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.






Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Fox Island Sprint Fun


Two weeks ago, I set out to compete at the Fox Lake Sprint Triathlon with the Four Chris’:


Husband Chris

Brother-in-law Chris

Friend Chris

Athlete Chris


(this sounds like a sideshow act but I assure you these are 4 separate men and there will be a test later so keep your Chris’ straight)


When faced between driving in a van with 3 Chris’ or a luxury sedan with 1 Chris, you choose the sedan for its assortment of high-end features and the fact that as you’re having a conversation, you can say “Chris” and only one man answers.  


(though saying one name and commanding the attention of four men is sort of a dream come true, isn’t it?)


Athlete Chris and I headed out to Fort Wayne while the van filled with the other Chris’ trailed behind.  To no one’s surprise, about 2 hours into the trip, we received word from the van that they had missed Route 30 and were somewhere deep in the Indiana cornfields (in their words: deep, like real deep) snaking their way back towards I-69 as they were duped again by my husband’s GPS. 


(longstanding joke: if the GPS told my husband to drive straight into Lake Michigan to get to Indiana he would have done so while cursing the GPS for being incorrect yet again)  


We arrived in Fort Wayne, picked up our race packets and then grabbed dinner.  The waiter introduced himself as Chris.  One would normally not be concerned about this but seeing how this was now the Fifth Chris and we were deep – like REAL deep – in Indiana surrounded by a Children of the Corn meets Dateline farm roads, I was starting to get worried.


We settled into the hotel where I got into bed at 7:30 pm.  It had been a reckless week of sleep and I was tired.  Temperatures in the upper 90s combined with the new F45-49 normal hot flashes for the last few nights meant there really wasn’t much sleep.


(the best way to describe a hot flash would be similar to how you describe the heat in Kona: open the oven door, stick your head in front of it while someone points a blow dryer at the back of your neck).


Finally, I slept.  Here’s the formula for a great night of pre-race sleep:  pack your own fan to drown out snoring husband and crank the hotel AC down to 60. 


Husband said:  Wasn’t it a little cold in here last night?


Nope.  Perfect.  Comfortable.  Very comfortable.


The race took place at what can only be described as the junction between Heavy Forest and Mosquito Bites: the Fox Island recreation area.  Storms the night before left the area, shall I say (be warned) moist and swarming with mosquitoes.  In a thoughtful gesture, the Race Director had a table of hand sanitizer and Deep Woods Off.


Quickly it began: the pre-race preparations.  Rack the bike.  Grease up the shoes.  Clean the helmet visor.  Calibrate the power meter.  In my head is a list I’ve run through over 200 times in 20 years to arrive at a state of ready-to-race.  I arrange my belongings on a socially distanced rack with bikes of other athletes here for the same reason: to push, to race, to get it out of our system – the demons, the anxiety, the energy, whatever your reason, you were in the right place.


The swim course was 500 yards and I swam it twice as a warm up.  Probably 4 feet deep, it was a warm bath of midwestern mud and weeds with zero percent clarity.  Of course when the water temperature is 88, there is no need to warm up but I will add that it felt good to stretch out and there were small pockets of the lake I would even call refreshing.


The race start crept up quickly.  We line up in time trial order on the beach.  Somewhat socially distanced but still close enough to listen to the conversations around me. 


I’m not going in front.  I’m not a fast swimmer.  I’m not in shape.  STOP IT!   One thing I don’t pack when I go to a race is a list of excuses.  So I lined up in front, knowing I (as usual) had no business being there but at least would get a shot at avoiding the scrum of self-proclaimed out of shape humanity behind me.


While waiting, a young man walks up to the front.  We all know this guy.  What he lacks in self-awareness, he possesses in confidence and blissful naivete.  This is more commonly known as “youth.”  He’s a talker; talking about how he’s going to win, he’s been to sprint Nationals, he’s fast, he was top 5 at the race a few weekends go.  He goes on.  And on.  


Moments like these, I find myself sitting in the imaginary rocker in my head, aging, sore and cranky.  It’s my Old Lady Waterstraat Moment.  Shaking my head while muttering something about kids these days.   


You people have no idea.  I have wrinkles on my forehead deeper than your race experience and you’re telling ME how YOU are going to win?  Wait, let me grab a bucket from transition and have a seat so I can get in on this lecture.


I smile at the young man and then politely say “Best you get the front of the line, Sparky.”


With that, the race starts.  Time to give it my best.


We go off two at a time, I enter the water with Husband Chris.  Quickly, a large and fast group forms to my left.  I keep my right line.  The swim is fast but I felt great.  Over before I knew it.  Hit the sand and couldn’t believe it – 1:20 pace for a nonwetsuit swim!


The run to transition was about 150 yards.  I picked off an assortment of young women from a local collegiate tri team.  Transitioned a little too long and then got on my bike.


The first few minutes were a no aerobars zones as we snaked our way through the wet roads of the forest exit before arriving at the main bike route.  It was a fairly straightforward, flat and fast ride.  My quads burned, I cursed my bike (we are in a complicated, strained relationship) and otherwise pushed the best I could.  In the final mile, I spotted the final woman ahead of me to catch – one of the collegiate athletes. 


I transitioned as quickly as possible and got to running.  Another run course with gravel, grass, mud and roads.  I went chasing as hard as I could, wheezing, working.  When the first mile popped up at 6:55 I thought to myself THIS is what a 6:55 pace feels like these days?  THIS!??  It’s like 6:55 with a real feel of 6:15 – it just doesn’t get any easier these days!  


By the turnaround, the collegiate girl was about a minute ahead of me.  I uttered some motivational words to each of the Chris’ – thumbs up!  Keep it going!  Get after it!  Through the finish line!  (in times like this I am really just engaging in a socially acceptable form of talking outloud to myself) By mile 2 I realized I had met my goal of beating 50 percent of the Chris’.  Meanwhile there were a few women running strong behind me and because of the time trial start I couldn’t let up.




The finish line.  A feeling that never gets old or more like that feeling of – I’m done, now I want ice cream and I don’t care if it’s only 9 am.  I finished 2nd overall with the collegiate gal in first a little over a minute ahead.  And then – the post race recaps.  Where we unabashedly indulge in our experience – recounting the personal highs, the lows, the struggles, the triumphs.  And, in the case of Friend Chris, sharing his “story of mediocrity” (in his words, it’s not easy coming in at 69th place!). 


In under 24 hours, I arrived back home and within 10 minutes start a load of laundry, empty the dishwasher, break up the fight between kid #2 and kid #3, start dinner, read the mail, etc.  And that brings me back to why we are scrapping together this 2020 race season.  Because for 24 hours, I get to be a version of myself that doesn’t often get expressed – free, focused, competitive, no stops towards a finish line. 


On to the next race!