Racing with Friends
Eva had done the race the year before and was a great resource for information about Burlington, the course, and the race itself. Coach Jen also decided to race, so she was there to answer my last-minute silly panic questions. Scott provided love and support, and we made a vacation of the trip as well.
Scott and I arrived on Wednesday before the race, rented a car, and drove to the hotel he’d booked in May. The parking lot was empty, and the roof of one building was covered by a tarp. A note on the office door said “Go to Room 111 in the other building for help.” We went. They said the hotel was closed due to a fire and that they would find us a room somewhere else. After about 15 calls and an hour later, we were booked at the Anchorage Inn on Dorset Street in South Burlington, right on the bike course. Much closer to the race start, too, so we were happy. Even though it wasn’t the nicest place. The hallways reeked of stale smoke, despite the posted signs prohibiting smoking. And there always seemed to be a very thin person or two just outside each exit enjoying a cigarette.
A numbers game
I got chills when I saw my race number. It was my daughter’s birthday: 1129! While we’re on the subject of numbers, at a recent practice Coach Jen asked me what my goal pace for the race was, in order to tell me a pace for that night’s brick run. I told her ten-minute miles. I wonder what would have happened had I told her nine-minute miles? Because, um, I averaged exactly ten-minute miles.
Every race is different, but I went into this one with three unsatisfying Olympic-distance races under my belt. The first one, 2009 Austin Triathlon, I had pulled a muscle in my calf the day before while reffing a youth soccer tournament. Six point two miles (plus all the transitions that we usually run) is a long way to walk! My second Oly, 2010 Austin Tri, happened during training for Ironman Cozumel. I did it in 3:31:29, half an hour faster than the one I walked in 2009. I had tried to do another Olympic distance in Galveston, but the water was too rough, so they turned it into a bike-run race instead.
All this background serves to set up my goal time for USAT Age-Group Nationals. I decided I was overjoyed to have qualified (at the Rookie, on a rainy day). I would be happy to finish, content with 3:30:00 or below, and exuberant if I cut it to 3:15. My secret goal was to do a blazing fast run at the end, but I was really in it for the experience.
Okay, my secret-secret goal was to hit the podium. That was before the race started with a tragedy.
The Athenas over forty
I had Athlinks-stalked all the women in my division, and I figured out who the top three would be, based on their past Olympic-distance performance. I realized that I’d likely be anywhere from fourth to seventh place, and out of nine I was okay with that. I have done the whole last-place thing before (see Ironman Cozumel 2010).
I should back up a bit here: there were only nine in my division because I signed up in the Athena over-forty class. I did this in a panicked moment of “I gotta sign up now before they realize they made a mistake in their calculations.” At that point, I thought I was fourth of seventeen at the Rookie, which would have placed me much lower than the required top ten percent to qualify for Nationals. In reality, I was fourth of thirty-two, because USAT takes into account everyone in the age group, not whether they are rookies or veterans, as the Rookie results show. Still not mathematically in the top ten percent, but I’m told USAT rounds up. The first link I clicked on from the congratulatory email didn’t allow me to sign up for Age Group Nationals, returning a blank screen; the second option was to sign up for the Athena/Clydesdale division. Yeah, I’d been on a healthy kick and was losing weight, but I figured I would have no problem weighing at least 150 pounds by the middle of August. And I knew that the less you weigh, the faster you can bike and run, so my idea was to get as close to 150 in August as I could.
Oh, crafty little mind, how easily you trip yourself up! I got down to around 152 and then started to panic and eat a little more. Vacation in July took its toll; by the time I weighed in Thursday afternoon, I was 158. Eight unnecessary pounds that I’d have to drag around! On the bright side, I couldn’t come in any lower than ninth place.
Wetsuit: Over the winter, I had been using Scott’s (men’s size large) Rocket Science Rocket Carbon wetsuit and loving it. As I lost weight, it just kept getting looser on me. I looked at all the wetsuit rental places, but they only rent low-end suits, not the Rocket Carbon with its varied-thickness neoprene, soft and comfy neckline, carbon fiber inserts on the forearm, and drag-reducing thingies (“vortex generators”) on the lower back. As a slow swimmer, I figure I need all the assistance I can get, so when last year’s model Rocket Carbon went on sale for half price, I snapped one up. Mine has a zipper that opens from the bottom up for easier transitions, which has the added bonus of no Velcro at the neckline to catch on stray tendrils of hair.
Bike: what can I say but that I am in love with my bicycle, a 2012 Specialized Shiv Expert that makes mincemeat out of a head- or crosswind. I won a drawing for $2500 worth of bike at Bicycle Sport Shop in April and decided to put that amount toward the bike of my dreams. There are still a few upgrades I can make to it over the next few years, but if it seems slow, it really just needs a better engine.
