Tuesday, August 25, 2009

And I Didn't Come In Last!

Aflac IronGirl Columbia Women’s Triathlon

Race Report

August 23, 2009

I have Cortney to blame or to thank for this race. She was the one who, fresh off her own first triathlon, said I could “totally do one.” I was in the first trimester of my pregnancy, so maybe it was pregnancy brain that made me think it would be a good idea to do a triathlon at three months postpartum. I registered and then basically forgot all about it for about 3 months. In January, I began taking a lap-swim class at the rec center. I built a lot of confidence in my swimming technique and endurance that way, even though I was the only pregnant woman in the pool. I was also able to continue teaching spin classes up until a few days before Becca was born. And that left only running.

Ah, running. The bane of my existence. I've tried to like running, truly I have. I have made several attempts to become a better runner, starting in high school when I thought I would die doing 10 laps around the courts at tennis practice. The thought of taking it up again with a baby bump was too much to bear, so I put off training for that until Becca was a few weeks old. And it was just as lousy as ever. I have friends who are Runners, yes, with a capital R. I just don’t know how they do it.

So I got a new bike, got some new running shoes, got a new swimsuit, and went about my business. I felt positive that I could tackle the swim, even though I’m not accustomed to open water swimming. I was consistently doing 1k in 23-24 minutes in the pool, without overly tiring myself. On the bike, I could tell that all the spin classes had actually paid off, giving me the endurance to take on longer rides. It was the run that plagued me. Even on “fresh” legs, I never did better than an 11 minute mile. And when I did my bike-run bricks, it was always a 12 minute mile. If you’re doing the math in your head, that is approximately a snail’s pace.

We arrived in Columbia, MD around 1 pm on Saturday. After getting the kids settled into naps, I went to pick up my race packet as well as some goodies from the expo and then over to the park to rack my bike. I didn’t realize how close together the bikes would be on the racks- only about 6 inches apart. Analyzing the space, I realized there wasn’t going to be much room to set up my gear. Luckily, I had a pretty decent spot, in one of the center rows and not far from the main aisle towards the T1 exit. I then walked down to the lake to see the swim course. The lake was as swampy and slimy as I’d imagined.

I also drove the bike course in the pouring rain, and realized it was very hilly, even more than the map had indicated. Up to that point, I was uncertain if I would race in my bike shoes, with feet clipped to the pedals, or in my running shoes. I am nervous riding with my feet attached to the pedals, especially since I’d fallen (twice) when I lost my balance and couldn’t unclip from the pedal in time to put my foot on the ground. But with the hilly terrain, I knew I’d need the added efficiency of the bike shoes, which allow me to pull upward on the pedal instead of just pressing down.

When I got back to the hotel, we all went out to dinner at Clyde’s, still in the pouring rain. I was concerned it would be raining during the race, or at least that the rain would go on long enough to leave the roads wet- and slippery- for the bike ride. Luckily, the rain stopped overnight and the pavement was nearly dry by 6 am on race day. I didn’t get much sleep on Saturday night, between thinking about the race, hotel staff moving trashcans around right outside our window at midnight, and multiple awakenings by Josh, who finally wound up sleeping in bed with Jordan.

My wake-up call was at 5:15. That gave me enough time to get dressed, eat breakfast, and pump a couple of bottles for Becca. Then I grabbed my transition bag and headed out to catch the shuttle bus. At the entrance to the park, I got my body marked and then headed down the muddy incline to the transition area. I arranged and rearranged my gear in the tiny patch of grass next to my bike, trying to figure out where to put it so it wouldn’t be in the way of someone else’s bike or gear. Soon they were calling out just a few minutes to the transition area closing, and I headed out to find Bob and Lauren while I waited for my swim wave to start.

After I met up with Bob and Lauren, we waited at the swim start for Jordan to arrive with the kids. I was in wave 10, so there was plenty of time to stand around and wait. Finally it was time to line up with my wave. I made small talk with a couple of the women standing nearby as we slowly waded into the green water. The bottom was sandy and slimy, and I could feel strings of some kind of seaweed brushing past my legs. “Ew!” I said to no one in particular, “I’m such a girl.” A couple of the women around me laughed. When the water became waist-deep, I decided to swim out closer to the starting line and tread water, rather than keep walking and risk finding out what other unpleasantries the murky depths had in store. I seeded myself near the back of the pack, not knowing how fast the others would be swimming. We counted down to the starting time, and at 1, I pushed the button to turn on my heart-rate monitor and then began my swim.

