Almost a month ago, I raced in my longest tri ever--a "half lite" at Devilman in New Jersey. I think it is best summed up by this short exchange I had with my coach about 400 yards from the end of the race--she was standing by the side cheering, having finished (as 2nd woman overall), and I was chugging my way in.
Coach: "I think you may have found your new distance!"
Me: "Let me finish so I can come back and kill you!"
But back to the beginning. I signed up for this race in the heart of winter, on the theory that training for an almost-half would be good for my sprint/olympic racing this summer. My coach, her partner Lisa, my partner in crime Linda, and another woman who works with my coach ("Hot Stuff" to her friends) were all doing it. I never succumbed to peer pressure in high school ("What? Drink beer? How would I finish my calculus homework?!"), but now I'm making up for it. I signed up, then proceeded to ride my bike enough this winter and early spring that finishing a 40.3-mile bike leg seemed feasible.
My trip down to NJ started really auspiciously. Linda got a flight down, so I agreed to bring her bike on the back of my car, with mine stowed safely in the back seat. I backed out of my driveway, forgot that a) I had Linda's bike on the back, and b) we now have a basketball hoop at the end of the driveway. Crunch. Somehow I managed to hook her bike around the basketball hoop. I got it off, hyperventilated (not necessarily in that order), checked to see that wheels and such were still attached and moving, then drove straight to the bike shop to ask them to verify that I hadn't just ruined Linda's bike, which I think cost more than my car. It seemed fine, so off I went.
I stopped on the way down in northern NJ to spend the night with my college friend and former teammate Cherie. It is tradition for us to take an unflattering self-portrait.
The next day I made the second half of the trek down south. I texted Linda a photo from our hotel room, showing her that her bike was indeed safely out of my reckless clutches.
Then I drove 45 minutes more to Ocean City, where coach and partner have a lovely, if still somewhat unfurnished, house. We set about the critical task of painting our nails to be appropriately satanic.
Coach Martha is displaying her trademark focus here, while Linda is mocking us on Facebook. My favorite part of this whole nail-painting exercise was that I, who generally think of myself as a tomboy and inept with all matters cosmetic, was somehow tagged as the girly-girl here for having some ability to paint my own toenails without covering my foot in nail polish. Here is my handiwork:
In case you want to try this at home, I went with a bright red base coat, red glitter on top of that, and then a black crackle finish on the toes. Actually, don't try this at home, because it took a serious amount of chiseling to get that glitter polish off. Also, to state the obvious, it looks hideous. Lisa also painted one of Balto's nails, although it's sort of hard to see here:
We had a yummy lasagne dinner prepared by Lisa, then Linda and I retired to our hotel near the race site.
The big story of the race was this: there was a hatch of tiny, vicious, biting bugs in the field next to transition. We arrived and were immediately attacked, as was everyone else, while we waited in line for packet pickup. The entire pre-race time was spend trying to minimize bug bites. I have never been so happy to start a race in my life, because just getting into the water meant the bugs stopped biting. Here's what my arm looked like after the race:
The water, as it turned out, was both very cold (well below 70 I believe) and an alarming shade of dark brown. We watched the waves before us start, and it looked like a churning sea of mud. When we got in to start, I found that the bottom was some kind of weird cottony-feeling pillow of mud. I still get a little creeped out just thinking about it.
The swim was two diamond-shaped loops for a total of 0.8 mile, and the last 5/8 of my swim was pretty good. The first 3/8 were me running into traffic and then choosing to stop and breaststroke while it cleared out. Yes, I know this is dumb. I got out of the water for the long run to transition and just decided to forget about it; from the number of bikes on the rack, other people were having worse swims anyway. I don't remember my swim split, and I'm not looking it up, because it was slow.
The bike was way better than I expected, given that I've never raced close to this far. The course is pretty pancake flat, two out-and-back lollipops. I just kept my HR where I was supposed to and was pleasantly surprised to find myself passing a lot of people anyway. (Probably because my swim was so crummy, come to think of it.) It was actually kind of fun being in a race and not biking flat out. Until the last 10 miles or so, when I was tired of biking. But in the end I averaged 18.7 mph, which seems neither spectacularly good nor embarrassingly bad to me.
