I won’t go into why it took me 3 times to finally get past the start line of a triathlon (you can read all about that part in my last article). Just know that here we are, at the end of the season, and My Dear Partner has gotten up at the crack of o-dark thirty to drive me to yet another attempt. This one is out in The Country - beautiful view of Mt. Rainier as we drive out to a small town outside of Seattle. It’s September and there is a hint of fall in the air. Let me rephrase: it’s COLD!! There is frost on the cow pies and the thermometer on the local bank’s display board says 39 degrees. Perfect weather for a run. But a swim?! Even with a wetsuit, it’s going to be frigid. How do I know, never having actually done this? Well, the weekend prior, Dear Partner drove me out there for a little look-see. Two big fellas donned wetsuits and were waist high in the lake, presumably getting ready for a practice swim. It looked like the zipper on one guy’s wetsuit was broken - likely from his massive shoulder and back muscles! Tough as he looks, he’s complaining to his friend (the one like me who probably talked him into this insanity) about how cold the water is. The “friend” pretty much says to buck up and get swimming already. How encouraging.I tell myself to just not think about it. Instead we focus on how nice the running path appears to be and then notice the “Watch For Cougars” sign that includes helpful instructions such as “Don’t run!” if encountering a cougar on the trail. I remind myself how much I love animals and how I might need to slow down at that point in the race anyway…So – after two previous attempts - here we are on race day of my very first triathlon! The sky is clear. We have our coffee and our Egg McMuffins. Life is good!All that’s left to do is pick up my numbers, get body marked, hope for “success” in the port-a-potty and set up my transition area. (For those of you who read the first article: yes, I brought my insurance card AND flip flops!)I successfully wheel my bike along with my gigantic bag o’ gear over to the packet pickup area. (They really ought to consider day of race registration as one whole event of its own: there are technical turns, transitions, handoffs and obstacles sufficient to merit recognition of some level of achievement!) Then a very nice young fellow offers to do my body marking. I could tell just by looking at him that he had good penmanship, so I say, “Sure!” Before I know it, he is marking one leg and asking how old I am. (Gee- I must look way better or worse than I thought!) As nice as he is, I don’t believe he’s admiring my toned calf muscles. Oh no – he just wants to mark MY AGE in numbers as large as possible so as to forewarn other racers behind me that they have an excellent chance of passing me!Before, I had always looked forward to this: having my race number proudly emblazoned directly on my body parts. A sort of symbol of a rite of triathlon passage… Now, I just feel like I’ve been pre-marked for the medics.Alrighty then… off to the transition area to set up! Actually having done this part of the event before, I feel my level of confidence rising along with the mist on the lake. I peel off one layer of polar fleece (did I mention the COLD?) and fumble around with my stuff, trying to make conversation with the other racers in my area. Then it hits me: these folks are racers. They have all done this before and they’re all in their own little zone. This is the end of their season. It’s the start of mine. Each time someone asks me which triathlons I’ve done so far and I say “none,” I get the same astonished reaction, a quick “good luck” accompanied by a “and you’ll really need it, missy” kind of look.All of a sudden, we’re startled by a loud “BAM!” and a puff of smoke! Looking over to the puff, it appears that someone’s tire just blew open. Secretly, I hope it’s one of those skinny little hi-tech tires on a fancy-schmancy bike. Ok – that’s not really true – but, I do think that secretly all of the rest of us are glad it’s not our own bike. (I also hope – and doubt - that the tech aid folks have replacement tubes for my little hybrid $280 bike I bought a couple of years ago and have never tuned up.)Whatever… there are more important worries and I’ve just had some unexpected luck in that department… The lines to the port-a-potty aren’t long at all! In disbelief, I head over. Man, it stinks!! I wonder what kind of energy bars folks have been eating for it to smell that bad this early in the day and then I realize it’s not the johns. The few of us there look at each other and in an instant of realization all say: “SKUNK!”