After I left for Maryland last Friday morning, almost nothing went as planned concerning this race. Some things went horribly wrong, and others surprisingly right. By the end of the weekend I decided to stop trying to predict the future and instead, relied on what had gotten me to this point in the first place – – my heart.
BEFORE THE RACE
My six hour drive turned into eight when I was stuck in traffic going over the George Washington bridge in NYC for 75 minutes. And I had to pee. Badly. I seriously almost just got out of my truck and let loose on I-95. Each time I reached for the door handle, I thought about someone filming it on their phone and putting it and my license plate number on Facebook. I miraculous made it to the first rest area but not before I was doubled over in pain from holding it for so long.
I left my house in Connecticut at 9:15am and reached Amanda’s door in Maryland at 5:00pm. Long.ass.day.
Race update: Since it had been raining in Columbia, MD for two weeks, there was a question of water quality in the lake and if the swim would be cancelled. The predicted temperature for race day also kept dropping with a low of 38 and high of 52. Not ideal. Not even close.
It’s also important to note that I’m shocked the water quality in this lake is ever high enough for people to swim in. Let’s just say there is a massive goose population inhabiting the lake with an even larger infestation of their poop. #IJustThrewUpInMyMouth
Amanda and I coordinated our schedules so she could do her long run and then run part of the race course with me. It was pretty much solid hills but at least I knew what I was getting into and, on fresh legs, it did not seem so bad. After that, we biked a few miles of the course and then drove the whole thing. It was a gorgeous route with lots of ups and downs. A lot more ups than downs, of course.
I met Dana from Kiss My List for lunch and it was so much fun! We have been following each others blogs for a LONG time but have never met. We are an unlikely pair as she doesn’t run, bike or swim but we bond over parenting, reading and drinking. I seriously cannot believe we didn’t get a picture?! Bad bloggers!
After lunch I picked up my race bib and went to rack my bike. It was then that the sky chose to open and release it’s downpour. The wind was howling so badly that I just racked my bike and left as quickly as possible. Once I was back in my car I started feeling sick about what was to come.
Would they cancel the swim and instead have a duathlon (run/bike/run)? All of that swim training for nothing? But, do I really want to swim in freezing cold water and then get on a bike to freeze more?
I called my bestie and bitched to her about the whole thing. She laughed and said she knew, no matter what, I would kill it and to just go for it because what else can you do? Um, I could drive back home right now and forget the whole thing!
Luckily, I had dinner plans with Sue from This Mama Runs for Cupcakes, so I could try and put the whole thing out of my mind. Well, mission accomplished! I loved Sue even more than I thought I would. She is everything I thought she would be and more. I could have talked and laughed with her all night (and would have preferred that!) but instead, we downed a giant slice of cheesecake and said our good-byes. I seriously cannot wait to see her again!
Race update: It rained on and off all night as the temperature steadily dropped. As I drove back to Amanda’s after dinner with Sue I was feeling so scared and anxious, not even knowing if I would be swimming in the morning. The race directors had said they would test the water the morning of the race and make a decision then. Great.
Sunday Morning – 4:30am wake-up
I barely slept thinking all of the “what ifs” and finally just got out of bed at 4:15am.
I choked down my breakfast of greek yogurt, fruit and granola and then grabbed a bagel and banana for later on.
Amanda lives about 10 minutes from the start so it was a quick drive. I parked across the street and then headed to the transition area with all my gear. It was freezing cold (about 40 degrees) and they announced the swim was a go! The water temp was 61 degrees.
After I set everything up, I wrestled my wet suit on and stared at the water, not wanting to believe I would be willingly jumping into it, in about an hour. I just wanted to cry. This was not how any of this was supposed to go!
I started talking to some of the other athletes which is always great. We’re all insane after all, and these are my people. The general consensus was, this is going to suck really, really badly but, what can you do? Funny I had heard that advice from someone else…
THE SWIM – 7:05am wave
Never have I not been able to feel my feet before jumping into the water. I cannot put into words the shock of the cold or the sudden scream of your brain shouting “what in the f*** are you doing????” In those first few strokes my entire body was begging for mercy, for me to stop this nonsense and get the hell out of this water and to somewhere warm. The body’s instincts are so strong in that regard that my first several thoughts were “I’m not going to make this. I can’t do it.” I was looking for kayaks because I thought they were going to need to pull me out of the water. It was that cold.
Another lovely treat was that the sun, mocking as it was in the cold sky, was blinding us from seeing the buoys that marked our .93 mile course. When I popped my head up to sight, all I saw was a giant fireball of light and about 50 swimmers ahead of me. Not good. Not good at all.
For the first several hundred yards I just followed the crowd. Finally, we made the first left turn back toward the swim out, and the sun was behind us. It was then that I got my head on straight, shut out any thought of drowning and just swam as hard and as fast as I could to the finish. I knew I had wasted so much time dealing with the sun and trying to plan my escape, that I had to try and regain some time. At that point I couldn’t feel my hands or feet but I just went by muscle memory.
