Still not a runner

Yesterday I participated in the Highline Hustle Sprint Triathlon. 500 meter lake swim, 16 mile road bike and 3 mile trail run. I am still recovering from said participation.

The morning started out foreboding - gray skies, lightning off in the distance, sprinkles of rain foreshadowing impending soakage. Part of me wanted the lightning to get closer and more frequent (with the hopes of canceling the swim) and part of me wanted the lightning to go away. With a calm that surprised me, I double checked my gear and took it out to the front porch to await my ride. I then sqooshed into my rented wet suit and gathered my bike from the garage, double-checking the brakes and tires and putting my frozen water bottle in the holder. As far as I knew, I was ready.

Tami pulled up right on time. Man, I really love my friends who are as anal with time as I am. We agreed at 5:15 am and she was there at 5:15 am. I didn't have to wonder if she forgot, was running late or what have you. She was there - right on time. We loaded my bike in her truck, my gear in the cab and off we went. The rain was slowing turning from a sprinkle every now and then to a continual drizzle. Lightning continued its play in the sky and I still remained calm. I really don't know what got in me cause on the inside I was boiling over with an anxiousness that I don't often experience.

We pulled in to the Highline Lake recreation area at 5:45 am. Needless to say, we were really early. But, we did get primo parking and I was able to get an endcap for my bike in the transition area. It was a little intimidating to see those who do triathlons all the time. They have hooks on the back of their seats to keep their bikes on the poles, they have blankets to lay down so they can place out their gear in the order that they'll need it and they have this confidence that comes only with experience. Me, I had a bag with my gear in it. I tried to place my gear in there in the order that I'd need it with my running stuff on the bottom, biking stuff in the middle and swimming stuff on top. It was here where I discovered that I didn't bring a towel. It was here that I discovered that while I had a pair of shoes for the bike and a pair for the run, I didn't have a pair of socks for the run, just one for the bike and run. And the rain was coming. Talking with the guy who placed his bike next to mine, his advice to me was to relax and just have fun. Then, with an awareness that comes only with the mentally insane, he told me it was going to be wet but it was better than heat. I tried to take his advice to heart, did one last look over of my gear and then wet back to the truck to sit with Tami. We had one hour before the start. Staying in the transition area, watching all the "pros" with their gear and confidence was doing nothing for my mental state.

At 7:20 am, all the racers were called over for pre-race instructions. They told us where the swim started, where it ended and the rules while swimming (you can touch a kayak or a boat but you couldn't move forward after touching or you'd be disqualified; you had to keep the buoys to your left but you couldn't touch them or you'd be disqualified; you had to make sure you ran over the blue pad or your chip wouldn't register and you'd get disqualified; no non-racers in the transition area or you'd be disqualified). What I took from the instructions - be careful or you'll be disqualified. They also discussed getting out of transition - don't touch the bike without your helmet on, don't ride your bike until you pass the line - all for fear of being disqualified. Same for the run - walk your bike once you get to the line, pass over the blue pad, etc, etc, etc. At the conclusion of the instructions we were told to head over to the start of the swim - heat one would go at 7:30, heat two at 7:35. I was in heat two.

Heat one got off with a bang. This must be the heat with the ones who do triathlons all the time. They got in the water and got out in a blink of an eye. Watching them and their lack of reaction when entering the water gave me a boost of confidence - it can't be that bad. After all, I'm a swimmer. I've always felt just as comfortable in the water as I have on land and I've really been swimming a lot. I even got my 500 time down to 13:45. I was fairly confident I would be one of the first ones out of the lake of my heat. What's the old saying, "pride goeth before the fall"?

I stand towards the outside of the lake with my feet in the water. It's cold but it felt about as cold as the pool did the day before. And I had a wet suit on. Nothing to worry about, right? The horn goes off and my heat starts. I wade in and am immediately in shock of how cold the water is and how freaky it feels for the cold water to be seeping in through the suit at places where it's not quite so tight. It takes my breath away. And then the second surprise hits - I can't breathe as freely with the wetsuit on. It constricts my lungs and doesn't allow me to take the deep breaths I was used to. Something I read about preparing for a triathlon keeps running through my head, "don't try to use anything new on the day of the tri". Well, the wetsuit was new to me. And I was using it. And I wasn't trained for it. Yes, it gave me a little more buoyancy but that was only if I kicked and used my arms. I had been training this whole time with only my arms - using my legs too made me want to breathe more. Which was more difficult because I had to breathe more because my breaths were more shallow and the velcro around my neck felt like it was choking me. I started to panic. I never panic. I know how to swim, I know how to stay afloat, I shouldn't be panicking about a little bit of cold water. I sited the buoy. I hadn't even gone halfway to the buoy and I was already exhausted. Which caused more panic. I flipped over to my back, and tried to relax. It's not easy to calm yourself down. You are your worst enemy and my enemy was telling me to just turn around and go back - no one would fault me. Afterall, compared to all the others in this race, I didn't belong. Out of shape, no previous racing experience and oh-so-huge. No one would fault me for quitting. And then the Drill Sergeant showed up. I flipped over and started a modified breast stroke. I couldn't put my face in the water, it was just too cold for that and it caused irrational panic. So the modified breast stroke it was. And the Drill Sergeant was ok with that. She told me that I could doggy paddle, for all she cared, as long as I finished the goddamed swim. My Drill Sergeant is a cuser. But it worked. By the time I worked all of that out, I was rounding the second buoy and I could see the shore. I kept putting my foot down in the hopes that I would find ground I could stand on. And finally I did. I stopped swimming and walked myself out of the lake. There was a group of people on the shore telling me that I was doing great and to keep going. And then I saw Tami. She had a smile a mile wide and I knew that was for me. It's great having strangers on the shore rooting you on but there's something to be said about having your own rooting section - someone who knows you, wants you to succeed and who is happy for you. This was Tami. Tami gave me the extra omph to get out of the lake and move on to my bike.

