That's the one word to describe my experience at the Long Beach Triathlon today.
I thought the race would be interesting for different reasons. I raced the day after Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, on which I fasted all day before the race, and I wondered if that would impact my race times. I entered in the Athena category, for women who weigh more than 145 pounds, when I normally race in my age group. The water was polluted and disgusting after a day of rain yesterday, which I thought was interesting, as all the other beaches in southern California are closed for this reason.
The swim went well. The water was gross, but I tried not to think about that. I got out of the water, onto the bike. "Your back tire is almost flat," I heard. And I could feel it, but I thought, maybe I can just finish this short 10-mile course with the tire being *almost* flat. No such luck. About two miles in, it was completely flat.
I was on the side of the road, panicked. I had two tubes. I had a lever to pull the tire off. But, I did not have a pump or a CO2 cartridge. I was absolutely panicked. My race is over, I'm going to quit. Then I saw a man fly off his bike and hit the pavement. I dropped my bike and ran over -- "Are you ok? I'm a doctor." Fortunately he didn't need my doctoring skills, or what little I could do out on a triathlon course, and he got back on his bike and kept going.
One woman helped me pull my tire off my bike, remove the tube, and put a new tube in. But still, I had nothing to inflate it. I yelled out to people riding by -- "Anyone got a pump?" A couple people threw me their pumps, but they didn't fit the presta valve on my tire. Another woman with two flat tires joined me on the side of the road. Then my hero, an 84 year-old man, pulled over. He had a few CO2 cartridges and was able to provide air to both me and the other woman with flat tires. "I'm 84 years old, just being here and finishing is all I want." Wow.
Next I fiddled with the bike and was able to put my back tire back on the bike. I sliced my finger and had chain grease all over my hands, but now about what felt like a lifetime later, though it was probably only 30 minutes, I had a functioning bike.
I thought about quitting. How embarassing a finish will this be? I'll be dead last. But I thought more about it. I'm no superstar. I just come here to do my best. And, I can cheer people on. I'm now officially at the back of the pack, with the people who need the most encouragement.
So, back on the bike, I rode past the Queen Mary ship, and finished my first loop of the bike course. There weren't many people out on the bike course, and I could have gotten away with pulling back into the transition area after doing only five miles on my bike. No one would have known, except me.
But I took the second loop. There were no bikes with me. I had an air pump in my back pocket to return to a racer who loaned it to me. I'm going to be last, I thought. Dead last. In this race, though, there is a prize for the last place finisher. That would be cool, I thought, last place prize. As I continued, I passed a couple dozen people on their bikes. When I rode by a photographer, I pulled the air pump out of my back pocket, waved it in the air and yelled "Whoooo hooo!" Yah! I'm the girl with the flat! And I'm gonna finish this stupid race!!!
Finally I got to the transition area. People were picking up their belongings and heading home. That would have been me. How frustrating. And I had three miles left to run. So I headed out for my run. Yelled for my back-of-the-pack brothers and sisters. Looking great! Way to go! Almost there! I was full of energy. Someone I ran past even asked, "Where do you get all that energy?" "I get it from sitting on the side of the road for 30 minutes with a flat!" Maybe I shouldn't have said that. Oh well.
Running into the finish chute, I was alone. The announcer had enough time to call out my name as I ran past. Cool.
And to top it all off, someone took my wetsuit home with them.
I would have loved to finish in style, no flat tire, giving it my best effort. What I've learned from this, first and foremost, is how to change a tire during a race, and to make sure I have all the equipment with me -- tubes AND CO2. Worse things have happened.