This race is so big that I don’t know where to begin, so I guess I’ll start at the beginning, sort of. I woke up at 3:50am to allow myself time to eat and have a cup of coffee. I sat at the tiny table in our hotel with the coffee machine as my companion. The bathroom light was on and the door ajar, providing a crack of light. I hunched over my hard boiled eggs, plain bagel, and fruit, forcing myself to eat something at this hour in between sips of coffee. My tri kit and bag were ready to go, but I wasn’t.
Phil woke up at 4:30 to take me to the race while Sophia slept soundly at the hotel. There was no need for anyone to be awake except for me, but I wanted Phil to have the car in case he needed it later on, so he dropped me off at Bader Field by 5:15am due to race day traffic. Being this early, meant I had plenty of time before transition closed at 6:30am because it doesn’t take me an hour to set up.
My bike was already racked, so I carefully laid out my gear, checking and double checking that everything was there and in good working order. I ate a granola bar, used the port-o-potty and waited until the last possible moment to put on my wetsuit. The water temp in the back bay of Atlantic City was a chilly 73 degrees F. I thought about not wearing the wetsuit–I picked it up, and then put it down a few times. Everyone else wore a wetsuit, and I wanted to be faster too. I can fly through the water in my wetsuit. I slid my wetsuit on half way up and exited transition. If you ever want to feel like your clothes don’t fit, try putting a wetsuit on. Uggh.
The swim start had informal corrals based on swim times for the 1.2 mile swim. I lined up behind the sign for 36-45 minutes with my swim time being right at 40 minutes or less. Perfect. Soon, I was in a tight crowd of athletes in caps, goggles, and wetsuits. I couldn’t move for about forty minutes while waiting for the swim start. Another athlete was ushered out by medical, which made me panic a bit. I focused on my breathing, closed my eyes, and held the top of my wetsuit away from my neck to prolong the choking feeling I get while wearing it. Just breath. My feet ached from the hard pavement, but we soon moved to the dock to enter the water.
As soon as I lined up with five other swimmers, the buzzer went off–we all took a step to jump, but the volunteer held out her arm–a lifeguard boat with another athlete whizzed by; she was removed from the swim course for medical reasons. I placed my hands on my goggles, happy that I didn’t jump or get hit by the lifeboat. And, then we were off! The shock of cold water always takes my breath away, but I quickly swam past the swimmers who jumped in with me. I got a good pace going until I felt someone’s hand hook around my ankle. What the heck? I’ve heard of this happening in races, but couldn’t imagine anyone trying to grab me to pull me back in order to get ahead. Then, I felt the hand again. I turned on my strong kick and got away from that crazy athlete. When I did, the water opened up, thankfully. As I started to get closer to some of the buoys, my hands felt like they were pushing down rubber balls in the water. I had my eyes open, but saw nothing. Jellyfish? Regular fish saying hi? A shark snout? Who knows? I lied to myself and told my brain that they were other swimmers’ feet in my way even though no one was that close to me. It’s amazing how you can lie to yourself in a race.
Out of breath, I exited the water, shocked to have avoided drowning. Volunteers pulled off my wetsuit from my feet like they were shaking out a t-shirt to fold with one flick of their wrists. I stepped under the cold shower to rinse off some of the salt water and ran to my bike. Shoes, sunglasses, helmet–go! Now for 56 miles on the bike. Thank goodness I could sit down and just churn my legs while I eat and drink, eat and drink, eat and drink for over 3 1/2 hours. Some cyclists passed me too close and scared the crap out of me, I saw a few flat tires, and a massive bike crash involving at least five bikes. Yikes! One guy passed me and said, “Is that a bagel? What a fantastic idea!” I told him I had another half if he wanted it, but he just told me to have a good ride. And I did. I enjoyed the bike, practiced grabbing a water bottle held out by a volunteer through the water stops without getting off, and stretched my hands to keep them from going numb. I watched the white cranes in the marsh. And I ate as much as I could.
Off the bike, my heels and the sides of my feet stung with pain. I winced. I couldn’t walk, but somehow managed to rack my bike and take a seat to tie my running shoes. Another athlete needed help with her tri kit, so I zipped her up and handed her some TriSlide for chaffing. When I stood up, I almost fell over because the pain in my feet was so bad. I grabbed my water bottle and had a conversation inside my head about whether my foot pain was an injury or just cramping. I wanted to cry, but my tears were all dried up from sweating so much. I wanted to throw my visor to the ground. I wanted to give up and be pissed off with myself forever. I didn’t. I made a plan that if my feet weren’t better by the time I left Bader Field, I was going to call it quits–DNF because of cramping. Loser. By 1 1/2 miles, I stopped, used the port-o-potty, got some Gatorade, water, and a banana and kept on running. Another athlete and I helped another runner up who fell in front of me and did a somersault. By mile 3, I picked up some salt and greedily downed some of it. The pain was still there, but manageable. I could run, albeit slowly.
I passed people on the boardwalk, chatted with an athletes walk/running, walked through each and every water station, and even sprinted at the end where Phil and Sophia waited for me. I made it to the finish line I’d never thought I’d see. I can do anything. I am an endurance athlete.
A big thank you to my coach, Mary Kelley, because even coaches need coaches. Her guidance, nutrition advice, and training plan helped me finish in under my goal time. Check out her website and contact her for coaching too!
Mary Kelley Coaching
Thank you to Phil for putting up with my crazy training schedule, coaching other athletes, and my new triathlon class at the Y. You made dinner, cleaned up, and did loads of laundry, and watched Sophia. Thank you, Sophia, for riding your bike with me for some of my long runs, you are an amazing kid who will talk to me for over 2 1/2 hours on the bike and keep me sane. Thank you, Mom, for showing me that anything is possible if you don’t give up. Thank you to my friends, Angela and Jeff, who watched Sophia for some of my long runs and rides when Phil wasn’t there. And thank you to all of the Ironmen and endurance athletes and running buddies I know: Cathy, Mary, Sue, Mary, Catrina, Dylan, Steve, Bill, Becky, Donna, Kelly, Karissa, Laura, Mira, Chris, Thomas, Belinda, Kelly, Brittany, Irene, Brittany, Rhonda, Jen, Lucy, Kerry, Gene, Hua, Jennifer, Megan, Ann, Deb, and all of the other amazing athletes I know. You inspire me every day, and I’m lucky to know so many awesome people. No one does anything alone; and with others, the impossible is possible.