The birthday medal –my 3rd Olympic triathlon experience

Swimming 1.5 km in open water, cycling 40 km and running 10 km to celebrate your b’day may sound crazy to a lot of people. Not to a triathlete. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my 37thyear.

It is peak summer in California where temperatures soar up to 37 degrees Celsius. While it’s an ideal weather to swim and maybe bike, running can be a nightmare. Probably this was the reason why I tossed and turned the night before the event. The prospect of running at noon after a long distance on the bike sent panic signals to the brain.

Waking up at 3:30 am, I left home by 4:15 to reach Pleasanton which is an hour away from Stanford. The transition area  opened at 5:00 am. I racked my bike near the ‘bike out’ area-the point. Wanting to avoid running with my bike all the way, I chose a spot close to the mount point. People slowly streamed in and I began to converse with a few of them. There were experienced triathletes and it was inspiring to listen to their experiences. Before I knew it, it was time for the race. I slipped my wetsuit on and entered the lake for a warm up lap. The sun was up by now and the water felt warm. I was beginning to enjoy the feel of being inside water.  Due to the late arrival of the ambulance, the race started 30 minutes late. I floated on my back in the lake and waited for the announcers to begin the swim waves.

Swim: My wave began at 7:37 am. At the blow of the horn, I set off at a really fast pace. The lake was calm except for the occasional ripple of waves that was caused every time a few people swam next to me. We had to swim an entire loop and back. There were yellow and orange buoys placed and I remembered to keep them to my left shoulder.  The crew on their kayaks paddled around us to ensure that none of us had any trouble in water. With the sun beating down hard, it was a treat to be in water. I finished the swim and headed out towards the transition.

T1:By now I had learnt the art of getting out of my wetsuit, thanks to the few swim clinics that I had attended. So as soon as I got out of the water, I unzipped the wetsuit which I had worn over my tri suit and ran towards the bike racks. Slipping a t shirt over my head, clipping my helmet, I simultaneously slipped the wetsuit off my feet. Putting on my shoes, I wheeled my bike to the mount point, ready to hit the roads.

Bike: The course began with a steep slope so I immediately shift to a lower gear. It was quite an arduous climb and I couldn’t wait to hit the flat course which I soon did. I pedaled hard hoping to cut down the time on my bike. I whizzed past the freeway and felt elated until the 15thkm. It was at this point where another climb began. It was a gradual and continuous ascent. By now my heart felt as though it was going to explode. I took a sip of the energy drink from the bottle that was stacked in front of my bike. I continued pedaling hard not wanting to lose the momentum. To my surprise, I began to feel nauseous.

Now I have felt car sickness numerous times but this was the first time I felt like throwing up on the bike. What was going on? I paused to catch my breath before I pedaled again. Besides being hilly, I was greeted with headwinds. Boy! It felt like battling this unseen force that was preventing me from moving forward. I bent my body and placed my elbows on the handle bar, hoping to fight the winds while I kept going uphill. It was a scenic route of vineyards and farms. I came across some cows and goats on the way. The pleasant sight of the fields took my mind off the tough course. I kept pedaling with all my might beginning to pant. I took a deep breath and soon spotted the turnaround point. “It’s a downhill from here on”, a volunteer exclaimed.

By then I had depleted all my energy and could not go too fast downhill. Besides the headwinds weren’t helping either. On the way back, I saw a couple of cyclists fall. “Are you ok”, I shouted, bringing my bike to an abrupt halt.  “Yes, we are good”, they shouted back. I began pedaling again and was soon back on the freeway. Almost home, I thought. There was another hill coming this time and I slumped by shoulders in defeat. Hell no! I thought, ready to give up as my legs were screaming with pain at this point. “I promise you that this is the last hill”, a volunteer stationed at that point assured me. Defying the pain, I pedaled up and soon glided down all the way to the transition area.

T2: This went off really quick. I racked my bike, removed my helmet and set off on my run.

Run:I glanced at my watch and was close to attaining my personal best in this race. Little did I realize that it would be the worst run in my life. The sun was brutal at this point. I poured some water on my head. Initially it was on the road and I was going at a decent pace. The route soon turned into a trail. I was in for a shock. Pebbles, hills and heat-a lethal combination.  I tried pushing up those inclines but it was impossible in that terrain. As I took a U turn, I tried pacing up on the downhill section, only to end up twisting my ankle. What a nightmare!

I pinched myself to see I wasn’t dreaming. No! here I was in the real-life horror. I stretched my ankle and walked down the hill, the sound of the pedals swishing beneath my feet. I took a sip of the energy drink at the aid station. I was greeted with more hills and stones. By the time I finished one loop, I was exhausted. I had one more loop to go before I reached the finish line. I kissed my personal record goodbye. It was just a question of survival. I limped, walked and ran gritting my teeth. My mind and body had shut down by then. I felt limp by the time I reached the finish line and received the finishers medal of my 3rdOlympic distance triathlon.

Post-race: I plonked myself on one of those chairs placed in the volunteer’s tents and gulped some cold water. I glanced at the official timing. It was 5 minutes better than my first Olympic distance triathlon timing. This was a tough course and weather wasn’t aiding. Despite all this, I felt close to tears. A combination of exhaustion and disappointment. Then I slapped myself. Until last year doing an Olympic distance triathlon was a big thing for me. Here I was having completed my 3rdone and feeling like I have lost a loved one. Was I being greedy? Wanting something too fast too soon? On the way home, I pondered about it. There was a time that I would just embrace the finish line instead of the finish time. Maybe I should begin to do that again. I once learnt in ‘The art of living’ course that “Expectations reduce joy.”

In the meantime, I glanced at my medal. It was my 27thone and incidentally my birthday was on the 27thof June! I couldn’t have asked for a better gift.

 

 

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