I nearly nixed the Nantucket Triathlon when—ten short days pre-race—the board of selectmen moved the approved-in-December start from 8 am to 12:30 pm. My reasons were four-fold: first, a post-lunch race sounded like a serious slice of hell to this early bird. Second, my recent Nationals qualification has me seeking any excuse to clear the calendar and head north to scope out the course that’ll pit me against (gulp) the nation’s best age-groupers in (double gulp) three short weeks. Third, I generally try to avoid situations in which I’m unwanted, and many Islanders made it pretty clear they’d prefer we triathletes not sully their sweet pit of sand (heck, even Boston media diva Nat Jacobson—of Chet-n-Nat fame back in The Day—covered the brouhaha.) And fourth, I’m a big believer in signs so combine #s 1-3 and it’s easy to see why I was skittish to nosedive into ACK airspace.
That said, I obey my coach with a cult-like fervor that should probably be treated with medication. So when da coach said “race”, the un-medicated me nixed the idea of nixing Nantucket. I instead threw a borrowed blanket over Maverick (to protect the boy’s bod from the riff-raff in the bowels of the Steamship Authority’s Iyanough) and headed 30 miles south of Cape Cod to the 47.8-square-mile stretch of sand whose name is derived from a Wampanoag-dialect word meaning “land far out to sea”. (Other interesting Nantucket trivia can be found here. I like this page too.)
Despite the heinous midday humidity that was only broken by a fierce (and unpredicted) storm that thundered across the island faster than Cadel Evans on his breathtaking BMC, I am tickled pink that I did this race. In fact, I am tickled as pink as my nifty new Saucony Kinvaras—and that’s a whole lotta pink 🙂
The reason for my giddiness is not that everything went my way—actually, very little went my way in ACK. From start to finish, I struggled to gain my sealegs here on this “land far out to sea” and therein lies the beauty of Nantucket for me:
A CJ first: no course preview. We triathletes are a call-it-as-we-see-it type of clan, so I won’t mince words: was extraordinarily pissed at the Islanders’ last-minute flip-flop. The needless controversy (people, you approved this race in December 2010!) turned up the heat on our race in more ways than one as it both made us feel unwelcome and also forced us to endure the least tri-friendly hours of the day. I felt dissed–dissed and pissed. Like a stomping-mad four-year-old, I made a rather pathetic attempt to diss ’em right back: I cut my visit super-short, called off the mini-ACK-vacation plans I’d excitedly made way back in February. Instead I showed up on-island for only the handful of hours bracketing the race to “deprive” the island of hundreds of my hard-earned dollars. Hah! That’ll show ‘em! (Caveat: I spent my fair share on the ferry as those folks were uber-accommodating; they moved my reservations around with a compassionate “no problem!” and didn’t even charge me the usual change fee, so that made my daughter’s requests for $5 yogurt parfaits, $3 waters and $2 lobster lollipops from the ferry’s food counter easier to stomach.)
Shockingly enough, the only one who felt any CJ-hissy-fit repercussions was CJ herself: I didn’t get to scope out the course pre-race. I’ve never stepped up to the start line sans first-hand knowledge of a course’s twists and turns. Mav and I usually ride a new course once if not twice before The Big Event to shake hands—maybe even make friends—with the terrain. Practicing where I race gives me confidence I can call on when the going gets tough; I apparently wouldn’t have that here.
Swimming Clockwise. I was probably better off sans prior knowledge of the swim, as no 24-hour notice would help me address its challenge: it’s clockwise. Now, I’m not the most seasoned triathlete in the universe, but all tris I’d done prior to washing up on ACK sported counterclockwise swims—we started at, say, 4 o’clock, swam past 3, 2, 1, 12, 11…keeping turn buoys on our left. This loyal lefty loves counterclockwise; I can sight the turn buoys as I breathe plus my mouth is sheltered from waves breaking overhead.
My coach has urged me to practice what’s called “bilateral breathing” until it becomes second nature. He said to start with a three-count stroke then “eventually graduate” to alternating with my laps (left-side breathing on the way out, right-side breathing on the return). But he never said exactly when I should “graduate” so bottom line is I dabble with three-count stroking each session but have yet to matriculate myself.
Long story short: if Nat’s newscast suddenly reports that scientists are investigating the reason for super-low water levels in Nantucket Sound, don’t blame global warming; I simply swallowed it all last Saturday.
My Swim time: 12:33
What that means: Despite the hearty serving of sea water, I climbed ashore with a respectable subset of my 92-chick wave. (Yes, “F 40-44” was 92 women strong—the largest wave in the whole race by far. Interestingly enough, “M 40-44” numbered 82, making them the second-largest age group. Perhaps there was something in the water in the early ‘70s that made us all the same type of insane?) In fact I had sand underfoot while 77 percent of my wave still fought the waves. Still, 21 F 40-44 swimmers were vertical before me so I’ve (as my coach would say) a lot of “room for improvement”.
