For weeks, I had been training faithfully (95% of the time) and telling everyone I knew that I was doing a triathlon so that if I was tempted to chicken out, the pressure of the number of people that would be saying "what happened?" would be too great and I would have to press on. I also had the added pressure of doing it with my sister and brother-in-law, seasoned triathletes who would be waiting at the finish line (for about an hour, probably...).
Before training for the Hyannis Sprint I, I had not swum a lap in almost 20 years (yikes!) and had only ever ridden a bike to get from point A to point B. Running was also fairly new to me, though I completed a 1/2 marathon last October (barely...averaging about a 12-min. mile). I am an Athena (and not because of muscle weight) and have never been much of an athlete, but I am doing this to get myself in shape and keep me motivated. Some would say there are easier ways to get in shape, and they are probably right. My first worry was being able to squeeze into a wetsuit by race day. Drowning, falling, collapsing, cramping up...those worries came later.
By the week before the race, I felt good about the swim and run, but was a bit shaky about the bike. My bike was a hybrid, heavy, and with limited gears. I saw no reason to upgrade until I figured out whether this was a one shot deal or I might continue the craziness and train yet again.
With a race start scheduled at 7am and a 70-mile drive to the starting line, I got a hotel room (and convinced my sis and bro-in-law to join me -- though when I mentioned the hotel room, my bro-in-law scoffed and said "rookie" with a smile before agreeing it was a better idea that trying to get our over-35 year old bodies out of bed at 3 a.m. on race day).
I packed up my car, double and triple-checking my equipment, and drove to Cape Cod, arriving in time to register Friday night so I could really be prepped and ready on race morning. A few hours later, my comrades arrived and we talked a bit about race morning, contemplated grabbing a beer (but thought better of it), and headed to bed early so we could be up at 5 and off to the beach.
I was psyched on race morning. I ate a breakfast bar to get some calories in me, drank some water, put on my racing clothes, and the three of us were off. A quick stop for coffee and then we joined the traffic to the parking for the start. As I saw the sea of bikes and cars and wetsuits (the Elites were already warming up in the water) I got a bit nervous, and reiterated my ultimate goal to myself -- finish standing upright. The three of us unloaded our gear and headed for the transition area to rack our bikes and prep our areas.
I was in a different aisle from my sister and bro-in-law, but they were within sight, which was comforting. I racked my bike, carefully laid out all my gear for the transitions, and headed up to get body marked. That was when it really hit me that I was doing this. Seeing the telltale black marker on my left arm was like getting branded a triathlete. There was no going back.
I put my wetsuit on (carefully...slowly...pull...yank...wriggle...pull...squirm...tug...) and started to get butterflies. I talked to my sister a bit, then realized I racked my bike in the wrong spot -- yikes! No one else noticed, and luckily, I was with a bunch of other first timers near my rack, so no one gave me the evil eye. I squeezed into my proper rack, and re-arranged all my stuff, tried to help a fellow newbie find his misplaced swim cap, then headed to the beach. Boy, those waves looked choppy and the sky was dark with clouds (we had been doing the anti-rain dance all morning...)!
I watched as the Elites went, then wave 2, wave 3, wave 4. “Uh-oh, I'm in wave 6, better get ready!” I got in line with the rest of my wave and looked around at all of us in our black rubber and white caps about to jump into the ocean...what was I thinking??? “I can't do this,” I thought. “I've never swum in an ocean before...I hate the ocean...what am I doing??? Will there be sharks?” The siren went off, and in I went. Cold salt water hits my face, I swallowed some, coming up coughing. I soon realized that there was no way I could swim the way I trained, and I just tried to make some forward progress. I was flailing, paddling, breast stroking, kicking—anything to try and move forward. I got hit a few times by other flailers, and someone grabbed my ankle. I felt as if I haven't gone anywhere, and was seriously contemplating letting the current wash me back to shore.
Later, I heard my sister had whispered to her husband, "You should give her some swimming lessons." I'm sure they were really just hoping they wouldn't have to jump in and rescue me since their wave was starting in a few minutes. Just as I was about to give up, I looked up and saw the first buoy -- I HAD made progress!! Hooray! I turned the corner around that first buoy, and then I wasn't fighting the current and could actually try and swim...
I made it out of the water in about 11 minutes. Given my struggle to swim and the gallon of salt water I swallowed, I was elated... and exhausted. How was I ever going to make it through the bike and run? I rinsed my feet and grabbed my flip-flops (which were being guarded by a nice race volunteer near the water table) and ran to my bike. I peeled off my wetsuit and tried to dry off the best I could. I took a bite of an energy bar, and as I struggled to put my wet feet into my bike shoes, I watched my brother-in-law get to his bike, transition and ride off. Ok, now I was humbled. I finally got on my shoes, and I clamored for the bike mount area and took off. I saw my sister running out of the water as I rode by.
The bike. My nemesis. My white whale. I started off okay, feeling pretty strong. Then the first hill (ok, not really much of a hill, but on my bike, with my weak legs, it felt like Everest). I wore out my muscles and thought that as long as that was the worst hill, I might make it, but predicted I would never be able to hit my goal. I continued to plod along as biker after biker passed me. I was feeling completely inferior, a bit like Pee-Wee Herman, but knew that it was my first step, and knew that if I could just finish the bike, the run would be ok.
More and more people passed me, more and more hills slowed me down, and I felt my legs start to want to give out. My sister came up behind me -- thank goodness, a friendly face and some encouragement. We had agreed not to try and pace each other on any leg, but I welcomed the company on the bike. After five or ten minutes she broke off, but I was renewed. I continued on, and just pushed and pushed until I could tell we were getting close to the beach. Finally, the beach was in sight and I could get off this big clunker and on my two legs.
T2 was pretty quick -- only about 2 minutes to get off the bike, change into socks and running shoes, and get on the road. I had to go the bathroom, but no way was I going to stop now. It took a while to get my legs under me -- thank goodness for bricks, so I was prepared for the wacky way my legs felt for the first quarter-mile. I saw my brother-in-law pass me about 50 yards from the finish -- I knew he would have a while to wait for me to loop back around. I finally got in the groove of the run, though I knew I was slower than the pace I had hoped for. When I felt strong, I increased my pace, and tried to just keep running. I passed a few people…okay, one was taking a pit stop in the bushes, but still...
With each mile marker, I felt more overwhelmed with the prospect that I was actually going to finish my first triathlon. Locals along the race route were encouraging, and as I got closer to the finish, the racers who had already packed up their transition areas were yelling words of encouragement, which kept me feeling strong. I knew I was bringing up the rear of the field, but was on my way to the end. I saw my sister and brother-in-law at the turn into the finish line, waiting for me and cheering me on. I felt great -- only a few yards to go -- and then hit sand for the last ten feet -- arrrrggghhh.... just....keep...running....and then I hit the mat, heard the beep and knew I had done it!! I was still coughing up saltwater, my legs were still burning, my feet were killing me, I had to go the bathroom, and I was cramping in about ten places. There was sand in awkward places, I was wet from sweat and ocean water, and I was starving. All I wanted was a hot shower, a good meal, and a cold beer. Would I do it again? My next one's in five weeks.