Monday, July 28, 2008

New Jersey State Triathlon Race Report: The View From the Back

There was a fatality yesterday. A 52-year triathlete, John Hobgood, died during the swim, and his body was not discovered until late Sunday night. It's horrifying and shocking and sad, and reading that news put things into stark perspective fast. My heart goes out to his family. I can't even begin to imagine what they are feeling.

I hope my little story will not sound too mundane in light of this tragedy.

We left our hotel at 5:15 to get to the race site by 5:30. Transition opened at 5:45.

Transition, just like LBTEPA and Jessie taught me.

Then there was some pump drama:
Pump. Drama.

There was also some number drama, when I realized that the volunteer had put my age on me instead of my race number. Thanks to whomever gave me the tip to bring markers. Then there was rack drama, and some drama with women around me not sharing space. I guess they missed the memo. The memo about being nice. Whatever! If triathlon teaches you nothing else, it teaches you to let things go. There's already enough things to worry about, you don't need to add more.

All my D.C. tri peeps were fantastic, walking around taking hundreds of pictures and checking each other's transition areas. It was so much fun, I hardly had time to get nervous.

Carolina, me, Casey, Sandy, Ryan, Bryan, Heather

The Bad News Bears

I had to leave my glasses in transition, so if I wanted to see anything, I had to put my prescription goggles on. Walking around in black spandex and goggles is a look, people, believe me.

There were about 210 D.C. Tri Club members competing, and we all walked down to the swim start to watch each other take off. It was awesome to have so many people you know surrounding you and encouraging you, cheering and trash talking.

I love this photo! L-R: Lindsey, me, Greg, Sandy, Bryan (photo courtesy Sandy C.)

The Swim:
My wave—females 50-59 and male and female first-timers any age— started around 8:45. I had been up and on my feet since 4 a.m. by the time I got in the water. Amazingly, I was not nervous. I knew I could do this. I'd swum 1,500 meters many times without stopping.

The water was nice and warm, and I just told myself this was just like swimming in the pool.

Err, not so much.

Right away I was off course, alone, and last. I tried to speed up, which was dumb, because all that did was leave me breathless. I tried like hell to be in the moment, one of several mantras for the day, but it was tough. Funny how this never happens in the pool! The volunteers in kayaks were so attentive—one even told me to get the water out of my goggles. They were that close. Plus they shouted encouragement. Just. Freaking. Awesome. The only way out was to keep breathing and put one arm in front of the other. With 800 meters left, I finally started swimming smooth and easy.

Swim: 46:42

I was slightly disappointed because I had done this distance—and longer— so many times. But whatcha gonna do??

Unlike Philly, there were no big strong people to help you look elegant getting out of the water. Lucky for me, NOD was there to document everything.

I am too standing up.

This is not your mother's triathlon. Wait! It actually IS your mother's triathlon.

Running uphill to transition.

T1: 4:35 Which was an AWESOME time! But it was mentally rough running into an empty transition area. I tried to just focus on racing my race. From my rack to the bike mount was about 125 yards. I ran as best I could in my cleats over tarmac and grass, uphill (again with the hills!), and finally got to the bike mount, where the kindly volunteer told me, "Don't worry, you have all the space you need to mount!" since there is no one else here!


How does this thing work again?

The Bike:
The bike was one long loop and one short loop that you did twice. I felt confident because I had put in the mileage and knew that I could do this. Many, many, many people blew by me and I started thinking that maybe I wasn't so far behind after all. But they were soon gone, and I was alone, which was just hard.

If only I had remembered!!

If only I had remembered what my friend Sandy told me this morning, as we were debriefing via e-mail:
You were definitely NOT alone out there. Even though you didn't see us until you came around the bend to the finish, we were all running right by your side the whole time....cheering you on in our hearts!!
When I read that? I started crying.

I still had fun on the bike. I tried to remember that I was in a race, despite all evidence to the contrary. Like say, competitors, for instance. It was pretty flat so no downhills to fly down, and conveniently? No uphills! We were sharing the road with traffic, and the cops were fantastic, holding back cars when they saw me. I felt like a rock star. I thanked every single one of them.

I also sang "Woodstock" (Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young) about 10,000 times in my head. I have no idea why.

Bike 39K: 1:32:53 (15 mph) I was pretty happy with my time. Exactly what I expected.

T2 3:45: Everyone was gone, which was all kinds of depressing. And the ladies who shared my rack had taken ALL the spaces, so I wasted time shoving bikes out of the way. So. Annoying. But Number One Daughter and BF were at every stage cheering me on and ringing the cowbell which brought a smile to my face.

T2 is a lonely place for the back o' the pack.

The Run:
Two out and backs. Out 1.5 shady miles and back PAST the finish, where I could hear people cheering finishers (oh the humanity!) and then out another 1.5 sunny and slightly hilly miles, and back. I started out feeling OK, not the usual legs-in-cement feeling. That was soon replaced by the death-march shuffle, though, so it all evened out. I saw a few people I knew on the course, which was nice, and managed to pass a few people. 21st C Mom had wisely suggested that I come up with a run strategy, so I set my watch for run 10 minutes, walk 1 minute. I also planned to walk all the water stops. I stuck to run 10, walk 1 for probably the first 5k.

