“I just raced in my first 10K last week,” I proudly told Eric, in the swim lane next to me. “I’m thinking about trying an Olympic tri this summer.”“Definitely! If you can run a 10K, you can do an Olympic.”“I was looking at Lakeville. It sounds nice and it’s towards the end of the season, so I’ll have time to get ready.”“That’s my race! You should do it!”“Your race?”“Yes, I’m the race director. It’s a great time.”I query my swim mates in the locker room. “Oh yes, Lakeville is perfect as a first Olympic. Course is flat. Race is well run. It was my first Olympic.” I go home and sign up. That was in April. Now it is August. Each week I have been diligently doing hour-long runs and long open water swims. I am glowing with confidence from my strong performance at the Danskin race. Maybe I could actually do well in this race, double the distance of my previous sprints with an almost mile-long swim, 25 mile bike, and 10K run. Two weeks before the race, I accept the offer to join in a ride of the bike course with an optional 10K run afterward. Knowing the bike course will help me pace myself. To add to my confidence, I’d like to do a full brick. I have never biked 25 miles followed by a 10K run. This will certainly qualify as one of my hard workouts for the week. As we start our ride, a car screeches in. Eric stays back to help this rider join the group. Co-race director, Mark, leads about 30 of us out. “Hope you like herding cats,” I joke, not knowing that I would soon be meowing. We ride slowly along the pretty, slightly rural road past charming older houses, fields, and lakes. The ride continues to be slow for 30 minutes. This is meant to be my hard workout but I’m not even working up a sweat. I’m feeling smug about my fitness but also a little impatient. A woman clad in pink with a pink bicycle, pulls away. After a short hesitation, a small group of us join the breakaway and really get going. We’re riding hard for another half hour and then, on a slight uphill, the men pull away. I’m behind Pink and lose sight of them. I’m somewhat drafting off her so at one point, I pull in front to return the favor. She only stays behind for a few minutes and then moves back to the lead. This is not a woman who likes to follow. Well, fine, I like to draft.
“Hey,” I call out, “Do you know where we are?” “Not really, but I figure we’ll just keep going.”“Ok, it is a beautiful ride.”
We pass into the next town, Achushnet.
I call out again, “At the next cross roads, I’m going to stop and look at the map they gave us. I think we overshot.” We stop and puzzle over the map trying to figure out where we are. Two more women, who had been following, join us in our confusion. We enlist the aid of someone walking by and she is also baffled. And then Mark pulls up, slightly out of breath. “Someone told me there were some of you up this way. I was almost ready to turn back.”“We went too far?”“Well, what was going to be a 25 mile ride is now a 35 mile ride.”
Our group of five now stays close together and we keep up a good clip. After we have biked a ways, Eric points, “This will be a water stop during the race. They’ll be handing out replacement bottles.” Very cool. I’ve never been in a race where you get bottles during the cycle. But very uncool: I’m getting tired, but we must be at about the official halfway point, so we probably have another ten miles to go. When we reach the last stretch my legs are beat. Could I possibly run? Well, not a 10K, but I want to do something to make it a brick. I slowly lace up my sneakers. I shuffle off. My legs are lead. They haven’t felt this way all season. In my two races, my legs felt fairly strong at the start of the run. I run for 26 minutes and 13 seconds. I’m spent. I’m sore the next day and just do a light session with weights. I’m still sore the following day and cut my run short. Do I consider maybe not working out those days? Of course not. I have an Olympic tri to prepare for and now feel woefully out of shape. I call for an emergency massage Wednesday morning and throw myself on the mercy of the therapist. He does wonderful work with my hips and legs. I skip my traditional Walden Pond Wednesday swim and instead do an easy mile at the pool and forbid myself from doing any other workout that day or the next. I have Friday off and drive down to the Cape to spend a couple of days with Marybeth. We go for a 30 mile road ride on our mountain bikes, and I feel great. The back roads of Falmouth are very pretty, with wonderful ocean views. My legs feel strong. We lounge at the beach in the late afternoon and swim out to the raft. I’m still feeling strong the next morning and go for an hour long run on an unexplored road. Then the next day, I’m back in a slump. I go to the gym the next couple of days and the workouts feel hard. The second half of my Walden swim on Wednesday feels like I’m swimming against a current, but I know that is impossible. My legs are sluggish as I bike through Concord. That’s it. I’m not doing another thing until Sunday race day. I know the theory of not overtraining but I’ve slipped into the classic mistake of trying to train harder when my body says it’s tired.All confidence is gone. This race is going to be a disaster. One lesson I learned from my Webster race is that unrealistic pre-race expectations coupled with bad psychology during a race will hamper performance. Well, I’m pretty sure that these negative pre-race thoughts aren’t going to be good for me either. It’s time to talk to my sports psychologist, Phil.
