And it was BY FAR the most challenging race to date. I’m learning the hard way that April in Rochester is not exactly the best weather for racing. I ran the Flower City Half Marathon last year at this time….and that was a killer race as well!
The official name of this event was the SMP River Challenge. My race was the Duathlon Solo. The temperature last Saturday morning, at 6:30 a.m. was a balmy 35 degrees. Overcast skies…no sun. Not even a tiny little breakthrough to wish us well. Winds were around 15 mph. Fear had definitely engulfed me. Food was my enemy with my stomach screaming anarchy! My race fuel was a cup of coffee and a slice of grain toast with peanut butter.
I would be running a 5K, then biking 20 miles and ending with another 5K run. The runs? Yes!! The bike? Nooo! I have a heavy hybrid bike. This would be my first multi-sport event, so I used what I had. On top of the fact that I was an inexperienced cyclist.
I took my ritualistic pre-race photo to feed the adrenaline pumping through my psyche. #otherwiseknownasfreeadvertising
My nerves running high as I pulled into the parking lot. Glancing around, I couldn’t help but notice my novice-like stature sticking out like a sore thumb. Bike pumps, race bikes, big bags, buckets, slick helmets…the list goes on. And there I was…one single drawstring bag, packed with sunglasses, my Stinger gel, tissues, lip balm and hand warmers; a hybrid bike and a helmet from Walmart. The only thing I had going for me was my new Pearl Izumi jacket.
Like I said, it was a cold April morning. I am always cold to begin with, so this was adding salt to the wound. I barely spoke as I walked my bike to the transition area. Again…more intimidating emotions swept through me. Beautiful bikes already racked and areas set. I chose a spot on the outside to rack my bike…it was heavy to lift up and set on the bars. But I did it.
In hindsight, I wish I had taken more pictures at the beginning of the race. But I was so nervous. My mind focused on whether or not I would be able to make it back to the transition area in time to finish the race. The event had a strict 10 a.m. cutoff time. If your bike was not racked, and you were not heading out to the second run by 10 a.m., you would not be permitted to complete the race. I previewed the bike course the weekend before…I would be close to that cutoff time.
Solo Duathlon women started the race at 7:36 a.m. So after some stretching and a ton of panicking, I made my way over to the start line. Tears were beginning to roll down my cheeks as I attempted to compose myself. As the announcer counted down, I closed my eyes and prayed…I prayed for endurance, for a strong will and for guidance.
And we were off!! I felt like molasses as I began to run…but in no time, found my stride. The men started 3 minutes after us, so pretty soon I was hearing, “On your left. Excuse me, on your left. On your left…on your left….”
The men were flying by me and honestly, it was aggravating me!! So I chose one of them to match my pace with for as long as I could keep up. The volunteers during the race were awesome! Very supportive and humorous…and freezing as well! The course leads you through the trails along the river next to the University of Rochester.
I finished the first 5K in 29:03!! A PR for me!! I spent 2 minutes in the transition area. Helmet on and clipped first! Then my Stinger gel, some adjustments of my hand warmers inside of my gloves and I was off!
The first 7 miles were actually great. I believe I was averaging about 13-14 mph on my bike. Again…I am just a beginner. A 95 lb. woman hauling a heavy bike for 20 miles. At this point, confidence was my friend!
My helmet though…yikes!
The bike route toured you through Genesee Valley Park, along the park’s golf course and out to East River Road, along the Genesee River. Passing RIT College, you then begin to climb some hills. For every uphill climb, there is an equal (and quite fun!) downhill coast! After turning onto another road, you ride past the NYS Thruway, another golf course and some horse ranches. The course begins to open up as you head directly into the wind gusts coming off the airport and open roads for the second 10 miles on the return.
Brutal. Excruciating. Some riders were walking their bikes up the hills or along the roads. I refused to give up. I had to stand up and pedal quite often on the return..which burned up ALOT of energy in my legs. But I did not give up. The wind was a killer. But I refused to succumb to the elements.
I pedaled as fast as I could. My body was working at full potential. In theory, physics should have been on my side, had my bike been better matched for my frame. I felt a little like Ron Weasley out there on his hand-me-down broom, while the other racers were flying by me with ease on their Nimbus 2000s!
This is me though when it comes to racing. Or hiking. Or anything really. I start with what I have. And make the best of it. It may not be perfect. It may not be the most efficient means. But that does not stop me from giving it my all!
Coming in for the finally 1/2 mile into the transition area. Exhausted. Frozen. Shaking.
As I dismounted my bike, my legs almost gave out from under me! I could not feel my feet and my legs were like Jell-O! I began to cry. Right there. In the transition area. I had made it back in 1:37, with a total split time of 2:06 at this point. It was 9:44 a.m. and I had made it back in time to finish the race!
Sobbing, it took every ounce of strength I had in me to rack that darn bike! Shaking…I was profusely shaking. Three attempts and finally I was able to lift it up onto the bars. My feet was frozen. I honestly wasn’t even sure if I was touching the ground or not!
But somehow, I began to run through the tears. The volunteers were shouting encouraging words as I wiped my cheeks and eyes. This was the toughest event I have ever attempted! My body began to seize up as I completed Mile 1. We ran the same course but in reverse. My knees were begging me to quit. My legs were screaming in pain. I just shook my head “no” at them. Little Jenny, the one who lives in my pit of my soul, is a warrior. She will not let the 40 year old version of herself give in.
By Mile 2, feeling had returned to my legs and feet. My pace was much slower than the first run, resulting in the worst time I have ever run a 5K! Disappointed and defeated, I pressed on. I was determined to finish the race running. Not walking. Running.
So I just kept moving. 1,2..1,2…1,2…
With a 1/2 mile to go, I dug in deep. Any fuel remaining in my tank was called on, utilized and pushed passed my limits. Determined to rise. To fight. At all costs. I had come too far at this point to give up. In the race. In the past year. In life. I had come TOO FAR to surrender to fear!
Fear came knocking….as it always does, at the first bit of “falling apart.” Fear can smell it, sense it…and attacks. But I was ready. Not this time. Not this. The journey, my journey had brought me right up to this point…and I gave it everything that I had, in my heart and soul, to cross that finish line!
I collapsed to the ground in tears after crossing the finish line. I always cry at the end of a race. (I don’t always collapse though) I don’t know why. Looking around, the other participants were not acting that way. Emotions run high with me…it is just who I am.
Tears of joy…tears of pain…tears of overcoming fear…tears. So.many.tears.
Total time: 2:45. Not stellar. But not awful. I had done it. At 40 years old, I had completed my first multi-sport event. Run. Bike. Run. I underestimated just how challenging the race would actually be. Engaging different sets of muscles. Requiring different mindsets. Mental grit is a life-saving necessity.
Breaking barriers. Setting goals and crushing them. Developing your inner core. I had journeyed long distances to arrive at this juncture. The juncture of “you are limitless!” The juncture of “you will overcome!” The juncture of “you are love…”
Victory! Empowered…and incredibly humbled. The surreal quality surrounding that day is lingering, as I continue to try to process my newest accomplishment.
But until then…
Still I rise. Amen.
(all photos courtesy of Fleet Feet Sports Rochester and GameFace Media)