You know those bad dreams that start with you getting off the school bus at some familiar-ish looking building and you realize it is a high school and you have an exam and you have no pencil and no pants?
The start of last weekend’s triathlon at Lake Belew was not too dissimilar. Ordinarily my pre-race freakout takes place in the pre-dawn hours and it is quiet and kind of dark, not a lot of time to think about what you’re planning on doing. However, due to the late start of this race (9:30 am!) it was plenty light out when I arrived. Typically I scan for the registration tent and the portapotties. But they were blocked by trucks. Huge trucks filled with bikes. And college athletes. Cue panic.
It seemed that everywhere I looked there was another gaggle of 20-something hard bodies, blissfully unaware of their 2% body fat.
I quickly scanned for Grown Ups. There had to be Grown Ups here, right? Oh, and there were. Lots of them. And each one looked more seasoned than the last. These people were Athletes. They trained and ate “fuel” instead of food and probably woke up at 5:00 am and kept their bicycles in their living rooms and OMG WHAT AM I DOING HERE?!
That’s pretty much how I was feeling pre-race, like I was in way over my head. My partner-in-crime and the woman I blame/credit with my thinking that this is even possible reminded me that the further you go the more people tend to look like swimmers. Swimmers – that strange breed of folks that have perfect, giant shoulders (making their bodies resemble a chiseled triangle no matter the shape) and that seem to miraculously not look tired at the break of dawn since they have been up before the sun for swim team their entire lives.
Got my transition area set up quickly and did not have my Superman towel with me for the first time ever. My spot was smack dab between one of the aforementioned college triathletes and a fellow old enough to be father that surely could have kicked my ass. For the first time in the history of my triathlon career I did not take a pre-race selfie. That is indication enough of how self-conscious I must have been feeling. Popped down to the dock to feel the water and was pleasantly surprised. Cold but not take your breath away cold.
Wetsuit on with little struggle and stood in line for a bit. This was a fantastic, staggered start open water swim so you run the risk of running into only a few swimmers and being kicked by just those in your immediate time spot instead of 300+. I was worried about hydrating enough on the bike (since I sort of feel like I am going to crash when I get my water bottle out of the cage still) so I pounded some water and decided that I would pee in my wetsuit! Yes! Another first! First race in a wetsuit, first time clipped in to my bike, first time riding more than 25 miles outside, firsts all over the place.
How was the swim? It was good. I tried to put my head down and just swim and not sight to awful much. My watch said I had put in 1.35 miles when I was finished with my .96 mile swim, however, so perhaps a little more sighting might be necessary next time. You can see from the image here that it was a far cry from the triangular route I was gunning for. I am particularly fond of the period where it appears I was actually going backwards. All in all, swim was a positive experience. Loved the new wetsuit. Didn’t feel like I was going to die at all. And for those dying to know… my wetsuit remains pee free.
And on to the bike. Transition was uneventful, got my wetsuit off quickly and dried off my feet and hopped into my shoes. I had been on the fence about throwing on a long sleeve for the bike since the morning had seemed rather chilly but it had warmed up nicely so I was good to go. Straight out of transition was a hill on the bike (WTF) but I managed to be in the right gear and get up and out uneventfully. I concentrated for the first 30 minutes on “cycling.” I tried to drop into aero when I could, I tried to not fear the gear shift and just do what I knew to be the right thing. All of the time in the saddle that I have put in has paid off and I felt strong… and then I got bored. Do you have any idea how weird it is inside your own mind? Or inside mine? So, I started looking around. I waved at a guy that I thought was walking the most enormous dog ever that turned out to be a donkey. I sang songs to myself. I screamed in delight when I passed a gas station and what was I am 99% certain an old friend of mine getting gas. I patted myself on the back for not turning around to go back and say “How the hell are you?” and that deserves quite a pat since this is a guy that never travels without a cooler of brews. Periodically I reminded myself that although this was a gorgeous morning it was not a casual bike ride and I needed to turn up the heat. Those moments typically came seconds after a guy in a helmet shaped like a rocket zipped past me.
The second loop on the bike didn’t bring fatigue but it did bring a fervent need to pee. So, I tried. All of the reading that I have done regarding training for the Half Ironman tells me that peeing on the bike is a skill one must learn. I am hard pressed to imagine myself whizzing around the neighborhood (HA!) so I thought this was a good chance to try. Nope. Not even kinda sorta.
As I came into transition I was grateful for that hill, popped my feet out of the clips early and coasted down the hill and to the dismount line. Did not fall. Huzzah!
My goals for the run were simple. I wanted to try and maintain a consistent pace and look at my watch as little as possible. I wasn’t a mile into the run before I realized that I could never maintain my pace. My first mile was at my 5K pace and it was because I was very likely going to pee in my pants. Came around a bend and there was a portapotty, a glorious portapotty! Took a pitstop (my first mid-race pitstop!) and kept on trucking. Mile two was also at 5K pace and I was beginning to think that my legs belonged to someone else. Hit the water stop at 2.5 and my legs were once again the old legs I remembered, I didn’t come to a screeching halt, but the sense of urgency seemed to have left the building. I was delighted that I was almost finished! The run was a two loop out and back and when I turned around after my first loop I told the lady that she would seem like Santa Claus when I saw her next. Sure enough she shouted “Ho Ho Ho” when I saw her the second time and that little bit of encouragement helped me kick it into high gear (that and the fact that it really was a downhill from there on out.)
As per usual I encouraged the volunteer that came at me to remove my timing chip to back up so I didn’t throw up on his head and paced around a bit after the finish line. No puking!
Did I feel like I could have gone twice as long? Oh hell no. But I am certain that come May 31 I will be ready. I have a 10 miler this weekend for fun and a 60 mile bike race on May 1 to look forward to… and a whole lotta training. Jones Racing Company did a wonderful job. Tasty pizza and plenty of volunteers and people to help. And a medal!
Sunscreen. Use more of it.
Tents. Don’t sleep in them after a race.
Water is your friend. Before, during and after a race. However, once the sun goes down if you plan on sleeping in a tent – beer is your friend – your very best friend.
The final lesson: I am going to keep moving. Keep moving this old body of mine and keep being grateful for the opportunity to do so. I moved my ass a little over 35 miles and then I ate some good food and drank some cheap beer and I woke up feeling awesome. Also, pigtails. Always, pigtails.