I burst out the door of the warming tent, knowing it took much longer than it should have to transition but it was literally wall-to-wall women in there so I’m pleased to have made it out. I am so happy right now I feel like my heart may beat right out of my chest. I assess my asthma. Lungs are full and clear, no wheezing, even after that cold swim. I took my inhaler only as a precaution this morning, as that is standard practice before exercising for asthmatics. But I really didn’t need it and I smile broadly as I am reminded of that miracle.
I stop in front of the sunscreen slather-onners on my way to my bike. My BIKE! This is my love; cycling. I don’t have a fast and fancy triathlon bike. I wish I did, but it’s a considerable investment. What I DO have is my beloved steel (yes….STEEL) Serotta road bike which was custom made to fit me (also a considerable investment). And that’s not easy given my funky biomechanics. Still, I will need to stop along the way and ask for assistance from volunteers with popping my back into alignment. Ugh. It’s annoying but comes with the territory for me.
I have registered with My Athlete Live and have a tracker (or a stalker if you prefer) so that friends and family can stalk me from the bike on. I told them that if I am stopped on the bike for more than 3 minutes, something may be wrong. I’ll have to make some bathroom stops but I’ll time those to go along with my back adjustments; two or three at the most. Bathroom stops; let’s pause here for a moment. Our parents spent considerable time teaching us how to pee in the potty instead of our pants. If we pee in our pants, it is called an “accident” and it’s not recognized as a good thing. It’s a common occurrence for kids to pee themselves because they are playing and don’t want to stop the fun. And then they have the “accident.” So relatively speaking, a great deal of effort goes into learning not to pee yourself and as an adult it is generally frowned upon if you do. And then a select group of us grow up to become athletes and as part of our training, although not quite as overt, we are encouraged to pee ourselves so that we don’t have to stop. In the interest of being a “real” triathlete, I have tried. I have! I have had many a long ride out there with no “aid station” in sight. But my body just won’t do it while in motion. I may add this to my official training schedule in the future, in case of emergencies. But for this race, I’ll have to resort to actually using the potty.
I mount my bike, round the first corner, and my friend Ann takes this photo and puts it up as an update that I’m on the bike…..and clearly having a blast.
It’s still early so the streets are packed with enthusiastic spectators. I continue with my point and scream tour up Lakeside Avenue towards Higgens Point. The entire time, I’m thinking to myself, “You’re HERE, Cathy. You’re doing this! You are living this dream right NOW!” I am thoroughly in the moment and enjoying this journey. I make it back to Lakeside and a number of my friends are lining the street. I can’t see them all as I’m riding by but I wave back, round the corner and head out to the big loop out Highway 95.
It’s harder going out than coming back and the wind has kicked up. I try not to let my adrenaline push me too hard too fast. I remember everyone’s advice on that. I figure if I finish the bike in 7:30 or less, that gives me a decent cushion and saves my legs enough for the marathon. Racing at turtle pace means that you are not really focused on passing others or finishing before dark. It means that you focus on having as much of a cushion as possible before cutoff times. If all goes well, I will finish early in the last hour. But that means that if anything goes wrong, it could be a nail-biter.
Right now, I’m on track. As I make my way towards the turn-around on the first loop, I see the Angelos! So awesome to have people out on the bike course cheering you on. Matt and Lindsey hold up their signs for me, Joe drives the jeep and Anna, a fellow proud turtle triathlete and hair braider extraordinaire, jumps out to take pictures. Shortly after, I see my uncle out there too! I point and scream and continue on. I can’t tell you how much of a difference it makes to have people on course cheering for you. It’s a long and lonely day out there, especially for caboosers. On this first loop, the course is still packed with riders. That won’t be the case on the second loop so I take in the camaraderie while I can. I cruise through the first bike aid stations, not really needing anything but, wow. Those volunteers are amazing. Upbeat, smiling, offering you anything you need. It adds so much to the day and as the excitement continues to build, I realize at about mile 50 that I still have a perma-smile on my face.
