This is the moment in my triathlon training I've rehearsed more than any other: Squelching the urge to panic when the other swimmers leave me behind.
I love running with the herd in road races. But in this event, I knew I'd be a straggler almost as soon as I plunged into Fox Island's Bowman Lake.
As the others plow toward the first buoy 200 meters away, I repeat my mantra: “Stay calm and do your stroke.”
I've got to do the equivalent of 20 pool lengths to swing around this triangular course and arrive back at the beach. It's going to take a while with my sidestroke, but I figure I'll get there eventually.
Just then something large surfaces behind me.
“Uh, … ma'am?,” says a guy in scuba gear. “You need to move over that way. You're getting into the center here.”
They call this a “sprint triathlon” because its 500-meter swim, 20K bike ride and 5K run is just a fraction of the infamous Iron Man events, which total 70 to 140 miles. The fastest competitors will finish in just over an hour and qualify for national events.
As an inept swimmer with no bike of my own — I'm using my daughter's garage-sale mountain bike — my goal is simply to cross the finish line, ideally in around two hours.
Eventually, I feel sand under my feet and splash toward shore, then run barefoot to the transition area set up in the parking lot.
Only three people emerge from the lake after I do, and all three blow by me, one sooner and two later, during the bike segment. With a motorcycle-riding deputy as an escort, I pedal furiously in an unknown yet inefficient gear, fantasizing about taking a horse whip to the fender.
As I turn onto the road leading back to Fox Island, the other cyclists disappear from view.
“Somebody's gotta be last,” I think. But as I pedal into the park toward the transition area, passing earlier finishers now heading for home, I refuse to give up just yet.
I've endured swimming. Suffered through cycling. Now, embarking on the 5K run, I experience that weird post-cycling thigh tightness that makes your legs feel like concrete posts.
But I know this feeling will pass if I just keep moving — and I tell myself it will fade sooner if I pick up the pace, not really knowing if that's true.
I get an energy boost when I pass my 14-year-old son, heading toward the finish just as I'm getting started. Ben gives me a high five and a huge grin and says something I can't quite hear but assume to be encouragement.
I'm hoping not every triathlete likes to run as much as I do. Sure enough, I find a pair of stragglers shortly after I leave the park and head out onto Yohne Road. I feel bad passing them, because people are so incredibly supportive of each other in an event like this. Still, this is the only segment in which I don't feel completely inept. It feels good to push myself, knowing this run is a fairly short distance for me.
Though we'd hit the water at 7 a.m., the pavement is already heating up on the way to a 91-degree day. But there's shade along one side of the road, and my swim top is still damp, a mixture of lake water and sweat.
I head back into the park, then turn toward Bowman Lake. Up ahead is the first cyclist who'd passed me, a genial, well-padded guy who'd told me earlier he's competed before but hadn't trained much. He's struggling, but not so much he isn't going to finish.
“C'mon,” I say. “You don't want me to beat you.”
“There's not much I can do about it at this point,” he says. We loop around the transition area side by side, then he falls back as we hit the trail to the beach.
“Go ahead,” he says. “As long as I make 2 hours, I'll be happy.”
“You think we might?” Earlier, as I'd struggled on the bike, I'd started to think this race might wind up taking me three hours.
But as the finish line comes into view, I see the clock has just ticked past 1:57. We'll both make our goal.
You'd think a triathlon must be the toughest endurance sport on earth, and surely an Iron Man is exactly that. But two hours of swimming, biking and running didn't wear me out as much as I expected. Last fall's mini marathon was more grueling. My leisurely sidestroke must've helped me conserve energy.
It never would've occurred to me to try this event — the second in a series of three at Fox Island this year — if my friend Tinea hadn't talked me into it, or if my sister Traci hadn't plunged into cross training with me.
Neither wound up competing in the May 20 race. Traci's schedule proved too hectic, and Tinea hurt her back and wound up cheering from the sidelines.
Hopefully, both will join Ben and me next time, whenever that turns out to be — along with a few others who may not have realized just how doable a “try-athlon” really is.