I’d forgotten how much I love competing. There are always pre-race jitters, but once the gun goes off they turn into smooth strokes and a steady rhythm of stroke-stroke-breathe, stroke-stroke-breathe. Today’s swim was in a pool (not a lake), and although lengths do not generally have enough variety or interaction to keep me interested, racing is a great motivation to keep going – particularly since that girl in the lane beside me who keeps alternating breast stroke with freestyle is getting a little further ahead with every freestyle length. The second half takes some digging because I haven’t been swimming very much lately, but I want to get out of the water and 400m really isn’t that far.
As usual, I exit the water with my heart pounding at about 195bpm: for some reason swimming always makes my heart rate spike. I decide not to push too fast on the slippery deck, particularly since standing suddenly has made me a little unstready. Transition is effortless with no confusing cycling shoes, and then I’m off on the run.
And what a run it is! It starts off much easier than usual, mostly because I came out of a pool and not off a bike, so for once my feet do not feel like bricks. My heart is still under the impression that anything under 185bpm is a bad idea and the hill at the beginning of the route is not helping convince it otherwise. Little do I know that this so-called “hill” will be the least of my worries on this run. It quickly gets worse.
After my first real hill I decide that pushing really hard on the way up only makes going down even more painful, and vow to take it easy on the rest of the hills. As I’m running back down I catch a glimpse of a red jersey on the turn in front of me, and that’s all it takes for me to break my promise and chase her up the next hill. I gain substantial ground on the slope and subsequent downgrade, then see the halfway-point water station at the top of what has now become a mountain in my eyes. This is the first (but not last) hill I walk up.
I’ve finally dried off a little from the pool, and am now realizing that running on hilly terrain in 35 degrees and high humidity is very different from my usual racing climate. My legs are turning to jello and I still have nearly half of the run left; this is what I was worried about. I am relieved to turn on to a shaded winding road which would be quite relaxing if I wasn’t in so much pain, and again I see a pair in front of me: this time I catch up so quickly I almost run into them around a corner. I offer a couple words of encouragement (which is always easier when I’m the one doing the passing!) and continue on. I haven’t seen a single person gaining on me and have passed three others – I’m untouchable!
This euphoria lasts until I round the next bend and see a 45 degree slope rising along yet another hill: how many of these things can they possibly find?! Really, campus is only so big! I decide that another heart rate spike is not in my best interest and walk up the majority of the climb. Fortunately this is the last big hill I will have to tackle on this race, and I quickly settle back into the steady jog (probably closer to a limp by this time) that has served me well so far. What goes up must come down, and the next downhill is a flight of stairs which in my opinion should count as torture. My only objective at this point is to remain (somewhat) standing, and it’s fortunate that I accomplish this because I don’t think I could get back up once I’m down. After this last feat I surprise myself by finishing the last 300m with relative ease, and if I do say so myself, a very impressive finishing kick! As I run across the finish line I am intensely aware of how alive I am, and what I have just accomplished. This is why I race.
I had several impressive results: I finished 8th out of 17 competitors in my group, and I made a new friend. My first international racing experience was a success!