If the answer of "follow that up with another race and/or fling yourself headfirst into training for another sport" sounds mildly unreasonable, then I'm not sure if you'll understand who I am as a person.
So, two and a half weeks after the Mystic 10K, I found myself rolling up to my first triathlon of the year. With so much racing happening, my training over the prior six weeks was essentially just one continuous taper. I had no compunctions about placing well in this race, and instead viewed it as a training opportunity where I could test out some new equipment and work on honing in on my transitions.
I generally don't recommend trying anything new on race day, but sometimes there isn't really a way around that. In this case, the item in question was my new wetsuit. Since this race took place in early June, there were no local options where I could practice open water swimming (this is important later).
Lake Terramuggus is a beautiful park in Marlborough, CT, and is the perfect place for a triathlon. One of the first things I noticed and appreciated was that the park was easy to get to and there was plenty of parking. I showed up early (nearly an hour and a half early... I was a little over-excited) and nabbed the perfect parking spot. I went up to the pavilion and registered -- day-of registration was only $10 more than online registration, which I felt was more than reasonable.
As I was waiting in line, I realized the numbers being assigned to day-of registrants started at 65 and increased from there. I was filling out my paperwork and overheard the registrar saying "Okay! Mike is number 68. Who's next?"
I knew that my race number would be marked on my arms and calf in permanent marker, and would be there for a few days. I'm not proud, but I took my time filling out my waiver. Someone got ahead of me in line, and I (thankfully) ended up with number 70.
I unpacked my gear from my car (the tri-mobile is lovingly called "Valhalla" -- because it's a Swedish car and fit for vikings) and started setting up in transition. As I began setting up, I said hello to the woman setting up next to me. She nervously confessed it was her first triathlon ever, and she had no one with her at the race (her husband was going to show up later to cheer her on). I complimented her transition set-up, for which she credited having watched a number of YouTube videos.
Together, we walked the transition areas and start/finish lines and made a plan of attack. When we got back to the transition area, I tried to dispense as much wisdom as I could in a short timeframe. Essentially, I tried to think of everything I would have wanted someone to tell me before my first triathlon.
The best I had was "Relax. Your body produces epinephrine in response to any short-term stress, whether it's good or bad stress. It's up to your brain to interpret that as excitement or nervousness. So when I feel those butterflies, I never think about how nervous I am. Instead, I think of how amazingly excited I am, and that changes my whole perception of it."
The other gems I dispensed:
- "You can never have too much powder" -- as I liberally doused my bike shoes, running shoes, and socks with powder (as my father-in-law once famously said "No powder, you die.")
- "Make sure you check the size of an item before you buy on Amazon" -- as I showed her my hilariously oversized tube of Chamois Butter
- "Make sure to adequately hydrate while you're on your bike" -- but don't worry I forgot to abide by this one myself
- "Don't go out too fast on the swim start" -- and... yeah I forgot to listen to myself on this one too
- "Have fun and don't forget how awesome you are for being out here!" -- thankfully I mostly remembered this one
There were only about 90 athletes (not entirely surprising considering the race took place on a Thursday evening), and I began to feel a bit nervous in spite of myself when I saw other athletes putting their wetsuits on over their Ironman or Team USA kit. The swim start was divided into waves; the first included men and relay participants and the second wave was just for women.
When the start gun went off, I took off at a furious pace and... promptly ran out of breath. When I popped my head above the surface of the water, I realized I was not only in the lead, I was also about to pass out from hypoxia and pure anxiety. My old fears of drowning and lake zombies resurfaced and I tread water to avoid spiraling into a complete panic. Suddenly, nothing was going right. The collar on my wetsuit felt too tight, I couldn't catch my breath, and my goggles began to fog up. I floated on my back for a minute to calm myself, and proceeded to backstroke my way to the first buoy. I was still on the edge of panic and had a difficult time allowing myself to swim freestyle. I made my way to the second buoy in a jagged pattern, but at least I was still moving forward. The turn towards shore from there was interesting, as my goggles had completely fogged over at this point. I swam well off-course multiple times, and actually swam straight into the legs of the race director before eventually staggering out of the water. It had taken me 13 minutes 40 seconds to swim a quarter of a mile, but I had completed the distance and somehow was not in last place.
My legs were tired the moment I reached my bike, which I knew was due to my incessant kicking while backstroking/panicking my way around the course, but I didn't let that get to me. I took my wetsuit off and cleared T1 in less than 2 minutes.
The bike course was a bit of a struggle at the start, as it immediately climbed a hill before leveling out. My FitBit wouldn't catch a GPS signal, and so I rode based off of perceived exertion rather than actual speed data from my watch. The course was beautiful, tree-lined, and flowing with a few small climbs. Since I had exited the water near the end, it was a lonely ride. I passed a few people and then, because it was a 2-lap course, I found myself being lapped by the athletes in the Team USA jerseys. Triathlon is truly an incredible sport, because those elites and I cheered each other on during those passing moments. There were a few volunteers on course, but no other spectators to speak of. I finished the 11 mile bike course in 41 minutes 48 seconds, unfortunately with my slowest splits to date. Kicking while swimming had caused me to spend my legs long before I truly needed them.
I entered T2 with numerous athletes having already finished the race, and had to dodge traffic from them to rack my bike. Despite that, I completed T2 in less than a minute and a half, and was literally off and running. The hills on the single loop portion of the run course were more significant than on the bike, and I was able to pass a few more people there. Funnily, I watched one woman frantically dive into the woods for a bathroom break, then I passed a portapotty less than 50 feet up the street. I couldn't help but laugh at what her expression must have been once she came out of the woods and saw the bathroom on course! I finished the 5K run course in 29 minutes 22 seconds, which was also my worst time to date. I crossed the finish line with a total time of 1:27:56, putting me in 8th for my age group and 19th for women overall.
I racked my bike, changed into my flipflops, grabbed a water bottle, and headed back to the finish line to wait for my new friend. As she crossed the line, I saw her smile and remembered that even a miserable race for me is an incredible experience and that I should be so thankful for what I am able to accomplish.
Sweaty hugs and huge high fives abounded after that.