Yesterday 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!)