4:53am: Wake up and turn off the soon-to-sound alarm. I have four different alarms set to make sure I don't oversleep but I don't need any of them. I'm too excited and nervous to keep sleeping so I get up to get ready for the race ahead.
I packed all my race gear and set up all the morning necessities the night before so it takes less than four minutes for me to get downstairs. I take Bellie for a quick walk before sliding into the minivan for the short, 10-minute drive to the race site.
5:19am: Got a good parking spot since I arrived early but I wasn't the first participant on-site. I took a short walk to the nearest coffee shop that shall not be named to grab a small coffee, a bagel, and a banana. I don't want to eat too much or have a huge coffee but I know I have a long wait before I start the race so I need some fuel.
I unload my bike then join the gradually growing crowd making our way to the transition area.
5:33am: I take about 10 minutes to find my bike rack. The racks are based upon your race number. Sometime between 2:30pm the day before and now my rack location was moved so I had to search to find my rack
I'm the first participant on my rack so I get a spot right on the end which means I'll be able to transition easily. I setup my gear making sure my shoes are ready to put on right after the pool with a towel within quick reach. I lay my shirt across the handlebars for easy access. I check my goggles and my water bottle. I'm all set. Nothing to do but sip some coffee and wait.
6:04am: Volunteers are ready to write numbers. My 783 is written in marker on both triceps and above each knee. 37 (in a row?) is written on my calf to track my age. I'm casually walking around to stay relaxed. It is my first triathlon so I can't say for sure, but I feel like it is more important to stay relaxed before the race than to get pumped up. With that in mind I listen to some She & Him instead of some Pearl Jam. The serious participants start at 7:00am.
7:02am: After some announcements, thanks, and other various news the race is ready to start. I'm watching from the fence with some other high-numbered participants. The horn sounds and the elite athletes take to the pool. They are superb swimmers. I get a bit nervous because I'm not a strong swimmer. I took my fair share of swimming lessons and held my own during the Life Saving merit badge class at Boy Scout camp but I was never on a swim team. I never learned to breathe properly swimming freestyle and I don't know how to do a flip turn. I walk over to my bag and bike and sip some water to calm my nerves. My bike is right near the pool exit so I can cheer for the fast swimmers as the transition to the bike. I'll be doing this soon.
7:13am: A representative from the USTA (United States Triathlon Association) walks through our area telling everyone that if you aren't currently in the race then you have to leave the transition area. But I won't start for another 45 minutes? I'm told I have to get ready as if I'm about to swim and go to a viewing area. Great. I'm not exactly comfortable bombing around shirtless and now you are telling me I have to hang out wearing nothing more than awkwardly skin-tight shorts? I'm not happy about it but I leave in my barely there garb and find a shady spot to continue to watch the race.
7:34am: People are still pouring into the pool like lemmings over a cliff but I still have a long wait. At least a half dozen, if not more, have already finished the pool and the bike but I haven't even set foot on the pool deck. I'm guessing the faster athletes will be done before I even start to swim.
I'm watching the swimmers and as more people get in the pool I get less nervous. I'm seeing people doing breaststroke, backstroke, and even walking in those parts of the pool where it isn't that deep. The pool is full at this point so it wouldn't be possible to do a flip turn even if you wanted to so that calms more nerves. I'm still not happy about standing around virtually nude but I figure I'm burning at least a few calories by constantly sucking in my gut.
7:59am: Two announcements come over PA that make me take notice. First, the crowd is informed that the leaders have finished the race and based on unofficial times there is a new female record for the course. Second, my group is called to the pool deck to line up to get started.
8:12am: After waiting on the deck while my fellow athletes drop into the pool I'm finally ready to get in the game. I sit down and put my legs in the water with two people ahead of me. The water is freezing which wakes me up after the long wait. Another person hits the water. One more before me. She is given the signal and jumps in. I slide my goggles into place and move over. I'm next. My heart is racing. I'm nauseous. I'm nervous. No turning back now. I clap my hand and hear from behind me “GO!”. My head hits the water.
