I am a cyclist. From here on out I’m done with the “I’m a runner on a bike” line. How did I come to this revelation? On my way to placing 6th in my age group and qualifying for the World Championship Duathlon in Spain! YES! I did it. But, like many things you want badly enough, it was not easy to come by.
First off, many of you read my trip into airline hell on my way out to Tucson for the race. After arriving 12 hours later then expected, I collapsed into bed bleary-eyed and defeated. I woke to this:
With this view and a fresh pot of coffee, anything was possible. After breakfast with palm trees and plenty of warm sunshine, I went to the packet pick-up and expo conveniently down the hall in the gorgeous hotel. Luckily, my bike (with two brand new shiny tires!) was waiting for me. I was like an excited mom picking up her kid from school for the first time. I was that happy to see my bike. There was a buzz of excitement at the expo and after getting my packet and swag bag, I made my way back to the room with my bike.
I immediately tried to figure out exactly where the race start was in relation to the hotel. Good to know, right? I realized it was about 5 miles away but no biggie on my bike, which I wanted to test out on the road anyway and shake off my nerves a bit. Also, during my six hours at LAX the previous day, I spoke with a nice stranger who asked me how I was going to deal with the elevation in Tucson for the race. Um, the what? Isn’t Tucson a flat freakin desert? What elevation? After a quick Google search I realized that Tucson is over 2,000 feet above sea level! My hometown? It’s 286. Air is overrated in endurance sports, right? After an emergency call to my best friend back East I was relieved to find out that A.) she also did not know about the elevation and B.) after she finished laughing at me, assured me that I would be able to overcome it. Ok. Sure.
Without further delay, I get simple instructions from a USAT (USA Triathlon) employee about the race start in relation to the hotel. She assures me it’s a totally do-able ride and is only about 5 miles away. Perfect. Except when I go back to my room to get my bike with it’s two new tires, one of them is flat. FLAT! Ok, don’t panic, there’s an entire crew of people downstairs who literally live to fix bikes. I bring it over to the crew who is there just for that reason and, a sweet angel of a man actually shows me how to fix a flat! Hallelujah people, I’m becoming a cyclist! It’s hard as hell and there’s no way I would ever be able to do it in a race under that kind of pressure (especially since I don’t have a pump on my bike!) but at least I now know the basics and actually did it myself. Go me.
With yet another obstacle behind me, I hop on my bike and hit the road. Which is actually more like a highway and the wind is whipping off the towering ridge of the Catalina mountain range. No worries. Head down and onward. I make the first turn and then start looking for the next and final turn. Not seeing it. One more mile, then two, then three and I stop. I check my GPS but there’s no signal. Shit. I ask two complete strangers because I’m now in a McDonald’s parking lot in the middle of Tucson in 85 degree weather the day before a very important race – lost. They are extremely nice but don’t know where the road I’m looking for is either. They think it’s still further along so off I go, hoping and praying it’s the next light…and then the next, but it’s not. I’ve now ridden 10 miles away from the hotel, in the heat, the day before a very important race. The only things giving me solace are my two inflated tires, my cellphone and the money I packed because now I’m starving.
I head back toward the hotel actually yelling into the wind since no one can hear me and I need to get all this aggression out somehow! It was very therapeutic. Not only did I exercise my demons but I found the elusive Innovation Drive I had been searching for. I missed it because it was not marked by even one damn sign except a very small one that can only be seen if you’re coming from the opposite direction. What the &*^%!
So, 20 miles under my belt and sweating like a pig but – a pig in shit because I had zero trouble breathing! I promptly text my friend “Air is for wusses” and am confident once more.
That night, I check my tires for air no less then 957 times before I go to bed. I wake-up no less then 957 times during the night because I’m a ball of anxiety and excitement…and deathly afraid I will sleep through my alarm or that there will be a solar flare which will render my cellphone useless and therefore the alarm will never go off. Neither of these things happen since I’m up before the alarm at 4:45am raring to go!
