So this is the race I forgot to train for. I mean, I rode the bike course a few times. I ran twelve miles once. Ten miles another time. I’ve swum….some. I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t thrilled about this race. I also wasn’t sure I was going to be proud of how it went down. But whatever the reason, I showed up on Sunday with the hope that springs eternal: the hope that maybe all the other women in 25-29 age group would decide not to show up.
The weather sucked. A lot. It started raining 20 minutes before the race started. It kept raining for the next three hours. It was 50 degrees. Any other questions about “atmospherics?”
Swim: The benefits of (a) a time trial swim start and (b) being late for it seem enough for me to repeat the performance.
(For those who have never done/seen a time trial start…which was me, until ten hours ago, a time trial start is when everybody lines up OUTSIDE of the water, and enters the water at a predetermined interval (here, two people every five seconds) instead of taking off in massive waves of 50-200 people every 5 or so minutes. I climbed halfway up the supports of the amphitheater to watch the first people go off in order to learn this new kind of magic.)
I’m looking around and realizing that nobody had my swim cap color. I start asking other people, eventually wandering over to the corral where the volunteer checks my cap color against a list and says “oh they just entered.” I run to the front where they let me into the water. I slip in, touch my watch, and just like that — a whimper, not a bang — I’m off. There’s no time to get nervous about starting, no time to tread water and jockey for position.
The first few hundred yards feel too hard. It shouldn’t be. The water is warmer than the air (from 46 degrees on land I’m suddenly blanketed in 67. It’s blissful.) and calm, if murky. The fronts of my deltoids feel weak and taxed, they’re working too hard, when the effort should be running down my back instead. But since there was no time to get nervous, my breathing is calm and regular.
One, two, three, breathe right
One, two, three, breathe left
One, two, three, breathe right
One, two, three, life head, check position
After the first turn, something settles in and I find myself swimming exactly like I remember: smooth, steady, powerful. The wetsuit means I don’t really kick, just pulling myself through the water with regular, steady strokes.
The swim feels good.
Bike: It’s a long run from the swim exit to transition. I feel a sort of sinking feeling running up the last hill; the fun, easy part is probably over. I struggle to pull dry(ish) clothes onto my wet body: arm warmers, jacket, glasses, helmet, socks, shoes. I grab my gloves and put them in my jacket “just in case.” Grab the bike and head out.
One mile into the bike course, the combination of the rain, wind, and my cold, wet, shivery body make the gloves less a “just in case” and more a “now.” I can’t get them on without two hands, so I pull over, toss them on, and proceed. Never mind that they’re immediately wet.
Just after mile six, when I crest Mount Albert for the first time and don’t feel too bad, I see two women by the side of the road. One woman is visibly shaking from the cold and appears to be staring at the rear wheel of her bike in blank confusion. Effff…. I circle back. It’s the woman’s first race. Her friend is similarly experienced. They’ve managed to assess that her rear wheel is flat. And that’s it. So I dismount, shuck my gloves, grab the wheel, change the tube, re-seat the tire, and ride off into the sunset. (You didn’t know I was nice, did you?) A hundred feet down the road I realize I left my gloves on the ground. Son of a…..FUCK. Circle back. The woman is now trying to inflate by jamming her CO2 cartridge directly onto the valve head. Help me, little baby Jesus. Grab my adapter, get her tire inflated and back on the bike. Get my gloves. She thanks me profusely through her chattering teeth. ”Just how we do!” I reply. Depart, feeling somehow like I’ve paid it forward.
Except not really. The real reason I stopped is because I’d already decided the race wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t going to place, I wasn’t going to podium, I wasn’t trained enough or in the right midset enough to compete — to win. So I said bag it and stopped to help because I’d decided my race didn’t matter.
The first loop goes all right. After the first fifteen minutes I’m soaked: socks are wet and freezing, gloves same. After thirty I can’t feel anything beyond the ball of my foot. Thankfully that’s the part I need to turn the crank, so I force myself to not think about the cold and not worry about how I’ll run on a pair of ice blocks for feet. We’ll worry about that when it happens, and not before. I also notice that while my right hand seems okay…cold, but okay…as the bike goes on my left hand stops wanting to move, and is numb when I ask it to. Exciting.
There’s a part of the course (Sharp Road) that never fails to make my heart absolutely sing — you make a hard turn into a rural subdivision and when the sun is shining you can’t help but be happy and feel like all is right with the world. The houses are beautiful, the fields around the houses are beautiful, and there’s a series of small rollers that makes you want to go FAST. So you do, laying your body flat and stretching forward across the bars, running out of gears way too quickly. When I reach it this time, I try to get excited because I love this part. But I can’t. The descending parts leave me colder than before (more wind, less pedaling), and there’s enough standing water on the road to make me skittish about my aero bars.
I find a guy in an orange (like, deer season orange) jacket on a beautiful Kuota, we pass each other back and forth for several miles. He can’t climb worth a damn, but I won’t go into my bars when I descend, so I keep passing him on the hills and he keeps angrily passing me going downhill. I try and make small talk once or twice. He refuses to respond. Bummer.
