So, let me tell you about a time when I finished last place. You read that right, last place.
I headed out to Lake Stevens with my training group. There was a handful of us who had trained since the Seafair Triathlon for this event. I didn’t doubt that my teammates could go from non-swimmers or sprinters to the Olympic distance without a hitch. They all blew me away with their performances. I think overall we were mostly pleased with our results, with exception of those who were particularly competitive 😉 Generally, I like to stay close to my race the night before. However, I’ve been on a money-diet of sorts (trying to aggressively pay down my student loan debts now) so I opted to stay at home and drive in to the race. It also worked out since a few teammates and my coach came by my place on Friday night for a carb feast. (Again, this was in lieu of eating out. I think I fed everyone for the same price it would’ve been for me to eat out. 1 meal of eating out = host and feed 4 people at my place! That’s especially true when you pick up the ingredients from Costco, too!)
We drove out in separate cars to the race. It was about a 45 minutes to an hour north of Seattle. Very manageable, if you ask me. I think it would be fine to drive up again for IM 70.3 Lake Stevens next summer since it seems very manageable. (I’m guessing that packet pickup would be out there though. Bummer!) As I drove in, I got a peek at the water as the sun was coming up. What a gorgeous lake! It reminded me a lot of American Lake — glassy, smooth, and clean. Well, from the outside it looked cleaner than Lake Union, but I’m guessing anything is cleaner than Lake Union.
The roads were not drenched. They were a bit wet from the drizzle but nothing major. I tried not to think too much about it and psych myself out since the bike leg is already hard enough for me as it is on flat/dry/smooth ground. To think about hills and wet, oooooh that was a different story. I told myself that I was ready (enough, at least) and that I would give it an honest go. About a half hour to forty five minutes later the rest of the team showed up and we hustled over to the transition area and prepped all of our gear.
I headed out with a teammate, Sara, to the water to get some warmups in. Sara was doing a relay with another teammate, Andy, who would be doing the bike and run later that day. She had a lot of tension about swimming in open water, which was surprising because she looked so effortless in the water to begin with. The minute I got in I felt instantaneously happy. If I could just float the day away I would. I peeked and looked for the buoys but there were none yet. After a few more minutes more triathletes were joining us in the water, and I saw the crew load up the safety kayaks with buoys attached.
We all got in position and our waves were called, one by one. This was the first deep water start for me. Thankfully I got a lot of practice swimming in Lake Union with deep water starts. There is no beach area at the park where I practice at. You just jump in the water and begin swimming. Here there was a boat landing ramp thing but I was able to swim out to the start and just float/wade until I was called.
WIthin the first 1/3 mile I was already winded. Did I not eat enough? Was I too stressed during the week? I was starting to think that the wetsuit was too tight for me. After all of the practice I’ve had in open water without a wetsuit, wearing one and feeling winded was surprising. I tried not to overanalyze or think about it too much and just concentrate on the next buoy. I also focused on the other red-capped swimmers next to me. One girl was going off course and I tried to tell her to come back. Another girl towards the end (on her second and last lap) just started floating on her back. Why?! I wanted to tell her that she was only about a tenth of a mile from the finish and could’ve pushed it out, but I let her be and I swam on my merry way.
After that first moment, I had a pretty cruising swim. No major hiccups or worries. I got distracted by one of the safety kayaks. He was talking to another kayak and I popped up my head and said “what?” and he was confused. I quickly calculated that he wasn’t talking to me so I went along. I turned the second to the last buoy, sighted my last one, and went for it. Over and over, in my head, I kept chanting “find a way,” which was Diana Nyad’s manta during her Cuba to Florida swim. My breathing was fine except for the moment I just about made it to shore. It was the only time I took in water during the swim! Oops. I’m usually pretty good about that. Coming up the boat landing ramp I made a beeline to my sandals (the transition area was on concrete, and a gravel-y one at that) and my feet are a bit sensitive. I headed to the bike area and saw that Sara had already made it out of the water! Hooray! She survived!
