This is going to be a long race report. It is a long story. Lets handle it step by step. But this is what I rememeber from the race: “Both hare and tortoise FINISHED the race”
Swim (part 1):
When Sumit and I went to Hawaii in 2009, I figured I was super scared of water. So much so, that I did not want to walk on the beach with water touching my ankles. After Sumit spent an afternoon snorkeling in Hanauma Bay and describing all the pretty fish he saw, I came back to bay area and straight away enrolled myself in a swim class. My first class was spent by my instructor in convincing me that I won’t drown in that 4 ft deep pool and that she had a lifeguard certification to save me. That was 2009. By the summer of 2012, I was able to swim laps. But I stuck to the shallow end of the pool.
In November of 2015, exactly two years ago, Sumit Jain had convinced me to go for an open water swim or at least stand at the shallow end. I was promised I won’t drown with a wetsuit on. So, we rented one at Sports Basement and Rajeev Char was kind enough to accompany us to Pleasanton on a freezing morning. You know it is really cold when the dew drops on grass are frozen. I was dead silent for entire 40 minutes of our car ride to the park. That is when I was christened “Shantiben” and I too learnt that I go silent when I am nervous. Anyhow, I stood in water for a few minutes. Tried floating and splashing a bit in the shallow end and I was done.
But good thing was that I joined Asha Tri team for open water swims in the summer of 2016. I was so envious of the ease at which triathletes used to swim. Chakri Gulipalli helped with giving me short goals and holding a boogie board next to me for support. Karthik, Surya and Shashi (none of whom are on FB!), were constantly encouraging me. I would have gone for 4-5 open water swims, but I still didn’t have the guts to swim on my own, stay upright in water or even go to the deep end of the pool. But that was still some progress, I was feeling less nervous each time. The most comforting words were “You don’t have to hurry into anything. Take your time. Take weeks, months or years to feel comfortable. No one is going to rush you into swimming in open water.” And when triathletes used to ask me if I was signing up for a race, I used to say, “No, even if I get comfy with the swim part, I don’t know how to ride a bike!”
Lets get to the biking part now and get back to swim again. As most of you know, I learnt how to ride a bike beginning from the very basics of balancing a bike this year, in 2017. I had never ridden a bike before and I had a whole post on how Arun Rao helped me with learning how to ride a bike. Signing up with the TeamAsha biking program is the best thing I did this year (No, I wasn’t paid to write this!). Thank you coaches Mani Harihara and Venkatesh Iyengar. But well, the bottom line was, I had learnt how to ride a bike now and by summer of 2017, I realised I just need to nail down the open water swims.
Swim (part 2):
So, I joined Tean Asha tri group for open water swims in 2017 again. This time, I felt more confident. As others observed, I was talking before the swims now. On my second open water swim, I could just stay upright in the deep water and not panic. That was the step function I was waiting for. Then, it was more about swimming farther each time, stopping less, and trying not to panic and just relaxing. But, I had not signed up for any race!
Picking a race:
No, I didn’t have a choice, I was born this way! Jokes apart, the first race for most of the Asha triathletes, is the Oakland triathlon, end of August. But, due to my committment to Naatak’s new Improv group, I had to miss quite a few swim sessions in July and then, due to the travel bug that bit me, I was out in August. So, Oakland was clearly not what I would have been ready for. While talking to Mittal Patel about this, she told me she had been travelling too and had managed to convince Coach Char to keep the training going for Marin Triathlon in end of October. That was it. I was signing up for Marin triathlon, but not just yet.
Sprint or Olympic:
After I got back from our trip in August, I looked at the race distances, and except for swimming, I was more excited for Olympic. Sprint was 500m swim, 14 mile bike and 5k run. Olympic was 1500m swim, 22 mile bike and 10k run. So, I started following the Olympic schedule and decided to pick one a little closer to the actual event date. Even though I was able to do the distance in pool, I was still not 100% comfortable in open water. 3 weeks before the race, on a bright sunny morning, at Gull Park, I just felt super comfrtable in water and was able to swim not up to the bridge, but to the canal opening and back which is about 1000m. Next week, at Aquatic Park, I was able to do 2.5 loops (1850 yds) and was pretty okay being on my own. But still, I hadn’t signed up. In a nail biting decision, I finally signed up for the Olympic race thinking that 500 m swim is too less, plus, everyone else was doing Olympic, so I would miss out doing the race with fellow Asha athletes and after all, I had trained for Olympic distance. Yes, Sumit Jain found my confusion quite amusing each time I brought it up, that why would I do Sprint. So, there you go, I was signed up and ready(?)!
