Triathlon

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!

The Miracle Was Not Nearly Enough

diamondman-2013Yesterday was my fifth annual showing at the Delaware Diamondman Triathlon. I was going to start this race recap at the end, by telling you about the man in the photograph at right—and how he passed me on the last quarter-mile of the run to punctuate my utterly gruesome performance—but instead I’m going to start a few hours before the race began, because it was then, just after 5 a.m., that I should have realized I was in for a long, painful day.

I was in the hotel, getting dressed before sun-up, and I pulled my sports bra out of my suitcase. Yes, I know, the people who make triathlon suits for women claim that they come with built-in bras, but anyone like me who competes in the Athena division and has breasts larger than those of a 14-year-old Taiwanese boy will tell you that a sports bra needs to be worn underneath. The built-in bras are thinner than panty liners, and they’re sewn between two sheets of Spandex. What’s that going to hold up? It’s like claiming that a thong is the equivalent of an adult diaper. To compensate, some Athenas wear two sports bras at once beneath their tri-suits. I go with just one, but as I put it on by moonlight in the wee hours of yesterday morning, I realized the gravity of my situation, both literally and figuratively. One of the straps had somehow torn halfway off the band. Even if I were Betsy Ross, I couldn’t have sewn that thing back together, and certainly not in the 15 minutes before I had to get into the car to check in at race registration.

The only other two options in my suitcase were a Victoria’s Secret bra with skinny straps and a lace back, and a Miraclesuit one-piece that I had planned to wear later that day while relaxing by my parents’ swimming pool. I went for the Miraclesuit, thinking it was the only option of the two that even had a chance of surviving the strain of a triathlon. I pulled it on beneath my tri-suit and hoped for the best while looking across the hotel room with suspicion at my sister, who, as many of you know, is my only true competition in these races. It’s not about the overall field. It’s about family bragging rights. Had she gotten into my suitcase and sabotaged my most important piece of personal gear? I honestly doubt it, but I plan to suggest it at every Thanksgiving from now through the year 2025.

Nobody but my sister and me, of course, knew about my Miraclesuit as I waded into the lake ahead of the start. And I did feel all right in my two-layer, hope-and-prayer getup as I dove in for the half-mile swim. Now, at this point, it’s important for you to know that the race organizers, Piranha Sports, changed the length of the triathlon this year. It used to be a 0.6-mile swim, a 16-mile bike, and a 2-mile run. This year, it became a half-mile swim, a nearly 20-mile bike, and a 3.1-mile (5K) run. While the distance of the swim got slightly shorter, the bike and run distances got significantly longer for amateurs. That’s why my sister and I were among the only amateurs competing yesterday at all (most of the people at our fitness level signed up for shorter races instead of attempting the longer overall distance). It is also why, as I swam my usual slow speed at the back of the pack of women, I found myself forgetting entirely about my funky outfit and focusing entirely on survival. I was swamped just past Turn Buoy One as the first wave of elite male swimmers came upon me from behind. They’d started a few minutes after the female wave, and they’d caught up to me and the other slower female swimmers inside of 10 minutes. I was doing my freestyle the same way I practice at the YMCA, just trying to breathe and swim in a straight line toward the next buoy, when 6-foot-4 guys who looked like a Marine Special Forces platoon started ramming into me with their arms and kicking me with their legs. It wasn’t intentional; I was like a piece of plankton swept up in a sea of breaching whales. There was nothing I could do but tread water and get out of their way for a minute or two, so I swam off to the side and waited for a lane to clear in the lake.

By the time I got out of the water, I was a full six minutes behind my sister. This is significant, but not entirely new; she’s a much faster swimmer than I am, and I spend every race’s bike and run segments trying to catch up and pass her. I got in and out of transition fast, dropping my goggles, slapping on my bike shoes, and beginning the mile-long ride out of the park and onto the road course. I was still huffing and puffing from the swim, and it was only then, after I’d been out of the water for a few minutes, that I realized I was having trouble getting a deep breath.