Shoes: Pearl Izumi iso Transition, which have a seamless upper inside that won’t blister bare feet, and drainage holes in the sole. I was determined to have decent transition times, and these shoes help. I’ve run up to ten miles in them with no problems. Super comfy! The only problem I have with them is that I could only find one pair in my size in Austin that aren’t pink. I’d really rather stick to blue, but they are such awesome shoes that I might have to buy up the pink ones, too.
Clothing and accessories: I wore compression sleeves on my calves (some by Mojo that I bought at the expo) and a white LG arm-cooling bolero under a Blue Seventy tri suit. I used the race belt that came in the athlete goodie bag and my Tri Zones visor on the run. Also on the run, I carried an Amphipod 20-ounce bottle that I’d frozen the night before.
A girl whose number was on the other side of my bike rack had a hard time understanding that her spot on the rack was marked with her number on the side she had to put her bike on. She had racked her bike in my space by squeezing between my bike and another one, close to an impossible feat with how tight the numbers were already. “But I want to go out here,” she insisted. “It’s a lot slower to start from the other side!” I finally had to call an official over to explain the way to rack: wheel down on the side that has your number. This was not to be the last misunderstanding with young Dingbat.
The swim: 36:21 (2:13/100)
My wave of purple-capped women was in the water warming up when I noticed that swimmers around me were popping up out of the water and looking worried. A man with a bullhorn was talking. I had earplugs in, so I asked a woman nearby what was going on. She pointed to the dock just a few yards away, where medics were performing CPR on an unresponsive man. I had just taken a CPR class at the Expedition School and caught myself counting along with the chest compressions. They peeled off his green swim cap and placed a mask over his nose and mouth. Squeezed air into the attached bag twice every thirty compressions, exactly as I’d been taught. Everything was very methodical; no panic-stricken running around. I thought I saw some water erupt from his mouth at one point, and I hoped that meant he was coming to, but no. They never stopped trying to revive him, even as they slipped a bright yellow gurney under him to move him up to the waiting ambulance. We found out later that he did not make it: Massachusetts resident Richard Angelo, fifty-three years old. A friend of his on slowtwitch.com said that Richard had hoped to qualify for Worlds. News reports have not yet clarified the cause of his death, only that he had a “medical issue” during the swim.
I feel sad for Richard Angelo’s family and friends, but death is an inescapable fact of life. If offered a choice of how to go, it would be in the process of doing something I love. I’d like to think that Richard had a similar perspective, although it doesn’t ease the pain of his loss.
Once our wave finally started, it was clear that the water would be rough. But the swimmers around me were gentle. Nobody hit me; I felt a few brushes of fingers on my feet, and I saw people pass, but there was none of the usual race-start aggression. Earlier, Eva and I had noticed a few whitecaps. I saw one race report that suggested the swells were up to four feet high. That may have been an exaggeration, but because we were behind a breakwater, the waves were not only going one direction but also reflecting off the walls of the breakwater and the shore. I was very glad to have earplugs, which work well for me against motion sickness.
At first I tried to find some good feet to draft, but after a while I realized that there was a woman just slightly to my left who was about my pace but mostly breast-stroking. Drafting her could be disastrous, but keeping her visible on my left saved me from having to try and lift my head over the waves or time their crests to sight on the buoys.
My goggles were a brand-new pair of View Selene; I’ve trained and raced with them for years and love the way they fit my face. But they don’t make polarized or even very dark lenses, and I had read reports that the sun gave some swimmers difficulty the year before. I bought a pair of Zoggs polarized goggles and did a few swims in them. At our practice swim the day before, I dropped them in Lake Champlain and lost them. Was I ever glad of the backup pair! No leaks, and absolutely clear. The sun didn’t bother me only because of my breast-stroking escort.
The course was crazy, though. Keep the buoys on your right, except for some that should be on your left? Zig-zagging to come up with the correct distance seems like a less than optimal way to lay out a course, and spectators said that some swimmers missed some buoys. I was worried that I’d be run over at a tight turn by faster swimmers from waves behind mine, but that didn’t happen. It turned out to be an Olympic-distance swim PR for me. I give equal credit to my escort and my wetsuit, but most of all to my coach Jennifer Reinhart!
It’s always interesting for me to see in which sport I placed higher overall. It’s almost always the swim, which puzzles me because I never swam competitively (or even close to properly) until 2008, when I joined Tri Zones and took beginning swim lessons from Holly Odom at Pure Austin Fitness. This race was no exception: my swim was over one hundred places faster than that of my run. Hmph.
My bike was racked very close to bike-out and run-out, which was basically the same area. I had a long run in my wetsuit to reach the bike, but once I made it there things went very quickly. I had unzipped my wetsuit and taken it off my upper body as I ran, so all that was left was stomping on the legs to get the bottom off. Dingbat had thrown her wetsuit onto my transition mat (and on top of my running shoes). I removed it from on top of my shoes but left it in a pile closer to my side than hers. Sigh. I wondered if she had qualified for Nationals in her first triathlon, like, ever?