I try to settle into a freestyle stroke but it isn't my strongest way to swim. I assume it's faster but since I'm not great at breathing in this stroke I'm gasping for breath after the first 50 meters so I decide to screw the speed and change to breaststroke after the first turn. It takes a few kicks but I get into a good rhythm. I may not be the fastest swimmer but when I'm in a groove I can breaststroke all day long. I'm feeling good after 100 meters and two people let me pass at the turn. I'm just keep a steady pace but it is paying off as I'm starting to pass some people in the lane. Like I said, I'm not fast but I can breaststroke at a steady pace forever. The swim is refreshing.
8:23am: I pop up on the pool deck, slide the goggles off and look at my watch as I jog towards the transition area. It says 10:19. That makes me happy and invigorated. My fastest time I've done on my own was about 11 minutes. I never thought I'd cut off 45 seconds. It didn't hurt that I had the best cheering squad in the world cheering me on from the fence. I could see Rizzo, Cece, Mom, Dad, and Carrie with each stroke. I'm pumped enough to run over to my bike for a quick change.
I decided to go sans socks for the bike and run to make it easier in the transition. I give the feet a quick pat dry, lace up my shoes, pull on my shirt, then clip on my helmet. I jog my bike over to the mounting area, climb on, then start the 12-mile bike ride.
8:26am: I make it to the mounting area, mount my bike, and begin the three-lap loop. During the course presentation given during the packet pick-up event the day before we were told about the sharp turn on the first road and the tortious hill after the second turn. I didn’t think they would be as bad as they described seeing as I rode the route the week before the race. Yes, the was a pretty rough climb but it wasn’t too terribly long so I didn’t think it would be a terrible problem.
I didn’t have preconceived notions of how long I would take on the bike. The total distance was 12 miles and I had biked that many times before with my longest training ride being 20 miles. The difference is that during a race you don’t have to stop for traffic like you do while training which can change times dramatically. I’d never biked 12 miles in less than an hour but on a bike a 5-minute wait at a red light can mean losing 1-2 miles so I didn’t know how it would go.
The sharp turn wasn’t such an issue especially since I wasn’t in a big crowd going around the turn. I also didn’t have a big issue with the dreaded hill after the second turn. It got a bit crowded during the climb because many of riders were staying seated and dropping down into a low gear instead of standing up and powering to the top. Sure, standing to climb the hill can put more strain on your legs and you have to save your legs for the run but I knew that it wasn’t a long hill so it was worth the effort.
I look at my watch after the first lap to see how I’m progressing. It reads 10:19. Damn! I must have hit stop instead of lap after I finished my swim. Now I have no way of telling if I’m going fast or slow. I suppose I’ll just have to keep in a steady pace and try to keep up or pass the person in front of me.
I reach down for my water to take a drink while I’m in a gentle downhill and there aren’t many riders around. I’m not parched but my mouth is dry and I don’t want to get dehydrated. While reaching down to replace my water bottle it slips from my hand and careens across the highway. DAMN! I’ve had that water bottle for years. Now it will sit forever cracked and empty on the side of the road. I’ll have to finish the bike section dehydrated.
The rest of the second lap and third lap pass without an issue. I can feel my mouth getting dryer but I know there is a water stop at the beginning of the run so I’m looking forward to that. There are no clocks around so I haven’t the slightest idea of how my time is looking. I dismount and jog through the transition area with my bike. I don’t know if this a good idea but I saw the athletes in front of me doing the same thing so I give it a try. I think it is helping to get my legs warmed up for a run after the bike. The hardest part of training was moving between the bike and the run. The first ½ mile always feels like running in quicksand so this jog to rack my bike can help lessen that strain.
9:12am: Since I don’t wear special bike shoes my transition is fast. All I have to do is rack my back, take off my helmet, then start running. I grab a water extended by a friendly volunteer and try to sip while running. It isn’t very easy but I get enough to quench my thirst then throw the rest on my head to cool off. It feels great after having a helmet on for 12 miles. I feel lucky after the bike ride to have the first ½ mile of the run as a gradual downward slope. Unfortunately, I know that it means that the last ½ mile will be a gradual incline but I’ll worry about that when I get to it.
