Wednesday, August 15, 2012

try hard

Well, even though I had my period, could we pick a more inopportune time, and a belly full of dread about this triathlon, I went over Saturday afternoon to get myself bodymarked for the event. I figured going over a day early would give me a chance to finally survey the course and that there would be people to answer my myriad questions about the event. One remarkably good stroke of luck was that I got someone to work my Sunday night shift, and I'm eternally grateful to Kimberly for this (especially helpful given that my heat didn't start until 10). So I drove around North Park until I found the pool (could really use GPS), signed my waiver against injury and then waited my turn to get my shoulders marked with my race number (416) whilst my calves were marked with my age as of December 31st of this year. Yes, I was slightly chagrined to have 44 on my calves when I'm only 43 but I better get over it being that in four months I will be that age. So I was magic marked up and felt a little dismayed that I'd have to forego my nightly shower, I like to be squeaky clean before going to bed. I said that I had a lot of questions about the triathlon, this being my first time and was directed to speak to an extremely tan, blonde and fit woman around my age. She was very patient and super helpful in answering my questions, the best advice she gave me was to show up early so I could see how the earlier heats handled transitions between the events. This woman would be in the first heat and judging by her less than 10% body fat I assumed she'd probably fare very well. I checked out the pool and drove around the bike part of the course then went home and posted on Facebook to get as much virtual support as I possibly could given that no one would actually be cheering me on the day of this event. I don't know if anyone has read The Atlantic cover story about Facebook but I always half dread putting a post up there, it's like waiting to be picked last for kickball. It's an awful feeling to be ignored while reading others enviously rich lives, even if that's a lot of artifice or it's a richness that I in actuality wouldn't crave, it's just far too easy for the grass to always look greener in the world of facebook. But, lo and behold, I actually had a lot of people write back support, which really bolstered me. My summer has been looong. I promise myself I'll put my house in some semblance of order once the kids are back in school. My intelligence seems to have an inverse relationship with the heat and humidity.  I've had one person call wanting to do something with me, basically my phone does not ring unless it's my ex husband calling for the kids. I'm either working or with my children and I love my children dearly but when they're your only source of social interaction, well, for example, Oona has an imaginary twin that's close to two years younger than her that she calls Melon, real name Melissa, clearly your perspective can get skewed if you're hanging out with Oona, Melon, the two invisible dogs, and my son who wants to recount every page in the many books he's reading, how to say I love that you read so voraciously but I don't need a line by line retelling of Diary of a Wimpy Kid?

I digress, maybe that two year long gestation of Oona and Melon has affected my attention span. I had all my stuff packed and ready for the morning. My bike had a last minute trip to Performance bikes when the chain came off and something weird happened to a piece I can't identify to save my life. Suffice it to say the bike guy fixed it and just shook his head 'don't worry about it' when I asked how much I owed him (I think he was trying to cut me a break given I was doing my triathlon on a twenty year old mountain bike). I went to bed early and woke up at 6:30, picked up coffee (since caffeine can enhance performance- yee haw) and a bagel and made it to the pool in a far more direct route this time. I got there just as the second heat was in the pool. Having the time to curb my butterflies watching the earlier heats compete was invaluable. It was also inspiring to see a man in his sixties, one of the first ones out of the pool, unzip his wetsuit and take a hit off his inhaler before heading to his bike. And he wasn't the oldest competitor. There were people in their seventies competing. A lot of people wrote to me about how they could never fathom doing a triathlon but there were people of all shapes, sizes and ages doing it and it's was truly incredible. There was a woman in my heat, the last one because I had no idea what time I'd come in at. I could tell she was 60 (or 59) by the number on her calves. She was slender but had very soft, dimply legs and a cute black and hot pink swimsuit with jolly rogers all over it. She was one of the first people out of the pool when my heat went, when I was literally sucking chlorinated water and still had 3 more laps to go.