I take a quick shower, choke down as many carbs and proteins as I can, and start the process of tattooing myself with my race numbers:
I finally head out the door with my bike (and two inflated tires) and backpack filled with everything I need to transition at 6:15am. I step out into cold air and darkness. I have to ride to the start, there’s no other way for me to get there, so I just suck it up and start riding. I pray that I’m not killed by a semi (or more likely in Tucson, a senior citizen) en route since I’m sure no one can see me. Not smart but a girls gotta do…
By the time I get to the transition area, I can’t feel my hands or toes. No biggie, I have at least an hour until my wave starts which is surely enough time for my blood to resume normal flow. I set up my bike real nonchalantly like I’ve totally done this thousands of times before. I try to ignore the fact that all around me are Team USA Tri and Du-athletes. How do I know? Because they look like goddamn Olympians in their “Team USA” warm-ups and tri-suits that actually have their names on them with TEAM USA all over their asses. I shit you not. Luckily for me there were also a ton of regular
humans racers like me and everyone was very nice and just as nervous and anxious as I was. Athletes are awesome like that.
Start time! It was just like any other race (which is what I was telling myself in my head!) and when the horn sounded I took off like a shot. I knew I needed to be extra competitive in the runs to make up for my less then stellar time on the bike. I quickly realized that my fears of being last would not come to fruition…at least not on the run! I thought about a good friend of mine who told me she would be running a 5K as fast as she could at the same time I was but on the east coast…and on a treadmill…we were linked and I had someone “with” me, toeing the line. The first mile flew by in 6 min flat and then started to go downhill. What’s that you ask…there’s hills in Tucson? Oh you bet your sweet ass they found the few there are and made sure they were a part of this race both on the run and the bike. Damn you USAT course makers! The further we ran downhill the more I realized how much climbing back up I was in for. Luckily all that hill training I constantly do back home was filling me with confidence and, perhaps, an edge. I sped into transition with a 20:38 first 5K in the books. I took less then a minute to get on my bike and out onto the double loop course.
I nestled into my aero bars and peddled like hell! Eventually, like in all the bike races I do, I was passed by several women. It’s extremely challenging to keep your mental game up when you’re now getting passed by all the women you just passed on the run. I knew it would happen but when it does, it sucks. I shook it off and just.kept.peddling. Up and down hills, across bridges, and up and down more. I also did my share of passing and held my place by the second loop. My legs were screaming and my back was aerodynamically pissed when I flew myself into the transition once again. Bike time: 1:08:05. My husband was there cheering me on and smiling like crazy. It was just the boost I needed.
Back out on the run, I now knew what was ahead of me. The sun was in full blaze and I was feeling the true meaning of endurance. This is where volunteers can make or break a race. The volunteers at this one were fantastic. They must have either been athletes themselves or have graduated from the University of Motivation with a degree in proper water hand-off. There was plenty of water and not one volunteer missed a hand-off to me. This is rare. Not only that but the team at the top of the hill, which signaled less then a quarter mile to the finish, was actually demanding we “Get up that hill! Get up here now! Come on, get up here with us!” Perfection.
As I rounded the corner to the finish cute I thought about all my friends and family; the people who support me so unbelievably and unconditionally. All the text messages, phone calls and comments on my site to “kick ass” and “search and destroy” and “we’re all rooting for you” came back to me at just that moment and I thanked each and every one of you for helping me reach my goal. I hope you heard me!
When all was said and done, my stats were:
1st 5K (3 miles): 20:38
23 mile bike: 1:08:35
2nd 5K (3 miles): 21:52
Overall time: 1:53:12
Age group 35-39 place: 6th out of 25
Female overall: 33rd out of 133
Best of all? I qualified to represent the USA at the World Championship Duathlon in Spain this June!
I want to do it just so I can have a one-piece tri-suit with TEAM USA and the name BURDICK on my ass. I swear to God I will never take it off, even when I go to the grocery store and Target! Just try to stop me.
Have you ever entered a race just for the swag? What’s the most ridiculous thing you ever wore in public?