Thousands of women...almost 3,000 women are gathered with their bikes, their colored swim caps, their numbers written in black permanent marker on an arm and leg. Hold on a second, I'm one of these women! In fact, I'm number 3236. The swim is first...Lord help me, the swim is first. I'm looking dashing in my bright yellow swim cap, goggles, my pink tank top, and my black bathing suit bottoms. Fetching if you ask me (just don't ask anyone else!)
My buddies, Catherine and Shannon, are next to me as we are herded into the water to await the air horn signifying the first leg of death. There is cheering from some of the best yellow-shirted volunteer support groups I've ever seen. "You are here to have FUN!"...shouts a yellow shirt. "Bob up and down in the water while you wait...keep moving," says the dude in the water. It is fun and exciting and scary.
"Five...four...three...two...one...BEUUUUUPPPPPP!!!" Ok, that must mean we start. A group of about a hundred yellow heads flails their way into the deep waters of the Cherry Creek Reservoir. The water is 75 degrees and is lovely. Breast stroke first to warm up and acclimate to the water. Stroke...stroke...stroke...gasp...stroke...uh.....stroke...what is wrapped around my lungs and why am I breathing through what feels like a stir-straw? ...stroke...looking back I see I'm about ten feet in. Crap. I'm going to die. The first orange floating buoy is about five miles away yet. Ok, maybe it's only about 250 feet away but it sure looks like five miles.
Stir-straw, breast stroke combination is not going to work if I'm going to live. Let's try my side...nope, side stroke isn't working eith...gasp...crap. I'm going to die! For reals. Back - get on your back lady! I look around and everyone else seems to be swan-like in their strokes. Beautiful little yellow heads bopping up and down. My yellow head and the arms that are attached somewhere along the way feel like they are flailing. Gasp...gasp...gasp...flail...
I get my bearings and flip onto my back where I commence the elementary backstroke. I actually find a groove with this one and the straw seems to be getting bigger. Instead of a swan I am a frog. I'm ok with being a frog because it's keeping me alive. I grunt with each frog move and glide...frog*grunt*glide....frog*grunt*glide...Hey I'm passing someone! I can do this and I might actually live!!! Frog*grunt*glide...next buoy is coming up! Swim buddies (equivalent to the yellow shirts, only floating with noodles) are dotted along the path to help out the swans and the frogs. There are also guys in kayaks spread out offering encouragement and safety. They tell us to keep on going, that we're doing great, that we're almost there. They are life savers!
The view of the sky is beautiful and calming. I keep thinking of Mr. Bartlett and his creepy way of instructing our junior high class on how to do the elementary backstroke. I am grateful to Mr. Bartlett. Every once in a while I flop over and make sure I'm headed in the right direction, then I flop back to my ever-so-powerful frog*grunt*glide. The sea gulls look pretty...I'm hoping they aren't looking for a pretty yellow-headed frog to pick on. They don't feed on carcasses do they? frog*grunt*glide...almost there!! There are men at the finish who tell us to swim all the way...keep going...then there is a big meaty pruned hand reaching out to me. I grab it and he gives me a tug into the direction of another big meaty pruned hand of another guy who helps me find my way out of the water. They tell us we've done a GREAT job! I want to stop and give them each a hug and kiss, but I gotta get out of this tombstone.
My bike is quite a ways away and I gotta hurry, but my legs aren't moving. C'mon legs, don't fail me now!! My frog legs start to disappear as I gain my land legs, and they are moving a little faster. I finally reach my bike and my buddies are nowhere to be found. I figured they would be in full bike-gear, tapping their toes and looking at their watches. Their gear is untouched. I put on my skort, my socks and shoes, my helmet, my gloves, my sunglasses, and my camelback. I'm ready to roll! I wait about one more minute for my buddies and decide to not waste the adrenaline. I have to walk my bike back to where the swim finish area is before I can get on. This is ok because it gives me a chance to move my legs before I begin torture session number two.
