Picture it: I am standing at the race site in Sydenham, the morning of my first duathlon. It is pouring rain. My family is huddling under umbrellas. The race announcer is warning everyone to “exercise extreme caution on the bike course” because of slippery conditions. Alana is looking at me with wide eyes, gently asking me if I want to go ahead with this.
Blog post titles flash through my brain: Duathlon Disaster. Death by Duathlon. I could keep going.
This was not how I pictured my duathlon dreams coming true. I had never biked in the rain. Taking on a multi-sport race experience was overwhelming enough without this added complication. Unlike a running race where rain is annoying, it is downright dangerous in a biking race — especially your first. I was weighing the disappointment I would feel in taking a DNS with the risk of a broken limb if I went ahead. I did not want to be stupid. I also did not want to be a quitter.
Our daughters were up first, running the Kids 2K which gave me some time to
obsess consider my options. It was raining hard when the horn went off, but that did not stop them! Off they went while I stood under a tree, trying not to bite my nails and fretting over what to do. I needed to make a decision. Soon though, I saw my oldest coming toward me, looking wet but determined and running ahead of pace! I cheered her in, when I saw my younger daughter come flying down the course and then through the finish line. What troopers! I huddled under the tents of the finish area with them as they downloaded all of their tales from the race. Wet, shiny, happy little faces. I especially loved hearing my youngest daughter tell me that she met her personal goal: to run the WHOLE thing, with no stopping. It made my heart swell a little to hear that she had taken the time to set her own goals for the day, based on herself and no one else. Soon, Alana and her daughter came through the finish and that chapter was closed — nothing left between me and my race. Mother Nature was not making this an easy call. In fact, she was being a total bitch.
With 20 minutes to the duathlon start, I let go of my panic and indecision and said “screw it, I’m trying it.” I figured the run portions would be fine and I could always turn around on the bike if I felt too uncomfortable on the slick roads. I had trained for it, I was ready and I wanted to do it. Some may call this stubborn; I like to think of it as dedicated!
I did not get to mentally prepare for this race, as I worried all week about whether or not I would actually get to complete it. The forecast was a disaster for days and, despite praying for a miracle, it was the predicted wash-out. So I was not in a racing mind set as I took my bike into transition and tried to figure out how to rack it, as well as how to set up my transition area when everything was soaking wet. I also chose a lousy spot, not knowing any better, as far as possible from the entries to the T-Zone. Ah well, this was really the least of my problems.
Once I decided to channel Nike and “just do it”, a weight was lifted off my shoulders and I made the best of it. I got my body marked up and, with just a few minutes to spare, lined up for the first run portion, thinking “What is wrong with me? I got up at the crack of dawn on a rainy Sunday to come torture and terrify myself in the country.” Luckily there was not too much time to dwell on this insanity as the horn blew and I was off!
In the past, we have loved this event because it has always been bustling with athletes of all shapes, sizes and abilities taking on multiple races and distances — think running races, kids races, triathlons and a duathlon. Action everywhere! Today, though, not so much. It seemed only the most serious athletes were on the course. Everyone else must have stayed in bed. Smart people. As I was getting passed on the run, I figured I must be really slow due to all the stress of the day, but a quick check of my Garmin told me I was actually running my sweet ass off — I was just with a fast crowd. Ah, humility. I know thy well.
I had a technical issue on this run leg with my headphones. Now, I have to tell you that there are 2 things I cannot run without: my Garmin and my iPod. These are my sacred, tag-team duo. I don’t know what was happening, but it was so wet that my earbuds were slipping out of their pockets. I ended up tucking one into my shirt and just going with one earbud in. Not much time to worry about it, though, as it was only a 2K run and, within minutes, I was entering the T-Zone for my first ever transition.
I am so proud to say that I did not make any mistakes here. I remembered my helmet. I got my cycling gloves on and my iPod off. I even got my bike Garmin ready to go and had crossed the mat for the bike course in 2 minutes. Gulp. Now came the mount and ride out. What do you know, pretty smooth! And with my heart beating out of my chest, and my amazing cheer squad whooping it up, I was heading off on the bike — kind of like a real cyclist. Sort of. Almost.
I remembered watching this exact moment last year, in wonder and awe. Thinking it was so great that those cyclists were comfortable enough on their bikes to even be out there, regardless of whether they were fast or slow. It was so beyond my comprehension and comfort zone, and here I was: doing it. Still out of my comfort zone, that’s for sure — but making it happen anyway.
