So here it is! This post is loooong. Get a drink first. Maybe get two. If you can’t be bothered reading: I survived it. If you want to know the juicy details, well read on…
I decided that the day before race day I would just stay home and act normally, cleaning the house and mowing the lawn. This didn’t get off to a great start, because it was frankly very weird to wake up without an alarm clock going off – I simply woke up naturally and went and sat on the lounge chair with a book. Yes, an actual reading book that you read when you have a thing called leisure time. The dog looked at me as though the apocalypse was probably coming, and went to hide under the bed.
She was kind-of right.
From my triathlon research days (they seem so long ago now!) I had heard of the term The Taper – used to refer to the rest period prior to a big race – so I knew people speak of it with a mixture of hatred and fear, but I thought they were all triathletised fools who couldn’t appreciate a well-earned rest when they finally got one.
Until yesterday, when I suffered my very own Taper Day fear and hatred (note that The Official Taper for a proper triathlon is around a week, not a day! How will I cope?) and I practically had to tie myself to the chair to prevent myself from rushing out the door for a quick run to the pool, where I thought I might try a 4km swim and then run back home to do a 70km bike ride.
Because what the hell was I thinking, that I could take a day off from training when I was about to do the ultimate training the very next day?! It seemed so illogical!
The panic that bubbled just under the surface of my skin was quite frightening. I hadn’t done enough training. The training I had done was not good enough. I was too heavy to reach maximum speed on the run – I needed to lose 37kg within the next 3 hours. I hadn’t practiced clipping in and out enough lately. I needed to check my goggles and cap still worked.
I was on the brink of a breakdown. So at 10am I went shopping.
This is a trick that I learned from my mum but neglected to thank her for previously; if in doubt, go shopping.
I went first to The Athlete’s Foot, to get new elastic laces. I’d decided that the time saved in Transition would be worth it, and I had also learned (thank you Google) that the trick to successfully using such laces is to insert them into the shoe whilst your feet are in still inside. I hadn’t employed this tactic when I first tried elastic laces, so I convinced myself that this was the reason I had previously found them so uncomfortable.
While I was at the shops, I decided to purchase an energy gel. You are not supposed to try new things on race day, but for some reason I realised too late that I would prefer to be over-energised and have a calorie surplus, than risk getting a bit fatigued half-way through the race. This decision was largely fuelled by my continuing cold/sore throat/cough thing, which I felt would knock off about 10% of my triathlon ability. I hoped that a calorie surplus would make up some of that 10%, basically.
Then I came home from shopping and got online and bought myself a new dress. As you do. I have assured Shane that this was an essential part of my triathlon race preparation, and he should expect the same for Straddie and Noosa.
For the rest of the day I felt simply nervous and unsure. Towards the late afternoon I started to focus on hydration, getting my fluids up. I also became extremely short tempered, which Shane especially appreciated as he attempted to demonstrate how I would mount and un-mount my bike from the new rack on the car. He eventually threw his arms up in the air and conceded that he would have to come with me to help.
I managed to eat enough food (and keep it down) to feel confident I had carb-loaded sufficiently.
The morning-of: I woke up this morning at 2.30am. Which was not the plan. I attempted to get back to sleep but alas I started sneezing and coughing, at which point my brain turned on and I lay in bed listening to my heart trying to escape my chest… and accepted that sleep and I would not meet again for another 19 hours.
So I got up and started writing this blog post, checked Instagram and sipped on water until it was time to eat. At 4.15, the gun in my head went off and it was All Systems Go.
I felt energised, I felt pumped, I felt powerful, I even felt semi-confident. I ate my breakfast first, then went to the bathroom to plait my hair. As I pulled the brush through my tangled web of chlorinated straw, I realised my knees were knocking together. I have seen this in cartoons but I didn’t realise it was based on an actual thing, until there I was, looking in the bathroom mirror at my knees trying to knock each other out.
I didn’t want to get my tri suit on until the last minute, to allow for as many nervous toilet stops as possible before leaving. So my next job was to clean my teeth, then I went outside to pump my bike tyres up. One less thing to do at the race precinct – check.
I checked all my bags, filled my bottles with fresh water, and finally it was time to put on my suit. It still fit me, thank goodness.
Pre-race: Grandpa and Shane sat in the front of the car, and I hid in the back and tried to avoid all small talk for the duration of the journey. At that time in the morning and with Shane driving like a boy-racer, it didn’t take long to get there and we were soon parking in a little spot we were directed towards, facing straight out to the very stretch of ocean I was about to jump in. I averted my gaze.
I effectively told Grandpa and Shane that I no longer required their services, but in a less nice way, and left them to watch out for sharks while I went and collected my race pack. The queue wasn’t too long and everything was handled quite efficiently – a nice lady wrote my number on my arm in jumbo black marker which felt so thrilling, and I trundled off to park my bike in transition.
I’d read up on transition and how to pick a good spot, but as I entered the maze it looked to me that there seemed to be numbers on all the bike racks, possibly matching up to each person’s race number.
