I found out at the last minute that I wouldn’t be starting with the Operation Rebound crew, but my age group (as it should’ve been). Since I literally blew my pre-race nutrition, my stomach was growling as I entered the corrals. I bumped into Beth. She gave me a hug and some kind words, “You’re going to do great!” I really appreciated it and was taken by how she just radiated joy and a sense of relaxation moments before the start.
I found my age group and we were mixed in with some very confused 20-somethings who wondered if they were in the right spot with the gray hair poking through some of our caps. It made for some jovial laughter.
I was bummed that I had no way of telling Todd I would be starting 40 minutes later. As I made my way down the boat ramp, I spotted him, waving at me, smiling, and pointing the camera at the same time like a proud parent. I was relieved he figured it out.
When it was time to enter the water, my body was really battling the flight-or-fight thing. I had to force myself to catch up to the back of my group. The anxiousness I felt was unsettling and worse than when I started this sport. I think it was heightened by the fact that I really hadn’t done any open water training in waves in years. Last year, I did all my training in the Bay where it’s mostly calm.
I knew I’d feel better once I got under way. As we strung out in the harbor, I made sure to sight frequently to avoid a lot of zigzagging. The faster swimmers in the age groups behind motored past me. But otherwise, I felt like I was holding my own. I wanted to do this race bilateral breathing, but I couldn’t get into a rhythm. I was way too anxious. When I reached the turnaround buoy, I could feel my body rolling around in the swells. I made a conscious decision not to stop and look at how big they were. I just knew I was swimming in the biggest waves I’ve ever been in. It felt like I was out there for an eternity. Yet, I don’t think I made any glaring mistakes. In actuality, this was my best swim leg of a race ever. Though it wasn’t reflected in my time, which was 4 minutes slower than ’08, I swam the whole way without stopping or zigzagging like crazy. For me THAT was a victory!
The Take Away: I need to race more this season to get past these ridiculous jitters. And I need to get a whole lot more open-water swimming in waves this summer.
The first half of the race, I felt like I was flying. I loved being on my new bike, Blaze, and seeing what I could do without worrying about traffic, dogs on leashes, or kids on training wheels. I felt free out there and appreciative of the Marines who cheered us on at different points along the way. There was a short no-passing zone on a hill where I got caught behind some slower riders. I ended up dropping my chain and feverishly rushed to get it back on.
A few miles later I hit the steepest hill of the day. Oh, how could I forget this one? It was challenging, but I went straight up it without stopping. I was surprised to see other riders snaking their way up it like they were mountain biking on a lonely fire road instead of a race course. They were weaving around me like they were skiers in a slalom course going in slow motion. This seemed like a really dangerous way to ride up a hill in a triathlon. For all the rules that USAT has about no drafting, it seems like this should be illegal too because it puts the riders who are going straight up the hill at risk of being knocked over.
With about three more challenging hills that followed, my legs felt pretty zapped of energy as I made my way back to the transition area. I passed a bunch of riders in their 60s and 70s in the last 10 miles and it made me hopeful that someday I may be just like them and competing still.
Knowing that my running conditioning still isn’t back yet, my plan was to run the Galloway method: 5 minutes of running with 1 minute of walking. The first half I stuck to my plan and took in plenty of nutrition on those walking stints. By the second half, I was making deals with myself. How about 3 minutes of running and 30 seconds of walking?
I was happy to see Kristen (TriDiver) at least 3 times on the course. I also saw Bob Babbitt cheering us on. At the 9-mile mark, I blurted out to him, “I think I’ve reached the suffering portion of the race.” He quickly sniped back, “Oh you’re fine!” He was right. What was I griping about in the grand scheme of things?! Hello!!! Oh, if I could’ve taken back those whiney words.
In the last mile and a half, I had waves of emotion hit me that I was finally going to finish my first triathlon in three years. After all the rehab, etc. this was going to be it. The finish line was a sight for sore eyes and tired feet. I made it! It took me 7 hours and 13 minutes. Twenty minutes slower than ’08, but I’ll take it.
It’s always a little weird to finally cross the finish line. Like a “Huh? I’m here. Now what? Is that it?” And then about 15 feet later it hit me. Out came the happy tears. I look around and immediately spotted Todd looking equally thrilled.
I was also greeted by those wonderful folks from the Challenged Athletes Foundation who make me feel like a rock star for helping out. When I saw Bob Babbit on the way out, I said, “Thanks for the tough love at mile 9!” He planted a congratulatory kiss on me right in front of Todd. Totally made me laugh.
The Take Away: I see some track workouts and trail runs in my future! Things can only get better from here. I’m back in the game baby! And that feels great!!!