Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Worst Tri Ever

Normally the June Pigman is my first tri of the year, but I decided to throw caution to the wind and do one on May 22. I was signing up for Hickory Grove (held in August) and saw that I could get a discount if I signed up for the Bluff Creek Triathlon too. It seemed like a good idea at the time…

I always try to do a new race each year so I don’t get in a rut. Bluff Creek had both sprint and Olympic distances (I did the sprint). I was excited to try something different, but it would turn out to be my worst tri ever. It was one of those days where nothing went right.

The Friday before the race the water temp was 54 degrees and race officials said wetsuits were mandatory. If it got colder they might cancel the swim. They said we could wear neoprene booties and beanies, but somehow that seemed wimpy to me. I would have to tough it out.

The Bluff Creek Tri was held at a county park about 10 miles west of Boone, IA. I drove down that Saturday so I could check out the course. My hotel in Boone didn’t have an alarm clock so off I went to Walmart. My cell phone was my back-up, but I always like to have two alarms. In the four-plus years I have been racing I have never needed an alarm to wake up on race day, but I didn’t want this to be the first time I overslept. I found out there wouldn’t be much sleep anyway…Boone has a race track and I could hear the sound of racecars as I tried to sleep.

That morning I headed out to the park, not knowing if I would be swimming. They had reduced the Olympic swim to a sprint and lifted the wetsuit requirement (who wouldn’t wear a wetsuit?!), but I would have to brave water temps in the mid-50’s.

The swim was a point-to-point so they would be bussing us to the beach. I was on the first bus, shortly after 7. I’m not a last-minute person when it comes to triathlons. I like to arrive before transition opens and have plenty of time to warm up before the swim starts. A small group of us got to the beach first. Something made me look down and I realized I had forgotten to pick up my timing chip! I ran up the hill, but of course, the bus had left. I had to wait for the next bus and then ride back to transition.

I must have been quite the sight, running in a wetsuit to the registration table, grabbing my chip and running back to the buses. By now there was a long line of people and transition was closing. All that time in the wetsuit had overheated me, but there was no time to get a drink. I got on the last bus, now in full panic. I told myself that I had gotten the bad stuff out of the way. It had to get better, right?

I got to the beach about five minutes before start time. I barely had time to do my pre-race pee break! They recommended getting in the water so the cold wasn’t a shock to our systems. I was in the second wave and soon we were off.

I tried not to think about the cold water and the chaos around me. My sighting must have been off because I wound up right next to one of the buoys—the last place you want to be during a tri! I’m pretty sure an expletive escaped my lips as the next wave of men was on top of me. They were on me like a swarm of bees with nowhere to escape. Someone grabbed my leg and pulled me under and suddenly I was swallowing water. I came up, choking and fighting for breath. I literally stopped and just sat there, bobbing on the surface. Swimmers were going by me, but I felt frozen, disoriented. I saw one of the volunteer boaters looking at me, which snapped me out of it. “You’re not pulling me,” I said and I resumed the swim. I had to end the swim by running up a slippery boat landing, followed by a long trek to transition.

My frozen hands struggled with the wetsuit. I had to sit down in transition to get it off (a big no-no in my book). By now I had resigned myself to the fact that this would not be my day. I was off on the bike course, which was an out-and-back on a county road. Wow, I am really flying! I wondered why the bikes going in the other direction were moving so slowly. Several people were walking their bikes and I saw one guy let out a loud grunt as he headed up a small incline. I would soon find out why. As soon as I made the turnaround I slammed into a giant wall of wind. It practically stopped me in my tracks. “This is going to suck,” I said.

For the next seven miles I fought the wind, averaging 8-9 mph, scanning the horizon for the park entrance. Never has a bike ride seemed so long. At one point I was drafting off another girl because I didn’t have the strength to go by her. The “law-abiding citizen” in me, however, didn’t want to break the rules (although a two-minute penalty would hardly matter at this point) so I passed her. By the end I was hurting and the last thing I wanted to do was run three miles.

The first portion of the run was on park trails, which by now had turned to mud. The hilly run continued on pavement inside the park. I took a bottle of Gatorade with me because I didn’t hydrate much on the bike, for fear of taking my hands off the handlebars and getting blown over. For the first mile my hands were still tingling from my death grip on the bike. My race belt came undone (could anything else go wrong?) so I started to walk as I fixed it.

“No walking, Green,” yelled out an ISU runner. “You’re strong! You got this!” It motivated me to push on. The Olympic competitors were all doing two loops on the course so I didn’t feel alone. I saw my “green team”—my fellow MWXers—and they called out support to me.

Finally I was back on the trails and finishing. It would be my worst time for a tri, but under better conditions I think I would really enjoy this course. The post-food included mini Snickers and Twix bars so life was good. I hung around with the rest of the MWX club, sharing our experiences that day.

I headed back and unbeknownst to me, drove through a tornado warning 30 miles outside of Cedar Rapids. It seemed fitting for the “stormy” day I had just experienced. I think the tough races, the ones that don’t go your way, can be just as satisfying. They force you to find that mental toughness it takes to succeed in this sport. And they make you want to keep tri-ing!