The bike: 1:25:39 (17.4 mph)
It was simply a gorgeous course on a beautiful, cool day. The main thing I noticed besides the scenery was that so many people were passing me. The first and last bits were in town, pretty technical with lots of corners. I was also careful to watch for those horrible water main covers that stuck up about two inches from the smooth pavement. Getting on the freeway, there was a bit of rough pavement that was marked as such. One woman still launched her water bottle when she hit it. To her credit, she turned around and picked it up. My extra bottle stayed put in its Arundel “Other Side Loader” holder on my seat tube. I really like the side-load bottle holder for convenience, and now I’m confident it’s secure, too. My main liquid supply was the Shiv’s Fuelselage, a brilliant concept that takes advantage of my bike’s massive, aerodynamic down tube to put a refillable bladder and straw inside. It only holds 20 ounces, though, so I brought an extra 24-ounce bottle to refill it.
I pedaled along happily once we got on the freeway and from then on, into the countryside. One woman was in my age group, wearing a bumblebee-black-and-yellow tri suit. We played leapfrog until I finally passed her. I felt like telling her, “Don’t worry, I’m not really in your age group, I’m an Athena.” There were a few people that I passed, including a 21-year-old in a pink bra, but the majority of racers were zipping by me like I was standing still. Especially the men. Some of them didn’t seem to know the rules too well, either. There were definite, obvious pace lines whipping by, and I saw one guy without a shirt…wonder how many minutes of penalty that cost him? There were plenty of referees hanging on the back of motorcycles, and I was careful to keep to my right except when passing those few people. There were also a few people out cheering, which is always nice. For my Austin friends, I wouldn’t call the bike course hilly; it was mostly like a ride on Parmer. A few rollers, but nothing too strenuous.
You’ve got to be kidding me. After running in my bike shoes (I NEED to learn that flying dismount) for about 200 meters from the bike dismount line, I arrive at my spot only to find that Dingbat has once again racked her bike there. Right on top of my number. She must have run with her bike down the wrong aisle, and when she realized her mistake, just shoved it where mine was supposed to go and ducked under the bar for her shoes instead of running the extra ten feet or so around the end of the rack to her own spot. “Arrrrrgh! She’s in my spot!” I hollered in frustration, but I did not see an official around. I scooted her bike over, feeling guilty for touching it (and angry that Dingbat was making me do something I had to feel guilty about), and racked mine by the handlebars, perfectly centered over my number. I put my bike shoes and helmet on my transition mat and slipped on my running shoes. Last of all, I grabbed my cold handheld bottle from its bottle-sized cooler bag. I’m pretty sure steam was coming out of my ears.
The run: 1:02:03 (10:00-minute miles)
But maybe the steam helped me get up that first hill! Thank you, Dingbat. Depot Street is long and steep and happens at just the time your legs are feeling numb from the bike. At the very top, what do I hear but Scott calling my name! Of course, he has the video camera and is encouraging me to run. I guess I did, kinda.
Funny thing: the run is the leg I am most happy about. Yet according to my ranking, it was the leg in which I performed the worst. That makes sense, as even the people I’d passed definitively on the bike were flying by me on the run. Bumblebee? It took her a couple miles, but she did it. And Pink Bra? She passed me on the first hill. The people I passed in the first few miles wore numbers on their legs that began with 6 or higher. I said something encouraging to each one, and I silently hoped I would still be doing this when I reach their age. Then, around mile 5, I saw Eva. Her gait looked excruciating, but she was not walking. Her plantar fasciitis pain had only gotten worse as she continued. But now she was almost finished! Ten more minutes, I told her. You can do it! And she did.
Scott videotaped each of us just before we reached the finish chute. You can see Eva’s bright smile and not realize how much pain she was in. And me, I was just glad to be done.
A Word Afterward
Funny thing about races. Before the race, I think I can go fast! Faster than I’ve ever gone before! Then during the race, I plod along and gasp for air, thinking, gosh, this is as fast as I can go. And as soon as I’m done I think, dang, I coulda gone faster. I thought that very thing as soon as I finished.
But that was before Scott got a text from Julie, who was quick to look at the results. She told him I’d come out in second place! I had a moment of unprintable expletives before I recalled a race report from last year that mentioned the very same thing, only the full results had not yet been taken into account, and the writer had to recant her joyous announcement. It had to be a mistake along those lines, I thought. Unless one of those fast women I’d stalked on Athlinks had decided not to race!
A few hours later we discovered the truth. No, I was not the second-place finisher in the over-40 Athena division. But I was third! Yes!!! My first actual podium in a triathlon, and it’s at Nationals. I could not ask for more. Especially since the first and second place Athenas were about 25 and 15 minutes ahead of me, respectively. Even if I had eked out a little bit faster swim, bike, run, and transition, I would still have fallen short of their stellar performances.