Niantic Triathlon 2015

Monday, August 24, 2015

Long Race, Long Blog

It was an amazing race and it wasn't because of the weather or the course or an enormous crowd of spectators.  It was an amazing race because of pure inspiration.   The most overwhelming thought I have as I reflect on the Rhode Warrior 1/2 Iron Man Triathlon yesterday is the powerful support of family and friends.  I know I can't possibly find the words to fully describe the power of the encouragement showered all throughout the day but hope to articulate the event the best I can.

Pre-Race Days
In the days leading up to the tri, I thought of my motivation for doing this long distance event.  I often thought of Aimee who has twice inspired me to do this race.  Firstly, she and Milly were the first to register for the Rhode Warrior this past winter and secondly and ultimately, her battle with aggressive breast cancer.  Aimee is deeply disappointed to miss out on triathlon season and this milestone event and that is what triggered my commitment to this race.  The day before the race, Aimee wrote her first blog about her journey these few months which touched me deeply and helped fuel my emotional tank for race day.  For me, it was all about Aimee.

Aimee has had a difficult week having her first super dose of the second round of chemo.  She was in bed for a full week, unable to eat or work which is uncharacteristic for her.  I tried to channel my concern into mental race preparedness.  Meanwhile, fueling my drive was the donations from so many of you that continue to be made to Aimee's fund, , set up to help her with expenses during this long medical journey.  Thank you to all who have been so generous.

Saturday afternoon, my brother Dave and sister-in-law Pam arrived from Pennsylvania.  Dave is an uber marathoner having participated in 18 Boston Marathons and a handful of other marathons.  I have admired his running ability and his willpower for decades.  Back in the early 80's, Dave competed in a couple of triathlons in this area.  He even won a triathlon!  

Being a strong runner, Dave pulled ahead
in the run segment and won!
Back in the day (ha ha), people helped you in transition!

No wet suits in those days

Race Day

Mel squishing in the bike rack
Jen gets the end slot
The Rhode Warrior Triathlon is based at Misquamicut State Beach and parking is at a premium in the summer.  Several triathletes arrived at our home at 5:00 a.m., parked their cars and we traveled posse style by bike with our gear to the staging area.  The usual pre-race rituals occurred of getting our timing chip, setting up and greetings to fellow triathletes (it is such a small world).  For the swim, we walked 1.2 miles along the beach to the start so that when we finished the swim, we were close to the transition area where our bicycling and running items were located.  The great thing about the Rhode Warrior tri is it is designed for competitors to swim with the current and usually results with swim times much faster than pool or non-surf areas. 

The start was delayed for 15 minutes and it was a good thing because just before the start, I spotted Aimee hurrying towards Jen and me.  I was overjoyed to see her before setting off on the 6-7 hour event.  During the swim, which seemed to go on forever, I spotted Aimee walking along the shore with her eyes on us which infused me with power. Swimming has become my favorite and best performance of the triathlon and I did well this day.  My time was twice what I estimated but so were the other swimmer's times. The theories among racers is that it was longer than 1.2 miles, the current shifted and we were swimming against it or both.

Madigan ringing the cow bell as I exit the water (white cap)

When I was in ankle deep and exiting the water, people began to distinguish me from other emerging swimmers and I heard my family shouting and cheering as I fled up the sandy dune and down into the transition area.  Then I heard the ultimate cheer - the vuvuzela!  It was just like David to be situated near the public service vehicles.  I hurried into the transition area for a quick turn around, stripping from the wet suit to helmet, sunglasses and bike shoes.  Off I went on the bike for the 3.5 hour, 58 mile journey to CT and back while my family enjoyed a beach breakfast at Sam's.

Initially, I had difficulty getting up to a good speed on the bike as my legs were tired (already!) so I worked on eating and drinking to rehab.  I packed homemade granola and settled in, content riding and eating granola, until I choked on an oat and spent the next 10 miles coughing and gagging. At about mile 30, my speed had increased to my average and I decided not to slow down for the water exchange or stop for the bathroom.  I truly enjoyed the ride as I was familiar with the route and it was kind of neat coasting through large intersections with police as traffic control.  I cruised through the last leg of the bike route and was greeted in the transition area by friends who had completed the Olympic distance.  Marie, who won her age group, Doug, who won the Aquabike division (swim & bike), and Brent, second in his division.  My legs were numb as I switched into running shoes and began my most difficult leg of the tri.

The run was grueling with no shade, high humidity, long distance and the mental challenge of a double loop.  There were 2 highlights:  the water stop at miles 3 and 10 and running on our street.  Fellow triathlete Helga and her husband Tracy were enthusiastically serving water, ice, skittles and taking pictures of us.  It was an emotional lift since they were situated in the middle of a hill and they were highly attentive to our needs.  Since the run segment goes by our house and twice around for the 1/2 Iron Man participants, triathletes, family, neighbors and friends positioned themselves there and were treated to David's famous Bloody Marys as they cheered and vuvuzela'd for everyone.  A few houses down, I was surprised by the large cheering section at our good friends, the Henry's.   Karlie and Abbie with their big cousins Emma and Maddie's help, had made a beautiful sign rooting for me!

At mile 5, I was drained and in despair and didn't know how I was going to finish 8.5 more miles.  I had slowed to a snail's pace when I spotted Ed and Brent.  Ed's words were comforting and helped me along a bit more until I saw Milly near the finish line with her family.  Milly ran with me as I faced the dreadful turn-around sending me back out on the next 6.5 mile loop and then her sons, Ian and Evan, ran too.  My shuffle picked up a bit and I had a second wind.  The next surge of adrenaline came when I reached the Weekapaug bridge where my brother Greg, wife Anne Marie, their kids and spouses and grandchildren were cheering.  My brother Dave joined me running and acted as my servant, feeding me ice cubes and pouring cold water on my head but mostly served as my companion with conversation and coaching.  My boys bearing popsicles, my cousin Vic, Mel and Marie appeared on bikes along the route, checking on me.  I felt spoiled and these benefits felt like an unfair advantage (aka cheating) but I so appreciated every ounce of this attention as it got me closer to that finish line.  

Approaching my street for the second time, I spotted Madigan and buddy Zein who took off on their bikes.  I knew I was on the home stretch and looked forward to the raging party at my house followed by the Henry's cheering section further down the street. It was just over 2 miles to go! 

Madigan and Zein raced back to the house Paul Revere style ringing a cow bell and yelling that I was approaching.  There were people lined up on both sides of the road and Aimee was among them.  Marie began running with us and told me to look back. Aimee was running behind me.   

At some point, my big brother Greg told me he was impressed with me but he has it backwards.  There were so many inspirational, motivating moments throughout the day from wonderful, wonderful people including him and his terrific family, trainer Will who literally gave me strength to do this insane event, Toby and Candy, the surprise appearance from long-time friends Ed and Maria, the Henrys and the remarkable poster, my fellow triathletes, Ed and coach Jen, text messages from friends before and after the race, the donations to Aimee's fund, cousins Vic & Sue who celebrated my first tri last year, my beloved brothers and their beautiful wives, my nieces and nephews, Grandma Bernardo who devoutly stands in for my late parents, the best next door neighbors in the world - the Nelsons, Tessa and Lara and their kids, volunteers Helga and Tracy and my dear friend Marie and her mom.  The inspiration from all these people especially from my incredible, loving husband and my boys who I love so much is a far deeper feeling than the accomplishment of completing this event.  

When Aimee had the strength to run those few moments with me, I knew we connected on that inspiration.  It was the charge I felt when I spotted her walking the beach alongside the swim.  And I know she felt the inspiration too.   Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for supporting both of us.

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