As a kid, my family and I vacationed in Avalon, New Jersey. So many fond family memories stem from the many years we spent down the shore. And still to this day just driving that direction brings a calmness and peace over me–it’s my true “happy place”. One memory brings me to the annual lifeguard races. I remember as a teenager being in awe of the swimmers and thinking that I would never do a race like that!
Well, never say never. Fast forward to earlier this year and I started getting the itch to sign up for my second triathlon. I found one in Avalon and began thinking, “hmmm, could I be brave enough to do a race like this?” With only one race under my belt I wasn’t sure, but the day that I was considering this was on a cold, snowy one. Dreaming of warm beach days and my family believing in me prompted me to take the plunge.
So leading up to race day, I began hitting the pool and riding my used, but new-to-me road bike. And before I knew it, race day was here!
June 28, 4:15 am–Race morning arrived much too early! But surprisingly I popped right out of bed. I had a pretty good night’s sleep.
The hour and fifteen minute drive only took us about an hour. After grabbing my race gear it was time to set up my bike in the transition area.
Unlike the Iron Girl race I did last September, non-racers were allowed into the transition area for this one. So my mom and stepdad came in to watch me set everything up. While much of this race was much more laid back than the Iron Girl race, looking back I wish that there was a bit more structure. For example, there was no pre-race talk…only a quick talk over the loudspeaker 10 minutes before the race started. I could have used a little more guidance as I later learned.
As we headed down to the beach, I learned that my wave would be the last group to go out around 7:40 am. I thought great, no one would be passing me in the water. Later I wished there was another group.
The water didn’t look too rough–a few days later I was grateful the swim was not on the fourth of July when the waves were much bigger due to Hurricane Arthur making its way along the coast. But even so, it was still the ocean. I started towards the far left of my wave (the race went from left to right with the current) because it appeared that people were getting pulled and having to back track to get around the first flag. Well the funny thing is that I was the only one who didn’t seem to be moving left to right. It was like the current just stopped and at one point I asked one of the lifeguards who was in a lifeboat near me, “Am I even moving?” He said, “Yep, you’re moving!!” It sure didn’t feel like it to me! Near the very beginning of the race after I got past the breakers I started to get really nervous and my breathing felt rushed. I knew that I had to calm myself down, so I flipped over to my back. I tried to swim some freestyle strokes, but couldn’t get into a rhythm. As more and more swimmers began getting smaller and smaller ahead of me, I was getting annoyed and frustrated at myself–I could do this in a pool, no problem. Finally after what seemed like a lifetime I made it past the third and final flag. Coming in ought to be a piece of cake, but even that was hard! I heard one of the female guards who was treading water near me say to another, “Keep an eye on her.” Part of me wanted to laugh and part of me wanted to cry! As I made it in, I saw two girls who came out of the water just ahead of me. And my parents cheering me on. I can’t imagine what I must have looked like at that point, but I began pulling off my goggles, swimcap, and wetsuit. I plopped to the ground and had my stepdad yank the suite off of me.
Now to get to T1–a quarter of a mile up the beach–I was finally there. A girl was yelling “way to go” and stuck her hand out for a high-five. I was thinking, well she’s excited and I gave her a half-hearted high-five. Of course I was so stressed in the water that I couldn’t even think of peeing (sorry if that is too much information here) so I ran into a port-a-potty (barefoot and all…gross!). Clearly I was wiped and didn’t care.
Now for putting on my bike gear and I was finally out of T1–two girls (probably the two from earlier) were right ahead of me which helped make the awful feeling of being last in my age group a little better.
The bike ride was a four-mile loop to the end of the island three times. It was flat with a breeze at my back for one direction. As I completed the first lap, to my right was my cheering squad–my mom, step-dad, brother, sister-in-law, best friend and her husband. For the first time since the race started I felt a smile return to my face. It was time to forget the swim and enjoy what was ahead.
But my comedy of errors was still to come…as I was about to transition out of T2, I only then realized that my bike helmet was still on. There goes another 20 seconds! I ran back to toss the helmet down and then finally I was off to the final stretch.
The sand was not as packed as I had hoped for and the gully in the middle did not help the cause. People kept crossing through the water to get to the more hard packed sand. Approaching the turn-around I asked a girl whether that was the correct spot (because earlier I saw a sign for the kids’ race). She said yes that it was, and within less than 5 minutes I was already headed back towards the finish line which didn’t feel right. Did they shorten the race, because at this rate I must have set a new record for the 5K? I didn’t know what to do so I ran through the finisher chute. Soon I was giving up my race timer, handed a cold towel and a water. I saw my parents and they were shocked to see me so soon. I cried out, “I think I cheated!” and a few tears began to form in my eyes. What had happened? Soon I saw my sister-in-law and she told me that I had to run past the finish line and then back out again the way I came before circling back to the finish line. I threw my water bottle down, but she said, “come on, we’ll do it together.”
So off I went again to finish the race with my sister-in-law encouraging me. About 30 minutes later I crossed the finish line a second time, this time with no timer chip.
Feeling a bit silly I went to the timing tent where the race officials sat (including one from USAT). I told them what happened and they took my information down and said they would see about adjusting accordingly using my split times (not sure how since I gave up the timing chip).
As I strolled back to my family and friends, they all gave me hugs and said how proud they were of me. Who really cares after all if my times were terrible (at least in my own mind). I did something that as a kid I never dreamed about doing–swimming a race in the ocean. I’m pretty competitive with myself and being at the end of the pack was not the best confidence booster. But you know what, we all have to start somewhere in order to grow from our experiences and become better. I realized that it’s not always about being the fastest. The fact that I went through that finish line–not once, but twice–when many would have just given up and quit at that point, told me a lot about my perseverance and character. I felt that I had cheated and not finished the race the right way.
Afterwards we went to Uncle Bill’s Pancake House. My best friend asked me if I saw her give me the high-five. Incredulously, I said, “that was you!” and laughed. She and her husband said “yeah, we didn’t think you knew it was us!” Haha! I was so drained at that point.
And of course with my family you gotta have a thick skin so I knew I had to just laugh about the race rather than let any teasing get me down. At the end of the day I know it’s out of love.
I was so appreciative of everyone who came to cheer me on. Although not the best race I’ve ever had, it was one at which I needed a fan base all the more. Thank you! I love you all!
**In the end, the race officials did not give me an overall finish or 5K time since my timing chip was removed early, but I completed the entire race (23:23 for 1/4 mile of swimming–I probably swam more in the long run–and 50:19 for 12 miles on the bike); I estimate I would have finished in the low 2-hour mark had everything gone according to plan. I look forward to besting this one!