Monday, May 10, 2010
It was the best of times & worst of times-The Gulf Coast Tri
May 8th, 2010 had had a huge red circle around it since January...and here it was...the day I had a lot of hopes riding on. At the beginning of the year, it was the weight loss goal date for Ironman. When we realized a scheduling conflict with my husband's 25th college reunion would keep me from racing Ironman in 2010, May 8th became my A race date. When knee surgery kept me from completing the entire half ironman race, it became the date that two friends would come to my aid to help me at least participate in one of my favorite races.
Along with the incredible support of Mike and Vi Auld, Rebecca Babb and Sandi Fuller got up early Saturday morning and headed down to the transition area to set gear and get body marked. As we awoke, I made a beeline to the balcony and, to my shock, the weather had changed dramatically overnight. Even in the dark, I could see the whitecaps beyond the surfline and felt a very strong wind. It was gonna be a challenge today.
We returned to the room after setting gear, ate some breakfast and waited. I hate the waiting. It puts my stomach in knots. Since we were a relay team, that put us in the last wave leaving the beach at 715am. It also meant a rougher sea. I watched from the balcony to see how the other swimmers were handling the conditions. As I watched the professionals getting pushed off course and crossing the timing mat 5 to 9 minutes slower than usual, I knew...I was in for a difficult task.
Finally... I am on the beach, gun goes off and I hit the water. The temperature is perfect but you could feel that the sea was disorganized and messy. There was no rhyme or reason to the wave cycle and it made breathing and being consistent in my stroke nearly impossible.
Getting to the first turn buoy at the end of the first leg of the counter clockwise course took FOREVER. The support teams seemed to be having a hard time staying upright in their kayaks let alone being able to help swimmers. I was all over the place and I don't usually have a problem siteing but the buoys going out on the course were GREEN...and so was the water. Oh Lord, I thought, I gotta make this cut off.
I finally made it around the first turn buoy and didn't dare look at my watch. Working against the current, I made it to the other side of the course and the second turn. It was only then that I looked at my watch in absolute horror. 40 minutes ! WHAT!? A wave slapped me in the face and I ingested enough seawater to make me a little ill. For a single second I thought I was going to need some help. I composed myself with a few breast strokes and got back to the task of swimming.
The current pushed me so far off course that I ended up siteing the condo building instead of the buoys. I decided it would be
easier just to go to shore and run up the beach than to try to go against the current and get back to the buoys. I would later find out that I was not alone in this issue. Over 3 dozen swimmers ended up running up the beach to get to the swim exit.
I got nervous and started looking at my watch too much and the negative thoughts came pouring in. Finally I screamed underwater, DON'T GIVE UP!! It became my mantra as I headed into shore....Don't give up..don't give up...don't give up.
As I finally made it to land, I broke into a run up the beach. Three steps in, my knee reminded me that I was 3 weeks post op from surgery and I was in agony. Walking on pavement had become easy. Running on sand was brutal.
I looked at my watch....I was 2:30 minutes from the cut off as I headed towards the timing mats. I looked like a woman possessed as I struggled to the timing mat. I looked at the official and said "Im on time...I made it..." She must have thought I was insane because I was determined to get by her without her stopping me. Apparently, I WAS on time...they had allotted an extra 5 minutes to the swim cut off due to the conditions. I stepped on the mat at a time that I thought was past the cut off, but I had 4 minutes and 45 seconds to spar. I turned around and looked behind me and saw swimmers still coming in!! Oh my god, Im not last!!!
Up the sand I went, knee screaming at this point to stop. I was focused on getting to the relay tent and handing off the chip to Rebecca to get her on the road. The skies were dark and I was afraid that the rain was coming. The sooner she was out there, the sooner I would know she was back and ok.
As I made it through the tunnel, Rebecca screamed with joy!!! I am sure she thought that I was NOT going to make the cut off. I told her I had made a date with her and I don't stand up my dates!! I took the chip off and collapsed on the ground . She wanted to help me and I just said GO GIRL...and off she went for 56 miles of wind on the bike course.
Volunteers are angels with wings. Two came to my aid and helped me to a bench where I could put my knee up. They got ice to try to get the swelling down on my knee so I could make it back to the condo. I got out of transition and hobbled to the side of the road with Mike's help. Vi and Sandi were already there waited for Rebecca to make the small loop that circled back in front of us before the longer section of the bike course. She pasted us with good speed and a smile and we headed up to the room to wait for her return.
My knee was not happy with the sandy run but after a bit of a nap, it felt dramatically better. A hot shower, a little to eat and I was golden. I grabbed Mike's cane that he let me borrow as a fail safe and after 2.5 hours of waiting, we headed back to transition.
We waited..and worried. There was word of a crash with a number close to our 1149 team number. We waited some more..and worried. Rebecca arrived exhausted but smiling after a windy 56 miles with a touch of rain to make it interesting. She tagged up with an impatient Sandi who couldn't wait to get to the run. So began the worry for Sandi as she started her run close to the middle of the day.
As fates would have it, the sun came blazing out as Sandi started her run earning this 13.1 miles the Gulf Roast..instead of the Gulf Coast. We got Rebecca back up to the room where she took a cool bath and relaxed. She shook her head at me as we headed upstairs saying "Melissa..I don't know how you do this....all three events at once...its seriously tough!!!"
I once again closed my eyes for a quickie nap but before I knew it, it was time to run across the finish line with Sandi. Mike had headed out on the course to let us know when she was a mile out. It was a good thing too. It seems some of the volunteers had left their posts early and she didn't have much encouragement in those last two miles...but you gotta love Mike...he is always there with a smile and a cheer.
Rebecca, Vi and I waited impatiently at the finish line for Sandi's arrival. In the distance, we finally saw her...with incredibly perfect form considering the conditions running down Thomas Drive. She was hot but she gave us a wave and a smile (and some other gestures that are very hard to describe...Ill show you sometime!!) and we all three headed towards the finish line!!! All smiles for the camera and a cold beer for Sandi (we promised after 13 miles we would have a beer waiting) and it was time to celebrate.
Did we win any awards?? Nope! Just a finishers medal that we would learn later is actually a bottle opener (Im not really sure how I feel about that...)..but no prizes for us. Our times were horrible but I guarantee you...we had the MOST FUN of any team on the course. When returning to the room and our view of the ocean, I cried. How blessed am I to have friends who would step up and take on this challenge with me. How even more lucky am I to have friends who will travel 6 hours to support our efforts. I swear...this race brought me back to center again and reminded me...this sport is suppose to be fun and not all pressure. On this day...it was about teamwork...and joy...and celebration...and laughter...but above all...for me...it reminded me of why I got into this sport. Its a medal I will cherish the most because me friends helped me when I couldn't do it alone.
Another amazing life experience for the books...I am so incredibly lucky.