Sunday, September 27, 2020

Panic Season 2020: TSRA Triathlon


I’m racing myself into shape.


Like most of you, I found myself this year focused on a COVID-induced approach of having “fun” and enjoying the “process”.  But when it comes to short course racing, you cannot “fun” and “process” your way to the finish line.  As a result of that approach, each race in my SURPRISE-IT’S-A-2020-RACE-SEASON! feels like being hit with a cold bucket of water while jumping back in fear as both hamstrings cramp.

In the last 2 weeks, my (panic) “training” (or, more like survival exercise where I exorcise the demons of daily life) for this 2020 (panic) season has taken a backseat.  After nearly 6 months of the endless summer break with our children, it began:


Or, the sound of 2 teachers and 36 children simultaneously talking, unmuting and muting themselves as my children go between complete boredom, the brink of starvation and tears for 6+ hours in my house every day.

Another race in Indiana?  Put my life on mute for 24 hours and SIGN ME UP.

Friday, I headed out for the race with husband Chris.  Within 15 minutes of getting on the highway, Chris yanked the GPS off the dash & threw it into the backseat.

(my husband and navigation have a complicated relationship.  Years ago, pre-Garmin, pre-phone, en route to Springfield, I recall him throwing an entire atlas out the window.  A half mile later, realizing we really had no way to finding our way to Springfield without it, we were driving in reverse on the shoulder to retrieve it)     

Politely, I remind Chris that this is the year 2020 and we have these amazing little devices, “phones”, that contain a navigation system. 

(long pause)

“Can you get the GPS from the backseat and start it back up?”

When it wasn’t starting back up quickly enough, he got antsy. I explain that’s because the GPS had to crawl back in time to download maps FROM THE YEAR 2015. 

(which, incidentally, was when the portion of I-80 on which we are driving didn’t exist)

Within an hour, we arrived at the Comfort Inn, the so called rendezvous point to pick up Athlete Kevin and his wife, Teresa.  Fellow parenting escapees.  Small problem.  They were at a Comfort Inn in Lansing, Illinois while we were in Hammond, Indiana.

Once we sorted that snafu out, we drove on to Fremont, Indiana.  A delightful town.  We picked up our race packets at a local run store where we also ran into the race director.  He  mistakenly took my husband for someone else who a) had won one of his races before; “are you ready to win again this weekend?” and b) a professor, “aren’t you a professor at South Bend?” 

South Bend?  Ah yes, home of the University of Notre Dame.  We now refer to my husband as “The Professor”, on a tenured track in the Department of Navigation, wrote his thesis on Finding Your Way With Outdated Technology.

We enjoyed dinner outdoors at a restaurant where the median age was 94.  I ordered something that can only be described as not what I was expecting.  So I didn’t eat.  Instead, I watched everyone else eat, obsessed about what I was actually going to eat and listened to Kevin wax on about his dream to own a Kwik Trip in Wisconsin.

“Do you think the Kwik Trip thinks about me when I’m not there?”

Alas Indiana is not home to the Kwik Trip so we made a stop at Meijer to pick up my dinner: a bagel with nut butter.  I keep telling myself “carbs are carbs” as I stuff a bagel into my mouth at 8 pm.

We arrive at our hotel.  Only to discover it wasn’t really our hotel.  Turns out our booked hotel was next door.  When we arrive at our room, we see possibly the worst thing for any couple knee deep in small children and over 15 years of marriage: ONE BED.  Right on cue, Chris takes the couch.  I crank the AC, plug in my fan and settle into bed.

Race morning arrives.  We drive into the state recreation area parking lot where we are faced with parking on an open grass hill or cramming the van into a tight space between two parked cars. 

Now what you need to know about my husband is when he encounters a lot of open parking spaces, he will choose to whistle his mini van right into the most narrow spot possible leaving the passengers approximately one inch to open the door and exit.  Each time he does this, Kevin screams “COME ON, MAN!”  And so, no surprise when this morning he whistled the van right into the tight spot and we sat there, uncomfortable recipients of the stink eye from the car full of lifeguards parked next to us.

