On Sunday morning, three alarms went off at 5:15am. There was a cacophony of tweeping and chirping and beeping as we lumbered out of bed to turn them off. We were paranoid that, if we just set one alarm, it wouldn’t go off and we would miss our very first sprint triathlon.
After eating a breakfast of green papaya salad from our favorite Thai place, we donned our adult diaper/tri-shorts and piled into the car with our bikes and our helmets and our swimwear and our goggles and our towels and our dry clothes. The drive to Flower Mound was shorter than we thought and even though we got there early, we still had to park a half mile away from the venue and walk all of our crap to the site.
They scribbled our bib numbers on our arms and we entered the transition area. If you don’t know, when you do a triathlon, there’s something called a “transition area” which is where you leave all of your stuff and your return to it between each event to drop off and pick up things. I got completely overwhelmed there. Some people had laid out all their gear perfectly on their neatly folded towels so it looked like shrines to the bike gods.
When I got to my bike rack, there was no room for another bike. I frantically looked around for another official, but found none, so I asked the lady standing next to me what I was supposed to do. She said, “You can shift the bikes over, but don’t touch their stuff that’s laid out on the ground”. It’s the triathlon equivalent of “Don’t touch that or they’ll cut you”. So I made room for my bike, laid my giant fleece jacket over the handlebars, and put my bag on the ground.
After waiting in a long line for my chip timer, they herded all 660 of us into a gym, where we were supposed to sit in groups according to our bib number. You are assigned your bib number based on what you reported as your swim time. Alex, who registered me, said that I could swim 275 yards in 7 minutes and 45 seconds. I, personally, thought that was a bit of a stretch but that landed me bib number 502 (near the end). I sat next to Kevin, a church friend, and we had several philosophical discussions while we watched lines of people disappear towards the pool.
I will say this too: I had been barefoot since I left the transition area (outside in a parking lot) to come inside. When you go to the bathroom, you do it barefoot in a restroom where it looks like wet bodies who had jumped in the pool to warm up came into your stall and threw toilet paper on the floor. I was seriously grossed out at having to walk around barefoot in a bathroom but I kept my big girl tri-shorts on and pushed through.
While we were waiting, there was a guy with a really thick mustache who would come in and give us updates. Updates like, “The first swimmer finished his swim in 2 minutes 55 seconds” (to a room full of the slowest swimmers). Updates like, “It’s raining pretty steadily now and the winds are upwards of 20 miles.” I guess you could say he was a cheerleader, but the opposite. Anyway, they called my group and we traipsed barefoot through the hallways like a line of baby ducks.
THE SWIM: 275 yards; 7 minutes 3 seconds
Thankfully, this swim was in an indoor swimming pool. When I entered the natatorium, I saw friends, Emi, Pat, and Mark (Evelyn came later), with large cameras yelling my name and taking pictures of me. I got out of line and ran over to hug them, which might not actually be allowed. I stepped back in line and waited for the staff member to tell me when to go. When he gave me the go-ahead, I jumped feet first and pushed off the wall.
Now, I struggled with what to wear to this event because I didn’t really want to buy anything too fancy since I didn’t know if I would enjoy doing these. I settled on wearing tri-shorts (made in USA!) with a sports bra and exercise top. LeeAnn, our pastor’s wife, who is also a triathlon beast, warned me that the exercise top might give me some drag. Since she is competing to possibly get a medal and I’m competing to “just not die”, I dismissed her warning because I thought she was warning me that it might cost me precious seconds on my swim time.
She was not wrong.
It was like I was swimming with a backwards parachute attached to my chest. Every time I pushed off the wall, my shirt would fill with water and slow me down. I bet it would have been beautiful in slow motion. There’s got to be a metaphor there- “When you push off towards your dreams, there will always be a shirtful of water to slow you down.”
I had never actually practiced doing this swim all the way through without stopping but a combination of adrenaline, the pressure to not be the slowest one in my group, and my friends taking pictures of me at the end of every lane made me go pretty fast and hard (for me). I actually beat the time that we put on the registration.
When I was done, I hoisted myself out of the pool and ran dripping to the transition area.
SWIM TO BIKE TRANSITION: 3 minutes 14 seconds
The rain. Everything was wet. My jacket, my bag, everything. I had already decided to put on an exercise shirt over my tight-fitting exercise top, but now that all of my stuff was soaked, the idea of putting on a wet shirt over a wet top didn’t sound so great. So I stripped off my exercise top and threw on the drier dri-fit shirt. It wouldn’t have been awkward except that I tried to engage the man standing across the bike rack in conversation while I was standing there in my sports bra. I don’t know why I did that.
I was one of the last to grab my bike and helmet off the rack. I totally forgot my gloves and sunglasses because I hadn’t been organized to set up an altar with all my stuff.
THE BIKE: 13 (plus a little) miles; 1 hour 16 minutes
LeeAnn, the guru, had warned me that biking with a hybrid (between a road bike, specialized bike, and a mountain bike) would mean that I would go much slower than other people.
