Yesterday I completed my second triathlon, the inaugural Fearless Triathlon. This was a double sprint: a 250 meter swim, a 5 mile bike ride (consisting of 2 loops), and then a 2 mile run. After the run, we went back into transition and did the entire course over again. I wrote about my fears last week, and and then I wrote how my fears were alleviated. As I anticipated, neither of my fears (of how cold the water would be without a wetsuit, and about getting kicked off the course if I didn't make the time cut-off) came to pass. However, what I DIDN'T anticipate was how hard this race was going to be. I did a triathlon of similar length a few weeks ago, and while it was hard, it wasn't all that TOUGH. This race broke me, especially emotionally.
The race started with the Expo the day before, where I picked up my packet, timing chip, race bib, etc. The Expo was small and non-descript, and I wouldn't even mention it except for one thing: Chris McCormack (Macca), the two-time (and currently reining) Ironman World Champion, who just won the world title again in Kona a few weeks ago. He was there to give a talk and then sign autographs. He is from Australia, where they have been doing double sprint triathons since the early 90's. I even got to ask him a question! I asked him "when it gets tough, what do you tell yourself to get through the pain?" He answered that you can either accept or deny that the pain will occur...it's best to accept it so that when it DOES come, you can embrace it. He also said that he focuses on what he can control (breathing, rhythm and nutrition) and that the body is stupid and will do what the mind tells it to do. Definitely words of wisdom from a champion! Later I got to shake his hand, take a picture with him, and get his autograph.
The next morning I woke up at 4:40 and was out the door by 5:00. I headed down to Fiesta Island, where the triathlon was to take place. I parked in the "parking lot" (a dirt lot....this will come into play later) and headed down to the transition area. I found my friend who I do these races with, and was able to get a spot right by him. Unpacking my bag and setting up my transition area was interesting...not only was it pitch black (luckily I had brought a flashlight) but since it was a DOUBLE triathlon we would need each set of gear twice, so an organized set-up would be crucial. Athough San Diego has been in the 70s-80s and sunny all week, the forecast for this morning was a 30-50% chance of rain, so I after I set everything up I covered it as best I could with a garbage bag.
Soon it was time to get in our wetsuits and head down to the water. And guess what? This is when it started to drizzle. I wasn't too worried about the rain at this point; what's a little drizzle? I was in wave 3, and I was anxious as the first two waves went ahead of me into the water. Finally it was my turn...the gun went off, and as it was a beach start, we all ran into the water. The swim was simple enough---a 250 meter swim, consisting of a U-shape (straight ahead to one buoy, make a right turn, straight to a second buoy, make a right turn, and straight back to the beach). However, I had a really hard time at first. It was so crowded that I had a really hard time finding space (space is hard to find when swimming in a group, as everyone is horizontal and kicking!). After a while, though, the group spread out and I was able to actually swim. It was hard (as it was in my first triathlon), as an open-water swim is harder than swimming in a pool (at least it is for me). The cold water, the murkiness, the taste...it's all different than what I'm used to. Anyhow, by the time I got out of the water I was already tired. This didn't bode well, as I still had 5 more legs of the race to complete.
I ran into transition, unzipping my wetsuit as I went, took off my wetsuit (which for some reason didn't come off easily) and sat down to put my socks and shoes on. My feet were covered in sand from the beach, and as soon as I sat on my towel my legs and tush got covered in sand and dirt, too. Oh well, no time to wash it off. As I put on my socks, shoes and tank top, the rain started to come down harder. I took my extra pair of socks (which I would need for the second bike/run) and stuffed them under a towel; I did NOT want these to get wet. I grabbed my helmet, and as I pulled my bike off the rack I noticed a timing chip on the ground. MY timing chip! Aaarrgh! It must have come off my ankle as I pulled off my wetsuit. I had safety pinned it on for security, so now I had to spend extra time with cold, wet hands unfastening the safety pin and putting the chip back on my ankle. I'm just glad I noticed it; without the timing chip, I would not have received a finishing time or splits!
Now I was onto the bike course, which was a five mile course consisting of two loops. As I have mentioned before, the bike is my nemesis. I don't have too much biking time under my belt, and I ride a heavy hybrid (since I haven't invested in a road bike yet). I am a very, very slow biker. As I was biking, the rain kept coming down. I finally completed my two loops (like last time, the course seemed much longer than it really was!) and headed back into transition. I took off my helmet and took off for the run.