I got my wetsuit off (eventually) and got my things together and headed out for my ride. Almost forgot my gloves, and they ended up being a godsend on this ride. I lost my cycling gloves (well, actually they were weightlifitng gloves) and haven’t been able to locate them since my last long ride with Kurt about a month ago. The ride was wet to start and was wet the entire 25 miles. No fenders on my bike, so water was splashing on my legs at a constant speed. It felt like a shower…a shower from the street. The first few miles had a lot of turns and police and volunteer escorts, which was very nice. I hate getting lost during a race. (I’ve only done that once and I didn’t bother finishing.) It had just the right amount of signage and since it was a small race (maybe 400 or so?) I got a bit lonesome. I tried not to dwell on speed or anything, just kept pushing along. The course was insanely hilly (by my standards) which was made harder by my lack of cycling fitness and lack of clipless shoes. Yes, I used my running shoes on this leg again and this time, they were a mistake. I should’ve used the end of the summer to learn how to ride clipless because the rain, mixed with my metal pedals, were slippery as heck. It was like trying to bike with ice pedals! Every few miles or so my feet would lose grip with my bike and I’d wobble here and there.
Soon enough plenty of people were ahead of me, or passing along the other side of the loop, and I was alone. The scenery was beautiful and if I weren’t racing, I would’ve definitely pulled over to take some pictures! Rolling hills with a handful of steep climbs that I never thought I’d survive, I tried to focus on that luscious landscape, trees, llamas, horses, and cattle I saw. There were some beautiful homes as well. Each time I came across a hill I tried not to psych myself out and think to myself “find a way.” I leaned into the climb and put myself into it, and tried to remember all the things that Kurt and my books have told me about shifting gears. I got wobbly and weaved a bit but luckily I had the road alllllll to myself with no other racers. (Perks of being last?) Actually, I lied — at this point I was not last. When I was at the turnaround on the bike leg, I noticed the sweeper (a big pickup truck that follows the race) following behind two bikers who were riding along. So at least at that point I was third from last. Anywho, I think I started to wonder if I had taken a wrong turn somewhere because I had not seen a car or volunteer for miles at this point. I thought to myself, who would come get me if I got lost? How would I get back? I didn’t have my phone or GPS on me. What would happen if I just skipped the race and kept riding along? Who would know? Could I just skip the run and say I did a duathlon instead? (Someone would know, I’m sure.)
I finally came up to some more turns and volunteers and huzzah, even more turns. I’d never been happy to see turns. I eventually turned in to the transition area and racked my bike. My legs felt trashed from the ride. I was exhausted. If you know me at all you know that I have very little balance on the bike and I can’t eat or drink while riding. I generally pull off my training rides to get my nutrition in, but during a race I just do the whole thing in one go. So, I was pretty hungry and thirsty and I wondered to myself if anyone would know if I skipped on the run. It was a 2-5K loop around the bend of Lake Stevens. I bargained with myself (which I’m pretty good at) and said that I’d try doing the first 5K and then re-evaluate how I was feeling. My ankle had not really given me any problems at all, despite its soreness all week. What felt most sore were my hamstrings and my lower back.
I headed out on the run and as I made the first turn, I heard one of my teammates names being called and I saw a few other girls on my team running and cheering. People on my team were already finishing their race and here I was starting my first run leg. I ran by my teammate and my coach and kept on plodding along at what seemed like slow motion running. I made my first turn heading back to the transition area for loop two when someone came up to chat with me. He seemed like a nice enough guy and then after a few more minutes it became apparent that he was flirting with me. And then he asked for my number. I politely told him I was taken and he ran off. He was going at a decent enough pace that I didn’t want to slow him down anyways! I made my last turn and saw that couple that was right behind me on the bike leg. I was happy to see them together and we exchanged pleasantries. After that last turn I never saw them again though, which put me at last place! About a mile from the finish the sweeper came on by and asked me how I was doing and I said I felt good and would be finishing soon, so he gave me the peace sign and drove off (presumably to go pick up the volunteers at the turnaround). I headed straight into the finish chute with a volunteer running by my side and crossed the finish line just a minute before they were going to shut down the course, with the team there cheering as well. It was a good race!
Later that evening, I checked my results and I was surprised. I knocked off 3 and a half minutes from my swim and shaved 15 seconds off my run. I took a pace hit to my ride, which was completely understandable since there were so many hills. So, even though I finished last, I actually made a marked improvement overall. All in all, it was a really good race. I am still icing my back and sporting my compression socks around the house, but I’d love to try this race again next year and see how much better I can do. I’d also be curious to check out the Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens next summer since it is so close!