Stranger on the shore, "Good job!!!! Get out of the lake!!! Go to your bike! You did it! 1/3 of the way there!"
Me to the stranger, "These people are CRAZY!"
Stranger, "Yea, you are, aren't you?"
Tami to the stranger, "You have NO idea!"

I made it through the swim. On my way to transition, Tami walks with me. Just mindless chatter but just the stuff I need to move on. I walk to my bike, she walks to the exit to wait. At transition I wiggle out of the wetsuit and use a shirt to dry off. Which is kind of ridiculous because the rain is just a step away. I pull on my bike shorts, my bike shirt and pack my shirt pockets with a Cliff Shot and a Singerz Power Bar. I put my helmet on, well try to. I can't get the friggin' strap to connect and I spend at least 3 minutes trying to get the little clicker to click. Finally it clicks and I use my shirt to dry off my feet to put my shoes on. Everyone else just uses sandles. I use shoes with socks. I pull on my gloves, grab my bike and head for the blue pad to head out to the bike path. Tami's there with words of encouragement and a camera. Documenting this attempt. At the line, I hop on my bike and head out of the recreation area for the 16 mile ride.

If you want to test your endurance, try a bike ride where you can't see the finish, you don't have anyone around you and you really don't know the route. I, of course, was the last one out of transition of the group that made it in with me from the lake. I couldn't even see people way in front of me so I was relying on the race committee to ensure there were directional signs and people there to direct me. There were strangers on the road, rooting all of us on and it was appreciated. It's nice to get encouragement, whether it be stranger or not.

The beginning of the ride is a gradual, very gradual, down slope. Fairly easy and it was just enough to get me to think I might actually find the bike to be my best event. I don't know how far I went before I hit the first hill but it felt like forever. And I walked my bike up that hill. I had a little conversation with myself too:

"Who the hell put a hill out here? It's supposed to be flat! This whole frickin area is flat! What did they do? Go out and find the only hill possible?"
"It's ok to walk your bike. It's ok to walk your bike. It's ok to walk your bike."
"Ok, you're at the top. Get on and ride. You can do it."

My inside voice then became an outside voice. The entire route, I had full fledged conversations. Outloud. And I didn't care. There was no one around me. I could talk to myself if I wanted and no one was near to roll their eyes at me. Then came another hill. And this just wasn't a hill, it was the Zugspite. I walked that one too. And then I got passed. And I was convinced I was the last biker on the route. That thought was cemented when the safety car was behind me. And then the safety car passed me. Wtf! The safety car was passing me! And as far as I could tell, I wasn't anywhere near the 1/2 way point turn around. Eventually I came across a worker at an intersection - he was making sure people stayed on the right route. He told me, "You're almost there!!!! Keep going!!!" Yea! I was almost there! With renewed vigor, I peddled. I was almost to the half way point and I hadn't died yet! Wahoo!

But he turned out to be a liar. I passed 4 more workers saying the same thing. I began to dread those workers. Standing there, in the pouring rain, nice cups of coffee in their hands, rain jackets and umbrellas. All chipper as they spewed out their lies to me. Almost there my ass. I was never going to get there. I was going to prune into a little raisin and 10 years later they'd find my body in some ditch with a Cliff Shot gel pack in my hands which I was unable to open cause the little f'er was adult-proof. It was then that I began to entertain the thought that no one would know if I just turned around. All the other bikers probably already finished (never mind that I had yet to see one passing me on the return trip) so they would never know if I didn't finish it. I could just turn around and no one would be the wiser. I had that discussion with myself for about 2 miles (or longer, it's hard to say) and then I began to see the bikers on their return trip. I MUST be close to the turn around point now. I MUST. Of course, I never thought about the fact that they were probably an hour ahead of me, I just wanted to be close to the turn around point. I saw a group of bikers up ahead and I could've sworn that they had just turned around. With renewed energy and the Drill Sergeant yelling in my head, I threw all thoughts of just turning around out the window. I was going to make it.

