As I step from the car, the first heavy drop lands on my head. I am soaked by the time I get to the line for my race packet.
“I’m having trouble marking ‘em,” calls out the volunteer trying to write on my quad. “Pen’s not working in the rain.”
I set up my gear and, to stay dry, put on my wetsuit. Arms were a bit of a struggle due to my wet skin, but my legs slipped right in. “Want a tip?” I ask my neighbor.
“Sure.” she said.
“Learned it from my master’s swim coach. Put your foot in a plastic grocery bag. Will slide right through. Doesn’t stick.”
She gratefully takes my bag. “My third tri of the season. All of them, monsoons.”I put on my swim cap and walk to the beach. Chatting at the water’s edge with a buff-looking fellow, I disclose, “It’s my sophomore year. My second season.”
“New year, new mistakes,” he promises.
I laugh, not knowing. “No doubt the swim will be the best part of this race. Only time we won’t be rained on. Not looking forward to the bike.”
“Have you heard about the course? I biked it a couple days ago.” He gestures to the left side of the lake where a hill dominates. “There’s hills and an unfinished road. Lotta sand the other day. Then a steep downhill and a very sharp right at the bottom. Bet some people will wipe out.”We are crowded on the beach and it is 15 minutes past the scheduled race start. I finished my warm-up swim a half hour ago. I’m eager to get going. The rain alternates between a heavy downpour and a drizzle. I notice one young woman with her arms miserably wrapped around her swimsuit clad body. Another is so cold that her lips are trembling uncontrollably. A boisterous, slightly heavy middle-aged man in a wet suit has alarmingly purple ankles and hands. Should he really be doing this race?A voice booms over the loudspeaker. “Sorry for the delay.” Ah, some action. “Wanted to drive the course to make sure it was safe. A tree was down. We moved it.”
Appreciative applause. “We’ve been sweeping the sand off the road the last couple of days. But take it easy out there. There’s a rough patch of road. There’ll be a volunteer warning you to slow down. Listen to him! White caps are wave one. That is women aged 40 and above and…,” he drones on. Wave one? I’ve never been in wave one. In last year’s races, the elites and younger athletes were in the first waves.I head to the water’s edge
Many others are further in the water. After a long wait, it is an abrupt start and I’m starting from the rear of the group. It is misty and grey. I can’t see the buoys. I just trust that the swimmers ahead of me know where they are going. I try the concept of drafting a few times, but with my blue goggles I can’t see well enough to judge my distance. I don’t want to get kicked, so I back off and just focus on my swim. Reach with those arms and shoulders. Pull. Breathe steadily. Sight occasionally. Someone is playing with my feet and I kick vigorously enough to get some space. A few minutes later, there is another foot nibbler and I kick some more. I don’t want someone swimming over me. I make the first turn and now it’s the long stretch. As I near the next buoy, I see a yellow cap. And then there’s another. I’m getting swarmed by the next wave. How far behind us did they start? How slow am I going? How many of my own wave are still around anyway? I do some nervous sighting and soon reach shore.
Out of the water
I jog the long trail back to my bike, pulling my sleeves off as I run. At the bike, I use Candy’s wetsuit tip number two and step on the bottom of one leg to pull out of it and then the other. Removing my wetsuit is one of the two things I did well in this race. I slip on my jacket, put on my shoes, trot my bike to the road, and mount
As I ride, I notice that no other cyclist around me is wearing a jacket. Apparently wanting to stay reasonably dry and warm during a race is un-cool. I bike as strong as I can along the flat road, catching a nice wind in the sail that is my jacket. Perhaps I should have zipped it up. Foolishly unwilling to stop to remedy that error, I continue the ride with my green sail billowing around me. I am getting passed relentlessly. Biking is not my strong point. Not that I’m strong in any of the three events, but biking is my weakest link. I ponder my training. Should I have trained differently? Should I have trained more? Should I have trained harder? Should I not be wearing a sail? I’m sure the entire first wave is far ahead and the second wave is joining them. Then I’ll be swarmed by the third wave. I’m squinting. Sort of wish that I still had my goggles on rather than this jacket. The rain drops are pelting my face so hard that it hurts. Through my squinting eyes, I barely see a person frantically waving a flag. Oh yes, that would be the warning. I gently press my brakes to slow down (not that I was ever going fast) before hitting the rough road.
As I climb the hills, what’s left of wave two whizzes by. I get caught on the right with a young fellow directly in front of me and a woman to my left. It’s not like I have any surge of speed in me, but I don’t like being blocked in. The only way to get free would be to drop back and then pass on the left. But if I go any slower I’ll be at a full stop, so I just bear it out until they slowly pull ahead as every other cyclist has done. Hill work, I think. I have got to do hill work. Did I really think those spinning classes would help my racing? Finally, the downhill
What a relief. I cut loose but stay alert for the sharp turn. I see the flag and slow down considerably to turn on the smooth straightaway. Things are getting better. Then a voice calls back to me, “Your pump is loose.” The snap had broken last year so I jury-rigged a twist tie to hold it in place. Had worked well for awhile but I must have knocked it loose with my water bottle. Oh well, let the pump fall off. I don’t care. Another voice calls, “Your pump is hanging down.” I look down. It refuses to fall off. It is hanging valiantly, held only by the twist tie. I have a quick vision of it jamming my wheel, making me fall, and giving me a flat. I quickly stop the bike and angrily wrestle it free. My sail comes in handy as I jam the pump into its pocket. The last leg of the ride shared the course with the runners
Some of those runners are heading towards me and others who are already in their final stretch home. Finally and thankfully, the bike ride is over. I take off my jacket, change shoes, and start to run. My legs feel pretty good. They do not feel like quivery lead. Those couple sessions of spinning followed by short runs seems to have paid off. This is the second thing that goes well during the race.
I start to pace off of a woman in front of me, but she is going a bit faster and I just don’t have the heart to try to keep up. After training all winter, I am bumming at my mediocre swim and bike. Last year, my sole goal was to finish. This year I had delusions of breaking out of the back-of-the-pack. Two women were chatting in back of me. “In my last race, I realized there were only ten people behind me. What a downer.” Yes, that confirms it again. I am with the very slow crowd. I turn the lollipop loop in the course and am now back on the same road seeing that there were, in fact, still people in back of me.
I am somewhat heartened. I silently chant my affirmation, “I am quick. I am strong. I can run all day long.” I effortlessly pass someone. Well, that felt good. I continue the chant and start to enjoy the run. Turning into the final stretch, I shudder to see that it is on grass. Call me strange, but I like to run on pavement and don’t relish turning an ankle on the soggy ground. I decide against a final surge and just cross the finish line at normal pace.
I have persevered through my first foul-weather triI later compare my times with last year’s Worcester race, which had the same distances, although quite different weather. I feel much better about my progress. Plus, I figure if the no-shows had raced, I’m sure I would have been faster than some of them. It’s got to be the hard core that showed up. I made the bottom 20%, which is actually my second-best placing. I have five weeks until my next race, which will be on this same course. What one area of focus would improve my time? Biking.
Surprisingly, my bike time had improved by a minute even though I was wearing a sail, couldn’t see very well, and had to fix a mechanical problem. Well, that could only get better, and I had new appreciation for doing some hill training. More importantly than training though, I realize that saying “I suck, I suck, I suck” for over an hour does not result in a good race performance. Wastes a lot of energy. I instead have got to work on my chants: “I am quick. I am strong. I can race all day long.”