Now, for those of you who have never owned a Miraclesuit, their claim to fame is that they make you look a size smaller than you really are. This is achieved through the clever placement of fabric panels. They squeeze and tuck things like your abdomen section, and while they do hoist the boobs, they really aren’t meant to support them during strenuous activity. My Miraclesuit, at that point in yesterday’s race, was doing a great job of holding my abdomen and stomach areas in. I’m sure I looked quite svelte, and that my breasts looked nicely shaped underneath my tri-suit, as I gasped for oxygen and prayed for the brand-new suit to tear in half so that I could breathe correctly.

And yet, despite having the feeling that a boa constrictor was trying to kill me, I actually rode at one of my best-ever paces, an average of 14.3 mph. It wasn’t easy, though, and not just because of the constricted breathing. A bathing suit is not what you want in between your inner thighs and a hard, skinny racing bike seat. The seams around each of my legs might as well have been Fraggle-sized bulldozers digging flesh canyons. Chafing doesn’t even begin to describe it. When a hearse passed me on the road at mile 11.8, with the driver honking and waving, I seriously thought for a moment that the pain meant my maker was calling me home. And by mile 18 or so, I was standing more than I was sitting as I rode, trying to ease the throbbing. It wasn’t just my legs, either; the lack of upper-chest support was pulling my whole torso down if I sat and leaned forward toward the handlebars, in proper biking position. My neck and upper back ached from the weight of my chest pulling me toward the ground as I rode.

So I pedaled for as long as I could while standing up, and by the time I got back to transition to put on my sneakers for the run, I realized that I couldn’t feel my toes in either of my feet. (Fabulous!) I’m not sure if the bathing suit was pinching important leg nerves or if my feet just weren’t used to all of that pressure inside of hard-sided, clip-in bike shoes, but either way, as I set out on the 5K run, I was literally tripping over myself. And my boobs, well, they weren’t feeling so great, either. Between the bouncing and the shifting, I might as well have been jogging with mayonnaise-slathered water balloons inside of my shirt.

I had to stop and walk a few times as I trudged through the wooded trails and fields of the park, and a few times, when I hope nobody was looking, I just unzipped my whole getup and rearranged things. The Miraclesuit, for some reason, kept pulling everything to the left. My right boob, at one point, was in the middle of my torso. (How is that even possible?) To the spectators, it probably looked like I had a unibrow for a chest.

The reality of this ridiculousness is that I ended up being a ton of time slower on the run than my training times. I had no way of knowing it out on the course, but I’d made up a huge amount of ground on my sister during the bike, and I was only two minutes behind her going into the run. I should have overtaken her and won the race with ease, but instead, she crossed the finish line a full six minutes ahead of me. I simply spent far too much time, well, fondling myself back into position while crouching in cornfields.

And truth be told, I was so frustrated and mentally broken by the last quarter-mile that I was barely even trying anymore. That’s when the man in the photograph above came up from behind and overtook me, sprinting for the end. The last thing I saw before I trudged across the finish line was his 59-year-old tuches sashaying past me in the woods and vanishing into the distance ahead. His red, skort-like getup was hilarious-looking, but hey, it was at least holding all of his important parts in place.

At the end of the day, I finished third from last in the whole event this year. No. 152 out of 154. I was No. 5 among the six women in my Athena division, and my sister was No. 4, beating me by just one position overall at No. 151.

It was one of my worst finishes ever—but even still, I survived in a field of far superior competitors and made it to the finish line of the longest distance I’ve ever attempted. That counts for something.

The day also taught me an important life lesson that I think all women in my over-40 age range will appreciate: Sometimes, even when they’re well past their prime, your boobs can still make all the difference.

Yesterday’s race, by the numbers:

Total distance: half-mile swim, 19.5-mile bike, 3.1-mile run (by far my longest race ever)

My rank among the 154 swimmers: 146 (I actually shouted, “I’m not dead last!” as I emerged from the lake)

My rank among the 154 bikers: 150 (even though I had one of my personal-best bike speeds)

My rank among the 154 runners: 152 (if you can even call what I did “running”)

Retail price of my Miraclesuit: $150 (the cost of three good sports bras that I will forever keep in the trunk of my car as backups for future triathlons)

Number of times I’ve told myself that I’m a winner just for surviving this particular race: at least a dozen (now that I can breathe again and at least mutter to myself)

Number of days until I have another chance to reclaim the family title with proper supportive gear: 364 (and I’m more motivated than ever to win in 2014!)

