Tri or Tri Not, There Is No Try

I really need to get a t-shirt that says that.

I have several posts languishing in pre-upload purgatory, including two on a return to Mordor and Mt. Doom with some great photos, but they’ll just have to wait till I’m somewhere with less stingy bandwidth. Right now I want to talk about blood, sweat and tears. Not “tears” as in “boo hoo” (hell no!) but “tears” as in torn flesh.

I just completed my seventh triathlon, though it was a first in many ways… my first one in the Southern Hemisphere and first in New Zealand, the first one I’ve done with a rented bike, the first one I’ve done with a swim in salt water, the first one I’ve done with absolutely zero training … and the first one I’ve done whacked out on codeine after a test ride on my rented bike yesterday ended in a crash and a trip to one of Auckland’s walk-in medical centers, where a cute South African doctor stitched me back together.

I guess that’s why they call it “acute” care, hahahaha…

Sorry. It’s the codeine.

For those of you prone to worry (Mom…), don’t. I am fine. Five stitches and two steri-strips was all it took to close the flap laceration on my left knee.

Is there any less sexy medical term than “flap laceration?”

I signed up for the Contact TriWoman Maretai race, outside Auckland, about ten days ago. I’ve been getting emails from the tri series I’ve done in the States about registration opening for the coming season’s events and felt sad that my future is too unfixed to sign up for any of them (I just don’t know where I’ll be). I saw an ad for the Contact series and realized I’d be in Auckland at the right time – and that the registration fee was about a third of the ones in the States – so I joined up.

I haven’t had a serious swim since December, I haven’t been on a bike since July and running, ha! My nose runs sometimes, does that count? The distances were shorter than the triathlons I’ve done, however, and I figured all the hiking I’ve been doing had to count for something in the cardiovascular category.

I emailed around and found a place in the Auckland suburb of Onehunga (I will pause to let the more immature of you make a joke) that rented bikes. Chris of Hedgehog Bikes was very cool and threw in a bike rack and helmet for free when I explained why I needed a bike just for a couple days. He gave me a Giant Transcend, which was heavier than Cerdic, my Giant Cypress bike back home, and made a disturbing rattling noise at times, but was otherwise serviceable. I picked it up Friday upon arrival in Auckland but didn’t even take it off the rack until Saturday afternoon when I drove out to the race site to look at the course.

Beautiful Maretai is on the Hauraki Coast, surrounded by rolling hills. I forgot to take a photo of the site, but it’s as pretty as just about anywhere else in New Zealand, which is pretty pretty.

The swim was in the bay and the run was, I thought, along the beachfront road, so the only part I was worried about was, as usual, the bike portion. I drove it first and was a little concerned about all the hills… up down up down up down … as well as the narrowness of the road and the fact that it would not be closed to vehicular traffic.

Somewhat unnerved, since the bike is always my most perilous leg, in many ways, I got my Transcend off the rack and started out. Cerdic, my bike back home, named after Stellan Skarsgard’s awesome Saxon villain in the otherwise lame “King Arthur,” always struck me as male (hence the name). But I couldn’t decide whether my Transcend seemed more male or female. I started calling it “Trannie,” which seemed appropriate.

The first couple Ks were nerve-wracking, in part because of traffic on the road but mostly because Trannie’s gears were different than Cerdic’s, using a different mechanism to change them (switchy things rather than twisty bits) and not quite backwards but… different. Once I figured out to use the thumb switch when going uphill and the finger switch when going downhill or on the flats, though, I was okay. Dare I say I almost enjoyed it, aside from the occasional motorcycle boyracer or SUV towing a boat that sped past me.

I couldn’t believe I got to the turnaround point as fast as I did, not even out of breath and never having to dismount and walk. On the ride back, I was feeling good. I was thinking wow, if the bike portion feels this good the swim and run…. er, ralk… are going to be “cruisy,” to use one of my favorite Kiwisms. Hey, I might actually finish this thing tomorrow! Whoo hoo!

Yeah! I rock! I’m a freakin’ natural! Yay me! Time to turn into the gravel carpark now… why slow down, I’m on fire! Whee! WAAAAAAAAH!

Crunch. Splat.

Yes, a mere ten meters from my car, hubris became hurt when I flew into a deep gravel trough. Trannie went one way, I went another, all of the impact on my left knee and ankle, which bent back just a wee bit too far.

