Two weeks after a race and I finally get around to writing the race report. Ugh, I am the worst blogger ever. Sorry, y’all. First it was just that my capacity for responsibility (TM Hyperbole and a Half) had been exceeded, which happens about once every other week or so, but then it was compounded by my faltering immune system, which decided to surrender to the germs and assorted funk that all but coats my office and let them march right into my sinuses and make themselves at home in my mucuous membranes. The only way I could cope with life was to take medicine that has the letters “PM” somewhere in its name and then roll myself into a ball on the couch while watching hours of my favorite movies.
Now all is well again! And so let me get this race report out of the way so I can move on and write about some other stuff that’s been occupying my brain space as of late.
Warning, this race report somehow turned into a novella, so my feelings will not at all be hurt if you skip over this post. I just don’t know how to write short. I’m sorry.
When I went into this race it was with two goals in mind. The first was a time goal of breaking three hours, but I always feel a little uneasy about holding myself tightly to a time goal when it comes to triathlon because conditions can make a huge difference. Like, if the bike course is windy, it can really slow you down, no matter how aero your get-up may be. (And then there’s also the fact that triathlon race directors haven’t seemed to grasp that numbers actually have meanings, and that when you say a bike leg is going to be ten miles, people will expect it to be ten miles, not nine and one-quarter miles. But I digress.) So I had that time goal but I wasn’t too attached to it.
My real goal was almost entirely internally calibrated. I wanted to be able to race hard and feel strong while knowing I was doing the best I could do. It’s kind of a squishy, unquantifiable goal but it was the best I could articulate for myself.
The race was held at Sugden Park in Naples, which is a really pretty little park that surrounds a small freshwater lake. The lake is popular for waterskiing and sailing, and as I later found out, it’s is also where local law enforcement agencies train their dive teams. The race director told me this the day before, while Brian was testing the water and getting in some extra swim time (Ironman training, you know how that goes). I had never swam in a lake before and I was trying to feel things out a bit so I had an idea of what I was getting into, so I started asking some questions. He told me the local police department sank a bus and a car in the middle of the lake and pointed out a couple of buoys that marked their locations. He then told me the lake was about 75 feet deep in some places. And then Brian came out of the water and informed me that it was weird because it was all dark, and that the bottom just sort of dropped off a few feet from shore. “But it’s nice and warm,” he told me, in a futile attempt to reassure me.
I really should not have asked about any of this. Instead, for the rest of the night, I kept envisioning myself swimming over a pitch black abyss and freaking out. Sleep was already a rough proposition thanks to the hotel room’s noisy air conditioner and the drunken hotel guests getting into fights outside, but my brain refuse to cooperate. I laid in bed with my eyes closed, waiting to drift off, and then when sleep finally came to get, my brain would shriek “PITCH BLACK ABYSS ZOMG!” and I would wake up in a state of abject terror with my heart bashing itself silly against my rib cage.
I think I got about a total of forty-seven minutes of sleep that night.
So this was the state I was in as we got ourselves to the park the following morning. I couldn’t make myself eat more than a couple of packets of instant oatmeal and a hard-boiled egg, I was both overtired and wide awake and I was so, so afraid of that lake. I couldn’t even articulate what scared me so much about it, beyond that it was deep and dark. I tried to intellectualize the fear away with a list of the positives: no salt water, no surf and NO JELLYFISH. But there’s something about a deep, dark lake that strikes an almost primordial fear into people, and my little brain was no match for this DNA-encoded fear that probably dates back to the days when humans would kick it alongside herds of mastadons.
It was time to take our warm-up swim, and so I pulled my cap and goggles on and edged my way into the water. As I got closer, I realized I was making the exact same whimpering noise that my greyhound Evan makes at 2 a.m. when he has to go to the bathroom. I felt so ashamed of myself for being such a complete and total wuss, so I just said “fuck it” and dove in.
Brian was right, it was dark and weird, not at all like swimming in the Gulf, but the water was also really warm and calm. As I swam, I realized that the darkness was actually doing me a solid, because it meant I had no idea how deep it was. It could have been seven feet, it could have been seventy feet, it was all the same to me. In fact, the darkness allowed me to think about nothing but swimming.
There were only about sixty or so people competing, most of whom were men, so we were lumped into one mass start that took off while the sky was still dark in that pinkish predawn way, The initial mass start was a bit rough, but I wasn’t interested in mixing it up with all the dudes, so I found a spot that was clear of everyone else and started swimming, with Brian drafting off of me. We’ve both been reading up on the Total Immersion style of swimming, which I love because it’s all about gliding efficiently through the water, and so quickly I found myself doing a smooth freestyle that felt strong and solid. Occasionally I’d have a flash of the abandoned bus beneath us or the alligators that were most likely hanging at the edge of the lake, but they were soon erased by the sensation of floating almost weightlessly in the darkness, which I found strangely pleasant.
The swim went well – well, aside from the fact that the buoys were spaced so far apart that I often had to tread water and lift up my goggles so I could see them – until we were about two-thirds of the way around the lake, when I was startled out of my swimnosis (swim + hypnosis) by a sharp kick to the sternum. “What in the actual fuck?” I sputtered. I looked up and saw an older woman in a pink jersey swim right in front of me. I tried to swim past her but she kicked me again. She was all over the place and I did not want to stay behind her, so I moved inside and started sprinting to get clear of her. By the time I finally passed her I only had two more buoys to go, so I started swimming even harder, finally coming out of the water with a time of 36 minutes. (Not too shabby for someone who was nearly in tears before the swim.)
