The first time I did the Robious Landing (No Longer the Tavern) Tri years ago I signed up because I  had heard the hype. My first experience here I had to walk my blue Trek road bike up the “big” hill in the middle of the 18 mile ride because it was too steep.  People were really encouraging and though I had assumed I would be mocked it simply never happened.  The environment like that in the sport is what kept me coming back and making progress each year.  This course holds countless race day memories for me.   I’ve been on site annually as a volunteer, spectator or racer.   It was only fitting that this particular race would be the backdrop for my goodbye to Richmond before moving home to New England.  In fact I told everybody that I entered this race as my “going away party” and if they want to see me off to wake up at 6am and come on out.  I’m an extreme extrovert and the LIFE of every party but only when said party ends before 7pm!

Race Morning:

On Sunday morning it was announced the race would be a duathlon and the run course was altered due to severe conditions and course flooding.
I set up my transition in record time so that I could walk around the park socializing as much as possible.  For each person I saw my mind would begin playing a reel of the highlights of our relationship as we would talk. There were so many memories of experiences with each of these people and with the collective group of triathletes pouring into my mind.  It was a touch overwhelming as I was on the verge of tears processing my good byes and burying myself in a fog of nostalgia.  Sometimes I’d share a funny memory or two but for the most part I just reflected internally and continued being social.  Nick took lots of pictures.  I have shared so many adventures with athletes as we have grown into our various successes in the past decade.  The Richmond triathlon experience has shaped me from my awkward back of the pack newbie days to the competition minded athlete and caring coach that I am today.  I entered the race with lots of gratitude, excitement and love.

Run 1

As the start time neared and the men’s waves began going off I chatted with Nick, Casey, Teresa Stadler (awesome sports med doctor of mine for the past 9 years) and a few others in the wave start area clearing my mind and preparing to race hard.  I wore my new Castelli Stealth top (again, not a sponsor- I actually just like it) to be super aero and committed to giving the race my all and pushing aside any doubts about my foot’s ability to hold up to the race.  There were two “waves” of women and 39 and under went after a bunch of the male waves.  At the start a cluster of about 6 of us went out together jockeying for position once we hit the skinny trail.
I hesitated thinking about my foot but when I saw girls getting away, my foot fretting was long forgotten and I clung to the very front and then dropped back to let two other girls “navigate” through the woods since my sense of direction isn’t my greatest strength.  I was racing for position so I let the leader dictate my pace a suggestion one of my bike mechanics gave me in transition when I realized I had never done a duathlon.   He also (jokingly) told me that trainer skewers on race day are grounds for disqualification so luckily I had made that change to my P5.
As we came out of the woods to head back to the park area I ran by Jay Peluso volunteering on the course and seeing him always makes me pick it up and work harder.   This is a Pavlovian reaction from my early days of swimming with him on deck…no sandbagging tolerated.  As we rounded the corner and booked it back to T1 I could hear my name being shouted everywhere.  I had a lot of supporters who came to my “going away party” at 7AM to cheer me on.  It was awesome.  I felt so…pro! : )

Transition T1: Self Talk
In order to focus despite pressure from the crowd I talked myself through a fast T1.  I literally said out loud “Put on your helmet.  Clip it in.  Grab your bike.  Come on, Kelly…go go go!”  I often do this, but at Robious Landing (No Longer the Tavern Tri) its funny because my rack spot was close to a lot of spectators and I was one of the top 3 women back to T1 so there was more of a spotlight on my crazier self talk habit.

Bike: Ride Like It!

As I mounted my bike, I heard Nick say, “Drop her Kelly, drop her!”  My bike Yvette and I hammered up the crowd lined hill out of the park and I didn’t even attempt to put my feet into my shoes until I was by the stop sign way down the road.  My rubber bands holding my shoes upright normally break on their own but the bands were too thick this time and were creating a lot of extra work/tension.   I had reach down to manually unhook them a bit stressed from trying to drop the girl on my tail.

I made my way confidently up that climb staying aero as much as possible.  I put my glasses on while riding the bike and it seemed foggy though I was not sure if it was from the air or my glasses.  It was the air.  It is impossible to get lost on this bike route.  I turned right out of the park where I saw the very officer that gave me a speeding ticket last summer.  He was directing race day traffic.  Coincidentally, that memory gave me some “use-able” controlled anger to fuel my ride.  I made my way “stealthily” past men from earlier waves and barely had any trouble with anyone “blocking.”   In some places this may have been because they could hear me telling myself out loud how awesome of a cyclist I have become over the years and wanted to get out of the path of the crazy lady!  When I could muster speech (on the descents) I was giving myself all kinds of advice.  Yes, I talk to myself when I need a really good advisor!

