So. Yesterday I ran the Silver Lake Triathlon. And I am going to tell you all about it, but first I’d like to comment on my new bike. I got this bike at quite an affordable price from a friend (thank you, Terri!). I ran my last race on a 17-year old mountain bike, and as much as I loved that old bike, it was heavy and not particularly aerodynamic. I was on the hunt for a road bike, and I was in luck.
Look how lightweight my new bike is!
It surprised me how difficult it was, at first, to get used to my new bike. It seemed like such a simple thing to ride a bike — something I’ve been doing as long as I can remember. But it took at least a few weeks to physically get used to not riding upright. My new road bike (a Cannondale R500T, for those, like me, who enjoy geeking out over these sorts of things) had me riding in a much more bent over position than I was used to. I finished even short rides with a sore neck and shoulders. I felt like a child again, learning to ride a bike for the first time. But when I realized how long I had been with my old bike (the aforementioned 17 years, give or take), it was easier to give myself a break, cross my fingers, and hope I’d be comfortable enough with the new bike to take it to Silver Lake.
After a few weeks riding and a few minor tune ups and adjustments, I was feeling good. Which led me to my next challenge: clipping in. I hadn’t planned to start clipping in until much later in my triathlon racing, but the bike came with clipless pedals and I didn’t really want to pay to switch them out, so I figured I’d give it a try. Everyone told me that I would fall over the first time, but I didn’t want to believe it, so I sat on the bike in our apartment and practiced clipping my feet in and out over and over again.
So when the big day came and Josh and I went out to the parking lot to try, I thought for sure I was ready. I put on my helmet, just in case, and Josh turned his back for five seconds to throw a bag of trash in the dumpster. In those five seconds, I thought, “I can do this,” clipped my feet in, and instantaneously fell over.
Luckily, the shoes unclipped themselves moments before I hit the ground, and I skittered to a stop, my limbs splayed like a fawn on ice. From there, it was a matter of practice and some kind advice from a concerned neighbor who saw me struggling and knew what she was talking about, and after riding to and from work clipped in a few times, I decided to try it in the race.
Silver Lake is located in beautiful Portage, Wisconsin, where my grandmother used to live. I was happy to be running this race with the woman who inspired me to start triathlons in the first place, my friend Jenny. We’ve known each other since we played softball together in high school. I watched Jenny run an Olympic distance triathlon in Verona back in 2010, and I was blown away. The endurance, the grit, and the athleticism she displayed inspired me and ever since that time, I wanted to do one myself. Now, three years later, I finally learned to swim and we were racing together.
Jenny picked Josh and me up at 5:45 AM to drive up to Portage and get to transition near the opening time. There were no assigned spots in transition, and I have a hard time running in my bike shoes, so I wanted to be close to the bike exit. We were among the first to arrive and found a nice, easy to find spot very close to the bike exit on the back row. Best of all, Jenny brought a minivan so we didn’t have to mess with the bike rack at all! I also made sure to give Josh my ID and left the rest of my wallet at home. There would be no lost wallet drama this time.
Driving 45 minutes to the race site brought up an unexpected complications as far as breakfast was concerned. My first race had been ten minutes from my house, so I was able to eat my oatmeal with peanut butter much closer to the start of the race than this time. I actually felt my stomach rumbling after we’d set up our transition areas and gotten our bodies marked. Luckily, I had brought some Luna bars along, and supplemented my first 5:30 AM breakfast with a 7:15 AM second breakfast. Both last race and this race, I also took a Gu about half an hour before the swim. I have no idea if it’s necessary or not (I do have an idea about how gross it tastes), but with my thyroid condition, when I get hungry I get ultra starving and the idea of an extra easy-to-digest, easy-on-the-stomach 200 calories before a massive exertion is perhaps as much psychological fuel as it is physical.
I was also excited to see a former co-worker (author of the fabulous blog Momma Says the F Word (which you should all read if you like good writing and humor) who was there for her first tri. We even had matching tri suits! (Yes, I really like purple. A lot.)
Enough with the build-up already. Let’s talk race!
I was terrified for the swim. The lake was flat, clear, and calm as could be. The water temperature was perfect. But I was still traumatized from my first swim in Lake Mendota and I had done exactly zero open water swimming since the last race. This was due partially to dumbness, partially to fear, and partially to logistics.
However, I put myself at the front and outside of the pack. This is because I finished my last swim in third place in my group, and part of the terror was running into so many people as I worked my way through the pack. I know I’m a relatively fast swimmer; I just hate doing it in open water. In this race, we were turning clockwise, so I put myself in the front row, on the far left. I might have had to swim more meters, but hopefully I wouldn’t run into too many other women.
