New England Season Opener 2013: “Suffer Like It’s Childbirth”

NE opener logoStop calculating. Compete and win the damn race. Swim bike and run 100 percent— don’t look at the clock. Dig deep and suffer like it’s childbirth.”

That was my coach’s doubly perfect comeback when I announced my oh-so-obsessive plan to go sub-one-hour at the 2013 New England Season Opener.

I say my plan was “oh-so-obsessive” since it involved a mathematical  equation of my very own formulation: [(1:40 pace x .25 miles) + (22.2 mph x 10) + (7:25 pace x 3.1 miles) + (T x 2 like a pro) = 8:00 + :55 + 27:00 + :40 + 23:00 = 59:35 ]. I say his “childbirth” line was “doubly perfect” because a). this race coincided with Mother’s Day and b). I kinda-sorta win hands-down whenever women kibitz about labor and delivery.

Now, not to belittle all ya’lls childbirth experiences, but truly I say, my story trumps yours just as surely as “rock” beats “scissors”. Unless you too woke up in labor the morning of your recently deceased mother-in-law’s memorial service and you too told your near-tears-then-husband to fear not, you need not head to the hospital, no, no, no, you could “hold it” through the memorial service and you too even stood up and eulogized her in between contractions and you too were then driven at ridiculously high speeds to a hospital where you too delivered naturally—no drugs, zero zilch zippo—not the seven pound five ounce cherub they’d prepared you for but a TEN POUND, NINE AND A HALF OUNCE CHILD.

In the event you forget your fourth-grade math, here’s a refresher: ten pounds nine and a half ounces rounds up to FREAKING ELEVEN POUNDS. Let me also reiterate that this brutal trauma I mean blessed event occurred NATURALLY and WITH NO PAIN MEDICATION after an INSANELY STRESSFUL WEEK. (Make that month. No, year. OK, decade–we’ll go with decade, that sounds about right.)

See? Told ya so. My rock smashed your scissors, right?

My coach had never heard this story and so of course I regaled him with the abbreviated version via text message. He had a perfect comeback then, too: “Oh. So 90 percent should seal the win.”

I liked that thought quite a lot, oh yes I did. Here’s how the race played out:

Pre-Race Prep
I did some serious (read: ridiculous) prep work for this race the week prior. Since it’d be the first open water race of the year and wetsuits would be mandatory, I got in the lake near my house four days out of five to re-familiarize myself with being hermetically sealed in neoprene. After each session, I terrified dog walkers and their furry companions alike by blazing out of the water as if fleeing a lake-shark attack and then frantically ripping off my neoprene as if it were infested with fire ants. When my wetsuit-shucking failed to go as quickly as I hoped, I even wielded scissors (not yours; they are smashed) and snipped two inches from each leg of my beloved (read: insanely expensive) Xterra Vendetta, to widen the ankle openings:

So sorry,, I don't have a vendetta against you. I swear this hurts me more than it hurts you.

Oh, Vendetta…I swear this hurts me more than it hurts you.

I made the pilgrimage to Hopkinton State Park the day prior to pick up my packet so I wouldn’t have to wait in line on race morning. Back at home I took my time affixing my number–185–to Viper’s seat post and my helmet and  made my girls pack themselves breakfast and lay out their race-day clothes since they were both signed up to volunteer. On race morning I made them wake up at 5:30 am (all I wanted for Mother’s Day was to be first in transition). We arrived in time for me to claim the very best spot on the F 40-44 rack, the spot Max Performance’s Megan Gurley calls “California” since it is as coveted as oceanfront property.

The early bird gets the best rack space

The early bird gets the best rack space–happy Mother’s Day to me! 🙂 I remembered to bring my iPod Shuffle to deter energy-draining banter. Yes, I am *that* type of annoying on race day.

Since I was there so early, I had a gazillion hours to burn before race time. That’s always a drag but was made even moreso since it was drizzling and chilly. The forecast called for mid-morning clearing and a high of 70 degrees.  I prepared for 70, but not for chilly bits preceeding it. At home I had slathered myself with sunscreen in anticipation of running in full sun, but at 6:30 am the yellow orb  was nowhere to be found and the sunscreen did nothing to keep me warm. As all those late-sleeping triathletes waited in line and racked their rides and affixed their bike helmet stickers, I spent a lot of time hanging out in the bathroom and the big tent where the massage tables were being set up to stay out of the elements. I was happy when it was finally time to hermetically seal myself in neoprene.

spoiled rotten yes he is

Of course, the boy didn’t have to get wet:  Viper donned his super-spiffy bike coat. Spoiled rotten yes he is.

The F 40-44ers were in Wave 2, as were all females who self-selected as Elite. I was super-excited about that. As an F 40-44er I’d get to try to keep up with The Elites on the swim, would know where I stood as we exited the water, assuming my minions I mean friends and family did a good job of counting yellow caps for me.

