The Iron Goddess produced more than a few goddesses this past weekend in Grass Lake, Michigan. There were over 550 competitors, all women seeking to Raise the Bar on themselves in either the Full Sprint, Mini-Sprint or duathlon events. So persistent were they in their pursuit that not even thunder and threatening clouds could prevent them from trying. My daughter Rachel, my sister-in-law Tammy and I competed in the Iron Goddess Triathlon at the Waterloo Recreational Area in Grass Lake, Michigan on June 27th. Here is how it all went down.
We set our alarm clocks for 5:45 am at my brother’s house on the day of the race. With tri bags packed and a non-digestive-disorder-producing breakfast in our tummies, 8 of us including competitors and support team set off for the race. By 7:45 am we had set up our transition areas, attached our timing chips (I brought a few extra safety pins to nail them on since timing chips have a way of falling off during the swim, bike or run) and converged on the water front. The first wave of swimmers set off at 8:00 am right on time. Then wave number 2. Next Rachel hit the water in her electric orange swim cap. My heart was racing for her and I cried on the beach (she didn’t see that) because I was so proud of her. In her first triathlon attempt she nearly drowned during the swim and had to be pulled from the water. My heart was in my throat. Just as things were getting under way with her swim, Mother Nature announced herself with rolling thunder. All swimmers who were in the water no matter where they were had to get out. I scanned the water looking for her – impossible of course! Some swimmers remained in the water because they had gotten far enough in the swim I believe they made a decision to keep going. I don’t blame them but I didn’t know whether to be excited or worried since a shot of lightning would be deadly. All I could do was wait and watch. When I realized that Rachel wasn’t in the group who had turned back it dawned on me that she had stayed in the water and that she was going to finish. I went over to the swim finish line and waited until I saw her. I was thrilled to see her in good spirits emerge from the water. She looked great and then looked confused realizing that I was not in the water yet. But on she went and the worst in my mind for her was over.
The race coordinator, Eva Solomon, did a fantastic job of keeping the rest of us who were still waiting to swim, at bay. We had to wait to get clearance from the Sheriff before we could enter the water – at least a 20 minute delay. And with good reason – a nearby township had been devastated by a tornado while we stood on the beach. Until that morning the water had been too warm to use a wetsuit – 80 degrees F. But now with stormy weather it was time to pull my wetsuit on. There was a feeling of anticipation for all of us as we waited to race. It was difficult to settle my nerves. I just wanted to get it over-with at this point. The announcement over the loudspeaker was that we would have to wait another ten minutes or so. But suddenly the call rang out - “Anyone planning to swim the 800 meters had to get into the water now for a mass start.” In a jumble of zipping up wetsuits and spitting into goggles I found myself standing near the front of the wave of swimmers. I felt that swimming was my strong suit – I have been in the water since I was a small child learning to swim from my father. Surely I could not get into trouble here. But I went out fast with the fastest swimmers and did well until I got to the first marker. I realized I was panicking or it felt like I was panicking. My beautiful steady stroke fell apart and I found myself breast stroking to try to settle myself. The feeling was very much like I could not get enough oxygen into me fast enough. It didn’t help that I had forgotten to pull my swim cap down over my ears. I had to talk to myself all the way from here on in to stick to it, to stay steady, to calm down and to keep pulling. I could hear others around me groaning and gasping as they went. In the weeks leading up to the tri, everyone had warned me of the possibility of this happening to me. I was so disappointed to be experiencing it myself. My arms and legs were cooperating and I kept up a decent breast stroke until I could put my face in the water and do freestyle again. I could see my sister-in-law Tammy nearby as we both plugged onwards. I swam until I was pulling into the sandy bottom of the beach and then stood up, ripped off the upper part of my wetsuit and headed up the hill to T1 (transition 1). I didn’t realize until afterward that the run up the hill to T1 is counted as part of the swim – good thing I ran it.
At T1 I was still counting myself lucky to be standing on solid ground – perhaps I dawdled a little too long with this happy thought because my T1 was a bit too long – but I found my bike, jammed my helmet on my head, sunglasses followed, shoved bare wet feet into previously opened bike shoes and off I went. I was still chewing a Shot Block and messing with my gloves at this point. I managed to get one glove on and carried the other in my other hand for a while, then threw it away. In future for short races I will forget about the gloves. I ran my bike to the start line jumped on and began to pedal with a fury because I didn’t know how good I was on the bike at all. My plan was to catch up to others whom I could see in the distance and then just keep passing people. My real race strategy was to pass people on hills because I knew I was strong on hills – thanks to the cycling I did in the Caledon Hills near my home I guess! Anyway it worked and I managed to push my way further and further along the route. Every hill I climbed I passed other competitors. Let me tell you this is a very encouraging feeling, especially for a first time racer. I feel as if was constantly shouting “On your left!” My legs felt very good during the bike segment and I did not think about the run at all because I knew each part of the race would take care of itself. Loads of folks on the sides shouted encouragement including the Iron Goddess race volunteers who were amazing. Thank you all for being so wonderful out there. Before long I was dismounting my bike and heading to T2.
