I’m sorry for yesterday’s teaser post. There were too many thoughts and not enough time to get them all out and upload photos.
Yes. I woke up at 3:30 am on race day. My plan was to sleep until 5am, but my body was having none of that. It wasn’t nervousness about the race. Perhaps excitement or nervousness about hearing my alarm go off.
I took a shower to help wake myself up further, packed the car, loaded my bike and headed to Dunkin Donuts for a bagel and (I was hoping) an iced nonfat latte.
Sadly, Dunkin’s latte machine was down. In fact, it continued to be the worst Dunkin experience I’ve ever had. I’m swearing the place off now, unless desperation drives me there. The service was slow, they didn’t toast the bagels as I requested, and it took 3 people to figure out whether they served iced chai (Evan’s request. The answer is no, in case you were wondering). I only ate half the bagel and then my stomach said “That’s good for now.” I thought I needed more to fuel for this race–and would normally be able to down a bagel in record speed–but not this time.
Needless to say, at this point I was running late. Typically, that’s permission for all-out bitchiness and anxiety for me. Instead, I focused on the peace part of my race day manta, got Evan, and we left for Philly. We found parking fairly easily and got to the site by 6:30am. As we entered the site, there were dozens of volunteers with huge Sharpies in their raised hands just begging to mark the athletes.
I got high off the stench of Sharpie as the volunteer drew a large 725 (my race number) on each of my arms and an even larger 34 (my age) on both of my calves. I don’t need to tell you what a bitch THAT was to get off later. Hint to future athletes: baby oil and a scrub brush.
I had plenty of time to set up my station, find out that the swim was canceled, stretch, use the bathroom, drink some more water and briefly warm up. I also showed Evan where I’d be coming and going and warned him that I might be too focused to respond if he spoke to me between legs of the race.
Some people were focused on their stretching routines.
I was in one of the last heats to start, so while the race officially started at 8am, I didn’t get to go until 8:40am.
I planned to run the entire 1.9 mile course and was confident I could complete it, since I worked my way up to 3.4 mile runs in the weeks prior to the race. I started off running, but went too fast and burned out quickly. Within 10 minutes. At first, I thought it was just an issue warming up. Typically, I hate the first 5 minutes of a run and feel miserable. I hurt. It doesn’t feel natural. I find excuses to stop. But I always have a deal with myself that I’ll keep running until after the 5 minute mark because that’s the point where I typically start feeling good. Seven minutes in, it still wasn’t happening. I realized it was because I wasn’t pacing myself correctly, so I slowed, but it was too late. At the 10 minute mark, I started walking.
This was the only time that I doubted myself. I though “My god! Most people do a 5k for their first race. Why in the hell did I think it was a good idea to do a race that included a 5k, 17 mile bike ride and this semi-unexpected 2 mile run from hell?”
But I repeated my mantra: endurance, strength, peace and glory. I was NOT going to quit, and I was NOT going to let my frustration slow me down
I finished this leg in 27:29 minutes (faster than a 4mph pace).
Then, it was off to the bike. My transition time surpassed my goal–under 2 minutes, although that was probably helped by the fact that I didn’t need to pull clothes on over a wet swimsuit. I bought a mylar balloon (that said “Welcome Home”–it seemed more fitting than “Happy Birthday” or “It’s a Boy!”) to mark my location because I was smack in the middle of a transition area with 1200 bikes. Little did I know that because of my run time, my bike would be one of the last ones left. Very easy to find!
I put a bottle of Powerade in my bottle cage, chewed on a mouthful of energy beans, put on my helmet and gloves and set off. Unfortunately, I made a critical error. In the interest of saving transition time, I didn’t put my feet in the toe cages. A few times during my ride, my left foot slipped off the peddle, and I noticed that I couldn’t keep the speed I wanted because I was wasting too much energy keeping my feet on the peddles.
Additionally, my bike was struggling to shift between 2nd and 3rd gear. It would take 5 seconds for the chain to shift and I was worried my chain would fall off. As a result, I was definitely too chicken to push it to 4th gear. What that meant is that I couldn’t take full advantage of the flat course at times and I definitely couldn’t take advantage of the downhill portions. Seriously–people passed me going downhill, yet I was passing other riders on the inclines.