Swimming With the Big Girls
I was totally ready for and excited about this swim. It is a point-to-point, meaning easy sight lines and no pesky turns. I had high hopes that I could find one of the super-fast chicks and tuck in behind her, get some free (and legal, I might add) speed. While we were queuing for the start, I sought out one athlete in particular: the one assigned #1. (Duly noted that my Uno Obsession apparently continues.) Her name is the impressively unpronouncable Medena Knespl and her swim time last year at this race was an impressively superhuman 6:51 (compare that to my 9:07). If I could tuck in behind her for even a buoy or two I’d feel like a sea turtle catching a ride on the East Australian Current.  I moved about the pack of yellow caps like a Secret Service agent, covertly scanning each athlete’s right hand for the Sharpie’d Numero Uno. I never did find her; if I hadn’t seen her bike in transition–a schnazzy red, black and white Colnago with its signature clover leaf logo–I would have thought she was a DNS.

No matter; we all know where the fast swimmers go once in the water–to the front line–so that’s where I went, too. The neoprene did its job keeping me warm and slightly more buoyant than usual. When the horn bleeted to start our wave I took off with the big girls and kept up with this aggressive, fast-moving pack. Until, that is, the pack seemed to turn on me. Apparently we were not EAC-bound sea turtles but wolves and the alpha female had ordered me culled from the herd. I got run over and my goggles knocked totally askew; both sides filled with water. I tried to swim that way (heck, it’s only a quarter mile) and did so for a few strokes, but then came to my senses and stopped long enough to get them back on. And then I was run over again. But this time only the right eye piece was knocked off, and the left one somehow managed to stay put. Since the shore was to the left, I just closed my right eye and swam the remainder (read: most of) of the race this way, wounded and trailing the pack but still pleased with my performance. Hey, the only way to learn how to be jostled around is to be jostled around, is the way I see it.

SWIM GOAL:                 8:00
SWIM ACTUAL:            9:17
MEDENA’S ACTUAL: 6:41 (!!! Rock star!!!)

T1: “Run Really Fast”
It was on my coach’s advice that my Vendetta got snipped. But his overall advice on improving my already-pretty-darned-good T1 time was to keep it simple, “just run really fast from the water to your bike”. Like most things in life, keeping it simple really helped. I wish my Garmin collected pace data for transitions since I swear my pace per mile would’ve registered in the fives for this T1 dash:

the fourth discipline of triathlon is transitioning.

That chick behind me actually exited the water well before me.

girls rack still full--always a good sign

Escaping the imaginary fire ants

the rack to the left belonged to boys in the wave before me, so it's empty...but my rack is pretty full, which is always a good sign

The rack to the left belonged to the Wave 1 boys so it’s appropriately empty…but my rack was good and full which is always a good sign

bike out

bike out

the bike split officially begins here

the bike split officially begins here

T1 GOAL:      55 seconds
T1 ACTUAL: 1:06 (11 seconds better than last year, so I’m OK with it)

Mutiny on the Bike Leg? 
As I took off up the initial hill, I looked to my minions I mean friends and family to give their reports: they had all been instructed to count how many yellow caps emerged from the water before me and yell out that number as I biked out. The idea being that I would then go catch at least that many riders. (I say at least that many because there was a whole wave of boys who were sent off five minutes before us, and a whole race of duathletes who were sent off five minutes before them, so there was a chance for even more.)

But here I was, biking out, and I got no info. Dead silence. I saw friends. I saw family. But no one said anything to me. Nada. Zilch. Zippo.

Is this a mutiny? I obsessed about the lack of information for the first mile of the bike until I realized the source of the trouble was me not them: in my transitioning frenzy I had forgotten to remove my goofy swim plugs. I couldn’t hear a damn thing through the silicone. Yes, it took me a mile to figure this out.

Now, lack of ability to hear on the bike would normally be a crisis of epic proportions, but another problem loomed even larger: the skies opened up and rain started coming down in buckets. Seriously, I have not seen such instant-puddle-formation since I was in the Costa Rican rain forest. During the rainy season. This was nuts. It came down so fast and hard that the ground was littered with race numbers–the stickers actually unstuck from athlete’s helmets.

After the race, my friend Jim got irritated about my obsessive whining about how bad the bike leg was. He gave me 40 seconds to complain about it. “You’ve got 40 seconds to complain about this and then you are banned from ever complaining about it again,” he told me.

I agreed to this, so I guess I can’t really whine here. Unless, of course, I provide a loose transcript of that 40-second discussion…that’s not an infraction, is it? I think not so here goes:

Jim: So how bad was it?
Me: Oh my gawd it was awful.  The course is riddled with frost heaves and potholes, so wheel-catching danger could lurk under any given puddle. One volunteer grabbed a broom and was actually sweeping water out of potholes, so we would see them.

Jim: I bet your bike split was really bad, compared to past years.
Me: Ugh! Yes! Last year I did this course twice and went 30:19 and 30:07 on it then. Heck, even in my very first year of racing I did it in 31:41, and that was on Maverick–on an aluminum frame! This is just really really awful.

