I set my alarm for 4:40 am but the sound of the pouring rain wakes me up instead. Not the ideal weather conditions I was hoping for. I plug in the coffee pot, grab a pb & j and a banana and pull on my swimsuit and a pair of shorts. It is time to go.
When we arrive at the site of the triathlon, it is still dark and raining. I wander through the maze of racks until I find the one for my number, 329. I hook up my bike and grab my sweatshirt, leaving everything else in the waterproof bag. Normally, people lay out everything they need for easy access but I wanted to keep my stuff dry as long as possible.
“Bodymarking!” a volunteer calls, holding a big fat Sharpie marker.“Here!” I say. He writes 329 down the sides of both arms and on both my thighs. Then he draws a 42 on the back of my calf to show my age.
Properly marked, I head over to the line to pick up my timing chip. It is incased in a waterproof shell that I secure to my ankle with Velcro.
Last stop, the bathroom. “If I ever do this again, I’m getting a two piece,” I think, as I peel off all my layers to pee.The transition area closes and by 6:45 am, 500 women are gathered by the edge of the pool, ready for our first event. We stand for The Star Spangled Banner and the race begins. Obviously, 500 women cannot jump into the pool and start swimming laps all together. So we are seeded by our estimated swim time. The faster swimmers start first and then every 15 seconds a new triathlete begins. By estimating my swim at about 12 minutes, I am one of the slower swimmers and will be the 329th person in the pool. I have a while to wait.
While we are waiting and watching, I see a woman I had met in the bathroom line. She had just learned how to swim and was really nervous about getting in the pool. “You’ve got this,” I told her. “If you panic, just put your feet down. It is a pool.” Now she is in the water and she is panicking. There are too many swimmers—feet kicking, water splashing. She stands up looking like she is going to cry. “You’ve got this,” I yell to her. She starts to move forward-not swimming but jogging in the pool. Other spectators begin to cheer.“You can do it!” Slowly she makes her way up and down the lanes. By the last lane we are all cheering for her and she is grinning so wide and proud. That’s the kind of triathlon this is—more supportive than competitive.
Finally it is my turn. “Ready, go.” I push off the wall and begin freestyle down my first lap. I swim up and down the first lane, then duck under the lane line and swim up and back again. This is called a snake swim. I swim 8 laps for a total of 400 meters. Done! I push my body out of the pool and run down to the transition area. Thankfully the pouring rain stopped but there is still a gentle mist falling.I try not to worry too much as I dry off, pull on my sneakers and shorts, and buckle my helmet. The bike is usually my easy leg but I have never biked in the rain. I walk my bike to the mounting line and hop on. I worry about my tire traction. I worry about skidding. I worry about visibility. Because I am being extra cautious, the first few miles are slower than normal. At some point, though, I forget to worry and start to enjoy it all—the water dripping off my helmet onto my nose, my burning muscles as I push up the hills, the spectators waving and cheering. I ride 11 miles and return to the transition area, rack my bike and switch my biking helmet for a baseball hat.
Now it is time for the run. If you have never felt the sensation of riding a bike and then trying to run, try it sometime. Your legs feel like bricks. After struggling with my hip for the last few months, I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to run. I started jogging, slow and easy, trying to loosen up the legs. “Slow and easy,” I kept telling myself. “Walk if you need to.” The rain was picking up again as I crossed the street to run around the lake. Slowly I made my way around. One mile, slow and easy. Two miles, slow and easy. I’m doing it! I’m almost there!
The third mile ends with a long incline. I lean into the hill, slow and easy. I look up to the top and there is my cheering section! They are decked out in pink, holding a poster and calling my name
This is it! I push up the hill and around the field to the finish. I start to sprint but the field is like a giant marsh from all the rain. I run as fast as I can to cross the finish line. I did it, despite the rain, despite the worry, despite my injury. I did it and I am glad.