Triathlon: Race Day

By kate on September 12th, 1999

The morning of the triathlon dawned cloudless and beautiful. My headache was gone. Having laid everything out carefully the night before, there wasn’t much to do in the morning except get dressed and eat my breakfast of a banana and two PowerBars. I carpooled with Steve, my boyfriend, and my friend Zach drove his Pathfinder with my bike inside. (I asked him to take it because I didn’t want to take the wheel off to fit it in my car.)
Parking was very limited, so Steve dropped me off and parked the car. I went to the transition area, a large, fenced-off area filled with rows of metal racks. By the time I arrived, it was more than half-full of bikes and equipment. I selected a spot on the far corner, one I knew would be easy to find during the race. To my surprise, my friend Shaula had thought the same thing and was already setting up her stuff there. I put down my bag and wondered nervously where Zach was with my bike.
When Steve returned from parking, he suggested that if I needed to use the restroom, I should do it right away. I looked over, saw a lengthy line of people waiting to use the row of porta-potties, and rushed to join the queue.
After I finished, my bike was nowhere to be seen. I wandered around and looked for my family, who were coming to cheer me on. No family, either. Shaula and I walked down to the water to see what the swim course looked like, and where we’d start and finish.
Shaula went to the bathroom, and I returned to my spot in the transition area and sorted through my things, trying to figure out the most optimal arrangement. Shaula had suggested I put some baby powder in my socks to make them easier to put on wet feet, so I did. Finally, Steve walked up with my bike (Zach had dropped it off before trying to park). My family arrived. I continued to prepare while trying to ignore Steve and my brother, Mark, taking pictures.

With about 15 minutes until the start, we all walked down to the waterfront. A large crowd of people in swimsuits and wetsuits began to converge, along with lots of fully-clothed fans. I shed my sweats, took one last inhaler puff, and walked to the beach. Some people were in the water, so I joined them to see if it was cold – and it wasn’t too bad. A little chilly, but no worse than a cold pool. Some announcements were made, then the first wave was instructed to wade waist-deep into the water. I did, slowly acclimatizing myself to the water temperature. I squatted down, up to my neck in water and was thinking to myself that I was just getting used to the cold, when suddenly I heard, “Five, four, three, two, one, GO!”

And the race had begun. I started swimming and realized I hadn’t put on my nose clip. I stopped for a minute and put it on, causing the swimmers behind me to run into my legs. The cold water gave me a little asthma trouble, so it took several minutes to find my rhythm. By then, the good swimmers were well ahead. I was surprised to look behind me and see maybe a quarter of my wave still back there.
The swim course was a triangle, which I liked, because I could look up and see myself making progress toward the next buoy. About halfway, I realized that breathing every third stroke instead of every fourth suited my cold-water-affected lungs better. Once I started that, I really found a rhythm. About that time, I was suddenly passed by a bunch of swimmers and realized that the front-runners of the second wave had gone by. I was still, however, ahead of maybe a quarter of my wave, and maintained that position to the end of the swim.
The third and last leg was tricky for two reasons: first, the sun was right in my eyes every time I breathed to my left (which was every other breath). Partially due to this, and maybe because of the shape of the course, I found myself going off course several times and had to keep making corrections.

Then, I was in the last stretch – and seaweed brushed my face and body as I swam into shallower water. I stood up in thigh-high water and began to rush toward shore. Ouch! The bottom was covered in sharp rocks! I slowed my pace and thought how funny we all must look, in a race, yet walking very slowly and deliberately out of the water.

When I reached the sand, I looked up and saw a huge crowd. All the spectators were crowded around the path to the transition area, cheering. It was very surreal, I thought to myself, as I jogged, dripping wet, through the crowd. I saw my mom, and heard her yelling encouragement. Steve and Zach ran part of the way with me and took my ear plugs from my hand. I had to run 200 yards uphill from the water, barefoot, over mostly grass, but also some pavement and small patches of sharp gravel. By the time I reached the transition area, I couldn’t feel my feet.

I was also more than a little dizzy. Instead of displaying that unsteadiness to my fan club of six (who were now all watching over the fence), I promptly sat down and proceeded to put my socks and shoes on first. The baby powder did the job, and I had no trouble. After that short rest, I was able to stand up and began to slowly put on my sports bra, shorts, tank top, helmet, and sunglasses.

