This past weekend I was lucky enough to travel to Bermuda with my parents for what was supposed to be a fun and sunny relay sprint triathlon with my mother as my "swim specialist." What ensued was quite different from the original plan, and only one of the expected factors held true: It was certainly fun! Highly entertaining, in fact! Here is how it went down in the Bermuda Triangle:
Actually, my tale begins in Pennsylvania. I traveled up to my parents' house on Friday evening so that we could hop on a plane Saturday morning. I had packed up shorts, tshirts, bathingsuits and my race gear in a little carry-on bag. I was ready for a weekend of sunshine and blue skies and clear water to float in post-race.
I went to my awesome bike shop during the week and had them break down and box up my bike in a rental case, which was a huge, hard-sided plastic thing with wheels. I was pretty nervous about my baby getting broken down and rebuilt in Bermuda, to be honest. I wasn't sure who was supposed to be doing the building when we got there, but up until this past weekend I had yet to allow anyone to touch my bike besides my shop-mates and I wasn't too pleased with the prospect of a newly ill-fitting bike for the race. But this race was all about having fun with my mom. After all, she is the swimmer who likes to float on her back and sing to the clouds at the first sign of any possible stress or strain during race situations. We were going to have a great time, but we weren't exactly going to be Team Speed.
So anyway, my large, cumbersome bike box, my little carry-on of vacation clothes and I made our way up to PA. Once we arrived, my father, who was obsessively checking the wind and weather forecasts because he was planning to kite board (his extreme sport of choice) while we were in Bermuda, informs me that there is a storm system with gale force winds, cool fronts, rain, and general mayhem quickly approaching the island. Maybe not bikini weather, afterall?
My father spent the rest of the evening checking and rechecking the forecast, debating back and forth whether or not he should bring his kiteboarding gear. My mother spent the evening wondering what the swim would be like. I spent the evening in complete denial. I didn't want to think about the bike course (rumored to be quite hilly) with gale force crosswinds and my little sail of a bike. In my mind, the thing was gonna blow over. Right?
We arrived at the Philly airport with enough luggage for those around us to think we were moving permanently. We each had our clothes in carry-on bags, but my father had two large bags of kiteboarding gear, and I had a bike box with me large enough to house a small tiger. In fact, when I took the box to the special X-Ray line for oversized baggage, the man running the machine took one look at it and said with fear and dread in his voice "That's an animal, isn't it?" What did he think I was doing, smuggling a very large exotic pet? Don't worry sir, my predatory wild cat is very sweet when he's drugged. I assured him it was only a bicycle. It was then my turn to feel the fear and dread as I watched them open up my bike box and poke around at by bubble-wrapped baby. I don't know what I thought they were going to do to it, but I was sure it was going to be bad. But after wiping her down with drug rags, they locked the box back up and sent her down the conveyor belt. I did watch her the entire way down though, just to be sure.
Our flight to Bermuda was a pretty good indicator of what we were to expect. It was more than a little turbulent, and the landing was downright scary. The sky was an ominous gray from the moment we stepped out of the plane and we were whipped across the face with huge gusts of wind. I just sort of pretended like it wasn't happening.
We stayed at the hotel from which the SheROX triathlon was hosted. This meant that packet pick-up, all the pre-race and post-race meetings, as well as a few included meals were all conveniently located in our lobby. The hotel was huge and gorgeous, although extremely pricey. I had forgotten to bring water bottles and had to purchase a bottle of Dasani for $2.25, for example. Anyway, we went to packet pickup and I took my bike in to be assembled in a meeting room on the “Mezzanine Level”. When I first dropped it off in the hands of a teenage kid, I started freaking out internally. I rushed my parents through their check-in process so I could go back and make sure my bike wasn’t being dismembered or worse. Turns out the kid was an assistant to a local bike shop manager. Not only was the manager an excellent mechanic who did a bang-up job rebuilding my bike, the kid was pretty darn knowledgeable too. They told me to take a spin on my bike and check it all out, and it rode like new. I was so freaking pleased.
Let it be known that SheROX gives great swag. We got a little over the shoulder bag thingy with our packet pick up, as well as a great technical tee and a Luna Bar! YUMMY!
Next stop was the pre-race meeting (although we had a lot of trouble finding food beforehand and my mother and I were both very grungry), from which we attempted to head out and find transition. This proved to be much more difficult that it should have been. We wandered the island looking for the swim start and the bike racks for quite some time, all the while witnessing the increasing speed and ferocity of the wind and occasional whipping rain. Eventually a shuttle driver took pity on us and showed us where to go. Finally on the correct beach, we came across the following sign:
I was suddenly very happy to not be doing the entire race myself, although I did feel bad putting my mother out as Man-O-War bait. In different circumstances the swim course itself might have been described as “nestled in a protected cove,” but in the current conditions the craggy rocks on either side of the narrow cove were being beaten by waves. It honestly looked like a death trap in there. We all speculated that the swim might get cancelled, but at the pre-race meeting they had said they only planned on shortening the course if the weather wasn’t cooperating in the morning.
Back at the hotel, we set up our race gear. My father then informed me that he had brought with him his Go Pro video camera. We decided to stick a fastener to the top of my helmet so that I could record the bike course. As you can see, we had to spend a bit of time getting the right angle for maximum entertainment:
Early to bed. Except for the increasingly loud wind, thunder, lightening, and the chorus of snoring from my parents. My sister says sharing a hotel room with my parents is like sleeping with walruses. She isn’t kidding. There really wasn’t much sleeping done that first night, and we were up at 4:30 for race morning. Call me perverse, but I love the excitement of getting up and getting ready for a race before the sun is up.
