Hear me now: I AM A TRIATHLETE!!
OK, I know *technically* I've done a triathlon before, but that race was nothing compared to yesterday's Iron Girl (Columbia MD). While probably not nearly as painful, yesterday was certainly equally if not more challenging as my first marathon, and I absolutely felt more pride than I've ever felt at a race as I crossed that finish line.
I feel like I'm always saying "this will be my longest blog post ever", but really, this WILL be my longest blog post to date, so, you've been warned.
Saturday consisted of driving to Columbia, going to the expo (met Sarah Reinersten , she was so nice!) getting my bike inspected and racked, the Team Fight lunch, and sleep. Somewhere in there Holly gave me the layout of the land, and I got to eyeball exactly how long that swim would be!
Check out all of the great shwag! Everything but the visor and the kid's t-shirt came in the packet. Love it!
Sunday morning, we woke up at 4:00 am. This was no problem for me, as I woke up probably every hour the night before, but Kain and Rowen were less than thrilled with the early wake up call. Rowen simply refused to be bothered, and just yelled every time we pulled the blanket off him, and Kain didn't know what to do. Sit up, lay down, sit up, lay down, or just cry. Poor kids.
We picked up fellow Team Fighter Jess and drove to the race site. The traffic was CRAZY , but eventually we were parked. I handed the kids off to Aunt Holly, who graciously gave up her race day (she was registered for Iron Girl as well) to watch them for me so I could race (original plans did not include the tots), and Jess and I headed into transition.
I set up my stuff, and stared at it forever. I felt like I was forgetting something. (I wasn't). We then got body marked, and walked to the Team Fight tent to hang out for the next 2 hours.
Oh it was a long wait. I passed a good 40 of those minutes waiting in a porta-potty line. Gotta love a race with a bunch of chicks, the lines were ridiculous! We watched the pros/elites start the race, and that's when the nerves hit.
I was a nervous wreck as is, but when daylight came, the sun was M.I.A., and instead the sky opened up and started raining, I wanted to cry. This was not the race day I was expecting. But it was what it was, and when 7:40 rolled around, I headed out in the rain and down with the rest of my wave to wait for our swim start. Here goes nothing.
Swim: 0.62 miles (1,092 yards) open water swim.
(that picture just shows a fraction of the swim!) As I've mentioned in previous posts, this was to be my first open water swim. I wasn't nervous about being in open water, but I was nervous about swimming with gobs of other people. So as suggested I got in at the very back of my wave of 183 ladies aged 25-29. It was such a large wave that there was no time to even tread water, as I was still in waist /chest deep water when they said "GO".
I waited a few seconds for everyone to move forward...and they didn't. It felt like minutes before I could actually swim. And then, it seemed all of the people ahead of me were swimming at a snails pace. I took a few strokes and landed right on top of someone. The water was so dark and murky you couldn't even see your finger tips ahead of you, never mind another swimmer. I looked up and was smack in the middle of the pack. What the heck. I am not a good swimmer, why was everyone taking so long to go? That brief second of pausing to think caused me to be run over by a few more swimmers. But I had no where to go.
I started to freak out. I was struggling to swim because I didn't know where to swim to. I swam a few more yards into people, over people, and people swam into and over me. Every other stroke I had lake weeds stuck to my goggles and clinging to my face. I was already out of breath and felt like crying. I looked over at a kayaker and thought in an instant "just swim over to him and get out of the water. You are SO not prepared for this, and you still have such a looong way to go". And then I yelled at her. That inner girl who is always doubting me. I told her to shut it. I got over to the side a little, and flipped on my back. I pulled some weeds off of my goggles and I floated for a second. I stared up at the sky, caught my breath, and told myself I could do this. I WILL do this. Just calm down. And if for some reason I can't , the kayakers will pull me out of the water. But I will only let them pull me out if I'm drowning. They aren't saving me from fear, I have to face it alone.
I flipped back over and the crowd had thinned. And I swam.
And to be quite honest with you, that was the hardest freaking thing I have EVER done.
As I said, the open water itself, as murky and gross and full of goose poop as it was, didn't scare me. When there was no one around, I was free to swim just like I did in a pool, relaxed and easy, with the (more than occasional) head pop up to sight (wish I practiced that more, my neck is KILLING me today!) But when the crowds came from the front and from the back (those chicks in the waves behind me were fast!) there was some crawl, some breast stroke, some back stroke, and even the occasional doggy paddle when I had to apologize for running someone over.
Thank goodness for Irongirls...everyone was so sweet and apologetic when they ran right into you or you them! You could tell there were a TON of first timers out there. We were a mess, haha.
I felt like the swim would never ever end. When we finally came around the little island and the finish line was in sight (maybe 200 yards away) my head felt like it weighed 50 pounds. I could skip a half mile backwards, but swimming six tenths of a mile, wow, it's hard. I did whatever I could to keep myself moving forward. Eventually I let my knees sink down and I felt sand. I stood up, took a few steps forward towards the volunteers and shouted with so much excitement "I DID IT!!!!" I think the volunteers took that as sign that I might fall out or something because they all sort of dove at me to grab my arms, though I didn't need it. They shouted back "YES YOU DID!!" and I walked up the hill out of the water. I was so freaking thrilled, I must have had a smile from ear to ear. I survived the swim, I knew it was all downhill from there. Not literally of course, since the hilly bike ride was coming up next, haha.