As I neared that big hill, I had to chuckle over all the experiences I have had on the climb from races to group rides.  The hill seemed to have “shrunk” since that camp I did up in the Blue Ridge back in April.  : )

There’s a punchy climb that hits you first close enough to the turnarond that you think it could be “it.” Back in the day, I would think that was “the” big hill with a sense of relief…until I would come upon the actual intimidating slope.  As I shifted into my baby ring, sat up and kept my legs spinning I passed some male athletes and I just kept on pushing.  There’s also spot in the climb where you seem to be cresting but then you make it and the hill just gets steeper instead.  Of course nowadays, I’m experienced enough to “make it up” the hill competitively but I’ll never forget that moment years ago when I was in the wrong gear and had to prematurely hop off the bike and walk (in my sneakers and camelback with actual old fashioned tied up bunny ear style shoe leaces).
This year, I took the U-turn quickly and began the descent.   I decided to ride down that hill with more confidence than ever before since I was in the lead and being “chased.”  I recalled when planning the Eagleman strategy a few weeks prior I was telling my coach how I’m a strong runner even when I’m on a re-habbed foot and he said, “You are strong on the bike too.”  I didn’t say much about that, but it sure did strike me.  I still just don’t automatically think of myself as a “cyclist.”  There is that residual lack in confidence on the bike still lurking from the newbie days despite my recent results and the data and numbers…but that “story” in my mind needs to change.   I thought of the April Blue Ridge camp again and descending with the other campers, particularly with Emily, Jed and Mike down Beech.  That day the descending was so nerve wrecking that immediately after “surviving” I was so high strung from the sick steep downhill flying that I engaged in a verbal altercation with the camp’s gallon of water supply…and won the unofficial “language” camper award for the day.  However, it made me a better athlete!
I knew that since I can do THAT descent, I can certainly stay aero and fly on down this “little” local monster.  I didn’t think to look left going down to see how far back the other ladies were.  I focused, tucked and talked myself down this hill.   I said, “Kelly, you are a strong cyclist now so RIDE LIKE IT!”  As I neared the right hand turn back to Huguenot I slowed way too much and heard volunteers and friends shouting to me kindly.  My friend Joe however gave me a hard time about how I was cornering.  I came around like a nervous newbie braking too hard beforehand seeing gravel and sitting quite upright.  So,  “Ride like it” became my mantra for  the 9 swift miles back to the park.  Joe’s tough love race day “encouragement” strangely motivated me to set my mind straight.   I rode strong and then took off my shoes early so I could take advantage of gravity bombing on down into the park.  I  had led the entire bike ride and was ready to fight in the run (pushing away doubts about my foot holding up).  My power numbers were higher than last year by over 20w but I was still “off” where I “should” be for a sprint.  It was what I had in me on the day though.

Transition T2- Move, move move!

As I zoomed into T2, I approached the dismount line.  My P5 brakes very fast and strong so I can afford to keep speed up until the very last last instant.  There were two men on either side of the dismount line and I planned to fly off the bike and run through them.  I had to yell to get their attention and the words “LEFT” were not appropriate since they were on either side.  I just screamed, “MOVE! move! move!” as the park of spectators looked on.  Hey, better to be vocally assertive than wind up in a 3 bike pile up as they had no clue I had caught up so fast and was right on them.  I ran through the middle with ease.   I put my bike back up on my spot and my Garmin bike computer bounced off the bike and went into the aisle.  I contemplated grabbing it, but my mind flashed to a memory of one of my prior coaches many years ago losing his computer at Rockett’s Landing on the tracks and going on for a win in the race rather than looking back for it.  His wife asked why did didn’t go back but he said, “It was a RACE!” I left my computer and it was fine later.

I wanted to remove my “stealth” top because it was getting hot but it took a lot longer than expected to escape from the tight top!

Run 2: You are not lost…

Finally, I booked it into the woods to finish the re-routed course strong and immediately saw a Ever Racing athlete I coach volunteering at an aid station.  I asked her to pour water on me since I was hot.  That was awesome.  I was informed I was the first female coming through.  I looked down at my pace and my rude Garmin stared back at me and said, “What, are you running through molasses?”  “You are slower than a 3 legged Galapagos Turtle,” and mean things like that.  OK, well no it technically said “7:45” pace which was not what I had hoped for. My running speed simply isn’t “back” yet plus I was running on some trails with some hills in the woods.  I ignored data the remainder of the run and kicked up my effort as best as I could.  I’m accustomed to chasing women down until I run out of landscape and the finish line is there to cross.  The feeling of women looming behind me hunting me down for over an hour with no idea how far back the other women might be was really difficult and different for me to experience.  I was grateful to be in the position but you surprisingly have a lot less control when you are at the front.  It is an advantage but a precarious one.  I typically am set up to follow and pounce for the pass at the right opportunity.   I must admit despite the pressure, I did rather relish that painful adrenaline of being chased.

Further stress was that there weren’t as many men on the course as I thought and with all the turns there were many periods where I was alone.  I get lost a lot.  I might even get lost backing out of my driveway if my GPS is not on.  I told myself (internally as I could no longer talk), “You are not lost.  You are winning!” any time doubt seeped in.  One year I stopped and asked for directions in the end of a 10K that had a longer course and the officer said those exact words!   New Mantra!

