I am nervous arriving at the race. I can feel it in my gut, smell it in the air. This is my chance to break through to the mid-pack, make the 50th percentile. I’d heard about this race – the New England site of the women-only Danskin series. It is located at Webster State Park, the location of my debacle just five weeks earlier where I scraped to a 20th percentile - that would be the bottom 20 – finish. Word was that this race gets a lot of first timers and, shall we say, slightly less competitive athletes. Parking is a mile from the transition area. Wheeling my bike along, I admire the many balloons drifting behind their athletes—butterflies, Nemo, rainbows, ladybugs, and more. Are they going to ride with these things trailing behind them? I can’t fathom. I walk past rack after rack looking for my bike spot. I finally find it and then go get marked. Heading back to arrange my gear, I gaze upon a sea of bicycles, not at all sure where mine is. Oh, I get it. The balloons are markers. At over 2000 entrants, this is the largest race I’ve ever been in. I hedge about my wetsuit. I had been doing open water swims without it, just wearing my trisuit. I know I can do the distance and the water is warm. But the wetsuit will conserve energy and I have gotten pretty adept at slipping out of it. So on it goes. I walk down to the beach, trailing behind two women talking, “Some of these women don’t train at all. They just show up for this race.” That can’t be, I think. Even for a sprint, you are doing cardio for one to two hours. It would be foolhardy to do that without preparing your body.At the beach, I look around at my fellow athletes and see it is true. I have never seen a triathlon like this. Although there are some typical lean, mean triathletes, a number of the women look fairly out of shape. The crowd mills around the beach as the announcer goes through his pitch. There are more than a few shouts of, “You go girl!” I get a little choked up when the speaker honors wave 2 – breast cancer survivors. I am not typically the weepy sort but want to cry in admiration. What’s with that? Definitely too much estrogen in the air. I am lucky. I am in wave 8. There are about 20 waves. I don’t like to be upfront, but I wouldn’t want to cool my heels on the beach for an hour waiting for all the earlier waves. We are standing in the water and the countdown starts: ten, nine, eight... and we’re off. After my weekly open water swims in just a trisuit, swimming in a wetsuit feels like swimming through air. It is so easy. Or it would be, but I’m caught up with a slow group. One swimmer, just yards from shore, has already started doing the side stroke. Another has flipped over to do the backstroke. I need to break out of this pod and fast. I ease through them and find a better rhythm. The first buoy comes quickly and I stream down the straightaway. I sight only occasionally, using the presence of nearby swimmers to stay oriented. I enjoy the swim, not thinking too much about my stroke. I get whacked, and a woman lifts her head: “I’m sorry.” Hardly typical in a triathlon swim. As I near the second turn point, I see swim caps that aren’t colored red like mine. They’re from another wave. But unlike last month, I’m not getting swarmed by the wave to the rear. I’m passing the wave ahead. Pinch me, I must be dreaming! Nearing shore and not even out of breath, I see legs walking. Yes, it is shallow enough to walk but it is faster to swim and I pass a number of competitors. I burst out on shore. Pulling off my wetsuit arms, I trot past women ambling their way up to the transition area. I scan for the butterfly balloon that is on a bike in my row. I make fairly quick work of the transition and am at the bike loading spot. A buddy sees me and yells, “Put the hammer down!” And I do. I focused on biking after last month’s race. It is paying off. Much of my bike training has been on my heavier mountain bike, so my road bike handles like a feather. I start passing people. The hills start and I’m ready. I continue to pass people, and judging from their numbers, many are from the previous waves. A few people pass me, but even some of those I catch and pass again. I see my first walker. A hill has defeated her. They only get worse. I stay to the left, remembering the comment from a racer last month. “They box you in. Many have never been in a race. They don’t know to stay to the right.” I drop down to a low gear. We’re on the toughest hill now. I am breathing hard but still gaining on people and nobody is passing me here. I am Queen of the Hill. People sitting in their yards cheer on encouragement, “This is the last hill! You go girl” I crest the hill and now it is a fast downhill. I let her fly, calling out an occasional “On your left!” to make sure nobody swerves into my path. I am beaming. Pinch me again. Even in my dreams, I did not envision a race like this. On a gentler decline, I am pedaling for all I’m worth and then come upon a road-wide line of women. I have to press on my brakes. “On your left”, I call out and they move over a bit. I surge past them and keep the pace up on the flats. An occasional woman passes me. A non-stop grin is on my face. It’s over already. I am at the home stretch and then the transition area. I switch shoes and start my run, wondering if the strong bike ride may have taken too much out of my legs. Not really. I seem to be going at my regular pace. My legs feel fine. Following a tip I read recently, I eye a nearby runner and visualize an energy band connecting us. I pull up to and pass her, then pick my next target. The grin is still plastered on my face as I steadily pass other runners. Cyclists yell encouragement to us runners as they head towards their transition, “You go girl!” I am not used to being cheered by racers at my rear. As I turn towards the home stretch, I pass a pink jersey and a green jersey. Soon, they pass me. No, I passed fair and square and you will stay passed. I give it everything I have and sprint to the finish.“So”, Phil asks when we view the event photographs, “Were you always mugging for the cameras?”“No, I swear I only saw the one camera. I think I had a shit-eating grin on my face the whole time.” In this women-only race, I made the top 20th percentile finishing 369 out of 1985 finishers and, for my age group, 31 out of 187. With my last month’s focus on open water swimming, my swim was three minutes faster. With my other focus on biking, my ride is five minutes faster. My run is about the same, but the run had been the best part of last month’s race. And I met my third objective, much better race pictures. Next goal, the Olympic distance race in late August.