Bluff Creek Triathlon Race Recap:
This was my first triathlon experience, and what an experience it was(to say the very least). I did the sprint distance but I’m almost certain that my perspective could also go for the Olympic distance course. This year the race was held on Sunday May 20, 2012 at Don Williams Park in Boone County, Iowa. My two alarms were set for 2:55am so I had enough time to get up, collect all of my gear and be to my friend’s house by 4:30am and be to the park by 6am so we could grab our race gear and set up with plenty of time. I got up right with my alarm, I knew it was nerves because I am normally good friends with my snooze button. I quietly got all of my stuff ready, did some quiet time and prayed(because I knew there was no way that I was getting through a triathlon without the Lord’s help), slung my bag over my shoulder, grabbed my bike and left my house not knowing what shape I’d be in when I returned. I had trained, but then I hadn’t. I’m incredibly hard on myself, and I went in not knowing exactly what I was capable of. I got to my friend’s house, racked her bike with mine on the back of my car and we were off. We chatted on the drive, but my mind was on FOCUS mode. When I’m facing something uncertain, I get extremely quiet and emotionless, quite the contrary to my normal persona.
It was a COLD 58 degrees outside as we parked and made our way from the parking area to the transition/check-in/marking area. All loaded down with our bikes and gear, I quietly walked my bike down the hill as my friend chatted with everyone who passed by. I wasn’t nervous, but I was very focused. We checked in, taped our numbers onto our bikes, got marked, and set up transitions. I had read multiple triathlon race recaps, and everything I had read was all becoming real for me. I was actually going to be doing this. As I silently set up my transition area, I glanced around at the seasoned professionals, nervous beginners and college athletes I found myself having to work hard at fighting back the thoughts of doubt and concern. I wasn’t toned and trimmed like the guy racking his bike across from me, I wasn’t the girl down from me who was just doing this race for fun on her ironman training plan, and I definitely wasn’t the college triathlete using this race as an Olympic qualifier. I was just Meredith, a girl who was doing this on her journey to change her life. As thoughts of doubt and regret and anxiety flooded my brain, I stayed stone-faced as my friend and I decided it was time to board the bus to the beach.
I think I was one of the only people who didn’t have a wet suit for the race but I’m extremely glad I didn’t.( I bought one but returned it because I thought I’d be too flustered trying to get it off coming out of the water, and I was totally right.) I didn’t really have a whole lot of prep work to do except strip down to my swimming suit and bike shorts, and let’s face it, I tried to put that off for as long as humanely possible. Once we could put that off no more, we stripped down, and boarded the bus to take us to the beach which is where things got interesting. It had been overcast and chilly every since we left Des Moines and it had continued to get a bit colder since arriving at the park. The swim was an across the lake, from beach to boat ramp, swim. We got to the beach and got in the water which felt heavenly warm compared to the chilly weather on land. And yes, there were people peeing themselves to stay warm, I know because they told me. I remember standing barely in the water and looking out across the lake, thinking it would take a miracle to get me across that lake. I was only used to swimming laps in a pool, definitely not the same thing. There were so many rescue boats on the lake to help anyone who needed it and I prayed I wasn’t one of those people. Staring out on that lake, it hit me. This was do or die. The only way off of that beach was a 500 meter swim across the lake.
I stayed in the water as long as possible until it was start time, at which point it started to rain and got extremely windy. Awesome. We were released in waves between the men, women, sprint, and oly divisions. As soon as I got past chest deep water, not only did my goggles fog up but my lungs froze up and I forgot how to swim. I tried a couple of times but came up spitting nasty lake water so I butterfly/paddled my way across the lake. Motto of the day: just get there. I was probably the last person coming out of the lake but I felt strong as I got to the boat ramp and then gravity hit as the two wonderful volunteers grabbed my hands and pulled me up past the drop-off. I felt like a newborn giraffe trying to stand. I quickly found my land legs as people cheered me on(holy cow, I almost cried every time someone I didn’t know cheered for me, which was the whole race). Right as I found my land legs, everything below my neck went numb from the cold. I looked to my right and saw my family screaming for me, I gave a half wave that said “I’m ok.” as I ran into transition.
I quickly tried to squish my feet into my shoes and put some clothes on to get me through the bike course. I heard my dad’s voice off to my right, “Was it cold?!?!?!?” I shook my head “yes,” as I held back tears of gratitude for my family. I composed myself and re-focused on getting out of transition in a good time. I mustered a tank top on along with my required helmet and headed out. The bike course was an out and back on a county road and HOLY CRAP did it test my patience, endurance, will, and faith. Not only was it and out and back, on that day it was an out and back ALL uphill out with 30 mph complete and total headwind. Super. I was on a hybrid bike that my local bike shop fitted me on in case I hated the sport, at least I had a nice bike to take on leisurely rides after the race. I contemplated the poor salesman’s death as I felt like I was riding backwards for eternity as people were riding by me saying “there’s a nice tailwind once you turn around, you’re almost there!!!” I wasn’t ever almost there, it was forever until I was almost there. So on my way back, I started contemplating all of those people’s deaths. Through the bike course, I contemplated quitting, turning around at multiple points and just not admitting I didn’t ride the whole course, falling in the ditch until someone realized I was missing, hitchhiking to the nearest bar and/or complete and utter defeat of all kinds. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I had to ditch my bike as an ambulance came wizzing by me to pick up someone who had crashed their bike. And yes, I wished I were that someone as I got out of the ditch and continued up Mt. Bluff Creek. I felt every single inch of that 15 mile ride. I prayed and pleaded with God through the entire ride and audibly screamed “Oh, THANK GOD!!!!” when I hit the turnaround point. I should have been able to do that distance in less than an hour but I just KNEW I had been out there for an eternity. I finally got back to the park and into transition solely by the grace of God. I racked my bike, took off my helmet and replaced it with a hat and started on the run course. I tried to run but my legs were numb from the cold and from the horrendous bike course so I run/shuffled for the bulk of the run. I wanted to cry but didn’t want to waste energy. I wanted to quit, but I was already 2/3 of the way done. I wanted to finish so bad I could taste it. I was out of all strength and stamina going into the run. The run was an out and back cross country style, so some gravel, some grass and some pavement on the run. I was beaten, battered, sore, numb, completely void of any energy but the run course solidified my love of this sport. I still tear up thinking about it. I would say that 95% of the people who passed me or I passed on the run course said words of encouragement, and not just “good job!”, “keep going” or “almost there”, but one person always crossed running traffic each time we passed to get a high five, and I heard the full range of “you’re my hero”, “you make it look so easy”, and “you’ve got it in the bag”. THAT is the reason why I didn’t quit, not just the other competitors but the volunteers were all so extremely positive and encouraging(except for on the bike course, could have used some out there).
I hit the turnaround point and knew that even if I crawled, I was crossing that finish line. I made it up the one hill, almost crawling, and off of the pavement onto the grass. I turned a corner where someone asked me “Is this your first triathlon?” I shook my head “yes,” as they said, “YOU DID IT, the finish line is just ahead!!!” As I turned sharp left, there it was. I came out of the woods to see my family waiting at the end for me. I had thought about and dreamed about that very moment for 8 months. Through winter training, soreness, injury, mental weakness, and near defeat, they were always right beside me cheering and supporting me. As I crossed that finish line, earning the label of “triathlete” and crumbling into my dad’s arms as one big shivering, hysterically sobbing the words “I did it!! I did it!!”, I knew this was just the beginning. I will be back and I will be back with a vengeance, Bluff Creek.