Pre-T1 dune dash. The run from the water’s edge to the bike is always a surprise. How far—and through what—you dash is determined by venue, not USA Triathlon regulations.
In your youth did you ever scurry through the dunes desperately chasing your faster family members as they beelined for the parking lot after a long, hot beach day? (Perhaps your older sister was, oh, I dunno, hell-bent on watching General Hospital during the Luke and Laura wedding season, maybe?) Did the dune’s frying-pan-hot sand scorch your feet while its looseness caused your calf muscles to scream in unison? Ever see red as you slammed your foot down on a jagged shell shard and simultaneously prayed that the dune’s never-ending twists and turns would end and you’d hit tarmac soon?
If so, you’ve an idea of what we experienced on the ACK run to T1. I’d later joke with my competitors that I thought I’d signed up for a sprint tri, not the Tough Mudder.
Once in the transition area I happily located Mav (he was easier to pick out of the 757-bike crowd since a neighbor brought a tie-dyed towel and left it atop our rack’s post. Thanks #407, aka Heather from Hingham!). For my second race in a row I ran out of T1 with just socks on my feet—my bike shoes were already mounted and I’d slip into them at some point during the first mile, ride with my feet resting on top of them until it was safe to reach down and slide in. I toyed with using the rubber band trick my coach told me about, but I worried last minute that it’d hurt as the bands snapped away so I didn’t. Still this went pretty well, all things considered, though I need lots more practice.
My T1 time: 2:41
What that means: Thanks, Ma and Laurie! All that exhausting dune-scurrying you inflicted on eight-year-old me clearly mylenated me for this T. Only one woman in my age group beat my T1 time—Charlestown’s Nancy Arena (she’d go on to finish first in our age group) beat me by 17 seconds. (Way to go, Nancy! You rock!) I am tickled pink to report that I am apparently becoming quite the transitioning goddess and am hopeful that this newfound skill may seep into the rest of my life too. Is it premature to think my longstanding trouble with Ts might be over? 🙂
Where are my hills?!? What’s my speed? Who the heck does #472 think she is? And what’s up with the freaking light show?!? Now ya’ll know I’m a wee bit fond of the bike portion of the race, thanks to a certain Cannondale named Maverick. But this bike course presents something Mav and I have never before encountered: completely utterly wholly flat terrain. I kid you not. Check out my file, the course is a pancake:
Keep in mind that at home Mav and I climb 106 feet over a third of a mile just to get up our very own street. This course’s tallest “peak” provides a measly 38-foot bump. I am finding “flat” to be exhausting—I prefer the fits and starts of hilly routes.
To add to my challenge, I can’t tell how fast I’m going since, idiot that I am, I picked this race to experiment with my Garmin Forerunner 310-XT’s Multisport Mode. For the un-indoctrinated, the 310 XT allows you to pre-program the device to record an entire multisport race without having to toggle between sports during the race (if you’re in the .001 percent of humanity who craves more details than that, feel free to check out this youtube video on multisport mode). In theory multisport mode rocks and was the reason I bought the 310XT in the first place. But in practice it either sucks or I am experiencing some serious operator error: I can’t for the life of me make it display the four pieces of data I actually care about during a race—“current speed” and “average speed” on the bike and “current pace” and “average pace” on the run. For some reason the Garmin-ologists either hardwired multisport mode to show only total race time and current leg time or failed to make it clear to idiots like me how to change the defaults. (Sorry if this is boring you, folks, I’m a bit obsessed).
The bad news: my multisport-mode experiment was an epic fail; I hated it. The good news: I didn’t need a speedometer to motivate me to ride fast; I had the lightning bolt with “472” tattooed on her biceps.
I first encountered #472 about a mile or two into the race. I was happily playing Pac-Man and chomping my power pellets per usual, yelling “on your left!” whenever a lesser rider blocked my fast-forward progress (which was often). Just when I was bellying up to the feast, I heard a female voice rise up from behind:
“On YOUR left!” she definitively declared.
Whaaaat? Someone thinks she’s going to pass MOI??? Oh, that is SO not gonna fly! I thought.
Well, fly it did. Fly she did. We must have passed each other a dozen times over the course’s 14 miles. She even started joked about it, replacing “on your left!” with “tag, you’re it!” A few other racers—#420 and #473—briefly joined our fray but dropped out. (#420 finally declared, “if I keep riding with you guys I’ll have to walk the run!”) Number 472 was pure awesomeness and I am humbled to say that not only did she give me a ride for my money she matched my speed and cadence sans aerobars…which means she packs a heck of a lot of power in those legs of hers. I am uber-impressed and want to ride with Jill Zeikel again and again and again. To that end, I “friended” her on Facebook and we’re planning our next tete-a-tete 🙂 Jill, you are an awesome rider and I had a blast–a painful type of blast–riding with you.