My stomach does somersaults as I near downtown. Not just because the crowd will be there to give us a new dose of adrenaline, but because I know I’ll easily make the halfway cutoff time and that my coach will be right there to witness it. He runs the bike course and I can’t wait to point and scream as I fly by. Before I get there, I spot my sister and nieces. BIG smiles as I pass them. I know what it’s like to wait for hours for someone, and then once you see them, it’s almost too late as they speed by on their bike.
I approach mile 56 and see my coach. I call out to him and he shouts some words of encouragement. The crowd is huge downtown and I have fun with them. I have a nice cushion and I’m passing through the crowded streets of cheering spectators. As I approach mile 57, I hear a not-so-welcome noise and it’s in time with my cadence. I jump off the bike. Front tire looks fine. Back tire; holy…whaaa? The tire is coming off and the tube underneath is bulging. As I gape at it in disbelief (how could this be?), it explodes, loudly. %^&*^#!!! I don’t know what it is about me and longer races but I get a flat almost every time. At least it doesn’t throw me off anymore. I inspect the tire. It looks sound, but I’m not 100% sure. It was a very loud pop. A nearby volunteer hears it, rushes over and makes a phone call to beckon tech support to my location. Awesome!! I don’t know why she had that magic number but I was so grateful. I don’t know how long it will take for them to arrive but I decide it’s necessary to wait and be sure about that tire. He arrives and tells me to pack everything up and he’ll take care of the rest. I take further advantage of the situation and ask him if he wouldn’t mind helping me pop my back into alignment. “Sure, if you don’t mind helping me with mine!” Ha!
I’m back on my way but have lost time. I think about 14 minutes of my turtle cushion. I’m so glad I had it to lose. However, if past experience is accurate, winds will be picking up on the course. I have no choice but to start really pushing it, which may compromise my legs for the marathon but if I can’t make it off the bike in time, the marathon doesn’t matter. I know I’ll have to make at least one more stop, maybe two, before the turn-around or my back won’t make it. I decide to stretch that out as long as possible and try to limit it to one, if that. I know people who are watching online know that something happened. But I’m still feeling fantastic, lungs are clear and I’m still having a great time, still in slight disbelief that this is happening.
The cutoff time for the final turn-around just after mile 90 is at 4pm. I know I’ll make it, but with maybe only 10-15 minutes to spare depending on the winds. I end up having to make two stops for my back along the way but I try to make quick work of it. At one of them, they make me feel like I’m stopping at the Ritz Carlton. They were amazing! As I’m heading up one of the steeper hills, I look over and see not only my Uncle Charley and cousin Ryley, but Grandma is with them!! My 92 year old grandma made it out to the course. Awesome!! I point and scream as I trudge along. I see the Angelos again and they all push me along.
A fellow athlete asks me what the cutoff time is as I pass her. It’s on all of our minds. It’s getting intense. The winds have indeed kicked up. I make it with only 8 minutes to spare and am so happy to make that turn! But as I start heading back, I reach the point where as I glance at my watch, I know that the those riding towards me aren’t going to make it in time. My heart hurts for each of them. We’ve been passing each other for a few hours now, encouraging one another to keep it up. I decide to simply give them a very deliberate nod as we pass each other. A head-up-straight nod; not the sympathetic head tilt. They already know, and their hearts are broken. They just need a straight up nod that says, “I so respect you.”
I continue on with the rest of the back-of-packers. One gal was racing for Team DetermiNation as my cousin did in January. We prod each other along that last long hill and congratulate each other at the top. As I approach town again, I know I’ll finish at or about 5:15pm, a mere 15 minutes before the cutoff. I have all but lost my cushion but I make it and as I turn that final corner, I know that I’ll also finish this race, although it will continue to be close. My heart is absolutely bursting with joy. I cannot, nor do I want to contain it!
On to the run, and that most amazing finish line…