Pedaling in the rain: The story of my first Olympic duathlon

When I signed up for the Gator Olympic Duathlon a few months ago, I have to confess – I didn’t have the clearest grasp on what it was I was exactly doing.  I just knew that I’d watched Brian cross the finish line for a handful of sprint triathlons and that it looks really fun and I had a road bike and so hey, why not try it?  (This life philosophy has gotten me into a lot of trouble in the past, mind you.  I may want to consider changing it some day.)

After I did my first (and only) sprint duathlon in February and enjoyed tremendously, I thought it seemed like a natural next step, to add some distance to the event. My introduction to the world of multi-sport athletics was a really positive experience.  It was a sprint, so we ran a 5K, biked 10 miles and then ran a final 5K.  I was exhausted at the end of it but not terribly sore, not the way I would have been had I run for an hour and twenty minutes.  Plus I liked the logistics of it, the almost military precision required to organize the event and to take part in it.

Multi-sport athletes usually have a whole mess of equipment, things like shoelaces that you just pull tight and single-piece spandex suits that zip up the front, and all of which is meant to reduce the amount of time spent “in transition,” which is the area where athletes move from event to event within a race. All their junk goes into these huge backpacks that they wheel around with their super-expensive carbon-frame bicycles that cost more than some people’s cars and their pointy-headed helmets and their electrolyte replacement tablets and lord knows what else.

As you can imagine, it’s all completely foreign to runners like me, because we’re used to showing up to races with just our shoes and maybe a watch.  The morning of my first duathlon, we scrambled around at the last minute because I had forgotten that, hey, I have to take a bike with me!  Yeah, not so smart of me, huh?

This time I actually planned ahead and so none of these things were factors.  What was a factor, however, were the hellacious allergies that had been having their way with my face for the last week and a half.  I don’t know what kind of climate-change clusterfuckery was responsible for the Pollenmageddon that was unleashed upon our collective nostrils last month but I don’t like it and I’d like the universe to take it back, please.

Anyway, I was pretty much out of commission for several days as my body tried to purge itself of what felt like gallons of mucus, which meant – no training!  My last workout before the ocean of pollen flatted me was a 15-mile bike ride followed by a three-mile run. Yeah, totally prepared.

But because I am dumb and stubborn and I had already missed a half-marathon due to the allergies, I went ahead with the duathlon.  I dosed myself up with some cold medicine and some nasal sprays and we headed down to Lake Manatee State Park with our bikes and all of gear in the wee hours of Sunday morning.  A rain system had moved ashore a few hours earlier and so everything was wet and shiny in the darkness.  We were hopeful that that would be it, but as we made our way south on I-275 we drove right into some heavy rain, and that rain did not let up until we arrived at the race location.

The state park is situated in a kind of rural part of Florida, just outside Bradenton on State Road 64.   Lake Manatee is a big freshwater lake, which all of the triathletes (both Olympic and half-Ironman distance) would have to swim around in.  If there is anything that is less appealing to me than ocean water swimming, it’s lake swimming. I did not envy them at all.   The running segments of the race were through the park, which is bordered by saw palmetto and pine, and along a back road through a nearby neighborhood.  The biking segment was along State Road 64, which is a two-lane highway that is heavily traveled and bordered by farms.

We got all set up and ready, then I headed up to the start with the duathletes.  We gathered at the starting line, and as we realized that maybe there were about a dozen of us competing at the Olympic distance, we all burst out into laughter.  “Age group awards all around,” I said.  Later, when the results were in, I found out that more like three dozen people competed but I still have no idea where they were.

The start was disorganized, with the race director running up and telling us to go.  So we all looked at each other and started running. The first half-mile was great…and then it started to rain again.  I didn’t mind at first, because it was better than being assaulted by heat and sunlight, but the rain kept pouring and within two minutes my Asics Racers were soaked.  My feet made a sploshing noise with each step, and all I could think was that I was going to now have wet socks for the next three hours (which was what I had targeted as my finishing time).  Alas, I had no choice as I was not going to stop so soon over something as silly as wet socks, so I kept running and finished my first 5K in an easy 25 minutes.

It was still raining as I ran into the transition area.  I turned my helmet upside down to dump out all of the water, put it on my head and strapped it in place, then sucked down a Gu.  You can’t mount your bike inside the transition area, so I had to run with it out of the area to the “mount” line, which was when I was free to get on my bike.

Thus begins the most epic bike ride of my entire life. I knew it was going to be long, and I had psychologically prepared myself for that.  What I was not prepared for was all of the rain.  The rain made puddles that splashed up dirt and muck when I rode through them,  it soaked my tri suit through to my base layer and then soaked that as well, and it covered both sides of my sunglasses with droplets of rain.  I took them off, but then I couldn’t see because rain was in my face, so I put them back on and smeared my fingers on the lenses.  Safe, I know.

And then there was all the traffic!  What kind of crazy people are out driving at 8:30  on a rainy Sunday morning?  Every time a car blew past me at sixty miles per hour, I silently screamed at them for being weirdos who weren’t in bed sleeping on a morning like this.  (Uh, pot?  Kettle?)  Sometimes a big truck went past and covered me in god knows what kind of toxic road runoff, so if my future children have three eyes, you know what’s responsible for that.  A couple of times I was even nailed by flying rocks.

All of this while trying to navigate the debris and busted tires and roadkill on the side of the road.  I passed so many people with flat tires that day, I don’t know how I escaped a similar fate.  I would have been totally screwed had my tire blown, as I didn’t have a repair kit with me either.  (Lesson learned.)

