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Bucket List: My First Tri

Five years ago I was on the verge of turning 30 and feeling a bit sorry for myself. Life wasn't what I expected it would be – it never is. We were living in a campground, I was unemployed, childless and Daniel worked an hour away. So I wrote a bucket list: 100 Things I would like to do in my lifetime.

The list had no-brainer things and grandiose things. Some I have accomplished, some will never happen. My life is a lot different now, but every once in awhile I get the chance to mark an item off my list.

Last weekend I got to cross #20 off.

Triathlons have been on my mind for some time. But every time I get the itch to tri, I have been pregnant or just had a baby. About two months ago I started asking around to see if there were any races in this area that included a paddle, mountain bike and trail run combination. Then I got busy and forgot about it.

Three weeks ago, a friend asked Daniel if we would be interested in doing a paddle, run, bike race with her at Rock Island State Park. We would have 3 weeks to prepare and each segment would be a 5K (for a total of just over 9 miles). We talked it over, asked Daniel's mom if she could watch our boys, and then we signed up.

Leading up to the race, I was working out pretty consistently (4x a week doing boot camp and pump classes). Daniel was running maybe once a week at best. The last time we paddled, I was 39 weeks pregnant and we haven't been able to bike with any consistency – our most recent ride several weeks ago on muddy terrain. But we figured we could do it. Nine miles is no big deal, right?!

I have to admit this isn't the first time I have decided to "train" for a race in a short period of time. I seem to do things backwards – I find a race and then cram for it, much like a high school student trying to scrape by. I guess not much has changed in the last 20 years.

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In an attempt to train, I went on one 3 mile training run and hurt the bottom of my foot. So I took a break for several days before attempting an indoor cycle/spin session.

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A week later I found myself with a pinched nerve in my shoulder. I spent the Sunday before the race on my back, unable to lift anything. Things weren't looking very promising for me to be able to paddle.

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I took it easy for a couple of days and then did a few light workouts to make sure I could handle the cardio portion of the race. I figured I would just do my best to finish and pay the price after. I also knew that I would have no shame walking if it came down to it during the race.

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Friday we headed to Rock Island to pick up our race packets and take our boys hiking. Years ago, Daniel and I spent a decent amount of time hiking in the Rock Island gorge, but I don't think we have ever gone down to the Caney River (past the Great Falls). As we drove down to pick up our packets, my stomach dropped. The hill was ridiculously steep and long. Oh, so, long.

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That night I couldn't sleep because I could only think about the hill. I kept reminding myself that it would be OK to walk it, and in fact I should just plan on walking it.

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The next morning at the start of the race, we talked to so many people who were nervous about the hill, and that made me feel a bit better. Everyone was incredibly friendly and the dreaded hill made for good conversation!

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For the start of the race, we began in waves. The first group was open female kayakers (those who brought their own boats). The second wave (my group) were female kayakers were renting a boat from The Happy Yaker (the boats were already staged for us). The third group were SUP and canoes. The fourth group was the open male kayaks, followed by Daniel's group, the male kayakers.

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Each wave was spaced 4 minutes apart. Daniel and I always canoe together and I haven't been in a single person kayak in over 10 years so I wasn't sure how I would fare. I surprised myself by being the first in my group to get in the water.

Our first leg involved a 2.5k paddle down river, where we would circle a buoy and head back up river. Thankfully the current wasn't too bad but we had a pretty strong head wind on the return trip. I passed several in the first group on this section, coming in 4th in my group. Many of the SUP and canoes passed me and a few of the men caught up at this point. I was shocked at how shaky I was coming out of the paddle section. My paddle time was 49 minutes.

The transition involved running across a really sandy beach and quickly changing in to tennis shoes. I did my best get as much sand off my feet as possible before running to the base of the first hill. The hills in this park were no joke. Definitely not for a novice. I only saw a few people who actually ran the whole course. Nearly everyone walked some portion.

After the first big hill, I managed to jog a portion of the next hill and walked a limited amount on the rest of the road section. As we transitioned to the last part of the run, my foot started to hurt. I walked at least half of the trail section and don't know what my time was as I came out of the woods. At the bike transition there was a water station. Praise the Lord! I was definitely needing water at this point.

With the bike portion in front of me, I knew I needed to get in easy gears as quickly as possible. We started with a fast downhill, that would turn right and immediately start into a steep hill. The bike portion of the race was all on park roads and consisted of 4 major hills – long climbs followed by fast downhills. The very last hill for biking had most people off their bikes and walking back up. I made it a third of the way up (on mountain bike tires no less) before I got off my bike. Daniel was able to crank up this final hill (props to him!).

While off my bike, I bonked. My energy tanked and I wasn't sure if I could get back on my bike. It took some mental gymnastics to convince myself that being in the saddle would be easier than walking. I'm so glad I got back on my bike because the last hill was the long hill that we had started running (walking) up and it was a treat to ride down. At the start of the race, the officials said to check your brakes at the top and to not try to race anyone since the bottom of the hill involved a final turn. They thought you could get up to 35mph. I'm sure that I didn't get that fast, but I bet that I pushed 20mph on that final descent. It felt so good to go fast and not have to put in any effort – besides not falling off the bike!

With the bike portion being last, I was able to make up a lot of lost time (from my slow run/walk) and I ended up finishing 3rd in my group with a time of 1:55:04. Daniel finished 5th in his group with a time of 1:47:55 (he was 37 overall while I was 56 out of 85 racers). 

I am really proud of us both for finishing. It was a really hard race (I would say only 10% of the racers actually ran the whole thing), but we had a lot of fun and it was the perfect day to be out in nature. It's not often that we can combine several hobbies that we love into one morning together! Post race I came away with one nasty blister on my left thumb and Daniel had a rough evening while his body chemistry evened itself out.

The Rock & Row Triathlon was put on by Support a Park, with funds raised going to the Rock Island State Park.

I'm so glad that I brought a pint of gelato to keep in the freezer of our cabin. It was so good after that race!


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