So my performance. It wasn't pretty. I did finish, although when I was in the pool I wasn't sure that I would. Seven hundred fucking meters swimming. I swallowed and snarfed so much chlorinated water I fear my lungs may resemble someone rescued from a near drowning. The swimming was, without a doubt the hardest event for me, and I was a water rat as a kid, you had to drag me out of the pool, but I guess summers filled with Marco Polo don't qualify for triathlon training. I've since read that swimming should be the relaxing leg of the triathlon where you go at a steady pace, conserving your energy for the cycling and running portions of the triathlon. I was very scared about the swim because 1. It was outside and it was cooler this past weekend (in the seventies) and all my training has been at my gym and the pool water is the equivalent of bathwater. 2. I have raynaud's and was concerned my fingers and toes would flip out on me, especially since it can be painful in my fingers when they react to the cold so my hands would be like inert clubs. But here's where adrenaline was my friend. I jumped in the pool 30 seconds before the horn went off and lifted the left side of my bathing cap, I couldn't hear jack out the right side because I had a earplug in my breathing side. As soon as the horn sounded I took off swimming way too hard, just like I anticipated that I would. The pool was twice as long as the one I trained in and the sun was breaking through clouds and directly in my line of vision every time I lifted my head to take a breath. Ten feet into that first lap my goggles filled with water but I waited till I reached the end of the lap to adjust them. I think I did two laps freestyle, then switched to backstroke, whacked my head against the side of the wall doing backstroke on my fourth lap. Changed to side crawl for a couple laps and then half  freestyle and then back to the backstroke and I finished the last lap freestyle. I wasn't the first one out of the pool but I wasn't the last either. I was right in the middle for my heat, which was fine with me. Honestly I just didn't want to get the shoulder tap that I was a 'slow swimmer' and had to move to the slow lane so the last heat (there were two last/untimed heats) could go. I ran along the pool corner (right where it screams in all caps, NO RUNNING) around the cone, down the stairs, across the parking lot (barefoot the whole time, just waiting to stub my toes) and over to my bike.
Yes I had goggle marks around my eyes two and a half hours after the swim and I won't be winning any awards for best hairstyle after a triathlon (or before one for that matter since I slather my hair in Kiehls silk groom prior to swimming and look like I haven't washed my hair in months)
Now the night before I packed a nightgown, underwear and a sports bra to change into because I was sure I wouldn't be able to tolerate the last two legs in a wet swimsuit (I'm tactilely challenged) but everyone was doing it and, once again, the benefits of adrenaline, I just dealt with it, put bike pants and a top over my wet swimsuit, got my socks, sneakers and helmet on and ran towards the marker for the next leg. I had a chip around my ankle that went off when I entered certain zones of the event. I hopped on my bike and was just starting to peddle when a couple yelled at me 'your helmet's on backwards'. Truth be told I never used to wear a helmet biking back in college, twenty years ago when it seemed that no one did. But it was my nerves that made me put it on backwards, I honestly don't know how I got it on that way so quickly, but I straightened it out, the man shouted, 'Bet that feels a lot better' I smiled an okay I'm embarrassed enough smile and headed out on the course. Four and three quarters laps around half uphill and half down. This was the easiest leg for me aside from adjusting to the wee small bike seat that's nothing like the cushy seats on the stationary bikes at the gym and the ache in my lower back (this fall is core strengthening season for me). Oh yeah and that this was the first time I actually did the full twelve miles cycling, training I always stopped after a half hour, or about an eight mile ride. But another wonderful thing about doing this triathlon was that it made me realize how much more enjoyable it is to exercise outside where I can marvel over the simple beauty of sunlight filtering through the trees, where I don't need to hold my breath when someone squirts cleaner all over their stationary bike and half my face. Alas, hot Eddie Munster/Tim Roth man won't be there on the trip but that man is married, maybe I'll bike into a single Hugh Laurie doppelgänger on some lovely Pittsburgh trail. It was also fun from a competition standpoint when 49 year old male passes me on the downhill clip but then I pass him on the uphill portion. Or passing people in their twenties and thirties, although I had no clue what lap they were on. So all in all the bike portion went well. I just got a wee bit nervous about wiping out and losing my teeth on the steep downhill portion where you had to cut a sharp turn and then start cycling uphill. I have this same losing teeth fear watching my children cycle down softest of inclines.

