Well, if you walk away with a trophy, maybe it can.
After my first triathlon, I was flying high from the excitement of the whole event. If you read my summary “Can’t Wipe This Smile Off My Face…”, you know what I’m talking about.
When an experience is so great, you want to repeat it, right? I signed up for my second triathlon, based on a couple of things. I found one within driving distance, near family and friends, and it was only five weeks away; plenty of time to train and hopefully better my times. I mean, what was I going to do to keep my workouts going if I had no goal?
After I registered, my husband delicately suggested I might benefit from some pointers in the swimming area (and let’s face it, everywhere else). We joined a local triathlon group and I asked the president for direction. He connected me with a coach and I went to his swim clinic. And another. And another. (I’m about to segue into a whole new topic of coaching, which should have its own post, so I’ll try to limit my comments until then.)
I improved a bit and kept working on all three areas; swimming, biking, running. I started stretching and got back to strength training, too. Somewhere along the line, I overdid it a bit and got a Charley Horse in my calf. If you’ve never had one, it’s like someone grabbed the big muscle in your calf and squeezed the pulp out of it–but never stopped squeezing.
So, I researched Charley Horses and discovered there is no real cause and no real remedy. Cautionary advice: drink lots of water, take magnesium (which acts as a muscle relaxant), and massage the area. I was already doing the first two and when I learned Epsom salts are loaded with magnesium, I fished out a bag from under the bathroom sink and took a long hot soak.
Massaging my own calf didn’t quite cut it, nor was my husband’s approach much better, so I got a professional massage. Actually, I got two over the course of several weeks, and they both helped. I also tried alternate ice and heat and the Charley Horse seemed to go away.
The day of the second triathlon, aptly named Mid-August Meltdown, arrived. My husband and I rose super early to make the two hour drive. Somehow in my hurry at one of the rest areas, the seatbelt got away from me and the metal end squarely hit the bridge of my nose. Besides being potentially bruised for life, my sunglasses (and later I learned my swimming goggles) were painful to wear.
As soon as we arrived, I forgot about the discomfort, and being an old pro by now, determined the most important thing was to locate the bathrooms. To my surprise (and joy), I didn’t have to visit them nearly as many times as before my first triathlon.
Also to my surprise and not-so-much joy, as we amassed on the beach for the final pre-race instruction, I also discovered all the Sprint entries—men, women, Clydesdales; all—were entering the water for the swim portion together. It was too late to go back to the port-a-potty.
Per my usual modus operandi, I hung to the back outside edge as everyone else flung themselves into the water. It felt great; not too cold. I took off and forgot everything I’d learned in all my swim clinics. I looked like a churning windmill; arms flailing, feet uselessly kicking (it seemed), but to my surprise I passed a couple of other swimmers. Huh.
Breathless, and buoyed by the fact I was ahead of a few people, as soon as my feet touched the lake’s sandy bottom, I tried to run up the ramp into the transition area. Suddenly, Charley Horse said “Hello, remember me?” and I pulled up like a lame horse. Dripping wet competitors loped by me. What?
I hobbled over to my bike and took off peddling just in time to hear my husband say, “There she is. She’s on her bike.” He was talking to my dad and I managed a quick wave before I rode out of sight for 13 miles.
At least on the bike, Charley Horse stayed quiet. I could feel him lurking, but pedaled away, determined to beat my earlier speed of 13.88 mph. It seemed like the rest of the pack passed me even as I passed a lot of dead animals, raccoons, possums, even some kind of bird. I made a mental note to tell the race organizers I would not define the bike course as having a few rolling hills. I would change the description to a lot of steep, thigh-burning–<insert expletive of your choice>–hills. I was proud of myself when I realized my average speed for the duration had improved to 14.6 mph. Go me!
I was in and out of the transition area in a flash (later I learned I’d really killed both transitions) and tried to run into what they’d named the “Dreaded Circle of Death” which was nothing more than a loop around the parking lot before heading out to the main part of the run. That was when Charley told me he was back to stay. I didn’t actually limp for 3.1 miles, but I slowed down even more than my 15 ½ mph pace in the previous triathlon.
Let me put it this way. My husband observed (and video-taped for all eternity on his cell phone) that when I came “running”–a term loosely used to describe my exertions–into the home stretch that from above the waist, I really looked like a runner. From below the waist, there “wasn’t so much going on.” No, he did not write the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Nor did he read it, apparently.
I didn’t care. I was just glad I finished. In all honesty, not that I would have done much, if any, better if my calf hadn’t been bothering me because really… I’m slow. But between the grueling heat and being thirsty and my aching calf muscle, I was ready to just relax and be happy I’d completed the race.
We went inside the main park building looking for food and discovered the awards ceremonies had started. They’d begun with the youngest age group first, so I hadn’t missed anything. J (My 82 year old father had gone home after he realized how long the whole race would take, suggesting we stop by for coffee afterward…)
After I’d downed three or four bottles of water, eaten a big slice of watermelon, and given my pizza to my husband (no way could my stomach handle pepperoni pizza in that heat… illck), I started paying attention to the makeup of the Sprint crowd. The Olympic athletes were still out on the course.
I nudged my husband and whispered. “I don’t see many other women in my age group, do you?” He looked too and said, “I bet you’ll get a prize.” Since prizes went to the top three in every category, my eyes started glittering with anticipation. “I might have a chance!” I was almost giddy, although I knew for sure who would get first place; the white-haired hard-bodied tan Scandinavian creature who looked way too fit to be doing anything except a real Ironman.
When she took first place two age groups below me, my knees almost buckled as my husband whispered; “No competition now. You’re going to get first.” Because honestly, besides her and me, the room was filled with although-not-exactly-teeny-boppers; women not of a certain age—mine.
I’d been watching the door and I was fairly certain no one had entered after me. Which meant I was the last place person in the entire race. Dead last. I whispered that little gem to my husband and he gallantly said, “No, honey. There were people after you. I’m sure of it.”
Well, I knew I’d been running for an awfully long time alone without seeing another human being except at the aid stations, so I had a sinking feeling I really was the last one, even though there had been total strangers cheering for me at the finish line. Although come to think of it, the watermelon slices did seem rather picked over. I no longer wanted a prize at all.
But there was no time to puzzle it all out as I heard my name being called to accept first place for the women’s category, age 55-59. I accepted a pretty big trophy and was smiling again ear-to-ear as I presented it for my husband’s inspection. He gave me a high five and a bear hug. I noticed no second or third places were called for my category… The rest of the awards faded away as my husband led me out of the building and I found a shower in one of the outer park buildings.
On the way out of town, we stopped to see my dad and I showed him my trophy. He got tears in his eyes as he told me how proud he was of my first place finish. As a former coach, he asked my husband about my competition and my husband looked him in the eye and said all the stats weren’t in yet. (Technically true.)
My heart only lurched a little when Dad said he was going to call the newspaper the next day and make sure I got the proper press I deserved.
So, friends and dear readers, yes, I have a beautiful first place trophy to join my third place cowbell. One thing my guy said that made me feel pretty good was this: So what if I was one out of one? I was the only one in my age category who even tried. (He may even build a trophy shelf for me because in my age group, I’m cleaning up!)
Next up; my third triathlon is less than a week away. I’m getting a little nervous. ~ JD here.