I woke up with a jolt at 7:55 a.m. I’m so used to racing at 8, that waking up at 8 feels like I’m oversleeping and late for something. I quickly fired up my electric burner to boil water for coffee and start eating. I ate what felt like my usual size dinner last night, but was hungry when I went to bed and hungry in the morning. Partly due to nerves and partly because I had four hours until race time, I ate a little more than usual, but not too much.
Thanks to my hotel camping configuration, I learned that canned organic sweet potatoes, no extra sugar, make a good pre-race meal option. I ate part of the can last night with my dinner and took the rest with me to race headquarters so that I could have a snack in a couple of hours.
Surprisingly, I easily found parking on the opposite side of the river, about a ten-minute walk from the Sport Performance Center. The infield of a track served as the transition area and the run course took us along one of the straights for each loop.
It was about 9:30 by the time I got to the race site and the sprint race (5k-20k-2.5k) was well underway. I found the bag-drop building (amazingly efficient) and the entrance to the transition area, which I was not allowed to enter until 11 a.m. I had some time to kill. Most of those 90 minutes were spent chatting with a few familiar faces: woman from the Santa Barbara area, last name Ray, who was on my flight into Vigo; a man from Oregon that stood in front of me in line at the bike check-in; other random USA people.
They opened up transition a few minutes before 11 a.m. and a throng of standard-distance athletes (10k-40k-5k) made their way to set up their spots. The race organizers gave us buckets that looked like small laundry baskets for our stuff. All items had to stay in the bucket. Turns out my NorCal ally, Cassie, was my transition neighbor, which was a nice surprise. Both jittery, we warmed up together along part of the run course, following the rear ends of a pack of men from the France team.
At about noon, all of the standard-distance athletes assembled for the cattle call. There were six waves: three male, three female, from youngest to oldest. We were in the last wave, women 40-plus, which started (we thought) at 12:24, but actually started at 12:30. Those 30 minutes in the holding area had to be the most nerve-wracking. With each sound of the horn the nervous stomach lurched one more time.
With lots of “good luck,” “have fun,” “kick butt,” and other well wishes, we were off! Around the curve of the track, running clockwise, out the main gate, a hard right, over the timing matt, another hard right, a sharp U-Turn and almost immediately up the first and only real substantial hill. As expected, our group took off like a rocket. The women I planned to keep in contact with drifted ahead. The past two to three weeks my running has been minimal thanks to a fussy posterior tibialis tendon. My usual 10k pace felt much harder than it should after a restful taper week. The first 2.5k loop felt long, and we had to do this four times! Wandering through narrow city streets—cobblestone, asphalt and cement—smells of seafood and cigarette smoke wafting through the air, past an ancient church and any number of bars and restaurants, I eventually found a good rhythm. It seemed as though women were passing me left and right. We also had men from other waves passing us left and right. The 10k alone felt like enough. But there was oh so much more to go!
Transition went as smoothly as it could for someone who is not very fluid in such things. A long run in grass to the bike mount area just outside of the track and away we go! Immediately I heard an incessant click-click-click with every wheel revolution. Oh crap, what now? My bike computer sensor was hitting a spoke. An attempt to lean over while riding to adjust proved difficult and dangerous. After a few miles, it annoyed me enough so that I leaned over and gave it a good swat and it slid to some spot I couldn’t see. I wouldn’t know how fast I was going, but I wouldn’t hear the click-click.
The bike course was glorious. For those familiar with the East Bay, imagine 40k of Bear Creek Road: enough uphill on the way out to allow me to pass a lot of women, and long descents on the way back that were steep enough to go fast, but not so fast that my bike blew around in the wind. The second loop was more of the same. On the 1.5-mile climb near the beginning of the loop, a group of women were bunched up. I was working my way up to pass them when a race official rode by and decided to hover around for a while. I knew he was watching for drafting. I was passing as fast as I could on a hill – geez! The presence of the race official apparently lit a fire in my rear because I found another gear and left the bunched up group behind.
A hard left turn took us onto a road parallel to the river that was lined with spectators. Cool. The dismount happened and off I went to hang up the bike and run some more. The second run is always the killer and can make or break a race. Sometimes it feels bearable, sometimes it feels like your legs will fall off. Today it seemed bearable, but by no means easy. I reminded myself that this is only a 5k. Only two loops this time. Piece of cake. Just stay strong and don’t be a wimp. At the first water stop (they handed out little plastic bottles with the lids still on), I dumped more water on my head and down my back and got to it. My pace was decent, I think, and I passed a fair amount of people, both women and men from earlier waves.
The crowd support was phenomenal. For both runs, the streets of Pontevedra were lined with people, including friends of athletes, sprint racers and a lot of locals. Along the course, I heard “Go Johnson!,” “Go USA!” and “Go Chica!” Near the end of the last run I also heard “Animal!” from a man with a Spanish accent. For some reason, this odd cheer gave me a boost! I focused more closely on catching the person ahead of me, and then the next one, and the next one. I couldn’t wait to get on the track for the final 200 meters. I know what I’m supposed to do on the track: run HARD!
The end result: 2:34:41 good for 12th in my age group (out of 29) and second American in my age group.
I’m happy with my result. Could I have run a faster 10k if I hadn’t had to back off for a minor injury? Maybe. But would my bike split have been as fast if I hadn’t gotten in some really intense workouts in those same two weeks? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, I placed much higher than last year’s Worlds in Ottawa (19 out of 26). And I have to remember, this is in the world.