Lucky for me I am so brainy because this was indeed the case. I asked a lady who was busy unpacking her gear (in what seemed to be a terrible spot to choose) and she confirmed that yes, the spot had been forced upon her due to her race number.
I checked what was written on my arm, then scrambled to unwrap my packet with numbers inside. Indeed – 471. Right at the end. The wrong end. I would actually have to enter transition, then run in the opposite direction to 99% of the other competitors, collect my bike/run gear and then hike to the absolute furthest end of the area to leave.
But I was just excited to finally set up my transition. I plonked my bike on the rack, with the saddle hitched up so that the bike was ready to unhook and run straight off with. No reversing for this little triathlete! Then I spread my towel neatly next to the bike wheels, placing all my shoes, socks, helmet, hat, water bottle, sunnies etc on top. It looked beautiful and I wish I remembered to take a picture, but I didn’t.
After analysing the setup for a few minutes and visualising the exact process I wanted to use, I was ready to leave my goodies to fend for themselves in the maze of other gear. There were some absolutely amazing and stunning bikes in those lines – and there were also many, many mountain bikes. Suckers! I am thinking of getting a job selling bikes on behalf of 99 Bikes. Because all you’d need to do is stand at the end of a triathlon course and hand everyone who finished on a mountain bike a leaflet with a great price on, and you’d meet your sales quota within the hour.
If you own 99 Bikes, contact me. You need me.
I popped to the loo before heading back to find Shane and Grandpa. Do you care? I don’t care that you don’t care! The toilet I went in was painted like the tardis from Dr Who! For a minute I thought it might suck me away and rescue me from the impending doom. But then I realised I didn’t want to be rescued, I was excited. It was time.
My mum and Blob (my step-dad) arrived almost as soon as I found Grandpa and Shane, so nearly the whole clan was there by 6.20am. Mum attempted to crash her car into one of my competitors’ cars, which was a lovely gesture. That’s the kind of mother she is – ready to risk her own life (well, maybe just her front driver’s side guard) to take out anyone that is a threat to me.
We then stood around for a minute and I tried hard not to put my bossy pants on… but they just fit so nicely, so before they knew what was going on I was marching my family up to the race precinct to take in the pumping music, fresh coffee smells and the melodic voice of our race commentator. Then, just as our friends turned up to also help cheer me on I promptly abandoned them all and made my way down to the seafront to listen to the race briefing.
‘Race briefing’ is one of the biggest over-sells I have ever heard. And I am a salesperson, I hear a lot. Today’s race briefing went something like this:
We want you all to stay safe today so keep to the left on the road when cycling! Make sure you wear your race number for the bike and run portions. No drafting! Drafting will result in a 3 minute penalty. And have fun out there guys!
Which did absolutely nothing to calm my nerves. Nothing at all. I did not feel briefed. I felt lost. I paddled out to the water, ducked my head under, swam a few strokes, then returned to the shore. My mum appeared and snapped a photo of me, presumably looking like a rabbit in headlights.
The first wave was late to set off, which meant the next two were as well. I was in wave 4, and as I stood there trying to be patient and continue to breathe, I felt every emotion and every tear suddenly well up inside me and try to burst out.
I looked up at the sky and I knew I wasn’t trying to cry because I was scared. I was trying to cry because it meant so much to stand there, on that sand, surrounded by friends and family, ready to do something scary. The freedom it signified, both physically and mentally, took my breath away for a few moments and I barely kept my composure.
It dawned on me that I’d actually made it, it was really happening and I felt very grateful.
OK here we go. The race: I stood at the left edge of the pack as we milled around on the beach, because I have a tendency to swim off-course and judging from the current it seemed I would be pushed naturally to the right. So by standing to the left, even if I swam to the right and was pushed by the current, I shouldn’t find myself back at shore too soon. If I swam left, the current should push me straight. Geddit? Well it made sense to me at the time.
The buzzer sounded. Time to go.
I ran into the waves, like Grimsey had taught me, and did a couple of dolphin dives before I realised my goggles were still on my forehead, not on my eyes. I took approximately 0.23 seconds to hurriedly push them over my eye sockets, but in mum’s video of the start you can clearly see that this sets me back behind the leaders of the pack quite significantly. Rookie mistake!
There was nothing to do but swim. I pulled hard and fast, and swam over about three people who got in my way. Rounding the first buoy, it was swimmer gridlock as everybody tried to swim in the exact same spot (right next to the buoy – the shortest distance around it) and found that actually, none of us could. We all had to fumble around and breaststroke, until we were past the buoy and clear. Then I ducked my head under and got serious.
I didn’t panic, I didn’t stop. I looked up to sight every 4 or 5 strokes – probably too often but I was nervous about swimming off-course, because with such a short swim (300m) I could have quite easily been swimming 350m after just one wrong turn, which would have put me at least 1/6th behind the others.
The swim didn’t feel great to me, but since chatting to my family after the finish line I have been advised I overtook at least 15 people in the swim. So maybe it wasn’t that bad. I freestyled the whole thing, which is a real achievement for me. I reached the shore and was able to run to transition (which made me happy) and as I came around the corner from the beach, Shane was there with our friends, Brad and Dione, and I wanted to high-five and hug them all. I was out of the water – I’d done the worst part.
