I was a bit nervous on and off leading up to Muskoka 70.3 but it wasn’t until the announcer said “60 seconds to go” that my heart jumped into my throat and my stomach flipped. Everyone was chatting, even laughing, as I stared out to the first turn buoy, hardly visible in the morning fog. I just wanted to stay in the bunch as long as possible and not swim off course. Modest goals but necessary ones.
The airhorn sounded and like it was the end of the world, we all sprinted into the middle of the lake. I had the best swim start ever. Hands down. It was the first time I didn’t question my life path and have the urge to quit within the first 300m. Small victory. The bunch stretched out immediately but I hung with the main (I think) pack until the first turn buoy. By the second turn, however, I was in clear waters. It didn’t throw me and, as some of the slower swimmers from the previous wave started to appear, I worked as hard as I could to jump from one to the next.
Narrowly missing the last turn buoy, suddenly I found myself around people again. I latched on to some guy’s feet and stuck with him nearly to the end. Just when I though my arms were going to fall off, I hit the wooden stairs and was running up the seriously steep road to transition. I ran past my dad, who accompanied me to the race, and he yelled out my time. I checked my watch. I had no time to speak to him but I was so elated with my not-so-sucky-for-me time so I stuck my arms up in the air celebration style to let him know I was happy. Small victory deux.
After wrangling with the right ankle of my wetsuit, I got on my bike and on to the rolling course. The first part was winding with short steep hills but I powered through them. I started to catch some girls here and there. Things were going well. Not great. Not bad. I couldn’t complain but looking back, as we turned onto the highway and the road smoothed out a little, it was the start of my problems.
With 30km to go of the slightly longer than normal 94km course, we turned off the highway and onto the most frost-cracked road in the universe. We can put a man on the moon but frost cracks best our engineers? The thin “chamois” in my tri-suit wasn’t cutting it and, along with nag of fatigue, I lost my momentum and mental focus for the next 20km. I also realized I hadn’t been eating and drinking enough. I had been going to hunger and thirst but I needed to be fuelling future Sarah and she was starting to get concerned.
The last 10km was a repeat of the first 10km on a small winding and rolling road. I got some mojo back, took in as much water as I could, but my time goal was long gone. I flew into transition annoyed with myself but then I saw something I knew was a very rare sight: an empty bike rack. What?!
I ran out of transition and my dad confirmed it, I was leading my age group. Small victory number three. I settled into a good rhythm. Slower than I had planned but, with my nutrition concerns, the heat and level of fatigue, it was what I thought I could manage. I took as many cups of water as I could at each aid station. I sipped as much as I could and poured cup after cup over my head.
As I got into the town of Huntsville, the run course swerved from one side of the road to the other, up and down small residential streets, down the main drag, and all of it was hilly. I was holding a good pace for the first 7km but at 9km dehydration and fatigue caught up with me. I pushed to the half way mark but I was starting to die. As I turned out of town and onto the wide open, hellishly hot, seemingly desolate highway, I was creeping. I sucked down a gel but my body was crying out to be cool. About ten steps after an aid station I was already whining for the next.
The highway section lasted an eternity. When a woman came charging past me with 4km to go, I didn’t even blink an eye. I had stopped looking at my watch. I was in survival mode. At one point, the only thing that kept me going was the fact that the car was parked at the finish line and I needed it to get home. I just wanted to finish.
I practically crawled up the last two steep hills, cursing the mean organizers for the last two soul crushing inclines. When I finally crested the last hill (small victory number four), there was about 200m to go but that didn’t stop me from grabbing water at the final aid station before the finishing chute. I doused myself one last time, picked up the pace (well, at least the effort) and charged to the finish line.
I was totally toast. I just wanted ice water. Lots of it. All over me. From now until forever. I looked toast too because I had a grabber. A volunteer grabbed my arm and took me through the finish area as if I was just learning to walk. I downed a bottle of water and in a dizzy haze thanked her and told her I could walk on my own. I walked 10 meters and got nicely horizontal on the grass in the shade. My dad found me and brought me a snow cone. Hero.
After I came back from the dead, I recounted the race for my dad, connecting the transition dots. It wasn’t the race I had planned, I told him, but races never are and mixed in with my mistakes there were a few small victories I could be proud of. He didn’t seem to care about my critique. He told me again I had won my age group, adding that it was also 7th overall in women’s field. I settled back down on the grass, putting power splits and “should haves” out of my mind. He was right. Big victory.