Yesterday, I completed my first Olympic Triathlon.
And it was hard.
But then again, why am I so surprised? After all, I did swim 1500 meters (~1 mile), bike 40 kilometers (~25 miles), and run 10+ kilometers (6.75 miles) in 3:25:18!
But let’s back up a bit. It all started last week, when I began freaking out about the weather. Every meteorologist and website was predicting thunderstorms starting Saturday night and into Sunday. Not Good. I envisioned various scenarios, from delays to cancelling the swim to cancelling the entire event. I briefly allowed myself to envision a scenario in which, by some miracle, it didn’t rain. But suffice to say that between the highly uncertain forecast and the sheer enormity of the physical trial ahead of me, I was a bundle of nerves.
Luckily I had many supportive family members and friends to distract me Friday and Saturday. My cousin Atlee drove down from that school up north on Friday night, and my brother and his girlfriend Aisling started the first leg of their month-long cross country journey by driving from NYC to C-bus on Saturday. And of course my ever-supportive parents drove down from Cleveland to join Karen for the festivities. After dropping off my transition gear at both T2 and T1 (where it started POURING rain just as I was racking my bike), we all headed out to dinner so I (we) could carb-load and enjoy some quality time together (while I sneaked peeks at the radar on my phone). Aisling and I spilt pasta and pizza – the ultimate carb-loading adventure:
I slept fairly well that night, despite the fact that I continued to sneak peeks at the radar every time I woke. When my alarm went off at 4:50 and I saw no rain, I finally started getting excited. I was going to do an Olympic triathlon! I met my parents and Karen at the swim start at 6:15 AM – big thanks to them for keeping me company for the 75 minutes until I made my first stroke. And by some miracle, not only was it not raining, but the sky looked like this as I waited for 7:30 to come around:
And come around it did! The swim came and went – I remember thinking “holy shit, this is long”, but before I knew it I was rounding the bend to the last leg (it was an out-and-back course). It was pleasantly not crowded. At one point I found myself in the middle of the course with no one around me – I panicked and thought I was going to get disqualified – but I quickly swam back to the pack and continued on. And 34 minutes later, I ran onto the beach to the transition area! I was noticeably more out of breath than my previous (shorter) triathlons, but otherwise I felt good. I toweled off, put on my socks and shoes and the rest of my gear, and was off in 3:26.
I was by far the most nervous about the bike. As you know, I fell off my bike exactly four weeks prior to yesterday, and that caused me to be an even more timid biker than I already am. My confidence was boosted by the fact that it wasn’t raining and the nice tailwind that had me riding ~17+ mph for the first 5-10 miles of the course. There were some hills, but they were fairly minor and for the most part, the course was a series of straightaways = very happy Sarah. I was still very nervous at every turn and slowed down far too much (I’m sure the bikers behind me were annoyed). The last five miles of the course were the hardest. In part because it was the last five miles of the course, but also because there was a strong headwind pushing against us. The sky took a turn and I kept saying “please don’t thunderstorm” to myself over and over – which appeared to have worked because the rain held off. The bike finish came up quickly and I happily dismounted my bike. I knew I had done well (for me) – I was hoping to complete the bike in under 1 hour 45 minutes, and my time of 1:33:24 fit the bill. 16 MPH? I’ll take it! I was passed about 1000 times and only passed two other riders, but I was out there for myself – and I did myself proud.
At the bike-to-run transition I saw my family (with my bro and his gf and my cousin). I was happy to be off the bike and on to what I thought was my second-best event, and seeing them gave me a boost. It was then that something very unpleasant occurred (warning – overshare ahead). I REALLY had to pee, so I handed a race volunteer my iphone and ran into a porta potty. Since I was wearing a one-piece tri suit and a race belt around my waist, I decided that I didnt’ want to bother with trying to strip it off – I could just pee with it on, like a bathing suit. What I didn’t realize until much later was that my suit is not a normal suit – it has a nice layer of padding for protection on the saddle. So…do the math…the pee had no where to go except sideways. It went ALL OVER my legs, into my socks and shoes, on the floor of the nasty porta potty, even onto the sidewalk! Basically everywhere except where it was supposed to go. I debated stopping midway and taking off my suit, but I was wearing my race belt and it is not easy to take off the suit…and since i had already started I figured I might as well just pee my pants. So pee my pants I did.
As luck would have it, my dear friends Jackie and Matt were waiting for me outside the porta potties and captured my disgust as I exited. Despite being drenched in my own urine, I was thrilled to see them – there is something special about the support of friends.
That’s when things started going downhill. The run was HARD. In past triathlons I rocked the run, even setting a personal 5K record in my second triathlon. I went into this one thinking that the same thing would happen – my legs would feel weird and I would just RUN. What I failed to consider was the fact that the swim and the bike were twice as long, so by the time I started running I was 2+ hours in. I also wasn’t properly trained – I didn’t take the run seriously enough and had only run 6 miles once before the race. And in the most ironic of ways, the sun decided to come out – adding to the brutal humidity. Or maybe it wasn’t any of that, and perhaps I can blame it on the shame of having peed my pants. Whatever the reason, the run was very challenging. Every. Single. Step. Hurt. Thank goodness for my music (“Call Me Maybe”!). I also took some walk breaks – something I almost never do in training or races – but this race demanded it.
Finally, after what felt like forever – I saw the finish line. I forced a smile on my face, saw my family, and sprinted to the finish. After 3 hours, 25 minutes, and 18 seconds, I was an Olympic Triathlete!
And then this happened:
I have never been happier to be done with a race in my life. My back was killing me and I needed a place to sit against something immediately. After a few minutes I gathered my composure and began the somewhat arduous process of collecting my T1 & T2 stuff. Eventually we headed back to Karen’s and I took an amazing shower – but not without taking a group shot first (my Dad took the photo):
I didn’t have a complete appetite, but I managed to eat a full plate of this amazing spread that my Mom and Karen put together. It tasted fabulous, and I know the spectators appreciated it too – cheering is hard work! My Aunt and Uncle joined us for the celebration as well – it was quite the full house!
After lunch, everyone packed up and went on their way (D and Aisling began their month of adventure, lucky them!). And just like that, it was over. The Olympic Triathlon that I’d been thinking about for months and obsessing about for weeks was over. And rain-free! I didn’t experience the rush of endorphins as I did in previous sprint triathlons – instead, I actually felt very little. It was just – over. To be honest, it wasn’t exactly “fun”. Sprint triathlons are half the distance and twice as fun! But today I feel differently – delayed reaction, perhaps? The significance of what I accomplished yesterday has started to sink in – and I’m really proud of myself! I’m also humbled by my body. I know firsthand how fleeting physical health can be, and every single day I am able to swim, bike, and run is a day for which I am grateful.
I am also thankful for everyone’s support – I know that so many of you were thinking of me Sunday morning, checking the radar and cheering me on from your cozy beds! Your encouragement and investment is greatly appreciated. I may have run a lot slower than expected, but I felt strong on the swim and exceeded my expectations on the bike. And even though I placed in the bottom 25% overall, I’m inspired and in awe by all the athletes that I racked my bike next to and those that began their second run lap while I was running my first (the half Ironman athletes ran a half-marathon – after swimming 1.2 miles and biking 56!). And in the end, I’m really proud of myself. Because I raced this race for one person and one person only – me.
Only one question remains – which Olympic Triathlon am I doing next summer?!