THREE RIVERS TRIATHLON, August 19, 2006--Or, Holy S$#%t!
I signed up for this race last year and couldn't make it--work and unexpected family obligations. Suffice it to say, had I done the race last year, I know two things: (1) there would have been a funeral to attend, as I would have died out there, and (2) obviously I wouldn't have signed up for this year!
I will say this as a preview: swim, good; bike, holy shit; run, okay.
The day started at 4:30 with the alarm going off while I was still in dreamland. Weird dreams. Something stupid about 25 pounds of hamburger! The first thing I noticed upon awakening was the rain. Hard rain coming down. They had predicted it, but what the heck, you can only hope, right? I've only done one other triathlon in all day rain (Clark Lake back in 2000), but I just factored this into my pre-race mentality for the day. It can be done, despite the rain. No lightning, so the race goes on.
I was going with Iron Don this time, so I also had to factor into my pre-race mentality the fact that we would leave late. Its his nature. Its mine to be ready on time and expect the same from him. We met halfway (his concept of it anyway) by him actually getting gas the night before, even though he wanted to wait until morning (it only takes 10 minutes. Yeah, okay.) And yes, we did leave 15 minutes late, but what are you going to do?? (take a deep breath, relax) :)
It was really dark, rainy, and foggy on our way out of town. Three Rivers is about 82 miles away, directly south of Grand Rapids, and should only take about 1 hour 20 min. max, but with the fog and rain, it was going to be slower. (take another deep breath). About halfway there, the clouds opened up and it really started pouring. Don looks at me and says, "What the hell are we doing going there in this stuff??" He was going reluctantly as it was, being totally burned out after two half IMs and Coeur D'Alene already this year. He only signed up at the last minute to go with me. I just kept positive and said, "Everyone will have the same conditions. It probably won't rain all day." (hopeful)
Added value here on the trip to Three Rivers is that the freeway ends about 20 miles before you get there and you have to drive through Anytown USA (places I've seen similar to this town in Washington, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the UP of Michigan) to get to the race site, getting a train for another 5 minute delay in the process. At this point, I wasn't going to even let it cross my mind that had we left on time, there wouldn't be a train!
We arrived at the race site a whopping 40 minutes before the race. Then we had to park at least 1/2 mile away, in a farmer's field, with grass up to your knees. That felt so good being wet and all, and it was a blast pushing your bike through that. :) This was the moment when I really loved having my tri backpack. Hands free. Everything fits, wetsuit and all.
And yes, today would be a wetsuit swim. First time in 2 months. We were able to get our packets quickly but didn't notice the body marking was also way before transition, so I would have to hike back there later. And of course, transition was crowded. No bike racks open until almost at the end. Whatever, closer to the swim out, better for me. I could have my own space. Since it was still raining, I decided to put my backpack into a plastic bag to try to salvage what I could to stay dry. It probably didn't matter much, but I preferred to not have my stuff all wet. Then I still had to hike back to get body marked. Don had totally disappeared, as often happens at races. He does his thing, I do mine. That's his nature.
Surveying the crowd, I soon spotted the "Stripper" on her way to the swim area. She had on a new bikini for the occasion. :) No wetsuit for her. Might cover something up. :) It was different with this swim, since they handed out caps when you went into the water. I was wondering where they were and was worried I didn't get one and hadn't brought the usual 6 I have on hand, so I was relieved to hear they gave them to you at the water's edge.
All women were in the last wave. There weren't that many, but they included sprinters and Olympic distance. Waves were about 2 min. apart. And we were off. No warmup. Just an attempt to pee before we started.
Swim: I felt fast, probably because of the wetsuit. I wasn't used to it really because it had been too hot to wear one all summer. But my arms between the wrist and elbow hurt, not fatigue, just hurt. (My wetsuit is sleeveless) No reason why I could think of, but at least it went away later. It was a little jumbled at the start with all the quick swimmers trying to get out of the pack, and we were a tangle of arms and legs at first, but things opened up after a few minutes. Things went well until I started passing men from the earlier waves, and then it got a little chaotic. One guy totally threw me off because I didn't see the next buouy, but the one after, and he went toward that, so of course I did too. Fortunately, I stopped and took a good look because it just didn't seem to fit the sequence, and sure enough I was going off course. I quickly corrected and that was the last mistake I made. From there on out, I pretty much was passing men or by myself. I had this feeling I was probably the last woman, but really don't know. I didn't see any for so long. Swim time out of the water: 32:10. (over 4 min. faster from my last Oly tri in Jnne)
T1: Here's where things went a little awry. Trotted out of the water, up the grassy bank, onto the mats, and then--rough asphalt. Hobble over that to my bike and finish getting the wetsuit off. Socks, yes. Headband, helmet, sun glasses? Can't find them. Dig through the bag, still can't find them. Forget them. (Didn't need them anyway.) Already bikers from the first sprint wave coming back! And runners from the du running through transition while I am trying to get out with my bike. Catch my handle bars on the transition rope and pull that along with me until it broke free. I wasn't stopping. Then I notice my front bike tire is wobbling. Great. Quick release is loose. When I take my bike in my car, the tire comes off and then on again before I ride, so its always checked and tight. When I rack it on Don's rack, I always forget to recheck it. So that's what happened. My fault. Stop, try to tighten it, it holds for a minute and then is loose again. In the meantime, I am pushing my bike, trotting through the loooooong transition, with people running in and out and this rope stuck to my bike, and a wobbly tire. Over 8 minutes here!
