It's difficult for me to describe the emotion I've felt over the last couple of days. I know this is going to be a bit saccharine, but I finally got a taste of what those people who do Ironman must feel as they cross that finish line. It was the most exhilarating, joyful, and fantastic feeling for me. The sense of accomplishment and pride I had as I sprinted to the finish was incredible, and I had a perma-smile for the next two hours as I reveled in what I had just done. The ultimate satisfaction came from the fact that 10 months ago triathlon was a vague thought in my mind. One day I said to my friend Kendall, "you know, I think I might consider triathlon." His response: "Sarah, you're doing so much already! Girl, you don't even own a bike!" An appropriate response at the time, though it may have been the thing that gave me the extra push to just go out and do it.
Not only did I really do it...but I performed well! You can find results by clicking here, but if you don't feel like it, I can tell you that I placed 8th in my age group, and had an overall finish time of 2:41 - which far exceeded my own expectations (hell, I was just in it to have fun and wasn't sure WHAT was going to happen). Here were the splits:
Swim (1.5K or 0.92 miles): 24.48
Bike (40K or 25 miles): 1:16 (19.6 mph avg)
Run (10K or 6.2 miles): 51.50 (8:21 min/mile!!!)
Wow. In the training I'd done up until then, I'd been pacing more of a 9 minute mile run. Must've been the adrenaline.
I had so much fun, I've signed up for the Donner Lake Triathlon on 7/17, and now that I feel rested and ready to jump back on the training circuit, all I can say is "bring it on!"
Also, I must take this time to thank the fabulous Jayne Williams. We've only run together once, but she has an amazing spirit and energy that I really took to. The author of the best-selling book Slow Fat Triathlete, she isn't about getting into the crazy race mentality that so many people do and become obsessed over. She does it because she loves it, and it has been inspiring to follow in those footsteps - thanks, Jayne!
The race report follows (WARNING: it's long - skim if you need to - I just wrote down everything I could remember):
I arrived in San Jose on Saturday evening, 6/25. Got to the lake at about 6:30pm to pick up my race packet so that I wouldn't have to stand in line the next morning. I eyed the lake suspiciously, as there seemed to be a rather 'fishy' smell emanating from that direction. I suppose that's where wetsuits might be an advantage, as I had a sinking feeling I would be feeling a bit like the Lochness Monster by the end of the day. Still, the park was pretty, and was surrounded by a lot of brown, rolling hills and a lot of Oak trees. By the time I got back to my car, I was starved and wanted to just get set up in my hotel room so I could focus on relaxing and preparing mentally for the next morning. However, thanks to Yahoo Maps! I had the wrong directions and it took me a good half-hour just to get where I needed to be. Driving the freeway networks of San Jose is strangely similar to the freeway networks of L.A. - between the drivers who can't drive, the various interchanges and junctions, and cars that seem to be everywhere, with the surrounding mountains, to boot. A bit disconcerting, I must say.
By the time I was set up in my room and ready to venture off in the direction of something to consume, it was already 8:00. Great. Fortunately, there happened to be a gourmet market nearby that specialized in delicious pannini and salads (if you're in the San Jose area, be sure to visit Zanotto's). I grabbed a chicken pannini, some bean salad, a bottle of wine, and a yogurt for the next morning. If you're wondering about the wine part - of course I didn't drink it all, are you kidding? However, I did feel that having a glass or so would help calm me, in addition to it being something I drink almost daily - so why should this be any different?
Eating my chicken pannini, sipping wine, listening to The Gypsy Kings, and flipping through a Triathlon magazine to look for any last-minute tips seemed to be perfect at calming my nerves. Afterward, I drew a nice hot bath and set up my things for the next morning. Despite the horrendous driving I had endured hours earlier, I felt incredibly calm and collected as I soaked in the tub and mentally ran through a drill for the next morning. By 10:30, the lights were out, and I fell asleep listening to the classical likes of Bach's "Cradle Song."
5:00 am. My eyes pop open, and I feel my stomach start to twinge. Before it can do anything to destroy my calm energy, I hop out of bed and throw myself into motion. My water bottles are set up for me to mix the CytoMax and water; my clothes are laid out; bags are packed; bike is ready; food is set, and by 5:30 I'm loading my things into the car. I've consumed some yogurt and a banana, drank some coffee from the lounge (initially I questioned the appropriateness of this action, but once I smelled freshly brewed coffee, logic went out the window and I made a beeline for the urn), and with my directions in my right hand, window down, and radio blasting Gavin DeGraw's "Chariot," I feel the cool air of the morning on my face, and it's all I can do not to smile - so I do. In fact, I let the smile spread across my face and feel a thrill run through my body. This is it. I'm really here, I'm really doing this, and dammit, I'm going to have so much fun. I've trained hard, and I'm here, by myself, doing this for nobody but me.
