Well folks, you were right. Thanks in no small part to your encouragement and the awesome support of most of my favorite training partners, I did it! And I managed to exceed every goal I set for myself while having fun in the process. In short, Sunday was an amazing day.
I awoke Sunday morning to echos of two years ago. At 4:30, the rain was coming down hard as I worked to attach the bikes to the car rack without getting too cold or wet in the pitch-black process. But as we were driving to the race, a miracle happened: It stopped raining. As I was lifting the bikes back off the car, I made a comment to Katie (my sister) about how at least it had stopped raining, unlike two years ago.
“Oh, that was the worst race ever,” the woman in the car next to us chimed in. Lady, you don’t know the half of it.
We met up with Amy and the Tall Girl and made our way down to the transition area, where we set up and waited for the confirmation of wetsuit legality. I had my wetsuit dance all ready to go, and I was thrilled to break it and the suit out once they made the announcement. Seriously, I was probably the first person to don my suit. There’s nothing like a good wetsuit strut to get you in the mood to race.
Anyway, I digress.
The race started with a swim warm up, which I decided to take advantage of for the first time ever. After the DC Tri, where I jumped in and immediately started swimming then spent the first 200 meters hyperventilating, I realized that letting my body acclimate to the water was a good idea. Usually I just stand there and let myself get more and more worked up and scared before starting the race, a practice that has probably caused some adverse physiological reactions that only added to the miserableness of swimming. So I got in, I put my face in, I swam around, and all was good.
I climbed back out, talked to Lauren and Amy for a while, then Katie and I made our way down to our wave. We were in the second wave, along with every other man and woman under 30 and the Athenas and Clydesdales. Holy superwave, Batman! We moved into the water and out to the first buoy, and then we were off. I settled right in, breathing on both sides almost right away. It was a bit crowded, but I passed the few people who were slower than me and settled right in next to the buoys. I think I’ve mentioned before that the benefit of swimming the way I do is that it’s empty enough that I can take a pretty direct line to the buoys, and I did that on Sunday. At one point I was so close to a turn buoy that I punched it twice. I’m not sure that’s textbook, but it made me laugh.
As I swam along, it felt like I was taking forever. I told myself I’d finish in about 40 minutes and that was ok. I fought the urge to look at my watch, and instead I thought mostly of Dash and how she’d be so proud of me for finishing. Which is true, but kind of a weird thing to think of. I also thought about my dad, and how glad he would be to see me come out of the water instead of dropped off a boat. But this is the first time that I didn’t swear off triathlon completely while swimming, and I attribute that to the fact that I felt confident in my (slow) swimming ability for the first time ever, after two long years of work.
I finally did come out of the water, and was pleasantly surprised to look down at my watch and see 34:11! And did I mention that I’ve figured out that my swim headaches come from shoulder and neck tension? So I didn’t even have to deal with crushing dizzy spells or anything. I came out of the water and started running!
Back in transition I struggled with my wetsuit a bit, but I pulled it off and headed out just as Katie came in to grab her bike. My goal for the bike was to lay it all out there. In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t do many brick workouts. My theory is that if I’m strong enough, in each individual discipline, I’ll be just fine. And it seems to be working for my current fitness/ability level. Maybe someday I’ll get serious and train properly. But anyway, my goal was to just leave it out on the bike course in the spirit of that tired old triathlon mantra, “It IS all about the bike.”
And lay it out there I did. The DC Tri has a much bigger field, so I’m used to coming out of the swim and picking off people like crazy. I was a little thrown to not see anyone from my age group on the bike. Then I thought I might be kind of close to the front anyway, so I just went after it. On a fairly hilly course, I managed to average 18.9 mph for 26.9 miles. I was stoked. I came back into transition after tracking down one of my competitors, waved to my dad, and racked my bike. My goal was to keep T2 down to a minute: I ran out and tapped my watch at 1:05. Success!
I started running and immediately began passing folks. My goal was 50 minutes, which was kind of a reach. I haven’t run 6 miles all in a row in two months. Hee. So I got out there and desperately wanted to walk, but I started bargaining with myself. Self, I said, you have a shot at a podium spot if you run fast enough, but ONLY if you run under 50 minutes. And let’s be honest, you probably feel so miserable because you’re running so fast!
I hit the first mile in 7:50 and suddenly believed the angel on my shoulder. On the way out, I had passed Beth and the Tall Girl, and I was looking forward to seeing Amy and my sister on our two-loop course. The run kept getting harder, but I just kept passing people left and right. I caught up with and passed two girls in my AG, at which point I realized I probably wouldn’t podium (curse you, swimming!) but I planned to get as close as humanly possible.
It had warmed up, and I started dumping water on my head. I also realized that I should have eaten some more food on the run, because I felt like I was bonking. I started sipping Gatorade to get me through it. At long last, I saw mile 6 and then the turn to the gravel path to the finish. Two men ahead of me were racing each other pretty hard, and I just watched them go and wondered how in the world they had so much left. I was absolutely spent.
I crossed the finish line with a 49:40(!!!) for the run, 2:53:21 total and finally got the coveted Steelman finisher towel that had been denied to me two years ago. I hobbled over to Katie, Beth, and the Tall Girl to wait for Amy and my Katie to finish. There I slowly regained my strength and posed for the greatest picture of me ever taken.
In the car on the way back to DC, I told Wes that this was one of my most proud races ever. While my mangled syntax illustrates just how tired I was, the sentiment is valid. I was out and out terrified of swimming when I started. I worried that I would never be able to do an Olympic distance triathlon. I questioned why I continued to swim when it only resulted in frustration and anxiety. A lot of people gave me permission to quit–permission that was sought and much appreciated–but I insisted that swimming was character building. And after Sunday I’m convinced I was right. I spent a lot of my life doing only what came easily to me, but the reward is so much sweeter when you put in some effort, when you finally do what you thought you never could.