Sunday, August 19, 2007

In which I become a triathlete.


5:15am -- alarm goes off, I spring out of bed and eat a bowl of cereal with banana. Which sits in my stomach like a brick for the next two hours. I shower quickly and get dressed in swimsuit, bike shorts, sleeveless shirt and bicycle jersey, running shoes, windbreaker. Since I am not running this event I do not have to worry about foundation undergarments. I check out of the hotel and drag my enormous pile of baggage (clothes bag, sports gear bag, laptop bag, triathlon bag, and miscellaneous junk bag) to the car. It is raining. Great.

Twenty minutes later I am at the parking garage to Qwest Field, in downtown Seattle. Here we must park per an agreement with the neighborhood surrounding the park in which the triathlon is being held. I unload myself and my tri bag and hoof it down to the schoolbus shuttle which will take me to the park.

We arrive at the park twenty minutes or so later, after winding through the neighborhoods of Seattle in what seems to be an arcane and torturous route. The rain continues to drizzle lightly down. At least it's warm out.

At the park I make my way down to the transition area, where my bike is racked along with 5124 other participants' bikes on huge groupings of racks. The groupings are labeled and the rows are numbered so finding my bike is not a problem. My body markings are refreshed by a pen-wielding volunteer, I pin my bib to my jersey front, put my water bottles on my bike. Rain drips off of my helmet which I wish I had taken back to the hotel last night. Oh well.

I busy myself with these little tasks to avoid feeling too alone -- it seems that everyone else has brought friends, but I'm by myself in the crowd. Also, I'm nervous. I haven't done the swim before and it intimidates me.

Finally I see that others in purple latex caps are making their way down to the water and so I guess I should too. I strip off my clothes down to just the swim suit, grab my cap and goggles, and start the hike. It's not too cold out, drizzling still but not bad, and I'm not uncomfortable in my swimsuit. Other than some self-consciousness. Which rapidly fades. There are thousands of women here, all in various types of outfits from swimsuits to tri suits to wetsuits, all shapes and sizes, and I'm just one of the crowd.

After some hemming and hawing I had finally decided to take my glasses down to the water's edge and place them on the table provided for such things at the swim finish line. I wore my new bright yellow Crocs down which will give me something highly visible to tuck my glasses into on the table as well as protect them from being swept off the table or squashed in some way. I ask The Wrong Volunteer where the table is and he leads me on a wild goose chase through the throngs of spectators only to find out that the table was very close to where we began this fiasco. Dammit. I put my stuff on the table and proceed, visually impaired and barefoot, to the waiting area. Hundreds of women are huddled there and there is a hum of sound coming off them as I get closer.

Part the first: The Swim.

The way this works is that certain age and skill level divisions are given colored caps -- yellow, pink, blue, orange, etc. -- signifying their waves. They are assigned start times. The rest of us, not old or infirm or elite, i.e. the masses, are given purple caps and our waves are done last. First come, first served. Like a cattle call.

The swim course is a triangle, out from shore, around a buoy, parallel to shore to the next buoy, then back nearly to where the start was. It is lined with lifeguards, kayakers, and swim angels. The kayaks are to provide guidance and a friendly place to grab on and rest or, in my case, adjust your goggles. The swim angels are in the water like we are and carry big foam noodles and are there to help us, either by providing moral support, giving us the noodle to use as we swim, or whatever.

Our purple waves are sent out in three minute intervals. We cheer madly as each wave is released. Then suddenly it's our turn! We make our way down the boat ramp and step into the water. It's not as cold as I thought it would be and Sally Edwards is there to give us a pep talk. She's awesome. We're awesome. Everyone and everything is so AWESOME!!! We count down from ten to one and they let us all the way into the water. I'm fine until suddenly the water is COLD ALL OVER ME AND I CAN'T BREATHE!

It's choppy there by the shore and every time I try to get a breath I suck in what feels like a lung full of water. My heart is pounding and I'm kicking furiously which is not how it's supposed to work -- normally the kick is mostly for balance and because it uses a lot of oxygen and energy to work those big muscle groups, you don't want to wear yourself out with a lot of energetic kicking. I end up rolling onto my back and kicking in a more controlled way, then trying again and again to resume freestyle with the same result every time, a face full of water and that burning-lung sensation. I pass the first two-thirds of the swim this way. At last, as I pass the second buoy and enter the home stretch, I realize that I'm also forgetting to breathe out. If you don't breathe out into the water as you swim, there won't be any room for air to enter your lungs when you try to breathe in. Once I relax a little and remember this seemingly unforgettable tidbit of helpful information, I can swim a little. I bump into a swim angel repeatedly. She has given her noodle to another swimmer and is accompanying her to the finish, encouraging all of us along the way.

