Saturday October 17th 2015 I was ready for my 4am alarm. I ate, stretched, and pooped – ahhhh – all the important stuff out of the way.
Now to actually start the race. In the grand scheme of things, this part seems relatively small and boring. The training, the set backs, the anticipation, and the very end seem like much better stories to share. But I suppose it’s this boring part – the majority of the race – that makes all the struggle before, and the struggle later make any sense at all.
It was still pitch black when we arrived at transition one (swim to bike) just after 5:30am. I scrambled to run through my check list. Around 6am I was ready to get shuttled out to the swim start. It would be a long cold morning to stand out there in just wetsuit so I got my thrift store cozy stuff on.Moose slippers make it hard to take things too seriously.
Standing around waiting for dawn I was so grateful to have Will there to distract me from overhearing both seasoned racers and the completely clueless. Finally it was time.
I worked my way up to the front. There was the last minute adjustments and banter, then stillness. The horn sounded and I charged in.
It was wild. I felt surrounded by more bodies than water. The entire pack was surging forward aggressively. I fought for my space with each stroke. Unlike most triathlons where I am soon out of the thrashing masses I was with other strong swimmers. This mass was mostly men who would plow their own path with no regard for body contact. As one man went windmilling past I cringed for his shoulders and rolled my eyes. “Dude,” I thought “that looks terribly inefficient. It’s a long race, good luck with that tactic man.” As the mass dispersed and I settled into my rhythm I watched the sunrise with each breath.
Then the swells came. I welcomed rolling waves pushing me with the incoming tide. Then came nasty chop. I was fighting again. This time to find air and water where I wanted them. My arms would fight for stability in the turbulence above and below me. I’d have to wait two, sometimes four extra strokes before there was a good chance for a breath. I was so pleased to not have inhaled or swallowed any sea water.
The waters calmed as we turned two corners of the channel. I climbed the ladder out into a flurry of activity. Got my wetsuit stripped off. Then warm sprinklers to rinse the salt water off.
I finished the 2.4 mile swim in 52:53 (1:15/100y pace) 5th in my age group.
I was bewildered and delighted to be even faster than I had planned.
Then across the street to the transition one women’s changing tents. I stripped off my swim suit and poured out my bag of bike gear. As I worked through my cue card reminding me to eat, lube up, sunblock… I was suddenly aware of the camaraderie of women. These were strong competitive women. Yet here we were mostly naked, commiserating on the choppy water and sharing friendly banter or a quick helping hand. As I deliberated on putting on my fleece the woman next to me reminded me to just stick to my plan. I’d like to hug that woman.
Out of the tent to grab my bike. Thankfully this time I did not step in any fire ants. It was a beautiful morning for a very long ride.
Racers were just streaming by me. Or at least that’s what I remember. It felt like a parade of bikers passing me by. As a strong swimmer this isn’t entirely unusual for me.
I kept thinking “Let them go. It’s ok. Stick to your pace.” My body felt generally stiff and crappy and I thought “I’m just warming up. There’s a headwind. Just wait.”
Around mile 30 I started to feel better and enjoy the ride. I was no longer being passed constantly and it was time to settle in for a long day. For amusement I thought I’d count the roadkill but I should have been counting the dropped food and water bottles.
Mile 40 – less than 20 miles to the aid station with our bike special needs bag. Time starts to drag.
Mile 50 – less than 10 miles… “This is taking too long.” The headwind had been significant. I knew there was going to be a headwind. It’s why I held back early on, but I was getting anxious. “Where is that damn aid station?!?”
I was nearly an HOUR behind my plan.
A volunteer comes into view. He shouts “Want your bag?” Finally, the special needs aid station. I was rolling by him by the time I managed to nod. He yelled my race number and I heard it being relayed down a chain of volunteers. I stopped and a volunteer handed me my bag. As I reloaded fuel I overheard that I was not alone in being way slower than planned.
It had taken me 3:50 to bike 58 miles, averaging 15.13 mph. In passing or being passed, all chatting revolved around waiting for a tail wind.
It came slowly. The next 30 miles through country roads I averaged 16.49 mph. I was finally making up ground and passing some people. I had energy to enjoy biking back into town on interstate 421 and my last set of exit and on ramps. The much awaited tail wind was finally apparent on the last 20 miles when even on tired legs I averaged 20.03 mph.
I finished the 112 mile bike in 6:53, 13th in my age group. It was slower than I had planned and hoped for. But I didn’t have time to be disappointed.
It was 3:26pm and I had to run the first marathon of my life.