Do I look scared? I was a little scared.
It was May 29th, the morning of my first triathlon. I had been up since 5 am, driven an hour and a half, and finally, it was go time.
My crew (mom and Patrick) and I arrived to the Woodlake County Club with plenty of time to spare (I forget what time it was exactly, but man, it was early). I checked in, got body marked (that’s when it felt real) and got in line for the bathroom. Four port-a-potties for 400 athletes is um…not ideal. Anyways…
I set up my transition area near the end of a row very close to the swim exit. It was kinda funny to look at my $400 mountain bike racked next to a top of the line Cervelo with Zipp wheels. Patrick and I enjoyed checking out all the nice bikes around and before I knew it, it was time for the Star Spangled Banner.
After a moment of silence it was time for the 20-29 year old guys to get in the water. I put on my swim cap and googles, debated my wetsuit one more time, gave hugs and kisses all around and approached the water to cheer for the first waves and try not to think about what I was getting myself into.
This is slightly mortifying for me because in middle school my friends used to joke me by saying, “picture Megan bald.” Now I know why they though that was so funny. Thanks guys! No, really, you’re the best! (Losers.)
It’s not that bad, right? Right?
Anyway, no time to worry about that, it was time to swim. I knew this would be the worst part. I knew I was woefully unprepared. But I also knew that I could get through it since being in the water doesn’t freak me out like some people. I knew I would eventually make it back to shore, and that I was much more likely to get sick of swimming than actually tired of swimming. Chance of drowning, unlikely. Chance of going so slow the tides changed before I made it back to shore? Slightly more likely.
My age group takes off at the gun and I put my head down and start free style swimming. There is a little jostling, but not too bad. I did enough research to expect this and to not let it get to me. What did get to me was that I kept hearing voices. Intrigued, I put my head up and looked around, there were people all around me walking. Put your feet down, they said. We can touch until half way out. So I did. I was swimming and going as fast as they were walking, and none of us were in it for the win. What’s it gonna hurt?
We walked until we couldn’t touch any more and started swimming again. I still hadn’t caught my breathe from the 5 minutes of freestyle earlier, so I decided to go on my back. I did the backstroke for a bit but ran so far off course that I couldn’t see another person. I ended up doing a stroke that I can only describe by what I remember calling it when I was a child….Chicken, T, Down. It’s how they teach kids to swim on their back, and it was the only way I was getting to T1. How embarrassing. Hey, look who finally hit solid ground!
I ran up to the transition area and found my bike quickly (because there were only about 20 to choose from). I dried my feet, slipped on my sneakers, chatted up mom and Patrick (why not?) and was on my way. Nothing too exciting to report.
Time to set off on the bike course. Back in March, when I bought my bike, I asked the guy at the shop if my Myka would be ok to use for short course triathlons. “Sure,” he told me, “but it will be slow and heavy. Only ride it if you don’t mind getting passed.” Let me tell you, that guy is good! I kept a pretty good cadence going on my bike throughout the whole course, but if anyone got near me on a road bike (all the fast kids with the slick tri bikes were long gone by that point), there was no way I could match them.
I decided at the start of the bike route that I couldn’t be the fastest racer, but I could be the nicest. I made sure to thank every volunteer that I passed on the course, made the lady at the turn around point laugh, and cheered for the first few riders that were headed back in to finish up with the run.
The bike route started out in the country club, and ventured onto three other roads in an out and back fashion. All of the hills were on one long stretch of road around the 4 and 8 mile point. I heard a lot of people talking about saving their legs for the hills while standing in line for the port-a-potty, but honestly I didn’t think it was that bad. I guess all the “hill training” (a.k.a. mountain biking) I had been doing worked. Yay, a positive for me!
Did I mention the strange noise my bike was making yet? Don’t let me forget to tell you about that after the race.
Finally I made it back to transition, an hour and a half later (I might as well have been on a Sunday fun ride). Most of the competitors were finished up, eating hot dogs and checking their times. I still had a 5k to run!
I started out on the run course with legs like jelly. I had practiced a few short brick work outs, but running off the bike is still the strangest sensation to me. The course was not that well marked, so I actually had to stop for a second to ask someone if we were really supposed to run down that dirt path through the woods, we were, and a girl came up to me with the same question. I forgot to mention it earlier, but she was the only girl I passed on the bike the whole day (I also passed a dad and his 9 year old son, and that totally counts). We decided to do the trail run…er…5k together since she was feeling a little crampy also. It was nice to have someone to talk to after being left to my own devices for so long.
We were meandering along down the path, running my usual slow pace, and she said, “you know, I used to run in high school and I would have laughed so hard at someone going this pace and considering it running.” Ha. Ha…hmm. Yeah. Luckily, she didn’t want to pick it up any, or I would have been dropped. We both had trouble with cramping, me with my legs and her with her stomach, so we took a couple of one minute walk breaks, and finally, finally, finally were able to see the finish line. We picked up the pace a hair and ran it in together. That finish line felt amazing!
After I got my medal I found Patrick and mom, both of which reluctantly gave me big hugs (I did smell like a lovely mixture of sweat and lake water, so I don’t blame them too much) and a huge cup of gatorade. I insisted that we stay for the awards ceremony and raffle which was – let’s be honest – way more important. It was starting in about 5 minutes anyway.
I laid on my blanket and kept listening for them to call my ticket. Most of the people had already left so I figured my chances were pretty good, but I still managed to not win anything.
No matter though, I was feeling pretty good about my day. I chatted happily with mom and Patrick as I told them about different parts of the race. I mentioned to Patrick that my bike was making a funny noise in the back. After assuring him that it was indeed my bike and not me (that jerk!), he took a look and what do you know! SOME Mr. Fixit guy had decided to finally show me how to change a tire the night before, with my rear wheel as the example and oh, what’s that? He did the breaks wrong and that noise I was hearing my whole ride was the BREAKS RUBBING THE TIRE. Thanks a lot sweetheart. That had to add a good what..hour to my bike split? :)
To be honest, I don’t know what my split was. I don’t know what any of them were. I know I came in around 2:20 based on the time at the finish line, and I know that is really slow for a 600 yd, 17 mi,3.1 mi race. The thing is though, those times don’t really matter to me. What matters much more is that I had a blast doing it, learned a lot, and came away rearing to go again. I’m not going to look up my actual split times because they will be really sad they don’t tell the story of my day. I know that I need numbers to work against and compare to, so I will be better the next time. I think I’ll use my next race as a baseline. I want to remember this one as I experienced it, with wide eyes and tired legs and appreciation of what my body can do, not how fast it can do it. That is what I will take away from this race. That is what I will make sure I never forget, no matter what the race.