The night before the race I had a terrible time sleeping. I really did. Which is odd for me since I am usually starved for the stuff and devour it whenever I have the chance. Not race night though, nope, I literally tossed and turned all night long. When my alarm rang at 4:37am I was more than happy to get going.
I had all my stuff packed and waiting on the kitchen counter with a note on top reminding me of the last minute items I couldn't afford to forget. Like the water bottle in the freezer and the hard boiled eggs and string cheese in the fridge. I wasn't hungry at all but knew I needed to eat something, so I settled on one egg and brought the rest to eat on the way.
We were on the road by 5:10 and the drive went quickly. We opted to park at the outlet malls and ride our bikes into the event, rather than using the shuttle service. I was surprised to see how many other people decided to do this as well. The road leading to the lake was already closed off and there were sheriffs and bikes everywhere, not to mention family members pushing strollers and pulling wagons, with folding chairs and mini coolers slung over their shoulders and home made "Go team so and so" signs tucked under their arms. The ride from the parking lot was about 2 miles and I drank it up. I pedaled slowly, soaking in the other racers, the loving family members, the country landscape still hazy with dew and streaming with sun light. I told myself "remember this, every second of it. Remember how you feel right now because you are HERE, you have arrived". And I pedaled a little slower and breathed it all in.
Once I reached transition the energy changed, the pace changed. There were women everywhere scrambling with last minute preparations. You have to rack your bike in an assigned area and then be able to find it when you finish the swim. Which wouldn't be too hard if there weren't 2,000 other bikes to choose from. There were rows and rows and rows of bikes racked up side by side with helmets and running shoes and water bottles galore. Some women had tied balloons to their bikes, others had drawn chalk arrows on the cement, I even saw duct tape on the ground guiding someone to her saddle. As soon as we arrived an event leader began announcing that the transition area was "now CLOSED" and to get out. I hurried to find a spot for my Jamis and my bag. The bikes were so close together I couldn't see how I would be able to leave my stuff on the ground without getting in someone elses way, but luckily my rack was right next to a large median in the parking lot and so I laid my bag down directly across from my bike with my helmet on top, convinced I would be able to find it again no problem.
We then walked to the start line at the other side of the lake. We were a river, a river of women. I can't really tell you how I was feeling. I was nervous, I had butterflies, I could feel my throat tightening, I could feel my anticipation growing, I had to pee. We made it to the beach and ran into the women from the Highland Honey's team. There was Zumba and women dancing in the sand, while others waded or swam warm ups in the water. I looked across to the other side, at the little white flags signaling the finish and the rafts and buoys in between willing myself to stay on course, willing myself to make it across. I didn't do any open water swim ahead of time, even though it was strongly recommended, I just never got the chance and so I was a little nervous standing there on the beach looking across at the other shore. The announcements began and Sally Edwards made some motivational remarks. They began ushering the first waves into the starting area. I was wave 13, yellow cap, and it took some 45 minutes for us to start after the first group of women began. It didn't feel like that long, standing there in the beach watching as 1300 women gradually entered the water before me.
By the time wave 13 finally got the go ahead, I was ready and I dove straight into the lake and began swimming as fast as I could. And suddenly I remembered that I'm a strong swimmer and that I COULD get across the lake. I alternated between spotting the bright white flags on the shore and spotting the yellow buoys dotting the course. My main goal, aside from crossing, was staying on route. I did have to use the breast stroke as a recovery period at times, but was pleased to discover that my crawl was strong enough to carry me the majority of the way. I remember how my excitement mounted as the flags grew closer and I remember thinking that I must be half way or even more than half way! You know, I've never been one for sand, but getting across the lake and climbing up the sandy slope, well, I think it was the first time in my entire life when I welcomed the feeling of sand between my toes.
I began half power walking to the transition area, sort of forgetting that this was in fact a race until a few women went running past me, reminding me to get going. I ran to my bike, well actually I ran right past it! I had made a very clear mental picture in my head of where I was supposed to go ahead of time, but the lay of the land had changed considerably since 1300 women had trudged through transition ahead of me. I now understood those silly balloons and the chalk marks! Once I found my stuff I quickly got into my shoes, snapped my helmet, drank some water and ate a few energy balls (they were chocolate chip cookie dough flavored and quite tasty might I add). Then I set out on the bike.