At some point during the exhausting fun, the sky darkened, the wind picked up and a stunning but scary light show began—nice in a way as it broke the insane midday heat and humidity that I was fuming about. I pondered whether the bike’s metal would attract the lightning or the rubber tires would repel it. Food for thought as we cruised an average of 20.8 mph.
#472 and I dismounted en meme temps upon mutual agreement (again her idea–and a super-fun one at that) and she declared this was where we’d part ways as she’s “no good” on the run. I didn’t reveal that I kinda suck at it too—who knows, maybe my latest Marathon Sports splurge, those nifty hot pink Kinvaras, would add some pep to my step. I slipped them on, grabbed bib number and visor and dashed out.
My bike and T2 time: 38:37 on the bike; an even 1:00 on T2
What that means: Thanks to Jill (no thanks to my Garmin), I had the 4th best bike split in my age group and the 16th best out of all 356 chicks. My T2 was not too shabby either—Nancy beat me on that one as well but I was one of only four women in our age group who T-two’d in sub-sixty seconds. Yes!
A messy maiden voyage for my oh-so-cute Kinvaras. It is apparently hydrant-flushing day in heaven: as if on cue the skies open up as soon as my new Saucony rubber meets road. The road’s edge mimics a mini raging Mississippi River. You can barely see the neon pink of my new Saucony’s as they submerge under six inches of slop. Thunder. Lightning. This is just silly. I hate not knowing the course and what it has in store. I approach the water station where Daughter #2 is still valiantly serving up cups under a tent that looks like it’ll flip any minute now. I take a cup from her and make her laugh by pouring it right over my already drenched head. Thanks, hun! I needed that! I tell her.
I am even more irritated about multisport mode now, as I am sans #472 and really need to know my pace to keep me motivated. Seeing I am running, say, 8:10s makes me want to try for 8s then 7:47s (I get a special kick out of running 7:47 for some reason). I have no clue how fast (or not) I’m going until I start chatting with a 36-year-old guy during the last mile (thank you, Mr. Race Director, for bringing back the age marking Sharpie’d on our calves! I missed them in Cohasset and Marlborough.). I realize I am way too capable of holding a conversation with this dude, which means I’m going too slowly–closer to 9s than 7s. I pick up the pace–both in an attempt to save my run time and also to reach Mav faster; I am worried about his safety in this nutty storm.
No clock at the finish line??? As I approach the finish line, I try to calculate how many minutes wave 5-ers like me should subtract from the finish line time clock to get our race time. Did the waves go off two minutes apart, or was it 2.5? Turns out it doesn’t matter…I am put out of my math misery as there is no clock gracing this finish line. I’ll be told later that it was knocked over—and broken beyond repair—by the storm’s high winds.
My run time: 28:03
What that means: It means I could have run a lot better–I need pace data to keep me motivated on the run. If multisport mode is truly incapable of providing this, then shame on Garmin and I’ll just have to go back to the old-school way of doing it.
Post-race everyone wants to know how your race “went”, how you “did”. When I say that everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong at Nantucket, I usually get a sad face and a “sorry about that, better luck next time”. But they are missing the point: sure, it’s a blast when the course is tailor-made to your strengths, when the weather’s spot-on and your gear gives you exactly what you need. But the race gets truly interesting when it forces you out of your counterclockwise ways, when you feel unwanted, when multisport mode proves to be medicocre and when the heavens toss down of spades-full of hell to topple your time clock. Same goes for “real life”–bonuses, weddings and impeccable health all truly rock, but having “The Talk” with an employer or lover or doctor truly reveals what’s inside. It’s all sorts of cool to explore our mettle even after hope of earning a medal is gone, which is what ACK had in store for fourth place CJ.
Last night I was reading Bicycle Love, the book with the awesomely hilarious cover that’s sadly the last book I’ll buy from my beloved Borders. (Apparently my recent buying frenzy of sporty titles came too little too late for Borders; they are sadly shuttering their doors soon.) When you look at the cover you’ll be as surprised as I was to find that this book references Buddha:
Buddhism teaches that we should avoid being seduced into thinking that life is only to be lived for its temporary pleasures. We must accept suffering as a part of reality. The Buddha once said that “When we know about suffering, then there is no more to know.”
I hope you’ve ample opportunities to explore what you’re made of and accept some suffering. But don’t suffer needlessly, people; in preparation, I implore you to work on that bilateral breathing of yours. Trust me: you’re gonna need it.