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April 22, 2017

Somehow, I got a wild hair and thought that I would try to do an Olympic Triathlon.  I think I was inspired by the Rock ‘n’ Roll 10K my tennis partner Ann and I ran last fall in Las Vegas.  I felt good at the end of the race that it was fun!  I found out what it is like to train at altitude and then compete at an elevation 3,500 feet lower.  There is a big difference.

As such I searched http://www.trifind.com, to find an Olympic Triathlon that took place before summer hiking and tennis leagues and in a place with a lower altitude than Denver.  I found the Rage Triathlon which was this weekend at Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Boulder City, Nevada.

The race itself was rather dinky and the swag and after race food was not worth the price of admission, but I wasn’t there for that.  On the flip side, the race director, crew, and volunteers were all fantastic and the location as far as being picturesque couldn’t have been better.  The view of Lake Mead and its surrounding peaks was lovely.

Steve likes to be early to his races, so we arrived at set-up time, 5:30am.  We already had our numbers from picking up our packets a day previous at the bike shop, so we only had to check in to get marked and pick up our timing chip.  With our numbers inked on our arms and our age and race written on the back of our calves, we wheeled our bikes into the transition area and found our designated sections.  I was on one side farther up the hill, and he was on the other closer to the lake.

Having only completed one sprint triathlon in my entire life, I wasn’t terribly sure of the best way to set up.  I looked to see how others set out their bike, bike shoes, helmet, running shoes, towels, drinks, food, and more.  I had the oldest bike around, and my hydrating system seemed archaic compared to others.  I walked over to Steve and exclaimed, “I’m going to be last!”

He responded, “It’s better to be DFL (Dead f*#?ing Last) than DNF (Did Not Finish).”

This was true, and I was only there to finish…one and done!

He did a much better job studying the swim, bike and run course maps than I did, so we went over them once more even though we performed reconnaissance mission on Thursday afternoon.  I believe my nerves were finally start to set in an hour before the race while Steve’s nerves seemed to settle an hour before the race!

With everything set up and zipped into our wetsuits, we made our way down to the rocky beach.  The rocks were very sharp, and I couldn’t between flips or no flips.  In retrospect, flips probably would have been a good choice, though most people went without.  Lake Mead’s water comes from the snowmelt of the Rocky Mountains, so it was cold.  Steve wanted to get used to it, so he joined a few others in the small waves.  I decided I’d assume stay warm until my heat was called to the start line, so I found myself zipping people into their wetsuits as I stood on the beach aimlessly.

The Olympic Tri under 40 men started first at 7am.  They were followed by the over 40 men (Steve’s group), then the under 40 women, and finally my group, over 40 women.  The Sprint Tri division followed us.  We were staggered every 5 minutes.

Given swimming is not my strong suit, I joined my group in the back of the pack as I didn’t want anyone swimming over the top of me as I would have come unglued.  We waded onto the sandbar, I adjusted my goggles and swim cap and off we went.  We started out swimming into the waves.  The forecast called for 10mph winds and dying, but judging by the one foot swells, the wind was more like 15 mph and building!

I felt like my arms were swinging and legs were kicking yet I was going nowhere.  At least the wetsuit was keeping me afloat.  As we turned around the first buoy, I was bringing up the back of the pack with a few others.  We headed for the next buoy that looked far away, as did the safety kayaks.  I struggled to stay straight, and found myself stopping to see where I was going, correcting my path while running into people, and telling myself to calm down!  Apparently, I have a fear of drowning because all I could think of is where is the closest kayak in case I need to rest.

It wasn’t until after the second buoy when I somehow settled down.  I managed to get a swimming rhythm that I learned in the pool with the help of the nicest guy, Richard.  He is a great swimmer, and when I noticed he was lapping me in the pool, I got the courage up to ask for a few pointers.  Who knew I was doing everything wrong!  I’m so thankful for his time and expertise.  I could have kept the rhythm if I could have swum straight, but the waves really posed a challenged as my body raised and lowered with the swells and constantly turned left.

Eventually I rounded the third and fourth buoy and was on the home stretch in very shallow water.  Knowing, I could stand up if I got tired and that I was more than half way finished with the mile swim, I sped up, though I was still bringing up the rear. Given I was so far back relative to some of the other swimmers, I assumed I had a terrible swim and took my time tip-toeing across the rocky beach to my bike.

I wish there had been a clock at the swim exit.  I looked for one, didn’t see it, and then managed to forget to look at my watch.  I figured I was so bad at the swim, that I took my time mounting the bike.  I slowly pulled of my wetsuit, dried my feet, ate a banana, put on my shoes, walked through the transition area and slowly climbed the hill to the street which was not blocked for traffic.