Slowly? In a race? Yes, because of a promise Shaula and I had made. We trained together several times, and found we have a similar pace in both biking and running. We were in the triathlon to finish, rather than to place, so we decided to do the second two parts together. She is a much faster swimmer than me, but started in the third wave. Before the race, we didn’t know who would finish the swim first, but promised that whoever was first would wait for the other. Some people were surprised when I told them this, but the benefit I got from her company on the bike and the run was enough to outweigh the lost minutes as I waited.

And it did take about five minutes (after I got there) for her to arrive. She dressed as fast as she could, we grabbed our bikes, and ran them to the bike start. (Mounting bikes was forbidden in the transition area.)
We began by riding up a steep hill that got us breathing hard right away. Fortunately, the bike route was well-marked. Every turn was staffed by a volunteer or two who pointed the way and cheered us on. We rode up a big hill and got on the I-90 express lanes. There were two tunnels and a floating bridge on the route, and the scenery was beautiful on this unusually clear day. It was neat to be riding on the freeway with no cars. The race participants were pretty well stretched out by this time, so there wasn’t a large pack of riders as I had expected.
Most of the time, though, I thought only about riding the bike. Despite maintaining what felt like a fast pace, we were passed by lots of people. We only managed to pass a few poor souls. I also had to make sure I drank enough water – to finish the entire water bottle during the ride.
We cruised toward the Kingdome (the turnaround point) down a steep hill, the enjoyment of which was lessened considerably by the knowledge that I was just about to ride back up. Which I did, and really began to feel tired. Not only that, but my backside was completely numb. During the ride back, I alternated between just wanting to stop and lie down, and feeling okay enough to continue. All this was really just in my head, but very strong nonetheless.

The whole way back, I eagerly anticipated the last hill at the end, which had made for such a difficult start. We zipped down, and suddenly encountered the cheering crowd again. A volunteer told us where to dismount, and we jogged our bikes toward the transition area, past my cheering mom. (My family told me later that many people had fallen over trying to dismount. At least we managed to be graceful.)

The next transition was fast as we ditched the bikes. I exchanged my helmet for a cap and we jogged off. The running trail started on a steep hill, too, though, so we decided to walk up to get our legs ready for running. At the top of the incline, we began to jog, but found that we had only begun to understand the meaning of “hill.” The entire running course was hilly! The majority of the first half was up a long, gradual, tiring slope. The path was curvy, so I couldn’t see the end, or even very far ahead.
As we began the run, we could see some of the front-runners finishing the race. The course went out and back; that is, we passed by those ahead of us going the other way. Everyone seemed to be doing okay, but Shaula and I were tired. We walked a little here and there. It took what seemed like forever to get to the halfway point, because I expected it around every curve. Finally, we came upon a smiling volunteer who directed us around a wooden post and back the other way.
There were uphill sections on the way back, but the majority was downhill, and suddenly, I was much more in favor of hills. With gravity on my side, I could go a little faster.
I was beginning to worry about my right knee, though. It had given me a little trouble toward the end of my last few workouts, and started to ache again halfway through the run. Aside from that, my body was doing okay. I wasn’t out of breath at all, and my legs weren’t sore. I had had some stomach cramps at the start of the run, but they were gone. My knee, however, continued to get worse. Shaula was also tired, and was getting some cramps herself. We walked some short stretches.

About the time we got back to the park and realized we were in the home stretch, my knee began feeling worse than it ever had. I started to limp to lessen the pain. Shaula asked, twice, if I wanted to walk; but I replied that if I walked, I wouldn’t be able to start running again. We jogged to the finish and ran over the finish line as the clock read one hour, forty-seven minutes. (Something was wrong with the clock. It read 1:47 on the side facing me, and a later time on the other side, as you can see. My “official” time, later, was 1:49:20.)

I handed my number to a volunteer. My proud family and friends surrounded me, but I just wanted to sit down. Shaula hugged me and headed off to talk to her husband. I sat down and slowly recovered, and answered questions about the race. My brother, Michael, retrieved free Clif bars for everyone. When it finally occurred to me to take off my shoes, I was surprised to find blood on one of my socks. I must have cut my foot on the sharp rocks at the end of the swim, but never noticed because my feet were so numb.
We sat in the sun for a long time, watched people finish, and waited for the awards ceremony scheduled for 11:00 a.m. (forty-five minutes after my finish). When eleven o’clock came and went, with no sign of a ceremony, we gave up and headed home.

Filed under: triathlon
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