It comes around once a year – the Naperville Sprint Triathlon. To be contested: who shall be the next Queen of Triathlon in Naperville. Self-proclaiming myself as this queen for many, many years, I urge you to understand that with this crown comes great responsibility; to welcome the newbies, to be that person on the masters team who still doesn’t flip turn, to convince your athletes/friends to litter the internet with pictures of their bikes propped next to a Live Bait sign at a gas station on long rides to Morris.
THERE IT IS! Blaine’s P5 in Morris! (and as a kind old man last weekend informed me, all sorts of Grundy County hoodlums are stealing expensive bikes & setting fires to dumpster in Morris so don’t leave your bike resting alone out there!)
Last year, if you recall, Amanda took the crown. You borrowed my crown. Her reply: I won it. Doesn’t count, I was pregnant. The year before that some 16 year old won it and….so….I haven’t actually won this race since 2012 but still, it’s like those honorary degrees they hand out to celebrities. I CAN CALL MYSELF THE QUEEN!
All joking aside, I was excited about this race and ready to race.
Don’t be fooled by the small town feel and quarry swim in this race: fast athletes always show up. I went into it with my bigger sessions pushed to earlier in the week so I had a fighting chance of racing a perennial podium placer and one of my own fastest athletes: Jenny Garrison. Make no mistake, I had no delusions of beating this woman, I just had a desire to get as close to her as possible. Great competition brings out greatness in everyone if you welcome the opportunity!
Though I signed up on Monday, I ended up with number 11 which meant a fantastic spot in transition around a lovely mix of athletes. None of us had any idea how we got so lucky – some of us signed up late, some were consistent podium placers, others complete beginners. The conversations were priceless. From I’m just hoping not to die to full on race report about someone’s half Ironman where – surprise! – they had a great bike but cramped on the run. I just sat around fielding questions of so, is this your first triathlon?
I set up my belongings quickly and then sat around talking with Adrienne, one of my athletes racked right near me. Around 6:25 am, I made one last check of my wheels (no brake pads rubbing!), my gear (all set up!) and headed over to the swim start.
Jenny and I swam the course twice for warm up. In the past week, summer has finally arrived in a heavy wave of 90 degree temperatures. Quickly, the quarry went from pleasant place for a swim to murky bath of hair, sweaty residue and leaving you smelling like wet gym socks. Not surprisingly, the water was 83 – no wetsuits permitted.
The race start is unique as you line up 4 across and get sent off every 10 seconds. As in years past, I lined up in one of the first lines getting right behind Adrienne, a former D1 collegiate swimmer. As in years past, I totally belonged up there. I didn’t but – fake it ‘til you make it and ride the fastest draft possible is my motto when it comes to swimming.
As we waited in line, I looked around to see myself surrounded by my friends, coach athletes, lanemates – this is why I love this race. Gather up 1600+ of my sporty friends from Naperville and go as hard as we can for close to an hour.
Just a few minutes prior to the race start, a man came up to me. Number 11? Come here.
All of a sudden, my friends, athletes and lanemates started oooooo-ing in a collective grade school somebody just got called into the principal’s office. Though a few possible scenarios went through my mind (bike got knocked over, they caught me hopping the fence to the bathroom), I didn’t anticipate this one:
Your tire is flat in transition.
My mouth dropped. As did my stomach. It’s about 5 minutes until the gun goes off and I had no idea what to do. Before race day I envision many scenarios but this one never crossed my mind. EVER. What now? I asked if I had time to fix it – he said you do, go now.
I ran up to transition and sure enough, my front tire was completely deflated. Not a problem unless you traveled to the race with absolutely no tubes and no C02. Yes, I know better. And living about 6 minutes away, I probably should have thrown spare wheels in the car too! But hindsight is much clearer than reality and my reality was I was standing in T1, minutes from the race with absolutely no way to fix this.
Kindly, the others in transition (relays? officials? do people normally just hang out in transition?) informed me that they asked the bike mechanic but they only had 700s and I ride 650s. I ran back down to the swim start with no idea what to do. I figured, at worst, I would do the swim and my day would end there. When I got back to the start, my husband told me to run back up to my bike – Adrienne was actually riding my sister in laws bike and it had 650s, with spares! I ran back up to find my brother in law, who was also racing, already there and trying to change the tube for me. We started working together quickly.
Meanwhile, the national anthem was being sung.
Moments later, my husband appeared in transition and told me to go on and race. I will take care of it. I gave him that are you sure look, he told me to GO and I ran back to the start line. I was impressed as I knew this act of kindness could possibly sacrifice his own race – Chris would have to start with slower swimmers and swim through over 1500 triathletes, self-seeded by swim ability. As I stood beneath a sign that read 5:00 for 400 meters, one can only imagine how good triathletes at self-seeding!
Back at the swim start, I politely crammed myself back into my original starting position next to Jenny and they sent the first line off. Goggles down and we went in 10 seconds.
I JUST MADE IT! (barely)
I ran into the water with Jenny right next to me. She giggled and then face flopped right into the water. As she got up I shouted GARRISON, I AM COMING AFTER YOU! I trailed her for 200 meters before taking the lead. I exited the swim right ahead of her and then, side by side, we completed the long run to transition. This was the most fun I’ve had in a long time – running into transition with an amazing athlete but even better friend. The day was looking hopeful. I might get within 1 minute of this woman today. I might actually challenge her. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. She was totally in control and I was wheezing.
As we ran down our lane in transition, I started to pull off my speedsuit when I realized it was stuck on something. I asked a relay participant to help, UNZIPPER ME! He started tugging but explained it was stuck on my top. So I did what any athlete would do – I yanked the zipper and in doing so, tore my top and squeezed my way out of the speedsuit. Just then, I heard a POP and knew it had happened. My tire had gone flat – again.
Just like that, it was over.
It took me all of 2 minutes to get over it, put on my running shoes and head out to start spectating. I found a friend/athlete out on the course, we ran a bit shouting at everyone. I got some confused looks (as in: how are you done racing already?) but made the best of it. Trying to salvage the day, I cut out to run an old favorite Jen Harrison workout: 6 x 3 minutes hard followed by 3 minutes easy. It was hot and I had no water along with me. And learned a very powerful lesson of why you never, ever run without water. It was one of those desperate acts of swallowing my saliva and calling it “hydration.”
It didn’t help, really.
As lousy as it was to pay $110 to race 6 ½ minutes, I learned a few lessons here. Always carry spare tubes to a race – no matter how short the race is. Always pack your training wheels in the car for nearby races. And, we also discovered the cause of my flats (and perhaps this discovery was priceless to avoid it happening again on, let’s say, a Big Island?): Chris put Velo Plugs into the inside of my race wheels as opposed to rim tape. One of the plugs slipped down and the tube was effectively being pushed into that hole. No matter how many times I would have replaced the tube or even the tire, it would have kept exploding. I would much rather learn this lesson in Naperville than in Hawaii.
In over 15 years of racing, I’ve only flatted twice: this past weekend and in Memphis. And it was in 2004 in Memphis where I learned another valuable lesson: always preview the bike course before the race. Had I previewed that course, I would have avoided the metal grate at mile 22 that blew a hole in my tire. I set out for a 2.8 mile walk back to transition. Along the way, I encountered another participant who had a flat tire. Except he didn’t know how to change it. I helped him and sent him on his way.
It turned out to be a beautiful day to watch a triathlon. I watched my athletes take the overall win and the F25-29 and F20-24 age group. Plus I got to hang out with these guys who create the illusion that I am far more vertically challenged than in reality. And as for racing, well, I shall race again another day (with rim tape – no more plugs!).