I knew that the bike was going to be my weakest event, but I still pedaled my little heart out. I remember getting to the 3 mile mark, which was noted for us with a big sign on the side of the road, and thinking, "that's it?!? Only 3 miles? Only a third of the way done?!?!?!" and feeling sort of horrified about it. The course was well marked, with plenty of volunteers at every turn directing us along. Cars were backed up at nearly every major intersection as a steady stream of women bikers raced past. Somewhere around the sixth mile I found my second wind, finally found my sweet spot and for a few miles the bike and I were practically as one. For a brief stretch it almost felt as if my Jamis Commuter was working harder than I was! I will never forget at one of the last major turns, as we headed west back across the freeway, a volunteer was jumping up and down and yelling encouragement with beads of sweat glistening on his sunburned forehead. "Come on YOU guys. You can DO IT!!! I'm going to be out here all day doing THIS for you, COME ON!!!!" and for some reason the very idea of him jumping around in the sweltering sun made me go even faster, made me try even harder, and I needed that for the last 3 mile stretch and I'm so glad the loudest, jumpiest, most encouraging volunteer was stationed at that point. I don't think he would have been as effective had I encountered him at the very beginning! So thanks hyper guy.
When I made it back to transition I was tired and super thirsty! Luckily I found my stuff right away, racked my bike, threw my helmet off, downed some water and began jogging to the run start. I crossed the timing pad and began navigating my way through the corridor of other joggers. I felt great, a little wobbly, but I'd done enough brick workouts to know that I could run myself through the wobbles no problem. I was probably about a minute and a half out when I realized that I had forgotten to pull on the jersey I had pinned my run bib too. I had pinned it ahead of time and was supposed to grab it during transition. I began slowing down, should I go back? Did I really need it? I tried to remember what the literature had said about this and couldn't. I had to make a decision and fast! Better safe than sorry, I reasoned and I turned around. This was the low point of my race. By far the lowest point, because it quite literally stopped me dead in my tracks, stopped all my momentum. I began going back to the transition area, working my way through women who were all going forward without me. My pace slowed and at one point I think I even began walking. I began giving up.
Luckily it was a short lived "give up" and I remember telling myself, "it's ok, this little bit of extra recovery will actually make your run even faster in the end" and I willed myself to believe it. I yanked myself out of the "give up" ditch and made myself keep going. I pulled on my jersey, I smoothed the bright orange bib across my belly and I ran the entire 3 miles. I ran them faster than I have ever run before in my life. Which is still mind blowing to me. At the time it didn't feel fast at all. I felt like I was going in slow motion the entire run, but it didn't really bother me so long as I kept running. I talked to myself a lot during those three miles, more so than during the swim and the bike.
Here's what I learned from the run:
*It's nearly impossible to drink from a cup while maintaining a "slow motion" pace.
*Throw the impossible to drink water all over your face and neck instead, much less choking this way.
*Volunteers holding fire hoses are your friends!
*If you tell yourself over and over and over again that you CAN do it, you probably can. Or at least you can probably trick yourself into doing it even if you can't.
*When you can see the finish line just ahead of you, SPRINT your heart out, even if it feels like you are trying to sprint under water.
*As you cross the finish line, throw your hands up over your head and scream "I am beautiful, I am STRONG" (I actually forgot this one and it's my biggest regret!).
*Smile, because you are in fact beautiful and strong.
During the last leg of the race a man came running up off to the side of the course and said "Good job RUNNER, keep it up". He was talking directly to me and much like the sweaty volunteer on the bike route, he was exactly what I needed. He called me a RUNNER. I know it sounds silly and that one simple sentence doesn't look like much written here on the screen and even as I just typed it, half expecting it to look like the way it made me feel, I did a double take and thought, "wait, is that all he said?". But it is all he said and it was all I needed. He called me a RUNNER just when I needed to hear it, and just like that I found enough of a 7th wind to sprint my way home.
The past 3 months of preparing for this triathlon have been incredible. This has been a defining moment in my life and I am forever changed because of it. In less than six short months I have literally TRANSFORMED MY LIFE and I could never find the right words to describe how empowering it feels, but I will remember this always.
Oh, heavenly finish line, how I adore thee!
2:21, what?!? Oh well, I'm way too happy to be at the finish line to care about my time...
Hey, there's my honey...Oh no, he's taking pictures of me!
Oh, yeah, I'm a triathlete baby! And one water bottle is not going to cut it...
Wait, did you just say that 2:21 isn't my time since I started later than the first wave! Oh. Duh. I totally understand now!
I really want these kids to think that this is NORMAL, that it is a part of life. You know being a rockstar athlete and all....
Thank you so much for supporting me every step of the way, I know it hasn't always been easy on you....
We did it Michaele!
We ARE beautiful. We ARE strong!