Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Blessings in Blue Ridge - July 24, 2011

You all know that this race season just did not go off as hoped. I had all these grand plans of doing my first half IM this year, among many other key race milestones, and had scheduled all my events months in advance to make sure everything was in place to make that goal a sweet reality. But then, one medical thing after another started popping up, along with some fairly big life stressors, and pretty soon it all started falling apart. Missed trainings, abandoned races, and a whole seasoned chalked up to a big fat "do-over"! Aside from the physical setbacks with losing some speed & strength, it has really taken an emotional toll. I've never been an athlete, I'm overweight, and I have to work extremely hard just to keep up with the back of the pack. Let's face it folks, I'll never be in it to win it - I am in it just for the pure glory of being in it! So to lose ground has been really discouraging!

The race on my calendar for July was the Tri the Mountains sprint in Blue Ridge, GA - I had not done this race before and was looking forward to it. But as it got close, I wasn't sure I was going to actually make it to race day in light of everything. I almost caved - almost just threw in the towel and gave in to the weight of the discouragement. The rest of my season had gone down the drain, why bother trying to salvage what was left? But, at the last minute, I decided to go ahead and pack the old gear bag, load up the old carbon steed (at least I think it's carbon, LOL), pick up the Sherpa (a.k.a. my mother, who incidentally still doesn't quite grasp that the title of Sherpa is not an insult, LOL) and head south. I mean, I figured the worst that could happen would be I didn't finish, but I knew for certain I wouldn't finish if I never got to the start.
On Saturday night, we had the most absolutely divine, hands down, amazing pasta dinner this side of the Mediterranean at Cucina Rustica. This charming little place is tucked back in a little hidden hideaway, and if you didn't know it was there, well.. you wouldn't know it was there. But not only was this place classy (they even *snapped* the cloth napkins and placed them in your lap for you!) the food was just indescribably good! Even my mother, a.k.a my Sherpa, a.k.a the biggest pasta snob EVER (we lived in Italy for several years, so she's spoiled), still has not stopped ranting and raving about the place! After a big massive carb-loading feast, it was back to the hotel for a sleepless night - not sure if it was the stress or the fact that I was sharing a bed with my mom and was afraid to move... So the alarm went off and raceday began on only about 2 hours sleep.

When I loaded my bike onto the rack at the hotel, I noticed that one of my plugs had come out and the handlebar tape had started unwrapping. Don't ask me why I didn't notice that when I took my bike OFF the car the night before, but I didn't, and somewhere along the highway between Chattanooga and Blue Ridge, that dang plug just jumped right on out of my handlebar and made a break for it. It's only a little tiny piece of plastic, but that little thing will keep you off the course. No one wants to lose a core sample of oneself if you should fall on that unplugged handlebar :) Anyway, luckily the race directors had a whole container full of plugs and a roll of duct tape, so I was good to go. Yes, folks, duct tape really does fix ANYTHING!

The swim was really nice - the water was a little warmer than I'm used to, but it was so clear and really smooth to swim in, despite dodging all the feet and elbows flying all around my face, but that's what happens when you're not the fastest.... Combat swimming at its finest, folks :) but again, the water was wonderful, and I had a great steady swim, although slower than what I was used to.

T1 was pretty smooth as well - no fumbling around, and managed to avoid forgetting any critical pieces (like my race number, LOL! I forgot that once during a race). I headed off on the bike to see if their definition of "rolling hills" was the same as mine, LOL... Well, it wasn't, LOL... That bike course felt like sheer DEATH on WHEELS! I mean, it was the hardest 18 miles I've ever ridden... EVER. I know alot of that comes from my setbacks, but holy moly those were more like mini mountains than rolling hills, LOL! My legs very quickly wore out, and I ended up walking up a fair amount of the hills. Folks, if you think walking uphill is tough, you oughta try it in bike shoes, LOL! I also experienced my first technical difficulty during a race - my chain came off and it got jammed up and stuck behind the rear derailleur somehow. I got it back on, but it kept popping off and it took me a good 10 minutes to get it squared away enough to continue riding. Once all the "competers" passed me on their return trip (while I was still making my way to the turnaround), it became a pretty solitary environment out there, LOL! The SAG truck passed by routinely to make sure I was ok and didn't need anything, but for the most part, the only time I saw anyone else was a couple of times I saw a male racer ahead of me that always stayed too far ahead of me to catch. I'd get close on the downhills, but just as soon as I'd get within a few bike lengths, there'd be another daggum hill and I'd have to get off and walk. He and I did that little dance for a few miles until he finally had to start walking some too - and I started closing the gap! It only took a few more hills, and then it happened! I got to chick me another dude, folks! I was humming to the tune of Katy Perry in my head "I chicked a dude and I liked it", LOL... and yes, I liked it as much as the first time :)