First 5k. Stick a camera on me and I'll run every time.

NOD and BF were fantastic, cheering and telling me I was right on pace. Which I think I was at that point.

And then? It was all over.

Only it so wasn't all over!!

I was either being passed as I took walk breaks or passing as I started running. I didn't feel bad. Then again, I didn't feel so good! After about ten hours, I saw the 1/2 mile to go sign and I started running again, this time downhill. I could see the finish in the distance.

The Perfect Ending:
You know how time and distance seem to blur in a race? Well, I was dead certain that the finish was not the finish, that there was going to be some crazy-ass run around the park and not a straight shot into the chute. So certain, that I started walking again, figuring I still had a long way to go.

I was wrong. Someone yelled to me that the finish was right around the corner, and I looked up and saw a tidal wave of people rushing to the net calling "Go Jeanne!"

I could NOT believe it.

There were all my friends, cheering like maniacs—for ME!

Let me tell you: It's very hard to maintain the death-march shuffle with that kind of support, so I managed to kick it in to the most beautiful sound in the world. People cheering for ME.

I cried. I kissed Simon (sorry big guy!) I hugged everyone.

Me kissing Ironman Simon. Words I will not likely ever write again.

Run 10K: 1:27:01 (14:02 min miles)

How could ANYONE be disappointed with friends like that?!

To quote from the final scene of "It's a Wonderful Life,"
Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.
Not to wax hyperbolic (as if!), but it was like V-E Day, V-J Day, Christmas, New Year's and the happiest day of my life.

But it took me from the this morning until 11:37 p.m. to realize that.

Final time: 3:54:54

After much hugging and crying and kissing everyone packed up and left. We were all a little sad because this race was the end of the New Triathlete Program—as one person said, "the most fun I've had as a grown up." The masseuses were gone and so was the food, so the kidz and I loaded up the car, I did a little striptease in the parking lot and we headed to WaWa (the "7-11 of Whole Foods"--Lindsey), where I forced myself to eat a soft pretzel and chocolate milk. I had only had oatmeal, three Gus and Gatorade all day long. (And God only knows how I managed it, but I gained 4 lbs from that regimen. Sigh.)

Then I drove five hours through a hurricane back to D.C.

I thought I'd feel like death on a cracker today, but aside from being a little tired, I feel fine!

And I'm pretty sure that I want to try that again!


Anonymous said...

Nice write-up. Found it by accident....while looking for an article on the death of one of the athletes. Interestingly enough, I was racked with a number of your DC Tri colleagues. I too was a first timer (Bib #2953). Finished 251 overall (2:37:20) and 7th in the male first timer division. It was one of the coolest things I ever did. Had a fantastic time. I was actually laughing out loud a few times during the race. It was a riot. When I started training (the swim was the problem)in November, I never thought I could do it. At age 49 I thought I had gotten into this a bit too late. My wife thinks I am crazy. She may be right. I am going to do my 2nd tri on September 21st (Endless Summer Triathlon)on Long Beach Island. It is a sprint, with an ocean swim. Not sure what is next after that. It must have been great working out with a club. I'll have to look into that as it was a long boring winter on LBI...........essentially training alone.

Thanks for the inspirational story.


Susan said...

Death on a cracker - LOL! I am crying with laughter!

Black spandex and prescription goggles - ha! You crack me up.

This is awesome. I'm gonna do it!

Danielle in Iowa in Ireland said...

Congrats! And dang that is a strong finish!

Vickie said...

Jeanne, I'm so proud of you! You were fantastic! Too bad about the drowning. Horrible way to remember the race. And the transition. Yeah, I have my own stories on that. But you worked through all that and managed to keep good humor until the end. My first Oly distance race I did great on the swim, bike, and first 5k, and then I walked almost the entire second 5k. I think it just happens on the first race so don't worry about it again. Start checking for your next race NOW.

Vickie said...

P.S. I guess another way to look at being in transition alone is at least no one is in your way any more!

Anonymous said...

GREAT! You've got my heart and adrenalin pumping! You really DID IT! There's nothing quite like people cheering for you, right!? I love and thank the people who call out "that's it, finish strong". The atheletes who hang around the finish line cheering....they're the best people in the world. I hope they know how much they mean to us. Thank you for another great post, Jeanne. CONGRATULATIONS!

21stCenturyMom said...

Ah yes, dearie. I see we've come around from "I don't think this is my event" to "I'm pretty sure I want to try that again" That's my girl.... come in, come in to the crackhouse.

Nice report. I'm so impressed with the bike - my first several tris were executed at 12 mph and here you pulled 15! And you did it! Yeah!

Terri & TJ said...

You did it. Way to go. Congratulations.

Xena said...

Who says you aren't born to run!

ShirleyPerly said...

Maybe not born to run but I'd say born to tri!!

Great job out there on the swim. You beat both my Oly swim times. Hopefully you won't beat the number of swim-related deaths I've had a my races (2).

Anne said...