I ran into transition, slammed a Gu, grabbed my bike and headed out onto the bike course. Part of the bike course took us on the Tamiami Trail, which is neither in Tampa nor in Miami nor a trail. (Discuss.) The cops, who did excellent traffic control, sent us through two upscale housing developments, both of which had these faux-Euro themes that seemed so emblematic of a lot that i don’t like about new Florida. The communities were perfectly lovely and well-kept, but Florida’s wetlands have been filled in and paved over to make way for hundreds of these communities (as well as golf courses, strip malls and shopping centers) and so it’s hard for me to just enjoy them on a surface level without thinking of all of the problems that have come along with them. But I digress.
The course was pretty technical, with a lot of hard turns and U-turns, and since I am not proficient on my tri bike, I brought my road bike instead. I was glad I made that decision, because I am so comfortable on my road bike that I was able to navigate all of these turns with few issues. I did get dropped by a few guys who came from behind (which was annoying to me because it meant I had outswam them, but whatever), and because there were so few participants in the race, I had a few stretches where I was alone for miles at a time, which can be really difficult when you are trying to push yourself. For the most part, though, I felt good about the way I handled the bike leg. I’d worked really hard on improving my bike fitness and I felt like it showed. My time on the bike was 1:19, which broke down to 17.75 mph. Not too bad for a road bike with toe clips.
I headed back into transition, slammed my last Gu, dropped off my bike and grabbed a bottle of water. The sun was coming out and it was already hot, so I was grateful for the extra hydration. The run course was a double loop that took us around the lake with a small spur around a second pond. A water stop had been set up at the juncture with the spur so that runners would pass it four times over the course of the 10K, but when it’s hot outside I like to have extra water with me, just in case.
Right away I was able to hit a pretty good pace, with only minimal leg weirdness after getting off the bike. Almost right away I picked off a bunch of runners, including some young, fit-looking dudes who were shuffling pretty badly. I, on the other hand, felt as fresh as the proverbial daisy. When I made it to the water stop and the girls there said they had run out of water and only had warm Powerade, I was like, “Oh well, glad I have a water bottle with me!” Obviously this was not good and it sucked for everyone else, but I took advantage of the situation to pass a handful of people who had slowed to a walk. Fortunately they had fresh cold water bottles at the 5K mark, so I grabbed one and kept running.
As I made my way through the fourth mile, I saw up ahead the pink jersey of the woman who had kicked me during the swim. My whole world narrowed until it was the size and shape of her pink jersey. I realized I had an opportunity to take vengeance! So I picked up my pace ever so slightly, and closed the gap between us. As I got closer I spotted an Ironman tattoo on her calf. I had suspected that she was a badass competitor based on the way she was swimming, but the tattoo confirmed it for me. It also confirmed that I really, really needed to beat her.
So I put my head down and passed her.
All was good until about the fifth mile, when I started feeling these hot spots all over my feet. It had been a long time since I’d blistered up during a race, thanks to the coral reef of callouses I’ve built up in the past several years, but I’m guessing that my wet socks weren’t doing me any favors. I gritted my teeth and altered my stride, but the blisters hurt too much, and I slowed to a walk so I could take a sip of water. Then I looked over my shoulder, and who did I see coming up behind me but PINK IRONMAN WOMAN.
I started running again. The hell with my sore feet. Feet heal but pride does not! Plus, what’s a little pain among endurance athletes? It’s kind of like the admission price to our club of lunatics. You can’t hang unless you are willing to suffer.
Fortunately the last mile of the race was on a stretch of trail that was well shaded and slightly rolling, and so I was able to just bound my way through the rest of the 10K and across the finish line, where I promptly ran into a cluster of paramedics preparing to wheel another triathlete out of the finishing chute. (Brian later told me that he saw the guy collapse, barely conscious. He was later informed by a race volunteer that the guy has a habit of pushing himself so much that he needs medical attention at the end of races. I can’t understand why anyone would make a habit out of that. It looks terrible, avoidable, and also terribly expensive. Ambulance rides are not cheap!) I ran my 10K in 52 minutes, for an overall time of 2:52:48. I broke my three-hour mark, and I also was only seven minutes slower than St. Anthony’s, which, by the way, had a swim that was only half as long. In all, I was very, very pleased with my performance.
I ended up coming in first in my age group (but I was also the only one in my age group – shhh don’t tell anyone) and earning myself a cool little brandy snifter. I used it to drink red wine while sitting in my lavender-scented epsom salt bath later that night. I also came in fourth female overall, which I thought was pretty sweet. And PINK IRONMAN WOMAN? She was fifth overall, and first in her age group. When she went to claim her brandy snifter, I cheered quite loudly for her, which evidently took her by surprise. I had become so absorbed in my little drama with her that I almost forgot that it was entirely one-sided, and that she probably had no clue who I was. Even so, without her I wouldn’t have done as well as I did, and so I was happy to cheer for her, as awkward as it might have been.
It’s been about two weeks since the race and I’ve been taking it easy since then. I went for a bike ride yesterday, the first time I’d gone for one without a specific time or distance in mind. Last weekend I swam in the gulf, just because I wanted to. It’s nice to remember the pleasures of physical activity that isn’t so goal-driven. I’m going to enjoy these few days because before I know it, it’ll be time to start marathon training and I’ll be back in the thick of training once again.