I finally got back to T2, and man, I was glad to get off my bike! I strapped on my Sauconys and headed out for the last 3.1 miles of the course. There was a little uphill right out of transition, but then there was a nice long downhill, which was mostly in the shade. This thankfully afforded me the ability to catch my breath a little and actually jog really slowly (although I'm pretty sure I wasn't moving any faster than most people can walk). Of course, after about the first mile, I had some moments of deja vu, the shade disappeared and more hills swelled up right out of nowhere. Now, mind you, I had been out on the race course for well over 2 1/2 hours by this time. At every other race I've ever participated in, the course has cleared out and there really is no one left to cheer us stragglers on. Most all of the "competers" have packed up,and even the spectators have headed for home well before we get to the run course, because, well, let's face it - it's hot and those people have already accomplished what they showed up to do. But not in Blue Ridge! There was more support along the entire course than you could shake a stick at... even by the time I got there! Not only were there aid stations at every mile, there were spectators cheering, people parked along the road honking their horns, early finishers hanging around to shout in support and hand out bottles of water in between the aid stations... it was really overwhelming to see!

Shortly before I reached Mile 2, I saw this really cheerful volunteer named Jenna at the top of the hill, and as soon as she saw me coming, she ran over to me and asked if I minded if she walked with me for a little while. I almost could have hugged her - no one has ever done that for me before! She was so supportive and poured out so much encouragement - she never let me give up, even though it was a thousand degrees and I was hurting so bad! She was my saving grace that day - if it wasn't for her, I would have sat down on the side of the road and just cried. I don't know her last name, but Jenna-in-Blue-Ridge, from the bottom of my heart I thank you and will always remember you!

As I rounded the last big turn to head onto the main drag of Blue Ridge towards the chute at the finish, I saw something that almost made me burst into tears. There were SO MANY PEOPLE... it looked like hundreds of people - lining both sides of the street, filling the park, screaming, shouting, cheering, ringing their cowbells.... all for me - a straggler, a slowpoke, the second-to-last-place finisher. And when I actually crossed the finish line, the actual professional race photographer was there waiting for me! I couldn't believe it! You can believe I cheesed it up big time - I never get that opportunity, because the photographers usually jump ship once the big dogs finish, just like everyone else. But this time, I actually got pictures - PROFESSIONAL PICTURES - on every leg of the race! Good thing too, lol, cause my Sherpa was so caught up in worrying about me that she forgot to take pictures LOL!

And if all of that was not enough - there was actually a TON of food left too! It was catered by a fabulous restaurant, and it was beyond delicious. And they even held the awards ceremony until the very last racer crossed the finish line, which was about 2 minutes behind me. I know I'm going on and on and on, and probably not communicating eloquently enough to impress just how big of an impact this race had on me. Most of the time, by the time I cross the finish line, I feel like an afterthought. Spectators are gone, some water stops are already abandoned before I get to them, only crumbs left in the food line, and the announcers say "oh yeah, racer # so-&-so crossed the line" as the tumble weeds blow by ... one time they had even deflated the arch and had actually packed up the finish line equipment... that was really depressing!

But not this race. Not at the Tri the Mountains Sprint. I cannot impress just how much of a class act the GA Multisport organization is and how welcoming the entire town of Blue Ridge, GA is. They celebrated every single racer that stepped foot on the course, and they did it with fervor and passion and generosity that I've never experienced before. At the awards, the last two finishers (me and another lady) were awarded $100 gift certificates to applaud the fact that we were out there twice as long as most everyone else, that we ran in the hottest part of the day, and had the guts to just keep going, even though we were suffering something awful.

Here are my splits:

Swim: 18:05

T1: 2:48

Bike: 2:04:02

T2: 3:03

Run: 55:07

My total time was 3:23:02, and I finished 362/368.

A couple of weeks ago, I got my Summer issue of USA Triathlon, and on page 112, there is a phenominal article titled "What Triathlon is All About". This article talks about how we all celebrate the prize winners and would never want to take any glory away from them - I mean, they have earned it! But the author, Jeff Matlow, states in the article that "it doesn't matter how far or how fast you get to the finish line" but that "Maybe what matters is that you dared to toe the start line and to give it your all". He also champions the back-of-the-packers by saying:

"To everybody who doesn't come in the top 10 of their age group, and those who cross the finish line with their hands raised high despite the fact they've missed the race's official cut-off time - we are the people that triathlon is really about."

Here's a link to the digital edition of the magazine - not sure if you can view it without becoming a member, but if you can get it to work, you won'd be disappointed!

Digital Edition of Summer Magazine Now Available News USA Triathlon

Anyway, I wanted to share that little bit about the magazine with you all, because the race in Blue Ridge was the total embodiment of that article. So to the GA Multisport club, the town of Blue Ridge, Jenna-Volunteer-Extraordinaire, all the other volunteers, all the sponsors,my fellow racers, and to my Sherpa - I tip my visor to all of you... we are all what triathlon is all about!