I tried. I really did. (I “tri’d” haha). For five weeks, I did my runs (easy, speed, tempo) at 4am, then cycled or swam later. On one Sunday, I did all three to see what it was like. Obviously, the swimming took place in a pool, which I now understand is the equivalent of splashing around in a bath tub as compared to the brutality of open water swimming. But some days called for no running, which made me feel slightly panicky. My mileage dropped from 40+ a week to mid 30s then the high 20s. Friends reassured me that all the cross training would help my running but in my head, I had trouble putting the two together. Knowing from experience I perform significantly better at higher mileage (+40 miles/week = good results, 39 miles or less = no bueno), I held my breath as those miles dropped. At least I knew how to get into my big chain.
The light bulb came on after Cedar City. Sure, the lackluster performance made me cringe, but it was how I felt at the end of that race that scared me the most. I refocused my attention on running completely. Not because I want a good time in Indy (I do, trust me), but more because I know the exquisite pain that is the last 10K of a marathon. If a half can hurt that badly, a full will eat me alive. There was no way I was going to sacrifice time on my feet for a sprint tri; I figured I had enough aerobic endurance to pull it off with just run training. I could wing the the other two sports on race day.
If you read yesterday’s entry, you are probably thinking how short-sighted my plan was. Well, let’s just say the bike was also a serious learning experience.
But that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to try on race day. On Tuesday, I called a last-minute Hail Mary and switched to clip-in pedals. The course was primarily uphill and clipping in gave me 50% more power to climb. The gain of additional momentum far outweighed the risk of falling over in the transition area. So I did it. With trepidation, fear, and a little bit of bluster. Because…why not?
Okay, plenty of practice.
On Saturday while snapping on my brand-new bike shoes, I seriously questioned this decision. Maybe I should have tried just a few more times to get that muscle memory working. I wasn’t concerned about the embarrassment or pain of falling; anyone who has ever attended boot camp with me will attest I fell once a quarter. No, I was concerned about injury; I didn’t want to bloody a knee or worse. I need two high-functioning legs and all of their adjoining parts for the marathon, just 14 days away. Race day worst case scenario: I never clip in and instead jog up the hill with Rainbow Brite tucked under my arm. It was only 12.2 miles…
I had to go for it. The Lord hates a coward.
It took three tries. Johnny, naturally, has video of all of this. On the first two attempts, I waver slightly before getting both feet on the ground safely. It looks awkward and unsightly. How it felt: .3 seconds of sheer terror. A nice volunteer patiently stood next to me, listening to me swear under my breath. Don’t let me pitch over, don’t let me pitch over…and then third time’s the charm. Both feet safely locked in. I took off.
Now, how do you stop?
I’ll figure that out later.
After twenty seconds of remaining upright, I began to contemplate the twelve miles ahead of me. I had no idea how to pace myself. My watch was set to running but had switched screens various times during the swim. It was on a screen I had never seen before. I could barely itch my nose on the bike, let alone play with my watch, so both hands remained firmly on the handlebars. I would just have to guess speed and distance.
I climbed out of Boulder Beach slowly and methodically. There was a tight 180-degree turn at the sprint turnaround and I wondered how to pull that one off. I pedaled and worried, pedaled and worried. Lynn’s voice echoed in my brain: keep cadence high; shift gears to adjust. Anticipate elevation. It’s like reading sheet music. I focused on hills, dropped gears, added gears. I decided to stay in my small chain the whole time; yes, I was being a baby but this was not a time for heroics.
After a few miles, I got a little antsy. This was...boring. I sped up, passing a few people. That was fun. Then it got boring again. I wondered briefly if I had somehow missed the sprint turnaround. Nope – it was directly ahead. Eek, okay, let’s turn around without falling off. Slowing my speed to barely a crawl, I turned the handlebars, grimaced, yet remained upright. First solid victory of the morning!
Now the path took us out of the recreation area and up the hill to Boulder City. In single file, we silently crawled up, like a trail of helmeted ants. I wasn’t working particularly hard; even without my heart rate monitor and a functioning Garmin, I knew I wasn’t using much effort. I wanted to go faster but wasn’t bold enough to pass others because of the narrow road. Plus, the Olympic distance folks were still on the course. Many of them zipped by in a flash, some so quickly I didn’t know they were there until they were next to me. Each one scared the hell out of me. The last thing I wanted was to cause a wreck so I stayed put. We climbed. Slowly.
Despacito…I sang in my head, attempting to entertain myself.
But I had no other choice. Is this the way cycling works?