Bike: Once I finally got out of that mess and on the road, it wasn't much better. People coming in on their bikes, running in, bikes passing me. Then I hear an ambulance siren and it passes me in the first mile. Not a good sign. Added to all this, its raining hard again, and the first mile is up, up, and more up--on loose gravel. I'm getting nervous here with all the confusion, traffic, the ambulance, and then I notice AGAIN my quick release is loose. Great. I have to stop. I don't trust it. Stop and pull to the side, hop off, tighten it again, get back on, only again to be going up. I saw the ambulance then, stopped and treating someone who was lying on the ground, flat out. I found out later a dog had run in front of the biker and he had swerved and crashed. Shoulder messed up and arm in a sling later. Okay, keep calm, take it easy, be careful on the wet pavement. Up ahead I then see a young woman just topple over on her bike! Aaah! What's going on?? Apparently she forgot the rule of going uphill--don't stop pedaling. She didn't appear hurt and hopped back on the bike and zoomed past me. It was a steep but short hill, and I was starting to see what was to come.
Disclaimer: this is the hilliest bike course I have ever done. Highest speed? 48 mph coasting. No gears left to shift with. Slowest? 3 mph in my granny gear. I was truly afraid to stand, even if I had had the strength because I figured I would faint and fall over. It was tough. I haven't used my granny gears in 3 years, and never in a race. And this course seemed an eternity. I thought it was bad, and then I see a sign: ski area ahead. And what was I just doing?? When we hit "Swiss Valley," I'm not kidding, I was in my smallest chainring going 3 mph uphill. This course was supposed to be 24.8 miles, but it seemed like a hundred. It wouldn't end! Appropriately enough, the turn around was at a cemetery. Just bury me now, because I'm going to be last.
And last I was. I started getting the feeling I was out on a bike ride by myself by the time I hit the turnaround, and I could then see no one was behind me. All right, I did not plan this. I was working hard. What gives?? Oh, I forgot, the wheel thing. Happened again sometime before the turnaround, so this time the only solution was to take the wheel off and reposition it and tighten it. Just more time wasted, whatever!
There were soooo man times when I thought of calling it quits, turning at the sprint distance bike course. I wasn't tired, I was feeling okay, but I was afraid they would tell me I missed some imaginary cutoff. But then I started thinking that if there was ANY chance I could get an AG award out of this day, I had to keep at it. I had to finish to win.
The last 5 miles were the hardest. Volunteers had left their posts, so I didn't know where to go exactly. I was all alone out there in the miserable rain and fog. And then I started seeing runners and it seemed even longer before the finish. I saw the Stripper and then Don and realized they were only about 3 miles ahead of me! I could still do this. I still had time to run. Final bike time: a little unsure right now, but most likely around 2:20, with transitions.
T2: Once again, I had to fight my way all the way through transition to get rid of the bike. People standing around talking, in the way, and looking at me like I was a freak. I just plowed through and didn't care. Sat down on my little stool, and decided I needed to get rid of the socks. They were dripping. It wasn't raining much anymore and the sun might pop out, so try to find the glasses. Also, get rid of the sweatband and put on the visor. Can't eat anything, stomach hurts some. But I had to go to the bathroom and couldn't think of where the portajohns were. I remembered they were at the end of transition, on the way out to run. Good deal!
Run: So now it was time to go run--by myself. The whole 10k, by myself. My legs felt good though and I still felt strong. Found some gatorade at the first water stop. I couldn't believe they were still there! On I trotted, amazed at myself at how good I really felt. I was doing this! I could do this. I was really glad the sun hadn't popped out yet, or I would have been toast. It was cool but muggy, and quite manageable. I was actually running this thing like I was in a race. I will admit I walked through the water stops--the whole 2 of them left--and up 3 of the biggest hills, but was most surprised at how well my breathing was going. My Chi running coach said eventually we should get to where we were breathing in 3 breaths, out 3, and today I did. More oxygen that way. I can't remember EVER doing anything but 2 in and 2 out--basically gasping-- so I have achieved a level of my running here that I hope only continues to improve. Mile 1, done. Mile 2, done. Whoa, 3 already?? Mile 4 up ahead, and I really needed to stop for just a moment to get a drink. Passed 4 and kept going. I actually couldn't believe it when I hit 5 miles and still felt good. Not fast, that isn't there yet, but good and consistent. At this point I had 2 volunteers on bikes riding behind me, pacing me along I guess. One guy even chatted to me, coaching me in (probably this isn't allowed, but who cared at this point?). Run time: about 1:12.
Final: 3:55, 25 minutes faster than 2 months ago, despite all the problems and a much harder course. The difference was the way I felt. Still standing, still feeling good. Glad to be done, but not sick.
And the best part? Third in AG --out of 3 but--you had to be there--and finish-- to win!