This was supposed to be my last race of my much abbreviated tri season. It sounded benign enough: a 750 point to point, downstream swim, a 15 mile bike, and a 4 mile flat run.
They were calling for rain, so I took my knockoff aero wheels off the bike. These stupid wheels look good, work okay in dry conditions, but act as rain barrels when it’s wet. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer not to have an extra 5 pounds of water in my wheels. I cleaned my drivetrain all shiny and pretty, in hopes that my bike would be nicer to me the next day.
We got in the car, and headed west (the Anchor Splash Triathlon is in Oak Ridge, TN). Our plan was to stop in Knoxville for a beer, since it’d been a long time since we’d been downtown there. About 10 miles prior, we noticed that eastbound traffic was at a standstill. Hmmmmm. We only saw 2 sets of UT flags on monstrous SUV’s – an everyday occurrence in East Tennessee, so we didn’t think there was a dumb football game. But as we came closer, but saw no traffic collision, reality set in.
I called my SIL to ask if there was a game. She said yes, it just ended and UT won so don’t go downtime. Well, shit. Football ruins another fine day. We bypassed Knoxvegas and headed to Norris, stopping at Food City for beer to take to the SIL to hang out.
The rest of the night was chill, we had a couple beers, then went to the ‘rents house for supper and to go through Jesse’s Iceland pictures. Went to bed and waited for 5:30 AM to arrive. Unfortunately, 12:15 AM arrived first. Then 3 AM. Then 4 AM. Ugh. Finally, we got up, got dressed, got in the car, and stopped for gas station coffee. It was actually tolerable.
We got to the race site, which was at a park/rowing marina (Jesse informed me that the huge bathrooms used to be a Chinese restaurant), about 6:50, good timing for an 8AM race start. I got my packet, took my stuff to transition. It was still pretty dark.
So dark, in fact, that I wondered why they had thought it feasible to start a collegiate draft-legal race at 7AM. They thought wrong. After eons of waiting, their race finally started at 7:40 AM. We were then informed that we couldn’t start our race until the last collegiate racer returned from the bike course. Good thing I warmed up in time for an 8AM start.
We waited, and waited, and waited. I put my wetsuit halfway on, and waited some more. Well, the waiting game sucks, so we headed to the swingset. Swinging whilst wearing a wetsuit is a unique experience. Finally, we were informed that the race would get started about 8:55.
Good God, that Swim. Sucked.
I should’ve suspected that this would be no picnic when I saw this sign, commanding us not to picnic on the catfish. I was in the second wave, and watching the first didn’t raise my confidence. We were starting bunched up on a rickety old dock, which clearly was not meant to hold more than 5 people. We saw the men pile up on it, and the dock tilted to a near 45 degree angle.
When our turn came, we walked onto the dock and tried not to fall in. I opted, like many others, to sit on the edge, ready to dive in and go, rather than risk stumbling and fall onto several people. Sticking my feet in the water was painful. The water was hovering around 60 degrees.
The gun goes off, I dive in, and SHIIIIIITTTT! The water was freezing. Beyond freezing. As cold as the water was when I swam across a pond with antlers on my head on Christmas day. I could not believe people were doing this without a wetsuit.
I sprinted with all my might in hopes that sprinting might warm me up and distract me from the pain. Then I smelled the sewage. No, certainly not. But yes. The water smelt of excrement and industrial waste. It was freezing cold and nasty. I concentrated on keeping my mouth tightly shut under the water, and spitting before breathing. The only good thing about this swim is that I did it fairly quickly. In fact, I was 4th female out of the water, 10:41 for 750 meters.
T1 went well too. I couldn’t believe how easily my wetsuit came off, considering I hadn’t worn it in 2 years. I stuck the bike shoes on, got to the mount line, and took off.
At least the bike course was fast.
The bike was a double out and back, totally just 14.5 miles. We rode out a mile, turned on this industrial road, rode up it 3.5 miles, did a U-turn, rode down it 3.5 miles, did a U-turn, and repeated. Honestly, I wouldn’t have done the race if I’d bothered to read up more carefully on the swim and bike courses. At least the U-turny part was closed to traffic.
