It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. I knew my legs were good. I knew my arms were…well, not the best. I was almost recovered from a cartilage strain near my pectoral or, as my coach called it, a “pulled boob,” and I was happy the pain was gone but it had sidelined my swim training for over a month. Combined with last week’s swim disaster and my lack of experience, I knew I was starting on the back foot so I just wanted to get the swim over and done with.
Bobbing up and down in cold Lake Ontario, the start gun finally fired and my start batch was off. We were a small batch so the start, for once, didn’t feel like the Jaws 4th of July scene. For the first time ever, I was truly calm and found a rhythm. I still swam in a zig-zag. I was still frustratingly slow. But, that’s where I was in my swim performance. When my feet touched the ramp, I was thankful it was over, knew I gave what I had to give and then flew out of transition, determined work down the 4 minute Grand Canyon of gaps as much as I could.
After wrestling with a stubborn right shoe, I made it on to the Don Valley Parkway. The huge central road sweeps through the heart of downtown Toronto, right under the famous CN Tower, and was completely closed for the race. My legs warmed up over the first climb and responded to every rise. I felt like I was making up ground and felt strong doing it, all while fishing carbohydrate chews out of my sports bra after I put the opened packet in upside-down. By kilometre 30, however, the effort was starting to dig in. I had passed another girl but she passed me back. On the next incline, I passed her again. She countered on the descent. We played leapfrog right until the dismount line where I passed her again, deciding to be a bit reckless and sprint down the rather steep incline into transition.
Out of transition, there was a new girl a few meters in front of me but I found my feet quickly. The lead girl was out of reach but I caught a glimpse of the next girl ahead at the turnaround point. I slowly ran down the one minute gap. Fifty seconds. Forty seconds. Thirty seconds. At 2kms to go, I knew I was going to have to dig deeper but I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. I was running out of distance and running out of legs. I was getting closer but would I make it? My face was screwed up in pain trying to find another gear. I clenched my teeth. I was getting closer. We were 75m apart as we entered Coronation Park where the finish line was set but, as I rounded the last corner onto the finishing straight, she was just crossing the finish line.
In a world of pain, I congratulated her and then took to more horizontal position on the grass. By ten seconds I had missed the podium and finished 4th overall in the women’s field. Fourth is the most frustrating position to end up in but, although I was annoyed I couldn’t close that last gap, my brain knew the answer to the question “why didn’t I just run faster?” repeating in my head. Sure, there were moments looking back during the race I could have pushed the pace more but, during the last few kilometres, I had given everything and it just wasn’t enough. I had to be satisfied with that and I was.