Not everyone understands the courage it takes to be -- and remain -- at the back of the pack during an intense competition. Thanks for doing your part to enlighten them, and doing so with humor, honor and humility.

LBTEPA said...


Old School Runner said...

Fantastic job! I think you did great. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Woo hoo! I am so excited for and proud of you!! It so makes me want to go out and do one now!

Way to go, you accomplished a great thing!

Matthew said...

Great going!
It was a pleasure training with you in the NTP this year.

Anonymous said...

Hello! Just read your story, i was in the Triathlon as well but in the sprint, first timer :) . I def. related to your entire story, especially learning to let things go cause i had a transition space issue as well! Congratulations on finishing. It was a great experience!!

The new Casey said...

You are someone to aspire to, it has been great swimming, biking, and running with you over the last 4 months. Now, let's find the next challenge and kick it in the butt.

Lisa said...

I loved your write up. I did the same race as someone who has done them before...however before 2 kids and 6 yrs ago....Now 42 I thought it time to get back into it. I was initially happy with my results as back in January I could not run a block without getting wiped out. When I saw how competitive people were it kind of freaked me...Danskin is deffinitely different. I had a great time though and your story and my poor marks are the inspiration I need for signing up for another one (and trying to do better). I will try Lake Anna in October. Congratulations on your first tri..and an Olympic distance at that.

peter said...

Really nice write up Jeanne, and a nice job at your first tri! Keep up the excellent work!

Anonymous said...

I've always wanted to TRI a triathlon, this is so inspiring!

What an amazing day, congratulations!

Sunshine said...

Appreciated your delightful account of the race. Liked the reference to the "nice" memo.. and definitely the "death on a cracker".
The swim death is astonishing. What happened to the old buddy system.. guess that doesn't work in competition .. too bad.

Rae said...

Way to go!!!! You are such a rock star, and you make all this sound like SO MUCH FUN. Seriously though, say this isn't the end of all your fun DC training group reports!!! I love your group!

Black Knight said...

Congrats, you are born to tri! May I join the group for my first tri?

Judi said...

You had a great race Jeanne! Way to go! WOOOOOHOOOO!

Anonymous said...

That is a great post, very inspirational. Congrats to you and all who participated. I am a 45 yr. old first timer who just did the sprint. Going thru my own mid-life crisis. As in past posts, my wife thinks I am nuts. Until the race when she saw how inspiring it was. I was ready for it and prepared and did what I thought at 1:30. I have a funny tidbit. I am at the transistion rack before the race asking those around me to help me guage my space, I wanted to be polite to others. The guy on the rack across from me on the other side were chatting before the race. His first tri all that jazz. Well my little spot is well maintained and very neat. I get back from the bike run over to transition and see my whole little neat area, totally disheveled. Water bottles down, socks over my area, little gel packs , etc. Then, while putting on my left shoe, I look for the right? Well, I see he somehow took my right shoe and left me with his. I went to an official (very little help I must say) and then told them, screw it, I'm running with his. I mentioned the shoe story to every race official and volunteer I could until if just fell on deaf ears. When done, satisfied I finished, regardless of the whole shoe size difference, the guy appeared. I am a Clydesdale so I weigh around 225. He was a little fellow and was like a kid who got caught with his hand in the icing. It was funny, I laughed it off and he apologized profusely. Still in my opinion, very irresponsible. But I did not let it get to my positive day. But I have one heck of a memory. The only downside was the drowning which occurred in my heat of the swim. Hard to believe that could happen. Very very sad. But, that being said, I cannot wait to run another, i am doing two more before the end of the year. I look forward to your longer swim next year. This is a wonderful sense of accomplishment. Great report and congrats to all!!!!

Rainmaker said...

Awesome job Jeanne! You did it, you kicked ass! So...ummm...when's the next one?

Oh, and the chocolate milk? Nicely done!

Congrats again!

scmorgan said...

Jeanne, I am so so so proud of you. I love the write-up, the photos, and your journey. You are the coolest person I know:)
I'm taking care of David T for you...he's trying to join the elite racers' team we saw on the beach.
Anyway, you are amazing!!!

Anonymous said...

you did it! you were strong. you were scary. you came from the deeep...

and you were much stronger than the movie i saw last weekend:
Horror of Party Beach.

btw, you might like Zombie Stomp's user comment, esp the middle para.

Jade Lady said...

You KICK BUTT! Thanks for sharing your story. When you told me you were doing an oly, I wanted to sign up for one too! But, not this year...and I never would have considered doing one, if it hadn't been for YOU.

You have totally inspired me to TRI harder!

David said...

You continue to amaze me. Your compulsion and passion for pushing yourself to a higher level is exemplary.
Now exercise some of that in the work world.

Rich said...

Congrats on a great finish. That's one more tri than all us mere runners have done. Good job Jeanne!

EKR said...

Hi - I found your post by googling reviews of the NJ tri and I just wanted to say it is so nice to read a race report by someone I can relate to, not someone super fast. I've only done one tri to date, but I was LAST out of the water (DQ'd, but they let me finish the rest of the race) and it's so hard mentally to not be near anyone and I really appreciate your writing from that perspective. So congrats on your finish and I look forward to reading more race reports!