I think I actually heard Fortuna chuckle.

It was getting close to registration time, however, so I applied pressure to the hamburger meat of my knee and drove to the Suzuki dealership where women were picking up their race packets and the all-important free t-shirt. I asked the organizers if they knew of a nearby acute care center; they didn’t, but the very square shaped dealership manager told me where all the nearest ones were.

“I go to them a lot. I play hockey,” he explained.

I opted for the one that was not only closest but his favorite. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, I had the place to myself and was quickly seen by Janette, the nurse, and Creasan, the aforementioned Johannesburg cutie who called me “darling.” He cleaned the goo, stitched me up and added steri-strips for extra support before Janette applied a waterproof dressing intended just to get me through the event (I went back this morning after the race so she could apply a new and dry dressing). Creasan also gave me a scrip for industrial strength ibuprofen and a little paracetamol-codeine cocktail.

I retired to my hotel, thinking I’d decide in the morning if I was actually up to doing the race. I knew the codeine was working as I watched “The Bourne Supremacy” on DVD and found myself thinking how much I missed driving in Moscow.

Morning came and I felt great. The stitches didn’t hurt at all, though I’m sure the codeine had something to do with that. I got out to the site just as it was getting light… I learned at my first tri to be there before the transition area even opens to get a decent spot for your bike.

It was me and a dozen Serious Triathlete Competitors. I knew they were STCs because they were all blond, all 5’5″ and 110 pounds with no more than 18 percent body fat and they were all scowling at me and at each other. Not a single “good morning” among them. They racked their bikes in the corner nearest the exit for the bike portion and then stood there, glowering, arms crossed, as if daring anyone to invade their turf.

Sistahs, please.

I set up my bike at the end of the next rack over. Lots more people started arriving then, many angling for the STC rack, where the first to arrive had now adopted a pack mentality and were patrolling their little section in pairs.

An apple-shaped woman about my age walked toward their rack, looked them up and down and rolled her eyes and kept walking over to where I’d set Trannie up. Two more voluptuous women followed in her wake, as did a thin but pear-shaped woman who seemed nervous and in need of more camaraderie than was to be found among the STCs.

The appley woman, Annalise, was doing her sixth triathlon… having done her first in December! She had decided it would be a good way to get in better shape and had signed herself up for every sprint tri offered in the Auckland area this season. Good on ya, as the Kiwis say.

The bunch of us were joking about being last (all of us assumed we’d be the one) when Annalise, her eyes on the STCs, said with sudden intensity: “Finishing is what matters, not how long it takes. Who cares if we don’t do it in 35 minutes? And the ones who can do it in 35 minutes, in this race, they’re irrelevant. This is our day.”

To be honest, when she said that, I got a little choked up. Definitely the codeine had something to do with it, but in her voice I heard a woman who’s never been “athletic,” who was always “the fat kid,” who had to brush off first the taunts and, with age, the smirks and looks of disgust from STCs and other jocks and those who worship them.

Her voice was the same voice I hear in my head when, doing a triathlon, I’ve seen a spectator looking disparagingly at the junk in my trunk or the jiggle in my wiggle and I’ve thought “Go ahead and look, jerk. I’m doing a triathlon. What are you doing? Standing on the sidelines, loser.”

Good on ya, Annalise.

Eventually, it was time for the 0745 “mandatory” safety briefing. I thought they were cutting it a bit fine, since the first wave was supposed to go off at 0800, but then, this is New Zealand. And what I would call “amazingly half-assed,” the Kiwis call their beloved “laidback approach to life.” Around 0800 someone started talking into a microphone over The Black Eyed Peas blasting on the PA… something about having your helmet on for the bike portion and being sure to run two laps of the run course. Who knows. Everyone had started meandering by then toward the beach.

It was a wiry woman in her 60s who said what we were all thinking: “Well, they’ve put the bouys a bit far, haven’t they?”

The start and end bouys marking the swim course were barely visible. They were both a good 500 meters offshore. One of the guys setting them up started swimming back and then… stood. He was knee-deep in the water.

