This was only my second triathlon of 2013. I know, I'm way behind. But I've been training hard for the big boy - IM Augusta 70.3 - so it's not like I've been just hanging out. It was a shorter sprint distance race - 400 meter swim, 10 mile bike ride, 3 mile run.
This race was a little bit different. Like the name implies, the start was around dusk - 7:30 p.m. The race organizers touted that almost everyone would cross the finish line at sunset. What a romantic sentiment. They obviously hadn't given much thought to the likes of this mediocre triathlete.
I wasn't really nervous at all for the race, I was very much looking forward to it, actually. I have been putting in a lot of time in the pool, and I was anxious to see if my swim had improved. I never have great swims in the open water, but I was determined to get over that and PR on the 400 meter swim.
At the race start, all of us women lined up on the shore in our pink caps. Following my husband's advice, I planted my toes in the sand right up front. I am usually in the back, so as to avoid getting kicked, punched, puled, etc. As the siren sounded for the start, I took off, dove in, and went for it. The water was bathtub warm, pretty swirly, and really cloudy - this swim is not the best representation of the normally clear and beautiful Gulf of Mexico. I felt great as I swam, I managed to not get punched, and only had minor collisions. Until about 150 meters in, that is. As I brought my right arm up mid-stroke, I realized that I had something in my hand. It was a swim cap. I had somehow yanked a cap off a fellow athlete. I immediately looked up and saw her behind me. All I could do was toss the cap at her, apologize profusely, and keep going. That was definitely one of the weirder things that's happened to me in a tri!
I stayed the course on the swim, I saw myself passing a lot of swimmers, even some men that had left in a wave 3 minutes before mine. I was elated, thinking I was going to do it! I was going to beat the hell out of this swim.
I made it to the swim exit, ran up the beach - which I hate, by the way. The soft Gulf sand KILLS my feet, even for only a teeny tiny run, and slows me down. I got to T1, and managed to get my bike gear on, including socks, in what felt like record time (my transition times are normally glacially slow).
It was a hot and humid evening, and even though the water had been really warm, it felt great heading out on the bike wet from the swim. There was quite a stiff breeze, so it really cooled me off. It was a short bike ride - 10 miles - to help with getting people in close to sunset. 5 miles out was flat and fast, and there was a good tailwind that pushed me along. I stayed over 20 mph before the turnaround. For me, that's like breaking the sound barrier! Then came the turnaround and the inevitable headwind. No hills, but enough of a sock to the face to slow me down to about a 16 mph average. Bummer.
It was at this point in the race that I remembered exactly why I dislike this particular course. I had raced this course once before, and really didn't enjoy it. It's an open course, meaning the roads are open to traffic, and athletes - cyclists and runners - are sharing the road. This venue is at a park that only has one way in and out, and has several boat ramps and next to no parking. Many large trucks with trailers are parked along the road, are pulling in and out during the race, and generally being pretty inconsiderate to us annoying triathletes. In races past on this course, I have heard of cyclists getting knocked off their bikes by the trailers attached to trucks that couldn't be bothered to slow down just a tiny bit.
I was finishing up the ride as the sun was setting, and even though I don't love the course, it is really visually striking in some spots - save for the giant nuclear power plant in the background. The sky was gorgeous, a palette of oranges and bluish grays, just stunning.
I biked into T2, parked my stuff, and headed out for the run, again in a much quicker fashion that normal for me.
During the ride, I made sure to drink A LOT, to avoid dehydration. I've gotten sick because of that in other races, and it was so humid that I knew if I didn't drink a lot, I would likely puke. As I started my run, I began to feel really queasy anyway, like I had eaten too much too soon before the race, which wasn't the case. It was the humidity, which has a really negative affect on me. I've been dealing with it all summer, and my runs have suffered. But, I soldiered on, at a snail's pace.
I walked through the water stations at miles 1 and 2. At the mile 2 water station, I made the huge mistake of pouring a cup of water down my front. Not only was the water super warm, making it feel as if I was peeing myself, but the water quickly traveled down my legs, into my socks, and into the bottoms of my running shoes. Immediately, my feet were soaked and I could feel the chafing begin. ***I always learn something in every race. Sometimes it is an unpleasant lesson.
Sure enough, over the course of the last mile, I could feel a hot spot on my big toe. Bummer again.
As it began to grow dark, traffic picked up. Boaters were leaving the park, and while most of the drivers were cautious of the runners and cyclists, there were a few jerks. At about the 2 1/2 mile mark, I had picked up my pace considerably, and as I rounded a last corner, a ridiculously overcompensatingly large white dually truck pulls out into a 3-point turn in the middle of the road, in front of me, another runner, and a cyclist just finishing up. We had to stop to avoid getting hit, and as I screamed obscenities at the idiot, he just looked up with a great big douchebag grin. He had done it on purpose, because we were in his precious way. People are amazing in a really bad way sometimes.
I got past the truck, and could see the finish line. I could also see a woman creeping up on my left. Even though I hadn't really been racing during the entire run, it was then that I was all like, "Oh HELL no" and turned on the boosters to put some distance between us. I crossed the finish line, and promptly felt the urgent need to puke. Though I didn't, I realized that this is becoming an issue, and I need to figure out what is causing it, because there will come a time when I won't be able to stifle it, and someone in front of me will get an unwelcome shower.
Before the race, I had set a goal time of 1:20:00 for myself. I ended up coming in at 1:16:19. I was thrilled. Of course, all of my friends that had been racing, my husband included, blew me away, but I'm the one who held back on the run. No podium finish for me, but it was a victory nonetheless.
I was elated with my performance, until I saw the split times. Thinking I had killed it in the water, I was upset when I saw my swim split was a lousy 9:10. Even though I felt the best I ever had in a race during that swim, it was my slowest swim ever in a triathlon (at that distance). I'd like to think I lost time hobbling up the beach - why do they make you run so damn far up the beach into the transition area? - or maybe I conserved my legs too much and didn't kick enough. Or maybe I swam off course a bit and added distance. Or maybe I'm just a crappy swimmer.
At the end of the day, I did better than I had expected to, I had a good bike ride, and I did really feel great during the swim. My run can always improve, it is by far my least favorite thing to do - in a triathlon and in life. Every race is a learning experience. I learn about each discipline in the race, I learn how to make faster transitions, and I learn about myself and how hard I am able and willing to push. Win or lose, if I get stronger, that is what counts the most.