Day before the race:
It was a Saturday. My Shantiben mode was on. I was not even interested in checking my WhatsApp messages, so much that I even quit a group made for athletes and supporters doing the Marin Tri. Thats so not right! But I slept well on Friday night and on Saturday afternoon. But I kept asking Sumit to check if I had fever. He just told me, “yeh race ka bukhaar hai. You are fine”. So we went for a social dinner, but left early. I had packed and checked and rechecked my stuff and already kept everything in the car trunk. But I just couldn’t sleep. Every 30 minutes, I would think of something that would go wrong. For instance, what if the water is tooo cold and I get hypothermia. What if my knees are frozen on bike as I will be in wet trishorts. What if I had to pee during the bike ride, who will take care of my bike? etc etc. But I got 3-4 hours of sleep.
I was up 15 minutes before the alarm. I got ready, and sat in the car. Coach and Renuka were ride sharing with us. They were on time. We were on time. We reached the venue earlier than expected. Everything was as expected, but I was still anxious. I picked up my packet, got body marked (felt so cool!) and I set up my transitions. I had everything I needed. Arranged everything as I wanted. I had six fellow Asha triathletes with me. It was so comforting to know that I will see familiar faces on the course. By now everybody knew I was absolutely freaked out. Then I saw the buoys being set up, and they were so far away, I kept thinking if it was more than 1.5 km distance. It was now time to suit up. Got into my wetsuits, put on my swim caps, ear plugs. But I just couldn’t smile even if I tried. I am not at all happy with those pre swim pictures. A few tears rolled down and I felt a little relaxed. It was almost time.
We were asked to warm up before the race started. Good thing was, there was a carpet to get into the water, so we avoided the tiny rocks, I think it was super helpful. I swam a few yards, may be 25-50 yards, floated a bit, splashed around. Water wasn’t as cold as I had thought. In fact it was warmer than aquatic park. My hands or ears were not frozen. I got out of water waiting for my wave to start at 8:05. Even though I was shivering, I was happy that water temperature was bearable and it felt exactly like Aquatic Park and I felt absolutley confident. I even gave a thumbs up to Sumit Jain as I know my anxiety was trickling on to him.
8:05. Horn blows. I stood a little behind in my group so as to not get kicked by other swimmers. Good call. I had swum only 20-30 yds, when I relaised I had to switch on the watch, I did that while swimming, and realised I did it without having to stop. Swam for a few minutes, realised I was swimming fast. So stopped to take a break. Saw another swimmer had stopped next to me. Smiled at her, asked if she was okay. She smiled and I started swimming again. There were 4 buoys lined up. I had thought to myself, one buoy at a time. I was finally at the first buoy. I saw the next wave was about to start. So, I started swimming to the second buoy. I took breaks when I felt I needed one, but not long ones. After second buoy, I started feeling side stitches. Means I was swimming faster than I do. I didn’t look at the watch. I just stopped, got my breathing in control and swam again. Between third and fourth buoy was some current, but nothing that I wasn’t prepared for (Coyote Point nightmares!). I felt super acoomplished after reaching the fourth buoy. Looked at my watch: 900 yds and 22 minutes. I thought my watch messed up something. Didn’t think too much and started swimming back to the swim start. Tried my best to swim in a straight line. Now, I was relaxed, enjoying my swim, feeling hungry and thinking what will I eat after the race. After sometime, when I took a break, I saw coach Char on the shore. I waved frantically, but he didn’t notice, so I was like, forget it, I wouldn’t want a paddleboard guy to think I was asking for help, so I kept swimming. When I reached the swim start, I heard Renuka Char say “Good job Neha”. I was so happy to have finished my swim. I didn’t look at the time, but I made sure to stop my watch. This swim, is by far, the most important accomplishment for me. I owe it all to Char, Chakri, Shashi, Sumit, Karthik, Surya, Prasad and all the mentors who were there at open water swims. Also, my fellow triathletes, the super encouraging, Akila, Pramoda, Surekha and Mittal. Such a motivated bunch to train with.