A Small Backslide Caused (in Part) by Two Total Slide Offs

independence-triathlonYesterday was my first triathlon of this season, the Independence Triathlon sponsored by Piranha Sports. I’ll admit up front that I wasn’t as ready as I like to be for this annual event. While my swimming and running were up to par, I just hadn’t trained enough this spring on my bicycle. I knew going into yesterday’s race that the big hills at Nockamixon State Park in Pennsylvania were going to be a serious challenge for my quads and calf muscles.

The good news is that I swam the quarter-mile course faster than last year (9:16 last year vs. 8:37 yesterday). The bad news is that I biked the 10-mile course a full three minutes slower (48:04 last year vs. 51:15 yesterday). There is good news in that last set of numbers, though—because I spent at least three or four minutes pulled off to the side of the road addressing a finicky bike chain. My gears were for some reason jamming up yesterday, and not once, but twice the chain came entirely off the bike. I had to dismount and get the thing back on two times in a row, which left me covered in black grease and at a complete loss of momentum. And both times that I fixed the chain, I then had to wait for an opening in the field to re-mount and continue the race.

Excuses, excuses, I know, but the reality is that my time difference on the bike from last year is most likely a result of those mechanical breakdowns. Where I have no excuse, though, is on the two-mile run, which took me two full minutes longer (24:46 last year vs. 26:33 yesterday). On that leg of the race, I have nothing to blame but myself. My lack of training on the bike left my legs so spent that I had to walk a few paces along the run course to catch my breath. I simply ran out of steam on the muggy, 84-degree morning.

That training matters is, of course, a good lesson to re-learn at the start of the season. And I still have three more months to train before the big annual showdown with my sister at the Delaware Diamondman Triathlon this September. (But first, a trip to the local bike shop…)

Yesterday’s race, by the numbers:

  • Overall place: 421 out of 441
  • Place in my division, Athena: 11 out of 18 (way better than last year, when I was next to last in my division)
  • Number of times I kicked my bicycle: 1
  • Number of times I made other bikers laugh by saying “Thank God” out loud as I cleared the top of a hill that might as well have been Mount Everest: 3
  • Top speed on my bike: No idea, since along with my bike chain, my odometer crapped out on me, too
  • Number of 61-year-old women who blew past me on the run: 1 (she rocks!)
  • Number of Advil taken since yesterday afternoon: 8
  • Number of celebratory servings I enjoyed yesterday of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie FroYo: 2

I Got Faster Again–but So did Everybody Else

Yesterday was my annual attempt to complete the Delaware Diamondman Triathlon hosted by Piranha Sports. It’s the most challenging triathlon that I do every year, with a 0.6-mile swim, a 16-mile bike, and a 2-mile run.  Last year at the Diamondman, I finally managed to beat my younger sister for the first time ever. This year was the rematch, and we both wanted to win—badly.

I went into the morning absolutely spent. My new book “Little Boy Blue” came out about a month ago, and it has been far more successful than I ever imagined. This weekend alone I had a book signing on Friday night, an appearance on CNN in New York City on Saturday morning, and another book signing near Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon. I learned around 6 o’clock Saturday night that I had the No. 1 dog book in the country. The triathlon started about 12 hours later, and I was so exhausted and excited that I hardly slept a wink the night before stepping into my sneakers.

But my adrenaline was pumping as we started the race. Usually in these events, I am one of the slower swimmers and my sister is one of the fastest. She always gets out of the water with a few minutes’ lead, and then I try to catch up to her on the bike and pass her on the run. This year, she had one of her best swim times ever, and she actually caught up to quite a few of the men who started swimming before us with a five-minute head start. I, on the other hand, had what seemed like my worst swim ever. Though I felt fine in the water, I was the next-to-last person out of the pond, out of everybody in the whole triathlon. The lifeguards on kayaks were right behind me, just in case I pooped out. That’s never happened to me before, and I figured I just was so tired that I wasn’t competing at my normal pace even though I felt fine.