2 more big hills, a cramp in my right calf and my left knee starting to complain and I hadn't come any closer to the turn around point. The safety car kept passing me. The driver would spout out some faddle about doing great and I just ignored her. Each biker that passed me would either say something encouraging or "woot woot" at me. Sure, they could be excited. They were on their way home. Me, I wasn't even close. Again the safety car passed me, again she gave me some encouragement. This time I asked her, "where the hell is the turn around?" And she tells me, "You're almost there! It's at the top of that hill! Keep going!"

Top of the hill? Wtf?!? I was ON a hill and I saw no turn around. And then I looked up. There was indeed a hill. And it was a long way off. And it wasn't a hill. It was Mt. Everest. These people really need to learn the reality of what "almost there" really means. "Almost there" means 3 minutes, 5 minutes TOPS. Not 8 more miles. But I could see the top of the hill. I had a destination and semi-end goal. Make it to the top of the hill and all these hills I climbed would be downslopers on the way back. And I could rest my knee on those down slopes cause my knee wasn't doing so great. I found new energy to get to the top of Mt Everest. And the Drill Sergeant even came up with a wonderful cadence to keep me going.

I make it to the top, turn around the cone, smile for the camera and head back down. It was wonderful to coast. My knee thanked me. I knew I was the last one on the bike trail but I didn't care. I had just biked 8 miles and had only 8 more to go. I put it in terms I could relate to. Work is 3 miles away. I bike to work in about 25 minutes. I had a little more than 40 minutes until the finish line. I could hang for another 40 minutes. Especially if it's all downhill. And then I passed, while I was on my return, a biker who had yet to make it to the turn around. Wahhoo! I wasn't last!!!! I threw out some of those platitudes other bikers threw to me and I found renewed energy. I managed to open the stupid Cliff Shot and I guzzled that disgusting gel like it was manna from the gods. And then I came to another hill.

With my knee complaining loudly, the knowledge that I still had hills to surmount and energy waning again, I began to think I would never make it back. And then I came across another one of those workers at a crossroads. He told me I was almost there. I looked at him and yelled, "Don't you lie to me!!! I am not almost there!" He didn't know what to say in response and I kept peddling on.

By this time, I'm guesstimating I was about 10 miles out with 6 miles left, I was soaking wet. My shoes were squeeshing, my hair was dripping in to my face and every last ounce of clothing was wet. My fingers were pruned, I'm sure my feet were pruned and I had a sneaky suspicion that my scalp was pruned too. And then, that gal that I passed that made me not the last rider on the trail, passed me. I was now, officially, the last person on the bike trail. Believe it or not, that actually freed me. I knew I had 2 more hills and a gradual upslope on the final mile. So I decided to have fun with the last 4, 5, or 15 miles I had left. I had to do something, tho, cause my knee was protesting quite loudly. So I began to sing camp songs. When I walked up the last 2 hills, I drank my water and finished my power bar. I continued to sing camp songs. And I finally saw the tree line of Highline Lake. I was going to make it.

As I am peddling that last 1/2 mile or so, people are leaving. People who have already done all three legs of the race. They're leaving. And I still have one more leg left. Lightning is becoming more frequent, my knee is hurting so much that every extension of my left leg sends a shower of pain from my spine to the tip of my toes. I finally make it in to the red line and I look for the blue pad to cross so I can get my time marked - it's gone. They are already taking all the timing devices down. And that takes the last little bit of resolve out of me. If they don't have faith that I'll finish, why should I?

And there's Tami. Smiling for me, waiting for me, encouraging me to finish. I cross where the blue pad should be and let go of my bike. I can't walk. My knee has said that it has had enough and I decide to listen. I decide to not do the last leg of the tri. I tell Tami that I am disappointed in myself but I don't think I can do it. She gives me a big hug and tells me that I have already done enough. That she's proud of me and that she thinks what I have done is incredible. So I use Tami as a crutch, walk to her truck and put my bike up and then walk to my stuff to gather it all up. I turn in my timing chip and I hobble to her car.

In a moment of foresight, I had placed my after race clothes in her car to stay dry. It's a good thing I did, too. Cause every last ounce of me is dripping wet. But I also forgot the underclothes for after the race. So while I had dry sweatpants and a dry shirt, the underware was wet. C'est la vie.

So I am not a runner. I am not a triathlete. But I did finish a swim and a 16 mile bike ride. While I am still disappointed in myself for not even attempting the run, I know I did quite a lot. And now it's time to recover so I can try to do it again. I don't think I would do the Highline Hustle again - the lake swim was just too much - but there is a Tri in October where the swim takes place in a pool. I think I will train for that one. October 2, 2010. The Black Canyon Sprint Triathlon. Yep - I think I'll do that one.
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