The first run leg, a distance of 1.5 miles, was a loop crossing the Mississippi River over two bridges: the Third Avenue Bridge going out, a little hop and skip through a park, and the Stone Arch Bridge back in to transition one. I started with every intention of doing the run/walk I had trained for. Run a little, walk a little. Rinse. Repeat. And I had read in many, many, MANY articles on how to complete your first endurance event to pace yourself and stick to your plan.
This is really difficult to do in real life. First, you are surrounded by tens to hundreds of other people who are running, some much, much faster than you do in real life, and the energy encourages you to start faster than your normal starting pace. Second, and maybe this is just particular to me, I got halfway across the Third Avenue Bridge, my alarm went off, I slowed down to walk, and some (well-intentioned but highly intrusive) guy put his hand on my back, boot camp PT style, and panted "come on! you can do it!" Had I been an observer it would have struck me as a kind and encouraging thing to do; as the target, it just made me want to pimp-slap him. After a while, he decided I wasn't going any faster than my mulish, 15 minute mile pace, and left me to my own devices midway through the park.
Coming up the walkway to the Stone Arch Bridge, my Vibrams got their first shout-out -- "FiveFingers Rock!" -- by a guy in Nike Frees. I wasn't feeling the love, as I was running over cobblestones and muttering "owowowow" at the time. (Note to self -- do better recon of the run conditions). But in all, I finished the first run a little early and transitioned on to the bike.
The bike leg was advertised as "fast and flat." But in the last 48 hours before the race, they re-routed the bike leg. Basically, the 12 miles went down, down, down, down. And downhill some more, leaving one to think that the second half would be nothing but up. In a 25 mph headwind. Which meant I was going downhill, but was unable to pick up any type of speed because of it.
This is where I started to hear the negative self-talk, which not coincidentally occurred right about the time that my blood sugar plummeted. The Voice said "you'll never make it. this headwind sucks, and you'll have 6 miles of uphill on the way back. you can quit now. just quit now." I stopped at mile 4, dug around in my pocket for my three Clif Margarita Shot Bloks and drank some water. Almost immediately, I felt better and hopped back on the bike, but still heard a lot of internal noise. "Who cares if you don't finish? Lots of people DNF. It'll be less humiliating than being last. Just pull over."
And then a very quiet, but firm Voice spoke. "This IS your personal best. You did that when you started back on the run leg. You do 12 mile bike rides all the time. This is just a bike ride. Keep riding."
So I did. I also distracted myself by counting how many people I saw throwing up (two), how many bike bottles I saw on the ground along the course (eleven), and swearing about the number of water stops along the bike course (zero. the only complaint I have about the race organization). The routing took me on a slight uphill, then flat course. I chicked a guy on a mountain bike. (He would later pass me on the second run leg, but oh well). Before I knew it, I was at T2.
And back over that #*^&% bridge again. By this time, it was clear that I was at the back of the back of the pack. But I wasn't really ready to see the sweep car behind me halfway through the park. I thought "dammit, I cannot possibly be last, I know there are people who transitioned behind me." The sweeps guy was really nice, and I teased him about having an entourage and feeling like a rock star. That said, it's a good thing that I have self-esteem, because the Stone Arch Bridge is a popular place to be on a late Sunday morning, and well, one big girl in a lime green singlet with a cop car following her is a bit of an attention getter. On the other hand, by this time I knew I'd finish, and it really didn't matter that I was last; I'd have met my goal.
One thing to get accustomed to as a back of the packer is how solitary it can be. This is most evident at the finish. Usually, by the time you get there as a BOPer, the bands are gone, all the good food has been eaten, and everyone's gone home but the race organizer peeps. So, finishing is bittersweet. You do all this work, and get all sweaty, and the party's moved elsewhere. If you are lucky (as I am) you have your wonderful husband waiting at the end for you with chocolate milk. So the race organizers gave me my medal, I got my banana, and sank onto the retaining wall.
And then. And then. The announcer said "it looks like we have a few more people finishing." Oh my God. Really?
It was true. I wasn't last. Fourteen people finished behind me.
And my husband and I stood at the finish and clapped and cheered for them all.
And really, out of all my personal bests that day, I think I'm proudest of that most of all.