The Distance: 600 meter swim. 18 mile bike. A 5k run. The race, Iron Girl Syracuse. Experience...amazing.
The day before. Starting out calm, but feeling my nerves increase like the tide coming in. My sister-in-law, God bless her, drove up with her youngest (15 years old) to cheer me on. We went to the expo, there I picked up my race packet and completed the check-in process. We got there early and the line was already snaking all around the lobby.
Check In: I met another woman I knew somewhat from work. We struck up a conversation and connected in shared nerves, excitement and anticipation. I've met and made so many new friends on this journey. It was inspiring, seeing the variety of women at the expo. From the ultra fit, to the becoming-fit, to the in-between, from the teen to the seniors - all were represented. Amazing!
The Expo: I made a bee-line to get my race shirt. Its so pretty! I was in heaven with all the fun sample tables. I admit it, I'm a sample junkie...and there were so many good ones! My favorites were the free Soft Lips lip balm, the green tea bags and the fabulous draw-string bag from Bodycology. Oh, and I can say that the Chocolate Peppermint Stick Luna bar is delicious! I bought my husband a souvenir t-shirt that reads "My Wife Is An Iron Girl" and an Iron Girl race belt, to snap my race bib onto. On our way out of the expo, I ran into my tri coach and got some last-minute encouragement and motivation. She rocks.
Racking My Bike: My sister-in-law and I went over to Oneida Shores to check in and rack my bike. I was one of the first ones there and my bike looked so lonely! I took a moment to look around the transition area, note where my bike was from both the entrance and the exit.
A Very Nervous Day: I spent the remainder of the day dealing with an increasing and almost overwhelming case of nerves. I found myself fantasizing about contracting a sudden illness, straining something critically important in completing a triathlon or even just freaking out and backing out from pure fear.
Bedtime: 10:00 p.m. with a 4:00 a.m. wake up. I managed to fall asleep by 10:30, woke up at 11:00 - went back to sleep and was up for the remainder of the night at 1:30 a.m. I lay in bed for almost two hours util I gave up and took a hot bath in an attempt to ease the pain in my stomach and my jangly nerves. I tried to read my book, but it was useless, I couldn't focus and got out of the bath.
I forced a banana down and returned to my bed, dressed in my tri clothes. I lay there, with my heating pad on my belly, util 4:15 am. My husband sleepily kept me company in the kitchen as he prepared my Iron Girl breakfast (which sounds like it should be of lumberjack proportions). Instead, I tried gamely to eat a single piece of wheat toast, with the tiniest smear of peanut butter. Yawning, my husband walked me out to my car and loaded my gear (minus my bike, which I racked the day before). Toast in hand, I kissed him good-bye. He told me he loved me, knew I could do this and would be there to cheer me on in a few short hours time.
The Drive: Halfway to the tri site, I tossed my toast out the window, half uneaten. Then I panicked that I brought two left/right running sneakers (my old pair are identical in style to my current pair), so I had to pull over to double-check. I also sincerely prayed that I'd hit a deer. I figured that would be the best excuse for missing the tri...how horrible is that?!? About this time I noticed I wasn't the only one headed in the same direction. I wasn't alone. I arrived at the park, showed my pink participant wristband and drove through the gate. This was it...no turning back now. Thankfully, the weather that day was about as perfect as you could ask for. Mid 70's, clear skies, no humidity and no chop on the water. Perfect.
Transition Opens: It was still pitch black when I arrived. The semi-wooded parking lot was illuminated by high intensity lights. It gave an almost surreal aspect to the surroundings. Large moving trucks were neatly parked in a line in the very first row. Event organizers were moving quickly around in an expert way, putting together the final touches. I grabbed my gear and walked alone through the damp morning air toward the transition area. It wasn't even 5:30 a.m. and already there was a gray-bearded man holding his sign for his own Iron Girl. How lovely!