From land, the swim had seemed so long, much longer than 1k. I guess it’s hard to judge actual distance by doing laps in the pool. I told myself that it was no big deal, just keep moving forward. Though I had practiced sighting in the pool, doing it for real in water that literally didn’t allow me to see 6 inches in front of my face, was totally different. I had practiced primarily freestyle, knowing it would be the fastest stroke. That plan quickly got dumped for a mixture of freestyle and breaststroke in order to stay on course. I remembered to emphasize my arm strokes to save my legs from getting tired. As I rounded the first buoy, I saw a woman from a couple of waves ahead of me hanging on to it (allowed for resting). After the second buoy, I passed several women from the previous wave, which was encouraging. I kept going, drafting off a woman ahead of me for a little while, until she tired and slowed down. One buoy passed, and then another, and another, and suddenly a guy in a canoe said there was less than 300 yards left. Sweet! I plowed forward, rounded the final buoy, and headed for the swim exit. As I ran up the ramp, I glanced at my watch and saw I was in the 24 minute range. I happily ran up the hill to my bike, grabbing a cup of Gatorade on the way.

I got my helmet and shoes on pretty quickly, but fumbled around trying to get my bike off the rack. The bikes on either side of mine were still there, and I caught my handlebars on the front wheel of another bike. Frustrated, I ducked under the rack a couple of spots over where the rack was empty and dragged my bike out from the opposite side. Doing that ate up some time, unfortunately, but I hustled up the ramp out of the transition area and mounted my bike as fast as I could.

I felt good, if a little uncertain, as I pulled out on to the road. There weren’t too many people in front or back of me at that time. Soon a few riders came and passed me. As I started feeling more confident, I passed someone. And then someone else. As I sped up to pass someone at the crest of a small hill, another rider came up behind me and passed me, saying, “nice move!” as I passed the first rider. For awhile it seemed like I kept passing, and being passed by, the same handful of people. As we got to the first really big climb, I saw several women walking their bikes up the hill, some of them huffing pretty hard. I said a few words of encouragement as I rode past them. There were several other hills like that on the ride, with people walking their bikes, but I am proud that I didn’t dismount and walk even once- it was never so difficult that I was even tempted.

All along the way, women were talking to each other, cheering each other on, and cracking jokes. At the turnaround, I grabbed some Gatorade and kept going. I was surprised that I was not feeling tired. My legs would feel fatigued on the climbs, but as soon as I hit the downhills and the flats, they recovered quickly. Race volunteers and local residents were out on the course, clapping and cheering. As I sped along the home stretch, I felt fine, but started mentally preparing for the hardest part to come. Entering the park, I could see Jordan, Bob, Lauren, and the kids on the sidelines waving. I got off at the dismount area and jogged my bike back to the rack. It didn’t take me long to swap my helmet for my hat and my bike shoes for my sneakers, and I was off.

I jogged along the trail, oh so slowly, as other runners passed me. There were some people walking, but I didn’t want to give in. I made it about a mile and a half, forcing myself up the “Gatorade Hill,” but soon after had to walk a short stretch. I ran the turnaround and then had to make it back up Gatorade Hill. This second time I walked. I ran the downhill part, and then walked one more time for a couple of minutes before running it the rest of the way in. Although most of the course was fairly shady through the wooded areas of the park, the last half-mile or so of the trail was in full sun. I’d had plenty to drink, yet I could feel a little lightheadedness setting in. There was nothing to do but push myself through it. In the last stretch, I was able to use a final burst of energy to get myself into the finishing chute. I heard Jordan call my name and waved at him and Josh and Alex, then went on to cross the finish line.

My final time was 2:35:39, a little more than my goal of 2 ½ hours, but overall not a bad showing for a first-timer. (I did post a better time than the 79 year old woman at least!) Some great lessons learned… for next time? I have some clear ideas on what I could improve, so yes, I think there will be a next time.

1 comment:

  1. You are just plain awesome! Are you sure you're not actually Wonder Woman? :)
    - Jen (Graham) Casazza