I am glad that I've gone the day before to pick up my race packet. I am familiar with the grounds, know where I'm going, and can focus on getting to the transition area and setting myself up. I'm just about to leave my car and ride over to the lake when my phone rings. (Mind you, it's about 6:00am) It's Trent (Trent is a volunteer in my office at the NBTF, and his girlfriend, Jean, is on the UC Davis Triathlon team; Trent had participated in the Mountain Bike Sprint Tri on Saturday morning, and Jean was racing in this morning's event). "Hey Trent, what's up?" "Where are you?" he says. "Just leaving the parking lot headed for the transition area." "Okay, call me when you get here, I'll help you set up - I've just finished helping Jean." Sweet.
I arrive in the transition area only to what seems to be mass chaos - or so it seems. Then I hear over the loudspeakers, "Folks, we are running out of room. For those of you just arriving, head to the east end of the transition area and find a spot for your bike among the club areas." Great. And I thought I was doing so well on time! I calmly walk my bike past rows and rows of bike racks filled with bikes, shoes, people frantically setting up their towels with equipment and helmets and energy gels and who knows what else, noticing quickly that I'm not finding an empty space anywhere. Hmm. I get to the far end of the lot, and finally see an unoccupied bike space. "Is this spot taken?" I say to the gentleman next to it. "Nope, not that I know of." My phone rings again - it's Trent. "Hey, I'm at the far east end - the very last row." "Okay, I'll be over there in a couple of minutes" he says.
I set up my towel and lay out my bike jersey, shorts, bike shoes, and Trent walks up to help me out. I hold up my timing chip. "How the heck am I supposed to wear this?" "They didn't give you a belt to go with it?!" he exclaims. I shake my head and then ask him about where to put my number. He tells me he'll go get a belt and some safety pins so that we can pin my number to my jersey, and I walk over to the BODY MARKING tent and get in line. Once I'm next, the volunteer asks for my number and age, and proceeds to stamp 1300 down both arms and the number 24 on the back of my right calf. I'm set!
What follows next is somewhat of a blur to me, though I find that if I keep a clear mind about my goals and pay no attention to what's going on around me, I stay calm. Trent had done a great job of setting up my towel - my red and white Lombardi Sports jersey laid neatly on my bike handlebars; two Gu packets with the tops torn off, ready to be ingested; helmet upside down, ready to be thrown onto one's head, bike shoes with socks in them, and my running shoes sitting to the right, laces untied and ready to be thrown on. (I must make an aside comment that I was feeling quite color-coordinated - red bathing suit; red and white Lombardi Jersey with black bike/run shorts, and red helmet! This was not intentional, mind you, but worked out well!)
At this point, it's 6:45 am, and the first wave of Elite and Collegiate division will be starting at 7:00 am. I have made the executive decision not to wear a wetsuit - it would only hinder me and most likely only slow me down. I know I'll be most comfortable in my two-piece racing suit and will swim well in that, not to mention faster in the transition zone. I quickly walk over to the shore of the water, kick off my flip-flops, and jump in for a short warm-up swim. REFRESHING (though still slightly fishy)! The water is crisp and everything I expected it to be - not cold. I swim for about 5 minutes, and decide I'd better get out and head over to the starting line of the swim. As I attempt to find the shoreline, I'm a little to the left of it and as I lift my left leg to find ground to step on, my knee hits a rock. Ouch!
Upon exiting the water, I inspect my knee. No blood. Feels alright. Phew! I deposit my flip-flops next to my bag, grab my forest-green cap I've been given to wear, pick up my goggles, check my set-up one last time, and leave the transition area, excited by the thought that the next time I enter will be post-swim.
As I reach the shore with the rest of the 1400 other participants, mostly clad in black wetsuits and caps of various colors, my left knee suddenly feels a little...swollen...and tight. Not good. "CRAP!", I think to myself. Well, what am I going to do? It's mind over matter at this point. Stretch as best I can, and then forget about it.
7:20 a.m. - 2 minutes before my wave leaves
I'm in the water, goggles on my face, and instead of placing myself in the middle of the pack as I usually do with open water swims, I have decided that I am probably a better swimmer than many of these young women, so I am in the front of the group. Slightly nervous but not really, I try to just remain calm as the ticker counts down to our start. "TEN SECONDS, LADIES!" "10...9...8...7..." I count to myself. Here goes. **BOOM** The gun fires, and we're off. As with any normal mass start, feet and arms are flying, water is splashed everywhere, and it's all I can do not to swallow half the lake. I feel feet in my sides, on my legs, arms bumping into me - 'this is a lot worse than USMS open-water events' I think to myself. No offense, triathletes, but y'all need to learn how to swim straight. I spend the next half mile fighting off people who keep bumping into me and who try to sprint to pass me, then tire themselves out as I pass them yet again. Sheesh. I remain calm...in fact...'Wow...I'm feeling really REALLY good.' My strokes are smooth...long...and I feel myself swimming faster, with the need to breathe becoming more infrequent. I can take nice long strokes and get into my groove of breathing every three. I don't have to sight so much, and can keep my head down for a good 6 or 7 long strokes before raising my head to be sure I am swimming straight.
