Let me start this excessive, run-on race report by saying: DC Tri, you rock! I have had such a great time this year as part of the club’s inaugural elite team, and many thanks are due to the board and especially Steve and Joe who have so solidly supported the whole endeavor. Getting some discounts and loaners on neat stuff, like wetsuits from XTerra and wheels from Zipp, has been a great perk of being on the team, and I definitely appreciate it. But the true benefit has been in being linked into the other club members, and being inspired by so many of you.
Not to mention your eloquent race reports. So here goes my attempt.
I qualified for Clearwater at New Orleans half last April. With a less-than-super-competitive 5:05 on a more-than-super-flat course, the slot roll down took long enough that by the time my name was called I had time to drink three large Abita beers. Because taking a Clearwater slot requires you to fork over your life savings for the entry fee at the very moment your name is called (not to mention run towards the announcer screaming and waving your arms like an ‘80s punk rocker at a Pat Benatar show to keep the slot from going to someone else), there’s a good chance that if alcohol had not been involved, I wouldn’t have found myself in sunny Florida last weekend. But fate has a wickedly shrewd GPS, and somehow she pointed me, tipsy, to that table of giddy adults clutching their pieces of paper like kids with candy by the banks of the Mississippi River.
This race came at the end of a rather hectic year, and to be quite honest I arrived at it feeling less like a finely tuned machine than a kind of old, hair clogged vacuum cleaner. I had weathered the Savageman half ironman in September, done the Myrtle Beach club championships in October, and run Marine Corps Marathon on Halloween. In retrospect, the fact that I hadn’t even been able to muster the spirit to wear a costume in the marathon (besides a discarded cat tail that I wore for a few miles until it started to stick to the back of my knees) should have been a signal that I was pretty toasted.
But then I arrived in Clearwater. Now let me hold forth here for a moment: I have been been racing long-distance triathlons for about 12 years now, so I feel justified in playing the part of a grizzled cynic about the hoopla surrounding ironman races. But I will fess up and admit that there was something about the excitement in Clearwater that was super invigorating. The weather was perfect and the wind was calm. The Italian restaurants were overly packed, and the oceanside bars were pathetically empty. Jay-Z was flooding the speakers everywhere you walked, and people were working out obsessively in brand new kit up and down the roads. Everything seemed about right.
And then my dad showed up in a Hummer. Most of you don’t know my dad, but suffice it to say he is one of the most frugal, humble people walking this planet. When my dad is absolutely forced to buy a car, he insists on the “beyond basic” package – no power windows, no power steering, no cruise control. He was a missionary for 20+ years. He runs a nonprofit that works with some of the poorest Americans in the country. And last weekend he shows up from the airport driving a Hummer. Ok. Whatever.
Then my mom throws down the finish-time gauntlet. Quite accidentally, but with actual consequences. The fact was, she had to get back home to Atlanta for a wedding Saturday evening after the race, and the only flight departed the Tampa airport at 2:30pm. One way or another, she was going to have to rush from the race to the airport. But when I got my wave assignment and did the math, I realized that in truth, the only way she would actually see me cross the finish line was if I finished in less than five hours, maybe 5:05 max, either one of which was asking a lot for me on a good day. But this was the first time my parents had ever seen me race, and I figured that if there was a Hummer and a mother’s hug at stake, I was game.
I met up with AJ Morrison in the start corral, and we giggled and jumped up and down and told each other no way, no how, could the swim be as choppy today as it had been during our practice swim yesterday. Right? Right?
The Swim: What Was it Like?
Camaraderie, cheering, high-fives, Jay-Z, air horn! Running, sprinting, diving, swimming!
Then waves, and being tossed about. And landing on someone’s head. And remembering just at the last minute, like always, not to open my mouth to say sorry. And swallowing salty water. And wondering why the heck I always forget how to swim entirely at some point during a triathlon.
I exited the water at 37 minutes, and was irritated at myself for about ten seconds. Then I saw the wetsuit strippers, and all dismay disappeared. (I love wetsuit strippers!)
The Bike: Mostly Blood, and Because This is a Public Forum I'll Leave Out the Part About How I Peed on a Girl
The drama started at the mount line. A guy getting on his bike next to me lost hold of his bike, just for the teensy second it took to tip over and his big chain ring to burrow right into my left calf, right down middle of the “37” that nice body marking man had penned earlier that morning. I shrugged it off and began pedaling, but by one mile in, blood was streaming down into my shoe and back behind me on the wind. This did not seem to be a desirable situation, anti-drafting tactic that it was, so I started trying to figure out what to do.
There didn’t seem to be a lot of options. Ride, or don’t ride. Quitting seemed like a very bad way to finish in less than five hours and see my mom before she went to the airport, so I just rode. And blood kept streaming. One piece of advice that my coach, Eric Sorensen, had given me just the day before kept running through my head. “I want you to smile so much you have bugs in your teeth,” he said. So I smiled. And bled.
I also got a lot of comments from other athletes. Some were impressed (‘Way to suck it up’), some quizzical (‘Did you, um, know you’re bleeding?’). About 45 minutes into the race, I came across an ambulance. The paramedic who opened the back door to my knocking was tending a crash victim, who turned out to be from Reston and called out from the stretcher, “Go DC Tri!” (Hope you’re healed up, dude, and thanks for the support, if you’re reading). Despite having no sense of urgency whatsoever, the paramedic eventually and suitably cleaned my wound, ooohed and aaahed a little bit while he poked around in it, told me to get stitches, and sent me on my way. Luckily he left me pretty bloody, because as it turned out I enjoyed the camaraderie and conversation it provoked. Also, I think it made some people think I was tougher than I am.