Apparently, when deciding event dates and times, no one organizing the series thought to consult the tide tables. The tide was going out, and to get to water even halfway swimmable we had to walk. And walk. Through slippery mud and crushed shells. Women were falling and cutting their feet everywhere around me. I got about as far out as I needed to and stopped. Because I realized there was no race organizer or volunteer by the bouy. The two guys on surfboards who were there to offer assistance were just sort of paddling around while all the participants looked at each other wondering what to do.

At this point, I suffered the greatest tragedy of the day. My nose clip broke. I was putting it on when it snapped in half. Useless. I usually carry a spare but, oddly enough, today was the one day I’d forgotten to slip it into the pocket of my tri suit.


Without my oh-so-attractive nose clip, I cannot put my face in the water and therefore cannot swim properly. I’ve tried, and terrible things happen, with the water painfully shooting up into my sinuses and staying there until it turns green and slimy and I need a course of antibiotics.

I had no time to get the spare one, sitting in my gear bag back at the transition. Someone was calling off wave numbers already and women were starting to swim. It was chaos. There were 20 waves – I was supposed to be in the ninth – but it was clear that women were starting whenever they felt like it. And since everyone fears being last, women in later waves were pushing off with earlier ones. I stubbornly waited until someone called for my wave, by which time I was one of maybe 20 women left.

Without my nose clip, I had to do a modified doggy-paddle, though I kept scraping bottom with my fingertips. And trying to actually swim really hurt my ankle, strained in the crash the day before. A lot of women had given up on swimming and were running through the water. I joined them, rounded the finish bouy and then began the long, painful walk-hop-slip through mud and sharp shells and a disintegrating concrete boat ramp back to the transition area. I glanced over my shoulder and saw there were just half a dozen women behind me out of the whole field. I was almost dead last.

I didn’t care. Again, the codeine was a big factor, but I figured hell, someone’s gotta be last, might as well be me. Better me than a woman doing her first tri and deciding she’ll never do another because she was so embarrassed to come in last.

I found Trannie and got on my helmet, socks and shoes as Annalise, one of the women behind me, arrived, cursing the swim portion. I hear ya. By far the worst tri start and swim course I have ever done.

Up on Trannie, I set off on the bike portion, always my nemesis in a tri. And I started… passing people. A lot of people. I wasn’t fast, but I was faster than many, zipping along effortlessly. I can only thank all the mountains I’ve climbed the last several months. The hills were nothing. I didn’t even need to shift much. A woman about my height kept passing me on the downhill portions, and I would pass her again going uphill. At one point, on a flat, we found ourselves shoulder to shoulder with cars coming from both directions. On the narrow road, one of us needed to drop back.

“I’ll let you go first since you’ll just pass me again,” I said, as we were on a downhill.

“Yeah, but you’ll pass me going uphill again… you’re so fast uphill!”

I know. Crazy. Loopy from codeine, with a rented bike I’ve had exactly one test ride on, I was zooming up the hills. Go figure.

(For those of you who have told me I’m full of myself, please note I say this not with pride but jaw-dropping disbelief.)

Trannie got me back to the transition, both of us in one piece and me now nearly in the middle of the pack. Considering how late I started the swim, this was mind-boggling to me. And also extremely funny. I started giggly uncontrollably. Again, the codeine.

The last leg, the run, always feels to me like “oh, just get it over with!” which is what I did. Although the race map showed the course being along the road, it was changed so that half the lap was on pavement, the other half on the beach. The beach with deep sand. Ugh. My ankle did not enjoy it, but I did it. There was also a fence you had to hop over. Just thigh-height, sure, but still. I found myself thinking “this wouldn’t happen in an American triathlon,” and not for the first time… I can only imagine the ruckus American STCs and even not soSTCs would have raised about the swim course and having the narrow, winding bike course open to vehicular traffic, nevermind the casual approach to people starting their assigned waves (I’ve witnessed a screaming match in the States over a woman trying to “cut” ahead of her wave).

But no matter. Because after the last slog through sand and half-run along pavement and hop over the fence, I was crossing the finish line and there were still dozens of women behind me, not a small number considering there were fewer than 300 people in the whole event.

I stood with other finishers, clapping and cheering for the women still out there, and found myself thinking only one thing:

I am so totally taking codeine before every tri from now on.

Me, Karl, Trannie, My Finisher's Medal and The Wound

Me, Karl, Trannie, My Finisher's Medal and The Wound


2 thoughts on “Tri or Tri Not, There Is No Try

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