I’ve been competing in triathlons for a few years now. Let’s not go crazy or anything–these are sprint triathlons, and they serve to (usually) help me feel good about myself, motivate me to exercise on a near-daily basis, and offer me connections with other like-minded people. This season has been challenging. I signed up for a series of three sprint triathlons, plus one Olympic-length tri, one a month, from June through September. In May, my cycling friends and I participated in the MS 150, a two-day, 150-mile bike ride through Florida’s orange groves and farmland. The night before leaving for that ride, the klutz that I am tripped over a laundry basket and fell hard on my hip, seriously straining some muscles in my lower back. I made it through the MS 150 well, though stiff. Then, I took it easy with training. I must not have taken it easy enough, though, because that lower back pain turned into hip pain and then into IT band pain and then, of course, into knee pain. This knocked me out of competing in the first tri of the season. Instead of competing, I accompanied a friend and took pictures of friends who participated. Yeah, suck.
Fast forward four weeks, and I was stoked for the second tri in the series–my first of the season. It was a hot, clear morning in July, and I was excited, even though I’d been running very little because of my healing knee and IT band. My goals were to swim my best and bike my best and then take it easy during the run. I wanted to run the whole time, even if I did so very slowly.
Well. I arrived early, in great spirits. I set up my transition area, stretched, and then swam a bit in the lake. When the race began, though, I started swimming too early in the shallow start, and I ended up way behind where I like to be in the line-up. I worked hard to catch up to the others, but I still felt good.
Then came the bike. Here was my time to shine! I skipped socks, as I usually do during tris, donned my helmet, and ran my bike out of transition. I went up the first hill, up the second, and then bent down into my drop bars, in the top gear my bike would allow. I felt incredible, especially during this one sweeping downhill portion. Only super-skinny and muscular girls were passing me, along with a few guys, which made me feel awesome. Then I hit the last hill. I saw it ahead, as we all came down hill, into an intersection. The vertical slope was a slap in the face, but I knew what to do from the hills on the MS 150: stay in top gear as long as possible, dip into the intersection, and then take that resistance off and pedal fast uphill.
Suffice it to say that something went wrong with my gearing. Maybe I geared the wrong way with my left hand, with which I have less practice, in the seconds I had to gear down. Regardless, a little of the way up the hill, I was still in my highest gear, and then I felt my chain slip, the pedals frozen in place. I unclipped, dismounted, took a deep breath, pulled off to the grass on the side, and adjusted my chain.
A man went by and asked if I was okay. “Yep!” I said.
“It’s going to be hard getting back up that hill once you’ve stopped,” he said.
I considered this. Without going forward, I wouldn’t be able to finish gearing down, and I didn’t know if I’d be able to go forward at this steepness. I thought back to Spinning classes where I’d let up for just a split second and been unable to finish my pedal stroke because my resistance was too high, and I also thought about the real possibility of falling off my bike.
So what did I do? I turned around, went back to the bottom of the hill, geared down, and then turned around, heading up again. It was slow going, but I was moving, and I didn’t need to get off and walk once (though at times I wondered if that wouldn’t be faster). I still finished the 10-mile bike in 40 minutes, of which I’m quite proud.
Last, of course, was the run. Frustrated, I pulled on my new Mizunos, race belt, and visor, and walked out of transition. For the next three miles, I jogged and walked and threw cold water into my face. I winced every time my feet touched the ground. Apparently, not wearing socks was a major mistake, as later I had two blisters the size of dimes in the middle of each foot.
I had a good time, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a little disappointed by my performance. That’s what being an athlete’s all about, though, right? Sometimes, feats that others consider amazing just because they’ve been accomplished just aren’t good enough for us, even though we know we’ve done our best for that day, in those conditions. I needed to protect my knee. I was getting blisters. I’d screwed up on the swim and that hill. Every time I walked, I thought, “Will I regret this?” and then I thought, “No!” If the answer was yes, I ran again. Now I kind of regret it.
Next time, I will run the whole way. This may mean I have to compromise my bike time a bit to save energy–I don’t know. It may mean I have to wake at 5:00 to run before work. It may mean running more after biking. Next time, though, I want to run the whole time. No regrets!