Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Big Day

Swim – 19.07mins/ Half a mile
Bike – 41.18mins/ 14 miles
Run – 22.16mins/ 3 miles
Total time: 1:25:18

There were razor-sharp cheekbones, jagged jaw lines and muscled tummies. There were fancy bikes and work-of-art helmets. These were the tri people and their things.

After months of training on my own, I was amongst a throng of hundreds. I stood in line, waiting to be drawn on. The race start was imminent. Anticipation zinged. I stood shoulder to shoulder with the tall and small, the wide and slight, the young and the old. The tri people came in all kinds of packaging.

Just below the varicose veins on the backs of my knees, a woman etched my race number on one leg, my age on another. I wasn’t sure why. Lord, I still didn’t properly know how to change bike gears or indeed, what pedal cadence actually meant. But I was now a tri person – I had the black ink to prove it.

A little before 7am we walked a half mile along the beach to the swim start. Tri people chattered in clusters but I was grateful for the time on my own – to take in the seam of inky pink seeping into the horizon, feel the scratch of pebbly sand, hear the lash of surf.

We were dispatched in waves – marked by different coloured swim caps. The elite people went first, followed by men. Then it was time for us, the green-capped girls. Women 39 and under.

We bobbed gently on the lulling waves, speckled green dots. I swam out further, to where the lifeguard stood on his paddle board marking the boundary. I wanted to take the swim wide, get away from the thick scrum of hungry women scrambling around the buoy.

There was momentary peace and still amongst those green, foamy waves. Then the countdown. My stomach cartwheeled. Go....

My arms sliced, legs propelled. Eyes wide and frantic under goggles. Other green caps thrashed ahead of me. I felt a jellyfish sting. My pace slackened. I couldn’t find rhythm, kept unwittingly veering off to the lifeguard dotted boundary. I realised then I was amongst other colours of hats, ones that had gone before me – whites, yellows, blues. It spurred me on.

The crowd on the beach was in sight. I curled round the last buoy, headed back to shore. Three men in front blocked my swim path. I growled inside, lurched right and went out wide for the final time, passing them. Feet felt pebble.

I jogged up the beach, found my bike, guzzled water while shoving damp feet into socks and shoes. I tripped mounting the bike, my water bottle rolled into another rider’s path. I snatched it up. Shit, sorry...

I heard clanks of gear changes, then the wind whistling. The bike was on. Tiny arm hairs stood white  with salt from the bay. Men sped past me. Then a girl in a fancy helmet. I pedalled on, allowed my breathing to ebb and flow. I found rhythm I never really found in the swim, felt legs strengthen and beat faster.

Now it was me doing the passing. I wasn’t afraid of this bike anymore, I felt confident and forceful on it. A man with thick, black armpit hair sped up alongside me, then pulled in front, slowing me. I growled again, overtook him. Bugger off. This continued for a mile, my growl began to bark. I thrust past him for a final time and raced on. I didn’t notice armpit hair again.

There was a hill. Steep, lengthy. Killing. I’d become entwined in a man pack but as the speed tapered off, I surged forward. By the time I reached the top I was at a crawl, barely able to spin a wheel. Thighs and ass screamed. I’d spent myself. The man pack whistled by me again. I couldn’t have this.

I came back at them. We settled together. Signs read ‘slow down’. Fourteen miles were coming to an end. A crowd thickened, cheering and clapping. A sign read ‘dismount’. Ass and thighs sighed with relief as I hung up the bike without fault in Transition 2. A volunteer handed out water. I drank greedily.

Legs were tight and dull as I began the run. I willed them to move. My steps thudded as I snaked up the hill. The path was divided – to my left were tri people returning from the run. They looked fit and capable. I hated them a little. Their journey was almost at an end and three long miles were stretched ahead of me. Maybe just walk a little? No!....

A mile and a half in, strength returned to my legs. They felt fluid and loose. I saw black numbers marked on legs in front of me. A man my age, another man younger, one much older. I began to pass them. Suddenly I was on the left of the line. I was the one returning from the run. This was almost done. A man ran in just a pair of Speedos. Despite everything I giggled.

Back down the hill, gathering momentum. I heard the pulse of music at the finish line, the thump of my own heart – strong but tired. I marked out a blonde girl in front, decided to beat her to the finish Passing her, she cheered me on. I had this.

We rounded the corner. At the top of the hill was the Montauk Lighthouse, the finish. The crowd was thick and smiling on each side. The blonde girl passed me. But I was searching for faces I knew in the crowd. Then I saw them – my husband, my girls. Smiling, cheering. Mummy....

I crossed the finish line. Alive. Exhilarated. Exhausted. I wanted to share this triumph with my family but I needed a moment first to take it in. I looked out to the sea beyond the lighthouse and the rain-washed sky shrouding it. My chest heaved with the weight of this feat.

This was the End but also the Beginning. At 36 years old I had found my sport. There would be more of these – I knew that for sure then.

But there would never be the thrill again of this, my first triathlon. Of not knowing what to expect and the sea, salt and sweat I’d tasted discovering it.

I kissed my husband and kids. I pinned my race number on E’s shirt. Little P prodded the black numbers still loud on my legs.

Proudly, I wore that ink on my skin for the rest of the day. I was a tri person now.....

The blonde beat me to the finish...

Victory hugs

Support team. Pink Croc style.

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