The air horn went off, we ran in, and I was immediately passed by about 15 competitors. Oops.
I am happy to report there was less panic this time. I still found myself surprised to see the water was green (really? What was I expecting?), and at first I was breathing every stroke to the right, jazzed on the adrenaline of the beginning of the race, the bodies surrounding me, and the blast that had started us. But this time, instead of freaking out and forgetting what was happening, I thought to myself, “You’re just full of adrenaline and you’re a good swimmer. Calm down, slow your breathing.” So I did! (Can you believe that?) I switched to breathing every third stroke, like I usually do, and tried to commit to freestyle.
By the first buoy, though, I was ready for a break, so I flipped onto my back. Swimming between the first and second buoy, I backstroked the whole way, and I was thrilled to be next to a woman who was swimming freestyle, going about the same speed as me, and lifting up her head every so often to check where she was going. I didn’t even feel like I had to turn to look, but just kept myself parallel to her and thanked my lucky triathlon stars that she was there as a guide. After the race, I found out this woman was Jenny (we all look alike with the same caps and goggles). She knew it was me, of course. (“Who else would be swimming the backstroke in a triathlon?”)
At the second buoy, I switched back to freestyle and brought it home. I almost slipped on the weird mossy rocks coming out of the water, but they had volunteers there to give a steady hand on the slippery surface (thank you, volunteer man). I finished my swim in 7:55, 43 seconds faster than last time. Of course, it’s not an exact measurement, because the transition areas were different distances from the water, but still, definitely an improvement. I was fifth out of the water in my age group.
This transition was easier than last time, as I didn’t have to get out of a wetsuit. I did have to run in my cycling shoes, but with the support of the bike, and with a small distance to run, that was not as much of a problem as I had feared. I zoomed in and out of T-1 in 1:31.
I had an embarrassingly difficult time clipping in once I was over the line out of the transition area. Part of this was the knowledge of the athletes behind me and the volunteers and spectators watching me. But part of it was also my wobbly legs from having just swum a quarter of a mile without a wetsuit, and that was something I hadn’t anticipated. It probably only took me a few seconds to get clipped in and on my way, but it felt like forever.
The bike was six miles longer than my last race, and it was hard. I hadn’t anticipated this, because I looked at maps of the course ahead of time and it looked really flat except for one hill. But the road was not great for cycling. We started on a highway, and there were cracks and potholes that I thought were going to derail my wheels. All the things I drive over in my car every day without a thought were painful and scary on a bike. Then when we got out to the county road, everything was smooth, but it was this sort of packed gravel that felt like it was constantly slowing my momentum. I felt like I had to work for every ounce of speed and could never let up.
The bike was when I started talking to myself. “Don’t think about it,” I said. “Just keep going,” I said. I sometimes said weird, non-sensical things that I can’t remember, and I do have a clear recollection of laughing at myself and then looking around to see if anyone had heard me. I’m pretty sure I sounded insane. I forced myself to keep drinking water and passed a lot of people. I was only passed by one woman, right at the beginning, and even though I was trying I never saw her again and never caught her. This was a big change from the last race when everyone in the world passed me on the bike.
The bike was an out and back, and I was happy to see Jenny and my former co-worker on the course. We waved at each other and I kept pedaling.
During the bike, my allergies from the lake started kicking in. I know I’m allergic to fresh-water algae, and I had expected this would be a problem. But on the first race, it didn’t really affect me at all, probably because it was in early June and the algae hadn’t had a chance to bloom. But on this race, it was mid-August and the lake was much smaller, so there were plenty of allergens. With nothing else to do, I blew my nose into my hand repeatedly and wiped it on my tri suit. I apologize to anyone who is grossed out by that, but one of the things I love about racing is that I can be elemental. I can be full of grossness and pain and not worry about it for once in my life. It’s a chance for me to leave things all out there and not over analyze every little thing. In a weird and painful way, it’s really freeing from the anxieties that hold me back in the real world. Yeah, I’m going to blow my nose into my hand and wipe it all over my clothes because you know what? That’s what I need to do right now, and my racing is more important than being a polite woman. Rawr.
I finished the 16-mile bike in 51:11, at an average pace of 18.8 mph. This was a huge improvement over my last race, when my bike was an average of 14.2 mph. Technology! Looking at the results online, I only see three women in my age group who finished faster than me.
