Going into the race, I had little thought of finish time and was mostly worried to tears about missing my oldest son's soccer game, which was scheduled after I registered for the triathlon. Preoccupied with thoughts of my sons, ages two and six, and balancing the busy work week with kid stuff, race goals took a back burner.
"How long do you think it'll take you to finish?" Eric, my husband asked.
"I haven't thought about it," I told him. The swim/bike/run distances were short, not intimidating, the training far less rigorous than trail ultra marathon training, which left me feeling at ease and in no urgent need to prepare or plan fueling in the same way necessary for long trail races.
Instead, I rambled on about how the off-road triathlon I did in July took three hours and four minutes (3:04), with the swim distance almost twice as long and, I came to find out, five times as crowded, and the mountain biking, obviously more time consuming, at 13.8 miles, and the trail running steeper, rockier, at five total miles. Thus, I knew the Savage Man would not take me three hours. That's as far as I got with calculating or setting expectations about a finish time.
Rather, the Savage Man Sprint Triathlon, just like the Xterra Off-road Tri, felt like an opportunity to play hard. After all, triathlons contain all the activities kids love to do.... swimming in lakes, biking, soaring downhill and running with wild abandon, back-to-back... yep, just like a kid again.
Finally, thanks to some dad friends who assured me my child would not need therapy if I missed his third soccer game, my friend Rachel who was racing, too, and our friend Keli, who came along for support, I decided not to skip it and just go.
My soccer-playing son and I had a conversation about the race and his game, and Eric promised to get the boys to the finish line as quickly as possible.
Mom-guilt lifted, nerves subdued, knowing with each minute in the race I was getting closer to seeing my sons, a sense of calm washed over me and remained for the entire 1:51:18 that it took to cross the finish line.
About an hour before my wave entered the water, a downpour of rain soaked everything in the transition zone and all racers. Thank goodness for my friend June, who lent me her wet suit! It was around 60 degrees, but the rain and waiting gave me a chill.
The first part of the swim was wavy but not choppy, and for a split second, the motion gave me a sea-sick feeling, but I channeled the child in me who used to swim through Class III rapids and flooded creeks for fun, the southern California surfer I once was in my 20s and the white water kayaker I still am, and the feeling disappeared as quickly as it came. It was slightly difficult to see around me, so I kept my head up more so than in a pool, but I still loooovvvvved being in the water, so fresh, so soothing. Toward the end, I felt faster and finished in 17:40 minutes; by the time I crossed the electronic timing pad on shore, my swim portion clocked in at 18:08.
A note about training: From June to August, I open water swam in two local lakes once or twice a week, usually one mile at a time, and sometimes half a mile. My other swimming consists of laps at the YMCA pool, where I mostly do 40 laps or 60, at times up to 80 or 100. With no real structure to it, I typically swim two to three times per week, about 2,000-3,000 yards weekly, but, again, it varies. I did not follow a sprint triathlon training plan.
Not wearing a tri suit under my wet suit, I peeled a thin long-sleeve Patagonia capilene quarter zip shirt on top of my swim top and wet, sticky body for the road biking and hopped on my comfortable steel frame Kona Rove drop-bar cross bike, the lone steel frame amongst a sea of carbon tri bikes.
Funniest of all, I was the only cyclist wearing a trail running hydration vest.... you know you're a trail runner when your vest becomes a part of your every physical activity... :)
That's OK, because I was thirsty! During the 15.5-mile bike ride, I drank 24 ounces of coconut water and 16 ounces of warm, brewed Yerba Mate tea with two tablespoons of coconut sugar. That's all the fuel I consumed for the entire race.
Three dismounts: two to lift my seat around miles three and four, and the third at mile nine to zip into the high, grassy field in an attempt to hide and relieve my bladder... sure, the offs and ons may have cost several minutes, but it's nice to be comfortable :) I finished the 15.5-mile ride, my longest ever on road, in 1:04:32.
Oh, and I forgot to put contact lenses in my eyes that morning, so at first I was hesitant to bomb downhill, but eventually I trusted the smooth road and let go of my fear, blurry vision and all.
A note about training: In the month prior to the race, life got busy, and my longest ride was eight miles on the rail trail in August simply to get to a local crag, where my kids, Eric and I rock climbed. The bulk of my biking happened in July, when I mountain biked once a week and cycled the windy, hilly roads around my house twice a week, my longest rides 11-13 miles and up nice hills. Three weeks prior to the Savage Man, I think I only biked once a week, five to six miles at a time. The actual stats are stored in my Garmin Connect app, but I felt good and happy on the bike, so it must have been enough!
I COULD NOT WAIT TO RUN!!! I love running :) :) :)
The freedom of zero equipment, the spaciousness of no feet kicking me underwater, my own abilities not determined my steel, aluminum, carbon, tire size, aerodynamic gear, ability determined by lungs, heart, legs. Running reveals what we can do at the purest level, nothing aiding us and at the same time, nothing holding us back. Wild - it makes me feel truly wild, truly me. It's in the run that I find my soul.
I tossed my bike on the rack, ripped off my shirt, helmet and hydration pack and took off, at first fumbling with my bib belt, then flying out of the transition zone chute. Heavy but happily moving, springy legs, no longer sitting, no longer floating, but digging and moving forward, charging uphill and loping downhill, instinctually fast and focused.
At 22:24 minutes, with an average pace of 7:13 minutes per mile, I burst through the finish, pleased, relaxed, ready to hug my sons and to feel the support of Eric's arms and tallness.
I didn't know my total finish time right away, my splits, or cared. I searched for Rachel, to cheer her as she crossed, found Keli, and called Eric.
Later, I was most proud to have placed sixth fastest runner out of 147 men and women and third fastest female runner.... because running has always been my thing :)
A note about training: Four weeks prior to the triathlon, I was running 16-18 miles per week, trail running, with weekly hill repeats and pushing my two-year-old on stroller runs. My longest run was 8.6 miles on trail with 2,700 feet of elevation and my fastest pace during a road run was an 8:10 pace for an interval workout, with some seven minute miles in the mix. Most of it was casual, again, not following a training plan, listening to my own intuition, inner knowing.
And we were off on our next adventure, camping, rock climbing and a river trip at the New River Gorge, W.V.
Today, I found out I placed 29th woman out of all 110 sprint triathlon women and 72nd triathlete out of 202 men and women.
For me, racing is all about love - friends, family, fellow racers, community, everyone involved, and the rankings, the places, the clock, those are fun, rewarding, exciting, but not what drives me, not what gets me through the tough stuff, not what moves me forward.
So get out there and play, and do it with love.