Before I know it, I see the finish straight ahead. I'm tempted to sprint, but decide that conservation of energy is important - no need to tire myself out. I'm already at an advantage, since a 0.92 mile swim is merely a warm up for me. In fact, I feel a burst of energy as I think about hopping on the bike. In the words of Napoleon Dynamite (again), 'Yessssssssssssssssssssssss.' This is great!
I hop out of the water and run to the transition area, with people cheering all of us on. Their energy seems to infuse me even more, and despite my elevated excitement, I am calm and focused. I look at my watch. 7:47 a.m. Great! Wow...I did that swim in like...oh crap...can't think...trying to focus and do math and be calm...um...like 24 minutes or something...sweet...(Perhaps too calm - it turns out I took FIVE MINUTES in the transition area - three minutes would have been a better, more respectable time) The transition area feels like a ghost town in comparison to its pre-race scene. The collegiate and elite bike racks are empty, and people are scattered in various places, all hurrying to get themselves on their bikes. I get to my spot and pull my jersey on first over my wet top. In the process of pulling my shorts on, my foot lands onto one of the open Gu packets, and banana-flavored Gu gets all over my towel. Damn! Just pull your shorts on, Sarah. Get the jersey on. Helmet. Sunglasses. Crap, my feet are a mess. I pour water over my feet and step on my towel, racing to pull my socks on over my wet feet. Difficulty ensues. Just hurry up, Sarah. I velcro my bike shoes. I ingest the remaining Gu that hasn't squirted out of the package and take a big swig of water, spilling it on myself in the process. Oh well, I'm already wet. Am I missing anything? Umm...no. Okay, I'm good. Let's go!
7:52 a.m. The song "Video" by India Arie is playing on the speakers and I smile as I run out with my bike and think there couldn't be a more perfect soundtrack to that moment (for lyrics to the song so you know what I'm referring to, click here). As I exit the transition area and mount my bike, I get excited all over again and think 'here we go!' I ride along the main road, and there are policemen stopping traffic for the race, families and couples stopped along the sidewalk cheering us on as we begin the second leg of the race. It's a good feeling, and I smile at them. Two miles into the bike ride, I notice a funny sound. I look down and see that the cheap velcro straps I purchased to hold my bike pump are failing me, and the pump has slid down so that it's catching in the gears. Man! I make a feeble attempt to pull it up, but no luck. I look down and try to ride slowly so that I can unhook the velcro and stuff it all into the back pocket of my jersey. Not working. Crap, people are riding past me. I'm going to be in their way, too. I guess I should pull over and take care of this. I pull off to the side, dismount, and quickly remove the straps and pump, and as I place them in my back jersey pocket, I hear a voice yell out, "MECHANICAL?" - it's a minivan with two guys, and on the back window, in taped letters it says "BIKE HELP." "NOPE, BUT THANKS!" I yell back. Well, at least they have people to help you if you get a flat.
I jump back on my bike and get going. I've got a bit of ground to make up. My legs feel a bit slow to start with...as they usually do whenever I hop on. So, I just keep pedaling one foot after the other. The knee hurts a little, but I pay it no thought. I've got a race to ride. People pass me by, which doesn't intimidate me, but it doesn't make me happy, either. I want to be faster. I notice a lot of people have aero bars. Maybe if I put my hands on the drop bars, it'll be more comfortable. I lean down and put my hands on the drop bars. I start to gain some speed. After about 2 more miles...it clicks. I've found my riding legs! My legs start pedaling faster, and I am gaining more speed. Before I know it, I'm starting to pass some of the familiar jerseys that passed me earlier. I catch up to the chick with the 34 on her calf and the blue Velosport jersey. I remember her. A small hill (or 'bump', shall I say) approaches. Sweet! Here's my chance to gain some ground! I love hills. I pass a bunch of people and speed down the other side, catching another chick I remembered passing me by earlier. Suddenly, I feel a strong headwind. I hunker down and just push. It's not so bad. Just keep pedaling, and remember to bring those feet up and over - forget pushing down - pull up and around. It's working - I'm still gaining speed. The group rides out another 8 miles or so and then turns around - thank GOD! The headwind is now a tailwind. "Now we're talking!" says the guy next to me. He's absolutely right. I drop my gears and pedal fast, and continue smiling. Oh yes, I've been smiling a lot. I LOVE THIS.