“I’m worried about the race.”“Why? What’s wrong?”“I don’t think I’m going to do well. I’m disappointed. I’d had high hopes, particularly after doing well at Danskin.”“Do you think the other competitors are going to be better or worse than what you’re used to?”“Oh, much better! At the very least, everyone will have done some sprints. Some, maybe most, will have done other Olympics. This will be a much more competitive group”“And what do you want to get out of this?”“I want to complete this distance. And I want to have fun.”“Do you think worrying about how fast you can be will make it fun?”“Hardly.”“It’s your first race at this distance. Just use this as a base time. When I do a new distance, I almost don’t want to do so well so that I have a time I can beat.”I nod, feeling much relieved, and smile fondly at my psychologist.It is race day. As I’m getting marked with my number, a Greek God steps to the next marking person a foot away from me, and whips off his shirt. My knees nearly buckle. There are so many reasons I love this sport and extremely buff, handsome men disrobing next to me is one of them. I contain myself and walk towards a table laden with bug spray and apply liberally. Two days after my practice ride, the Boston Globe reported that two people have been stricken with Eastern Equine Encephalitis. One is from Lakeville, the other Acushnet. The newspaper article was horrifying. Although there is a vaccine for horses, there is none for humans. Well, thank goodness the horses are safe. And there is no treatment. Human symptoms were listed on the CDC web site as coma and death. Excuse me, but I don’t exactly consider those to be symptoms. A third of the victims die and half of the survivors have permanent neurological damage. EEE is spread by mosquitoes. They consider me a taste treat. No doubt they are looking for me today. I assure my nurse practitioner, Phil, before the race that I will keep moving so the nasty insects will not catch me. It is oddly chilly for late August in New England. I put my wetsuit on early just to get warm. The lake glows pink with the sunrise, steam rising, water still. One small tree has red leaves, turning early. My feet are cold as I wait for my wave to start. When we’re allowed to enter the water, my feet finally warm up. Talking to a buddy just prior to the start, I don’t really get myself properly placed, but I’m not sure I could have. The course is U-shaped, as many are, but there isn’t room to spread out. If I go too far right, I’ll hit shore. It is a long, narrow, fighting swim.
I’m getting and giving heavy body action for at least a half mile before the first turn. I figure the good news is that I must be staying with the pack if I’m getting thrashed about so much. The bad news is I’m swallowing a lot of water and using up more energy than usual. Things get better after the first turn, but then I fall into my other issue of not sighting very well when not in a pack and having to correct my course too often. It is a long, long swim. How long, I don’t really know. The website said 0.8 miles. The t-shirt says 0.9. With my course corrections, let’s just call it an even mile, which is my longest ever non-stop open water swim. I’m very happy to get out of the water.I aim for a steady pace on the bike. I figure it will take me about 90 minutes. I don’t do anything quickly for 90 minutes, and this will be no exception. I’m getting passed, but am also passing people. I am amazed at the number of high end bikes I see, including time trial bicycles, but I’m very pleased with my road bike. It sees me through. After a rough patch of road, I see a hapless cyclist at the side calling out to a friend, “It’s my second flat; I’m done.” As the ride goes on, I am proud that each person who passes took that long to catch me. I’m getting a little tired and trying to save something for the run. I’m vastly relieved when the bike course joins the run course. I have two miles left. I gingerly start the run, having no idea what to expect from my legs. They aren’t overjoyed but they don’t feel too bad either. I slip into my steady pace where I’m passed by some and pass others. As I pass one woman she says, “You have such a nice rhythm.” I appreciate her encouraging words. As I approach a house, a dog barks hysterically, protecting his homestead. He rushes to the other side of the house to continue his barking frenzy. He sounds hoarse. Based on the wave I’m in, at least 300 other runners have already passed this poor beast. I’m running along a cranberry bog; up ahead is a line of runners who have just turned left; beyond them is a green field with trees lining the horizon.
It is so beautiful I just want to stop and stare. I admire the plants along the side of the road. On my long runs, I have found it pleasantly distracting to get immersed in the flora and it works on this run too. I feel like I can run forever—not fast, but forever. And then the knee pain starts. Well, this is something new, and not particularly pleasant. But I only have a half mile to go. I can tell it’s not an acute injury, so I’m not going to stop. I am so very happy to see the men at the end of the driveway leading to the finish. I manage a slight sprint. After I cross the finish line and grab a drink a woman comes up to me and says, “Thank you! You pulled me through the run. I kept with your pace” Glad to oblige. To my vast surprise, in terms of placement, the run is my best event. Even more surprising, my 10K time is only a couple seconds off the time I ran in my only other 10K in April. This Olympic was double the distance of the Danskin sprint that I clocked at 1:30. I am very pleased to come in at 3:07, mid-point for my age group. A fine feature of this tri is the post-race barbecue. I find myself in line with a woman who I had cycled with in the breakaway group two weeks prior. We fill our plates and find a picnic table where we are joined by a lone racer. We analyze important race components:“I like racing with men.”“Yeah, I like looking at their calves.”“Calves? I like their butts.”“I really don’t mind being passed by a guy. Something to watch.”