As I was trying to prepare mentally for the race, the run leg felt like the wild card. I knew the swim would be hard; I knew the bike would be fun (barring unforeseen mechanical issues). But I didn't know about the run. Would I be invigorated by the crowd and the nearness of the finish line? Would I be exhausted and discouraged, with dead legs and a weary heart? I had never put a swim and a bike and a run together, and as the race drew closer this seemed like an important oversight.
This was a big race, with a sizable transition zone. Because my wave was one of the last to leave, there were lots of people milling around transition who had already finished. I couldn't have run through transition safely, I don't think, and so I walked my bike from the dismount line all the way to my rack, about 10 yards from the run exit. I spent less than three minutes in transition, but that was all I needed to ease the unpleasant brick sensation in my legs. I started off the run leg feeling surprisingly good.
In training I did a number of bike-run combos, but almost always in reverse order: run first, bike second. I wanted to build endurance and accustom my body to combining the two different types of workouts, but I am so injury-prone, and running after biking feels so strange, that it made sense to me to switch up the order. Somewhere I had read that regular brick workouts are important so you don't go out too fast on the run, but I scoffed at that. "Ha!" I said to myself. "That is approximately as plausible as the idea that I might accidentally go out while levitating." Sure enough, on my brick workout a week before the race I set off at a "comfortable" pace of 7:23 -- completely unsustainable. In the race I was watching my Garmin carefully, and again I had trouble reining myself in. My plan was to run the first half-mile slowly, at 11:xx, and see how it felt. It felt mostly fine, once I tugged myself down into that target range, but I was having some intestinal rumblings. Near the first mile marker I stopped at a porta-potty.
You guys, triathlon kits are not designed for speedy porta-potty stops. I was wearing a team shirt (about which more later) over a one-piece tri kit, which meant that I had to wriggle my sweaty arms out of the T-shirt sleeves and out of the tri kit straps, and then reverse the process with the added challenge of hiking up the skin-tight shorts over sweaty legs. "This could be its own event," I thought to myself. (Speed Pooping, coming soon to a race venue near you!)
I had planned to run-walk the 5K in 6-minute/1-minute increments, but I wound up taking fewer walk breaks than that. I saw my sister-in-law and my nephew a little bit past the halfway point, cheering. "Come on, Boo," she shouted, "let's run with Aunt Jamie for a minute!" My nephew (he's 4) didn't really want to run, but as I headed toward mile 2 she bellowed after me: "Weeee looooove yoooooou, Aunt Jamie!" That kept me going until the mile 2 marker, where I walked the water stop in the interest of wearing less sports drink, and headed toward the finish.
Do you remember when I joined a running group in the summer of 2012 with much trepidation? (I swear, instead of being called "Fitness" this category of posts should be called "Jamie fears that people will point and laugh at her and then -- who knew? -- they do not point or laugh. Surprise!") That summer my group had two leaders, who had a good cop/bad cop thing going: one sweet and encouraging, the other with more of a drill-sergeant-y vibe. Don't get me wrong-- she was a pleasant sort of drill sergeant, but she was always the one telling us to pick up the pace, and to sprint to the water fountain, and to hang tough even though it was a hundred (million) degrees outside. I had about a half-mile to go, and I was alone on that stretch of the course, and I was tired. It was the sort of tired that I knew I could push through, because I've been that tired on the treadmill more times than I can count. Five minutes, I told myself. That's 300 seconds. Say a decade of the rosary and then you can walk if you need to. But the tired side of me was feeling rebellious, perhaps because I had been suck-it-up-Buttercup-ing for two hours already, and then I saw Bad Cop Julie running the other way on the course. The funny thing is that she didn't even recognize me. But when I said, "Hey, Julie!" and she waved back and said, "You're doing great! You're almost there!", my tired self sighed and got with the program.
Suddenly I saw Joe. "Hi, Mom!" he shouted. "You're doing great!" He had run back from the finish line in hopes of seeing me as I came, and he ran toward the finish with me -- dear sweet Joe, offering me the same encouragement I tried to give him in his first 5K last summer.
This last bit of the course wound through a wooded area. It was pretty and shady and downhill -- all plusses -- but I kept thinking I should be able to see the finish line. When it loomed up out of the trees, and I could hear my family and my college roommates and their families shouting my name, an enormous grin spread over my face.
I was going to say something self-critical about how very fast the photographer's shutter speed must have been for him to catch me airborne, but I am going to refuse to be self-critical. This is me, doing something hard that I didn't know if I could do -- doing it faster and more gracefully than I even suspected I could do it. (For real: I finished 12 minutes faster than my most optimistic estimate.) And 30 seconds afterward, when they took the timing chip from my ankle and put a finisher's medal around my neck, I burst into grateful tears.