The August 17th morning of the Believestrong triathlon in Orlando, FL was perfect. It had rained the night before which cooled the temps to a pleasant 78º. It was still dark when I set up my bike and stuff in the transition area and I got my arms marked with my race number 35. 35 was Karen’s high school and college basketball number. She and I thought it was lucky and kind of cool to have this number written with a large sharpee on both of my arms. I had a T for triathlon written on my left calf (there was also a duathlon that day) and my age on my right calf. After setting up and getting marked, I wanted to go to the lake. There was an awesome sunrise over Lake Mary Jane.
I loved this lake. It was so pretty and warm and it wasn’t weedy at all like Lake Butler where I had practiced. I waded right in and did some warm-up strokes. I felt completely calm. These next two pictures are two of my favorites. All morning, Kylie kept hugging me and telling me she loved me and wished me luck over and over. It was so sweet. After we had our short race meeting and the race started for the men, the women were instructed to wade in to our ankles. Kylie wished me one more good-luck and I turned to blow her a kiss.
In the picture, you can see the closest large orange buoy. If you look to the left side of the picture, you can see another buoy. And there was another buoy on the far right. The three buoys made a triangle. And for this race, we would swim two loops around the triangle. I started off strong and was so glad that I didn’t get hit or kicked in the initial rush. But when I took my first sighting, I was way off course and veering too far to the right. This happened over and over as I went around the first two buoys. I would think I was swimming straight and I would sight and I would be far to the right again. After rounding the second buoy, I got a bit better. I started pulling with my left arm more and holding my head so that in my mind it seemed like I was swimming in a diagonal. And somehow this kept me swimming straighter. I was pleased with how calm I stayed but it was disconcerting to keep loosing my bearings. I did more breaststroke than I thought I would. But my breaststroke was really strong. I actually passed another swimmer as I was breaststroking and she was freestyling. I ended up sighting about every 2 breaths and I was worried that this was slowing me way down. I was also worried at one point about the timing chip strapped to my ankle. I thought it was falling off. I reached down and touched it and realized that I wasn’t going to be able to tighten it up. So I just prayed that it would stay on for the swim and luckily it did! When I had done time trials in the pool, I consistently swam 1500K in 34-35 minutes. I didn’t know it when I left the lake, but I had completed this part of the race in 31 minutes.
After leaving the lake, there was a .18mile run down a beach, onto some grass, onto a road and back onto the grass of transition. If you look in the distance of these next two photos, there is a small orange flag. That’s where our transition area was located. After tightening my timing chip on my ankle, I started running barefoot and chatting with Karen a bit as she took some pictures. She smiled, gave me a big thumbs up and reminded me to “Go, run!” I laughed because I was so proud that I had just swam a mile that I could have jogged and talked with her the whole way. I ran this part of the transition in 2:10.
When I got to transition, I used a sports water bottle to squirt the worse of the dirt and sand off my feet. And I put on my socks, shoes, tank, race belt, bike gloves and helmet. I thought I was moving as fast as I could but I was actually in T1 (transition 1) for 5:40. When I told my awesome trainer Joy my T1 time, she laughed as asked me if I had gotten a massage while I was there! I’m shocked that I spent so much time there! Almost all of the bikes were gone from T1 when I left but I was prepared for this. I knew that there were some really fast athletes out there. And I just stayed focused on doing my race and not worrying about coming in last.
Then it was time for the bike ride. I did my best to walk/jog my bike up to the mount area. Karen snapped this great picture as I mounted my bike and then….paused. My head was screaming, “Go, go!” but my body just sat there and took it all in. The race volunteer yelled “Mount, mount!” and Karen yelled, “Mount!” and that was enough to get me going. Off, on the bike, I went.
The first five miles were so hard. Little did I know that I was on a long, slow incline. It seemed flat to me. I only knew that I was only biking at 13.5-14mph. I was fussing at myself thinking, “This won’t do. You’ve got to go Wendy! You must go faster!” Finally, at 5 miles, I crested the hill, leveled out and flew. I looked down and was going 17mph. “Oohhh….I was on a hill. Well no wonder I was going slow. Ok. It’s going to be ok now!” I was so happy that I wasn’t going to end up with a 2 hour bike ride that I really enjoyed the rest of the 25 miles. Most of the race course was loops through neighborhoods but all the turns had volunteers with flags, showing us the turns. The turns and the u-turns were much easier than the tighter turns I had practiced. I smiled and spoke with the other race participants I saw. I smiled and thanked all the volunteers and police officers.
