(Much Overdue!) Race Report: Blaine Triathlon

Almost a month ago (oh my goodness…where has the time gone?!) I completed the Blaine Triathlon (sprint distance) in easily the worst race conditions ever (check out the article from a local newspaper)!  Over the last five summer seasons (wow – just realized this summer marks year 5 of training and racing for me!), I’ve raced in rain, snow, heat, humidity, and every once in a great while – perfectly cool, sunny, and dry conditions.  The first race I ever did was a tri, so they hold a special place in my heart, even if they’re not my absolute favorite races to do.  This was my 4th tri, and my second Blaine Tri.  The Blaine Triathlon was in its second year, and I’m just dedicated (crazy?!) enough to want to do this neighborhood race every year I’m physically able and we’re living in the neighborhood.  Last year (the inaugural year) the weather was GORGEOUS…a very warm Spring had the lake heated up to comfortable temps (even without a wetsuit!), and (dare I say) it was really too hot once I got to the run segment last year.  This Spring has been a different story.

Before I get to the race report, first I have some training confessions.  I didn’t really train a whole lot for this one.  I had a half marathon two weeks before the tri, so I was in a good place for cardiorespiratory endurance and for the run, but the number of times I’d been in the pool (one) and on the bike (a few…but not with the consistency I would have liked) are definitely nothing to brag about to hard core triathletes.  But I’m a runner…I tri for fun…so the races are supposed to be fun, right?  AND, with the miserable cold and snowy spring (there was ice on the lake two weeks before race day!), I was really counting on the race being switched to a duathlon…I could easily let go of that swim leg!  No such luck.  The saving grace of this race is that I had a BRF in her first ever tri (so I had someone to commiserate, I mean enjoy the race with) AND we had the most dedicated friends supporting us and cheering for us throughout the race.  Without Shaun to race with, and DeNae (and Kiri and Jennifer and Melyssa) to cheer for us, a scratch from this particular race on this particular day would have been a foregone conclusion.

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Race day conditions were miserable (and that’s perhaps giving them too much credit).  The start was delayed by an hour due to lightning and pouring rain.  As we sat in the car (running with the heat on and in our wetsuits!), we witnessed several people load up their bikes and drive away.  I should probably fact check my numbers, but I *think* the report I heard was that 350 were registered for the race, and 99 actually competed.

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Pre-race attempts to stay warm and dry. I looked much more enthusiastic than I felt.

We contemplated going out for donuts and coffee instead of torturing ourselves in the pouring rain, swimming in cold water, biking on wet and slippery roads, and running…the one thing that I wasn’t dreading and that didn’t scare the daylights out of me that morning.

Race time.  Gulp.  The Swim…the dreaded swim (0.3mi or 528yds).  I really don’t like putting my face in cold and murky water, so why I “like” doing triathlons is beyond me.  The challenge?  The chance to push myself out of my comfort zone? Bottom line is that I just need to get over that (I guess I actually need to get my wetsuit out more than once a year for open water swims in that case, eh?). We swam in the wave of 40-44yr old women (I’m not 40 YET…but USAT rules classify by birth year, not age on race day.  Turns out I’m OK with that in this case!).  We hit the water when the air horn sounded at 9:36am in a flurry of orange swim caps.  Crap the water was cold.  Sucked the air right out of my lungs and I needed to concentrate, to focus on keeping my breathing regular.  No such luck.  Hyperventilated and took on a little water and started sputtering instead.

Your-comfort-zone-where-the-magic-happens-inspirationOK, back to concentration and focus and getting my breathing under control…in the meantime, the next wave of 40-44yr old men caught up with me…and one swift swimmer planted a foot in the vicinity of my right kidney on his way by.  So much for concentration and focus and getting my breath and swimming form under control.  Wouldn’t it just be easier to turn around and swim back to shore?!  I was only about 100yds away (yes, all this happened in the first 100yds…not the best start to the race).  This was the closest I have EVER been to calling it quits after starting a race, but…I knew Shaun was ahead of me forging through the water like a torpedo…and I also knew I’d never be able to face her at the finish line if I quit.  So…sidestroke the entire way it was (it hurt to stretch out to crawl or backstroke)…and despite drifting into the middle of the swim course (twice!), I eventually made it out.  So glad to put my feet on dry land…and so discouraging that it was still pouring.

