No Gap is Too Big

By Amber Zimmerman | May 09, 2016, 6:53 p.m. (ET)

One is truly the loneliest number that you’ll ever do… Especially if you are in a draft-legal triathlon and you’re in a one-(wo)man pack on the bike. 

Amber ZimmermanRichmond was my first ITU race after earning my elite card by winning the Clermont EDR. I debuted the weekend prior as an elite at St. Anthony’s, but this was my first chance to see where my swim fell amongst the elites. I knew my collegiate run experience would be a strength at the end. I just had to get to the run. The one thing I was trying to avoid was being alone on the bike. I managed to barely maintain contact to the back pack in the swim with hopes that I could out run the group in transition, but that plan back-fired immediately. I watched everyone bike away from me out of T1 after a disastrous transition. First of all, I couldn’t reach my wetsuit strap and fumbled with it the entire run into transition. Second, after an attempt to butter up my entire body with body glide before the race, I still managed to get stuck in my wetsuit. It got stuck on my calves (I’m only assuming because they have gotten bigger thanks to biking). Unfortunately my wetsuit is a rental so I can’t cut the ankles off for easy removal, which left me struggling in transition for what seemed like minutes. When I finally managed to get it off, I heard an official yell, “Your chip!” which had flown off in the madness. So my last delay out of T1 was to put that back on my ankle. 

In frustration, I grabbed my bike only to see that I was the last one out of transition. I knew I was going to have to sprint hard to catch the pack. After pedaling about 100 meters, I realized my rubber bands holding my shoes to the bike didn’t snap so I had to reach down and snap them myself. When I looked up to sprint, the bike pack was all the way around the corner. I looked back praying there was someone behind me that I hadn’t seen before, but all I saw was the dreaded “sweeper” motorcycle following closely to remind me that I was, indeed, in dead last. 

I kept sprinting out of my saddle in hopes of gaining some traction on the group ahead, but quickly watched them disappear into the distance. Here is where the mind games began. I contemplated crashing on one of the turns because that would at least give me an excuse to be in last. They even padded the turns with hay since it rained, so it probably wouldn’t have hurt that bad if I played it right. After plenty of arguing with myself about dropping out, I decided to suck it up and ride as hard as I could to avoid being lapped out. I rode past my family every lap with my head down thinking how embarrassing it was to be in last in the one race they got to come watch. 

After what seemed like days on the bike, I finally arrived in transition minutes behind the next pack. Just when I thought my transitions couldn’t get any worse, T2 went terribly as well. For anyone who knows me, I am fairly blind and refuse to wear contacts, so I paid for that in T2 when I missed my rack and had to pull my bike from the wrong spot and move it to my spot. In the process, I got my tire stuck in my basket causing quite a scene. I almost kicked my basket across transition. I was unbelievably frustrated, so I quickly slipped my shoes on and took off sprinting. 

Amber ZimmermanI knew I was going to have to run the fastest 5k of my life to catch anyone. I couldn’t see anyone except for the leaders that were coming back in for their second loop as I was heading out on my first loop. My dad yelled to me I was 5 minutes behind the leader (gee thanks, Dad! - that should be easy to close in a 5k). I was certainly going to try. I repeated to myself, “No gap is too big to close,” and continued to turn over as fast as I could. 

I passed a friend and competitor, Meghan, when she was on her way back in and she told me I could catch somebody. That lit a fire under me, and I was going to do anything not to be last. On the second lap, I could finally see someone. I passed Meghan again, and she pointed at me and said, “YOU GOT THIS!” I cramped up and could feel the blisters on my feet bleeding from last weekend’s race, but if Meghan thought I could catch somebody, then I was going to catch somebody! I passed one girl and then I saw three more and realized I really didn’t hurt that bad. So I pushed up the hill to the finish and caught three more in the last 800 meters, finishing with the fastest run of the day by 25 seconds. 

While this was definitely not how I hoped my first ITU race would go, I certainly got over my fear of being left on the bike. 

Reflecting after the race, I have never had much of a problem in transitions, and I took that for granted. Unfortunately those critical seconds lost in transition turned into minutes lost on the bike. Lesson learned: Never think you are too good at something to practice it. You can always get better, and that may just be the extra second that changes your race completely.