Jim: Wow, that is really awful. You must be really embarrassed.
Me: I am really embarrassed. I am such a fair-weather rider, meaning if it is raining, I mount my bike on the trainer and ride inside. Both of my “boys” are just too fussy to get wet; plus, I feel incompetent at chain-cleaning, so why create a mess you can’t fully fix? Net-net: this “riding in the wet” thing is not my forte. I think I need some serious bike-handling lessons. Actually, I think we all need some serious bike-handling lessons. There were some superfast boys who zipped past me and I swear they didn’t have any more control over their bikes than I did but they didn’t really care, and that was really scary.

Jim: It doesn’t sound like you did anything right out there.
Me: It’s true. I sucked. But at least I followed my coach’s advice…he told me not to look at the clock and suffer like this was childbirth.  I was certainly suffering and there was no way I was going to look at my watch since a). both eyes were required for puddle-dodging purposes and b). even if I did glance at it I wouldn’t be able to make out the digits on its rainstreaked display through my rainstreaked glasses.

Jim: What was the worst part?
Me: Hard to say since it all sucked. It was, like, a Nightmare on High Street. I guess the worst part was that I could just never get up to speed.  My heart rate normally averages 168 or even higher on the bike, but I couldn’t do that due to the rain. I bet if you looked at my Garmin file you’d see the only times my HR approached 168 was due to fear–not effort. I was so scared of crashing. I kept thinking about how much last summer’s crash hurt and kept reminding myself that the bike would go faster if I kept it perpendicular–not horizontal–to the road.

[OK. You will never hear me complain about this again. Promise.]

BIKE GOAL:        27:00
BIKE ACTUAL: 32:46 (argh!)
BEST FEMALE BIKE SPLIT OF THE DAY: The amazing Zuzana Trnovcova aced it in 29:26. Clearly, she has some serious bike-handling skills.

Grumpy in T2
Daughter #2 was on transition area patrol duty when I ran in to T2 to park Viper in his oceanfront California slot. She pointed to the towel that I had used to keep myself warm pre-race and said, “you should dry your feet off before you run.” I was so flustered by my insanely bad ride that I simply growled at her, “LEAVE ME ALONE!” (Sorry, Lida!)

T2 GOAL:     
40 seconds
48 seconds (I am good with that.)

The Run:
The one good thing about such a sub-par ride is that my legs were unusually fresh for the run. Plus, while the weather was not conducive to riding, it was made to order for me on the run; full sun tends to wilt me, but the day’s cloud cover was perfect.

That doesn’t cancel out the fact that this is a challenging run course for me–it starts with a significant hill and has another, five-telephone-pole-long hill towards the end. My sub-one-hour race equation took those hills into consideration and also figured in the fact that in the three times I’ve done this course so far my times have been 23:19, 23:24 and 22:57.

I felt really strong on the run. I didn’t look at my watch once but I knew I was having a good run. It was odd to have the run be the most fun leg of the race. I guess super-hard hill repeats, track and treadmill work pays off 🙂 Only one female blasted past me–a 20-year-old chick on the Boston Univeristy Triathlon team. She was awesome and I found her after the race and told her that; she is Anna Geary-Meyer of Lowell and according to the race results she ran 6:43 pace and I would say I want to be her when I grow up but as I mentioned earlier she is, like, 20 years old.

RUN GOAL:      23:00
 RUN ACTUAL: 22:53 (whoo hoo!)

trying to figure out if that heavy breathing I hear to my right is male breathing or female breathing.

trying to figure out if that heavy breathing I hear to my right is male breathing or female breathing.

grr he got me

grr he got me



When all was said and done, two females recorded sub-one-hour times and neither have the initials “CJ”. I did, however, place first in my age group. By the time the awards ceremony rolled around, it was full sun, 70 degrees and the roads were perfectly dry. How’s that for cruel race-day irony? (Full results are here.)

girls got flowers

F 40-44 podium: the girls got flowers

So, that’s all for now. Transition like there are fire ants in your wetsuit. Roll with the punches, especially when they bring behemoth babies or rain on your bike leg. Keep your bike perpendicular to the road and tell someone you think they rock.

Saving the best for last: happy birth-week to that freaking ten pound nine and a half ounce cherub of mine…she turned 13 on May 14th! 🙂 Love you, Lida Rose!


About garmin_girl

I'm a 40-something single mother of three--two great human girls and one four-legged Dalmatian banshee--who is hellbent on swimming, biking and running straight through my midlife crisis. Care to tag along? Crazy loves company! ;)
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2 Responses to New England Season Opener 2013: “Suffer Like It’s Childbirth”

  1. Gary & Ann Cattarin says:

    Hey, you may not have liked the time, but it’s another one in the W column and a helluva’ story, so congrats! I get it. My best placing at Boston was the year of 90°. Life is like that!

    • Thanks, Gary! Yep, it was great in that train wreck sort of way races can be great ) Your best placing at Boston was in 90 degree heat…this once again confirms to me that you are superhuman! That’s nuts! 🙂

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