Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Why Do I Rely on Equipment Anyway?

I recently confessed that I am a Luddite, so you may wonder why I wear a Garmin Forerunner 305 when I bike and run. Well, I was singing its praises to my TNT teammate, Amanda, on Sunday as we prepared for the Powersprint Triathlon.

"Look," I said, "I set it up for 'multisport' and put it on the bike, and then I turn it on as I get on the bike and leave transition. It tells me mileage and cadence and other things."

"What about when you run?" Amanda asked.

"I have this velcro strap on my arm, which I wear from the beginning of the race. After the bike ride, I snap the Garmin off the bike and stick it on the velcro strap for the run. One push of the button and 'voila' the cycling Garmin becomes the running Garmin."

Triathlon is the only sport I know of that calls something that takes over an hour a "sprint." And, really, it was going to take me hours and hours to do this triathlon because it involved a "pool swim" instead of an "open water swim." In an open water swim, the race director might divide the participants into a few waves, but basically dozens of people begin swimming at the same time. It is absolute chaos.

A pool is more organized, with each swimmer starting at a different time. You predict the time it will take you to swim 300 meters, and then they line you up in order of your predicted time. I predicted that I would swim 300 meters in 8 minutes. If you are slow swimmer, as I am, you don't start for more than an hour after the race begins. Unfortunately, this does not entitle you to sleep late.

I woke up at 4:30 AM and arrived at the Shady Grove Y at 5:30. We had been told that we'd have to have our bike, helmet, shoes, and everything else we needed, set up properly in transition by 6:30. The race would start at 7 am, though I would not start till around 8:30 am.

At transition, I learned that Amanda had predicted 8 minutes for her swim too, so she set her bike up right next to mine. This was Amanda's first triathlon, but she was not new to endurance events. She and another Team-in-Training teammate, Holly, have completed not only marathons, but a 50 mile trail run called the JFK. Holly soon finished setting up her bike in a faster swim zone and joined Amanda and me to inspect our transition areas.

And then it began to rain. And rain and rain. Holly had some extra plastic bags, which Amanda and I used to cover our shoes. Another teammate, Kim, came by with more plastic bags, and she put her shoes inside her bag. I couldn't believe the rain! I had not originally planned to do the Powersprint Tri, but I had been disappointed not to be able to swim at Rocketts. The weather for Powersprint was expected to be sunny, but the sky was black and the rain began to fall in buckets. I heard a huge "crack" of thunder. Would the swim, in the indoor pool, be cancelled? An announcement was circulated through the crowd: the start of the race would be delayed till the storm cleared.

We ducked inside the Y and waited. In the end, the storm blew over, and the race began. Competitive swimmers zipped up and down the lanes, exiting the pool only a few minutes after entering it. Time went on, and Kim and Holly, who predicted the same time for their swims, took their turns. And then Amanda started her swim, and finally it was my turn. I jumped in the pool and waited for the countdown.

"Go" the starter shouted, and off I went.

Immediately, I knew something was wrong. The velcro strip for my Garmin was coming loose. Only a few yards from my start, the velcro came undone and the strip fell off. I caught it between my fingers.

What to do? Should I put the velcro strap in my back pocket? I reached, but the pocket seemed to have been sewn shut. Should I put the velcro strap on the side of the pool and come get it later? When? Would the pool deck be slippery and so might I fall and break my leg? Maybe I could come get the velcro strip after the race? What if it was gone? Should I stop at the wall and put the strap back on my wrist? But then slower swimmers might pass me, and to get around them I'd have to use more energy than I might have. As I thought about the options, I swam with the velcro strap between my thumb and forefingers.

There's a swimming drill that you do where you swim with your fingers in a fist. It's called "fist drill," and it teaches you how important your fingers are when you swim. One armed-Amy couldn't do as well as predicted, and I realized that 8 minutes, which I had thought a really conservative estimate, might be a pipe dream. Really, I can't blame that all on swimming with one hand. It was only my thumb that was useless, pressed against the Garmin strap and my palm.

"I have nine good fingers" I reflected. And a flapping Garmin strap for a bonus!

I noticed the man behind me was making pretty good time, and at the wall I shouted, "GO!" and he passed me. Then I noticed he was DOING THE BACKSTROKE! Everybody knows that a backstroke is not as fast as a forward crawl. However, some people are really good at backstroke. For my part, when I was on the swim team at age 9, my best stroke was the backstroke: six girls to a heat, I would get a sixth place ribbon every time, or, if the contest was backstroke, I would get a fifth place ribbon!

And, at age 46, my one-armed front crawl did not rival Mr. Backstroker's determination. He moved ahead, creating no impediment to my progress. The lane behind me was empty, with nobody trying to pass me, so I began strategizing again what to do with the Garmin strap. Leave it, Toss it, Put it in my Pocket? uggg.

Finally I resolved to keep it with me and try to catch up to Mr. Backstroker. That was not in the cards, but soon I finished the 300 meters and emerged from the pool, Garmin strap in my hand, and ran toward transition.

At transition, I found Ariel. She looked sad and wet, having spent the last three hours in the soaking rain with no cover.