I found my bike in transition quite easily, thankfully. The helmet went on first as per the rules, then I jammed my sunnies onto my face, slipped my socks onto my wet feet and squished my feet into my cycling shoes. I didn’t need the towel. That was it, I was off and running.
Little did I realise it, but the bike leg seems to have become my strong suit in the game of triathlon. I overtook one person as I ran with my bike to the mount line, then overtook two more at the mount line itself as they struggled to get clipped in. This trend continued, as I overtook people all the way around the course.
Only one person overtook me, a man on his TT bike, so that was OK. Everyone else may have been in the wrong gear or something, but I could have bent down and kissed my bike because I felt so absolutely comfortable on her and we just flew with the wind. At a couple of points we flew against the wind, and yet we kept flying. I don’t think I went under 30km/hr the entire way around, which is fast for someone who thought that the bike portion would be the bit where she’d take it easy, ready to make up the time in the run.
I sucked down some of the energy gel at about the 6km mark, but unfortunately ended up getting most of it over my right hand and down my chin, which soon turned into a sticky mess. The bit I got into my gob tasted nice though and I will definitely give them another chance in future training sessions.
Eventually my bike computer signaled that we’d hit the 9km mark and I let my legs spin a little to get the blood pumping, although then I spotted one more lady that I thought might be in my age group, so I had to just finish by overtaking her. Finally I’d reached the end so I unclipped, with my movements fully commentated by the race announcer. My stepdad got a great video of it, as the loud-speakers boomed out a narration of my dismount, exclaiming that I clearly had the mark of experience, the way I unclipped and leaned my bike perfectly.
The mark of experience, in my first race. Was it sarcasm? I do not know.
Next came the run, which started off fine. Note: started off. My shoes went on, cap went on, managed half a mouthful of water and off I went, waving to my support crew for photos as I left.
Then about 600 metres in I started groaning involuntarily and felt that awful feeling just before you’re going to vomit, when your mouth fills with saliva.
I slowed to a walk, still groaning, bent over and ‘projected’ into the rockery on the side of the path. A few people asked if I was alright, which I wasn’t, but what could I say?
‘Yes, I’m fine.’ I said.
I walked on, groaning and trying to rip my skin away from my ribs where I had immediately developed stitch after my little episode.
The race suddenly got a little dark for me at that point. I had no answer to the stitch and vomit problem; I didn’t know what to do. There was no water station in sight and my mouth tasted of dirty seawater mixed with lime gel, sweat and puke. I wasn’t even a kilometre into the run I don’t think. How pathetic!
Every second that passed and every runner that overtook me made me feel worse. I had been in front of those people. I should have run that last second.
The thing that changed it around was finding a tap next to a BBQ hut in a park-type area that we were running (walking) through. I turned on the tap and gulped the water down, making myself believe this would solve my problems. I walked on vigorously and realised that my body could do this. I was still moving forward. My body was ready to take me to the finish line, but I had to mentally push past the stitch pain and vomit feeling, that was all. I had forgotten that triathlon requires my brain to get tough, too.
So get tough, we did. I started running, turned a corner and put my head down to concentrate on the task at hand. And of course there was a water station right there. Typical. I did take another gulp of water but mainly chucked it down the front of me, as I couldn’t risk stopping again and you can’t run and drink from a cup simultaneously.
I groaned all the way round the rest of the run course. I’ve never made so much noise as I ran – it must have sounded like a massive bull was running the course. I ‘mooed’ and grunted my way along each step, concentrating hard on the few steps in front of me and not daring to think past that. I chanted in my head ‘one, two, two more, one, two, two more..’ over and over again.
Then eventually it was the home stretch. I spotted my step-dad cheering me, and a man (who later turned out to be a blog reader named Sean) yelled my name to the left giving me a wave and a very encouraging grin. Needless to say, my massive ego took me the rest of the way.
Crossing the finish line was a relief, but because of the slow run I’d had I wasn’t as relieved as I might have been. My immediate thoughts were of whether I would be sick again, because I didn’t feel right. And a niggling doubt as to how much sooner I could have started running again, if I’d been strong enough to push through the pain as soon as it started.
What if, what if, what if.
Hey Lauren, why don’t you train your heart out for over 4 months, then do a triathlon, then beat yourself up over some mistakes you’ll no doubt learn from? Sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it?!
The happiness settled in more in as my family crowded around, getting pictures taken with me and asking me about the adventure of it all, telling me what they’d seen from their spectator positions and regaling me with stories of mishaps and comedy. We set off for a yummy breakfast at the Sandstone Point Hotel, where we continued to swap pictures and videos for a couple of hours. It was pretty well perfect.
And now I can’t wait for the Stradbroke Island Triathlon in May. 12 weeks to go! I have to work out the running thing – I clearly need more water on the bike leg, I think. But that’s what this race at Bribie was for – to learn and prepare for the next, bigger and better race!
And I had excellent fun whilst I did it!