Cedar Lake is an absolutely beautiful little gem of a state park in Chester, CT, and was only about a half hour drive from my house. Just like the Lake T triathlon, this one also took place on a Thursday evening. I began to realize that this begets a certain level of competition, as it's infinitely more likely that a serious triathlete (as compared to, say, a first-timer or someone just doing this for fun) is going to show up to a competition in the middle of the week rather than on a weekend. As I parked my car and unloaded the tri-mobile, I was a little less surprised by the number of Team USA and Ironman jerseys present.
I had arrived about 30 minutes early to this race since I had already registered online, and after I had been marked and given my timing chip I began to set up my transition area. Things began to fall apart from there. I checked tire pressure on my bike, and as I did the stem valve on my front tire snapped off and my tire was no longer able to hold any pressure whatsoever. I hadn't brought a spare with me (rookie mistake), and even if I had I didn't have the faintest clue of how to change it out. My husband, who is usually in charge of these sorts of issues, had to work late and would be arriving at the race closer to the finish.
I ran up to the announcer and race directors and explained my plight. They gave me a kind smile and told me they would obtain a spare and fix it for me while I got changed. In the time before I had even left the pavilion, an incredibly generous athlete had offered one of his spare tubes. I thanked him and the volunteers profusely before running off to change. While in the restroom, I heard another announcement overhead "The tube one of our athletes has volunteered doesn't fit our bike in need. Does anyone else have a tube to spare?" I emerged from the restroom dressed and ready, but with my heart in my throat and my stomach somewhere down between my toes. I was faced with the reality that I might not be racing today.
Thankfully, another athlete offered his spare tube and this one fit my wheel. I was ecstatic. The race was on, and I only had about 3 minutes to get in the water before the starting gun went off! I thanked everyone as much as I could and racked my bike before running straight into the water. I was foregoing my wetsuit this race anyways, which was a blessing since I wouldn't have had time to put it on anyways.
Similar to the Lake T race, this one had a small field (about 70 athletes) and used a 2-wave swim start. You guessed it; men and relay teams went first, followed by women about 2 minutes later. I entered the water with 1 minute to spare before the men started. I didn't even have time to get myself psyched out about the open water swim before we were off. In spite of the rocky start to my race, I swam the best I had ever swum. I was calm, strong, and focused, and my sighting skills kept me on laser-straight lines to the buoy and back to shore. Not only did I pass a number of women in the swim -- I managed to pass a few men as well! I came out of the water in the exact middle of the field, taking 11 minutes 29 seconds to swim the 500 yard course. I had worked hard to stay calm and smooth, keeping my form tight without worrying about speed, and I came out of the water on completely fresh legs. I'd finally gotten the hang of how I was supposed to do a triathlon swim.
T1 was fast by my standards, made doubly so since I didn't need to shuck myself out of my wetsuit. The entire transition area was on a sandy beach, and so I found quite a bit of sand accumulating in my bike shoes and bike chain, but I knew there wasn't any way around it. I took off on the bike knowing that there were some major hills on course -- 2 Cat 5 climbs and 1 Cat 4. Those hills turned out to be the great equalizers on the course. Since I had exited T1 right in the middle of the pack, I finally had some solid company on this single-loop bike course! The hills worked well to bunch groups of people off, and I found that I was able to power past athletes I otherwise wouldn't have been able to catch on the flat sections. I made some decisive moves, and generally found that when I passed people they didn't try to stick with me. Except for one athlete -- she and I traded places on course no less than six times throughout the 10 miles of biking. As it was a non-drafting course this became very funny. We would pass and attempt to drop one another, and whoever was passed needed to sit back 10 meters off of the rear wheel of the other athlete until another passing opportunity presented itself. After the first 2 passes, we began to exchange pleasantries and cheer each other on. All good things have to end, though, and she passed me one final time right before the end of the bike course. I let her go, as I was focused on a new trick -- undoing my bike shoes and pedaling with my feet atop them for the last few yards. Though I was passed on the bike, it set me up for a quicker transition as I was able to run in barefoot and change even more quickly into my running shoes.
T2 was another blur, albeit a happy one -- I saw my husband and our dog waiting for us! Sand again accumulated inbetween my toes during the transition, though a handily-placed towel on my bike rack took care of the worst of it. Pre-powdered socks and shoes made a huge difference, and I was flying out of T2 in just over a minute.
My legs were certainly with me that day, and I felt fresh and fast right off the start line. There weren't many people cheering on the course as it's a residential summer-sort of neighborhood with a YMCA camp right down the street. The people who lived nearby, however, certainly showed up to cheer! I got a lot of love for my Red Sox hat (as always), though I warningly told the cheer-er that similar to the race we weren't yet at the halfway point and that one should always be wary of the all-star break. I was offered wine (a couple times), a patio chair, and encouragement from a man yelling through a traffic cone. As always, the run was the strongest portion of my race and I made up plenty of time, laying down one of my fastest 5K times. As the end of the race came bearing down on us, I caught up to a male athlete who seemed to be struggling. I noticed with a bit of a start that he was the very athlete who had lent me a tire for my bike! When I thanked him for giving me the chance to race, he shrugged it off and asked if he could draft off me in the last bit of the run. This was funny, given that he was a good foot taller than I, but I obliged. He dropped me close to the finish line, but considering he had a 2-minute head start for his wave, I didn't chase too hard. This race series doesn't recognize age groups, but if it did I would have placed 2nd in the females 20-29 group; as it was I was the 13th overall female, something I was definitely proud of. I swam straight and calm to put in my best lake swim, I averaged a little over 17 mph on the bike, and I ran an average 8:30/mile pace for the 5K.
This was one of those races where everything finally makes sense and comes together, and I had a blast. The volunteers, race officials, and racers themselves were all amazing, and I'll definitely be back for another race.