West on I-80, Iowa rolls out in historic red barns and lush green hills of a classic midwestern landscape.  The names of small towns light up my memories of Ragbrais from years ago – Maquoketa, Storm Lake, Anamosa, Hiawatha, Coralville.  I can’t cross the border into Iowa without feeling an incredible urge to get on my bike or scream “rumbles” as a warning to anyone about what lies on the road ahead.

This particular weekend, we were headed towards Cedar Rapids to compete at the Pigman Sprint Triathlon, a quintessential midwestern sprint race.  With an elite wave incentivized by a prize purse, it has historically drawn some of the best amateurs and pros from the Midwest. To me, it seemed like the perfect final “hard” workout before I simmered down into next weekend’s half Ironman.

The 3-hour drive was a nice respite from the noise of my daily life.  I spent most of the time in the passenger seat on the Beer Advocate website.  I suppose this is the new Liz Waterstraat, 40+ with 3 kids, triathlete.  The kind of athlete who emails the race director the night before the race because she forgot to sign up.   The kind of athlete who rather than obsessively checking NOAA for wind and precipitation potential predications, spends the drive googling “Best Iowa craft beer” and trying to convince her husband that they should eat at the local brewery.

Race morning we woke up to the 50% chance of rain that was predicted.  5 am, a heavy rain was pounding outside.  I’ve done enough Ragbrais to know that in less than 30 minutes that storm would pass by leaving a thick blanket of humidity and stillness in the air.  Sure enough by the time we reached the race site, the rain had nearly dried up on the roads and the air was, well, thick.

Pigman takes place at the beautiful Pleasant Creek State Park.  My last visit to Pleasant Creek to, as they say, dig the pig, had been back in 2006 when I did the Pigman Half Ironman in preparation for my first Kona.  It was Jen Harrison who convinced me the long rolling hills and humidity would prepare me for a race on the Big Island.  She was right.  It was a trip with great memories – my mom accompanied me only to reveal her new “spectating triathlons chair” (lightweight with a table & a cup holder), finishing 3rd overall, being in the money, getting to hold a mega check on the podium (still remember Michael Boehmer who also finished 3rd overall – I’ve never seen someone so excited to hold a mega check).  Ridiculous memories of triathlon years ago …

Back to the race.  We situated our gear in the elite rack.  I’ve got to be honest.  Racking in the elite wave over 40 gives great perspective.  I sat there applying sunscreen (because at my age, you don’t mess around even in a sprint race at 7 am, if there’s sun, there’s sunscreen) and triathlete watching.  I know, I know, you’re all fast and important.  You, guy trying to rack your bike the wrong way by the seat – yes, you, I did indeed ask if this was your first rodeo because, cowboy, this is about my 100th rodeo and I’m old enough to be your mom.  Let me help you rack your bike properly.

I warmed up in the cool water of Saylorville Lake.  After draining the lake last summer, the water level was much lower and getting in involved a hike through what can only be described as soupy muck.  After the warm up, I stood by the start area.  The elite women started first.  It was a small wave.  As we stood there, no one seemed to know where the start line was so we decided it was in water.  And once in the water, we decided it was near the first buoy.  Before I knew it, we had 30 seconds left and like it or not, my far left position became my start position.

The gun went off and the pro (Heather L.) took off.  After about 200 yards I worked myself into her slipstream which became further and further away.  By the turn buoy, I realized she had 30 seconds on me and I had 30 seconds on everyone else.  The pace was hard to the finish and then I did my best huffy run up the hill into transition.

My wetsuit decided to not play nice and didn’t want to come off.  Even with this being my 100th rodeo, I had to sit down and yank it off.  GET OFF OF ME!  At that point, I had almost lost my 30 second lead on everyone else as the women started to enter transition.  Get out of here & go!

Mounted my bike and with a few pedal strokes, went to shift into the big ring and – dropped my chain.  In almost 20 years of racing I have never dropped a chain let alone in the first 100 yards of the bike in a SPRINT!  Not only did I drop my chain but it jammed to the point where I had to dismount and wrestle it back on.

I caught up to two women and paced off of them.  My legs, however, didn’t want to keep the pace.  They were thinking back to the long rides, run hills and said – nope, we’ll just sit here at Olympic watts and enjoy the scenery.  Come on legs!  At 30 minutes into the ride, Chris caught up to me which I took as a good sign since he predicted he would catch me by 20.

The bike was over before I knew it and it was time to run.  Not flat, the course had a few good rollers and plenty of thick air.  I ran without a Garmin, even a watch, because I just wanted to run.  I’m currently in a strained relationship with running.

We’re working on it.

In the end, I finished 4th overall and took home $150!  In the past month I think Chris and I have made more than a lot of pro triathletes (and, guys, that’s kind of a sad thing about our sport – this shouldn’t be the case!).  After the race, we headed straight to a bar we saw off of 380 into Cedar Rapids – The Sag Wagon.  A Ragbrai-esque bar situated along a bike path that served cold beer and cheap sandwiches under – of course – a white tent.

Because when in Iowa, you beer and bikes.

Another race done and another fun weekend with my husband.  We chat about races ahead, races behind and sometimes we just sit quietly.  I’m not sure what goes through his mind but sometimes I naturally find myself longing for the days when I was younger, faster.  That’s what happens when you’ve been doing the sport since 1998.  But at the same time, I know well enough to keep myself grounded in reality – the fact that I am 41 and still mixing it up with women 20 years younger than me and pros – this is not lost on me.  I realize that I’m not as fast but I’m fast enough to stay competitive and engaged.  And, more importantly, I still enjoy being a part of the game.

On to the next one!