I looked out upon the glassy, calm lake to see the sun reflecting brightly upon the yellow buoys marking my conquest for this morning. It was a beautiful morning for a race, but my nerves were firing into overdrive and I could barely stand still long enough to enjoy the scenery or pull up my wetsuit. Out of the corner of my eye I could see hundreds of seal-like people milling around the starting line; some warming up, some dancing around, some looking just as bouncy and jittery as I felt. I stood there on the other side of the chaos for just a few minutes longer pulling my wetsuit tight to my neck and ensuring that the sausage casing was wrapped around my body perfectly. Once I was satisfied and no longer felt the need to poke and pull on my second skin, I took a few deep breaths and plunged into the cool yet welcoming water to flap around. Satisfied that everything felt right I sauntered over towards the crowd where the pulsating rhythms of everyone’s nerves, adrenaline, terror and excitement pulled me in. The amazing thing about all the people you race with are the stories. Everyone has their own reason for being here; their own story, and their own failures and triumphs. For many people it will be their first race, and for others it will be just one of many. Yet most of us all have the same feelings that cycle through our minds and bodies just minutes before the starting horn blares.
In the sea of people, I managed to find my training partners and I couldn’t have felt more relieved yet overcome with emotion. Like everyone else we all have our own stories, and over the past six months we’ve been through it all together. For Vince, this would be his first half iron race; for me my longest (1-54-10); and for Yvonne, Mel, Mo, Tracy, Karen, and Pat, this was one of many they have done before, but it would still be new to them in their own ways, with different challenges and different goals.
Like a parade of seals we congregated around, posing for last minute photo ops, hugging, and talking swim position strategy before sauntering to our starting positions. Slowly we stopped talking and everyone focused on their own plan and absorbed themselves in their own minds. We had come to the starting line as a team, but we would now rely on ourselves to get to the finish line.
As we counted down the final seconds, I glanced around one more time to see the familiar faces beside me before the horn blared and like a blur we all meshed into a heap of flailing arms, thrashing legs and bobbing heads churning up the water. Hands punched me in the head, feet flicked at my face, and arms slapped against my back. I just boogied along, focused on getting around the buoys and back to the beach as fast I could all the while doing what I always do during the swim, repeat the wise words of Dory the fish, “just keep swimming , just keep swimming…”
As I rounded the second buoy I began to sight the beach and meshed in with the crowd to charge through the home stretch. It wasn’t long after that when my hands began to touch sand, and I took a few last strokes before clambering to my feet and flip flopping up along the beach. Then it was along the road where I would run another 500 metres to transition all the while pulling down my wetsuit and tearing off my cap and goggles. By the time I reached transition, I was exhausted and breathing like an exasperated woman in labour. With only one sport down, I figured now would be a good time to bring the heart rate down just enough so I could peel my wetsuit over my ankles, slap on my helmet and grab Red Lightning. Once I settled into my pace on the bike and shot myself pull of carbs and fluids, I found my rhythm and hunkered down for the 54 kilometre ride.
I felt strong. With all the miles and hill climbing Maurice tested us on during training, I knew I was well prepared. As I ticked off the kilometres, slowly the leaders from my training group, finished their 2 kilometre swim and began to catch me on the bike. They whizzed by, and I could barely muster any words, so I just dropped my head and churned my bulky legs a little bit harder, knowing I would never catch them, but at least I could chase them.
As I rounded the final corner and headed into my final transition I hopped off my bike, lost a shoe in the process, and just kept going. With Red Lightning racked back up, I remembered a last minute transition tip from Yvonne to slip on my shoes, grab my gels, race belt and hat, and get out of there.
The run course was empty and lonely. The half iron competitors were still on the bike, and my competition was far enough out of sight ahead or behind me. As I ran up past the iconic voice of Steve King, I could hear him rattle off my swim, bike and transition times, and about my journey of raising money for MS. It was the inspiration I needed to find a jump in my step as I moved my clunky legs a little bit faster. After turning down an empty neighboured road I found myself completely isolated and within half way of my run, I got lost. There was no clear markings and somehow I found myself down a trail that eventually seemed not so much a part of the course. I was confused and frustrated, firstly at myself for not knowing the route better but secondly at the race organizers for not clearly marking the course. It wasn’t long before I reconnected with a path that got me back on the right trail, but nonetheless I’m almost positive I took a small detour. It was enough to throw off my entire race, and I was angry for the entire second half of my run. My watch didn’t start properly, so I had no idea what my pace was or even how far I detoured. When I crossed the finish line, I felt more rattled by my deviance that I couldn’t even celebrate my achievement. I placed second female overall, but I will never know how far off my time was from my little escapade off the beaten path. It was almost enough to bring me to tears, then I remembered the story of when my dad once got lost on a triathlon run course, and I laughed in spite of myself. I took a few minutes to gather my emotions before running over to transition where I saw Yvonne coming off the bike, and I forgot everything about the past three hours.
One by one each of my training partners flew in on their bikes, and shot off on their run. Seeing them compete was all I needed to re-focus my energy and celebrate their successes. For the next two hours, I stood at the turnaround point of the run course and watched them all absolutely dominate this race. My energy was alive again, and I was overcome with pride. Each of them had a phenomenal showing, or as coach puts it, “excellent execution.” At the finish line as they all trickled in, we hugged and shared our triumphs, back together again just as before the race began. Each one faced their own battles and endured their own stories, but we came back together as a team and our experiences were celebrated as one.
If you ask me about my race weekend in Oliver, chances are I’ll tell you all about my amazing training partners, and what they accomplished that day. Truth be told, I don’t really even remember much about my race, only that I got to finish with some of the most amazing athletes and people I have come to know. I learned that sometimes it’s ok to let go of the competition and the expectation that things will be perfect on race day. I also learned celebrating someone else’s success is just as rewarding as your own, if not, better.
Thanks to Katrina for the amazing photos!