Last year, triathlon started as a way to stay active during the summer. The hot, humid, miserable summer during which I all but refused to run any longer than 4 or 5 miles. It worked like a charm and I swam, biked, and ran my way through the summer until I could welcome the cooler temperatures with open arms and anxious legs.
This summer, however, it’s as if triathlon just wasn’t meant to be. Sure, I trained. Harder than ever, in fact. I really committed to the bike and I was seeing overall strength improvements with all the cross-training. But then this happened, and would-be Tri #1 of the summer was cancelled. And this week, would-be Tri #3 was cancelled due to extreme flooding in Northwest Arkansas this summer. You read that correctly. FLOODING. In August.
But! Tri #2 (which may just turn out to be my only race this summer) happened last weekend — right on schedule!
The DeGray Lake Triathlon was my second race last summer and somewhat of a “hometown” race with Ninny and Pop (Jeff’s parents) living right there in Arkadelphia, and Jennifer is from right down the road in Gurdon so her family was there, too!
Without fail, I always have a slight panic attack once we’re about 5 miles away from the house. I always, ALWAYS think I’ve forgotten something critical. Shoes, goggles, Garmin, SOMETHING. And my panicking has always been for naught.
And I guess I still got off easy because all I forgot was running sunglasses (which I wear even when it’s cloudy — I have vampire-like tendencies) and flip flops (note the bare feet in the photo above), but this will only make my prep for future races that much more neurotic.
Last year at this race, I managed to crash my bike before the race ever started — so NOT doing that was a special bonus for my pre-race routine.
Well. Here we go. For all the training I’d been doing to improve my bike, I had let the swim slip completely off the radar. My pool closed in early July for maintenance and, while I had very good intentions of finding an alternate pool for the summer, that never actually happened… So here I was, about to swim my first strokes in about five weeks. (Not recommended!)
Jeff has become quite the action photographer! And this photo captures one of the many moments during the first 100 yards of the swim in which I was desperately trying to steer clear of the flailing feet and thrashing arms determined to make contact with my face. (I don’t actually swim with my entire head out of the water…)
I felt great during the swim. The lake was warm and murky, but I had a good swim and got out of the water thinking I might have a respectable time despite my lackluster preparation.
This point of the race is noteworthy because it’s the point at which I suspected I might not catch my breath again until after the finish line. And I was absolutely right. I used to think it was called a “sprint” because it was short. Not so. It’s called a sprint because it’s an all-out, frantic frenzy with no time for pacing or pausing or catching your breath. “Sprint” is the perfectly appropriate word for it.
During the first transition, I tried to take deep breaths while continuing to take part in the frantic, frenzied fun. I was cursing myself for not finding a pool for lap swimming this summer and for all the smiling I did outta the water about my awesome swim, it was dawning on me that the swim might have worn me out.
After I was safely on the bike, I pushed hard for each of those 16 miles. There were hills and they were mean and my quads were crying for mercy, but I refused to walk. I even manned up and DIDN’T use my brakes on the downhills like I always feel compelled to do. I tried to eat and drink on the bike, but I could feel my energy level dropping. I was tired. 500 yards of hard swimming had been a bit of a shock to my system. And to add insult to injury, the heat and humidity in Arkadelphia was in blistering contrast to the unseasonably cool temperatures I’d been training in all summer.
Back at transition, I was hoping for some adrenaline that might carry me through the run. I had eaten an entire bag of sport beans during the bike and had plenty of water, but I still couldn’t catch my breath and my legs felt like lead.
Nevertheless, it was time to run.
I was ready to avoid the mental discouragement that inevitably comes with mile 1. I was hoping that by mile 2 my sport beans and adrenaline would kick in and I’d be headed for a solid finish. But it just wasn’t meant to be. I STILL hadn’t caught my breath and my quads were STILL sore and angry. So I pushed and pushed, and felt slow. But I smiled. I definitely smiled the whole time.
I smiled across the finish and despite everything I’ve written — that’s the only part worth mentioning. I was out there. And I finished. And I had fun.
And they had a tent rigged with water hoses that we could stand under after the finish line. What else is there?
I didn’t necessarily feel awesome the entire time, but that’s the way it goes with racing. The more you race, the higher your chances of having a bad one every now and then. But I’ve never, ever finished a race and thought, “Man, that sucked. Wish I’d stayed in bed today.”
Triathlon, I’ll be back. With conditioned lungs and stronger glutes and the same goofy smile.