When I made it out of that water, I have never been so proud of myself. I could have ended the race right then and I would have been happy. I now know I can swim though anything. Anything. I freakin’ did it.
Swim time prediction: Anything near 30 min and I will be happy.
Swim actual: 36 minutes (ok, so that is embarrassing but….whatever, still proud!)
Rank: 22 out of 34 in my 40-44 age group
Since getting on a bike in 50 degree weather is an occasion to bundle up a bit, coming out of freezing cold water and then getting on a 25 mile ride is an occasion for a sauna, change of clothes and then a ride. Since I didn’t have that kind of time, but also wanted to feel my hands and core on the ride, I took some time to put on leggings, a jacket, gloves and hat, after wrestling out of my wet suit. It made for a slow transition but at least I could feel my fingers and, most athletes were doing the same exact thing.
Transition time: 4:40 (this is about 3 min and 40 seconds slower than normal!)
Once I got on the bike, the weight of the freezing cold swim was lifted and replaced with a howling wind. I cannot make this shit up. After only a few miles onto the course, the sky turned black and the wind blew with so much force, at times I had to grip my handle bars for fear of being blown off.
I had to laugh. What else can you do? I mean, when the volunteers on the course have their winter coats on with the hoods up and pulled shut around their faces, you know it’s cold.
I adjusted my time goal, remembered how I just swam through an ice tunnel, and I kept my head. The course was long and winding and hilly but at least I wasn’t swimming.
I still couldn’t feel my feet but I made sure to look down to see if they were still attached every now and then. Mostly I smiled and was happy for what I was doing, how strong I was feeling and how long I have been waiting for this moment.
Bike time prediction: 1 hour 25 minutes
Bike actual: 1 hour 30 minutes (not too shabby with the conditions)
Rank: 6 out of 34 in my 40-44 age group
Oh hell yes! This was the moment I had been waiting for!
Transition time: 1:22 (I still could not feel my feet and was shedding clothes, otherwise this would have been quicker too!)
As soon as I headed out onto the run I was thinking “get out of my way because here I come!” I charged at that course with everything I had, relished in every single person I passed (many!) and thought only of all I had accomplished up to that point and how close the finish finally was!
To say this course is “challenging” is like saying child birth is “uncomfortable.” Oh my hills! Even though I knew it was, when you’re battling them after the swim and bike, it’s a whole different story.
I also did not wear a watch at all. After the mental mess I was in leading up to the race, I decided it was best for all my personalities, to not have anything on my wrist to look at.
However, the run course was not marked until mile 5! But, once I saw that, I put the hammer down and battled to the finish. I started thinking about everyone who has supported and cheered for me, for all my friends and family at home and for all the training I have done and all the sacrifices I have made for the last five months and how it all came down to this finish line.
It was sweet. So very sweet.
Run time prediction: 43 minutes
Run actual: 45 min/7:15 pace
Rank: 1 out of 34 in my 40-44 age group – take that swimmers!
Amanda was at the finish line to cheer me in and snap a picture. I felt so good and strong and I was really happy that I wasn’t totally depleted. Even though I left a lot out on the course, it was a testament to my coaching and training that I felt so good at the finish.
I had no idea what my finish time was, since there are so many waves, you cannot rely on the finish clock but I honestly did not care. I have never been more proud of myself for finishing a ridiculously mentally challenging race. I battled hard with myself, wrestling with my doubts and fears and I obliterated all of them.
And then, about half way though my 7 1/2 hour drive home, I got this text from Sue:
Overall prediction: 2 hours and 40 minutes/Top 20 finish in my age group
Actual: 3 hours exactly and 3rd in my age group out of 34 (obviously the conditions affected everyone!)
Rank: To the freakin’ moon and back!
I almost jumped out of the car when I got that text. I was already so happy and satisfied with my race and then to learn that I placed in my age group? I seriously could not have asked for a better outcome.
[Tweet “I learned to expect the unexpected at my first #Olympic distance #triathlon! #ColumbiaTRI #train4life”]
I’m going to Italy with my family for two weeks.
I planned this particular race so I could train and race hard and then, four days later, fly to Europe for a two week break.
I’m going to eat, drink wine, relax and see and experience everything I possibly can for 14 glorious days! Of course I will run easily and without a plan, through the streets of Italy and will swim any chance I get, in any conditions.
And I’m sure, every now and then, I will get glimpses in my mind, snapshots from my first ever Olympic distance triathlon, and smile so big, people will wonder just how much wine I have had.
THANK YOU to everyone who has supported me though all my training and racing! It means so much to me!
See you in June…
What are the worst race conditions you have experienced?
What is a life event/experience you had where there was an unexpected outcome?
Have you been to Italy and how excited should I be?