2,000 meters is a long-assed way to swim – especially outside the comforting lane ropes of a swimming pool, especially at the Marquee Triathlon Half-Ironman with a couple hundred real-live athletes who will swim over anything that gets in their way, and especially in the murky, 65-degree waters of Tempe Town Lake.
Yes, it was 65 degrees – and in a fascinating lesson in relativity, it was warmer in the water than it was on dry land (57 degrees). I just hand to convince myself of that fact before I took the plunge: Because what I really wanted to do was scream: IT’S 65 FREAKIN’ FREEZING DEGREES IN THE WATER! WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE – OR AT LEAST WE’RE ALL GONNA PROVE THAT WE’RE ALL CERTIFIABLY CRAZY!!!
Instead, what the Hot Chicks with Douchebag Triathlon Relay proved is that we’re one-sixth Ironmen – and we really are bad asses – finishing in the Top 20 among Half-Ironman relays in 6 hours, 57 minutes, 30.98 seconds!
My Half-Ironman day began at 2:30 AM – lying awake in bed after having gotten up to pee for the umpteenth time because I was so studious in my pre-hydration. I really need to go back to sleep. I really need to get Party Rock Anthem out of the repeat-loop in my head. I have to wake up in two hours. Correction: I have to get up in two hours. I’m already awake. I have to swim 2,000 meters in four hours, 36 minutes. Make that four hours, 33 minutes. Now it’s four hours, 27 minutes. Actually if it takes me four hours to swim 2,000 meters, they will probably be undertaking a recovery operation to find my body. I really want to swim 2,000 meters in under one hour – they will haul me out involuntarily after 1 hour, 30 minutes because they have to clear the lake for the next wave of Olympic-distance triathletes. It’s 2:42. Splash down in four hours, 24 minutes. I really need to go back to sleep. Deep breaths. Slow deep breaths.
At 2:48 AM, I tried to visualize my race so that I would not panic when I hit the cold, dark confines of my Waterloo – TempE.coli Town Lake. I remembered what the drill instructor / swim director had said at the athletes’ meeting just 12 hours earlier:
The 2,000-meter / 1.2-mile Half-Ironman swim will be marked by giant yellow tetrahedron buoys. We would be swimming eastbound under the light-rail bridge, under the train-trestle, past the boat dock (PLEASE, KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR THE BOAT DOCK – we don’t want anyone swimming into the boat dock and hurting themselves!) under the southbound and northbound lanes of the Mill Avenue Bridges, past the KPMG building, past the ORANGE spherical buoy that marks the Sprint triathlon turn-off, past the second office building, past the large yellow CYLINDRICAL buoy that marks the Olympic triathlon turn-off (1,500 meters), past the condo tower, past A-Mountain, to the GIANT YELLOW TETRAHEDRON BUOY.
“A tetrahedron is a four-sided pyramid,” he explained. Duh, I thought to myself, Who doesn’t know what a tetrahedron is – hello, chemistry?
Half-Ironman swimmers will turn north at the giant yellow tetrahedron buoy, swim 50 meters to the next giant yellow tetrahedron buoy and then turn back and head for home (woo-hoo!) where you will make your final turn southward to the shore at the final giant yellow tetrahedron buoy just past the light-rail bridge.
The drill sergeant then got serious: “We want to keep everyone safe. There is a 3-foot ledge on the south wall of the lake. If you need to rest, you can sit on that ledge – or you can hang on the front or back of a safety kayak. You cannot walk the length of the ledge to complete your swim – you can only rest there. You cannot hang on the side of the kayak because you will tip it over. If you feel you cannot continue, we’ll bring you back. We need everyone to make reasonable decisions. If you appear to be in distress, we will come to you in the water and ask you to make a reasonable decision on whether it is safe for you to continue.”
Lying awake at 2:51 in the morning, I did not want him to ask me to make a reasonable decision.
