Which way to the transition area? I guide my bike with one hand, the other clutches a race packet. Which race is this again? What distance? Follow the other athletes in sweatshirts and unflattering lycra across the asphalt parking lot. A man with a prodigious beer belly and bullhorn barks at the stream of people, “…body markings…allowed to enter transition…” Look at left shoulder. 88 written sloppily on upper arm in black magic marker. The adolescent girls at the entrance to the corral nod as I pass.
Are spot assigned? Do they do that at this race? Choose a spot on the edge of a pathway, midway across the corral. Which way is bike in, bike out? Ah, it doesn’t matter. Don’t feel very aggressive today. Legs heavy, mind foggy. Maybe a caffeinated GU would help. Did I do the pre-race routine with the little optimizations, the easy bike spin, the quick run? This wetsuit feels heavy, swim cap tight, sand cool. Shoulder to shoulder with thirty men, restlessly shuffling feet. Stare out at a bright orange sun above curling waves. What distance is this race? Is this warmup or start? An air horn sounds. High step, high step, high step, dive under the wave. Still shallow, high step, high step, high step, dive. Deeper now, swim, a man bouncing off my hip. Thud. This fucker won’t give me space. Under a wave, lost my friend. Sight to the buoy, it came up quick.
Turning at the buoy. Water is calm, flat. Stroke, breathe, stroke, breathe. Breath to one side, need to keep the shore in sight. Distracting to breathe on both sides and see the endless ocean under an orange sun. Must be July for a sun like that. Stroke, stroke. It feels good, strong. Meditative. Must not be pushing hard enough. Sight. Where is the next buoy? Where is my wife? She said we needed to change, to break out of our rut. We agreed to change.
That must be the last buoy. I can see swimmers turning left and heading to shore. The water is flat. Will I do a fancy ninety-degree turn around the buoy, like I saw in that YouTube video? Or just pop my head up and hurl my body toward shore. Hands hit the gravelly surface. Keep swimming even though you can stand, gain those seconds. Swim past the suckers that stand too early. Can’t extend arm anymore, stand. Lightheaded. Run out of the murky pond, pull off my goggles and cap with one motion. Run, run past the fast swimmers who can’t move on land. Zip wetsuit to waist, run, run. The more running, the better. A long path, packed dirt with roots, through scrubby pines. Wives and kids, cowbells and signs for dad’s line the pathway. Sweatshirts and steaming coffee, to fend off the cool of the fall morning. Where are my kids? Farther down? Maybe they are waiting for me at transition.
Hop on one foot. The stubborn wetsuit sticks like glue to my ankle. I thought it was an Orca? This says Roka. Grab a pointed helmet. On the bike, pedal hard. Did my kids see me? Did I slap Brendan’s hand in transition? Is he still in preschool? Pass, pass, pass. Scary guy with a seven-grand bike setup grunts past. What is my wattage? Do I hold 250, 260? What was my last FTP test? Pedal, pedal, pass. Pedal, pedal, sip. Pedal, pedal, pass. Another guy cranks past, maybe eight k worth of kit. I’ll see you on the run. How long until then? I hope Maura holds a sign for me; she wants to race one day. But she is little now.
Man waving in street. Half this way, Olympic and sprint that way. Oh. What race is this again?
Run now. Did I nail the transition? Aggressive into dismount, feet on top of shoes, coming in hot? Running hard and tossing bike, slipping on sneaks with stretchy laces and Vaseline? Stride and pace feel good, shoulders back. Did I see Kim at transition? Did she look angry, were the kids cranky? Did they have to walk far from the car? Run, run, push, push. Hard for the first half mile then hold. No one else pushes hard this early, pass, pass, pass. Look down, Garneau top, DeSoto shorts, New Balance shoes. Did I finally get a sponsor? No, paid full retail, I sponsor them.
Run on the sandy Pine Barren trail. Pass the woman in the pro kit, squatting in the middle of trail. Swerve and avoid the deep puddle, when did it rain? Turn the corner onto a boardwalk, full of people. They scream and cheer as I turn. Wait. No, they scream and cheer for the woman behind me. Everyone cheers for first woman, no one for the eighth man. I see a parking lot; men with race numbers, walking with medals around their neck. The final stretch. Sprint, sprint, pass that guy stopping to grab his kid. Do they announce names? Yes, and places.
In the car. Bike in rear view, number flapping in the wind. I’m in a sweatshirt and I smell like swamp, ocean, sunscreen and wet sneaker. Did I stay for awards? Did I make the podium? Age group? The car is empty, just an empty cup from the morning coffee, a baggie that held a peanut butter sandwich. Where am I going? Is there anyone at home?