Race Day, Montauk Might Many Sprint Triathlon
The alarm went off at 4:14am, not that I needed it, because I had been awake most of the night. I wondered if any other participants were as worked up as me.
Like most athletes, I have a specific morning routine that I follow, down to the smallest detail. I drink a cup of tea with honey, a toasted gluten free bagel with almond butter, jelly, and Chia seeds. I have to get up early enough for this to digest, so I can…ahem…leave a little of it at home, so to speak. With the race day jitters I am a frequent user of all-that-is “toilet”.
My race day equipment was packed. I had a bucket filled with towels, a plastic garbage bag, bike and running shoes, socks, extra water bottles, 2 swim caps, goggles, gloves, a jacket, bike helmet and glasses, inhaler, Vaseline, my phone, and God knows what else. It didn’t all fit in the bucket. I WAS going to put on my wetsuit at the house, since the starting line is just a half a mile away, but I opted against that…..I knew I would need frequent visits to the Blessed porta potties before starting. I arrived at 5:45am and the transition area was already about 75% full. The grass was wet on my flip flop clad feet and my sweat pant legs were getting damp. This pissed me off way more than it should have. (STRESS) I methodically set up my transition area, positioning everything I would need for the two changes. My helmet was perched upside down on my handlebars, with my glasses inside. My wool socks were rolled down to the toes; my towel was ready, water bottle to wash my feet off was ready, and my bucket was turned upside down. Next to all of this were a jacket and my running shoes, and a small water bottle filled with an electrolyte drink for the run. Taped to my bike was a plastic bag with a small protein bar that I could shove down at the start of the cycling. All that was left was for me to go to the bathroom six more times and put on my wetsuit.
Approximately thirty minutes before the scheduled start of the swim, I took a long pull or two on my inhaler and proceeded to encase myself in black rubber.
The time came for all athletes to move over to the shore line and assemble in our “waves”. I was in the 4th wave: females, 40 and older. We all had white swim caps. They assigned MY group of WHITE CAPS? BORING!!! Anyway, we lined up and nervously chatted.
One by one the waves of swimmers entered the water, for their “chest-deep” start. (I assume we didn’t do a beach-run start because they didn’t want people stomping on all of the snapping turtles.) As I moved toward the water, I felt like a cow going to slaughter. The voices in my head laughed and told me I was going to die. Then the shivering took over. As I moved further into the lake, I looked around and had what I can only describe as an out of body experience. The only thoughts I had were: 1) Oh my God, I am really going to do this, and 2) Oh my God, I wonder how many of these people around me are peeing in this water?
There was no time to worry about pee because the next thing I knew a gun went off and my wave started. SWIM PATTY! I took a few strokes and found myself playing a water version of Twister with four other swimmers. My goggles fogged up and I couldn’t see. All I could do was TRY to swim, which was impossible because a group of us were seemingly staying in one place, wrestling. This did not please me. I tried zig zagging, looking for a way out of the churn, and I realized I wasn’t breathing at all. CALM DOWN! Since I couldn’t see out of my goggles, or stop shivering enough to get a good breath, I flipped over on my back and did some kind of messed up version of sculling. Embarrassed by this, I flipped back over and did some breaststroke. Then for some reason, I started side stroking. SIDESTROKING?!!! Who the HELL sidestrokes??? Oh, and I was barely 25 yards from the start! I considered giving up right then and there. Yep. BUT I DIDN’T. I decided that no matter what, I was going to finish this God forsaken swim and get out of that lake. I never warmed up enough or calmed down enough to do more than ten to twenty crawl strokes at a time. I swam on my back a lot, inventing ways to move my body through the water. I breast stoked a TON, and did my best not to drink any of the lake’s blackish green water. I wondered: “WHERE THE HELL DID ALL MY TRAINING GO?” I kept going. I stayed on my belly all the way into the shallow water, and jumped up when it was only two feet deep because I heard that is faster than trying to run through waist deep water.
I stumbled, exhausted, out of the swamp. As I gathered what remaining strength I had left, I unzipped my wetsuit and ripped my goggles off. I found that my entire face was covered in slime. I thought it was seaweed, until I realized it was coming out of my nose and mouth. I was a phlegm factory. It took several attempts before I was able to rid myself of that shit.
By the time I ran to my bike, the swim experience was completely behind me and I was READY! I had a little trouble getting my left leg out of the wetsuit because of the bulky timing chip on my ankle, and I started to panic. I stopped, took a calming breath, and pulled my foot out. I put my glasses and helmet on, ripped open the bag with my snack in it, and shoved the protein bar in my mouth. Never underestimate how dry those things are! I was in the very back section of the transition area so I had to navigate around several people before I exited the area. I clipped right into my pedals, headed down the street, and spit out the protein bar, for fear of choking on the damned thing.
Something happened to me as soon as I got my feet spinning. I turned into a combination of Godzilla and Jim Carey in “The Mask”. I approached other cyclists with the screaming voice; “ON YOUR LEFT!”, “PASSING!”, “On YOUR LEFT!” Oh my God, I was actually embarrassed. (Well, not really) I was a mad woman throwing my head in the air and cackling! “You’re MINE, I tell you!”
The course has a bad ass hill about a mile into the start, that sneaks up on you and never lets go. My lungs were in my throat half way up. I crested the top and shifted into high gear. I usually brake a little on the downhill, but this time, I just let it go. WEEEEEEEEEE. (“Oh God, please don’t let me crash, please don’t let me crash”) The ride is an out and back and the usually fierce Montauk wind behaved on this day. I rode hard, although my legs were protesting the whole way. At one point I looked down at my computer and it read 30 MPH. WHAT? The last hill was a killer and I slowed down to 11 MPH for a portion.
Before I knew it I was back in the transition area and in short order, I changed into my running shoes and grabbed my water bottle. My feet took off faster than I thought possible, and for the first mile, I had no feeling in the front half of either of them. The course circles the lake and the views are stellar. Now that I was no longer IN the lake, I enjoyed its beauty. I got a little fatigued and in an effort to avoid an asthma attack, I took a few short walk breaks. I passed a lot of people on my run and finished with a sprint.
I put it all out there that morning. When I finished, I was heaving, and wheezing, and within about a minute after the finish, the tears arrived. Like I said in my previous post, they always do. There’s a mixture of: joy, exhaustion, wonder, elation, and accomplishment that I just can’t describe. I did it. I did well. I gave my all. I didn’t die. I didn’t shit myself.
To some, a Sprint Triathlon is like an easy walk in the park. They could do one in their sleep. For me? It was my biggest physical and mental accomplishment since I did my first marathon last year. But in many ways it was harder. I loved it. I hated it. I laughed and I cursed. I know I will do another one. Will I ever make it all the way to an Ironman? Oh boy…. time will tell. For now, I will enjoy this memory, and keep on training.