The alarm clock went off at 3:00 am our time. I was already awake and wondering if I'd slept at all. I got up, made coffee, and got dressed. We checked out of our hotel and got to the transition area around 5:25 am (Chattanooga time). I set up my bike two rows from where Jason set up his, and met a guy named Brad who used his flashlight iphone app to help us see what we were doing. We laughed about all the gear and planning that goes into these events, and then Jason and I hopped on the bus that would take us to the swim start...and a two hour wait.
Jason went for a warm-up jog and I sat on the ground and chatted with a girl next to me about triathlons. We talked until Jason got back and it was time to line up. The butterflies in my stomach began to stir as I kissed Jason goodbye and good luck. I made my way to the 200s and stood next to Brad who was one number ahead of me. Talking with him eased the nervousness some, and before long we were in the water.
The swim was a point to point along the coast of the Tennessee River. The water was a balmy 82 degrees and due to a staggered start, it was not overly crowded. It was hard at first to get my breathing to slow down and get into my usual rhythm, but I eventually got there. I couldn't see the finish, so the distance felt much longer than I remembered.
We swam under a few bridges and I finally saw the ramp where swimmers were exiting the water. There was a large crowd of spectators along that portion, and their cheers were encouraging. I completed the swim in 29:51 and made my way to the transition area.
Once on the bike, I was ready to ride hard. This was the portion of the Olympic distance triathlon I struggled with the most last summer and having spent more time on the bike this time around, I was ready to see some improvement. There were some MASSIVE hills, long and steep, and I tried to keep speed as I climbed. It was an out and back course along a highway (27, I think) and we had an entire lane blocked off for our ride. I got to see Jason as he made his way back. He was on mile 17 while I was on mile 8 or 9.
I felt really good about my ride. I pushed hard and tried to maintain my momentum. Knowing what to expect this time, I did not get frustrated or impatient with the distance, although I was disappointed when I reached mile 24 and my speedometer read 1:33:00 (a minute slower than last time). The course was longer than the 24 miles posted on the website, and it took me 1:39:49 to finish the 25+ miles. I was surprised and disappointed about that because I'd felt so good along the way.
As I entered the transition area once again, I heard the announcer call out Jason's name as he finished his 10k run. I thought that was kind of fun, but I'd also hoped to be running before Jason finished so I'd get to see him again. I quickly took off my gear, put on my running shoes and my visor, grabbed my watch and took off.
My legs felt like jello for the first mile and I was very surprised to see a 9:33 split. As soon as I started running there was a big hill to climb and after the hill there were two sets of steps! We climbed these steps up to the river walk and ran the rest of the race on the path. It had some wonderfully shady spots, but the sun was still beating down and it was HOT. I drank at every water station, taking a few seconds to sip and rest, although stopping made me feel strange so I'd quickly resume running.
I was tired, but after that first mile it felt good to run despite my fatigue. I cheered on other runners wearing the Aquaphor gear (the team of which Jason and are a part) and they did the same for me. When I had almost reached the turnaround, an older man ran passed me knocking me in the shoulder. He said a quick, "sorry" and continued on his way. Once he had turned around heading back toward me, I considered running directly in his path, but decided against it. It had been an accident and he did apologize. It was crowded on the path with runners going in both directions and passing runners could be tricky.
I mentally divided the run up into two 3-mile sections. Even when tired, I know I can gut out three miles. It worked and when I reached the turnaround, I was not intimidated by what I had left. I tried to pick up my pace and ignore the heat.
I was extremely hot and thirsty, and I really needed to pee. There wasn't anywhere to go, however, and I wasn't about to stop for that. I was almost finished, and at the last water stop I was getting excited. I ran to the very last person holding out a cup and took it. Just as I was about to take a sip, I was rammed into from behind. The runner slammed into me and then went on his way without a word. That was it. I was mad. I was hot, thirsty, tired, nasty and mad.
I took a sip, tossed my cup in the nearest bin and went after him. When I reached him and his Florida Gator jersey I said in my meanest, snottiest voice, "You in a hurry?!" (that was the best I could come up with on short notice) and sped off. I sort of had an out-of-body experience as I watched myself do this. It isn't really like me. But he didn't apologize and there was no excuse for that. I know we all wanted to do our best, break our records and get out of the heat, but there was no reason to run into me without apology (or to run into me period, but an apology would have helped...maybe).
I ran as hard as I could, but I couldn't hold my angry running pace. Mr. Rude Gator Jersey eventually caught up to me, much to my chagrin, but he kept his distance and I merely glared at the gator on his back. I should have shouted, "War Eagle!" but at that point I was tiiiiiiyerd and looking for my man and the finish line.
I finally saw both. Jason was relieved to see me because he had expected me sooner, and I gave him a thumbs up to let him know I was okay. Upon finishing the race, however, I did not feel okay. My head felt like it was going to split open and I was so very hot. I took the bottle of water they handed me and downed most of it as I found a shady spot under a tree and waited for Jason to find me. He never came, so I started to make my way back through the crowed to find him. That's when my blisters made themselves known. I'd run with wet feet and no socks, and I didn't realize it during the race, but I had several raw spots on my feet. I took my shoes off and continued slowly walking, looking for Jason.
Seeing him was a relief. I almost cried but that took too much energy. I'd completed my run in 57:31 and I was a tad disappointed by that too. That was 3 minutes slower than Fall Creek Falls, and I thought I was ready to do more. Jason listened and reminded me that it was hot and this was my first tri of the summer (and my second of this distance). I decided to believe him and that made me feel better about it. I was still proud of myself because it had been hard. Harder than I remembered. I have a renewed respect for people who do this event and do it well.
With my transitions, my total time was 3:12:47 - almost 13 minutes slower than my last tri of this same distance. I'm a little disappointed, but I'm also ready to work on it. Jason told me you can't compare one triathlon to another because they vary so much in distance, transitions, etc. Maybe that is true and maybe not. I know one thing, though. Next up is Music City and after that... Fall Creek Falls. I'll have two triathlons under my belt by then and I'll be itching for a better time.
I'm going to frame my workouts a little differently. I'm going to approach my swims and rides with a plan. I'm going to do a little speed work and replace bootcamp with weight training (more on that later). Despite my disappointment, I still had a great time. That fact may be missed in this post, but it is true. I love going on these adventures with Jason and comparing stories at Cracker Barrel afterward. I love the challenge of the triathlon. I love chasing myself, conquering old times, and training for my next event.
And if I should spot Mr. Rude Gator Jersey, I will be ready with a nice, loud "WAR EAGLE!" as I run ahead of him and stay there.