Race (Transition 1):
I spent, what felt like eons here. I couldn’t feel my feet. They were numb. First I tried wearing socks standing up. But that wasn’t working out. So, I sat down, wiped my feet again, and wore sock and shoes peacefully. I couldn’t move or feel my toes. Anyway, I got everything I needed and I left T1 in about 10 minutes. I could have clearly saved 5 minutes here I feel. Nevermind. Next time.
It was a short climb to get out of the park, followed by three 7-mile loops. The climb outside the park was the toughest, but it was all rolling hills, which is the most annoying type of bike course IMO. But since I had biked the course the previous weekend, I was mentally prepared. Loop1 was good. Feet were still numb. Saw fellow Asha bikers on the course. Some were already ahead and the rest passed by me. Loop2 was better I felt. But mentally taxing to think that I have to do it one more time. It was super nice of the cheering squad (Rajeev, Renuka, Ranjiy, Sumit, Keya, DJ’s father, Keya’s mom) to cheer for us each time we crossed them. This is when I heard Rajeev shout out his classic “Look at you” and I burst out laughing. When I was on to my third loop, the climb outside the park felt super tough. I stopped. Sumit and Rajeev chatted with me. Rajeev suggested I walk the bike a little. But my feet were still numb, so I told him I wont be able to walk. Then I complained about not having any water stops on the course and he said, “Only 22 miles no, you don’t need a water stop”. Only was the key word here. I rolled my eyes and I carried on to the final loop. It felt easier this time. Course was mostly empty now. I was still keeping my just over 10 mph avergae. I almost rammed into a turkey on a downhill. There were a lot of turkeys and deer at blind turns on this course. They would panic on seeing the bikers and try crossing the road. Really scary. Luckily I didn’t fall and restarted. Now when I was left with only a mile to go, my chain came off. I stopped, got off, but my brain was not able to process how to fix it. A lady by the roadside came to help and fixed it in less than a minute, I’d say. Thank You! I could have also walked my bike for the last mile. But it was all downhill and I wouldnt wan’t to walk my bike on such a steep slope I thought. Well, at last I was done. Feet were still numb.
Thank you Purple Pansy
Race (Transition 2):
Sumit was already in T2 waiting for me. I kept Purple Pansy on the rack. Took off my gloves, wore my fuel belt. And got my watch. I was ready in 3 minutes. Good. I took my jacket with me and told Sumit I will give it to him later. I still had to warm up.
Something I had not been worried about till now. But I have always been unhappy with my brick runs. My pace with fresh legs has improved somewhat and is between 11:30- 12 minute a mile. But on brick runs, it is easily around 14 minute a mile. I knew it will take me about 90 minutes for this 10k, but I wasn’t worried about the time. After about a mile, my feet had warmed up, but I felt my hands were swollen. This is something that never happens to me during training, but always on race days. I was either dehydrated or over hydrated. Since I had been peeing regularly I figured it was probably overhydration. So I decided to sip water slowly and only at the water stops, which were approximately at every mile. I spotted Sumit, Rajeev and Ranjit cheering for us at the loop turn around. I gave my jacket to them. Sumit offered to join me, but I was not too sure. He insisted and joined. It was a good call. It took my mind off the entire thing. My pace improved and I didn’t even realize it. By now I had figured I would be the last one to finish the race. Like Shashi says, it will be a full paisa vasool race it means. When I had only a mile to go, I felt totally drained. I was taking e-gels like clockwork, but I guess I was not having enough water. I have not been able to figure out my water intake till now. And it is only on the race days that I mess it up.
Look who is always there for me!
Anyhow, I entered the park and had only a quarter mile to go. Sumit said, “It is all downhill from here”, I replied, “Its been downhill for me for sometime now”. haha! Sumit told me he was going ahead to take pictures. I ran that steep downhill section, with the finish line celebrations almost wrapping up, I would be the last person to finish, or as I say, I was the showstopper! I crossed the finish line running, smiling and feeling accomplished.
We spent some time taking pictures at the finish line. I didn’t feel sore or super tired. I just felt happy. But I still don’t have an answer to the question “why, why did I do this?” But I have an answer to another question, “Will I do this again?” and the answer is yes.
Like I told Sumit yesterday after the race, I am retiring now….. for a week.
Thank you Team Asha
– Neha Goyal, Team Asha Biking/Triathlon 2017