While we swim it has begun to rain in earnest.

Close to the finish, as the water gets shallower, I am surprised to find that I can see the ferny, frondy lake plants below me. They are green and wave around and I savor this lush, secret little view.

Finally, the finish line! We stumble up the boat ramp. I find it very hard to get my balance. There are more volunteers to high-five us and help us up the ramp if necessary, and one of them steadies me a bit as I pass her. I make my way to the table and retrieve my glasses and shoes, and continue on to the transition area, weaving a bit here and there for the first dozen yards or so. There is much cheering and congratulating and encouragement from all sides, from the many spectators and volunteers.

Swim 00:24:00, Swim Rank 3078

Part the second: The Bike Ride

Back at my bike, I dispense with the idea of drying myself off. It's lightly but steadily raining and I'm going to be sodden no matter what. I pull my bike shorts and jersey on and struggle into my socks and shoes. My helmet drips and streams water down my face and head when I put it on. I locate the banana I brought with me and find that it has been stepped on inside my tri bag. I eat part of it anyway. A quick drink of water and I start toward the bike start area. There is no riding allowed inside the transition area.

Trans1 00:11:53 (Note: elite triathletes in this race have trans1 times of one or two minutes. Obviously I was not attempting to hurry.)

Once I get past the gate I hop on and start riding. I have ridden this course before and it does not intimidate me; I'm feeling good and I love my new bike, the rain is not too hard and it's fairly warm, so I make decent time, for me. All that slows me down is that I'm still recovering from inhaling a lot of water, and that's making it hard for me to breathe without coughing. The course runs along the lake, then up a short, steep curvy access road onto I-90 across the lake and onto Mercer Island. Nearly to the other side of the island there is a 180-degree turnaround and we ride back the way we came. There are a couple of minor hills. Part of our time is spent in a tunnel which is dry and echoey. Many riders howl and cheer inside the tunnel. At the finish line we are made to dismount and walk (or run) our bikes into the transition area.

Bike 00:51:31, Bike Rank 2280, MPH 14.4

Part the third: The Run. Or in my case, The Walk.

Once I rack my bike and eat a little more squashed banana, I swap my helmet for a baseball hat and put on my windbreaker, after shaking some of the water off of it. I pocket a Clif bar and grab a water bottle, and then it's time to visit the biffy. Trans2 00:07:27

Now I begin the walk. I've decided to not worry about running. I haven't been running this year and it's much too late now to even think about it. I heard from another participant that about a third of us will walk anyway. I set off and walk steadily. I walk rather slowly and am frequently passed by other walkers. This bugs me but there's not a lot I can do about it so I just continue on at my own pace.

This is another out-and-back course along the lake in the other direction as the bike route took us. The last half-mile or so splits off the lakefront and goes up a short, steep hill into the neighborhood and re-enters the park a few blocks away. As I approach this hill I spy Sally Edwards, the paid finisher, who accompanies the last registered participant and comes in last behind her so that she doesn't have to come in last. That last participant is just beginning the walk as I am finishing it. Sally breaks away from the woman she's walking with and goes to the drummers, a couple of guys who sit at the bottom of the short steep hill and play drums to help motivate flagging runners/walkers. She high-fives them and talks to them for a moment and then she starts walking toward me.

"Girlfriend, I been looking for you!" she says.
"And here I am!" I tell her.
"But you're going the wrong way!" she says.
"Aw, I'm sorry!" I say.
When she gets closer to me she high-fives me, looks me right in the eye and says, "I'm really proud of you. You're doing great." And walks on.

I hike up the hill and finish the walk. I decided not to try to run the last bit. Walking has brought me this far. I'll finish at my own pace. At the end, there is much cheering from spectators and volunteers. One amusingly costumed volunteer meets me a little ways from the finish and accompanies me past the sensor. An announcer tells the crowd that my name is Kim something. Which it is not. There must be a delay of some kind in the computer. A young boy puts a medal around my neck and I am done. Another volunteer relieves me of my timing chip and I make my way to the food tent for a little nosh, free to participants.

Thirty seconds later, some other woman is given my name as she crosses.

Run 01:04:34 Run Rank 3392 Pace 00:20:49

Overall Rank 3261 of 3496
Class Rank 850 of 925
Final 02:39:27

Tomorrow: The Thrilling Conclusion!


Elizabeth said...

That is so totally cool!! I would never have the nerve to do all that by myself. You are my idol!!

MarkW said...

Way To Go Kim! (or whoever you are 30 seconds later)

Motivating yourself and completing this event is an amazing achievement. You should be proud of your healthy approach to turning the big 4 0!