I hadn't done a triathlon since March. I've been swimming, biking and running almost every day but I wouldn't go so far as to call it training. For some reason, I signed up for the Bonelli Olympic Distance Triathlon a few weeks ago. It was in a venue I had never raced before, and I wanted to brush off the cobwebs. As the weekend drew near, I began having second thoughts. I wasn't ready for this. Should I do it? I'm just getting over an injury. I rose one morning after having a very good dream of me racing and having a great time. I knew it was time to get back in the saddle.
We got there before the park even opened (thanks to Blake, the uber-planner). I've never had the luxury of VIP parking and picking my spot on the transition rack before. We were there so early, we had a hard time figuring out where to park. It's hard to know where the parking lot is when you're the first person there!
--setting up my transition
As soon as I checked in and set up my transition (and went to the bathroom 4x), I started to calm down. The pre-race butterflies fluttering in my stomach were like a long-time, forgotten friend. I was excited.
--Preparing for the swim
I headed down to the lake to warm up for the swim. The water was a balmy 78. Being a wimp, I was relieved not to have to deal with cold water. I jumped into the lake, and zipped around like a dolphin. I had forgotten how much like a rockstar your wetsuit makes you feel in the water.
--coming out of the water
The race kicked off with a woman singing an absolutely beautiful version of "The Star Spangled Banner". My wave was unusually small, a nice change of pace from previous races. As a matter of fact, the entire race was very low-key (albeit a little disorganized), but it was extremely beginner-friendly and welcoming.
The horn blew, and we charged into the water. I was nervous. I had done a 1500 yard time trial in the pool earlier that week. However, I hadn't been swimming much. And the last open water swim I had done was...June? Gulp. Surprisingly, I easily found a steady rhythm and glided through the water. I definitely wasn't speedy, but I was relaxed and comfortable. I was enjoying myself. What more could I want? Even though the buoys were far and few between (only 4 total), happily I nailed them. All of sudden, the swim finish appeared. Wow. That was relatively painless. Phew! What a relief. Most anxiety-induced part of the race over. Check and check.
--onto the bike
The bike was 3 loops around the park, offering some very scenic views of the neighboring hillsides and plenty of shade from overhanging oak trees. I had spent hours the days before cleaning Torch, putting on his race wheels and changing the tubular on the front (a flat from my last tri in March--about time to fix it!). I had double- and triple-checked the tires this morning. Torch was ready to go.
I gasped for air as I roared away on the bike, dripping with water and pulling slimy, green algae from my arms, acquired from the Puddingstone Reservoir. I was having a hard time catching my breath. Had I started to sprout gills on the swim? I had forgotten what a shock to the body the bike-to-swim transition can be. The pavement was rough, and I gritted my teeth as I bumped and jiggled around the potholes. Soon, it was smooth sailing, and I soared down a few descents, admiring the shady oaks lining the roads, with the large reservoir in the background. The sky was overcast and a light mist gently dusted my skin, refreshingly cooling me. Before I knew it, I had finished the first lap. The 8 miles had gone by in the blink of an eye. I caught sight of Blake snapping pictures, and cheering my name as I began my second lap. I smiled. I had forgotten how much positive energy is infused from a loving support crew.
During the 2nd lap, I started to find my rhythm. My legs felt like pistons, and my glutes were the engine. My breathing settled, and I began to feel strong and consistent. I was beginning to thoroughly enjoy myself. The course was so pretty. There was no one around me. I'm either doing really well...or really bad, I reasoned. Of course, I could just be somewhere in the middle. If it just weren't for those patches of rough pavement...
I made a right turn. My back wheel felt a bit funny. It must be the road. Thump, thump, thump. No, no, no, I pleaded. It has to be the road. It's so bumpy. I looked down at the back tire. It was difficult to tell. Was it...? I didn't even want to think the dreaded, four-letter "F" word. It wasn't. Couldn't be. No, please, no. I slowed to a stop. I'll just check it, and it will all be in my head. Then, I'll have peace of mind and can continue on my merry way. I slowed to a stop, and gave the back tire a tell-tale squeeze. It was flat. I yelled my own four-letter F word loudly in my head. Then, I got to work.
Okay, a flat. My first flat in a race. Everyone gets a flat in a race at some point. Guess it was my turn. I can deal with this. I flipped the bike over, taking care to remove the water bottle to prevent all its contents from spilling onto the ground. Unfortunately, I was riding on tubulars, which I have less experience changing. However, I had done it a few times. I had determination on my side. Plan A: Seal the hole with "Vittoria Pit Stop". The claim is that it fills the tire with a slimy foam that patches the hole as it reinflates it with CO2. A lot of my friends had sworn by it. I hoped they were right. I pried off the cap, stuck the nozzle in the valve, and breathed a sigh of relief as the cold hiss of compressed gas filled the tire. I removed the bottle and foam threw up all over me and the back wheel like champagne bubbles spewing from a newly corked bottle. I spun the wheel. And listened. A high-pitched hisssssss quickly replaced my relief with dread. I stared the puncture square in the eye. It just pffffffffted air on my cheek as if thumbing its nose and sticking its tongue at me. I rolled my eyes.
