Saturday, May 10, 2014

In which I hugged an Olympian

Last night I dreamed that I was halfway through the Ironman run, with less than two hours on the clock, and I was running without pain. Which was thrilling, since in my waking life I haven't been able to run since September, thanks to sciatica and plantar fasciitis and a slew of irritations brought on by poor running form, inappropriate shoes, and overtraining. I woke up from the dream in the middle of the night with clear certainty that it was an omen: I AM going to do this race. I've been worried lately that despite the months of physical therapy and rest and cross-training--and all the other good things I've been doing for myself--I would not be able to do the Ironman, this huge event that I've invested so much in already. With 12 weeks left, I still wasn't running regularly, and nowhere near the volume called for in my training plan. But I did a sprint tri last weekend, and I ran the whole 3 miles, the discomfort not unbearable. The aftermath was tolerable, and I recovered well.

This morning I set off for the Waldo County Triathlon, one of my favorite races of the year, thanks to its incredible community spirit and volunteer support. People are so eager to help out with this race that there's a 1:1 athlete-to-volunteer ratio. There are old men standing at back country intersections waving flags (while waving away the black flies) just to be sure you don't turn your bike down some dead-end side road that you would never dream of taking.

My goal for the race was to run slowly enough that I could practice proper form, to forget that last year I was lucky enough to finish first in my age group, to focus only on my long-term goal of good health for the Ironman. I knew that my sciatic pain was likely to flare up with that huge hill, and I prepared my ego for the reality of having to walk up it, finishing the race with a time much slower than last year's. The rain came down in buckets, and I wasn't able to pick up any extra time on my bike. But I left it in transition and set off down the road on foot to discover that I was running entirely without the familiar nervy zings of sciatic inflammation. I rounded the corner and "that huge hill" was half the size and pitch that I remembered. I ran without pain for the first time in 9 months. I'm going to do the Ironman for real.

That would have been good enough, but then I found out I made third place in my age group. Which also would have been good enough, but then it turned out that Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott was on hand to present the awards. I watched him politely shake hands with all the winners in the younger age groups, and when my name was called, I grabbed him, hugged the hell out of him, gratefully accepted the medal, and did a lunatic dance of joy on the podium. My friend Kate claimed first place--a victory that made me far happier than winning myself, since last year she was enduring chemotherapy--and got Seth up on the podium with us, to our delight and cheers from the crowd of 100 people crammed into the daycare room at the Y. None of us--Seth the least--were prepared for all the hugs he received from the next age group winners, men in their 50s. The poor guy blushed furiously but handled the whole thing with real grace. I never saw it coming, but you know, it's an honor to get a medal from someone who's earned an Olympic gold. Even in this dinky little homespun race. It was my race, and I worked hard for it. I'm also totally going to do that Ironman.

1 comment:

  1. Love this and look forward to 'following' you on this adventure!