There is nothing like an email from race organizers a few days before a triathlon that says:
“Despite severe weather conditions, the race is maintained.”
Since I have been very lucky so far, I had no idea how “severe weather” could affect a race. I knew that the wind would slow me down on the bike, but that’s about it.
I must say that the Montauk area, that locals call “the end”, since it’s at the tip of Long Island, is very scary in stormy conditions. We had some crazy waves, the wind was blowing a gale, so much so that the house where the Achilles team was having dinner the night before the race was shaking. But for the first time before a race, I slept very well. I guess that I am more experienced now, but honestly, I was also completely underestimating what I had signed up for.
So here we are, it’s 6:45 AM, it’s cold, I am listening to the Star-Spangled Banner thinking to myself that maybe, yes maybe my summer sleeveless wetsuit was not the best fit for this triathlon. Luckily, the swim is in a lake, so we don’t have too many waves, just a powerful current.
This is it, it’s our time to shine, we are at the starting line. I am splashing some water on my bare shoulders wimping, Travis, my guide is amused. The guy standing next to me says: “at least, with this cold water, the snapping turtles are asleep”. But I don’t have too much time to think about this comment, the officials blow the whistle. Ah merde, this is going to be a long day.
Quickly the good swimmers disappear, I am just trying to stay warm and to keep moving. Travis tells me when we pass a buoy, we are doing OK despite the current pushing us to the side. I zigzag a lot, Travis keeps pushing me in the right direction. Half way through we make a 180 turn, the current is now helping us, everything becomes easier. A few swimmers seem disoriented, I bump in a few of them, I can hear some people calling for help, this is a cruel world, we keep going. We know that the staff will take care of them. I’m feeling colder and colder, I keep thinking “Charles, just get out of the water”. Travis finally signals the last buoy, we are done with our 1500 meter swim!
Transition is very strange, I don’t really feel my legs, I am moving in slow motion, Travis is helping me remove my wetsuit, I’m in auto pilot. We jump on the bike, we spent more than 5 minutes there, I don’t remember much. Usually, transition takes me less than 2 minutes.
During the first few miles of the bike, I don’t feel like myself. I am breathing very heavily, my feet are numb, the wind is killing me. Thank god I’m wearing a windbreaker and some good gloves. But after a GU and a sip of Gatorade, the real Charles is back!
When we have some tailwind, we reach 32, 33 miles per hour (53 Km/H), it’s exhilarating. Oh yes, I forgot to say that Travis is a professional triathlete, a real powerhouse on the bike. I hear a few cheers, I tell him: “I really admire the spectators that came out today in this awful weather!”. He responds: “Charles, these are not spectators, these are bikers that we keep passing”. We are doing very well, we finish the 40 kilometers in 1:16, a new course record for me, which is incredible with this weather.
Now it’s time for the run, let’s see if my marathon training will help me today.
We start at an 8:15 pace, my legs are super sore, I didn’t practice the bike/run transition at all in the past few months. I have been too focused on the marathon training. We pass a few Achilles friends, Kat my coach is one of them, that gives me a little boost. My feet are still numb, I am praying that I will not get injured less than a month away from the marathon.
The course is very hilly, I have to slow down on “murder hill”, a woman passes me. A participant walking in the other direction says: “You are slower than a girl!”. I don’t know if he was talking to himself, if it was a twisted way to encourage me or if it was simply bad humor, but when I’m at that level of exhaustion I get upset easily. I grit my teeth, I have only one thing in mind, “catch that woman Charles”. I know, I’m stupid.
On the downhill I make longer strides, I pull my shoulders back, we are now running something like a 7:30 pace, I am working hard. Travis keeps encouraging me, I want him to be proud. We pass that woman and many other participants, I can hear the crowd at the finish line.
The speaker says: “And here comes the defending champion in the Paratriathlon division, Charles Catherine, from Achilles International!”. I feel like crying. I am sprinting, the adrenalin is kicking, I will never forget those few seconds, they make everything before that worth all the pain in the world. I feel so grateful, so emotional, I yell “Go Achilles!”. The croud is amazing, the music is loud, we cross the finish line in 71st place overall, 1st in our division. Yep, we did it again!