The Columbia Triathlon, my first race of the season, and I walked away with a smile on my lips and a gash by my eye. All in all, things went much better than I expected.
Pre-race follies: I was worked out, stressed out and burnt out. In the days leading up to the race, my klutzy side was in top form; I managed to injure my hand while playing with my dog, injured my ankle when I fell down two steps, and had a three-day headache that Advil couldn't touch.
Race Morning: However, race day dawned clear and warm. My alarm sounded at 3:50 AM (yes, that's not a typo: 3:50 AM!) and after managing two decent nights of sleep, I woke up feeling reasonably rested and alert. My gear was packed and I enjoyed a leisurely bowl of power oatmeal before heading out with a mug of Chai to go. My husband and I left the house at 5 AM and cruised right to Centennial Lake without a single delay and parked in the main lot with plenty of room and time to spare. After my experience at Columbia Iron Girl in 2009, where, despite my early morning trek to the race, I sat in traffic for nearly 45 nerve-wracking minutes and barely made it into the parking lot, I had been dreading the race day logistics and was totally shocked by the easy start to our day.
Waiting for the Wave: The other logistical piece I'd been dreading was that my wave was the next to last to start. After transition closed at 6:45 AM and I'd wished my husband well and saw him off for his 7:10 AM start, I had an hour to wait. Had the weather been less favorable, it really could have been miserable, but the warm, sunny morning made the wait much more pleasant and I had plenty of time to wander the venue, stretch, focus, watch the other wave starts, eat a piece of almond-butter and honey toast, drink water and make at least four trips to the port-o-pot. My 8:06 wave arrived in no time.
The swim: Though I am a decent swimmer, I've had some negative, panicky experiences with mass open-water starts. No sooner do I begin the swim leg and I am wishing for it to be over so I can move on to the bike, which is my favorite. But, with practice, I've learned how to cope with my swim start phobia and, this year, I've trained more for the swim then I have since preparing for the 4.4-mile Chesapeake Bay Swim in the late 90's. It's often hard for me to find my "home" in a mass-start wave. Near the front, I tend to get plowed over. Near the back, I end up having to dodge all the kicking feet to pass the slower swimmers ahead of me. In the water, I like my space. I may be mildly claustrophobic. And, as a contact-wearer, one of my biggest fears is getting my goggles kicked off and losing a contact lens. In the past, when I'd encounter another swimmer, I'd break form and breast stroke while plotting a new path of least resistance. This year was different; I had a new attitude. I felt unusually confident and selected a starting position to the far inside in the second row. At the horn, arms were churning and feet were thrashing as always, but I felt calm. When I collided with another swimmer, I stayed the course. During one encounter, I took an elbow to the temple but still kept going. It wasn't until I got home that I realized I had a small, fingernail-sized gash near my right eye; a battle wound to be proud of! I finished the swim with my second best time and felt great coming out of the water.
The bike: I love my bike. Once I can pry myself out of the wetsuit and make it through T1 (which still needs improvement) this is the most exhilarating and exciting part of the race for me. Having warmed up during the swim, I can hit the pedals at full throttle. My biggest fear on the bike is blowing a tire, which has happened during training, but never yet during a race (knock on wood.) I would be heartbroken if a mechanical put me out of the race. But, luck was on my side again and I posted a PR on the course. Out of 106 women in my division, I finished 11th on the bike. I love my bike. (Did I mention that already?)
The run: The dreaded run. I have no panicky experiences with running like I've had with swimming but the fact is, I'm not a strong runner--I've had to work super hard to get to where I am and it's not always been fun--and I'm injury-prone. First it was IT band problems, Then, in 2009, I suffered a double case of plantar fasciitis that has take me two years to recover from. It was a long, frustrating road and every time I run I live with the fear that, as a chronic condition, the "vampire bite of running injuries" will return. I dread taking a step and feeling that telltale twinge in my heel. And, no sooner did I have the plantar under control, I fractured a metatarsal that put me out of one race and caused me to downgrade two others. Every time I run, my fingers (and toes) are crossed. So, here I am, recovered for the moment, and starting over at the beginning. But, with running, it also doesn't help that, after I've had a strong bike and passed lots of people (ego boost), those same people pass me with ease on the run (demoralizing). And Columbia has a notoriously difficult run--very hilly. But, to my surprise and delight, I was passed by very few people this time. I wasn't fast by any means, but I also wasn't slow; I felt strong and happy to be running pain-free again after such a long struggle. It gave me the lift I needed to push through the final miles at a progressively decreasing pace.
Running entertainment: USAT does not allow iPods, so entertainment has to be found elsewhere on the course. It is always interesting to see the variety of running strides and forms. Sometimes there are costumes, but not at Columbia. Here are three things I did see, but wish I hadn't: Onesies (or unitards, or whatever those things are called) that have seen better days. Let me just say this: if you own one of these things and they've been stripped to nothing by wear and tear and chlorine, then it's time to buck up and buy a new one. Two men on the course were wearing tri-suits that were so threadbare that on one you could see his hairy backside through the thin white material and, on the other, his fuel pocket on the back hung so low that the energy bar he'd stashed there looked as if he'd had an accident in his pants; it just dangled there in a most unsightly way. And one poor woman had tri shorts with a quarter-sized hole right in the middle of the back seam, so she was flashing a little crack with every step.
The finish: It's an amazing feeling to finish a race with a dose of euphoria to counteract the nausea. This is the first time I've raced with a GPS watch so, when I crossed the finish line, I immediately knew two things: I'd had a good race and I'd done better than I'd expected. I don't think I could have asked much more of myself that day, and that's a happy feeling.
The results: I finished in the top 20 out of 106 in my division, 114th out of 539 women overall, and 616th out of all 1633 total participants, including 22 professional and 39 elite athletes--a great way to kick off the season!
The aftermath: When I woke up today, the headache was gone, but I could feel every other muscle in my body. I'd planned to lay low (and treated myself to a post-race massage) but, rather than feeling mellow, I was on a high all day. It is precisely that feeling that keeps me going back for more and wanting to continue challenging myself.
Next up: Planning to have fun and blow off some steam at Warrior Dash next month before the next race--a sprint triathlon on Father's Day.
Camera-challenged: My camera is broken and the only other working one in the house is my daughter's, and it's memory card is always filled to capacity with her random snaps. So, unfortunately, I don't have any race day photos to post but I hope to purchase a few from the event photographer that I can share.