“COME ON, MAN!  They’re looking right at us!”  

We walk to transition.  We took a primo spot right by the bike out/in and began setting up our equipment.  It was a special race as I was surrounded by 8 of my athletes.  The mood was invigorating – we were excited to be together, to race and bring out the best in ourselves. 

The swim took place in a beautiful lake, cool and deep.   Walking to warm up, I see one of my lanemates from masters, Rich.  We do a short warm up, proclaim how perfect the water was, note the beauty of the lake surroundings and then begin the wait. 

Another time trial start, this time with a running jump or dive off of a dock.  Waiting, I make chit chat with my athletes while keeping a close eye on position – I wanted to be towards the front but not at the front.  Lucky for me, another competitor took care of that:

“There’s elites at this race, you know, athletes who are very fast.”

Lucky for me, there was still enough time before the race start so I could unroll my eyes out of my head.  Let’s just say that Old Lady Waterstraat got great pleasure from beating him and the elite out of the water. 

Back to the race start.  My husband was right in front of me and while he did the feet first jump, I did a quick sit and scoot into the water to avoid any goggle mishap.  Turns out I was able to quickly settle into a strong rhythm and keep the main group about 25 yards ahead of me.

I was flying – that feeling of moving through the water with grace and power.  With one exception – someone right on my feet.  As I round the second loop, I notice someone pull up on my left side and recognize the swim cap of Rich, my lanemate.  He does his part by pulling us back to the dock where we exit together.

The run to transition is long and uphill.  Also difficult to do when your arm is stuck in your wetsuit that you’re trying to unwhistle yourself out of.  I will never understand why a small wetsuit is designed with arms the length of a gorilla. 

The race was lonely with less than 65 people in attendance.  Essentially it was a time trial with yourself.  The bike course started out fairly hilly before settling into typical Indiana flat corn-lined roads.  At this point, my bike and I are not speaking together as we’ve never been able to find a way to speak the same language.  I pushed but my legs burned and I wasn’t really getting anywhere.  Soon into the race, I was passed by the pro woman who would go on to win.  And about 37 minutes into the race, I was passed by one of my athletes. In fact, nearly every single one of my athletes passed me.  It’s a damn good feeling to see your people flying by you with confidence, power and speed.  GO TEAM!

The run was an adventure in twists, turns, grass, dirt, chunky gravel, hills and 6 out and backs.  Simply put, it was confusing.  I went out charging knowing that every second would count.  Katie was ahead of me and another gal was hot on my tail.  At times I felt good.  At other times I begged for it to be over.  That place where you want to quit is right around where you want to be for an Olympic race.  In that sense, I nailed it.

Post race was a quick blur of photos and stories.  We did well – many age group podiums and smiles all around.  But now we all needed to head back to our real lives – kids, work, mostly kids and households that would probably welcome us in utter disarray and many loads of laundry. 

The drive home can be summed up with a unfortunate incident at Popeye’s Chicken where a very hangry athlete learned that at 12:20 pm the fryers hadn’t been turned on and they were out of fried chicken.  Let’s just say the fryers at the new Whitewater Kwik Trip will be turned on at 5 am and new franchise owner Kevin will be sure of it.

The rest of the drive was a series of chuckles about kids, racing and life.  In less than 100 miles, we would be back home, leaving what often feels like our Superman Triathlon Capes in our race bags and returning to our mundane Clark Kent domestic lives (and, if you're Kwik Trip Kevin, you'll leave your entire race bag with shoes and speedsuit in the wizard's sleeve of our van; meaning, we didn't find it in our basement until 2 weeks later - HOW?!).  Perhaps that is why we race.  To feel something different than our daily lives.  It’s like entering an alternate universe where the only questions asked of us are: how fast can you get to the finish line, how bad do you want it, how much are you willing to suffer?

The best place to be?  On the precipice of asking those questions and facing the opportunity to find out.