After my experiences with the Dirty Girl run on Saturday, my racing weekend continued in Canandaigua, N.Y. at the Finger Lakes Triathlon. Energized from the obstacle run with old and new friends, I headed east with my friend Hitch for our triathlon adventure. Hitch wasn’t racing — he was playing the role of spectator and cheerleader, something completely different for him. I was doing the sprint triathlon with no specific training. I was racing solely on my fitness with zero expectations. Never was I so calm before a race. At times, I felt unprepared, but mostly I felt relaxed. Because really, who cared? I was undertaking this triathlon and this crazy weekend because this was stuff I love to do.
Saturday night was spent with my friend Mary, who would be racing her first intermediate distance triathlon on Sunday. Dinner with an extended support crew of family and friends was one of the most enjoyable pre-race evenings I’ve had. Then again, I was entering the race with no expectations. No goals. No pressure. Oh, I had race morning nerves. Of course I did. But I was able to easily divert my attention, to change my focus and direct my thoughts to fun.
As far as the actual race, the swim was challenging. Morning winds created some small yet choppy waves which smacked me in the face on the swim out to the buoys. I struggled to find a rhythm. But then, the same waves which smacked me in the face on the way out pushed me gently back to shore on my return. Overall, not so bad. The run to transition, however, was worse than the waves. It was long and winding along gravel and uneven pavement. It hurt my feet and I did not care for this. But once on my bike, I was completely in my happy place. I found my groove and started passing people. Eventually I caught up to Mary and we cheered each other on. I seriously enjoyed that bike ride.
On to the run. I went out at a strong and steady pace, content to run hard but not all out. This was fun. I passed people in my age group on the run. Wait. Let me repeat that: I passed people in my age group on the run. This rarely happens to me. (And by rarely I mean never.) I felt good. I felt strong. I was happy.
About halfway through the run, I caught up with a girl who was huffing and puffing. She was a 20-year old doing the sprint (so indicated the body marking on the back of her legs) and wearing a Wegmans team jersey. She had a slightly pained look on her face and I offered encouragement. I could have passed her and finished about a minute or two ahead, but I was content with the pace and felt a kinship with this young woman. I found out this was her first triathlon. She just started working at Wegmans which is how she ended up at this triathlon. (Wegmans, a grocery store chain, is a major sponsor and has a large team of employees participate.) She goes to school at St. John Fisher College in Rochester. I checked in to make sure my talking and asking questions wasn’t too annoying. Not all, she said. It helped distract her.
As we closed in on the finish, I tried to keep her spirits up. We ran passed my cheering section: Hitch and Mary’s family and I offered a hearty round of fist pumps in acknowledgement. We were 50 yards from the end when I told my new friend, “There’s your finish line. Go get it.” She took off and I let her have her moment, at ease, for the first time, to not chase someone down in the finisher’s chute. I never got her name, but I was able to high-five her at the end. Good job, Wegmans girl. Hopefully I helped you a bit. In return, you made my run quite enjoyable.
I was able to see Mary cross the finish line. I was with her for three of her triathlons this year, her first summer in the sport, and it was a privilege to be part of that. Mary has become a good friend and her attitude toward life, her willingness to dive in, give things a try and laugh at herself along the way, has helped inspire me to train and race from a place of joy rather than performance.
In the end, my weekend analysis comes down to this: I am exactly where I want to be. Sure, I have lots to improve in my swim stroke and would love to get more powerful on the bike and faster on the run. And while I have races which serve as milestones for a season, they merely frame my training to make it more interesting. The real personal best comes from putting myself in a position to able to do these events, enjoy them and surround myself with positive, fun-loving people.