6 p.m.: After several wrong turns and two scary rotaries, my friend Alexa and I arrive at the race site the night before our first sprint-distance triathlon: a third of a mile swim, followed by a nine-mile bike ride, with a 3.2 mile run for dessert.
Goal: To finish, on my feet, without requiring medical attention.
Supersecret Goal: To finish in under an hour and a half.
We stand in line with our driver’s licenses, waiting to register. My fellow competitors range from whippet-thin to standard skinny to older racers who look like strips of beef jerky in Lycra unitards. I am disappointed. If there’s a book called Slow Fat Triathlete, doesn’t that imply that there is a population of slow fat triathletes? Where are my people?!?
6:30: We collect race numbers for running, numbered stickers and tags for our bikes, numbered swim caps and timing chips to loop around our ankles. I immediately start obsessing that I will lose/misplace/forget about my timing chip.
7 p.m.: Dinner. Conversation consists largely of Alexa, a half-marathon veteran, explaining to me how nasty the facilities typically are at events like these, and the steps we should take in the morning to avoid having to use them.
10 p.m.: Hotel. “Am I the only one here who had to pack a bike pump and a breast pump?” Alexa agrees that this may well be the case. “You know what someone should invent? A pump that does both!” Alexa tells me this would probably serve a very small niche market.
11 p.m.: Lights out.
11:15: That ocean looked pretty rough.
11:45: Also, the bike course was a little more hilly than I’m used to.
12:15: And I’ve never run longer than three miles, and I’ve never done a long run after a bike ride.
12:45: Why am I doing this again?
4:45: Alarm clock. Oy.
5: Mix packet of oatmeal with hot water from in-room coffee machine. Double-check gear: running shoes, sunglasses, visor, biking shoes, gloves helmet socks goggles swim cap. Loop timing chip securely around ankle. Squeeze into sports bra and snazzy (if skimpy) triathlon outfit). Spray on sunscreen. Load bikes onto rack, load bags into car, glide toward empty downtown, offload bikes and coast a mile to the start/transition area.
6 a.m: Wakeup call perhaps too conservative: we’re basically the first people here. Lay stuff out on colorful towel, as directed by three dozen triathlon books, websites and advice columns we’ve read. Meet neighbors: normal-looking women in my age range, most of them also mothers of young children. I tell them I have a five-year-old and a seven-month-old. Rack-mates are impressed.
6:30: Body marking! Alexa and I have matching bodysuits, bought on sale at Sierra Trading Post. “Are you two a team?” asks the Sharpie guy as he writes my number on my arm. “No,” I say. “We are lovers. We are racing for love.” Guy appears completely unfazed. I remember that this is Massachusetts and he’s probably wondering why our wedding rings don’t match. “Also, did I mention my six-month-old?”
7 p.m.: Announcer starts talking, in greatest Massachusetts accents of all time. It’s like our race is being emcee’d by Peter Griffin from “Family Guy!” At his instruction, we depaht from the transition area and make our way to the swim staht. I consider offering him the $20 I stuck in my backpack to say the all-time best word to hear in the Massachusetts accent ever, which is “Parmalat.”
Instead, I walk through the chutes with a woman in my age group. She’s got a six and a four year old. I tell her I’ve got a five-year-old and a newborn.
7:30: We pick our way gingerly over the rocks toward the edge of the ocean. Wave One, the elite racers, get in the water. The countdown begins, the gun goes off, the rest of the crowd cheers, and the elites start slicing through the chop like they’re paddling through a hot tub.
7:32: First elite racer finishes (not really, but it looked that fast). Wave Two creeps over the rocks into the water. My wave – wave five – inches forward. “Excuse me,” the woman behind me says. “Is it true you just gave birth six weeks ago?”
“More or less,” I say modestly.
7:49: In the water. “Thirty seconds,” says the announcer. “Five…four…three…” And we’re off! Water’s warmer than I thought it would be. Also more sea-weedy. Swim seems to be going okay. Nobody’s kicked me yet. Stroke, breath, stroke, breath. Can’t believe I’m actually doing this. Hey, it’s the first buoy already!
7:50: OMG, the woman swimming next to me is topless!
7:51: And she’s got really hairy nipples.
7:52: It’s a guy. Never mind.
7:57: Out of the water. Wobble up the beach and into the parking lot. Dip feet in kiddie pool to rinse. Trot to bike. Cap and goggles off, sunglasses, helmet, gloves, shoes and socks on. Trot with bike through orange cones to start, and I’m on my way.
8:10: Racecourse is lovely, running along the edge of the ocean, then through a neighborhood of manicured lawns and lovely gardens, up a hill to a beautiful lighthouse. At least, the course was lovely yesterday, when it was clear and sunny, but today it’s gray and foggy and there’s sweat dripping in my eyes. Neighbors stand at the edge of their driveways, clapping. “Am I winning?” I ask one group.
8:20: Because I am such a pathetic runner, my strategy on the bike is to go as hard as I can. Goal: Not to get passed by anyone in groups behind me.
8:21: Unless they are guys.
8:22: Or women on fancier bikes than mine.
8:23: Or Libras.
8:40: Back into transition. Guy in front of me wiped out on tight turn into the parking lot. Proceed cautiously so as not to fall on top of him. Bike shoes, gloves, helmet off; running shoes and race belt on…and we’re off!
8:40: Run. Legs feel like wet concrete, and I am sloooow. People from waves that left after mine are passing me. Kids on scooters are passing me. Inanimate objects are passing me.
8:48: Back hurts.
8:52: Front’s not feeling great either.
9: Turnaround. Oh shit. I just got lapped by Jogging Granny. Seriously, I think I can see Depends under her shorts.
9:10: Goal: To finish without walking.
9:15: Except through stations where they’re handing out water.
9:30: Finish! Broke the 90-minute barrier with 23 seconds to spare! Munch complimentary bagel. Call loved ones to tell them that I was not hospitalized. Then back to hotel room for wonderful hot shower.
3 p.m: Race results posted. Time for bike is an inexplicable six minutes longer than my cyclometer indicated. Fire off email to race commissioner demanding explanation; recompense.
4 p.m.: Race commissioner writes back to tell me that bike time included transitions, so my bike time began it began the moment I crossed the mat out of the water and ended the minute I crossed the mat to start the jog. Maybe I had a hard time getting out of my wetsuit?
Except I wasn’t wearing a wetsuit. Hmph.
4:15 p.m: Write back to race commissioner thanking him for clearing that up, and that also they should maybe take a look at the 75-year-old woman who finished one place ahead of me, because probably she’s doping.
I Was Told There'd Be Other Fat People
A Race Report