The Start Line
It’s 5:15 Saturday morning, and my alarm goes off. I packed the car last night after putting the race numbers on my bike, helmet, and running belt. I creep downstairs not to wake anybody, put my triathlon suit on, and drive the one hour to the start line.
When I arrive at Mercer County Park, the line of cars pulling into the parking lot is like a long snake with bikes on roof racks. A site to see. You can feel the excitement and nervous energy in the air as the participants enter the “transition area”. There, we set up our bikes and bike shoes, running shoes, and socks and go through our rituals and checklists to make sure everything is laid out on our folded towel before we have to walk to the swim start line. I meet my training/racing friends and we “body mark,” write our race number on our arms/legs and left hand, and then our age on our left calf with a permanent fat sharpie, along with our racing GPS chip ankle strap so the officials can track us. My nerves are building as I walk to the lake to start the one-mile swim.
The swim was a rectangular out and back. We lined up based on the wave we had been allocated (100 people per wave ). I was wave ten, so there were 1000 people in the water ahead of me. I’m a strong swimmer, so I started at the front of the lineup. I start my watch and dive into the water. “Start fast for the first 200 meters, settle into your stroke, calm your breathing, regulate your heart rate, then make your way through the slower swimmers”. Stroke count 1, 2, 3 breath left. 1, 2, 3 breath right. Lift your head, look for the red buoy, now just keep going. You are swimming in a lake and can’t see the bottom, and you can’t stop. You have to keep on course and will yourself to “just keep swimming.” I’m halfway. My heart is pounding, my lungs burning. I can do this. 1000 meters, 1200 meters done. I can see the shore and the end of the swim. I push the final 300 meters and pull myself out of the water. SWIM DONE!
The Midway Point
Now I run to the transition area. I’m gasping for breath as I can now breathe freely as I’m out of the water. “Dry feet- bike shoes on. Helmet on- sunglasses on. Eat energy gel, drink water. Grab bike. Run to the bike start. The adrenaline is pumping.” Now Go. Fast out of the gate, settle in, find your cadence, like train legs pumping, 1-2,1-2,1-2. One mile was done, 24 to go. I break the race into 5-mile sections and keep pushing the pace. Keep your rhythm as you gently brake to slow into the corner just enough to make the turn without losing too much speed.
“Accelerate out of turn, settle in again, feel the burn in the legs as you count down the miles. Don’t forget to drink your Gatorade fuel”. I don’t see the landscape as I’m so focused on the road and the riders I’m passing in front of me. I’m feeling good and confident as I turn into the final mile of the bike. Spin your legs. I’m telling myself to flush out the lactic acid out of my legs, ready for the run. BIKE DONE!
I get off the bike, and I feel a searing pain at the top of my left hamstring/groin. I can barely walk, let alone run. “it’s ok, I’m telling myself, walk limp do what you need to get to your bike drop.” I’m desperately trying to keep my emotions in check. I can’t bend to get my sneakers on. I slide my foot in and carefully lift my leg to tie my shoes. “Ok, you can do this, nice and gentle, slowly east does it “I carefully break from my walk into a jog, and then a run. It hurts, but I run through the pain, determined to get through the run to the finish. Again I get focused on the task at hand, get to the first mile, and count them down. It’s now almost 2 hours since I first took my stroke in the water. It’s hot, and the sun is out and beating down on us. I’m sweating, and my body is tired and aching. I feel dehydrated despite drinking on the bike.
Legs are heavy and energy depleted. I eat another energy gel and push on to mile 2. I block out the pain in my leg as I scan the other people running next to me. We are all just putting one foot in front of the other as we will ourselves to the end. Mile 2 down. Mile 3 is done. There is ice at this water stop so I grab 2 cups. I pour one down the front and one down the back of my tri suit. “Ahhh, that feels so good. Cool your core temperature. Then pick it up for the last 2.5 miles.”
The Finish Line
I can see the finish banner 400 meters to go. I have given it my all. I left everything I had out on the course. I cross the finish line. Fists up in the air. I did it. I’m exhausted. I’m elated. I’m proud. I’m overheating. I walk forward. I’m handed my medal by a volunteer who congratulated me. I thank her for volunteering, as without volunteers, the race can’t go ahead.
I walk through the sprinkler tent; I stand there for 10 seconds letting the water cool me down; before I hobble to run course, find my friends, and cheer them on as they started in a later wave.
What a day. 7th in my age group. 39th female overall. Before work, the early morning training, the long training ride/ run combos at the weekend—the discipline and dedication. I feel like I’m on top of the world even as every muscle in my body hurts; my inner self is excited about taking a week off then resuming training for the next one.