With every passing minute it seemed like Spirit of Racine, my first solo tri since the accident, was becoming less and less of a good idea. It was 6:15 AM and raining, and I wasn't keen on biking through puddles. (I still have an aversion to using my brakes, much less in the wet.) I had been obsessed for the last 48 hours about the water temperatures of Lake Michigan, which at last notice was 59 degrees. The race website had cheerfully reminded us athletes to "Bring your wetsuit!", but at this point it didn't look like it would make much of a difference. A damp and heavy fog had settled just beyond the shoreline where the athletes follow the buoys on the swim course, and we began to seriously consider if I would be able to physically see well enough to stay on track.
We were tired from our 4 AM wake-up call (Erika didn't sleep at all last night) and save the $80 registration fee I was more than half-hoping a single bolt of lightning would've called off the race so we could go home and crawl back into bed.
After we spent some time sitting in the car and grumbling, we made our way back down to the beach to watch the start of the Women's Triathlon, an hour and a half before mine. The fog had lifted and the rain was temporarily holding off. The horn went off for them and we watched as they high-stepped into the water and immediately began screaming four-letter words. The women in the front bravely dove in and we walked along the shore as the leader swam her route parallel. I can't explain fully what it did for my optimism, my attitude to watch her swim. It meant it was possible. It meant it wasn't the end of the world. She emerged 12 minutes later to cheers and applause, and by her not being dead it meant that I could do it, too. I was starting to change my mind about today.
The next half-hour or so I spent setting up my own gear. The rain stayed away and so I started to picture actually getting through the race instead of driving home. With time to spare, we were back at the Starting Line so I could acclimate to the water.
Fifty-nine degrees is cold. I'm talking burning, biting cold. I'm talking "I've been standing in this sh** for 30 seconds and now I can't feel my own damn feet" cold. I stuck my face in only because I was warned that if you're not ready for it, it will take your breath away. I should mention at this time that on BT, the website I frequent for triathletes, I've read a variety of advice in the discussion forums on handling cold water. Wear two swim caps instead of one. Check. Pull your caps over your ears to minimize dizziness from inner ear hypothermia. Done. Pee in your wetsuit. What?!
It's true. In all seriousness it's been suggested to pee in your wetsuit to warm up the material in contact with your skin. The advantage is that given the material of a wetsuit, you can be surrounded by hundreds of people and start peeing and no one will know it. So partly out of necessity to pee, partly to feel the affects and partly just for fun, I peed in my wetsuit about five minutes before the race started. My lobster was on hand for the picture.
There's not much to say about the swim part of the race. Lake Michigan was surprisingly clear and clean, but with my poor vision (and double vision) I was entirely too focused on heading in the right direction. I felt strong in the water, but I was still getting passed. It became in my head the part I just had to get through. I checked my watch when I was finally able to stand up again half a mile later--best swim time ever. Who knew.
Six minutes later I was on the bike, my least favorite leg of the race, but I felt cruisin' and I was making good time. It started to dawn on me--maybe this isn't a race you just need to get through. This could actually be a good race. Let's see what happens.
Now I'm running on a course I heard was "flat and fast", so what the hell is this hill doing here? A girl I stuck with on the bike was walking, and I passed her on the hill, only to have her pass me again when she started running. Stupid luck. But the cloudy sky and 70 degree temps were perfect running weather, and the end was in sight.
I raised my hands in victory when I crossed the finish line, not just for getting myself back in the game after the summer's events but for a personal best time by three minutes. Near the end of the finish line chute a young volunteer handed me a plaque--Third Place. What the? In each age group (mine being 35-39, even though I'm not 35 yet--bitches) this race gives out awards to the top five, and the plaque said Third Place. I'd never even come close to an award before. My lobster flooded me with praise and pictures, we sat and ate a post-race PB&J sandwich, scooped up my now-soiled wetsuit, and headed for home.
On the race website I checked my official times this afternoon. It turns out I came in 4th place, not third. But I don't care. It was a good day, and I'm back in the game.