My goal for the first half of this year was to learn to swim well enough to complete a triathlon. If you know me, that’s a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) as water and I don’t usually mix.
I’ve yapped on and on about my struggles with swimming, Masters Swim, open water swim, you name it, I’ve shared it. So much anxiety.
Well triathlon day finally came. The day dawned wet. Very wet. Thunderstorms in the forecast on and off pretty much all day. Not to mention it was hot. With 90% humidity. No bueno. But I’m no stranger to tough conditions.
Caveman and I packed up Blanche the trusty road bike and settled in for the hour’s ride to Naperville, toward the blackest, most ominous skies. Joy.
If you thought gathering running gear was challenging, you ain’t seen nothin’. Triathlon takes a freaking village. Holy gear Batman. At the last minute I threw my mega raincoat on the pile too. I almost never use it but boy is it nice when it really rains.
I swear I am the extreme weather magnet.
Transition opened at 5am and since I was in one of the earliest waves (yay!) I wanted to be there to rack my bike, and we were. So was the pouring rain and crackling lightning.
The original plan was to rack my bike then go loll at Starbucks for an hour or so before doing a swim warmup. We quickly realized how foolish giving up our sweet parking spot would be, so we hunkered down in the downpour that never seemed to end. There’d be no pre-race coffee.
As the thunder rumbled, the race start was pushed back. The swim warmup was cancelled. No one was allowed near the water. Thoughts of having the swim cancelled danced in my head.
I made love to my Body Glide and squeezed into a wetsuit already sopping wet. Welcome to my world.
At 7am, we were ordered to clear transition and head to the beach. It was go time. I sucked it up, kissed the Caveman, maybe for the last time, and followed the wetsuit-clad flock, 2000 strong.
See me there right in the middle, pretending to know what I’m doing?
We stood in the mushy rain-soaked sand while it continued to pour as the waves started going off. I could see the Caveman front and center under an orange umbrella, watching like a hawk from the sidelines. As if he could save me.
The quarry is way more swimming pool than lake. The lake I did my open water swim in was all murky and green while this was all pretty and blue. There were even wide swim lanes! And they told us we could hold onto the lane lines as much as we wanted as long as we made forward progress!! So if I swam along the lane line, there’d be no reason to raise my head to sight. That became my strategy.
We went off. It was fine for awhile but I kept hitting the lady ahead of me with my hands. She was breast stroking. I grabbed the lane line for a sec and regrouped before resuming my freestyle.
We made 3 out and backs. The water grew shallow as we neared one end but halfway across it was 15 ft. deep, which I don’t have to tell you, freaked me out. I knew I’d have to settle down and get my shit together enough to handle the deep half.
My swim was pretty much a mashup of freestyle, sidestroke and backstroke. Not pretty, not the swim I had trained to do and it felt like freaking eternity but I kept going. There were “swim angels” on the course who stayed with those who were really freaked out. I totally expected one to show up for me but none did.
After 17 minutes that felt like 200 years, I emerged from the water. Alive. I wanted to leap into the arms of the emcee who stood at the swim exit but restrained myself and and settled for a high-5. I made my way through the sand, peeling off my wetsuit and heading to transition for the bike.
Because it was freaking pouring, I couldn’t lay out my gear in transition the way I’d have liked. Instead I wasted valuable time rummaging through my gear bag which I put inside a plastic garbage bag. I brought so many towels, which were essentially useless in this rain. I dried my feet in vain before putting on shoes for the bike.
I rarely ride my bike on so much as wet pavement so racing in a stinging, torrential rain storm was totally foreign to me. I’ve had my face rearranged in a bike accident before, that was NOT going to happen today. We were advised to slow down and be cautious because it was slippery and our brakes wouldn’t work as well. Joy. This was not going to be the day I’d shake and bake on the bike.
Crash-free was my goal. I wondered if Blanche’s chain oil would wash away, that’s how hard it rained. It was a blinding, splashing mess. I rode like an old lady and I’m fine with that, although I passed plenty of people. Live to ride another day. We did 2 loops totalling 13.something miles and I realized halfway through I forgot my GU. I was afraid to reach for my bottle but I finally did and got a quick drink but fueling wouldn’t be optimal for the run. C’est la vie.
When I dismounted the bike, I was home free. Just a tiny 5k remained. Of course the rain stopped now and it was a freaking steam bath for the run. My legs revolted as expected. Running off the bike is so hard for me, still. I wogged along making the best of it. I high fived kids, walked through the water stations and celebrated the fact that I didn’t drown or crash on the bike. By mile 2 my legs finally got with the program and I was able to pick it up. The finish was imminent. I wore no watch and there were no course clocks so I truly had no idea.
One final stretch across a stretch of really muddy grass and that was it. I am a triathlete!
Final words: This really is the perfect race for a first-time tri. As a newbie, I loved the super-supportive vibe and how kind all of the women and volunteers were to each other. It was fun to be in a wave with others in my age group. When you hit the half century mark, the field dwindles considerably, although there were 154 of us crazy ladies at Espirit de She. Yes, the conditions sucked but in an odd way that torrential rain bonded us closer together. I had no expectations for this race other than to finish and there were tons of things I could have done better (hello swim) but overall I am satisfied. It was a grueling and stressful but fun day.
What’s your BHAG for this year? Have you tried a tri?