I swear doing a triathlon is like childbirth—you forget the pain and suffering you went through when it’s over. Otherwise, why on earth would you sign up for the experience again? In my case, I signed up for the notorious Wildflower Long Course (70.3 miles of pure triathlon “fun”) for the second year in a row as preparation for Ironman Lake Tahoe, which I will face down on September 22. My goal for this race, as it is for every other race, was to finish in a better time than I did last year. Despite the fact that I’ve been working my way back from a running injury for the past 4 months, I believed this was possible. Ha.
Here’s how the whole thing went down this time around. It was my first race of the season, which meant my first time since last August that I put all three sports together. I was super nervous. I hadn’t practiced transitioning from one event to the next (mistake); due to my injury, I’d hardly done any running off the bike (big mistake); and in the week leading up to the race I had to pay a visit to the dentist for a sore gum and was experiencing major discomfort in my mouth. That discomfort turned into a full-blown abscess that I woke up to race morning. I was in pain as we made our way to the race site and found myself trying very hard to keep my mind from going to the dark side. Mental attitude is a huge part of making it to the finish line, and I knew that starting off that way could really impact my performance. Additionally, I had more than 2 hours to kill until my wave started—plenty of time to let the nerves and negativity consume me. Thankfully, I have awesome friends who helped lift my spirits and take my mind off what was going on inside my mouth.
My wave (40+) set off at 9:25 a.m. and I soon forgot about my mouth as I jockeyed for a clear line toward the first buoy. I felt good in the water, thankfully a lovely 72 degrees, and other than having to battle my way through a clusterf*&#! of people the last few hundred meters, I came out of the swim strong and ran myself into transition.
Note to self: Practice getting out of your wetsuit! I spent way too much time in T1!
I hopped on the bike and started pedaling. Within the first couple of miles of this bike course, before your legs know what’s hit them, you find yourself on Beach Hill (aka Bitch Hill), so I tried to keep my gears low and get my legs moving as quickly as possible. Big thanks to the topless woman on the side of the road on that ascent holding a sign that read “Hey Boys, my eyes are up here!” who made me laugh out loud. Once I settled into the bike, I felt pretty good. Frequent visits to Sufferlandria are paying off! Still, nothing can quite prepare you for 56 miles of crotch crunching, girl-part pulverizing, unforgiving bumpy road. But at least I was passing people. Then I hit Nasty Grade. My left inner thigh started threatening to cramp and I started to feel sick. I had only been taking in liquid calories, unable to eat anything solid because of my mouth, and the sweetness was getting to me. Did I mention it was HOT? The temps must’ve hit 95 that day. But I survived the climb and spent the remaining 11 miles preparing myself for what was to come—the run.
Note to self: Take the time to reapply sunscreen in transition! My poor shoulders!
Ah, the “run,” or the Death March, as my friend Peter so aptly put it. My intention to only walk the hills was quickly replaced with the sheer will to just put one foot in front of the other. In the first half mile, my heart rate spiked and I couldn’t quench my thirst, and it wasn’t until about mile 4 that I stopped trying to convince myself turn around and end the misery. At last, a voice inside my head yelled, “Girl, you’d better turn this frown upside down! Figure it out!” It was the first time in a race I had to Dig Deep to just not give up. Then I came upon a fellow LA Tri Club member at mile 5 and things started to look up. Shout out to the sweetheart at the aid station shortly thereafter who ran with me while peeling me an orange! So awesome. My Tri Club buddy Erick and I began run/walking together, creating little goals for ourselves like, “let’s run to that tree over there,” “let’s pick it up when we get to that sign just ahead.” We became those obnoxious people loudly cheering on our fellow racers, finding a way to transform a miserable challenge into a joyous one. By the time we hit the last mile, we were laughing, high-fiving, whooping, and hollering. I had a huge smile plastered across my face as I sprinted down the avenue of flags and across the finish line. I never felt better.
I did not PR on Saturday. But I learned that no matter what happens out there on the race course, you have to find the joy. Triathlon is about testing not only your physical limits but also your mental limits. Once I pulled myself back from the abyss of disappointment of not achieving my goal for the day, I remembered why I really do this crazy sport—the camaraderie I feel with my fellow athletes, the beauty of being surrounded by nature, and the incredible high I experience when I cross that finish line!