Instead, feeling sleep-deprived and terrified, I took my place in the lemming-line of white swim caps for the Half-Ironman relay at 6:55 AM. There, I found a friendly face in my friend Trisha – who did the FULL Ironman just last fall. Trisha explained that she was doing a relay as well – but she really hadn’t trained for this swim, so she was just going to relax, take her time and have fun. I, on the other hand, had been training for the past four months and could not see the fun in what we were about to undertake, nor could I conceivably consider relaxing, given that I was about to plunge into 65-degree water!
And then, I jumped. Remembering what the drill instructor had said the day before, I blew out a huge exhalation as soon as I hit the water. Clad in my warm cocoon of Neopreen, I popped back up to the surface where I gulped in the fresh, bracing air and plunged back below the surface to blow out more air.
SINGLE. BEST. TRIATHLON. SWIM. ADVICE. EVER: To avoid panicking when you hit the cold water, force your head underwater and exhale with all you’ve got. Blow that air out. Surface, inhale, repeat.
I’m not sure how or why it works, but I was not dead. I was not hyperventilating. I was breathing. Hooray!
Predictably, the gun went off. Unpredictably, I did not panic. I just started swimming. Careful not to swim into the boat dock or the bridge piers, I began marking my progress by crossing landmarks off my list: The trestle bridge, the Mill Avenue bridges, the KPMG building, the ORANGE spherical buoy that marked the sprint triathlon turn off (750 meters), the second office building, and then I came upon a large yellow object! Damn! I’m swimming like a madwoman!
“Is this it? Is this where I turn?”
“That’s not it! Keep going! That’s a cylinder - look for the pyramid!”
It was my husband, Team Hot Chicks with Douchebag sherpa Patrick Bertinelli. He was watching my progress from the wall above the 3-foot ledge of reasonable decisions. Apparently, he can walk faster than I can swim.
“You’re doing great! Not far now!”
From the Command Center at the Party Pavilion™, we tracked Kristi via GPS – marveling as she crushed the course, averaging 16.7 miles per hour and beating her goal of 16 mph. Two hours after I emerged from the icy depths, team Douchebag / runner David rolled out of bed and decided to join the fun. He texted his progress:
At the 10:25 message that the Douchebag was in the building (actually in the parking garage about four buildings over), I responded thusly:
She’s about 4 minutes out. You better hurry!
Pat, Kristi’s husband / Team photographer Chris and I laughed evilly, sipped our adult beverages and waited.
Shit! Come meet me!!
Pat, Chris and I managed to ROTGLOAOWSOD (roll on the grass, laughing our asses off without spilling our drinks) when I finally decided to let the DB in on the joke.
Oh wait! Chris said 40. 40 minutes. Stupid autocorrect!
By the time David reached the Team Hot Chicks with Douchebag Party Pavilion, he was suitably warmed up and ready to run. He may have been in a lather. Either way, he was about to run 13.1 miles at 11:30 AM on a sunny, Sunday afternoon… and I was not.
Kristi rolled into the transition in 3:21:09.94, tagging David just moments after one of our relay competitors. The battle for Not-Last-Place had been joined! Game on!
It was at this point that the serious drinking commenced. After all, it was officially noon Pacific Time – we had just spotted David walking through the water-stop on the other side of the lake. For a moment, I wished that I had a shock collar so we could have given him a little jolt to keep him running through the water stops so as not to cost us precious time, but his eventual time of 2:41:19.72 was just shy of my personal best for a half-marathon (and he hadn’t been training), and frankly, I knew I couldn’t have done any better in his shoes (running under the noonday sun, whilst we enjoyed cold adult beverages beneath the protective shade of the Party Pavilion.)
And truly, there would be no Team Hot Chicks with Douchebag without the Douchebag, since neither I nor Kristi had any intention of running a half-marathon after 1) swimming 1.2 miles and 2) riding 56 miles. And so, as David crossed the finish line, we cheered vigorously and ran with him, managing not to spill our drinks and presenting him with an adult sippy-cup of cold beer in a bicycle bottle.
For the Douchebag, good enough was good enough. Team Hot Chicks with Douchebag triumphed! We did not finish last. Instead, a penultimate,¹ Top 20 finish was ours!
Thank you, Laurie, for coming up with this appropriate euphemism for NEXT TO LAST.