Barrett and I arrived at the race on time, received our body markings, set up our transition areas, and then waited for our race to start. There were many different races that morning, and the very first of the races to start was the full distance triathlon ("The Ironman"). This race must start early because it is a grueling 2.5 mile open water swim followed by a 112 mile bike and a full 26.2 mile marathon. Athletes generally finish that endurance race between 9:00 PM and 1:00 AM. And many who begin, do not finish. For many triathletes, the full is the dream distance to achieve - should you have the time, energy, money, equipment, resources and courage to train for it. So after the start of the full length triathlon, the other races were started from the same shoreline, including a 1/3 and 2/3 distance triathlon. At 9:30 AM, the sprint triathlon - the one Barrett and I were participating in - was started. This was a fun distance for me with a .25 mile swim, an 8 mile bike, and a 3.1 mile run. Instead of my usual distance-induced fear, I walked up to the shoreline of the lake feeling a little bounce and joy, knowing I'd be done in less than 90 minutes. The gun went off and out I swam. I turned at the first triangle buoy, turned at the next, and was out of the water, running soaking wet to the transition area. I got all my cycling gear on, grabbed my bike off the rack, and made my way out of the transition area. As I mounted my bike, I felt strong. I knew I was going to be able to push those pedals hard and fast for 8 miles. I had pushed for 56 miles in the spring on a bike that wasn't fit for me and without fuel (race day nutrition) because my fuel was eaten by squirrels! So this, was literally going to be a joy ride, a low pressure and fun race morning.I took off and immediately began passing people. I wondered if I should slow down, but if just felt so good to be going so fast, like I was flying! If my legs got too tired, I figured I'd slow down at mile 7 in order to be able to complete the run with a decent time. I passed over 40 people as I cruised along at about 21 mph - not a fast pace for some, but a fast pace for me! This was becoming the fastest sprint triathlon I had ever done and knowing this, I began to get excited! I looked down and noticed my odometer was not working. The odometer was showing my speed, but for some reason, was not registering my distance. "Oh well" I thought, "I'll just follow the pack." I kept up the high speed, still excited about this being my fastest ever triathlon. I went up a steep hill, then two more, and after the third hill and in complete anaerobic distress, I noticed the crowd had really thinned out. "That's weird" I thought, but continued pedaling. Then I noticed I was near a highway - the same highway I saw during last year's race when I competed in the longer, 1/3 distance triathlon. "That's weird" I thought again, "The sprint distance just looped around the lake, but I'm really far from the lake."Uh-oh.Oh crap.No.No.No."Am I on the long course, somehow, instead of the short course?"I sped up to the woman cyclist ahead of me to take a peak at her race sticker. I knew that if it was red, that meant I'm still in the game because the athletes with the red stickers are sprint triathletes. If it was blue, it meant she was participating in either the 1/3, 2/3, or full "Ironman" distance triathlon. I pushed harder, trying not to look like I was trying to draft off of her. I looked at her sticker.Blue.My heart sank.Somewhere on the course, I had missed a directional sign for the short course and was now riding on the wrong course. My shot at my fastest time ever was over with and I didn't know where I was or just how far off the short course I had pedaled since my odometer wasn't working. $90.00 down the drain. I wasn't sure if I should pull over, go back, or keep going to finish whatever loop I was on. I decided to just keep moving forward. A few miles later, it dawned on me that my entire family would be expecting me to cross the finish line very soon and then they would start wondering where I was (hopefully they weren't just going to leave and grab lunch without me!). At that moment, a water station came into view. I pulled up to the aid station, explained to a young lady who looked to know what she was doing, that I was on the wrong course, and asked her for a phone. She said she didn't have one (or didn't want this sweaty, sun-burned athlete using hers) and so I decided to wait until a race official would eventually come around since they circle the course. I stood there, trying to tell myself that what had happened was not going to ruin my day, my week, or my spirits, but I was having trouble holding back the tears and the disappointment in my own self. As I unclipped my helmet and tossed it on the ground, I turned around to see a female cyclist dismounting her bike with a race official next to her. She quickly dropped her bike and then she herself quickly dropped to the ground, covered in hard earned sweat, curled up in a ball, and began sobbing. Her head was down in her knees. I literally thought in that moment, "You have