That One Hurt

independence-triathlonYesterday was my first triathlon of the season, the Independence Triathlon put on by Piranha Sports. I was particularly psyched to do well because I’d endured such a disastrous end to my 2013 season, when, you may recall, my sports bra broke and I had to wear a MiracleSuit during the Delaware Diamondman Triathlon this past September. That event ended with me undressing in a cornfield to make adjustments before a senior citizen jogged past me to the finish. Unpleasant, to say the least!

I’m happy to say that all my undergarments (and other equipment) functioned correctly yesterday–so much so that, for the first time in quite a few races, I was within easy striking distance of my younger sister. She’s a great swimmer and is always out of the water first, and I spend every triathlon playing catchup during the bike and run segments. Yesterday, I had nearly caught up to her about halfway through the 10-mile bicycle leg of the course. As I headed for the turn, pumping my legs to ride up the steep hills surrounding Pennsylvania’s Nockamixon State Park, I knew that (based on our previous race times) I had only to continue biking and then run at my usual pace. I didn’t even have to hit the afterburners. It was a mathematical certainty that I’d beat her.

I rode into the transition area, stripped off my bike gear and put on my running shoes, and tossed my biking helmet like a piece of trash as I zipped out to start the run. I couldn’t see my sister, but I knew she couldn’t be far ahead. I ran and ran along the lake trail, looking ahead around every turn, and I didn’t catch sight of her until there was about a mile to go. She was maybe a quarter-mile ahead of me, max. I can run a mile two or three minutes faster than she does, so with one mile to go, it was going to be an easy victory.

At the water station, I paused for a few seconds to take a drink, walking maybe 10 paces while swallowing. Then I started to run again–and my left calf wouldn’t cooperate. I walked a few more paces and then tried again to resume jogging, but my leg seized from my knee straight down to my ankle. It was a Charley horse, a vicious muscle spasm. It felt like a bear trap had clamped  through my skin.

Walking it off didn’t work, so I tried to jog through the pain. I’m guessing I looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, half-trudging and half-limping the last mile of the trail. Every eighth of a mile or so I’d try again to walk it off, but the pain only increased.

Meanwhile, my sister had launched into speeds she hasn’t run in several years, believing I was right on her tailwind when I was, in fact, near falling over altogether. By the time I crossed the finish line, she’d been done for a good five minutes. My left leg wouldn’t straighten at all, and every one of my toes had gone numb.

And so, I am once again the loser–though proud to have finished and “played through the pain.” Hey, I have to take my victories where I can get them in these races. Sometimes just finishing makes a person a real winner.

Yesterday’s race, by the numbers:

  • Quarter-mile swim, 10-mile bike, 2-mile run
  • Number of lake weeds I accidentally swallowed during the swim: 1 (yes, it was gross)
  • Number of tries it took me to mount the bicycle and clip into my shoes: 1 (a major victory on this uphill start; last year it took me three tries and I ended up bleeding)
  • Fastest speed I hit on the bike going downhill: 29 mph
  • Slowest speed I endured on the bike going uphill: 4.5 mph
  • My finish in the Athena division: 9 of 12, and within about 5 minutes of the two Athenas who immediately preceded me. If not for the Charley horse, I’d have been middle of the pack in my division.
  • My overall finish: 272 of 282. Even with the leg pain, I wasn’t dead last!

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