The temperature is definitely rising. So much so that I’m sure I can feel some steam coming from my head. We’re lucky that most of the run is under some very large trees so there is plenty of shade. The mile marker has another water station where I grab another cup and try to sip and run. It’s no good. I’m feeling the dehydration set in since I lost my water bottle during the bike. I slow to a walk to make sure I can drink the entire cup of water without choking. Sure, this will slow me down a bit but it is worth it to make sure I don’t pass out.
The second mile is much tougher than the first. It is mostly gradual hills with a few big climbs. We are spread pretty thin at this point so there isn’t much clumping up of runners. I’m glad I can always see one or two people in front of me and one or two people behind me. It makes me confident that I’m not the only one on the course and everyone is just waiting for me to finish.
The end of mile two finishes the loop that started at mile one with the same water stop. I slow down and grab a beverage. My left knee is starting to ache. I hope it doesn’t get too bad. I can tell it is slightly injured in some way. You know that different feeling between getting tired muscles from overuse or actual pain from some sort of injury? I have never been able to explain it very well but I can feel the difference. This is more of a “the tendons in your knee have stretched and are pulling your knee cap out of place” as opposed to a “you worked out a lot today so you are really sore”. Less a muscle ache and more a joint ache. Good thing there is only about a mile to go.
Most of that mile is uphill which turns out to be a blessing and a curse. Anyone that has done much running knows that running uphill, while harder on your muscles and your breathing, is easier on your joints. Landing on a busted-up knee while running downhill is pretty damn painful. Running uphill forces your muscles to take more of the work and less on the knees resulting on more muscle ache but less joint ache. That kept me in pretty good, but slow, running form as I approached the finish line.
As I approach the last turn I see my family cheering me on. I usually hate this kind of support. I know that sounds weird but I feel like I look like the one that is struggling in the back just trying to power through to get to the finish without anyone noticing my embarrassing slow performance. This time is different. I’ve just about finished the longest race I’ve ever done by far and I’m still feeling pretty good. Cece is there holding a sign that says “Go Daddy Go”. Rizzo and trying to grab some pictures. Mom and Carrie are clapping and keeping Cece from getting in the route. My Dad reaches out and I give him a high-five as I run past. It is encouraging so I put on a little more speed to the finish knowing it is right around the corner so there is no need to save anything for the rest of the race. I cross the finish line and the announcer shouts my name. I did it! I get a medal and a bottle of water. It is over. It is 9:45am.
10:10am: Three years ago, I could barely run a mile without stopping to rest. Cece had just been born and, while the happiest I’ve ever been in my life, was sadly out of shape. I didn’t want my beautiful, little girl to grow up in a household that had a bad example regarding health and exercise. I didn’t (and don’t) want to be the Dad that can’t run around and play with the kid because he is too unhealthy. I want Cece to see me working out and being heathy so I started running. Soon I was finishing 5K races without much issue. I set a goal that if I ran a 5K is less than 30 minutes that I would sign up for a triathlon. It didn’t seem like it was likely as I had never before even run a mile in less than 10 minutes. Only 2 ½ years later I ran a 5K at a pace of 9:11/mile with a total time of 28:31. That was in the rain and cold so I had to live up to the promise I made to myself. Seven months later, after lots of training, I finished the Reston Sprint Triathlon in 1 hour, 32 minutes, 20 seconds. I did something I never thought I would do and I’m glad I did.
So, what’s next? Starting this summer, I’m going to being a training regimen in order to improve my 5K time. My current best is the 28:31. With that in mind, my goal is to best that time by doing some interval training and speed workouts. I haven’t set a date for that race but I’m going to start the training school is out (so I don’t have to worry about being on school grounds at a track while school is in session). If I can beat my personal best after doing that training, I will be training for a 10K race.
Onward and Upward.