Last weekend, I competed at the Toyota U.S. Open Triathlon in Texas. It was cold and hilly. I thought Dallas was supposed to be hot and flat. Somebody lied to me.
I won’t keep you in suspense: I didn’t win.
That’s Sarah Haskins, a 3-time Olympian. Yes, 3! She has also won the U.S. Open 4 times. I didn’t want to ruin her streak so I let her win again.
It was so cold, Sarah tweeted about it.
She said “toughest”, “conditions”, “ever”. And she’s no pansy; she’s an Olympian.
Now that you have a sense of what I was up against, here’s my race report.
Days Before: I learn that my friend, Badiyah, is coming from D.C. to support me. I thought I would have to go it alone. Knowing that she will be by my side makes me happy.
The Morning Before: I pick up my packet at the race expo, look at the course map, and take my obligatory jail pose.
The Night Before: I say my prayers (mostly ones about not drowning) and wrap myself in the Marriot’s warmth. In the middle of the night, I start coughing. Violently. It feels like someone is yanking my tongue out of my throat. I move to the couch hoping that sleeping upright will fix the problem. It does but I can’t fall asleep. I go back to bed. When the coughing resumes, I move back to the couch. This pattern continues until 5am.
Race morning: The weather channel says it’s 43 degrees. We ain’t in Kansas no more, Toto. I am tired. I am worried. I need to get my head together. I walk to the bathroom, look at myself in the mirror and proclaim, “King Kong ain’t got nothing on me!” Badiyah laughs. (I vaguely recall pounding my chest and growling but I can’t be certain.) We pack up and head to the car. It’s dark and cold.
Pre-Swim: To minimize my swim anxiety, I distract myself by performing the robot in the middle of the hotel lobby.
Swim: I walk the plank, say a fervent prayer, and jump in. The water is 15 degrees warmer than the air. Ahhh. To stay focused, I go over the facts. 1. I know how to swim. 2. I’ve never drowned. 3. I can’t drown because the rental car is in my name. This works. Despite the choppy water, I swim with control, confidence, and in a straight line. A miracle.
Transition 1: I pull off my wetsuit. The cold slaps me. With the back of its hand.
Bike: It don’t make no sense how cold it is. [Editor’s note: The use of bad grammar is intentional.] My arms are covered in goosebumps. My nose is runny. My lips are ashy. It’s freezing. The otherwise small hills are exaggerated by strong, frigid winds. This must be what Kilimanjaro feels like. My body is shutting down. My fingers and toes go numb. I panic. Imagine something warm. I picture Jamaica, more specifically, a dark Jamaican rubbing lotion on my back. Before I know it, I’m back at transition.
Transition 2: I put on my running shoes but I can’t tie them. My fingers are numb. I have zero fine motor skills. I can’t tie my shoes! The clock is ticking. I’m desperate. I shove the laces into the sides of my shoe and start running. It ain’t pretty. I see Badiyah with her arms outstretched. She throws me two hand warmers.
Run: My shoes are untied. My feet are numb. And now I’m running the hilliest course of my career. Whose idea was this?! I pass a group of volunteers and ask, “Wanna trade positions?” They laugh. Then say “no”. I don’t blame them.
At mile 4, my core temperature rises and I regain feeling in my hands and feet. Finally! I tighten my laces and try to pick up the pace. It’s not happening. I’m exhausted. You’re going to finish. I am going to finish. I just don’t know what it will look like.
The Results: In a race comprised of Olympians, professional triathletes, and vicious conditions, I placed 5th in my age group and 40th overall. Even though I didn’t set any personal records, I was pleased. I showed up to the most prestigious triathlon in the country and did the best I could on that day. You can’t ask for more than that. Time: 2:38. Swim: 30:37. Bike: 1:16 (19.5 mph). Run: 44:36 (7.12 pace).
Final Thoughts: My times weren’t impressive but I suspected they wouldn’t be. I hadn’t regained my pre-injury speed. But that’s not the point of competing, remember? In competition, its unfair to measure yourself solely based on time. Variables exist. The beauty of competing lies in what you do to get there. It’s about how hard you train, how much you grow, and how faithfully you believe in yourself. The rest is a bonus.
Lessons Learned: I learned that good things come from hardship. I learned that patience is a virtue. I learned that when you are discouraged, the first thing you should do is take one more step. The size of the step doesn’t matter as long as it’s in the right direction.
Thank you for supporting me on this wild journey.