Okay, plan B. I removed the wheel, extracted the pocket knife I had stowed in my bag for just this ocassion and cut the tire off the wheel. That tire had been on that wheel for over a year. No way was I going to be able to successfully pry it off with my wimpy hands and a tire lever. I had prior experience with this part, and trying to salvage a punctured tubular that's over a year old just isn't worth it to me in a race. Nonetheless, getting the blade under the bottom of the tire and ripping the entire thing off was still a devil of a job. I thought of Norman Stadler on the lava fields in 2005: "Too much GLUE!!!" But although tossing the wheel into the rocks and bursting into tears was tempting, I focused on trying to get the new tubular onto the wheel. Except...it was a brand new tubular. And even though it had been prepped with glue and inflated at some point in the long ago time, I couldn't remember when that was (probably a year ago when I put this blated tire on). The fact was, it was a virgin tire and had never felt a wheel before. And it was the most doggone, stuborn piece of rubber I had ever encountered. Try as I might, I could not get the last few inches onto the wheel. I pulled and pulled. Pushed. I tried standing, sitting, using the ground and my knees for leverage, tire levers. Nothing. The only progress I could see were some bloody fingertips from trying to push the tire onto the wheel and bruises and cuts on my knees where the bladed spokes of the Zipp wheel had sliced into. Tire: 2; Rachel: 0. Thankfully, a very kind gentleman rode by at that moment and asked if I needed any help. I happily obliged. Within minutes, we showed that tire who was boss (although I have to admit, even he had trouble with that f*&#@n' thing).
He rode off, and I then popped my CO2 cartridge onto the valve to fill it up and ride off. I had lost 20 minutes but at least I would still be able to finish. Then, I realized the valve extender was completed effed up. I had only myself to blame. I hadn't put the daggone thingy into the right thingy. Stubbornly clinging to hope, I used both of my cartridges to fill the tire with air, following this procedure by holding my thumb tightly over the valve opening to prevent the mad hissing exodus of cold air right back out. I tried smothering the valve with GU, hoping in a last-ditch effort to gunk up the opening and seal it just long enough to ride back to transition, where I had back up clincher wheels ready to go. Maybe I could take off my bike shoes and run the last 2 miles back to transition barefoot with Torch by my side, replace the bike wheel with the training wheel, and then finish the last lap....
I shook my head. No, no, be reasonable now. It was time to surrender and live to fight another day. My CO2 cartridges empty and all resources exhausted, I gave up the McGyver tactics and sat down to wait for a ride. Thankfully, the SAG wagon drove by just then. I handed him my timing chip and happily accepted the ride back to transition.
Happily, the race organizers were very supportive in letting me continue on to do the run. I wouldn't get a finishing time but at least I could get in a good workout. Once back in transition, I put on my running shoes and headed out onto the run course. I was soooo glad I got to run. It was one of the most beautiful run courses I've ever experienced in a triathlon. The course wove in and around Bonelli Park and even took me off road on a few trails (my favorite!). I felt quick and strong (and well rested!) and flew easily along, my feet flying over the ground. I had been experiencing some recent flare-ups with my metarsalgia and after some rest, a visit to the podiatrist, and some forefoot gel pads, was itching to try out my feet on a 10k run. I was delighted. It was the first time that I had run that far pain-free since June. In addition, filled with adrenaline from other racers and cheering spectators, I pounded my feet down the course at race pace. Like a true test pilot, I was taking the good ole' feet through the paces. And my feet held up fine. More than fine, in fact. Much more than I can say for my fancy, schmancy race wheels!
--flying across the finish
--flying across the finish
I finished with a huge smile on my face. I may have DNF'ed but it was for mechanical reasons, and I still had a great time. I got in a fantastic workout and learned a ton about bike repair and prep for future races. In addition, after 8 years of racing, this was the first time I had ever flatted in a race. I would much rather flat in a small, fun race like this one than, say, an Ironman. Also, in 8 years of racing, this was my first, official DNF. Like the first scratch on a new car, it feels good to get it over with. I know now that it's not the end of the world. You do this long enough, and one of these days, it's going to happen. In every race, things happen that are beyond my control. Although I couldn't control the flat tire, I could control my reaction to the flat. Instead of losing it and sobbing in a pitiful heap on the side of the road (an alluring temptation), I chose to do the best I could with the situation. So what if I missed 10 miles of the bike? I finished the run and enjoyed a fully supported workout. I definitely feel like I got my money's worth.
(Note to self: I will definitely practice getting all intended spares on and off the wheel next time and test the valve extenders by inflating the tires through them after they're attached. Valuable tubular changing tips learned? Check!)