This was a change from last time, because now I had to switch from cycling shoes to running shoes. I do have a hope of eventually being able to leave my shoes on my bike, but that’s going to take some serious parking lot practice and I was dealing with enough new stuff in this race. Luckily, I had a quick shoe change and finished T-2 in 1:06.
Oh my God. This was so painful. The first fifty meters out of transition hurt in a way that I don’t know how to describe. Hurt like my legs were being stabbed by 5 million bees with shivs. Hurt like the sun was burning my hair off. Hurt like I wanted nothing more than to stop. I seriously considered walking, but I knew that if I stopped moving, I was never going to start again, and I saw a woman in front of me who I was pretty sure was in my age group and I really, really wanted to catch her.
I passed a man who was walking and I said to him as I ran by, “Just keep moving; you’ll loosen up eventually.” I felt like a stud giving advice and encouragement as if I knew what I was talking about in my second race, but he just groaned in response, so who knows.
I kept telling myself that if I could make it to the first mile marker, I’d be okay. Things would loosen up. I talked to myself the whole run, out loud most of the time. I thought about how when I finished, I would cry. “But that’s at the end, don’t think about that now,” I said out loud. I wondered when I’d get to the first water station. “It’ll be there when you need it,” I said.
And just at the moment that I noticed my legs weren’t cramping anymore, I ran by the one mile marker. It’s amazing to me how that happens like clockwork. At this point in the last race, I felt like I could cruise and just enjoy the running (yes, I know how that sounds). This time, although I was excited to see the water station, I still felt like I was just shuffling my feet barely off the ground. My legs felt a lot better and weren’t so cramped, but they still felt heavy, like they were coated in wet cement.
As an aside, Silver Lake organizers, I thought this was a well-organized and well-run event, but two quick suggestions: put the trashcan further away from the water station (give us a chance to drink before we throw our cups!) and add one more water station, maybe at the turn around. That would have helped immensely.
When I got to the turnaround, I audibly said, “Thank God, it’s half over,” and when I passed the woman in front of me, she said, “You’ll make it, keep going.” I appreciated that so much, I can’t even say. On the way back, I saw the guy who had been walking out of T-2, and he was running (fast, too!) and I saw Jenny and we high-fived (or at least that’s how I remember it). Later, after the race, she commented that I looked like I was running at a fast pace, but it felt like I was slogging and barely moving. I started feeling a crust of salt around my mouth and knew that I hadn’t drunk enough water. I passed the aid station again on the way back and shouted, “Gatorade please!” The volunteers abided and held out a cup of blue flavor. The hydration and electrolytes really did help, but I refused to relinquish my paper cup at the too-close trash can, instead sipping as I ran until I felt better. When I passed a man cheering everyone on, I asked him to throw it out for me and he said, “Yes! Throw it on the ground!” So I did, without having to feel guilty about littering someone’s lawn. I realized the woman I had wanted to catch was long gone ahead of me, and that was hard. I had seen her for two miles, but I just couldn’t make myself catch her. Very frustrating.
There was one steep hill to run up before the finish, and I swore the entire way up it, audibly dropping f-bombs and s-bombs, and all the letter bombs. I felt so, so crappy, thirsty and hot and just all around not good. But the only person between me and the finish line was an old man, and there was no way I was going to let him cross in front of me, so I turned my legs up and pushed past him, even high-fiving a young girl on the side of the road as I did so.
Immediately over the finish line someone put a bottle of gloriously cold water into my hand and I looked around for a medical tent, because I was pretty sure I was never going to breathe again. I was making a terrifying goose noise every time I inhaled, turning heads (none of whom offered to help, but whatever). Josh found me and as soon as I saw him I started crying. I felt like I couldn’t breathe (and I couldn’t without making that honking/rasping/gasping noise) but I couldn’t find the medical tent and it was too hard to look. Josh made me keep walking, and we walked up and down the street for ten minutes, passing a man who was (I think?) washing a suitcase with a hose in his driveway and staring at us, and as my breathing slowed I started feeling awesome and hungry. We returned to watch Jenny finish strong and then I ate a banana and checked the results.
I was shocked at my run time, a PR for me: 24:46. I had felt like I wasn’t moving at all, when really I was running 8-minute miles (when I usually run 9:30 miles). No wonder I couldn’t breathe! My total time was 1:26:26, which put me as the 13th female overall and 5th in my apparently quite competitive age group of 30-39.
At the risk of sounding self-important, I am so, so proud of what I accomplished in this race. I swam without panicking. I biked clipped in without falling over. I PR-ed my run. It was a painful race that required a lot of self talk to get through, but I’m proud of my time and of my finishing place.
Next up: Sugar River, 9/1/13. Here we go.