Driving well over the speed limit on the interstate in a construction zone, I berated myself in my head for overscheduling and underplanning for the race I was currently about to be late to arrive at. Coming off a 2 day conference for me and a 2 day Ragnar race for Mr. Prepared in which heat index was over 100 degrees and multiple factors made him late arriving to the finish line Saturday night, Sunday morning seemed like about the worst time to pick up triathlon racing again.
I had really good intentions when I started packing my tri gear on Thursday night before I left for downtown. I meant to finish packing it and go through my checklist…I just didn’t. Truthfully, the leaving the kids and going off in different directions (him to Madison, me to Chicago) was annoying. Coming back to that half-packed bag and unprepared bike after 9 PM Saturday night did not motivate me to get it done like I should have.
Basically, I didn’t fall asleep (tossing and turning thinking about all that I had learned at the conference) plus not preparing and then needing to wake up “early” led to about 4 hours of sleep. Plus, I hit the snooze. Then I screwed around in the kitchen for a while and futzed with the coffee, changed my racing uniform (I never do this), showered (def I never do this), scrolled the old FB feed with coffee cup #1, and …DAMMIT! I should have left a half hour ago!!! Shit! I have nothing ready!
Time for panic. Threw some more things in the half assed bag and tossed bike into back of truck. See, cuz the thing was I was also supposed to be there early because I had to pick up my packet, which they were offering for a little while the morning of since I didn’t get to packet pickup the day before (because people have lives?!?).
Side Note: Packet pickup is important because that’s where you get your timing chip, swim cap for your heat, and your swag. The swag was $$ in this race- a biking tank with gel pockets and what not. Perfect for the summer and way better than some crappy T-shirt.
Anyways, on the hour drive to the race, I realized early on that I forgot my coffee and my pre-race water. For those that don’t know me, life just isn’t worth being awake if you don’t have morning coffee. So that sucked. I had nothing and I don’t have time to stop. I started drinking out of my race water bottle, banking that I would find water there (I didn’t but I also didn’t try because of reasons I’ll detail in a sec). I started wondering about all the other important stuff I could have forgotten and wondered whether to throw in the towel and turn around. But I really wanted that tank top. And I was already on my way so…
Crack of dawn being on my side, I made good time, only to roll close to the venue to find it inundated with cars. There was like zero parking anywhere close. I kind of expected this, but I didn’t plan for it. My go to triathlon pop-up bag is not like a backpack- it’s like a “mom”style tote (AKA drunk purchase made at an “Initials” party many years ago. You know the one piece you “had” to have after 4 cocktails? Yup, it’s that one). It does not just sling over your shoulder so you can ride your bike the FAR distance to the place where you pick up the packets. Basically, it sucks. Obvi, I am so fucking far out of practice preparing for races that I had basically messed up every step so far.
Good news was that I had all USAT required equipment- like a helmet, so I was still in the game. I pulled the ole race bike out of the back and … maybe I should have checked the tires before I left. No problem. I had the bike pump in the car and could pump them up. They definitely needed air, and … air was not going in. Nope, not at all. The valve extenders were spinning around and I knew there was something wrong, but I couldn’t fix it with what I had in my bike bag. Fuck it, I said. I‘ll ride on flat-ish tires. Maybe I will get a flat and then I won’t have to do the stupid race.
I basically convinced myself that I would pick up my packet, get my tank top, and leave with my flat tires when I realized that if I didn’t just do the stupid triathlon, I was going to have to go home and recreate the experience. This race was not meant to be an end- it was really just a high-intensity training block for the week. When I thought about how I would have to recreate the logistics at home, I decided to grab my packet and continue on. I rolled over to the bike mechanic stand (which I had totally forgotten existed! YES!) and said (nonchalantly), “Hey can you put air in my tires?” knowing full well some shit was messed up in there, or else I would have been able to do it myself.
The mechanic tried airing them with two different pumps before he tested it and determined the valve inside the valve extender was closed. I have these shitty ass valve extenders that look cool but are a pain in the ass (well now I have one less because he actually TOOK one from me that morning). Anyways, he pulled the old tube, tried a new one, same thing, didn’t work. Meanwhile, the clock was creeping ever closer to the transition area closing. Finally, when we were within 5 minutes of transition close, he got the right tube and put the tire and wheel back on the bike like a ninja! I offered to pay (having cash for the first time ever at a triathlon…another sign of the apocalypse) but he just sent me off with a thank you yelled over my shoulder.
I get to the athlete entrance, no stickers on my bike or helmet. This kind of dumb, unprepared shit is where being at a “beginner-friendly” triathlon worked in my favor. Everyone was so stinkin’ nice to me, just in case it was my first time. A lot of races you will get volunteers on power trips yelling at you if you do something wrong. However, these volunteers were helping me unearth my sticker packet from my mom-tote and talking to me really gently, and I about broke down in tears because I didn’t even understand why everyone was being so nice when I hadn’t done a single thing right this morning.