The course was gorgeous! It made it difficult for me to focus on this as a race. It was literally a Sunday bike ride through the park–we rode a closed course around Fairmount Park, traveling up Martin Luther King Drive along one side of the Schuylkill River and the crossing over to Kelly Drive and going down the other side of the river past the Philadelphia Museum of Art (and the stairs made famous in Rocky) and through Boathouse Row. So many times, I wished I could stop and take photos to share with you all. (Here‘s a PDF of the bike course.) The loop was 8.5 miles long, so we rode it twice. I noticed some people got flats on the bridges (possibly from the metal bridge expansion joints) and there were three spots where there was glass in the street, but the course was largely clean.
Although I seemed to be in the middle of the pack for my first loop, I was largely alone during my second loop. As a result, I had to fight against some slowdowns. I had to slow to avoid hitting a flock of approximately 20 Canadian geese crossing the street and was particularly irritated by people using the course for their Sunday morning bike ride. I had to navigate around a young girl weaving across the road on a 2 wheeler with training wheels (yes–her dad was there) and an older male cyclist who was smack dab in the middle of the lane exactly where I needed to make a 90 degree turn. I was also caught off-guard by a flying insect the size of Minnesota smacking me in the cheek. It totally freaked me out but like the true athlete I’m trying to be, I ignored it.
I didn’t touch my water once on the bike ride. I’m not stable or coordinated enough to reach down, grab the bottle, steer and not fall off the bike. Also, I never felt thirsty until the very end. The wind in my face kept me from feeling overheated or sweaty–my typical indicators for needing to drink.
I started to wonder whether I was in last place. Although I had hoped to finish the bike leg in 60-70 minutes, it took me 1:18:54. Most women finished in 60-70 minutes–and many finished in under an hour, which means they rode 20+mph.
When I finished the second leg, I saw Evan and talked to him as I walked through transition. I told him to expect a 45-50 minute 5k from me. I quickly racked my bike, took off my helmet and gloves, grabbed my water bottle and shoved my other packet of energy beans in my bra for safe keeping. Hey! I didn’t have pockets–what else could I do? As I exited transition, I heard a woman yell “Tina from TCNJ! I know you! I know you!”
I’ve never seen someone so excited to see me before in my life. It was pretty darn neat! Thanks, Amanda! Unfortunately, she didn’t get to see my appreciation. In my race haze and dehydration, I stopped dead in my tracks and gave her a confused look. She saw my expression and reminded me that she also worked at TCNJ and we served on a committee and participated in some training together. Total lightbulb moment, but in my confusion, I was ready to be social and chat and catch up until she said “Go! You can do it!”
That’s when I remembered I was in a race and half jogged, half speed-walked to the 5k course. A volunteer was kind enough to tell me “There’s no shame in walking!” and Evan continued to jog along fence that contained the transition area. He jokingly huffed and puffed and wiped his brow and said “This triathlon spectatorship is exhausting!” which made both me and the volunteers laugh. One of them handed him a cup of Heed (a clear, salty electrolyte drink that reminded me of drinking the ocean), which Evan sipped before tossing on himself in an exaggerated sports moment, not realizing the sticky mess it would leave.
That made me laugh harder.
And then I started tearing up. I realized, “Holy shit! I’m about to finish a duathlon.”
Yes. Me. The same woman who quit volleyball in favor of theater and who most enjoyed the badminton lesson in gym class in high school. The same woman who considered sneakers an opportunity for a fashion statement–not performance wear–until a few years ago. The same woman who used to be incredibly overweight and lacked energy and passion for just about anything.
I decided that while I might be in last place, and I might be walking the 5k, I was definitely going to do it quickly. It felt like I was walking in mud, but I maintained a great pace–46:59 minutes to complete 3.1 miles (a 15:10 minute mile). The 5k was also a loop, which helped me realize there were more women behind me, but I was also walking fast enough to pass several people.
At the very end of the race, 400 meters away from the finish line, the race organizers had a volunteer whose sole job seemed to be to motivate people coming in. I heard him earlier in the day, yell Tony Little-style to athletes saying “You go get ’em! You signed up for this race, now do it!” I think he lost some of his vocal power by the time I got to him, but his message was just as strong. “You’re almost there 725,” he said softly. “Run it in and make this the race you wanted it to be.”
How could I turn him down?
I ran that last bit, appreciating the roar of the crowd and the beep of the timing pad as I crossed it and passed the finish line. The race organizers announced my name and town, someone placed a medal around my neck and Evan was there hugging me in all my sweaty, frizzy ginger-haired glory instead of taking a damn picture of me with my very first medal ever!
Don’t worry. I forgive him. And if you’re not bored to tears already, come back tomorrow where I tell you what my post-race plans were and whether I’m nuts enough to do this crap all over again.