The single transition area is very well-placed for all three sports. The entrance from the swim finish line is about 50 feet away. I jog that direction with a slight limp. My left calf seems to be pulling the rest of the leg with it, but it feels better now that I’m on solid ground and can offer it some real resistance.
As I turn into the entrance, I notice the mudslick the athletes before me left while they transitioned. I slow down a bit, but I slip and fall onto my left knee anyway. Some volunteers ask if I’m all right, and I get right back up and trot to where my bike is parked.
I notice a lot of bikes in the racks, which means a lot of people have already begun their runs. The guys who share a bikerack with me had just pulled into transition from their rides and gotten ready for the 5K. I know I can’t think about how far behind I am. But I also accept that since I’m so far behind, all I can do is my own race.
My feet are muddy and grass is stuck between my toes, but a small bin of rinsing water is next to the bike rack, so I take the time to dip my feet and shake off the excess water before putting on socks and biking shoes. I put on a bright green cycling shirt, where my opened pack of energy gel is waiting for me in one of the back pockets. I take the water bottle from the cage on the bike and squeeze a bit of delicious electrolytic sports drink into my mouth. I return the water bottle to its place.
I punch my left calf a few times, trying to beat out the cramp. I know I’m going to have to bike and run with a spastic, left calf muscle.
The helmet with the “50” sticker I put on it goes on my head. I make sure to fasten the strap right away – I don’t want any time penalties added to my already huge deficit. My bike has a “50” sign hanging from the crossbar. I remove the bike from the rack and start to roll out.
A volunteer has been watching me the whole time, making sure I get everything right about the transition. He points to my right shoe and tells me to fix my strap: it wasn’t velcroed. I bend down and secure the strap. He points toward the mount/dismount line and instructs me to get on my bike over there.
At the mount/dismount line, I hop on my bike and begin pedaling. I clip in my cleats to the pedals and crank up the short hill that begins the course. I notice right away bright orange arrows in spray paint marking the major turns.
As I round the first turn, I see two sets of orange arrows: one for runners and one for bikers. I observe a few herds of runners ahead of me, and I decide to ride in the center of the road and let the runners have the sides. Beyond a certain point on this road is the turnaround for the runners, and once I pass this point, the road is essentially clear for me.
Just past the runners’ turnaround is a short bridge, and I ride across and make sure to take in the coolness of the river on both sides and the blue sky that now has the reference of trees lining the banks, and quite a few of these trees have leaves that are beginning to turn. It’s gorgeous, that chlorophyllic fire up against such a perfect, cerulean sky.
I remember to look down at my odomometer. I guess I started somewhere around mile 930, so the course should end at about 942. Between the first two miles, I spot another cyclist. I approach her and get ready to pass. I call out that I’m on her left and she turns her head to make sure we don’t collide. I take a little heart that I got to pass at least one person.
The course winds and rolls lightly, and it has to be one of the most beautiful rides of my life. The road is quite smooth, and it stretches across a couple of clearings of farmland with hay bales folded like sleeping bags and resting picturesquely near some barns. It’s absolutely breathtaking, but in a positive way, not in the way that makes me think I’m about to drown to death.
As I round a curve coming down a small hill, I remember that I didn’t die. I offer up a short, happy prayer. Of course I keep my eyes open, and I speak softly as if I’m talking to myself. This cardiosupplication is a single thanks. Thanks, Father, that I didn’t die. I take in the scenery and add to the prayer in my heart. My coronary expression of gratitude doubles in quantity and expands multidimensionally.
Still pedaling. The odometer reads 934. Ahead of me is a police car with its flashing lights. I see the officer and I signal left. He confirms by pointing in the same direction. I don’t intend on stopping. I reach into my back pocket and eat some more energy gel. I take a few swigs of sports drink. I make a note to drink a whole lot more water when the race is done.
More rolling hills. More insane scenery. Another awesome bridge. More energy gel and more sips from the water bottle. I shift down on the uphills and shift up on the downhills to keep a consistent RPM. On a straightaway, I try stretching out my calf every time I pedal down with my left leg. It still feels a bit tender, and I wonder how it’ll hold up during the run. I take another swig, and I imagine the electrolytes working their magic on my calf.
I’m glad that last police car popped up when it did. I wondered if I missed a turn. I had looked at the sides of the road for signs of triathlon, and I can now trust the stretches sprawl over a few miles before any major turns.
A car passes me, and I’m really enjoying this ride. I pass over yet another bridge. I stay on the right side, and I love how my bike and body tilt toward a focal point on the curves of the road.
Around mile 938 on the odometer, my thighs start to burn a little, but I keep cranking. I see another police car flashing ahead. I signal left, because I know I’m riding in a circle, and the officer points where I point. I thank him as I zoom by.
My breathing is slightly labored from pedaling, but it’s nowhere near the intensity of the swim. This is not my fastest ride, as I actually haven’t been on my bicycle since … June, but I’m not doing all that poorly. I think I’ll finish in under an hour, which is almost how much time I spent in the lake. That thought amuses me.
A few more of the smaller, rolling hills, and I start to climb a longer hill. I get to the top and bear slightly left, and I see one last police car. I signal left. The officer points. I thank him as I turn. I see other cyclists riding the opposite way to their cars. They’re done; I still have 5K to run. I turn back onto the short road I pulled out of 12.4 miles (20K) earlier, and I see quite a few runners heading toward the finish line.
The mount/dismount line approaches, and a volunteer signals for me to slow down. I unclip the cleats from the pedals and apply the brakes. I dismount my bike and start running with it toward the transition area. The volunteer tells me good job, and I exclaim something like this is crazy, and he laughs. I say woo.