Almost two years to the day, I have finally competed in my first post-injury/post-surgery TRIATHLON! It was a remarkable experience, highlighted by the uniqueness of the race itself. MRA Multisport in Massachusetts puts on a triathlon called the Summer Solstice Sprint, located in Sutton, and what makes this race so special is that it takes place in the evening. Yes, the evening. The beauty of the race is that it takes place on the longest (or at least, very close to the longest) day of the year, so there is plenty of daylight to complete the entire race. In short, it’s brilliant. Here’s the recap of my day.
For those of you who race, whether that’s in road races, triathlon, cyclocross, etc., most of the time you probably race in the morning, so you can understand how totally weird it felt that I was able to sleep in until 8:00 (yes, that’s sleeping in for me), get some breakfast, and just chill out. At first it made me nervous, but that quickly dissipated since I was able to while away the hours at my favorite place on this earth: Walden Pond.
I made my way to Sutton (about 45 minutes away from Concord). When I arrived at the race venue, Marion’s Camp, I set up my bike and racing accoutrements, and it did not escape me how natural all of the motions felt even though I hadn’t laid out a transition spot in seemingly forever. When it was all said and done, I met with my friend David Heller who I became acquainted with back in 2009 at the Walden Woods Project’s “Approaching Walden” conference. David lives near Salem, and I suggested to him (coerced?) that he join me for the SSS. I’m so glad he did. It was nice to see a familiar face and to catch up a bit.
They had us get into three separate groups for the swim: Men, Women, and Novices. If a person thought he/she should be in the “new swimmer/nervous swimmer” group (as MRA put it), that person had to tell the volunteers at registration who would then issue the racer with a yellow cap. Are you enjoying my foreshadowing? I took my non-neophyte pink cap and proceeded to shoe-horn myself into my wetsuit.
The men, in green caps, went out first, followed by the women in their gender-specific pink. It was a two-at-two start, and before I could even think I was in the water, making my way to the first buoy. In just a few short moments, I was upon some of the green caps that had gone a couple of minutes before me. I quickly – and to my great dismay – found myself stuck between two men who CLEARLY should’ve been wearing the yellow caps. The swim was only a quarter-mile, so I should have been able to blast through it, but I was caught between the panicked and unskilled flailing of the two green caps, and in no time I too was rolling onto my back gasping for air after a flailed arm slapped me across of face. In short, I was pissed, but I was also determined not to let these two newbs ruin my first race in two years. I put my face in the water, began to kick furiously, and beat my way past the melee of limbs. In a flash I was on the shore, unzipping my wetsuit, tearing off my cap, and making my way up the winding steep path to T1.
I told myself days ago, even weeks ago, that I was not going to kill myself trying to speed through my transitions. This was the first time in a long time that I had done this, and with no practice under my belt, I knew things could get a little complicated. I did spend a few too many seconds contemplating where to place my soggy wetsuit since I had only ever raced with one once before (The dreaded Maumee OLY!), but eventually I just threw it over the bike rack. But to my surprise, transition went very well. I got out of my wetsuit with relative easy, slid into my bike shoes, grabbed my helmet, and was off.
The course was pretty much perfect. With the exception of a few rough patches on the asphalt, which was easily navigable, I enjoyed the rolling hills and beautiful scenery. Most of the course was around a large inland lake, and I loved looking at all of the beach houses. One area of the ride was a dark canopy of tall oak trees, which was both scary and exhilarating. There were two incredibly fantastically fun downhills where I reached speeds I can’t mention here or my mother will worry. I screamed with joy, tears from the wind streaming out of the corners of my eyes. I wish every ride had hills like that. The course was only 10 miles long, and at the very end there was this slow, steep, son-of-a-bitch of a hill that made me want to cry a little. Right in the middle I though for just a second that I would have to get off and walk the rest of the way, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. There was no way I was going to “quit” on my first race. And so I slugged on, up to the top, and back into transition.
My hands were shaking from the adrenaline so I had a hard time tying my shoes. I opted not to put in my speed laces before I left home because, again, it wasn’t about the time; it was all about having fun. Though I had to deal with the annoyance of tying actual laces, I managed to speed through it. After a friendly reminder from a volunteer to grab my bib number, I was on my way out of the run exit. It has been a long time since I have made the bike to run transition, and I had forgotten the “wonky leg” feeling of trying to get my legs under me, but I was so happy to be running, I didn’t care. I was almost done!
The out-and-back 5K was on the same portion as the beginning of the bike, so I already knew what to expect as far as terrain. There was a slow uphill, not too steep, at the beginning. It leveled out pretty much after that, with only a few minor elevations and dips here and there. After about 1.25 miles, I finally got into a normal feeling cadence and started to pick up my speed. Once I rounded the half-way point, I was feeling comfortable, and with one-mile left to go, I turned it up. I passed several people before the last turn, and I was feeling FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC. The last quarter-mile was uphill, my specialty, so I knew I would be able to pass a few more. I put everything I had into that hill, and when I crossed the finish line, the only thing that hurt was my face. Smiling does that to you.
After the race, I packed up my bag, grabbed some grub, and chatted with a few of the racers as I waited for David to cross the finish line. It was starting to get dark and chilly, but the muscles in my arms and legs seemed electric. David and I said our farewells, and as I made my way back to my car, hauling my hulking transition bag and awkwardly wheeling my bike up the one-mile stretch to the parking lot, I felt as light as air. And that feeling right there, that is why I tri.