Run-bike-run! Sounds like fun, right? It sure is if you don’t mind your legs wobbling like jelly at the end of it and when I say jelly I don’t mean the mouthwatering dessert that you see at those fancy tea parties. It means that they feel like a pile of bricks tumbling down in an earthquake.
March was considered the start to the triathlon season in California and I decided to inaugurate mine with an Olympic distance duathlon event organized by USA Productions-one of the largest west coast based event production companies that organize endurance events. The venue was at Live Oak school, Morgan Hill which was about 50 minutes away from Stanford. The event began at 7:05 am and participants had to be there an hour prior to set up their stuff at the transition area.
It was still dark when I arrived and I could see several strong looking triathletes setting up their bikes and bags in the transition area. I set up mine and stood there shivering in the cold despite having worn an inner warm clothing. I looked around at the friendly folks who were laughing and joking with one another. They made it a point to include me in a couple of their jokes which helped in easing those bouts of nervousness that had suddenly consumed me like a dark spell. “I didn’t bring my other bike as I am still not comfortable with it.” Said one guy. “Then you should ride more often on it to get comfortable. What say?” he looked at me laughing and I grinned. The ambience was certainly that of an easy going one, a far cry from the seriousness that I expected out of high performing athletes. I decided to relax and walk around for a bit before the start of the first leg which was the 10 k run.
While talking to one of the volunteers, I discovered that this wasn’t an entirely a flat course and that the bike course had one steep hill. I cringed my face as my hill cycling was at its worst. Running up the hills was a far easier feat than peddling those wheels up the slopes. I offered a silent prayer to Lord Ganesha to help me complete this event without any obstacle. Fortunately, there was no cut off timing for this event as the organizers strongly believed in the spirit of participation more than anything.
The first leg 10 k run: The weather was quite chilly and an ideal one for someone to aim for their personal best. However, the thought of having to bike 40 k and run another 5 k post weighed on my mind as I paced myself cautiously like a chicken which had just hatched from its egg and was exploring the world for the first time. While the other women sprinted from the word go, I paced myself sensibly. It was 2 loops of the 5 k course and we passed through some cherry blossoms, mustard fields and green mountains in the vicinity. The entire sight reminded me of Switzerland and clippings from those famous Yash Raj Films.
The mustard plants transported me back to the song “Tujhe dekha to yeh jaana sanam” from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge. I suddenly heard a bell and looked up surprised only to see a volunteer jingling one to encourage participants instead of a demure looking cow wearing a cowbell on its neck like it was shown in the movie. I smiled and shook my head at my idiosyncrasies and ran ahead. Before I knew it, I had completed one loop and was on my second loop. I saw some cyclists whizz past me like a whirlwind. So, some of them were on their second leg now, I thought, making me marvel at their finesse and athletic abilities to sprint their way through each division. Probably enough to give me an inferiority complex making me wonder what a tortoise like me was doing amidst these cheetahs. However, living in the Silicon Valley for 8 months taught me one thing-never give up even if the odds are against you and hold your head high irrespective of what you do. When I heard the volunteers shout “you go gal”, “you are my hero”, “you got this one”, I revived my spirits, overtaking a couple of runners as I crossed the mat in 59 minutes.
T1: Ideally, I had to just put on my helmet and glasses and wheel my bike towards a point from where I could start cycling. However, a momentary confusion and getting that clarified from a volunteer costed me 3 mins. I mounted on my bike, ready to rock the roads. “Have fun”, a volunteer shouted. I nodded smiling. That’s what I was here for right? To have fun.
40 k bike: Residing in Stanford campus gave me ample scope to navigate around on a cycle whether it was to go to my classes, library, gym or just buy groceries and carry them on my bag pack. Quite an adventure by itself and a pleasant change from being coped up inside a car especially since I was prone to car sickness. The rainy weather had Stanford entire winter had made it challenging to clock mileages outdoors so all those long hours on the bike were spent indoors on the wahoo kickr trainer.
It was lovely to be back outdoors especially since the weather gods had decided to be nice today. It was 5 loops of an 8 km course and a picturesque one, making it hard for me to tear my eyes away from the postcard like surroundings and focus on the road ahead. Volunteers stood at every juncture, directing us in the right manner lest we get lost. The roads were perfectly divided with cones to separate the regular traffic from the event course. Feeling the fresh breeze on my face, I cruised ahead taking in the fields and the green carpet of nature that had cascaded on either side of the roads. Everything was going fine until I reached that gigantic hill near the dam. Oh boy! This looked deadly as I lowered my gear and peddled up. After a point, fatigue took over my legs, prompting me to get down from my bike and wheel it up. A couple of concerned cyclists and volunteers asked if I was ok to which I responded with a cheerful nod till I reached a point where I could mount my bike again and cruise on the roads like a free spirit. One loop done and four more to go. With every loop, my legs were getting stronger barring that ugly hurdle which probably costed me at least 5-7 minutes of my cycling time. I had finished 40 km in 1:50, a significant improvement from my previous timing of 2:05, all thanks to my coach’s training.
T2: It hardly took a minute to remove my helmet and glasses and hit the roads again with my strides.
Third leg 5 k run: My legs felt numb. Wait a minute! I felt like a ghost on a run, almost invisible until I heard a few cyclists egg me on shouting “you go gal”. Alright so I hadn’t turned into a spirit but why did I feel like I had no legs. I looked down to see that they were still in one piece. In my mind, they felt like a 2-story building crumbling down in a natural disaster. A gulp of electrolytes handed over by the kind volunteers restored life back to them. By now the sun was up and glaring down at us. I felt the cyclists whizz pass me-the sprint category participants and each of them had a word of encouragement for me, making me feel as though I was on a quest to break a world record. “never give up, you can do it, you are almost there”, were the words I heard till I reached the finish line. The last 5 k was in 33 minutes as I plonked myself on one of the chairs after collecting my medal.
Breakfast was being served and I grabbed a couple of oranges, a bowl of blueberries and half a muffin as I was famished. There was provision to check our finish timing at the timing kiosk if we entered our bib number. I was pleasantly surprised to see 3:29:31 when I thought it would be somewhere around 4 hours. Compared to international timing, it was pretty mediocre but for an Indian who is from a non-athletic background, I was elated as I had performed better than expected.
It doesn’t matter if you are the last, it doesn’t matter if you re slow but what matters is you finish like a champion holding your head high, strong enough to lift your bike which has been your ally throughout this journey!
A special mention to all the volunteers at this event and without their support, I wouldn’t have reached the finish line. Take a bow USA Productions for a well-organized event. A big thanks to my coach Viv whose constant guidance helped me grow strength to strength.