There were no mile markers showing how far we’d gone which was downright maddening. the only hint of our location came at the aid station at mile 6 passing out *full-size* bottles of Gatorade. What?? Full-size bottles? That doesn’t happen at in a run. Yet those bottles contained a twinge of irony too - despite my burning thirst and the nasty taste of Lake Mead that lingered in the back of my throat, I couldn’t manage a quick sip of any liquid…because I couldn’t reach them. I had never practiced drinking and riding. Drinking and registering, yes. But water while cycling? Nope. The two bottles strapped to my bike held gloriously cool water and tasty cherry Nuun…but I couldn’t get to them. The thought of removing a hand from the handlebars filled me with such fear, it felt better to suffer extreme thirst then potentially crash.
It was as though I simply chosen to take my water bottles out for a nice ride. I hope they enjoyed themselves, because they reached T2 completely untouched.
I, on the other hand, was a hot mess. Not having had a drop of water in over an hour, my mouth felt like it was full of dry sand. My nose ran like a leaky faucet but I couldn’t get a hand up there to wipe it. So boogers plastered the sides of my face and my tongue tasted like paper.
Post-aid station, I must have asked three different people how much course was left. The climb was tedious, the wind annoying. Legs felt fine, but my lower back burned as though someone had stabbed it with hot pokers. My left elbow hurt. My right knee ached. When was this going to end?
Oh wait, one last punch, right in the gut. My group of fellow cyclist ants and I were probably near mile 10 when I noticed other riders coming at us…riders coasting downhill, smiling…wearing medals…
There is really nothing worse than seeing fellow athletes who are already done when you are still out there working. It just takes the wind out of your sails. One moment, I was telling myself to hang in there, keep pushing, and the next, I saw medals and felt totally deflated. They had an hour head start, I reasoned…they probably know how to swim. They can reach for their water bottles and pedal simultaneously.
I dragged myself up the last hill. T2 shimmered in the distance like a beautiful mirage. After twelve of the longest miles of my life, the ride was permanently and decidedly over. I just had to unclip…
Per Lynn’s instructions, I removed my right foot well the stopping area as not to crash. I noted the gentlemen in front of me not only unclipped, but actually swung his leg over his bike, so both legs were on the same side. He slid to a perfect, graceful stop. I had a feeling he wasn’t thirsty.
Brian, Scotty and Johnny were all screaming next to the fence. I noticed Scott waving what appeared to be a letter-sized piece of white paper. He made me a sign! What a good boy. He was asking if I saw fish during the swim. Glycogen-deprived and still unsteady, I lied and shouted yes. The kid is obsessed with fish and I didn’t want to disappoint him. But now, post-race, he’s asked me a million question about the alleged fish and I don’t have the heart to tell him Mom mislead to him. Maybe one day he’ll read this.
I’m sorry, Scott. There were no fish. But it made you happy in the moment and I didn’t have any more time to explain.
But there was one more pit-stop to make.
In reviewing the rules pre-race, it clearly stated athletes could not accept help from spectators. Any “aid” would result in various time penalties, even a full disqualification. This really surprised me. I mean, at every marathon I’ve ever run, including Boston, the spectators are as much a part of the race as the runners are. Especially Boston. When I read this, the only thing I could think was, “…so...no Otter Pops?” That’s cruel, man. I dutifully relayed this info to Johnny pre-race, telling him sternly, “I don’t care if I can’t get out of my wetsuit and I’m flopping around in T1 like a dying fish; DO NOT HELP ME!” He nodded his head in full agreement. No help. Got it.
After seeing the finishers on the course, I gave up on the rules. I’m not racing for money here and I was almost certain I'd be one of the last to cross the finish line. But Johnny didn’t know that. So when I ran up to him and asked for a Kleenex, the expression on his face was downright priceless. I saw two thoughts flicker across simultaneously: “she needs help” and “…but am I allowed to help???” Thankfully, common sense beat out the strict interpretation of the rule. He immediately began fishing around in his pockets and handed over the goods.
Blowing my nose has never felt so amazing.
Now it was time to run. Hooray! Unbeknownst to me but caught on video, my Boston song, my favorite song, my theme song came on over the loud speakers. “Try Everything” by Shakira. Feel free to laugh but that song speaks to me. I won’t give up, I won’t give in, till I reach the end and then I’ll start again. I mean, isn’t that how my whole year has gone?
I wanna try everything,
I wanna try everything even though I could fail.
Fail, disqualify, finish last. Does it matter? Heck no! Like one of my favorite sayings, “Fall down seven times, get up eight,” you can turtle-swim, flounder at clipping in and fizzle out when it comes to reaching for a water bottle. The end isn't what matters, it's the effort. It's putting yourself out there to do new things. The whole point is to try! TRI! The name is literally in the title. It's been there the whole time. I just didn't know it.
I see it now. I get it.
The Universe was essentially saying, “Hey, Buttercup: you are fine. Shut up and start running. ”
So I did.
Part III tomorrow.