You probably never forget your first win but I wouldn’t mind forgetting mine, or at least parts of it. It was a tough day at the Graham Beasley Duathlon with high tempertures and a tortorous humidex that was cracking even the most seasoned athletes. For me, it was also day of hard lessons that ended with paramedics instead of a podium.
The first hurdle of the day was the race plan. In my limited experience, the longest run is typically the first leg in a standard duathlon so, when I found out the shorter 5km leg was first and the 10km was last, I had to rethink my race strategy a little. Finding this out 5 minutes before the start did little to deter me from sprinting to the front of the pack. I wanted to get out of the congestion and into own rhythm like I had originally planned. I kept my position and managed to finish the 5km leading the women’s race.
The next challenge: my first official flying mount. Transition went smoothly but when I got to the mount line, I had to negotiate athletes who had stopped outright in the middle of the road on the mount line to put their shoes on. With a bold yell that announced I was coming to the right, I took a literal leap of faith. To say I wobbled would be an understatement, as a few spectators vocally informed me but, no matter, I was on my way, leaving the men who got in my way behind.
Feeling at home on my bike, I settled quickly and started to enjoy myself. The course was initially crowded but once passed all the shorter distance riders I was on open road with hardly another rider in sight. The course was rolling the entire way and I relished each small climb as I continued to grow my lead.
The bike leg flew by all too quickly and, despite a quick wrong turn, I approached transtion with my lead still intact. Right, dismount time. I gave myself plenty of time to slide of out my shoes and, in need of redemption from my less than ideal mount, I flew off like a pro. Or, well, sans wobble which was as close as I was ever going to get to perfect on my first race attempt. I bounced through transition and hit the road, unaware I was embarking on what would become the biggest challenge of my day.
I managed to stick to my race strategy for the first 5km but, even though I took water at every available opportunity, I soon realized I was dehydrated and suffering from the humidity, a factor I wasn’t used to dealing with. The mid day sun robbed the course of any shade and you could feel the heat radiating off the pavement. Temperatures were hovering just below 30C but it was the humidity of over 70% that was making the 1okm feel like a marathon.
Like little angels, many spectators who lived along the route had sprinklers and hoses to cool people down and I took advantage of each one but the relief went as quickly as it came. With 4km left my stride began to falter and my pace diminished to a painful creep but, coming almost face to face with my chaser on the out-and-back course, I noticed she had significantly gained on me since the first lap of the 10km course. My body may have been done but my mind wasn’t done fighting yet.
All I had to do was hold my pace which, now that my head was fuzzy from dehydration, was harder to do than it seemed. With two kilometers left, my pace goal might have been far out the window, but I was determined to salvage some of my race plan and finish with a sprint. Motivated by the thought that it was only 1000 meters to go until I could sit down, I mean win, I prepared myself to give the last few hundred meters everything I had left…and I did. As I entered the finishing shoot, things started to get a little blurry. I wobbled over the finish line, cracked a quick smile, threw my hands up, and then took a 90 degree turn to lay in the shade.
The race medics rushed to my side along with my dad who came to support me but I calmly reassured them I was just dehydrated and overheated. The lesson to bring extra water into transition and prepare for humidity couldn’t have hit me harder. As the nice paramedics did their work, my dad and the timing marshalls confirmed my win, adding that I also placed second in the men’s competition, but, as happy as I was, my attention was focused on not throwing up in front of everyone. As I let my body recover, the medics had my dad bring the car over and when I felt better they escorted me to an air conditioned, reclined front seat.
It was only as we pulled away from the venue I realized I had missed my podium. I missed my prizes. I missed my flowers. I missed my moment. Being my first win, the milestone seemed to have passed me by in a haze of dehydration and I couldn’t help but think that this wasn’t the way I imagined my first win. Inexperience often yields the hardest and most important lessons but, on a positive note, I don’t know what I’m more proud of: my “survival” through the humidity, my first win, or how many boys I beat!