Thursday, July 14, 2011

Race Report From a Mere Mortal, part 1

Does this lycra make me look fat?
So I finished the Life Time Fitness Triathlon last Saturday. I finished under three hours, which was my goal, and not so much because I thought “under three hours” would be a particularly fast or even respectable time but more because “over three hours” sounded like way more time than I wanted to spend out there swimming, biking and running my brains out. I intended to “leave it all out there,” as in work as hard as I could but not like, end the race with my lifeless  body lying on the course. I was hoping to walk my old bod back to the car afterward (and into a diner somewhere for a big, fat breakfast soon after that). And I am happy to report, that’s pretty much how it went down.

The swim, 1500 meters, or just under a mile, went well. I am a swimmer, so this was not a huge surprise. I am not an open water swimmer, however, so that aspect was the tricky part for me. When I swim at a pool, I just follow that line on the bottom of the pool, back and forth, back and forth. There is no line on the bottom of Lake Nokomis, and if there is, the water is too murky for me to see it. I couldn’t just put my head down and swim, unless I didn’t mind ending up on the opposite side of the lake, trapped in the weeds, freaking out about all the unknown forms of life nipping at my ankles. Once I accepted that my stroke would be a choppy version of freestyle, head occasionally popping up to locate the yellow buoys that marked my course, I was okay. The best part was that I never felt like I was really killing myself but I was still able to navigate through all the white swim caps (my fellow age-groupers) and through many of the red swim caps, too (the men’s group that started ahead of me). I love passing men. I admit it. I do not want to know what that says about me, I just like it. It’s a total ego boost but, I like to think, less in an arrogant, obnoxious way, more so in a necessary and well-deserved kind of way. Although I was a competitive swimmer for many years, it was a career marked by mediocrity. I had personal victories, sure, but I was never the fastest one out there, with the exception of holding the dubious distinction of leader of the “reject lane,” as we affectionately referred to our slower-paced lane at college swim practice. I finished the swim in 29 minutes and later that afternoon, perusing the online race results, I discovered that I was number one out of the water in my age group. Yes! I’m #1, I’m #1, I’m #…

And then my lead disappeared in an instant, as #2 probably ran past me on her way to the transition area. The bike portion of the race was terra incognita, if you will. I really didn’t know how I would do on the bike, except that I have learned over the past few months that A) I am super nervous on a road bike with my feet bound to the pedals and B) I do not care for the sensation of going fast on a bike. My goal for the bike portion was simply to push the outer limits of my comfort level, mentally and physically. A secondary goal was not falling over. I slowed to a crawl at every turn, no doubt confounding the dude behind me in his aerodynamic, storm-trooper-like helmet who wanted desperately to pass me as I wobbled across his path. I rode white-knuckled, using my breaks on most of the down hills. A lot of people flew by me on the bike. I passed about 10. But the computer on my bike showed that I was travelling around 18-20 mph so I felt like, for me, I was not slacking. The best part of the bike was when I rounded the west side of Lake Harriet and spotted my husband and adorable daughter with her cheerleader pom-poms. I took the time to slow down, wave, and call out a greeting. I didn’t think it would hurt my standings too much. The last 5 miles from Lake Harriet to Lake Nokomis was fun, as it is a route I rode a thousand times when I was a lifeguard at Nokomis one summer during college. The hills and curves felt familiar, a reminder of my lost youth that I was chasing down and momentarily catching along the race route.

The 10k run was going to be the big test for me. I could easily be brought down by the hamstring tendinopathy I had been addressing in physical therapy for the last 6 weeks. Or it might be the Morton’s neuroma in my left foot, a swollen nerve between my 3rd and 4th toes which causes numbness and occasional sharp shooting pain in the ball of my foot. This is where I complain about the aging process and say “it sucks getting old.” I am only a few gray hairs away from groaning about my lumbago or arthritic knees. Anyone in their 60s will tell me what a spring chicken I am but anyone who is in their 20s will be thinking, get this woman a wheelchair. On top of the aforementioned aches and pains, there is also the simple fact that running immediately following a hard bike ride is a difficult task for anyone’s legs. I don’t know the exact science behind it but I do know that my legs felt like tree trunks – ancient, mammoth sequoia-sized tree trunks. I was trying to breathe, settle in to a rhythm, use my core, swing my arms loosely, concentrate on my glutes firing instead of my quads doing all the work, engage my feet and visualize a helium balloon lifting me up and making me lighter, all things I had learned during training (or just made up on my own; namely, the helium balloon thing, but I swear, that was really helpful during a 10k I ran last year!). But those 2-ton-giant-sequoia-tree-trunk legs of mine were really harshing my mellow, if you know what I mean. And this was only the first mile.

Fortunately, my daughter and husband appeared at that moment and distracted me from the race allowing me to focus on being a happy mom saying hi to her cute kid and giving the impression that mommy was having FUN! out there. It lasted for about 10 seconds – but 10 very good seconds out of what was shaping up to be a fairly miserable hour. My foot started to hurt around that time and it only got worse. My tree-trunk legs did eventually revert back to normal, if somewhat fatigued, legs but it was hard to get much momentum going with my foot sending pain signals at every step. The running course was 2 laps around Lake Nokomis and when I finished my first lap, those who were doing the sprint course got to veer off to the right, down the chute to the big finish while the long course runners had to begin lap number 2. I kind of wanted to cry at that point, thinking about how long it would take to get all the way around the lake a second time. I took a few walking breaks but decided around mile 4 that I was just going to put my head down and go until the bitter end; time for the proverbial “leaving it all out there.” It was go time. I tried to ignore all the spritely folks bounding past me. Mostly I marveled that I was making any forward progress at all. One guy I ran next to for a while but who eventually moved beyond my view was a 67-year old man who looked damn fresh for that stage of the game. I tried to take some inspiration from what a bad-ass that guy was.

my favorite cheerleader
Finally, mercifully, the finish line came into view. I searched the crowd for my daughter and her pom-poms and veered over to her to give her a high five, again, hoping to give her the impression that mom was doing great! (Insert enthusiastic smiley face!)I gathered just enough steam to really run across the finish line before finally deflating like the saggy balloon I had become. My recovery will be slow, as I need to let the layers of blisters heal on the ball of my foot then see a good doctor about the Morton’s neuroma. I’m not sure if another “tri” is in my future for this summer. But I am sure of one thing. I did it. For the time being, I am a triathlete.

Stay tuned for race report, part two: reflections on all the other stuff besides swimming, biking and running. It's a lot more interesting.

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