The first part of the bike course is a massive climb out of the town of Sydenham. Kind of harsh because you have no momentum yet, but I chugged like the little engine that could and made it up the first, second, third and fourth climbs before things started to change to rolling hills and I could breathe again. It was slippery, but I felt in control. I saw some sheep. I saw some horses. I said thank you to every single person cheering on the course (those brave, wet souls). I heard “on your left” so many times that I stopped counting — or caring. I could count the times I said “on your left” on my left hand. But I didn’t care. I was doing it.
I actually had that thought at the 10K turn-around (which, thankfully, also went smoothly — no embarassing wipe-outs on the tight turn, whew) that things were going well. Of course, you always know that is when something will go wrong! So cue the heavy wind and pelting rain which was now in my face. No matter what gear I tried, I was pedalling in slow motion against that wind. I had to just embrace it and keep going. It was the only way to finish this thing! Oh, the hills. So much insult to so much injury. And yet, I took in every moment. I did not have much choice because I am slow on the bike, especially compared to the speedsters I was riding with that day. I have not done myself any favors by stubbornly staying in my running shoes, without clipless pedals or cages or a bike fit or any of the efficiencies you can buy. I may get there. But for today, I didn’t have the fancy advantages. It was just me, my legs, lungs, head, and heart, all working together with my bike, Sassy.
I had done the bike course twice in training and I knew it well enough. I knew it was “technical” which is just fancy-speak for “hard as hell with a lot of hills”. Even still, the climbs on the back half surprised me at times. Maybe I had blocked the trauma of them from my mind. But soon enough, I started the final climbs back into Sydenham and, even though they were hard, I was expecting them and I knew I was almost done. Almost done the bike! I was still worried about the finish as I would fly down that big hill I climbed at the start and immediately need to make a sharp turn. The speed and the wet roads were a recipe for disaster, but I managed it and biked into the T-Zone. Success!
Because I am not coordinated enough to drink or fuel on the bike without killing myself, I planned for my 2nd transition to be a little longer than the first so I could take a GU and chase it with lots of water before the final leg, a 5K run. Pulling my iPod out of my soaking wet bag, I realized BOTH ear covers had slid off the ear buds and, although dear Alana tried to fix it while I swapped my helmet for a running hat (lest I be THAT person running in my helmet), it slid right off again as soon as I ran out of the transition. My legs were dead weight and I had no music. Disaster.
I tried to run and fuss with them to no avail at which point I got annoyed that this was costing me time. I contemplated chucking them on the side of the road, but decided to dial down the drama and settle for shoving the ear covers in my pocket and tucking the ear buds under my shoulder straps on full blast. Even still, I could barely hear a thing. I have said it before and I will say it again: I need music on the run! It distracts and motivates me, it pumps me up, it makes me feel like a commercial for some awesome sports brand. Without it, I was just a soaking wet mess running on muddy trails and wishing this race would end — I was tired of being challenged at every turn! I just wanted something to go right! I mean, what else could happen?
Cue the horror music. I had just made the half-way turn around and suddenly found myself alone on the trail. Something catches my eye just ahead. It is slithering across the path. My brain takes a second to process what I am seeing and I stop dead. It also stops. Stale mate. A snake is blocking the path. A snake. A SNAKE. Ambush! I have few phobias in this world, but the #1 phobia is, you guessed it, snakes. My hands were over my mouth stifling a scream/cry/wail. It felt like hours that we stared at each other. Eventually, the spell was broken as runners started to come from the other direction and the snake decided his little show was a private performance for me alone. As he slithered off, I found my legs and made myself start running again.
This race was the race of facing fears. First duathon. Rain on the bike course. Snake on the run course. No music. No crutches. Just me. As I came back into town off the now terrifying trail, I felt like a survivor more than a finisher. As soon as I was in view of the finish area, I could hear Princess Alana cheering me on, louder than any other voice — and it brought me back to myself, jolted me back to the moment and the reality of what I was accomplishing. I turned onto the last part of the run leg and was so moved to see my daughters run out to join me for my final sprint to the finish. Without music, I could hear the race announcer clearly: “It’s another family affair and this one’s for Jodi!”.
I crossed the finish line. I got my medal and I knew I earned it. I was teary with pride and fatigue, mentally spent even more than physically. I DID IT.
And that is the story of my (first and maybe last!) duathlon. Not the fairy tale race I had pictured or trained for. But as we all know, the modern day princess can slay her own dragons, no help needed. And that’s exactly what I did, isn’t it?
Thank you to my royal cheer squad, led by Princess Alana!
Tell Us: What is the craziest thing that has ever happened to you during a race?