She was not wrong.
Let me remind you that, while it has stopped raining, I was biking in gale force winds. These are not quaint, seaside breezes. These are more like “Dorothy, where’s Toto?” winds. The little trip computer told me that there were times when I slowed to 6 miles an hour (going uphill into the wind). It was rough, especially for a girl who had only really ridden her bike twice to train for this.
Add to that the thick, fleece lined jacket that I was wearing because I thought I would be cold. I was not cold but there was nowhere for to really stop (without looking like a plebe) and so I just left it on. The problem is that I didn’t zip it because it would have been too hot and so it flapped in the wind behind me, like Superman.
I also despise biking uphill (truth be told, I slow way way down on hills, so slow that a jogger passed me once). My mom and I once did a 26-mile bike ride in Abilene on comfort bikes. We literally climbed mountains on those heavy suckers and we did it by singing and pumping our legs in rhythm to our song. I tried that tactic here (since we weren’t allowed to have music players) and it really does help me to stay motivated.
So, let me paint you a picture of what I looked like to my competitors. Dirty, gray helmet, red face (from exertion), thick gray cotton jacket flapping in the wind under a yellow Camelbak, a brown exercise top, black tri-shorts, and purple tennis shoes on a bike that is black and teal and singing while going uphill.
If you’ve ever been to a bike race, you know that the serious bikers are color coordinated. Their clothes all match their bike. If anything, I was trying to communicate that I was not a serious biker, but instead, possibly blind and/or unable to pick out things that match.
Needless to say, I passed only two people on the bike for the entire hour and six minutes- a kid and a girl who might have had a basket attached to the front of her bike. Grandmothers biked faster than I did.
When I was finally finished, I pulled up to the line where we are supposed to dismount and hobbled like a grandma (in front of my friends with the cameras) back to my transition area.
BIKE TO RUN TRANSITION: 1 minute 56 seconds
I racked my bike, threw my helmet down, discarded my jacket, and took a bite of a “chocolate waffle” energy thing that tasted like sand. At this point, it is clear that I am towards the end because some people are leaving the race and I was the last one to put my bike in the rack.
THE RUN: 3.14 miles; 41 minutes 37 seconds
The running course takes you through a crowd of people near the finish line who were laughing and enjoying their free pancakes and pizza. As I ran by, they all shouted encouraging things, which was super embarrassing.
Despite the fact that I had already physically exerted myself in two events, I actually did okay. I probably ran half the time and walked half the time. Most of the people that were around me were in the same boat, except for one lady who would yell, “Don’t give up! You can do this! Push through it!” whenever someone slowed down to walk. I “ran” slowly until she passed me so that I could walk in peace.
One thing that did bother me about this race was that all the volunteers were friendly- too friendly. All of them, every single one would say, “You’re almost there!”, which is very misleading and also contagious. I would be red-faced, huffing it up a hill and one of my fellow runners would pass me and say, “We’re almost there!” I wanted to stop and have a chat to figure out what that really meant. Do you mean I’m almost done with the run or I’m almost done with the triathlon because I’m on the run? Those are two very different things.
At one point, I stopped to get some Cytomax (think gatorade) and the volunteer told me, “This is mile 2! You’re almost done!” I got really excited because I have an unrealistically optimistic impression of what a mile should be and as I ran and ran and turned the corner and ran some more, I got mad at her because she had mislead me. I was not almost done. I still had another 20 minutes of this crap exercise to do before I could finish.
During the run, it also rained off and on. Despite my best efforts (okay, maybe not best efforts), I looked like a drowned rat. My bangs were plastered to my forehead. My shirt was wet in weird places and my shoes still didn’t match.
But, I rounded the corner to the finish line and all our groupies (Mark, Evelyn, Emi, Pat) and the church triathletes who had already finished (Joe, LeeAnn, Alex, and Bill) cheered me towards the finish line, where I received a “finisher medal” and a “best dressed” certificate (just kidding).
We waited for Kevin to finish (he actually beat my time, just jumped into the pool after I did) and the second he crossed the finish line, the skies opened up and dumped buckets of rain on us. We got one good picture.
We had to go back to the transition area to get all of our stuff, which was now sitting in about six inches of water. We took the long walk back to the car and then we all went to eat at Chipotle.
Afterwards, Alex and I came home and bathed and napped. We literally laid on the couch for the rest of the day. Truth be told, I actually felt okay on Monday, which surprised me.
So, now we get to the question, “Would I do another triathlon?” I think the answer is yes. I enjoyed it more than the half-marathon because that sucker is just a 3 hour trudge. In a triathlon, there’s always something to look forward to (i.e. I’m almost done with the swim so then I can bike. I hate this biking part but at least I’m almost to the run, which brings me that much closer to being done. etc). It’s just enough to keep you motivated throughout the entire race.
Next time, though, I would appreciate a little drier weather and less wind.
Thanks and gig’em.