So, when we were last together, our heroine (me) had just realized that she is attacking this bike thing completely wrong. In short, I ride my bike like a 6 year old girl. Where is my banana seat? Where are my streamers? Where is the flimsy plastic bike basket?
I tried pretty earnestly to adapt and ride like the legit riders who were passing me by, but I gotta say that it never really “took”. One by one, I watched them ride by me and then disappear into the distance.
I thought back to that stupid pre-race meeting from 8:30 that morning. The one that I mostly ignored, since I would “always be able to follow other people on the course”. Well, that is true except for when everyone passes you by and you are left in the dust. I mean- by a lot. I couldn’t see anyone, even on the long straight shots of road.
At one point I rode by an elderly man, out mowing his field for the morning. He gave me a slow, sympathetic look. I read it as “You poor, pathetic bike girl. Don’t you know that the last rider passed by here at least 5 minutes ago? Maybe more? Just give up.” I was able to read this look on his face so very thoroughly because- surprise!- I am a slow cyclist. We had plenty of time to exchange nonverbals. My face said “I know. I would give my left pinkie to trade with you right now. This biking thing sucks.”
I tried to look up and look around every once in a while. Take in the scenery, and all of that. It really was a beautiful day, and central Virginia countryside is pretty spectacular. But it’s hard to enjoy the view when you hate your very existence at that moment in time.
The bike course was a “lollipop”- ride out, do a big loop, then return on the same road we first set out on. When I got back to the same original road I had set out on, I also- happy day!- saw other riders. They were Sprint triathletes, so I was still well behind my other Olympic people. But they were real live people, cursing the hills as I did.
At this point in this long rambling, you might be wondering if I am exaggerating at all. You know, hamming it up for the sake of my tens of readers. Maybe I wasn’t reallllly that far behind everyone.
NO. I really was. It was me and a few Sprint triathletes (who had started their race 40 minutes after me). There were no other Olympic people to be seen.
Again- where are the old people? Where are the only-85%-ready-for-this people? WHERE ARE MY PEOPLE? They don’t exist. Not in this race. I pushed on, seriously wanting to cry when I saw my husband at the park entrance. He gave me a much-needed pep talk and I was back on my way.
I re-enter the park and zip down “quadzilla” toward the transition area. I could throw that bike into the lake and not feel a twinge of sadness- it is so nice to be done with that part of the race. At this point, I try to think positively about the 6.2 miles still in front of me. I remind myself of what I have said all along- “I just want to do it. I don’t care if I have to walk, or hop off my bike. I don’t have a time in mind. Just finish.”
I get off the bike about as gracefully as a drunken giraffe, and (seriously) contemplate draping myself on the kind volunteer at the transition. I just want a few minutes to collect myself, to get feeling back in my legs, before I start running. Aside from the awkwardness of hanging on some poor race volunteer, I know if I stop for long it will be that much harder to get going again.
So I shuffle off, back to face quadzilla. Which is no better than the first time. Still steep. And long. And just horrible.
A terrible realization as I make my way up quadzilla: In my training for the running portion of the race, I purposed to avoid hills at all cost. Because I dislike them. And now…dang. (Make no mention of how I knew the course before the race. The hills should have come as no surprise).
The running portion of this race sort of took me through various stages of grief. Shock: “I can’t believe I have to run up this f*ing hill now.” Denial: “Maybe I’ll get a second wind and it won’t be that bad!”. Anger: “Look at those Sprint triathletes, turning around all…glib like they do! So typical.” To despair: “Why didn’t I do the Sprint??? Why are they so smart and I am so stupid?? WHHHHYYYYY????”.
I won’t dwell too long on the sheer volume of hills on the run. Long ones. Short ones. Steep ones. Moderate ones. I ran and walked them all.
Along the way out (the run was an out-and-back), I was able to cheer on various Olympic racers as they headed back toward the finish. I found the girl who advised me to “find my zen”. (She looked like she had found hers. I don’t think I ever did). It was fun to give a peppy yell to them, but also tempting to just subtly cut the run short and double back behind them. No one would ever know…
(I didn’t do that).
Have we ever discussed bonking? I have done that- once. Bonked, I mean. The feeling then was one of disorientation. I remember asking, over and over, what mile we were on in the race. Ten seconds would pass, and I would ask again. I felt sick, and couldn’t make myself eat anything. Guess what happens when you exercise like no one ever should, on a fairly empty stomach? NOTHING GOOD.
So I was conscious of that as I ran. Checking in with myself to make sure I was still aware of how I felt, where I was, etc and so forth. I made myself choke down a Montana Huckleberry goo at the aid station. You know, in case the Nutri-Grain bar I had eaten five hours ago wasn’t enough. [Foreshadowing].
At about one and a half miles from the finish, my husband found me and ran with me. He talked to me about my pace, how to think about finishing, and the fact that I was almost finished. He prepped me for the “two baby hills” left. And he wasn’t lying- they really were baby hills. I left him behind (mostly because when he ran with me I kept having that urge to stop and drape myself on him. Like with that race volunteer. Or anyone else close to me who might be able to hold me up). At maybe a quarter mile from the finish, I saw my sister-in-law. She ran with me as well, encouraging me and talking me through that last stretch.
Here’s a true fact: as we were running up the very last “baby hill” of the entire freaking race, I could see- with my own eyes- the arch of the finish line. You know, that big arch thing that you run under? It was in my view. And once I was finished with that stupid, teeny, tiny hill, I could practically spit on the finish line.
Well. As God is my witness, I could not will myself to run up that hill. I had to stop and walk for about four car lengths. Four. Not very far. But I could not summon the inner fortitude to just gut out those car lengths and finish with a run.
I liken it to my last labor experience. (Skip this part if you hate birth stories). During my last labor, my doctor told me that if he broke my water, I would be finished with labor in 20 minutes. 20 minutes of crazy-awful pain, and I’d be finished. Just gut it out and get it done. Did I do that, or did I will myself to hold steady and get that glorious epidural?
Epidural for the win! Why? Because I could not summon the will to just gut out 20 horrible minutes. Nor could I gut out those measly four car lengths. I just could not do it.
(I don’t know. It seems similar in my mind).
I walked to the top of the baby hill, then used momentum to propel myself across the finish. I had family members and friends, cheering me on. I almost ran over my four-year-old nephew, who was waiting to finish with me. Drunken giraffe…poor coordination…exhaustion…I am lucky I was holding my bowels at that point, much less not trampling the excited nephew underfoot.
[It did not escape my attention that at least half of the racers had already finished, packed up their gear, and left the park by the time I finished. It all took me about 3.5 hours. That is no joke. No joke at all. It turns out that I finished ahead of two 70-somethings. And no one else.]
Remember the Nutri-Grain bar? The goo? And (oh yeah) the coffee that morning? It all added up to feeling like crap. UNTIL I puked up the entire contents of my stomach on the side of Rt 64, two hours later. (Eastbound. In case you are wondering). Then, and only then, did I feel human again.
And that, my friends, is the story of my first (and final) Olympic Triathlon.