Swim time: 34:54. And hey, I wasn't last in the swim. 172 out of 183 girls in my wave and 1641 out of 1769 overall finishers for the swim. I can only go up from here, right?
There was no running into transition. I was so incredibly EXHAUSTED from that swim. I think I jogged a little when I saw some team fighters, and as they yelled "GO HEATHER" I yelled back "I'VE NEVER SWAM SO FAR IN MY LIFE!!", haha. I was willing to tell anyone who listened (you would have thought I swam the English channel). And then I walked again. I walked, and when I got to my transition spot, I sat down. Ate a few honey stingers, drank some water, and took my sweet time putting on my bike gear.
T1: 4:26. See? I took my time, haha. And when I had everything on, I grabbed my bike, and walked up the steep but short hill to exit transition/bike mount. Got on my bike, and took off for the dreaded hilly bike ride.
Bike 17.5 miles. It was still raining. On and off pouring actually. So the slick wet roads made me a bit more nervous. The first half mile, I was trying to feel out the other riders. There are rules when it comes to riding in triathlons. You must stay three bike lengths behind the person in front of you, no drafting, pass within a certain amount of time or fall back, fall back if you've been passed, etc. etc. So I was trying to figure out the etiquette of this ride and if anyone was following the rules.
Turns out, Iron Girl bike portion is a free for all. I'm not kidding. There were people passing people who were already passing people (three across). There were clumps of riders so close if one hit their breaks there would be a massive pile up (and it wasn't due to any sort of drafting peleton type cheating, there was just no where to go). At one point on an uphill, this girl was passing another girl so slowly on the left, and the girl being passed was already in the middle of the lane, that I passed her on the right. I apologized as I did it too. "Sorry, but I'm passing you on the right".
Anyway, the first hill was a little bit of a struggle. Getting my bike legs I guess. But I made it up. And then came the downhill. Downhills scare me so much. Long story short, a little before the halfway mark (this was a VERY hilly rolling course) I saw a girl go flying by me on Schwinnderlei's twin. The $80 hybrid bike I have from Target, the one I rode before I bought my road bike. It was then I told myself to quit being a pansy and let go of the breaks. Of course, it's not about the bike so much as the person, but if I was going to make such a commitment to buying a road bike, I should learn to use it, right? If these girls on these not really built for triathlon bikes can barrel down the hill, so can I. And so I did. And by the end of the ride, not only was I flying down hills, but actually peddling down them. I was still terrified each and every time, but I did it.
Nothing like a 17.5 mile HILLY ride to teach you how to use your gears. Before I knew it, the ride was over. I never did figure out which hill was the horrible one everyone was talking about. There were some challenging ones for sure, but it wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. Thank you new bike and thank you hours of spin class, haha :) I passed a lot of people on the bike, and that made me feel really good.
Bike portion: 1:14:54, 14.0 mph avg (not too bad for my first time climbing) 111/183 age group, 1141/1769 overall. Maybe if I put my big girl pants on about the downhills a little sooner I could have done better, haha!
Run: 3.4 miles of HILLS!
WOW that was a hilly course. All on paved trails around the lake. I once again took my time in transition , 3:09, and then took off. Per usual jello-legs, I looked down at Garmin and realized I was running an 8:00/mile pace. That clearly wouldn't last long, as I hit the first hill. I won't lie, I walked A LOT of this run. And I was quite OK with it. At this point, I was so TIRED, and so thrilled that I had faced my swim and bike fears and was going to finish this race, that I would have still been happy if I walked the ENTIRE thing. But I ran when I could, walked when I had to (which would be most of those crazy uphills), and pretty much smiled the whole way. The rain had stopped by now, it was just very overcast and very humid. As I came around the corner and up the LAST hill, we entered what would be the very long finishers chute, with hundreds of people there cheering.
Run: 34:31, 10:09 pace (see? I walked a lot!) 94/183 age group and 705/1769 overall (I guess a lot of people walked!)
One of the coolest parts of the race was being a part of Team Fight. We not only had the largest charity team at this race, but we had the largest charity team at ANY of the Iron Girl events this year. There was hardly any time on the course that you didn't see another person wearing yellow and blue. And I lost count of how many times spectators and teammates would yell "go team fight!" as I passed by. So it was awesome having so many people cheer for me as I hit the home stretch. I saw Holly immediately, and the boys...both PASSED OUT in the stroller! Oh well, they are so young I doubt they even realized what I was doing out there anyways, never mind understand the excitement of seeing me at the finish line.
I smiled big for my finishers picture (here's hoping it comes out well, that's usually a shot in the dark.) and then nearly burst into happy tears at the finish line.
2:31:52 total finishing time. 135/183 age group and 1206/1769 overall. I'm so used to being in the top quarter or faster of my races, but I could have been dead last place in this one and I'd still be thrilled. I overcame so many fears to get to this point. I remember a time when I never thought I could even BE a triathlete because I couldn't swim very well, never mind swim in a race. I remember very recently a time when I couldn't even ride my bike around the parking lot without being able to clip in and out. And now I've done it (again). And I realize there is so much room for improvement, and I can't wait to continue this journey.
I'm just thrilled. I'm sure I have so much more to say in the coming days. Right now my head/neck feels like I have the flu. No, not because I actually do, but because I'm pretty sure I tore up every muscle in my neck/shoulders during that swim. Note to self: learn how to and practice sighting.
More pictures and more stories to come. For now, I'm basking in post triathlon glow :) Thanks for all of your well wishes and support!!