. The lines for the port-a-potty disappear completely. Ever one to capitalize on misfortune, I figure, hey – it already sprayed and I’ll probably won’t smell so great by the end of the event, so I may as well just hold my nose and take advantage of all the open johns. It was the first time I haven’t had to wait an eternity to use the facilities! It was also an opportunity to practice controlled breathing.Now, as we all know, the real motto of triathlons is: “Misery Loves Company.” In that spirit, once again, I’d managed to talk some person who is otherwise usually considered level headed into doing this with me. She shows up with the last minute casualness of someone showing up at a restaurant for dinner with friends. Yes – she’s done one before. To top it off – she is doing this WITHOUT A WETSUIT!!! She’s nice, encouraging, pretty good at this stuff, doesn’t have an ounce of body fat and is in a pretty good mood, all things considered. What IS her problem?! I shake my head as we trot over to the swim start.Please understand that, up to that point, I had gone an entire month without training. No – I don’t mean that I had no significant or quality training. I mean I had absolutely ZERO training. With such a platform, I found myself going back and forth between freaking out completely and feeling no fear at all. The closer we got to the water, the closer I came to my moment of truth…The SwimEveryone is ready - but first come some last minute, inaudible and critical instructions on a crackling loudspeaker about each leg of the course. The website had clearly (and repeatedly) said to swim counterclockwise and keep buoys on your left. The announcer appeared to be saying just the opposite and also something about sprint folks not using the last buoy???? There are also instructions about the run and bike. Trust me, race officials, none of the folks going into the swim can focus on that stuff. They’re too busy wondering if they should have brought an ice scraper for their goggles. To top it off, it appears there is confusion amidst the athletes about which way is clockwise!!Side note and editorial comment: I’m sorry folks – but, if you don’t know which way is clockwise, you need to keep that fact to yourselves and not risk further embarrassment. Don’t toss out your nice, new digital watch with 100 lap memory. But do consider looking at an actual, old-fashioned clock once in a while to refresh your memory. We are now asking each other how and when our wave will start. Luckily, there is one wave in front of ours, so we’ll get to watch how it works. This is how it works: The Announcer shouts: “OK! FIRST WAVE!” followed by something no one can understand. The Racers dutifully shuffle and wade to some unmarked point in the water.A Horn blows.Mass confusion ensues and people start churning the water like piranhas, generally in the direction of the first buoy – which would be CLOCKWISE.Our wave then does likewise and I realize I’m suddenly far too intimidated by the thrashing to even register how cold the water may be. My first order of business is to find some way to take oxygen (vs. lake water) into my lungs and get my wits about me. This requires that I slow down from molasses pace to glacial rate of “speed.” Ah… much better! While I’m not exactly doing a nice crawl, I can see clearly ahead and am confident in my place at the very back of the pack.That is, until I hear the horn blow on shore again… OH, #^$*&! !! THEY’RE GOING TO CATCH UP WITH ME AND SWIM RIGHT OVER ME!! This thought (i.e. limbic system panic reaction) propels me back up to a point where I actually pass someone! So what if she was on her back simply floating? So what if the water safety folks were repeatedly asking her if she was ok? So what if she was way off course? I was PASSING her!!! Then the speedsters in the wave behind me actually do begin to catch us and I “graciously” move over.The last 50 yards are a like being in a bad dream. The others at the back of my pack keep bumping into me like magnets attracted to iron filings. I realize the water actually IS cold. And it’s as if there is a current pushing me back into the lake! I am so ecstatic to be done with the swim that I’m grinning ear to ear. T1I can’t believe I’m out of that water!!! Now there is NO doubt I will finish this triathlon. In fact, I’m feeling pretty darned good. I look at my watch: ok – just about what I expected for swim time. Time to employ my well–thought-out RACE STRATEGY!I’m jogging. I’m pulling the top of my wetsuit down. I’m jogging. I look at my watch. I’m jogging. I look at my watch. Ok – you get the idea… it was a loooonnnggg run to my bike. But gee