Then I got on the bike, and there was nobody around me at all. I felt like everyone else had such a huge head start from the swim that I’d never catch up. I also couldn’t concentrate, because as I was out there on the roads alone on a beautiful, sunny morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about “Little Boy Blue” making it to No. 1 the night before. I actually caught myself smiling and laughing a few times when I should have been pumping my legs and increasing my speed. Again, I figured, who cares? I felt awesome and I just kept going. I pretty much looked like Pee Wee Herman out there singing, “La la la la la…”

Around mile 10 on the bike, I saw my sister walking along the side of the road. I slowed down to make sure she was okay, and she told me that her front tire had gone flat, been fixed, and gone flat again. She was fine, but incredibly upset—first because she wouldn’t be able to finish the race, and second because she’d had such a huge lead coming out of the water that she managed to get a flat, fix it, and then walk a half-mile with another flat before I even caught up to her. She was crushing me out there and most certainly would have won our rematch.

I continued at her urging and finished the race, but remained one of the stragglers at the end. When all was said and done, I finished dead last in my division, and in 138th place out of all 143 competitors. When I logged onto the race website this morning, I expected to see a horrific overall time and just be proud that I’d gotten to the finish line.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that I was actually faster than last year—by a whole minute and a half. It turned out to be one of my best finishes ever in this race, and a massive improvement on my swim time in particular. I had worse times than last year on the bike and the run, but my swim that looked so sickly in person was actually superb. Somehow the entire field of competitors had just gotten wildly better in the face of my incremental progress. So while I was indeed faster than last year, I also somehow got slower than just about everybody else who was out there competing yesterday.

I’ll take that. And I’m calling it a win—including at Thanksgiving dinner while sitting across from my sister later this year.

 

Yesterday’s race by the numbers:

Overall time: 2:13:29, improving on last year’s 2:14:57

Time it took me to complete the 0.6-mile swim: 32:12, a huge improvement over last year’s 37:39

Number of times I saw the same guy as last year in nothing but a Captain America Speedo: 2

My overall finish: Dead-last place among Athenas in my division, and No. 138 out of 143 competitors overall

Number of times my sister has cussed about failing to finish because she would’ve beaten me: At least seven

Number of days until we can go out and try for a rematch again: 364

“Time of Death: 11:52 a.m.”

Yesterday was the Tour de Long Valley, an annual bike ride for charity in my New Jersey hometown. The organizers offered three courses: a 60-miler, a 40-miler, and a 20-miler. My sister and I registered for the 20-miler, which was advertised as “a nice scenic route with a few hills.” We figured we could handle that, since we do sprint-distance triathlons with 16-mile courses plus swimming and running. No, we don’t usually ride on hills, but it was just a few according to the course description. And 20 miles is only 4 miles more than we usually ride. How hard could it be?

Our first inkling that we were in trouble came around mile 5. The entire first 5 miles of the course was hills. Not go-up-a-hill-and-then-ride-the-flat-terrain-while-you-catch-your-breath-type hills, but instead constant, rolling hills where you are either ascending at work-those-calves angles or descending at a coasting speed upwards of 30 miles per hour.

Our brains, at that point, were still capable of logic and reason. We figured that maybe the organizers mapped this part of the course in the beginning so that we’d get it out of the way and could ride a little easier for the remaining 15 miles.

This thinking was as optimistic as our belief that our thighs would be a consistency other than hardened spackle at the end of the day.

The course next became a psychological torture test of small hills followed by medium hills followed by hills so steep that we, along with a good number of other riders, were walking our bicycles up to the summits. The first time I had to dismount and walk—the first time that’s ever happened to me in an event—I felt a little silly and thought, “It’s okay, it’s just one hill.” By the fifth or sixth time I was walking in an uphill parade of exhausted participants, I realized that perhaps the organizers were sadistic lunatics.

