A triathlon reality: Sometimes you place, sometimes you’re just happy you didn’t sink. Or crash your bike. Or splat on the ground.
My favorite hometown triathlon, TriRidgefield, took place a couple of weeks ago, and generally speaking I was ready. This was my 4th triathlon. Being there are usually about 300 competitors, and that Fairfield County is filthy with triathletes, I knew I wasn’t going to place like I did two weeks prior in Ocean City. And when I say filthy, I mean it. Last year, there were 12 people just from my small town alone, who competed in Ironman Lake Placid. It’s Beast-Ville around here.
Our sitter showed up at 5:30 AM (bless her) and off Dan and I went for our annual triathlon-date. The day started clear, beautiful, and COLD. We shivered as we set up our paraphernalia and I wondered how frigid the water would be. The air temp was about 48 when we got up, and the water temp was mid-60’s, resulting in an eerie, horror-movie look to Great Pond:
Heeding my own advice, I wet-suited up and headed to the water to paddle around and warm up. The bright sun was coming out, warming things up a smidge. I dunked myself in and… Holy mother of Frosty, this shiz is cold!…attempted to warm up. My friend Derry, a tri-newbie, warmed up with me. I know that she was nervous, and I tried to be all “You’ll be fine! You’ve done the work, it will be awesome!” and I knew in my heart it would be, but inside I was having a tiny, silent freak-out about the chilly water.
Like last year, being in wave number 5 out of 6, we watched the men go off (including my husband, whose specialty is swimming, shoot off the shore like a rocket with magical paddle arms) and the younger women. The “old lady” division was PACKED. Apparently, Ridgefield is also filthy with female triathletes over 40. My plan was to attack the water “moderately”. Last year, I held back and counted to ten while the others went in. Later in the summer, at TriFitness, I gallantly charged into the water like I was going to war with it. This time, when our siren went off, I went with a medium approach, and hurriedly scrambled with most of the pack, into the water.
You know that thing, where you put your face in very cold water and it makes you want to inexplicably breathe in because your heart skips a beat? It sucks, and it has a name: The Mammalian Diving Reflex. Simply put, when a mammal submerges its head (the face specifically) in cold water, there is a reflex which slows the heart rate and narrows the blood vessels. This conserves oxygen for the brain and enables diving mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals to stay submerged for a long time. Being that I’m not a diving mammal, it’s a freaky reflex that makes my face want to implode. It’s not painful, but when you’re trying to do rhythmic breathing and your heart rate battles with your adrenaline and you become anaerobic (not getting enough oxygen for your activity) IN THE WATER, it’s as pleasant as a root canal.
So my Mammalian Diving Reflex was kicking in, and combined with a dusting of fresh pollen that coated the top of the water, made the swim suck. Literally. Sucking air. The first 100 yards of the swim found me taking 4 strokes, then popping up to try to catch my breath, 4 strokes, popping up, on repeat. I just couldn’t get an even, adequate breath. I even flipped over and did elementary backstroke (the one where you move on your back like a water bug), and it helped briefly. After wave #6 (the relay swimmers) passed through (I did not get felt up this year, darn?), I started to worry that I was in the back of the pack. I flipped over to do the elementary backstroke again, expecting to see virtually no one behind me, but instead I saw about 2 dozen swim caps doing the same thing. Pollenated anaerobic breathing loves company.
Finally, about 2/3 of the way through, I found some semblance of a groove. I passed a few people, that felt good, but I was still very uncomfortable, and getting tired. I finally came out of the water with a look of pure relief on my face.
Fearing a flare-up of the dreaded plantar fasciitis, I daintily ran as fast as I could to the transition area and did the DERP DANCE. That’s the dance where I lose all semblance of brain power caused by heavy exertion and stand there staring at my stuff going DERP DERP DERP until I figure out what I need for the bike and get my a$$ going.
Anticipating a cold, breezy bike ride, I threw on my mid-weight bike jacket. Actually it was more of a “desparate pulling over wet skin” than a “throw on” but I managed to pull it on, then put on my bike shoes, grabbed my helmet and sunglasses (which due to the cold immediately fogged up) and headed out of the transition.
I was happy to discover that I put my bike in a good gear for the uphill start. I was unhappy to discover that my legs were toast. I really put too much energy into the swim. NUTS.
Even with the fatigue, I felt okay during the bike. Once again, this is where the strength training of Crossfit has paid off. I spent less hours on my bike leading up to this race, yet I was only about 2 minutes slower this year. I was able to power up the steeper hills and spend less time out of the saddle to power up those hills. It was a good call on the jacket, as I was comfy (I just cannot tolerate being cold on the bike, I say with a snooty aristocratic flair), and I saw visible goosebumps on the people I passed.
I also managed to avoid to mega-bike-swallowing potholes that winter of 2014 left us. (I saw 2 people changing flats on the course.) I did, however, feel a bit lung-constricted, like I couldn’t quite take a full breath. Damn pollen. By the way, if you were ever wondering if Connecticut-ers ‘whoop’ and ‘holler’ then wonder no more. When I came around the corner near my house, about 2 dozen people in various states of sleepwear, including my wonderful babysitter and my kids (in their bathrobes) started whoopin’ and hollerin’ something fierce (before they even knew it was me). HOLLA TO MY NEIGHBORS!!
After a successful bike-to-run transition (much less DERP-ing), I set off to run. I knew this would test my mettle, and my toe. It’s 1.5 miles uphill, then 1.5 miles downhill. I took a puff of my inhaler during transition, but I was still a tad wheezy. I powered up the hills, and flew down. I found out later than my 5k time was only 20 seconds slower than last year’s. THIS WAS HUGE. Even after taking almost 5 months off from running over the winter, I was so psyched to see the run come together, and my toe didn’t complain!
I was happy to finish, but I knew my time wasn’t as good as last year.
My overall time was 1:41:22, about 3 minutes slower than last year, mostly thanks to the cold, pollenated swim.
But finishing a tri without sinking, crashing, or splatting is a GOOD TRI in my book. After speaking to some friends afterward (including some who finished very high up in the rankings) the pollen seemed to have gotten to everyone. Lots of tight breathing = slower overall times. But still, I love this race and I plan on doing it again next year. Even if I swim, bike, and wheeze.