As I entered the transition area, I got body marked - my number (601) on the front of both thighs, the sides of my arms and my age on the back of my right calf. Wow! How I wish I had thought to grab some stranger to photograph it for me. It was, for me, pretty intense. It made it so real...I was doing this! A triathlon! I continued on through, toward my bike. There I set up my transition area as my coach showed us (and as I obsessively read about). While looking over my setup, I heard a woman to my right remark "Look at her set up. She looks like she knows what she's doing." Really? Me? LOVED IT! I found other friends who were doing the tri as well - we laughed, calmed each others nerves and double checked our bikes and helped each other wrestle into wetsuits.
Transition closes: Time to head down to the beach to wait for our wave's start (I was in the third wave at 7:15). We clustered in groups of friends, walked out into the water and discussed the swim route. Some warmed up with a quick swim and some stretched. All the different age groups mingled, waiting for the time until the first group was called down to begin the swim. Friends not in the tri found their way onto the beach to meet us, hug and cheer us on. So fast that first wave was called up. I began nervously adjusting and readjusting my swim cap and goggles. A friend and I stayed by each other, as promised, to enter the water together.
The 3rd Wave (Swim, 600 meters. Time, 12 minutes/40 seconds): Finally, but all too quickly, our wave was called. I found myself running into the water with everyone else - adrenaline pumping, nerves jangling...but most of all, feeling EXCITED. My friend and I stayed to the far left, as we knew many women would start swimming before we did. Finally, it was time to stop walking. My friend and I wished each other good luck and begin to swim. A few strokes in I had an initial moment of nerves. Not panic, exactly, just a moment where I needed to stop swimming and regroup. I swam with my head up for a few moments. I remember looking around me, so many women in the water!
I began to swim again and was delighted to find that, as nervous and scared as I was, I was able to maintain a steady rhythm in my freestyle and in my breathing. I only breath to the right, try as I might, as I have not gotten the hang of bilateral breathing. In the pool, I would breath every other time my right hand came out of the water. In the open water, it was every time my right hand came out - I found that I stayed calmer this way and didn't wind up taking that frantic "HEEEP!!!" of gulped air.
I could not believe how fast I got to the first buoy. I only experienced a bit of jostling, but a few times I found myself catching up to swimmers ahead of me. I managed to either swim through them, or look up enough to get my bearings and swim around them. I sighted off of swimmers ahead of me. I followed bubbles, parallel bodies and feet. It was odd, but I found myself actually noting how beautiful our bodies looked under the water...the green light and grace of motion. Two, maybe three times, I found I could touch bottom and took a quick moment to rest and catch a glimpse of what was going on around me. I didn't want to miss a moment, as nervous as I was. It wasn't about setting a fast time, my only goal was to get through the swim and have it be a positive experience.
Sooner than I expected, I was able to stand up. Smiling, I waded clumsily toward the beach. I started to unzip my wetsuit and ran the last few feet out of the water and onto the beach. I saw my friend Maria, who lent me the wetsuit. I waved excitedly at her and she cheered as she recognized me. Then, I could hear my family and finally could see them. I ran toward them and touched each of their hands as I ran past. They got it on video, you can see my ear-to-ear grin. Wow was that run hard! It was a pretty good hoof to the transition area (to me at least, LOL) and my legs were wobbly.
T1 (5:03): I arrived at my bike and saw that my lovingly arranged transition area was a bit of a mess. Nothing major to worry about, since I didn't have a lot to transition out of/into. Still, my T1 was not the speediest! Getting out of my wetsuit was easy, as it zipped all the way down both legs. But I was too worried about just dumping it on the ground (as I borrowed it from a friend) and tried to place it so it wouldn't get trampled. I fought getting into my knee sock (patellar tendonitis, right knee) - very hard to do, no matter how well you towel off. I also should have loosened my laces on my sneakers even more. My balance was off and I kept staggering, getting my sneakers on. Oh, I also had to stop and go back for my water, which I had forgotten to put in my bike's bottle holder. Lesson's learned!
