“Time to get the rust off. The main goal is have a clean race. No big errors and get a solid race under your belt.”
That was my coach’s pre-race pep talk in the early-morning hours of April 28th, as I was about to begin my very first race of my very fourth triathlon season.
Oxidation happens during the off-season, especially when you are a captive I mean a resident of New England where the weather from October through April is a heinous wasteland I mean a winter wonderland. Snow and sleet and slush sure muck up the works.
It wasn’t just rust I’d need to grind off in Ludlow—I needed to burn through some serious fog, too. The day prior, Daughter #2 and I had literally gone back to the scene of the crime, and by that I mean the scene of the Boston Marathon bombings. Two weeks post-bombs, it was time to stop postponing, carpe diem and retrieve the satchel Daughter #1 had abandoned at Stefanie’s Restaurant when the bombs went off and we fled to Cambridge—a satchel that contained, among other things, my friend Christy’s post-finish line change of clothes and Daughter #1’s driving learner’s permit.
I had hoped this trek would provide a bit of closure—a suture or two to stimulate mental healing. I focused on the happy fact that the bag was fetchable at all— a complete stranger had seen Christy’s 2013 Boston Marathon jacket peeking out of the bag, and in the post-bomb chaos he had the foresight to realize some thieving schmuck might see more than sentimental value in that jacket and snatch it. By tossing it in his car and tracking us down through a random friend’s phone number scribbled on a Post-It Note in the bottom of the bag, he performed one of the gazillion small acts of kindness that warmed the country’s heart and carried Boston through the darkest days.
Pick up the bag, bask in being benefactors of this small act of post-bomb kindness and maybe even sit down at Stefanie’s… actually eat this time; this was the plan.
Yet once we were downtown, I felt no mental healing, did no basking. Instead, I felt raw and frazzled and rattled. Duck Boats filled with tourists were rolling down Boylston. The bombs are already part of The Script. Even worse, pedestrians were posing for photos in front of Marathon Sports—the running mecca that impossibly morphed into a triage center moments after a bomb exploded in front of it. We watched in awe as a fit middle-aged man jauntily leaned on the store’s freshly replaced window while his female companion stood on the freshly re-poured concrete (they replaced the bloodstained stuff), snapping photos. People lost limbs and lives here, folks. I have no words for you.
I also had no stomach for lunch—I was suddenly very queasy. We collected the bag and returned Stefanie’s freshly laundered patio blankets, the ones that were still wrapped around our shoulders as we ran away from bombs that day. Said our thank you-s and pointed the Prius westbound on the Pike.
So I brought some serious baggage to Ludlow. In the event you don’t believe my thinking was muddled, how’s this: in packing my race bag the night before, I actually removed my race belt. As if I would have no use for a race belt. During a race.
While I brought a muddled mind to western Mass, I also brought my brand-new, never-been-raced-on-before, super-spiffy Corima race wheels, too. Yes, we had gone straight from Boston to Ata Cycle to fetch my freshly shod stallion:
I also brought some high hopes that I’d rock the swim leg at Ludlow. I have worked hard to strengthen my weakest link this winter—the hard work has happened not just in the pool but also in the weight room and even in the kitchen, which is to say I have a new obsession with muscle-building protein (just not the type derived from animal sources. Sorry carnivorous family of mine—this tri obsession will never extend to eating animals).
I’ve amassed so many strength-building “pool toys” that simply lugging around my overstuffed Speedo swim bag should count as a strength workout:
In my single-minded focus to improve, I even acquired an STD. Head out of the gutter, people; this STD is a Swimming Torture Device.
THE SWIM: Well, so that didn’t quite go as planned. Rock it I did not. In fact, I never felt like I got beyond “warm up” speed and I failed to nail even a single turn. Which is impressively bad, since there are a grand total of eleven turns. Silver lining: my swim was a second better than last year’s, so at least I didn’t, like, exit the pool last.
My 2013 split: 5:18
My 2012 split: 5:19
Best female 2013: Amy Parent (F 34-39)…a blazing fast 3:45 (!)
T1 / THE BIKE: No rust here—not only had I selected a proper gear for bike out and positioned my shoes so they wouldn’t whap the ground as I ran Viper out, I even remembered to violate Velominati Rule #37 and put my shades on under my helmet straps, to make T2 go easier (since the shades stay in place for the run).
…and we are off!
The bike leg is always too short, but in Ludlow it is way too short: just shy of nine miles. Viper and I both would have preferred far more quality time together (he begged for a full second loop). Parting was such sweet sorrow. Despite the time-trial start of a pool swim, we passed 12 people on the ride and yes, we *did* count and yes two of those passed were boys who ran over me during the swim leg. Atta boy, Viper.
My 2013 split: 24:45
My 2012 split: 25:04
Best female 2013: Mary Guertin (F 45-49) in 24:17 (you rock!)
Another sign of my race-day muddled mind: For the first time in my Garmin-owning life, I failed to grab the Garmin off its bike mount and put it back on my wristband. So as I exited T2 with my screaming new race belt, I was “running naked” ie, without any way to gauge my pace and heart rate except, gasp, by feel. This is not good.
Truth be told, I knew I’d forgotten it before I exited transition. So I could have gone back…I mean, that was a physical possibility. Maybe someone else would have, but not me; it would have added to my T time and would not have made for the “clean race” my coach implored me to have. It felt cleaner to keep going.
Besides, there was something terrifyingly appealing about running without it. “Gut feel” has been all I’ve really had to navigate these last few months and weeks. It has been pretty darned scary at times, but I’ve left-foot-right-footed it through to the best of my ability. Having to execute the last three miles of this race by gut feel–this felt poetic and scary and appropriate.
A friend and training partner was spectating a hundred yards or so out of transition; as he encouraged me with the usual words (“you look great! You’ve got this!”) I simply tapped my right index finger against my naked wrist to draw his attention to my dilemma. He immediately understood, uttered a commiserating expletive, and started stripping the watch off his own wrist. I declined it and kept going. After all, he was right: I’ve got this.
Running naked was both “cleaner” and cleansing. I couldn’t watch my heart rate, but I sure could feel it. I navigated through a lot more than Ludlow’s streets, focused on planting my feet firmly on the ground and propelling myself forward as I sorted through all sorts of events that have freaked me out, from the last Friday of summer vacation through November 14th straight down Exeter Street on Marathon Monday and right up to the present moment.
A pack of men ran a hundred or so yards ahead of me; I glanced up at that pack from time to time. I took it as a good sign that the gap between me and them did not widen.
Before I knew it I was approaching the finish line. No rust here; I have serious muscle memory for what to do at a finish line and by that I mean the darned dry heaves started the minute I was on that mat.
My 2013 run split: 25:03
My 2012 run split: 24:52
Best female run split 2013: Mary Guertin (F 45-49) in 22:24 (you double rock!)
When you add those all up I was the second female overall; Mary was first and Amy was third. The full results are here.
Well, that’s all for now. I hope you are finding ways to grind off the rust and cut through the fog. Trust your gut and be OK with your nakedness and I will see you at the New England Season Opener on Mother’s Day!