The weeks leading up to Steelhead were not an ideal build, and I had no idea what to expect on race day. The last time I felt really “good” in the build up was early July, where I had a great race at Pardeeville Sprint Triathlon. But as the season moved deeper into July, I just didn’t feel quite as strong heading into Door County Sprint. I was happy with my Door County result, but still didn’t feel like I had pushed as hard as usual. Fatigue was building, but I didn’t necessarily recognize it and powered on.
I had signed up for a relay race with Carly and my dad at Door County, and I ran a hot ½ marathon the day after the Door County Sprint. I finished and gave it my all, but it was a huge effort. In hindsight, it was probably too much. From there on, it was all downhill. I found myself getting more and more tired in my training and wasn’t able to complete workouts. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do the work, it was that I felt like I physically couldn’t.
Of course this physical fatigue fed my mental paranoia, and soon I was dreading an impending 70.3. I hit a low point at the end of July-- just 2 weeks before the race. At that point, Cindi reached out to see what was going on and how we could adjust my training. We knew we needed to just get me to the start of Steelhead ready to race. Cindi assured me that I had done the work, so I ended up taking two weeks with a lot of rest days and just a few shorter, lower intensity workouts.
When I made my race plan for Steelhead, I tempered my expectations a lot and made it my main goal to have fun. I threw previous time goals out the window because they were causing me stress, and if I was stressed about workouts and races, why was I doing triathlon?
Race morning rolled around and we got the dreaded announcement that the water was 76 degrees and would not be wetsuit legal. Swimming is my weakest discipline and despite trying to mentally prepare myself all week for this possibility, I was anxious. I had already made up my mind that I would not go in the wetsuit wave at the end. I didn’t want to stand around waiting to start for any longer than I had to. As I left my wetsuit in my transition bag, I was already seriously doubting that choice. By the time I got to the beach and really looked at the waves, there were tears welling up in my eyes. I knew in my head that it was silly to be crying over a triathlon and that I would be fine, but I couldn’t help it. There was not going to be anything fun about this.
Before I knew it, I was diving into the water and quickly taking on water. I stopped a few times in the first 200 yards to cough up lake water as I got used to breathing with the waves. The water was rough and I put the “big arm recovery” from open water swim to good use. I knew I wasn’t going fast, but I was making good progress and keeping my head in a good place. Each time I thought something negative like, “If I stop swimming right now I’m just going to get swallowed up by a wave and end up at the bottom of Lake Michigan,” I would try to shut that out and find a mantra or song to repeat in my head for a few minutes. Eventually, I made it out of the water. I have never been so grateful to be done with a swim.
Getting on my bike, I knew that my ultimate goal was to ride 2:45. In the first 10 miles, I was disappointed because my power numbers were lower than I had targeted. The course was flat enough that it was hard for me to put out big power, but I focused on riding really steady and staying in a good aero position.
My normalized power was hovering around 160 watts. When I had run the numbers in Best Bike Split (accounting for a bit more wind than we ended up having), I thought I needed to ride closer to 180 watts to meet my time goal. But I kept moving and passed a lot of people who swam faster than me, and my speed was faster than I expected.
My watch is set to autolap every five miles and I was seeing numbers that were at or under 15 minutes per split, meaning I was still on goal pace. This motivated me not to let up for the second half. Coming into transition I didn’t get a good look at my watch so I had no idea if I officially met my goal or not of 2:45, but I knew it was close enough to happy with.
Starting the run, I couldn’t believe I still had a half marathon ahead of me. I had just done my hardest swim and riden my fastest bike ever. As I got out on the course, I saw Bobby, who let me know I biked 2:41, and it was a big mental boost knowing I had smashed my goal time. For the first couple of miles, my legs felt good and my heart rate was under control running right around 9 minute pace. Not quite where I wanted to be, but I knew it was a hot day. It was now almost noon and there was no hiding from the sun or heat. It wasn’t going to be my fastest run ever, but I was still in a good place physically and mentally.
I stayed in my positive mindset and tried to say something to each person I passed--”good work”, “looking strong”, “way to go”. This is my favorite way to distract myself from thinking, “you’re tired and slow, you should walk”. I steadily clicked off the miles and fed off of the positivity of the other runners and the fantastic volunteers. But by the last mile of the run, my legs were in rough shape and I couldn’t wait to be done. As I approached the arch, the announcer asked, “Lauren Taylor, are you ready to cross that finish line?!?” I yelled as loudly as I could with a huge smile on my face.
I had done it! I finished with a new PR on a tough day. Not only did I meet my goals, but I had fun and pushed outside of my comfort zone. Safe to say, I was enjoying triathlon again.