Life is like riding a bicycle – in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving. ― Albert Einstein
I needed to keep moving after my father passed away in March. I hesitated to do this race, hesitated to ask for donations, and – wow – would I have really had regrets had I not gone through with it. Through all the support and people thinking of me, with no expectations whatsoever, it helped propel me to toe the start line. Even the day before the race, I still was anxious. I muttered “I don’t want to do this” on Saturday after my warmup. I knew I needed to, but I didn’t really want to. Now I feel the weight of the world lifted. Read on, and you’ll know why.
I always find race reports odd. They generally start with a mishap or an excuse, and then (most) end with a happy ending. I am going to attempt to make this as positive as possible. You don’t need to hear about my lack of training, or heartaches, or mental trauma – nope – not this time. This is a report about hope, determination and strength.
So – grab you favorite glass, I mean bottle, of wine (only appropriate since this event took place in Sonoma County) and get cozy.
Swim: 1.2 miles.
Loved the swim. Main reason is it wasn’t cancelled (ha ha), but there is more to talk about here. First, it takes place in the Russian River. It is not a mass start (just my age group), it is a warm 72, and you simply swim downstream for the first half (big motivator!) then flip it and head back upstream towards the finish. I particularly was lucky on race day. My wave left at 6:54 (ironically my number was 465 so I felt this was lucky too) which leaving early in the morning helped avoid the afternoon heat that others had to endure who started 90 minutes later. Gun went off and I raced that first 100 yards like never before. I just wanted to be in first once:) so once we got settled into a rhythm it was me and another girl drafting off each other in the lead (wow!) until the end. We set the pace and it was just what I needed. At the turnaround I noticed loads of men in the previous wave standing up. I thought it was cancelled and they were pulling people out! Nope. Once I swam a bit further I realized my hand was pulling river scum. Yes, it was that shallow. I would highly recommend this race to the apprehensive swimmer because – worst case – you stand up and “aqua run” your way to the finish. Awesome. So my new swimmer friend of mine and I made it around the men to the finish and not sure how she crossed the mat a second faster but I was happy. We were one/two. Great swim! I guess I was polishing my bike in transition because she beat me outta there too….
Bike: 56 miles.
Lets just say gorgeous. Rolling hills, decent roads, not clogged with cars.. Or busy with racers. All the great things I love about biking. I felt great. I felt even better about 3 miles in when I passed my swimmer friend so – for about the next mile I was in 1st place!! Let’s just stop the race now folks. Call it a day. Amazing how much faster you go when you are in a top position. Big mental boost. Like I said, it lasted a mere mile before a woman flew by me, then another…. One said “are you trying to get a slot to Worlds?” and I said “are you offering yours?!”. Once I got over the anguish of all these cyclist passing me… I got into my own rhythm and settled into racing my “own race”. Which ideally is what you need to do anyways. At mile 20 I saw mom and sister!! It’s kinda fun because you tend to see them before they see you. “hi mom!” I shouted as my sister was racing from parking the car. They saw me!! One of the very few spectators on the bike course (seriously I think I saw about 8 total) and it was my own. So lucky. For so many reasons. Having support at a race is unquestionable the best gift someone can give, and for this particular day, having mom and sis at my side was perfect. Not minutes later I saw an old antique car. I smiled to myself thinking of my dad. Then another. And another. 6 went by. Are you messin with me dad? I smiled. My dad loves antique cars, he owns 4 of them and did annual trips with my mom all the time…. I could only smile… (the idea of crying on a 56 mile bike wasn’t the plan today). Not minutes after that I heard a car with a very wimpy horn (another old car) honk and then shout at the guy in front of me rudely “get off the road!”. If only I was as fast as this car I would’ve pulled up next to him and said “hey. It’s Jen. You are on a gorgeous road trip with your lovely wife and friends with you in what I’m guessing is your favorite car in a beautiful part of the country. Relax and enjoy your day. We all have a reason we are out here jerk (insert word of choice), and mine is to celebrate my dad. Have a nice day”. But I never got the chance. I kept the memory of my dad riding in a convertible alongside of me instead….. Fortunately very quickly after that I passed Silver Oak winery (yum!), Alexander Valley, and just anticipated this hill at mile 46. I was fairly happy with my pace at the moment and just wanted to keep racing the bike course – completely not caring about the run ahead. For probably the first race in my life, I wasn’t screaming to get off my bike. Look at me actually enjoying the day and breathing it all in!!
Run: 13.1 miles.
Saw mom and sis again (yeah!! All smiles) as I came into transition, popped off bike, ran what seemed like a mile to the transition area, grabbed running shoes and hat and headed out. Usually in a triathlon you can tell how the next 13 miles will be from the first 500 yards. I still felt surprisingly good (not great – GOOD) so just kept going with “it”. The sun was out and it was getting hot. This west coast California girl isn’t used to the Texas heat I grew up in! Needless to say, thank goodness for the ice at the fuel stations. Run was rolling hills through (mainly) beautiful terrain. Hit La Crema at about halfway (such a tease) then headed back to the finish line. At about mile 10 I found myself getting excited… not because I had the race of my life, but because it simply felt good. Good to be running, good to be healthy, good to be doing what I love. I felt the joy of being able to race. I felt the joy of my dad cheering for me the entire way. He was always proud of me no matter what. I wasn’t always proud of me (no matter what) and today I was. It felt monumental in an awkward kind of way. I picked up the pace (and then found myself settling right back into my previous pace ha ha) a bit and ran the next 3.1 miles anxious to see the finish line. There it was — a loop around the corner – some speed still in me – I made it.
My favorite new goal – simply finish with a smile. Highly recommend it. There is power in a SMILE!! I also had a personal best time and a new appreciation for my own strength and perseverance. Bonus!
I am facing a new reality and it has been difficult. I crossed the finish line with a smile. If nothing else, I did that. This race wasn’t about winning, it wasn’t even about crossing the finish line. It was about doing something I love for the first time without my father. Now I know he is with me always. I know I am not alone.
I have so many people who support me every step of the way:
- You, the reader. You have nothing better to do???
- Those that donated to Team PC – I raised over $5,000!! Please know that you helped an incredible cause. You made a difference. And you also provided me the motivation I needed to get to the start line. Thank you. Thank you. What an honor to be a part of such a special team fighting an incredible cause. I will without question continue to race against a cause for cancer.
- Dad – For giving me courage. For your proud smile that I will never forget.
- Mom & Sis – For making the decision to be a part of this race without me asking. For being at my beckoning call the day before – willing to do anything. For highlighting the map trying to find the best location to spot me. For being at the finish. For being at the Start. For being who you are.
- Brother – I know you were tracking me the whole way. Even to the swim 100mtr / split and searching the best technology to track me. Thank you.
- 5:30am Cycling Group – For making me truly enjoy the sport of cycling and not making too much fun of my tri ‘geekiness’.
- 5am Swim Group – For teaching me that one or two 90 minute killer workouts a week is still good enough to get me through.
- Friends – You know who you are. Thank you for believing in me and sticking with me no matter that.
- Running buddies – For keeping me strong and my mind stable
- And of course Simon – for allowing me the time away on weekends to train, being ok with the 4:40 alarm, and for always believing in me, no matter what.
Keep your balance. And, of course, keep moving,