The bike course was very hilly!  It gained and lost just under 3,400 feet over 24.8 miles.  I climbed up each hill and hoped to pick up speed on the other side as I descended, but the cross wind made the downhills difficult.  The desert bushes swayed in the strong breeze, still far greater than 10 mph, as I held somewhat tightly to the handlebars while trying to keep from blowing sideways.  As I neared the 10th mile, I saw Steve on his return at around mile 20.  I was a good 30 minutes behind him which is what I expected.

Fortunately, at the start of the race, there was only light traffic, but upon my return to the transition area, now mid-morning, the trucks with boats and campers started passing more frequently.  Most of the time, it wasn’t a problem, but occasionally I wished for a little more room on the shoulder.  I managed to over-take a few riders along the way, though overall my bike time was nothing to write home about…around 2 hours and 12.5 mph pace.

I was finished with two of the three legs in the triathlon, however, with gas in the tank, so I knew I would finish, which was the main goal.  Of course, I had two times in mind…an all goes well time of 3:45 and an achievable time of 4:00.  Assuming a 10-11-minute mile pace, I suspected I’d miss both.

As I left the bike transition area to start the run, the Sprint racers as well as some of the Olympic racers were already packing up to go home, and the winners were being announced over the loud speaker.  I must admit this was kind of demoralizing, and I felt annoyed when volunteers clapped and shouted, “good job”.  Whatever!  I know they were being supportive, but it was like rubbing salt in the wound…way to go…you are last!

None the less, I kept going and I heard “Steve Johnson” get announced over the speaker at the finish line.  I thought great, he is going to have to wait an entire hour for me!  As such, I just stopped and went to the bathroom.  This was the first time I took off my prescription sunglasses and looked at my watch…it was 10:10am. I was stunned.  My heat started at 7:15, which meant I was under my four-hour pace.  While I didn’t know it at the time, I completed my swim in 42 minutes which was within my three best times in the pool.  It was just still much slower than good swimmers. Regardless, seeing that I was within my total time energized me a bit as I started running with purpose up the hill.

Though my legs felt like posts and my pace felt incredibly slow, I was overtaking additional runners.  The 10K course for the Olympic racers had been adjusted due to construction on the trail, so we had to go out and back twice.  I think this extra loop helped me even more as I could grab extra water at the aid stations and at least feel like I was passing more people than I probably was.

With about 1.6 miles to go, near the Sprint turn-around point, I caught up with another girl.  As I tried to pass, she’d speed up.  I’d try again and she’d speed up again.  By this time, my left leg was screaming with a knifing pain on the inside ankle.  She started talking to me about the adjusted course and extra loop.  This was her first Olympic Tri as well, though she had competed in several sprints which she thought were more fun.  She was from the area.  Eventually, we exchanged names.

The talking passed the time and kept us motivated.  She wanted to stop because she was winded.  I wanted to stop because my ankle hurt so bad, but we kept going.  The end of the run took us down-hill toward the beach which was welcome…no more climbing.  I told Rachel as we turned the corner on the rocky beach, “Let’s sprint it in.”

“On the rocks,” she questioned.

“Yes, that will probably get us to normal speed as the rocks slow us down,” I answered.

Not to mention, I was always told to finish strong, and I did!

Shockingly, I ran under an 8-minute mile which I don’t think I have done since high-school, and I finished the whole race in 3:42:52, below my best case hope of 3:45!  Steve was at the finish line cheering me on.  I asked, “Did you finish in 3:30?” (which was his best case).

“No, I had a DNF,” he responded.

Knowing how analytical, methodical and even keel he is, I asked in disbelief, “What happened?”

Steve had the same struggles in the swim as I did.  He fought the swells, got off course, and couldn’t get back in line as other swimmers were in the way.  He swam to the kayak I was eyeing for the first 500 yards as well.  To his credit, he went ahead and completed the bike and run, so he knows what to improve on the next time.  He is going to compete in more events!  More power to him.  If I ever do another one, it will only be a sprint as there is far less training required.

Overall, it felt good to finish the race with gas in the tank, and I wasn’t last!  I was about 2/3rds of the way down.  Looking back, I probably should have checked my watch more often.  I got contact lenses this week, so maybe I will be able to see the time without taking off my long-distance glasses if I ever do another.  While I may have made up a few minutes along the way, at the same time, having no pressure may have relaxed me enough to PR on my 10K run!  As I mentioned at the beginning, it sure helped competing at a lower altitude.  It was a good race in a beautiful setting.  And despite all the problems with the race’s fund raising page, I was still able to raise $2,500 for Alzheimer’s.  Thank you so much for the donations! ETB

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