They say that triathlons are not won in the swim but they can be lost there. Saturday, after my first sprint triathlon, I would have said that I lost my race in the swim.Two days later, I realize it is where I actually won. I am claustrophobic. I am claustrophobic in much clothing. Enter into the equation a tight, form fitting, high necked neoprene wetsuit. You do the math…Saturday’s race was at 4 pm. My husband Alex and I spend the day drinking water, eating bread, hummus, fruit and vegetables. Then he shaves his legs-he’d be happy to tell you about that. We then head up to Huntsville about 12:45pm and get there within the hour. We register, sign our waivers, get our t-shirts, get marked, and get bored. Lisa Bentley, Simon Whitfield, all the biggies are there signing autographs, but we just want to get racing.The SwimWe board the train to the beach, wetsuits in hand, spirits high. At the beach we struggle into our suits (hard to do when hot and sweaty) and go for a warm-up swim. Some adjustments are made to the suits, and spirits are still high. Alex is in the second wave, I am in the third. He starts off and I move to a rear spot so as to give myself as much space as possible. The horn sounds and we are off. Many triathletes, Alex included, are nervous about the close proximity of other swimmers in a wave start. I’m not; it’s kinda cozy, and I feel that we are all in it together. It is once we all spread out that I suddenly feel that I am alone in the middle of Fairy Lake, wetsuit slowly but steadily creeping up my throat to strangle me, conspiring to keep my arms from moving. Panic sets in. It isn’t pretty. I’m not pretty.I swim over to the nearest kayak, say hello, comment that, "Hey! I’m okay, just panicking." They staff these kayaks with the best looking, most positive young people in the world. I check out my heart-rate – in training I hit about 132, add in race day excitement and I was hoping for 142. I was hitting 157 – hanging off of a kayak! The positive young man is telling me I’m doing great, just take deep breaths and I’ll be fine. I hear the horn for the last wave – white swim caps, over-45 year olds. They are fierce. I fear them. I must be going!Second kayak is probably 100 meters away. I get there on my back. Another fresh-faced positive young person-woman this time. Something for everybody I guess. Same story, same attempt to bring emotions and heart rate under control. Same success but this time I loosen my neck Velcro to see if that helps.Third kayak, can’t remember the gender, but still positive. I’m ready to rip several hundred dollars of wetsuit off my body. I fantasize about its trip to the bottom of Fairy Lake. Won’t be needing it again, this is my last triathlon.I HATE FAIRY LAKE.With wetsuit half un-zipped down my back, I swim by sighting from dock to dock. Fairy Lake is actually more of a river at this point, and I’m really not that far from shore. At each dock I promise myself that I can flip over on my back if I’m too panicked. Somehow I get to the next buoy. The last buoy is in sight and the only thing driving me on now is the need to get out of my suit. I don’t know where my heart rate is, but I’m probably going to explode.I stroke, exhale, belly button to imaginary side wall, stoke, belly button to other imaginary side wall, breathe in, stroke, exhale…I climb up the beach, strip the Ironman® suit to my waist, sit down on the first available grass and get the rest off.
Time: 28 minutes750 meters in the pool, 16 minutes, Race Goal: 20 minutes.Race isn’t going so well.Transition 1Sunglasses on, helmet on, socks on, bike shoes on and water drank. Gels are loaded in back pocket. Why am I doing this? This is not triathlon. There are no warm smiles, no encouraging words. No hugs. It’s lonely.The BikeOff onto the bike. The hill out of the transition area is easily won. I get set-up on a flat and have a gel and some Gatorade®. It’s a pretty ride, hilly but easily done…except after that swim. All is well until I start thinking about the swim. Check the heart-rate – yup still in the high 150's. That doesn’t leave much room for powering up a hill. Still worried about exploding.I see the fancy boys and girls aero-ing down a hill. Alex is with them. He yells to me that he’s forgotten his timing chip. I worry that he’s worried. Heart-rate is still jacked. The hills get tougher. I see a 17 year old (our ages are marked on our calves) walking up a tough one so I decide to embrace the spirit of triathlon and walk a bit with her. She looks dejected. She’s from my home town and this is a school project. Tough school. We talk a bit but she hasn’t caught the spirit of triathlon and I’m off. As I near the 10k turnaround, a woman on the better side of it yells to me that I have only 1k to go. She smiles, I smile, I wish we had time for a hug.At the 10k turnaround the woman in front of me can’t make the turn, can’t get out of her pedals and ends up in the ditch. She’s okay, just muddy. We tell each other that we look great. She’s riding a Cervelo Soloist Carbon. Here’s the bike math: 1 Cervelo = 2 Giant TCRs (my bike)2 Cervelos = redoing my bathroom, albeit modestly.I’m heading back and, as promised on a spectator’s sign, it IS easier on the return. Alex whizzes by on the other side–he yells that he went back for his chip. I have a non-flattering thought about my husband’s intelligence.Transition 2 and the RunBack in transition, it’s off with the bike shoes, on with the runners-and finally now I feel competent! I feel I can run, I feel fast, I feel strong. At the first turnaround Alex catches up to me so we decide we can run together and I join him.Alex is not fast, Alex is not strong. Alex is questioning why he went back at 6k to get his chip. He’s ridden 32k, hard. And he’s tired.We run/walk the route, through the water station with the hose turned on to spray for us, and up the big hill. Volunteers are packing up; finishers are passing on the way to their cars. No one is monitoring the turnaround on our second pass. No one is there to keep us honest. We could quit and no one would care but we keep going.
Heat, and probably smog have reduced me to shallow breathing. I seriously contemplate needing to visit the medical tent. We keep going. Second time through the water, second time up the hill. From the finishing line chute we hear “Smoke on the Water”. At least we’ve got that going for us. I do a bad air guitar as we jog. We run in together, receive high fives from a volunteer, low fives from her little girl. Our race is over and we’ve won!