Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Best Race Ever!

My primary goal this year, at least in the beginning, was the Toughman.  But, when I qualified for the UCWT Final, my priorities shifted.  Swimming doesn’t tax the legs, so I did several long open water swims, but training for the bike prohibited much running.  In addition, I tore my hamstring doing a half marathon in March and that took weeks to heal.  If that’s not enough, I have chronic nerve pain in my left foot that becomes unbearable after about 3 miles, so I had not done more than 7 miles all summer, with most runs closer to 3 or 4.  My last run was at the beginning of August, so doing the Toughman on September 9th seemed impossible- or maybe just another challenge.  I decided I would try.  As it turned out, it was the most fun I have ever had racing.

The water in the Hudson was brackish and warm.  As I stood on the shore waiting for my wave to start, I joked and laughed with the other women.  I felt relaxed and ready to enjoy the day no matter what happened.  The horn went off and I ran into the water like a dog after a ball.  My line was straight, I stayed with the pack and drafted; it was the best swim time I have ever had- a mile in 31 minutes!  At one point I found myself wedged between two women, so rather than drop back or try to speed up, I began swimming in sync, so that we wouldn’t bump into each other.  I felt like a dolphin and imagined we might just leap out of the water together!

Now, you may not know this, but all the best races have strippers, and this one was no exception.  I ran up to the beach, pulled my wetsuit down to my hips and flopped down on the ground.  A stripper grabbed the wetsuit and WHOOOSH I was free.  

In no time I was out on the bike.  I always feel like a kid on the bike, but riding on the closed highway gave me an added thrill.  There were many friends marshaling along the way,  shouting encouragement.  On the first loop, Bari (who was doing a relay) and I were leapfrogging- she would pass me on the uphill and I would fly by on the downs and flats.  After my experience in South Africa I was worried about dehydration, so I drank down my 40oz bottle after the 1st turn around grabbed a refill.  I had to stop pedaling to pour it into my aero bottle and lost Bari.  Then, my aero bar slipped.  It was hanging down on the right side.  I was trying to figure out what to do about it when I saw the Briarcliff Bike Works tent.  I pulled over and showed Lou the problem.  He quickly got out his wrench and tightened the bars in place.  Thanks to Lou I was back on the road!  I refilled my bottle one more time as I headed back into the park.

Alas, I had misjudged and my quaff to sweat ratio was off.   I decided to go to the port-o-john in the transition area.  It might have been a better idea to go in the woods.  It was a struggle to get out of and back into my tri suit without touching anything! It was by far the longest transition I have ever had- 6+ minutes!!!  No matter, I knew the hardest part was ahead and I was just hoping I could finish the race, not worried about making any personal record. 

I took off very slowly to warm up my running muscles.  After about 3 miles the pain in my foot kicked in.  My mental strategy was to recognize the pain and then file it away in a box on a far away shelf that I could ignore.  It wasn’t very hard, because there were so many other thoughts flooding my mind.  I lived in Croton for 15 years and raised my kids there.  The run went by my old house and along the trails I used to run with my dogs when I first discovered my inner athlete.  It went passed the beach where my son was a lifeguard.  It went passed the field where my daughter played soccer.  Though I didn’t grow up in Croton, passing over the Croton Dam I was reminded of my high school days when teenagers from miles around would congregate on a sunny afternoon to throw Frisbees and drink beer.  At every mile there were people giving out water and nutrition.  There were cheerleaders and marching bands and girl scouts and boy scouts and whole families cheering us forward.  I felt grateful and energized just to be.

By some miracle, my muscles were holding up.  But people were still passing me.  So, at the turn around I picked up the pace.  I was concerned about the big hill on RT 129 at mile 10 because I remembered how difficult it was four years ago.  But, this year it seemed much easier.  I even passed several people!  Then, it was all downhill to the finish.  I was elated; I was going to do it! 

With about a mile to go, I heard a female voice behind.  Suddenly, the competitor in me shouted an alert!  As the woman caught me, I picked up my pace to stay with her as she was my age.  We ran together for a while. I had no idea how many people in my age group were in front of me, but I didn't want to let her get away.  It was not easy keeping up, but I did.  Then, about 200 meters from the end, a young guy she knew came up and started pacing her at a faster clip.  I thought, “OK, that’s it.  I’m done,” and I let her get away. 

Then, I heard Marcus saying, “Don’t give up!”  I dug down deep and caught her 100 meters from the end.  I pulled ahead, fueled by some mysterious power reserve.  You can see how happy I was when I crossed the finish line from the smile on my face.  I didn’t know it, but I had won 2nd place in my age group!   Amazingly enough, I even set a new PR! 

Victor and his son were there with me to celebrate as I went up on stage.   I got a humongous medal, a plaque and fancy heart-rate monitor watch as a winner’s gift.  We ate BBQ, drank beer and marveled at how much fun the triathlon scene can be.  Even as the event was drawing to a close, the last athletes finished to cheers as the MC announced their names and congratulated each one!  Victor was very impressed.   Although I have encouraged him, he has never been interested in competing in triathlon.  As we were leaving, he stopped at the Danny’s Cycles booth.  They were having a 50% off sale.  I went ahead to get stuff to the car and when he showed up; he had purchased a pair of tri shoes!  Toughman 2012 was my 67th race since June 2001.  It was, by far, the most fun I have ever had racing. The only thing that could make it better is racing it next year with Victor.

No comments: