Two alarm clocks were not needed for the 3:30 a.m. wake-up call on Sunday morning. I was wide awake and raring to go by 3:20. I jumped out of bed and ate a granola bar while I awaited the in-room coffee pot to brew. After half a cup of coffee and a few other very necessary morning rituals, I jumped on my bike at 4:30 to begin the ride to the course start at Ala Moana State Park.
I had scoped out the directions, more or less, the night before, but as I toodled on the canal walk path enroute, I wondered if I had gotten them right. About 15 minutes later, I realized that I had not, and scrambled to find a gas station that could help me out. Already, I was way off course. They pointed me back to the general vicinity and when I saw two other people on bikes across one of the streets, I yelled, “Are you going to the Tri?” Once they said yes, I fell in line behind them and we raced to the start line in a rather unorthodox way, weaving our way through the parkade of Ala Moana Shopping Center.
My bike seemed to be functioning well. I was able to keep up with the other two without much effort and it was a welcomed relief, after 10 minutes, to see my very own bike racking station. I hung my bike and began to ready my things for the race.
My Tri buds had arrived a little earlier and were in the general vicinity also getting ready. We shared some laughs as I ate my protein bar in very small bites as I really had no appetite at this point.
By 5:50, I had jumped into the warm waters of Ala Moana Bay in the warm-up area and began to warm up. The water felt great. It was about 74 degrees (my best guess) and I paddled around, checking for visibility and comfort level. At this point, I had decided to wear my tinted goggles, thinking that the sun would be up by the 6:15 start time.
At 6:05, we gathered with the other 227 Sprint participants in the holding area and watched the men start first, before the women swarmed into the gate. I was a little nervous but not too bad, as I quietly waited for that sun to rise.
At 6:15, the gun went off and I made my way to the far right side of the course, in order to go slowly out of the gate and find my stroke more easily. I launched into my front crawl with ease and fluidity and just tried to be calm. About 100 meters into the course, the drip into my left lens had begun to annoy me, so I decided to flip over onto my back and adjust my goggles. I flipped back into front crawl with ease. It was crowded and I struggled to find a clear lane, continually creeping out to the right – probably off-course, but VERY happy to still be on my belly. My tinted goggles and lack of light made it difficult to gauge where the markers were, but I continued on with my front crawl, occasionally breaking it to breast stroke to find a line.
At about the 300 meter mark, I had just broken into breast stroke for a bit, when I noticed a huge shadow below me. As the shadow came closer, I realized that it was a Giant Sea Turtle, and his big brown eyes just stared at me as he swam directly underneath me. We had a moment. I yelled out to the next closest swimmer, “A turtle just swam under me.” I am not sure if you are supposed to do that in a race, but it felt pretty good to share the moment with someone.
I continued on to the 375 mark where I made the turn around the buoy. I looked at my watch, I was 10 minutes exactly. Pretty slow for me. I had hoped to be at the 8 minute mark at this point. I picked up the pace, trying to maintain as straight a line as possible directly between the two buoys. By now the crowd had thinned and a bit of anxiety set in as I wondered how my first half had been so slow. The end line still looked so far away!
I persevered and made it out of the swim. I wasn’t really tired from the swim, just mentally deflated as I looked at my watch to see 22 minutes. I had lost another 2 minutes somehow, and for sure I knew that I had kept course, on the second portion of the course. I tried to let it drip, with the water, off of my back.
I ran to my bike, poured water on my feet, dried them, put my socks and shoes on, then helmet and grabbed my bike, starting the run out of T-1. About a hundred feet away, I realized that I had a gel pack that I should eat, so dropped my bike and ran back to get it.
I quickly downed the gel as I clipped into the pedals. As I turned West onto Ala Moana Boulevard, something felt amiss. I thought, wow, my legs are tired. It just seemed hard to push the pedals. I started lamenting my Friday night activities as being the culprit.
I looked down at my speedometer and it wasn’t reading my speed. It just said zeros across the screen, which is what I felt like at the moment. How could I have not noticed that it hadn’t been functioning properly? THAT is the one device that I needed in order to tell if I was on pace for the 20 Km ride. I breathed and tried to force my legs to work harder. Stronger. They just seemed so heavy. I pushed on.
My bud came up beside me on her borrowed bike. She said, “What’s wrong? You don’t seem like you are going very fast.” I told her that something was off in me. I didn’t know what. “Go on. Get going. Don’t wait for me.” I prodded her on. Damn, this was supposed to be my strength and right now, right here, it was definitely not.
I continued on toward the half way mark. I was almost to the airport now and I looked up to the sky to find a beautiful rainbow, seemingly coming down on one of the runways. I smiled and looked at my watch. I was 25 minutes for 10 Km. Definitely slow for me. I was expecting to be at the 20 minute mark. I pedaled faster, playing with my gears, trying to find a gear that didn’t feel so strained to my legs.
I made it into the finish line at 45 minutes, so I did make up a bit of time in the last half of the course. By now, the sun was beating its heat to my brain. It was just 7 a.m. and it was HOT. I tried not to think about the run. Just breathe. Just breathe. I repeated over and over, while I tried to push both of my disappointments so far, off to the side.
My T-2 went smooth. Shoes changed, helmet off, new Tri visor on, water bottle grabbed and head doused and away I went. I started the run with an extremely slow pace. My bud was about 100 feet ahead of me, where she would remain the majority of the race.
It was hot. EVERY water station I grabbed water and doused my head, which would evaporate within a few minutes. My breathing felt fine. Nice and relaxed, but my legs would remain so, so heavy. My pace was insanely slow. I knew this and just focused on my breath again, and moving one leg in front of the other.
My mind raced. I had totally lowered my expectations for this race and knew that it would not be a great race due to my lack of preparation, but I did not think in my wildest dreams that I would be this slow. I pushed those thoughts aside continually and just placed one foot in front of the other….however slowly they were.
As we came back into the park, we had to do an additional .7 km loop which almost killed me. My bud was still ahead of me. I caught up. She was dying too. She commented that I wasn’t even breathing hard, which was true. So strange. I was so so hot though and my legs remained so heavy. We ran side by each for the rest of the race, even though she wanted to push me ahead of her. By this time, I just wanted to find some comfort….and it was nice, that I did.
I crossed the finish line, in stride with one of my best friends and training partners, at 1:52:03. The slowest race that I have raced thus far. It stung. Hell, it still stings. But maybe that IS the journey. To learn somehow to accept ourselves even when we are not our best. Even when each step hurts and we want to stop and walk, and we have mentally done so, even though our feet have not.
After a gallon of water and some watermelon, some laughs and a massage, I went to visit my bike. My bike has been my best friend through many times of struggle. I looked at it, all covered in grease, hanging on my rack. I spun the front wheel. It rubbed. The front brake caliper was pressing on the wheel as it spun. I shook my head, not believing that I could have missed that. It was just one little component of WHY….and certainly NOT the only one!