by JoEllen Reino
As soon as I received the promotional email for this race last fall, I knew I wanted to participate. My husband John and I were going to be on the Cape that week anyway, staying in the very town it was happening in. And what a challenge!
The race consisted of a 27-mile bike on scenic roads near the ocean followed by a total of six swim and run segments: first a 4-mile trail run, then a half-mile swim across a pond, then another 2.5-mile trail run, then a quarter-mile swim in a second pond, then a 1.5-mile trail run, then a half-mile swim across a third pond, and ending with a mile run on pavement to the finish.
There were so many logistics to think about, and that to me was the funnest challenge of the race. There was only one transition point. After the bike you were to meet your required helper to exchange your bike for your run and swim gear. After that, whatever you took on the run you also had to carry on the swim and vice versa, all the way to the end of the race.
Since I wear expensive orthotics that I did not want to lose or soak, swimming with my shoes on or tucking them under my suit were not options. I decided to carry a “floaty bag,” a blow-up bag clipped around my waist that I could store my shoes in while I swam. I would put my shoes in it at each swim start, fold over and clip the top and then inflate the bag. Ideally it would float on its tether line in back of me while I swam and not cause too much drag.
I practiced running with it, which seemed simple enough. I deflated it, put my goggles, swim cap, and ear wax in it, folded it in half, tucked it into its waistband, and ran with it hanging over my waist; barely noticeable.
Then there was the question of wetsuit or no wetsuit. I tend to run chilly, and swimming in water temperatures in the 60’s would make me uncomfortable at best and hypothermic at worst. But running in a full wetsuit would be cumbersome and sweaty. I found a “run/swim” wetsuit online that seemed to be the answer—it zips up the front (so it could be easily unzipped for the run), has short arm and leg sleeves, and is thinner and more flexible than a regular wetsuit. I practiced swimming with it once at Lake Wyola after the road race; it seemed fine.
I also practiced packing gear in and out of the floaty bag in an efficient manner in the days before the race, so in the likely event that I’d be flustered coming in or out of the swim, I’d remember the order of packing, unpacking, folding, clipping, inflating, etc.
I never figured out how or if to eat during the race. Still undecided the night before the race, I ate some extra food and then lay in bed awake for an hour nervous and going over logistics.
The morning of the race was great: it was finally sunny after a week of cold, wind, and rain. The bike section started in groups of around 25–30 people, a wave every 3 minutes. I lined up at the front of my wave and got off easily and exuberantly. It felt wonderful to finally be flying after all the months of preparation. Near the end of the ride I called out my number to someone who relayed it to transition where my dear Sherpa husband John was waiting for me and immediately delivered my bag of swim and run items.
I quickly ditched my bike shoes, helmet, and jacket and put the wetsuit on up to my waist, clipped on my floaty bag, pulled on my run shoes, and took off onto the trails. Whee! I was still flying. The narrow sandy trails were so lovely, through oak and pine forests overlooking the ocean. What a great race!
I got to the first swim, pulled up the rest of my wetsuit and zipped it, did the bag routine, and was off into the chilly but refreshing and clean water. I did notice that a lot of water was flowing through my wetsuit which seemed unusual and that my bag seemed to be pulling me back more than I’d remembered in practice. I got to the other side and saw that my wetsuit had unzipped to the waist and my bag had filled with water. As I was putting on my soaking wet shoes and socks and figuring out the correct way to zip my suit, former World Champion triathlete Karen Smyers ran past me! I knew that was the end of any chance I had of winning my age group. I also couldn’t help myself and yelled “KAREN SMYERS!!! YAY!!” like the crazy groupie that I am. She smiled and said hi like the gracious world champion that she is.
I was running near her for the section up to the second swim. I got a good laugh watching her two second transition where she put on her cap, tucked her shoes under the bum of her simple swimsuit, and took off. That was the last I saw of her. I was probably still fiddling with my clips and ear wax and socks by the time she finished that swim.
After the second swim I gave up on the gritty, soaking socks, choosing instead to run with my shoes full of wet bark bits and sand. I also couldn’t seem to empty the bag of water, so I was wearing it around my waist on the run like a giant heavy water balloon. I was now getting passed by more and more women at each transition point. They were just running into the water while I was puzzling over my bag, which also seemed to be getting too small to fit my shoes into.
During the last swim my back actually started getting sore from the weight I was dragging behind me. When I finished, I drained out as much water as I could, tucked it in and took off, though I still felt about 8 months pregnant on the last run.
I was happy to finish, though, and had a splendid time overall. Aside from the technical difficulties, I felt well prepared physically by my training for the race. I never ran out of energy and didn’t need to eat during the race (which was both good and bad, since I did carry a small bottle of protein drink in my bag the whole way). The organizers did a wonderful job. The course was beautiful and well-marked, the atmosphere was friendly and fun, the afterparty meal was delicious, and we all got lovely plaques and shirts for finishing. This race delivered all the fun it promised, and I would definitely try it again.
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