Friday, August 24--I didn't want to go. I was rushing to get my work finished, feeling large and moving slow, grumpish, worried about the heat and being too run down, lack of training, and getting another fever blister on my lip. When I got home, Iron Distance Man had the truck packed, including a cotton futon from the living room, cooler with breakfast burritos and pasta a la Iron Distance Man, camp stove, bug juice, curtains for the windows, music, books, and all manner of triathlon gizmos and equipment, bikes, wetsuits, and lots of sunscreen (my addition). I still didn't want to go, but wanted to put my best face on. Besides, a road trip is a road trip, and just driving is reminiscent of those days when Iron Distance Man and I used to drive out into the mountains or desert, with an unending variety of music and books, for a weekend of back-to-basics and back-to-the-earth rock climbing and camping. The stillness and the solitude of those days and nights, the calm, the camaraderie when we met like minded camper/climbers, the full moon nights, vast skies of lightning, desert vistas from a birds-eye view, a million stars overhead, rock formations yellow, ochre, tan, gray and red, sticky bristly bushes, the precarious saves, the struggling reaches, the long hikes in, and night hikes out. I think I romanticize the dirt, but miss it all the same.
The drive goes quick. I read The Week, August 24, 2007: The departure of Rove, The Beijing Olympics: Countdown to Trouble, the re-issue of Phillip K. Dick by the Library of America "A sci-fi favorite enters the canon", Bernanke Faces His First Crisis: The mortgage market meltdown, while IDM listens to the radio and catches up on the news he no longer gets to follow due to his busy homework and school schedule. We get the last tent camping site at Bottomless Lakes State Park (next to fellow triathlete Danny L, as we find out the next morning), head to the restrooms (always clean, sparsely used, hot showers) and almost walk into a young, lean skunk lithely chasing bugs in the lights by the doors.
The night is a windy affair and the truck is buffeted, almost like a cradle rocking or sleeping in a moving car, but we only half wake to the wind and don't hear the bikes blow over. In the morning we untangle the mess, pack ourselves up, troop ourselves over to the packet pick up and transition area, unpack all our gear, say hello to fellow triathletes and Outlaws, smear ourselves with sunscreen as we cook in the morning sun, and generally loll and make conversation as we wait for the relatively late 8:30 am start.
The lake feels chilly initially, but is a welcome cool against the morning heat. The race starts in one wave, fairly spread out, rather than the bunching I'm used to seeing near the right side life guard chair. The water is clear and quickly turns a deep, almost impenetrable green as we move into deeper water. The field spreads out quickly, and there is almost a sparseness as the faster swimmers disappear ahead of us quickly. I tend to drift to the right towards wherever I am looking and have learned that sometimes I do better if I just close my eyes entirely. A bit silly, but it works until I brush into a woman doing back stroke in a path diagonal across the swim line. The swim is two loops, 400 meters each, with a short beach run/jog which leaves me out of breath, before I plunge in for the second lap. I love the cool, greenness of the swim and think this is my favorite part.
The rest of the race goes easy and hard. A 12 mile bike, followed by a 2.5 mile run, then a repeat of the same for two loops of each the bike and the run. The skies cloud up for the first bike loop and half of the run loop. I take the first transition easy as I roll down my wetsuit and say "hi" to Helen, a fellow age group rival. She's out of the transition before me, but I push the bike, as I always do, and pass her on the first steep hill, just out of transition. The road seem bumpier every year and I struggle to direct my energy forward instead of up into the air. There is no one around me, and I imagine the lead pack and my other rival, Marti, riding away from me in a draft legal pack (that's what an F-1 race does) and I tell myself to buck up, that this will purely be my own effort, that I will push through myself for my own timed effort.
It's easy to push on the first run. The cloudy skies obscure the burning heat of the sun, which is sure to follow for subsequent loops, and I tell myself to push now, before the heat drains my will. Just before the turn around, I spot Marti, and make the gradual but persistent effort to catch her, which I do, and then I run like heck, breathing hard, counting steps, monitoring my effort, taking myself to the edge of sustenance, fearful of taking it too far and and of not taking it far enough.
The bike course is beautiful, a high view from the top of the rim, out across the plains and rock lagoons below. The run is pure asphalt, one step in front of the other. The sun comes out strong.
For the rest of the race I play keep away from Marti. I calculate where she might be, speculate on her bike and run skills, crane my eyes to see if I can see the black of her uniform. The competition is good for me, and makes me push through the entire event. I have no idea of my time, only of my breath, and the effort it takes to continually pick up the pace. Marti is the epitome of sportsmanship, high-fiving me as we pass. She makes it easy to be competitive and at ease with the competition. Once I pass her I am 4th female over all, and I make an effort to catch the turquoise clad woman in front of me, but she spots me at the turn around and there is no chance I can catch her. Still, in the end, I finish first in my age group, the effort it took a reward in itself.
I drive the truck home, through the light green, pale yellow pastures of southeastern New Mexico. The sky is open from horizon to horizon, puffy white cumulus clouds piling up against pure blue, growing darker, shifting and swooping across the sky. The weather changes quickly. A circular column of grey forms just to the right of us. Thick, heavy rain hits the windshield, golf ball size drops hit with a solid "thunk", almost lazy in their timeliness. Lightening jaggedly splits the sky, one bolt seeming to curve over us in the shape of a rainbow, gone before we can really be sure. Iron Distance Man is engrossed in Ivy Briefs, true tales of a neurotic law student, while I listen to U2, Stellastarr, the Cure. We make a conscious effort to avoid the restrooms at Cline's Corner. It's a place I never want to see again. Too many wet, winter stops. Too much oily chocolate. Too many people. Too much kitsch. Almost the worst bathrooms I have ever seen.
The drive is quick, yet long, as intermediate drives are apt to be. I bring home the raspy feel of lungs that have been over-expended, stretched to their limit, a sweet reminder of the race, yet the feeling almost too intense and uncomfortable. Between the two of us, Iron Distance Man and myself, we bring home two plaques for an age group win each, the "City Cup" award for IDM's contribution to the overall best of Albuquerque triathletes, and the Bottomless Lakes Series second place award, due to a combination of my age-group and overall placing in both races of the series (Bottomless Triathlon in June and the Formula-1 Triathlon in August). Despite my initial reluctance, I felt better at this race than most of them. Certainly not as quick or as powerful as I have at other events, but at this race I felt a joy along with the hard effort, and I felt a push that I don't always feel. And, for this, I would rate this as one of my better efforts, and the overall experience, as one near the top. All of this, and I still don't know my overall finish time or individual splits. Time, in a race, and in a day, is not everything.