Bike (16.7mi).  Shaun was long gone from the transition area (I was certain she’d finished the swim in a teensy fraction of my swim time), so I had 16.7 miles to catch up with her.  It was raining.  It was windy.  The roads were wet, and presumably slippery.  All of the corners on the bike course are 90 degrees.  This was a wipeout waiting to happen.  I pulled off my wetsuit and pulled on my bike gear as fast as I could (which wasn’t very fast in the cold rain).  I opted for short sleeves instead of long (later regretted that when the cold rain pelted my arms so hard it left welts). Put my sunglasses on to keep the rain out of my eyes, and it made the dark skies look even darker.  Did I mention the weather was miserable?! I worked as hard as I could to bike as fast as I could, while trying to be cautious and smart while passing other bikers (yes, I passed a LOT of them – so thankful my lovely niece Johanna loaned me her pretty and FAST racing bike for the occasion!), but I still didn’t catch up with Shaun.  I did see one familiar face cheering along the first lap of the bike route (Thanks, Kiri!!), and on the second lap getting ready to enter the transition area, I found DeNae and Jennifer…and when DeNae said that Shaun was just ahead…I finally had a reason to keep pushing (I’d been asking myself why I was still doing this craziness for the last 16.7mi while I biked and tried to avoid pavement-skin contact).  As I rounded the last corner and entered the transition area, I could see, yell at, and wave to Shaun as she took off on the run leg.  Now I just had to get off my bike, get my helmet off (not an easy task with frozen and wet fingers), strip off the bike gloves (ummm…with the cold, wet fingers and gloves glued to my hands…not gonna happen…so I ran with my bike gloves on!) and catch up with her!  It would have helped if I’d run out the right spot…but for the second year in a row I started to run out of the transition are where I’d just biked in instead of the opposite end of the transition area where the run started (thanks for the redirection, Melyssa!).  Hopefully the third time’s the charm, and next year I’ll get it right.

Run. 3.5mi that I knew I could do.  No cold murky water.  No one would kick me.  No slippery pavement (well, at least not as dangerous as when on the bike). AND the rain was letting up!  However, turns out that when you bike at 110% for 16.7mi in the cold rain, your feet go numb.  I set out on the run feeling like I had cinder blocks attached to my ankles, and I quite literally had to watch my feet to make sure they were moving like my brain was telling them to, because I certainly couldn’t feel them!  That had never happened before, and it was the strangest feeling ever!  Shaun was about a block and a half ahead of me…and I wasn’t sure I had enough gas left in the tank to make up that distance between us.  DeNae and Jennifer cheered me on as I ran by (feeling very sluggish as I dragged my cement feet down the path) and told me to catch up with Shaun…”not sure I can” I gasped on my way by.  BUT…one the run course that I’d run what felt like a million times (often in the dark through the snow this winter on early morning runs…with Shaun and DeNae by my side), I could see the distance between Shaun and me decreasing.  Finally she was close enough for me to yell to and cheer on…and finally (about halfway into the run leg) I caught up with her so we could finish TOGETHER!  Now THIS was the way we were supposed to get through this silly triathlon!  When we turned the last corner on the the home stretch along the lake shore, we were reveling in a respectable finish in miserable conditions that underscored what badass mother runners we truly were!  Shaun kept telling me to push it and go ahead, but I was right where I wanted to be and we were step for step for the last half of the run, and crossed the finish line together.

Shortly after we crossed the finish line, the unofficial results were posted (you’ll have to actually click on the image to enlarge it to readable size):

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Check it out! Not only did we finish respectably, but in the top 3 in our age group!  Remember, I’m technically not 40 YET, but since my time was good for a top 3 finish in the 40-44yr age group (but not the 35-39yr age group), I’ll take it!  So far it’s the ONE good thing that I’ve determined comes with that milestone of 40.  I don’t know how I managed to finish before Shaun (we crossed together), and really, she deserved that second place spot.  We did take time for some finish line celebrations…but didn’t linger too long, as there was a HOT shower with my name on it, and I’m pretty sure I drained the entire hot water heater in an effort to warm up my half frozen body after that race!

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A few days after the race, the website was finally updated with the official chip results and splits (click on image to enlarge).

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Sometimes, things actually DO work out the way they’re supposed to.  Shaun rocked her first triathlon and placed SECOND in our age group.  I had a dismal swim, but redeemed myself on the bike and run legs for a respectable finish (and a pretty shiny plaque that will eventually make it onto the wall down by the treadmill).  My swim time was actually only a *little* longer this year than last year, and I crushed my bike and run times from last year!! I had a race experience that makes a good story.  And I did it.  I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have it I didn’t have the support of my BRFs there.  That’s the best part about training and racing, as far as I’m concerned.  This is not just about me.  I train, I run, and I race to stay sane and healthy, but also for the camaraderie of those on the course racing with me and those along the sidelines with their much needed, much appreciated yells of support and encouragement.

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This is so much bigger than little ol’ me.  I’m looking marathon training straight in the face starting next week.  Time to concentrate and focus again.  This time it’s even less about me.  This time I’m working with several Moms on the Run friends who are training for their first ever marathon, AND…this one’s for my Dad.  I’ve been reminded more than once in the last few weeks of the gaping hole in my heart that hasn’t even come close to healing over in the last five years.  There will be blood (hopefully not too much), sweat (that will come by the buckets at some points this summer, I know!), and tears (happy, sad, frustrated…there are many reasons for tears throughout marathon training), but I WILL train as best as I can to honor my Dad’s memory, and please, if you’re able…check out my ALZ-stars training and fundraising page.  Please consider a contribution…no matter how small or large – it all helps those affected by Alzheimer’s Disease.

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