We rose to the continued sound of howling wind, grabbed a little pre-race breakfast and headed down to the start. I ate a little more than I usually do before a race because as the cyclist/runner I didn’t think I would be doing anything for a little while. The swim start was supposed to be at 7 am. On our way down the (treacherous and dark) hill to the transition area, we peaked out over the water to see some serious waves still crashing against the rocks and no swim buoys. A woman walking with us (and then the loud, over-talkative male announcer) confirmed our suspicions; the swim had been cancelled. In an unusual choice, the race directors had decided that rather than convert to a traditional duathlon format (run, bike, run), that we would instead time-trial start from the bike. Yikes. This was something completely new for me, but I was not the only one in that boat. The sad part was that suddenly my mother and I were no longer on a team together. Instead, I was now a lone thunderpuppy, off to take on my age group rather than the relay teams. *cue the music* Aaaalll byyy myy see-e-eeellff…
My mom’s attitude about her sudden removal from the race seemed to oscillate between relieved and kinda peeved. She hadn’t exactly traveled all the way to Bermuda (or taken me and my father all the way there) to sit and watch me race. Once she got over the initial shock, however, she had a great time cheering and commiserating with her fellow “swim specialists” who were also out a job that morning.
The race began with a time-trial style bike start. We lined up in order of our numbers, and since I was originally on a relay team, I had a very large number and started quite late in the race. By the time I started, however, I still had a huge lump of that big breakfast sitting in my stomach. Still, I turned on my GoPro helmet camera (a big hit among the ladies in transition) and made my way across the timing mat and up a very steep hill! Some way to start out on your bike! Several competitors just opted to run their bikes up the first hill before even hopping on. Because I was in the large, later numbers I quickly began a never-ending series of passes that were (here’s the kicker!) on the RIGHT! Yes, in Bermuda, a former British colony whose current political status is fuzzy to me, one drives ones car and or bike on the left side of the road. When watching the video from my GoPro cam (I’ll get it up here soon) you hear a near constant commentary, mostly made up of the words “On your right!”, “Thank you!” and “What a view!” with a few “Wow it is seriously windy!”s thrown in for good measure. And by god was it windy. The gusts of 50 mph in combination with some serious hills (Bermuda is one hilly island!) made for some very slow moments, as well as some very swift descents. The course was beautiful and challenging in a good way, however. I was only nearly blown off the road once, and only had one vehicular close encounter. For the most part the bike course was completely closed off to traffic. The volunteers and spectators were equally awesome along the course, and the SheROX competitors sure are a friendly bunch. Loved the bike ride.
Probably a bit too much, actually, because by the time I got into transition I was nearly spent. It had been a very tough course and I had gone pretty hard, but I also knew I had set myself up pretty well in the standings so I was gonna have to try to hold onto a good run split. The first hill out of transition was a doozy though and I tottered up to the first aid station at the top thinking “oh shit…” But soon after my legs found themselves and I got a nice clip going. The hills were still tough, and my run splits were nothing like the 5k I ran a few weeks prior. Still, the course was beautiful (if blustery) and I enjoyed every second of it (ok except for that first hill). I got to the end and put in my usual kick for a sprint to the line. It was nice to end my tri season with a race that didn’t involve immediately collapsing post medal reception. I asked the lady for a second medal for my teammate and she obliged. I gave my mother her finishers medal (Her best swim split ever! Instantaneous! It was over before she even started!) and my father snapped our picture. Victorious!
Post race I checked the results and figured out that I had placed third in my age-group. It turns out to have been a good thing that I no longer qualified as a relay team, because one of the teams had some serious ringers and finished the course in under an hour. I also received the best post-race massage I’ve had in my life. Seriously, I asked the guy if I could just take him home with me to have around after every race. I’m going to need him after my half marathon in a week!
That evening, SheROX and our hotel through an elaborate awards ceremony complete with food, a bar, and a DJ. It was the most glamorous awards ceremony I have ever seen in triathlon. They gave the winners little gift sets with the makings for “dark and stormies”, the signature Bermuda rum drink. I got a sweet medal for my third place effort:
We spent the rest of our short time on the island exploring on motor scooters. As a side note, there was an international rugby tournament on the island during the same weekend. The tournament games were cancelled for days because of the wind and weather (which our race director reveled in pointing out: We women triathletes were tough enough to race in the storm that halted the rugby men in their quivering cleats!) You have to imagine the craziness of our hotel. Fit little women with bicycles riding and rolling all over the lobby and elevators, contrasted with HUGE, burly, frequently drunk and grass-stained packs of rugby men from Whales, New Zealand and Argentina. It was quite a sight. A few of the rugby players (all very gregarious and tipsy) even crashed our awards banquet. Why not? There was booze! And fit women!
At the end of the weekend, a wonderful time was had by all. And my parents, myself and my bike (or baby tiger, if you prefer) all arrived stateside in one piece.
Thanks Mom and Dad!
The Thunderpuppies will rise again! The team name will be resurrected (hopefully with a little more meteorological success) next year in Aurora, CO where my mother and I will be joined by my younger sister for an epic family relay team! My sister may not have started running yet, but she bought a book about it!