The Bike (18 miles. Time, 1 hour/16 minutes/17 seconds): I ran/walked my bike out of transition, hopped on and rode out of the park. This, to me, was the easiest part of the triathlon (although, my swim was my best time...wow!). I made sure I said, "Thank you!" to every group of people cheering us on, to every police officer at an intersection. I've been a race volunteer a few times now and I was grateful for all of them. I cracked jokes with passers-by and other riders. When I stopped and pulled off to the side to take a drink, one rider actually came to stop to see if I was ok. I said, "Go! I'm fine! I just can't drink and drive!" This wasn't a rarity as I witnessed many times riders showing concern and encouragement toward other participants. It was wonderful to see. The route was through some very scenic countryside. Many people were out along the road to cheer on their loved ones and the rest of the participants. Handmade signs were placed in yards or chalked onto the road. My favorite was on a gradual hill, that read "Go! Go! Go!" The sun was shining, the air was mild and it was simply a beautiful day to ride a bike.
T2 (1:51): Before I knew it I was heading back into the park. A wonderful little side note, a member of the YMCA I work at was a volunteer at the bike/run transition. She was also a volunteer at my first 5k almost a year ago today. It was so wonderful to share that quick moment with her! In all, my ride time was just around an hour and 15 minutes. I got off my bike and began dealing with the dreaded tree trunk legs. I literally felt like I was growing roots into the ground, what an effort to move them normally! I walked/ran my bike, to the best of my ability, back into the transition area. I swapped my bike helmet for my running hat, snapped on my race numbers and grabbed my larger water bottle for the run.
The Run (5k. Time, 46 minutes/30 seconds): As much as I would have like to run like a deer out of transition, it was more of a tortoise-like shuffle. I looked at my watch and walked as fast as I could for the first five minutes of my run. The remainder of the first mile I mostly walked, but started increasing the times that I ran. I had a nice chat with an incredibly enthusiastic woman wearing a sparkly tiara. I wish I remembered her name - she shouted words of encouragement to all the runners. We cheered for everyone and thanked each and every race volunteer that we passed. Her joy was infectious. Finally, at the mile one marker, my legs felt somewhat normal and I began to run. However, because my knee was getting sore and my right foot was starting to drag, I kept my run verrrrrrry slow. Only two or three times, did I stop to walk for a few seconds. I waved and cheered everyone I knew - many were already past the 1.5 mile turn around. I especially cheered women like me - bringing up the rear (hey, somebody has to be the caboose!). As tired as I was, I was able to enjoy the scenery and soak in the experience. The only downside to all of this was that...I REALLY had to pee! One woman even dashed into a stand of bushes to answer nature's call. Me, I was too leery of poison ivy to consider that option.
The Finish Line: Finally, I could see the finish line - that beautiful inflatable white arch. I could hear the announcer saying the names of the runners ahead of me. I started scanning the crowed along the fence for my family. I heard them before I saw them - to heck with time, I angled toward them and gave them all high fives. I heard the announcer say my name and before I knew it I was across and standing on the blue matt, having my timing chip taken off. I saw that another friend of mine was handing out the finisher medals. As I turned toward her, she caught me in a great big bear hug and told me how proud she was of me. What an amazing feeling!! I was handed an icy cold sponge (with the Aflac duck on it, cute!) and a bottle of water - which I took one sip of and dumped the rest down my shirt. Aaaaaaah.
Rounding the corner, I found my family waiting for me. My husband, kids, sister-in-law and her nephew all surrounded me with hugs, excited recaps of my day and lots of "I knew you could do it! I'm so proud of you!" I was tired and ecstatic. Friends found me and caught me up in more rib-crunching hugs. I caught up with others and we went over the details of our experiences. I was smelly, hungry and very happy. I wanted to take a bath, a nap and spend the rest of my day reliving a simply mind-blowing experience. I can't wait to do it again!