And I was so tickled to see Karen and Kylie at the halfway point u-turn. They hollered and cheered and I was so happy that you can almost here my “Wheeee” in this picture.
My goal was to finish the 25 miles in 1:40. But I actually finished in 1:29. I just knew that I was sooo happy pulling back into the transition area to begin my run. For me, the hardest parts were over.
In T2/transition 2, I stowed my bike, downed 8oz of Gatorade, took off my helmet and put on my running hat and re-tied my shoes. But unfortunately, I did not strap on my Garmin. My Garmin battery was completely dead. I had charged it but then stowed it in my transition bag and it must have gotten bumped and turned on and somehow run down. Regardless, it was dead. And headphones and music are prohibited in triathlons. I was warned to not even try to get away with wearing music because it could cause a time penalty. So here I was without Garmin and without music, two items I always use when I run.
I ran out of T2 in just 1:58 and started the run. The run was held in the Moss Park campground. But I was not prepared for the fact that the entire run was on a dirt/sand road. The dirt and sand was fairly loose. As my ankles and knees wobbled I thought, “Well I didn’t prepare for this. Let’s see how it goes.” Overall this surface was easier on my hips but harder on my knees and ankles. And the run course wasn’t marked for mileage. So I had no idea how far I had run. I only knew that I had two loops to cover. I was so happy to see Karen at the halfway mark of the run. And Kylie ran out to high-five me. Isn’t that a great picture of she and I running together?!
As I passed Karen and Kylie, I could hear the cheers and music of the finish line as people were finishing. That part was hard because I still had 2.8 miles to run. Plus the temperature was 84º and it seemed more humid. But I settled in with the knowledge that I was almost done. For the entire run, since I didn’t have my Garmin, I had to ask myself, “Are you running as fast as you can but not flat out sprinting?” and I kept answering yep, going as fast as I can. On the last loop, I passed three other runners and there was some satisfaction in that. But for the entire run, my feet were squishing in all the sweat pooled in my shoes. And some grit had embedded above my left heel and caused a huge blister that I thought was bleeding it hurt so badly. My right knee started twinging pretty badly and I was in marathon flashbacks with that pain. But I kept pushing on until I saw the finish shoot.
As soon as I entered the shoot, I was filled with all-consuming pride, joy and happiness. I started wiggling my butt as I danced/ran around with my hands thrown over my head screaming out loud, “I did it! I did it! I did it!”
And the fabulous racers who had finished and were lining the shoot cheered and laughed and celebrated with me.
As soon as I finished, I leaned against a tree as my family brought me water and Gatorade. I peeled off my shoes and socks and was relieved that I had many angry blisters but that none were bleeding. And then I asked Karen my time and she told me the clock time was 3:04. I was blown away. I thought this triathlon would take me 3:15 – 3:30. I was prepared to be very happy with anything less than 3:30. Karen ran over to the timekeeper and was told my official chip time was 3:01:35. I was so astonished that I actually said, “I don’t think that’s possible. I don’t see how I could have been that fast. Please check again!” Dutifully, she checked again and then announced, “The timekeeper said you need to stay for the award ceremony. You won your age group. You are going to get a medal.” Oh my heavens! Now I was dumbfounded.
When I found out a few weeks ago that most triathlons don’t give out medals to all finishers, I was crushed. I really love my race medals. I couldn’t believe that they give out medals like candy at 5K’s and 10K’s but that they wouldn’t give a medal for an accomplishment like a triathlon?! But now, Karen was telling me that I was actually going to get a medal. I was overwhelmingly happy.
Someone had asked me which was more difficult—the marathon or this Olympic-distance triathlon. My answer was that the marathon was physically harder. But the triathlon was mentally and emotionally harder. It’s just harder to balance all three sports. I’ve had such a huge learning curve with regards to swimming and biking. Literally coming from not being able to swim but one lap and not knowing how to ride a bike at all to this triathlon race has been such a long, laborious, hard, and magnificent journey. I’ve had my share of crying meltdowns about it. Do you know why I cry and worry and obsess? Because under it all, I love this sport and this training. It means sooo much to me. It’s hard to convey how much it means and what an epic goal this has been. I feel so blessed. And I’m so grateful to my Karen, my Kylie, my trainer Joy, my swim coach Gus and many others as they have helped me along my journey.
Here’s the official stats:
15K/.932 mile swim: 31:49 (2:07 per 100m or 1:56 per 100 yards)
2:10 beach run, 5:40 T1
40K/ 24.85 mile bike: 1:29:58 (16.85 pace)
9K/ 5.6 mile run: 46:53 (8.22 pace)
Total time: 3:01:35