I got on the course just behind 3 other women, and passed them all by the first turn. It wasn’t easy. In fact, I had to work so hard to keep them behind me, which I kinda hated and kinda liked. The U-turny part was slightly rolling, but had the ugliest scenery ever. Cranes and equipment, and lots of torn up land. I concentrated on putting space between me and the other women behind me. I had done pretty well by the end of the first U-turn, so I doubled down my efforts on the first return trip.
Approaching the second U-turn, I was feeling fairly confident. And then the guy in front of me, and myself, both totally missed the actual U-turn in the midst of a maze of fancy orange conework, instead going all the way across the crossroad, down a bit, and making more of a Q turn than a U turn. And then, two of the women, who were riding very close together (on the borderline of the drafting zone, but I would agree that they were probably riding legally), passed me back. Fuck.
I had no choice but to stand and sprint past them, then going all out to regain my space cushion. It worked, and I completed the bike ride barely in 1st place.
T2 was smooth. The second woman came in right behind me off the bike, but I got out on the run course first.
Every day can’t be the best day, on the run.
I starting running, and felt the wheezing coming on fast. It really sucked. I was gasping for breath, which was frustrating enough, then my throat started getting tight. The woman right behind me passed with ease, but asked if I was okay, as I was making a lot of dying noises. In between gasps, I told her I’d….be…fine….it’ll….pass.
After about 1 mile, I regained my breath, but not any speed in my legs whatsoever. I was working so hard, but getting nowhere fast. It’s like running “faster” in my effort translated to just running more stupidly. But what was I going to do? Ease off? No. I knew there were several women close behind, and I wanted to fight for the podium.
The course was an out-and-back, on the greenway, advertised as flat, but including several short, steep slogs. I got to the turnaround, miraculously still in second place, and saw that the next two women were running shoulder to shoulder in 3rd place. Crap. I was fairly certain that at least one of them would catch me, but I really REALLY didn’t want to come in 4th. I hate 4th.
So, I resolved to hold my pace at least, and find another gear when I could. I was in a great deal of discomfort by now, but kept it up. By mile 3, discomfort had moved up to “for the love of god, please let this be over.” But, I was still in 2nd place! I kept running, forced another 1/2 gear, and passed back by the transition area, with a bit less than a half mile to the finish. Only now did I dare glance behind me, and didn’t see anyone within fifty yards or so. Slight relief.
When I saw the finish line, I dug in and finished the thing. Although it was a slow run for me, it required immense effort, and I finished exhausted, so I am a bit proud of that. It’s always nice to leave it all out there. I’d finished 2nd overall female, about 2 minutes back from first, and then about 3 minutes ahead of third.
We then started round two of the waiting game. It took nearly another 90 minutes to begin the awards while everyone finished. And, they opted to do the overall awards dead last. It had begun raining in earnest by now, so the crowd gathered under the pavilion made me stuffy and nervous (I hate big crowds). When I saw them open a box of hoodies, I got SO EXCITED!!!! I LOVE hoodies. Seriously, you cannot have too many hoodies. YAY!
Too bad that the largest hoodie size they had for women was medium, and it was not a generous medium. And I am not a medium sized person. The hoodie is short in the sleeves and tight around my middle. Boo. I asked if I could have a men’s one, but they said no. Boo.
And now, deep thoughts.
Was it a great race for me? Meh. Would I do this race again? No, I don’t think so. The swim was super gross, and I didn’t enjoy the bike course. While I do race for the competition, I also choose races based on course and scenery. It was a reminder to check out maps before signing up for a race. Other than the massive delay, the race administration was fine.
Am I glad I did this race. Absolutely. I feel like I had some even competition, and I felt challenged. I kept my cool when I had breathing problems, and although I was by no means fast on the run, it was nice to know I still have it in me to push as hard as I can from start to finish, far past when I feel like giving up. That was a much-needed confidence boost.
Oh, plus I never contracted Ecoli, Ebola, Scabies, or the Bubonic Plague from that water. There is a chance that I am radioactive, however.