I've always thought of it as the order in which you are most likely to die.
The three disciplines are a lesson in energy management. Could I swim faster if I didn't have to bike and run afterward? Of course. Could I put down a blazing bike pace for 56 miles? Undoubtedly. But would I have enough juice to finish off a half marathon? Probably not.
The challenge is to figure out how fast you can go and still have energy left for what comes next.
The Lake Stevens race starts in age group-based "waves," which meant my newly minted 30-year-old body jumped in the water with other women ages 30-34. As with all swim starts, the beginning is a chaotic mass of legs, arms and neoprene as swimmers battle for position. There is a good deal of kicking and water swallowing. Normally, I'm not a bad swimmer. In fact, on a given day, I'm above average. But, as was the case last year, Lake Stevens is not kind. I find myself having a hard time settling into my stroke and ultimately finish well off my PR for the 1.2-mile distance. Disappointed, I exit the water and head for the bikes.
I love the bike. I love MY bike. With my horrid swim behind me, I knew I had to make up time on my favorite machine. I always have this terrible fear that when I strip off my wetsuit, my shorts are going to go with it and I ride off nude from the waist down. Of course, this has never happened, and if it ever does, I hope someone tells me before I mount up, but it's always a small concern. Anyway, I'm now riding, fully clothed -- if not a little cold -- on my way to 56 miles of hilly wonderfulness. The first part of the bike course is all uphill. I know it's uphill but I still feel sluggish. The bad part is you have to ride these hills again in about an hour because the bike course is two laps. The good part is you get to ride the downhill part twice, too. (Yahoo for 54.4 mph!)
Ahhhh, the run.
This is my idea of purgatory. My running style can best be described as an old-man shuffle mixed with, I dunno, a crab in its death throes. I am a competitive person. I like passing. On the run, I do not pass. It's a 13.1-mile lesson in patience. The first half of the run isn't bad. I have a new experience with quad cramps during the first couple miles, but they go away, replaced instead with my old friend, tummy squirminess. I'm so afraid my tummy will blow up if given an excuse that I force myself not to eat any gels or drink too many fluids. I'm not sure if it helps. The running course is two laps as well. It's hard when you see mile markers meant for the second lap while still on your first. "I've only run a mile but that sign says I'm already at mile 8! Awesome, wait, d'oh!"
You can hear and see the finish from about a mile out. It sounds glorious. They play music. You can hear the race announcer calling the names of the finishers. You can almost smell the pizza. You turn off Main Street and into the spectator-lined finishing chute. They cheer you on for the last few hundred feet and it feels wonderful. The training, the pain, it's all a distant memory as you approach the finish. You hear your name called out among the finishers, you get a medal and, hey, a hat! You're done. Rest, recover, eat and drink beer.
And get ready for your next race.
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