The light filtering through the window woke me from my deep sleep, and as I began to stir I became aware of the soreness blanketing my body. It was a light blanket that I tossed off by stretching my arms and legs, but the sensation connected me to my full 5’9″ frame in a way I can’t remember feeling for a long time. Perhaps it wasn’t since the bodily awareness that I had during my pregnancies that I felt so wholly connected to my physical being, and what I felt was gratitude. Yes, a similar gratitude and amazement that I felt after giving birth to tiny healthy humans (just not quite in the same magnitude). Grateful that my body was strong and healthy enough to carry me through the challenge of the race I had completed the previous day when faced with unexpected conditions. The Nantucket triathlon had been my fifth sprint triathlon, and took me an hour longer than any previous race. Though it may seem like an epic fail to most, and admittedly is on one level, I personally consider it my best triathlon yet. Made up of a 1/3-mile swim, 14-mile bike and 3.3-mile run, in the past this has typically taken me around an hour and a half to finish. My time for this race was around two hours and twenty-three minutes. Sprint triathlons send the swimmers out in approximately three minute intervals called waves, generally grouped by age and gender. My swim group was the second wave after the Elites. We stepped into the water expecting cold but were surprised by it’s relative warmth. The water looked so calm that we prepared ourselves for what seemed like would be a smooth swim. Our first clue that there was something awry came as we observed many of the Elite swimmers way off course before they even took the first turn. The Ocean is tricky like that, and never a power to be underestimated. The race director told us there was a small current, but it should abate by the time our wave reached the turn. Just a little current turned out to be a huge underestimate of what the swimmers were up against. When our wave began I made it to the first turn buoy by swimming right against the tide, but once I made the turn and hit it head on I realized that under that calm glassy surface was a raging side current that amounted to swimming in an infinity pool. I swam for 39 minutes, as hard as I possibly could, and I was getting nowhere. Finally one of the kayakers who had been busily scooping up swimmers in need of help yelled for us all to just swim to shore. I tried to swim straight in, but the tide swept me so that I was cheered in to my swim finish at the starting line of the swim. I was too tired to register the humiliation of this scene, and too grateful that I had made it to shore. In retrospect I can picture me dragging my sorry self out of the water to a bunch of strapping young men calling to me and cheering after they had just watched me desperately claw at and cling to a buoy for dear life and probably doggie paddle my way to them.
About now you might be wondering how this is the race I am most fond of. The thing is, yes, I was thrilled that I made it to shore, and that is part of it, but what I am amazed at is that, even though I finished at the starting line I really must have swam the equivalent a mile if not more, which is something that I would never voluntarily take on. It is also something I am truly amazed to know that I could do. Sprint triathlons are usually anywhere from a ¼ mile to ½ mile swim, 12-14 mile bike and 3 to 3 ½ mile run. The 1/3-mile swim of this race should have taken me 8-10 minutes, it took me 39, now I’m no math genius, but at my effort level, that means I swam roughly four times the distance that I had signed up for. When I emerged from the water the race director congratulated me for a valiant effort and told me I could finish the race, but had to turn in my timing chip since I did not round the second buoy. I had been told to swim in by a lifeguard who did not mention that I’d be dropping out by doing so. I don’t remember my response ( I can only imagine), but the crowd of racers waiting laughed as I ran off. There was no way after that hellish swim that I was turning in my race chip, thus dropping out. If they wanted my race chip they were going to have to chase me down, catch me, and wrestle me to the ground kicking and screaming (which would have actually been really easy for them to do in that moment of exhaustion). When I reached the bike rack the fact that my friend who I was doing the race with had not returned from the swim made me nervous. She is a much stronger swimmer than I am, and actually is an athlete who places for her age group every time. I could not get on my bike without knowing she had made it through the swim, but just as I started to head back to the beach to find her, I saw her running up the sand. I was just so relieved that neither of us had drowned that I could care less about finish time at that point. After our group swam the race officials changed the swim course, to just swim to the first buoy and back. They then had to throw out all of the swim times for the whole triathlon because of the disparity in the racers swim courses. We did not know that at the time but we did know that time really didn’t matter for us anymore. My friend and I did the bike together, which we could never usually do, and went on to the run together ,which made it much more fun. We finished with less elation that usual, but had a blast later that day celebrating our finish nonetheless. It was not until I awoke that next morning feeling hyper aware of my sore limbs as I stretched in bed, that an incredible feeling of gratitude to my body set in. I realized I felt stronger than I ever had before, despite the debacle of the swim, and my horrible finish time. I appreciated having finished uninjured, which is really all I set out to do. My friend had looked up the race results on the computer; only the unofficial results were out, but we were number 701 and 712 to finish out of the 950 to register (officially we were later moved up a bit, I jumped up to 666th). Only 800 of those actually officially finished the race, but I suspect many of those 150 who didn’t had actually turned in their chips like they were asked to. We laughed so hard at our numbers, it served us right for keeping those darn chips on, but at least we officially completed the race, and realized that now we have to come back to prove to ourselves we can do better next year. We also now know we are stronger swimmers than we ever cared to find out!