At T2 I racked my bike, pulled off my helmet and jumped into my running shoes which I had laced with speed laces. These laces are wonderful because they let you secure your shoes with no tying or fumbling which is probably what would have happened to me. I took off on my road race hoping my legs would cooperate. The test came early as the course took us on an incline for the first ten minutes. I just followed my strategy of passing others and again heard myself shouting out “on your left!” over and over again. On and on I ran through trails, roads and bush. At one point in the woods I came to a steep decline and found myself throwing myself down it with a joyful whoop. I announced the “big decline” to others and as I managed my descent I heard approaching competitors scream “Oh no!” in fear of that obstacle. That pushed me on to try harder and I kept going. I wasn’t sure where the finish line was but I could hear the shouts of the crowd becoming louder as I ran. I had imagined myself numerous times coming to the finish line in a full on sprint and had wanted to do that for the last half mile or so but – and this is an important learning – I hadn’t seen the course so I didn’t know how soon to turn on the jets. As it turns out I did turn on the jets and pulled in for a decent finish but next time I will start earlier.
At the finish line I was greeted by Rachel and Tammy, my husband Robert and my brother Ron and his sons Ryan and Reid as well as Mat, Rachel’s boyfriend. Incredibly I had made it. I had survived it. I had accomplished the goal I had set for myself which was at the age of 50 to test myself in another way. I feel I did just that. There were hugs and embraces all around and then we were off in search of food – how good is that first mouthful of food after such an experience? Pretty good right?
As I returned to the transition zone on my own to gather my gear so I could pack it in the car I was overcome. Tears poured down my face – I wasn’t sure why they were happening now but I couldn’t stop them. I guess I just realized I had done what I set out to do and that it was okay not to be perfect at it. That I had struggled and battled through anyway and that I was in the company of others who had done the same. It was overwhelming to me. After I had stowed my gear and secured my bike onto my car I headed back to find the others. There was an enormous crowd near the admin area where everyone was checking out the results. I felt I had accomplished what I wanted to and didn’t need to check anything. But at the urging of my family I was pushed to the front and saw a blur of numbers. Tammy asked me “Do you see that?” I did see my name and for some reason it was first on the list in my age category. I was stunned. Really stunned. I said to my sister-in-law, “There is a mistake. Something is wrong there.” She confirmed there had been no error and that I had placed first in my age group. I was dumbfounded. The best surprise though was that Rachel placed first in her age category and that Tammy had placed 2nd in the overall Masters category. This was too much. I was more excited for them than for me but all around this was a spectacular way to have things end. We were all on a high from then on.
Even today as I unpacked my wetsuit – which was still stinky from the lake – and my cycling shoes – also stinky but not from the lake – I am as excited and overwhelmed as yesterday. I find myself not wanting to do anything to ruin my good work. I have decided that to do well in the upcoming half marathon I will lose a few more pounds to become a little tighter. That may happen anyway as I train for it. My body still feels the adrenalin rushing through it and the thrill of the pursuit. I applaud the competitors who raced with me and who overcame their fears too. Remember I went into this with a number of fears : would I crash my bike under a car again, would I become claustrophobic, would I make it? Everyone won in some way yesterday. I thank Eva Solomon for giving us the venue and the opportunity to discover something new about ourselves.
Congratulations to each and every participant. I met lots of you yesterday and heard your inspiring stories. Well done!
Thanks and congrats to Rachel and Tammy too. Tammy you inspired me to try this and encouraged me to go for it. Rachel this was redemption for you – you did it and you continue to amaze me.
Hugs and kisses all around for my nephews Ryan and Reid who supported us and shouted “FULL JAM!” all the way.
More hugs and kisses for my daughters Chelsea and Kelsey-Lynn who tattooed my racing gear with positive messages. They helped.
Thanks to Ron who put us up for three days, attended to my bike and transition zone and who shouted so loudly I felt we were still little kids playing together at 87 Sunset Boulevard in Kingston, Ontario.
Thanks to Mat who stood behind us all the way with a quiet patience. Very steadying that is. He also tweeted for me as I completed each leg of the journey to keep you updated and cheering me on!
And to my husband Robert who has helped me in so many ways become the woman I never knew I could be until I met him.
Keep it tight!
P.S. Check out the results here....
Monday, June 28, 2010