Loop two starts. I start wondering if I’ll catch Lance when there are three motorcycles and coming towards me I hear the distinctive whump-whump-whump of a disc wheel. There’s the man himself, decked out in black and yellow Livestrong goodies, charging up the hill on a Trek Speed Concept that my heart flutter, with a black and yellow disc wheel in the back. There it is. I’ve seen the man. I can continue.
Half a mile (if that) later, something feels wrong. I can distinctly feel every revolution of the rear wheel. Look down. Flat. Fuck. My fingers are frozen and I can barely get the wheel off. Wrangle it off, fingers covered in grease. Slip out the old tube, slip the new one in. Try and seat the tube. Can’t do it with the wheel vertical, so I sit on the wet grass and lay it across my lap, getting my shorts and legs covered in filthy wheel stains all down my thighs. Start seating the new tube and the second side of the tire when I realize a pretty crucial problem I dimly remember considering about 11 months ago when I put that tube into the flat kit: the valve stem is too short. It doesn’t poke through the wheel. Fuck. I’m out. I’m just out. I’ve now not only wasted time on the flat, now I can’t fix it. So I start begging from passersby. Thankfully the second person I ask has a spare and stops, giving it to me. (Who says paying it forward doesn’t matter?) I finish, re-wrangle the wheel onto the bike (more grease all over myself), remember to pull on my gloves before leaving this time (although they’re soaked and it’s not like they’re doing much good right now).
Can you tell I’m a little low at this point? I’ve now lost probably 15 minutes on flat tires, I’m covered in bike grease, I’m cold, I’m soaked, and I can’t imagine running a half marathon after this. Except I have a good 23 miles to go before I even get to that part. I do the next 18 miles on autopilot, angry with myself and considering quitting. Somewhere around mile 50, as I’m miserably descending one of my favorite hills, I force myself to lay flat along the top tube of the bike and pick out why I’m so strongly considering quitting at the end of the bike.
I’m worried about posting a bad time.
That’s it. I’m worried about not being competitive anymore, worried about someone looking at my time online and saying “Well, she was pretty good a couple of years ago, but not anymore.” Which is a #firstworldproblem, a #poorlittlegirlproblem, and a #triathleteproblem rolled all into one. As soon as I admit this, the choice becomes fairly simple: Go fuck yourself, KonaBound. You’re going to finish this race if you crawl every step. You don’t get a bye because your ego might get a boo-boo.
So I finish the bike with quite possibly the slowest transition ever, because I can’t feel either my feet or my fingers. Tying shoes with fingers that don’t do what you tell them is a time-consuming task. (I was having trouble with the gross motor skills to unzip my jacket and get my helmet off. You try loop, swoop, and pull.)
Run: To be totally honest, I don’t remember a lot of the run. It was two loops. It had stopped raining. At 53 degrees and overcast, it was actually perfect long run weather. The volunteers at almost every corner were high school kids from the county. I remember being surprised at mile one that I felt fine. Being surprised at mile six that I felt fine, and being surprised as all hell when I decided to pick up the pace at mile 12. I remember that my feet in dry shoes recovered more quickly than I thought they would, but that it took until mile five to be able to open my left hand, which was curled semi-permanently around a bike handlebar that was several miles away.
But I remember this distinctly. At mile 0.5 and 7 (two-loop course), they had set up two rows of yellow signs flanking the path around the lake. On the signs family and friends had written messages of support to the racers, and the racers had an opportunity to make signs describing for whom (or in memory of whom) they were racing. As I run through the first time, I can’t catch my breath. Every sign is a new person, living or dead. Every sign is a lot of hopes and dreams that racers have put into today. One sign, in particular, was written for a cancer survivor racing that day. It said, at the bottom: Pain is what lets you know you are alive. Pain is surviving. I couldn’t look at any more signs after that. I put my eyes down on the center of the path and watched the white flecks in the asphalt go by. The second time through was the same. The magnitude of the hope present in the face of a cosmic unfairness like that blows me away. Especially after 60-some miles under my own power, when all I can taste are ketones.
The finish is quick, painless, uphill, and decidedly anticlimactic. I’m okay with this. It’s been a while since I’ve spent so much time alone in my own head with my body working, and I’m eager to put some distance between myself and it.
Finished, I decided not to wait around for the awards. I don’t know whether or not they went 3-deep (in which case it doesn’t matter) or 5-deep (in which case there’s a 4th place award that’s going begging right now). But I decided I was cold and tired enough, and wanted a shower badly enough to skip it. Packed up, drove home, and cleaned everything up. Took a 40 minute shower, including my favorite fall beer, to get all of the bike grime off of my leg…and the tattoo off of my hand, though the ones on my shoulders and calf seem destined to stay. I’ve heard you can use alcohol to get temporary tattoos off, but I didn’t want to waste good beer.
Running the numbers:
Swim: 23:48; 13th fastest swim in the race.
Run: 1:59:32; 9:04 pace. Ugh.
Age Group: 4/7
*“How We Do” While this race did not give me “that drunk sex feeling,” I wouldn’t have minded I’d been transported to a wild Miami party at any point in those six hours.