It was my first triathlon in four years. In typical neurotic writer fashion, I talked myself out of doing the full olympic distance (a one-mile swim, 26-mile bike, 6-mile run), and opting instead for the sprint (a 0.35-mile swim, 9-mile bike, and 3-mile run). Never mind that I’ve been swimming four miles a week, biking seventy-five, running at least sixteen. I’d convinced myself I wasn’t prepared. It’s an ocean swim! I will be sucked away from the continent on a riptide!
On the bright side, it gave my super-fast teammates—Chris, Christina, and Ian—one less athlete to maneuver around on the narrow bike course. The Oakland Triathlon Club cleaned up this race, by the way: Coach Mitchell won the sprint course outright (but took second due to an unfortunate lack of direction on the run); Ian took second in the 35-40 olympic course age group, and Christina took third in the 30-35 age group. John Royson and Christina King won their age groups, as well. Thanks to all those long pool hours this spring, and a flat and fast bike course, I managed to hang on in the run and come in third overall in the women’s sprint, with a time of 1:10:something.
I arrived in the transition area around 5:30 a.m. I set up my bike gear in T1, far, far, far back in the long corridor of racks; then deposited my run gear in the bins for transport to T2, nine miles away. If triathlon preparation doesn’t make you neurotic enough, I highly recommend this race. The logistics of how to distribute your post-race gear, car keys, and phone between transition areas separated by nine miles a lot of traffic will break your brain. But at the moment, I was happy to be free of (most of) my gear and even happier about finding no line at the port-a-potties. It’s the little things.
The day was still dark enough that I couldn’t make out the fog. As OTC-ers stood on shore peering out at the swim course, we gradually observed that the buoys were unobservable. The race director delayed the race start by ten minutes, a well-intentioned decision that allowed the fog to thicken. Into this soup, the olympic race began. I suited up, hopped into the 55-degree water, and twenty minutes later, began my sprint.
All of Coach Mitchell’s swim training resulted in a new confidence in the water. I started out in front and far to the left, and swam hard to the first buoy. I had a lot of space around me, and didn’t feel panicky. I didn’t get off course, and was able to sight the buoys once I was approaching them. The only thing I couldn’t see was the dark blue arch over the swim exit, so I oriented myself parallel to the other swimmers and trusted that we’d all wind up in the right place. We did, sucking and stumbling and staggering across the last ten feet to shore, negotiating deep, slippery mud onto land.
The run to the mat and T1 was longish, but I got my arms out of my wetsuit, my cap and goggles off, and felt much better. At my transition area, I kind of lost focus, though: simultaneously, I was pulling on my bike helmet, trying to get my feet unstuck from my wetsuit, and tidily stuffing my stuff into a tiny plastic bag that would be transported later to the race finish. I spent an embarrassingly long time wrestling my wet arms into a cycling jacket that contained my keys and phone. But finally I was off, beginning my favorite part of any race.
A nine-mile bike course is so short it’s almost unremarkable, though. It was flat, and really narrow. I passed a lot of people, and didn’t get passed until the end, by a guy in really dirty shorts who slowed down right in front of me. Maybe his pride was already wounded by what appeared to be an accident of the excremental variety, but it seemed very important that he respond to being “chicked.” Sorry buddy. I had to pass you that second time. Your shorts were too gross.
I really enjoyed the run. Coach Raeleigh Harris has been conducting some excellent tri-specific track sessions on Thursdays, and I noticed a payoff in my stride. My legs felt fresh, and I kept an 8:04 pace for the 5K run. That’s my second-fastest ever. A few of the men passed me, as well as the Easter Bunny (seriously), but when a volunteer shouted that I was the fourth woman, I told myself not to lose focus. At the turnaround, I spotted one woman less than a minute behind me, and I promised myself that I’d hang on to my position until the finish line.
When the results were in, the fastest woman was an elite. I took third overall for age-groupers, and despite feeling a bit sheepish about choosing a shorter race, I had a great time. It was a pleasure to be out there, and I really enjoyed the excited faces of all the other athletes at the finish line and on the podium.
In the end, the only thing I wasn’t prepared for was the race photo of my swim exit. Since moving to the Bay Area, I’ve learned that the local waters have a traditional way of welcoming you. It’s kind of like a Hawai’ian lei, adorning swimmers with a sampling of the local flora. It’s called the Bay Beard, and it looks like a five o’clock shadow. It’s really the ugliest picture I’ve ever seen of myself in a wetsuit, which isn’t saying much. I only recognized myself by the way my wetsuit makes the jugular vein on the left side of my neck stick out.
So, bottom line: I was proud to tell my grandma about the victory, but I won’t be sending her the pictures.