Everyone can tell you all they want about the drafting at Clearwater on the bike (and everyone did tell me all they wanted), but what I didn’t realize until I got about 15 miles into the race was that they were all using the wrong term. Drafting sounds kind of egregious, but it doesn’t sound scary. What happens in Clearwater is not drafting; it is full-on, peloton style pack riding. But it’s more dangerous, since most triathletes don’t practice riding in packs, and about fifty percent of the people doing it in this race insisted on remaining in their aerobars.
After the ambulance stop, I was both hyper attuned to danger, plus pretty sure I had blown any chance at a fast time, so I just focused on getting spit out the back of the packs that came by as quick as possible. About 35 miles into the bike, I came across one of the worst bike accidents I have ever witnessed. Two girls were lying on the ground, both of them literally screaming in agony and writhing on the ground. I managed to chase down a policeman at the next intersection who called medical, but it really left me shaken. About 10 miles later, I watched another guy hit a small bump in the road and go over his handlebars on a causeway bridge.
Other than fear, the bike ride also left me in awe. There were many, many amazingly strong bike riders out there, plenty of whom were breaking the residential speed limits on their own as we blew through the Clearwater neighborhoods. It was inspiring to ride with some of the fastest triathletes on the planet, no matter that my view was mostly of their backsides.
I came off the bike in 2:35. I wasn’t sure whether I could run on my leg or not; plus I was tired, so I made sure to take the opportunity in transition to adequately inform my mom, then my dad, then my husband (all separately, since that meant more precious seconds of rest) that they should take the Hummer and leave me in the dust if I set off on the run and didn’t return until after sunset.
The Run: Pretty Okay, Other Than the Howling
I don’t know if it was relief at being out of the melee of the bike ride, or what, but the run was, well, it was just fine. I was relieved I wasn’t in pain, and so I set about just trying to enjoy myself and clip along as best I could. There is a giant causeway bridge you have to run over four times in Clearwater (this is the “except” part in “The Clearwater course is flat, except…”) during the two-loop course, which just about set me howling on number 3 and 4. After finishing the bridge, there is about a mile until the end of the loop, and on my way in to the finish I checked my watch. Even with my weakened mental state, I could tell I wasn’t going to break five hours, and I felt a twinge at the fact that my mom would already be gone.
That’s all right, I thought. She saw me swimming and biking and running and bloody and smiling and gutting it out. I knew she was proud of me.
And the run in to the finish line was spectacular. You could hear the music from about a quarter mile away, and the energy coming in was so strong that I am pretty sure that my last half mile broke the world record for the 800 meters.
And then I heard my mom’s voice calling my name, just before crossing the finish line in 5:04. Apparently she had just said goodbye to Jimmy and my dad, when they saw me coming in and called her back. She came running back, and when I heard her name, I guess I got the biggest goofy grin on my face, because a friend watching finish line video told me that I came across the line with a giant smile. There was a big hug, and she was gone, but it completed the story. And the day.
And after the race, my dad picked me up in the Hummer. (An abrupt way to end I know, but just wanted to conclude this race report with a sentence I never thought I’d type.)
Thanks for reading!
I love this race report. I'm so glad you got to see your mom at the finish! And look on the bright side: with stitches in your leg, you won't be able to swim any time soon.
Congrats on a great race Janie and way to go overcoming the gash in your leg! Guess it proves we all have to be prepared for anything that may happen race day! Plus, be mentally tough like you were! I really enjoyed reading your race report and so awesome you got to see your mom at the finish line. Enjoy some down time!!
So gracefully and entertaining said! Your race report demonstrates every smile you had this past weekend. And they are all so well deserved! Congrats again on a killer race despite all that you had to go through.
If I had a do over, I could now make you an award for "Best Badass Bloody Race Report"... amazing race despite the difficulties and gore, really well written and entertaining RR, and a beautiful heartfelt moment with your parents watching! Thanks for sharing.
USAT should now require that anyone in the bike mount area be in their big chain to prevent further accidents and dismemberments. Way to stick it out. You left out how many stitches you needed...or did you just steri strip it?
Congrats, Janie! Your awesome race report had me cracking up! I now have this mental picture of you bleeding on the bike, but wearing a big, bug-filled smile. Between yours and AJ's race reports, I could really feel the excitement that filled the streets of Clearwater last weekend. Congrats again on a tremendous accomplishment!
Two weeks after the MCM, you were able to pull a 5 hour HIM? .... That is bad ass right there. No wonder your dad picked you up in a Hummer :)
CONGRATULATIONS! Both on the race finish and on writing a race report that made me laugh (almost) as hard as Tuan's did!
Thanks guys! Wish you all could have be there.
Starcaro, do-over granted. I'll take the esteemed BBBRR award anytime.
PDFDE121, tough-guy doc in the med tent afterwards steri-stripped me. In retrospect, I should have sought a second opinion, but who wants to waste precious post-race celebration time with a needle in their leg?
Wow reading that race report I felt like I was watching a Disney movie - nice story - tragic middle - happy fairy tale ending - Thanks for the entertainment and congrats on a terrific race!
Big congrats! You are a warrior!