The range of emotions throughout the course of one endurance event is unlike any other for an equivalent amount of time. Over the course of five hours, seven minutes, forty seven seconds yesterday, I decided the following things: I am such a badass. I wish I could skip straight from swim to run. I am not doing Steelhead. I am never doing a triathlon again. I am selling all my triathlon gear on ebay. I am abandoning my bike on the side of the road and walking back to town. Okay, okay, I’m riding my bike back, but only because it’s faster and then I’m selling it. I’m not even going to bother running. I love to run; I’ll run the end of the course. OMG I love the people you meet at endurance sports. Finish lines are the best. I’m totally doing this again.
Yeah, I bet you can guess from that short recap which part of the race did not go so well. But let’s start at the very beginning. (A very good place to start.)
Goose and I arrived in Elkhart Lake on Friday afternoon to pick up my packet and do a little practice swim. They already had the course marked with buoys, so my dad suggested that I swim the sprint course. That way I could practice the entrance and exit. So I did.
It was a little chilly, and I really didn’t want to get into the water. The good part about an unseasonably warm week followed by an unseasonably cool race weekend? The water and the air were pretty close to the same temperature, making the water feel quite nice, actually. I enjoyed my swim and we headed off to dinner, race prep stuff, and lots of sleep.
Goose and I got to the race site really early the next morning. So early that I had my entire transition area set up with nearly two hours to go until race time. Thank goodness for Google Reader or I might have lost my mind. We wandered inside the Osthoff, where it was nice and warm, and I caught up on reading my favorite blogs. I’m pretty sure Coach Amy posted this one just for me, as it had me laughing hysterically and completely calmed any pre-race jitters.
When it was finally time to get started, I headed down to the race area and looked out on about a thousand other triathletes, all in different-colored swim caps. Instead of the usual OMG-everyone-is-faster-than-me-they-are-all-going-to-swim-over-me feeling, I felt pretty calm. On the advice of my cousin Kurt, I wore two swim caps to help with the cold water. I pulled on my race-issued, 25 – 29 F light pink cap first, followed by the race-issued, “Hello, I’m a novice swimmer, please pay extra attention to me in this bright green swim cap.” (What a brilliant idea!)
This race had a time trial swim start. All the elites went first, then they let the age groupers go, two by two, with a new group starting every five seconds. I get why this doesn’t work in every race situation, but it was amazing. No freaking out about the giant packs of strong swimmers behind me. Even if people came to pass me, it was just two at a time. It was the greatest open water swim I’ve ever had. My mind just went blank, as it sometimes does during my long swims at the pool. I kept in mind something I decided at an open water swim the week before (and possibly my new swimming mantra). It doesn’t matter how far away the buoy looks. Just keep swimming. It will get closer.
And they did get closer. I hit the turnaround before I knew it, and then out of nowhere, I saw the finish line. When I popped up to sight, I could hear my dad yelling, “GO LAUREN, GO! COME ON, LAUREN!” and I swear I could make out Goose’s vuvuzela. I was so happy I nearly cried. I was out of the water of my own doing! I swam nearly a mile in open water. YES!
And then it was off to the bike. The bike and the swim are constantly competing for my least favorite sport in triathlon. Aside from the incident in Galena, the bike has been winning lately. While I enjoy biking, I enjoy biking like a ten year old out for a joy ride. I do not enjoy kicking it into high gear and really racing. I am going to need to learn to love it.
I took off on the bike just thrilled to be out of the water. Transition, complete with a potty break, a struggle out of the wetsuit, and a struggle to get my damp self into shoes and a long-sleeved top, had taken about eight years. I was on the bike and ready to take on 30 miles. I took a Gu, downed some Gatorade, and oh my stomach felt like nails. I decided to keep trying to sip the Gatorade, knowing I needed something in my system.
I came to the first hill and shifted gears… and accidentally shifted into my big ring. Well, awesome. I’d forgotten how to work my bike. For some unknown reason, it took me a good thirty minutes to finally get the hang of my bike again. During this time, the negative thoughts started.
I hate this bike I hate this bike I hate this bike.
When I thought I was about halfway (I’d forgotten to reset my bike computer), I well-meaning volunteer yelled, “Great job! 10 miles down!”
“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” I yelled back.
“Um, yes… 10 miles…” she muttered.
Well, crap. That’s it. I am not doing Steelhead. I think I’ve been on this bike for like a year, and I’ve covered 10 miles. Okay, lots of people have donated to Girls on the Run in support of me doing Steelhead. I mean, it’s still a good cause. How can I tell them I’m not doing it? Let’s see… Dear friends and family, blah blah blah, something about spending your free time doing things you enjoy, I don’t enjoy my stupid bike anymore, I hope you understand… yeah that will do.
And I kept riding and composing letters in my head. Along the way I played leapfrog with another girl on the course. Besides her, I couldn’t see anyone for miles. This continued to damage my psyche.
Steelhead, forget Steelhead. I’m never doing triathlon again. Triathlons are stupid. Why do I sign up for this crap? Okay, when I get home, I am selling everything on ebay. The bike, the shoes, the helmet, my wetsuit, yeah, all of it. Screw this.
I was pretty convinced that my leapfrog buddy and I were the last two out on the bike course. The happiest moment of the bike was passing through an intersection, with her following closely behind. And then I heard it on the walkie-talkies. “Okay, there’s two more behind these girls, but they’re a ways back.” HOORAY! PEOPLE BEHIND US!
I pedaled and pedaled some more. I contemplated throwing my bike on the curb, packing everything up, and leaving without doing the run.
But when I finally made it into transition, I just… transitioned to the run. As I was lacing up my running shoes, a volunteer told me that they were closing the transition area in one minute. I have never tied my shoes faster. I bolted out of transition, took a cup of Gatorade, and ran… for about 50 yards until I realized I had no energy left for such things and walked.
Her name was Alexandra, and she saved my attitude, my race, and my triathlon career. We chatted about races. (This was her second race ever. A 5k two weeks ago, followed by this Olympic Distance Triathlon. Can you say rockstar?) We chatted about family. We chatted about how negative we both were on the bike. And finally, finally… I was in a good mood again. The run course was on a loop, and we counted the people behind us. There were three. (Or was it four?) We cheered for every single mile sign.
Around mile 3, we saw someone walking on the course. Could it be? Another person behind us? As he got closer, we noticed the person was wearing jeans. Well, darn it. Nobody behind us, just some guy out for a walk. “Come on, Lauren!” the guy yelled.
It took me that long to put two and two together and realize my dad had come out on the course. He started encouraging us to run, and little by little, Alexandra and I were doing more running than walking. We continued chatting and smiling, and finally had some spring in our step. Just past mile 5, her family came to cheer us along, too. Her little brother (who finished fourth in his age group) even brought her flowers!
When we could see the finish line, we took off running, smiles plastered on our faces.
Thank you, Alexandra, for befriending me on that course. I have no idea how I would have pulled through on my own. It is amazing how much one person can turn your day around.
And that’s it. I didn’t set some crazy time record. In fact, transition was a half-torn-down ghost town by the time I finished. I was second to last in my age group and the 145th female to finish out of 149 females in the Olympic distance triathlon. But I finished, and I learned a few things along the way.
And even though I told Alexandra that I’d been thinking about maybe doing this Half Ironman race, but now I was definitely thinking I wouldn’t… with a little more than 24 hours of perspective, it’s on.
Coach Elizabeth says we’ve got four big training weeks left on the schedule before Steelhead. I am going to make every single workout count.
70.3 miles. Whew. Here I come.