I came back into transition, where I easily got my feet out of my shoes to dismount. The same way I've now been dismounting for about 2 years. With never a single mishap. See where this is going? There was a slight uphill coming into the dismount line, and I was so focused on this that apparently I didn't take off enough speed. I hopped off the bike and immediately crashed in a spectacularly ungraceful way, right in front of a nice little crowd of spectators and volunteers. I got up right away, someone handed me the bottle that had popped out, and I managed to get myself moving toward transition. There was a pretty long run back in over grass and gravel, and I had knocked things around enough that my back wheel was no longer moving. So I essentially dragged the bike for about 400 yards, blood running down my leg to boot. Here's what my legs looked like post-race:
But I headed out onto the run with nary a worry in the world, because a surviving a bike crash (OK, more like a bike flop) with a couple scrapes seemed awfully lucky. My legs felt pretty good, and although I couldn't for the life of me figure out where the mile markers were, I am pretty sure I was running sub-8's to start with. I was passing people pretty quickly; I even passed one 20-something guy who was nursing a hamstring cramp and gave him one of my shot bloks, because I was feeling all happy and generous.
The run was also an out and back, also pretty flat. It was muggy and warm by this time, with not a lot of shade. About 2.5-miles into the 8.8-mile run, I saw Martha coming back in, right behind the 1st place woman, with 3rd place not far behind her. It's not my race to write about, but I will say this: in the thick of a close race, she took a couple seconds to swerve over to my side of the road and give me a high five, which gave me an incredible boost. She may hold the world record in classiness per ounce of body weight.
Everything was pretty good until I hit the turnaround, and about 100 yards past that, my legs seemed to be done for the day. They hurt, I was tired, there was a headwind. . . you get the picture. I don't have a lot to say about this, except that after a couple minutes of feeling sorry for myself, I just mentally reset myself and focused on running as hard as I could at any given moment. I don't think it was pretty, but I didn't get passed a lot, and once I sort of gave in to "this is what I have, and I'm going to work with it," I actually kind of had fun.
By about 5 miles my inner right thigh was hurting so much that I began to suspect I had pulled something on the bike; it wasn't until I pulled up my shorts for the picture above that I realized I had a massive hematoma brewing there from my fall. With about a mile and a half to go, a young (I thought) woman I had passed at the turnaround passed me back. We chatted a little bit (me: "Since you're wearing calf sleeves, do you mind if I ask how old you are?" her: "don't worry, I'm 28."), and I sort of vaguely hung with her. Right after my pithy little exchange with Martha near the end, I shrugged off my stupor and kicked my way past the 28-yr-old; I invited her to come along, but she just laughed. I ended up averaging 8:22's for the run, and I finished 5th in my AG. Here I am, plastered in little bugs, approaching the finish:
I have noticed that I have massively flared nostrils in all my race photos, which I take as a good sign--apparently I am getting oxygen through all available openings. Also, please note that my devil-red fingernails show nicely in this picture.
They had a lot of good food post-race, which we enjoyed while being re-attacked by the biting bugs, which had been thankfully absent during the run. Hot Stuff doesn't actually seem to be enjoying the post-race spread, but that could just be the bugs,
Martha got 2nd overall, Lisa won her age group by a landslide, and Linda recovered from a craptastic swim to take 3rd in her AG. Eventually we all made our way back to Ocean City and celebrated.
On the left is Hot Stuff's friend Flash (no, I don't really know what is with the nicknames--I think it might be a Women's Studies thing, since they're both WS professors), who was injured but came down anyway to cheer us all on.
That night I let Balto sleep with me on the air mattress, and he feel deeply in love with me. Although rumor has it he started flirting with Linda pretty heavily when I left the next day.
The last thing I'll say about this race is that I had about 200 bug-induced welts on my arms, legs, scalp. . . yes, pretty much everywhere, and they lasted almost a week. I don't know what it is about my body chemistry, because everyone else was like, "Yeah, my ankle itches a little bit," whereas I was pretty much trying to flay the skin off my body with my fingernails 24/7. It was not pretty. But yeah, I'd pretty much do this race again, if I had that fun crew with me. Plus some Deet.