The smile just wouldn’t leave my face. For a brief moment I had flashes of Chrissie Wellington, the three-time defending Ironman Champion who always seems to be wearing an infectious smile during the most grueling parts of her races.
Of course, I wasn’t leading the race or setting course records like Chrissie. But I was having fun. Lots of fun. The flip turns in my stomach left after we crossed the boarder into Canada for the Welland Triathlon. And hence began one of the best races I’ve had.
Mark (still without a nickname for his support role on race day, but a plight he’s actually happy with) and I decided to leave a bit early since we were unsure how the boarder crossing would be with the G20 Summit in Toronto. A rather quick crossing allowed us to be one of the first athletes to arrive at the Welland Arena. We walked the grounds to see the setup and got a look at the canal. Flat. Flatter than flat. Was there even a current in there? It could not have a more beautiful sight.
The early arrival allowed me to prepare at a leisurely pace. I had a prerace snack and wandered down to the swim start to put on my wet suit and loosen up with a few strokes. This time, the buoys didn’t look that intimidating to me. The distance didn’t look daunting. My heart didn’t begin palpitations at the sign of the big orange inflatable circles in the water.
I broke into my first smile of the day.
The swim was a time trial start meaning each athlete went off in intervals of five seconds while in the water. We lined up according to our bib numbers, which were arranged primarily based on age. The women around me (who would be the majority of women in my age group) were friendly and chatty. The woman behind me was talking to someone else who seemed to be doing her first tri.
“I like to start the swim slow, like I’m out for a leisurely swim,” she said. “It lets me get comfortable and keeps my breathing normal.”
The lightbulb that went off over my head was probably pretty bright at this point. Ah yes, we discussed, at the swim start we often get caught up in the “race” and then we go too fast, or get too excited or nervous or wrapped up, and then we’re gasping for air and can’t breathe. Welcome hyperventilation which is not easy to cure in the water. Instead, go ahead and take the first part easy. We can always swim faster later.
Dear woman who was Bib 130: Thank you. You may have helped changed my outlook for the swim forever.
The time trial start was interesting. As the line moved forward, I entered the water with about 10 athletes in front of me. But the count off was quick and I was hustling to float over to the “starting line” for my “129 … GO!” command. I did three breaststrokes and started swimming but needed to pull back into a breaststroke. Relax your breathing, I thought. This is a beautiful swim. A few more breaststrokes and off I went.
The time trial start is an extremely civilized way to begin a triathlon. I still got hit. Someone on the first leg really liked to keep hitting my feet. I kicked furiously. I was passed a lot. No surprise there. But I kept swimming and felt as if I was gaining strength. My line was pretty accurate. My rhythm not too bad and before I knew it, I was being help up onto shore by a volunteer.
That swim felt amazing. Time? I had no idea. But I know it felt great. And that was all that mattered.
Officially we had a “run up” time and “T1” time since the run from the swim exit (where there was timing mat for our swim time) to transition (where there was another timing mat) was 425 meters. (Or 430 or 450 depending upon who you asked or what piece of literature you read). That 425 meters was cruel. The last part was on gravel, so I brought a pair of $3 bright orange flip flops to protect my feet. It was not as bad as, say, 70.3 Muskoka where one had to run up two hills over 400 meters to transition. Still, it was the cruelest part of the day, which I gladly told anyone in earshot, though I was smiling when I said it.
Out of the wetsuit and onto the bike with relative ease.
Readers of my blog know how I feel about my bike. And if there was even the slightest chance that I could grow to love my bike, love the cycling leg, even more than I already do, it happened during this 30K. This was one flat course and immediately I went out strong. Immediately I started passing people, some who offered smiles, some who stayed rather focused. It was all good.
While I’m not a great cyclist per se, it was difficult to keep in line with the triathlon rules on the road. The roads were in great condition and well marshaled but they were also rather narrow making passing difficult, blocking a problem and drafting inevitable. I did my best to stay back out of the draft zone and pass quickly and with care. There was a group of five of us who ended up around each other for the majority of the first 15K — three women and two men. We took turns passing each other as one got a surge then another. But the guys seemed to be peeved when passed by one of us women. During the bike portion of a non-drafting triathlon, if you are being passed you have a responsibility to drop back. Ah, but these guys tried to speed up to prevent being passed. By a girl. Oh the horror.
But that was more entertaining than frustrating, and frankly a bit motivating. With 10K to go I kicked into high gear and hammered home on the bike. I never felt so strong as I did during this 30K. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much as I did on that bike ride, either.
Ever think that you need to practice running in your cleats? The thought came to my mind, but the second transition was rather uneventful.
I had attempted to set up my fancy Garmin watch to a “mutlisport” setting which in theory would let me track my bike, then my transition, then my run. But it never seemed to transition to the proper “run” setting. Oh well. Screw it. I’ll just run hard.
The course was out and back and for the most part flat. But as soon as you found your groove, oops, there’s a bit of an incline. It wasn’t a hilly run by proper definition, but neither was it flat. I thought about my cadence. Thought about my pace. Thought about my breathing and thought about running hard on the way back.
Midway through the run I crossed paths with my friend Ryan, who was doing his first triathlon (see triumphant picture at left). We exchanged a low-five as we ran by each other, though Ryan put a bit more umph in his swing and for the next kilometer I laughed at how he nearly took my arm off.
At a certain point in an out-and-back run comes the question “where the heck is the turnaround?!?” although in my head there are many more expletives deleted associated with the question. Eventually it came and I knew I was close to home.
The cloud cover was welcomed but the humidity had started to affect me early in the run. On the return, I stopped for 15 seconds to grab a water, rinse my mouth out and pour it over my hands, which started to feel sticky and a bit swollen from the weather.
In the final two kilometers I was passed a few times, but that was fine with me. I was working hard and from what I could tell, running strong enough to finish with sub-10-minute miles which, in my book, was pretty good. Especially after I pounded hard on the bike.
My final time was 2:04:57. Details of my times (and how I hit nearly every “time goal”) can be found on yesterday’s post.
But more importantly than my time, or the fact that I finished fifth out of 17 in my age group for what I believe is my best finish ever, is the way I felt about the race. I went in it for fun. I trusted my training. I knew what I was capable of, and I went for my best.
And that is what in the end feels absurdly wonderful.