Last Sunday I had the pleasure of competing for the third year in a row in the Funtastic Nantasket sprint triathlon. I packed my tri-bag and my car the night before because I knew I needed to get up early the next morning for the hour and 45 minute drive to Hull. My alarm went off at 5:00 AM and I *didn't* spring out of bed. I hit that snooze button until close to 5:30 and then had no choice but to fly out of bed to splash water on my face, swish the toothbrush around in my mouth, make breakfast for the road, and head out the door. My mom - who is my biggest fan - showed up at my front door at 6:00 AM and we hopped in the car and headed down the road.
It was cold. Really cold and really windy. And I was headed to the south shore to swim in the ocean. Brrrrr. We arrived at 7:40 AM in plenty of time for packet pickup and for me to get my transition area set up. I had my winter hat with me to keep me warm while getting ready for the race - a trick I learned at the Lobsterman Tri a couple of years ago in Maine. This is the first year that we had race tattoos instead of using a sharpie to write our race numbers on our bodies. I thought this was really cool - until I tried to wash them off after the race!
As I was getting my transition set up I heard the announcer say that the water temperature was 62 degrees. Yikes! I look down at the beach and saw some significant chop in the water. Great...cold AND choppy. Two years ago we had ridiculous 5-6 foot swells but the waves were pretty far apart, so while it was challenging and a bit crazy, I was still pretty confident and I finished strong. Last year the tide was out and half the swim was a "run" in the water. Both times the water temperature was in the high 60's. I was in for something new this year.
My swag bag had a race shirt in it so I threw it on over the shirt I was already wearing as extra protection against the cold. Then I slipped (okay wiggled, jiggled, flounced, and bounced) into my wetsuit and stuffed my shirts in, ripped a hole in it while pulling it up (*#&$@*), and needed help to zip it because of my multiple layers. I walked down to the water to get the dirty deed done and acclimate myself to the cold. The hole was not helping my confidence because it was on a seam and I knew that it would grow and that the nasty cold water would get in and I would be distracted. Wow - what negative self talk! I decided that I would shut up that inner voice and take the plunge. As I got down closer to the water I realized that, what I had previously thought was chop, was really 4-5 swells, and they were coming in close together, fast, and powerful. People were getting tossed about like plastic toys as they were trying to warm up for the swim. Oh my! I warmed up the best I could and got myself out of the water and back to shore, fighting the undertow all the way. This was going to be a serious swim.
Before I knew it the first wave was corralled and heading down to the water. I was in the next to the last wave so I waited and waited and watched the swimmers ahead of me get thrown around by the ocean waves. Triathlon really gives one a healthy respect for the power of the sea! Finally we were at the water's edge and ready to go. Someone later described the swim as "like being in a washing machine", and that was how it felt. No matter what I did I couldn't get my head down to just swim and gain momentum because when I tried I would get tossed around. I thought I could at least body surf on the way in, but that wasn't possible because the undertow was so strong that I had to fight against it the whole way in. The 1/4 mile swim took me over 9 minutes to complete, a very slow 1/4 mile for me, but still good considering the conditions. I was one of the first out of the water from my wave and I headed up the ramp to the transition area, stripping out of my wetsuit on the way. Surprisingly I even passed one woman as I ran up the ramp! Seriously - that never happens...but many of the racers were pretty shook up when they got out of the water, which I used to my advantage.
I ran into transition, finished stripping the wetsuit and the extra shirt, slipped on my socks, bike shoes, and my bike helmet, rinsed the salt water from my mouth and pushed my bike out of transition to the mounting line. I jumped on my bike for an easy, flat 10 mile ride. I headed out at an amazing clip - 20 mph! I maintained that speed for just under the first two miles, but then knew that I would not be able to maintain it so I slowed to a more manageable 16-17...until I hit the turnaround and a brick wall - a nasty head wind. I have never hit such a persistent strong head wind; it stayed with me for the entire return trip. I felt like I was standing still for most of the second half of the ride. I think I averaged 12-13 mph on the return. I met a really nice woman on the bike route and we kept passing each other as we fought against the wind. We laughed about the swim, now that it was over and we were brave again, and about the challenge of the wind. We cheered each other on for 5 miles and wished each other good luck in the run as we neared the end of the bike route. My overall ride pace was 15.7 mph, slower than last year, but my overall ranking was better than last year so I was pleased. The headwind also explains my relative lightning speed on the way out, because I certainly must have had that wind pushing me all the way!
I returned to transition, racked my bike, changed my shoes, and took my time heading out on the run. Last year I was the slowest runner in the entire race! I had nowhere to go but up this year, and I knew I could do no worse. I started out with a one minute run, one minute walk strategy for the first 1/2 mile and then gradually increased until I got to the 1 mile mark. I hear a man's voice behind me encouraging me not to give up. The man had me run with him as he encouraged me to continue at his pace. We attacked mile number two together at a pace I knew I couldn't maintain for long, but it still felt amazing. At one point I felt a little light headed, but he just kept cheering me on. As we neared the 2 mile mark he told me that he was going to pull ahead at a faster pace for mile 3, but that he would be at the finish line to shake my hand. This was his first triathlon, and I know it will not be his last. I slowed my pace for mile 3 as he went on. I kept him in my sights for as long as I could, but he was just too fast. And true to his word, he was there to shake my hand. We congratulated each other and went our separate ways. As I walked away to gather my belongings and pack up the car, I thought about how one of the best things about triathlons is the people you meet along your journey and how they touch your life.