The bike feels great. My legs are powerful as I put my horse into gear and cruise down the street. "Coming up on your left!" I seem to be saying that a lot. I feel like a little kid as I blaze past other riders, secretly giggling to myself. All of a sudden there is a presence next to me. Another biker gingerly glides her way past me and all I can think of is Mrs. Gulch (the wicked lady who threatens to take away Dorothy's dog in The Wizard of Oz...sheesh...keep up!). You know the music and I snicker because I know it too. I'm blazing and feeling amazing and see the big mile marker 2. Ten miles to go...coulda sworn I was already at mile ten!
I huff and puff the whole time, as I refuse to take it easy. I will push myself until I finish. "C'mon Kimmy, you can do this..." I say to myself kinda out loud. I get to a ginormous hill and am in first gear on the lowest setting. I refuse to walk my bike so I keep on going. I will not stop. I will not stop. I will not stop. There is a woman at the top of the hill who congratulates us for making it and that it's all downhill from there. Sweet Jesus it better be downhill.
I blaze past a few more riders and feel like a kid again, every once in a while coming to an incline. Mrs. Gulch passes me again and I snicker. Focus. Huff. Puff. "C'mon Kimmy, you can do this..." The bike portion of the torture is over and I'm relieved at how well it went. I am strong, I am strong, I am strong. I am going to wreck if I'm not careful!
I dismount and have to pee like nobodies business. Along the walk back to my gear I stop at a port-a-potty and drop a few pounds. My horse waits obediently outside. She's earned her rest as I park her in my designated spot. Off come the gloves, the helmet, and the camelback (which is empty) and on goes my pink baseball cap. As I look around other ladies are casually chatting as they change their gear and I'm wondering why they aren't as focused as I am! We have a run to do!!!
I walk to the start of the run, grab a cup of cold water, and splash it over my head but under my cap. Once I cross the start line I begin my run...well, I'm not running yet. So many ladies are walking. Not me. I will not walk. I will not walk. I will not walk. That is my rule and I will stick to it. I jog for a while and realize the first half of the run is all uphill. My once strong legs are weak as the muscles transition from wheels to land. I am breathing heavily still but I have a good rhythm. This is my event...I love to run.
I pick up the pace a little and pass by a lady shooting cold water out of a hose. The splash of cold feels amazing and invigorating. I go a little faster but keep my rhythm. I turn a corner and there is another hose. Thank the Lord God Almighty for cold water, as having it all over me is exactly what I need in the blazing heat. Another water station and I take two cups: one to gulp messily as to let water run down my front, the other to splash over my head but under my cap. Refreshing.
I keep going, passing women who are walking, socializing, and taking it easy. Not me. I will not walk. I will not walk. I will not walk. There are other women who are walking because they are obviously ready to pass out. They are the ones who pick it up again once they are able. Regardless, I am proud of all the women. It's been a tough race. Another water station and two cups go in me and on me. I finally turn around at the halfway point, relieved that this will all be downhill.
I'm running strong, but my breathing is very hard but still rhythmic. As long as I keep my rhythm I'm good. Downhill isn't as easy as I thought. It's so hot and I'm so tired. My body is just tired. I turn the corner and have half a mile to go. Running is stronger, my stride longer. I feel powerful yet ready to collapse at any second. I start to pass families who are waiting along the last leg, and I'm hoping to hear my babies shout out to me. Two hundred more feet to go and I am at a sprint. My stride is nice and long, my lungs burning fiercely. My rhythm is almost gone because I'm breathing too hard. I'm in pain but the end is in sight. Lots of strangers cheering us all on, but no babies shouting "GO MOMMY!!!". Maybe they're at the very end.
I turn the very last corner and run hard and fast to the finish. I hear the beep as my timing chip tells me it's finally over. No babies shouting, no "Good job Kim!" nothing. I almost collapse while I stop right away to have my timing chip cut from my ankle. I am leaking tears for so many reasons. I am so proud of myself; I finished; I am exhausted; I finished hard and pushed myself as hard as I could; for whatever reason my cheering section didn't come. I almost have to get a medic because I can't breathe. That makes me cry a little too...I'm worried I can't catch my breath.
I walk around for a few minutes and decide I will live. What an experience it has been. I don't do much in my life that makes me feel really proud of myself. I usually crap out before I finish anything. Not only do I finish an extremely grueling three-part race, I finish knowing I did my absolute best. I can't wait for next year 'cause I'm going to do it all over again.