In the weeks leading up to the race NJ State Triathlon had featured me in a Facebook, as well as updated their cover photo on their Facebook page with my finish line picture from the year before. I believe there was also an email featuring yours truly. Needless to say the pressure was on the defend my title from the previous year. Given my current undefeated streak, no problem right?
My fourth year of medical school had started only two weeks prior after a two week respite (well, one because it took me the first week of studying for boards before I decided to push the exam to a later date to enjoy my brief summer vacation) after finishing third year. My first rotation, Radiology, was by no means demanding or time consuming, but it certainly was a test of my endurance for sitting in lectures all day. I cannot believe I did this for the first two years of medical. My attention span for power point slides has certainly waned in one years time.
Beginning fourth year was not as exciting for me as it was for the rest of my classmates as I had made the decision to take my pro card, take the spring off, and delay graduation until 2016 (more on this later). So I would not be going through the arduous but exciting process of applying for residency and the match. I was also feeling sort of hungover from the events of the previous month. Racing two 70.3s in two weeks and following that up with an almost 30 hour training week turned out to be a little much. Just as there is a lag between completing a workout and subsequently reaping its benefits,there is a lag between training stress and the resulting fatigue. By the second day of school, I was feeling the full effects of this fatigue. Normally an early riser for morning workouts, I was having to set an alarm to make my 8:30am class. And even then I was setting it for as late as I possibly could to still be 5 minutes late. I backed off training for a couple of days and felt like I finally had my legs back under me after my first long run in over a month. I finally felt some reassurance, but even after that I would struggle through workouts. I knew I had fitness, I just did not have form.
Stepping off the gas a bit the few days leading up to the week was exactly what I needed and instead of dreading race day, I was finally feeling excited once I headed up to New Jersey on the Friday before the race.
I arrived at Mercer County Park on race morning and was getting body-marked when I heard that the swim would be wetsuit legal; I had only packed my swim skin thinking it would not be a wetsuit swim since the sprint race the previous day was not. In a panic I called home, where I had fortuneatly left my wetsuit after Syracuse, and told my Dad to bring my wetsuit. I need all the help I can get on the swim. I was in the first swim wave of Elites and First Responders. When the gun went off I got out hard and swam a very fast first 300m. This s one of my favorite swims in triathlon because every 100M is marked out with buoys and the lake is typically used for Regattas so it is easy to swim a straight line along the buoys marking the lanes. I managed to find some feet of a male competitor and sat on him for a bit and decided to swim past him. The swim then turned into a contact sport as when I tried to make the pass he swam into me and continuted to make contact and at one point grabbed my arm. I had never even experienced a swim start that was this aggressive so I was not expecting this type of physicality in the middle of the swim. I had to pause and catch my breath before making more forward progress. I had cleaner water for the rest of the swim and sprinted in from the final buoy with another female competitor right on my heels.
She beat me out of T1 as she had her shoes clipped into her pedals already, it cost me but a few seconds to slip mine on and run to the bike mount, and I zipped by her as she was losing pedal strokes taking time to put her shoes on. We exchanged the lead one more time, before I threw in a surge to put distance between use before turning out of the park. My effort was not quite enough though as there were a lot of turns on the course requiring my to come out of aero on use the brakes. I thought I had opened up a gap on more open roads, and I never looked back to check as I was staying focused on executing my according to plan. The two laps went by quickly and I felt comfortable as I headed toward T2. I took my time slidding out of my shoes and as I dismounted I heard someone yell “First place woman. Second place women.” She was seconds behind me and we sprinted side-by-side as we shared the same rack.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have ourselves a race. This would not be the 3 minutes-down, come-from-behind-win of 2013, I was going to need to run away for the victory. I was still clipping on my race belt as we left T2. As I was heading out, my Dad yelled, “Em, you’ve got company.” Well duh, I know, it was go time. I ran the first half mile in under 3 minutes and kept on pounding the pavement, widening the gap with each step. She still seemed close at the out-and-back turnaround at mile 2.5 so I continued hammering. I was beginning to feel the effects of the fast first half-mile and started struggling to breathe at that point. Each inhalation and exhalation was labored and audible to anyone watching from 50 feet away. The race was mine at that point, but as uncomfortable as I felt trying to breathe, I still did not feel comfortable relaxing and cruising into the finish. Shortly after the last turn around, where I got some awesome cheers from the high school kids who were volunteering, my lips and finger tips started tingling since I was not able to take in sufficient oxygen with my restricted breathing.
The sign for 6 miles came in sight, giving me a boost of catecholamines for the final finishing kick. I wish I had been able to better express my joy and exhilaration as the came down the home stretch to the finish line, but working my lungs as hard as I did exhausted me. I grabbed the banner and held it over my head as I crossed the line, finally smiling when I heard all of the congratulatory cheers.
I was thrilled to have defended my title, especially with my family and friends there watching me. Even my high school classmate’s mother came to watch as she had missed being a spectator since her son was no longer playing soccer, which meant a lot to me.