The bike ride continues much of the same way - I keep up with a few people and we play catch-up with each other through the end. Kind of nice to have familiar jerseys and helmets around you, and in a way, it keeps you consistent with your cadence and speed. The ride itself was beautiful - a lot of rolling hills surrounded me, and it seemed very countryside-ish - not at all like I was right in the middle of busy Silicon Valley. Just as I start to wonder where the heck we are, we turn right onto Almaden Way and I realize I'm about 1/2 a mile from the lake. I look at my watch - 9:08 a.m. Wow...that's it? I could've sworn it was going to take longer than that.
I dismount before the line at the entrance to the transition area, and run my bike back to my spot. I quickly deposit my bike into the stand, remove my helmet, rip off my shoes, don my trusty yellow Cal baseball hat, and throw on my tennis shoes. Jayne was right...elastic laces would've been good...now I'm going to waste 45 seconds tying these damn things. I ingest my second Gu packet, drink as much water as I can, and take off to begin my 6.2 mile run - 9:11 a.m. Sure enough, my legs feel a little like limp noodles, and I follow the advice I'd been given to just keep putting one foot in front of the other - eventually my body will catch up with my mind and get with the program. Once again, that pesky left knee is whining for some attention, but once again, I block it out of my mind and tell myself to suck it up - I'll deal with it later.
The first mile is somewhat tough. People are passing me. I know I'm going slowly, but this was how the bike ride started, too. Better to start slow and speed up than outdo myself in the beginning and have to drag myself to the end.
Right before the first mile, there's a water station with a bunch of 12 year-old volunteers, their small but loud voices shouting out in different tones, "WATER!" and "AMINO!" (The energy drink Amino Vital). I reach out and say "Water!", and proceed to pour the cup of water over my head. To the next kid I say "Amino" with my arm outstretched, and take the cup and attempt to gulp as much as possible. I spill about half of it on myself and the ground, but it's refreshing to taste anyway. This becomes my routine for each water/amino station at each mile. Water for refreshment and cooling, Amino for drinking.
9:36 a.m. It's only 9:36? But I just hit mile 3...that means...crap...wait...9 times 3...well...oh my god I'm running faster than a 9 minute mile. How is THAT happening?! I'm in disbelief right now. I've never run faster than a 9-minute mile in training. And I've just swam and biked. What's going on? Must be that amino. Or the enjoyment of passing people. Or a bum knee? Oh wait, it was the wine! Whatever it was...I am burning it up...and feeling fantastic. Except for the chafing that's happening under my arms. That kind of hurts. Oh well, I'm at a good pace, and I'm not going to let anything stop me now - after all, I'm halfway through this run!
It's difficult for me to explain my feelings on the run. I won't say I loved it the way I loved the swim and the bike. But I certainly wasn't hating life (except the chafing - I hated that). I never felt incredibly exhausted. I kept a pace and stuck with it, though I'll admit that I was so motivated at mile 4 to know that I only had 2 miles left that I picked up my pace just a little. As I began to pass people I got hooked on it - I wanted to pass more! I think that's what got me through...knowing that after everything I had just done, hell yes I could run 2 more miles!
Mile 5...yes! This is it, Sarah! The home stretch, girl! You did it! I pick it up just a little...let's see, maybe 10 more minutes of running? That's it! I smile again and although things are finally starting to ache just a little, and the chafing under my arms is burning, I've got this wrapped up. Finally, I approach the finish. I hear cheers, cowbells, music, clapping - it's all quickly becoming louder and I get excited at what I see. There, in front of me, is a large archway with the words in big, bright blue capital letters: F I N I S H
Oh my god. I really did it. SPRINT, SARAH, SPRINT! You're there! I sprint to the finish, hear the beep from my timing chip, and finally stop, breathless and drenched with water, amino, and sweat, all running down my forehead and down my neck. Wow. Words cannot describe the euphoria of that moment. The extreme emotion of joy and pride and happiness and accomplishment. It was even better when I realized how fast I'd run the 10K. As I take one more step, it hits me - the left knee has taken its revenge. Swollen and stiff, I limp over to the medic tent to get some ice. Oh well - could be worse, right? As I sit in the chair, I try and get used to the strange feeling of not moving. The medic ices my knee and I just sit and revel in my moment, arms burning, sweat still rolling off me, but happier than I can really remember.
SO there it is, in all its glory - the race report, full and unabridged, pages long, but I'm happy I wrote it all down. If you actually read it, good for you. If you skimmed it, you're smart to do so. If you didn't, that's okay, because this is more for me than anybody else. I am so proud of myself and after two days of rest and sleeping in, I'm ready for more training to begin, and more motivated and excited than ever.
Thank you to everybody who's been there for me for your support and confidence in me. Looking back, I don't know that I would've ever expected this of myself two years ago. Amazing what you can do when you really want something.
Until next time...