This course was actually the best marked “Not the Tavern” run course experience I have ever had.  There were yellow lines on the ground (hence “follow the yellow brick road” was playing over and over in my mind) and caution tape guiding our way.  I never had to pause to guess where to go or try to communicate with volunteers tired of pointing out the way.  I loved it.  It is impressive how Andy and the Go to 11 crew pulled this off.   Along the way I caught my friends John and Brad.  I saw all kinds of friends volunteering and cheering along the course.  At one point, I was really making it hurt and I saw Nick.  I felt so happy to see him, but my reaction when he was encouraging me did not reflect that.  He apparently told me I was in the lead by a lot.  I heard, “Pick it up!”  and told him, “I cant, just stop it!”  I may have even said, “shut up!”  Later he said he prefers being yelled at than getting a cute Miss America style wave and kisses blown and mega smiles because if I am growling and hating on him it indicates I am putting myself in enough “pain” physically to feel proud of my race later.  I love my man’s perspective!

Finish: Seconds Matter

At the last aid station I was able to ask in a gasp, “How far back is she?” as in “Ouch, how much harder do I have to push?  Oh, can I let up and how wide is the gap?’ but they didn’t know what I was mumbling between breaths so I assumed another woman was right on my heels still chasing me and kept hammering down the trails.  I could have peeked backwards but I rarely do that because you if I look backwards I slow down or trip and fall.  No thanks.

Just before the finish there were two men ahead from an earlier wave running next to one another blocking the trail.  I was gasping and tried asking them to move but I had picked it up the where I couldn’t talk.  I said, “move!” finally and they stepped aside as I blew past.

Seeing that finish line and running down the familiar chute was such a cathartic experience.  My emotions were so high.  I was beaming and cheering and could hear my friends pulling me through with encouraging shouts.  The exhilarating feeling you get when you cross that line is from a celebration of all the effort you have put in.  The finish line joy never gets old.  I’ve been on both sides of the line as a volunteer and as an athlete and I must say it just feels so special, rewarding and glorious in those few seconds regardless of how the race went down.  This particular race didn’t just represent the run/bike/run or training leading in.   It was a conclusion of the accumulation of triathlon experiences from the past decade.  This was my goodbye to my first triathlon community.  I immediately went over to the side of the river so nobody would mistake the post race tears for anything other than a joyful release of pent up emotions from the day.  Nick and Casey came right over to congratulate me.

Then, it was on to celebrate, watch my friends finish, enjoy barbecue (not to be confused with a cookout) southern style and say goodbye to my triathlon pals.

Once results came out from the earlier waves, I saw I held my position as the overall female winner.  I won a really cool cutting board.  Here’s the kicker.  There was a woman in the 40+ wave.  Her time was less than one second off of mine.  I won this race by less than a second and I had no idea.  I thought back to all the areas where I could have widened the gap (the rubber band struggle out of T1, a faster Uturn, taking the turn into the main road faster) and where I could have lost it too.  If I had picked up my bike computer, I would have lost the race.  If I had heard Nick say I had a big lead or had the last aid station understood my question and told me I had space I might have slowed.  This was a huge lesson.  Seconds matter.  Fractions of seconds matter. Never stop pushing on.

Nevertheless I couldn’t have asked for a better going away party or a better way to celebrate it.  Years ago, when I sat with my tri mentor at the time (Jonah) watching the athletes get their awards she had told me to always stay for them if I can to be supportive and so I can to hear how fast the podium athletes are.  I never could have envisioned making it up that big climb on the bike, doing a flying dismount off my bike, standing on an age group podium and certainly not that I would ever be the athlete accepting an overall win.   You never know what amazing things are in store with some passion and perseverance.   This wasn’t my first win in endurance sports but it sure was a meaningful victory on many levels.  Richmond, Virginia is where I found triathlon.  It is where I “grew’ as an athlete.  I certainly didn’t start out with a bang.  It took a long time for me (years) to come out of the BOP in cycling to be a contender but the progress and the adventure and people of the sport kept bringing me back to races year after year.  I set big goals and make gradual yet consistent progress and have had so many friendships with amazing athletes in the tri community along the way.

Richmond is a place that will forever be in my heart… and I Love the Robious Landing (not the Tavern) Triathlon.

Thanks to everybody who has helped me in this sport along the way for this race  (My family,  Nick, all my tri advisors, Coach DTD, Track Cat Athletes, my Allianz friends, my friends both in an out of the sport, 3Sports team) and thanks to everybody who has been there in my triathlon journey over the past decade.  Thank you for the support and a giant thanks to those that ultimately made me stronger in my growth as an athlete and as a person all these years.  Thank you Richmond, Virginia for giving me the opportunity to fall in love with endurance sports.

Until we meet again….because… “Y’all” know I’ll be back to race!  : )