When I hit the turnaround, I was relieved that I was halfway through this brutal ride, but my relief lasted about fourteen seconds, which is about how long it took me to realize I was riding directly into the rain storm.   I kept pedaling, even though by this time my shit was so wet that my gears were slipping, and I tried to keep a good attitude about all of it, like “oh golly, what an adventure I’m having, won’t this make a great story, ha ha ha.”

That lasted about two miles, at which point I ran out of fucks to give.  In fact, I was so out of fucks to give that I started demanding the universe give me fucks.  I freaked out as I rode, screaming obscenities I knew no one would hear because, hey, most people were not demented masochists who were out riding their bikes for 25 miles in the rain alongside busy highways.  I was mad.

Ny "GET OUT OF MY FACE OR I WILL RUN YOU OVER" look.

At some point, though, I thought about the absurdity of it all, of all of us in our little spandex outfits pedaling like crazy in the rain, bedraggled race numbers flapping in the wind, and I started laughing maniacally.  Shortly afterward, one of my fellow duathletes passed me, and I focused on staying up with her.  The hypnotic sight of her rear wheel calmed me down and after a few miles, I felt okay enough to speed up and pass her.

I rolled to a stop at the dismount line after riding for an hour and thirty-three minutes, then got off my bike.  Rather, I should say that I flopped off my bike and onto the ground.  My muscles were so pulverized that I felt like I was trying to run on legs made of string cheese, and my swimsuit area?  There is no way to put this delicately so I’ll just say that it felt like my junk had been pressed like a Cuban sandwich.  Trying to run in that situation was so ridiculous that again I burst out laughing.

Yet that’s what I did.  I ditched my bike and helmet and grabbed my hand-held water bottle, sucked down another Gu and then took off for my last 10K.  I knew from experience that my legs would come back to me after about a mile so I trusted and kept moving forward.  Besides, what was I going to do, quit?  Pshaw.  Especially now that the rain had subsided.

I won’t say it was the most difficult 10K I’ve ever run – that honor goes to the one in which I stopped and puked at the three-mile mark – but it was super challenging.  I ended up taking short 30-second walk breaks every few minutes, but hey, no shame in that, right?  I was actually kind of stoked because even though I was totally tired, my body was still strong and capable and I never felt for a single second like I couldn’t finish.  Sure, during the bike ride, I had a moment where I was like, what the fuck is the point of all of this?! but that passed quickly.

There was some screwiness with the mile markers – note to the race directors: it’s cruel to put mile marker #6 nearly a mile away from the finish line – but I had a Garmin so I was like whatevs, and I kept moving forward.  I turned into the park and kept running until I saw Brian.  He had finished about twenty-five minutes ahead of me and was already out of his running shoes. I took a quick walk break while he showed me his medal and also the oozing blisters on his feet (ick).  Then he looked at his watch and said, “If you go now, you’ll break three hours.”

So I started running again.  I hit the last intersection in the park, rounded a curve and saw the finish line.  The sight of that little blue arch triggered my inner cheetah, and I sprinted the last 100 yards of the race – right across the finish line.

I was elated when I finished, not just because I was done but because it was so hard and yet I had done it!  And not only that, I did it well enough to earn second female overall:

I mean, sure, it was a small race and the field was smaller than most kindergarten classes, but you know what?  I don’t care.  I was super pumped to get my plaque and I still am.  I’m also very happy with my final time.  When you consider that I have been sick, that it was raining, that my training was interrupted, that I’m actually a runner first and foremost, I am beyond pleased to have finished my first Olympic duathlon in less than three hours.

My next adventure in multi-sport isn’t until after next month’s Big Sur International Marathon, and I can’t wait.  I’ve been bitten by the multi-sport bug and it’s awesome.

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11 responses to “Pedaling in the rain: The story of my first Olympic duathlon

  1. That’s amazing! I would probably have had a total breakdown during the bike segment if I’d have been in that situation (although if I had, I’d have never even made it that far!) Keep it up, lady! It definitely doesn’t sound like just some small feat to me.

    • Thank you! Yeah, I still can’t believe I managed to pull off that bike segment. If you had told me three months ago that I’d be riding 25 miles in the rain along a busy highway I would have laughed you out of my sight. And yet, I did it! Funny how that happens.

  2. The term “Pollenmageddon” made me smile. And congrats, that is quite an accomplishment! You are awesome!

  3. In fact, I was so out of fucks to give that I started demanding the universe give me fucks.

    Best. Sentence. Ever.

    And congrats!

  4. I LOVE all the emotions you went through. Those are honestly the best races for me. I can definitely relate to your “angry face” picture (and APPROVE!) and laughing. If I’d every written about St. A’s you’d know I laughed at the lot of us a few times too. Congratulations on such a memorable oly!

  5. LOL I loved your emotion in this…i completely understand, i did a duathlon this past weekend that was 5k, 25k, 5k and it was freezing, and the bike had so many crosswinds i couldn’t tell where they were coming from, and i was cursing the whole time..but the feeling of finishing is just the best! Congrats on your race

    • Hey, congratulations to you, too! Those 25-mile bike rides are KILLER, aren’t they? Especially with wind, OMG. But man, when you finish, the feeling of relief and accomplishment makes it all worthwhile.

  6. Wonderfully funny! I passed it on to my coach Melissa who does a lot of triathlon coaching. I was about to do my 1st Du yesterday when it starting pouring rain about one hour before start. The bike course is very hilly. I found your story and decided to cancel, largely due to safety since it was so hilly. I have another Du (Maryland Olympic Duathlon) scheduled in 3 weeks (July). Hope it’s as memorable as yours was but with nice weather.

    Tom

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