Dede arrived at 4:20 am to drive us to the event. I don’t remember anything about the ride, except the part where we missed the exit and had to back track. I was numb; shell shocked to put it bluntly. As we approached the check in, the pre-dawn darkness couldn’t cloak the energy pulsating from the excitable crowd of athletes, spectators, and volunteers. I couldn’t see a thing, but managed to give my “Special needs” bags to the right volunteer, and then made my way over to my bike to make last minute inspections, and place my water bottles in the cages.
Another stop to add a few items to my T1 and T2 bags, and there was nothing left to do but wait for the start.
I got in the porta potty line to “unload” some of my stress, and then headed to the shuttle buses. The buses took everybody up river to the swim start, 2.4 miles away. While most people excitedly chatted, I sat in my seat, looking out into the dark morning, and quietly wept. I was afraid. I was afraid of failing, of disappointing myself, my kids, my coach, my team, Jeff, and all of the people that follow and support me. Could I do this? By the time we arrived and entered the long line of competitors waiting for the swim start, I had calmed down a LOT. There was no turning back now.
Waiting sucked. I started to get impatient, and didn’t like standing around long. Once the race officially started, the line began to move. We were way in the back, so we started almost 30 minutes after the first people hit the water. As I was pulling up my wet suit approaching the dock, I broke out of my haze, and started really breathing for the first time all morning. I took a few quick pulls on my asthma inhaler, tucked it in the front of my suit, and moved forward. All of a sudden, I found myself walking down a plank and realized, “Holy shit, we have started!” Jeff and I smiled at each other one more time and then SPLASH- in we went. The water felt unbelievably perfect. All week long the current was the topic of conversation. This day the current wasn’t strong at all, but it was a down stream swim, so we definitely got some help. I had been worried about the swim all Summer. I never swam 2.4 miles before the race. This day, though, I had the most perfect swim of my life. Sure, some typical swim things happened-I got kicked by a breast stroker, got my goggles knocked off once, had to dodge a few zig zagging swimmers, and such, but I smiled the whole time. I swam most of the distance with only one eye open because my left goggle kept filling with water. In no time at all, I was nearing the exit, and I never tired once. All systems a go!
After I exited the water, I ran across some grass, where there were volunteer “Wet suit strippers”. It’s hilarious. You run up to a stranger, throw yourself on the ground, and they pull your wet suit off of you. Royal treatment. Next I ran to grab my T1 bag and head into the women’s changing tent.
This is where things got gooey. Inside the bag was all of my bike needs: shoes, socks, cycling shorts, top, sunglasses, helmet, saddle cream, and my nutrition for the first half of the bike ride. I had 2 packets of Justin’s Nut Butters sitting inside my helmet. I dumped everything out of the bag, pulled off my wet clothes and got into my cycling clothes, put on my socks, and shoes, and then noticed something on the top of my shoe. It looked like poop. WTH? I let it go. Then I grabbed my sunglasses and helmet and just before I put the helmet on, I always double check to make sure I don’t put it on backwards. (Yes, I have seen it happen) I looked inside it and was convinced someone had taken a dump in there! WHAT IS GOING ON?
It was then that I remembered that I had cut open a small slit in the nut butter packets, to make it easier to eat it on the bike-without having to bite it open while riding. Well, the chocolate hazelnut one somehow had exploded all over the place. There was no way I was going to put that oozing mess on my head and ride for 116 miles. Thankfully, the wonderful volunteers had a table with some baby wipes on it. A gracious lady grabbed the helmet from me and cleaned it out as quickly as she could, while she and I laughed our butts off. All of this took some time, and I had a very slow transition of over 12 minutes. I am sure my kids all thought I must be taking a nap or something.
Leaving the tent, I had to run to get my bike and then take it to the exit before mounting. I had had a stellar swim, and now I was off to ride 116 miles of Tennesee countryside and I had no idea what to expect. I heard there were some rollers…..
To be continued.