ya been, how’d ya do?” stuff. I rehydrated and took a little walk with some teammates, then ran back to the after party. The waiting game is intense, eased with more fun conversation (and, in my case, a little Frisbee, and a handstand competition with an 8 year old). There was a lot of speculation among the 30-34-35-39 women under the Well-Fit tent as to who did what. I was told by agents doing recon (“WHAT WAS YOUR TIME?”) that I most likely got 4th overall, winning my age group, at least. Cool, hand me another beer now, please.
By awards time I was pretty well ruddy with sunburn and drink, and I gave up caring about results. They finally got to my age group and rattled off Stacey’s name… which meant… something… I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Liz won the age group. My name wasn’t called. They probably fucked up my timing thanks to switching waves. I decided to go for a jump in the Bounce House instead of caring. I handed out a few high-5s to people heading up for their awards. Then they called my name.
Swim (660 yards) 8:53
Bike (16.8 miles) 48:02:00
Run (4.3 miles) 32:20:00, pace 7:31
This was 8 seconds behind 2nd (my teammate, Erin), and another stellar competitor, Adrienne Shields, who crushed us all with her run.
Hand me another beer.