However, I was too panicked to be filled with gratitude yet because transition closed in 4 minutes and you have to have your stuff set up and be out of there. It’s a big deal. Lots of people come an hour early, take time to set up, do warm-ups or a quick jog (this is what I do), and I was doing the exact opposite. And…there were no more spots on the bike racks in my wave. Everyone had already set up perfectly front-back-front-back on the racks and who could blame them? No one was expecting a late-as-shit-hot-mess coming in Wave 10.
I saw an opening in a Wave 11 rack and just took it. The people who were set up had already left to walk down to the water, and they would probably be mad when they returned, but whatever, the race would have started!
Mom-tote had way too much crap in it, including my MF driver’s license (found and lost this again since then!), car keys, and cash floating freely about in it, but I shoved everything down in it, threw the necessities on top, grabbed some gel (mostly for the caffeine! My lord!), my wetsuit and my cap and …broken goggles. Shit. I heard them sending in the not-so-gentle volunteers to close transition. He came my way and I just put my hand up, told him my goggles were broken and that it would take a minute to see if I could fix them. He backed away, clearing seeing the rabid dog look in my eye, and I was able to fix them. I headed out of transition toward the beach.
I got to the beach, expecting a lake (beach-lake- this is a natural association, yes?) and was VERY surprised to see a rather large sort-of natural pool. In my head I was like “uh-oh” because my strength is swimming in large bodies of water, not competing in a weird 100 meter hybrid pool/lake. Ah well. At this point, I was more about just involving myself in the experience and letting the rest sort itself out. I let go of ambitions about placing in my age group and reminded myself that this was my first rodeo in a while and it was okay to just enjoy the event, not treat it like my own personal trophy collection opportunity.
We waited about a half-hour for our wave to start swimming, and during that time, I was able to get my gratitude in order. How lucky was I that everything worked out and everyone was so nice? I even broke my ponytail holder during this time and the woman in front of my took her extra off her wrist and gave it to me! The attitude of being happy and grateful to participate was contagious. I entered the water in excited anticipation.
The rest of the race was pretty much history. (I know, right? You thought this would be all about that race! Wah wah. ;)) Once I entered the water, my drama went away. I swam quickly, playing follow the leader with the other woman in my wave who swam out front of it with me. We swapped the lead several times as we maneuvered through the slower swimmers from the waves in front of us. It was not my favorite swim as it was the most crowded one I have ever done. We exited into a long transition, running to our bikes as I pulled off my wetsuit. It actually came off pretty effortlessly despite having no Body Glide on my body (yup…forgotten).
We hopped on our bikes, and started off. The woman who came out of the water ahead of me took off. Letting someone gap me like that is generally ok with me, because whomever I come out of the water with, they are 97/100 times a MUCH better biker than me. This was a two lap “criterion-style” closed course for the bike, which I actually enjoyed a lot. I liked the closed course because it allowed you a lot of freedom from decision-making of passing and having to be super mindful of traffic. I pushed pretty hard on the bike, looking to see what kind of gains I had made from improved strength training and more time in the saddle lately. I was not quite to the point “Dear God, when will this end?”, which is my typical end of bike feeling, when we rolled to the end of the course. However, the fun part was about to begin.
The run started in transition and my goodness, my legs felt like crap. I haven’t practiced a bike to run transition or workout since last…June? and it was obvious. Parts of my body were clearly pissed that I was running. So I slowed, trying to stay conservative, which just led my mind to all the thoughts of quitting one more time. I crossed over the threshold into the “deal-making” stage and made a deal that if I just kept running, I was fine with however slow I wanted to run. So it got slow! But at about 2-2.5 miles, I actually started to feel better! I was like “Great, the run is ending and NOW I feel better?” LOL. Ran it in fast and then just laid there with a cold towel on my face for a few minutes outside the finish line.
I was so relieved to be done and happy to have made it through. Looking at my splits, my run was negatively out of proportion with my performance on the swim and bike legs, so it will be the main focus as it has been for the rest of the summer. I took my extra coupon from the race and used it to sign up for the international distance at the Chicago Triathlon in the end of August. Between now and then, I’d like to get in a few more races. Mostly because (when you’re prepared) they are fun and I enjoy it. Plus, you’re done early and can still grab breakfast, which is really the part I excel at. 😉 (As anyone who was on the Stevenson High School swim team in the mid-90s can attest to my breakfast-eating prowess.)
Takeaways: Being on time and being prepared is really important. Do these two things and you’re most of the way there. The race is just the fun part!