"You could have put the plastic bag over me, Amy, but nooooo."

Under her sat the plastic bag, covering my shoes and other articles to wear on the bike and run. Sadly, the rain had been accompanied by a strong wind, which pushed the bag aside, allowing rain to penetrate everything. I put on my helmet and picked up my socks. Soaked. I put them on anyway, added my bike shoes and then looked at the Garmin snapped on Ariel's handlebar. Yikes! I should have covered Ariel and the Garmin with the bag! Garmin's face was steamy, and I could see specks of water under the glass. I pressed start, and heard a beep, a good sign. But I couldn't see what effect the beep had on any numbers. Oh well. Off I went.

By this time, the rain had stopped and it felt steamy and hot. Later in the day, I'd be sorry I hadn't slathered sunscreen on my shoulders during the thunderstorm. But the bike ride was gorgeous. I passed a few mountain bikers during the first few miles, but had most of the road to myself. Ariel enjoys a ride in the country, and she began to sing. Everything was looking up. My Garmin's face began to clear up during the ride, too, and I saw that I was halfway home. I pushed harder.

Then, I heard "on your left!" and a cyclist passed me. Ariel wanted to go faster, but once a cyclist passes you in a triathlon, the rules require you to let them get 3 bike lengths ahead of you. If you ride too close behind another bike, you can get a penalty for "drafting." So I slowed my pace and hung back, and dad gum if another cyclist didn't pass me. When the passing cyclists emerged ahead of me, though, they slowed down.

I soon saw why. We were now all in a line of 10 bikes, each only 3 bike lengths apart. And cars were passing us. I settled in for a bit and breathed deep, but soon I realized that I was simply going too slow. Ariel sensed an opening.

"Get around them, Amy!" Ariel said, "What are you waiting for? Are you trying to get a Nice Lady Award or complete a triathlon."

So I dug deep and began passing, shouting "Oh your left!" to a few of the bikes ahead of me. I thought I'd have to pass many bikes, but then I realized that two slow bikes had made everyone bunch up. I cleared these folks and was on my way.

"Whee!" exclaimed Ariel. "That is more like it. Let's finish STRONG!"

I spied a woman wearing pink ahead, and Ariel shrieked, "LET'S GO GET HER AMY! YOU CAN BEAT HER!"

I noticed her age written in indelible ink on the back of her thigh. 36. A much younger woman. A few people vie for the "overall win," but the vast majority of triathletes really compete only against other people within their age group. So it did not matter, really, whether I passed this woman or not. But in another sense, it did. I wanted to try hard, to dig deep, to do my best, for myself and for everyone supporting me in this mission. I wanted to do it for Dad and for everyone else struggling with blood cancer.

I passed Miss Pink and Ariel squealed, "GOT YOU GIRLIE!" as we passed.

Thank heavens I am the only one capable of hearing Ariel. She needs to go to charm school, but so far I have found nothing suitable.

Back at the transition area, I removed the Garmin from Ariel and strapped it on my wrist. I must have pushed some strange button because the Garmin began to beep, beep, beep, beep, uncontrollably. The face indicated that I had run 32 miles in 6 seconds. Yet, I actually had not moved an inch. Finally, it shut down, so I had to run the old fashioned way. No equipment, just me and my legs!

Of course, you don't really need to know how far you have run when your mission is to run 1.5 miles out and turn around and retrace your steps, particularly if you've been told in advance that volunteers will hand you water at mile 1. And you don't need to know how fast you are going if, really, you could not go any faster even if you knew. So I tried to keep a steady pace and after a bit asked a volunteer why they had eliminated the water stop at the 1 mile point. "It's on up ahead!" she shouted, and I despaired. I thought I was near the turn around, but clearly not. I needed to walk, but I was determined not to walk before I completed the first mile.

I remembered why I was doing all these crazy things, how I was helping to cure cancer. This helped me to keep going, and suddenly the water stop appeared in front of me. I felt better after drinking some gatorade, but nonetheless, I had to walk a little before mile 2 and again during the final mile because my heart rate was racing. It is not easy to run after riding a bide, but I am resolved to get better. After all, this was merely 3.1 miles running after 12 miles biking; in September, I'll have to run a half marathon after riding 56 miles!

I approached the finish line, and heard friends cheer me through the finish line. I got a second wind and sprinted through the finish chute with a smile on my face. I can do this!

My overall time was 1:33:11, and my overall rank was 12th out of 21 ladies in my age group (45-49). Not bad!

My swim time was 8:19, so I think if I use all 10 fingers next time I can get under 8 minutes. This was 14th out 21.

The time it took me to transition from swimming to biking was 2:23, pretty good considering it was 6th out of the 21 ladies in my age group.

My bike time was 44:16, which ranked me 11th out of 21.

The second transition was 2:07, rather slow, and representing the fact that I got dizzy and had to sit down to put on my running shoes. Rank was 18th out of 21.

My run time was 36:08, too slow, and the rank was 15th out of 21.

Do you think I would have run any faster if my Garmin were working? Maybe. I'm still not interested in an IPod, though!

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