whiz – I seem to have no trouble finding it because it’s just about the last bike still on a rack. Hey – this is great! I’ve got all the room I need. But, then I see that all my stuff is under someone else’s and where did my shorts go? I pay a price for all that room by way of my slow swim time – but, I’m ok with it. I also now have a view of one or two other folks who are having a not so great race. I sure can sympathize and there’s just a tinge of guilt as I trot off out of T1. Here’s wishing you better luck next time.The BikeI am feeling mighty confident about getting on the bike and into my race strategy! I smile and wave for any photo ops as I move to the mount line and I’m not even worrying about helmet hair! Then I actually start to pedal. Hey – how come I can’t feel my feet? Why aren’t my legs moving faster? Who made all those hills so much hillier today? A million questions come from inside. Ok – just take a slug of water and get a gel down. You just need to get moving, get the blood flowing and get some energy. I tell myself this and maintain a positive attitude until I’m passed for the millionth time and, for the umpteenth time hear that dreaded (yet strangely appreciated) phrase: “Good Job.”Those of you in the back of the pack club know what I mean. “Good Job” can often be translated as follows: “Oh my god! They actually let you in this race?!” or “What a geezer! At least you’re staying on the right so I can pass you.” or “It’s nice to see older people who are still active.” or “You look like death warmed over, friend. I can’t believe you’re still upright. But, I’ll be happy to call someone if you need medical attention.”I see my friend (Ms. Veteran Triathlete and Resident Speedster) coming back long before I ever hit the turn around. She looks to be flying like the wind, but still manages to wave back at me and smile. How lovely. When I do hit the turn around I can tell that my race strategy has come apart at the seams. At this point, the best I can do is enjoy the scenery and keep pushing to T2.T2Alright now! I can run half way decently and there’s nothing complicated about this transition. Take the helmet off and go. This transition actually pretty much goes according to plan and I do manage to not drop my bike or anything. Hooray!!The RunBall cap securely on - to cover swim cap/helmet hair, of course – I am on my way! (Come on, folks - admit it: you dedicate at least some portion of your triathlon planning to your clothes and hair strategy!) We’ll do two laps on a reportedly nice, soft, dirt path around the beautiful little lake we just swam. (See how this works? Already I am allowing time to soften the memory of the swim leg. And why not? It’s over for now!) This next part will be a snap! Did I say “snap?” No – I didn’t snap any body parts, my shoe lace or anything else. In fact, there’s nothing remotely “snappy” about my running. In fact – I’m walking on occasion. Others are walking, too. Here’s our little not-so-secret, secret: once we get past the view of spectators, almost everyone walks a bit. I manage to actually pass a few more folks, but still I feel kind of tired. And my stomach is just a little sloshy. While some might point to the Egg McMuffin as the likely culprit, I prefer to believe I’ve over hydrated. That’s right: I am convinced that water is the problem vs. fast food. (Yeah – I’m good at rationalizing.)Oh, and the folks I passed? Seems they’re already on their 2nd loop and I’m just on my first one. And then there are little stones and rocks. And it’s not really just flat, is it? Never mind – just keep trudging… I think of my Tri Girl sister and that helps me get through this last loop around the lake. It may not be my fastest “run” and this is no Ironman (although it certainly feels epic to me!) – but there I am on my way to finishing. Everyone is strangely quiet for this leg and in their own space. No more “good job” remarks. Just a few “Here, go ahead, you’re faster” comments between the panting. And then it happens: I actually cross the finish line. I was about 20 minutes slower than I thought I’d be. Someone gently suggested that the lack of training might have had an impact. Go figure!While the finish seemed to come upon me far too slowly and yet way too quickly - I sure was glad to be done. Now, I can’t wait to do another one. Why? Because (repeat after me):“I KNOW I can do better!” And, I will talk someone else into coming along, of course. Why? Because (repeat the motto along with me): “Misery Loves Company!”Thanks again, Dear Partner, for enduring all this and please have a nice rest for now because there’s more of the same next season.