The run was only 2 miles, which theoretically should be a piece of cake for me....my usual weekly run is 3 miles, and I recently did a few half marathons, so the distance really isn't far. However, I struggled. First, something happened with my breathing. I literally could not catch my breath...I was gasping for air and wheezing. I felt like I was having an asthma attack, although I have never had one before so that's probably not what it was. Second, my socks and shoes were both soaked. Third, the rain was coming down even harder, and now there was headwind I had to run into. I hadn't brought my visor to the race, since it was so early and I knew it wasn't going to be sunny, and I was really regretting it, as a visor would have kept the rain off my face. My whole body was drenched....water beaded up on my arms, and there were rivers of water pouring down my face. Finally, the fast racers were already finishing up! I heard the announcer announce the winner! This was very demoralizing for me...I know I'm slow, but I wasn't even done with the first triathlon yet, and some people were already done.
As I passed the finish line, I asked a volunteer how to get back to transition. He directed me where to run, and suddenly I started to cry. I was so tired, so spent. And I was passing tons of people who were already done, with medals around their necks. The volunteer was amazing; he ran with me for a bit and told me to "let it out". My emotions were so raw! And not only was I crying, but I started to wheeze again too. I must have looked like quite the spectacle to the people I passed. All I wanted to do was quit...I was exhausted, muddy, and soaked to the bone. My spirits were so low. But failure is not an option, so I headed back to my transition area, took off my shoes and race belt, put on my swim cap and goggles, and headed back to the water for round two.
This swim actually felt better than my first. Even though I didn't put on my wetsuit for this swim, the water felt perfect. Since there was no one with me (most people had finished the race already, although there were a few people in the water way ahead of me and way behind me) I didn't have to jockey for space. And I am used to not swimming in a wetsuit during my pool workouts, so this felt more comfortable for me. Again, it was a tough swim, but much easier than the first one. Toward the end, I was tired and just tread water for a bit...the lifeguard at the shore yelled "just swim to me!". This was my second encounter with a volunteer cheerleader (although in actuality, all the volunteers at the race seemed great and cheered me on).
I got out of the water, and got back to transition for the fourth time. I was already sick of seeing my transition area! I put on my socks and shoes (unfortunately for me, I had forgotten to take off my tank top when I got back in the water, so I had to wear it soaking wet...although the rain probably would have soaked it anyway). I got on my bike, and started my first loop. Unfortunately, many of the people who had already finished were crowding up the road (chatting and comparing notes) and I had to literally yell "move it, I'm racing here!" Once I broke away from the crowd, I was in a good mood...I was thinking "ok, let's do this thing! Only 5 miles to ride then 2 miles to run and I'm done!" I did the first loop, but by the second loop I was feeling lonely and demoralized again. Yet another volunteer angel came to my rescue. A man, who was riding some sort of motorcycle along the course, asked if he could ride next to me to keep my company. I readily agreed, and for the entire second loop just listened to him talk. It was nice distraction, and I finally was done and headed back into transition for the last time.
I saw my friend, who had finished much, much earlier, and started to cry. I felt sooooo done. but I couldn't quit. I racked my bike (actually, I was too tired to even rack it correctly and just left it standing with the kickstand!) and headed out to my last leg---the final run. Again, the wheezing started, and it took a while for me to catch my breath. I was shivering...I was so wet and cold. My shoes and socks were drenched. My right foot started to hurt. But I knew I only had two miles left. Amazingly, there were a few people still on the course...I actually passed a few people, so I knew I wasn't going to come in last place (which was my fear by this point!) I was so happy when I saw the finish line....they were in the middle of the awards ceremony and stopped to call my name, which was kind of embarrassing but fun. I crossed the finish line, and luckily my friend was there to cheer me on. I started to cry for the third time.
After grabbing some post-race food, we headed back to transition. My friend had already packed up and put his things in his car, and I'm so glad he was there to help me. When I got there, everything---EVERYTHING--was soaking wet and filthy. I just dumped it all--towels, goggles, Gatorade, etc--into a few garbage bags which he helped carry. When we got back to the parking lot--the dirt lot, remember?--it was all mud. I slipped and slid as I walked across; my new running shoes sank into the mud, my bike tires were covered. A fitting ending to the day---my car would be wet and muddy as I was during the whole race.
As tough as it was, I'm proud of myself. Yes, it was hard physically, but in reality the physical challenge wasn't super-hard. It certainly wasn't the hardest physical challenge I've ever done (I'll always have the Rock 'n Roll Marathon as my toughest challenge to date). It was the emotions that got the best of me. The rain, the mud, me being so far behind, having to do the course again when I was mentally checked out---all of this conspired to make me really have to push hard. And I did. I could have quit, and just done a single course...but I stuck with it and did the double, as I intended. I was determined to finish---strong---and I did.