For the running portion I grabbed my shuffle and my son's baseball hat from The Children's Place, because it's mesh in back so I figured I wouldn't get overheated in it and I didn't have a hat of my own, never mind that it's for a size 4-7 child's head (which makes me truly reflect on the size of my adult head) or that it has a skull and crossbones on the front. My triathlon style was ghetto fabulous, well more like phantasmagoric, it was a pastiche of whatever I could find or make do with. Running was yet another, ahem, adjustment for me since I'd trained on a treadmill (which has a lovely spring to it) at zero incline with a built in fan fanning me in the air conditioned gym. Triathlon reality, it was a trail that went up and down slight hills, very slight except for two portions of the run that were considerably steeper, but when you've done all your running on a flat surface that's more than enough for you to hit a wall, the steep grades were the two portions of the run where I walked. The real wall I hit was forgetting to take a drink of water when dropping off my bike and getting my son's hat. All I had had to drink was coffee and chlorinated water. I was parched. I was lucky to have two other women running with me (19 & 49) and we kept pace with one another which made the running portion a lot easier for me. There were a couple water stations set up and I took full advantage of them, but I would stop and drink the water then put the cup in the trash bin. The second cup I took with me but I couldn't just chuck it on the ground, even if I knew the volunteers would clean it up, I had it crumpled in one hand and my sunglasses in the other hand. The hardest part of the run for me, aside from being very thirsty and, at that point, slightly nauseous, was that I had no idea how far into the run I was or where the finish line for the run was. I didn't have a watch on for pacing myself, I just tried to gauge the distance based on the amount of songs I listened to - Snow Patrol, Beck, Moby, Eminem (the song where he disses Moby), Doves, Foo Fighters and I finished right when Lily Allen was starting to sing.
I WILL find a hat that fits and doesn't look this ridiculous for the next triathlon.
I finished! I might have looked like an absolute disaster in sneakers but I did it, I could 't train the way I wanted but I made it across the last chip marker. BEEP! I was shaking taking the velcroed chip off my ankle to put in the chip bucket. I went to the post race station to get a slice of orange and I cannot tell you how good that piece of fruit tasted or the bottle of water I had afterwards. I think the triathlon really helped me appreciate the challenge I gave myself, how totally inspiring older generations are to participate in this (there were older people totally kicking it time-wise in this triathlon, a fifty four year old finished in 1:03 while the winner, 18, did it in 57:56) and just being mindful of my body, what I do to it and what it's capable of. I didn't find out my time in the race until Monday afternoon, a volunteer had given me the wrong website to check my time on. I had wanted to do it under two hours, secretly wished I could do it under 1:45. And my time was 1:43:48. I did it, with one minute and twelve seconds to spare. Never mind that I finished in the bottom quarter I made my secret goal time and it's given me a shorter secret goal time to aim for next year. But I'm going to find someone who can help me with my swimming technique, the only part of me that ached the next day was my neck from swimming, I gotta fix the whiplash swim.


Andy Parker said...

Bravo! What a wonderful experience! A fantastic post, too. Rich and full. Reading, I had the sense that you were really pleased with yourself. No, not pleased: satisfied. That's what your smile conveys in the shot where you're wearing Owen's cap. Yes. You took those concerns about having made an "impulsive and regrettable decision," kicked them to the curb, and beat your goal. You B.E.A.T. it!!

Bravo, again!

Amelia Plum said...

as always, thank andy! i think i'm smiling because the fact that i wore that hat of his is just beyond ridiculous. but it was fun and i'd really like to do it again next year.

Elise A. Miller said...

Ahhh! Congrats! That's so great. I was hanging on the edge of my seat reading this post. Way to go girl.

Amelia Plum said...

thank elise!