After a minute of catching my breath, I thought to myself, “I better get going again or I’ll be the last one in the lake.” I knew that after 40 minutes they would be calling it quits, pulling people out of the water, so I decided to go for it, knowing that another boat was only 200 meters away.
I went for it again, but ran into the same issue. Hyper-ventilating. I flipped on my back and tried to paddle slowly, hoping to catch my breath. It didn’t happen. I looked for the next boat and grabbed on.
By now I was frustrated and dejected. How could this be happening? What the heck is wrong with me?
After a minute, I tried again. Same issue. I grabbed a kayak.
After a minute, I tried again. This time noticing that the last wave of swimmers was catching up to me. I couldn’t make it, and grabbed onto a 4th boat.
Almost sad now, I didn’t think I had it in me to finish. There were no more boats between me and the finish of the swim. I told the woman in the boat that I didn’t think I could do it. She told me that I could and that they’d keep an eye on me.
I let go and went for it. Side stroking with everything I had, taking mouthfuls of water every third stroke. I tried not to keep looking at where I was going. “Just go!” I said to myself. “Just keep moving.”
I finally looked ahead and saw that people were standing up in the water and running out of the lake…they were just 100 meters away. I gave it everything I had.
I can’t describe the feeling I had when my feet hit the first stones at the bottom of the lake. I reached down to check, and sure enough, it was solid ground. I stood up, exhausted. I couldn’t believe I had made it.
I tried to run out of the water, but could barely do it. When I reached the beach, I was able to pick up a slight jog. My wife was right there cheering for me. Well, if I’m being honest, she looked concerned and asked if I was alright. I just shook my head and tried to carry on.
Ahead of me was a wooden staircase that went up a steep hill toward the transition area. I started running up the stairs and then disaster struck again.
Like a bolt of lightening, my right calf muscle seized up, spasming with such force that I halted half way up the stairs. I couldn’t believe it. “This never happens to me!”
I rarely have muscle cramps, but I was having one at a very inopportune time. I grabbed the railing and tried to hyperextend my ankle, stretching my calf.
Meanwhile, there was a crowd of people at the top of the stairs cheering their heads off with vuvuzelas and cow bells. The first thing that crossed my mind was, “These people must think I’m crazy for stopping half way up the stairs.”
The cramp calmed down and I jogged into the transition area, confused and disoriented. I downed a GU, and chugged some water. I dried my feet and put my socks on, this time my glutes (butt) started cramping. Argh!
I finally got geared up, grabbed my bike, and started jogging out of the transition area. I hopped on my bike and started pedaling.
To both of our surprise, I saw Jaime. She was also just starting to bike. Believe it or not, she completed the swim and transition in the same time, even though she started over 9 minutes after me. She was killing it!
I said, “J, everything fell apart in the lake. I was grabbin’ on boats!” She said, “Just go!”
I did what she said and took off. I had been training for the bike portion for some time and felt comfortable. I started to cruise and then hit the first hill.
Like a snail, I made it to the top.
Then I flew downhill for some time. This was the first opportunity I had to not exert myself. What I did next still makes me smile.
And I laughed hard. Almost hysterically! For the first time, my mind had slowed down enough that I was able to think about my experience in the lake. I literally let out a bellow…a laugh to be heard for miles. I shouted out, “What the heck was that!?!” I just shook my head, kept laughing, and pedaled on.
Cruising through the farmlands of western Virginia, I began to appreciate the scenery. Absolutely gorgeous! Rolling hills, dilapidated barns, livestock, and distant mountains made the ride memorable.
There were some steep hills. Every time I passed someone, I said, “good morning!” They replied excitedly and we both got a burst of energy.
On mile 3 of the 17 mile ride, I was headed up a nice hill and switched into a higher gear. What happened next was unexpected, but given all of my mishaps so far, perhaps should have been expected.
The chain came off the gears and wrapped around the pedal crank.
Going up a steep hill without the chain on the gears means that my pedaling gave me no forward momentum. I was already going so slow that I almost started to roll backward down the hill.
I quickly hopped off and examined the situation. The chain was off and was tight. I said out loud, “How the heck am I going to get this back on?” At that moment, a biker that I had said ‘good morning’ to earlier shouted, “C’mon, you can do it! Get back on the road!”
Luckily, a week before, I saw a bike mechanic deliberately disengage and reengage the chain onto the gears. I moved some things around and was able to finagle the chain back on. More people passed asking if I was okay.
I was okay. And from there on out, I killed the bike course. In fact, I was so grateful for making it this far, that I started to cheer everyone else on. Anytime I passed someone, I would say, “Good morning! You’re doing great!”
Shockingly, they were shocked. They seemed genuinely happy that I would offer such encouragement. I don’t know, but it seemed obvious to me. We were all in this together.
The only moment of real weakness on the bike was on mile 16 when they introduced the last hill. It was VERY steep. Two girls were walking their bike up the hill. Everyone else was swerving and struggling as they pumped away. I put my bike into the highest gear, stood up, and cranked away.
Each rotation took me a couple of feet and then I almost came to a stop. That’s how steep it was. I would not give up. I refused to get off my bike, even though I thought about it every moment. I would NOT get off this bike even if I fell over for lack of forward momentum.
Thankfully, there were fans there at the top of the hill cheering us on. They had cowbells and horns and were hooting and hollering. They would not let me quit and I love them for it.
I made it over that last hill and cruised down the other side toward the transition area. I was so happy to see my wife there again, cheering me on. She looked so proud of me.
My transition time was much quicker and I started to run. I saw my wife again, this time taking a picture. She reached out her hand for a high-five and I told her, “I will finish this race, even if it cripples me!”
I ran up and down some hills refusing to walk. After my 2nd marathon, I adopted a life philosophy and mantra that has served me well – “just keep moving.” I don’t care how slow I’m moving, I refused to stop.
After turning around, and crossing mile 2 on the run course, I saw Jaime bounding down a hill looking lively! We fist-pounded and cheered each other on.