We did have a chance to back out around mile 12.5, when the course looped us past the parking lot and our car, but we soldiered on, not wanting to be quitters. I’m pretty sure that ludicrous decision is why it took me 15 minutes to straighten my knees and stand upright this morning. Well, that plus the fact that the organizers mapped out a course that ended with one of the steepest climbs I’ve ever seen. The participants pushing their fancy race bikes up that monster looked like a scene out of the Trail of Tears. I made it maybe a tenth of the way up before conceding to gravity. I heard my sister give in right behind me, framing the moment in the vernacular she uses at work in the emergency room. “That’s it,” she called out for all to hear. “Time of death: 11:52 a.m.”

The finish line was just a few hundred yards from the top of that last hill, and everyone including me climbed back onto their bicycles to ride triumphantly toward the waiting crowd of cheering friends and family. Hey—we did technically finish the course. Nobody who stood around all morning eating free bagels had to know how much limping was involved out there.

My sister and I cruised across the finish line at about the same time. For the previous 10 miles or so, she’d been randomly shouting things like, “You are no longer my sister!” and blaming me for registering us for this event in the first place. “Never again!” she’d cried out around mile 15.5. And yet I watched her cruise across the finish line and past the young kid in a volunteer T-shirt holding out a medal for her to wear around her neck. Her eyes lit up like Carrie Bradshaw’s at a Tiffany sale.

“This is a really nice medal,” she said. “Maybe we should do this again next year.”

6:06 Faster Than Last Year

Yesterday was my first triathlon of the 2012 season, the Independence Triathlon organized by Piranha Sports. I am thrilled that I managed to complete the course not just 6:06 faster than last year, but also two minutes faster than my previously best time from 2010. That makes yesterday’s finish my fastest-ever on this particular course, and my fastest-ever in a sprint-distance triathlon.

It was, however, a strange day. For starters, it was the first triathlon I competed in alone. I usually compete with my sister, but she couldn’t make it this year, so I had nobody to judge myself against out there on the course. It was really just me against my own time from last year, and anyone with a sibling can understand that beating my previous time isn’t nearly as big of a motivator as beating my little sister.

I also had a dickens of a time getting started on the bicycle course this year. The start position at this particular triathlon is on a serious incline, one that gives plenty of riders trouble both coming and going. My first year at this triathlon, it took me four tries to get started. This year, it took me three tries to successfully mount the bike and go, including one try that knocked my chain loose. I guess that’s better than wiping out at the end on that same incline, as I saw one competitor do. I was frustrated, but at least I didn’t end up scraped or bruised.

Also weird is that while I improved substantially this year overall (6 minutes is a lifetime in a triathlon), I ended up placing farther back in the overall pack and in my division than I did with a slower time last year. I guess the rest of the field has been out there working to improve, too. No rest for the weary!

Yesterday’s race by the numbers:

1/4-mile swim, 10-mile bike, 2-mile run

My overall time: 1:25: 47

My overall finish: 287 out of 299

My finish among Athenas: 7 out of 8

Fastest speed I reached on my bicycle going down the big hills: 29 mph

Slowest speed I endured on my bicycle going up those same big hills: 4.5 mph

Number of times my feet felt numb: 1, during the first mile of the run (I think my bike shoes were too tight in the previous stretch)

Number of 26-year-olds whom I beat: 1, which feels great since I just turned 40

Number of weeks until the next event: 7. Tour de Long Valley 20-mile bike ride, here I come!

Tour de Long Valley

I’ve just signed up for my longest bicycling event to date: the 20-mile Tour de Long Valley, to be held this June in my hometown of Long Valley, New Jersey.

The Tour de Long Valley is a fund-raising event for local First Aid members, PBA members, and bicycle-safety programs. I’m hoping it will help me get into top biking condition for the Delaware Diamondman Triathlon, which I’m competing in this September. That triathlon has a 16-mile bicycle course, so this 20-mile ride should be a great training motivation for me.

Right now, I’m completing my training for the Independence Triathlon in Pennsylvania. It’s a week from Saturday, the first of this year’s season—and the first triathlon that I’ll be attempting since I turned 40. I figure they should cut me at least a 30-second break for that!