nothing else to do, so go see if you can help." I walked up to her, bike in hands still, and asked "What's wrong?"The race official answered for her, "Her bike is busted. She's done.""Oh no! What race are you doing?"She answered, but didn't lift her face, "The full."Because I've completed a 1/2 and because I someday dream of doing a full, I immediately knew what that meant. It meant she had spent endless hours, energy, money, and passion training for today, the day she would conquer her mountain and live out a dream."How tall are you?" I asked.She looked up from her knees and through her tears, said "I'm 5'4.""What size shoe are you?" I asked"7" she responded.She was exactly the same size as me."Here, take my bike," I said."What??? Are you serious??" (My bike is not a toy - it is a carbon fiber, 18+gear, sleek Fuji racing bike with mounted aero bars, and I lover her more than peanut butter)"Where are you from?" I asked."Alaska. I came to do this race with my two brothers for one of their 40th birthdays."I was flabbergasted by how far she had come."Listen, my race is done. Now go finish yours."We quickly exchanged names/numbers with the race official's pen and paper. She slipped on my clips, got up on the saddle, thanked me profusely, asked if I'd get her bike back to the start, and then courageously rode off on my beloved black and orange Fuji. To anyone who cycles, you know the risks of riding a bike that is not yours. I realized after she took off, I wasn't even sure she knew how to switch my gears. On a bike that was not her own, she was boldly embarking on 97 more miles in 87 degree weather, and probably on top of jet lag.A man who had been standing about 10 feet away, watching this 3 and a 1/3 minute scene, looked at me with a confused daze and asked, "Did you just give her your bike??" I took a deep breath, smiled, and responded with "Yeah, I guess I did. Its ok. Today isn't my race. It's hers." When a race official who had a large vehicle finally arrived, we loaded her busted bike into his Jeep and took it back to race HQ and rolled it into the shop. I called her father, the number she had left me with, and he answered the phone with "Is this the angel who just saved my daughter's race?"My eyes welled up with tears and we worked out the logistics of getting my bike back to me. I eventually made my way back to my family, still barefoot and sunburned at this point, and then to the race HQ to turn in my timing chip (my timing chip would have been removed by a race volunteer at the finish line, had I crossed it). I extended the chip to the volunteer over the table, saying "Here you go. I didn't finish my race."The volunteer asked, "Oh sweetie, are you the girl who gave the other girl her bike?" I chuckled at the fact that apparently word gets out fast on a race course and answered, "Yes, I am."She looked at me and asked "Did you hear what she did?""No!" I said, fearing the worst of her crashing because she couldn't figure out my gears!"Well when she came through on the loop, past the HQ, she was singing on the bike! She was singing because she got to keep going!"I couldn't believe it. In that moment, I totally forgot about my own lost race and all I wanted, was for her to finish that darn full. I was in awe over the mysterious sequence of events that day:- If I had not veered off course- If I had been slower getting there- If I had turned around- If I had a crappy bike that couldn't do that kind of mileage at a decent speed- If I was 1 inch taller- If my foot was 1 size smaller- If I hadn't curiously walked over to ask what was wrongI'll never forget how at one point during that afternoon, her father texted me that she had severe cramps and still a lap to go on the bike (40 miles!). I immediately began praying that my bike take her through those miles, that her legs be strong and her heart be full. I prayed she would rest, but not quit. I was praying for a stranger. Yet, over this shared passion of triathlons, I felt like I knew how badly she wanted to finish. She and my bike were in the middle of a journey I someday hope to take. And her, on my bike, took me out of my own sadness.Her father kept me updated and at about 5:15 PM, we got the text that Tiffany (that's her name) and Xena Warrior Princess (that's the name of my bike!) had finished the 112 miles of the bike! And at 1:15 AM, we got a text that she had crossed the finish line of the full distance race! It was incredible. To Tiffany, the full distance triathlete I'll never meet again:I'm inspired by your courage to take a bike that wasn't yours and to get out there and finish what you started. Way to go Tiffany!!!!! Congratulations on being one of the few to even begin the full distance triathlon! I hope your toes are recovered from being smooshed in my "small size 7" shoe, and I wish you the best on the next adventure you take, whatever it may be! And may I prayerfully realize that just when I think I've veered off course, I might actually be headed in the exact direction God intended from the very beginning of the race.Peace,Annette
Mom of three who loves training for triathlons and also writing about them!