I arrived late the night before, hunted in the dark for parking, and was a bit flustered by the time I finally found something. My spot was on a bit of a slope, so I arranged the tent so that my head was at least at the top; the side effect being that in the morning I awoke in a crumpled mess having slid to the bottom of my thermorest. I at least got a good night's sleep (once everything in the populated area quieted down a litte after 10pm).
I awoke with the Long Course athletes at 5:50am, not being able to avoid it. I prepared and took to my leisurely breakfast of oatmeal and coffee as the sun started to come up. I finally gathered my sporting goods and attempted to make my way to the race. Note to self, TIP #1: it's a long way away, next time use a backpack to haul while on the bike. It was a bit of a mess trying to get my packet ("You can't cross the course here!" "No bikes in this area" "Go around the course, back from where you came, visit the white info tent, THEN..."). Finally, numbers in hand, I made my way with all my stuff to the transition area.
OMG there are probably 1000 bikes in there. What the HELL have I gotten myself into?
OMG where is my biiiiiike?
Turns out, there's a system: your number corresponds to a row and a slot, you have a place for your bike, your stuff, all nicely laid out with your shoes and food and such in ready position. They write your number on several places on your body in gigantic sharpies, a side effect being that you can't forget it. I got marked, set up my things, talked with the other women in my row. We were all first-timers, nervous, comparing equipment and preparations.
(TIP #2: spray sunscreen makes your numbers run, use the lotion type. #3: Bring Body Glide and put it liberally in places where you might chafe: neck, triceps if going sleeveless, between thighs for good measure. #4: there is an unwritten rule that nobody messes with your stuff in the transition area: my keys and wallet were fine tucked in the bottom of my transition bag.)
Just one of many examples
With a half an hour to go, we squeezed into our wetsuits. Strapped on our timing chips. Donned our caps (our wave got pink!). Attacked by markers, my cap was tagged with BAD ASS. A team near me had one last group prayer. We arranged ourselves near the swim entrance.
"I think I'm just going to wait for everyone else to take off, THEN I'll get into the water" admitted one woman. Another decided to line up in the front row, even though she was slow, and she said: at least she wouldn't get kicked right away. The competitive nature of women is a strange beast. The announcer started to hype, we were all whooping and cheering, adrenaline was making my feet and fingers vibrate, and I just wanted to get a move on. Air horn! We're off! I ran into the cold water and laid down onto the surface as soon as there was space.
Now, I knew the swim was going to be my worst segment. What I didn't realize was that all the hours in the pool wasn't going to help me worth anything when it came time for the open water swim. The wetsuit helps you float, ok, TRUE, but it makes *all* of you float, including your legs. This sounds great in theory, but I find the side effect was that it kept trying to tip me forward into freestyle position. When that mode wasn't feasible and I tried doing a breast stroke or doggy paddle so I could keep my head above water, I couldn't seem to move at all. I kept getting kicked from the front, ankles grabbed from behind, the surface was choppy and kept smacking my face, and I started to panic. I rolled onto my back, which helped me relax, but I still couldn't move with any velocity, and now I couldn't see. Finally, I made up my mind to do some crawl, took a huge inhale, stuck my face under and got three powerful strokes in. When I turned to breathe, I got nothing but water in my sinuses, so I tipped back and hacked a bit, all momentum coming again to an abrupt halt.
And so it went. Huge inhale, three strokes, come up gasping. Shortening to two strokes between breaths didn't help either. The shore was taking forever to get closer. I refused to use the nearby kayaks unless I really felt like I was going to die, and right now I was just annoyed. Colored swim caps around me informed me that my wave was long gone, as I was now accompanied by whites, blues, and yellows, each of us fighting our own demons. The balloon arch could not have passed over any sooner.
(TIP #5: Use the suit, don't fight it)
Back to the transition area, winded by a mere 15 minutes in the water and the same level of body-exhaustion as Death Ride. I weakly grappled at my wetsuit trying to peel it off. OK. Mental reset. Breath. Drink some calories. Socks, shoes, helmet, just like I laid them out. Aaaaand GO.
The "Mountain bike" segment was a joke, and that joke was that I should have brought the Cyclocross bike with some aerobars on it. Less than half the route was unpaved, and it was fireroad at that. A bit gravely and loose, but pretty fast for me. My self-esteem returned as fast as I bombed the downhill corners, passing people by the dozens. Then I started passing men, who had gone off well before us. There were a few climbs, nothing dramatic to me, but notable to see several people walking them. This was their "swim," I guess, and I used every opportunity to encourage, joke, compliment. One group of volunteers had set themselves up as a machine-gun line of high-fives, which I utilized both laps.
Absolute screaming curvy banked descent back to the transition area, which I almost overshot at 35mph, whooping and yee-hawing the whole way. Whee! Let's do that part again! No? Damn. I ran the bike back to home base, swapped the helmet for my Princess visor, and trotted off for the run.
The run was nothing exciting. For some reason, I thought it was going to be a trail run on dirt; no such luck. Pavement, out and back, then around the corner and through the chute towards the finishline. I blew kisses at the crowd. Sprinted the last bit. Hands in the air!
Cross the finishline! Instantly a cold wet towel hit my shoulder, a finishers medal appeared around my neck, and the timing chip was yanked off my ankle. I was handed fresh strawberries, half a banana, a Gatorade, a container of pasta salad, and two granola bars. A few steps later, I realized I was still panting, arms loaded with food, completely disoriented, and vaguely aware that something cool had just happened.
DONE and happy!
In the afterparty expo, I toasted a beer with a new friend. I got 17th out of 49 overall in my age group.
What I don't know is what's next. The original plan was to sign up for the Silicon Valley Olympic Tri, but wow, I don't think I'd survive a swim that's 3-times as long as this. I have six weeks to get my act together, and it would be pretty intense. I'm not positive that's where I want to spend my energy right now, so... yeah, I dunno.
I arrived home to flowers, a card, a bottle of champagne, and some lovin' from my man. I'll trade a wet towel for that anyday.